September 28, 2002

Another Wonderful 17th Century Poet

Another Wonderful 17th Century Poet

American Poet, and virtual unknown Edward Taylor. While Calvinist to the core, his meditations are quite beautiful.

Meditation 1 Edward Taylor

What Love is this of thine, that Cannot bee
In thine Infinity, O Lord, Confinde,
Unless it in thy very Person see,
Infinity, and Finity Conjoyn'd?
What hath thy Godhead, as not satisfide
Marri'de our Manhood, making it its Bride?

Oh, Matchless Love! filling Heaven to the brim!
O're running it: all running o're beside
This World! Nay Overflowing Hell; wherein
For thine Elect, there rose a mighty Tide!
That there our Veans might through thy Person bleed,
To quench those flames, that else would on us feed.

Oh! that thy Love might overflow my Heart!
To fire the same with Love: for Love I would.
But oh! my streight'ned Breast! my Lifeless Sparke!
My Fireless Flame! What Chilly Love, and Cold?
In measure small! In Manner Chilly! See.
Lord blow the Coal: Thy Love Enflame in mee.

"Lord blow the Coal: Thy Love Enflame in mee." Reminiscent of the poems of Donne, and a prayer for all hearts that seek to move ever closer to our Lord. We cannot set ourselve on fire, no more can we fan those flames. What we need to do is remove the obstacles to the fanning, so set the fire to rights so that when it is fanned, it bursts into greater, warmer, more welcoming fire, rather than going out. Too often we smother the flame that the Lord would ignite as a beacon for all, and we do it through our sloth, selfishness, self-centeredness, and even through the squandering of time in endeavors that would be good in measure. So I repeat, "Lord blow the Coal: Thy Love Enflame in mee."

Posted by Steven Riddle at 05:58 PM | Comments (0)

A Gift for Dylan From

A Gift for Dylan

From a collection with a Greek Title that has letters that look like XAIPE.

6 e.e.cummings dying is fne)but Death


wouldn't like

Death if Death

when(instead of stopping to think)you

begin to feel of it, dying
's miraculous

cause dying is

perfectly natural; perfectly
it mildly lively(but


is strictly
& artificial &

evil & legal)

we thank thee
almighty for dying

(forgive us, o life!the sin of Death

I am not a fan of cummings, but I found this, for some reason deeply affecting and deeply true in a way that few poems have been. I note the only capital in the poem is Death. That speaks volumes in itself. More than that, I cannot say right now. Except perhaps a thank you to Dylan for the introduction.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 05:44 PM | Comments (0)

John Keats

John Keats

I find sometimes the need of great calmness. Sometimes I retire to the psalms, sometimes, to bad vintage television. But here I post one of the most delightful and relaxing ways I come to terms with the world. I don't post the entire poem, merely for length. If you wish to find it, visit the Representative Poetry On-Line and Look for Keats. His poetry, even though he isn't 17th century, is among the very best in the language.

from "Ode to a Nightingale"
John Keats

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,--
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

I don't know what I find so calming--perhaps it is just the loveliness of some of the image, or some of the words. "A drowsy numbness pains/ My sense." Say it aloud, let the words roll over the tongue and echo in the brain. "With beaded bubbles winking at the brim. . ." Just be lulled by the gentle language, the beautiful images and let the blood pressure drop. The very best of the Romantic Era of poetry seems to do this as a matter of course. Yes, you have Shelley occasionally railing away, and Byron tends to be more sardonic than pastoral. But Keats, Wordsworth and Coleridge all seem to have a sense of the beauty of nature that is embedded and inextricable from their beautiful language. Read "Kubla Khan" or "Ode: Intimations of Immortality Recollected from Early Childhood."

You know, until you get to the modern era I like more poetry than I dislike. And perhaps with such an able guide as Dylan I can even convert my anti-modernism.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 04:58 PM | Comments (0)

The Amazing Roger Williams

The Amazing Roger Williams

I am a great fan of Early American History, most particularly the History of Virginia. But there are people who profoundly move me with their wisdom and the depth of their humanity. One of these is Roger Williams.

Roger Williams from "The Bloody Tenet of Persecution" Whether thou standest charged with ten or but two talents, if thou huntest any for cause of conscience how canst thou say thou followest the Lamb of God who so abhorred that practice?

from "A Letter to the Town of Providence"
It hath fallen out sometimes, that both Papists, and Potestants, Jews and Turks, may be emnbarked in one ship; upon which supposal I affirm, that all the liberty of conscience, that ever I pleaded for, turns upon these two hinges--that none of the Papists, Protestants, Jews, or Turks be forced to come to the ship's prayers or worship, nor compelled from their own particular prayers or worship, if they practice any.

For these lines alone, the man should be held in awe. In an age when Catholics were still unsafe in England, when it was no uncommon practice to hunt priests from house to house to martyr entire households for the sake of harboring priests, here is a man who argues not only no compulsion to prayer, but also no prevention, and further, he doe not even compel those who worship in no way. I must study the life of this great man a good deal more.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 02:08 PM | Comments (0)

Another, Much Older, Much More Fun

Here's another poem, much older, and more for fun. It is loosely patterned after an idea first presented by the Greeks and Romans and taken up in earnest by Alexander Pope in his Essay on Criticism and Essay on Man. This is the idea of treating serious thoughts and investigations in poetry rather than prose. It doesn't hold up well in the 21st century, but that may be more perception than reality.

Making Sense Out of Time
Steven Riddle

The bridge
between this second and the
next is burned before
this second has elapsed.

How lightly we talk about time
as running or flowing as a brook
when we all know it shakes
and shudders, stumbling

one second to the next,
with never a certainty that we
have chosen the right way
to see it move

or that one second will
not crowd another
and trip the crucial domino
that will spin out some grand design.

We know we cannot trust
glass metal, springs and gears,
we use the moon to spell out months,
out place in the sun to name a year.

If we stop all clocks,
calendars and dates
have we stopped time?
Or if we use them still

and let them run does time move
all the same, or is it some
vast lake which moves little
if at all, and we move

through it, measuring
by our stroke as we go? Is time like
space, measured in length and breadth
and depth that we have not yet seen?

Now check, stop and see
if time flows past
or if we flow
and time stands still.

© 2002 Steven Riddle

Posted by Steven Riddle at 09:50 AM | Comments (0)

Visit Floyd County, Virginia For

Visit Floyd County, Virginia

For a mostly tranquil, lovely break, visit Mr. First in Floyd County, Virginia. Today he has a wonderful, beautiful, and delicate picture of some sort of Lobelia. The name means little to me, but the pictures really help to make this site wonderful. Do yourself a favor and take a break in Floyd!

Posted by Steven Riddle at 09:38 AM | Comments (0)

Another Poem This time

This time it's mine, and because it is very highly personal, don't expect that meaning will necessary leap out at you. It was also highly experimental for me at the time, although I think most traces of that have more or less vanished. Just as a point of information--I consider the silver birch and the white birch among the most beautiful trees in the world (at least for northern climes).

The Meaning of the Birch
Steven Riddle

In a twist of air on an ragged day,
the last of a raw burnt-out stretch of ember days and nights,
when the only thoughts have been the pains of yesterday
and tomorrow, the hours stretching to the white
hot edge of time and whatever passes for a life,
one afternoon I tasted a trace of mystery,
a tantilizing breath, a glimpse of knife-
sharp childhood days seeking the perfect tree--
a birch to plant in the neglected nation of our back
yard, in the wide stretch of green ocean that became,
on the shores of memory, the home ground, rack
and hew of all the days of summer, curiously the same,
and yet perfect in distant vision. And in that moment
catching that tremor of a taste, I think I can
pierce the veil that keeps me here in ageless days pent
up and longing for a time that now is
more than memory and
less than real. How can the longing heart not skip a beat,
when it stands transfixed by that it can never again meet.

©2000,2002 Steven Riddle

Posted by Steven Riddle at 09:35 AM | Comments (0)

Important Reminder--Memorial/Feast Coming Up

Important Reminder--Memorial/Feast Coming Up

Yes, the memorial (for you non-Carmelite types) or Feast, for us Carmelite types, of St. Therese of Lisieux looms just around the corner. I hope to be posting something special for you all on that day. What special will consist of will depend on the day itself--but I am certain that I will come up with something. Meanwhile, for those who read French, a link to the complete works is available in the left-hand column.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 09:28 AM | Comments (0)

While on the Subject

While I'm on the subject of the left-hand column. Have you tried some of the links? Among them is a link to a daily meditation on Scripture passages, many fine Carmelite links, collections of poetry beyond imagination. Browse there sometime, I'm sure you will find some things to interest and entertain you. Well, maybe not entertain in precisely the way we so often use it, but at least enlighten, or may aggravate--oh, whatever!

Posted by Steven Riddle at 09:24 AM | Comments (0)

From One of My Favorites

From One of My Favorites

Okay, you've already noticed that I tend to favor seventeenth century poetry--American or European. But another of my favorite schools of poetry is the imagist school, largely derived from the very compressed ultimately imagist poetry of China and Japan. So, without further ado, a tanka from Ogura Hyakunin Isshu or One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets (See the left-hand column for a link to the entire work.)

Ono no Komachi

Color of the flower
Has already faded away,
While in idle thoughts

My life passes vainly by,
As I watch the long rains fall.

The gentle melancholy of this particular tanka appeals to me. Many of these poems have references to places that must conjure images for the Japanese, but for Westerners they serve only to produce some distance. But here, there are no such references. This could occur on the slopes of Fujiyama, or in Indiana. The universalilty of the thought and experience causes this poem, among many others, to really speak to the human heart.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 09:21 AM | Comments (0)

Loyalty to the Church Please

Loyalty to the Church
Please read this wonderful insight from Kevin Miller. I really, really, really like his blog. I just wish he would answer my question about Balthasar. (If you stop by Mr. Miller, look at your comments on the Balthasar you posted two days ago. My mind is still reeling over "inchoate act of presence." It hurts my brain. Thanks!)

