The Noblest Path: In Celebration of the 11th Hour

The Tale of an Ancestor:

These medals-do you see these medals?

Look how they gleam in the lantern light, monsieur bartender. Look how fine they are, perfect in form and shape.

Can you read? No? Don’t worry, neither can I. But I have been told by good people what they mean.

Served with honor.

Served with distinction.

They were earned in Africa; they were earned by my sweat and I paid for them in the coins of terror. Yet all I can remember is the sand, the heat, the screams and roars of rifles. I know the smell of both gasoline and death very well.

All I can remember.

Paid for.

Whatever they’re worth, I shall sell them to you, here and now. Just grant me more drink, of beer and wine. No, no fuck that, good monsieur.

Whatever you have that is oldest and strongest.

I

The clock is about to strike 11:00.

And when it does, I wonder, shall I break? Shall I sigh in relief? In any case, I hope that I at least have enough weariness to cry. I hope that in the 27 years of the life I have lived, I hope I have enough perception to detect the felling of the embers. The cooling of the barrels, and the growing of the grass.

II

When I was younger, they seemed old.

When I was their age, I knew not how I felt.

But now I am older, and I see just how young they were. They were children, naive and innocent to the infinite horror before them. And if they were here today, at my doorstep, I would make sure they come in and I would wrap them in blankets and serve them beer along with warm bread. I would do whatever it took to keep them from stepping back out of my door, regardless if they were friend or enemy. I would lay down all of the events that have happened in the hundred years since then-books, newspapers, movies, music, nothing would be spared. Their legacy literally laid out before them.

But I know they must step back out that door.

For that is what the tides command.

They must return to the mud, ash, lice and terror.

There is ultimately nothing I can do.

But if I could show them one last thing before they fully left, I would show them the clock. I would show them the hands, pointed at that now sacred hour. And I would tell them that no matter what comes next, no matter the vastness of the void and the gore, to never stop looking for those hands. Clutch your crosses, don’t stop praying. And never stop looking for those guiding hands. For if ‘7’ be the number of heaven, then 11:00 is the hour of heaven.

III

The clock is about to strike the eleventh hour.

I see now, the cry that must be rallied through the streets. We see so much violence every day, of all stripes and designations, why should the smote of a note of an unfeeling book be the tipping point for our weary senses?

And yet, that is the defeat the true enemies of humanity, indifference and selfishness, want of you. Yes, we must be strong in our day to day and let it be said that I don’t denounce that. But no matter how strong we must be, let there ring a lyric of weakness.

No matter how much of our own wars we face, let us not be immune to the imperceptible. When the hour of peace finally comes, let us all feel it resonate across our open eyes, our open hearts.

Rest in peace, young brothers. Rest in a peace that could not be granted to you here, but certainly upon golden shores. For empathy is the fairest maiden, and she is holding your hand as she walks you down a path that is wholly hers.

For hers is the noblest path.

I pray that is a path we may walk

Rest in peace, young brothers.

I’m looking now at the clock. I see where it’s at, how close the seconds are.

There!-The clock has just struck the eleventh hour.

The war is over. The war is over, at long last, the war is over.

The war is over. The war is over.

The war is over.

It’s over.

I

Aline & The Magic Pear: III

She was trying to think.

She was trying to think about the moment and not what it would soon be like to be free of the hell she had lived in for a year.

She was trying to think about what she would say to try and get the wicked ogre to eat the fruit that would spell his ultimate doom.

But most of all she was focusing on being calm and being natural, trying to harness whatever rage still flowed in her veins into this, her final mission, if she was not careful. And as she walked into the entrance, holding the pear behind her in her hands, she felt the disgusting cool of the wooden cabin welcome her like a vulture’s claws wrapping themselves around a mouse. And of course, there was that ugly ogre, Brute, sitting by his gross living-room table on his chair, looking smugly expectant as rivers of anger flowed through the squelches in his brow.

Aline tilted her head down, looking at him with unflinching intensity, breathing with hard anger.

For a moment, neither said anything.

“Don’t just stand there girl!,” Brute roared, clearly uncomfortable with the vicious stare Aline was destroying him with. “Get over here now!”

But Aline stood as still as as the mountain; only a slight breeze rustled her hair.

