into the valley of death

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff,
they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4


(Lady Butler, 1881)

The other evening, as I once again attempted to fall asleep…
sleep which is maddeningly elusive…

…For my mind wanders all around….

“was that my phone ringing?’
“how much more can his body take?”
“will tonight be the night?”
“what was that the nurse said…”
“should I just stay up there?”

As now there is the talk of moving Gloria…
as her own dysfunctional family wrestles on that…
attempting to pull us into the web….

On and on it plays throughout the night,
all the while I yearn for sleep…

The thought of an old black book with brittled yellow pages
surfaced to the forefront of my consciousness…as words from a different time
began to recite themselves in my head…
I was perplexed…
How in the world, why in the world, did this image from the past come to mind
in the midsts of all that is happening currently now in this most sorrowful present….

One of the first poems I ever memorized as a little girl was Tennyson’s
Charge of the Light Brigade.

When I was around 8 or so, I proudly “owned” two books which had belonged to my grandfather…
of which I suspect were his in college.
The copyright on one of the books is 1903.
It is a collection of poems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson edited by Henry Van Dyke.

As a young American girl, I have no idea why someone like Tennyson and his
ballad of battle would call my name… but call both author and poem did.

While all these many years later, there in the restlessness of a long dark night,
the British forces once again came charging forward from deep within my memories.

Tennyson was the poet Laureate of the United Kingdom and Ireland during the long
reign of Queen Victoria.
He was also one of the greatest poets of Western Civilization.

It was shortly following a botched assault by Brisitsh forces in 1854, during the
Crimean War, that Tennyson penned his now famous ballad.

The poem is a heart’s response to a devastating battle and of the heavy loss of life
following the miscommunication which called the wrong division into a
now legendary near massacre.

The 4th and 13th Dragoon, the 17th Lancers and the 8th and 11th Hussars
were light calvary divisions…the Heavy Brigade consisted of the 4th Royal Irish
Dragoon Guards, the 5th Dragoon Guards, the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons and the Scots Greys…
each of whom were more equipped and who were more accustomed to seeing the fiercest of conflicts.

According to Wikipedia,
The Light Brigade, as the name suggests, were the British light cavalry force.
It mounted light, fast horses which were unarmoured.
The men were armed with lances and sabres.
Optimized for maximum mobility and speed, they were intended for reconnaissance and skirmishing.
They were also ideal for cutting down infantry and artillery units as they attempted to retreat.

Therefore the Light Brigade was not equipped nor prepared to face the onslaught of
20 opposing Russian battalions or the 50 artillery pieces ready to level them in mid attack.

It was an epic tragedy for British forces as well as British morale back home.

Leading Tennyson to pen a lasting tribute not to mere loss and misfortune but rather to gallantry…
heroic courage demonstrated in the face of insurmountable odds.

For despite the wrong orders…the Brigade followed the orders none the less…
Orders followed by men who questioned not whether there had been a mistake in calling
them to battle…but rather… that in the end, when all was said and done…they knew that
it was their’s not to question why… but rather it was theirs to do and die…

And so now as I watch my dad muster on as it were,
under the now seemingly insurmountable odds of death…
he rides on…

For my dad has not been a man known for being strong nor bold…
but rather…
he has been both deferring and lazy…

Yet more importantly however… he has always known for being overtly kind and generous…

So now…throughout this arduous and painful journey,
this devastatingly life ending ordeal…
my dad has not lamented nor complained nor even questioned why…
but rather he has seen that this battle has been his to endure as he makes his way
through this valley of death…
as I continue to marvel at the choice of charge he has now made.

The Charge Of The Light Brigade
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Memorializing Events in the Battle of Balaclava, October 25, 1854
Written 1854

Half a league half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred:
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d ?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d & thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash’d all their sabres bare,
Flash’d as they turn’d in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army while
All the world wonder’d:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro’ the line they broke;
Cossack & Russian
Reel’d from the sabre-stroke,
Shatter’d & sunder’d.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse & hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder’d.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

(Note: This poem, including punctuation, is reproduced from a scan of the poem written out by
Tennyson in his own hand later, in 1864.
The scan was made available online by the University of Virginia.)

