Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Armistice Day at the Abbey

Some of you may be scratching your heads:  Armistice Day?  Isn't it Veterans Day?

Well, yes, but before it was Veterans Day, it was Armistice Day, the day that the Armistice was signed that brought World War I, one of the bloodiest wars in human history, to a close.  However, those of us who know our history may be chastened by the knowledge of what was to come. The end of World War I planted the seeds that would blossom into World War II. World War I brought carnage on a level never before seen – but World War II would be even worse.

For a more theological meditation on Veterans Day, see this essay I wrote which is posted at the Living Lutheran site.

One year, my annual trip to Mepkin Abbey coincided with Armistice Day.  It also happened to be near All Saints Day, the first All Saints Day after Abbot Francis Kline had been cruelly taken early by leukemia.  Part of one of the services was out in the monks' cemetery, and all the retreatents were invited out with the monks.  I was struck by the way that the simple crosses reminded me of the French World War I cemeteries:

I took the above picture from the visitor side of the grounds, but it gives you a sense of the burial area.  I turned all these images in my head and wrote a poem, "Armistice Day at the Abbey."

I haven't read the poem in several years; it's interesting how I remember it differently.  I thought it was more obvious in tying together military discipline and monastic discipline.  But it's much more subtle than many of my poems.

For the first time in its entirety, I present it here:

Armistice Day at the Abbey

The monks bury their dead on this slight
rise that overlooks the river
that flows to the Atlantic, that site
where Africans first set foot on slavery’s soil.

These monks are bound
to a different master, enslaved
in a different system.
They chant the same Psalms, the same tones
used for centuries. Modern minds scoff,
but the monks, yoked together
into a process both mystical and practical,
do as they’ve been commanded.

Their graves, as unadorned as their robes,
stretch out in rows of white crosses, reminiscent
of a distant French field. We might ponder
the futility of belief in a new covenant,
when all around us old enemies clash,
or we might show up for prayer, light
a candle, and simply submit.

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