Sunday Night Journal 2007 Feed

Sunday Night Journal, July 16, 2017

I suppose Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J. and his co-writer, Marcelo Figueroa, thought "ecumenism of hate" was a clever turn of phrase. They were wrong. It is unjust and seems to be malicious, though perhaps less malicious than ignorant. The article as a whole (I assume you've heard about it, it's in La Civilta Cattolica, considered to be something of a mouthpiece for the pope) is so incoherent that it doesn't warrant much further comment. It's not entirely wrong, but that could be said about almost anything from the people it attacks. 


I know someone who is associated with the anti-Trump movement called "Indivisible." He has said forthrightly that he "has always despised" the religious right, apparently not noticing the irony. 


"Lord, I thank thee that I am not as this Pharisee" rather misses the point.


I remember when my children were young thinking that observing them gave me a very different view of Jesus's counsel that we must "become as little children." Before that I had tended to think of the prescribed surrender as a sort of passivity, accepting without much thought what one was told about grownup matters. But one evening at dinner I remarked to my wife that of the three people at the table, the two-year-old was clearly the most intellectually active. Young children may be ignorant of a great deal, but it is certainly not because they aren't trying to learn. They are relentless inquirers, testers, and speculators. There's nothing passive about the "childlike faith" which we attribute to them. The faith they exhibit consists not in their lack or suppression of intellectual energy, but in their trust that we are telling them the truth.  

This has been on my mind a lot in recent weeks, as two of my grandchildren, boys ages 5 and 7, are spending several days a week with me while school is out for the summer. Except when they're asleep, they never stop looking, wondering, questioning, investigating, experimenting, and in general trying to figure out literally everything in the world, as far as they can see it. They noticed this stack of back issues of The New Criterion.


It was jumbled, and they--mainly the seven-year-old for this--put it in order by year and month. They noticed that an issue was missing, and we looked around the house until we found it on my desk. Then they put it in its proper position. They hypothesized that each month had the same color every year (I had never bothered to notice), and to the extent that they could verify that, they did, and rearranged them to put like colors together. They wondered why the September issue was black (the 15-year-anniversary of 9/11/2001, I think). It was mid-June when they started this, but the June issue had not yet arrived, and they wanted to know why. They asked every day if it had arrived, until it did, and then they put it with the others. Once July had begun they wanted to know why the July issue hadn't arrived. When I told them that the magazine is not published in July and August, they were a little offended, and wanted to know why. And almost every day they ask me if I've finished reading the June issue yet (not quite), and why not (well, something to do with dealing with two small boys all day).

Why? Why? Why? I read somewhere years ago that the average four-year-old asks some great number--in the hundreds I think--of questions every day, and I believe it. And no doubt a large percentage of them begin with "Why?"

"All men by nature desire to know," said Aristotle. Well, ain't that the truth? And much of what they want to know involves purpose: what is it for? why do you do that? why do I have to stop playing games on the iPad? Why? 

Watching my grandsons gives me confidence that the commitment of the modern world to suppressing the question of ultimate purpose will not stand indefinitely. One way or another, that empty space will be filled. I hope it will be filled by truth.  


I've been reading The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography by Alan Jacobs, and I recommend it to anyone who has any interest at all in the Book of Common Prayer itself or the history of Anglicanism in general. It is just what the title suggests, the story of how the BCP came into existence, and how it has developed over the centuries since its birth in 1549. Well, before that, actually, because Jacobs goes into some of its antecedents, and naturally has to deal with the whole matter of the establishment of Protestantism in England. 

I think I've been half-consciously half-suppressing my awareness of that history. I know it, of course--what Catholic has not seen A Man for All Seasons at least once? But having grown up in an Anglican-ish tradition (Methodism), and spent some time in the American Episcopal Church, and now being a member of the Anglican Ordinariate (which is not what we're supposed to call it), and having a great love of many elements of the Book of Common Prayer, I didn't especially like to contemplate how thoroughly rooted in heresy and schism it really is. I found myself wondering "Why do I want to be associated with this thing? Is it really salvageable?"

