Tag Archives: death

Friends who answered the call

A while back, I tossed out a list of questions, or more accurately, writing-prompts, and asked for input. I find that my writing benefits from fresh ideas and perspectives (as I suspect everyone’s does) and I was in great need of inspiration.

The responses I got were exactly what I needed, and I have permission to gather them together into one post (some via links) so that I can better share them. I offer my sincere thanks to all my friends who responded. Thank you!

If you enjoyed this, or if you think you want to give it a try, please toss out your own set of prompts. Perhaps we can make a thing of it, a periodic shot of inspiration. Until then, enjoy the following:


 

Bill:

In response to (6. What is your favorite ghost/folk/scary story (can be humorous or not)

Our local ghost is named Sukey (rhymes with rookie) Short. She’s the only ghost I believe in.

According to the story Sukey was an old black lady who lived alone. All of her neighbors were afraid of her, believing her to be a witch.

One cold winter evening she must have discovered that the coals in her fire had gone out, so she set out to get some from the people who lived around here, to use to restart her fire. But no one would open the door or give her any. They were afraid she would use them to cast a spell on them. She went from house to house, being turned away at each place. Finally she started walking back home. The road here was being built at the time and she stopped to rest, sitting on the stump of a tree that had just been cut down. Someone found her there the next morning, frozen to death.

Since that time her ghost has haunted this community. These days the story seems in the process of being forgotten but when I was a boy many of the old-timers had stories of having seen her and of the things attributed to her over the years. I saw her once when I was a boy (or saw something that I believed must have been her).


emilykazakh:

1. Make up a constellation and a brief story for it.

2. What is your favorite holiday (excluding Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Easter) and  why?

3. Name an object you would like to see featured in a story

4. make up a name for a spell and tell me what it does

5. Choose a plant and make up a symbolic meaning for it

6. What is your favorite ghost/folk/scary story (can be humorous or not)



Love The Bad Guy
:

1. Make up a constellation and a brief story for it.
Up there, do you see it? That’s Maedia – The Bride. She was stilted at the altar and feared her beloved had been stolen by Death, so she threw herself to the heavens to be reunited with him. Only there could she see the truth – her betrothed, far below her, in the arms of another. That cluster of stars? That’s her heart, shattered into a thousand pieces.
2. What is your favorite holiday (excluding Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Easter) and why?
I’m afraid that Christmas is the only holiday that holds any true value to me. Most of the others that I can think of right now are only good for a day off work…
3. Name an object you would like to see featured in a story.
I like anything with mystery to it – an alien artefact; something ordinary that holds unknown meaning to someone; a puzzle that needs to be solved.
4. Make up a name for a spell and tell me what it does.Fuoco intra – a wicked curse that causes the victims’ bones to burn like fire.
5. Choose a plant and make up a symbolic meaning for it.In days of old, people would plant morte duis at the doors of their enemies. The petals, as dark and silky as pooled blood, were said to be a bad omen that would attract Death himself. To have the flowers at your door was to invite ill will into your home.
6. What is your favourite ghost/folk/scary story (can be humorous or not).
I’m partial to a good video game, so I’m going to veer slightly off course from a scary story to a horror game – namely, the Outlast game. There are two things that I find brilliant about this game: the atmosphere, and the characters. The former is an intense formation of understated music, limited visibility, and an awareness of pervasive threats. The latter consists of a delightful variety of psychopaths, terrifying both in physical appearance and in actions.
Sorry for gushing about something only slightly related to your question, but Outlast leapt so vividly to mind when I saw the word “scary”; I just couldn’t think of anything else!

palecorbie:

1) The raven, a dark parch on the sky with nothing but the bright point of one corvid eye and a thin shimmer of feathers in the black. Would have been the helper-spirit of the first blacksmith, gifted to the same by the first shaman, but cared more for stealing shinies and prying things apart than helping with the work and eventually fled to the top of the sky-tree to avoid the Smith’s wrath after breaking something important (creating the spray of shiny over the rest of the heavens).

