July 2008 Archives

I often tire of hearing how businesses should be left alone to regulate as they see fit--that governmental interference in the workplace is disruptive to economic progress.


But then there's this:

from In Praise of Slowness
Carl Honoré

One British manager put it bluntly: "We're in a cut-throat business, and if our rivals are getting seventy hours per week out of their staff, then we have to get at least that to stay in the game."

This is the attitude that infuses laissez-faire economics--people are capital, people are commodities, people are resources to be used and disposed of at will. It is dehumanizing and it is a distinctly anti-Christian view of the person. And if it is not actively protested by those who experience it--if we countenance it, then we are contributing to its continuation. The form of protest, the one I use most often and which offends nearly no one is to refuse to say "We don't have the resources for that." I always say, "There are not enough people for that" or "We do not have enough staff to manage that." It's a small way of continuing to point out that people are people and staplers and paper are resources.

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From Soren Kierkegaard


Found in the book cited below:

Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.

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Nature and Humanity


from In Praise of Slowness
Carl Honoré

A recent study at Texas A&M University found that having a view of green spaces from the bedside window helped patients recover from surgery more quickly and with fewer painkillers. So hospitals are installing outdoor gardens, revamping wards to provide more sunlight, plants and green views and broadcasting footage of dolphins swimming in the sea or streams gurgling through sun-dappled forests on in-house TV channels.

Why should it come as a surprise or need any research to discover that humans respond well to their natural environment? We have made such a ritual of our divorce from nature in everything from the food we eat to the places we live to the ways we move about the face of the Earth, that we have forgotten that we are bound inextricably with nature. Indeed, St. Paul tells us that with the fall of humanity all of nature fell as well, descending with the fallen race to support and aid us in our miserable fallen existence. It is God's mercy that we are part of this wonderful natural world, and through our own ignorance we constantly try to deny it.

Later (and please note I can neither comment upon nor do I endorse the therapy mentioned):

Caleta combines reiki with other techniques to heal and ralx. She starts off by steering the patient through a deep-breathing exercise, and then uses guided meditation to help them visualize a peaceful scene in nature. "People who live in cities respond especially well to making that connection with nature,"she says. "It really calms them down."

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Our Hideous Culture


Today in e-mail I received one of the more hideous come-ons I've seen in some time. I hesitate to share it because it was so awful; however, to blast it, it must come into the light.

It was a note that something about pain and suffering and the only line of the e-mail was "Jolie twins die of post-natal complications: see-it."

The awfulness of this knows no bounds--that someone would seek to exploit the prurience and the compassion of people in this way is indicative of just what kind of people we have become. The culture of death is in the ascendant (as if we had any doubt) and this is simply one of the pustules that form as a result.

If there were some way to reach through the internet and shake some sense into people, a note like this would certainly provoke me to do so.

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from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (DRC)

11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual grace, to strengthen you: 12 That is to say, that I may be comforted together in you, by that which is common to us both, your faith and mine. 13 And I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that I have often purposed to come unto you, (and have been hindered hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles. 14 To the Greeks and to the barbarians, to the wise and to the unwise, I am a debtor; 15 So (as much as is in me) I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are at Rome.

from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (KJV)

11For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;

12That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.

13Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.

14I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.

15So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.

In Greek

Paul expresses his longing to see the Church of Rome. This has been a goal of many of his missionary trips and he had yet to set foot in the place. Little did he know that soon enough he would find his last residence there.

The purpopse of his mission to Rome? This may be among the more beautiful sentiments and emotions expressed in this letter--"that I may impart unto you some spiritual grace, to strengthen you: That is to say, that I may be comforted together in you, by that which is common to us both, your faith and mine. " For mutual strength and comfort. In the company of believers, even believers we have never met, if we are rightly focused, we should experience this mutual aid society. I know that when I walk by a cubicle where there is some evidence, no matter how small, of Christian belief, I am comforted--there is a sense that here is someone else upon whom I could rely for prayer and support in the midst of the storm. To this end, I have discretely displayed six different small icons and a plaque bearing the biblical admonition, "This is the day the loard hath made, let us rejoice and be gald in it." And having these, I have been approached from time to time to pray with others who are undergoing trials. Openness about our faith is something Paul will mention again--indeed in the verse that follows today's passage, when he launches into the profound theological reflections that make up the body of the letter. However, he touches on one of the reasons for it here--when we are in community, part of the body, we should support one another as the body supports all of its parts. It isn't an option, it is a requirement of a fully functioning body. Indeed, we don't have the "option" to respond to calls for prayers from those around us, we have the responsibility--prayer functioning something like the lungs, heart, and immune system of the body as a whole.

