The Steampunk Vicar

A Presbyterian Pastor on Neo-Victoriana and American Faith

De Armis Ignis

A Moment ago, I posted rather sarcastically on Twitter (I have no idea how to say Twitter in Latin, I wish that I did), but my Heart remains too filled with Rage to let the Bone from without my Teeth. Yet again, Personnel of the Armed Forces of the United States are dead at the Hands of a Shooter. I use that Word advisedly – perhaps this Man was not a Shooter until his Finger pulled the Trigger. Too much is not yet known about the Circumstances, the Story, the Truth.

My Regret for these dead Marines, however, is tempered by my persistent Fury that yet again I am forced to respond to a Shooting in the Land that I call Home. Yet again there are Dead on the ground, and my Congregation and I will grieve and rage and do Nothing. Yet again blood has been spilled, and I can see, as could these Writers, that there is a grim Inevitability to the Reporting and Debates that each of these “shocking” Atrocities brings forth. I am no longer shocked. I am now merely disgusted.

For these were Marines – the ever faithful Best of the Best, some of the most highly trained Soldiers this Nation has ever produced, and they were killed by a Man with a Gun. According to early Reporting, several Guns, in Fact. I am reminded yet again not only of the Shooting at Fort Bragg, but also of the Shooting of Four Police Officers in a Town where I used to go to the Mall to play on the Playground. These are Soldiers and Police Officers – trained to face the Horrors of War on Soil abroad, and Violence in our Communities. We prepare them for this – we pay them for this. But this Afternoon, these People are still dead.

There is much to be said about a Nation fighting a War on the far Side of the World against Peoples whose Crime is obscure, and whose only Recourse is attritional, guerilla Warfare both there and here – I shall, perhaps, write on that Topic another Time. Today, though…today all that I can say is not fitting for a Victorian Gentleman to write on the Aethernet, where anyone might read it.

For, my Friends, I am weary of Guns. I am tired to Death of them. I am exhausted by the persistent, paranoid Fantasy that we are faster, wiser, braver than our Neighbors who wish us Ill. That a “good Person armed with a Gun is the only Protection against a bad Person armed with a Gun.” Are we unprepared, in the Face of the Death of four Marines, to admit the Possibility that, perhaps, some Persons should not have Firearms? That, perhaps, some Persons have forfeited the Right to bear Arms, being unwilling to submit to the Laws of this Land? Are we unable to grant that, perhaps, we could all be made safer by a Decrease in our Capacity to kill one another?

I do not know if universal background Checks would have stopped this man. I don’t know what might have done. I do know, however, that I am sick unto Death of Guns. I can hope only that you, too, are prepared to Dispense with the Fantasy, and to dream of a bright Future when no one needs them any longer. Perhaps, when Christ returns in Glory, we can beat them all into something else.

Until that Day comes, please keep your Guns away from me.

De Commutatione Caelorum et Matrimonio

I am in the Process of grinding my Way through Laudato Si’, His Holiness Francis’ Encyclical Letter concerning Climatic Alteration due to Human Activity. I await eagerly the more theological Portions of this Work, but am currently following His Holiness’ Recitation of the Facts of the Case.

However, as I was searching for an aetheric Edition of the Encyclical, preferably in Portable Document Format, I came across this Article, which niggled at the Back of my Mind for a good Half Hour of my Reading.

Surprising precisely No One, there have been a great many Opinions tossed back and forth over the Aether over the Week End on the Subject of the Supreme Court’s Decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges, but None that troubled me quite so much as this One did. I am astonished to find that this Priest and Professor in the United States could be so blinkered by the political Reality of a social Issue in one Nation when a far greater Issue confronts our entire Species. I felt that this Essay revealed a deeply rooted Case of #FirstWorldProblems, when Catholics in this Country are too concerned with their Neighbors’ civil Marriage (which has Nothing to do with them), to read and listen to their spiritual Leader’s very pointed Criticism at our global Care for the entire Planet, which is very much the Business of the Citizens of the United States, as Members of the World’s largest Economy.

I would best describe my Sensation in the Reading as Annoyance. While I acknowledge that, for many American Catholics and Christians, there is (for some Reason obscure to me) no greater Event occurring than the license or not of civil Marriage between two consenting Adults of the same Gender, and thus the Pater‘s very becoming Pastoral Concern for his Flock, I cannot but feel that the looming Crisis of our Climate will have Impacts of Life and Death on Millions of Souls across the Globe. Most of these Changes, of course, are not being wrought by the Citizens of, say, Pakistan, where more than a thousand Persons have perished in the Course of this Summer’s heat Wave. Nor is this Revision in global Temperature and Weather the Fault of the Corals of Australia or the Forests of the Amazon.  Even the Farmers and Movie Stars of California are not to blame for that State’s enduring Drought.

