There, but for the grace of God…


Will-o’-the-wisp, trick of the eye,
why this, why that, why me?
So many questions—too many questions—
but the best to ponder is this:
What is it, this ‘is it’, ‘to be’?
Me, I have this nagging sense
that if you can pose an answer,
you’ve missed the question altogether.


I am reading Why Does the World Exist? by Jim Holt. It is a fascinating book and I am enjoying it immensely. In a practical sense, the question seems as relevant as the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin, but let’s be honest: no one ever said that metaphysics had to make practical sense. (Just don’t say that to anyone who has got themselves caught up in the topic. It can get ugly and very, very boring.)

What fascinates me is the range of responses from a wide variety of disciplines and the degree of passion aroused in the answers. And throughout it all, as much as I am enjoying the journey for an answer—because let’s face it, there are no definitive answers, just definitive opinions—I do have this nagging feeling that whenever it comes to something that is really important, that there is hiding, off to the side, at 90 degrees from where we are looking, the real question and answer that we should be pondering. There are times when, while I cannot see it and I cannot say it, still I know it’s there, in the corner of my eye, and I almost have it, but not quite, not quite…

The quotation, There but for the grace of God, go I, is attributed to John Bradford, an English protestant jailed by the Catholic Mary Tudor, and  was said as he watched a group of prisoners being marched off for execution. His own turn was coming, however; he was burned at the stake on July 1st, 1555.

Thank you for reading There but for the grace of God… I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken in Pennsylvania and is the reflection of a tree in water. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.


Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge, The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.


Filed under Poetry

9 responses to “There, but for the grace of God…

  1. John, I am really enjoying your poetry, and your photography is Beautiful. You might like the Socrates Cafe Meet-Up Group. They meet the first Sunday evening of every month to discuss philosophical life questions. It’s very interesting and you might enjoy it.

    • Linda, thank you for your lovely comments on the Books of Pain and Bokeh. I am heartened (and not a little humbled) that you like both so much. I have never heard of Socrates Cafe but it does sound great. And there is one in Boston, which is about an hour and a half from me. My problem is that I usually cycle on Sundays and so am pretty tired that night. That and a 5:30 AM start the next day would make attendance hard. But it DOES sound interesting…I’ll see if there is a Sunday that I can try and get to a Meetup. Thank you again for dropping by and also again for your wonderful comments!

  2. John, wowww. This piece nudged me, as opposed to “hit me”. I will “highlight” this last part of your post: “Me, I have this nagging sense
    that if you can pose an answer, you’ve missed the question altogether.”
    And the bonus for me, is this thought: “… the real question and answer that we should be pondering … while I cannot see it and I cannot say it, still I know it’s there, in the corner of my eye, and I almost have it, but not quite, not quite…”

  3. I love the closing lines especially.

    • June, thank you very much! The book is an interesting read, no doubt and highly recommended. But it is more provocative in its suggestion than final in its answers. Plus, I think our age is on the cusp of a great change, when a great many more and different questions will be asked.

  4. Wow, very interesting! This is where my head spins round and round and I can’t think straight in the end. Lovely!