August 10, 2002

Pascal Reflects

I love this small section from the Pensees. It speaks so much to the point. And at the same time undermines the point by making it. One should not, if it can be avoided, speak ill of others or spread rumor, even in a good cause. Pascal breaks that primary rule for the purpose of a greater good. But by doing so does he forfeit the higher good or does he, as he intimates, stand on the same level as his subject?

63. Montaigne.--Montaigne's faults are great. Lewd words; this is bad, notwithstanding Mademoiselle de Gournay. Credulous; people without eyes. Ignorant; squaring the circle, a greater world. His opinions on suicide, on death. He suggests an indifference about salvation, without fear and without repentance. As his book was not written with a religious purpose, he was not bound to mention religion; but it is always our duty not to turn men from it. One can excuse his rather free and licentious opinions on some relations of life; but one cannot excuse his thoroughly pagan views on death, for a man must renounce piety altogether, if he does not at least wish to die like a Christian. Now, through the whole of his book his only conception of death is a cowardly and effeminate one.

64. It is not in Montaigne, but in myself, that I find all that I see in him.

65. What good there is in Montaigne can only have been acquired with difficulty. The evil that is in him, I mean apart from his morality, could have been corrected in a moment, if he had been informed that he made too much of trifles and spoke too much of himself.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:29 AM | Comments (0)

A Bit of Marlowe

From Tamburlaine The Great, Part I
Christopher Marlowe [1564-1593]

Nature That Framed Us of Four Elements

Nature that framed us of four elements,
Warring within our breasts for regiment,
Doth teach us all to have aspiring minds:
Our souls, whose faculties can comprehend
The wondrous architecture of the world,
And measure every wandering planet's course,
Still climbing after knowledge infinite,
And always moving as the restless spheres,
Will us to wear ourselves, and never rest,
Until we reach the ripest fruit of all,
That perfect bliss and sole felicity,
The sweet fruition of an earthly crown.

Marlowe, for all his vast intelligence, seems never to be able to get over the Faustian belief that knowledge is the key to paradise. Perhaps he wrote his Faustus to exorcise that demon. Nevertheless, regardless of the cause, we did get some nice poetry from it.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:24 AM | Comments (0)

August 09, 2002

Prayers Needed

Please remember JB the Kairos Guy's wife. She was ill this morning and apparently it was serious enough to require hospitalization according to his blog. Thanks.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 09:11 PM | Comments (0)

Addressing the Lady of Shalott

At All But Dissertation the Lady of Shalott has given those of us who are interested in the arts a lot to think about. So much so, that I'm reprinting much of the post and will try to comment line-by-line. There was no other way, structurally, to say all that needed to be said, both in agreement and disagreement, and indeed, this exceedingly long post could well be the start of an entire book.

This little exchange came to mind when I nabbed a few copies of Crisis yesterday. Stevens' allegiance, if I remember correctly, was to aesthetics above all.

Just a note here, Stevens is one of my favorite poets also, and while the stated aesthetic may have been art for the sake of art, the end accomplishment vastly exceeds the poet's intent. In fact, it is apparent from a casual reading of most of the oeuvre that despite a stated aesthetic stance, the poet's concerns were far reaching. I note not in contradiction to the Lady, but in support of my ultimate argument.

Ruminating on this, I recalled a quote by Keats: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know." As a Christian I don't quite agree with the latter portion of that statement, . . .

Agreed, and this quote is part of the trend that we see building throughout the 19th century and into the 20th. Knowingly or unknowingly Keats collapsed the classic platonic triad of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty into Truth and Beauty. Now, it may be in his aesthetic theory goodness could be classed under either beauty or truth, but it fact, this collapse caused a major collapse in aesthetic theory and resulted eventually in Art for Art's Sake, the Pre-Raphaelites (not such a bad thing) and such monstrosities as Huysman's A Rebours and La-Bas.

On a side note, I have the feeling that Keats very deliberately chose to collapse this triad. After all the quote does occur in "Ode on a Grecian Urn." It seems more than coincidence that such an aesthetic theory should make its debut in this poem. I believe Keats very deliberately used the Urn and its associations to forge his aesthetic theory and give it a solid grounding.

but let's think about the former portion for a minute and relate it to Joyce and Tolstoy and how each author handles, for example, the issue of adultery. Both Joyce and Tolstoy write truthfully about adultery, Joyce most famously from the perspective of Molly Bloom, who is quite clearly in favor of the act and says something like "if that's the worst people do, they're not doing too badly." I'm not saying that I agree with this sentiment, only that it's true that many people believe it. Tolstoy, on the other hand, portrays the terrible cost of adultery in agonizing detail. Both are true characterizations of the deed; both are stunningly written in their own very different ways, and so both are beautiful. That much I'm sure about. But I'm still struggling with the idea of ultimate truth, and whether that need be present for a piece of literature to be considered truly good, and not just aesthetically so.

Now this presents a good case study and an interesting example. Because there is another way of thinking about the two works. In Anna Karenina the end result is ultimately immoral (Anna's suicide), whereas in Joyce the end result is the exultant reaffirmation of the commitment to marriage, (Molly's "Yes, Yes. Yes). So looked at from this perspective, one might view Tolstoy's work as an example of "Crime and Punishment," but with no real hope of redemption and Joyce as offering us a redemptive reaffirmation. In addition, one must keep in mind that there are agendas outside the literary in operation here. Joyce was very probably profoundly conflicted about the life he found himself living with Nora (to whom he was not married). All assertions to the contrary could be read simply as an immature attempt to further flout the rules of the Church. Obviously, he must support a view that says "Adultery isn't the worst thing," because he would otherwise be convicted by his own words. And even Dante supports that view. Though adulterers find themselves in Hell, it is only in the second or third circle and it seems to me that he makes the point that "Love gone wrong" is, in some mysterious way less bad that a total lack of love.

T. S. O'Rama in the comments below gives some really interesting but rather disturbing quotes from Shelby Foote addressed to Walker Percy:

"..The best novelists have all been doubters; their only firm conviction, the only one never shaken, is that absolute devotion and belief in the sanctity of art which results in further seeking, not a sense of having found."

Against all modern evidence to the contrary, I want to disbelieve that "a sense of having found" kills good art.

Here is as close as I come to disagreement with the fair lady. The first portion is a quote from other sources and I would revise it
before I could affirm it. I would say that all the best novelists have been searchers. By that I mean, they may stand fully aware and accepting of the presence of God, but with St. Paul, they are "working out their salvation in fear and trembling." They haven't stopped in their growth toward God. Poor novelists (search the ranks of the fiction in most "Christian Bookstores" and you'll find them by the drove) already have all the answers laid out nicely on a platter. Anyone who disagrees is very simply damned, and growth toward God isn't nearly as important as bashing a few heads with some biblical truth. Now, I admit, the last statement is a gross oversimplification and does not represent my view of every "Christian" novelist, but reading these works you get the sense of a completely "settled" universe. Great art is the result of struggle and friction. Being completely settled would not be conducive to such a struggle and is likely to result in the Helen Steiner Rice and Rod McKuen school of writing.

One point further on the quotes. Foote goes on to say that O'Connor is a minor minor novelist because she hadn't the time to develop. This is chronological arrogance at its height. Neither Foote, nor Vidal, nor Updike, nor Wolfe, nor any person alive today can accurately predict what will be read and how it will be read 200 years from now. Such assertions are simply personal preferences disguised in a critical framework.

The point on which I find myself disagreeing with the fair Lady is her own statement regarding, "Despite all evidence to the contrary." Indeed, there is a plethora of abhorrent writing, of half-baked plots, ideas, characters, and even structures. No argument there. I would point out, however, that time has a winnowing effect; and it is my contention that such evidence has existed in abundance as long as there has been public writing and reading for pleasure. I am reminded of the Executioner's Song from The Mikado in which one of the lines listing those who should be summarily executed includes something like, "And all the lady novelists... not one of them'll be missed, not one of them will be missed." So dreck has always been more abundant than quality work. So, I guess my demurral is one of degree and it amounts to me saying simply, "Yes, you are right, there is abundant evidence in the form of putrid art. But how many artists who "have doubted" (to quote Foote) have also produced works that reek to heaven? "

Past masters belie this opinion. Augustine, having been ravished by God, writes prose that ravishes his readers: "beauty ever ancient, ever new ..." Dante's Divine Comedy is the supreme example of "finding," ending as it does with the beatific vision, "the Love that moves the sun and other stars."

