October 17, 2003

Expect Silence

For the next few days as I consider other things more closely and decide if/when and where this will end.

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A Prayer for Bible Study

Found in Stephen Ray's imposing study St. John's Gospel

A Prayer for Scripture Study from Origen
Lord, inspire us to read your Scriptures and to meditate upon them day and night. We beg you to give us real understanding of what we need, that we in turn may put its precepts into practice. Yet we know that understanding and good intentions are worthless, unless rooted in your graceful love. So we ask that the words of Scriptures may also be not just signs on a page, but channels of grace into our hearts.

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From St. John of the Cross

from The Ascent of Mount Carmel Book II Chapter 22 St. John of the Cross

In giving us, as He has done, His Son, who is his only Word, He has spoken to us once and for all by His own and only Word, and has nothing further to reveal.

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From St. Teresa of the Andes

A lesser-known twentieth century Carmelite saint who, along with Thérèse and Elizabeth of the Trinity died very young.

There are three things we will be judged on: Your blessings to us, our sins and our deeds, accord to what our intention was. Oh, my God, I am not a saint even though You filled me with blessings! Pardon me so I may be a saint from now on. My Mother, make me become a saint!

As to the accuracy of the beginning of the statement, I cannot attest. I am certain that at least those three things will be considered in judgment, and perhaps others of which I am relatively unaware. But it is the later part of the statement that I find most interesting and compelling. "I am not a saint. . ." with the implied "yet." Evidently, recognizing how far one has to go is no barrier to sanctity, holiness, and Sainthood. We all sigh and say, "We aren't saints." And we are all right to the extent that we do no more than sigh or pine. St. Teresa of the Andes shows us the next step. We ask to become His Saints. And when we ask we are prepared to act upon what He offers us in the way of becoming a saint.

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Another Poem--Shelley-Ozymandias

It's good to have a couple of poems--and I'll be away awhile contemplating other things so best to leave you with something to think about:

Percy Bysshe Shelley

            I met a traveller from an antique land,
            Who said -- "two vast and trunkless legs of stone
            Stand in the desert ... near them, on the sand,
            Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
            And wrinkled lips, and sneer of cold command,
            Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
            Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
            The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
            And on the pedestal these words appear:
            My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
            Look on my Works ye Mighty, and despair!
            Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
            Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
            The lone and level sands stretch far away."

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October Poem--Edward Lear--The Jumblies

Unhappily less remembered and recited than "The Owl and the Pussycat" but every bit worthy of the same:

The Jumblies
Edward Lear

They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they went to sea:
In spite of all their friends could say,
On a winter's morn, on a stormy day,
In a Sieve they went to sea!
And when the Sieve turned round and round,
And every one cried, `You'll all be drowned!'
They called aloud, `Our Sieve ain't big,
But we don't care a button! we don't care a fig!
In a Sieve we'll go to sea!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed away in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they sailed so fast,
With only a beautiful pea-green veil
Tied with a riband by way of a sail,
To a small tobacco-pipe mast;
And every one said, who saw them go,
`O won't they be soon upset, you know!
For the sky is dark, and the voyage is long,
And happen what may, it's extremely wrong
In a Sieve to sail so fast!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

The water it soon came in, it did,
The water it soon came in;
So to keep them dry, they wrapped their feet
In a pinky paper all folded neat,
And they fastened it down with a pin.
And they passed the night in a crockery-jar,
And each of them said, `How wise we are!
Though the sky be dark, and the voyage be long,
Yet we never can think we were rash or wrong,
While round in our Sieve we spin!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

And all night long they sailed away;
And when the sun went down,
They whistled and warbled a moony song
To the echoing sound of a coppery gong,
In the shade of the mountains brown.
`O Timballo! How happy we are,
When we live in a Sieve and a crockery-jar,
And all night long in the moonlight pale,
We sail away with a pea-green sail,
In the shade of the mountains brown!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed to the Western Sea, they did,
To a land all covered with trees,
And they bought an Owl, and a useful Cart,
And a pound of Rice, and a Cranberry Tart,
And a hive of silvery Bees.
And they bought a Pig, and some green Jack-daws,
And a lovely Monkey with lollipop paws,
And forty bottles of Ring-Bo-Ree,
And no end of Stilton Cheese.
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

And in twenty years they all came back,
In twenty years or more,
And every one said, `How tall they've grown!
For they've been to the Lakes, and the Torrible Zone,
And the hills of the Chankly Bore!'
And they drank their health, and gave them a feast
Of dumplings made of beautiful yeast;
And every one said, `If we only live,
We too will go to sea in a Sieve,---
To the hills of the Chankly Bore!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:02 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 16, 2003

Working Assumptions

I am not supposing that these assumptions are guidelines for all; however, one must start somewhere:

I will work on the assumption that

(1) those who disagree with me have legitimate reasons even if they are unable to articulate them.

(2) those who disagree with me hold their opinions in good will until further evidence indicates otherwise.

(3) that unless the Church teaches otherwise the Bible means precisely what it says interpreted in accord with the guidance of the Church.

(4) I am not always right.

(5) I have a narrow viewpoint that is not shared by all.

(6) I am not in any position to judge why anyone holds the opinions they do.

(7) the truth is more important than my personal viewpoint or comfort level.

(8) when I am made angry by something, I need to first look within for the source not outside.

(9) I am not the center of the Universe and things are not here for my convenience.

