A Gift Unbidden
It comes without warning, and at the most unexpected of times. I’ll be furiously focused on one task or another: painting, or writing, or preparing for some descending deadline or some travel plans I’m making. Then, as if Someone had gently disconnected the power to all of these troublesome tasks and tribulations, everything ceases. The hammering of schedules, emails, phone calls, and messages slows, and then stops; the silence is startling.
I am awash in great calm, as if the very air was incensed with thick, swirling mists of magic and mystery. And at such times, all that I can do is take a deep breath and radiate gratitude for this gift, this consolation that has come, unbidden, from the Hidden Realm.
Many of us have felt such consolations. They are moments, I believe, when we are touched by God and reminded that everything will be alright…that all our cares are like freshets from a spring shower, chilling us, perhaps, but also honing our hearts. They are reminders that the realm we inhabit harbours depths unplumbed and heights unchallenged; and yet, even this Middle-earth in all its crystalline glory is only the threshold to other worlds and other adventures.
This month I embark on a new adventure. I will travel to the Yorkshire shores to tread the very spot where, as Bram Stoker tells us, a Transylvanian prince once terrorized the English countryside. At Whitby, tells the tale, a foreign schooner came through a terrible storm toward the harbour:
“The wind suddenly shifted to the northeast, and the remnant of the sea fog melted in the blast. And then, mirabile dictu, between the piers, leaping from wave to wave as it rushed at headlong speed, swept the strange schooner before the blast, with all sail set, and gained the safety of the harbour. The searchlight followed her, and a shudder ran through all who saw her, for lashed to the helm was a corpse, with drooping head, which swung horribly to and fro at each motion of the ship. No other form could be seen on the deck at all.”
With this ominous advent, evil comes to Britain from afar. And the thing that I most admire about Bram Stoker is that he did not mince words. In his tale, the undead Szekely prince was cruel, hate-filled, and anything but romantic, unlike the post-modern vampires so popular in today’s culture. There was no ambivalence, no hand-wringing, no remorse on the part of the heroes who ultimately confronted this monster and, thanks be to God, destroyed him.
A Society Confused About the Nature of Good and Evil
Stoker did not glorify Count Dracula; it was more than a full century after the publication of his masterpiece that we as a society became so confused about the nature of good and evil that we would come to revere horror, death, violence, and cruelty, while demeaning hope, life, valour, chastity, charity, and honour. The many vampire novels and films that are now standard fare worship the undead as gods, while scoffing at those who would destroy them as misguided religious-extremists who lack in compassion and sensitivity.
What strange and twisted worldview have we wrought for ourselves?
Is the Meneltarma, then, abandoned, and Eru Illuvatar forgotten? Do we now, in fact, worship Tash, the god of death, rather than Aslan, the son of the Emperor beyond the sea? Can we no longer discern good from evil, or truth from spin?
Southern writer Flannery O’Connor once said that her strange and often horrifying tales focused on “the action of grace in territory largely held by the devil.” And in a world that has come to idolize and sensualize the demonic, it becomes harder and harder to argue with Flannery about the nature of the cultural territory we now inhabit.
But it is at such times, and often after such thoughts, that I sometimes receive those moments of clarity, those gifts from the Perilous Realm: of peace, of consolation, of encouragement.
Whatever may come to pass, we need not follow the cataclysmic cultural course of confusion; we need not invert the great mythologies handed down to us through the long centuries in order to feed a dwindling self-worth and in order to conciliate Morgoth and those who, often unknowingly, worship him: this at the expense of life, of love, and of goodness, truth, and beauty. We can cut away the cankerous, creeping tendrils of indifference, reminding ourselves that evil does exist and that our task is to battle that evil, not to offer it homage and tribute.
As I stand atop the cemetery overlooking Whitby harbor, I hope to be reminded, in that first week of Easter, that evil, true evil, can strike at any time. But, I also hope to be reminded, as with the gentle fragrance of Frankincense from the altar, that each of us can choose to fight despair, chaos, and spin in order to protect what is worth protecting, and in order to worship and to love that which is worth loving.
A glorious and light-filled Easter season to you all!
Jef Murray is an internationally known Tolkien and fantasy artist/illustrator and counterfeit essayist. His paintings, sketches, and writings sprout sporadically from the leaves of Tolkien and Inklings publications (Amon Hen, Mallorn, Beyond Bree, Silver Leaves, Mythprints) and Catholic journals (The St. Austin Review, Gilbert Magazine, The Georgia Bulletin) worldwide. Visit Jef’s website at www.JefMurray.com.
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