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February 2018

Sunday Night Journal, February 25, 2018

Billy Graham's brand of Christianity was not mine; it never has been. Even apart from the vast doctrinal distance between his evangelical Protestantism and my Catholicism, simply as a matter of what you might call style or culture, it was not for me. There was a time when I more or less despised him as a representation of American civil religion. That was the case when I was a non-believer and a political leftist, because his public image was so strongly associated in my mind with the confused and unhealthy mixture of Christianity and Americanism that's so common here. I started to say "common in some brands of Protestantism," which it is of course, but there are Catholic strains, too.

But that was a long time ago, and I think the picture of Graham that I had in the '60s became less accurate over the years. Maybe it never was really accurate, but, rightly or wrongly, the mention of his name had always conjured up an image of the American flag, or the American eagle, alongside his face.

My impression of him became more positive over the years, though. That had something to do, of course, with my becoming a Christian and sharing his most fundamental beliefs. But it also had to do with the fact that he seemed to remain the same as American culture declined around him, making him look better in comparison. I used to read his "My Answer" advice column in the newspaper: someone would write in with problems and questions of one sort or another, and Graham's answers were always solidly Christian. (I wonder if he actually wrote them himself, but whether he did or not, they appeared under his name and presumably reflected his views.)  On the same page I read Ann Landers and/or Dear Abby, and their advice, though it was often shrewd, changed with the cultural winds in ways that were often amusing. Not Graham's. He tried to be sympathetic and generous but he didn't compromise. 

It wasn't only the secular culture that was declining, either. The kind of mass-appeal non-denominational evangelicalism he proclaimed was changed very much for the worse by glitzy stars of dubious honesty like Jim Bakker. But Graham seemed to stick to his original Christ-centered style and mission and in the process became the sort of American character who is also an institution, like Jimmy Stewart, or Johnny Cash. You don't have to view them as the brightest stars in the firmament of Western civilization to appreciate them for what they were, and to recognize that part of what made them so appealing was the insistent, if not consistent, integrity they seemed to represent, even if or when they failed to exemplify it. 

And so I'm sorry to see Graham go. As characters in The Lord of the Rings say more than once, "the world is changing." As always, it is changing simultaneously for better and for worse. But I can't see America producing another like him, or Jimmy Stewart, or Johnny Cash. 

In spite of what I just said about the mixed nature of change, the truth is that sometimes it's all I can do not to turn this journal into a continual jeremiad about the deterioration of our culture and our nation, and prophecies of the doom toward which we're heading. That impulse is encouraged by something you may have read about: the writer for Teen Vogue who expressed the belief that Billy Graham is in hell, and, when challenged on that remark, dug in her heels and called him, with the grace that is so characteristic of the contemporary left, "an evil piece of s**t." The sheer hatred is like an icy wind blowing over a garbage dump, and of course there's a lot of that around. But perhaps more significant--I hope more significant--is the fact that she seems to think that there should be a hell. I remember when Jerry Falwell died reading similar sentiments from people who despised Christianity, no doubt for, among other reasons, its teaching that unrepentant sinners go to hell. Could it be that a need to believe in some sort of ultimate justice is part of our nature? 

Teen Vogue, you might think, would be a fluffy magazine about clothes and makeup. Teen Vogue, you may have heard, ran a piece a few months ago instructing its audience of teenaged girls in techniques for anal sex. It's difficult to imagine that a culture which regularly produces such monstrosities, and is very proud of them, can endure for very long. Whether it is accurate to see the producers of such stuff as being part of the same culture as those who are appalled by it as being part of "a culture" is another matter. 

Here are two obituaries for Billy Graham that I found worth reading. One, in Commonweal, is a fair-minded overview of his career. The other, at the blog of the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society, is a reflection on his influence by someone who was a part of the evangelical world and is now Catholic. It gives us a picture of what went on behind the scenes in preparation for one of Graham's missions. Early in his career he seems to have been conventionally anti-Catholic, but by the time this writer was involved, at least, he seems to have changed his mind. RIP.


