January 2007 Archives

Traffic and Grace


Following on my recurrent theme of "you find God in anything," an odd notion occurred to me this evening of the drive home.

I've already explained that I bought a new car that has this neat little gadget that let's you see how your driving affects your gas mileage. This has been a sort of obsession over the past several weeks as I compete with myself in driving to increase the gas mileage. No reason, just want to. Well, my focus is entirely upon the road and making the trip smoother, no lead-foot starts, no screeching stops (pressing the brakes charges the motor battery, so it's good to glide to a stop). What I've discovered in the course of this single-minded pursuit is that things that really bugged me in traffic before don't bother me nearly so much. I don't care about the driver who just has to be ahead of everyone. I no longer have any impulse to race up the ramp just to get in front of someone who I think might go a mile or two too slow to suit me. It's the Nirvana of driving.

So it seems is the life of God. When your entire focus is on Him, the things other people do don't bother you so much. In fact, you may even find that there is more pity than anger as you realize the knots they twist themselves into. Things in the world fall away as you watch that needle climb knowing that you need only cooperate with grace and your "mileage" as it were would increase. There is no competition beyond that you make for yourself--to approach closer and closer to God.

If I get this much relief with the mere hassle of traffic, what must it be like when you off-load all of those extraneous cares and worries. Everything goes by the wayside other than that arrow-straight approach to God. All the other things fall into place and life is more pleasant and perfect. In short, we start to live our Heaven here on Earth.

Lord, let it be so for all those who love you.

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A Couple of Thoughts from Mahfouz


Two thoughts close in text space, but distant in relationship:

from Miramar
Naguib Mahfouz

"Cut out the communist propaganda, you hypocrite! The Americans should have taken control of the whole world when they had the secret of the atom bomb all to themselves. Their pussyfooting was a terrible mistake. "


"What about you? Sometimes I think you must find it hard to believe in anything."

"How can I deny God," he asked angrily, "when I am deep in His hell?"

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What can you say when you go down to the cafeteria and the feature is mojo pork, black beans and rice, and fried sweet plantains? Except, perhaps, yummy. That's just one of the reasons Florida is such a fantastic place to be.

Sometimes I'm almost willing to hug Fidel for sending us so many people to diversify our population and cuisine. We're definitely better for it.

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Ladies Against Feminism


Found via the very elegant Tea at Trianon, Ladies Against Feminism has so much of interest one hardly knows where to begin. Insightful reading for persons of both sexes. (NOT genders, if you please--a word that has only a linguistic meaning and subject of much abuse [if you think not, look into "gender studies" courses that give a minimum of seven mind-boggling genders--following the cultured example of the sites I have cited, I shall not assault your sensibilities.])

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A Source for the Title


And a resource for thinking more about the book Cold Heaven.

William Butler Yeats

SUDDENLY I saw the cold and rook-delighting Heaven
That seemed as though ice burned and was but the more ice,
And thereupon imagination and heart were driven
So wild that every casual thought of that and this
Vanished, and left but memories, that should be out of season
With the hot blood of youth, of love crossed long ago;
And I took all the blame out of all sense and reason,
Until I cried and trembled and rocked to and fro,
Riddled with light. Ah! when the ghost begins to quicken,
Confusion of the death-bed over, is it sent
Out naked on the roads, as the books say, and stricken
By the injustice of the skies for punishment?

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Ignorance Enlightened


Recently, I had a most wonderful opportunity to have some of my ignorance dispelled. A good friend at work, a devout Muslim (who pulls out his prayer mat five time a day in his cubicle--talk about an example*) came back from Lahore, Pakistan where he had gone to get married.

On his return, he shared with us the pictures from his wedding and I was astonished. The pictures showed a family looking very much like a family in one of those Bollywood films--the clothes, the settings, the surroundings, were all rich and sumptuous. His wedding clothes were like something out of the Arabian Nights--absolutely beautiful.

When I think of third world countries, my predominant thought is of mud, rutted roads, and buses with chicken cages on top or chickens running loose with the bus itself.

Naturally in a set of wedding pictures one would not see this aspect of Lahore. But what I did see suggested the same sense of civic pride one might find in a small Southern city, or even town like Waynesville or Bucyrus, Ohio. The outdoor spaces were well-kept and lovely and the indoor spaces were decorated for a celebration.

I don't know why I'm always surprised by pictures and experiences that suggest that the third world might have some of the amenities of the twenty-first century, but it is always nice to have that kind of parochialism knocked down a notch or two.

*While the prayer mat is not only tolerated but encouraged because of our sensitivity to diversity and the training that we received, I can't help but wonder what people would make of me taking out the Rosary twice a day. I already get funny looks at the prayer book open on my desk at all times. However, I must say that I am exceptionally fortunate in the place that I work at the amazing toleration of religious observance of all sorts.

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Charlotte Hays points out that one of the great themes of Brian Moore's "catholic" books is loss of faith. This is true from the very earliest The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, for Black Robe, and to some extent Cold Heaven, although the latter book has a much richer texture of the struggle with/against faith and the meaning of free will.

In that context, I offer the following observation from the book:

Monsignor looked into the stubborn face, into those almost colorless eyes. Faith is a form of stupidity. No wonder they call it blind faith.

The wisdom of the world will always call it foolish, while wallowing in the mire of real foolishness. The wisdom of the wise is foolishness to the rich and to those whose sole meaning is derived from self. And finally, a fool for Christ is a wise man indeed.

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A Quotation and a Comment

| | Comments (1)

Stop, reverse that. I'll start with the comment.

For me, the way to explore another culture is from the inside. No matter how many books I read by renowned scholars on Japan, I first came to know and love Japan through Basho, later through Lady Murasaki, and most recently through Kawabata, Oe, Endo, Mishima, Tanagawa, and Soseki. No matter how much outsiders tell me the "facts" of a society, it is what happens inside--in the arts--writing and film in particular, that really allow me to begin to enter and understand the culture.

Even so, I often hesitate. I know that when I read a Japanese novel I often don't "get it." There are symbols, meanings, things that are commonplace within the culture that I have no access to. And so, I'm often afraid to pick up the literature of other lands for fear that I will find myself completely at sea, unmoored, unanchored, unaware.

So it was with some hesitation that I first picked up Naguib Mahfouz. I must admit that I am not certain that I "get it" most of the time. However, I found this passage delightful:

from Miramar
Naguib Mahfouz

A jet-age traveler. What would you know, you fat moronic puppet? Writing is for men who can think and feel, not mindless sensation seekers out of nightclubs and bars. But these are bad times. We are condemned to work with upstarts, clowns who no doubt got their training in a circus and then turned to journalism as the appropriate place to display their tricks.

Refreshing to note that the press is ever with us.

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Insight from Brian Moore


For a lapsed Catholic, Brian Moore has a good deal to tell those of us who remain staunchly within the confines of the Church:

from Cold Heaven
Brian Moore

"I don't believe in God. I am your opposite," Marie said. "Happiness, for me, is knowing that I am in charge of my own life, that I can do as I choose. Don't you see that you're a victim, as I am a victim? What sort of love is it that's withdrawn from someone as good as you, sending you into despair? What sort of love could I possibly feel for a force which has done these things to me and to my husband?"

The room was still. The question hung in the air. Then Mother St. Jude said, "I know nothing of God's intentions. But I can tell you what St. John of the Cross has written. 'I am not made or unmade by the things which happen to me but by my reaction to them. That is all God cares about.' Do you understand, Marie?"

"No," Marie said. "No, I don't."

The old nun took Marie's hand in hers. "If Reverend Mother orders me to do something, I do it, not because I want to, or because I think it is right. I do it because she represents Christ in our community. It is Christ who commands me. St. John tells us that to do things because you want to do them or because you think they are right are simply human considerations. He tells us that obedience influenced by human considerations is almost worthless in the eyes of God. I obey--always--because God commands me." She smiled. "So I am not a victim, Marie. . . ."

In the matter of Church teaching is this our first thought? I have received a word from the Vicar of Christ on Earth--his word requires special consideration for me because it is God speaking through him. Now, it is always possible that in prudential matters a fallible human has misjudged and so might be wrong. However, I find it more likely that one who is truly seeking to follow God is more likely to be attuned to His Will even in prudential matters. That is, one who spends much time with God seems a more trustworthy guide than one who spends very little time.

However, I often see critiques of encyclicals and teachings that seem more designed to deconstruct them and make them a matter of personal preference rather than a matter for obedience. I will admit (again) that I rant and rave, but I take a certain amount of comfort from the parable in which Jesus asks which son has done the Father's will--the one who says yes and stays at home in comfort and leisure, or the one who says no, but goes out to work the fields as his Father requested. I may rant and rave, but by God's will, I am eventually able to say yes and enter those fields once again.

Accepting another's will is not easy, particularly when we've become overly used to "things as they are." But like that mysterious blue guitar of Wallace Stevens, "Things as they are are changed" when the vicar of Christ or those who wield legitimate authority over us in the spiritual realm promulgate a teaching. It is our duty and responsibility to understand a teaching from the magisterium and to the extent possible incorporate that understanding into our own way of living out the Christian vocation. And, there is a certain comfort in knowing that God has laid a special responsibility on the shoulders of those who watch over us:

Ezekiel 33:2-6, KJV

Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman:

If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people;

Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.

He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul.

But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand.

If the watchman sees evil and does not identify it and people fall because of it, they fall because of iniquity, but the fault lies with the watchman. However, if he does see and reports it and we choose to ignore what he has reported, then we fail of ourselves, and he is considered innocent.

The shepherds of souls have enormous responsibilities before God. And I have no doubt that this responsibility is always made manifest. Therefore, it is not in their best interest to issue ill-conceived, inappropriate, or miscalculated teachings in the matter of faith and morals. The teachings may be insufficient at times--perhaps unclear. But knowing the terrible responsibility of the shepherding of souls, and knowing that they will account for all those they have lost, I see that the teaching of the Church is to be trusted as a faithful guide. While I may not always understand why the truth is as it is, I know that I can trust it because my obedience is to those in legitimate authority. They speak with God's voice.

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A Different Point from the Same Word


A little later in Psalm 119

Tears stream from my eyes
because your law is disobeyed.

Oh, how hard this one is. What streams from me because God's law is disobeyed? Indignation, anger, sorrow. . . no, I'm afraid that most of the time, unless I'm the one doing it, it is indifference. Yes, I can get outraged about this and that occurrence but on a day by day basis, I do not sorrow the way I would if I were in a better place. I do not see how we hack off our feet and our hands by our choices. I am mostly numb--perhaps because the outrages are paraded before me in a never-ending stream. There are no tears and there should be. When we see the one we love offended there should be, at the very least, sorrow. There should be the desire to make right what has been put crooked and disrupted.

