Thursday, March 22, 2018

An Upturned Face

I bumped into a friend at the weekend. We were both waiting in a queue at the bank. It was a slow moving queue so we had plenty of time to catch up. She always asks me what I’m reading. Once she found out that I was retiring soon, she invited me round to her house to borrow books. She quickly withdrew the offer when I confessed that my library fines are possibly what keeps the library in funds. Returning borrowed books is not my forte. We also talked about gardens. She is a great believer that only people who truly love gardening should have a garden.

Back to the book that I’m reading. It’s my second time through Malcolm Guite’s book of Lent Poetry “The Word in the Wilderness”. My friend recognised the title. The book is becoming a well-loved friend.

This evening in our fellowship meeting we were talking about relationships and the need to connect with people. Some of us needed to work harder at growing friendships within church and outside of it. A post from a couple of years ago came to mind. Malcolm and I had been reading sections from Dante’s “Inferno” and had arrived at the end section.

Then, at a place in the shadow with the dew...
my master placed the palms of both his hands,
spread wide, likely and gently on the tender grass.
And I aware of what his purpose was,
offered my tear-stained cheeks to meet his touch.
At which, he made once more entirely clean
the colour that the dark of hell had hidden.

Dante and his hero, the poet Virgil,, had travelled together down through the levels of hell. They climbed out and up into the sunshine.

“As Malcolm writes in his commentary, it is a very touching scene. Dante emerges into the sunlight with a face smeared with the grime of hell and stained with tears. Virgil, his companion on the journey, gathers up the morning dew in his palms, stoops down and washes Dante’s face.”

I love the line where Dante offered his "tear stained cheeks to meet his touch". His upturned face invited Virgil to wipe the dust and the dirt and the tears away. Dante’s humility in tipping his face is met with Virgil’s grace in meeting his need.

I wonder if we are all involved in that exchange of humility and grace, of upturned faces and hands full of dew that wipe away the dust of life.

When I choose not to lift my face to you who holds the dew, I deny myself the opportunity to be refreshed. I suppose there was nothing to stop Dante from collecting his own dew and wiping his own face. There is nothing to say I can’t find my own ways of refreshing.

When I choose not to lift my face to you who holds the dew, I deny you the opportunity to bless me and to be blessed yourself in serving me.

When I choose not to lift my face to you who holds the dew, we both lose out. Two friends that could have been blessed never were.

All because I chose not to lift my face.

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