Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Legacy of Saint Valentine

Valentine's Day has been sadly hyped in our post-modern culture, and we have, as the Israelites before us, forgotten the heritage that once made the holiday––or holy-day––worth celebrating.

Saint Valentine was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius Gothicus, emperor of Rome.  He was known for aiding the persecuted Christians of that time, and especially for marrying Christian men and women according to the standards of their faith, rather than the empty pagan practices common in Roman weddings  Helping Christians at the time was considered criminal, and the saint was arrested and imprisoned on being caught in the act of initiating a Christian wedding.  Claudius was amused by this prisoner and his crime, until St. Valentine refused to renounce Christ and then attempted to convert him, on which outrage the emperor condemned the priest to death.  After being beaten with sticks and then stoned, he was sent off to the Flaminian Gate to be beheaded.  Before the final stroke, St. Valentine healed the sight and hearing of the jailer's daughter. He was then decapitated outside of the gate.

The current legends of St. Valentine were created in the fourteenth century by Geoffrey Chaucer and his contemporaries, and traditions like signing heart-shaped letters 'from your Valentine' were started in the late Middle Ages.  It was then that February 14 first became a celebration of romantic love.  

Let us throw aside the antics of Rome, as Chesterton termed it, and meditate on the God who is Love, and created the Love that dwelled inside of St. Valentine and was so strong and selfless that it sought to bless and heal the very ones who persecuted him.  Let us pray that such strength of heart may also be cultivated in our own souls.  

A happy St. Valentine's Day to you!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Maritime Adventure: Day Four

I awoke early to the silence of a warm Sabbath morning out at sea.  The boat was on the move again, retracing the ocean path that we had sketched out over the formless deep, and every hour the tropic conditions seemed to grow colder.  I dressed quickly in my Sunday best, and then awoke Daddy, as he had wanted to see the sunrise.

We walked up to the next-to-highest deck, where we stood against the railing along with several other viewers, and looked out at the sea.  It was rather early, but the sky itself was breathtaking, with its periwinkle timbre and innate peacefulness.  Somehow seeing that much sky makes one feel small and insignificant, even while it fills you with inward quiet.  Be still, and know that I am God.  There is no better place to be still then in the magic of the wind and the salt-water and the sky all melding together into the majestic union of God's creation.  As we watched, the sun began to shine its crimson glory into the pearly clouds of the East, building up slowly to the climax when the tip of its fiery arc appeared over the earth and seemed to race past the shimmering horizon and into the great blue heavens.  Beautiful.

When the sun was completely risen Daddy and I returned to the comparatively dark and musty inner rooms, and joined the others in preparing for the church services.  Arriving at eight o'clock in the belly of the boat, we sound-checked and had a very enjoyable time chatting with David Nasser, the speaker of the morning.  He told us a little bit about his life as a refugee from Iran, and the amazing occurrences of his escape from that country.  I was personally quite dumb-founded by the very swash-buckling nature of it all.  Such miracles and adventure and peril are quite unheard of in our extremely blessed, free nation, and when tidings of the oppression and terrific events in the rest of the world always comes as a shock.

The services were so very blessed by God's spirit, and we all felt a quickening as we sang the profound lyrics of the old hymns and psalms and heard David Nasser's penetrating message on contentment and the gospel.  He shared the story behind the writer of the hymn, 'It Is Well With My Soul'.  Horatio Spafford experienced two major traumas in quick succession, one, the Chicago fire of the Autumn of 1871, in which he was ruined financially, and then, shortly thereafter, his four daughters were killed in a shipwreck out to sea.  His wife, Anna, was the lone survivor, and sent him a telegram with the two words, "Saved alone."  Spafford retraced the sea passage to the place where his daughters had drowned, and there, facing the seeming ruin of everything that he had built and held dear in his life, he wrote the deep-seated sapience of those amazing verses.

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

That evening, we all gathered together on the deck of the ship to watch the last sunset of our journey across the ocean.  The sun had accrued power in his day's work, and burnt fervently in the golden dusk of the sky.  We all shielded our sensitive eyes as it slowly dropped toward the glassy mirror below it.  I wondered if, before that fatal bite at the dawn of time, our bodies would have been powerful enough to take the light of a sun ten times the brilliance I saw.  I looked down into the sea to ease the strain in my ocular engines, and wondered if there were mermen and selkies beneath me looking up at the same sunset, and arming their underwater kingdoms to guard against the sea-monsters that pervade that midnight murkiness.  I often wonder what makes us so sure of ourselves as to trump the beliefs of the millions of intelligent, sane human beings who lived before us, and decide to discredit their records.  You must think that if bald eagles, giant pandas, and the tigers of Asia are all going extinct in our generation, how many creatures have gone extinct in the course of the seventeen thousand years in the journey of this world?  Such things are easy to muse about surrounded by the resplendence of God's creativity.