(10) with rights come concomittant responsibilities.

(11) the responsibilities are at least as weighty as the rights.

(12) what I personally dislike need not be made improper, illegal, or unavailable for everyone.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 06:25 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

E-Books For Everyone

H. Rider Haggard Fair Margaret
G.K. Chesterton Alarms and Discursions
John Knox First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (voted most amusing title in a long time)
Erasmus Darwin The Botanic Garden
M.R. James Ghost Stories of an Antiquary--Volume II--Contains the remarkable stories "Casting the Runes" and "Stalls of Barchester Cathedral." James is one of the all-time greats in the genre of stories that are just a bit chilling.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:25 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Encouragement to Relative Newcomers to the Field

Some relative newcomers to the blogging world have been at times dismayed by the lack of response they receive when they discuss spiritual matters. I would point out that of all of the material posted yesterday, what received the greatest comment was a movie review posted on another site. This is the way of things--the movie review had statements that while not necessarily controversial were, at least, arguable. How does one argue with St. Teresa of Avila. Indeed, how does one even adequately comment on the writings of the Great Saints? It is in the application that comment may arise, but the writings themselves--who wants to go up against a Doctor of the Church.

So, be not dismayed if you find a vast and eerie silence around posts that you have worked hard on. The Holy Spirit will guide them to work where they will and if you were listening to Him, they will not go unheeded--you just might not be privy to the good that they do. And so it is--St. Paul reminds us that some are sowers and some are reapers, and those who sow may never see the harvest that is brought in. Everything is in God's hands and it is all for our good.

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October Poem--Blake--from "Milton"

Some have complained of the amount of poetry on the site. Some have seen fit to stop reading. I am sorry that it so distresses them; however, it has put me back in touch with part of the reason I'm doing this anyway and given me great pleasure at revisiting old friends.

This poem in particular is nice to visit again. My first acquaintance with it was on the Emerson, Lake, and Palmer album Brain Salad Surgery where it is the fanfare to introduce the whole rather twisted affair. These words are a hymn sometimes sung in Anglican Churches and they are quite lovely:

from Milton
William Blake

              And did those feet in ancient time
              Walk upon England's mountains green?
              And was the holy Lamb of God
              On England's pleasant pastures seen?

              And did the Countenance Divine
              Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
              And was Jerusalem builded here
              Among these dark Satanic mills?

              Bring me my bow of burning gold:
            Bring me my arrows of desire:
            Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
            Bring me my chariot of fire.

            I will not cease from mental fight,
            Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
            Till we have built Jerusalem
            In England's green and pleasant land.

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October 15, 2003

What a Wonderful Story

The Night I Met Someone Like Terri by Peony Moss--please take the time to read it, you'll be glad you did.

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A Beautiful Farewell

By Kathy the Carmelite (KTC). Wonderful and inspiring chez O'Rama. Has he had a record number of citations today or what?

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Nice Review of the Passion

Available at Mr. O'Rama's site


One scene in the film has now been forever etched in my mind. A brutalized wounded Jesus was soon to fall again, under the weight of the cross. His mother had made her way along the Via Dolorosa. As she ran to him, she flashed back to a memory of Jesus as a child, falling in the dirt road outside of their home. Just as she reached, to protect him from the fall, she was now reaching to touch his wounded adult face. Jesus looked at her with intensely probing and passionately loving eyes (and at all of us through the screen) and said, "Behold, I make all things new."

"Behold, I make all things new." Praise God.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:43 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

St Teresa of Avila on Prayer

from The Autobiography (VIII:12-13)

12. If, then, to those who do not serve God, but rather offend Him, prayer be all this, and so necessary, and if no one can really find out any harm it can do him, and if the omission of it be not a still greater harm, why, then, should they abstain from it who serve and desire to serve God? Certainly I cannot comprehend it, unless it be that men have a mind to go through the troubles of this life in greater misery, and to shut the door in the face of God, so that He shall give them no comfort in it. I am most truly sorry for them, because they serve God at their own cost; for of those who pray, God Himself defrays the charges, seeing that for a little trouble He gives sweetness, in order that, by the help it supplies, they may bear their trials.

13. But because I have much to say hereafter of this sweetness, which our Lord gives to those who persevere in prayer, I do not speak of it here; only this will I say: prayer is the door to those great graces which our Lord bestowed upon me. If this door be shut, I do not see how He can bestow them; for even if He entered into a soul to take His delight therein, and to make that soul also delight in Him, there is no way by which He can do so; for His will is, that such a soul should be lonely and pure, with a great desire to receive His graces. If we put many hindrances in the way, and take no pains whatever to remove them, how can He come to us, and how can we have any desire that He should show us His great mercies?

Find the entire autobiography on-line here

Glorious and Happy Feast Day to All

The feast of St. Teresa of Avila, one of the great Saints of the Carmelite Order, affectionately known to all of her Sisters as La Madre.

Also a solemn day, may we invoke her aid for the life of Terri Schiavo. Perhaps she can obtain from the bounty of the graces of God a miracle--great or small-- that will prevent us from sinking further into the barbarism of the culture of death.

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A Reflection on the Scriptures for the Day

See here for a scriptural meditation on this great feast day.

