September 26, 2003


Interview Questions graciously offered by Jay of

Flos Carmeli Questions
1) As you eloquently stated in Gross Incivility, “every story is told from a point of view”; What is your personal ‘point of view’?
My point of view is that of humble pilgrim who has been wrong much more than he has been right. So I know full well that it is possible in good will to hold very bad and incorrect notions of the ways things are and should be. I write as a father who waited a very long time to become a father and who is delighted with that grace perhaps more than anything in my life. I write as one who has no real home here and no place that I really call my own. My point of view is that of deliberate outcast, involuntary participant in much of the madness of society and one who wishes more than anything else to truly make present the reality of the love God has for each person.

2) You blog seems to focus a great deal on spirituality. Who has had the greatest impact on your personality spiritual journey (besides the Trinity)?

This is a surprisingly difficult question. I think the answer might be St. Paul. Every other saint or spiritual writer I have read has been a kind of footnote to the revelations Paul granted us about the working of God's grace and the necessity of prayer. When I read St. John of the Cross, St. Thérèse, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Louis de Montfort, any Saint postdating Paul, I hear his words echoing and reechoing. While doctrine has become broader and more nuanced, it seems that everything is present inthose epistles Paul wrote. And a close runner-up is St. John of the wonderful Gospel, and the Letters--again, whatever has been said about God's love, was said there first--it seems. (Oh, and I really like St. James, possibly because Luther had so little liking for him.)

3) Can you explain more fully the lay Carmelite order for those of us with lesser knowledge (I’m a convert also, so I have some claim to ‘ignorance’)?

A lay Carmelite is a member of the Carmelite order who has pledged to live out the Carmelite vocation in ordinary life. We follow a seperate rule, tailored for people who have families and workaday concerns, but we share in the spirituality and the gifts of Carmelite Spirituality. Any Catholic in good standing eighteen years of age or older may become a member of the Carmelites, eitehr OCDS (discalced or reformed Carmelites--St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila) or T. O. Carm. (Carmelites of the Ancient Observance--most prominently St. Mary Magadalene da Pazzi).

4) How does a Palentologist with an interest in fractals and chaos know so much about poetry and Catholic literature?

When I first went to college, I went with no idea of what I was doing there except collecting degrees and learning. So I received a Bachelor of Arts in English, studied for an MFA in poetry, a Bachelor of Science in Geology and went on to graduate school to continue study in Geology, Medieval and Renaissance Literature, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and seventeenth Century Poetry. Ultimately unable to make up my mind I did my PhD work on "Non-linear dynamics and the periodicity of extinctions with a consideration of Silurian Reef Paleoecology." My master's thesis was on "The Functional Morphology of the Platycrinitid Stem." I've published a number of papers on crinoid functional morphology and delivered a number of talks on the question of the proper analysis of the supposed peridocity of extinctions observed in the fossil record.

5) Who would you like to see as the next Pope (I couldn’t resist)?

I can only say that I am enormously relieved this question is one that I need deal with only in theory. I would like to see as the next Pope a man informed by the teaching of the Church who heeds the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I would like to see a person who has the courage of his convictions, rightly formed, in the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church. I would like to see a man who does not have as part of his agenda the "reformation" of the Church according to a modernist/postmodernist agenda. In short, I would like to see as Pope the man whom God will give us, who will guide, nuture, and protect the Church against the onslaught of the world and who will speak boldly and stridently against the present evils of the world.

In accord with the agreement made in answering these questions, I offer to interview anyone who cares to ask. E-mail me or leave a note in the comments box, and I will happily try to think of five reasonable quesitons to send to you. (Or unreasonable questions. I have been known to ask interviewees their favorite read-aloud for children with reasons why.)

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A Report from the Front Lines

Start here and scroll up for a detailed report on the Virginia "Community Meeting" of Episcopalians. It is moving and eye-opening.

