“OK, so what’s the work of today,” said Lady.
“Recovering from yesterday,” I said, since I had been struck low, assaulted by a thousand demons that had boiled my blood; they did rage through my veins, causing ill humors and vapors to burst from my skin. I did battle all day yesterday with the demons; they were viperous, tenacious, and wily, but with the help of Jesus Christ our Lord, they were defeated, and scattered to the four winds, to wail ceaselessly and await the next victim they might devour.
“Maybe it was something you ate,” said Lady, who though poetic tends not to be mystic, or rather religious. “Anyway, you’re feeling better now, right?”
“There’s no rest for the weary,” I told her, “since the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity seems to be about humility. Oh, and I have to produce not a parable but miracle!”
“Right, since this week’s reading is from Luke 14:1-11. And guess what? The miracle lasts only four verses, which is breathtaking speed, as miracles go, but which gives Jesus plenty of time to do a little finishing school etiquette on weddings.”
“Always treacherous waters, socially speaking. Especially towards the end, when everybody has had too much.”
“Jesus doesn’t even get around to that, but rather the seating arrangements, and you know what you’re supposed to do? Go to the lesser room—no instruction there as how to tell one room from another, though perhaps it’s marked—and wait until your host comes up to you and say, ‘hey, what are you doing there? Get back into the greater room, you idiot, where you belong.’ Otherwise you’ll suffer the shame of having the host say, ‘hey, what are you doing here? Get back to the lesser room, you smarmy upstart!’”
“Dear me, who could imagine the social landmines or perhaps quagmires that must have ensnared the men who trod in Biblical times? But really, did anyone need to be told?”
“Well, it’s sort of a metaphor. The whole message—what the Wal-Mart boys used to call the ‘take-home’—is humility. Consider the chorale, which basically says that we’ll give up the big house and the fancy car—all right, it’s ‘temporal glories’ in the original text—in return for eternal life. So we are required to be meek and humble, and not put ourselves above others.”
“Hmmm, I begin to suspect that this message—laudable as it seems on the face of it—has a very nice secondary benefit for some, namely the church. After all, isn’t that just saying ‘don’t rock the boat, don’t get uppity, and we’ll take care of you one day?’”
“Ah, to be so young, and yet so cynical!”
“Well, you should be around here some poetry nights,” says Lady. “And why is it that the poets with the least talent invariably have the biggest attitude?”
“Well, the Biblical texts are silent on that matter,” I said. “But the lyrics of the cantata couldn’t be clearer! It’s the devil!”
“Well, consider the bass recitative in the cantata BWV 47, which starts out, ‘der Menshe ist Kot, Staub, Asche und Erde, and that’s when you really don’t want to know German.”
“Translation: Man is dung, dust, ashes, and dirt.”
“What!” cried Lady, “though come to think of it, some poets….”
“Everybody, including you and I. That’s why we are all ‘miserable sinners,’ which we used to assent to every Sunday, when we went to church. Not only did we assent to it, we said it! Anyway, that being the case, you can imagine how easy it is to fall into the snares of the devil, who roams the earth as a raging beast, seeking whom he may devour. Better be careful, Lady!”
“Should I cancel my book presentation,” Lady said, “or is that going too far?”
“You should tread with trepidation,” I told her, “since the recitative goes on to say that if Christ endured derision and scorn, why should you, miserable worm, pride yourself to boast.”
“Damn, but I bought the dress….” said Lady, who though a poet is still a woman.
“Harlot of Babylon,” I told her, since reading all this stuff is turning me into a neo-John the Baptist. “Salome had more modesty!”
“But how am I going to sell five thousand copies?”
“Give them as alms to the poor! Traverse these ancient streets of Old San Juan, flogging yourself until the blood does gush from the breaks of thy too weak flesh, and place your book, Heal, gently and reverently next the sleeping bodies you do there encounter, that they might wake and receive the message of one ordained to speak. Do this in HIS name!”
“Yeah?” said Lady. “And will you be joining me in this peregrination? After all, you have a book of your own, don’t you?”
“Yes, but never have I contemplated spitting in the face of God by giving a book presentation!”
“That’s completely unfair,” cried Lady, “and besides, it’s also untrue. You want to do a book presentation, but you’ve got it into your head that no one will show up, and you’ll look like an idiot.”
She’s right of course.
“We’ve strayed from the point,” I told her, since when the content backs you into a corner, the only defense is to plead structure. “The point is that for Bach and his contemporaries, the devil and Satan were very real. Do you know that in Germany, the last witches were burned in 1738?”
“Wonderful, the facts you possess. Would you know as much, one wonders, if you had three businesses to run, a teenage girl to raise, a husband to please, and….oh, did I mention those 5000 books to sell?”
“Thy burden is indeed great,” I told her, “but God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb.”
“Mixed metaphor,” she retorted. “Anyway, I have some casitas to paint. And shouldn’t you be cooking up a miracle?”
And so to work.