July 2007 Archives

One Last Point


Barclay's short study is filled with many rich and meaningful observations. It's impossible to choose among them without also saying that you must read the whole thing. Nevertheless, there are some things that all might benefit from. And for those Christians among us whose inclination is to deride or demean or otherwise detract from other Christians, Barclay has this observation:

from Barclay's Commentary on the Letter to the Philippians

There is a lesson for us here. Paul knew nothing of personal jealousy or of personal resentment. So long as Jesus Christ was preached, he did not care who received the credit and the prestige. He did not care what other preachers said about him, or how unfriendly they were to him, or how contemptuous they were of him, or how they tried to steal a march upon him. All that mattered was that Christ was preached. All too often we resent it when someone else gains a prominence or a credit which we do not. All too often we regard a man as an enemy because he has expressed some criticism of us or of our methods. All too often we think a man can do no good because he does not do thing in our way. . . . Paul is the great example. He lifted the matter beyond all personalities; all that mattered was that Christ was preached.

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Return to Philippians


Another quotation from Barclay's powerful and useful study of the Letter to the Philippians.

When people are in sorrow, one of their greatest comforts is the awareness that others are bearing them to the throne of grace. When they have to face some back-breaking effort or some heart-breaking decision, there is new strength in remembering that others are remembering them before God. When they go into new places and are far from home, it is an upholding thing to know that the prayers of those who love them are crossing continents to bring them before the thrones of grace. We cannot call a man our friend unless we pray for him.

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An Observation


Let me start, apropos of nothing, with a revised line from my journal this morning because it allows me to think about some beautiful things.

"Life without prayer is Life-in-Death."

Originally, I said, "half-life." But then I thought of Coleridge's poem and the remarkable image of Death and a woman casting dice for the Mariner's fate.

from "Rime of the Ancient Mariner"
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Nightmare Life-in-Death was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold.

Life-in-Death wins the Ancient Mariner. And it's interesting that the first part of the description of Life-in-Death is rather attractive in a seductive sort of way. And even white skin is lovely until we reach "as leprosy."

Life without prayer is succumbing to Life-in-Death--a life of sensuality that misses the point of life at all--not really living, but living in Death.

We have a choice--God or anything else because God has made it clear that He is not a God of half-measures, and He will let us have our choice. Not easily, He'll fight for us, but if we insist, He will not overwhelm us and subdue our wills to his choice.

And so, life without prayer is life without God and not a life at all.

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Keeping Perspective


Here's a passage from William Barclay's commentary on (what else) The Letter to the Philippians:

On the day when Christ comes it will be like the coming of a king. On such a day the king's subjects are bound to present him with gifts to makr their loyalty and to show their love. The only gift Jesus Christ desires from us is ourselves. So, then, a man's supreme tak is to make his life fit to offer to Him. Only the grace of God can enable us to do that.

I do not desire the fat of animals--the sacrifice I require is a rended, contrite heart.

Over and over gain we are told that the sacrifice acceptable to God is the sacrifice of a life lived with Him. Like any good parent, God desires not material things that we can "give" Him (because it all belongs to Him anyway), but our love. And our love is best demonstrated in living a life that reflects all that He has taught us of love.

He's not asking the impossible, merely the improbable. We can't do it, but He can, and His grace is both sufficient and efficient.

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Austin Trip

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Will be spending about a week in Austin starting today. Business trip, so there won't be much time for seeing the sites (but I've been often enough that it isn't much of an issue). However, this time I'd like to make a trip out to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center.

I'm not a fan of Johnson and his presidency. I don't much care for Lyndon and his brand of Texas politics, that strike me as being up there with Huey Long and his Louisiana group; however, I've always admired Lady Bird. First, she put up with Lyndon and stood by him for all those years, but second, she was a prominent figure who didn't spend her time being purposely prominent. And what time she was in the public eye, she used to advance the cause of a return to natural beauty before that was the mantra of the mindless pantheist. A return to natural beauty is important for the restoration of balance within us as well. The wildflower research center is one of those endeavors that promotes the good of Earth without pushing it in your face. I know that even the parking lots of the hotels that I stayed in in Texas were filled with Bluebonnets and dozens of other gorgeous wildflowers. And I think it is due in large part to her influence.

