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Saturday, September 30, 2006


We're still reading the book of Revelation at the scripture blog, and are now on chapter 6, the Lamb opening the scroll with the seven seals (yikes!). I find it disturbing, so decided to look at the art instead of reading about it. I came cross a fresco of Last Judgement at a 14th century Serbian monastery ... Gracanica.

The Gracanica monastery, near Lipljan in Kosovo, is one of the last monumental foundations of King Milutin Nemanjic. Built on the ruins of the former Church of the Holy Virgin, the monastery, finished in 1321, was dedicated to the Dormition of the Holy Virgin. On the southern wall of the chapel is written the king's charter, including the following words: "I have seen the ruins and the decay of the Holy Virgin's temple of Gracanica, the bishopric of Lipljan, so I have built it from the ground and painted and decorated it both within and without". Of the former monastic compound, only the church has survived ...
- read more about the monastery and see many more pictures here

Below are a few detail photos of Last Judgement freesco ...

- Theotokos (Mary, Jesus' mother) and two archangels in Heaven

- angels pushing sinners into a fiery river

- the sea

- angels bending Heaven

Friday, September 29, 2006


- Stowe

This week's movie rental is 1994's Blink, a serial-killer thriller, starring Madeleine Stowe and Aidan Quinn, with Michael Apted directing. It was shot in Chicago and a local band, The Drovers, played a support role as themselves, contributing three songs to the soundtrack.

- Quinn

One of the reasons I rented this movie was that the Stowe character is visually impaired ... not completely blind, but with partial vision, as is true of about 70% of those considered to be "blind", me included. Also interesting was to see what Chicago was like ... I've never been there. Roger Ebert liked it a little more than I did - I had wished the characters a little less cynical, and also wished there had been a few less undressed dead bodies :-) - but still, it was worth a watch. Below is Ebert's review ...


"Blink" takes the damnedest story and tells it about characters so real they could almost be from a documentary. It sets the action in a Chicago which harbors a serial killer right out of Hollywood - but in the midst of its thriller plot is a portrait of the city that is closely and accurately observed. And the movie contains a love story about two people who, far from falling into each other's arms, might really prefer to be left alone.

The movie stars Madeleine Stowe as Emma Brody, a blind woman who plays violin in a band called the Drovers, who work the North Side bars of Chicago.

She's not your average movie blind woman, all trembling and sensitive. She's independent, tough, smart, cynical, and she likes to take a drink from time to time. Shortly after the movie opens, she is given a corneal transplant, and finds that she can see for the first time. But her mind is overwhelmed by the torrent of visual images, and in defense it begins to edit what she sees; sometimes she may witness something that doesn't "register" until hours later. That man in the hallway, for example, who may have murdered her upstairs neighbor ....

The plot does, of course, sound like typically lurid and melodramatic thriller material. And it is. I was surprised, however, to find it in such a good movie. A lot of the good things come out of the relationship between Stowe and Aidan Quinn, as a cop who gets assigned to the case after she reports she "may" have been a witness to the murder. Quinn and Stowe are able to bring to their characters a certain no-B.S. edge that I recognize as very Chicago. Their rough edges and the way they speak - taking delight in saying exactly what's on their minds - sounds all the more authentic because in so many thrillers the characters talk as if they watch too many daytime soap operas ....

The Quinn and Stowe characters get the notes just right. And the movie portrays Chicago cops with a certain attention to detail; these aren't the wisecrackers of New York or the storm troopers of Los Angeles, but ordinary hardworking guys with a job to do and a bar to go to after they've done it.

The cop is tempted to dismiss his "witness"; after all, how much can you rely on a woman who is recently blind, and "thinks" she might have belatedly seen something? But other things happen to convince her she is right. The cop begins to doubt his own doubts.

And of course they're drawn to one another. But not in the usual Hollywood way, in which they're so attracted that they eventually can't resist going to bed with each other. No, this is more of a Chicago thing, in which they go to bed with each other so much that they eventually can't resist being attracted.

The love-hate friendship between Stowe and Quinn is one of the more authentic relationships I've seen in a genre movie. It feels right. And then on top of it you have the developing thriller plot, with more "visions" and an ominous possible killer, and, inevitably, a scene in which the young woman is too trusting and goes where she shouldn't go. But even then, the screenplay by Dana Stevens has some surprises, and this doesn't end like most of the movies about women in danger and big, strong police ....

"Blink" is an uncommonly good thriller.


Blessed Pierre Favre SJ

Father, in the Name of Jesus, give me the Spirit.
- Pierre Favre SJ

In my web travels, I saw a couple of reviews of books on Pierre Favre ...
The Spiritual Writings of Pierre Favre: The 'Memoriale' and Selected Letters and Instruction by the Institute of Jesuit Sources ... and, Pierre Favre & Discernment by Brian O’Leary SJ. I have some bits from the reviews below, but first, some info about Pierre Favre ...

Of the early Jesuits, the one I'm drawn to is Pierre ... from the little I've read of him, he was quiet, no stranger to self-criticism, and a little hesitant at first to trust God ... qualities with which I can identify. Here below is what William A. Barry SJ wrote of him in one of his books ...

When Ignatius went to Paris to study, he roomed with Pierre Favre and Francis Xavier, both young students in their early twenties. Pierre Favre quickly came under the influence of Ignatius. But Ignatius did not direct him through the full Spiritual Exercises until four years had passed. Pierre was full of scruples, terrified of God's wrath. He seems to have had an image of God as a terrifying snoop seeking to catch him out. With such an image of God he could not enter the Spiritual Exercises with trust and hope and great desire for closeness to God ....

But Ignatius worked kindly and patiently with him during the four years and gradually Pierre's image of God changed and his scruples disappeared. He now desired closeness to God and wanted to know what God's hopes and plans for him were. Ignatius led him through the Spiritual Exercises, and Pierre decided to join Ignatius as a companion. He was one of the ten founders of the Society of Jesus and was considered by Ignatius to be the best director of the Spiritual Exercises among all of the first Jesuits.

Here is a bit from William J. Walsh's review of the first book mentioned above, in the journal, Questia ...

... The Memoriale is a priceless legacy and remarkable on two scores. First it is a record of how someone coached by Ignatius actually prayed. In it, we have F.'s meticulous observations about the movement of spirits in his consciousness. We can see in concrete detail how energetic, persistent, and concentrated F. was in practicing the art of prayer in the thick of action.

Second, the Memoriale (along with the other writings collected here) is remarkable for revealing how a diffident young man from a mountain village in Savoy was transformed into the confidant, confessor, and spiritual director of cardinals, bishops, nuncios, diplomats, priests, religious men and women, students, and high-born lay men and women. Actually, it is surprising to find a man like F., hesitant and prone to bouts of scruples and sexual temptation, in the company of firebrands like Ignatius and Francis Xavier. It is a tribute, then, to the spiritual genius of Ignatius that he enabled F. to move through his crippling self doubts and to discern with accuracy and assurance the presence of the Spirit at work in himself. There, day after day in prayer, F. noted the arrival of great desires for Christ, tested them, and found the push he needed to carry them out in zealous service ....

And here below is part of the review of the second book mentioned above, by Senan Timoney, S.J., from The Jesuits in Ireland site ...

This book by Brian O'Leary explores the theme of discernment in the Memoriale or spiritual journal of Bl. Pierre Favre. It is a work worthy of a monumental figure in the early history of the Society of Jesus. Favre, who was a key founding member of the Society, managed to cover much of Western Europe in the final seven years of his short life of forty years. Italy, France, Germany, Flanders, Portugal, Spain were all part of his itinerary, but there was also an inner journey going on. His Memoriale is a reflective account of his inner life and of what St. Ignatius calls the "movements" of his soul.

This is where O'Leary shows a mastery of his subject. To say that this book is scholarly may for some readers connote dullness, but this is far from the case. All the time the author keeps us in close touch with the text but with a delightful detachment. This reflects his obvious interest in Favre, but also, in the best sense, a critical view of the text and of its author .... This book is an excellent exploration of discernment in the spiritual journal of a great man.