No east nor west

Oh, East is East, and West is West,
and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently
at God’s great Judgment Seat;

But there is neither East nor West,
Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
though they come from the ends of the earth!

Rudyard Kipling “The Ballad of East and West

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(a tiny skipper and honey bee share the same patch of sedum / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(a tiny skipper and honey bee share the same patch of sedum / Julie Cook / 2015)

Having been raised in the Episcopal Church, attending a very large
southern gothic Cathedral, I relished in the rich hymns which would
echo off the seemingly cold limestone walls each Sunday morning.
Resoundingly joyous, as well as seriously solemn, proclamations
of faith carried aloft by both grand organ, choir and congregation would
ring out triumphantly each Sunday all those many years ago—
just as they do to this day.

It’s just that I no longer hear those hymns as I once did as I have long since moved away from my childhood home and church–having long since drifted away from the Episcopal Church.
Yet I know those hymns still ring true as that’s just a part of the strong tie that binds the faithful to the services of the various denominations of the Christian Church, most of which are steeped in rich traditional sacred music—despite the divisions and doctrinal changes, some things such as hymns, stand up to the rigorous test of time.

Every once in a while, for whatever reason, one of those beautiful melodies comes gently gliding back to the forefront of my thoughts and memories.
Oddly such was the case today.
I found myself mindlessly, or so it seemed, humming a vaguely familiar tune when it suddenly dawned on me what it was I was actually humming. . .In Christ there is no east or west, in Him no north or south, but one great fellowship throughout the whole wide earth. . .

A rather apt hymn given the current state of this overtly divided Nation, or rather make that World, of ours. . .

I did a bit of digging regarding the origin of the hymn—was there some sort of lesson God had to offer me as it seemed He graciously brought the tune and memory into focus this oh so average summer day.

The hymn was written in 1908 by William J. Dunkerly, aka John Oxenham, an English businessman turned poet, journalist and author. The poem / hymn was roughly based off of a story written by Rudyard Kipling nine years prior–The Ballad of East and West. A story steeped in the clashes and division of cultures found in Colonial India.

Oxenham’s hymn speaks not to the divisions and clashes of mankind and culture but rather to the unity—the unity of all humankind which can only be found in Jesus Christ.

And that’s the thing. . .there will be no unity of north and south nor east and west nor all that which falls within, not until man (and that word is a collective word which represents all humankind) can put himself (and yes that includes herself) under the authority of Jesus Christ.

Sadly ego, pride and that of personal agendas take precedence in the heart of man, and woman, as mankind decides to be his or her own god. Selfishly putting self, personal agendas and anything else for that matter ahead of a God who asks for a heart of submission–for all He asks is that we follow Him (Matthew 4:19)—yet as human beings stubbornly demonstrate time and time again they prefer to lead rather than follow.

The irony found in this need for submission is that so many folks view it as yielding to a state of being “less than” or of being held a prisoner by a grand puppet master. What they don’t understand is that within that submission, yielding, bending of self comes the gift of freedom and life eternal.
It is not a yielding to the dogmatic power of control exerted by some maniacal psychopath or deranged dictator, but rather to that of a benevolent and loving Creator who longs to gather His children close. Such following leads to the offering of self, not to self, but rather to the betterment of all mankind. . .

However I suppose the majority of this squabbling world of ours just prefers the agenda of self which simply leads to a twain that shall never meet and the inevitable silence of death. . .

In Christ there is no East or West,
In Him no South or North;
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth.

In Him shall true hearts everywhere
Their high communion find;
His service is the golden cord,
Close binding humankind.

Join hands, then, members of the faith,
Whatever your race may be!
Who serves my Father as His child
Is surely kin to me.

