Commonplace Book: June 2004 Archives

The Psalms of Revenge

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Contra T.S.O.'s sly probe into my psyche I am not succumbing to ecumenicalism (actually I probably succumbed years ago) but rather to a penchant for reading books about spirituality based on the Bible written by persons named Wilfrid. And so, the next offering in this Wilfridfest (or is it the first--I know it isn't the first by this Wilfrid--oh well, give it a rest.)

from Nourished by the Word: Reading the Bible Contemplatively
Wilfrid Stinissen, O.Carm

When we let the "I" of the Psalms be widened to a universal "I," to the "I" of all human beings, we'll be less shocked over the psalms of revenge. When we learn to put ourselves in the situation of others, and also in the situation of those who are tortured and humiliated in their human worth, and when we talk to God on their behalf, it is not so strange that we protest vehemently. There is in every person a sound feeling for justice, an insight about the need to punish evil ones who have destroyed order in order that order be restored. The teachings about purgatory and hell are the Christian confirmation of this inherent insight, and show that the protest against injustice and opppression exists within God himself.

If I prayed for revenge for the violence and injustice to which I personally have been exposed, my prayer perhaps would not be entirely blameless. Jesus teaches us that we should not hit back when someone hits us. But he has not forbidden us to defend fellow human beings who have experienced violence; on the contrary, he wants us to be prepared to give our life for theirs. Since the "I" in the Pslams is not only mine personally but humanity's both my prayer and my prayer for retribution are acts of love: I protest against the evil to which my brother or sister have been subjected and desire that justice will be done. . . .

The universal range of the Psalms makes it also an ecumenical prayer book. No person can remain unmoved by it. In fact, it is used in all Christian denominations, and Christendom had it in common with Israel. Nothing points so plainly and so concretely to our Old Testament roots and our ties with our elder brothers and sisters from Israel than just this, that we pray to God with the same words. All Christians form, together with the Jews, one great choir whose common song in and of itself is, whether one is aware of it or not, a prayer for unity.

I can't comment on the accuracy of this passage, but it certainly "feels" right with respect to the tenor of these difficult psalms. Perhaps a new approach in praying them.

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On Charles Williams


Of the inklings, Charles Williams is often the one least known, least recognized. His works are thorny and require an even greater-than-usual susepension of disbelief. Sometimes his narratives amount to nothing more than very thinly veiled symbolic actions. And yet, there are moments in the prose and in the stories that are truly transcendant and more than make up for the various flaws one could find. I offer one of those moments in the excerpt below.

from All Hallow's Eve
Charles Williams

He felt, as he gazed, more like a wraith than a man; against her vigour of existence he hung like a ghost, and was fixed by it.—He did not then remember the past hour in Jonathan's room, nor the tomb-like image of Lady Wallingford. Had he done so, he would have felt Lester's to be as much stronger than that woman's as hers had seemed stronger than his own. Lester was not smiling any recognition; the recognition was in her stillness. The passionate mouth was serious and the eyes deep with wonder and knowledge: of him? certainly of him. He thought almost he saw her suspire with a relief beyond joy. Never, never again would he neglect. The broken oaths renewed themselves in him. One hand of hers was raised and still almost as if it rested on some other arm, but the other had flown to her breast where it lay as if in some way it held him there. They made, for those few seconds, no movement, but their stillness was natural and not strange; it was not because she was a ghost but because she was she that he could not stir. This was their thousandth meeting, but yet more their first, a new first and yet the only first. More stable than rock, more transient in herself than rivers, more distant-bright than stars, more comfortable than happy sleep, more pleasant than wind, more dangerous than fire-all known things similes of her; and beyond all known things the unknown power of her. He could perhaps in a little have spoken; but before he could, she had passed. She left with him precisely the sensation of seeing her go on; past him? no; up the by-way? no; but it was not disappearance or vanishing, for she had gone, as a hundred times she had, on her proper occasions, gone, kissing, laughing, waving. Now she neither kissed nor laughed nor waved, but that which was in all three lingered with him as he saw she was no longer there.