Paul goes on to say that he has often thought of coming to Rome, but the providence of God has not yet determined the time for it. The love that comes through these words, while expressed in something of a restrained fashion, perhaps because of the need for translation, is rooted in Christ and profound to the depths of St. Paul's being. If we refer to the Greek, the first word expressed in verse 11 is much more plangent than , "I long to see you." The Greek word means to yearn after or intensely crave possession. Longing is nice, but yearning speaks of a deeper beat of the heart. And part of this yearning is for what is expressed in verse 13, he longs to come to help the people within the Church to grow and to help the Church itself to grow in numbers (that I might have some fruit among you.)

Verse 14, while still within the salutation and greeting, begins a theme that will be repeated throughout the letter. Paul notes that "To the Greeks and to the barbarians, to the wise and to the unwise, I am a debtor." Which is to say, that Paul takes the wisdom of God from where it is to be found--sometimes with the wise, sometimes with the simple, sometimes with the people who profess His name, sometimes with those who know Him but dimly. It is a credo of courage and the root of the Catholic tradition. It is why the Church was unafraid to translate the Bible into many languages (after a time) and also why the liturgy is so constructed as to reflect some elements of the culture in which it is celebrated without altering the eternal center of the Mystery celebrated. There is wisdom to be found all around us--God speaks to us through the people we meet and the events that occur in the day. If we screen out ninety percent of what He has to say because it does not come from an approved source, then we deprive ourselves of enormous benefits potentially available to us. We should follow St. Paul's example and be indebted to wise and simple, greeks and barbarians.

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This morning, for some reason, I was piqued to the point where it has flowed over into writing by thinking about some arguments I've either heard elsewhere, or fabricated in my head against voting.

First, let me make it perfectly clear--I have no problem with a deliberate, conscientious choice not to vote. I'm not certain, for reasons I'll discuss below, that I could make such a choice; however, there is a sense in which deliberate abstention is a positive participation in the governmental system (although I do have one question about this that I will ask after I limn the arguments to which I object).

The first, and possibly easiest to dismiss, is the political theory that by voting you give consent to the outcome. The very act of voting means that you are agreeing to the results. This is sheer nonsense as political and moral theory. You can in good conscience vote and NOT agree to the election of the candidate of opposition--you are not morally tied to that candidate in any way. Indeed, it would be as true to say that by living in this country you give consent to the outcome of the elections because you agree to be governed by the results. This is the argument under which Alec Baldwin decided that if Bush were elected he would leave the country (unfortunately, he reneged). A vote is an expression of will and if we will one thing we do not will its opposite (or at least so it can be with many of us). But the individual will is not all that is in operation in an election and under our system of government it is the will of the majority that is expressed in the results of the election. Jesus told us we are the salt of the earth--hence we are not the predominant flavor in most cases--our will is not likely to carry in a strictly secular society--but our influence within that society--including within the voting booths, can "flavor" the way we live.

A second argument that I may have misunderstood or that I may be misrepresenting here is that your vote doesn't count--it doesn't matter in the broad scheme of things. This also is nonsense reductionism. Under this argument the only vote that really counts is the single vote that decides the election and if that isn't yours, the vote doesn't count.

Every vote counts--every vote is an expression of will, a matter of desire. Every vote contributes infinitesimally to the outcome of an election. Not every vote is a deciding vote. The election does not hinge upon each individual choice. However, it does hinge upon the choice of the majority. In order for there to be a majority, there must be some number who are actually voting. If people whose will aligned with yours decided to stay away from the polls in droves, the election could have a different result. In this sense, every vote is decisive. It expresses your will and it contributes to one of the groups that will ultimately decide the outcome.