We are all responsible, you see. Each of us. Even I, driving a Friend to the Airport this Morning in my own Locomotive Gasoline Vehicle, when she could have, had we chosen, taken the City and County of Denver’s excellent Public Transit System. I must take Responsibility for that.

Perhaps the most striking Item I’ve yet encountered in His Holiness’ Letter was this: “In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet:” If our Societies are degrading, it must be, it is in Conversation with the Degradation of our World. How will we hope to Solve one Problem, when the Other has an excellent chance of killing us all?

De Jure Matrimionque

This Morning, hearing on the Aetheraudiogram the News of the Supreme Court of the United States’ Decision in the Case of Obergefell v. Hodges, I was struck, perhaps surprising No One, by the core legal Arguments of each opposing Side. Find contained herein my own Analyses, in short, of the Legalities to be found in the Case, followed by a brief Reflexion of my own.

J. Kennedy

They assert the petitioners do not seek to exercise the right to marry but rather a new and nonexistent “right to same-sex marriage.”

This, it seems to me, is the very Heart of the Debate before the Court. Is the Right of two Persons to marry contingent on who the Persons to be married are? Is the Court establishing a new Right to Same-Sex Marriage, or opening the old Right of Marriage to all comers?

J. Kennedy and the Majority of the Court seem to assert (I found this harder to find than one might expect), that, truly, we are not creating a new Right, but expanding the old, and granting it to those Persons who desire, so to speak, to be permitted into the Meadow from which they were previously excluded, based not on what they wanted to do, but on whom they wished to do it with.

C.J. Roberts

There is no serious dispute that, under our precedents, the Constitution protects a right to marry and requires States to apply their marriage laws equally. The real question in these cases is what constitutes “marriage,” or—more precisely—who decides what constitutes “marriage”?

Indeed, this is the Question. I find puzzling the Idea that ‘applying marriage Laws equally’ might be a distinct Category from ‘permitting two Persons to be married, regardless any other Facts about them.’

it is something else to portray everyone who does not share the majority’s “better informed understanding” as bigoted.

I feel that C.J. Roberts mis-interprets J. Kennedy, here, arguing not that these Couples are damaged by their Peers (which he does not), but, in Fact, by the Application of Laws (which he assuredly does). The Decision here has Little to say regarding Discrimination by Individuals, and much to say regarding Discrimination by Laws.

If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.

The TL;DNR (Too Long; Did Not Read) Edition of the Dissents can be summarised as above: This Decision had Naught to do with the Constitution, particularly J. Thomas’ more thorough linguistic Analysis. Perhaps, in Truth, this is the Weakness of our Constitution. If only we had Access to the Language of Angels, we might be able to Name our Government, Laws, and Rights in the Forms and Ideas of Plato! Alas, we are but Mortals, and are forced to communicate with the Imperfections of the Queen’s English.

J. Scalia

…it is unquestionable that the People who ratified that provision did not understand it to prohibit a practice that remained both universal and uncontroversial in the years after ratification.

I was most entirely lost by this Argument, speaking of the Fourteenth Amendment. To what possible Practice does he here refer, so cruelly prohibited? This, I feel, is the heart deep Fear of many Opponents of marriage Equality – that, as Some have argued, Marriage as an Institution is on the Route to Destruction in this Country.

As a Citizen of the United States, I must admit that I face that Idea with some Ambiguity. What would it mean if my Government no longer had any Say whatsoever in Marriage, and that Right and Privilege and holy Bond was reserved to my Church? I know Many for whom this has worked. What prevents us from removing government Tyranny over Marriage?

Also, it is, in my Opinion, worth noting that JJ. Alito and Scalia do not respectfully dissent.

J. Thomas

In the American legal tradition, liberty has long been understood as individual freedom from governmental action, not as a right to a particular governmental entitlement.

I am still much enamored of the Vision of Marriage as a fenced-off Meadow, into which some Couples are admitted, and others are not. Today, the United States has declared that the Meadow is more open than once it was, not granting a Right that did not previously exist, but permitting Access to a current one.

The Steampunk Vicar

Surprising absolutely no one, I am an avid Supporter of the equal Right to marry, within or without the Church. I cannot but rejoice in today’s Decision. I am unmoved by the Arguments opposed, save One.

