Springtime, the Sea, and the Good Life

I am learning to read the winds and sky: to check the temperature, wind speed, and cloud cover to see whether it is warm and still enough to walk the cliffs, or whether I should stick to the sheltered woods. I know now that any wind above 15ish mph is too chilly for studying in a grassy meadow if the temperature is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit; that rain here is light and usually doesn’t last more than a few minutes; that the sea turns shades of royal blue, marine green, and blue-gray depending on the tides and rain patterns.

Spring comes earlier in Scotland, thank God. The white snowdrops are fading now, giving way to daffodils of bright yellow or cream; green buds pop up on the prickly beach roses and hedges; flocks of honking geese make Vs in the sky. You can smell thawing earth now (one of my favorite smells). It is warm enough for adventures again: stargazing on the pier under a golden crescent moon surrounded by haze; study sessions on grassy clifftops thick with gorse; wanders through a green park beside a huge brick mansion with boarded-up windows and KEEP OUT signs.

These past few weeks have been like treading water amidst huge waves; I have managed to keep track of everything, I think, but spring break came just in time. Classes have continued to be fascinating, so good that I can only drink in the richness: the Incarnation and Passion of Christ, our suffering and triumphant Messiah; Resurrection, transhumanism, and artificial intelligence; ecclesiology (theology of the Church), religious syncretism, and graphic novels/comics as a medium of theological insight; Henry Ossawa Tanner’s mesmerizing painting of the Annunciation; love and theatricality in Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale”; oaths and love and power in Wagner’s Ring Cycle. I am reading George MacDonald, James Hogg, C.S. Lewis, and others for various papers and presentations. I am inundated and enthralled, joyful and very tired.

The Transept artists’ group, which is connected with ITIA (my program, the Institute of Theology, Imagination and the Arts) is also hosting an online exhibition that just started on Friday. Putting it together has required much more emailing, scheduling, Google Drive manipulation, spreadsheets, and checklists than I realized, but we are starting to see the fruits of our labor. We chose “In/break” for the theme (thinking of God breaking into human history and the world breaking out of the COVID pandemic, among other things) and artists have taken it in such fascinating directions. Barbara Davey’s set of five poems, “Interruptions and Intrusions,” has some sections that haunted me:

Barbara Davey, “Interruptions and Intrusions,” part 3

There are some real treasures coming over the next two weeks: a meditation on walking the Fife Pilgrim Trail, dramatic sketches of each of the four Gospels, a modern retelling of the birth of Samuel, and many more. The artworks will be posted on the Transpositions blog here.

On Saturday, I celebrated the freedom of spring break by hiking down the Fife Coastal Path to the Cambo Gardens, an estate with a walled garden full of blooming purple and white and green, glasshouses, woodlands full of daffodils and snowdrops, and a very large ginger pig named Lawrence. (Ginger in color, to be clear.) The coastal path is alive with tiny yellow flowers, dark green seaweed, rocks for scrambling, stone steps carved with crisscrosses to give walkers more traction. We broke our mileage record for one day: about 17 miles, give or take. We traded sore joints and tired muscles for glorious views of the royal blue sea, gray-blue mountains, and St. Andrews shining like a jewel in its cove.

How do you live a good life? I’m surprised that that question continues to haunt me over the years; it began just after finishing my undergrad. Sitting in traffic on my commute, counting up savings paycheck by paycheck, scheduling coffee dates, trying to fill up lonely Saturdays, I kept thinking: am I doing this right? How is everyone else choosing to live? How do I live for the kingdom of God in this time, this place, with this soul and these gifts? This adventure-year in Scotland was supposed to solve that question, somewhat. I saved, planned, strategized, dreamed, and prayed, and God gave me a way to incarnate hope into reality. But I still wonder now, as I read poetry and fantasy and plan hikes and picnics through lockdown, how to choose where to spend time, money, and energy in the light of Genesis and the Gospels, Ecclesiastes and Paul’s letters . . . and Revelation.

The wheel of the year turns again toward Easter. I have written before about how this holy feast feels different from Christmas because it has the grief of Good Friday, which is not the full story, but cannot be ignored. Waiting, feasting, lamenting, rejoicing, and hoping all belong in the divine narrative. I want to live well in the shadow of the cross and the sunrise of the empty tomb: in studies, adventures, art, work, and fellowship. In this silver-blue citadel, in the remaining months I have left, I hope I can continue to figure out how.

Candlemas in Lockdown

Winter sea

In St. Andrews, they call this semester “Candlemas” for the feast celebrating Christ’s presentation at the temple. Last semester was Martinmas. The names of Oxford terms are Michaelmas (“Micklemas”), Hilary, and Trinity. I don’t know much about the history of the names, but I love the sense of centuries-old tradition, the familiar turning of years. Being part of it, even in the ephemeral role of an international MLitt student, makes me feel part of a community analogous to the universal Church (on a smaller scale).

Between the strict, stricter, and even stricter lockdowns that have fallen into place since New Year’s, the howling winds, frigid rain, piercing sleet, and treacherous ice that have kept us indoors, and the heating-hour schedule which makes our flat freezing at midday and night, my morale has been low. Each new restriction feels tighter and more imprisoning, such that anything that goes wrong – a broken appliance or an interruption to work – threatens to snap my self-control. Small, comforting, physical things like baking fudge brownies, snickerdoodles, or Swedish almond cake to warm up the kitchen, keeping my space reasonably clean and tidy, wearing sea-scented perfume and makeup each day even if I can’t go out, and decorating my room with beautiful art prints helps.

This print is my favorite of the ones I purchased. It’s titled “White Day.”

My classes this semester are also marvelous. We’ve studied the paradox of God as Father and Almighty through Job and Genesis; the iconic art of Michael O’Brien; the turbulent and mystical poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. I’ve looked into riddle theory for a short story and Scottish lore for a potential, longer project. The fervent, wild poetry of Joy Davidman (the woman who married C.S. Lewis), a book of folk tales from around the world, and Dorothy Sayers’ hilarious, heart-deep Busman’s Honeymoon have also been cheering companions. Lockdown restrictions can take away so many things, but they can’t take away our studies or our books (yet) and I am thankful.

I turned 26 recently. Theoretically, it’s a transition from the bewildered post-college wandering of early 20s to the greater steadiness and maturity of late 20s. I feel a shift in how I look at the world and myself. I am not the fresh-out-of-college, cripplingly shy, confused girl that I was, though I’m not the confident, wise, gracious woman I want to be. The change is slow, like trickling sand.

After graduating college, I felt like I was living in the extended epilogue of a children’s book like Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Half Magic, or The Penderwicks, when the author gives you a glimpse of how the children grew up: ten years later… It was bittersweet. But in our story, an epilogue would have ended by now. Our extended family grows from grandparents-parents-kids to grandparents-parents-young adults-babies; I continue to seek adventures and career opportunites; I try to figure out the size and shape of the gift God has given me and where it fits in the Kingdom.

