Steven Riddle: May 2005 Archives

The Amber Room


Even for a light thriller, this was a disappointment. Although author Steve Berry sets up and interesting scenario, the denouement was a bloodbath of unparalleled and utterly unforecast and unnecessary violence. The plot and characters reeked of Ubermensch and the storyline nearly fell apart about midway through. Utterly unconvincing.

While the book has been compared to The DaVinci Code there are few, if any similarities. The puzzle is not so neatly constructed and the writing might, if anything, be a step below that of DaVinci. Yes, I know the Catholic community reserves its special animus for Mr. Brown's magnum opus--but the writing is not nearly so bad as that of at least two Catholic writers I can think of off-hand, and for thriller stuff, not nearly as bad as a good many I have read--Mr. Berry's opus among them. On the other hand, this was a first novel, and there are glimmers here and there of real ability, so it is with something like anticipation that I look forward to reading The Romanov Legacy although another work by a Spanish author will intervene.

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TSO recounts the angst of choosing among many possible books to back for one's vacation. Much of this horror is allieviated in the light of the all powerful PDA, which allows me to pack literally thousands of (public domain) books in a small 8 oz package--no extra luggage weight, less angst.

Nevertheless, the time looms for my own vacation and it is with some trepdiation that I face similar packing difficulties. The problem is the slew of books not available in public domain and not legitimately available as e-books.

So, I too face the same problem. The categories of reading are as always: Fiction, Poetry, Spiritual, and non-ficiton of some sort. I don't read as much history as TSO, so I'm likely to pick up a Richard Pickover or a Benoit Mandelbrot or a Simon Conway Morris. This time I've got a distracting little tome on Intelligent Design. Also I'm going to stay with my green friend in Naples, so a little Pat Buchanan might be in order, simply as fuel for the fire. There's an enticing little prospect at the library titled Men in Black and chronicling the judicial usurpation of legislative authority.

As for TSO, I will help him with unasked-for advice. Take Helena--read it, savor it, enjoy it. It's a wonderful book for vacation or otherwise. In fact, anyone taking a reading vacation--take Helena--the least bitter of Waugh's books and perhaps the best biography (because he gave himself leeway to use his real talents in the composition of it). Helena is a light read and a heavy read all in one. You don't need to labor over it, the prose dances and sings, the novel speeds along in its course to the end--completely satisfying in every regard. Truly a work for any time, any where. (And if you don't like it, well, as far as this blog is concerned, opinions are a dime a dozen and you get what you pay for.)

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History of My Errors: Part II


This time, a 2005/2002 time warp.

The Space Between

More times than not,
the space between
dominates all.
You cannot be
closer if there
is no distance
to begin with.

Living spaces
filled. The space where
I wait for you.

Because there are
open spaces,
places made for
fillling. And with
You the pattern
is completed
as no other.

Frozen instants
when nothing is
and one second
flashes over
into the next.
Those strained spaces
flash on and off
with passing time
so fast no one
else can see them.

I say say you
love me in a
space between soup
and meat between
myself and cool
sheets. I say show
me as space turns
on and off. I'm
sure you can't fill
the space between.

So I'm surprised
again as you
never fail to
fill the empty
spaces your lips
against mine, our
bodies bending
the space between.

© 2005, Steven Riddle

And the original--actually the third revision circa 2002

The Space Between

More often than not,
the space between
dominates. You cannot be
closer if there
is no distance
to begin.

More simply:
the space between seconds
makes time flow evenly.
Measure it down to
size unimaginable

there is a break
when one second spills
over into the next.

More importantly:
the breathing
spaces, the living

never/always filled,
the space where
I wait

for you. Because some

places were made to be
filled. You complete
the pattern as
no other.

The frozen instants
when nothing is
and one second flashes
over into another.
Those strained spaces
flash on and off
with passing time
so fast no one can see.

I say
say you love me
in the space between
the soup and meat
between myself
and the cool sheets.
I say show me
as space turns on
and off. I'm sure
you can't

fill the space
between us.

So I'm surprised
again and again
as you never fail to
fill the empty spaces
your lips against mine,
our bodies bending
the space between.

© 2005, Steven Riddle

In this case, I didn't formalize the structure as much. There is no rhyme scheme--deliberately, but the line length is dictated syllabically. The plus side of this is that it forces language control and energizes the lines naturally. In the "free verse version" there were all sorts of spacing tricks and line break tricks to beef up what is really pretty lame in terms of line breaks. In addition, there is an odd sort of relativity element that intrudes and nearly takes over the middle of the poem. By forcing the lines into strict syllable counts, I also force the directness of thought. What happens is that the first part of the poem takes on a "Song of Solomon" like love poem quality in which the speaker appears to address God. It only becomes clear in the last stanza that he addresses God through the person most immediately with him. There's still work to be done--but I thought you'd like to see what goes on in a poetry workshop--how things are shaped, cobbled together, taken apart and restructured. In actuality, I had to go back to a version of this poem composed in 1984 to get to the new version. That is why versioning is so important, and why the computer at once does us a service and a disservice. Too often we leave no paper record of all the versions and this is bad because it is sometimes an early or intermediate version that more directly inspires the finished product. Anyway--here's one more example of how to build a poem--and this, as always is awaiting polish.

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You're not going looking for great story. You are not going looking for profound resonance for the ages. You aren't going to learn something about human nature.

And it's a good thing.

On the other hand, you're going because a young one in the house sees paranoid penguin commandoes and knows that this is THE film to see. You're going because you want to see how a New York lion fares in Madagascar. You're going (although you may not know it yet) because life among the lemurs is a whole lot of fun punctuated by moments of extreme terror.

And you do after all like to "Move it, move it, you like to move it, move it."

And, if the little ones enjoy it, isn't it worthwhile after all? The answer, I'm looking for, of course is yes.

Recommended--good for an entire family of brainless fun.

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A History of My Errors

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First, the new version:

And Like Shadows, Flow Away

Meet me on the plain of glass, fly to me
there where we name us the summit of all.
Come to me across the water, I see
you chasing reflections until you fall
in love with a shadow twin. Together
we will bind reflection, shackle shadows
until we, lords of the world though we may
be, fold up and like shadows flow away.

© 2005, Steven Riddle

And the version circa 2002:

And Like Shadows, Flow Away

Meet me on a plain
of glass.
Fly to me there
we are the only monuments.
Come to me
across the water
chasing your reflection
until you fall
in love
with a shadow
twin. Together
we will bind
our reflections,
the shadows that chase
us. And flow away.

© 2005, Steven Riddle

I like the free verse version. It means differently than the more structured version. But I like the meaning imposed by structure. It forces one's hand--you need to make some decisions--for good or for ill. In this case, perhaps to the detriment of the original. But each now makes a statement and the statements are distinctly different.

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A few days ago Tom posted on the practice of prayer with reference to cultivating silence and stillness. In the course of it, he suggested the practice of Lectio Divina and as it was an off-hand reference didn't go much further than to suggest that frequent reading and mulling over scripture was a good thing.

But lectio divina is an acquired process, a kind of training in meditation. Tom's point was not to spell out how to do it, but he suggested, and I think rightly, that even spending a little time with Scripture was likely to be a help in cultivating interior silence so necessary to a productive prayer life.

But I thought that perhaps his brief description might have been inadequate for people who really wanted to extend their prayer time and needed a "method." And lectio divina itself isn't really so much a method as it is a context. Sometimes it is called "praying" the Bible. I like to think of it as training in listening. In reading the Bible we take as our cue and perhaps as a preliminary prayer Samuel's words to God in the night--"Speak Lord, your servant is listening." (Not, as Fr. O'Holohan was fond of pointing out, and we all too commonly are fond of practicing, "Listen Lord, your servant is speaking.")

In Lectio Divina we train ourselves to listen to scripture interiorly. We fill that noisy, echoing interior space with the Word of God so that what echoes within us is divine and the divine helps to silence the clatter of ourselves.

How might one go about doing this? First off, Lectio Divina is NOT bible study. It does not employ the same techniques and it is not meant to achieve the same ends. Bible study can make a very satisfactory prelude to Lectio but they are two different uses employed to two different ends (which, properly conducted should lead to the same End). In Bible study we come to understand the literal meaning of the text and the text as it would have been received by the people of the time. This base-level literal meaning of the text is important in Lectio, but it isn't the end toward which Lectio tends. If we have a less-than-complete understanding of the literal meanings of text, we can still, through the power of the Holy Spirit, pray the text and come to some greater familiarity with God and His ways.

Lectio divina is a form of meditation and prayer. Properly practiced, along with all the other requirements of maintaining a life in a state of grace, it can become a form of acquired contemplation. (If one follows the older forms of "classifying" prayer, acquired contemplation is the highest form of prayer in which our active striving can help to engage us. We must remember that all prayer is a gift of the Holy Spirit, strengthened by grace.)

How does one go about it? First one takes a little time to let some of the nonsense of the day pass away. Some say to light candles, to sit in darkness, to find a regular time and place. All good practices for a start. As you continue your prayer, you will be brought to the practice that best aids it. But to start choose a time and a place and make proximate preparations to the event. That is, unplug or mute the phone, sit still for a few minutes, let your mind race, but always gently bring it back to a place of calm or focus. After a few minutes of calming time, pray simply to the Holy Spirit to guide your prayer and teach you what God would have you know.

Read and interact with the text you have chosen. This is not bible speed-reading. You don't need to get through a chapter in a night. When I was doing the Ignatian retreat I often had only one verse on which to meditate for an entire hour. (An Ignatian retreat is a excellent remote preparation for this entire exercise of prayer.) Often it is suggested that you use the text for Sunday Mass or daily Mass. Moreover, you might use the same text for the entire week. Familiarity might allow you to uncover subtle nuances that you might miss upon a preliminary reading. In addition, it operates to help train you in quiet. When we encounter something that is familiar, we are more inclined to interior noisiness than when we are exploring the unfamiliar. Our minds are lazy and we kind of stroll among the words and find our minds whirling off in all directions. If we have a familiar text to focus on, when can bring ourselves back to what is present. It operates as a kind of anchor.

After you read through the passage to get context, it is good to go back and read carefully. Upon ending your first reading pause and think about what you read and consider a word of a phrase that struck you. When you return to reading, return with this metacognition--acknowledge the word and read the passage in the context of that word. Hear what is said now from this new angle. Listen carefully aslant. What is it that God has prepared for you at this time in this passage?

Spend some time with the passage. If you have chosen a reading from the Gospels, spend time with Jesus, wherever he might be. If you read the story of the woman cured of an issue of blood, where are you in the story. Are you the woman, are you a bystander, are you Jesus Himself? What do you learn from being there in that capacity? This is the use of the imagination. Jesus is present to us in many forms, He is especially present to us in meditation upon the Word. But sometimes we must work to see Him. With time and practice this work becomes easier.

After you spend an appropriate amount of time with the scripture (a minimum of 15 minutes, and in most cases longer is better) come out of the reflection with a prayer. Ask God what he intends for you to take away from this passage. Ask Him what meaning it has for you.

Now, this is where some of the more timid balk. They will say, "But that's private interpretation." No, it's not. Interpretation means that you plan to take what you heard in the passage and spread it far and wide as the definitive understanding of the passage. When you interpret something you are providing an understanding for others. What you are doing in lectio is application to your present place in life. Application amounts to listening to the word in the context of the teaching of the Catholic Church and acting upon it in some way.

