August 17, 2002

The Next Thing in Graduate

The Next Thing in Graduate Work

And now, on the very serious, theoretical side, from Cacciaguida an extraordinarily important report on current graduate work. A must-read for all gradutate students in the literary fields.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 04:40 PM | Comments (0)

Book Reviews The Rosary

Book Reviews
The Rosary of Our Lady and Goodbye, Good Men

Just finished two books, one a magnificent meditation on the Rosary, the other an occasionally illuminating, largely tedious exposition of the "way things are."

Romano Guardini's The Rosary of Our Lady is a two-fold book. The first portion provides an excellent defense of and argument for the praying of the Rosary. Some time back a bit of fuss was stirred over some who said that they found the Rosary difficult. I stand by it, but that does not mean that it should not be prayed. In fact, the harder and less pleasing it may be to me, the more valuable it may be to God. Guardini examines the nature and the purpose of the Rosary, comparing it to other forms of prayer, and not glossing over the perceived difficulties.

The second half of the book serves as a deep meditation on the mysteries of the Rosary, laying bare some wonderful revelations hidden within the lives of Jesus and Mary. If you already pray the Rosary, these will help to build up your reflections. If you have not started, these help you to understand some of the kinds of reflection/meditation that should be occurring as you pray.

Michael Rose's book, while timely and probably necessary as an exposition of present troubles, seems to be somewhat over-the-top. After about three chapters, I had gotten the gist of the argument. The layering of anecdotal accounts really didn't add substance to the argument and occasionally served to make the narrative sound whiny. Some of the complaints lodged began to seem trivial, which was unfair to the people who had experienced these trials.

I believe that the shorter discussions available on the Ignatius Press site and elsewhere managed to make the same point in less space, probably with greater impact. This meditation on the crisis is useful only if you really want to wallow in the detail and justify your already justifiable outrage. I can't recommend it very enthusiastically. But then, I don't often read things of this sort as they tend to depress me and make me think the world is a hopeless place. And, as we all know, THAT thought is simply a lie.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 10:14 AM | Comments (0)

Review of Cultural Relativism

The Times (of London) Literary Supplement (don't know how long the link will survive) gives us an impressive review of a book that looks into some of the more appalling crimes of cultural relativism.

Sandall focuses on the worst aspects of cultural relativism, in particular its non-relativist use of sentimentalized assessments of primitive cultures as a stick with which to beat civilization. He begins with a cameo: Lauren Hutton, the actress and ex-model, forcing her two young sons to watch red-robed Masai warriors drinking warm blood from the carcass of a slaughtered cow. Their reaction -- tears in contrast to her own delighted yelps of "wow" -- disappointed her. Perhaps, Sandall wonders, they understood better than she did the necessary violence of the warrior life behind the tourist-anthropology cabaret. As the mother of two boys, one might have expected her to reflect on the appalling initiation ceremonies to which warrior societies sometimes subject young males. In some highland Papua New Guinea societies, boys "were beaten with stinging nettles. . ."[read the remainder of this passage on the site, if interested]

The initiation rituals undergone by Papuan boys are somewhat at odds with the "communal basket-weaving, accompanied by traditional dance and song", that, Sandall argues, dominates the image of indigenous cultures in the minds of "boutique" multiculturalists. Multiculturalist thinking tends to exaggerate the place of art in past communities. Writers enchanted by Aztec art, architecture and poetry often ignore the unspeakable despotism of this warrior and priest-ridden society and their continual wars, waged in pursuit of the 20,000 prisoners needed annually for purposes of human sacrifice. For their neighbours, the arrival of the conquistadors was liberating.

Now, while I cannot but agree with the major assessment, I do have to caution that not all agrarian societies are brutal, awful, or have rituals such as those described. To assume that technological societies are a priori better for being technological is one of my pet peeves. As an example look at the Amish who eschew much of modern technology.

On the flip side, it is equally wrong to assume that an agrarian culture is "close to nature" and more "respectful" or "in-tune" with the environment. In point of fact all cultures have their problems, and on the whole the standard of life within a techonological soceity tends to be better. (I wouldn't argue that this is the way it must be--I suppose I have a romantic notion that would argue we can have the best of both worlds with a bit of work--but that may not be realistic; moreover, it is certainly not the present reality in any culture I'm aware of.)

But more to the point, in the example sited above, the Masai ritual may be unjustly maligned (I haven't seen it). The real problem with the scenario is exposing two young children who have not been exposed to the realities of where their own food comes from to something that is this graphic. I don't know that drinking the blood of a slaughtered cow is necessarily any worse than what happens in modern abattoirs to prepare food for our own tables. The difficulty is some parents appear not to have a clue about what to expose children to.

Okay, all my caveats aside, we must be willing to say straight out that atrocities cannot be justified by cultural differences. Girls who die as a result of "female circumcision," the phenomenon of the "reste-avec" and the child slaves typified by the tragedy of Victoria Climbié and others in Great Britain and elsewhere, and any other atrocity you can think of needs to be identified as an atrocity and not argued into nonexistence by cultural relativism. Likewise, those things that enrich the treasury of humanity through their exemplary exposition of all the good that is possible should be acknowledged as well. For example, communal care of children in many societies, is, in fact, often a good thing.

Not being an ethnologist, I am not in the place to make sweeping comments regarding any societal practices, but I do think we tend either to sweepingly condemn cultures for some of these kinds of things or to discretely sweep real atrocities under the carpet in the name of solidarity.

The best solution to all of these extremes is to love the people who make up a society, to see within them the image of Jesus Christ. If we focus on a person rather than on some of the less savory aspects of the culture from which the person derives, we will be far better off. If we were to be completely objective, there are undoubtedly a great many things about our own culture that would appear both barbaric and appalling. Fortunately, we are called simply to be brothers and sister to one another in Jesus Christ, our Brother, our Head, and our Lord.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 09:32 AM | Comments (0)

A Link to the Carmelite

A Link to the Carmelite Saints

Thanks to Bill at Summa Minutiae for this really fine link to information about Carmelite Saints (which I shall add to my Noteworthy Sites list). In addition, it comes from the Irish province, and that in itself has a great deal to recommend it!

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:29 AM | Comments (0)

A Commentary on the Crises?

A Commentary on the Crises?

In the wandering labyrinth of my reading, I happened upon this comment:

Doesn't this contrast between the traitor and the apostle present to us a clear and mirror image. . .a sad and terrible view of what has happened through the ages from those times even to our own? Why don't bishops contemplate in this scene their own somnolence? Since they have succeeded in the place of the apostles, would that they would reproduce their virtues as eagerly as they embrace their authority and as faithfully as they display their sloth and sleepiness! For very many are sleepy and apathetic in sowing virtues among the people and maintaining the truth, while the enemies of Christ, in order to sow vices and uproot the faith..., are wide awake....(p. 46)

So, you've already figured out it isn't contemporary (although it certainly could be), but do you have any idea how old it is? It is a quote from St. Thomas More's last work, written in the tower as he was awaiting execution--The Sadness of Christ.

There was as well another quote that addresses an issue of "Low Mass" and "Low Prayer" as discussed elsewhere in blogdom.

For if we do this carefully [contemplate Christ prostrate in prayer] a ray of light which enlightens every man whom comes into the world will illuminate our minds so that we will see, recognize, deplore, and will at long last correct, I will not say the negligence, sloth, or apathy, but rather the feeblemindedness, the insanity, the downright blockheaded stupidity with which most of us approach the all-powerful God, and instead of praying reverently, address Him in a lazy and sleepy sort of way; and by the same token I am very much afraid that instead of placating Him and gaining His favor we exasperate Him and sharply provoke His wrath.(p. 18-19)

I might subtitle that little ditty: "To those who can't seem to pray the Mass as it is written." From "Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier," to the sharp little embolisms thrown into the Eucharistic prayer, there seems to be no end of the ways in which many choose not to do the mass as it has been approved.

