Thursday, December 23, 2010

Moses and the Muse

The striking of the Muse
Must always be part pretense.
Where and when he blows where he wilt,
There and then shall words be spilt
Clauses built (or are they couplets?)

It strikes me as odd -- that it is he
Who is said to strike.
Yet, once struck, one knows
That it was indeed a sin for Moses to strike
The Rock.

No, the way of the poet is to speak
To rocks, lest he overlook and stumble
On them.

Preach, then, unremitting poems
To the rocky world;
Else the rocky world
In crying, crushing tones
Will preach to you.


It's so exciting to find your name on the internet...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A poem about firefighting: Baptism by Rock

Trinity Alps National Wilderness Area, California; Summer 2008

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Scaling shaley slopes we go
The rim circumferencing;
'Man-goats', we bray, we know
These boots -- they give us manly wings.

We fight the flames, la lúmbre, fire
Incéndio, et al.
But oftendays we simply mount
The slopes, becoming tall.

The ridge induces greater
Height; we know that we are fleet.
Internally we brag
That we are nimble, the elite.

Yet chthonic deities detect
The hubris in our hooves,
Exacting our humility
With penitential shoves.

Bone of mountain meets bone of man --
Like Icharus I fall;
Then, dwell on death for seconds,
Bereft of wherewithal.

My waxen wings are crumpled;
My blood is running now.
Drowned by gravity and rocks
I dangle, looking down.

Bleating now -- not braying,
I curse deceptive shale
Jesús descends to save me
From my minerally jail.

He bears me up -- ¿Esta bién?
I give a sheepish nod,
Incredulous, embarrassed
For having mocked my God,

Then palpate my contuséd flesh
And, lo! I am not dead --
Though blood, not ichor (mind you)
Trickles forth from leg and head.

I have no leaves, no bark, no roots
As do the scrubby trees.
Solomon in all his splendor was
Not dressed like one of these.

Rootless, then, it is my lot
To climb beyond my grasp
'Foot cannot feel, being shod,'
And, thus, I move too fast.


The Duke of Yorke

inspired by a black and white photo

What the hell are you doing here?
You, Thom, etherized sound upon a table
Wisely able to unbound,
Capable to capture and to move the soul
Rhythmically, harmoniously,
Merely sonically, merely, sonically.
Sonic, and mere.

So, you really are an adverb;
So, and in such manner, you preside
Over operations
Of music, on music
With several knives out
To carefully dice the already oft-crackéd dome
Under whose canopy a panoply of sounds

You kneel in the place where prayer has been valid,
Paying homage at altars of known gods, singing the body electric,
Pricking the memory to remember the future,
Where sounds were always words,
When sounds will become them again
When the fire and the rose are one,
When passion and reason, righteousness and peace,
Each kiss the other.


Friday, December 17, 2010

Posting FROM THE SKY!!!

"Internet on a plane?? Well bless my soul
if that isn't the most gosh-darned thing
I EVER did hear!"
I need to do this, just so I can say that I did.

It's kind of neato, if you think about it. Yeah, I know that this sort of facile gawking at technology is exactly the type of thing that I am wont to ridicule.

In other news, I just traded seats with a guy who's seven feet tall. The flight attendant asked if any of us with exit-row seats would be willing to take an aisle-seat instead. Not knowing the reason, I said yes; however, as I walk towards my new seat, this sycamore of a man sort of unfolds himself from his spot (let's face it -- normally-sized people aren't exactly lounging spread-eagle in airplane seats) and lumbers down the aisle. "You're the man," he says.

He offered to buy me a drink. Tempting, as rum-and-coke in the sky is a guilty pleasure of mine, but it seems a bit early in the day, and my stomach is rather empty. I think I'll opt for the cheese-plate instead.

Well, this concludes my gratuitous airborne post. If you haven't checked out Louis C.K.'s spot on David Letterman, you should. The whole thing is hilarious, but there's an especially great bit about internet in airplanes.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Spenserian wine mullings

Pour out the wine without restraint or stay,
Pour not by cups, but by the bellyful,
Pour out to all that wull.

~ Edmund Spenser (1552-1599)
Epithalamion, 250, here.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Blood and Water from His Side: St. John Chrysostom

The following reading is an excerpt from The Catecheses (Cat. 3, 13-19; SC 50, 174-177) by St. John Chrysostom.
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If we wish to understand the power of Christ’s blood, we should go back to the ancient account of its prefiguration in Egypt. “Sacrifice a lamb without blemish”, commanded Moses, “and sprinkle its blood on your doors”. If we were to ask him what he meant, and how the blood of an irrational beast could possibly save men endowed with reason, his answer would be that the saving power lies not in the blood itself, but in the fact that it is a sign of the Lord’s blood. In those days, when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so how much less will the devil approach now when he sees, not that figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ.