As I said before, the winnowing of time has left us with the past masters and with very few of the past dilettantes and dabblers. The chronological sense is that much more good work existed in the past than is present now; however, that is a distortion of the lens of time.

I'm not yet willing to give up hope that our times and our God can inspire good that is beautiful and true in every sense.

I concur, and believe this to be the wisest course, and I have waited until now to spell out why. God created the world and it was all good. The innate talent or creative faculty is good--what makes a work less than good is its effect upon the reader. The effect is controlled by how much an artist allows his or her fallenness to interfere with talent. In the case of a Huysman or a Crowley, the ultimate effect is that the creation is bad or seems bad, flawed, and ugly., However, in the case of a Joyce, the talent is prodigious, some of the things exposed are bad, but ultimately the effect of the book is reaffirming and reaffirming in the right sort of way. A great artist can talk about less-than-moral things and God can use that to overshadow even the intent of the artist.

We are ultimately co-creators with God. Every creation in which we allow His will to predominate will shine out in that goodness and light; every creation that we subject to ourselves, will ultimately hide in our shadow. Truth, beauty, and goodness still exist, there is still writing and art that bring them forward and there will continue to be because God ultimately informs all of creation with His being. This is where those confusing statements Jesus made come in. In one place He says, "He who is not for me is against me." This is at the realm of conscious thought and choice. In another He said, "He who is not against me is for me." That is, an artist, whether an acknowledging Christian or not, if he does not purposefully stand against goodness will ultimately allow that goodness to play through--sometimes brighter, sometimes darker.

One last note on the effects of modernism. Modernism and its horrid mutant step-child Postmodernism have so infected the culture, taste, and ideas of every one of us that we are hard pressed any more to truly see what is good and beautiful. Our notions of beauty have grown so outré and so distorted, and we have been told by many voices that we cannot communicate any more, that we are no longer able to see clearly when something truly magnificent comes along. We must first deconstruct it, analyze it, tear it apart, and see what happens when we put it back together. Modern critical method is less about the work being examined than it is about the opinions of the persons examining the work. Truth, beauty, and goodness have a hard time fighting through that deliberate obstacle.

One last note, much of this is thinking on the fly, and probably needs some careful consideration and revision. I welcome all comments toward that goal. I've already been through twice, and I see places where the thought needs much better fleshing out--but that will undoubtedly emerge in subsequent discussion. Thanks to all.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 02:23 PM | Comments (0)

Must See and Read

John Betts over at Just Your Average Catholic Guy is producing a decidedly non-average series on the noncanonical works of the New Testament. A small excerpt to whet your appetite (in reference to the texts of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas):

I find that one cannot read these texts without being highly amused, for the Jesus in these apocryphal gospels is a Divine Dennis the Menace or Squire of Gothos (sans the obsession for fencing). He not only knows Who He Is, but he certainly isn't afraid to show it. Indeed, poor Joseph finds that the boy Jesus is quite the handful and, like many parents of willful children, is a number of times at wits end about what to do with the boy. This boy Jesus smites those who offend him (though those who were struck down are restored in the end), and is very much the terror to any teacher brave enough (or more aptly perhaps foolish enough) to try and teach him his letters. Joseph becomes so vexed at what to do with the boy Jesus that he scolds him and tries corporal punishment of a sort: pinching the boy's ear until it was very sore. Yet to his consternation, the boy Jesus, of course annoyed because of this, looks up at him and says, "It sufficeth thee (or them) to seek and not to find, and verily thou hast done unwisely: knowest thou not that I am thine? vex me not." Imagine having God as your child and trying to punish him!
Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:48 AM | Comments (0)

Happenings in Blog World

I've added several sites to my list of those visited frequently. A Catholic Point of View presents images and icons from the world of Catholic and (presumably) Orthodox art with commentary. My Daily Crumbs provides reflections of a young Catholic musician along with access to some of his music--including a FREE CD and some compressed real player files to sample. Enjoy

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:43 AM | Comments (0)

Another fine poem you've got Me Into

At Error 503:La Vita Nuova Dylan offers us this remarkable poem by Thomas Campion as well as a tribute to Chicago area poet Kenneth Koch, recently deceased. Check it out!

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:33 AM | Comments (0)

The Fate of God

Reading through Romano Guardini's remarkable little book on the rosary, I came across this passage which startled me. I read it through at least twice before it began to make sense to me, and now I find it an amazing insight into the workings of God's Love.

from Romano Guardini--The Rosary of Our Lady, p. 49

To say that God's love meant fate for Him certainly means nothing that would diminish God's honor, but on the contrary, something that should teach us to adore Him all the more deeply. A person who loves relinquishes the freedom of the untouched heart, and becomes chained to the beloved, not by force or necessity but precisely by love. He cannot say of the other any more, "This is someone else, not I--this hits him, not me!" Such distinctions disappear with the degree of love's reality.

Therefore, love is fate from the first moment. Again, this is not said correctly, for what happens to the loving individual must be only a reflection of what happens in God with unbelievable import and power.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:26 AM | Comments (0)

August 08, 2002

Robert Hugh Benson

Looking for other texts by Benson, I stumbled upon this poem and thought it quite beautiful.

The Teresian Contemplative By Robert Hugh Benson

SHE moves in tumult; round her lies
The silence of the world of grace;
The twilight of our mysteries
Shines like high noonday on her face;
Our piteous guesses, dim with fears,
She touches, handles, sees, and hears.

In her all longings mix and meet;
Dumb souls through her are eloquent;
She feels the world beneath her feet
Thrill in a passionate intent;
Through her our tides of feeling roll
And find their God within her soul.

Her faith the awful Face of God
Brightens and blinds with utter light;
Her footsteps fall where late He trod;
She sinks in roaring voids of night;
Cries to her Lord in black despair,
And knows, yet knows not, He is there.

A willing sacrifice she takes
The burden of our fall within;
Holy she stands; while on her breaks
The lightning of the wrath of sin;
She drinks her Saviour’s cup of pain,
And, one with Jesus, thirsts again.

It seems so exactly to describe the contemplative experience and the work of the contemplative within the body of the Church. St. Therese of Lisieux never left her little convent, and yet she is Patroness of the Missions because of her ardent prayer for those who went on mission work.The contemplative labors in the darkness of God which is far brighter than the light of humanity. And she seeks to draw all souls to God through Prayer. Once again, Therese of Lisieux promises that all who she has met and prayed for are drawn with her like objects through a whitewater torrent into the mercy and love of God.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 10:47 PM | Comments (0)

REALLY IMPORTANT 18th Century Poetry

Thomas Gray is known chiefly as the font of the "Graveyard poets" having penned "Elegy in a Country Churchyard." Alas, this so-much-more important work is too often missed in our hurry to praise his better known work!

Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes
Thomas Gray

'Twas on a lofty vase's side,
Where China's gayest art had dy'd
The azure flow'rs that blow;
Demurest of the tabby kind,
The pensive Selima, reclin'd,
Gazed on the lake below.

Her conscious tail her joy declar'd;
The fair round face, the snowy beard,
The velvet of her paws,
Her coat, that with the tortoise vies,
Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,
She saw: and purr'd applause.

Still had she gaz'd; but 'midst the tide
Two angel forms were seen to glide,
The Genii of the stream;
Their scaly armour's Tyrian hue
Thro' richest purple to the view
Betray'd a golden gleam.

The hapless Nymph with wonder saw:
A whisker first and then a claw,
With many an ardent wish,
She stretch'd in vain to reach the prize.
What female heart can gold despise?
What cat's averse to fish?

