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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Jesus and the wild beasts

Francis X. Clooney SJ has a post at America magazine's blog - With Jesus in the Desert: It's Simple. Here's some of it ....

On this first Sunday of Lent, February 26, we heard a remarkably brief version of Jesus’ time in the desert: “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” (Mark 1:12-13) No mention of fasting; no detailing of three temptations by Satan. Just the desert, the beasts, Satan, angels .... Mark does not mention fasting, nor does he play up the rigors of the desert, the heat and cold, the dryness, etc. All he says is that Jesus was “with the wild beasts.” While this might be an oblique reference to Psalm 91, the simple words do us well: to be where the wild beasts are, outside civilization, beyond the bounds of what we ordinarily do and ordinarily expect ...

I like to imagine that Jesus wasn't threatened by the wild animals but instead kept them company, preached to them, like in this poem ...

In The Wilderness
- Robert Graves

CHRIST of His gentleness
Thirsting and hungering
Walked in the wilderness;
Soft words of grace He spoke
Unto lost desert-folk
That listened wondering.
He heard the bitterns call
From the ruined palace-wall,
Answered them brotherly.
He held communion
With the she-pelican
Of lonely piety.
Basilisk, cockatrice,
Flocked to his homilies,
With mail of dread device,
With monstrous barbed slings,
With eager dragon-eyes;
Great rats on leather wings,
And poor blind broken things,
Foul in their miseries.
And ever with Him went,
Of all His wanderings
Comrade, with ragged coat,
Gaunt ribs--poor innocent--
Bleeding foot, burning throat,
The guileless old scape-goat;
For forty nights and days
Followed in Jesus' ways,
Sure guard behing Him kept,
Tears like a lover wept.

- Christ in the Wilderness, Moretto da Brescia

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Priests in the UK

There's an article by Philip Endean SJ at Thinking Faith on the first installment of BBC Four's 'Catholics' Series - 'Priests'.

First, here's a little from this BBC page about the tv show ...

[...] As the Catholic priesthood struggles to recover from the scandal of child abuse, numbers of men applying to join have fallen greatly. Just 19 men were ordained in England and Wales in 2010. In this first film, Alwyn meets the men who still feel themselves called to this role .... The film follows the seminarians through a timetable which ranges from Biblical Greek to lessons on how to live a celibate life. Everything builds towards priestly ordination when the seminarians believe they will be fundamentally altered as human beings, only then able to celebrate the Eucharist and perform the act that is central to Catholic life, the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

I haven't seen the show myself -- my computer can't seem to run the video -- so I was interested to read what Fr. Endean had to say of it. It's best to read the whole article at Thinking Faith, of course, but here's just a bit of it that I found especially interesting ....

TV review: Catholics – ‘Priests’
by Philip Endean SJ

[...] The documentary showed us considerably more about the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Sacrament than about the Bible, which was at no point a central focus; the seminary’s spiritual culture owed more to popular devotions than to critical reflection. As seminarians starting in the 1970s we might have somehow begun with the kind of awed anticipation that ‘saying Mass is everything’, expressed vividly by one of the Allen Hall students a few weeks before his ordination. We might even have thought it our role to become ‘a bridge between man (sic) and God’. However, in time we learnt, for better or worse, not to deny the positive intent of such talk, but rather to place it within a richer context: a fourfold presence of Christ in the Eucharist, not only in the sacramental elements and in the priestly minister, but also in the Word and in the assembly itself (Sacrosanctum concilium §7). It was drummed into us that we as priests were not the only agents of the Church’s ministry: we needed to learn how to work with others, and take our leads from them. We learnt to acknowledge the witness of other Christian churches and to understand ourselves as in partnership with them: it was a travesty to see the churches of the Reformation merely as having denied some important articles of faith. We were taught also that, whatever problems beset ‘the world’, we had much to learn precisely about God and holiness from beyond the Church’s frontiers, and that the Church could represent not only God’s irrevocable promise of salvation, but also a part of the problem.

At one point, the film shows Nicholas Austin SJ at Heythrop College teaching feminist ethics, and making the point that the moral theological tradition has, until very recently, been carried forward by priests. Within the film, this thought was left hanging: we segued (was the irony intentional?) into a rather longer sequence of male seminarians saying the rosary before a somewhat kitsch Madonna. The women teachers in the seminary appeared only briefly and in peripheral roles, in one case congratulating a seminarian on being at last allowed to wear the dog-collar. But a generation ago, feminist and other liberation theologies, allied with a new-found appreciation for Scripture, appeared as harbingers of radical change. It was this institutional conversion that we thought we were being prepared to work for. Today, the agenda seems more one of preservation, even restoration ....

How very different priestly formation must have been in the 60s and 70s with the fresh influence of Vatican II and ressourcement.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Spring photos

The acacia tree and the plum trees are blooming in the yard :) ...

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Movies and the seven deadly sins

The British Jesuit site Thinking Faith is having a series for Lent on the seven deadly sins and movies that are good representations of them - The Seven Deadly Sins .....

During the penitential season of Lent, Thinking Faith will be reflecting upon the ‘seven deadly sins’ by relating each to an illustrative film. In this introductory article, Nicholas Austin SJ looks at the powerful thriller Seven and examines the history of the seven deadly sins, asking what accounts for their perennial attraction.

What accounts for the perduring fascination of the seven deadly sins? Pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony and sloth: throughout the ages, this list of vices has occupied and preoccupied theologians and philosophers, pastors and penitents. These twisted qualities of our characters have captivated the imagination of great poets and playwrights. They have even occasioned T-shirt designs and product names. What is the reason for our permanent love/hate relationship with these seven capital vices? .....

The first article in the series is now up - The Seven Deadly Sins on Film: Envy - which uses the film Amadeus as an example. I'm looking forward to seeing what movies are chosen for the other six sins.

I tried to think up some movies examples of the seven sins too. Here's what I came up with -
* Anger: Mad Max. One man's dedication to revenge.
* Envy: The Prestige. Magicians allow one-upmanship to destroy them and those who rode into town with them.
* Gluttony: sorry - just couldn't think of any movie for this sin.
* Greed: The Insider. The despicable lengths to which the tobacco companies have gone for the sake of mammon.
* Lust: Alfie. This movie was actually kind of sad.
* Pride: At Play in the Fields of the Lord. This explores the hubris of Christian evangelization of the third world.
* Sloth: Leaving Los Vegas. Despair destroys a life inch by inch.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Charles Taylor and Richard Dawkins

Across the pond, Giles Frasier has a podcast, non-militant secularism, about Lady Warsi's militant secularism speech given at the Vatican (Fraser also mentions Charles Taylor on secularism in his podcast). There's an informative post about this with lots of links at Thinking Anglicans.

Here are a couple of related videos ... one of a talk by Charles Taylor on secularism ....

And one of Richard Dawkins being asked about Lady Warsi's speech. I know, I'm supposed to hate Dawkins but actually I kind of like him, and if I had to choose between him and Lady Warsi, he'd win ...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Beauty and Justice

A recent Harvard video of Elaine Scarry, the Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value, giving a talk about Beauty and Justice (I have more on Scarry and torture here).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Whistleblower

This week's movie rental was the 2010 film The Whistleblower. I'd wanted to see it because it's set in Bosnia and I have a couple of past posts that touch on that locale .... Sarajevo Haggadah and Aloysius Stepinac - a bad example. The movie stars Rachel Weisz, Monica Bellucci, David Strathairn, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Vanessa Redgrave and is directed by Larysa Kondracki. It fictionalizes the actual experience of Kathryn Bolkovac, an American former police investigator who worked as a U.N. International Police Force monitor in post-war Bosnia, who uncovered ....

a wide-scale sexual slavery and human-trafficking ring that various international personnel, including that of the U.S., have participated in. Furthermore, when she brings the scandal to the attention of the U.N., she discovers that they have covered it up in order to prevent any more war in the country.

