September 2003 Archives

Via Mr. Teachout's blog, a wonderful, spirited defense of the works of Stephen King. I have many reservations regarding Mr. King's appropriateness for this award. I have many qualms about the quality of his work. I do resonate to some of what Mr. Bloom has to say about this. But Mr. Bloom asserts in a vacuum. He assumes popular=bad (which is often true, but not always). I used to believe this, and found that it was yet one more place I was wrong.

Whether Mr. King deserves the National Book Award or not is a moot point. I don't vote on it, most people have no say. The award shall be given. But it is vastly entertaining to see the merits of his work considered.

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from St. Benedict and St. Thérèse
Dwight Longenecker

In the end Thérèse made a heroic sacrifice. Her painful death, combined with a terrible spiritual darkness, took her into a full identification with the Lamb of God; but in keeping with her little way, she never aspired to a sensational sacrifice. The way of the Lamb was found through the daily routine of self-sacrificial living. "Sensational acts of piety are not for me--this shall be my life, to miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word, always doing the tiniest things right and doing it for love."

This relates indirectly to a discussion at John da Fiesole's on hypocrisy. Was Thérèse a hypocrite because she smiled when she didn't feel like it? Were these small sacrifices a sign of an interior haughtiness and hypocrisy--a servile and sniveling way to curry God's favor?

Rather, I think that the exterior actions and the will to them, gave rise to a heart of love. Yes, she did view them as sacrifices, they were small labors, but labors willingly undertaken because they gave Love a home. The actions were not hypocrisy, but humility. It was not hypocritical for Thérèse to note that there was a sister among them at whom no one would smile willingly and that she undertook to do so. Had she done so in order to win the Sister to herself, that might at least be labeled flattery. But Thérèse did so because that is what love demanded. She did so because she could bring a soul to God if only for a moment.

It is in actions like these that we get the clearest understanding of what the Little Way is and what we can do to emulate it. Starting the day with the love of God firmly in our hearts, we make an attempt to be pleasant before we've had our morning coffee. We restrain the broad spectrum of the ways to express ourselves at those who feel traffic regulations are for other people. We smile and treat pleasantly people who we would rather have nothing whatsoever to do with. And we do it not to curry favor with people, and not to get on God's good side, but to be for just a moment a placid reflection of God in a life of turmoil. We offer a momentary glimpse, a taste of salvation--in the words of Omar Khayyam:

"A momentary taste of being
from the well amid the waste."

That is what the Little Way offers to the world. What it offers to us is the possibility of a life of daily joyous sacrifice, of doing God's will and not our own wills, of working in humble obedience toward the spread of Love and the news of Jesus' saving work. Ultimately the sweetness we offer in a brief respite from the usual actions of our society can make a "Kingdom of Heaven" here on Earth. And always we do what we do because we love Jesus.

St. James taught us that "Faith without works is dead." St. Thérèse in her ageless ever-young wisdom added "Love without works is dead." Love without sacrifice is no reflection of the One True Love shown for all eternity by arms outstretched on the cross.

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A Short, Dickensian Note


Dickens describing Lady Dedlock in Bleak House:

" She is perfectly well-bred. If she could be translated to heaven to-morrow, she might be expected to ascend without any rapture. "

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CRI--Creation Research Institute

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Listening to the local Christian Music Radio station on my way home I just heard a gentleman who was introduced as a "geologist" from the Creation Research Institute utter what I most despise coming from these people.

After a long and elaborate description of a certain kind of pollinating symbiosis in one breed of orchids, the scientist reached his scientific climax, the coup de grace of evolution--the grand and oracular scientific utterance, "Natural selection could not bring this about, only God's design."

Now, I have no real problem with the sentiment--everyone is entitled to an opinion, and when faced with certain things like this, I am often stunned by the complexity of the relationship and the morphologies involved. But to claim that such a declamation was in any way scientific or evidence of anything other than a profoundly held opinion is, in fact, fraud. Opinions do not make science. My opinion that evolution is (or is not) the cause of every morphotype in adaptive space is not proof that it is so. When people attack the supposed proofs with solid reasoning (Michael Behe, and his ilk) I'm inclined to give an attentive ear. I find many of the defenses against Behe's argument, shall we say, defensive--each a case of special pleading.

But do not present an opinion, by a scientist or anyone else, and then call it documentary evidence. It is misleading and it makes the people who then quote this kind of thing look like absolute idiots. Worse, it makes the case presented by those with strong scientific credentials less plausible, because everyone can point to the opinionaters and group them together.

Science tries to be objective, but scientists are every bit the political animal every human being is--and so if you can show someone belonging to a fringe outlier, you don't need to pay attention.

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Summa Mamas


You must experience it. Summa mamas promises to have a refreshing perspective on things.

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Favorite Childhood Books

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Many have commented on this theme, and while I haven't seen the original post I thought I would post some of mine.

T.S. O'Rama reminded me of one that I truly loved as a child, though it is down on the list. Thanks for the reminder, I believe I shall look at it yet once again.

All-time Top of the List

Tom Sawyer Mark Twain--(I read it three times every year starting in third grade. Around age 35, I reduced it to twice, but still every year)
Alice in Wonderland Through the Lookingglass and What Alice Found There Lewis Carroll-- (once a year every year since grade 5)
The Lord of the Rings --J. R. R. Tolkien (regularly since grade 6)
A Light in the Forest Conrad Richter(?)
My Side of the Mountain Jean Craighead George
Collected Tales of Edgar Allan Poe (I was a morbid little thing. Particularly liked "User" and "Masque of the Red Death"
The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine--Ray Bradbury 7th grade on.
A Tale of Two Cities Fourth grade on
The Collected Tales of H.P. Lovecraft (ditto Clark Ashton Smith, ditto Robert Howard) I told you I was a morbid sort.
Foundation Trilogy and Dune (Grade 6 on)

These (except for Light in the Forest) have remained on my current reading list since that early time. Naturally I read them somewhat differently now, but they are good friends, solid companions, and a source of a certain comfort that other books generally cannot provide--they stay with me to this very day and I delight in thinking about them. It is my hope that my own son develop a similar list and it serves him as well.

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An Interview With a Lowly Pilgrim


Thomas requested an interview. Although he has already responded to Alicia's questions, there were other things I thought I could ask.

(1) I note your site has numerous references to monastic life, and in many cases strict monastic life (Trappists, OCSO, etc.) What is the attraction to these orders?

(2) Outside of the Bible, what spiritual reading has been most formative for you?

(3) Tell us a bit about the pilgrimage so far--born Catholic or convert? What has been the single greatest help in getting to where you are today spiritually?

(4) There seems to be a implication that you have had some experience in the business world. How has this experience informed your journey?

(5) Who is your favorite canonized Saint (other than the Blessed Virgin) and why?

Later: Thomas has posted his answers.

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Interviewing Crystal

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Crystal has asked to be interviewed. I must admit that I am not much of an interviewer and my questions may lack the luster of some. We might do well to be interviewed by several people because others ask incisive and informative questions. So if Crystal will forgive me, I offer these questions.

(1) The name of your site is Still Building Zion. Please explain what the title means and one thing you would like any visitor to your site to leave with.

(2) Other than the Bible, what is your favorite spiritual reading and why?

(3) You are part of a ministry that serves a teenage community. What does One Rock do and how did you get involved with it?

(4) Who is the person living today who has had the most influence in your life for good or ill? Why?

(5) On your site you speak of your reconversion. For the benefit of those who have not had a chance to read your story as published early, what is your story? Where were you and where do you hope to be going?

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A Tale of Heaven

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Title: The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Author: Mitch Albom
Recommendation: Highly Recommended

Yes, I know, at every turn this book is being foisted off on you. Go into any bookstore and you get 30% off. The tables at Costco (where I bought it for still less) are littered with copies of it and you are faced with the ominous promise, "Mitch Albom author of Tuesdays with Morrie.

Well, I liked Tuesdays with Morrie even if occasionally I felt as if I were being lectured. The same holds true for this novel. I like it. I like it a lot. But there were places where I felt that the tone was a trifle strident, a trifle overbearing. But to be honest, that is because I am so sensitive to "message books." And this obviously IS a message book.

The intent of the story is somewhat similar to It's a Wonderful Life in showing the interconnectivity of the entire human community. It is sort of summed up in the first "lesson"

from The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Mitch Albom

"You say you should have died instead of me. But during my time on earth, people died instead of me, tool. It happens every day. When lightning strikes a minute after you are gone, or a an airplane crashes that you might have been on. When your colleague falls ill and you do not. We think such things are random. But there is a balance to it all. One withers, another grows. Birth and death are part of a whole.

"It is why we are drawn to babies. . ." He turned to the mourners. "And to funerals."

The story is told in a series of episodes that cover the main character's life. Eddie is a maintenance man at a pier side amusement park who dies trying to save a young girl's life. He does not know if he is successful.

The premise is that once you reach heaven you meet five people who help you to understand what you life was all about. They might be people you knew intimately, they might not. Each of them has some important role in who you are and what you have become.

The episodes include Eddie's Birthdays, the people he meets, the lessons they share and some moments on Earth after Eddie's death.

The book is quite short and does pack a punch here and there. I'm not ashamed to admit that I got choked up three or four times in the course of reading--the sign of very effective writing.

Because the time commitment to this book is so small (an-hour-and-half to say three hours) I cannot help but recommend it. Yes, there is much ground that has been trodden before. Yes, I think there are some flaws with the theology and the vision of heaven. But all told, it does us well to be reminded that we are part of a community. "No man is an island. . . if a clod be washed from Europe, Europe be the less. . . ." This is always a salutary reminder, as we too readily sink into ourselves and into the "Pilgrim" experience of John Bunyan of every man for himself until you reach the shores of salvation. And it's much more like we're all swimming for the heavenly shore--millions and millions of us. Sometimes we're so close and crowded, we impede each other's progress, sometimes we are allowed to pull one who is floundering from beneath the waters and hold him or her up briefly--long enough to catch breath before we're swimming again. But in one way or another our success, while entirely dependent upon Jesus’ sacrificial love is also dependent upon the broken creatures we swim with. We are all one body--and one body is not saved without its arms or legs--though it can be. It is against the nature of a body to allow these parts to go missing--and so we work with one another in our struggle to obey God.

A parting word:

"Sacrifice. . . you made one. I made one. We all make them. But you were angry over yours. You kept thinking about what you lost.

"You didn't get it. Sacrifice is part of life. It's supposed to be. It's not something to regret. It's something to aspire to. Little sacrifices. Big sacrifices. A mother works so her son can go to school. A daughter moves home to take care of her sick father. . ."

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St Thomas More

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Ward-Thomas More-small.jpg

This picture encapsulates part of my fascination with St. Thomas More. While never for a moment turning from God, he managed to remain a man of the law (nearly unbelievable in itself--particularly given the time) and a devoted Father and Husband. The image above portrays St. Thomas More's farewell to his daughter. It was painted in the nineteenth century by Edward Matthew Ward. To my mind it captures perfectly the tenderness, deep regard, and concern that St. Thomas More lavished on his family until the day of his death.

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Kathy the Carmelite Interview

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Kathy the Carmelite was the first blog-owner to request an interview--I have to figure out what I'm going to do about non-blogowners--seems to me that frequent commenters might also be qualified.

Anyway, I'm not much of a questioner, but here I go with Kathy's five:

(1) You call your blog Gospel M*i*n*e*f*i*e*l*d. What did you have in mind when you named it that?

(2) Who has had the greatest impact on your spiritual journey and why?

(3) Which of the Carmelite Saints do you prefer and why? To whom would you suggest that one wishing to know about what Carmelite life is REALLY like go? (Other than the Holy Trinity and the Blessed Virgin)

(4) What is your favorite holiday/season of the year and why?

(5) List five authors (dead or alive) who you wish would never stop writing and tell us why they speak to you.

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Interview Questions graciously offered by Jay of

Flos Carmeli Questions
1) As you eloquently stated in Gross Incivility, “every story is told from a point of view”; What is your personal ‘point of view’?
My point of view is that of humble pilgrim who has been wrong much more than he has been right. So I know full well that it is possible in good will to hold very bad and incorrect notions of the ways things are and should be. I write as a father who waited a very long time to become a father and who is delighted with that grace perhaps more than anything in my life. I write as one who has no real home here and no place that I really call my own. My point of view is that of deliberate outcast, involuntary participant in much of the madness of society and one who wishes more than anything else to truly make present the reality of the love God has for each person.

2) You blog seems to focus a great deal on spirituality. Who has had the greatest impact on your personality spiritual journey (besides the Trinity)?

This is a surprisingly difficult question. I think the answer might be St. Paul. Every other saint or spiritual writer I have read has been a kind of footnote to the revelations Paul granted us about the working of God's grace and the necessity of prayer. When I read St. John of the Cross, St. Thérèse, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Louis de Montfort, any Saint postdating Paul, I hear his words echoing and reechoing. While doctrine has become broader and more nuanced, it seems that everything is present inthose epistles Paul wrote. And a close runner-up is St. John of the wonderful Gospel, and the Letters--again, whatever has been said about God's love, was said there first--it seems. (Oh, and I really like St. James, possibly because Luther had so little liking for him.)

3) Can you explain more fully the lay Carmelite order for those of us with lesser knowledge (I’m a convert also, so I have some claim to ‘ignorance’)?

A lay Carmelite is a member of the Carmelite order who has pledged to live out the Carmelite vocation in ordinary life. We follow a seperate rule, tailored for people who have families and workaday concerns, but we share in the spirituality and the gifts of Carmelite Spirituality. Any Catholic in good standing eighteen years of age or older may become a member of the Carmelites, eitehr OCDS (discalced or reformed Carmelites--St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila) or T. O. Carm. (Carmelites of the Ancient Observance--most prominently St. Mary Magadalene da Pazzi).

4) How does a Palentologist with an interest in fractals and chaos know so much about poetry and Catholic literature?

When I first went to college, I went with no idea of what I was doing there except collecting degrees and learning. So I received a Bachelor of Arts in English, studied for an MFA in poetry, a Bachelor of Science in Geology and went on to graduate school to continue study in Geology, Medieval and Renaissance Literature, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and seventeenth Century Poetry. Ultimately unable to make up my mind I did my PhD work on "Non-linear dynamics and the periodicity of extinctions with a consideration of Silurian Reef Paleoecology." My master's thesis was on "The Functional Morphology of the Platycrinitid Stem." I've published a number of papers on crinoid functional morphology and delivered a number of talks on the question of the proper analysis of the supposed peridocity of extinctions observed in the fossil record.

