Steven Riddle: September 2006 Archives

This summary is paraphrased around the edges, but the jist of it is correct.

"There was this boy living in the wild. They caught him. They brang him to socialness. Then they teached him French."

Yep. That just about covers it, especially the "brang him to socialness" part. That's my boy, can't you see the similarities?

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All About Bacterial Names


In case you were distraught over not knowing for sure: Approved Lists of Bacterial Names.

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Copyrights and Copywrongs

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Intriguing on-line book

from the Descriptive Hype for said book

"Peer-to-peer networks have existed as long as gossip and word-of-mouth advertising--but with the rise of electronic communication, they are suddenly coming into their own. and they are drawing the outlines of a battle for information that will determine much of the culture and politics of our century, from file-sharing websites like Gnutella to private edits of Star Wars to the neo-Nazi concept of 'leaderless resistance.' On one side, trying to maintain control of information--and profits--are legislators, judges, cabinet officers, entertainment conglomerates, and multinational corporations. On the other side, trying to liberate information, are educators, computer programmers, civil libertarians, artists, consumers, and dissidents under all sorts of regimes. Vaidhyanathan draws upon examples ranging from ancient religions to open-source software to show how this battle will be one of the defining fault lines of twenty-first-century civilization. His radical and original explanation of the future of information is a warning shot that will mobilize anarchists and controllers alike."

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L'enfant Sauvage


I firs saw this film some years ago as a field trip from French class. It was shown subtitled, but I remember being amazed how much of the French I could understand. And it struck me once again as surprising.

Samuel had wanted to see this film when he saw it at the library, and as there is no harm in it and it is one of the two Truffaut films I know I like, we brought it home. Samuel loved it. He learned two or three words of french and was thrilled. For one, he learn "L'enfant sauvage" and thinks that is much cooler than wild child and asked that he be called "L'enfant sauvage" rather than wild child from now on. (Of course he hasn't heard the Troggs yet, so there's a chance he'll change his mind.) Sam also learned the words for milk and water, two words they try to teach Victor in the course of the film.

The story is based on a supposedly true story of a child captured in the Averoyne woods in 1798. He had been abandoned early in his childhood. His parents had attempted to kill him but failed and the child is thought to have fended for himself from the age of 3 to the age of 10 or 12 when he was captured. The story centers around the efforts of a scientist to help this child rejoin civilization (if that is how one refers to France in 1798).

Filmed in black and white, the boy in the film gives an absolutely believable and remarkable performance as the child brought in from the wood. Truffaut himself (I think) plays the Doctor who is is helper and attempts to bring not just a veneer of civilization but a sense of a moral being into one raised wild. It has the odd misunderstanding of the enlightenment about the nature of humanity, but the film is still solid, if not beautiful.

For those with wild children, this film may have some appeal. For those who have experienced one or more l'enfants sauvages you'll already know what it's about. Think the terrible twos about ten years later. For those becoming acquainted with or reacquainted with French, it's a good film to see.

Overall, recommended--a good story, a good film, and relatively short--about 85 minutes.

(Oh, and for those of you too polite to ask--no, it's never too early to infect your children with the "watching-obscure-foreign-films" virus. In fact as we were looking at the films, Samuel asked "What does foe rain mean?" "Films produced in other countries." "Do they speak English?" "Well, if their from England, Australia, or South Africa they might." "Let's get one where they don't. Let's get one in Japanese." But he settled on L'enfant Sauvage.)

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Meet Tiktaalik


Tiktaalik the Great, protoamphibian, source of consternation to those who think they understand evolutionary theory. At least it has an unpronounceable name so it can easily be dismissed. Be sure to check out the Inuktitut compatible site. I think we can recommend to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature that all future discoveries and descriptions be made available in both English and Inuktitut.

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A Baptist on the Pope's Message


I haven't commented, nor will I; however The Western Confucian found a neat little link that offers a very satisfying interpretation of what the Pope said. As well, Tom, at Disputations provides his usual, moderate, thoughtful insights into the whole turmoil. If I were said to have a side in the matter, he has convincingly outlined it.

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Playing Catch-Up


Those of you favoring moribund images of autumn are WAYYYYY behind. Get moving, add to your linked verse!

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The Devil's Advocate

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First, and possibly the best, in a line of the pre-Andrew Greeley popularizations of the Catholic Faith, The Devil's Advocate reveals the affliction that pervades may of them. Morris West, the author, studied for the priesthood and had some fairly pronounced disagreements with Catholic teaching that surface in odd spots here and there in the novel. These were neither so pervasive nor so dramatic as to make the novel unreadable, but they were pronounced and often caused be to set the book aside for a time until I could return and get to the real "meat" of the story. Most of the objectionable material occurs in the first half of the book, and most people reading quickly won't even notice it, so it shouldn't detract from the very fine second half of the novel.

The story in outline is: A priest dying of stomach cancer is given the assignment of going to a remote Italian village to investigate the qualities of a person whose cause has been proposed to the Vatican. He resists but finally agrees to do so. The majority of the novel is the exploration of who the priest's life intersects with and is transformed by the life of the Giacomo Nerone, the person whose cause was proposed.

There are any number of implausible elements in the story, including the about face the priest makes upon visiting the orange orchard of the Archbishop who asked for the Devil's Advocate to come. Setting aside the melodramatic as a convention of the time, there are other more serious problems.

What I found most disturbing was the almost leering prurience with which West examined the life of the homosexual painter whose dilemma precipitates some of the action of the second half of the novel. This became, unfortunately, the mainstay of most "popular" Catholic novels. What book by Greeley can you pick up that doesn't have a lurid cover and an almost equally lurid story inside. West needed to make the case of his painter Nicholas Black, suitable to frame Black's eventually denouement, but, in my opinion, he went way overboard in the discussion.

Also bothersome were some simple word misusages. Twice he describes the Contessa as "bridling pleasantly." Bridling is confined to negative emotion--usually anger. It simply isn't possible to bridle with pleasure, although it is possible to take pleasure in your bridling.

Finally, the constant little jabs at this, that, or the other aspect of the Chruch and its teachings that West didn't particularly care for became wearisome and worrisome. I wondered if, by the time I got to the end, the Church was going to canonize some profligate philanderer. In point of fact, as we come to know Giacomo, this recedes rapidly into a non-issue.

However the resolution of Nicholas Black's story, and several other melodramatic elements simply didn't ring true in the way of, say, Graham Greene or Evelyn Waugh. The story was written for best-sellerdom and probably made it. Black's "hath not a Jew eyes" speech was frankly over-written and over-wrought.

All of which made me a little disappointed (initially) that this was selected by Loyola for inclusion in their series. The quality of the writing, the story, and the picture of the Catholic faith is not up to the quality presented in other entries in the series. However, one thought that occurred to me is that the point of inclusion is that there really is a very good story in overall amongst the mandatory best-seller debris, and that this book would serve as encouragement to other young Catholic writers that the world can be engaged and taught about the faith in a way that will appeal and encourage those who would never touch a book by Graham Greene. It is strong evidence that we need not and should not confine ourselves to a ghetto of "Catholic fiction" in order to preserve the integrity of our work--that the best work and the most lasting work can and should appeal to a wider audience than those already converted and that truths of the faith can be taught and conveyed even to the most resistant if formulated in a way that goes down smoothly. My conclusions, ultimately, was that this is a very fitting contribution to the Loyola series, while not being one of the better works included in the line-up. That is, that the purpose it serves is extremely valuable--encouragement and nurturing those whose gifts run in this way cannot be overvalued.

I cannot speculate on how many might have become more friendly to or more interested in the Catholic faith as a result of this work. Nor can I guess how many Catholics found something worthy to read in this novel.

While I have some strong reservations about the overall quality, I do recommend the book as a light, swift read--not likely to repay lingering study or examination, but certainly an entertainment that does no harm and much good. While it took me a monumental effort and Julie D's enthusiastic recommendation to finally get through it, I will freely admit that it was ultimately worthwhile. The book will not linger in memory, but neither will it render any harm. I will come back time and time again to the agonized priests of Greene and Endo, in memory and in fact; but I don't think I'll be visiting Msgr. Meredith in the future. Nevertheless, a good beach book for those of us still visiting the beaches. (Me, me, me, me!!!)

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On the Virtues of Monotasking

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It has become a commonplace in busy lives and in the business place that multitasking is a positive good. The ability to juggle the phone, the computer, a conversation at your desk and preparing for the next meeting is no longer something merely admirable. It is often required to get a job.