Someone asked me once why I've never posted anything about human trafficking on the blog (except for JC Murray SJ and the victims of human trafficking). I think I said it was just that I'd not been especially interested in the subject, but watching this movie made me realize the actual reason is that the subject makes me feel like throwing up. The movie is truly harrowing.

Roger Ebert gave the R rated film three and a half stars out of four. Here's just the beginning of his review ....

Here is a film to fill you with rage. It is based on the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac, a police officer from Lincoln, Neb., who accepted an offer to join the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. While there, she uncovered direct evidence that underage girls were being held captive and bought and sold in a profitable sex trafficking operation. When she presented her evidence to her superiors, it was ignored. When she persisted, she was fired.

There is more. The American private security firm, DynCorp International, whose operatives committed these crimes and tried to cover them up, is still employed by the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was used in Louisiana after Katrina. Although its activities were at the center of Bolkovac's report, she found that local police and U.N. peacekeepers themselves were also deeply involved.

Although "The Whistleblower" is a fictional film, these facts were supported by a British labor tribunal that investigated her claim against DynCorp, finding the corporation's defense "completely unbelievable." That high officials in the U.N. Human Rights Commission also were aware of the sex trafficking is unbelievable to me ....

Here's a trailer ....

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Remember thou art dust

Still reading Passage and now the characters are discussing famous people's last words ....


"In the six years I've been in the ER, I've never had a patient whose last words were about a will or who the murderer is. And that includes murder victims."

"What are their last words?" Richard asked curiously.

"Obscenities, a lot of them, unfortunately," Vielle said. "Also, 'My side hurts,' 'I can't breathe,' 'Turn me over.'"

Joanna nodded. "That's what Walt Whitman said to his nurse. And Robert Kennedy said, 'Don't lift me.'"

Vielle explained, "As if talking to patients about their NDE [near-death experiences] isn't bad enough, in her spare time Joanna researches famous people's last words."

"I wanted to know if there are similarities between what they say and what people report in their NDEs," Joanna explained.

"And are there?" Richard asked.

"Sometimes. Thomas Edison's last words were 'It's beautiful over there,' but he was sitting by a window. He may just have been looking at the view. Or maybe not. John Wayne said, 'Did you see that flash of light?' But Vielle's right. Mostly they say things like 'My head hurts.'"

"Or 'I don't feel good,'" Vielle said, "or, 'I can't sleep,' or 'I'm cold.'"

Joanna thought of Amelia Tanaka asking for a blanket. "Do they ever say, 'Oh, no, oh, no, oh, no'?" she asked.

Vielle nodded. "A lot of them, and a lot of them ask for ice," she said, taking a swig of Coke, "or water."

Joanna nodded. "General Grant asked for water, and so did Marie Curie. And Lenin."

"That's funny," Richard said. "You'd expect Lenin's last words to be 'Workers, arise!' or something."

Vielle shook her head. "The eternal verities aren't what's on people's minds when they're dying. They're much more concerned with the matter at hand."

"'Put your hands on my shoulders and don't struggle'," Joanna murmured.

"Who said that?" Richard asked.

"W. S. Gilbert. You know, of Gilbert and Sullivan. Pirates of Penzance. He died saving a young girl from drowning. I've always thought that if I could choose, that's how I'd like to die."

"By drowning?" Vielle said. "No, you don't want to drown. That's a terrible way to die, trust me."

"Gilbert didn't drown," Joanna said. "He had a heart attack. I meant, I'd like to die saving somebody else's life."

"I want to die in my sleep," Vielle said. "Massive aneurysm. At home. How about you, Dr. Wright?"

"I don't want to die at all," Richard said, and they all laughed.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Preaching the transfiguration

- The Transfiguration, Giusto de Menabuoi

I saw this sermon for last Saturday by Susan Russell which brings together the subject of Jesus' transfiguration with Franciscan Richard Rohr, anthropologist Margaret Mead, and the recent political situation.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

William Barry SJ and asking for what you really want

- Jesus performs miracles, Giusto de' Menabuoi, fresco, baptistry, Padua Cathedral

Tomorrow is the start of week 23 of Creighton University's online Ignatian retreat and it's all about Jesus as a healer. I remember that when I made this week of the retreat I was guardedly hopeful that everything that was wrong with me would be fixed. That didn't happen, and lately I've been wondering about the worth of asking God to heal people -- if I don't ask, then I won't get turned down, and things can stay ok between God and me. This reminded me of a past post I had on spiritual director William Barry SJ and prayer. Here's what I wrote then ....

I'm reading a book by William A Barry SJ - Paying Attention to God - and the chapter I just finished really struck me. It's on how we talk to God about our desires (desire is important in Ignatian prayer, I think) and about the riders or hedges we use to evade asking for what we really want. Here's some of the chapter below ...


Paying Attention to God by William A. Barry SJ

Chapter 2: God's Freedom and Prayer

Once attracted into relationship with God, people are often hindered by certain images of God and by theological theories they have imbibed early in life. One of the most persistent hindrances may be detected in the following situations.

The prayers of the faithful are about to conclude ... the priest gathers all these needs into a final prayer: "God grant us all these needs, but only if it is your will. You know what is best for us."

During a spiritual direction session the director asks the directee what she desires of God. She is non-plussed and replies, "I never think in those terms. God is free and he knows what is best for me."

A person experiences great dryness in prayer; God seems miles away. When he mentions this to his spiritual director, she points out that God sometimes distances himself, that the saints have often spoken of the dark night, etc. So he need not be troubled by the distance; God is sovereignly free and gives his graces as he wishes.

I suspect that many of us have had experiences like these. The basic theological axiom behind them is God's sovereign freedom: God is not bound by anything or anyone outside himself. He cannot be coerced. He freely bestows his grace as he wishes. Since God is also goodness and kindness itself, if he does not grant our requests, it must be because the granting of the request is not good for us or for the person for whom we pray. Hence, many of us do not press our requests or hedge them around with conditional phrases such as those of the priest at the end of the prayers of the faithful. I believe that the theological axiom, true as it is, often is a hindrance to our growth in intimacy with God ......

Let us, for a moment, reflect on how friendships grow in intimacy. The more of ourselves we reveal to another, the more we develop intimacy ..... I let go of some of my defences in order to let others see me as I am. With regard to God, people often say, "There's no reason to tell him how I feel of what I desire because he knows already." What is in question is not God's knowledge but my trust in him, my willingness to be as transparent as I can be before him. Do I want him to see me as I am? ..... ......

In human relationships we often add riders to our requests, but our purpose is to make sure that the other does not feel coerced. Thus, I might want to spend time with a friend; at the same time I do not want him to feel obligated to take the time. I want him to want to be with me. In other words, I'm not sure that my friend is free ..... the truism about God's sovereign freedom should actually lead us to the naked expression of our desires; he cannot be coerced by them. We can ask straight out precisely because he is free.

God cannot be coerced by anyone else. But what if God has bound himself? ..... If we take the Old and New Testaments seriously, God has freely committed himself to intimacy with us, an intimacy of parent to child, of lover to beloved, of friend to friend ..... Moreover, in the gospels Jesus is depicted as assuring us that God wants to answer our requests ..... It may be argued that accounts of Jesus' agony in the garden have him put a rider onto his prayer .... But Mark's gospel has Jesus first ask directly for what he wants: "Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me." Only then does Jesus add: "Yet not what I will, but what you will." (Mark 14:36) ......

