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“The Friend Who May Not Seem a Friend” – The Cat and the Fire, Post 3 of 3

“The Friend Who May Not Seem a Friend” by Lawrence Russ

Fire has sometimes been not just a symbol of the holy Spirit, but its embodiment.

 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost. . . .

Acts 2.

Detail from “Pentecost” by El Greco

Another treasured part of the “Biography of Fire” in my life has a lineage that many people are partly aware of – though not of its fiery genesis in the realm of literature and art.  One fairly recent episode in that biography concerns the movie Chariots of Fire.  It’s a movie that Marion and I love especially.  We’ve watched it as much as we’ve watched any film, which means at least ten times.  For my part, I identify with both the striver and reformer, Harold Abrahams, and with the aspiring servant of God, Eric Liddell.  I don’t claim their loftiness of character or accomplishment, but their intentions, their directions.  As you likely know, the film is essentially fact, not fiction.

Film still from Chariots of Fire

The poem, commonly called “Jerusalem” when it’s printed or discussed by itself, was a kind of signature poem for me for many years, and it still is.  For me, it’s a declaration of dedicated purpose, and a visceral source of inspiration.  I would recite it, often as a closing piece, in various performances and programs that I gave in the 80s and 90s.  It refers in part to the sorry effects of the Industrial Revolution in England, and to a British legend that Christ, sometime in the “lost years” between his youth and public ministry, traveled through England (“Jerusalem” by William Blake [read by LR]):

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon Englands mountains green:

And was the holy Lamb of God,

On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

  

And did the Countenance Divine,

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here,

Among these dark Satanic Mills?

  

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:

Bring me my arrows of desire:

Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!

Bring me my Chariot of fire!

  

I will not cease from Mental Fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:

Till we have built Jerusalem,

In Englands green & pleasant Land.

Manuscript page from Preface to Milton by William Blake including “Jerusalem”

Even fewer people will know what faith and fire lay behind the phrase “Chariot of fire.”  It refers to certain events concerning the prophet Elisha, told in 2 Kings 6:8-17 (Bible verses read by LR):

Then the king of Syria warred against Israel, and took counsel with his servants, saying, In such and such a place shall be my camp.

And the man of God sent unto the king of Israel, saying, Beware that thou pass not such a place; for thither the Syrians are come down.

10 And the king of Israel sent to the place which the man of God told him and warned him of, and saved himself there, not once nor twice.

11 Therefore the heart of the king of Syria was sore troubled for this thing; and he called his servants, and said unto them, Will ye not shew me which of us is for the king of Israel?

12 And one of his servants said, None, my lord, O king: but Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber.

13 And he said, Go and spy where he is, that I may send and fetch him. And it was told him, saying, Behold, he is in Dothan.

14 Therefore sent he thither horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about.

15 And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?

16 And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them

17 And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.

And this relates to the presence of fire in my photograph.  There have been times when, reading the end of this story out loud or in silence, the nerves tingled and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck.  I’ve turned to this story more than once for strength, inspiration, and vision.  Some of those occasions have been legal or social battles to prevent wrongdoing or to bring about reform.  And sometimes seemingly-improbable victories came about, that I do not believe would have come about if not for powers and other gifts provided in answer to prayer.  Not because that fire was mine or anyone else’s to command, and not because such battles are always won, but because sometimes a partly-uncanny fire flows through us when we need it for doing what God sets before us to do.  And sometimes that’s to make a work of art that will hold a little flame from that fire inside it.

Lawrence Russ View All

Was the Alfred P. Sloan Scholar for the Humanities at the University of Michigan. Obtained a Master of the Fine Arts degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where I was selected as a Writing Fellow in Poetry by the Program faculty. Have published poems, essays and reviews in many magazines, anthologies, reference works, and other publications, including The Nation, The Iowa Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Parabola, OMNI, and the exhibition catalogue for Art at the Edge of the Law at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. Received a law degree from the University of Michigan, and have changed the law and created educational programs in the fields of arts law, historic preservation law, and public construction and contracting law in the State of Connecticut. My photographs have appeared in international, national, regional and state juried exhibitions, and have been selected for awards including Honorable Mentions in the Architecture, Fine Art (series), Nature (series), Open Theme (series), Portrait, and Seascape categories from the international Fine Art Photography Awards, and an Honorable Mention in the Fine Art-Other category from the International Photography Awards. Photographs of mine have been selected for exhibition or publications by or in the 2019 International Juried Exhibition of the Center for Photographic Art (Carmel, CA), 2019 International Competition of The Photo Review, the 2019 Open Exhibition of the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins CO, F-Stop Magazine, Shadow & Light Magazine, Black Box Gallery in Portland OR, Praxis Gallery in Minneapolis MN, the Darkroom Gallery in VT, PhotoPlace Gallery in VT, A Smith Gallery in TX, the New Britain Museum of American Art, and many other journals and venues. My work has also been selected for inclusion in the Flatfile Program of Artspace New Haven (CT). My photography website is at www.lawrenceruss.com .

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