If you desire further proof of the power of this blood, remember where it came from, how it ran down from the cross, flowing from the Master’s side. The gospel records that when Christ was dead, but still hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and immediately there poured out water and blood. Now the water was a symbol of baptism and the blood, of the holy eucharist. The soldier pierced the Lord’s side, he breached the wall of the sacred temple, and I have found the treasure and made it my own. So also with the lamb: the Jews sacrificed the victim and I have been saved by it.

“There flowed from his side water and blood”. Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolized baptism and the holy eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, “the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit”, and from the holy eucharist. Since the symbols of baptism and the Eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: “Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh!” As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and the water after his own death.

Do you understand, then, how Christ has united his bride to himself and what food he gives us all to eat? By one and the same food we are both brought into being and nourished. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life.

Source: The Crossroads Initiative: Blood and Water from His Side


Sunday, December 12, 2010

1 + 1 from The Bravery

Intriguing tracks from New York post-punk revival rockers The Bravery, from their 2009 album, Stir the Blood.

Lyrically simple, yet not simplistic; musically catchy.

Advent III (Gaudete) 2010: Fr. Charles McClean

Fr. Charles McClean is a man of precise words and deliberate speech. As the visitation pastor at Immanuel Church in Alexandria his duties mainly entail the ministry to the infirm, elderly and otherwise shut-in, thus enabling our already time-strapped senior pastor, Pastor Esget, to focus on other duties in the parish. Occasionally, though, Fr. McClean steps into the pulpit during Sunday Divine Service, or at times at midweek Vespers, and preaches the sermon. An excellent homiletician, he faithfully and incisively delivers Christ to the faithful who are present, often with subtle and unobtrusive reference to literature, history and poetry, as well as to theology and liturgiology from the Patristic period up to the present day. Indeed, Fr. McClean's knowledge in all of the abovementioned areas is nothing less than well-like. Moreover, he is a kind man; his kindliness accompanies even the sternest emendations of Law in his sermons, though in no way lessoning its power to convict, to kill the Old Adam, and make way for Christ.

In light of his confessed "technological handicap" (or some such self-deprecation), Fr. McClean has graciously agreed to let me publish his sermons on my blog whenever he preaches.

In the liturgical year, the third Sunday in Advent is known as Gaudete, Latin for "Rejoice!" The lighting of the third, rose-colored candle signals a break from the penitential character of the season signified by the three purple candles. Traditionally, the celebrant (today, Pr. Esget) will doff purple himself and don a rose-colored chausible, instead.

I hope this sermon convicts and ultimately blesses those who read it, even as it has those who heard it.


Nota Bene: Yes, Advent is and has always been a penitential season in the liturgical calendar. Yet this is in no way at odds with the hopefulness of the season. Penitence is always bound up in and with hope; but the joy and anticipation of Advent must be just that -- anticipatory, if they are to be crowned with the far surpassing joy of Our Lord's Nativity on Christmas. Yes, I'll say it: in light of recent conversations and ratiocinations on this topic, I've become less of a fan of the broad use of those songs intended for Christmas Day, even in their very grammar (e.g., "Joy to the World! The Lord is come), before the day of His coming. Just so I don't seem like too much of a liturgical curmudgeon, let me add that a full festal celebration of Christmas ought to extend for twelve days, until Epiphany. Now twelve days should be plenty, shouldn't it? I'm not sure that baptizing the secular jumping-of-the-gun on Christmas by playing Christmas carols from Black Friday through Christmas Eve properly keeps the Advent season.

Advent. Christmas. They're different. More to come on that idea later, perhaps.

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Immanuel Church

As I thought this past week about the Gospel just read [St. Matthew 11.2-11], my thoughts turned as they so often do to C.S. Lewis, surely one of the greatest witnesses to Christ our age has seen. Author of the Narnia tales, Perelandra, Mere Christianity, and so many wonderful writings, he was until late in life what you might call "a confirmed bachelor." And so the most surprising event in his life was perhaps his rather late in life, yet wonderfully happy, marriage to Joy Davidman. Lewis, who many years before had told the story of his conversion in a book delightfully named Surprised by Joy, was now again "surprised by Joy" -- Joy Davidman, who became his wife. And when she died after only four short years of marriage, Lewis was utterly devastated. His friend Chad Walsh writes: "The loss of Joy plummeted Lewis into the very depths of despair. His religion, which had seemed so sturdily based, began to crumble. A meaningless and malevolent universe opened at his feet."