I feel that in my Lifetime, Opposition to marriage Equality will fade until, like interracial Marriage and Coverture, such Objection lies upon the Ashheap of History. Today’s Decision does, indeed, force all the States to accede to the Will of a growing Majority of the Citizens nationwide, to the manifest legal Opinions of a Majority of Judges around the Nation, and to the Promptings of a Moral Law that argues, at its Core, for Justice and Fairness.

I am sorry, I think, though, that there is a Sense of an End to the Conversation – that the Supreme Court having ruled, no more is there to be said. I hope that I am wrong – that Conversations and Debates and Discussions and Democracy will go on in this Issue. I believe that I am right on Marriage Equality – I might be wrong. If ever I forget those two Facts, I will be on the dark Path to Error, and can only hope that I will in timely manner be corrected.

Benedictio Mandatumque

A Bit more than a Fortnight ago, two dear Friends of mine, Acquaintances exceeding ten Years, joined one Another in the Catholic Sacrament of Marriage. I was honored to be included as part of this holy Rite, serving as a Reader and Liturgist. I was, particularly, able to share the following – the Blessing and Charge to the Couple that I wrote for them both. I share it also with you, a Sample of the Sorts of Work that I do to ensure that your Wedding is a Moment not only of deep Meaning to you and yours, but also a Point of liturgical Beauty.

A Sample Blessing and Charge

Lord God of Heaven, Father of All, bless now your children, N. and N. Grant unto them the courage to be honest, the compassion to be generous, the strength to be just, and the love to endure all things. Secure them in their relationship with one another and in the life they will forge together. May they be partners in life, teammates in adversity, celebrants in triumph, and always refuges of safety and rest to one another.

N., N. Go from this place secure in the knowledge of love: your love for one another, the love of your families and friends, and the love of Jesus Christ for you both. Go from this place, and build the life that will glorify God and delight your hearts. Go, and be excellent to one another. In nomine Patri, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

De Vaporudibus

Of all the ridiculous Difficulties posed by being a Man out of Time, and, particularly, a Neo-Victorian in this former Part of the Twenty-First Century, perhaps the greatest is how, precisely, to describe the “Steampunk” movement in Latin.

Perhaps others would be unmoved by this Travail, but as a classically educated Person, the lack of a useful Translation for many of these Concepts causes me to feel as though I can never be taken seriously by any Portion of the Academy, if I should ever be able to return to my Other World and endeavour to explain, for example, the works of Professor Elemental, or of Lindsey Stirling, etc. I somehow feel that Profs. Chaplin, Sfyroeras, and Ganiban would exhibit their Disappointment were I not to give the Matter my fullest Attention.

Thus, I thought to employ the Science of the Google. My first Outing was not fortuitous – a Search for “Steampunk Latin” yielded a rather remarkable Article on Beyond Victoriana, a Weblogue I intend to revisit in Future, but no answer to my Question. Further Inquiries provided me with this Piece by Richard Coyne, who suggests vapor communitas. I shall fault his Latin and say only mildly that perhaps vaporis communitas would more accurately convey his Meaning.

Even so, I find this an inadequate Reading of the historical and literary Layers that lie behind the word “Steampunk.” I have no Quarrel with vapor – the Oxford Latin concurs with this Gloss. It is to the Interpretation of the Word “Punk” that I take Exception. Coyne rightly points out that the Word “Punk” comes to us from early Modern English, and originally meant, among other things, a male Prostitute (one Resource I encountered used the Word “Catamite,” which I rapidly discarded from my Process, pausing only to note that it did come up). However, by the first part of the Twentieth Century, that Meaning had rather drastically altered.

I would have a difficult Time sourcing this Usage, but I was perhaps first familiar with Mirriam Webster’s third Definition, “a usually petty Gangster, Hoodlum, or Ruffian.” If pressed, I should describe the Mid-Twentieth Century Word Punk as a Descriptor for insufficiently respectful young Persons, along the lines of, perhaps, James Dean.

By the latter Twentieth Century, however, a great many social Movements had coalesced into the “Punk Subculture,” rooted in the Music (and, in many Cases, I use the Term loosely) known as “Punk Music.” This passage from Wikipedia rather elegantly quotes Jon Savage, that “Early punk had an abundance of antecedents and influences, and Jon Savage describes the subculture as a ‘bricolage‘ of almost every previous youth culture in the Western world since World War II, ‘stuck together with safety pins’.” This Amalgam of an Array of youth Cultures was then adapted and absorbed by the Science Fiction Genre which came to be known as Cyberpunk. I would submit that Steampunk was so named in direct response to Cyberpunk, adapting the culturally imaginative Storytelling typified by the Latter to the Aesthetics and historical Influences of the Former.