5) Who would you like to see as the next Pope (I couldn’t resist)?

I can only say that I am enormously relieved this question is one that I need deal with only in theory. I would like to see as the next Pope a man informed by the teaching of the Church who heeds the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I would like to see a person who has the courage of his convictions, rightly formed, in the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church. I would like to see a man who does not have as part of his agenda the "reformation" of the Church according to a modernist/postmodernist agenda. In short, I would like to see as Pope the man whom God will give us, who will guide, nuture, and protect the Church against the onslaught of the world and who will speak boldly and stridently against the present evils of the world.

In accord with the agreement made in answering these questions, I offer to interview anyone who cares to ask. E-mail me or leave a note in the comments box, and I will happily try to think of five reasonable quesitons to send to you. (Or unreasonable questions. I have been known to ask interviewees their favorite read-aloud for children with reasons why.)

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A Report from the Front Lines


Start here and scroll up for a detailed report on the Virginia "Community Meeting" of Episcopalians. It is moving and eye-opening.

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On Miracles and Simplicity

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In this passage, Mr. Longenecker makes some incisive and interesting points:

from St. Benedict and St. Thérèse: The Little Rule and the Little Way
Dwight Longenecker

To speak plainly, the main problem for sophisticated people is not that miracles are incredible, but that they are an error in taste. To profess belief in miracles takes one perilously close to faith healers, the souvenir stalls of Lourdes, and lurid pictures of Jesus with googly eyes. There is a breed of spiritually minded people who reduce Christianity to the highest form of aesthetics. Beauty us to Truth, but beauty without truth is false, and that which is false and beautiful does not remain beautiful for very long. If the faith is no more than a pretty face, then the aesthetes are also atheists. Since miracles are an error in taste, it is far more subversive and therefore far more Christian to accept the miracles. It's also much more fun--rather like wearing a hideous hat on purpose.

If Benedict's biography gives the sophisticated soul miracles to stumble over, Thérèse's story gives tasteful grown-ups an even bigger obstacle. To find Thérèse, the modern soul has to climb over the stumbling block of her style. We modern-day pilgrims are presented with a nineteenth-century teenage nun with a pretty smile and schoolgirl enthusiasms. She speaks in language that seems archaic and sickly sweet. Among other sentimental touches she calls herself a little flower of Jesus and a little ball for the child Jesus to play with. She thinks God is her "Papa" and likens herself to a bowl of milk that kittens come to drink from. It's easy to turn away such greeting-card spirituality in distaste, but this is precisely the first test. Thérèse swamps tasteful people with sentimentality and sweetness, and only when they survive the taste test can they begin to appreciate her wisdom. She is one of the best examples of the secret Catholic truth that says the tasteful cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. (p. 46-47)

There is so much more profound and interesting insight on these pages that I must encourage you all to get the book if you can. This passage continues and says many wonderful and remarkable things about the style and what Thérèse was and what she was trying to do.

I think style is the biggest complaint I hear about Thérèse; how people can't push themselves through the sticky images and the sweetness and light. And I sympathize--greatly. Up until the magisterial translation offered by the ICS, I had similar feelings. The Beevers translation and earlier works were just dreadful and incredibly off-putting. I couldn't find any spirituality for all the treacle. When the Carmelite Group proposed reading this piece of school-girl drivel I just about went mad (although, truth to tell, I was instrumental in proposing it.) But when I read it, and really searched it to find out what the Church saw here, I was truly astonished at the depths that opened up before me. What was school-girl drivel suddenly became something else entirely. I can't explain it. All I can say is that this person who prizes above much else elegance of language and expression, sophistication of writing and idea suddenly discovered the elegance of saying precisely what was right for the person who was writing. It opened a door to riches beyond imagination. From saccharine schoolgirl, my image of Thérèse transmuted into Great Saint, perhaps one of the very greatest of Saints--a true Doctor in the sense of conveying in language anyone who wished to could understand profound truths about prayer and our relationship with God.

And in fact, I think Longenecker has hit upon a key point. Entry to Thérèse means submitting with great humility to the fact that a teenaged "silly" schoolgirl has something profound and life-altering to teach those of us who have been in the world approaching twice as long. Surely this babe in the woods could not know anything we have not already learned. And the barrier that demonstrates approach with proper humility is the ability to get past the language and the image. Until then, you are not really permitted a glance at the profound wisdom and truth that is offered through the writings of this unlikely nun.

Thérèse presents more than anything else a challenge to our sensibilities and our aesthetics, a challenge that offers a small taste of the meaning of detachment. We must detach from our own preferences, our own sense of style, our own love of the high language and great art of many of the other saints, and accept a story-book saint--flat, wooden, and girlish. And as in some fairy-tale story, when we do so, she comes alive and tells us truths that will change our lives and our relationship with God.

(Oh--one additional tip for the hopelessly stymied--for whatever reason, all of this that is so off-putting in English, is greatly subdued if you read it in French--this discipline is finally what allowed me to enter the door and sit for a while at this great teacher's feet. Praise God!)

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What I Like About MT

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I had been asked to comment on the move after I had some time to get used to the features.

There are two important things to think about in the move: (1) Do I want to go through the work? (2) Is it worth it?

I should state at the start that I have no animus toward Blogger or Blogspot. Every server has outages from time to time and glitches in functioning. Considering the huge number of users and amount of traffic that the blogspot servers receive, I'd say that it's remarkable that so little goes wrong.

However, when you're with Blogspot, you have to sign up for endless add ons to make things work as you wish. You've got to go somewhere special for RSS feed, you have to add on a commenting service (if you wish comments) and you need to add on a traffic counter. (Something you also need to do on MT if you aren't running your own server.)

The advantages of MT are manifold. You can edit multiple entries at a time, you can categorize, you can display your archive in any number of ways. The style sheets and templates seem easier to parse so you can change styles pretty much as you wish. You have trackback ability and pinging of entries.

I had long looked with great desire at the cateloging function available on MT--it is every bit as wonderful as I had hoped, and the ability for me to view my archives by category is beyond mere dreams wonderful. I am slowly (very slowly) cataloging each entry (I transported over something like 1680). But the value of this function made the move worthwhile for me.

So ultimately I'm at MT for the greater control it gives me over my materials and what I am doing. I really like MT now that I'm used to it and think that there are benefits that everyone would enjoy. The editing seems simpler, the interface as clean, the possibilities greater. I don't use many of the possibilities because I find some of them aggravating to read--for example, I don't excerpt my entries. It would probably be an advantage to readers were I to do so, but just as I hate news stories continued elsewhere, I'm rarely inclined to load another page to finish reading an item. It's just me. But that option does exist on MT.

All in all, I would say that I am ecstatically happy with MT and would recommend it to all who need the power. If you've been doing blogger for some time now and are content with its features, there is really no need to go to MT. In fact, but for the cataloging features, I would probably still be with blogger. And with ultra blogger, it may be possible to add those on.

Anyway, MT is very, very nice and is a lovely place to be.

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Exhibit Opening


This evening I get to attend the Grand Opening of the Exhibit for which I have written most of the text. (You know, the little plaques you read as you go along.) It was a wonderful and aggravating experience and I learned a great deal more than I ever cared to know about certain aspects of flight. (The great Bernoulli v. Newton debate, reciprocating v. impact (reaction) engines, and other such.)

So now I get to go to the grand opening and hobnob with the Mayor and all the glitterati (if the burg in which I live actually has such.) I'll be sure to report tomorrow. (If it's interesting--i.e. don't expect much of a report.)

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Some remarkable insights and very strong points here:

from an Essay by David Warren

It is no conspiracy: prejudice against Catholics is as widespread today as it ever was; people want to hear bad things about this church, especially; and want to believe the worst about its celibate priests. My e-mail inbox sags under the e-weight of anti-Catholic e-spittle -- people making remarks quite casually which, if the word "Catholic" were replaced with the word "Muslim", or "Jew", might qualify for public prosecution. For many "liberal" people today, including many liberal Catholics, the traditional and faithful Catholics are a special tribe beneath human dignity.

This does not extenuate all those priests who did evil things, and hurt Christ in hurting his children. Human nature is darkly sinful, and in the proximity of Grace are found the greatest temptations.

This, after all, has been what the Catholic Church has taught, through 20 centuries. It is a church which can hardly be surprised by the presence of evil, both without and within its ranks. Yet it is a mark of the true Church, that when she fails she is singled out for special treatment. In that sense, even if they do it from the bad motive of anti-Catholic prejudice, people are right to hold the Catholic Church to higher standards. And we must take their spittle in good grace.

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You Should Be Reading Him


If you are not read this refugee from the calamity of the Episcopal Church, you should be. There is much food for thought:

from an Essay by David Warren

The nonsense most now believe about such legal abstractions as "equality" perfectly illustrates the case. The fiction, for instance, that "same-sex marriage" could be instituted as an "equality issue", can only be spread among people deprived of the intellectual equipment to resist it. For a person of average intelligence, and an old-fashioned grade school education, the idea could never fly: for the institution of marriage has had, from its beginnings in prehistory, nothing to do with equality of any kind.

Let us pray for him as he crosses the Tiber and for all our Episcopalian brothers and sisters who now face the loss of something that has long been precious to them. Perhaps it is awakening from sleep, but it is a most painful awakening--rather like the loss of one's mother.

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From the Anchoresses Rule

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from Ordinary Graces
edited by Lorraine Kisly

The Anchoresses Rule--c. 1220, England

The swine of gluttony has piglets with these names. Too Early is the name of the first, the next Too Fastidiously, the third, Too Freely; the fourth is called Too Much, the fifth Too Often. These piglets are more often born through drink than food.

I talk about them only briefly, because I have no fear that you feed them.

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From St. John Climacus


The next couple of entries concern "the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak.

from Ordinary Graces
edited by Lorraine Kisly

St. John Climacus

When he is angry he gets bitter, and then his bitterness makes him angry, so having suffered one defeat he fails to notice that he has suffered another. He gorges himself, is sorry, and a little later is at it again. He blesses silence and cannot stop talking about it. He teaches meekness and frequently gets angry while he is taching it. Having come to his senses, he sighs and shaking his head embraces his passion once more. He denounces laughter and while lecturing on mourning is all smiles. In front of others he criticizes himself for being vainglorious, and in making the admission he is looking for glory.

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Praise the Lord!


And thank you all for the prayers. Everything went very smoothly and it looks like there will be smooth sailing for a while. I can't tell you how much your prayers helped to make a very difficult situation much easier to navigate. Thank you.

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I ask everyone's prayers as my family goes through a particularly difficult trial tomorrow. Thanks.

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The Power of Words

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In the Boltzmann entry below I mentioned the Tacoma Narrows Bridge disaster. Did I pause to mention it's cause?

Wind. Yes--one of the great structures of contrete and steel was laid low not by the powerful winds of a tornado or a hurricane, but by ordinary gusts channeled throught the neck of the narrows at the right frequency.

Wind--words. As the ordinary wind has this power, so too do the words we choose to say. We can "make" someone's day, equally we can "break" it simply by what we choose to let out of our mouths.

And the scariest part of all of this is that Jesus tells us that it isn't what goes into a person that makes him unclean, but what comes out of the fullness of his heart. And this is why words are so important, so powerful, and so much in need of careful examination and studious consideration. Nothing should leave our lips, ever, that we have cause to regret. If we are uncertain what to say, the best course is to say nothing at all. James warns us that we shall be called to account for every idle word. He does not say that we shall be called to account for those that grace has given us the strength not to say. Good to confess those, but they have not been unleashed in the whirlwind of words to damage others. We are accountable for the thoughts, but not if we don't brood on them. At most they are an imperfection of our nature--something to be weeded out.

But let's face it. Daily we let loose with a torrent of words that have varying purposes, meanings, and effects. We don't much think about the harm they can do when we make a cutting remark. We don't much consider how our spouses or children might consider not just the word but the tone of what we say.

Words are the human wind that can bring down the Tacoma Narrows bridge. We can choose to gossip and destroy a reputation. We can repeat things that have not been verified and tear a person apart. Because we do not know the strength of the bridge and because we can do nothing about it once the forces are in motion, perhaps we would do better to think carefully about what we have to say--and when it is hurtful to choose not to say it.

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Gross Incivility

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I'm often stunned by the gross incivility displayed on both sides of any given debate. This was brought to mind this afternoon by the success of yet another ill-titled, conceivably ill-tempered Al Franken book, pumped up by various media interests to match the insidiously vitriolic and questionable accuracy of Ann Coulter. (She does not miraculously become correct if she happens to express many opinions with which I can agree. I have a bad track record as regards my opinions.) As much as I like to look at Ms. Coulter, I think that being in the same room with her (or with Mr. Franken) would likely be a most unpleasant experience.

Part of this is the human tendency to attribute only the most malign motives to anyone who opposes us. And I think this a mistake. For example, I think it a mistake to attribute malign motives to most people who support a limited right to abortion. They can be wrong and even wrong-headed without any intent to be malign.

It seems to me that the better part of any conversation would be to assume the motive of the conversant is basically driven by good-will. (Mr. da Fiesole has disagreed with me in the past on this, but his reasons did not persuade--it seems the better part of charity to start with the assumption that most people act out of good will or at least with no malignant motive until proven otherwise.) Only in this way may one truly address the issue at hand.

Now this leads to a second assumption, one in which I am more often than not truly disappointed. I assume that two disputants who are talking about a serious issue really seek the truth on the issue. That's not to say that anyone's mind will be changed in a sudden stroke, but rather both are seeking input to modify the worldview accordingly. It may not be input to modify the position they hold, but it may be a deeper understanding of why someone would hold the opposite opinion and what the implications of that may be. In many matters, it is unimportant ("Make it pink, Make it blue.) But in a great many issues to not seek the truth is great folly. However, many people see the ideas they hold as somehow personal possessions, and a challenge to those ideas is a personal affront--an attack on the integrity of the person. I recognize this tendency in myself, and often have to back away to consider what has been said and what it really means to the notions I hold. I take a great deal of time sometimes to assimilate new notions and change my mindset and behavior to accommodate them. It is better to take a short period to cool off and then realize that the idea is not part of the self--to relinquish a bad idea is to strengthen one's Christian armor. Truth is far more important than either my personal opinion or the possibility that I might seem foolish to some. Foolish or not, I need to listen and to try to understand, and to seek God's way--the truth in all things.

