Saturday, December 29, 2007

St. Matthew, chapter 10

28: And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

29: Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.

30: But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

31: Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Anthony Bloom (Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh)
from Beginning to Pray, chapter 1

I would like to remind you of the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. The Publican comes and stands at the rear of the church. He knows that he stands condemned; he knows that in terms of justice there is no hope for him because he is an outsider to the kingdom of God, the kingdom of righteousness or the kingdom of love, because he belongs neither to the realm of righteousness nor to the realm of love. But in the cruel, the violent, the ugly life he leads, he has learnt something of which the righteous Pharisee has no idea. He has learnt that in a world of competition, in a world of predatory animals, in a world of cruelty and heartlessness, the only hope one can have is an act of mercy, an act of compassion, a completely unexpected act which is rooted neither in duty nor in natural relationships, which will suspend the action of the cruel, violent, heartless world in which we live. All he knows, for instance, from being himself an extortioner, a moneylender, a thief, and so forth, is that there are moments when for no reason, because it is not part of the world's outlook, he will forgive a debt, because suddenly his heart has become mild and vulnerable; that on another occasion he may not get someone put into prison because a face will have reminded him of something or a voice has gone straight to his heart. There is no logic in this. It is not part of the world's outlook nor is it a way in which he normally behaves. It is something that breaks through, which is completely nonsensical, which he cannot resist; and he knows also, probably, how often he himself was saved from final catastrophe by this intrusion of the unexpected and the impossible, mercy, compassion, forgiveness. So he stands at the rear of the church, knowing that all the realm inside the church is a realm of righteousness and divine love to which he does not belong and into which he cannot enter. But he knows from experience also that the impossible does occur and that is why he says 'Have mercy, break the laws of righteousness, break the laws of religion, come down in mercy to us who have no right either to be forgiven or allowed in.' And I think this is where we should start continuously all over again.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Do they still really have prizes in the Cracker Jack boxes? That's nice to know. It gives one a feeling of solidarity, almost of continuity with the past.

-- John McGiver in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
To a Fish
by Leigh Hunt (1784-1859)

You strange, astonished-looking, angle-faced,
Dreary-mouthed, gaping wretches of the sea,
Gulping salt-water everlastingly,
Cold-blooded, though with red your blood be graced,
And mute, though dwellers in the roaring waste;
And you, all shapes beside, that fishy be, --
Some round, some flat, some long, all devilry,
Legless, unloving, infamously chaste : --

O scaly, slippery, wet, swift, staring wights,
What is't ye do? What life lead? eh, dull goggles?
How do ye vary your vile days and nights?
How pass your Sundays? Are ye still but joggles
In ceaseless wash? Still nought but gapes, and bites,
And drinks, and stares, diversified with boggles?

My form-master and English teacher I find to be an excellently civilised man called J. B. Stokes, housemaster of Meadhurst, given to a most peculiar use of what, if I have parsed this correctly, is an imperative interrogative form of a future conditional tense. In other words instead of saying "Shut up" he would say, "You'll be shutting up?," "You'll be sitting down?"

-- Stephen Fry

* * * * *

Dare any call Permissiveness
An educational success?
Saner the classrooms that I sat in,
Compelled to study Greek and Latin.

The Book of Common Prayer I knew
Was that of 1662:
Though "with-it" sermons may be well,
Liturgical reforms are hell.

-- W. H. Auden
Common mistaken ideas

about how to read poetry include the Hidden Meaning assumption, which directs one to more or less ignore the surface of the poem in a quest for some elusive and momentous significance that the poet has buried amid the words and music. This idea probably comes from the fact that, being moved by a poem, one assumes an important religious, philosophical, or historical cause for being moved and tries to find it hidden someplace in the poem; whereas in fact a few words rightly placed can be moving if they catch a moment of life -- almost any moment; if, amidst all the blather and babble of imprecise, uncertain language in which we live, there is something better, some undeniable little beautiful bit of light. This is given to us, of course, by the music, and the words, not [by] something that they conceal.

Kenneth Koch, Making Your Own Days : The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry (Touchstone, 1998), p. 111
PSA on the MBTA

There was a public service advertisement I saw on the bus recently, one that made me think. "Parents, get involved with your children! Talk to them about not drinking." Words to that effect. "You are the center of your child's world." (?!?) "You can make a difference." The ad was put there by, I think, some agency of the City of Cambridge (known affectionately to locals as the People's Republic of Cambridge).

"Parents, get involved with your children." Laudable sentiment. But what if the parental involvement has to do with, oh, wanting to know if the child is getting contraceptives from the school nurse, or wanting to shield the child from some of the more indelicate matters of sexual education, or wanting to prevent gay-rights propaganda from entering the home in the guise of a textbook (a second-grade reading assignment)? Is parental involvement encouraged by the City of Cambridge under those circumstances? Is parental involvement even seen as permissible?

As long as they're not drinking before they're twenty-one.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

to all who visit here!
Christmas Eve
by Eric Milner-White (1884-1963)

Mary, in the days of her holy expectation,
            magnified the Lord;
her spirit rejoiced in the child of her womb,
            the Son of God.

For when all things lay in silence,
      and night was in the midst of her course,
there leaped down, O God, from on high,
      from thy royal throne,
            the Word, thy Christ, thyself;
      through woman to be born in human nature,
            born in time, born in us,
            and we in him.

Grant me, O God, thy divinest gift,
      that Emmanuel may be formed and born in me,
      and I may ever rejoice and magnify thee.
Say to my soul, Peace, be still,
            as was that silent night.
And send thy Word, into my soul,
      not for my merit, but by thy miracle;
      by my desire, but of thy sole gift;
      not in part, but in all
            which mortal can receive.

Father, let me be born in thee as thy child:
Christ, be born in me as my Lord:
Holy Spirit, travail and shine within;
      that I may live in thy life
      and love with thy love
            evermore and evermore.

E. Milner-White, My God, My Glory : Aspirations, acts, and prayers on the desire for God, intro. by Joyce Huggett (Triangle/SPCK, 1994), p. 56.
O little town of Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee to-night.

For Christ is born of Mary,
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth!
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace to men on earth.

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still
The dear Christ enters in.

Where children pure and happy
Pray to the blessed Child,
Where misery cries out to thee,
Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching
And faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
And Christmas comes once more.

O holy Child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

Phillips Brooks, 1868
All my heart this night rejoices

All my heart this night rejoices
As I hear
Far and near
Sweetest angel voices;
"Christ is born," their choirs are singing,
Till the air
Now with joy is ringing.

Come, then, let us hasten yonder;
Here let all,
Great and small,
Kneel in awe and wonder,
Love him who with love is yearning;
Hail the Star,
That from far
Bright with hope is burning!

Ye who pine in weary sadness,
Weep no more,
For the door
Now is found of gladness.
Cling to him, for he will guide you
Where no cross,
Pain or loss
Can again betide you.

Paul Gerhardt, 1607-76, trans. Catherine Winkworth, 1827-78

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Isaiah 45:8

Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the LORD have created it.

Rorate caeli desuper, et nubes pluant justum; aperiatur terra, et germinet salvatorem ...