Turning from the foulness of our culture war as conducted on the internet (especially on Twitter, which I'm inclined to think is a force for evil) to The Lord of the Rings is like walking out of a gas station toilet that hasn't been cleaned for a couple of weeks into a cool meadow high in the Rockies. I'm about halfway through the last volume now, taking it still at my leisurely pace of a chapter or two a day, lingering over every page, reading it more closely than I have in the past. It has not diminished at all in my estimation; quite the contrary in fact. Since I was twenty or so I've considered myself to be a fairly good judge of literature. If this is not a great work, I'm no judge at all. 

Eowyn: "...may I not spend my life as I will?"

Aragorn: "Few may do that with honor."

How many of us today can feel those words? How many can even understand them? 


A misty moisty morning.



52 Poems, Week 8: Dover Beach (Matthew Arnold)

I consider this to be one of the major lyric poems of the 19th century. A lot of people would agree with me. If I had continued my literature studies many years ago, I would have specialized in the Victorians. They understood the crisis that was coming upon our civilization with the fading of Christianity. Arnold looks a little foolish now with his hope that culture (in the old-fashioned sense--knowledgeable, thoughtful, humane) would or could fill the gap. But he saw the problem. 



The sea is calm tonight. 
The tide is full, the moon lies fair 
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light 
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, 
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. 
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air! 
Only, from the long line of spray 
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land, 
Listen! you hear the grating roar 
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling, 
At their return, up the high strand, 
Begin, and cease, and then again begin, 
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring 
The eternal note of sadness in. 
Sophocles long ago 
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought 
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow 
Of human misery; we 
Find also in the sound a thought, 
Hearing it by this distant northern sea. 
The Sea of Faith 
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore 
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled. 
But now I only hear 
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, 
Retreating, to the breath 
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear 
And naked shingles of the world. 
Ah, love, let us be true 
To one another! for the world, which seems 
To lie before us like a land of dreams, 
So various, so beautiful, so new, 
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, 
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; 
And we are here as on a darkling plain 
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, 
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Photo lifted from, and said to be in fact a picture of Dover Beach. I confess that I read this poem many times without quite knowing what the word "shingle" means here, a shingle in my world being a flat thing which is part of the covering of a roof. Apparently it refers to the pebbles of which a pebble beach is comprised. 
The phrase "ignorant armies" seems especially apt now, with the internet providing the field of battle.
--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

Sunday Night Journal, February 18, 2018

I seriously considered not going to Mass on Ash Wednesday. In fact I came pretty close to not going. My reason was partly that I just didn't want to bother, and was possessive of the time involved, because I had some other things I wanted to do that day. But the strongest reason was my desire to avoid hearing the song "Ashes." I don't know whether I should call it a hymn or not. Perhaps I should, since it's a piece that's sung as part of a worship service. But the word sort of sticks in my throat when I try to use it for this and many other...songs that are sung at Mass. I'll give "Ashes" this much credit: in tone it is more hymn-like than many such compositions. 

But for reasons that (1) I would have difficulty articulating and (2) probably should not try to articulate because doing so would involve some distinctly uncharitable thoughts about the song's composer, and even more about the apparent consensus among music directors in Catholic parishes that it should always, always be sung on Ash Wednesday--for these reasons, I'll just say that it produces a reflexive antipathy in me. It puts me in an entirely undevotional frame of mind, which is a bad way to begin Lent. I've been hearing it for a good many years now, and the reaction is not as potent as it once was, but it's still fairly strong. Part of my method for coping with it has been to treat hearing it as a penance and the attempt to control my reaction to it as mortification.

(In case you're a regular reader of this blog and are wondering: our Ordinariate group is so small and scattered that we ordinarily don't meet apart from Sundays, and on other holy days I often go to the local parish, which as contemporary parishes go is not bad liturgically--but still, I could be reasonably sure of hearing "Ashes.")