Candles (another forbidden item in this fire-safety-conscious country). Not as bright as sunlight or glamorous as moonlight, but cozy and mysterious on a stormy winter night or gray winter afternoon. Candle-mas: a feast of candles, historically significant in the Church, but also a comforting image in this late winter lockdown. 

This is a season for feasts and candles.

Divine Cartography: Dreams and Memories at the Close of 2020

St. Andrews in a radiant purple dusk

After Elizabeth made a joyful prophecy over her, Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.” (Luke 1:46b-48, ESV). I am no Mary, but after this long year and a semester in Scotland, I marvel at God’s goodness to me this year – through a pandemic that shut down the world, through civil and political turmoil, through visa applications and loneliness and quarantine and study. 

Three years ago, I commuted 50 minutes each way to my first job, through New Hampshire farm country. I would use the morning ride to pray and arrive at my last requests just as I turned left at the last stoplight onto a quiet road lined with oak trees on one side and cattails on the other. Once, I saw a beaver emerge from the rushes and ponder the road (don’t try to cross! I begged him); another time, I stopped and waited as two Canada geese and their goslings waddled across in a solemn line. One of my last prayer requests would be about my dreams for grad school: that God would help me find a good program where I could learn more and grow into a better writer. 

His guidance was so gentle. That first job had its challenges – gray cubicles with high walls, humming fluorescent lights, dull work in front of a white computer screen – but established job skills I didn’t know were essential for anyone who produces any kind of content, including copy editing. Other jobs since then opened my mind to the imaginative possibilities in the business world, the energy and creativity of corporate life, which has more potential than I think many people realize. The world of software is a wonderland of human subcreation, as it’s created out of language (like the physical world is!) – and software developers are basically wizards: quirky, brilliant, and witty people who are a delight to work with.

God gave me loneliness – a precious gift that broke me out of the prison of shyness and taught me to seek community and find ways to love people. He gave me boredom, another gift that motivated me to create beauty and adventures where there were none: Spotify playlists for work that made my heart dance, mountain hikes on weekends, books and literary journals and conferences that filled my mind with wisdom and mystery. 

After all that – God the Giver, the Divine Cartographer, led me to the gift I had asked for, a year in grad school, in one of the hardest years anyone can remember. A few weeks ago, I turned in my last paper for the first semester of my Theology and the Arts program at St. Andrews. (I also published a short and wild Christmas story in my program’s blog, Transpositions, called “Flight of the Gift-Giver.”)

These past few months have been a glorious carousel ride, a snorkel through a rainbow reef, a telescope-view of dazzling constellations. Quarantining for two weeks and surviving on egg-and-mayo sandwiches and fruit in September was difficult, and the visa process confirmed my hatred of paperwork and red tape, but I survived – and found that the Gray Havens had all the magic promised to us and more. 

Our professors took us on a straight path through the mythical zoo that is the growing Theology and the Arts field: we studied Dante’s Divine Comedy and Jeremy Begbie’s work on a musical analogy of the Trinity, re-enchantment, the emergent church, kitsch, Greek Orthodox icons, and other works of scholarship and art. Much of our work focused on epistemology (different ways of knowing) contrasting the rational, intellectual epistemology of reason, logic, and argument which makes up a lot of theology with the emotional, affective epistemology of narrative, poetry, visual art, music, film, and other art forms. We looked at the arts as a means of praising vs. understanding God, an area of orthodoxy or transgression, as a fountain of joy and wisdom vs. distraction or idolatry.

I’ve explored some of Scotland. We can’t leave Fife yet, but staying here has motivated me to find hikes and little villages and ruins I may not have found otherwise. I’ve hiked up a windswept hill that once housed a Pictish fort; through the shadows of a golden sunset in pine woods; on the coast where rainwater made rivers across our path; past a solemn stone church and castle among gray-green hills. Scotland can be radiant, ominous and dark, shimmering with puddles, wind-brushed, or crystallized in frost. 

I’ve discovered academic areas I want to explore. A Master’s degree does not get you anywhere near mastery of a subject; even a PhD only gives you a narrow sliver of human knowledge. The best you can do is learn the major names and areas in your field of study so that you can choose where you will delve deeper. With my eclectic range of interests, I still have multiple areas I want to explore, including: 

  • Theology of play – I heard of this in my undergrad, but now know a few more names and specifics: some theorists think that play may be a better means of worship, of knowing God and glorifying Him, then we realize. 
  • Metaphor theory – One of my papers examined how metaphors (such as “poetry is a snowstorm”) can open your mind to multiple layers of meaning, as opposed to the more direct representation of allegories or some types of symbols. However, metaphor theory is a huge field, with links to poetry and philosophy.
  • Paradox – Christ is God and man; the Kingdom of heaven is here already and not yet; good works reveal the state of the heart but do not earn salvation. Christianity is a country of paradoxes, or seemingly contradictory statements, that we need to hold in tension, and the arts are an excellent means of grasping paradoxes.
  • Re-enchantment and sacramentality – The word “re-enchantment” gives me a shiver of delight, but after reading a small portion of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, I feel that the medieval worldview may have its own theological problems – for example, believing that the “white magic” of church sacraments and saints’ relics counteracts the “black magic” of demonic activity. I want to research the medieval worldview and how art can bring a spiritual renewal and healthy re-enchantment.
  • Poetry and faith – I feel myself falling deeper in love with poetry as a way of gesturing towards the ineffable, of expressing the infinite, including the realm of faith. I listened to a discussion by the poet Malcolm Guite in which he quoted George Herbert’s “Agony Poem,” which concludes: “Love is that liquour sweet and most divine, / Which my God feels as bloud; but I, as wine.” Poetry can use metaphor and simile, rhyme and meter, image and description to embody spiritual truths we struggle to articulate in any other way. I want to research this truth-bearing aspect of poetry further.

There are so many worlds to study and create. I want to join the academic conversation in Theology and the Arts, but my creative side also yearns to Make, to spin these insights into stories and poetry that reawaken people to wonder and mystery and delight. Lord willing, I can explore both in what remains of this winter break – as snow settles on the hills across the bay, blue dawns creep back from 8:44 a.m., and ice stills the tidepools below the cliffs.

Thresholds: “Limen Diei” by Jordan Kaiser

Today, I wandered through the dark evergreens and bright moss of Tentsmuir Forest down to the foaming sea. When the cold blue dawn is at 8:40 am and the gray twilight fades at 3:40 pm, you schedule your adventures for earlier in the day and save hot tea, fairy lights, and desk work for the dark evenings. After the bright whirl of exams, Advent is quiet, like the empty ballroom after a dance. We’ve crossed the next threshold, past the first semester and into the first break.

This last contribution to the Thresholds project is by Jordan Kaiser, a lovely fellow student at St. Andrews who is exploring Medieval Studies. Jordan is one of those fascinating people who reawaken you to the magic and mystery of this world: astronomy, artwork, theoretical physics, legends, poetry, medieval medicine, and so much more. Her contribution explores thresholds of night/day, land/sea, sky/earth, and more, and left me with that same resonating joy you get after a symphony or a feast. Enjoy!