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On Miracles and Simplicity

In this passage, Mr. Longenecker makes some incisive and interesting points:

from St. Benedict and St. Thérèse: The Little Rule and the Little Way
Dwight Longenecker

To speak plainly, the main problem for sophisticated people is not that miracles are incredible, but that they are an error in taste. To profess belief in miracles takes one perilously close to faith healers, the souvenir stalls of Lourdes, and lurid pictures of Jesus with googly eyes. There is a breed of spiritually minded people who reduce Christianity to the highest form of aesthetics. Beauty us to Truth, but beauty without truth is false, and that which is false and beautiful does not remain beautiful for very long. If the faith is no more than a pretty face, then the aesthetes are also atheists. Since miracles are an error in taste, it is far more subversive and therefore far more Christian to accept the miracles. It's also much more fun--rather like wearing a hideous hat on purpose.

If Benedict's biography gives the sophisticated soul miracles to stumble over, Thérèse's story gives tasteful grown-ups an even bigger obstacle. To find Thérèse, the modern soul has to climb over the stumbling block of her style. We modern-day pilgrims are presented with a nineteenth-century teenage nun with a pretty smile and schoolgirl enthusiasms. She speaks in language that seems archaic and sickly sweet. Among other sentimental touches she calls herself a little flower of Jesus and a little ball for the child Jesus to play with. She thinks God is her "Papa" and likens herself to a bowl of milk that kittens come to drink from. It's easy to turn away such greeting-card spirituality in distaste, but this is precisely the first test. Thérèse swamps tasteful people with sentimentality and sweetness, and only when they survive the taste test can they begin to appreciate her wisdom. She is one of the best examples of the secret Catholic truth that says the tasteful cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. (p. 46-47)

There is so much more profound and interesting insight on these pages that I must encourage you all to get the book if you can. This passage continues and says many wonderful and remarkable things about the style and what Thérèse was and what she was trying to do.

I think style is the biggest complaint I hear about Thérèse; how people can't push themselves through the sticky images and the sweetness and light. And I sympathize--greatly. Up until the magisterial translation offered by the ICS, I had similar feelings. The Beevers translation and earlier works were just dreadful and incredibly off-putting. I couldn't find any spirituality for all the treacle. When the Carmelite Group proposed reading this piece of school-girl drivel I just about went mad (although, truth to tell, I was instrumental in proposing it.) But when I read it, and really searched it to find out what the Church saw here, I was truly astonished at the depths that opened up before me. What was school-girl drivel suddenly became something else entirely. I can't explain it. All I can say is that this person who prizes above much else elegance of language and expression, sophistication of writing and idea suddenly discovered the elegance of saying precisely what was right for the person who was writing. It opened a door to riches beyond imagination. From saccharine schoolgirl, my image of Thérèse transmuted into Great Saint, perhaps one of the very greatest of Saints--a true Doctor in the sense of conveying in language anyone who wished to could understand profound truths about prayer and our relationship with God.

And in fact, I think Longenecker has hit upon a key point. Entry to Thérèse means submitting with great humility to the fact that a teenaged "silly" schoolgirl has something profound and life-altering to teach those of us who have been in the world approaching twice as long. Surely this babe in the woods could not know anything we have not already learned. And the barrier that demonstrates approach with proper humility is the ability to get past the language and the image. Until then, you are not really permitted a glance at the profound wisdom and truth that is offered through the writings of this unlikely nun.

Thérèse presents more than anything else a challenge to our sensibilities and our aesthetics, a challenge that offers a small taste of the meaning of detachment. We must detach from our own preferences, our own sense of style, our own love of the high language and great art of many of the other saints, and accept a story-book saint--flat, wooden, and girlish. And as in some fairy-tale story, when we do so, she comes alive and tells us truths that will change our lives and our relationship with God.

(Oh--one additional tip for the hopelessly stymied--for whatever reason, all of this that is so off-putting in English, is greatly subdued if you read it in French--this discipline is finally what allowed me to enter the door and sit for a while at this great teacher's feet. Praise God!)

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What I Like About MT

I had been asked to comment on the move after I had some time to get used to the features.

There are two important things to think about in the move: (1) Do I want to go through the work? (2) Is it worth it?

I should state at the start that I have no animus toward Blogger or Blogspot. Every server has outages from time to time and glitches in functioning. Considering the huge number of users and amount of traffic that the blogspot servers receive, I'd say that it's remarkable that so little goes wrong.

