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There are two kinds of conservatives....

...those who look to the Enlightenment as the primary source of their political views, and those who look to the entire history of Western civilization, generally with a strong emphasis on the Christian era.

I think this is a better way of looking at the tension between what often gets called neo-conservatism and the various other elements of conservatism which include the religious right and paleo-conservatism. I don't have any examples at hand, but I've many times encountered conservatives who refer to "traditional values" or "Western values," but, as soon as they mention specific sources, turn out to be referring to the Enlightenment. Whereas a conservative in the second group, more often than not a Christian, is thinking of the whole Judeo-Christian tradition, and especially the past 2000 years. He may even be hostile to the Enlightenment, and certainly doesn't consider it the first glimpse of light in the darkness of history.

I believe I've seen, somewhere or other, these two groups referred to as liberty-oriented conservatives and virtue-oriented conservatives. It's unfortunate that the word "neo-conservative" has become attached to (roughly speaking) the first group, because it's a really ill-defined and loaded word, as the discussion on the previous post indicates.


Diminished Respect for Wendell Berry

I've read two of Wendell Berry's novels, The Memory of Old Jack and Hannah Coulter, and consider the first one very good and the second very very good, maybe to be ranked with the best novels of our time. I've read a fair number of his essays on cultural and political topics and think very highly of them. But in spite of his striking insights into the nature of our modern problems, I've never seen him as being quite the sage which many similarly-minded people--agrarians, distributists, traditionalists--seem to think him. And I think part of the reason was a suspicion that at bottom he does not have a fully coherent philosophy.

That unarticulated reservation became somewhat clearer a couple of days ago when I read of some recent remarks in which he attacked Christians who oppose same-sex marriage. Though I may have had a few reservations about his thinking, it is with no sense of satisfaction whatsoever that I find him delivering opinions which it would be a kindness to call only incoherent. They are also intemperate, unjust, and detached from reality. You can read some of what he said here at First Things, and yet more here, at the blog of Timothy Dalyrymple.

Dalyrymple, in a thorough response, is by no means unfair in saying that Berry "repeats uncritically a slew of bumper-sticker arguments and engages in some serious straw-man pyromania." If it weren't Wendell Berry, no one would bother responding, because apart from a characteristically graceful way of constructing  a sentence he is saying nothing that you couldn't find in the comments at any left-wing web site.

It seems he favors same-sex marriage, which is all right; I think that's a mistake, but thoughtful people can disagree in good faith on the matter. What's so striking about his diatribe is that he does not grant that his fellow Christians who disagree with him are in fact acting in good faith and deserving of respect; instead, he anathematizes them as the kindred of those who practiced "Christian war, torture, terror, slavery and annihilation against Jews, Muslims, black Africans, American Indians and others."

Berry's harsh and sweeping condemnations remind me of another Baptist who enjoys sticking the occasional finger in the eye of his co-religionists: Jimmy Carter. That's not a compliment. Unless the reports of these remarks is shown to be inaccurate or incomplete, I don't think I can ever have quite the same respect for Berry that I did. His good work stands, of course, and he does not cease to be right about one thing because he is wrong about another, but this certainly makes him seem considerably smaller, both in intellect and in character. Consider this bit:

Would conservative Christians like a small government bureau to inspect, approve and certify their sexual behavior? Would they like a colorful tattoo verifying government approval on the rumps of lawfully copulating parties?

The intellectual shoddiness of this is self-demonstrating to any honest observer of the marriage debate. And it's a moral failing as well; if not consciously malicious, it's culpably ignorant in one who sets himself up as a wise observer of society. This slandering of the Christian community in retribution for its refusal to revise its principles on command is not blameless. It comes pretty close to calumny ("remarks contrary to the truth which harm the reputation of others and give occasion for false judgments against them"), the only mitigation of that charge being that Berry presumably believes he is telling the truth. I never thought I would have to charge Wendell Berry with such a thing. 

The only explanation I can come up with for this aberration--or so I would like to consider it--is connected to what I said about Berry perhaps lacking a fully coherent philosophy. His seems to be essentially an aesthetic sensibility, certainly very insightful in most instances but susceptible to the occasional dramatic mistake which a more analytical mind might avoid. It would certainly be good to hear him repudiate this one. 