Presumptuous Maid! with looks intent
Again she stretch'd, again she bent,
Nor knew the gulf between.
(Malignant Fate sat by, and smil'd)
The slipp'ry verge her feet beguil'd,
She tumbled headlong in.

Eight times emerging from the flood
She mew'd to ev'ry wat'ry god,
Some speedy aid to send.
No Dolphin came, no Nereid stirr'd;
Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard.
A Fav'rite has no friend!

From hence, ye Beauties, undeceiv'd,
Know, one false step is ne'er retriev'd,
And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wand'ring eyes
And heedless hearts is lawful prize,
Nor all, that glisters, gold.

Truly an epic to sit alongside "The Dunciad" and "Rape of the Lock!"

Posted by Steven Riddle at 06:49 PM | Comments (0)

More French Poetry

Dylan mentioned a poem by Paul Verlaine that has always been a favorite of mine. It also demonstrates a contention I have made regarding some of the less likable qualities of the prose of St. Therese. Isn't it wonderful the way God arranges these juxtapositions?

"Il pleut doucement sur la ville" - Arthur Rimbaud
Paul Verlaine.
Romances Sans Paroles (1874).

Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville,
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui penetre mon coeur?

O bruit doux de la pluie
Par terre et sur les toits!
Pour un coeur qui s'ennuie,
O le chant de la pluie!

Il pleure sans raison
Dans ce coeur qui s'ecoeure.
Quoi! nulle trahison?
Ce deuil est sans raison.

C'est bien la pire peine
De ne savoir pourquoi,
Sans amour et sans haine,
Mon coeur a tant de peine!

And once again an attempt at translation. This being symboliste is a bit more difficult and variable than Jacques Prevert, but I'll try to make it serviceable, if not great verse.

"It rains softly (sweetly) on the city" Arthur Rimbaud [another French Symboliste]
Paul Verlaine
from Love Songs without Words (1874)

My heart weeps*
As it rains on the city,
What is this languor
That penetrates my heart?

O sweet sound** of the rain
On the ground and on the roofs!
For a bored heart,
O the song of the rain!

There is senseless crying
in this heart which is disheartened.
What? No breach of faith?
This sorrow is without reason.

Truly*** the worst pain [is]
Not knowing why
Without love and without hate
My heart has so much pain.

*Literally-It cries in my heart or There is crying in my heart
**or gentle noise
***literally--That's right

Yes, it doesn't make it into English very well, largely because it builds on a sort of punning twin of pleure (cry)and pleut (rains) probably stemming from a common Latin root and a conceit that the rain are the tears of the sky. There is also the neat verbal trick of coupling coeur (heart) twice with a reflexive verb "s'ennuie" and "s'ecoeure." All of this verbal play in French that sounds good and makes a sort of sense. In addition, it plays on a phrase of Blaise Pascal--"The heart has its reasons, which reason cannot know." In fact the whole poem is a sort of variation on Pascal's phrase (odd considering Verlaine himself).

The main point I wanted to make with this poem however is that it predates Therese only by about 20 years. It is considered highly respectable, not sentimental poetry. But such maundering on and on about bored hearts and pained hearts just doesn't go over well in English. In fact, it is nearly painful to American ears and doubt that it does a whole lot for other native English speakers. There is no way to bring the poem into English that doesn't sound over-the-top melodramatic. Many complain of a similar quality in Therese's writing and attribute it, I think wrongly, to the sentimental piety of Victorian Era French. I think rather it is a matter of the two languages at odds in taste in sensibility. Nevertheless, the end result is that Therese winds up sounding saccharine in our ears. That's a shame, as when this is filtered out, as it seems to be in Clarke's translation, even the most eccentric verbal tropes come out not sounding so bad as they might in lesser translations. For example, the whole bit about being Jesus' toy is not nearly so awful in Clarke's translation as it is in Beevers and others.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 06:17 PM | Comments (0)

From Morning Prayer

This prayer is beautiful and really spoke to me this morning. (Yes, yes, I know I read it every Thursday of Week II, but still. . . )

Lord God, eternal shepherd, you so tend the vineyard you planted that now it extends its branches event to the farthest coast. Look down on your Church and come to us. Help us remain in your Son as branches on the vine, that, planted firmly in your love, we may testify before the whole world to your great power working everywhere.
Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:11 AM | Comments (0)

Happy Saint Dominic's Day

Happy Saint Dominic's Day
To all Dominicans--a most blessed feast day!

And that he might be construed as he was,
A spirit from this place went forth to name him
With His possessive whose he wholly was.

Dominic was he called; and him I speak of
Even as of the husbandman whom Christ
Elected to his garden to assist him.

Envoy and servant sooth he seemed of Christ,
For the first love made manifest in him
Was the first counsel that was given by Christ.

Silent and wakeful many a time was he
Discovered by his nurse upon the ground,
As if he would have said, 'For this I came.'

O thou his father, Felix verily!
O thou his mother, verily Joanna,
If this, interpreted, means as is said!

Not for the world which people toil for now
In following Ostiense and Taddeo,
But through his longing after the true manna,

He in short time became so great a teacher,
That he began to go about the vineyard,
Which fadeth soon, if faithless be the dresser;

And of the See, (that once was more benignant
Unto the righteous poor, not through itself,
But him who sits there and degenerates,)

Not to dispense or two or three for six,
Not any fortune of first vacancy,
'Non decimas quae sunt pauperum Dei,'

He asked for, but against the errant world
Permission to do battle for the seed,
Of which these four and twenty plants surround thee.

Then with the doctrine and the will together,
With office apostolical he moved,
Like torrent which some lofty vein out-presses;

And in among the shoots heretical
His impetus with greater fury smote,
Wherever the resistance was the greatest.

Of him were made thereafter divers runnels,
Whereby the garden catholic is watered,
So that more living its plantations stand.

From Paradiso Canto XII

My apologies for the translation (Longfellow) but needed to find something that was without question public domain.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:06 AM | Comments (0)

Despondency Redux

Despondency Redux

Mr. Field comments below:

I'm new to blogland, but I think that the types of posts that you write don't provoke a thread of discussion in the way that Mrs. Welborn's do. Probably because of your "rules of posting" that you discuss in your philosophy post immediately above.

And, of course, he's correct. It is far more difficult to respond to something that simply isn't controversial. It is harder to formulate anything coherent to say about it other than , "Well, yes, of course." (Read that last phrase with a sort of valley-girl whine--much more effective). So despondency, is simply about unrealistic expectations. Once abandoned, the sheer pleasure of being able to write and being able to say something about those saints and artists who speak to you takes over. This love and exhilaration is a gift from God as all love is a mirror of His divine love for us. They are all lesser and eventually need to be abandoned for that greater love, but only as He leads us.

So, all things considered, it is hardly surprising that these posts don't provoke tons of comments. And that's perfectly okay, because normally I feel conscience bound to try to respond to someone who has been so kind as to make a comment on the site. I know I haven't done so completely or perfectly, and if I had a greater number of responses, I'd be unable to respond to as many of them as I currently do.

So, to Mr. Field, thank you for the fine compliment paid and for putting into words what I had so obviously neglected. After all, I do not comment on everything I read on everyone's site, nor am I likely to in the future. But all of those sites I visit with great frequency, those listed to the left and many others, I enjoy and appreciate enormously.

I suppose, if I'm to be allowed a single whine (I promise not to drive for at least an hour afterwards), that I lament that so few seem to be engaged by what is lovely and beautiful as by what is current and usually unfortunately human (in that most fallen of senses).

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:47 AM | Comments (0)

August 07, 2002

Jacques Prevert

Jacques Prevert is a kind of minimalist poet that normally I don't care for. Perhaps because it is in French, or perhaps for other reasons, I find Prevert quite, quite different and quite beautiful. I've appended a rough translation to the following poem.