When you have completed the prayer time or as you approach its end, review it. What went well? What went poorly? What might you need to change next time to enhance the experience? This is another metacognitive exercise, the purpose of which is to enhance the discipline to more clearly place yourself in the heart of the Spirit. We are always seeking with the help of the Holy Spirit to find our way into the Heart of God. Thus we are always seeking to improve our prayer life.

This is only the sketchiest of introductions. I'd like to return to this topic and discuss in a great deal more detail means by which one can "engage" scripture. One is the meditative exercise I have suggested here, but there are other ways to encounter scripture and to deal with scripture in prayer.

As you can see Lectio Divina is not so much a "method" of prayer as it is a mode of praying. The difference may seem subtle, but a mode of praying is an entire school, where as a method is a single very structured class.

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What can I say? TSO in form rare even for him hits all of the notes exactly right. Amusing, intriguing, entertaining. Go and see for youself.

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I must be among the very most blessed of all the Catholics in the world.

I went to a synod in which the major issues put before the bishop this evening were:

The need for a new Catholic High School,

The need for NFP and a request that it be made a mandatory part of pre-cana

A request for the return of tabernacles to the sanctuary

A request for much greater education, cathechesis, and moral training for Catholic young people and adults.


I found out this evening that our Bishop has granted one parish the indult to serve the traditional Latin Mass.

Only one person spoke up at all in any way of controversy and her one plea was for greater acceptance and love for our homosexual brothers and sisters (she was the mother of a homosexual person).

Not bad at all for an evening that I had honestly (even before other reports) expected to be filled with rancor and strife. I suspect it is one of the advantages of our Hispano-Phillipino mix--God bless diversity in culture!

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On What You Don't See

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I was composing some notes on Lectio Divina inspired by Tom's post of the other day and suddenly it dawned on me--who am I to be composing notes on anything--it isn't as though I have any great insights that haven't been noted a million times before by people far better practiced and versed in this form of prayer.

It made me wonder, how often do I do this sort of thing? For the sake of my sanity and the stability of the blog I'm not even going to try to find the answer to that question.

You see, if it isn't some external crisis, I can conjure enough profound internal crises to plunge me into my semi-annual funk. I don't think I'll do that this year--it's tiresome and tedious and not conducive to my own mental health. So this is just to let you know what you've been spared.

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Diocesan Synod

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Starting this evening and over the next month or so we will be having four "listening sessions" as part of a Diocesan Synod convened by our Bishop. Thomas Wenski is relatively new to Orlando. He was one of the few Florida Bishops who had the courage to speak out unequivocally regarding the judicial murder of Terri Schiavo--although I must say it came rather late in the day. Nevertheless, I regard this as a good sign. I don't know what the agenda is or what exactly Bishop Wenski is asking of us. He wants to have a vision for the Direction of the Church in the Diocese of Orlando over the next several years.

I suppose I'm posting this because I had never heard of a diocesan synod, much less involvement of lay people in any large capacity at all. I know there were lay advisors at Vatican II, but this seems to be a synod called to listen to the people of the Church. Anyway, as tonight is the "listening session" closest to me, I plan to try to attend. I have no idea whether it will be mobbed or empty. I rather hope (and dread) the former, but I honestly expect the latter.

Anyone have any experiences of this kind in your own diocese?

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An Old one

and a new one.

The Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse, which includes the world-famous Ayenbite of inwit.

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A is for Age - further the deponent sayeth not--I try not to think about it-but old enough to remember the later sixties.
B is for Booze - Don't drink--nada, nicht--tried wine for its rumored medicinal properties, yuck--worse than most medicine! Never acquired the taste, takes all my courage to take the cup when offered under both species.
C is for Career - Editing
D is for Dad’s name - James
E is for Essential items to bring to a party - anything with coconut
F is for Favorite song at the moment - Long Black Train Josh Turner or maybe Redneck Woman Gretchen Wilson--really tough to decide--but following on earlier post today--I'd rather look at Gretchen.
H is for Hometown - Pensacola, Florida (birth), Fairfax, Virginia (by adoption)
I is for Instrument you play - Clarinet--E-flat, B-flat, bass
J is for Jam or Jelly you like - Key Lime
K is for Kids - One
L is for Living arrangement - one story, 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, a billion books and the complete fauna of florida
M is for Mom’s name - Mary
N is for Names of best friends - Gary, Jane, Franklin, Katherine, Christine, Gordon
O is for overnight hospital stays - none
P is for Phobias - arachnophobia (those critters are from mars).
Q is for Quote you like - "Not poppy nor mandragora nor all the drowsy syrups of the world shall ever med'cine thee to that sweet sleep which thou ow'dst yesterday." Iago in Othello (Or Prospero's speech at the end of the Tempest.)
R is for Relationship that lasted longest - Other than siblings, my good friend Tom and my wife Linda (about the same vintage)
S is for Siblings - two brothers
U is for Unique trait - The ability to make anything I'm dressed in look like it came from goodwill without ever seeing an iron.
V if for Vegetable you love - okra
W is for Worst trait -I don't much give a flip about what anyone thinks about me (outside of a very small circle about whom I care greatly). Peer pressure gets my rebellious streak going full force. Not a lemming.
X - is for XRays you’ve had - teeth,
Y is for Yummy food you make - key lime pie
Z is for Zodiac sign--Sagittarius--But I prefer year of the Dog

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Offered to a Co Worker

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A coworker said to me this morning, "We've got so much to do, I'm panicking." Actually it sounded more as we say thinks as "We've got so much to do I'm pannikin."

So I told her, "Young Panicking Skywalker, use the force wisely lest you become Darth Editor."

The movie may or may not be worth much, but at least it gave me that line.

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metablogging thought


In case it hasn't already occurred to someone, it is my constant abiding goal to keep my right hand column longer than my left. However, with the influx and population surge in St. Blogs this is becoming progressively more difficult. But, despite the odds and the difficulties, I will do my best always to bring you the most and the longest, if not necessarily the best. My commitment is and will remain, a right-hand column to remember! (For length is nothing else.)

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I don't think that it is one of the century's best-kept secrets that many, if not most, men in America struggle with lust on a fairly continuous basis. Our culture is saturated with it. There are constant encouragements of it, and outside of our Christian friends, there is almost an expectation of it.

So imagine my surprise when while conducting a Bible study and talking about those things that most threaten us, I gently suggested that the major difficulty in the world today was the plethora of beautiful women. Some women have merely physical beauty--but almost every woman I see is beautiful in some substantial way. That's just the way God made me and I'm not ashamed of it.

Now, I'll readily admit that despite the huge number of beautiful women, I have little chance or real-life temptation. (This is by the grace of God--I'm not one of the more attractive men around--nothing particularly hideous, just nothing prepossessing.) Nevertheless, the number of women in the world is like a constant low-level intoxicant. And the number of physically gorgeous women who are forced upon our senses by the media is truly astounding.

Anyway, I think I've amply explained one man's view of the world. Well, you can't begin to imagine my chagrin when the women in the group said, "That isn't how men think. That doesn't describe all men. What about gay men?"

Well, I can't really speak for gay men. Nor can I speak for all men. But let me say in my limited circle of acquaintance (admittedly not high-powered CEOs etc.) one of the things I hear quite often is that lust is a top (if not the top) temptation they face day by day. Most of them, like me, having no real opportunity, thus no real temptation, acknowledge nonetheless that it is a constant problem. Some indulge in pornography, others in other means of addressing the problem (read here sublimation, if you buy Freudian theory--which I don't). But the heterosexual men of my acquaintance all admit to facing this problem and trying to deal with it. Now my observation of homosexual men and their world suggests to me that this may be even a greater problem amongst them. (Although homosexual promiscuity may be a by-product of no way to recognize and affirm a committed relationship--about this I cannot speculate, nor can anyone else at this time. And, we must also keep in mind that the heterosexual world only ever gets a glimpse of the true excesses of the homosexual world. It's entirely possible that there are a vast majority of non-promiscuous homosexual men. However, living inside a man's body, I can tell you that this seems unlikely to me.)

Anyway, I spent the better part of the session saying that for men the presence and presumed "availability" of some portion of the female population represented every bit the temptation that most of the women there were telling me food presented for them. Now, I suspect that food is not so pervasive a temptation in the female world as lust is in the male world--but here again I enter upon sheer speculation--in fact my thin ice has become for all intents and purposes nonexistent. I don't know that a majority of men are assailed by lust on a regular (if not daily basis), no more can I know for what percentage of women food represents some sense of comfort and security. And I refuse to speculate as it is none of my business. All I can report are the anecdotal evidence and numbers supported by the very small bible study.

Now, let me say, I don't think lust as a temptation comes as much of a revelation. It drives the reason for a great many things--becoming successful, powerful, wealthy; buying the cars men of a certain age buy; certain, shall we say, "mating plumage" behaviors usually involving minoxidil/rogaine or hair transplants; and the extraordinary success of the drug Viagra (which if one is to trust one's spam e-mail must be the product of choice for half of the men in the world.)

I don't know what part lust plays in a woman's world. I suspect that for most women it is neither the predominant nor the most difficult vice to overcome. But again--what can I say? I live in the wrong body to give any speculation as to that. I do know that our society (driven in large part by men's concerns) does try to foist off on women what men would like them to be and to think. Thus we cultivate the image of the "unchained" woman giving free vent to her caprices. I have to wonder whether that is true or an image superimposed on the world by men who would like it to be true.

Let us end by saying, that I don't think it should come as any surprise to women if men admit to being tempted by lust. It should also not come as any surprise that relatively few of those I know act upon the temptation. I know the numbers are larger in the world at large--but some of us have wonderful wives and families which always serve, by the grace of God and the sacrament of matrimony, as the counterbalance to our wildly swinging urges. Nevertheless, it shouldn't surprise any woman to find that "her man" is appreciating the bounty served up every day by a merciful, loving, and extremely generous God. My only defense is that God made women beautiful--it's not my fault if I find them endlessly fascinating, endlessly appealing. But the rule, as in a shop of expensive translucent china, is look but never ever ever touch (if'n it don't "belong" to you.)

Anway, it surprised me to hear that women did not believe that men very often are distracted by women. I get the feeling that women don't have any idea just how much power they wield by simple existence. The feminist movement bought into the male fantasy and did their best in some ways to remove this power base. Smart women still know they have it and wise women seldom condescend to use it.

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Via Summa Minutiae

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Another quiz--reasonably accurate, though I'd rate the influence of progressive somewhat higher--but they didn't give me a choice of Gentle Giant, Gryphon or Renaissance.

Your Taste in Music:

80's Alternative: Highest Influence
80's Pop: High Influence
Country: High Influence
Progressive Rock: High Influence
80's Rock: Low Influence
Classic Rock: Low Influence
Punk: Low Influence

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What surprised me
is that you were
surprised at all.
I thought you knew
what men thought. And
then when it (you'll
pardon the pun)
arose in our
discussion and
you said, "It can't
be that way with
all men." It was
my turn to be
suprised and say,
"I thought you knew."
You shook your head
and said, "I don't,
I won't believe it."
What was left for
me to do but
shrug and reply,
"As you wish. . . but
it is better
for you to know
the way things are."
And smiling you
said, "Not if that's
not the way they
are." And you laughed
in certainty.
But watching you
then, demure smile,
shoulders faintly
moving, I'd say,
nay testify
to its iron clad
certainty. If
not all men then
at least me, at
least now. And now
it is my turn
to be surprised.
This time by me.

