Awhirl before my eyes did swirl the sparks
As one by one the candles turned to smoke
And sitting there in silent, stillest dark,
A flicker burned within and I awoke.
I felt a pang for that dear body broke
That bled betwixt time and eternity.
It seemed I saw His image in the smoke
And felt my heart, too, fixed upon that tree.
Oh how I ached to join this agony!
Yet I, near sleeping, safely sat below.
I closed my eyes the better then to see
And hear the ever-present, past echo.
To wait in darkness was my only wish;
Now hidden, I wanted no light but His.
There is a story to be found in anything and, I am finding, that there is also a theology to be found in any story. I feel this poem is an apt example of enjoying the beauty of an old tale reimagined while contemplating a truth that shimmered in the retelling.
Mirror, Mirror Had Great Fall
“Mirror, mirror upon the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?”
I once was asked from day to day
And in reply I’d always say
“My lady, it is surely true;
The brightest, fairest one is you.”
It was my joy, your face to see,
Peering in and out of me.
And mine was whitest complexion
For it was rightest reflection;
To revel was no vanity
For I shone back your own beauty.
“Mirror, mirror upon the wall.”
I’d thrill to hear my mistress call
And sing to her worshipful words
That beauty best was only hers,
That there could be another one
Would be to think the moon the sun.
Yet still a subtle crack did creep
Out from some secret, smeary deep
And when her face would turn aside,
A self-whisper would soft confide.
The dream I dared not dream when she
Would smile, singing, before me.
“Mirror, mirror upon the wall-”
Her song my heart did yet enthrall
For ’tis my nature to reflect
That which I love as first object.
In her dawn’s light, all else soon fades,
Sly secrets flee as shyest shades.
But then again as she’d depart
(Though I know she yet saw mine heart)
I’d ponder those sly smudgélings
That obscure honest imagings
And I could not but speculate
What once I’d simply contemplate.
I, the Mirror on the wall,
Dreamt I was fairest of them all!
And as I answered, said aloud
Those words, so false and yet so proud:
“I cannot say, my dearest queen,
For you’re the only one I’ve seen.”
“Perhaps,” I pressed, not to give in,
Enthused by this first spoken sin,
“There is another one dearer
Kept hid within this magic mirror
And if I only can break free,
I’ll find the fairest one is me.”
O! Mirror hung upon the wall,
You must have known that you would fall;
To try and see your own self rule
Was to prove only princely fool.
A mirror looking in its glass
Will find nothing but emptiness.
In turning to a blank portrait
I chose the broken mirror’s fate;
Bad fortune was my prideful gain,
For nihil gleamed the shattered pane.
I thought not e’er to see again
but, of a sudden-
“Mirror mine, though you did fall,”
Spoke she, most loved and feared of all,
“Your shattered face was made for mine
And I have power to refine,
To smooth and polish, good as new,
Though with a somehow richer hue.
“You, shaped to be an image of
The Beauty that shines forth above,
Are raised once more to this high wall,
To see the more-than-fair of all
And hence reflect and emulate
That Beauty ever true and great.”
I was inspired this morning as I walked to practice piano for an upcoming recital… this would have been great, had I been inspired to practice. Rather, I was inspired to set the opening of Wordsworth’s The Prelude to music.
My roommate (bless her) stopped me just in time: “Ryanne, if you write a melody and add lyrics, you’ll also want to add harmony and piano. You don’t have time!”
But I felt strongly the annoyance of being unable to create due to the pressures of my ordinary, required pursuits.
So I wrote a little rhyme to vent:
A non writing writer’s a monster they say:
A little too frazzled and nearly insane.
She lives in an enchanted, storybook world
Yet can’t venture in, for life is a whirl.
One single word leads to many and two-
Well, they multiply to be more than a few.
And should she dare to compose a small line
She risks the danger of falling behind;
The everyday life has no cares for the muse,
Though the poet’s soul, she hardly did choose.
So cursed with a mind that brews up ideas
And a heart that ever ceaselessly feels,
She stumbles about with a businesslike stride
And forces her little brainchildren to hide
And wait for a time when life will relax
It’s grip made of boring and ord’nary tasks-
So she might finally write them all down,
These inkling ideas that, impatient, abound.