But there are daily reminders of the danger of multitasking. There are repeated warnings that conversing on cell phones while driving is becoming a cause of accidents that exceeds intoxication as a cause. Burnt dinners, iron-seared clothing, even missing children can all be attributed to the plague of multitasking that afflicts American society.

There is another ill, far more serious than most of those listed above, that stems from multitasking--wan and sere prayer lives, etiolated communication with the source of love and light.

Prayer demands presence, complete presence. It is very easy, too often, to pray while eating breakfast or while send the children off to school. Now, these events do require prayer, as do all things; however, if this is the only prayer time one has, one's communications with God will be necessarily foreshortened, straightened, and indistinct.

How many of us take the time to, in the words of this mornings petitions, "With single-minded devotion we dedicate the beginnings of this day to honor of your resurrection?" Single-minded devotion? Is it even possible in this day and age to be single minded? I don't refer here to the distraction that come when one sets oneself aside for prayer--they will come and there is, in the course of prayer, much to help the pray-er move on. I refer more to those who "don't have time for prayer." Or for whom prayer is a secondary , hasty background consideration. It is easy enough to console oneself with the thought that "work is prayer," and properly done, that is true. However, prayer is also prayer, and the old adage is often an excuse for not making the time to pursue intimate prayer.

Perhaps you have had the experience of being invited out by a friend or a cherished family member only to have the cell-phone ring (sometimes many times) and call away your friend. The experience is frustrating and painful. Your conversation is fragmentary and goes in leaps and bounds from one subject to another as truncated by the cell-phone calls. And even though the friend apologizes each time he or she answers, there's something a little insincere in it--no one really needs to be so connected that they are in reality disconnected from all. This is the model for many lives of prayer. We sit down to the luncheon table and start to talk. The cell-phone rings rather than glancing at the number and noting it for a return call, we pick up the phone and start talking. Sometimes we never return to the One whom we've invited to dine with us. Sometimes we come back after a while, forgetting where we were and what we were doing.

Prayer throughout the work of the day is a good thing--that isn't what I refer to. What I refer to is the fact that we "have no time for prayer." When we sit down to pray, we immediately rise to some other task that could easily wait twenty minutes. Prayer has no priority in our busy-busy lives.

And intimate prayer requires monotasking. Anything else is like making love while watching Jay Leno--hardly flattering to either one's partner or to Jay. Prayer is the intimate intrusion that we must allow to grow in God's love and to become like Christ. It requires everything we are to be focused for a while on God. And there should be sufficient time to really talk to God and hear what He has to say to us. To begin with 20-30 minutes. As time goes on, greater amounts of time.

I haven't done it yet, but I've considered asking any person who tells me that there isn't time for this kind of prayer in their lives, "How much television do you watch? How much time do you spend knitting, crocheting, reading books, playing sports, playing cards, drinking beer (outside of dinner), gardening, . . ?" You get the point. There is always time for prayer if it is a priority. There never will be time so long as it is a secondary consideration.

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A Taste of Heaven


from Hammer and Fire
Fr. Raphael Simon, OCSO

As human beings we are a composite of body and soul. Our heats will be captivated by the sweetness of the society of Jesus and Mary, our eyes by the loveliness of their countenances, our ears by their voices. In their company we will be at home at last.

There will be the joy of the companionship of the saints, including relatives, friends, and intercessors.

No one will be lost in this multitude, no one unknown, no one neglected. Each will be, as it were, the center of attraction of all, of all-embracing love and amiable companionship, without trace of discord.

In heaven's ballroom there are no wallflowers,
no last-chosen left standing
for long hours
as the teams are formed.

In heaven's throne room, every child is
an only child with the full
attention of every person in the room.

God loves each as though
each one were His only child.

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Linked Verse


I'm closing the linked verse post below as I compile the three main threads I've identified thematically--the melancholy, the joyous, and the avant garde. I've decided to use everything I've received if I can work the pieces correctly and we'll use that as the basis for our next linkages. Thanks to everyone who has participated so far.

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An Invitation to Versify

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The haiku below serves as the blog invitation to linked-verse:

Fall fell in one night
cold crept in, painting the sky,
summer's cessation

To help in the project, use the comments box to complete the haiku above by adding two seven syllable lines to form a tanka and then adding a haiku (5-7-5) for the next contributor to complete. I'll leave this open for a couple of days to give us a chance to generate some responses. The theme is autumn wherever you happen to be--which may mean spring for those of you down-under.

I'll take one or two of the ones that appeal to me and continue. But if there are other entries and other people would like to continue them at their own blogs, I am open to that as well. The object here is not high literature, but an enjoyable exercise that everyone can engage in and begin to discovery the intricacies and beauties that are Poetry first hand. So please contribute!

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Spiritual Reading--The Hammer


I picked up Fr. Raphael Simon's Hammer and Fire again last night and it hit me right between the eyes--this is one of those books that it would be easier to blank out what you would prefer not to read again rather than to highlight and comment on all the good points that are being made.

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

All are invited to union with God. This invitation is applied to the individual whenever he or she reads of hears it, or feels within the attraction of Holy Spirit. Day laborer, machinist, unlettered and learned, children, the aged, single and married persons are all called to holiness. The Father created the universe and keeps it in existence for this purpose, that all may have the opportunity to be united to Himself.

The entire Universe as personal invitation to enjoy the companionship of God. The stars in their courses, the waters in the ocean, and all the created myriad of living things praise Him in their being and call to Him from where they are. More, they call us to Him, constant reminders of His benevolence and kindness, His mercy and grace.

A little later:

from "Hammer: Reading the Scripture"

Half the battle of life--the spiritual life--consists in persevering in spiritual reading. We are constantly subjected to impressions from the world through what we see, hear and read. We are continuously influenced too by our temperament and imagination, which tend to make our thoughts subjective and misleading. We need daily contact with a source of divine truth, and this we have through spiritual reading. Through it we enter into an atmosphere of truth and reality in which the proper perspective on values is maintained and this affects our judgments, desires, decisions, and conduct.

Without spiritual reading, prayer becomes empty and unfruitful, for spiritual reading supplies matter for our prayer. It reawakens memories and recollections, deepens true impressions, corrects errors, and extends our vision. While we continue to do daily spiritual reading, the relish for it increase; but when we let it drop out of our daily life it becomes distasteful, and only be repeated efforts do we recover its enjoyment.

The hammer, then, is spiritual reading. And the reading of spiritual books is a matter not too many are versed in. Most, it seems, attempt spiritual reading in the same way they read a novel or a biography--to get to the point. What does this author have to say to me that I can take away and make a better life? Come on, get to the point.

But often the point of spiritual reading is not to get to the point. That is, spiritual reading, properly conducted teaches patience and rewards consistency in small amounts. While it is laudable to "read the Bible in a year" every year, it is not necessarily salutary. It isn't as though this exercise is a kind of spiritual aerobics that makes us fitter for battle on the spiritual plane. Reading the Bible in a year helps us only inasmuch as we internalize what the Bible has to say. Therefore the wisdom of the church that sets up a three-year Sunday lectionary just to get us through the Gospels.

In spiritual reading, it is not quantity so much as it is quality. I am not a daily devotional person--I've discovered that because even the very best of daily devotionals leaves me rather cold and disconnected. However, a book, read daily, that has a different kind of continuity, helps immeasurably. Taking up The Ascent of Mount Carmel or The Dark Night of the Soul and reading it one paragraph at a time gives me much to reflect on and, God willing, eventually to pray about.

I can read the entire Gospel of Mark in about an hour. However, how much better to spend that hour with a single verse if it should speak to me.

Spiritual reading takes time--usually a lot of time. Consider reading St. Thomas Aquinas as spiritual reading. Say one took the Summa as one's text. It would seem to me that one would not finish even one article in a session. Properly conducted and properly focused and considering the Summa as a prayer text, you might actually read through the question itself and think through the implications of it and reflect on what scripture has to say about it. In an hour you would only begin to pierce the shell of the question.