Most of that is true every year, and I wouldn't have considered not going, however little I wanted to, except that it dawned on me this year that Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation (for non-Catholics: these are days, apart from Sunday, when Catholics are officially required to go to Mass). I think I've always just somehow assumed that it was. But of course it isn't. So I thought "Hey, I can skip it without being in technical violation of the rules." But that, obviously, is entirely the wrong way to look at it. As our priest said in his homily today, it's usually Satan's voice saying "I wonder if this is really a sin." (At least for most of us--it's a very different matter for those who are troubled with excessive scrupulosity, in which case it may be Satan's saying"It's probably a sin," and God's voice saying "Don't worry about it.") 

Not to say that it would have been a grave sin if I'd skipped Ash Wednesday Mass. It would have been a relatively minor one, and in some circumstances for some people not a sin at all. But for me it certainly would have been: it would have been a deliberate and conscious refusal of something I knew to be a duty toward God. 

In the end, though, it wasn't the desire to avoid that sin that convinced me to go. It was a sense that the observation of Ash Wednesday, and especially the actual reception of ashes, is not a private devotion, and that my participation in it along with a few hundred other ordinary lay Catholics is important--important to me as a recognition of my place in the community of sinners, and to me and the whole Church as a recognition of its mystical nature, something more organically real than a simple collection of individuals. To have stayed home would have been a sort of insult to that body. It would have been a sort of denial that I am part of it, and a sort of denial of its significance. Both it and I would have been diminished by my absence. Only I would have been aware of that diminishment, but it would have been real nonetheless. Only I--and God, of course.

So I went. And I did hear "Ashes." And I thought bad thoughts about it. But it was sung during the imposition of ashes, and the closing hymn, which I can't remember the name or words of now, had a melody by Bach, and that was what remained in my head when the Mass was over. 


I've noticed that some Protestant groups have taken up the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday. This is a good thing in general. Some Protestants have always done it, I guess, but not most. Definitely not the Methodist church where I grew up. But I have some reservations about what one local Protestant church was doing this week: offering drive-through ashes. That church is on the same street as mine, and when I passed it on the way I thought I saw a sign to that effect, but wasn't sure I'd read it right. On the way back I took a closer look, and yes, that's what they were doing: the sign said "Drive-In Ashes," and there were two men at a table in the parking lot. Can't say it's wrong, exactly, but somehow it doesn't seem quite in the spirit of the thing. I assume they had a service in the church building itself. 


And we've had another massacre at a school. If anyone reads this ten years from now he probably won't know which one I'm referring to, which is a pretty sad commentary. The usual argument about gun control immediately started, with the usual proportion of heat (lots) to light (very little). I've sometimes considered putting together a page of basic facts about guns and gun crime in the U.S.A. with the intention of trying to get the misinformation out of the way so that a rational discussion could take place. If I ever do that, it shouldn't be on an occasion like this one, when even to use words like "rational" and "fact" only opens one up to the charge of heartlessness. Maybe I should say "productive" instead of "rational." It seems to me that the strength of one's belief that there is a clear solution to this problem is in inverse proportion to one's knowledge of it. 

But here's one observation, made from a step or two back from the detailed argument about what should or should not be done: Americans seem to have a very hard time dealing with the fact that some serious problems do not have "solutions" that can be attained if we feel very very passionately that they must be solved, and can pass laws saying that it should be so. It just goes against the American grain to say "Well, this is a terrible problem, and there doesn't seem to be a way to get rid of it." If any of us had been a witness to the ravages of alcoholism among the poor at the turn of the 20th century, we'd no doubt have a better understanding of how Prohibition came about. To many very well-intentioned people it seemed necessary, the only humane and reasonable response to a scourge. More recently, we've attempted to handle the drug problem in a similar way. We see the results of that. There's a sardonic remark circulating: "Let's make guns illegal. That's how we solved the drug problem." 


Sadly, once again during Mardi Gras a certain number of people were trampled and devoured by dragons.


