A new year dawns, and again we are thrust into the resolution predicament. We know in our heart of hearts no resolution could be made in such a way this New Year’s eve as to be a huge success, at least not in the way we envision …or even at all. And so it continues year after year, this cycle of desiring …something. To get thinner, to eat better, to save more, to stop any number of bad habits, but in many ways our resolutions are shadows of desiring something more profound.
And so enters the Village Blacksmith:
Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.
His hair is crisp and black and long;
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,—
He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.
Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With a measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.
And the children coming home from school,
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from the threshing-floor.
He goes on Sunday to the church
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach;
He hears his daughter’s voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.
It sounds to him like her mother’s voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.
Toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing,
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.
Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Oh to be like the blacksmith! I’m not sure this type of man walks our streets very often anymore. What a noble thought to be able to look the whole world in the face… to owe not any man… to be called a worthy friend! Surely times have changed. The world has become more complex, more stressful, more subjective. Or has it truly? I’m skeptical it has. Sometimes I think of our present age and find our way and times is a simply a smoky haze we only get lost in, never found. Surely there are complexities never thought of in the age of man, but these complexities are once known truths melted into muddy illusions. The noble blacksmith is something of a bygone age I fear.
So how would this man, this blacksmith enter into the new year? I think he would continue doing those three monumentally difficult things: toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing. Something tells me he isn’t about to try the Atkin’s diet for the 5th year running. He has his sights on something far more rich and far more challenging, to have that “nearly” impossible virtue: integrity.
For me this upcoming year, having integrity would mean coming to grips with the fact that I need to take continual steps to become more like Kierkegaard’s “Sacrificed Man,” of whom this world, through all ages continually think is silly. I need to be not ashamed of the fact this will sound like utter nonsense to those who don’t profess this Man to be their Creator and Friend. Yet I would hope that they, like those children coming home from school, would love to see my flaming forge and hear my bellows roar, watching my burning sparks fly like chaff as I worked. And I would love them regardless of how ‘out of date’ or ‘simple’ they thought I was, or whatever face they carried or humors they brought for baggage. No condemnation from the blacksmith, no hate, just service in faith. I need to work that faith like a heavy sledge, measured and slow, not floating through the breeze like a rainless cloud. I need to beat at it to make it ring like the village bell tolling for all to hear: I, indeed I, rely on one name alone for my comfort and hope: Jesus Christ.
No resolutions once again this year’s twilight for me. No wistful, yet resolute hope for a change of habit. Nothing except perhaps to toil, to rejoice, to sorrow….and also to remember this, so wonderfully said by William Gurnall in the mid 1600s:
It distills a sweetness into all the believer hath or doth , when he finds any comfort in his bosom, any enlargement of heart in duty, any support under temptations – to consider whence came all these, what friend sends them in. They come not from my own cistern, or any creature’s.
O it is my God that hath been here, and left his sweet perfume of comfort behind him in my bosom!
my God that hath unawares to me filled my sails with the gales of this Spirit, and brought me off the flats of my own deadness, where I lay aground.
O it is his sweet Spirit that held my head, stayed my heart in such an affliction and temptation, or else I had gone away in a fainting fit of unbelief. How can this choose but endear God to a gracious soul.