And how many of us in the congregation are nearly half-wits in our preparation and participation? I'm not talking about those who have the additional burden (as do I) of trying to corral and quiet a rambunctious (but well-meaning) four-year old. I'm talking about men in cut-off shorts, women in halter tops, children who should know better playing gameboys, cell-phones and beepers that have not been turned off--any number of ways we show a lack of courtesy not only to God (offensive enough) but to His other beloved children (compounding the offense by distracting those who would be faithful).

I can't recommend this little book highly enough. St. Thomas More is one of my very favorite Saints, a tremendous example as lawyer, statesman, father, husband, and man. This is a modernized and updated version (not usually something of which I approve, but I haven't got several hundred dollars for the Yale volumes) which makes it very accessible to those with no toleration for reading sixteenth century English. If you don't know about St. Thomas More, or need a refresher, watch the remarkable Man for All Seasons to learn about "The King's good servant but God's first."

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

August 16, 2002

The Question of the Dormition

The Question of the Dormition

John, at Disputations has a well-reasoned and thoughtful post on the question of whether or not Mary died before her assumption into heaven. Myself, I have not real preference for how one views the events. However, I do take exception to my reading (perhaps misreading) of the quote below.

The arguments against Mary's death are, as I understand them, based on a certain way of understanding her Immaculate Conception, which in turn is based on a certain way of understanding Original Sin. There is a chain of reasoning that leads to the conclusion that Mary's death is unreasonable; if Mary did in fact die -- as centuries of undisputed tradition hold, as all but a handful have always held -- then there is something wrong earlier in the chain, something wrong in the reasoning about the Immaculate Conception or about Original Sin. These errors may well be leading to other false conclusions on matters unrelated to the Assumption; they may also interfere with ecumenical efforts by the Roman Catholic Church to reach out to both the Orthodox and Protestants.

If I were to frame an argument regarding Mary's Assumption, it would have nothing whatsoever to do with any of the above. It would simply take the form of, "If God could choose to do this for His friends (Elijah and Enoch), surely He could do so for His own mother." This has no reflection on the immaculate conception, says nothing whatsoever about original sin. So arguments against the Blessed Mother's death do not have to be framed in those terms, they can be framed in terms of God's Will, without speculating on why He might choose to release His mother from the pangs of death.

On a different point has anyone ever noticed that the woman assumed into heaven is always about 25 years old. At the time of Jesus's death Mary was at least 47, perhaps as old as 49. Tradition has it that she went with John in his exile to Patmos, she must have been 60, 70, or 80 when she died, so why is this youthful virgin seen borne up by angels? Perhaps another good argument for her death and return in the glorified body which is assumed into heaven. But entirely peripheral and speculative. Thanks, John for the great post.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 11:01 AM | Comments (0)

Favorite Spiritual Books, Part I--Story

Favorite Spiritual Books, Part I--Story of a Soul

Who knows how many parts, but I thought I would go somewhat more slowly through the spiritual books because it would serve to remind me why I liked the ones I did and why I would return to them. These are in no order other than the one that happens to come to mind. (Oops! only had time for one this time--sorry!)

First is Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux. I have read this now two or three times, bits and pieces much more than the entire thing. For a very long time I found that I had no liking for St. Therese of Lisieux. The spirituality that seemed to surround her was little short of voodoo or witchcraft. "If I make my novena to St. Therese, and my prayer is answered, I will get flowers (particularly roses) as a sign." I found this very much like sympathetic magic. These same followers would say in swooning terms, "Oh, the Little Flower. Oh, she is so beautiful." Frankly, it was enough leftover Victorian Piety to choke the most rational of people (and I don't claim to be among that group.) I attributed the sins of the followers to something about Therese herself.

I could not possibly have been more wrong. As this book reveals, the "little flower" was, in fact, a Mighty Oak. There is no doubt that the excesses of piety that marked her age also mark her prose. Some translations are more marred by it than others--thus my recommendation of John Clarke's translation, or reading the original French, if that is an option. After one pulls aside the dulling veil of flowers, candies, four year olds pretending to be saints, and other such excrescences, one discovers a deep humor and beauty of a soul nearly always in turmoil and pain. And beyond all of that one sees the truly luminous spirituality of a person who at the tender age of 24 had achieved Union with God and attempted to articulate how to get there for the benefit of those who surrounded her. If you have limited time, read Ms. B and C, (chapters 9-11 of the Clarke translation). These were written after Therese knew of her illness, and the last two during the last months of her life when she was wracked with the horrendous pain of the tuberculosis attacking her digestive system and other body systems. There is a luminous, knowing, and deep spirituality here. There is the evidence of a long "dark night" during which Therese was tempted to despair and to doubt God's existence. But her faith ultimately triumphed, and she became, with Francis Xavier, one of the Patrons of the Missions.

Read in the proper frame of mind, preferably as part of a devout study group, or with others intent on the practice of Theresian spirituality, this book can alter your life and your prayer life in ways that you cannot even begin to imagine. Therese of Lisieux has a tremendous amount to teach us, and until I started to tap the riches of this fine volume, I had wondered at the wisdom of making her a Doctor of the Church. Only now am I beginning to plumb the depths of her teaching, and I am grateful to God for such a teacher.

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

The Ever-Present Problems of Doubt

We've talked in various blogs a good deal about doubt. I thought I would present a classic example of what doubt really looks like when spilled out upon a page. In this case it is a brief, beautiful, and classic poem by Matthew Arnold--his best know poetic work.

Dover Beach
Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits;--on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch'd land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

The rhyme scheme is irregular, erratic, deliberately so. It becomes disoriented and chaotic like the shifting sea and the emotions and thoughts of the speaker. The whole poem is constructed to artfully represent the chaos of all of these thoughts. "The Sea of Faith," once full now withdraws from the world with a melancholy roar. There is no blanket, no shield of protection. What we are left with is the solace of other people(and we all know how fragile that is)--"Ah love let us be true. . . for the world [and by extension God] Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,/ Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain. . ." Yes, the world is a fallen place and there is nothing certain or trustworthy in it, and it is made an even more uncertain place when the soothing blanket of faith is removed and we face the prospects of this place without the loving presence of God.

Here is doubt. Beautifully portrayed, wonderfully dissected and represented, but it shows doubt clearly and without question. If one were to say to me that Matthew Arnold doubted the existence of God, I could probably find no better evidence than here (although truth to tell, there is evidence all over).

So, when we speak of doubt, we find broken meter, chaotic rhyme, and language that leaves no doubt in the mind that the speaker is uncertain of the world and his place in it. He is uncertain of the existence of God, and the world has become a place much colder and much more unfriendly.

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

August 15, 2002

Favorite Books List

Favorite Books List

I promise, I'm not trying to blog poor Kairos to death, but his very interesting post inspired my own thinking about a list of favorite books. (That's by way of saying you can blame him for this:-)) As I thought about it, I also thought that perhaps I should rank them, because otherwise the list is likely to look like that of a pretentious windbag (as though you hadn't already figure THAT out for yourself). So as I embark on my list, let me place at the very top of the list my three all-time favorite books/pieces of literature:

J. R. R. Tolkien-Lord of the Rings
Mark Twain--Tom Sawyer
Ray Bradbury--Dandelion Wine.

There, now that no one can accuse me of pretentious, the following is a list in no particular order of my favorite fiction. Nonfiction and spiritual books will have to wait for a more considered presentation.

Flannery O'Connor--Everything. An amazing, intense, fascinating, quirky artist.

Love in the Ruins --idiosyncratic, strange, nearly surreal.

The Haunting of Hill House forget the modern movie version--the 1963 Claire Bloom is closer to the book--still read the book memorable for its wonderful send-off "Whatever walks there, walks alone." Chilling and strangely sad.

The Turn of the Screw I really didn't much care for this until I grew old enough to know what it was really talking about. Now I find it one of the most eerily frightening books around.