Déjeuner du matin

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

My poor translation:

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

I love the very short lines, the gray repetition of phrase. Particularly I love the fact that in French pleuvait (it was raining) and pleure (past participle of "to cry") are such similar words. This poem reminds me very much of the work of such French cineastes as Francois Truffaut. When I read Prevert's work I see Fahrenheit 451 or L'enfant Sauvage or Le Quartre Cent Coups. I see Parisian gray, and I also see the despair of a life not centered in God, but centered and isolated completely within the self. We don't know the cause of the silence we observe, but we seem to know that it is quotidian, and this scene probably has few variations in its playing. I think this is the art of quiet desperation and of conventionality.

Please, once again, excuse my poor translation, but I tried to convey as literally as possible what was being said and still remain true to the strangely formal and yet colloquial French. Too many translations change words. For example to construct a sort of formal poetic parallelism, "sans me parler" and "sans une parole" are often both translated to--"Without a word." I don't think that is true to the spirit or intent of Prevert's poem. But then, I probably should be a little cautious about such statements, as I am by no means an expert in poetic French.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 06:10 PM | Comments (0)

Another Gem from Blog Land

I never fail to be amused, or at least perplexed (a rather enjoyable state overall) by the remarkable comments at Disputations.

I quote the excerpt below because it is a remarkable summary of much of the way I feel as well.

I don't have any insightful or non-negotiable opinions about liturgy, translations, enneagrams, EWTN, or Cardinal Law. What I will object to strenuously, though, are Catholics who demonstrate no faith in the Catholic faith.

(Add "worthwhile" to "insightful or nonnegotiable" to get a clearer idea of my stand.)

Although, contra John (elsewhere in the same blog), I do identify myself quite clearly as an Orthodox Catholic. (I just am uncertain about orthopraxis--out of ignorance, not defiance.) I insist that I am a true son of the Holy Catholic Church and any opinions I may hold contrary to its teaching are to be considered subject thereto (being a convert from the Baptist faith, I plead mostly ignorance).

That's not to say that I don't struggle with some of these same teachings. But when asked about them, I might advance my opinion, with the clear admonition that it is merely my opinion and not the teaching of the church and that I am presently struggling with and attempting to enter into the church teaching. I am pleased to say that on every point of importance on which I have disagreed with the Church, I have subsequently been proven wrong, by reason and the Holy Spirit. Praise God!

Posted by Steven Riddle at 09:51 AM | Comments (0)

Another must-read! Chez Dylan

Chez Dylan you will find a wonderful response to the letter by a priest defending "choice" that has been making the blog-rounds. Beautifully stated and entirely self-consistent and logical.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 09:29 AM | Comments (0)

On Coping with Sinfulness

One more piece of advice to Mr. Roberts at his new blog on dealing with sin comes from Therese of Lisieux. In one of her letters she tells a little parable of two sons, each of whom had offended his father. One of the sons went and hid, fearing his father's anger. But the other saw his father and went and threw himself into his father's arms and kissed and hugged him and promised with a small child's promises not to commit the same offense again. Therese concludes that though the father is perfectly aware that the child will sin again, he could not but forgive one who gave such an ardent and authentic display of love. Therese recommends throwing yourself into the all-embracing love of the father as the finest tonic for less-than-perfect behavior.

And then of course there is the remarkably bracing and strengthening support of our brother St. Paul who reminds us of the human condition, "I do the things I do not wish to do, and I don't do the things I wish to do, and I have no strength in me." And later, "In my weakness is His strength." So, if I have no strength in me (due to my constant reversion to sin), I approach the throne of grace and with Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection say to God, "See what happens to me when you leave me even for a moment to walk by myself?" (Of course, God never leaves us, but He does allow temptations).

And finally remember the caution of that old reprobate Oscar Wilde, "I can resist anything but temptation." And seek to do a bit better.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:26 AM | Comments (0)

Surprise! Not a Metaphysical

No, he's not a metaphysical poet. He may not even have been a Christian. But his poetry is among the greatest in the English language. One of his poems ("To Autumn")has been typified by one critic as "imperfect because of it's perfection." And his vibrant poetry tends to remind one of the God's vibrant poetry in creating such an artist.

On first looking into Chapman's Homer
John Keats

MUCH have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne:
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

"I felt like some watcher of the skies/When a new planet swims into his ken. . ." certainly describes my reaction to reading this poem the first time. Certainly one of the finest sonnets of the 19th century, if not the very best of Keats himself. And I suspect that he may have his history a little off--Cortez probably should be Balboa--but hey! he didn't claim to be a historian.

For those interested in looking into Chapman's Homer (as well as the remarkable and lovely Pope translations) you can do so at t this site. Simply look up "Homer" or "Chapman" or go to the "Elizabethans" page. Enjoy.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:18 AM | Comments (0)

The Philosophy of this Blog

I've never really stated why I am in the blogging world. There are actually two reasons--one practical, one spiritual/emotional. The practical reason is that I needed to better understand how Dhtml works, and this provided me with an excuse to learn.

The spiritual/emotional reason is that I saw a lot of blogs that commented on the news and on events. I think many of these are very fine and provide insights I might not otherwise have. But I thought that I could provide a pool of serenity where these issues did not often intrude (little did I realize that there are many such pools--thus my ignorance of the blogging world contributed yet another blog). However, you will see that while I have opinions about many of the things stated, I have some fairly strict rules (for myself) about what I will post and discuss. The first of these follows a dictum from Blessed (soon-to-be St.) Josemaria Escriva. One of his "seventeen evidences of a lack of humility," is " to give your opinion when it has not been requested and when charity does not demand it." I'm afraid that many of my ruminations upon events in the world would strike one as something less than charitable. Far better not to inflict that on an unsuspecting world. But the overriding rule I try to abide by comes straight from the lips of Jesus, "Take the beam from out thine own eye before thou removest the mote in thy brother's eye." I'm afraid that I've got one of those metal skyscraper structural I-beams--far be it for me to deride anyone no matter how (subjectively) ludicrous I may find their opinions.

That said, I must also add that I thank God for those not under the same strictures. We need bold defenders of the faith and people who are willing to wade into the fray and simply lay it on the line. We need people who can explain and defend the faith and who are not afraid to call a dog a dog. In no way is my reluctance to engage in these sorts of enterprises to be considered a reflection on anyone who does. But as John at Disputations wisely pointed out:

As with air masks that drop down from the ceiling in the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, the saving of souls works best if you take care of yourself before assisting those around you.

That said, you will undoubtedly better understand why this site has the weird things it does. I write to inform you and in so doing I learn far more than anyone is likely to derive from my writings. So thank you all for giving me a reason to write and to reflect upon the goodness of God, His mercy, His blessings, and His loving kindness to me. It is my prayer that you may come away from my site with something similar for yourselves. And if not, at least you have been entertained by the endless meanderings. I suspect it ranks at least slightly above most television for content value.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:05 AM | Comments (0)


I want to thank everyone who so kindly responded to my post about "despondency." I suppose that the word was rather stronger than my actual feeling and the real essence was to reflect and realize that not everything one writes CAN provoke much of a reaction. There are things very close to one's heart (to one's soul) that speak to one and not to another, as God chooses. We all have vocations, and each vocation is tailored to the individual.

Often I hear people say something like, "I'll never be a St. Therese." And my immediate response is, "We already have one of those, God doesn't need another. What God needs here and now is a St. Kevin." (Assuming the conversant's name was Kevin).

Another mystery of vocation that I had missed for so long is that it isn't simply, "My vocation is to be a Carmelite," and that's the end of it. No, as St. Therese informs us, vocation is much more complex. She finally concluded that her vocation was, "To be Love at the heart of the Church." Each of us is called not only to what I would term a primary vocation, but to a unique definition of that vocation. What this provides the world is an array of saints of every shade and shape, every imaginable disposition and personality, so that when someone is looking for an example, they can find someone who really helps them out. I mean, consider the spectrum--from St. Philip Neri to St. Jerome and beyond. God really is lavish in His gifts to us.