Such a paean to married loved, such an epithalamion is truly worthy of some of our attention, because it strikes me that the man knows whereof he speaks.

If you'd like to experience more of All Hallow's Eve, you can find it online here

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Simon Conway Morris is a scientist who is also a Christian and who has done a tremendoua amount of work on the Burgess Shale--a fauna explored by Stephen Jay Gould (largely with his skewed marxist contingency lens) in Wonderful Life In this book, Conway addresses Gould directly and seeks to refute much of Gould's contention regarding contingency. But I'm just quoting a passage that appealed to me as I was sitting at the car dealership.

from The Crucible of Creation
Simon Conway Morris

Nobody knows the precise total of species that presently inhabit the Earth, nor how many once existed but are now extinct. There could quite easily be twenty million species alive today, and the number of extinct species must run into the hundreds of millions, if not the billions. Within this vast plenitude it is perhaps rather surprising that there is only one, unique species that can understand a single word of this book. This species, which is of course ourselves, is uniquely pirivileged: not only can we understand something of our origins, but we are the first animals ever to have looked at the stars and seen anything more than distant pin-pricks of light.

Perhaps later--this evening, tomorrow, or next week, I'll get into the material that is likely to ruffle a few feathers--or perhaps not. I'm often surprised at the reaction to things here at St. Blogs. And these surprises are nearly always gratifying.

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Oswald Chambers

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One of the great treasures of the Church that is often lacking in the circles of protestantism that have wandered far from liturgy is the richness of liturgical prayer. And honestly, sometimes it is hard to think of things to say and pray about on my own, so I rely heavily upon Liturgy of the Hours to open up the floodgates of prayer, both petition and meditation.

However, the Protestant churches have given rise to numerous devotiionals that are nearly always better than their Catholic counterparts. My thought is that lacking liturgical prayer, God raises up for them certain people who offer the food for meditation and prayer that Catholics have as a natural part of the faith. Catholics, not needing this, aren't particularly good at supplementing the richness of the treasury of faith.

So with Oswald Chambers, about whom I know little, but from whom I have gained much refreshment and much food for thought.

If you would like daily access to the devotional, you can bookmark this site.

I found yesterday's mediation following on the writing of St. Cyprian below most thought-provoking. Perhaps it is meant for me alone, but the question of unity among Christians and what I particularly am doing to foster, nurture, and encourage it has been on my mind for the past couple of days (since an interesting ecumenical discussion of the Eucharist over at Disputations). Particularly, I must consider the delicate issue of how to foster unity without conceding error or becoming indifferent to the profound divisions amongst us. Nevertheless, it is crucial to enter into respectful dialogue and to share the riches of the Catholic Faith, while participating in the varied richness of Protestantism.

from My Utmost for His HIghest
Oswald Chambers

Jesus’ instructions with regard to judging others is very simply put; He says, "Don’t." The average Christian is the most piercingly critical individual known. Criticism is one of the ordinary activities of people, but in the spiritual realm nothing is accomplished by it. The effect of criticism is the dividing up of the strengths of the one being criticized. The Holy Spirit is the only one in the proper position to criticize, and He alone is able to show what is wrong without hurting and wounding. It is impossible to enter into fellowship with God when you are in a critical mood. Criticism serves to make you harsh, vindictive, and cruel, and leaves you with the soothing and flattering idea that you are somehow superior to others. Jesus says that as His disciple you should cultivate a temperament that is never critical. This will not happen quickly but must be developed over a span of time. You must constantly beware of anything that causes you to think of yourself as a superior person.

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An interesting thought to ponder. I wonder, is it for Carmelites only?

from Prayer Life in Carmel
Fr. Redemptus Valabek, O. Carm.