Mathematically, does it matter? Not to astrophysicists and persons working with gross celestial mechanics for whom 3 is a good enough approximation of pi. But in the mathematics of finite divisions, and most particular in the very fine math of chaotic dynamics, where a difference in the value of the thirtieth decimal place is expressed after four or five iterations, it does. Elections are more akin to chaotic dynamics than they are to celestial mechanics. (And probably bear even a closer kinship to some aspects of game theory.)

The end point is that every vote does count. Every vote is not decisive for the country, but it is so for the individual. Neither of the arguments expressed is a good reason for not voting.

There is one last point I promised to make above--the question of conscientious non-voting. If we grant that a single vote does not count for anything (a point I don't concede), then one must ask how conscientious non-voting can be reasonably distinguished from amoral or apathetic non-voting. Non-voting on principle seems to be indistinguishable from staying home and drinking beer because you just can't be bothered. Now, if we grant that a single individual can be influential (i.e., a vote counts) and that individual speaks up even to a small group about why she or he is not voting, then the picture comes into focus. But if we hold that a vote is meaningless, so too then is the distinction between non-voting on principle and non-voting as apathy.

One final point that rately comes up in the argument about voting. Much, it would seem, depends upon your view of voting. Those who hold with non-voting as an allowable discipline would see voting as a option or privilege--something one chooses because one may do so. That is a viable view--not one I agree with, but certainly one that could be argued with some validity. However, I hold that voting is not an option or a privilege, but the duty and responsibility of every citizen of a free republic run in a democratic fashion. Because I believe this, I am bound by it. (Fortunately for the rest of the world, no one else is bound by my conscience.) For those who regard voting as a privilege or option, non-voting is a meaningful expression of opposition to the current regime. To those who regard voting as the obligation and duty of the citizen, non-voting simply isn't an option. And I'm not certain that there is any way in which to easily alter this fundamental difference in viewpoints. I've tried to argue myself around to not voting--it would be by far and away easier and much less troubling to my conscience; however, no matter how I phrase the argument, no matter how clear I make the points, there is a part of me stubbornly resistant to that persuasion. I've learned, after hard experience, to trust that resistance--it is part of the still, small voice that sometimes speaks to me. And that still small voice speaks to each of us as we are here and now. In this case I do not know that there is a definitive right or wrong in a moral sense, and so what that voice says depends upon the entire aggregate of who each one of us is. As a result, I don't have leave to tell someone else that they are obligated to vote, although I can make the citizenship argument.

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from The Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (DRC)
8 First I give thanks to my God, through Jesus Christ, for you all, because your faith is spoken of in the whole world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make a commemoration of you; 10 Always in my prayers making request, if by any means now at length I may have a prosperous journey, by the will of God, to come unto you.

from The Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (KJV)

8First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

9For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;

10Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.

In Greek

Here, we learn something interesting about the Roman community--Paul has yet to visit them. He writes from Corinth--most scholars place the date of the later sometime in the fifth decade of the first century--perhaps 52 A.D. Paul is about to embark on a journey to Jerusalem to deliver some of the money and relief he has received from the Churches in Asia Minor to the Church at Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, he will be arrested and imprisoned for the final time--and he will at last achieve his goal of traveling to Rome.

In the words of greeting, Paul at once expresses his deep love for the Church of Rome, his desire to go there, and his constant prayer for them. He is the role model for intercessory prayer, demonstrating in thought, word, and deed that one can pray for people one has never seen.

Because Paul has never visited with the Romans, the letter has a peculiar character. Most of the other letters attempt to address an immediate problem within the community. However, the letter to the Romans does not do so. Instead, it is a deeply theological reflection on the meaning of Christianity and of the salvation that God has fashioned for all people through time.

(The substance of this entry is derived from the introductory material to William Barclay's The Letter to the Romans, excerpts of which are available here.)

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I continue to read through Soul in the City and while there is nothing astonishing here, there are a great many insights that are thought-provoking and even, as my protestant friends would have it "convicting."

fromSoul in the City
Marcy Heidish

"There are some peoplewho, in order not to pray, use as an excuse the fact that life is so hectic that it prevents them from praying. This cannot be," wrote Mother Teresa of Calcutta. "Prayer does not demand that we interrupt our work, but that we continue working as if it were a prayer" Everything we do, then, can be offered to God in a prayerful way.