Posted by Steven Riddle at 09:00 AM | Comments (0)

More on Lancelot Andrewes

More on Lancelot Andrewes

I wanted to post this link, a remarkable PDF. I had not noticed before, but it includes the translation of the Greek Devotions from Tracts for Our Times 88 by John Henry Newman (done before his conversion to Catholicism, I think), along with an additional section of devotions tranlated by a man named Neale and intended as a companion to the Newman translation. It is from this section of the Document that I posted yesterday's excerpt. This PDF will yield a highly printable, highly readable, nicely formatted version of the Devotions for those who are interested.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:46 AM | Comments (0)

The Wrath of God--according to

The Wrath of God--according to Some

This morning Dylan notes that there are some who definitively approve wrath over mercy. Since the time of Jonah it has ever been thus. But I am reminded of an absolutely delightful book to recommend to everyone. Actually a set of three books, thus far, by a man named Philip Gulley. (I've only read two of them so I cannot unconditional recommend the third, but if it follows in suit. . .) The books are about Harmony, a small town in the midwest (Indiana, I think) called Harmony. Home to Harmony is the book I was put in mind of. The protagonist, a Quaker minister who is looking for work, returns to Harmony. The minister of the local Quaker meeting dies and as there is no one else who everyone can agree upon Sam Gardner is asked to take on the position. At his first sermon, Easter, he preaches the love and triumph of Jesus Christ, redemption, salvation, and mercy. There is a comment in the book regarding one of the character, "Fawn" I think, who found this particular minister wanting--she happened to know that Jesus had a list of people He was ready to smite, and she had more than a few she wished to add to the list. If you like the fiction of Jan Karon, you may like these books. While they are similar, I like these somewhat better as they are both shorter and pithier.

In fiction, this is charming and gently satirical. In real life, it is terribly sad. What a notion of God such a person must have. I have been blessed thus far this morning to have avoided any interaction, but I know that I must pray. This notion of God is so similar to the God of Heinlein's Job or the monster of Philip Pullman's atrocious and highly detrimental His Dark Materials trilogy. (Note to Franklin, if you're reading, this is definitely one to stay FAR away from). What would ever give you this notion of God? What a tremendous hardship it is, and what a terrible life it leads to. I cannot imagine a fate worse than that of Jonah, perpetually unhappy because God is a God of Mercy and love.

Jonah 4:1-4 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, "I pray thee, Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish for I knew that thou art a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and repentest of evil. Therefore now O Lord, take my life from me, I beseech thee, for it is better for me to die than to live."

Overall, I prefer the life of one who holds with this:

1 John 4 6 We are of God; he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby we know the Spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. 7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. 8 He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love. 9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us: that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 Herein is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. 12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13 Hereby we know that we dwell in Him and He in us: because He hath given us of His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God hath for us. God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. 17 Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the Day of Judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. 19 We love Him, because He first loved us. 20 If a man say, "I love God," and hateth his brother, he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loveth God love his brother also.

I note that Dylan posts from the first chapter of the same epistle. Great source for wonderful knowledge of what God is really like, rather than our preferred conception. Rather than being Jonahs or other wretched, unhappy wrath-seekers, wouldn't our lives be so much better if we saw everyone as potential a companion for eternity in the beatific vision?

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:41 AM | Comments (0)

September 27, 2002

From the Extraordinary Lancelot Andrewes

From the Extraordinary Lancelot Andrewes

I blogged a couple of days ago about the celebration of the memorial of Lancelot Andrewes. Mr. Core was kind enough to discover a couple of links to the Newman translation of Andrewes, one of them in a superbly formatted PDF file. From that I offer this wonderful penitential prayer.

from Private Devotions Lancelot Andrewes

An Act of Pleading
The Triumph of Mercy, Thy Name’s Sake, the glory of Thy Name, the truth of Thy Promise, intervention of Thine Oath, comfort of Love, bowels of mercies. Thy Mercy which is manifold, great (Ps. 51. 1), ancient (Ps. 25. 6), plenteous (Ps. 130. 7), everlasting (Ps. 136), exceeding (Eph. 2. 4), marvellous (Ps. 117. 8), the riches of Thy Mercy (Eph. 1. 7), its abundance (Eph. 1. 8), its excess (1 Tim. 1. 14), its superabundance (Rom. 5. 20), its exceeding riches (Eph. 2. 7), its victory over all Thy works (Ps. 145. 9), over justice (James 2. 13), the satisfaction and merits of Christ, the consolation of the Holy Ghost. Thy Mercy by which it is that we are not consumed (Lam. 3. 22), that preventeth (Ps. 79. 8), followeth (Ps. 23. 6), surroundeth (Ps. 32. 10), forgiveth (Ps. 103. 3), crowneth (Ps. 103. 4), hath length, breadth, depth, height (Eph. 3. 18), is from everlasting (Ps. 25. 6) to everlasting (Ps. 89. 2), reacheth to Heaven (Ps. 108. 4), reacheth to hell (Ps. 86. 13), is over all (Rom. 2. 32), is tender (Luke 1. 78), sweet (Ps. 69. 16; 129. 21), better than life (Ps. 113. 3), as is Thy Majesty (Ecclus. 2. 18), pardoning until seventy times seven (Matt. 18. 12), hating nothing that it hath made, neglecting neither the young ravens (Matt. 6. 26) nor the sparrow, willing that all should be saved (1 Tim. 2. 4), willing not that any should perish (2 Pet. 3. 9), bringing back the lost sheep on the shoulder (Luke 25. 5), sweeping the house for the lost drachma (Luke 25. 6), forgiving the ten thousand talents (Matt. 28. 27), binding up the wounds of the half dead (Luke 10. 34), joyfully meeting the Prodigal Son (Luke 25. 20), that freed the fugitive Jonah, received the denying Peter, did not reject the incredulous Thomas, converted the blaspheming Saul, liberated the woman taken in adultery, received Mary Magdalene, opened Paradise to the thief, standeth at the door and knocketh, the Lord Himself entreating His own servants (2 Cor. 5. 20), whose place is the Throne of Grace, the Mercy-seat, whose time is the Day of Salvation. I have deferred repentance, and Thou hast prolonged patience by Mercy, O Thou fountain inexhaustible!

Posted by Steven Riddle at 09:45 AM | Comments (0)

Amphibious Goat, Redux For those

Amphibious Goat, Redux

For those of you with profound pro-life convictions, this entry and the blog it occurs in are critical reading. The blogmaster spends much time going up against various proponents of the Culture of Death and could do with our support.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:51 AM | Comments (0)

Poem du Jour

Poem du Jour

This is one of three that I wrote over a very unproductive twelve-month period. I was engaged in trying to write some serious prose at the time so there was little time for poetry. But I liked this a great deal--it was one of the many outpourings of grace received during a protracted (nine month) Ignatian Retreat that moved me firmly and relentlessly into my Carmelite vocation. The title is still a working title that doesn't quite indicate the theme I had in mind. I need to give the casual reader more of a clue, but for the moment, this will do.

Waiting on Perfection
Steven Riddle

I dream of a last rose of summer
bloomed late
in August that somehow outlasts
autumn's weary weight,
and meets December on its doorstep
still white
like a perfect winter morning's first light.

Full blown, bloomed,
brilliant in the wind
that winds around the month,
it waits on snow;
each petal braced to bear
the winter white
and chill beneath it.

And though it waits
on snow, is kissed
by ice instead and wakes
glittering more brilliantly
than dew and frost and snow
could make--
its petals perfected under
icy weight.

© 1996, 2002 Steven Riddle

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:25 AM | Comments (0)

Precautions and Counsels Yes, I'm

Precautions and Counsels

Yes, I'm afraid it's true. I'm back to stun you all into silence (although it was very quiet yesterday) with St. John of the Cross. I know many saints have said much the same thing as St. John. I know that his spirituality is rooted in the Bible. But sometimes his phrases have such a profound and ringing clarity that he deserves special notice.

from "Precautions" St. John of the Cross

9. For, should you desire to pay heed to things, many will seem wrong, even were you to live among angels, because of your not understanding the substance of them. Take Lot's wife as an example: Because she was troubled at the destruction of the Sodomites and turned her head to watch what was happening, God punished her by converting her into a pillar of salt [Gn. 19:26]. You are thus to understand God's will: that even were you to live among devils you should not turn the head of your thoughts to their affairs, but forget these things entirely and strive to keep your soul occupied purely and entirely in God, and not let the thought of this thing or that hinder you from so doing.

From Special Counsels
St. John of the Cross

2. In order to practice the first counsel, concerning resignation, you should live in the monastery as though no one else were in it. And thus you should never, by word or by thought, meddle in things that happen in the community, nor with individuals in it, desiring not to notice their good or bad qualities or their conduct. And in order to preserve your tranquility of soul, even if the whole world crumbles you should not desire to advert to these things or interfere, remembering Lot's wife who was changed into hard stone because she turned her head to look at those who in the midst of much clamor and noise were perishing [Gn. 19:26]. You should practice this with great fortitude, for you will thereby free yourself from many sins and imperfections and guard the tranquility and quietude of your soul with much profit before God and others. Ponder this often, because it is so important that, for not observing it, many religious not only failed to improve through their other works of virtue and religious observance, but ever slipped back from bad to worse.

While the "Precautions" and "Special Counsels" were written specifically to cloistered Religious, they have much to say to us today. This is an age in which information can quickly make the rounds--there are good and bad points to that. While we learn much quickly, we rarely know whether what we have learned bears the stamp of reality. A case in point, and I don't desire to be a controversialist, is the question of Iraq. We "know" that they have or have had and may be developing weapons of mass destruction. But do we "know" this because it is true or do we "know" it because it is convenient to the present agenda? I do not know, but I also do not worry too much about it because the entire situation is in the hands of a God who loves us and whatever happens will happen in His will--if not in His ordained will, at least within His permissive will, and whatever comes from His hands I will accept with joy because of who He is.

