“Jesus said, ‘Simon, Simon!Listen! Satan has received permission to test all of you, to separate the good from the bad, as a farmer separates the wheat from the chaff. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail. And when you turn back to me, you must strengthen your brothers,'” [LUKE 22: 31-32].
The trees have been throwing down their acorns, chestnuts in smooth and spiky balls, pine cones, and seeds in abundance. The chipmunks and squirrels have been busy gathering, birds feasting at the cups and loaves of seeds on flower stalks, and the deer and my cat are getting their thicker fur: the signs say that winter may be coming early, and hard. But the second growth, the new greens, the fall blooms, finer strands of grass, full of water from all the rain that has followed the heat and dryness of our summer. Aster blooms, snakeroot in white clusters, leaves green and green and lush, and in these wet dusks, looking purple. There is nectar, there is food. The oldest, last original beech tree is golden yellow, and the oak our front has some red on its sunrise side, gold facing sunsets.
While I have been thinking of what to write, what with harvest time and mid-term elections coming up here in the USA, and investigations and hearings and trials of the Jan 6 insurrectionists going on– which I am not following, wanting only to know results, not play-by-plays, I have had Gabriel Faure’s Requiem playing on repeat, for a concert in November.
A Requiem is initially or officially a Catholic mass for the dead, but secular and student chorales perform them as classical or masterworks: our Civic Chorus did Mozart’s a few years ago (made famous again by the movie Amadeus), and I can sing good chunks of text and la-ah along with most of John Rutter’s from memory; Faure’s is new to me and there is meaty, funereal text with which I’m unfamiliar (“With trembling I am seized and with fear, until the trial to come, also the coming wrath”); Lycoming College is rehearsing Durufle’s– I had not heard of him till last night– and it was our Civic director who said, “It’s Requiem season.”
Which goes with the autumnal darkening to winter, the Day of the Dead, and All Hallows’ Eve.
Requiem aeternum dona eis, Dominie, et lux perpetua eis.
(Rest eternal grant them, O LORD, and may light perpetual shine on them.)
The book that caught my eye about a fortnight ago, while I was waiting for a lead to an essay, is one that I bought at a thrift shop or something somewhere decades ago and read once, and which has been in the basement for years– our house being so full of books and notebooks that the attic and basement and bedrooms are crammed: The Smoking Mountain: Stories of Germany During the Occupation by Kay Boyle. This book is from 1950, when her War Department husband was part of the Miltary Government in the American Zone. She reported a trial of Heinrich Baab, a former low-level Gestapo officer, for murders in its service, as her introduction. The following stories are based on people she observed and met living in defeated, post-War Germany.
The Allies had won World War II, and were policing the devastated country; Nazi and Gestapo officers were being tried as war criminals in Nuremberg by the International Military Tribunal, and in Frankfurt, Munich, by German courts.
I was reading this book during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, the celebration of the birth or creation of the world with “Adam,” humanity, at its earthly head– the steward or “ruler” in Genesis; this new year celebration involves the blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn ( the horns blown which crumbled the walls of Jericho), which has a fantastical, frightening, unearthly and inimitable voice, minor and mezzo, I think– joyful and mournful at once. Like flesh. Like life; like death, like a Requiem.
Rosh Hashanah involves self-reflection, repentance of sins– turning from them, casting them away (casting bread on waters), for ten days. God is judging the people in this time, and inscribing their names in the Book of Life (“It is those who have sinned against me whose names I will remove from My book,” the LORD said in Exodus 32:33.)
I am pounding out and backspacing through the rough of this on that tenth day, which is the first day of Yom Kippur, the High Holy Day of Atonement.
In Leviticus 16, “The LORD gave the following instructions“: Aaron, brother and assistant of Moses, had to go into the Most Holy Place in the mobile temple or Tent Of The LORD’S Presence, bathe, offer the sacrifice of a bull to atone for his own personal sins, and then cast lots to determine which of two goats was “For the LORD” and which “for Azazel”. The one for the LORD was killed as an offering for the sins of the people. These sins were transferred to the second goat, who was driven out of the camp– the yearly scapegoat.
I am embarrassed at how little I know about Jewish Holy Days, despite my European lit. and Bible studies, and childhood church upbringing. I had to look these Days up. Gentile American culture does little or nothing to recognize Jewish holidays, Holy Days, which are not, I guess, marketable with evergreens, tinsel, and toys or chocolate bunnies and marshmallow eggs.