If you don't feel comfortable with concepts such as breath prayer, try speaking directly to God. Just speak. Tell Him everything; talk to Him. "He is our father," Mother Teresa said. "He is father to us all whatever religion we are."

Add insights from Saints and holy people of all faiths, to outright challenges at the end of each chapter:

[source as cited above]

5. Begin to see God in each person you pass in a crowd. Practice this slowly for one block, then two block, then more.

6. Pray silently in a crowd. Deliberately note when you're intent on holding your own in an urban setting.

10. When you're walking downtonw or in an urban settings, try this mental exercise: imagine being part of a crowd swarming around Jesus. Do you behave differently? Is your attitude different? Note these times in a journal.

Ms. Heidish write's particularly for the urban dweller, but her advice holds for anyone who feels hard-pressed by the tensions, anxieties, and heartaches that come with living in a world that is moving far too quickly for us. The warm and beautiful insights of this book can help us to focus once again on the presence of God wherever we happen to be.

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from The Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (DRC)

1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, 2 Which he had promised before, by his prophets, in the holy scriptures, 3 Concerning his Son, who was made to him of the seed of David, according to the flesh, 4 Who was predestinated the Son of God in power, according to the spirit of sanctification, by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead; 5 By whom we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith, in all nations, for his name; 6 Among whom are you also the called of Jesus Christ: 7 To all that are at Rome, the beloved of God, called to be saints. Grace to you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. 8

from The Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (KJV)

1Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,

2(Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)

3Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;

4And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:

5By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:

6Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:

7To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

[In Greek]

First, a note on the Greek site listed above. It is amazing and beautiful--the requested text appears in Greek. Upon mouseover, the word is parsed and defined. My particular reason for using for this passage was to get the particular word in Greek used here for "slave" so that all of the nuance could be understood. (Mouseover and see.)

Second, a short personal comment. While I've undertaken to attempt this way of honoring St. Paul, I must admit from the beginning my own defects in this mission. I am NOT a theologian in any professional sense, nor am I a qualified biblical scholar. For those things that do not spring from my own head (definitions of words and nuances, etc.) I am indebted to any number of commentaries, but in the course of my writing i shall probably rely upon two--one that I've come to trust (William Barclay's), and one that is freely available in any number of locations on the web (Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary), which has a time-honored place in the protestant tradition.)

Third, before comment, allow me to say that this may be the only passage of Romans on which I am capable, on my own steam, of making any intelligible comment at all. I invite you all to share with me as we go along, and so enrich the experience for all of us.

Now to Paul, who was to have been the centerpiece of this entry. In this, possibly the longest of the salutations in the letters, Paul sets out to describe clearly who he is and what place he holds in the line of the revelation of God. We note first that Paul is doulos of Jesus Christ. Quick reference to the Greek Bible tells us that doulos is a word used to refer to a slave--either literal or figurative, and either voluntary or involuntary. Both the DRC and the KJV use the milder term "servant," and that is a shame because it robs the statement of some of its impact and drama.

Because of its origin in the revelation on the road to Damascus we could look upon the inception of this slavery as involuntary and unasked for. However, there is no question that by the time the letters are written, Paul is the willing subject of his Lord--he sees slavery with Christ as more ennobling than freedom without Him.

Matthew Henry shares this insight:

He here builds his authority upon his call; he did not run without sending, as the false apostles did; kletos apostolos--called an apostle, as if this were the name he would be called by, though he acknowledged himself not meet to be called so, 1 Cor. xv. 9. Separated to the gospel of God. The Pharisees had their name from separation, because they separated themselves to the study of the law, and might be called aphorismenoi eis ton nomon; such a one Paul had formerly been; but now he had changed his studies, was aphorismenos eis to Euangelion, a gospel Pharisee, separated by the counsel of God (Gal. i. 15)

From Pharisee separated unto the law, to the new Pharisee, the real Pharisee, what the Pharisee set out to become--separated unto God--in this particular case through the revelation of Jesus Christ.

