By This Shallmenknow

[Originally published on Feb. 2015]

Shallmenknow is no talisman.
No hocus pocus
or abracadabra alakazam.
These are trinkets and chatter
bereft of power
expressing the form
denying the substance.
And furthermore, you will
search for them in vain
in the pages of the hymn book.
But consider Hymn No. 308
Love One Another.
Just four simple lines.
The song we sing
when the talks run long,
and the babies are wailing,
the Cheerios all gone.
I was a child.
Love One Another
punched a hole
in the sky above my head
and spilled ice cold
doctrine down my back.
By this shallmenknow,
the hymn proclaims
in the voice of Jesus,
Ye are my disciples.
I treasured up that
Shallmenknow in my heart.
The one true incantation.
I speculated on its origins
and listened for it carefully
in lessons and prayers
waiting for Him to do
something else—anything—
by the power of shallmenknow.
I figured it out eventually.
The words to the hymn.
Also, I learned it’s hard sometimes
to love one another.
That there’s no amulet
to ward off the fear
that often stops us dead.
That makes us imagine ourselves
Over and over again
getting coldcocked
square in the open heart.
That there’s no spell to bypass
the monotony of marching
to duty’s drumbeat.
That we can’t just erase
with the blink of an eye or
a twitch of the nose
the stark cold morning
of dreams and plans set aside.
No, the true power of shallmenknow
is eked out without enchantment.
Just a numberless succession of
disagreeable moments.
A million chances to leave
advantages untaken and
true, cruel words unsaid.
To give without expectation
and beyond all comfort.
To give, for others’ good,
the ever-grasping self
such a head fake
that it is completely lost.