© 2005, Steven Riddle

The poem probably could do with a little background. As with fiction, it isn't really about the poet, but it was spawned from an experience in a Bible Study class that I hope to relate in more detail in another post. The lines are a strict four-syllable count to attempt to capture the breathlessness with which certain sudden knowledge sometimes leaves us. The nature of that knowledge should be clear enough in the context of the poem, but if not, then perhaps that is for the better--leaving it to the reader to construct the pretext.

Anyway, poems like this are fun to write and can be very effective in limited doses. I think of Jacques Prévert.

Déjeuner du matin

Il a mis le café
Dans la tasse
Il a mis le lait
Dans la tasse de café
Il a mis le sucre
Dans le café au lait
Avec la petite cuiller
Il a tourné
Il a bu le café au lait
Et il a reposé la tasse
Sans me parler
Il a allumé
Une cigarette
Il a fait des ronds
Avec la fumée
Il a mis les cendres
Dans le cendrier
Sans me parler
Sans me regarder
Il s'est levé
Il a mis
Son chapeau sur sa tête
Il a mis
Son manteau de pluie
Parce qu'il pleuvait
Et il est parti
Sous la pluie
Sans une parole
Sans me regarder
Et moi j'ai pris
Ma tête dans ma main
Et j'ai pleuré.

My poor translation:


He put the coffee
in the cup
He put milk
in the cup of coffee
He put sugar
in the cafe au lait
With a small spoon
he stirred
He drank the cafe au lait
and he replaced the cup
without speaking to me
He lit
a cigarette
He made rings
with the smoke
He put the ashes
into the ashtray
Without speaking to me
Without looking at me
He got up
He put
his hat on his head
He put on
his raincoat
because it was raining
And he left
Under the rain
Without a word
Without looking at me
And me I put
my head in my hands
and I cried.

There's an effectiveness in these short lines, than longer more descriptive lines would undermine. But it's a trick one shouldn't pull too often.

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Via Lofted Nest

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Another interesting Orson Scott Card Essay. Don't know the exact contours of my agreement, but the flow tends to make sense.

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I have not been, until recent date, a country music fan. I probably still am not by the standards of the dyed-in-the-wool fan. I probably won't be populating my collection with the greatest hits of Merle Haggard, Travis Tritt, or Tanya Tucker (although given the sea-change in my attitude of recent date, who knows?). However, I have acquired a taste for certain new country music. For example, almost anything by almost any of the women of country music--Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Gretchen Wilson, Julie Roberts, Katrina Elam, Terri Clark, Martina McBride. . .

So far the men still leave me mostly cold--they tend to have high tenor voices that grate on my nerves. But I've found a few that I really like. Tim McGraw (on and off), George Canyon, and most recently Josh Turner. What I like about Josh Turner is the deep, smoky, Johnny-Cash-Like voice, particularly demonstrated on the title track of this album.

"Long Black Train" is called a country-gospel song. Can't say that I really understand what all that means; however, it is compelling and interesting listening. Most particularly the chorus:

'Cause there's victory in the Lord, I say.
Victory in the Lord.
Cling to the Father and his Holy name,
And don't go ridin' on that long black train.

(By the way, if you need lyrics this is the place to go. Be warned, it has an unfortunate propensity for pop-ups, which Firefox puts in their place.)

There is something is this chorus that is just catchy. I can't remember much of the rest of the song, but I find myself humming along with the chorus and even singing it to myself. It's good to have the reminder that "there's victory in Lord." And it's nice for it to have a hook that sticks with you.

On a side note, yesterday I was listening to some Johnny Cash (yes, I know he's classified as country, but I've never really thought of him that way), an album called My Mother's Hymnbook. A song came on that had Samuel suddenly joining in from the back seat. I had never heard it before, but it was another one of those punchy Baptist Hymns that get inside your head and won't fall out. This one was called "Do Lord."

Do Lord, O do Lord, O do remember me,
Do Lord, O do Lord, O do remember me,
Do Lord, O do Lord, O do remember me,
Way beyond the blue.

(If you haven't heard it before you can listen to a rather polka-ized over-droned midi here.)

Well, this was one obvious evidence of where he's been to school. However, it was amazing to hear him say--"Play it again. Play it again." He loved hearing something he knew--and it's a peppy little song with a bright chorus, and because of its simplicity a real hook that gets inside and won't come out. Given today's music, I don't mind so much a few reminders of the Lord getting in there and rattling around in my head. Sure as shootin' few of those OCP hymnal things that stick around five seconds after you've sung it.

And finally, yesterday at Mass (we went to the youth Mass) we sand yet another song that Sam knew by heart.

Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from heaven above
With wisdom, pow'r and love
Our God is an awesome God

Not your traditional Latin Mass, but it sent me out of Church on fire and alive. Don't ask me why, but the music lifted me up and brought me into His presence in a way few things have done in a long time. I'll be among those who praise the glories of the diversity available in the Mass. So long as you don't mess with the prayers, I can take in a wide variety of Masses. I've been to a Calypso Mass, a Creole Mass, a Mariachi Mass, an African Drum Mass, and several Asian varieties of the Mass, and each was beautiful in its own right. Now, I'm not sure I'd want a steady diet of any of these--but the Youth Mass at our Church is just fine with me. Late enough in the day that I can actually sing, and giving praise to God at my "peak time" is surely worth the time and energy.

Okay, so enough of my peculiarities in the realm of music. If you haven't heard it, I'd recommend hitting up the local public library or a friend and listening to Josh Turner's wonderful album Long Black Train. I really enjoyed every song on it. And it's nice to hear a country music song mention Florida, even if it is only in terms of a place you want to get away from.

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Two Poems

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Florida Easter Song

I live in the land of the lizard king,
brown anole, and green tree frog.
Orchids here catch the sun
on back porches
and light
the night
as bright torches
with the scent of honey.
On the lake, what looks like a log
moves by itself--gator ripples that ring
out into the moonlight. That shriek--frogs sing
to find mates. Soon the night is done,
And Our Lord's victory is won
as all things rise on daylight's gaudy wings.

© 2005, Steven Riddle

This is a sonnet with a progressively decreasing syllable count and a rhyme scheme of abcdeedcbaacca. I'm not completely satisfied with it because it seems to me the end is too rushed--probably too big a topic to fit into this compressed version of the sonnet. Nevertheless, I am particularly pleased with the sound-pun in the last line where "gaudy" suggests "Godly." I provide these insights because I am often interested in how others think about their writing and what they are doing. It may give you perspective on intent, it may not. Hope you enjoy the poem. And now for something completely different.

Song of Creation

You have heard, but have you listened? The tale
of the stork clatters out against the dark
purple of the evening, and this noise marks
the start of the tale. You listen but fail
to make sense of the story. The pond and
the wood are too distant, too alien--
the words cannot make sense. You see God's hand
in the lowering night, and wonder when
the Word He sends can be heard and heeded
by you, by those around you. You don't know
why the heron and wren know what's needed,
and men are so reluctant and so slow
to understand--the evening and the night
the stars, the moon-- all God's created things
Rejoice with a great glad noise, without shame,
Man alone pines, mourns, walks as though he's lame,
Til one Man returns to teach him to sing.

© 2005, Steven Riddle

A poem is too short to allow anything to go to waste, even the title. I'm of the opinion that poems are better for titles, but the title should not give away anything already present in the poem. It should, if possible, provide a light to see the poem somewhat differently than one might without the title. All of that seems perhaps a little pretentious and it is mere poetic theory, but as poetry is compressed speech, I think it best to make the most of the least.

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Why do we refer to four last things?

Death, Judgment, Hell, and Heaven.

Now, everyone experiences the first two without exception--but the last two everyone experience only one of. Thus experientially they will be the three last things--Death, Judgment, Hell or Heaven.

Now one could say that there were five last things if we were counting this way--Death, Judgement-general, Judgment Particular, Hell, and Heaven.

It's just one of those curious anomalies that make me wonder. Probably the Medieval equivalent of one of Rev. Schuller's ubiqitous acronyms. The triads of the Island of Britain--Troiedd ynys Prydein were written for mnemonic purpposes and I suppose listing hell and heaven separately and counting all as four makes more sense from the mnemonic sense.

And then--speaking of mnemoics, what about the book of Proverbs that tells us things like, "These two things does the Lord despise, yea! these three things he will thrash eternally."

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Becoming Who We Are

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from A Path Through the Desert
Anselm Grün

A brother asked Abba Agathon about fornication. He answered, "Go, cast your inability before God, and you shall find peace." Agathon 21

. . . Old father Agathon shows us another path. We are asked, simply to throw our inability to come to grips with the secual aspect of our nature before God. Then we will ceas to be dominated by it. We must not accuse ourselves, therefore, of not being able to come to terms with our sexuality. We must not grit our teeth and think we ought to master it completely. Our secuality is a part of ourselve,s and awe cfannot prevent it from raising its head: indeed, we must expect it to do so. But we must not dramtise it: rather, we should accept it as a fact and hold our inability out to God. This will give us peace.

It may be an exaggeration to say that every man in America (possibly in the world) struggles with his unruly nature. (I can't speak for women, not being Teresius.) However, if it is, it is not much of one. I don't think the struggle is all that tremendous in some--that is, there is never any real "danger point" that one would leave one's vowed spouse (more often enough because we keep the object of temptation someone or something unattainable--but also for other reasons). However, the point of temptation is that you cannot know for certain.

As men, we admire the beauty of women. Admiration can stray over the line when those we admire are closer to us than say, Halle Berry or Faith Hill or Shania Twain. We cannot know for certain that it will not happen.

Or, to quote Sponge Bob, can we? Agathon suggests a way to do so--that is, not to pursue the struggle ourselves, but to cast that whole passel of temptations onto the Lord. If we choose to pursue the struggle ourselves, we will unquestionably lose the battle. There will be no hope for us. But, if we choose not to engage in the struggle, to admit the attraction and to admit that the attraction presents danger, then we can offer that to the Lord who will use the sacraments, most particularly the sacrament of matrimony to strengthen our determination to do what is right. If we rely upon our own will power, we will fail. Without question, we will fail.

And this goes equally for those who are single or who are wrestling with other aspects of their sexuality. So long as it is our will power that we are relying on, we will fail. So long as we make this the defining limits of our lives, we will fail. So long as sexuality is our defining paradigm, we create for ourselves temptations and problems that could be abated by casting all these temptations before the Lord and asking Him to take them up. We don't need to constantly redefine ourselve sexually--we don't need to prove anything to anyone. We need to submit to God's will and to give Him everything that strays from His perfect will.

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O Felix Culpa

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I hope these notes make sense to someone other than myself. This is a matter to which I have given a great deal of thought over the past few days, weeks, months, and years. And as always, I submit them respectfully to correction lest they be theologically incorrect and lead anyone astray--please correct their excesses.

Oh happy fault/guilt that wrought for us such a savior.

