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Archive for the ‘prose’ Category

Moving

I have decided to move over to ponticianus.com

The content will be more/less the same, with an emphasis on original writing. I encourage you to follow me over there, as well as on twitter : @ponticianus

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Si quis autem vestrum indiget sapientiam postulet a Deo qui dat omnibus affluenter et non inproperat et dabitur ei; postulet autem in fide nihil haesitans qui enim haesitat similis est fluctui maris qui a vento movetur et circumfertur.

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For Iames the gentele iugeth in his bokes
That fayth withouten feet is feblore than naught
And as ded as a dore-nayl but yf the dedes folowe:
Fides sine operibus mortua est.
Chastite withouten charite worth cheyned in hell;
Hit is as lewed as a laumpe that no liht is ynne. (I.181-185)

For gentle James judges in his book
That faith without works is a feeble thing,
Dead as a doornail unless deeds follow:
Faith without works is dead
Chastity less charity will be chained in hell;
It is as useless as a lamp that bears no light. (Trans. Pearsall)

William Langlang, Piers Plowman

As we draw closer to Lent, these words haunt me.

Two weeks ago I was on the bus, as is often, and most folks were quiet and enjoying the dark rainy ride home from a long day at work, save one woman on her phone. She had her newborn snuggled up to her in a Moby-wrap, and was talking to her partner(?) about their rent due and another issue involving a lawyer and more money going out of their pockets. It was likely uncomfortable to most because her business had instantly become their business. I imagine most people might have been upset as this one phone call was now their unsolicited phone call.

I knew I had a five-dollar bill in my billfold. It wasn’t a twenty or a fifty or even a ten. And it was more than just a crumpled single or a bit of change. It was enough to offer mercy, but hopefully not enough to make her feel uncomfortable to take it. “It’s not much,” I though over in my head, “but this may help you and your child more than I will help me.” The words were with me and well rehearsed. I even felt back in my wallet to make sure the bill was still there. It was, but as we drew nearer to the busstop, I grew tense. I worried that the gesture might embarrass her in front of so many people on the full bus. “I don’t want/need your charity,” I imagined her saying. She might even resent me and my offer, and give me a few words in reply for sticking my nose in her family’s financial business.

The bus stopped. The crowds and I exited as the mother and her son sat quietly to move on to the next terminal.

Langland’s words haunt me.

Langland is writing a poem about the world he sees around him, drenched in commerce and commodification. The Church, evinced its priests, monks, and friars are  everywhere in his society, but so too vice; the virtues are latent.

The poem’s main protagonist, Will, is all too often concerned with how he might save his soul (I.80).

Me too, Good Will.

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Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine secundum verbum tuum in pace quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum
quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum lumen ad revelationem gentium et gloriam plebis tuae Israhel. (Lk 2.29-32)

Lord, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light to the revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.

Presentation

Giotto, The Presentation in the Temple (1304-06)

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Running to the window, he opened it and put out his head. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to; Golden sunlight; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious! Glorious!”

“What’s to-day!” cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.

“Eh?” returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.

“What’s to-day, my fine fellow?” said Scrooge.

“To-day!” replied the boy. “Why, CHRISTMAS DAY.”

“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can. Hallo, my fine fellow!”

“Hallo!” returned the boy.

“Do you know the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, at the corner?” Scrooge inquired.

“I should hope I did,” replied the lad.

“An intelligent boy!” said Scrooge. “A remarkable boy! Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there? Not the little prize Turkey: the big one?”

“What, the one as big as me?” returned the boy.

“What a delightful boy!” said Scrooge. “It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck!”

“It’s hanging there now,” replied the boy.”

“Is it?” said Scrooge. “Go and buy it.”

“Walk-ER!” exclaimed the boy.