And that's the end of my maritime adventure!  I hope you've enjoyed it!


by Sir Walter Scott

Oh! young Lochinvar is come out of the west,
Through all the wide Border his steed was the best;
And save his good broadsword he weapons had none.
He rode all unarmed and he rode all alone.
So faithful in love and so dauntless in war,
There never was knight like the young Lochinvar.

He stayed not for brake and he stopped not for stone,
He swam the Eske river where ford there was none,a
But ere he alighted at Netherby gate
The bride had consented, the gallant came late:
For a laggard in love and a dastard in war
Was to wed the fair Ellen of brave Lochinvar.

So boldly he entered the Netherby Hall,
Among bridesmen, and kinsmen, and brothers, and all:
Then spoke the bride’s father, his hand on his sword,
For the poor craven bridegroom said never a word,
‘Oh! come ye in peace here, or come ye in war,
Or to dance at our bridal, young Lord Lochinvar?’

‘I long wooed your daughter, my suit you denied;
Love swells like the Solway, but ebbs like its tide
And now am I come, with this lost love of mine,
To lead but one measure, drink one cup of wine.
There are maidens in Scotland more lovely by far,
That would gladly be bride to the young Lochinvar.’

The bride kissed the goblet; the knight took it up,
He quaffed off the wine, and he threw down the cup,
She looked down to blush, and she looked up to sigh,
With a smile on her lips and a tear in her eye.
He took her soft hand ere her mother could bar,
‘Now tread we a measure!’ said young Lochinvar.

So stately his form, and so lovely her face,
That never a hall such a galliard did grace;
While her mother did fret, and her father did fume,
And the bridegroom stood dangling his bonnet and plume;
And the bride-maidens whispered ‘’Twere better by far
To have matched our fair cousin with young Lochinvar.’

One touch to her hand and one word in her ear,
When they reached the hall-door, and the charger stood near;
So light to the croupe the fair lady he swung,
So light to the saddle before her he sprung!
‘She is won! we are gone, over bank, bush, and scaur;
They’ll have fleet steeds that follow,’ quoth young Lochinvar.

There was mounting ’mong Graemes of the Netherby clan;
Fosters, Fenwicks, and Musgraves, they rode and they ran:
There was racing and chasing on Cannobie Lee,
But the lost bride of Netherby ne’er did they see.
So daring in love and so dauntless in war,
Have ye e’er heard of gallant like young Lochinvar?

Friday, February 6, 2009

A Maritime Adventure: Day Three

God delights in routine.  The sunrise happens every morning not because God ran out of ideas, but because the sun so glories in its rising that he does it again and again, as a child never tires of seeing something especially interesting done once more.  Therefore, this morning, I did almost the exact same thing that I had done the previous morning.  After a nourishing devotional time on our room's deck, staring off into the great black of the sea, I ran against the wind on the second-to-top deck outside, and then I carried an exercise mat outside and did refreshing Pilates exercises in the salty breeze.  Very aesthetically pleasing, I must say.  We all dressed in our most island-ish clothes, all us girls trying to compete for the most Grace Kelly outfit, and, when finished, we leaned out of our cabin to watch as the little English province came into view.  


Grand Turk Island.  It was very small, and almost wholly destroyed by Hurricane Ike, but my heart palpitated with expectation as I realized that I was stepping for the first time on foreign soil.  How many times I've read the phrase in books I know not, but there is something so romantic about seeing the world!  Secretly I made plans to drag somebody on a mad exploring expedition through the sand-hills and wild palm trees.  I've always prided myself on being practical.

Once the boat docked, we made our way through the three thousand people trying to get off at the same time, and walked out onto the great concrete walkway bridging the waters to the beach.  It was very hot, and I donned my sunglasses and a light cotton shawl to protect my very sensitive Irish skin and eyes from the tropical glare of the sun.  Once on dry land, we fought our dizziness (especially bad when standing on tile or any other very flat surface) and the instinct to stand with our feet wide apart for more effective balancing.  We younger kids stopped at a fresh fruit smoothie shop, where a beautiful, strong-boned woman with a dark, rich complexion and a lovely accent served us drinks made of mango and papaya and coconut and other island fruits.  I was afraid I looked very tourist-y to her, but hey, you don't get to be a tourist every day!  :)

Gretchen and I departed from the rest of our group to tour the jewelry shops, and soon had found some beautiful, native presents and shell-and-fresh-water-pearl earrings for ourselves and some others, and, having made our purchases, we all made our way to the beach.  I had never before seen such a lovely beach.  The sand was very clean and white, the water a glittering blue so clear one could see to the ocean floor even when one couldn't touch.  We all ate a splendid luncheon while chatting with other newly-made acquaintances, and then, donning our bathing suits, rushed into the waters.  Or rather, approached the salty expanse warily, stuck a toe into the very edge, and jumped back screaming because it was so cold!  Somehow the heat of the day didn't affect the ocean very readily.  Jeremiah and his friends, in the natural childhood immunity, were already soaking wet and playing out in the water, but we adults were having a rather painful time of it.  Finally, seeing Annie, Scott, and Gretchen brave the frigid deep, I forced myself to plunge under the still liquid and came up shivering and gasping for air.  