And so I know that neither Ms. Coulter (whose previous book I did read, and whose present book I made a stab at but found so full of the pestilence of ill-humor and self-righteousness, not to mention a generous dollop of vitriol, gossip, and acrimony) nor Mr. Franken (ditto, ditto, ditto--and add to it that like many for whom he writes toeing the party line is more important than truth) have much, if anything to say that will enlighten my perpetual darkness.

In fact, why should it surprise anyone that the Right lies or the left lies, or the news is slanted this way or that? It may be dismaying, but as we all learned long ago, every story is told from a point of view--there is no perfect objective point of view in the human realm. That, in part, is what the Fall is about. So why should we be surprised if we find that a reporter has obscured this point or that, or that they have told only half of the story. Anyone willing to believe anything printed in a newspaper or news magazine deserves the world view it is likely to give them.

If we seek the truth, then we should seek it in places where it dwells--in the heart of Jesus Christ, in the center of the Gospel, in the message of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, in the lives of the Saints, in prayer. Seeking the truth beyond these bounds is an endless, fruitless, and ultimately depressing, oppressing, and empty endeavor. Knowledge of truth apart from God is not knowledge at all, but opinion, for in Him resides the fullness of the truth, and all else is inconsequential.

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All Consuming


From Chirp, this link to a site that seems to harvest references to books. Looks like it may be interesting.

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There are great insights within the book, so many it is impossible to share them all. I thought this excerpt regarding "ordinariness" was especially helpful for those seeking a way.

from St. Benedict and St Thérèse: The Little Rule and the Little Way
Dwight Longenecker

Benedict and Thérèse call ordinary Christians to extraordinary perfection--not by being extraordinarily perfect, but by being perfectly ordinary. Being ordinary means letting go every vestige of snobbery and learning that we are not special after all. Once we grasp this troublesome truth it is easy to make the mistake of thinking that "being ordinary" mean fitting in and becoming "one of the boys." While being ordinary had nothing to do with snobbery it also has nothing to do with being one of the crowd. Snobbery has destroyed many lives through its snooty pride, but the reverse snobbery that will do anything to "fit in" and be part of the hoi polloi is also destructive. It is just as artificial for the aristocrat to affect working-class manners as it is for the social climber to put on an upper-class accent. In that sense, being common is just as false as being uncommon. Being ordinary means being none other than who we are. As a result it is just as possible for a duchess to be as ordinary as a dustman.

Besides noting that Our Sunday Visitor needs a careful copyeditor--the insights to be gained from this passage are enormous. I particularly like the notion of being called to the extraordinary not by extraordinary endeavors but by the perfection of the ordinary. In other words, become who you REALLY are in Christ and you are more than halfway to your goal. Your responsibility is not to perfect the gifts given to others, but those given to you. While I might look on with admiration at some of my very favorites reasoners--John da Fiesole at Disputations, and Mark at Minute Particulars, or with a certain awe at Mothers who want to be and are extraordinary (as there tends to be a raft of blushing among this set, I will not venture names), or any number of other gifts I observe in all my blogland travels--humor, political insight, knowledge of the present state of the world, etc. --I am not called to perfect any of those remarkable talents or virtues. I am called only to recognize those gifts God gave me and to offer them back to Him, well cared for, polished, and in better condition than they came to me.

Too often we deride our own accomplishments and our own endeavors with some sort of apology--either looking for compliments or encouragement, or genuinely reflecting our puzzlement over our own unique constitution. We are, each of us, what we are and that is all we should be, in the sense that we are not called to be other than what we are in Christ. We are called to be perfected in Christ. Anything less does not honor God, it buries the talents He gave us to be returned without interest. However, when we follow our calling in constant prayer and devotion, seeking always to cleave to God's path and not our own, we will, through His grace, return a harvest of souls that we have not been privileged to see--saved and brought to God through our work. Nevertheless, the work of our own perfection must, of necessity affect those around us. In achieving perfection, we drag into the Torrent of His love countless souls whom we may simply have passed in a hallway and smiled at.

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Here's a biography/study of St. Francis de Sales from 1639, approximately 17 years after the Sainted Bishop's death. It looks like a wonderful précis of his thought and spirituality.

An excerpt drawn quickly, at random:

from The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales
Jean Pierre Camus

Distrust of self and confidence in God are the two mystic wings of the dove; that is to say, of the soul which, having learnt to be simple, takes its flight and rests in God, the great and sovereign object of its love, of its flight, and of its repose.

The Spiritual Combat, which is an excellent epitome of the science of salvation and of heavenly teaching, makes these two things, distrust of self and confidence in God, to be, as it were, the introduction to true wisdom: they are, the author tells us, the two feet on which we walk towards it, the two arms with which we embrace it, and the two eyes with which we perceive it.

In proportion to the growth of one of these two in us is the increase of the other; the greater or the less the degree of our self-distrust, the greater or the less the degree of our confidence in God. But whence springs this salutary distrust of self? From the knowledge of our own misery and vileness, of our weakness and impotence, of our malice and levity. And whence proceeds confidence In God? From the knowledge which faith gives us of His infinite goodness, and from our assurance that He is rich in mercy to all those who call upon Him.

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Erik's Favorite Demonic Poet

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Categorizing posts from previous months, I came upon, this excerpt from Comus that I felt I would bring to your attention again, particularly as Erik has expressed such a fondness for Milton.

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"Who hates his neighbor has not the rights of a child." And not only has he no rights as a child, he has no "father". God is not my father in particular, or any man's father (horrible presumption and madness!); no, He is only father in the sense of father of all, and consequently only my father in so far as He is the father of all. When I hate someone or deny God is his father, it is not he who loses, but I: for then I have no father.

... Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

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Ludwig Boltzmann

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Ludwig Boltzmann needs no introduction, but I shall give one anyway. He is largely responsible for our theories of molecular motion and for the development of Boltzmann's Constant which helps us to calculate the kinetic energy of translation of gases. (I know, I hated that statics part of physics as well--bear with me, there is an interesting tale.)

Boltzmann was apparently a genius of the first water, and as with many geniuses, his discoveries went largely ignored until after his death. (Depressed by the lack of interaction and comment, he took his own life.)

To the story--it is said that Boltzmann invented a device that could find the harmonic frequency of any object to which it was attached. The story goes that Boltzmann decided to test the device on his own house.

Now for those who don't know, the harmonic frequency is the sound frequency which causes an object to vibrate. The classic example is the opera singer whose voice can shatter crystal. The other classic example with which everyone should become acquainted for its spectacular engineering failure is the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. (Link takes you to a short excerpt, find more here and here.)

Anyway, Boltzmann decided to test the device by placing it on his house. He set the device and left, returning several hours later to a pile of rubble and a device that had been destroyed in the test as well.

Though certainly apocryphal, I find something deeply resonant (pardon the pun) in this story. How many of us determine to test ultimately destructive things using ourselves, our loved ones, or our necessary things as test objects? We barrel headlong into spiritually questionable ventures without a thought as to the consequences. Some tinker with astrology, others with odd spiritualities, still others with "methods" of praying that appear to have little wrong with them, but are capable of spreading the infection of paganism and belief in sympathetic magic. Worse, we sometimes feel we can directly contravene divine will and thousands of years of teaching and put ourselves in the position of near occasions of sin. Humans being what they are, almost always a near occasion will preciptiate the sin itself. Not every time. But a near occasion of sin is a Boltzmann device, and when we choose to place ourselves in it, we set the device on our own houses. The oddest part is that we know full well what the consequences of that choice are likely to be, and yet we do it anyway, "just to see what might happen." Curiousity is a wonderful character trait, but we would do far better not to make a Tacoma-Narrows of our lives.

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Torgny Lindgren Revisited


I'm still reading Light. (I switch off books so often that I don't complete anything all that quickly. Keeps me on my toes and entertained juggling plotlines in my head.) And the more I read the more impressed I am. Lindgren has a near-obssession with the subject of incest as it makes up a main theme in both The Way of a Serpent and Light. I think it's a subset of a larger concern with internal family struggles which most interestingly develops full-blown into Sweetness the story of two brothers who have lived as long as they have because they are kept alive by wanting to see the other one dead. If Mr. Lindgren is an accurate chronicler, Sweden must be a most unpleasant place to live.

I purposefully do not set the context for the piece below, because I think it is what is said here that is important and I don't want to spoil the book for all of you who will rush out to get it because I've said it's a great read. (:-D)

That meant: He was a suicide and they used to bury them out in the forest. It was Borne who would have to do it.

"No one does anything entirely by himself," said Könik, "there's nothing so insignificant that you can do it solely by your own strength."

What that meant even he didn't know.

Nearly every sentence of this tightly constructed book resonates with meanings. Like a simple harmonic, each new iteration of the theme swells the progress of the whole. Remind me to tell you the sory of Boltzmann.

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In the Bag Again


5 works of Art:

Movie: Endless Summer
Book: Grab the shelf of Torgny Lindgren (more later)
Architecture?: Trajan's Column (okay, so it will have to be a big bag--no bigger than the bag that would hold "The Gates of Hell."
Music: Vivaldi: Concerti for Mandolin(s)
Music: Vivaldi: Gloria

That's it for now.

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Times Against Humanity


If you haven't already discovered this wonderful site, please look into it. What I like best about it is that even though it deals with very serious issues, the Blogmeister is a considerate and even effervescent personality who truly enjoys the blog-world and its wonders. His weekly round-up always includes wonderful things to read, and his deep concern for the plight of those exposed to the more hideous aspects of the culture of death is heartening. My thanks to Mr. Appleby

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On taking your child to Mass.

And after this my complaints about Samuel's admittedly very minor (5 year old) behaviors are both ludicrous and petty. But then we all have our own matters to contend with. We often attend mass with a family who has a daughter with SID (sensory integration dysfunction) which is along the spectrum of autism. What mom has to go through on a daily basis is grueling, but in the case of this child has achieved nearly miraculous results.

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Know Your Limitations

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In blogging, it is important to know your limitations.

I have decided to carefully reconsider the kinds of things that I place here on the blog. I believe I have reasonable standing to comment on literature--some to comment on art, somewhat less to make informed comments on music, and almost none to comment on politics, current events, and odd notions that I cannot even begin to take seriously and which I am utterly mystified that anyone can--i.e. Is God Catholic? (How can one even begin to ask that question? What is this human tendency to put everything in a box and seal it up?)

I can comment on Carmelite Spirituality, even if much of what I say is a view still from the outside looking in. Climbing into any spirituality is the work of a lifetime and perhaps more. And I can comment on some spiritual writing and writers. So I will draw back a little and stay in the realm I am most comfortable and puzzle occasionally over these fads that sweep through the blog-world wondering how anyone with proper formation can reasonably hold some of these ideas.

Most of all, I want to encourage prayer and appreciation of God's beauty as expressed in His creation and in the cocreation of art, literature, and music. I have strayed from this for a while. I am not by nature contentious--I do not need to win, and I do not formulate lengthy and reasonable arguments. I am by nature one who exhorts others to do their very best, and in the course of exhortation learn what it is that IS best. Some need to be the intellectual leaders, some the great and giving heart. For others is the role I assume--cheerleader. I want to encourage everyone in their prayer lives, in their vocations, in loving God. I will challenge an idea or a notion here or there, one that I think ill-considered or ill-founded, but not so much to make an argument as to provoke thought from a different point of view.

No, I'm not a central player and have no real wish to be. I don't know why I do what I do, but I do know that I cannot do otherwise, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so regularly. All writing is a form of prayer--it is my work and the thing I love greatly. It allows me to step out of myself and to learn--because in a very real sense some things do not crystallize in my head until I write about them. And even then not completely. I suppose it's indicative that I love surfing and the beach as much as I do, as I seem to be a very fluid person. My notions are liable to change three times a minute as new points of view and new data become available. That's one of the wonders of the blog-world--so many are so helpful in clearing away the cobwebs.

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On Vocation

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I suppose as long as I am a parent of a young child I shall attend mass in a blur of admonitions. "Look forward." "Please be quiet." "Don't look at that little girl." 'You can pray with us." "Stand up." "Kneel or stand if you want to see Father." "No, Jesus isn't always on that cross." "No you can't have any bread when we go up." "You're not old enouogh. . ."

I think you get the idea. Ask me after most Sunday homilies what the priest said and I'm as like as not to say "Priest? What priest?" Well, it's not that bad, but starting along about the end of the Gospel reading, and really revving up during the time when you most want quiet and most want not to try to tell your child why it is necessary to be quiet, there is a nearly constant stream of whispered instruction and admonition, settling down, and focusing attention. Oh yes, the Eucharistic prayer present the perfect forum for young children to turn to their neighbors and let them know what has been happening in their lives for the past six months.

BUT, presently, that is the small sacrifice I make for the enormous delight of having a young child. I do my best to see to it that he doesn't disturb those around us, and I miss the entire Mass. But, would God rather have it that I left Samuel home? I think not. Is it better to not train up a child in the proper conduct during Mass? Probably not.

So, in loving Samuel and spending the moments to try to let him know what is going on and why it is important for him to pay attention/be quiet/stop provoking the other children around him, I am loving God. I am offering my son a glimpse of the glory everlasting, and I am allowing God a moment to rejoice in the beauty of this wonderful child.

I do feel bad about it often. I think that I should do better, that perhaps something in the daily discpline fails, that perhaps I am not doing the right thing. But so long as it is only me who is distracted and at odds, so long as I can preserve relative peace and not disrupt the entire congregation, I suppose I have done as much as I can. Each child has a different temperament, and there are times when I could wish that Samuel would be more like that quiet child over there, or that one who can sit still for almost thirty seconds at a time. But then he would not be Samuel, would he? And so, I accept the challenge of the moment and pray that the grace of the Mass does not leave me, and that I partake in some share in the community of worship. Nevertheless, there is always the nagging doubt.

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Our Fallen Condition

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I spend an awful lot of time wondering why I am so good at not doing what I should. It's not remarkable: Paul said, "I do the things I would not do, I don't do the things I would do and I have no strength in me." What I fail to find amid the consolation of numbers and longevity is the real solution to the problem. Of ourselves, we are capable of so little, and everything is dependent upon grace.

