Ring Out Wild Bells by Alfred Tennyson

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Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

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Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife,
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweet manners, purer laws.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

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***“Ring Out, Wild Bells” is a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Published in 1850, the year he was appointed Poet Laureate, it forms part of In Memoriam, Tennyson’s elegy to Arthur Henry Hallam, his sister’s fiancé who died at the age of twenty-two. Wikipedia

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The Tenafly Road Series

“Characters so deep you follow them into the abyss, hoping to come out unscathed, but never returning the same. They will haunt me forever.”

I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day (the story behind the song)

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

Merry Christmas!

Where Does Creativity Come From?

What is your calling?

You know you are called when that desire to do something you are not doing keeps poking you at odd moments or for entire days. When around others who are at one with their callings and are actively engaged in them you feel convicted, bitter or jealous.

Where do callings come from?

If not from an intelligent being then where or how or why do callings come at all? A calling doesn’t feel like a figment of imagination, does it? If, like honey bees, we have evolved to have special roles it’s pretty amazing that evolution would take into account the role of hairdressers, baseball players and novelists.

I’ve read about many writers who’ve said that they were compelled to write. Like Jonah who fled from his calling only to be swallowed by a great fish, I refused my calling for many long years despite knowing of its existence. The tug was there, the self-reproach and misery, yet still I hid.

When you flee a calling all else that you do has a tinge of mediocrity about it, a veil colors all of life even if others praise you for talents that you deep-down know are counterfeit callings. As a teacher I was stung after a convincing sermon on my part about fearless writing when a ten-year-old student asked, “Why don’t you go and write?”

I see all of life as a redemptive tapestry with each thread as beautiful as the next. I didn’t always see it that way. I saw my thread as weak and unimportant before I embraced the calling — where it suddenly didn’t matter anymore if mine was the weakest thread  as long as I was a part of the inspired whole.

“Imagination may be the hardest work of the human mind. And perhaps the most God-like. It is the closest we get to creation out of nothing. When we try to express beautiful truth, we must think of a pattern of words, perhaps a poem. We must conceive something that has never existed before and does not now exist in any human mind. We must think of an analogy or metaphor or illustration which has no present existence. The imagination must exert itself to see it in the mind when it is not there. We must create word combinations, and music, and visual forms that have never existed before. All of this we do, because we are like God and because he is infinitely worthy of ever-new verbal, musical, and visual expressions.”  John Piper

So are callings real?

Are they just rationalized excuses for doing what you’re doing?

Are they just coded worker bee impulses?

Is not following a calling a sin?

Are we afraid to follow because we’d rather do our own lesser thing?

Do we think our one small life makes no difference?

Let me know your thoughts on callings in the comments!

20 WAYS TO FIND YOUR CALLING

DISCOVER YOUR GOD-GIVEN CALLING

WHERE DOES CREATIVITY COME FROM?

“Characters so deep you follow them into the abyss, hoping to come out unscathed, but never returning the same. They will haunt me forever.”

Sympathy For The Devil

“A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all—and more amusing.”
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

“I’m basically a good person.”

I cringe at this self-delusion. I once believed this lie. It led to a sense of entitlement, a sense that life’s little inconveniences and larger tragedies were unfair to me in particular. It led to a sense that if everyone were to adopt my basically good principles for living, all would be well with the world. It led to phrases coming out of my mouth like:

satan-paintings-hell-florence-high

Coppo di Marcovaldo, The Hell

Everyone should …

If only everyone understood …

If only people were more educated …

If only people weren’t so stupid …

If only those people didn’t exist …

 

“We must picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives with the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.”
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

I was often polite and took this for goodness. In ways I didn’t even notice, I controlled others because I feared their differences and labeled them dangerous (because I alone understood goodness since I was basically good). I feared evil in a personal way, a selfish way. I worried about being buried alive by stupid people taking orders from powerful leaders with wrong ideologies.

“The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers when there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.”
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

“Hatred is best combined with Fear. Cowardice, alone of all the vices, is purely painful–horrible to anticipate, horrible to feel, horrible to remember; Hatred has its pleasures. It is therefore often the compensation by which a frightened man reimburses himself for the miseries of Fear. The more he fears, the more he will hate.” The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

It’s taken me a long time to realize that Jesus never ordered us to go around impressing people with how little we sin. What he said was to love others because we are first loved by God (despite how awful we think others are and how awful we can sometimes be).