We all swam a bit, trying to get our blood pumping enough to warm us, but I could not get warm.  Salt-water got into my eyes, making them sting, and, when nobody could think of anything to do, I decided I had had enough of the tropics (I know, I know, quite contemptible, I must say!) and left the beach with Mama and Daddy.  We had a very pleasant walk and shop-sifting, but unfortunately the island wasn't much to explore, being mostly wreckage from the hurricane, and my parents are rather too old for exploring, and so soon I was carried back off to the boat.  Daddy and I got some frozen yogurt cones and sat and looked out at the ocean from the boat and had a splendid time, however.

In an hour or so everyone returned, with stories about what they had seen while snorkling, and, after another very delectable supper and melting chocolate cake to aid us in gaining those healthy constitutions and rosy cheeks that Grandma loves so much in her grandchildren, we all played a game of Scrabble and had a wonderful time.  I won the game, because of the word WINDLOG down over a couple triple word and double letter scores.  Unfortunately for the rest of the players, nobody realized till afterward that windlog should be hyphenated…including me!  I proclaim my innocence!  :)

Once it was dark we all journeyed down a back path to the very front of the boat, where there was a deck that no one knew about.  There were no lights on, and so we stood out on the very brink of the ship, the wind so forceful it was difficult to stand upright, our hair blowing itself into tangles, and our eyes gazing in rapture at the constellations above us.  I had never seen so many stars.  Planets and comets and formations and clusters, all dancing and burning in the great black deep above, which mirrored the great black deep below.  The wind strummed the wires stretching above us in the mast, creating a dissonant and mysteriously beautiful hum that increased into a shrill scream as the wind increased, and ran back down the scale to a throaty tone when the wind softened.  Our friend Jill said she had heard of a cruise where a woman murdered her husband by pushing him off the side of the boat in the dark.  A chill quivered down my spine, and my eyes moved from the stars above to the murky waves below, and imagined the cold impact and the slither of sharks against my ankles.  

Soon afterwards we all went back inside to electric warmth and fluorescent lights, all of us feeling rather creepy…especially after Jill's husband, David, told us all he had seen another person out there with us––a shadowy woman with long black tresses and empty eyes that stared into the infinite sea and sky, her whole being yearning for the peace that would not come till she was avenged…  Thankfully I'm not Nancy Drew.  Wouldn't you hate to be a person who seems to get picked to solve all the world's mysteries?  :) 

And that's day three of our maritime adventure!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Maritime Adventure; Day Two

I awoke in the dark of the early morning with an eery feeling at my heart after a frightening dream of a mystery where I was forced unwillingly into the role of a heroine.  My eyes became used to the darkness and the silver light of the cold moon sifting through the window pane.  My ears hearkened to the lapping of the waves against the boat, cradling my senses in the warmth and safety of the bedclothes.  Just on the brink of dozing off once more, I jolted myself awake by throwing off the sheets and, pulling on my robe for warmth, I took my Bible and a reading light and stepped out on deck.

Lifting my face to the softness in the sky, I felt the wind kiss me as it blew by.  The heavens were periwinkle and grey, mundane and beautiful, and the sun had not yet risen over the expanse of the dark, quiet sea.

Opening my Bible, I sat down in a chair and devoted myself to reading and prayer.  Once finished and my soul refreshed, I stepped back inside and shook my younger sister awake.

"Gretchen!  Gretchen!  You've got to get up!"

Gretchen moans.

"Come on, Gretchen!  You know Daddy won't let me go exercise alone!"

"Get one of the boys to go with you," she says, turning her face toward the wall.

"You know they won't come!  They're probably all still asleep.  Come on, don't be selfish!"

Gretchen's better half prevailed, and, grumbling to herself, she got out of bed and we both pulled on our tennis shoes and sweats and went out into the hall.  We felt our adrenaline start pumping as we took the stairs two at a time and ran out of the glass doors into the dance of the ocean wind.  It blew my hair into my face, and I struggled to get my hoodie over my head and tie it firmly beneath my chin.

