For Fergus Rules the Brazen Cars

Sunrise in Jessamine County, Kentucky – May 18, 2019

Every sentence in ‘Ulysses’ has more than one meaning and sometimes many meanings.

Frank Delaney

And a great burden was upon his back.

Pilgrim’s Progress (p. 1)

It was early in the reading of Ulysses, barely through the first 10 pages, when I stumbled upon the Fergus’ poem referenced in the last blog. Only three lines from the poem would be included when it was sung by Mulligan descending the Martello stairwell midway through the first chapter. I was hooked. I wanted to know more.

The first bit of help came from Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated. There I learned about the poem’s inclusion in the play the Countess Cathleen, and became acquainted with its actual short length, only two short stanzas in a simple ABC rhythmic progression. I also discovered its author was the legendary Irish poet, and 1923 recipient for the Nobel Prize in Literature, W.B. Yeats.

My journey with Joyce had barely begun and I was on the short end of the knowledge I craved. It would begin by scrambling to figure out who exactly is Fergus? And what is a “brazen car?” And what event or lesson is being referenced for our consideration?

And like the many paths you are lead to follow while reading Ulysses, it’s easy to burn through several afternoons trying to run down all the leads. Allow me save you some time on this one. If you try to google “brazen cars,”on Youtube, you’ll end up with an assortment of videos showing “brazen car thieves” (This one may have been my favorite waste of time).

If you have kids or grandkids, you may recognize the name Fergus, as in Fergus the traction train from the popular Thomas and Friends children’s stories. For those trying to remember, he’s the one who speaks with a persistent cough because of his dusty work upon the rails. These stories have been around a long time, since 1945. Yet, they are at least 50 years too late for my interests. Another dead-end.

But my Youtube search was not totally worthless. I did unearth a few excellent resources on The History of the Celts from Archeologist Barry Cunliffe. Who knew they may have originated from middle Europe, rather than Ireland?

Next, I turned to the online digital library known as JTSOR (I was still able to access it through my old Lexington Theological Library ID card, score!) and found a couple of very interesting articles on Yeats and The Countess Cathleen (I’ve updated the bibliography posted on May 13, 2019).

If you’re curious, I also consulted Wikipedia. But at first, I found some of their material more confusing than straightforward and wondered in the back of my mind if there needed to be a little more confirmation from at least one or two other sources.

I had more luck tracking down Fergus by turning to Irish mythology. Once you wade through the nearly ridiculous and stereotypical renditions from Disney Studios’ production of Brave, you’ll learn how he was a great mythical King with a collection of grand sagas and a host of (what we call today) “complicated” relationships.

But there’s more than one Fergus. Which one was right? Wikipedia helped me identify a spurious series of anywhere from 37 to 45 different Scottish Kings who supposedly linked a Fergus I with a Fergus II, separated by a span of 700 years and ending in the 6th Century. Believed authentic throughout the 12-18th Centuries, this “genealogical myth” proudly boasted the Fergus name.

But, it was all later proved to be counterfeit. Nothing more than a perpetuated lie designed for bragging rights of the supremacy of the Scottish over their English and Irish neighbors.

The New Day Begins with Summer Around the Corner
Jessamine County, Kentucky, May 18, 2019

At this point, the best I can gather is how Yeats was referring to Fergus mac Roich or mac Roig, or mac Rossa, or maybe Mor mac Eirc, son of Erc the legendary king of Dal Riata, linked to the Fergus II from the 6th Century referenced above (yes, it all gets rather confusing).

This Fergus, according to legend, was part of the Ulster cycle of Irish mythology featuring stories of murder, betrayal, family in-fighting, regional wars, greed, brutality, sexual prowess, and other hijinks to rival your favorite episode of Game of Thrones. They are also stories of courage, conquest, daring and honor.

Fergus is tricked out of his kingship by his wife, Ness and her son, Conchobar who was a small child at the time of the deception. In the capable hands of his maneuvering Mother, Conchobar wins the support of the Ulster elite ousting Fergus who eventually forms an alliance (romantic and political) with their rival adversary, the married Queen Madh. The “bad blood” continues when Conchobar, now all grow-up tricks Fergus again and an epic battle ensues involving Fergus against his nephew, the esteemed Cuchulainn, an Irish version of the great Hercules.

