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Questions in Quarantine: A Poem

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | March 23, 2020

Wendell Berry makes it a practice of writing a poem on his Sabbath. I’d highly recommend the anthology of those poems, titled This Day. I always thought this was something he did as a sort of committed discipline, and perhaps it is. But I’ve also found it is in moments of rest when inspiration most often comes naturally, and a poem is more something I’m receiving than generating (this is not, emphatically, to say I consider myself an inspired poet!).

This poem came on my Sabbath this week. It needs two disclaimers before I share it with you:

  1. These are questions, they are not truth claims. This is not a systematized theology or even a sermon. They are questions that I guess I have been pondering over and praying over, pushing on and pushing against, seeing what holds and what doesn’t, what’s true and what’s not.
  2. I always try to use gender inclusive language in my sermons (e.g., “humanity” instead of “man,” etc.), but it was a bit trickier in this poem because of syllables and sound. I know that bothers some people, so I do apologize.
Questions in Quarantine
Unseen save for the trained eye of the microscope
this virus infects and affects the world of man.
Is it of man?
Was that ancient sin of Adam and Eve
not one of pride only, but also of greed?
"They wanted to know,"
but might the pursuit of knowledge and discovery unchecked
lead man unsuspecting deeper and deeper
into the secret places of the earth,
touching things unseen and shaking free unexpected terrors?

Is this virus of earth?
As man searches desperately for immunity,
might this very virus be the immunity
of an earth weakened and sickened
by polluted skies and melting ice caps
and obliterated ancient forests?

Or is this almost unseen virus
of a world entirely unseen
save for in prayers and in ancient stories?

Is it--in a word--of Hell?
Is this the infernal serpent still seeking man's destruction?

Or is it of Heaven?
Is it God's wrath on man's disobedience or,
more likely, God's mercy on man's disobedience,
shaking him free from slavish service and sacrifice
to the idols of economy and production
recalling him to what is essential:
taking care of creation
and taking care of fellow creatures
and surrendering to the Almighty,
the Maker of all things, seen and unseen?
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