Tag Archives: song

Unlikely Treasure

As a child, I had little stashes of treasure. Translucent plastic beads, water-snail and mussel shells found in the Harpeth River, glass marbles, a ring with a little blue-glass jewel my brother gave me, a goat skull found on my godmother’s farm, a teardrop-shaped prism that filled rooms with tiny shards of rainbow, dried reindeer lichen, cheap pot-metal ornaments painted gold and set with faceted rainbow-glass, a lop-eared rabbit-puppet named Hazel (cookie points to anyone who gets the reference), an army (I’m not kidding, if they were alive and feeling militant, they could overwhelm you) of plastic horses.

Green Glass Marbles by George Hodan http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=25338&picture=green-glass-marbles

Green Glass Marbles by George Hodan
www.publicdomainpictures.net

All things that are nearly, or completely, worthless in a monetary sense. But I think most people will easily understand that they are anything but worthless to me, even today.

Along with these objects, I kept, and still keep, deeper and even more precious hoards. Memories, words, emotions, pictures of places, sounds, smells, anything and everything that has struck a certain note in me. It is a very specific note. I can feel it vibrate, and it is always the same, though the things that cause it are so utterly disparate that even I cannot see the connection. I only feel that there is a connection.

I hunt for something, constantly. The very fact that, having these treasure-troves already, I am still hunting, tells me that these things, while they touch what I am looking for, are not the thing itself. Smoke on the wind, pine sap, limestone boulders… almost, almost! But the moment passes as soon as I know it has come. I’ve tracked my quarry and won a glimpse, but it has disappeared, again, amidst the trees and all I have left are tracks.

I worry, sometimes, that these hoards are of the world, and perhaps, in a sense, they are. They, themselves, that is. But the chord they strike, that is of such power and purity that I cannot imagine it having its source anywhere but in God. Perhaps I, and all my fellow creatures, are in danger of mistaking the source of the want, for misunderstanding what we are hunting. I could spend my whole life believing that I am seeking the things that reflect the light, and find once I have them, the light is gone. But at the same time, if it were not for the reflections these things give me, what would I know of the light?

Maybe I am wrong. But it seems that if so, at least I am not alone in my error.

I’ve been listening to an audiobook copy of The Problem of Pain, by C. S. Lewis. Something he says near the end, in Chapter 10, made me think of my strange dragon-hoard.

I’m not sure, yet, how this is going to work, but I feel the need to explore the passage and my reaction to it. I think it will take at least one more post. It may take several. We shall see.  In the mean time, here is the passage itself. I’ve whittled it down a little for brevity’s sake, but I recommend picking up a copy of the book and reading the whole chapter (or, for that matter, the whole book, it is very interesting).

Warning, Lewis speaks about Pantheism, below. From what I know of him from his writing, I think his words are not intended to insult, but simply reflect his view. After all, he introduces this chapter as nothing more than his personal speculation. Still, it is possible to take it as an attack on pantheistic religions. I am not a pantheist, I believe that Lewis’s words are probably correct, but I mean no insult to anyone in posting this. If your beliefs differ from mine, feel free to express them (politely, please) in the comments below.

You may think that there is another reason for our silence about heaven, namely that we do not, really, desire it. But that may be an illusion. What I am now going to say is an opinion of my own…

There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven, but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.

You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words. But most of your friends do not see it at all, and often wonder why, liking this, you should also like that. Again, you’ve stood before some landscape which seems to embody what you have been looking for all your life, and then turned to the friend at your side who appears to be seeing what you saw, but at the first words a gulf yawns between you and you realize that this landscape means something totally different to him…

Are not all life-long friendships born at the moment when, at last, you meet another human being who has some inkling, but faint and uncertain even in the best, of that something which you were born desiring and which… year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for…?

You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it… echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest, if there ever came an echo that did not die away, but swelled into the sound itself, you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt, you would say “here, at last, is the thing I was made for.” We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want… While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all.

This signature on each soul may be a product of heredity and environment, but that only means that heredity and environment are among the instruments whereby God creates a soul. I am considering not how, but why He makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one. Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him, and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you.