Of course most of it is salvageable; a prayer written by a heretic needn't be heretical; I can (and do) pray right along with most of what would be included in any Protestant prayer. And in fact it has been salvaged--thank you, Benedict XVI--and purged of its heretical elements. And as to why I want to be associated with it, to use it: the prose. Ecclesiastical criminal Cranmer may have been, but he was also a great writer of devotional prose. 

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.

 That is a sample of what I loved, what as a Catholic I missed, and what keeps me going in the effort, always on the edge of failure, to keep our local Ordinariate group alive. 

Chesterton has a great commentary on the Prayer Book in The Well and the Shallows, one of the books I read long ago when I was considering conversion.


Distant rain, 6/29. We're having a rather wet, cool summer so far.



Sunday Night Journal — November 18, 2007

Women, Music, and Modernity

“You’re into girls.”

That was the startling but not inaccurate remark my wife made last Saturday when she walked by as I was browsing YouTube for Patty Griffin songs. Since 90% of my music listening is done when I’m alone in my car going to and from work, and she is constitutionally pretty indifferent to pop music anyway, I was a little surprised that she would notice any sort of trend. I guess it had come to her attention a few Saturdays earlier when I was repeatedly playing that Nightwish video featuring Tarja Turunen that I posted recently.

Anyway, she’s right. I do listen to a lot more music by women, from very American singer-songwriters like Griffin to Nordic metal sirens, than I did fifteen or twenty years ago. For most of the many years, going back to the mid-‘60s, that I’ve been seriously interested in music, my favorite singers have been male. I didn’t give this any thought for a long time, but at some point I became aware that it was a definite preference. Male singers, especially those with really distinctive and unconventional voices, like Van Morrison, were the ones who moved me. Theirs were the voices capable of conveying the emotions I felt. Most women’s voices seemed, in comparison, almost insipid: pastels, where I preferred strong and vivid colors.

I’m not sure exactly when this began to change; it may have been around 1990 or so, when I discovered the Cocteau Twins: I liked Elisabeth Fraser’s voice precisely as a female voice. And I remember thinking something along those lines when listening to Portishead’s Dummy. At any rate, the shift in taste continued steadily. I don’t know that one can expect to have an explanation for a change of this sort, but I can say this much about it: where I once preferred the male voice because it’s more capable of expressing what I feel, I now value (I won’t say “prefer”) the female voice in part because it expresses something else, something that seems mysterious and other. It is, in fact, a bit similar to the sight of a beautiful woman, but sexual only in the very broadest sense: a consciousness of the other sex as a rich and alluring mystery.

The music world has changed, too: there are a lot more women making a lot more good music in a lot more different styles than there were thirty or forty years ago. Back in the ‘60s women were generally present only as singers. In the folk-singing world, there were Joan Baez and Judy Collins and others like them who sang the traditional repertoire and, as time went on, more and more songs written by the emerging mostly male singer-songwriters of the time. In rock, the girl, or girls, in the band worked generally in the “canary” model of the jazz era—they added something different and distinctive to the sound, and of course to the visual presence, but they usually didn’t compose or arrange or play; the musical vision as a whole was at most only partly theirs. I suppose Joni Mitchell was the first, certainly one of the first, women to put the whole singer-writer-instrumentalist package together. More followed, until the present flood. Women like Emmylou Harris and Patty Griffin and Karen Peris (of The Innocence Mission) have recently produced, or had a key role in producing (a role beyond singing, that is) some of the music I love best and think most likely to stand the test of time.

This isn’t surprising, considering the general and steady increase in freedom and opportunity for women that’s happened over the past hundred-plus years, developments made possible by the combination of technical and social changes that we call modernity. As a Catholic with a deep love of the traditional Christian culture of the West, I’m very much aware of the dark side of these changes: the damage to family life, for instance, and all the other things that I don’t need to belabor here. Yet the world is a richer place for the work of these artists, and unfortunately we don’t get a chance to pick which aspects of our culture we would like to preserve and which to change or discard.