So I come back around to the "little way" and wonder. Perhaps the will is so weak that it is a matter of one thing at a time with th conscious deliberation. Perhaps that is what the little way is about. Little children have many "deficiencies" compared to adults. But one thing that they have to their advantage--when they are focused on something, nothing else in the entire world exists. A common ploy from childrearing books suggests that when your child is focused on the electrical outlets or your version of a Ming vase, the best thing to do is refocus.

Perhaps what I lack is sufficient focus on the moment. My mind is here, there, or somewhere else, and the moment is left to fend for itself as I'm battling the monsters of the future or the past, or indulging in the dreams of grandeur and wealth, or at least the delights of the thought of a new plaything (PDA, PDA).

Perhaps part of the little way is not only to do little things, but to take on the focus of the little child and in the moment that is before us, here and now, to make the right choice, with the help of grace. And these moments, one at a time, ultimately lead to Glory. If each choice is made in obedience to God, then we foster both trust and love of God and we move onward.

The little way sounds so simple. It sounds as though no doctrine at all, but the depths and the subtleties of it are such that I am not certain that we will ever plumb the fullness of it.

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For My Stepmother's Sister

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My stepmother is from Costa Rica--it's a long story.

Anyway, last night she called me and told me one of those stories that can only happen in developing countries. Her youngest sister has four children. One of these had been diagnosed some time ago with hemophilia. This child had gone into the hospital while my stepmother was there. My stepmother helped to pay for her care. My stepmother noticed while she was there that her sister was not looking well and paid for her to visit the doctor who told her she needed to lose weight. All that said, my stepmother's sister simply didn't have the money to care for herself and her daughter, and so the daughter got the care. The end result--my stepmother called last night and told me that she had gotten news that her sister died.

Please pray for this woman's soul, for her children, and for her husband José and for his ability to raise four children alone. I think this sister may have lived near their parents, so José may have some help from the grandparents. But they live eight hours from anywhere (San José--the capitol and only large city of Costa Rica) and life is very difficult.

Every time I am granted a glimpse into this world, I can only reflect on how blessed I am.

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Jeff Miller does it again with "explicit" prayer magazines. Hey, Jeff, can I have that issue of Prayboy for site decor?

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De Praescriptione Haereticorum

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How to argue with heretics and how not to--with reference to my last post and to recent debacle in the Episcopal Church this synopsis of the On the Prescription of Heretics just packed a wallop.

This book is about how Christians think about heresy and respond to the arguments of heretics. Tertullian is concerned at the way Christians are disputing with heretics and pagans, and the effect this is having on believers. He feels that it is never possible to convict a heretic from the scriptures, because they simply deny the authority of whichever bit of scripture they are quoted, and shift their ground every moment. At the same time the spectacle of the dispute seems to put their opinions on the same level as that of the scriptures. In general, how do we recognise and deal with heretics - people who pretend to be Christians but actually accept no authority but their own opinions?
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Quiz Time

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Okay, let's be honest now--how many of you even knew there was Tertullian Project?

One. . . two. . . three. . .

Okay, how many actually cared?

Anyone? Anyone?

For those interested includes texts in English, Latin, Italina, Russian, French, Greek, and perhaps other languages. In some cases mutliple translations of a single work (for example Ad Martyres. If the Church Fathers are your thing (even if Tertullian did become a montanist) this is a site for you.

This is an index of other Church Fathers' writing as well as the writing of such luminaries as Gildas (one of the very early supposed sources of the Arthur Legend) and other delightful tidbits.

Go a browse--there's a wealth of wonderful and entertaining stuff at these locations.

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More on St. Thérèse

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Regarding the difficulties many have with reading the work of the Little Flower

from St. Benedict and St. Thérèse: The Little Rule and the Little Way
Dwight Longenecker

If the first-time reader has to struggle with the mundane minutiae of sixth-century monastic life in Benedict, then in Thérèse he has to struggle with an even more difficult dose of "ordinariness." At least there is some historical interest in reading about the sleeping arrangements of sixth-century monks, but Thérèse takes us into the detailed life of the nineteenth century French bourgeoisie. Her writings are full of spiritual points made through the events of ordinary days. So we are plunged into the details of visits to relatives, a first train ride, trips to the seaside, and the traumas of a little girl's school days. We are told about playtime with her sisters, quarrels with the maid, and the joy of cuddle with Mommy and Daddy. Those who are looking for a lofty spiritual treatise will find in both Benedict and Thérèse a hefty does of ordinary life instead.

And doesn't this just make perfect, natural sense. Ordinary life is where our spirituality plays out. Even if are advanced contemplatives, we are not transported bodily from where we spend time sweeping the floors and caring for children. God speaks to us in the trauma of our children, in the difficulty of getting a stain out of the carpet, in the trials of cleaning baked-on cheese and who knows what-all off of the casserole. He speaks to us in the commute to work and in the trials of the day (getting enough paperclips--getting rid of too many paperclips, the copier is skipping pages--the copier is making two copies of every other page). Spirituality is not divorced from life, it is reinforced by life. Our reactions and our actions of each day are what come out of our hearts. They are where we are most real, where we have the least time to don a mask and put on the "company face." And so they are the best mirror of our spiritual life. Exalted states of prayer are, for most of us, the exception rather than the rule. As Longenecker says elsewhere in the book, "The divine is in the details." And the details are ordinary.

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On the Little Way


Dwight Longenecker, a contributor over at Envoy, has written a delightful and insightful book titled St. Benedict and St. Thérèse: The Little Rule and the Little Way in which he talks at some length about the convergences of the twain:

fromSt. Benedict and St. Thérèse: The Little Rule and the Little Way
Dwight Longenecker

Benedict and Thérèse call for a kind of childhood in which perfect freedom is found in strict adherence to the rules.

If Father Benedict and Sister Thérèse silence the theologians, they silence the religious leaders too. All those who would divide the Church over grace or works, Scripture or Tradition, sacraments or word, service or sanctity, will be united in the wisdom of Benedict and Thérèse. If any Christian reads the two saints of the little way, they will also be united with every other disciple of Christ. Benedict draws all Christians together because he speaks from a time before the terrible divisions in Christ's Church. Thérèse unites Christians because her little doctirne of grace alone is a magnet to both Catholics and Protestants. Balthasar says, "One would have to be blind not to see that Thérèse's doctrine of the little way answers point by point the program outlined by the Reformers and that she presents the Church's bold, irrefutable answer to Protestant spirituality." (p. 42)

There is much, much more worthy of your attention in the pages. And I have to say that browsing through the IVP catalog--a mainstay of evangelical publishing, I've been quite surprised by recent offerings. Naturally, they offer all the Church Fathers. But they also are offering books on other saints. Notably they offer a biography of St. Francis of Assisi (an easy Saint to like and even to admire), but mysteriously, they offer a biography of St. Teresa of Avila, who while very engaging and likeable, did not put too fine a point on what she thought about Luther and his ilk stirring up trouble for the Church.

While I know that it is not humanly possible, I do not refrain from the prayer "E pluribus unum." As we once were, one church, so we should work to become again. But I say this cautiously because in the course of returning to Christ's intention for the world, we should not be willing to compromise or sacrifice one iota of the revealed truth of Jesus Christ, either through Biblical Revelation or the understandings of Tradition including the magisterium of the Church. This will forge a weak and false unity. However, so long as there are LaHaye and Jenkins types who fear "one world church" we need not worry too much about unity--and that is a terrible shame.

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News From My Former Hometown


I thought the 1500 pound Venezuelan Rodent was fantastic until I stumbled across the fact that I've been in a Church where there is a relic of the One True Cross--in, of all places, Columbus Ohio. I hope it proves to be true upon closer inspection.

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An Open Letter to Jeb Bush

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Dear Esteemed Governor,

As a citizen of the State of Florida, I am appalled at the way a rampant judiciary has taken it upon itself to sentence a woman unable to speak for herself to an unspeakably horrible death. I will readily admit that I do not know all the facts in the case, but it seems to me that there are people who would be willing custodians of the precious life of Terri Schiavo, and in that event, these people should be allowed the opportunity to care for her. Obviously there are differences of opinion about Ms. Shiavo's chances and if the person presently in custody no longer cares to be burdened with her, so be it. However, given the present state of disagreement, it is not seemly that anyone should preempt any chance Ms. Schiavo may have to continue her rightful life here on Earth.

It is your right and privilege as Governor of the great State of Florida to issue a stay of execution on any prisoner or an person rightly adjudged of the courts of Florida to have merited death. Ms. Schiavo has been found guilty of being a burden and is thus seen as disposable. Please issue a writ to counter this judicial usurpation of the authority of the state. Ms. Schiavo is not a criminal, nor does she deserve death. She deserves custodians who will care for her and see to it that she is nursed back to health.

Please, please, please for the sake of Ms. Schiavo, and indeed for the sake of the state of Florida and these United States, intervene and overturn this writ of execution. Do not allow our courts to put to death one who has committed no crime. Do not let the State of Florida be the place where the next step down the slippery slope of the culture of death is taken.

most respectfully yours. . .

Oh, and please, see this prayer for Ms. Schiavo

And while we are storming heaven, I encourage every Floridian to storm the governor's office and work on him until he rescinds the court order by executive order. We should not let this go unaddressed; Florida should not lead the way into the next revelation of the Culture of Death.

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More on Edwards

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Please forgive me this last indulgence. Considering the overwhelming interest in the topic, I find it difficult to restrain myself. But for some reason this point is quite important to me. Edwards was a Calvinist, but he was not a monster. Too often, he is painted in the bleakest black--another Puritan--sour-faced, convinced of the damnation of a majority of the world, uncompromisingly bleak, and overall horrid. It is the story one would get regarding nearly any major Catholic figure of the Middle Ages from those ignorant of the real people behind some stories.

I reiterate, I do not hold to Calvinist doctrine. But even the Calvinist can be correct and inspiring at times.

from Many Mansions
Jonathan Edwards

Prop. II. There are many mansions in the house of God. By many mansions is meant many seats or places of abode. As it is a king's palace, there are many mansions. Kings' houses are wont to be built very large, with many stately rooms and apartments. So there are many mansions in God's house.

When this is spoken of heaven, it is chiefly to be understood in a figurative sense, and the following things seem to be taught us in it.

1. There is room in this house of God for great numbers. There is room in heaven for a vast multitude, yea, room enough for all mankind that are or ever shall be; Luke 14:22, "Lord it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room."

It is not with the heavenly temple as it often is with houses of public worship in this world, that they fill up and become too small and scanty for those that would meet in them, so that there is not convenient room for all. There is room enough in our heavenly Father's house. This is partly what Christ intended in the words of the text, as is evident from the occasion of his speaking them. The disciples manifested a great desire to be where Christ was, and Christ therefore, to encourage them that it should be as they desired, tells them that in his Father's house where he was going were many mansions, i.e., room enough for them.

There is mercy enough in God to admit an innumerable multitude into heaven. There is mercy enough for all, and there is merit enough in Christ to purchase heavenly happiness for millions of millions, for all men that ever were, are or shall be. And there is a sufficiency in the fountain of heaven's happiness to supply and fill and satisfy all: and there is in all respects enough for the happiness of all.

. . . I. Here is encouragement for sinners that are concerned and exercised for the salvation of their souls, such as are afraid that they shall never go to heaven or be admitted to any place of abode there, and are sensible that they are hitherto in a doleful state and condition in that they are out of Christ, and so have no right to any inheritance in heaven, but are in danger of going to hell and having their place of eternal abode fixed there. You may be encouraged by what has been said, earnestly to seek heaven; for there are many mansions there. There is room enough there. Let your case be what it will, there is suitable provision there for you; and if you come to Christ, you need not fear that he will prepare a place for you; he'll see to it that you shall be well accommodated in heaven.

Again, once can't get the real meaning from a mere excerpt. The complete sermon may be found here.

Edwards was undeniably Calvinist, but I do not read his Calvinism as saying that any are excluded from Heaven. They may well be by the provision made by God (in Calvinist doctrine) but we do not know who they may be, and the provision God has made is sufficient for all. Edwards believed in the possibility of the believer approaching God and repenting of sin and being made heaven-worthy through God's grace. He may have believed in predestination, but he urged everyone toward the gates of heaven. This to my mind is a preacher and a man who loved God. A man who has suffered much by the calumny of generations who have chosen to misconstrue his words and works and indeed the entire notion of faith.

At one time I believed Savanarola to have been an unparalleled monster, now I am a good deal less certain. Much depends upon the texts from which one derives one's information. In assessing doctrine, teaching, or idea, it is better not to trust redactors with an agenda, but to form one's own opinion on the basis of wide reading (if the matter is of sufficient interest and moment.)

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You can find it continued at Erik's Blog

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You can find them here. And I'm certain they will find it a wonderful and convivial home.

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More On Fire and Brimstone

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In another comment to the same post referenced below, Jeff Culbreath notes:

Fire and brimstone sermons are a good thing. We need more of them in the Catholic Church. I would hope that neither you nor Erik object to the hellfire in Puritan homiletics, but that you rather object to the Calvinist notion that God's grace is arbitrary, and that certain unfortunate souls were created by God for hell with no possibility of repentance.

I wrote a hasty reply and wished to give this further consideration.

I don't know that "fire and brimstone sermons are a good thing--" part of the purpose of writing this is to explore that notion a bit more. I don't know that they are a bad thing. I suppose I would say that I think they are perhaps a necessary thing. If not fire and brimstone, at least a better articulation of the doctrine of sin, what happens to sinners, and how to avoid that happening. Now this can take a great many forms, from Edwards, discussed below, to Joyce, mentioned below, to many other sophisticated articulations of the same doctrine. However, it seems to largely have vanished from the Catholic scene. The "Spirit of Vatican II" interpreters seem not to care for the harsher side of Catholic Doctrine and it is often left to the lay people to insist upon God's justice as strongly as God's mercy. This is a pity.

If our pastors felt more call to carefully pronounce anathema on those things the Church condemns, and to do it with great regularity, it might serve as a check not only upon wayward congregants but upon wayward inclinations within the clergy itself. Reminders that salvation is not guaranteed, nor merited, nor earned, nor in any way dependent upon ourselves, but utterly dependent upon God's grace and our acceptance thereof (so to some extent dependent upon us, but even His omnipresent grace makes possible that initial acceptance) are salutary. They encourage the overall health of the body, not by terror, but by precaution.

