Excerpted from In Medias Res
by Catherine Madsen
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
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 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
We mark here the sun’s turning of a corner in time; let us bless the elements of
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.
We bless the earth, and give gratitude for matter.
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.
We bless the water, and give thanks for what flows.
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.
We bless the air, and rejoice in what rises.
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.
We bless the fire, and tremble at its burning.
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.
Call us to return home, heart of our homelessness, eye of our weeping; distance
between the is and the ought, we will travel you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
The highest and first law of the universe, and the other name of life, is
From whence comes our help? And can help fail?
Let all the folk of the world beware, because the earth will be
What will become of us in that day?
Woe to you who desire that day. Why do you seek that day? It is darkness and not
the day the misused ore absconds
(From every juke box, laundromat, motel
One melting, sabotaging, homesick flow)
Back, back into mines virginal once more.
Where will our sadness hide
In that day, in that day
Where will our sadness hide
In that day?
errors shall be tried
justice shall be cried
shall not be denied
In that day, in that day
shall not be denied
In that day.
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.
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.
The skies over your head shall be brass, and the earth beneath you iron. The rain
shall be powder and dust.
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.
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.
Turn us again and we shall be turned; renew our days as of
Who speaks of the eternal return? Every return is temporary. Once for everything,
only once; once and no more.
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.
Set the law of help in our inward parts, and write it on our hearts, to ransom all
that stands in danger.
Call on the wind, call it from the four corners, and let it breathe on the
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.
And the remnant that escapes shall yet take root downward and bear fruit
How shall these things be?
Only through intelligence: through the intellect of love that moves in all matter,
of which we are the inexpert keepers.
Listen, all you who wrestle with your fate: the intimate and the infinite are
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
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?
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 ritual is ended. We thank time and space for holding us here, and we bless the
elements of making:
Earth, which is the gravity of love;
Air, which is the levity of love;
Fire, which is the passion of love;
Water, which is thepatience of love;
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.
Let the heavens
rejoice…Ps. 96, 11-13.
The power which causes…. ibid
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.
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
Where will our sadness hide…
The Sacred Harp song “Wondrous Love” provides a suitable tune for this
See, waters are rising…
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)
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
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.
Let justice roll down…
Remember that our life is wind.
Every atom is in full energy…
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).
In Medias Res: Liturgy for the Estranged, ©2008 by Catherine Madsen
(Aurora, CO: The Davies Group, 2008). www.thedaviesgrouppublishers.com