April 2005 Archives

The Haiku

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Haiku is a strange verse form. It's hard to write one in English that isn't at least partially successful. This may be why they are so often assigned to children who are learning to write creatively.

There are theorists who say that the form as we know it in English is too roomy. That is, the structre of japanese is such that the seventeend syllables we are familiar with constitute between four and seven words. The claim that a fairer test of being able to master the Japanese form as it was to the Japanese would be to make the poem something like 3-5-3 syllables. I've written haiku to these specifications--they are tougher and resemble more the Japanese form.

One of the challenges I try for myself is to see how "long" I can make a haiku. Can I compose one that contains seventeen words. What is the maximum length of a word of one syllable--of two? For this reason the words strength and strengthened are appealing.

But experiments with haiku seem to be one predominant strain of poetry in the past and up to the present day. What makes it work so well?

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words are wasted to
make lines work; a poetic
form doomed to failure

words wasted to fill
out lines, a poetic form
reduced to white noise

to fill the lines words
are wasted, a poetic
form of impotence

too many words just
for the count, poems flabby with
verbiage, leaking

a poet adds words
to force lines, sheer chaos, you
don't get your wordsworth

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Chains of Desire

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of heaven painted on things
as we see them now.

Object of desire--sure sign
of its maker--Lord of life.

In not holding on
to things we know, need, and love,
we grow heavenward.

The sky is His-promise-blue--
beyond blue--no clouds--no rain.

Learn now how to be--
see--autumn sky, fall leaves--cool
promise of winter.

Desire--good as it seeks He
who is end of all desire.

Desire--ill wind that
keeps blowing as it is fed--
seeking self alone.

Desire teaches us good, shows
us how to see, be, and want.

I want the ocean
broad salt, the great rivers, I
want and do not need.

Desire stretches want into
need. It doesn't know its end.

Stalk the white egret
for its plumage finery
for a woman's hat

whatever we want becomes
the end to which we will go.

The heart's home, the warmth
of the breath breathed at the start,
Holy Spirit's flame.

How then can we know the line--
want and need, shadow and light?

Seek first the kingdom
and His righteousness, all else
comes to you through these.

But the human heart is trained
to want far beyond its means.

Trained to desire, chained
to desire--the will gives way
in the face of it.

So we must learn to not want
to have without having now.

To enjoy all things
both for themselves as they are
God's own goodly work.

But also to see within
them God's shadow. Taste God there.

Desire would hold you
bound, pining, dying not
for itself but for want.

Desire is the spur, the goad, God's
direction arrow pointed home.

Love without keeping,
take without taking, gold chips
in the chilly stream.

Glint for those who come after,
for you, the moment God spoke.

Hear Him in every word,
see in every motion, not one
thing is without Him.

Desire calls us home-answer
and discover where home is.

Okay, it's only a start. There seem to be much, much more to say on the matter, but I must come back to it. Too much compressed poetry squeezes the mind and the japanese forms were not meant to do this. Nevertheless, it comes off rather like the Analects, so not a complete failure--and by way of an answer to one at Lofted Nest.

Between the heron
and the wren--silence builds a
home, spring comes early.

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Does anyone know to what I refer?

If I WERE you and did not know, I might go here. On the other hand, it's equally likely I wouldn't.

Yes, I have absurd little interests, but it takes the sting out of not having a life on a Friday night.

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For TSO and Bill White

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Who were waxing poetic on similar strains yesterday. Go Here and partake of "Ode." I'm sure you will find it salutary, sobering, and edifying. :-D

Side note to Julie--this is one way to see some of X.J. Kennedy's stuff. May have sent you there in comment, but I suspect you will not find "Ode" as uplifting as the two stalwart gentlemen.

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From "The Seven Deadly Virtues"


Hey, I said I was going to stop running off at the mouth about poetry, NOT that I was going to stop loving it or posting it.

from "The Seven Deadly Virtues
X. J. Kennedy

Good Cheer

When grief and gloom are what you want, good cheer
Is nothing but a big pain in the rear.

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At Long Last--A Meeting

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I did finally meet my friends of some eleven or twelve years' acquaintance. They stopped by one their way home. Joachim runs a service for all of us in The Journey--a daily reflection on scripture. I have been writing for him every week for over eleven years now.

He was everything in person that he has been in cyberspace. Never have I had the pleasure of meeting someone who was so much a calm center in the midst of the human press. One got the sense that at the very center of his being was peace to be shared with all the world. Anyway, that was the sense I got.

Joachim, his wife, Linda, and Samuel and I all had dinner and talked like we had been talking for ten-thousand years without stop.

What can I say? Every time I meet my friends from cyberspace the reality ALWAYS exceeds the expectations. I had been disappointed in my hope to meet Joachim at an earlier time--the situation turned out to be a tremendous blessing. But this evening was one of the most enjoyable I've experienced since my return from Dallas.

I hope each of you has the opportunity for the joy I have received in my several meetings with bloggers. I am hoping that there comes another opportunity to visit Ohio and particularly Columbus because one of my favorite bloggers lives there and I'd love to see him in person. With my current project, who knows?--it could happen!

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My dear wife has just started reading the blog and states that when I get going on poetry, her eyes glaze over. And frankly, for the time being, I'm at the end of what I have to say, in general, about the subject. So this will be the last for a while at least on this theme in this way.

I have been asked where one might start with poetry. I think Talmida said it best below--you start where they poetry speaks to you, and that will be different for each person. However, if you don't know what will speak to you, where will you start?

Well, it is probably best to start where the language is rich, yet simple--where the poetry is obvious, but should you care to pursue it, deep. For this reason I recommend of the older poets William Blake and Emily Dickinson. Both are straightforward. Both have large collections of poetry available on the web. Both have seemingly simply lyrics that when carefully examined open up into interesting worlds of revelations.

Of the modern poets, for similar reasons I recommend Robert Frost and William Butler Yeats. Yeats is a bit more complex, but lyrics like "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" and "The Second Coming" are rich, and yet not so abstruse as to dissuade the beginner from attempting anything else.

Another thing you don't find in these poets is some of the tortured syntax and particularly "poetic" diction that one might find in other poets.

Another poet I like tremendously, but who takes some reading and getting used to is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Many of his poems are "story" poems, but there are some very fine, simple lyrics.

Spoon River Anthology is a nice collection for people who want poems to tell stories. You might want to know that the poems are all spoken by those who have died in Spoon River--many of them tend to be a touch downbeat.

Finally, a much neglected twentieth century poet--Edward Arlington Robinson comes to mind as a great favorite. Few people seem to read him any more, and yet his Merlin is one of the great Arthurian poems of recent date. More often than not his contribution to poetry is recognized in anthologies as "Miniver Cheevy" or "Richard Corey," both fine poems, but hardly representative of this great poet.

These are, of course, only some suggested starting places. There are a great many, wonderful, readable, interesting poets. Once you get started, you will find others. The web is a wonderful resource and the links in my side column will take you to poetry sites featuring poetry of many different cultures.

Enjoy as you explore. And for now, I live you with a nice envoi from Emily Dickinson--one of my favorite:

Emily Dickinson

A narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides--
You may have met Him--
did you not
His notice sudden is--

The Grass divides as with a Comb--
A spotted shaft is seen--
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on--

He likes a Boggy Acre
A Floor too cool for Corn--
Yet when a Boy, and Barefoot--
I more than once at Noon

Have passed, I thought, a Whip lash
Unbraiding in the Sun
When stooping to secure it
It wrinkled, and was gone--

Several of Nature's People
I know, and they know me--
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality--

But never met this Fellow
Attended, or alone
Without a tighter breathing
And Zero at the Bone--

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Reading Poetry Part III


Questions have been raised about where to begin.

My suggestions will start with things that should already be familiar.

For narrative poetry--the Book of Job, and The Song of Songs (sort of).

For lyric poetry The Psalms.

There is a tendency not to remember that these are poetic forms. They are presented as poetry for a reason--for several reasons.

Poetry is usually more easily memorized than prose--it has hooks like rhythm or rhyme, which unfortunately, modern translations largely remove. But memorizability was an extremely important feature in an oral culture.

But the next time you set out to read the psalms, push the lines. Read them intentionally as poetry. Understand the line-breaks, understand the possible meanings that build up. Read them in several different versions and hear how different translators interpreted them. This is a critical factor so you can understand why some of us (me in particular) go on and on and on about the KJV or the circa 1660 BCP translations--or the Translations of the Countess of Pembroke , Mary Sidney. The language is older, and bit harder to slip into. But that's okay, it will slow you down, make you intentional in your reading. Poetry should be allowed to melt in the mouth like Neuhaus or Godiva--not chewed and swallowed like Hershey's. The savor of it should linger--but for that to happen it must be heard. As silly as you may feel about it, read what ever poetry you read aloud. Hear it, allow the words to sink in. The Liturgy of the Hours, properly done, should be vocalized, and at a minimum our mouths should form the words. There are good reasons for these rules--they slow us down. They force us to move at the speed of speaking rather than the speed of thought. More, they train our mouths to say words of praise, they train our minds to hear and recognize them.

Reading poetry should engage as many of the sense as possible.

(must run now--have the most unpoetic engagement you could possibly conceive of--I'll be back later to proofread revise, amend and perhaps post more.)

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I need a "roomy" but strictly formal and recursive poetic form for a new poem I'm trying to put together.

I thought of both villanelle (insufficient room) and sestina (may be insufficient room). I'm wondering about the possibility of a septina--new form modeled on the changes in the Sestina; however, I'm not sure it works numerically, and I don't think I need the room of an "octina."

In fact, I'm thinking of going to some Persian forms. Or perhaps some Sanskrit forms. After all the Vedas are hundreds of thousands of lines long, surely that would be enough "room."

Would welcome input.

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There is a possibility that I will be able to meet a person for whom I have been writing once a week, regularly, for going on or more than 10 years. (It boggles the mind.) This acquaintance is of such antiquity that we met via GEnie services--I don't know if that is just pre-internet boom (I think so) or not. Anyway, pleasae pray that this might finally happen. We had one near miss before, and much is contingent upon schedule and other things. So it might fall through. I certainly hope not. But. . .

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Poetry and Religion

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A neat discovery bei Scipio. Does anyone know the German for chez?

Later: Someone DID know. What a surprise that it should have been Scipio himself. Anyway, it's altered above so nothing any longer makes sense. And that's just the way I like it.

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Rules for Reading Poetry

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1. First, enjoy reading it--laugh, cry, sit for a moment and look out the window.
2. Next, consider what, if anything, it might mean.
3. Then, forget whatever it was you did in step 2.
4. Last, enjoy reading it. See God where He may be seen.

Believe it or not, people once read poetry for the sheer joy of it. With the right poets, it still may be done. For straightforward one goes to Tennyson, Poe, Wordsworth, for convoluted and lovely one strays into Eliot, Hopkins, Browning, Pound, and Arnold. And there are a great many contemporary poets well worth your attention.

But more on that later. First, I'll solicit suggestions from the audience. Yes--you there, in the front row, yes black sweater. . .

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Well, you really ought to. Otherwise you miss wonderful insights like this one. Talmida is apparently a person who is highly interested in Hebrew and in the insights that come for Christian living from truly understanding what our Jewish Brethren understand through their study. Read and enjoy.

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Sorry, I will prevail upon your patience/endurance once again today.

Tom made such a good point in the comments box that I wanted to pull it out and center a post around it:

I can't speak for all the poetry-shy, but I suspect there are many for whom poetry is not disheartening or uncomfortable so much as frustrating, because they regard a poem as a puzzle to be properly arranged rather than a toy to be played with.

Also, don't underestimate the impact of exposure to bad poetry.

With respect to the first point--"because they regard a poem as a puzzle to be properly arranged." This is one of the institutional defects of our educational system. Whether they intend to or not, whether it is conscious on their part or not, when often leave high school with the notion, garnered from our teachers, that there is a "meaning" to a poem that can be puzzled out if only you read the words right and get all the symbols in a row. Many teachers graded our papers on how well we understood THE meaning of the poem. And we always speak in terms of "the" meaning of a poem as though there were only one.

Well now, ladies and gentlemen, I am about to share a secret of the profession. Sometimes a poem has no meaning at all--sometimes it catches a moment, a sensation, an emotion, a strange pattern, and does little or nothing else. Such poems should not be excavated, interrogated, turned inside out or otherwise discombobulated. They should be savored like fine wine. Take Ezra Pound's famous imagist haiku:

At a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet black bough.

Any meaning it has is drawn not from the words but from the sense they conjure up in the reader. Are petals on a wet black bow unhappy, happy, formless, industrial, bad, good? Are they anything of themselves? For me this suggests the magnificent paintings and engravings of Hokusai and the entire Ukiyo-e painting school of Edo period Japan. In other words--good, very good. For my English teacher in my Senior year of College, this was an image of blank despair. Who is right about it? Both of us. One brings one set of images, one another, but the poem (as a proper imagist poem should) makes no value judgment at all. Yes, you can do intricate semantic analysis to try to determine how Pound felt about it, but, pardon me for speaking frankly, who cares? Pound is dead, his poem still lives and he has no say about what it means to anyone.

I could leave an entire book of possible meanings and intentions in my poems, but if they don't say it themselves, a ream of prose exposition isn't going to help.

So, the first secret, there is no THE meaning. There is the multiplicity of meanings that spring from your interaction with the poem. Just as when you read scripture, it seems to reinvent itself revealing new facets depending on when and in what emotional state you read it, so too with great poetry.

Now, we mustn't lay aside the most critical part of Tom's very good points.

Also, don't underestimate the impact of exposure to bad poetry.

Over at Lofted Nest there was a discussion going on about how academia has seized and placed a strangle-hold on poetry. Bad poetry comes in two versions: the Helen Steiner Rice/Rod McKuen school and the Poeme-Concrete-and-other-pretentiously-named-psuedo-schools. There is a wealth of bad poetry out there to read. It can be found in every anthology and in every course on poetry. Even more so now that our focus is more "multi-culti" and representation than on quality. In most of these schools the idea of poetry is carried to rarified heights of utter abstruseness and silliness.

One of the poets ill-favored at Lofted Nest is William Carlos Williams. I don't happen to agree with the evaluation, but I can agree with their essential point, which is that academics have taken what is a cute little imagist joke and turned it into some portentously deep meaningful poetic experience. I'm sorry, a red wheel barrow glazed with rain among some chickens is a delightful rural image, nothing more, nothing less. Absolutely nothing depends upon it. Williams knew it, and anyone who reads it for the real pleasure of it knows it. It's a toss off. I happen to think it is a nice toss-off and it conjures up all kinds of invented memories and imagined rural states. But, let's face it, it is not fraught with deep meaning. Yes, you can read a tremendous amount into it.

Even more silly is the adulation over the lunchbox note of Williams to his wife This Is Just to Say. Again a cute idea with a couple of nice touches--but really the stuff of parody. These are not the stuff of say Wallace Steven's "Disillusionment of 10 O'Clock," The Emperor of Ice Cream, or even the imagist riff Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, a poem which both in title and in the haiku- and tanka-like strophes suggests Hokusai's famous print series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. (The number varies up to 100. The prints inspired a story by Roger Zelazny "24 Views of Mount Fuji." The Series includes the very famous print "The Great Wave of Kanagawa.) They are not even cummings sonnet "the cambridge ladies live in furnished souls. . ."

That is one branch of bad poetry. I won't include examples because there is no need, you've had enough stuffed down your throat. The other side of this is the schmaltzier than hallmark school of sing-song ring-rhymy verse that canters along to the tune of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and inevitably end-rhymes no matter how tortured or convoluted a line must be produced in order to make it work. You've all probably seen much of this, but one of the great mavens of this sort of thing is Helen Steiner Rice. I'll reproduce a single line which is sufficient to encompass the oeuvre, "Peace on earth will come to stay, When we live Christmas every day." Now, this is bad poetry. That is not to say there is not a modicum of enjoyment in it, but it simply does not do a service to either rhyme or meter and trivializes a great art. There is no harm in liking it, and rather like reading "Captain Underpants" books, if it allows you access to poetry, it is good to read it. But it doesn't celebrate the greatness of great poetry.