Limen Diei

by Jordan Kaiser

Photo credit: Jordan Kaiser

Civil Twilight 

The Sun has fallen just below the rim 
Of the horizon. Gold-splashed buildings glow
As in farewell, while sea and sky grow dim; 

The geometrical center of the sun’s disk has reached six degrees below the horizon. The sky is still fairly well lit, although lights are switching on in the town. Clouds towards the west are edged with gold and brushed with shades of rose and amethyst. The sea is the color of oxidized bronze—verdigris green—and flocks of gulls dot its surface like pearls. Its foamy fringe rolls against the rocky shoreline. November’s daylight hours may be short, but they shine like the last of the golden leaves scattered on the pavement. 

Nautical Twilight 

So Dusk spills ink into the sea below
And in the East a moon of opal turns
The bay to silver. Daylight ebbs. Tides flow 

The geometrical center of the sun is between six and twelve degrees below the horizon. A band of lighter blue lingers in the west. The moon climbs higher along its arc as the sky deepens to a blue that blends with the edge of the sea. Shining through a wisp of cloud, the moon has a ring of green and red refracted light, like the stain left when a drop of water falls on ink and makes it run. The brightest stars and planets reveal themselves now. White, green, and yellow lights gleam across the bay and on it. The seabirds are just shapes, now, though their cries are clear. The season’s tide in the northern hemisphere is washing out—rushing to the lowest point and shortest day of the year.  

Astronomical Twilight 

And Mars above the ruined towers burns
Carnelian red. Now fires and window-lights
Brush gold on Evening’s edges. Night returns. 

The geometrical center of the sun has fallen between twelve and eighteen degrees below the horizon. The sea is almost invisible—lost in a wash of velvety indigo—except where lights mark out its fringes. There’s almost always a bonfire on the beach, a faint echo of the glittering stars. The smoke drifts up from the shore, adding its fragrance to the sharp vinegar tang of washed-up seaweed. Windows are well-lit. Their panes frame figures like icons painted on gold leaf. The cathedral’s towers loom above a quiet cemetery. In town, the bells mark the time.  

Jordan Kaiser

Jordan Kaiser

Jordan is a reader, writer and amateur adventurer who loves Old Things and Curious Things and places that hide secrets. Expert road-tripper. She was homeschooled from first grade through high school. She started writing poetry when she was five and didn’t know what she was doing. She wrote her first story when she was eight and thought she knew what she was doing. She’s kept two different travel blogs (one in high school, one in college). Above all, her faith and her family keep her anchored. True love fights dragons. To read more of her work, visit her website at https://wordsmithkaiser.wordpress.com/.

Thresholds: “Underground Inn” and “Skin to Skin” by Crissy Williams

Sun on a green field
Photo credit: Crissy Williams

It’s finals week in St. Andrews, and my mind is a carnival of concepts: the role of comedy in Christian life, magical idealism, human and divine love in Dante, the Annunciation as an analogy for the creation of art. The Kinnesburn River is chocolate-brown and foamy with the past week’s rain, and the thunder of the North Sea is deeper than ever.

In the midst of study, I snatch moments of quiet in baking, TV, or poetry like this latest contribution to the Thresholds project. Crissy Williams‘s meditation on the thresholds of human/creature, land/sky, and the hospitality of earth were deeply stirring – she captures the hope and peace of Advent with quiet grace. Enjoy!

Underground Inn

by Crissy Williams

Let me come under your roof
of brown, crumbly humus
and reside with your inhabitants,
four-footed, centi-footed,
millennial forward motion
of scrub brush feet.
Can I thread through your tunnels,
stretch and flex my muscles,
see if I can match
the ant for strength,
the moth pupa for patience?
She delights in your dark chambers
and stacks of leaves
for transforming into soft body
and powdered wings.
I need a place to rest,
ancient and deep,
to drink up the pockets of nutrients
you offer freely to all your guests
in the whispering dark of your underground inn.

Skin to Skin

I’m laying here skin to skin,
a newborn baby against your brown chest,
not to give love
but to receive it

from the caverns
of goodwill that
spread beneath me
hiding crystalline gems

from the scurry of tiny feet
and burrows of petite piles
of stashed moss and acorn caps
filled to the brim

with last spring’s nectar
a gift sprung up
from the maze of roots
winding deep under

my smooth skin
laid out against your
ribbons of green
and soft lumps of earth.

Since that morning
when I rose from the dust
formed by hand
made to sing

I have come back.

Crissy Williams

Crissy Williams has always felt things deeply. The gentle changing of the seasons or a sappy Hallmark commercial have had the power to bring her to tears or transport her to another world. This penchant for sensing the stories behind things led her to pursue a degree in English education which she has put to good use for the past 11 years by reading copious picture books to her two children and filling a stack of mismatched  journals. Poetry is a new love she’s developed during this roller coaster year of 2020 as  a way to lower her anxiety and stay grounded. You can find her occasional poems and weekly nature images on Instagram at @crissyannwilliams.

Thresholds: “Peacemaking” by Loren Warnemuende

Last year, on Black Friday, I finally decided I would apply to some grad schools just to see what happened…and then realized I had to email my undergrad professors asking them to write recommendations during the maelstrom of final exams and Christmas preparations. (They were incredibly gracious and did.)

This year, I celebrate Thanksgiving in Scotland after months of a pandemic by having my last class focus on laughter, levity, and comedy and finishing a paper on the portray of good and evil in fantasy. Every year since graduating from college has been like this – every holiday, I look back on last year and marvel at what God has given me. Despite the terrible things that have happened this year, He has been so good.

Loren Warnemuende‘s contribution to the Thresholds project reminds me of the goodness of God and our responsibility to be peacemakers in a turbulent world. Her wise, calm, loving voice inspires and challenges me to look for real peace (not conflict avoidance) in my relationships. Enjoy!

Peacemaking

by Loren Warnemuende

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Photo credit: Loren Warnemuende

A year or so ago I thought I should find out more about Enneagrams since they’re a big deal to a number of friends of mine. I took a little quiz online, agreed with the assessment, and promptly forgot what number it said I was. Recently my sister, who is more up on this phenomenon, told me that I was a 9 and one reason was that I’m a peacemaker. 

Well, I thought, Ill go for that

After all, who doesn’t want to be a peacemaker? It seems particularly meaningful this year when the world is struggling with “How to Navigate a Pandemic” and my country has lurched through a crazy election cycle where it seems half of the country says we’re set, and the other half claims nothing is settled. 

I want bring peace and calm people down. I want to speak words that will make everyone smile and say, “Oh! How silly we’ve been to get so angry with each other. Let’s sit down and have dinner. Light the bonfire and we’ll roast marshmallows instead of throwing our neighbor’s reputation or health into the heat of the flames.” 