Brute blinked in stupid confusion; ‘Did this scrawny human girl just disobey me?’ But that was impossible, he would kill her if she disobeyed him.

He immediately stood up, hoping that his eight-foot height and bulky frame would scare her back to her senses but this too was ineffective. So he began walking towards her, raising his hand to strike her across her stubborn face. But before he could, she raised her right hand in front of her, holding the red pear in front of her.

“Un moment, monsieur,” she said aloud and Brute did stop for a brief moment to eye the oddity in her hand, only to smack it out of her grasp. The moment was fast but she saw the pear fly across the air and hit the nearby wall.

No!, she thought to herself as she focused her gaze back on Brute who had now wrapped his ugly claws on her shoulders and was shaking her with great, angry strength. Aline heard inconsolable and unintelligible anger in his voice as she saw her hair whipping all around her. She was being shaken so hard and with such force that she thought that if she didn’t keep her neck straight she thought it might break, before he forcefully threw her hard on the ground, causing her to hit her forehead against the floor.

“Ugh!,” Aline coughed in pain as she began massaging her forehead, all the while Brute roared so hard, the dust in the air was pushed all around him. Aline didn’t pay attention to him for she knew that he was just blabbering on about how she could never disobey him like that without punishment. And yet, in that moment, the only thing she found herself doing was being angry; not at the ogre but instead at Aurore, of all people. How is it that her mother, the most beautiful and gentle woman Aline had ever met had not just let herself become shattered but had also left her daughter in the dregs of a hideous, unstoppable, offensive beast like this monster?

Aurore.

Why?

How could you do this? How could you do this to yourself and to your daughter?

“Hate,” Aline whispered to herself, spitting a tiny bit of blood onto the floor in front of her while trying to get up. “I hate you, Aurore.”

Pardon?,” came the deep voice of Brute, confusion swathing through his anger. Aline looked back up at him.

“How did my mother shatter? How is it that I am here, and have only memories of living with my mother and then suddenly being here?

“I have no idea why I’m here right now.”

There was a moment’s pause from Brute before he made a quiet chuckle which of course quickly turned into a belly grabbing, full forced laughter.

“Who the hell are you?,” she demanded.

“Stupid girl, it looks like I shook you into idiocy,” he said, while looking down at her coyly. “But as I told you once before, your mother lost a bet with the king of the goblins.”

“What bet?”

“The bet that she could not fall in love with him or else she would turn into diamonds. But Matthieu, the king of the goblins is shrewd and cunning; he courted her the way all men who want a woman only for the sake of a game court them.

“Do you know how men court women only for the sake of a game?”

Aline shook her head and Brute smiled smugly.

“Some find those with little self-confidence and force themselves into their lives by way of sweet blessings. Others find those who have a little more confidence and let them think they are in charge of the relationship and the situation, even when they are clearly not. But your mother, well, she was not either of those types of women. She is the strong and mystical type, the type of woman that is the hardest and most satisfying to conquer. To conquer strong women like Aurore is hard.

“But Matthieu is patient. And so, by using his charms, his magics, his cleverness and his vernacular she could not help but fall in love with him. And when she did, in a gasp, she turned into diamond; all according to his plan, his plan to steal her magic.

“But,” said Brute, looking disgruntled and angry, stopping himself. His already angry brow suddenly became more intense.“But the queen of the fairies was watching over your mother. And when Aurore turned into diamond, she shattered her to protect her from falling into his clutches.

“Yet, fortunately, I was lucky enough to have claimed Aurore’s heart. Even now, Matthieu looks all across the kingdom for me.”

Aline listened intently, while memories of Aurore flooded her vision, cold goosebumps creeping across her arms. Looking up at Brute, she asked him plainly, “Why am I in your clutches then?”

And for the first time, Brute looked at her with but the slightest hint of something other than cruelty and malice. It was a look of condescension tinged with a small balance of respect, as if this was something his young prisoner should know herself. And yet, even this was laced with sarcasm and credulence. Still, his answer was honest.

“Because you are closest to her heart,” he replied.

For a moment, he kept looking down at her while Aline, dirty and calloused, covered her mouth with her hand and let out a small tear. Any sympathy Brute may have had had quickly left his senses. But he turned around to where the red pear had landed, went over and picked it up. It was small in his massive claw.

