“Every Grain of Sand” A meditation on a long death

[A few months ago a woman in the community died after a very long and debilitating illness. I had been listening to Bob Dylan’s poignant song, “Every Grain of Sand” at the time, and found the resonances between the song and the realities facing that woman and her family to be powerful. I wrote this for her husband, and maintaining the confidentiality of her name, I share it here. The lines in bold are Dylan’s lyrics.]


In the time of my confession, in the hour of my deepest need
When the pool of tears beneath my feet flood every newborn seed
There’s a dying voice within me reaching out somewhere
Toiling in the danger and in the morals of despair.

The artist begins with confession,
with recalling an hour of deepest need.

I wonder whether you can relate
to such an hour.

I wonder whether you know of tears
being your own food day and night.

I wonder if those tears seemed
to drown out life,
to close down possibility.

Have those tears beneath your feet
been so copious,
such a torrent,
that they have closed down hope,
flooding every newborn seed?

The artist bears witness to a dying voice,
a voice losing its resonance,
a voice about to be rendered silent.

Has that been your voice?

Is that what happens
when you are toiling
in the face of such danger?

Is that what happens
in the morals of despair?

But you can get lost there,
so the artist moves on.

Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake
Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break
In the fury of the moment, I can see the master’s hand
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand.

It has been so long,
this treacherous journey to the end,
but there is no point in looking backwards.

Yes, there are chains of events
that need to be broken,
but the deeper question,
in the fury of this moment,
in these morals of despair,
is whether you can see the master’s hand.

The master’s hand?
you might ask.

There was no miraculous healing!
The disease took its terrible course.

But, you did see, didn’t you.
You saw the master’s hand,
not in high drama,
but more quietly,
in every leaf that trembles,
tickled by the wind of God,
and in every grain of sand,
bearing witness to its Creator.

But this isn’t a cheap hope,
this isn’t the sentiment of cover up.

The artist brings us back to the brokenness.

Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear
Like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer
The sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way
To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay.

I wonder if it has felt like this disease
has choked the breath of conscience
and good cheer.

Choked the life out of good cheer.

And yet, like all poets of hope,
the artist bears witness to the sun
beating down on the steps of time
to light the way.

And in that light shining
through your window,
beating down on your fields,
was the pain of that imposed idleness eased?

In the face of such decay of body and mind,
did the sun still shine with hope?

None of us knows just how hard this was.
None of us can begin to fathom the pain,
or the temptations of your path.

And so the artist sings:

I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.

Just as temptation’s angry flame
always calls our name,
always will lead us into temptation,
so also is every hair numbered
like every grain of sand.

Did you come to know this
deep in your heart,
as you continued onward in your journey
these so many years?

What happened in the sorrow of the night?
Did all of this somehow lead you
from rags to riches?
Is that possible?
Can you be richer,
after so much was taken from you?

Or, was this a bitter dance of loneliness?
Was this a broken mirror,
of innocence lost?

I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
In the violence of a summer’s dream, in the chill of a wintry light
In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space
In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face.

But through it all,
there was the master’s hand.

Through it all,
every hair was numbered.

Through the whole journey,
did you hear those ancient footsteps?

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand.

Did you hear those footsteps?
Maybe sometimes with clarity and vision,
and other times like a still,
whispering voice?

Did you feel the divine accompaniment?
Was the promise fulfilled,
“I will be with you always”?

You have hung in the balance.
The “reality of man” is not a pretty thing.
The reality of it all has been devastating.

But there is a deeper reality.
There is a deeper truth.
There is a life that is deeper than death.
There is a naming.

Not one sparrow falls, apart from the father.
Every hair is numbered.
The creator knows every grain of sand.

And you have been named.
You have been loved.
Through the shadow of death,
and unto a feast prepared,
on a resurrection morning.

Based upon Bob Dylan’s song, “Every Grain of Sand,” Shot of Love, 1981.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

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