you must labour in the sea

Found in the unfinished novel The Notion Club Papers, this is the “The Death of St. Brendan” by J.R.R. Tolkien:

At last out of the deep seas he passed,
and mist rolled on the shore;
under clouded moon the waves were loud,
as the laden ship him bore
to Ireland, back to wood and mire,
to the tower tall and grey,
where the knell of Cluain-ferta’s bell
tolled in green Galway.
Where Shannon down to Lough Derg ran
under a rainclad sky
Saint Brendan came to his journey’s end
to await his hour to die.

‘O! tell me, father, for I loved you well,
if still you have words for me,
of things strange in the remembering
in the long and lonely sea,
of islands by deep spells beguiled
where dwell the Elven-kind:
in seven long years the road to Heaven
or the Living Land did you find?’

‘The things I have seen, the many things,
have long now faded far;
only three come clear now back to me:
a Cloud, a Tree, a Star.
We sailed for a year and a day and hailed
no field nor coast of men;
no boat nor bird saw we ever afloat
for forty days and ten.
We saw no sun at set or dawn,
but a dun cloud lay ahead,
and a drumming there was like thunder coming
and a gleam of fiery red.

Upreared from sea to cloud then sheer
a shoreless mountain stood;
its sides were black from the sullen tide
to the red lining of its hood.
No cloak of cloud, no lowering smoke,
no looming storm of thunder
in the world of men saw I ever unfurled
like the pall that we passed under.
We turned away, and we left astern
the rumbling and the gloom;
then the smoking cloud asunder broke,
and we saw that Tower of Doom:
on its ashen head was a crown of red,
where fires flamed and fell.
Tall as a column in High Heaven’s hall,
its feet were deep as Hell;
grounded in chasms the waters drowned
and buried long ago,
it stands, I ween, in forgotten lands
where the kings of kings lie low.

We sailed then on, till the wind had failed,
and we toiled then with the oar,
and hunger and thirst us sorely wrung,
and we sang our psalms no more.
A land at last with a silver strand
at the end of strength we found;
the waves were singing in pillared caves
and pearls lay on the ground;
and steep the shores went upward leaping
to slopes of green and gold,
and a stream out of the rich land teeming
through a coomb of shadow rolled.

Through gates of stone we rowed in haste,
and passed, and left the sea;
and silence like dew fell in that isle,
and holy it seemed to be.
As a green cup, deep in a brim of green,
that with wine the white sun fills
was the land we found, and we saw there stand
on a laund between the hills
a tree more fair than ever I deemed
might climb in Paradise:
its foot was like a great tower’s root,
it height beyond men’s eyes;
so wide its branches, the least could hide
in shade an acre long,
and they rose as steep as mountain-shows
those boughs so broad and strong;
for white as a winter to my sight
the leaves of that tree were,
they grew more close than swan-wing plumes,
all long and soft and fair.

We deemed then, maybe, as in a dream,
that time had passed away
and our journey ended; for no return
we hoped, but there to stay.
In the silence of that hollow isle,
in the stillness, then we sang –
softly us seemed, but the sound aloft
like a pealing organ rang.

Then trembled the tree from crown to stem;
from the limbs the leaves in air
as white birds fled in wheeling flight,
and left the branches bare.
From the sky came dropping down on high
a music not of bird,
not voice of man, nor angel’s voice;
but maybe there is a third
fair kindred in the world yet lingers
beyond the foundered land.
Yet steep are the seas and the waters deep
beyond the White-tree Strand.’

‘O! stay now, father! There’s more to say.
But two things you have told:
The Tree, the Cloud; but you spoke of three.
The Star in mind do you hold?’
‘The Star? Yes, I saw it, high and far,
at the parting of the ways,
a light on the edge of the Outer Night
like silver set ablaze,
where the round world plunges steeply down,
but on the old road goes,
as an unseen bridge that on arches runs
to coasts than no man knows.’

‘But men say, father, that ere the end
you went where none have been.
I would hear you tell me, father dear,
of the last land you have seen.’

‘In my mind the Star I still can find,
and the parting of the seas,
and the breath as sweet and keen as death
that was borne upon the breeze.
But where they bloom those flowers fair,
in what air or land they grow,
what words beyond the world I heard,
if you would seek to know,
in a boat then, brother, far afloat
you must labour in the sea,
and find for yourself things out of mind:
you will learn no more of me.’