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For the Feast Day of La Madre

From The Autobiography (XXV: 22)

O my Lord, how true a friend art Thou! how powerful! Thou showest Thy power when Thou wilt; and Thou dost will it always, if only we will it also. Let the whole creation praise Thee, O Thou Lord of the world! Oh, that a voice might go forth over all the earth, proclaiming Thy faithfulness to those who love Thee! All things fail; but Thou, Lord of all, never failest! They who love Thee, oh, how little they have to suffer! oh, how gently, how tenderly, how sweetly Thou, O my Lord, dealest with them! Oh, that no one had ever been occupied with any other love than Thine! It seems as if Thou didst subject those who love Thee to a severe trial: but it is in order that they may learn, in the depths of that trial, the depths of Thy love. O my God, oh, that I had understanding and learning, and a new language, in order to magnify Thy works, according to the knowledge of them which my soul possesses! Everything fails me, O my Lord; but if Thou wilt not abandon me, I will never fail Thee. Let all the learned rise up against me,--let the whole creation persecute me,--let the evil spirits torment me,--but do Thou, O Lord, fail me not; for I know by experience now the blessedness of that deliverance which Thou dost effect for those who trust only in Thee. In this distress,--for then I had never had a single vision,--these Thy words alone were enough to remove it, and give me perfect peace: "Be not afraid, my daughter: it is I; and I will not abandon thee. Fear not."

And in a sense, this may be another response to Mr. O'Rama (see below)--that perhaps the ennui that sets in is a trial of sorts--bear up under it, offer it as a small sacrifice to God and make progress in the Little Way. All of our choices have echoes in eternity.

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October Poem--Richard Crashaw on St. Teresa of Avila

From one of the great Catholic poets of the Glorious 17th Century.

A Hymn to the Name and Honour of the Admirable Saint Teresa
Richard Crashaw

LOVE, thou are absolute, sole Lord
Of life and death. To prove the word,
We'll now appeal to none of all
Those thy old soldiers, great and tall,
Ripe men of martyrdom, that could reach down
With strong arms their triumphant crown:
Such as could with lusty breath
Speak loud, unto the face of death,
Their great Lord's glorious name; to none
Of those whose spacious bosoms spread a throne
For love at large to fill. Spare blood and sweat:
We'll see Him take a private seat,
And make His mansion in the mild
And milky soul of a soft child.
Scarce has she learnt to lisp a name
Of martyr, yet she thinks it shame
Life should so long play with that breath
Which spent can buy so brave a death.
She never undertook to know
What death with love should have to do.
Nor has she e'er yet understood
Why, to show love, she should shed blood;
Yet, though she cannot tell you why,
She can love, and she can die.
Scarce has she blood enough to make
A guilty sword blush for her sake;
Yet has a heart dares hope to prove
How much less strong is death than love....

Since 'tis not to be had at home,
She'll travel for a martyrdom.
No home for her, confesses she,
But where she may a martyr be.
She'll to the Moors, and trade with them
For this unvalued diadem;
She offers them her dearest breath,
With Christ's name in 't, in charge for death:
She'll bargain with them, and will give
Them God, and teach them how to live
In Him; or, if they this deny,
For Him she'll teach them how to die.
So shall she leave amongst them sown
Her Lord's blood, or at least her own.

Farewell then, all the world, adieu!
Teresa is no more for you.
Farewell all pleasures, sports, and joys,
Never till now esteemed toys!

Farewell whatever dear may be--
Mother's arms, or father's knee!
Farewell house, and farewell home!
She 's for the Moors and Martyrdom.

Sweet, not so fast; lo! thy fair spouse,
Whom thou seek'st with so swift vows,
Calls thee back, and bids thee come
T' embrace a milder martyrdom....

O how oft shalt thou complain
Of a sweet and subtle pain!
Of intolerable joys!
Of a death, in which who dies
Loves his death, and dies again,
And would for ever so be slain;
And lives and dies, and knows not why
To live, but that he still may die!
How kindly will thy gentle heart
Kiss the sweetly-killing dart!
And close in his embraces keep
Those delicious wounds, that weep
Balsam, to heal themselves with thus,
When these thy deaths, so numerous,
Shall all at once die into one,
And melt thy soul's sweet mansion;
Like a soft lump of incense, hasted
By too hot a fire, and wasted
Into perfuming clouds, so fast
Shalt thou exhale to heaven at last
In a resolving sigh, and then,--
O what? Ask not the tongues of men.

Angels cannot tell; suffice,
Thyself shalt feel thine own full joys,
And hold them fast for ever there.
So soon as thou shalt first appear,
The moon of maiden stars, thy white
Mistress, attended by such bright
Souls as thy shining self, shall come,
And in her first ranks make thee room;
Where, 'mongst her snowy family,
Immortal welcomes wait for thee.
O what delight, when she shall stand
And teach thy lips heaven, with her hand,
On which thou now may'st to thy wishes
Heap up thy consecrated kisses!
What joy shall seize thy soul, when she,
Bending her blessed eyes on thee,
Those second smiles of heaven, shall dart
Her mild rays through thy melting heart!

Angels, thy old friends, there shall greet thee,
Glad at their own home now to meet thee.
All thy good works which went before,
And waited for thee at the door,
Shall own thee there; and all in one
Weave a constellation
Of crowns, with which the King, thy spouse,
Shall build up thy triumphant brows.
All thy old woes shall now smile on thee,
And thy pains sit bright upon thee:
All thy sorrows here shall shine,
And thy sufferings be divine.
Tears shall take comfort, and turn gems,
And wrongs repent to diadems.
Even thy deaths shall live, and new
Dress the soul which late they slew.
Thy wounds shall blush to such bright scars
As keep account of the Lamb's wars.