All of that specifically to say that while Coyne is quite right to reject the Latin that he finds in such Terms as plebs, he need not take such an easy and generic Path out of his difficulties as communitas, a Word which covers a multitude of Sins. Surely, there must be a Way to cover with more Nuance and Depth the Complexities of the Genre.

I humbly submit, therefore, the Coinage you shall find at the Heading of this Weblogue – vaporudis, vaporudis, f. The source Noun from the Latin is rudis, which denotes the wooden Sword provided to Trainees, as well as retiring Gladiators. The cognate Adjective gives meanings such as “untrained,” and “ignorant,” linking back to the original Meanings, as well as a Sense of Roughness and Crudeness. We are also spared the Horror of simple Transliteration, yielding puncus, punci, m., an irretrievably disastrous Possibility.

it is with some Hope and Pride that I submit to Coyne’s vapor communitas, a new Latin phrase: sum ille vaporudis vicarius, et hoc stabo. 

Victorianism without Victoria: on Mexican Steampunk – Guest blog by Hodson & Translated by Miguel Ángel Manzo Martínez

The Steampunk Vicar:

Living, as now I do, in what would have been a Part of the United Mexico in some Timelines, I am struck by the Question of the Impact of Neo-Victoriana on a non-European Aesthetic. What might be the Vision of a Neo-Victorian Pueblo, or Santa Fe…or even Denver?

Originally posted on Beyond Victoriana:

Note: This article is also available to read in Spanish on El Investigador’s website / Este artículo está disponible para leer en español. Thanks go out to El Investigador’s Editor-in-Chief Araceli Rodríguez, and magazine writers Hodson and Miguel for their time and effort in getting this piece together for Beyond Victoriana.

There are many reasons why the Victorian era is considered the Golden Age of the British Empire. Not only the economic and social stability came at a time where social inequalities were as big as scientific advances, but the huge explosion of advances in production, communications and transportation allowed the existence of a global colonial government facilitated by the ability to improve the response time of all regional governments.

At a time when the great modern empires grew and spread across five continents populated by man, Victorianism quickly became the spirit of the time. The idea of progress and mastery…

View original 1,577 more words

De matrimonio

Some Years ago, a dear Friend of mine asked if I would be willing to serve as the Officiant at her Wedding. I was very flattered and pleased to be asked, but with great Regret, I had to tell her that I was unable to perform such a Ceremony. Why should it be so, I hear you ask. Because this young Woman had the Gaucherie to have fallen in love with another Woman, the Denomination to which I meant to give Allegiance would not permit it, and I was quite literally unable to serve in such a Capacity. I remember sitting in the Atwater Dining Hall and seeing the look of Pain and Shame sweep across her Face when I informed her that I would be unable to so serve.

I am deeply pleased and proud to be a Member of the American Church of Scotland (better known, perhaps, as the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America), a Denomination that has chosen the Path of Inclusion, of Equality, and, above All, the Path of Love. We may, one and all, disagree on the precise Intentions of our Lord when He walked upon the Earth, but None can deny that Love must have been an Aim of His.

I choose now to live out this Summons of Christ in a possibly unorthodox way – for weddings of any Stripe or Flavor, between two Men, between two Women, between a Woman and a Man, in any Fandom or Geekdom your Hearts may desire, I stand prepared to assist in making your special Day that much more special and/or weird.

I am the Steampunk Vicar, and I hope to help you rivet your lives together.

 

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De Ultoribus

I am sure that a third viewing would further improve the Perspective, but I feel obliged to write, at least briefly, my Commentary of the newest Film in the Cinematic Universe of Marvels, known best as the Avengers: Age of Ultron. Having consulted my Oxford Latin Dictionary, I find it worth noting that the Latin Root of Ultron’s Name is, in fact, the Word I have used above to describe this Posting. Specifically, however, and surprising no one, I choose now to write to you all concerning those aspects of Faith, Religion, and the Exegesis of Scripture which posed themselves during my watching of the Film.

Those who have not yet partaken of the Film should, perhaps, cease reading now, as I am currently alerting you to the upcoming Spoilers.

Tony Stark Fails at Bible

Ultron is, with the possible exception of Capt. S—– R——, the most visibly and explicitly Christian of the many Characters that inhabit the Marvel’s Universe as it has been presented. This is, of course, problematic, as Ultron is a polymaniacal doomsday Program, bent on the Destruction of all human Life. In his initial Introduction, it seems that Ultron absorbs all relevant human Knowledge, and clearly this includes what I choose to term the Bible According to Anthony Stark.