Read more about Pierre Favre here

Read a letter from Ignatius to Pierre Favre at the Woodstock Theological Center Library

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Poems - George MacDonald

I came across MacDonald while reading about universal salvation. Here's what Wikipedia has to say, in part, about him, and below that are a few of his many poems ...

George MacDonald (December 10, 1824 – September 18, 1905) was a Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister. Though no longer a household name, his works (particularly his fairy tales and fantasy novels) have inspired deep admiration in such notables as W. H. Auden, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Madeleine L'Engle. C. S. Lewis wrote that he regarded MacDonald as his "master". Picking up a copy of Phantastes one day in a train station, he began to read; "a few hours later," said Lewis, "I knew I had crossed a great frontier." G. K. Chesterton cited The Princess and the Goblin as a book that had "made a difference to my whole existence" ......

MacDonald rejected the doctrine of penal Substitutionary atonement as put forward by John Calvin which argues that Christ has taken the place of sinners and is punished by God in their place, believing that in turn it raised serious questions about the character and nature of God .... MacDonald was convinced that God does not punish except to amend .... In this theology of divine punishment, MacDonald stands in agreement with the Greek Church Fathers ....


Came of old to houses lonely
Men with wings, but did not show them:
Angels come to our house, only,
For their wings, they do not know them!

To The Clouds

Through the unchanging heaven, as ye have sped,
Speed onward still, a strange wild company,
Fleet children of the waters! Glorious ye,
Whether the sun lift up his shining head,
High throned at noontide and established
Among the shifting pillars, or we see
The sable ghosts of air sleep mournfully
Against the sunlight, passionless and dead!
Take thus a glory, oh thou higher Sun,
From all the cloudy labour of man’s hand—
Whether the quickening nations rise and run,
Or in the market-place we idly stand
Casting huge shadows over these thy plains—
Even thence, O God, draw thy rich gifts of rains.

Lost and Found

Missed him when the sun began to bend;
I found him not when I had lost his rim;
With many tears I went in search of him,
Climbing high mountains which did still ascend,
And gave me echoes when I called my friend;
Through cities vast and charnel-houses grim,
And high cathedrals where the light was dim,
Through books and arts and works without an end,
But found him not--the friend whom I had lost.
And yet I found him--as I found the lark,
A sound in fields I heard but could not mark;
I found him nearest when I missed him most;
I found him in my heart, a life in frost,
A light I knew not till my soul was dark.

Read more about MacDonald on VictorianWeb

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Online Retreat

Steve, of Catholicism, Holiness, and Spirituality, has decided to once again participate in an online 34 week Ignatian-style retreat given by Creighton University. I'm joining Steve in taking the retreat ... we're just on week 2, so if anyone else is interested in doing it as well, either with Steve or on their own, it's not to late to begin, and of course, one can begin the retreat any time of the year. As Steve writes ...

Each week there are a few scripture readings, spiritual reflections, and instructions for prayer or personal reflection. You can go to the Creighton site to read each week's materials (sample), or print the pages off to take with you, or read them via your PDA/Smartphone. My addition to Creighton's fine work is to host an online discussion forum, where we can discuss each week's materials and our responses to them ....There's no cost to join the retreat, no requirement or pressure to go through the whole 34 weeks, and no requirement or expectation to participate in online discussions. You can take the retreat totally separate from the discussion forum group I'm offering here ...

For those who might want to see what a retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola is like, but who can't spare the time away from the daily grind, this may be a possible alternative to the 30 day retreat at a spirituality center.

Read about the history of the Spiritual Exercises here

- Loyola House Retreat Center

Monday, September 25, 2006

Hell and Hans Urs von Balthasar

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil.

I've been thinking about hell lately. That's what I get for watching the 1998 movie What Dreams May Come. The visual effects are outstanding but I found the storyline disturbing. The basic plot, from Ebert's review ...

... Chris and Annie (Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra) have a Cute Meet when their boats collide on a Swiss lake. They marry. They have two children. They are happy. Then both of the children are killed in an accident. Annie has a breakdown, Chris nurses her through, art works as therapy, they are somehow patching their lives back together--and then Chris is killed. The film follows him into the next world, and creates it with visuals that seem borrowed from his own memories and imagination .... There is a guide in the next world named Albert ..... Heaven, in one sense, means becoming who you want to be. And hell? "Hell is for those who don't know they're dead,'' says Albert .... Many of those in hell are guilty of the greatest sin against God, which is despair: They believe they are beyond hope. After the death of her children and husband, Annie has despaired, killed herself and gone to hell.

I hate the idea that hell may exist, that Jesus mentions it in the Gospels, that being in despair (suicide) can send you there. Most modern theologians and preachers I've read make a case for hell being not God's choice but man's ... that people go to hell of their own volition, following a desire to be apart from God. This explinarion doesn't work for me, though it's preferable to some others ... here's a tidbit from an article cited below by David Watts - ... we can be sure that, even in His righteous hatred, God loves the damned. How is God's love for them shown? In their agony not being even greater. They are not suffering as much as they deserve, according to the saints. And one of the reasons God ended their earthly probation when He did was, no doubt, to stop them from adding sin to sin and hence clocking up more severe punishment. The damned may not thank God for all this, but we can. ... holy mackerel!

A theologian who spent some time thnking about hell was one-time Jesuit, Hans Urs von Balthasar. Let's read some bits from an article in First Things by Avery Cardinal Dulles on Balthasar and Hell ...


As we know from the Gospels, Jesus spoke many times about hell ... He describes the fate of the damned under a great variety of metaphors: everlasting fire, outer darkness, tormenting thirst, a gnawing worm, and weeping and gnashing of teeth ....

Among the Greek Fathers, Irenaeus, Basil, and Cyril of Jerusalem are typical in interpreting passages such as Matthew 22:14 as meaning that the majority will be consigned to hell. St. John Chrysostom, an outstanding doctor of the Eastern tradition, was particularly pessimistic: “Among thousands of people there are not a hundred who will arrive at their salvation, and I am not even certain of that number, so much perversity is there among the young and so much negligence among the old.”

Augustine may be taken as representative of the Western Fathers. In his controversy with the Donatist Cresconius, Augustine draws upon Matthew and the Book of Revelation to prove that the number of the elect is large, but he grants that their number is exceeded by that of the lost ....

... Thomas Aquinas, who may stand as the leading representative, teaches clearly in the Summa Theologiae that God reprobates some persons. A little later he declares that only God knows the number of the elect. But Thomas gives reasons for thinking that their number is relatively small ....

About the middle of the twentieth century, there seems to be a break in the tradition. Since then a number of influential theologians have favored the view that all human beings may or do eventually attain salvation ....

Karl Rahner, another representative of the more liberal trend, holds for the possibility that no one ever goes to hell. We have no clear revelation, he says, to the effect that some are actually lost .... Rahner therefore believes that universal salvation is a possibility.

The most sophisticated theological argument against the conviction that some human beings in fact go to hell has been proposed by Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved?” He rejects the ideas that hell will be emptied at the end of time and that the damned souls and demons will be reconciled with God. He also avoids asserting as a fact that everyone will be saved. But he does say that we have a right and even a duty to hope for the salvation of all, because it is not impossible that even the worst sinners may be moved by God’s grace to repent before they die ....

... a number of theologians remain opposed. In a supplement to his book, Balthasar himself reports that one reviewer accused him of supporting “the salvation optimism that is rampant today and is both thoughtless and a temptation to thoughtlessness.” At an international videoconference organized by the Holy See’s Congregation for the Clergy last November, Jean Galot, with an apparent reference to Balthasar, said that the hypothesis of hell as a mere possibility “removes all effectiveness from the warnings issued by Jesus, repeatedly expressed in the Gospels.” At the same conference Father Michael F. Hull of New York contended that Balthasar’s theory is “tantamount to a rejection of the doctrine of hell and a denial of man’s free will.” In this country Fr. Regis Scanlon, O.F.M. Cap., accused Balthasar of being a Hegelian relativist who “smuggles into the heart of the Catholic a serious doubt about the truth of the Catholic faith.” Scanlon himself takes it to be Catholic teaching that some persons, at least Judas, are in fact eternally lost. This article set off an epic controversy between two Catholic editors, Richard John Neuhaus and Dale Vree, both of whom came to Catholic Christianity as adults ....