Ulysses--Yes, the book that more people have started than ever thought of finishing, fascinating, aggravating, modernist, and ultimately a very satisfying puzzle, if one can overlook the sacrilege and very scatological humor.

Winesburg, Ohio--I love this book without reason and without apology--kind of the way I feel about Tom Sawyer--can't explain it, and will probably never read it in a way that would allow me to do so.

To the Lighthouse--I don't care if some regard her as an elitist virago, I find this book lovely beyond description with its gentle evocation of the persistence in memory of one long gone.

In Search of Lost Time--Read Alain de Boton's remarkable How Proust Can Change Your Life for a sense of why this is such a marvelous if flawed work. Talk about dubious morality!

War and Peace Skim those tedious essays on the nature of history and really savor this magnificent and interesting story.

Dune--That's right, I said "Dune." And while I'm admitting these deep dark things I may as well confess to H. P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, Peter Straub's Ghost Story and Stephen King's Salem's Lot (With that little revelation, my stock probably tumbled more than the entire Dow Jones over the last 18 months--oh well.)

Tom Jones--Yes following on my obsession with 17th century poetry is my obsession with 18th century novels, include here Tobias Smollet's Humphrey Clinker and Peregrine Pickle, Richardson's Clarissa, Sterne's Tristram Shandy, and Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland. (That's not to count all the wonderful age of Gothics Castle of Otranto, The Mysteries of Udolfo [and nearly anything else by Anne Radcliffe] and others)

Bleak House Who can help but admire the story of the endless lawsuit of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce and the people wrapped up in it.

All of Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown, Dorothy Sayers, Most of Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, and others of their ilk. (I know, the barometer keeps falling--that's okay, you'll have a more realistic estimate of what is written here).

All of M.R. James and most of Henry James. All of Nathaniel Hawthorne and nearly nothing by Melville (Here I agree largely with Kairos--side note to Kairos--You might enjoy In the Heart of the Sea which is a nice retelling of the story of the voyage that inspired Moby Dick.

Are you sufficiently bored yet? Perhaps more telling are those writers I simply can't stand--for example, Hemingway. I know, I know, you can tell me all you want about the remarkable transformation of style as a result of his spare, lean writing, it still strikes me as so much macho heavy-handed folderol.

Okay, enough, I have presumed upon your patience too much. There are many, many, many more. But I'll talk about plays and poetry, nonfiction, and spirituality some time in the future--if I haven't alienated my entire readership. Thanks for letting me share some of my thinking.

(As Pascal said to one of his correspondents--"If I'd had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.")

Posted by Steven Riddle at 06:23 PM | Comments (0)

Editorial Retractions; In Re: Foote

Editorial Retractions; In Re: Foote Below

T. S. O'Rama informs me:

I do agree that Foote is not the arbiter of what makes for good literature, but in fairness he is extremely well-read. On Brian Lamb's show he said he's read Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past" nine times, which, given its length, is surreal. He's read basically everything (unlike Walker Percy, who had to be nagged constantly to read Dante past "Inferno" or any of Proust). He's also sits on the Modern Library board, which is a pretty elite group. That having been said, you are right, it's mere conjecture on his part since it is certainly subjective.

And so I must say that certainly his opinion does deserve the careful consideration given a thoughtful and well-read person. But certainly not the weight given a scholar who has studied the literature for his entire lifetime. Just as my opinion should not hold the same weight as a scholar dedicated to the study and explication of a body of work.

On the difficult question of Shakespeare's doubt (later in the same post)--I must respectfully but firmly disagree with the contention as set forth. Shakespeare may have wondered why God's justice is so delayed (as did the psalmist, I would add).

"Measure for Measure" (his darkest play, perhaps) was written toward the end of his life, but then so were "Othello," "Kind Lear," and "Macbeth" which, while tragedies, are hardly "pessimistic." And the final plays (except for Henry VIII, which I haven't read) "A Winter's Tale," "Cymbeline," and "The Tempest" all seem, in one way or another, to treat of the theme of the banking of life's fires--a realization that no one is immortal. There is a gentle sadness that hangs about some of these, just as there is a profound romantic element. But I wouldn't call them pessimistic, simply much more obviously aware of the fragility of life. I hardly think these works constitute evidence of doubt.

Overall, I think we are trained to see any demurral any expression whatsoever of wonderment of puzzlement as "doubt." But I ask you, did Job ever doubt? One might consider him fairly pessimistic "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the Lord," is probably the motto of many a fatalist. (Although I would not argue fatalism for Job).

I would need to examine the plays much more carefully for evidences of the doubt of God's existence (the doubt to which Foote ultimately refers). I simply don't think that the people or the times supported such a viewpoint.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 05:52 PM | Comments (0)

Given My Previous Track Record, what did you Expect?


Yes, here he is again folks--I trot out one of my favorite seventeenth century poets for the day:

On the Glorious Assumption of Our Blessed Lady

Richard Crashaw

Hark! She is call'd. The parting hour is come.
Take thy farewell, poor world! Heav'n must go home
A piece of heav'nly earth, purer and brighter
Than the chaste stars, whose choice lamps come to light her
While through the crystal orbs, clearer than they,
She climbs and makes a fair more milky way.
She's called. Hark how the dear immortal dove
Sighs to his silver mate, 'Rise up, my love!
'Rise up, my fair, my spotless one!
'The winter's past, the rain is gone.

'The spring is come, the flowers appear.
'No sweets but thou are wanting here.
'Come away, my love!
'Come away, my dove! Cast off delay.
'The court of Heav'n is come
'To wait upon thee home. Come, come away!
'The flowers appear,
'Our quickly would, wert thou once here.
'The spring is come, or, if it stay,
'Tis to keep time with thy delay.
'The rain is gone, except so much as we
'Detain in needful tears to weep the want of thee.
'The winter's past.
'Or, if he make less haste,
'His answer is, Why, she does so.
'If summer come not, how can winter go?

On the golden wings
Of the bright youth of Heav'n, that sings
Under so sweet a burthen. Go,
Since thy dread son will have it so.
And while thou goest our song and we
Will, as we may, reach after thee.
Hail, holy queen of humble hearts!
We in thy praise will have our parts.
Thy precious name shall be
Thy self to us, and we
With holy care will keep it by us.
We to the last
Will hold it fast
And no Assumption shall deny us.
All the sweetest showers
Of our fairest flowers
Will we strow upon it.
Though our sweets cannot make
It sweeter, they can take
Themselves new sweetness from it.

Maria, men and angels sing,
Maria, mother of our King.
Live, rosy princess, live. And may the bright
Crown of a most incomparable light
Embrace thy radiant brows. O may the best
Of everlasting joys bath thy white breast.
Live, our chaste love, the holy mirth
Of Heav'n, the humble pride of earth.
Live, crown of women, queen of men.
Live mistress of our song. And when
Our weak desires have done their best,
Sweet angels, come and sing the rest.

For more poetry about the Assumption, visit here. Yes, I will note the webmaster there had the same notion I did, but then, it is a rather fine poem on the topic. (Take a look at the poem by Joachim Smet, if you decide to take a visit!)

May the Holy Mother of God, Most Pure Mary, through her intercession to her son bless your day and make it fruitful and holy.

Mary, Queen of Apostles, Queen of Heaven, Pray for us!

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:07 AM | Comments (0)

My Response to Mr. Abbot

My Response to Mr. Abbot

Tom Abbott over at Goodform has issued a plea for payment to Mr. Shea for his redoubtable weblogging services. Below is part of my response.

You are, of course, correct in pointing out that Mr. Shea is a wordsmith for a living, as a great many of us are. We do not all ask for money for the service.

I don't fault Mr. Shea for doing so, I merely point out that there are a great many bloggers who make their livings by sharing their ideas, creativity, thoughts, passions, and insights in words. Not all of them ask for money to do so. I am somewhat neutral on the question of whether or not this would seem to require my donation to the cause. After all, it could be seen that my reading of his words is sufficient donation. For an author, an audience is part of the payment. Many CAN write, few command an audience. (As a cursory glance at most of our webstats would depressingly show).