(Hat tip to Janet Cupo for pointing out the First Things post to me.)

The Blasters: Samson and Delilah

Weekend Music

The Blasters were active in the early to mid-1980s. There was something of a fashion then for a 1950s-style look and sound, and they were part of it, but they weren't just a novelty.  "Rockabilly" would be the closest one-word description of their sound, but it was more varied than that. "Roots rock" is a better and broader term. They made several albums on the Sire label, all of which are available in a collection called Testament, all 50 or so tracks of which were available for a while at eMusic for some ridiculously low price, under $10 if I remember correctly. And that's why I bought it; although it isn't the kind of music I listen to all that often, it hits the spot sometimes, and I have certainly enjoyed this set.

One of my favorite of their songs is "Samson and Delilah," which you may recognize as a folk song, usually called "If I Had My Way," which was recorded frequently during the folk boom of the 1960s. I think this is the best version I've ever heard. The arrangement is very untypical of the Blasters' sound--just the one guitar, and a gospel group. It's proof that you don't have to have drums to rock. 

A few days ago I found this on YouTube and was going to post it, but now it's gone. So I'm going to upload the mp3, and take it down on Wednesday. So listen while you can.

Shave my head just as clean as your hand
Then I'll become a natural man

32_ Samson And Delilah

Here's a live version of one of their more typical songs, "Marie Marie."


The Anti-Christ in the Catechism

When I did those two posts about politics and the anti-Christ a few months ago (here and here), I kept asking myself if I was being overly pessimistic and paranoid. There is certainly a good deal of fear and hysteria among Christians in our time, and I didn't want to be drawn into it, or encourage it in others. Yet one can be aware of the signs of the times, and realistic about what's going on, without losing one's balance. And I felt somewhat vindicated when Janet Cupo sent me the following passages from the Catechism. Note paragraph 676 in particular.

The Church's ultimate trial

675     Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.

676     The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism.

677     The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God's victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God's triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.

That secular messianism is a powerful force in our society can't reasonably be denied. That doesn't mean these are the end times, but it is certainly something that bears identifying and watching; there's nothing to be gained by refusing to face the reality. In any case our duty doesn't change very much, and we must remain hopeful and confident.

Marmite Update

It was just over a year ago that I wrote about sampling this legendary substance: see this post and this one. I ended my reflection saying "I haven't been back to the Marmite jar. I do plan to finish it, but I probably won't replace it."

And I more or less forget about it until a few months ago, when I noticed the jar in the cabinet and tried it again. And then just a few days ago, I said words I never expected to say: "We need some more Marmite. We're almost out." 

Yes, I have grown fond of it, although whenever I say that I hear the last words of 1984 in my mind: "He loved Big Brother." Well, brainwashed or not, my favorite breakfast these days is half of an English muffin with butter and Marmite, and a small glass of milk for protein. Very tasty, and it gets me through till lunchtime. (I mean favorite quick workday breakfast, of course: there's still nothing like eggs and bacon etc.)


A Melancholy Inauguration

 I've had a very pleasant three-day weekend (thanks to the Martin Luther King holiday). And I've made an effort to pay little attention to the inauguration, but of course whenever I look at the headlines online I'm reminded. And I did, out of curiosity, read Obama's address. Fine words, some of them. And mostly either with very little meaning, or with a meaning that makes me pretty uneasy. I fell, just a bit, for his rhetoric when I heard it at the very beginning of the 2008 campaign, well before he had even been nominated: unity, good will, shared purpose, community, etc. etc. etc. 

Most of the sycophantic press is stil buying into it, of course: 

Obama Makes Inclusion Theme of Swearing-In

Obama's Political Legacy: Returning Community as an American Value

Obama Looks to Bridge Political Divide With Second Inaugural

etc. etc. etc.

All three of those headlines are objectively false, because Obama's idea of "inclusion"--the general liberal idea--requires the exclusion of those who disagree. And those who disagree are not just a few cranks and malcontents, but somewhere around half the population. It has long since become clear that his idea of national unity is that we should see things his way, and that if we don't it's because we're misguided or malicious, and that we will do things his way, preferably voluntarily, but involutarily if necessary. Those of us who have opposed him, and are by now pretty used to the divide between what he says and what he intends ("the enormous and completely shameless disparity between his goals and his unifying, inclusive rhetoric," as Neo-neocon put it), see that mixed in with all the high-flown rhetoric about the American dream, rhetoric with which few would argue, there are clear notices that he intends to continue as he began: to enforce his and his party's will on those who disagree, with no regard for their objections, except insofar as the objections have to be dealt with politically.

