[Richard re-enters the candlelit nave of St. Julian’s Church]
Richard: Anchoress! Awake, old friend—
I would speak with thee again.
Anchoress: Wisdom would have kept thee far.
Be with thy wife.
Richard: ‘Tis my wife who bids me come;
Her heart is changed away
From the violent words she spoke to thee.
Anchoress: It was no offense;
I have understood her well,
And with her I have grieved.
Richard: Then grieve again, old friend,
For my sake and for hers—
My Mary has the plague.
Anchoress: So thou art double-stricken, then—
Son and wife.
Richard: Thrice stricken, say I,
That I may not depart with them.
Anchoress: I hear thy pain, my lord.
Thou knowest that I am no stranger
To the valley of the shadow of death.
Richard: But what does it mean?
Am I not a good man, Anchoress?
I know, I know—all men are unrighteous—
But I have been as faithful
As strength and will and place of life
Have enabled me to be.
And yet my world melts away
In one great cascade of fire.
The judgment of hell licks at my feet
When I expected heaven
Or, at least, purgatory’s slow ascent.
What does it mean?
Is there in truth no God?
Anchoress: First tell me this:
The God whose being is questioned—
What does he look like?
Richard: I am a poor theologian, Anchoress.
What does he look like?
He is great, glorious, mighty beyond compare;
From all ages he has reigned,
Beyond all creaturely capacity
To know, touch, or understand.
He watches us from heaven,
And in his justice dispenses
Good or ill, according to what men deserve.
Anchoress: And yet you called all men unrighteous.
What then do they deserve?
Richard: Thou wouldst entrap me with my words.
Anchoress: Let it be no trap,
But a guiding hand, that thou may see
That which is already known to thee.
Richard: So be it. If all men are unrighteous,
They deserve the harshness of God’s wrath.
Anchoress: So you say. But is that what God does?
Richard: Is it not? This moment tells me so.
My claw-rent heart likewise.
Anchoress: Look upon the wall. What see’st thou there?
Richard: The crucifix.
Anchoress: Behold thy God.
Is he impassible to our strife?
Does he dispense suffering
According to the harshness
Of a law-court’s scales?
I have seen the God of all creation
Take our very station,
Drink down our humiliation,
Embrace the suffering
That rends our broken hearts.
No heartless majesty serve we here,
No distant, tranquil spirit
Unmoved by waves of human fortune.
He has wrestled the ancient beast
Of death and pain and sorrow—
Wrestled through the night with it;
Yes, even by it been beaten down—
And yet, because of that one fight
So many years ago,
Suffering and death now and forever
Walk their way with limping stride.
He has changed their very nature.
Richard: Explain this, Anchoress.
I can see thy point—
We serve a God not unmoved by pain:
So great is his concern for us
That he accepts it too—
This is a consolation, yes—
But how is suffering changed?
How is my plight rendered any less fierce
Because holy Christ has suffered too?
Anchoress: The one thing necessary for our knowledge
Is simply this: the love of God.
That love is shown, beyond doubting,
Beyond even understanding,
In the cross, the blood, the chalice of thanksgiving.
God holds all that is
In the center of his hand,
In the center of his hand,
And it is small beyond compare.
But it exists, and shall exist, because he loves it.
The suffering we bear is part of that existence,
The tearing, spinning force of the potter’s wheel,
That pulls at the fabric of all we are.
His hands, they hold us we spin;
His lathe, it traces out the shape of our construction,
The beauty of what we’re meant to be—
But suffering is the movement that lets him work,
It is the fire of his kiln,
And by it, if we submit to the working of his hands,
We become ever more what we were meant to be.
Suffering is the way of Christ,
And it is the way for creatures
To grow into his great love.
That is the burden of compassionate grace—
That we must suffer into beauty,
Suffer into love,
But it is a heritage that neither highest star
Nor brightest angel
Has even the chance to partake.
We are broken, yes,
But in our brokenness we may become
Higher than all creation.
And all this is down to the great love of God for us.
Richard: I want to submit, yes, to the potter’s hand—
But what I become in character or strength
Through all this tearing, spinning, burning—
It helps not Mary nor my son.
Does God demand they suffer and die
Simply to make me a better man?
This cannot be the final answer
To the riddle of our pain.
Anchoress: Thou art right. There is more.
Unspeakably, ineffably more.
There is no word in any tongue
That encompasses this answer
More than ‘hope.’
We have the sure foundation of the promises of God
That our suffering,
This dark chapter we walk even now,
Is not the end of the story.
And, like any good story,
We may not understand the whole
Until we have reached the end.
God spoke to me once of this great truth,
And his words are seared into my soul.
This he said, and this I proclaim to the world:
“All shall be well,
And all shall be well,
And all manner of things shall be well.”
There is yet one great act of God to come,
One great mystery to be revealed,
A final grace for his much-beloved creation.
And on that day, and with that act,
All manner of things shall be well.
This, even this--
Our pain, our suffering, our sorrow,
The deaths of those we love—
Even this he shall make well.
The final day will dawn,
And we will look back at the pages
Of the story we’ve walked through,
And we shall laugh
And cry great tears of joy
For all that God has done in them,
For he has made all things well.
Now, Lord Yarbury—now, Richard—
Go, in the mercy of God,
In the great love he has for thee
And thy sorrow,
And be with thy wife.
Thou art loved of God,
And so is she.
Be blessed, my friend.
Richard: My thanks, Anchoress.
I may not understand,
But my love responds to his great love,
And willingly I submit.
God be with thee. I go.