If you will hearken back to the first Avengers Film, you will recall that, prior to driving through and destroying from the inside a Chitauri Skywhale, Stark asks Jarvis if he is familiar with the Tale of Jonah. This level of biblical Understanding is classically Starkian – superficially familiar, but lacking in depth or analysis in a meaningful Way.

Ultron becomes, in the film, the inheritor of Stark’s Vision of the Bible – twisted, incomplete, and, ultimately, destructive. Ultron, to some extent, justifies his entire Mission through a bad reading of the Scriptures, a Practice he inherited from his theoretical Creator.

Ultron, the Failing Prophet

In Ultron’s first embodied Dialogue, he is describing to the Maximoff Twins his perspective on the Beauty of the Church in Sokovia, the Likability of the “Geometry of Belief.” Whether Ultron “believes” or not is something of an open Question, but surely he recognizes the Usefulness of human Belief to his own Purposes.

Later, he reveals to a thoroughly shocked Wanda and Pietro what those purposes truly are – the destruction of all Humankind, or, as he describes it, a Chance for Humans to evolve in the face of Chaos. As the Film progresses, he moves further and further from this Thesis, but when Wanda taxes him with the Question of the Fate of those who will not evolve, Ultron’s Reply is to “ask Noah.”

Again, Ultron has a superficial understanding of the Story from the Scriptures, appealing to them as a shared cultural Narrative, but fits them into a hideously unrecognizable Vision of Scripture – one in which, when Things become “too settled, God throws a Stone, and believe me, He is winding up.”

Again, I find the Question of whether Ultron truly believes himself to be God’s Messenger intriguing, but ultimately futile. Does – can – Ultron truly believe in God? Certainly he is familiar with the Science of Evolution, and many Christians would reject his intertwined Darwinian and Christian Viewpoint. If we take Ultron at his Word, then he is the ultimate Proponent of Intelligent Design…except that the Intelligence guiding at least some of human Development is Tony Stark, an absolutely horrifying Thought.

Whether he believes or not, though, Ultron appropriates the Role of the Deluge unto himself. Ultron is the fire sent by God to force Evolution, and the next evolution leads to a world, as he says, in which the only thing living “is metal.”

What Then, Shall We Sin More, that Robots May Abound?

As with all of the Media that appeals to me most, Avengers: Age of Ultron is ultimately a film about Good and Evil. Ultron seeks human Death – the Avengers desire to protect the World and all the People who live on it. What then, for the Christian, who finds that the Words of the Bible are placed in the Mouth of the Harbinger of Destruction?

There is a Caution for those of us who confess Christ to be found in Mr. Whedon’s cinematic Outing, one to be expected in the Nation that, around us daily, becomes more and more post-Christian. We may find in Films and Books and Stories that, let alone putting the Words of the Word in the Mouths of Villains, our very Stories may be the Stories of the villainous. The darker Moments of Scripture may be turned to justify many Horrors, and that Tale may be perpetuated.

I, for my own part, was powerfully moved by the Film, and by Ultron’s Appropriation of my Tradition. I found Christ in the Sacrifices of Pietro Maximoff and Clint Barton, and in the Ambiguity of the Vision’s Vision, as it were. But I will remember to, as usual, pursue Grace in my Relationships with the World, that Christ might be seen in me as Love, daily.

De visione mundi

Rather distressed of Heart, I have been reading of the travails of that redoubtable Charitie, World-Vision. I will admit to a Confusion of Feeling engendered by these Trials. I know World-Vision of old, having served there as a Volunteer, and knowing that my Father’s Employment was for some Years centered there. Too, there is good Work that is done in the Name of the Christ by these Agents of the Gospel. Much of Povertie, Strife, and Sickness is eased by their Care and Wealth, and their Dedication to the Cause of the Betterment of Humanitie cannot be doubted. This, of course, provided that, by Humanitie, you mean those Persons whose carnal Desires fit neatly into the Box provided by the Moralitie of my era, and none of your own.

I write, however, not for World-Vision – I am, past my own Historie, indifferent to the Rise or Fall of one Charitie when so many others go about the same Work, both in the Name of Christ and in Defence of the human Spirit. No, my care at this Hour is for the Church, and for the resounding Crash that has echoed across the Book of Faces and the Birdsong and Google Plus. For in reading this remarkable Weblogue, and this, and, moste especially, this, I am forced to a peculiar Conclusion.