These two factors--trying to puzzle out meaning where what the poet may have intended is "a momentary taste of being from the well amid the waste," and constant exposure to the bad poetry academics and greeting card writers push on us as exemplary of the art--are truly enough to drain all the joy from poetry. But there is a sufficiently large oeuvre between these two poles that you will find much to enjoy if you keep in mind that poetry is an invitation to come out and play, to frolic in the sun, or to have a conversation on the porch with the poet. T.S. Eliot doesn't often frolic, but if one looks at Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats one gets a sense of the playfulness and genuine love of language that underlay all great poets.

Poetry is a much misunderstood, mistaught, and maligned art. I love the language, I love to get inside and crawl around and see all sorts of things that one cannot see standing outside and merely using it as though it were a tool. It is a tool, but it is the gracious and wonderful gift of God as well--and it were well to use it as such.

The short version of this is: I concur precisely with Tom's well-made and cogent points.

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Shakespeare CL

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. . . or, God speaks to His Children--pay attention particularly to the last two lines.

CL. William Shakespeare

O, from what power hast thou this powerful might
With insufficiency my heart to sway?
To make me give the lie to my true sight,
And swear that brightness doth not grace the day?
Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill,
That in the very refuse of thy deeds
There is such strength and warrantize of skill
That, in my mind, thy worst all best exceeds?
Who taught thee how to make me love thee more
The more I hear and see just cause of hate?
O, though I love what others do abhor,
With others thou shouldst not abhor my state:
If thy unworthiness raised love in me,
More worthy I to be beloved of thee.

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Reading Poetry Part II

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As a coda to what is below:

The surest way to kill poetry and its joy is to do as your teachers taught you and search for THE meaning--as though there were only one. One of the great surprises of poetry is its suppleness--the chameleon-like quality it can possess to say any number of things with the same words. Look at the comments on some of the poems from earlier this week and see the diverging visions of what is said. Blake is considerably instructive, but also the comments on my own unpolished work.

Harold Bloom tells us that great literature "reads us" as much as we read it. The meaning of a poem is a conjuction of who you are and what the poem can say. A great poem can speak beyond the strict bounds of its metaphor to the heart of the individual encountering it. When we read Blake, or Keats, or Quarles, we hear the poet, but we also hear the echoes of our own hearts and beings.

And perhaps that is another reason why many are frightened of poetry--sometimes they may not care for what they hear.

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My beloved is mine, and I am his; He feedeth among the lilies
Francis Quarles (1592–1644)

EV’N like two little bank-dividing brooks,
That wash the pebbles with their wanton streams,
And having rang’d and search’d a thousand nooks,
Meet both at length in silver-breasted Thames,
Where in a greater current they conjoin:
So I my best-beloved’s am; so he is mine.

Ev’n so we met; and after long pursuit,
Ev’n so we joyn’d; we both became entire;
No need for either to renew a suit,
For I was flax and he was flames of fire:
Our firm-united souls did more than twine;
So I my best-beloved’s am; so he is mine.

If all those glitt’ring Monarchs that command
The servile quarters of this earthly ball,
Should tender, in exchange, their shares of land,
I would not change my fortunes for them all:
Their wealth is but a counter to my coin:
The world’s but theirs; but my beloved’s mine.

Nay, more; If the fair Thespian Ladies all
Should heap together their diviner treasure:
That treasure should be deem’d a price too small
To buy a minute’s lease of half my pleasure;
’Tis not the sacred wealth of all the nine
Can buy my heart from him, or his, from being mine.

Nor Time, nor Place, nor Chance, nor Death can bow
My least desires unto the least remove;
He’s firmly mine by oath; I his by vow;
He’s mine by faith; and I am his by love;
He’s mine by water; I am his by wine,
Thus I my best-beloved’s am; thus he is mine.

He is my Altar; I, his Holy Place;
I am his guest; and he, my living food;
I’m his by penitence; he mine by grace;
I’m his by purchase; he is mine, by blood;
He’s my supporting elm; and I his vine;
Thus I my best beloved’s am; thus he is mine.

He gives me wealth; I give him all my vows:
I give him songs; he gives me length of dayes;
With wreaths of grace he crowns my conqu’ring brows,
And I his temples with a crown of Praise,
Which he accepts as an everlasting signe,
That I my best-beloved’s am; that he is mine.

I often wonder if there is some way in which poetry and mysticism are linked. I tend to think that there is, as many of the great mystics were pure poets, and many poets show a rather mystical bent. I suspect that it is the strength of language and the usefulness of metaphor. The mystical experience, from all accounts, can barely be talked about at all much less explicated in some elaborate treatise. As the experience is interior and not fully accessible to the merely sensory, it is suggestive rather than demonstrative, and so lends itself to poetic expression more than prose delineation.

I could be wrong about this. But I look at the works of great poets--Blake, Whitman, Keats, Tennyson, Shelley, Arnold, and others--some of them doubters and even atheists, and they show evidence of contact with another world. In this way they are rather like theoretical mathematicians who push the boundaries of our knowledge of math. Perhaps it is working in words--climbing inside and seeing how they tick and HOW they mean and resonate. Perhaps this too is the thing about poetry that tends to discomfit readers of poetry. They are used to the solid, sturdy meanings of words. Poetry is like a glass floor over an aquarium--you begin to see through the words and think that they might fail you and you would fall through them. They begin to mean more than they mean, and so simultaneously they begin to mean less. Our initial encounter with the multiplicity of meanings tends to force us back to strict definition. I remember the awe and wonder I experienced as I began to consider the word "still" in this line from Keats:

"Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness."

The first line of "Ode on a Grecian Urn." At first glance the meaning is solid, there is no question about what it means and yet it sets up its own resonance. What does the word "still" mean? Well, for one thing, it means silent. So the line becomes "Thou silent unravish'd bride of quietness." It also means unmoving. In further stretches of the meaning it become nearly synonymous with eternity, as in "Are you still here?" And another meaning--often urns were made to hold wine and other offerings to the Gods. In this sense the still could be the distillation of the spirits, both alcohol and the communion of the Saints. That is, the urn suggests a connection to all of those for whom the urn was used as vessel or as decoration and with all of those for whom the urn had some special meaning. As such, it also suggests the container itself--the thing within which the distillation is made. We would have to see as we continue exploration of the poem which of these meanings is borne out. I could reasonably argue that most of them are meant and used in the depth of the poem.

This kind of fruitful ambiguity is often very disheartening and very uncomfortable for people who want a word to mean one thing and to mean that thing only. But it is really the gateway to an entirely new way of seeing things. Poetry uses simile and metaphor, in a sense it seeks the connections between all things. And I suppose in this sense it IS mystical, because the ultimate, underlying connection between all things is that God sustains each one of them. There is nothing that is without the constant mindfulness of God with respect to its being. Nothing can exist outside His will and His constant care. In one way poetry seeks to explore this truth even if the poet explicitly denies it. Poetry tends to give us transcendentalists--Emerson and Whitman; but it also gives us the Divine--St. John of the Cross.

Those who deny themselves the pleasures of poetry deny themselves one means of seeing God. Poetry engages the reason even as it engages the heart and it speaks in a way that prose simply cannot speak. The Psalms tell us nothing "new" about God, but they tell us in a way that may bypass resistance and go straight to the heart. "The Song of Songs" while definitely about erotic love is also about the soul's communion with God--it tells us something of the person whose life is utterly dedicated to God.

And the Song of Songs brings us back to Francis Quarles who started our little conversation. First, note the turns on a simple phrase that adorn the last, and sometimes the last two lines. These set up the interconnections within the poem. They set up the resonances, the echoes that draw you into what is being said. They emphasize and reiterate the point of all that occurs before them, and they ring changes on the simple theme, "I am my beloved's and he is mine."

Examine carefully the third stanza and particularly the changes it rings on the line. "The world’s but theirs; but my beloved’s mine." Notice how "beloved's" here has taken on a dual meaning. It means not only the possessive of beloved, but it also reflects the opposite side of the semi-colon and suggests that the mundane world belongs to those who search for wealth, but the world of the beloved belongs to those who cling to him. It's simple, it's subtle, but it opens up the world of possibilities in interpreting and understanding the poem.

Go on then to the fourth stanza where we are told in the final line:

"Can buy my heart from him, or his, from being mine."

This is in answer to the temptation of the nine muses--the entertaining and lively arts of this world. The poet assures us that all these passing pleasures could not lure him away from the beloved. But notice the end of the line--"or his, from being mine." That is that the heart of the beloved becomes the heart of the speaker/poet.

Continue through, examine the changes rung on the theme. See how poetry pierces through the clatter of argumentation and elaborate logical constructs. I sometimes wonder if this is what St. Thomas Aquinas meant about his words being "as straw." That is, they couldn't begin to give an insight into the actual experience he had even though they gave one of the great pictures of what God is like. However, he would have been wrong, because his hymns and poetry do climb to those heights. They get under the weight of the disputations and arguments and reasoning and pull out from them the simple straight contours of what St. Thomas is trying to tell us all in his great work. Obviously the Summa and the other great works are not mere passing fancies--they are not straw, but a powerful means of coming to know about God and thus ultimately to knowing God Himself, if one is properly disposed. I suspect St. Thomas was merely trying to indicate to us the depth and breadth and height that is achieved in the vision of God that comes to one who dedicates his entire life to God's work cannot be expressed in the way he chose to express the reallities of theology. And He chose to tell us in a simile--in a line of poetry, because only poetry is strong enough to contain the meaning he wanted to convey. Poetry is an exceedingly sturdy vessel for both thought and emotion--and because it does not seek to divorce the one from the other, it allows a different angle from which to view the Glory of God.

So, you poetry-shy out there. Get started. Read slowly, read aloud. Listen to the words and explore and play with them. Poetry is a play-date. It is an invitation to joy. Accept and enter this miraculous world in which things are said without being said.

Afterword: This is not at all what I set out to write this morning. And that is one of the joys of writing, you discover new things as you go. I really just wanted to present this wonderful little gem of Quarles's with perhaps a bit of commentary, but as I wrote, I discovered new things to say. I hope this was as pleasant for you to read as it was for me to discover in writing. Oh, and do let me know what you think about Quarles and any new things you may find in the stanzas.

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While I do not agree with all his points (and I'm sure the Internet Monk would not expect me to), there is a great deal of good in this essay/view of Catholicism. I particularly like the way he "got" Saints and really had a bead on John Paul the Great.

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A more reasoned and reasonable discussion of Andrea Dworkin's contributions to modern thought.

Including this note, in which Canada demonstrates its superiority in at least one aspect of thinking:

In Canada, however, Dworkin's anti-porn efforts succeeded. A Canadian court ruled that pornography was not protected under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that it was in fact degrading to women. When Canadian Customs officers began seizing porn, GLBT advocates were outraged—porn is big in the gay community.

Dworkin's anti-porn crusade set off shock waves on the left. The right to pornography is the new third-rail of modern liberal politics—touch it and you'll die.

In the church of sexual libertinism, pornography is a holy sacrament. It is "high-brow" and liberating. The free flow of porn has become a leading indicator that the old moral values are dead and the new ethic of sexual narcissism is alive and well. In the view of many on the left, Dworkin's attempt to eradicate pornography amounted to censorship and showed an appalling lack of enlightenment.

What Andrea Dworkin knew instinctively is that male-female relationships are terribly broken, the pieces so scattered and torn that no one seems to know what the thing ought to look like. She blamed this brokenness on men, and there she made a philosophical wrong turn. But if she failed to understand the root causes of the evil she witnessed, she did not fail to grasp the terrible price women were paying in a society that views them as sexual objects.


The Christian view of marriage is a relationship modeled on the unbreakable covenant and unselfish love that God himself has for us. Marital sexuality is not rape, but a consensual commitment before God to create new life. It is to be a joyous experience of intimacy and trust, of mutual enjoyment and mutual giving.

. . . The Christian church has to answer the criticisms of people like Dworkin. In Christ there is hope: for peace, for respect, for love, for trust, for commitment, for fulfillment, all in the context of a marriage between a man and a woman. That promise too often goes unfulfilled.

The essay demystifies and removes some of the propaganda that surround Dworkin's thoughts. It is salutary reading for those who heard only the strident voices arrayed against Dworkin. Indeed, this essay is so good it's like Godiva Chocolate. I owe Brandon a great debt of gratitude. Thank you!

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Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Matthew 5:21-11 (KJV)

News exclusive. In an insider, exclusive interview today, well-known rabble-rouser and sometime blasphemer, Rabbi Yeshua ben Joseph was quoted as saying, "If you have called your brother a fool, you have already committed murder." When asked to comment on this patently absurd teaching Chief Priest and well-known art critic and man-about-town Caiaphas had this to say. . .

Many of the things Jesus has to say to us are hard sayings. In this country we have, through the grace of God, been granted the freedom of speech. Our wise constitutional interpreters have expanded speech to include nearly every form of "expression" possible, from lap-dancing to flag burning. The gift of free speech is a gift indeed; however, the liberty to speak freely must be separated from the license to speak one's mind. License is always an abuse of liberty and the beginning of its downfall, or at very least of the downfall of the person exercising license.

Jesus is very clear in what he says regarding how we speak and feel about those around us. But, it behooves us to listen well, so I repeat the words of Jesus in the exceedingly annoying and prolix Amplified Bible version:

21You have heard that it was said to the men of old, You shall not kill, and whoever kills shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the court.

22But I say to you that everyone who continues to be angry with his brother or harbors malice (enmity of heart) against him shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the court; and whoever speaks contemptuously and insultingly to his brother shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, You cursed fool! [You empty-headed idiot!] shall be liable to and unable to escape the hell (Gehenna) of fire.

I think it is fairly clear here that Jesus doesn't want us speaking ill of our brethren. Now, there may be some who would say it is perfectly permissible to say these things if it is done without rancor; however, I question the ability of any human being (other than Jesus himself) to say these things without rancor, The reason I do so lies in one of the mysteries of iniquity that resulted from the fall.

Human beings by their nature seek to feel good about themselves. In many cases they seek this good by comparison with others. To feel good about myself, I must somehow be better than those around me. It is this chain of reasoning that ends in gas chambers, in Bosnia, in Rwanda, and in the concentration camps of North Korea. When we begin to speak ill of those around us, it gives us license to treat them as we speak of them. If they are fools, then we treat them like fools. If they are reckless idiots, then we are better off without them. If they are "filthy" or speak a different language, or adhere to a different set of standards so far as etiquette is concerned, then it is within our rights to dismiss them, and if they are loud or obnoxious enough, to do away with them.

When we open our mouths to accuse the brethren, we become the accuser of brethren. When we speak ill of a person because of race, nationality, intelligence, sex, sexual preference, ideology, or for any reason, we put ourselves in danger. It is clear. Our Lord taught us that the first step on the road to murder is murder itself. When we say, "You idiot," (or, as I do so that Samuel won't understand me in traffic, espece d'idiot--when someone does dome amazingly outrageous tourist maneuver they wouldn't consider for a moment driving about their own home town) we make ourselves fuel for the fire. (But Samuel sees through even the language barrier (tone conveys a lot) and we get our usual theological lecture from the back seat, "Jesus wouldn't like what you're saying." Oh and it's so hard to hear that because it is so true. Everyone who would speak against their brother should have my child dogging their heels--amazing how many ways he is a gift to me.)

It is simply impermissible to think of one's brother this way, to harbor anger, resentment, or even lingering feelings of superiority or of the inferiority of the other. Admittedly, we are provoked, we are made angry and sometimes say these things. The important point is to let go of them immediately. It isn't so much the saying that is damnable, but it is the lingering impression they leave on the mind as we rethink them. Admittedly, we shouldn't be provoked into saying them to start with. Most often we are provoked by those who have somehow injured our pride or otherwise aggravated ourselves. (More often than not the aggravation is a direct result of the similarity of their action to our own in like situation.) We must grow beyond the need to feel better at another's expense. When we set ourselves up in this way, we will only be knocked down.