Things that travel quickly, news that flashes by us, are like riptides. They unbalance us, drag us off course, and ultimately lead us to our own destruction if we follow them too closely. St. John rightly points out that the better part of valor is not to meddle in these things, not to comment on them, not to think about them, not to notice them, if it were possible. Our assigned task in the world is to love God as completely as He may be loved, with "all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength," and to make this love manifest by "loving our neighbor as ourselves." Leaving aside the question of how little we love ourselves and whether that gives us permission to be less loving to others (an argument weirdly compelling in its ultimate perversity), we are called to love our neighbors in a way that we would want to be loved, and that, in fact we are loved. As we grow in closeness to God, we can see that while we are unlovable much of the time (like a three-year old in a constant screaming, whining, tantrum) there are times (mostly when we are "asleep" in God) when we are truly adorable, and truly reflective of the image of the God who created us. So let us endeavor not to be wrapped up in the disconcerting news of the day but to find rest and sleep in prayer. Let us leave off our day to day tantrums and turn with loving hearts to the God who makes us worthy of His love, and then to beam that love outward to all in what we do and what we say and how we behave ourselves in ordinary things.

Shalom to all.

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

September 26, 2002

De Vertutibus--I really like this

De Vertutibus--I really like this blog

Even while I acknowledge that I will really understand and assimilate less than two percent of the total if what is there already is any indication. But Kevin Miller's blogspot is very obviously for those of a Disputational disposition.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 05:00 PM | Comments (0)

Joining the Lamentation Fr.

Joining the Lamentation

Fr. Keyes C. PP.S. laments in a past blog that people simply do not wish to engage in conversation about spiritual matters.(It didn't help that shortly after his post, his commenting system went out of phase for about a day and a half, during which any thought I may have had about St. Gaspar's letter completely fled my head.) I have commented before on the awed (or stunned, or bored) silence that ensues upon a post that seems particularly "difficult". And there are a great many explanations for this phenomenon ranging from those initial emotional reactions already mentioned, to assent not requiring comment. But go and tell Fr. Keyes about it so that he won't feel so alone in his difficulties.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 04:57 PM | Comments (0)

Request for Prayers Melissa

Request for Prayers

Melissa is struggling with a very difficult familial and financial situation. Please remember her in your prayers.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 04:34 PM | Comments (0)

More Poetry--Threnody

I acknowledge that most occasional, strike that, almost all occasional poetry is bad. Nevertheless. sometimes, because the occasion does not depart, it is needed. Therefore I contribute my meager offering to the cause.

Threnody for the Victims of Abortion
Steven Riddle

Weep for the children
unborn, unheard, unmourned.
Weep for the mothers
with unseen scars
that harden their lives
and selves.
Weep for the people
lost in themselves
who think they've
found freedom.
Weep for the nation
reduced to
whimpering for rights
and devouring its young.
Weep for the trespass
of God's law
that marks us
Weep for the land
that does not know
it should weep.

©2002 Steven Riddle

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

Jesus Christ, Verbum Abbreviatum Some

Jesus Christ, Verbum Abbreviatum

Some reflection on reading the scriptures by a Swedish Carmelite Priest.

from Nourished by the Word Wilfrid Stinissen

In Christ, the entire Bible finds its unity because everything in it is striving towards him. Christ makes of the many words in the Scriptures a single word, God's word. The incarnate Word has traditionally often been called Verbum abbreviatum, the abbreviated word. In him all the condensed words of the Bible are summarized. . . .

The Church Fathers happily cite Psalm 62:11: Semel locutus est Deus (God has spoken once). God speaks only a single word, the son, the Word which gives meaning to all the words which have been spoke about him. It is in him and only in him that everything becomes comprehensible.

"Everything becomes comprehensible," what felicitous wording. I don't know if Stinissen intended at this point to extend his argument from looking at biblical texts to an examination of reality as a whole; however, regardless of his intent, this phrase does so. Nothing that happens to us makes any sense outside of God. This is why the atheistic nihilism of a Samuel Beckett so clearly does make sense. Without God in the picture there is no sense to anything. When you deny His existence things fall apart. In fact, Beckett was fortunate when compared with Neitzsche who went mad--partially as a consequence of his own philosophy.

Outside of Jesus Christ there is not a moment of our lives that makes sense. Which is comforting, because within the body of Christ everything is incorporated. We must embrace who we are, where we are in life, and where those around us find themselves. Our struggle is not a struggle to better ourselves, but to better the condition of all, to build on Earth the Kingdom of God. We start on that path by accepting God as architect--God as the Word that must be spoken, not only in preaching, but in the preaching that is our individual actions and individual lives. Fullness of life and joy are found only in accepting and embracing Jesus Christ as and where we are. Anything other leads to confusion, frustration, sin, and perhaps alienation. Deep communion with God and with the body of Christ is the only thing that leads us out of confusion.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:03 AM | Comments (0)

September 25, 2002

Addressing the Canon

Now, I'm not a canonist, by any stretch of the imagination. I do not think everything starts and ends with a select group of works by a mostly male constituency (nor do I think that being mostly male invalidates those works from consideration as classics, nor should we lower our standards of what is considered first class literature to accommodate the disadvantaged. Great work is great work and is done by people of all races and sexes throughout all of time. We need merely find it.) However, Mr. Kairos raised an interesting question on his blog today that I copy in its entirety because I want to reflect upon several things at length.

Is it better to assign books in high school that will inspire a love of reading or that form a part of the canon? In looking over the list, I realize I have read less than 1/3 of it. Some of it was not read but assigned, some read and assigned, and some not assigned but read anyway. About another 1/3 I tried to read and just wasn't inspired to finish. ("Heart of Darkness" was assigned, and attempted in high school, then attempted a couple of times since. "Apocalypse Now" is much more accessible, and the Secret Sharer is better written.)

I read constantly, voraciously, and find that I was not capable, at 14 or 15, of understanding many of these books in any meaningful way. I'm 32 and still too inexperienced for some of them. And, frankly, some of them just aren't all that great, either as writing or as ideas. Thomas Hardy is just overwritten.

Now, some issues are worthy of addressing in detail, but let's start with a couple that are not. "Thomas Hardy is just overwritten." I have to say that I could not disagree more. Thomas Hardy, particularly in the later novels, but most especially in his poetry employed a deft and apt touch, saying as much as needed said without saying more. Sometimes the mode in which he said it is foreign to eyes and ears that want to run with every idea and dispense with it within ten seconds of consideration--but Hardy wrote for a reader who was ready and willing to read. Overwriting is a serious charge, and it is, in fact, simply a matter of opinion. In this area Mr. Kairos and I disagree. With Hardy, as with James and Conrad, it is the journey, not the arrival that matters. The writing is for one who wishes to linger over scenes and over writing, not for someone who wants to get to the end of the story and find out what happened. Indeed, with any of the three, if that is your aim, you are wasting your time in reading them. When you get to the end of The Golden Bowl or even a short work like "Daisy Miller," or "Turn of the Screw" you ask yourself, when summarizing--so is that all that really happened? Think about it--summarized Turn of the Screw: A man presents to a group of interested listeners the story of a governess who goes to attend two children who may or may not have secret converse with a particularly nasty spirit. In attempting to resolve the mystery the governess may or may not have precipitated a tragic end. This is not a story packed with incident and event. And yet... it is one of the finest stories of its type ever written--precisely because it is in thinking about what has gone on that the terror grows and with it the horrifying possibilities. Enough on that point--we disagree on Hardy.

"The Secret Sharer" is shorter, somewhat more intense, but certainly not superior to "Heart of Darkness." It did not have the cachet to get butchered into the psychedelic and infinitely interesting (on numerous levels) Apocalypse Now, nor did it go on to influence the likes of V.S. Naipaul to produce a magnificent indictment of activity in Modern Africa like A Bend in the River. Accessible, does not necessarily make it better--sometimes the taste of the fruit you must work for lingers longer. However, I will be the first to say that at a high-school, perhaps even at undergraduate College level, Mr. Kairos is correct--"The Secret Sharer" is probably a more reasonable approach to Conrad. Students at those ages simply don't have sufficient maturity to be able to absorb much of what is going on in "Heart of Darkness". When an understanding doesn't come from within, then it simply looks like a cookie-cutter template impressed from outside. Students erroneously start to look for "hidden meanings," when, in fact, the vast majority of works of literature are made to be nearly transparent. (We are not talking about certain authors--T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein (if you even want to go there), or Samuel Beckett--although Beckett has basically a single chord with multiple and ultimately tiresome riffs). Okay, so two disagreements, but here more in kind than in substance.

Now to the points on which we agree. Students are very naturally ready for certain works at certain ages. The works and the ages vary by student. Some may never be ready for Joseph Conrad, some may never get anything from Jane Austen, no matter how much you point out the cutting satire and wit. A "canon" of books makes assumptions about the capabilities of students that are simply unfair to many. I would answer Mr. Kairos's initial question, "Is it better to assign books in high school that will inspire a love of reading or that form a part of the canon?" this way: yes. The two are not necessarily contradictory. Much depends on how they are taught. If they are presented in the way we were taught, then there is a tension. A teacher is insisting upon students finding some "meaning" which is known to the teachers and not the students. You get points for cleverness and finding all sorts of clues, but that leaves out about eighty percent of the student population which just isn't interested in playing those kinds of games. They have no time for it. I remember reading Canto I of The Faerie Queen as part of the advanced placement English Course in high school. Yes it was required, yes it was canon. But you know what? The teacher found something to interest us. Yes, it appealed to the most base level, but I can recite it today. The Red Cross Knight observes someone whom he thinks is the faire Una (Church of England) but who is really foul and insidious Duessa (Whore of Babylon/Catholic Church) "in wanton lust and lewd embrace" with another knight. Our teacher left us to discover that little gem ourselves, but he hinted throughout of its existence. While it may not be the basis for a great discussion of literature, it sure got us reading. (No, I do not recommend that you try this at home, nor in your schools). My point is merely that the canon is not boring, it is only boring when you are forced to read it as a series of more or less interesting puzzles or games in which the author is always attempting to keep hidden from you his or her real intent. What thorough nonsense! Almost everyone I know of who calls themselves a writer of any kind expresses the desire to communicate--to enrich, sometimes, but communicate clearly what they are trying to say. Most do not try to draw obscure and hidden veils of meaning over what they have written.