Let's start with a premise that I think will be acceptable to most Catholics--God is not stupid and He knew what He was about in the act of creation. All three persons participated as is evident from Genesis 1 and John 1--"the spirit moved upon the face of the waters," and "nothing that is was made without Him [the Word]." Father, Son and Spirit were all present at the act of creation and in the whole of creation.

So, God is not stupid and God knows all things. Thus, when he breathed life into humankind, when He made humanity an order of creation different from all other creation by making humanity self-aware, already was set in motion all of the events that would lead to His incarnation. That is at the moment God gave us the will and the mind to reject us, He understood and foresaw how we would use that gift.

I am overwhelmed by the love it would take to give a gift that would ultimately lead to the giver's rejection. Think about it--who among us could give a gift that would lead our children to despise us (I mean deliberately)? Who could give a valuable and important thing knowing that it would lead to rejection and hatred?

And yet, at the beginning, when God breathed His spirit into us, He knew already the end to which it would lead. He gave us the gift of free will precisely so that He could reveal to us the vastness of his all-encompassing love. He gave us a gift that gave us the power to reject Him entirely. He gave us a gift that gave us the power to kill Him when He came to us to ask us to return to Him.

The gift of self-awareness/free-will is inextricably bound up with the gift of Jesus Christ. The moment it was issued Jesus was taken in bondage until He would assume our form and break all chains forever. Our free will held God captive through the centuries. Our rejection of love increased His love until the time came when one woman did not reject Him.

I've often wondered how many times God knocked before Mary finally answered. The Bible does not tell us how many said no. Obviously, we don't know that anyone did. And yet through the lengthy captivity and especially in the 200 year silence between the testaments am I to assume that God simply fell silent, not speaking to His people? How many women did He send an Angel to, offering them the chance to be Mother to the Entire creation? How many said no?

Sheer speculation. But what is not speculation is that God gave us free will knowing what we could and would do with it. At the fall, we received Jesus Christ as our slave (although we did not know it.) God himself became nothing to serve His own creation. If that is not love, what is?

I think about this and I think that God knew what would happen and committed Himself to giving everything to ungrateful humanity. His love was so vast that he could endure the rejection of ages culminating in His own experience of Death. There really are no words to articulate the feeling this inspires within me. I can say nothing that makes any sense of the overwhelming realization of how much God cared for me and for humanity.

God loved us so much that He made us what we are despite what He knew would result. That happy fault gave us God Himself, whom we rejected and killed, and who, after all of that continued to love us.

Talk about Amazing Grace!

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1. Total number of books I've owned.

The answer to this question is truly frightening. The current accurate census is about 15,000 this does not include last week's bookstore runs. Or the nearly 200 children's books I have waiting for me to bring home. In my life, given the very high turnover rate of my library previously I would guestimate that I have owned very close to 25,000 books.

I should note that a goodone third or so of these are my wife's collection of contemporary Romances/romantic thrillers, etc. Catherine Coulter, Amanda Quick, Jude Devereaux, J.D. Robb, etc. etc.

2. Last book I bought.

A Jesuit study of the books of Luke and Acts, the name of which escapes me at the moment.

3. Last book I read.


4. Five books that mean a lot to me.


The Riverside Shakespeare

The two-fold gems of the English language--unsurpassed and perhaps unsurpassable. Sorry GBS.

Ulysses James Joyce--for two reasons--the professor who taught the course said one very provocative thing that sent me in search of the truth he knew (The Catholic Church), and Joyce himself convinced me absolutely of the truth of the Catholic Faith in the context of the novel. He didn't mean to, but he couldn't really help it--grace always prevails.

Wilfrid Stinissen's Nourished by the Word: Reading God's Word Contemplatively

Carter Dickson Night at the White Priory Not because it was the best of the Sir Henry Merrivale but because it is the only one I own in a first edition signed copy.

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Blogging is wonderful in that it provides breathing space one would not have in ordinary conversation. (Of course it is problematic because it does not allow for expression of nuance one would have in the course of face to face social intercourse.)

I was just by a place where some slapped at me with an off-hand insult. I wrote a response to the core of what they were saying and then a zippy stinger to slap their hand but good. And then, humility interceded and asked, "Why do you feel the need to say this?" The amazing all in one browser back button (or was it window close) did away with one more instance of unnecessary nastiness. Now, this nastiness probably wouldn't have occurred in ordinary conversation as people tend not to be nearly as abrasive in person as they feel they have some right to be in a comments box. But nevertheless, and this is an important point, you can always reconsider your position!

Delete button--the commenter's best friend.

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On Atonement

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Following on yesterday's post regarding how to look at sin, I had a brief e-mail exchange that resulted in the ideas of the previous post and in some odd notions regarding Jesus and the Crucifixion.

I should preface everything I say here by stating that wherever these statements deviate from the fullness of Church teaching on the subject, they do so not out of malice but out of ignorance, and I would gladly accept any forthcoming fraternal correction so that these thoughts, no matter how slight and poorly attended might not lead one of God's precious children astray.

Our conversation grew out of the sense that God did not so much need Christ to die as we needed Christ to die. I think of it in terms of what Jesus told the Jewish people regarding the law of divorce. It was not that divorce was a good thing, or even really an acceptable thing, but rather that it was a thing granted to them because of their hardness of heart. If there had been any other way to break the hardness of the human heart other than the death of God Himself, God would have used it. Indeed, through time He sent prophet after prophet after prophet to tell the people of Israel how much He loved them and how enduring His love was. They could not hear this--they killed the prophets or ignored them. The hardness of the human heart sets diamond to shame.

In a nutshell this is what I shared with my correspondent:

Before becoming a Christian in (mumble) standing, I was a semi-practicing Baha'i (a faith for which I still have deep love and respect). In the Baha'i faith Baha'u'llah was sent to prison as a result of his faith. Let me tell you--"Baha was sent to prison for your sins," didn't hammer home the truth that "Christ died for your sins." In other words, I've never thought that God needed Christ to die to forgive us (and I may be wrong in that) but that we needed Christ to die to believe it.

You know how you never trust something that is really cheap--cheap grace. Jesus went on trial for your sins is a kind of cheap grace. Death, though, we understand at the root and core of being. Christ died speaks to us. Yes I know there's the doctrine of the atonement, which, frankly I don't completely understand, I merely accept as the truth. But the truth in my heart is that someone loved me enough to die for me. That should provoke some sort of

In short, even if our sins could have been redeemed by anything short of the death of Jesus, we would not have accepted it. Heck, look around you today and see how many accept it. In fact, look at the Muslims, who have enormous respect for Jesus as Prophet--they cannot accept either his sonship nor the fact of his death on the Cross to redeem humanity.

The truth is that the stubbornness of the human heart is so great that only the greatest hammerblow of grace can even start to crack the façade of it. God may, in some mysterious way, require the death of His Son to achieve atonement; however, I think it is safe to say that we require it even more.

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A couple of days ago TSO expressed disappointment with 2001: A Space Odyssey. As the first movie I saw more than a couple of times in the theatre, 2001 holds a special place for me. But I think it is an important enough film in one filmmaker's opus that perhaps some explanation of what is going on (as I see it) might be in order.

According to the Internet Movie Database Stanley Kubrick, the director of 2001 has a surprisingly sparse but amazingly broad and penetrating film opus consisting of some 16 films, 11 of which could be considered "major." Starting with The Killing in 1956, Kubrick produced film after controversial film. 1957 saw Paths of Glory, an enigmatic statement about war and responsibility. This was followed up by the first "spectacle" in 1960's Spartacus. In 1962 Kubrick brought Lolita to the screen for the first time. Then, in 1964 we get the startling, amusing, but dark comedy Dr. Strangelove.This was followed by the work in question, 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968, and immediately (in Later Kubrickian terms) by the stark, frightening, and alluring A Clockwork Orange. 1975 saw the bizarre and slow costume drama Barry Lyndon made from a relatively minor novel by William Thackeray. His opus ends with a progressively less successful threesome of films, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut.

Now, Kubrick appears to have a couple of major obsessions in his opus--one of these is the (mis)use of sexuality, the other is isolation. It is with the latter that 2001: A Space Odyssey deals most; and I think of all of his opus, this film is the most exacting delilneation of the nature of alienation. in his entire opus. If we watch his films, from Colonel Dax and Phillipe Paris in Paths of Glory ("Paths of glory lead but to the grave.") to William and Alice Harford in Eyes Wide Shut we see a string of character--Spartacus, Dr. Strangelove, Dave Bowman, Alex the Droog, Jack Torrance, and so on, all of whom are completely alienated from all of those around them. Sometimes, as in 2001, the alienation is dramatically physical, other times it is within the intimacy of the marital relationship. The "repair" of the relationship at the end of Eyes Wide Shut really amounts to a simple seal on the alienation implicit throughout.

Like Orson Welles, Kubrick was a Hollywood outsider. So much so that he made his last couple of films from a studio in Great Britain. He was an outsider in part because he refused to compromise the vision of his films--and that vision is a starkly cool, perhaps even cold and minutely scrutiny of the human condition.

What I like so much about 2001: A Space Odyssey is the way the appeal can grow. From the first time I saw it at a very tender age and was just tremendously excited about the whole science fiction aspect, to my most recent viewing, in which I noted the extraordinary effect of the Ligeti music creating an eerie sort of landscape for the monolith and the tongue-in-cheek use of Strauss waltzes to convey the sense of lightness and freedom that is carefully restrained in microgravity, the film has something for the casual or the careful viewer of almost any age. When you are young you tend not to notice the coldness of Kubrick's view. But when you begin to really investigate the relationship of the Hal 9000 with the astronauts, you begin to see Kubrick's point. Hal and the entire Jupiter Mission spacecraft are human endeavors--human endeavors to achieve a god-like end. As such they "create" an environment and the results of human creation are the direct consequence of the fallenness of human nature. Hal is insane, the ultimate in human calculation and self-protection. And yet the systematic dismantling of Hal the deconstruction of his own creation at the hands of the "god" who created it is startling, sad, and frightening. This is the end of any human endeavor not guided by God. When man's reach exceeds his grasp without a heaven then there is literally hell to pay. The creation of the human mind unaided by grace will always end in destruction. I doubt Kubrick would have expressed the end of his vision in these terms, but the end of the film, which seems so charming and amazing--the birth of the transcendent "Star Child," which makes absolutely no sense at all is left much more vague than the quite direct end of the book, in which the Star Child proceeds to provoke nuclear crisis on Earth by setting off orbiting nuclear stations and satellites. We have seen the works of fallen man and when he is given the power of a god, what can one expect but more of the same. Many saw the end of Kubrick's film as transcendent and hopeful. I think Kubrick was masterful in not going beyond the floating transformed Bowman--in leaving the audience to derive what they can from the end of the film. What I once saw--the promise of transformation and the good that could result, I now see as the terror of transformation and the havoc men will wreak upon the world.

In many ways, Kubrick's films must be "read" as a whole. 2001 does not stand outside the line of his vision, but is the most definitive statement of certain aspects of it. Humanity is untrustworthy, grasping, destructive, and out-of-control. It is hardly surprising that the next film in the opus is perhaps his greatest expression of the destructive potential of humankind set free from any circumscribing bounds. A Clockwork Orange is not necessarily, as many would have it, a polemic against the state rehabilitation of criminals. Rather, I think it is the ultimate statement that fallen man is a criminal who cannot be redeemed by any human means because such redemption would only lead to destruction in some other form.

