The Nightingale’s Song

Parakeets in the Choir

Chapter One
The Nightingale’s Song

The little pine coffin, simple in design, elegant in austerity, gaped with the tiny prisoner held in eternal abeyance within its wooden jaws. She was just a common song sparrow. No noticeable markings. No medallions lapped about her fragile neck. Her fame did not lie in public accomplishments celebrated by the press. There was no mass acclaim. She was not a celebrity.sparow

She was just a common song sparrow who once brightened the neighborhood where she lived. She called to her many friends every morning with encouraging melodies that lifted the spirits of all who rose for the day’s toil ahead. While others cooked daybreak grits and fired up coffeepots, she sang. There was no coercion. She sang with spontaneous delight.

The effect of her lifeless body upon the gathered mourners was immense. The sparrow’s Spartan lifestyle reminded all that the essence of the gospel life is elegant simplicity, austere joy. She summoned spiritual strength from servanthood. She lived for others, not herself. Her life was her song. She sang tirelessly spinning out melodies directed at the homeliest of hearts, at the despondent souls that inhabited the byways and sultry nights of her working class neighborhood.

Now she lay in state, her little limbs stiff and cold, the melodies hushed. The mourners, hundreds of friends from the streets about her home, sat numbly wondering who would sing for them now. Who would coax them from their beds on dreary midweek days when the sun was clouded over? Who? Who would flutter from window box to window box smiling at them as they sipped morning coffee? Who? Already they missed her. Yes. Already they missed her.

sparrow2As the funeral progressed, the minister read his favorite texts promising a bright tomorrow. He reminded the sorrowful of the bliss of heaven and did his best to revive the song. He tried. But everyone knew she would warble no more. The songster was gone. The silence was too heavy for the sermon.

The minister heaved a cold sigh, closed the Bible and sat down on his stiff-backed pulpit chair covered in golden fabric. He sat down and dabbed at his misty eyes. He too wondered who would replace the song. Who?

The whole congregation was entombed in grief. No one moved. The Minister checked his watch and realized it was nearly time to depart. He had failed his people. Inspiration eluded him. Dismissal was all that remained. He dreaded to rise and dismiss. All was not properly settled.

Then, suddenly interrupting his limping reverie was a quiet melody so pure, so sincere, striding buoyantly with hope. It rose from the back of the sanctuary like angel’s breath from the recessed choir loft high and removed. Sweeter than taps, the heaven scented Aria fell over the congregation like mist on a cracked desert.

The effect was immediate. The desert began to bloom. Eyes red with grief brightened. Brows tight with death furrows softened.

The crowd immediately turned to stare up at the mysterious voice in the loft. What they saw was not an angel. They saw no apparitions or ghosts from paradise. No. What they saw was a humble nightingale whose own heart was broken over the loss of her friend in the casket.

She was not on the program. No one had officially recognized her. She did not mean to sing. But as she listened to the Scripture and reflected osparow3n the sparrow’s life, singing seemed her natural contribution. She sang with her eyes closed spilling her heart upon the listeners and offering an inspired carol to God, who always appreciates genuine prayer.

The nightingale’s solo continued for a spellbinding period. The notes cascaded down upon parched attendants until without any warning or notice she stopped. She just stopped, wiped her eyes, blew her little nose with a delicate yellow hanky and then quietly flew off.

The minister, stunned over the unexpected performance, rose with renewed joy. He motioned for all to stand. “Go in peace,” he said, his face beaming. “Go in peace and remember the nightingale’s song,” he told them.

And they did.

“I was like one who comforts mourners” (Job 29:25).

David R. Denny  Ph.D.

Answers to Prayer

Meditations from the Classics

Answers to Prayer
Virgil, Aeneid 6:42-76 (29 B.C.)
Luke 11:1-13

Cumae_Cave_of_the_Sibyl_AvL

Entrance to the Cave of the Sibyl (photo by Alexander Van Loon)

The Sibyl, that woman of prediction and prophecy, lived in a huge cave hollowed out from the flank of Cumae’s hill in southern Italy. The Sibyl was a woman with connections. She could see into the future. The voice of the gods spoke through her.

 The cave where her divine utterances could be heard had a hundred wide approaches:
         “a hundred mouths from which there issue a hundred voices, the Sibyl’s answers.”1

Many people would approach the cave hoping to get guidance or answers to their prayers as Aeneas did seeking guidance for his voyage to Italy.  But the doors were closed.  Answers could not be had unless the Sibyl was particularly moved by the gods.  If a seeker happened to be slow, for example, to pay certain vows or offer sacrifices, the doors would stay closed.