And so I wait uneasily to see how much more damage he will do over the next four years. Which is not to say that I think everything he has done is wrong--I think he is right to end the war in Afghanistan, for instance (though I suspect we will be at war in that region again within my lifetime). But he has seriously damaged the already fraying fabric of the country, and he doesn't regret it, or intend to alter his course. I have no affection for the Republicans, but I hope they retain control of the House. 


As one of my children used to pronounce it. I had been at the bay with my camera late one afternoon in early December. I was about to go inside, and this owl swooped silently into a tree right beside the house. Pretty unusual to see one so close and in daylight. This seems to be the species known as the barred owl. We have a lot of them around here, and you can hear them frequently at night, and sometimes during the day. I have occasionally, while walking at night, seen one staring down at me from a telephone line, which is slightly spooky. Once I stopped and stared back for a long time, until finally it flew away. 

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A Little Pain

Weekend Music

This is not the kind of music I generally listen to--high-speed more-or-less-punk rock, with a ska touch--and when I do listen to it, a few songs at a time are enough. It may not be to the taste of most people who read this blog, either, but bear with me--there's an interesting story here.

One night some years ago, probably around 1996 or 1997, I went out to the grocery store for milk or something that was needed for the next morning. The radio station I was listening to (pretty much the only listenable one around, apart from the "public" station), was playing music by local bands. I heard a song called "Fight" by a band called Pain. It was catchy and witty, and I remember mentioning the band to my then-teenaged children as possibly being worth checking out. It turned out the band was from Tuscaloosa, and was pretty widely popular for a while, though never breaking into the top ranks.  A couple of my children became fans, and bought the CD from which this song is taken. I liked it, too, though as I said it's not really my type of music.

The singer, Dan Lord, and another guy who was generally known just as Pose, seem to have been the core of the band, and the main writers. And they were originally from Mobile, and had attended the Catholic high school, McGill-Toolen, from which two of my children graduated. The lyrics were one of the main reasons I liked the band--they were ingenious, often funny, and perceptive. Overall, and unlike so much punk, the general feel of the music was not predominantly angry and nihilistic, but had a wry sense of fun. The album Midgets With Guns starts off with a brief ditty explaining their name:

Pose, Pose, why do you suppose 
That Pain is our name? 
Because that's what we chose 
And life without pain is a long endless chain 
Of errors repeated again and again 
So don't be afraid of pain, don't run away.

Here's the title song. In case you have trouble understanding the words, "midgets with guns" are the petty and malicious part of our selves:

There's little guys with little guns
Inside our mouths, inside our heads,
They make us suffer.


Here's another song, "Square Pegs", which is somewhat harder and more punk:


A few years ago something or other I was reading online had a link to a blog called That Strangest of Wars. I thought the writer's name, Dan Lord, sounded familiar, but it had been a long time since I heard Pain, and I didn't make the connection at first.  Here, I'll let him explain

Dan's wife, Hallie is also known as a Catholic blogger, writer, and speaker.

As Chuck Berry said, it goes to show you never can tell.

No Doubt A Richly Deserved Indictment

The law seems to have caught up with former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. Good. 

Ordinarily this is not something I would write about here, but the success of the effort to blame then-President Bush for everything that went wrong after (and maybe before) Hurricane Katrina was one of the most egregious recent examples of the media crafting a "narrative" that stuck, regardless of its tenuous connection to the facts. And it still irritates me. Not that the federal response didn't have its share of problems and mistakes, but the "narrative" had room for little else. And from what I've read Nagin deserved more criticism than Bush.

This is where man's greatness lies; only the mind can do that: to perceive the separation between what he is, what he does, what he gives himself, and what he wants, what he can hope for. Even in the lower courtyard I can look beyond the gate; I can hear a call (perhaps I cannot follow it, but at least I can hear it)....It must be said that if this is our grandeur, it is also our misery: because we are capable of making ourselves, little by little, deaf to such calls.

