Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The process of living seems to consist in coming to realize truths so ancient and simple that, if stated, they sound like barren platitudes. They cannot sound otherwise to those who have not had the relevant experience: that is why there is no real teaching of such truths possible and every generation starts from scratch. C S Lewis - Letters, May 1939

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"His Saviours Words, Going to the Crosse"
— Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Have ye no regard, all ye
Who passe this way, to pitie me,
Who am a man of miserie!
A man both bruis'd, and broke, and one
Who suffers not here for mine own,
But for my friends transgression!
Ah! Sions Daughters, do not feare
The Crosse, the Cords, the Nailes, the Speare,
The Myrrhe, the Gall, the Vineger:
For Christ, your loving Saviour, hath
Drunk up the wine of Gods fierce wrath;
Onely, there's left a little froth,
Lesse for to tast, then for to shew,
What bitter cups had been your due,
Had He not drank them up for you.

little-known fact: your blogster and Irene Papas were formerly social friends.

Fyodor Dostoevsky stands shivering in the middle of Semenovsky Plaza in St. Petersburg, Russia, the next in line to die. It is December 22, 1849, and it looks like he will not see Christmas.

After eight months in solitary confinement the twenty prisoners, all members of an intellectual circle suspected of disloyalty to the government, have been marched into this square and are commanded to remove their clothes in the -20 degree (Celsius) weather. The first three are shrouded in white smocks for execution. They are allowed to kiss the cross, hoods are placed over their heads so that they will not see the rifles trained on their hearts, and then they are shackled to three posts.

Dostoevsky waits in the freezing cold, dressed only in his underwear, and counts out the last minutes of his life. He estimates that there are about five minutes remaining to him, and with his remarkable sense of detail, he divides them in the following manner: two minutes to think of his beloved brother Mikhail and others in his family, two to look around him one last time, and one last moment to think of God.

It is at this last moment, when he has exchanged last words with his two fellow prisoners and offered his last prayer to God, that the rifles are suddenly lowered and a new sentence is read. The Czar has extended clemency — prison in Siberia and enforced service in the army for a total of eight years. Dostoevsky is a man reborn.

A few hours later he writes to his brother: "As I look back upon the past and think how much time was spent to no avail; how much of it was lost in delusions, in mistakes, in idleness, in not knowing how to live; what little store I set upon it, how many times I sinned against my heart and spirit — for this my heart bleeds. Life is a gift. Life is happiness. Every moment could have been an age of happiness."


Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck creches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
in a Volkswagen sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
and German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody's imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carollers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary's womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody's anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest of
Second Comings

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter

WHILE my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse;
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever, and forever.
Why should I climb the look-out?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-Yen, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.
You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the west garden—
They hurt me.
I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you,
As far as Cho-fu-Sa.

By Ezra Pound, From the Chinese of Li Po
All of us must honor virtue, and even pipe up for it, despite our own imperfections. To accuse a man of claiming all the virtues he praises makes no more sense than accusing him of committing all the sins he deprecates.
Someone commented that Wayne Booth’s critical stance ultimately rooted itself in love and that the core act in loving one’s neighbor was simply to ask, "What are you going through?"

Why did Dirk Willems Turn Back

I will begin by dealing with the embarrassing questions that the Gospels impose, I imagine, upon any serious reader. There are two of these, and the first is this: If you bad been living in Jesus’ time and had heard him teaching, would you have been one of his followers?

To be an honest taker of this test, I think you have to try to forget that you have read the Gospels and that Jesus has been a "big name" for 2,000 years. You have to imagine instead that you are walking past the local courthouse and you come upon a crowd listening to a man named Joe Green or Green Joe, depending on judgments whispered among the listeners on the fringe. You too stop to listen, and you soon realize that Joe Green is saying something utterly scandalous, utterly unexpectable from the premises of modern society. He is saying:

"Don’t resist evil. If somebody slaps your right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too. Love your enemies. When people curse you, you must bless them. When people hate you, you must treat them kindly. When people mistrust you, you must pray for them. This is the way you must act if you want to be children of God." Well, you know how happily that would be received, not only in the White House and the Capitol, but among most of your neighbors. And then suppose this Joe Green looks at you over the heads of the crowd, calls you by name and says, I want to come to dinner at your house.

I suppose that you, like me, hope very much that you would say, "Come ahead." But I suppose also that you, like me, had better not be too sure. You will remember that in Jesus’ lifetime even his most intimate friends could hardly be described as overconfident.

The second question is this -- it comes right after the verse in which Jesus says, "If you love me, keep my commandments." Can you be sure that you would keep his commandments if it became excruciatingly painful to do so? And here I need to tell another story, this time one that actually happened.

In 1569 in Holland, a Mennonite named Dirk Willems, under capital sentence as a heretic, was fleeing from arrest, pursued by a "thief-catcher." As they ran across a frozen body of water, the thief-catcher broke through the ice. Without help, he would have drowned. What did Dirk Willems do then?

Was the thief-catcher an enemy merely to be hated, or was he a neighbor to be loved as one loves oneself? Was he an enemy whom one must love in order to be a child of God? Was he "one of the least of these my brethren"?

What Dirk Willems did was turn back, put out his hands to his pursuer and save his life. The thief-catcher, who then of course wanted to let his rescuer go, was forced to arrest him. Dirk Willems was brought to trial, sentenced and burned to death by a "lingering fire."

