Sunday, August 28, 2005
Non Nobis Domine
"Not to us lord, but to your name give the glory."
Kobayashi Maru asks us to pray for New Orleans while celebrating the impossible news that the latest tests indicate that his brother is clear of cancer. His brother is back at home, although he has two more weeks to go in this course of treatment and then he will need a stem cell transplant:
Ten days ago, the world-class super-experienced oncology docs had been telling us that the chances of this happening - of the cancer retreating like this - were infinitesimally small. Start thinking about hospice, they said. We'll give it one last shot if you want, they said. It's OK if he decides to just go home and die quietly before Labor Day, they said. In my brother's own words: "You were planning my funeral, weren't you?" Uh, well... Yeah. Sorry. Never mind.You can read the story of this stunning reversal of fortunes in just a few posts. First, the terrible news on August 16th:
An hour ago I spoke with my brother. He had just spoken with his doctor. The test results are back. His leukemia is back - for the third time. He's been given a 5% chance to live.Second, the reeling and the staggering:
There's something about the slow-motion shock of this that's made me hyper-aware of certain people and situations: the doctor delivering the news in person, the woman at the elevator visiting a friend who's also in 'late stage', an friend I hadn't seen in two years whom I shared lunch with yesterday. There's what my pastor calls a "thinness" to these interactions - my normal inclination to put up a front of small talk, to not take risks and to stay within myself, i.e., my normal defenses, broken by the enormity of the situation."The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart; These, O God, You will not reject."
Third, they wander in the night:
The news from the docs is moving subtly but steadily from "some hope, let's fight", to "start thinking about how you want the fight to end". That's fueled some intensely painful moments, (Why is it that I cry most in my car? Why is it that this song came on just as I started the engine the other day, rendering me a complete mess?)Fourth, they struggle and are thankful for cool water.
Fifth, the tide begins to turn, but Kobayashi Maru suspects it is the eye of the hurricane (August 22). His brother has stopped dying, for the moment:
Yesterday, I think we got a down-payment on the miracle we'd been asking for: some lab results showing that recent chemo and radiation have beaten back a key part of the leukemia, achieving a 99.7% (!!) reduction in blast cells in his spinal column and stabilization of his blood chemistry. If anyone had told me this last week, I would either have said "no way", or rushed up and hugged them flat.Sixth, on August 28th, his brother returns home, not to die, but to celebrate, which is where I began this post. Kobayashi Maru writes:
So scratch "I think", and "down payment" in that last paragraph. We've had a miracle. No, this may not change the big picture, which remains tenuous. We're trying to keep that in mind and not allow ourselves to get too 'high'. Still, this strong positive movement shows that doctors aren't always right, and that low odds still mean... odds... a shot... some skin in the game. Hope.
I've lost track of the number of countries and prayer groups making his case with the Big Guy. It has been tremendously humbling and inspiring to all of us."Non nobis domine, sed nomine tuo da gloriam" is the only possible reply. Do not stop praying for these people even if you don't believe. By all means pray for Katrina to wrap herself in windy confusion and spin herself out in the Gulf, and not on top of the coast and Boomr. Pray for what you need and cannot get, pray for what your family needs and cannot get, pray for help when your strength runs out, pray for our military in Iraq, pray for the helpless children caught in forces they can't understand and pray for all those who are suffering, confused or engaged on missions to rescue the helpless.
To those of you steeped in this kind of thing - for whom prayer is a regular routine - thank you. To those of you who feel kinda funky and self-conscious and doubting about whether God exists, how to pray and/or whether prayer means anything at all, much less whether it works - THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU!!!!
God plays by his own rules, which are designed for his own victory, and he will only act in the world if we invite him in and promise that we can bear the consequences. If not, he will catch up with us at the end, because he intends for his victory to be ours. But TANSTAAFL is an invariant rule; All their lives will be changed forever, and what is being forged now is yet another bell for the chorus that mirrors the real one.
A score of Non Nobis (and links to the Branagh soundtrack which can be purchased). A sound file of another version used in Doyle's 1989 version of Henry V. If you want to laugh until you hurt, see this scholarly and utterly witless discussion of the use of the Non Nobis hymn in Branagh's Henry The Fifth. No one has ever really figured out how the British won at Agincourt, and Pauline Kael can't even understand that the meaning of the hymn is not a triumphal paen to war, but a cry of amazed thankfulness to God:
Pauline Kael, in her review of Henry V, praises the tracking shot's powerful panorama of carnage but disdains the musical soundtrack -- in her view, it "trivializes" and "cheapens" the impact of the scene. Kael does not elaborate on why she feels this way, but we can assume that she at least was judging the music in its traditional role as an obligatory generator of affect, in which case a critic doesn't necessarily have to explain their assessment of music's effect....For heaven's sake, pray for Pauline Kael. She's so confused she's probably still trying to figure out how Nixon got elected. There is something terribly sad about a person who can reach her age without understanding at least the human significance of that hymn in that setting. One thing is certain. Both Kobayashi Maru and all his family understand the significance of that hymn, and joy has touched their lives.
If we are inclined to continue to trust the score as being "sincere," then "Non Nobis" can be interpreted as a sincere (and out-of-fashion) paean to glorious victory. (Indeed, some critics did seem inclined to do so; they could not understand why the film, in their eyes, took this seemingly pro-war tone, and some went so far as to call Kenneth Branagh a Thatcherite.)
Honestly, the joyful part doesn't hurt a bit.
Thank you so much for the update on KM's brother!! What incredibly wonderful news!!!
Kobayashi Maru, I bet your face hurts from smiling so much!
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