Occasionally, however, the spirits would fall upon the Sibyl.  She would turn wild as she struggled with the god. The deity would often shake her and ride her until she fell exhausted to the cave floor.

Or as Virgil phrases it, the god would torment her until he “mastered her wild heart, breaking her in with a firm hand.”

And then, when the god had broken the wild woman, the answer would come.  The hundred immense doors of the place would fly open of their own accord and her inspired responses would shriek forth from the manifold mouths of the sacred cave.


The prayer process is so different for the believer:

We face no cave with a hundred shut doors.
We don’t plead before a wild-eyed Sibyl.
We don’t toss coins or offer sacrifices on bloodied altars.

No, we just come simply and humbly to the one door of our heavenly Father.  We knock with quiet confidence.  And with kind assurances, He opens the door, greets us with love and answers our prayers.

“And I say to you, ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you” (Luke 11:9).

David R. Denny Ph.D.
1 Translation by C. Day Lewis.  Original Latin text: “quo lati ducunt aditus centum, ostia centum” (www.perseus.tufts.edu).

Apostate

Meditations from the Classics

Apostate
Xenophon, Anabasis (370 B.C.)  Book 1:4
1 John 2:18
Anabasis
The mark of an apostate was flight.  John warned his church against those who would not sustain fellowship with the saints.  Their untimely exodus was proof of their apostasy, he said:

“They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they are not of us” (1 John 2:19).

Those who scorn the communal meal, the Christian kiss, the hand of fellowship, the joy of worship are none other than last day anti-Christs, according to John. They left, said the apostle because they never were one of us.

Xenophon told a similar tale of desertion in his history of the Persian Expedition:

“Cyrus had gathered a large army and was marching to take the Persian throne.  When his troops arrived at Myriandus, a city on the sea near Damascus, he camped for seven days.  During the night two of his captains, Xenias and Pasion, fled.  They got on board a ship, stowed away their most valuable property and sailed off.”

The soldiers wondered what Cyrus would do.  Rumors were spreading. Cyrus called his troops together and told them that he was well aware of the betrayal, but he saw no profit in pursuing them.

“No, let them go, with the knowledge that they have betrayed worse to us than we have to them”

And so in both cases, the camp of Cyrus and John’s church, those with no kindred heart left the family. And so it is today. AWOL captains on midnight schooners to safety are too abundant. John’s advice is succinct and practical. Remain in the fellowship. Be faithful disciples. Apostasy doesn’t pay.

David R. Denny Ph.D.

Girded

Meditations from the Classics

Girded
Plautus, Captives 4:1 (200 B.C.)
Ephesians 6:14

british-roman-costume-men-marb

Roman fashion

 Bible readers often hear the phrase “girding the loins.”  An example of this is found in Ephesians 6:14 where saints are urged to stand firm in faith:

“Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth (περιζωσάμενοι  τὴν  ὀσφὺν  ὑμῶν  ἐν  ἀληθείᾳ), and having put on the breastplate of righteousness.”

The Romans practiced this custom of gathering up the pallium (the Roman cloak they wore).  We see this in one of Plautus’ plays entitled Captives.  Although known for his comedies, in the instance the play has some somber moments.  The father in the story, Hegio, longs to reunite with his son Philipolemus, who has been captured in Elis. He decides he can stand it no longer and so he initiates a swap.  He sends one of his slaves to find Philipolemus hoping the captors will send him home.

Then not long after, an incredible thing happens.  A local slave saw Philipolemus getting off a boat in the harbor.  It must have worked!  The slave who saw this marvels that he is the one blessed with news and decides to rush to Hegio’s house to inform the old man.  It’s at this point that we see the custom.  The slave girds himself and races on his way.

“Now will I wend my way to this old gentleman Hegio, to whom I am carrying blessings as great as he himself prays for from the Gods, and even greater. Now, this is my determination, in the same fashion that the slaves of Comedy3 are wont, so will I throw my cloak around my neck, that from me, the first of all, he may learn this matter.”1

A girded servant usually meant that person was on an urgent mission.  Hegio, for example, when he saw the slave hustling toward him, noticed this:

“Surely he has got his cloak gathered up.  What, I wonder, is he going to do?”

So now we understand the practice a little better.  A girded Christian then is one visibly doing a task, visibly running an errand for the Master.  Are you girded?

David R. Denny  Ph.D.


1. Latin text: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0096%3Aact%3D4%3Ascene%3D1
2.  Roman fashion: http://www.fashion-era.com/ancient_costume/roman-costume-history-toga.htm

Chariot Duo

Meditations from the Classics

Chariot Duo
Homer: Iliad 5:839 (762 B.C.)
Matthew 28:20

141224_CBOX_HomersIliad.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlarge

A chariot in the Iliad.

