The Shield Wall

The darkness recedes on waves of agony, and reality slams back into focus. Searing pain rips through your midsection, and your hands involuntarily close on the broken spear shaft sunk deep into your belly. The body of an enemy lies nearby, his hand clutching the other part of the shaft, your own sundered blade through his neck. A fire burns in your abdomen. Breath comes in short gasps.

Glancing left and right, you see that no one lives on this hill. Bodies of friends and foe lay strewn about. For a while, the line had held, but the attacks had been relentless. Hours ago the line had splintered into smaller groups, each making its last, desperate stand. A few minutes before a hard blow turned your shield to kindling. That had been the beginning of the end. With your shield gone, it was only a matter of time.

Another wave of pain forces a grimace; this was not the end you’d imagined. The shrieking of the enemy horde reaches your ears – they are massing for another attack, and this time there’s no one left to stop them. Such a waste. So many dead, and the enemy just rolls on, relentless. The shrieking is getting louder, but already the world is growing dim. The pain is getting further away; you’re getting colder. Try as you might, you can’t move your hands from the weapon that has killed you, not even to die with your sword in your hand. My god, nothing ever hurt like this!

Screaming hate hits you like a physical force as the next wave of enemies closes. The first of them run right past. Then a pair notice you still draw breath, and they pause to savor their kill. Determined to give them no satisfaction, you stare as defiantly as you can directly into their eyes, and they raise their cruelly barbed spears for the killing blow. The blows descend –

and a shield slams down into place, both spears deflecting wide and leaving the enemy open to your savior’s counterthrusts. In the second it takes you to register that you still live, they fall, dead.

Down on the ground you can’t get a good look at this soldier, but he seems as fresh as when the battle began. Others of the enemy horde have realized his presence, and you catch a glimpse of a strong jaw line, of a terrible fire in the eyes. Shield and sword ready, he stands over you as if made of stone. A sea of enemies converges on your spot, far too many for this one man to stand against.

Yet stand he does! And more than that, the enemy is falling like wheat at the harvest. Every blow is dispatching more of the foe to eternity, but he has to tire at some point. Doesn’t he? Now the screams of the enemy shift to a cry of recognition; they know this champion, and they come at him in a snarling rage.

For a moment it seemed as if you might live, but your vision is dimming again, and you’re shivering with cold even though the sun blazes overhead. You’ve been around long enough to know a mortal wound when you see it. Whispering thanks to this fellow soldier for his efforts, you close your eyes.

-This-

booms a voice above you. You have never heard a more beautiful sound, an entire song sung in a single word.

-one-

The champion is speaking! Each word trembles with barely restrained power. Opening your eyes again, the world has come back into sharper focus.

-is-

Growing slightly warmer as the words flow over you, you watch as his sword flashes and another enemy spins away. The very air around you bristles with electricity, a storm about to break.

-MINE!-

The word itself bursts forth as a mighty shout, cutting through the enemy like a scythe. The ground beneath you shakes, and one last thought drifts across your mind as you finally lose consciousness:

Who is this man?

Awakening this time is peaceful; the pain remains, but something is different. The world around you is silent – the battle must be over! But how can it be? Looking up, you see your deliverer looking down on you, face covered in grime and sweat. He smiles and leans forward, and it strikes you that this might be the most genuine, honest face you’ve ever laid eyes on. Overcome with gratitude, you move to speak. With a gesture he silences you.

“Listen, friend. The wound need not be mortal, but we have to remove that spearhead.” He continues, answering the fear in your eyes and the slight shaking of your head. A voice inside screams at you: the spearhead is all that’s keeping you alive! It’s plugging a huge hole, if it’s removed…! Your shaking hands grip the spear even tighter.

“There is little time left. You have to trust me. Let me help you… let go of the spear. It’s killing you.” His hand on your shoulder is strong and comforting at the same time, but the voice inside cries out again. There’s no hope! If that spear comes out, what little life remains to you is gone!

Looking into his eyes, you try to move your hands off the rough hewn wood, but the muscles have been tight now for too long. It will take more strength than you have. In a voice barely more than a gasp, you ask him to help. “I-I can’t-I can’t do it. Can you help me let it go?”

“You had but to ask. I won’t lie to you; this is going to hurt.” In a single motion he effortlessly moves aside your hands, and pushes the spear the rest of the way through the wound. A ragged cry rips from your lips. Before, you were in pain, but this! You didn’t know there was agony like this in all the world –

And then it’s gone, so quickly you wonder if you imagined it. Looking down, expecting to see the ruin of your stomach, you stare for a moment in shock.

Not only is there no blood, there’s no wound. Your armor is whole again, and shining like new from the smith. In amazement, you look up again, eyes wide. And then you recognize your deliverer, your champion… your Savior.

“My Lord!” As fast as you had started to sit up, you throw yourself face down on the ground before him. How did you not see it before? Shaking –this time with reverence and awe – your breath is once again coming in short bursts.

“Rise, faithful servant.” He reaches down and helps you up to stand before Him, a wry smile on His face. “I think you’ve spent enough time on the ground for one day,” he continues. Was that the faintest hint of laughter in His voice? You can only match His gaze for the briefest moment, and then you lower your eyes in respect. He speaks again, and His voice is a melody that moves your soul to tears.