But where are the “brazen cars” in this folklore? Again, I don’t know exactly but remember this clue. Fergus took refuge in the woods during the times he was shunned or banished. Looking again at the poem might suggest how he made the best of his situation and took as much authority within the “shadow of the wood” as the mastery he had when in command of his own chariot. The question is sharpened. “Who Goes with Fergus?” Anyone willing to come face to face with their displacement in order to find a deeper sense of purpose and self-identity.

This is the truth that eludes Buck Mulligan, but will direct both Stephen Dedalus, and his eventual friend and surrogate father-figure, Leopold Bloom.

Which leads us around the long way to the true point of describing my search for Fergus. Reading Ulysses, the epic account of the thoughts, experiences and ramblings from one single day, is in itself, an elaborate journey offering multiple layers of perpetual discovery. It’s possible to go off in hundreds of different directions, just from the wealth found on one page, or in this case, from one single line.

In my searching, I did find an incredible online project that was began in 1990, just after the introduction of HTML script. The Joyce Project features every word of Ulysses in an online format. Compiled by a team of 14 different contributors it offers a color-coded guide of the many reference points available on the 750 plus pages within this incredibly dense book. In order to give you a sense of the depth you are invited to dive into and the paths you can travel with Ulysses, here’s a copy of their expansive categories.

Green links (Ireland) refer to Irish history, politics, customs, language, humor, religion, mythology, economics, industry, geography, modes of transportation, flora, fauna, and weather. 

Orange links (Literature) signal allusions to published texts including poetry, fiction, drama, critical essays, history, philosophy, scripture, theology, science, biography, hagiography, travelogues, and newspapers.

Brown links (Dublin) point to landforms like the river and bay, the built environment such as streets, canals, buildings, bridges, trams, and statues, cultural ephemera such as money, and civic institutions. 

Purple links (Performances) indicate notes about songs, operas, oratorios, stage plays, nursery rhymes, speeches, recitations, advertising pitches, prayers, liturgical rites, performative social gestures, and impromptu clowning.

Red links (The Body) encompass anatomy, sexuality, childbirth, eating, drinking, excretion, clothes, personal accessories, disease, death, medicines, poisons, the physiology of emotion, the vagaries of memory, mental illness, and dreams.

Blue links (The Writer) address narrative styles, techniques, revisions, and effects, as well as textual variants, aesthetic theories, and the shaping of real lives into fictional ones.

http://m.joyceproject.com/info/colorcoding.html

Like my journey with Fergus, Joyce’s Ulysses opens up strange, perplexing and occasional directions of clarity and eventual insight. And there are more helps available, like here with images associated from the book and this news of other projects from an article in the New York Times. Again, quoting from the Joyce Project:

Nearly every detail in Ulysses has relevance, not only to details immediately before and after it in the order of the narrative, but also to ones that may lie hundreds of pages off. The notes supply threads to begin navigating the textual labyrinth that Joyce built—whether to find the way toward perfect comprehension, or to become happily lost, or simply to seek the nearest exit, will be up the individual.

Fergus rules the brazen cars? He had better! I obviously have my hands full.

All Disheveled Wandering Stars

Full Moon, Lexington, Kentucky – May 17, 2019

Be content to bear your burden, yet a little while

Pilgrim’s Progress (p. 14)

Countess Cathleen is the name of a play (1898) written by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) and loosely based upon a legendary figure in Irish folklore. In Yeats’ treatment, the Countess is faced with an impossible choice. In order to feed her people during a time of famine, she can sell her soul for their relief. There is much to contemplate as Yeats uses his art to offer a subtle rebuke aimed at the Protestant ascendancy of 19th Century Ireland, the Catholic complicity and acquiesce to it and how they collaborated to further the abuses suffered by the Irish people through nearly 800 years of British oppression.