It is unfair and incorrect to accuse either Balthasar or Neuhaus of teaching that no one goes to hell. They grant that it is probable that some or even many do go there, but they assert, on the ground that God is capable of bringing any sinner to repentance, that we have a right to hope and pray that all will be saved ...


It's Balthasar's hope that all might be saved, and I like that ... Origen believed even Satan would be saved (an interesting book on the subject of universal salvation is The Inescapable Love of God by Thomas Talbott). But my hope is that we won't need to be saved - that hell does not even exist.


Dulles mentions some of the articles below on the discussion over Balthasar's theory of hell ...

Fr. Regis Scanlon's article, originally in the New Oxford Review, blasting Balthasar's view on hell - The Inflated Reputation of Hans Urs von Balthasar

Richard John Neuhaus' article in First Things, defending Balthasar against Scanlon - Will All Be Saved?

Dale Vree's article in the New Oxford Review, answering Neuhaus - If Everyone is Saved ...

There's more of the guys above :-) but perhaps the next one to read would be found in the New Oxford Review by Janet Holl Madigan In Defense of Richard John Neuhaus

And let's not forget David Watt's article, originally in the New Oxford Review, against Balthasar's view - Is Hell Closed Up & Boarded Over?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Rock

- results of a wild car chase through San Francisco

This week's movie rental was 1996's The Rock. Not elegant nor profound, the action-adventure film is still one of my favorites. It makes its point with explosions, one-liners, and male bravura, yet it touched me, ... the location - San Francisco/Alcatraz ... the cause of it all - military/goverment conspiracies ... the weapon of mass destruction - real life nerve toxin, VX gas ... the father/daughter pathos .... the actors - Nick Cage, Sean Connery, Ed Harris, John Spencer (The West Wing), Michael Biehn (Kyle from The Terminator), and Tony Todd (Worf's brother!).

I could say more, but I'll let Roger Ebert do the talking - below is part of his review of The Rock ...

- the Navy Seals head for the Rock (Alcatraz)


"The Rock'' is a first-rate, slam-bang action thriller with a lot of style and no little humor. It's made out of pieces of other movies, yes, and not much in it is really new, but each element has been lovingly polished to a gloss. And there are three skillful performances: Sean Connery is Mason, an intelligence expert who's been in prison for 30 years; Nicolas Cage is Goodspeed, an FBI scientist, and Ed Harris is Gen. Hummel, a war hero with a mad scheme to wage chemical warfare against San Francisco.

The plot hook is a mission to break into Alcatraz. Harris and his men have occupied the former prison island, taken civilian hostages, and threatened to fire deadly rockets at San Francisco unless their demands are met. What are the demands? Hummel, who has three Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor, is angered that 83 men have died under his command and never been recognized, because they were on secret missions that the government denied even existed. He wants $100 million in payments to their next of kin.

Hummel is known and respected in Washington, and his demands are taken seriously. A news blackout is imposed while the Pentagon assembles a team to break into Alcatraz and neutralize the poison gas missiles. We've already seen Goodspeed think fast while sealed in an airtight chamber with a deadly chemical bomb; now he's assigned to join the task force, even though he's basically a lab rat with minimal field or combat experience.

Another key member of the team is Mason, a British spy who, we learn, successfully stole all of J. Edgar Hoover's secret files (even the truth about JFK's assassination) before being secretly jailed for life without a trial. Mason's qualification: he is a jailbreak expert who is the only man ever to escape successfully from Alcatraz.

Movies like "The Rock'' progress from one action sequence to another. Sometimes it doesn't even matter much how they fit together. Consider, for example, the highly entertaining way in which Mason turns a haircut into an opportunity to dangle one of his old enemies by a cord from a top floor of a hotel. And the way that leads toa San Francisco street car chase inspired by "Bullitt,'' leading to a crash almost as sensational as the train crash in "The Fugitive.'' Strange, isn't it, that after going to all that trouble to escape, Mason allows himself to be recaptured almost passively -- probably because unless he joins the team, there's no movie. Strange, too, that although it has time for unlimited action, "The Rock'' never slows down enough for a scene you might have thought was obligatory, in which Mason has the plan explained to him, along with a pitch about why he should go along. (He has a motive, all right--his only child is in San Francisco, and could be one of the poison victims. It's just that the movie never quite bothers at this stage to tell him, formally, about the poison.) The break into Alcatraz owes something to Don Siegel's "Escape from Alcatraz,'' the 1979 Clint Eastwood movie. While that one negotiated the maze of tunnels under Alcatraz in murky darkness, however, "The Rock'' provides Alcatraz with a subterranean labyrinth as large and well-lighted as the sewers in "The Third Man'' and as crammed with props and unidentified metallic machinery as the "Alien'' movies.

The plot moves efficiently between firefights, explosions, torrents of water, hand-to-hand combat, interrogation, torture, imprisonment, escape and scientific mumbo-jumbo, as the infiltrators tryto stop Harris' men from wiping out 70,000 San Franciscans, and the Pentagon prepares to firebomb the island with planeloads of Thermite Plasma, which sure sounds neat. All of these elements are standard issue for action thrillers, but the script adds some deft touches (asked if he knows why he has been released from prison, Connery wryly said, "I've been locked up longer than Nelson Mandela. Maybe you want me to run for president.'').

What really works is the chemistry between Connery, as areluctant warrior who has all the skills necessary to outsmart and outfight the occupying force, and Cage, as the nerd who can disarm the rockets but is not much in the killing department. And then there is an intriguing complexity added to the Ed Harris character, who is not as one-dimensional as he seems (early in the film, he advises some small children touring Alcatraz to return to their tour boat) ....

.... Director Michael Bay ("Bad Boys'') orchestrates the elements into an efficient and exciting movie, with some big laughs, sensational special effects sequences, and sustained suspense. And it's interesting to see how good actors like Connery, Cage and Harris can find a way to occupy the center of this whirlwind with characters who somehow manage to be quirky and convincing. There are several Identikit Hollywood action stars who can occupy the center of chaos like this, but not many can make it look like they think they're really there. Watching "The Rock,'' you really care about what happens. You feel silly later for having been sucked in, but that's part of the ride.


- Connery and Cage check out the scary VX gas

Thursday, September 21, 2006

St. Matthew

Today is the feast of St. Matthew. I read a good example of imaginative prayer - Contemplating the Call of Matthew - at Creighton University's Online Ministries page. Here it is below ...


“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus saw Matthew, sitting at his customs table, Jesus must have seen how the people despised this tax collector. Jesus had to sense that this kind of resentment and rejection did things to a tax collector. He had to immediately feel compassion on Matthew and what it had done to him. Had it made him defensive and thick skinned? Had he become gruff and insensitive to others? Did he bark and push others away?

I imagine that the first thing Matthew noticed was how Jesus was looking at him. Could it have been that the first experience Matthew had of Jesus was that Jesus was simply looking at him in a way no one had ever looked at him? When their eyes met, Matthew must have seen love and compassion, not blame and judgment. Jesus did not look on him with hate and contempt. Jesus simply looked at him with care.

As I picture the scene, Matthew immediately sensed that Jesus somehow understood the predicament he was in. He got himself into this and he'd not been an attractive character at all. He played the role people had put him in. But, Jesus didn't fix him in that role somehow. Before he uttered a word, Jesus' eyes must have said to Matthew, "I know this isn't really you. I understand how much playing this role is distorting you, souring you, hardening you." It was as though Jesus' face, and the sadness it revealed, reflected the sadness in Matthew's heart.

"Follow me." The words must have made their ways straight to Matthew's heart. Never had his heart been so opened by such understanding, compassion and loving acceptance. For a moment, he must have thought, "Me? I'm just a ... I can't change ... I'm stuck here ... And, what'll they say about ..." But, those protests surely were replaced with something responding from deep inside that welcomed this call, this liberation, this vote of confidence more than anything in the world. Without a word, with their eyes still locked in that communication of intimacy, Matthew's heart said, "Yes! Amen! I'm yours!" Nothing else had a hold on him. There were no excuses, doubts or fears. Matthew had been healed as he had been called. His yes was his surrender to being loved.