Let us return to the three examples at the beginning. It would seem more trusting and more in keeping with the promises of the gospels for the priest at the conclusion of the prayers of the faithful to remind God of those promises ..... The woman in spiritual direction needs to be helped to recognize that desires are a precondition for a fruitful experience of prayer ..... The person who experienced great dryness in prayer does not need to be told about the dark night. He needs help to express to God how this distance and dryness make him feel and what he wants of God. Whatever coercion God may experience is the coercion he has taken upon himself by freely committing himself to us as a people and as individuals. If he does not want to answer our requests he will let us know that; we need not make excuses for him prior to his decision.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Another John Milbank video

I think this is the latest video John Milbank has made from the University of Nottingham - it's about the Big Society. I'm not a fan of the Big Society, but still I thought this was interesting .....

Friday, February 17, 2012

Resurrection Gate

- Our Lady of Iveron, Mount Athos, Greece, the prototype of the he Panagia Portaitissa (Παναγία Πορταΐτισσα, Greek for "Keeper of the Gate")

I'm reading The Defector by Daniel Silva. A lot of it takes place in Russia and Gabriel Allon passes through the Resurrection Gate when he's in Moscow. Here's a bit about the gate and the chapel within it from Wikipedia (and some photos from Wikipedia too) ....

The first stone gate leading to Red Square was erected in 1535, when the Kitai-gorod wall was being reconstructed in brick. When the structure was rebuilt in 1680, the double passage was surmounted with two-storey chambers crowned by two octagonal hipped roofs similar to the Kremlin towers. An Icon of the Resurrection was placed on the gate facing towards Red Square, from which the gate derives its name ....... Since 1669, the wooden chapel in front of the gate (facing away from Red Square) has housed a replica of the miracle-working icon of Panaghia Portaitissa ("keeper of the gate"), the prototype of which is preserved in the Georgian Iveron monastery on Mount Athos. Hence, the name Iversky (that is, "Iberian") that stuck both to the chapel and the gate. In 1781, the Nikolo-Perervinsky Monastery constructed a new brick chapel on the spot. The star-splattered cupola of the structure was topped with a statue of an angel bearing a cross.

According to a popular custom, everyone heading for Red Square or the Kremlin visited the chapel to pay homage at the shrine, before entering through the gate. Beggars and outlaws would pray there next to the highest royalty and even the Tsar himself. It was there that the rebel Emelyan Pugachev asked the Russian people for forgiveness a few hours before his execution. The ever-overcrowded chapel, with candles burning day and night, figures in works by Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Bunin, Marina Tsvetayeva, and H.G. Wells, to name only a few.

- the chapel in the gate

- the gate

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Catholic Georgetown University student ....

who wasn't allowed to speak to Congress on the contraception issue (h/t Susan Russell). Hear what she had to say ....

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


There's a post by Catholic professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, Gary Gutting, on the bishops and the contraception mandate at the NYT's philosophy blog. Here's a bit of it ....

Birth Control, Bishops and Religious Authority

[...] The church, in the inevitable phrase, “is not a democracy.” What the church teaches is what the bishops (and, ultimately, the pope, as head of the bishops) say it does. But is this true? The answer requires some thought about the nature and basis of religious authority. Ultimately the claim is that this authority derives from God. But since we live in a human world in which God does not directly speak to us, we need to ask, Who decides that God has given, say, the Catholic bishops his authority?

... (snip) ....

In our democratic society the ultimate arbiter of religious authority is the conscience of the individual believer. It follows that there is no alternative to accepting the members of a religious group as themselves the only legitimate source of the decision to accept their leaders as authorized by God. They may be wrong, but their judgment is answerable to no one but God. In this sense, even the Catholic Church is a democracy.

But, even so, haven’t the members of the Catholic Church recognized their bishops as having full and sole authority to determine the teachings of the Church? By no means. There was, perhaps, a time when the vast majority of Catholics accepted the bishops as having an absolute right to define theological and ethical doctrines. Those days, if they ever existed, are long gone. Most Catholics — meaning, to be more precise, people who were raised Catholic or converted as adults and continue to take church teachings and practices seriously — now reserve the right to reject doctrines insisted on by their bishops and to interpret in their own way the doctrines that they do accept. This is above all true in matters of sexual morality, especially birth control, where the majority of Catholics have concluded that the teachings of the bishops do not apply to them. Such “reservations” are an essential constraint on the authority of the bishops.

The bishops and the minority of Catholics who support their full authority have tried to marginalize Catholics who do not accept the bishops as absolute arbiters of doctrine. They speak of “cafeteria Catholics” or merely “cultural Catholics,” and imply that the only “real Catholics” are those who accept their teachings entirely. But this marginalization begs the question I’m raising about the proper source of the judgment that the bishops have divine authority. Since, as I’ve argued, members of the church are themselves this source, it is not for the bishops but for the faithful to decide the nature and extent of episcopal authority. The bishops truly are, as they so often say, “servants of the servants of the Lord.” ........

The mistake of the Obama administration — and of almost everyone debating its decision — was to accept the bishops’ claim that their position on birth control expresses an authoritative “teaching of the church.” (Of course, the administration may be right in thinking that the bishops need placating because they can cause them considerable political trouble.) The bishops’ claim to authority in this matter has been undermined because Catholics have decisively rejected it. The immorality of birth control is no longer a teaching of the Catholic Church. Pope Paul VI meant his 1968 encyclical, “Humanae Vitae,” to settle the issue in the manner of the famous tag, “Roma locuta est, causa finita est.” In fact the issue has been settled by the voice of the Catholic people.


World's Tiniest Chameleon Discovered

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

If I had to choose movies ...

for valentine's day, these might be some of them ...

* Romeo and Juliet ... a 1968 British-Italian cinematic adaptation of the William Shakespeare play of the same name. The film was directed and co-written by Franco Zeffirelli, and stars Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. It won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design; it was also nominated for Best Director and Best Picture. Sir Laurence Olivier spoke the film's prologue ... The balcony scene ....

* The Next Three Days. This 2010 thriller film directed by Paul Haggis and starring Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks, may not seem a choice for valentine's day, but I found it a profound example of love (I posted about it here). When the main character's wife is given 20 years in prison for a murder she didn't commit and when he's exhausted every legal possibility of getting her out, he doesn't make the best of things, instead he tells her, "I promise you, this will not be your life", and then he does what's necessary to make that so. He's like the person in Matthew 13:45-46 who gave up everything he had to keep the only thing he loved. Here's the trailer ...

* Vertigo ... this is a 1958 thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring James Stewart and Kim Novak. I posted about it here, but I'll just mention a scene in the film that is really affecting, in which the main character is embracing a woman who looks just like the dead woman he loves .....

* The Island ..... this 2005 science fiction film starring Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Djimon Hounsou, Steve Buscemi, and Sean Bean, and directed by Michael Bay, may not seem on the face of it to be a romantic film, but it really is. It tells about two people who come to know each other as platonic best friends willing to risk their lives for each other, and only at the end of the film do they realize they're in love. I wrote about this movie here, and here's a a clip from the movie, the part where they're told that they are clones ...

Women's health should matter to the bishops

As I've been trawling through Catholic logs to see if anyone is being "me" I've been surprised to see what most of the posts on these blogs expressed .... a triumphant glee at what's seen as the bishops' trouncing of the president :( To paraphrase Col. Mitchell of Stargate SG1: Wow. Politics [plus religion] really does suck everywhere you go.

It would be one thing if this were really some courageous victory for religious conscience over the policies of a draconian despot, but to me tit seems no more than the flexing of the kind of tribal loyalty evinced by rival high schools. And meanwhile the issue of women's health goes totally missing. Women's health should matter to the bishops. It doesn't.