Frequently we should hear from the pulpit that abortion is wrong and procuring one or assisting in the procuring even to the extent of supporting the legality of the action is wrong and incurs de facto excommunication without any such being pronounced. This truth should not be left to the ranks of apologists and pro-life lay people. We should see the spectacle of Bishops refusing communion to prominent pro-choice politicians on a more regular basis. This should not be a point for marveling, but the expected occurrence.

We would do well to hear about everyday sins--taking things home from the office, exploiting other people, adultery, fornication, and all manner of other sins.

I suppose current theory has it that one can catch more flies with honey rather than vinegar. But the impression I get more often from many Catholic sermons and speakers is a sense of complacency. That everything is copacetic and we live in the best of all possible worlds, ice-skating or rollerblading our way into heaven. We should be aware of that great folk song that advises us:

"Oh I can't get to heaven
(Oh I can't get to heaven)
on roller skates
(on roller skates)
Cause I'll roll right by
(Cause I'll roll right by)
those pearly gates
(those pearly gates)


I ain't gonna grieve my Lord no more,
I ain't gonna grieve my Lord no more,
I ain't gonna grieve my Lord on more.

I cannot believe that Paul wrote "I work out my salvation in fear and trembling" for no reason. Thus, while I do believe in the mercy of God and in the ultimate possibility of heaven, I doubt I would come to any harm if someone were to tell me the consequences of sin, or even speak about what is and is not a sin.

I don't know that I'd want to hear this every day--but perhaps Mr. Culbreath is correct. Perhaps a bit of fire and brimstone is a salutary remedy for the complacency and mediocrity with which many go about their Christian lives. Perhaps a bit of reminder of what we have been freed from and what we are called to through the incredible sacrifice of our Lord is a remedy for many of the ills we are presently tracking in the Church.

Perhaps we need to start the next "Great Awakening."

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Fire and Brimstone


In the comments section of this post the redoubtable Erik expresses some distaste for the work and thought of Jonathan Edwards. And while I agree that Calvinism can be enough to leave a very bad taste in your mouth, I disagree about Edwards, one of the great preachers of the Great Awakening.

Now, Edwards is not to everyone's taste. We do need to recall a number of things. At the time he was preaching, Sunday sermons were a form of "entertainment." That is, people didn't have television sets, movies, or even much in the way of plays or other distractions. When political season rolled around you might find a little oratory, but even that was limited. So your week's entertainment was rolled up with your worship.

The particular sermon objected to is the only one most Americans have any acquaintance with. It is the model for the sermon given by Karl Malden in Pollyanna when he is doing his fierce "sermonizing." Here is a sample and it is exemplary of what we tend to think of as a "fire and brimstone" sermon.

from "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"
Jonathan Edwards

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.

(For the entire sermon, very edifying reading, see here)

Properly intoned and delivered, this is a thrilling piece of rhetoric and oratory. It is not my particular image of God, but it is an image that can be substantiated through reference to a great many Old Testament texts. It is also an image that is suggested by certain of the themes of the Book of Revelation. Therefore it is an image of some reasonable pedigree even in the Catholic world. A similar sermon, focusing more on the dangers of Hell can be found in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

What most people miss, however, is this:

The Conclusion of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" Jonathan Edwards

And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God. Many are daily coming from the east, west, north and south; many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God. How awful is it to be left behind at such a day! To see so many others feasting, while you are pining and perishing! To see so many rejoicing and singing for joy of heart, while you have cause to mourn for sorrow of heart, and howl for vexation of spirit! How can you rest one moment in such a condition? Are not your souls as precious as the souls of the people at Suffield, where they are flocking from day to day to Christ?

Are there not many here who have lived long in the world, and are not to this day born again? and so are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and have done nothing ever since they have lived, but treasure up wrath against the day of wrath? Oh, sirs, your case, in an especial manner, is extremely dangerous. Your guilt and hardness of heart is extremely great. Do you not see how generality persons of your years are passed over and left, in the present remarkable and wonderful dispensation of God's mercy? You had need to consider yourselves, and awake thoroughly out of sleep. You cannot bear the fierceness and wrath of the infinite God. -- And you, young men, and young women, will you neglect this precious season which you now enjoy, when so many others of your age are renouncing all youthful vanities, and flocking to Christ? You especially have now an extraordinary opportunity; but if you neglect it, it will soon be with you as with those persons who spent all the precious days of youth in sin, and are now come to such a dreadful pass in blindness and hardness. -- And you, children, who are unconverted, do not you know that you are going down to hell, to bear the dreadful wrath of that God, who is now angry with you every day and every night? Will you be content to be the children of the devil, when so many other children in the land are converted, and are become the holy and happy children of the King of kings?

And let every one that is yet out of Christ, and hanging over the pit of hell, whether they be old men and women, or middle aged, or young people, or little children, now hearken to the loud calls of God's word and providence. This acceptable year of the Lord, a day of such great favour to some, will doubtless be a day of as remarkable vengeance to others. Men's hearts harden, and their guilt increases apace at such a day as this, if they neglect their souls; and never was there so great danger of such persons being given up to hardness of heart and blindness of mind. God seems now to be hastily gathering in his elect in all parts of the land; and probably the greater part of adult persons that ever shall be saved, will be brought in now in a little time, and that it will be as it was on the great out-pouring of the Spirit upon the Jews in the apostles' days; the election will obtain, and the rest will be blinded. If this should be the case with you, you will eternally curse this day, and will curse the day that ever you was born, to see such a season of the pouring out of God's Spirit, and will wish that you had died and gone to hell before you had seen it. Now undoubtedly it is, as it was in the days of John the Baptist, the axe is in an extraordinary manner laid at the root of the trees, that every tree which brings not forth good fruit, may be hewn down and cast into the fire.

Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation. Let every one fly out of Sodom: "Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed."

Hardly the strict Calvinist line--a vague notion at best anyway. No intimation here that not all are called. No sign that only some will be saved. Yet we must acknowledge that that truth certainly can be supported from the words of Jesus. Here is a universal call to repentance in the fiery language of the time. And it is only a highlight in a long career of wonderful sermons.

Okay, so Edwards was a Calvinist. No, I don't agree with Calvinist doctrine as I understand it, but then I am hardly an expert in the matter and cannot pretend to really grasp what is meant by certain of their propositions. But I read "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," and I am thrilled, frightened, enlightened, and edified by the words of someone who struggled to express his true love for God. Some of the notions of Calvinism as I understand it are as repugnant to me as deconstructionism. But the same is true of certain portions of Catholic "doctrine," which is not doctrine at all but theological speculation of very saintly men and women.

I suppose I am going the long way about saying that the notions of Calvinism that are incorrect deserve to be systematically dismantled by careful inspection and explication. Those that are part of core Christianity will, naturally enough, stand. However, the individual Calvinist, as wrong-headed as he or she might be, must be examined not in one or two sermons or words, but in the fullness of the doctrine for the signs of the love of God. If one can consider the Grand Inquisitor of Spain, a man who oversaw the burning of hundreds, and perhaps as many as two-thousand Jews, a saintly man worthy of canonization, then I it seems others who may be wrongly oriented in principle should be given a fuller appreciation before consigning them to the flames of woe.

Jonathan Edwards may not have been correct, but I do believe that he loved and worshipped God and tried to lead others to do so as best he could at the time. That's all I'll say for the moment. I suppose it declares my position as being similar to that of Mr. Dhingra, who seems to seek always the commonality and the thread of the love of God that people of good will try to express--ecumenism without compromise of the great truth of the Holy Catholic Church. Hearing the good in Jonathan Edwards does no damage to the bulwark of Catholicism, nor will it ever damage us to hear what is good from others.

But as Erik points out, and rightly so, there must be the peacemakers and the valiant defenders. Those that extend the kiss of peace and those that rigorously challenge the errors of Protestantism. I have neither the will nor the intellect to do the latter (by which I mean the turn of mind, not the intelligence), and so I must do the former. And I delight in it, for there is much to be found even far from home that is worthy of our attention.

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For Your Edification and Delectation


Sent to me by a friend--the must see trailer of the decade, century, millenium. Yes,

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra

will be threatening a theatre near you.

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From the Root to the Tree

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Following on the post below, it occurs to me that if we accept God as Father, the next step stemming from the radical image is to truly regard each human being as brother and sister. Again, we're good at using the words, but for most of us that fact has no reality because it does not influence in the slightest the way we live. That is where the truth of our beliefs lay--if they shape what we do they are real. If they are silent and do not inform us, they are dead, beliefs in word only.

The reality of the human race as family escapes many of us. Perhaps it escapes most of us. Maybe only the great missionary saints really have any idea of what it meant. But it stems from the fact that God is our Father. He is our Father in more than a distant and fearsome way. He is our Father in a way that will transform and change us, if we allow it. More,

from Psalm 139:13-16
13 For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb.
14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully [and] wonderfully made: marvellous [are] thy works; and [that] my soul knoweth right well.
15 My substance was not hid from Thee when I was made in secret, and intricately wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect; and in Thy book all my members were written, which in continuity were fashioned, when as yet there were none of them.

He has thought us, each one, individually into being. He has guided our making with a tender hand. He is the founder and root of our being. Our parents conceived us, but He guarded us on the way to our birth, and He nurtured and knew us in the womb. How much more a Father then, than one who may only supply the genetic material.

We are family. We so often show it through sibling rivalry and our attempts to beat each other up. Perhaps it would be better if we thought of ourselves all sitting down to Thanksgiving Dinner after a pleasant day of preparation and reacquaintance. Perhaps we should try to be on our best behavior rather than parade our "us and them" attitude.

The logical consequence of truly believing that God is our Father is to believe that we are all brothers and sisters. If we do believe this then it is time to stop making excuses about why we cannot express it, or how we aren't called to this or that ministry, and make the attempt to treat the people we encounter each day more than civilly. We must learn to treat them with a deep-rooted love of a family with so loving a Father.

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To Our Canonists

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A blessed and wonderful feast day. I believe St. Robert Bellarmine is the patron, or at least one of the patrons of Canon Lawyers. I also think he is the one who said of the Bible, "God gave it to us not to tell us how the heavens go but how to go to heaven."

Later: I find it interesting, and perhaps indicative (of something), that this day I choose to celebrate St. Robert Bellarmine, and Erik (he of the Rants) chooses to extol Tomás de Torquemada.

This from an entry on Catholic Exchange:

Robert tried to take a moderate approach to the issues of the day; he upheld the Church's position and pointed out Protestant errors, but in a way which relied upon persuasion, not polemics. He argued against the "divine right of kings" — the belief that royal authority comes directly from God. He thereby indirectly promoted the possibility of modern democratic thought, angering the kings of England and France in the process.

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The Radical Fatherhood of God

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Perhaps the chief contribution of St. Thérèse to the understanding of the Church is the radical understanding of the Fatherhood of God. I use "radical" in its etymological fullness. The Fatherhood of God is the Radix or root of how He wishes us to approach and understand him. This became clear to me while reading a passage of a book by Vernon Johnson titled Spiritual Childhood. I paraphrase the passage that affected me. Johnson wrote that when Jesus taught the disciples how to pray, he did not start with "Oh Invisible Creator of the Universe," "Oh King of all that is and ever will be," "Oh majesty ineluctable and unknowable by man." Rather He started with "Our Father."

We know this. We pray it every day. We pray it so much, in fact, that it has become threadbare and nearly meaningless. More than that, many of us have enough problems with the Earthly image of Father that having another Father isn't particularly appealing. And yet, this is how God wishes to be known first. He wants us to understand that He is our Father. He is the one who gives everything to protect us. He is the one who nurtures us and encourages us in the expression of His gifts to us. He delights in our triumphs, he sorrows in our failures and our rebellions. He chastises as all good fathers must do if they hope to help the child succeed in the world. Only the world He wants us to succeed in is not this material realm, but the world that comes next, for which this is the training ground.

Why does it matter that we understand God as Father first? Primarily because all other understanding stems from that. He is all of the other titles listed above and more, but all of that reality only makes sense when it is seen in light of the root understanding God as Father. In other words, God as King can be daunting, terrifying, unnerving. Approaching the throne-room of a king is not a prospect pleasing to most peasants. However, when that throne-room is Daddy's office, the prospect is much less daunting. Yes, He still commands our respect and our awe (the fear from which proceeds all wisdom) just as when we were very little children our fathers commanded our attention and respect and sometimes awe. But above all these other mingled emotions is our love. When God is Father first, our first reaction to Him is the seemingly limitless love that a child feels for his father and mother. That why Father is root. We are to approach Him as a "little child." Not as a rebellious teenager, not as a mature adult, but as a little child, one for whom trust has not been eroded away--one for whom love is still a reality. We need to return to the place when God dwells within and come out renewed, ready to love and to accept Our Father.

Thus, in Thérèse's little way, we must first understand and encounter God as father, and we must reify that. In other words, this is not an intellectual understanding or a game with words. The reason the family is so fundamentally important in the life of the Church is that it gives us both a glimpse of the life of the Trinity AND it gives us the experience to understand the truths of the Bible. Without experience of Father, it becomes very difficult to relate to God in the way He most desires. One of the great horrors of divorce is that often the rift in the family means that there is no real understanding for young children of the nature of Father.

God is Father first. He wants our love as Father. He wants our trust as Father. He wants our acceptance and unstinting love. He wants our unconditional love.

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Important Cautions for Bible Study


John da Fiesole provides once again interesting commentary on how NOT to read the Bible.

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This struck home as I read it:

from He Leadeth Me
Walter Ciszek, S.J.

People came to you because you were a priest, not because of what you were personally. They didn't always come, either, expecting wise counsel or spiritual wisdom or an answer to every difficulty; they came expecting absolution from their sins, the power of the sacrament. To realize this was a matter of joy and of humility. You realized that they came to you as a aman of God, a representative of God, a man chosen from among men and ordained for men in the things that are of God. . . For my part, I could not help but see in every encounter with every prisoner the will of God for me, now, at this time and in this place, and the hand of providence that had brought me here by strange and torturous paths.