Those rare works, where thou shalt leave writ
Love's noble history, with wit
Taught thee by none but Him, while here
They feed our souls, shall clothe thine there.
Each heavenly word by whose hid flame
Our hard hearts shall strike fire, the same
Shall flourish on thy brows, and be
Both fire to us and flame to thee;
Whose light shall live bright in thy face
By glory, in our hearts by grace.
Thou shalt look round about, and see
Thousands of crown'd souls throng to be
Themselves thy crown, sons of thy vows,
The virgin-births with which thy spouse
Made fruitful thy fair soul; go now,
And with them all about thee bow
To Him; put on, He'll say, put on,
My rosy Love, that thy rich zone,
Sparkling with the sacred flames
Of thousand souls, whose happy names
Heaven keeps upon thy score: thy bright
Life brought them first to kiss the light
That kindled them to stars; and so
Thou with the Lamb, thy Lord, shalt go.
And, wheresoe'er He sets His white
Steps, walk with Him those ways of light,
Which who in death would live to see,
Must learn in life to die like thee.

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Seeing All Things New

I didn't want to leave so important a discussion in the comments box below, so I pull it out:

Comment from T.S. O'Rama
I'll have to think about it some more. I certainly am not implying a minimalist or Puritan philosophy! Not in the least. I guess my issue is how to live on a Wednesday afternoon - as Walker Percy put it so beautifully. Living in Central Ohio - mecca of civilization that it is - tends to make life a little dry sometimes. I know you won't believe it, but it's not exactly Florence, Italy. There's a part of me that believes/wants to believe that life is gloriously interesting in Central Ohio if I'd only see the spiritual war more clearly. But perhaps this comment is what I should've said on my blog (I can fix that)...

And my response

I understand what you're saying. I lived there for 10 years. And yet. . . there are places where things are even less exciting. I live in the entertainment capital of much of the East Coast and a Hub for most of the world, but after you've tasted of that spring the water begins to run a bit flat. Not to say that it isn't a wonderful place to be or that there is anything wrong with the wonders that surround me--but, believe it or not, there are aspects of life in Central Ohio that I do miss--to wit--

(1) The summer film series at the downtown theatre
(2) The Shekinah Glory festival with quilt auction out in Plain City
(3) The Bucyrus Bratwurst Festival, The Waynesville Sauerkraut festival, and the Circleville pumpkin festival.
(4) Ready accessibility of the Mounds at Newark, the Chilicothe Mounds and Governor's House, the not too distant Serpent Mound, and the place down near the Golden Lion -- ?Fort Ancient?
(5) The libraries and the booksales for various libaries

So there are delights in Central Ohio or Nearby. (Polka Barns up near Cleveland, for example). It isn't a hopping place--but on the other hand it is no worse than a great many. And life is exciting if one views it daily with the gratitude for the gift that it is.

My greatest anecdote about life in Central Ohio comes from a fieldtrip a friend of mine led when a graduate student there. They had a group of kids from inner city New York in a big bus--they're about twenty or thirty miles WEST of Columbus--you know how that gets, when suddenly there's a huge commotion from the back of the bus and the driver is told to "Stop the Bus, Stop the Bus!" Fearing the worst, he did so, and from the back three kids pile out of the bus. My friend got out with the other counselor to break up whatever is going on and they see the three kids with cameras taking pictures of one of those vast fields between Columbus and Dayton. One of the kids says, 'What's that?" pointing to the crop growing at the side of the road, and my friend answers "Corn." And they said, "Ain't no way that's corn--corn comes in a can." My friend says, "That's what it looks like before it goes in the can."

The point is merely to say that one of Thérèse's chief teachings is that we must become like little children to whom all things are new again. We need to teach ourselves to see that corn as though we had never seen it before--to marvel at its growth , and yes, its beauty. We need to accept what comes to us and rejoice in the great generosity with which it is given. THAT is what gives life savor and interest and THAT is what comes of loving Jesus as a little child--nothing can every be ordinary again.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:50 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 14, 2003

Poetry and Life

Mr. O'Rama asks a question that I will probably need to think more about:

Do some, for whatever reason, have a higher “minimum daily requirement” of art? Of plays, music, books, theatre, film, paintings, architecture, poems?

I think of the Little Way of St. Therese and wonder: If we could see life as it truly is, as spiritual warfare in which our most insignificant actions have rippling effects -then would not our lives be infused with meaning and art be, extraneous? What need has the soldier on the field of battle for novels when his own life is the stuff of legend?

I do not know the answer, but I do know how I feel. Art is one of the great battlegrounds for hearts and minds. Poetry, literature, music, art, cinema, all vie for attention both as entertainment and as edification. I don't know that walking through the National Gallery of Art actually qualifies for "entertainment" or even really "diversion." I think experiencing art is another way of experiencing a portion of God's creative capacity as doled out in His creation.

I suppose we must take very seriously the question of whether some need Art or whether Art makes life more "real" or more "lived" as I must believe it does. I seriously doubt that the Holy Father would have wasted the time in writing a Letter specifically to Artists if he did not consider the matter vitally important.

