Shrive vs shrivel

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.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
This entry was posted in holy days, poetry, prayer and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Shrive vs shrivel

  1. Joan says:

    Beautiful, Rosalind.

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