I was thinking of this last week after reading a news story about a woman in Saudi Arabia who was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in jail after being gang-raped. It was carefully explained that she wasn’t actually being punished for being raped, but for her behavior leading up to the rape: being present in a car with a male who was not her father, brother, or husband. A few days earlier I had read an account of the practice of stoning in Iran; it’s a legal punishment for adultery. I cannot conceive of the mind of a man who could bury a woman up to her neck and then throw stones at her until she is dead, which must involve battering her head beyond recognition. (The stones can’t be too small, or they won’t do enough damage, but they can’t be too big, or the victim will not suffer enough.) I don’t understand how a man could do such a thing to a woman and still respect himself as a man. Even less do I understand what is probably the case, that these men would not respect themselves if they did not do it.

I don’t agree with those who say that we, as a civilization, are faced with a stark choice between embracing the worst of our own culture and submitting to radical Islam; I don’t see why we can’t try to reform ourselves even as we resist them. But if I am ever somehow forced to choose between modernity and the violent reaction against it, I’ll unhesitatingly take the problems of emancipation over those of oppression.


Sunday Night Journal — August 19, 2007

Pop Music for the Desert Island

(Not sure how this is going to display, so it may be shifting around for a while.)

I knew I was going to be pretty busy this weekend, so, just for fun, I dredged up this list. I have always resisted the sort of name-your-top-N albums/songs/artists games that pop music fans like to play, because I’m too indecisive and there never seems to be enough room alloted to the category for everything that deserves to be there. But a co-worker brought it up repeatedly, sending me his top 10 this and that, so I started to produce a Twenty-Five Best Albums list. I quickly discovered I couldn’t stand to limit myself, so I started adding multiple albums per artist, then allowed compilations, then broke out of the twenty-five limit and started calling it my Desert Island list—you know, the music you would want with you if you were shipwrecked (with, most improbably some means of listening to music). I think it was eighteen months or so ago that I first wrote this, and I made several additions and deletions while formatting it. I’m sure I’ll do the same if I look at it a year from now.

  • The Allman Brothers Band: The Fillmore Concerts
  • The Beatles: Revolver, Magical Mystery Tour 
  • Chuck Berry: His Best, volumes 1 and 2 
  • Big Country: The Crossing 
  • Jack Bruce: Songs for a Tailor 
  • Buffalo Springfield: Again 
  • The Byrds: favorites from the first five albums 
  • Jimmy Cliff & others: The Harder They Come 
  • Cocteau Twins: Treasure, Aikea-Guinea 
  • Leonard Cohen: Songs from a Room, Recent Songs, selections from Various Positions and I’m Your Man 
  • Julee Cruise: Floating Into the Night 
  • Donovan: Sunshine Superman, Mellow Yellow 
  • Nick Drake: Fruit Tree 
  • Bob Dylan: Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde 
  • Everly Brothers: favorites 
  • Fairport Convention: Liege and Leaf, What We Did on Our Holidays 
  •  Emmy Lou Harris: Wrecking Ball 
  • Jimi Hendrix: Are You Experienced?, favorites from Electric Ladyland 
  • Joe Henry: Shuffletown 
  • Buddy Holly: 20 Golden Greats 
  • Rupert Hine: Waving Not Drowning 
  • The Incredible String Band: The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, Wee Tam, Big Huge 
  • The Innocence Mission: Befriended, We Walked in Song 
  • Jethro Tull: Stand Up 
  • King Crimson: In the Court of the Crimson King 
  • The Kinks: Something Else, The Village Green Preservation Society 
  • Love: Forever Changes 
  • The Mermen: A Glorious Lethal Euphoria 
  • Van Morrison: Astral Weeks, Moondance, Veedon Fleece 
  • Pink Floyd: favorites from More, Ummagumma, Meddle, Obscured by Clouds 
  • Portishead: Dummy 
  • Procol Harum Procol Harum, A Salty Dog 
  • Judee Sill: Heart Food 
  • Steeleye Span: large selection from 1970-75 
  • Slowdive: Just For a Day, Souvlaki 
  • Ultravox: Vienna, favorites from other albums 
  • Tom Waits: Rain Dogs, Franks Wild Years, numerous favorites from Swordfishtrombone, Mule Variations, Blood Money, Real Gone

