In Flanders Fields

This comes late for 7/28, though the poem itself likely explains why. Let this be of health to those who have been wandering astray, as I have been. For those otherwise confident in their deeds, let this sober us to the value and purpose of our lives.


Lord, I kneel before Thy throne,
Judgment seat and scales’ rest,
To present myself, and beg Thy mercy.

Lord, why when was I born,
In comfort to dwell,
In leisure to ‘cline,
No sergeant in sight,
Bellyful of fat and fancy,
Rather of lead and iron.

Lord of Hosts and Laughter,
Why was I these gifts
Unfairly given,
‘Llowed to live my life
As a son of delinquence?

Marshal of Heaven,
Answer my piteous self,
For so many died
In the storm of steel,
Beneath shell and hail,
In mud and blood
to make of themselves
A feast for rats and worms.

And here I sit at ease,
All pleasure and leisure
No more than a finger away;
What men died for others to steal,
I have free to excess.
What right have I to luxury?
What right have I to pleasure?
What right have I to disobey?

How can I live for pleasure
While they rest in Flanders’ fields?

My Lord, Commander, and Judge,
Redeem me:
Redeem my time, redeem my flesh,
The hours I’ve squandered,
The life I’ve wasted;
The dreams undreamt,
The prayers unprayed;
Let me remember why poppies grow
In Flanders’ Fields,
And why flowers bloom,
On Golgotha’s Hill.


For those, like me, who missed the significance of the intended original date of this post, 7/28 marks the beginning of the First World War. I will not comment here on the Great War’s significance in the course of history, though it marks the beginning of the end for the West. That is a subject for an essay (likely several) and another time.

My wish is that this poem, rambling as it is, would help us reflect on the conduct of our lives. Those of you who follow our risen Christ, I would ask your prayers for a stranger, that my deeds would echo the words I have written here, and my life would follow the Word He brought for us.

 

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Rest in Peace

How glorious that final age will be,
when all our striving shall cease,
when all His saints shall rest in peace.

How wonderful that final sigh shall be,
when we look upon warless days,
and our rumoring past falls away.

How majestic that day shall be,
When we look upon the glory of the King,
Crowned at freedom’s bells’ ring.

How happy I shall be to sleep,
Time no longer my enemy,
But my friend for all eternity.

Hasten o’God, Lord of my heart;
Bring fast Your dawn of peace!
Let me labor no longer on trifles and scrum,
Let me be nevermore anxious to do and done,
But be content that It Is Done.

Thoughts on the Heart

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
Jeremiah 17:9

I’ve had a bit of a rough week, my troubles largely self-inflicted. I won’t go into any graphic detail, but I should think that the above quote is sufficiently informative.

I’m sure we’ve all heard countless times various -isms to the effect of “trust your heart” or “trust your conscience.” I am leaning ever more towards the opinion that these truisms are nothing but ignorant half-truths at best and vain delusions at worst – at least so far as applied to myself.

The heart is fickle and indecisive; it wants one thing but rarely clarifies how you are to go about obtaining it. It is insistent and petulant in its primitive desires, unreasoning in its persistent demands for lustful gratification, constant amusement, and transcendental bliss. The heart is not a being of reason, of contentment, nor of faithfulness, but a beast of wretched selfishness.

God is true when we are false. Those of you who in His Son already profess salvation – be wary of trusting your own hearts, how you feel before God, how you feel about your actions. “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21). When our hearts are not firmly fixed on God’s purpose and His holy commands, when we take first the counsel of our flesh before that of the Mighty Counselor, we are quick to turn astray into selfish vanities and foolish self-delusion.

In short – I deceived myself for almost a whole week that I could control my lust in the moment of self-gratification, against all wisdom and caution, and while God graciously has not punished me with stripes, I beg that He would, if only it would keep me from sinning against Him again. Instead, I must live with my conscience – I must fasten myself ever tighter to His forgiveness. By grace and grace alone are any saved at all. This last week is a reminder most sharp – my own efforts and plans shall never substitute for His blessing.

Lord, my God,
Watch my soul tonight.

El Shaddai, my Prince of Peace,
Guard my wayward steps.

For I am but a child,
A fool little better than an animal –

Yet one whom you have uplifted,
That he might dare to be a man.

Lord, give me strength, and give me grace,
That grace in which I undeservedly live,
That I might rejoice in obedience,
Not for one night but until my last.

 

And Yet…

Blessed be the artist,
For to him is given the dream of creation.

Whilst others scramble in mud,
He may dream that it is liquid silver.

While others scream over a bent fender,
He may imagine them in chivalric fashion,
A pair of armored sea lions at the tilt.

When a fish flies from the sea,
Trailing a shimmering blade of water,
He is blessed to see more than mere water;
To him is given sight to see and ears to hear
The music of all creation,
Played in between the patter of rain
The roar of the windy surf
In the booming voice of the thunder
In the scintillating fingers of lightning
Which split the sky like rivers of fire.

Blessed be the artist,
For God has opened the door
To the artists’ studio,
And given him brushes and paints,
Pens and inks and eyes to see
The beauty which lie beneath the substance.

Beauty is only skin deep,
Unless you have the eyes of God.

Marvel you artists! Marvel all,
At God’s glorious artistry!
Every gleaming drop of water,
Every flowing electron,
Every quivering proton,
Every gallant sunbeam,
Every furious thunderclap,
Howling wind, rattling rain
Roaring fire and trembling Earth
Pounding hooves and beating wings
The choir of the crickets
The harmony of human voice
And dove’s purring warble and
Ten thousand thousand songs and sights,
Made by the greatest artist of all!

The only artist whose sculptures breathe.