Can we look up from our own custom table today and see Jesus looking at us with compassion and love? He knows and understands whatever has us locked into roles, images, patterns that aren't very attractive and that we don't really like about ourselves. Can we let ourselves experience and feel his love? On the other side of that loving acceptance, there's a freedom to imagine him calling us today, in our situation, and say "Follow me."


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Martha, Martha

St. Martha ... one legend has her becoming a dragon charmer in France after Jesus' death (the painting above ;-) but she's probably best known through the reading in Luke10:38-42 ...

Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Ouch! This reading is sometimes used as an example of the contemplative live being thought of as superior to the active life, but another interesting thing about Luke's story is that Mary, and Martha too, are shown as non-traditional. Below is a part of a 1998 homly on the reading, by Rob Marsh SJ ...


... Luke tells us about Martha and Mary. Martha who knows the demands of hospitality, knows how to serve, welcomes Jesus into her own house and Mary who neglects her sister and shirks her responsibilities and puts her religious duty before compassion. And Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken away from her. What do you think?

And just to make it harder to choose let me add another layer. Both Martha and Mary are doing brave things. Neither of them behaves the way normal women of their time should. What’s Martha doing having a house of her own anyway? In her society she has to belong to someone, a husband, a relative, a son even. She has no right to have her own household and be bold enough to invite in a single man like Jesus who ought to know better than consort with the likes of her. Luke pushes it further—the word he uses for what she was doing in the kitchen—serving—is the word Luke’s community used for church ministry. Martha is serving as a deacon and, through it, making Jesus welcome at the table.

Mary, too, is bold beyond belief. Contrary to all rules of propriety she, uninvited, takes the disciple’s place at the feet of Jesus. We are not talking about a starry-eyed, hanging-on-every-word kind of listening as though this was a romantic comedy but a practical, presumptuous, assumption of responsibility. Instead of being some man’s property Mary sits down where she shouldn’t and says without words, "speak your word to me and I’ll speak it to others." Martha is bold but Mary is bolder, neither of them fits their time, both of them of them push beyond their allotted place in the scheme of things .....
- Read the whole homily here

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Robert Jenson

The latest theologian I've come across in my search for the secrets of the universe is Robert Jenson. I have read some of his online writings ... I can't say I understood him well, but I really liked his Jesus/God, who he sees as very immediate. Having said that, I read an article on homosexuality by a group to which he belongs - The Ramsey Colloquium - with which I disagreed.

David B. Hart wrote that he's possibly America's most creative systematic theologian. Below is a bit from a First Things article by Hart, The Lively God of Robert Jenson in which he discusses Jenson's idea of the trinity. I've left out the part about the trinity :-) as it probably should be read in its entirety to do it justice, but I've left in Hart's opinion of Jenson ...


A year ago, I was interviewed by a small theological journal concerning a book of mine that had appeared a few months earlier. Near the end of the conversation, my interlocutor (a young and obviously intelligent divinity student) asked me if there was any modern American theologian whose thinking I thought especially fascinating, to which I answered Robert Jenson; he then asked if there was any American theologian with whose thought I myself found it especially profitable to struggle, to which I again answered, without a moment’s hesitation, Robert Jenson ....

... Among those who do genuinely care about systematic theology in this country, his work is known and esteemed (indeed, by many, revered), and the appearance a few years ago of his Systematic Theology confirmed his stature not only as an exciting thinker—more theoretically audacious than almost all of his contemporaries—but one whose achievement is indisputably enormous ...

... His books are not buttressed (as we know such things should be) by long, ponderous, Teutonic prolegomena on method or on critical history or on the status quaestionis; his scholarly apparatus rarely exceed what is necessary to support his assertions and are almost ascetically devoid of needless displays of exhaustive erudition; his method and peculiar concerns are typically disclosed in the act of theology itself, on the wing, and he tends to say what he wishes to say once only, and as concisely as he can.

Of course, this last characteristic can occasionally prove daunting. At its most idiosyncratic, Jenson’s prose has about it at once a spare tautness and a condensed energy that are almost palpable; one sometimes has the premonition that if certain of his sentences are handled too casually they might detonate. Whether his style is the result of a conscious method, or merely of the legendarily laconic reserve of the Scandinavian upper Midwest translated through a rigorous speculative intelligence, it occasionally produces formulations of a positively oracular terseness ...

Perhaps the simplest thing one might say about Jenson’s theology is that it is a theology of the living God. To put the matter thus, however, scarcely conveys any inkling of the vibrancy of Jenson’s sense of God’s liveliness, or of the force with which that sense has impressed itself upon—and occupies every page of— Jenson’s theology: There is nothing in the triune God, one might better say, that is not an infinite act of life— and that life an act of boundless love. God is the movement of the Father’s love for the Son, and the Son’s love for the Father, and their inexhaustible life together in the endless love of the Spirit; and within that movement is contained all beauty, glory, splendor, joy, and future. As Jenson insists upon saying, God is an event—the event, to be precise, of Christ in its eternal fullness—and this event has a real and concrete history ...

(most of the article - trinity stuff - snipped)

... Jenson’s work: there (especially in his Systematic Theology) one will find an account of the triune God drawing near to us—and of us drawing near to Him—of extraordinary richness, one that is (depending on one’s temperament or intellectual affiliations) either seductive or scandalous, but one that is also impossible to dismiss or forget.

Again, I feel free to plead my own disinterest where Jenson is concerned. As it happens—to return to the anecdote with which I began—whatever elf or imp it is that arranges the little ironies of our lives had contrived that, on returning home from the interview with the young divinity school student that I mentioned above, I should find an e-mail waiting for me from a fairly authoritative interpreter of Jenson’s work, complaining that my critique of Jenson’s theology, in the very book concerning which I had just been interviewed, had been written in such a way as to appear merely as an exemplary episode within my own narrative of modern philosophy, and thus had all but entirely failed to provide a balanced account of Jenson’s theological intentions, or of the greater scope of his thought, or of the biblical concerns animating it. And after some hours of indignation, I came to the conclusion that this was quite probably true. Hence this article (though I cannot be sure I have not merely compounded my earlier malfeasance with an inadequate synopsis).

So, speaking for myself, I wish to say only that I find it impossible to have done with Jenson’s work, or to cease returning to it as a challenge to refine and clarify my own understanding of the gospel. And whenever I make that return, I cannot help but feel that, in a small way, the experience is rather like that of Jacob wrestling with God in His angel at the ford of Jabbok. No one of my theological persuasion, I think, who engages Jenson’s thought in earnest can doubt that it is indeed the living God with whom he has come to grips: not some fabulous metaphysical phantom conjured out of Jenson’s fixations or fantasies, but a genuine attempt to describe the God of Scripture in the fullness of His historical presence and eternal identity. Nor, I think, can such a theologian hope to retreat from that contest without a wound; but neither, for that matter, will he depart without a blessing.


To read some of Jenson's work online, you can visit this page

Visit the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology here, which he co-founded

Read more about The Ramsey Colloquium of which Jenson is a member

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Pope & Manuel II Palaiologos

The Pope's controversial lecture of September 12 mentioned Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos only incidently - the gist of the lecture was about the role of logos in theology (see Mark Goodacre's post The Pope on Harnack and the New Testament -- and Muslims of 9/15) - but it might be helpful to explore a bit about Manuel II and his times. Here are some basic facts from Wikipedia ...

Manuel II Palaiologos was the second son of Emperor John V Palaiologos .... The failed attempt at usurpation by his older brother Andronikos IV Palaiologos in 1373 led to Manuel being proclaimed heir and co-emperor of his father .... they were supplanted by Andronikos IV and then his son John VII, but Manuel personally defeated his nephew with help from the Republic of Venice in 1390. Although John V had been restored, Manuel was forced to go as an honorary hostage to the court of the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I at Prousa (Bursa). During his stay, Manuel was forced to participate in the Ottoman campaign that reduced Philadelpheia, the last Byzantine enclave in Anatolia.

