A Light Burden

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart) 
                                                                     -- e. e. cummings

There is so much more to love than emotion.


First Sunday in Lent: Spring Cleaning

     When I was a teenager I remember dismissing N. T. Wright and going my merry way. It was a Presbyterian thing. Anyway, (a decade later?) I've had his book Lent for Everyone (Mark) assigned to me by my priest.

     Today's mediation was Psalm 25. "Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths" and "Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions" and "all the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness."

     Lent is always a great unknown for me. I don't know where I am when I set out, and I don't know where I'm going. I'm new at this, my family is new at this, we are all serious about it but in varying ways. Bp. Wright surprised me when I turned the page in his little book to read: "Experience of past Lents suggests that it can be a time when those who take it seriously find that, like the early explorers, they are going out into a country they don't know, full of unforeseen hazards as well as glorious possibilities."

     How did he know?! Oh, right, it's N. T. Wright. He then recognizes four "hostile forces" listed in the psalm that can derail us:

  • Shame when we mess up (verses 2, 3),
  • Remembering our past sins (verse 7)
  • Loneliness (verse 16)
  • And other "troubles of the heart" (verse 17)
     Cuts me to the heart and invigorates, I am meeting all four of these things head on. And this is why it's Lent. "Spring time." We are preparing for Resurrection Sunday, quick -- so much in disarray. This is why everyone should take this seriously, because when else are you going to, of your own initiative, fast and pray for such a length of time and in such earnestness because God loves you? This and Advent are my favorite times of year. Get to work and get cleaning, make things shine, scour yourself, what else could you possibly be doing?!
"And do you know, do you know that mankind can live without the Englishman, it can live without Germany, it can live only too well without the Russian man, it can live without science, without bread, and it only cannot live without beauty, for then there would be nothing at all to do in the world! The whole secret is here, the whole of history is here. Science itself would not stand for a minute without beauty."
-- Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Possessed 


Lenten Joy

     Today is Ash Wednesday. I'm elated and I'm hungry.

     My two favorite times of the year are Advent and Lent, and friends always think I'm joking. But how could the celebrations happen without the great preparation times? The two things are inseparable and this is only right. How much joy goes into the work of shopping, preparing the meal, washing the best crystal, airing the linen, and chasing away the cobwebs? I remember a musician telling me about practicing that one "has to love the process." But I don't love the process for the sake of the process, but because of the goal I can glimpse from time to time.

     It's hard. It's work. It's practicing the piano not for the sake of practicing but for the sake of making something beautiful. Buy lamp oil bought and have plenty in reserve, you may just have to share. It's time to shake off sleep and look to the horizon. A storm is coming and it's nothing like any nor'easter that Boston has ever seen.


Art is Judgment

     Art is more than an expression at a moment in time. It is a summation of all time before it, of all human history before its entrance into the world. It is not so individualistic as we would like to think.

     It is so much more than form. The way something is presented, the gesture a ballerina executes in the movement that is an arabesque, is but a small part of the whole. The form is but the container to hold its sum parts. The gesture is but the human means to communicate the movement. It is the important defining line of the picture frame, but is only, still, a small part and not the whole.

     Walking through museums has taught me that it is not I who looks at the art, it is the art that looks at me. It is not I who judges and critiques. The subject of scrutiny is not the canvas. It is myself. The benefit and value of work of art is not contained within the four lines of a frame or caught in a sculpture -- it is found in my response.

     Do I recoil from what is evil, or stare in open fascination? Do I study horrific truths or cast my gaze elsewhere? Do I linger before the torments of hell and recognize that but for grace there go I? Or do I blithely skip to something soft, something merely pastel, something that is only affirmative and flat -- my own vapidness reflected in its surface.

     People turn away from art they don't like because they have judged it to be ugly, or boring, or strange, or immoral, or too moral, etc. etc. etc. We love to apply the same selfish principles to everything else: places of worship, clothing, food. Is there such a thing as bad art? Certainly, but not as much as you might think. Nine times out of ten it is the person who is found wanting.