What we say has real consequences. It affects our moods of the day, it affects the way we think about things, it affects the way we react to people and events. When we say "I can't" then very often, we cannot. When we call the cherished children of God by names not worthy of them, we shape our thoughts to conform to our words. We have murdered the real person with our image of that person.

So, we are never better off in saying some of those things that cross our mind, and often far worse off. Better then to not let the word issue from the mouth and become "concrete." Better to let the thought pass and replace it with a moment of divine mercy prayer, for ourselves and for those against whom we would trespass.

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Bad Habits

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I have an obnoxious habit of going to other people's sites and making comments. Now, I know that this is what comment boxes are for; however, I tend to say things that are really none of my business and really not conducive to helping anyone. I found myself writing a long drawn-out lecture elsewhere and suddenly realized how really very arrogant this sort of thing must sound. So, for those times in the past when I have done this one your sites (if any), I apologize. And for the future, I will try very hard to avoid this didactic and pedantic edge I seem to have. It isn't intentional--I just so desire that people get along that I rush in and make a fool of myself and aggravte everyone else. Fortunately, I think this has been done minimally, but I've noticed an increased frequency to it of recent date. Perhaps I should just hang around places where this temptation does not present itself.

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Evelyn Underhill

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One of the early twentieth century's finest writers on spirituality, I did not realize that she had a poetic oeuvre, from which this is taken.

Corpus Christi
Evelyn Underhill

COME, dear Heart!
The fields are white to harvest: come and see
As in a glass the timeless mystery
Of love, whereby we feed
On God, our bread indeed.
Torn by the sickles, see him share the smart
Of travailing Creation: maimed, despised,
Yet by his lovers the more dearly prized
Because for us he lays his beauty down—
Last toll paid by Perfection for our loss!
Trace on these fields his everlasting Cross,
And o’er the stricken sheaves the Immortal Victim’s crown.

From far horizons came a Voice that said,
‘Lo! from the hand of Death take thou thy daily bread.’
Then I, awakening, saw
A splendour burning in the heart of things:
The flame of living love which lights the law
Of mystic death that works the mystic birth.
I knew the patient passion of the earth,
Maternal, everlasting, whence there springs
The Bread of Angels and the life of man.

Now in each blade
I, blind no longer, see
The glory of God’s growth: know it to be
An earnest of the Immemorial Plan.
Yea, I have understood
How all things are one great oblation made:
He on our altars, we on the world’s rood.
Even as this corn,
We are snatched from the sod;
Reaped, ground to grist,
Crushed and tormented in the Mills of God,
And offered at Life’s hands, a living Eucharist.

What is one to make of that last stanza?

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Poetry of Robert Hugh Benson


In general, Benson was a far better prose artist than poet; however, occasionally a piece shines through"

from ‘Christian Evidences’
Robert Hugh Benson (1871–1914)

NOW God forbid that Faith be blind assent,
Grasping what others know; else Faith were nought
But learning, as of some far continent
Which others sought,
And carried thence, better the tale to teach,
Pebbles and sheels, poor fragments of the beach.

Now God forbid that Faith be built on dates,
Cursive or uncial letters, scribe or gloss,
What one conjectures, proves, or demonstrates:
This were the loss
Of all to which God bids that man aspire,
This were the death of life, quenching of fire.

Nay, but with Faith I see. Not even Hope,
Her glorious sister, stands so high as she.
For this but stands expectant on the slope
That leads where He
Her source and consummation sets His seat,
Where Faith dwells always to caress His Feet.

Nay, but with Faith I saw my Lord and God
Walk in the fragrant garden yesterday.
Ah! how the thrushes sang; and, where He trod
Like spikenard lay
Jewels of dew, fresh-fallen from the sky,
While all the lawn rang round with melody.

Nay, but with Faith I marked my Saviour go,
One August noonday, down the stifling street
That reeked with filth and man; marked from Him flow
Radiance so sweet,
The man ceased cursing, laughter lit the child,
The woman hoped again, as Jesus smiled.

Nay, but with Faith I sought my Lord last night,
And found Him shining where the lamp was dim;
The shadowy altar glimmered, height on height,
A throne for Him:
Seen as through lattice work His gracious Face
Looked forth on me and filled the dark with grace.

Nay then, if proof and tortured argument
Content thee—teach thee that the Lord is there,
Or risen again; I pray thee be content,
But leave me here
With eye unsealed by any proof of thine,
With eye unsealed to know the Lord is mine.

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Home is the Sailor Day Keene


Hard Case Crime is an imprint which is trying to revive the noir. They have published a couple of real 50's pieces and a larger number of modern-day homage to the genre. This novel by Day Keene is one of the original 50s pieces.

True to the genre, a not very bright male falls, hook, line, and sinker for a femme fatale who, if he had ever bothered to crack open a pulp paperback, he would have recognized from across the street. The whole novel is fairly predictable in its course and even in its denouement. What IS interesting about it is the handling of the noir themes and the leering pulp interest stemming from sexual themes.

The writing, overall, is fine. There are a few clinkers here and there, but for the most part the story chugs along just fine. There are some interesting details about San Diego and Tijuana of 50 years ago. But hard-core investigation or mystery is completely lacking.

For pure mind-free fun, this book was a blast. It's an evening's read, and an easy one at that. However, it really is more of a piece for connoisseurs of older mystery forms and might not have a large audience today. I hope so, because I'd like to see the series continue and I'd love to see the other pieces they revive.

Next stop Randy Wayne White's Captiva. I'll be reading a few of these as prep for my trip down to Naples. All of his mysteries are set in West Florida and have about them the air of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee without some of the weird sexual healing philosophy that tended to pervade those. I'll let you know as I finish, but so far, so good.

As to Home is the Sailor--Recommended with minor reservations.

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Puzzling Progressivism

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I am a little puzzled about the reaction of most progressives to Pope Benedict XVI.

If we look at it closely, the worst we could possibly expect was more of the same. The better view is that moving from previous position to Pope would give him a chance to exercise greater pastoral care and we might see less of the same.

If they thought they were going to get:
(1) optional celibacy
(2) ordination of women
(3) ordination of/marriage of gays

then I would say that their idealism got the best of them. I don't think it would much have mattered who was Pope, these things were not in the offing. The relaxation of optional celibacy is something that may come about in the near future. I don't see much hope for the ordination of women for a very long time, and as to the third group I don't hold out much hope of that either.

So why is Benedict XVI so difficult to endure? If anything, as Pope he is lilkely to loosen up. After 25-26 years as bad cop he'll get to play good Cop and find another person to take up his role.

In addition, and this is not to be taken that I wish the Holy Father any harm, his reign is likely to be somewhat shorter than that of his predecessor. My guess is somewhere in the 3-10 year range, but it depends on how his health holds up under the pressure of being pontiff.

So, in short, nothing has changed, it isn't any worse than it was, and now that the Pope is not in the role of enforcement, you're likely to see much better.

Finally, if one regards it rightly, the Holy Spirit has spoken. We don't know what this enigmatic form of speech may mean for the church, but we can rest assured, that it was the decision of the Holy Spirit, and therefore politics and preferences aside, it is right for the Church at this time, for whatever reason. Hold onto that trust, stay the course. All manner of things will be well. The Church is still the Church and it is still home--it has not changed from the Church of God, nor is it likely to. Take heart.

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Pope Benedict XVI

And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ and you will find true life. Amen.

And so, he continues the message of John Paul the Great, even as he moves in his own way. Through the prayers of John Paul the Great may we see Benedict grow in love and in his ability to understand, unite, and shepherd the people of God.

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Comment Log 4/22/05

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Found I had to delete an obviously deranged comment from a poor soul who is in desperate need of our prayers. Why some feel the need to gratuitously insult, I do not know. But please be aware, it won't be tolerated here.

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Lofted Nest

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As I continue to long for Dylan's return to us, Lofted Nest provides me with some fuel for thought and some delightful examples of poetry. While no one can replace Dylan, this trio helps to ease the pain of absence somewhat. It is so nice to have a group to supplement the occasional postings of Siris, Mr. Core and TSO.

Nevertheless, please continue to pray for Dylan's return to us--more than a year now--too long his voice has been absent.

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I don't much care for Philip Roth's work. Usually it is too obsessed with sex and with certain unsavory aspects of the human reproductive urge. And those elements occasionally intrude here. But intrude is the correct word--they show up, spend a sentence or two churning about, and vanish. They don't help the book along, but they also don't seriously damage it as they do in others of Roth's works.

This is a book about anti-Semitism. While set in the 1940s, it is about how easily hatred takes hold given a chance and how terrible it is to live in the shadow of that hatred. It isn't a cautionary tale, on the other hand, it is a kind of plea and warning.

We meet the Roth family--an extended family of Father, Mother, two sons and cousin Alvin. At the beginning of the book we are in the sunny reign of FDR (yes, I know, a supremely debatable point). And then along comes Lindbergh. Yes, Charles. Apparently a supreme isolationist and anti-Semite. And he wins the Republican nomination and he wins the presidency. And soon we have "Just Folks," a program designed to show the "emigrant" children (read "children of Jews") what real American life is all about. It separates these children from their parents and places them in "real" American homes to have breakfast of sausage and ham and bacon and dinner of pork chops, and further undermine whatever cultural identity they might have. And one of our protagonists is subsumed into this program and eventually spends time lecturing and telling others about it. He is eventually invited to the White House to meet von Ribbentrop. You get the drift. Basically, the whole family is under attack, and eventually the whole nation.

At the end of the book, Roth offers a reasonable "explanation" for all that has happened, and almost, almost lets Lindbergh off the hook. IF you buy the explanation. There is sufficient ambiguity that it is difficult to tell what story to follow.

The book is well constructed, AND, in a rare event for me engaged my emotions forcefully. When the elder son is rude to his parents because they won't allow him to continue to support the Nazi propaganda machine, I found myself wanting to take and shake some sense into the boy.

What I was very cognizant of throughout the reading is the "motivation" of the Jews who did not trust the Christian society around them. There was little enough cause to do so, and a great deal of reason not to. I was also cognizant of those same elements in society today.

A year ago there was much agonizing over the question of whether or not The Passion of the Christ were anti-Semitic. I happen to think the final product went out of its way to make certain that it did not appear so. So much so that the highly inflammatory line, "His blood be upon us and upon our children" never appears anywhere in the film. I think the concern was real, based in real fear, based in a memory of what has happened even in recent times.

Anti-Semitism is alive and well. Unfortunately, it is all too alive and well in certain strains of Catholic thought. While these people espouse certain intellectual abstractions, they do so largely in ignorance, I hope, of what terrible tragedy the charges of deicide have provoked throughout history. These charges are neither abstraction, nor merely intellectual or even deeply spiritual notions to be bandied about. They are a loaded gun pointed at an entire "race" of people. (I'm not entirely comfortable with the concept of "races" as there is only one--defined by the species Homo sapiens sapiens, each one a child of God.) Anti-Semitism is the same ugliness that gives us Bosnia, Rwanda, and any other variety of "ethnic" cleansing. And it little matters whether is springs from intellectual abstractions or from the deepest emotions. It is a repulsive ideology that must be strenuously opposed wherever it rears its ugly head. We are not permitted this liberty of thought, and I am thankful for the Constitutional Right we are given that it might be freely expressed. I know immediately who I do not care to associate with.

Roth's book is an indictment of Anti-Semitism. It is an explanation for those of us who do not fully understand its implications as to why it stirs up immediate, strenuous reaction. If there were elements of Mr. Gibson's film that might have supported this strain of thought, it is good that they were excised--there is certainly enough remaining that we need not fear the loss of content. And it is to Mr. Gibson's credit that he went to such lengths to excise all that he could without destroying the reality of the Gospel story.

Roth's prose is unusually lively, unusually engaging, and unusually compelling in this book. I cannot recommend it highly enough, despite some momentary lapses. It is a book that everyone owes it to him or herself to read and to internalize. It is a book that helps to explain the dynamic that often mystifies or aggravates us. And ultimately, it is a gift to all of us. It says, "Never forget what can all-too easily happen."

Oh, and did I mention that it is by turns poignant and hysterically funny?--a Roth trademark played out superbly in this novel.

Highly recommended, indeed, required.

later It didn't occur to me when I first put this together, but what an act of grace that my book group should come to read this in time for discussion on the first day of Passover! I don't believe in coincidence, and yet, I did not plan this. We were supposed to meet last week and a scheduled Carmelite meeting time changed so I had to postpone the group. That is God's hand. What a nice reminder of His constant urging us toward Him.

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A New Poem

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Okay, I suppose I shouldn't, but I'll share the draft of this--the longest poem I've written in twenty years and it is simultaneously about three or four quite different things, so it may be a muddle. Whatever--it does need some work--but here's a start--or at least a finish of a draft. Please note due to my lack of ability with HTML coding, the line below that begins "Consider this" should start immediately under the second space after the period in the line above. Doesn't matter to most, but makes a great difference in how the poem is read/intended.

Meander Plain

Long ago, this laughing water flowed
straight over the plain, seeking its level
in the sea. It danced and played in its banks,
it jumped and tumbled in its rough channel.
So it should have flowed, straight and true, through time
but rough water holds its own mind, obeys
its own rules. And so the curling tumbles
shocked the rock and mudsteeped banks into new,
unknown shapes. And so the silver flow laughed
its way into channels shaped by wayward
yearnings and wanderings, still swift and cool
running yet headlong, following now not
just its own way, but the way it had shaped.
No longer the true straight path that runs so
swiftly to its close, now bending, winding
turning in churning pools that roil nowhere,
pools that spin and turn and cut and shape, change
to no end but that the water might move
and keep moving, now more slowly than it
had ever known. Still the wayward currents
shape and change the bank and channel, bending
ever more from the straight and true start. Does
water have thoughts? Regrets? Does water know
its past? Do the fingerling currents feel
for the grip that they knew in the straight true
days? If so, to what end? The bank has changed--
the water runs quietly, quickly moving
even more slowly. But the old power
is there, strong even in the slowness, now
renewed by a surge of spring, a summer
thunderstorm jolt. It cuts away, changes
its own changes endlessly. At the end
it travels ten times its length to arrive,
to merge with the ocean.
Consider this
as a stream--the frustration of being there,
seeing the sea-glint, the sun-spot that marks
the rampant waves, surging forward to find
your course suddenly changed. You cannot get
there from here and the sad thing is you made
this place yourself. Longing for reunion
with its ocean birthplace, the stream winds in banks
of its own making. The water here might
never reach the great salt, it might simply
vanish, drawn into oblivion, skyward
reaching only to condense, a cloud or
less, drops falling even further away.

But one spring the silver winter sun-warmed
thaws into a flood and strikes downstream--rage
in water--passion throwing banks aside.
The graceful surge, the fresh tide, forces banks
to bend, rock to sway and break, and what was
an age of swerving away and back, now
becomes a breakneck flash, a raging white
that plunges to its end, its shape reformed
by sun and snow and surge and sea-longing.

The straightaway leaves stranded crescent lakes
carved scars that pock the land surface beside
the silver stream that freed from itself, flows
swiftly jumping joyful to join the sea--
the birthplace and the end. Where it began
where now it slows and mingles with the salt
and never loses shimmer, glint, and light.

There you have it. There are some lines that I really, really love, some that need some work and probably some excesses and some repetitions that need to be excised. But this work is respectfully dedicated to our previous Holy Father, John Paul the Great, whose teaching and whose courage renewed my own and gave me something worth writing about. It is also dedicated to the poet trio of Lofted Nest who sparked an urge to speak in this language again.

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Your Turn

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The Divine Image
William Blake (1757–1827)

TO Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our Father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is man, His child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

I post without much comment but solicit your own. Is Blake right? If so, how? If not, in what does he err? What does one make of what he is saying here? I'd love to know what you think, and I picked a poet I think everyone can access. Please tell me what you hear when you read Blake. Thank you.

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For Camille Paglia Fans


A Review of Break, Blow, Burn at Lofted Nest. Also be sure to read the most recent poetry entries. This site has really been inspiring and has gotten me back to regular writing. Off to a rocky start, but I'm pleased to be off at all.