When we stop to think about it, Paul, of all the Apostles, probably has the greatest thing of all to boast about. He was so valuable to the faith, so important to what was to become Christianity, that he indeed was chosen, directly by Jesus Christ AFTER the earthly time of Jesus. Paul's closest direct encounter (that we have evidence us) was his approbation of the Martyrdom of St. Stephen. God raised up and invited into that elite company of the Founding Fathers, St. Paul. He used St. Paul's genius to inform, enlighten, and reveal much of the thought and understanding that would become the foundation of the Church. That's pretty phenomenal. As St. Paul writes his letter to the Romans, specifically to the Jewish community living in Rome, he is under house arrest for, basically, being a Christian. Not a good thing in the early years of the Empire.

So far we've gotten to the end of the first verse. Small wonder then that most commentaries are extended--although rarely protracted, and often densely argued, examining every shade of meaning of every word. Thus we launch into the second verse, which continues the pedigree by saying exactly who this was who called Paul to the Apostleship of Christ.

Paul is "set apart for the Gospel of God" which God himself had promised through the prophets. (The pronouns and their antecedents are a little unclear in the English translation, while, by their relationship within an inflected language are perfectly clear in their reference.) This gospel, this Good News, is the message of God's Son, Jesus Christ, and in this next set of clauses, Paul launches subtly into the body of his message and the core of the truth of Christianity because he notes that Jesus is and was really human--by the flesh, descended from the line of David the King, but by the Spirit of Holiness (God himself) declared, marked out, defined, decreed, appointed or specified (see the Greek) the Son of God in the Spirit.

Within the first four verses of this book even within the salutation of the Letter, Paul has already laid out a fundamental and "impossible" truth of the Christian Faith. Jesus Christ is both completely human and completely divine--human and God--the incarnation of the Spirit of Holiness that had come upon the prophets of old, who had met with Moses in the desert and who had led and guided His chosen people to this revelation for all people--Jews first and then gentiles.

It is this selfsame God-man who has given Paul the grace to be an apostle and to call all people to Jesus Christ, even those in the Jewish community living in Rome at the time. This community of Jews who are called by God to be Saints, holy people, separated from the world and devoted entirely to God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. To this singular people, Paul commends himself.

So, in a simple salutation, we have the recapping of two thousand years or more of the revelation of God to His people--the final emphatic statement of this revelation the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the Dead. So, we encounter many of the central elements of our faith--essentials of the creed and essentials of our spiritual life before Paul even begins to make his argument. He's barely stepped through the door and he's already opened up the entire revelation of God for his audience. St. Paul is nothing, if not a fast worker, and a worker of great subtlety because he has already tied Jesus to one of the central figures of the Jewish faith and tradition--He has anchored Jesus squarely in the center of the chosen people of God, in such a way that He cannot be repudiated without repudiating the essentials of the faith.

And, I fear, the letter becomes only more dense. However, because I also do, subsequent comments will likely be shorter and more to the point because the essence of this should be the celebration of St. Paul and not the celebration of Steven blabbing on about St. Paul.

Hope this was helpful, useful, or otherwise to your taste. If you are more of a scholar than I am, please feel free to comment, correct, and help anyone who reads here better understand what St. Paul intends.

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Only yesterday did I emerge from my haze long enough to discover that Pope Benedict had declared for us a Jubilee year in honor of St. Paul. I wondered how I might go about making the Jubilee something significant for me and for the community at large.

I have to be honest, coming out of a fundamentalist background, St. Paul was never very high on my list of all-time favorite people. But, I discovered as I grew in my Catholic Faith, part of the reason for that was the way that he was selectively interpreted and sometimes misunderstood. As I came to read his letters for myself with a slowly growing Catholic insight into the meanings, I came to understand him more accurately if still not truly "liking" him.

St. Paul is credited with "inventing" Christianity. I don't think that it was ever part of his purpose to do so; however, it was obviously part of God's plan for him that he should provide some of the foundational truths that would support the fledgling faith when it had been ousted from the synagogues.

I hesitate now, because the enormity of what I would like to do falls about me--but I think I would like to walk through the Letters of St. Paul in the course of the year. Given my own way, you all know which one I'd start with (or at least the three people who still read this on a regular basis do); however, I've decided to try to go through them in canonical order--and that is what causes hesitation. The first of the letters is by far the most daunting and the most fraught with peril. Calvin, Luther, and Barth all wrote enormous commentaries on the Epistle to the Romans. Indeed, it is the thought encapsulated in Luther's commentary that is a lengthy, but still compressed history of the reformation, counter-reformation, and religious strife from then until now. Calvin, of course didn't help, nor did any of the lengthy list of commenters on Romans.