The Solar Eclipse 2017 was the *literal* highlight of today; all anyone seems to be able to talk about are eclipse glasses, viewing parties, live streams, testimonials of why not to stare directly into the sun, apocalyptic premonitions, the stupidity of needing to be told not to stare into the sun, pinhole box tutorials, etc.
Although I did get in the spirit of the eclipse by making a rather shoddy pinhole box and baking “eclipse cookies,” it became, for me, an opportunity for theological and allegorical contemplation. As with most moments of intense thought, poetry happened. Please read (aloud if possible!) the following and share either this post or your thoughts.
In the beginning were made two lights:
The Greater gleam to rule the day,
The Lesser govern vassal night.
The First burns of his own pure pow’r,
The Second purposed to reflect,
Yet greedy, grabs a sunlit hour
And, doing so, her rule rejects.
She vain ascends from queenly throne
To tame and topple truer King,
Like we who take more than our own
But conquer only creeping things.
We watch below to cheer her course
For hers is our selfsame desire;
We both image a brighter source
Yet wish to usurp fueling fire.
The Lesser light in pride covers
The shine of right ruler at last.
But lunatic, our governor,
Can only fleeting shadows cast.
Yet we determine just as she
To place self ‘fore the Greater one
And forget in sad irony
That we glow solely by the sun!
Pure gold cannot be dimmed by her
Except to those on lowly earth.
She blots naught but her own silver
And rules as we but dark and dearth.
Though hidden to our sight below
The King yet unabated burns.
The moon cannot his rule o’erthrow
And to permitted path returns.
For when she did achieve her aim
False queen could barely extend night.
Just so, we find ourselves the same;
When seeking more, losing all light.
Soon scheming moon shall fall away
And eclipse turn coronation;
To crown the sun’s most radiant rays
That lumine ‘cross all creation.
Dystopian novels have been “in” for several years now. The Hunger Games and Divergent were the most popular reads of my high school days. Brave New World, 1984, and Anthem were on the AP reading lists. I continue to devour Ray Bradbury’s work.
However, we forget the purpose of dystopian fiction, which is to warn and protect us from creating such futures in reality. Dystopian fiction remains fiction only so long as we read and heed these books as warnings, not merely as disturbingly entertaining tales.
While we continue to be shocked by the dystopian stories we read, we are at the same time allowing ourselves to fall into them. By labelling them as “fiction” we are separating them from our reality and from our future. We feel terror and disgust as we read them, but can easily brush them aside as “mere stories” once we close the covers.
Ray Bradbury once said,
“You do not have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
As much as I’d like to say Bradbury is inerrant, I would like to alter this statement ever so slightly for the sake of clarity:
“You do not have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop believing them.”
As soon as we assure ourselves that dystopian societies are just monsters created by authors, they lose their power to prevent us from growing into such societies. The moment we begin to read these books as fiction, when we stop believing that such horrors and degeneration might be possible, is the moment we begin to descend into dystopia ourselves.
If children were to read the classic tale of Hansel and Gretel as merely a story that could not possibly have any truth to it, the preserving concept of “stranger danger” loses its impact. We cannot read this story to children without explaining its moral and begging them to heed its lesson.
In the same way, adults cannot read dystopian novels simply as futuristic fairy tales; we cannot consume them only for their shock and entertainment value. Rather, just as we would hope that children learn caution from Hansel and Gretel, it is our duty as responsible readers to learn an even greater caution from stories such as Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, and even The Hunger Games.
It is of even greater importance now in 2017 than when these stories were originally penned, even if that was not long ago. We already have turned deaf ears to the warnings of these stories and are already reaping the consequences as we slip into dystopia.
Consider the following:
Remember the citizens of the Capitol in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins? We were bothered by them for their selfishness, their vanity, their degenerate morality, and their obsession with entertainment. But are we equally concerned by such lifestyles in reality? Or do we shudder at them between pages and then act as they do in our own lives without even realizing?
In The Giver by Lois Lowery, another YA dystopian novel, babies who are not up to standards are “released.” I remember my friends and I crying over this chapter in elementary school. Yet now so many former young readers champion the killing of the pre-born because of detected health problems, special needs, or simply because the child is unwanted. How can we justly promote in reality the things of which we once read with sorrow?
