Abba Joseph, Beetle Kings, and Jesus

This little piece from the desert Fathers helpfully illustrates Matthew 5:14-16:

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my Little Office. I fast a little. I pray. I meditate. I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else am I to do?” “What else,” Abba Lot says, “can I do?” Then the old man stood up, stretched his hands towards heaven and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire, and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

Jesus, in the passage mentioned, challenges his disciples to be the light of the world. Abba Joseph above tells Abba Lot, “If you will [desire to be a light], you can become all flame.”

But to will the destruction of our most cherished unnatural impulses can be hard.

I want comfort. I want my way. I want my space to myself, my time to myself, my feelings to myself, my whatever.

But Jesus is already the light of the world. So, why not become all flame? Aaron Weiss from mewithoutYou asks that question in his song, “The King Beetle on the Coconut Estate.

Music Monday: mewithoutYou

mewithoutYou is a band that I’ve liked since my senior year of high school when I came across one of their songs on a compilation CD that was given to me at a concert. Their sound has evolved tremendously since then. Their first album is one I very rarely listen to anymore. But their newest album Pale Horses, is very good. One song that really grabs me is Birnam Wood.

My favorite line in the song is this:

I struck firm the hollow your thigh
Withheld my name, yet from determined hold I could not fly
Though every tendon came undone

It’s a beautiful retelling of the Jacob story in Genesis 32 from the perspective of the man who captured Jacob and renamed him. What is so interesting about the story and about the song is that after the man destroys Jacob’s hip, Jacob still won’t let go of the man. Still more bizarre in the tale is that the man turns out to be divine or a divine representative who could not escape the mortal Jacob’s grasp.

Lyrics:
All dark effects I’d long withstood
Upon my room advanced
The moving shade of Birnam Wood
Disguised by broken branch

I struck firm the hollow your thigh
Withheld my name, yet from determined hold I could not fly
Though every tendon came undone

Would you take a bound-up Isaac’s place?
“Is he a God and shall your grace
Grow weary of your saints?” (– I. Watts)
Or prefer the father’s dreadful fate?
Are you a God, and shall your grace
Grow weary of your saints?
(Though every tendon came undone
Safe in the arms of the kingdom come)

Floodwater filled your formless birth
A column cloud descends
‘Your cause of sorrow must not be measured by his worth
For then it hath no end’ (– Macbeth)
Yet may my heart in tune be found
In four-shape notes from underground
And can we not call it “a nervous breakdown”
My nervous system breaking down?

Would you take a bound-up Isaac’s place?
Are you a God, and shall your grace
Grow weary of your saints?
Steady a knife held sure by faith
Are you a God? And shall your grace
Grow weary of your saints?
Riding in a westbound railcar
They’ll dump you in the Highgate Graveyard
[Poison-in-the-teacup-graveyard alpha-radiation-graveyard]

Come untie your little son
Before the angel comes