Hearing of his father's death in February 1391, Manuel II Palaiologos fled the Ottoman court and secured the capital against any potential claim by his nephew John VII. Although relations with John VII improved, the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I besieged Constantinople from 1394 to 1402. After some five years of siege, Manuel II entrusted the city to his nephew and embarked on a long trip to western courts (including those of the Kingdom of England, France, the Holy Roman Empire, and Aragon) to seek assistance against the Ottoman Empire ....

To read about the above in more detail, take a look at this page - An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors by Wilhelm Baum of the Univeristät Graz, Austria. It was on this page that I saw mention of an interesting historical character, Jean Le Maingre (called Boucicaut), a knight and Marshal of France. As Wikipedia mentions of him ...

... In 1396 he was took part in the joint French-Hungarian crusade against the Ottoman Empire, which suffered a heavy defeat on September 28 at the Battle of Nicopolis. He was taken hostage by the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I, but escaped execution and was eventually ransomed. In 1399 he was sent to assist Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaeologus against the Ottomans ...

- the Battle of Nicopolis by Jean Froissart, 1398

Also interesting, was Manuel II Palaiologos' trip to Europe to gather support for Constantinople ... according to Wilhelm Baum (mentioned above), the emperor tried to by the aid with religious relics. He writes this of the emperor's trip and of the resolution to his immediate problem ...

The emperor employed Constantinopolitan relics and holy objects to win over the princes of Europe. He included even Spain in his plans of union. In the Aragonese archives there are still some few letters preserved in which military support is to be purchased with relics. In Milan he made the acquaintance of Peter Philagris, a Greek, who later became pope as Alexander V. Manuel's travels brought him just as little success as the previous ones which his father had undertaken. The highly educated emperor gained much sympathy in Europe. Unlike his father he offered neither a personal "conversion" nor a union with the Papacy. In 1400 he received the news that the Mongols had invaded Asia Minor. For Byzantium they were welcome allies against the Turks. While the emperor was still in Paris, news arrived of Bayazit's overwhelming defeat in the battle of Ankara (1402), which afforded Byzantium a chance to catch its breath. Tamerlane, the ruler of Samarkand, had defeated the rising Ottoman Empire and held it in check until his death in 1405. The emperor did not return home from Europe until 1403, having failed to secure either financial or political help .... The first result of the battle of Ankara was that the siege of Constantinople was lifted.

More to the point of current events, many of the emperor's writings have been preserved. As Baum writes ...

... Of particular interest is his attitude toward Islam. After his enthronement in March 1391 Manuel II still had to perform military service for the sultan in Asia Minor from June 1391 to January 1392 as a vassal of the Turks. ... as a vassal of course subject to the sultan's orders on campaign -- the sultan who amused himself at banquets, while the emperor discussed Islam with the Kadi. From October to December of 1391 the emperor enjoyed the hospitality of the Muderris (=Kadi) at Ankara. A Muslim born to Christian parents acted as interpreter between the emperor and the Kadi. The result of these conversations was the "Twenty-six Dialogues with a Persian," dedicated to his brother Theodore I. By 1399 the work had received its final editing. Presumably the emperor took notes at the time of the conversations. Apart from the emperor's writings there is no independent proof that the conversations ever took place. They must represent a mixture of fact and fiction. At the end the Kadi declared himelf ready to come to Constantinople and continue the conversation with Manuel. With this work, which must have been composed between the end of the campaign and the break with Bayazit (1392-94), Manuel made an important contribution to the knowledge of Islam on the part of the Christians ...


Tthe combination of religion and violence is not confined to any one belief system ... when Manuel II Palaiologos wrote what the Pope repeated, the Ottomans had conquered most of the Byzantine empire ... but just two hundred years earlier, (as Wikipedia mentioned in the above article) it was Catholicism which threatened the Byzantine Empire with violence, with the Fourth Crusade. Though it's unpleasant, we should at least be able to discuss the subject of violence and religion without hyperbole or threat.

Read the Pope's whole lecture of September 12 here.

- from the Funeral Oration of Manuel II Palaiologos for His Brother Theodore - Constantinople, 1309–1 - Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Paris

Thursday, September 14, 2006

St. Mungo's Cathedral

Here is the bird that never flew
Here is the tree that never grew
Here is the bell that never rang
Here is the fish that never swam

- a memory rhyme of St. Mungo's four miracles

A few nights ago I was watching a show on the history channel about William Wallace. One of the interesting things about it was the visiting of St. Mungo's Cathedral (or Glasgow Cathedral). I thought I'd post a few photos and words about it. Wikipedia says ...

Glasgow Cathedral, also called the High Kirk of Glasgow, is a Church of Scotland cathedral in Glasgow. It is located just outside of the city centre beside Glasgow Royal Infirmary. The history of the cathedral is linked with that of the city, and is allegedly located where the patron saint of Glasgow, Saint Mungo, built his church. The tomb of the saint is in part of the church.

The cathedral is a superb example of Gothic architecture. It is also one of the few Scottish medieval churches (and the only medieval cathedral on the Scottish mainland) to have survived the Reformation unscathed. The 13th century tower is the last remaining intact tower in any Scottish medieval church.

From the interior ...

- the Nave

- the Quire Screen

- the Black Ladder Aisle

- St. Mungo's Tomb

* Visit the Cathedral's official site

* Visit the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art here

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Hart's Anti-Theology of the Body

Yesterday I saw an interesting article at The New Atlantis - The Anti-Theology of the Body by David B. Hart. The journal had asked two writers - —Eastern Orthodox theologian David B. Hart and Lutheran theologian Robert W. Jenson—to consider the significance of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body for bioethics and beyond.

Jenson's article can be read Here. I'm posting some out-takes from Hart's article below. Read the whole article at the link above if you have time, as my cannibalism of it doesn't truly do it justice.


To ask what the legacy of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body might be for future debates in bioethics is implicitly to ask what relevance it has for current debates in bioethics. And this creates something of a problem, because there is a real sense in which it has none at all ... John Paul’s theology ... is a complete rejection—or, one might almost say, ignorance—of any dualism between flesh and spirit.

It is something of a modern habit of thought (strange to say) to conceive of the soul—whether we believe in the soul or not—as a kind of magical essence or ethereal intelligence indwelling a body like a ghost in a machine. That is to say, we tend to imagine the relation between the soul and the body as an utter discontinuity somehow subsumed within a miraculous unity: a view capable of yielding such absurdities as the Cartesian postulate that the soul resides in the pituitary gland or the utterly superstitious speculation advanced by some religious ethicists that the soul may “enter” the fetus some time in the second trimester. But the “living soul” of whom scripture speaks, as John Paul makes clear in his treatment of the creation account in Genesis, is a single corporeal and spiritual whole, a person whom the breath of God has awakened from nothingness. The soul is life itself, of the flesh and of the mind; it is what Thomas Aquinas called the “form of the body”: a vital power that animates, pervades, and shapes each of us from the moment of conception ....

The far antipodes of John Paul’s vision of the human, I suppose, are to be found at the lunatic fringe of bioethics, in that fanatically “neo-Darwinist” movement that has crystallized around the name of "transhumanism" .... Its principal tenet is that it is now incumbent upon humanity to take control of its own evolution ....

... Most of the new eugenists, admittedly, see their solicitude for the greater wellbeing of the species .... Far more intellectually honest are those—like the late, almost comically vile Joseph Fletcher of Harvard—who openly acknowledge that any earnest attempt to improve the human stock must necessarily involve some measures of legal coercion. Fletcher, of course, was infamously unabashed in castigating modern medicine for “polluting” our gene pool with inferior specimens and in rhapsodizing upon the benefits the race would reap from instituting a regime of genetic invigilation that would allow society to eliminate “idiots” and “cripples” and other genetic defectives before they could burden us with their worthless lives .... and he agreed with Linus Pauling that it might be wise to consider segregating genetic inferiors into a recognizable caste, marked out by indelible brands impressed upon their brows. And, striking a few minor transhumanist chords of his own, he even advocated—in a deranged and hideous passage from his book The Ethics of Genetic Control—the creation of “chimeras or do dangerous or demeaning jobs” of the sort that are now “shoved off on moronic or retarded individuals” ....

