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Nothing like a folk tale to engage imaginations and enlarge the world around us—Such is the Brothers Grimm’s Town Musicians of Bremen (1819), still enjoyed by young hearts, six years old or ninety.

The story begins with an aging donkey, decrying his master’s displeasure over his slowness in pulling the cart to market. Rather than face probable death, the donkey flees to Bremen where he will become a musician.

On the road he meets a weary dog, fire thinning his bones. No longer able to hunt, he fears being put down by his master. But the donkey’s invitation to make music sparks his interest and he climbs onto his back.

Next they meet a cat with a face “like three rainy days.” She fears her mistress’s 

drowning, because blunted teeth prevent her from catching mice in their cottage. She, too, joins them.

Then a rooster crowing with all its might causes them to pause along the road. They learn that cook will cut off his head and prepare him for tomorrow’s dinner. He, too, welcomes the invitation and they continue on toward Bremen.

Although the story contains other adventures, I want to focus upon the four friends, so human in their fears of aging and the specter of death. Happily, the donkey sees beyond his fate and chooses an alternative: making music for others. So inspired he is that others choose similarly and climb onto his back and head for Bremen where everyone loves music.

It’s about discovering and developing meaning in life that keeps us fresh—even living with a terminal illness. I have found it so.

Holy Week has left its sweetness while I give thanks for the experience, enriched by prayer and Reza Aslan’s study of the resurrection in Zealot – The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (2013).His historical focus upon this mystery in first-century Palestine rehabbed my outdated faith.

Critical to this study is the oral tradition in which Jesus and those who knew him lived. From the very beginning, the collection of stories, in Aramaic, began inflaming imaginations and drawing countless followers. Yet, his failed mission did not extinguish his title, messiah: he was different than the others and they would find out why.

So deepened the ferment of those following his ignominious death on 30 C.E., on Golgotha. Initially, grief bleared their perception, but his memory buoyed spirits, and hope in his message lightened steps. Soon, more stories circulated—Jesus was still around.

Not until 50 C.E. did the first scriptural reference to the risen Christ appear. In Paul’s letter to the Greek city in Corinth, (15: 3-8) he alludes to an older liturgical formula drawn up by Jesus’s followers when gathered together.

About the same time, the Q Source, an early collection of Jesus’s sayings appears, followed by Mark’s first gospel, written in rough Greek, ten years later; neither contains accounts of the resurrection, but that would change. More ferment by the first believers eventually produced differing gospel accounts by Luke and Matthew, writing in different cities between 90 and 100 C.E. John’s gospel appears between 100 and 120 C.E., again with differing resurrection accounts—all intended to rebut disbelief and gain followers. It worked for centuries.

Aslan, the author, also reminds us that the gospels are not biography, but serve as manuals of faith to be practiced by believers. That’s the rub: sloth prefers the easier, softer way.

But faith in Jesus’s resurrection adds élan to this practice that prepares spirits for reasonable joy in this life and for an eternity of communion in the one following. It can’t be too much longer …

Others have shivered the assaults of stinging winds, frostbite, and heaving lungs splicing their innards. Others, too, have stomped feet upon icy roads, flailed their arms about them, packed rags in their gloves, and looked into the morning sky gyrating with snow-sworls. Would it ever be warm again?

How did they cope?

For some, it was music. Fortunately for us, Byron Arnold, music professor at the University of Alabama – Tuscaloosa, published An Alabama Songbook: Ballads, Folksongs, and Spirituals (1950), the culmination of decades’ work of traipsing across the state with a heavy recorder and visiting the old, the blind, the invalid, the young—those with long memories. His efforts resulted in the collection of over 500 songs; among them was the reel, Cold Frosty Morning (p. 116) that dated back to the Civil War. 

Whoever composed this three-minute interlude must have known the bite of winter; its terrible beauty opens the psyche to the profundity of death-into-life; its soaring cadences express the unutterable.

Multiple instrumental versions of Cold Frosty Morning can be found on YouTube. One by Douglas Jimerson features sepia photos of Confederate troops, in an uncertain time like or own.

Available on Amazon

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