52 Poems: About Formatting

I meant to mention: formatting poetry for the web can be a problem if the poem's format is very irregular or unusual. Simple line and stanza breaks are no problem. They do require some manual editing on my part, because when you force a line break in your word processing software it ends up being a paragraph break when converted to HTML. So you get something like this:

Roses are red

Violets are blue

And to get this:

Roses are red
Violets are blue

requires some manual editing of the HTML. But it's pretty straightforward.

But irregular spacing within lines can be a problem. In the last two poems, for instance the poets (for reasons not apparent to me) wanted certain lines indented beyond the margins of the other lines. I was able to do that. But some modern poetry where, for instance, a short line of one or two words is intended to be much further on the right, and another line somewhat far but not quite that far, and so on, may be impossible to get exactly right. And a poem in which a very precise typographical arrangement is an essential component--for instance, George Herbert's "Easter Wings"--may be...well, maybe not impossible, but a lot more difficult and time-consuming than I want to deal with. 

So if you want to post a poem with really eccentric typography, I'll give it a try, but no guarantees that it will look the way it should.

52 Poems, Week 7: Pattern (C.S. Lewis)

Some believe the slumber
Of trees is in December
     When timber’s naked under sky
And squirrel keeps his chamber.

But I believe their fibres
Awake to life and labour
     When turbulence comes roaring up
The land in loud October,

And plunders, strips, and sunders
And sends the leaves to wander
     And undisguises prickly shapes
Beneath the golden splendour.

Then form returns. In warmer,
Seductive day, disarming
     Its firmer will, the wood grew soft
And put forth dreams to murmur.

Into earnest winter
With spirit alert it enters;
     The hunter wind and the hound frost
Have quelled the green enchanter.

This was not the poem I had planned to write about first, or even at all, but a few days ago I exchanged a few comments with someone on Facebook about Lewis’s poems, and I remembered my favourite one, and thought, “I’ll write about this one first instead of the other.” Then on my way to the library to get the book, I remembered another one and thought that would be it; and then while thumbing through the book, I found this one which I have no recollection of ever reading before, but I must have, because I’ve read them all, I think.

The reason I chose "Pattern" is because it echoes so well what I feel about trees in winter. That is when I love them best. It isn’t when they look the loveliest, except perhaps when they are covered in snow, or turned to gold by the setting sun the way we were talking about earlier. They reveal those prickly shapes. You can see the real tree, and read its story in its broken branches and bent trunk.

That last line about the green enchanter reminds me of The Silver Chair and the Lady of the Green Kirtle, and her green smoke that masks the truth.

I’m pretty sure that this won’t be the last Lewis poem that I select.

—Janet Cupo is a great-grandmother (and a great grandmother) on temporary (maybe) sabbatical from the workaday world.

Sunday Night Journal, February 11, 2018

I've listened to Beauty Will Save the World (the album by The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus), several times now, and I like it a great deal. It may not be everyone's cup of tea. It's certainly not a pop music album in any sense. The description I quoted from Wikipedia a couple of weeks ago is pretty good. Here it is:

The group's music is a blend of folk and sacred music, industrial and ambient sounds, and samples that has drawn comparisons to neofolk artists like Current 93 and Death in June, as well as artists including Dead Can Dance, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Henryk Górecki, and Arvo Pärt.

But if you don't know those artists the description won't help much. I don't know about their other albums, but from what I've heard of Death In June, which is not a whole lot, that comparison doesn't much fit with this one. Most of it is not songs, exactly, but assemblages of music and other sounds, as the Wikipedia entry says. It begins with a recitation, in Spanish, of St John of the Cross's "Dark Night" ("noche oscura"), which fades into wordless singing. Rather than continue trying to describe it, I can suggest that you listen to this track, which begins with a setting of what I think is a translation of a (the?) Compline liturgy; I've heard it before but I can't think where. I could do without that sort of blubby bass sound, but apart from that I think this is gorgeous. 

The album seems to be out of print in solid physical formats. Amazon says "temporarily out of stock" but the group's Bandcamp page says "Sold out", which sounds rather final. But you can buy it in MP3 form at Bandcamp, which I did, along with two other albums, The Gift of Tears and Mirror. I haven't listened to either of them yet. I wonder if the CD or LP versions would have any sort of what we used to call liner notes. If they do I'd be tempted to buy it again just to get that, because I have some questions about what I'm hearing. But then the group seems to like remaining mysterious and letting the work speak for itself.

