Friday, June 30, 2017

Thus Ends the World, Scene 2

This is a re-posting of a play written last year; see note in the header above. 

Cast of Scene 2:
Richard, lord of the Yarbury estates
Mary, Richard’s wife
Charles, Richard and Mary’s dying son
Ailred, steward of the estate
Scene 2
[Richard and Ailred standing at Charles’ deathbed; Mary enters]
Mary: No, no, my Charles, no!
        What dark fate befalls us here?
        I walk in nightmare valleys now,
        Disbelieving this could be day.
        Let this be a mistral dream,
        And I an unhappy slumberer,
                Wracked with chills;
        Let not this moment crystalize
                Into the hard reality
                        Of the unforgetfulness of God.
        Oh, to awake!
Richard: If I could wake you, beloved,
        And myself besides,
        From out this hell-sent misery,
        I would tear old Atlas from his mount
                To do the thing.
Mary: Speak to me truth;
        Vain consolations can wait:
        What happened?
Ailred: An act of God, my lady:
        An accident.
Mary: Not the plague?
        I’ve fears of the plague’s touch
        Snaking through my soul.
Ailred: Not the plague.
        The young master was riding the grounds,
        All at peace, when rose a hostile wind.
        It tore loose a great limb
        From the ancient family tree
        That stands on guard at Yarbury gate.
        Master Charles was struck.
Mary: Struck! Does he yet live?
Ailred: Barely, my lady. He breathes,
        But it may be the breath of one
        Not long for this world.
Richard: Enough of truth, Ailred.
        I would speak more consolations—
        Vain reflections of a father’s hope, perhaps,
        Yet what but hope remains?
                So let us hope.
Mary: An act of God, said the steward…
        Why should the King of heaven
        Condemn my son to die?
Richard: Say not that it was God’s hand, beloved—
        Irreverence deepens the terror of the hour.
Ailred: My words were poorly chosen, Lady.
Mary: No, well chosen, Ailred—
        What could this be but divine omen?
        A hostile wind tears down the family tree—
        And in so tearing, uproots my family.
Richard: The Lord is just, but this act
        Was nature’s hateful caprice, nothing more.
        Say not it was our God.
Mary: It was! But he is just, yes,
        And justice is hard and cold,
        Made for days like this!
        I see no mournful sensitivity
                In heaven’s dark severity,
        No tears nor trembling lips that cry
                For the passing of my son.
        My son! Oh, my son…
        What just cause could Christ Almighty have
        For wreaking holy vengeance upon thee?
        None! You were a light, a joy,
        A fanfare on a dappled autumn day—
        Never thought of greed nor lustful smirk
        Ever made pass my Charles’ face—never!
        No, let God be damned a tyrant
        Before my Charles is defamed!
Richard: Mary…
Mary: You! You, Richard, you!
        Bear up to the day’s necessity,
        An accounting of our shame,
        And your misbegotten responsibility
        For pale death knocking at our door!
        Behold the stern assessment of a woman’s mind!
        What shall it be? That God is unjust?
                No, say you. Then what?
        That our Charles was so hated
                By the Fount of Everlasting Love
                That his blood was demanded
                To atone for wicked crimes?
        No? Then you, Richard, you!
        Lord of the house! Planted in Yarbury soil,
                Just like the ancient tree!
        And just like that tree, your weakness
        Now brings ruin to your boy!
Richard: What speak you here?
        What have I done?
Mary: God knows, and you.
        Me, I only know that my son dies
                Upon your stately bed,
        Down-struck by your hallowed branch—
        If God is just, then the fault
                Must needs be yours.
        He punishes the sins of the fathers
        To the third and fourth generation
                Of their children!
        If Charles himself deserved not to die,
        Then either God is cruel,
                                Or dead.
        Or the good God still reigns,
                And our son falls
                        For some unspoken crime of yours.
Richard: You pierce my heart, Mary!
        Whence comes this hate for me?
Mary: The cask of my love is split asunder here,
        And all its strength spills out
        On the young man dying yonder.
        The hate you hear is the hollow vacancy
        Of the reservoir of my love—
        It goes, and fire licks the planks
        That once held it so secure.
        Go, before my flame consumes you—
        Go! Out of my seeing,
                Out of my hearing!
                        Just go!
Richard: God have mercy. I go.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Here We Are, You and I: Thoughts on Christian Friendship

An illuminated manuscript of one of Aelred of Rievaulx's works
(Note: this is a reblog of a post written in 2010)