I recommend a different blog post on the subject, from The Christian Century - Would Jesus dispense contraceptive pills?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Too easy to be an anonymous Christian?

Latest library book - Karl Rahner: Theology and Philosophy by Karen Kilby, a professor at Nottingham University. I'd previously read Fr. Philip Endean's Karl Rahner and Ignatian Spirituality (posted about here) and also Fr. Endean's Karl Rahner: Spiritual Writings (posted about it here), and found them so interesting, they made me want to read more about Rahner.

One of the ideas Rahner is most well known for is the anonymous Christian. The theory that ...

people who have never heard the Christian Gospel or even rejected it might be saved through Christ. Non-Christians could have "in [their] basic orientation and fundamental decision," Rahner wrote, "accepted the salvific grace of God, through Christ, although [they] may never have heard of the Christian revelation."

And one of his harshest critics on that theory was Hans Urs von Balthasar. Both Fr. Endean and Professor Kilby discuss this. Fr. Endean's article, Von Balthasar, Rahner, and The Commissar can be found at his website under 'publications'. Here's just a bit of it ....

Von Balthasar's attacks on Rahner are scattered over several works. Sometimes their expression is very technical, and complex personal factors also play a part. But von Balthasar expresses his concerns vividly and concisely in a bitterly satirical dialogue near the end of a polemical text which he published just after Vatican II: The Moment of Christian Witness. A 'well-disposed commissar', a figure symbolising the culture of modernity both in its easy secularism and its nightmare terrors, arraigns a Rahnerian Christian. In less than three full pages, Rahner's theology is made to look ridiculous. For Rahner, God always transcends objects in space and time: we know God only in and through them, as their permanently mysterious, elusive ground. But the commissar refuses to distinguish such talk from secularist atheism .....

In The Moment of Christian Witness, the issue appears as one about the kind of security we can expect religion to give us. The uncertainties and vagueness of what, in the 1960s, was called 'progressive' theology cannot sustain the faith of a martyr. The original German title refers to Cordula, an apocryphal young girl saint. When the martyring Hun attacked, she managed to hide. Then, however, she realised that it is only through death that we find life, and thus emerged from hiding, submitted herself to death, the Ernstfall. Thus she became a credible witness. Von Balthasar is inviting a Roman Catholicism infatuated with Vatican II to see itself as Cordula in hiding, and challenging it once again to embrace the call to martyrdom. Contemporary theology, he implies, is too impressed by the uncertainties which a historical critical method generates; respect for legitimate Christian diversity has keeled over into excessive tentativeness, even destructive scepticism, about Christian obligation. The so-called Conciliar renewal misses the whole point about laying down one's life. One might summarize his whole message as a plea to the Church to read John's Gospel straightforwardly, and take it seriously. We must ignore the evidence in the text of neuroses and persecution-complexes; we must stop feeling anxious about the gross disrespect for Judaism this strand of Christianity encourages. Just see it as witness to God's absolute, unconditional, and unquestionable presence among us, a God in creaturely form, a God you can die for .....

And here is a little from Karen Kilby's book (pp. 116-117) on the same subject .....

The most well known and also the most biting attack on what we might call the Christian adequacy of the theory of anonymous Christianity comes in Hans Urs von Balthasar's highly polemical The Moment of Christian Witness. The notion of anonymous Christianity, Balthasar suggests, leads to a loss of the distinctiveness of Christianity, and also a loss of commitment; "Karl Rahner frees us from a nightmare with his theory of the anonymous Christian, who is dispensed, at any rate, from the criterion of martyrdom." If one can be a Christian anonymously, why then bother with the costly business of actually professing Christianity? Rahner is making things too easy, dissolving Christianity, evacuating it of its content, so that what we will be left with, if we go down his route, is a church full of anonymous atheists.

Before taking up the question of how far this is a caricature, and how far it points to a real difference of view between the two theologians, it is worth saying something about the larger context within which Balthasar sets out the criticism. A consistent theme in his discussions of Rahner is the degree to which Rahner's thought is (as Balthasar sees it) formed and controlled by philosophical allegiances, and in particular by an appropriation of German idealism. Balthasar reviewed Spirit in the World in 1939, and he appears to be among those who think that this is of decisive importance for all that followed. Thus, for instance, Balthasar was able to describe Rahner as someone who had fundamentally taken the path of Kant, as opposed to his own following of Goethe. Or again, nearly 40 years after the publication of Spirit in the World, Balthasar's depiction of Rahner as "the best-known representative of the transcendental approach" still begins with the fact that he is a follower of Joseph Maréchal in his concern to reconcile Aquinas with German idealism -- i.e. it begins with a description of Rahner as essentially the Rahner of Spirit in the World. The criticisms of anonymous Christianity which we have just described in The Moment of Christian Witness are also implicitly linked to the notion that Rahner subscribes in some way to German idealism. The context of these criticisms, that is to say, is a larger discussion of Christian witness (martyrdom) on the one hand and "the System" (the system of German idealism) on the other ........

I'm not sure I really understand what Karl Rahner meant by anonymous Christian but I do like his take on the subject more than that of Hans Urs von Balthasar ... there are those who mention the cost of Christianity (Bonhoeffer) but though of course many have bravely perished as martyrs for their faith, I'm not sold on the idea that sanguine martyrdom is the ultimate proof of discipleship, nor with the belief that that which is worthwhile must always be difficult to achieve.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


This week's movie was an old one I saw at the library and decided to check out ... Klute. Here's a bit about it from Wikipedia ...

Klute is a 1971 film which tells the story of a prostitute who assists a detective in solving a missing person's case. It stars Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Charles Cioffi and Roy Scheider. The movie was written by Andy Lewis and Dave Lewis and directed by Alan J. Pakula. Klute was the first installment of what informally came to be known as Pakula's "paranoia trilogy". The other two films in the trilogy are The Parallax View (1974) and All The President's Men (1976).

The first thing that struck me about the movie was the color - it seemed to have a kind of brilliant look to it - and the next was that I'd never seen such a young-looking Donald Sutherland :) The 1971 movie seemed pretty good, if somewhat disturbing, and the issue of prostitution is still relevant ... I remember an episode of The West Wing in which Josh talks to feminist Amy about it ...

Josh: Eleanor Roosevelt once made a speech to the UN General Assembly saying that we should decriminalize prostitution .... How's making prostitution illegal not supressing women's rights?
Amy: How is making heroin use illegal not supressing a heroin user's rights?
Josh: It is, but heroin's bad for you.
Amy: So's being a prostitute.
Josh How am I not supposed to call you a hypocrite when you say that the government shouldn't tell women what to do with their bodies.
Amy: Exercise some self-control, I guess. Prostitution is about the subjugation of women by men for profit.
Josh: But the profit goes to the women.
Amy: In some cases. But I know of no little girl, and neither do you, who says "I wanna be a prostitute when I grow up." They do it 'cause they're forced to out of economic circumstances. And dire economic need is a form of coersion.

It could be argued that some women become prostitutes out of choice, but I think that's rare, and the movie explores the kind of subtleties that can taint free will to the point where it's unrecognizable as such. Roger Ebert gave the film three and a half stars out of four in his review. Here's a bit of it ...

BY ROGER EBERT / January 1, 1971

[...] "Klute" doesn't scare us very satisfactorily, maybe because it's kind of schizo. The director is Alan J. Pakula, whose concern is all too much with plot, and it gets in the way of the unusual and interesting relationship between Bree and Klute. But how do you develop a relationship between a prostitute with hang-ups and a square suburban cop? "Klute" does it by making the cop into a person of restraint and dignity, a man who is genuinely concerned about this girl he's met. His attitude is what makes their love relationship so absorbing. Usually, in the movies, it's just assumed the lovers were drawn toward each other by magnetism or concealed springs or something.