As the great lady passed away just a short while ago, I'd like to make this small trip to honor her work and memory and to see some of the marvels of Texas. Hope I'm not disappoint because of the unseasonably heavy rains they've been experiencing.

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Richard Aleas


Richard Aleas is apparently the author of a number of short stories. He has produced his first two novels for Hard Case Crimes, and this diptych, featuring the same detective is exemplary of the most noir of noir.

Hard Case Crime is devoted to producing those noir novels that center mostly around revenge and lose women. About half of the line is reprint, featuring the highlights of past years, and about half in new Noir. Richard Aleas falls in this second category.

His first novel for Hard Case, Little Girl Lost features the usual bag of noir tricks--sleazy surroundings, violent crime, and uncertain identities. There's double and triple crosses, and of course a bevy of femmes fatales.

His second, Songs of Innocence, is a very hard book and is as dark as noir can get. It virtually guarantees that we won't see this detective again. Although anything is possible, I suppose.

The prose of both books is really nicely done, hard-boiled, noir, and yet intelligent in a way few of these kinds of books manage. Indeed, Hard Case has done a nice job of finding some fairly intelligent stories all round. You read these noir and you get a real sense of what it means to transcend the genre.

So, if you like detective novels AND you like noir with difficult subject matter, these books may be of interest to you. If not, you've been warned and you might want to visit the gentler realms of the Golden Age, or perhaps wander through the fields of Angela Thirkell--no mystery at all.

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No spoilers, I promise, for those who are lagging behind.

Hmmm. Well then, what is one to say? She did manage to wrap it up--something that given the number of lose ends at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince I had wondered how she was going to manage in a single volume.

After all, Half-Blood Prince was an entire volume devoted to the finding of a single horcrux. Given that only two or three of the seven had been found and destroyed, one wondered how the remaining four would be found and put to rest in a mere 750 pages.

And that apart from resolving Snape good or evil, and any number of other tangles.

But she managed it--and as far as plot goes, I think Rowling is amazing. To plan the intricacy of these seven volumes with the care that she must have done--truly an amazing feat.

It is a shame that Ms. Rowling does not hold up well as a prose stylist. At times when she's trying for rhapsodic and lyrical, we get merely painful and awkward. But then Agatha Christies, who was serviceable at prose, excellent at plot, suffered a bit in the characterization realm. So not all writers are equally adept at all aspects of writing. We take them as they come, and Ms. Rowling has woven one of the more memorable sequences of stories in a long time. Her detractors (exorcists and others included) aside, Ms. Rowling's work has an interest, a durability, and a solid spiritual foundation that should encourage generations of young readers to continue their perusal of her work. Despites its flaws, I do not think that this is a flash-in-the-pan, but destined to sit on the same shelf as Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time and C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia--not that it has the profound substance of those two works, but in guided reading and careful analysis, there is much here to educate young people. It may occasionally come in soundbytes: "Will you choose the good or the easy?" but it is there nonetheless.

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A Few of My Favorite Things


I relish the shiny darkness of the empty in-box,

the clean, unfettered desktop

unmarred by files, uncomplicated by links

image alone and unthreatening

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An Explanation


I have fallen quiet of late because I struggle with some facts of faith and life that do not bend to meet my desires. When the arrow of desire is true it pierces the heart of God; but when untrue, it flies like the boomerang to pierce one's own heart--and the rest is silence.

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Seeking the Perfect Line


At For Keats's Sake

And my candidates:

Her changes change her changes constantly--Dante speaking of Dame Fortune

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me--John Donne Holy Sonnet XIV

Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm--Song of Songs 8:6

Undoubtedly, there are others, but these are a start and cause me to want to seek more.

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I write for a site that publishes reflections on the readings of the day and I don't usually reprint these elsewhere because I don't want to seem to be tooting my own horn. Many times I write the reflections and they vanish from my mind as I write them. If someone e-mails me about one that touched them, I have to go and find it again to see what was written.