We see something similar today in today's Gospel with John the Baptist in prison, whom Jesus calls "the greatest born of women," a "prophet and more than a prophet": and all that John had surely been! Never mincing his words, John called a spade a spade! He said to the self-righteous Scribes and Pharisees, "You snakes! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" And he told King Herod plainly, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother Phillip's wife!"

And where had all this gotten him? In the loneliness and misery of Herod's dungeon, Herod still securely on his throne and the Scribes and the Pharisees firmly in possession of their power over the people! And so John sends his disciples to Jesus with the anxious question in which the whole meaning and purpose of his life was at stake: "Are you He who is to come or shall we look for another" -- as if to say, "Can it be that I have been deceived? Worse yet, have I deceived others?"

And the point is this: if even the great witnesses to the Lord Jesus knew their times of agonizing doubt and darkness, you and I need not be too surprised nor even to greatly distressed -- although we almost certainly will be! -- by our own times of darkness and doubt. The Lord Jesus Himself, although true God, is also our fully human Brother, and He was "tempted in every way as we are yet without sin," crying out in the darkness and gloom of the cross, "My God, My God, why?"

"We walk by faith and not by sight." And yet the struggle with doubt and unbelief remains a lifelong struggle with our corrupted human nature, our Old Adam, which is never really content to walk by faith but always longs for proof we can touch and see!

So what sort of answer does Jesus give to John's anxious question? Certainly not deliverance from Herod's dismal dungeon; only this simple word: "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear and the dead are raised up" -- and then this climax: "And the poor have good news preached to them."

"The poor have good news preached to them." And who are the poor? The poor in spirit who know that in themselves they are nothing and Jesus everything, who know that they cannot make a case for themselves in the judgment that will surely come but must depend entirely on his mercy. John languishing in prison is such a poor one, and to him the good news is preached: no miraculous deliverance of prison, not even a vision of angels, but only a word -- but such a Word! Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, the enfleshed love and mercy of God for all who despair of themselves and look to him alone, as we sing, "On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand."

And to us this same word that is Jesus is given: through the simple words of Holy Scripture which is His book, every last bit of it is about Him; and through the plain water of Baptism in which all our doubt and unbelief is pardoned and the Holy Spirit given, through the word of forgiveness spoken by the pastor put there by Christ to do just that, and in that lowly bread and wine where all unseen His true Body and His true Blood are mysteriously yet truly given us to eat and to drink.

Now none of this can be seen! Not the Holy Spirit in Baptism, not God speaking through the Scriptures and the pastor's words, not the Body and Blood in the hallowed bread and cup. None of this can be seen with the eyes of the body, none of this can be touched. Like John languishing in Herod's prison you and I have only Jesus' word to go on -- as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews says: "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen," and as our Lord Himself says, "Blessed is he who is not offended by Me," or as the Revised English Bible puts it, "Blessed are those who do not find me an obstacle to faith" -- this meek and lowly Messiah who comes not with irresistible power but with utterly rejectable love.

Yes, "among those born of women," says Jesus, "there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist, yet he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." And who is this "least in the kingdom of heaven"? Surely the Lord Christ Himself, who though he was in the form of God assumed the form of a slave, humbling Himself, making himself nothing, who was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Or to put it most simply: "Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" "The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay."

John heard and believed the simple word of Jesus and went on to seal his faith with his blood; and through much struggle C.S. Lewis found his way back to triumphant, enlivening faith. In his book A Grief Observed, Lewis tells of his struggle, and we should perhaps end this morning with some poignant and ponderable words from the book. Lewis writes:

My idea of God has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of his presence? The Incarnation is a supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are "offended" by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not.

Yes, Jesus alone, Jesus in the manger, Jesus on the cross is the only True Image of the God we cannot see, Jesus is Himself the shining forth of the Father's glory. In Him -- alone! -- we rest until that Last and Great Day when faith gives way to sight and hope to fulfillment as we then shall see Him face to face.

Rev. Fr. Charles McClean
Advent III, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

Tradition, worship and Liturgy

Check out my pastor, Rev. Christopher Esget, delivering a lecture on the importance of maintaining the liturgy of the Church. It's a bit long (50 minutes or so), but I highly recommend taking the time for it.