         I've begun reading Aelred of Rievaulx's classic work, Spiritual Friendship, written in the Middle Ages as a Christian remix of Cicero's On Friendship. Perhaps the profoundest line I've found so far is the simple beginning of the dialogue, where Aelred says to his interlocutor: "Here we are, you and I, and I hope a third, Christ, is in our midst."
          It is the nature of Christian friendship that the union of two people should lead them into the presence of God. Reflecting back on my own life, I can say that there has seldom been anything so spiritually formative for me as my seasons of deep, rich Christian friendship. Bible study, prayer, silence and solitude, service--these are all essentials, of course. But nothing has quite made them come alive like the intimate presence of others. When living in close community and friendship with other believers, my prayer, study, and service takes on greater power. Friendship lends a practical impetus to my spiritual formation--I tend to care more about what sort of person I am becoming when I am living in close communion with others--and it also lends a direction and purpose to that formation: the deepening of our fellowship and the active outworking of my faith in practical, relational ways. Christian friendship becomes both a source of fuel for spiritual formation and one of the goals of spiritual formation.

          In the past few weeks I've been making more of a concerted effort to spend intentional time with Rachel. Instead of turning on the TV to watch the Red Sox in the evening, we've taken up the habit of reading out loud together. Right now we're reading through a collection of Dorothy Sayers' short stories about her detective hero, Lord Peter Wimsey. It has been a wonderful time to slow down together after putting Josiah to bed, to share a quiet journey into a world of imagination. It is interactive and creative (far more so than watching TV), and has drawn us significantly into a deeper experience of closeness these past few weeks. The time we spend in good, simple conversation--about life, relationships, God, etc.--has expanded since we started intentionally taking time to be together in the evenings. And, along the way, I've found my desire for God and for a life of holiness has expanded in corresponding measure.

          There's something about friendship which, at its best, should draw us ever deeper into the presence of God. Our relationships with others and our relationship with God are inextricably linked. Our relationality is a reflection of the Trinitarian relationality of God, etched into our nature as an image of His fundamental nature. And when we pursue that relationality in godly ways, the promise of Jesus becomes manifest: "Where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am also." We believe that Christ is spiritually present among all gatherings of his people, and I can testify that his presence is almost tangible in the quiet spaces of a deep and abiding friendship.

          As a pastor, I interact with all kinds of people. One group that I'm particularly fond of is the sort of people who are "fixers" and "visionaries"--who are constantly seeing the problems with the way the church is now, and how we could be making it better. How can we bring in more people? How can we reach out more effectively to the community? Aren't there more programs we can be running? We need people who ask these questions--they keep us from a slothful acceptance of mediocrity. But we also need people like Aelred, who tell us to slow down and examine the nature of our church fellowship. Aelred points us away from seeing merely the problems and potentials of the church--he tells us that the church is extraordinary, here and now, because it is the union of the children of God and Christ is in its midst. No matter what problems might be present, when Christians gather together in the name of Jesus, that is a momentous and fundamentally important event, and it is endued and saturated with the presence of Christ himself. We must not forget that the mandate of the church points both outward and inward, and that it is a part of our mission to develop rich relationships of fellowship, mentoring, and friendship. For where Christians love each other, there is an active image to the watching world of the love and nature of Christ.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Evangeliad (1:40-46)

So up went Mary to her cousin's home,
On up into Judah's high hills of stone.
And when Elizabeth had heard her voice,
The young child within her leapt for joy.

Filled with Spirit, Elizabeth proclaimed:
“Most blessed among women is your name!
And blessed as well is the child you bear!
Oh, who, who am I, that you should come here?

Yes, Mary, you—the mother of my Lord!
My baby danced at the sound of your word!
Blessed is she who held it as certain
That God would fulfill all He had spoken!”

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Photo of the Week

May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, 
under whose wings you have come to take refuge.

- Ruth 2:12

Monday, June 26, 2017

Quote of the Week

"Take the very hardest thing in your life, the place of difficulty, outward or inward, and expect God to triumph gloriously in that very spot. Just there he can bring your soul into blossom."