Loving without controlling requires trusting and I can find no reason to trust without first trusting God. Trusting plain old humanity or any living thing within this system seems the height of foolishness.

Loving the unlovable others in our lives or on TV is so much more challenging than virtue signalling or joining a group of like-minded political junkies…

Yet I’ve noticed only recently that in those rare moments when I abandon self-will and open myself to loving without assurance of receiving it in return I become free — of resentment, fear and despair.

“When He [God] talks of their losing their selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.”
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

In my NOVELS and in my life I do feel a certain sympathy for the devil because indeed he is in you and me.

And so my friends, how do you deal with the devils in others? How about the ones lurking in yourself? Is your struggle to love as hard as mine is?

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul to waste
And I was ’round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game
I stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the czar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain
I rode a tank
Held a general’s rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name, oh yeah
Ah, what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah
I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the gods they made
I shouted out,
“Who killed the Kennedys?”
When after all
It was you and me
Let me please introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
And I laid traps for troubadours
Who get killed before they reached Bombay
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, oh yeahBut what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah, get down, baby
Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
‘Cause I’m in need of some restraint
So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste. Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I’ll lay your soul to waste, mm yeah

 

 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40

FEATURED IMAGE:Jerome Witkin, The Devil as a Tailor (1978)

An Architect of Happiness: Henry Van Dyke

room“Dr. Van Dyke is the kind of a friend to have when one is up against a difficult problem. He will take trouble, days and nights of trouble, if it is for somebody else or for some cause he is interested in.” Helen Keller said of him.

There are some long-dead men who follow their kindred spirits. Henry  seems to follow me. I first shared his poem about AMERICA with my ethnically diverse bunch of 5th graders. They loved it so much they memorized every verse.

After moving to Saratoga Springs I came upon another poem he had written for his friends SPENCER and KATRINA TRASK who were grieving the loss of their four children.

Henry pops up everywhere I go:

“As he was beginning his career as a minister, Van Dyke was also launching his career as a writer. In September 1879 he went with his friend the artist W. S. Macy to the Red River Valley wheat farms where he saw the problems with large agricultural systems that were depleting the land and exploiting migrant labor. With Macy he did an illustrated article for Harper’s Monthly Magazine; it was the lead article for the May 1880 issue.”  ALL POETRY.COM

Only the other day did I discover that Henry had written one of my favorite Christmas carols after visiting the Berkshire Mountains:

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee
God of glory, Lord of love
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee
Opening to the sun above

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness
Drive the dark of doubt away
Giver of immortal gladness
Fill us with the light of day

Hallelujah we adore You
Hallelujah

All Thy works with joy surround Thee
Earth and heaven reflect Thy rays
Stars and angels sing around Thee
Center of unbroken praise

Field and forest, vale and mountain
Flowery meadow, flashing sea
Chanting bird and flowing fountain
Call us to rejoice in Thee

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee

Mortals, join the mighty chorus
Which the morning stars began
Father love is reigning o’er us
Brother love binds man to man

Ever singing, march we onward
Victors in the midst of strife
Joyful music leads us onward
In the triumph song of life

Hallelujah we adore You
Hallelujah
Hallelujah we adore You
Hallelujah

Henry Van Dyke saw God’s beauty, grace and love in nature.  He opposed art for art’s sake because he felt all art should serve man and make him a better, happier person. His life, like his art, did just that. I imagine my students all grown up with snippets of Van Dyke in their heads.

POET, NOVELIST, DIPLOMAT & FRIEND: HENRY VAN DYKE

A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY

THE OTHER WISE MAN

Grace upon Grace

Joseph Mohr stood in silent awe of the bright stars hanging over the snow-blanketed countryside of Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg, Austria one night. Possibly his mind wandered back to his youth or even to earlier times as a baby when his mother was alone with him and wondering if the soldier she did not marry but loved could really have deserted her in her shame.

Joseph was given his father’s surname, the custom of the day, despite the fact that this surname would forever brand him a bastard.  A boy like this could have turned quite bitter left on his own. Today when so many boys grow up without fathers I wish for more men like Johann Nepomuk Hiernle, vicar and leader of music at Salzburg Cathedral.