I've wandered off path again. But thanks for writing and thank you for reading--it is deeply appreciated. I pray that God will bless you for it.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:50 AM | Comments (0)

August 06, 2002

"This is the saddest story.

This post may be one of the saddest things I have read in recent days. And it is such an appropriate characterization.

An excerpt:

There can be nothing new in her particular vision because the new is simply a metaphor for what she already understands. She has the tiniest god I've ever seen. He fits inside her head.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 06:14 PM | Comments (0)

Richard Crashaw

Richard Crashaw

From the first time I read this poem, the imagery of the "purple wardrobe" stuck with me.

Upon the Body of Our Blessed Lord, Naked and Bloody
Richard Crashaw

They have left thee naked, Lord, O that they had!
This garment too I wish they had deny’d.
Thee with thy self they have too richly clad;
Opening the purple wardrobe in thy side.
O never could there be garment too good
For thee to wear, but this of thine own Blood.

I have seen this typified by some would-be critics as a "macabre epigram." Perhaps. But I think a moment's attention would show it for what it really is--a passionate poem about the passion. The imagery is stark and startling, and the truth of it undeniable to anyone who has spent any time meditating on the meaning of Good Friday. But, in a post-Christian world, what can one expect of those who refuse to absorb even the slightest hint of their own culture?

Posted by Steven Riddle at 05:16 PM | Comments (0)

On Vocation

On Vocation

I have written a number of posts reflecting on St. John of the Cross and the Carmelite way, and I was getting a bit despondent at the lack of interest and/or discussion they seemed to provoke. But as I was reflecting on this I realized several things, the most important of which I shall share.

The lack of response isn't due to a lack of readership, but it is due to the nature of vocation. Some may stop by and read an endless blog on detachment and say--"What's his problem?" or "What was that all about?" Others may stop and read and find it perfectly clear and have no comment. Yet others may stop by and say, "And that means what to me?" All are legitimate responses. What it points out to me, is that vocation really is a gift from God.

From as early as I can remember in my spiritual life, I have had the desire to be as close to God as I possibly could--to "climb inside" God and not come out. Through a tortured path of mistakes, poor discernment, and God's Grace, I finally found my way to the Third Order of Carmel. Previously I had read some of St. John of the Cross and realized that what he was talking about was exactly what I wanted. I remember a discussion with my wife before we bought our first house. She was talking excitedly about how great it would be to "own" a house, and all I could think about, with serious dread, was the prospect of a house now "owning" me. It was yet another thing to care for and take time away from what really mattered.

All along, God has been calling me to detachment, to a gentle movement toward Him. I have moved ever so slowly. But as I said in a teaching to my Carmelite Community last week, "Three steps forward and two steps back is still a step in the right direction." My ascent of Mt. Carmel may take me the rest of my life (of course it will--that too is the nature of vocation), but at least God has granted me a sense of what I am doing, and some reliable saintly guides as to how to go about it. Both of these are great treasures that God in His mercy has seen fit to grant me. And so, because He has also shown me this way, I would like to share them as much as possible; therefore, lack of comment is no object. We must recognize why we do things, reject the human rationalizations and desires, and do what we do solely for the love of God.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 01:29 PM | Comments (0)

A Right to be a Priest

Okay, so I'm late in coming to the discussion--no surprise there. However, I would like to say this about an excerpt from the New Gasparian Blog:

Lane Core from the Blog from the Core disputes my contention that no one has a right to be a priest.

He balances that with:

Of course, a right may be forfeited: but saying that is not nearly the same as saying the right doesn't exist.

I must respectfully support the conclusion, in part of Mr. (Fr. ?) Keyes:

I respectfully disagree with Mr. Core, and think we should spend more time reflecting on and celebrating what God has given, what God has done for us, then trying to take sole ownership of it.

But I do so from a slightly different perspective. The priesthood is a vocation. A vocation is a call from God. Therefore, it would be improper to say that anyone had a "right" to the priesthood. Only those called by God have any possibility of a "right" and I think insisting upon a gift would be considered boorish in any circle. No one has a "right" to the priesthood, and it may be that some have improperly considered their vocation. Sometimes proper discernment is not undertaken in the consideration of a task or place in life.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 11:13 AM | Comments (0)

Spirit Detector But this time

But this time not to critique. Hop right over. Now. No, sooner--quick. Read the wonderful post on the Catholic Church's built-in spirit detector and see what you think!

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:16 AM | Comments (0)

The Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

From Office of Readings:

Jesus goes before us to show us the way, both up the mountain and into heaven, and --I speak boldly--it is for us now to follow him with all speed, yearning for the heavenly vision that will give us a share in his radiance, renew our spiritual nature and transform us into his own likeness, making us for ever sharers in his Godhead and raising us to heights as yet undreamed of.

Let us run with confidence and joy to enter into the cloud like Moses and Elijah, or like James and John. Let us be caught up like Peter to behold the divine vision and to be transfigured by that glorious transfiguration. Let us retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from creatures and turn to the Creator. . .

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:05 AM | Comments (0)

Henry Vaughn: Metaphysical Poet

Another metaphysical poet with a very disturbing and lovely poem:

by Henry Vaughan

I SAW Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright ;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years
Driv'n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov'd ; in which the world
And all her train were hurl'd.
The doting lover in his quaintest strain
Did there complain ;
Near him, his lute, his fancy, and his flights,
Wit's sour delights ;
With gloves, and knots, the silly snares of pleasure,
Yet his dear treasure,
All scatter'd lay, while he his eyes did pour
Upon a flow'r.

The darksome statesman, hung with weights and woe,
Like a thick midnight-fog, mov'd there so slow,
He did nor stay, nor go ;
Condemning thoughts—like sad eclipses—scowl
Upon his soul,
And clouds of crying witnesses without
Pursued him with one shout.
Yet digg'd the mole, and lest his ways be found,
Work'd under ground,
Where he did clutch his prey ; but one did see
That policy :
Churches and altars fed him ; perjuries
Were gnats and flies ;
It rain'd about him blood and tears, but he
Drank them as free.

The fearful miser on a heap of rust
Sate pining all his life there, did scarce trust
His own hands with the dust,
Yet would not place one piece above, but lives
In fear of thieves.
Thousands there were as frantic as himself,
And hugg'd each one his pelf ;*
The downright epicure plac'd heav'n in sense,
And scorn'd pretence ;
While others, slipp'd into a wide excess
Said little less ;
The weaker sort slight, trivial wares enslave,
Who think them brave ;
And poor, despisèd Truth sate counting by
Their victory.

Yet some, who all this while did weep and sing,
And sing, and weep, soar'd up into the ring ;
But most would use no wing.
O fools—said I—thus to prefer dark night
Before true light !
To live in grots and caves, and hate the day
Because it shows the way ;
The way, which from this dead and dark abode
Leads up to God ;
A way where you might tread the sun, and be
More bright than he !
But as I did their madness so discuss,
One whisper'd thus,
“This ring the Bridegroom did for none provide,
But for His bride.”

JOHN, CAP. 2. VER. 16, 17.

All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the
lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the
Father, but is of the world.
And the world passeth away, and the lusts thereof ;
but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

source: Luminarium

What I like particularly about this poem is both the rhyme scheme with couplets and the eccentric end-stopped half-lines that cause the rhythm to stumble along unnaturally, mimicking in verse the fallen nature of the world discussed in the details of the poem. Overall, a poem that speaks both in its subject matter and its structure--a very neat trick to accomplish.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:45 AM | Comments (1)

Morning Prayer

From Morning Prayer:

Almighty Father, source of everlasting light, pour forth your truth into our hearts and pour over us the brightness of your light. Amen
Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:39 AM | Comments (0)

August 05, 2002

Sayings of Light and Love

Sayings of Light and Love

John of the Cross wrote a series of very short aphorisms meant to instruct the Carmelite Religious of his time. These short sayings are very much like the sayings of the desert fathers in that they pack a lot of meaning or intent into a very small space. They are great for meditation starters, or in series for an intense lectio.