“A red pear?,” he asked the air. “And it is warm with the softness of a slight magic.” Looking over to her, he said, “Once I eat it, you will go back to work immediately.” Aline then looked up to see Brute, without anymore hesitation, throw the fruit into his mouth and swallow it with a loud, juicy crunch.

Then, nothing.

“What a strange flavor,” Brute said. “Hot, with an Earthy flavor. Like a heavier, darker cinnamon flavor.”

Aline watched expectantly from her corner on the floor. Had the magic failed?

Then, Brute went to say something when he suddenly stopped, a horrified expression on his face. He made a few puzzled, painful gasps as tears began to flow from his eyes and smoke began to pour from his mouth in lengthy plumes.

“Aaaah!,” he loudly screamed, clutching his throat and falling onto the floor. Aline stood up, watching in horror as Brute’s entire body soon began smoking and sparking, his dirty clothes quickly catching fire while he rolled in agony and futility.

What have you done to me?!!,” he roared as the fire consuming his body from the inside began to fume from his bubbling skin and start igniting the entire cabin on fire. He was in such pain, he was destroying the floor with his bare hands as he pounded them in painful vain.

In but a moment, Aline was beginning to find herself in an inferno.

But still, she was paying attention.

Brute, who was writhing on his back, quickly turned onto his gut and was trying to crawl out to the back porch door when Aline saw her opportunity finally before her. She ran over to the struggling ogre and while his back pocket was undefended, she pulled the iron key from his pocket, surprisingly cool in her hand.

Without a moment to lose, she ran up the stairs to Brute’s room and let herself in to the poorly maintained room that consisted of a lone mattress in the corner, several piles of trash and next to a little stand, the ornate box that held her mother’s diamond heart.

She had just grabbed the box when she heard the heavy stomps of the ogre coming up the stairs. Knowing that he was in a rage and no longer had any patience for her to be alive, she noticed his long window, the one he had used to watch her work in his orchard with for several months.

“That has to be it,” she told herself. Looking around the room that also had smoke breaking through the cracks in it’s walls, she put the heart’s box on the ground, grabbed Brute’s little nightstand and threw it against the glass of the window, shattering it. She picked the heart’s box again and noticed a clear bottle that messily read ‘alcool‘ next to the nightstand when the door to the room opened and Brute came in, practically nothing more than a flaming, angry skeleton.

“Give me back your mother’s heart!,” he roared with fury, running over to where Aline stood. With few options left, Aline picked up the bottle, pulled out the cork that sealed it and threw it against the monster that had enslaved her for a year of her life. At the same time, she picked up the massive pillow Brute slept with, a hard and disgusting thing. And with the ornate box still underneath her arm, she leapt out the window with the pillow underneath her while the explosion that once was Brute followed behind her like a shadow.

Of fire.

Aline could feel the heat of the flames against her feet, and she felt the breeze of flying for but a moment before the hard slam of the ground against the pillow and her body.

“Ooph!,” she shouted as she landed, rolling on the ground and trying to absorb as much of the blow as she could. She looked up to see that the cabin was completely on fire, and some of the nearby pear trees were also beginning to catch fire as well. Quickly getting up and holding the key and box as tightly as she could to herself, she proceeded to run as long and as hard as she could, out of the orchard and into the forest.

How long she ran, she could not say. Barefoot and with but her working dress, she felt the stabs of the forest floor and the slashes of the tree branches against her face and shoulders. Pollen, thick and annoying, infiltrated her nostrils, making her sneeze.

But she was free.

“Wooh!,” she began to scream in joy, ignoring the pain she felt. She was smiling and felt more joy than she had in a long time. The dirt on the forest floor had a clean feel to it against her feet, the branches provided great swaths of cool shade and the air was thick with the smell of blooming flowers. She laughed loudly, over and over again.

The monster was gone and she felt no pity for him.

Eventually, as darkness began to descend, she eventually found a small, woodland pool. Stopping by it’s banks, she rested the key and small treasure chest on the shores and took a few steps in. The water was brisk but felt good. There, she took a few deep drinks from the clean mountain water and cleaned her feet and arms, washing the sap and dirt away from her face and hair, occasionally letting out a small laugh and smile. Everything just seemed bigger and more open than it ever had before. When she was done cleaning herself off, she began twirling and dancing in the shallows, kicking water and splashing nearby fern plants.

