Today is called “Stir Up” Sunday because of the prayer at the beginning of the liturgy, which “collects” us together as one body in Christ, hence called the Collect for the Day:
Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, 1928, 225)
And we, the good people of St. Joseph’s Chapel in Berkeley, were stirred up, our wills swirling in a golden bowl, stirred by the Holy Spirit, melding into one single will, to glorify God on this bright Sunday morning.
Our deacon celebrated a deacon’s Mass, since our vicar was away. It was good to see Deacon Longsworth, who attended seminary here at St. Joseph’s and returned today, soon to be ordained to the priesthood. This happens from time to time – former students return to visit, to preach, to pray – and we enjoy the reunions, lovely gifts from God suddenly in our midst.
And so, as my will was being stirred up, I wondered if my creativity was too, if soon I would seek a moment to begin my next novel. Many of its parts are living in my brain, camped out, I guess, waiting. Some bits and pieces have left, probably ready to move on.
After Mass I stepped downstairs into the basement of our student residence next door to work for a few minutes weeding the books stored there for the last forty years. It is a project slowly taking shape. The process of the weeding, pulling dusty volumes from dustier racks, considering the title on the spine, and placing in an appropriate pile, has focused my fragmented mind upon books, libraries, and words.
Someone on the political left stated recently that words were a sign of white supremacy. Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal (November 13/14, 2021, “Democrats Need to Face Down the Woke”) recently quoted George Packer in his Atlantic article, “When the Culture War Comes for the Kids”:
“In New York City’s public schools, which Mr. Packer’s children attended, the battleground was ‘identity.’ Grade-school ‘affinity groups’ were formed ‘to discuss issues based on identity – race, sexuality, disability.’ The city was spending millions in ‘antibias’ training for school employees. One slide was titled ‘White Supremacy Culture’ and included such traits as ‘individualism,’ ‘objectivity’ and ‘worship of the written word.’ “
I’ve read that also under the white supremacy label is discipline, responsibility, and achievement. Other identity groups, the Left claims, do not think in these terms and thus students shouldn’t be held to these standards.
What really struck me was “worship of the written word.” Hence, books, libraries, and as we have heard, history. For how is history transmitted from generation to generation? Through words, written and oral. Will these folk let us keep oral words? According to cancel culture, speech is forbidden as well.
And so as I examined the dusty, faded, spines of these many volumes published over the last fifty+ years, I recalled that such basements full of books might indeed be banned one day. Would libraries be burned down? It was thought a remarkable and fortunate turn of fortune that the great Alexandrian library in North Africa was spared the looting and pillaging of the vandals in the raids of the fifth century. Libraries – of word, print, or mind – exist to share ideas and times, plottings and plannings between people and cultures and ages. Libraries attempt to ensure that we do not make the same mistake as our ancestors did, that we learn from history and not repeat the failures.
Indeed, these very words, my thoughts worked out on a keyboard, appearing on a screen, on a sunny Sunday afternoon after being stirred up in a sacred chapel a block from UC Berkeley, would be banned too.
So another idea for a theme in my novel emerged. Deep within the caves of Angel Mountain is the last, lost library. Far down, below ground, and farther down than that… where hidden wellsprings bubble and moisture seeps and drips through sandstone… are the last books of Man, his lost words, forgotten and abandoned and left in the dark during the terrible terror, the silencing of speech, writings, communications. It is a time when we no longer sing the song of humanity to one another, to the next generation. We no longer tell stories to children about life, death, and love. One character recalls church bells, though, and sings the tones as she goes to sleep. Another recalls poetry. Another recalls a mother’s lullaby. But these are deep interior memories, silenced by the great levelling, the equalizing of humanity into a gray stream of sameness.
At some point in the past, one character recalls, the lights went out, electricity fizzled, plugs were pulled, and the world went dark. Along with modern conveniences that depended upon the power grid, the internet shut down, for batteries needed feeding. It didn’t take long, he remembers, only a few weeks, maybe less. Fuel was banned to save the planet from climate change and cars sat still and silent where they were abandoned, or kept as museum pieces. The last-minute hording was ugly, with many dying in the crush of stampedes. Yet the hording didn’t last forever either, just extended the pain.
Another character recalls that at one time they heard news of other places and events. The news came through screens and phones, generally propelled by those in power in Washington using carefully scripted words. But now, with the silence mandate, which criminalized writing and most other communication as racist and therefore hate speech, and therefore a sign of domestic terrorism, news was broadcast once a month by a town crier, who read a carefully scripted and word-barren paper he unrolled in the village square. Some wondered if he was human, and perhaps he wasn’t, for he sounded like a digital recording from a bygone age. Others listened, but learned little about human affairs in other places.
It was said in hushed voices that at one time art was celebrated – pictures and stories invented by the imagination – but that the mind needed words and images to dream, and the desire to tell or draw or listen slowly disappeared.
But another whispered that Angel Mountain had a secret deep within, far below in the bowels of the earth. It was a secret library. They spoke the word library as if it wereZ precious gold, a gemstone of rare brilliance. What was a library, the young asked. Ah, the elders replied, you wouldn’t believe it if you saw it. What is believe, the young asked. Ah, the elders sighed, something from long ago, something bright and beautiful and full of joy…
And so I pulled books from the metal racks in the basement of St. Joseph’s student residence, Morse House. There were classic paperback novels, yellowing and brown. There were theological tomes from various decades. There were cataloging how-to books, that listed order and numbers and classifications that all librarians abided by. There were large glossy books of places and things with color photographs and few words that delighted the eye and fed dreams of travel. There were hymnals and prayer books and sheet music in binders.
And many others…
And so the libraries of my mind, those collections of images and words and ideas, loves and hates and dreams, were reorganized as I studied the spines and chose the destination of each book. The books and the words of my mind, those phrases and feelings that formed foundations of my life, joined and separated in a kind of dance, or a painting, or a poem.
The stirring up had stirred me up indeed. And I was grateful, even joyful, that I was a part of Our Lord’s faithful people plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, at least trying to bring forth such fruit. The fruit, I knew, lived in our words, in our hearts and minds. The fruit was ripe for the picking.
As I said farewell for the week to the others gathered around a table in the Clergy House in the back, I was grateful for this morning, this last Sunday of the Church Year. I look forward to next Sunday, our New Year’s Day, the First Sunday in Advent. For having been stirred up, I look anew to the season of Advent, the coming of Our Lord as a babe in a cave in the hills outside Bethlehem, surrounded by farm animals, adored by his mother, earthly father, shepherds, angels, and wise men. We shall sing of this with words that resound through the centuries. We shall tell the greatest story of all, the story of Christmas.