In a tense scene outside the battle-scarred walls of old Troy, Diomedes (a young Greek commander), was chastised by Athene, the goddess with the flashing eyes.

“Why aren’t you fighting?” she asked the idle soldier wounded from an arrow.

Diomedes replied, “it’s because Ares the War-god is fighting against us and you told me not to fight against the gods.”

“My dearest Diomedes,” cried Athene, “I understand; but with me at your back, you need have no fear, either of Ares or any other god. Quick now and get at him! Drive up, and do not stop to think ‘this is the redoubtable War-god’, but let him have it at short range.”

As she spoke, she reached out, dragged Sthenelus ( a captain in the army) back, and hustled him out of the chariot. “The eager goddess took her place in the car beside the noble Diomedes, and the beech-wood axle groaned aloud at the weight it had to carry, a formidable goddess and a mighty man of arms.”


It’s that last line that gets me. ” … a formidable goddess and a mighty man of arms.” δεινὴν γὰρ ἄγεν θεὸν ἄνδρά τ᾽ ἄριστον.⌉

What a team! A god and a man. An unbeatable combination.

I see this duo often in the Bible:
There’s little David running down the valley toward the giant with nothing but a sling and a stone-oh, and God.
There’s Daniel standing in the furnace, the flames hot and menacing. Oh, and God was with him.
There’s Jonah in the belly of a voracious whale all alone except, well except for God.

God and a man. Now that’s an unbeatable combination. It’s a duo you can count on if you are a disciple. It was the last thing Jesus promised before his ascension:

 “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

So remember.
It’s you and God in the chariot together.
There’s nothing you two can’t handle.

David R. Denny  Ph.D.


⌉The Greek text: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0133%3Abook%3D5%3Acard%3D835
Chariot artwork: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2014/12/homer…

 

Haughty

Meditations from the Classics

Haughty
Horace, Odes–Book 1, Poem 6 (23 BC)haughty

https://12thehardway.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/is-it-haughty-in-here-or-is-it-just-me/

Horace was asked once by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (/əˈɡrɪpə/; 64/62 BC – 12 BC) to write an epic poem in celebration of his military successes and those of Octavian (Augustus, Rome’s first emperor).  Though the world knows now that there was no greater poet than Horace, the humble writer turned down the job.

“…Agrippa, I don’t try to speak of such things,…
I’m too slight for grandeur, since shame and the Muse,
who’s the power of the peaceful lyre, forbids me
to lessen the praise of great Caesar and you,
by my defective artistry.”

Imagine that.  The incomparable Horace claiming incompetence.  He goes on to say that his ability limits him to compositions of silly things.

“I sing of banquets, of girls fierce in battle
with closely-trimmed nails, attacking young men…”

Surely this is a commendable frame of mind.  Every saint could profit by emulating the humility of the talented Horace.  All of us are too quick to sing our accomplishments and position ourselves for promotions.  In truth, the Christian’s goal is genuine spiritual humility, an awareness that our lives are meant to be hidden in Christ.

John the Baptist had it right when he said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Paul would have admired this trait in Horace who lived just a generation before him.  Paul had a similar outlook on life, one with the same mood and timbre as the poet that preceded him:

“Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly.  Do not be wise in your won estimation” (Rom. 12:16).

David R. Denny  Ph.D.
Meditations from the Classics

Translation by: http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/HoraceOdesBkI.htm#anchor_Toc39402018

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memory

Meditations from the Classics

Memory
Julius Caesar
Gallic War, Book VI (50 BC)

druid

Druids often commune with nature.


 

When Caesar conquered the Gauls, he observed the customs of the Druids.  These priests of the people had a habit of memorizing all their sacred traditions.  This could take as long as twenty years!  They never wrote these mysteries down.  They trusted their memories more than ink and paper.  The fear of forgetting drove them to master their minds.


But wait.  The Lord has a better system for remembering:

“Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.  Behold, I have engraved thee upon the palms of my hands” (Isa. 49:16).

Better than mere memory.
Better than ink and paper.

We’re engraved on the palms of the Lord!  With His every activity, every movement, every motion, we pass before His eyes.

When He salutes the angels on a morning march, He sees you on His raised hands.
When He reaches down to feed a faltering sparrow, He sees  you in the creases of His fingers.
When He distributes your daily bread, He sees your face in the hollow of His palms.
When He celebrates a new birth, He claps and thinks of you.

Forgotten?  Never.  As long as God has hands you will be cherished and remembered by Him.

Hallejujah!

David R. Denny  Ph.D.

Artwork:http://www.avalon-rpg.com/guilds/druids