Noonday Devil

Why is it that things always dawn on us while we are taking our showers? What is the magical property of combined warm water, steam, mellow light, and fragrant soap which settles us into a more contemplative plane of consciousness?

Yes, yes, I don't know either.

I like to sing in the shower, and when I'm not singing, I like to put a CD on and listen to that. So this evening as I took my ritual cleansing I had Fernando Ortega's CD (very inventive title) "Fernando Ortega" playing in my lovely purple Sony CD-player on the counter. I was anxiously awaiting my most favourite song on that album to come on: "Noonday Devil." I am not sure why it is my most favourite song; I never ask myself such questions. Nevertheless, in the due course of time, on it came, and with a good will I began singing along.

I know there's hope in anger
And tenderness in shame
Sometimes I find you
On the other side of pain

But I had been editing Adamantine just this evening before supper, and as I listened to "Noonday Devil," something clicked. In the course of the story, our intrepid heroine finds herself in just such a situation as Mr Ortega sings of in his song.

In my hour of hopelessness
In my deep despair
The noonday devil whispers in my ear
I know that you are with me
But I can't feel a thing
The noonday devil
Has come around again

I was struck with the similarity. If Mr Ortega had been leaning over my shoulder as I had written up that section, he could not have made a song more like what I had been thinking. The hopelessness, the deep despair, the noonday devil whispering in her ear... Song and story came together in one wet moment in the shower. The song summed the whole passage up beautifully: the despair, the plea, the acknowledgment of human weakness in the face of darkness and the dependence upon the Holy Spirit to charge a human soul with greater fire.

Oh, Lord, make me angry
Oh, Lord, make me cry
Oh, Lord, please don't leave me here
To fall into the devil's lies

Our intrepid heroine did not think of all this at the time. I doubt that either you or I would have, though God's grace is sufficient. But she saw it later, and a truth missed at the time is still a truth. Sometimes we do find him on the other side of pain. Sometimes we must be made angry, sometimes we must be made to cry; sometimes our cold, cold hearts must be broken to know the sufficiency of God's grace and his love. What agonies we must endure sometimes, what close shaves, what long dark nights and blazing empty deserts, what sufferings of Christ we must bear up under to find him, to be like him, to become as he would have us.

But there is a hope in anger, and a tenderness in shame. There is a small but very beautiful poem by John Milton which, after some contemplation, I think takes Mr Ortega's song to the next level.

Is it true, O Christ in Heaven, that the highest suffer most?
That the strongest wander furthest and most hopelessly are lost?
That the mark of rank in nature is capacity for pain?
That the anguish of the singer makes the sweetness of the strain?

The person who comes out on the other side of pain, held up knowingly or unknowingly by the hand of God, is not the same person who was plunged into it at the beginning. Adamant learns this, in herself and in her friends: they are not the same: they have gone further up and further in. Bunyan makes a point of depicting the highway to Heaven as being a narrow one, a rough one, fraught with difficulty. But blessed is the man, the Psalmist says, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. There will be pain and the devil's lies along the way, of that we can be sure. Sometimes the monsters pull us under; but there we may find a sword on the wall (you know your Beowulf?), and the anger to wield it, and the grace with which to receive grace. It's a truth: it even gets into our stories. And sometimes our stories understand this better than we do ourselves. Sometimes the truth slips out at us through our own unwitting words, in a line of poetry, in a water-spangled piece of song. He has given us grace for grace, and inscribed a circle on the surface of the waters between dark and light. Sometimes I find him on the other side of pain. Sometimes I find him when

the noonday devil whispers in my ear

Mayhap I will learn a thing or two, between Adamant and Ortega and a shower.

Oh, Lord, make me angry
Oh, Lord, make me cry
Oh, Lord, break my cold, cold heart
So I can know your love inside
Your love inside

1 ripostes

  1. Epiphanies do seem to come easier in the shower. And they're easier to clean up!