I turn up the collar of my wool topcoat and bow my head against the penetrating, moisture-laden wind. Snowflakes are gradually transforming the tired modern city of London into a Dickensian Christmas card.
On a deserted street I stop under an ancient street lamp and look up. Snow arcs around the lamp like an endless shower of electrical sparks, then floats down to cover pothole, gutter, car, and sidewalk alike with a uniform coat of softly glowing white.
From somewhere I hear music, muffled brass and what seems like human voices. On a night like this? I walk toward the sound and the music grows louder until I round a corner and see its source: a Salvation Army band. A man and a woman are playing a trombone and trumpet respectively, and I grimace as I imagine the effect of metal pressed against lips in the numbing wind. Three others, evidently new recruits, are lustily singing a hymn based on a poem by William Cowper.
Only two other people are listening: a drunken gentleman who is propping himself against the stone porch railing of a Georgian-style townhouse, and a businessman on the corner who keeps glancing at a pocket watch. The words are familiar to me:
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel's veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
An unavoidable smile crosses my face as I hear those words. I have just come from hospital rounds, where I saw blood being drawn from some veins, transfused into others, and diligently scrubbed off surgical smocks and nurses' uniforms. With my church background, I know the origin and meaning of that Christian hymn, but these other two bystanders, listening half-heartedly—what images fill their minds as they hear those words?
Would not such ...1
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