Pr. Fisk and "Worldview Everlasting"

I should be bugged by his mannerisms.

I should be irritated by the presentation.

I should be bothered by the polo shirts.

I am, honestly, uncomfortable with his youth-pastorish hair.

But the Church is and ought to be a big house, one which allows for a variety of gifts and personalities, sanctifying them both for fitting use. I am glad that I didn't allow my cynical first impressions to stand. Despite the foregoing pseudo-objections, there is a level on which Pastor Fisk and I can connect quite readily, however, and I would not have discovered this had I clicked away in derision.

Honestly, his shtick is kind of growing on me. He's genuinely funny, but not insincere, and his mastery of both history and theology is impressive. I realize that I probably pick up on a lot of things that irritate me about a person when nothing about them impresses me favorably. Yet most of the former things fail to irritate me if more substantive virtues and commonalities eventually make themselves known. Such was the case here, though I am humbled to admit that I form such snap (mis)judgments far too often.

Anyway, I've said little of the actual material or content of this video, but I really don't need to. In the following clip, Pr. Fisk elaborates on the crux of the theological difference between Lutheran and Reformed doctrine using the classic Calvinist rubric of "TULIP" as a point of reference.



Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What I have to deal with three days a week

From America: Land that I Love, A Beka Book's fundamentalist history of the United States:

"By the early 1700s, the American colonies had grown from a small band of God-fearing settlers into an industrious society full of energy and potential. But as their love for God declined, the colonists began to reject that which had made them great. In His providential mercy, God sent revival to America, giving the colonists the strong moral base they would need to guide them through the difficult years ahead. During the Great Awakening, God raised up men to bring spiritual fire to the American people, giving them a solid foundation on which to build a new nation. The French and Indian War brought further unity to the colonies, as men united to defend their homes and proved that they were willing to sacrifice for their heritage of religious and political freedom.

"Because all men have a sinful nature, societies fall into states of spiritual decline. By the 18th century, many churches in America failed to preach the gospel, and consequently many church members -- even ministers -- remained unconverted. These people attended church and practiced a cold, formalistic Christianity but had never accepted Christ as personal Savior. Others, though born again, lacked spiritual zeal. Colleges that had been founded to prepare ministers to preach the gospel began to contribute to the spiritual deadness. The land desperately needed revival."

Because God is looking out for the United States -- even when there are no United States, yet -- and has entered into a covenantal relationship therewith through the Passion, death and resurrection of His Son in order to deliver the citizens thereof from sin, death and the devil. Their beatification is foreordained, unto ages of ages...

Or was that the Church, and her members, that I was thinking of?

Oh, for a return to a right division between the City of God and the City of Man.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mobile posting test message

I wonder if this will work...
verbum Dei manet in aeturnum +

Laura Marling - The Captain & The Hourglass

An intriguing folk artist from England. I've been listening to a playlist of her music on YouTube, and I have to say I'm hooked.


HT: Daniel Chasen


Friday, December 3, 2010

Two Advents

   "In his first advent, God came in a thick, black cloud with fire, smoke, and thunder; He came with a great sound of trumpets, so fierce that the children of Israel were filled with fear and dread and said to Moses, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do.But you speak with us . . . and let not God speak with us, lest we die." At that time he gave them the Law. The Law is cruel; we do not like to hear it. The Law is such a terror to our reason that at times we fall into despair, for indeed it shows us our utter weakness. It is so heavy a burden that the conscience knows not where to turn, or what to do.
   "Christ in his advent is not fierce, but meek and merciful. He does not come on the mountain, but in the village.
On Sinai he came with terror, now he comes with meekness.
There he came with thunder and lightening; here he comes with hymns of praise.
There he came with the great sound of trumpets; here he comes weeping over the city of Jerusalem.
There he came with fear; here he comes with consolation, joy and love.
   "Behold, herein you find the difference between the Law and the Gospel, to wit, that the Law commands while the Gospel gives all things freely. At the first advent the children of Israel fled before the voice of God, but now our desire to hear it cannot be stilled. Therefore when you are in anxiety and tribulation, you shall not run to Mt Sinai, that is to say, look to the Law for help. Neither shall you think that you yourselves have power to atone, but rather shall you look for help in Jerusalem, that is to say, in the Gospel which says, 'Your sins are forgiven you; go your way, from henceforth sin no more.'"

