Catherine Madsen
 

Excerpted from In Medias Res by Catherine Madsen

Midsummer  

 

To be held on the night of the summer solstice; in the far north, to be held at midnight. The dance at the end should be complex and well rehearsed (non-dancers can be spectators): less energetic than morris dancing given the hotter weather, but with the same sense that the season cannot be ushered in without the proper performance of the ritual. 

 

 

QUINTESSENCE 

We stand, random and unchosen, in this circle. Not the people who were called, but the people who gathered; not the people who were taught, but the people who sought to know; not the people of faith, but the people who would be faithful. 

  

ALL 

All we were given is broken: the light of religion, the honor of the past, the extent of the future, the health of the world. Neither faith nor reason can rise to this occasion; only compassion, the tender ordering of relations, can take these fragments and make of them some worthy thing. Through that work of mending let memory be honored, let justice be nurtured, let humanity at last become humane.  

 

QUINTESSENCE 

We mark here the sun’s turning of a corner in time; let us bless the elements of making.  

 

EARTH 

Bless the earth, the foundation: keeper of deeds, to which our lives are the compost; loam of the womb and stone of the grave, the barren and the garden, the rock that upholds us and the tremor at its heart; without which we are not.  

 

ALL 

We bless the earth, and give gratitude for matter. 

  

WATER 

Bless the water, the mover: keeper of feeling, which dissolves and returns to us all that we cast away; the rain and the river, the well and the wave, marsh and tide, mist and ice; without which we are not.  

 

ALL 

We bless the water, and give thanks for what flows. 

 

AIR 

Bless the air, the world’s breath: keeper of intellect, quickener of thought, whisper of symbiosis between us and the trees; without which we are not. 

  

ALL 

We bless the air, and rejoice in what rises. 

  

FIRE 

Bless the fire, the igniter: keeper of vision, which illumines by raging and warms by consuming; of all tools the most ambiguous, at once sustaining and deadly; spark and furnace, hearth and star, finite and insatiable; without which we are not.  

 

ALL 

We bless the fire, and tremble at its burning. 

  

QUINTESSENCE 

Bless the midst, the unnameable: that which is called love by some and chaos by others, and is the power of relation; which grows wild in the intervals and in the spaces between; which unmakes and recombines; which whispers the word of division in our cells, and unites all things in one embrace; by which we are made, by which we are broken, and without which we are not. 

  

ALL 

Call us to return home, heart of our homelessness, eye of our weeping; distance between the is and the ought, we will travel you.  

  

EARTH 

Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad; let the sea and all within it thunder; let the fields exult, and all that is in them; let all the trees of the wood rejoice, because the earth will be judged. 

 

AIR 

The power which causes the several portions of the plant to help each other we call life. Much more is this so in an animal. We may take away the branch of a tree without much harm to it; but not the animal’s limb. Intensity of life is also intensity of helpfulness — completeness of depending of each part on all the rest. The ceasing of this help is what we call corruption; and in proportion to the perfectness of the help is the dreadfulness of the loss.  

 

WATER 

What would the world be, once bereft  

Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,  

O let them be left, wildness and wet;  

Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.  

 

FIRE 

The sun comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber; it rejoices like a strong man to run a race; nothing is hid from its heat. 

 

QUINTESSENCE 

The flintstone that is being rubbed in order to make it luminous understands what is being demanded of it, and its brilliance proves its condescension. How should the minerals do us so much good through their virtues without enjoying the sweet satisfaction, the gentle satisfaction which is the first and greatest reward for beneficence?  

 

ALL 

The highest and first law of the universe, and the other name of life, is “help.” 

 

QUINTESSENCE 

From whence comes our help? And can help fail? 

 

ALL 

Let all the folk of the world beware, because the earth will be judged. 

 

QUINTESSENCE 

What will become of us in that day? 

 

ALL 

Woe to you who desire that day. Why do you seek that day? It is darkness and not light.  

 

QUINTESSENCE 

the day the misused ore absconds 

(From every juke box, laundromat, motel 

One melting, sabotaging, homesick flow) 

Back, back into mines virginal once more. 

 

ALL (singing

                                Where will our sadness hide 

                                   In that day, in that day 

                                Where will our sadness hide 

                                   In that day? 

                                Our errors shall be tried 

                                And justice shall be cried 

                                And shall not be denied 

                                   In that day, in that day 

                                And shall not be denied 

                                   In that day. 

 

EARTH 

And the earth shall be judged: with plague, with fever, with burning heat, with thirst and with the sword, with blasting winds and with withering. And the locust shall eat all the trees and fruit of your land, until you are destroyed and perish quickly. 

 

WATER 

See, waters are rising from the North, and shall become an overflowing flood, and shall overwhelm the land and all that is in it, the city and all its inhabitants. 

 

AIR 

The skies over your head shall be brass, and the earth beneath you iron. The rain shall be powder and dust.  

 

FIRE 

You who live carelessly, who say in your heart, “I am, and none but me,” who say, “No one can see me”: evil shall come upon you which you cannot forestall. The day comes that shall burn like an oven; all the proud and all that do evil shall be stubble. The day that is coming shall burn them up and leave neither root nor branch. 

