October 30, 2004


You know, it's good to have reminders from faery-lore and other places that what we see is not necessarily all there is. We need the reminder to the arrogance of science that the empirical is not the end of reality--nor is it even the REALLY important part.


from Songs from the Wood "Jack-in-the-Green"
Jethro Tull

The rowan, the oak and the holly tree
Are the charges left for you to groom.
Each blade of grass whispers Jack-In-The-Green.
Oh Jack, please help me through my winter's night.
And we are the berries on the holly tree.
Oh, the mistlethrush is coming, Jack,
Put out the light.

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October 28, 2004

And One From Sara Teasdale

A poet I don't often visit because so much of her work is so dreadfully bad. Nearly the Ed Wood of poetry--perhaps that is strong. But here's a soft piece--not spectacular poetry, but quite fine in Teasdale's oeuvre, and nice for the season.

Sara Teasdale

When, in the gold October dusk, I saw you near to setting,
Arcturus, bringer of spring,
Lord of the summer nights, leaving us now in autumn,
Having no pity on our withering;

Oh, then I knew at last that my own autumn was upon me,
I felt it in my blood,
Restless as dwindling streams that still remember
The music of their flood. There in the thickening dark a wind-bent tree above me
Loosed its last leaves in flight--
I saw you sink and vanish, pitiless Arcturus,
You will not stay to share our lengthening night.

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Hiawatha or Not?

A somewhat more rarely seen piece by Lewis Carroll. But worthy of greater circulation by virtue of its very clever parody in a a very difficult rhythm.

Hiawatha's Photographing
By Lewis Carroll

From his shoulder Hiawatha
Took the camera of rosewood,
Made of sliding, folding rosewood;
Neatly put it all together.
In its case it lay compactly,
Folded into nearly nothing;

But he opened out the hinges,
Pushed and pulled the joints and hinges,
Till it looked all squares and oblongs,
Like a complicated figure
In the Second Book of Euclid.

This he perched upon a tripod -
Crouched beneath its dusky cover -
Stretched his hand, enforcing silence -
Said, "Be motionless, I beg you!"
Mystic, awful was the process.

All the family in order
Sat before him for their pictures:
Each in turn, as he was taken,
Volunteered his own suggestions,
His ingenious suggestions.

First the Governor, the Father:
He suggested velvet curtains
Looped about a massy pillar;
And the corner of a table,
Of a rosewood dining-table.
He would hold a scroll of something,
Hold it firmly in his left-hand;
He would keep his right-hand buried
(Like Napoleon) in his waistcoat;
He would contemplate the distance
With a look of pensive meaning,
As of ducks that die ill tempests.

Grand, heroic was the notion:
Yet the picture failed entirely:
Failed, because he moved a little,
Moved, because he couldn't help it.

Next, his better half took courage;
SHE would have her picture taken.
She came dressed beyond description,
Dressed in jewels and in satin
Far too gorgeous for an empress.
Gracefully she sat down sideways,
With a simper scarcely human,
Holding in her hand a bouquet
Rather larger than a cabbage.
All the while that she was sitting,
Still the lady chattered, chattered,
Like a monkey in the forest.
"Am I sitting still?" she asked him.
"Is my face enough in profile?
Shall I hold the bouquet higher?
Will it came into the picture?"
And the picture failed completely.

Next the Son, the Stunning-Cantab:
He suggested curves of beauty,
Curves pervading all his figure,
Which the eye might follow onward,
Till they centered in the breast-pin,
Centered in the golden breast-pin.
He had learnt it all from Ruskin
(Author of 'The Stones of Venice,'
'Seven Lamps of Architecture,'
'Modern Painters,' and some others);
And perhaps he had not fully
Understood his author's meaning;
But, whatever was the reason,
All was fruitless, as the picture
Ended in an utter failure.

Next to him the eldest daughter:
She suggested very little,
Only asked if he would take her
With her look of 'passive beauty.'