How foolish I am. I rejoice in the temporary things of this world and do not see the pit so many dig for themselves by actions contrary to the law of love.

That in itself should move a heart of stone. One wonders what the heart could be made of that remains unmoved.

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A Word for the Day


From mid-morning prayer:

The unfolding of your word gives light
and teaches the simple

Indeed. And how does the word unfold? We call that event life. His word unfolds in what happens to us and in how we accept and incorporate that. Life is an expansion of His word--nothing new is added, but all that has been said before is cast in a different, hopefully clearer light.

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Support Your Local Orchestra


A logical followup to the post below.

Particularly with classical music it is important to make the effort to get out and hear the performance in person. No recording I have ever heard reproduces every nuance of a live performance. Each suffers from a curious deadening effect of dynamics. It's rather like looking at an art print that has been too long exposed to the sun. You can get a sense of what it was all about, but it is pallid, washed-out.

Linda and I took Samuel to hear Mozart's Symphony 41 and Holst's The Planets on Saturday evening. I had forgotten some of the tonalities and all of the dynamics of The Planets and was very happy to make their acquaintance again. It is remarkable how even in a mediocre performance, they overwhelm anything you've heard on CD or vinyl (despite the latter's reputed "warmth").

Symphony Orchestra's need care and feeding. They need the support of the local community. And they need an audience. Help do the truly conservative thing and preserve the great pieces of the past and do it in a progressive way--locally. Then you can boast to all your progressive friends about how progressive you are in your retrogressive fashion.

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Dancing About Architecture


“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

– Frank Zappa

Nevertheless, despite the genius of Mr. Zappa, I intend to write about music--but what I have to say is less about music and more about true conservation.

Classical music has fallen on hard times. It's hard to make money with performances live or on album. There are any number of explanations for this; however, the reason matters little--we are in serious danger of losing a great heritage if we do not pay attention.

Many people seem to think that classical music is "for the few, the proud," . . . the snobs. Not so. One of the reasons people may come to this conclusion is that music may be the most underappreciated art. Most people don't know how to listen to music, or don't care. Erik Satie noted that the way in which most people listen to music turns it into wallpaper or furniture. When we see the number of people strolling around with iPods or glued to their headsets at work (I admit to being among them), we can see that there is considerable truth to the statement.

Even when people begin to listen to music rather than just hear it, the reactions tend to be on one plane--"I like it, I don't like it." Now our reaction to almost any form of art begins with this simple dichotomy; however, for most of us, we do not remain there. "I like The Violent Bear it Away because. . . " "I don't care for the paintings of Georgia O'Keefe because. . . " What follows the because begins to enter the realm of analysis if it consists of anything more than mere surface impressions. But most of our reaction to music come down to, "It's got a great bit, good, kicky melody, really danceable, I give it an 8 out of 10."

Music, classical or otherwise, requires attention. In fact, because its impressions are fast and fleeting, it can require more attention than any of the other arts. Unlike walking through an art gallery where you can choose to stand for as long as you wish in front a a painting, a live performance of a piece of music is a fleeting, ephemeral experience. If you are not trained to listen, the experience can be exhausting. And yet. . . to experience music it is necessary to really listen--and despite what many people think, you can listen even if you have no real idea of how the music gets to be the way it is.

So, you can't read a note and you've had no music appreciation courses. What's a person who wishes to listen to do? I suppose it might be wise to start small. Pick something you really like and listen to it. Observe how the notes go up and down, get faster and slower, louder and softer. If it's vocal music, listen to see how the voice interplays with the instruments. You may not have the words to describe this interplay, but you can hear and understand it.

All music has depth. Some pieces are deeper than others. You'd be surprised where you might find musical depth if you listen. Just listen of "Eleanor Rigby" or "Take me home, Country Roads." There is more to them than what most people ever know. They hear it, but they do not really understand or listen to it.

Music is great for creating a soundscape conducive to other activity; however, this is a secondary function, but like hanging a painting to "decorate" your house. Indeed, the painting does "decorate" but its primary function is to stimulate the mind and the heart. When we allow either music or art to become wallpaper, we've lost a source of contact with God. (You knew I'd get there sooner or later.)

Music and Art speak either directly or indirectly of the creator. Often they speak of the creator despite the express intentions of the artist. It cannot be otherwise because it is an act of co-creation. The creation of art is a participation in the divine life and so will always reflect the divine life.

What a tragedy then, when we deny ourselves some part of the good that has been laid out before us.

So today, before you do another thing, take a short break and begin the practice of really listening to music. Turn your musical lawnchair or William Morris into a piece of art again and begin to appreciate how it is turned and fashioned, what went into its making. If you've any musical ability at all, sit down at a piano and try to compose just six or eight bars of melody--forget harmony for the moment. Begin to understand that music, like art and writing, truly is an endeavor requiring an incredible talent and precision.

Then do yourself a favor and start to listen--really listen to the music that you love. Don't use it for a background for something else--or if you do get to know it first so that it can transport you, even as a background, out of the world as it is and into the world as it can be.

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Following in the line of my much "admired" and frequently sited "award-winning" "Devotional Reading of H. P. Lovecraft," I present for your delectation and delight and short excursion into In the Court of the Crimson King. Partly this was driven by the discovery of Robert Fripp's magnificent Pie Jesu album, which is apparently a compilation of other bits and pieces. And there are frequent hints throughout his oeuvre of a religious background if not of a religious feeling. Working on the premise that God uses great art often despite the intentions of the artist, I present this consideration of the first song on In the Court of the Crimson King.

I have no idea who composed the lyrics for this song, but as Fripp was always a leader of the group, no matter how many people swirled around it at a time, and considering that the album is a work of musical genius, we can find in it the fingerprint of the Creator. (All one needs to do is squint and look hard enough.) {Also a caveat: I won't pretend that this is a profound musicological understanding of the work as a whole--I haven't the background for that. I work with words, and so it is the interplay of the words and the music that I shall try to look at and open up for you what I see there.)

For our first class let's consider the first song: "21st Century Schizoid Man." For those who have not heard it, it is a rather grating introduction (as befits the subject matter) to a magnificent album. There is a very astringent guitar line with a voice altered in some way to create the sense of growling or screaming. The song proceeds for the first two verses indicated below in a very rigid, tense semi-melodic line--yes, there's a sort of tune to it, though I don't think one would typify it as hummable.

21st Century Schizoid Man
Robert Fripp/Ian McDonald/Greg Lake/Michael Giles/Peter Sinfield

Cat's foot, iron claw
Neurosurgeons scream for more
At paranoia's poison door
21st century schizoid man

Blood rack, barbed wire
Politician's funeral pyre
Innocence [Innocents?] raped with napalm fire
21st century schizoid man

Dead sea, blind man's greed
Poets starving children bleed*
Nothing he's got, he really needs
21st century schizoid man

Now, if you haven't heard the song, you need to know that the first three lines of each stanza should be read as accented/stanzaic poetry in which there is a pause in the middle of the line--very common to Celtic Epic Poetry. Thus the effect is

Cat's foot
Iron Claw
Scream for more
at Paranoia's
poisoned door
21st Century Schizoid Man.

This detail merely contributes to the image of the song. In addition, this first stanza (as well as the title) give us the immediate indication that whoever the Crimson King is, his court is not a thing of the past, but a very modern, very relevant occurrence. This is in opposition to some of the songs that follow in which there is a vaguely medieval or ethereal sense to what is happening. "I Talk to the Wind" seems a perfectly appropriate follow-up to this song, because to whom else will a schizoid (who, as we shall see, experiences a total psychotic break) talk to?

After the first two stanzas of this song, the music enters into a instrumental break that initially takes the form of a fugue, mimicking the state of some schizoid patients. The saxophone and guitar take off on their own and begin chasing one another in a free-form jazz mode. Initially the structure is quite tight, but the fugue state breaks down to bring about the musical equivalent of a total psychotic episode.

The patient recovers briefly--long enough for the final stanza, which may be the key stanza of the whole song, and perhaps one of the keys to the entire album:

"Dead sea, blind man's greed
Poets starving children bleed
Nothing he's got, he really needs
21st century schizoid man"

And within this one line on which hangs much of my thought about this as a fundamentally religious song--"Nothing he's got, he really needs." At once a biting criticism of modern society and the true schizoid state of the person who is a materialist and who has acquired all that he has through the pain and hardship of others and still seeks to fill the emptiness inside. None of it will. Ever. It cannot. You cannot put gold into the hole in your soul. And everything you acquire trying to fill that emptiness only rips the hole wider until it becomes a wound at the surface of the mind--the materialist becomes a schizoid personality, constantly fleeing reality in the pursuit of filling the void that he only succeeds in making larger.

Now, this is just as easily a secular criticism of a plutocratic society in which the pursuit of wealth is regarded not only as laudable but as something nearly holy. However, as I am a Christian, I tend to place a great deal of weight on "Nothing he's got he really needs," which conversely indicates that what he really needs, he does not have. If he does have all this wealth, if he really is within the Court of the Crimson King, what could he possibly be lacking?

Peace--peace that comes when the mind assents to the soul's prompting to look for what really matters. The 21st Century Schizoid Man lacks knowledge of God and desire for God. And what is truly frightening about this is that from my survey of many people within the Church, this is as true of them as of the hard-core materialist. We have surrendered, in many cases, the one-track, express-train pursuit of God for the pursuit of the legitimate, lesser goods of our present life. While we aren't in the full fledged auto-drawing-and-quartering that occurs to the ardent materialist, we have been sufficiently affected by his disease to have lost our own sense of belonging to God and pursuing His ends over our own. I can think of countless examples just from the blogging world, and I think each of you can as well.

Okay, to finish up--the last verse is sung, brought to a resounding screeching, scraping end, and then there is a total break. The interlude between verses two and three are a fugue state--a loss of self-control and self knowledge. The very end of the song, which features every musician flying off on their own riffs--the saxophonist not so much playing notes as torturing the instrument--the schizoid man has gone psychotic. And then, he "talks to the wind."

The ultimate end of pursuing material things is a total break with reality. In our language, were we to die in that state, it is called Hell. Hell is a state of being utterly opposed to the only reality. Hell is the continued anguish of trying to fill up a gaping hole, when all you are is that gaping hole. Hell is what is left of us when all we have done with our lives is to seek to make more of ourselves.

