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Monday, April 30, 2007

Stargate



It's so sad ... sniff, sniff ... a science fiction tv series I love is coming up on its last episode, after a ten year run ... Stargate SG-1.

The show was based on the 1994 feature film, Stargate, starring Kurt Russell and James Spader. The basic plot, for those who didn't see the movie, is explained below, thanks to Wikipedia ....

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A brilliant Egyptologist, Dr. Daniel Jackson (James Spader), is shunned by the academic world due to his far-fetched theories regarding the Great Pyramid. Dr. Catherine Langford privately hires him to decipher a set of symbols found on the cover stones of an ancient ring-shaped artifact (the Stargate) that was found at Giza in 1928. Jackson determines that the symbols are in fact constellations, and if 6 symbols are identified, a point in space can be extrapolated that corresponds to a "destination"; a seventh symbol defines the point of origin. This discovery unlocks the secret to using the Stargate for interstellar travel.

USAF Colonel Jack O'Neil (Kurt Russell), with Jackson, leads an expedition through the Stargate to the planet Abydos. In the film, there exist only two Stargates in the universe, connecting only Abydos and Earth; hence the purpose of the mission is to determine whether Abydos poses a danger to Earth, and, if so, to destroy the gate on Abydos to protect Earth. Expansions of the film, such as SG-1, alter this premise, explaining that an entire network of Stargates exists.

On Abydos, O'Neil's team comes into conflict with an alien posing as the Egyptian sun god Ra (Jaye Davidson). Ra controls vast numbers of slaves who labor in his mine, living in fear and ignorance. The slaves are the descendants of humans who were transported to Abydos from Ancient Egypt to mine the mineral needed to sustain Ra's life. O'Neil's team befriends the people of Abydos, and Jackson falls in love with and marries a woman named Sha'uri, who was originally given to him by the people of Abydos as a peace offering. The team reveals Ra's hoax to the people of Abydos and leads them in revolution against him.

Before O'Neil is able to detonate a nuclear warhead to seal the pathway to Earth, Ra steals the bomb and uses the same mineral comprising the Stargate to increase its destructive power a hundredfold, with the intention of sending the bomb back to Earth through the Stargate. O'Neil is unable to defuse the detonation timer, and alternatively transports the bomb onto Ra's space-vessel. It detonates, destroying both Ra and his ship. With Ra's destruction, the slaves of Abydos are liberated.

O'Neil and the surviving members of his team return to Earth, but Jackson stays behind to live with his wife

******

It's from this point that the tv series, Stargate SG-1 began, with Kurt Russell's role of Col. Jack O'Neill now being played by Richard Dean Anderson. A number of the evil parasitic aliens, the Goa'uld, of which Ra was a member in the original movie, come through the stargate (which has been put away in storage) to Earth and kidnap an Earthling to be used as a host. The airforce takes the gate out of storage, calls a retired O'Neill back to duty, and sends him, and a team of marines, to Abydos to retrieve the victim. He encounters Dr. Jackson (now played by Michael Shanks), whose wife has also been kidnapped by the Goa'uld, and ten years of fighting the bad guys ensues :-)

If you like Battlestar Galactica, you may not appreciate Stargate SG-1. Galactica's sturm und drang is replaced with a self-depreciating humor, and instead of extremely cool fighter pilots and their ruthless leaders in a distant galaxy and future, you get present day nerdy scientists, earnest archaeologists, and airforce guys who have absolutely no appreciation for the chain of command.

The good news is that Stargate SG-1 has a spin-off that I actually like even more than the original ... Stargate Atlantis. Wikipedia says of it .....

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Stargate Atlantis follow the cliffhanger Stargate SG-1 seventh season finale "Lost City", where the SG-1 found an outpost made by the race known as the Ancients in Antarctica. After the events of Stargate SG-1 season eight premiere "New Order", the Stargate Command sends an international team to investigate the outpost. Soon, Dr. Jackson discovers the location of the greatest city created by the Ancients, Atlantis.

The series follows the adventures of a group of scientists and soldiers that take this possibly one-way trip to this lost city of Atlantis in the Pegasus Galaxy. Like the SG teams of Stargate SG-1, the new team's use of the Stargate has brought humanity into contact with other cultures, some human and some alien, some friendly and some quite hostile, including their new and most powerful enemy: the Wraith. All while trying to uncover the secrets the Ancients left behind.

******

If I had to explain why I so like the two Stargate series, I'd say that the writers seem to take knowledge seriously - there's an interweaving of physics, religion, history, and mythology that keeps me interested. And there may also be ... ahem ... other considerations .....




Bashing Gay Parenting

I read a disturbing post at the Insight Scoop today - What's good for kids?. As well as speaking of what they think is good for kids, they also mention what they believe is bad for them ... gay parenting ... and they give a bit of an interview with Dawn Stefanowicz, who has written a book, Out From Under: Getting Clear of the Wreckage of a Sexually Disordered Home, about being raised by a homosexual father.

What's disturbing is that the book offers a personal opinion as if it were The Truth. While everyone is allowed an opinion and it's hard to disavow a book written from personal experience, the opinions of the writer fly in the face of much research on the subject.

Here's a little of what the writer says in the interview ...

MercatorNet: Do you know other people who have lived with homosexual parents?

Stefanowicz: I am in touch with many families in which about 40 children have been impacted. Many of the children have dealt with fear, anger, and depression. Without a doubt, we deal with sexuality confusion. Suicide has come up quite a bit with adolescent boys who have gay fathers. They appear to be very angry with their dad. There are insurmountable odds that these children have to face. Some of us have been exposed to pathogens. This would be expected as we are in high-risk situations that haven't even been researched yet. Our parents often die early. We have a hard time coping with the burdens we carry, while some of us don't make it and commit suicide .....

MercatorNet: How can society wake up to these problems?

Stefanowicz: It will take parents who have their own children, making appropriate sacrifices, saying we will not go down this path. It will take people not accepting government legislative permissions ....


Below are three links in which is expressed the view that children who grow up with one or two gay and/or lesbian parents fare as well in emotional, cognitive, social, and sexual functioning as do children whose parents are heterosexual .....

* New Position Statement Adopted by the American Psychiatric Association (APA)
Adoption and Co-Parenting of Children by Same-Sex Couples - link

* American Academy of Pediatrics - Technical Report: Coparent or Second-Parent Adoption by Same-Sex Parents - link

* Kids of Same-Sex Parents Do Fine - CBS News

Miserable childhoods are equal opportunity situations - you can have one with heterosexual parents as well as homosexual ones. What's more important than the sexual orientation of a parent is whether they are good at parenting.


James Alison/BBC Radio 4


- Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese

I saw this offering from BBC Radio 4. You can listen to (or read) the whole thing at their website here, but I've just taken Fr. James Alison's homily from the transcript and posted it below .......

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Sunday 29th April 2007, San Fransisco, Matthew 9: 10-13

Fr Donal Godfrey, Society of Jesus, leads a service from the Catholic Parish of Most Holy Redeemer, San Francisco, exploring how gay people can find a place in the Christian narrative and speak of the gift of faith. The preacher is the Catholic writer and theologian, Fr James Alison .......

*

What I like about this story is the sense of Jesus buying time. He's having a meal with his disciples and with a whole lot of tax collectors and sinners. And the Pharisees, the local God Squad, have found out about it. They've got their sources of intelligence who are watching what is going on with Jesus. It's only partially because they think he might be a troublemaker, or a rabble-rouser, or just a bad man. They may have their concerns about that, but they're not sure. They're also curious. They want to know whether he might not, after all, be a prophet, someone who works signs from God.

