October 15, 2004

A New Blog With a Heart For Children

My thanks to Joachim for directing me to A Grain of Wheat. See also wthe wonderful website you can access through the side column of his blog. A Grain of Wheat--The Website

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On Fatherhood

An excerpt from a letter by Tim O'Brien found at Summa Mamas. It is really beautiful. Please go and read it. I'm stealing this part for my letter to Samuel--

"That said, I would trade. . .my life's work for an extra 5 or 10 years with you, whatever the going rate might be. A father's chief duty is not to instruct or discipline. A father's chief duty is to be present. And I yeanr to be with you forever, always present, even knowing it cannot and will not happen." (Tim O'Brien--author of Going after Cacciato and The Things They Carried

Well, the last line is not true. I rely upon God's graces and the communion of the saints to know that I have the opportunity to be with him throughout his life and ultimately in eternity. When I am no longer physically here, I hope that my prayers keep him company, and this, in itself is impetus to improve my spiritual life as I suspect I can do him little good if I'm working off my time in purgatory. (Doesn't it say that those in purgatory must rely upon the prayers of others to attain merits? I'm not very good on the doctrines surrounding this.) Nevertheless, a good reason for a virtuous life and keeping purgatory at a minimum is to know that Samuel will never have to be alone for long. (It's not the best and most virtuous reason, but it does have the advantage of being present and tangible on a day-to-day basis. And surely, any little charity shown is worthwhile and a impetus toward the greater Charity.)

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The Kaleidoscopic Book Bag

On top of the Stack--

Bad Faith Aimée and David Thurlo (The first in what promises to be a series of Religious detective stories featuring Sister Agatha.)

Vile Bodies Evelyn Waugh--I'm sure it's no new discovery to note that one should be extremely cautious in the quantity of Waugh one consumes at any one time. Cynicism and bitterness tend to be contagious.

Murther and Walking Spirits Robertson Davies. Dipped into, but never really started, this seemed quite an intriguing read for around Hallowe'en.

The (Mis)Behavior of Markets Benoit Mandelbrot and Richard L. Hudson.

Background reading continues to be the remarkable translation of Anna Karenina

I've been debating reading The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell. Highly rated and well-considered as a work of twentieth century literature, its subject matter is such that it makes me wonder whether it is worthy of my attention. For example, I find the subject matter of Lolita so repugnant to my sensibilities that I have been hard-pressed to read any Nabakov at all. Yes, I know, a rather provincial prejudice, but it seems that some works come pre-tainted--that is regardless of how well constructed or beautifully written, one must wonder whether there can be any merit to them at all. I'll glance at a few more studies of Durrell and read a few more pages (I really do love the style) before deciding. Unfortunately Durrell, unlike Henry Miller, has real talent with words. Henry Miller I attempted to read in my youth because he was so "controversial" and "erotic." Fortunately, I was so turned off by the dreariness of the lives encountered in whichever of the Tropics books I happened to pick up, and by the relentlessly blocky, unstyled prose that I never fell prey to their temptations. Oh well, the dangers of reading. . .

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Book Review--The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Through no fault of its own, this book brought me once again to the realization that as I grow older, I seem to have less time or willingness to bear with trifles.

The story concerns the exploits and background of one Mma Precious Ramotswe, a resident of Botswana and founder of the first ladies detective agency in the country. The novel consists of a string of cases, the most serious of which is a rather confusing tangle of an 11 year old boy whose fate I will not detail, but which ultimately remains obscurely or entirely unexplained.

In the course of this novel one gets delightful evocations of life in southern Africa. One comes to meet some fairly interesting people, and one is given an inside perspective on life in Africa today. Because of a kind of ingrained romanticism that stems from never having visited any part of Africa, I am always surprised to read about modern cities, expecting rather more traditional villages and communities. So it is good to upset those fixed notions from time to time.

But the book is ultimately a trifle, a puff-pastry, a delectable delight that once consumed leaves one unsatisfied. One can move on to other such works or resume more substantial reading. For one, I may consume one other such trifle, but then it's back to Davies, Waugh, and Tolstoy. (Not to mention Benoit Mandelbrot.)


