One Thing Necessary


He used to come here often.
I think he liked to be here, relaxing, sharing, being fed.
There was one time I remember so clearly;
he was telling us a story,
though if truth be told it was my sister doing most of the listening –
I was busy with the food as usual.
It was a story of that secret time,
his time in the desert,
the time he doesn’t talk about much,
but which seems to have been more important than any of us knows.
If I caught him right,
he said that in that stark place,
in that place where there is nowhere to hide
from oneself, from the insistent chatter inside, from God,
he found that only one thing was necessary.
That one thing was a kind of silence so powerful,
a stillness so complete,
a simplicity so transforming,
a heart-listening so pure
that it seemed that one could almost hear God.
He said that my sister had found that one necessary thing,
and since then I have begun to find it too.
Of course, he doesn’t come here any more.
They took him away from us
so horribly.
And yet, when I find that necessary silence,
it is as if he is there.

Vermeer’s Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, c1654/5, is in the collection of the National Gallery in Edinburgh. Image from Wikipedia Commons