--Fr. Bernard Bro, OP

Why Do They Keep Doing It?

The Bankhead Tunnel is one of the two tunnels under the Mobile River in Mobile. It was built in the late 1930s and the entrance is not high enough to accomodate today's big trucks. There is an elaborate warning system telling truck drivers not to attempt the entrance. Yet they regularly try it, and the truck gets stuck, and the tunnel is blocked for hours. This one happened last week:TruckStuckinBankheadTunnel

Click here to read the news story. I'd guess these incidents happen on average once a year or so ("a lot more often than it should," sighs someone from the Alabama Department of Transportation). But there was another one last night, though I can't find a good picture of it online yet. And last August there was this one:TruckStuckinBankheadTunnelAug2012

I suppose each one of these represents an out-of-work truck driver. A pretty incompetent one, anyway. One driver said his GPS told him it was okay, so he ignored the warnings.

Ogden Nash: Good Intentions

A month or two ago I was browsing in the used book store run by the Friends of the Library at one of the local libraries and happened across two volumes which are the sort of thing I'm always hoping to find, and the main reason why I do such browsing: matched volumes of Ogden Nash's Good Intentions, from 1942, and Versus, 1949. I don't know if they're first editions or not, but they're certainly early ones, and look like they were printed sometime in the '40s.

There are two things I like about books such as these. One is the physical object itself--I like the way they look and feel. The cheap paperbacks of 60 or 70 years ago seem to be made more poorly than today's and are falling apart now.  But the hardbacks seem better, in general, although I'm sure the best books being made today are as good as those of any time. The other of course is the content. I really don't think it's just nostalgia; I really think there has been a general falling-off in the cultural realm since the great upheavals of the 1960s. (I tried to get at this rather elusive sense of what's changed in this Sunday Night Journal.) 

OgdenNashBooks 1-13-2013 4-57-48 PM 2073x1633
Ogden Nash was well-known enough when I was growing up that I was familiar with his name and the general style of his work. I didn't seek him out, or encounter him in a literature course: he just turned up, in the mainstream magazines found in an ordinary middle-class household. It is hard to imagine his playful and literate wit finding much of an audience today. I wonder if anyone under the age of forty (fifty? sixty?) today would recognize his name. I suppose Garrison Keillor's general presence and work might bear comparison, but Keillor's universe of allusion and reference is mostly confined to pop culture. And his work in recent years has been disfigured by culture-wars venom. 

But all that aside: I've read one of the two books, Good Intentions, starting with the first poem and going all the way through, one or two or three at a time every day, and the best of them are great fun, and sometimes a bit more. In other words, they're just what you want in light verse. A good many are now too specifically bound to the circumstances of upper-middle-class WASP life in the 1930s and '40s to travel well, chronologically speaking. There are a lot of references to dinner parties, train stations, taxis, bridge, and cocktails, and even one complaint about the loss of a servant. It's not that these could not be made timeless, at least in principle, and sometimes they are, but the general drift of the poems is a wry observation about that specific thing in itself, and as they are no longer applicable to most of us they lose some of their force.

I suppose the same could be said of Nash's allusiveness, which is sometimes as thick as Wodehouse's, and at least as oriented to the contemporary (Lunt and Fontanne, Berlitz, Wurlitzer),  and I have the feeling I'm missing at least some of it. But to call a poem "Allergy in a Country Churchyard" or "Frailty, Thy Name Is a Misnomer" is probably evidence of higher expectations of an educated but not academic audience than would be found today. And in some cases the poem is funny even if you don't know entirely what it's about.

      Mr. Henderson

There goes Leon
Glowing like neon.
He's got an appointment
In somebody's ointment.

I had already gotten a good laugh out of that, and read it to my wife, when it occurred to me that "Leon Henderson" was too specific a name to serve as the handle for a generic bit of satire. With the usual help of Wikipedia, I quickly learned that Mr. Henderson was the "controversial and deeply unpopular" head of the Office of Price Administration when these poems were written, and it is not hard to imagine that a man heading a government agency by that name would be a fly in the ointment of a great many people.