It was interesting to find that the largest total amount of music from any one artist comes from Tom Waits. I started to replace the King Crimson album with something by Yes—basically I wanted to include one ’70s prog-rock album, but it could have been one of several. I’m not sure about Pink Floyd, but the songs I have in mind are the spacey, dreamy ones, like “Fearless” from Meddle. Veedon Fleece is an addition—I had not heard it for some years when I originally made the list. Hmm, St. Dominic’s Preview and/or Common One should perhaps be on there, too. And what about Al Stewart?...


Sunday Night Journal — June 3, 2007

Movie Roundup

I’ve been meaning to do another one of these for a while. The films are listed in the order in which I saw them, or at least in which Netflix sent them.

Blow-up: I’ve somehow gotten the impression that this movie is no longer regarded as highly as it once was. Well, if that’s true, I don’t care; I think it’s a masterpiece, and phooey to those who disagree. It made a huge impression on me when I first saw it, when it was new and I was a college freshman, but I didn’t really know why. I suppose it was a matter of mood and atmosphere more than anything else. Now I think I understand it, and I think it comes closer to capturing an essential aspect of the cultural upheaval of the ‘60s than pretty much any other work of art I know of. I’m ready to see it again.

L’Avventura: Going straight from Blow-up to this earlier classic by Antonioni was interesting; the connection in technique is plain. According to the critical commentary on the DVD, the title refers to the adventure of self-discovery, or something. Whatever. If you want to call it a nearly plotless portrait of some unappealing rich people, with unavoidable implications about The Emptiness of Modern Life and The Difficulty of Really Communicating With Another Person, that’s ok with me. It’s beautiful and evocative. The camera can’t stay away from Monica Vitti’s strikingly soulful face, and the contrast between what one sees there and the lives these people lead is unforgettable, even if I’m unconvinced that the philosophical depth claimed for the film is really there. I’m ready to see it again, too. I haven’t yet completed the putative trilogy of L’Avventura, La Notte, and L’eclisse.

The Long Goodbye: 1973, directed by Robert Altman, Elliot Gould as Marlowe. Forgettable, apparently, as I’m already hazy about it and it was just this past February that I saw it. I think Robert Altman is overrated. Can’t point to anything in particular wrong with it but it just didn’t really work for me. Maybe it’s impossible to move Chandler into any milieu but 1930-1950 (approximately) Los Angeles.

In A Lonely Place: A 1950 Bogart noir, sort of—more of a character study than a crime drama. Highly regarded, I gather, and maybe I should give it another chance, but I was underwhelmed.

Junebug: Dysfunctional family piece, for which my appetite is very limited. Young man who moved away from redneck Carolina to be somebody in the big city returns with sophisticated art-dealer wife, many conflicts occur. Very well done but not really my cup of tea.

Monsieur Ibrahim: Sentimental story about a semi-abandoned Parisian boy taken under the wing of a kindly Muslim shopkeeper. Philosophically unconvincing—Ibrahim’s Islam would not be at all out of place on Oprah—but engaging. You can’t help liking the boy and Ibrahim (played by Omar Sharif). Almost worth seeing for the whirling Dervishes, if you’ve never seen them.

Central Station: Brazilian, also an abandoned-child story, and more convincing than Ibrahim. The adult in this case is a hard-nosed middle-aged single woman who really doesn’t want to bother. I notice that Netflix quotes reviewers’ praise of the actress, Fernanda Montenegro, who plays the woman, and rightly: she is what I mainly recall. Not a truly great film, but worthwhile.