I, and I suppose you, would like to be a child of God even at the cost of so much pain. But would we, in similar circumstances, turn back to offer the charity of Christ to an enemy? Again, I don’t think we ought to be too sure. We should remember that "Christian" generals and heads of state have routinely thanked God for the deaths of their enemies, and that the persecutors of 1569 undoubtedly thanked God for the capture and death of the "heretic" Dirk Willems.

Those are peculiar questions. I don’t think we can escape them, if we are honest. And if we are honest, I don’t think we can answer them. We humans, as we well know, have repeatedly been surprised by what we will or won’t do under pressure. A person may come to be, as many have been, heroically faithful in great adversity, but as long as that person is alive we can only say that he or she did well but remains under the requirement to do well. As long as we are alive, there is always a next time, and so the questions remain. These are questions we must live with, regarding them as unanswerable and yet profoundly influential.

The story of Dirk Willems is from a 1660 Anabaptist martyrology compiled by Thieleman J. van Bracht, translated as Martyrs Mirror
A growing body of scientific evidence which shows that dietary supplementation with vitamin D, fish oil, and molecules found in red wine (resveratrol, quercetin, ferulic acid, etc.) and bran (whole grains), may reduce the need for medical care altogether. Dr. Bruce Ames of the University of California at Berkeley suggests the higher prevalence of disease among the poor emanates from undernutrition, a problem that could be remedied with an inexpensive multivitamin. Bill Sardi.

Friday, December 5, 2008

St. Kevin and the bird

And then there was St Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so

One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
And lays in it and settles down to nest.

Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,

Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.

And since the whole thing's imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time

From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth

Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in love's deep river,
‘To labour and not to seek reward,’ he prays,

A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river's name.

Seamus Heamy

11:06:00 AM
by Daddy Magog
1 – 5 of 5

Tragic News Item

Derek Yothers, in a photo taken just months, or even weeks, before his death.

MATTOON, IL—In a press conference Monday, Mattoon-area police announced that the early death of Derek Yothers, 42, will be alcohol-related.

"Until we can complete a full investigation, we're considering Yothers' future death to be the result of alcohol poisoning," patrolman John O'Malley said. "However, we haven't ruled out hepatitis, kidney failure, cirrhosis of the liver, acute pancreatitis, Wernicke-Korsakoff's syndrome, alcoholic cardiomyopathy, or fatal injuries sustained in some kind of drunk-driving accident."

O'Malley said police do not suspect that there will be foul play.
"Yothers' on-again/off-again girlfriend Brandi Freyer could get fed up and shoot him," O'Malley said. "But it's much more likely to be an open-and-shut case in which Yothers drives off the side of a bridge."
"We'll need the coroner's report before we file this away for good, of course," O'Malley added. "But even if he drunkenly trips on the ice and breaks his neck, burns himself to a cinder after passing out with a lit cigarette in his mouth, or dives through a plate-glass window in a show of bravado and bleeds to death, we'll probably still list 'alcohol' as the cause of death."

Details of Yothers' demise will not be finalized until his weakened, inefficient heart and damaged but functioning brain cease to operate. But police said Yothers—who is unemployed, twice divorced, and freshly released from a 15-month prison sentence in Joliet—is unlikely to drag the case out much longer.

"We marked the time of death sometime between today and two years from now," O'Malley said. "We can't say for sure what his blood-alcohol level will be at the time of death, but we know it will be well past the legal limit. Ever since he lost his job at the camper factory, he's pretty much kept his head in a bottle."

O'Malley described the scene of the future death. "His body could be found in any number of places—a ditch on Hwy. 57, a stall in the men's room, sprawled out on Brandi's stained mattress," O'Malley said. "In any case, he'll almost certainly be face-down, possibly in his dog's water dish. We're bound to find at least two or three empty Jack Daniel's bottles next to his bed. That is, unless he's waiting on his next unemployment check, in which case those bottles will be Old Crow."

Enlarge Image (A headstone purchased by Yothers' family and placed in the family plot earlier this month. )

Police notified Yothers' family of his pending death Tuesday.
"That's one phone call you never want to make," O'Malley said. "I've known the Yothers family for years—I end up out at their house for a disturbing-the-peace call every year around the holidays. But they're basically good folks. I hate to give people news like that. It's the toughest part of this job."

Continued O'Malley: "They took it well. I assured them that he'll probably feel very little pain when he goes, considering how drunk he'll be. That seemed to make them feel better. Really, they've been expecting this for a while."

Derek's older brother, Mark Yothers, spoke on the family's behalf.
"You can't help but feel guilty for not doing more to stop him," Mark said. "If only he could have gotten help, I'd still have my brother here with me three years from now. The only consolation we have is that he'll be in a better place someday, where his soul can find peace."

Other people close to Yothers are bracing themselves for his death.
"I just saw him over at the gas station yesterday," said Eric Pugh, Yothers' former coworker. "He was buying a frozen pizza and a sixer of Miller High Life. He seemed just fine, nothing out of the ordinary at all. We talked about going to that bar over in Effingham for $3 pitchers of Old Style. I sure hope we get a chance to do that before it's too late."

Funeral services for Yothers will be attended by a handful of family members and friends, after which his body will be buried in the family plot. During the gathering, the family will play "She Talks To Angels" by The Black Crowes, unless Yothers' favorite song changes between now and the time of his death.


A child kicks its legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, Do it again; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough... It is possible that God says every morning, Do it again, to the sun; and every evening, Do it again, to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike: it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
--G. K. Chesterton