The scenes between Fonda and Sutherland are very good, then, and Bree is further developed in scenes showing her trying to get out of the trade and into something straight. She takes acting lessons, she auditions to model for cosmetics ads. She talks to her shrink (in scenes that sound improvised and exhibit Fonda's undeniable intelligence).

Intelligence. I suppose that's the word. In "Klute" you don't have two attractive acting vacuums reciting speeches at each other. With Fonda and Sutherland, you have actors who understand and sympathize with their characters, and you have a vehicle worthy of that sort of intelligence. So the fact that the thriller stuff doesn't always work isn't so important.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Someone impersonating me - updates

Someone has been posting comments at other Catholic blogs using my name and linking that name to this blog so that it seems as if I'm the one commenting. I noticed this at a post at The Deacon's Bench - a comment by "Crystal" which linked to this blog, but which was not posted by me ... USCCB statement: “A first step in the right direction” — UPDATED. I wrote to the Patheos website that hosts The Deacon's Bench and Dan Welch removed the comment (all that's left in that com box now are my own comments about the impersonation). I don't know the extent of the faux commenting, what the comments may contain, or why someone would be doing this, but be aware, if you have come to this blog by following the link from a "Crystal" comment at another blog, the comment in question may not have been made by me.


I've been wanting to re-read Connie Willis' book Passage for a long time but it hasn't been in audio and I haven't been able to read the small print of the paperback. But I just received a kindle as a gift, and the first book I bought to read with it was Passage ... the kindle makes the font size so large that even I can read it ...

Passage is a science fiction novel by Connie Willis, published in 2001. The novel won the Locus Award for Best Novel in 2002 .... Connie Willis's inspiration for Passage came in part from her mother's death, when Willis was 12. Willis felt frustrated that relatives and friends tried to comfort her with platitudes, so she wanted to write a novel that dealt with death honestly and could help people understand the process of death and mourning. - Wikipedia

Here's the beginning of a review of the book at ....

“Passage” by Connie Willis
By Laura Miller

Connie Willis’ “Passage” is a suspense novel in the same way that Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” is a slasher movie; it defies the genre while still delivering its thrills. I’m tempted to dub “Passage” a neurological detective story with metaphysical leanings, but even that description goes too far in nailing down this mercurial work. I’m sure, though, that it’s one of the smartest books I’ve read in years; its construction is a marvel of ingenuity and — what’s even more remarkable, given the wizardry of Willis’ storytelling — its intellectual honesty is impeccable.

“Passage” begins on a typically frazzled workday for Joanna Lander, a research psychologist who works at a large, rambling city hospital and who has for two years been collecting the oral accounts of people who have “coded” — become clinically dead — and then returned to life: near-death experiences. Richard Wright, a new neurologist at the institution, asks her to team up with him in his studies of a drug that can simulate an NDE. Richard uses a new technology called a “RIPT scan” that “simultaneously photographs the electrochemical activity in different subsections of the brain for a 3-D picture of neural activity in the working brain. Or the dying brain.” He can manage the technological aspects of the research, but he needs her to help him map the images in the RIPT scans to the distinctive sensations reported by people undergoing NDEs ...

I'm just getting started on the book but the memory of it from the first time I read it has kind of haunted me. I wonder all the time what will happen after I die, if anything will happen, so the subject matter was challenging in that it wasn't a feel-good amalgam of new age near-death memoirs ... it was actually almost frighteningly mysterious. Or so I remember - guess I'll have to see if it strikes me the same way again. I'm just glad I have another chance to read it once more.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Squirrel and clouds

Photos from the yard today ...

A western gray squirrel in the pyracantha bushes ...

And some clouds ...

The compromise

I see there's a compromise on the contraception mandate. Here are bits from a few articles I saw in the news today that represent how I feel about this ....

* My Take: Why I’m a Catholic for contraception - CNN

[...] My religion has played a large part of my life, laying the groundwork for my personal relationship with God. It has taught me how to respect others, be a human with integrity and help those in need. Catholicism is a beautiful religion that supports family values, tolerance of others, and leads us to serve others, a teaching I’ve adapted into my everyday living. The Catholic Church does an exceptional job standing up for those who live in poverty and suffer injustices.

But on contraception, the Catholic Bishops have taken a stance that violate the basic rights that affect millions of Catholics across the country and shows a lack of concern for women's health. It is disheartening that the Catholic Bishops were so opposed to the Obama Administration's decision to require religious institutions like hospitals and college to provide its faculty, staff, and students with access to reproductive health care, which includes birth control, emergency contraceptives, and condoms. Even after the White House announced a revised policy Friday that exempts religious institutions from having to pay for the contraception coverage, at least one bishop voiced disgust. The U.S. bishops said in a statement Friday that it's "too soon to tell whether and how much improvement [there's been] on core concerns." ....

* Modified Birth Control Rule Should End Controversy (But It Probably Won’t) - ACLU

[...] For days now, the bishops and some other religious leaders have been claiming that their religious liberty is under attack. Let’s be clear: it isn’t. The bishops have been trying to use their religious beliefs to discriminate against the female employees of religiously-affiliated organizations like universities and hospitals. While everyone has a right to their beliefs, the promise of religious liberty in this country doesn’t create a blanket right to deny critical health care to the female nurses, custodians, and administrators that work for these organizations. While the original policy was constitutional and already in place in many states, this compromise allows women to receive the care they need at an affordable price, while signaling that this administration is open to the concerns of the bishops and others.

But will this be enough to satisfy the bishops and others?

As recently reported by Think Progress, the bishops have strongly suggested that the only “compromise” that would satisfy them is that NO employers should have to pay for birth control for women. Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops defines his idea of a compromise:

“That means removing the provision from the health care law altogether, he said, not simply changing it for Catholic employers and their insurers. He cited the problem that would create for “good Catholic business people who can’t in good conscience cooperate with this.” “If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell, I’d be covered by the mandate,” Picarello said.

The idea that all employers should have the right to deny health care coverage to employers is out-of-step with public opinion and is unconstitutional. Recent polling shows that a majority of Americans agree that “employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost.” Further, the Supreme Court long ago explained that excusing individuals or institutions from neutral and generally applicable laws would devolve into a system “in which each conscience is a law unto itself.” ....

* Contraception and women's rights -- it's still a man's world - Los Angeles Times

[...] When it comes to contraception, it's still a man's world.

President Obama offered a compromise Friday on health insurance coverage for contraceptives. (For a thoughtful take on how that's likely to work, read my colleague Jon Healey's post, "The White House wishes away the cost of contraception coverage.") Really, though, this issue isn't about health insurance, or healthcare costs, or even religious freedom and the 1st Amendment. This is about power. It's about men telling women what they can and can't do with their bodies ....

Thursday, February 09, 2012

The parallax view

There's a post at dotCommonweal about the parallax view - no, not the movie :) but a change in the spatial orientation of an object when viewed from two different vantage points. It's a thoughtful post that resources Kant and the way we in America view religion. Here's a little of it ...

The Parallax of American Religion

[...] Well, since “religion,” for better or worse, is not really a theological concept in American life, but a sociologically contested one, it won’t do to let believers simply self-identify as religious or not. Since “religion” is essentially contested, different perspectives will have to be brought to bear on the question of what counts as “religion.” The benefit of this is that it allows us to perceive the depth of a world that includes such irreducibly perspectival concepts. Those who consider themselves “on the inside” of the concept might be reminded of the fragility of their faith and the fact that it is a dynamic relationship that is constantly moving as they make shifts in their own lives rather than a static possession with a perceptually fixed location. One day they might be comfortably sure of their theological line of sight, and the next they might be confused as to what side they are on. Those on the outside might be also compelled to consider the changes in contrast, the present and persistent absences, in their experience of the world that gives shape to the things they know by shading in the spaces where acquisitive thought fails. One day they might feel confident that they can see everything, and the next day they might be made aware of a potential blind spot.

