Advent Joy

     "The Church's invitation to prepare for the Nativity is above all a command to us to open the gates of repentance, that Christ may enter our very being and be born anew in our hearts, and to offer our virtues to the newborn king. Instead of gold, we offer charity; instead of frankincense, prayer; instead of myrrh, repentance. Then, like the song of the angels and the adoration of the shepherds, our worship will be pure and our love without pretense." 
-- Vassilios Papavassiliou, Meditations for Advent
     I'm so moved by the simplicity expressed here that I worry how to tie it into a paragraph of my own. Charity, prayer, and repentance are difficult things (newsflash!) because I find that they come in seasons -- there are times when I am like a spring, overflowing, and then there are other times when I find myself at the bottom of a well scratching in the dirt.

    But my fickleness only serves as a reminder in its contrast with He-who-is-never-fickle. It is so important to keep these muscles in shape -- charity, prayer, repentance -- because I know a time will come when I'll need the strength as I'm scraping bottom.

    C. S. Lewis writes that it is a great thing to remember that "...though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him." (Mere Christianity).

    And this is happiness because here is joy. During the Advent fast I can forget myself and become completely absorbed in what has to be done here and now. In denying myself I can notice the needs of others. In saying "no" to my own desires I am saying "yes" to His.




     As a new Anglican my favorite times of the year are Advent, Lent, and Allhallowtide. Stuff for me to do. Not that there isn't an awful lot to do for Christmas and Easter, but that's only a very small portion of the year. C. S. Lewis writes:

"Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly now how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age, the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to him?" (Letters to Malcolm, Chapter 20)

     ...I was never a very good Presbyterian. J. R. R. Tolkien writes in Leaf by Niggle (the Professor wrote an ALLEGORY. Gahaaaaasp!) an overheard conversation after Niggle has a near fatal accident:

     "Now the Niggle case," said a Voice, a severe voice, more severe than the doctor's.
     "What was the matter with him?" said a Second Voice, a voice that you might have called gentle, though it was not soft -- it was a voice of authority, and it sounded at once hopeful and sad.
"What was the matter with Niggle? His heart was in the right place."
     "Yes, but it did not function properly," said the First Voice. "And his head was not screwed on tight enough: he hardly ever thought at all. Look at the time he wasted, not even amusing himself! He never got ready for his journey. He was moderately well-off, and yet he arrived here almost destitute, and had to be put in the paupers' wing. A bad case, I am afraid. I think he should stay some time yet."
     "It would not do him any harm, perhaps," said the Second Voice. "But, of course, he is only a little man. He was never meant to be anything very much; and he was never very strong. Let us look at the Records. Yes. There are some favourable points, you know."

    Having more opportunities throughout the liturgical year to do things provides the moments to stop and think. One's head gets easily loose when neglected, gifts squandered if they are not attended to, and time lost -- we are all bad cases and the journey is a long one. Speaking for myself, at least.

Niggle working on his painting


Happiness: Muggeridge, Modernity, Me

     Over the years I have stressed, with varying levels of enthusiasm, the seemingly uncomfortable truth that "the pursuit of happiness" simply has nothing to do with the Christian faith. Recently, I've been re-reading my dear Malcolm Muggeridge and rediscovering just how right he is:
     "There is something ridiculous and even quite indecent in an individual claiming to be happy. Still more a people or a nation making such a claim. The pursuit of happiness ...is without any question the most fatuous which could possibly be undertaken. This lamentable phrase the pursuit of happiness is responsible for a good part of the ills and miseries of the modern world."
     The outcry is deafening. Everyone deserves to be happy, do what you love, seek your fortune, go discover yourself -- and so on. And yet we never learn that in our fervor to seek happiness we miss it altogether. It is not something to be pursued. It is not something to be had. It is not something deserved.
     "Where, then, does happiness lie? In forgetfulness, not indulgence, of the self. In escape from sensual appetites,  not in their satisfaction. We live in a dark, self in-closed prison, which is all we see or know if our glance is fixed ever downward. To lift it upward, becoming aware of the wide luminous universe -- this alone is happiness. At its highest level such happiness is the ecstasy that mystics have inadequately described."
     At which point some of you reading this may start thinking yeah, ok, but I'm no mystic so whatever. Ponder this for ten seconds:
     "At more humdrum levels it is human love; the delights and beauties of our dear earth, its colors and shapes and sounds; the enchantment of understanding and laughing, and all the exercise of such faculties as we possess; the marvel of the meaning of everything, fitfully glimpsed, inadequately expounded, but ever present."
     How many authors do you know who describe human love as "humdrum"? As I re-read this list of humdrum happinesses I realize I know far too many people who have not attained even this level. And, most distressing, I know staunch atheists in Boston who do a better job as some of these listed here than many Christians!
"I can say that I never knew what joy was like until I gave up pursuing happiness, or cared to live until I chose to die. For these two discoveries I am beholden to Jesus."