The trouble is, he doesn't seem to fit into their narrative of what a good man or a Prophet should be. Parts of him do, and parts of him don't. Which makes him particularly dangerous, and particularly worth watching.

Now because the religious leaders have some awe of Jesus, they don't actually dare to ask him what's going on directly. So they make their complaint to the disciples: "Your teacher's got you hanging around with a pretty rum collection of characters. So in addition to being ritually unclean, don't you think he's putting you in danger of some kind of moral contagion as well?" Well the message gets passed back to Jesus through the usual Chinese whispers, and of course, the process of Chinese whispers can lead to all sorts of murmuring, making those at the meal feel uneasy. So Jesus faces down the source of the gossip by speaking up, and talking directly to those who wouldn't talk to him.

He shows his ease at being among people the religious authorities regard as sinners, and tells them that he's where he should be, with the people who need him, where as they, the Pharisees appear not to. And in addition, he quotes them a verse from the Prophet Hosea: "What I want is Mercy, not sacrifice", and then tells them to go and learn what it means.

That, I think, is where he plays for time. He tells them that before you can apply the word of God, you need to have dwelt under it, and sunk into its digestive juices for a long, long time, so as to make quite sure that you are not using it to sacrifice people, but instead, to show them God's mercy and love.

Now the people I like to think of in this story, are the people for whom Jesus' answer bought time. The Tax collectors and sinners whose meal with him he wouldn't allow to be interrupted. That's us. One of the joys of being a lesbian or gay Catholic in a parish group like this at Most Holy Redeemer is being able to spend the time that Jesus has bought for us sharing his meal with him, and being given time to undergo his regard.

He's bought time for us because he's sent off the authorities to work out what God means by saying that he wants Mercy and not Sacrifice.

Meanwhile, we get to spend that time dining with him, and, just being there with him, feeling loved and cared for, and known and invited by him. And that has an extraordinary effect on us. It starts to give us new ways of receiving who we are. So that little by little we are able to let go of stories about ourselves which we have heard since we were young, about how we are sick, and our love is dangerous, and not real, and we should be ashamed of ourselves, and hide away.

Instead of this, we find ourselves, listening to him telling us stories. And as we gather in safe spaces, where we are allowed to be who we are; and as we hear his voice, and react from our hearts, sit in his regard and lose our masks, and eat and drink his body and blood, so we find our own stories lightening up. We start imagining ourselves in different ways, finding eyes of respect for others as we find ourselves sitting with one who respects us.

So we learn to hear a voice which calls us by name: you who were no people, you are MY people. We're confident that we will be able to hear that voice calling us by name, and giving us a story which will be God's story, even in the midst of whatever forms of anger they will display when they find us so free.

And it will be because of the time that Jesus bought, to be with us, because he liked us, sharing himself with us and telling us his stories, and so showing us how to become unimagined living stories whose endings know neither fear nor shame. This is what we are privileged to be undergoing when we come to worship Our Lord in the Holy Mass.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

WK 33 and B16's Jesus

I just read an interesting post by Jeff on the Pope's Jesus of Nazareth, and the somewhat anti-liberation theology idea expressed in the book that Jesus didn't come here to bring earthly peace and justice, to turn stones to bread, but to bring us God (Benedict XVI publishes Jesus of Nazareth).

This week of the Creighton online retreat coincidently seems to focus on a combination of Benedict's thought and that of liberation theology ... God's love for us, and our response to that love.

And about our response, Ignatius believed that love was best shown in deeds. Here below is some of what Pedro Arrupe said in an address to the "Tenth International Congress of Jesuit Alumni of Europe," in Valencia, Spain, on July 31, 1973 - it touches on these very questions ....

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Today our prime educational objective must be to form men-and-women-for-others; men and women who will live not for themselves but for God and his Christ - for the God-man who lived and died for all the world; men and women who cannot even conceive of love of God which does not include love for the least of their neighbors; men and women completely convinced that love of God which does not issue in justice for others is a farce .....

There are two lines of reflection before us. One is to deepen our understanding of the idea of justice as it becomes more and more clear in the light of the Gospel and the signs of the times. The other is to determine the character and quality of the type of people we want to form, the type of man or woman into which we must be changed, and towards which the generations succeeding us must be encouraged to develop, if we and they are to serve this evangelical ideal of justice.

The first line of reflection begins with the Synod of Bishops of 1971, and its opening statement on "Justice in the World:"

Gathered from the whole world, in communion with all who believe in Christ and with the entire human family, and opening our hearts to the Spirit who is making the whole of creation new, we have questioned ourselves about the mission of the People of God to further justice in the world.

Scrutinizing the “signs of the times” and seeking to detect the meaning of emerging history… we have listened to the Word of God that we might be converted to the fulfilling of the divine plan for the salvation of the world…

We have… been able to perceive the serious injustices which are building around the world of men and women a network of domination, oppression and abuses which stifle freedom and which keep the greater part of humanity from sharing in the building up and enjoyment of a more just and more fraternal world.

At the same time we have noted the inmost stirring moving the world in its depths. There are facts constituting a contribution to the furthering of justice. In associations of men and women and among peoples there is arising a new awareness which spurs them on to liberate themselves and to be responsible for their own destiny.


The call of the church

Please note that these words are not a mere repetition of what the Church has traditionally taught. They are not a refinement of doctrine at the level of abstract theory. They are the resonance of an imperious call of the living God asking his Church and all men of good will to adopt certain attitudes and undertake certain types of action which will enable them effectively to come to the aid of mankind oppressed and in agony.

This interpretation of the signs of the times did not originate with the Synod. It began with the Second Vatican Council; its application to the problem of justice was made with considerable vigor in Populorum Progressio; and spreading outward from this center to the ends of the earth, it was taken up in 1968 by the Latin American Bishops at Medellin, in 1969 by the African Bishops at Kampala, in 1970 by the Asian Bishops in Manila. In 1971, Pope Paul VI gathered all these voices together in the great call to action of Octogesima Adveniens .......

We are commanded to love God and to love our neighbor. But note what Jesus says: the second commandment is like unto the first; they fuse together into one compendium of the Law. And in his vision of the Last Judgment, what does the Judge say? “As long as you did this for one of the least of my brothers, you did it for me.”3

As Father Alfaro says:

Inclusion in or expulsion from the Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus depends on our attitude toward the poor and oppressed; toward those who are identified in Isaiah 58,1-2 as the victims of human injustice and in whose regard God wills to realize his justice. What is strikingly new here is that Jesus makes these despised and marginalized folk his brothers. He identifies himself with the poor and the powerless, with all who are hungry and miserable. Every person in this condition is Christ’s brother or sister; that is why what is done for them is done for Christ himself. Whoever comes effectively to the aid of these brothers and sisters of Jesus belongs to his Kingdom; whoever abandons them to their misery excludes himself or herself from that Kingdom.
- Juan B. Alfaro, S.J. Christianisme et Justice, Commission Pontificale, Justice et Paix, Cite du Vatican, 1973, pp. 28

Love and justice meet

Just as love of God, in the Christian view, fuses with love of neighbor, to the point that they cannot possibly be separated, so, too, charity and justice meet together and in practice are identical. How can you love someone and treat him or her unjustly? Take justice away from love and you destroy love. You do not have love if the beloved is not seen as a person whose dignity must be respected, with all that that implies. And even if you take the Roman notion of justice as giving to each his due, what is owing to him, Christians must say that we owe love to all people, enemies not excepted.

Just as we are never sure that we love God unless we love others, so we are never sure that we have love at all unless our love issues in works of justice. And I do not mean works of justice in a merely individualistic sense. I mean three things:

Works of justice

First, a basic attitude of respect for all people which forbids us ever to use them as instruments for our own profit.

