Thursday, 28 December 2006

Thomas Merton's Journals

I finished The Sign of Jonas sometime before Hannibal Rising. I am perpetually awe-struck by how Merton says exactly what I need at the right time, and how effortlessly and clearly he pours forth the beginnings of prayer in my soul.

He is a saint, surely, but I wonder if he will ever be a Saint. Another musing I have, prompted by an acquaintance, is this: Did Merton modify the content of his journal, knowing, consciously or no, that it would be published in the end?

If he did, does this diminish or increase its value to the individual soul of the reader?

An Idea for Breakfast

When you fry bacon, sprinkle some cloves and dribble some honey over once it is nearly ready. The bacon will have a delightful glaze and an eminently suitable taste when it is done.

The Fourth and Earliest Lecter Novel

I bought and finished the Hannibal novel, Hannibal Rising, one Advent afternoon. My belated thoughts follow.

The book is smaller in size and scope than the previous novels, and possesses its own unique tenor and feel. Lighter certainly than all the others, it lacks the paced adventure of Silence of the Lambs, the virile perversion of Red Dragon, and the diabolic fascination of Hannibal. And this is perhaps my only criticism, for the book is otherwise excellently done: the other novels held such fascination because each contained a specific and gloriously elaborated element that gave it being; Explaining Hannibal's origin and development turned out to be less intriguing than I had hoped. I expected as much interior material as was given so delightfully in Hannibal, yet this was lacking.

Yet despite this caveat it remains eminently readable, if only for the delicate presence of Lady Murasaki. I counsel all uniniated readers of the Hannibal Lecter novels to start their journey with The Silence of the Lambs, however, continuing on to Red Dragon & thereafter Hannibal, and then only onto Hannibal Rising. As with Tolkien, internal chronology is a bad indicator of 'what to read first'.

Looking Forward Scholastically

My career-related studies are now finished. Now is the hour in which I can finally and officially commence studies in the direction I wish. Next year will be the season of the Classics: Latin & Greek. Undoubtedly the three books on the left will be an idiosyncratic addition to the prescribed textbooks.

Do not be fooled, the translations seem to be excellent in all respects. More information on the Greek translation can be found here, written by the translator himself. It even has a glossary of all the neologisms used with translation notes.

Eragon: Caveat!

Do not, whatever you watch these festive days, spend your money to watch Eragon. The characters are ill-developed, the plot sparse and uninspiring, and the elements that constitute the world all feel a tad recycled. An example: Magic in Eragon is the manipulation of magical force springing forth from dragons by means of the ancient Elven tongue. In this language, the words do not merely express, but also incarnate the substance of that which they signify. This, of course, is obviously derived from Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea (the Hallmark channel series adaptation of which must also be avoided).

I sincerely hope that the books are themselves better. I have little hope, since all aspects of the film were mediocre, and one could not help but feel that it is a collection of borrowed ideas long present in the streams of the fantasy genre. I wonder how the books became so popular as to warrant the making of a film? How involved was the author in the process?

Dignitas Filiorum Dei

Who has not felt sometimes, when kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, that one is arrayed with royal splendour as a prince before the King of All Ages? And yet, does not a scourging humility reside in those splendid garments also?

Returning from the Redemptorists

I recently spent the greater part of a week at the Redemptorist house, situated in the exquisite surroundings of the Natal midlands, amidst valleys and waterfalls. It is a region blessed with frequent delicate showers and enveloping mist. I spent some time there at the respectful request of a saintly Redemptorist priest (he will no doubt cringe when he reads the word 'saintly') who thought it would assist me in discerning where God is leading me.

He was, of course, right, for the week's stay did just that, but not in any way I expected. This requires some explanation. I am in the process of discerning a vocation to the cloistered religious life; More specifically, the Carthusian Order. However, when I was told of an upcoming Redemptorist vocations workshop led by the aforementioned priest, I decided to attend: My justification being that the priest in question had evidenced a curious receptivity to the Spirit. Duly having told the Carthusian vocations director of my intentions, I left lightheartedly for Natal.