“No, no,” said Scrooge, “I am in earnest. Go and buy it, and tell ’em to bring it here, that I may give them the direction where to take it. Come back with the man, and I’ll give you a shilling. Come back with him in less than five minutes and I’ll give you half a crown!”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Scrooge and Cratchit

John Leech, “Scrooge and Bob Cratchit” (1843) (link)

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Lk 15.8-10 NRSV)

Parable of the Lost Drachma

Domenico Fetti, “The Parable of the Lost Drachma” (1618-22)

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We passed a considerable period at Oxford, rambling among its environs and endeavouring to identify every spot which might relate to the most animating epoch of English history. Our little voyages of discovery were often prolonged by the successive objects that presented themselves. We visited the tomb of the illustrious Hampden and the field on which that patriot fell. For a moment my soul was elevated from its debasing and miserable fears to contemplate the divine ideas of liberty and self sacrifice of which these sights were the monuments and the remembrancers. For an instant I dared to shake off my chains and look around me with a free and lofty spirit, but the iron had eaten into my flesh, and I sank again, trembling and hopeless into my miserable self.

Mary Shelley. Frankenstein.

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From the recent David Brooks’ column in the New York Times (3 Jan 2013):

I don’t give myself high marks on suffering fools. I’m not rude to those I consider foolish, but I strenuously and lamentably evade them. But I do see people who handle fools well. Many members of the clergy do, as do many great teachers. In my experience, Midwesterners are more likely to treat fools well. Natural politicians do so, too. Joe Biden is effective because he loves humanity in all its shapes and sizes.

G. K. Chesterton had the best advice on suffering fools gladly. He put emphasis on the gladly. When you’re with fools, laugh with them and at them simultaneously: “An obvious instance is that of ordinary and happy marriage. A man and a woman cannot live together without having against each other a kind of everlasting joke. Each has discovered that the other is a fool, but a great fool. This largeness, this grossness and gorgeousness of folly is the thing which we all find about those with whom we are in intimate contact; and it is the one enduring basis of affection, and even of respect.”

Libenter enim suffertis insipientes cum sitis ipsi sapientes. (II Cor 11.19)

For you freely suffer the foolish, even though you yourself are wise. (Translation mine)

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The shepherds hurried away to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told.

When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception. (2:16-21)

The Gospel of St Luke

Feast of the Circumcision

Giovanni Bellini, “The Circumcision” (c. 1500)

Today is New Year’s Day on the secular calendar, a day when you take down the Christmas decorations, put the tree by the roadside, and clean the house of any leftovers — wrapping paper and shirt boxes, a place for all the different soaps and shampoos you received, through out the candies you received in your stocking — because after all, it is the new year: a time for turning over new leaves, making grand resolution about weight-loss, diet, and exercise.

Most folks have today off from work, as they did Christmas day, and will spend more time with family and friends eating pork, black-eyed peas in their Hoppin’ John, and a healthy dose of collared greens.

The Christian calendar, however, reads slightly different. Today is the eighth day of the eight-day Christmas octave. The Christmas feast began the 25th of December, as it does every year, and rushes through the New Year’s celebration, and concludes on the first of January, formerly the Feast of the Circumcision (see Holy Scripture above), now the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. Octaves include and follow the major feasts on the Christian year (Easter, Pentecost).

Of course, Christmastide, or the Twelve Days of Christmas, is still moving towards its own conclusion, the celebration of Twelfth Night, the night before Epiphany, when the Magi (or Three Kings, if you prefer) visit the Christ-Child and his divinity shown to the world. Twelfth Night, since it anticipates the gifts of the Magi, is the day when many Catholic families in Italy, Spain, and the Hispanic word give out their presents to children.

Bottom-line: you’ve still got more celebratin’ to do. Remember that Lent is only seven weeks away.

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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 7 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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“No! no!” said Bilbo. “I didn’t mean that. I meant, is there no way round [Mirkwood]?”

“There is, if you care to go two hundred miles or so out of your way north, and twice that south. But you would get a safe path even then. There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun where you go. Before you could get round Mirkwood in the North you would be right among the slops of the Grey Mountains, and they are simply stiff with goblins, hobgoblins, and orcs of the worst description. Before you could get round it in the South, you would get into the land of the Necromancer; and even you, Bilbo, won’t need me to tell you tales of that black sorcerer. I don’t advise you to go anywhere near places overlooked by his dark tower! Stick to the forest-track, keep your spirits up, hope for the best…” (121)

