From newlywed ancient soul Lin Gold…
William Blake’s poem about Maundy Thursday, from Songs of Innocence. (“Holy Thursday (or Maundy Thursday) has generally been a day when alms are given to those in need. Blake writes of the poor children in London streaming to St. Paul’s. The picture is Blake’s original illustration for the poem.”)
Holy Thursday: ‘Twas on a Holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean
by William Blake
‘Twas on a Holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,
The children walking two and two, in red and blue and green,
Grey-headed beadles walk’d before, with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul’s they like Thames’ waters flow.
O what a multitude they seem’d, these flowers of London town!
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own.
The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands.
Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song,
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of Heaven among.
Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor;
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.
(Allison, hard-worn woman, younger than she looks, stands at a kitchen counter, her hands mired in bread dough, kneading. She picks up the bread and slams it down a couple of times, then goes back to kneading)
Every year, on Maundy Thursday, I make bread. I fast – water only – and I make bread and take it to a shelter for battered women and children. Ain’t I so holy? I do this-
(slams the dough down again, kneads)
– for myself. It reminds me that I am not the center of the universe. Which is a lesson that I need because it has been proven time and again that when I am the center of the universe, life gets weird, life gets hard, life goes to shit. My Jesus, he washed feet to show his humility and his love for the poor, but I am not the sort who can do that. Feet – other people’s – they gross me out. …Mine aren’t exactly beauty contestants, either.
Anyhow, I bake bread on Maundy Thursday and feed some women and their kids.
(slams the dough down, twice, three times, kneads in silence for a beat)
I do not know where my own son is. He is 28 years old, and he is somewhere in the world. He’s a drug addict, and if the law catches him again, it will be a very long time away for him. If they do not catch him, he will die of an overdose, or AIDS, or – who knows? I have had to come to the place where this is okay with me. No, not okay, but… It is what it is. My son is homeless. He has a masters degree, in psychology. He had a wife and a child, a good job and a home. Now he does not. I haven’t seen him in almost two years. Every now and then, I get a call begging – demanding – “Send money.” I don’t. No, I don’t.
Got to let it rest a spell.
(She washes/wipes her hands. She reaches into her shirt, pulls out her necklace – it’s a large, ornate cross)
This is a nun’s cross. Big sucker, huh? I need something this heavy to keep me grounded. A nice woman gave it to me. It had been her sister’s and she wanted me to have it. I was falling apart then, about six ways to Sunday, and doing whatever anybody put in front of me, solid, liquid, pill, smoke, needle, whatever you had, if you were sharing, I was up for it. Three times, I detoxed. Number three like to killed me, but it stuck. These church people – doesn’t matter which church – they took me in and gave me jobs to do. I was living in the shelter with my son, because the man that I lived with – not my son’s father – busted my head with a iron pipe. If you look close enough, you’ll see where they had to take part of my skull.
I was in that church every time the doors opened, for the first few years. I was either at an AA meeting, a Narc-Anon Meeting, or in church. My son grew up in church. I hoped it would save him. I did everything. I volunteered, I did service work.
I even subbed in when they needed an acolyte. Grown woman, grey hair, track marks on her arms, out there carrying the candle-lighter and lifting up the offering like some 8-year-old. …I loved it.
It was Holy Week, Maundy Thursday like today, and I was feeling sorry for myself because my son’s missing, and my daughter-in-law doesn’t want him or me around the baby. She thinks she can spare the child from this mess if they stay far away. She may be right, you know? Who knows? I sure don’t. I was feeling sorry for myself because I didn’t have anybody to spend the weekend Easter with, so I’m just staying focused on the worship service, right, just get through it. But I am miserable, just sorry.
The priest, Father Reed – Episcopal – he talks about the bread, lifts it up, then talks about the wine, lifts it up, sets it back down, then we have communion, and then service is over, and so now we’re all left to ourselves and Good Friday. Always a chipper holiday. Everybody is filing out of the chapel. There weren’t too many – Maundy Thursday just doesn’t have that big-holiday pull, you know? I took off the acolyte robe and hung it up, then remembered that I’d left the candle-lighter by my chair. I went back into the sanctuary and the priest, Father Reed, is standing there still in his robe – he’s usually the first one out of his “preacher duds” as he calls them, but he’s just standing there, looking down, with this look of complete horror on his face.
So I look to where he’s looking and what it is is wine, dark red wine, spreading slowly across the altar cloth, the red wine from the chalice that was somehow knocked over. It’s spreading across the brocade altar cloth – in my mind’s eye I see white, but it must have been purple, for Lent. My mind is saying “Hurry, run go get something to clean that up,” but I don’t. I am transfixed by the father’s face. His expression. Shock. Grief. He’s muttering under his breath, “The blood… oh, the blood….”
I left him to his grief. He was 70 years old, had spent his adult life as clergy, and he told me later, it was not until that moment that it all really meant something to him. Really meant something.
“Poured out for you and for many…” The father, and his grief. And me and mine.
(picks up the dough, slams it down, kneads it)
We got to keep moving. Keep on keeping on. Trite as that may sound. That’s what we got to do.