The drive down (about five hours if taken leisurely) was exquisite, and punctuated by showers and ended in a delightful gift of thick mist. That evening started with the celebration of Mass, which moved me with a startling profundity. The devotion of the Redemptorists was deep, and almost palpable in the sparse chapel (which nonetheless contained three excellent stained glass windows, the most beautiful being that of St. Alphonsus himself). So even amidst a wholly unexpected number of liturgical abuses, the Liturgy set a devout precedent of recollection that continued almost unabated until the end of my time there.

Two great graces came from this time. First, through the regular communal recitation of the Hours in which I found such delight and nourishment, I am quite certain now that I am indeed called to a religious life in which the Hours form the center of devotion. Secondly, through the ministrations of a Carthusian book called The Wound of Love: A Carthusian Miscellany, I am convinced that the interior struggles, the Inner Passion, as 't were, will find me wherever I go. My anxieties about the interior aspects of the Carthusian desert cannot, then, be resolved by mere avoidance of the charterhouse; These struggles are universal among those who intend to live a life of contemplation. The aforementioned book was lent to me by the priest who led the workshop. Whether this was planned or incidental is of little matter, since the contents were exactly what I needed at this stage of the inner pilgrimage.

By the time I had to depart I was actually somewhat saddened to leave. The community was so welcoming, so gentle in their acceptance, and so sincere in their fraternal charity ... how could one not miss the mediated presence of Christ in such brethren? I think I even lamented a little, in the unknown recesses of the heart, that I am not called to the Redemptorists. Such a vocation would indeed be more of a joy to my parents, who would then have far more opportunities to see me than would be the case at the charterhouse. But let me not oppose the possibility.

Lord, as Thou wilt, and as Thou knowest, have mercy on me. Let me live ever in the Light of Thy Countenance, unto the Ages of Ages. Amen.

Et Verbum Caro Factum Est

"With the Divinest Word, the Virgin
Made pregnant, down the road
Comes walking, if you'll grant her
A room in your abode"

- St John of the Cross

In Him
the Divine Name is made manifest before men,
the Infinite is held in the arms of a mother,
the Unutterable lisps upon the tongue of an infant,
and the Eternal is poured forth in Time.

Glory to God in the Highest Heavens,
for He has dwelt in the lowliest of Earth.

Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.

Monday, 11 December 2006

Sic transit libres quotidianes

A few quick thoughts on the books I've read recently, all of which were excellent. The first, the novel Cosmas (or The Love of God) by Pierre de Calan, I enjoyed greatly in its portrayal of the Trappist life and the struggles of discerning a vocation and living it concretely. The only complaint I could raise is that the descriptions of the monastic life itself were not as expanded as I would have liked them to be. Overall the book is pleasant (considering also that it is a translation from the French), and it recounts the vocational travails of a young man wishing to become a Trappist, but from the perspective of the Novice Master. Tenderly written.

The second, curiously related to it, is the novel The Time Before You Die by Lucy Beckett. It started off so gloriously, following the trails of a young Carthusian at the time of Henry VIII. After an exquisite couple of chapters in the Charterhouse, the plot takes a radical turn. The young monk takes the Oath of Supremacy, abandons the Faith, preaches the novelties of Luther, and marries. All throughout this tortuous road, the reader is given a glimpse into the interior struggles of the priest. These profound introspections form the backbone of the novel, which become more intense as his wife's final words are: Fetch a priest. This causes his faith to spiral outward into increasing circles, until his musings find their match in the exquisitely portrayed Cardinal Reginald Pole, who saves him from the Tower and shelters him. Perhaps the only fault that I can find in the book is the fact that Cardinal Pole rather startlingly proclaims in one passage that he believes the Council of Trent was mistaken in one of its teachings on Justification. This is an unfortunate blemish, especially in a book published by Ignatius Press.