However, as I have no intention of being deeply theological in my approach--wanting merely to share what is possible for an ordinary person with a few study aids--I don't think we have much concern that "Flos Carmeli's commentary on Romans" is likely to break loose with any earth-shaking truths that have not already been said, and said better by many other more capable commenters.

And so the question becomes whether or not to follow through on this venture. I ask it publicly, not so much for an answer as to offer it up to God to see what He might have to say about it. If it would serve His purposes, I would gladly do this despite my own fear of failure. It would be a marvelous way to celebrate the year.

So, we shall see. Until then. . . rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say it, rejoice. Because we can do all things through Christ who strengthens each one of us.

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Humor Circa 1833


from an 1833 number of The New York Mirror

Matter and no matter.

Two metaphysicians debated the question whteher the soul was matter or no matter. "I will prove to you," said one, "That it is matter. Suppose you were to knock out my brains." "That," said the other, "certainly would be no matter.

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Robert de Boron's Prose Merlin


There was a time when a scholar had to order through ILL and wait for weeks or months before he or she could set eyes on such works as Geoffrey of Monmouth's Vita Merlini or Robert de Boron's Prose Merlin. No more.

from Prose Merlin
Robert de Boron

Full wrothe and angry was the Devell, whan that oure Lorde hadde ben in helle
and had take oute Adam and Eve and other at his plesier. And whan the fendes
sien that, they hadden right grete feer and gret merveile. Thei assembleden togedir
and seiden: "What is he this thus us supprisith and distroyeth, in so moche that
oure strengthes ne nought ellis that we have may nought withholde hym, nor again
hym stonde in no diffence but that he doth all that hym lyketh? We ne trowed not
that eny man myght be bore of woman but that he sholde ben oures; and he that
thus us distroyeth, how is he born in whom we knewe non erthely delyte?"
Than ansuerde anothir fende and seide, "He this hath distroyed, that which we
wende sholde have be mooste oure availe. Remembre ye not how the prophetes
seiden how that God shulde come into erthe for to save the synners of Adam and
Eve, and we yeden bysily aboute theym that so seiden, and dide them moste turment
of eny othir pepill; and it semed by their semblant that it greved hem but litill or
nought, but they comforted hem that weren synners, and seide that oon sholde
come which sholde delyver hem out of tharldome and disese?

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Gandhi's Gita


from The Gita According to Gandhi

No knowledge is to be found without seeking, no tranquility without travail, no happiness except through tribulation. Every seeker has, at one time or another, to pass through a conflict of duties, a heart-churning.

Dhritarashtra Said:

1. Tell me, O Sanjaya, what my sons and Pandu's assembled, on battle intent, did on the field of Kuru, the field of duty.

The human body is the battlefield where the eternal duel between right and wrong goes on. Therefore it is capable of being turned into a gateway to Freedom. It is born in sin and becomes the seed-bed of sin. Hence it is also called the field of Kuru. The Kuravas represent the forces of Evil, the Pandavas the forces of Good. Who is there that has not experienced the daily conflict within himself between the forces of Evil and the forces of Good?

This, apparently is Gandhi's translation into Gujarati, then translated into English, of one of India's great sacred books. For those interested, the entirety is available here.

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I suppose it is odd to put these two writers together, and I do so for only one reason--so I'll start with that and move on to tpleasures one derives from Henry James alone.

While there are a great many things delightful about reading both Georgette Heyer and Henry James, one thing the two have in common is a sensibility that seems to have long since fled the world. They come from a world and a time that was not completely genitally obsessed. In Henry James, marriage, infidelity, and the like make up the fabric of the story, but we are not invited into the intimacy of the physical marital union--it is not germane to his point--as it is not germane to most of what we read. It is an add-on that has long since lost its shock-value, novelty, and, frankly, its interest. It's one thing to read Lawrence Durrell trying to turn the literary world upside down (a little late considering he came in the wake of Henry Miller), and quite another to read the tawdriness of most modern novels wherein sex is interjected because there seems to be nothing else to keep the reader's interest for pages on end.