However, when you're with Blogspot, you have to sign up for endless add ons to make things work as you wish. You've got to go somewhere special for RSS feed, you have to add on a commenting service (if you wish comments) and you need to add on a traffic counter. (Something you also need to do on MT if you aren't running your own server.)

The advantages of MT are manifold. You can edit multiple entries at a time, you can categorize, you can display your archive in any number of ways. The style sheets and templates seem easier to parse so you can change styles pretty much as you wish. You have trackback ability and pinging of entries.

I had long looked with great desire at the cateloging function available on MT--it is every bit as wonderful as I had hoped, and the ability for me to view my archives by category is beyond mere dreams wonderful. I am slowly (very slowly) cataloging each entry (I transported over something like 1680). But the value of this function made the move worthwhile for me.

So ultimately I'm at MT for the greater control it gives me over my materials and what I am doing. I really like MT now that I'm used to it and think that there are benefits that everyone would enjoy. The editing seems simpler, the interface as clean, the possibilities greater. I don't use many of the possibilities because I find some of them aggravating to read--for example, I don't excerpt my entries. It would probably be an advantage to readers were I to do so, but just as I hate news stories continued elsewhere, I'm rarely inclined to load another page to finish reading an item. It's just me. But that option does exist on MT.

All in all, I would say that I am ecstatically happy with MT and would recommend it to all who need the power. If you've been doing blogger for some time now and are content with its features, there is really no need to go to MT. In fact, but for the cataloging features, I would probably still be with blogger. And with ultra blogger, it may be possible to add those on.

Anyway, MT is very, very nice and is a lovely place to be.

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September 25, 2003

Exhibit Opening

This evening I get to attend the Grand Opening of the Exhibit for which I have written most of the text. (You know, the little plaques you read as you go along.) It was a wonderful and aggravating experience and I learned a great deal more than I ever cared to know about certain aspects of flight. (The great Bernoulli v. Newton debate, reciprocating v. impact (reaction) engines, and other such.)

So now I get to go to the grand opening and hobnob with the Mayor and all the glitterati (if the burg in which I live actually has such.) I'll be sure to report tomorrow. (If it's interesting--i.e. don't expect much of a report.)

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Another Entry from Our To-Be Catholic Friend

Some remarkable insights and very strong points here:

from an Essay by David Warren

It is no conspiracy: prejudice against Catholics is as widespread today as it ever was; people want to hear bad things about this church, especially; and want to believe the worst about its celibate priests. My e-mail inbox sags under the e-weight of anti-Catholic e-spittle -- people making remarks quite casually which, if the word "Catholic" were replaced with the word "Muslim", or "Jew", might qualify for public prosecution. For many "liberal" people today, including many liberal Catholics, the traditional and faithful Catholics are a special tribe beneath human dignity.

This does not extenuate all those priests who did evil things, and hurt Christ in hurting his children. Human nature is darkly sinful, and in the proximity of Grace are found the greatest temptations.

This, after all, has been what the Catholic Church has taught, through 20 centuries. It is a church which can hardly be surprised by the presence of evil, both without and within its ranks. Yet it is a mark of the true Church, that when she fails she is singled out for special treatment. In that sense, even if they do it from the bad motive of anti-Catholic prejudice, people are right to hold the Catholic Church to higher standards. And we must take their spittle in good grace.

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You Should Be Reading Him

If you are not read this refugee from the calamity of the Episcopal Church, you should be. There is much food for thought:

from an Essay by David Warren

The nonsense most now believe about such legal abstractions as "equality" perfectly illustrates the case. The fiction, for instance, that "same-sex marriage" could be instituted as an "equality issue", can only be spread among people deprived of the intellectual equipment to resist it. For a person of average intelligence, and an old-fashioned grade school education, the idea could never fly: for the institution of marriage has had, from its beginnings in prehistory, nothing to do with equality of any kind.

Let us pray for him as he crosses the Tiber and for all our Episcopalian brothers and sisters who now face the loss of something that has long been precious to them. Perhaps it is awakening from sleep, but it is a most painful awakening--rather like the loss of one's mother.

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From the Anchoresses Rule

from Ordinary Graces
edited by Lorraine Kisly

The Anchoresses Rule--c. 1220, England

The swine of gluttony has piglets with these names. Too Early is the name of the first, the next Too Fastidiously, the third, Too Freely; the fourth is called Too Much, the fifth Too Often. These piglets are more often born through drink than food.