Yes, if we visualize all life as a spiritual battleground much of this is true. But if we look at life that way, are we not also missing part of the message? Is life MERELY a spiritual battleground. Isn't it also the time during which we come to awareness of the glory and the grandeur of God. And isn't Art one of the ways in which we can do that? I have seen a great many moving sunsets and sat beside lakes, streams, waterfulls, and rills. I have paddled among rias and aits and even kayaked up the Potomac to Great Falls to take measurements near Difficult Run. I have walked the paths of Hocking Hills and had the great Serpent Mound all to myself for days on end and all of these things are great and glorious. And I have read a poem by Hopkins and been a thousand times more moved and transported than many of these other things have done. I can recite from memory hundreds of poems, thousands of fragments, but only one natural impression has remained so indelibly impressed upon me. Not that all those things I mentioned before are not beautiful, but that beauty in its different forms speaks to different people. "My Father's House has many mansions." I cannot imagine life without art. I am uncertain whether I would have come to know God as well as I hope I do without Caravaggio and Monet, Palestrina and Debussy, Dante and Joyce.

So I think the answer is, yes. For some art is a necessity--it is the lifeline through which God communicates some portion of His grace and presence. Some seem to get it from fishing, others through sports, still others from gardening and simple daily tasks. For some of us it is in the words we use every day. And that does seem apropos as we are told, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. . ."

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:37 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Made for God's Pleasure

I read something earlier this evening that I've always known, but which hasn't really meant much of anything to me. We are, in the words of Psalm 149:4, "made for God's pleasure."

Why is this so remarkable? What is so astounding about this revelation? God delights in us--in each one of us. Parents--think about the delight you experience when one of your young ones does anything at all cute. We are God's young ones. When we were born, He was there, grinning like a donkey eating briars. He takes real pleasure in us. Yes, we can be aggravating. It is possible for us to be downright infuriating. But He nevertheless delights in each one of us.

We were made for God's pleasure, at His pleasure, in His pleasure, by His pleasure. We were made to be pleasing and God is pleased with us. We focus on how much we get wrong, but by His grace we do get some things right.

Every day start the day by remembering that God made us for His pleasure, and start the day living to give God cause to rejoice.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:21 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

An Outpouring of Prayers

There appears to be one last concerted effort to save Terri Schiavo's life--details here. St. Teresa of Avila, patroness of those with headaches and loving mother of all those consigned to her care should be invoked, perhaps even for a miraculous awakening that will put an end to this evil.

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Robert Diaz Interview

For those following the interviews that have been making the rounds Mr. Diaz has his responses here

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The Right Mirror

I have a very dear friend who said to me, "It hard to believe that the Glory of God resides in me when I look in the mirror." There are a great many Christians who have trouble believing that God loves them as they are right now. We have been trained through years of rejection and humiliation to believe that love comes with a price tag--that acceptance costs something.

In fact, love does come with a price tag--one paid by Jesus, and it does come at cost, the life of the Son of God. Our problem facing these issues is that we are using the wrong mirror. We look into a mirror of glass, but the mirror we should be using is that recommended by the great Madre herself--"Mira que tu mira"--
"Look at the One who looks at you." The proper mirror to judge yourself by is the mirror of the eyes of one who loves you--that comes closest to the way God looks at you. When you look into the eyes of one who really loves you, you see yourself--and when those eyes belong to God, you really and truly see yourself for what you are--a child of God.

We are who we are--with all the drawbacks and payoffs that includes--fat, thin, balding, short--God made us uniquely ourselves and loves us regardless of outer accouterments. He won't love us any more or any less if we gain or lose a few pounds. He won't love us better if our skin clears up, or hate us if we eat onions in our omelette for breakfast. God's mind is not as human minds, God's heart is not as human hearts. God is not fickle nor is He capricious. He is a Jealous God and as such, when all else fails, His love endures.

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Poem for October--William Cullen Bryant--Thanatopsis

About this, at least, there can be no doubt of its autumnal and Octembral appropriateness.

William Cullen Bryant

  TO HIM who in the love of Nature holds  
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks  
A various language; for his gayer hours  
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile  
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides          
Into his darker musings, with a mild  
And healing sympathy, that steals away  
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts  
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight  
Over thy spirit, and sad images   
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,  
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,  
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—  
Go forth under the open sky, and list  
To Nature's teachings, while from all around—   
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air—  
Comes a still voice—Yet a few days, and thee  
The all-beholding sun shall see no more  
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,  
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,   
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist  
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim  
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,  
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up  
Thine individual being, shalt thou go   
To mix forever with the elements;  
To be a brother to the insensible rock,  
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain  
Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak  
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.  
  Yet not to thine eternal resting-place  
Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish  
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down  
With patriarchs of the infant world,—with kings,  
The powerful of the earth,—the wise, the good,   
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,  
All in one mighty sepulchre. The hills  
Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun; the vales  
Stretching in pensive quietness between;  
The venerable woods—rivers that move   
In majesty, and the complaining brooks  
That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,  
Old Ocean's gray and melancholy waste,—  
Are but the solemn decorations all  
Of the great tomb of man! The golden sun,  
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,  
Are shining on the sad abodes of death,  
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread  
The globe are but a handful to the tribes  
That slumber in its bosom.—Take the wings   
Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,  
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods  
Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,  
Save his own dashings,—yet the dead are there:  
And millions in those solitudes, since first  
The flight of years began, have laid them down  
In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone.  
So shalt thou rest; and what if thou withdraw  
In silence from the living, and no friend  
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe   
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh  
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care  
Plod on, and each one as before will chase  
His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave  
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come   
And make their bed with thee. As the long train  
Of ages glide away, the sons of men,  
The youth in life's green spring, and he who goes  
In the full strength of years, matron and maid,  
The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man—   
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side  
By those, who in their turn shall follow them.  
  So live, that when thy summons comes to join  
The innumerable caravan which moves  
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take   
His chamber in the silent halls of death,  
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,  
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed  
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave  
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch   
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:49 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 13, 2003

On Father Dubay--Another from Ms. Knapp's Site

Ms. Knapp is really on a roll, but then I haven't known her to stop except for a brief, unavoidable spell away from the computer.

