Tuesday, 28 November 2006

Heilige Hygings (An Afrikaans Poem)

Heilige Hygings is a poem I wrote about a year ago, and yet it has returned to my memory today with great poignancy. I have written it below. It is written in Afrikaans, my far-flung Germanic mother tongue, but I will endeavour to translate it for the benefit of English readers soon.

Update: It seems to me that the essential style of the poem will be lost if translated with my meagre skill. So untranslated it must remain.

Heilige Hygings

ek wil so graag soos Fransiskus wees
met die ganse natuur hoogliedere sing
op die maat en ritme van engelesang

ek wil so graag soos Thomas wees
met gemak en intellek jubelend
tot God- en kerkglorie op die Evangelie
improviser met drieduisend variasies

ek wil so graag soos Teresa wees
tong-in-kies tussen die binnekamers van gebed beweeg
al dansend en dromend met die heilige geur van angeliere
soos ‘n koninklike kleed wapperend agterna

ek wil so graag soos Paulus van Egipte wees
net op nagmaalbrood en –wyn leef
tussen dorre sand en son vir die Duiwel & wêreld sê: Basta!
en dan wag dat die leeu my begrawe

ek wil so graag soos Johannes wees
diep in die misterie van die Kruis verdrink
verlore in die Liefdeslelies tussen Hemel en aarde
‘n deurskynende glasprisma waardeur die Lig stroom

en natuurlik
ek wil so graag soos Maria wees
heilig, bekroon, en met Hemelsglorie beklee
deurdrenk met grasie en deernis
om die kanaal van Genade vir ander te wees


ek wil met gemak hemel toe
‘n treinkar vol bagasie agterna
en as die voëls my ses-uur wakkerskree
met ‘n gegrom dieper in die duvet indraai

ek wil sonder strewe en studeer wys word
die misteries van die Geloof hanteer soos algebra
neersit, opsy, as ek moeg raak daarvoor

ek wil gebedjies prewel met een oog op die horlosie
myself op die skouer klap
as ek vir ‘n halfuur in stilte verkeer, en sê:
heiligheid is nou net om die draai!

ek wil myself vetvoer met smullende bygeluide
na ‘n namiddagslapie
vir tien minute die Kruis teen die muur bekyk
en sug: Ja Here, laat my saammet U ly!

ek wil al die wêreldse denkpatrone & goedere aan my bors vasdruk
ongesteurd my eie padjie volg as dit pas
‘n paar uur ‘n dag langtand afstaan aan die soektog na God
en dan dadelik die tekens van heiligheid verwag

ek wil Gabriel by die deur ‘n bietjie laat wag
terwyl ek eers ‘n luilekker borrelbad intap
‘n teugie Merlot skink
daar is tog môre


ek wil salig en gemaklik die Ewigheid beërwe
verby die Kruis glip
om pynloos en bevredigend
die Opstandingslug in te asem

maar sien, ek het vergeet
sweet, asyn & bloed moet eers in die keel af
voor die vroegmôrelug saggies kan afglip

aai! ellendeling is ek wat ween
qui passus et sepultus est pro nobis
miserere, miserere nobis

Friday, 24 November 2006

A Tolkien-Prompted Thought

What would have happened if Sauron did truly conquer the Fellowship? ... if Frodo had been caught, the Ring taken, and returned to its master? Minas Tirith crushed, Edoras destroyed, Lothlórien set aflame, and Rivendell and the Mithlond wiped from the face of Middle-Earth ... What then? His foes crushed, what would Sauron occupy himself with? He cannot pass beyond the West to assault the Blessed Realm, since that folly was already attempted, the result was the Eru Illúvatar, the One, the All-Father, Himself removed those glorious lands from the Circles of the World. If Evil's dominion is complete, what remains for it but its boredom and decay?

