Nine Lessons and Carols: The Fifth Lesson: Visions and Battle Cries

Image Via Wikipedia

Image Via Wikipedia

Nineteen years old and burned at the stake. What an end.

Did Joan of Arc realise, when she set out to lead mighty armies to victory, that this would be the end of it? And was it indeed her end, or can we call a history after her death- one which ended in canonisation and patronage of Mother France herself – a happy ending?

It all began in a field when Joan was 12. Her father’s fields stretched for 50 acres around those parts of Dorémy, west of the Meuse River. Though his farming was his day job, he was also head of the local watch. Perhaps a penchant for justice ran in the family; or perhaps Saint Michael, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret really did trudge across the fields to see her, and instruct her to drive out the English.

Or perhaps, both.

The girl from the farm must have had a choice. Tradition has it that the Christian God is not in the habit of press-ganging his recruits. If we suspend our incredulity and think for just a moment about a 12-year-old girl, standing in the field, confronted by three high-ups from Eternity: did she know what she was letting herself in for? Did her God fill her with conviction, but not quite enough foresight to foretell how it would end?

She said yes, of course. And in an extraordinary turn of affairs, the girl managed to persuade some local powers that be to back her as she journeyed, dressed as a man, through enemy territory to reach the French king and persuade him to accord her the position as head of his army.

That alone, documented by historical accounts, is a major miracle. But not as miraculous as the fact that Joan led the armies in a series of tactical assaults which turned the tide of a weary old war.

She fell into the hands of the English eventually, of course.  And found herself on trial for heresy in a wrangle over the throne of France. Her intellect was perceived as astounding at her trial, but logic has little place in these matters.

But it is that moment in the field that concerns us today. The moment which dictated the shape of not just Joan’s life, but whole peoples.

The Fifth Lesson in Nine Lessons and Carols concerns a moment when a young woman is approached in just such a fashion by just such an angel.  She must have a child without consummation, without father, whilst she was betrothed. She must face almost certain ruin.

The songs talk about this serene rose, saying yes, submitting to what the almighty expected of her.

But be in no doubt: this was a battle cry. When this woman said Let It Happen, did she, could she, know not just the immediate consequences, but that she would have to watch her son embroiled in a messy political situation and die horribly in the hands of the Romans?

We’ll never know. Mary’s story is little documented, unlike that of Joan who came after her. But I eschew the sweet songs about Mary. Any woman in any set of stories like these: no matter how little they say about this character, no matter that she did not wear armour or wave a standard; this character must have signed up for battle.




15 thoughts on “Nine Lessons and Carols: The Fifth Lesson: Visions and Battle Cries

  1. I have always been disturbed by the history of Joan. The whole thing started so incredibly and marvellously, and yet seems to have ended to such little point? Except for giving the French even more reason to dislike the English.
    It should have heralded in a Golden Age for the French.
    I do agree that the role of most women in the Bible – and History – is very sadly underplayed due to the succession of patriarchal societies involved.

  2. The choral piece is lovely, Kate. I absolutely love and appreciate the intertwining of Joan of Arc’s story of bravery and her subsequent fate with that of Mary answering the call to be a vessel for the Christ child. I like the Christmas song, “Mary Did You Know?” which always brings me front and center to the questions you’ve asked. The Christmas season can be an excellent time to ponder the difficult questions and then to settle into hope and peace. I do hope that you and your family experience a very gentle Christmas, and a hope-filled new year. You and yours are very special. ox

    1. Debra, thank you. And I hope the same for all of you. I loved your Nutcracker post – your little granddaughter is growing so fast. Special times. Have a wonderful Christmas.

  3. As I remember, from endless Jesuitical brainwashing, the Immaculate Conception is not concerned with the creation of a child without consummation….it’s about the mother being conceived without original sin…the arrival of the soul is the true moment of conception. None of which has anything to do with Christmas which concerns shopping and eating ……

    1. Trust the Jesuits to labour heroically over the point without actually seeing it. To any woman, the lack of consummation would be a very large aspect of the whole thing, if a little disorienting. It would certainly trump being originally sinful.
      Man has constructed great intricate doctrines around this moment. But we need to go back to what it began as: if it really happened. A young woman saying yes to a lifetime of conflict. Girding her loins, so to speak.

  4. I have often wondered why so much (if not all) of life is a mystery. It seems that every time we “decode,” “discover,” “disentangle,” or “solve” one of those mysteries, they seem to give rise to so many more. While it makes life very interesting, indeed, it also adds to it a great deal of conflict, both external and internal. It is all so beyond my ken, that sometimes it is best not to think too much about these mysteries at all, yet humans being what they are, and I, alas, very human indeed, find myself contemplating such mysteries all the time, and while I never solve any of them, I do find that the act of contemplating is somehow reassuring. Proving, somehow, that as long as I can contemplate without self-combustion, I am somehow still “among the living!”

    BTW, I was just contemplating a mystery called the “Voynich manuscript.” I would love to read what you have to write about it! So baffling – and wouldn’t you know the Jesuits seem to have had their fingers in that mixed beerry pie for centuries, and even they are yet mystified. . .

    Oh well – enjoying this series of yours immensely! Once again, Merry Christmas, Happy and blessed 2014, filled with the abundance – for all – of enough. . . 🙂

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