And the music seems to nicely mimic this as well. Hell is cacophony, the cacophony of self in the total absence of boundaries and freedom. Hell is being chained to our own wills for all eternity. "Neuro surgeons SCREAM for more at paranoia's poison door." All because we cannot surrender to love--we seek love from created things and create more pain for ourselves and for others in our pursuit.

In the Court of the Crimson King is a hard album. It has an adamantine brilliance--a high gloss that results both from the genius of the musicians and from the truth they manage to convey so clearly. Whether or not they buy into the truth, God has nevertheless used their music to convey a strong message to the person who takes it seriously. The flaw with the album is that no way out is shown--the Court of the Crimson King is simply the prison entered by the 21st Century Schizoid Man. In the title song, "In the Court of the Crimson King", the last song on the album, there is an initial promise of freedom:

The dance of the puppets
The rusted chains of prison moons
Are shattered by the sun.

But that is all done away with by the end of the song:

On soft gray mornings widows cry
The wise men share a joke;
I run to grasp divining signs
To satisfy the hoax.
The yellow jester does not play
But gently pulls the strings
And smiles as the puppets dance
In the court of the crimson king.

I cannot say where they were going when they composed this modern masterpiece, but I can say where they go for me. When we surrender to our materialist urges we are made puppets by the things we desire. We will do anything to have them because they will fill the void, or so we think. But that void, unless fill by the One, is a black hole--all that is fed into it strengthens it and enlarges it.

The only way out is to negate "nothing he's got he really needs," and to find the one thing necessary--Our Lord.

*Later Upon rereading this, I found this line very interesting. although it is pronounced

Poets starving
children bleed

I wonder whether it isn't a single thought regarding the starving children of poets? Thus:

Poets' starving children bleed.

Fascinating the way punctuation or lack thereof can lead to a productive and fruitful ambiguity. It works that way in scripture often as well.

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A while back, in another place, I made one of those occasional forays into the wilds of passionate ignorance that mark my journey around God. (I say around because it sometimes seems like a spiral with a very small fractional decrease toward the center.) This particular episode characterized itself by seeming to demean the small-t sense of Catholic tradition.

There were two reasons for this--both of them good; however, what I ended up saying was not really what I intended to say. First, the reasons: we are cautioned against the traditions of men that get in the way of the gospel. And whether or not we like that, it is possible that some of these traditions, which do not fall under the category of sacred tradition can be just such things as throw up a roadblock. In the particular instance I was arguing--the content of the tradition of Church teaching--this was certainly not the case, and thus the point is not germane.

The second and much stronger argument came only after much reflection and refinement of what I was originally trying to say. My argument came down to the fact that the particulars of a church instruction when it was not definitive, dogmatic, or otherwise universal for all times and places, were particulars that related to the time and culture of the place and thus were apt to change as understandings surrounding the circumstances changed. Just as St. Thomas Aquinas is not to be blamed for his opinion about "the quickening" which engendered life--so the Church is blameless in its time and place about a variety of teachings that indeed do constitute tradition. One example of this is the view of the universe that made possible the equitable and just treatment of the incomprehensibly arrogant Galileo. Church tradition in this matter was simply wrong--it was not culpably wrong, but it was required to change as new data entered our understanding--and it did, with time change, because the Church saw that what they taught regarding the structure of the solar system was not, after all, a matter of faith and morals.

So Church teaching and tradition can change--things can fall out of it as the Church's understanding of itself and of the world at large grows and matures through time. But even this point is utterly irrelevant to the argument.

The final place I came to with regard to Church tradition and how it is often invoked to refute, challenge, or subtly alter a definitive teaching was that tradition was not a matter with which I really needed to be engaged at first. Indeed, my initial assumption upon receiving ANY church teaching is that the tradition of the Church's teaching on the matter had already been considered and incorporated into the document at hand. That said, I would give greater weight to "more definitive" documents. That is, I would consider that this tradition had been given a far weightier consideration in the course of the drafting and redrafting of an encyclical than in say a common local pastoral instruction. Which is not to say that the local pastoral instruction is to be immediately scrutinized for errors of tradition.

For myself, the recourse to traditional teaching would mean only one thing--the intrusion of pride, the father and progenitor of all sin. If I find myself questioning a teaching based either upon worldly understanding or my own profound and expansive (not) understanding of tradition, I must see in that merely my own rebellious fleeing from proper instruction. I have related in the past and refer often to my experience with the Encyclical Veratatis Splendor, which I came to question through my understanding of how the world works. I was wrong then, and I have been shown to be wrong in nearly every instance in which I have questioned Church teaching. Most often I am not wrong about what I am saying is true, but rather I am wrong in attributing the "faulty logic" to the Church. Too often I read something and interpret it not in the light of the thought of those who drafted it, but in the light of my own reasoning and interpretation of phrase.

Part of critiquing anything is understanding the statement that is being made in the way it is intended by the person making the statement. For those who venture over to Disputations often, you'll note that when I get engaged in some discussions, I am sometimes simply off-track. I don't fully understand what the person writing is trying to say and so my arguments are not so much counter-arguments to the points being made, but counter-arguments to the ghosts and shadows I have thrown up around the arguments through my own ignorance. I don't necessarily disagree with the real point--I disagree with what I think is the real point.

Which leads back to Church teaching. I have said elsewhere that often upon receiving Church teaching I rant and rave and thunder and moan and lament the vast idiocy of the world that would result in so profoundly ignorant a teaching. I throw myself against the wall of it again and again, seeking to find entrance, battering myself endlessly against the stones of the fortification.

And then, a little later, with some help from some friends and some time for reflection and serious prayer about the matter, I walk around to the other side and go in through the door. It often seems that there are very few people who really disagree with what the Church teaches, but a vast multitude who disagree with what they think it teaches. And very often their recourse is, "Tradition has not taught this." In making such a statement they presume to know tradition and its details better than those who formulate the teaching. Now, this may be the case, I cannot say. But it does seem to me that Jesus promised the protection of the Holy Spirit for the Church and its magisterium, not for every person who thinks they are a theologian.

This is not to say that there can be no disagreement. However, I do believe that the immediate, knee-jerk and continuing disagreement of the rank and file is indicative more or the Ur-sin than it is of the validity of the teaching they are considering. Now that is, I suppose, a form of judgment, which if applied to others certainly applies to me. I rarely question church teaching on the basis of Her tradition, but rather on the basis of the tradition of the reformation and of secular thinkers. When I finally realize which reformation creed or realist philosopher has crept in and guided my thoughts, I can put a filter to screen out that reasoning and suddenly begin seeing the splendor of the truth.

I am so profoundly grateful for the teaching magisterium of our Church. Because of it, it is more difficult for the entire church to go the way of our Episcopalian brothers and sisters. Because of it, I am not left on my own to try to deal with very difficult matters--embryonic stem cell research (although there are perfectly good, reasonable, and scientific reasons to oppose this as well as moral reasons), the problem of the poor, war, the death penalty, and other things on which the Church both advises in the individual instances and gives a profound teaching principle by which to make our own judgments.

Otherwise we are "like sheep without a shepherd." However, for every teaching that I can embrace, there are three I must struggle with to first understand and then, sometimes to force myself into line with. These latter more often fly in the face of personal experience and personal feelings and it takes time to reconcile the teaching with continuing to function as a compassionate and caring person to those whose habits or behavior may come under the scrutiny of the Church in the given teaching.

All that said, the point is simple. When the Church delivers a teaching, it seems both respectful and logical to start with the assumption that the tradition of the Church's teaching on the matter has already been considered and incorporated. If we do not see it, it may be because we are not as profoundly steeped in that tradition and the understanding of it as those who draft the documents.

Questioning is always a good thing--it is a necessary thing to bring about understanding. But a thousand questions are not even a problem, and a thousand problems don't even approach a doubt. And questioning takes two forms--one life-giving, one destructive. "How do I understand this and weave it into my life," is the questioning of obedience that can still sound off-key. "How do I do away with this which does not agree with my mind which is already made up?" is too often the questioning that I see any Church teaching get--this is the questioning of Satan who decided that he knew better how to run things.

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I don't, and I won't make a habit of this; however, this morning I received an e-mail that provoked me into reading something that surprised me. So, I'll share it here and hope that it surprises you as well.

from the journey website

The Catholic Calendar for Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Wednesday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time
St. Francis de Sales, bishop, doctor of the Church

Scripture from today's Liturgy of the Word:
Hebrews 10:11-18
Psalm 110:1, 2, 3, 4
Mark 4:1-20

A reflection on today's Sacred Scripture:

The mystery of the Kingdom of God has been granted to you . . . .

We are privileged. We have been granted access to the inner sanctum. We know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, and while we may not fully comprehend them, they are part of our lives every day. We have a fully functioning missionary and teaching Church that proclaims the mysteries of faith and helps us to live them even when we cannot fully encompass them.

Not so with many. They are trapped in the prison of implacable scientism--reason gone awry. The mysteries of faith are beyond them because they are beyond the realm of the simply demonstrable. They cannot comprehend God, because God falls outside of their realm of study.

To these lost sheep everything must be presented as parable. No, we don't tell stories, but rather, being part of the mystery of faith, our very lives are a parable. Think for a moment of the very poor woman who gave two pennies to the poor. Her action, her life was a parable.

We are living parables, our lives teach. What do they teach? They teach out of the fullness of our hearts. If our hearts are filled with Jesus, then Jesus is proclaimed to the world in a way that the world can see and begin to understand. When we start our day with prayer, we can more effectively pursue our mission to be living examples to a world in chaos.

The other day, Tom at Disputations wrote about being "lowercase a" apostles and what that meant and how that might be done. Becoming living parables is one way to do the service that we owe in Love.

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Annie Haslam was the lead singer for the progressive group Renaissance (I don't know if some version of Renaissance still exists.) On the album A Turn of the Cards, they introduced the idea (or at least perfected the idea which had actually been made prominent by Procol Harum in "A White Shade of Pale") of singing lyrics to classical music that wasn't meant to be vocal. The song, "Cold is Being," was sung to the tune of Albinoni's famous Adagio.

Still Life (1985) is an album of such songs. It features songs sung to the tunes of Mendelsohn's Overture to the Hebrides (aka Fingal's Cave), St. Saen's "The Swan," Wagner's "Seigfried's Rhine Journey," and Satie's "Trois Gymnopedies No. 2." She reprises the use of Albinoni's Adagio in a song titled "Save Us All." There are other melodies that I can't so easily place--famous and immediately familiar if not leaping directly to the memory. In addition she does a treatment of "Ave Verum Corpus."