I talk about them only briefly, because I have no fear that you feed them.

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From St. John Climacus

The next couple of entries concern "the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak.

from Ordinary Graces
edited by Lorraine Kisly

St. John Climacus

When he is angry he gets bitter, and then his bitterness makes him angry, so having suffered one defeat he fails to notice that he has suffered another. He gorges himself, is sorry, and a little later is at it again. He blesses silence and cannot stop talking about it. He teaches meekness and frequently gets angry while he is taching it. Having come to his senses, he sighs and shaking his head embraces his passion once more. He denounces laughter and while lecturing on mourning is all smiles. In front of others he criticizes himself for being vainglorious, and in making the admission he is looking for glory.

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Praise the Lord!

And thank you all for the prayers. Everything went very smoothly and it looks like there will be smooth sailing for a while. I can't tell you how much your prayers helped to make a very difficult situation much easier to navigate. Thank you.

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September 24, 2003

A Particularly Difficult Trial Tomorrow

I ask everyone's prayers as my family goes through a particularly difficult trial tomorrow. Thanks.

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The Power of Words

In the Boltzmann entry below I mentioned the Tacoma Narrows Bridge disaster. Did I pause to mention it's cause?

Wind. Yes--one of the great structures of contrete and steel was laid low not by the powerful winds of a tornado or a hurricane, but by ordinary gusts channeled throught the neck of the narrows at the right frequency.

Wind--words. As the ordinary wind has this power, so too do the words we choose to say. We can "make" someone's day, equally we can "break" it simply by what we choose to let out of our mouths.

And the scariest part of all of this is that Jesus tells us that it isn't what goes into a person that makes him unclean, but what comes out of the fullness of his heart. And this is why words are so important, so powerful, and so much in need of careful examination and studious consideration. Nothing should leave our lips, ever, that we have cause to regret. If we are uncertain what to say, the best course is to say nothing at all. James warns us that we shall be called to account for every idle word. He does not say that we shall be called to account for those that grace has given us the strength not to say. Good to confess those, but they have not been unleashed in the whirlwind of words to damage others. We are accountable for the thoughts, but not if we don't brood on them. At most they are an imperfection of our nature--something to be weeded out.

But let's face it. Daily we let loose with a torrent of words that have varying purposes, meanings, and effects. We don't much think about the harm they can do when we make a cutting remark. We don't much consider how our spouses or children might consider not just the word but the tone of what we say.

Words are the human wind that can bring down the Tacoma Narrows bridge. We can choose to gossip and destroy a reputation. We can repeat things that have not been verified and tear a person apart. Because we do not know the strength of the bridge and because we can do nothing about it once the forces are in motion, perhaps we would do better to think carefully about what we have to say--and when it is hurtful to choose not to say it.

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Gross Incivility

I'm often stunned by the gross incivility displayed on both sides of any given debate. This was brought to mind this afternoon by the success of yet another ill-titled, conceivably ill-tempered Al Franken book, pumped up by various media interests to match the insidiously vitriolic and questionable accuracy of Ann Coulter. (She does not miraculously become correct if she happens to express many opinions with which I can agree. I have a bad track record as regards my opinions.) As much as I like to look at Ms. Coulter, I think that being in the same room with her (or with Mr. Franken) would likely be a most unpleasant experience.

Part of this is the human tendency to attribute only the most malign motives to anyone who opposes us. And I think this a mistake. For example, I think it a mistake to attribute malign motives to most people who support a limited right to abortion. They can be wrong and even wrong-headed without any intent to be malign.

It seems to me that the better part of any conversation would be to assume the motive of the conversant is basically driven by good-will. (Mr. da Fiesole has disagreed with me in the past on this, but his reasons did not persuade--it seems the better part of charity to start with the assumption that most people act out of good will or at least with no malignant motive until proven otherwise.) Only in this way may one truly address the issue at hand.