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The Plot Against America Part I


I thought I'd give an interim report with the full thing perhaps tomorrow when I've finished the book.

I have to say this book came as a pleasant surprize. While it has all the Roth trademarks that I really despise, it also is more than merely compelling. It is riveting. Roth engages you in the emotions and the transformation of a family that occur as a result of the election of President Charles Lindbergh in 1940.

I cannot tell you how angry I get at some points in the writing and how aggravated I get with the blindness of some of the characters. It is wonderful to be so emotionally engaged throughout. Much of the time I read a book and then it's over and I have no real experience to report except some time passed. In this case I am learning far more than I really wanted to know about America's "hero" Charles Lindbergh. As it turns out in real life, he did somewhat redeem himself. Nevertheless, his thoroughly reprehensible politics only begin to scratch the surface. I have to investigate some information I have received about the railroading of Bruno Hauptmann--but let us say that the picture is not pleasant.

I'll say more tomorrow when I've reached the end of the book. But as of this point, with a few minor caveats, I would recommend this book, particularly to those who do not see what the big deal is about anti-semitism.

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I just wanted to be able to find this again without looking all over for it.

Nods to Mr. Core and to Lofted Nest.

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On Labels


Those of you who have read this blog frequently know my vehement dislike of labels. And here I found a wonderful statement by Pope Benedict XV. "Christian is my name and Catholic is my surname." Praise God!

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Okay, we're less than two days into the new pontificate and I find myself having to retract my statements.

Obviously, this statement from the homily this morning

Dear Ones, this intimate recognition for a gift of divine mercy prevails in my heart in spite of everything. I consider this a grace obtained for me by my venerated predecessor, John Paul II.

indicates that work has already begun on the beatification and eventual canonization of John Paul the Great.

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On Our Holy Father


Long may he live and teach.

Very honestly, I have no way to say anything at all about the new Pope. I've not read sufficiently in his own work and the distortions of the media now and before simply don't allow me to have a handle on this man. But I look forward to teaching and to being blessed by a great man who, to all appearences, lives what he believes. That, to me, is a greater witness than any number of words. And it is in that that I find the fuel for the canonization of John Paul the Great. I'll leave it to others to decide whether or not he is a doctor of the Church and defender of the faith. He was to me first and foremost an example of what I should be. So I pray with the present pope. May he show me another distinct and beautiful version of the same. I need it impressed upon me that the Saints are not stamped out like cookie cutter images of one another. Each Saint expresses Jesus in a unique way. With John Paul, it was in his constant exhortation, "Be not afraid," and in the unique way he showed us in his own life how to do that. In Mother Teresa it was in her profound love for every one of God's Children. John Paul had that as well, he expressed it differently.

For me the Pope need not necessarily be a fantastic teacher (although from those who know him better, I have no reason to assume that this one will fail in that regard) but he ideally should be an example of holiness, a person to look upon and to seek to emulate, if not in every respect, at least in some of the things he does. These are high expectations, but even in the least worthy of Popes, I believe they have been fulfilled. He need not be a "superpope" but it would be nice if he were an extraordinary example of charity and concern for one's fellow travellers.

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A Cry for Help

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E Tenebris
Oscar Wilde (1856–1900)

COME down, O Christ, and help me! reach thy hand,
For I am drowning in a stormier sea
Than Simon on thy lake of Galilee:
The wine of life is spilt upon the sand,
My heart is as some famine-murdered land
Whence all good things have perished utterly,
And well I know my soul in Hell must lie
If I this night before God’s throne should stand.
‘He sleeps perchance, or rideth to the chase,
Like Baal, when his prophets howled that name
From morn to noon on Carmel’s smitten height.’
Nay, peace, I shall behold, before the night,
The feet of brass, the robe more white than flame,
The wounded hands, the weary human face.

This reflects my mood of the day. For some reason I am better at brooding than at sustained celebration. With the great relief of having the new Pope so swiftly installed, I can turn back to the concerns of my life--why am I, despite all good intention, so distant from God? God is not distant from me--why do I choose not to approach more closely?

The answer all boils down to perceived economics. Consciously or unconsciously, I ask myself the question, "What will it cost?" And the cost piles up--I might lose friends (heaven knows I have precious few), I might become "weird" (that's actually much less of a fear as I already qualify in many people's books for that), I might lose esteem from those around me (this one is more difficult to parse, because I don't know why I should care, and yet the question always comes up), but after these surface thoughts we get down to the nitty-gritty--I will have to change. I will not be able to maintain my comfortable routine. I will have to find His way for me, and I do not walk in the dark well.

Frankly, I'm frightened. God loves me, He always wishes my good--He wishes it more than I am willing to see it. A love this powerful is frightening, it's overwhelming--if it were human we'd be thinking Glen Close and Michael Douglas. But it is not human, it is supernatural and transcendent. And that makes it all the more frightening.

I think that is why John Paul the Great's continuing message to us all appealed so much to me. "Be not afraid." My conception of God is not God, my thoughts about God are not God, my fears about God are not God. I am afraid of change. I'm afraid of trusting one to walk in the dark. And I do not need to be afraid.

And all of that wars against this still stronger urge to follow wherever He might lead. He will show me the way home. He will find for me the right path. He will be my friend, my guide, and my Lord.

And vacillating I say, "And what will I have to give up for this great guide?" What will it cost me. Will I, like John Bunyan's Pilgrim, leave my house alone and wander the countryside through Vanity Fair and the Slough of Despond, forsaking what is familiar for what is cold and uncertain? And if I do, what will happen? All of this is colored by past experience, by the antipathy of society for religion, by the antipathy of most for a true follower of Christ. Do I want to forsake what little I possess in the way of positive popular opinion for Jesus Christ? Do I want to sink still lower in the chain of being, so far as those around me are concerned?

The truth is, I am weak. I am led more by my head than by my heart. This was one of the chief reasons St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila spoke so much to me. They are led by the heart. And what is more, my head is not nearly so strong, so useful as I would like to think. I used to have a pretty high estimate of my own abilities, but a few months in St. Blogs will cut that down to proper size. One quickly learns that what one thought to be first rank is once again revealed to be second, third, or fourth rank. That realization is frightening, but in the mysterious way of God it is also heartening.

But all of this is the work of the Holy Spirit, cajoling me along, encouraging me to abandon my opinion of myself, to leave myself behind to emerge as God would have me be.

Inside every single person there is a Saint who desires to be released to effect his or her work on the world. To do so will dramatically change our lives, who and what we think we are. To realize my Saint, I will have to abandon illusion and self-deception. That is why I said that the revelations of a time in St. Blogs are salutary. The self deceptions, the places one uses to hide oneself, are gradually removed. Nothing is left but the raw encounter with the mirror, and with time the Holy Spirit changes our fun-house mirrors into flat reflecting glass. And I, for one, don't much care for the image that is materializing in that mirror. Rather, I should become the mirror that reflects the glory of the Son. That is what Sainthood is all about.

And I become less afraid when I realize that the road to Sainthood is not the road to oblivion, as it would be were I Buddhist. I do not seek the annihilation of the self, but rather I seek to extinguish the false self, the little candle that I carry before me to ward off the dark. And in the darkness that prevails afterwards, there stands revealed the light which is so brilliant that it can be seen only as darkness so long as we are following our own lights. It is like that moment in the old movie Journey to the Center of the Earth when they extinguish their lanterns to discover all around them a phosphorescent glow that gives off far more light that their little lanterns generated. I am afraid of the darkness, but I need not be, because in that darkness I will see the true light, and that true light will show me who I am in Christ. I will not be so much extinguished as lit from within, I will become Light for the World, the lamp to place on a lampstand. And my doing so will not be to my credit, nor will I even see that light. Rather it will all redound to the greatness and the glory of God.

But the human self says, "What will it cost." I'm afraid of spending a few pennies, of losing my hard-won meager human estate because I don't believe that it will result in a wealth beyond imaging. Not mine to hold, but mine to distribute to all the needy--freely given and overflowing--the munificence of God Himself. So I cling to the poverty I imagine as wealth.

This vast "commodius vicus of recirculation brings us back to Howth Castle and Environs,"--the poem that started this chain of thought. Out of the shadows, out of the depths, out of the darkness, I cry, Lord help me. I am drowning in a stormier sea--a storm of my own making in the shallow sea of self--the tempest I toss up every time I want to run away--my good excuse for battening the hatches and closing down all possible access. When I cry out of the darkness, the cry is always the same--save me from my headstrong ways. "My heart is as some famine-murdered land," I am selfish and self centered--completely caught up in me, because after all the vast story of salvation really is all about ME. When I read the Bible, it isn't a message for the world, it's all for ME. I am the center and all circulates about I. I, I. And in a moment it is possible to see that attitude for the ugliness it is. My heart is a famine-murdered land, and yet in that land are the Elijahs, fed by ravens, the Widow of Zarapheth who offers her last food. The sun that burnt this land to dryness because that was the only way to purify it from the weeds that had taken it over, that same Sun will restore the produce of the land, if only I consent to it.

I stand in the darkness of the night of self and call on God to help me out of the shadow into light. I have lived my life in such a way as to swell that shadow to so great an extent that it will require many days' passage to escape from it. And yet, if I am willing, I shall be healed. That is the paradox of the biblical passage. The leper who approaches Jesus and says, if you are willing, I shall be cleansed. But it isn't Jesus' willingness that is the key factor, he is always willing. We learn that he was unable to work any miracles in his homeland--not because He was unwilling, but because those in the land were. It is my willingness that predicates healing. I say in Mass, "Only say the word and I shall be healed." But if I put up a shield and barrier to keep Him out, I will not be healed. I can resist the healing touch, I can refuse change, I can snuff out any candle, and light. But if I am willing, I shall be healed. There is my hope, because I am willing. At the same time as I am frightened, I am willing to be transformed. Like standing at the edge of a vast pool of cold water on the first day of summer, it is only a matter of taking the plunge--of losing my breath for a single moment to emerge in a new world.

Oh, but how the old man resists, how his head is filled with thoughts of how unpleasant that coldness is. How he dips in a toe, perhaps a whole foot. He walks to the pool ladder and lowers himself halfway, but when that cold water reaches his belly, he pulls himself out of the pool as fast as he can. The only thing for it is a trusting plunge--very few make it by degrees. It may not be impossible, but it certainly is the more difficult way. But the old man resists this transformation.

If only I could learn to see the sun and stop staring at the feeble candle I carry thinking it the source of all light. For indeed, it is a greater source of shadow than of light. E tenebris.

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Prayers for Purity

St. Thomas Aquinas

Dearest Jesus! I know well that every perfect gift, and above all others that of chastity, depends upon the most powerful assistance of Thy Providence, and that without Thee a creature can do nothing. Therefore, I pray Thee to defend, with Thy grace, chastity and purity in my soul as well as in my body. And if I have ever received through my senses any impression that could stain my chastity and purity, do Thou, Who art the Supreme Lord of all my powers, take it from me, that I may with an immaculate heart advance in Thy love and service, offering myself chaste all the the days of my life on the most pure altar of Thy Divinity.


Mary, loving Daughter of God the Father, I give my soul to your care. Protect the life of God in my soul. Do not let me lose it by serious sin. Protect my mind and my will so that all my thoughts and desires will be pleasing to God.
Hail Mary...

Mary, loving Mother of God the Son, I give my heart to your care. Let me love you with all my heart. Let me always try to love my neighbor. And help me avoid friends who might lead me away from Jesus and into a life of sin.
Hail Mary...

Mary, loving Spouse of the Holy Spirit, I give my body to your care. Let me always remember that my body is a home for the Holy Spirit who dwells in me. Let me never sin against Him by any impure actions alone or with others, against the virtue of purity.
Hail Mary...

Brian Doerksen
Prayer for purity

Purify my heart, let me be as gold and precious silver
Purify my heart, let me be as gold, pure gold.
Refiner's Fire my heart's one desire is to be holy; set apart for you, Lord
I choose to be holy, set apart for you my master, ready to do your will
Purify my heart, cleanse me from within and make me holy.
Purify my heart, cleanse me from my sin deep within.

Collecting those prayers that sometimes elude me when most I need them. Purity is always a good start. But most of these reflect on chastity, which isn't the main temptation I often face. Does anyone know of prayers for purity of intention? Is there another word I might use that would help me find some?

Later additions:

Collect for Purity

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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The Holy Spirit Has Spoken

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After the announcement today of Pope Benedict XVI many of those in my office wanted my take on it.

One person asked me, "Do you approve?"

My response, "What's to approve? The Holy Spirit has spoken." For the good of the Church and for the good of all. I don't know what this papacy holds, but I trust that the Holy Spirit will never leave God's Church unprotected or led astray.

It seems odd to ask me if I approve. There are many who may have good reason to do so, but who am I that I should pass judgment on the Holy Spirit's work? It is not up to me to approve or disapprove, but merely to humbly, gratefully, and joyfully accept. Or perhaps not. I think my attitude was inspired by one person I know who said with an ominous glowering, "I knew it would be him even though I hoped it would not." I am surprised by the news and overjoyed at having a new leader. I am grateful that it happened so quickly and I stand ready to be the servant of the servant of the servants of God. May God bless him richly in teaching and in health.

Many years to him, may he prosper and the Holy Catholic church with him.

Now, onto my real agenda--how long must I wait until the process for John Paul the Great is begun and ended?

Oh, and by the way, nothing written here should be interpreted as disapproving of those who hold other views or attitudes. This is a season for joy not contention. I was just sharing some thoughts I had when asked about this.

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Another Evelyn Underhill Classic


The Life of the Spirit and the Life of To-Day


This book has been called “The Life of the Spirit and the Life of To-day” in order to emphasize as much as possible the practical, here-and-now nature of its subject; and specially to combat the idea that the spiritual life—or the mystic life, as its more intense manifestations are sometimes called—is to be regarded as primarily a matter of history. It is not. It is a matter of biology. Though we cannot disregard history in our study of it, that history will only be valuable to us in so far as we keep tight hold on its direct connection with the present, its immediate bearing on our own lives: and this we shall do only in so far as we realize the unity of all the higher experiences of the race. In fact, were I called upon to choose a motto which should express the central notion of these chapters, that motto would be—“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” This declaration I would interpret in the widest possible sense; as suggesting the underlying harmony and single inspiration of all man's various and apparently conflicting expressions of his instinct for fullness of life. For we shall not be able to make order, in any hopeful sense, of the tangle of material which is before us, until we have subdued it to this ruling thought: seen one transcendent Object towards which all our twisting pathways run, and one impulsion pressing us towards it.

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Habemus Papam

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Don't know who, yet. But we have a Pope. Thanks be to God!

Moments Later: Rumor has it that it is Cardinal Ratzinger who will be Pope Benedict XVI

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Steven's Happenings

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You probably don't care all that much but I thought I'd tell you:

I'm working on the draft of a new, rather long (for me) poem that I hope to share here shortly. It started as a tribute to John Paul the Great, but it had a transmigration of soul and became something different.

I'm reading:

Philip Roth The Plot Against America
Day Keene Home is the Sailor--This is part of an interesting "noir" revival series by Hard Case. Day Keene was an author of the mid-fifties and this is one of their works (it was the pseudonym, apparently of a team, like Manning Coles and Ellery Queen). Other in the series include, for some reason, Top of the Heap by A.A. Fair (I'm uncertain why this one was chosen in particular--I would probably have taken something like Bedrooms Have Windows or Owls Fly at Night, but I'm not the editor on the series. Then there is a large group of modern writers placing themselves in the Genre--Richard Aleas, Max Allen Collins, Lawrence Block, Dominic Stansberry, Alan Guthrie, Donald Westlake.
Ruth Burrows Ascent to Love

and about a million others in bits and pieces.

And I'm planning one of those excursions that you hope for all of your life. I'm going to get to see the prison of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd--imprisoned for complicity in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln because he set John Wilkes Booth's broken leg. This prison happens to be located about sixty miles west of Key West in the Dry Tortugas. I have wanted to visit these hinterlands forever, and it appears that an opportunity is opening up for me. I'll keep you posted.