The greatness of Kubrick's 2001 is not merely a greatness in isolation. It is one facet of Kubrick directorial vision and his vision of humanity, fiercely and plangently illuminated by the experience of physical isolation and the abnormality of circumstances. It is the melding of story, framing of image, music, and each individual element of the film that gives 2001 the deep resonance it has as a film. It is unsurprising that, like most of Kubrick's work, it tends to leave many adult viewers cold. That is precisely what Kubrick was aiming at. If there is any word to describe every element of his major opus, that word would be "cold." Kubrick looks at humanity with a fierce flame that burns with the freezing of catabatic winds.

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How to Regard Sin

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from A Path Through the Desert
Anselm Grüm

Antony talks very soberly about sin and about the tempation that accompanies us throughout our life. He is not fightened by it. He holds it out to God. He does not keep circling around his guilt, but instead gazes on God's love. He does not condemn himself. His sin, rather, becomes an occasion for him to direct his gaze to God. He knows himself to be loved unconditionally by God. But he also knows that the experience of love is not something he can clutch to himself for in the very next moment he will again be confronted by his emptiness and his remoteness from God.

I don't know that I have ever thought about sin as an occasion for intimacy with God. Certainly when I become aware of God, I ask forgiveness, both personally and in the sacrament of confession. However, because of the way I was brought up there is nothing particularly joyful about this. One admits one's guilt before the authority and hopes to get off with a light sentence.

My image of God is colored by my image of justice and of mercy here on Earth. Thus justice and mercy are not something I actively seek out. However, I am wrong in this estimation. Justice and mercy are not human but divine and their only true image comes from the God who loves us. When we sin Our Father calls us back home to wash us off--not to lecture us with stern lectures, not to knock us around, not to berate us or even to stare at us with sad, soulful eyes. Rather, very matter-of-factly he takes us into His arms and into His and cleans us off. He loves us, unconditionally.

So, in fact, sin is an opportunity to turn and look God in the face, to say to Him, "It is ever thus when I am left to myself, please help me." It is a time to experience God's all-encompassing love. We must face the reality of Paul's question, "What then should we sin the more that God's grace may abound?" And, of course, the answer is no. However, once the fault has been committed, we should not hesitate to look at Him who loves us, admit our guilt and ask Him to wash us clean from it.

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A Quotation for the Day


"Corporate responsibility does not dilute individual responsibility."

This was said during the trial of one of those convicted in the Abu Ghirab scandal.

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A Minority Faction

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I have considered a point brought forth some time ago by Tom at Disputations and have decided that he is right, although not necessarily for the reasons he proposes. Therefore I shall join him in eschewing "Great" attached to the name of our former Pontiff, John Paul II and shall use instead "Magnificent." It really is the proper term for a pope so fully devoted to the Blessed Virgin. Magnificat--Magnificent--it makes sense etymologically AND in fact.

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Hear His Voice


I have heard His Word as spoken early
in the day. I have followed in His Way
as He says stay, wait awhile with me. See!
I am God indeed, the very seed from
which springs life, all earthly things that sing His
blessed name, that same name that seals open
lips with His seal and the real song that brought
forth all that is is heard. His name is made
holy when all creation, fallen and
redeemed intones as one, at once a lone
and plural voice, calling to all--Rejoice!

© 2005, Steven Riddle

Please forgive me, work pressures and other requirements force me to brevity, and thus I share what I most treasure. I have a number of these in "production." And I have a great deal more to say about a number of other items. But I fear I shall not get to them.

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Santo Subito

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Rumor has it that the process for John Paul the Great will be or has started.

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I am not a critic of Intelligent Design. When it comes right down to it, I generally accept the principles of intelligent design. But intelligent design is NOT science and if one buys intelligent design, one is accepting evolution. I find it odd that people should be such enthusiastic stompers of evolution (a scientific theory) and endorsers of intelligent design (a philosophical construct.)

Scientists who attack intelligent design as "not science" are not being entirely true to themselves. It would be equally valid to attack neo-darwinism. Neo-darwinism is the philosophical construct that grew up around Darwin's original proposal of evolutionary theory. While neodarwinism added some aspects to the theory as a whole (for example allopatric speciation), it also set on top of evolution an interpretive framework. Although the scientists using it would probably think of it as value neutral, it is not. Neo-darwinism assumes as its underpinning the absolute randomness of everything that happens in the natural world and in the mixing of genes. But absolute randomness is, in fact, an axiom, an expectation and it is improvable. Moreover, it is loaded with a philosophical bias that makes the theory including it untestable.

I think it is safe to say that those of us who are not creationists can buy the fact that through the distribution of genetic material animals change slowly over time. We know this is true because selective breeding gives us different kinds of dogs, cats, horses, and even drosophila. Now science can tell us that this gradual change is the result of a shift in the gene pool and science can propose reasons for the shift--allopatric speciation, island biogeography, temperature variation, "survival of the fittest," evolutionary morphospace and baupläne, etc. All of this so far is valid and scientifically testable. You can do experiments for a great many of these things and see if they cause genotype shifts in populations. What is untestable is that the mechanisms behind all of this are random. For example, when we do our experiments, we are using controlled conditions and the happenings are not at all random. The mixture of genes might be to some extent, but we cannot even say that for certain---brownian motion is not a truly random event--it is shown to be weakly deterministic.

Thus the assumption of randomness and unquideness is the philosophical bias that underpins science. Science is the pursuit of explanations of phenomena in the natural world apart from those factors that cannot be observed by science. In other words, science has an underlying "neutral" hypothesis that implicitly assumes atheism. The atheism is not antagonistic (in most cases) it is simply the condition required to try to determine what happens in the natural world. If scientists always had recourse to "the a miracle occurs" their explanations would amount to nothing.

Now, intelligent design comes along with various problems that have been observed before in evolutionary theory. For example, what good is half an eye? Gould proposed an odd little theory called exaption in which he proposed that an organ or body part that had previously served some other function is co-opted to become an eye or ear or something else. Now, as with a number of Gouldian notions, this is not a testable hypothesis it is a speculation. The same is true of his theory of contingency. Contingency is a marxist overlay employing Hegelian dialectical materialism to suggest that if everything did not occur precisely as it occurred in evolutionary history then we must perforce wind up at a different place in the present day. Such a speculation precludes scientific knowledge that the DNA of nearly all species is multiply redundant--that is there are a great many copies of genes that code for certain things that can be turned on and off by regulator genes. Right here we have a mechanism for redundancy. In Wonderful Life Gould speculates that if Pikaia had not assumed its place in the Cambrian Burgess pantheon then vertebrates would not have developed or would have been very, very different creatures. Perhaps. But how do you prove this scientifically? How do you experiment with it? What observational set can you propose that would isolate the appropriate factors and leave us with only the conditions required by Dr. Gould. In fact, there probably aren't any. Contingency is a philosophical speculation supported by a great deal of reasoning but no evidence whatsoever. It is the marxist class struggle imposed on the history of life.

I have demonstrated amply by this point that science has its share of nonscientific thinking. Intelligent Design is part and parcel of this. It is a philosophical lens through which to examine data. It sees what Behe calls "irreducible complexity" and leaps to the causal conclusion, "intelligent design." But it begs the question--we have labeled the thing irreducibly complex, but is it really, and is there some other mechanism to produce this. Obviously Behe does not think so, but Behe is also looking at it through a biased lens. I honestly don't know enough about the biochemical pathways that Behe speaks of to pronounce intelligently on the question of irreducible complexity, but others have suggested that the words themselves entail the bias of the philosophy.

Intelligent design is evolution in theistic garb. That's the first thing everyone should understand. They propose no new mechanisms, they basically accept the Darwinian lines of massive overproduction of offspring, natural struggles, development of species. What intelligent design does is it defies the implicit atheistic assumption of naturalist science and says that all of this is guided by a designer. Now, it may come as a big surprise to you, but this still implies that humans had ape-like ancestors (NOT as is so often stated humans evolved from chimps). The paradigm hasn't shifted. What has shifted is the philosophy through which the paradigm is interpreted. Now we have determinism laid on top of the natural world.

I happen to think that this is the correct explanation of things. God can cause through whatever mechanism He wishes any changes in the natural world. Knowing as He does His own rules and laws, He can easily cause to happen whatever needs to happen to lead to the end. What I reject is that proving this statement falls into the realm of science. It does not. It falls into the realm of religion, belief, and philosophy. God cannot be proven from these mechanisms. Because of its implicit bias, science can only be surprised by God, it cannot find Him in the data. Now, a scientist looking at the data may see God--that is the work of the Holy Spirit communicating through the data--but using that data to "prove" God is simply not viable.

The objection to intelligent design is not that it is bad science (although this is what scientists might tell you) it is that it contravenes a necessary assumption of science and the way science works to make a special exception for a sensitive case. The objection to intelligent design is that it is a philosophical assumption that poses as a theory. It offers nothing that evolution does not offer already. It is simply the theistic side of the coin. Atheists (Dawkins among them) argue that evolution proceeds in a random fashion (a point they cannot prove with any evidence whatsoever) and theists say that it proceeds by design. In either case the mechanism is as Darwin originally suggested--natural occurrences acting upon a population.

So, intelligent design is not a scientific theory, it is a philosophical construct. Evolution IS a scientific theory that must carefully be teased apart from a philosophical assumption of "no intervention." Proper teaching of evolution would require a very careful statement that we can assume nothing about how the mechanism proceeds. What appears random may be random but we cannot prove randomness. What we assume to be guided could be guided, but we can even less assume that.

Intelligent design is a philosophy attempting to disguise itself as a new scientific theory. It offers nothing in the way of evidence or proof of its propositions. It has discovered nothing new and it offers no insight that those of us who were believing Christians didn't have before its formal statement. Through my entire career as paleontologist, I believed and I still believe that everything that happens is guided and determined, watched over and supported by a God who cares and who has an end in mind. But I wouldn't dare propose this as a startlingly new theory of science or faith. Intelligent designers should have the intellectual honesty to examine their underpinnings and admit that what they are teaching is a philosophy--a different slant on the same data. Now, we can debate a different issue which is whether or not public schools should offer this understanding as a philosophical alternative to neo-darwinism; however, that is an entirely different issue and one that requires different "rules of engagement." For the time being I merely wanted to make clear what intelligent design is and what it is not. It is a philosophical construct, it is NOT a scientific theory that can be acted on according to the rules of science. That is why most scientists object to it. How do you disprove "then a miracle occurs?" It is entirely possible that just our use of terms--"irreducible complexity"--presents a barrier to other hypotheses and explanations for those who embrace the terminology.

We need to keep in mind Gödel's theorem, which reduced to a non-mathematical statement boils down to--within any given closed system there are propositions that can be made that cannot be proven using the axioms of the system. Intelligent design is one of these (as is atheistic evolution) neither is provable under the rules of order for scientific investigation.

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When the diocese of Orlando drove Fr. John O'Holohan out on the specious requirement of retirement age (although there were many others who were equally entitled to the privilege and yet remained in place) my heart sank, and I quickly stopped attending the Church at which he served as Priest.

Mr. Luse directed me to a press whereat I could acquire one of Fr. O'Holohan's books. What a blessing. Look for Shalom 2000. I already have several copies but if you're looking for a prayer book that is not overwhelming, this is a nice gift.