[quoting Michael of Bologna, O. Carm]

"Whatever you are about to offer, my brother, certainly remember to commend it to Mary; just as every sentence contains a noun and a verb, so every prayer of ours should include Christ the active verb and Mary the noun, just as She became the Mother of the very Word."

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Meditation and Its End

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from Prayer Life in Carmel
Fr. Redemptus Valabek, O. Carm

Rumination on the words of God in the medieval sense, translating them into concrete action, is the final goal of meditation. The author warns that meditation of the Word without its observance will not save a man. "It is not enough to read the Scriptures and commandments of the Lord; the fruit of (resultant) action must be manifested." A mechanical type of meditation that may even commend to memory the whole of the Bible, does not justify a man. Authentic prayer must be animated by operative charity; mediation with no concrete results to show for it is worth nothing.

What might be the fruits of meditation--the concrete results that are so essential to its foundation? I do not think we need to consider this in terms necessarily of "action" as we might consider it, but in terms of "actions" as St. Thérèse might do so. A smile at someone you don't particularly care for, a helping hand where it might be easier not to lend assistance, a kind word, or a private word of warning where something is not going as it should. All of these things can be the fruit that should come from meditation. If meditation is more than memorization and an exercise of the imaginative faculties, it will always result in the desire, perhaps even the need, to do good for others.

You cannot dig very deeply into the word of God before it starts digging into you. It removes years of built up protections and exposes the heart for renewal. And a heart renewed is a heart rejoicing in the freedom to love in substantial ways. All prayer is about loving the Lord and entering into conversation with Him. One sign of the substantial effects of prayer is that one begins to engage in conversation with Christ in other people--people who show no signs whatsoever of knowing Christ reveal Him to those who are immersed in His word.

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An endorsement from his significant other:

from Ulysses "Penelope"
James Joyce

. . . and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and L thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will


From Molly Bloom's monologue in which she makes the decision to stay with her rather staid and proper husband rather than run off with her lover. Some people need no excuse for a pint or two, but the celebration of a a marriage reaffirmed certainly seems to be one good reason.

*And a special one it is too. Bloomsday celebrates 16 June 1904, the day of the events of the Novel Ulysses. Named after the novelists protagonist, a Dublin Jew by the name of Leopold Bloom. As you can readily see, this is the 100th anniversary, although, because the book was published in 1922, and one assumes such celebrations did not start until afterwards, it is not the 100th such celebration. Nevertheless, a very cheery Bloomsday to you all.

And now, a word from Mr. Bloom himself:

from Ulysses "Eumaeus"
James Joyce

Preparatory to anything else Mr Bloom brushed off the greater bulk of the shavings and handed Stephen the hat and ashplant and bucked him up generally in orthodox Samaritan fashion which he very badly needed. His (Stephen's) mind was not exactly what you would call wandering but a bit unsteady and on his expressed desire for some beverage to drink Mr Bloom in view of the hour it was and there being no pump of Vartry water available for their ablutions let alone drinking purposes hit upon an expedient by suggesting, off the reel, the propriety of the cabman's shelter, as it was called, hardly a stonesthrow away near Butt bridge where they might hit upon some drinkables in the shape of a milk and soda or a mineral. But how to get there was the rub. For the nonce he was rather nonplussed but inasmuch as the duty plainly devolved upon him to take some measures on the subject he pondered suitable ways and means during which Stephen repeatedly yawned. So far as he could see he was rather pale in the face so that it occurred to him as highly advisable to get a conveyance of some description which would answer in their then condition, both of them being e.d.ed, particularly Stephen, always assuming that there was such a thing to be found. Accordingly after a few such preliminaries as brushing, in spite of his having forgotten to take up his rather soapsuddy handkerchief after it had done yeoman service in the shaving line, they both walked together along Beaver street or, more properly, lane as far as the farrier's and the distinctly fetid atmosphere of the livery stables at the corner of Montgomery street where they made tracks to the left from thence debouching into Amiens street round by the corner of Dan Bergin's. But as he confidently anticipated there was not a sign of a Jehu plying for hire anywhere to be seen except a fourwheeler, probably engaged by some fellows inside on the spree, outside the North Star hotel and there was no symptom of its budging a quarter of an inch when Mr Bloom, who was anything but a professional whistler, endeavoured to hail it by emitting a kind of a whistle, holding his arms arched over his head, twice.