A man of God, a servant of Men, and a server of sacraments. Not necessarily vessels of wisdom and spiritual enlightenment--not repositories of the solutions to all human problems. Human themselves, prone to error and to sin, but God's merciful gift to us. Perhaps we ask too much sometimes--perhaps often. Perhaps it is time to thank God for His provision and to let those who make so many sacrifices for our sakes know that we truly, deeply appreciate it. Perhaps it is time to expect of our Pastors and Priests proper administration of the sacraments and a human, loving heart that needs everything we all need, and has only as much wisdom as God grants and a human being holds.

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His Song to Us

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This is what I imagine He sings all the time:

All or nothing at all
Half a love, never appealed to me
If your heart never could yield to me
Then I'd rather have nothing at all.

All or nothing at all
If it's love, there is no in between. . .

That's the way it is with God. All or nothing at all. As soon as something else creeps in that something tends to dominate our thoughts, actions, and words. When we slip a little, we always slip a lot. So my goal is that He truly become My Lord and My All, not in words only but in every aspect and facet of my life.

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Quotation for Meditation


A wonderful prayer starter from Wilfrid Stinnisen Nourished by the Word

"God doesn't act in an arbitrary way but according to certain principles. Love has its own way of behaving. What God did with Israel, he can also do with the individual human being."

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Finding A Way


It occurred to me in the middle of reading Father Dubay's very fine Prayer Primer that I was once again on the wrong track. One of my tendencies is to derail so easily. Once again I was in my head looking for God. And He is there, as surely and as fully as He is anywhere. But it is harder for me to find Him in my head because there are so many distractions there.

Back to the heart. I am driven time and again away from the intellectual pursuit of God and back to the understanding that God is found through love. I do understand that you cannot love what you do not know. However, I also understand that if something becomes the object of study, the love you have for it is not the object itself, but the intellectual satisfaction of studying the object. That is where I often wind up when I pursue the path of the mind toward God. I do love Him, and it is a good thing, but what I really Love is the pursuit of knowledge of Him--not really Him at all.

God granted me the privilege of being a father so I could further learn to love without intellectualizing. I do love my wife in this way, but I needed to expand my repetoire. I needed to love someone who starts out utterly dependent and who grows into his own person. I needed to learn to love someone as a Father loves a Son, so that I could understand the family of the Trinity--not in the theoretical precision of love and procession, but in the intimate details of how a Father gives his whole heart to His Son, so at the merest slight the Father's heart aches and sorrows.

This is the purpose of all the mundane details of life. All of the things we are reluctant to share because they are too trivial. It is in this trivial realm that we become the real people that we are. Everything else is, to some extent, patina and pantomime--mere surface and sensation.

We become Holy by learning to love through all the lessons of life, difficult and easy. We do not learn this from a book or from study, although both of these things are very helpful along the path. We learn more from a Saint's life and actions, I believe, than we do from a Saint's words. Because as good as those words may be, they cannot convey the fullness of the experience of God in the way a Saint's life does. There is something about a life that allows no mask of misunderstanding to intrude and override. We do not need to interpret through the muddle of words, but are confronted with direct action.

Now, I also know that the inspiration of each person comes from different directions but always from the same source. So, while I say that I am more inspired by a life, others might be more inspired by writings, or a word, or some other aspect of encounter with God's grandeur. The important point is to know and to understand where you best meet Christ and to go there often, wherever it may be. If you find Him in the writing of Dorothy Day, then it would be well to spend time with the writing of Dorothy Day. If you find Him in great art and literature and music, so be it. Most importantly, be very honest about where you really encounter God. No matter how much I love literature, words, music, and art, it is in my interaction with my precious wife and son that I am made most aware of God's guiding hand. It is in the small kernel of the loving family that I become aware of what I am called to and God gives me the strength to answer the calling. Sometimes inspiration springs from other quarters but love stands naked and needy at the heart of the family, and it is there I am most likely to see Him, embrace Him, and welcome Him. It is in the detail of daily life that I become most aware of the action of God.

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Great news for followers of e-books: a complete Life of Johnson in process

Volume 1

Volume 2

Volume 3

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Ancient Rome


From Mr. White's Blog, a link to a full reference on ancient Roman History. Try to ignore the very annoying popunders.

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Things Keep Trickling In

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In the bag got me to thinking about utterly inconsequential things, but it occurred to me that there's a giant tapestry by Joan Miro that hangs in the East Building of the National Gallery and there's the utterly magnificent Carnival of the Harlequin, also by Miro. Even in memory the painting looms and changes with its vaguely biomorphic forms in a tanguy-like space--a celebration in flat-world.

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First five things that spring to mind:

Book: The Holy Bible, The Pentameron

Sculpture: The Gates of Hell--Rodin

Music: Genesis-Foxtrot, Durufle-Requiem

Okay, I think that does it properly. I wouldn't evenly distribute stuff in categories. And these were the things that sprang to mind immediately. I don't think I'd be happy long with my selection. And a surfboard--short board AND long board, and maybe a boogie board. Do these count as works of art or craft? If so they'd replace some of the above.

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From Teachout's Blog


Teachout proposes an interesting little test--here are my five:

PAINTING: Rene Magritte--Castle of the Pyrenees

MUSIC: Maurice Durufle-Requiem

NOVEL: Charles Dickens--Bleak House

FILM: Billy Wilder--Some Like it Hot

POP SONG: The Ventures--Wipeout

These were really, really, really tough, and I'm not sure. I have a feeling they might fluctuate by day--maybe by hour.

Now my usual question--why are you watching movies on a Desert Islant? And is the desert Island Tavarua? And where is the surfboard? Sometimes these tests really are tests of logic. Now if someone said you were going to be stuck in an arctic hovel . . .

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Praise God, A Dylan Comment


Please see comment directly below and remember to pray, pray, pray.

And to Dylan--thank you so much for taking a valuable moment to stop by!

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So instead read Erik's remarkable and incisive skewering of the PoMo deconstructionists. I cannot force myself to the labor of addressing those who hold these foolish notions. It astounds me how self-deceptive the human mind can be.

But note always--contempt for the ideas and the actions (Paul de Man was a known Nazi collaborator) of the individuals--never for people themselves. All people, no matter how distorted their notions, tortured their reasoning and intellect, or abhorrent (q.v. the life of Michel Foucault) their actions have the dignity of being images of Christ. A person is an image of God, no matter how they may try to efface it. Thus, death to the ideas and notions, and prayer for the deluded people who hold them and for those in power, that eventually this fetid stream will be cut off from Academia.

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While I'm In Embarrassment Mode

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I thought I'd mention Davey's Mommy, who in several places about her blog wonders about the purpose of blogging on mundane matters and not talking about deeply personal, close-helf stuff. And I just have to interject that it is often though what others consider the mundane aspects of their every day lives, that I find new elements and moments of grace. Endless discussions of what the Bishops are doing wrong or right, or why these Catholics are bad Catholics and those are good ones, or why some foreign yahoo I don't even know is kindling for the fires of the Inferno, simply don't open me up to the workings of grace. But to hear the small triumphs of a day--building a castle with blocks, making dinner, just being who we are and living out our vocations--those things speak to me in a voice that demands change. They teach me things and they call me to be a better father, a more compassionate friend, and all round a better exemplar of Christ.

So to Davey's Mom and to all of those who wonder whether it is worthwhile to share what you do--the answer is YES. You do not know who you bless or how with what you choose to share. Even if you don't dive down into the muck and murk of your own souls and dredge up all manner of grisly objects to show the world, you bless us (come to think of it, perhaps more than if you ran an online confessional monologue). Don't worry about not being able to talk about deeply personal matters. You don't know how simply and mundane things transform your audiences bit by bit. You make all of us better people by simply living your lives and sharing what you choose to share with us. Thank you.

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What is Our Cross?


I read this and it completely changed my perspective on the day. Please read it before continuing, it is worthy and more than worthy of your attention.

On the feast of the exaltation of the Holy Cross, I did not ask myself what my cross was. Every day I have a new idea of what that might be. And I realized reading M'Lynn's entry, that my cross is myself. It isn't all those little things that burden me each day. It isn't someone else or something else. It is nothing other than myself and how I choose consciously or through habit, to react to what is happening around me.

I remember when Samuel was a little baby, he was as unlike other little babies as you can begin to imagine. Whereas other children would sleep through Mass, Samuel would fuss and then cry, every mass without fail. I'd go into the Church and he'd be practically asleep and when the entrance hymn started those eyes would fly open and the fussing would begin. It would, if untreated, quickly escalate into outright screaming. The only remedy for it was for me to get up and go back into the entrance hall and walk around through all of Mass. And I remember feeling sorry for myself and wondering why he couldn't be like all the other children who slumbered peacefully during Mass. At points I concluded that I had gotten the "Omen" baby. I don't know that I ever really got over it, but when it became clear that it would happen every week, I adjusted to the fact--not gladly.

That reaction is my cross. In fact my reaction to much of the world is my cross. It was these lines that made this so clear to me:

M. is not my cross--as my hubby said afterwards, she's just perched on top of our crosses, looking cheerful at being able to get a good view of everything, maybe jumping up and down a little. I wonder what the congregation is getting from watching me hustle my decidely odd child around the church.

And I'd like to share what I get when similar things happen in my own church. Though you may not believe it, I am blessed. I am blessed by a mother who is aware enough of her child to care, and who is aware enough of the people around her to try to do something. I am blessed by having someone else to pray for rather than being stuck in the rut of how everything isn't going precisely the way I would like it to. I am blessed by the knowledge that we are all "fearfully and wonderfully" made and all deserving of love.

And as I am blessed by all of those who struggle, and who should not be ashamed or embarassed at their burden, so too I've been blessed by what M'Lynn has written for us. She's made me aware that my greatest cross is me--not others, not the world, not my burdens, but my reactions to them.

M'Lynn has reminded me that every moment, no matter how difficult, every breath I draw is a gift, it is a moment that God is present to me, if I choose to make myself aware of it. Every moment is Divine, in the sense that He is Lord of all time and outside time. And now I feel called to return to Jean Pierre de Caussade Abandonment to Divine Providence. Perhaps one of the meanings of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is that we are to see how relatively unburdened we are all compared to that Man who took all upon Himself and put an end to it once for all.

(Thanks M'Lynn for the reminder.)

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Quotable Samuel

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This morning before we went into the Church for mass we heard the enormous ruckus of a pair of Sandhill cranes coming from points undisclosed in the parking lot. Samuel and I trekked through a couple of plant barriers that had narrow gaps to go and look at this truly remarkable and wonderful pair of birds. In the course of doing so Samuel got scratched on his lower leg. He noticed this at Mass and pointed it out to me.

Later in the car on the way home he said, "Some sticks are pointful, but many are not."

Isn't that a wonderful reflection for the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, for our Lord has hurt by both those that are "pointful" and those that are not. Lord, forgive us our sins, may we triumph by the sign of the glorious Cross.

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Update on Everything

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As you can see I've added a small accent photo. If you would please leave URLs that lead to free-use religious art, I would greatly appreciate it. I'm only comfortable using my own until I know the rights.

You'll see also that I have both category and chronological search possibilities. MT is really a marvel and better yet is DHTML and CSS that allow for amazing changes to a blog without extensive code rewriting. This blows blogger out of the water. A definite plus. Altering the blogger template could be a technical nightmare because the CSS was combined with the Template and there was a tendency to corruption and coding bugs. This way, you can tell if the problem is in the CSS or the template. Great mechanism. Plus I'm learning a tremendous amount about the meaning of the code.

Next, I'll probably fool with some backgrounds. I do this because presently my brain is exhausted from writing about Impact (reaction) engines, reciprocating engines, and the enormously inventive Clement Ader. Google him, I think you'll be amused and fascinated with his aircraft designs. This should end shortly as the exhibit is opening in a few days. I've got an invitation to the opening.

Oh, and supercool--Samuel's class will be taking a field-trip to the museum so he'll get to see his daddy's work without even knowing it. I'm thinking of volunteering for chaperone. Kids are GREAT! (Especially if you're talking four or so hours at a time!)

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This work, by John Playford, is by the "Father of English Music Publication" according to the introduction. The work was written in 1654 and covers composition of music in 2, 3, and 4 parts. It appears to be part of a larger work.

Find the complete document via PDF, here

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Good News But Keep Praying


M'Lynn reports good news, but please keep praying. There is something afoot affecting far too many people, so please remember M'Lynn and family, Christine and Gordon, Katherine and Franklin, and a young man who lives near us with more woe that it seems right for any person to have to carry.

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There's a Kind of Hush


There's been a curious sort of silence that has fallen over blogdom. It is hard to coax an answer from a group that must have opinions. But this silent pool is reflective of a larger quiet that gives me pause.

Over the last several days I have gone out to some local places at lunchtime as is my habit. In the course of doing so I have noted the parking lots usually crammed beyond any hope of finding spaces are far more than half empty. I've been able to park "at the door" of such places. The Panera near me, normally a small pandemonium at lunchtime, was so quiet that only the obnoxious order announcer intruded on our conversation.

Again I note it has only been over the past two or three days, and I wondered if it stemmed from some sort of observance on September 11, or if there were some deeper cause at work. Here, in Florida, it could be that I am merely noticing the end of major tourist season. Other parts of the country may be getting back to school, although I would have thought that would have been a week or so ago. (We start in August.)

Whatever the cause it has given an eerie, twilight-zone like aura to the days. Interesting and creepy at the same time.

But in the meantime, surely people other than Alicia have opinions about Category v. Weekly/Monthly. If so, please tell me.

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On The Way

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I'm about 10% of the way through categorizing my archive. It will be a while before everything is in place, but hopefully soon. Then I'll try to figure out a way in which archves might be accessible by date or category. Failing that, which way might you all find more pleasing? Because I control the blog, I can always access category by other means. But if it would prove more useful (and it is possible) would you like to be able to access the archive by date and category? If not, which would you prefer?

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More Prayers


Dylan's Mom gives us an update. Please continue to remember him in prayer. He is sorely missed.

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Religion and Science


Here is a nice discussion of those questions may be answered by science and those that may be answered by religion.

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Words of ?Wisdom

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Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent.

--George Orwell writing of Gandhi a few months before Orwell's death.

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Reflections on Faith


from Guigo the Carthusian.

Guigo the Carthusian quoted in Ordinary Graces
Lorraine Kisly, ed.

