Quotations: January 2007 Archives

A Source for the Title


And a resource for thinking more about the book Cold Heaven.

William Butler Yeats

SUDDENLY I saw the cold and rook-delighting Heaven
That seemed as though ice burned and was but the more ice,
And thereupon imagination and heart were driven
So wild that every casual thought of that and this
Vanished, and left but memories, that should be out of season
With the hot blood of youth, of love crossed long ago;
And I took all the blame out of all sense and reason,
Until I cried and trembled and rocked to and fro,
Riddled with light. Ah! when the ghost begins to quicken,
Confusion of the death-bed over, is it sent
Out naked on the roads, as the books say, and stricken
By the injustice of the skies for punishment?

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Charlotte Hays points out that one of the great themes of Brian Moore's "catholic" books is loss of faith. This is true from the very earliest The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, for Black Robe, and to some extent Cold Heaven, although the latter book has a much richer texture of the struggle with/against faith and the meaning of free will.

In that context, I offer the following observation from the book:

Monsignor looked into the stubborn face, into those almost colorless eyes. Faith is a form of stupidity. No wonder they call it blind faith.

The wisdom of the world will always call it foolish, while wallowing in the mire of real foolishness. The wisdom of the wise is foolishness to the rich and to those whose sole meaning is derived from self. And finally, a fool for Christ is a wise man indeed.

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A Quotation and a Comment

| | Comments (1)

Stop, reverse that. I'll start with the comment.

For me, the way to explore another culture is from the inside. No matter how many books I read by renowned scholars on Japan, I first came to know and love Japan through Basho, later through Lady Murasaki, and most recently through Kawabata, Oe, Endo, Mishima, Tanagawa, and Soseki. No matter how much outsiders tell me the "facts" of a society, it is what happens inside--in the arts--writing and film in particular, that really allow me to begin to enter and understand the culture.

Even so, I often hesitate. I know that when I read a Japanese novel I often don't "get it." There are symbols, meanings, things that are commonplace within the culture that I have no access to. And so, I'm often afraid to pick up the literature of other lands for fear that I will find myself completely at sea, unmoored, unanchored, unaware.

So it was with some hesitation that I first picked up Naguib Mahfouz. I must admit that I am not certain that I "get it" most of the time. However, I found this passage delightful:

from Miramar
Naguib Mahfouz

A jet-age traveler. What would you know, you fat moronic puppet? Writing is for men who can think and feel, not mindless sensation seekers out of nightclubs and bars. But these are bad times. We are condemned to work with upstarts, clowns who no doubt got their training in a circus and then turned to journalism as the appropriate place to display their tricks.

Refreshing to note that the press is ever with us.

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Insight from Brian Moore


For a lapsed Catholic, Brian Moore has a good deal to tell those of us who remain staunchly within the confines of the Church:

from Cold Heaven
Brian Moore

"I don't believe in God. I am your opposite," Marie said. "Happiness, for me, is knowing that I am in charge of my own life, that I can do as I choose. Don't you see that you're a victim, as I am a victim? What sort of love is it that's withdrawn from someone as good as you, sending you into despair? What sort of love could I possibly feel for a force which has done these things to me and to my husband?"

The room was still. The question hung in the air. Then Mother St. Jude said, "I know nothing of God's intentions. But I can tell you what St. John of the Cross has written. 'I am not made or unmade by the things which happen to me but by my reaction to them. That is all God cares about.' Do you understand, Marie?"

"No," Marie said. "No, I don't."

The old nun took Marie's hand in hers. "If Reverend Mother orders me to do something, I do it, not because I want to, or because I think it is right. I do it because she represents Christ in our community. It is Christ who commands me. St. John tells us that to do things because you want to do them or because you think they are right are simply human considerations. He tells us that obedience influenced by human considerations is almost worthless in the eyes of God. I obey--always--because God commands me." She smiled. "So I am not a victim, Marie. . . ."

In the matter of Church teaching is this our first thought? I have received a word from the Vicar of Christ on Earth--his word requires special consideration for me because it is God speaking through him. Now, it is always possible that in prudential matters a fallible human has misjudged and so might be wrong. However, I find it more likely that one who is truly seeking to follow God is more likely to be attuned to His Will even in prudential matters. That is, one who spends much time with God seems a more trustworthy guide than one who spends very little time.

