January 21, 2005

How NOT to Use a Ghost

For contrast see the beginning of “Hamlet”

from “A Spanish Tragedy”
Thomas Kyd

Act I, Scene i
Enter the GHOST of Andrea, and with him REVENGE,

GHOST. When this eternal substance of my soul
Did live imprison'd in my wanton flesh:
Each in their function serving other's need,
I was a courtier in the Spanish Court.
My name was Don Andrea, my descent
Though not ignoble, yet inferior far
To gracious fortunes of my tender youth:
For there in prime and pride of all my years,
By duteous service and deserving love,
In secret I possess'd a worthy dame,
Which hight sweet Bel-imperia by name.
But in the harvest of my summer joys,
Death's winter nipp'd the blossoms of my bliss,
Forcing divorce betwixt my love and me.
For in the late conflict with Portingale,
My valour drew me into danger's mouth,
Till life to death made passage through my wound.'!.
When I was slain, my soul descended straight,
To pass the flowing stream of Acheron:
But churlish Charon, only boatman there,
Said that my rites of burial not perform'd,
I might not sit amongst his passengers.
Ere Sol had slept three nights in Thetis' lap
And slak'd his smoking chariot in her flood:
By Don Horatio our Knight Marshal's son,
My funerals and Obsequies were done.
Then was the ferryman of hell content
To pass me over to the slimy strond,
That leads to fell Avernus' ugly waves:
There pleasing Cerberus with honey'd speech,
I pass'd the perils of the foremost porch.
Not far from hence amidst ten thousand souls,
Sat Minos, Aeacus, and Rhadamanth,
To whom no sooner 'gan I make approach,
To crave a passport for my wand'ring ghost:
But Minos in graven leaves of lottery,
Drew forth the manner of my life and death.
'This knight' (quoth he) 'both liv'd and died in love
And for his love tried fortune of the wars,
And by war's fortune lost both love and life.
'Why then,' said Aeacus, 'convey him hence,
"To walk with lovers in our fields of love:
And spend the course of everlasting time,
Under green myrtle trees and cypress shades.
'No, no,' said Rhadamanth, 'It were not well,
With loving souls to place a martialist:
He died in war, and must to martial fields:
Where wounded Hector lives in lasting pain,
And Achilles' myrmidons do scour the plain.'
Then Minos mildest censor of the three,
Made this device to end the difference.
'Send him' (quoth he) 'to our infernal King:
To doom him as best seems his majesty.'
To this effect my passport straight was drawn.
In keeping on my way to Pluto's court,
Through dreadful shades of ever-glooming night,
I saw more sights than thousand tongues can tell,
Or pens can write, or mortal hearts can think.
Three ways there were, that on the right hand side
Was ready way unto the foresaid fields,
Where lovers live, and bloody martialists,
But either sort contain'd within his bounds.
The left hand path declining fearfully,
Was ready downfall to the deepest hell,
Where bloody furies shakes their whips of steel,
And poor Ixion turns an endless wheel.
Where usurers are chok'd with melting gold,
And wantons are embrac'd with ugly snakes:
And murderers groan with never killing wounds,
And perjur'd wights scalded in boiling lead,
And all foul sins with torments overwhelm'd.
'Twixt these two ways, I trod the middle path,
Which brought me to the fair Elysian green.
In midst whereof there stands a stately tower,
The walls of brass, the gates of adamant.
Here finding Pluto with his Proserpine,
I show'd my passport humbled on my knee.
Whereat fair Proserpine began to smile,
And begg'd that only she might give my doom.
Pluto was pleas'd, and seal'd it with a kiss.
Forthwith (Revenge) she rounded thee in th' ear,
And bad thee lead me through the Gates of Horn,
Where dreams have passage in the silent night.
No sooner had she spoke but we were here,
I wot not how, in twinkling of an eye.

REVENGE. Then know Andrea that thou art arriv'd
Where thou shalt see the author of thy death,
Don Balthazar the Prince of Portingale,
Depriv'd of life by Bel-imperia:
Here sit we down to see the mystery,
And serve for Chorus in this tragedy.