We all live by the same bread, each of us receiving his own share. . . In this gift which I have received I possess the whole of Christ and Christ possesses the whole of me, just as the limb which is possessed by the body in its turn possesses the whole body. Therefore that portion of faith which has been distributed to you is the fragment put in your mouth; but unless you reflect, often and devoutly, on what you believe, unless you will as it were break it up into pieces with your teeth, that is, with your spiritual senses, chewing it and turning it over in your mouth, it will stick in your throat, that is, it will not go down into your understanding. . . . Faith offers to us things which we cannot see, and there must be great intellectual labor before such things are passed down into the mind. Unless this dry bread be moistened by the saliva of wisdom coming down "from the Father of light," you will labor in vain, for what you have gathered up by thinking does not penetrate to your understanding. . . Therefore your faith will be idle unless by often thinking about it "you earn your bread by the labor of your hands." And yet, you cannot think about all you believe, or understand at once all that you think, but only by degrees, and as it were in fragments; and so your food can be properly prepared only by great labor.

Further the deponent sayeth not.

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Erik's Semiotics Seminar


Erik has written (et seq.) some wonderful posts about the nature and meaning of semiotics. Most interesting in this regard is the suggestion of a semiotic study of music which appeals to me as the motifs in music do tend to be very traceable up to a point. Erik founds the grand tradition of Western Music on Gregorian Chant, to which I make no objection. But I do raise the question of the influences on Chant itself, and the relative lack of a clear means of finding these. But that is irrelevant to his basic point--merely one of those things that I often ponder. Go and read--be informed if you were not already aware, or entertained if you have already grasped semiotic theory.

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Prayers Requested


Isabel is a very, very scary storm. So far it has not affected land. Let us all pray that it stays far from land and that everyone remains safe. A Category 5 is a very serious, very scary storm to be dealing with.

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Prayers Requested

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I've not been able to keep up with my rounds in recent days. You all know all the reasons. But stopping by a venue less frequently visited I found the following and ask all of your prayers for M Lynn and family:

Tuesday, September 09, 2003
Hmmmm. Well. Hubby got laid off today. Methinks I may take a small break from blogdom whilst I consider the financial implosion that just happened.

M'Lynn, please forgive my intrusion into your blog for this. Everyone else, please pray--this is quickly becoming epidemic in my world at least, and my heart breaks each time I hear it because I know the hardship of it.

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Here--Slavery Ordained of God. There's no point in denying these realities of the past and these misconstructions of God's word, but it does hurt at times. We do well to learn from our errors.

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Simple Gifts


Simple Gifts

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free.
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be.
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shall not be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
'Till by turning, turning we come round right.

The Shakers were/are an interesting protestant contemplative/mystical order. They maintained celibacy for all members and gained members only by recruitment. Presently there is a small community of Shakers living at the ancient residence of Sabbathday Lake in Maine.

Theologically they were terribly wrong about a great many things, unless you slant and nuance them just right. But this song encapsulates a truth that can resonate through Christianity regardless of the denomination.

This page will tell you far more than you might ever care to know about the Simplicity of God. But let us just accept for the moment that God is simple, of single substance, indivisible, whole, and uniate. Then, it would seem, to best mirror Him, we should be likewise. We should not live with a divided heart. All that we have and all that we are should reflect God's glory.

But the reality is that we are a divided people. Our hearts rest only when they rest in God, and for most of us that means that our hearts rest only momentarily before skipping on to other concerns. God is a strong presence in our lives, but for many of us, the slightest breath of discontent or of pleasure, and God is wiped out of all consideration--suddenly we are on our own.

Jesus tells us, "Where your heart is, there your treasure shall be." He teaches simplicity, "You cannot serve God and Mammon." But we do not practice it. And we do not practice it because we convince ourselves that it isn't true. That we can do both--we are superpeople, capable of conquering the world and subduing it and rendering right sacrifice and duty to God.

For those who really think this, a newsflash--"We are more than conquerers through Him. . ." not through our own efforts, not through what we do, but through what He IS.

So, throughout the day, I find myself singing this song and recalling that indeed, it is a gift, perhaps in our language a Grace, to be simple. And in being simple, we become free. For the only freedom lies in service to God and to our fellow man.

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In Memoriam


In remembrance of the day, this:

from My Invented Country
Isabel Allende

Until only a short time ago, if someone had asked me where I'm from, I would have answered without much thought, Nowhere; or Latin America; or, maybe, In my heart I'm Chilean. Today, however, I say I'm an American, not simply because that's what my passport verifies, or because that word includes all of America from north to south, or because my husband, my son, my grandchildren, most of my friends, my books, and my home are in northern California; but because a terrorist attack destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and starting with that instant, many things have changed. We can't be neutral in moments of crisis. This tragedy has brought me face to face with my sense of identity. I realize today that I am one person in the multicolored population of North America, just as before I was Chilean. I no longer feel that I am so alien in the United States. When I watched the collapse of the towers, I had a sense of having lived in a nearly identical nightmare. By a blood-chilling coincidence--historic karma--the commandeered airplanes struck their U.S. targets on a Tuesday, September 11, exactly the same day of the week and month--and almost the same time in the morning --of the 1973 military coup in Chile, a terrorist act orchestrated by the CIA against a democracy. The images of burning buildings, smoke, flames, and panic are similar in both settings. That distant Tuesday in 1973 my life was split in two; nothing was ever again the same: I lost a country. That fateful Tuesday in 2001 was also a decisive moment, nothing will ever again be the same, and I gained a country.

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Searching for Proper Googling

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Looking at some of the search strings that lead people to my site and at their resultant matches on the site, I have drawn a general conclusion--many people would profit from a short class in boolean logic and using a search engine. Better yet might be to simply read the help material from Google's site. For example, if you want to find Nudist Wombat worshipping women covered in clay, you would be wise to surround this search phrase with quotation marks that indicates that you are searching an entire string. The Google search defaults to an automatic search near trying to find as many words in your search string as possible no matter how they are related.

I am deeply grateful that seekers after wisdom and knowledge choose to stop by my place, but I fear they must leave woefully disappointed at the lack of mention of Extra-terrestrial Terrorists murdering moon astronauts. Hopefully, they leave with some nugget of information and a slightly cheerier view of the world.

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Prayer Requests


Dylan needs our prayers. Please remember him as he struggles with all the problems that come with so long a hospital stay.

Gordon and Christine really need our prayers--he has been long enough unemployed that they are reaching the end of reserves and unemployment isn't going to keep them going much longer. Please remember them.

Katherine and Franklin and family all need our prayers.

Please let me know if there are other intentions or needs.

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The Man Who Was Thursday

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This is supposedly the next book for our religious/spiritual book group and I am finding the same difficulty with it that I had the first time through--the writing is stilted, uneven, and even just plain bizarre--or so it seems. Compared to close contemporaries Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells it lacks a polish and an immediacy these others have. He fails to engage me in any meaningful sense. I always feel inadequate when I admit this because so many speak so highly of Chesterton's work. But I'm afraid that it just doesn't resonate with me. Some of the nonfiction prose is more interesting and better composed, but frankly I rather spend the time with Greene, Waugh, O'Connor, or Percy, all of whom present their own problems and flaws, but who at least never fail to be interesting from the point of view of a writer.

I would love to have some encouragement in this reading--so if there are any who really, really like The Man Who Was Thursday I'd appreciate hearing from you, and I am certain others in the blog world would profit from it as well.

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More On Philip Yancey


Some time back I blogged extensively about a Yancey book that I was enjoying enormously. Subsequently I have tried many others. I don't find them nearly as compelling even though all are written quite well. The attraction of Soul Survivor for me must have been the literary world and the figures he chose to represent it.

Paul Elie's The Life You Save May Be Your Own had a similar attraction for me. I learned much about four figures who I stood some chance of understanding and whose vocations (in the Earthly sense) spoke to me. I suspect that I will get more out of Isabel Allende's My Invented Country than I am likely to harvest from any further reading of Yancey, and so until I hear word to the contrary, I'm likely to retire Yancey, or read him only in small bits. This is not to denigrate his work or suggest that it isn't entirely worthwhile and wonderful. It simply is an acknowledgment that aspects of it lack appeal for me, even though it is very fine in many ways.

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Almost There

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Despite reports of some problems, I'm nearly there. The banner is now the proper shade of hibiscus blossom, and the blues complimentary. Indeed, it is much more a "flos carmeli" than the previous site--and probably more representative of who I am.

I do need to try to remedy some of the problems I'm hearing about, but so far everyone is reporting the same difficult which suggests that it may be somewhat easier to fix than I had anticipated. When you get into all those "margin-calls" that are required for a page that isn't rigidly fixed, you're bound to have some difficulty. I'll ask a friend far more expert than I am what might be done to fix it.


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On Vocations

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Yesterday I received news that a good friend's daughter recently entered Mother Angelica's Poor Clare convent. After a moment of shock (I had never known anyone who actually took this step--so I was surprised) I warmly congratulated the very proud father who had shared this news.

I shared this news with a couple of other people and invariably I have gotten the same reaction from them, "Wasn't she kind of young to make such a decision?" Now, I'll admit the thought had flashed across the surface of my brain, but I rejected it remembered St Thérèse, St. Dominic Salvio, and St. Aloysius Gonzaga, all very young.

It seems that nowdays, a person of eighteen years or so is considered too young to make a lifetime decision. But I wonder--isn't it a bit presumptious on our part to preempt the action of God. It isn't as though a vocation is a choice in the ordinary sense of the word. Certainly one must ultimately choose to follow where the vocation leads, but if we understand vocation properly, isn't it the tender tug of the person toward God under God's aegis?

So then, who is too young to follow God? Medieval hagiographies had legends of children who from the womb were preaching the word of God, and while that may be more than a little odd, St. Thérèse spent much of her young life playing at "Nuns in the Convent" with her sister Celine.

No matter, I am truly delighted that this young woman is exploring the meaning and possibility of vocation. There is good reason for long internships in the course of joining an order. The discernment of vocation is no easy task. It is also no decision to undertake lightly. Please pray for this young woman as she begins the journey of discovery of vocation. Pray that if she has a vocation, it is made resoundingly clear to her and that she remain true to it despite the currents of the world.

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First in a Projected Series

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The first part of a sequence poem.

Florida Fall

This morning a lizard
not much larger than a large ant
fled my foot,
a leaf of Florida fall.
I gently tapped it off
the pavement in hopes
that he would greet
my Florida spring.

© 2003, Steven Riddle

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Not There Yet

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Everything is set. Almost everything is as I would like it. But the color scheme just isn't coming together. Those HTML experts, any notions on three progressively darker compatible blue-greens to blues. I'm looking for a very festive Caribbean feel--hence the present coral. I think I may been to incorporate a small gif background to tile and create the color effect I want. Any advice?

By the way, thanks to all the kind souls out in St. Blogs who have so generously given time and energy to help make this come about. Soon shall report on why one might consider such a move and under what circumstances one should consider staying put.

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A Necessary Repeat

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It has been some time since I last posted this. I was reminded of it by a forthcoming event at work and thought that I'd bring it to everyone's attention again.

For a wedding shower for a colleague we were called upon to decorate large sheets with quotes from children about love. The quote I chose was a gem--
"You really shouldn't say 'I love you' unless you mean it. But if you meant it, you should say it a lot. People forget."

I don't do decoration--just don't do it. My artistic ability is nil--even my stick figures look anemic. When called upon to do these things my choice of decoration is always words (because normally one can't include music--and for a wedding, I really don't know what music I would choose). So the poem below are the words I chose to decorate my poster. And this was the introductory couplet I appended to it, a wish I extend to all of those who are married in St. Blog's:

May your lives be such that his holds ever true
from you to him and from him to you.

To My Dear And Loving Husband Anne Bradstreet

If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were lov'd by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole Mines of gold
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that Rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompetence.
Thy love is such I can no way repay.
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let's so persever
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

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Still Some Work To Do

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But my sincere thanks to all who have offered help. Transition is going smoothly. We'll see what happens with the archives and such, but I have no reason to expect anything untoward.

I am ecstatic because it appeals so much to my orderly mind to have all these Categories. Now if someone wants to read all the entries on poetry or the glorious seventeenth Century, or whatever, they will be able to do so. More importantly, for my own purposes it is far superior to the usual flatfile.

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A Blockquote Test

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A little decadent, a little beautiful, a little memento mori.
Ah! my Beloved, fill the Cup that clears
To-day of past Regrets and future Fears
To-morrow?--Why, To-morrow I may be
Myself with Yesterday's Sev'n Thousand Years.
More, perhaps later. After the storm and after the Carmelite meeting.
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Packing Up and Saying Farewell


Packing Up and Saying Farewell to Blogger, at Least for a While

This will remain open until I figure out how to transfer the entries. When that is done, I don't know the fate of this place. Although likely it will remain open because it has so many comments I wish to preserve and Haloscan doesn't yet allow me to export them.

Anyway please visit the new under construction digs here.

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There is much to admire about this software, and much that is both infuriating and aggravating.

For one thing the code for the template is a nasty tangled mess. I can parse it, but just barely because of the way different lines are slammed together. I haven't yet gotten used to some of the style-sheet eccentricities. And I'm not certain that I've settled on a style. I'd really like a three column format, but I can't seem to find any templates with that--so I'll likely get someone to help parsing the mess and set up my own.

Oh, and color scheme is far from final.

One last horror--importing the archives. Not sure I'll be able to do it--but if I can get everything moved over, I probably shall do soonest.

Meanwhile, enjoy the vistas from my new home.

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So Now I Have So Many Choices


I can choose to add a category. You can click the categories and see all the wonderful possibilities. I don't have to index certain things the way I once did. Now, if I want to read any of my own maunderings about St. John of the Cross, I'll simply click that category. That is actually what I most wanted in my blog--that wonderful ability to create order from chaos. To order in whatsoever fashion enters my warped imagination. Oh, the lovely, wonderful, and most excellent freedom.

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What will happen when I publish this?

Who knows?

Much Less

Who cares?

Except for me

I'd Guess no one.

No one at all.

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St. John of the Cross


St. John of the Cross IX--Dark Night of the Soul II

Ascent of Mount Carmel Study--Dark Night Digression part II

This month we end our brief digression into Dark Night of the Soul. Please read pages 367-375 (Book 1 Chapters 4-7).

Prepare a table consisting of three columns and eight rows. In the header row:

Spiritual Sin/ Signs and Symptoms/Actions to be Taken or Cure

In the Lead Column: Spiritual Pride, Spiritual Avarice, Spiritual Lust, Spiritual Anger, Spiritual Gluttony, Spiritual Envy, Spiritual Sloth.