2) American much? Not that we have other officially recognised holidays over here save May Day…

I tell you, your Hallow’s Eve and mine are quite different things, though as for foreign festivals I am charmed by the way Mexicans celebrate All Souls’ (the Day of the Dead). Scandinavian Midsummer festivals are fun, too.

3) [wonders if nonsapient undead – and thus jiang shi and/or vampire watermelons – count as ‘objects’] A genuine trade-grade barbarian tea brick.

An ancient form of quasi-currency traded about by Eurasian nomads back when black tea was super-prestigious (my current obsession is Siberia, thanks partly to Sky Dog). Wikipedia will tell you more.

4) Expellyureathra – causes targets under area of effect to need to pee badly. Can disrupt entire military units, especially if aimed at COs.

Also useful for disrupting powderkeg civil situations, and practical jokes.

5) Gorse – resilience, fighting spirit

Many’s the time I’ve seen the yellow flags of gorse raised over deep snow, spears to the fore…

6) O Whistle and I’ll Come To You My Lad/The Tale of the Shifty Lad, the Widow’s Son/SKELETON  (Jubilare’s note: The first one is by M.R. James, the second is an old folktale and can be found here, and the third is by Ray Bradbury)


David:

Constellations, spells, symbolic plants and strange objects: Questions from Jubilare


And finally, my own answers:

 

An Exercise in Eccentricity


 

I keep thinking that I have missed someone. If so, I am sorry! It has been a while since I read most of the responses. Please let me know and I will add you to this post, because I want to be able to come back and find the responses, too.Again, thank you all!


What’s in a Dream?

Happy Halloween, folks!
This is a snippet that came to me a while back as I considered part-one of my WIP. Whether or not it will appear in the finished work, who knows! I changed the names because, well, I’m not sure, yet, whether or not I want this blog linked to the work itself. I am rather of a mind to finish my work, try and get it published, then be hands-off. But that is just how I feel now. Who knows how I will feel when, and if, the time comes?
Anyway, here it is!

Source unknown. If you know where it is from, please inform me.

Source unknown. If you know where it is from, please inform me.

The crickets were singing. Aubry lay awake, enjoying their rise and fall as if he would not hear it again for months. So late in the season, there was no telling when the first frost would cut them short.

One trilled in the corner of the cabin. A “thump” below told Aubry that ma or pa had thrown something at it. The inside-cricket was silent for a short time, then he started up again.

Aubry sighed. It was cozy under the thick quilt with his newly-adopted brother, Egan, curled up like a squirrel at his back. The small loft window stood open, letting a trickle of cool air move over his face.

Since the death of his last sister, years  back, he had forgotten what it was like to have a bedfellow. The extra warmth, the sound of soft breathing, and the occasional elbow or cold foot jabbed into his side were, at least for now, welcome things.

Sleep came smoothly, and dreaming too, like changes in the sky where gray becomes salmon and gold, then purple, then a luminous dark blue, and blue-black, swift yet gradual.

A chill crept into Aubry’s back, near his shoulder. He shifted, and felt something round and hard against him, cold, like a stoneware jug from the springhouse. He rolled away and turned to look.

What lay on the pallet beside him, where Egan should have been, was a gray, greasy-looking skeleton, still bound with shriveled strands of flesh. With a nearly silent, strangled cry, Aubry shuffled backwards until he was against the wall, next to the ladder. As he started to climb down, the corpse moved, rubbing at the remains of its face as if to wipe away sleep. It made a dull sound of bone on bone.

Aubry froze as it sat up, empty sockets turned to him. Moonlight from the window outlined the angles of its wagging jaw. He slid down the ladder and pulled it away from the loft before the thing could try and follow. His parents’ bed was empty.

At the door, he glanced back to the loft and saw the skeleton kneeling at the edge.

How lonesome.

The thought stung him unexpectedly, like the time he found Lily crying and realized that his teasing, along with the others, was the cause. But little Lily was pretty, when you really looked at her, and alive. The skeleton was cold and filthy, something that should be buried deep, or burned.

