Pax et Benedictio
by Beth LaBuff 6/22/2013 / Short Stories
Dust particles meandered on filtered sunlight that streamed through cracked stained glass. Their descent was accompanied by quavering a cappella hums. The service, such as it was, had ended; yet a few of us old-timers stayed to hum the hymns. The Federation didn't much like it, but since we weren't technically singing treasonous words, they chose to look the other way.
Following a series of disasters and subsequent uncontrolled rioting, under the guise of "citizen protection," the Federation mandated what became known as the Pax et Benedictio (1). The media said it was "a benevolent gesture that bestowed peace and blessing on all." This peace and blessing was accomplished by seizing banks, businesses, private property, and enforcing martial law. The federation set itself up as god. Any mention of Jesus was forbidden. One was allowed to speak about god with the realization that it referred to the Federation now.
The Federation could keep my lips from singing, but they failed to restrain the message quickening my soul. I pressed my lips as I hummed the melody; my heart sang the words,
"Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word;
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard. (2)"
It was a redemptive ending to a hollow service. As I exited, I shuffled past the Federation worker who stood sentry at the entrance. I nodded and smiled, as was my practice each Sunday. His gaze was fixed with one arm across his weapon, as per his duty. These workers lived among us, but they were provided with extras from the Federation.
For decades the Federation-approved-messages were taken selectively from the book of Ecclesiastes, and they were always on the meaninglessness of riches, wisdom, or pleasure. They frequently quoted King Solomon's words, "I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (3)" Apparently, this validated their actions of removing meaninglessness from citizens' lives. Last week's message was, "A time to be born and a time to die,(4)" and since the Pax et Benedictio, the Federation determined both. But, they failed to ever mention these words from Ecclesiastes "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come. (5)" Days of trouble were here.
And the days of trouble continued to plague us. On Tuesday evening, as I sat down to my meal of bread and greens, the sky detonated. For what seemed like minutes, but in reality, was probably seconds, more meaninglessness was removed from our lives. Our town was shaken, whole sections obliterated. Many people perished, including those from the families of Federation Workers. No help arrived from the Federation. There was no media coverage. It was rumored that the Federation was testing weapons when a tactical error occurred. The event was covered up. The Pax et Benedictio grew more meaningless. There was no peace; we were far from blessed.
Sunday morning, I returned to what remained of the chapel. The door sagged at an angle on one hinge. A scrawled message was tacked to the door, "No service today." The damage afforded a view of the chaos inside.
I clambered over rubble. An acrid odor drifted on unfiltered sunlight that beamed through the open roof. I felt an urgency swelling within my soul; my lips were constrained to follow. I quoted words that were never uttered during services after the Pax et Benedictio. I recited Solomon's conclusion, from the end of Ecclesiastes, "Fear God and keep His commandments. (6)" Without God, life is meaningless.
I looked around as others drew closer. I started to sing.
"Tell of the cross where they nailed Him,
Writhing in anguish and pain;"
The Federation worker approached; he cradled his weapon. Compelled by decades of silence, I couldn't stop. Then a miracle, the worker dropped his weapon. It landed perpendicularly across a fallen beam, forming a cross in this chapel where none had existed for years. He then fell to his knees as the words of the song echoed off battered souls and walls,
"Tell of the grave where they laid Him,
Tell how He liveth again."
If King Solomon were here today, perhaps he would find meaning in these words, "A time to hum and a time to sing." This was that time. I am blessed. I have Peace.
(1) Pax et Benedictio Latin for Peace and Blessing
(2) Tell Me the Story of Jesus by Fanny J Crosby--published in 1880
(3) Ecclesiastes 1:14
(4) Ecclesiastes 3:2
(5) Ecclesiastes 12:1
(6) Ecclesiastes 12:13
Copyright Beth LaBuff 2014
Before Beth LaBuff and her husband, Tilman, moved to the high desert of Arizona, she lived most of her life surrounded by the cornfields of Adair County, Iowa.