Now, the Summa may not be everyone's cup of tea, nor might it be the best text for many for reflection and spiritual reading--but it is a text for some, and that is the second aspect of spiritual reading--each person must choose to listen to God as God has seen fit to speak to that person. So for some the Summa would not make good fodder for prayer. Personally, I find many non-Catholic sources rich material for reflection. I feel particularly drawn to certain Quaker and Shaker writers. George Fox, William Penn, and John Woolman have stocked my spiritual reading for years, as have countless Catholic writers--the Carmeliets, Merton, Day, de Mello, St. Catherine of Siena, Julian of Norwich, Richard Rolle, Walter HIlton, The Cloud of Unknowing, The Imitation of Christ, and so on. But in the past I have made the mistake I charge many with. I've read these books as though I needed to get to some point in them, that with swift reading I would find the point and move on. Such reading is a grave mistake in the conduct of spiritual reading.

And this is one reason why it is a discipline any literate person can conduct, no matter how unappealing he or she may find reading. You don't have to read much and reading isn't really the point. The faculties used in reading are employed, but the point is one must also engage the faculties more commonly used in listening. The reading should be conducted in much the same way as the reading from Mass--one should hear, deep down inside, all that is said in the course of the reading. The reading then is a conversation with an author and ultimately and conversation past the author to the Author of all. That is, the good spiritual writer, following the example of the Blessed Mother, directs our attention to God, Father, Son, and Spirit. He does not occupy us with himself, but rather conducts us and introduces us to the Lord of All in such a way as we can begin to speak without uncomfortable pauses and uncertainties. This takes time and a willingness to read as though listening. We must hear what is being said and talk to God about what we hear.

(Note: The book is available through Zaccheus Press, and if it follows true to form, it may be distributed by Ignatius Press as well. Beautiful, well made, and nicely put together--the book will reward careful reading. It would seem to be the kind of book that would make, for a certain kind of person, a very rewarding spiritual reading experience.

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Step Right Up, Don't Be Afraid


So, you say you're not a poet.

You say you don't know nothing about versifying no poem.

No print, No poem, NO PROBLEM!

If you can count, you can add to the linked verse. Yep, a mere 31 syllables about what is happening around you right now. A moment away from Dancing with the Wife Swap Next Door Neighbors Survivor: East OskKosh, 24 Found (or is it 24 Lost?) CSI: Milledgeville or whatever other pressingly urgent event is impinging on your conscience. Set them aside for a moment and take a stab at it. You'll be glad you did.

Homeschool moms, send your kids. Ideal for you, old, elderly shut-ins and ingenues, Nascar Fans, and just mean old curmudgeons.

Let's make a poem together. All you have to lose is about 30 seconds and 31 syllables. Even James would be impressed with the curb on the tongue!

So step right up. That's it, just spin the magic syllable wheel and churn out the next link in our poem.

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"But not all is quiet. . .

There, six syllables. Cut off the but, and you've got five, only 25 or 26 more to go!

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More E-Books


A History of Twelve Jesuit Martyrs, including Father Campion

Memoirs of Missionary Priests by Bsp. Richard Challoner--Includes biographies of both Fr. Edward Campion and Father Robert Southwell, among other British and Welsh Martyrs.

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I offer the following finds--

Carmel in England: A History of the English Mission of the Discalced Carmelites, 1615 to 1849

Carmel in Ireland: A Narrative of the Irish Province of Teresian, Or Discalced Carmelites

What is most remarkable is that given present concerns, these arrive at a most propitious time.

Now here's one for engendering humility:

egends of the Monastic Orders as Represented in the Fine Arts Anna Jameson. From which, this excerpt:

"Neither as an Order, nor as individuals, are the Carmelites interesting or important in their relation to art."

The Library of Historic Characters and Famous Events of All Nations and All Ages For those famaliar with Dumas, this recounts the life of Louise de la Vallière; Mother, Duchess, first mistress of King Louis XIV, and eventually, cloistered Carmelite nun. Certainly a candidate for Saints Behaving Badly--only it would have to be Latter-Day Holy People Who Don't Have a Cause Behaving Badly.

Letters of Said Duchess

Spanish Mystics by Marguerite Tollemache

Also to be found on the site are complete biographies of St. Josemaria Escrive, In Converstation with God, various volumes of the Navarre Bible, and other Opus Dei and Sceptre publications.

Santa Teresa: Being Some Account of Her Life and Times, Together with Some Pages from the History Gabriela Cunninghame Graham

Anyone care for the works of Orestes Brownson?

Complete on-line edition of Charles Carroll of Carrollton: Faithful Revolutionary--Scott McDermott

A list of Publications related to Charles Carroll of Carrollton

This could go on forever, but you take a try at it. Amazing things available.

Once again, deep appreciation to Bill White who not only first alerted me to the resource, but who continues to mine its treasures.

Blessed John Soreth

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E-Books Galore!


Bill at Summa Minutiae has a whole slew of them. Start with the referenced post and then look at all of 22 September. Thanks Bill!

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Catholic Essays and Other Finds


A Book I had not encountered before with a leading essay on Juliana of Norwich:

The Faith of Millions by George Tyrrell S.J.

The Complete works of Charles and Mary Lamb for Children

A Compendium of Poets of the 18th Century

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Consider Her Ways

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A phrase in the post before, put me in mind of another, which I share here:

Proverbs 6:6-8

6 Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:

7 Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,

8 Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.

I was so reminded because of this remarkable little short story by John Wyndham, who was also kind enough to give us the cinematic frisson of Night of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos (known in filmdom as Village of the Damned--do attempt to avoid John Carpenter's atrocious remake--the early black and white version is quite creepy and atmospheric).

And I suppose we need to give him remote credit for some of the high points of intro theme of The Rocky Horror Picture Show:

And I really got hot
When I saw Janette Scott
Fight a Triffid that spits poison and kills

I remember watching this remarkable film when I was quite young and still have a reluctance to enter a saw-palmetto patch (for more reasons than the Triffids might provide.)

Wow, talk about stream of consciousness--rattlesnakes to Proverbs to Triffids. What a scary place my mind must be to visit--I'll have to go there sometime.

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Bartram's Travels


Available in a glorious transcribed html edition with all of the plates.

William Bartram was one of the first "naturalists" to do extensive tours and studies through the Southern United states. His Travels, published in 1791 records the people, the plants, and the animals he encountered during a tour of the Carolinas, Georgia and Northern Florida. A neglected masterpiece of observation.

PERHAPS, to a grateful mind, there is no intellectual enjoyment, which regards human concerns, of a more excellent nature, than the remembrance of real acts of friendship. The heart expands at the pleasing recollection. When I came up to his door, the friendly man, smiling, and with a grace and dignity peculiar to himself, took me by the hand, and accosted me thus: "Friend Bartram, come under my roof, and I desire you to make my house your home, as long as convenient to your self; remember, from this moment, that you are a part of my family, and, on my part, I shall endeavour to make it agreeable," which was verified during my continuance in, and about, the southern territories of Georgia and Florida; for I found here sincerity in union with all the virtues, under the influence of religion. I shall yet mention a remarkable instance of Mr. M'Intosh's friendship and respect for me; which was, recommending his eldest son, Mr. John M'Intosh, as a companion in my travels. He was a sensible virtuous youth, and a very agreeable companion through a long and toilsome journey of near a thousand miles.

And, for a moment, let us consider the rattlesnake:

BUT let us again resume the subject of the rattle snake; a wonderful creature, when we consider his form, nature and disposition, it is certain that he is capable by a puncture or scratch of one of his fangs, not only to kill the largest animal in America, and that in a few minutes time, but to turn the whole body into corruption; but such is the nature of this dreaded reptile, that he cannot run or creep faster than a man or child can walk, and he is never known to strike until he is first assaulted or fears himself in danger, and even then always gives the earliest warning by the rattles at the extremity of his tail. I have in the course of my travels in the Southern states (where they are the largest, most numerous and supposed to be the most venemous and vindictive) stept unknowingly so close as almost to touch one of them with my feet, and when I perceived him he was already drawn up in circular coils ready for a blow. But however incredible it may appear, the generous, I may say magnanimous creature lay as still and motionless as if inanimate, his head crouched in, his eyes almost shut, I precipitately withdrew, unless when I have been so shocked with surprise and horror as to be in a manner rivetted to the spot, for a short time not having strength to go away, when he often slowly extends himself and quietly moves off in a direct line, unless pursued when he erects his tail as far as the rattles extend, and gives the warning alarm by intervals, but if you pursue and overtake him with a shew of enmity, he instantly throws himself into the spiral coil, his tail by the rapidity of its motion appears like a vapour, making a quick tremulous sound, his whole body swells through rage, continually rising and falling as a bellows; his beautiful particoloured skin becomes speckled and rough by dilatation, his head and neck are flattened, his cheeks swollen and his lips constricted, discovering his mortal fangs; his eyes red as burning coals, and his brandishing forked tongue of the colour of the hottest flame, continually menaces death and destruction, yet never strikes unless sure of his mark.