The cover picture is of Simone Weil

Simone_Weil_1921(image from Wikipedia)

which is an interesting coincidence, because I've been thinking for some weeks now that I'd like to read her again. I have a Simone Weil Reader which I bought back in 1980 or so and read a fair amount of at the time, but can't recall even so much as opening it in the years since. As you probably know, she was a somewhat eccentric (it's hard to avoid the word) religious and political thinker, born Jewish, later a sort of Christian, having what she said was a direct encounter with Christ, but refusing baptism, believing (on what grounds I don't remember) that she was somehow called to remain outside.

I picked up the Reader one day last week and browsed in it a little. Much of it is taken up with her social and political thought, and at a glance I found that rather turgid. Then I flipped over toward the back and found things like this:

If God had not been humiliated, in the person of Christ, he would be inferior to us.

All that I conceive of as true is less true than these things of which I cannot conceive the truth, but which I love. That is why St. John of the Cross calls faith a night. With those who have received a Christian education, the lower parts of they soul become attached to these mysteries when they have no right at all to do so. That is why such people need a purification of which St. John of the Cross describes the stages. Atheism and incredulity constitute an equivalent of such a purification. 

That's what I feel a need to hear right now--the hard stuff, uncompromising and apophatic. I think she is frequently mistaken, but in ways that are illuminating.


You may have seen a news item (here's a link to one) about the Episcopal diocese of Washington DC adopting a resolution which calls on the diocese to

…eliminate, when possible, all gendered references to God and to replace them with gender neutral language, and if necessary, to alternate gendered titles when referring to God.

I don't understand why this was considered newsworthy, as Episcopalians have been talking this way for at least forty years now. I mention it only because it got me to thinking about exactly why this sort of thing is wrong. The first response of more or less orthodox Christians, including me, is "But Scripture says...", "The Church says...", "The creeds say..." And that's all true. But there's a more fundamental problem with the sort of liberal or modernist or progressive theology that calls for changes like this one. It's the assumption that we have a right to make such changes if and when we feel the need. This rests on a misunderstanding of the foundations. 

Obviously there are changes that can and should be and have been made over the centuries, and obviously there will always be a vast amount of space for our understanding to grow. But the most fundamental fact about Christianity is that it begins with a revelation. Its central doctrines are not the result of particularly gifted people thinking about God and coming up with interesting and useful answers, or approaches to answers. They were given and revealed to us, not created by us, or even discovered by questing human minds. ("Discovered" until maybe the late 18th century or so meant more or less what we mean by "uncovered," which is sometimes amusing--you get things like "he discovered the bed.") Accepting that they are a revelation is an essential part of accepting that they are true.

I think maybe that's the fundamental mistake of modernist theology. It's not that its ideas are necessarily always wrong, but that it doesn't understand or accept the conditions under which specifically Christian theology operates. There is plenty of room around the peripheries for argument as to what is part of the revelation and what is not, but the references to God as Father and Son are too clear and frequent to be considered separable and optional. 


Note the second sentence.




52 Poems, Week 6: The Servant Girl At Emmaus (Denise Levertov)

When I came across this poem by Denise Levertov (1923–1997), I was surprised because I’d assumed her work was only on secular themes. I didn’t know she’d become a Catholic late in her life and that she’d written poems about her faith.


The Servant-Girl At Emmaus
(A Painting by Velázquez)

She listens, listens, holding
her breath. Surely that voice
is his---the one
who had looked at her, once, across the crowd,
as no one ever had looked?
Had seen her? Had spoken as if to her?

Surely those hands were his,
taking the platter of bread from hers just now?
Hands he'd laid on the dying and made them well?

Surely that face---?

The man they'd crucified for sedition and blasphemy.
The man whose body disappeared from its tomb.
The man it was rumored now some women had seen this
     morning, alive?