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:58 AM | Comments (0)

Back to Foote

The discussion continues, and I'm somewhat disturbed to see that Foote's postulate is taken without any real questioning of its underpinnings. John at Disputations has this to say:

Last idea for now: Foote's statement was, "The best novelists have all been doubters." But Foote's judgment, and literary judgment generally, was formed in a culture of doubt. Our choice of "the best novelists" may say more about us and our culture than it does about whether doubt causes great art.

To which I would respond--that's investing pretty heavily in someone who has nothing more than an opinion in a letter as credentials. What are Foote's qualifications for such a literary judgment? He is certainly not a renowned scholar of literature and given his own body of work I would be disinclined to give much credence to his judgments outside the question of the Civil War. Not that he isn't entitled to an opinion--but that is what it is--an opinion with all of the force of an opinion, and without the force of years of work on the subject.

I could equally well say that the greatest novels were by people who had no doubts--The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, and War and Peace, all often on the list of the greatest novels of all time were by two Russians who did not struggle with belief in the way Foote would have you believe all great novelists do. For that matter, some of Greene's greatest work The Power and the Glory, Brighton Rock, The Heart of the Matter, and End of the Affair were written during a time in his life in which there was little or no doubt about the truths of the Catholic Church.

No, I would not give excessive weight to a postulation. I would say once again that great novels come out of struggle, not doubt. The struggle can be with the truths of the faith, it can be with wrestling with the mysteries of God and the full understanding of the meaning of Jesus Christ in a life. Flannery O'Connor did not doubt--her faith was rock solid, and her books Wise Blood and The Violent Bear it Away are being published today as they will most likely continue to be for some time. On the other hand, the one-time popular, virulently ant-Catholic James Gould Cozzens cannot claim the same for the vast majority of his oeuvre.

Once again, I contend that those who are restlessly searching through the faith, yearning toward God, probably produce the finest work. If Mother Teresa had written, I expect that she would have written some profound meditations that might approach poetry, but she would not have written a very fine novel because much of the sense of struggle, in human terms, had been resolved. It isn't firm faith, but the lack of anything to grapple with, Union with God, that makes a novel unnecessary.

I think it is safe to say the Jane Austen, Henry Fielding, Lawrence Sterne, Tobias Smollett, Daniel Defoe, and a vast majority of other writers up to and including Charles Dickens had no real doubts about the existence of God. The vast majority of writing after the Death of Jesus up to the present time in western culture is permeated and underlain by a solid belief in God and in Jesus Christ. This nonsense about doubt is a chronological absurdity that has little validity even in the 20th century. It as, as even this very argument you are reading, a biased representation set out to validate the world view of the proponent. It carries little or no weight and needn't be regarded as anything more than and interesting and evocative postulation. One can play off it, but one would be wise to carefully consider it before accepting the unsubstantiated argument. One might also wish to consider one's terms in examining it. Draw up the list of what you think are the very finest novels, and then examine it--how many of them were by people who were "doubters" at the time of writing?

As with all arguments about literature and aesthetics, this one must be endlessly subjective. Even so I acquiesce, that my own words above are simply a subjective view (from one who believes) of the literary scene. I will point out that one of the greatest voices in the English Language--William Shakespeare is not, nor has any legitimate argument ever made him out to be a doubter.

Doubt, I maintain is not the cause of great novels, rather struggle, an internal dynamic that has not yet found resolution. A person who is coming from St. Augustine's early years "Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee," this is the kind of person who brings forth the finest works of the novel.

I believe I'll take up the other contentions of John's post later, as they require a somewhat fuller representation than I can make in the brief time afforded to me now.

{Revised version}

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:46 AM | Comments (0)

August 14, 2002

"Arbeit macht Frei" On

"Arbeit macht Frei"

On this memorial of St. Maximilian Kilbe let us not forget the ultimate "works-based" salvation--the salvation offered by humans to one another. That same salvation is what got our dear Savior nailed to the cross. That same salvation is too often what we offer the poor and disenfranchised in society.

Remember also that faith without works is dead, but faith without love is deadly. The Nazi party had enormous faith in Adolf Hitler and his promise of "lebensraum" for the German people. They had enormous faith in the "final solution."

Let us remember that Our Savior left us with the Holy Catholic Church, the Church of the Apostles, to guide us and to teach us. Let us be thankful to Him as we realize that it is not work that makes us free ("Arbeit macht frei" translates loosely to "Work earns freedom" and it was the "Motto" inscribed over the gates to Auschwitz), but the gentle yoke of Jesus Christ. Let us assume the yoke ourselves, harness ourselves to our savior and toil for the salvation of all. Such toil is the ultimate sweetness.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:03 PM | Comments (0)

Prayer Update Kairos reports: Thank

Prayer Update

Kairos reports:

Thank you all again for the many expressions of kindness and the many prayer intentions. Sally is home and slowly improving. Your continued prayers for the next few months will be very much appreciated.

Praise God in His great mercy! But let's continue to pray. Thanks to everyone who has done so already and thanks to all those who will continue.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 11:36 AM | Comments (0)

Low Mass Mentality Father Jim

Low Mass Mentality

Father Jim Tucker at Dappled Things makes the following observation regarding some sort of creature called a low Mass (can you tell I'm not a cradle Catholic?):

This same mentality is alive and well in the practice of the New Rite. For all the insistence of the documents on the importance of liturgical music and richness of ceremonial, there's a strong force of inertia (often originating with the celebrant himself) that plays down music and ceremonial as needless fluff. A couple times a year we might break out the thuribles for days of extraordinary solemnity. If it's Easter, Father might consider singing the prayers. If we must have hymns, let's use the same four that we've been singing since 1972. Isn't it best just to recite the Gloria during Ordinary Time? Tone it down, dumb it down, minimalize.

The point has a good deal of merit, but I'd like to bring up another, vaguely related point. When I don't respond in Mass, it usually has to do with the music program. I try very hard to sing all of the sung parts, but sometimes the "Music Ministry" functions as an entertainment committee and produces music that while often evocative, is more suggestive of Andrew Lloyd Weber than of Mass. Most of us who do not sing for a living have a limited range and do not usually site-read music (unless we've played an instrument). Some pieces of music seem to require a range from alto to coloratura. Some have such complex scoring they are nearly impossible to follow. I often feel stranded on the beach of baritone/bass by a largely female choir singing something ranging in the rafters. There are a number of things working against participation. One of the reason for the "same four hymns," tiresome though they may be is that everyone knows what they sound like and nearly everyone can sing them without coaching from a voice trainer.

Perhaps if music ministries were brought more closely into line and the musical vocabulary of a given congregation gradually expanded to include a wider range, we would see more participation. On the other hand, I do come from a protestant tradition in which it was expected that you would sing and respond appropriately, and Father Tucker's implied supposition that this is a Catholic cultural thing may be right on target. I would not presume to say. Anyway, I have given suggestions that would help those of us who are inclined to participate.

One last note, while I do like processional music and all sorts of other things that may disturb others, one of the music directors in my area has a disturbing propensity for selecting works that while quite beautiful are incredibly distracting because they are obviously not liturgical. As an example, during the offertory the organist played "The Swan" from Saint-Saens's "Carnival of the Animals." Another time he played Claude Debussy as a prelude and The Rondeau that serves as the Masterpiece Theatre theme as a recessional. Music choices like this leave me just stunned and wondering. If you need to play such things and you want to be up to date, what is wrong with music from the Franck and Durufle masses, or music by John Rutter or John Tavener?

Oh, so much griping, but these are the kinds of things I find enormously distracting at mass.

