Shrive vs shrivel
Shrivel is related to wrinkling and to shrinkage,
especially the kind that happens from drying out. Think
the unintended creases of a shirt sleeve,
or a face not-so freshly from the pillow.
We could ask for our sins to be shrivelled,
to curl up at the edges like offended nostrils,
sawdust on the outskirts of the fire.
Shriving comes from the same pen
that inscribes a penance,
hatches out a psalm,
writes a prescription for our sins before absolving them.
Each, I suppose, cures in its own way:
one dries me out like leather, but the other
spells my name in the same ink
with which it writes the book of truth
whose words are living
and will not be blotted out.
Wordplay in place of prayer will lead to dereliction,
but One stencils wisdom on the tablet of the heart,
great physician of the inward breath:
Write me the script for a new heart, O God;
scratch out a new and shriven,
unshrivelled spirit within me.
It occurred to me idly to wonder whether the shriving of Shrove Tuesday was etymologically connected to shrivelling. According to The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (OUP, 1993), apparently (and fortunately) not.