However, this one stuck with me because I obviously needed the message desperately. I still need the message and so, as a more or less permanent record, I publish it here because I will collect it again in time. May it be of service to you as well.

Whoever wishes to be great among you, shall be your servant . . . . (see Matthew 20:26)

The only greatness that matters is not the ability to lord it over other people, but rather the ability to put oneself aside and serve completely. This greatness is so obvious that too often people cannot notice it.

Think about how difficult it is sometimes to make even the smallest sacrifice--five minutes to listen to the story of a child, a minute to console a co-worker during a rush to job completion, a dollar to a person who has nothing. Sometimes we do these things willingly, easily. But more often than not every demand upon time and resources is a demand.

To be a servant, to give willingly and unstintingly, to be completely at another's call--that is strength, that is greatness. The ability to set oneself to the side and to move forward helping others--it's hard to think of a greatness that could exceed that.

To be truly great, to be great as it really matters to God and to the rest of the world, we must be exceedingly small. Jesus completely emptied Himself on the cross, of dignity, of everything. When we ask for help to put ourselves aside and serve the needs of others, we imitate Jesus.

When we say, "Not my will, but Thy will," we are true disciples. A tower of strength is not the person who stands up for him or her self, but the person who stands up for others, serving them completely.

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Evolution and Faith


Once again, the sweet breath of reason is exhaled from the precincts of the Vatican on this--admittedly the least of issues, but a sore point for me.

Pope Benedict XVI on Evolution and Stewardship of Earth

This is the first pronouncement from the new pope that has me really thrilled. All the rest have been interesting or wonderful but haven't inspired me much. This one is inspirational because once again it seems as though the Catholic Church is insisting that one need not check one's reason at the door.

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Oh Lord, Open My Lips. . .


The other day, Tom, at Disputations, wrote beautifully of the prayer, "God, come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me."

It is probably no secret that among my favorite Psalms to pray is psalm 51 which is prayed in full on Friday of each week except Easter week.

Yet, following an ancient tradition pronounced and sanctified by Jesus as one of the seven last words from the Cross, the Church has us prayer psalm 51 every day as the introduction to the Invitatory Psalm.

"Lord, open my lips/and my mouth shall declare your praise" occurs within the Psalm, a penitential psalm--the prayer of one who knows that she or he falls woefully short of the standard set. Every day we are reminded as we start to pray that we are sinners and the Lord sits in our presence and loves us nevertheless. He loves each person with an everlasting love--a love than knows no boundaries, limits, or restrictions. All have sinned and fallen short, but His expectations are not that we will ever find our way on our own but that we will continue to grow into His life. This is perfection--not every action executed flawlessly--not a life lived without error or fault, but rather that as any life progresses, it does indeed progress toward the wonder and joy of eternal life. Eternal life does not wait for tomorrow or the next day, or next year, or next decade--eternal life begins today with the understanding of God as loving Father and a prayer for an increase in desire to please Him.

Thus, the Church starts the day with a reminder of our sinfulness and of our need for perfection--for walking toward God always.

Praise God for the glory of Psalm 51

"For in sacrifice you take no delight,
burnt offering from me you would refuse,
my sacrifice, a contrite spirit.
A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn."

Nothing extraordinary, the human person coming before Him in love and saying, "Once again I've failed, and I am sorry."

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Praise God High and Low

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Today was another really interesting day. It started off in a wonderful morning burst of creativity and was kept up by high-octane excitement and participation throughout the day until the very end of the day. Then came the crushing kick in the teeth.

And I wonder now, what God is telling me in the pattern of the day. And what I hear, whether valid or not is, "Praise Him anyway." Praise Him on the mountains, praise Him in the valleys and the pits. No matter how you feel praise Him and thank Him and ask Him to shine His light on the day--only in that way will it become clear what the lesson for the day is.

I still don't know it, but I can choose to wallow in emotive misery or I can choose to praise Him, and it seems that the latter choice is the better.

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Morning Praise


It's not much, but if it is the only thing I do in a day, it is well worth doing. From this morning's morning prayer (and yes, that is a deliberate echo of Hopkins):

Give thanks to the Lord, acclaim his name;
among the nations make known his deeds,
proclaim how exalted is his name.