This is it. This is the Moment for which we have waited, long in coming. This is the Revelation that has been looming since the Victories of the Culture Wars of the 1980s. So deep have gone Evangelicals into their Defence against what they perceive to be Perversion that they are willing to sacrifice the Lives and Health of Children on behalf of sexual Purity. More precious to them is the Commandment that “Thou shalt not lie with Mankind, as with Womankind: it is Abomination,” (Leviticus 18:22) than the Parable of Christ, that

Then shall the King say unto them on his right Hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the Foundation of the World: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me Meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me Drink: I was a Stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in Prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a Stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothedthee39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in Prison, and came unto thee? 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my Brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:34-40)

 

Where in this is the Condemnation of Indigence, or of Sin? Where is Sex, or Opiate, or Illness named, unless to claim the Call of Christ to Care? Who are these, who claim as foremost Goods the Persecution of the Queer over the Provision for the Poor?

These are, I stoop to say, mine Brothers and Sisters in Christ. They are Passionate Persons, devoted to their understanding of the Word of the Lord, and to the Christ they seek to know. They are caring Persons, in their own way, seeking to unleash Good upon the World.

They are, however, wrong. 

I’ve no more of room for Patience or Endurance – with Mrs. Evans, I’ve Love for my evangelical Kindred, but I’ve no more Room to leave their Error unpronounced. 

Sisters and Brothers in Christ, you are wrong. Wrong to care more for the Sex of your Neighbours than for the Health of Children. Wrong to care more for the Puritie you learned as Youths than for the Charitie to which God has summoned you. You are, in your Priorities, wholly wrong.

I hope and pray that this great Gong of Change spells the death Knell for the Wars of Culture. For I feel it in the Water, I hear it in the Air. Change comes, Resurrection comes. The time is coming for the Change in all the World. E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come. 

The Prophet Jonah Ammitson and the Marble Messenger

The story that follows was first told me by a fellow-traveler – a merchant and trader in the Levant who, in latter days, has returned quite wealthy to Brittania. She related it to me in the words I share with you, as they were addressed to her. She tells me that she met this man, nearly dead and half-mad with thirst in the desert outside Damascus. She nursed him to some semblance of health, and when he was somewhat recovered, was coaxed into telling her of his travails. This, then, is her rendering of his account, the story of a Prophet in the desert.

*   *   *

On the night that the Word of the Lord came to me, I was dreaming.

It seemed to me that I shaded my eyes against the glare of a terrible desert sun. The vision of my dream shimmered like the haze of a summer’s day, but I could feel what I could not see – the dryness of mouth, the shortness of breath, and the unbelievable thrumming, the sound of a thousand pistons crashing and straining. The vibrations approached me through the rock and sand, screaming to a fever pitch…

…and thus I awoke, sweating, in my bedclothes. It was a cool night in late spring in God’s country. I sought the familiar features of my spare, clerical bedchamber picked out in the moonlight, when I became aware that I was not alone in my domain.

Seated rather immodestly on my chest of drawers was one of the strangest creatures I had ever beheld. The occupant of a vicarage, even an older bachelor such as myself, has ample opportunity to meet flowers of Society just as they bloom. Indeed, in the months leading up to the events I now relate, I had presided over a number of Services of Christian Marriage, uniting the belles of the county to a series of anxious squires. In my years of parish ministry, I had encountered beauties fair and dark, tall and short, slim and buxom, but never before had I faced such elegance personified. She was dainty and trim, perched on the edge of my furniture. A rather puckish smile dwelt around her lips, and the curls of her hair cascaded springily past her face. Her ankles showed with a decided want of propriety beneath her gown, and were neatly turned – likewise her wrists, poised above her hands on the edge of the walnut were dimpled and slender.

Having, at a glance ascertained these various excellences of her person, I shook my head abruptly, for a number of peculiar circumstances obtruded on my notice all at a stroke. Firstly – and I can find no other word to describe the wonder of this revelation – she was not made of flesh. Her skin was of fair marble, not so pale as to repulse, but clearly gleaming stone. Her hair, on whose bounce I had earlier remarked, was indeed springy, as it seemed to be composed exclusively of springs, tiny coils of a glossy black metal. Even in the dim moonlight, I could see rivets and joints, markers of her construction, I supposed.

Most shocking of all, however, were the eyes. They were clearly jewels, or made of jewels, perhaps. Diamonds for whites, irises of emerald, and onyx pupils, broad in the evening dimness. And the GLOWED…not as the eyes of mortals, but with an inner light, nearly golden in quality, they brightened the whole of my bedchamber.