In the presentation of the play, Yeats added a poem he wrote in 1893 from his Rose collection. Accompanied by a harp, it is offered to comfort the countess, after she completes the Faustian bargain that sacrifices her soul to rescue her people. James Joyce attended the premiere of this play at the tender age of 17 and believed these words to be the finest lyric ever constructed in all the world. It begins:

Who will go drive with Fergus now, / And pierce the deep wood’s woven shade, / And dance upon the level shore? / Young man, lift up your russet brow, / And lift your tender eyelids, maid, / And brood on hopes and fears no more.

Later in life, Joyce completes his epic masterpiece Ulysses (1922). It begins with the brash and bullish Buck Mulligan making a mockery of the Latin mass and harassing his more impressionable and introspective companion, Stephen Dedalus. Stephen is the continuation of the main character in Joyce’s earlier work, Portrait of An Artist As a Young Man (1914), and in both books is a projection of the author’s own twenty-two year old self.

Mulligan is on the attack, speaking from the parapet of a Martello tower in Sandycove, located just 8 miles to the southeast from the center of the city of Dublin. Bold and dauntless in speech, he spews his words with the rapidity and force of cannon fire, strutting forward with the irritating confidence of a playground bully, the hyperbolic overdrive one might expect from an equally proud and self-professed hyperborean [1:213]. Yet, another term jammed-packed with meaning!

But Stephen is more perceptive than his critic and understands the entirety of Yeats’ poem at a far more profound and complex level than what is being offered by Mulligan. Sorrow is not merely a mood you can turn off and on. Genuine melancholy is not just a temperament you can choose to abandon at will. The second stanza completes the poem, Who Goes with Fergus?:

And no more turn aside and brood, / Upon love’s bitter mystery, / For Fergus rules the brazen cars, / And rules the shadow of the wood, / And the white breast of the dim sea / And all disheveled wandering stars.

Those who fret over the condition of the world and their role within it are connected to something far greater than themselves or their personal problems. And often, those who intent to push them away from their troubles, like Mulligan with Stephen, or Antinous, Claudius, and Gertrude in Hamlet, do so for their own selfish purposes.

It is better, though more burdensome, to know how sadness is associated with careful perception and awareness, to confront the transience of our numbered days and the reality of entropy, to identify with those who suffer and recognize the long arch of lament that extends throughout time immortal. “The whole creation groans together in travail,” recounts the Apostle (Romans 8:22).

We should not rush too fast past this point. In my experience, still holding to the vitality of a faith obviously scorned and at points, legitimately denounced by both Mulligan and Dedalus, identification with those who suffer is the beginning of true compassion. We do not simply feel sorry for others we judge as misfortunate. We join with them in their discontent and courageously join this chorus present from the beginning of the world.

Congratulations Kevin and Evonne

Kevin and Evonne Delvin – June 2, 2019

This weekend was a short suspension from the Sabbatical schedule as I had the honor to officiate the wedding for Kevin and Evonne. We had planned this date over a year ago and I was very happy to celebrate this wonderful and beautiful ceremony with them.

This week, involves final preparations for Ireland and making my way there soon. The learning and benefits of this Sabbatical continue. I was so proud of our youth and encourage you watching the worship service they led on the church’s livefeed Youtube channel (as I did) if it was missed. Heck, I would venture it’s worth watching a second time, even if you were there. They all did super and before the wedding I was told by more than one person (including my own Mother!) that I may need to move aside and let Ethan take over.

Awesome! I’ll extend the sabbatical and see you for Advent. 🙂

Inside the First Baptist Church in America

The first surprising thing you’ll learn from church historian Stan Lemons about the church building for the First Baptist Church in America is the likelihood that founder Roger Williams (1603-1683) may have been vehemently against it, that is, if he had been around to have the opportunity to share his opinion.