Her idea of passive beauty
Was a squinting of the left-eye,
Was a drooping of the right-eye,
Was a smile that went up sideways
To the corner of the nostrils.

Hiawatha, when she asked him,
Took no notice of the question,
Looked as if he hadn't heard it;
But, when pointedly appealed to,
Smiled in his peculiar manner,
Coughed and said it 'didn't matter,'
Bit his lip and changed the subject.

Nor in this was he mistaken,
As the picture failed completely.

So in turn the other sisters.

Last, the youngest son was taken:
Very rough and thick his hair was,
Very round and red his face was,
Very dusty was his jacket,
Very fidgety his manner.
And his overbearing sisters
Called him names he disapproved of:
Called him Johnny, 'Daddy's Darling,'
Called him Jacky, 'Scrubby School-boy.'
And, so awful was the picture,
In comparison the others
Seemed, to one's bewildered fancy,
To have partially succeeded.

Finally my Hiawatha
Tumbled all the tribe together,
('Grouped' is not the right expression),
And, as happy chance would have it
Did at last obtain a picture
Where the faces all succeeded:
Each came out a perfect likeness.

Then they joined and all abused it,
Unrestrainedly abused it,
As the worst and ugliest picture
They could possibly have dreamed of.
'Giving one such strange expressions -
Sullen, stupid, pert expressions.
Really any one would take us
(Any one that did not know us)
For the most unpleasant people!'
(Hiawatha seemed to think so,
Seemed to think it not unlikely).
All together rang their voices,
Angry, loud, discordant voices,
As of dogs that howl in concert,
As of cats that wail in chorus.

But my Hiawatha's patience,
His politeness and his patience,
Unaccountably had vanished,
And he left that happy party.
Neither did he leave them slowly,
With the calm deliberation,
The intense deliberation
Of a photographic artist:
But he left them in a hurry,
Left them in a mighty hurry,
Stating that he would not stand it,
Stating in emphatic language
What he'd be before he'd stand it.
Hurriedly he packed his boxes:
Hurriedly the porter trundled
On a barrow all his boxes:
Hurriedly he took his ticket:
Hurriedly the train received him:
Thus departed Hiawatha.

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Featuring: Archbishop Charles Chaput

Go here and have access to all publicly available writings. Look in "Newspaper Columns" and "Other Writings and Addresses" for some columns on Embryonic Stem Cell Research and on Living the Christian Life in the World.

This feature highlights some of the gems I've been able to collect from the internet and which I have provided for your perusal in the side column. Enjoy!

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Eclipse of the Moon

For those who did not see it last night--(I remember all too well awiting celestial events in Columbus only to have it overcast on the day(s).)

Gorgeous, full, goat-cheese moon unsullied by any hint of cloud, inch by inch seeming wiped out of the sky--but not, we find when the Eclipse has progressed half-way or farther, we can still see it, but dimly. Then with the lunar equivalent of the "diamond ring" effect of the solar eclipse we see it darkly shadowed and then turning progressively redder and oranger (as we pass through the umbra and the refraction of light around earth allows illumination only by the red end of the spectrum.)

What a wonderful autumnal sight. Better than that buttery harvest moon--so lovely and so perfect a sign of the season of gradual decline.

Not another one for a couple of years, 2007, I think.

Took Samuel out to see it as he had rested earlier in the day and we engaged in a "moon dance" much to his mother's chagrin "Whatever in the world will the neighbors think?" Well, malhuereusment, no neighbors. No one evinced the slightest interest in this relatively uncommon celestial event. They were probably riveted to the exotic enchantments of whatever reality show is running the gamut. Tant pis such souls really missed out on one of those fine moments that shows God's crafty hand--the hand of a skilled artist directing the beauties of the world.

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October 27, 2004

I Voted!