The Dark Corner: More noir, about a private eye with a past being framed for murder, and I’m beginning to wonder if I don’t like noir as much as I thought I did. It wasn’t bad but I wasn’t enthused, either. Interesting to see Lucille Ball in an early non-comedy role.

Intimate Stories: Yes, I know, the title sounds like some kind of quasi-porn, and although I don’t know Spanish I suspect that whoever translated Historias Minimas this way probably made a mistake. It is indeed a small movie about small people and small events, but it’s thoroughly beautiful, not least in the straightforwardly visual sense. The slight but well-constructed plot revolves around the partly interlocking journeys of several small-town or rural people to the big city. Highly recommended.

Jean de Florette / Manon of the Spring: I have had these recommended to me many times over the years, but have, to be honest, avoided what seemed an obligation, like that of reading a classic that doesn’t really interest you. From the descriptions I expected them to be long, ponderous, and sad. The first and last are accurate; the second is not. If you haven’t seen them, I strongly suggest you treat them as a unit. They’re probably too much for one viewing—they would be for me—but watch them on consecutive nights if you can, as they are really one story. And together they comprise a masterpiece. The first seemed to be meeting my expectation of a mildly unpleasant experience, as we watch the deliberate destruction of a good man. It’s excruciating, and I would just as soon have stopped there. But Manon turns the story from a portrait of brute suffering into a genuine tragedy, classical in its lines, and profound; a classic indeed. I suspect most people who read this blog have seen it, but if you haven’t, make a note: this is one you must see.

I see I still have another eight or ten movies to go, so I think I’ll split this up. More next week.


Sunday Night Journal — April 8, 2007

Discovering Traherne (3): On the Cross

Improperly excerpted, Traherne might appear to be a proto-romantic heretic, viewing the soul as naturally good and pure until corrupted by the world, and “saved” by recovery of the primeval innocent vision. (Of course one can be a romantic and a Christian, but not a Romantic, in the sense of holding as a philosophy the post-Enlightenment emotionalism and subjectivism of Shelley The third Century contains passages which out-Wordsworth the man who gave us “splendor in the grass…glory in the flower”:

Certainly Adam in Paradice had not more sweet and Curious Apprehensions of the World, then I when I was a child. All appeared New, and Strange at the first, inexpressibly rare, and Delightfull, and Beautifull. I was a little Stranger which at my enterance into the World was Saluted and Surrounded with innumerable Joys. My Knowledg was Divine: I knew by Intuition those things which since my Apostacie, I Collected again, by the Highest Reason.

But Traherne’s mind is broad and orthodox enough to contain these views without losing sight of the Christian facts of life. Here is a selection from a lengthy rhapsody on the Cross from the first Century:

The Cross is the Abyss of Wonders, the Centre of Desires, the Schole of Virtues, the Hous of Wisdom, the Throne of Lov, the Theatre of Joys and the Place of Sorrows; It is the Root of Happiness, and the Gate of Heaven….

If Lov be the weight of the Soul, and its Object the Centre, All Eys and Hearts may convert and turn unto this Object: cleave unto this Centre, and by it enter into Rest….

That Cross is a Tree set on fire with invisible flame, that Illuminates all the World. The Flame is Lov….

Here you learn all Patience, Meekness, Self Denial, Courage, Prudence, Zeal, Lov, Charity, Contempt of the World, Joy, Penitence, Contrition, Modestie, Fidelity, Constancy Perseverance, Holiness, Contentation, and Thanksgiving. With whatsoever els is requisit for a Man, a Christian or a King….

But above all these our Saviors Cross is the Throne of Delights. That Centre of Eternity, That Tree of Life in the midst of the Paradice of GOD!….

There are we Entertained with the Wonder of all Ages. There we enter into the Heart of the Univers.

I bid you a good and holy Easter season.