Fahrenheit 451 is fairly explicit in its message (Bradbury makes no attempt at subtlety -bless him). Yet while we read of the death of literature, we retreat without a thought into cheap entertainment as soon as we finish the book. Worse, we ignore his clear warnings and are happy to glean our information through soundbites and social media blurbs rather than through thorough reading, considerate conversations, and serious thought. Are we, too, mindlessly “watching our stories” without discernment or contemplation?
Perhaps the most shocking dystopian novel I’ve read is Brave New World (Aldous Huxley). At least, it was shocking when I read it four years ago. Now, it feels rather ordinary. (Has the world really fallen so far in four years? Perhaps I am simply older and sorrowfully wiser.) As I read this book, I was horrified at the unrestrained sexuality of it; most characters sought only their own pleasure, cared nothing for relationships, and procreation was a thing of the distant past. But is this so far different from today? We find ourselves living in a generation that boldly protects promiscuity and demands consequence-free pleasure while conservative approaches to relationships are scorned as old-fashioned.
Ayn Rand’s Anthem centers on a character called “Equality 7-2521.” Everyone is equal, but, ironically, no one is free; every member of the society is equal to the extreme that none of them may differ from others. Today, are we perhaps striving for a dangerous equality like that of Anthem? We must certainly protect and value all people equally; however, Anthem warns against forcing equality of thought. Although we read this warning, do we follow it? The minute someone expresses an idea that we consider offensive, are we quick to aggressively silence him or her rather than admit that we all have the right to think freely?
I am not saying that everything in these dystopian novels will come true, but they are not nearly as far-fetched as they once seemed. Certainly I do not expect America to be divided into factions or our teenagers to be sent into battle against each other or for us to mate according to selection by governors. However, there are undeniable dangers to reading dystopian novels as fiction, just as there are dangers to ignoring the morals of fables and fairy tales.
We ought to read dystopian books as seriously as we read history books. It is said that “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” and so we diligently are set to studying history from the minute we enter school. We also are encouraged throughout our school days to read dystopian stories, but we must not be satisfied with reading them as mere fiction. Rather, we must read them with the discernment and diligence with which we study history. It is imperative that when we read dystopian books, we read with great awareness of their relation to reality so that we are not, like poor history students, doomed to live them.
Please read the following poem. Then, please click the link and listen to me read it; I have of late found great value in reading poetry aloud. Once you do those two things (it should take but two minutes of your time), you are welcome to read my explanation of the poem or to interpret it for yourself. I’d imagine both will lead to similar conclusions. Finally, if you are so inclined, I would love to hear from you! Thank you in advance!
First, the written word:
Sing, Muse, of rage-
or rather- Desire.
Drive with twin rhyming whips –
Name and Fame-
up mountains toppling, rising peak,
ever crying, out of reach,
“On, on, onward!”
Harpy howl to clamoring poets’ ears
as siren song does fall.
Dazzling, drawing, drowning:
divine-seeming, it pulls
still higher, higher
up Tow’r where language
began and begins
“On, onward, pilgrims!”
So scaling e’er, traipsing eager,
worshippers seeking sanctuary
not for rest
but to exalt,
that which in climbing, we sculpt:
New relic, sainted self.
Oh! To be one of the many few,
who, pious, always “onward”
and yet- when time trickles low-
Wherefore place an icon made
(like us only in its fade)
of substance age-old, ever-new:
Ambition dressed as Holy Muse?
Second, the spoken word:
Finally, a brief word of explanation:
I found myself forcing creativity today, working to compose a piece of music without passion. I was inspired only by the thought that if I finish this, it will be another successful accomplishment to my credit.
But as I realized that selfish ambition was my main motivation (at the moment), I was deeply convicted. Why create at all if what compels me is untempered ambition? What profits it to climb what a favorite author of mine calls “the Alpine Path” if I seek only to plant my lonely, temporal banner at its peak?
And, as in most moments of intense emotion, poetry happened. In scribbling and speaking this poem, I was able to recall why I write and compose: not to glorify myself but, as in the parable, to be a faithful steward of my talents. To do this, I must write to the best of my ability to reflect the true Author and pray that my words will direct minds toward the living Word.
I love traditional worship and, as a church musician, am in favor of the whole package: choir robes, pipe organ, hymnals, etc. I once even jokingly said I’d drown myself if I ever heard “Oceans” played in another chapel.
That said, though, I am not necessarily in favor of having separate traditional and contemporary worship services. Before coming to the church I currently attend, I found myself in pursuit of a completely traditional service as I sought to avoid what I saw as the church-turned-concert vibe of many contemporary services.