Now this leads to a second assumption, one in which I am more often than not truly disappointed. I assume that two disputants who are talking about a serious issue really seek the truth on the issue. That's not to say that anyone's mind will be changed in a sudden stroke, but rather both are seeking input to modify the worldview accordingly. It may not be input to modify the position they hold, but it may be a deeper understanding of why someone would hold the opposite opinion and what the implications of that may be. In many matters, it is unimportant ("Make it pink, Make it blue.) But in a great many issues to not seek the truth is great folly. However, many people see the ideas they hold as somehow personal possessions, and a challenge to those ideas is a personal affront--an attack on the integrity of the person. I recognize this tendency in myself, and often have to back away to consider what has been said and what it really means to the notions I hold. I take a great deal of time sometimes to assimilate new notions and change my mindset and behavior to accommodate them. It is better to take a short period to cool off and then realize that the idea is not part of the self--to relinquish a bad idea is to strengthen one's Christian armor. Truth is far more important than either my personal opinion or the possibility that I might seem foolish to some. Foolish or not, I need to listen and to try to understand, and to seek God's way--the truth in all things.

And so I know that neither Ms. Coulter (whose previous book I did read, and whose present book I made a stab at but found so full of the pestilence of ill-humor and self-righteousness, not to mention a generous dollop of vitriol, gossip, and acrimony) nor Mr. Franken (ditto, ditto, ditto--and add to it that like many for whom he writes toeing the party line is more important than truth) have much, if anything to say that will enlighten my perpetual darkness.

In fact, why should it surprise anyone that the Right lies or the left lies, or the news is slanted this way or that? It may be dismaying, but as we all learned long ago, every story is told from a point of view--there is no perfect objective point of view in the human realm. That, in part, is what the Fall is about. So why should we be surprised if we find that a reporter has obscured this point or that, or that they have told only half of the story. Anyone willing to believe anything printed in a newspaper or news magazine deserves the world view it is likely to give them.

If we seek the truth, then we should seek it in places where it dwells--in the heart of Jesus Christ, in the center of the Gospel, in the message of the ordinary and universal Magisterium, in the lives of the Saints, in prayer. Seeking the truth beyond these bounds is an endless, fruitless, and ultimately depressing, oppressing, and empty endeavor. Knowledge of truth apart from God is not knowledge at all, but opinion, for in Him resides the fullness of the truth, and all else is inconsequential.

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All Consuming

From Chirp, this link to a site that seems to harvest references to books. Looks like it may be interesting.

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More from Longenecker's Remarkable Study

There are great insights within the book, so many it is impossible to share them all. I thought this excerpt regarding "ordinariness" was especially helpful for those seeking a way.

from St. Benedict and St Thérèse: The Little Rule and the Little Way
Dwight Longenecker

Benedict and Thérèse call ordinary Christians to extraordinary perfection--not by being extraordinarily perfect, but by being perfectly ordinary. Being ordinary means letting go every vestige of snobbery and learning that we are not special after all. Once we grasp this troublesome truth it is easy to make the mistake of thinking that "being ordinary" mean fitting in and becoming "one of the boys." While being ordinary had nothing to do with snobbery it also has nothing to do with being one of the crowd. Snobbery has destroyed many lives through its snooty pride, but the reverse snobbery that will do anything to "fit in" and be part of the hoi polloi is also destructive. It is just as artificial for the aristocrat to affect working-class manners as it is for the social climber to put on an upper-class accent. In that sense, being common is just as false as being uncommon. Being ordinary means being none other than who we are. As a result it is just as possible for a duchess to be as ordinary as a dustman.

Besides noting that Our Sunday Visitor needs a careful copyeditor--the insights to be gained from this passage are enormous. I particularly like the notion of being called to the extraordinary not by extraordinary endeavors but by the perfection of the ordinary. In other words, become who you REALLY are in Christ and you are more than halfway to your goal. Your responsibility is not to perfect the gifts given to others, but those given to you. While I might look on with admiration at some of my very favorites reasoners--John da Fiesole at Disputations, and Mark at Minute Particulars, or with a certain awe at Mothers who want to be and are extraordinary (as there tends to be a raft of blushing among this set, I will not venture names), or any number of other gifts I observe in all my blogland travels--humor, political insight, knowledge of the present state of the world, etc. --I am not called to perfect any of those remarkable talents or virtues. I am called only to recognize those gifts God gave me and to offer them back to Him, well cared for, polished, and in better condition than they came to me.

