jean d'arc and the sound of angels...

So I'm a grandpa for the second time. I used to think my own grandfathers were SOOO old back in the day. Not so much any more. My precious granddaughter decided to arrive early - seven weeks early - so we were all caught unawares. Isn't life grand? It is filled with reminders that we are not in control. Tonight I return thanks to God that all are well.

After a week in the hills of Quebec's Eastern Townships, sitting each morning in the late summer sun reading Scripture and letting it soak into my old heart, I feel rested. Dare I say focused, too?  Without Internet or smart phones, beyond any distractions but my own monkey mind, I found myself reading and re-reading these words from Jean Vanier:

God has given L’Arche as a gift to this particular time in history. Today, so much emphasis is put on technology, on scientific knowledge and on individual success that people, forgetting the importance of the heart and of faithful relationship, sink into depression and despair. Society often seeks to eliminate people who are weak, before their birth or through euthanasia, arguing that they are a nuisance and cost too much. Through L’Arche, God reminds us of the essential purpose of human life: out of love, we have been created to love. We are called to use all our energies and gifts to create a more just and loving society, where each person, whatever their culture, religion, abilities or disabilities, has a place. 

In an interview with Krista Tippett, Vanier noted that the best way of doing this consistently involves practicing the ten foot rule.  We can only really impact and touch those who are closest to us. Anxiety, fretting, fuming, and fussing about the wider world is not only a waste of time, but a bad use of the love God asks us to share with those we can really touch. We might pray and grieve for others, but then it is time get back to work and grow where we're planted. Clearly, that is one of the insights I am being asked to practice as this fall dawns. Vanier, in another essay, wrote:

Jesus invites his disciples not to seek importance or power, even for the sake of doing good to others, but rather to take the lowest place, to serve others like a slave. ‘God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly,’ says Mary in her Magnificat.

After Antonia's birth - and my time away in the sacred solitude - I started to sense that this will be a year where I am pushed towards owning more of this holy albeit hard humility.  For decades Leonard Cohen's song, "Joan of Arc" has reduced me to a pool of tears or ashes - now more so than ever before. And when Judy Collins renders this song - especially the lines "She said, I'm tired of the war, I want the kind of work I had before, A wedding dress or something white to wear upon my swollen appetite. Well, I'm glad to hear you talk this way, You know I've watched you riding every day. And something in me yearns to win such a cold and lonesome heroine. And who are you? she sternly spoke to the one beneath the smoke. Why, I'm fire, he replied, and I love your solitude, and I love your pride" - my heart almost stops beating. It is perfection. It breathes an invitation to surrender. Call it acquiescence or acceptance, if you like, but letting go to a greater mystery nonetheless is the request. 

I, too, am tired of the war - the inner war of striving - the outer war that must push and organize, cajole and encourage. It is clear that this has now become my season not simply to rest, but rather to be. To be real. To be loving. To be quiet. To be tender. To be present and engaged with those 10 feet around me. 

The first time I heard Judy Collins and her early 70's entourage add their unique chorus to Cohen's agonizing account of Jean d'Arc's surrender to the cruelty of the world, I heard the sound of angels breaking through the madness for a moment. They gave expression to the the holy promise of grace - and it was enough. It still is and captures exactly what my heart feels as I move ever downward.

Now the flames they followed Joan of arc
As she came riding through the dark;
No moon to keep her armor bright,
No man to get her through this very smoky night.
She said, I'm tired of the war,
I want the kind of work I had before,
A wedding dress or something white
To wear upon my swollen appetite.

Well, I'm glad to hear you talk this way,
You know I've watched you riding every day
And something in me yearns to win
Such a cold and lonesome heroine.
And who are you? she sternly spoke
To the one beneath the smoke.
Why, I'm fire, he replied,
And I love your solitude, and I love your pride.

Then fire, make your body cold,
I'm going to give you mine to hold,
Saying this she climbed inside
To be his one, to be his only bride.
And deep into his fiery heart
He took the dust of joan of arc,
And high above the wedding guests
He hung the ashes of her wedding dress.

It was deep into his fiery heart
He took the dust of Joan of arc,
And then she clearly understood
If he was fire, oh then she must be wood.
I saw her wince, I saw her cry,
I saw the glory in her eye.
Myself I long for love and light,
But must it come so cruel, and oh so bright?


Phil Ewing said…
Congratulations and many blessings to you and all your family RJ !
RJ said…
Thanks Phil - here's hoping all is well for you, too!

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