The mold in which a key is made would be a strange thing if you had never seen a key, and the key, itself, a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is… a key to unlock one of the doors in the House with many mansions. For it is not “Humanity” in the abstract that is to be saved, but you… God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love. Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you, and you alone, because you were made for it…

It is from this point of view that we can understand Hell in its aspect of privation. All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will wake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it, or else that it was within your reach, and you have lost it forever. This may seem a perilously private and subjective notion of the “Pearl of Great Price,” but it is not. The thing I am speaking of is not an experience. You have experienced only the want of it. The thing, itself, has never actually been embodied in any thought, or image, or emotion. Always it has summoned you out of yourself, and if you will not go out of yourself to follow it, if you sit down to brood on the desire and attempt to cherish it, the desire itself will evade you.

The door into life generally opens behind us, and the only wisdom for one haunted with the scent of unseen roses, is work. The Secret Fire goes out when you use the bellows. Bank it down with what seems unlikely fuel of dogma and ethics, turn your back on it and attend to your duties, and then it will blaze…

Such is my opinion, and it may be erroneous. Perhaps this secret desire, also, is part of the old man, and must be crucified before the end, but this opinion has a curious trick of evading denial. The desire, much more the satisfaction, has always refused to be fully present in any experience. Whatever you try to identify with it turns out to be, not it, but something else, so that hardly any degree of crucifixion or transformation could go beyond what the desire, itself, leads us to anticipate. Again, if this opinion is not true, something better is. But “something better,” not “this” or “that” experience, but something beyond it, is almost the definition of the thing I am trying to describe.

The thing you long for summons you away from the self. Even the desire for the thing lives only if you abandon it. This is the ultimate law. The seed dies to live, the bread must be cast upon the waters, he that loses his soul will save it. But the life of the seed, the finding of the bread, the recovery of the soul are as real as the preliminary sacrifice. Hence it is truly said of heaven: “in heaven there is no ownership.” If any, there, took it upon him to call anything his own, he would, straight-way, be thrust out into Hell and become an evil spirit. But it is also said: “to him that overcometh, I will give a white stone, and in the stone, a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that recieveth it.”

What can be more a man’s own than this new name which, even in eternity, remains a secret between God and him? And what shall we take this secrecy to mean? Surely that each of the redeemed shall forever know and praise some one aspect of the Divine beauty better than any other creature can.

Why else were individuals created, but that God, loving all infinitely, should love each differently? And this difference, so far from impairing, floods with meaning the love of all blessed creatures for one another: the communion of the saints.

If all experienced God in the same way, and returned Him an identical worship, the song of the Church Triumphant would have no symphony. It would be like an orchestra in which all the instruments played the same note… Heaven is a “city” and a “body” because the blessed remain eternally different, a “society” because each has something to tell all the others: fresh and ever-fresh news of the “My God” whom each finds in Him whom all praise as “Our God.” For, doubtless, the continually successful, yet never complete, attempt by each soul to communicate its unique vision to all others, and that by means whereof earthly art and philosophy are but clumsy imitations, is also among the ends for which the individual was created.

For union exists only between distincts, and perhaps from this point of view, we catch a momentary glimpse of the meaning of all things. Pantheism is is a creed not so so much false, as hopelessly behind the times. Once, before creation, it would have been true to say that everything was God. But God created, He caused things to be other than Himself that, being distinct, they might learn to love Him and achieve union instead of sameness. Thus He, also, cast his bread upon the waters. Even within the creation, we might say that inanimate matter, which has no will, is one with God in a sense in which men are not. But it is not God’s purpose that we should go back into that old identity… but that we should go on to the maximum distinctness, there to be reunited with Him in a higher fashion.

C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Note: this is a transcription from audio. I cannot vouch for the punctuation, spelling, or even the exact wording, but I have done the best I can under the circumstances.


Xena, Arizona Ranger

The other day I was listening to Marty Robbins, as I do now and again (after all, the man’s voice is like gelato, creamy and smooth). Specifically, the song Big Iron. Songs often influence, or interweave with, my writing. This song makes me think of the main protagonist of my WIP, who is a ranger, though not quite like the Rangers of the Old West, idealized or otherwise; not entirely unlike them, either.

The thing is, my ranger-protagonist is a woman. She’s not a gun-slinger, partly because her distance-vision is terrible, but mostly because there aren’t any guns in her world. However, I can definitely see her hunting down an outlaw and taking no prisoners.

So, on impulse, I stopped the music and began to re-sing the song to myself with the ranger being female. Then, when I reached the part about the outlaw, he became a woman, too. The result follows.