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Powerful Advice

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I snatch the quotation below from a very fine piece by TSO:

Reminds me of what a bishop (I think it was a bishop) once said. He said he usually prays for three minutes. But it takes thirty minutes of prayer to get there.

A lot of encouragement in very few words. Persistence, another face of humility.

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This Day in 1823

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The Angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and told him to reestablish God's Church on Earth.

I've always found this and the golden tablets to be of particular interest along with the doctrine of blood atonement, invoked by Brigham Young to justify the Mountain Meadows Massacre. (Typified here as the first 9/11.)

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After his success last year as "Little Boy Blue" (ballet) and "Snoopy" (tap), Samuel changed his mind about the dance classes he would take this year. We thought we were going to be down to tap. However, he decided that he wanted to continue on to jazz, which meant he had to continue ballet, he also wanted to do tap and we added acro. The net sum of this is that we cart around a bag with four different kinds of shoes to two different venues on three different nights of the week. One lass each Monday and Tuesday and two classes on Wednesday.

Last year, I simply foisted most of this off on Linda allowing her the home-school mom privilege of this extended education. But with his decision to continue, I felt that he needed his Dad's presence and support through these classes. I want him to know that if he is committed to doing it, I'm 100% behind him. So each night I spend 1-1 1/2 hours watching him as he goes through his steps. The good side of this is that I can now help him with parts of the routines that need practice. The single downside, you may have noticed, is that there is less time for blogging.

But there's another upside. Because most of a dance class consists of waiting for you turn, there is plenty of time for the observing parent with his pocket keyboard and PDA to write or record and consider old writing and transform it into new. Of recent date, I've been typing in older poetry--poetry from 1980, at present. And I have to admit to being occasionally astounded by a line or two the gleams out from the mass of rubbish that surrounds it. There is some good poetry hidden under the pretension of youth, just waiting to be dug out.

It also puts me in mind of my real strengths as a poet--and as you may have noted by now, they don't consist of "message" poetry. Where the poetry really speaks to me is where it approaches imagist in its detail and its message is ambiguous and open. That's pretty much how I live life--one large rolling and shifting mass of ambiguity. I'd like to feel bad about that, but I can't because it has served me well thus far.

Anyway. for those who have noted a shortage of content, just be aware that I have about six-to-eight hours less a week to visit with y'all. Which doesn't mean I won't visit, just that the visits will be shorter and more intense as they come.

In the meantime, please pray for Samuel's continued success. The other day at Mass we read the petitions. We received the petitions on Sunday morning, the two of us read them. After he read, I pointed out some of the finer points of punctuation and grammar and told him how to deal with them in reading. We practiced again, and he did a little better and I was satisfied. However, when we got to Mass that evening, he did his reading and we aren't talking "a little better" here, we're talking leaps and bounds--pure, clear, slow, smooth, a better reader than many of our adults. (And I am not one to give idle praise, even though I will give lot's of encouragement.) This is one of those moment when you realize that Samuel needs his audience. It is in front of an audience that he excels. The audience fires him up and gets him ready to go. And as the surfers say, he is stoked. He came back from the readings and he knew that he had hit it square on the head.

The other day Linda called me and said that while Samuel was taking one of his several "imagination breaks" in the course of the day, she heard him singing. She said that she thought it sounded familiar, and given that the usual "imagination break" consists of running around making jet or swooshing sounds, this was unusual. She went away and came back laughing and said that he was singing the Priest's part at Mass. (He's recently begun to take classes to be an alter-server.) So our present Pope may play piano and enjoy classical music, but watch out world as we unleashed the first Jazz-balletic-pianist-tapper Pope!

Prayers for Samuel's continued growth and dedication to God's purposes would be greatly appreciated.

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There Is Comfort in the Thunder

Comfort in the Thunder

In the dark of dawn
the double thunder signals
they are safely home.

Okay a bad haiku, but being awakened at 6:21 by the double sonic boom of the returning shuttle provides some small comfort to those of us who live nearby. Or perhaps, for some, just a momentary annoyance. I can only speak for myself.

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Saying the Same Thing

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Now that this morning's concerns have been expressed in a way that allows me some reprieve, let me restate them in a way that is more universal, more, if you will, Catholic.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (KJV-Phil 4:8)

If what we are thinking about does not reflect things, then it is time spent in purgatory. It is so terribly easy to find fault with anything or anyone and so very difficult to articulate praise. But the better part is to look upon those things worthy of praise while working hard to correct those things that we would otherwise complain about. This is the Martha-and-Mary principle. Mary's better part always informs Martha's better work. As people living in the real world, in the secular world, in the world outside the cloister, our meditations upon worthy things prepare us for action bringing those real things to the people around us. Contemplation isn't an end in itself, or at least not entirely, for contemplation in the world must lead to works that change the world. As James would note, "Faith without works is dead." Prayer without works is equally dead. But works without faith are useless and futile--building a house upon sand. The two walk hand-in-hand supporting and informing one another.

So, rather than posting my complaints, as I did this morning, I should rather choose to post those things that will build up the body of Christ and allow all to see what a beautiful, loving, kind, and merciful God and Father we have who gave us so great a Savior as our guide and friend.

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Stealing Joy

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There are some, probably all unaware of it, who spend their time being Satan's Willing Executioners. They steal joy.

Some of the joy stealers are undoubtedly aware of it, but because their own lives are too small and too unhappy, they only feel camaraderie only in the misery they can spread. These are very, very few in number.

More often than not, those who would steal joy do so out of very good motives. They want to improve things for everyone, they want to return reverence to the Mass, they want things to be like they were when everyone was pious, reverent, silent (and every bit as involved or uninvolved as they are today).

The people I refer to are those who tell us everything that is wrong with the present Mass. Those who write treatises about why this, that, or the other hymn is inappropriate. Why the only good ways are the old ways.

After reading enough of this I go to Mass with a mass of interior griping. I open my hymnal and see the name of Michael Joncas and nearly slam it shut--now there's charity for you. I have echoing in my head all the critiques of "I Am the Bread of Life." In short, I am paying attention to everything except the most important thing. I have Martha'ed away the Mass in a toil of concerns that really do not affect the central action of the Mass. If I sing "I Am the Bread of Life," I am not undoing what the Priest has done. Nor, contrary to some, am I claiming to be Jesus himself. I read one critique that made the nonsensical claim that never before the twentieth century did we sing or pray in the person of God, all song were written "from the outside" as it were. And then I turn to Psalm 95, which I recite every morning:

"Do not grow stubborn in the wilderness
as your Fathers did at Meribah and Massah
although they had seen all of my works.

Forty years I endured that generation,
I said, "They are a people whose hearts go astray
and they do not know my ways,"
So I swore in my anger, they shall not enter my rest."

Seems like we pray in the person of God as we recite this, and yet I haven't seen generations of confused monks convinced that they are God.

This is not to say that everything is perfect, nor to say that every selection chosen for Mass is always the most appropriate. It is to say that if one finds it necessary to make a complaint, it should be to the Priest or the liturgy committee and one's discontentment should be kept for oneself--a vintage not to be shared with all. We all have enough gripes about the way things go in our parishes. Last weekend, I thought I'd become apoplectic at a "liturgical motion" that consisted for a pair of barefoot young ladies in red carrying pots of incense through the congregation. (Our parish is Holy Cross, so we deferred the celebration to the weekend at which time we had a big blowout.). And then, I realized that I wasn't there to critique what was going on. That this motion did not detract from the Mass, and for some it might even have acted as a moment of beauty to bring them in to the main course. Apoplexy was conditioned by what I had read and participated in with various Catholic Blogs. It was time to divorce myself from the griping, complaining, and communal unhappiness that typified some sectors of the community. And so, I could happily sing along with "Our God is an Awesome God," well aware that a great many would frown upon it and wonder what place it had in the Holy Sacrifice of Mass. But if they choose to steal their own joy with such ruminations, it is none of my business. It only becomes my business when they make it their business to steal the joy of others.

