Wednesday, May 30, 2007
And the flames, they followed Joan of Arc
In my morning newspaper I read that on this date in 1431 Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. The saint first came to my attention when, as a Roman Catholic first grader, I read the following description in Book Two of "Miniature Stories of the Saints":
Joan of Arc did not start out to be a soldier. She was just a simple little shepherd girl.
She lived quietly in France with her family. But she loved God very much. And she wanted to see her country free and strong.
At that time, her country was fighting the English. The English were winning everywhere.
Suddenly Joan heard the voices of angels and saints speaking to her. "Go and save your country," they commanded her.
At first she was afraid. But then she knew God wished it. So she wore armor and rode a horse into battle.
The poor French king had not even his crown. The armies were afraid.
But Joan led them to victory. She crowned the king in his own palace. Then she said, "My work is done. Let me go back to my sheep."
But the king would not let her. Instead, her friends let the enemy capture her. And they burned her to death at the stake.
Joan's soul went straight to God. Her work was done. The French had won their country back.
And Joan is the patroness of soldiers who fight for their land. Her feast is: May 30th.
I am oddly moved by this little description of this woman who was so clearly a major player and yet, somehow, still a pawn, in event upon the world's stage. I am moved by this not terribly syrupy description which accords Joan her dignity even as it simplifies what was undoubtedly a complex story. I am moved at the sight of my own childish handwriting, Magdalene Maidenname, in the front of the book... written in third grade, I am guessing, by the cursive and the use of a pen rather than pencil.
I am moved, too, as I read that line, "Joan is the patroness of soldiers who fight for their land," knowing as I do that there are American and Iraqi and Saudi and British and Sudanese and Kurdish and Palestinian and Israeli soldiers who can claim Joan's patronage.
And I am moved as I remember how this story struck me as a child, alongside with the stories of Saint Clare, Saint Dorothy, and Saint Mary Magdalene. I remember wondering, in awe, "Who is this Jesus, that these women are willing to give themselves so utterly to him? That they are willing to enter the monastery, give away all their wealth, leave behind their tender little lambs, and walk into the flames? Who is this Jesus?"
Years later-- just a year or two ago-- I discovered this amazing song, by the outstanding theologian, Leonard Cohen.
Now the flames they followed Joan of Arc
as she came riding through the dark;
no moon to keep her armour bright,
no man to get her through this dark and smoky night.
She said, "I'm tired of the war,
I want the kind of work I had before,
a wedding dress or something white
to wear upon my swollen appetite."
Well, I'm glad to hear you talk this way,
you know I've watched you riding every day
and something in me yearns to win
such a cold and lonesome heroine.
"And who are you?" she sternly spoke
to the one beneath the smoke.
"Why, I'm fire," he replied,
"And I love your solitude, and I love your pride."
"Then fire, make your body cold,
I'm going to give you mine to hold,"
saying this she climbed inside
to be his one, to be his only bride.
And deep into his fiery heart
he took the dust of Joan of Arc,
and high above the wedding guests
he hung the ashes of her wedding dress.
It was deep into his fiery heart
he took the dust of Joan of Arc,
and then she clearly understood
if he was fire, oh then she must be wood.
I saw her wince, I saw her cry,
I saw the glory in her eye.
Myself I long for love and light,
but must it come so cruel, and oh so bright?
Joan of Arc by Janeen Banko