20. God is more pleased by one work, however small, done secretly, without desire that it be known, than a thousand done with the desire that people know of them. Those who work for God with purest love not only care nothing about whether others see their works, but do not even seek that God himself know of them. Such persons would not cease to render God the same services, with the same joy and purity of love, even if God were never to know of these.

This demonstrates one of the primary themes of St. John of the Cross--seeking nothing, letting go of all desire and of all attachments. This detachment is a necessary stage in growth toward unity with God. After detachment comes purification (the variously described "Dark Nights"). But detachment is the first rule. In order to achieve union with God one must be detached from everything less than God. The other day a person interested in becoming a Carmelite asked me, "Does that include your children?" And my answer, immediately, was, "Of course."

But you need to understand what detachment is and what it is not. Many people confuse detachment with indifference. They are not the same. An person who is detached is able to calmly and carefully care for a child or another person who has just fallen and may have broken a limb. An indifferent person looks upon the same spectacle with the attitude that it is all part of the rich pageant of life, and then goes inside to pour him- or herself a beer.

Detachment is the ability to let everything go into the good that God has prepared for His entire creation. Detachment from one's children means loving them, guiding them, bringing them up in the way they should go, lavishing care and concern on them, but not seeking to control every action of their lives; you need to be there as guardian, guide, and advisor, and then you need to trust them confidently to God's loving care when it comes time for them to make their own choices.

True detachment delivers the object to the infinite care of Almighty God, understanding that we are incapable of even a microscopic fraction of the care and love God lavishes upon each of His Children. In the parlance of one group, detachment is "Letting go and letting God." But it really is--rather than just being a cute slogan. Detachment is a source of enormous peace, because you are no longer burdened with the need to control everyone and everything around you. Detachment is not cold, it is passionate, loving, caring, and deeply intimate. It shows far greater love than any other action we can take, because we turn the object of our concern over to the Infinite source of Love and all concern. We trust our most loved people and things to the One who can most love them--God.

More on John of the Cross as we go along.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 06:58 PM | Comments (0)

The Fractal Feast

I mentioned in the very first of my blog impressions that I was interested in fractals. More than interested, much of my dissertation centered about fractals and non-linear dynamics. So, while I'm no expert, I do like them and so I thought I'd tell you about the most perfect (and my favorite) fractal--the Eucharist.

This is not meant as sacrilege, nor even as metaphor. God thought and imagined the fractal before we could ever name it, and little wonder that He should use it. What precisely is a fractal? Well, there are lot's and lot's of possible definitions--"a geometric figure with a non-integral dimension," for example. There are more technical definitions, and there are more informal definitions. For my purposes, I've settled on the midground definition of "an object or figure that exhibits self-similarity." Now admittedly, this is loosely true of all fractals and only completely true of perfect fractals. A perfect fractal would be exactly the same at whatever magnification you viewed it. Let me see if I can explain. Take an equilateral triangle. Now, from each of the three side, draw another equilateral triangle with base exactly one-third the length of the original base (however, in your drawing, you will exclude or erase the portion of the original base that is now "covered" by the new triangle. (You now have figure that looks a bit like a six-pointed star.) Now from each of the sides of the new figure, draw a new equilateral triangle with base one-third the length of the second, one-ninth the length of the first. I think you get the idea.

Consider now the Eucharist. It is the complete body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. You cannot get a "part of the body" or "some of the blood" or a "portion of the divinity" or a "fragment of the soul." In consuming the Eucharist we receive the complete Savior. Now, on some occasions, the priest may have to break a host in order to assure that there is enough for everyone. Does this broken host represent a part of the body of Christ. When he breaks it, do we only receive the body and not the blood, or the soul and not the divinity? Or do we receive half of each? No. We all know that no matter how small the fragment of the host, so long as it has been properly consecrated, it contains the fullness of the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. In fact, this is true down to the smallest possible fragment that could still be recognizable as bread (probably not true on an atomic level, although I'll leave that speculation to quantum physicists and others better qualified than me). But certainly, so long as the material is still recognizable as bread, it is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. (This is why some of the cleansing techniques I have seen in some churches approach blasphemy. It is also why the plumbing used in the sacristy to wash the vessels of Mass was (at least in the past) grounded--that is, not channeled into a sewer system. If we are at all serious about our faith, this should still be mandatory, but I don't know if it is.)

Everything written above about the consecrated host is also true of the consecrated wine. The smallest sip contains the exact image of the entire cup. There is no fragment of God that we receive. Indeed, the Eucharist is the perfect fractal, retaining to the smallest detail the exact image of Jesus Christ to all who consume it. It is awe-inspiring to contemplate this essential mystery of the Eucharist. It is the perfection of God's plan and in it one could read a message of Divine Love. No matter how little you receive, you receive all there is to receive. In this sense, the Eucharist is a perfect fractal feast. The person of God is complete in every part of every element, down to the smallest recognizable fraction of that element. This mystery deepens as you think about it and it leads you into an understanding of the pervasiveness of God. He is all in all in all. In everyone who consumes the Eucharist, every portion of that person (the entire person) is divinized by contact and intermingling with the Divine. And there is no end to this. As once said, in saecula saeculorum.

Of course, all of this is speculation and metaphor, and if incorrect in any way, I gladly accept all correction. Thanks.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 05:49 PM | Comments (1)

John Bunyan Revisited

Disputations today has a brief column (see 11:02) regarding the necessity of saving your own soul before you proceed to that of others. This immediately put me in mind of A Pilgrim's Progress in which Christian is advised likewise. Once might also consider that Jesus kind of advised the same thing "Take the beam from out thine own eye before thou regardest the mote in thy brother's." There are other places where such advice is made explicit as well. Looking to your own salvation is the only way to help show someone the path to his or her own.

Now, admittedly, this can become toxic and obsessive. We could be so controlled by worrying about our salvation that we find ourselves incapable of acting. It becomes morbid. However, it is a good idea to be certain you are at least aware of the path you should be walking (even if you aren't doing a particularly good job of it) before you try showing others the way they should be going.

Even though it is a work of Puritanism at its height, a Pilgrim's Progress is worth a look--even if only to better understand Lewis's A Pilgrim's Regress.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 04:54 PM | Comments (0)

Hazel Mote, Anyone?

At least Hazel only promoted the Church of God without Christ--a kind of Southern Unitarian thing, I suppose. But Mark Shea (direct linking not working so go to the 8/5/02, 7:32 post about Spong) has linked to an article by Gene Edward Veith that must chronicle one of the most absurd and idiotic doxologies in the history of humankind:

Bishop Spong proposes "a new Christianity." This new faith, he writes, must be able to "incorporate all of our reality. It must be able to allow God and Satan to come together in each of us.... It must unite Christ with Antichrist, Jesus with Judas, male with female, heterosexual with homosexual." This new Christianity, which amounts to a completely different religion, presumably will still need to employ bishops.

This "new christianity" already has a name--secular humanism.

And for "Bishop" Spong and those who follow him, the following admonition:

"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come! "(Matthew 18:6-7)

Posted by Steven Riddle at 11:39 AM | Comments (0)

Who Saves the World?

Who Saves the World?

Kairos has a very interesting post, but I find myself somewhat at odds with the language (but probably not with the intent).

The first instance is in this short paragraph:

I know I have said this before, but it bears constant repetition: You cannot fix the world. You can only save it.

First, I must say, there are several ways to read this. If it is intended to say "The world cannot be fixed, it can only be saved," which, I believe is the intent, then I would have to concur, even if it is passive language. However, if the claim is that I as an individual can so some sort of saving, then I must demur and point at the One who saves. The reason I make a point of this is that all too many people today are ready to say that we can save the world. Look at any lobby--pro-abortion, anti-abortion, pro-gun-control, anti-gun-control, pro-environment, pro-business--you name it, and they all have the panacea that will make for the perfect world. (Well, not really, but many seem to think of their cause in this light.) While many of these causes are profoundly right-headed and certainly likely to shift the world into the right direction, salvation is from God alone. So, I must repeat, while I do not attribute this reading to Kairos, I must take exception to the literal reading of it.