Dramatis Persona: Ecclesia

In which the authoress is sick of mud slinging hyperbole 

     Stop it. I have lost count this past week how many times I have been told to "just be Roman Catholic." I'm not known for my patience, sadly, although I think I'm improving. But the kindest thing I can muster on this particularly bad day is to state that I'm Anglo-Catholic and you will just have to deal with it and learn to love me.

    We Christians spend a lot of time trying to convince other Christians, and I personally believe the Endarkenment and Scientism are to blame. Since when did we accept that formal argument and intellectual cognizance was the most important way of being a Christian? What does that say about my friend's down-syndrome baby? Too bad about her extra chromosome that prevents her from discovering that the Roman Catholic Church is the one that Christ founded and not any other? And I am not in the mood for Vatican II platitudes. I am, however, in a mood to ramble a bit about the nature our intellectual debates. The following may make very little sense but it will make me feel better:

     Abusus non tollit usum. This always gets tossed around in the scummiest of Roman Catholic debates. Usually a non-Roman Catholic approaches the whole thing from the bottom up and thinks that if he can prove abuse in the Church's practice then he can therefore disprove the authority. Roman Catholics retort that abuse does not negate its use, and they're right. But also wrong.

    Yes, we should say with G. K. Chesterton that the Church is a hospital for sinners. But if outsiders see only constant mess and no improvement than a good Roman Catholic should pause and consider if they're going about things rightly. If we are called to be holy, and we are, and yet there is no evidence of this, then some housekeeping is in order. (I personally do not agree with this argument against the Roman Catholic Church. There are many good fruits there).

    But secondly and more importantly is the hypocrisy. If abuse does not negate its use then it's the Roman Catholics who need to answer why other churches are therefore invalid. And they should start with the first schism before they move to the file labeled "Luther, M." So, my dear Catholic brethren, stop pointing to women's ordination and homosexuality and countless other things and saying "Look! Evil fruit! This is what happens with solo scriptura. False authority!" Don't cast those stones, my friends.

     Arguing "from the bottom up" doesn't solve anything. It always comes back to authority. Except when it doesn't. It is circular reasoning to try to disprove the Roman Catholic Church by pointing to practice, but it is also circular when debating the papacy and the magisterium (we Anglicans have a magisterium too, you know). These "from the top down" arguments are essentially the same. Each only leads to the other. It goes nowhere.

    Which is why I have no desire to disprove the Roman Catholic Church. I only desire that it reform. The issue at hand is not so much the church itself but its dogma. As Dorothy Sayers so brilliantly demonstrates in her book Creed or Chaos? "the dogma is the drama." It's where the rubber hits the road. In other words, authority and practice taken together and the relationship that it creates with believers -- de fide. Everything else is irrelevant.

     I try to stick to Sayers' "Highest Common Factor of Consent" in an attempt to be kind and patient not for the sake of my own soul but because you are, each of you, too precious to dismiss.

"By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." John 13:35


Food for Thought

Behold the Lamb of God; behold Him who takes away the sins of the world!

Someone once pointed out to me that not only did our Lord become Man, formed in the womb of a teenaged virgin, and born in an animal stall, but that he was then laid in a manger -- a food trough. 

And there's no getting around this. We do not eat in mere memory, nor simply out of blind obedience, nor in some kind of scientific yet magical the-bread-becomes-flesh-and-then-it-isn't-flesh-after-ten-minutes ("Don't chew the baby Jesus!" are the whispered instructions on confirmation day in some parishes).... but we only know this: that the bread is His body and the wine is His blood and we eat the dear Son to be nourished and strengthened in our walk with Him. 

I don't know, I keep coming back to fairy tales. This is so simple and yet mysterious. The clock strikes midnight and the coach is a pumpkin. It just is. A child understands conditional joy; we must accept the conditions for this joy. So chew.

And happy eighth day of Christmas!


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