“Yaaaaaay!” she yelled, letting the positive energy flow through her. She was so, so happy.

She was resting.

Which is why she did not immediately notice the boy.

Looking down in the water, she followed the silver swimming of a tiny fish by her feet. As the fish swam into the deeper part, she saw a shape she did not immediately recognize. At first she thought it might have been a small statue deep in the pool. But when she looked closer she saw that some twenty feet away from her was the shape of a young man who looked like he had lost conscious underwater and was drowning.

“Oh mon dieu!,” Aline cried when she finally realized what it was. She looked around the shore and saw no other evidence that the boy had left any belongings on the shore. She bit her lip, panicking.

Seeing no other options but not being much of a swimmer herself, she took a few steps forward and a deep breath before she dove down to where the boy was as best as she could. Here, the water was cold and the depths were making her head pound as she dove as best as she could. Her head was ringing like a bell from the pressure and she herself was running out of air. But she finally grabbed the boy by his shirt and just as she began having to gulp water, they made it to the surface.

She was coughing, sputtering with water.

“Poor, poor heavy boy” Aline grunted as she held him as close as she could. Using all of her strength, she carried the well dressed young man to the shore and over to her belongings, laying him on his back. Exhausted and without energy, she could feel herself passing out. But squeezing her hand into a fist, she slammed it against the young man’s chest as hard as she could.

Once.

Twice.

Thrice before he sat up and began sputtering and coughing great amounts of water from his lungs.

“What, no!,” he shouted while looking around himself, appearing unsure of his surroundings. Wiping a few black hairs from his handsome face, he found himself looking into the wet, exhausted face of Aline, blinking from fatigue.

“You, you saved me,” he whispered politely.

Aline tried to weakly smile before she passed out on the spot, her head falling on a soft, comforting pile of red leaves, that had not been on that shore but a second ago. Not far from her head was the key and the iron chest. And for a moment, inside, the heart beated for but a moment.

Frankish Vision IV: Fantôme

There is a ghost in this house

There is a ghost in this castle

It can be heard when no one opens their mouth

It can be felt when no one speaks at the dinner table

There is a haunting presence

It is felt in the blooming flowers of the printemps

It is felt in the miserable, burning été, without stop

It is felt in the splendour of l’automne

But it is especially felt in l’hiver, when you thought it was gone

It does not want vengeance

I see her sitting on the empty chair

In the kitchen, I see her fretting with her hair

I see her playing with her childern, the memory

Through the fields and streets, I feel the lingering energy

She wants justice, closure

That you will never give her

So I am haunted, in your stead

And so shall I be, to this injustice,

wed

This universe that exists spans the bredth of that which will make you burn

You will be taught to unlearn

I yearn for that which I must learn

And so, to God I go, sword in hand, to Carolingian graves, to make me turn

Amen

Aline & The Magic Pear: II

“What is this, grand tigre?,” Aline asked the great beast, her strong voice laced with twirling rivers of confusion and anger while her hair pranced in the warm wind like many wild horses. She was still staring at the strange, white, magical pear, while the voice of Xavier informed her of it’s purpose. “It is an aspect of power that comes to those who are gifted with the sight of compassion and the hearth of fury, to accomplish a great task.

“Pluck it, than whisper unto it’s skein the mission you seek to complete and gift it with a kiss. Then give the fruit to the being you wish to have eat it and with but a single bite, they will have all of that emotion forced into their being, like the venom of a million vipers suddenly crashing in their veins. They will not only feel the emotion, they will also feel the hammer of the memories that crafted those feelings. All of this will slam into them, and the element associated with the emotion will wrack their body, fully. But be warned, for there is a price to be payed”

Aline’s gaze then immediately centered themselves and dived into the oceans of power that constituted the former prince’s grand eyes. For a moment, mortal and genii, female and male, determined and reserved stared into each other, their souls dueling in the divide between them. In the warm air, Aline searched for unpronounced truth hidden in the labyrinth of Xavier’s formidable, regal stare.

But she could only find cool honesty.