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The following is an excerpt from De Institutione Monachorum a text that attempted to trace the lineage of the Carmelite family to monks living on Mount Carmel from the time of the Prophet Elijah.

from Prayer Life in Carmel
Fr. Redemptus Valebek O. Carm

"There is a two-fold end. One end we are able to attain by our own efforts by the practice of virtue and with the aid of divine grace. It consists in offering God a holy heart free from all actual stain of sin. This end is reached when one is perfect and in Carith, that is, hidden in that charity about which the Wise man wrote: 'Charity covers a multitude of sins' (Prov 10:12). And because the Lord wished that Elias reach this end he told him: 'Hide in the torrent of Carith.' The other end of this life is bestowed on us as a pure gift of God. It consists in tasting somewhat in our hearts and experiencing in our minds, not only after death, but already in this life, the power of God's presence and the pleasantness of heavenly glory. This is to drink of the torrent of God's delights, and this is what was promised Elias by God with the words: "'There you will drink of the torrent.'

I quote this because, while it is from a classic of Carmelite spirituality, the words of this particular passage are universal. They don't speak so much as a method or a way of getting to the two ends as to what the ends are in themselves.

Simply spoken the author here says that there are two endplaces in prayer. We get to the one through our efforts aided by grace. But to the other we are summoned by the word of the King of Heaven. There is no way to merit this or to earn it through our works. It is grace freely given and not necessarily reserved for the few, though in actuality few actually attain it.

But I think the comparison here is useful. God's love is a torrent. Within its raging powerful stream, nothing that we have set up against Him can stand. Nothing of human construction could possibly endure the torrent of His love. To be exposed to it unprepared would be to be ripped apart.

This is one of the reasons careful preparation is so necessary. This is one of the reasons why all of the great saints seem to recommend some way of stripping oneself of all of the fragile human constructs of self. If, ultimately, we are to place ourselves in the way of God's love, it had better be in a streamlined way, with as little obstruction as possible. Even when we approach in this simplified way, the transition is tremendously difficult and painful to our human senses.

St. John of the Cross recommends detachment from all things as prepatory to this state. Others may recommend other ways of approach, although they all seem to amount to the same thing--become simple and single-hearted. We have powerful but simple means of accomplishing this task--Prayer, the sacraments, and surrendering our wills to His own.

A torrent will wash away and purify everything that cannot stand in His presence. It will prepare a person for living God's will in a way that will save souls, not only the soul of the person involved, but the souls of all those who can be touched in any way by the person. This is our great end--to participate actiively in the salvation of souls and to live in the torrent of God's love. These ends are intimately linked. We cannot live in the torrent of His love if we do not love those who are around us--and what is the point of love if it is not the desire to see each soul live eternal life in God?

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from The Art of Praying
Fr. Romano Guardini

The basic meaning of the word recollected is "to be unified, gathered together." A glance at our life will show how much we lack this aptitude. We should have a fixed center which, like the hub of a wheel, governs our movements and from wich all our actions go out and to which they return; a standard also, or a code by which we distinguish the important from the unimportant, the end from the means, and which puts actions and experience into their proper order; something stable, unaffected by change and yet capable of development, which makes it clear to us who we are and how matters stand with us. We lack this; we, the men of today lack it more than did those who lived in earlier ages.

This becomes evident in our attempts to pray. Spiritual teachers speak of distraction as that state in which man lacks poise and unity, that state in which thoughts flit from object to object, in which feellings are vague and unfocused and the will ineffective. Man in this state is not really a person who speaks or who can be spoken to, but merely an uncoordinated bundle of thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Recollectedness means that he who prays gathers himself together, directs his attention to what he is doing, draws in all thought--a painstaking task--so as to dedicate himself to prayer as a unified whole. This is the state in which he may, when the call comes to him, answer in the words of Moses, "Here I am."

