January 27, 2021

Another Look: The Family (a trilogy)

The Prodigal Son, Swanson

By Chaplain Mike

Originally posted in April, 2010

• • •

THE FAMILY (A Trilogy)

I. The Younger

Here I am, father, at the eleventh hour once more,
Reaper’s scythe poised to harvest fruit of seeds I’ve sown.
Shamefaced, knowing full well the paucity of yield,
I slump low with downcast eyes, near resigned to table bare.
And perhaps this is that Hand–
Why should I escape heaven’s natural law?
What special exemption is stamped upon my page,
Faithless wayward child?

Yet something is that tells me I should rise,
Brush off the slop I’ve fed (which now appears my hope!)
Confess my riotous disregard of wisdom, prudence, love,
And manfully take up servitude low, secure.
I dare not ask for more!
Surely your face is turned toward those toiling well.
Surely you dine with those compliant, true,
Who honor the name they bear.

What right have I to hold within my heart
The slightest hope of more than stern offended gaze?
A rendezvous from which I shrink, besmirched and chastened;
And yet, am willing to accept my due.
So haltingly I walk–
Yet one more turn ahead before the sight.
Yet one more bridge to cross, a boundary long transgressed.
At sound of distant cry I lift my eyes.

The Prodigal Returns, Fourain

II. The Father

A hundred years have passed, or so it seems,
Since news was brought to me–oh father’s joy!
A son, our first, the image of his kin.
How strong he rose! How righteous, true!
Serious child with scrupulous eye,
Steadfast he stands, surveys the family stock.
Servants step lively when he speaks;
No merchant pockets bulge when he is sold.
And so I withhold nothing from my scion.
Blessed progeny!

Just yesterday, as broken-hearts mark time,
A rebel spoke, his words blew dark the lamps.
I saw no other course; with tears I acquiesced,
And off he skipped, my generous bounty won.
Our younger son, without restraint or sense,
Abandoned home and wisdom’s smoother path.
To seek what? A way without confinement, duty drear?
Ah, how I feared an acrid aftermath!
Why could I not restrain my lenient urge?
Soft-hearted sire!

Today, I rose unrested, troubled, vexed;
Red sky portending some new chaos born.
I showed no sign that gave away my fear
Nor spoke of the unease that filled my soul.
All charge I ceded to my firstborn son,
While I walked out to view the coming storm.
Before the clouds a figure wandered slow–
Familiar strides! My breath caught in my chest.
A sob, a cry; robes hiked, legs free to race.
Blessed resurrection!

• • •

The Return of the Prodigal Son, Chagall

III. The Elder

Duty, that’s the word–
Nothing less.
Best effort at all times, no matter what.
Keep at it, never give up.
First to the task
And last to lay it down.
Don’t let anyone outwork you.
Also: expect maximum effort
From those under your charge.
Don’t settle for less.
Set the bar high
And keep short accounts.
Be the best.
Father will be proud.

Fool, that’s the word–
Family’s shame.
Never cared for anyone but himself.
Gave up before he began.
Refused to give a bit of effort,
Yet wanted all the benefits.
Unreliable slacker!
Miserable deadbeat!
And then he had the nerve
To spit in father’s face,
Demanding all that he “deserved”
From father’s hard earned wealth
To drink and whore it all away.
He is dead to me!

Disgrace, that’s the word–
Unacceptable lapse.
Where is judgment?
Where is sense?
What strange spirit has overcome
This man who mentored me?
Honor belongs not to a fool
Nor reward to him who offends!
How can this alien show his face,
And father not recoil?
Yet now the music starts,
Dancing, feasting, friends.
I cannot stay, I cannot speak.
Where will this all end?


  1. The first picture at the top of the post by Swanson was also on the cover of Capon’s Parables of Grace.

    Wonderful poem. Grace is such a wonderful lapse of jugement.


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