Second, a firm resolve never to profit from, or allow ourselves to be suborned by, positions of power deriving from privilege, for to do so, even passively, is equivalent to active oppression. To be drugged by the comforts of privilege is to become contributors to injustice as silent beneficiaries of the fruits of injustice.

Third, an attitude not simply of refusal but of counterattack against injustice; a decision to work with others toward the dismantling of unjust social structures so that the weak, the oppressed, the marginalized of this world may be set free ......

Christ, a man for others

Men-and-women-for-others: the paramount objective of Jesuit education – basic, advance, and continuing – must now be to form such men and women. For if there is any substance in our reflections, then this is the prolongation into the modern world of our humanist tradition as derived from the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. Only by being a man-or-woman-for-others does one become fully human, not only in the merely natural sense, but in the sense of being the “spiritual” person of Saint Paul. The person filled with the Spirit; and we know whose Spirit that is: the Spirit of Christ, who gave his life for the salvation of the world; the God who, by becoming a human person, became, beyond all others, a Man-for-others, a Woman-for-others.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Poets' Graves

I came across a website that combines two of my interests - death and poetry :-) It lists the gravesites of various poets, plus some of their poems and short bios. Here's a poem I like by James Leigh Hunt, and his short biography from the site, below the poem ...

The Nile

It flows through old hushed Egypt and its sands,
Like some grave mighty thought threading a dream,
And times and things, as in that vision, seem
Keeping along it their eternal stands, -
Caves, pillars, pyramids, the shepherd bands
That roamed through the young world, the glory extreme
Of high Sesostris, and that southern beam,
The laughing queen that caught the world's great hands.
Then comes a mightier silence, stern and strong,
As of a world left empty of its throng,
And the void weighs on us; and then we wake,
And hear the fruitful stream lapsing along
Twixt villages, and think how we shall take
Our own calm journey on for human sake.

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James Leigh Hunt is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London. Also buried here is Thomas Hood.

Although a fine poet in his own right Hunt is mainly remembered for publishing poetry by Keats, Byron and Shelley. In 1816 Hunt published Keats's sonnet O Solitude in the Examiner and in 1821 La Belle Dame sans Merci in the Indicator.

Hunt was once held for two years in Horsemonger Lane Gaol for calling the Prince Regent "a fat Adonis of fifty". However, he received frequent visits from his friends and continued to edit the magazine in which the libel had appeared.

In 1822 Hunt travelled to Italy to be with Byron and Shelly in order to publish his new journal The Liberal. However, within days of his arrival in Italy Shelley drowned and Byron subsequently lost interest in the project.

Hunt was present at the famous cremation of Percy Bysshe Shelley on the shore of Via Reggio in 1822. Shelley's heart was removed by Edward Trelawny and initially passed to Hunt who later handed it to Mary Shelley. However, Hunt took a piece of Shelley's jawbone from the cremation and kept it on his desk for the rest of his life.

It is said that Dickens based the figure of Skimpole in Bleak House< on Hunt.


- Hunt's gravestone


Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Spirituality of Depression

I received an email today from a journal I subscribe to, The Way, letting me know about the contents of the latest issue. It's kind of frustrating because I live so far from where it originates (England) that it takes quite a while before it actually shows up in my mailbox. The journal is of Ignatian spirituality and this issue has a lot of what sound like interesting articles, the first of which - The Composition of Place: Creating Space for an Encounter by Nicolas Standaert - can be downloaded for free from The Way's Current Issue page. Here's the blurb for it ...

Why is one encouraged to make the 'composition of place' - to imagine the surroundings - in the Spiritual Exercises? Is this a higher or a lower form of prayer? This article explores how some illustrations dating from Ignatius' lifetime help us answer such questions.

Even more interesting to me, though, is another article in that issue ...

The 'Terrible Sonnets' of Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Spirituality of Depression by Hilary Pearson ...... Hopkins' so-called 'Terrible Sonnets' emerged from profound mental suffering, of a kind that would probably now be identified as depression. What religious sense can we make of them? How can these texts speak to those suffering from depression today?

I tend to forget I'm not the only person who feels depressed, and it sort of comforts me to know someone like GM Hopkins experienced it as well. This excerpt from Hopkins' bio page at The Victorian Web speaks to that period of his life ...

From his ordination as a priest in 1877 until 1879, Hopkins served not too successfully as preacher or assistant to the parish priest in Sheffield, Oxford, and London; during the next three years he found stimulating but exhausting work as parish priest in the slums of three manufacturing cities, Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow. Late in 1881 he began ten months of spiritual study in London, and then for three years taught Latin and Greek at Stonyhurst College, Lancashire. His appointment in 1884 as Professor of Greek and Latin at University College, Dublin, which might be expected to be his happiest work, instead found him in prolonged depression. This resulted partly from the examination papers he had to read as Fellow in Classics for the Royal University of Ireland. The exams occured five or six times a year, might produce 500 papers, each one several pages of mostly uninspired student translations (in 1885 there were 631 failures to 1213 passes). More important, however, was his sense that his prayers no longer reached God; and this doubt produced the "terrible" sonnets. He refused to give way to his depression, however, and his last words as he lay dying of typhoid fever on June 8, 1889, were, "I am happy, so happy."

And here is one of those sonnets ...

41. ‘No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief’

NO worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing—
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked ‘No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief’.

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.




Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Relics of the Lost Room



Last year I posted something about a movie on the SCI FI channel - The Lost Room. It's being shown again, and this time I was able to catch the first hour (of 4.5 hours), which I missed before, and it makes a little more sense. I think it's worth a rental, for those interested ...

Joe Miller (played by Peter Krause) is a homocide detective who comes upon a mysterious key through a series of bizarre murders. The key, which will open any locked door, belongs to a certain 1961 vintage motel room, and no matter which door one opens with the key, one will alwaus enter that motel room ... one can exit the motel room anywhere in the world one wishes. As it turns out, the key is just one of the "objects" or relics that belong to that out-of-phase motel room, and which are coveted by many, including The Order, The Legion, and The Collectors, for their magical powers. The show takes off emotionally when Joe's little girl enters the motel room and disappears. Below is some of what I had in my last post ...

The series revolves around at least 100 everyday items that possess unusual powers, such as a comb that can stop time for ten seconds, or a pen that microwaves anything its tip touches. The incident that caused the objects to be imbued with the extraordinary endowments is referred to as "The Event" and it occured on May 4, 1961 at 1:20 P.M.. Some characters have theorized that God is dead and the objects are pieces of His corpse, imbued with His powers, or that the objects originate from part of the universe experiencing a fluke in physics, allowing the objects to defy natural laws. It is said that anybody who collects all the items and returns them to their "rightful place" will achieve "divinity" though there are some individuals who believe that these items should be destroyed ... - Wikipedia

And here below is some of a New York Post review - Check-Out Time: Object Lessons of 'Lost Room' .......

"Our human interaction with the objects around us is really a fascinating Rorschach test, whether it's in this story or in our own lives," Krause reflected yesterday in a conference call with reporters. "I had a conversation recently with somebody about telecommunications and how now, with the Blackberry or the Treo - these sort of superphones - these objects become so important to people.

"And so many times the obsession that we have with objects in our lives can destroy or hamper relationships with other people, either on a large scale between nations or between just two people."

Whoa! Hold on there, Peter, you're getting ahead of yourself.

For one thing, the objects in the miniseries are a lot less complicated than the handheld gadgets to which we are so devoted today.

The objects in "The Lost Room" represent a lost world. They are from 1961, and they originate from a mysterious motel room on the old Route 66 near Gallup, N.M.

That's the "lost room" of the title, and you won't learn what happened there (on May 4, 1961) until the third night of this otherworldly miniseries, which also stars Julianna Margulies, Kevin Pollak, Elle Fanning (Dakota's little sister), Chris Bauer ("The Wire," "Smith"), Margaret Cho, Dennis Christopher and John Beasley ("Everwood") ...

The key is one of the most powerful of all the objects and consequently, it is one of the most sought-after by several competing, fanatic groups bent on collecting all the objects.

If the miniseries sounds complicated, it really isn't. Basically, what happens is this: The objects make everyone crazy who comes into contact with them.

And the quality of their lives declines as well. Krause plays a Pittsburgh homicide cop who comes into possession of the key, which soon causes his daughter (Fanning) to go missing.

Here's what he meant by the Rorschach test analogy. "For the characters in the [miniseries], their [true] character is revealed through their interaction with the objects," Krause said of watching the first two parts of "The Lost Room."

His analysis rings true. And it's also true that "The Lost Room" is a darned fine miniseries with tons of potential to become a regular series on Sci Fi.


- Krause and Julianna Margulies


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Worst Theological Invention

I saw a post on another blog asking for readers to give their vote for what they considered to be the worst theological invention (heh!). I thought I'd post some of the choices (in no special order) ...

* The Just War theory

* Pretty much every form of Atonement

* Divine immutability

* Predestination

* Biblical inerrancy

* Papal infallibility

* And my favorite comment ..... The doctrine of the Rapture ... But, I will admit its usefulness in explaining the presence of underpants on the footpath. :-)


Taliesin / RS Thomas


- 13th century illustration of Merlin dictating his poems

Even if you never read medieval history but simply Celtic themed fantasy novels :-) you're bound to come across the legendary Welsh bard Taliesin. And of course, poetry will also do ..... Tennyson's Idylls of the King has him at King Arthur's court (sometimes he's mixed up with Merlin). Here's a more modern poem of him by RS Thomas, and below that, a bit from a page on him at Wikipedia ....

Taliesin

I have been all men known to history,
Wondering at the world and at time passing;
I have seen evil, and the light blessing
Innocent love under a spring sky.

I have been Merlin wandering in the woods
Of a far country, where the winds waken
Unnatural voices, my mind broken
By a sudden acquaintance with man's rage.

I have been Glyn Dwr set in the vast night,
Scanning the stars for the propitious omen,
A leader of men, yet cursed by the crazed women
Mourning their dead under the same stars.

I have been Goronwy, forced from my own land
To taste the bitterness of the salt ocean;
I have known exile and a wild passion
Of longing changing to a cold ache.

King, beggar and fool, I have been all by turns,
Knowing the body's sweetness, the mind's treason;
Taliesin still, I show you a new world, risen,
Stubborn with beauty, out of the heart's need.

*

Taliesin or Taliessin (c. 534 – c. 599) is the earliest poet of the Welsh language whose work has survived. His name is associated with the Book of Taliesin, a book of poems that was written down in the Middle Ages (John Gwenogvryn Evans dated it to around 1275). Most of the poems are quite late in date (around 10th to 12th century), but a few are earlier, and eleven of them, according to Ifor Williams, date from the 6th century. He is believed to have been a bard in the courts of at least three British kings of that era. In legend he attained the status "Chief Bard of Britain" and as such would have been responsible for judging poetry competitions among all the royal bards of Britain. A few of the marks awarded for poems are extant in the margins of manuscripts. Taliesin's life was later the subject of 16th century mythological work by Elis Gruffydd, who may have relied on existing oral tradition about him .....


Monday, April 23, 2007

Dieter Dengler

Yesterday my sister told me about a movie she had rented. The film was Little Dieter Needs to Fly, directed and produced by Werner Herzog. It tells the tale of German-American Navy pilot and Vietnam veteran, Dieter Dengler, who grew up in a village in the Black Forest in Germany, and who, perhaps due to some harsh experiences, gained the resolve to be the sole survivor of an escape attempt from a Pathet Lao prison camp in Laos. Soon to be released, btw, is a theatrical version of the same story, also by Herzog - Rescue Dawn, starring Christian Bale.

I wanted to write about Little Dieter Needs to Fly because it evoked strong feelings from me ... attraction, yes, but even more it disturbed me, disturbed me because I'm so not like Dieter. He went through some very bad childhood experiences, but he didn't go on to become a US citizen, a pilot, and to escape from a prison camp despite them, he did so in part because of them. Bad things happened to him ... he didn't triumph over them, they were not erased, they left him maimed ... but he endeavoured to survive. Why does one person draw the line at bare survival, and lay down and die, while another will not?

Here's part of a review of the movie by Roger Ebert ...

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"Men are often haunted," Werner Herzog tells us at the beginning of Little Dieter Needs to Fly. "They seem to be normal, but they are not." His documentary tells the story of such a haunted man .....

The man's name is Dieter Dengler. He was born in the Black Forest of Germany. As a child, he watched his village destroyed by American warplanes, and one flew so close to his attic window that for a split-second he made eye contact with the pilot flashing past. At that moment, Dieter Dengler knew that he needed to fly.

Dengler is now in his 50s, a businessman living in Northern California. He invites us into his home, carefully opening and closing every door over and over again, to be sure he is not locked in. He shows us the stores of rice, flour and honey under his floor. He obsesses about being locked in, about having nothing to eat. He tells us his story.

As an 18-year-old, he came penniless to America. He enlisted in the Navy to learn to fly. He flew missions over Vietnam, but "that there were people down there who suffered, who died--only became clear to me after I was their prisoner." He was shot down, made a prisoner, became one of only seven men to escape from prison camps and survive. He endured tortures by his captors and from nature: dysentery, insect bites, starvation, hallucinations.

Werner Herzog's Little Dieter Needs to Fly lets Dieter tell his own story, which he does in rushed but vivid English, as if fearful there will not be time enough if he doesn't speak fast. As he talks, Herzog puts him in locations: His American home, his German village of Wildberg, and then the same Laotian jungles where he was shot down. Here certain memories are re-enacted: He is handcuffed by villagers, made to march through the forest, and demonstrates how he was staked down at night. "You can't imagine what I'm thinking," he says.

The thing about story-telling is that it creates pictures in our heads. I can "see" what happened to Dieter Dengler as clearly as if it has all been dramatized, and his poetry adds to the images. "As I followed the river, there was this beautiful bear following me," he remembers. "This bear meant death to me. It's really ironic--the only friend I had at the end was death." At another point, standing in front of a giant tank of jellyfish, he says, "This is basically what Death looks like to me," and Herzog's camera moves in on the dreamy floating shapes as we hear the sad theme from "Tristan and Isolde." Now here is an interesting aspect. Dieter Dengler is a real man who really underwent all of those experiences (and won the Medal of Honor, the D.F.C and the Navy Cross because of them). His story is true. But not all of his words are his own. Herzog freely reveals in conversation that he suggested certain images to Dengler. The image of the jellyfish, for example--"that was my idea," Herzog told me. Likewise the opening and shutting of the doors, although not the image of the bear .....

Herzog sees his mission as a filmmaker not to turn himself into a recording machine, but to be a collaborator. He does not simply stand and watch, but arranges and adjusts and subtly enhances, so that the film takes the materials of Dengler's adventure and fashions it into a new thing.

You meet a person who has an amazing story to tell, and you rarely have the time to hear it, or the attention to appreciate it. The attendants in nursing homes sit glued to their Stephen King paperbacks; the old people around them have stories a thousand times scarier to tell. A colorful character dies and the obituaries say countless great stories were told about him--but at the end, did anybody still care to listen? Herzog starts with a balding middle-aged man driving down a country lane in a convertible, and listens, questions and shapes, until the life experience of Dieter Dengler becomes unforgettable. What an astonishing man! we think. But if we were to sit next to him on a plane, we might tell him we had seen his movie, and make a polite comment about it, and go back to our magazine. It takes art to transform someone else's experience into our own.

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Nietzsche said that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger and maybe Dieter seems an example of this maxim ... I still believe Nietzsche's wrong.


Saturday, April 21, 2007

John Burroughs Poem



As Sunday is Earth Day, a poem by Burroughs seemed not so out of the way. Wikipedia says of him ...

John Burroughs (April 3, 1837-March 29, 1921) was an American naturalist and essayist important in the evolution of the U.S. conservation movement. According to biographers at the American Memory project at the Library of Congress, John Burroughs was the most important practitioner after Thoreau of that especially American literary genre, the nature essay. By the turn of the century he had become a virtual cultural institution in his own right: the Grand Old Man of Nature at a time when the American romance with the idea of nature, and the American conservation movement, had come fully into their own ...

Waiting

Serene, I fold my hands and wait,
Nor care for wind nor tide nor sea;
I rave no more 'gainst time or fate,
For Lo! my own shall come to me.

I stay my haste, I make delays--
For what avails this eager pace?
I stand amid the eternal ways
And what is mine shall know my face.

Asleep, awake, by night or day,
The friends I seek are seeking me,
No wind can drive my bark astray
Nor change the tide of destiny.

What matter if I stand alone?
I wait with joy the coming years;
My heart shall reap where it has sown,
And garner up its fruit of tears.

The waters know their own, and draw
The brook that springs in yonder height;
So flows the good with equal law
Unto the soul of pure delight.

The stars come nightly to the sky;
The tidal wave unto the sea;
Nor time, nor space, nor deep, nor high,
Can keep my own away from me.


- Burroughs (in the middle) with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford


Lichfield Angel



I've always been a little afraid of angels (The Prophecy!), so when I saw an article on the 1,200-year-old carved figure of the Angel Gabriel discovered in 2003 at Lichfield Cathedral ... Don’t be afraid of the winged messengers ... I was interested. Pete Wilcox, the Canon Chancellor at the Cathedral, wrote ...

In the summer of 2003, an archaeological excavation in the cathedral unearthed a fragmented Anglo-Saxon sculptured panel. It depicts half an Annunciation scene: Gabriel, his right hand raised in blessing. The panel is probably part of the original shrine of St Chad erected by Hedda in the early 8th century and described by Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People .....

Books on angels abound. Most offer either a saccharine mixture of positive thinking and pseudoscientific spirituality .... What a contrast with the angelic figures who populate the pages of the Bible. They usually have to announce themselves with the words “Don’t be afraid”, because the poor humans to whom they have appeared are scared witless.

The angels at the empty tomb in the gospel accounts of Easter are certainly of this kind. In Matthew’s Gospel, the soldiers are so afraid, they shake for fear of him and become “like dead men”, and the women, sure enough, are told: “Don’t be afraid.” In Mark, “the young man” says to the women: “Don’t be alarmed” — but the women leave in terror all the same. In Luke, the women are terrified at the sight of the two men in dazzling clothes who confront them, and “bow their faces to the ground” .....

The indications given by visitors to Lichfield Cathedral a year ago suggest they came not looking for a Pocket Angel, but for something more spiritually demanding. There wasn’t much bowing of the face to the ground — but who would want that in the presence of a limestone sculpture rather than the Thing Itself? There was, however, a great reverence, as encouraging as the spirituality bookshelves are disheartening ..... In the Christian tradition, angels are messengers. They speak for God. The hush that tended to characterise visitors in the presence of the Lichfield angel suggests a real desire to hear what its message might be.


You can read more about the Lichfield Angel here at the Cathedral website.




Pet Food Recal II

I've been trying to stay up on the pet food recall news, as it gets continually worse. The latest seems to be that not only wheat gluten, but also possibly rice and corn derivitives may be contaminated with plastics and fertilizers (which can fool lab tests on the quality of a protein source) .... Spiking theorized in pet deaths. If you have a pet, you'll know it's not easy to find a food that doesn't contain wheat, corn, or rice. I've been lucky (so far) that I feed Kermit mostly Fancy Feast canned food (Purina) which doesn't have any of those three. I've had two cats die of kidney disease, one of bladder cancer, and Kermit already has kidney disease, so I guess I'm more worried about this than the average person.

If you want to stay abreast of the subject, try this page from the U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine - it has a lot of helpful links

And here's the FDA's pet food recall search page, where you can check to see if a certain kind of pet food has been recalled


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Roses

A couple of photos of my rosebush ...






Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The day's on fire!

In the beginning of Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut mentions a poet - Theodore Roethke. Here's one of his poems ...

In a Dark Time

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood--
A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day's on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks--is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady stream of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is--
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.


Lucky Man


- Emerson, Lake ,and Palmer - Royal Albert Hall

He had white horses
And ladies by the score
All dressed in satin
And waiting by the door

Oooh, what a lucky man he was

White lace and feathers
They made up his bed
A gold covered mattress
On which he was laid

He went to fight wars
For his country and his king
Of his honor and his glory
The people would sing

A bullet had found him
His blood ran as he cried
No money could save him
So he laid down and he died


Monday, April 16, 2007

Kevin Hart on poem as prayer

Here's a poem by Kevin Hart, and below that, a little bit from a 1995 interview by John Kinsella with Kevin Hart ....

Prayer

O come, in any way you want,
In morning sunlight fooling in the leaves
Or in thick bouts of rain that soak my head

Because of what the darkness said

Or come, though far too slowly for my eye to see,
Like a dark hair that fades to gray

Come with the wind that wraps my house

Or winter light that slants upon a page

Because the beast is stirring in its cage

Or come in raw and ragged smells
Of gumleaves dangling down at noon
Or in the undertow of love
When she's away

Because a night creeps through the day

Come as you used to, years ago,
When I first fell for you

In the deep calm of an autumn morning
Beginning with the cooing of a dove

Because of love, the lightest love

Or if that's not your way these days
Because of me, because
Of something dead in me,
Come like a jagged knife into my gut

Because your touch will surely cut

Come any way you want
But come


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John Kinsella: The prayer as poem? The prayer doesn't need an audience of people.

Kevin Hart: That's right. In fact, it should try to exclude it.

JK: Right. But we discuss poetry in the light of being read. Where does the prayer fit; what is the prayer poetically?

KH: Prayer is the greatest irruption of immanence that humans can perform. It is poetry taken to the limit, speech turned toward the unsayable. To speak to God. Imagine that! But what can one say to God? At its deepest level a true prayer says nothing at all, simply 'yes' and — as Jacques Derrida has reminded us — 'yes' to that 'yes'. Of course, a prayer can be overheard, or read by anyone once it is committed to paper. And the destination of a prayer can be bent this way or that, even in the act of meditation itself. One speaks to God, but also of God, and sometimes of 'God'.

JK: In your poem, "Three Prayers", it seems to me that you are making a prayer, but — and this is what poeticizes it — to me you're also discussing the very practice we're talking about. About the making of a prayer and about where it sits in terms of the poetic and in terms of language. For example, you start off by saying, "Master of energy and silence / Embracer of contradictions"; you have direct access if you like. You're making direct access. Later on, in almost a humanising, quite a sensual way, and in a very personal and familiar way, you'll say, "You do not speak to me of death. You do not pester me, like some. Far too busy with the universe, Sometimes not busy enough, Searching out our softer parts, Trying to squeeze yourself in: Showing off your famous night sky Like a child with a new drawing". There's that wonderful humanity and sort of humanising aspect about it, where the master of energy has become the familiar person in the room you're sitting next door to on Sunday afternoon, having a chat with. Can you talk about that process? How prayer has shifted into something quite familiar and very familiarly poetic, as the prayer has become the poem?

KH: People sometimes think that the spiritual world is distinct from, and even distant from, this world, 'the company of flesh and blood', as Wordsworth so memorably put it. But the spiritual world is within this one: not as a secret, but as a radiance. To think of the spiritual world as a secret is to court idols, and the only virtue there is that God appears in the cracks of idols. There, often enough, is the first moment of glimpsing the radiance. We find it through God's grace and our attention. Poetry is one form of attention, and poetry does not lead us to another world: it shows us this world, this relationship, this chair, this ivy on the outside wall. That! it says; its what is almost completely absorbed in saying that!. But its how can change our lives. Prayer is attention taken to the limit, though a poem can become prayer, even despite itself.

JK: Do you find a need as a poet, as the Romantics did, as Walpole and Gray did, making their tour of the Alps, for the Mont Blanc kind of thing; do you find a need to recharge the spiritual batteries, or the creative batteries, to remove yourself from your immediate writing and intellectual environment, step aside and physically look back? I know that in your poems you have those moments, often in the garden, or somewhere close to your home, where you capture a part of Arcadia, if you like, that separation. You cross the boundary in some way and you capture a glimpse of pure Nature, if you like, and then you go back into the world and you rejoice in the fact that you've had that glimpse. Do you consciously do that, or are they given moments which you can't construct in the same way as the Romantics would hope to have done?

KH: I think the Romantics were more interested in themselves than in nature, and the romantic sublime both threatens and confirms a unique self. And yet the romantic problem of how to present the unpresentable is still with us. Neither modernism nor postmodernism has taken us outside that field. What are the great unpresentables? God and the soul? Yes, indeed. But also death. There is no greater force of negativity, no more powerful urge to create, than the thought of death.

JK: This is where Weil would say every separation is a link. Working on the principle that the more we go through the processes of disassociating ourselves from the one truly unknown, that is death, the closer we're moving towards it as a matter of avoiding it. Part of relocating ourselves around that central actuality.

KH: Rilke regarded the creative moment as an ecstatic relation with death. But death forbids us to look directly at it. To speak directly of death or God is the most difficult thing of all. Who was it said that sincere poets are always bad?

JK: I'm not sure. There are many who could have!

KH: I suspect that one can speak of death or God only by looking to one side of them. You must not try to get the origin of the poem in focus, you must try to lose the origin in the way the poem requires of you.

*********************************

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Slaughterhouse-Five


- Dresden after the fire bombing of WWII

I ony just noticed that Kurt Vonnegut has died. I've read a few of his books, but the one I remember best, thanks to having also seen the movie, is the science fiction novel Slaughterhouse-Five.

The book and film were of worth to me, if only to inform me, historical illiterate that I am, of the fire bombing of Dresden in WWII ... Vonnegut put some of his real life experiences into the story, as he had been captured during the Battle of the Bulge and was a prisoner of war held in Dresden during the bombing. Here's a little of what Wikipedia says of this movie, which featured the music of Glenn Gould .....

The 1972 drama was written by Stephen Geller and directed by George Roy Hill. It stars Michael Sacks (in his first film), Ron Leibman, and Valerie Perrine, and features Eugene Roche, Sharon Gans, Holly Near, and Perry King ..... The film won the Prix du Jury at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival, as well as a Hugo Award, and Saturn Award. Both Hill and Geller were nominated for awards by their respective guilds ....

Both the film and the book tell the story of Billy Pilgrim, who seems to be randomly zapping back and forth through time into his own past and future. Much of the stroy takes place in the prisoner of war camp, an unused slaughter house in Dresden where Billy was held in WWII, though he also visits a future in which he's kept prisoner in an alien planet's zoo. And he revisits his murder as well, which he doesn't see as tragic, because he's learned in his time travels that everything exists simultaneously ... in a sense, we live forever.

The book was and is considered controversial due to the use of profanity and the description of the bombing of Dresden ... it appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000 ... yet both the book and the movie are interesting enough to recommend for their investigation of free will, fatalism, the perceived worth of life-bits unsequenced, and as an eye witness account of one of history's awful events.


Those who have not seen

Jn 20:19-31


- Doubting Thomas by Rubens


Friday, April 13, 2007

Timothy Radcliffe / Vocations



I've been reading some articles lately by Timothy Radcliffe, former Master of the Dominican Order, and there's a new one in the latest issue of the online Catholic Herald - Our vocation is to share in God’s happiness. The article, the first in a series, describes vocations, callings and answerings, and while it may seem off topic for those not interested in being a vowed religious, I think it has relevance for anyone who might wonder if their life has a purpose or meaning. Here below is the beginning of the article .....

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In the Church, we sometimes say that everyone has a vocation. But that’s not quite right. It’s more accurate to say that everyone is a vocation. We often think that our existence is a bald fact. But it isn’t. To exist at all is to be called by God. A star would not exist if God had not called it into being. There is a lovely passage in the Book of Baruch where God sees the stars and they joyfully cry out: “Here we are! Here we are!” The stars say “yes” to God. And everything that exists – including our own apparently insignificant lives – is a “yes” to the God who calls.

What’s odd about human beings is that we don’t just say “yes” by existing; we also say “yes” with our words. God speaks a word to us and we reply with words. And that, in fact, is why we were created: to answer God’s word. This human vocation, which we all share regardless of our particular calling, is expressed in the beautiful Hebrew word hineni, which means, “here I am”. When God calls Moses from the burning bush, Moses replies: “Hineni.” When Isaiah hears a voice asking “Whom shall I send?” he replies: “Hineni. Send me.” So, the human vocation is to say “here I am” when God calls.

We live at a time when there is an awful loss of confidence in the meaning of human existence .... Vocations to the priesthood and religious life are a sign that every person is living a story that leads to God. They are signs to people who see their life going nowhere. They may be stuck in boring jobs. Their marriages might be going wrong. They may have been diagnosed with cancer. When they reach these moments of disaster, they ask: “What is the point?” The lives of priests and religious offer an answer. They say: “I have put myself in the hands of God, because I believe my life is heading towards him.” Such vocations are a tremendously vital sign to anybody who feels their life is disintegrating .....

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

153 Fish

The reading for Friday is one to which I'm very attracted ... John 21:1-14 .... with an unfathomable future and an uncomfortable present, the disciples decided to journey to their past and go fishing on the Sea of Tiberias. But it didn't work - the time spent with Jesus had changed them somehow and they no longer fit into their old lives - they couldn't even catch any fish! Luckily, Jesus, in one of his post-resurrection appearances, was nearby on the shore and told them where to cast their nets. They did as he advised and caught 153 fish. It isn't so much the number of fish caught that appeals to me, but that Jesus shows up when they're so forlorn, that he addresses them as Children, makes them breakfast, consoles them.

But about the 153 fish, Wikipedia says ...

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The precision of the number of fish has long been considered peculiar, and many scholars, throughout history, have argued that 153 has some deeper significance. Jerome, for example, claimed that the Greeks had identified that there were exactly 153 species of fish in the sea (modern marine biology puts the figure as something over 29,000). Mathematically, 153 is a triangular number, more precisely it is the sum of the integer numbers from 1 to 17 inclusive; more significantly, 153 also has the rare property that it is the sum of the cubes of its own digits (i.e. 153 = 1x1x1 + 5x5x5 + 3x3x3). In the time of Pythagoras, 153 was most significant for being one of the two numbers in the closest fraction known, at the time, to the true value of the square root of 3, the fraction in question being 265/153 (the difference between this and the square root of 3 is merely 0.000025......). The ratio of 153:265 was consequently known throughout the hellenic world as the measure of the fish.

The fact that the measure of the fish was known to include 153, as one of its two numbers, and that the measure of how many fish the disciples are said to have caught is also 153, has not gone unnoticed by many scholars, with some suggesting that the number of fish in the New Testament episode is simply down to being the most familiar large number to the writer, or a deliberate reference to the geometric nomenclature as a sort of in-joke. It is significant that a story was told of Pythagoras, and later reported by Plato, that is very similar, even in wording, to the Biblical narrative of this event; some scholars have argued that that the entire Biblical episode is a coded reference to a geometric diagram, since Pythagoreanism saw geometry and numbers as having deep esoteric meaning, and via Hermeticism (and more minor routes) it was profoundly influential in the development of hellenic mystery religions, and in certain aspects of gnosticism, an early form of Christianity. While such themes would be unusual if the New Testament was only intended to be taken literally, several modern scholars, as well as most ancient followers of gnosticism, have argued that parts of the New Testament were written as gnostic documents ....

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There's more, including a Pythagorean diagram that can be constructed from the story of 153 fish, but my head hurts, so ... ;-)


- The Miraculous Draught of Fishes by Jacopo Bassano


They shall have stars at elbow and foot

And Death Shall Have No Dominion
by Dylan Thomas

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead mean naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan't crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Through they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.


Friday, April 06, 2007

The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail

That's the title of an article written by Ralph C Wood, Baylor University Professor of Theology and Literature, that mentions two very different views of Holy Saturday's Jesus - one being Hans Urs von Balthasar's, the other a Luther/Calvanist perspective. Here's some of the article below ........

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No serious consideration of hell should omit one of the church's most ancient claims in the Apostles Creed—that Christ was not only "crucified, dead, and buried," but also that he "descended into hell" ... The single slender thread of "evidence" is found in 1 Peter 3:19-20 and 4:6, where we learn that the crucified Christ "went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the day of Noah," so that "the gospel was preached even to the dead" .....

Hell is not a temporal but an eternal realm, the horrible spiritual state of God's utter absence. Since Christ plunges into hell and preaches to the spirits of the dead, winnowing some of them from hell, it follows that others who have never been given the Good News can still be released from the post-earthly prison of death and damnation. For Christ's victory is not confined to this present life alone. He is also the Judge and Lord over hell. Thus does the doctrine of the Harrowing of Hell enable us to affirm, with Paul in Romans 8:38-39, that absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus—neither death nor demonic powers nor even the abyss of hell.

No one has stated this Pauline hope more clearly than the great Roman Catholic theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar. Exactly in his descent into hell, writes von Balthasar, Christ "disturbs the absolute loneliness striven for by the sinner: the sinner, who wants to be 'damned' apart from God, finds God again in his loneliness, but God in the absolute weakness of love … enters into solidarity with those damning themselves."

A radically different interpretation of Christ's descent into hell has been offered recently by the Presbyterian theologian Alan E. Lewis in a remarkable book, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday. He maintains that, if we take seriously the doctrine that Christ assumed our full humanity, then we must retrieve Luther and Calvin's insistence that Christ endured the unfathomable suffering that comes from total abandonment by God in death. Lewis rightly fears that we cheapen Easter if we do not attend to the hellish Sabbath in which God himself lay in the godforsakenness of the grave .....

Whether we read Christ's descent into hell as a triumph or a defeat, it remains a crucial concern for all Christians. With his usual crispness and clarity, G. K. Chesterton sums up the enormous significance of the doctrine: "Christ descended into hell; Satan fell into it. One wanted to go up and went down; the other wanted to go down and went up. A god can be humble, a devil can only be humbled."

********************

An interesting article, but I'm still having trouble just grasping the idea of Jesus dead at all ... given what I've read lately, and given the contemplations, I've realized my unexamined assumptions about Jesus on Holy Saturday have had little to do with the reality.


- The Mourning of Christ by Giotto


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Don't turn your face



Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward
by John Donne

Let mans Soule be a Spheare, and then, in this,
The intelligence that moves, devotion is,
And as the other Spheares, by being growne
Subject to forraigne motion, lose their owne,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey:
Pleasure or businesse, so, our Soules admit
For their first mover, and are whirld by it.
Hence is't, that I am carryed towards the West
This day, when my Soules forme bends toward the East.
There I should see a Sunne, by rising set,
And by that setting endlesse day beget;
But that Christ on this Crosse, did rise and fall,
Sinne had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I'almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for mee.
Who sees Gods face, that is selfe life, must dye;
What a death were it then to see God dye?
It made his owne Lieutenant Nature shrinke,
It made his footstoole crack, and the Sunne winke.
Could I behold those hands which span the Poles,
And tune all spheares at once peirc'd with those holes?
Could I behold that endlesse height which is
Zenith to us, and our Antipodes,
Humbled below us? or that blood which is
The seat of all our Soules, if not of his,
Made durt of dust, or that flesh which was worne
By God, for his apparell, rag'd, and torne?
If on these things I durst not looke, durst I
Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye,
Who was Gods partner here, and furnish'd thus
Halfe of that Sacrifice, which ransom'd us?
Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,
They'are present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them; and thou look'st towards mee,
O Saviour, as thou hang'st upon the tree;
I turne my backe to thee, but to receive
Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.
O thinke mee worth thine anger, punish mee,
Burne off my rusts, and my deformity,
Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace,
That thou may'st know mee, and I'll turne my face.


Holy Saturday

Hell took a body, and discovered God; it took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see. - from John Chrysostom's Paschal Homily


- The Large Passion: The Harrowing of Hell by Albrecht Dürer

In schedule with the Creighton online retreat, I'm contemplating Jesus' death, while to you guys, it's Thursday. Forgive the disconnect, while I write about Holy Saturday ... Jesus death and descent into hell.

Though I'm not sure if it's meant to be taken literalyy or metaphorically, the mention of Jesus' harrowing of hell and the releasing of hell's captives - Adam, Eve, and the righteous men and women who had died before him - can be found in the Apostles' Creed and the writings of some early church fathers (Tertullian, Origen, Ambrose) ... Wikipedia says it's inferred from passages such as Acts 2:27 and 2:31, and 1 Peter 3:19-20 and 1 Peter 4:6, etc.

One modern theologian who has written on the subject is Han Urs von Balthasar. I posted something about him a while ago ... Hell and Hans Urs von Balthasar .... mentioning an article by Avery Cardinal Dulles on his book, Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved?", but another of his books is more on topic ... Mysterium Paschale: The Mystery of Easter. As usual, I haven't yet read the book and I'm not sure I'd understand it if I did (sigh) but I did see an interesting article that touches on his thoughts on Holy Saturday ... Love Alone is Credible: Hans Urs von Balthasar As an Interpreter of the Catholic Tradition: Descensus ad inferos, Dawn of Hope. Aspects of the Theology of Holy Saturday in the Trilogy of Hans Urs von Balthasar by Juan M. Sara - link.

I'm having difficulty contemplating a dead Jesus, and it's even harder to imagine him descending to and then returning from that place of no hope. Maybe that's not surprising ... Von Balthasar makes it clear how radical such a concept is, in this excerpt from a paper by Fr. Rob Marsh SJ - Creation and Redemption ....

Tradition has grasped the astonishing implications of Jesus’ death in the hiatus of Holy Saturday and the image of the harrowing of hell. Jesus dies. Jesus descends among the dead. Jesus is dead with the dead. Utter annihilation has not only been risked but has been incurred. Through annihilation Jesus has become nihil. There is no natural process that leads away from this point of utter emptiness ..... Von Balthasar warns of any “naturalization” of the Paschal mystery, any attempt to see the Resurrection as the culmination or chief exemplification of processes familiar from created things. Such analogies undermine the utter surprise of the “new thing” which God has done in raising Jesus ...

All I can say is, I'm working on it.


- The Harrowing of Hell from a fourteenth century manuscript


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Mt 26:14-25

Wednesday's gospel reading is about Judas - Mt 26:14-25 - and that reminded me of a poem ...

Saint Judas
- by James Wright

When I went out to kill myself, I caught
A pack of hoodlums beating up a man.
Running to spare his suffering, I forgot
My name, my number, how my day began,
How soldiers milled around the garden stone
And sang amusing songs; how all that day
Their javelins measured crowds; how I alone
Bargained the proper coins, and slipped away.

Banished from heaven, I found this victim beaten,
Stripped, kneed, and left to cry. Dropping my rope
Aside, I ran, ignored the uniforms:
Then I remembered bread my flesh had eaten,
The kiss that ate my flesh. Flayed without hope,
I held the man for nothing in my arms.


Gustav Aulen, David Hart, and Atonement



The work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil. .... Gustav Aulen

Both Jeff and Talmida have posts on atonement, so I thought I'd do something also. I don't care for the idea of atonement, but if I had to choose a certain theory of it, I might choose the one sometimes called Christus Victor, perhaps the first existing theory of atonement. As I mentioned in a past post, this view, basically the Eastern Orthodox view, is held and dicussed by David Bentley Hart in his book The Beauty of the Infinite, under the heading A Gift Exceeding Every Debt.

First, here's what Wikipedia says of Christus Victor ...

The term Christus Victor comes from the title of Gustaf Aulén's groundbreaking book first published in 1931 where he drew attention back to this classical early church's understanding of the Atonement. In it Aulén identifies three main types of Atonement Theories: The "Latin" or "objective" view, more commonly known as Satisfaction Theory beginning with Anselmian Satisfaction and later developing in the Protestant Church into Penal Substitution; secondly the "subjective" view commonly known as the Moral Influence view and credited to Abelard; and finally what Aulen called the "classical" view of the Atonement more commonly known as Ransom Theory or after Aulén's work now called the "Christus Victor" theory of the Atonement.

Aulén's book consists of a historical study beginning with the early church and tracing their Atonement theories up to the Protestant Reformation. Aulén argues that Christus Victor (or as Aulén called it the "classical view") was the predominant view of the early church and for the first thousand years of church history and was supported by nearly every Church Father including Irenaeus, Origen, and Augustine to name a few. A major shift occurred, Aulén says, when Anselm of Canterbury published his “Cur Deus Homo” around 1097 AD which marked the point where the predominant understanding of the Atonement shifted from the classical view (Christus Victor) to the Satisfaction view in both the Catholic and Protestant Church. The Orthodox Church still holds to the Christus Victor view, based upon their understanding of the Atonement put forward by Irenaeus, called "recapitulation" Jesus became what we are so that we could become what he is. (see also Theosis) .....


As I mentioned in that earlier post, if I understand David Hart correctly ( no guarantee of that :-), he wants to reconcile Anselm's atonement theory with the Orthodox ranson (Christus Victor) theory, or rather, he wants to show that reconciliation is not needed ... that interpretations of Anselm, both Eastern and Western, have been misguided and that the two theories are not really different. Here below I've posted the relevant excerpt from Hart's book......

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.. the notion that Christ's death constitutes an appeasement of divine wrath against sin figures more than marginally in the history of Christain reflection upon salvation, especially in the West. Is it not the case, one might at least ask, that the theology of atonement has usually involved some sense that the death of Christ is required by the Father as a transaction that accomplishes reconciliation, and has therefore made God complicit in the violence of sacrifice? The locus classicus of the "substitution theory" of atonement is, of course, the Cur Deus Homo of Anselm .... If one is to reconsider the presence of violence in Christian sacrificial themes, and not do so with quite the peremptory disregard for tradition that Girard evinces, it would be disingenuous (to say the least) to ignore not only Anselm's influence but the claims his theology makes upon Christian thought ...

The argument of Cur Deus Homo ... Every rational creature is created to partake of beatitude in God, Anselm asserts, in return for which the creature owes God perfect obedience, by withholding which humanity offends infinitely against the divine honor and merits death .... the God-man must come, in order to make satisfaction on humanity's defense ....

But Anselm's argument, thus denuded of every nuance and ambiguity that enrivhes the text from which it is drawn, is susceptible of every causal misconstrual the theological mind can devise .....

... the closer the attention one pays Anselm's argument, the harder it becomes to locate the exact point at which he supposedly breaks from patristic orthodoxy. The divine action follows the same course as in the "classic" model: human sin having disrupted the order of God's good creation, and humanity having been handed over to death and the devil's rule, God enters into a condition of estrangement and slavery to set humanity free .... Anselm's is not a new narrative of salvation. In truth, this facile distinction between a patristic soteriology concerned exclusively with the rescue of humanity from death and a theory of atonement concerned exclusively with remission from guilt - the distinction, that is, between "Physical" and "moral" theories - is supportable, if at all, only in terms of emphasis and imagery; Athanasius, Gregory of nysea, and John of Damascus (to name a few) were no less conscious than Anselm of the guilt overcome by Christ on the cross, nor he any less concerned than they with the Son's campaign against death's dominion .... And it is explicitly not a story about a sustitutionary sacrifice offered as a simple restitution for human guilt, but concerns, rather, the triumph over death, the devil, and sin accomplished in Christ's voluntary self-donation to the Father, which the Father receives (as Gregory the Theologian would say) "by economy", so that its benefits might rebound to those with whom Christ has assumed solidarity ....

Even here, then, in the text that most notoriously expounds the sacrificial logic of atonement, the idea of sacrifice is subverted from within: as the story of Christ's sacrifice belongs not to an ecomony of credit and exchange but to the trinitarian motion of love, it is given entirely as gift - a gift given when it should not have needed to be given again, by God, at a price that we imposed upon him .... the primordiality of the gift is the truth of Christ's paschal donation: the gift God gives in creation continues to be given again, ever more fully, in defiance of all rejection, economy, violence, and indifference; there is no division between justice and mercy in God, on Anselm's account, because both belong already to the giving of the gift - which precedes, exceeds, and annuls all debt.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Contemplating Death

As I mentioned earlier, this week the retreat has us contemplating Jesus' death on the cross and his entombment. The excerpt below from the retreat material says this contemplation isn't really very difficult ... I'd disagree, which probably means I'm missing something. Here below is a little of the help given by Creighton for Week 29 of the retreat ...

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Spending a week with Jesus at Calvary is really not very difficult. It is only a matter of focus ..... We want to be touched by the meaning of his death for us. This is not a week of theological reflection. This is a time to focus on the reality of death. Our culture rarely faces the reality of death. We distance ourselves from its experience. For all of the death and violence around us, few of us have witnessed anyone's death or touched a dead body to experience the coldness of death's "lifelessness." People rarely die at home and "funeral homes" take the body of a loved one fairly quickly and embalm it, put makeup on its face and hands, dress it up, and lay it out, like the person is only sleeping.

This makes it more difficult for us to imagine looking up at Jesus hanging in this terribly cruel and unbelievably painful form of execution. It makes it doubly difficult to imagine his lifeless body - the sign of the reality of his death. But as we focus each morning on our desire to be with him in his death, the graces we have received up to now will help us desire to follow him all the way to the end of his life. As we focus on each area of our lives touched by the death of Jesus, as outlined in the guide, we can end each day with some words of gratitude .....


- Pieta by Bouguereau