“Big Iron,” by Marty Robbins, altered lyrics in red.

To the town of Agua Fria rode a stranger one fine day,
Hardly spoke to folks around her, didn’t have too much to say.
No one dare to ask her business, no one dared to make a slip,
The stranger there among them had a big iron on her hip,
Big iron on her hip.

It was early in the mornin when she rode into the town.
She came ridin from the south side, slowly looking all around.
She’s an outlaw, loose and runnin,” came the whisper from each lip,
“And she’s here to do some business with the big iron on her hip,”
Big iron on her hip.

In this town there lived an outlaw by the name of Texas Red.
Many folks had tried to take her, and that many folks were dead.
She was vicious and a killer, though a girl of twenty-four,
And the notches on her pistol numbered one and nineteen more,
One and nineteen more.

Now the stranger started talkin, made it plain to folks around,
Was an Arizona Ranger, wouldn’t be to long in town.
She came here to take an outlaw back alive, or maybe dead,
And she said it didn’t matter, she was after Texas Red,
After Texas Red.

Wasn’t long before the story was relayed to Texas Red,
But the outlaw didn’t worry, those that tried before were dead.
Twenty folks had tried to take her, twenty folks had made a slip,
Twenty-one would be the Ranger with the big iron on her hip,
Big iron on her hip.

The morning passed so quickly, it was time for them to meet.
It was twenty-past-eleven when they walked out in the street.
Folks were watching from the windows, everybody held their breath,
They new this handsome Ranger was about to meet her death,
About to meet her death.

There was forty feet between ’em when they stopped to make their play,
And the swiftness of the Ranger is still talked about today.
Texas Red had not cleared leather ‘fore a bullet fairly ripped,
And the Ranger’s aim was deadly with the big iron on her hip,
Big iron on her hip.

It was over in a moment and the folks had gathered ’round.
There, before them, lay the body of the outlaw on the ground.
Oh she might’ve went on livin, but she made one fatal slip,
When she tried to match the Ranger with the big iron on her hip,
Big iron on her hip.

Big iron, big iron,
When she tried to match the Ranger,
With the big iron on her hip.

 

It certainly changes the mental imagery, doesn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I love the original version of the song, too, and am as happy to sing it as to sing my slight adjustment.  Since doing this, though, I’ve tried flipping the pronouns in other songs, and it nearly always works.

Anyone who reads my blog consistently knows that I consider myself a feminist, and I in no way feel that I have to choose between feminism and loving and respecting men. Feminism, to me, means being considered a whole person, on equal standing with men, who are also whole people.

The culture I live in is riddled with messages that I don’t like. Few stories have interesting (much less powerful) female characters, and alternative feminist narratives sometimes seem to belittle, if not demonize, women who desire traditional female roles. It all makes me want to throw up my hands and shout “stop telling me what I should want and give me some better stories!”

Things are getting better in this regard, but progress seems slow. I will keep playing with songs and writing my own stories that neither limit women to periphery or symbolic roles, nor demonizes them if they make their mark on the world by keeping a home and raising children.


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: Go Tell it on the Mountain

Here is my next-to-last offering this year. Like several of the other carols I have highlighted, I first heard this version on the “Home for Christmas” album.

This African-American spiritual was first transcribed by John Wesley Work Jr., a choral director, songwriter, and a collector/compiler of folk music, slave songs, and spirituals. It was first published in Folk Songs of the Amer­i­can Ne­gro in 1907.  J. W. Work Jr. was from Nashville Tennessee, taught at Fisk University and directed and promoted the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

The version I fell in love with was recorded by the incomparable Odetta Holmes. The words differ a bit from those recorded by Work Jr., but such is the way of folk music. It is more wandering, but still rich with imagery.

Go Tell It on the Mountain

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hill, and everywhere.
Go tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is a born!

In the time of David,
Some called him a king.
If a child is true-born
The Lord will hear him singing.

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hill, and a everywhere.
Go tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is a born!

When I was a sinner,
I sought both night and day.
I asked the Lord to help a’me,
And He showed me the way.

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hill, and a everywhere.
Go tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is a born!

He made me a watchman
Upon a city wall,
And if I am a good soul,
I am the least of all.

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hill, well a everywhere.
Go tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is a born!

.

Music copyright to Odetta Holmes, 1982

Listen Here


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.