My thanks to Mr. Luse.

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Recommended chez TSO

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Mr. Spamman.

As TSO lets down his hair, he gets progressively more interesting (although he was always extremely interesting) and amusing. For those who don't know him, you would do well to seek him out--adds a bit more levity to the blogosphere. Twice the humor with less than half the angst of your average blogsite!

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If you've ever wondered why I sign off "shalom" Talmida gives you insight into the word that I learned long, long ago. At this time I decided that the Word that was with God was indeed Shalom. So, while Pax Christi approaches the fullness of meaning I want to convey in my send-off, it is shalom, the Word, I wish for all of you. Thanks again Talmida.

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Are You Too Scrupulous?

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Catholic Carnival


Please visit the XXIX Catholic Carnival chez Living Catholicism.

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Calendar Girls

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A highly improbable, but true, story of a group of women in England who decide to pose for a calendar. The impetus is the death of one woman's husband from cancer. While undergoing treatment, she was often forced to remain in the inadequate waiting room. She thought that the Woman's Institute for the area should raise the money for a new couch for the room so it would be somewhat more comfortable.

Their previous efforts at fundraising were, shall we say, not terribly successful. One of the women hits upon the idea of the group of them posing nude for a calendar. Now all of these ladies are not, how shall we put it, in the first bloom of youth, although all are blessed with a certain beauty that comes only of age. So we think we've gotten outselves into a female version of The Full Monty. Not so at all--while there are obvious parallels, this story is unique, very amusing, and charming. In fact, the whole set-up for the first calendar shot is extremely funny, as are several other moments in the film.

Recommended for the adults in the house.

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Author: Randy Wayne White

If you like mysteries that are more of the invesigative sort without any really possibility of "solving" them, AND you like local color, this is the kind of book for you. White does for Southwest Florida what McDoncald did in the 60s, 70s, and 80s for Fort Lauderdale. I don't know if John D. MacDonald's books are still in print, but I suspect that if they are they will breathe a certain air of nostalgia that might be a bit musty. Travis McGee was a product of his time with all the "love child" of the sixties certainty of "sexual healing." White's detective is mercifully bereft of such illusions and has grown up with the idea of an endless bounty of sexual possibilities. Fortunately, while this current is understood it isn't tremendously emphasized and one can finish the book relatively unscathed by modern sexual morality.

Our hero and investigator, Doc Ford, runs a marine biological supply company out of his two story tin shack built on a whart out in a bay of Sanibel Island. For those who don't know, Sanibel and Captiva comprise and odd east-west oriented barrier island off the south-west coast of Florida. We tend to hear a great deal about the Southeast part of Florida (Miami and Ft. Lauderdale) but the Southwest coast mercifully remains a bastion of old Florida. Attitudes there are changing gradually and with the increase in the size and complexity of Naples, Fort Meyers, and other cities, we can expect the swamp-ridden Southwest to join the Southeast in what passes for fame in this world. For the moment, however, we have the southwest preserved in this book. You will meet Florida Crackers--in some cases not the most pleasant of personalities, and other people who inhabit the southwest coast. In addition, by the time you are through, you'll have a pretty fair understanding of a small section of the Florida coastline.

The story? Well now, that's really hard to say without saying everything. Let's leave it with a bomb goes off near the boats of a group of Sanibel Island Fishermen. It is thought to be part of an endless roiling controversy about net fishing that is threatening to destroy a large portion of the fishing population of the region. As it is so close to home Doc Ford helps with the investigation.

The book jogs along nicely and doesn't introduce too much nonsense to hurt your brain. You will learn some things about the schooling habits of tarpon and other tidbits of the natural life of Florida--but don't expect either great literature or anything that will weigh you down too much.

With this start I plan to read about three other White books before my vacation to Southwest Florida. He has books titled Sanibel Flats (again set on Sanibel), Ten Thousand Islands referring to an area south of Naples that consists of a estuarine enviroment with large stands of salt tolerant mangrove that make up tiny islands, and Everglades (don't suppose that reference needs any clarification.) Anyway, if the quality continues White may ascend to a place just below James Lee Burke in my estimation of modern mystery writers.


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Willing God's Will


I took up a new book yesterday and was plunged almost immediately into this passage:

from Desiring God's Will
David G. Benner

Looked at carefullly, willfulness is more against something than for something. My willful self refuses to quit as I seek to push through my writing block or finish lecture preparation even when my spirit is dry and my body is telling me to take a break. A spirit of willingness invites me to pause and turn to God, simply opening to God for a moment, lettling God bring perspective and clarity about my need to stop writing for the night or throw out what I've started and wait for the gift of a fresh idea. Willfulness, in either circumstance, is my fight against quitting, against attending to my body, against attending to God's Spirit. The act of willing surrender is a choice of openness, a choice of abandonment of self-determination, a choice of cooperation with God.

Thinking about this yesterday, several things struck me, and looking at it again this morning, I see yet other points. Let me start with the caveats. In the example above, trying to break through writer's block or finishing prep for a lecture one can see a certain amount of willfulness, or one can see tenacity. Breaking through a writer's block requires a certain amount of staying at the computer or writing desk and simply writing your way through. In this particular case it is difficult to distinguish how much is necessary and how much is willfulness. That is the line between tenacity and stubbornness is unclear. There are times at which we are required to stay at a task to achieve the breakthrough we need to attain--and this can go for tasks in the spiritual life.

Now, as to yesterday's thoughts--how often do I allow willfulness to overpower a spirit that cooperates with God? It is far too easy for me to take over, even when God has begun the task, and to run it my way. Perhaps blogging is an example. There are times when God is clearly in control, and there are times in which Steven is running the whole show. Surrender to God shows in the effect the individual pieces of writing have. I have written things on which I have recieved comments that surprised me. I thought it was yet another entry, others thought that it spoke to their hearts. That's when God is in charge. When Steven is in charge its a wandering mess that generally leads me to threaten yet once again that I'm going to take all my marbles and go home. I do that once or twice a year and it seems about time for a fresh crop. But perhaps this year rather than making a fool of myself again, I can listen to what God has to say, stop feeling sorry for myself, and continue to write as He leads.

It's all a balance between willfulness and willingness. Willfulness to conquer the stubborn parts of the self, and willingness to cooperate with God. They blend into the same thing, and yet they take on such different aspects.

I'll keep you posted on the book.

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Too Much on Poetry

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An interested reader wrote and asked if it felt good to be speaking poetry once again. And it does. It is my native tongue. When I'm here I hear it everywhere. I hear people speak and it is natural poetry, I see the orchids on the altar and it is natural poetry, I move and it is kinesthetic poetry (only internally--I can't vouch for those of you watching).

Poetry is a native tongue and I have been speaking it too infrequently in the past several years. I am glad to be back and I have to thank for it the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the constant creativity of Lofted Nest. Thank you.

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Space Regulations

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As an average male
of standard height and weight
(and age) you shoud know the
regulations surrounding
personal space. Of course as
an American, these are
roomier by far than
say your every day run-
of-the-mill Italian,
absolute luxury
compared to the knee room
of your standard Japanese.

The perimeter defined
as sister-like woman
you would not hit on--norm.
Standard measures require
adjustment for woman
you would date (not measured)
but approximately
two-thirds the distance. Then
there's wife, fiancée, or
woman who is surely wife
material- one-half to

As known by clear
instinct, the space expands
rapidly when setting
a boundary defined
by contact with any
other male (one and one
half to three-minimum
four times for cases of
unusual dress or
body odor). All rates are
subject to change without
notice due to unknown
or combination factors.

Some exceptions occur
for nonregulation
persons, relationships
or conditions. As these
are oddly variable
only experience will
attune you to requirements.
Expect anomalies.

© 2005, Steven Riddle

Possibly the first of a series. I'll wait and see how the Lord leads.

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God Calling

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Although you can't see him
you know by the itching
underneath your skin that
He is there. Patiently
or not so waiting for
you to come around. And
so long as you deny
it, He'll be there waiting.
And you will know no end
of itching until you
stop and call on Him to
let you in. And he will.

© 2005, Steven Riddle

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Always perceptive, Unapologetic Catholic writes about the potential for alienating people from the Church, from the truth. He makes some very good points.

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Writing a Novel


Not me, but Ron who is blogging less as a result. Stop by, read, and give him some encouragement. We need as many catholic voices in the literary marketplace as we can muster--AND Ron is writing in a genre that can reach a great many people--the mystery. Go and read about it. It is tremendously exciting.

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Love Poem


where you were
you are not
now begins
time and our
minutes are
muted only
the space you
once filled speaks
in ways you
never did

your warmth is
absence your
whisper cold
your eyes my
comfort blue

© 2005, Steven Riddle

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Poem for Ascension

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after William Carlos Williams

So much depends
on a

Great God Savior
who graced

by death ascends
to joy

among all his

© 2005, Steven Riddle


so much ascends
with a

Great God Savior
who rose

from the dead to
bring joy

to his people
on earth

© 2005, Steven Riddle

Which goes to show you the tremendous art and difficulty of Williams's little game. I love "Red Wheelbarrow" as a slight imagist game, but that is how it should be regarded--delightful for what it is--a trifle. In this case, I think we can dispence with all of those specious arguments about Williams'a poem. In this case, it is very easy to argue that so much does depend on ....

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Rock Collecting

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For Samuel

He hands me another rock, his brown eyes
wide and says, "Daddy, what kind of rock is
this?" And living where we do the answer is
nearly always the same, "That's a limestone
sweetheart." And I expect him to drop it
and say, "Again?" Instead he slips it so
carefully into the pocket of his
jeans, you would have thought I'd said, "A ruby"
when he'd asked.

But searching the ground, he stoops
again to pull a raw white treasure from
the earth. I rejoice that the same answer
is always new to him. Limestone, white rock
does not stop him from looking as he walks
picking now a pebble, now a stone, all
his, in a whole new world made just for him.

© 2005, Steven Riddle

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I was stunned to learn something today, that had I taken a moment to ask any one around me probably would not have come as any sort of shock at all. In fact, if I had bothered to look back on my life at all, it would be immediately evident.

I do not make my choices solely, or even predominantly by reason. I use reason to inform my choices and my decisions, but ultimately I trust more how I feel about something than how I think about it. This is life experience. In every case how I feel about something has been far more trustworthy than how I thought about it. Thinking about it makes me like a lawyer, I can find a million ways to shape my thought and reason to justify anything I want to do. But the reality is, how I feel about it is what I should be trusting. Without revealing too much personal information I can tell you that I was once in a situation when I knew in my heart that one choice I could make was a poor, perhaps even a sinful choice. When I considered the matter "reasonably" I considered all of the factors, God's law, family solidarity, possible outcomes, potential meaning, and all the information I could pour into the decision. I made a choice to go ahead and to this thing about which I had grave misgivings. It ended disastrously, with a fragmentation of unity and hard feelings all around. This was the ending my heart saw, not the one I could come to in my thinking.

Reason is a pretty bauble. It makes lovely designs and constructs elegant constructs. The problem is that reason is based on a whole series of underlying propositions you must accept if you are to enter the argument. Once you have accepted them, then you must discover what they are. As you expose more and more of them, you find principles that you question from the very start. For example Aquinas postulates that reason itself is a positive good. On what evidence? It is, in fact, a postulate. I could equally well postulate that reason is a gift--certainly good, but that the good is not complete--that it is the use to which reason is put that confirms its goodness or its ill. I might be wrong in the proposition, but for every thing "proven" by Aquinas, there are several dozen hanging questions about the underlying principles of the argument.