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

The Seventeenth Century:Redux

The seventeenth century seemed to be a wonderful time for incredible devotional poetry. Richard Crashaw was only 36 when he died in 1649, and yet he left behind a wealth of profound poetry. Crashaw converted to Catholicism in about 1645 (not a particularly safe thing to do in and around England) and found his way to the Continent. The passage below is an excerpt from a poem about St. Teresa of Avila, in it he refers to an event known to Carmelites as the Transverberation of St. Teresa of Avila. A statue sculpted by Bernini depicts this event.

How kindly will thy gentle heart
Kiss the sweetly-killing dart!
And close in his embraces keep
Those delicious wounds, that weep
Balsam to heal themselves with. Thus
When these thy deaths, so numerous,
Shall all at last die into one,
And melt thy soul's sweet mansion
Like a soft lump of incense, hasted
By too hot a fire, and wasted
Into perfuming clouds, so fast
Shalt thou exhale to Heav'n at last
In a resolving sigh; and then,
O what? Ask not the tongues of men;
Angels cannot tell; suffice,
Thyself shall feel thine own full joys
And hold them fast forever. There
So soon as thou shalt first appear,
The moon of maiden stars, thy white
Mistress, attended by such bright
Souls as thy shining self, shall come
And in her first ranks make thee room;
Where 'mongst her snowy family
Immortal welcomes wait for thee.

Not, perhaps, the very finest poetry, but nevertheless an admirable depiction in words of what Bernini managed in sculpture. Some have claimed that Crashaw was influenced by Bernini's sculpture, but the sources I read note the date of the sculpture as 1652, three years after Crashaw's death. Unless he saw sketches or rough models, which is possible, this postulate seems unlikely.

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

Some Reflections on the Nativity

Some Reflections on the Nativity

In his book The Rosary of Our Lady, Romano Guardini reflects in turn upon each of the mysteries. Last night I was reading the reflections on the joyful mysteries and this section leapt off the page for me:

At the same hour something happend that concerned Mary alone: in her own personal being, in her spirit and heart, Christ moved into the open expanse of her perception and love; the attitude of expectation became a communion face-to-face. Unutterable truth--she saw Him who was the manifestation of the living God. . . . This takes place spiritually in every Christian as often as that inner life which is divined by faith steps into the clarity of knowledge, into the distinctness of action, and into the decisiveness of testimony. In every one of us Christ is born as often as He penetrates, as essence and standard, into any deed or happening. One day this happens with particular significance: namely, on that day when it dawns on us, clear and strong, who Christ is, so that He becomes the governing reality of our inner lives. (p. 89-90)

Jesus is born in us when we die to self to let Him live. When we look out of our old eyes and see a new world imbued with His love and vigor--a world that He, His Father, and the Holy Spirit loved into being without cause, without obligation. Jesus is born in us when we strip away enough of our selfishness to realize that we are not the pivot points of the universe. The sun does not rise and set on us, England does not set its clock by us, we are, in fact, insignificant and tremendously significant. We are at once nothing and everything because we share the life of God Himself. We are not gods, but our lives become Hidden in Jesus Christ. What could be more momentous than to be with the creator of all?

Jesus is also born in us when we behave as Mary. When we attend mass first with the eager expectation of His advent and then with the joy of face-to-face communion. We receive His life inside of us, infinitely precious, infinitely valuable, infinitely illuminating. Reflect on the magnificence of the gift and attempt to carry it beyond the church parking lot into the world at large. Look for that light within the people around you, and there is no question but that you will find it. Every saint from the beginning has done so.

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

August 13, 2002

When Was Nature Good?

When Was Nature Good?

I may be incorrect, I'm stepping out of my melieu. T.S. O'Rama seems to suggest that fallen nature is no longer good.

Let's take a look at nature herself - astonishingly beautiful, right? And good, indeed good - but good before the Fall, right? Nature can be pretty ruthless, amoral, in the whole sense of prey or be preyed upon. Natural selection isn't pretty. Can't art be beautiful but deadly, like some gorgeous but poisonous coral?

I would argue rather that fallen nature, just as with fallen man, is still good, but it is (pardon the pun) fatally flawed. The apparent amorality of nature, so wonderfully portrayed in Frost's "Design" is not suggestive of a lack of goodness, but perhaps a lack of understanding on our part. Yes, a coral snake is deadly, but not unless you go chasing after it. Most snakes (not all) would prefer no entanglement with humans. The getting and consuming of food has its unpleasant side--but is it either amoral or immoral? I think not.

Another weakness here is the argument by analogy. Can art be beautiful and deadly? Well, Satan can appear as an Angel of Light, so much is true. But I think an intrinsic quality of earthly beauty is goodness. I guess I would almost argue that it is a tautology. If the thing is not good, not matter how appealing its exterior, it is not beautiful. By not being good it breaks the platonic triad. Now, that, of course, assumes that Plato was correct, and I don't know that to be the case at all. But I know that my moral sensibility usually reacts violently to things said to be beautiful (some of the writing of the Marquis de Sade, for example) which carry their own poison. Naturally this all depends on definitions. If one includes in the definition of beautiful the necessity of good, then the question vanishes. Of course it is far easier to argue specific cases.

I will have to work up a more cogent discussion of all the issues, but I'm not sure it is entirely feasible because it may involve the acceptance of certain postulates a priori which make the whole argument unnecessary. What I will say is that God can use any created thing for good. And to quote from Pollyanna (or perhaps its inverse) "When you look for the bad in people, expecting to find it, you surely will."

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:12 PM | Comments (0)

A Pertinent Reminder From Shakespeare,

A Pertinent Reminder
From Shakespeare, a reminder that we should not insist so much on justice.

The quality of mercy is not strain'd, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes: 'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown; His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; But mercy is above this sceptred sway; It is enthroned in the hearts of kings, It is an attribute to God himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God's When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew, Though justice be thy plea, consider this, That, in the course of justice, none of us Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy; And that same prayer doth teach us all to render The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much To mitigate the justice of thy plea; Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant there.

One nearly need remember the sentence and the ultimate fate of Shylock. If you don't know it, check here (lines 2260 and following).

Posted by Steven Riddle at 06:55 PM | Comments (0)

On the Question of Culture

Normally, I prefer the battle on such issues to rage around me and not to comment, but I do feel that I must address an unfortunate tendency in thought, word, and deed. It seems that one webmaster blogged some remarks that were profoundly offensive to Ono Ekeh ( found via Dylan's Blog, q.v.) as how would they not be to individuals who are seeking common ground and understanding? Admittedly, the excesses of academic multiculturalists lead to a sense of dysphoria among all who do not buy into the world constructed by Foucaultian and Derridan theory (let's not even talk about Paul de Man).

I don't believe that we need to feel good about ourselves by denigrating the accomplishments of others. I don't think that cultural comparisons are particularly relevant or helpful, nor do they lead to the sorts of discussions and solutions we need to find to right historic wrongs.

There are problems in all cultures--there is no perfect culture, just as the only Perfect Human was executed in part because He was Other and made us realize that we were not so good as we thought we were. Comments that seek to elevate our sense of self at the expense of others simply contribute to the forces that pounded a the nails into Jesus' hands and feet. What we need is to address the problem and not return the fire we think we have been peppered with. We need to hear what is being said under the extravagant claims and make room in our cultural understandings for the genuine good present in all cultures. We need not claim it for our own, but neither do we need to say that it has no validity. In the example given, a writer compares a European Clock to an African Mask--perhaps an unfortunate juxtaposition arranged by curators, and extols the clock to the detriment of the mask. But looked at another way, a clock is simply a device invented for the external regulation of human behavior entirely useless to a culture that uses the daylight or the nighttime as need dictates. While technological cultures do provide certain goods that cannot be provided by agrarian societies, we may be blinded to some of the positive things that can come from living close to the Earth and its cycles. We should not conclude that a technological culture is necessarily "better" (after all, technology is a morally neutral faculty) or necessarily "worse." Why can't we simply accept that it is different and not attempt the sweeping generalizations that create an "us and them" attitude. Then we can get down to brass tacks--things nearly all reasonable cultures CAN agree on--slavery is bad, genocide is bad, murder is bad, ignoring God's law and natural law is bad. . . etc.