In my head, I speak the voice of reason and peace, a clear bell that tolls on a cold morning. 

If only I could live happily alone in my head. Sadly, there are two obstacles to that. 

First of all, there is the reality that I want to be liked by those around me. I play at peacemaking with my more casual friends. I listen to someone, smiling and nodding, even when I completely disagree with them. Worse, the reason I stay silent is my fear of stirring up conflict instead of my true care for the person. I question my own understanding to the point that I don’t challenge something that I see as untrue because I want the person to like me. 

Second, there’s the truth of how I relate to those I love and feel completely secure in their love for me. This shows up with my husband, but primarily with my children. With them my words  are sometimes like the blossoms on the camellia bush behind our house here in East Texas.  Each year it blooms around Thanksgiving—rich, abundant blossoms the bees love.  But the blossoms are bright pink, and they clash with the sere vines and leaves of orange and brown and red. The blooms are right for the bush, but wrong for the surroundings, just as my words truly reflect my state of mind, but don’t do anything to help others change in the way I think they should.  I may be speaking pure truth, but it doesn’t settle the turmoil. It exacerbates it. 

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So much for finding peace within myself. I feel as divided inside as my country is outside of me. I am fractured and discordant, longing to be made whole, to be at peace with myself as well as with others. I am balanced on an edge, looking across a threshold into what could be, what will be someday.  

But then I hear a call from the One who took all my confused messy pieces and replaced them with Himself: “Take my yoke upon you, for I am gentle and humble, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29 & 30 

Tomorrow we celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s the time we roast the turkey with Mom’s chestnut stuffing, savor the cranberry sauce, and inhale sweet potato casserole and Grandma’s pumpkin pie. It’s supposed to be the time when families and friends unite and feast. A time when we give thanks to God for what he has provided. A time of peace. 

It seems a contrary thing to celebrate this year. There has been so much sorrow through sickness and death. There has been more sorrow through isolation and division due to quarantine and conflicting ideologies. Some families are separated this year because of distance, health, or mandates. Just last week my kids and I had a cold and had to get a Covid test because my parents were supposed to fly down for Thanksgiving.  For twenty-four hours we didn’t know if they could still come.  We were relieved when we tested negative, but I’ve still second-guessed all of our plans, wondering if we should have let my parents travel in this season to begin with. Yet our upheaval only related to physical issues. 

 Some families are apart because they can’t see past different views to common ground. They don’t know how to love each other despite the differences. The season is anything but peaceful, and there seems little reason to be thankful. 

I want people to be happy, and thankful, and at peace. I want to respond to everyone around me with gentleness and kindness. But I can’t force that. The power is not in me to change hearts and minds. It never was. I can only rest in the one who shares His yoke with me. I have to learn from Him. The only thing I can do is encourage others to find that restful yoke as well. 

Oddly, that very suggestion can disrupt the peace more than having a different view about how to handle pandemics or politics. Jesus, after all, is highly controversial.  But His is the one truth that I can’t give up, because it is the only truth that actually brings peace. 

Jesus Himself is our peace, and He is the one who can break down the walls of hostility and unite us, but that is because He died for us (Ephesians 2:14).  It is only through His death and resurrection that we can truly have peace with each other.  Christ died for me, for my pride, my fear, my pandering, for my spitefulness and temper.  In place of my offenses He gave me His yoke, and He says He’ll give me rest with it. He teaches me slowly and gently to be more like Him, the only true peacemaker.  

That’s something I can be thankful for. 

Loren Warnemuende

When she was in fourth grade, Loren won a story-writing contest and decided that she’d grow up to be a writer. Since then God has led her into many roles including wife to her Renaissance man, Kraig, and mom and teacher to their three kids. Loren also teaches Worldview and Bible to high schoolers in a homeschool co-op, and adults at church. Through all these roles writing has been a source of hope and a way to share the stories and big ideas that fill her mind and heart. Loren lived most of her life in Michigan, but now calls East Texas home. You can find more of her sporadic writing on her blog Willing, Wanting, Waiting…..

Thresholds: “Behind Old Doors” and “Home” by Hannah Abrahamson

Due dates for papers, presentations, and exams are closing in. Someone (sidhe or brownies, I think) have strung blue fairy lights and even a chandelier over some of the streets in town. Between drinking hot chocolate and researching, I’ve been stealing golden moments outside in the dwindling daylight. Now that many of the leaves are gone, the woods are brighter.

Like Shera Moyer‘s contribution last week, Hannah Abrahamson‘s contribution to the Thresholds project, with its images of green hilltops and faded leaves, stirs up a mix of contentment and longing in me. Enjoy!

Behind Old Doors

by Hannah Abrahamson

A door! What slumbers behind that old door?
My feet skip a beat and so does my heart.
A door! The unknown leaves me wanting more:
A mystery I’ll awake with a start.

Will its joy fill my lungs like crisp fall air?
Will its scent linger like leaves limp and brown?
Will it sweeten my soul and stir up care
Like cider overflowing drips down?

The threshold sparkles like flurries in flight,
And beckons me to step frightfully near.
I push the door open with all my might,
And awaken whatever slumbers here.

The Builder knows the great mystery well;
What old doors will bring only He can tell.

Home

Home: a place I may never reach by road;
A cloud kingdom built by winds roaming free,
Where I may unpack my soul’s crushing load,
For I know the keepers and they know me.

Hello, blue house, you served us well a while.
I watched my children grow within your walls.
I see my children in the garden smile,
I see laughter in every leaf that falls.

Goodbye, blue house, now we travel onward.
Your memory stays with me as I go.
I look back with joy as I look forward,
I climb to windswept heights from valleys low.

O Lord, make this green hilltop house a home,
Although till Heaven calls this earth we roam.

Hannah Abrahamson

Hannah just moved back to her hometown with her husband, son, and daughter. Right now she’s living with her parents, but Hannah and her family look forward to moving into their new house soon, situated on a hilltop surrounded by miles of farmland, prairie grass, and country roads. Hannah spends most of her time homeschooling, but also pursues a long and eclectic list of hobbies including writing, kayaking, reading, crocheting, and playing the ukulele. You can find more of her work on her website, teacherbynature.com. (“Home” originally appeared here.)

Thresholds: “Vapor in Time” by Shera Moyer

I think this autumn will become a film reel of memories for me: gray-green hills surrounded by swirling mist and howling winds, red hawthorn berries and dewy cobwebs in hedges, gold weather vanes on top of church steeples, pastures of grazing brown-and-white cows, warm home lights twinkling against darkened landscapes at dusk. It turns out that going to grad school in Scotland is a great thing to do during a pandemic: a class schedule is more flexible than a work schedule, you get to enjoy fascinating lectures and fellowship with other students, and you can travel the wild even if you can’t tour palaces or go to ceilidhs. God is good.