And I might also add, in the words of Isaiah ("Here I am, Lord, send me"), and the words of Samuel--"Speak Lord, your servant is listening."

The point of this passage was driven home to me by some of the goings-on over at that most excellent of blogs, Disputations. Tom has posted some really fine reflections on prayer over the past couple of days. I hope that the series has not ceased. However, he has also posted some really well-considered thoughts on the morality and licitness of torture. As you might well imagine, almost no one has commented on any of the statements regarding prayer. The statements regarding torture have more commenters than can jam themselves into the room. Now, while this subject is important and it is a vital part of our work as Christians to eradicate this evil, certainly it is not more or even equally important to bringing souls, and especially our own souls, to Christ in prayer. This is merely one example of the many things with which we can choose to be distracted or obsessed with in the world.

Naturally no one spends their entire time thinking about prayer, and in fact that too would be a waste of time. Thinking about prayer or even talking about prayer is not praying. But I find it somewhat sad that in a discussion of prayer almost no one has anything to add, but many, many people have something to say about torture. Shouldn't we all have something to say or to add to a discussion about prayer? If we are actually praying, shouldn't it be a matter that occupies at least some portion of our consciousness. And yet, to all appearances, it occupies very little. When someone speaks of prayer there is stunned silence as though the wisdom of the ages has dropped full force into the middle of a traffic circle. It is the wisdom of the ages, but it is the ordinary and natural wisdom of the ages--a wisdom we should be comfortable around and that we should enjoy engaging and discussing.

I don't read too much into this. After all, blogs are a form of entertainment. But I think even our actions on blogs reveal something about where our thoughts and our relative values lie. Too often prayer is not one of them. Admittedly, some apsects of prayer are difficult to engage or to comment on. One doesn't want to leave the enormously vapid "Well said," with every post on prayer. But it would seem that if a couple of posts on torture can illicit nearly a hundred comments, prayer, which should be a chief concern for all of us could garner more than six.

We are distracted, torn apart, and divided. This distraction in our lives leads to distraction in prayer. We can live our lives with a focus on Jesus Christ and still pay attention to things of the world. I think this is part of why Disputations is so sucessful a blog. And the discussion on torture is, in fact, a very fine consideration of the moral, ethical, and religious aspects of the question. But prayer still should be at the center. I can do nothing about torture except (1)express outrage--either through blogging, protesting, or writing letters, or (2) praying. Of these two, I tend to view the latter as perhaps the stronger component in the solution to the problem. My outrage is a thing of the moment--here and gone. But when I carry the subject with me into prayer, it enters eternity, where God may take my concern and make something solid of it.

The distractions in prayer come from the disjointedness of life. There seem to be more distractions today because there is a greater amount of information flowing in constantly. We cannot be focused on any issue for more than a few minutes at a time IF we allow ourselves to react to all of that information.

I suppose from this I wonder if recollectedness and prayer itself might not be somewhat easier if we allowed less of the world to iintrude into our thoughts. I don't know the answer to that; however, my suspicion is that a life focused on God starts off more recollected than one that is split five-hundred ways. Prayer may be somewhat easier if we gave less of ourselves to the crises of the world and more to loving and serving our Lord.

