Monday, February 28, 2005

Shake Off The Dust From Your Feet

"They sang as they lifted the children into the ship. They sang old space chanteys and helped the children up the ladder one at a time and into the hands of the sisters. They sang heartily to dispel the fright of the little ones. When the horizon erupted, the singing stopped. They passed the last child into the ship.

The horizon came alive with flashes as the monks mounted the ladder. The horizons became a red glow. A distant cloudbank was born where no cloud had been. The monks on the ladder looked away from the flashes. When the flashes were gone, they looked back.

The visage of Lucifer mushroomed into hideousness above the cloudbank, rising slowly like some titan climbing to its feet after ages of imprisonment in the Earth.

Someone barked an order. The monks began climbing again. Soon they were all inside the ship.

The last monk, upon entering, paused in the lock. He stood in the open hatchway and took off his sandals. "Sic transit mundus," he murmured, looking back at the glow. He slapped the soles of his sandals together, beating the dirt out of them. The glow was engulfing a third of the heavens. He scratched his beard, took one last look at the ocean, then stepped back and closed the hatch.

There came a blur, a glare of light, a high thin whining sound, and the starship thrust itself heavenward." (Walter M. Miller Jr., A Canticle For Leibowitz, Fiat Voluntas Tua, 1959)

We grew up in the shadow of the very real possibility of nuclear warfare. As children we lived with the Red specter of the East haunting the outskirts of our otherwise safe and peaceful childhood. Our parents had just fought a long bloody war against a Nazi Germany and an Imperialistic Japan. We saw the black and white images of that war played across the grainy screens of our new TV's. But the Red menace of atomic warfare had no face we could see and focus on. Perhaps the sight of a silly old man at the UN pounding on the desk with his shoe was the closest personification we had of that threat. So we went through the 1950's and early 1960's. It would be another 30 some years before that Red specter collapsed under the weight of its own inconsistencies.

Of all the nuclear apocalyptic literature of that era, A Canticle for Leibowitz is in my mind the most profound and classic. It was one of the few Sci-Fi books I choose to keep in my library. After thirty some years, I recently read it again. I found it even more profound the second time around, and as an Evangelical Christian, I highly recommend it. Yes, Miller wrote with a Roman Catholic perspective, but the issues and questions he wrestles with in the Canticle are fundamental to all of Christian faith, and mankind as a whole.

In the above quote from the end of the Canticle, there is the allusion to the words of Christ in Matthew 10:14-15. To understand that allusion, you will need to know that the quotation above takes place around the year 3781 A.D., about 1800 years after the world had blown itself up in nuclear warfare, and in that carnage had relapsed back into another long dark age in which knowledge had been keep preserved in the monastery. Out of the ancient ashes of the 20th century, civilization has finally risen again only to once again self-destruct.

Come quickly Lord Jesus,

~ The Billy Goat ~

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