Ear-Trumpeting With Friar Juniper


THIS little paper begins uninterestingly enough with the ear-trumpet, — and with me; but courage, reader! it is soon to blossom into Friar Juniper, and his words which were like ‘ flaming sparks.’

In the first place then, I did not like it, and it never for an instant occurred to me that anybody could like an ear-trumpet. Whenever I appeared with it in public, the consciousness of it rasped my pride all up and down on its very tenderest spots. It seemed to me that nothing that was in progress on stage or platform was of sufficient interest to distract attention from me and my trumpet. Though I never actually caught them at it, still I was sure I could feel people staring buttonholes of curiosity in my back. It looked like a small warming-pan, and made me look elderly and vague, and as though I should be certain to interrogate, ‘Hey?’ or ‘What say?’ if any one were ever brave enough to address me. ‘But no one’s likely to speak to you,’ I told myself bitterly, ‘for you know perfectly well that even people who lead forlorn hopes, or win Victoria Crosses before breakfast, shake like a leaf at the mere sight of an ear-trumpet.’

But all this was before I met Friar Juniper, and discovered how the trumpet might be worn with a difference.

Does every one know Friar Juniper? He was one of the most picturesque and engaging of all those first little brothers’ who followed St. Francis, and this in spite of the fact that some of his exploits are open to criticism. One can hardly smile, for instance, upon his method of obtaining a pig’s trotter for a sick brother. The invalid certainly got the delicacy he craved, but the poor pig was left alive with only three trotters on which to trot. Neither can one approve Friar Juniper’s habit of indiscriminate giving, because, unfortunately, he never paused to consider whether what he gave was his to give or not. Indeed one of the severest reprimands which he ever received was administered to him on the occasion of his ‘plucking certain bells from the altar and giving them away for the love of God.’

Yet this very indiscretion serves to make manifest that particular characteristic which has so endeared him to me. ‘Friar Juniper,’ we are told, ‘cared nothing for these words,’ — that is, the scolding, — ‘for he delighted in being put to shame.’

There you have it! He delighted in being put to shame. This is an absolute fact, the simple and magnificent truth. He was forever seeking ways in which to ‘ abase himself.’ Here we read, ‘how, to abase himself for the glory of God, Friar Juniper stripped himself of all save his breeches, and got himself to the public piazza to be jeered at’; and again, ‘how to abase himself, Friar Juniper played at see-saw.’ ‘And for what,’ perhaps you ask, ‘was he such a fool?’ Well, he was willing to be such a fool — nay, was glad to be — for the reason best expressed in his own simple words: ‘Alack!’ he cried. ‘Wherefore are we unwilling to suffer a little shame if so be we may gain the blessed life?’

As I reflected on his delight in ‘suffering a little shame,’ it came to me on a wave of laughter, how Friar Juniper would have welcomed an ear-trumpet. What a glorious new way of abasing himself! He would never have tried to dodge it, to turn his back upon it, to look as though it belonged to the next fellow. No indeed! he would have looked upon it as a truly Heaven-sent opportunity, and in sheer delight over the possibilities of pride-humbling and soul-strengthening which it offered, he would have seized upon it with all the eagerness of a happy child, and gone gloriously ear-trumpeting through the world. Indeed I experienced a sudden inward vision of this ecstatic brother dancing along the dusty highways, rough habit flying in the wind, eartrumpet brandished, and he himself shouting forth a new and characteristic psalm.

‘ Praise the Lord with ear-trumpets, and with shawms,’ he cried in my vision; ‘praise Him upon an instrument of ten strings, and upon the harp; now let all the ear-trumpets praise the Lord!’ And therewith he blew such a blast of praise upon his own, that, to my fancy, it went ringing down through the ages, to teach a timid world for all time the splendors of an ear-trumpet, and the spiritual possibilities of physical defects.

O mad, fantastic, sublime, ‘God-intoxicated’ man! One is moved to cry with St. Francis, ‘Would to God, my brethren, that I had a great forest of such Junipers!’

To rejoice in one’s own confusion! Why, that sets one free from at least one half of the pin-pricks of the world! But Friar Juniper had other and greater gifts than this added unto him. We are told, for one thing, ‘that the demons were not able to endure the purity of innocence and the profound humility of Friar Juniper . . . wherefore St. Francis, when demoniacs were brought unto him that he might heal them, if the devils departed not immediately at his command, was wont to say, ‘ If thou dost not forthwith depart from this creature, I will cause Friar Juniper to come against thee.’

It is doubtful if any one of us in our pink tissue-paper worlds (I speak of America; one imagines that Europe is not overburdened with the tissue-paper life at present) ever exercises himself in humility with sufficient robustness to be able to terrify so much as a kindergarten devil, to say nothing of those full-grown specimens that gave St. Francis trouble.

But besides Friar Juniper’s power over devils, think of the gay courage of the man as well. In imminent danger of being hung, he was honestly amused, and spoke with ‘merry countenance as if joking.’ Faced by hanging it requires more than a sense of humor to be really merry. It requires, I think, a sense of God. His was that gayety which surpasses all other gayety; that mirth of the saints which has its well-spring in eternity, and therefore bubbles joyously forth in spite of all the troubling of the surface waters of time.

But most of all, think of the simple and sublime account of Friar Juniper at the deathbed of St. Clare. ‘“What is the news of God?” she asked him cheerfully, and he sat down beside her, and spoke flaming sparks of words.’ It seems to me that there could scarcely be a more beautiful death than the flitting of St. Clare; nor a more beautiful gift from one human being to another than the news of God as presented to her by Friar Juniper.

Alas! I shall never rejoice sufficiently in being abased, nor ear-trumpet gloriously enough to have the shining privilege of speaking such words to a dying saint; but at least I have seen how splendidly an ear-trumpet might be worn, and I trust Heaven may forgive me my pale egotistical timidities, and grant that when I come to die I may have one friend beside me who will take my hand, and speak to me of God in words like flaming sparks.