Those who had brought this stranger home to their table
don't recognize yet with whom they sit.
But she in the kitchen, absently touching
     the winejug she's to take in,
a young Black servant intently listening,

swings round and sees
the light around him
and is sure.

—Marianne lives in New Zealand.

Sunday Night Journal, February 4, 2018

You can change your opinions, even your most deeply held beliefs, but you can't change your basic personality. I was thinking about that the other day as I read one of Rod Dreher's columns. As you know if you read him much, he has a tendency to view current events as leading in a sort of apocalyptic direction, social and cultural if not cosmological. I have the same tendency, and I don't think it's healthy for me to indulge it, which was part of the reason I went for a long time without reading him at all, or only rarely. But this country does seem to be rushing toward some sort of catastrophe, and so Dreher's attempts to understand what's happening seem more interesting, and I've been reading him more often.

I have to admit that, as Dreher says of himself, I'm "attracted to narratives of decline." The funny thing, the thing I was getting at in the first sentence, is that I have tended that way while residing on opposite sides of the culture war split. As a hippie in the late '60s counterculture I was very much inclined, as were many of my compatriots, to see some sort of cataclysm on the near horizon: nuclear war, environmental collapse, and, more feverishly, a Nazi-like roundup and imprisonment of hippies, blacks, and anyone else deemed anti-American. Some people were entirely convinced that Nixon had prepared such camps and that at any moment the arrests and massacres might start. Kent State naturally was seen as the beginning of the crackdown.

Well, maybe not "entirely convinced"--it was probably closer to people scaring each other with ghost stories, while knowing in their hearts that there is no real danger. Anyway, I was very much attuned to all this, very ready to see, for instance, Nixon's drug policies as something like the darkness of Sauron descending on Middle Earth. 

And now here I am on the conservative side, seeing: the sexual mania that's been building since those very same days making people more, not less, unhappy; women more enraged after forty or fifty years of feminism than they were before; hard-core pornography available to anyone, including children, at the click of a mouse; the most powerful elements of society, up to and including the government until last January, attempting to enforce an emperor's-new-clothes sort of mentality where certain fashionable sexual ideologies are concerned; the words "religious liberty" commonly put in scare quotes by the media, etc. etc.--and thinking that this is all surely going to end up in some Very Bad Place. 

Obviously what these two portraits have in common I've changed some of my principles and a lot of my opinions, and am considerably older, but I'm still the same person. I do recognize this tendency in myself, and I recognize that it causes me to see current events in a negative light. And that it's not good for me to dwell too much on the things that provoke this reaction. 

Nevertheless: I think we are in actual objective fact heading for some Very Bad Place as a society, and I think Rod Dreher, for all his alarmist tendencies, is right in drawing our attention to it. At this point I see the greatest danger as lying not so much in the specific questions that divide us as in the division itself. The Trump presidency is an important instance. It was the deep division, which I contend is religious, that helped to elect Trump. And now the fact that he is president is deepening the division, which is obviously partly Trump's fault. Most of the media now have abandoned any plausible pretense of neutrality and seem bent on driving Trump out of office. This in turn makes it easy for his supporters to dismiss anything the big media say as "fake news," as liberals have been doing with Fox News for a long time. The result is getting pretty close to a point where there are almost two co-existing and opposing "realities," and very little interest in closing the gap. 

One contributor to this division is the tendency of many on the left to slander anyone who disagrees with them as a bigot, a racist, blah blah blah, completely shutting down any attempt at rational discussion. Dreher has often been the recipient of this, and has had several columns in recent weeks sharply and accurately describing and analyzing the practice. Here's one, "Bigot! They Cried, Yet Again". There are people on the right who are no better, of course. But few of them have the sort of range and influence--in the media, entertainment, and education--that liberalism does.