Which is one of the reasons, by long-pathed analogy, that I refuse to believe that sin has the substance of reality, and that Satan is more than a fallen celestial being. Pure evil cannot exist. What power evil possesses derives from the virtue it possessed before its fall. The greatest saint can become the most demonic sinner.

Evil, when it conquers utterly, is the most pale and withered existence conceivable.

O Bonitas! O Pastor Bonus! Miserere!

Thursday, 23 November 2006

Habemus Librum Papae ...

VATICAN CITY, NOV 21, 2006 (VIS) - The Holy See Press Office today released a communique stating: "The Holy Father Benedict XVI has completed writing the first part of a book, the title of which is 'Gesu di Nazareth. Dal Battesimo nel Giordano alla Trasfigurazione' (Jesus of Nazareth, From His Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration) and, within the last few days, has consigned it to the Vatican Publishing House. The book will be published in spring 2007"

OP/POPE BOOK:JESUS/... VIS 061121 (90)

VATICAN CITY, NOV 22, 2006 (VIS) - Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J., has written a note concerning a forthcoming book by Benedict XVI, scheduled for publication in the spring of 2007. The title of the volume is: "Gesu di Nazareth. Dal Battesimo nel Giordano alla Trasfigurazione" (Jesus of Nazareth, From His Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration).

The Vatican Publishing House, which holds the copyright on all the Pope's writings, has ceded the world rights for the translation, distribution and marketing of this book to the Rizzoli Publishing House.

"The fact that Benedict XVI has managed to complete the first part of his great book on Jesus, and that within a few months we will have it in our hands, is wonderful news," writes Fr. Lombardi in his note. "I find it extraordinary that despite the duties and concerns of the pontificate, he has managed to complete a work of such great academic and spiritual depth. He says he dedicated all his free time to the project; and this itself is a very significant indication of the importance and urgency the book has for him.

"With his habitual simplicity and humility, the Pope explains that this is not a 'work of Magisterium' but the fruit of his own research, and as such it can be freely discussed and criticized. This is a very important observation, because it makes clear that what he writes in the book in no way binds the research of exegetes and theologians. It is not a long encyclical on Jesus, but a personal presentation of the figure of Jesus by the theologian Joseph Ratzinger, who has been elected as Bishop of Rome."

In the book's preface, Fr. Lombardi's note says, the Holy Father "explains that in modern culture, and in many presentations of the figure of Jesus, the gap between the 'historical Jesus' and the 'Christ of the faith' has become ever wider. ... Joseph Ratzinger, taking into consideration all the achievements of modern research, aims to present the Jesus of the Gospels as the real 'historical Jesus,' as a sensible and convincing figure to Whom we can and must trustingly refer, and upon Whom we have good reason to base our faith and our Christian life. With his book, then, the Pope aims to offer a fundamental service to support the faith of his brothers and sisters, and he does so from the central element of the faith: Jesus Christ."

In the introduction to the book, Fr. Lombardi continues, "Jesus is presented to us as the new Moses, the new prophet who speaks with 'God face to face,' ... the Son, deeply united to the Father. If this essential aspect is overlooked, the figure of Jesus become contradictory and incomprehensible. With passion, Joseph Ratzinger speaks to us of Jesus' intimate union with the Father, and wishes to ensure that Jesus' disciples participate in this communion. It is, then, a great work of exegesis and theology, but also a great work of spirituality."

Fr. Lombardi concludes: "Recalling the profound impression and the spiritual fruits that, as a young man, I drew from reading Joseph Ratzinger's first work - 'Introduction to Christianity' - I am sure that this time too we will not be disappointed, but that both believers and all people truly disposed to understand more fully the figure of Jesus, will be immensely grateful to the Pope for his great witness as a thinker, scholar and man of faith, on the most essential point of the entire Christian faith."


Yet another reason to subscribe to the Vatican Information Service ... if Introduction to Christianity is anything to go by, we should be in for a plethora of theological joys. Let us just hope the translation into English will be done swiftly.

