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The Glory of the Trenches Coningsby Dawson

God As We See Him

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At a cross-road at the bottom of a hill, on the way to a gun-position we once had, stood a Calvary--one of those wayside altars, so frequently met in France, with pollarded trees surrounding it and an image of Christ in His agony. Pious peasants on their journey to market or as they worked in the fields, had been accustomed to raise their eyes to it and cross themselves. It had comforted them with the knowledge of protection. The road leading back from it and up the hill was gleaming white--a direct enfilade for the Hun, and always under observation. He kept guns trained on it; at odd intervals, any hour during the day or night, he would sweep it with shell-fire. The woods in the vicinity were blasted and blackened. It was the season for leaves and flowers, but there was no greenness. Whatever of vegetation had not been uprooted and buried, had been poisoned by gas. The atmosphere was vile with the odour of decaying flesh. In the early morning, if you passed by the Calvary, there was always some fresh tragedy. The newly dead lay sprawled out against its steps, as though they had dragged themselves there in their last moments. If you looked along the road, all the glazed eyes seemed to stare towards it. "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy Kingdom," they seemed to say. The wooden Christ gazed down on them from His cross, with a suffering which two thousand years ago he had shared. The terrible pity of His silence seemed to be telling them that they had become one with Him in their final sacrifice. They hadn't lived His life--far from it; unknowingly they had died His death. That's a part of the glory of the trenches, that a man who has not been good, can crucify himself and hang beside Christ in the end. One wonders in what pleasant places those weary souls find rest.

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There was a second Calvary--a heap of ruins. Nothing of the altar or trees, by which it had been surrounded, was left. The first time I passed it, I saw a foot protruding. The man might be wounded; I climbed up to examine and pulled aside the debris. Beneath it I found, like that of one three weeks dead, the naked body of the Christ. The exploding shell had wrenched it from its cross. Aslant the face, with gratuitous blasphemy, the crown of thorns was tilted.

These two Calvaries picture for me the part that Christ is playing in the present war. He survives in the noble self-effacement of the men. He is re-crucified in the defilements that are wrought upon their bodies.

God as we see Him! And do we see Him? I think so, but not always consciously. He moves among us in the forms of our brother men. We see him most evidently when danger is most threatening and courage is at its highest. We don't often recognise Him out loud. Our chaps don't assert that they're His fellow-campaigners. They're too humble-minded and inarticulate for that. They're where they are because they want to do their "bit"--their duty. A carefully disguised instinct of honour brought them there. "Doing their bit" in Bible language means, laying down their lives for their friends. After all they're not so far from Nazareth.

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The Glory of the Trenches
Coningsby Dawson

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