"Liberalism" is not really a good word for it, of course. It used to be that when I used that word I only felt that I had to note the difference between classical liberalism and contemporary political liberalism. Now it often seems that I should note the difference between the latter and the current thing which is often a species of bigotry. Mark Shea used to rant about "the thing that used to be conservatism." Maybe he still does. "The thing that used to be liberalism" is also an apt phrase. The two things, as in The Thing, often now seem like two very stupid and half-blind giants trying to kill each other. Sometimes it's hard for me to look away.


In my reading of The Lord of the Rings I'm now at the point where the Ents are about to attack Isengard. The Ents are among my favorite things in the book. I would have liked to be a treeherd. I've never understood why "tree-hugger" is supposed to be an insult. I don't think I've ever hugged a tree but I can certainly understand the impulse.

It occurs to me that Tolkien in one important way resembles an author who is in most every other respect his opposite: James Joyce. Both wrote monumental and extremely complex books which are considered classics of their type, but their type is almost sui generis: I looked up that term to see if I was using it correctly, and in biology it means a species which is the only one of its genus. Both have had their imitators, I suppose--I know Tolkien has--but imitations are still essentially the same thing as the original. It seems to me that their works are, in a sense, and not in a negative sense, a dead end. By that I mean that neither left a legacy suitable for further building; each both invented and exhausted a particular approach to fiction. In each case the thing attempted is so distinctive and at the same time so nearly perfect as to leave little room for further work in the same vein.

Yes, there are many fantasy writers, and I don't know much about them, so I'm willing to be corrected if I'm wrong. But I doubt that any of them has created a world so vast, so detailed, and so convincing as Tolkien's, much less used it in a work of such power as The Lord of the Rings. More to the point, I doubt very many people really want to, as it requires a lifetime of work. Something similar might be said of Joyce's work. Others have used the stream-of-consciousness approach, but I don't know of any major novelists who have used it to the extent that Joyce did, or achieved something comparable to Ulysses. (As for Finnegans Wake, well, considering that very few people want to read it, there must be even fewer who would want to imitate it, and none capable of doing so.)


One of the good things about being in the Ordinariate is that it retains (or restores) a number of good things that have been streamlined out of the standard Latin Rite liturgy and liturgical year. And one of these is the pre-Lenten season which begins with Septuagesima Sunday, the second Sunday before Lent. That was last Sunday. Today was Sexagesima. Last week I ran across this excellent piece by Amy Welborn in which she explains it. As our priest said today, it, and other lesser-known phases of the church calendar, impart a sense of flow to liturgical time that is often missing. If you pay at least some attention to this pre-Lenten time--and I admit I haven't paid very much, but more than I might otherwise have--you don't go rolling along more or less oblivious, or, if you live around here and in certain other places, going to Mardi Gras parades, only to slam into Ash Wednesday as if you've hit a wall. Or at least you're less likely to; certainly plenty of people have their own personal pre-Lent preparations.

I had never heard of the custom of burying the alleluias till I read Amy Welborn's piece, but someone at Mass mentioned it, and we may actually do it next year. 



52 Poems, Week 5: Conscientious Objector (Edna St. Vincent Millay)

Edna St. Vincent Millay was one of the poets I was introduced to in high school. I remember my English teacher talking about how her poem “Renassance” won recognition in a literary contest when she was just nineteen, and that many were astounded that a nineteen year old could have actually written such a poem. That was an inspiring story to a teenager, but the poet’s words from another poem would have an even greater impact on me as an adult.

I was a few years out of college when her poem. “Conscientious Objector” caught my attention. I heard it incorporated into a performance at a Peter Paul & Mary concert on television. When I heard the opening lines, I knew that I had to find that poem. I eagerly sought it out – and that was before the days of the internet. I made use of the public library and it was there that I found the print version of the poem.

"Conscientious Objector" was written in 1934 and speaks to some pressing issues of the day, yet it also speaks just as surely to issues of our current day.


I shall die, but
that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself:
I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabout of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man's door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me Shall you be overcome.

--Charles Kinnaird is a lover of poetry, and a grateful English major, who earns his keep as a registered nurse. A husband, father, companion to dogs, feeder of birds, lover of nature, and guitar strummer, his blog, Not Dark Yet, can be found at