Sunday, 19 November 2006

An Ancient Muse (Te Deum laudamus ...)

The glorious Loreena McKennitt has released another album. It is designated An Ancient Muse, and is due for release soon in South Africa. I must confess I have already obtained a flagrantly illegal copy from a friend off of the seemingly limitless Internet. I confess so brazenly since I intend resolutely to purchase the CD upon its release. I implore any who might have downloaded Loreena McKennitt tracks on their devices to do the same, since her booklets are almost as much a delight as her music itself. Were it not for her writings therein, I would hardly have become quite so interested in Sufi spirituality (cf. the track Marco Polo on The Book of the Secrets), mysticism (cf. the rendition of St John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul on The Mask & the Mirror), and monasticism (cf. Skelling & Full Circle on the same album).

Regarding the new album itself, it has a distinct Middle-Eastern feel, and I look forward to discovering what characteristically extensive travels of spirit and body she undertook as inspiration for this album. I gasped when I saw the title of the fifth track: Kecharitomene. Amidst the loud surprise of the Scriptural Hellenists, let me explain to those who do not know: κεχαριτομένη (or kecharitomené) translates to 'she who has been graced'. More specifically, it is the epochal title given to a peculiar peasant girl in Nazareth when the Archangel Gabriel visited her with such strange news. The Latin is, of course, gratia plena
Speculation about Loreena McKennitt's faith is likely to be fruitless, since she has not been forthcoming with any labels. Her musical tracks led me to believe that she is of indistinct religion, with a vivid mystic spirituality. I doubt she is of Neo-Pagan profession, as some have made her out to be, and I doubt also that she is Catholic, as others have wished to conclude from her rendition of the Dark Night of the Mystical Doctor. The question is, in any case, not of terrible consequence, not least to us who serve the One to Whom All Beauty and Truth belongs. But nonetheless, the use of the Blessed Virgin's title is surprising ...

Divine Uselessness

Faced with the Cross, with its extreme totality, all our responses to that Gift are poor, and grossly disproportionate. They will never be enough.

This teaches us first humility, and secondly begins us upon the path of Divine Uselessness. These two elements are foundational to the later paths. We must learn that all is grace, and that our worth lies not in our actions, but in our being loved. Once we know these things, and are willing to lie in seemingly useless love in the Hands of the Father, can the Spirit reign fruitfully. But there is no shortcut through this path, we cannot enter the Night with calculations, or with an eye askew on the path to confirm that the way the Spirit leads is in accord with what we can see.

All calculations end at the Cross; We must give up the way for the Way.

Via Pulchritudionis

A little while back there was a conference at the Apostolic See about the place of the aesthetic in theology and conversion: the so-called via pulchritudionis or 'Way of Beauty'. To my disgrace, I followed the meeting with less attention than it deserved. I consider this an important question in this day and age, since our generation seems to have become singularly aesthetically sensitive. Especially the spiritually minded youth have started to discern a connection between beauty and truth. But how deep is the connection truly? For we cannot doubt that beauty does not necessarily equate truth, and likewise some truths come with no aesthetic aura.

But for all the danger inherent in setting up beauty as a measure of truth, there is a certain admirable intent in it all. And here I can speak only of myself. To a very great extent my conversion to the Holy Catholic Faith was sped along by an intuitive spirirtuality nourished by the beauty in the works of Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, Loreena McKennitt, Adiemus, and in the pagan mythologies. Through the beauty that shone in these artifacts, I discerned the solidity of truth, but yet it eluded me. It nevertheless kept the search going, since I could not believe that God would grant beauty to the pagans and to literature, but withhold it from His Body, the Church.

In the end, and by no means merely by a vague aestheticism, but also concretely by means of Scriptural study and history, I had to radically revise my ecclesiology. So I came to profess the Faith, and seek to be numbered in the One, Holy, Catholic & Apostolic Church.

