Voices from the Past–Skeletons

Skeletons
Petronius, Satyricon 5:34

Banqueting in Nero’s palace.

Trimalchio’s extravagant and outrageous dinner feast, in the heart of ancient Rome, paused as Ethiopian slaves hustled away the previous course of peahen eggs.  Oh, so delicious they were, nicely seasoned with pepper and hiding fat orioles within. Soon, two other slaves with curly hair carried little skin bottles and poured wine over our hands.  Everyone clapped enthusiastically, and then glass jars, carefully sealed and coated, were set before us.  

Trimalchio, the host, interrupted our wine-label reading and announced that this wine was the real stuff, genuine Falerian wine 100 years old, bottled in the consulship of Opimius   He smiled and then chirped that this expensive elixir would outlast us all and urged us to drink heartily.  

While we were sipping and savoring the luxurious wine, a whistling slave brought in a silver skeleton fastened in such a way that the joints could be bent in any direction.  The servants tossed it upon the table before us and twisted it into several suggestive postures while Trimalchio recited his own poem:

Nothing but bones, that what we are.
Death hustles us humans away.
Today we’re here, and tomorrow we’re not,
So live and drink while you may!
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David said our lives are nothing more than breaths of air that slip into the evening mists with barely a notice.  He and Trimalchio, with his wriggling silver skeleton,  mutter the same truth:  we don’t have long on this earth.   

            “LORD, …You have made my days as handbreadths, and my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; Surely every man at his best is a mere breath” (Ps 139:4-5). 

Kiss the skeleton 
and make today count.
__________________

“This is a brief life, but in its brevity
it offers us some splendid moments, some meaningful adventures.”
Rudyard Kipling

Voices from the Past–Treasure

Gaul gold stater 58 BC

Gaul golden stater 58 BC

Treasure
Caesar, The Gallic War 6:17

As Caesar traveled through the land of the Gauls, he noticed an unusual custom observed by these warrior peoples.  After battles, the Gauls gather the spoils of war into the local village and pile them in sacred heaps in public places.  As the inhabitants go about their normal duties, they pass by the glittering mounds of gold and silver objects with no thought of taking them secretly.   Day after day, the morning sun reflects off the treasures reminding citizens of the victory in battle, fanning a pride in accomplishment.  And in the evening’s moon glow, as people return from the fields, these spoils of war usher them home, breeding quiet confidence in the army’s power.

    Should anyone break these rules and pilfer from the treasure pile secretly, woe to them.  If discovered, they are dragged from their home and tortured grievously for the offense.   

            Achan could have profited by this custom of honesty.  It was Achan who stole from his town’s sacred pile of war loot, dreaming night after night of a beautiful mantel from Shinar. He took the mantle and stole 200 shekels of silver and a heavy bar of gold, hurrying home to bury them in the ground beneath his family tent. When Joshua discovered this breach of trust, the retaliation was brutal and swift (Joshua 7).

            Jesus offers valuable spiritual advice about treasure:  “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:20-21).

Earthly treasures fade.
Heavenly treasures glitter forever.
________________________

“Memories are timeless treasures of the heart.”
Anonymous

Voices from the Past–Ennobling

Ennobling
Xenophon, Anabasis 6:5

Jean Adrien Guignet

The army stood, stumped, at the deep ravine, unable to go on in pursuit of the Bithynian army.  “It can’t be passed,” said general Sophaenetus, staring at the crevasse before them.  “It’s too deep and risky.  Let’s turn back.”  While the soldiers grumbled, Xenophon rode up in a frenzy, asking why the army had stopped moving.  “It’s the ravine, sir,” barked Sophaenetus, the oldest general. 

 “Nonsense!” said Xenophon, who, after a brief pep talk to the hesitant force, led the men step by step down into the treacherous deep.  When they gathered victorious on the other side, Xenophon ordered his men into battle formation and said this one notable thing:  “Listen, men.  The enemy is just beyond that ridge.  So as we march on, call the names of those marching beside you.  Inspire them. And remember to do something ennobling today, something memorable, so that no matter what happens in combat, people will whisper your name in awe for generations to come.”

Then, marching with purpose rapidly, they pursued the Bithynians.  Suddenly, the trumpet sounded, they struck up the paean, raised the battle-cry, couched their spears, and sent the enemy running for the hills. 
————————————————————————– 

            Ravines often bring out the worst in us, forcing us to turn away from a destination or goal in frustration.  But they can be a turning point, a rare chance to say or do something ennobling.  

