aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

A drop of bitters to start the day

I was reading George MacDonald's story, The Wow o' Rivven, and it occurred to me that many of his stories are soaked in sorrow.  He writes of untimely deaths, deaths of children, unfulfilled lives.  And yet he is generally seen as a writer for children (or the childlike).  Part of this is what we call "Victorian," of course.  All feelings, including sorrowful ones, were indulged -- nay, wallowed in.  It was the fashion of the time.  But there's more to it than that, I think.

We forget how close death was only a century and a half ago.  There were not the medicines or surgical techniques of today; infant mortality in what we think of as the (now) industrialized world was very high.  Mourning was part of life, and not shunned as we shun it, lock it away, avoid all reference to it.  So MacDonald was just addressing life as it was in his stories, not merely wallowing in sentiment.

Years ago, Phred and I went camping around New Year's.  Snow covered the ground in the Hoosier National Forest, and all the trails were frozen hard.  We took a hike back to an old country cemetery.  There was a whole row of headstones bearing the same name, all in a row --  an entire family, some five children and one or both parents? --  with the same death year (1921? 1922?).  Possibly, an influenza epidemic took them.  There were waves of it back then, and they were deadly.  Indeed, they were partly responsible for the old country saying I remember hearing when I was a student pastor:  "A green Christmas makes a fat graveyard."

I see people in church today who feel personally affronted by the inconveniences of life, and for whom a death in the family (even of an aged parent) is a cause to question the goodness of God.   I suppose any death is a cause to question the goodness of God, but really, I look to old times and the people who lived in them, and I find too much smallness in people today.  What did you think life was about? I want to say?  Did you not know, as my mother used to say, "ain't none of us gonna get out of this world alive"?  If your religion cannot endure sorrow, then what was it for?  A toy to keep you amused?

In MacDonald's story, the aged village idiot can only speak -- when he bothers to -- about the wow o' Rivven -- his name for the great bell of the village church in Ruthven, Scotland.  He follows every funeral to the churchyard, and to him the bell says, Come hame, come hame, come hame.  He is befriended by a lonely young woman with a delicate condition, who would like a home of her own, but finds no one who will offer it to her.  As she lays dying, she says she hears the bell, too, and asks to be buried beside the old fool.
Side by side rest the aged fool and the young maiden; for the bell called them and they obeyed; and surely they found the fire burning bright, and heard friendly voices, and felt sweet lips upon theirs, in the home to which they went.  Surely both intellect and love were waiting them there.

Still the old bell hangs in the old gable; and whenever another is borne to the old churchyard, it keeps calling to those who are left behind, with the same sad, but friendly and unchanging voice -- "Come hame! come hame! come hame!"

"Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the LORD shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended." --Isaiah ix.20.

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