Too often we deride our own accomplishments and our own endeavors with some sort of apology--either looking for compliments or encouragement, or genuinely reflecting our puzzlement over our own unique constitution. We are, each of us, what we are and that is all we should be, in the sense that we are not called to be other than what we are in Christ. We are called to be perfected in Christ. Anything less does not honor God, it buries the talents He gave us to be returned without interest. However, when we follow our calling in constant prayer and devotion, seeking always to cleave to God's path and not our own, we will, through His grace, return a harvest of souls that we have not been privileged to see--saved and brought to God through our work. Nevertheless, the work of our own perfection must, of necessity affect those around us. In achieving perfection, we drag into the Torrent of His love countless souls whom we may simply have passed in a hallway and smiled at.

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St. Francis de Sales--From a Contemporary

Here's a biography/study of St. Francis de Sales from 1639, approximately 17 years after the Sainted Bishop's death. It looks like a wonderful précis of his thought and spirituality.

An excerpt drawn quickly, at random:

from The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales
Jean Pierre Camus

Distrust of self and confidence in God are the two mystic wings of the dove; that is to say, of the soul which, having learnt to be simple, takes its flight and rests in God, the great and sovereign object of its love, of its flight, and of its repose.

The Spiritual Combat, which is an excellent epitome of the science of salvation and of heavenly teaching, makes these two things, distrust of self and confidence in God, to be, as it were, the introduction to true wisdom: they are, the author tells us, the two feet on which we walk towards it, the two arms with which we embrace it, and the two eyes with which we perceive it.

In proportion to the growth of one of these two in us is the increase of the other; the greater or the less the degree of our self-distrust, the greater or the less the degree of our confidence in God. But whence springs this salutary distrust of self? From the knowledge of our own misery and vileness, of our weakness and impotence, of our malice and levity. And whence proceeds confidence In God? From the knowledge which faith gives us of His infinite goodness, and from our assurance that He is rich in mercy to all those who call upon Him.

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September 23, 2003

Erik's Favorite Demonic Poet

Categorizing posts from previous months, I came upon, this excerpt from Comus that I felt I would bring to your attention again, particularly as Erik has expressed such a fondness for Milton.

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From Kierkegaard--On the Fatherhood of God

"Who hates his neighbor has not the rights of a child." And not only has he no rights as a child, he has no "father". God is not my father in particular, or any man's father (horrible presumption and madness!); no, He is only father in the sense of father of all, and consequently only my father in so far as He is the father of all. When I hate someone or deny God is his father, it is not he who loses, but I: for then I have no father.

... Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

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Ludwig Boltzmann

Ludwig Boltzmann needs no introduction, but I shall give one anyway. He is largely responsible for our theories of molecular motion and for the development of Boltzmann's Constant which helps us to calculate the kinetic energy of translation of gases. (I know, I hated that statics part of physics as well--bear with me, there is an interesting tale.)

Boltzmann was apparently a genius of the first water, and as with many geniuses, his discoveries went largely ignored until after his death. (Depressed by the lack of interaction and comment, he took his own life.)

To the story--it is said that Boltzmann invented a device that could find the harmonic frequency of any object to which it was attached. The story goes that Boltzmann decided to test the device on his own house.

Now for those who don't know, the harmonic frequency is the sound frequency which causes an object to vibrate. The classic example is the opera singer whose voice can shatter crystal. The other classic example with which everyone should become acquainted for its spectacular engineering failure is the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. (Link takes you to a short excerpt, find more here and here.)

Anyway, Boltzmann decided to test the device by placing it on his house. He set the device and left, returning several hours later to a pile of rubble and a device that had been destroyed in the test as well.

Though certainly apocryphal, I find something deeply resonant (pardon the pun) in this story. How many of us determine to test ultimately destructive things using ourselves, our loved ones, or our necessary things as test objects? We barrel headlong into spiritually questionable ventures without a thought as to the consequences. Some tinker with astrology, others with odd spiritualities, still others with "methods" of praying that appear to have little wrong with them, but are capable of spreading the infection of paganism and belief in sympathetic magic. Worse, we sometimes feel we can directly contravene divine will and thousands of years of teaching and put ourselves in the position of near occasions of sin. Humans being what they are, almost always a near occasion will preciptiate the sin itself. Not every time. But a near occasion of sin is a Boltzmann device, and when we choose to place ourselves in it, we set the device on our own houses. The oddest part is that we know full well what the consequences of that choice are likely to be, and yet we do it anyway, "just to see what might happen." Curiousity is a wonderful character trait, but we would do far better not to make a Tacoma-Narrows of our lives.

