Discussing Bohemian Advent on Zaklog the Great’s book club

I made my third appearance on Zaklog the Great’s book club to discuss the Bohemian Advent series. If you were wondering about its different levels of meaning and biblical/historical references, then you’re in for a treat (for my Czech readers, my apologies for my stumbling over the Czech recitation, it’s usually someone else that reads the Czech translation at my church):

Priceless Day/Den nad každý jiný

Today is the day when holy light came into the world to redeem mankind. Here is Priceless Day performed by Zaklog the Great:

On Sunday I appeared on an episode of Zaklog the Great’s Book club to discuss this entire series, the recording of which will go live tomorrow.

Below is the English version, followed by the Czech.

Priceless Day

Beyond all hopes, beyond all dreams,
Beyond all human plots and schemes
To cure the ills that plague mankind,
The bonds that hold the weak unbind,

The wisdom of the world surpass,
To show the lost the way at last.
To shame the mighty and the strong
And show the proud where they went wrong.

To open up the narrow door
That leads to love for evermore;
All this through a baby’s birth
To reclaim corrupted Earth.

The fullness of divinity
Combined with full humanity
To be the Way, the price to pay
With unforeseen humility.

No eye had seen, no ear had heard
The mighty and incarnate Word
That cried our tears, that felt our pain,
So we could all be whole again.

The greatest enemy of all
Saw this would lead to his great fall;
He tried to tempt, to spoil, destroy,
But could not taint our source of joy.

At last That Day had come.

Den nad každý jiný

Nad pouhé splnění snů a nadějí,
Všelikých lidských plánů a idejí,
k nemocí všech lidí vyléčení,
okovů rozbití, odemčení,

aby se moudří poučili,
našli se ti, kteří zabloudili,
silných a mocných k zahabení,
omylů pyšných k vyjevení,

otevřít dveře úzké a těsné,
co k lásce bezpečně dovedou věčné
– to vše se naplní v dítěti malém
a jeho království nebývalém.

Dvojí se spojilo v jediném slově:
naplno Bůh a naplno člověk.
Ukázat cestu a zaplatit cenu,
s pokorou neznámou přichází k tobě.

Nelze se nedivit opět a znova
do lidství vtělení mocného Slova.
Cítil tvé bolesti, plakal mé slzy,
aby nás obnovil cele a brzy.

Nepřítel, ten, co má temnoty vládu,
poznal, že směřuje k velkému pádu.
Svádět se pokoušel, ničil a šálil,
radosti zdroj však nezakalil.

Tak konečně vzešel ten den.

Dominus Dixit

This is the other song I was commissioned to write, and is much more ambitious in its scope, in that it requires at least six parts, so would take a very brave musical group to attempt it. The initial tale was of a last Christmas mass being held in a crumbling church before its scheduled demolition and conducted by an aging traditionalist priest being pushed into retirement by a young ‘progressive’ bishop. Instead of simply retelling it in song, I expanded it into a dramatic Valjean/Javert-style confrontation between the two complete with a narrator, congregation and angelic chorus, plus some basic stage direction. 

Dominus Dixit

Narrator:

The town abounds with Christmas cheer
As we near that time of year;
But at the church upon the hill,
There’s little season

 

al goodwill.

With wrinkles on his hands
An old priest humbly stands
Before a younger bishop
Who has ambitious plans:

Bishop:

“I don’t care about tradition,
This is now the modern age;
We’ll knock down this crumbling mission
And then turn a whole new page,

“We’ll build a towering school of philosophy
To break tradition’s chains and set men free;
No more chants of stale encrusted liturgy,
We will march on forward to modernity.”

Priest:

“No, we will not change a thing,
We’ll be here and we will simply sing
Gloria Patri, et Filio,
et Spiritui Sancto.”

Bishop:

“You’ve got one more week, then I can have you replaced
To give this place a welcome change of pace;
People who’ll follow the trends of fashionable thought
And make all the changes that they ought.”

Priest:

“No, we must not change a word
Of what two thousand years has stood;
Foundations must not be destroyed
Or else, we fall into the void.”

Bishop:

“I’ll give you one more chance to prove me wrong,
To keep up with the times and show you belong
To this age of progress, wonders to behold
With your midnight mass, don’t leave me cold.”

Narrator:

The priest retreats to his small room,
Falls to his knees and in the gloom
All week he cries out fervently
With tears and pain and urgency:

Priest:

“Am I blind to the signs of the times,
Or is this the world that I must fight?
“What can I do? What can I say?
How can I find the narrow way?

“Your saints worked through the centuries
Should we be more than mere trustees
Of what they all have handed down;
Dare we resculpt their holy crown?