Annie's voice may require a bit of getting used to for some. I find it pure and lovely while not so ethereal as the voice of, say, Sissel or even Sonja Kristina. There is a robust quality and roundness of tone. While I'm not wild about some of the vocal choices she makes, they do tend to grow on you as you listen.

The classical melodies do tend to make for overly dramatic lyrics at times and occasionally some overly dramatic vocal choices. However, overall, it is very pleasing to hear familiar melodies with an interesting overlay of words. Annie's voice has always had a tremendous appeal for me--it is pure and clear, light and delicate, while still being robust and full bodied. It's an interesting combination.

When I first heard her solo work, I was so used to her work with Renaissance, I didn't care for it; but now, upon a relisten with years between and the memories of Renaissance not nearly so close to the surface, these are very appealing and lovely songs. It is so nice to make their reacquaintance without the patina of ingrained preconceptions.

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Prayer Request


If you have a moment during the day, please remember DM and his family as they struggle with the loss of a dear family member who passed away late last week. Thank you.

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From morning prayer:

God, our Father,
Yours is the beauty of creation
and the good things you have given us. . .

I had anticipated part of my story in the photographs I recently posted, and I thought perhaps that I would not get around to writing it. And yet the subject compels my mind day by day in a way that few things have for a very long time. Even amid all of the distractions of the day, I return to this place, this river of grass at least once a day. And I think about the next time I will visit. (There's a Jewish and Christian artifact exhibit at the museum in Ft. Lauderdale--another excuse to visit?)

Upon arriving at the center, the first thing we did was look for the tram tickets. We were a few minutes away from the next tram and we were in fairly full tourist season--the trams would be full. After we had gotten the tickets, we had a few minutes to wait and wandered over to one of the exhibit buildings which fronted on a small, probably artificial waterway.

At the back of this station there is a small boardwalk that overlooks the waterway. In the nearby trees two anhingas rested, wings spread to dry out from the morning's fishing. At the base of another tree a great blue heron stood, unblinking, unmoving, just waiting. Waiting for what?

There's a stir in the water--suddenly, splashes--not ripples of fish coming near the surface to scoop up succulent mosquito larvae or other food--full fledged splashes, as though leaping to get out of the way. Ten, eleven, twelve splashes in a progression from far away to near. And then the cause--silent and slow-moving, the black back of an alligator as it moves with hardly any stirring.

It's hard to capture the excitement of seeing this kind of thing in the wild. Naturally, one goes to the gator parks and sees alligators swimming around. But this was the first time I had seen such a large animal in the wild moving. I had, a couple of summer ago, walked over a sleeping gator in Corkscrew swamp--but I had never see a living gator in the wild so close.

Additionally, through the tea-colored water of the canal, you could also see the strange, elongate forms of the Florida gar, hovering out of harm's way. At first the gator swam at the surface as though enjoying the morning sun, but as he approached the ranger station, he gradually submerged and finally vanished beneath the water.

That was our introduction to the wildlife of the Everglades. My description here cannot do it justice, nor do I think still pictures nor even movies. The only way to experience something like this is to go for yourself. And I would encourage everyone to take the time to do so. Go and see what is being argued about and fought over. Go and see first hand what is really present.

In the course of our tram-ride we were to learn that in the ten-year history of the particular guide who accompanied us, there had been only two minor incidents with alligators and tourists--both of them the result of sheer foolishness. In neither case were the tourists seriously injured. The rule, respect the space of the gators and they will, fairly reliably, respect your space. And that makes sense--we are as alien to them as they to us--and because they have little or no reasoning ability, we are far more frightening because we tower over them--they want as little to do with us as they can. But don't come between a mother and her offspring; and for heaven's sake, don't put your child on a gator's back for a photograph.

Next time, I'll try to finish this with a description of the seven mile ride into the Everglades to the observation tower--the triumph of the Army Corps of Engineers, with also was a triumph of construction for the habitat itself.

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One I Left Out


You know in all that blather a couple of posts down, I managed to leave out a real favorite:

Alan Parson's Project, Tales of Mystery and Imagination.

I first encountered them with I, Robot and never liked Tales as much--but I've concluded, perhaps incorrectly, that I was wrong. I'll need to listen to I, Robot again and see where it falls out.

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Two Films from the Ice Storm


Sent by a friend:

Deer Rescue

Bumper Cars

And I'm getting a little worried here--we've had to run our air conditioner on and off through both December and January. Today it's expected to be 82 with a thunderstorm in the afternoon leading to cool off--that means a really wretched flea and mosquito season and who knows what other seasonal anomalies.

My prayers go out to those affected by these terrible storms.

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In The Court of Excess


People truly love King Crimson. Things I found while looking for lyrics:

In the Court of the Crimson King
and for those who can follow it better than I can,

An Analysis of In the Court of the Crimson King

If you get a chance, you really should listen to this album, most particularly the title song which is at once quite lovely in ways that I cannot give proper voice to and a bit melancholy. When I listened to this album again, I was reacquainted with brilliance. I believe this is the version of King Crimson that includes Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer on both bass and vocals.

And you know, considering that there is a fair amount of a type of Jazz that I absolutely dispise on some of the tracks, this recommendation might be regarded as some fairly strong stuff. If you find yourself initially put off, skip the first track--or better yet, listen to the last track, "In the Court of the Crimson King" and after you have a sense of the group, come back--it makes better sense. (In fact in the context of "21st Century Schizoid Man" the endless tootling of the acid jazz, or whatever it is called makes perfect sense and gives the whole song interesting context, vision, and power.

"Nothing he's got he really needs,
21st Century Schizoid man. . ."

After which we have complete breakdown.

Followed by , "I Talk to the Wind."

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James 2:13

Merciless is the judgment on the man who has not shown mercy; but mercy triumphs over judgment.

Here we have the glimmering of the love of God that, I am convinced, took us a long time to understand fully. In fact, I would mark the turning point in our understanding of this Lord near the turn of the 20th century, with the still quiet voice of a young French girl hidden away in a cloister of little importance in the small French town of Lisieux. This young girl, raised in the Jansenist, puritanical vein of the Church vouchsafed us all a glimpse of what God is really like; and her revelation, prophet-like, received the endorsement of the Church--first with her unprecedentedly rapid canonization and then with her elevation to Doctor of the Church.

She didn't invent anything new, but she showed in a new light what had been proclaimed since the time of Jesus. God is a Father. Not only is He a Father, He is the exemplar of all fathers. And because at the same time He is all Love and all Goodness, He is a Father whose patience is infinite and whose heart longs for our return to Him. The smallest motion, the slightest leaning in His direction and He is there to scoop us up in His arms and bring us to Him, the very finest "elevator to God" because in the entire journey, we are close to Him.

This is the God that Jesus proclaimed, the God who is the Father of the prodigal Son. He isn't a new invention. But Saint Therese had the courage and tenacity to give us a new insight into Him. We understand Him now as we do largely because of the synchronicity of St. Therese of Lisieux, Blessed Dom Columba Marmion, and St. Pius X. Together the three of these, and probably a host of others, converged upon the vision of God the Merciful and loving Father. The Holy Spirit reawakened this knowledge in a very special way for all of us moderns. And we would do well to recall it frequently and to act with the knowledge that with God as our Father, we are all brothers and sisters. We do well to forgive, put aside our petty sibling rivalry, and show His beautiful mercy and love to all around us.

St. Therese continues to shower roses from heaven upon those willing to receive them.

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Vinyl Review


In the course of converting vinyl to mp3, I've made some interesting rediscoveries. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed some King Crimson albums--In the Court of the Crimson King and Lizard are standouts for me. I had also forgotten small treasures like Hero and Heroine by The Strawbs, Pawn Hearts by Van der Graaf Generator and 666 by Aphrodite's Child.

In looking through the collection I dug out 801 Live, Night after Night by UK, and Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy) by Brian Eno. I also pulled out the eponymous The B-52s and once again visited "Planet Claire." (Same recognized this cut from a Hallowe'en album we have.) Echo and the Bunnymen and Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division, mixed in with Dazzle Ships (OMD) and Chameleon in the Shadow of Night--Peter Hammill. I renewed my acquaintance with "The Pothead Pixies" who appear first on Camembert Electrique and then drive the entire Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy.

We mustn't forget the electronic side of things--Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Edgar Froese (particularly Aqua), Cluster, Roedelius, Klaus Schulze.

But, what was most gratifying is to hear that despite youthful pretensions, the real talent and drama of Genesis was there, right from the beginning. From From Genesis to Revelation right on through to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway there are, at first flashes, and then a sustained high level of art, intelligence, and real beauty. Foxtrot is still the standout, but I had forgotten some of the beauties of Trespass, Nursery Cryme and Selling England by the Pound.

All of this before the stranger realms of This Heat and From a View to a Scream by Tuxedo Moon. Snakefinger and Nash the Slash make appearances before we arrive at the pinnacle of oddness and interest--The Residents. I got through The Residents, The Third Reich and Roll Album and Fingerprince--I have yet to get Diskomo, The Commercial Album and whole "Eloi and Morlock" trilogy of Plutonian Jazz.

Next up--I hope--The Unfortunate Cup of Tea, The Tain, The Book of Invasion, The Man who Built America and other treasures from the nearly forgotten Horslips. And perhaps some YMO, more Peter Hammill, Gentle Giant, Gryphon, Renaissance, Curved Air, and bits and pieces from more renowned but less preferred sources--The Cars, Focus, The Human League, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet. And then there's the standout of Ultravox and John Foxx. They still await electronic transformation. And given Metamatic I don't know why I didn't pull these out first--perhaps deferred gratification.

It's very nice to visit past greatness and it gives me pause to wonder why I stopped listening. And then I remember--I got married and everything else faded in importance. Now, I hardly know a modern group or a modern sound and somehow, I have no real sense of deprivation. That's a good thing.

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Some interesting maps sent to me by a friend.

I'm pleased to note that I live in a "blue area" of my state--not what you think!

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Small is Beautiful (Again)

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We recently had a change in motor vehicles, trading way down from out "family-sized" mini-van to a Honda Civic hybrid.

And I love it. I wanted better gas milage and got it.

But I had also forgotten how comfortable it was to drive a smaller car. And this one is really cool. The instrument panel has a readout that provides feedback to allow the cautious and careful driver to gradually increase gas milage (that is so cool!). And this one came equipped with a GPS system built in, satellite radio, iPod jack and all sorts of unnecessary, but relentlessly cool stuff.