I like well constructed arguments. I love chains of reasoning. But I love them in the same way I love mathematical constructs, for the essential beauty of them not for what they say or do.

But through my life I have been persuaded more by my heart than by my head. I'm told by those around me that this is unreasonable. (In fact it is not--it is merely nonreasonable.) But is nonreasonable necessarily bad? For those who depend on reason to reach their decision its is. But I suggest rather that there are many ways to come to truth. Reason may be more certain, but "Blessed are the pure in heart." The heart will get us to the same end. Obviously we cannot reject reason where reason is clear. But where there is doubt, where there is uncertainty, where there are many possible ways to travel, the heart is as good a guide (for me) as reason is.

Why does this come as such a surprise. Well let me list the pros and cons--I am a trained scientist and an amateur mathematician. Reason is highly prized in both. I am able to reason well, and when I understand all the terms comprehend and accept an argument constructed by reason. However, as a scientist, I was always miles ahead of the facts. My chief way of working was to leap ahead and then backtrack to find the chain of reason that led to my conclusion or that broke down when I tried to connect my conclusion to the known information. I rarely traced a set of data to a conclusion, rather I developed six or seven different models that would fit with the known data and worked backward from the one that "seemed" most probable to the data. When I got there, I was able to understand the arguments that led there.

I am a poet. Poets certainly can be reasonable, but poets tend to rely on intuition and on perceptions of things beneath the surface.

And every major decision I have reached I have always reached by moving beyond the logic to what "felt" right.

Sorry folks, but there it is. My modality is emotional. Anyway, I discovered this in another conversation and also discovered that there are many different modes of knowing and that reason is often a bully--using name-calling and imputations of other people's guilt and sinfulness to force one to accept its ends. Of course emotion is as much a bully saying that such people are hard-hearted and ignorant of the way of being human. We must avoid both such. Those who are led by the head should certainly follow the lead. But those led by the heart should not feel inferior or diminished in comparison.

Some people have claimed that as Catholics you have to check your mind at the door, I find much more often we are asked to check our heart at the door. Reason devoid of passion is the law, and the law kills, just as the spirit enlivens. But the heart without reason is a tyrant, a tenderness that leads to euthanasia and genocide. Every person is a balance of these tendencies. In most one dominates. Be true to it--it is what God has given you to get by on. It is your gift for you and for those around you. I will no longer be ashamed when I make a decision based on how I feel about something. It is as valid as any amount of thinking about it. For another it may not be. We are not all made from a cookie press, so accept who you are and how you come to terms with the world around you. Most of all don't let anyone convince you--head or heart, that it is somehow deficient. And also avoid criticizing those who choose different rule of engagement--even though you will be denigrated by them as one who is anti-intellectual or anti-reason. It simply isn't so--you are simply pro-emotion. Remember, that even as the Church needs its Aquinas's, so too does it need its Bernadettes and its John Vianneys and its Thérèses.

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TSO who gave me my 3000th comment. Boy, certain things certainly are getting commented.

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Just Wondering

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This is just one of those things that I wonder about. Please don't take it to be indicative of anything but probing at the mysteries of God and Church.

If, in Genesis we are told that God told people to be fruitful and multiply and fill all the Earth. And throughout the old testament we are told what a great blessing children are and how they add to the glory of the house and of the family. And Jesus did not come to do away with the law but to fulfill it, and part of that law was that men should marry and with their wives produce families why is it that we so laud virginity and celibacy? Where does that come from? From a single line of Paul--"It is better to marry than to burn." (And one gets the feeling from Paul that perhaps marriage isn't all that far from burning. And as we know little of Paul's life, yet he was one of the leaders of the people in religious discourse, did he have a wife? Perhaps his marital relationship was akin to that of Socrates and Xantippe. All of that is beside the point. I have read elsewhere how greatly exalted a state virginity is and I must wonder why that should be. If everyone at the time of Jesus had pledged virginity there would be no human race to praise God. Virginity is physically fruitless--not that it is bad, nor is it to be denigrated. But is it exalted because celibacy became the rule.

I just wonder. It would seem to me that both states are exalted if they are the state that one is called to. Why is one better than another--both are sealed in sacrament.

I won't go on because other thoughts might prove too disturbing to some out there. But I really have to wonder about this exaltation and obsession with virginity; it suggests to me a certain hidden dualism--that the flesh is somehow not good.

And perhaps there is just something about me that chafes at a preferential treatement for a few. That is according to the idea of vocation, God picks out His favorite children and holds them in exalted state. (A kind of reverse double predestination.) I prefer to think that God's exalted children are those who fulfill his will most completely--married or celibate. And, if all things are equal in terms of fulfillment of vocation, then perhaps the argument that the celibate life is superior holds some merit.

But then, that is my wayward thinking, and from now on I'll just rein it in.

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No measure I could make of today could
tell me what tomorrow holds, neither heat
nor height, rain nor depths, clouds nor width, none would
tell me what's in the day ahead. I see
not through a glass darkly, I do not see
at all, and count myself blessed for blindness.
If I knew all that lay in store, courage
would fail me. In this silence God gives rest
from the world, its woes, its wealth, its well
of sorrow, poverty, despair and strife,
and awakens joy in the day--a swell
of gratitiude that overshadows life.
Seeing our future might seem a delight
but God is good to keep tomorrow night.

© 2005, Steven Riddle

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I've probably said this before, but scouting through the blogworld tonight I am reminded of my central tenet in blogging.

The most interesting thing about a blogger is the person him or herself. There are many ways to tell people about who you are, but the most interesting way is simply to tell me something about your life. Not intimate details, thank you so very much. But moments--how your dog sleeps, what it looks like out your window right now, what you watch on television or listen to. All of these things are much more profoundly interesting to me than commentary on the news or politics. Of course, I learn much from these as well, but I learn the diversity of being human, being Catholic, being a parent from those bloggers who are willing to share from their experiences. I also admire the boldly opinated--Talmida, Nathan, and Erik. I like people with the courage of their convictions even if we might not see eye-to-eye on everything--sorry Erik no monarchy constitutional or otherwise. Differences of opinion add spice so long as they are shared charitably.

So, be yourself, write who you are and don't be afraid to be. I know I'm not and God knows you've been with me long enough to know that you can expect just about anything from the appallingly idiotic to well the somewhat-less-appallingly idiotic. As Dorothy Parker commented about Katherine Hepburn's performance in a play called "The Lake"--"She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B." Yep! Vers-a-tile describes me to a T! If I don't slap you upside the head with God one way, I'll find another.

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You were sent to a city of ashes
a people more dead than alive.
I said, "You show them my mercy."
You said, "Lord, will I survive?"

You ran from my mission of mercy,
I sent you a storm and a fish,
three days and three nights in darkness,
before you said, "Lord, as you wish."

Nineveh, city of ashes,
you wandered from east to the west,
in three days journey across it,
you spoke and you did all your best.

Nineveh heard your preaching,
he summoned his councilors near,
he said, "All people in sackcloth,
that the Lord's anger visit not here."

At repentence my anger abated,
I spared the city its doom,
but you saw my mercy as weakness,
and now you sit here in gloom.

A bean tree for shade I gave you,
The bean tree I withered as well,
Now you sit here in anger,
saying, "Lord just send me to hell."

My mercy, dear prophet, is boundless,
would you think I'd leave them to fall?
Should I not pity that city
where people know nothing at all?

© 2005, Steven Riddle

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An Amish boy and his father were in a shopping mall. They were amazed by almost everything they saw, but especially by two shiny, silver walls that could move apart & then slide back together again.

The boy asked, "What is this Father?" The father (never having seen an elevator) responded, "Son, I have never seen anything like this in my life, I don't know what it is."

While the boy & his father were watching with amazement, an old lady hobbled slowly to the moving walls & pressed a button. The walls opened & the lady moved between them into a small room.

The walls closed & the boy & his father watched the small circular numbers above the walls light up sequentially. They continued to watch until it reached the last number & then the numbers began to light in the reverse order. Finally the walls opened up again & a gorgeous 24-year-old blonde stepped out.

The father said quietly to his son,"Go get your mother."

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Psalm 23 (NIV)

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, [a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

Psalm 23 (KJV)

1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Psalm 23 (NAB)

1 A psalm of David. 2 The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me;
3 you restore my strength. You guide me along the right path for the sake of your name.
4 Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage.
5 You set a table before me as my enemies watch; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Only goodness and love will pursue me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.

Just three examples of one of the most widely known of the Psalms to show the difference translation makes.

You are probably all aware that Psalm 23 is prayed at many Protestant funerals. It is prayed as spontaneously as the Lord's Prayer, not because it is used as frequently, but because it falls into a regular rhythmical, if not metrical pattern. The NIV preserves some of this, but the NAB has the bland regularity of most free verse--nothing rhythmical, nothing metrical, nothing really accented. Just pure bland translation--there is no hook to grab you and keep you in the recitation of the psalm.

I suppose part of my contention is that if the Psalms are to be prayed, they should be easily memorizable. I think this was one of the function of Gregorian Chant. The Chant imposed a rhythm on the Latin that makes the words fall into place. The verbal mush which constitutes the NAB cannot possibly flow into a memorizable pattern. Now, this same verbal mush could very well be a much better translation for study--in those matters I am no expert. And I'm not necessarily claiming that the KJV is the very best for these purposes (prayer). However, I am saying that there is a distinct difference in the way things are translated and the use to which you wish to place the particular piece of scripture should govern the translation you use. If one is sufficiently more accurate to encourage clarity in study, then it should be used. If one works better as part of your "internal vocabulary" of prayer, then it should be used. I often find the Liturgy of the Hours a real chore, not because the prayers are difficult, tedious, or unimportant, but because the translation is so leaden it resists any urge on my part to enliven it. The words seem merely words on the page--they do not sing. My feelings about it do not inhibit my continuation of it, but they do make it more of a penitential exercise than it need be.

Yet another reason why poetry matters--God speaks to us in it.

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I don't do business with E-Bay. Can't afford to with my voracious appetite for books and such. MamaT got this welcome news today:

We understand that the listing of the Eucharist was highly upsetting to Catholic members of the eBay community and Catholics globally. Once this completed sale was brought to our attention, we consulted with a number of our users, including members of the Catholic Church, concerning what course we should take in the future should a similar listing appear on our site. We also consulted with members of other religions about items that might also be highly sacred and inappropriate for sale. As a result of this dialogue, we have concluded that sales ofthe Eucharist, and similar highly sacred items, are not appropriate on
eBay. We have, therefore, broadened our policies and will remove those types of listings should they appear on the site in the future.

Praise God. And thanks to Julie D. I'm off to thank E-bay

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No, no quiz. I just decided to stake a claim before it all became the rage. So--if my blog were to be compared to a composer I would most like it to be compared to:

Wait, a moment of suspense. Perhaps I should list my reasons why before I tell you who?

My all-time favorite composer--able to capture light in music in ways unattained since--truly the symboliste or imagiste of the musical worlds. His music is the perfect accompaniment to impressionism, post-impressionism, and imagist and symbolist poetry. It even goes well with Rene Magritte and Yves Tanguy (less so with Dali, who is much more de Falla or Granados.)

