Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris
a few disorganized comments

Something of a mixed bag, more good than bad. The book likens the experience of living in the western Dakotas to that of monasticism. Some poetry in prose as she enthuses over the landscape, and her occasional visits to a nearby Benedictine monastery. (Norris is a Presbyterian.) The book is marred by some digressions on economics that may have seemed necessary to the author, but which did not magnetize this reader; also, there are some remarks about her fellow townspeople (their provincialism, their being "set in their ways") that seem to flirt with "Snobama"-type elitism. There is the incredible claim on p. 210 that the Benedictine order predates "the Catholic hierarchy" -- to employ the popular code, whiskey tango foxtrot? But Norris's genuine affection for the monks, for the landscape, and (yes) for most of her neighbors, does come through and make us forget the flaws. Almost.

On the Amazon scale of five stars, this book was about a three-point-nine.
Weighed and found (overweight but) wanting

That sums up my life to date! It's the Six-Word Memoir Meme, via The Digital Hairshirt. (A cool blog where you can go back in time to the 1970s with the Bee Gees, Donna Summer, and the late Van McCoy.)
The Daily Eudemon

has given us lists of things that are difficult, very difficult, and downright impossible to say while drunk. (Scroll down a wee bit.) Yes, #5 under Downright Impossible is quite true.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Written in the book of prayer petitions next to a statue of Our Lady in a Cambridge, Mass. church:

Inspirez B.H.O. qu'il désiste de son ambition et qu'il cède la place à H.R.C.

(Inspire B.H.O. to give up his ambition and yield to H.R.C.)

No comment!
Official business

Raises a vexed index to her chin, wondering she is, if she forgot to tell the mind, the man behind, the man behind the desk, with the name, with the big name, something.
74-77 degrees

The expected high temperature today (away from the water). I'll cope somehow.

Eve alerts us to an essay by the Cigarette Smoking Blogger about Oscar Wilde: his aesthetics, sexuality, and eventual conversion to Catholicism.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

But the most obvious fact about praise -- whether of God or anything -- strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise -- lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game -- praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least. The good critics found something to praise in many imperfect works; the bad ones continually narrowed the list of books we might be allowed to read. The healthy and unaffected man, even if luxuriously brought up and widely experienced in good cookery, could praise a very modest meal: the dyspeptic and the snob found fault with all. Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible. [...] I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: "Isn't she lovely? Wasn't it glorious? Don't you think that magnificent?" The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can't help doing, about everything else we value.

C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, pp. 93-95
Am resisting

the urge to quote at further length from the chapter entitled "A Word about Praising" in C S Lewis's book Reflections on the Psalms. The tempting excerpt runs about two pages (from the bottom of page 93 to the beginning of page 96); a shorter excerpt would not do justice to Lewis's thought.

So, what to do? The choices are (1) Post a shorter excerpt; (2) Transcribe the whole blessed thing; (3) Neither -- simply recommend, exhort, urge!

Find a copy and, even if you are disinclined to purchase, read the chapter in question (pp. 90-98), and admire.

(I'll probably post some part of it soon.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


if up's the word;and a world grows greener
minute by second and most by more--
if death is the loser and life is the winner
(and beggars are rich but misers are poor)
--let's touch the sky:
                              with a to and fro
(and a here there where)and away we go

in even the laziest creature among us
a wisdom no knowledge can kill is astir--
now dull eyes are keen and now keen eyes are keener
(for young is the year;for young is the year)
--let's touch the sky:
                              with a great(and a gay
and a steep)deep rush through amazing day

it's brains without hearts have set saint against sinner;
put gain over gladness and joy under care--
let's do as an earth which can never do wrong does
(minute by second and most by more)
--let's touch the sky:
                              with a strange(and a true)
and a climbing fall into far near blue

if beggars are rich(and a robin will sing his
robin a song)but misers are poor--
let's love until noone could quite be(and young is
the year,dear)as living as i'm and as you're
--let's touch the sky:
                              with a you and a me
and an every(who's any who's some)one who's we
What do we mean when we say that a picture is "admirable"? We certainly don't mean that it is admired (that's as may be) for bad work is admired by thousands and good work may be ignored. Nor that it "deserves" admiration in the sense in which a candidate "deserves" a high mark from the examiners -- i.e., that a human being will have suffered injustice if it is not awarded. The sense in which the picture "deserves" or "demands" admiration is rather this; that admiration is the correct, adequate or appropriate, response to it, that, if paid, admiration will not be "thrown away", and that if we do not admire we shall be stupid, insensible, and great losers, we shall have missed something. In that way many objects both in Nature and in Art may be said to deserve, or merit, or demand, admiration. It was from this end, which will seem to some irreverent, that I found it best to approach the idea that God "demands" praise. He is that Object to admire which (or, if you like, to appreciate which) is simply to be awake, to have entered the real world; not to appreciate which is to have lost the greatest experience, and in the end to have lost all. The incomplete and crippled lives of those who are tone deaf, have never been in love, never known true friendship, never cared for a good book, never enjoyed the feel of the morning air on their cheeks, never (I am one of these) enjoyed football, are faint images of it.

C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, p. 92

Monday, April 14, 2008

Now they watch him and cringe.
Who are they? Who is he?

We decided to fly Chinese.
The food wasn't that good.

And oh Erwin did I tell you
that man -- the one -- I didn't

know if I was supposed to or not.
He crawled back listlessly,

holding a bunch of divas.

John Ashbery, from "As Umbrellas Follow Rain"
Bring on the aromatherapy
boys there's a job to get done

John Ashbery, from "Intricate Fasting"
Two bumper stickers
on the same car


[...] how constantly Our Lord repeated, reinforced, continued, refined, and sublimated, the Judaic ethics, how very seldom he introduced a novelty. This of course was perfectly well-known -- was indeed axiomatic -- to millions of unlearned Christians as long as Bible-reading was habitual. Nowadays it seems to be so forgotten that people think they have somehow discredited Our Lord if they can show that some pre-Christian document (or what they take to be pre-Christian) such as the Dead Sea Scrolls has "anticipated" Him. As if we supposed Him to be a cheapjack like Nietzsche inventing a new ethics! Every good teacher, within Judaism as without, has anticipated Him. The whole religious history of the pre-Christian world, on its better side, anticipates Him. It could not be otherwise. The Light which has lightened every man from the beginning may shine more clearly but cannot change. The Origin cannot suddenly start being, in the popular sense of the word, "original".

C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1958), pp. 26-27
"You obviously have a wonderful economy with words, Gloria. I look forward to your next syllable with great eagerness."

Sir John Gielgud, who played Hobson in Arthur, was born 104 years ago today.