In this way, we might come to see that “religion” is necessarily a moving target precisely because we are in motion. So, we should not be surprised when the very concept itself is interrogated, as it is in the current debates over the supposed claims to religious freedom versus the right to healthcare. Yet, many commentators have been reluctant to take on the question of “religion” directly. It is precisely because training one’s sights on the concept of “religion” results in a kind of oscillating parallax, that we would rather focus on issues that can be reduced to more stable questions, e.g. Is contraception medically necessary? Should religious groups be forced to pay for it? These are closer questions that don’t move around as much when perspectives change. But it’s too easy to ask, as Amy Sullivan does, “whether the federal government should be able to require a religious institution to use its own funds to pay for something it finds morally objectionable.” The parallaxical question that Obama has raised (or maybe stumbled into) is: What is a “religious institution”? And this includes the question: What is “religion”?

The Administration, for better or worse, seems to have dragged us into the dark and terrifying waters that lay beyond the shores of what we might consider “politics as usual,” which Kant would have thought of as the bounds of common sense rationality alone ...

I don't really understand Kant - he's just too hard for me -- but I grasp his questioning of what we hold to be true and I identify with his belief that the will of God and one's conscience will always be on the same page. Keith Ward has a great lecture on him ..... you can watch it here at

Let the fires of your justice burn

A comment to a post at dotCommonweal about proposition 8 linked to this song I'd never heard - The Canticle of the Turning. I like it :)

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Shakespeare at the movies

This week's movie rental was the 2011 film Anonymous. The movie is a ...

political thriller and pseudo-historical drama which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival ... a fictionalized version of the life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, an Elizabethan courtier, playwright, poet .... Set within the political atmosphere of the Elizabethan court, the film presents Lord Oxford as the true author of Shakespeare's plays, and dramatizes events leading to the succession of Queen Elizabeth and the Essex Rebellion against her.

- the older Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

I thought the movie was good -- the costumes were great, the sets really neat, the acting fine, the scenes of the various plays put on were interesting, and the theory explaining many of the unexplained things about Shakespeare was intriguing -- but the story was also quite disturbing and sad.

The film began in present day New York, with Derek Jacobi ascending to a theater stage and speaking to the audience about the oddities surrounding Shakespeare that have raised questions about the authorship of hi works .... that not one document attributed to him has ever been found written in his own hand, that he was able to write as he did with only an elementary school education, that he left his calling to become a grain merchant. As he went on speaking, the costumed actors and set on the stage behind him morphed into a realistic-looking Elizabethan street, and the historical drama about Shakespeare began.

- the young Queen Elizabeth and Edward

The script is based on the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship, the idea that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was who actually wrote all of Shakespeare's plays/poems. The storyline, which takes place over a forty year period, is pretty complicated .... the young Earl of Oxford (Jamie Campbell Bower) meets the young Queen Elizabeth (Joely Richardson) during a private showing of one of his plays. They eventually begin a romance which ends when Elizabeth becomes pregnant and their child is placed with a noble family without their knowledge by the power behind the throne, William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley (David Thewlis). The young Earl of Oxford has meanwhile married William Cecil's daughter and the Cecil family, being Puritan, pressure him not to write any more plays, so he instead hires playwright Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto) to produce his plays as his own. Eventually an unethical actor, William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall), learns of this deal and blackmails the Earl of Oxford to let him, not Johnson, pretend the plays are his own. Time goes by, the Queen (Vanessa Redgrave) becomes elderly, the mature Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) learns the identity of his son, the now Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (Xavier Samuel), and befriends him, the Cecils, father William and son Robert (Edward Hogg), work to give the future crown of England to Mary Queen of Scots' son James, and Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (Sebastian Reid), thought to be one of Elizabeth's bastards, works with his supporters to keep James off the throne, eventually getting decapitated for his trouble .... hey, I warned you it was complicated :)

- the Earl of Southampton and the Earl of Essex

Anyway, there's a lot more to the story, but I don't want to give it all away. There was something of a controversy when the film came out, more over the worthiness of the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship than the worth of the film itself, I think -- if interested, check out the Wikipedia page for links. Here's an example, the first paragraph of NYT movie critic A.O. SCcott's review of the film ...

“Anonymous,” a costume spectacle directed by Roland Emmerich, from a script by John Orloff, is a vulgar prank on the English literary tradition, a travesty of British history and a brutal insult to the human imagination. Apart from that, it’s not bad ....

I'm not sure if this will appeal to people who aren't interested in Shakespeare or who aren't history enthusiasts like me, but it's a well-made glimpse at Elizabethan England, albeit one seemed determined to justify every misanthropic sensibility ... I'm glad I saw it but I don't think I'll ever want to revisit it.

Here's the trailer ...

Sunday, February 05, 2012


Some poems I've posted here in the past ....

Saturday Night in the Tomb - William Coleman

I like to imagine Him dancing there,
testing his limbs' limits once more, fitting
back into his body the way we might
slip back again into a forgotten
favorite shirt crumpled in the closet,
finding ourselves wrapped in an old love's
scent and remembering the moonflowers
opening in our gaze, steadying
for another long, glorious night of worship.
That's the God I believe in—the one
who can't wait to roll back the rock, leave nothing
behind, make an appearance everywhere,
yet who still loves these nights alone, the cool
darkness of His room, that sweet, solitary
music that keeps Him humming long after the dying's done.

From Book of Hours - Rainer Maria Rilke

How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing—
each stone, blossom, child—
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things
because they are in God’s heart;
they have never left him.

This is what the things can teach us:
to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.

A Boat - Richard Brautigan

O beautiful
was the werewolf
in his evil forest.
We took him
to the carnival
and he started
when he saw
the Ferris wheel.
green and red tears
flowed down
his furry cheeks.
He looked
like a boat
out on the dark

Supernatural Love - Gjertrud Schnackenberg

My father at the dictionary stand
Touches the page to fully understand
The lamplit answer, tilting in his hand

His slowly scanning magnifying lens,
A blurry, glistening circle he suspends
Above the word 'Carnation'. Then he bends

So near his eyes are magnified and blurred,
One finger on the miniature word,
As if he touched a single key and heard

A distant, plucked, infinitesimal string,
"The obligation due to every thing
That's smaller than the universe." I bring

My sewing needle close enough that I
Can watch my father through the needle's eye,
As through a lens ground for a butterfly

Who peers down flower-hallways toward a room
Shadowed and fathomed as this study's gloom
Where, as a scholar bends above a tomb

To read what's buried there, he bends to pore
Over the Latin blossom. I am four,
I spill my pins and needles on the floor

Trying to stitch "Beloved" X by X.
My dangerous, bright needle's point connects
Myself illiterate to this perfect text

I cannot read. My father puzzles why
It is my habit to identify
Carnations as "Christ's flowers", knowing I

Can give no explanation but "Because."
Word-roots blossom in speechless messages
The way the thread behind my sampler does

Where following each X, I awkward move
My needle through the word whose root is love.
He reads, "A pink variety of Clove,

Carnatio, the Latin, meaning flesh."
As if the bud's essential oils brush
Christ's fragrance through the room, the iron-fresh

Odor carnations have floats up to me,
A drifted, secret, bitter ecstasy,
The stems squeak in my scissors, Child, it's me,

He turns the page to "Clove" and reads aloud:
"The clove, a spice, dried from a flower-bud."
Then twice, as if he hasn't understood,

He reads, "From French, for clou, meaning a nail."
He gazes, motionless,"Meaning a nail."
The incarnation blossoms, flesh and nail,

I twist my threads like stems into a knot
And smooth "Beloved", but my needle caught
Within the threads, Thy blood so dearly bought,

The needle strikes my finger to the bone.
I lift my hand, it is myself I've sewn,
The flesh laid bare, the threads of blood my own,

I lift my hand in startled agony
And call upon his name, "Daddy Daddy" -
My father's hand touches the injury

As lightly as he touched the page before,
Where incarnation bloomed from roots that bore
The flowers I called Christ's when I was four.

