Monday, March 17, 2008

The Steward's Lament

Recently I wrote a poem inspired, oddly enough, by the fictional fantasy epic I'm working on. It's a lament from the perspective of the king's steward, now a slave in exile with the last remnant of his people. It begins with him looking back at the catastrophic invasion of his country and then addressing his remaining friends with words of hope. (And by way of a formal note, since the work is my own creation, the story and the proper names are copyrighted to me). I hope you enjoy it.

From black and vacant, endless depths,

From ancient shores they ride—

The lands which tombed our fathers’ bones

Today would bid us die.

A tribe made savage by their wealth,

By violence and lust,

Now comes to vanquish Ferran’s sons;

But we survive—we must!

O Great and Good, will you forget?

Will you ignore our cries?

Will vice o’erwelm your virtues’ sons

And truth be drowned by lies?

Dark is the world that meets my gaze

And dark this day has dawned.

Friends, we are lost to all we love,

And lost to fair and fond.

Remember now, and count my tears

As wailingly they fall;

So come, my broken, homeless friends,

Come now, and weep for all.

Like every horror of the sea,

This hurricane of wrath

Broke fierce against our peaceful shores

And found us in its path.

Fair Antaré, our brightest jewel,

Was bathed in smoke and blood,

Its walls surrendered to the flame,

Its bridges to the flood.

Then up the gentle Tua’la,

The river of our faith,

These men of death consumed our hope,

These twisted rogues and wraiths.

Our great, green land was black with soot

And red with outspilled life;

What once was blossoming with joy

Now wilted in our strife.

Like death itself they stalked our roads

And one day they did bring

Their blackest, foulest deed against

Our city, crown, and king.

There in the very womb of life

Their blades have cut us down;

We die, we die in every street,

We die in every town.

My eyes have seen our children slain;

I had no strength to save…

Oh, would that I had died for them

And rested in their grave!

No hero rose to save us then,

No Warlent did arise;

Our God has let us perish there,

And he has closed his eyes.

Now dies the king, dies Warlent’s heir

Against the mocking throng—

The warlord’s blade has cut him down

Amid their bloody song.

But friends, we live—we exiles few,

Cut down but not devoured—

Our hearts would bid us die as well,

But we must face this hour.

Our God has closed his eyes to us,

But he does not ignore;

It’s sorrow turns his face away,

But he will look once more.

We’ve lost the river and the plain,

But have the desert here,

And every land shall be our land,

Whether far or near.

We’ve lost our loves, dear friends of mine,

But have each other still;

And hope and faith have failed us not,

And no, they never will.

I hold a child within my arms,

And he will be our peace,

To lead us out again one day

When slavery will cease.

Behind our woe there lurks a hope

That fate can never kill—

That God will make these wrongs come right—

He said, and so he will.

And so we wait, we trust, we mourn,

Believing all the while

That far beyond this rush of tears

Someday will dawn a smile.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Patience Is an Easy Thing

Patience is an easy thing
Beneath a cloudless sky.
And perseverance, ah!
It flows from joyous springs
When life is bright with soothing rain
And diamonds litter grassy ground.
My patience is no virtue,
Untried by hate and fire,
For it wanes sore thin
In dreary classes
While I am full and warm.
I am lost again,
In the interminable eternity
Of a three-hour lecture;
And virtue is soft and blank
In this impatient heart.
Deus, propitius esto mihi peccatori.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

On Reading and Discipline

As you can see, I've added a "Currently Reading" list on the sidebar of this blog. There are two reasons for this. The first, and more minor, is that it will provide you, dear readers, with some idea of what I'm thinking about, so if you see something that you would like me to interact with in a blog-post, you can feel free to add a comment somewhere and ask me about it. The second reason is that I'm woefully undisciplined in too many areas of my life, and reading is among them. Though I'm probably above average in how much I read, I have a sorry habit of picking up book after book, all at the same time, so that it can take me months to finish even one. Right now I have rows of books on my shelves, some with ten pages read, some with twenty, some with fifty, and so on. So I've restricted myself to reading no more than six books at a time (and yes, that is a restriction), within certain genre-slots: (1) devotional or spiritual classic, (2) novel/literature, (3) poetry/literature, (4) theology/ministry/Christian living, (5) history/biography, and (6) social or science studies. Within this pattern, I'm forcing myself to read one book to completion before I can pick up another to fill that slot. So, for instance, I have to finish reading Augustine's Confessions before I can move on to another devotional or spiritual classic. I'm hoping that adding this list to my blog will give me a certain passive accountability in the process.
It has been an ongoing battle with me to add some similar discipline to my devotional life. And I'm beginning to think that the best solution might be for me to adopt a similarly flexible-but-disciplined program there. There seems to be a certain spontaneity in my interests and practices, which, if left unbridled, would run in each of a thousand directions if I were given a thousand days to fill. So some discipline is needed, but I've found that if I try to submit to a rigid rule of life, I eventually end up dropping it. If I were living in a community of mutual submission and discipline, I think it would be much easier for me to keep my rule, hence my attraction to the new monastic movement.
For instance, over the past year I've been pushing myself to practice the daily offices, a system in which certain fixed-hour prayers are incorporated into the day. I developed my own pattern and liturgy for the process, and observed offices in the morning, noontime, early evening, and at bedtime. During the weeks when I was consistently practicing the offices, it was a tremendously life-giving discipline for me. Unfortunately, I can't seem to do it for more than three weeks at a time. Part of the reason, I expect, is sloth, and some radical mortification of the flesh would probably do me good. But another reason, I'm beginning to see, is that I'm not really fashioned to live within such a rigid schedule, at least not on my own power. I would need the strength of community to be able to do it well. My highest and most intimate times of prayer come in unplanned moments, when a longing for God overtakes me. It happens most often when I'm alone in some piece of wilderness, or lost in the center of a song, or drinking tea over a half-written poem. So I'm realizing the importance of giving myself those times, of going out for long walks beside the river and taking a few moments to fill our quiet apartment with song.
The other spark in my spiritual life has always been intercessory prayer. If I have a true "calling" toward anything in my life, it's that; and I confess that I've been woefully unfaithful at it lately. But recently God has breathed his gentle reminders into my life, and now I feel like I've stepped back into a holy commission. At times intercession is a powerful, humbling, awesome experience, and at other times, as with any disciplined activity, it's a dreary task that I would rather avoid. But that's the way of all Christian service, I think. And I find that after a period of intercessory prayer, I am more ready to commune with God in an intimate, mystical way than I am at any other time. So I've adjusted my practice of the daily offices to a more flexible schedule, with intercessory prayers given a much more prominent place. Perhaps someday I'll be in a position to benefit from the direct discipline and accountability of an intimate body of faith, but for now I may have to learn to fall in love with discipline through the ways that already draw me into the love of God.
I am still very much a novice at such things, and I welcome your prayers and advice.