However, I often see critiques of encyclicals and teachings that seem more designed to deconstruct them and make them a matter of personal preference rather than a matter for obedience. I will admit (again) that I rant and rave, but I take a certain amount of comfort from the parable in which Jesus asks which son has done the Father's will--the one who says yes and stays at home in comfort and leisure, or the one who says no, but goes out to work the fields as his Father requested. I may rant and rave, but by God's will, I am eventually able to say yes and enter those fields once again.

Accepting another's will is not easy, particularly when we've become overly used to "things as they are." But like that mysterious blue guitar of Wallace Stevens, "Things as they are are changed" when the vicar of Christ or those who wield legitimate authority over us in the spiritual realm promulgate a teaching. It is our duty and responsibility to understand a teaching from the magisterium and to the extent possible incorporate that understanding into our own way of living out the Christian vocation. And, there is a certain comfort in knowing that God has laid a special responsibility on the shoulders of those who watch over us:

Ezekiel 33:2-6, KJV

Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman:

If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people;

Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.

He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul.

But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand.

If the watchman sees evil and does not identify it and people fall because of it, they fall because of iniquity, but the fault lies with the watchman. However, if he does see and reports it and we choose to ignore what he has reported, then we fail of ourselves, and he is considered innocent.

The shepherds of souls have enormous responsibilities before God. And I have no doubt that this responsibility is always made manifest. Therefore, it is not in their best interest to issue ill-conceived, inappropriate, or miscalculated teachings in the matter of faith and morals. The teachings may be insufficient at times--perhaps unclear. But knowing the terrible responsibility of the shepherding of souls, and knowing that they will account for all those they have lost, I see that the teaching of the Church is to be trusted as a faithful guide. While I may not always understand why the truth is as it is, I know that I can trust it because my obedience is to those in legitimate authority. They speak with God's voice.

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Following in the line of my much "admired" and frequently sited "award-winning" "Devotional Reading of H. P. Lovecraft," I present for your delectation and delight and short excursion into In the Court of the Crimson King. Partly this was driven by the discovery of Robert Fripp's magnificent Pie Jesu album, which is apparently a compilation of other bits and pieces. And there are frequent hints throughout his oeuvre of a religious background if not of a religious feeling. Working on the premise that God uses great art often despite the intentions of the artist, I present this consideration of the first song on In the Court of the Crimson King.

I have no idea who composed the lyrics for this song, but as Fripp was always a leader of the group, no matter how many people swirled around it at a time, and considering that the album is a work of musical genius, we can find in it the fingerprint of the Creator. (All one needs to do is squint and look hard enough.) {Also a caveat: I won't pretend that this is a profound musicological understanding of the work as a whole--I haven't the background for that. I work with words, and so it is the interplay of the words and the music that I shall try to look at and open up for you what I see there.)

For our first class let's consider the first song: "21st Century Schizoid Man." For those who have not heard it, it is a rather grating introduction (as befits the subject matter) to a magnificent album. There is a very astringent guitar line with a voice altered in some way to create the sense of growling or screaming. The song proceeds for the first two verses indicated below in a very rigid, tense semi-melodic line--yes, there's a sort of tune to it, though I don't think one would typify it as hummable.

21st Century Schizoid Man
Robert Fripp/Ian McDonald/Greg Lake/Michael Giles/Peter Sinfield

Cat's foot, iron claw
Neurosurgeons scream for more
At paranoia's poison door
21st century schizoid man

Blood rack, barbed wire
Politician's funeral pyre
Innocence [Innocents?] raped with napalm fire
21st century schizoid man

Dead sea, blind man's greed
Poets starving children bleed*
Nothing he's got, he really needs
21st century schizoid man

Now, if you haven't heard the song, you need to know that the first three lines of each stanza should be read as accented/stanzaic poetry in which there is a pause in the middle of the line--very common to Celtic Epic Poetry. Thus the effect is

Cat's foot
Iron Claw
Scream for more
at Paranoia's
poisoned door
21st Century Schizoid Man.

