8 APRIL 2006, Page 34

Mystery of the Silver Chair

As if God’s glory, with just one sun-ray, Could not burn craters in a chromosome, We call it kindly when it works our way, And, some of us with tact, some with display, Arrange the house to make it feel at home.

With votive tokens we propitiate Almighty God. Just to be neat and clean Running the water hot to rinse the plate, Chipping the rust-flakes from the garden gate These things are silent prayers, meant to be seen.

Strange, though, when parents with a stricken child Still cleanse the temple, purify themselves. They were betrayed, but how do they run wild? With J-cloth and a blob of Fairy Mild They wipe the white gloss of the kitchen shelves.

They, least of all, are likely to let go Completely, like the slovens down the street: The ones who could conceal a buffalo In their front lawn and you would never know, Yet somehow they keep their Creator sweet.

Unjust, unjust: but only if He’s there. The girl with palsy looks you in the eye, Seeming to say there is no God to care. Her gleaming wheelchair says He’s everywhere, Or why would the unwell try not to die?

And why would those who love them give the best Years of their lives to doing the right thing?

Why go on passing a perpetual test With no real hope and with so little rest?

Why make from suffering an offering?

Why dust the carpet, wash the car, dress well?

If God were mocked by those who might do that With ample cause, having been given Hell To live with, we could very quickly tell Somebody would forget to feed the cat.

Sometimes they do. Sometimes the spirit kneels. But when those with the least take pride the most, We need to bend our thoughts to how it feels. Shamed by those scintillating silver wheels, We see the lightning of the Holy Ghost.

Clive James