Less griping, more working with the liturgy committee, with the Priest to effect the changes you would like to see in the Parish. And then sit for a while in the seat of those who receive the complaints, because every change made provokes complaints from one group or another.

Frankly, I don't understand how our good and great Priests endure the panoply of nonsense and complaint that they must be subject to from all of their parishioners-- different ones at different times. Indeed, they have a special grace and a leg up on the way to heaven simply sitting in the seat of authority and hearing all that they must hear.

If you are one--stop stealing joy. Register your complaint, let the liturgy committee know how you'd like to see things change. My guess about the likelihood of change involves an accumulation of solid state atmospheric precipitation and a very warm environment; nevertheless, that is the appropriate venue for discussion of the matters. In a sense, it is their job to receive and assimilate feedback. But it is not the job of the congregation at large, nor any particular member of it outside of those concerned with the planning of liturgy--and it is a form of detraction that can lead many astray--it cultivates unseemly anger and derails concentration on what is truly important.

Or, more likely, I'm simply exposing my own weakness. In which case, so be it.

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Apples and Pumpkins

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As much as I love Florida, there are several things I miss about fall--the changing colors, certainly. But having spent much of my life in Virginia and Ohio, what I most miss is apple season. I was astonished and appalled by the narrow and uninteresting selection of apples that the grocery stores here in Florida have. Normally this time of year the apples were rolling into the stores--Stamen, Winesap, and Jonathan being the three favored varieties. So, instead of sending cash to my pay-pal account, if you are a resident of VA or OH, you can amply repay me by shipping me any of these three varieties of apples, in almost any quantity (so long as it is large.)

And for the residents of Columbus--TSO in particular, there is an event in Circleville, which approaches asymptotically close to heaven--yes, the world-renowned Circleville Pumpkin festival in which one can obtain, pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cakes, pumpkin donuts, cooked pumpkin twelve ways, and, of course pumpkin Ice Cream. There is no way to ship Circleville or the pumpkin festival to me, but go or send an emissary to enjoy it for me. Eat a pumpkin donut or pumpkin ice cream. It's the very least you can do for a blogging pal.

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Hear, O Israel
the Lord your God--
the Lord is One.

There is no seam or division,
His will is one will, His direction is one direction
with no shadow of turning.
He is the eternal ascendant.

He is the garment of hope and love,
the prop and the mainstay
at the center of life
with Him life is hollow
with Him there is only
one way, eternally homeward.
Love Him
and you lean on Him.
Turn away from Him
and still he hold the place at the center,
eternally patient,
ever-loving and kind.
He knows no deceit--
He is all love.

(from 17 November 1991)

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Christ, Altogether Lovely


Periodically I'm reminded of the magnificence of the beauty of Jesus Christ. And so, I offer once again this set of reflections on John Flavel's sermon: "Christ Altogether Lovely." It starts in early November and continues through December.

When you need a reminder, just stop in and look. And be thankful for the Puritan divines and Anglican ministers who have given such substantive reflections. As ultimately harmful to the Body as the reformation was, it was not without certain things of value--the diversity of views and the understandings that resulted, the depth of our understanding of the beauty of Christ have all been enhanced. Indeed, God may write straight with crooked lines.

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A Poet and a Novelist


I'm glad that All the King's Men has had another screen attempt (although I must admit I'm dubious about the casting) because from a reading in 9th or perhaps 10th grade, the book has remained with me in quotations and images. For example, I remember clearly Jack Burden's dictum that "Life is motion toward knowledge." I also remember the image of the great desk in the empty room and its small pond of green carpeting with the tagline "Mentre che la speranza ha fior del verde."

However, the mavens of literature, the High-Priests of the politically correct and the important would have you know that All the King's Men is NOT an important work. It is a half-novel, and mostly-not-there novel, a novel of unfulfilled promised. This despite the fact that one group of journalists felt it important enough to pattern their own title after it.

Let us leave aside the squawking caw of the crows of the literary world--let them preside over the death and funeral of the novel, and let us take ourselves for just a moment into the world of All the King's Men. I will share the very beginning of the novel, another image seared into my literary imagination and into my way of thinking about the world. From the very beginning of the novel.

from All the King's Men
Robert Penn Warren

Mason City.

To get there you follow Highway 59, going northeast out of the city, and it is a good highway and new. Or was new, that day we went up it. You look up the highway and it is straight for miles, coming at you, with the black line down the center coming at and at you, black and slick and tarry-shining against the white of the slab, and the heat dazzles up from the white slab so that only the black line is clear, coming at you with the whine of the tires and if you don't quit staring at that line and don't take a few deep breaths and slap yourself hard on the back of the neck you'll hypnotize yourself and you'll come to just at the moment when the right front wheel hooks over into the black dirt shoulder off the slab, and you'll try to jerk her back on but you can't because the slab is high like a curb, and maybe you'll try to reach to turn off the ignition just as she starts the dive. But you won't make it, of course. The a n***** chopping cotton a mile away, he'll look up and see the little column of black smoke standing up above the vitriolic, arsenical green of the cotton rows, and up against the violent metallic, throbbing blue of the sky, and he'll say, "Lawd God, hit's a-nudder one done done hit!"

(Please forgive me over delicacy with language, a glance at the photograph in the upper left will tell you instantly why I might be a bit squeamish about some word usage. I don't object to it in literature, but I have a real problem thinking through how I'm going to talk to Sam about it.)

This is the language of a poet steeped in the motion of a novel without slowing it down. This is where the best of both worlds comes together in a way that amplifies both. The poetry of this passage makes it indelible. I've never tried to remember it, but I remember the image of the car on the white concrete highway with the black median line and it associates with very early days in Pensacola driving to the beach. He captures both the motion of the vehicle and the hypnotic effect of the line coming out of infinity-gorgeous language to certain purpose. The scene is set and the ending is forecast in the very beginning. You're in a speeding car and you're going to hook over that curb-like shoulder by the time you're done. And you don't know it yet.

One more little observation from later in the novel--not one I recall, but one of many that struck my eye as I thumbed through the novel:

He wasn't the real thing, but he sure was a good imitation of it, which is frequently better than the real thing, for the real thing can relax but the imitation can't afford to and has to spend all the time being just one cut more real that the real thing, with money no object. He took us to a night club where they rolled our a sheet of honest-to-God ice on the floor and a bevy of "Nordic Nymphs" in silver gee-strings and silver brassières came skating out on real skates to whirl and fandango and cavort and sway to the music under the housebroke aurora borealis with the skates flashing and the white knees flashing and the white arms serpentining in the blue light, and the little twin, hard-soft columns of muscle and flesh up the backbones of the bare backs swaying and working in a beautiful reciprocal motion, and what was business under the silver brassières vibrating to music, and the long unbound unsnooded silver innocent Swedish hair trialing and floating and whipping in the air.

It took the boy from Mason City, who had never seen any ice except the skim-ice on the horse trough. "Jesus," the boy from Mason City said, in unabashed admiration. And then, "Jesus." And he kept swallowing hard, as though he had a sizable chunk of dry corn pone stuck in his throat.

It was over and Josh Conklin said politely, "How did you like that, Governor?"

"They sure can skate," the Governor said.

And so you can almost see Huey Long, Lyndon, or William Jefferson with their cronies at some place where neither politicians nor their cronies really ought ever to be and yet always seem to find themselves. And there is a certain touching naivete in the Governor's response (please pardon the violation of the third Commandment).

Poetry and power, the twin rails of this magnificent book, and the third rail--pride, ambition, gluttony, the panoply of the Capital Sins that end in the way of all such. One doesn't touch the third rail with impunity.

An intimate glimpse of the political world which has only gotten darker since the time of its writing. Powerful, prolonged and ultimately true about many things--the book is worth your time in a way the film probably will not be. We await the news.

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Silence and Presence


In silence is encompassed presence.

Jennifer Egan has this to say:

from The Keep
Jennifer Egan

Howard: You hear those sounds? Insects, birds, but not even that. Something behind them, you hear it? It's--what? A hum, almost. But not quite. . . .

Danny listened and hear nothing, but it was a different kind of nothing than he was used to. Most quiet was like a pause, a blank spot in the usual noise, but this was thick, like you only hear in New York right after a snowstorm. Even quieter than that.

Howard: I don't want to lose that. I want this place to be about that. Not just some resort. . . .

Danny: You want the hotel to be about silence? . . .

So it'll be like a . . . retreat? Where people come and do yoga or whatever? . . .