-- Martin Luther, 1522

HT: Mom


Thursday, December 2, 2010


(The following refers to the previous post, and was inspired by some of the comments)

I don't think there was anything particularly admirable about my actions. I wasn't the only one who stopped to help. I just did what I was supposed to do.

Perhaps the worst part of the whole situation was that common pity, which even the worldly can and do give to those in need, was so ill-suited to the occasion. She had just suffered an irrational crime. She was suffering and in pain, completely at a loss as to why such a thing had happened to her. Nothing can staunch such a psychological wound but a similarly "nonrational" gesture of love. As Dostoevsky reminds us, there are two ways to act out one's free will, so to speak: the self-emptying gesture of love, and the self-affirming gesture of annihilation -- either of oneself, or of others. This girl had just suffered the latter gesture: a preening young man affirming himself through inflicting violence on another. The only thing that can bind up such a wound is the inverse of this gesture: another, in the same position of strength with respect to her (not hard since she had been further weakened) making a self-emptying gesture, a sacrifice for her person, for her life.

What does all this head-stuff mean?

Well, I wish I could have gotten into that ambulance with her, paid for her expenses, done something for her -- as one person to another. Something nonsensical like that. Or rather, something nonrational. For isn't that how Christ comes to us? As a person?

My desire to do this is partially due to pride and the vain desire to be needed, I'm sure -- the desire for heroics which, again, is cataloged brilliantly by Dostoevsky. All that aside, however, five days out from the incident I think I've distilled what it is that has been troubling me, at least somewhat:

When such incidents -- and God knows there are innumerable of them on a daily basis in the DC-area alone -- so quickly move from the level of the personal to the official, the professional and the institutional, the opportunity for healing the wound diminishes.

She had insurance. The cop showed up. The ambulance came shortly thereafter. All of these things are good. But they are, perhaps, inferior goods, in some sense, to the sort of gesture of love which heals, which says, or rather demonstrates, that the same freedom which was so recklessly turned against her can just as irrationally, just as senselessly be exerted on her behalf, as in the case of the good Samaritan, who, upon providentially becoming bound up in the life of the man he rescues, gives of his substance to make that man well.

It didn't feel right to walk away from the scene on Sunday because, even though everything had been "taken care of" through the proper channels, I had become bound up in her life in a similar sense, and wanted to give, but could not. Instead I went to Starbucks.

I'm not lamenting that I didn't do "good enough" in this situation (yes, that's bad grammar -- move on); it's that I couldn't, and that many factors prevented me from doing so. (My own sinful nature is certainly a factor which I've been ignoring. There is a strong likelihood that this is all just ex post facto whimsy which disregards the fact that, had the situation even allowed me to give in the manner I'm positing, I would have been too much of a coward, etc.) But it's not even about me, so let me use the passive voice: the most important kind of good that should have been done, was not done, and probably won't get done in this instance. Still, we pray.

I mean, it's good that we have insurance, law enforcement, etc. That's not the point. The point is that the trappings of modernity, even the beneficial ones, will always in some sense obviate both our need and our ability to meet and minister to each other on a level which is truly human, truly personal. The "management" of various crises by impersonal entities numbs us, whether we are the victims or the Samaritans, by obscuring the importance of this restoration. Without this restoration, misanthropy ensues. Also, in this kind of situation, lesbianism. Not even kidding.

Why misanthropy? Well, all it takes for one to become distrustful of all humanity is the irrational violence of one man. All it takes for one to be restored, in some sense, is the nonrational, self-emptying sacrifice of one man.

Perhaps none of this is making sense.

I believe, with Fyodor D and those like him, that we are all responsible for each other in a general sense, and responsible for each other in a particular sense when we become bound up in each others' lives. I know that there is certainly such thing as a vain desire to "be Christ" to another person, but the problem with such a desire is not its predicate -- to "be Christ" to another -- but its vanity. We are all called to be Christ to others, to bear Christ to others, to sometimes be the one man through whom another is restored -- to health, to sanity, yes, but hopefully to Christ above all, through whom all things are made new.

And that was it. I had become responsible for this girl. I had learned her name. I had seen her bloody, tearstained face. I knew her agony, her disbelief. But I couldn't fulfill my responsibility to be Christ to her, person to person. I had to keep walking down Pennsylvania Avenue to Starbucks with all this in my head, albeit not in any semblance or order. But definitely there. Or else I wouldn't have been so bothered.

I know that what I did was in some sense"good", and I'm not debating whether she was helped, or whether Christ was able to use me, or any of that, so please don't bring critiques of that nature to what I've said if you wish to comment.

Thanks for reading.