The chandelier and high pulpit in the First Baptist Church of America
May 24, 2019

This impressive building was constructed in 1775, nearly 140 long years after the church’s founding by Williams and others in 1638. This group, convinced of the importance of believer’s baptism by immersion, gathered without benefit of any dedicated building throughout William’s lifetime. They desired a Christian experience that was throughly Biblical, simple, devout, and unfettered from any influence of symbols, status, sanctions, sanctuaries or structures. For them, the true apostolic faith had become distracted by struggles for power and too entangled with concerns over secular authority. Impressive edifices for worship spoke not of the transcendence of God, but of the proud and boastful achievements of man. Christian symbols, including the cross were resisted as a violation of the third commandment and might tempt a Christian to put more faith in an object, rather than in the more authentic and reliable divine source to which they pointed.

Williams is remembered for an extraordinary and foreword-looking understanding of the dignity of the human person. Not only was he often in trouble and later banished by the Puritans for advocating church and soul freedom, he further believed indigenous populations should be compensated for lands seized by the growing number of European settlers. It’s nearly impossible to imagine how differently the course of our country would have been transformed if we had listened to Williams’ lead, building a future out of a profound fairness for the whole of humankind and resisting the exploitation and genocide that instead followed.

Dr. Lemons in the Manning Room at the First Baptist Church in America
May 28, 2019

Roger Williams was certainly too far ahead of his own time, and probably ours too. Perhaps it was inevitable he would never be completely resolved to be a member of any established organization, except his defense of protecting the charter of the Providence Plantation he also founded. But within a year after launching the first Baptist church on American soil, he was on the move again. As Dr. Lemons was so kind to engage me, I learned how Williams, in the course of a 10 year journey, from 1629-1639, had gone from being an ordained Anglican priest, to a Puritan, to a Separatist, to a Baptist and finally being out all together (realizing no church on earth would suffice as the true church), owning a final designation of being a “Seeker.” I think it is a high compliment to call someone today a “Seeker.” Surrounded, as we are, by the chronically bored, often hopeless and selfishly satisfied existentialists of the “developed” world leaves little room for discovery. But to be a “Seeker?” That implies something is still worth exploring and creating, doesn’t it?

Authenticity is a journey of constantly searching and updating. This group of Baptists Williams helped launch, and others like them, set the stage for the, oh, so many, many millions of Baptists who followed. Baptists who have ventured and splintered into the many diverse directions a group of fiercely independent individuals would allow.

And over time, they would need to built roofs over their collected heads. As recounted in the Self-Guided Tour book for FBCIA:

The tiny Baptist church lived on without Williams, but it had no meetinghouse until 1700. In that year the pastor, PARDON TILLINGHAST, erected a meetinghouse on a piece of his own property several blocks from this site on North Main Street. Then, in 1726, a second, larger meetinghouse was built to accommodate the growing congregation.

page 4

And it’s off to the races, as the bean-counting Baptists would grow ever more concerned about defending and protecting their importance and status, focused anew on influence, prominence and growth or in the motto of my upbringing: Baptisms, Budgets and Buildings.

When it was time to build the current church for the Baptists of Providence, or by way of the more modest language, to construct the “meeting house” they proposed a sanctuary –er, “meeting room”– large enough to seat 1,200 people. At the time, the church had less than 150 members and the entire population of Providence was under 4,500 living souls.

Their dynamic and accomplished pastor, Dr. James Manning was willing to give the Baptists a signature achievement, one on par with the wealthier and more prominent Anglicans and Presbyterians. Dr. Manning was also the first President of the newly – relocated Brown University, and he needed a large indoor space for commencement and graduation ceremonies. Bolstered by the growth of Baptists in New England during the First Great Awakening, he was ready to build the church person by person, wooden slat by wooden slat, nail by nail, and inch by inch.

Dedication Plaque, Interior of First Baptist Church in America, Providence, Rhode Island

The events of history were also kind to the realization of his vision. The aftermath of the Boston Tea Party of 1773 had resulted in closing Boston harbor and putting many ship builders and carpenters out of work. They provided a ready and skilled labor force to complete the construction of the heretofore largest wooden structure in Colonial America. The formidable 185 foot high steeple was raised in three and one-half short days after building the sections on the ground and hoisting each unit upwards to heaven like the unfolding of a telescope. By 1775 the entire building was completed.