 

QUINTESSENCE 

And as the world strengthened and multiplied you, so it will starve and diminish you, and waste you from off the land. You shall be scattered and shall have no rest; you shall have a trembling heart and dazed eyes and sorrow of mind. In the morning you will say, “Who can give back last night?” and in the evening you will say, “Who can give back this morning?” for what your heart shall fear and your eyes shall see. You shall become an astonishment, and a proverb, and a byword. And you shall be left few in number, who were as many as the stars in the skies. 

 

ALL 

Turn us again and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old. 

 

EARTH 

Who speaks of the eternal return? Every return is temporary. Once for everything, only once; once and no more. 

 

WATER 

And we too, once. Never again. But to have been this once, even if only once, to have been on the earth, this cannot be repealed. 

 

ALL 

Set the law of help in our inward parts, and write it on our hearts, to ransom all that stands in danger. 

 

AIR 

Call on the wind, call it from the four corners, and let it breathe on the slain. 

 

FIRE 

The parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water; the abode of jackals shall be grassland with reeds and rushes. The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice, and blossom like the rose. 

 

ALL 

And the remnant that escapes shall yet take root downward and bear fruit upward. 

 

QUINTESSENCE 

How shall these things be? 

 

ALL 

Only through intelligence: through the intellect of love that moves in all matter, of which we are the inexpert keepers. 

 

QUINTESSENCE 

Listen, all you who wrestle with your fate: the intimate and the infinite are one. 

 

ALL 

Desire that union with your whole heart, doubt and all; with your whole soul, and with all your powers. Remember it: repeat it everywhere, working or resting, sitting or walking, night and morning, alone and together. See it written on your hand, on your brow, in every common place and in every face. 

 

QUINTESSENCE 

We think we will go unnoticed, that we will pass and leave no trace; but that which planted the ear, shall it not hear? and that which made the eye, shall it not see? 

 

ALL 

That which jointed the thumbs and woke the mind, let it establish the work of our hands. Every atom is in full energy, and all that energy is kind. 

  

A dance to a wordless round, so that the help of all the parts is needed to supply the whole.  

 

QUINTESSENCE 

The ritual is ended. We thank time and space for holding us here, and we bless the elements of making: 

  

EARTH 

Earth, which is the gravity of love; 

  

AIR 

Air, which is the levity of love; 

  

FIRE 

Fire, which is the passion of love; 

  

WATER 

Water, which is thepatience of love; 

  

QUINTESSENCE 

And the presence of the Absence, which is love itself among them: remote beyond conceiving, intimate beyond mistaking, unto whom all that draws breath gives praise. 

 

 

 

NOTES 

 

Let the heavens rejoice…Ps. 96, 11-13. 

The power which causes…. ibid (slightly altered). 

The sun comes forth…Ps. 19, 6-7. 

What would the world be… Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Inversnaid.”  

The flintstone… J.- B. Robinet, De la nature, 1766, quoted in Gaston Bachelard, The Psychoanalysis of Fire (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), 30. 

The highest and first law…is “help.” John Ruskin, “The Law of Help,” in Modern Painters v. 5. 

From whence comes our help? Ps. 121:1, adapted. 

Woe to you… Amos 5:18. 

the day the misused ore absconds… Peter Viereck, The Tree Witch (NY: Scribners, 1961), 70.  

And the earth shall be judged… All lines not otherwise identified in this section are freely adapted from Deuteronomy 28. 

Where will our sadness hide… The Sacred Harp song “Wondrous Love” provides a suitable tune for this verse. 

See, waters are rising… Jer. 47:2. 

You who live carelessly…cannot forestall. Isa. 47:8-14, adapted. 

The day comes… Mal. 4:1, adapted. 

Turn us again… Lam. 5:21. 

Once for everything…cannot be repealed. Rainer Maria Rilke, “Ninth Duino Elegy,” my (rough) translation. 

Set the law of help… Jer. 31:33, adapted. 

Call on the wind… Ezek. 37:9, adapted. 

The parched ground…reeds and rushes. Isa. 35:7. 

The wilderness and the wasteland… Isa. 35:1, adapted. 

And the remnant… Isa. 37:31. 

How shall these things be? Luke 1:34, adapted. 

The intellect of love. Dante, La Vita Nuova, first canzone: “Donne ch’ avete intelletto d’ amore…” 

Listen, all you…every face. An impressionistic translation of the Shema Yisrael, Deut. 6:4-9. 

That which planted…shall it not see? Ps. 94:9.  

Let all the earth keep silence. Hab. 2:20. 

Let justice roll down… Amos 5:24 

Remember that our life is wind. Job 7:7  

Every atom is in full energy… Ruskin, op. cit. 

 

Bible translations consulted: the King James Version; Torah Neviim Ketuvim: The Holy Scriptures (Jerusalem: Koren, 1977); Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1985); Tyndale’s Old Testament, ed. David Daniell (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992); Tanach: The Stone Edition, ed. Nosson Scherman (Brooklyn: Mesorah, 1996). 

 

From In Medias Res: Liturgy for the Estranged, ©2008 by Catherine Madsen (Aurora, CO: The Davies Group, 2008). www.thedaviesgrouppublishers.com