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On Visions, Locutions, and Prophecies

. . . and their proper interpretation

from The Ascent of Mount Carmel
St. John of the Cross

[from Book II, Chapter 19]

For two reasons we have said that, although visions and locutions which come from God are true, and in themselves are always certain, they are not always so with respect to ourselves. One reason is the defective way in which we understand them; and the other, the variety of their causes. In the first place, it is clear that they are not always as they seem, nor do they turn out as they appear to our manner of thinking. The reason for this is that, since God is vast and boundless, He is wont, in His prophecies, locutions and revelations, to employ ways, concepts and methods of seeing things which differ greatly from such purpose and method as can normally be understood by ourselves; and these are the truer and the more certain the less they seem so to us. This we constantly see in the Scriptures. To many of the ancients many prophecies and locutions of God came not to pass as they expected, because they understood them after their own manner, in the wrong way, and quite literally. This will be clearly seen in these passages.

Guess this leaves the "Left Behinders" with rather short shrift. And well done, too. Literal reading of Biblical test is a never-ending morass of confusion and misunderstanding in many cases. One must, of course, understand the literal meaning of the words, but that does not mean that what is expressed on the face of it it what ultimately is intended by it. A simple example is when Jesus says, "I am the light of the world." We look neither for a wick, nor for a switch. We understand this to be said metaphorically. We all know this, but there are some pockets of Protestantism in particularly that insist on literal readings, most particularly of texts that were never written to be read literally. (The Apocalypse comes to mind.)

One must never attempt to understand what is being said in the Bible by leaping over the literal meaning to some cracked figurative meaning. But then neither should one stop at the literal meaning thinking that is all that is present. The word of God is sharper than any two edged sword.

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From Gerard Manley Hopkins

Typically syntactically tortured, but transcendantly beautiful.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire
Gerard Manley Hopkins

            As king fishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
                As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
                Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
            Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
            Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
                Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
                Selves -- goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
            Crying What I do is me: for that I came.
              I say more: the just man justices;
               Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
            Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is --
               Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
            Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
               To the Father through the features of men's faces.

"The just man. . . acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is--Christ." That says it all. And the unjust. Well, see psalm 1 for the answer there.

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October 14, 2004

On the Debates

One of the great, wonderful things about being a Catholic loyal to the magisterium (as much as I understand it) is that it makes completely unnecessary any attention to this year's debates whatsoever. Nothing Mr. Kerry could say, not matter how prolix (on the one hand) or oratorically grand (on the other) can redeem his stance on the slaughter of the innocents. Nothing Mr. Bush has to say will eradicate his past and present record.

I had long ago concluded that no matter how I might like some social policies, it would be impossible for me to vote for John Kerry. As the issues I am concerned about are not going to be discussed in the course of the debate, or at least not resolved, that makes listening to the debates an exercise in redundancy. It little matters who "won." My only trial is to consider the candidate remaining to me and to decide where conscience really leads after serious consideration of all sides of the issue.

It is not an easy matter (the difficult part of being a Catholic loyal to the magisterium (as much as I understand it). However, the debates have not played in my house nor have I amused myself with the sound bites and recaps, which, being extracted by a media biased against our incumbent, would never show him in a good light anyway. So once again, the truth has set me free!

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The Belle of Amherst, on the Other Hand

Has ever been a favorite. Tightly repressed, and somewhat pursed-lipped, nevertheless, she whispers through the ages poems that have no age. I have no idea how she would vote, and I like it that way.

The Snake
Emily Dickinson

The Snake

            A narrow fellow in the grass
            Occasionally rides;
            You may have met him,--did you not,
            His notice sudden is.

            The grass divides as with a comb,
            A spotted shaft is seen;
            And then it closes at your feet
            And opens further on.

            He likes a boggy acre,
            A floor too cool for corn.
            Yet when a child, and barefoot,
            I more than once at morn,

            Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
            Unbraiding in the sun,--
            When, stooping to secure it,
            It wrinkled, and was gone.

            Several of nature's people
            I know, and they know me;
            I feel for them a transport
            Of cordiality;

            But never met this fellow,
            Attended or alone,
            Without a tighter breathing,
            And zero at the bone.

That last stanza is a clencher, and the last line, sheer genius--in fact it inspires the very feeling it describes--a delicious chill, an ominous ringing.

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Whitman--Not a Favorite of Mine

I'm convinced that were he alive today, Whitman would vote for John Kerry.

from "Song of Myself"
Walt Whitman

              I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
              And what I assume you shall assume,
              For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

              I loafe and invite my soul,
              I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

              My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this air,
              Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
              I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
              Hoping to cease not till death.