If each person who believed in God, who worshipped and paid homage to Jesus Christ as Lord and God would spend one moment each day in public acclamation of his glorious name, what might be the effect on the world around us? Not a moment of diatribe, condemnation, doctrinal ranting, triumphalist crowing, or any number of other things that we confuse with praising God, but just a moment spent looking at a flower and saying, "What hath God wrought?" A second with a friend or group of friends when we say, "Praise the Lord," and really mean it.

Sometimes we are too shy about our faith, almost apologetic. One word of praise each day can help the transformation of the world. The effort reminds us of God's nearness and makes us disposed to recognize it in all that is happening around us.

If the Gospel is good news, why do so many keep it to themselves? Praise the Lord, for He is good, His love endures forever.

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What a Difference a Day Makes


Happy St. Benedict's day.

Yesterday was a grinding, churning horror of a day in some many ways I can't begin to spell them out.

But today is another day at Tara and:

"This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it."

Hopefully reviews of three books coming as soon as I have a moment.

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A New Link


Thanks to TSO, a link to a blog new to me For Keats' Sake.

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New Critters


Sent by a friend, a link to a blog that is dedicated to the announcement of the discovery of new species.

New Critters.com

Note: Harry Potter fans might be particularly amused by Dracorex hogwartsia a pachycephalosaur named by Robert Bakker. Had it been anyone other than Bakker, I would have thought, "Yeah, right!" But it seems just right coming from him.


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From Morning Prayer


I suppose I should be ashamed to admit that with my decrease in blogging there seemed to come a decrease in the fervor and content of my prayer life. Why that should be, I am still exploring, but I think part of it may be that I often shared the fruit of my prayer here, thus extending the prayer and making it fuller and giving me time to reflect upon and internalize the personal message I was receiving, while, at the same time, sharing some of the truths of the faith in general. This was a good practice, one to which I hope to return in some little way.

And to start, this small passage from Morning prayer. While I have no real depth of insight into it, nor any profound revelation, it touched my heart while I was praying and I thought I would share it in the hopes that it might also touch your heart with a certain knowledge of the profound love God has for each of us.

from Psalm 65

You crown the year with your goodness.
Abundance flows in your steps,
in the pastures of the wilderness it flows.

Even where there is no ostensible sign of His presence, His goodness is there, making life possible, "the force that through the green fuse drives the flower. . ." as Dylan Thomas might say to us.

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Deceased Equines


Once again, I exhibit my inability to refrain from unconscionable behavior directed at deceased equines--this little bugbear being amongst my favorites.

I don't know why I haven't noticed before this intercession from evening prayer of Monday of Week 2--but whatever the cause, it reminded me to assault the world once again with the "Dare we hope that all might be saved."

from Intercessions of Evening Prayer Monday Week 2

Lord Jesus, grant that all men be saved,
and come to the knowledge of the truth.

For me, this is definitive. If we dare not hope it, how can we be instructed by the Church to pray for it regularly. Is our prayer to be for futility? It seems clear to me that the Church is saying definitively that we may hope for all to be saved if only by the the logic that if we are forbidden to hope it, why then would we pray for it.

So, hoping it is, beyond question, permissible. Teaching it is equally beyond question impermissible.

An interesting convergence.

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Carmelite Convocation

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A weekend in Chicago that started on Friday morning with, naturally enough, a walk from the Hotel (the very lovely Palmer House Hilton, located two blocks from the lake) to the Field Museum--a trek of about a mile. The temperature was in the high sixties, or thereabouts, and the vistas, once you reached the lake, quite lovely. Getting to the lake entailed passing by the "Taste of Chicago" festival, which closes down a number of near-lake streets for a week or more. Must be a trial to native Chicagoans, but those at the festival seemed to enjoy themselves.