Overtake

I’m tired of my condition.
Always inattentive.
Driven to stray.
Made to fail.

The inferior man.
No excuses.
No escape.

Every mistake.
Every heartache.
My life they take.
My soul, forsake.

I don’t know where to go.
I am lost, Elohim.

Please.
Help.
Me.

I feel you, o Father of Love.
I hear you, o Spirit of Justice.
I see you, o Savior of Souls.

May the cracks in my skin
Shine with the light of Your Law.
That I and all my earthly kin
May kneel in awe.

Every mistake.
Every heartache.
My body breaks,
That Your Glory may Overtake.

To Serve His House

I yearn for His presence,
Yet I shy from His duties.

I wish to cast off my burdens,
as I add daily to my shackles.

I do what I ought not,
And do not what I ought.

I fear to rest or relax,
For when my guard is laxed —
Sins come in hordes,
Till all left is to mourn.

I am hateful to myself,
A stranger in my own skin.

A sojourner in a cursed body,
A wretched soul in a blameless corpse.

I cannot shoulder the blame,
to a body which cannot think.

I am responsible, I alone;
But my sins too great to atone.

Christ is all I have, pauperish me;
Can you not see it, that He came for thee?

Too great a miracle, sayest thou?
Otherwise to save thyself how?

Canst thou not see it?
The miracle stands before you.

God’s grace is unearned,
God’s grace is infinite,
God’s grace knows no limits of man.

You are forgiven by His blood!
It is not your power not to sin, but His!
Let His will flow through your veins!
To be ever more sin’s eternal bane!

The Epistolary Character

There is something curious about the art of letter writing. A letter is not quite a tall tale, as its contents are as real as ink can ever get, yet neither is it an essay, for it tells its own sort of story, and not merely another’s. A letter is neither a missive though one might take it for that by the definition in the thesaurus. A missive seeks only to relay a message, which, though a letter does as well, it does so incidental to its prime purpose (or as I see it – feel free to disagree, and I’ll put on my best hat and tie to answer the argument.)

A letter is an accidental autobiography. It is not quite a testimony as one might give in court, and it certainly isn’t a memoir (I’ve long thought that word rank with self-absorption), yet the story is very much your own – but also someone else’s. In the case of the now ubiquitous and somewhat oxymoronic ‘open-letter’ that can be the story of a great many individuals. I stretch my definition here, as I have always believed a letter in its truest nature is always a private affair, meaningful only to those whom it concerns.

A letter is the story not only of its author, but also of its recipient. In how someone conducts themselves in a letter, you see not only the paths of their logic and feelings, but also of their perceptions of their partner. In the lines of a letter you can see a cerebral and calculating mind at once madly in love with the subject of his affections, or a passionate spirit cooled by heartbreak and loneliness, or the supreme disconnection of one so consumed with the craft of his message that he has left out its heart, and quite accidentally put something else in its place.

The heart of a letter is a hard thing to nail down, much like a certain physicist’s cat – yet when it is found, the soul of a thoughtfully written letter is so much more evocative and descriptive of a relationship than any number of adjectives and prose. And while you might put this to use in your own letters (though in this digital age we are rarely given to such extravagances as personalized, emotive communication), my concern with this subject is in fiction.

You have your brilliant band of misfits for your novel, whether it be an adventure through the forests of Moravia or a harrowing journey to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, or just an exceptionally interesting walk to the Circle-K (though this article is written with the longer form and epic scale in mind, you may have opportunity to apply it to the short and mundane as well). You have written out their relationships, you know how the little rascals should behave towards one another, think of one another, treat one another – and yet something doesn’t click. You struggle, as I have, to make the changes in their relationship seem realistic. You find it difficult to engineer the situations which lead to them demonstrating their feelings so that you don’t have to narrate them.

Write a letter between them. Take on the eyes and pen of one of your characters, and compose their thoughts to the other. There are few means more intimate of seeing your story’s world through your character’s eyes – and seeing your other characters. It is as close one can step into a relationship without being in one (or stalking them in the night, which I do not advise.) Even without integrating it into your finished work, this is a useful exercise for character development, particularly when it would seem odd to conduct an interview – while it may be quite easy to interview your average young hero or heroine, brimming with optimism and good-will, it’s quite the challenge to interview a power-hungry, kinslaying baroness without seeing her personality entirely out of its natural environment.

The mechanism of the letter, delivered and undelivered, can be a powerful way to speak your character’s thoughts aloud – but itself can be taken for just another form of thought-narration, if presented merely as the character is writing them. Recall that letters are not the story of the individual alone, but of the relationship between individuals. If you intend to use the epistle within your story, it must be presented through the eyes of its recipient (intended or not! A third party reading a letter meant for another is an ancient plot device as old as intrigue.) If you present a letter as seen by its writer, it is no different than a diary entry – which can be precisely what you intend. Diaries, although not covered here, can fill a similar function when presented as read by another character in the story – advancing and changing a relationship through the revelation of intimate secrets. Interviews can again do the same, though the value there is less in what is said and more in what is not said. Both worthy subjects for a further treatise.

To summarize, the letter is an ancient form, and not merely one reserved for the practical conveyance of information. The Apostles great letters contain not only the explicit wisdom of the Holy Spirit speaking through them, nor merely a historical record of the churches then, but a priceless look at how the leaders of the early church felt towards and cared for the congregations under their care, and how those congregations responded. The letters of leaders both great and terrible speak volumes to their official and their personal relations – Hitler the Fuhrer is very different from Hitler the Starving Artist. In just the same way, your characters will conduct themselves very differently in public and in private, in the spoken word and in the written word, and in that difference you can capture the essence of how that individual views himself and everyone else.