            Creeds and schools in abeyance,
            Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
            I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
            Nature without check with original energy.

I will leave it to others (including Whitman himself) to celebrate the genius of Whitman, it has ever eluded me.

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From a Genius--A Sentiment I Make My Own

To Autumn
John Keats (1795-1821)

             Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
                   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
             Conspiring with him how to load and bless
                   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
             To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
                   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
                        To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
                   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
             And still more, later flowers for the bees,
            until they think warm days will never cease,
                       For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

            Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
                  Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
            Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
                  Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
            Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
                  Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
                       Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
            And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
                  Steady thy laden head across a brook;
                  Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,

                       Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
            Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
                  Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,--
            While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
                  And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
            Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
                  Among the river sallows, borne aloft
                       Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
            And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
                  Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
                  The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
                       And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

When I first encountered this poem in a Keats class in College the professor claimed that it was flawed in its near perfection. At the time I found that profound, and I suppose there is still some merit in the notion, but I think now that it is perfect in its near perfection, in its capturing of the spirit of the season so well.

(And yes, OBJ., I know you'd prefer I didn't wander so frequently in the groves of poetry. But then, I'd prefer that you would wander there more, and lead by the hand the little ones in your charge. And this goes for all you home-schooling moms! If it is within your power, give your children poetry early and often. And don't beat them over the head with analysis and with talk of symbolism and all sort of other nonsense that too often accompanies the reading of poem. Rather, savor the language, the richnesses, the rhythms, the sheer beauty of what is there and the symbolism and all the rest will follow, more or less naturally. Keats did not have to instruct his public in how to read his poetry, and they were a good deal less sophisticated than we claim to be. Poetry is an enormous gift to children--from sing-song rhymes to epic verse. Let it be an experience of immersion, not of distant intellectual approach.)

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One of the Many St. Blog's Poets

From Taliesan--

from "Elizabeth (Poem) "
Tim Smith

your ears were far from dull
for in the first word Mary spoke
you heard her silent child.
(and so did John.)

Go and enjoy the whole thing. A wonderful gift to the parish, as it were. And I trust Mr. Smith does not mind that I posted this small part to encourage all to seek him out. (If so, just let me know, and I'll take it away.)

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Wordsworth on Contemplative Silence

Though he would not have called it that. Look at this second strophe of Tintern Abbey and see if it does not recall the states described by the mystics. Wordsworth does not attribute it to God, and yet, in his own way, I think that it is because he encounters God most directly in the freedom of nature, as Paul said in Romans (?), the second scripture.

from Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798

William Wordsworth

                                                    These beauteous forms,
            Through a long absence, have not been to me
            As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:
            But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din
            Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
            In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
            Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
            And passing even into my purer mind
            With tranquil restoration:--feelings too
            Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
            As have no slight or trivial influence
            On that best portion of a good man's life,
            His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
            Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,
            To them I may have owed another gift,
            Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
            In which the burthen of the mystery,
            In which the heavy and the weary weight
            Of all this unintelligible world,
            Is lightened:--that serene and blessed mood,
            In which the affections gently lead us on,--
            Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
            And even the motion of our human blood
            Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
            In body, and become a living soul:
            While with an eye made quiet by the power
            Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
            We see into the life of things.

We see into the life of things. We see into the life of the most important things, the life of the three persons of God. We do not understand it, nor can we begin to grasp it in its fullness. Nevertheless, the contemplative experience is a window into the life of God, a glimpse into His Holiness and His perfection. And with a window into God, we have a window into all that matters in life. Wordsworth captured it well here. He summarizes it in a way that would befit St. John of the Cross in his mystical transports. Go and read the whole thing and enjoy. Literature is not the highest good, but it is certainly a great good--greater yet when it offers us a picture of the divine.

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Special Prayer Request

Marriage is really under attack, both in the abstract formulation of law and in the concrete. We all know of some very prominent Catholics whose marriage is unfortunately falling apart quite publicly; however, there are any number of private crises as well.