J.R.R. Tolkein, The Hobbit

For Numa himself also, to whom no prophet of God, no holy angel was sent, was driven to have recourse to hydromancy, that he might see the images of the gods in the water (or, rather, appearances whereby the demons made sport of him), and might learn from them what he ought to ordain and observe in the sacred rites. This kind of divination, says Varro, was introduced from the Persians, and was used by Numa himself, and at an after time by the philosopher Pythagoras. In this divination, he says, they also inquire at the inhabitants of the nether world, and make use of blood; and this the Greeks call νεκρομαντείαν. But whether it be called necromancy or hydromancy it is the same thing, for in either case the dead are supposed to foretell future things… let him who does not desire to live a pious life even now, seek eternal life by means of such rites. But let him who does not wish to have fellowship with malign demons have no fear for the noxious superstition wherewith they are worshipped, but let him recognize the true religion by which they are unmasked and vanquished. (VII.35)

St Augustine of Hippo, bishop, The City of God

In the recent adaptation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit, a good bit has been given over to the role of “the Necromancer,” a character who only receives two rather short references in the book itself (p. 30 and above), but what is understood to another name for Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor. Necromancy, the communication with and divination by the dead, has often been called “the dark arts,” an brilliant corruption of necro- [corpse], into nigro- [black].

And yet there is that space in the creed where we affirm the Communion of Saint, that is the Church on Earth and in Heaven: “At the present time some of [Christ’s] disciples are pilgrims on earth; others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating ‘in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is.”‘

There is something more, much more, in the Communion of Saints than divination, asking for petty insight into the future or about cheap worldly cares. By the light of faith we do not look to or into the future, nor is divination what hope is. The Saints who are already dwell in the Heavenly reality gaze on the God, triune and one. The Saints of the earthly realm see by faith, keeping watch for Christ, for they know not when the master of the house returns. The light of faith and the assurance of hope only make the earthly pilgrim ready.

“Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness…. They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus…. So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.”

As for our dead – those who are still being purified in the hope of the heavenly reality – it is they who rely on us, not us on them by divination, necromancy or otherwise. It is by our prayers and intercessions, and thusly by the great merits of Christ, our mediator and redeemer, for their sins are forgiven before judgment. Our prayers for our dead ultimately arise from charity, which in turn draws us closer to the Triune God.

36_83531~the-martyrs-in-the-catacombs,-1855

Jules Eugene Lenepveu, “The Martyrs in the Catacombs” (1855)

nec·ro·man·cy

n., the art of predicting the future by supposed communication with the dead; (more generally) divination, sorcery, witchcraft, enchantment. See black magic.

[Classical Latin necromantīa, evocation of the dead, a name for the part of the Odyssey (Book XI) describing Odysseus’ visit to Hades (recorded as a variant of necyomantea (cf. necyomancy) in some MSS. of Pliny), in post-classical Latin also the art of predicting the future by supposed communication with the dead (3rd cent.) < Hellenistic Greek νεκρομαντεία, the art of predicting the future by supposed communication with the dead (first in Origen, 3rd cent. a.d.) < Ancient Greek νεκρο, corpse + μαντεία, divination]

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I was gifted a bottle of Scotch on the occasion of becoming a father. Dalwhinne 15. Dalwhinnie, the town where the distillery is located, is smack in the middle of Scotland, not very close to anything of note like Edinburgh nor Glasgow. It’s about level with Aberdeen, which means it’s in the north, but it’s due south from Inverness. On a map, Dalwhinnie, Aberdeen, and Inverness from a perfect right triangle; Dalwhinnie at the perfect angle.

But I really don’t know anything about Scotch Whisky. In the order of whisk(e)y, Scotch is a close third to Irish Whiskey, which is a distant second to Bourbon. But I appreciate Scotch, because you are supposed to appreciate Scotch. I’m having one now. Dalwhinnie 15 in a small rocks glass with one cube that I let dissolve before my first sip. I didn’t make any of that up, and I didn’t create the way you drink a Scotch. I know there are those who drink Scotch on the rocks, a full handful of cubes to chill out the burn. Others think even a hint of water or ice might soil the purity of “Scotch Neat”. But I’ve always opened up Scotch, or Bourbon for that matter, with a little bit of water, or a cube. A cube is easy.