This detail merely contributes to the image of the song. In addition, this first stanza (as well as the title) give us the immediate indication that whoever the Crimson King is, his court is not a thing of the past, but a very modern, very relevant occurrence. This is in opposition to some of the songs that follow in which there is a vaguely medieval or ethereal sense to what is happening. "I Talk to the Wind" seems a perfectly appropriate follow-up to this song, because to whom else will a schizoid (who, as we shall see, experiences a total psychotic break) talk to?

After the first two stanzas of this song, the music enters into a instrumental break that initially takes the form of a fugue, mimicking the state of some schizoid patients. The saxophone and guitar take off on their own and begin chasing one another in a free-form jazz mode. Initially the structure is quite tight, but the fugue state breaks down to bring about the musical equivalent of a total psychotic episode.

The patient recovers briefly--long enough for the final stanza, which may be the key stanza of the whole song, and perhaps one of the keys to the entire album:

"Dead sea, blind man's greed
Poets starving children bleed
Nothing he's got, he really needs
21st century schizoid man"

And within this one line on which hangs much of my thought about this as a fundamentally religious song--"Nothing he's got, he really needs." At once a biting criticism of modern society and the true schizoid state of the person who is a materialist and who has acquired all that he has through the pain and hardship of others and still seeks to fill the emptiness inside. None of it will. Ever. It cannot. You cannot put gold into the hole in your soul. And everything you acquire trying to fill that emptiness only rips the hole wider until it becomes a wound at the surface of the mind--the materialist becomes a schizoid personality, constantly fleeing reality in the pursuit of filling the void that he only succeeds in making larger.

Now, this is just as easily a secular criticism of a plutocratic society in which the pursuit of wealth is regarded not only as laudable but as something nearly holy. However, as I am a Christian, I tend to place a great deal of weight on "Nothing he's got he really needs," which conversely indicates that what he really needs, he does not have. If he does have all this wealth, if he really is within the Court of the Crimson King, what could he possibly be lacking?

Peace--peace that comes when the mind assents to the soul's prompting to look for what really matters. The 21st Century Schizoid Man lacks knowledge of God and desire for God. And what is truly frightening about this is that from my survey of many people within the Church, this is as true of them as of the hard-core materialist. We have surrendered, in many cases, the one-track, express-train pursuit of God for the pursuit of the legitimate, lesser goods of our present life. While we aren't in the full fledged auto-drawing-and-quartering that occurs to the ardent materialist, we have been sufficiently affected by his disease to have lost our own sense of belonging to God and pursuing His ends over our own. I can think of countless examples just from the blogging world, and I think each of you can as well.

Okay, to finish up--the last verse is sung, brought to a resounding screeching, scraping end, and then there is a total break. The interlude between verses two and three are a fugue state--a loss of self-control and self knowledge. The very end of the song, which features every musician flying off on their own riffs--the saxophonist not so much playing notes as torturing the instrument--the schizoid man has gone psychotic. And then, he "talks to the wind."

The ultimate end of pursuing material things is a total break with reality. In our language, were we to die in that state, it is called Hell. Hell is a state of being utterly opposed to the only reality. Hell is the continued anguish of trying to fill up a gaping hole, when all you are is that gaping hole. Hell is what is left of us when all we have done with our lives is to seek to make more of ourselves.

And the music seems to nicely mimic this as well. Hell is cacophony, the cacophony of self in the total absence of boundaries and freedom. Hell is being chained to our own wills for all eternity. "Neuro surgeons SCREAM for more at paranoia's poison door." All because we cannot surrender to love--we seek love from created things and create more pain for ourselves and for others in our pursuit.

In the Court of the Crimson King is a hard album. It has an adamantine brilliance--a high gloss that results both from the genius of the musicians and from the truth they manage to convey so clearly. Whether or not they buy into the truth, God has nevertheless used their music to convey a strong message to the person who takes it seriously. The flaw with the album is that no way out is shown--the Court of the Crimson King is simply the prison entered by the 21st Century Schizoid Man. In the title song, "In the Court of the Crimson King", the last song on the album, there is an initial promise of freedom:

The dance of the puppets
The rusted chains of prison moons
Are shattered by the sun.

But that is all done away with by the end of the song:

On soft gray mornings widows cry
The wise men share a joke;
I run to grasp divining signs
To satisfy the hoax.
The yellow jester does not play
But gently pulls the strings
And smiles as the puppets dance
In the court of the crimson king.