There had been a price to pay, learning to see Lily. He had gained a friend and a heartache, and found himself distanced from several of his oldest companions.

The skeleton clacked its jaws.

What’s the cost of this? To let it kill me?

     It had no tongue, or throat, or eyes for expression. Just a blank grin. Only the tilt of its skull and it’s shriveled hands gripping the edge of the loft gave it character. Was it saying “I want to get down and kill you” or “Are you going to leave me here alone?”

“What d’you want!” Aubry squeaked.

The corpse dropped down onto its creaking ribcage and reached out the remains of its hands.

Aubry stared at it, then fumbled for the door behind him and, opening it, ran out into the night.

The fort was as silent as a picture, full of gray and nothing. No wind, no crickets.

“Bear!” He called his dog, but nothing shuffled under the porch. Behind the closed door came a creaking, scraping sound.

With a groan, Aubry leaped off the porch and ran down the common.  Even his footfalls were swallowed into silence as he ran, but the scraping at his cabin door echoed out behind him.  He was scarce strong enough to open the main gate, even with the winch, so he made for the eastern one.

When he reached it, he paused to listen. There was nothing, no creak or clatter, just thick, congealed quiet.

In the dark, he fumbled for the latch and found it locked. He wrestled with it, fighting like a raccoon in a cage. The lock gave way and he burst through the gate into gray, silent fields.

He ran, and ran, past the pine grove, past Dorwich farm, down to the ford at High-bend creek.  There, at last, was sound, but it murmured defeat. The creek was up, too high to cross.

For the first and last time, he turned to look back.

There was nothing in sight.

Trees swayed, but did not rustle, grass moved in soft waves, but he could not hear the wind.

He realized, as he watched the empty fields, that running had been a mistake. The thing could now be anywhere, doing anything. He might live his whole life looking over his shoulder, wondering.

“Where’re you?! Come on out!”

Nothing. He backed away from the nearest tree, sat as close to the creek-bank as he dared, and tried to watch in all directions.

Then something grabbed and shook him. He lashed out, and someone caught his arm and smacked him across the face.

He startled awake. The waning moon was up and the shutters of the loft window were still open. He could see Egan kneeling beside him, holding his arm.

Aubry sat up, shivering, and rubbed his hands over his face. He looked up to see Egan’s crooked little smile.

“I get nightmares, too. Mostly that I’m still dyin in the shack and yall’re jus a dream.” He leaned towards the window and closed his eyes, taking in a deep, luxurious breath. “If that happens t’ be so, I’d rather die dreamin.”

“I…” the fright was too near for Aubry to put it into words. He managed only “I dreamed you’as dead.”  That’s right, ain’t it? It was Egan. It was Egan, and I ran from ‘im ‘stead of tryin to help. Some brother that makes me.

Egan blinked at him.

“Boys?” Pa rumbled from down below. “Hush and get sleepin.”

“Yessir,” said Aubry. He patted Egan’s shoulder and lay down. Egan curled up and rested his shaved head against Aubry’s back. It was round and solid, but warm.

As Aubry drifted off to sleep, a chill moved over him, and brought him full awake. It was just a passing feeling, perhaps a  final shred of that horrible dream.



If you want more, or something different, here is my favorite spooky poem: http://jubilare.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/the-listeners/
and a spooky poem that I actually wrote: http://jubilare.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/gothic-galatea/

And, for fun, this is “Lily,” once she’s all grown up and sich: http://jubilare.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/voice-week-day-3/
One of the characters involved in this story eventually picks up a nightstick: http://jubilare.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/mystifying/
And this story is neither mine, nor is it related to any of the above, but I think it is awesome and everyone ought to read it: http://bekindrewrite.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/flash-fiction-the-mysterious-case-of-the-marshmallow-mushroom-forest/
Enjoy!