But is this biblical?
I can easily make a case against a solely-contemporary worship regimen. After all, hymns provide a link to our Christian heritage, are (in general) more closely inspired by specific scriptures, and tend to be more musically complex. However, there are many skilled contemporary Christian artists who write songs packed with beautiful music and sound theology and it is not wise to ignore these for the sake of tradition.
Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion writes (in many more words) that so long as it remains rooted in scripture and dedicated to administering the sacraments, churches on Earth are encouraged to grow and develop according to their situation in time and location. Thus, while we should not forget our tradition, we also should not refuse to progress and continue to create.
Thus, the statement that we ought to remember our traditions and the belief that we ought to continue to develop our worship should not be mutually exclusive.
We may certainly choose to attend chapels or such gatherings that have the musical worship that we prefer. However, in the church, it is potentially unwise to cater separately to both extremes: traditional vs. contemporary.
I love traditional worship and do not mind contemporary when it is done with excellence, but I especially love the church services where the two are combined. I should clarify that I am not talking about contemporary remixes of the hymns; for example, when good ole “Joy to the World” becomes “JOY! UNSPEAKABLE JOY!” and is repeated for eternity, I cannot help but cringe. I am simply saying that rather than alter the hymns to make them more palatable for contemporary Christians, we should sing them alongside new songs. And, in doing so, we might bring the two extremes of the worshipping body together.
I have personally observed disgruntled older Christians in contemporary services and, although only twenty years old, I relate. As soon as the guitar and drums come in, we often lose our motivation to worship because the melodies are unfamiliar, the words projected on a screen rather than printed in a hymnal, and the music is too loud. Rather than adapt, my traditional pals and I attend a separate service that fits our expectations.
On the other hand, younger congregation members might feel uncomfortable in a liturgical service. They find the hymnals unwieldy, the music or lyrics too complicated, and the environment too formal. Rather than finding such a service reverent, they might find it stiff and distant. And so, like their older counterparts, they create and attend a service geared specifically toward their desires.
What seemed like an insignificant difference of musical preference is much more: it is a fundamental division of the church body.
In a traditional service, it is rare to see anyone under a more venerable age. In a contemporary service, primarily youth attend. There is a massive gap between generations in the church. And this is wrong; just as only featuring one era’s songs of praise does not accurately represent the span of Christian creativity in worship, hosting separate services for each worship preference does not accurately represent the body of the church, or- more importantly- the body of Christ.
The body of Christ, we are told in scripture, is united. Paul’s letters are overflowing with calls for the crucial unity of church members. For instance, 1 Corinthians 1:10:
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
Does dividing the congregation based on means of worship obey this call? Does it reveal that we are living with “the same mind” or does it demonstrate a willing, opposing judgment?
What is the solution to this division? It cannot be to abandon one mode of worship for the other, forcing all members to sing hymns or contemporary music as this would further promote disunity! It would either divide us from our heritage and thus from the brethren that came before us or it would disconnect us from the current Christian culture. Either way, choosing one exclusively is not the answer; severing the past from the present obviously cannot heal a primarily generational division.
Rather, just as we ought to bring together the generations and preferences of our congregation, we must bring together the worship of our history and our present age. Blended services are a blessing (even if it means suffering through that repetitive refrain or faking your way through a wordy hymn) because you might be suffering and faking next to a kindly grandmother, an enthusiastic college student, a smiling toddler, or a wise father. Worship is about more than music; it is about the communion of the saints. Where the members of the body proclaim truth in unity, there is worship.
Romans 12:4-5 reads:
“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”
These verses, which focus on spiritual gifts, may also be applied to worship. We are individual members and, as such, carry our individual preferences. I personally find it easier to worship through the hymns, but many I know find contemporary songs more accessible. These are not doctrinal conflicts, but rather individual differences between members.
Ultimately, though, we are not called to live according to ourselves as individuals but to submit to one another. We are to bring together our gifts- and our preferences- to serve each other so that we join to become something greater: the united body in and of Christ. Combining our worship services, even if it is just once in a while, and singing praises together is a small step toward this perfect and desirable unity. Together, we might sing both beloved psalms and new songs to our one Lord, “who was and is and is to come.” And, together, we might realize fully the truth of Psalm 133:1:
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”