Whiskey, like all drinking, didn’t come easy for me. It eventually got too easy, but it didn’t come easy. Sneaking beers, airplane bottles, full Jack Daniels fifths out of a friend’s father’s coat closet. We never liked it. It was a drink that came only after rough pulls and mixing a little less the next time you tried it again.

Dalwhinnie 15 is a “smooth” Scotch, whatever that means. Because it was given to me as a gift I have shared it with most of the guys who have come by, usually with their wives, to bring us meals during these first few weeks of parenthood. After we briefly spend time in the living room with Laura and Mary Margaret, I usually offer the man a drink, and his eyes light up when I take the bottle out of its simply stated box. Usually we have only one, though sometimes two. I’ve only had two (not including this one) without a mate.

[I have offered it to Laura; she’s never been a fan of Scotch.]

We go out go out to the front porch or the front yard, remark about the leaves, look down at our dram and say how “smooth” Dalwhinnie drinks. Unlike some Scotches at bars, whose well is a blend, Dalwhinnie is a single malt, that is, from a single distillery. I haven’t had many blends with the exception of J&B, the preferred Scotch of Spain. I didn’t drink much J&B in Spain; I didn’t drink much at all on the Camino – the hangovers were too costly and beer replenishes calories. No, I drank J&B one summer, when my friend Graham returned from his summer of taking high-schoolers to Salamanca, and we’d pony up to this kitchen table: two men, one bottle, and one had to die. Or two. But we were drinking J&B in large glasses, full of ice, and we were getting hammered. Scotch on the front porch to celebrate your daughter’s inception is not pints of iced-down J&B.

For my 29th birthday I received a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label, a blend, but a good blend. Johnnie Walker, despite sounding like it was distilled in Tennessee, is product in Ayrshire, not far from where Kilmarnock plays Celtic. I’d have a glass, on the rocks, every Sunday night while Laura and I watched Mad Men, back when we had cable. I learned there, like most drinking, that drinking is hard work. Like most things

It was on this bottle that I learned Scotch. Or at least blended Scotch, which to many may mean miseducation. But I did learn that if I gulped down too much in one swallow, a fire would mark the back of me throat. So I learned to sip Scotch and not to gulp.

Now some like the burn. I think the tequila culture, the rugby players I used to drink with on Thursday night, taught me that some like the burn. The burn, like good holy water, excises the lesser demons, all the while killing off the the good that is nestled in your brain. Most of these guys were drinking like rosters fighting over a hens in the yard, so it wasn’t real, but just a projection of what they had been doing on the pitch just hours before. Not that there’s anything wrong with this. Jesus Christ turned water to our wine and so it seems there is a certain eternal blessing on the drink-act, provided we remember later turned our wine into his blood.

Theology and drinking, specifically high-ball gin drinks and bourbon – lots of bourbon – was how I came to understand the passage from death into new life. I didn’t drink much in college, to tell the truth; I certainly drank less than I tried to in high school. It was not until my junior year of college were I learned that a good bourbon lasted the night. There my drinking was catechized, arranged into a discipline that served the conversation, not muddled it. Through bourbon I began to see the world still as a damned mess, but as a beautiful damned mess being put back together — over glasses of bourbon.

“The pleasure of knocking back bourbon” wrote Walker Percy, “lies in the plane of the aesthetic but at an opposite pole from connoisseurship. My preference for the former is or is not deplorable depending on one’s value system—that is to say, how one balances out the Epicurean virtues of evocation of time and memory and the recovery of self and the past from the fogged-in disoriented Western world. In Kierkegaardian terms, the use of Bourbon to such an end is a kind of aestheticized religious mode of existence, where as connoisseurship, the discriminating but single-minded simulation of sensory end organs, is the aesthetic of damnation.”

Connoisseurship is like that Augustine’s first foe, Donatism, those ancient schismatics who though they, through a second baptism, could discern a pure(r) body of Christ from the muddled City that lay before them. Knocking back Scotch or Bourbon or Dixie Beer is not about discernment alone, but about a table, a glass, and a mate.

Dalwhinnie Distillery

Dalwhinnie Distillery in Highland, Scotland

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