Vanitas

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/12/Gysbrechts_Still_life_with_a_skull.jpg

Vanitas/Still Life with a Skull, one of several by Franciscus Gysbrechts, mid-to-late 1600’s.
Image from Wikimedia Commons: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/12/Gysbrechts_Still_life_with_a_skull.jpg

 

I haven’t many of my own words, right now, which is why I haven’t been posting. What few words I do have are being channeled into fiction and a few friends and loved ones who are facing trouble and pain.

Three friends of a close friend of mine, all from the same family, were killed in a wreck. Serious illness and death have touched several people I love. There is death, illness, strain, pain, separation, abuse, stress, and frustration close at hand, and horrible violence, famine, illness, war and death not far distant.  In other words, everything is normal for the world.


 

It is easy to think, in relatively peaceful and prosperous countries, that we are safe, and in many ways, we are. It’s also easy to feel ashamed of that peace and safety, knowing so many do not have it. I keep asking myself what that shame means. Is it helpful or harmful, a tool or an attack? It shouldn’t mean that I want what little peace and prosperity there is, in the world, to vanish (or should it?) but that I do not want such things to be so isolated, so rare. Perhaps, so long as it makes me want to use what I have to help, then it is good, but if it paralyzes me with shame, it is evil.

But there is something to be learned about both peace and prosperity, for those who are in it: It is, in the end, no real protection. Pain and death will find us. If we delude ourselves into thinking otherwise, or in distracting ourselves until we forget, then we are in for a shock.

Different faiths have different perspectives on how this reality should be faced. In my own, Christianity, there are many different angles from which it is approached. There is no single answer, though some folks pretend that there is. There are no pat sayings that cover all angles, though some people like to pretend there are. There is, instead, a mosaic, with space between the tesserae.


 

Be careful what you say to pain. I have to remind myself of this. It’s too easy to forget, we are so desperate to say something, to help somehow, that we do damage. Better to be silent. After all, in silence the Spirit may have a chance to speak without all of our clutter. My mind is very cluttered… and I am certainly not silent, here. But then, what is this blog if not a place for me to vent? Maybe venting, here, will keep me from saying stupid things to someone anon.


 

The painting, above, is a vanitas, a reminder of mortality and of the ephemeral nature of earthly wealth, power, pleasure and wisdom. In this particular painting, the skull is wreathed in dried grass, a symbol of the brevity of life, and the hope of resurrection, as the grass dies every year, but returns every Spring. It is the only thing in the painting that is treated so. I think C. S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory points out one reason why.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

Growing up, especially while studying history and biology, I got a very different impression of the world. What is the life of a human, so brief and fragile, to the life of a nation, or the world, or the universe?

This is no answer to the question of pain and death, or at least, it is not a complete answer. But it does shift the perspective. If I believe that human’s are, in essence, immortal, then how I treat them becomes much more serious. The responsibility is immense. When we turn our backs on human suffering, we are turning our backs on the suffering of an eternal someone. In Weight of Glory, Lewis catches at a possible risk. A turnabout.

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

How this post rambles! I’m not sure there is a point, or at least not a clear or singular one. I keep coming back to the vanitas. Almost all is vanity, born from dust and to dust returning, but if there is something eternal in that dust, which I believe, then the one thing that is not vanity is the immortal. The pain in my fellows, the suffering, may be finite, but I do not think it is trivial.


Autumn in Tennessee

Autumn opened its eyes, smiled, still half asleep, and rolled over.

At least, that is what it felt like.

We had a spell of cool weather, unseasonably, bizarrely cool, but lovely. Right on its edge, I thought I caught the scent of Autumn. There is no smell like it, no smell that quickens my blood that much. It is like the breath of God entering my lungs and enlivening the spirit He once breathed into me.

August, in my hometown, is hot, oppressive, and usually muggy (though we are in a mild drought this time). 30+ years living here, and indeed, further south where it is worse, have not helped me to like summer weather.

