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The Food Unpriced

O Christ who holds the open gate,
O Christ who drives the furrow straight,
O Christ the plough, O Christ, the laughter
of holy white birds flying after;
Lo, all my heart's field red and torn,
and thou wilt bring the young green corn,
the young green corn divinely springing,
the young green corn forever singing;
and when the field is fresh and fair
thy blessed feet shall glitter there,
and we will walk the weeded field,
and tell the golden harvest's yield,
the corn that makes the holy bread
by which our hungering souls are fed,
the holy bread, the food unpriced,
thy everlasting mercy, Christ.

excerpt from the narrative poem "The Everlasting Mercy" by John Masefield (1878 -1967)

These words first spoke deeply to me in an emotional crisis in 1976 when a dear Christian cousin wrote it out for me on a card which I still have. When I began a deep intentional emotional and spiritual journey four years ago they spoke to my heart again. When I chose the hymns for my mother's funeral a few months ago I found them in the Anglican hymn book. I am not aware that my mother knew the hymn, but it touched people at the funeral because they asked about it, having never heard it before.

Yet this poet who was obscure to me was the Poet Laureate in Britain for many years. He is buried in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. A prolific poet and writer of other works, he lived a deep and faithful life, true to his faith, his wife who was the love of his life, and to the creative spirit within him.

I did not know all of that about him when those words spoke to me each time, even though I majored in English literature. I am ashamed to say that. I am grateful for the note at the bottom of the hymn that says that "'Corn' in North American parlance would be 'wheat'". I see notes on the internet citing the section of the poem as a commentary on the bread of Holy Communion. I am grateful that I know more about this humble man who looked like Hitler, was true to his creative passion, did humble work, sailed the world, read voraciously, and, through being himself, became a voice in the world. Yet he remained so humble that whenever he submitted his writing pieces to The Times, even as Poet Laureate, he sent stamped self-addressed envelopes in case they didn't like them.

But that is not what matters to me, or, I trust, to you as you read the words. I hope for you they provide an icon, a window, a picture that takes you somewhere, across fields of corn or wheat or whatever, into the presence of Christ. I hope that for you, as for me, there are words and lines that jump out at you, like words from scripture that say to you "This is for you! Remember this!" Maybe your heart's field is red and torn, as Masefield's was as he sat for a year at the side of his dying wife, twelve years his senior. Maybe you need to trust that it is Christ who indeed holds an open gate for you to somewhere you need to go. Maybe you need to be reminded that He, Christ, will "drive the furrow straight" for you. Maybe most of all, you, like I in those hard moments, need to hear that He will "bring the young green corn divinely springing; that the corn or wheat or whatever God is going to do in your life, as He can do in mine, will be "forever singing". For Christ is indeed the "laughter", and may you and I see Him bring "holy white birds flying after."

Most of all, may you and I "walk the weeded field" of our hearts, our lives, whatever, with Christ, and with those He gives to us. And may we always as we receive the holy bread remember that it is "food unpriced", and speaks forever of His "everlasting mercy".


Belinda said…
Oh Meg, I absolutely love this poem and your reflection on it. I have never heard of this poet; thank you for making him known to us all.

Just this morning, I looked from my kitchen window and saw the wind blowing across a field of wheat. It looked like an ocean as wave upon wave swirled and rippled. I quickly left the sink and grabbd my camera, taking a short video clip of the green sea out there.

This kind of thing is why I take a very long time to get anything accomplished in the house!

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