I guess this is a long-winded way of saying that what Kairos implies--teaching literature should be about inspiring students to love to read--is absolutely correct. Now, I think that should include as many genres and disciplines as possible. I think students should be told from very early on to read a poem aloud and listen to its music--not to puzzle over its significance, which will come with reading and rereading because you love the sound of the words. "Prufrock" means something to me not because I puzzled out all of Eliot's intent (as if that would ever be possible), but because I loved the sound of it and read it time and time and time again. Do I know what Eliot intended or meant when he wrote, "In the room women come and go/talking of Michelangelo?" Probably not, but by reading the poem for the sheer beauty of it, I have developed a meaning for it. The teaching of reading should be about helping students develop skills such as contextualization for definition, and simply learning to use tools such as dictionaries and encyclopedias to help when necessary. It should not be about puzzling out, or even necessarily identifying "symbols." Certainly these are good things to talk about in class, and they enrich the reading. But what is more horrifying than seeing a question like, "Write a paragraph about the symbolism of mirrors in Macbeth." Is there any? If so what? Would Shakespeare even have called them mirrors? I remember writing a three page essay on the word mirror and whether Shakespeare would have been likely to call them that and whether one can have a mirror as a symbol if the author didn't know the word. (See, I was great at deconstructing tests and wearing my teachers down. Then as now, I could go on.)

The joy of reading is multiplied by being given the tools, interesting things to read and tests that focus not so much on deep hidden things in the text, but on base-level understandings. Can you read a sentence by Henry James and then restate the thought in your own words. Here's an example of two types of question:

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day thou art more lovely and more temperate rough winds do shake the darling buds of May and summer's lease hath all too short a date. . ."

Question 1: In the context of the sonnet what is the symbolism of "the darling buds of May" and why did Shakespeare use that rather than some other image?

Question 2: What is Shakespeare saying and to whom do you think he is talking? What evidence is there?

The second questions seem simplistic compared to the first, but they get at the point of having written the poem in the first place. Maybe the darling buds have some secret deep meaning, but sometimes in our desire to get students to think critically, we leap over the first fence--figure out what the author is saying on a literal level and what cues you have to tell you this is true.

No, the canon is not sacred, neither is it necessarily dull, boring, and uninteresting. For example, Dante, particularly without really good explanatory notes, may mean absolutely nothing to a modern reader. So you get the excellent poetry--have students read a canto, and then you go to Niven and Pournelle's Inferno to give modern relevance, if necessary. And actually, much of this is not a teacher's duty, it is the duty of the parents to assist and help in the learning. Teachers are already taxed to the limits and beyond with idiotic testing that provides spurious and superficial "accountability" and basically teaches students to be able to respond well under pressure. Without doubt, a magnificent skill, but hardly the point of an entire educational system. For most thirteen year-old boys one trip to the locker-room at the beginning of school proves more than enough education in that particular skill.

So, apart from a few quibbles that may be a result of that magical difference in age, if I have parsed Mr. Kairos's message correctly and inferred the notion properly, we are in complete accord. Teaching literature should be about teaching one how to enjoy reading and how to continue to enjoy the experience. How one goes about this is dependent on the individual teacher and on a lot of work directly with students. Sometimes one substitutes modern works for works from the canon. What should never be done is to assume that a work is without interest because it isn't modern. Most kids, even today, have enough of the idealist and the romantic in them to truly enjoy great works from the canon. Not all, perhaps not even very many, but to neglect to teach some works of classic literature (even if not canonical) is surely a disservice to our youth.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 05:59 PM | Comments (0)

Last Blog before Lunch--More Poetry

Last Blog before Lunch--More Poetry

Pastoral Blue Steven Riddle

So, pastoral blue it is,
shielding, shepherding and keeping
us apart.

What would it take
to crack the brittle sky
and see beyond
the surface?

I know this sky is
only as thick as air--
a stern blue eggshell
that hides from me
the source of my new birth.

©2002 Steven Riddle

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:57 AM | Comments (0)

Book Review--Alice Sebold--The Lovely Bones

Book Review--Alice Sebold--The Lovely Bones

I honestly don't know what to make of this book. It came highly touted by the likes of Anna Quindlen (usually reliable) and Jonathan Franzen (hardly a recommendation at all). It took me forever to get into it due to huge expanses of the flattest, least interesting writing I had encountered in many a day. Below is a sample.

She came with her father. They were standing in the corner near a glass case that held a chalice used during the Revolutionary War, when the church had been a hospital. Mr. and Mrs. Dewitt were making small talk with them. At home on her desk, Mrs. Dewitt had a poem of Ruth's. On Monday she was going to the guidance counselor with it.It was a poem about me. (p. 110)

It goes on seemingly endlessly in these flat declarative sentences. One may argue that it is part of the effect Sebold was trying to achieve. If so, it is an alienating choice of effects, I am uncertain of what it was trying to achieve.

Add to that minor errors of fact and word misuse. In one passage she refers to the death of Virginia Woolf, correctly noting that she had stuffed her pockets with rocks and then, incorrectly, implied that Woolf died at sea, stating that she vanished beneath the waves, when, in fact Woolf drowned herself in the river Ouse. In another passage Sebold uses "toothsome" when she means "toothy."

At the very end the narrator dispatches the villain of the piece with an icicle. You mean to tell me that after all those years of watching, and all the pain her family suffered, this was the first time she had an opportunity?

Add to that that the "heaven" described in the book sounds a great deal like purgatory, not paradise, and I'd generally conclude you were about a millimeter away from a toss-it-across-the-room-in-disgust book. But I would have been wrong.

The following two passages go a long way toward explaining why this book, while neither spectacular, nor particularly entertaining, is still well worth reading.

I realized how much I wished I could be where my mother was. His love for my mother wasn't about looking back and loving something that would never change. It was about loving my mother for everything--for her brokenness and her fleeing, for her being there right then in that moment before the sun rose and the hospital staff came in. It was about touching that hair with the side of his fingertip, and knowing yet plumbing fearlessly the depths of her ocean eyes. (p. 280-281)

These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence--sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent--that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it. The events that my death wrought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. (p. 320)

So despite some pronounced, even severe flaws the novel has a good heart and tries to lead us to a good place.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:51 AM | Comments (0)

A "Saint" of the

A "Saint" of the Anglican Church

Given the propensity of some branches of the Anglican Church to name saints at the turning of a page, one always approaches these questions with caution. However, today is the day that the Anglican communion celebrates Lancelot Andrewes, a man well worthy of remembering. Below is an excerpt from a bulletin sent out by Project Canterbury that details WHY Anglicans so appreciate him.

Lancelot Andrewes from a bulletin for Project Canterbury by Fr. Rodney Hacking

In the 1604 Hampton Court Conference, the seminal event in the production of the Authorised Version, this man of "great holiness and great learning" was charged with the responsibility of the Old Testament Books from Genesis to 2 Kings. There were 47 other scholars and divines enrolled in the commission, but no other of Andrewes's authority and assurance. In an age of fiercely learned men he was exceptional: Thomas Fuller paid this compliment, that Andrewes "could serve as INTERPRETER GENERAL at the confusion of Tongues."

The A.V., or King James Bible, was published in 1611. It was worked on at the time William Shakespeare was writing the plays of his deep, language-intoxicated maturity; at the time that John Donne, the foremost love poet in English, was easing himself toward the decision to take orders, and to become, along with Andrewes, one of England's foremost preachers; when Francis Bacon was busy with his essays. The Authorised Version, in other words, was in embryo when the language itself, under pressure from some of the most gifted agents in all its history, was taking shape. . . .

But it will not serve to urge people to read Andrewes if what he wrote for himself does not have its own and discrete charm and force. It will certainly not do when we are urging 500-year-old sermons, sermons moreover of great density and knottiness, that even some of his contemporaries found stiff going.

A sermon by Andrewes is a word-by-word progress through a biblical citation, a progress of fantastic discrimination and analysis, of winding and unwinding paths of meaning from each single word, and from the whole in combination. There is nothing else quite like it in English. It is a kind of logical and verbal gymnastics driven by what I will call a furious holiness. Reading Andrewes, despite our distance from his age and ethos, is exciting.

No less a poet of our time than T. S. Eliot, the magpie of modernism, incorporated stretches of Andrewes, taken directly and with minimum alteration from the sermons, into some of his most inviting work. The opening lines of The Journey of the Magi have Eliot smuggling Andrewes into the 20th century:

A cold coming we had of it
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.

In fact, it is mostly due to Eliot that, outside a circle of connoisseurs and specialists, Andrewes's name survives in our time. The 1928 essay Homage to Lancelot Andrewes, in which Eliot ranked the prose of Andrewes "among the best of his own, or of any time," woke many a student to his existence, and served as a passionate and exacting recommendation for a neglected master.

The frequently remarked austerity of Andrewes is greatly overstressed. He is often plain and playful, frequently beautiful, with passages of astonishing simplicity and directness. We forget sometimes how much of what impresses us in Scripture is almost unutterably simple and direct: "Let there be light." "In the beginning was the Word." "Jesus wept."