Now, if I can just find a way to visit Hungary and Australia in the next couple of years.

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Reporting on the Conclave

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I strictly limit the amount of news I listen to. On the way into work in the morning I listen to NPR and get my "updates."

What I find curious is the language used to convey the results of the conclave. This morning the reporter said something like, "The Cardinals have once again failed to elect a Pope."

It struck me as an unduly negative way to report the results. Is it actually a "failure" or is it rather part of a continuous progression toward success. Is it not sufficient to say that "The Cardinals have not yet chosen a new Pope." Somehow "failed" sounds as though they should have been able to do this by now, and we are, after all, only at the second round of voting. If we were eighteen or nineteen days into it, I could see "failed." But I prefer to think of it in this way, "The Holy Spirit is moving toward the selection of a new Pope." Obviously that would not do for secular reporters, but it remains my preferred way to think about what is actually happening.

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Youthful Misconceptions

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When I was very young, before I was a Catholic, I remember people talking about how you would know when a new Pope had been elected. Here's a wonderful misconception for you. The person explaining said that after the Cardinals voted they burned the ballots and if the smoke that came out of chimney was black, they had to vote again, and if it was white then the Holy Spirit had chosen a Pope. Both he and I were under the impression that the Holy Spirit changed the color of the smoke "on the fly" as it were. Nice if true, but alas, the reality is much more mundane.

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The Conclave

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There are many avidly watching, many who wish to know more about how it works, many who speculate as to who will be Pope. But I am mysteriously utterly unconcerned, almost to the point of disinterest. I suspect because it will be known soon enough, and, whoever it is, the Holy Spirit will have guided--God will have spoken. So I join my prayers to those of all others who pray for the success of the conclave and the wise judgment of those who must make a decision. I have no favorites, I have no concerns. God is with the Church now and will be until the end of time.

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Two By Herbert


Jordan (I)
George Herbert

Who says that fictions only and false hair
Become a verse? Is there in truth no beauty?
Is all good structure in a winding stair?
May no lines pass, except they do their duty
Not to a true, but painted chair?

Is it no verse, except enchanted groves
And sudden arbours shadow coarse-spun lines?
Must purling streams refresh a lover's loves?
Must all be veil'd, while he that reads, divines,
Catching the sense at two removes?

Shepherds are honest people; let them sing;
Riddle who list, for me, and pull for prime;
I envy no man's nightingale or spring;
Nor let them punish me with loss of rhyme,
Who plainly say, my God, my King.

Easter Wings
George Herbert (1593-1633)

Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
Most poore:
With thee
O let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did beginne
And still with sicknesses and shame.
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Most thinne.
With thee
Let me combine,
And feel thy victorie:
For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

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I continue to distill some of the joys of my Dallas trip. I see everything quickly, but it often takes a long time for me to process everything I have seen. I've written a short bit about some of the appalling nonsense one can indulge in at the Dallas Museum of Art, let me now indulge in some high praise for some of the truly wonderful things. Let me start with the special exhibit that I encourage everyone to get down and see.

The exhibition is called "Splendors of China's Forbidden City: The Glorious Reign of Emperor Qianlong." It runs in Dallas through 28 May, so you have a little over a month to get there and see it.

In my wayward youth I acquired a degree in English Literature with a double minor. Part of that double minor was in East Asian History. My particular emphasis was on Japan, but I also favored Song and Tang dynasty China (I also learned before the present Pinyin system of transliteration, which makes no sense to me whatsoever, I always have to run to my conversion chart to see if what I knew as Sung is Song or something else). I never thought much of the Qing dynasty--a bunch of post-Ming upstarts--not even Chinese ruling the glorious empire. It is in this dynasty--the Manchu dynasty that the stereotypical queue worn by the Chinese was developed as a sign of bondage and subservience to the foreign invaders.

However, this exhibition showed how the Manchus attempt to assimilate what was great in Chinese culture and improve upon it. I have seen a great many galleries of Asian art, but I have seen few things as truly splendid as some of those on display in Dallas.

The paintings are rich in color--far richer than the mostly wan and pale (but still lovely works) of Earlier Chinese eras. I thought at first that the paleness might have been an artifact of age, but indeed, it seems that the early Chinese aesthetic was based on these very subtle differences in shade. The Qing paintings, on the other hand, remind me more of Japanese paintings--particularly those of the Ukiyo-e school--vibrant colors and a great deal of action. Examples include a painting of the Emperor on a tiger hunt and some scenes of court life that are more reminiscent of the Japanese High Court paintings than those of China.

Also gorgeous are items such as the intricately carved and decorated Double Dragon throne.

While the Manchus were foreign invaders, they rapidly adapted Chinese customs. The Emperor Qianlong had a great number of wives and there was a ranking system among the wives that hearkens back to the Confucian rules for court Etiquette and societal ordering--The Book of Li or Rites, which intricately prescribes the number, style, and type of jade beads a person of a given rank might wear and the degree of subservience that must be shown depending on the difference in ranks of the people meeting. In an exhibit made up to show a dining room, we see three sets of vessels and utensils--one for the Emperor, one for a wife of the fourth rank and one for a wife of the fifth rank.

Speaking of jade beads, there are a number of really spectacular Jade sculptures that reveal a great deal about Chinese are and jade-work and about the limitations of the medium. The emperor Qianlong ordered a sculpture that is the second largest sculpture ever made from a single piece of jade.

Also fascinating are the intricately worked fabric and clothing. Some of the stitching and the designs are unbelievable and beautiful, and of course some of these clothes were worked in real gold thread.

One of the most poignant exhibits shows a large throne with a small stele on it. The stele is said to capture the spirit of Qianlong still reigning.

If you live in Dallas, and particularly if you have children, you owe it to yourself and your family to go and enjoy this exhibition. The cost includes the price of a recorded guided tour (personally, I hate those things, but a lot of people really seem to get a lot more out of their visits by using them), which is a real bargain considering that most such exhibitions I have been to require a separate fee for the recorded tour. I can heartily recommend this as one of the very best exhibits of Chinese art and artifacts that I have seen outside of museums entirely dedicated to Asian antiquities. Do yourself a favor and take it in if you have the opportunity--and don't forget the little ones. The earlier one starts an appreciation for the great achievements of art and culture, the more likely it is that they will become a permanent and enriching part of any person's life.

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For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth--Job 19:25

What does it mean to be redeemed? How often have I really considered the depth of the word, and yet paid no attention to what it really meant? How often have I heard the word. Sometimes in various masses one will hear the trinity expressed as "Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier" (a poor expression at best--for where does the creator leave off and the redeemer begin--attempting to define the persons by their functions is doomed to failure as all of the functions belong in greater or lesser degree to all three persons.). We know that we have been redeemed through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. But what does that mean.

I was thinking through this yesterday and came to no startling conclusions, no brilliant summary; however, here are some thoughts. A redeemer redeems or buys back. Through our sins we "sell ourselves." Think about prior times--when one could not afford to pay one's debts, one was cast into debtors prison (hardly an efficacious way to get one's money back, nevertheless, it was done.) We are in debtors prison, sold for a moment's pleasure to the enemy. A redeemer buys back the bond. He purchases what was sold. If difficult times have come, one might sell something to a pawn shop. If afterwards prosperity returns, one might return to the shop and redeem the merchandise.

So the death of Jesus has done for us, should we choose to accept the pledge. Jesus purchased us back from the depths of imprisonment to sin, self, and Satan. We were lost in the world and He purchased for us a way to heaven. But the way does come with some strings attached. We are not our own. If we accept redemption, then we become the "property" of the redeemer. We are His servants, purchased to do His work now and always. We cannot be redeemed and attempt to keep practicing our old ways. Redemption means we do not serve our prior masters, but rather all of our effort goes to serving Him. There is something in this that is frightening. I am not my own, I am at the service of another. I am under obligation.

What does the obligation of redemption entail? I must do Christ's work in this world and in the world to come. Sometimes this requirement threatens to overwhelm me. I have to work for God and still earn my own living and support my family. The truth of the matter is that working for God is a very, very light burden. For one thing, He does most of the work. I merely need drag my carcass to the right place and He provides the words and the music. At Mass, He is my joy, in the presence of the believers, He is my wisdom and my charity, in the presence of the unbelievers He is my joy, my witness, and my truth. In sum He is all in all and He does all that need be done if I simply step out of the way.

There's the trick--stepping out of the way. Too often I want to be recognized for what I am doing. I want the world to know me and see me and speak to me. When I work, I want payment in currency the world can understand--money, fame, glory, happiness. When these things do not happen, when I do not feel some sort of rush because I have done God's work, I am disappointed. Surely, I am supposed to "feel" something as a result of serving God, am I not?

Feelings do not enter the equation. We can serve God with all our hearts our whole lives and never feel for a single instant stirred beyond the ordinary. Or we can spend our entire lives in ecstasies of service and of knowledge of God. That is God's choice. But my choice is simply to accept redemption and work for the Lord, or to continue to haul the incredible burden I have taken on myself.

Rejecting redemption is hauling a sledge through mud. Once the sledge is sufficiently heavy all I will accomplish is further miring. When I choose to follow myself and my own ways, I doom myself, I am destroyed every day. When I choose redemption, however, I am choosing to give myself up completely—every day is new life. There is no middle ground. "Who sets hand to plow and looks back is not worthy of the kingdom." Redemption is about service. Properly viewed, redemption is also about all-encompassing love. We should be delighted, joyful, and thankful that we have so merciful a God. Redemption is about joy. We take on a new master and shed the grief and the turmoil of the old. Redemption is shedding what is worn with care and worry and putting on what is bright and always new. No doubt, we will have moments when we look back and even actively seek a return to the "fleshpots of Egypt." However, when that happens, I will remember the experience of serving the Lord and the lightness of His burden. Once I have entered redemption, it will be very hard to forget the joys of that state.

So, I know my redeemer lives, and His life is my life. His needs are my service. My duty is to become more and more like Him so that when someone looks at me, they see my Redeemer--Jesus Christ, and they know Him for their own. My redeemer transforms me and in so doing, I am called to become Him and transform the world around me. That also is why sin is so sad a state, our service is rendered fruitless and those who see us are not led to the Lord. If my Redeemer lives (and He does) it is my duty through my life, my work, and my words to make Him known to all the world. When people recall anything I have said or written, it is better that they forget who I am and hear and recall only to Whom they are called. I must decrease so that He might increase, but my decrease is paradoxically and increase beyond all bounds. I grow more powerful in my decrease than I ever was in my ascendancy because I grow into the likeness of my redeemer.

I know my Redeemer lives, and so I should make it known to others. My joy should be the sign that always points to Him and my life should be such as to call all to His throneroom.

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A link at Mere Comments (the Touchstone blog) sent to me by my good friend Tom. Those of you in the state of Illinois, in a position to do the most good--please respond. The rest of us, please pray. Daily, it seems, there is some new assault on the right to practice our faith as we see fit. This is simply another, more egregious, more obvious problem.

Moreover, we need to pray for this Bishop, brave enough to directly accost the powers and principalities that dominate our present society. Here is a man who has heard John Paul the Great's teaching and has responded with the best possible tribute to our Holy Father. For that, we should be thankful.

Pope John Paul the Great, pray for us. Through your intercession, continue the work you started in your life among us. May we all be blessed by your continued heavenly support and may we someday come to walk within a culture of life. Amen.

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(Relatively) New Blog

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I am dismayed to note that I have not made much previously of a wonderful new Catholic/Poetry blog, and more should be made. Lofted Nest features some very fine poetry and some interesting commentary. See particularly the poems for St. Philip the Deacon and the Elegy for Pope John Paul the Great.

Obviously written and run by people who truly love good poetry and God. And their point about people who write poetry and yet do not read it is exactly right.

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I never did report on the wonders of the Qing dynasty exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art. And I'm not sure I will at this point, because first I must report on the final hall we looked at in the museum, an example of the "emperor's new clothes" school of art.

Walking down a series of steps we encounter a fluorescent light bulb stuck in a bale of hay, along with several other meaningful and profound statements. My companion's comment on the matter I thought apt (he could say it being a native son), "After all, we are in Texas."

Nothing could have prepared us for the walk through the door into the next gallery which was an exhibition by a single artist an "installation" called, I think, Stations of Dissolution. The first thing that greets you is a large black inset pool or black reflective box that looks like a pool. In this same room there is a kind of brick-lined hole in the wall.

Wandering down the connecting corridor and looking at photographs and sketches on the wall, you emerge into what seems to be a very minimalist living room scene complete with impaled dead stuff fox on the floor--transfixed by large quartz-shaped crystals with remnants of other crystals scattered around. There is a pot-bellied stove and the same brick-lined hole in the wall along with a rocking chair. I also seem to remember a shot-gun--but I wouldn't swear to that.

After the initial surprise of the thing, the only reaction one could muster up is amusement that the creative directors of a museum who would buy and display such rubbish and think it art. Modern art has abandoned all pretense at art. Much of it exists merely to shock a reaction out of an audience. Despite what they think, the primary purpose of art is not necessarily to inspire an emotion. While great art may well do so, it isn't the primary purpose of the endeavor. Nor is its primary purpose selfishly oriented. That is, it isn't about "expressing oneself," at least not exclusively. One must express oneself in a fashion intelligible to other or no expression has taken place. Your whole purpose is undermined. This little exhibition was an exercise in self-undermining. Will I remember it? Probably, but it will take an act of will to recall it so that I can hold it up as an example of what not to do as a creative artist. Just as with experimental novels delivered unbound so that the pages can be shuffled and read in any order, this is a kind of creation doomed to failure, and rightfully so. It was even more risible than the piles of brick and sand and the mirrors covered by pebbles.

(On the other hand, Dallas residents who can afford to do so should certainly hand over the money for the magnificent exhibition of Chinese Artifacts as well as some of the great antiquities available throughout the rest of the building. I'll try to write a bit about the Qing dynasty exhibition (From the Forbidden City) in a day or so.

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Context is not everything, but it certainly changes a lot:

Sonnet XCVII: How like a Winter hath my Absence been
William Shakespeare

How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December's bareness everywhere!
And yet this time remov'd was summer's time,
The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burthen of the prime,
Like widow'd wombs after their lords' decease:
Yet this abundant issue seem'd to me
But hope of orphans and unfather'd fruit;
For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
And thou away, the very birds are mute;
Or if they sing, 'tis with so dull a cheer
That leaves look pale, dreading the winter's near.

I thought about this in the context of my own wanderings toward and away from God. I really like the image of the labyrinth as a metaphor for the spiritual journey. If I keep walking it, I will make it to the center; however, along the way I will have a great many close approaches after which the vagaries of human nature causes me to turn away. Then I am walking directly away, for what seems like a long time before the path switches and I'm on my way back. Human nature is flawed. I think many of us have an approach/avoidance encounter with God. I might get close and then I get scared. I turn away because the cost seems to great--I will be deprived on one or another illicit pleasure. Then, I'm back on track.

This may be why the emphasis of the reign of Pope John Paul the Great appeal to me so much. "Be not afraid." Approach God boldly, as any son who knows that his father loves him will approach his Father. Ask for what you need. Don't be afraid, the only thing you have to lose is your fear. This message resonates in me. In a previous post, I called it marching orders. That's how I view it. I need to break through the labyrinth wall and stop following its arbitrary dictates. Of course, I do not do this alone. Nothing worthwhile is accomplished on my own. Only with God as my shield and help will I be able to withstand the blast that would destroy so strong a wall as makes us the labyrinth in which I walk.

So what has this to do with the poem above. Every moment away from God, no matter how good those moment are, are times of winter wandering, desperately cold and dry. Every moment away from His love--"What old December's bareness everywhere!" Everything done without Him is a falseness, a kind of betrayal--the richness of the widow's womb after her Lord's decease. And yet, isn't even this the promise of what one receives from the hand of a generous God.