Transhumanism, as a moral philosophy, is so risibly fabulous in its prognostications, and so unrelated to anything that genomic research yet promises, that it can scarcely be regarded as anything more than a pathetic dream; but the metaphysical principles it presumes regarding the nature of the human are anything but eccentric .... If ever the day comes when we are willing to consider a program, however modest, of improving the species through genetic planning and manipulation, it will be exclusively those who hold such principles and embrace such presuppositions who will determine what the future of humanity will be. And men who are impatient of frailty and contemptuous of weakness are, at the end of the day, inevitably evil.

Why dwell on these things, though? After all, most of the more prominent debates in bioethics at the moment do not actually concern systematic eugenics or, certainly, “post-humanity,” but center upon issues of medical research and such matters as the disposition of embryos who will never mature into children. It is true that we have already begun to transgress the demarcations between species—often in pursuit of a medical or technological benefit ....

The difference between John Paul’s theological anthropology and the pitilessly consistent materialism of the transhumanists and their kith—and this is extremely important to grasp—is a difference not simply between two radically antagonistic visions of what it is to be a human being, but between two radically antagonistic visions of what it is to be a god. There is, as it happens, nothing inherently wicked in the desire to become a god .... Theologically speaking, the proper destiny of human beings is to be “glorified”—or “divinized”.... This is the venerable doctrine of “theosis” or “deification,” ....

... For the late pope, divine humanity is not something that in a simple sense lies beyond the human; it does not reside in some future, post-human race to which the good of the present must be offered up; it is instead a glory hidden in the depths of every person, even the least of us—even “defectives” and “morons” and “genetic inferiors,” ....

The materialist ... is someone who seeks to reach the divine by ceasing to be human, by surpassing the human, by destroying the human ...

... John Paul’s theology of the body will never, as I have said, be “relevant” to the understanding of the human that lies “beyond” Christian faith. Between these two orders of vision there can be no fruitful commerce, no modification of perspectives, no debate, indeed no “conversation.” ...


Without even taking into account the theological implications, my personal feeling is that the creation of genetically engineered organisms, especially chimeras, is most probably a bad idea - not only in the case of human beings, but (call me quirky) for animals and plants as well. I don't doubt the positive possibilities of some of it, but I think most of the research is driven less by compassion for those who are "crippled and diseased" and more by the desire for profit.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Proof of Life

- photographing the hostage for "proof of life"

This weeks's movie rental is Proof of Life (2000) starring Russell Crowe, David Caruso and Meg Ryan. It did not do all that well at the box office, as it was more famous (or infamous) for the real-life romance taking place between Crowe and Ryan than it was for the storyline.

- Crowe's character negotiates via radio with kidnappers

But, I found it to be worth a watch for a few reasons ... first, Russell Crowe and David Caruso :-) ... the jungle scenery ... the barely touched on subject of left-wing rebels and right-wing regimes in conflict ... plus, the film deals with an interesting issue - the use of kidnapping for not only finanacial but political purposes*, and the profession of those who work to get the kidnap victim back safely - K & R specialists.

- explosion at the marketplace

Below is some of what Roger Ebert has to say about the film in his review ...


Kidnapping is not a rare crime but a lucrative line of business in the Third World, according to "Proof of Life," a movie that is best when it sticks closest to the trade craft of a professional K&R man named Terry Thorne. K&R means "kidnap and ransom," we learn, and the specialty has grown along with the crime; somewhere in the world, businessmen are being snatched on an almost daily basis, making lots of work for Terry (Russell Crowe) ....

Cut to Tecala, a fictional Latin American country where drugs are a major crop and a revolutionary movement has morphed into a professional kidnapping operation. We meet Peter and Alice Bowman (David Morse, Meg Ryan), an American couple going through a bad patch in their marriage, who are living in the country while Peter builds a dam. He thinks the dam will help the locals grow crops. She thinks it's window dressing for the oil company that employs him. They're hardly speaking to each other when she gets word he's been kidnapped.

Enter Terry Thorne, whose job is to negotiate the lowest possible ransom price and rescue the hostage ....

The movie's kidnap lore, based on books and articles about professional K&R men, is intriguing. Crowe, as Terry, explains his work to Alice (and to us), and we learn why you never bring in local negotiators (on the take and maybe in on the snatch), why the opening asking price is way high and how to demand proof the hostage is still alive. Meanwhile, Terry and Alice carry on a buried flirtation in which both shyly acknowledge the chemistry between them with a kiss and eloquent body language ....

I was interested all through the movie--interested, but not riveted. I cared, but not quite enough. I had sympathy with the characters, but in keeping at arm's length from each other they also kept a certain distance from me. Perhaps the screenplay should have been kept simmering until it was reduced a little, and its flavors made stronger.


I'd give the movie a bit higer rating than Ebert, but it's probably mostly a matter of taste.

- Russell as Terry Thorne

* The use of kidnapping as a political tool is interesting, if disturbing. One example I've read a little about took place in New Guinea. It's not easy to find unbiased articles about the events but I gather that in 1996, a number of scientists from Europe (and a couple of Indonesians) in the Indonesian-ruled half of New Guines (Irian Jaya/West Papua), were taken hostage by rebels for independance, in order to generate world-wide interest in their plight. This went wrong when the Indonesian military staged a questionable rescue effort.

Read more about it in the book, The Open Cage: Ordeal of the Irian Jaya Hostages , written by one of the scientists taken hostage.

Read a lengthy Human Rights Watch article on the situation in Indonesian-held New Guinea.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The foul rag and bone shop of the heart

I've only recently been interested in poetry ... I used to hate that it gave info in a roundabout manner. The good news in this is that all the poems and poets are new to me, even those most read by others. An example - it took an oblique reference to the words in this post's title (from some mvie on tv) to set me searching for the poem below ...

The Circus Animals' Desertion
- William Butler Yeats


I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last, being but a broken man,
I must be satisfied with my heart, although
Winter and summer till old age began
My circus animals were all on show,
Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot,
Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.


What can I but enumerate old themes,
First that sea-rider Oisin led by the nose
Through three enchanted islands, allegorical dreams,
Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose,
Themes of the embittered heart, or so it seems,
That might adorn old songs or courtly shows;
But what cared I that set him on to ride,
I, starved for the bosom of his faery bride.

And then a counter-truth filled out its play,
'The Countess Cathleen' was the name I gave it;
She, pity-crazed, had given her soul away,
But masterful Heaven had intervened to save it.
I thought my dear must her own soul destroy
So did fanaticism and hate enslave it,
And this brought forth a dream and soon enough
This dream itself had all my thought and love.

And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread
Cuchulain fought the ungovernable sea;
Heart-mysteries there, and yet when all is said
It was the dream itself enchanted me:
Character isolated by a deed
To engross the present and dominate memory.
Players and painted stage took all my love,
And not those things that they were emblems of.


Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.


As I read about Yeats in Wikipedia (one of the things I found most interesting was his membership in the Golden Dawn.), I was amazed that I managed to go therough life without really learning about him, if only by osmosis ... he's referenced in things both scholarly and popular-culture (from songs by groups like the Cranberries, to movies like Equilirium and Million Dollar Baby). What can I say - I was raised by wolves :-)

Yeat's gravestone

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Hart, Ruskin, and Ignatius

- John Ruskin and D. G. Rossetti

My rambling thoughts of the day ...

A fairly recent convert to christianity, I'm constantly playing catch-up with the christian take on philosophy, art, poetry ... and theology ... it's like a coconut :-) ... I know there's something good and nourishing inside, but I don't have the intellectual tools to get through the shell. It's frustrating - I feel both entranced and as dumb as dirt.

Ever since I read some of the online articles written by David B. Hart on Beauty, my mind's been spinning. I find it attreactive but I don't really understand it, and I worry ... as the article in a past post notes, can Beauty divorced from Truth and Goodness be trusted?