And the via pulchritudionis? It remains, and I have found its heart in the Church. This might sound surprising to those who think theology a barren and academic discipline, but it is my belief and experience. The disputes about the Trinity of the first four centuries of the Church's incarnation are maddeningly scholarly to some, but to those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, beauty flashes like fire in the truth that the Absolute, the Wholly Other, is One and Three, made flesh in the person of Jesus the Christ, and continued among us by the working of the Holy Spirit. All beauty points to Thrice-Holy Trinity, and I take delight in noting people's reactions when I tell them I started the process of becoming Catholic the first time I beheld the High-Elves in Middle-Earth, and the white mountains of the Blessed Realm in the Uttermost West.
Let me conclude these thoughts with the brilliant poem Mythopoeia by JRR Tolkien, who no doubt assists all along the via pulchritudionis from his celestial seat.


To one who said that myths were lies and therefore worthless
even though ‘breathed through silver’.

Philomythus to Misomythus

You look at trees and label them just so
(for trees are ‘trees’, and growing is ‘to grow’);
you walk the earth with solemn pace
one of the many minor globes of Space:
a star’s a star, some matter in a ball
compelled to courses mathematical
amid the regimented, cold, Inane,
where destined atoms are each moment slain.

At the bidding of a Will, to which we bend
(and must), but only dimly apprehend,
great processes march on, as Time unrolls
from dark beginnings to uncertain goals;
and as on page o’erwritten without clue,
with script and limning packed of various hue,
an endless multitude of forms appear,
some grim, some frim, some beautiful, some queer,
each alien, except as kin from one
remote Origo, gnat, man, stone, and sun.
God made the petreous rocks, the arboreal trees,
tellurian earth, and stellar stars, and these
homuncular men, who walk upon the ground
with nerves that tingle touched by light and sound.
The movement of the seas, the wind in boughs,
green grass, the large slow oddity of cows,
thunder and lightning, birds that wheel and cry,
slime crawling up from mud to live and die,
these each are duly registered and print
the brain’s contortions with a separate dint.

Yet trees are not ‘trees’, until so named and seen –
and never were so named, till those had been
who speech’s involuted breath unfurled,
faint echo and dim picture of the world,
but neither record nor a photograph,
being divination, judgement, and a laugh,
response of those that felt astir within
by deep monition movements that were kin
to life and death of trees, of beasts, of stars:
free captives undermining shadowy bars,
digging the foreknown from experience,
and panning the vein of spirit out of sense.
Great powers they slowly brought out of themselves,
and looking backwards they beheld the elves
that wrought on cunning forges in the mind,
and light and dark on secret looms entwined

He sees no stars who does not see them first
of living silver made that sudden burst
to flame like flowers beneath an ancient song,
whose very echo after-music long
has since pursued. There is no firmament,
only a void, unless a jewelled tent
myth-woven and elf-patterned; and no earth,
unless the mother’s womb whence all have birth.

The heart of man is not compound of lies,
and draws some wisdom from the only Wise;
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
man is not wholly lost, nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned.
his world-dominion by creative act,
not his to worship the great Artefact,
man, sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with elves and goblins, though we dared to build
gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sow the seed of dragons, ‘twas our right
(used or misused). The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which we’re made.

Yes! ‘wish-fulfilment dreams’ we spin to cheat
our timid hearts and ugly Fact defeat!
Whence came the wish, and whence the power to dream,
or some things fair, and others ugly deem?
All wishes are not idle, nor in vain
fulfilment we devise – for pain is pain,
not for itself to be desired, but ill;
or else to strive or to subdue the will
alike were graceless; and of Evil this
alone is dreadly certain: Evil is.

Blessed are the timid hearts that Evil hate,
that quail in its shadow, and yet shut the gate;
that seek no parley, and in guarded room,
though small and bare, upon a clumsy loom,
weave tissues gilded by the far-off day
hoped and believed in under Shadow’s sway.

