The trouble is the halo. He’s never dissected one, prying it open with a blade under cover of night to determine its component parts: seeking with his fingertips for the thin band of cartilage that holds it erect, or the branched nerves channeling light as coldly steady as foxfire on a rotting log. The same goes for wings. Without evidence from his cadavers, he dispenses with them, painting angels as fit as young quarrymen and pasta-loving cherubs to whom aerodynamic principles will never apply. Even God looks as if he climbs into bed each night stiff from a hard day’s work but not ready for sleep, his brain crammed with thumbnail sketches of airy beings aglow with inexhaustible fuel flying by faith in unborn Bernoulli’s constant.
Close to an hour more of light since December’s solstice stood the calendar on edge, balancing my dwindling days between the here and the hereafter. This late January thaw has turned thoughts to spring again, those Holland-ordered bulbs I bedded late into November already showing green above the gray and crusted soil. You’d think, with seventy winters now beneath my crust, that I’d know better, learn to stay hunkered warm against those drifts that still must slump against the garage door. Yet an old, insistent summoning, wiser than winter’s experts, sends me back to the seed catalogs, makes me check trowel, fork and leaf mold, bends my head to bloom and blossoms yet unseen but lending never-ending fragrance to every lifeless, frigid scene.
The year: 1944. The place: a makeshift military encampment in the verdant countryside outside of Madrid, where a company of Spanish soldiers is methodically eliminating the few remaining resistance fighters trying to topple the fascist government of General Franco.
These midwinter days that bridge Epiphany to Lent can seem anything but ordinary as the steady waxing light reflects across old December’s glaze of ice, a biting wind hisses across the stark bones of the bracken, and treetops signal sparse against a sky expecting still more snow before nightfall. Scarlet and speckled birds announce themselves about the brightness of the holly, spray from the creek creates bright frosted chandeliers among the tangled overhanging branches, and dusk draws down its spangling of stars so crystalline they lift the eye— heart too—toward a principality that banishes any vestige of routine predictability. Ordinariness exists—if at all— within the desiccated soul, too distracted by its fearful self to notice.
This soot-dark smear across the brow, between the eyes, will lead you, if the way be clear, through all the endless winter of our year, toward an elemental table, the tears and savage hubbub of that agonizing garden, the treacherous courtyard, hilltop, nails and spear, the cry, the dark descending fear, and then another garden with a cave and such an austere emptiness will fill the rest of history with clear resounding alleluias.
At least half of churchgoers in the United Kingdom claim they’ve heard their church organist occasionally slip in unexpected tunes, from popular songs to advertising jingles and theme songs from TV programs or movies. Sometimes organists are motivated by playfulness, other times revenge. One organist played “Money, Money, Money” by Abba while the offering was taken. Another played “Roll Out the Barrel” at a funeral for a man known for his drinking. (The organist got sacked for this transgression.) An organist in Scotland at odds with the elders played a thinly disguised version of “Send in the Clowns” during the procession in a worship service (Telegraph, May 3, 2013).