Even though their new building towered over the small town, they attempted to stay true to the heritage of their simpler past and more accommodating and accessible assembly. Large doors were constructed along each long side of the meeting room, so attendees would not be tempted to enter facing the front and genuflecting toward an altar, which didn’t even exist, nor a cross, which was also no where to be found in the worshiping space, as well as any other icons or statues significant to Christians. Only a large and elevated pulpit elegantly framed before an equally large and shuttered panel of windows in the Palladian style would suffice. The design of this window would match all the other windows of clear glass that encircled the spacious and austere room of soft white and gray tones extended by tall fluted columns, each made from a single oak tree.

Interior View from the High Pulpit
First Baptist Church in America

Like with most things, the more you do, the more you begin to realize what else could be done. Approaching the 19th Century, wealthier patrons begin to add their touches of adornment to the worshipping space. A beautiful glass chandelier, likely imported from the Waterford Glass Company in Ireland was installed in 1792, and lighted for the first time after the wedding of its benefactor (no strange coincidence here).

Early 20th Century Postcard Rendering of the Interior

This same family was responsible for the magnificent pipe organ installed in 1834 and modified twice in the 1920’s by Ernest M. Skinner (yes, CBC fans, that E.M. Skinner). Additionally, a stained glass window was installed over the baptistry. What had started as an intentional plan for simple and non-ornamental Christianity was looking pretty familiar to other stately houses of worship by the turn of the 20th Century. Roger Williams and I’m inclined to think, a host of those in the “so great a cloud of witnesses” thus surrounded would not have been pleased with what was happening to their innovative project for equality, inclusion and individual freedom.

But, I guess there is always a last laugh to be had. If you compare this postcard rendering from over 100 years ago with the photograph taken this past week at the top of this post, you’ll quickly realize how the front of the meeting room was changed back sometime during the 20th Century to the windowed facade and high pulpit. If you look carefully, you can even see sunlight peaking through the stained glass at the top of the window’s arch. You might anticipate the shutters opening when the church celebrates baptism, but rest easy by keeping these things covered up in the meantime.

Most of the time, we live normal lives alongside normal days. It is good and well to dress up occasionally. Special times do call for special responses. But the bulk of our life is plain and pedestrian. Boredom and hopelessness often walk hand in hand when we are tempted with a habit of sensationalism, where every moment needs to be somehow better than the one preceding it, and we falsely associate filling empty as something defective, rather than something regular and ultimately powerful.

Sitting in the empty meeting room, within the monotony of an enclosed pew box not much longer than a coffin, and resting against an inflexible seat back that has held other Baptists for over 200 years in the only church in America with the legitimate claim to truly being its First, tells me there’s beauty in the boredom, and meaning in life’s finality, and wonder and mystery just behind that latched shutter up on the front wall. And if you give us all enough time, we may finally get it right in the end.

The Arduous Path Toward Freedom

I’ve been traveling with an invisible companion this past week. I’ve taken her with me on a couple of planes, a bus and ferry ride, and an Uber pick-up from New Bedford to Providence. She has been my dinner companion and early morning guest. Channeling the young Cole Sear, while others were unable to notice her, she has not been far from my thoughts and I could envision “seeing” her walking around.

At an open-aired cafe on Church Street, in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard
May 22, 2019

When the devout Puritan and deeply-committed Christian, named Anne Hutchinson was summoned to appear before the Massachusetts Bay Colony on a chilly day in November 1636, she was the 46 year-old mother of twelve living children, the grandmother of one, and was now pregnant for the sixteenth time. Normally, after crossing the Charles River by ferry from her home on the Shawmut Penninsula of Old Boston, she would travel the five miles to Cambridge on horseback or by coach. But icy conditions upon the roads and pathways risked breaking a horse’s leg. Her mandatory appearance before the 40 men led by Governor John Winthrop who would determine her fate would have to be met this time by traveling upon foot. It would take two and one-half hours to complete the trip (LaPlante, 2015, p. 14).

I don’t think I would have been a close friend to Anne Hutchinson. Accounting for the 400 years of separation between us and the typical determination, iron-tested will and overall physical stamina required of colonial Americans, she still comes across as far too strict for my style; her interpretations of Scripture are too narrow, her Calvinism too definitive, and her Quaker leanings way too constraining.