Blessed are the men of Noah’s race that build
their little arks, though frail and poorly filled,
and steer through winds contrary towards a wraith,
rumour of a harbour guessed by faith.

Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme
of things not found in recorded time.
It is not they who have forgot the Night,
or bid us flee to organized delight,
in lotus-isles of economic bliss
forswearing souls to gain a Circe-kiss
(and counterfeit at that, machine-produced,
bogus seduction of the twice-seduced.)

Such isles they saw afar, and ones more fair,
and those that hear them yet may yet beware.
They have seen Death and ultimate defeat,
yet they would not in despair retreat,
but oft to victory have turned the lyre
and kindled hearts with legendary fire,
illuminating Now and dark Hath-been
with light of suns as yet by no man seen.

I would that I might with the minstrels sing
and stir the unseen with a throbbing string.
I would be with the mariners of the deep
that cut their slender planks on mountains steep
and voyage upon a vague and wandering quest,
for some have passed beyond the fabled West.
I would with the beleaguered fools be told,
that keep an inner fastness where their gold,
impure and scanty, yet they loyally bring
to mint in image blurred of distant king,
or in fantastic banners weave the sheen
heraldic emblems of a lord unseen.

I will not walk with your progressive apes,
erect and sapient. Before them gapes
the dark abyss to which their progress tends –
if by God’s mercy progress ever ends,
and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
unfruitful course with changing of a name.
I will not tread your dusty path and flat,
denoting this and that by this and that,
your world immutable wherein no part
the little make has with maker’s art.
I bow not yet before the Iron Crown,
nor cast my own small golden sceptre down.

In Paradise perchance the eye may stray
from gazing upon everlasting Day
to see the day-illumined, and renew
from mirrored truth the likeness of the True.
Then looking upon the Blessed Land ‘twill see
that all is as it is, yet made free:
Salvation changes not, nor yet destroys,
garden nor gardener, children nor their toys.
Evil it will not see, for evil lies
not in God’s picture but in crooked eyes,
not in the source but in malicious choice,
and not in sound but in the tuneless voice.
In Paradise they look no more awry;
and though they make anew, they make no lie
Be sure they still will make, not being dead,
and poets shall have flames upon their head,
and harps whereon their faultless fingers fall:
there each shall choose for ever from the All.


There are few things quite as futile, and yet tragic, as the modern attempt to revive the old pagan mythologies. I refer, of course, to the modern Pagans or Wiccans or whatever preferred designation is chosen. I find fault less with their attempts at building spirituality anew, than with their blinkered view of the old religions that ended decisively with the Advent of Christ. One can hardly come to any other conclusion, for the gods and their adherents seemed to grow old and tired the closer it came to the time of the Virgin Birth. Little wonder, for that Child, the Eternal Word, would consummate and bring to an end all the half-truths and glimpses mankind had gathered in the twilight before the Dawn came.

Also, these neo-pagans seem to forget two things about the pagan faiths. The first is that their beauty also includes much that is grotesque. An example, one can wax beautifully about the druids, hidden and mysterious among the trees, worshipping the Moon Goddess ... but one cannot forget that they also practiced human sacrifice. If the neo-pagans were truly attempting to return to the Old Ways in truth, they should be honest and face up to the darkness as well as the twilights of the pagan mythologies. The second is that the old gods were not universal, and remained in a real sense local and had their territories and patronages. A universal deity was simply not conceivable on any large scale, and pantheons differed from region to region. At most there were identifications between gods of different cultures or religions when these mixed.

All these lead me to believe that the modern movement of neo-paganism finds its origin less in revival and more in the dictatorship of relativism that cares little for truth and much for the comfort of the individual.

Monday, 13 November 2006

Creation & Sonship

There is a startling familiarity in the way some of the saints, and especially the humble Francis, have interacted with Creation. But how could they otherwise? Children have always been at almost careless ease with the things that belong to their Father. Even so it is with the Sons of God.