Fill out the final five, and as a review go back to the first two. Make a list of three actions to take in the next month related to finding and rooting out signs of these sins.

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A Most Interesting Note from Thoreau


A Most Interesting Note from Thoreau

As ever I greatly lament the paucity and the weakness of my own writings when I compare them with even the hasty jottings of one like Thoreau. This excerpt had me completely spellbound and captive.

Journal of Thoreau excerpted in Ordinary Graces ed. Lorraine Kisly

In youth, before I lost any of my senses, I can remember that I was all alive, and inhabited my body with inexpressible satisfaction; both its weariness and its refreshment were sweet to me. This earth was the most glorious musical instrument, and I was audience to its strains.

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Back to the Gospel of


Back to the Gospel of Mark

Please forgive me as I try your patience with yet more of the Gospel of Mark. This time I've backed up to

Mark 1:3
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight--"

I love the beautiful ambiguity of this phrasing. Is it the voice that is crying in the wilderness or do we read across the line break to hear a different meaning? Read it this way, "It is the voice of one crying 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord. " I had read somewhere that much of punctuation is a fairly recent, modern innovation. Ancient markings are exceedingly vague, or so I understand. So what happens when we read across the lines? I think we hear another hidden strand of the Gospel. In the barren and inhospitable wilderness of the human heart, prepare a way for the Lord. Again in that same heart, make his paths straight. This is the announcement of the reign of God that is to bring us all out of the desert. I am reminded through the echoing resonance of this verse from Ezekiel 11:19

"And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh"

So as we prepare a way in the desert for the Lord, he prepares for us a way out of the desert and toward home. We give Him stones and He hands back living hearts. I never fail to be amazed by the richness of God's word in a heart even only barely awake--a heart more stone than flesh, but yearning for His deliverance.

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Calvinist and Nevertheless Lovely


Calvinist and Nevertheless Lovely

A sonnet cycle by Anne Locke based on Psalm

from A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner
"On the Verse:
For I knowledge my wickednes, and my sinne is euer before me. "
Anne Locke, 1560

Haue mercie, Lord, haue mercie: for I know
How muche I nede thy mercie in this case.
The horror of my gilt doth dayly growe,
And growing weares my feble hope of grace.
I fele and suffer in my thralled brest
Secret remorse and gnawing of my hart.
I fele my sinne, my sinne that hath opprest
My soule with sorrow and surmounting smart.
Drawe me to mercie: for so oft as I
Presume to mercy to direct my sight,
My Chaos and my heape of sinne doth lie,
Betwene me and thy mercies shining light.
What euer way I gaze about for grace,
My filth and fault are euer in my face.

The sinner trapped by his own sin cannot see beyond. Grace only gives the light, and yet the sinner must seek grace. In the grand mystery of God's grace, He must supply even this grace and strength to seek grace. Of ourselves, we can do nothing, and yet the very slight bending of will is all that God asks for or requires. We are so blessed.

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Moving Soon


Moving Soon

In a couple of days I hope to be moving this blog. I want to move to movable type largely because of the ability to categorize posts. It would offer me the opportunity to be able to easily look back over previous materials and revise and refine them for other purposes. In addition, it gives me something to play with. I look forward to
the opportunity to play with a new template and perhaps post of few pictures of things (fossils and other amusing things). So this is just fair warning. When it happens I shall post the new address. In the meantime, I'll be lingering around these corners with posts. (Not much today because usual posting time was consumed at the car repair place. Which reminds me--please pray for us as we contemplate the purchase of a new "family-friendly" vehicle--to accommodate our extended family)

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A Key to the Gospel of Mark


A Key to the Gospel of Mark

In reviewing the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, I made a rediscovery that seems one key to the Gospel of Mark. Undoubtedly you have noticed in reading the Gospel the sense of urgency that seems to emerge very early on. In the first chapter alone the word immediately is used 9 times.

The key may lie within the second verse of Mark, which is not repeated in either Matthew's or Luke's Gospel. The second verse:

"As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way;"

Well, this portion of it is not written in Isaiah but in Malachi (the remainder of the quotation, however, does come from Isaiah). Malachi 3:1a (a refers to the first part of the verse:

"Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts." (RSV)

This verse seems to set the tone for Mark. We read that "the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple." Like a lightning stroke from blue sky, the Lord will come and be revealed.

Mark follows his quotes from Malachi and Isaiah with

"John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. " (Mark 1:4 - RSV)

Is it any wonder that many thought he was the one predicted? He came as Malachi said--he "appeared" in the desert after how many years of prayer and service to God, he suddenly shows up at the Jordan announcing that the time had come and everything was to change. No wonder his first recorded words included that admonition that he is not the one predicted.

And then along comes Jesus, indistinguishable in any ordinary way from the crowd--one of the multitude but oh, His baptism told a tale:

"And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; " (Mark 1:10 - RSV)

I suspect there were very few other Galileans for whom this happened. In fact, I suspect there were no others. So, Jesus suddenly appears--God revealed--in His temple, which is every place and every time because He is Lord of Eternity, of time and space.

Thus Mark is pressing upon us the necessity of Jesus and the urgency of His revelation to the world. He appears suddenly to fulfill the prophecy of the third chapter of Malachi, which in its entirety reads:

1 "Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? "For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the LORD. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. 5 "Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts. 6 "For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.

"He will sit as refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the LORD."

Would that it would be true in my case and in the case of so many Christians around me. I would be refined by God, I would present Him all that He deserves. And all that He deserves is nothing less than all of me all of the time--my complete service to Him and to His people. This was the reason for the baptism of repentance--the days of trial and fire were coming, and have come since, and remain with us. Each of us must be tested in fire and the fire will be one of God's choosing, not everyone requires the same refinement, the same purification. He will use the fire that will burn out the sin and turn dross into silver, electrum, and gold, each to his capacity as God himself has seen and refined it.

Is it any wonder that Mark speaks with urgency? Isn't this what we all desire? Isn't this the promise of ages? To become a new person, to be fulfilled not in ourselves but in our place in the body of Christ, is the promise of salvation. We can assume our place in the throne-room rather than presuming it. We may enter as the wedding guests called in off the streets--and like the wedding guests we should pay some honor in our dress and refinement.

What starts as a certain puzzlement at the pace of the gospel resolves into the vision of the promise of God. God is with Us now and forever, we have seen His face unveiled and know the truth of His revelation. This is what the gospel reveals to us and this is what God promises us.

To Him all praise and glory.

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For Fans of C.S. Lewis


For Fans of C.S. Lewis

His mentor's book Unspoken Sermons. George D. MacDonald, despite his excesses in the novel-world is one of the writers C.S. Lewis most admired. I would like to discover why. Perhaps these short sermons will help.

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On Writing for Any Audience


On Writing for Any Audience

Sometimes I would like my blog to be other than what it is. But I understand that would require me to be other than what I am.

I would like to have incisive and perceptive things to say about current events, as a great many blogs do. But that would require me to be able to discern as perceptively which side is in the right and which side is in the wrong. It is not always so clear cut with me.

I would like to be able to post perceptive analyses and explanations of plain Catholicism, like those I read at Disputations. But while I might take exception to some small part of what is said there, I haven't the right kind of mind to generate the wonderful materials I read there.

I would like to produce with consistency the vibrantly spiritual, quintessentially posts of Ms. Karen Marie Knapp, who never fails to stun me.

Each blogger I read consistently has some aspect that I would dearly love to have here. Kathy at Gospel Minefield has a wonderful ability to cut through the fog and obfuscation to get to the heart of the matter. Mr. Seraphin at A Catholic Blog for Lovers always produces beautiful, vibrant and meaningful work.

But I am what I am, and what I am is expressed through what appears here. I do not have a terribly incisive mind (God did not give me bleeding edge technology). What I know was hard-learned, often in the dreadful school of experience, and often very, very slowly. I have no insights that others would profit from or cherish--I can tell you nothing new, or even anything old (and accurate) about the human condition. I cannot plumb the depths of spirituality or soar to the heights of intellect. Let's face it--at times I just feel downright deficient--ineffective, ineffectual, with endless vacillation and a million different caveats all leading nowhere.

But I am what I am, masses of indecision and all. And because of that, this blog is what it is--neither the forerunner of understanding the news, nor the leading voice in understanding the teaching of the Church, nor particularly gifted at spelling out spiritual truths and helping everyone to a deeper understanding of our Lord and God.

What I do hope I am is a person whose love of God occasionally breaks through his love of self. What I hope shines forth for some is my real attraction to the Holy Church and the blessed Magisterium that so helps us all in understanding. You will hear much wrong here--not deliberately, but through ignorance. You do not stand to learn much from me. But I do appreciate your patience and the kindness of your readership as you visit day after day. I am blessed with blogfriends and regulars who visit and sometimes comment, and I am thankful.

I had originally intended to publish something like Erik's Manifesto on Art and Music--but I realize that I have nothing to say that would have nearly the same meaning. Perhaps the only things of worth I can offer is my sincere love of the language, which, due to the haste with which these entries are composed might be belied by what you see here. But trust me, I do cherish the language, its magnificence, its simplicity, and its beauty and I have no patience for those who abuse it, misuse it, or warp it. Perhaps someday I'll produce a manifesto on good and decent writing that will stab straight at the heart of the postmodern world of criticism.

Enough maundering for now--presently I'm off to try to write an explanation of why the Bernouilli Principle IS NOT the right explanation for the marvels of aeronautics. It will be particularly difficult because common knowledge holds the Bernoilli Principle explanation for induced lift. It's always hard to go against common knowledge--most particularly people seem to cling to it ardently when it is at its most incorrect.

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For Those Following the Trials of Our Episcopalian Brethren

(Obviously not intended for Erik :-)

This note by a gentleman of some prominence in the Episcopal Church, Mr. David Warren, announcing his intention to "swim the Tiber."

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May as well add my two-cents worth. Mr. Bowden of Adjutorium Nostrum + In Nomine Domini is encouraging all St. Blogsters to add a feed to their sites. Having examined the possibilities, I can see why he might suggest this. At the very bottom of the left-hand column of this page is the location I have chosen to add such a feed. Unless you're on ultra-blogger or somesuch, I don't think it is possible to add a feed directly, so Blogmatrix seems to be a good place to add through. The advantage is that those who run a certain kind of reader/browser will know almost as soon as you have updated your site. You can read all updates in one place--like a St. Blog's newspaper. (I don't know if a program is yet available for Mac to do this). The disadvantage, so far as I can tell at this time, is nil. So, please consider this service to and for others who enjoy your site.

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A Note upon Possible Future Changes


A Note upon Possible Future Change

I am carefully considering at this point the change to movable type or another such blogging program. I do so not from any real discontent with blogger, which despite its occasional problems and flare-ups has served me well and faithfully for over a year, but because I wish to impose additional structure upon the blog, to categorize so that it might be more easily searched and organized for the reader and for myself. I will shortly consult several who use this program and ask after its efficacy and the difficulty of transfer. Never fear, nothing will change in the manner of doing things; however, if I choose to make this leap at this time, I think everyone who enjoys what is here will be better able to do so.

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Witnessing Christ in Creation


Witnessing Christ in Creation

A superb slender book of excerpts regarding facets of the Christian Life, Ordinary Graces compiled by Lorraine Kisly presents a number of quotations regarding the Christian encounter with the natural world. I'll excerpt two.

from Ordinary Graces compiled by Lorraine Kisly

from the work of Poet Christopher Smart

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven time round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his fore-paws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the fore-paws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having considered God and himself he will consider his neighbor.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying. . .

from The Grain of Wheat: Aphorisms
Hans Urs von Balthasar

Christ as recapitulation of creation: as new Adam he encompasses everything human, but he also incorporates the animal realm in himself, since he is lamb, scapegoat, sacrificial ox, ram, and lion of Judah. As bread and as vine he incorporates the vegetative. Finally, in the Passion, he became a mere thing and thus reached the very bottom of the world's structure. This reification is most evidenced in the sacraments and especially in Christ's quantification in Communion wafers and in his multilocation Christ as printing matrix, as generic article. Such reification has its cause not at all in a subsequent desacralization of the holy by the Church, but in an intensely profound personal decision of the Redeemer, and in the strongest possible effects of the redemption itself, whereby the Lord makes himself irrevocably a thing at the disposal of anyone who requests it.

One quick note--even in his aphorisms von Balthasar is incredibly long-winded.

I loved both of these excerpts because they gave points to ponder--a direction to look in order to see the sacred in the ordinary. To look at one's cat and see the mind of the maker is a cause for great joy--to see how perfectly attuned and constructed such an animal might be to the will of God is indeed an insight.

The second insight probes our understanding of Jesus. Again the notion of Jesus recapitulating all of creation is profound and thrilling. Paul hints around at it in Romans when he says that all creations groans awaiting the redemption--but this direct statement is gorgeous and a new way of thinking about the efficacy and sufficiency of God alone.

I hope the book continues to provide readings of such caliber. There will be much to be learned from it.

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No profound insights into Neil Gaiman's novel for children, but a few pointers. I never fail to be amazed at the cleanness and beauty of the prose. There are points throughout the novel that hint at deeper riches. Don, who initially recommended the piece with some reservations, had noted the use of Bible verses in the mouth of a very unsavory character and wondered what Gaiman might be saying. The wonderful thing about this, is that it little matters what his intent, again, as Don points out, it may leave a funny aftertaste in adult mouths, but the story is ultimately about good and evil. The use of the Bible verse very readily explained by the fact that not everyone who quotes scripture is worthy to do so. (A digression: how many of us are?)

The story and prose are simply enough--probably easy enough for a homeschooled child of seven or eight, or a public-schooled child of ten to read. The novel provides plenty of goosebumps with very little in the way of anything objectionable. I don't know that I would share this with youngsters, but I do recommend it to the attention of adults both because it is short and because the control in the writing is absolutely perfect. The pitch and the ear for dialogue and description superb. Quiet, menacing, and thrilling without ever going over the top. In some ways this small book reminded me of the splendid movie The Others. The chill is similar, the end result quite different. And, as usual with Gaiman, there are moments that are quite amusing even amid the creepiness. As we approach October, but this on your fall reading list.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from September 2003 listed from newest to oldest.

August 2003 is the previous archive.

October 2003 is the next archive.

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