Anyway, I followed a strange path back to the subject of aesthetics today ... from a post at Catholic Sensibility on Geoffrey Rowell, the Anglican bishop of Gibraltar ... to some writings by the Archbishop on the Oxford Movement ... from there to The Christian Year by by John Keble ... then on to some sort of Victorian "emotionalist" movement (need to read more about this!) ... then to the Pre-raphaelite artist John Ruskin and his idea of Beauty. Below is a snip from an article - Ruskin's theory of Typical Beauty ....


A manuscript originally intended for the second volume of Modern Painters reveals that this conception of the beautiful came to Ruskin as he gazed wonderingly upon a storm in the Alps. One dark, still July evening he lay beside the fountain of Brevent in the valley of Chamonix.

"Suddenly, there came in the direction of Dome du Goûter a crash -- of prolonged thunder; and when I looked up, I saw the cloud cloven, as it were by the avalanche itself, whose white stream came bounding down the eastern slope of the mountain, like slow lightning. The vapour parted before its fall, pierced by the whirlwind of its motion; the gap widened, the dark shade melted away on either side; and, like a risen spirit casting off its garment of corruption, and flushed with eternity of life, the Aiguilles of the south broke through the black foam of the storm clouds. One by one, pyramid above pyramid, the mighty range of its companions shot off their shrouds, and took to themselves their glory — all fire — no shade — no dimness. Spire of ice — dome of snow — wedge of rock — all fire in the light of the sunset, sank into the hollows of the crags — and pierced through the prisms of the glaciers, and dwelt within them — as it does in clouds. The ponderous storm writhed and moaned beneath them, the forests wailed and waved in the evening wind, the steep river flashed and leaped along the valley; but the mighty pyramids stood calmly — in the very heart of the high heaven — a celestial city with walls of amethyst and gates of gold — filled with the light and clothed with the Peace of God. And then I learned — what till then I had not known — the real meaning of the word Beautiful. With all that I had ever seen before — there had come mingled the associations of humanity — the exertion of human power — the action of human mind. The image of self had not been effaced in that of God. . . . It was then that I understood that all which is the type of God's attributes . . . can turn the human soul from gazing upon itself . . . and fix the spirit . . . on the types of that which is to be its food for eternity; — this and this only is in the pure and right sense of the word beautiful." (4.364-365)

... One may say of Ruskin's aesthetic theories what he said of the arts — that they are in some sort an expression of deeply felt emotion, the recasting of intensely felt experience ...


The author of the above article goes on to shred Ruskin's theory of Beauty as inconsistant :-) but still it moved me ... I see a bit of David B. Hart in there, and also, for some reason, something of Ignatius of Loyola and his ideas of experience and consolation.

Must read, and write, more about this, but later - my head hurts :-)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Unbinding the Gay Conscience

One of the online articles of Fr. James Alison's that especially touched me was Unbinding the Gay Conscience, given as a talk in 2002. Though it's written particularly for gays, I think it can be useful to others as well, for many of us find ourselves in "double-binds" ... the double-bind of feeling that one can't both be themselves and also be loved is one I particularly struggle with. Below are some bits snipped from the article, but to do it justice, you should read the whole thing ... it's worth it ....


Some of you may have known Benjamin O’Sullivan, a Benedictine monk of Ampleforth Abbey who killed himself early in 1996 .... I felt that his death was brought about because this extremely attractive, apparently self-confident, effervescent young man had been unable to stand up as an ordinary gay man to the voice of the lynch mob. And the reason was because he was bound in his conscience ... the person caught in the trap looks at the world through fear-coloured spectacles, and fear darkens rather than illumines what it projects. But this gives a hint of what I mean by a bound conscience: the sort of person who can’t stand up and be what they are ...

Now I would like to examine the binding and the unbinding. What does it look like? The first step is to look at what being ‘bound’ means. A bound conscience is one which cannot go this way or that, forward or backwards, is paralysed, scandalized. In that sense it is a form of living death, and those afflicted by it are living dead, and many of us are or have been such people. For example: we are familiar with the notion of a ‘double-bind’ or a ‘Catch 22 situation’. A bound conscience is a sense of being formed by a double-bind or a series of double binds ....

What I would like to suggest is that in all these cases we are dealing with a self that has been formed by being given contradictory desires without being given any ability to discern where they might appropriately be applied. In other words, two instructions are received as on the same level as each other, pointing in two different directions at once, and the result is paralysis. This is what σκάνδαλον - skandalon - refers to in the New Testament - scandal, or stumbling block. Someone who is scandalised is someone who is paralysed into an inability to move. And the undoing of σκάνδαλα - skandala – which means the unbinding of double binds that do not allow people to be, is what the Gospel is supposed to be about.

I want to make it quite clear that we are dealing with something very basic and central to the Gospel here. It is perfectly possible to present the Gospel in such a way that it is a sort of double-bind. Any sort of presentation of the Christian faith which says, ‘I love you but I do not love you’, or ‘I don’t love you as you are, but if you become someone different I will love you’, is in fact preaching a double-bind, a stumbling block, a pathway to paralysis.

Let’s imagine the conversation between a false god and the self:

False god: I want to love you, but I can’t love you as you are, because you are sinful and objectively disordered.

Self: Well, what then must I do to be loved?

False god: You must become someone different.

Self: I’m up for it, show me how.

False god: Love isn’t something that can be earned, it just is.

Self: Well then how do I become the sort of person who can be loved?

False god: If I were you I would start somewhere else.

Self: That’s a great help. How do I start somewhere else?

False god: You can’t, because even starting off for somewhere else starts from you, and you can’t be loved.

Self: Well if I can’t start off from somewhere else, and I can’t start off from where I am, what can I do?

False god: Give up on the love thing; just obey and be paralysed.

That’s how powerful it is to receive our sense of self, our identity, our desire, in imitation of, through the regard of, eyes which give us a mixed message, a double bind.

Now if the Gospel means anything at all it means that the Good News about God is unambivalent, that there are no ‘if’s and ‘but’s in God - God’s love is unconditional. And this means, above all, that there are no double-binds in God. That God desires that our desire should flow free, life-giving and untrammeled, because it is in that flow of desire that we are called into being.

Well, if that is the case, imagine then what might be a conversation between the Unambivalently loving God and the self:

Unambivalently loving God: I love you.

Self: but I’m full of shit, how can you love me?

Unambivalently loving God: I love you.

Self: but you can’t love me, I’m part of all this muck.

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: how can it be me that you love when I’ve been involved in bad relationships, dark rooms, machinations against other people?

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: But ...

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: But ...

Unambivalently loving God: it’s you that I love.

Self: OK then, so are you just going to leave me in the shit?

Unambivalently loving God: Because I love you, you are relaxing into my love and you will find yourself becoming loveable, indeed becoming someone that you will scarcely recognise.

Self: Hadn’t I better do something to get all ready for this becoming loveable?

Unambivalently loving God: Only if you haven’t yet got it that it’s I who do the work and you who get to shine. Because I love you, you are relaxing into being loved and will find yourself doing loveable things because you are loved.

Self: I think I could go along with this.

Or to put it in a nutshell, when faced with the standard Irish joke about ,’How do I get to Dublin?’, and being told ‘If I were you I wouldn’t start from here’, the Gospel response, that is to say the regard of Christ, tells us: ‘I will come with you starting from where you are’ ....

I would like to dwell a little more on the effects on us of this regard, the one which looks at us and says, ‘I love you, and as you discover yourself loved you will find yourself becoming something else’. I want to say something apparently rather banal here, but I think it is rather important. I think that we would be wise to send the word ‘love’ to the laundry and use the word ‘like’ instead. I say this for the following reason. You have probably met people, as I have, who tell us that they love gay people, and that is why they are so keen to change us. In other words their ‘love’ does not include the word ‘like’. It means something like: ‘I feel that in obedience to God’s love for sinners I must stop you being who you are’.

But in fact the word ‘like’ is rather more difficult to twist into a lie than the word ‘love’, because we know when someone likes us. We can tell because they enjoy being with us, alongside us, want to share our time and company. Well, what I would like to suggest is that if our understanding of love does not include liking, or at least being prepared to learn to like, then there’s a good chance that we’re talking about the sort of love that can slip a double-bind over us, that is really saying to us, ‘My love for you means that I will like you if you become someone else’.