Given that the imagist school is one that I love dearly and which I have followed in much of my own writing (though, of course, not in every detail). I am pleased to announce that the composer I would most like to be compared to is

Yes indeed, Claude Debussy.

Okay, now y'all can choose your own.

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Yesterday I meant to say something about modern poetry. I had checked two books of The Year's Best Poetry out of the library to see if trends had changed yet.

The answer is, unfortunately, no. The Academic community appears to have poetry still firmly in its death grip, determined to choke the life out of it. And but for places like this and Lofted Nest, and other appreciators of poetry scattered around, they might well succeed. Although they tried the same with the novel, but Beckett, Robbe-Grillet, and their ilk could not kill a genre so entrenched in the popular mind. However, as we enter the age of the post literate, it appears that they may have their way with the novel yet. (My only hope comes from the popularity of The DaVinci Code, which convinces me that the academics have a ways to go before they can overcome the lure of truly poor writing.)

But, back to poetry for the moment. Flipping through this book of best of, I came upon a "poem" that consisted of nothing but blank pages with a small line and a series of footnotes. The postmoderns have triumphed in making modern poetry as vacuous and empty of delight as most postmodern art. There's no point in belaboring this--what the academic community has served up as great poetry has all but killed the genre. There is no delight in language, the is no sense of joy in discovery. Instead, we have the apotheosis of the confessional poets, staring in the mirror and noting what they see as footnotes to emptiness.

In these anthologies, there was not a single poem in a classic mode. Nothing that required the skill and artifice of a villanelle, a sonnet, or even a haiku. Free verse, and less, made up the entirety of the contents. And this is a shame because there are a great many poets producing poetry of substance that cannot make it into the market because of the academic stranglehold.

Dana Gioia asked the question some years ago as to whether poetry were dead or not. It's not dead, to that I can testify, but it's looking a lot moribund. I can only hope that the establishment eventually peters out and poetry is recovered by poets who (a) have something to say and (b) say it in a way that is memorable.

No wonder poetry has so small an audience. It's a shame because as children we have Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein and endless other wonderful, rollicking poems to read that vanish as we head toward adulthood. Perhaps children's poets should enter the market and take over. A Child's Book of Verse for adults--think about the potential. I have no doubt that nearly everyone out there can think about snippets of stuff they liked as a child. It was merely the first whiff of modern free verse that we instinctively recoiled at.

I look at the great forked road in poetry--Dickinson on one hand, Whitman on the other. And though I used to be a partisan of the latter, I discover now my affinity for the former. There is less and less of Whitman about me, and more and more of Dickinson, and I consider that a blessing.

So it leads me to my new motto--Free Verse! Write sonnets

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The Theology of Sin

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Statements like this always bother me.

from My Way of Life
Fr. Walter Farrell and Fr. Martin J Healy

Anything that lessens freedom therfore will also make the sin less grievous. The cold-blooded traitor sins more than the soldier who betrays his comrades under torture.

Fortunately, Tom stops by often enough to explain how a revelation under torture constitutes sin. It seems to lack the key ingredient of will--not under durress. That it is a natural evil, I can believe that it is a sin, and the soul of one tortured might be damned were he to pass on in the course of torture--that strikes me in something like the same way as double predestination. It certainly would give the lie to the statement that "He will not test you beyond your endurance."

Any way, if anyone can explain to me why such a statement extracted during torture is a sin, I would truly appreciate it.

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words wasted
to make lines work--doomed
to failure

words wasted
to fill lines--reduced
to white noise

to fill lines
words wasted--flaccid

Too many
words to make the count
poems flabby

add words--force
lines--chaos--can't get
your wordsworth

© 2005, Steven Riddle

I was talking about how the Japanese compose haiku and how in some cases the lines consist of a single word and its identifier particles. I had read it suggested that the syllabification for an English form that presented the same challenges would be 3-5-3--reducing 17 syllables to 11. Above is the transformation that occurs when it is tried on the admittedly poor hiaku of the previous version.

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The way we can be sure of our knowledge of Him
is to keep his commandments
1 John 2

I was talking to a friend recently who suggested that one of the reasons her group does not read scripture more often is that they are afraid of the implications of private interpretation of scripture. As we all know, the Catholic Church differs from the protestant churches in this as well as other matters. The error of private interpretation looms so large that they fear the scriptures, and yet they need not.

What does this mean? The Church does not forbid studying the Bible privately, in fact, she actively encourages it. (I had one friend who told me that prior to Vatican II she had a priest who explicitly told the congregation NOT to read scripture for fear of what it might do to their faith. I once believed this to be the norm; however, I have come to understand that this was really an exceptional circumstance in the Church.) If we read the Bible privately and study it, we HAVE to interpret it. As the interpretations for single verses of scripture are, with rare exceptions, not explicitly defined in Church doctrine, how does one avoid the error of private interpretation?

It seems to me that there are two ways that are really branches of one way. The first is to interpret scripture and before you make any public revelation of your conclusions to test your understanding against the understanding that the Church has from her other teachings. That is, contra Luther and other protestant reformers, the Bible cannot be interpreted outside of the understandings of the Church Fathers. So, if in reading the Bible you come to the conclusion that the only basis for understanding scripture is scripture alone, not only are you being ascriptural, but you are flying in the face of 2000 years of received tradition. You can be pretty certain that no matter how bright you are, when your conclusions oppose two-thousand years of understanding and discernment through the Holy Spirit, you are the one who is wrong. Under those circumstances, you abandon your privately received revelation and read the Bible according to the Church's understanding. Thus, while the Church defines the meaning of very few individual scriptures, the traditions of the Church preserve intact the meaning of the whole of scripture. When one of your thoughts about a verse varies from this and you trust in the Holy Spirit for discernment, you will readily see it. Formation as a Catholic in the Tradition and doctrine of the Church, and the invocation of the Holy Spirit before reading scripture will preserve you from this form of error.

Another way to have private interpretation be in line with Catholic Church doctrine is private application. That is, the interpretation you have arrived at is meant for a specific application in you own life without being shared with the entire world as a doctrinal surety. For example, my reading of the scripture suggests to me that violent aggression against others is forbidden ME. The Church clearly teaches that there are occasions and instances when violence may be used in the preservation of some larger good. Thus, I cannot say that pacifism is a Catholic Doctrine--that is clearly false; however, I can, in good conscience say that I may be a pacifist--that there are no instances for me, as an individual, in which use of violent force would not be a sin. Were I to expand this to say that Christ demands it of the Church as a whole, I would be in error.

But even in private application, the whole must NOT be in conflict with Church teaching. That is that the Church teaches that violent force MAY be justifiably used, but she does not teach that it must absolutely be used. If my private interpretation of scripture led me to the conclusion that Jesus Christ were married and had children (a la ˇThe DaVinci Code", I would, of necessity, have to reject the conclusion because that is not the understanding of the Church. I encounter this difficulty every time I read a scripture about Jesus’ "brothers and sisters." I know how I want to understand that scripture, but I also know that it stands in direct contradiction of Church Teaching. I bring myself back into line reminding myself of the perpetual virginity of Our Blessed Mother.

In most cases, private application of scripture will not be so broad as to entail such errors. For example, you may read of the rich man who approached Jesus and was told to "sell everything you have and give to the poor." You may decide that the meaning for you, at this time, is to sell part of your stock portfolio and give to a local crisis pregnancy center. You should probably take such a conclusion to a spiritual director or companion and share in the discernment of the decision (although this is not strictly necessary, it acts as a good safeguard). But this application in no way contradicts Church teaching. Similarly, one could read Jesus’ words about faith the size of a mustard seed and conclude that they are encouragement to undertake some task that is before us in faith.

As I said before, for any large judgments it is probably best to seek a discernment partner to assure that you are not just following your own lead. But for most scripture studies, you'll find that the applications are very small, very personal, and very doable. For example, the scriptures may serve to convict you of certain wrongs in your life, and you conclude to add that thing to you next confession list and to pray for help in not returning to it. The Bible may serve to encourage you. "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, Rejoice!" You may conclude from this that you should be more mindful of God in your everyday life.

The important point is that whenever your "application" flies in the face of received tradition, you should assume that you are incorrect in your understanding. With discernment (either individually over time or with a partner or group) and prayer to the Holy Spirit for guidance and understanding you can rest assured that you will be preserved from wandering in error.

Pride is the chief sin that leads us into private interpretation. Humility and obedience are the specifics against the pride that would destroy faith. Just stop and consider, "How can I know here and now what has not been known in two thousand years of thinking about God?" Stop and consider, is your mind the caliber of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, or even John Paul the Great? If not, then one would do well to listen to them and to those concurring opinions than to assume that the Holy Spirit is going to plant on you some revelation that flies in the face of 2000 years of history and tradition. Simply recall who you are before God and in the communion of Saints, and you will quickly return to the proper understanding of scripture--the understanding promulgated by the Church. But whatever you do, do not let fear of private interpretation keep you from reading, listening, and understanding what God has to say to you in His Word.


This is from a response to a post in comments. I thought it important enough to ally it with the main body of the post in the vain hope that when I wanted to revise this (if ever) I'd find all of the pieces together in one place.

But that is another problem I didn't mention. Scripture should be interpreted in the context of all of scripture. No single piece should be isolated from the fabric and then have it said, "This is about X." It would be like cutting a black square out of a checkerboard and then explaining what the pattern is. All of scripture needs to be addressed when we interpret any piece of it. Interpretations out of line with the plain meaning of the entirety are also suspect. I should have mentioned that up top.

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More Books

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In the same ill-fated expedition described below, I also purchased a few other items of interest.

Because of a post some days back by TSO and a recollection of a statue/shrine to her in a Church I used to attend for Carmelite meetings in Columbus, I purchased a biography of Blessed Margaret of Castello. She sounded interesting enough to know in more detail.

Because of my devotion of the English and Welsh Saints and Martyrs of Elizabeth's time, I also picked up a slender volume on St. Margaret Clitherow. I hope to get to both of these soon and share with you some of my findings.

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My Way of Life


I have seen a lilttle book of this title ten thousand times when I go to the Shrine Bookstore. I always pass it by because it is incongruously placed with all those little prayer books and Novena books (against which I hold no animus, but I already have so many of them that the side of the house where they are stored lists). So, as a result, I have never picked it up.

Samuel has been taking an interest in books of late--mostly of the "Captain Underpants" variety, but any time we go to a store, like any child, he wants us to buy him something. Today he decided that this little book was just the right size for him and picked it up.

I initially had him put it back, but then I looked at it and saw that it was published by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood, a group for whom my admiration has increased without bounds since encounter Father Keyes at The New Gasparian. This interest caused me to look further and I discovered that it was written by Father Walter Farrell, who also wrote a multivolume commentary on the Summa that I was lucky enough to purchase a few years back. And as I looked further, the book purported to be a condensation of the thought of the Summa. Indeed, it is subtitled, The Summa for Everyone. Well, that provoked me enough to buy it.

I've dipped in here and there and all I can say is that while the whole Church should follow the teachings the Church has approved of St. Thomas, not everyone is up to reading the Summa. For those who are not, I'll let you know, but this seems to be an excellent remedy to that one failing.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Steven Riddle in May 2005.

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