However, in reading the review for the car (we were deciding between this and a Prius) I was provoked and annoyed by one reviewer who said that you could hardly tell that it was a hybrid at all, having only a small plaque on the back. You weren't wearing your credentials--I guess.

I decided to move down in size as a kind of small way to do something about the Everglades. Silly, I know, but I was so moved and so delighted that it popped into my head that we should make some small concession. (The selfish part of the concession is that I will feel less bad about driving down to see them from time to time.) I didn't get this car so that everyone in the world will know that I have a hybrid. (Of course now they will through the blog, if they're interested.) But my point was not to "make a statement" but to do something that might help preserve a resource and might help overall environmental health. It is trivial in the grand scheme, and certainly not worth feeling smug or superior over. (I do however feel smug and superior over the totally cool GPS, which Sam and I are almost addicted to. We set it to give us instructions on the way home from the grocery store just to have it talk to us.)

But what a silly criticism. Buy a Prius because it makes an obvious statement. This is what commonly discredits those who are seriously concerned with environmental causes. They focus on such nonsense and blow it out of proportion.

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The Evidentiary Power of Beauty


No, I don't plan to review the very fine book by Father Thomas Dubay. As with all book by Fr. Dubay, this is a dense, thorough study of its intended subject.

I chose this title because it is, perhaps, the most meaningful to me in my personal encounters with God. I would expand it--The evidentiary and experiential power of beauty.

In beauty, true beauty, we encounter God directly, if sometimes at a distance, masked by the surface. God is, of course, the source of all beauty, goodness, and truth. If there is an aesthetic appeal to an object, a true beauty, it is one way God calls to us.

I read great works of literature, view great art, listen to music, great and otherwise, and I experience God speaking through His people. There are times when I am stunned into a real silence, the silence in which I encounter God in prayer.

We've all had this experience--something so lovely it takes the breath away, we are literally gasping at the sight or experience of it. The divine has intruded momentarily into the senses. We see Him, however dimly, however much at a distance.

And what is most remarkable is that this is despite the intention of the artist. The other day I found a You-Tube video by Gary Numan titled something like "Prayer for a Dead Girl," in which he is obviously lamenting a still-born child or a child lost early-on in development and comes to the conclusion that indeed there is and can be no God. And in coming to that conclusion, he uncloaks for a moment God's face, a face filled with love, compassion, and genuine empathy/sympathy--a face that knows and understands what it is to lose a beloved child.

Beauty isn't God. Art is not God. Music is not God. Literature is not God. Nothing of human or natural creation is God and it is a serious error to suppose that it is. Emerson made this error consistently and stridently. No, none of these things is God; however, if we are looking and listening, we can experience God through great and even not-so-great works of art and beauty.

The senses are where we start this journey--but it is not the end. Beauty is not the end--it is merely the signpost pointing to the end. We start by being engaged, called to Him through whatever it is that we find lovely and attractive. But to find Him, what must leave behind the lesser beauties to find the eternal beauty--the perfection of beauty. We must gaze upon the Face of God through His Son, Jesus Christ who while he may not have been beautiful in human terms was the Incarnation of beauty, and who revealed the meaning of beauty--the love of God given us to remind us to come home.

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by which you give me hope.
This is my comfort in sorrow
that your promise gives me life.

(Psalm 119:49-50, from daytime prayer)

I think of my Grandfather, head bowed over his much used Bible after the death of my mother. I think of my Grandmother who could not see when my Grandfather had passed away, but who listened again and again to the word of God and, who despite all predictions, did not follow him quickly to the grave, though she was by far the more frail of the two. Rather, she lived on in love with God and in love with Life for every day of her own.

I think of how much His word meant to them at every moment of their lives. They lived the word in ways I cannot begin to do--constant prayer, constant immersion, a unity I struggle for and seem to achieve for seconds at a time was theirs in a seemingly unbroken stream--the river that passes by the temple in the New Jerusalem. It transformed their lives and now transforms my own in the memory of it and in the desire for it. Reverence--lives of reverence and quiet adoration--lives not meant to be examples, but lives which became examples any way.

We all know people like this people who lived a life of "Remember your word to your servant by which you gave me hope." May I become one of them and may those of you who wish this also become one of them. It helps us to understand the concept of Boddhisatvas--the enlightened ones who nevertheless remained behind to assist humanity in finding the Light.

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Supper's Ready

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As a result of You-Tube exploration, I went back to the vinyl collection that I have kept from my early interest in music and wondered, other than the fact that the technology is now so primitive as to be nearly outmoded, why I didn't listen to these things what were so formative for me at the time.

So I turned back to several favorites and listened to them as I thumbed through the Amazon Catalog (and finally contacted a friend who had been ripping vinyl to MP3). Chief amongst these early works were Tales of Mystery and Imagination by The Alan Parsons Project, Phantasmagoria by Curved Air (the You-Tube cut by Sonja Kristina, "Melinda (More or Less)" is from this album) and Foxtrot by Genesis (with Peter Gabriel).

Foxtrot is something of a "concept album" with the second side consisting of a single song in multiple movements. I remember listening to this over and over again at the time it was issued. I thought it one of the most profound pieces of music ever written. You won't be astonished to hear that I was wrong. But the people who wrote the lyrics knew how to pull strings and how to set up certain expectations. Much of this is youthful pretension--one can end up reading all sorts of meanings into the song, but much of this is an exercise in reading the overstuffed and vague lyrics in a certain way. All of this amounts to a certain amount of pretension--a pretension that comes of youth.

"He watched with reverence as Narcissus
was turned to a flower. . .

A Flower?. . ."

And the next song bounces along "happy as fish and gorgeous as geese" hops along in its odd sort of way.

And take this delightful bit of nonsense:

Lyrics from "Supper's Ready"

Apocalypse In 9/8 (Co-Starring the delicious talents of Gabble Ratchet)

With the guards of Magog, swarming around,
The Pied Piper takes his children underground.
Dragons coming out of the sea,
Shimmering silver head of wisdom looking at me.
He brings down the fire from the skies,
You can tell he's doing well by the look in human eyes.
Better not compromise.
It won't be easy.

666 is no longer alone,
He's getting out the marrow in your back bone,
And the seven trumpets blowing sweet rock and roll,
Gonna blow right down inside your soul.
Pythagoras with the looking glass reflects the full moon,
In blood, he's writing the lyrics of a HIP brand new tune.

And it's hey babe, with your guardian eyes so blue,
Hey my baby, don't you know our love is true,
I've been so far from here,
Far from your loving arms,
Now I'm back again, and babe it's gonna work out fine.

As Sure As Eggs Is Eggs (Aching Men's Feet)

Can't you feel our souls ignite
Shedding ever changing colours, in the darkness of the fading night,
Like the river joins the ocean, as the germ in a seed grows
We have finally been freed to get back home.

There's an angel standing in the sun, and he's crying with a loud voice,
"This is the supper of the mighty one",
The Lord of Lords,
King of Kings,
Has returned to lead his children home,
To take them to the new Jerusalem.

And we're to make what of this? I remember back before they published the lyric sheets just trying to figure out what the heck they were singing. Now that I know, I'm little better off. And yet there is such a tremendous sense of fun about the whole thing--sheer delight in verbal wordplay. "666 is no longer alone. . ." such an interesting observation that can be taken so many ways depending upon one's perspective.

That said--it is still solid and interesting. One can forgive the excesses of youth and even engage in them from time to time. This is the kind of thing that true geniuses look back on and say, "Oh well, youth, what can you do about it." The music moves in all sorts of interesting symphonic ways and rock ways--there are about 20 styles and segues that lead through a labyrinth of possible meanings to result in sheer entertainment.

So rather than faulting meaning or lack thereof, it's far better to sit back and enjoy the sheer loveliness of some of the treatments and let the rest go. Yes, some of it is silly, some pretentious, some overblown. But there are delicate interludes and a real sense of unity and organization in a piece that goes on for about 22 minutes--a true symphony of sorts. And it still charms.

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To All Flesh Will Come. . .


with its burden of sin.
Too heavy for us, our offenses,
but you wipe them away.

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In Celebration of the Day

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The historical revisionism that has assaulted the Founders of our nation has turned upon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and has tarred him with every brush that could be found. Not a saint, not a perfect human being; however, a man who tried to do good for those around him--a man who tried to raise up a beleaguered people, a man who tried to bring us to a place of equality, and a man through whose efforts we approach that freedom.

To this man I owe a debt of great gratitude--without him my present family arrangement would be well-nigh unthinkable. His efforts allowed us to begin to look upon people and see people--all equal in the eyes of God, of equal worth, equal dignity, equal importance by their human dignity. May his dream see fruition within my lifetime--we're not there yet; however, we are a good deal closer than we had been before he dared to dream.

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Sleeping Ducks

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You don't need to go to the ends of the Earth to see wonderful, charming, beautiful, and meaningful nature. This pair, part of a trio, was at EPCOT, catching 40 winks while the crowds parted and surged around them. (Of course the fact that they were in a waterway no one could reach helped contribute to their relative nonchalance.)

And yes, what you're seeing in the male is the "whites of his eye." He seemed to go through a cycle of having ordinary black duck-eye and then this white look. I suppose it may have to do with predatory deterrence. Don't know, but it was interesting to watch.

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On the Beach at Lover's Key



An Osprey and nest. I'm more used to the "platform" nests that seem to be common, but I'm told that when there's space, this is also a common form for the nest. Wasn't it polite of him to pose for me?

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A Face Only a Mother Could Love



But one of the mighty wonders of the Everglades. Because of this natural habitat and measures taken to preserve it, the woodstork was brought back from the verge of extinction in Florida. Looks and noise aside, that's a good thing.

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Double Gator



The nature experience at the Everglades is nothing like any other park you will go to. As close as the parking lot, you find the wildlife sunning itself and taking it easy. These two gators were no more than 10 feet away from me and Sam and that was after I was startled by turning a corner and nearly stepping on them. (I was walking on the far side of the tarmac shown here. There was a ranger nearby who chuckled at the startled tourists who, to a person, did what I did--stopped, did a double-take and walked to the far side of the road--as though that would be enough to protect us if a Gator took it in mind to have a two-legged lunch.

I loved it.

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And this photo shows you why that is pretty well.

Imagine walking through this stuff for any distance? Even with heavy clothing, I'm sure the grass eventually takes its toll.