What we need, to use a very old and worn but tremendously useful phrase, is more light and less heat. What does one propose to gain from forcing a group that already feels disenfranchised into a position in which they must fight or die? It makes no reasonable sense. Simply teach your children to savor the wonderful benefits of the culture they enjoy and the goods of other cultures, to decry the wrongs that they see in any culture, and above all to center their hearts, minds, and souls first and foremost on the loving God who grants all things to all people, black, white, red, yellow. God sees in these colors a wonderful rainbow of images of His Son, we should strive to do the same and teach our children the same. Most important of all "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you." When God is the center all human considerations fly away. The Shema Y'israel, which could be regarded as our chief rule of law says: "Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One. Love Him with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself." Loving as yourself means simply seeing the image of Jesus and not judging that as a greater or lesser image.

I've gone on too long, but I think it's clear--Love is the rule and it leaves no place for comparison. Mother Teresa did not stop to compare Hindu and Christian culture before she cared for the ill; St. Charles Lwanga did not stop to consider who was worthy of salvation; St. Martin de Porres did not ask which culture the poor he tended belonged to; they all simply loved the image of Christ they saw in each person, without having to make themselves feel superior, without having to compare one with another. They accepted people as the beautiful, exasperating, exhilirating images of Jesus Christ that they are.

(Rant officially over, we now return you to your regular station)

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

The Protoevangelium of James

Along with the Old Testament pseduepigraphal "Ethiopic Apocalypse of James" and the New Testament's "Gospel of Pilate" the Protoevangelium is one of my favorite "alternative histories." For more, visit Just Your Average Catholic Guy but here's a tasty tidbit of what you'll find to whet your appetite:

The Protoevangelium of James begins with Joachim making an offering at the Temple, where he is turned away for the "sin" of not having children. Distraught, he goes to the "registers of the twelve tribes of the people" to see if he alone "have not made seed in Israel". Unfortunately for him, he finds that he is (ouch!) and grief-stricken retires to the desert to fast and pray to God. His wife, Anna, "mourned in two mournings and lamented in two lamentations, saying: I shall bewail my widowhood; I shall bewail my childlessness". She cried out to God and then an angel of the Lord appeared to her, telling her, "Anna, Anna, the Lord hath heard thy prayer, and thou shalt conceive, and shall bring forth; and thy seed shall be spoken of in all the world". Anna was of course thrilled and made a vow to God that whether the child is a boy or a girl it would be dedicated to his service "all the days of its life". Now two angels appear to Anna to tell her that Joachim has also received the good news, prepared an offering for God, and is returning to be with her. Anna runs to meet Joachim and embraces him, crying out, "Now I know that the Lord God hath blessed me exceedingly; for, behold the widow no longer a widow, and I the childless shall conceive" So Joachim now "rested the first day in his house" and there was joy in Mudville.
Posted by Steven Riddle at 11:06 AM | Comments (0)

Fascinating Discussion involving Rites

Fascinating Discussion involving Rites

I am no expert, and I have little or no opinion on these matters, but I find the discussion fascinating. This excerpt from Disputations, but the conversation is continuing at many different sites.

A third difference between then and now is that the multiplicity of rites originally arose more or less naturally. The Gallican Mass differed from the Roman Mass just because they did things differently in Lyons than they did in Rome. Nowadays, the motivations for multiple rites are theological and emotional. This rite is objectively better than that rite, or this rite makes me feel better. Neither type of motivation, in my opinion, suffices for manufacturing a multiplicity of rites where none now exists. A rite that is objectively worse, theologically, should not be used; and resurrecting a rite to make people feel good is to subjectivize the one thing in this world that is most objective.

I may be speaking of a completely different issue, but I find that an occasional attendance at a Byzantine Rite, helps me to truly appreciate the diversity and beauty of "what God hath wrought." I have not followed the complexity of the discussion of missals, rites, hymnals, and other details, but on the gross scale, attendance at a Maronite Rite or a Byzantine Rite church would, I think, prove to be illuminating for most people. It shows the richness of the treasures of the One, Holy, Catholic Church. And we do have a great many treasures. But this is a mere footnote to a wide-ranging and complex discussion I do not pretend to have the expertise to understand. Enjoy it!

Posted by Steven Riddle at 10:49 AM | Comments (0)

Prayer Update

Prayer Update

This from Kairos:

Thank you all for your prayers. Mrs. Kairos Guy came home from the hospital last night. We still don't have a confirmed diagnosis, but at least have some strong indicators of what has been wrong. She is still not well, but there has been some improvement, and there should be more in the coming days. In the meanwhile, please keep the prayers and good wishes coming: they help tremendously. She told me Sunday morning she could feel them.
Posted by Steven Riddle at 10:40 AM | Comments (0)

More about Morality and Literature

T. S. O'rama is back (thank goodness for those of us who are loyal readers) with some insightful comments about the conversation regarding what constitutes "good" in literature. Take a look.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 10:38 AM | Comments (0)

Christina Rossetti

Dylan at Error 503: La Vita Nuova promised to blog some poetry from Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a talented painter and poet who was one of the founders and chief proponents of something called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. They produced paintings like this and this. Ultimately the movement seemed to degenerate into kitsch and transmigrate into the Art Nouveau and its sister Art Deco Movements.

All that aside, Dante Gabriel Rossetti's sister, Christina was also an accomplished poet. Some consider her the most important female poet of her time. For more information about her life and times, look here. For our purposes, it is sufficient to say that in addition to the eerie, frightening, and altogether delightful "Goblin's Market" Christina Rossetti produced some of the finest religious poetry of the age. She is rivaled only by Francis Thompson (when he's on) and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Below is an example.

A Better Resurrection
Christina Rossetti

I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numb'd too much for hopes or fears;
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimm'd with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall--the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.

My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish'd thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.

What I particularly like about the poem is the oblique references back to John Donne's "Holy Sonnet 14" and a number of the poems of George Herbert, all within well-crafted, relatively light verse. The other thing I like is the very strong lines and stripped down piety of the poem. It is not adorned with what we have come to think of as the trappings of classic Victorian piety.

Anyway, I eagerly await Mr. Dylan's insight into her brother's poetry.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:54 AM | Comments (0)


This is a short excerpt from Book II of John Gay's immortal walking guide: Trivia or the Art of Walking the Streets of London. Before we had Sting on Broadway, before Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht had thought of it, John Gay gave us one of the great satires/comedies of all time along with the immortal characters of Polly Peachum and Macheath or "Mack the Knife." This poem is one of the other productions of that playwright, and is acknowledged along with several other short pieces to be among his best work.

from Trivia or the Art of Walking the Streets of London
John Gay

Thus far the Muse has trac'd in useful lays
The proper implements for wintry ways;
Has taught the walker, with judicious eyes,
To read the various warnings of the skies.
Now venture, Muse, from home to range the town,
And for the public safety risk thy own.

For ease and for dispatch, the morning's best;
No tides of passengers the street molest.
You'll see a draggled damsel, here and there,
From Billingsgate her fishy traffic bear;
On doors the sallow milk-maid chalks her gains;
Ah! how unlike the milk-maid of the plains!
Before proud gates attending asses bray,
Or arrogate with solemn pace the way;
These grave physicians with their milky cheer,
The love-sick maid and dwindling beau repair;
Here rows of drummers stand in martial file,
And with their vellum thunder shake the pile,
To greet the new-made bride. Are sounds like these
The proper prelude to a state of peace?
Now industry awakes her busy sons,
Full charg'd with news the breathless hawker runs:
Shops open, coaches roll, carts shake the ground,
And all the streets with passing cries resound.