A portion of that pristine, spare beauty is to be found in the thickets of Andrewes's sermons, a beauty that radiates all the more intensely for its context, a flower on a steep, bare path.

Rigour, beauty and cadence. Enough to stay our cascade into a new and noisome millennium. Lancelot Andrewes, 17th-century divine -- just the best guide for such a journey.

Project Canterbury is proud to be able to publish many of Bishop Andrewes's Works. This is mainly through the diligence and energy of Dr Marianne Dorman, whose splendid Homepage you can visit here

Bishop Andrewes's sermons (including new additions to Volume 5) can be found here.

Essays on Bishops Andrewes by Dorman now have a special site here.

Not mentioned here, but worthy of attention is Lancelot Andrewes book of private devotions compiled some time back, probably no longer available. Bishop Andrewes was truly a great man of his time to whom we owe a great deal.

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

Poem for an Approaching

Poem for an Approaching Date

In honor of a coming change of date and the Patroness of the Missions (though this poem has nothing whatsoever to do with the latter):

October First
Steven Riddle

Old ladies still
cling to September's masts,
climb the rigging
of their laundry lines
to hang sheets that bear
the wind.
They go to captain
old wooden ships driven before
these sails,
to watch as they pass
over the dateline into October.

At night they hang
kerosene lanterns
from pegs--a sign to others

Long winter ahead--they signal
over vast seas
that separate each
from her neighbor,
They greet the change
with great woolen shawls pulled over
shriveled shoulders and salute
each other from deck chairs
on the bow.

c 2002 Steven Riddle

Posted by Steven Riddle at 04:18 AM | Comments (0)

More from the AVP

There are some advantages to the small domestic disturbances that of an evening cause us some loss of sleep. The discovery of the huge collection of poetry at the AVP is one of these. Among the collections is a book of verse by Jones Very, a poet with whom I am little acquainted, having heard the name and seen a few poems at Dylan's site one time.

Jones Very

I cannot tell the sorrows that I feel
By the night's darkness, by the prison's gloom;
There is no sight that can the death reveal
The spirit suffers in a living tomb;
There is no sound of grief that mourners raise,
No moaning of the wind, or dirge-like sea,
Nor hymns, though prophet tones inspire the lays,
That can the spirit's grief awake in thee.
Thou too must suffer as it suffers here
The death in Christ to know the Father's love;
Then in the strains that angels love to hear
Thou too shalt hear the Spirit's song above,
And learn in grief what these can never tell,
A note too deep for earthly voice to swell.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 04:13 AM | Comments (0)

The Foremost Proponent of the

The Foremost Proponent of the Cinquain, Redux

This page at the American Verse Project has the "Complete Works" of Ms. Crapsey. The AVP looks worth further examination.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 03:49 AM | Comments (0)

Ethical Philosohy Thanks to Mr.

Ethical Philosohy

Thanks to Mr. Higham, I found this Ethical Philosophy selector. My results are detailed below.

1. Augustine (100%) 2. Kant (82%) 3. Ockham (69%) 4. Spinoza (66%) 5. Aquinas (62%) 6. Prescriptivism (62%) 7. Mill (46%) 8. Noddings (46%) 9. Sartre (46%) 10. Bentham (45%) 11. Cynics (37%) 12. Nietzsche (37%) 13. Plato (34%) 14. Rand (32%) 15. Stoics (30%) 16. Aristotle (28%) 17. Epicureans (24%) 18. Hume (24%) 19. Hobbes (0%)

And this is what they say about Augustine's philosophy--I am dubious of the accuracy of some of this:

Augustine (354-430)

Happiness is a union of the soul with God after one has died
Bodily pleasures are relatively inferior to spiritual pleasures.
Philosophical reasoning is not the path to wisdom and happiness.
A love of God and faith in Jesus is the only path to happiness.
God is the one to allow people to practice the love of God.
One must love God in order to fulfill moral law.
People are inherently evil; only the grace of God (or is it merit to be saved?) can save them.

I wonder about the "inherently evil." Because of the doctrine of original sin, I suppose you could say that Augustine held to something like this, but I don't think "evil" is the right word. I think it might be better to say "inherently flawed" or "inherently inclilned to evil action." Surely Augustine did not deny the first chapter of Genesis? But I leave that to those who better understand/know these philosophers.

I have some considerable pleasure in contemplating the fact that the Philosopher who would exclude poets shows up relatively low on my list. I am surprised how high Immanuel Kant shows up on my list considering how little I care for anything he has to say.

Here's what the site says about Kant:

We can make a prior judgments; the negation of such judgments would a logical absurdity because a priori knowledge is known without sensory data. We combine a priori and a posteriori knowledge to We have freedom God is not essential for his moral argumentation The objective facts about the human knowledge leads to Kant's morality We must act ought of a sense of duty in order to be moral Moral action does not come out of following inclinations Moral standards must be followed without qualification We must always act so that the means of our actions could be a universal law We must always treat people as ends not means

However, if this is all true, it doesn't sound nearly so bad as Kant in person.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 03:22 AM | Comments (0)

September 24, 2002

Lost Her Job for Refusing

Lost Her Job for Refusing an Abortion!

I don't do controversy well. I don't like to entertain it at all. However, the sitemaster at Musings of an Amphibious Goat does. Please go here and read the reflections and notion of this very insightful individual. We would all do well to expand our understanding of the many issues she addresses.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 11:58 AM | Comments (0)

Recovering the Lost Posts Because

Recovering the Lost Posts

Because of the server work this morning, Blogger ate at least one of my posts which I will try to reconstruct here.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 11:55 AM | Comments (0)

A Passion of Mine--Waimea

A Passion of Mine--Waimea Bay

Don't ask, I don't know why. I don't surf myself, but I love everything about it--from Bruce Brown's surfing films to watching the surfers on the rather wimpy waves at Canaveral National Seashore. (On the other hand, what is there not to love about a stretch of coast that allows not only views of well-cared-for dunes, and endangered Brown Pelicans, but the VAB and the Shuttle Launch Pad, and Surfing?). So here's part of my interest expressed somewhat more coherently. Oh, please note--Waimea bay is noted for incredible, and ofter extraordinarily beautiful waves. But they are apparently the result of winter storms over the North Pacific. I am told (all my evidence is anecdotal) that during off-season you wouldn't be able to tell that Waimea was a surfer's challenge.

Waimea Bay Steven Riddle I didn't know the winter waves went away, the thirty foot wall of water wasn't always there. So I was surprised when I went to the shore to see waves like those of any place on earth. This could be a Cleveland lake, a pool in a dip on the sidewalk, a beaker on a blue bench. I came to find the waterwall and found instead the flat blue envelope of the sea, the momentary breathing of some restless giant, hidden because I have chosen to look. Were I to turn my back, the towering waves would wake from their watery sleep and rise to new heights to secretly sweep me away before I could catch them myself.

©2002 Steven Riddle

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

A Mysterious and Unaccountable Hush

A Mysterious and Unaccountable Hush

Has descended on blogdom, or my portion thereof. Usually the hours from about six in the evening to about nine are a rush a flurry of activity. I can only assume some even of nation importance was transpiring, of which, Praise the Lord! I was completely ignorant.

I have had about ten zillion visitors looking for the meter of John Donne's "Holy Sonnet 14" and for them, I apologize for I have said nothing of the meter nor have I any intention of addressing it. That is not my interest in the sonnet, and I am truly sorry that Google somehow links those words together on my site.

This hush combined with the red skies this morning and the deep grey clouds and portents of our usual "liquid sunshine" promise for a long and arduous day. I hope that presently I am merely in the eye of a storm that will lift before its battering winds assail me.

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

September 23, 2002

Adelaide Crapsey

Okay, okay, okay. I need to curl up with my Luci Shaw, but first I needed to post a couple of things by this poet whom I have only recently discovered. She apparently wrote in the early part of the twentieth century and composed many different types of poems. Some of the most effective are reminiscent of the poetry of our own Mr. Core, q.v. I find it very similar to one of my favorite schools of more recent poetry--imagist. (Of course no one can even hope to equal the grandeur of the Cavalier and Metaphysical poets.) Here's a couple of short pieces by Ms. Crapsey.

Poems by Adelaide Crapsey

The Warning

Just now,
Out of the strange
Still dust . . . as strange, as still . . .
A white moth flew . . . Why am I grown
So cold?

The Guarded Wound

If it
Were lighter touch
Than petal of flower resting
On grass, oh still too heavy it were,
Too heavy!

There is a haiku-like simplicity and a sheer joy in careful creation and cultivation of image. There is an oblique relation between title and poem that sets up a kind of dynamic tension. What precisely is the guarded wound? We might never know, and yet the image puts us tantilizing close to grasping the reality the poet was trying to convey. In short, I have found another poet I need to study in depth. There is a brilliant, subtle, quiet, passionate, and sad beauty in these two short pieces.

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

"Judge Not Lest Ye Be

"Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged"

I promised this blog, but I'm nearly exhausted from the diatribe of the other two I've posted this evening. In addition I received Polishing the Petoskey Stone by Luci Shaw from the library today, and I'm really eager to get to these wonderful poems. But this requires some fairly serious consideration and time. I may have to start this evening and continue sometime tomorrow.

John at Disputations reflects on what judgment means, and what how this sentence of Jesus would be if strictly applied on judgment day. In so doing he makes a very good point--we are NEVER to judge people, and most particularly not the final disposition of people, as in "Thank God those hijackers are burning in Hell." We are not permitted that judgment, and in making it we endanger our own immortal souls because we pronounce sentence on ourselves. But modern Christians seem very confused about this prohibition of Jesus.