What I Would Do - Marc Petersen

If my wife were to have an affair,
I would walk to my toolbox in the garage,
Take from it my 12" flathead screwdriver
And my hickory-handle hammer,
The one that helped me build three redwood fences,
And I would hammer out the pins
In all the door hinges in the house,
And I would pull off all the doors
And I would stack them in the backyard.
And I would empty all the sheets from the linen closet,
And especially the flannels we have slept between for
nineteen winters;
And I would empty all the towels, too,
The big heavy white towels she bought on Saturdays at
And the red bath towels we got for our wedding,
And which we have never used;
And I would unroll the aluminum foil from its box,
And carry all the pots and pans from the cupboards to the
And lay this one long sheet of aluminum foil over all our
pots and pans;
And I would dump all the silverware from the drawer
Onto the driveway; and I would push my motorcycle over
And let all its gas leak out,
And I would leave my Jeep running at the curb
Until its tank was empty or its motor blew up,
And I would turn the TV up full-blast and open all the
And I would turn the stereo up full-blast,
With Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on it,
Schiller's "Ode to Joy," really blasting;
And I would strip our bed;
And I would lie on our stripped bed;
And I would see our maple budding out the window.
I would see our maple budding out our window,
The hummingbird feeder hanging from its lowest bough.
And my cat would jump up to see what was the matter
with me.
And I would tell her. Of course, I would tell her.
From her, I hold nothing back.

And Death Shall Have No Dominion - 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.

Behaving Like a Jew - Gerald Stern

When I got there the dead opossum looked like
an enormous baby sleeping on the road.
It took me only a few seconds—just
seeing him there—with the hole in his back
and the wind blowing through his hair
to get back again into my animal sorrow.
I am sick of the country, the bloodstained
bumpers, the stiff hairs sticking through the grilles,
the slimy highways, the heavy birds
refusing to move;
I am sick of the spirit of Lindbergh over everything,
that joy in death, that philosophical
understanding of carnage, that
concentration on the species.
---I am going to be unappeased at the opossum's death.
I am going to behave like a Jew
and touch his face, and stare into his eyes,
and pull him off the road.
I am not going to stand in a wet ditch
with the Toyotas and the Chevys passing over me
at sixty miles an hour
and praise the beauty and the balance
and lose myself in the immortal lifestream
when my hands are still a little shaky
from his stiffness and his bulk
and my eyes are still weak and misty
from his round belly and his curved fingers
and his black whiskers and his little dancing feet.

Picnic's Over - Erica Wagner

After Elaine Fasula

Here is the lesson these travellers took:
a river, a lover, a broken book.
Dressed for the weather, naked as rain,
roped one to the other they set out again.

That one has packed up his tricks for the night:
the jack-knife, the skein, the mariner’s light.
The wren is the gift at the heart of the wood;
her song is washed clean in the travellers’ blood.

This one lays bait for the stars to devour:
a feather, a saltbox, his enemy’s power.
He thought that the sandwiches tasted of shame,
his hunger a dog off the edge of the frame.

I will go with you, the fifth one remarked,
past the bridge over silence and into the dark;
the blade and the seed to temper disaster,
the clatter of horns will carry our laughter.

Here is the lesson these travellers took:
a ladder, a letter, a scarlet book.
Stripped by the rain, worn in the weather,
the lover, the enemy, vanish together.

Happiness - Jane Kenyon

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basket maker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.

It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

The Room - Kevin Hart

It is my house, and yet one room is locked.
The dark has taken root on all four walls.
It is a room where knots stare out from wood,
A room that turns its back on the whole house.

At night I hear the crickets list their griefs
And let an ancient peace come into me.
Sleep intercepts my prayer, and in the dark
The house turns slowly round its one closed room.

Tobit And Sarah - Jennifer Whiting

This is not the old days when a drachma
gets you a guardian angel for the
two-day journey to Rages. Costs have gone up.

Blindness. Dead husbands.
The root of agony: the neighbors and the maid.

For a safe journey: ignore the whispers.
Know: I am the duplicate document,
a contract that is always being signed.

The Last Day - Kevin Hart

When the last day comes
A ploughman in Europe will look over his shoulder
And see the hard furrows of earth
Finally behind him, he will watch his shadow
Run back into his spine.

It will be morning
For the first time, and the long night
Will be seen for what it is,
A black flag trembling in the sunlight.
On the last day

Our stories will be rewritten
Each from the end,
And each will hear the fields and rivers clap
And under the trees

Old bones
Will cover themselves with flesh;
Spears, bullets, will pluck themselves
From wounds already healed,
Women will clasp their sons as men

And men will look
Into their palms and find them empty;
There will be time
For us to say the right things at last,
To look into our enemy’s face

And see ourselves,
Forgiven now, before the books flower in flames,
The mirrors return our faces,
And everything is stripped from us,
Even our names.

from Epitaphs
by Abraham Sutzkever
Translated By Jacqueline Osherow
Read the translator's notes

Written on a slat of a railway car:

If some time someone should find pearls
threaded on a blood-red string of silk
which, near the throat, runs all the thinner
like life’s own path until it’s gone
somewhere in a fog and can’t be seen—

If someone should find these pearls
let him know how—cool, aloof—they lit up
the eighteen-year-old, impatient heart
of the Paris dancing girl, Marie.

Now, dragged through unknown Poland—
I’m throwing my pearls through the grate.

If they’re found by a young man—
let these pearls adorn his girlfriend.
If they’re found by a girl—
let her wear them; they belong to her.
And if they’re found by an old man—
let him, for these pearls, recite a prayer.

For a Coming Extinction - W.S. Merwin

Gray whale
Now that we are sending you to The End
That great god
Tell him
That we who follow you invented forgiveness
And forgive nothing

I write as though you could understand
And I could say it
One must always pretend something
Among the dying
When you have left the seas nodding on their stalks
Empty of you
Tell him that we were made
On another day

The bewilderment will diminish like an echo
Winding along your inner mountains
Unheard by us
And find its way out
Leaving behind it the future
And ours

When you will not see again
The whale calves trying the light
Consider what you will find in the black garden
And its court
The sea cows the Great Auks the gorillas
The irreplaceable hosts ranged countless
And foreordaining as stars
Our sacrifices

Join your word to theirs
Tell him
That it is we who are important

In a Dark Time - Theodore Roethke

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.

The Seed - Hal Summers

I am the small million.
I am the locked fountain.
Late, late in summer’s dotage
When they stand gaunt and blasted,
The hollyhock tower and the cottage
Of clover, and age has wasted
The sun - then, then at last
I jump, I glide, a waif
Victoriously lost,
Tempestuously safe.

I go as weak as sea-water.
I lie as quiet as radium.

In the dust-high caravan, in
The cabin of a bird’s claw,
Or sheepback I travel, I have been
In the whale, his prophesying maw;
I have occupied both town
And parish, an airborne spirit, a
Soldier in thistledown,
A meek inheritor.