There are things I like about summer. The food is great, the greens of the landscape are rich, some of my favorite wildflowers put on a show and there are awesome insects and migratory birds everywhere. The other day I saw a clearwing moth, and just yesterday, I watched two female ruby-throated hummingbirds compete over coral honeysuckle, native salvia and a feeder.  And cicadas. I revel in summer cicada-song! But the heat and humidity wear me down quickly, and I run inside to escape.

The three other seasons, though, make up for the heaviness. For one thing, our seasons are pretty evenly spaced, around 3 months apiece. Spring, instead of being a brief link between winter and summer, is a long stretch of flower successions, greening, warming, and rain. It smells of sap and clean earth and breaks through the grays of winter with sharp, vibrant splashes of yellow, purple and white. Then, as the green begins to show, red, orange and blue mix in with the first colors, like a Fauve painting.

Winter, here, has little in the way of snow or persistent ice (though we always get some) but it is filled with opalescent grays, fawn-browns, and frost. A hillside covered with mostly deciduous trees looks like the speckled flank of a sleeping beast with a long, soft, gray-brown winter coat. It is subtle, and yet beautiful, like the many grays of the limestone sky. And in the morning, as I go to work in the dark, the street-lights set lawns and leaves sparkling with frost. It is as if every surface of the world is covered in glitter, and the smell of frost quickens the cold air.

But autumn. It leaves the rest behind. For some reason, the season of dying is life-giving to me. Sumac is the first to turn, a brilliant scarlet, brighter than flame or blood. The sugar-maples, perhaps the most spectacular, create a spectrum that runs from green, through yellows and oranges and into red, all at the same time. They look like shards of living rainbow. Sweetgums turn dark crimson, purple and black. Each tree species (and sometimes each tree) has its pattern and its method, and we have well over 100 species here. Some non-evergreens even retain their dead leaves to whisper through the winter, shedding them only when the new growth arrives in the spring.

One of my favorite species, eastern red cedar (which is actually a juniper) is an evergreen, though it takes on a winter sheen of dark bronze.

But if it were just about visual wonder, Spring and Autumn would be equally loved by me. They are not.

Spring breaks into winter just when I am weary of the gray. It is welcome and enlivening. But there is something about Autumn air. It blows across my mind, causing the embers there to redden, dusting away the white ash until flames flicker to life. It sparks my creativity, my well-being, my life. The taste we had recently whetted my appetite for that rare wind. I am never satisfied, it is never enough. Even in this place, that has a long autumn, it is too brief.

But for that short time, every year, I seem to touch something beyond myself. Perhaps it really is a time when the boundaries between worlds grows thin. I do not fear fairies, or the dead. What I feel coming near is different from that. It is the Christian song. I feel like I breathe in eternity, that eternity that is already here, present within me, but that I do not fully understand. Not yet. Not yet, but one day. Until that day, I have the contradictions, the mystery, a keyhole through a door.

Autumn, dying and living, curling up to sleep, comfort in fear, but not a vulgar fear as of being afraid. I am not afraid, but my heart is racing. It is so hard to express.  I think C.S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton are right about that desire. The desire I feel that is soothed a little in this world, but never satisfied, the hunger for the excitement of adventure coupled with the comfort of coming home, that contradiction in my soul during Fall, fear and comfort, excitement and peace, thrill and balm.

I think of Bilbo Baggins. That journey at my feet, the road tugging at me, that song in the wind. Maybe that is why Bilbo’s song always brings me tears, good tears, and makes me think of Autumn.

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains of the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

-J. R. R. Tolkien: From Bilbo, in The Hobbit and (the last stanza) Lord of the Rings.

..

.

*I’ve been told that this post can easily be taken as disrespectful to other beliefs. If you find it so, I apologize. That was not my intent.


Brooding on Monsters

Forgiveness of others when they wrong me is a fundamental, though often challenging, requirement of my faith. I understand why it is so important, and why we often need help to accomplish it. I desire to be forgiven when I wrong others.

As far as extending human understanding, and even the idea of forgiveness, to some people, I seem to have limits.