I cannot say where they were going when they composed this modern masterpiece, but I can say where they go for me. When we surrender to our materialist urges we are made puppets by the things we desire. We will do anything to have them because they will fill the void, or so we think. But that void, unless fill by the One, is a black hole--all that is fed into it strengthens it and enlarges it.

The only way out is to negate "nothing he's got he really needs," and to find the one thing necessary--Our Lord.

*Later Upon rereading this, I found this line very interesting. although it is pronounced

Poets starving
children bleed

I wonder whether it isn't a single thought regarding the starving children of poets? Thus:

Poets' starving children bleed.

Fascinating the way punctuation or lack thereof can lead to a productive and fruitful ambiguity. It works that way in scripture often as well.

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Attending to Our Faults


from Hammer and Fire
Fr. Raphael Simon, OSCO

The predominant fault crystallizes certain aspects of an ego accustomed to act for and of itself. . . . If this egocentricity is not exposed and overcome, it remains like an underground [military group], ready to join hands with the invader in the time of trial, and to betray us into the hands of our enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil. Just as an underground deserves attention in peacetime, because upon its uprooting depends the future security of the country, so the basic evil tendency of the soul, the head of the organism of sin, requires our attention (discovery and opposition) even though it is in hiding.

You know those things you go to confession week after week after week after week until you're so tired of confessing them you're tempted not to? Well, perhaps many of you have never experienced that; however, let me tell you, it sometimes seems like I should just do an Excel spreadsheet and tick off the usual suspects and turn it in.

It isn't that I don't want to do away with these sins (though on some level, I obviously don't or I would find that they would become less frequent), but they just seem to creep up on me. These sins, then, are the fruit of what Father Simon calls the predominant fault. It isn't as though I don't commit others, but I certainly do not commit some sins with the clockwork regularity of others. It is these recurrent sins that give me the clues to the particular virtues I need to cultivate to combat them.

One way to cultivate them is through the use of a gift that Father Simon described and I blogged a few days ago--self-denial--which in reality is nothing of the sort. A correspondent pointed out that we are incapable of doing anything ourselves, particularly anything good, so that self-denial, while engaged and activated by the will is a gift of God, a sort of grace, that gives us the ability to not do what we are accustomed to doing it. A grave mistake would be to consider this work, at least in the early stages, and perhaps throughout, as some sort of righteousness or good work that we effect. It is not. As I pointed out, self-denial is, in one sense the apotheosis of enlightened self-interest, because it is only in the use of this gift that we begin to see vestiges of the true self that God Himself sees.

Self-denial then, is one step, one positive thing that we can assent to, that leads us away from the predominant fault. We can recognize the pattern, recognize the root, make use of the sacraments and pray for the strength to stay away from that fault. Moreover, we would do well in addition to praying against to pray in the presence of what we seek. Looking at Jesus is probably more efficacious in the fight against sin than putting up arms against a sea of troubles. Because no matter what we think, it is not our own opposition that ends them.

Think of it in the manner you might think of correct a very young child. There are many ways to go about it, but one of the most effective is often to remove the child from the arena of the distraction that is causing harm. That is, as pray-ers, we remove ourselves from immediate concern about the temptation besetting us by focusing on Jesus--Jesus in the Garden, Jesus on the Cross, Jesus among the children--whatever image of Jesus speaks to us in the moment and removes us from the path of destruction. God will give the grace, Jesus will supply the strength and the moment. However, none of this will be efficacious if we do not first seek guidance and understanding about what is tempting us and then (with the strength of the sacraments and Grace) resolutely decide not to give in just this one time. When we do this one-time by one-time, God gradually gives us victory over the sin--often allowing us to go our own way to show just how weak we are on our own. But nevertheless, it is the repeated pattern that will give us the focus and the spirit of clinging to God that will gradually lead us away from our sins.

We can do nothing of ourselves, all is Grace, all is gift. But we can do everything through Him who strengthens each one of us.

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I don't know how many times I may have heard something like this; however, this is the time it finally made sense.

from Hammer and Fire
Fr. Raphael Simon OCSO

The angelic intelligence, superior to the human, sees in one glance the alternatives of choice and their consequences. The angelic will is then fixed in its election. When the rebellious angels preferred disobedience they knew that they had made their final choice. It is not so with us, and to us alone God gave a redeemer.