This next contribution to the Thresholds project also ponders travel, home, and wonder: Shera Moyer‘s description of her life in Tanzania and Indiana makes me yearn to visit both…but also to explore and enjoy the ordinary, familiar wonders of my own place. Shera partnered with Hannah Abrahamson, who gave her the following artifacts (creative stimuli) to work from:

  • The moon rising over leafless trees
  • The smell of pumpkin and cinnamon
  • A soft and warm fall coat

Enjoy!

Vapor in Time

by Shera Moyer

Leaves in the sun

At the end of a sleepy siesta last month I found myself in that dreamy state where I was unsure if I was asleep or just thinking about dreaming as I woke up. For those few moments I relished the feeling of not knowing quite where I was, yet realizing it didn’t matter. I would find out soon enough. A while later, as I sat staring at the swirling steam rising from my tea, I was transported from an Indiana autumn afternoon to memories of October mornings back home in Tanzania.

Mesmerized by the same steam swirls in slanted sun rays, I sipped my morning tea to the background vocals of a rasping red-necked spurfowl. As he scratched around a nearby granite rock kopje, belting out his morning “kwa-lee’s”, a goshawk flew high overhead twittering while performing his routine territorial display. A hint of burnt grass smell hung in the chilly morning air, lingering from fires the night before – fires started to clear fields, but run wild with the wind, setting whole mountainsides aglow at night.

October skies are hazy. Dust, smoke, and ash particles suspend in the atmosphere, and in the evening, when fires are lit again, the skies blaze above as refracted sunlight ignites towering cumulus and bright streaks of feathery cirrus clouds.

With the rains still a month or two away, the weather grows continually warmer. It’s in the midst of this hot and dry that the miombo woodlands burst into leaf. While most vegetation is leafless after months of dry-season, Brachystegia trees release energy stored in their roots to adorn bare branches with new foliage. Initially, only a faint tinge of color starts to show on the brown hillsides, but in a matter of days the trees are covered with gold, red, and fresh green. A walk through miombo woodlands on a late October afternoon conjures up feelings I imagine stained glass artists hope to inspire in grand cathedrals. As I stand there on sandy, rust-coloured soil and can’t ever seem to stop gazing at translucent, tender new leaves absorbing sunlight.

More leaves in the sun

Perhaps trees just like showing off this time of year. Back on the north side of the equator red maple and golden beech leaves contrast with dark green conifers and earthy oaks blending into a rich seasonal colour palette. Walking through a stand of beech trees in yellow leaf gives the impression they’ve been storing up sunlight all year just to share on a cloudy autumn day. When I wander through an autumn wood I don’t know where to let my eyes rest for all the colors. Again, I often find myself just standing, breathing in the crisp air, eyes drawn to jaggedy-edged palmate maple leaves and smooth-lobed sassafras, then up to follow the crunching sound of a bounding deer waving its white tail-flag as it leaps and lands.

Here the colors herald an ending. By November most of the trees look like they’ve been inverted, doing head-stands and waving their scraggly roots skyward. The woods are quiet now, aside from the occasional squealing chipmunk as it darts away. Sweet, musty smells of decomposing vegetation fill the air, and the leaves underfoot make damp swishes. My legs are frozen numb through my jeans, I can’t actually feel my ears, and I can see my own breath. It must be time to add more warm layers.

Back inside, thawing out, I peer into another cup of hot black tea and blow the steam to make it dance. I wonder how I know when I’ve fully arrived somewhere? The process seems more gradual than the thunk of an official stamp in a passport on June 26th, 2019. Perhaps it’s finally having a driver’s license that matches my place of current residence? Indiana, “The crossroads of America”, the state tagline reads. Its regular train whistles, honking Canada geese overhead, and criss-crossed interstate highways easily lead me to nostalgia and thoughts of people far away.

But, my feet have also walked the ground here for over a year now. The paved sidewalks and roads have worn my soles smooth, and off-track meandering has often sent me home with damp socks. Lately, I’ve also begun exploring narrow country roads, the kind that run past old brick churches and mossy cemeteries, or through family farms and along rickety wooden fences covered in thick vines. I choose the turns that beckon or intrigue and eventually I drive back home with no map. Small adventures, sure, but it’s satisfying not to know exactly where I am, but still have my bearings well enough to find my way back to a specific address.

While there are still plenty of things I’d like to do out there in the world – learn new bird calls, climb boulders to watch the sunrise, swim from deserted rocky lake shores, identify new species of flowers, and discover hidden waterfalls in deep ravines – for now I’ll boil a kettle in the kitchen. Then I’ll pick a sprig of fresh mint, drop it into the hot water, and nestle into a large beige armchair with a fluffy blanket. Cradling my mint tea, I’ll breathe deeply of its sharp aroma as I stare out the window to the stubbled field beyond.

Shera Moyer

Canoe on a misty lake

Shera enjoys playing with words, good conversations, and spending time outside getting to know the surrounding world. One day she might start a blog for fun, but until then she has piles of notebooks full of happy scribbles, and for now that’s quite all right.

Thresholds: “Martinmas” by Miriam Novotny

This past week taught me some important lessons: lemon & ginger tea heals any ailment, including those you didn’t know you had; hiking through fog is breathtaking, almost better than hiking under clear skies; the British honor Remembrance Day, a memorial day for World War I and military conflicts since then, with scarlet poppies.

Last year in New England, November painted the woods gold, and we had the first snow around Thanksgiving. I will miss the magical quietness and transformation of snowfalls here, as well as an official celebration of Thanksgiving, but swirling mist, thundering sea, and golden fairy lights are treasures enough.

This week’s Thresholds piece, a short story by Miriam Novotny, reminded me of the joys of cold, snowy, cozy weather. Her story meditates on thresholds of time and space, now and not yet, yearning and fulfillment, and gave me a new respect for November 11 as the feast day of St. Martin of Tours. Enjoy!

Martinmas

by Miriam Novotny

Lanterns in the snow

I put on my gloves and took a last look around the kitchen. The golden light glinted on the tea kettle, and the warm scent of spiced cider hung in the air. I was reluctant to leave, but I didn’t want to disappoint my siblings. They deserved to experience the tradition that had brought me so much joy, so I picked up my lantern and turned the knob. Together, we entered the frosty night.

The bitter chill in the air stung my cheeks and pinched the insides of my nostrils. It was almost too dark to see the leaves that littered the ground, but they crackled under my feet. Suddenly a gust of wind whisked them away, leaving the yard even bleaker than it had been before. My breath rose above me and melted into the stars.

My sister followed my gaze. “The stars look like windows into heaven, don’t they?” she asked. I didn’t answer. I could remember saying the same thing at her age, but the stars had felt nearer then. They were so far away now. I looked at the lantern in my hand, at the dancing light inside it. It was only a jam jar decorated with bits of colored paper, but I had been proud of it when I’d made it years ago. It was beautiful. Not as beautiful as the stars, perhaps, but it echoed their beauty.