If cloth'd in black, you tread the busy town
Or if distinguish'd by the rev'rend gown,
Three trades avoid; oft in the mingling press,
The barber's apron soils the sable dress;
Shun the perfumer's touch with cautious eye,
Nor let the baker's step advance too nigh;
Ye walkers too that youthful colours wear,
Three sullying trades avoid with equal care;
The little chimney-sweeper skulks along,
And marks with sooty stains the heedless throng;
When small-coal murmurs in the hoarser throat,
From smutty dangers guard thy threaten'd coat:
The dust-man's cart offends thy clothes and eyes,
When through the street a cloud of ashes flies;
But whether black or lighter dyes are worn,
The chandler's basket, on his shoulder borne,
With tallow spots thy coat; resign the way,
To shun the surly butcher's greasy tray,
Butcher's, whose hands are dy'd with blood's foul stain,
And always foremost in the hangman's train.

As you can see immortal poetry in the true service of humankind--cautioning how to avoid a haute couture disaster on a simple promenade. Advice that I wish poets would provide us today!

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

August 12, 2002

Prayer Reminder

Please continue to remember Sally, Kairos Guy's wife. No news on his site yet. Thanks.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:17 PM | Comments (0)

Silence in Prayer

Silence in Prayer
The quotations below, attributed to their authors, provoked in me the need to relate a little anecdote.

And if one comes into a parish church in which the loud vociferations of the street have NOT become an undistinguishable roar, but have come in with the parishioners who blithely natter & chatter, viva voce, well, it makes it all the more difficult. (dylan_tm618)

I believe that when Mass is celebrated properly, and we all quietly pray and take part in the Eucharist, community just happens. I repeat, it just happens. We don't need to "build" it. We don't need to shake our neighbor's hand or start off Mass by introducing ourselves to our neighbor. When we focus on the Lord, community is a natural byproduct. (Tom Abbot)

I am reminded of the first time I attended a service at a Byzantine Rite church (a special celebration at St. John Chrysostom, Columbus, Ohio for "The Third Finding of the Head of John the Baptist"). The church was a magnificent and beautiful building. On the exterior just to the right and left of the entry doors and on the center of the other three walls (you had to walk around the church from the parking lot to get it) there was a prominently displayed placard that read something like "Silence is to be observed inside the church at all times."

I remember thinking that this had to be the most unfriendly church I had even been to, and there was absolutely no way on earth I would go back. Once inside I was stunned by the beauty of the Church and the liturgy. The people all joined in the singing (which was difficult because they were doing an unusual Slavonic liturgy--the only part of which I remember was multiple repetitions of something that sounded like Hospodie Polimuj--I'm sure I have it wrong.) The service, though in a foreign language and utterly alien in its presentation (to this Latin Rite Guy) was magnificent beyond words. Here I was, in the midst of the people of God, worshipping and praising, and it felt quite different than it did at my very social parish church. No one questioned my right to be there, I was by virtue of my presence part of the community. I thought, after the service, that I would visit often. And while often would be an exaggeration, I did go back from time to time.

On the formation of community. Unfortunately Catholics have become protestantized here as well. Enter any Baptist church and if the Baptistry is not open the only thing to remind you that you are in a church is usually a bare wooden cross. (In my grandfather's church there is also an American Flag and the Flag of Israel flanking the "altar" area and a big table that had inscribed on it, "This do in remembrance of me.") There is a great deal of conversation and inquiring after family members, etc. And to some extent this is good--but in the proper place. Baptist services are not so much about recollection and private prayer as they are about public sharing of faith and scripture. Many Baptists (at the time I was going) brought notebooks and tape-recorders with them. They would replay the sermons several times during the week. This is obviously a different approach to spirituality, one that may better accommodate casual conversation and chatting. I know that it never interfered with my experience of God in the Church.

However, for whatever reason, it does tend to detract from my experience at mass. I am always glad to see friends and people I know, but I don't need to do more than nod my head or smile, if I am so inclined. Many churches have some sort of after-Mass doughnut thingee, or perhaps other ways that people can bond in a social way. This is undoubtedly an important aspect of community formation. However, to my mind it belongs outside of the Mass, as much as possible. It should not interfere with all of us coming together to worship God and to send our prayers "aloft" to Him. God will hear our prayers even if we talk before the service, but we will not have done Him the best service we can.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:13 PM | Comments (0)

Another in the Essay Series

Okay, after this 'nough said. But I've gotten a great deal of pleasure from reading these very short essays. Not only are they filled with delightful barbs, they invite the reader into a new way of looking at poetry. Obviously the person writing them loves the art and wants it to be as fine as it possibly can be. Hear now her words from and essay entitled "The Argument for Silence: Defining the Poet Peter Principle."

For example, poets James Tate, Philip Levine and Mary Oliver have each produced more than 16 books of poetry. Whatever has driven this production, it is clear from the trajectory of all three poets that something must stop it. In all three cases, a windiness, a wordiness, a kind of poetic logorrhea can be found in their latest work in contrast to the fire and compression in their early work. Flatlined, barely pulsing, their latest work is being kept alive by extraordinary means: the artificial resuscitation of continuous publication.

Sorry to belabor your patient kindness, but these have been a pleasure to read.

Note: I just read Error 503--La Vita Nuova and found that by some strange synchronicity of thought we chose the same passage--but I swear I hadn't seen it before. Well you know that they say about great minds. . . that doesn't apply to me.

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

Some Comments on Poetry

This piece, from Joan Houlihan, should be of interest to those who enjoy poetry. By the way, I don't agree at all with some of her evaluations, but I do find them amusing.

On the other hand, the Billy Collins poem, though distinguished by its humor (an unusual, and welcome, attribute of contemporary poetry), is also a Mary Oliver poem, a Rita Dove poem, a David Lehman poem, and a Maya Angelou poem, among many other contemporary poets, because it is a poem we can understand. Immediately. We feel no drive to delve. It is not a poem we need to analyze. There are no pesky layers of meaning. What you see is what you get.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:56 AM | Comments (0)

Extremely Amusing Perspective on Harold Bloom

Harold Bloom who, despite all of his inherent excesses, I thoroughly enjoy reading recently received this treatment at the hands of Joseph Epstein, Read and enjoy.

In an interview in the Paris Review, he declared that he never revises his prose, and nothing in his work refutes this impressive claim. Any critic ready to avail himself of such gargoylesque words as “psychokabbalistic” and “pneumognostic,” who can refer to a passage in Montaigne as an “apotropaic talisman,” and can write about the cosmos having been “reperspectivized by Tolstoy,” may be many things, but he ain’t no aesthete.
Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:47 AM | Comments (0)

Philip Pullman

The ever-delightful Amy Welborn advises us that Philip Pullman has pulled out yet another stop.

Pullman, 55, won this year's Whitbread book award for the final instalment of the His Dark Materials trilogy, in which he created a parallel universe ruled by a senile, viciously sadistic deity who has to be deposed in battle so the inhabitants can join with angels in creating a "republic of heaven". The Catholic Herald called his books "the stuff of nightmares" and "worthy of the bonfire". Another critic cautioned: "Christian parents beware." Pullman, who writes for children but shuns the category, "children's author", is only outsold by JK Rowling's Harry Potter series and has a vast adult readership. Keen to tackle received ideas on religion, he recently called CS Lewis's highly Christian Narnia books "blatantly racist" and "monumentally disparaging of children". Such is his hatred of domineering, organised religion, he has become something of an evangelical atheist. During a debate on morality in fiction at the Edinburgh international books festival at the weekend, Pullman warned that in the climate of threatened attacks on Iraq and the crisis in the Middle East, we live in a Godless and uncertain age, and unless writers wrestled with the larger questions of moral conduct, they would become useless and irrelevant.

It's a real shame that the enormously talented Pullman has not read (or perhaps refuses to internalize) what Dostoyevski observed ages ago and what James Hynes reiterated more recently, "A man who believes in nothing is capable of anything." Atheism has certainly proven a beacon of light to all nations. Think how well we would all be served if every world leader were of the caliber of a Stalin, a Mao, or a Pol Pot!