She reports this interview with father Thomas Dubay from one of the CIN Listservs. Well worth your time, as always.

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A Blogging Examen

Ms. Knapp very graciously gave me permission to reprint her examen question in toto I found them profound and profoundly helpful.

Karen Marie Knapp  
Queries for a Bloggers' Examen II: the Catechism of the Catholic Church on Blogging

In church-bureaucrat-speak, blogs are called "a medium of social communication", and paragraphs 2493-2499 are about us. So, from reading then, what questions do rise up?
2493 is definitions.
2394: Do I consider the common good when I post and publish, or only my own ego-shine? Do I tell the truth? Have I ever omitted or manipulated some of the facts to make them say what I wanted them to say? Do I keep in mind that the people I blog about have rights and human dignity?
2495: Do I truly seek to know and respect others? Do I respectfully challenge ideas, or do I attack people? Do I shout down without a hearing those whose ideas differ from my own?
2496: Do I neglect my duties in real life in order to read sites? Do I keep in mind that not everything I read in the blogosphere may be factual, and that all that may be factual may not be true? Do I discipline myself to avoid those sites that are, for whatever reason, near occasions of sin for me?
2497: Have I ever lied in my blog? Do I acknowledge and respect the distinction between reporting facts and judging individuals? Have I ever defamed anybody by my blogs? If so, have I made amends, insofar as possible?
2498, which is mostly about civil authorities: Have I ever used my blog, or anywhere else on the Net, for illegal activity (e.g., libel, slander, warez, inciting civil disorder)? Or for unethical or immoral activities, even if legal (e.g., porn, spam)?
2499, about totalitarian regimes: Am I thankful for my freedom to write and publish? Do I respect this freedom, and rightly use it, never abusing it?

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On What To do About Your Websurfing

Whether intentionally or otherwise, I cannot copy material from M'Lynn's site, so I send you there to read the last paragraph of so of this entry. What is written there is wise and good advice to us all. Not only should we purge all that plunges us near despair, but everything that provides near occasion of sin. Thanks M'Lynn.

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Public Confession

To keep me honest. Four times today I have been tempted to respond to a comment elsewhere that seemed somewhat ill-tempered and ill-considered. I drafted four or so responses and deleted them each time. What point is there to continuing a discussion with people who do not wish to discuss but who instead insist upon their own way? It seems that very few nowdays are wiling "to walk a mile in their neighbor's mocassins." In fact, many won't walk six inches. On matters of faith and morals, this makes good sense. On all other matters, it strikes me as both rude and ill-considered.

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Reading Group

Our reading group nicely disposed of Harry Potter with some comments you'd expect--many decrying the lack of literary substance and the formulaic nature of the stories (both of which points I tend to disagree with). But more interestingly, we chose our book for next month and it took a bit of wrangling to work it around, but it is a wonderful possibility. We'll be reading "The Merchant of Venice" along with a book by John Gross called, "Shylock."

"The Merchant of Venice" is a wonderful play because of the way it shows up the essential shortcomings of most Christians. Portia's caskets are a prime example--the choice of the three is obvious, and yet she needs to help the person she wants to choose the correct casket (if I remember correctly). And then there's the impassioned and gorgeous "The Quality of Mercy" speech followed immediately both by Shylock showing none and then by Portia as judge showing little-to-none. It can be read as an elegant indictment of Christian hypocrisy in action (I suppose). But then, that's the dangerous attraction of Shakespeare--it may probably also be read as a Marxist parable of class struggle and a freudian analysis of the war between the sexes. I had a very wise professor once tell the class, "Whatever methodology or system you bring into contact with Shakespeare will light up--the trick is to read him without any prior conceptions, to find out what he actually said."

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A Short October Poem--Shelley--"Music When Soft Voices Die--To --"

You probably don't think of this much in the context of autumn and fall and October, however, I think it a perfect fit for some of the melancholy many feel about this time--it's a great song for the falling of the leaves.

Music when Soft Voices Die (To --)
Percy Bysshe Shelley

                Music, when soft voices die,
              Vibrates in the memory--
              Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
              Live within the sense they quicken.

                Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
              Are heaped for the belovèd's bed;
              And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
              Love itself shall slumber on.

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Erik's Interview Questions

Erik very kindly agreed to write some interview questions, and these are very valuable and very helpful to reflection on vocation and goal.