Listening to the news has recently brought before me a recurring theme in my life: There is a homicidal torturer that lives under my skin. She longs to take predatory humans, especially sexual predators, into a brightly lit room and vivisect them over the course of several days.

There. I have said it. Yes, I know that many predators are also victims of predation or other horrible circumstances. I also believe that there is a predatory strain, an impulse, a siren call to dominate others, imbedded in humanity.

Obviously, I am no exception. I want to torture certain people, I want to murder them, and when all is said and done, both stem from that desire for domination.

I want to dominate and destroy an aspect of humanity (by proxy of humans that openly manifest it) that exists within me. Even more ironic is the fact that the predatory aspect I contain, that I hate so much in others, would be my motivation and means for attempting to dominate and destroy the aspect in others.

A friend said to me “but they are using it for evil. You want to use it for good.” She means that I want to use it to avenge the weak who are harmed and even killed by those who have the power to harm them. She has strong feelings about cruelty, and she has seen much first-hand as she tries to rescue animals from horrific abuses. She, like me, wishes she could pay the inflicters back, perhaps starving and beating them, then putting them in rings together and forcing them to fight and kill each other while people watching place bets.

There is a grim satisfaction in the thought. An eye for an eye is just. But then I remember that I do not believe that I am the judge. I am a fellow defendant, or at best, a plaintiff.

And yet, without that sense of outrage, that anger, that horror, I would have no motivation to act, to try and stop genocide, or human-trafficking, or rape. Great struggles against these evils are born from the anger, the sense of there being such a thing as justice and injustice.

Righteous anger is, I believe, just that. It is right, and it is anger. Some acts, and the people who perpetrate them, need to be stopped. Given the dangerous monster under my skin, I see the need for an impartial system to stop them, but sometimes the systems do not have the reach, the power, or even the desire to do so. What then? Is a mob, or a movement of the outraged better or worse than the lone avenger driven by righteous anger? A movement is certainly harder to stop, and they have achieved great things, like the Civil Rights movement combating social injustice. But groups can easily be predators, too, or take their vengeance too far.

After all, not everyone agrees on just causes for anger and action.

But that is really another issue. What I am trying to process, here, are my own murderous desires. God help me, I know that though my anger may be right, those desires are not. They are understandable, but corrupt. If they are any less horrible than the acts they clamor to avenge, it is not a very great difference.

“Love the Sinner, hate the sin,” is one of those sayings that is too short to be helpful. For one thing, it has become trite, and for another, it is wide-open to all sorts of interpretations and actions. Even if I take it in what I believe to be the right way, I find it rife with complications. How do you love someone when they have done truly horrific things to others? How?!

Perhaps distance makes a difference. It is far easier to simplify matters from a distance, to empathize and demonize ideas of humans rather than real ones. But that is not the whole story. Chances are that I have met perpetrators, predators, and been unaware. I have not yet had to look someone in the eye, knowing horrible things they have done to another person, and try to separate something human from something monstrous in my mind.

I have no solution to this yet, other than the mysterious power that rests in prayer, questioning, and seeking. I am not sure I want answers from others, either. This seems to be one of those instances where I need to find the answer for myself. People vary so much in what makes them angry, how they react, and what they feel or believe is right. Everyone might have a different “answer,” and unless I find this one myself, I will not  trust that it is mine.

I am not even entirely sure why I am writing this post, but I desperately needed to vent, and one thing I do believe is that this world could always use a bit more honesty.

So here I am, raw and snarling. Today, I do not like what I see in the mirror any more than I like what I see in the news. I leave the can of worms of “News Media Bias” unopened, and I ask you to leave it closed, too. I cannot deal with that argument right now. However, I do believe that the sensationalism, the constant barrage of horrors and the voyeuristic hovering, has an effect on me, and on others.

There is good advice to be had in Philippians 4:8

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

I need a bit more of that right now. Predators must be fought, but if we forget what it is we fight for, then what is the point? Perhaps that is the beginning of an answer for me.

Perhaps the monster in me wants to fight against something it hates, but God’s will is that I fight, instead, for something I love?

.