Nash's great specialty is the long and seemingly formless line, often with rather twisted syntax, which ends in an unexpected rhyme, frequently with a word invented for the purpose

A husband is a man who two minutes after his head touches the pillow is snoring like an overloaded omnibus,
Particularly on those occasions when between the humidity and the mosquitoes your own bed is no longer a bed but an insomnibus....

(from "The Trouble with Women is Men")

In general the poems alternate between this sort and brief epigrammatic ones like "Mr. Henderson." Both are great fun. I'm looking forward to Versus

One thing that makes a writer like Nash seem more solid than most of our contemporaries is that he seems to be a Christian living in a Christian society: not that he is a devotional or even particularly religious poet, but that he has a place, and a philosophy, which he more or less takes for granted, and which impart something of their solidity to his work. There is very little mention of Christianity in the poems, and my guess--it's only that--is that he was a mainline Protestant of the old pre-1960s variety, not necessarily devout but casually faithful. Yet there is none of that aggrieved cynicism and anger that is pretty much a standard feature of the contemporary writer. 

And there is one poem which is explicitly Christian, and which is so different from everything else in the book that one wonders why it was included. I'm going to include it here, even though its complete seriousness makes it unrepresentative, because I think it's excellent, and because it gives some idea of the sort of man who wrote all those amusing things. (Remember this book was published during World War II.) 

          Heil, Heilige Nacht!

How many years to Bethlehem?
Near a hundred score.
Can I get there by candlelight?
Not this war.

The friendly, holy candle light
is bale fire now to death,
Its perilous glimmer long blown out
By sirens' breath.

Through skies the Wise Men humbly scanned
Three keener hunters flit--
Heinkel and Dornier seek the gleam,
With Messerschmitt.

No manger now, no cattle shed,
Too lowly to be found.
Take up the babe and hurry him
Deep underground.

But cave nor grave is deep enough
To shield young flesh and bone.
Hurry him down, and o'er his head
Roll the great stone.

What need of law to still the bells,
For how should bells be merry?
The day the child in joy was born,
The child we bury.

Gentlemen of the High Command,
Who crucify the slums,
There was an earlier Golgotha.
The third day comes. 

Pat Metheny: Ferry Cross the Mersey

Weekend Music

From the time I heard it as a teenager I've always thought this early British Invasion song had a beautiful tune, and am sort of pleased that guitar master Pat Metheny apparently thinks so too.


And if you don't remember or never heard the original, or just would like to hear it again:


It's striking what a downbeat and rather conservative song it is, especially considering the times:

Goes on day after day
Torn in every way
So ferry, cross the Mersey,
'cause this land's the place I love
And here I'll stay.

The Chilly Comforts of Atheism

The title of this piece caught my eye the other day when it appeared on Google News: "The Blessings of Atheism." I wondered what those might be, so I read it. It's by Susan Jacoby, one of those activist atheists. And the purported blessings she offers are pretty thin stuff. I certainly sympathize with her difficulty in wrestling with the problem of suffering. But it's a little sad, and a little amusing, that she recommends that atheists respond to the grieving with the news that at least when you're dead you won't suffer anymore.  Speaking of the president's response to the Connecticut murders, she says

Somewhere in that audience, and in the larger national audience, there were mourners who would have been comforted by the acknowledgment that their lives have meaning even if they do not regard death as the door to another life, but “only perfect rest.”

She's not at all clear as to what that meaning is--something to do with social justice etc., it appears. Fine, as far as that goes, but ultimately she can offer only the counsel that death puts an end to everything, including suffering.

He could have said something like, “Whether you are religious or nonreligious, may you find solace in the knowledge that the suffering is ours, but that those we love suffer no more.” 

And in time you'll follow them into nothingness, and suffer no more from their loss. This reminds me of a guy I worked with on the farm many years ago: his response to any vexing problem--a broken piece of machinery, uncooperative cattle--was "A hundred years from now you'll never know it."  A useful bit of perspective when one is inconvenienced, but hardly what we're looking for in a philosophy of life. 