1. Steven, you are obviously keenly interested in and deeply knowledgeable of poetry. What do you expect from a poem? There are several things I expect from a poem--fresh, surprising, original language is one of the first; however it is not sufficient. The language poets and the concrete poets could all do language, but the poems rarely emerge from the merely experimental into the meaningful. What that requires is a moment of removal from reality. Every great poem should yank you out of yourself, even if only for a moment, turn you around and allow you to see what the world looks like from somewhere else. They are epiphanies. This can happen in a number of ways--through sheer force of rhythm and language or through startling imagery. The beginning of "Ode to a Nightingale", "My heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains my sense. . ." starts you on the course. Eliot was a master of this, "I have measured out my life in coffeespoons." "Mixing memory and desire" "This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper." "I have heard the mermaids singing. . ." and so forth. Some poets were absolute masters at these moments. The best of Stevens, Pound, Eliot, Wilbur, and others move you to this new place. Sylvia Plath does it rarely, Anne Sexton more rarely yet. Overall I don't much care for modern poetry as it has largely become either utterly confessional telling me too much about the poet and too little about the world, or academic--intricate, ultimately meaningless word games and puzzles designed to appeal to other academics, but with no real resonances or meaning to the casual reader. It would be very difficult to memorize a single line of most modern poets--whereas poets of the Glorious 17th Century (of which see my obsesssion) this is patently untrue--their words and images are tremendously powerful.

2. Who is the most striking example of a Catholic poet that you can think of, off the top of your head? I mean Catholic in terms of spirit of the poetry, not in terms of the actual confessional status of the poet (for instance, I consider Rembrandt one of the great Catholic painters, in spite of the fact that he was a member of the Reformed Protestant Church). Please explain. I think of three right off, two catholic and one non. Richard Crashaw and Robert Southwell are both of the confession and tremendously Catholic in the range, nature, and depth of their poetic utterances. Richard Crashaw is particularly moving and interesting when one looks at the epigrams and the poems about St. Teresa of Avila. And of course, Robert Southwell is nearly the perfect anti-Puritan. Everything one might despise in the writings of say a Jonathan Edwards is turned on its head. The whole theology is there, intact, and utterly Catholic. But one who strikes me as strangely Catholic in themes and obsessions is Wallace Stevens. Stevens claimed to be an Atheist up until near his death at which point he joined the Church. However, all along, his poems show an interest in both modernist themes (The Blue Guitar) and with very Catholic concerns ("Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock" and "Sunday Morning.") I can't read Wallace without thinking of him as the consummate Catholic Poet--he just remained ignorant of it for a long time.

3. In your field (modern science in general, and museum crowds in particular) you must be a rara avis as a faithful and devout Catholic. What are the conflicts that come up and how do you deal with them?

It actually presents almost no trouble at all because I am not a literalist and do not read anything in church teaching that demands a literal interpretation of the Bible. Therefore, I have no problem with the notion of evolution, but a tremendous difficulty with the idea that it is undirected--for example Stephen Jay Gould's contigency theory--which states that if one thing had been off just a little bit, all of evolutionary history would have been changed. Well, this is a philosophical specualtion, not a piece of science, because it is essentially untestable except within a logical framework. And within that logical framework it suffers because of Chaotic dynamics and the notion of "self-organizing systems" and systems redundancy. So I would argue that Gould's contingency theory is simply a marxist frame aroound a paleontological speculation. My frame is theist and Catholic. If evolution is the mechanism by which things came to be, and the prepoderance of the evidence suggests that it is so, I beleive that the whole path was directed and guided by God's gracious hand. That is to say everything that is was created through this mechanism and so God is the unique creator of all things. However, this is also not science and not a testable hypothesis. I have revelation to guide intellect, but science operates on empirical evidence outside of authority (in science, arguements from authority are considered the weakesst). Thus, what I believe and know to be true in the core of my being really has no bearing on the science. Scientists start with the null hypothesis--undirected--and most don't bother to search for any evidence that it may be otherwise.

So this long answer says basically that science is science and religion is religion. Another of Gould's theories or philosophical proposals was that of non-overlapping magisteria. That is to say that science cannot presume to offer the answers that religion does and when religion offers to answer the questions science asks it often ends up looking foolish. St. Robert Bellarmine's famous statement regarding the Galileo affair is appropriate, "The Church does not tell us how the Heavens go, but how to go to Heaven." I do think that Gould has something with the nonoverlapping magisteria--although I'd probably refer to it more as well-defined jurisdictions. Science can tell us if something is possible--cloning, genetic manipulation, utter destruction of everything in existence, but it cannot state whether that possibility should be acted upon. The problem in recent days is that pundits and blowhards like Francis Crick, James Watson, and Richard Dawkins overstep their bounds and think that they can make moral decisions on utilitarian principles.

Anyway, I've gone on at great length. Suffice to say that I have had almost no problem reconciling religion and science and it doesn't require sleight-of-hand or even any very rapid fancy footwork, simply faith and tenacity in the face of those who would like you to think otherwise.

4. If you could be any kind of tree… No, just kidding. The real question: has the writing of Teilhard de Chardin influenced you much? I do not mean this as a gotcha question. We all know that he had some iffy ideas, but he was deadly serious in his attempts to reconcile anthropology and theology. How have you interacted with his better ideas (that is, if you have given him some serious study)?

Not at all. This is one of those places, where unfortunately, the overlapping of the magisteria is such that I have been hard-pressed to figure out what to make of Teilhard. As you well know, he was intimately involved in the Piltdown Hoax, although he may have been unaware of the forged fossil evidences. This kind of involvement put me off of his other writings. In addition, I have to admit they have a kind of breezy new-age atmosphere about them that has been so readily embraced by nearly every fringe-element pseudo-science religious group around that it is very difficult for me to sufficiently divorce him from his effects. The long-term result is that I have not made any real effort to study his work.