Christmas in the Trenches

Public Domain Image by Vera Kratochvil http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=16260&picture=poppy-flower
Public Domain Image by Vera Kratochvil

My last offering is one that I have not known for very long, but I have heard of the events on which it was based. The character of Francis Tolliver is fictional, but the event he describes is real. Words fail me at this point, but the song speaks for itself. Merry Christmas to All, and God’s blessings especially on all who, today, face war, persecution and strife. 

Christmas in the Trenches,

by John McCutcheon
.
My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool.
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.
From Belgium and to Flanders, to Germany, to here
I fought for King and country I love dear.
.
‘Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost, so bitter, hung.
The frozen fields of France were still, no Christmas song was sung.
Our families back in England were toasting us that day,
Their brave and glorious lads so far away.
.
I was lying with my messmates on the cold and rocky ground,
When across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound.
Says I, “Now listen up, me boys!” each soldier strained to hear
As one young German voice sang out so clear.
.
“He’s singing bloody well, you know!” my partner says to me.
Soon, one by one, each German voice joined in harmony.
The cannons rested silent, the gas clouds rolled no more
As Christmas brought us respite from the war.
.
As soon as they were finished and a reverent pause was spent,
“God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” struck up some lads from Kent.
The next they sang was “Stille Nacht.” “Tis ‘Silent Night’,” says I,
And in two tongues one song filled up that sky.
.
“There’s someone coming toward us!” the front line sentry cried.
All sights were fixed on one long figure trudging from their side.
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shown on that plain so bright
As he, bravely, strode unarmed into the night.
.
Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man’s Land.
With neither gun nor bayonet, we met there hand to hand.
We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well
And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave ‘em hell.
.
We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home.
These sons and fathers far away from families of their own.
Young Sanders played his squeezebox and they had a violin,
This curious and unlikely band of men.
.
Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more.
With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war.
But the question haunted every heart that beat that wondrous night:
“Whose family have I fixed within my sights?”
.
‘Twas Christmas in the trenches where the frost, so bitter, hung.
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung.
For the walls they’d kept between us to exact the work of war
Had been crumbled and were gone forevermore.
.
My name is Francis Tolliver, in Liverpool I dwell.
Each Christmas come since World War I, I’ve learned its lessons well.
That the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame
And on each end of the rifle we’re the same.
.
© 1984 John McCutcheon – All rights reserved


Advent: Veni, Veni, Emmanuel

This is one of the few carols that is both ubiquitous and among my favorites. It doesn’t matter how many times I hear it or how many versions of it I encounter. I love it, I sing it, and it still has the power to bring me to tears. The call for help, echoed by the assurance of an answer seems, to me, the definition of the hope we have in God.

The song may have its origins as early as the 8th Century, but may be younger than that. It was translated by John Mason Neale and Henry Sloane Coffin in the 1800’s.

The hardest part of this post is actually choosing a version to highlight. There are so many beautiful renditions out there. I finally settled on the Mediaeval Baebes, from their beautiful album Salva Nos.

Veni, Veni Emmanuel

Veni, veni Emmanuel;
Captivum solve Israel,
Qui gemit in exilio,
Privatus Dei Filio.

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
Nascetur pro te, Israel!

Veni, veni, O Jesse virgula,
Ex hostis tuos ungula,
De specu tuos tartari
Educ et antro barathri.

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
Nascetur pro te, Israel!

Veni, veni, O Oriens;
Solare nos adveniens,
Noctis depelle nebulas,
Dirasque noctis tenebras.

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
Nascetur pro te, Israel!

Veni, Clavis Davidica!
Regna reclude caelica;
Fac iter tutum superum,
Et claude vias inferum.

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
Nascetur pro te, Israel!

Veni, veni Adonai!
Qui populo in Sinai,
Legem dedisti vertice,
In maiestate gloriae.

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
Nascetur pro te, Israel!

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight!

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of Might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud, and majesty, and awe.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Music copyright Mediaeval Baebes, 2003.


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