Nevertheless, it does contain some matters of interest in the reversion to a Greco-Roman vision of judgment and Hell. To what purpose, it is hard to say as the play take place firmly in the present (of that time) and in no way remarks upon historical happenings. Nevertheless it is so. And Kyd, being a contemporary of Shakespeare is a sterling example of why Shakespeare is so highly regarded. And yet had there been no Shakespeare, then Kyd and his ilk—Beaumont and Fletcher, and others might hold some pride of place in the pantheon of playwrights. Yet another reason to thank God for Shakespeare. (Though if you give this play, or “The White Devil” or “The Jew of Malta” or some other similar plays a try, you’ll find that they are not without their own charms.)

Or, if you feel so impelled (as I sometimes do) you might take up the unmodernized version and see what Shakespeare did with the same materials.

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Just And Odd Day--From Hydriotaphia

from the Introduction to Hydriotaphia
Sir Thomas Browne

WHEN the general pyre was out, and the last valediction over, men took a lasting adieu of their interred friends, little expecting the curiosity of future ages should comment upon their ashes; and, having no old experience of the duration of their relicks, held no opinion of such after-considerations.
But who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried? Who hath the oracle of his ashes, or whither they are to be scattered? The relicks of many lie like the ruins of Pompey's,* in all parts of the earth; and when they arrive at your hands these may seem to who, in a direct and meridian travel, have but few miles of known earth between yourself and the pole.

Harvested from Renascence Editions

The full text is a curious and early study of the burial practices of various nations as understood by informed people of the era. I recall reading parts of this during my undergraduate career and being absolutely mystified as to why we were reading any of it at all and why it every managed to be preserved, much less read in all these years.

But I return to those texts of long ago and find in them charms that eluded me in youth--a felicity of language, a piquancy of tone, a vibrant and lively curiousity that encompasses a wide range of interests. These texts are well worth reading if only to discover how understandings have changed through the years and how investigative techniques have developed. Hydriotaphia is one of those works of extreme interest to set alongside The Anatomy of Melancholy. If isn't for everyone, nor is it even for a very large audience. Nevertheless, for those few to whom it speaks, it has much to say and is, in its own curious way, wonderful.

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An Odd Encounter on the Internet Superhighway

Harry Crosby

I exchange eyes with the Mad Queen

the mirror crashes against my face
and bursts into a thousand suns
all over the city flags crackle and bang
fog horns scream in the harbor
the wind hurricanes through the window
and I begin to dance the dance of the
Kurd Shepherds

I stamp upon the floor
I whirl like dervishes

colors revolve dressing and undressing
I lash them with my fury
stark white with iron black
harsh red with blue
marble green with bright orange
and only gold remains naked

columns of steel rise and plunge
emerge and disappear
pistoning in the river of my soul
thrusting upwards
thrusting downwards
thrusting inwards
thrusting outwards

I roar with pain

black-footed ferrets disappear into holes

the sun tattooed on my back
begins to spin
faster and faster
whirring whirling
throwing out a glory of sparks
sparks shoot off into space
sparks into shooting stars
shooting stars collide with comets

Naked Colors Explode
Red Disaster

I crash out through the
window naked, widespread
upon a
I uproot an obelisk and plunge
it into the ink-pot of the
Black Sea
I write the word

A heliosaurus no less! Remarkable. One wonders under what stimulus this vision?

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January 20, 2005

Bearing with Other's as God's Will for Us

On nearly every page of Sr. Ruth's book there is something worthy of quotation. Were I to follow my inclination, I would end up retyping the entire book. As it stands, I'm already presenting too much--but there is a wealth of wisdom and richness in what she has to say. And she has a very deft hand at sifting out what is essential and what is optional in the teaching of St. John of the Cross. I don't know that I agree with all of her conclusions, but there is more than enough agreement to make the book helpful to me. That said, this Theresian interpolation of St. John of the Cross through Sr. Ruth is very, very nice indeed.

from Ascent to Love
Ruth Burrows

This making ourselves of little account in a practical way will greatly affect our relationships with others. . . . Nothing so reduces the ego as the realities of living with others and not demanding that they change so as to suit ourselves. . . . God brings people into community precisely in order to purify them as gold is purified with fire and the hammer. . . .