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Pirate Sam



At EPCOT in Pirate dreads, patch, and earring--constantly looking into windows and saying, "Are you sure this isn't girly?"

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Okay, One Step Beyond Lene

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Possibly inspired by her, possibly part of the zeitgeist Nina Hagen was Germany's response to Lene Lovich. And here you see her at her best.

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The Proof of the Pudding

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In the arena of too much information--my wife endured this grueling test of character prior to our marriage. After she agreed to attend a Lene Lovich concert I knew that she was the girl for me.

(Among Lene's true admirers her style was known as Transylvanian Boogie. Perhaps another reasonable characterization might be a deranged Pippi Longstocking.)

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Curved Air, "Melinda More or Less" featuring the remarkable voice of Sonja Kristina

The equally remarkable Annie Haslam with Renaissance

I entered the musical world at a date later than these bands and discovered them in retrospect. Those I discovered as they came along include:

Camel and The Snow Goose, their finest effort:

And then there is:

"In the Court of the Crimson King"

Eddie Jobson, who worked with, among others UK and Ultravox--here with Memories of Vienna

The weird, even for me, even at that time, The Residents with "The Simple Song"

And Gentle Giant giving us the odd poetry of psychiatrist (and bad poet) R. D. Laing in a modern-day madrigal--"Knots"

The Strawbs with Rick Wakeman at the Keyboard--"The Hangman and the Papist"

And Peter Gabriel in his previous incarnation as the Leader of Genesis

The guitarist, Steve Hackett, on his own. . .

Finally, because the fifth amendment is insufficient protection for some of the excesses of youth, the remarkable John Foxx, one of the talents behind Ultravox.

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Attending to Our Faults


from Hammer and Fire
Fr. Raphael Simon, OSCO

The predominant fault crystallizes certain aspects of an ego accustomed to act for and of itself. . . . If this egocentricity is not exposed and overcome, it remains like an underground [military group], ready to join hands with the invader in the time of trial, and to betray us into the hands of our enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil. Just as an underground deserves attention in peacetime, because upon its uprooting depends the future security of the country, so the basic evil tendency of the soul, the head of the organism of sin, requires our attention (discovery and opposition) even though it is in hiding.

You know those things you go to confession week after week after week after week until you're so tired of confessing them you're tempted not to? Well, perhaps many of you have never experienced that; however, let me tell you, it sometimes seems like I should just do an Excel spreadsheet and tick off the usual suspects and turn it in.

It isn't that I don't want to do away with these sins (though on some level, I obviously don't or I would find that they would become less frequent), but they just seem to creep up on me. These sins, then, are the fruit of what Father Simon calls the predominant fault. It isn't as though I don't commit others, but I certainly do not commit some sins with the clockwork regularity of others. It is these recurrent sins that give me the clues to the particular virtues I need to cultivate to combat them.

One way to cultivate them is through the use of a gift that Father Simon described and I blogged a few days ago--self-denial--which in reality is nothing of the sort. A correspondent pointed out that we are incapable of doing anything ourselves, particularly anything good, so that self-denial, while engaged and activated by the will is a gift of God, a sort of grace, that gives us the ability to not do what we are accustomed to doing it. A grave mistake would be to consider this work, at least in the early stages, and perhaps throughout, as some sort of righteousness or good work that we effect. It is not. As I pointed out, self-denial is, in one sense the apotheosis of enlightened self-interest, because it is only in the use of this gift that we begin to see vestiges of the true self that God Himself sees.

Self-denial then, is one step, one positive thing that we can assent to, that leads us away from the predominant fault. We can recognize the pattern, recognize the root, make use of the sacraments and pray for the strength to stay away from that fault. Moreover, we would do well in addition to praying against to pray in the presence of what we seek. Looking at Jesus is probably more efficacious in the fight against sin than putting up arms against a sea of troubles. Because no matter what we think, it is not our own opposition that ends them.

Think of it in the manner you might think of correct a very young child. There are many ways to go about it, but one of the most effective is often to remove the child from the arena of the distraction that is causing harm. That is, as pray-ers, we remove ourselves from immediate concern about the temptation besetting us by focusing on Jesus--Jesus in the Garden, Jesus on the Cross, Jesus among the children--whatever image of Jesus speaks to us in the moment and removes us from the path of destruction. God will give the grace, Jesus will supply the strength and the moment. However, none of this will be efficacious if we do not first seek guidance and understanding about what is tempting us and then (with the strength of the sacraments and Grace) resolutely decide not to give in just this one time. When we do this one-time by one-time, God gradually gives us victory over the sin--often allowing us to go our own way to show just how weak we are on our own. But nevertheless, it is the repeated pattern that will give us the focus and the spirit of clinging to God that will gradually lead us away from our sins.

We can do nothing of ourselves, all is Grace, all is gift. But we can do everything through Him who strengthens each one of us.

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I don't know how many times I may have heard something like this; however, this is the time it finally made sense.

from Hammer and Fire
Fr. Raphael Simon OCSO

The angelic intelligence, superior to the human, sees in one glance the alternatives of choice and their consequences. The angelic will is then fixed in its election. When the rebellious angels preferred disobedience they knew that they had made their final choice. It is not so with us, and to us alone God gave a redeemer.

How awful. How terrible to be able to look upon the magnificence of God and choose something else. How inconceivable. We at least have the story of being persuaded to our doom--a poor excuse, but none the less the effort of a tempter. The Angels had no such persuasion; moreover, they could look upon the Glory of God Himself and see it clearly. Simply incomprehensible.

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For the Day


Never let evil talk pass your lips; say only the good things men need to hear, things that will really help them. --Ephesians 4:29

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On Wealth and Enough


This, from TSO, seems right on target:

I'm often puzzled by those who are resentful of the rich and who are bothered by disparities of income. Disparity is minutiae, what counts is how much the poor have, whether their needs are met, and that the "floor" be as high as possible.

This is the roadmap for the end of envy (at least in matters material). The focus should not be on taking away from someone in order to even out the playing field, but rather on supplying those who are in want with the things they need in order to live a decent life. Now, some systems are better at this than others and the difficulty often seems to be how to make the desirable result come about without undesirable consequences for everyone else.

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The Shark Valley Entrance to Everglades National Park has several possible ways to explore the park. You can rent a bicycle and presumably bicycle around the tram trail and other open trails--I don't know how many there might be. But for our first exposure we opted from the tram-trail to the observation tower. After purchasing tickets, we had a few minutes to spare and we spent them looking at the nearby canal and watching the alligators swim.

Note, this is a park. Not a theme park--a real park. Between us and the alligators there is no barrier. The alligator in the canal could just as easily have crawled up and sunned itself in the middle of the tram-trail.

How magnificent to see one of these animals in the wild. We've all seen them, probably in zoos, in attractions, or on television, but for reasons I cannot explain because I don't understand them well myself, the experience of just watching an alligator swim through the murky, tea-like water of the canal while the gar and other fish scatter before it is fascinating and strangely thrilling. You are first aware of its approach because the mullet start leaping out of the water and making little surface splashes in their panic to get away. (At least I think they were mullet.) Then you see the long black body that moves with an imperceptible motion of the tail--a slick gliding predator, cutting through the water on its way to. . . who knows where.

Turns out that alligators in the wild do not eat all that often. They can go for as much as a month between big meals so while the mullet are panicking, the alligator is just enjoying a warm winter afternoon in the water.

In the branches of the trees above the water where the alligator swam two blue heron and seemingly countless female anhingas. The ranger shared a story about anhinga mating practices--The male anhinga presents to the prospective mate a stick or a twig that he has collected. If the female likes the stick, the two form a mating pair and build a nest together. If she does not she is as likely as not to hit the male with the stick and chase him off. Later in the day Samuel witnessed two anhinga squawking at one another and he said matter-of-factly, "She must not have liked the stick." I never fail to be amazed by what and how much little sponges absorb.

Soon enough we were aboard the tram and on the way to the observation tower seven and a half miles, or so, into the the river of grass.

More later--you know, I love reliving the moment in these brief writings because I'm forced back to the day and to how wonderful it all was. We visited in perfect conditions, of course, but I'm not sure that that has all that much bearing on the matter.

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Trying to Learn


As usual, Tom has a very interesting post on reaction to church teaching.

In another context, I wrote this this morning:

My passion is for the truth, not for being right--so that even though I run again and again at that brick wall, seeking to knock it down, the reality is that I would rather know the truth than be right. (Obviously to have both at once would be ideal--but as we are dealing "a bear of very little brain," I'll accept that I start off more often wrong that right and acknowledge that I'm willing to conform to the truth when it finally gets through my thick skull. ) All you see are the outward dynamics of trying to force it through my thick skull, and I often worry that I am more aggressive about it that is seemly--but is it really possible to be too aggressive in seeking out the truth?

I wrote over at Tom's that I often rant and rave, kick and scream, fulminate and froth, threaten to leave the Church, cry, wail, howl, and do all sorts of other things when I feel particularly put out. (I live a very histrionic interior life--it's really quite satisfying in a variety of ways.)

But the reality is that in nearly every case that I have taken umbrage at Church teaching, I've been shown time and again just how wrong I am. And when you think about it, that only makes sense. After all the Church has two thousand (and more) years of the collective wisdom of some of the most brilliant people humankind has ever known. By the end of my life (god willing) I will have my threescore-ten, or four or five score. So, let's see, perhaps a million years of humankind's wisdom compared to the less than half-century of one person--what should have the greater weight in my consideration. And it is in this sense that I must respect the tradition of the Church in its teaching--knowing that particulars might change, but that the weight of wisdom and thinking demands attention and, eventually, obedience.

What is true about a matter is far more important that what I think about it. This reality is one of the reasons I need a shepherd in the first place.

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Bowled Over Aagin


How many times in a day must I be slapped upside the head with something. This from lunchtime reading:

from Hammer and Fire
Fr. Raphael Simon OCSO

He has given us means. . .to overcome this weakness and to strengthen our wills. These means include the sacraments, the infused virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit--and self-denial. In self-denial in particular, we have the means to overcome the obstacles to happiness; by self-denial our wills are given power over our temperaments and faults; we are made capable of change, we are made free.

Ironically, it is called self-denial, and yet it is nothing of the sort; rather, it is denial of the illusion of self that we live. Until we live completely in the image and context of God, we don't even know self, so it is impossible to deny self. Self-denial is actually the embrace of the real self as manifested in God's image of us. We discover that when we have found our identities in Christ self-denial is impossible because we finally have the properly oriented self that does not see self-denial but Christ-embracing.