As faithful Catholic we need to take a stand in prayer and fasting for marriage. Please consider offering even a single meal, or that tempting snack or desert, some small personal sacrifice in the name of the many who are enduring very, very difficult times right now. The assault seems enormous. Every time I turn around, I seem to learn of another couple whose marriage is in danger. Please give some time todqy, perhaps a decade of the rosary, perhaps during the Divine Mercy chaplet, or perhaps some other small prayer for the many, many people who are enduring this onslaught of the evil one. He will not cease until he has utterly corrupted or destroyed this life-giving sacrament.

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October 13, 2004

"Cheer Up and Vote"

Mentioned by TSO in a comment at Disputations, this article by Benjamin Wiker at Crisis. Excerpt below:

We won’t be judged, then, on how we would have acted if things had been perfect, nor even on how we would have acted if things had been better. We will be judged on how we acted in the midst of the actual imperfection into which we were born and under which we lived. More accurately, recalling that sins are also committed by omission, we will be judged on how we did not act, as well as on how we did. If we wait to vote until we have a candidate of the intellectual and moral caliber of Abraham Lincoln, then we will be responsible for the repeated election of a rogue’s gallery of presidents during our repeated sins of omission.

(Let us put aside the question of the moral caliber of Lincoln for a moment--which is a matter of some lengthy debate.) What is astounding in the excerpt above is its lack of recognition that refusal to vote is NOT inaction, it is action at its very highest. Refusal of moral compromise is the most important action we can take.

I won't comment on the political state at the moment, nor on my own view of what should and should not be done. However, not voting is rather like refusal to move when blocking the doors of an abortion clilnic. You get yourself thrown in jail, reviled and hated by the media, branded a fanatic, and ultimately probably don't change even a single mind that day--but that steadfast refusal is a witness to a societal evil so profound that even if you witness accomplishes nothing else it is a testament of the courage that accompanies refusal of moral compromise--it charges the world with a greater good. I read Mr. Wiker's article and it suggests that moral compromise is perfectly acceptable, that we must make do with what we have. And I think the unwillingness of many to do so is a sign of the times. Many may feel that it is the continuous chain of "making do" with what we have before us that has led us to this debacle.

I find the suggestion that we should lower our principles to vote for what is morally repugnant distressing. But I am in all likelihood mischaracterizing a small portion of what I read. This is simply what stuck in the craw. Don't take this critique to mean that Mr. Wiker said these things--just consider it the exaggeration caused by the aftertaste of reading.

Elections like this one make Erik's authoritarian tendencies look positively appealing. But I would refer to the first of the Dylan Thomas poems I posted yesterday and encourage everyone who is of the moral conviction that it would wrong to vote for either candidate--"Do not go gentle into that good night" of compromise and complacency. Democracy has its failings, but one of its virtues is that no one is compelled to support evil. Rather than compromise, it is time to start raising up morally acceptable candidates. And by that I don't mean morally perfect, but those who strive with all that is in them to walk the right path. It may be that one of the present candidates fits that bill for many readers, and for those readers it is not only right, but it is mandatory that they support this candidate. However, it may well be that it is not the case. If so, don't relax moral vigilance. Most of all, do not expect from the government what it is incumbent upon us as Christians and as the light of Christ to deliver to the world. Justice does not come from a system (witness Terri Schiavo.) It comes only with the blood of martyrs and the work of the chosen.

All that said, as much as I disagree with what I read in Mr. Wiker, I think what he has to say is well said and should be carefully considered by every person who thinks that they cannot (morally) vote for a candidate this election. Perhaps his arguments will give you cause to change your minds.

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The Bay Psalm Book--Singable Psalms of the Seventheenth Century

I love Bill's idea of assembling a Psalter. My difficulty would come in choosing the very best versions of these translations. Naturally KJV and BCP come to mind, with Douay-Rheims-Challoner as possibilities. But I am reminded of the huge wealth of the literature of translation, inclunding Mary (Sidney) Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, and the remarkable Bay Psalm Book, from which I extract Psalm 1.

Psalm 1 from the Bay Psalme Booke

1 O blessed man, that in th'advice
of wicked doth not walk
Nor stand in sinners way nor sit
in chayre of scornfull folk.

2 But in the law of Jehova,
is his longing delight;
and in his law doth meditate
by day and ere by night.

3 And he shall be like to a tree
planted by water-rivers:
That in his season yields his fruit
And his leafe never withers.

4 And all he doth, shall prosper well,
the wicked are not so:
But they are like unto the chaffe
which winde drives to and fro.

