Saturday, April 17

"I only hear thunder sometimes, never bells."

Ever since we heard it the first time, my family has listened to Dylan Thomas' 'A Child's Christmas In Wales' every Christmas. That is the origin of the title quote. Here is its context:
"Were there postmen then, too?"
"With sprinkling eyes and wind-cherried noses, on spread, frozen feet they crunched up to the doors and mittened on them manfully. But all that the children could hear was a ringing of bells."
"You mean that the postman went rat-a-tat-tat and the doors rang?"
"I mean that the bells the children could hear were inside them."
"I only hear thunder sometimes, never bells."
"There were church bells, too."
"Inside them?"
"No, no, no, in the bat-black, snow-white belfries, tugged by bishops and storks."
For some reason, the time-tested method of my posting things online usually has to do with several references for the same concept surfacing in my consciousness enough times to be annoying. They seem to ask to be mentioned, and sometimes when I bring them up I come to a conclusion about the issue that presents itself. Mostly not, but you can't have everything. This time it is thunder.

'Into Great Silence', a film about an austere monastic community, was recently in my Netflix queue. How I love Netflix. Anyway, it is organized with filmed sequences and then quotations, a little like a silent film. One of the quotations says "O Lord, you have seduced me, and I have been seduced." This is from the prophet Jeremiah (20:7), who foretold the captivity in Babylon. Its proper context is thus:

O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived; thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed [...] Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.

After the quotation is shown, the film goes on to depict a thunderstorm, mighty and crashing. The streams on the mountain near the monastery flood and wildly overflow, lightning rips the sky apart, leaves are stripped from trees.

Though the film was recorded in France, it seems a lot like my Italian thunderstorms--violent winds and slashing rains; I've never felt the like of it in America or her cousins. During those storms I routinely checked the windows, shutters, doors, and cracks of the house for leaks, mostly shoving towels and layering blankets near them (all our floors were tile or granite) to keep out the accompanying cold and whistling shrieks from the wind. I understand now why fire seems such a primal comfort.

Always when I hear thunder, my immediate thought is not of protection or of a coming fear; there is something in me that echoes thunder. Something in me loves it, revels in it, welcomes it with a feeling of release; it is as if whatever makes my chest tighten and brow furrow is suddenly freed and gives a great heaving sigh like the first after a good cry. It is like those days when you are genuinely happy, walking somewhere, and somebody--a stranger--sees you and gives you a genuine smile; perhaps they are also a little quizzical or flirtatious or think they know what you are smiling about, but it is a genuine sharing of whatever drop of joy you carry that moment. It is also like keeping a secret you don't want to keep, and finding that somebody else knows your secret and sympathizes and you didn't have to break your promise or pretend it didn't exist.

Perhaps it is the reward of self-control. Charles Williams would perhaps have called this thundering a manifestation of God's "terrible goodness". And the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, according to Solomon. So perhaps it is the reward of having feared, for so long, this terrible goodness. It has been twelve years since I was baptized.


miss rika said...

Mmm. Rereading this post, it sounds very possibly presumptuous and overweening, but I don't think it is a sinful thing to see that I have grown a little in a dozen years.

Paul E.G. Lott said...

That is SO weird b/c I have been completely interested in Into Great Silence for the last few days after coming across an oblique reference to the same during TDDIH research. Wiggy, as the saying goes. Most decidedly wiggy. I too have adored ' Wales' since time out of mind, but never too the trouble to inspect the author's by-line. What fun!

Paul EG Lott

miss rika said...

So did you watch IGS? I'd be interested to hear what you thought of it. And how it coincides with TDDIH! And I hope you have introduced your larvae to Dylan Thomas, or will by Christmas. You have responsibilities as a father, you know.

Caddy said...

I saw Into Great Silence in Germany with a friend. I remember it being long, and thinking that being a monk would be great.

miss rika said...

I think I liked it, but I'd have to see it again to be sure. I am still trying to figure out what I think about isolated monasteries and secluded hermitages--growing up with a completely Protestant background does nothing to help me understand them on a pragmatic basis.