As with Henry James, so too with Georgette Heyer. In most cases her virginal heroines are married or about to be married on the last page. There is always some kiss or another misinterpreted, unasked for, or otherwise "transgressive," but nothing that would offend the sensibilities of my grandmother. And that's exactly as I like it. I have read, at the recommendation of another, some modern romances and have, in some cases, been delighted with the writing, but nearly always disappointed by the perceived necessity to make the stories "hot."

While Henry James and Georgette Heyer both share in this delight, there is another pleasure in James's writing that cannot be said to be a characteristic of Ms. Heyer's. Henry James forces us to slow down. It is nearly impossible to get anything out of reading Henry James rapidly, except perhaps a sense of vertigo and a headache that threatens to split your skull. Henry James, particularly in the later period, specializes in periodic sentences that require slowing down and reading with great care. To wit:

"She hadn't pretended this, as she had pretended on the other hand, to have divined Waymarsh's wish to extend to her an independent protection homeward; but Strether nevertheless found how, after he had Chad opposite to him at a small table in the brilliant halls that his companion straightaway selected, sharply and easily discriminated from others, it was quite, to his mind, as if she heard him speak; as if, sitting up, a mile away, in the little apartment he knew, she would listen hard enough to catch."

Now THAT is a sentence. And The Ambassadors as well as The Golden Bowl is a book of such sentences and more. (I cannot yet speak to The Wings of the Dove, but hope to do so soon.) It was one of my great plesures when the reading group I belong to expressed delight and great pleasure with reading The Portrait of a Lady. There is a sense of accomplishment in just getting through the books; however, there is a lingering element--a kind of spirit of the book that stays long after the last page has been finished and the last word said that provides a sustained pleasure--that gives one a true sense of why Henry James is rightfully called "The Master." There is none other like him, not remotely, and I have to say that it came as a woeful surprise to me that I was unable to pick up much of anything in the way of modern literature after having taken in the real and solid pleasures of The Portrait of a Lady. The modern sensibility palls in comparison. Henry James turns pleasure, leisure reading into an edifying and strengthening activity that delights both heart and mind in the recollection of it. There is no modern writer of whom I would say the same.

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How to Be Enlightened


I excerpt an essay by the Reverend Professor Christopher Seitz, not as a piece of triumphalistic crowing, but to show how similar we are and in what a similar position we find ourselves to the American Episcopal Church:

from "Enlightened American Episcopalianism"
Revd. Professor Christopher Seitz

This needs to be confronted as a reality lest the dynamics of the present season fail to be grasped. Traditional Christians should not assume they are the possessors of a Catholic faith and practice that is being challenged by a new view of things, albeit a new view with a lot of power and influence. Traditional Anglican teaching on the Bible and human sexuality, even granting a range of traditional views on exegesis and interpretation, is not in any position of authority or antecedence, so far as enlightened Episcopalianism is concerned. At most it is quaint and out of date, and need not be taken seriously except as one of several post-modern options. The idea of a range of catholic and traditional understandings of the interpretation of scripture, outside of which there is error and misjudgment, is not possible for even the most generous enlightened Episcopalian. All interpretations are more or less valid, because the truth of the matter is that in the area of human sexuality, anecdote and personal experience are the only arbiters. That is what enlightenment in the nature of the case means. Something is unequivocally true because progressive Episcopalians know this is the case. Everyone else is either an opponent, or someone lacking the proper time spent with the enlightened ones, or is ignorant and culturally backward. But an enlightened progressive will not usually deliver this last verdict publicly because it is more congenial to defer to post-modern accounts of everything being a possible interpretation, or the view that 'enlightenment' comes through shared experience and just more time with the knowledgeable ones.

We can see in this discussion much of the modern Progessive Catholic viewpoint. Fortunately for the Catholic Church, we have a teaching magisterium which serves to moderate the swings we might otherwise take as popular opinion seeks to change centuries-old established tradition rooted in fundamental truth. It appears that parts of the Anglican communion are no longer able to accept the authority of scripture or of Church Teaching. It is possible that many progressive Catholics would find themselves in a similar boat.