“And what is this price?,” she asked.

“The pear will absorb all of the emotion you put into it, an emotion you will never feel again. An emotion that will be as gone as the wind that now whispers across your palms will be in the next three minutes when you decide with finality the course of your predetermined, fatalistic, rouge destiny. And yet still, in this case, only your rage can defeat the ogre.”

Aline listened to Xavier explain the magic and to her slight surprise, she found she accepted the nature of the spell rather easily, for here she was talking to him to begin with. The magic was evident, but that didn’t mean she didn’t comprehend the possible severity of the action that must be done without any less realization as to it’s possible consequences. “I must sacrifice my rage,” she whispered to herself as she lowered her head and wondered what it would be like in the future to never feel anger again.

Would she be less different?

Would she not be as powerful.

Had it not been her anger that had helped her survive in the ogre’s prison for as long as she had?

Had rage really been her saving grace?

She closed her eyes and contemplated this for a second that was scraping at the lashes of eternity before she regained her focus and returned her attention to the tiger prince. “Not only is the life of me and my mother at stake but so are potentially more innocent lives, lives that do not deserve to end by way of the ogre’s violence. Lives full of their own miracles, tribulations, contributions and softer romances that must be felt by the meridians and leylines of this world. So do not lecture me on prices, prince, for I seek to do that which is gracious. And graciousness should never have a price.

“Or, so Aurore once told me,” Aline whispered. She briefly winced at the pain of thinking about her mother, before she once again gazed into the eyes of the tiger. All tears were gone.

“Than go and pick the white pear,” the tiger whispered sternly before he said with great force “and know that I will return to you in the future.” As he said this, a hard breeze rustled through where they stood and as it reached Xavier, he dissipated into a swirl of red pear blossom petals that became a hurricane that stormed the entire clearing. Across the prairies of this strange domain, the petals chased invisible spectres, shooing them away to the fits from whence they came, retreating from the power that surged through the tall grass of the meadows and threatened to destroy them.

Aline walked with renewed strength and confidence to the low branch where the pear hung calmly, past the reach of where Xavier rested while the red blossoms magically circled around her. She then plucked the white fruit and brought it to her lips, so that her breath graced it softly while she spoke. “I wish to kill the ogre.”

Then she kissed it; immediately, there was a flash of blinding light, and Aline again found herself in the beautiful pear orchard where she worked. At first, it seemed as if nothing had changed; the sun was still out and birds were still singing in the brisk April air. She looked around before she realized that she must have simply had a strange reverie; she had not been transported to the dimension of a tiger prince, not at all.

“Pas possible,” she said to herself.

But as she readjusted herself to her everyday surroundings, she became aware that she was holding something in her chill palms. She then looked at her hands and saw that in her grasp, she was holding a pear that glimmered with the fading mystery of a spell most consequential. Certainly, this was the same pear that Xavier had given her but there was a difference; no longer fresh snow white, the pear was now a deep crimson, like blood coated iron. It even pulsed with slight warmth that felt not unlike an ember’s shade, the warmth Aline knew came from her fine, royal rage.

For a moment she did nothing but stare at this lovely ruby crafted from sweet flesh while the songs of sparrows were replaced by the mellow caws of distant ravens.

Then, terrible, shrill shrieking interrupted the brief moment of contemplation. “Girl! I see you have a fruit in your hands! Come here now and face the consequences of your dim, reckless decision!”

Aline snapped back into reality, having zoned off. But though she had regained her senses, it was almost as if her feet were walking on their own accord as she strolled to Brute’s cabin, time seeming to have slowed, not unlike ice sliding across the grass of a meadow. And then she opened the door and let herself in to the ogre’s foul home.