But I deeply admire her impressive courage and strongly-held faith. The “crime,” that had put her on the hot seat that bitterly frigid day in November was for hosting and leading home Bible studies. Over time, the gatherings had become increasingly popular, persuasive and a threat to the common order (and bruised egos) of the power structure found within the Puritan patriarchy. Her emphasis on “a covenant of grace” or inner confidence based solely on the sovereignty of God as surpassing “a covenant of works” or outward manifestations that proved one’s saving relationship with God may have proved reassuring to anxious Puritans worried about the security of their salvation, but it was a viable contrast to the many sermons preached by local clergy and the new world of strict moral obedience they sought to establish.

These early settlers had left their native England in favor of America for the cause of religious freedom and to establish, in Winthrop’s now widespread metaphor, a “City Upon a Hill,” a new Jerusalem and a visible manifestation of God’s kingdom on earth. But like the growing sentiments found in much of today’s American Christians, they desired religious freedom only for themselves, without any concern to protect the religious (or non-religious) freedom and expression of others.

The seriousness with which these restrictions were codified into law can be illustrated by the exacting and controlling details of their expectations. In September of 1634, they had approved laws where:

No person…shall hereafter make or buy any apparel with any lace on it, silver, gold, silk or thread, under the penalty of forfeiture of such clothes….All cutworks, embroidered or needlework caps, …all gold or silver girdles, hatbands, belts, rugs, beaver hats, are prohibited.” And “if any man shall judge the wearing of any….fashions…or hair…to be uncomely, or prejudicial to the common good, …then [he] shall have power to bind the party so offending to answer it at the next court.

(LaPlante, 102)

It may have been easier to legislate against such “offensive” public behavior in plain sight, but as evident with Anne Hutchinson, they were equally concerned about behavior that occurred in the privacy of one another’s homes, and further desirous to advance their reach into the leanings of one another’s hearts, especially one belonging to a woman whose confident spirit would not yield to them or to any man, especially if it contradicted an exclusive reverence for God alone.

Anne Hutchinson’s whole-hearted commitment, and likely stroke of genius was appealing to God’s authority discerned by her personal experience, through readings and applications of Holy Scriptures and by her equally strong awareness of God’s confirming Holy Spirit. These factors transcended the rules, customs, or demands from any legislating body regardless of how pious and religious they claimed to be. Her “divinations” as she called them, were the true marks of one’s eternal status before God.

Governor Winthrop and his gang were unmoved. Anne and her followers needed to go. They had banished Roger Williams a little over a year previously. They would do the same the following year for Anne’s brother-in-law, John Wheelwright who would go on to found Exeter, New Hampshire. The American story can be told from this continuous struggle between those who use religion to oppress and abuse those they find disagreeable and those who use their religion to help and defend the very ones being oppressed and abused.

This tension within the Euro-American story stems from our earliest beginnings and it persists still. If you are inclined and committed to the enrichment possible by honoring a life of faith, such decisions are as pressing as ever. You must choose if your support and maintenance of a religious system is in order to be a force to control others or a power to invite their liberation.

The path to freedom has never been easy. We can ask Anne Hutchinson. She, along with family members and other followers were excommunicated from their Boston church and banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. For a while, they found a home in Narragansett Bay (now part of Rhode Island) near and aided by Roger William and his founding of the Providence Plantation. After a while, when Anne’s husband William died in 1642, she moved with her six youngest children again, further West to Long Island, New York. There, she and all but one of her children were tragically killed by members of the Algonquian Indian tribe.

My traveling with Anne Hutchinson was greatly aided by the excellent book, American Jezebel, by Eve LaPlante (2015). It was not only revealing of Anne’s amazing story, but incredibly helpful to more fully understand the temperament and practices of 17th Century America. The faithful few, who are diligently walking a path to ensure the ongoing advance of this freedom story in their times, are deeply aware. This commitment will put you at risk with your friends, your family and, for the most serious, with the ruling authorities. I pray it is worth it, if only to be passionately connected with some truly exceptional company along the way.