That said, it is extremely important to have this agitating progressive voice to constantly speak up for those who we might otherwise find cause to treat quite poorly. It is undeniable that the human animal is a master of making distinctions, most specifically distinctions that redound to personal good often at the expense of others. When the progressive voice urges us to embrace the homosexual community, what we should hear there is not the extremes of what that can mean, but the necessary reminder that we are all sinners and should afford all sinners the love that we ourselves desire. We should not accept homosexuality, but we are absolute required to accept, embrace, and love homosexuals. A long while back Tom at Disputations shared a brief admonition that I had always believed, but have, as a result of his work, been able to place words on:

"Love the sinner, ignore the sin."

That's what we should hear in the cries for reform of progressive Catholics. We can ignore the error of what they are saying and look behind the words for the root cause they are invoking. When Sister Joan demands ordination of women, it is good to look beyond those words at how the Church, and we as members of the Church have or have not treated women fairly within our communities.

We have much to learn from each other. Strip away the rhetoric and see if there is an underlying truth, and underlying sense of hurt that may have resulted from past sins, and then adjust within anything that requires adjustment so that we don't unintentionally harm again.

All of this from the reflections of a beleaguered Episcopalian on the ongoing present pain of his Church. We have much to learn from one another.

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I recently started reading this book, finding the concept intriguing--city spirituality. I'm intrigued not because I live in a city, I don't--but because the concept has larger applicability. I can think of it as the spirituality of those who do not appreciate the crowd, as it were.

A real delight upon opening the book was to find an index, a bibliography, and end-notes, like a real books. So few books on spirituality bother to share the sources from which they derive much of their insight. And with this books the sources range from magazine articles to Holy Scripture itself.

I'm not attempting at this point to review the entire work, just to share some of my enjoyment and the high-point of today's reading.

from Soul and the City
Marcy Heidish

I learned a great deal about praying in crowds from homeless women, especially Nell. She practiced prayer on the street by holding a phrase from a humn, a song, or Scripture with her throughout the day and repeating it to herself--and to God. Sometimes, she said, the phrase was short. For example, "Lord, have mercy on me." Sometimes she would vary this phrase by praying it as intercession, "Lord, have mercy on her/him/them." Other times the phrase was longer.

There is nothing astounding in this--nothing to take the breath away. And yet there is a down-to-earth solid practicality that I find inspiring. To read this is to be reminded that prayer is only a thought away--prayer is a choice, an act of love, and act of will that each person can make his or her own through the true prayer and exertion of the Holy Spirit whose inward work is both inward and upward, translating us into the realm of the Father even as we remain ignorant of it.

I'll share more as I continue to read.

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Perhaps you have noticed that the pace of this blog is. . . well. . . let's be polite and say, "Lethargic." I've slowed down a lot--or so it seems. And yet, what has slowed down is my pace of posting and the raw, anxious gnawing that acompanied a day or two without a post. I came to the earth-shattering conclusion that most of what I had to share just wasn't all that important.

This liberating realization has yet to work its way into the rest of my life, and yet, I cannot but think that if it did, I, and those around me, would be far better off. By slowing down I have an opportunity to pick and choose amongst the inanities I would share with all. That means fewer inanities and a more patient reader population. (One must wonder about those who hang about waiting for the newest post, but one is grateful nevertheless that such maunderings have a following, no matter how small.)

So things go slowly, and I hope that I can move the slowness into matters that are far too rushed for me.

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Welcome to the New Flos Carmeli


Well, you've noticed that things have changed and they're likely to change again, once I have a sense of how to use the new controls and a sense of where I want to go in design. However, this is much neater, less cluttered and more straightforward than before so all you're likely to see are some minor color shifts.

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Clapping Music


Ligeti (previous) things of himself as microtonal, here we have macrominimalist Steve Reich. Again, for adventurous listeners.

You have to admire the concentration required for a performance.

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100 Metronomes


While looking for some music to match my mood of present (Alban Berg's Lulu comes to mind as one of the few possibilities), I found this delightfully odd experiment in sound. Enjoy, or, if you will, not, but I did for reasons I can't begin to understand myself.

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This page is an archive of entries from July 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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