“My faith is weak, my body frail,
But in You I cannot fail;
I will stand on what I know
You have approved for us to sow.

“Give me strength and wisdom, too
To know what You would have me do.
Let not my slowing mind obscure
Your loving heart, so true and pure.”

Narrator:

The day arrives, all is prepared,
Though some things could not be repaired;
The wooden crèche is incomplete,
Its heralds missing from their seats.

The bishop notices and scoffs,

Bishop:

“Tradition clings to what is lost.
The angels have abandoned you,
A sign so clear it could get through

“Your hard old head to see your fault:
Look at this decaying vault,
‘Tis only fit to be torn down
And something better for this town

Built in its place to serve their needs,
Not merely chant outdated creeds.”

Priest:

“You’ve made it clear, you’ve had your say
Now let me have my final day.”

Narrator:

A handful of old congregants
Sit in nervous cognizance
Of what hangs over this old hall;
The priest stands from his old oak stall.

The bishop sits with a scornful look
As the priest reads from his gilded book:

Priest:

Dóminus dixit ad me:
Fílius meus es tu;
ego hódie génui te.

Narrator:

Some try to read and sing along
With tired notes that come out wrong.
They falter, stop in shame and groan
Until he is again alone.

Priest:

Quare fremuérunt gentes,
et pópuli meditáti
sunt inánia?

Narrator:

Disheartened he begins to slow
And his surrender starts to show,
Then as he sings the next few words,
Two voices from above are heard:

Angels:

Gloria Patri, et Filio,
et Spiritui Sancto.

{Melody} {Angelic harmony}
Narrator: Angels:
The congregation looks around
To find the source of this sweet sound
Inspired by this heavenly noise
All those present add their voice.
Sicut erat in principio
et nunc et semper
et in saecula
saeculorum. Amen.

{All voices: Melody plus angelic harmonies, an additional (ordinary) harmony joins in on ‘Quare’, ‘Gloria’ and ‘Sicut, to represent the congregation gaining more confidence and strength in their singing.}

Dóminus dixit ad me:
Fílius meus es tu;
ego hódie génui te.
Quare fremuérunt gentes,
et pópuli meditáti
sunt inánia?
Gloria Patri, et Filio,
et Spiritui Sancto.
Sicut erat in principio
et nunc et semper
et in saecula
saeculorum. Amen.

{Above repeats with additional bass voice(s)}

Narrator:

When the chorus is complete and each eye sheds joyful tears
And hearts are moved by beauty like they haven’t been in years,
Many search in vain for whence those voices came
That lit their souls on fire with a bright eternal flame.

The balconies were empty, the vestries were unmanned,
There’s nothing in the doorways that could make a sound so grand.
The bishop, shaken to his core, desperate to find out more,
Rushes up some spiral stairs to find beside some broken chairs

Up in the loft are standing two carved wooden figurines;
The angels from the crèche had not abandoned them it seems.
Contrition overwhelms him and he falls onto his knees,
Confessing sins and attitudes and making humble pleas,

Then carries the two angels down to put them in their place
To herald the Lord’s coming with self-sacrificial grace.
The old priest welcomes him back and together they will stand
To proclaim the Christmas message to this precious, blessed land.

Gold Sunday/Zlatá neděle

Today is the final Sunday of Advent, here is Zaklog the Great performing Gold Sunday:

I will be meeting up with Zaklog later today to discuss the Bohemian Advent series. I’ll be sure to let you all know when that is broadcast. Below is the English poem followed by the Czech.

Gold Sunday

From mighty Babylon of old,
Through furnaces and statues gold,
Endured a voice that prophesied
Great future empires’ fall and rise

And then a rock to dwarf them all,
Arising from a land so small,
Its people cling to trembling hope
In more than just a horoscope.

The age is nigh, the world expects
A noble, mighty architect
Of change unique in history,
An end to Israel’s misery,

And soon That Day will come.


Zlatá neděle

Babylon vladařem poražených,
zlatých soch i pecí rozpálených –
přesto hlas prorocký zaznívá z výše:
Povstanou, padnou veliké říše.

A potom kámen na říše padne
ze země malé, nenápadné,
jejíž lid naděje v duši má stopu
lepší, než najdete v horoskopu.

Nazrála doba, svět vyhlíží cele
slavného, mocného hybatele
dějinné změny, jíž podobné není,
on sejme z Jákoba porobení.

A brzy již vzejde ten den.

When the Light Came Down

A few years ago, I was approached to convert two different stories of Christmas miracles into singable lyrics to be put to music as part of a Christmas album. I composed and sent off the lyrics, but heard no more about efforts to produce the music and record them since then. I’ll share those lyrics with you now, and perhaps one Christmas in the near future their uplifting harmonies will bring joy and hope to an audience.