5 Therefore shall not ungodly men,
rise to stand in the doome,
Nor shall the sinners with the just,
in their assemblie come.

6 For of the righteous men, the Lord
aknowledgeth the way:
but the way of ungodly men,
shall utterly decay.

You can hear some ot the melodies to which this might have been sung on this page.

A related page here gives a sense of what such a psalter might be. Though, I wouldn't necessarily choose the translations on these pages--they are instructive to see what one would choose for singing Psalms.

For example, here's Milton's rather strident and overly poetic version of the same. (Note half-rhymes and enjambments that would make singing almost nonsensical, it would seem.)

Psalm 1
translated by John Milton

Bless'd is the man who hath not walk'd astray
In counsel of the wicked, and ith' way
Of sinners hath not stood, and in the seat
Of scorners hath not sate. But in the great
Jehovahs Law is ever his delight,
And in his Law he studies day and night.

He shall be as a tree which planted grows
By watry streams, and in his season knows
To yield his fruit, and his leaf shall not fall,
And what he takes in hand shall prosper all.
Not so the wicked, but as chaff which fann'd
The wind drives, so the wicked shall not stand

In judgment, or abide their tryal then,
Nor sinners in th' assembly of just men.
For the Lord knows th' upright way of the just,
And the way of bad men to ruine must.

But still, the idea has appeal, if only for the fact that it would require us to spend some goodlyl amount of time perusing, and hopefully praying the psalms as we are selecting them.

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October 12, 2004

Mount St. Helen's Watch

Courtesy of a friend


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Who Mourns for Derrida?*

Courtesy of a friend: here

a brief excerpt:

But even if deconstruction cannot be defined, it can be described. For one thing, deconstruction comes with a lifetime guarantee to render discussion of any subject completely unintelligible. It does this by linguistic subterfuge. One of the central slogans of deconstruction is il n'y a pas de hors-texte, i.e., "there is nothing outside the text." (It sounds better in French.) In other words, deconstruction is an updated version of nominalism, the view that the meanings of words are completely arbitrary and that, at bottom, reality is unknowable.

Jacques Derrida along with Paul de Man gave us the systematic undermining of modern morality and respect for the truth. And then there is this lovely little piece of filth to deal with:

Stock in deconstruction has sagged a bit in recent years. There are basically two reasons for this. The first has to do with the late Paul de Man, the Belgian-born Yale professor of comparative literature. In addition to being one of the most prominent practitioners of deconstruction, Mr. de Man--as was revealed in the late 1980s--was an enthusiastic contributor to Nazi newspapers during World War II.

That discovery, and above all the flood of obscurantist mendacity disgorged by the deconstructionist brotherhood--not least by Mr. Derrida, who was himself Jewish--to exonerate Mr. de Man, cast a permanent shadow over deconstruction's status as a supposed instrument of intellectual liberation.

Sorry I've quoted so much, but atheistic existentialism (in fact most existentialism) and postmodernism are two hobby horses I would like to ride to death and bury them shallowly so that the more worthy vermin may pick their bones. They have done more to destroy the fabric of culture and society than anyone or anything except perhaps Margaret Sanger and the eugenicists.

May Mr. Derrida rest in peace, I pray ardently for the repose of his soul, despite the damage he may have wrought on culture in general. But may his work crumble and be consigned to the dimmest lit, mustiest, and moldiest back shelves of the library of culture along with Deism and other worthy contenders for philosophies just short of insanity. The foulness of this philosophy taints even sterlling members of the Saint Blogs' community who are accustomed to talkling about "victimization" and the "need for emancipation from the hegemony." Those who tremble in rage at the pale penile patriarchy and who go out of their way to give me inclusive language that is yet a further assault on the ears and intellect. The reach is vast--may it be eradicated. I pray never to hear another word about the "imperialism of ideas" or about the "lesbian phallus." Yes, all of these things are courtesy of Mr. Derrida and his merry androgynes et al.

* Not that Derrida in any manner compares--but the source:

Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)


              Who mourns for Adonais? Oh, come forth,
              Fond wretch! and know thyself and him aright.
              Clasp with thy panting soul the pendulous Earth;
              As from a centre, dart thy spirit's light
              Beyond all worlds, until its spacious might
              Satiate the void circumference: then shrink
              Even to a point within our day and night;
              And keep thy heart light lest it make thee sink
         When hope has kindled hope, and lur'd thee to the brink.