In Christ now meet both East and West,
In Him meet North and South;
All Christly souls are one in Him
Throughout the whole wide earth.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28

(and for anyone who is interested in hymns, their origins, their history, their usage. . .there happens to be a fellow blogger, Robert Cottrill, who has a site dedicated to just that very thing–
http://wordwisehymns.com )

Don’t ask

The very idea of a bird is a symbol and a suggestion to the poet. A bird seems to be at the top of the scale, so vehement and intense his life. . . . The beautiful vagabonds, endowed with every grace, masters of all climes, and knowing no bounds — how many human aspirations are realised in their free, holiday-lives — and how many suggestions to the poet in their flight and song!
John Burroughs, Birds and Poets, 1887

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(mourning doves / Julie Cook / 2015)

Just as with some people we see, the advice holds true with certain animals and birds. . .
sometimes it’s better not to ask but to merely go on about one’s business. . .shaking a head as you go is certainly permissible.

Luckily however these two mourning doves weren’t up to any funny business, I just happened to snap the camera in mid ruffling of feather and wing.

I do so greatly enjoy watching these birds, along with the bevy of fellow winged creatures who call my yard home. There’s just something blissfuly cathartic about spending time, merely observing the fastidious behavior of these feathery neighbors. Whereas the doves are not prone to fly up to the feeders as the other birds, rather preferring to graze about the ground underneath the feeders gobbling up any seed or corn that is carelessly dropped, their waddling and jutting of their heads is often a comical sight.

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I was not aware of the rather peculiar phenomenon of doves, as well as pigeons, of actually producing their own milk. It is a milk of sorts produced in their crops known simply as crop milk. Just prior to the laying of eggs, the female dove stops eating, setting into motion a chain of physiological events trigged by the body reacting to the panic of starvation. This being the time when the body produces the milk, which in turn is what the mother dove feeds her new hatchlings.

It is because of this peculiar maternal sacrifice which has forever linked the dove as being a symbol of motherhood and all to that which is maternal.
Who knew!!??

And as to our Mourning doves earning their rather sombre and reverent name,
we may merely look to the Roman poet Virgil.
Taken from one of his early eclogues and quoted here from wikipedia, we have one of the earliest references to the humble dove and to its most mournful sound.

“Its plaintive woo-OO-oo-oo-oo call gives the bird its name, possibly taken from Virgil’s First Eclogue, (lines 57-59 translated from the Latin as follows):

“Yonder, beneath the high rock, the pruner shall sing to the breezes,
Nor meanwhile shall thy heart’s delight, the hoarse wood-pigeons,
Nor the turtle-dove cease to mourn from aerial elm trees (nec gemere aeria cessabit turtur ab ulmo)
Here the Latin verb gemo, gemere, gemui, gemitum signifies “to sigh, groan; to coo; to sigh or groan over, lament, bemoan”

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The dark was not so dark

“Whoever has received knowledge
and eloquence in speech from God
should not be silent or secretive
but demonstrate it willingly.
When a great good is widely heard of,
then, and only then, does it bloom,
and when that good is praised by man,
it has spread its blossoms.”
― Marie de France

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(photograph: a section of floor tile at Sainte Chapelle/ Paris, France/ Julie Cook/ 2011)

Both the image and the author of the quote date to medieval France; the Church from the 13th century and the poet to the 12th century. We so often equate the medieval world to a “dark age” or a time of ignorance cloaked in misery, darkness and disease—but it was a time of so much more than our simple assumptions limit.

Masterful architecture as evidenced by the gothic spires built during these dark days, now spanning centuries of time only to continue reaching toward the heavens today. The lyrical music and poetry of the merry Troubadours who wandered the lands of France and Italy singing their way into the hearts of both lord and lady. St Thomas Aquinas,13th century, one of the most important Doctors of the Church, is undoubtedly one of the foremost theologians and philosophers still widely and deeply studied to this day—brilliant minds, brilliant engineering, brilliant music all seemingly cloaked in supposed ignorance, darkness, superstition and disease.

On this new day of this new week, be not deterred by naysayers who wish to relegate you to “less than” or to the impossible–great things are all around us, just waiting to be revealed–often in the most unlikely of places. Let not historian nor so called “expert” tell you anything other than “yes, it is always possible”. If you think it, there are always possibilities.

Be not secretive or silent as God continues to bestow gifts on us all—be willing to share what gifts you have been given–allow your greatness to spread and blossom. Be not deterred.