The Chamber Of Faith
There's a room in my soul that has long been closed;
Many and many a year has passed
Since I stood at the door and looked my last
On the things within, all seemly disposed
In the curtained obscurity, nevermore
To be lit of the sun through window or door;—
Looked my last with a sense of crime,
On the smooth white bed where my dead had lain,
At the cross I had left on the counterpane,
Having kissed it twice and a long third time
Ere I laid it down where the head had been,
With a rose for the breast, and a lily between;
At her altar-table, where, side by side,
Lay her Bible, her Hymnal, her Book of Prayer;
At her silent harp, at her hallowed chair,
Where, ever at morning and eventide,
With her hand on my head, and my head on her knee,
I had knelt, that her blessing might rest on me;
At saint and angel on wall and screen,
Painted, and carven, and silken wrought,
At flower and bird, by her hand and thought
Moulded to meanings of things unseen;
At the sombre recess where, dimly descried,
Hung the shadowy form of the Crucified.
Looked my last with a sense of crime,
As one who, free of intent to slay,
Hath yet unwitting made wide the way
For death to enter before his time;
For, had I not strayed from her sheltering side,
Peradventure my mother had not died.
For this was the Chamber of Faith, my Mother,
Faith that was Mother, and Sister, and Wife,
Joy of my joy, and life of my life,
Fair as none else was fair, loved as no other,
Mother to nourish me, Sister to cheer,
Wife to be dearest of all held dear.
And all of her now was the void she had left,
And a stillness that even a sigh had profaned—
Gone, with her mysteries unexplained,
And all her tokens of purport reft,
Save the reproach I seemed to trace
In the dumb appeal of each angel face.
So I closed the door and departed—alone:
And all these years I have dwelt aloof,
In a turret chamber over the roof,
With undarkened outlook on all things known,
On horizons that ever enlarge and withdraw,
On the boundless realms of immutable law.
Bereft of Faith, but redeemed from fear,
With enfranchised vision, with reason free
From the bondage of ancient authority,
I say to myself it is good to be here,
High o'er all vain imaginings,
And face to face with the truth of things.
But at times, in the night, to the drowsing sense
The sound of a harp played long ago
Floats faintly up from a room below,
The old music of love and reverence,
And I wake, and, behold, all unaware,
I have left my bed, and am kneeling in prayer.
It is thus to-night, and with heart oppressed
By the heavy hand of the truth of things,
I am fain of the old imaginings,
And a hope arises within my breast,
That beyond the beyond and above the above
There yet may be things that I know not of.
I will go down to the Chamber of Faith;
Perchance in her symbols I yet may find
Some meaning missed, some drift undivined,
Some clue to a refuge this side of death,
Where Reason and Faith, where Man and Child,
Where Law and Love may be reconciled.
* * * * *
* * * * *
I stand in her precincts, alien, estranged,
A waking man in a place of dreams.
How ghostly the room in the lamplight seems!
Yet all is familiar, all is unchanged;
All that was fair, still fair to see,
Save the flowers, which have withered—for these were of me.
Frescoed seraph and carven saint
Gaze on me still with their wistful appeal,
Oh, Heavenly Ministries, would I could feel
Some thrill of response however faint,
Some touch, some grace of the olden days
That would quicken my heart to prayer and praise!
Lo, for a moment, I burn to accost
Your Lord of Love in the old sweet way;
I seize the harp and begin to play,
But the chords are loose and the key is lost,
And the sudden dissonance shatters the mood
Wherein the unseen is the understood—
Shatters the mood and arrests the thought,
The fluttering thought that essayed to soar
To the region where seraph and saint adore,
To the sphere where the wonders of Faith are wrought,
And her symbols decline to pigment and stone
As I lapse again to the seen and known.
Wherefore, then, should I linger here?
What is it I seek to understand?
I open her Scriptures with random hand,
And I chance on the words of the holy Seer
Which one of old in his chariot read,
“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter is led.”
And I turn to the Christ. Though my lamp grows dim,
I can see the tortured arms outspread,
The broken body and drooping head,
And I would I could weep as I wept for Him,
And I cry as I bend the unwonted knee,
Quicken me Jesu! Quicken me!
Thou in whom God and man are met—
(If indeed the twain in one can meet)—
Quicken me, Lord, as I kneel at Thy feet!
By Thine Agony and Bloody Sweat,
By Thy Cross and Passion, Thy Death, Thy Grave,
Save!—(if indeed Thou hast power to save).—
By Thy rising again—(if indeed Thou didst rise)—
Oh, if and if! Oh, doubt upon doubt!
I cannot pray. My light flickers out,
And the Christ is hid from my straining eyes,
And my groping hands, in the darkness drear
Clasp but an image. The Lord is not here.
Oh, ye who have taken away my Lord,
In these palsied lips that are powerless to pray,
In this fount run dry, in this life grown grey,
Behold your exceeding great reward!
Oh, gather the strong to your side if you will,
But leave to the weak our Saviour still!
Why shame myself thus with a witless plea?
There is none, there is none that hath taken away.
I alone did kiss and betray;
But with tears I did it; and, oh, it may be
That this way Renunciation lies
That Faith herself is my Sacrifice!
And who knows but beyond the narrow scope
Of these chamber walls, she lives again,
A transmuted force unnamed of men,
One wave whereof is this trembling hope,
That beyond the beyond and above the above,
There yet may be things that we know not of?