The Ever-evolving Mrs. Grundy

As you may know, the University of Alabama (Roll Tide!) won the national championship in football last night (Roll Tide!!). And you may have heard that one of the announcers for the game, Brent Musburger (who is by no means young), raised eyebrows with some remarks about Bama quarterback A.J. McCarron's girlfriend. If you've ever watched football games on TV, you know they often show brief shots of people in the crowd who are interesting in one way or another: because they're wearing a crazy costume, because they're pretty women, or because they're related to a player or coach. Well, this young lady met those last two criteria, and Musburger's comments about her looks were a tad over-enthusiastic: he told his broadcasting partner, a former quarterback, that "you quarterbacks get all the good-looking women" and suggested that "If you’re a youngster in Alabama, start getting the football out and throw it around the backyard with Pop." So you can have a girlfriend that beautiful. 

I was mildly startled by the remarks, and thought he was overdoing it a bit; I would say it was "inappropriate" if that word simply meant what it says, and didn't now have such prune-faced connotations. And then the camera went back to the game and I forgot about it.

But this morning I discovered that it's a fairly big news story, with people joining in a great chorus of huffiness, including the usual feminists who seem to think they can, just by demanding that it be so, turn the world into a place where the star athlete and the beauty queen don't naturally end up with each other and attract the admiration and envy of everyone else. Here's a good example from the New York Times. This bit is something of a classic:

"It’s extraordinarily inappropriate to focus on an individual’s looks," said Sue Carter, a professor of journalism at Michigan State. "In this instance, the appearance of the quarterback’s girlfriend had no bearing on the outcome of the game. It’s a major personal violation, and it’s so retrograde that it’s embarrassing. I think there’s a generational issue, but it’s incumbent on people practicing in these eras to keep up and this is not a norm."

Two things really strike me about this: the puritanism and the incipient totalitarianism. It really does seem sometimes that there is a certain constant proportion of puritanism in the American character, and that it never goes away, but just expresses itself in different forms. What is political correctness but puritanism seeking to induce a sense of shame about unwelcome thoughts of a socio-political nature? 

And as for the totalitarianism: that's what's required if you want to control human nature itself to the extent that this professor wishes. When people like her say "inappropriate" there's a ferocity about it, as if they're frustrated that they can't report you to the police. And I don't doubt that if they ruled the world there would be police for such matters.  There would certainly be very strict rules about allowing the camera to rest on the face of a pretty girl during the broadcast of a football game. Well, come to that, football itself probably wouldn't be allowed.

"...the appearance of the quarterback's girlfriend had no bearing on the outcome of the game" is really rather funny. And by the way, isn't it inappropriate for the professor to suggest that Musburger's age is somehow a defect, causing him to be insensitive and retrograde? Call the cops!

"An action movie for young people aged 15 to 25"

That's Christopher Tolkien's opinion of Peter Jackson's movies. I agree more than disagree with him, as I've said here more than once. 

The piece in question (from Le Monde) is full of fascinating information about Christopher Tolkien's work and the course of Tolkien-related events after the writer's death. I think it's a bit misleading in describing The Lord of the Rings as "an epiphenomenon" in Tolkien's writing at large. True, the events in that book are only one small piece in a very, very large narrative, but that doesn't mean JRRT thought lightly of it: "It was written in my heart's blood" is a remark from one of his letters (to Christopher, if I remember correctly).

I've wondered how much control the Tolkien family had over the movies. The answer seems to be "not much."

I do know at least one person who knows The Lord of the Rings only through the movies but nevertheless has a pretty good sense of what the story is about, so perhaps it's not all for nothing.

A Christmas Caryll (12)

...In the meantime, the only thing that I can see that will help you is to learn to love yourself, to forgive yourself, to be kind to yourself, by looking outwards to God, by accepting the fact that you are infinitely loved by Infinite Love, and that if you will only cease to build up notions of the perfection you demand of yourself, and lay your soul open to that love, you will cease to fear, and you will cease to be exhausted as soon as you stop fighting one part of yourself with another. I can only pray for you and beg you to turn your face to this immense love and power and cast all your fear on to it. You should try to realize that in you is the power, strength and love of Christ, that you can carry all that darkness and not go under, if you realize that it isn't you but He who will carry it; also, if you will try to realize that in you Christ lives His risen life, that He has already overcome death--died and risen from death and overcome it; that it is the Risen Christ, who has already defeated death, who lives in you. If you will only realize that, you will soon be convinced that you will also come right up through the darkness into the light. One can't think of God at all without thinking of light; at least I can't... Try to believe that life is in you like a seed, pushing, striving, struggling up to light. Instead of fighting yourself, let this seed of supernatural life fight its way out through darkness, just as an ordinary seed fights up through the darkness and heaviness of the hard, frozen earth. First it has to sharpen its own green blade in the night and cut through the ground, or pierce the wood if it is a leaf on the tree, but suddenly it breaks into flower or leaf; and when it does that, it does not see its own beauty--the world outside it sees that; what it sees is the glorious sun that drew it up out of the darkness. Light. So too it will be with you; your soul, your mind will break into flower and you will find it is flowering in the midst of light, the light of Truth and Beauty and Life.