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Torgny Lindgren Revisited

I'm still reading Light. (I switch off books so often that I don't complete anything all that quickly. Keeps me on my toes and entertained juggling plotlines in my head.) And the more I read the more impressed I am. Lindgren has a near-obssession with the subject of incest as it makes up a main theme in both The Way of a Serpent and Light. I think it's a subset of a larger concern with internal family struggles which most interestingly develops full-blown into Sweetness the story of two brothers who have lived as long as they have because they are kept alive by wanting to see the other one dead. If Mr. Lindgren is an accurate chronicler, Sweden must be a most unpleasant place to live.

I purposefully do not set the context for the piece below, because I think it is what is said here that is important and I don't want to spoil the book for all of you who will rush out to get it because I've said it's a great read. (:-D)

That meant: He was a suicide and they used to bury them out in the forest. It was Borne who would have to do it.

"No one does anything entirely by himself," said Könik, "there's nothing so insignificant that you can do it solely by your own strength."

What that meant even he didn't know.

Nearly every sentence of this tightly constructed book resonates with meanings. Like a simple harmonic, each new iteration of the theme swells the progress of the whole. Remind me to tell you the sory of Boltzmann.

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In the Bag Again

5 works of Art:

Movie: Endless Summer
Book: Grab the shelf of Torgny Lindgren (more later)
Architecture?: Trajan's Column (okay, so it will have to be a big bag--no bigger than the bag that would hold "The Gates of Hell."
Music: Vivaldi: Concerti for Mandolin(s)
Music: Vivaldi: Gloria

That's it for now.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 22, 2003

Times Against Humanity

If you haven't already discovered this wonderful site, please look into it. What I like best about it is that even though it deals with very serious issues, the Blogmeister is a considerate and even effervescent personality who truly enjoys the blog-world and its wonders. His weekly round-up always includes wonderful things to read, and his deep concern for the plight of those exposed to the more hideous aspects of the culture of death is heartening. My thanks to Mr. Appleby

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

Wonderful Reflections from the Blog World

On taking your child to Mass.

And after this my complaints about Samuel's admittedly very minor (5 year old) behaviors are both ludicrous and petty. But then we all have our own matters to contend with. We often attend mass with a family who has a daughter with SID (sensory integration dysfunction) which is along the spectrum of autism. What mom has to go through on a daily basis is grueling, but in the case of this child has achieved nearly miraculous results.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:33 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Know Your Limitations

In blogging, it is important to know your limitations.

I have decided to carefully reconsider the kinds of things that I place here on the blog. I believe I have reasonable standing to comment on literature--some to comment on art, somewhat less to make informed comments on music, and almost none to comment on politics, current events, and odd notions that I cannot even begin to take seriously and which I am utterly mystified that anyone can--i.e. Is God Catholic? (How can one even begin to ask that question? What is this human tendency to put everything in a box and seal it up?)

I can comment on Carmelite Spirituality, even if much of what I say is a view still from the outside looking in. Climbing into any spirituality is the work of a lifetime and perhaps more. And I can comment on some spiritual writing and writers. So I will draw back a little and stay in the realm I am most comfortable and puzzle occasionally over these fads that sweep through the blog-world wondering how anyone with proper formation can reasonably hold some of these ideas.

Most of all, I want to encourage prayer and appreciation of God's beauty as expressed in His creation and in the cocreation of art, literature, and music. I have strayed from this for a while. I am not by nature contentious--I do not need to win, and I do not formulate lengthy and reasonable arguments. I am by nature one who exhorts others to do their very best, and in the course of exhortation learn what it is that IS best. Some need to be the intellectual leaders, some the great and giving heart. For others is the role I assume--cheerleader. I want to encourage everyone in their prayer lives, in their vocations, in loving God. I will challenge an idea or a notion here or there, one that I think ill-considered or ill-founded, but not so much to make an argument as to provoke thought from a different point of view.