I hope that you will forgive me, dear friend, for the foolishness of the conclusion to which I immediately came. I see by the incredulity of your expression that you, like me, would not have credited your senses with honesty at such a vision. So, too, did I. The lunacy of the moonlight, the lucidity of those brilliant, gemstone eyes, and the remaining anxieties of the dream that had but lately departed led me to believe the whole a fantasy, and I waited to see what new wonders my fevered brain would lay before me.

Thus I was not unprepared when she opened her mouth – a lovely rosebud it was – and spoke. “Don’t be afraid,” she said, and I at once realized that her command was also prophetic – I had been on the edge of terror, despite my confidence of physical safety. Now was I more settled, and I nodded to her.

She spoke again. “Jonah,” said she, “Son of Emmett?”

“I am,” said I, maintaining my somnolent composure. “And who, precisely, are you?”

“I am,” she said, her marble cheeks somehow dimpling as she smiled at me, “a Word from the Lord.”

To my shame, dear friend, I responded only with laughter. In too many biblical readings from my pulpit I had read just those words as they appeared in the books of Moses and the scrolls of the prophets. I could imagine no place, time, or situation further from my snug, dark pulpit and the scent of my church’s ancient Bible than in my bedchamber, wearing only my nightgown and confronting a young woman who seemed to be composed entirely from the bones of the earth.

There may, also, have been more than a little nervousness in that laugh. The words of the Bible had always been to me composed purely of comfort. I took solace in the gentleness of Christ as shepherd, and, though trite, the 23rd had ever been my favorite psalm. The words of the Law, though stern, were concerned with the care of my own soul, and there was an ordered quality to my favorite passages of scripture that preserved the society and realities which undergirded my universe.

This apparent young woman, this clockwork beauty, fit no place in my concept of religion or faith. I could cry for wishing this was still the case, but at that hour, I had no inkling of the trials or revolutions to come. And so I laughed, in what must have been derision, and at the sound, her smile grew wider.

“I am delighted to hear you greet my arrival wish such joy,” said she, as she alighted from the chest of drawers. In her bare feet, she stood an average height, and her white linen gown flowed around her smoothly. “I have a message for you, if you are prepared to hear it.”

“Of course,” I said, “you beautiful phantasm. Whatever wonders you have to share with me, share them now, before I wake and your beauty fades.”

She smiled even more broadly. “Ah, a dreamer, are you? You dreamers are some of my favourites. I love the romance of your visions, and your willingness to accept the imagination of your own minds.” The more I beheld that smile, the more it was disconcerting me. It tugged at memories and emotions deeply buried. There was an edge to it that brought to mind my mother’s apron, sunlight on a grassy lawn, lemon ices and the sounds of village cricket.

“At any rate,” she said, briskly. “Are you prepared to hear me?”

I felt, suddenly, as though lucidity and clarity had abandoned me. The import of the question staggered me – I heard it as though with new ears, wholly unprepared for the weight of this compelling dream. A crashing wave of anxious fear and nervous terror swept over me, but I gulped and nodded in silence.

When once again her mouth parted, she spoke in a new and alarming voice. Terrible like a winter storm and powerful like the command of a beloved woman, she spoke to me saying, “ARISE, GO TO NINEVEH, THAT GREAT CITY, AND CRY AGAINST IT; FOR THEIR WICKEDNESS IS COME UP BEFORE ME.”

*   *   *

When I awoke again, it was with confusing slowness. I seemed unaccountably tangled in my bedclothes, my head was hot and pounding powerfully, and the sunlight through the window was uncomfortably bright.

Slowly, as though the gears of my mind began to grind their way to activity, I began to perceive the import of the rising sun. The dawning day was a Sunday. The hour was much advanced – a swift glance of alarm at my bedside clock revealed that it wanted mere minutes to nine o’clock, and my services – my brain now spun its engine to  a groaning, frantic pitch – commenced at ten.

In a flurry of maddened linens I leapt to my feet and began to pull vigorously at the bell. Why my valet had not roused me sooner I could not say, and the stricken expression on his countenance as he entered clearly revealed his spirits to be as much disturbed by the lapse as my own. I wasted no time on his censure, devoting myself instead to the task of preparing for the Eucharist service.

It was as I was engaged in the last flourishes of my toilette, the final tasks before I left my vicarage in haste to the waiting congregation, that I chanced to look upon my chest of drawers, and saw its only ornament. A tiny statuette of delicate marble and painted twists of metal sat upon the varnished wood. I had never before seen this trinket, and was so much arrested by its appearance that I stood quite still for a full handful of breaths.

