And the flames leap higher in the darkening sky; a vivid wall of fire sheds its light on faces hushed as if a child were being born, a manger ready in the rudest inn. Everywhere straw and the droppings of chickens, broken plaster, dust of collapse. In the camps, children die of cholera, hungry dogs drag garbage through back alleys running like a sore.
Here, the stench of bodies trapped in bricks and mortar will remain a little while. In the plaza they wrap their noses, silent as the captives find a quick release—a sudden rush of wind, a rain of embers when each soul flies up.
A mantra stills their scoured tongues. Expectant, calm, and speechless underneath white winter stars, they eye the pyre simple as a crèche, this crowning what a birth might be, no midwife but their prayers that mount, gray gulls above the stretching limbs of trees.
In the crate of ornaments not to be touched, rested in cotton my mother’s golden walnuts: glass, thinner than egg shells, easily shattered. She hung them from the boughs herself.
Real nuts, we ate on Advent evenings, sitting round the burning wreath, cracking hazelnuts and almonds, peeling tangerines. My father split the walnuts single-handed, then let us root out gnarled halves and pieces. Each nut, a mystery beneath its sealed shell.
I hate mysteries, my son proclaims one day. And yet, he sits all season snapping nuts, gathering pecans from the back lawn, separating the green and black or gnawed.
The tools—a toothed and silver hinge, a screw and lever, assorted picks—he places on the table. Some of the harvested will be rotten, some unripe. The best emerge from cocoons as rich as butter, most in shards and others whole. All of these will be put to use in pies and bread.
He works quietly, entirely focused on the task. On the oilcloth, a pile of husks easily swept away, and the delight of knowledge, gleaming brown and full of grace as a new pair of shoes.
When we think of the blood of Christ, we think of the unnumbered insults; the five wounds; the blood beading from the thorn incisors encircling his head
But what if, instead, we thought of the blue and red twining vessels of the umbilicus, what if we pictured the roseate and warm web of nutrients we call placenta?
Why not envision the body of Mary her autonomic brain as it was building, creating a network of feeding and growing: caring and corpuscle, healing and hemoglobin, making a mammal’s four-chambered heart, fed by the rich cake we call placenta, shaping salvation’s vascular system?
Christ’s heart took shape in Mary’s body. His blood first coursed her valves and veins. It was made with her womb’s weaving, overcast by heaven’s venture, manifest through serving love, cell by alizarin cell.
Something dark within it, its first element or circuit? Did it surface first in Cain, offering unfavored, downcast brother-killer in the wide-mouthed field?
No, but it wept there. No keeper. Yielder of crops no longer. He was made restless across the earth instead. Wanderer hidden from His presence, unbearably concealed.
Marked in the land of Nod, Cain became a magnate, bond trader sadly raising a child and buildings, became a necessary builder of a city that shared his child’s name.
Technological Man, then, as we seek to understand it? Wasn’t the very attack Abel suffered a most skillful handling, carried out by one wielding a facilitating implement?
Was it offered with a filament carried to faraway futures, being our quaint past, inciting still our daily comforts? We should want nothing better in a techne, however murderous.
Or: obviously this debases the thing, merely potentially dark. The artisans’ hands that built the ark were just so inclined, but, their work mandated, refrained from accomplishment’s lust.
Let’s not mistake the good thing—the reason and rationale that caps the term, logy, our nobly disposable circumstance— for its bloody version, mindless outburst lacking resistance,
corrupting precision, and making of “premeditation” the worst of words. And so this our fair city, which we built, was destined to canker, ever in need of renovations. Or interventions, better yet.
Study war no more
Mar 18, 2011
Michael Izbicki grew up in a nondenominational church in California. A National Merit Scholarship finalist, he chose to go to the U.S. Naval Academy out of a sense of duty to his country during a time of war. At the naval academy he began to doubt whether the career to which he had committed himself could be squared with the tenets of just war doctrine. He got in trouble when he responded no to this exam question: "If given the order, would you launch a missile carrying a nuclear warhead?" After a four-year legal battle, the navy discharged him as a conscientious objector. Izbicki may have to reimburse the service for part or all of his education (New York Times, February 22).