Howard: Think about medieval times, Danny, like when this castle was built. People were constantly seeing ghosts, having visions--they thought Christ was sitting with them at the dinner table, they though angels and devils were flying around. We don't see those things anymore. Why? Was all that stuff happening before and then it stopped? Unlikely. Was everyone nuts in medieval times? Doubtful. But their imaginations were more active. Their inner lives were rich and weird.

This sparked a thought. Perhaps Angels do not visit because most people do not make a place for them to visit. Most people move from one event to the next--lives filled with endless clamor--present noise and noise of the future, interior voices shouting the schedules of where one has to be and when. Noise that isn't even perceptible until it dims. And then, in that dome of quiet there is an uneasiness--things to do, people to see, events to plan, future shadows to contend with--there is no time for the present--it is crowded out on both sides by the past and the future. The present is so slender, so tenuous, so subdued itself that it becomes a nothing in the face of the overwhelming tide of what has been and what might never be. These tsunamis crowd out all present thought--they swarm through lives and wash away whatever might be of substance.

And this is the reason that silence is so filled with fear for many. In silence one must face the present, the second hand that ticks along, one tick at a time, one slow stroke that vanishes and becomes the past. Silence encourages presence--both being and being in the present and it is only in the present, the eternal present that salvation is wrought and that Jesus is accessible to us. The Historic Jesus is manufactured for the comfort of speculators and ersatz historians; the Apocalyptic Jesus will be seen when He is present in the linear flow of time. But for us, now, here, at this moment, Jesus is present. He is present when the torrent of sound and event that is used to block him out is dimmed for a moment, when minds are released from the flood of cares to look clearly for a single moment--the eternal benediction of the Present in His Presence.

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Reading List


Yesterday went to the bookstore and picked up a few things:

The last two months of the "hard case" series (mixed new and old Noir, this time featuring a novel by Pete Hammill and one by Madison Smartt Bell), an odd little Harry Potter distilled book by Martin Booth called The Alchemist's Son, which seems somewhat better written than the Harry Potter series, but centered around similar alchemical themes.

But most interesting of all, I hope, was a new book by a new author, Donna Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale. All of the blurbs and every review I could get hold of makes me think this has much promise and I don't usually buy hardbacks, but let's hope that this one was worth the money.

In addition work continues on Charles Martin's really very nice The Dead Don't Dance (not at all what you might think it is by the title), and Karen Valentine's nice The Haunted Rectory. I'll report as I finish.

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Saints Behaving Badly

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The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil-Worshippers Who Became Saints
by Thomas J. Craughwell

You may already have seen reviews of this book at Happy Catholic and Disputations and with such redoubtable reviewers, there is precious little I can add to the mix except my own brand of enthusiasm. I have to admit that this kind of book isn't particularly appealing to me normally, but after reading Tom's review, I thought it might be worthwhile. Fortunately, I was offered a review copy of the book and leapt at the chance to read it before it was generally available.

Of recent date, I have been in a sort of spiritual and personal doldrums, casting about this way and that to find something worthwhile to read, some way to access the prayer life I seemed to know at one time. This book was a real spirit-lifter and spiritual life-saver for me in ways that most lives of saints are not. In fact, I find most lives of saints depressingly Calvinistic, with one pious anecdote after another telling me about God's precious chosen few who from conception are preserved from any serious error. Saints who emerge from the womb preaching to all and sundry and after fourteen days die in the odor of Sanctity. (I forget the name of this particular prodigy, but will endeavor to provide when I have a chance to research.) I read of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Therese of Lisieux and reach the conclusion that sanctity is for the precious few.

And then along comes this breath of fresh air. Craughwell's intent is not to "downgrade" the saints, but to present less than perfect models after whom we might pattern ourselves. You have a wide variety of miscreants to choose from--everything from leches and lushes to mass-murderers and satanists. Each of the saints described in the book suffers from one or more virulent forms of (mostly) mortal sin. And every one of them was found to be a Holy Person.

The reader is invited to choose from Saints who represent any number of besetting sins. Being personally inclined to comfort and an excess of interest in the opposite sex, I immediately took to St. Augustine and St. Mary of Egypt. Not being particularly wrathful or vengeful, I was still heartened to read of St. Olga the mass-murderer and her grandson St. Vladimir, fratricide, rapist and practitioner of human sacrifice.

Craughwell describes the lives of these saints before they entered into God's friendship. He leaves for the interested reader the discovery of the life of sanctity that followed God's grace becoming apparent in their lives. And I like this as well.

What the book provides for me, and I think for many, is a very level-headed hard-eyed gaze at the parts of Saints' lives that we don't often pay much attention to. But the best part of all is that the book does this without detraction, without gossip, without making those previous lives seem like desirable states. It is very understated, matter-of-fact, and realistic without being detailed to the point of nausea. More, the book provides insights that give me hope when I feel overwhelmed by my own sinfulness and when the lives of the perfect are merely constant condemnations of my own state. Who can really hope to approach, much less imitate the Blessed Mother of God in the wretched state of sinfulness most of us occupy. Why would one think any Saint would intercede for, much less pay attention to those of us in the gutters of the way of the King? This book supplies hope--they would pray for us because many were like us. The Saints are not a frozen panoply of the perfect parading from one miracle to the next, but rather deeply flawed human beings who, in their surrender to Jesus Christ achieved God's own perfection.

Finally, the very best thing about this book is that it is well-written, lively, and fun. The lives featured average a few pages--perhaps five minutes reading for a slow reader--something for a coffee-break at work or a moment or two at home.

This was certainly one of the more enjoyable books I've read this year, and I think it will be a bedside companion--a compendium of hope and joy for those moments when I brood too much about my own sorry state. The book serves as a reminder that no matter what our state in life, God is there to lift us out of it if we only give him the chance.

Highest recommendation.

Saints Behaving Badly becomes available 19 September 2006. In keeping with my credo about supporting the Christian arts, I highly recommend that all who can afford to do so get this book and read it. Those who cannot should urge their libraries to carry it--it has enough mainstream appeal that it should move off the "Recent and Recommended" shelves steadily (after all, it does seem like it might be a bit lurid, doesn't it?). (Presently Amazon has a sufficient discount to make it only slightly more expensive that a mass market paperback!)

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A Brief Explanation


My apologies for the relative quiet that has settled over the blog in recent days. Pressing personal correspondence, an increased volume of personal writing, continued work with the annoying difficulty of the poor definition and reclassification of Pluto, and increased work on a project for the Carmelites has led to reduced time for blogging. However, I hope to rearrange certain things to make it possible to once again resume the joy of blogging.

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In Memoriam

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I'm too distraught to say anything, and probably should be observing the silence I intended to keep today; however, Suburban Banshee at Aliens in This World posts a remarkable tribute to help remember those who lost their lives on this day five years ago.

Mr. Blosser provides another.

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A Certain Sadness

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Today we took Samuel to Tampa to the Florida Aquarium because they were having a home-school family day. It was, overall, a wonderful trip. But in the course of it I was overcome with a certain sadness that has affected me from time to time. I looked around me and saw families of two, three, four, five, six, seven, or more children and I wondered why it was that Linda and I could not have been so graced.

Don't get me wrong, I am deeply grateful for the one child we were able to grab onto and keep. God certainly blessed us beyond blessing with Samuel. And had we had our own children, I don't know if we would have been as open to adopting as we had been--and so in a sense, this was a fulfillment of our particular vocation.

But, like Tevye, I find myself asking, "Would it have foiled some grand eternal plan, if I'd been a larger family man?"

God bless all of you who have been given so many to cherish. Cherish them a little for me and count your blessings, even as I count mine. God is good in all that He does, and perhaps my own desire is thwarted to good purpose. Whatever it may be it is want, not need, and following my own advice, I need to know the difference.

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A Poetic Invitation


It occurred to me as I posted the previous poem that I would like to run an experiment in blogging linked-verse. I don't know how many poets there are out there who would be willing to go along, but let me explain what I have in mind.

In a couple of days, I will post a haiku that will be the "seed" of the linked verse experiment. I will also remind everyone that the theme will be "Autumn" or "October," wherever you happen to be. What I hope we can create through the linked verse is a celebration of my favorite season from people in different places (Sorry Aussies and Kiwis, to join in you'll just have to remember what Autumn is like where y'all live while those Northern Hemispherer's are actually experiencing it.)