Reading, reading anything, can activate the mind in the way few forms of more passive entertainment can do. Shakespeare speaks of his dark lady or lost love, but the Christian who encounters the great poet hears the lament of one turning this way and that in his journey to God. Because we are Christians, context is everything. Every work of art is a cocreation. Because of this, I think we know instinctively when we have encountered art and when we have encountered playtime, mockery, or idiocy. Even those who stood steadfast against God could not create in His absence, and their diatribes and writings are inevitable expositions of Him. From Huysmans La-Bas to Lautreamont's Les Chants de Maldoror, from Joyce's Ulysses to the maunderings of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Heinlein, a gifted writer cannot, despite his own intention, help but reveal the hand of God, because his gift is God-given, and his writing, no matter how overtly directed against God, ultimately shows us who God is, if only as a photographic negative reveals the image.

So, take your pick, Shakespeare, J.D. Robb, Patricia Cornwell, G.K. Chesterton. In the Christian frame of mind you will hear and see things of God. And perhaps one day these things will help crumble the walls of the labyrinth that prevent a direct path toward His glory.

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Andrea Dworkin R.I.P

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Andrea Dworkin who held views so monstrously silly that, were it not for the serious harm they do, they would provide hours of amusement has died. May she rest in peace.

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My Ten Things To Do List

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via Exultet and Summamamas.

I'm afraid my ambitions are rather boring, but they are my ambitions and I can't very well deny them.

(1) See Samuel happily married with family and children all around, or, see Samuel as the first all tap-dancing, all piano playing, scientific Pope detective--his choice.

(2) See John Paul the Great canonized.

(3) Finally, really and truly, make the Ascent of Mount Carmel and realize my place in the body of Christ

(4) Spend a month, two month, a year in Great Britain doing a "literary tour"

(5) Visit Australia

(6) Be able to read medieval Latin fairly fluently

(7) Write a publishable and published book of poetry

(8) Read (and understand) a majority of the Summa Theologiae

(9) See a human being set foot on Mars OR a permanent, more populated space station or lunar colony.

(10) Return to the world the enormous love I have received from so many in a form that will endure and bring people to the source of Love. (Vague, I know, but this is off the top of my head.)

I suppose strictly speaking that 1, 2, and 9 are not really so much things to "do" as to experience. Nevertheless, they are so important, they deserve a place on the list. And please forgive the seeming immodesty of #3--however, as far as I am concerned it is the one that casts all the rest into shadow. My God and my all--to be able to say that and mean it is the best possible goal.

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from "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
T.S. Eliot, 1917

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

. . .

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

I have selected the antipodes of the poem, because in them we see the drama of the last century which extends into this one.

As believers we are subject to innumerable challenges. Each of these is God's way of testing us. Testing here means not examining, but rather refining, making us durable--as gold is tested in fire. God does this not to torment me, but rather "to lead us to an overwhelming question." The problem is that too often, like Prufrock, we refuse to ask the question--we divert our attention elsewhere.

God's ways do sometimes seem like a "tedious argument of insidious intent." Indeed, from the point of view of the selfish ego, what God asks of us is insidious indeed. We can see the fear and the crisis it causes in the desires of a million people to reform the Church each in their own image. One group desires ordination for women, another agitates for freedom from contraception, another says that if only we had married Priests we would not have this, that, or the other crisis. Many do not wish to serve the Church as it is. Many do not desire to serve the truth unless they have first recast it in their own image.

But God leads each of us individually to the overwhelming question. He does not ask a gaggle of thousands, He asks me, personally. As a result the events that lead to that question are different for each person. What they call from each person is different.

What is the overwhelming question? I think that the question which has become more pressing and more urgent throughout the last century and into this one, the question that has been prevalent through all of time is "Do you love Me?" The form that this question has taken on more and more is , "Do you trust Me?"

Many of us no longer live in anything recognizable as the neighborhood of our youth. Many have people who live in houses all around them, but there is no communal sharing. In fact, the only contact one is likely to have with one's neighbor is the notice to weed your lawn from the community association, or perhaps a lawsuit for some perceived infraction or another. Some of our priests plunged us into a crisis of trust with the pedophilia scandal. Each day we read headlines that reinforce to us that we cannot be too careful with our money, our children, our possessions, ourselves. In September of 2001 we suffered a tremendous blow against our security which still has many of us reeling. There is nothing to trust. The overwhelming question indeed overwhelms us and we look another way.

But St. Faustina Kowalska taught us, "Jesus, I trust in you." We have so unlearned trust that it is hard to learn this lesson. We need to remake our entire lives to reify this truth--to manifest it to the world. And there are consequences for refusing to do so. There are consequences for not answering the question. These too are spelled out throughout the poem. The person who refuses to face the question turns gradually inward becoming obsessed with everything about himself. "Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?" Who cares? And yet, are these not the truly overwhelming questions that we face and our children face each day? Aren't we often afraid of how we will be judged when people see us? Don't we go out of our way to make a good impression? Look at the advertisements on television--tooth whitener, hair replacement, "natural male enhancement," wrinkle cream, age-spot remover, the list is endless. If you watch enough television you will eventually see an advertisement that leads to a product designed to improve every part of you. All the while we are posing, "I shall wear white flannel trousers and walk upon the beach." Why? Because it will cut an impressive figure. People will see me and they will comment on how romantic, ironic, dashing, or interesting I am.

All because we refuse to face the overwhelming question.

But wait, there's more. Elsewhere in the poem we see yet other consequences of refusal. "Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,/I have measured out my life with coffee spoons." Our lives are not beautiful, romantic, and perfect. They are the apotheosis of automation, of turning self off and turning autopilot on. Time is measured out in coffee spoons, in the mundane acts of the every day. We are weighed down by our trivia. We are weighed down by ourselves. So much so that, "I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.//I do not think that they will sing to me." Perhaps some of the saddest lines of poetry ever written. I have come face to face with the ineffable, and because I refuse the question, because I refuse to look into the abyss of trust, I cannot experience it. I hear them singing to each other, but I am not invited to the chorus. Rather. "We have lingered in the chambers of the sea. . . Till human voices wake us, and we drown." We are submerged once again in the expectations and the forces of those who surround us. We are plunged into a sea of selfishness even though we have seen a better way.

What is the solution? "Be not afraid." Follow Jesus' admonition, listen to how our Holy Father of recent memory explained it. Do not be afraid of the overwhelming question. It is overwhelming precisely because it portends changes. Ask it anyway. "Do I love Jesus? Do I trust Jesus?" And then face the real answer as spelled out in your life everyday. For most of us I suspect the answer shall be, "Not nearly so much as I would like," or perhaps a step beyond, "No, I don't really." Perhaps we love Jesus but we have learned too well from our families not to trust anyone. Life experiences show us that humans are untrustworthy, and perverting the principle found in the first Letter of John, we say to ourselves, "If I cannot trust what I can see, how can I trust what I cannot see?" The irony is that it is precisely what we cannot see that is most trustworthy. We can be certain that under ordinary circumstances hydrogen will form one bond in which it tends to "lose" an electron. We can pretty much rely upon the Kreb's cycle. When we move from the unseen to the seen, we begin to doubt. We are children of the enlightenment. We think Descartes got it right with "Dubito ergo cogito ergo sum." But followed its full length we wind up square in the middle of solipsism, not reality.

Be not afraid. Ask the question. Answer it. And if the answer doesn't suit, choose to do something about it. Trust God. To trust Him you must know and love Him. To know and love Him, you must fill every moment with reminders of His presence. Before you start a new task, you can say, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Before you begin the day, "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad." Upon retiring, "I love you Lord, my strength." Hear His word, tell the story He would have you tell. Substitute the useless, self-serving self-talk with God-talk. What He has to say is true, eternal, and infinite, what you tell yourself is limited by your own narrow perceptions.

Do not be afraid to ask the question. This our Holy Father taught. Ask and ask again. Ask every moment of every day. Ask when you know the answer to be negative and turn your heart around. "If God be for us, who can stand against?" We need to recover trust. The end of trust is being in the company of the mermaids, being in the presence of God. The end of distrust is drowning in our human surroundings. There doesn't really seem to be much of a choice. The Lord commands us in Deuteronomy, "Choose life." To do so, we must choose Him, completely and without any reservation.

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Samuel has been to a couple of roller-skating parties. He loved them. He's done exceptionally well at school and helping around the house and he really wanted to go roller skating.

At the parties, I never felt the need to don the skates because he was with a whole group of his own friends, he didn't really need dad on the rink to have fun. However, on our own, it was another matter. I could only sit so long in the unbearable noise of the place, and he wouldn't have been able to enjoy the whole thing thoroughly.

As a result, I felt that I had to join him. This wouldn't be so bad except that I have never in my life been roller skating. I have done a good deal of ice skating thirty years ago and more--but roller skating was never in my repetoire.

Nevertheless, I donned the skates and after a few wobbly rounds of the rink reacquired my skating stride and figured out how to apply it to roller skates. I did not trust myself in the awkward skates to do cross over or jump turns to skate backward as the kinetics of rolling friction reducers are somewhat different from those of melted water friction reducers.

After about two rounds, I thought my muscles were going to burn out of my skin. It took getting use to, the stance and the muscles needed for balance, not to mention those required for minimal motion skating, etc.

As I watched Samuel simply run around the rink on skates, falling frequently, I went and sat down frequently. But by the end of the day, I was having a good time, and wondered why I hadn't thought to do this more often. It may be that Samuel and I have a "skating date" much more frequently.

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Finding Neverland

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A reworking of reality that never manages to convince--it tries so hard to let us feel that a man living the life of a child is perfectly ordinary, respectable even. However, there is a disturbing undercurrent throughout the film.

For one thing, the story sets off on the wrong foot by distorting the reality of Barrie's relationship with the Davis-Llewellyn children. It does this by giving us the family with four (rather than five) sons headed by the mother Sylvia--the father has died of cancer of the jaw before the story begins. In fact, when Barrie took up his relationship with the family the patriarch Arthur was alive and thoroughly disapproving.

The unfortunate circumstances of the deaths of some of the children also raise questions about Barrie's ultimate influence. Michael drowned at Oxford and Peter ended up committing suicide in 1960.

The film sanitizes this story and manipulates us into believing that all of the events portrayed were acceptable and even respectable, that it was what was best for the boys and that living a life of irresponsible pursuit of other people's children with concomitant neglect of one's own family is a reasonable and even loving thing to do.

While beautifully filmed and acted, there are so many disjuncts with reality and with the truly dark things that permeate this story that the film failed for me. Rather than facing some of the difficulties, we are given the romanticized, washed-clean version, in which divorce is just fine so long as it frees one to pursue his or her personal expression.

Perhaps I read the film too closely. As much as I am inclined to really like Johnny Depp, I found this film disconcerting and disturbing. I do not recommend it.

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More wisdom from the poetry of Pope John Paul the Great:

from "Thoughts on Maturing"
from The Space Within
tr. Jerzy Peterkiewicz

Maturity: a descent to a hidden core,
leaves fall from the imagination
like leaves once locked in the trunk of their tree,
the cells grow calm--though their sensitivity still stirs;
the body in its own fullness
reaches the shores of autumn.
Maturity: the surface meets the depth;
maturity: penetrating the depth,
the soul more reconciled with the body,
but more opposed to death,
uneasy about the resurrection.
Maturing toward difficult encounters.

How well and in how few words Pope John Paul captured the essence of some of the changes that we go through as we age. We often speak of youth thinking that it is immortal. No! Youth knows in its bones, in an immediate knowledge that comes only from those who see angels and sense the presence all around them of the mysterious, that we are destined for immortality. Youth sometimes does stupid things to arrive there more quickly; however, it knows with a certainty that fades away as we grow used to our bones and flesh. We are lulled into a sense that all we knew before is false and unclear.

Look to the young, particularly to the very young. In those first inarticulate, nearly incomprehensible words, you will find a world of knowledge, of things we have long forgotten. Samuel used to talk frequently about when "I was heaven before I was born." I think he was trying to convey something of his sense of life. Older and resistant, I'm not sure I heard the fullness of it. I must learn to listen more closely.

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Last week, returning from Dallas, I had to attend the evening Mass at my parish. This was something I truly dreaded and looked forward to. I really enjoy evening masses. I find them calming and beautiful, But the evening Mass at my parish is a youth mass, and that can mean anything from dreadful to merely bad depening upon who they get to read, etc.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the evening mass was indeed wonderful . Not calming after the difficult weekend, but vibrant and joyous. I thought Samuel would really like to attend a Mass like this.

Now, I suppose what I experienced last night would constitute a nightmare for most of St. Blogs. But for me, it was the vestibule to heaven. The songs were simple, but faith-filled and orthodox. There were not dubious propositions about who was God and who was worshipping. The music ministry was loud and joyous and the congregation joined in forcefully.

The Gloria was done to a calypso beat and tune that had me believing that I was really born in the wrong place. The recessional was a piece modelled on American Gospel music. The readers were wonderful and Father was in rare form with his homily. Best of all, I was awake, alert, and aware. As anyone who knows me well can tell you, I am NOT a morning person. Morning mass intrudes upon my consciousness. I love it, but I'm not really all there for it. In the evening, I'm there. I can hear and see and touch and smell God.

Anyway, this was John Paul the Great's little gift to me. Samuel bebopped and hopped around to the music and really enjoyed the Mass as well. I know that enjoyment is not what the Mass is about; however, when you are a little one, it helps enormously to have some reason for being involved. So, while it isn't high Latin or great chant, it does just fine for me. Just as in San Antonio, I really enjoyed the 2:00 mariachi Mass. See--I was just born in the wrong place for my tastes.

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Under New Management

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I am pleased to announce an addition to the Patrons of this blog. Under the Mantle of Our Lady, this blog asks the triple patronage of St. John of the Cross (Carmelite Mystic and Poet), St Ephrem the Syrian (Mystic and Poet), and Pope John Paul the Great (Third Order Carmelite, Mystic, and Poet). I will look about for some appropriate pictures and add them accordingly along with a keyword from Pope John Paul the Great.

I thought of this, this afternoon. What better patron than a third order Carmelite poet who wrote prodigiously? I don't claim to be prodigious in output, but third Order Carmelite and erstwhile poet are both things I can claim.

And as no less an Authority than Cardinal Ratzinger has implied that Pope John Paul the Great is already interceding for us, figured I might as well give him his first established blog to take care of. Pope John Paul the Great please pray for me and for all who visit that we might be bold, living witnesses to the truth of the Gospel and the salvific power of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Santo Subito

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There are those in St. Blogs far more knowledgeable than I am who suggest that a sensus fidei on the canonization of John Paul the Great has been reached. Still, one must wait for the official pronouncement. However, nothing I know of prevents me from asking the intercession of our Holy Father.

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from the journey

Today as we say our goodbyes to the Holy Father in the blessed sacrifice of his funeral Mass, let us recall the Jesus he always taught us--fully human, fully divine, completely loving, completely interested in every human being. Let us pray that the Holy Father is welcomed into the loving arms of Him who loved us unto death and into life. The arms of Him about whom the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II never tired of teaching, speaking, and bringing to all the people of the world.

Shalom, peace be with you Holy Father. Grant us the blessings of your peace and your prayers.

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He blesses us once again.

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Praise God for all that He has given us in Pope John Paul the Great.

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Prayer at the Western Wall

Western Wall Prayer March 26, 2000 Pope John Paul the Great

During his visit to the Western Wall, John Paul II observed the custom of inserting a short prayer into a nook in the wall.

God of our fathers,
you chose Abraham and his descendants
to bring Your name to the nations:
we are deeply saddened
by the behavior of those
who in the course of history
have caused these children of Yours to suffer
and asking Your forgiveness
we wish to commit ourselves
to genuine brotherhood
with the people of the Covenant

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The Speech at Yad Vashem


Understanding the world and the way it is.

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Why John Paul the Great?

