Guest Post-Naught for your comfort? by Jessica Hoff
July 19, 2012 19 Comments
My wondrous friend Jessica Hoff of All Along the Watchtower noticed my mood yesterday in my post entitled Malaise or Terminal Cancer She links to it so I shan’t. Jessica is one those English people that we have known and loved for the last 70 years, like that half-American Prime Minister who told the US Senate, “If my father had been American and my mother English, I might have gotten here on my own.” That was Sir Winston Churchill, of course.
Anyway, Jess made a few comments on the post, she also told me she was working on a longer reply. Like many of us, Jessica is a serious Christian, and is very familiar with the costs of fighting terrorism. Her husband is a British officer currently in Afghanistan. She also knows us well, having lived in St. Louis for a time.
She posted this morning on the subject, and I was very moved, I asked and she graciously consented to allow me to repost it here. I think it is very appropriate to what we are experiencing. Thank You, Jessica, and so:
Naught for your comfort?
My dear friend, Nebraskaenergyobserver posted in sombre mood yesterday, reflecting, as he often does, a wider sense many of us possess that things are not right, that the world is out of joint; it is the natural reaction of many of us to a world which seems to have gone mad, or at least to have lost its moral bearings.
One of my other friends, the excellent crossingthebosphorus offered us what is one of my favourite G.K. Chesterton quotations, to the effect that Christianity has never really been tried – which struck me as being highly relevant to NEO’s malaise. Together they drove me to one of my favourite Chesterton poems, and my favourite lines.
By now, regular readers will know I am an incurable optimist and Romantic, and I’d really have been happier as a pre-Raphaelite camp-follower (my hair is the right shade of red, when it is not dyed). Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse deals with an episode in what must have seemed at the time the doomed attempts by King Alfred of Wessex to deal with the invading Norsemen. No one did historical-Romantic despair like GKC, and I adore the whole poem. It is far too long to quote in full, but the lines which came back to me as the result of reading the two posts were those Our Lady speaks to King Alfred at the lowest moment of his fortunes:
I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher
The lines are repeated in a different context toward the end as Alfred gathers the Saxons for what will prove the last and successful battle
“And this is the word of Mary,
The word of the world’s desire
`No more of comfort shall ye get,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.’
Now it proves the flint against which the iron of resolve is sharpened, and the Saxons rally and they win, even though all had seemed lost. Alfred was not the most charismatic or dramatic of leaders, but he won, and this is why:
And this was the might of Alfred,
At the ending of the way;
That of such smiters, wise or wild,
He was least distant from the child,
Piling the stones all day.
Alfred has faith and he had patience, and he had resilience; he lacked the capacity to despair. In short, he possessed all the Christian virtues. He listened to Our Lady and he understood her advice, and so, at the height of the battle:
The King looked up, and what he saw
Was a great light like death,
For Our Lady stood on the standards rent,
As lonely and as innocent
As when between white walls she went
And the lilies of Nazareth.
And so, through many a sorrow and woe, the steadfast faith of Alfred proved victorious where the charismatic personalities of men with less character failed.
Here there is a lesson for us all – if we will read it.