5. What direction do you see poetry going in? Any particular poets that do it for you these days?
To paraphrase my favorite Episcopagan Bishop--John Shelby Spong, "Why Poetry Must Change or Die." I think there is a swing back toward more classical forms, more metered and rhymed material, but I don't know that the academic school of poetry hasn't so badly damaged the core of the genre that it might not ever recover. Poets like Rita Dove and Billy Collins do almost nothing to advance poetry. Dana Gioia, on the other hand, presents a wonderful, enlightening, and powerful rhythmic and poetic stance that is the harbinger of the return of the memorable. Like much of modern Art, if modern poetry does not change its long-term direction there is no real hope for its continuation. It has become in large part the reading of choice of a small portion of academia, with almost no popular base. But it can be redeemed from that and there are a great many poets working today who promise just such a resuce. As much as I don't care for Billy Collins, I find the approachability of his work promising. It is approachable and still above the level of mere doggerel. As for Rita Dove, once again, very approachable, fine stuff, just not normally transcendent. I like Linda Pastan and Maxine Kumin, both of whom write very approachable lyrics. I've gone on too long--basically the direction of modern poetry largely depends on whether it can once again find a large popular base. I'm hoping it can, but I don't really think it likely.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:32 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 12, 2003

Lip Service

The young man in the gospel today was downcast when the Lord told him that he must go and sell all that he had to follow Jesus as a true disciple. Some of us recognize the difficulty of what Jesus was saying in this particular instance. But let's assume for a moment you are one of those who could say easily, "Oh yes, Lord, I'll do it." Perhaps Jesus has a harder question for you--for example, are you willing to "let the dead bury the dead?" or "to set hand to plow and never look back?" or "to leave mother, father, sister, and brothers" and find them in the Christian communion?

Many of us pay lip service to these ideals, or perhaps conveniently shove them out of the way of the mind's eye. But spend a few moments today and think about the things Jesus could ask of you that would make you as downcast as the young man in the gospels. Then, when you've identified the problem areas, you have the beginnings of understanding, you can move more toward God in all these issues.

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An Examen for Bloggers

Via Fructis Ventris this remarkable help--an examen for what we do as we blog-- from Ms. Karen Marie Knapp--touching precisely on thoughts I have had this day. Thank you Ms. Knapp.

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Every Action Matters

I write this largely to convince myself that it is true. If we are bound for eternity, it would seem that every step toward or away from that goal must matter. This is what sits at the heart of Labora est ora. Every action, no matter how small, has eternal ramifications. Thus, how we keep our houses, how we drive our cars, what we choose to read or write, every action has ripples through eternity. Every action is a measure of how we employ what God has lent us for this time on Earth.

We need to remember the parable of the talents. While we may have been given only a single talent, it is better to invest it for the small interest of a savings account than to bury it entirely. Erik recently posted on the importance of cooking and meals in the Christian life (here's a continuation of the discussion). I thought the post perhaps a bit hyperbolic, but nonetheless essentially true. If one cooks well, then preparing a good meal for a family can be the most loving and Christian act one can do for one's family--it is a perfect prayer of service. So too with all of our talents small or large.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:38 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

For the Anniversary of more last than star

In a Dark Time
Theodore Roethke

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood--
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day's on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks--is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is--
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark,dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:22 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Poem for October--Poe--"City in the Sea"

I particularly relish putting Poe up in October because Harold Bloom thinks so little of him. And I happen to think that Bloom has blinders on when it comes to certain genres and writers.

The City in the Sea
Edgar Allan Poe

Lo! Death has reared himself a throne
In a strange city lying alone
Far down within the dim West,
Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
Have gone to their eternal rest.
There shrines and palaces and towers
(Time-eaten towers that tremble not!)
Resemble nothing that is ours.
Around, by lifting winds forgot,
Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters lie.

No rays from the holy heaven come down
On the long night-time of that town;
But light from out the lurid sea
Streams up the turrets silently--
Gleams up the pinnacles far and free--
Up domes--up spires--up kingly halls--
Up fanes--up Babylon-like walls--
Up shadowy long-forgotten bowers
Of sculptured ivy and stone flowers--
Up many and many a marvellous shrine
Whose wreathéd friezes intertwine
The viol, the violet, and the vine.
Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters lie.
So blend the turrets and shadows there
That all seem pendulous in air,
While from a proud tower in the town
Death looks gigantically down.

There open fanes and gaping graves
Yawn level with the luminous waves;
But not the riches there that lie
In each idol's diamond eye--
Not the gaily-jewelled dead
Tempt the waters from their bed;
For no ripples curl, alas!
Along that wilderness of glass--
No swellings tell that winds may be
Upon some far-off happier sea--
No heavings hint that winds have been
On seas less hideously serene.

But lo, a stir is in the air!
The wave--there is a movement there!
As if the towers had thrust aside,
In slightly sinking, the dull tide--
As if their tops had feebly given
A void within the filmy Heaven.
The waves have now a redder glow--
The hours are breathing faint and low--
And when, amid no earthly moans,
Down, down that town shall settle hence
Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,
Shall do it reverence.

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