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* Ecclesia de Eucharistia (17 April 2003)

* Fides et Ratio (14 September 1998)

* Ut Unum Sint (25 May 1995)

* Evangelium Vitae (25 March 1995)

* Veritatis Splendor (6 August 1993)

* Centesimus Annus (1 May 1991)

* Redemptoris Missio (7 December 1990)

* Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (30 December 1987)

* Redemptoris Mater (25 March 1987)

* Dominum et Vivificantem (18 May 1986)

* Slavorum Apostoli (2 June 1985)

* Laborem Exercens (14 September 1981)

* Dives in Misericordia (30 November 1980)

* Redemptor Hominis (4 March 1979)

(All of these and more available at this website)

The Jeweler's Shop

The Place Within

Be Not Afraid

Gift and Mystery

Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way

Memory and Identity

The fall of the Soviet Empire

The forgiveness to a would-be assassin

World Youth Days

More that 100 trips worldwide spreading the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the peace that it promises, and the message of the essential dignity of the human person

The Speech at Yad Vashem

Theology of the Body

The dignity of the human person

Humility, charity, meekness, boldness, magnificence (see Disputations), kindness, openness, determination, courage

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At Notes Mr. Wong offers an artisitc tribute to Pope John Paul the Great. (Warning, you need Java installed and operational to see it, and it may cause problems with some browsers--but it is well worth your time.)

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from Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way
Pope John Paul the Great

"Cross of Christ, may you be forever praised, forever blessed, you are the course of strength and courage, our victory lies in you." I never put on my episcopal pectoral Cross carelessly; I walways accompany this gesture with a prayer. It has been resting on my chest, beside my heart for more than forty-five years. To love the Cross is to love sacrifice. The martyrs are a model for this type of love, for example Bishop Michal Kozal. He was ordained a bishop on August 15, 1939, two weeks before the outbreak of war. He never left his flock even though he knew what price he would have to pay. He died in the Dachau concentration camp, where he was a model and an inspiration to the priests amond his fellow prisoners.

And, while tempted, John Paul the Great never left his flock. He does not leave us now. Be not afraid. Make his exhortation your banner. This great man prays for us to the Father in Heaven. There can be no fear because perfect love casts out fear. Be not afraid. God is with us. John Paul the Great is with God. May his prayers grant us faithful guidance.

Oh God, you have taken from us one of the great shepherds of the Church. May your Holy Spirit grant us a new shepherd whose heart is as loving, as expansive, as encompassing as that of your great servant. We praise you, we thank you, most Holy God, for the gift you have given us in the love of this man. We are eternally thankful for your gift to us of this great man. Grant that we all may live to be an honor to him. May his legacy raise up many Saints to you.

Thank you, Lord. Thank you. Thank you for giving John Paul the Great to us. Thank you for receiving him back. Thank you for his prayers for us. Thank you.

Oh Lord, we miss him. Thank you for being our assurance of salvation. Thank you for being his Friend. Thank you for being our comfort in this loss. Thank you for all that you give us.

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So you will find the comments of a number of cranks and detractors. Ignore them. I will do nothing about them. In a way, it gives voice to their own grief and turmoil. The great Pope would welcome these as well and love them as he loved all. Nothing will detract from the greatness of this man--no opinion to the contrary, no human opposition.

"If God be with us, who can be against?"

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Santo Subito.

In 1300 years there has been no such salutation. And we cannot say when it will happen again. I have been blessed.

I offer for the first miracle for beatification the fact that I was able to be conscious and even coherent at 4:00 a.m. to say farewell. Okay, not much of a miracle, but a blessing for me. And this was a man of everyday miracles. The fall of the Soviet Union--not one huge military effort, but an accumulation of prayer under his guidance.

Truly a great Pope.

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From the Presidential Medal of Freedom page--here

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I've never really made much of this claim, because there is a natural tendency on the parts of humans and human institutions to claim as their own one they recognize as great. However, I finally found a page that (1) has "documentary" evidence that this statement is true (by this, I mean something other than second-hand assertions and claims--I wanted it straight from the Pope's "mouth"/hand) and (2) has one of the most atypical pictures of Pope John Paul I've seen.

I guess I'm just slow about coming around to things because my standards of proof are exceedingly high. But this is an interesting excerpt from a brief biography on the USCCB website:

He entered Krakow’s clandestine theological seminary in 1942, a risky step under the Gestapo’s watchful eyes. Always drawn to the mystical and contemplative, at one point he considered joining the local Carmelite order instead of the diocesan priesthood. But his cardinal told him: “Finish what you’ve begun,” and the local Carmelite director is said to have turned him away with the words: “You are destined for greater things.”

This passage argues for the logic of a tertiary connection. Oh well, as I said, I'm a bit slow to embrace these things.

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So the brilliant and scintillating discussion of John Paul the Great's poetry is lost to the world forever. Alas. Hope around noon I'll have time to do more, otherwise, I'm afraid it may be a fairly light day.

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I'm sure it will come as no surprise to anyone when I reveal that I do not spend my days meditating upon the encyclicals of John Paul II. I have neither the mind nor the attention span for it. I have read them, I acknowledge their wisdom and greatness, and I retreat to things that speak to me in ways that the encyclicals can only begin to approximate.

Take for example this excerpt spoken by St. John the Apostle:

from "Space Which Remains in You"
in The Place Within: The Poetry of John Paul II
Tr. Jerzy Peterkiewicz

Your arms now remember His space, the little head
snuggling to your shoulder,
for the space has remained in You,
for it was taken from You.

And shining never empty. So very present in You.
When with my trembling hands I broke the bread
to give it to you, Mother,
I stood for a moment amazed as I saw
the whole truth through one single tear
in your eye.

I won't presume to pronounce on the worth of this as poetry, as it is a translation--I will see merely that I find the substance of what is said beautiful. This speaks to me directly, in a way that I cannot begin to derive from the admittedly great encyclicals. I struggle with them--knocking my head against the words and working until I torture from them some fragment of what they really mean. I can read all the study guides in the world and not get from them the image of Jesus and Mary and their intricate intertwining--the way her Yes created a "shining" space within her that did not ever go away even after the source of that light had been translated to Heaven. That John sees everything revealed in the single tear that Mary sheds as she remembers the ritual sharing of Passover that Jesus presided over in their home, speaks to me more directly, more to both heart and mind than do many of the arguments and chains of reason that make up the bodies of some of the more formidable encyclicals. This is one reason to be in wonder at this Pope. He did everything possible to make God known to the world at large.

Take this prophetic writing:

from "Stanislaus"
source as above

I want to describe the Church, my Church,
born with me, not dying with me--
nor do I die with it,
which always grows beyond me--
the Church: the lowest depth of my existence
and its peak,
the Church--the root which I thrust
into the past and future alike,
the sacrament of my being in God
who is the Father.

At once, what a tremendous depth of understanding of the nature of the Church and what a prophetic utterance. With each new Pope the Church is, in a sense, born again--brought into new light--the same light from a different angle. It is the angle that Pope John Paul II has given us that is such a tremendous blessing. It is the light of reason and of art, the light of mind, soul, and heart, the light of intellect and love. It is the light of the Church Fathers and of the Great Saints of the Church. Pope John Paul II uncovered the greatest number of Saints of any Pope and we owe to him a tremendous debt of gratitude. Under his tutelage, we learned how to cut through the unnecessary burdens that belabored past causes and begin to understand Saints in a new light. Many have criticized him for that--but what sense is there in it taking four centuries to canonize Juan Diego? We don't need the span of four centuries to know the truth of a person's sanctity. But I belabor and minor point. The real point is that if you don't care for the poetry, try the encyclicals, If they prove too trying a workout, read the Angelus meditations, or the Catecheses on various subjects. And if this doesn't help try one of the various collections of prayers and devotions. There are many, many ways to hear from our Holy Father. And now, more than ever, it is possible to have a private audience and know that your concerns are carried straight to God.

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A Relic from Life

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A post over at Lesser of Two Weevils got me to thinking about relics and about the fact that this Pope thought for the future and prepared a marvelous relic or sort of relic himself.

At the end of the "Treasure of the Vatican" Exhibition is a bronze cast of the Pope's hand. It was the only piece of art you were allowed to touch, and it was a thrill, even when he was alive to be able to touch it, to shake hands as it were with this great pontiff. If you all get a chance, if it is still touring, go and see. Meet and greet the Pope and give him your most cheerful salutation. We are so fortunate to have such a forward thinking man as our guide through this life. He even thought ahead to living us so substantial a reminder of himself!

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"The Lunch" Redux

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Naturally, given the great gravity of the situation of this week, I seem to have given less than what I would like to the meeting in Dallas.

What was most interesting about the entire group is that we were all converts of one sort or another. Each of us came by a slightly different road to the truth that is the Catholic Church. I'm amazed at how many of the Catholic Bloggers ARE converts--including at least one of the most prominent.

So, to share a bit more. Julie really is a Happy Catholic. Sprightly, vivacious, slightly elfin or pixie-like, she has a vast array of interests and shared a tremendous amount. We had a few minutes together before the Summas arrived and we moved right into our conversation. She's every bit as interesting as you might suppose if you read her blog very often.

Smockmama came closest to being what I had imagined, but still, the imagination pales next to the reality. Another strong, vivacious, and warm person. She was bright, funny, fun, interesting, and entertaining. (Well, that goes for everyone.) What is really fun now is reading Summamamas and being able to see both Smock and MamaT. I can actually hear them speaking in what they write--it's FANTASTIC. Oh, and she has such gorgeous children--absolutely beautiful. And she's well suited to the role of mother. I can't be envious, but she is truly fortunate in both number and beauty of little ones.

Then there's MamaT. What can I say? Beautiful, warm, intelligent, kind, unfailingly nurturing and sharing, she again was everything I thought and more. She shared her family pictures--and again beautiful! Also she reads so much and is so versed in so many things. I was in awe. What's more, she is so down home. One gets the feelilng that you could stop by any time and never find her unwilling to sit down to a glass of tea and talk.

Another point is the unfailing humility and graciousness of all three ladies. They thought so little of what they bring to us all.

Three such beautiful and kind people, one could not hope to meet in a lifetime, and yet, I've done so time and again as I meet bloggers from all over. I will long remember my lunch with these three marvelous ladies and I wish it could have been longer.

Overall, I'd say the Dallas-Ft. Worth area is indeed fortunate to have such warm, open, intelligent, lively Catholics representing it.

Once again, my thanks to everyone who took the time to come out and see me. I hope that as I continue to journey through the country I might one day get to meet with all of you. St. Blogs is simply the Best!

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Last night I watched a documentary on AMC about how Hollywood has portrayed the holocaust in film. It was interesting in its own right. But one of the most provocative things about it was a scene from a relatively early film taken in the Warsaw Ghetto.

With the inevitability of two balls dropped from Pisa's heights, you know already where I am going. Yes, I thought of the Holy Father. I thought of the fact that he survived this monstrosity. I thought that not only did he survive that horror, but he survived and rose to prominence in the Church under a regime that was only slilghtly less oppressive.

They showed a scene from Sophie's Choice--I suppose I should say they showed THE scene from the film. And again, I thought, this is what the man faced then, and throughout his pontificate. He faced the irrational hatred of those who despise the truth and seek to make it what they would have it be. He faced endless criticism of his every action. He could not even forgive his own would-be assassin without criticism.

This Pope whose personal motto was "Totus Tuus", gave the entire Church a motto--indeed, marching orders. Be not afraid.

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Two Short Tributes from Tennyson


from In Memoriam, A.H.H.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I sometimes hold it half a sin
To put in words the grief I feel;
For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.

But, for the unquiet heart and brain,
A use in measured language lies;
The sad mechanic exercise,
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.

In words, like weeds, I'll wrap me o'er,
Like coarsest clothes against the cold:
But that large grief which these enfold
Is given in outline and no more.

And this very famous one. Not only do I hope to see Our Pilot, but also the Fisherman who introduced me to Him.

Crossing the Bar
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)
Crossing the Bar

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

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His Own Words


The Holy Father's special encouragement and pastoral counsel to Artisits:

from Letter to Artists
Pope John Paul II (the Great)

It is important to recognize the distinction, but also the connection, between these two aspects of human activity. The distinction is clear. It is one thing for human beings to be the authors of their own acts, with responsibility for their moral value; it is another to be an artist, able, that is, to respond to the demands of art and faithfully to accept art's specific dictates.(2) This is what makes the artist capable of producing objects, but it says nothing as yet of his moral character. We are speaking not of moulding oneself, of forming one's own personality, but simply of actualizing one's productive capacities, giving aesthetic form to ideas conceived in the mind.

The distinction between the moral and artistic aspects is fundamental, but no less important is the connection between them. Each conditions the other in a profound way. In producing a work, artists express themselves to the point where their work becomes a unique disclosure of their own being, of what they are and of how they are what they are. And there are endless examples of this in human history. In shaping a masterpiece, the artist not only summons his work into being, but also in some way reveals his own personality by means of it. For him art offers both a new dimension and an exceptional mode of expression for his spiritual growth. Through his works, the artist speaks to others and communicates with them. The history of art, therefore, is not only a story of works produced but also a story of men and women. Works of art speak of their authors; they enable us to know their inner life, and they reveal the original contribution which artists offer to the history of culture.

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While I do not always agree with Nathan's opinions, I do love him and his honesty and integrity. It is gratifying to see him willing to change his mind as he reconsiders the evidence. It gives me hope for myself and my own stubborn ways.

Particularly satisfying in this regard is this post which argues FOR the title "The Great" from a progressive point of view.

Nathan, thank you for all that you do for the community. We may not see eye to eye on many things, but your expression and your willingness to share are valuable to us all.

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One thing I am tired of is being told that there is something wrong with mourning the loss of our Holy Father. Yes, we can rejoice that he has joined the heavenly host; but that does not preclude a deep sense of loss ourselves. Over the last several days, I've had several very holy, very wise, very faithful admirers of our great Holy Father tell me that it is wrong to mourn his death.

Wrong or not, I must be true to who I am. And, perhaps selfishly, I mourn the fact that John Paul II is not with us in body to lead us and guide us. I rejoice that he has been relieved of the earthly burdens that weighed upon his last years. I rejoice that he is with God. I rejoice that he will continue to pray for us and seek guidance for us.

But the reality is, unfortunately, I did not know how much I loved him until I no longer had him with me. And now, I mourn his loss and I am not ashamed of it. I am comforted that there is some hope that I may see him once again, but for the present, I mourn the passing of a great man, a great mind, a great heart, a great spirit, a great servant, a great example to us all.

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via Father Jim, This link from a protestant minister who started writing about the Protestant view of Mary. Part 16 is about the Holy Father and the coming conclave. Perhaps this view of Catholicism from outside is another thing that can be attributed in large part to the work of John Paul II.

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A tribute to the Holy Father:

My beloved is mine, and I am his; He feedeth among the lilies
Francis Quarles

EV’N like two little bank-dividing brooks,
That wash the pebbles with their wanton streams,
And having rang’d and search’d a thousand nooks,
Meet both at length in silver-breasted Thames,
Where in a greater current they conjoin:
So I my best-beloved’s am; so he is mine.

Ev’n so we met; and after long pursuit,
Ev’n so we joyn’d; we both became entire;
No need for either to renew a suit,
For I was flax and he was flames of fire:
Our firm-united souls did more than twine;
So I my best-beloved’s am; so he is mine.

If all those glitt’ring Monarchs that command
The servile quarters of this earthly ball,
Should tender, in exchange, their shares of land,
I would not change my fortunes for them all:
Their wealth is but a counter to my coin:
The world’s but theirs; but my beloved’s mine.

Nay, more; If the fair Thespian Ladies all
Should heap together their diviner treasure:
That treasure should be deem’d a price too small
To buy a minute’s lease of half my pleasure;
’Tis not the sacred wealth of all the nine
Can buy my heart from him, or his, from being mine.

Nor Time, nor Place, nor Chance, nor Death can bow
My least desires unto the least remove;
He’s firmly mine by oath; I his by vow;
He’s mine by faith; and I am his by love;
He’s mine by water; I am his by wine,
Thus I my best-beloved’s am; thus he is mine.

He is my Altar; I, his Holy Place;
I am his guest; and he, my living food;
I’m his by penitence; he mine by grace;
I’m his by purchase; he is mine, by blood;
He’s my supporting elm; and I his vine;
Thus I my best beloved’s am; thus he is mine.