We so dread depriving ourselves of anything that we have even a remote notion we might want or need that we cannot see the real efficacy of self-denial--breaking the illusion of Maya and embracing the reality of who we are in the Reality of Him Who Is.

You see how language descends to the utterly inarticulate trying even to explain the joyous discovery that we need not succumb to every vagrant thought and idle want. Today has been a good day indeed.

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A Powerful Reflection


At Disputations:

And if we think that, apart from Him Who is the Truth and the Life, we aren't captives and prisoners, then no wonder the devil doesn't work any harder at oppressing us. Even today, "all those who are oppressed by the devil" means all of us.

Read the whole thing.

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Two Passages To Say it All


Sometimes I don't know why I post these things because we all know them to be true. Knowing them to be true and living them in their truth often seem to be quite different matters; and, perhaps, the bridge between them lies in such reminders as these.

from Hammer and Fire
Fr. Raphael Simon O.C.S.O.

The Father is the supreme Reality; all other reality is the effect of HIs will; He alone gives existence to all that is. Only the saint is fully adjusted to reality because only the saint if fully conformed to the Father's will. The materialist, on the other hand, excludes from his or her life happiness and true adjustment to reality, for he or she fails to recognize the primary Reality and its chief effects, the soul, intellect, and will, which are of the spiritual order and hold primacy over the material order.


It is true that some persons appear, and consider themselves, to be happy whose satisfaction is not in God but in material things--even in certain cases, when they are conscious that they are abiding in mortal sin and are estranged from God. These people are miserable but may not feel miserable. The hatred and malice of the devil are not directed so much at making people miserable in their feelings, as in fact. Then they are more prone to remain in their pitiable condition without taking the necessary steps to become truly happy.

Book available from Zaccheus Press and also through Ignatius Press. And is, so far, highly recommended.

What bears repeating here is that Satan's tactics are not so much to make us feel miserable as to make us be miserable without realizing the misery in which we live. When we are constantly striving for the ephemeral, the vanishing, the unworthy, the empty, the desolate, the finite, and the broken, we cannot expend the energy for the One who corrects all these absences and frailties. Until we admit how materially driven our lives are, we cannot begin to correct that imperfection and allow ourselves to be gathered (not driven) to the True Shepherd whose voice we know in our hearts. We live in a real misery that we do not feel trying to avoid the miserable feeling that may not reflect reality.

O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive. . .


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Yet More Everglades


The scope of the Everglades is not incomprehensible. Anyone who has driven past the cornfields west of Columbus or the wheat fields of Kansas or even the stretches of lonesome prairie has a clear understanding of scope--and even, to some degree of appearance--that brown or green against the endless sky with here and there a small copse of woodland growth. This image serves to fix the understanding of the river of grass.

What is difficult to comprehend is that all of this wheat field/corn field analogue is standing in a vast sheet of water, depending on the terrain, anywhere from one inch to several feet deep. And all of this water creeps and oozes a long slow way to the sea. As it does so, it picks up nutrients from the decaying mass of organic matter that lies just beneath the surface, so that as it approaches the brackish environs that border the sea, it is filled with the materials that make the Everglades system a nursery for much of the sea-life of Southern Florida--a place where the rich stocks of shrimp, fish, and other sea-life are born and grow to a certain viability before entering the ocean proper.

So here you stand, at the Shark Valley station, looking out over this field of brown and seeing here and there the glint of water where the vegetation does not hide it. Because you are in the "dry season" you may not see as much water as might be visible during the wet season. Also because you are in the dry season, the evidences of animal life are much more concentrated around the sources of water. From now (January) until April, when the rains begin to return, these areas of open water will become progressively more restricted until they amount to the standing bodies in pits dug by the Army Corps of Engineers and in the "solution holes" (mini-sinkholes that perforate the limestone sponge that is Florida) that form here and there in the park. Such solution holes can be several feet deep. They are dark, hidden, and unexpected and form perfect places for alligator wallows and moccasin holes.

This then was the situation I was in upon first visiting. And the impressions are indelible and hard to put into words, and perhaps not as affecting for many as for some. I have always loved the vast expanses of farmland in the midwest. There is about them an austere and somber beauty summed up in the famous line "amber waves of grain." And when the thunderheads of summer glower over them, and the winds whip up the heads of grain to give a sense of that roiling ocean, there is about these fields something that conjures up a kind of atavistic memory and delight.

So it is with the Everglades. And this is made even more profound when we regard these lands with the profound respect that Native Americans have for all the "peoples" of Earth, including the rock people and the water people. When we understand, even for a moment, the patent absurdity of thinking that one can "own" a piece of land, one comes to an understanding of the Everglades on its own terms. We can destroy it--we can alter it beyond all recognition, we can build on it or tear it apart--but this land is its own. It cannot be owned, it cannot be possessed except in memory. But it can captivate. It can capture you and hold you and your mind and your heart for as long as you will give it time to reign. And in so doing, it will put you in mind of Another--One Whose hand fashioned these beauties and all the beauties of the Earth for our delight and our care. He Who made them gave us stewardship over them and they become a patrimony for all generations--a rich and beautiful treasure to be passed on intact to those who come after us as a sign of Him Who made them.

There is something about the Everglades that turns the mind to God; something about them that captures the spirit and directs it upwards; something that purges, cleanses, and renews. It is as if, for a moment, one can stand in the world as God meant it to be and be in that world as we were meant to be.

(More later--sorry for the short chunks--but five or ten minutes don't allow either for lengthy composition or sufficient proofreading--all to come later.)

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I don't much like self-promotion, but presumably by posting this link I am also increasing the audience for the on-line magazine. So, if you're so inclined go and see my latest publication here.

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The Everglades--Shark Valley


The concept of a valley in Florida is risible. However, as our guide pointed out, Miami is at an average elevation of about 36 inches, Naples and environs about 48 inches (above sea level) and Shark Valley is a mere 8 inches above see level. Thus, it is a true valley through which the outpouring of the waters from Okeechobee flow to the sea. Ooze to the sea may be more descriptive. The guide pointed out that water flows at a rate of about a quarter of a mile a day through the national park.

Changes in the recent past have diverted the flow of much of the water away from the Everglades. There is a desultory restoration project that is seeking to restore the flow, but no evidence yet that much of anything has really happened. In addition, we in the northern climes insist on building up around Shingle Creek, the so-called "headwaters of the Everglades." In the short time I have been here what were cow pastures and wooded lands have given way to yet another pair of mega-resorts and extensions to the convention center that are, shall we say, less than needed.

A city must grow or implode and die. I understand that; however, growth does not preclude reasonable planning to assure that so valuable a resource as the water that feeds the vast river of grass remains relatively pure. However, Orlando is not well known for either their vision of their future or the ability to temper their desire for yet more. I grit my teeth every time I see another thing built up along this fragile waterway.

Back to the Everglades. The Shark Valley entrance to the part shows one of the main and largely unknown ecotomes of the Everglades--the "river of grass." Well, not precisely grass. More like a sedge. In fact, a particularly nasty and unpleasant sedge misnamed "saw grass." Saw grass is a sharp-bladed sedge with actual saw-teeth running the length of each ray of the compound leaf. (At least I think it's a compound leaf--my botany is really poor.) If you run your hand along it one way you will feel nothing; however, the other way will render a fairly nasty cut.

Now, most people you ask seem to think of the Everglades as a huge cypress swamp, green darkness, Florida's jungle. But that is not at all the case. At least not entirely. There are hammocks and strands of this green darkness, but the Everglades proper is a glade--a wide expanse of green, or during the time I saw it brown. At first glance the Everglades look like nothing more exotic than a field of low-growing wheat with the occasional pampas grass plume.

But it is upon closer inspection that the reality of the Everglades hits home. And, it was in the course of reading a book by Connie Mae Fowler that I found out the truth of it. The Everglades can sneak up on you and steal away your heart.

More later.

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Help Requested


Currently up on my reading-group booklist is Gilead, which a rush of people in St. Blogs went through some time back.

The story is so low key and so slow-paced that I am having trouble in my fourth attempt to get through it. Can someone give me some reason (other than obligation to the group) to keep moving through it. I don't sense anything extraordinary here--and I could be wrong about that; however, lacking that sense, I have no real impulse to push through.

So, if you've read it and would be so kind, drop me a note or post a comment that might give me cause to get through it.

I'd much rather be reading the next book up--Cold Heaven by Brian Moore. (See, Black Robe didn't put me off--Brian Moore has some interesting things to say.

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You Tube etc.

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Intrigued by some of the finds Erik has made at You Tube, I was provoked to go and find some things of my own. I was amazed at the variety and number of things I could find.

However, I hesitate to post them because I am uncertain of their copyright status and I certainly would not want to inadvertently bring down the wrath of the lawyers upon this little place.

But the internet is truly amazing. I can see the Peter Gabriel Genesis, including both Foxtrot and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. I found several clips from Curved Air including the very lovely "Melinda, More or Less," and the haunting "Marie Antoinette" (both from the superb album Phantasmagoria. I was able to find some of the Annie Haslam Renaissance and performances of works by Gentle Giant, Christian Vander's Magma (a jazz rock fusion group that sings songs of alien societies in a completely made up language), the Robert Fripp incarnation of King Crimson, Aphrodite's Child (which gave us Vangelis), T. Rex with Elton John playing "Bang a Gong," John Foxx, Ultravox, Gary Numan, Lene Lovich, and too many others even to list. Suffice to say a cornucopia of the odd, the weird, the wonderful, the beautiful, and the absurd. What an archive of culture. Where else might you find performances by The Residents (including an excerpt from The Third Reich and Roll Album and Tuxedomoon (a mention of which at Erik's site sent me off on this search to start with.

Now my Amazon Wish-List is crammed full of what I used to listen to and had largely forgotten when my vinyl became more or less obsolete. Bill Nelson, Be-Bop Deluxe, Klaus Schulze, PFM, Nash the Slash, Joy Division, Nick Drake. . .

and so it continues. Amazing things. There were very few even very obscure artists who were not available--Peter Hammill, Jan Akkerman, Steve Hackett (not that these are necessarily terribly obscure--but try it and see.)

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Piety and Sacrifice


In Union with God, in a paragraph introducing other instruction, this remarkable insight:

Piety without the spirit of sacrifice. . . is like an organism without a backbone.
--Blessed Columba Marmion

Now, I, for one, am very fond of organisms lacking backbones; however, I do not read this to be a slam of the invertebrate world, but rather the statement that such a situation is akin to a vertebrate lacking a backbone--and that observation is very sobering indeed.