Frankish Vision III: Clothilda

This moment is her glory

She shines bright in the morning

Giving arms to the radiance around her

Giving alms to the daughters that found her

For seven years, she has worked to destroy

The shadow tower you tried to build over her joy

Every brick a cruelty, every wall, lain with her stress

And yet now she stands before you in golden dress

An address;

The tower has been illumined away

The knowledge and prosperity made the mortar sway

Until all your groomed evil’s weight collapsed

You cannot escape from your new Tolbiacs

Yet, still she comes to you and raises an offering, open hand

And you remember the moment’s stare, in distant land

When the both of you sat across from each other

And pleadingly, she sought truth you would not offer

Please, please be my lover;

It was difficult, to escape the lie of your wing

To unchain herself from your taunts and stings

But she persevered against your relentless sneer

All the courage of the archangels to free from fear

And yet, she understands the power of forgiveness

And for those she shelters, a light through the mists

You kneel to her now, as all will at St. Genevive

Married now to a new, beautiful light and eve

She is the bride of courageous peace

This universe that exists spans the bredth of that which will make you burn

You will be taught to unlearn

I yearn for that which I must learn

And so, to God I go, sword in hand, to Carolingian graves, to make me turn

Amen

Frankish Vision II: Hiver

What constellation, draped softly over form

What distant cries of magi, drifting and worn

‘Neath wolf and bearskin rugs, comfortable and warm

Yet in memorance, tidings forlorn

In Aachen, in moonlight shorne as the palace doth tremble

In Martinopolis, river sigh as chants bore from chalice wrought treble

In the borderlands, frost pretty upon the ancient Goth temple

Yet in preparence, bindings forewarned

Forget the sweeping rain, child has passed

Forget the need for soup, uncle has passed

Forget the beauty, I above have fast

But entwined with thine, I love and laugh

And so, I cannot forget what nigh relapse

For in this sea of beauty, I have completed many laps

And the oaks are my anchors, ice & sharp pine the frame

Hiver has come, soothe is thy name

This universe that exists spans the bredth of that which will make you burn

You will be taught to unlearn

I yearn for that which I must learn

And so, to God I go, sword in hand, to Carolingian graves, to make me turn

Amen

Selections: Jars of Clay

Introduction:

The early 1990s was one of the most productive, wonderful periods for the Christian arts. While Christian music is still produced and is powerful, it is but a mere echo of what was happening twenty-something years ago, when Christian acts were putting out songs that were somehow ending up on the greater pop music stations (Sixpence None The Richer comes immediately to mind). In retrospect, it may even be described as a golden age or renaissance-but this is not a historical analysis. This is a highlight of a specific album, from a specific band, one that may even have truly been at the forefront of this rebirth.

That band was Jars of Clay and this is about their first album.

What it is:

Jars of Clay was a band coming out of Nashville, Tennessee, having met in college in Greenville, Illinois during the early 1990s. For the most part, they have kept the same lineup and have continued to put out albums, the latest being 2013’s Inland. Their first, self-titled album, which came out in 1995, is my favorite album of theirs and also the point of this selection, though I also like Much Afraid and The Eleventh Hour.

How it Relates to the Hearth:

Now, I know that everyone’s hearth is unique unto themselves, but when I think of a soundtrack to go with the formation of your interpretation of the hearth, I can’t think of a better place to begin than here with the first Jars of Clay album. The music presented here, especially on the songs Boy On A String, Flood, and Blind is such a rich, warm, acoustic sound, full of stringed instruments and deep, sober ambiance. And despite what you may have gathered from my opening paragraph, this type of music wasn’t found solely in the Christian music scene; in fact, it was greatly shown off to the world via M-TV’s Unplugged series of performances, such as Alice In Chains, The Cranberries, R.E.M., 10,000 Maniacs, Nirvana, et cetera. The fact that this music blossomed during the post-grunge period is probably not a coincidence either. But what’s weird is this type of music really didn’t carry on too much longer past the mid-nineties, and as far as I can tell, it wasn’t prevalent during the 1980s either. Not even Jars of Clay really continued this style past their early albums, which is why I’m solely talking about this first album (though to their credit, it still shows up here and there). Whatever the reason, it doesn’t change the power of this first album. I want to highlight the song Blind in particular; recall my statement that the hearth is a realm of both darkness and light (point seven, specifically). This is the defining song for that point in the Manifesto, the prime melody for that mood of both light and dark. Nay, in full disclosure, I believe I wrote the Manifesto of the Hearth while listening to that song and the entirety of this album itself.

Another important aspect as to why this is the quintessential hearth sound relates to the apparent beliefs of the band itself. In a later interview with NPR, which I remember hearing on it’s original air date, the band spoke of how they choose subtlety in expressing their Christian beliefs in order to make their music more accessible. I think this directly relates to my belief that the hearth shouldn’t be constricted by the ideals of dogma, that the hearth should be an inviting, neutral place in order to foster personal relationship, faith and the producing of art.