Just then, I felt a tugging at my jacket. It was my brother. “What is it, Michael?” I said.

“Why do we take a lantern walk on Martinmas?” he asked me. His little nose was red with cold, and his brown eyes shone. He was the youngest, and this was his first lantern walk. I suddenly realized that he didn’t even know who St. Martin was.

“I’ll tell you,” I said, kneeling down beside him. The other children knew the story by heart, but they gathered around us with eager faces. “Long, long ago,” I began, “in the days of the Roman Empire, there was a young soldier named Martin.”

“A soldier?” asked Michael, becoming excited.

“Yes,” I said. “One day, as he was riding to the city, a great storm arose. The wind howled like a wild animal, and the snow came down in great sheets. He was glad that his military attire included a good, heavy cloak, let me tell you. Well, when he had nearly reached the city, he came upon a beggar sitting by the roadside. The old man had hardly anything on, and his frail body trembled violently. He implored everyone who passed to spare him a cloak or a bit of cloth to wrap himself in, but no one seemed to hear him. At last Martin could stand it no longer. He reigned in his horse and began to dismount.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’ one of his officers demanded.

‘This man is going to freeze to death,’ Martin told him, shouting above the wind.

‘So will we, if we don’t get a move on. If we stop now, we won’t reach town before the closing of the gates.’

‘Go on without me then,’ said Martin, and that is what they did. They kicked their horses and rode away, leaving him standing by the roadside.

Martin looked at the beggar. He wished he had an extra cloak, but all he had with him were the clothes on his back. Well, there was only one thing to do. He drew his sword and cut his cloak. Kneeling down, he wrapped one half around the old man’s body. The beggar looked up at the soldier in surprise. ‘Oh, thank you, sir!’ he said, his eyes filling with tears.

‘Don’t mention it. I only wish I could give you more,’ said Martin, trying not to cry himself. All at once, he remembered the gates. Before the beggar could speak again, he mounted his horse and was gone.

By now it was quite dark, and the road was empty. Martin leaned over the horse’s neck, urging him to go faster. Soon the city walls loomed before him, dimly visible through the curtain of snow. Martin’s heart sank. The gates were closed. They would not be opened again till morning. Dismounting, he made himself as comfortable as he could on the ground, thankful for the half-cloak that remained to him. At last he drifted off to sleep.

And as he slept, Martin had a dream. He dreamed that he saw a group of people coming over the snow, bearing lanterns bright as stars. The lantern-bearers climbed up, up into the sky, till they came to a vast gateway. Unlike the gates of the city, it was open wide, and a blinding light poured forth.

Standing on the threshold was the beggar. He was still wearing the half-cloak, but he seemed different somehow. As the beggar’s eyes met Martin’s, such love and power shone within them that Martin could hardly bear it. Those eyes could only belong to Jesus. Then the Lord raised his arm, and in a loud voice he cried to the lantern-bearers, ‘See! Martin, who has not yet been baptized, has clothed me.’ And Martin remembered the words, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’”

“What happened next?” Michael asked breathlessly.

“Well,” I said, “Martin awoke the next morning and entered the city, but he didn’t forget his dream. He had been studying the Faith since he was ten years old, and now he was baptized as soon as possible. Eventually, he left the Roman army to better focus on serving Christ. He had many other adventures and even became the bishop of Tours. But above all, he longed to enter the shining gates that he had seen in his dream.”

“And did he?” Michael asked.

“Yes, he did. When Martin was an old man, weary from his work for God, Christ came and took him home.”

“I want to enter the shining gates, too,” said Michael.

“So do I,” said my sister.

“We will one day,” I told them.

I rose to my feet, and together we walked into the darkness, our hearts and lanterns like little stars.

Miriam Novotny

Miriam Novotny

Miriam Novotny believes that storytelling is an honor, a part of being made in God’s Image. While she waits for the great Happily Ever After, she spends her time reading books, spinning stories, and drinking cinnamon tea. Read more of her work on her blog, The Glass Hill.

“Thresholds”: All Saints Day, 2020

When I started planning my own contribution to the Thresholds project, I knew from experience to pick a publication date right away. I started looking at holidays and astronomical events. Halloween was the obvious choice, but somehow I didn’t want to do a Halloween story – I have too many memories of neon-orange pumpkins, sugary candy corn, black-clad witches and goblins, grotesque masks at CVS, neon green and bright purple to leave much mystique and grandeur in that holiday. I decided to do All Saints Day instead, a holiday I knew almost nothing about beyond the name.

My most recent short stories have been dystopian, science fiction, and fantasy, so I decided to experiment with another of my favorite genres, mystery. It’s very difficult to cram a full detective story into a short story format – even Agatha Christie’s are a little cramped – so I wasn’t completely successful, but it was fun to try.

My brief, unofficial, scattered research of All Saints Day showed me that this day is just as mysterious and otherworldy as Halloween, or even more so, since it deals with transcendent mysteries. Sources like this one taught me that this feast honors all saints of the Church, the living and dead. Other sources like this one suggest that this Christian holiday is meant to replace the Celtic, pagan festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) on October 31, when Druids lit bonfires to celebrate the end of harvest, beginning of the darkness of winter, and night when the dead could come back to visit the living.

Bonfires and moonlight, restless sea and brooding sky…my imagination began to churn. I liked the idea of a night filled with holy fear; not the dark, hopeless terror of pagans trying to satisfy ruthless, capricious gods, but the sacred fear and reverent wonder of Jesus Christ and His Church.

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Letter II [speaking from a demonic perspective]: “One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate.

Day/night, living/dead, autumn/winter, invisible realities and visible illusions… The theme of this project is thresholds, a physical and metaphorical term for a boundary, liminal space, beginning and ending and in-between. The tale took shape. My partner, Karlee Lillywhite also gave me “artifacts” that sparked new ideas:

  • Gregorian chant
  • Woolen shawl
  • Decomposing apples

In the end, I spun this story between discussing the theology of music and re-enchantment in class, walking in golden woods and on windy clifftops, going on coffee dates and skimming scholarship on fantasy and faith. Enjoy!

Note: I recommend listening to INTROIT: Gaudeamus omnes in Domino as you read this.

All Saints Day, 2020 

…gaudent Angeli,  
et collaudant Filium Dei… 

It was the evening of November 1st. On the beaches, gales whipped the waves into a foaming fury. No one heard the silent keening or saw the dark mass huddled on the eastern shore. 

In a church in town, echoes and shadows danced among the columns. Drafts of chilly air made the candle flames shudder. A girl with wavy hair dyed black and a pale, freckled face exhaled softly. Kat’s breath fogged up her glasses through her face mask. She inhaled white rose perfume, musky cologne, and the smell of old stone walls and wooden pews. The small choir group separated from the congregation by plexiglass screens sang with voices of north wind and night. 

Exsultate justi in Domino… 

Someone touched her arm, making her jump. Her new housemate, Dan, stood in the aisle wearing his gray mask, eyes wide with urgency.  