No, I'm not a central player and have no real wish to be. I don't know why I do what I do, but I do know that I cannot do otherwise, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so regularly. All writing is a form of prayer--it is my work and the thing I love greatly. It allows me to step out of myself and to learn--because in a very real sense some things do not crystallize in my head until I write about them. And even then not completely. I suppose it's indicative that I love surfing and the beach as much as I do, as I seem to be a very fluid person. My notions are liable to change three times a minute as new points of view and new data become available. That's one of the wonders of the blog-world--so many are so helpful in clearing away the cobwebs.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:00 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 21, 2003

On Vocation

I suppose as long as I am a parent of a young child I shall attend mass in a blur of admonitions. "Look forward." "Please be quiet." "Don't look at that little girl." 'You can pray with us." "Stand up." "Kneel or stand if you want to see Father." "No, Jesus isn't always on that cross." "No you can't have any bread when we go up." "You're not old enouogh. . ."

I think you get the idea. Ask me after most Sunday homilies what the priest said and I'm as like as not to say "Priest? What priest?" Well, it's not that bad, but starting along about the end of the Gospel reading, and really revving up during the time when you most want quiet and most want not to try to tell your child why it is necessary to be quiet, there is a nearly constant stream of whispered instruction and admonition, settling down, and focusing attention. Oh yes, the Eucharistic prayer present the perfect forum for young children to turn to their neighbors and let them know what has been happening in their lives for the past six months.

BUT, presently, that is the small sacrifice I make for the enormous delight of having a young child. I do my best to see to it that he doesn't disturb those around us, and I miss the entire Mass. But, would God rather have it that I left Samuel home? I think not. Is it better to not train up a child in the proper conduct during Mass? Probably not.

So, in loving Samuel and spending the moments to try to let him know what is going on and why it is important for him to pay attention/be quiet/stop provoking the other children around him, I am loving God. I am offering my son a glimpse of the glory everlasting, and I am allowing God a moment to rejoice in the beauty of this wonderful child.

I do feel bad about it often. I think that I should do better, that perhaps something in the daily discpline fails, that perhaps I am not doing the right thing. But so long as it is only me who is distracted and at odds, so long as I can preserve relative peace and not disrupt the entire congregation, I suppose I have done as much as I can. Each child has a different temperament, and there are times when I could wish that Samuel would be more like that quiet child over there, or that one who can sit still for almost thirty seconds at a time. But then he would not be Samuel, would he? And so, I accept the challenge of the moment and pray that the grace of the Mass does not leave me, and that I partake in some share in the community of worship. Nevertheless, there is always the nagging doubt.

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Our Fallen Condition

I spend an awful lot of time wondering why I am so good at not doing what I should. It's not remarkable: Paul said, "I do the things I would not do, I don't do the things I would do and I have no strength in me." What I fail to find amid the consolation of numbers and longevity is the real solution to the problem. Of ourselves, we are capable of so little, and everything is dependent upon grace.

So I come back around to the "little way" and wonder. Perhaps the will is so weak that it is a matter of one thing at a time with th conscious deliberation. Perhaps that is what the little way is about. Little children have many "deficiencies" compared to adults. But one thing that they have to their advantage--when they are focused on something, nothing else in the entire world exists. A common ploy from childrearing books suggests that when your child is focused on the electrical outlets or your version of a Ming vase, the best thing to do is refocus.

Perhaps what I lack is sufficient focus on the moment. My mind is here, there, or somewhere else, and the moment is left to fend for itself as I'm battling the monsters of the future or the past, or indulging in the dreams of grandeur and wealth, or at least the delights of the thought of a new plaything (PDA, PDA).

Perhaps part of the little way is not only to do little things, but to take on the focus of the little child and in the moment that is before us, here and now, to make the right choice, with the help of grace. And these moments, one at a time, ultimately lead to Glory. If each choice is made in obedience to God, then we foster both trust and love of God and we move onward.

The little way sounds so simple. It sounds as though no doctrine at all, but the depths and the subtleties of it are such that I am not certain that we will ever plumb the fullness of it.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 11:24 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack