Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

I intend to reprise last year's practice of featuring Bach's St Matthew Passion during Holy Week.

Lord Christ, you acknowledged that paving stones and roadside rubble can be more faithful and better witnesses to you than we often are. Forgive our faithlessness. Anoint us with the Spirit that we may acknowledge you and proclaim your truth, your justice, your compassion, your forgiveness, and your glory. Strengthen us to follow where you lead. For your mercy's sake. Amen.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ashes to the earth Which is already flesh, fur and faeces

In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die: there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation
And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
And to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots
And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.
--T. S. Eliot, East Coker

When I read this passage, the opening lines of East Coker, I cannot help thinking of the Sunday when I drove into the Ninth Ward of New Orleans and beheld vast expanses of grassy fields where there were once homes, streets, and people living their lives. The photo above is not from there; it is a field where homes had been bulldozed and cleared. I drove by it most mornings on my way to work. In the Ninth Ward I could not bring myself to take many photographs. It seemed too intrusive on human grief.

If we pay attention, nature will remind us how brief our lives are. I never cease to marvel at how swiftly vegetation will rise up through our concrete and asphalt, tearing apart our momentary construction, covering it over with vines, digesting it, obscuring it, obliterating it. I think about the six thousand years of history for which we have written records, then the thousands and tens of thousand years before that. I read at Wikipedia that "Anatomically modern humans first appear in the fossil record in Africa about 195,000 years ago...." On a planet 4.5 billion years old that is hardly impressive.

A silent motto is woven into an arras, probably a slogan with no little arrogance, some dynastic slogan or weighty scriptural citation, or something form the classics.

Hercules tapestry (an arras)

Whatever the motto, meant to endure for the ages, it is now part of a tattered arras (tapestry), a memory of an age gone by. This sends my mind leaping to Durham Cathedral where I could see old battle standards hung in a chapel where I attended Mass early one morning. Unraveled glory of dedicated warriors, shreds of battles now forgotten by most. Only a military historian or archivist is likely to know the tales behind each standard hanging high overhead, gradually yielding to time until nothing shall remain except, perhaps, the iron pole that holds it now.

"Old stone to new building...." My imagination remains in Northumbria, visiting Hexham where Wilfrith brought relics of St Andrew. As one descends beneath the abbey, carefully if one is of my height, one can see old Roman stones, still bearing remnants of transcriptions, re-used to create this Christian shrine.

Impermanence. One of the most basic realities, yet one we face so poorly.

My body gives a little snort as I think of Disney's The Lion King and the song "circle of life." I am glad someone, I can no longer remember who, noted that the experience is very different if you are a dead lion disintegrating into grass or a live antelope about to be ripped to shreds and eaten.

I am quite opposed to embalming, more or less hermetically sealed coffins and concrete liners. It is right and good and holy that my body return to the earth. The rest is artificial, a whole industry based on denial and illusion. Would you not rather become rich soil than some disgusting slime in a sealed box? Really. You get my point.

Personally, I am opting for cremation and my ashes scattered on hillsides because I love the mountains. There are two places where I would like to join the earth again. The old road into Hume Lake overlooking Kings Canyon, one which I have ridden so many times, and Sandia Peak looking down on the Rio Grande Valley. (My future survivors, take note.)

I digress, perhaps influenced by chemicals after a dental adventure. And yet, not. We are born, we live, we die. To be born is to be destined for death. "In my beginning is my end." In my beginning may be found my gene sequence and my historical particularity - born into this setting at this particular time, with all the gifts and curses and indifferent constraints that this entails. In theory, if one could know all the constituent factors at any given moment one could predict what must follow. "In my beginning is my end." Yet since I am incapable of knowing the location and motion of every subatomic particle, and since things get very indeterminate at the subatomic level, well.... the future remains open.

To God it may all be patent. To us, not so much. Still, I know that things will happen in succession. I look at photos of myself as a young boy, a teen, a seminarian, a thirty-something, on up to recent photos. Like a house I rise and fall, crumble, and am extended, removed, destroyed.... Well, we have not yet gotten that far, but it is coming.

There will come "a time for the wind to break the loosened pane."

Can I embrace the totality of my life? Can I embrace my impermanence?

Of course, "end," as John Booty reminds us, is not merely terminus but τελος, goal as well as cessation. In Burnt Norton Eliot led us on "the way down," the via negativa, the way of loss, purgation, and denial. Now we begin to explore the meaning and purpose of it all. There is, indeed, meaning in our lives. We can look to our beginning (more than Roots) for clues.

I love the open fields of New Mexico. They exhilarate me. Perhaps they echo the agricultural expanses of the Central Valley of California where I was born. I feel that I am a child of the dusty soil of the vineyards in the San Joaquin Valley. I shall become, I suppose, part of the soil of the Rio Grande Valley some day.

This thought does not depress me. It comforts me.

As we rapidly approach Holy Week, I hope you have had a blessed Lent.

--the BB

Mater ecclesiae et spes nostra

I would like to dedicate this post to Our Lady, Богородится / θεοτοκος / Mother of God. Friar Gabriel worships and serves the Gospel with his body.

The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary:
And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of
our death. Amen.

Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it done unto me according to Thy word.

Hail Mary . . .

And the Word was made Flesh: And dwelt among us.

Hail Mary . . .

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray:

Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord.


h/t to MadPriest

--the BB

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

You'll have to start by draining this swamp:

AmericanDad lays it all out there and, if you really want a documented sense of what needs to stop, read the whole thing. I've bookmarked it.

His open letter to conservatives:

First, the invitation: Come back to us.

Now the advice. You're going to have to come up with a platform that isn't built on a foundation of cowardice: fear of people with colors, religions, cultures and sex lives that differ from your own; fear of reform in banking, health care, energy; fantasy fears of America being transformed into an Islamic nation, into social/commun/fasc-ism, into a disarmed populace put in internment camps; and more. But you have work to do even before you take on that task.

Your party -- the GOP -- and the conservative end of the American political spectrum have become irresponsible and irrational. Worse, it's tolerating, promoting and celebrating prejudice and hatred. Let me provide some examples -- by no means an exhaustive list -- of where the Right as gotten itself stuck in a swamp of hypocrisy, hyperbole, historical inaccuracy and hatred.

If you're going to regain your stature as a party of rational, responsible people, you'll have to start by draining this swamp:

Read it all here.

I promise, you will be impressed with his research. Leporello's catalogue has nothing on this.

--the BB

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Love is itself unmoving, Only the cause and end of movement

The detail of the pattern is movement,
As in the figure of the ten stairs.
Desire itself is movement
Not in itself desirable;
Love is itself unmoving,
Only the cause and end of movement,
Timeless, and undesiring
Except in the aspect of time
Caught in the form of limitation
Between un-being and being.
Sudden in a shaft of sunlight
Even while the dust moves
There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage
Quick now, here, now, always—
Ridiculous the waste sad time
Stretching before and after.
T. S. Eliot, Burnt Norton

Perhaps you have heard of the yoga class where, at some point, the instructor asks the class, "What time is it?" A newcomer might be puzzled as to how one should answer since there is no clock in sight but the regulars all respond in unison, "Now."

The question and the answer - or, as we say in liturgical circles, the versicle and the response - challenge our usual way of thinking. We are clock watchers or, increasingly, prone to take out our cell phones many times a day to check the time. Nonetheless, our divisions and expressions of time are all artificial constructs. The true answer is always "now."

Now, after all, is the only moment we have. From within time, commonly conceptualized, the past has passed by and future is yet to come. We draw breath, act, hold still only in the moment.

Eliot calls us away from memory and anticipation into the present moment, like a zen master recalling us to pure awareness in the present, free of interpretation (and misinterpretation), free of desire and regret.

And so this Lent we try, if only fitfully, to enter the moment. To let go of everything but God, even our desire for God, and enter the cloud of unknowing, with no guarantees. Our expectations are inevitably disappointed, our illusions all fail us.

If lucky, we will discern a pattern, an eternal pattern of grace that is the ground and goal of all movement. The only desire we can keep is the desire for God and that, stripped of all idols and false rewards holds nothing desirable in any ordinary sense. We do not really come to the still point; we realize that is where we have always been. We were simply unaware amid the "shrieking, scolding, mocking, or merely chattering." [Good heavens, Eliot has prophesied our current situation, has he not?]

Last Sunday we sang "Just as I am" at church. Just as we are, stripped of everything in the course of this poem, we are in danger of not even being. Yet we are held in the Ground of becoming, thus caught "between un-being and being."

There in that place that is no place and everyplace, the moment that is always and never, the eternal here and now, we have our epiphany, our illumination, "sudden in a shaft of sunlight." The sound - a vibration, a movement within time - that first led us to transcend our ordinary timebound perception calls us once more to awareness.
There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage

Startled (how very zen) we are called: "Quick now, here, now, always."

We see our constructs as not terribly helpful. "Ridiculous the waste sad time/ Stretching before and after."

Where are you?


What time is it?


...behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
--2 Corinthians 6:2b

--the BB

Words, after speech, reach into the silence

Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,
Not that only, but the co-existence,
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now. Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still. Shrieking voices
Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering,
Always assail them. The Word in the desert
Is most attacked by voices of temptation,
The crying shadow in the funeral dance,
The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.
--T. S. Eliot, Burnt Norton

Our journey along the purgative way continues to echo Eliot's juxtapositions: word and silence, living and dying, motion and stillness, end and beginning and now.

"[T]hat which is only living/ Can only die." Where there is simply βιος (bios, biological life) the inevitable consequence is its cessation. Mere life can only die.

Here we might suggest ζωη (zōē, life rooted in the Undying, the life proclaimed by Jesus) as the alternative to that which is "only" living. To attain this latter we let go of the former. One passes, the other abides.

Within this poem we struggle, as Eliot struggles with words, to hold together the polarities, to transcend our simple dualities. There is a motion in the pattern on the motionless Chinese jar. When Eliot writes of the end preceding the beginning, I think of Satie's theory that there is a pre-existent rhythm always and ever before musicians play a note. Satie struggled to express this in his music, to compose out of that which precedes music and makes music possible.

How can we talk of these things? "Words strain/ Crack, and sometimes break, under the burden...." Our noise assails the stillness. Our words tempt and attack the Word. If we can be but silent we might hear that Word speak.

--the BB


03/22/10 DoD:
Army Casualty Identified
Spc. Robert M. Rieckhoff, 26, of Kenosha, Wis., died March 18 in Baghdad, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with rocket-propelled grenade fire. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, N.Y.

3/18/10 DoD:
Army Casualty Identified
Staff Sgt. Richard J. Jordan, 29, of Tyler, Texas, died March 16 in Mosul, Iraq, of injuries sustained during a vehicle roll-over. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas.

3/17/10 DoD:
Army Casualty Identified
Spc. Steven J. Bishop, 29, of Christiansburg, Va., died March 13 in Tikrit, Iraq, while supporting combat operations. He was assigned to the 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion, 352nd Civil Affairs Command, U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command, Fort Bragg, N.C.

Monday, March 22, 2010


03/22/10 DoD:
Army Casualty Identified
Sgt. Joel D. Clarkson, 23, of Fairbanks, Alaska, died March 16 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, of wounds sustained March 13 during combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

03/22/10 DoD:
Navy Casualty Identified
Chief Petty Officer Adam Brown, 36, of Hot Springs, Ark., died March 18 in Afghanistan. He was assigned to an East Coast -based SEAL Team.

03/18/10 DoD:
Marine Casualty Identified
Gunnery Sgt. Robert L. Gilbert II, 28, of Richfield, Ohio, died March 16 of wounds sustained March 8 while supporting combat operations in Badghis province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, Marine Special Operations Regiment, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Heart thread - 03/22/2010

I ask your prayers for Raymond and Craig who have lost much and are going through anxious times.

Also for my nephew Glen who got news that he will be among those laid off in budget cuts.

On World Water Day we pray that all on this planet may have access to safe, healthful water.

In the aftermath, no, in the midst of bitter partisan debate in our nation:
Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many voices: Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write what many read; that they may do their part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, and its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

--the BB