“What?” she whispered, glaring at him. Other household groups, spaced six feet apart on either side, glanced at her. Dan turned to leave, beckoning her to follow. 

Sighing, Kat followed him outside into the chilly air. 

The streetlights were glaring after the warm golden glow of candlelight. “What’s going on?” Kat asked, pulling her mask off of one ear, then the other. Dan shivered in a thin argyle sweater, coatless, his neat blond hair ruffled by the wind. One shoe was untied. “I thought you had to study tonight.” 

“Do you know where Naira is?”

“Uh, I thought she was staying in tonight, too,” said Kat. “She said she was tired. Did you hear her go out?” 

“Yeah, I heard her take out the trash an hour ago,” Dan said. “But she didn’t come back in. Her curry burned on the stove. Her phone’s on the counter. I found this on the ground outside.” He held up a woolen shawl, crimson and gold.  

“You think something happened to her?” asked Kat. “Did you ask the neighbors?” 

“I asked everyone in the building,” said Dan. “It was awkward, but I just…it felt weird. No one saw her or heard anything. She can’t be visiting anyone — we’re still not allowed past the threshold of other houses.” 

“Ok,” said Kat, pushing her glasses back up her nose. “That does sound weird. Let’s go see if she came back while you came here.” 

They set off towards the house. A strong wind ruffled their hair. They passed closed cafes and the iron gates of one of the colleges.  

“I’m sorry I pulled you away from the service,” said Dan. “The singing was beautiful. It’s All Saints Day, isn’t it?”  

“Mm-hmm.” Kat kept her eyes on the ground. 

“Celebration of the whole Church, right? All the saints?” 

“Yep,” said Kat, nodding without looking at him. 

“That’s cool. Does your family follow the liturgical year?” 

“No.”  

Dan glanced at her, frowning, and then turned back to the uneven cobblestones. They waited for a car to go by, yellow headlights spilling on the pavement, and crossed the street to their housing block, stone with bright red doors. Dan unlocked the door, and they went in. Kat saw Naira’s wool coat hanging from a hook and her black boots on the mat.  

The kitchen light was on. Though the window was open, letting in a chill, the air smelled like burnt curry. “Naira?” Dan called. Naira’s iPhone lay on the counter. 

“She’s not in her room,” said Kat, coming down the stairs a few minutes later. Dan was scrubbing the blackened bottom of the curry pan in the sink.  

“This isn’t like her,” he said. “She doesn’t go out late or leave things on the stove.”  

Kat leaned against the mock-granite counter. “So she went outside to empty the trash,” she said, “and didn’t come back.” She and Dan looked at each other. 

“She’s a black belt in karate,” said Dan. “This is a very safe town.”  

“Let’s look outside again,” said Kat. 

“So she came out here,” said Dan, walking from their door to the trash cans, “and I found her scarf here.” He pointed to a patch of pavement.  

Kat walked up and down the street, studying the ground. “Asphalt and cement, so no footprints, obviously,” she said. 

“You’re Nancy Drew-ing it?” Dan asked, examining the sidewalk in the other direction. “I have five younger sisters,” he said when she looked at him. “I know all the girls’ books. It was self-defense.” 

“Yeah,” said Kat. “I used to read them.” She studied him. “That explains the Prince Charming.” 

“What?”  

“Uh, it explains why you’re so – why you – act so charming,” said Kat. “Asking questions…Naira and I couldn’t figure out if you were flirting or just that nice.”  

“Oh,” said Dan. “Uh, yeah, I’ve gotten that before. My female friends sometimes warn me about being creepy. Sorry.”   

Their phones chimed. Kat flipped open her iPhone; Dan opened his Android. 

“Drat, it’s another COVID update,” said Kat. “Dear students, I regret to inform you that the number of COVID cases in Fife has started rising again … high population of elderly…we are instituting another voluntary lockdown for students starting at 7 pm today.” 

“Please do not visit any pubs, coffee shops, or restaurants this week,” Dan continued.  “Please do not socialize with anyone outside your household, and avoid crowded areas where social distancing is compromised.”  

They looked at each other. “Naira’s so careful about the rules,” said Dan. “Her asthma…” 

“We need to find her,” said Kat. They were silent for a moment. “How do you track someone if they don’t have a phone?” she asked. “Satellite footage? Bloodhounds?” 

“Traffic cameras?” said Dan. “Wait. Bloodhounds. Dogs. She went out at 5:30 – that’s when Mrs. Morison takes Sausage out.” 

“Sausage?” 

“Her dachshund. Let’s ask if she saw something.”  

“Naira? The Indian girl with the pretty hair?” Mrs. Morison asked. She held her scarf protectively in front of her face with her right hand and her red door open with her left. “Yes, I saw her earlier when I took Sausage out.” Her Scottish “r”s and “oo”s were rich like dark chocolate. “She barely stopped to greet me, asked if I’d seen a child run by.” 

“A child?”  

“Aye, a wee lad running by. She said he was alone, going toward the cathedral. I said I hadn’t, so she took off in that direction.” 

All three of them looked left down the street, where the ruined cathedral stretched toward the sky. Through the black iron gates, yellow spotlights lit up parts of the structure: an archway, towers, a few walls, and gravestones on either side. 

They thanked Mrs. Morison. As the door shut behind them, they started walking down toward the cathedral. “She saw a child,” said Kat. “So she followed him to make sure he was okay.”  

They reached the sidewalk in front of the west entrance. The ruins were surrounded by a stone wall that reached chest-height and had an iron grill on top. The black iron gates were locked.  

“Naira!” Kat called. The heavy wind stole most of her volume. “Naira!” Dan called too, but when they paused to listen, they only heard the rush of the wind and the faraway pounding of the waves. 

“Scott and his flatmates are going to check Castle Sands,” said Dan, checking his phone, “Flat 6 is going down South Street, and the philosophy people upstairs are doing Market Street. I think we should look for her here. Maybe she fell and hurt herself? They have a couple of open vaults in there.” He put his hands on the iron grill at the top of the wall, hoisted one leg up, and jumped over.  

“I don’t…” Kat looked around.  

“I’m a volunteer warden, remember?” Dan called. “I have a key, but climbing over is more fun.” 

“Well, we have a good reason,” said Kat.  She climbed the wall and hopped over, too. 

The grass was slick with rain. They went down the stone steps to the western entrance, where the door’s archway and the vaulting remained intact. They crossed the threshold into the nave, of which only the wall on their right remained, lined with high-arched windows. They wandered towards the presbytery at the other end, checking various open vaults Dan knew about, around the stumps of the arcade piers, and then left into the north transept and around the graves and crosses on the lawn. They checked every corner, calling to Naira with no answer. 

“Some of these are unstable,” said Dan, looking around at the gravestones in one corner, dark gray granite with light green lichen. Kat pursed her lips and looked away. 

“You okay?” asked Dan.  