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On St. Ephrem the Syrian


from the Encyclical Principi Apostolorum Petrum
Pope Benedict XV (5 October 1920)

4. However We, who embrace the Eastern Church with no less solicitude and charity than our predecessors, truly rejoice, now that the frightful war is ended. We rejoice that many in the Eastern community have achieved liberty and wrested their holy things from the control of the laity. They are now striving to set the nation in order, consistent with the character of its people and the established customs of their ancestors. We propose, appropriately, a splendid example of sanctity, learning, and paternal love for them to diligently imitate and nurture. We speak of St. Ephrem the Syrian, whom Gregory of Nyssa compared to the River Euphrates because he "irrigated by his waters the Christian community to bring forth fruits of faith ahundred-fold."13 We speak of Ephrem, whom all the inspired orthodox Fathers and Doctors, including Basil, Chrysostom, Jerome, Francis of Sales, and Alphonsus Liguori, praise. We are pleased to join these heralds of truth, who though separated from each other in talent, in time and place, nevertheless perfect a harmony modulated by "one and the same spirit." . . .

10. The testament he left for his fellow citizens - memorable for its faith, humility, and singular patriotism - reads as follows. "I, Ephrem, am dying. With fear, but also with reverence, I entreat you, citizens of Edessa, not to bury me under the altar or elsewhere in the house of God. It is not fitting that a worm teeming with corruption be buried in the temple and sanctuary of God. But lay me out in the tunic and mantle which I used and wore daily. Accompany me with psalms and prayers. I had neither pouch nor staff, neither wallet nor silver and gold; nor did I ever acquire or possess anything else earthly. Work diligently at my precepts and doctrines; as my disciples, do not fall away from the Catholic faith. With regard to the faith, be especially constant. Guard against adversaries - I mean evildoers, boasters, and tempters to sin. And may your city be blessed; for Edessa is the city and mother of the wise." And so Ephrem died, but his memory lives on, to the blessing of the Church Universal. Therefore when his name began to be mentioned in the sacred liturgy, Gregory of Nyssa could say: "The splendor of his doctrine and life illumined all the earth, for he is known in almost every place where the sun shines."

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A prayer of this great Saint:

O Lord and Master of my life, give me not a spirit of sloth, vain curiosity, lust for power, and idle talk.

But give to me Thy servant a spirit of soberness, humility, patience, and love.

O Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults and not to condemn my brother:
For blessed art Thou to the ages of ages. Amen

from Hymns on Paradise-1
St. Ephrem the Syrian

Praise to Your righteousness
which exalts those who prove victorious.
I took my stand halfway
between awe and love;
a yearning for Paradise
invited me to explore it,
but awe at its majesty
restrained me from my search.
With wisdom, however,
I reconciled the two;
I revered what lay hidden
and meditated on what was revealed.
The aim of my search was to gain profit,
the aim of my silence was to find succor.

"I took my stand halfway
between awe and love."

What a wonderful way to think about and meditate on God. Through the intercession of St. Ephrem may we all take our stand halfway between awe and love and lead the world and lost souls to do likewise. Amen.

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from The Art of Praying
Romano Guardini

Man likes to think of himself as active, striving, and creative. In this he is only partly right. He would in fact be even more right if he thought of himself as a restless being, incapable of standing still or of concentrating; as one who uses up people, things, thoughts, and words without, however, finding fulfillment; as a being who has lost the link with the center and who, with all his knowledge and abilities, is a victim of chance. This restless being wants to pray. Can he do it? Only if he steps out of the stream of restlessness and composes himself.

How close does this come to describing much of your prayer life? I don't mind saying that it is very close to my own. I sit down to pray, start to lay the groundwork, and five million incidental things flood in upon me and threaten to overwhelm me. Which bills are paid? What color should I paint the living room? Where should I go on vacation? Is Aunt Bechtilde really going to come and how will I deal with it? What am I going to do this weekend?

That's the downside. The upside is that all of these are legitimate concerns and as they flit through the mind, they can be offered up to God. We need not worry about all the things that try to drag us away from God, let them have their moment on the stage and then, let go of them. God has heard them, knows they're a concern, and He honors the sharing that starts with this preliminary movement toward prayer. This proximate preparation puts us in a good place to listen to God. Don't listen to the fear, concern, and busyness of the mind. Instead, learn to allow that busyness to occur without repression and learn to let it pass away gently. Always gently guide your thoughts back to God.