If all of this interests you, then turn off the lights, light some candles, grab some wine and go listen to Jars of Clay.

Fun Fact:

The band takes it’s name from the Bible verse 2 Corinthians 4:7:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

Manifesto of the Hearth

As I write this, I stand before a chasm overlooking a vast, shrouded wilderness. Cool mists swirl around an infinity of choices, and nothing can be predicted betwixt the enveloping shadows. But there is a modicum of reassurance, for somewhere in the distance, beyond the wilderness, is the forge of the reason for the fortitude I now carry close to myself. It is the pulse that drives the engines of my quintessence, for I have painted my name upon the immense constellations that now overlook me with the will to get to that place beyond the wilderness, and the prize it keeps.

Fire, warm and gentle, kept and tended between the walls of shield and homestead. Amidst the encroaching darkness it lies and even as far away as I am from it, I can feel it’s heat, beckoning the ice-bindings of my heart to come undone. It is the hearth, and I must walk the trails of love to reach it. If I return to the paths of hate from whence I came, I will be forever lost to both myself and those who wish to see me again.

So many depend on me.

I have decided, then, to make a map-which is the document you read before you. A central thesis, to guide me through this journey, which is physical, philosophical and historical in nature. It is my goal to explore the rich literature, music, and art that defines the hearth. To that end, I must define the hearth, as I understand it, through my soul et avec mon coeur.

The hearth is divided into seven realms, each of which holds one of the kingdoms of compassion:

  1. Realm of Love: The hearth is at the center of the home, providing shelter and heat. And gathered around the fire is the family, who partake in each other’s company and delight. The children laugh and play with their toys in the firelight, while mother and father watch and smile, occasionally sipping their wine. Eventually, the young ones tire, and they are carried to bed; and in their loft, mother and father stare long into each others’ eyes with feelings of adoration. Which is to say that the hearth is family first; with so much of the world today attacked by the corrupting forces of greed and distraction, I think a call to rebuild the family unit is necessary. For I have seen too many broken families, and the struggle to escape that brokenness is a journey in itself that many undertake but don’t finish. I understand that families are chaotic and divorce is common, but I don’t think it always has to be that way. What constitutes that family-or how your cultural background counts your family members is besides the point. If structural violence is a great storm, then building a strong foundation of familial unity is the best way to weather it.

    If the hearth can bond families, I believe it can create them as well. For myself, I was born in a college town-a once kind example of 60s and 70s optimism now forever stung by a post-90s attitude of grunge and acceptance of scuzz. Sexual assault is unfortunately quite common here, and what romance that does form is often merely transitional in nature. I’m not trying to give dating advice and I don’t want people to live in any sort of continued violent relationship, but I believe that there is such a thing as lasting, true love. For every night I place my hand upon my wall and I believe that whoever is out there for me is doing the same, and every morning when I wake up, I wrap my arms around the invisible space where she might lay someday. So whatever your interpretation of love might be, I believe in it, to drive the cold Winter away and tear down the dungeon walls that separate ourselves from the embrace of empathy. Perhaps the hearth is where such love might be.

  2. Realm of Faith: The hearth does not exist purely in a realm of logic. While building a fire to stay warm against the sharp frost is smart, to understand that the moment of companionship built around it is in itself a miracle is to comprehend the preciousness of it. The sweet laughter of a daughter, a sip of mead with your partner-all of this is a magic in itself. It goes beyond all forms of science, and is an acceptance of the divinity of life. This is a universe of sweetness, and it must be felt with the humility of acceptance, that there is such thing as a divine.

    For myself, I consider myself to be Christian, for I beilieve in God and the miracle of the Lord Jesus. But I don’t necessarily believe in the rigidity of dogma-of any kind, really. I believe that God exists in the home and with the individual, and that that relationship and your personal understanding of it should be fostered before obsessing with the proving of your conviction, or allegiance to any congregation. God exists in the hearth, foremost, and the beauty of life and the divinity of life built around the hearth provides a richness to the multiverse, that we are all a part of. But the hearth itself transcends, and unites all points in the multiverse that you interact with. And so, to reiterate, love, and the hearth, is a realm of faith.