The rules of linked verse are very simple. The person who wishes to add completes the Haiku by making it a tanka. That is, two seven syllable lines are added to the original haiku that complete that thought and begin the transition into the next thought. Then you also add the new haiku--as a reminder that is a poem of syllable pattern 5-7-5.

Thus each addition will take the form 7-7/5-7-5.

Now here's what I will do. As you post these in comments, I will choose the two or three that most appeal to me and post them along with the original, thus making the linked verse, and I'll add the author's name to the author list. No matter how often you add, you'll be on the author list once.

If you post additions to the linked verse, you are allowing use of that work here or anywhere else someone wishes to carry on a variant of the verse--in short a creative commons license limited to this work alone.

What I hope will happen is that others will be inspired and moved by other connections than I was, they will take those to their own sites and become their own author/editors of linked verse. I'm hoping that here we will have at least one continuation on the theme of autumn and that we get other variations that give rise to other poems.

No previous poetic experience required. Help provided upon request. Enjoy. I'd like this to be a fun and interesting game that engages people in the creation of simple works of beauty. Together we'll discover that linked verse cannot be forced into a channel and allowed to run wild, it will emulate the season and the theme of nature. At least I hope that's what everyone will discover.

I hope you all feel open to participating and enjoying the experience. And remember, given where I live, my Autumn imagery is likely to be quite different from what the rest of you all see. Mir can vouch for that.

Of what I've explained is unclear, please ask questions so we can clarify all points before we begin. There are no prizes and no right answers, the object is to enjoy and to see how many different things can grow from a simple seed.

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A Repeat

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A repeat, one of my more deliberately Carmelite poems--but I needed the reminder. Written in a form of japanese linked verse, often used as a court game--I had wondered at its structure when I read it again because it was so regular and then I realized where the form came from. Sometimes I surprise myself with the influences that have taken so firm a hold without real consciousness. And what a pleasure such surprises are.

Chains of Desire

of heaven painted on things
as we see them now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Poem of Parting


Don't know where this came from (in terms of inspiration), but rereading it, I like it.

Green and White

I dream of a green room
where all is painted white;
of rivers in wheels that roll
like a wisdom of wild-cast weeds.

I swim to the surface
of bubble-white air.
And inhale the green scent
of milk-fresh peonies.

Where are you, the one
I have never loved?
Never have I dallied
in your langorous embraces,

Never smelled the green apple smell
of your pearl-white hair.

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Some of this Summer's Stock


Attempting to take Mir's advice in the comment's yesterday, I came upon a couple of things I thought worth sharing. What may be worth noting here is that the poem is written in slant rhyme/imperfectly rhymed couplets, for the most part. Imperfect spacing in html does not allow me to set it exactly as it appears on paper. Where you see two very short lines together, think of the second of those lines starting a new poetic paragraph immediately beneath the space after the end-stop of the line above.

Ruins Awaiting the Tide

What seems solid is shifting-- waterside
shapes that stand in heaps and mounds between tides.
Castle and moat, mere sand, but the solid
matter of dream. Inner life now amid
the salt and sand and sun. Green water now
blue, now darkened by clouds, all serves to show
the limits of this light-brown world--alone.

Whose inner life is here displayed? No one
remains, no one lingers nearby, the beach
is empty. And yet these lone ruins seek
a ruler, a Lord, a central being
whose breath and life and vision give meaning
to laying lonely in the wash--to here
and now.
Five mounds--towers against the fear
that made them tall, that tears this uncanny
place each day. A world now water, now land,
never even momentarily the same.

These ruins stand for now, awaiting rain,
portended in the clouds, awaiting tide
to wash away the memory, to slide
into the sea without a trace. Ruins
that crumble with a breeze, and vanish in
salt spray and morning rime stand for a time,
the lesser mirror of not-yet-ruins
that glower down the beach-front, challenging
the elements to find them so wanting
as these small sand mounds. Sheer hubris, in less
time than tide would take to take away these
idle thoughts, monuments to a beach-trip
the wind and waves and sand and sun could rip
calm disdain apart and spread its remains
as far as sea stretches and tide touches
the land.What thought itself grand is made less
by nature and by One at whose command
nature takes its form.
This castle now stands,
or slumps the perfect monument to this
morning's moment of thoughtlessness, a space
that brings light and shape and meaning to this place.

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Our Next Step?

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Patient Loses Right to Food Case hat tip to The Western Confucian.

So "civilized" Europe goes, so lickspittle American intellectuals are in hot pursuit. Don't be surprised to see it coming to a hospital or doctor's office near you--funded, of course, by the hard-pressed record-profit-making insurance companies whose interest is not your health and well being, but their bottom line--wihich is deeply disturbed by keeping you alive. Hideous.

I was at a lecture a few weeks back which began with the prediction that few people in that room would likely be allowed to live out their natural span if things continued in this way. I can see it coming very, very rapidly. Efficiency and profit uber alles.

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Ukiyo-e as of Yesterday

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As you could tell, the piece needs work, and I'm not certain that even at this it is finished. There may be other pieces to add. The chief difficulty is to express what I meant to say for part V. Another difficulty is a certain vagueness of language in some parts that may not be something I can overcome due to the subject matter. For example, what is the proper word for the part of a bottle that has a twist-top cap where the threads run? And what is the name for the little piece of remnant metal left on after the twist-top is removed?

Anyway, it is a work in progress, and it may be a much larger work by the time I'm done. The point is the poetry need not be about matters poetic, nor prose about matters prosaic. Ukiyo-e, "Pictures of the Floating World" are images out of daily life that help to expand the meaning of the everyday when looked at closely enough.

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Ukiyo-e As of Today


Ukiyo-e I--Before Bed

Blue shadows spill from the unseen new moon. The eaves etch navy ridges against the milk-lit stucco walls and the thick grass is no-color-at-all.

Three lights flashing, an airplane lumbers across the field of pinpoint white stars. The warmth of the summer night fills my lungs with each breath. If only I smoked or drank or took interest in women other than my wife I could be standing here in my boxers in my screened porch cradling a world-weary scotch, or stirring my Sangria with a finger, or puffing away on my little black filterless belgians, or lightly rolling my Ybor City mock Cuban between thumb and forefinger, or stroking the taut but silky smooth stomach and lower breasts of this week's love while waiting for my dog to do his business. But I'm not. I'm standing here thinking how wet this heat feels, and watching the plane vanish across the sky above the pink sodium lights of the neighborhood pool.

Ukiyo-e II--Arriving

Sun-faded pink fabric walls catch the trickle of sunlight that passes mylar shade and mini-blind. Dusty rose makes so much more pleasant a cell compared to the gray walls of just a few years back.

The windows drip with the dew of too cold a building just emerging from Florida night, blurring the figures of the live oak, hedge, elephant-ear philodendron, and the gray strip of pavement that through the crawl of countless cars separates us from the dolphin-pools and tourists that throng in these summer months.

Ukiyo-e III--Junk Mail

Yellow and black, bright red, Sale! Sale! Sale! Letters fan out in stationery blue, clear plastic windows crinkling as the mail is sifted. Two tan envelops fall, the paper equivalent of a rock slide, as they tumble toward the black mouth of the abyss that yawns wide to receive all that falls, or is hurled into it.

A brick of a book of beads, bright beryl and malachite and hematite and onyx, rolled out against a calla-white cover. And here a craft catalogue, a litany of linen, threads and yarn.

The chunk, chunk, chunk of paper fall, the dark pull of the black.

Ukiyo-e IV--Clouds

The eye of Horus, huge and blank and blue stares down at me from between two banks of cloud-blanched sky. The eye of the son of the sun reminds me just in time that providence rewards the wise eye and I tap on my brakes to avoid the bumper of the car driving free-form in planck-space.

Waiting now in the slow-crawl-stop of the turn lane. Trees, wires, telephone poles, ibis-necked street lamps transform the eye from merely blank to baleful or beautiful. I make my turn.

Have you ever stood connected to the sky watching the convecting clouds? The boundless yearning upward surge, the penetration of deepest blue by rising white. The cloud cap expands and then subsides, vanishing entirely into the growing bank.

You expected the water to be blue, but nothing had prepared you for this shade. You had expected sapphire but had no idea that the sun off the sand in the shallows yields turquoise. In fact, when you first see it it is so gorgeous you're certain that only terrible chemical pollution could have resulted in such a color.