In Ireland, over wood and mire,
in the tower tall and grey,
the knell of Cluain-ferta’s bell
was tolling in green Galway.
Saint Brendan had come to his life’s end
under a rainclad sky,
and journeyed whence no ship returns,
and his bones in Ireland lie.

confirm our song and lead our feast

Excerpts from Royal Hours on the Eve of the Theophany (Epiphany).

[Served on Friday, January 5, 2018. © 2006 The Orthodox Church in America.]

The river Jordan was turned back by the mantle of Elisha,
after Elijah had been taken up to heaven.
The waters were parted in two,
and the stream became a dry path.
This was truly a type of baptism,
by which we pass over the stream of life.
Christ has shone forth in the Jordan to sanctify the waters.

To the voice of one crying in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way of the Lord,”
You came, O Lord, taking the form of a servant.
You asked to be baptized though You have no knowledge of sin.
The waters saw You and were afraid.
The Forerunner trembled and cried aloud:
“How will the Lamp illumine the Light?
How will a servant lay his hand on the Master?
You take away the sin of the world, O Savior.
Sanctify both me and the waters!”

Today our God, the Trinity,
revealed Himself to us as one and undivided:
for the Father with a loud voice bore witness to His Son;
the Spirit came down from heaven in the form of a dove;
the Son bowed his spotless head before the Forerunner John
and was baptized in his love for us,
delivering us from bondage.

The waters saw You, O God; the waters saw You and were afraid. (Ps. 76:17/77:16)

The Father bore witness to You,
and the Divine Spirit in the form of a dove descended on You,
as You came in flesh to the Jordan, O Lord.
You desired to be baptized in human form,
that in Your compassion You might enlighten us who have gone astray, and deliver us from all the snares and wiles of the Dragon.
Make your home in our souls, O loving God.

What wonder, to look down in the river
and see the Maker of heaven and earth standing naked.
Like a servant at the hands of a servant
he accepts to be baptized for our salvation.
The choirs of angels are astounded,
overwhelmed with fear and joy.
With them we worship You; save us, O Lord!

Therefore I remember You, from the land of Jordan and of Hermon.

When he saw the Lord of glory draw near,
the Forerunner cried aloud:
“Behold, the One who redeems the world from corruption!
Behold, the One who delivers us from affliction!
Behold, the One who grants us remission of sins!
In his mercy He has come forth on the earth from a pure virgin.
He makes us children of God instead of servants;
through the waters of His baptism divine,
He gives light to us in place of darkness.
Let us all glorify Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit!

The waters saw you, O God; the waters saw You and were afraid. (Ps. 76:17/77:16)

[Then the canonarch, standing in the center of the church, chants this verse:]

With your hand, O Baptist,
you touched the pure head of the Master.
With your hand and your finger you showed Him to us.
Stretch out this hand toward Him on our behalf,
since you have great boldness;
for He witnessed to you as greater than all the prophets!
And again, with your eyes, O Baptist,
you saw the Holy Spirit descend in the form of a dove.
Lift your eyes to Him and make Him gracious toward us!
And come and stand with us!
Come and stand with us!
Come and stand with us!
Confirm our song and lead our feast!

The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
(Ps. 26/27:1)

Today the Lord enters the Jordan and cries out to John:
“Do not be afraid to baptize me, for I come to save Adam, the first-formed man!”

Some language from the same service in the Antiochian tradition:

O Life-giving Lord, when Thou didst come to the Jordan in the flesh, in the likeness of man, willing to be baptized to lighten us who have erred, delivering us from all the wiles of the dragon and his gins, since Thou art compassionate, the Father testified of Thee, and the divine Spirit did come to Thee in the likeness of a dove. Dwell Thou, therefore, in our souls, O Lover of mankind.

Psalm 73
But God is our king before the ages; He hath wrought salvation in the midst of the earth. Thou didst establish the sea by Thy might; Thou didst break the heads of the dragons in the water. Thou didst crush the head of the dragon; Thou gavest him as food to the Ethiopian peoples. Thou hast cloven fountains and torrents; Thou hast dried up the rivers of Etham. Thine is the day and Thine is the night; Thou hast perfected the light and the sun. Thou hast made all the borders of the earth; summer and spring hast Thou fashioned. Be mindful of this Thy creation.