Pauperes Spiritu

From The Gospel for Today:

[Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury
and watched the people putting money into the treasury,
and many of the rich put in a great deal.
A poor widow came and put in two small coins,
the equivalent of a penny.

he called his disciples and said to them,
‘I tell you solemnly,
this poor widow has put in more
than all who have contributed to the treasury;
for they have all put in money they had over,
but she from the little she had
has put in everything she possessed,
all she had to live on’
How often has this passage been hammered into an exhortation to contribute more towards the financial well-being of one's congregation or Church! Indeed, this section of the Holy Gospels, so pregnant with meaning, seems to become in the hands of most preachers or homilists a tool to make the materially rich feel guilty, since their donation, when measure by percentage of total income, is small.

No doubt this is part of the message to be extracted hence. But to me, the passage strikes me not because I can identify my wealth, or even my talents and skills, with the wealth of the rich, and therefore n be moved towards generosity by the widow's example. I can no longer locate myself in the countenance of the rich. I identify with the poor widow, though, since my devotion, my fervour, the strength of my faith, yes ... even my love, seem never to amount to more than two mere coins. Yet, as I learn here, if I give all of my poverty in an act of self-donation without measuring carefully the gift, it will nevertheless be precious before the Divine Countenance.

There is something vital, something aglimmer with hope, in this passage:
We are all widows, and poor. Yet, He will not despise the gift.

Sunday, 5 November 2006

Piercing the Veil

"Oh that there were such an heart in us, to put aside this visible world, to desire to look at it as a mere screen between us and God, and to think of Him who has entered in beyond the veil, and who is watching us, trying us, yes, and blessing, and influencing, and encouraging us towards good, day by day! Yet, alas, how do we suffer the mere varying circumstances of every day to sway us! How difficult it is to remain firm and in one mind under the seductions or terrors of the world! We feel variously according to the place, time, and people we are with. We are serious on Sunday, and we sin deliberately on Monday. We rise in the morning with remorse at our offences and resolutions of amendment, yet before night we have
transgressed again. The mere change of society puts us into a new frame of mind; nor do we sufficiently understand this great weakness of ours, or seek for strength where alone it can be found, in the unchangeable God. What will be our thoughts in that day, when at length this outward world drops away altogether, and we find ourselves where we ever have been, in His presence, with Christ standing at His right hand!"

(From the sermon: The Immortality of the Soul, Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol.1 - John Henry Newman)

I tend to forget that the Life to Come is not merely a great and glorious extension or magnification of this one here, stripped of its limitations, but a complete mutation ... just as Christ was resurrected not to mere Galilean provincial life but to a Life that embraces all that is, and is yet beyond all; So too the Life to Come is inconceivably different. Our ignorance is often most clear when we speak about eternity. We imagine it to be an infinite extension of time, a ceaselessly elongated line. What we do not understand is that in Eternity there is not merely a unidirectional linear infinity, but a bidirectional multidimensional infinity: Time progresses infinitely into past & future (horizontally), but also into multiple simultaneity (vertically), and I suspect also into a myriad of dimensions.

Unfortunately this dazzles my mind so that I forget that even on a purely metaphysical or existential level our mortal frames are not capable of living in such a reality. Could it be that the veil of which mystics talk of so often is there for our protection? And that there is a metaphysical reality behind the saying of the Lord: Unless ye be born again, ye cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.? In this regard it may be said without exaggeration that we live simply in order to die, and that we must spend our allotted time preparing for death. I think here of Ladislaus Boros' hypothesis of the final decision, that in death we posit our first truly personal and limitless act, and that our lives, our daily lives as they are lived by us, shape that final decision. Make us know the shortness of our life, that we may gain wisdom of heart.

This is something to be reminded of when sin is so tangible and near. I am preparing to behold the One As He Is. That requires of me some preparation. No faculty must be spared the pilgrimage. Onwards!