Just so we can start our recounts earlier and prolong the legal wrangling, Florida now has early voting for nearly everyone. So as to avoid TMI, let us say that I went with the leading of the Holy Spirit at the moment. That means that for Ms. Schiavo I expressed my stern disapproval of everyone who occupies the bench at the moment and in the defense of life I voted to amend our constitution. (It will probably be struck down, but then, there's not even that hope if I don't set it up to start with.)

Even if you find it impossible to vote for president this year, there are a great many other matters of local concern that I urge everyone to consider carefully before avoiding the polling place.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 06:35 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Praise Report

Thank you all for your prayers. It is premature to say that everything has been resolved, but it appears that all is well and only time will tell. Please keep us in your prayers a while longer, but I think everything is all right.

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October 26, 2004

Please Pray for Linda and Me

A probably minor, but very frightening financial crisis this morning. Please pray.

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October 25, 2004

Reading the Bible Literally

Some do not know what to make of various injunctions through time that scripture should be read literally. This is a cornerstone of fundamentalist doctrine, but it is more as well.

from Nourished by the Word
Wilfrid Stinissen

The spiritual meaning doesn't lie outside the literal; it is not a little appendage. The spiritual meaning should never be sought behind the letter but always within it, just as one does not find the Father behind the Son but in and through him. The Word has become flesh; in the flesh we meet the Word, in man we meet God. The Spirit's eternal and unlimited thought is incarnated in a limited human word.

Many contemporary exegetes devote themselves foremost to positive science. This is not a mistake. Such a science is needed in order to expose the literal meaning in the Bible, what the author meant. Since the spiritual meaning is hidden in the literal, one won't arrive at the spiritual without first having discovered the literal. Nor is it a mistake that there is an effective distribution of labor: everyone doesn't need to do everything.

The ideal would be, or course, that exegetes--and theologians!--should be spiritual persons. The essential thing, however, is that those who devote themselves to "scientific" exegesis are conscious that this is only one part of exegetics and that the integral exegeses also try to provide an answer to the question: What did God mean with this written word?"

We must understand the literal meaning because the literal meaning gives rise to all other meanings. However, reading the Bible literally does not mean that one stops at the literal meaning of the words. This is the whole point of form criticism--how is one to understand the words given. "As the hart panteth after running streams so my heart pants after thee," makes limited literal sense--we all know this--poetry is spoken in a way that the images convey meaning. We can understand the sentence even as we change it internally to mean something. We know that hearts do not pant. Many of us have never seen a hart and have no idea if he "panteth after running streams." One can assume that he goes looking for water. But all of this is converted in the reading because we understand what poetry is and HOW poetry means.

So with other forms and understandings--what are we to make of the two very different creation stories at the beginning of Genesis. It is not possible that both are literally true contra some "young earth" "scientists." There are more problems in getting these two stories to jibe than in a shelf of books on evolution. We must read them literally and then look for what God means to say to us through them. We do not read the Bible as a science textbook, but rather as the essential revelation of God to us. What one makes of those two chapters of Genesis is up to the individual encounter with God.

Nevertheless, we must start from the literal meaning in order to derive any meaning whatsoever. This is one of the points that makes the choice of a translation so critical. This is why when I am studying I use the RSV, which has been characterized as the most accurate translation available (by sources far more reliable in these matters than I am.) But it is also why when I am finished studying and I am praying, I am far more inclined to use the KJV. While there may be inaccuracies and misunderstandings and incoherencies in some parts of the KJV, the wholly "otherness" of the translation forces me beyond my conventional understandings of language into a greater grasp of the other messages meant for me. The grandeur of the translation is such that I am put in the presence of God through reading.

So, it is fundamentally important to make certain that you understand what is being said and what it meant to the people of the time. Only in that way can we begin to understand what God is saying to us here and now.

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William Cullent Bryant

To think that the wisdom of this poem came from a mere 17 year old! Most interesting of all, Mr. Bryant created no other works of such power or interest. And this definitely bears the imprint of Wordsworth, and perhaps even of the remarkable Thomas Gray, whom I may post later today.