Well, it seems to me that the doctrine of the incarnation of Our Lord, the image of God coming among us as the likeness of humans8, is a strong statement that the divine regard is one of liking us, here and now, as we are. Glad to be with us. And this means that the one who looks at us with love is not just looking at us with a penetrating and inscrutable gaze of utter otherness, but is looking at us with the delight of one who enjoys our company, who wants to be one with us, to share in something with us. Sure, as we learn to relax into that being loved we are going to find that we are quite different from what we thought we were, and that our patterns of desire will become quite different, which is what it means to find that the Holy Spirit has come to dwell in us in and through the reformation of our desire. But the regard does not first knock down so as then to build up, as we so often imagine it, rather as though Jesus was a sergeant-major whose job it is to give hell to the recruits and make them feel awful so that later, after they’ve lost their identities, they’ll start to feel good new identities as soldiers, and then they’ll discover he has a heart of gold.

No, our faith is that the eyes of God that are in Christ, and thus the divine regard through which we can receive new being, are eyes that like us, from alongside, at the same level as us. Which means, do not control us, do not try to ‘know better than us’ who we are, but want to participate in a discovery with us of who we are to become ....


There's more to the article, so read it all if you have the time and the interest (link).

Read more of Fr. Alison's work at James Alison Theology .... there's also an article on Pentecost by him at the Tablet - The Wild Ride.

Dunne's A Vision Quest

I saw a review in America magazine of an interesting book by John S. Dunne, the John A. O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame ... A Vision Quest. In a way, the book is about both scinece and poetry - Schrödinger and Gandalf are both influential :-) The review is by William J. Collinge is the Knott Professor of Theology at Mount Saint Mary's University, Emmitsburg, Md. Here is a bit of the review below .....


Next year will mark 50 years since John S. Dunne, C.S.C., fresh from writing a dissertation on Thomas Aquinas under the direction of Bernard Lonergan, S.J., at the Gregorian University in Rome, joined the theology faculty at the University of Notre Dame. In those five decades he has published 16 books. The first two of them, The City of the Gods (1965) and A Search for God in Time and Memory (1969), led Newsweek to call him “the only foreseeable successor to the late Paul Tillich in the field of systematic theology.” But as Dunne continued to write, journey replaced system, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings replaced Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae as his intellectual template ...

The theme of the great circle of love has governed Dunne’s writing since The Reasons of the Heart (1978); what is new in A Vision Quest is an attempt to integrate the modern vision of evolution into it. This book represents Dunne’s most sustained engagement with modern scientific materialism, especially of the neuroscientific and evolutionary variety. As a graduate student, Dunne worked out a theory of matter as a dimension, but he shelved it after receiving a one-sentence response from the great physicist Erwin Schrödinger, “Matter is not a dimension.” Still, it never entirely lost its attraction, and in The Mystic Road of Love (1999) he worked it out mathematically. We usually think of matter as that which is situated in the three spatial dimensions and time, but if matter is a dimension, it also situates—situates events, perhaps situates spirit. The brain, then, is not the mind but situates the mind. Moreover, Dunne says in the present work, “If we see matter not only as having a passive but also an active role, not only as situated but also as situating, we can see evolution as purposive.”

In A Vision Quest, Dunne does not develop these themes as physics or metaphysics but as images into which we can gain insight. His calling, he believes, “is to wisdom not to science, and to poetic wisdom at that.” As a motto, he takes Cirdan’s words to Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings: “Take this ring...the Ring of Fire, and with it you may rekindle hearts in a world that grows chill.” The modern world especially, Dunne thinks, has grown chill; it is difficult to see God in the violent events of the past century or to find room for God in modern ideologies, such as scientific materialism. But when we gain insight into the events of time and experience the kindling of inspiration, we can glimpse eternal life and experience the working of God. “The story of God,” he says, is not “the story of what happens” but “quite a different one, a story of the illumining of minds and the kindling of hearts, of rekindling hearts in a world that grows chill through sin and lovelessness.” It is the story of “a great circle of life and light and love.” ....

... He engages the great figures of modern philosophy (next to Augustine and Tolkien, the author cited most often in A Vision Quest is Ludwig Wittgenstein), science, literature, art and music, not by direct argumentation but by gleaning insights or, when he finds an inadequate vision, proposing an alternative way of seeing things. Dunne’s quest does not yield the certainty that older systems sought to attain but an assurance that grows stronger as he trusts God to lead him from insight to insight, inspiration to inspiration ....


Friday, September 08, 2006

The Year of Living Dangerously

- the novel, showing Javanese shadow puppets

Matt at his Bible Films Blog recently posted a link to the 2006 Arts and Faith Top 100 Films list. Tonight I watched #88, The Year of Living Dangerously.

Adapted from a novel by Christopher Koch, the 1982 film was directed by Peter Weir (The Last Wave, Gallipoli, Witness, The Mosquito Coast, Dead Poets Society, Master and Commander, and of course, Picnic at Hanging Rock). Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hunt star. Below I've posted part of Roger Ebert's review of the movie ....


"The Year of Living Dangerously" achieves one of the best re-creations of an exotic locale I've ever seen in a movie. It takes us to Indonesia in the middle 1960s, a time when the Sukarno regime was shaky and the war in Vietnam was just heating up. It moves us into the life of a foreign correspondent, a radio reporter from Australia who has just arrived in Jakarta, and who thrives in an atmosphere heady with danger. How is this atmosphere created by Peter Weir, the director? He plunges into it headfirst. He doesn't pause for travelogue shots. He thrusts us immediately into the middle of the action--into a community of expatriates, journalists, and embassy people who hang out in the same bars, restaurants, and clubs, and speculate hungrily on the possibility that Sukarno might be deposed ...

Guy Hamilton, the journalist (Mel Gibson), is a lanky, Kennedyesque, chain-smoking young man who has a fix on excitement. He doesn't know the ropes in Indonesia, but he learns them quickly enough, from a dwarfish character named Billy Kwan.

Billy is half-Oriental and half-European, and knows everybody and can tell you where all the bodies are buried. He has a warm smile and a way of encouraging you to do your best, and if you sometimes suspect he has unorthodox political connections -- well, he hasn't crossed you yet. In all the diplomatic receptions he's a familiar sight in his gaudy tropical shirts.

"The Year of Living Dangerously" follows Guy and Billy as they become friends, and something more than friends; they begin to share a common humanity and respect. Billy gets Guy a good interview with the local Communist Party chief. He even introduces Guy to Jill Bryant (Sigourney Weaver), a British attaché with two weeks left on her tour. As the revolution creeps closer, as the stories get bigger, Guy and Jill become lovers and Billy, who once proposed to Jill, begins to feel pushed aside.

This sounds, no doubt, like a foreign correspondent plot from the 1940s. It is not. "The Year of Living Dangerously" is a wonderfully complex film about personalities more than events, and we really share the feeling of living in that place, at that time. ...

... Billy, so small and mercurial, likable and complicated and exotic, makes Indonesia seem more foreign and intriguing than any number of standard travelogue shots possibly could. That means that when the travelogue shots do come (and they do, breathtakingly, when Gibson makes a trip into the countryside), they're not just scenery; they do their work for the film because Weir has so convincingly placed us in Indonesia.

Billy Kwan is played, astonishingly, by a woman -- Linda Hunt, a New York stage actress who enters the role so fully that it never occurs to us that she is not a man. This is what great acting is, a magical transformation of one person into another. Mel Gibson (of "The Road Warrior") is just right as a basically conventional guy with an obsessive streak of risk-taking. Sigourney Weaver has a less interesting role but is always an interesting actress. This is a wonderfully absorbing film.


I agree with Roger - I found the film to be very good. The story was historically interesting, the musical score by Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia, Jesus of Nazareth) was unearthly and the cinematography was evocative. What touched me most about the movie was the glimpse into a lifestyle so very different from mine ... one of political uncertainty and abject poverty ... and the struggle of the character Biily Kwan to live out compassion and social justice.

Read more about the Indonesian Civil War.

Read morte about Wayang, the Javanese shadow puppet theater.