It is so long ago that I can’t remember the melody I had in mind for this first one, which concerns a secret meeting of Christians in the darkest depths of Soviet Russia. I will share the other one next week, if I can work out a way to format text into two columns in a blog post.

When the Light Came Down

In a land of cruel repression
And an atmosphere of dread,
The threat of disappearance
Hangs over every head.

The Cheka took the clergy
Who failed to hide themselves;
The gulag’s thirst is never quenched
For bloodshed in its cells.

In a barn out in the country
The faithful dare to meet
To celebrate the Nativity,
That great day in history

When the Light came down
To redeem the earth;
The Word made flesh
Through a pauper’s birth.

The pastor sees a boy he knew
And baptized long ago,
Now grown into a strong young man
Trudging through the snow.

The pastor’s smile is tempered
By a dark but nagging thought;
“Where has he been all of these years,
What battles has he fought?

“Is he lost, in need of saving,
Or an agent of the state,
Here to observe, inform on us
And seal our awful fates?”

But the Light came down,
Leaving heavenly bliss,
To be sacrificed
For such a wretch as this.

His mind made up, the pastor calls
For quiet, then he reads
The words of the old liturgy
That address their deepest needs:

For peace on earth, goodwill to men
And glory upon high
To God who is owed all our praise,
And all things beautifies.

When the pleas move on to ask
For blessings on the nation,
A look upon the young man’s face
Betrays his consternation.

For the Light came down
And showed the world its sin;
Men preferred the dark
To being changed within.

All there commend their lives to Christ
With confident conviction
Alone the young man holds his tongue,
Won’t mouth the benediction.

Sins are confessed, repented of,
Forgiveness is proclaimed.
God’s Mercy is extolled and
Calls to holiness are made.

The Eucharist draws nearer,
God’s purity declared;
His Holy Spirit invited into
All those thus prepared.

Then a Light shone down,
Into that dusty place;
An instinctive fear
Flooded every face.

Could that light be the Cheka,
Arriving to arrest
The faithful for their brazenness,
And thought crimes unconfessed?

No, it’s something more profound,
This old barn is now holy ground,
Each heart is filled with joy and peace,
Each guilty conscience finds release.

The young man stumbles forward,
Pleading for his soul,
The great light struck him blind and he
Now longs to be whole.

For the Light came down
To heal our ills;
Not for fortune, fame,
Or a thousand hills.

“I was here at the state’s behest
To report on faith expressed
In anything but the Soviet
And failure to quail at their threats.

“Forgive me, for I have betrayed
All for which you worked and prayed;
I believed their vicious lies
About you and all they despise.”

The old men gather round and pray
For the scales to fall away
From the eyes of his heart and head
To revive what once was dead.

For the Light came down,
Offering new birth,
To flee the snares of sin
And live a life of worth.

Silver Sunday/Stříbrná neděle

Today is the third Sunday of Advent, here is Zaklog the Great performing today’s poem:

And here is the English followed by the Czech version:

 


Silver Sunday

Bags of silver coins change hands
For human lives from distant lands:
Some caught in war, some caught at crime,
Some could not pay their debts in time.

With chains on their bruised feet and hands,
Worth thirty silver to a man;
Some foolishly still dare to dream
That they could one day be redeemed.

But soon That Day will come.


Stříbrná neděle

Za mince stříbrné ve váčku z kůže,
ten, kdo chce, člověka koupit si může.
Válka či zločin, stihly je lapit,
některé neschopnost dluhy včas splatit.

Ruce I kotníky sedřené pouty,
kus můžeš za třicet stříbrných koupit.
Někteří snívají bláznivé snění,
že přijde den vykoupení.

Však brzy již vzejde ten den.

Operation Vampire by Steven G. Johnson

Another Superversive Press release this week, this time a wonderfully gripping military fantasy by Steven G. Johnson, of an alternate world war II in which elves, humans, dwarves and trolls fight together against against the vampires, werewolves, demons and assorted hordes of hell itself.

Mick Murphy’s an Irish half-elf from Manhattan. His best buddy Dave is a dwarf from Brooklyn. Together with a company of misfits, screwballs and, well, trolls from the pit, they’ll take on anything Austro-Hungaro-Romania, or for that matter Hell itself, cares to throw at them.

But behind the vampires, werewolves and sky demons are the Big Boys, deep down in a pit of their own. The War won’t end until G.I.s plant their boots on the Devil’s throne and kick him out. Working their way up to this biggest of D-Days is going to tax the United States Army to its utmost … but the dogfaces on the Line are one step ahead of the brass, because they’re already halfway to Hell.