Posted by: Peadar Ban | December 15, 2012

A Terrible Lightning

Here is something I posted first to the Facebook page of The Christian Book Corner.  It is not pretty:

On the day following the terrorist attack of September 11, 2011, the hymns recommended to accompany the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours began with some very hopeful and encouraging words:

“God, whose almighty word
Chaos and darkness heard
And took their flight:
Hear us, we humbly pray,
And where the Gospel day
Sheds not its glorious ray
Let there be light.”

The second hymn that we who prayed the Office that morning sang began thus:

“Morning has broken
Like the first morning,
Blackbird has spoken
Like the first bird
Praise for the singing!”<

It was a beautiful morning. So was the day before. A visitor to the planet for the first time would not have known what had taken place just a short while ago; unless they happened to fly over New York, a field in western Pennsylvania or Washington, DC.

Yesterday morning in the part of New England where I live was a lovely day. So is this morning, December 15, 2012, bright, crisp and clear; a beautiful morning. Since it is the holy season of Advent, and a few of us still remember that, we opened the day by opening our books to pray; hopeful songs, as on that Wednesday, presented themselves for our voices.

We sang: “The Dawn shall banish sadness, the Rising Sun shall bring us gladness, and all the blind shall see aright.” And, I almost broke into tears as I had actually done on the terrible Wednesday, the Day After Death; the first of so many since.

Psalm 106 confronts us at the opening of our prayer with these troubling words:

“We have sinned like our ancestors;
we have done wrong and are guilty.”

Reading them I couldn’t help remembering the events of 9/11 and the terror in the until yesterday quiet town of Newtown, CT. I could not help reflecting on this, the day after another Day of Death.

Of course one would never know it had they, the “strangers”, been a-visiting yesterday from that same far off place.  The Malls were full.  Things needed doing.  Children will die.  And, well, life goes on.

I remembered the line from a song sung by some group when I was a youngster. It had a passing popularity, became for a while a mantra, carried with it a message, bred a certain bitter cynicism: “When will they ever learn. When will they ever learn.”

Were I a screen director, and making a film of heaven on yesterday morning I might depict God looking away and saying those very same words. He has loosed a terrible lightning.


There is a prayer that keeps running through my mind, now:

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle;
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.

It is a prayer I learned as a young child…in school when God was still allowed in school. I learned it in a Catholic school, where God is still, I most fervently hope, still allowed; they are one of the few places aside from half empty churches and inside our heads God is still allowed to be.

In place of God, I think, we have raised up for ourselves a Golden Calf, who has eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear, a tongue but cannot speak. Behind the calf is another, though. This one sees, and hears, and speaks.

He says:

“The child we threw there on the heap
With all the other children
Dead, most of them. Dogs must eat
And we must feed them.
Rats get hungry, too,
Their generations multiply
To cover the earth.

Why waste your time this way
Amid offal and decay.
Such a senseless waste.
There are games to watch or play
Diversions more enchanting
Than your bleary stumbling
In this mass of dead children.

We take their bones. What’s left
Is always more than enough.
We finely grind them..
Oh, you’ll soon forget…
And finely grind them,
Ship them overseas. The powder’s
Made into finest porcelain
Gold edged, hand painted in Pakistan.
Fit for kings, those plates.
How well they sell at Christmas.

Without the rats and dogs
We could not do it cheaply
So all can now afford
To own them and dine kingly.
You forget it has been like this
Generations at least.
Rats and dogs will feast
And we, at ease, will eat
Their scraps. Why count the cost?
It is paid. Enjoy the holocaust.”

I think now of those who rode to Bethlehem. On, no, not the little ones who laid Him in a manger. No, not them. I think of those who rode and slaughtered at the king’s command, and I see them waiting.

Good Saint Michael, pray for us. Defend us in battle!

Beecham – Berlioz: II. Dies irae – Tuba mirum

Grande Messe des Morts, Op.5: Dies irae: Moderato – Andante maestoso (Tuba mirum) Royal Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus, Sir Thomas Beecham


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