Advent: Third Carol for Christmas Day

I considered a more cutting selection for today because sometimes I forget, along with many others, who Christ is, who He chose to consort with, and that His warmest words were for the poor, the outcasts, and those in distress. To those in prosperity and power, his love tended to manifest in harsh words, a needed wake-up call for those willing to hear it.

We risk becoming too comfortable.  Sometimes we need a good shaking-up. I believe that God wants us comforted, but not comfortable. Sometimes we need to hear the words He spoke to those who had every worldly reason to be satisfied with themselves.

But as I began to write this post, something told me that this is not the time for shaking. Doubtless that time will come, but maybe I’m not the only one who has had a rough year, and maybe anyone who reads this is in a season where they need to be comforted, not exhorted. We need reminders, too, that we are loved and how much. That is really the message of this season, isn’t it? Love manifest in the coming of the Child of Heaven.

In that spirit, I bring you a gorgeous song that reminds me of how much I am loved, and fills me with gratitude for a gift that I could never deserve. You can read the very long lyrics here, but the version I am posting is much shorter and, I think, more to the point.

The song itself is called “Third Carol for Christmas Day” or “Ye Sons of Men with Me Rejoice” and was recorded in A New Garland Containing Songs for Christmas, by Rev. William Devereux in 1728.  It is an Irish carol, and my only encounter with it has been through Maighread Ni Dhomhnaill and Donal Lunny on The Very Best of Celtic Christmas. The album is hit or miss for my tastes, but worth its cost. This song, and “Circle of Joy” are my favorites. As always, please remember that these renditions of songs are under copyright, so if you like them and want to listen to them over and over, do the right thing and purchase them.

Third Carol for Christmas Day,
by Rev. William Devereux, 1728

.

Ye sons of men with me rejoice,
And praise the Heav’ns with heart and voice,
For joyful tidings you we bring,
Of this Heav’nly Babe, the new born King.
.

Who from His mighty throne above
Came down to manifest His love
To all such as would Him embrace,
And would be born again in grace.
.

This mystery for to unfold:
When the King of Kings, He did behold
The poor unhappy state of man,
He sent His own beloved Son.
.

An angel sent by Heaven’s command
To a spotless virgin in the land;
One of the seed of David, King,
These joyful tidings for to bring.
.

He hailed this Virgin, full of grace,
And told her that in nine month’s space,
She should bring forth a Son, and He,
The Savior of mankind should be.
.

Music copyright Maighread ni Dhomhnaill and Donal Lunny, 2004.


Advent: Brugundian Carol

Some carols are very imaginative. That is to say, the writers were not overly concerned with fidelity to the stories of the Christ’s birth given in scripture.

While I am wary of wandering from scripture in terms of doctrine, I am often glad that these writers dared to conjure images and stories in the spirit of the faith that are not confined to the biblical accounts. They increase our spiritual imagery and lexicon and make important connections across humanity.

Apart from the concept that Jesus was born in a stable among animals, we have no biblical stories about how these beasts might have reacted. But then again, it is clear that the following song is only partly talking of oxen and donkeys. I first heard this piece as sung by Pete Seeger, on the “Home for Christmas” album. In other places, his rendition is called “Carol of the Beasts” and can be purchased as such here along with other carols.

From what I have been able to dig up, the song was originally written in French by one Bernard LaMonnoye of Burgundy (thus the title) in the 18th Century, and was translated into English by Oscar Brand. Seeger’s rendition differs a little from others in lyrics, but such is the nature of folk songs, and that is one of the reasons I love folk music so much.

Burgundian Carol
by Bernard LaMonnoye, translated by Oscar Brand
.

And on that night, it has been told
These humble beasts, so rough and rude
Throughout the night of Holy Birth
Drank no water, ate no food.
.
How many oxen and donkeys now,
Dressed in ermine, silk, and such,
How many oxen and donkeys you know
At such a time would do as much?
.
As soon as to these humble beasts
Appeared our Lord, so mild and sweet.
With joy they knelt before His grace
And gently kissed his tiny feet.
.
How many oxen and donkeys now,
If they were there when first He came,
How many oxen and donkeys you know
At such a time would do the same?
.

Copyright to Pete Seeger, 1982

Listen Here

You can learn more about “Home for Christmas,” and listen to most of it here: The Basement Rug


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