    While I will be exploring aspects of Christian culture, I hope to explore the understanding of the hearth as understood across the world over.

  3. Realm of Art: The power that comes from the hearth illuminates outside of and inside an individual. It inspires creativity and expression, encouraging an exploration of the senses-be it in the form of music, painting, or craftmaking. If it unites individuals in a shared activity, all the merrier, for through unity, art also has the power to heal.

    For myself, I am French-American and am proud of my ancestry on both sides. But through my French blood, I am guided to the medieval, and the medieval shapes me in turn. In particular, I am drawn to the Carolingian empire, and the renaissance guided by the emperor Charlemagne. I understand the violence and evils of the time, but I also understand the beauty and goodness of the period, and am drawn to it like an elk is drawn to a stream running through the grass of a meadow. The poetry of the time, the poetry I will write set in that distant century, I hope to share with all.

    In short, the hearth is evocative in the images we see in it.

  4. Realm Without Titles: The hearth is a realm that exists for all individuals, regardless of economic status and wellfare. It is a nexus point for peasants and nobles alike; a liminal object to shine on our souls and prosperity, whatever it may be. It is a part of the wealth of our condition, bought for our humbleness, paid for in our humility. And so, it is a gift from God to all who wish to seek it.

    That said, the hearth is a chamber of nobility. It should not be decorated in the cheapness of temporal things, but instead drawn and lined with the chandeliers of eternal pleasantness. And fellow human beings should be above the ideals of business, objects or false scenes, for life itself is greater than all these things. I do not presume to tell you how to decorate your hearth, friend, but it should be held sacred at all times.

  5. Realm That Is Ancient: The hearth is a primal energy, a force that is as elemental as Earth or aether. That is not to say it is anti-technology; we cannot unchange the time or place for when we are born, or the benefits that come from the acceptance of knowledge. But the hearth is something that cannot be touched by any digital outlet, any government force, or any such mechanized presence. It is a power of the soul, one we shape as much as a lord can shape the castle he seeks to build. A martial circle.
  6. Realm That Is Carried: The hearth is not a withdrawn, static item. As much as we seek it, we take the light created by it with us into any monstrous lair we may enter. There are dragons and vampires in this world, corrupting presences of excess and unchecked wants. But we should not be afraid of these beasts; the hearth, and the drive for simplicity that surrounds it, means we have a strength greater than any fire they may breathe over us. Kindness, forgiveness and love our are weapons to heal the wounds of this land. Let us not retreat into cloisters or temples held high in mountains to remove ourselves, but let us walk through the violence of poverty and emerge rich in graciousness. Let us do right, to make us treasure the hearth we have betwixt our blood and bone even more.
  7. Realm of Darkness & Light: Yes, a flame is meant to fight against the somberness of dark and night. And yet, at the same time, as we are bathed in the heat, let us take a moment to look upon the land now draped in snow. Regard the beauty of the brilliant moonlight reflecting off the splendid ice. The air is rich in a new beauty. Even in our house, the shadows we see about us add a softness that wasn’t there before. In this way, darkness should be allowed to enter our being, but in a harmonious way. If our chateau were all light in dark, it would keep us from sleeping comfortably. And if it were all dark, we would stumble constantly if we wished to move through it. Such is the gift the hearth brings us, to rest between. I was born in darkness, yet I walk in light; both are with me.

And so, I have said my piece and spoken my peace. In my time, I have visited all of these kingdoms, staying in all of them to varying seasons. I do not remember which I visited first, or second, but in each passing visitation did I have more understanding of the language spoken in their courts, the dialects and accents of amour. And as I walk through the forest, I transcribe the words I have learned in those courts upon the trees I pass to mark my crossing. For should I get lost, I will know from where I came, yet never shall I consciously return from whence I came.

Floating in the air, I hear remnants of ancient chants. At midnight, plumes of raw light pour forth from mossy banks. And the lavender scented breeze that caresses me gently reminds me of a lover running her hands through my fair hair. And so, I am not alone, as I make my way to the valley of rest, and the castle that lies within that holds the source of gentle dreaming. A shelter of hope, to calm my shattered matter.

Amen