To my valet’s astonishment, I walked to the chest of drawers and picked up the figurine. It was the visitor of my last night’s rest, there could be no doubt. The whole of the piece was no longer than a hand’s breadth, but the delicacy of the workmanship was unbelievable – I could discern, even, the young woman’s marble dimple as she impishly smirked at me.

Dear friend, you can read in my hands, in the cast of my countenance, in the very set of my shoulders the sense of my horror and terror. Crashing wave upon wave swept over me, alarm, dismay, and consternation, each, in its turn, conquering my soul. Even as I turned the figure over in my hands, they trembled, and I could feel my jaw working involuntarily.

Even so, I could as soon have crossed the Galilee afoot as have laid by that lovely piece.  My minute examination of this sculpture was time-consuming – I recall hearing my man’s polite cough behind me at least three times before I could drag myself from my focused contemplation.  At last, though, I stormed unwary into the corridor, casting the figurine into the topmost drawer of my bureau, with my man hovering anxious behind me.

*   *   *

 I was fully through the Collect before I felt myself more fully settled in worship. The opening of the Service had been some five minutes delayed, and all throughout the liturgy of call and procession I had felt myself to be scrambling to catch up. In the familiar and timely breath of the Collect, however, I felt myself shouldering once again the burden of my clerical authority. As that comfortable friend of a thought settled upon my shoulders once again, I subconsciously fingered my stole, the ancient symbol of my blessed right and grave purpose. The fabric slid tensely beneath my fingers, but the sanctioned prayers and signs of the church poured unabated from my lips and hands, a pleasant stream of institutional grace and comfort.

I have sensed, dear friend, that you are not a churchgoer – and so I fear that much of what has been shattered in these last few weeks will not seem to you a loss. The destruction of all that I had treasured up would, to an outsider’s eye, seem no great tragedy, I fear, but I cannot let that opinion pass without a token effort to express the hideous grief of my comforts dashed to oblivion.

Even now the words, I know, will not compare to my inner sense of aching loss, but all that had surrounded my life had been, heretofore, pure beauty. The polished sheen of the oaken beams, waxed to gleaming light, the intricate and careful carving of stone and yew, massaged by masters’ hands and tools, the heartwarm glow of a hundred taper lights, reflected in the ornaments and instruments of gold, the snowy brilliance of the altar, the reliable and unchanging sounds and signs of scripture and sacrament in the service of worship, the rapt and grateful adulation of my snug parish…all these and a thousand other details of my life and work conspired to comfort and reassure me of the universe, and of my place in it. The steady rhythm of my life and days ticked endlessly on, unchanging and mechanical, like the God to whom I had devoted my life.

And it was then, during the liturgy of that final service of Sunday worship, that I last believed without doubt in the God of my mind. As the readings of the Psalm tripped from my tongue, I had settled deeply into all the solace of a service of worship – so little attention did I pay in the midst of my prayers and oblations that I scarcely noted the text of the Prophets until the page was open before me.

Consulting my notes and the markers in the Bible, I was stunned to see before me words of alarm and terror such as I had never before met in God’s Holy Word. I was seized by a sudden bout of coughing, alarming in its scope and duration. In desperation, I raised my gaze over the pulpit’s edge to catch the eye of the sexton, of someone, anyone, rather than speak aloud the horror printed on the page.

Despite the warmth and succor of mere moments before, as I searched the curious eyes in the nave, all that met my regard was a trim young woman in garments of white, her jewel-bright eyes overflowing with passionate intensity, seated on the central rafter of the sanctuary. Her hand curled around the supporting beams, and her expression was dire and terrible as she stared mercilessly into my helpless face. Her lips parted – I thought that I heard the tiniest squeal of metal on stone as she drew in a useless breath.

Struck to my very core with elemental terror, I dove with my eyes back into the text. Caught beneath an angel and the deep blue sea, I cleared my suddenly parched throat, and did the best that I could. To my ears, as my mouth gave voice to the letters on the page, the voice of the pitiless angel overlay my halting words, driving me forward to speak the brutal, prophetic truth.

“Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.”

No further could I speak – no more would the words come. At once I let forth a great cry, and stripping my robe, stole, and cross from around my neck, I ran, shouting down the aisle and out the great oak doors into the winter sunlight. Heedless of dignity and station, heedless of position and prestige, heedless of anything but that messenger’s dreadful purpose, I summoned a waiting hansom cab, my whole frame shaking with fright. His dense accent was nearly impenetrable, but I simply shouted, “Portsmouth!” casting a quantity of gold into his waiting hand, and leaned back on the leather seats to weep and flee my destiny.

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