Another place where I was a bit perturbed was in this quotation, "The souls of the corrupt priests and corrupted victims require significant attention. . . " once again, I believe my disagreement is with the phrasing, not the thought. A person who engages in an activity against his or her will is not "corrupted" by that activity. If they are persuaded to engage in it and then continue afterwards, then I would say that corruption had occurred. We might say that they had been "defiled" by it, but even that language disturbs me because it suggests that there is now something about the person that is wrong or distorted. In fact, there is not. Violation is the only word that can be used to describe the effect on the person, and what that "grows into" is really dependent on the person.

The corruption is on the part of the one perpetrating the act, and on that person alone. The only thing the victim suffers is harm--neither corruption nor uncleanness. We know this because Jesus pointed out that it was not what went into a person that produced uncleanness but what came out of them. Once again, I urge caution in the language because we are a society inclined to blame the person harmed. I have heard ludicrous arguments out of courtrooms suggesting that children as young as four years old "enticed" and participated in their own violation. The other extreme this leads to is that deplored by St. Augustine. Speaking in The City of God about some virgins who had committed suicide rather than suffer defilement, Augustine noted that there was nothing saintly about this action, that the preservation of virginity was not first and foremost a cause to be pursued above all others. (Note, this has nothing to do with the circumstances of Maria Goretti, who categorically DID NOT commit suicide--she was murdered). We mustn't conclude that the violation of these children corrupted or harmed them in an irreparable spiritual way. They have no "spot on their souls" for what happened to them.

Once again, it may sound as though I'm taking Kairos to task over this--I wish to dispel that notion. I am simply using some of the things he wrote about as a springboard to addressing some of the thoughts people have about these issues. If one misreads Kairos's intentions, it would be very easy to fall back into a morality that imputes the stain of a crime to the victim, and I am absolutely certain that was not his intention. So, my apologies beforehand to Kairos for a more or less semantic assault. But my thanks also for allowing me to address issues that are left too often unnoticed.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 10:50 AM | Comments (0)

Meditation on the Office of Readings

"Do not turn inward and live only for yourselves as though already assured of salvation; join together rather and seek the common good. . . .Rather, let us become spiritual; let us be a perfect dwelling place for God." (from a Letter attributed to Barnabas)

What does this dwelling place look like? How does one become such a dwelling place? In what sort of place does God choose to live?

You'd be surprised. God does not necessarily choose palaces, nor even a nice middle-class suburban home, although, of course, He can make His dwelling there as well. No, more often, the places He comes to are humble--tarpaper shacks, a tumble-down cabin, a shallow cave in the face of a cliff. And what He finds there is often unspeakable--wretchedness, dirt and filth, unhappiness, vermin, all manner of things that would offend Him.

How then do these places, our own souls, become suitable dwellings for the Lord of All Creation? Simply, we open a door. We truly open a door. We don't unlock a single lock only to slam a huge bar in place. We don't make the sound of squeaky hinges yet never turn the handle of the door. We ask Christ to be our guest. We ask Him in through prayer and through allying our wills to the first stirrings that He inspires in us.

The present dwellings are too often unkempt, unlit, cramped, and airless. We are unbending, uncompromising, judgmental, unloving, uncaring, self-involved, greedy. We make no room for others. We allow no imperfections in anyone other than ourselves. We are quick to take offense and slow to make peace. We demand our own ways and acknowledge not other possibilities. When we actually open the door, even if it is only a crack, the breath of the Spirit stirs up a new, breathable air and with that air comes light and warmth. When we ask Jesus in, He will enter. And He will do the renovation that makes our dark home His dwelling of light. And we will not like it--no one wants to see what is just beneath the wallboards of their dwelling. No one wants to have exposed the dark workings of the human heart. We do not really want to know about the damage we have inflicted on others or about the harm we do when we are distant, cold, and judging. We are safer in our cramped darkness. This new light and air means we must walk in the open and deal with others in ways we are unused to.

Jesus makes the dwelling of God perfect if we simply cooperate in the venture. If we put ourselves and our considerations aside, Jesus will reform the interior. He will do the remodeling, the rebuilding, the repainting. Sometimes He will have to completely gut what is already present. But all we need do is focus on Him and listen to Him. He will make the dwelling right, but He can only do so by invitation. We cannot expect Him to barge His way in and begin changing things. We must open the door.

And once the door is open, the world is changed. No, it only seems that the world has changed. But once we change, once we become vessels for God, we begin to see as God sees and understand as God understands. No, not fully, but at least darkly, we begin to understand the interconnectedness of our actions. We begin to understand that harsh words spoken even in a good cause are still harsh words. Righteous anger too often is only righteous on the part of the one angry. We begin to see that even our best gestures at welcoming others are, without Christ, awkward and off-putting. We begin to understand that from ourselves we can expect nothing but self, but from Jesus we can expect nothing but Love.

When Jesus dwells in the house, the light is on and it shines out for all to see. If Jesus is not there, we see that as well. When Jesus is in the house, there is no task too large, no injustice so great that we cannot do something to help alleviate it. When God is dwelling in this perfected dwelling, the world has hope and love and light.

How do we start? Prayer, constant prayer. We need at every moment to be aware that God is present and to direct our attention to God. This does not mean we go about in some mystical daze, stumbling into traffic, or causing accidents at work. It does mean that we recognize that work as the gift of God for that moment and that we recognize each person we encounter as a marred image of Christ, another dwelling for God than may need some help in the renovation process. It means that we spend some time thanking God for the many opportunities that come to us and inviting Him to send more. It means that we pray as we live, as we breath, acknowledging that all life, all hope, all goodness comes from Him who took our form to make us One with Him. And it means that we allow that oneness to erase our individuality and to bring forth our reality. Our only real image can exist only when we allow Christ to identify it and to light it from within. All other images are merely masks of the moment. The only reality is the image of Christ with which we may choose to cooperate or against which we can battle to our own detriment and that of the entire world. For a single dwelling without a light can conjure up a holocaust to defy imagination. A single soul that does not know it is loved, can wreak havoc on millions all around it. A single image of Christ left uncomforted and unconsoled by us is, in fact, a blasphemy. And what can be the source of comfort and consolation if it is not Christ within us?

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:17 AM | Comments (0)

More Metaphysical Poetry--Robert Herrick

The early part of Robert Herrick's life is contemporary with Shakespeare. The latter with John Dryden. He truly spans several literary eras.

Upon Julia's Clothes
Robert Herrick

Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then (methinks) how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.

Next, when I cast mine eyes, and see
That brave vibration each way free,
O how that glittering taketh me!

I've always been surprised at how effective this short piece is. It is one of a series of poems written to Julia, all of which are quite beautiful. This poem achieves part of its punch through the complete rhyming of each of its stanzas. But more of the effect simply comes through the image that is being recounted and the obvious affection of the poet for the subject. The idea of "liquefaction" of clothes is a powerful suggestion. This is one of those tropes that appeals to the mind's eye and leaves you to bring associations to the poem.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 06:18 AM | Comments (1)

The Beauty of the Saints

God has made powerful provision for all his people in the person of His saints. There seems to be a saint for every person and temperament. What is more, we have images from the lives of saints that, while the saint may or may not appeal, the moment speaks to us.

St. Alphonsus Liguori was a prolific writer and among the things presented to the world is a magnificent compendium The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ. Naturally, the lives of saints makes up only a portion of the work. But here is a excerpt that really spoke to me:

Similarly Saint Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, when she held any beautiful flower in her hand, felt herself on fire with love for God, and she would say: "Then God has thought from all eternity of creating this flower for love of me." Thus that flower became, as it were, a dart of love, which sweetly wounded her, and brought her closer to God.