I think of it very simply. A person must never be judged, period. One simply doesn't judge people, no matter what the circumstances. Even in a court of law we should not be judging a person but the putative actions of any such person. Actions we may judge, and we may use them to discern whether association with a given person is good or detrimental to our spiritual life. This is called discernment. It does not mean you judge the person, but you can and must judge the actions, ideas, and values held. You must evaluate them in the light of the truth, and, after proper prayer and discernment act upon those judgements.

If you hang around with a person who burns crosses on people's yards, whose language is peppered with racial epithets, and who is known to boast about betting up people of a certain ethnicity, you are implicated in those actions, more if you didn't try to stop them, but still implicated if you choose to continue the association. You have supported things that are unsupportable by gospel standards. Correct action might entail trying to convince the person to quit. Getting a friend and trying to get the person to quit, and finally, shunning the person, all the while praying for them.

We are called to judge ideas, values, and notions. We are not called to then label a person based upon our judgements. The fellow in the last paragraph should not be labeled a bigot, but it would be said that he has and holds bigoted ideas. A person is never a label and a label is the first step to depersonalization. If you have seen Silence of the Lambs you will recall that the first actions of the serial killer were to depersonalize his victims, "It will rub lotion on its skin or it will get the water again." Depersonalization, by race, by idea, by gender, by sexuality, by anything extraneous to a person's inherent dignity in being a smudged and warped image of God, is a sin against God in that person. Judging, labeling a person, is one step on that removal of dignity.

However, there is no problem with saying "Cannibalism is wrong. Communism is an ineffective economic system. Unrestrained capitalism is damaging to the world's good." These judgments, while some may be controversial, are permissible. We must judge which ideas and value support the gospel life and we must adhere to them.

This has all been a very long-winded way of saying--Judge a Person--Never. Judge ideas--always. Live always in conformity with gospel ideals and you cannot do so if you do not discern what they are.

However, this "judge not" causes a lot of consternation and difficulty in the Christian community.

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

Lawrence Lessig and Eldred v.

Lawrence Lessig and Eldred v. Ashcroft

This is a matter near and dear to my heart. It is also one that really steams me. I truly believe in the right of an artist to control his or her own works for as long as he lives or is capable of managing his estate. What really annoys me is the mass of material that is being "held prisoner" for sake of the Mouse. Disney and other large corporate interests have basically purchased longer and longer periods of copyright in order to preserve the status of Mickey Mouse.

If the present copyright law were in force from constitutional times, we would find ourselves in a situation in which Tom Sawyer and Moby Dick would still be covered by copyright. This would effectively bar these words from any form of popular culture as clearing rights to this works would be far beyond anything any motion picture producer would be likely to consider. Think about it. How many "literary" novels published between 1923 and 1970 do you see being made into movies? There is a reason for this. And perhaps the absence of such from cinema is not truly harmful--but. . . Anything published by a young author today could be under copyright for as much as 150 years. While this sounds good, what actually happens is that it dooms this young artist to obscurity from about five to ten years after publication. The vast majority of authors simply go out of print. If their material is in copyright, they will never be picked up and redistributed by public domain sources.

Okay, it's guilty secret time. Two of my favorite authors are H. Rider Haggard and Thorne Smith. Haggard, as a standard has between five and ten of a corpus of about seventy novels in print (usually King Solomon's Mines, She and some selection of the Quatermain novels. A majority of these are now in the public domain in the US, so they are becoming available in electronic formats (see Blackmask in the left column for one location). However, everything published after 1923 has been grandfathered in to the new copyright law. As a result all post 1923 Haggard books are out of print and basically unavailable legally to readers in the US. Readers in Australia are more fortunate as all copyright expires fifty years after the death of the author. Thorne Smith, my second example, may not have a single book in print presently. I have ancient copies of Topper, Topper Takes a Trip, The Rain in the Door, Nightlife of the Gods, I Married a Witch, and The Bishop's Jaegars. These works are essentially unavailable to the reading public in any form whatsoever. Under present copyright law, the works of C.S. Lewis (which under reasonably law would already be public domain) will not become public domain until 2053 (1963 + 90 years). This is ludicrous and ultimately detrimental. If the same were true of much of Chesterton, we would have no editions of his works available.

Eldred v. Ashcroft seeks to redress the harm done through the continuous extension of copyright law. The original framework provided copyright protection for a total of 34 years. While this seems unfair (that an author's work might leave their control during their lifetime) it is certainly more reasonable than the current 100 years or more.

Being one of those authors who might otherwise be remanded to totally obscurity, I ardently support the effort undertaken by Lawrence Lessig to have this control mechanism overturned.

Next week: Why I would like to try to a distributist featuring mega-book-sellers with staffs who know almost nothing about books. (I once called Borders to ask for a book called "Emerson Among the Eccentrics." The Clerk said "Emerson?" I said, "Yes, as in Ralph Waldo Emerson." The Clerk said, "Is that I-m-m-e-r-s-o-n?" From illiterate booksellers and sour-faced saints, good Lord deliver us.)

Okay--we will now enter the diatribe-free zone. Thank you for listening.

For more cogent, reasoned, and reasonable argument on the same topic see Macaulay on Copyright. The points made therein are as valid today as they were when articulated over 150 years ago.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 05:50 PM | Comments (0)

On Reading Poetry

On Reading Poetry

Mr. Abbot posts something provocative in the comments column of a post below and I thank him both for his generosity of comment and for his deep humility:

I liked the final four lines, but the everything prior to that I'm having a hard time interpreting. Like I said, though, I'm poetically illiterate, so it's probably like a kindergartner trying to solve a high school algebra problem.

And I want to respond first with a profound, and deeply humble, thank you for reading it at all. And then with the following encouragement. The short form is--everyone out there can read any poem there is and appreciate it or not--it is not a reflection on the individual's ability to understand poetry or the on individual. I've had dozens of people scan my site for my insights into "Holy Sonnet 14" and Thomas Hardy's "Total Eclipse." Let me tell you all something--you are all capable of reading these and making them your own. I know your professors don't help you feel confident in this--but take my word for it, you are capable, you needn't share or even believe my insights, as they come from personal experience, not necessarily deep study.

I didn't want to talk about this in the context of the poem involved, because it begins to sound defensive. The point I want to make from this is that our educational system makes people feel poetically illiterate and inept. In truth, poetry is one of the easiest of the writing disciplines to appreciate if you are not concerned with "interpreting" it. Sometimes the images and words are unclear--that is certainly a possibility I must examine in the poem in question as I revise and reconsider, but more often, we are taught to seek what is not necessarily there, to fabricate some web of meaning. T. S. Eliot did us all a serious disservice with "The Waste Land." He stole poetry from the populace and remanded it to the ivory tower.

I am not a poet of the ivory tower school, nor do I particularly relish many such poets. Poetry needs to appeal on a fundamental level--are the images accurate and clean does the language flow? There is no particular skill needed to read a poem. Perhaps you don't immediately absorb all the levels of meaning. But then one wouldn't expect to do so in looking at any text.

Enjoy it first. Listen to the words, read it aloud. I'm not saying my poetry is the best for this. Start with the Keats below and read aloud the Sonnet "To Sleep." Savor the sound of the words and don't worry about interpreting it.

Sometimes things are obscure because they may be too personal. This is likely in the San Antonio Poem--it is a very personal reflection. But poetry IS personal and it is personal both for the poet and for the audience. Even the very best audience cannot make every poem personally their own. Witness my appalling inability to read very many of the moderns. I'm sure even Dylan, who is the among the best of us in the appreciation of poetry, has poets he has difficulty with. This does not mean that the reader is illiterate, merely that not everything speaks to everyone.

But I think my most important advice to anyone reading a poem is--relax. Don't interpret, enjoy. There isn't going to be a quiz. No one is going to cross-examine you to see if you obtained every nuance of meaning. I promise I will not send you an e-mail that asks you if you got the obscure cross reference to a forgotten Irish-Scots expatriate Elizabethan poet in line seven. It doesn't matter if you do. What matters is that you allow yourself the pleasure of enjoying the poetry at the very surface. Swim with it, speak with it, read it aloud. If it has a message for you, listen. If not, don't worry, not everything will.

Edgar Allan Poe is one of my guilty pleasures. I don't know if any of his poetry has any meaning whatsoever outside of the surface of the poem. But when I read something like "The Bells" with a refrain similar to this from the first section:

from "The Bells" Edgar Allan Poe Keeping time, time, time, In a sort of Runic rhyme, To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells From the bells, bells, bells, bells, Bells, bells, bells- From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

I find that I want to say it, sing it, shout it, play with it. Does it have any great meaning? Perhaps, but even so, so what? Revel! feast! enjoy! That is what poetry is about. We knew that as children and had it torn out of us by relentless teachers who were desperately trying to impart to us a sense that there is another way to enjoy poetry. Many of us came to learn that way, but it is important to remember neither is better nor worse, poetry should be enjoyable on whatever level you try to read it.

So, my advice to readers. Don't worry about interpretation. If you love a poem you will read it and reread it and reread it and it will come to have meaning after meaning after meaning based on your experience of it and your experience of the truths that it tells.

Do we understand every nuance of Psalm 23--I doubt it. But as we have grown, our understanding of it has changed from something like a word-picture (when we were little children) to something portending great comfort and great support.