The Field was as I remembered it with a magnificent display of Egyptian artifacts and one of the best dinosaur collections in the country. Predictably annoying were the various signs that announced global warming. Several were annoying in a way that only condescending, agenda-driven curatorial signs can be. For example, heading up the entrance to an Ancient Americas exhibit hall was a sign that said something like, "Diversity and change, NOT progress." And all i could think to myself is--yes--not progress--Native Americans no longer die of small-pox--no progress. Mexican natives no longer pull the beating hearts out of living people and tumble bodies down the steps of the pyramid--NOT progress: I could go on, but you can make up your own points. Additionally, the signs were all politically correct in chronicling the disaster of European colonization; the truth is ugly enough without falling all over ourselves with other supposed depredations. Somehow, I just don't see the sidelining of cannibalism (in some places) and torture as particular negative. However, handing over blankets infected with small pox and some of the other European tricks are not matters to be passed over lightly either. However, to say that life in the Americas has only changed, not progressed is evidence of a kind of post-modern sensibility that makes nonsense of the word sensibility.

The second provocative sign was one upstairs near the hall of evolution which stated that 27 (or 24) species on Earth had become extinct since that morning. Who was counting and watching so carefully? This is another example of pseudo-science and statistics masking itself as environmentally correct wisdom. Sheer and utter nonsense--how do they know? On what basis is this statement made? Once again, unsubstantiated nonsense. It was followed by some statistic that noted that the "typical pattern" of extinction was one species in four years. Once again, on what basis is that decided. There should be a commission put together to prohibit wayward curators from broadcasting their appalling and unsupported agendas to a public with insufficient scientific literacy to question the pseudo-facts that are presented to them. However, even questioning these facts puts me in the camp of the eco-destoyers and fundamentalist conservative "stewards of the Earth." TSO, among others, would be willing to tell you how close that is to reality--as I've annoyed many with my ecological ruminations and thoughts.

But Sue was there--body downstairs, overweight head upstairs in an annoying high-reflectivity plastic case which made getting a decent photograph nearly impossible. Fortunately, I had been able to spend some time relatively close up while the fossil was being prepared in Dinoland, Animal Kingdom, Disney World.

The other dinosaurs were spectacular. Equally wonderfully, but unfortunately not bruited as much as it could have been were fossils from the Solnhofen limestone (most famous for the seven extant Archaeopteryx fossils--the fossils included some fish and some invertebrates. However, appropriately given the close proximity of the fossil site to Chicago, the Mazon Creek Fossils got a great deal of play and I was able to linger over Tullymonstrum gregarium for a good fifteen minutes.

Returning to the Hotel, I passed through the noise, sounds and smells of "Taste of Chicago" and enjoyed the ambience greatly.

But to the point--why I'm here in the first place. The Convocation occurs about every two years. This is a particularly important one because during it the Lay Carmelites have been able to bid farewell to our present Prior General, who will be leaving office as soon as the General Chapter votes in a new Prior General. Fr. Joseph Chalmers has been a great prior general and a real friend and spiritual guide to the Lay Carmelites. He saw us through a very difficult period of redirection and refocusing, and continue to encourage us to our vocations. His keynote address was at once witty and touching given that it will be the last he will give as Prior General to the Lay Carmelites of the Provinces of The Most Pure Heart of Mary and St. Elias.

I have to say that the first talks on Saturday morning put me off a bit. They continued the very important theme of social justice that has begun to be made much of in recent years; however, they were more like scoldings or lectures than they were helpful guides as to how to enact social justice. However, the workshops were extremely helpful in thinking through ways in which we can enact social justice without merely haranguing those around us.

Today is the end of the convocation. There are two major talks about Carmelite Prayer and the final Mass of the convocation. I leave with unalloyed good feelings. The first two talks, initially disorienting and perhaps off-putting, have been placed in a reasonable and coherent context, and the final talks promise to be useful guides to continuing our Carmelite journey. One of them will be given by Dr. Keith Egan, who yesterday led a brilliant workshop on Silence and Solitude.

I probably will not report more about this; however, I wanted to say how pleasantly surprised I have been by the friendliness and pleasantness of the city of Chicago, how very much I've enjoyed my stay in the city, and how wonderful, worthwhile, necessary, helpful, and fulfilling the convocation has been. Perhaps the experience will provoke me to post some of the fruits of the convocation in later days.

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

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