How awful. How terrible to be able to look upon the magnificence of God and choose something else. How inconceivable. We at least have the story of being persuaded to our doom--a poor excuse, but none the less the effort of a tempter. The Angels had no such persuasion; moreover, they could look upon the Glory of God Himself and see it clearly. Simply incomprehensible.

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Bowled Over Aagin


How many times in a day must I be slapped upside the head with something. This from lunchtime reading:

from Hammer and Fire
Fr. Raphael Simon OCSO

He has given us means. . .to overcome this weakness and to strengthen our wills. These means include the sacraments, the infused virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit--and self-denial. In self-denial in particular, we have the means to overcome the obstacles to happiness; by self-denial our wills are given power over our temperaments and faults; we are made capable of change, we are made free.

Ironically, it is called self-denial, and yet it is nothing of the sort; rather, it is denial of the illusion of self that we live. Until we live completely in the image and context of God, we don't even know self, so it is impossible to deny self. Self-denial is actually the embrace of the real self as manifested in God's image of us. We discover that when we have found our identities in Christ self-denial is impossible because we finally have the properly oriented self that does not see self-denial but Christ-embracing.

We so dread depriving ourselves of anything that we have even a remote notion we might want or need that we cannot see the real efficacy of self-denial--breaking the illusion of Maya and embracing the reality of who we are in the Reality of Him Who Is.

You see how language descends to the utterly inarticulate trying even to explain the joyous discovery that we need not succumb to every vagrant thought and idle want. Today has been a good day indeed.

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Two Passages To Say it All


Sometimes I don't know why I post these things because we all know them to be true. Knowing them to be true and living them in their truth often seem to be quite different matters; and, perhaps, the bridge between them lies in such reminders as these.

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

The Father is the supreme Reality; all other reality is the effect of HIs will; He alone gives existence to all that is. Only the saint is fully adjusted to reality because only the saint if fully conformed to the Father's will. The materialist, on the other hand, excludes from his or her life happiness and true adjustment to reality, for he or she fails to recognize the primary Reality and its chief effects, the soul, intellect, and will, which are of the spiritual order and hold primacy over the material order.


It is true that some persons appear, and consider themselves, to be happy whose satisfaction is not in God but in material things--even in certain cases, when they are conscious that they are abiding in mortal sin and are estranged from God. These people are miserable but may not feel miserable. The hatred and malice of the devil are not directed so much at making people miserable in their feelings, as in fact. Then they are more prone to remain in their pitiable condition without taking the necessary steps to become truly happy.

Book available from Zaccheus Press and also through Ignatius Press. And is, so far, highly recommended.

What bears repeating here is that Satan's tactics are not so much to make us feel miserable as to make us be miserable without realizing the misery in which we live. When we are constantly striving for the ephemeral, the vanishing, the unworthy, the empty, the desolate, the finite, and the broken, we cannot expend the energy for the One who corrects all these absences and frailties. Until we admit how materially driven our lives are, we cannot begin to correct that imperfection and allow ourselves to be gathered (not driven) to the True Shepherd whose voice we know in our hearts. We live in a real misery that we do not feel trying to avoid the miserable feeling that may not reflect reality.

O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive. . .


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Piety and Sacrifice


In Union with God, in a paragraph introducing other instruction, this remarkable insight:

Piety without the spirit of sacrifice. . . is like an organism without a backbone.
--Blessed Columba Marmion

Now, I, for one, am very fond of organisms lacking backbones; however, I do not read this to be a slam of the invertebrate world, but rather the statement that such a situation is akin to a vertebrate lacking a backbone--and that observation is very sobering indeed.

Note: When I first typed and published this entry, I discovered that in the course of typing the quotation above, I had misspelled sacrifice as sacrafice. As anyone can tell, this is an obviously Freudian reference to the sacrum, an important part of any spine.

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A Word for the Day


from Union with God
Blessed Columba Marmion

Be faithful in little things, not out of meticulousness, but out of love. Do this to prove to Our Lord that you have the love of a spouse for Him.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Quotations category from January 2007.

Quotations: December 2006 is the previous archive.

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