Psalm 90
For Thou, O Lord, art my hope. Thou madest the Most High thy refuge; no evils shall come nigh thee, and no scourge shall draw nigh unto thy dwelling. For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. On their hands shall they bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Upon the asp and basilisk shalt thou tread, and thou shalt trample upon the lion and dragon. For he hath set his hope on Me, and I will deliver him; I will shelter him because he hath known My Name.

Psalm 28
The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory hath thundered, the Lord is upon the many waters. The voice of the Lord in might, the voice of the Lord in majesty. The voice of the Lord Who breaketh the cedars; yea, the Lord will break the cedars of Lebanon. And He will break them small like the calf of Lebanon, and His beloved is like a son of the unicorns. The voice of the Lord Who divideth the flame of fire, the voice of the Lord Who shaketh the wilderness; yea, the Lord will shake the wilderness of Kaddis. The voice of the Lord gathereth the harts, and shall reveal the thickets of oak, and in His temple every man uttereth glory. The Lord dwelleth in the flood; yea, the Lord shall sit as king forever.

[NOTE: The following is done slowly from the center of the church.]

Thy hand which touched the head of the Master, free of corruption…
Thy hand which touched the head of the Master, free of corruption…
Thy hand which touched the head of the Master, free of corruption…

… the same with which thou didst point Him to us by the pointing of the finger, raise thou it to Him for our sakes, O Forerunner. Thou hast attained great favor, since it was testified of thee by Him that thou art the greatest of all the Prophets. And thine eyes also, which did behold the All-Holy Spirit descending in the likeness of a dove, raise to Him, O Baptizer, granting mercy for us.

Come, thou, and stand with us…
Come, thou, and stand with us…
Come, thou, and stand with us…
… concluding our praise and beginning the celebration of the Feast.

[Portions of the Archdiocesan Service Texts include texts from The Menaion, The Great Horologion, The Pentecostarion, and The Psalter of the Seventy, which are Copyright © Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Brookline, Massachusetts. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, beyond printing out a single copy for personal non-commercial use, without the prior written authorization of Holy Transfiguration Monastery.]

a few lilies blow

Heaven—Haven

A nun takes the veil

 
    I HAVE desired to go
      Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
    And a few lilies blow.

    And I have asked to be
      Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
    And out of the swing of the sea.

By Gerard Manley Hopkins.

so named for Peter

Names never cease to amaze me. In the hands of this poet, two familiar stories flow out of one simple name, each informing the other.

Petrel

So named for Peter, the one who tried
to walk on water. The Storm

Petrel, small as a sparrow with a frantic,
pulsing flight, stays silent at sea,
pattering the water with its feet to feed.

Peter, venturing onto that first
unfurled swell, saw the black gyre
below and knew the darkness.

He flailed his arms for rescue
as thunder cracked
a seam of doubt down his center.

He was lifted unto the shore like a bird
thick with oil. And after each wing
was delivered and each feather realigned,

the black stench still lingered:
a line beneath each nail
an itch inside his throat.

By Kristin George. Published in The Cresset (Lent 2012), page 31. Naming and walking silently are kingly things.

sanctified through the sword in a just war

Here warfare represents creation itself as a struggle, and finally the triumph, of order against the disorder of original Chaos. (War, moreover, is justified to the extent that it aims at eliminating a disorder and reestablishing the order demanded by the law of creation):

Thou rulest the raging of the sea [symbol of the chaotic powers]: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them. Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm (Psalm 88, cf. Psalm 103, Isa. 51:9).

From Divine Craftsmanship by Jean Hani (28). And a little further on with more on just war (30):

War, on earth, is nothing but the reflection of the heavenly battle of Light against Darkness, of Christ against the Serpent. A christian can be sanctified through the sword in a just war.

…This means that in a war and on the earthly plane the earthly knight, the Christian soldier, occupies the place of angels, the heavenly cavalry surrounding Christ in the struggle against Evil.

Note on the Psalms quoted above: many commentators connect the cloven heads of Leviathan, Rahab and the storm waves to the cloven (and yet impressively surviving) head of the beast that comes out of the sea to join the dragon in John’s Revelation.

losing sight of land, we shall find the stars

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,
when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little,
when we arrive safely because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess,
we have lost our thirst for the waters of life,
having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity,
and in our efforts to build a new earth,
we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas,
where storms will show your mastery,
where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.
We ask you to push back the horizon of our hopes,
and to push us into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.
This we ask in the name of our Captain, who is Jesus Christ.

Attributed – to Sir Francis Drake as he set out to circumnavigate the world, 1577.