52 Poems, Week 38: For the Anniversary of My Death (W.S. Merwin)
52 Poems, Week 39: Epistle To Be Left In the Earth (Archibald MacLeish)

Sunday Night Journal, September 23, 2018

I'm writing this post on Thursday afternoon and scheduling it to be posted on Monday, as I'm going to be out of town for the next few days, and am a bit compulsive about not missing a week. 

I say "writing" but actually I'm mostly transcribing, as I don't really have time to compose anything new. I read this passage from Caryl Houselander in Magnificat a week or so ago, and it really struck me, for reasons I'll state after the quote.

Most people who want to know God and who are outside the Church have just one thing that is precious to them, though to us with our clear-cut definitions, our discipline, and our sacraments, it may seem so vague that it is hard for us to realize how much it means to them. This is their personal approach to God. Very often it seems to be hardly that at all, so vague is it, so closely does it lean to sentimentality. It may be simply a memory of childhood, or a stirring of the spirit when a certain familiar hymn is heard; it may be just a fling of the heart to God, on seeing the first wild spray of blossom that proclaims the spring. But it is quite surely an indication of that individual's approach to God and of his approach to them, and it is as sweet to them as it would be to a blind man if, reaching out in darkness, he touched the garment hem of Christ.

Too often, through our own fault, we give people who are thus clinging to their own personal contact with God the idea that Catholicism would sweep it away. Quote wrongly, we give them the idea that we are not seeking any more, that we have a formula for everything, that we hold feeling in contempt, live only by acts of will, and that there is nothing that we cannot explain.

 Of course this is untrue. We too are always seeking for God, always reaching out by blind fingers to touch his garment, and we are blinded by the very light of the mysteries of our faith, which we can live by but cannot explain and can barely begin to understand.

To the enquirer, our hard, unanswerable arguments, dealt out blow by blow with our sledgehammer of zeal, are all too convincing--the the mind. But the heart rises up in revolt against "apologetics" which may convince against the will and sweep away that lovely touch in the darkness which is at the heart of their lives.

I've had the whole concept of dogma on my mind for a week or two, because I've been writing something about it: whether such a thing can be, how one would come to believe it. It--or to use a related and somewhat less forbidding word, doctrine--is obviously a crucially important part of Catholicism, and for that matter of any serious variety of Christianity. And yet even as I try to frame and express those ideas I'm always conscious that pure intellectual belief is insufficient--necessary but not sufficient, as they say. I think of doctrine as something like the skeleton of a body. It's necessary for shape, structure, and motion. Without it, the body would hardly exist. But the skeleton alone is scary.

I suppose most Catholics, at least those who move in consciously orthodox circles, have met people who fit the description in Houselander's second paragraph--"a formula for everything." Men are considerably more prone to that syndrome than women, especially young men. Defending the faith can become for them a sort of intellectual boxing match. It's not a bad thing in itself, in fact it's a good thing. But it can seem, and sometimes even be, a mistaken and futile attempt to lock up the truth rather than to set it free.

Things have changed a good bit since Houselander's time: I think fewer people are even able to hear arguments addressed to the intellect. How they feel is the only thing that matters. 


Also, something I meant to mention last week: someone pointed out to me a very good discussion of Bergman at Commentary. "Oh Lord, Why Did You Forsake Ingmar Bergman?" Just one or two quick remarks: I was slightly surprised to read that Bergman is not held in the critical esteem that he once was. I shouldn't be surprised, of course, and of course my reaction is "well, so much for critical esteem." And I don't think the Lord did forsake him, exactly. Bergman's case is relevant to my preceding bit about doctrine, in fact: I never felt that he truly rejected God, but rather false and misleading conceptions of God which his harsh Lutheran upbringing gave him. This is more or less directly stated at the end of Through A Glass Darkly. I mean, look at the context of the title's scripture reference. I don't think it could be much more clear that he knew that "fling of the heart to God" (what a great description!). Too bad his mind didn't see the way.

Just a day or two ago I ran across something else on Bergman that looks interesting, "Remedial Bergman" by John Simon,  in The Weekly Standard. I haven't had a chance to read it yet but am posting it in case anyone else is interested.


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what a beautiful quotation. I felt like that entering the church and for many years after joining the church - that I had this precious thing that I would not let be swept away by Catholic ideologists. And I did not.

I was thinking just this morning that it was time to re-read Houselander's letters.

More when I get to a keyboard.


"Catholic ideologists"--all too apt a description.

I was having a conversation recently about how I have absolutely zero interest in apologetics anymore. I think it was important for me to learn all that stuff, but now, it's like counting out the steps when you are dancing. "Dancing" probably implies a much lighter spirit than anything currently going on in my spiritual life, but I think you can see what I mean.

I think it's pretty laughable to think that the Lord forsook Bergman. Seems to me that he was pretty Christ-haunted. Most of his films certainly were. Well, I don't know if I've seen enough to say "most." Maybe.

It may be a really good thing to be out-of-fashion nowadays.


I hope it is good to be out of fashion. I've felt myself to be out of step with the times since sometime in my 20s, but lately I *really* feel like a dinosaur.

In a way...I mean what I really feel is that a whole lot of people under about 50 or so have lost their minds. I.e. it's not me, it's them. :-)

Well, when I was 24, my grandmother told me I was an anachronism.

And C. S. Lewis thought he was the last dinosaur.


A lot of the current craziness has to do with the prevalent mob mentality, doesn't it? I guess I feel pretty lucky that crowds have always been a problem for me.

The internet enables us all to join mobs from the privacy of our own homes. :-/

I feel like part of Lewis's generation in many ways. So he wasn't the *last*.

I agree about Bergman's films being Christ-haunted, btw. At least most of them. Have you seen Cries and Whispers? That one *really* is, and it came well after his supposed dismissal of the God question.

I liked your dance analogy btw. Though I can't dance. :-) Or maybe especially because I can't dance.

Janet my grandmother used to call me old fashionef

Laryngitis and flu! Yuck. My sympathy.

We're all a bunch of dinosaurs. You should change the name of the blog to Jurassic Park.

Sorry you're sick, Grumpy.


"Throwback" might be more accurate than "dinosaur," now that I think about it.

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