            Paul said to Titus, “In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame…” (Titus 2:7-8).
—————————————————–

Strike up the paean!
Do something ennobling today.
——————————
“Make each day your masterpiece.”
John Wooden

Voices from the Past–Forgotten

Forgotten
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1

Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon

            

Pausanias, our tour guide to the mysteries of ancient Greece, stands upon the Sounion promontory at the edge of the world, so it seems. This tip of land rises high above the Aegean Sea about 43 miles south of Athens.  Upon it rests the slender ivory pillars of the Temple of Poseidon where Lord Byron once etched his name into the base of one of the columns and wrote these memorable words:  

“Place me on Sunium’s marbled steep,
where nothing, save the waves and I,
may hear our mutual murmurs sweep…”

            Pausanias, standing in the shadow of the glorious temple atop the promontory, points to the harbor ahead and then bids us glance at the ancient town of Laurium.  He mentions in a passing breath that this was where the Athenians once exploited silver mines.  It was from these mines that untold scores of unfortunate slaves toiled night and day, scraping out the precious silver to make Athenian coins.  There were as many as 20,000 pitiful slaves, many of them children, who worked in deplorable conditions and died forgotten in these ghastly silver-sprayed shafts of the deep.

For Pausanias, the mines were a mere novelty and he didn’t linger more than a few seconds before leading us on to grander themes.  But I wonder—

            Are you forgotten?  Do you call Laurium home?  Isaiah reminds us of a golden truth:  

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Isa. 49:15).  

Don’t let the mines crush you.
God has not forgotten you.

“We sometimes think we want to disappear,
but all we really want is to be found.”
Anonymous

Voices from the Past–Weariness

Weariness
Xenophon, Anabasis 5:8
440px-Pontic_Mountains.jpg


Dr. David R. Denny 
           

A fierce, wintery wind whipped the beaten soldiers as they trudged through the Pontic Mountains toward the Black Sea.  Artaxerxes had chased them for weeks, and the Greek army was exhausted.  One by one, they fell, frostbitten, and defeated by winter’s merciless breath…


Paul said it best:  “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ…And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not (Gal. 6:2/9).


 Put the shovel down!
Don’t let weariness win.


 “I know not age, nor weariness nor defeat.”
Rose Kennedy

 

Turning Corners

Turning Corners by David R. Denny

Walk long enough on a straight path, and you will, of course, fall off the earth.  That’s why we have corners.  They entice us gently to change our course, to explore something yet unseen, to visit some vista just beyond sight.

One morning on a stroll through Onancock, I spotted a corner just up the way.  Corners1Everything curved around a light post and roamed off somewhere beyond my sight.  I paused to consider several options:  I could turn back and step on the familiar cracks of a sidewalk already visited or say a prayer and venture forward.  I opted to embrace the curve like Marco Polo, who always cut his anchors and sailed boldly ahead.

 Corners can be a little frightening at times.  They chide those who don’t like to change, mocking with polite chuckles all timid souls who simply refuse to step out of their ruts.

I swallowed hard, hailed Marco, and opted for a new adventure.  My reward was almost instantaneous.  I had barely entered the windblown curve when the sweet savor of honeybuns and chocolate eclairs wafted through a screen door.Corners2

I was never so glad for turning a corner in my life.  What about you?

The Debutante

The Debutante by David R. Denny

In all honesty, her features were less than pristine; some would even say, rather dull.  Perhaps it was the prominent forehead that seemed almost to resemble the bow of a great ocean vessel or maybe it was the sheer bulk of the girl—her squared shoulders, lack of a waistline, rounded feet that made any shoe seem ill-fitted, etc. She certainly did not seem like debutante ball material.

The whisperings around town plagued her whenever she ventured out on some innocent errand. She preferred the sideroads and back paths when possible but all too many times there were none and she was forced to face her public.  These were the moments that tried her soul.  Her heavy heart wondered how she could ever mingle with bankers’ daughters or other elites on the night of the festivities.

It was with glee that she stood one fine morning in front of Sherry’s Clothing store starring in the window. The dress was perfect, gleaming in rare, Ox-blood red, known as rare chic on the streets of Paris but unheard of in this small town.  Standing alone before the slim mannequin, lost in a storybook fantasy, she wondered what people would say.   She knew it broke all the rules of debutante white, but still, hers had not been a preferred path in life and now was not a time to make changes….

The evening unfolded with feathers and veils.  The chosen ones, girls with pedigrees, strolled under lights into the ballroom, their headdresses glowing with stardust. Accompanied by black vested dates, the ladies smiled and curtsied in the custom of grand traditions.

And then a hush fell as a single beam alighted upon the door frame beneath which stood our heroine, swaddled in scarlet, smiling beneath the blessings of heaven’s panoply.
David R. Denny

Debutante.jpg