Friday, January 20, 2017

On Christianity in Writing

Heil, Heilige Nacht!

How many years to Bethlehem?
Near a hundred score.
Can I get there by candlelight?
Not this war.

The friendly, holy candle light
Is bale fire now to death,
Its perilous glimmer long blown out
By sirens’ breath.

Through skies the Wise Men humbly scanned
Three keener hunters flit –
Heinkel and Dornier seek the gleam,
With Messerchmitt.

No manger now, no cattle shed,
Too lowly to be found.
Take up the babe and hurry him
Deep underground.

But cave nor grave is deep enough
To shield young flesh and bone.
Hurry him down, and o’er his head
Roll the great stone.

What need of law to still the bells,
For how should bells be merry?
The day the child in joy was born,
The child we bury.

Gentlemen of the High Command,
Who crucify the slums,
There was an earlier Golgotha.
The third day comes.

-- Ogden Nash

And there we have it. A powerful poem delivered by a man more commonly known for his light verse.

This poem is from Nash's collection "Good Intentions," which is home to poems written between 1937 and 1945. I read it first in 2010 and must not have noticed how many poems in this collection relate to the war, either lightly or, more rarely, somberly, as with this poem. And what a poem it is, reminding those in command of the war that this is not their world, but rather it belongs to someone else.

I've tried to discover the circumstances in which Nash wrote this poem, but my Google-fu skills are weak, or there's not much commentary on this poem online. A few people I've found chide him for his Christianity, making me hark back to the time I've spent reading CS Lewis' "Surprised by Joy," in which he marvels at his own ignorance when he tsk-tsked about an author's overt display of religion.

Additionally, he relates this, his conversion:

The odd thing was that before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears a moment of wholly free choice. In a sense. I was going up Headington Hill on the top of a bus. Without words and (I think) almost without images, a fact about myself was somehow presented to me. I became aware that I was holding something at bay, or shutting something out. Or, if you like, that I was wearing some stiff clothing, like corsets, or even a suit of armor, as if I were a lobster. I felt myself being, there and then, given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut; I could unbuckle the armor or keep it on. Neither choice was presented as a duty; no threat or promise was attached to either, though I knew that to open the door or to take off the corset meant the incalculable.

I'm often flummoxed and amused when people become offended when they read something overtly Christian in a popular novel, or discover an author they enjoy is Christian or religious; it's almost as if they become offended that the author has dared include something of his or her own self in a book or story without prior approval from this particular kind of reader.

And I know it goes both ways, as religious readers discover things they don't like about a particular author or a particular story as going against their beliefs. We all have that right. But we all have the ability to walk away if what we discover is too unsettling.


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