This is one of the reasons that St. Teresa of Avila recommends taking a book to prayer--preferably The Book, or more appropriately The Library. With a sacred text at hand we have an anchor, a place to return to, a way to come back to focus once again on God.

Some have recommended the techniques of centering prayer, and I suppose if they work for one, these can be every bit as effective. But whatever the technique, the end must be the same--recollectedness before God, preparation to love and adore Him and to Listen. Prayer is a time of conversation. As good conversants we should learn to be more entertained by active listening than by the sound of our own thoughts and concerns. (Not a bad idea in real life either--get those unruly thoughts under control and be truly present to the people with whom you are conversing.) Recollection--bringing ourselves together before we embark on prayer, letting go of concerns and distractions, and preparing ourselves to the present to the Lord, preparing ourselves to let the Holy Spirit teach, preparing ourselves to be remade in prayer and renewed in life.

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I initially started reading this book because a very kind correspondent gave it to me. (Yes, she has much to answer for.) Seeing Garrigou-Lagrange on the cover, I figured I get through about half-a-dozen pages, consider it a valiant attempt and let it slide. Surprisingly in the course of that vacation alone, I got through something on the order of one-hundred pages.

Then it went into haitus, as heavy books are wont to do on my booklist. Interest revived when a Dominican who runs one of the better and more frequented blogs out there, but who shall otherwise remain nameless, suggested that the teachings of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross might not be applicable to all in one sense or another. I took up Garrigou-Lagrange because he was a Dominican writing about St. John of the Cross and making the point that the teaching was for all (in a sense). Not necessarily a noble reason, but God uses all of our idiotic motivations to accomplish His meaningful work. I have already resolved upon an answer to our good Dominican's reservations, and when we are joined in the Beatific vision, we shall share our understandings better in this regard.

But once again, I laid Fr. G-L's book aside. It is too heavy-going to long sustain a reading of it (at least for me.) I need the time to assimilate the ideas and try to see what they say and in what direction they point me. Consistently they point in the direction of my own reluctance to engage God on his own terms. More readily expressed as the fact that while I desire to submit, I avoid submission. I cannot bring myself to the proper regard of God and Christ in my life. I am a weak and useless thing, too readily distracted, too easily drawn away from what should be the center of my life. But I don't feel particularly bad about that. In fact, I rejoice in my recognition of the fact. So long as I think I'm handling it fairly well, I know that I am really not living in reality. That I can recognize this weakness is a source of great joy. Another source of joy is that I'm not the only one in this boat. Many great and lowly people share the same dilemma. The one noted below said it far more succinctly and beautifully than this rambling note:

Holy Sonnet XIV
John Donne

Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

"Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend," more simply said--I should know better than to do as I do. However, reason, also flawed by the fall, "is captived, and proves untrue." By myself I am nothing, only through God can I be rescued.

This is one of the things that Fr. G-L has pointed out to me time and again. He serves as God's present providence for me. I share what he writes, not necessarily because you would profit from it directly, but because I have profited from it greatly, and perhaps by seeing how, other works may also do the same for you. In some ways it is proving a lesson book on surrender and on submission. I am learning through this magnificent teacher what it really means to be a contemplative and how one reaches out for that end and goal.

The passage that leapt off the page into my head last night was another reminder of what we are called to as Christians.

from Christian Perfection and Contemplation
Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

What the interior soul should desire above all else is the ever deeper reign of God in it, continual growth in charity. This is should long for because the precept of love is without limit and obliges us, if not to be saints, at least to tend to sanctity, each one acccording to his condition, and because Christ said to all: "Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." This is the goal which St. Teresa has shown us. The greatest tribute that can be given her is that she has marvelously praised the glory of God by making us see, in her wriings and in her life, God's great love for the humble, and all that He wishes to do for "souls determined to follow our Lord and to journey on, in spite of the cost even to the fountain of living water. . . . This is the royal road which leads to heaven."