- Lilias Trotter, 19th century British painter and missionary to North Africa (the painting shown here is one of her works)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Saturday Synaxis

We ask you, Almighty God, to let our souls enjoy this their desire, to be enkindled by your Spirit; that being filled as lamps by your divine gift, we may shine like burning lights before the presence of your Son at his coming; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

- The Gelasian Sacramentary

Friday, June 23, 2017

Thus Ends the World, Scene 1

To give myself a bit of a break from blogging during my busy summer, I'll be sharing again a short play that I composed last year, called "Thus Ends the World." It's set in the 14th century on a fictional estate near the English town of Norwich, and follows a family wrestling through tragedy. It will also include an appearance from one of my favorite figures of the Christian tradition, the anchoress/mystic Julian of Norwich. Unlike most contemporary play-writing, I've composing this play in verse, which was the classical model--Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Shakespeare, etc.: they all wrote plays in poetic form rather than in the realism of prose. I've also opted for an antiquated affectation to the language, not for the sake of being pretentious, but because it seems to fit the historical frame, the poetic nature, and the philosophical temper of the play. I hope you enjoy it.

Thus Ends the World

Cast of Scene 1:

Richard, lord of the Yarbury estates
Charles, Richard’s dying son
Ailred, Richard’s steward
Scene 1
[Richard standing at his son’s deathbed]
Richard: How comes this deathly hand against my door?
                                                                                                            [Touching his son’s face]
How, bless├Ęd Lord, and why?                                     
See how he labors for breath!
Every moment is a thousand agonies for him—
Aye, and for me, a thousand thousands.
Charles! How vainly hopeful sounds your name upon my lips!
A name which rang for me of the highest hopes and noblest loves…
You were the fire in your father’s heart.
And now there are but embers,
the flickering tongues of a hard and mocking heaven.
What black fate, that takes all my brightness and warmth
and leaves naught but smoke’s dark desolation!
[Enter Ailred]
Ailred: Pardon, my liege.
Richard: Pardoned and pardoned again, faithful Ailred.
                                                                                                            [Turning back to his son]
            My heart is full of pardons…
            But will no one pardon me?
Ailred: He still fares ill?
Richard: More with every minute. He slips away like fog.
Ailred: The doctor comes, not but an hour away.
Richard: Too long.
            And the lady of the house?
Ailred: A messenger was sent. We know not when she comes.
Richard: She will fly hence.
A mother’s love is unbounded by mortal constraints.
Ailred: Indeed, just such a woman is the lady.
            She will be here, my lord.
Richard: I will not be able to see her face, Ailred.
My heart will fail me. How can I look
upon that death-raked visage, wild in empty hopes,
when once I saw it light with the tenderness
of a hundred gentle suns?
You see my Charles now on his deathbed, nearly a man,
But once he was so small and fragile
that his cries would have melted a mountain of stone.
And when my wife looked on his ruddy little face,
there was unmeasured wonder in her eyes.
Ailred: My lord, I remember.
Richard: And I cannot forget.
How small he was, yet as wide as the universe to me!
His hands were but a fingertip’s breadth,
and their touch was worth all the king’s gold.
How, old friend—how, if I have loved him so—
how could God have loved him less?
Ailred: Doubt not that God loves him.
These are days of shadow,
and perhaps love’s light is only seen,
brightsome and full,
beyond the shadowed vale.
Richard: Truth; you are wise.
            These are days of darkest shadow;
            Am I so proud as to believe that they will not fall on me?
Ailred: It is not pride, my lord.
            All men hope for a brighter share.
Richard: The world is spinning to its grave. So say all the learned men.
            We stand on the edge of dust and Judgment.
Up rise the ranks of the fabled Khan, perhaps again, as of old.
We have heard the tales together, no?
And together we have trembled.
They follow not Christ, nor Moses,
nor even Mahomet, but only blood and blade.
And if not the Golden Horde, then next the Seljuq Turks.
The great kings fall, and so too soon may we.
I open my eyes on a world where only Prester John is free,
and the grave has swallowed all other Christian men,
to wait until eternity.
And if one hammer-blow was not enough,
God has sent a second.
The first has brought us to our knees;
The next will kiss us to the ground.
Ailred: You speak the plague.
Richard: Aye, the plague.
How many millions of lives, burnt in Aesclepius’ hell?
And now it comes again to us.
The bells ring in Norwich like the clamor of the forge;
How long until our own bells sound?
Ailred: There are reports of a case on the estate lands.
            Yarbury is trapped in the jaws of fear;
            Thus the doctor’s absence. Where he cannot heal,
            still he would console.
Richard: Consolations are but a pleasant chime,
The sound of the ladle ringing hard against
The vacant side of an empty water-drum
While we all die of thirst.
Ailred: Enough, my lord.
            She comes.
[Enter Mary, Lady of the estate]