“You have stood for me this day, and I will remember it. One day all struggles will cease, forever… but until that time, go forth in my Name. And hold fast to this promise: no one who stands in my Name will ever stand alone.”

A moment passes. Daring to look up again, you realize everything has changed! Where your Lord stood, a bubbling stream now flows up from the ground. Its banks run thick with green grass, lush and inviting. Kneeling to drink, you hadn’t realized until this moment how terribly thirsty you were. The water is pure and sweet. Having drunk your fill, you stand up and see the gifts He has left for you: leaning against a nearby tree rest your sword and your shield, restored to gleaming perfection once more. Taking them up, you set your foot on the path before you, in search of your sword brothers.

Ephesians 6:10-20 tells us to take up the full armor of God, that we may stand against the Evil One.

We are never instructed to remove it.

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the call

A generation cries out for a sign; a nation weeps for what has been lost, and what cannot now be found in all the land.

Hear then, O Sons of Dust! Hear and remember! Listen, now to the voice of the True Bard, the Goodly-Wise and Father of Bards, the High King of Heaven. For He is generous; His Swift Sure Hand is ever merciful, His Healing Hand ever gracious. Let the weary gather in the shelter of His Presence and find rest!

You seek a sign, and see the silence of Heaven as proof that no sign will be given. Indeed, many believe that there is none to give the sign.

And yet I tell you this day, the sign has already been given!
Who are we, to tread upon streets of gold and yearn for pebbles?
Who are we, dressed in the finest garments of kings, to steal rags from the back of a beggar?
Who are we, to seek the living among the dead?
Why seek you the wisdom of Heaven among the foolishness of men?

For I tell you again, the sign you seek has already been given:

I give you the Arrow from the Quiver of Heaven, whose flight shows all men the True Path.
Surely an arrow, once flown, cannot be recalled!

I give you the Word already spoken, Truth that walked among us in the form of a man.
Surely a word, once spoken, cannot be unsaid!

I give you the Water of Life, poured out as the Offering to quench the endless thirst of those come from dust, and to the dust return.
Surely water, once drunk, cannot return to the jar!

Behold, the One who laid the foundations of the Earth knew from before the beginning that the sign was required. It is the glory of kings to seek out a matter, and this matter has been sought by the High King, Himself.

But the folly of men is ever such:
That those with two eyes to see would remain blind,
That those with two ears to hear would remain deaf,
That those with two lips to speak would remain dumb.

Rise up, Men of Truth! Oppose the false men in your midst, and take your stand upon the Rock of your Salvation. For I tell you that a worthy Lord requires your service now, that this world would not fall to darkness. His heel has been bruised by the Great Adversary; but the Ancient One of Evil has been crushed by the Hero-Feat of Righteousness. This, then, is the day foretold, as the ground itself trembles with the trumpet’s call; great armies clash.

Every man must take his place in the shield wall, serving the True Lord, or the False One. A choice must be made, and the battle joined. For the sign given is a call to fight, and the Great Mystery is this:

Life comes only to those who willingly lay down their lives in death. For flesh is born of flesh, and blood is born of blood; but spirit is born of Spirit, and Spirit ever more remains. A life given in this place is but a small thing, given for the Life to come.

Here end the words of the True Bard. Let him hear it who will.

-Charles Baldon, 2009 (inspired by the writing of Stephen Lawhead)

pain

In storms of words and faces rage ignites
Flaring into false life: heat, flame, fury –
Shredding blood and bone and deeper still
A beast given solitary thought: kill.

Before this shade I stand in strength unknown
The locus of your hate, your anger’s core
Unarmed, unshielded, with arms held open wide
I’ll fight on faith alone right by your side.

For at the end, there’s only one defense
One single truth that stands against the night;
I love you as I’m loved by Another
And He alone can set the wrongs things right.

-Charles Baldon, January 2013

Some of the most important battles we fight in this world are not the conflicts that we often glamorize in our stories and films, but the inward struggles of the wounded heart (soul).  In the face of reckless anger, love – true love – shows its quality.  Not simply as emotion, but as choice: the decision to approach in kindness and gentleness, instead of withdraw into a shriveled husk of bitterness.

This is what Truth has done for us: this is what Truth compels us to emulate.

true and righteous altogether

On March 4, 1865, President Lincoln gave his 2nd Inaugural Address.  The War Between the States had devoured 600,000 lives and scarred millions more; Lee would surrender to Grant at Appomattox in a little more than a month.  Less than a week after that, Lincoln was assassinated, one last life to sate the beast of strife.  This was one of his final speeches.

I consider it one of his most eloquent.  As you read, consider the words and actions of our modern, more recent Executives.  May we know again men of this stature!

Fellow-Countrymen:

At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

So spoke one of the greatest men our nation ever produced.  Hear, O America: hear, and remember.

resolved

Resolved, to know Truth, to pursue Beauty in its form of forms, to seek out Understanding and know its ways under the sun.

Resolved, to know Wisdom intimately, and not simply as the antithesis of my folly.

Resolved, to become a disciple of Truth: His close companion, His heart friend, His sword brother on the treacherous path.