What an enormous difference attitudes make. We shall have to bear many difficulties from other people anyway. To see in all these things God's will for our ascent to him and to make up our minds to adopt a positive attitude makes everything so much easier! John's asceticism taken at one swallow can seem just too much, but lived out it can only be happiness-giving. We are our own misery and affliction. Get rid of the ego and we are truly happy and at peace.

There is so much solid and clear wisdom here. Unless you are a hermit, you will live your life among other people. Living your life in this way means that you will encounter people and aspects of people that you find wearying, annoying, irritating, nauseating, and otherwise personally unacceptable. Our usual tactic in such a situation, if we cannot remove ourselves from the person involved, is to seek to change the person. How many husbands and wives carry on a kind of sparring match over issues like who takes the trash out, whether the toilet seat is down or up, who dumps their clothes where, etc. etc. There are endless irritating and aggravating proclivities in the entire world that is not ME. And if the truth be told, if the world were more like ME, I suspect I would find it all the more annoying.

When we stop trying to change the world and we accept what comes to us from God's hands, that is when the world really is changed. It is changed in that I am changed, and it is changed in that my perception of it has become more Godly. I will not convert my wife by lecturing at her, I may not even convert her by following Sr. Ruth's advice, but I will have converted myself so that rather than being aggravated and constantly looking for my own fulfillment, I am looking in the aggravating situation for a way to show my love to God by loving my wife. And the best way is to accept what comes from His hand as the will for the moment and to rejoice in the attention He is paying me and the path that is being paved to allow my ascent.

In every case, when we can put self aside, we will be serving God. And when we do so we immediately become better witnesses for Him. Our strongest Catholic witness is not necessarily a lecture about the Real Presence or the apostolic succession (true though they may be) but rather our joy in living out our Catholic Faith. Was it St. Teresa who said, "Lord preserve me from sour-faced saints?" Knowing God is real joy, profound joy, life affecting joy. Too often we are caught up in our own agendas, attempting to shape all things to ourselves and to our own convenience to notice that these little miseries, these little hardships are training us up in the way we should go--in enduring them is far greater joy than can ever be had by tryng to put them aside or change them. God is a loving Father and everything He sends, He sends for our good. Problem is, we don't really believe that--we think we can take this good and make it better. The reality is living what God has given us is our highest good.

So, as we will have to deal with people who do not precisely conform to what we think they should be or do, we do best to endure cheerfully and in fact with great humility and love. For by so doing we will be heaping burning coals upon their heads--but this isn't really the point. The point is that we will be showing them and others the way to sanctity as we pick it out ourselves.

We need merely remember St. Thérèse's small service of a smile to a person who irritated her beyond words. And this small action seemed to have effected a change in the recipient through the love shown. But we cannot love with this in mind, we must only love with the idea that what we have is God's gift to us for the moment. Whatever it may consist of, however we must deal with it, God is showing us moment by moment how to ascend to Him. When we abandon ourselves (which, of course we can only do with His help) we can begin to walk that path. The path of detachment will not seem so hard when we see in every step the path that leads to life.

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January 18, 2005

Conversion Stories Cont.

To add to TSO's list of conversion/Catholic stories, see from Julie D. of Happy Catholic. (I note that TSO has updated his own list as of this morning.)

Jullie, thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a note. I'm glad I was able to find you.