So, I appreciate the compliment of a good soul reading my poetry and struggling with levels of meaning, but please don't trouble yourself with that. Enjoy the word-picture first, if it appeals, read it again, and accept whatever meaning it may have for you. If it doesn't appeal, if the picture doesn't make sense, don't attribute it to your own deficiencies as a reader, but understand that sometimes communication is imperfect. Poets are imperfect and the poetic craft is such that not every poem is meant for every ear or heart. That is okay. Remember, you probably like some Psalms a great deal more than you like others. Even the grandest poetry inspired by God cannot appeal to every person at every point in life's journey. Please believe me when I say I am not one of the great intellects in the world, anything I write is accessible to nearly everyone, and everyone is welcome. I don't anticipate that all poems will appeal to everyone. Dylan has an extraordinarily broad range of tolerance, appreciating poetry that I find, to put it politely, not to my taste. But in reading what he has posted, I begin to understand that part of my deficiency in taste is a reaction people who wanted me to interpret and "get something out of" the poem, to poseurs who read certain kinds of poetry because it was de rigeur in the prevelant intellectual atmosphere. This is simply the wrong approach. Take heart everyone, poetry really is open to you all, and as you read more and simply move with its rhythms and enjoy its language. You will discover that your ability to read it vastly increases. You may never be one of the foremost poetry critics of the world, but you will find that poetry present a pleasant little occupation for a still moment. After all, you needn't spend the time on a poem that you spend on a novel!

My last word--ENJOY!!!

Posted by Steven Riddle at 05:03 PM | Comments (0)

Coming Soon to a Blog

Coming Soon to a Blog Near You:

I had hoped to blog at lunchtime. Too much time spent eating and chatting--so, this evening when more time abounds--Lawrence Lessig (have to have time for this as the cause is so close to my heart) and "Judge not lest yet be judged."

Posted by Steven Riddle at 12:57 PM | Comments (0)

One Last, More Serious Poem

One Last, More Serious Poem

Okay, here's one last orignially unfinished poem that decided it was actually finished after all. I had three more lines that trailed off into oblivion, but upon reflection, the poem called itself complete as I present it below.

Impression: San Antonio
Steven Riddle

From a perch in Hill Country my fake-adobe cell
opens onto iron grillwork of a ledge, not a balcony,
that hangs tightly over a handsbreadth
of green and flowers. "Just press here. Some folks seen
a wasp's nest and called and we come right out and
take care of it." I thank him and pass a small
baton of green and see him out. A wasp's nest--
I'm thinking now how did I happen to be here--all
the way across the river and the wide expanse
of plain from where my heart cries out to be,
here in the city that sat at the crossroads of
a history--reduced now to a swarming black sea
of twisted, braided byways. As I look
into the distance
will the church that once transformed a world
loom up and fill the horizon? Or will the waste
of plastic malls and all-the-same eateries mold
this landscape into unhallowed ground.

©2002 Steven Riddle

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:25 AM | Comments (0)

Lest You Come to Admire

Lest You Come to Admire My Art too Greatly

For those who stand in awe of poets because of what they do--here's something to lower your estimation. I suppose we can refer to this as "daily doggerel."

Nessie Steven Riddle (upon reading that an Italian geologist "solved" the mystery of the Loch Ness monster)

The Loch Ness Monster
appears with a shake,
so we must dismiss it
as an earthquake.

The Latin is clear,
what Columba fought
shouldn't be feared
and shouldn't be thought

of as monster
at all, but a roll
and a shudder,
a shifting of Earth.

Thus dies a mystery,
without a fight,
we undo all history
and put out all light.

©2002 Steven Riddle

Even Dylan, with all his grace and aplomb will find it extraordinarily difficult to find anything redeeming in this poem. If you are all a very polite audience, I will not try your patience with my other little spectacular piece "Evolution." Although, because I'm feeling mean, I will share the following untitled "poem" written to my Grandmother.

Untitled Steven Riddle to my Grandmother, on her birthday

The day you were born
was the happiest day of my life,
for without you,
my father would have no wife.

©2002 Steven Riddle

There, that should take care of your esteem for poets for a while!

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:12 AM | Comments (0)

Foreknowledge and Predestination I have

Foreknowledge and Predestination

I have always wondered about predestination. In certain translations of the Bible there is no question that some verse indicate that we are "predestined." And how does predestination fit in with free will. If we are truly predestined in the way humans must understand this, then free will is a farce and not worthy of further consideration.

It seems to me that predestination is actually an open-ended path. Think of it this way. God knows all things. He knows all the possibilities of all things. Our lives are often a series of branching choices. Each of those choices leads to a predestined end. At the end of each choice are more choices, and so forth. Like a master chess player, God sees the end of all moves and knows all the possibilities. There is a predestined end for those whose choices are always self-centered and largely unthinking, equally there is a predestined end for those who have God at the center of all the choices. God knows all the paths we will take and so He knows ultimately whether or not we will come to Him. (I would also favor with a God of mercy and justice that the paths may be ever so slightly rigged in His favor). Thus we are predestined in the sense that every outcome is known, but we are not predestined in the sense that ever choice has been made in advance. Our choices do make a difference and they do shape the paths of our lives in ways already known.

Each time we opt for closeness to God, the paths tend to lead us further in the same direction. In this sense we can begin to understand the claim "Once saved, always saved." It isn't true, as Paul tells us when he says that he "is working out my salvation in fear and trembling." However, it certainly appears to be the way things happened. Once we make a choice for Christ it is more probable that our next choice will also be made for Christ and so forth.

Do not let that lull you. Choices can be made, and are made all the time, that lead away from Jesus. We can and do sin. Each sin is a choice made against the paths God would have us follow, and each sin draws us further away from that path that stays closest to God. You can fall away--many have. Even so, we are assured that the good shepherd will leave the ninety-nine to go and seek the one. It is through these life choices and paths that we are sought. Even on the paths totally lost in dissolution and darkness, we can choose to move back toward God. They may not be dramatic choices at each step, but getting out of the eddies at the bank and back into waters that lead to the deeper channels is a choice made in the right direction.

God knows our lives, He knows their shape. He allows us a shape that does not conform to Him, and yet conforms perfectly to the shape of all other lives. He also allows us a shape that is in close, if not perfect conformity to Him. We choose, spiritual laws direct. God knows us, and His knowledge is judgment and mercy. He is a good father who, refrains as long as He can from discipline, hoping that the discipline will come from within. But sometimes the precipitous decline of our fortunes is the chastening required to hurry us back to the right path.

Thus the twenty-third psalm can be called the "Psalm of Predestination" for those who heed its advice and who choose to follow the shepherd. "He leadeth me in right paths for His name's sake." Those paths, the paths of foreknowledge and predestination, always converge in the throne room of our Lord. The Shepherd cannot lead us wrong, we can only stray from His guidance.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:02 AM | Comments (0)

September 22, 2002

Bending the Knee?" I loved

Bending the Knee?"

I loved this blog by Father Jim Tucker-- partially because I have borrowed some of my gestures from the true beauty of the Byzantine rite and then spend most of my time being incensed if someone kneels before the right syllable is pronounced. And partially because if I ask six Catholics what you are supposed to do, I often get a plethora of possibilities. No wonder so many are doing so many different things.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 05:20 PM | Comments (0)

Amy Welborn's Book of Saints

Amy Welborn's Book of Saints

I just wanted to share with everyone a brief review of a very nice book I just came by St. Blog's own Ms. Welborn, who has a number of these (I think) published by Loyola press. The one I have is a hardbound book called Book of Saints. It is a very nicely written book for, I imagine, the middle school to perhaps early high-school crowd. Readability does not strike me as high, so home-schooled fourth and fifth graders may be able to get a good deal from reading it. After a general introduction, Ms. Welborn produces some short lives of saints. They are divided into categories designed to be high interest and motivate reading. For example, "Saints are people who surprise others" includes St. Simeon Stylites, St. Celestine V, St. Joan of Arc, and St. Catherine of Siena. "Saints are people who create" includes St. Hildegard of Bingen and St. John of the Cross among others. There are 15 such categories with 4-6 saints in each category making for a total of about 66 saints covered--some aggregates, such as the Martyrs of Compèigne.

The writing is eloquent and simple without being condescending. Each biography starts with an "interest grabber" to encourage the child to read on. Each ends with a very brief summary statement that wraps up the point of the small biography presented. The biographies themselves run no more than 4-5 pages, making them suitable for all readers. I can see a myriad of interesting religion lessons coming from books so well constructed. The writing itself suggests a number of different creative writing and expository writing assignments. For example, within a cluster, it would be interesting to choose two of your favorites and compare and contrast their lives. What does this tell you about God's grace in the lives of saints.

For those of you with school-age children at home, you would do well to consider such marvelous books as gifts. God-fathers and God-mothers these would make excellent presents for any occasion.

I hope and pray Ms. Welborn continues the wonderful work that I see in these books. Normally, I don't plug things, but given that this is one of our own parishioners, and on her blogsite she doesn't seem to do a lot of self promotion--or else it gets lost in the commotion, I thought I'd give you an outsider's point of view.

One thing I would suggest for future editions, companion books, or similar books (and it may already be available) are lesson plans including writing possibilities, strengthening reading comprehension, and other craft and art related lessons that could be derived from these short biographies.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 04:58 PM | Comments (0)

Update on Prayer Request Well,

Update on Prayer Request

Well, the family I mentioned some time ago finally got word, and they will be moving to the Northern Virginia area. I thank you all for praying thus far and ask for your continued prayers. The previous post got a few volunteers to help out with advice, etc. If you could consider assisting, largely with advice and info it would be very helpful, please comment below, or send me an e-mail with whatever contact information you are willing to share. This is likely to be a long trial as the family consists of five children in addition to the parents and Mom is likely to be left at home for some time as initial things are worked out on the NoVA end. So please continue your prayers. Thanks so much!

Posted by Steven Riddle at 04:45 PM | Comments (0)

We're All Individuals Important Update:A

We're All Individuals
Important Update:A correspondent pointed out an error in the blog below--St. Catherine of Siena is not a contemporary of Sts. Aquinas, Albert, and Bonaventure. My apologies to all and my thanks to the person who caught my error.

I know that Monty Python, most particularly Life of Brian is regarded with some horror in Christian circles, and perhaps some of that is warranted. However, what Monty Python most successfully skewered in their very sharp satire was not Christianity, but certain kinds of Christians and society in general.

