Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Music ..

She could not escape the music. All her life she had tried to ignore it, to refuse it; even while it penetrated the very rhythm of her blood and bones. She had seen others succumb – her parents, her siblings, the people in the village – some sang the words of their lives to it, others danced its steps, with a little jig here and there. And some were so consumed by it that they could move only into its frenzy, and danced away to the battlefields, overcome by its passion and pain. She had watched, all her life, and she had grown afraid.

She had been criticised for her distrust of the music. The left-leaning media said it was harmless, simply a part of the natural environment and one that united the community; the right-leaning media said it was good for the country, and it was unpatriotic to criticise it. So she said nothing. The academics went further, of course, and were much more nuanced. Doctoral theses had been written on such subjects as “The Necessary Rhythm of Being”, or “The Music as an Evolutionary Correlate”. A while ago, a group from a prestigious university had investigated whether flowers grew better with the music or in a soundproof container. The soundproofed flowers had all died, which had seemed conclusive until someone had realised that the soundproofing also rendered the container devoid of all light. No one had been anxious to repeat the experiment. A whole branch of philosophy had been dedicated to speculating on the source of the music, it sounded remarkably like a stringed instrument, but neither instrument nor player had ever been seen. The currently fashionable theory tried to integrate the frequency of vibration of the celestial spheres with distortions caused by the earth’s magnetic field and modulated by the phases of the moon. Nobody actually understood that.

She knew they were wrong. Bone deep, soul deep she knew that the music was evil, though she could not articulate why that was. But she knew that it hurt to resist it, whilst the ones who accepted it, who allowed it to flow in and out and through them, looked as if they dwelt in frenzied gaiety, as long as you didn’t look too deeply into their eyes.

But she also knew that she was weak. How long could she resist? It both attacked her and seduced her. There were days when she believed herself a fool for resisting. Who did she think she was to imagine that she knew better than everyone else in her world? What presumption! And she was only flesh and blood, just like everyone else.

Then, one day, she found a dusty old book, and as she read it she was amazed by the story it told, of the man who had not only resisted the music, but walked the earth singing a different song. And the real makers of the music were so enraged by the challenging beauty of his song that they had taken him out and put him to death most cruelly. And in that book she read enough of a description of that song to be able to begin to imagine what some of the notes might have been. And even in the faint reconstructions of her imagination she was so moved by its beauty that she realised that if she could constantly listen to that song then the evil music would have much less power over her – for how could it compete with something that, even at its furthest remove, was beautiful enough to break her heart?

Only after she had wrestled with this thought for some time did she realise something else: perhaps the music was so loud and insistent precisely so that it would drown out the true song. And maybe that meant that the song was still there, more primal, more true, more real than the music she had been hearing all her life? Then it followed that what she really needed was for some part of herself to be changed, to be attuned to the beautiful song instead of the deathly music of the world. She found herself crying out, from the deepest part of her being, that the Singer, wherever he was, would come to her and set her free, and deliver her from sinking into cacophony.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Dream

It was no good. He had failed – utterly and totally failed – and all his dreams and plans tasted like choking desert dust in his throat. All his life he had resented being second son, second best, and the one who stood outside the straight line of blessing. Why should he matter less to God because, in the final tussle to leave the womb, he had been born moments after his brother?

And he had tried so hard, done everything he humanly could to get the blessing for himself, even got it, by force of trickery, and it was all for nothing. Instead of gaining favour, he had lost it, had lost everything, and, at his beloved mother’s advice, was fleeing for his life. Everything he had striven for had come to nothing, and now he was a homeless wanderer. What use was a father’s blessing that was only given freely in the act of sending him away from home – a home he could never safely return to as long as his brother was alive?

He was tired, horribly, heavily tired, and the weight of his disappointment made every step a dragging effort. Surely tonight, despite all his discomforts, and the lurking fear that even now Esau might be pursuing him with murderous intent, he would be able to sleep? He must, it was a long, long journey to Haran, and he must conserve his strength. So, as the daylight died, he found a comparatively level place on the ground, selected a smooth rock to serve as a pillow, wrapped himself in his cloak and composed himself to sleep.