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 gentle sympathy, that steals away
Their sharpness, ere he is aware.

[no break--enjambment of previous line] 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 hourished thee, shall claim
Thy growth, to be resolv'd to earth again;
And, lost each human trace, surrend'ring up
Thine individual being, shalt thou go
To mix forever with the elements,
To be a brother to th' 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 thy 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-ribb'd and ancient as the sun,--the vales
Stretching in pensive quietness between;
The vernal woods--rivers that move
In majesty, and the complaining brooks
That make the meadows green; and pour'd round all,
Old ocean's grey 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--and the Barcan desert pierce,
Or lost thyself in the continuous woods
Where rolls the Oregan, 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 shalt fall
Unnoticed by 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 favourite 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 bow'd with age, the infant in the smiles
And beauty of its innocent age cut off,--
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, that moves
To the pale realms of shade, 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 sustain'd and sooth'd
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

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More on Posting Less

It turns out that I am not posting less, just less original stuff. And I got myself to thinking, "Why is this particular election so very difficult?"

I think I find two reasons--one is greater maturity on my part, the other is the essential intractability of facts and reason. The first of these--I am more aware of what my faith requires. I am also more aware (largely from being in the blogosphere) of what the Church teaches--which points are negotiable and which ones are not. Greater information leads to less comfort in some cases.

The second reason is by far the more difficult. There are a number of questions that must be answered in the course of this election that admit of no easy resolution. Probably the greatest of these for me is the question of whether or not the war in Iraq is a "just war." Being doubtful of the theory of just war at all, I find myself at a disadvantage in this determination. But a secondary question does arise. Assume it is not a just war--was it unjust from intent or unjust from misunderstanding. That is, did the president entering it knowing that he would not find what he claimed to be the reason for it. I don't know the answer to this question, so I will assume in his favor. Thus we have by the postulates given an unjust war entered into with the idea that is was somehow just. Does ignorance provide enough of a "shield" as it were?

Notice that there is not question at all about Mr. Kerry. There need not be. He has two major strikes against him, as well as a myriad others. Bad enough is the fact that the man would out-Herod Herod in his desire to push an utterly evil agenda to its furthest extent. But worse yet is that this man then teaches a mostly ignorant public that his own stand is compatible with Catholic Church teaching. Both of these are crimes against humanity in a fundamental way. There is no excuse that can be given for Mr. Kerry on either count. As a public figure, he is, de facto a teacher about what the Church IS in reality. Many people look at him and see a "Catholic in good standing." Now, I suspect that many of us harbor notions that may not be completely reflective of Church teaching. For my own part, those ideas that I hold, I hold largely in ignorance, or I hold them, in battle. For example, above I questioned the validity of the notion of a "just war." I don't know what standing this has in Catholic teaching--doctrine, dogma, opinion, somewhere in between these things. But I fight with it--I push against it. I do this in full knowledge that when I have done so before, I have been shown to be wrong in short order, I expect to be shown so now. However, there can be no question about the Church's teaching on abortion and life matters. As such, there is no wiggle room. There is one truth the Church teaches that admits of no variance.

Hence, I struggle with the question of whether or not I face two more or less equally immoral candidates. Engaging in an immoral war (question 1) with full knowledge (question 2) is unquestionably immoral. The difficulty is that there is no chart to show me, no quantifiable data. I have a mass of the opinions, informed and otherwise, of other Catholics. I am grateful for this data, but it is insufficient to determine the reality to the degree that would allow me to vote comfortably.

Here in Florida, we can vote before election day. Given the "irregularities" already "observed" in such voting, perhaps I would do well to hie me to a voting place and cast my ballot. Perhaps it will be invalidated, challenged, or litigated over. Then, at least for the president, it would little matter how I voted. (Sorry guys, I don't buy the statistical argument that one vote doesn't matter. It does, to the person making the vote and to the integrity of the fabric of democracy. Whether or not it affects the outcome of the election we can debate--I believe it does and that it matters.)

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