Wenceslas, Cold Feet, and Finding Blessing

As a quick follow-up to last week’s post, I just wanted you to know that it snowed again last Thursday night and with much more gusto. It was still not much for someone from, like, Chicago but I was plenty pleased! And it lasted much longer even though it started raining immediately after. Anyway, I like snow. On to new things for this week.

First, this cat picture because a cat laying on a cat is about as cat as you can get, I think.

Also, some of you may wish to listen to this song on repeat while reading the remainder of the post in order to achieve maximum enjoyment. Or at least, maximum Keegan empathy.

Some among you may know from experience that I have had Good King Wenceslas stuck in my head for, not an exaggeration, like eight years. Not just at Christmas–all the time. I get other songs stuck in my head and I’m not always singing it, but if I’m not thinking of anything in particular for a while, chances are it will start playing in the background of my mind and I will likely start humming it. Again I reassure you, this is not an exaggeration. People around me can confirm that I am always singing this song and have been for years.

Making matters worse (or maybe better, who knows) is that I only know really the first verse, and even struggle to remember all of that. I’ve looked all the lyrics  up many times, they just never seem to stick. But last year we sang it caroling with Choral Society and, at least to some extent, I learned more words. And, for the first time in quite a while, I could read the whole story of the carol right there and finally get what it was about. It’s sort of a strange song, as carols about medieval Czech saints are wont to be, but it’s nice, it’s catchy, and I do think there’s a point to it all.

Without going into the actual story of the saint Wenceslas, I’ll just give you a rundown of the tale told by the tune (because I’m not going to reproduce all the verses here, though I encourage you to look them up if you wish). So the king and a servant are hanging out, whatever, on the feast of St. Stephan. It’s cold and snowy outside and the king is shocked to spy a peasant going about his business in possibly a blizzard. Wenceslas calls to his servant who tells him that the peasant lives like three miles away up in the mountains. The king gets the servant to find some food and wine and they set out into the storm to feed the poor peasant and get him warmed up. The servant, though, is having a tough time because, you know, blizzard, and he’s like, “Sire, it’s dark and freezing and I’m gonna say we stop.” Then the king is like, “Nah, just step in my footprints and you’ll be right warm.” And that’s basically it, surprise, I guess Wenceslas is a saint because his footsteps were warm in the middle of a blizzard.

So. Reasons to write a blog post about it, other than to share my involuntary mania with you. Let me give you the last little bit and then I’ll explain. The song ends by saying,

Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye, who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

And now the title all comes together, yeah? That was the idea. Anyway.

So there’s this whole thing commonly (in my circles, at least) called the prosperity gospel which is basically the idea that being a good Christian automatically results in being healthy, wealthy, and wise. Needless to say, I do not believe this to be the case. Possibly it is what the lyricist of Good King Wenceslas had in mind. But perhaps not.

See here’s the thing, you may have heard it before. Doing good is good for you. Blessing the poor may not make you wealthy, but it can make you rich– in love, mercy, compassion… the milk of human kindness. Additionally, the poor can be defined in many ways. Certainly we should give to the physically poor, whether it be with food, housing, clothes, medical care, friendship, legal representation, common courtesy. But in the same way as there are many ways to give, there are many to give to: the poor in spirit, the poor in health, the poor in relationship, the poor in hope.

I’m rewatching all the Harry Potter movies (and will reread the books too) so you’ll forgive a little HP analogy. At the end of the first installment, you may recall, the Mirror of Erised grants the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s, if you prefer) to one who seeks it but does not wish to use it. When we give without expectation of receiving anything in return, we not only bless others, we ourselves find blessing.

The carol is not about the cold peasant, in fact. You’ll note that the song concludes without the king and page having actually reached the poor man. Instead, the song is about the journey (woo, we’re all about journeys here 😉 ). The story told by the carol is not one of doing good works, it’s about trying to do good works and getting cold feet. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: doing good is hard. Often, it involves a great deal of discouragement, disappointment, and darkness. But, strangely enough, when we seek out opportunities to do good, even if they are confounded again and again, there is blessing in the warm footprints of those who have gone before.

If nothing else, Jesus. Because when all else fails (and all else will fail) he’ll keep your feet warm. He is the God With Us and that’s a big part of what he came for.

 

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