This brings me back to The Smoking Mountain, and the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.The Nazi Germans had been defeated in the war, but that did not mean that the Nazi Party members, the citizens, the shop-keepers and clerks, businessmen, lawyers, teachers, bankers, who had not emigrated, escaped, been arrested or exterminated had changed their minds, had suddenly seen the error of their ways, and given up their prejudices. They had to, grudgingly, do business with the remnants of the Jewish locals and the Amis policing them, but they did not have to like it– and recent history has shown resurgences of White Supremacist Nationalists throughout Europe and the United States, along with ancient ethnic and territorial wars everywhere.
In the story “The Lost,” one of the displaced orphan boys who was working and sheltering with American G.I.s wanted to go to the United States to live with the Sergeant who wanted to take him in at home, but the repatriating powers-that-be said that it would not be possible for the white kid Janos to live with the Black man in Tennessee, USA, in 1949 or ’50.
I suspect that, though the Confederate Army lost the Civil War, its officers, soldiers, and supporters did not right away give up their prejudices, nor did their children and children’s children: a hundred years later, lynchings were common enough for the touring Billie Holiday to write “Strange Fruit,” and nearly half a century after 14-year-old Emmet Till was brutally grabbed, tortured, and killed, an unarmed teenager named Trayvon Martin was shot dead, becoming the face of racism’s destructiveness. Not very long after, the last words of George Floyd killed famously on camera, became the chant of activists around the world in demonstrations and marches against the apparently-government-sanctioned murders of unarmed black men by uniformed police officers. Men I know had to think about ‘how not to scare anyone today’ when stopping at a mini-mart or pumping gas; people had their phone cameras on for their own safety or records of their fates at the hands of cops when pulled over, apparently, we said, for the high crime of Driving While Black– cops who didn’t care how they appeared on Facebook Reels or You Tube. Or were proud.
Not all whites, not all white southerners are racist or anti-Semitic, and not all Germans were Nazis, of course. But too many. Book burners; the book-banners.
A lot of the Proud Boys and MAGA trump-supporters and Alt Righters seem to have big tricked-out trucks. Or Hummers. And guns. They have armories and ammunition.
Tremens factus sum ego timeo, dum discussio venerit, atque ventura ira.
The Gubernatorial and Congressional elections next month are frighteningly important– have the majority of Americans learned that we have to change our ways to save the planet, defuse fascist controls over women’s rights, and medical care, and over people of color through mandatory sentencing (and the loss of voting rights for the incarcerated) and private jails? (“Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket, they are regarded as dust on the scales” [ISAIAH 40:15].)
“A dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. Who is greater, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? Is not the one who sits at the table? But I am among you as one who serves;'” [LUKE 22:24-26].
I do not know why the Jews have been feared and despised and scapegoated throughout so-called “Christian” Europe for centuries (read Shakespeare, read Dostoevsky); I do know that Germans, devastated and impoverished by World War I, sought and “found” the “evil among them”, the cause of financial ruin and starvation was placed at the teller windows and interest rates of moneylenders and Rothchilds; the fringe, far right National Socialist Workers’ Party gained leverage when citizens were starved for bread.
I do not comprehend the leap from politics and blame or even hunger to genocide. I leave the mystery of that evil to the Devil and God.
“But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced..” [ISAIAH 41: 8-11a.]
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all mankind together will see it, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken it.” [ISAIAH 40:1-5.]
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations; … “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness;” [ISAIAH 42:1, 6-7.]
Rosh Hashanah, the time of reflecting upon the past year is also about facing the sins we have committed, so we might repent.
Repentance is turning away from the sin, the idol-worship or self-pride, to God. We might rail and rage at God– or at the world; we might lament, demand justice, beg for mercy; we might not know, and ask God to search us and cleanse us– there are plenty of Psalms to read to help with all that.
Repentance is not simply assigning our sins to something, someone else, the external cause. We must, like a Jungian analysand, or Luke Skywalker, face our Shadows, our own dark places, our dark thoughts, desires, prejudices, our secret wishes that so-and-so would fall or fail. Unacknowledged desires or sins, intensifying inner conflicts, become our neuroses, our glitches, our crashes, self-sabotages, blind spots, psychotic breaks. These are easy to see in other nations, other times, other people whom we don’t like, our current “enemy”, but: we must look at these ugly wishes and emotions of our own, and see them, name them, and say that though this is part of me, I do not want to be ruled by this, but to see what it is covering which needs to be heard or healed, and to be freed of it’s influence. And we usually need a friend or partner or doctor or God to help us with that. Forgiveness expunges records.
Now, I believe in my heart that Jesus who lived on earth was killed as the sin sacrifice for humankind, atoning for our sins– past, present, and to come, and that our names are inscribed in the palms of His hands” ( Is. 49:16)– but that is all I want to say on that here.
“As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same LORD is LORD of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved;'” [Romans 10:11-13.]
Hallowed be Thy name.
(Lord have mercy)
Exaudi orationem meam.
(Hear my prayer)