The boat was quiet under the quickly-fading stars, and the only sound to be heard was the breeze whistling in the ropes overhead and the waves rushing by.  Gretchen and I climbed up to the lap deck, and began running around the lap, letting the wind blow vigor into us.  We conquered one lap.

"Stop!  Stop!"  Gretchen said, puffing and huffing heavily.  "I can't go on.  It's too hard."

I impatiently jogged in place.  "You are ridiculous.  Don't be a sissy-pate!"

"I'm serious.  I'm not used to this sort of thing!"

An extremely fit army soldier passed us running at a very steady and altogether marvelous pace, and yelled over his shoulder, "Run eight minutes, walk two minutes––that's the way to do it!"

We smiled, and I turned back to Gretchen.  "Just keep on going.  You'll get used to it."

So Gretchen and I ran on, I reveling in the dark expanse of sea all around me, and wondered what sunken kingdoms we were sailing over.

Halfway through the lap.

"Stop!  Camille, I really can't go on.  My throat is burning from this wind.  I'll go sit on deck and read my Bible till you're done.  Go ahead without me.  Really."  She hobbled way, slightly doubled over and panting.  

I continued to run.  As time went by and six thirty struck other exercise buffs came to the lap deck and began to jog.  We formed left and right traffic lanes, and I enjoyed the fellowship even as I wondered at the great speed of the genuine runners, running two laps to every one of mine.

About six forty-five I turned the corner and was awe-inspired by the appearance of a glorious sun rising over the still horizon of the waters.  I wondered, as I ran round and round and came upon the miracle again and again, at the thought that the same sun I looked upon was the sun that Adam and Eve had looked upon, that had risen over Abraham on his journey to Canaan, which David wrote about in his poetry, and Jesus saw when He lifted His eyes to the Heavenlies to pray.  I marveled at its brightness, and how it alone warmed our entire planet and gave us light to see by, gave us the beauty and colors that decorate the earth so splendidly.  All from the golden disc hung in the blue sky.

At three miles I joined Gretchen, Annie, and Scott on the lower deck, where they had been observing the sunrise as well, and within an hour we had all dressed and met the family in the restaurant below deck for a yummy breakfast.  

After breakfast, Alex, Benjamin, Gretchen, and I went back on deck in the hot late-morning sun, with the wind blowing knots in my hair and no hair-band to constrain it.  Our friend David showed us how to play the shuffle-board game chalked on the boards, and soon Gretchen and I were pleasantly observing the boys trying to scoot the disc from one goal to the other.  I remembered pictures of Grace Kelly playing this very game, and wished I had a chiffon scarf, glossy sunglasses, and red lips like she did.  

Gretchen and I took turns with it for a while, but, as our frail, feminine muscles couldn't quite manage to scoot the disc more than two feet, the boys soon gave us leave to step forward a great deal from the line, so that we could actually score something.  Gretchen and Benjamin won, unfortunately, as Alex's muscles were too much for the poor disc, which generally shot completely away from the goal and off into the outfields.  

Once we were finished, we went up on top deck, where there was a put-put ring and several children playing in the turf.  The wind majestically tore at us, making Gretchen and I hold on to our shawls lest they go flying off to smother some poor fish in the wide ocean.  The deck was decorated in ship-wreck garb (yes, quite what one would like to dwell on in one's first cross-ocean experience), and Gretchen and I took turns struggling against the wind onto a false ship bow, letting our shawls float behind us, and crying, "I'm the queen of the world!"  Unfortunately the wind got a bit angry at this complacency, and, after almost keeling backwards in its wrathful force, Gretchen and I desisted.

After lunch the whole band gathered in the very belly of the ship, where our performance that night was to be held, and had our soundcheck.  The sound-people were very helpful in our slight seasickness, as the stage lurched so much that my harp kept on falling away from my shoulder and I could hardly keep my eyes on the right strings as my hands searched for the ever-moving strings to pluck.  Benjamin was forced to replace his uneven stool for an even one, because it rocked back and forth so much.  Annie, Alex, and Gretchen had some very serious concerns as to jumping while playing, lest the floorboards drift away from them.  

We partook of a delicious, gourmet supper, and then all dressed for the concert.  Gretchen and Alex finished early and went to hear Phil Wickham and Third Day perform, which they very much enjoyed, and then, at eight-thirty or so, we all gathered in the Palladium for a splendid concert.  There were some rather dizzy spots, but otherwise our legs showed themselves dependable, and we loved learning the art of balancing while playing our instruments.  Such an interesting feat to experience what one experienced at the age of two.  

After a delightful hour with a wonderful audience, we packed up our instruments, and Benjamin and I, who are generally the ones of the family who can't keep our eyes open past ten o'clock, went promptly to bed while the others went to hear other performers and drink coffee (decaf, of course!) with old and new friends.

And thus ends day two of our voyage.