The third, the classic Introduction to Christianity, written years ago by His Holiness when was still hailed Joseph Ratzinger, is a re-read for me, but the book is of such substance and profundity that I shall most certainly read it again at a later time. I re-read it because I wished to clarify my thoughts on the Paschal Mystery & Atonement. As I have said before, Ratzinger is no mere parrot theologian, and his thought suddenly breaks across your consciousness as a living dawn illuminating concepts you thought you understood. Glorious. Go out, buy it, and read it. You will live the Faith the better for it.

The fourth and final in the My Current Reads list of yesterday is Henri Nouwen's celebrated Return of the Prodigal Son. It is of such fame I need not greatly elaborate on its themes. For me, though, the work was an extended meditation on the theme of homecoming ... homecoming to the Father, homecoming to the hidden radiance of the pursuit of God, homecoming to my self ... something I stood in dire need of.


I find it difficult to say any of the Divine Office. Just a few months ago, the Hours were to me a current of life I could not go without. Now, my words are dusty, and faltering. There can be no talk of distractions, since there is so little attention. And the silences! The silences between the Psalms, they are as scourging as dark fire. To say any part of the Liturgy of the Hours requires of me an immense movement of the will, which must not only be mustered, but sustained throughout the time of prayer with a deliberate, painful concentration.

My pride would have me stop here, and have this scribbling proclaim implicitly that I am at present in the first Mystical Night. Yet that would be inaccurate, and deceptive. This dryness is caused by my sins, not by sanctity, for even in my recollection I am scattered among the dunes.

Thursday, 7 December 2006

An Ancient Muse Explained

Loreena's new album, as I announced earlier, has been released. You can find more information about the CD, including small track samples and complete lyrics on the Quinlan Road website. There is also an exquisite album-themed wallpaper available, as well as the text of the entire CD booklet. This booklet also explains the use of the title kecharitomene for one of the songs, something which had greatly puzzled me. The text for that track reads:

Urumchi, China, October 2003
I have just seen some of the red-haired Tarim Basin mummies, which date back to 1000 BC and who, some argue, could be from the peoples who were the precursors of the Celts. Did they follow the Silk Road this far north?

Stratford, Ontario, June 2005
Reading Susan Whitfield’s Life Along the Silk Road,which profiles the many people, religions and cultures that populated the countless threads of what we call the Silk Road – nuns, soldiers, merchants – in a slow fusion of cultures from 500 BC to about 1400 AD. In the core of this period the Celts roamed, sacked Delphi and inspired St. Paul to write his Letters to the Galatians; the events known as the Crusades came and went, along with those who fought in them, from Richard the Lionheart to Saladin. Clearly there is much more history to be understood, but from whose vantage point?

Real World Studios, Wiltshire, May 2006
My attention has been brought to Anna Comnena, a Byzantine princess and possibly the first female historian of the West, who observed society, politics, war and peace from her position at the intersection of Byzantine, Western and Muslim cultures…She was a major chronicler of the First Crusade and ended her days in a convent called Kecharitomene (Greek for “full of grace”).

Poor, Yet Possessing All

What a joy to realize upon encountering evocative beauty that I need not strive to absorb or possess it, but can know that it is itself a reflection of the One who dwells in the core of my being.

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

Poverty revealing poverty ...

On the way to work, I stopped at a robot where a dishevelled beggar was standing. Realizing I had some fruit in my car, I opened the window and gave it to him. He took the chilled grapes (they were really quite exquisite), his hands shaking, and said: "The last time I had these I was ... a little child".

When he had walked away from the carwindow, I wept, and offered a prayer for him. I am shamed, since I have given him only from my excess, my riches ... the giving did not cost me much; Yet to him, it was great joy. How easily we soothe our consciences, how easily we look away! His poverty of mortal wealth revealed my poverty of devotion.

O Christ, hidden in the poor and despised, have mercy on us. Lead us along the sure way of salvation, for in You alone do we place our hope.