He gives me wealth; I give him all my vows:
I give him songs; he gives me length of dayes;
With wreaths of grace he crowns my conqu’ring brows,
And I his temples with a crown of Praise,
Which he accepts as an everlasting signe,
That I my best-beloved’s am; that he is mine.

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from a Sermon by Martin Copenhaver

Leon Bloy once said, "There are places in our hearts which do not yet exist, and it is necessary for suffering to penetrate there in order that they may come into being." This insight comes close to revealing the blessedness of mourning and sorrow. True sorrow opens our being, pierces the smooth veneer of our lives and exposes our inner selves. In sorrow, the depths of our hearts are touched, carved out... carved out to leave a space for God to be received, for it is in the depths of our hearts that God is found. It is when our hearts are truly emptied out, wounded, made vulnerable, that we are able to receive the true comfort which comes from God's loving presence.

The word "to comfort" in Greek is parakalein. The noun form is Paraklete, that is, "Comforter," which is the word John uses to speak of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised to send among his disciples when he left them. Only by his leaving, and in their mourning, would they have the Paraklete, the Comforter. But parakalein also means, to summoned to one's side, and it is the word which is used to invite to a banquet. It's a wonderful double meaning. To be comforted is to be invited to life's banquet, and there to partake of all that life has to offer, to partake of both joy and sorrow because both are part of the banquet and both are part of the comfort.

The source

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from A Sermon for Rosh Hoshashana By Rabbi David Stern

Emunah comes to say: if we have not taken the leap of action, then our faith is incomplete. Emunah brings us the Hebrew and English word amen. When we say “Amen” at the end of a prayer, we are affirming our trust in the vision the prayer holds forth, and committing ourselves to making it happen. When we say “Amen” to a prayer for peace, we commit ourselves to working for peace. When we say “Amen” to a prayer of gratitude, we commit ourselves to living with a sense of gratitude that will exceed our sometimes nagging needs. A Jewish “Amen” comes from emunah – and so it means more than “so may it be.” It means, “So may I be.” Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch taught: “Amen does not refer to the contents of the pronouncement, but to the person.”

Find the entire, wonderful sermon here. And first I must say that I mean no disrespect by using this excerpt here. But Rabbi Stern teaches us something important, something that has profound implications if we consider it in light of the Holy Father's reported last word. "Amen" is an obligation, a commitment of person to action. If our Holy Father's last word were Amen, it was not so much a resignation, as an enlistement. As with St. Thérèse, I have no doubt that the Holy Father will spend his heaven doing good on Earth. And so an amen implies.

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On Mourning--from John Wesley


from The Sermons of John Wesley
"Sermon 135--On Mourning for the Dead"

At such a loss, if considered without the alleviating circumstances, who can blame him that drops a tear? The tender meltings of a heart dissolved with fondness, when it reflects on the several agreeable moments which have now taken their flight never to return, give an authority to some degree of sorrow. Nor will human frailty permit an ordinary acquaintance to take his last leave of them without it. Who then can conceive, much less describe, the strong emotion, the secret workings of soul which a parent feels on such an occasion? None, surely, but those who are parents themselves; unless those few who have experienced the power of friendship; than which human nature, on this side of the grave, knows no closer, no softer, no stronger tie!

At the tearing asunder of these sacred bands, well may we allow, without blame, some parting pangs; but the difficulty is, to put as speedy a period to them as reason and religion command us. What can give us sufficient ease after that rupture, which has left such an aching void in our breasts? What, indeed, but the reflection already mentioned, which can never be inculcated too often, -- that we are hastening to him ourselves; that, pass but a few years, perhaps hours, which will soon be over, and not only this, but all other desires will be satisfied; when we shall exchange the gaudy shadow of pleasure we have enjoyed, for sincere, substantial, untransitory happiness?

With this consideration well imprinted in our minds, it is far better, as Solomon observes, to go to the house of mourning, than to the house of feasting The one embraces the soul, disarms our resolution, and lays us open to an attack: The other cautions us to recollect our reason, and stand upon our guard and infuses that noble steadiness, and seriousness of temper, which it is not in the power of an ordinary stroke to discompose. Such objects naturally induce us to lay it to heart, that the next summons may be our own; and that since death is the end of all men without exception, it is high time for the living to lay it to heart.

If we are, at any time, in danger of being overcome by dwelling too long on the gloomy side of this prospect, to the giving us pain, the making us unfit for the duties and offices of life, impairing our faculties of body or mind, -- which proceedings, as has been already shown, are both absurd, unprofitable, and sinful; let us immediately recur to the bright side, and reflect, with gratitude as well as humility, that our time passeth away like a shadow; and that, when we awake from this momentary dream, we shall then have a clearer view of that latter day in which our Redeemer shall stand upon the earth; when this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal shall be clothed with immortality; and when we shall sing, with the united choirs of men and angels, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"

I am fine with those who choose not to weep and not to mourn, but to rejoice in our Pontiff's passing. I ask only that they respect that I have lost a great friend, a dear guide, a father, whose passing demands of me something more than rejoicing. I rejoice even as I sorrow. He is in a place now to better aid us all, but I will no longer see him among us. His passing fills me with great sorrow because I delighted in his presence.

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A slight revision to Samuel's earlier version of being the Pope. He decided subsequently that he wanted to be first a scientist and then the Pope. He has resolved to be the first Scientific all tap-dancing, all piano-playing Pope. A truly ambitious goal, and not one that is likely to see any interference from this parent.

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One of the most important things I learned from the pontificate, the writings, and the life of Pope John Paul II is about loving God.

At one time there used to be a dichotomy, a kind of question, as to how one learned to love God. There was one school that said, "First we love, then we know." and another school that said, "First we know, then we love." What John Paul the Great taught me is that it is not sequential, it is simultaneous. We love and we know at the same time. The two actions are interpenetrating and mutually reinforcing. You cannot have one without the other. They are representative of the "trinity of the body"--body (or heart), mind, and soul.

As a result, is it not possible to know with merely the mind, the heart must also be involved. And it is not possible to love with merely the heart; the mind must be involved. The heart without the mind is the tenderness that leads to the gas chambers; the mind without the heart is the legal system that destroyed Terry Schiavo. One without the other is only half human, never realizing our full potential.

Loving God requires that we know Him with heart and mind together and that we love Him with heart and mind together. Surely there are times when one faculty is ascendant in either knowledge or love; but they are always working together. Indeed they cannot work apart. Knowledge is always informed by love, by sympathy, by compassionate understanding; and love is always informed by deeper knowledge, by seeing what is really there, by intellectual understanding of what we love.

Throughout his pontificate Pope John Paul II showed me these two faculties constantly in operation. His magnificent encyclicals are beautiful minglings of heart and head knowledge, heart and head love. As a result they are not always satisfying to those who demand a rigorous logic in their approach to theology--there is entirely too much reliance upon metaphor and analogy for their comfort. Further, they tend to be disconcerting to those who want to love without thinking about it; the Pope demands a certain intellectual rigor to be understood.

His actions, many of them criticized during his reign show the same dichotomy. There are a great many who criticized the liturgy for the canonization of St. Juan Diego because so many native dancers and rituals were incorporated into the Mass. And yet, it is the heart that became briefly ascendant there with the consent of the head acknowledging the individual differences in cultures.

You could look at any of a myriad of actions taken during this papacy and see in them this deep intertwining of head and heart, knowledge and love. Pope John Paul the Great brought them to their natural synthesis, their fusion, their integration as parts of a person. We are not merely intellect, nor emotion, nor spirit. We are individual trinities, individual reflections of God in our integration, even though we often ignore or deny it. Pope John Paul the Great with his theology of body, with his encyclicals, his pontificate, and his life, showed us this again and again. He led by example, he taught by being. It will take us a long time to synthesize and to integrate all that he has to say.

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And MamaT's Take

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on our meeting.

The Mamas and Julie are really such warm and wonderful people. And Smockmama reminded so much of a very dear friend back in Ohio--Sharon, from whom I have heard far too little in recent years. What wonderful support in the midst of a great difficulty.

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Poetry of John Paul II

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One of the things I love about John Paul II is that if his words do not move you in the encyclicals and the addresses and the letters, there is still more to read and by which to be moved.

Girl Disappointed in Love
Karol Wotyla, Bishop of Krakow

With mercury we measure pain
as we measure the heat of bodies and air;
but this is not how to discover our limits--
you think you are the center of things.
If you could only grasp that you are not:
the center is He,
and He, too, finds no love---
why don't you see?
The human heart--what is it for?
Cosmic temperature. Heart. Mercury.

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than the one immediately below. Go and enjoy

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My two way heart cannot decide
which way to let you go,
with rejoicing at your triumph above,
or mourning for us below.

That you have been our father now
for more years that I can know,
I cannot think of you above
and all of us below.

That God has made His place for you,
I cannot help but know,
that you rejoice with Him above,
and pray for us below.

Longtime your flock has prayed for you
and watched your spirit grow,
do not think it lack of love
that lays my spirit low.

I rejoice in God's peace with you
and home my spirits knows
that forward, onward you lead me
to where I would not go

Except your love had made it clear
all paths to this end lead--
I may take it for good or ill
for living or for dead.

But your voice, your staff is there
leading ever on,
"Be not afraid," your strong voice said,
and pointed ever on.

I follow you, my shepherd
now with greater Shepherd met,
and ask myself this question--
Do I ever let

My selfish heart keep loved one home?
Or rather do I let
my spirit soar to the abode
where faces are not wet--

where I might see
our loved one now
embraced by heavenly kin,
and know that sinners though we be,

we are God's chosen ones.
Dear Father you have spent your life,
to show us all this truth.
Grant through your prayers

I can see it now,
when I most want you here.
Grief is fresh
and tears will pass,

and then there will be only joy,
that the God you know
has shown Himself,
through His gift of you to us.

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Words of the Holy Father


from Veritatis Splendor

The splendour of truth shines forth in all the works of the Creator and, in a special way, in man, created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26). Truth enlightens man's intelligence and shapes his freedom, leading him to know and love the Lord. Hence the Psalmist prays: "Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord" (Ps 4:6).

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Why I Love My Pastor

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Today we celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday in the presence of the Holy Father AND Father's homily this evening was beyond wonderful. He rejoiced that the Holy Father has gone to his reward and our betterment. He shared also that he was ordained by Pope John Paul II and given the commission to "Keep the faith."

But more than that, he spoke about the days to come--about who will succeed John Paul II. And his exhortation to us all--trust the Holy Spirit that has preserved the Church thus far. He will continue to guide the Bride of Christ in the way she should go. It doesn't matter who comes next. Let us just take a moment to say goodbye and be thankful for all we have been given.

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Tomorrow every parish will celebrate a memorial Mass at seven in the evening. May the good Lord tire of hearing his name on our lips and offer us the consolation of His Holy Spirit.

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No, I'm not trying to be presumptuous. I am merely predicting that in years to come, in years I hope to see, the Church will officially pronounce on the greatness of the man--the soundness of his thought, the depth and breadth of his heart, the warmth of his compassion and humanity. Throughout his pontificate he tried to teach me, "Be not afraid"--words directly from our Savior. What I could not learn through his words, let me learn from his life and death.

The Church, individually and corporately will survive, indeed it will be strengthened by his passing into the celestial abode. The world will not be shaken, it will continue in its present path, but I pray that this pontificate does not end with him, but that it becomes a rich and fruitful vine, strengthened by the living Martyrdom of one of the great people of our time.

How I long to say with the whole Church, "Pope St John Paul the Great, pray for us." Privately, I commit myself and my family to him and to his message. It was written as for me personally, now I must learn to live it. Such is the only fitting memorial for so holy, so singular a man. I thank God that I have had the privilege to live in the time of such a man.

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John Paul II is the only Pope I've known as a Catholic. HIs death is, to me, similar to what Peter's death must have been like to the early Christians.

As a result, my sorrow over this loss is greater than any since I lost my own mother 11 years ago. He is the father of my faith and a father in the ways of being a Catholic Man.

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Of the Posts that Follow


Please forgive the lack of felicity of expression in what follows as well as the types. These are produced in the very early morning after two relatively sleepness nights. I haven't proofed them and probably will not do so until well after this evening and a good night's rest. At least you'll know why things appear so odd.

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I have such mixed reactions to the death of this great man. First I am personally saddened. This is a result of my own great selfishness. Thank goodness God is merciful; had it been up to me, I would have held on to him forever.

I am also overjoyed that another great Saint has entered the courts of heaven and stands before God praying for us all. He will stand in my devotion like St. John of the Cross, for he precedes St. John in importance. He brought me into the fullness of faith and kept me firmly there.

Heaven rejoices at this new birth--the birth into eternity of a great soul. Thank you Lord for lending him to us, no matter that the duration was too short for some of us.

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Just as we are often asked where we were when Martin Luther King was assassinated or when the Berlin Wall fell--(the answers to both of which for me were something like, in front of the television set), I will remember the circumstances of learning about the Holy Father's death because they were among the very happiest possible for such a sad event.

This afternoon I had occasion to meet with three of the loveliest, kindest, most hospitable ladies I could ever hope to meet. I met Julie Davis of Happy Catholic and MamaT and Smockmama of Summa Mamas. Nothing could have prepared me for this meeting, for as delighted as I already was with these ladies, the experience in real life greatly exceeded my expectations. As positive as my view had been, the real expreience of meeting these great people was something I was utterly unprepared for. We met and talked as though we had known each other for centuries. We fell right into talking and sharing and laughing, and crying--all in the middle of a very public restaurant! God has really blessed me in such beautiful people and friends. There are no words to express my gratitude for being in such company at so difficult a time. I think at the time, I was stunned into a sort of numbness that only now is thawing in tears. Hopefully they will help to alleviate the congestion that has overwhelmed me since my arrival in Dallas so that my head does not explode on the descent into Orlando.

Smock, MamaT, Julie--y'all rock! Our meeting was the highlight of the trip, exceeding even the marvels of the Forbidden City exhibition at the museum. Thank you for taking the time to come and see me. If you're ever down my way, drop me a line and we'll meet--perhaps at some tacky venue like Gatorland (and perhaps I'll finally get to meet the elusive Mr. Luse). God bless you all for the help and support you offered this stranger far from home when such a traumatic thing occurred. It gave me a real sense of the family of the Catholic Church and of Catholic bloggers. Thank you.

For Julie's version--see this It was truly a blessing of a day!

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Perhaps it is too early to share this, and yet I cannot help but think that the Pope himself would have been amused and gratified by it.

Linda spent much of the afternoon in tears over the death of the Holy Father. Naturally, this distressed Samuel who asked why whe was crying. Linda told him that the Pope had died. Samuel asked, "What's a Pope."

Linda told him that just as Father Garcia was the priest for his Church, the Pope was the priest for all of the Church, he was Fr. Garcia's big boss.

Samuel's answer was to say, "Can I be Pope?"

Such a simple answer. But what is beautiful, and wonderful, and amusing about it, is this--just as John Paul II is the skiing, hiking, vibrant Pope, Samuel, whatever name he might take would be our first all tap-danicing, all piano-playing Pope.

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A Tribute to the Holy Father


The Holy Spirit worked powerfullly through this great man to bring me to the Church and to the great hope of salvation. For a long time I was lost in my own sense of self, not worshipping as God would have me worship, but worshipping as I allowed myself to worship, in a limited, narrow, selfish way.

His encyclical Vertatis Splendor came dangerously close to driving me away from the Church in my pride and great hubris. And ultimately it was the instrument of my conviction and of my coming to love Christ as I love Him now--poor though that is.

As he worked on Earth in my lifetime to lead me and a a great many others to Jesus, so his prayers in Heaven will call a great many to God. He is now a fellow toiler with the great Saints, and Saint Thérèse. Like her, I suspect that He will spend his heaven doing good on Earth. He had such a passionate love for all of us.

May God receive Pope John Paul the Great, great soul, into his heavenly court, and may he continue to pray for us all through all of time.

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