Few things will reduce us to inglorious paralysis like letting Eros put a halo, a mitre, or a crown on the inflated head that already bobs unstably on his pencil neck. Submission to a god who’s famously a thrall even to a moderately stiff breeze is the kernel of sundry evils – from Duke Orsino’s pathetic lovesickness in Twelfth Night to the poetry of Lord Byron to Marianne Dashwood’s brush with death in Sense and Sensibility and to scores of appalling “it’s not you, it’s me” speeches. That isn’t to say Eros is bad company. He can be delightful wearing the appropriate headwear: a jester’s hat.
“But these are all dead, and I am alive!” I objected, shuddering.
“Not much,” rejoined the sexton with a smile, “—not nearly enough! Blessed be the true life that the pauses between its throbs are not death!”
“The place is too cold to let one sleep!” I said.
“Do these find it so?” he returned. “They sleep well—or will soon. Of cold they feel not a breath: it heals their wounds.—Do not be a coward, Mr. Vane. Turn your back on fear, and your face to whatever may come. Give yourself up to the night, and you will rest indeed. Harm will not come to you, but a good you cannot foreknow.”
George MacDonald, Lilith ch. vii (1895).
The other night I fell asleep with my windows open. A refreshing chill awakened me. Summer’s days were numbered. Autumn was literally in the air.
Vigorously as I maintain that spring is the joy and crown of the seasons, I have come to appreciate the retreat of summer before the advance of autumn. There are obvious reasons for this: crisp air, golden afternoons, brilliant leaves. There are, however, less obvious reasons: lengthening shadows, shortening days, death. If spring’s motif is resurrection, autumn’s motif is death. What is the succession of changing leaves but a vivid death march, with the brilliant maples in the vanguard and the subdued crimson of the stately oaks holding the rearguard? And, when the last of the oak leaves has given up the ghost, what remains on the branches? Thousands of magnificent little death monuments, the bronzed beech leaves.
For the conclusion of last year’s Trinity season, I wrote a paean to maturity under the sun. Under the sun, though, what follows maturity? Death. In embracing the former, we cannot help but receive the latter — to lay down in the cold, not knowing when we will rise.
In the merciful providence of God we need not flee the brilliance or the cold of advancing death. This thing, which once was our dread enemy, has been conquered by a Man. It is now His instrument for cleansing the old earth’s palate for the new earth, and our palate for the resurrection. Just as sleep has ever been His instrument for cleansing our palates for the new day, and autumn His instrument for cleansing the world’s palate for the freshness of spring.
There goes the last flicker of Sol’s great light
Over the horizon.
Now is the cold, the deep dreadful darkness,
With this benediction:
Abraham’s stars speak low
The sure promise of God,
The light of the eighth day as of the first.
Not long ago I read an advertisement in a local paper for what looked like a most fascinating class. My life had grown stale; it was high time for me to try something new, so I enrolled. The idea of learning about subjects as diverse as shipbuilding, sailing, swordfighting, pillaging, loot appraising, and fine rum thrilled me.
It turned out the class actually was about proper breathing, something called a “powerhouse,” and a series of exercises designed to increase flexibility and core strength. I can’t say I didn’t feel stronger and more lithe after just one class. Moreover, my classmates were quite friendly; indeed, as the only male in the class, I was (despite the skull-and-crossbones t-shirt I’d chosen for my first day of school outfit) pretty much catnip. Still, I felt a tad let down, like I’d been the victim of a bait-and-switch routine — until I reviewed the ad for the class and realized I’d misread one letter in the course name.
Posted in General, Gospels, Politics, Scripture, St Matthew, The Kingdom of God, The laws of men | Tagged Church, Gospel According to St Matthew, Sermon on the Mount, St Matthew, World | Leave a Comment »
After St Matthew finished his begats, he dove right into two of the great controversies of his times: righteousness and justice in applying Torah, and divorce. Nearly two thousand years have passed since Matthew wrote his gospel, and two of the great controversies of our times are righteous application of Torah, and divorce.
I spent this afternoon mowing the lawn and pulling spider webs off my skin.
Sometime in the course of this process of grass cutting and web-clearing it occurred to me that arachnophobia isn’t entirely irrational. The greatest arachnophobe I know calls spiders “eight-legged devils,” and not without reason. The devil’s m.o. is to ensnare. Does the wide world afford a better picture of ensnaring temptation, of close-clinging sin, than the spider’s web? When I run through webs their tensile strength astonishes me; strands cling to my beard even after thorough washing.
In turn, the image changed how I view Scripture. The Word of God, which St Paul calls the “sword of the Spirit,” appeared all the more valuable. We do not fully understand its value until we use it the way Beren used his sword in the Nan Dungortheb, the way Bilbo, Frodo and Sam used Sting in Mirkwood and Cirith Ungol: both to sever cords and to slay monsters.