Note: When I first typed and published this entry, I discovered that in the course of typing the quotation above, I had misspelled sacrifice as sacrafice. As anyone can tell, this is an obviously Freudian reference to the sacrum, an important part of any spine.

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Small is Still Beautiful


I don't know what to think about the economic theories of Schumacher etc., although I readily admit to being charmed by the notion of self-limitation, however, here is a blog, Small is Still Beautiful that features the writing of Joseph Pearce. Thanks due to Joshua, The Western Confucian

I don't know what to make of the "subsidiarist" movement. Were it to catch on, I strongly doubt my own abilities to participate in anything like a meaningful contributive way; but then, do I really participate in a capitalist system in any way that regulates the system or makes it a just economic system under which to live? Do any of us "buy responsibly" at all times, or even most of the time?

I must read more about this subject, but as my agenda is full to the brim, it may take a while to get around to it. As I tend to like the prose of Mr. Pearce, it may well be that his "follow-up" will be the first work I tackle.

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A Word for the Day


from Union with God
Blessed Columba Marmion

Be faithful in little things, not out of meticulousness, but out of love. Do this to prove to Our Lord that you have the love of a spouse for Him.

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The Books I Like Best in 2006


Playing off a subject introduced in this post at Video Meliora, I present the books I most enjoyed reading in 2006 (which is not a list of the best books of 2006, because I didn't read many of the books published in that year--that will come after there's been time for the wheat and the chaff to be separated.)

Cormac McCarthy--The Road (a real 2006 book)
Diane Setterfield--The Thirteenth Tale ( a real 2006 book)
Michael Dirda--Open Book
Khaled Hosseini--The Kite Runner
Madaleine St. John--The Essence of the Thing
Muriel Spark--A Far Cry From Kensington
Naomi Novik--His Majesty's Dragon
Thomas Howard--Dove Descending (a study of Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot
Stephen King--The Colorado Kid

In all, some very Catholic books--(Spark, St. John, Howard, and, in a very loose sense Dirda [after all, who else would include Doestoevsky and Georgette Heyer on the list of all-time great writers?)--some very sobering books (McCarthy and Hossseini) and some real fun (Novik, King, and Setterfield).

Two books would have been contenders had I actually finished them--and will probably be at the top of next year's list--

Hammer and Fire Fr. Raphael Simon O.C.S.O.

Union with God Blessed Columba Marmion

Also on the list, but far more controversial: Anne Rice Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.

Further, I must add that those books which TSO lists and I have also read I concur with heartily. (Helena and In the Heart of the Sea.) I'm encouraged to see Mayflower on the list as well. Once always has trepidation over possible historical revisionism.

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Three Kings and a Fourth

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While doing Lectio yesterday on today's gospel, I received the most interesting and compelling message. Now understand, the messages of Lectio are a kind of private revelation, so I don't claim to speak authoritatively on the matter of meaning in the Gospel passage; however, I did not a rather interesting dynamic.

The story is about the arrival of the three wise men/ kings. First, they go to Herod to ask directions from him and discover that he hasn't a clue. What's more, he's really upset by their arrival. And when Herod is upset, so Jerusalem follows.

The Wise Men go to find the Christ Child and they humble themselves before Him. "They rejoiced with exceeding great joy," and all the heavens and all the humble of Earth through all of time with them.

What then is this dynamic? Each of us, in some little way, can be a Herod or a Wise Man in areas of our own lives. By our choices we can make the lives of those around us resonate with our own emotion. We can choose to eradicate Christ and make everyone around us miserable. We can choose to seek Him out and cause "exceeding great joy" around us. When we look after the things of this world, we inevitable choose the former, but when we divest ourselves of them, giving gift of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, we can find joy, and those around us as well.

That is part of the truth of this gospel tale. Joy or terror, solidarity or disunion, love or hate. We choose bit by bit every day, and turning to this story we can see very clearly the consequences of our choices.

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More About the Everglades

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During the brief acquaintance I made with the Everglades in the past few years, I have grown progressively more in love and more incensed at the senseless rapine and uncontrolled growth that threatens this beautiful land. The problem is that the same conservationists who argue for the life of the Everglades also spend their time agitating about the preservation of the environment of the west Houston snail-darter found in a single ditch near an outhouse next to a downtown historical monument.

The excesses of the conservationists aside, the Everglades is a remarkable, indeed a unique environment and uniquely merits much of the rhetoric that has been lavished on it in its defense.

The beauty of this marvelous landscape stems, in part, from the great diversity of ecotomes which dot the national park. While not part of the Everglades National Park, the strands and forests of the Big Cypress show another face of the Everglades--that bayou like deep-green darkness that one associates with much of the coastlands of Louisiana. Large stands of cypress "knee-deep" in black water are homes to ghost orchids, alligators, wading birds, turtles, black bears, and the rare (but I understand slowly recovering) Florida panther. These are not landscapes comfortable or welcoming to human visitors. In the wet season the air is so thick with mosquitoes it is difficult to breathe. The windless heat and humidity can be stifling.

And yet, for those who endure these minor hardships for a glimpse of this majesty, part of the great mystery of God's creation is laid bare--not explained, not simplified, not subdued, but simply laid bare. One becomes more aware of the "two books" that God has written in the complexities of these majestic ecosystems. Imagine, for a moment, trees with a complex system of pneumatophores that make possible life in standing water.

On this brief trip I was made aware of yet more of the beauty. The mangroves were not something that had entered my mind as an integral part of these anastomosing and intermeshing systems of interdependent ecosystems. And yet are the natural consequence of one simple factor--the flow of water.

More later as I unravel my words.

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Things Seen, Things Read

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Okay, first beware:

The dreadful tedium of yet another animated mess--Happily N'ever After. This pallid attempt to capitalize on the genuinely clever Hoodwinked starts from the wrong premise and from there makes ever choice in precisely the incorrect manner to assure maximum adult tedium. The kids may get something from it--but not enough to endure except perhaps on DVD as the iPod gently lulls the mind.

Now to the excellent: Apocalypto. When I first heard that Mel Gibson intended to make another film in which dead languages feature largely, I thought, "Oh goody. More pretension."

Don't judge a film by its pretensions. By turns amusing and truly ghastly; high-school locker room and abbatoir, the film has heart and meaning for anyone trapped in the grinding soul-breaking toil of much of the American Corporate system. The message, in a sense boils down to a simple Simpson's episode. Those who watch it will know what I mean when I say "Do it for her."

A love story, a survival story, an historical epic--the true brutality and horror of life among the peoples of ancient North America is exposed for what it likely was. No PC approach to living in harmony with nature, although that is also shown for what it is.

I haven't said much, but I was moved and enjoyed the film despite the gory and ghastly images that can linger behind. Intense, but intensely meaningful and really beautiful.

And now, for reading. I finished one last book during vacation, a book by an author I had long ago abandoned and thought never to pick up again. The author: Dean Koontz. The book Odd Thomas. I believe I first saw a positive word about it at Julie D.'s Happy Catholic and as our tastes have large areas of overlap and her enthusiasm was evident, I thought it good to try the series. Well, I must confess myself surprised and satisfied. This is not the usual stamped-from-the-same-fabric plot that Dean Koontz churned out in so many early books that he finally alienated me as part of his audience. Odd Thomas has many clever ploys and dodges that wind up in a most satisfying, if somewhat unexpected conclusion.

Odd Thomas, you see, sees dead people. He sees the ghosts of those who pass on--including Elvis who has as many unique features as a ghost as he had as a living person. These ghosts, and other, more unpleasant entities, cue him on on happenings or about-to-be-happenings in the spirit world that affect the world of the living.

A remarkable and entertaining diversion that contains hints of something more. As I continue to read the series I am hoping to see that something more develop. But as it stands, Odd Thomas is recommended reading.

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One Hyphenated Word


In response to this:

"he Democrats' criticism of a troop buildup was not new. But the letter underscored a new reality for Bush: With the new congressional leadership, his Iraq policy will be challenged at every turn by lawmakers."


Congress is not. The president is. That isn't to say that I necessarily agree with the man in his decisions; nevertheless, that is his responsibility exclusively. On the other hand, it is within the purview of congress to withhold additional funds to support such actions. But they are not entitled to run the operation, no matter how much they think they will do better.

Checks and balances. I like them. I like to see them in place.

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Paradise Withdrawal


As if it were not bad enough (from the point of view of the audience) that Florida will be experiencing highs of 84 degrees or so, I'm presently suffering from vacation withdrawal.

I spent much of the time after Christmas in Southern Florida exploring the beaches and Everglades.

A catalog:

An osprey nest and perched osprey, cattle egrets, snowy egrets, great blue heron, tri-color heron, yellow-crested night heron, royal terns, pilated woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, wood storks, green heron, little blue heron, dolphins and alligators galore.

That's just a start. In the course of the trip we visited the Everglades twice--once at each major southwestern/southcentral entrance.

The Gulf Coast entrance is just south of Everglades City near or on the causeway to Chokoloskee. I've passed by it before but never given it much consideration because I couldn't figure out how one actually got to the Everglades from it. Well, the reality is that this entrance allows the visitor to engage one of the ecotomes of the Everglades--the mangrove and estuarine environment. The main activities are kayaking and canoeing along a "wilderness trail" of waterways that the uninitiated are well advised to leave alone. It is not for lack of reason that this area of Florida is called "The Ten-Thousand Islands."

What we elected to do was take the boat ride out toward the gulf. On the way out we travelled through a shallow channel dredged in the limestone sponge that constitutes the state of Florida. There were channel marker signs all of which were populated by Royal Terns. These are black-headed tufted terns with bright orange-yellow bills. They sit almost always with bills pointed into the wind.

Among the thousands of mangrove islands we saw what seemed like hundreds of different types of birds including Bald Eagles and any number of herons, egrets, anhingas, cormorants, and wading birds galore.

The height of this trip, however, was the dolphins. We passed five or six different groups numbering from two to seven. The group of seven, persuaded by the seductive wake of the boat we were in, trailed along for several miles. The mother dolphin had a young dolphin with her that she kept steering into the relative ease of the boat wake. They jumped, played, rolled, and did any number of other things you can see at innumerable dolphin shows. In short, magnificent beyond the capacity of this hastily composed prose to convey.

For now, this must be it. I hope to write a bit later about the beaches and the Shark Valley entrance to the Everglades. In the meantime, may the winter, wherever you are be a little brighter and more pleasant today.

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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