Poore Richard's Really Poore Almanack

new independent columns weekly

Midnight Between Life and Death
6 April 2007

Tonight is the Passover, the night of the visitation of The Angel of Death, an angel with the gentle wings of a crow and soft eyes with the glances of my first and most painful love; she is the angel of full lips, dark and wet with promises; she is shy, but not too shy to step from the shadows clad only in a gown of black lace and silver stars.

There is nothing more beautiful than her hands, their slow grace fashioned by eons of motion.  Her fingers move slightly as if to say, “Come: it is over.  Come and rest with me in an eternity of shadow.”  I am the first-born of my family, first-born and first slain on the altar of pointlessness.  Even now I sadly exchange gazes with this most precious breath of a loving God and I feel the desire to take her hand and drink from the cup of her mouth, drain all of its promises, all of the waters of Lethe, to drown all of my stupidity and sin and sorrow in the warm dark spit of forgetfulness.

But tonight is Passover.  Tonight I, bastard lonely child of the holy Jews, am supposed to eat the bread of affliction, the bitter herbs, the salt, set the seat and pour the cup of wine for The Sacred Stranger to return – I am supposed to remember that my life is not about taking refuge in the soft arms and gentle wings of The Angel of Death, not about fastening my mouth to hers and breathing my last apologies and thanks into her merciful lungs.  I am supposed to show my awe at the One Who sends Her, show my understanding of my own incomprehension of Him and His ways; my thanks that, as lovely as She is, My God has spared me from the fullness of annihilation those wet and full lips promise.

I am a Christian – as I said, a bastard child of the holy Jews – and tonight while I sit here in the midnight hour, I find that I am sitting with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene  where he prayed that the cup of His suffering and trial might pass; and was answered by God the Father with a quiet, “No.”

I am sitting here in the garden, that eternal garden where all things begin and end, that place in my heart of hearts where Gethsemene and Eden are but two words for one and the same thing, and in this mystical place I see my Lord Christ on the ground, weeping, weeping and alone.  Yes, I am here, too, but I am asleep and dreaming of The Angel of Death and her charms because I am flesh, and I am weak, though my spirit may hope for better.  But there, over there, right at the center of the world, in the quiet midst of all things is God-Who-has-decided-to-become-a-Man, alone with all His doubts and fears and regrets, just as I am here with my own; and yet He does not pray for Death, He prays for Life.  “Angel of Death, pass over the first-and-only begotten of All; God have mercy.”

And God the Father says, “No.”

But He does so in an odd way.  The Angel of Death is still here – She is always here – and She steps from the shadows, the same shadows that my own life is submerged beneath here in our overgrown, wrecked Paradise.  She steps out of night and comes to my Lord, my Savior, my Master, the Holy One, the Holy Lamb of God and she catches His tears and sweat in a golden chalice; She gathers up His Holy Misery and bows before Him as He takes the cup and drains it to the last drop in obedience with the Will of the Almighty.  The soft eyes of The Angel of Death are filled with amazement and startled pity at this impossible thing – that the Divine One has given Himself over to Her, and that by the next evening, Her mouth will touch His, and even God will then die.

The wind howls and the dogs with it, a low, soft moan.  Men would know sorrow, too, and deeply, but we are all asleep, already dead, already half-touched by The Angel and wholly in love with Her grace.  The Savior weeps alone with The Angel of Death in The Garden at midnight.

And yes, there is for me and for all Christians the sacred mystery that follows:  God-become-man dies and goes down to the shadow world as all men and women must; but on that morning of the third day His tomb is empty and He-Who-has-died is now He-Who-shattered Death and the Grave.  He appears as One Who already lives in a day beyond today, as the One Whose example shows that the kiss of The Angel, though fatal, is now not the final act; that Life is stronger than Death; that the apparent defeat of those who resist the world is the origin of an ultimate victory over all that would destroy the good in us.  The Angel of Death is now the gateway to the transfiguration of the world: One day, even She will embrace Herself and change Her name, and Death with become Life.


Another year has passed in the cycle of the seasons, another year and the Garden emerges in wild, untended explosions of spiced perfume in the night.  There She is in the night, my sweetest love, She who will one day become Life – but today She is not Life, She is the graceful one who passes over Egypt and in whose wake there is mourning and gnashing of teeth.

Another year has passed, another year in which I have left mourning and disappointment in my own wake, filled with Death and Darkness as I am.  When my friends need me was I there for them?  In their Gardens of Gethsemene did I keep a vigil and pray with them, or did I fall asleep or wander off – perhaps I did not show up at all, preoccupied as I was with my own pain?  Did I bother to explain?  Could I?

People in pain do not want your excuses, they want – whatever they need: each has her own needs.  She wants you to ask and to listen.

Another year has passed in which I repeatedly neither asked nor listened when the need was apparent.  I was too busy eaten up with my own sorrows, some petty, some not; I was too wounded and exhausted to speak, to warn friends of my weaknesses; I was too proud to admit my own needs, hint at my own disasters, and my own faults.

Who can wonder when people who expect you to be strong and caring find you withdrawn and silent, too exhausted to act?  Who can wonder at their dismay, disappointment, and anger?

Each person’s life is a mystery to all others.  Who knows what Hell a man may live behind his confident words?  Who knows how many times in a year a woman may be crucified and in what ways?  Who knows how close to taking the sweet Angel’s hand a person is at any moment and why?  Anyone who’s keeping Her for close company is already near to her hand.

Do you see the anguish in the heart of another?  What looks callous may, in fact, be mercy, may be sparing another the turmoil of watching as he daily wrestles the demons and his own sins and stupidities and failings.

I am a man of demons and sins, stupidities and failings.  I am a disappointment – God help me if I am not.  Whether by effort or laziness, by what I do or do not do, what I have done or left undone, I am guilty, and I am sorry as none of these things has been right and good.  I am sorry to my God Who suffered while I ignored Him in the Garden; I am sorry to my friends whom I ignored while they suffered in their own darkness.

I have nothing to offer but old tears and a heart black as forgetfulness, empty hands, and no promises worth accepting.  I am a man, I am a damnable thing.  One day, perhaps, in the fullness of time when Death becomes Life, I will become who I am to become; but for today, I am a sad lover of Death whose words mean little to anyone.  I care, but those for whom I care live other lives; at such distances, my words carry no meaning.

I am not God.  And isn’t that the point of Easter and the Passover?


I am not God, but I am a man.

What is fitting for a man?

To be other than he is today, to be more, to love where yesterday his heart was cold and mangled.  To seek life.  To go down in the grave and come back up more than a man.

I shut my eyes in the Garden of Gethsemene and dream of the Death of my sins and beg the forgiveness of my friends – and my enemies.  I give you my forgiveness, my small portion of love, if you feel the need of it.  I pour the cup for the Sacred Stranger and set a place at the table.

It is Passover.  The Angel of Death stands close at hand.  The Angel of Life stands close at hand.  They are one in the same.





Richard Van Ingram
Copyright © 2007, All Rights Reserved