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Being Who You Are in Christ

Another insight into St. John of the Cross.

from Ascent to Love
Ruth Burrows

John is 'at home' in religious life. . . whereas when he attempts to carry his principles into secular life we feel he is floundering. As we read through his treatment of detachment from joy in the use of temporal, natural, sensible goods (his own categories) we cannot avoid the impression that he is a man ill-at-ease in the workaday world. For him it is infinitely preferable to get rid of all possessions, remain celibate, live in retirement and give oneself up to prayer; all else is second best. . . . The whole world is the Lord's, he is in all and not only in one tiny consecrated corner. All is sacred, the house of the Lord and the gate of heaven. John might prefer everyone to be within the cloister but God does not!

All John writes must therefore be interpreted using the insights of our own day, but his basic principles remain unchallenged--nothing and no one can be our ultimate joy or security. There has to be detachment coupled with great involvement and one does not rule out the other. Take John's rather down-graded view of marriage, for example, and put it against our own developing appreciation of just what marriage is meant to be. It is the way par excellance for the vast majority to grow into freedom and fulness of love, the vehicle of transcendence. What displine, sacrifice, asceticism, will be needed for it to reach this ideal! And when the partners have truly become two in one and then comes the separation of death--how incalcuable the wound! Yes, but the very fact that the marriage has reached fulfilment will mean that the other can stand alone, continuing to grow in freedom and love. All human situations are open to God. Prayer, constant reflection on the gospel, desire, vigiliance--these will reveal how, in the concrete, hour by hour, we find him in them, respond to him in them.

I especially liked the very logical, very practical insight that "ohn might prefer everyone to be within the cloister but God does not!" We have so high a regard for clergy and relgious (rightfully so) that we sometimes fail to see that the vast majority of us are not and never have been and as the Lord is doing the calling, either a great many of us are not listening too well or He calls most of us to sanctity outside the bounds of the cloister or clergy. This is simply a fact, not a statement as to who has "the better part."

But marriage is the perfect training ground for detachment, sacrifice, and love. Anyone who is or has been a parent recalls the sacrifices required when children are very young--sleepless nights, endless labor over a little one. And for a very long time, this effort may transmute but it never goes away. For example, how often does daddy's dinner (when eating out) look ever so much more appealing than what is on my own plate? Then add to that time that we'd rather be doing other things but must heed the necessity to play with, train up, advise, admonish, discipline, and just plain talk to our children.

And then there is the endless battle of wills that comprises a marriage--the misconmmunications, the hurt feelings, the endless unappreciatied labors. We bring forth each new, completed work and hold it out for an awed moment of silence, only to have it pushed away as our spouse bustles by with an armload of laundry. This isn't uncaring, this isn't unsupportive, this is merely the fullness of the day. And when we reach its end too often we are exhausted by all of its contingencies to properly express our appreciation of one another. And yet, the current flows through it and sustains it. We are servants to each other, we are Christ for each other, slowly dragging our partners toward salvation in a waltz that becomes a tango that becomes a wrestling match that feels like it will never end.

Oh yes, marriage is the perfect training ground for detachment, for giving up our need and desire to control another, for giving up our own way and going with the way of service. Every moment of every day opens up wide vistas of opportunity for service to one another. Detachment picks service rather than our own will in a given matter. Detachment always looks for the betterment of all and for God's will in a situation. Detachment means leaving the ego behind and not resenting giving half of one's dinner to an anxious, joyous, overwhelming six-year-old. Detachment means dropping our little golden crown and helping our spouses carry the laundry to the washing machine or the garbage to the road.

It is in marriage that most of us in St. Blogs are called to find Christ.The circumstances are such that we will be able to practice in all fullness the disciplines of detachment and selfless love, always keeping in mind that these are never our own, but graces given freely by God to strengthen us and our families. So the teachings of St. John of the Cross, rooted in the cloister and the convent, reach out and touch us in the apartment and the living room. We are not excused because we are not cloistered, but rather, we are called upon to an even more heroic exercise of selflessness because we do not have the moments of solitude that rebuild. While we are not called to the strictness of the cloister, neither do we have some of the advantages that accrue there. And yet our lives are graced by a sacrament that works to make us holy in the vocation to which we have been called.