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On Translating the Bible--The Countess of Pembroke

This is one of my favorite psalms, and for a variety of reason, I truly love this setting of it.

Psalm 139
Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke

Psalm 139
by Mary (Sidney) Herbert,
Countess of Pembroke

      O LORD, O Lord, in me there lieth nought
    But to thy search revealed lies,
            For when I sit
            Thou markest it;
    No less thou notest when I rise;
Yea, closest closet of my thought
    Hath open windows to thine eyes.

Thou walkest with me when I walk;
    When to my bed for rest I go,
            I find thee there,
            And everywhere:
    Not youngest thought in me doth grow,
No, not one word I cast to talk
    But yet unuttered thou dost know.

If forth I march, thou goest before,
    If back I turn, thou com'st behind:
            So forth nor back
            Thy guard I lack,
    Nay on me too, thy hand I find.
Well I thy wisdom may adore,
    But never reach with earthy mind.

To shun thy notice, leave thine eye,
    O whither might I take my way?
            To starry sphere?
            Thy throne is there.
    To dead men's undelightsome stay?
There is thy walk, and there to lie
    Unknown, in vain I should assay.

O sun, whom light nor flight can match,
    Suppose thy lightful flightful wings
            Thou lend to me,
            And I could flee
    As far as thee the evening brings:
Even led to west he would me catch,
    Nor should I lurk with western things.

Do thou thy best, O secret night,
    In sable veil to cover me:
            Thy sable veil
            Shall vainly fail;
    With day unmasked my night shall be,
For night is day, and darkness light,
    O father of all lights, to thee.

Each inmost piece in me is thine:
    While yet I in my mother dwelt,
            All that me clad
            From thee I had.
    Thou in my frame hast strangely dealt:
Needs in my praise thy works must shine
    So inly them my thoughts have felt.

Thou, how my back was beam-wise laid,
    And raft'ring of my ribs, dost know;
            Know'st every point
            Of bone and joint,
    How to this whole these parts did grow,
In brave embroid'ry fair arrayed,
    Though wrought in shop both dark and low.

Nay fashionless, ere form I took,
    Thy all and more beholding eye
            My shapeless shape
            Could not escape:
    All these time framed successively
Ere one had being, in the book
    Of thy foresight enrolled did lie.

My God, how I these studies prize,
    That do thy hidden workings show!
            Whose sum is such
            No sum so much,
    Nay, summed as sand they sumless grow.
I lie to sleep, from sleep I rise,
    Yet still in thought with thee I go.

My God, if thou but one wouldst kill,
    Then straigh would leave my further chase
            This cursed brood
            Inured to blood,
    Whose graceless taunts at thy disgrace
Have aimed oft; and hating still
    Would with proud lies thy truth outface.

Hate not I them, who thee do hate?
    Thine, Lord, I will the censure be.
            Detest I not
            The cankered knot
    Whom I against thee banded see?
O Lord, thou know'st in highest rate
    I hate them all as foes to me.

Search me, my God, and prove my heart,
    Examine me, and try my thought;
            And mark in me
            If ought there be
    That hath with cause their anger wrought.
If not (as not) my life's each part,
    Lord, safely guide from danger brought.

There is an ease and a beauty here that does not show in the sinewy and strident translations of Milton. There is also a music here that is lost in most other translations (the exceptions being the 1662 BCP and the King James and some of its predecessors.) You can imagine this psalm set to music, to baroque music--trumpets and flourishes. Unlike the weedy, thin and well-nigh indecipherable knots of words that we call our modern translations. No grandeur, no stateliness. What can one say of this:

Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me;
you restore my strength. You guide me along the right path for the sake of your name.
Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side


Or this:

Psalm 139

O LORD, you have probed me, you know me:
you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar.
My travels and my rest you mark; with all my ways you are familiar.


Sounds like the work of an extraterrestrial stalker.

Consider a point I made a day or so ago. How we speak may have some influence on our thought. It would seem that when we speak of God we should do so in the best way possible. That is, that the prayers we recite and the psalms we sing should be formulated in words the best reflect the majesty of their Subject.