The vicar arranged for Joseph’s schooling and encouraged his musical explorations. Encouragement is the simplest thing to do but, as a muscle, it is often underused. My cynical mind briefly intrudes on this pleasant thought. Did the vicar have some horrible reason for taking this boy under his wing? Have I been infected by the narrative that seems to say all men and boys are predators? God forbid it! How awful that the good are sullied by the evil in their midst.

Maybe a man of integrity and courage is a rarer thing than I hope? I choose to believe that one day men of integrity will be valued again in the way young Joseph must have valued his friendship with the vicar.

Joseph, as a bastard, needed special permission to enter the seminary. He became a priest. On this snowy night he walked the two miles to his friend’s house. Joseph carried a poem he’d written on a similar evening a few years back.  Franz Gruber helped Joseph put the poem to music to be used for Father Joseph’s Christmas Eve service.

 

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

Silent Night became an instant sensation and spread across the globe quickly. Father Joseph Mohr remained a priest. He donated most of his salary to the poor. Joseph also set up a fund for children from poor families to attend school. How many of us use the hurts of our lives to serve others?

Joseph is remembered for his music. Silent Night is sung every year. I wonder about the vicar, though. His quiet help took a boy from poverty and shame and enriched us all.

 

 

“There are some men and some women in whose company we are always at our best. While with them we cannot think mean thoughts or speak ungenerous words…

…Their mere presence is elevation, purification, sanctity. All the best stops in our nature are drawn out by their intercourse, and we find a music in our souls that was never there before.” – Henry Drummond

George Muller’s father was a tax collector. By the age of ten young George was an expert thief, liar and gambler who pilfered government money from his father. While his mother lay dying, George was out playing cards and getting drunk. Nowadays we’d look for a cause. The parents were lax or some such thing.

I sit at church sometimes and wonder about the perfect families seated in the aisles in front of me. Many of the children are schooled at home, taught 10 different musical instruments and sit quietly taking sermon notes. Marriages are intact. The fathers attend services and participate in church planting.

I imagine my family being much more like George Muller’s. Deaths, remarriages, wayward children and absent parents. Misspent youth, deaf ears to truth and heartbreaking regrets.

George described himself as wicked and unrepentant in his young adulthood: “Despite my sinful lifestyle and cold heart,  God had mercy on me. I was as careless as ever. I had no  Bible and had not read any Scripture for years. I seldom went to church; and, out of custom only, I took the Lord’s Supper twice a year. I never heard the gospel preached. Nobody told me that Jesus meant for Christians, by the help of God, to live according to the Holy Scriptures.” George Muller’s Autobiography

Yet the supernatural is obvious to anyone who looks. The miracle of life is a trite phrase to some but worthy of contemplation. How is it not a miracle that we live, talk and watch seasons change?

Hedonism has many pleasures. What convinced a young liar and thief to embrace miracles?

George attended a Bible study at someone’s home that he credited with changing his life (a small miracle?). Something made him pray. Something convinced him that his prayers would be answered. Most people scoff at such faith (myself included), but the truly insane thing is that his prayers were so often answered.

orphansGeorge and his wife decided to open their rented home to 30 orphans and rely solely on contributions that came through prayer. No flyers, marketing campaigns or begging.  One morning George and the children (now 300 of them) prayed for food. The cupboards were bare. A passing milk truck broke down outside the home and a baker felt compelled all through the night to offer free bread and arrived just after morning prayers. This story is well-documented but still my jaundiced heart rebels. How can such a thing be true?

“Every morning after breakfast there was a time of Bible reading and prayer, and every child was given a Bible upon leaving the orphanage, together with a tin trunk containing two changes of clothing. The children were dressed well and educated – Müller even employed an inspector to maintain high standards. In fact, many claimed that nearby factories and mines were unable to obtain enough workers because of his efforts in securing apprenticeships, professional training, and domestic service positions for the children old enough to leave the orphanage.” Wikipedia

After living life as a thief George obsessively documented incoming contributions. As contributions poured in people were amazed by George’s transparent bookkeeping. More contributions poured in. More orphanages were built.

orphans 2

George was one of those rare individuals who remained dependent from day to day on God’s provision.  Even as I write this I have a hard time imagining such a person really  existed, but he did. In his lifetime he cared for 10,024 orphans and opened 117 schools!

One man and prayer!

What is more miraculous: Answered prayer or the heart ready to pray for 10,000 orphans?

Do you believe in miracles? Have you experienced one you’d like to share?

GEORGE MULLER’S WORK LIVES ON!