So, while we may not be able to observe all the particulars of the specific discpline that St. John of the Cross calls for, the doctrine he teaches holds true. Emptying and selflessness make room for Him to come and dwell and when he is dwelling at the heart of the family there is no toil, no turmoil, no trouble so great that it does not make the family stronger and bring them closer to Him. This is part of the meaning of the sacrament of marriage. And within it we must find the balance between intimacy and true loving support and detachment from our own needs that will best move everyone toward Christ. As the chief officers on the ship we are responsible to see that she sails properly toward the Homeland.

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Why I Am the Catholic I Am

What follows may be too personal to be of much interest, but I thought it might help better understand some of the attitudes and prejudices that are occasionally given air here. I wrote it in response to a correspondent, who, believe me didn't ask for anything of the sort. I guess the unfortunate soul just happened to be in the way when the cannon went off.

"Having come from a protestant faith that claimed that they had existed all along as a "shadow church" but only emerged to claim their own during the reformation, I find that there is a lot of convincing evidence that the Catholic Church may claim, and rightfully so, the title of the one True Church. Certainly, this is a subjective certainty, but I stand with Newman (I think it was) on the notion that I cannot belong to a Church whose creed has a pedigree that does not stem from Christ Himself. While I am not competent to argue the case to others, in my researches, I found sufficient evidence to convince me that one Church could lay claim to that reality. There was another that probably had equal claim, but whose teaching authority was so scattered and diffuse that I found it an untenable home. I've subsequently found that I was wrong in that estimation--but I believe that it was grace that blinded me to my error for the time.

"As a protestant, I was not satisfied and the protestant world view was a warped mirror. It took me a long time after converting to Catholicism to become "truly" Catholic, and I still exhibit a lot of tendencies that drive many of my Catholic compatriots insane. You wouldn't believe how many Catholics look askance and ask why scripture reading is a necessity. And of course my problem with the Rosary befuddles a great many. But apart from a few relict attitudes, I feel that I've become a pretty good Catholic. My chief problem now is that having emerged from error, I live in fear of reentering error. That is, I am deeply suspicious of a great many writers who may be perfectly fine, but who have been accused of being off-track in some way. For example, Karl Rahner is on
my list of "the suspect." Until some recent material by Paul Elie and Christopher Blosser, I had my reservations about Merton, although Merton was one of the figures whose writing convinced me that there was something to be found in the Catholic Church that could be found nowhere else."

So, now when I ask about so-and-so and his "orthodoxy," you will, at least, have some idea of why I am asking. I have emerged from the land of "utter depravity" into the land of "good but flawed and fallen" and I have no desire to return. On the other hand, I also don't want to enter the la-la land of the neo-Rousseauian noble savage who is redeemed in and of himself but corrupted by society. Ho-hum, Anyone who can cast his eye back over the twentieth century and come to that conclusion has and ignorance as invincible as it is ahistoric. I pray that God bless such a one--who will be doomed to wander Candide-like through this world looking for "the best of all possible worlds." Eventually, God's grace prevailing, he shall find it, but it won't be here.

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January 17, 2005

For all the Saints. . .

or at least a great many of them--this link.

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The Viaduct Murder Ronald A. Knox

I'm glad that Msgr. Knox's reputation is secured in other arenas because whle this may have made the famous "Haycraft" list, it is an understatement to call it a disappointment. Written as the skeleton of a golden age mystery with four ciphers analyzing the murder of yet another cipher, the writing is undistinguished. The characterization makes Agatha Christie at her very worst look like Leo Tolstoy. These four golfing buddies start talking and except for quirks noted by another of the talking heads they are indistinguishable.

Add to that some of the usual nonsense circulating around railway schedules and you have the ingredients for what might be a pastiche of the Golden Age mystery if Mr. Knox himself had not prized it so highly.

Unless you are a student of the Golden Age, give this one a big miss.

Status: Recommended for serious students of the genre only.

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