I am dry but I shall slake you.
I am hard but I shall satisfy you.

The apple contains me and I
Contain the apple, I balance
A field on a stalk and tie
A century’s voices in silence;
And all the hopes of the happy
And all the sighs of the sorry
Rest in my power to copy
And copying vary.

I am the first omega.
I am the last alpha.

And remember, I lie beneath
All soils of time, fears’ frost;
Remember, I stir in my death,
Most missed I am least lost;
Remember, in the gaunt garden
In the kingdom of a broken tree
You will find after Armageddon,
After the deluge, me.

Corporeal Love - David Waltner-Toews

I love the body
earth's body
the body of Christ
your body.
Your mind is nothing without your body.
The spirit of earth is nothing without
the trees, mud, cats, snakes,
children, grandparents.
Victory in war is nothing
without bodies to count.
Bodies count.

I love bodies.
I want to kiss them, hold them, pity them,
refrain from embracing even
as I embrace.
I want to speak unspeakable emotions
in body language.

Whatever we cannot say
we are fated to embody.
Whatever we mean
is meant best with our bodies.
These are the words of God,
incarnation, beyond creeds
and commanding textbooks,
infinity embracing herself,
loving ourselves to life
even unto death.

And what I wish for everyone,
my global fatherhood peace wish,
comes down to a bowl of chili
and buttered toast,
with English Breakfast tea,
with you, in this warm kitchen
on a snow-blown day.

Beauty - Charles Baudelaire

I AM as lovely as a dream in stone,
And this my heart where each finds death in turn,
Inspires the poet with a love as lone
As clay eternal and as taciturn.

Swan-white of heart, a sphinx no mortal knows,
My throne is in the heaven's azure deep;
I hate all movements that disturb my pose,
I smile not ever, neither do I weep.

Before my monumental attitudes,
That breathe a soul into the plastic arts,
My poets pray in austere studious moods,

For I, to fold enchantment round their hearts,
Have pools of light where beauty flames and dies,
The placid mirrors of my luminous eyes.

Faith Healing - Philip Larkin

Slowly the women file to where he stands
Upright in rimless glasses, silver hair,
Dark suit, white collar. Stewards tirelessly
Persuade them onwards to his voice and hands,
Within whose warm spring rain of loving care
Each dwells some twenty seconds. Now, dear child,
What's wrong
, the deep American voice demands,
And, scarcely pausing, goes into a prayer
Directing God about this eye, that knee.
Their heads are clasped abruptly; then, exiled

Like losing thoughts, they go in silence; some
Sheepishly stray, not back into their lives
Just yet; but some stay stiff, twitching and loud
With deep hoarse tears, as if a kind of dumb
And idiot child within them still survives
To re-awake at kindness, thinking a voice
At last calls them alone, that hands have come
To lift and lighten; and such joy arrives
Their thick tongues blort, their eyes squeeze grief, a crowd
Of huge unheard answers jam and rejoice -

What's wrong! Moustached in flowered frocks they shake:
By now, all's wrong. In everyone there sleeps
A sense of life lived according to love.
To some it means the difference they could make
By loving others, but across most it sweeps
As all they might have done had they been loved.
That nothing cures. An immense slackening ache,
As when, thawing, the rigid landscape weeps,
Spreads slowly through them - that, and the voice above
Saying Dear child, and all time has disproved.

To a Cat - Algernon Charles Swinburne

STATELY, kindly, lordly friend,
Here to sit by me, and turn
Glorious eyes that smile and burn,
Golden eyes, love's lustrous meed,
On the golden page I read.

All your wondrous wealth of hair,
Dark and fair,
Silken-shaggy, soft and bright
As the clouds and beams of night,
Pays my reverent hand's caress
Back with friendlier gentleness.

Dogs may fawn on all and some
As they come;
You, a friend of loftier mind,
Answer friends alone in kind.
Just your foot upon my hand
Softly bids it understand.

Morning round this silent sweet
Sheds its wealth of gathering light,
Thrills the gradual clouds with might,
Changes woodland, orchard, heath,
Lawn, and garden there beneath.

Fair and dim they gleamed below:
Now they glow
Deep as even your sunbright eyes,
Fair as even the wakening skies.
Can it not or can it be
Now that you give thanks to see ?

May not you rejoice as I,
Seeing the sky
Change to heaven revealed, and bid
Earth reveal the heaven it hid
All night long from stars and moon,
Now the sun sets all in tune?

What within you wakes with day
Who can say?
All too little may we tell,
Friends who like each other well,
What might haply, if we might,
Bid us read our lives aright.

Wild on woodland ways your sires
Flashed like fires;
Fair as flame and fierce and fleet
As with wings on wingless feet
Shone and sprang your mother, free,
Bright and brave as wind or sea.

Free and proud and glad as they,
Here to-day
Rests or roams their radiant child,
Vanquished not, but reconciled,
Free from curb of aught above
Save the lovely curb of love.

Love through dreams of souls divine
Fain would shine
Round a dawn whose light and song
Then should right our mutual wrong---
Speak, and seal the love-lit law
Sweet Assisi's seer foresaw.

Dreams were theirs; yet haply may
Dawn a day
When such friends and fellows born,
Seeing our earth as fair at morn,
May for wiser love's sake see
More of heaven's deep heart than we.

Mary And Gabriel - Rupert Brooke

Young Mary, loitering once her garden way,
Felt a warm splendour grow in the April day,
As wine that blushes water through. And soon,
Out of the gold air of the afternoon,
One knelt before her: hair he had, or fire,
Bound back above his ears with golden wire,
Baring the eager marble of his face.
Not man's nor woman's was the immortal grace
Rounding the limbs beneath that robe of white,
And lighting the proud eyes with changeless light,
Incurious. Calm as his wings, and fair,
That presence filled the garden.
She stood there,
Saying, "What would you, Sir?"
He told his word,
"Blessed art thou of women!" Half she heard,
Hands folded and face bowed, half long had known,
The message of that clear and holy tone,
That fluttered hot sweet sobs about her heart;
Such serene tidings moved such human smart.
Her breath came quick as little flakes of snow.
Her hands crept up her breast. She did but know
It was not hers. She felt a trembling stir
Within her body, a will too strong for her
That held and filled and mastered all. With eyes
Closed, and a thousand soft short broken sighs,
She gave submission; fearful, meek, and glad. . . .
She wished to speak. Under her breasts she had
Such multitudinous burnings, to and fro,
And throbs not understood; she did not know
If they were hurt or joy for her; but only
That she was grown strange to herself, half lonely,
All wonderful, filled full of pains to come
And thoughts she dare not think, swift thoughts and dumb,
Human, and quaint, her own, yet very far,
Divine, dear, terrible, familiar . . .
Her heart was faint for telling; to relate
Her limbs' sweet treachery, her strange high estate,
Over and over, whispering, half revealing,
Weeping; and so find kindness to her healing.
'Twixt tears and laughter, panic hurrying her,
She raised her eyes to that fair messenger.
He knelt unmoved, immortal; with his eyes
Gazing beyond her, calm to the calm skies;
Radiant, untroubled in his wisdom, kind.
His sheaf of lilies stirred not in the wind.
How should she, pitiful with mortality,
Try the wide peace of that felicity
With ripples of her perplexed shaken heart,
And hints of human ecstasy, human smart,
And whispers of the lonely weight she bore,
And how her womb within was hers no more
And at length hers?
Being tired, she bowed her head;
And said, "So be it!"
The great wings were spread
Showering glory on the fields, and fire.
The whole air, singing, bore him up, and higher,
Unswerving, unreluctant. Soon he shone
A gold speck in the gold skies; then was gone.
The air was colder, and grey. She stood alone.