The saints are so steeped in prayer that they are able to show us the world anew. In their innocence of vision they strip away some of the illusions that we have built up about ourselves and the world. Who among us would look upon a flower and conclude that God in His love had made that flower particularly and especially for us at that moment in time? One of our prayers should be to be able to see things as they are--to be able to rip through illusion and see God's particular love and care for us.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 05:49 AM | Comments (0)

August 04, 2002

Prayer of St. Teresa of

commonly called Her Bookmark
Let nothing disturb you;
nothing frighten you.
All things are passing.
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Nothing is wanting to him who possesses God.
God alone suffices.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 01:40 PM | Comments (0)

Celebrating Our Carmelite Saints--St. Edith Stein

We are rapidly approaching 9 August, the anniversary of the Death of St. Edith Stein, one of the most fiercely intellectual of the Carmelite Saints, and one of the great lovers of the Lord. The following prayer is from a Pentecost Novena that she composed. It is among the loveliest prayers I have read.

6.Are you the one who created the unclouded mirror
Next to the Almighty's throne,
Like a crystal sea,
In which Divinity lovingly looks at itself?
You bend over the fairest work of your creation,
And radiantly your own gaze
Is illumined in return.
And of all creatures the pure beauty
Is joined in one in the dear form
Of the Virgin, your immaculate bride:
Holy Spirit Creator of all!

The anniversary of St. Edith Stein reminds us of the potential for evil and cruelty locked up inside every one of us. How many stood by to allow the evil that engulfed her and 8,000,000 or more sisters and brothers? As it is said, all that it takes for evil to succeed is for good people to stand by and do nothing. Let us remember that in ever interaction of every day. Evil starts in little ways--a word here, a gesture there, a statement, nothing much at all. Such little things escalate into great harm in no time if left unchecked. We can do much to undermine the culture of evil that sprouts like weeds around us. We may speak against it in word or action. We can take up spiritual arms and prayer for God's intervention. What we cannot do is stand by. As Christians we must take action against the evil we see rise up--we have no choice. More, we cannot call evil good and think that it changes for all that. We must not abandon our belief to relativists. An evil can never be a good regardless of the circumstances. And when we resort to evil to fight evil, then Evil has won.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 12:27 PM | Comments (0)

Catechism Internet Study Group

Many are probably already aware of this (I seem always to be the last to know. But below is a description for those, who like me, have to sneak up on such things by yourself.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church Internet Study Group

[Our study group program will begin on Monday, August 19th, 2002. In the meantime, please read below, and explore the site. We recommend starting with this page and our "Full Description of the Program." You may visit the forum and register at any time. We'll remind you by email 2 weeks before the course starts. Please see "Getting Started" for how to do this]

More info

Our Schedule

Our full program of reading, reflection, and discussion – described below - is scheduled to begin on Monday, August 19th, 2002. Until then, we will be trying to let as many people as possible know about our site and our program. You can help by sharing our site (CCCISG.ORG) with people who you think might be interested.

Whom is this for?

To put it simply, this site is for anyone who would like to learn more about the contents of the CCC, which present the Church's best, most recent expression of its full and authoritative teaching. Some specific ideas about who those people might be are:

1. Ordinary, lay Catholics (like the members of our Steering Committee) who want to learn more about the doctrinal teachings of the Catholic Church. "(The CCC) is also offered to all the faithful who wish to deepen their knowledge of the unfathomable riches of salvation." [FD]

2. People who are or want to be involved as volunteer catechists in parish activities who want to deepen their knowledge of the CCC as a foundation for this work.

3. People who have an ecclesiastical or professional need to become familiar with the contents of the CCC, and who find the methodology of our program convenient and helpful.

4. Non-Catholics who are curious about what the Church teaches. The CCC is "...offered to everyone who asks us to give an account of the hope that is in us, and who wants to know what the Catholic Church believes." [FD]

Perhaps I will see you there!

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:20 AM | Comments (0)

A New England Poet

Anne Bradstreet was one of the first "imported" poets of New England and while some of her poetry is very naive, and does not really compare well with what was being composed in England at the time, it has its own vigor. The sound of it echoes in poets and writers who were to follow. This poem from "Representative Poetry On-line"

Anne Bradstreet
By Night when Others Soundly Slept

By night when others soundly slept
And hath at once both ease and Rest,
My waking eyes were open kept
And so to lie I found it best.
I sought him whom my Soul did Love,
With tears I sought him earnestly.
He bow'd his ear down from Above.
In vain I did not seek or cry.
My hungry Soul he fill'd with Good;
He in his Bottle put my tears,
My smarting wounds washt in his blood,
And banisht thence my Doubts and fears.
What to my Saviour shall I give
Who freely hath done this for me?
I'll serve him here whilst I shall live
And Loue him to Eternity.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:41 AM | Comments (0)

Memento Mori

Memento Mori

Long called Venerable, St. Bede offers this brief reflection on the four last things:

Bede's Death Song
from The Venerable Bede (673-735)

Fore there neidfaerae naenig uuiurthit
thoncsnotturra than him tharf sie
to ymbhycggannae aer his hiniongae
huaet his gastae godaes aeththa yflaes
aefter deothdaege doemid uueorthae.

[Loose Translation:
Before the inevitable journey there is no one
wiser than him who, knowing his need,
ponders, before his journey,
what good and evil within his soul,
after his death, will be judged.]

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:33 AM | Comments (0)

Jean Pierre de Caussade: Teacher of Prayer

Jean Pierre de Caussade is a great teacher of silent prayer and a more complex and, perhaps, subtle expositor of the "Practice of the Presence of God," as conceived by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. Many have accused de Caussade of Quietism, but over the years that accusation has been addressed and disproved. What de Caussade teaches is not fatalistic resignation, but enthusiastic conformity to God's will.

Perfection consists in doing the will of God, not in understanding His designs.

The designs of God, the good pleasure of God, the will of God, the operation of God and the gift of His grace are all one and the same thing in the spiritual life. It is God working in the soul to make it like unto Himself. Perfection is neither more nor less than the faithful co-operation of the soul with this work of God, and is begun, grows, and is consummated in the soul unperceived and in secret. The science of theology is full of theories and explanations of the wonders of this state in each soul according to its capacity. One may be conversant with all these speculations, speak and write about them admirably, instruct others and guide souls; yet, if these theories are only in the mind, one is, compared with those who, without any knowledge of these theories, receive the meaning of the designs of God and do His holy will, like a sick physician compared to simple people in perfect health.

There seems to be a certain stream of anti-intellectualism here, but I think it is only seeming. De Caussade, as with any good Christian, does not encourage merely intellectual assent, but actual action based on what is called for in the present moment. His theory, which I believe to be correct, is that understanding the reasons of God is not nearly so important as willingly doing those things that God requests.

Perfection is not perfection of intellect, rather a perfection of duty and activity, even if that activity consists in sitting at Jesus' feet.

The soul that does not attach itself solely to the will of God will find neither satisfaction nor sanctification in any other means however excellent by which it may attempt to gain them. If that which God Himself chooses for you does not content you, from whom do you expect to obtain what you desire? If you are disgusted with the meat prepared for you by the divine will itself, what food would not be insipid to so depraved a taste? No soul can be really nourished, fortified, purified, enriched, and sanctified except in fulfilling the duties of the present moment. What more would you have? As in this you can find all good, why seek it elsewhere? Do you know better than God? As he ordains it thus why do you desire it differently? Can His wisdom and goodness be deceived? When you find something to be in accordance with this divine wisdom and goodness ought you not to conclude that it must needs be excellent? Do you imagine you will find peace in resisting the Almighty? Is it not, on the contrary, this resistance which we too often continue without owning it even to ourselves which is the cause of all our troubles?

And I think the wisdom of this passage is apparent without going into any detail. Those who would resist God's love, God's Teaching through His Church, and God's infinite outreach, resist peace itself. They struggle to upset their own peace, thinking it merely complacency, and having dragged themselves out of it, think it their duty to drag everyone else out as well. Such are the dissenters, the supposed intellectual heroes of the resistance movement, who abandoning God's peace, choose peace only on their own terms. To them, I simply ask the question presented in the second sentence above, "If God's will is not good enough, what will you find that is?"

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:18 AM | Comments (0)