A Reflection on The Wandering Preacher with T.S. Elliot


“Take up thy cross,” said the Master. Eagerly we stoop to help. But it is not our help the Crucified and Risen One desires, but our own death in the act of taking up the Cross. Somewhere along the way we learn this if we are to be saved from the foolishness of our own supposed benevolence.

Suddenly, after fifty years or so, we are still frozen in that position, assessing the weight of it all, imagining that stooping to take up the cross is the same as taking it and following. The way of the cross is death to not only ourselves, but more disarmingly, to the familiar ways of the world. And this is hard on some of us who cannot be fully weaned from the milk of even a murderess. Yet the amusements of this present evil age loosen our grip. The soft voiced invitations to caress the slumbering serpent appeal to the would-be disciple with splintered palms. Yet what danger we are in!

“The great snake lies ever half awake, at the bottom of the pit of the world, curled
In folds of himself until he awakens in hunger and moving his head to right and to left prepares for his hour to

There are, thus, times of sacred renewal to the memory of the Master’s call, the crushing blow to self, and the unforgettable, wandering preacher who looked at me and loved me, a stupid young man, wealthy in foolishness and cleaving to my own moneybag of fear.

Remember then! Remember! Remember the Wandering Preacher and His eyes of love!

“Remember the faith that took men from home
At the call of a wandering preacher.
Our age is an age of moderate virtue
And of moderate vice
When men will not lay down the Cross
Because they never assume it.
Yet nothing is impossible, nothing,
To men of faith and conviction.
Let us therefore make perfect our will.
O God help us.”

I remember. His look of love is a great light piercing through the darkness that cloaks the deadly drama. His look gives life! The slumbering serpent is not asleep and is thus a pretender and a beast that kills and which yet promises life and pleasure. His light reveals the green devil’s eyes and, now, my own quivering hand. I reach back! I draw back! I move away! I would prefer the Cross to this dreadful scene! What happy deaths are died on that Cross! And what mournful losses are devoured by the serpent!

The Wandering Preacher dies. He rises. He calls me again to my death and I see it, afresh, as a new found release—”new found,” and yet I remember it like yesterday. I spit out the poison milk of the foul beastly world. I “walk the aisle” as I did as a boy. I kneel before the vested cleric and take my vow as I did as a young man. I run from God that I may run, finally, to God, as I did so long ago when His look drew me to the tomb of the old self. I view him there, dead. And I rejoice with a freedom that has never left me, though it has been attacked time and time again.

I bow my head in memory. I run in my spirit in the sunlit uplands of this renewed faith, and praise God for the bright stars of the heavenly cathedral that are only seen in the black Bible sky.

He lives forevermore. And shall I not also, with splintered hands and now a wandering preacher myself, join Him to walk from the tomb to the light? Yet I live by the shadow of the Cross. I preach His Cross. I wander with the weight of it and offer it to others. “Oh, Lord,” I now whisper, “I want to look at men the way He looked at me.”

Elliot responds:

“…nothing is impossible, nothing,
To men of faith and conviction.”

My hope is restored and I am filled with His life anew.

“Let [me] therfore make perfect [this] will.
O God help us.”

[I scribble refrains of repentance and renewal as I read from T.S. Elliot, Collected Poems: 1909-1962, “Choruses from ‘The Rock,'” 1934 (Hourcourt, 1968), 169, 166.