It took him a while to settle. The desert night was chilly, the ground was hard and the deep misery inside him was even colder and harder. But exhaustion won out, and he slept, and, as the night folded in on its darkness, he dreamt. In his dream he was still in the same place, nothing had changed about him and his position; and yet, at the same time, everything that really mattered had changed utterly, as if the whole universe had changed around him while he remained cowering in his desert of mind and body.

There was a stairway, a ladder, an endless succession of steps rising from the very earth beside him into the far reaches of heaven beyond the limits of mortal sight, or rather, perhaps more accurately coming all the way down from heaven to touch at the miserable spot where he lay. They were not empty stairs either, the very angels of God were constantly ascending and descending. And then, or so it seemed, as Jacob dared to raise his eyes, he saw that the Lord himself was standing at the summit of the stairs – the very God whose blessing he had tried to finagle for himself. Even in his sleep he trembled, fearing he was about to be cut off from God, as well as his family. But then the Lord spoke.

It was not the message Jacob had expected to hear. The very blessing that he had tried to steal was what God was freely giving him! The God of his forefathers was declaring him to be in the line of the promise given to Abraham, that he would be the father of many, and the one through blessing would come to all the peoples of the world. That was miracle enough, but it was not all, for the Lord also promised his own presence. Yes, Jacob was going into exile, but he was not going alone, for the God of all gods would be with him, and would bring him back safely, one day, to the very place he was fleeing from now. Wherever he went he would never be outside the blessing of God.

He awoke overwhelmed, with tears in his eyes. All the time while he had been wandering in despair God had not let go. He had been there the whole time; it was Jacob who had been blind to his holy presence.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Over the Waters

She flew, weary-winged, over the endless expanse of water. Only a week before she had done the same thing and it had all been so tiring, so pointless. There had been nothing but the waters of death, as far as her eye could see. Was this just more of the same?

It hadn’t always been like that. She remembered a time before she was shut up in the boat, when the world had been lush and green, dotted with trees to roost in, and many other birds, just like herself, had flown amongst them, enjoying the gentle sunshine and abundant food. Then, one day, a strange compulsion had seized her and she had flown far to find herself in a strange valley, gathering together with every other species of creature she had ever seen. At the words of an old man they had all lined up, in their twos and their sevens, and entered the ark. She had never been inside a building before, and at first she was frightened, but these people were gentle and quiet, and she soon lost her fear. And when the strange noises began – the drumming of the rain, the creaking of the boat as it moved upon the rising waters – she was glad of the warmth and safety.

But it had been a long time now, and the world outside had changed beyond anything she could comprehend. There was no grass, no flowers, no trees, only endless water under a clear and arching sky. Once water had been a friend, a welcome drink, a place to splash and cool oneself on a hot day: now it was the enemy, the destroyer, the chaos that had overtaken a once beautiful world. Was there no respite from this watery wilderness, no hope of a new beginning?

Her wings were so tired, if she didn’t turn around now she might not have the strength to return to the safety of the Ark. Exhausted, she would fall into the darkening waters, and her small life would be spent. One last time she scanned the waters, hoping crazily for something that would prove the possibility of a new beginning. What was that dark speck? She flew closer, her energy renewed by a surge of curiosity. It was the topmost branch of an olive tree, with a few new leaves showing bravely forth. Trembling with emotions too great for her tiny heart, she perched there and rested. But it was not enough to have found herself a momentary refuge, she must bear back with herself the proof that the world was beginning to change again. She rested till sufficient strength returned, then she reached down and carefully, using her beak, sheared off a twig with a young olive leaf growing from its tip. Moving her head until the twig was securely held, she lifted her body and her wings, replenished and triumphant, bore her back towards the Ark. And the name of her burden was “Hope”.