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"Save Me from Bloody Men" Redux

Life is funny--as if I'm saying something you don't already know!

There was a church I served for a decade a decade ago and each Christmas Eve my pre-Christmas Eve service ritual was to drive down this particular street that was lined with gleaming and flickering luminaria. Each year as I drove, I listened to a short carol called "The Armed Man." It was from an ancient French mass and the lyrics were in French (so it was called "L'homme Armé") and the music haunted me. I loved it. It seemed a perfect way to privately ponder the miracle of God made incarnate among us. But its theme was not especially Christmas-y at all.

Well, as it turns out, the contemporary Welsh composer, Karl Jenkins wrote an entire version of this ancient French mass. He calls it "The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace," and the chorus that I sing with is performing it this week.

The truth is that I don't sing well, but I sing with heart. But singing "The Armed Man" has proven a challenge for me. I don't want to weep when I sing--because then I just can't sing. Nevertheless, the power of this Mass moves me and in rehearsals I have been practicing not crying.

This is a Mass that calls out for God's profound mercy. We hear a Muslim call to prayer. We hear a Kyrie. We hear a haunting all-male setting from several Psalms entreating God to "save me from bloody men." We hear a Sanctus--but it precedes Rudyard Kipling's lyrics in a hymn before battle. Other older poets' words are sung--John Dryden and Jonathan Swift. Battle seems inevitable--tragic and ghastly. But war is not to be glorified. It must not be. Which is why the lyrics that follow from the Hiroshima survivor, Japanese poet Toge Sankichi, are so upsetting and unsettling. I won't share them here--out of context their impact would be lessened greatly.

Since this is a Mass for Peace, two things are occurring: the entreaty for God's help in this human realm and the awareness that we are charged with responsibility for God's creation which is our human realm. We make the war. We can stop the war. Define war howsoever you may. Sounds simple and it's not. But we must start somewhere if we are going to get anywhere.

For Christians, Eastertide frees us from the gloom and heaviness of Lent. But as spring arrives and summer beckons, we are not simply released into a wonderland of chocolate eggs and jelly beans. The call is broader and it is for all people of all and of no faiths.

We are called ever more urgently into engagement with a world of hurt that, by the grace and gifts of God--or of human volition--we can serve. Complacency was never an item on any of the various gods' to-do list for us. Nor was it a hallmark of Enlightenment rationalism. Our very complicated, troubling world cannot afford our complacency--but it needs our compassion and reasoned action.

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