I enclose a good translation of the Veni, Sancte Spiritus. Try to say it--read it--will it.

God bless you.

I'm sorry I can't write a decent letter, but I am snowed under with people and work.

My love, and have no fear, for all will be well.

--Caryll Houselander, Letters

This is one of a series of letters described as "To a Young Friend Who Married and Settled Abroad."

After returning to work on Wednesday at the end of the Christmas-New Year break, I was very busy and chose the selections for the past three days pretty hastily. Today I had a bit of free time and sat down with the book intending to spend as much time as needed to find a good quotation. But it opened at this page, and I thought I would hardly do better. And this was the first of the letters that I've wanted to quote in full. Now to go back to the beginning and read the book through.

A Christmas Caryll (11)

I knew once the primmest old invalid lady who could well have offered her helplessness to God but had a grievance with Him because He had not permitted her to be eaten by a cannibal for the Faith; she could not accept herself as a sick woman but she would have achieved heroic virtue as a cutlet!

--Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God

A Christmas Caryll (10)

"Be it done unto me according to thy word" surrenders yourself and all that is dear to you to God, and the trust which it implies does not mean trusting God to look after you and yours, to keep them in health and prosperity and honor.

It means much more, it means trusting that whatever God does with you and with yours is the act of an infinitely loving Father.

The war has shown even the inexperienced, the young, that you cannot depend on money. In less than a few second the richest man's home becomes a heap of rubble; at the same moment the little son is killed.

Is trust of God to go as far as that? Are we to see the pathetic little burden carried away in the warden's arms and still say: "That is God's dear son, the object of all His all-powerful love!"

--Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God

I think a lot of Christians, especially certain Evangelicals, really get themselves into spiritual trouble with the belief she describes in the first paragraph.

A Christmas Caryll (9)

If I were you I should not worry with de Caussade and his ilk. Most books of that sort are written by and for religious (monks and nuns), and once they have made a clean break from their family and the world, they have not got the same kind of troubles that we have. It is much easier to be "abandoned" when you are not tied up and twisted and rooted into those you love; and if you are a married woman with a family, you must love your family and you must mind what happens, and whether you can pay the rent, and whether there is anything in the larder, and so on. Your sanctity comes from putting your trust in God for yourself and your family, and you are not expected (by God) to be indifferent to those whom He has given to you to be loved by you! If you try to apply (as many do) ideas which even in a monastery are difficult to practice, to life in the world, it will end in depression.

It's not wrong to worry or fear, but it is wrong not to accept worry and fear if they are your personal cross. Only hand out the worry and fear to Our Lord; ask Him to bear it with you.

--Caryll Houselander, Letters

Jean Pierre de Caussade, in case you are not aware of him, was an 18th century French Jesuit who for a time was spiritual director to a congregation of nuns, and wrote (for them, I assume) Abandonment to Divine Providence.

A Christmas Caryll (8)

I think the most moving fact in the whole history of mankind is that wherever the Holy Spirit has desired to renew the face of the earth He has chosen to do so through communion with some humble little human creature.

In the instances we know of, it has not been to great or powerful people that the Spirit has come but to the little or the frightened, and we have seen them made new, and known that the subsequent flowering of their lives was nothing else but Christ given to them by that sweet impact.

It is always a love story, a culmination of love between the Spirit of Light and the Bride of the Spirit.

This is something which can happen to everyone now, but it could not have happened to anyone but for the fiat of the peasant girl in Nazareth whom the whole world calls Our Lady.

--Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God.