There is a moment in the film when Brian is lecturing the crowd. He says to them "We're all individuals." The crowd intones back "We're all individuals," except for one lone voice that says, "I'm not." I love this because it is the story of America in so many ways. We are the rugged individualists, each making our own way through the wilderness, each forging a path through whatever is the new frontier (Frederick Jackson Turner is probably terribly outmoded at this point, but early in history, he may have had a number of valid points.). I doubt this was ever true. There have always been isolated individuals--Daniel Boones who did their own thing. However, these truly were the "I'm not" part of the crowd. Frontier life in fact demanded a certain conformity for the sake of safety. There may have been rugged individualism, but it was an individualism en masse. Which is why I don't find the lack of individualism today surprising, even though I do find it lamentable.

Continuing on some of the thoughts of Stephen Carter (earlier post) and Dylan's eloquent panegyric ici. Now I talk about one of the root causes of the problem and how Christianity addresses or fails to address it.

The lack of ability to break away from what others are doing, to set your own standards and adhere to them, to be something different and hold your ground, is a defining characteristic of modern American individualism. We are individual Goths, who all are completely different--their piercings, black clothing, taste in music, moribund attitude toward life being the defining individualism. We're angry brothers, or we're Angry privileged white middle class kids. This I have never understood. I can understand some of the anger simmering and seething out of some forms of rap and other music, but what do privileged, upper middle class, silver-spoon-in-the-mouth, spring-break-in-Cancun kids have to do with this anger and this culture. In what way are they disenfranchised? No Mercedes? I don't understand. But I also don't understand the reluctance to stand tall on your own. There are remarkably few Alan Keyes and Stephen L. Carters. When an African American makes it to the Supreme Court and stands on his conservative rulings he is immediately an "Uncle Tom." I'm not part of those most affected, so I suppose I cannot understand the problem "from the inside" as it were.

The problem is that we are all individuals, and not a single one of us wants to step out in any significant way. Now, I understand not wanting to bring attention to yourself, and I'm not suggesting that it is a good idea to do so. However, Christianity, the way Jesus would have it, doesn't allow us the luxury of being like everyone else in a culture of death--it simply isn't an option. Moreover, if we are to live our Christian life to the fullest, we have no choice but to be who we are in Christ, and that will always call us to stand out from the crowd--even a crowd of Christians. Our unique identities in Jesus makes each of us stellar and a leading light in a different way. Proof? Look at the saints. Look at saints who were very close in proximity and time--Didn't St. Albert, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Bonaventure teach at the same university? Didn't St. Catherine of Siena wander through Europe at about the same time? What, besides a deep and abiding love of Christ do these saints have in common? Almost nothing. What woman in her right mind wandered through Europe virtually alone in the 13th century?

Christianity, properly practiced is not the religion of sheep, even though we are all part of the flock. Christianity does not allow us a moment of conformity, but constantly calls us to challenge society and even individuals in the deep way that Jesus Christ did when He was among us. We are called to question and correct in love. We are called to challenge each other to grow and to leave behind our pet prejudices and beliefs. We are called to preach Jesus Christ, if not in words, in our lives, in our actions, and most of all in the love we show our wayward, and terribly conformist brothers.

Anyone who has had army training knows that an Army is trained to march out of step over a bridge because all of those feet moving in the same rhythm could potentially set up a resonance that would destroy the bridge and send everyone "into the drink." Our conformist society is busy crossing the bridge of civilization--without a few stalwarts to disturb the rhythm of all of those lockstep "individuals" we stand in great danger of losing it all.

But we must remember, God is all merciful, all kind, all loving, all compassionate, and He is constantly with us--if we only pay attention. And in paying attention to God we cannot help but be different from all of those around us. So our Salvation lies in Jesus Christ, in the still, small voice that replies to the claim, "We're all Individuals," with a squeaky, "I'm not!" We don't need to push our individuality in Christ into people's faces, but we do have to live it out faithfully and continue our constant striving in prayer for Union with God.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 04:28 PM | Comments (0)

Another Very Old Poem

This one needs some work about the edges, but I like the central image--I need to rethink certain aspects of how it is handled and have been questioned as to whether it might not be too esoteric.

Bubble Chamber
Steven Riddle

Golden Alpha skater
inscribes arcs in ice
chills steel
to cut sunlight.

Six straight lines
around a central hub
perfectly skated
forward and back.

Alpha stops
to admire his work,
sees a spiral that
worms away from the center.

Six straight lines
perfectly skated, forward and back--
a spiral inscribed
that was never skated.

c 2002 Steven Riddle

Yes, you can see bristling from the edges all of the imperfections; nevertheless, the central image is intriguing. For the central image always struck me as an instance of God's handwriting--clues for those looking that ultimately, when you had explained everything, there would remain things that could not be explained. Just as Gödel's theorem hints at a larger realtiy, so too this image.

For those who don't know, Gödel's theorem proves mathematically that within any closed system there are theorems that can be proposed but cannot be proven by the elements of the system. Ultimately, that there are things that simply cannot be known. It is a daring, intriguing, and fascinating theorem. Every time I think about it or study it, it becomes more and more suggestive. Some have posited it as a "proof" of faith or of God. It is nothing of the sort, of course, although it hints at a metasystem in which all closed systems operate, and thus an operation of an ultimately open system. But, that is perhaps drawing too much even from such a rich stream.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:27 AM | Comments (0)

Stephen L. Carter Many of

Stephen L. Carter

Many of you may already be aware of the excellent work of Stephen L. Carter. I have long admired his nonfiction and his incisive intellect. I find, more often than not, that I agree with him entirely. I recently received a copy of his novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park from the library and expected him not to be quite so successful in fiction. I'm pleased to say that I am probably wrong there as well.

But what I want to share are some of his nonfiction.

from God's Name in Vain Stephen L. Carter

Ah, how depressingly common the refrain--even when, as in this case, those speaking in a religious voice were careful to be prophetic rather than coercive. The Vatican paper did not call for a new state regulatory regime to force advertising agencies to do the right thing. It did not demand a boycott or threaten litigation. The report tried instead, in the manner of the great prophets, to persuade the executives themselves to do the right thing. But the cultural wall of separation between religion and morality is often higher than the constitutional wall of separation between church and state. Even the prophetic voice, it turns out , is often dishonored, treated as though it should be ignored simply because it is religious. Our culture is so awash in self-seeking and self-fulfillment and simple selfishness that the merest suggestion of voluntary self-restraint is viewed as an interference with individual freedom. . . the freedom, that is, to hear no contrary moral argument. Maybe advertising agencies, like abortion clinics, should be entitled to the physical protection of special zone designed to prevent those who believe they are speaking the Lord's words from getting too close to those who do not want to listen.
(p. 111)

But American culture nowadays demands as much of our time as it can get. And, by allowing us all less time, our culture is beginning to devalue the very act that make us humans unique in the animal kingdom. I refer to thinking itself. We devalue thinking. Not thought--not intelligence-- but thinking. (p. 117)

"The mere suggestion of self-restraint is viewed as an interference with individual freedom." Lines like this ring like prophetic and deeply true indictments of American culture. While freedom is precious above a great many things, its corruption--license--drains the value of freedom. We are no longer a free society by a licentious society. We are offended if someone suggests that we might want to keep the pornographic magazines behind the counter. We begin to fly into a tizzy if anyone makes the suggestion that some things need not be said, and certainly should not be shared. We leap upon the first amendment guarantee of free speech as though it came from God Himself.

Freedom of speech is important, as is freedom of conscience. But perhaps more important is freedom of the intellect that guides the former--freedom from the constraints of societal pressures to mold it in ways that cause individual expression to be the highest good. We have in the recent past been exposed at various blogs to tales of people who have said things that once fed the fires of the holocaust they seek to reimage.

All of this supports the second post. People are not taught nor are they encouraged to think. What we call critical thinking is a series of tricks for parsing language and inferring what the questioner really wants to hear. We do not wish to think. We most especially do not wish to think if we are likely to be lead away from the flock. Thinking stands to separate us from others who may think differently and reach different conclusions. This is what we fear. But if we were to spend a moment considering the matter, we would also conclude that thinking is all that allows us to build bridges between those differences. Thinking allows us to dismiss prejudice and to see through some of the surface. Thinking allows us to discern the proper direction to go. Thinking, Divine Reason, is given us as a gift, a grace, and a guide. Learning the proper employment of such a faculty is of critical importance to the person who would follow Christ and lead others to Him. It is not the most important thing, but it is important and not to be neglected. However, we fear thinking. We fear ridicule. We fear arriving at a conclusion that would force us to take action that would make us different from others.

But more critically, as a society we have been made lazy. Thinking requires effort and it may require a momentary silence of the din, exterior and interior. Concluding a train of thought requires an effort of will. Thinking also requires that we rely heavily upon Grace. We all have the ability to do it, but too often we dredge up past arguments, meager slat-and-stile fences as a bulwark against change. But thinking, deep thinking, careful consider is an incredibly important activity that too often we refuse to engage in.

Mr. Carter's books are most wonderful because they challenge one to think. They seek to fill the deeply rutted paths into which we have sunk and to show that there are new and good places to go--places that are not threatening, but enlightening and a source of hope for people who have long been abandoned. Thinking is not our salvation, but it is one of the gifts we have been given, and one which we are expected to use. Remember the parable of the talents, and start to consider what you will respond when God asks what you have done with your marvelous gift of intellect.

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

We Skip to the Romantics

We Skip to the Romantics

For this poem by Keats:

To Sleep John Keats

O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
Shutting, with careful fingers and benign,
Our gloom-pleas'd eyes, embower'd from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close
In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes,
Or wait the "Amen," ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities.
Then save me, or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes,--
Save me from curious Conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed Casket of my Soul.

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