All quotes from Seeing Through the Eye: Malcolm Muggeridge on Faith

Muggeridge continued: "The pursuit of happiness in any case soon resolved itself into the pursuit of pleasure—something quite different. Pleasure is but a mirage of happiness—a false vision of shade and refreshment seen across parched sand.
Read more at http://quotes.dictionary.com/There_is_something_ridiculous_and_even_quite_indecent#Z9KJHXxoJOBjyJrI.99
Muggeridge continued: "The pursuit of happiness in any case soon resolved itself into the pursuit of pleasure—something quite different. Pleasure is but a mirage of happiness—a false vision of shade and refreshment seen across parched sand."
Read more at http://quotes.dictionary.com/There_is_something_ridiculous_and_even_quite_indecent#Z9KJHXxoJOBjyJrI.99
Muggeridge continued: "The pursuit of happiness in any case soon resolved itself into the pursuit of pleasure—something quite different. Pleasure is but a mirage of happiness—a false vision of shade and refreshment seen across parched sand."
Read more at http://quotes.dictionary.com/There_is_something_ridiculous_and_even_quite_indecent#Z9KJHXxoJOBjyJrI.99


"She did what she liked..."

     I'm afraid the blogging this summer has simply been a no-go. Am I disappointed? Honestly, no. When life gets in the way I usually like it. I even like that the Fire and Hemlock posts fizzled out so quickly when I was suddenly avalanched in gigs and performances and a lot of private study with my teacher. I like money, too.

     Do you remember the children's book Miss Twiggly's Tree? Her character is that "she did what she liked, and she liked what she did..." which reminds me of Augustine's "love God and do whatever you please."

     I'm most pleased to say that I've started seriously looking into purchasing quality icons. They'll all hang in a particular spot in my home. I don't know about you, but I need reminders of the good company I'm a part of. It's far easier to become humble and forget yourself when looking at a host of other people you love.

     One of this summer's indulgences has been theology. Lots of theology. Almost all the time. As a result I've received a lot of messages from folks in the Anglican Ordinariate which is simultaneously amusing and sad. Listen, in case you're reading this, you are no longer Anglican if you are in the Ordinariate. You're Roman Catholic. If you want to be Roman Catholic, please, go forth and be Roman Catholic! Not sure why that's so difficult to see.

     Other news, I'm spending time in the recording studio starting this week. Getting music recorded for doctoral auditions (submission date is December 1). More than a little terrified. More than enormously thrilled. In some ways overly prepared. I really like Elliott Carter. I also really like Hans Urs von Balthasar.

     Will I return to Fire and Hemlock? Yes, I promise, but posting will continue to be sparse around here. Life, and all that.


Bach, Chesterton, Evening Prayer

     I am currently suffering the woe that comes of having no internet. Broken modem. I don't know what that means, but I can analyze a Bach fugue while standing on my head. I'm told it can be fixed Tuesday morning. The modem, not my head. Promise, I shall post post-modem.

     So, my iPhone says hello! and, that's right, I have no way of posting the next Fire and Hemlock installment. And my air conditioning isn't doing too well, so when I got home from piano adjudicating I dragged my sister to an air conditioned theater to watch Chef. Go see that movie if you love spicy food, and samba rhythms, and the entirety of the Latino culture -- I'm sorry New England but you will never possess the level of sass and suave attitude of my people in the Golden State.

     Where was I? Right, iPhone. How can I make a worthwhile post for you all with just my phone? Let's try: For Pentecost Sunday here is something good to read, something good to listen to, and something to pray. Adios, amigos.

The Collect for the Day

Pentecost (Whitsunday)

O GOD, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit; Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.


Book Review: "Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary..." by J. R. R. Tolkien

Lo! the glory of the kings of the people of the Spear-Danes in
days of old we have heard tell, how those princes did deeds
of valour... 

J. R. R. Tolkien: Beowulf
I just finished reading this. Translation aside for a moment, his son Christopher's marvelous introduction and notes are simply... marvelous. The short folk-tale style story of Beowulf at the end, Sellic Spell, together with the Beowulf verses that the Tolkien children grew up listening to their father sing and, no doubt, joining in... these addenda are charming and moving.

King Hrothgar mourns upon his throne
for his lieges slain, he mourns alone,
but Grendel gnaws the flesh and bone
of the thirty thanes of Herot.
A ship there sails like a wing├ęd swan,
and the foam is white on the waters wan,
and one there stands with bright helm on
that the winds have brought to Herot.

                     -- second verse from Version I


Some Frivolity

Dear readers,

     You're expecting a chapter review of Fire and Hemlockthis evening, as am I -- what we both were not expecting was a head cold of maximum nasty to wipe me out. Couldn't get to Church this morning, and yet had to spend the day adjudicating piano evaluations for Lexington. I'm not dead yet, but nearly.

    The good news: I do have a written draft and I'll get it polished tomorrow morning and posted. So, watch this space! Chapter 4 -- and I hope you're having even half as much fun I as I am.

    Some frivolity: recently some friends were assigning "what pop song are you?" (hey, it's music, I'll participate!), and I received Bareilles' King of Anything (yikes), Lady Gaga's Poker Face (wow), and Florence + The Machine's Heavy In Your Arms (speechless). On second thought, this says more about my friends.