Taste varies, and often people say that poetry is such a subjective art. And yet, we all know, nearly instinctually what makes a great poem, what makes a sing-song rhyme, and what makes an execrable butchery of the language. Can you imagine an ancient Hebrew poem in which the word "probed" is actually used? Or one in which the utterly prosaic and ghastly, "Even though I walk through a dark valley. . ." It is no wonder our prayer lives are so hampered if these are a materials we are given to start with. They treat God and his word as if he were our Home Boy or our local Val. Like, AS IF.

Okay, I've bent your ear enough. But we can do better than what is presently put before us, and we should strive to do so, seeking out not merely adequate, but truly magnificent translations--words that stir the heart and stick in the brain.

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

As We Wait and Pray, a Tribute

Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night
Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And Death Shall Have No Dominion
Dylan Thomas

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan't crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.


Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:49 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 11, 2004

Elizabethan Authors


Featuring a far-too-annotated Thomas Kyd The Spanish Tragedy along with some unfortunately modernized John Lyly--why can't people leave things alone. Yes, they're tough to read in the original, but it give the brain a little work to do and you have a sense of the author you don't get when people go fiddling with the texts. Well, for better or worse:

If 'tis done when 'twere done
'tis best 'twere done quickly.


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Twelve Tribes of Voters

From Don Jim a link to an interesting analysis of religious voters. Do you fit in a tribe?

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:09 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Another Quiz Result

Quiz from Mr. Bogner's place.

You are water. You're not really organic; you're
neither acidic nor basic, yet you're an acid
and a base at the same time. You're strong
willed and opinionated, but relaxed and ready
to flow. So while you often seem worthless,
without you, everything would just not work.
People should definitely drink more of you
every day.

Which Biological Molecule Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

And I didn't go back and change a single answer. I was so excited with this result. Undoubtedly it would be salt water. 35 parts per thousand salt.

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Single Issue Voting

TSO linked to Touchstone which supplied this:

A recent convert to Orthodoxy wrote in response to Orthodox Confusion and Clarity: "I have been accused of being a 'single-issue voter,' but I firmly believe that a politician's stand on abortion and the sanctity of life can predict that politician's other values and is an indicator of how that State Rep. or Senator will vote or how that President will lead."

And while I agree with the conclusion, I find the pathway there much easier. Without life, there is no other issue. Everything is moot if there is no life.

This space was filled with vacuous maunderings on about political matters, but now has been replaced with this nondescript filler. I will leave it to others to talk in a more informed fashion about political issues. No one needs to be bothered with my diatribe again.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:53 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Prayer Requests 11 October 2004

Praise and Prayer Requests
Please include Linda's concerns in a special way in your prayers today. She is undergoing a most arduous trial at the present time and needs the support of all of us.

For the repose of the soul of M. aged twenty who died in a collision and most especially for the family and friends he left behind.

For the repose of the soul of MIke, recently baptized, aged 25, found dead on his couch by his parent Saturday. May he be with the Lord already.

For Msgr. Harte, Pastor of the Shrine of Mary Queen of the Universe, recovered and still recovering from surgery.

For Terry Schiavo (sp?) who was once again placed in harm's way by a "compassionate" court that washed their hands of blood in the same way as Pilate did--"we only interpret the law."

For Smockmomma's sister Charlene, may God help her, heal her, and above all else hold her close in time of yet another trial.

For a troubled marriage, that it may open to the Lord's healing touch and blossom with all the potential that is within it.

Please continue to pray for Dylan until he returns to us.

A quick sale and an easy move for Tom and his family as they set out on another exciting adventure in life.

For the people of the Sudan oppressed on all sides that they receive justice, mercy, and reprieve.

For those struggling against self to attain holiness, that the Good Lord will raise up new Saints for our times, visible beacons that draw all people toward Christ.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:22 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Housekeeper and the Engineer

Even when I disagreed, I liked very much what I read here. The writer seems to be a genuinely pleasant, concerned parent. I loved the pictures and the reflections--go and enjoy.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:14 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Further Anecdotal Evidence of the Truth of the Established Church

This morning I was listening through the pledge-week stuff to NPRs report on the Afghan elections. This cause a thought bubble I thought I would share. The mention of the election brought to mind one of those things that I still am angry at--the destruction of the Buddhas by the Taliban. But then I thought, if I truly believed the Koran and the Koran was explicit about making no graven images, would I be serving God if I allowed what offended Him to continue to exist? That is, if the Buddhas offended God, should I allow the glory of men to detract from the Word of God. This, in turn, caused me to think about how one understands scripture. That is there are many ways to read a passage concerning graven images. Does it mean images to worship? Does it mean any image of a living thing? etc. etc. This got me to private interpretation of scripture and the fact that it is always, always flawed because the person doing the interpreting is flawed and is not God nor even close to God-like in his understanding of the fullness of the Word. This thought led finally to the fact that the Holy Spirit is a Spirit of order, not Chaos.

