An Empty Symbol

Written by
Steven HAuse
Jan 12, 2022
Steven HAuse

They gathered after sunset
And the moon was shining bright.
The Philosopher had called them there
Without explanation or fanfare,
Amidst the misty graveyard air,
For the burial in lamplight.

This scholar came with speech prepared
As he stood before the crowd.
He looked each person in the eye
To tell them, “We must say goodbye—
For old ideas have to die—
So that new ones are allowed.

This valuable progression
Is represented here
By the empty coffin in front of you.
So, each can bid their God adieu
And hold to concepts that are new.
We must progress without fear.

These fantasies were needed
When humanity was young.
Our minds were soft, like unbaked dough.
We needed lies to help us grow.
And this tombstone labeled GOD will show
That we have now moved on.”

The Clergyman was sweating;
His collar felt too tight.
He asked about what he would be
In this modern, brave society.
What of his job’s security?
Would his pension be alright?

The Philosopher was ready
For questions such as this.
“Your church will keep on going.
Perhaps we will see it growing!
But this will not be owing
To the God no one will miss.

To live in this advancing world
You must adapt; be changed.
Preach of goodness, love, and cheer—
Social harmony all year—
Don’t worry a bit for your career.
These things can be arranged.

You can even say ‘the word,’
If you think it must be said,
But if you bring out that term, ‘god,’
Treat it as a kind façade.
A nice word, though it’s sometimes flawed,
Which helps the fearful sleep in bed.

In your symbolic, artful sermons,
‘god’ could represent
The collective force of the human will
Pushing society ever uphill,
Propelling us forward—never still,
As we advance on our ascent.

But here you must be sure to dodge,
Any talk of a personal God,
Do not imply that Someone cares
To listen to our human prayers
Or can create out of thin air,
For we bury now that fraud.

Be sure, too, not to teach your flock
That there is life beyond the grave.
For science tells us, clear as day,
That all things soon enough decay
And that there simply is no way
to resurrect us from death’s cave.”

The Clergyman accepted this.
He could adapt to this new age.
But the Old Woman in the crowd
Pulled back her darkened mourning shroud
And stood so she could speak aloud
To the Philosopher, the sage.

She said that she could not accept
That there was nothing after death.
She’d hoped to see her friends once more
After passing through death’s door.
She had dreamed of her husband from before
returning with new breath.

“Madame,” said the Philosopher,
“Your words are quite refined.
Although your husband and your friends
Have met their most untimely ends
Their absence does not seem to cleanse
Their memories from your mind.

Is not this a kind of life beyond?
A version of still living on?
Indeed, the things of short duration
bring more value through cessation.
Everlasting things would bring stagnation—
Although it hurts when friends are gone.”

The Old Woman looked away from him,
appearing a bit dismayed.
With a slightly disappointed face
She sat back in her reserved place,
Accepting the logical case
The Philosopher had made.

The Judge stood up to ask aloud
How laws could then be kept.
Without a God above the clouds,
All mischief would then be allowed
And the people could not then be cowed
into obeying codes they don’t accept.

The Philosopher to this replied,
“Our ethics have improved.
We now honor morality—
Without religious formality—
Our just laws are our reality.
God can be removed.

We have studied human nature.
We are rid of heav’n and hell.
We can educate the masses
In our well-designed classes
Just like training farm-work asses
In the chores they do so well.”

With this the Judge gave half a shrug.
He sat back in his chair.
If people learned to keep the rules
In these modern, fancy schools
By being trained to work like mules
He didn’t really care.

The Child then spoke up and said,
(although mostly to herself),
“But who can I say thank you to,
For roses or the color blue,
For bumble bees or cheese fondue,
Or the books on my bookshelf?

I’m thankful for my Mother
And I’m thankful for my friends.
I love my cat, and cherry tree.
I like visits to the summer sea.
I like to thank God for milk and tea,
Just as He intends.”

The Child then stood up to leave.
She’d seen a flower by a tomb.
The Philosopher asked where she went,
He asked her about her intent,
Said she should witness the event,
But she kept walking toward the bloom.

The people smiled and let her leave—
She didn’t know what she meant.
The Philosopher said she would know
More later, when she’d had time to grow.
She would come to see that the rainbow
Is just dewdrops and light bent.

And then the solemn assembly
Put an empty coffin in the ground:
A symbol that they had no need
For some higher rule or creed
And that they were all then agreed
That God was nowhere to be found.

But the Child forgot the “funeral”
And smelled the fresh, new flower.
She then walked home in the moonlight
And enjoyed her pathway bathed in white
And was thankful for the lovely night
And the cool air at that hour.

For she knew inside her heart
That hope would still revive that place,
That better things would come ahead—
though not by claiming God is dead—
But admiring His work instead,
His ever-present grace.

Steven HAuse is an English language teacher who has lived and taught in Bolivia, Spain, and Japan. He loves learning more about different cultures, exploring theological topics, and watching all kinds of great movies.