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On Modern Thought


From G. K. Chesterton--the Essay on Pope in Twelve Types--

"Have we really learnt to think more broadly? Or have we only learnt to spread our thoughts thinner? I have a dark suspicion that a modern poet might manufacture an admirable lyric out of almost every line of Pope."

From G.K. Chesterton on Walter Scott, "It would perhaps be unkind to inquire whether the level of the modern man of letters, as compared with Scott, is due to the absence of valleys or the absence of mountains. But in any case, we have learnt in our day to arrange our literary effects carefully, and the only point in which we fall short of Scott is in the incidental misfortune that we have nothing particular to arrange."

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(Although truthfully, this is at the dawn of the 18th.)

An excerot from John Dryden's magisterial reworking of Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale"

excerpt for Palamon and Arcite
John Dryden

 In days of old there lived, of mighty fame,
  A valiant Prince, and Theseus was his name;
  A chief, who more in feats of arms excelled,
  The rising nor the setting sun beheld.
  Of Athens he was lord; much land he won,
  And added foreign countries to his crown.
  In Scythia with the warrior Queen he strove,
  Whom first by force he conquered, then by love;
  He brought in triumph back the beauteous dame,
  With whom her sister, fair Emilia, came.
  With honour to his home let Theseus ride,
  With Love to friend, and Fortune for his guide,
  And his victorious army at his side.

Get the entire thing, along with a very nice commentary here

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I post this excerpt from Douglas's translation of the Aeneid because it is beautiful in its own right and it reminds us of the evoltion of English. Much of this is incomprehensible without glosses. But it is very lovely to read.

from "The Introduction to the Aeneid"
Gavin Douglas

  Laude, honor, prasingis, thankis infynite
      To the, and thi dulce ornate fresch endite*, (*writing)
      Mast reverend Virgill, of Latyne poetis prince,
      Gemme of ingine* and fluide** of eloquence, (*imagination,**flood)
      Thow peirles* perle, patroun of poetrie, (*peerless)
      Rois*, register**, palme, laurer***, and glory, (*rose, **standard, ***laurel)
      Chosin cherbukle*, cheif flour and cedir tree, (carbuncle--a semi-precious stone)
      Lanterne, leidsterne*, mirrour, and a per se**, (*lode-star, **unique person)
      Master of masteris, sweit sours* and spring and well, (*source)
    Wyde quhar* our all** ringis thi hevinle bell: (*everywhere, **over all)
    I mene thi crafty* werkis curious** , (*skillful, **well-wrought)
    Sa quik, lusty, and mast sentencious,
    Plesable*, perfyte, and felable** in all degre, (*pleasing, **knowable, intelligible)
    As quha the mater held to foir thar ee; (as though the matter were held before our eyes)
    In every volume quhilk the list do write*, (*it pleases you to write)
    Surmonting fer all uther maneir endite*, (*manner of writing)
    Lyk as the rois in June with hir sueit smell
    The marygulde or dasy doith excell.

One could infer from this reading that the poet rather likes the work of Virgil, what do you think?

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Another excerpt from a current read:

from Awakening Your Soul to the Presence of God
Fr. Kilian Healy O. Carm.

We often hear and read about "the Christian way of life." For some people, this is a vague and intangible expression. In reality, it means precisely what we have just described--namely, a life of common interest with God; a life in which this love of God dominates all our thoughts, words, and actions. The greater the love, the more Christian the life. Whatever we eat, drink, say, write, or do, it should come from our soul living in conscious union and silent converation with God. It is this union with God that colors our whole life and makes it Christian.

When enough of us are conscious of this union and guided by it in our thoughts and actions, there will be change in our country's philosophy. When men and women, conscious of their calling, actually live in union of love with God in their daily lives, our politics, our literature, and our entertainment will become really Christian.

The world will become Christian when men become Christian.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Commonplace Book category from June 2004.

Commonplace Book: May 2004 is the previous archive.

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