Ukiyo-e V--The Trip to Lover's Key

Another beach I have not seen on a thread-thin barrier island that connects Bonita Beach to Fort Myers and Sanibel.

Ukiyo-e VI--The God-Shaped Hole
I got back to filling the God-shaped hole today. I can't tell you what a nuisance it has been, what with people and things falling in all the time. Last week two vintage Ferraris, the week before my mother and my aunt. And the hole keeps growing.

When I first found it, a smoldering pit in the middle of my best field, I called the fire department and paid to have sea-water helicoptered in to fill it. Thought perhaps I could make a pond of it. But the water just kept on running and the hole got no fuller and no cooler.

So then I realized that I needed to line it. Started with quikcrete and figured I cover it with gunite smooth it out and line it with white Carrera marble, from that quarry that gave us David and Moses. It's a good thing I'm a man of means because six million cubic yards of quikcrete later and still no sign of an end.

If I couldn't fill it up, perhaps I could cover it over. That's what we're trying today. Three different ways. I figured I could span it with chicken wire and then plaster it over. When that's done, we'll drape it with crêpe de chîne and silk streamers--make it at kind of neo-Cristo pavilion type experience.

So we'll see. One way or the other, we'll find a way to fill it. With rocks and sand, with books and paper, with long dark alcoholic nights, with prada shoes and Givenchy and Chanel, with polo clubs and yachts, with coq au vin and curry poulet vindaloo with a Dom Perignon '65, with Picasso and Matisse and Gaugin and Brancusi. Cover it up, fill it in, one way or another we'll close that gap and I'll feel whole again, my perfect field restored.

Ukiyo-e VII--Rashomon

A-Two Older Women in a Corner Booth
Look at that man, a book and all alone. Where's his wife? How do you know he has one? He's wearing a ring. But is it on the right hand? It's been so long I don't know. Look at that, he's reading while eating, not even looking around..Oh dear. Look at that. What? What he's reading. What is it, how do you know? Sh. . . I saw it on the suggestion shelf. Well, what is it? Breakfast at Tiffanies. Ohhhhh. Yes. Yes. Well we know why there's no wife.

B- Two..Men of a Kind at a. Center Table
I don't care what he's reading--he's gay like I'm getting married. Just look at that shirt. When was the last time that shirt saw an iron? And who told him he could wear either silk or yellow? And those shoes! Can we say lumberjack? I've known a few lumberjacks and they wouldn't be caught dead in those, what, two years ago Rockport knockoffs.. But it's Holly Golightly. I don't care if he walked through the door with Madonna, Barbra, and Cher. He's just not one of us.

C- The Man Himself-Window Table
This has to be the longest book ever written. I've been reading it forever. Where's the fabled charm?

Ukiyo-e VIII-Centerpiece

A spray of Dendrobium in a stocky blue-glass bottle that yields a stroboscopic flash of bright blue light where the sun alternately shown and hidden by overhead fan blades stir the light, all this at the point where smooth bottle joins twist-top neck. Velvet purple petals shade to magenta throats and fade to white where white and lavender stem join the blossom to the green mainline of the spray.

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This Little Light of Mine

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I think I found this article about the marvels of the fluorescent bulb at Semicolon. We've had a few for several years now and love them. I just didn't realize that they really were that energy efficient. However, if you put your hand near one you should be able to tell--there's nothing like the heat given off by the typical resistor bulb. So, check it out. It's simple, it's easy, and it apparently does help.

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The Christian Ghetto

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In our recent discussion of aesthetics, Zippy referred to the ghettoization of Christian children concomitant with carefully reviewing and monitoring their intake of popular culture. I'm not sure I am articulating his point, but the way I interpreted it, at least in part, is that "Christian" anything is at last partially a ghetto, something apart from the mainstream, and hence not truly "popular culture." My reaction to that was that it was the responsibility of Christians to patronize, critique, and nurture Christian voices that could join the mainstream and alter it.

At one point in time all of the Christian fiction in the market place had a single name--Frank Peretti. I remember reading This Present Darkness and thinking how appalling the state of Christian Fiction that this was the best they could trumpet forth. Peretti's style and handling of material has become much more dexterous, however, it still isn't "mainstream" fiction. One is left to wonder where are the O'Conoors, the Greenes, the Waughs, and the Percys of modern fiction? Are we stuck with the supposedly religious Updike--whose theology seems to be lost in a wash of bodily fluids in ever book?

I have been delighted to discover that Christian Fiction is becoming more prominent, even to the point of clawing its way out of the ghetto. This started with Augusta Trobaugh, whose Resting in the Bosom of the Lamb and Praise Jerusalem! came out under the imprint of a religious book publisher, but whose subsequent work was picked up by mainstream publishing. The remarkable thing about Trobaugh is the way in which religious identity and religion permeate and inform the books without ever being an overt in-your-faith fall on your knees every second paragraph faith. Belief is understood to be part of the world she makes in her fiction and it need not be teased out and present á la LaHaye and Jenkins.

Speaking of that duo, they are probably responsible for religious publishers being willing to take a chance on fiction. Despite being rather poorly written and sometimes utterly indigestible, LaHaye and Jenkins seized the popular imagination with their Left Behind series and created the first breakthrough blockbuster series. This broke the dam that unleashed the flood of Christian Fiction that can currently be found even in such stores as Borders and Barnes and Noble.

Recently I discovered the quiet and beautiful fiction of Charles Martin whose The Dead Don't Dance and Maggie are two books describing a terrible calamity during the birth of a child and recovery from it. The prose is masterful, restrained, and very quiet and hopeful.

Yesterday, while perusing the "Christian Fiction" shelves, I happen on Karen Valentine's The Haunted Rectory. The previous Valentines I have read have been set in a small New England town and did for the Catholic Church what Jan Karon did for the Episcopalian Church in her Mitford series. The Haunted Rectory is another in the series and features the St Francis Xavier Hookers (of rugs, that is) along with the eponymous Rectory.

Also of recent date, I've stumbled upon the blogs of a number of Christian writers, struggling away to produce SF in a Christian vein. Mainstream SF already lays claim to Tim Powers, Gene Wolfe, Stephen Lawhead (whose Byzantium should be read by all and sundry) and other great Christian writers. But there are more, if not quite legions, ready and willing to join these powerhouses in producing entertainment appropriate for a Christian audience (and for all audiences), and one hope to eventually produce the next Narnia or Lord of the Rings.

We owe it to ourselves to be aware of such writers and to support such writers--to seek them out and nurture them and to reward them with our hard-earned money with the hope that they may be promoted out of the backstore racks of "Christian Ficiton" and onto the mainstream racks where their fiction can influence the hearts and minds of readers who are perhaps totally ignorant of Christian reality. We have a certain duty to support the Christian presses that are taking a big chance by publishing authors who are relatively unknown and who have a "reduced fan base" to start with because they will be, at least initially, relegated to the back of the store. (Interestingly, I stumbled upon what appeared to be a very nicely written series of Dragon books--I'll try to supply author and title when I get home, I don't have them with me--on the Three-for-the-price-of-two table right at the front of the store. Only the first book was there--when I went to find the rest, they were solidly immured with the Christian titles at the back of the store.) We owe it to authors who self-identify as Christian authors to let them know that they can rely upon a solid readership--produce readable fiction and you will have an audience, even if we have to go out of our way to find you. Rather than break out of the Christian Ghetto, we should work to expand the ghetto to encompass as much of the publishing world as our buying dollars can make possible.

In short, I'd far prefer the subtext and hidden message of a Charles Martin or a Karen Valentine to that of a Dan Brown or, more insidiously, a Philip Pullman.

(If you want to visit some of these up-and-coming writers--just look left and scroll down my blogroll until you come to the entries labeled SF-something. Each of these in turn will take you to others--a wonderful network of lively, intelligent, fun, and interesting people.)

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Theistic Evolution


A scientist's alternative to ID?

I have yet to read Francis Collins's book, but here's an interview that may give some insight. What I like about it is that it keeps squarely in the realm of science those things that are science and recognizes the "break" in science that enters with Human Evolution, without trying to slap a scientific explanation on it. As I said, I haven't evaluated the theory in any detail, but here's the article

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Today marks 22 years!

As I said to someone yesterday, sometimes it seems like 5, sometimes like 50, but always worth it.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Steven Riddle in September 2006.

Steven Riddle: August 2006 is the previous archive.

Steven Riddle: October 2006 is the next archive.

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