“I’m – it’s fine,” said Kat. “We had some deaths in my church this week.” 

“People close to you?” Dan asked. 

“Yes.” Kat looked towards the presbytery. “Wait – do you see a light over there?”  

On the other side of the site, the ocean-facing side, a light hovered among the gravestones: something small, flickering, and golden, unlike the glaring yellow spotlights.  

“Yeah,” said Dan, quietly. “That’s a lantern.” He gestured for her to walk in that direction. The grass muffled their footsteps. They dodged around several empty, open graves with stone coffins, through the foundations of the chapter house to St. Rule’s tower. When they reached the grassy area in front of the tower, Dan stopped so quickly she bumped into him.  

A man with snow-white hair and beard and a black coat stood at the door to St. Rule’s tower, holding the door open with his left hand, iron keys jangling in his right. Hooded figures were disappearing into the tower. “Thanks, Pearson!” the last said cheerfully.  

“Just an hour, mind!” said the man, closing the door after them. 

“Pearson!” said Dan in a voice of deep shock, walking towards him. “What are you doing? No one’s allowed in the tower! You can’t social distance in there.”  

“Hello, Dan,” said Pearson, showing no surprise as he pocketed his keys. “And who’s this with you?” he asked as Kat approached. She smelled the rich, autumn-wood smell of pipe smoke coming from him. 

“We’re housemates,” said Kat. “Are you a warden?”  

“Aye, of a sort,” said Pearson, nodding. In the eerie light, his face was pale: laugh-lines around the mouth, frown-lines on his forehead, light crow’s-feet around his eyes. “I coom out for holidays like this one. It’s tradition, Dan,” he said to Dan, gently. “They’re the SOMA, you know.” 

“The what?”  

“Society of Mystical Astronomers,” said Pearson. “They read poetry on cloudy nights. Usually in the castle, but that’s booked for a midnight masquerade tonight. Do you like poetry?” he asked Kat. 

“Sometimes,” said Kat, smiling a little. “I like the Irish poets. Seamus Heaney. Yeats.”  

“It’s a good night for it,” said Pearson. “The thresholds are thinner.” He looked up at the cloudy sky. “He reached a middle height, and at the stars, / Which are the brain of heaven, he looked, and sank. / Around the ancient track marched, rank on rank, / The army of unalterable law.”  

“Pearson, we’re looking for our other housemate,” said Dan. “Naira. Have you seen her?”  

“Pretty girl with dark hair?” said Pearson. “She dashed through here a while ago. Said she saw a child running by. Headed towards the sea.”  

“We need to find her,” said Dan. “Thanks.” He touched Kat’s arm, and they walked quickly towards the other gate. 

“He’s not all there,” said Dan softly, when they were out of earshot. “He’s not supposed to have keys, even. I like him, but…” 

“He reminds me of my grandpa,” said Kat dreamily. “He died last month.” 

“Oh,” said Dan. “I’m so sorry.” They were quiet as he fished out his own keys and let them out the iron  gate in the stone wall on the other side. A sea breeze hit them immediately. 

“Do you know what they call the two parts of the Church?” Dan asked suddenly as they turned right on the coastal path, toward the beach.  

“No.”  

“We, the living ones, are called the Church Militant,” said Dan. “The dead are the Church Triumphant.”  

The sea lay before them, dark and rippling. The waves were roaring tonight, receding from high tide. The yellow, white, and green lights of the houses and caravan park twinkled all the way up the coast past East Sands.  

“Do you see something down there?” said Dan suddenly. “By the water?” 

In the faint gleam of streetlights and dim glow of the sky, they could make out a dark patch on the beach.  

“Let’s look,” said Kat. They ran down the rest of the sidewalk over the bridge that spanned the river inlet and down to the sand, slipping and sliding.  

“Naira?” she called. The faint echo of an answer came through the wind. They ran the rest of the way down the beach, huge at low tide. Something fishy and seaweedy hit Kat’s nostrils as the wind shifted towards them, blowing her hair back.  

They reached the dark mass. “Oh,” said Kat, stopping. “It’s a whale.” 

The creature was the size of a car stretched into something long and narrower. It lay on its left side, fins splayed. “Oh, no,” said Dan. “It’s beached.” 

“Hey,” said a tired voice from the sand. Naira sat there, one leg stretched in front of her. A little boy with curly brown hair sat beside her, staring at them. 

“Naira!” Kat knelt beside her. “We’ve been looking for you! What happened?”  

“I saw a kid run by,” said Naira. “This one – his name is James. I followed him down here to make sure he was ok, and I saw the whale – he was sneaking out with his friends and they found it. I fell and hurt my ankle – I can’t put weight on it at all – and I left my phone. I can hear it trying to breathe,” she said shakily. “It’s going to get crushed under its own weight if we can’t get it back in the water.” 

“I’m calling the police,” said Dan, pulling out his phone again. 

“People are coming,” said Kat, taking off her coat and putting it on Naira. Voices echoed from up the beach; groups of iPhone flashlights wobbled toward them. In a few minutes, they were surrounded: people from Duke’s Court, St. George’s, George’s Place, and a few students from South Castle Street. 

“Don’t touch the whale!” Naira called. “It might have bacteria!” 

“Oh, the irony,” said Kat, massaging Naira’s hands to warm them up. 

A half hour later, even more people lined the sidewalk and clustered on the beach. The police cordoned off a perimeter around the whale as marine biologists from the university gathered around in lab coats and rubber gloves. 

“I really hope this doesn’t cause an outbreak,” said Naira, shivering and looking over the crowded beach as a paramedic examined her ankle.  

Someone lit a bonfire against the stone wall that bordered the beach, its red-orange blaze a fiery echo of the lights on the coast. The surf pounded as a team of researchers, police, and other volunteers started pushing the whale back into the sea with grunts and shouts of encouragement, a team of spotters rushing in to replace anyone who got tired.  

People cheered: the whale was only a few feet from the pounding waves. People slipped, slid, groaned, pushed until it was inches deep, a foot deep, pushed up by a wave and pulled back as it receded. Kat’s tiredness wove a dreaminess over the scene, so that individual moments swam by: Naira being carried off to the hospital for an X-ray; James being found, scolded, and carried off by his mother; the whale-pushers wading back through the surf, talking and laughing in ragged, triumphant voices; a small group of people in front of them suddenly beginning to sing. It was the group from the church.  

Gaudeámus omnes in Dómino, 
Diem festum celebrantes
Sub honore Sanctorum omnium: 
De quorum solemnitate gaudent Angeli, 
Et collaudant Filium Dei. 
Exsultate justi in Domino: 
Rectos decet colaudatio. 

As the police herded them back to their houses with warnings of forced isolation and fines, with the few words she heard and recognized – Gaudeamus (rejoice), Domino (God), Exsultate (exult) — echoing in her mind, she pictured the whale swimming back to the deep. Cloud-mountains sailed across the silvery patch of night sky where the moon hung.