I know, I'm preaching to the choir here, but Pullman annoys me because he wastes a prodigious talent in work unworthy of him. I think about the parable of the three talents, and if ever a talent were buried. However, always when I consider these things, I am led to cast my mind upward toward God, and I offer a prayer for Philip that his obviously damaged heart might be healed.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:11 AM | Comments (0)

And Now, A Seventeenth Century Travel Moment

From Andrew Marvell. I promise "To His Coy Mistress" later. But I remember upon first reading this poem being very amused by the obvious elements of propaganca involved.

Andrew Marvell

Where the remote Bermudas ride
In th' ocean's bosom unespy'd,
From a small boat, that row'd along,
The list'ning winds receiv'd this song.

What should we do but sing his praise
That led us through the wat'ry maze
Unto an isle so long unknown,
And yet far kinder than our own?
Where he the huge sea-monsters wracks,
That lift the deep upon their backs,
He lands us on a grassy stage,
Safe from the storm's and prelates' rage.
He gave us this eternal spring
Which here enamels everything,
And sends the fowls to us in care,
On daily visits through the air.
He hangs in shades the orange bright,
Like golden lamps in a green night;
And does in the pomegranates close
Jewels more rich than Ormus shows.
He makes the figs our mouths to meet
And throws the melons at our feet,
But apples plants of such a price,
No tree could ever bear them twice.
With cedars, chosen by his hand,
From Lebanon, he stores the land,
And makes the hollow seas that roar
Proclaim the ambergris on shore.
He cast (of which we rather boast)
The Gospel's pearl upon our coast,
And in these rocks for us did frame
A temple, where to sound his name.
Oh let our voice his praise exalt,
Till it arrive at heaven's vault;
Which thence (perhaps) rebounding, may
Echo beyond the Mexic Bay.

Thus sung they in the English boat
An holy and a cheerful note,
And all the way, to guide their chime,
With falling oars they kept the time.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:56 AM | Comments (0)

A Favorite from Shakespeare

A Favorite from Shakespeare

This may be one of my favorite songs from any of Shakespeare's plays. But then the play itself may well be one of my very favorites. "O Brave new world that has such people in 't."

Full Fadom Five from The Tempest

Full fadom five thy Father lies,
Of his bones are Corrall made:
Those are pearles that were his eies,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a Sea-change
Into something rich, & strange:
Sea-Nimphs hourly ring his knell.
Harke now I heare them, ding-dong, bell.

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

The Prayer of Silence

Different book this time:

Meditations Before Mass Romano Guardini

Stillness is the tranquility of the inner life; the quiet at the depths of its hidden stream. It is a collected, total presence, a being "all there," receptive, alert, ready. There is nothing inert or oppressive about it. . . .

"Congregation," not merely people. Churchgoers arriving, sitting, or kneeling in pews are not necessarily a congregation; they can be simply a roomful of more or less pious individuals. Congregation is formed only when those individuals are present not only corporally but also spiritually, when they have contacted one another in prayer and step together into the spiritual "space" around them; strictly speaking, when they have first widened and heightened that space by prayer. Then true congregation comes into being, which, along with the building that is its architectural expression, forms the vital church in which the sacred act is accomplished. All this takes place only in stillness; out of stillness grows the real sanctuary.

While this is undoubtedly true of mass (and one of the reasons I tend to impatience for people who wander in with a hale-fellow-well-met attitude) it is doubly true of all prayer. Prayer is encased in a house of silence. Outside of silence, prayer becomes just more roaring against the sound of the rushing wind of culture. That is not to say that God does not hear it, because of course He does. However, it is not the kind of praise that rises like an incense to the throne of heaven.

For prayer to be truly pleasing to God it must be of the sort that makes one completely present to God. Such prayer is not acquired in the short run, and ultimately its final stage is not acquired at all. However, one must dispose oneself to receive the gift of infused contemplation. One of the ways of doing so is to practice this "prayer of silence." In addition, the prayer offers the person praying innumerable benefits stemming from a "mental vacation from the world." It "recharges the batteries" and makes one more capable of coping with what occurs in everyday life. It helps one to experience the presence of God in all of life's activities. It helps one to empty oneself to be filled with the Holy Spirit. In short, it opens the doors to greater levels of prayer..

But it isn't easy, and it isn't a short road. It may take years, perhaps decades. But, as with the bloom of the Century Plant, it is both spectacular and worth waiting for. In the prayer of silence, we take the first steps toward becoming like our grand model of prayer, the Holy Mother of God. We learn to "ponder these things in our hearts" and to derive from them great joy and peace. The prayer of silence, it would seem to me, is one of the most effective tools on the road to lifestyle evangelism because it causes a fundamental change in the person who is doing it consistently. From agitated and worried to peaceful and trusting, the prayer of silence changes lives.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:34 AM | Comments (0)

August 11, 2002

Surrealism Works--sometimes

Surrealism Works--sometimes

Dylan at Error 503 comments that sometimes surrealism works. I couldn't possibly agree more--in fact, separated from the original surrealist manifesto and some of the excesses of the artists, I would say that it works most of the time. My favorite poet to prove it is James Merril, here's a very short sample of "Procession."

Think what the demotic droplet felt, Translated by a polar wand to keen Six-pointed Mandarin—

The rest becomes somewhat more surreal.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:13 AM | Comments (0)

Introduction to the Fathers

This site via Xavier+ blogspot gives a very brief introduction and then a quotation to give a sample of the writing of a given father. The purpose of the site in the webmaster's own words:

Those who are interested in studying the writings of the Fathers of the Christian Church are often overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of the volumes they find before them. In order to introduce the curious reader in a very simple way to the writings of these beloved Fathers, this website contains excerpts on various subjects from their writings in the hope that the reader may be spurred on to further and deeper study of our forebears in the faith.

The webmaster appears (if the links are indicative) to be an Orthodox Christian of some variety. The comments and selections are additionally categorized by a topic. For those who have been interested, but have shied away for one reason or another, a most worthwhile site. Go and enjoy!

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:54 AM | Comments (0)

Wallace Stevens Conversion?

A document entitled Wallace Stevens's alleged deathbed conversion presents a letter from Father Arthur Hanley to Professor Janet McCann, dated July 24, 1977, with line breaks, punctuation, spelling, etc. exactly as in the typescript. This transcript gives details about his conversion. I don't know the circumstances and can't testify to the veracity. But given Stevens's poetry it does not seem unlikely. After all, "Sunday Morning" suggests this end, as do a number of other poems. On the other hand, reading with a Christian perspective does tend to distort the record.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:45 AM | Comments (0)

Prayer Reminder

I know I posted only a day or two ago, so it may show up on the same screen for some of you with big monitors--but please remember to keep Kairos and especially his wife, Sally, in your prayers. She is in the hospital with an as-yet-undiagnosed ailment. Not knowing is always extremely difficult.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:37 AM | Comments (0)

Reading Pascal

Many seem to experience the same thing as John notes below:

I first heard of Pascal and his Pensees a long time ago when learned about "Pascal's Wager" from this book. I tried to read it, but my say that this "average Catholic guy" was a bit intimidated by the high-falutin' language and put it back down. Yet, I think I'll give it another go.

Pensees can be extremely difficult for a couple of reasons. The language (depending on the translation) can be extremely difficult. More than that, Pensees is a series of largely disconnected thoughts. There doesn't seem to be much structure to it. For this, I highly recommend Peter Kreeft's rearrangement of the material Christianity for Modern Pagans. Kreeft deftly edits the material to make a more-or-less coherent flow-through. If I remember correctly, Kreeft adds some insightful comments after either each Pensee or each group. Unfortunately, I think it may be a sllightly abridged version. But as with his Summa of the Summa it makes for a brief, coherent, introductory presentation.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:25 AM | Comments (0)