From my small third story window I look down upon green Welsh meadowland that stretches to the wide mouth of the River Dee where it opens to the sea. Off to the west is rolling hill country, dotted with grazing sheep and cattle, rising gradually toward the rugged and heavily wooded Snowdon mountains. St. Deiniol's Library, a stately stone building adjacent to the expansive estate of Hawarden Castle, was established in the late 1800s by Victorian statesman and philanthropist William Gladstone for the pursuit of Divine learning. Gladstone's vision for this picturesque place was to gather a fellowship of scholars for solid and serious work for the benefit of mankind in inexpensive lodgings together with congenial society. It is here I find quiet days to page through the dusty, leather-bound history of former times. And in this ancient land I am discovering stories whose significance is as contemporary as if they had happened yesterday. Defense and conquest have been the constant themes of this north Wales landscape throughout its history. Formidable stone fortresses and walled cities ring the entire coastline, testaments to centuries of ferocious battles between invaders and resisters who warred over its control. Among its fiercest warriors were the Celts, who conquered much of the country and held off for hundreds of years such powerful forces as the legions of Rome.
In Celtic society a figure of central importance was a psalmist of sorts called a bard. A singing poet and story teller, the bard would accompany the chieftains and warriors on their conquests, watch their bloody conflicts, and put to verse their exploits. At the end of long days when battle-torn soldiers dragged themselves to the campfires to bind up wounds and take meat and spirits, it was the clear, melodious voice of the bard that kept alive the spark within their spirits. He sang of the greatness of their past and the glory of their future. His lyrics made heroes out of ordinary men and gave meaning to the high price of victory. His ballads stirred their weary souls and inspired them to raise their swords once again for the honor of their cause.
Bards disappeared with the middle ages. But the need for bards still remains. My mind journeys half way round the world to small cadres of unsung heroes who are waging campaigns against the forces of darkness in Atlanta and cities like it. Called to confront formidable challenges such as poverty and racism and addiction and other such giants, they dare to occupy dangerous ground and engage these enemies on their own turf. Largely unnoticed and unacclaimed, these quiet soldiers persist against overwhelming odds and doggedly reclaim territory long thought to be beyond redemption. Their units are small but their impact is far greater than most would imagine.
The announcement of trumpets and kisses thrown by fair maidens who lined the way were welcome sights for the returning Celtic warriors as they carried the spoils of victory back to their city gates. Yet every soldier knew in his heart that it was the song of the bard at the campfire and not the cheer of the homecoming crowd that had inspired their success. But there are no bards left to sing the stories of the valiant trench-soldiers of modern day conflict. When they become weary in well-doing, fatigued by persistent stress and discouraged by setbacks, there is no one singing in the night of their valor. Nor do they seek acclaim. When these warriors are down they quietly salve and wrap their own wounds with whatever material is at hand.
I cannot help but wonder if the high casualty rate among our urban forces would improve and their troop strength increase if the role of the bard were once again employed. Awards banquets are affirming and media coverage is fine but only a bard can capture in stirring verse the sound of moaning during long, dark nights of the soul. Mission fairs may have their place but cannot compare with the encourager who trudges in the dust and mud along side the troops, taking notice of their daily acts of unrecorded courage. Perhaps it is time to issue a call for street-psalmists to help us recognize the works of God among us and recognize, too, the heroes, flawed and ordinary, whose exploits might inspire a generation grown cynical on fluff and sizzle.
Perhaps it is time to institute in the Kingdom the Holy Order of Bards!