For some reason this suggested to me that the Church that would be founded by Jesus Christ acting for the most Holy Trinity would be a church that would have the minimum chances of this occurrence. God had observed the Israelite people and already had had enough of human factionalism. (And even without observation He would know what humans were capable of.) With Jesus He sent into the world his One Son to establish His One Church. The Church He would establish would be such that questions of interpretation and understanding scripture would have some reasonable resolution short of individual interpretation. Thus the One Church would have a single head in whom would ultimately reside the responsibility (no matter how much he was aided by others) for interpreting and understanding Scripture.

The Catholic Church is this church. As I have said elsewhere on the web, it is, at least, the only Church that has a clearly defined doctrine articulated by a central body. When one speaks out with one's individual interpretation it must be weighed against this central body. In other words, there is a body of teaching and understanding to dissent from--but that is how the view must be taken, as dissent from the learning passed down. You can disguise this any number of ways, by appeal to any number of loopholes, but it remains essentially and firmly dissent from a core defined doctrine.

The fact that there is a revealed understanding from which every view not in accord is, in fact, dissent, is further evidence that the Church established through Peter is the One Church. All other Churches receive the validity they have through this principle establishment. No matter what Her errors and problems, present and past, She is the body of Authority established so that we do not all descend into the abyss of private interpretation and its concomitant--infinite division. 22,000 denominations of Protestantism can't all be correct and it is precisely their differences that show the truth of a body that has stood without change in Doctrine for two thousand years.

Amazing what an election in an until recently god-forsaken place will do to one, isn't it? Who'd have thought that an understanding of God's revealed Church would stem from a news story about accusations of election disparities? But it goes once again to say that when we are listen and docile or pliable, God will speak when, where, and through whatever means are handy.

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October 10, 2004

Languages for Work

Sitting here sipping my redbush tea and reading The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith when I happen across this:

They taught us Funagalo, which is the language used for giving orders underground. It is a strange language. The Zulus laugh when they hear it, because there are so many Zulu words in it but it is not Zulu. It is a language which is good for telling people what to do. There are many words for push, take, shove, carry, load, and no words for love, or happiness, or the sounds which birds make in the morning.

I thought about this with the Wittgensteinian and Orwellian view that words shape reality and the reality shaped by this language. And then, dragonfly-like, having hovered for a moment over that concept, it occurred to me--what if Wittgenstein was even a little bit right? What if Orwell had enough understanding of human psychology to have identified a major factor in our lives?

Hover with me for a moment, glance at the reflection this thought makes, the ripples of our wings in the water. If this is so, even only slightly so, does it not reemphasize the need to speak aloud the words of the Psalms in prayers? Does it not argue that singing psalms and hymns and hearing the words God speaks to us through these inspired works creates a reality more conducive to giving ourselves to God? Isn't this the most important thing--shaping reality (by grace) to receive grace? Perhaps we should not have so many words "for push, take, shove, carry, load." Perhaps, just maybe, we should have more words for love and joy and God and worship and presence and union and, "the sound birds make in the morning."

Do you pray aloud? Do you hear and live in the world the words of the psalms make? Do you voice your reflections in the course of the Rosary, making them substantial and real.

Yes, I suppose it is unusual for a Carmelite to encourage vocal prayer. But St. Teresa of Avila would tell us that one "Our Father' prayed perfectly is worth any number of hours of struggling mental prayer. If one prays with one's heart what one's word speaks, one is already entering the realm of contemplative prayer. There's no trick--our attention merely needs to be on Him. Our words must be real and make the world a different place for us to live. A place that encapsulates everything God would have us be and do.

Enough of the ripples. Let your mind enter those things that are worthy and they will speak--even light entertainment can bring you closer to God if you allow it. I never fail to be amazed that the places God can find and surprise me. He seeks us everywhere.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 05:38 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack