Magnificat Rhapsody

Mary’s Song
A Poem by Luci Shaw

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest …
you who have had so far
to come.) Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled
a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world.
Charmed by doves’ voices, the whisper of straw,
he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed
who overflowed all skies,
all years.
Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught that I might be free,
blind in my womb to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth
for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn

The Agony

Philosophers have measur’d mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of the seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staff to heav’n, and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.

Who would know SIn, let him repair
Unto mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skin, his garments bloody be.
Sin is that press and vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through ev’ry vein.

Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach, then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.

—George Herbert

Thanks to poet Malcolm Guite for mentioning this poem during a conversation hosted by the Trinity Forum.

Vocation Signpost

This week, I started the winter term of the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) residency. That means I’ve been at it for three months. The final assignment for the Fall was a comprehensive self-evaluation. I found simultanious relief in not having to cram for a final on one hand. On the other, I struggled to give the assignment a fair shake becuase of the simple and searching prompts given to stimulate reflection. One of the supervisors of the program told me that, next term, he would hold my feet to the fire about “Naming what your’e good at.” I heard the words of W.H. Auden:

You owe it to all of us to get on with what you’re good at.

I’ve also learned that the road to full-time hospital chaplaincy requires board certification from BCCI. Along with board certification, one is required to have denominational endorsement. The Presbyterian Church in America offers great resources for that here.


groans in gratitude, grows with awe, and walks
hand-in-hand with imagination. Joy
bouqueted as lavish larkspurs of light popped into sulfur
tang. She’s a tart pickel bit in
the dark of your mouth, tasted like the sight of life, shaped
apple whose thin, green skin beckons one’s teeth. World delivered
in blood and tears, beautiful in song. Sung from the start that
was then, this is
now the story of a baby. Wait, we wait,
now for then. Patience is a woman’s grin
grown, no longer thin. So, when?
The question one can
see in the shrug of a tree.

Currently reading: Love and the Postmodern Predicament by D. C. Schindler 📚

I’m entranced by this beautifully produced video on reorientation thru birding as a spiritual practice. I sent the video to my neighbor and he said, “Let’s be birders!” I couldn’t agree more.

Currently reading: Reviving Old Scratch by Richard Beck 📚

“We must love one another or die.” —W.H. Auden

Thank you for the reminder, Nick.

Notes for a Personal, Integrated Library

I’ve been using Goodreads for a few years now to track my reading but more to catalogue books I want to read. The more I use it, the more I realize that it’s not the tool I’m looking for (Jedi spell on myself).

Today I found some alternatives tools:

  1. LibraryThing(of which Amazon is part owner). And their minimalist and polished interphase
  2. TinyCat
  3. TheStoryGraph
  4. indiebookclub(born of the IndieWebCamp)

And some great people with thoughts on the idea of a living library and the human design required to keep one.

  1. Sarah Manavis
  2. Gregor Morrill(IndieWebRing and maintainer of indibookclub)
  3. Tom Critchlow and his “Web of Books” page.
  4. Matt Webb
  5. Mandy Brown

Currently reading: The Apostles’ Creed by Ben Myers 📚

Which is a volume from this mini-series by Lexham Press.

Do not build towers without a foundation, for our Lord does not care so much for the importance of our works as for the love with which they are done. When we do all we can, His Majesty will enable us to do more every day.

—St. Teresa of Avila: The Interior Castle.

The Magnificent Bribe

Why has our age surrendered so easily to the controllers, the manipulators, the conditioners of an authoritarian technics? …The bargain we are being asked to ratify takes the form of a magnificent bribe. Under the democratic-authoritarian social contract, each member of the community may claim every material advantage, every intellectual and emotional stimulus he may desire, in quantities hardly available hitherto even for a restricted minority: food, housing, swift transportation, instantaneous communication, medical care, entertainment, education. But on one condition: that one must not merely ask for nothing that the system does not provide, but likewise agree to take everything offered, duly processed and fabricated, homogenized and equalized, in the precise quantities that the system, rather than the person, requires. Once one opts for the system no further choice remains. In a word, if one surrenders one’s life at source, authoritarian technics will give back as much of it as can be mechanically graded, quantitatively multiplied, collectively manipulated and magnified.

— Lewis Mumford in “Authoritarian and Democratic Technics” via The Convivial Society

“He never lost the wonder.”

This new Oliver Sacks doc looks great. I’ve watched the trailer half a dozen times now. It feels timely, since I started my new work of hospital chaplaincy this month.

I recenlty considered opening a coffee shop nextdoor to Austin’s famed and beatiful Mozart’s Coffee Roasters. I would call it, “Salieri’s.” The sign over the shop would read, “We’re not as good.”

Poetry as Memory of God

Blogging should sound like talking to myself. But it’s not journaling becasue, while talking to myself, I’m also talking to you. The most “virtuous” (because I’m a virtue ethicist of my own behavior) thing I can do is help you, others, pay attention…to my own words, which I hope hold value for their thoughtfulness and to the Word of God. It’s what the poet, G.M. Hopkins invites himself and others to do: pay attention to the Kingfisher and the dragonfly, consider what they say. “Pay attnetion to what you pay attention to,” says, Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

Well, If you’ve found yourslef here, in my clouster of the internet, you might have noticed…I pay attention to poetry. Why is that? I grew up with my mom reading it aloud. I studied it in university. etc (on my past experience). Most of all—and this is thanks to re-reading Hopkins just now— I hear Christ “lovely in [voice] not his.” I swim upstream of poets to the scripture they read. I remember God. Usually in by body. Today, it was with tears while reading Hopkins aloud. I get that I’m weird for crying at poetry, I accept it and you’re free to as well.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Fish, Flash, Seed: Ideas waited for, snagged, and transplanted

David Lynch (via Rob Walker and Austin Kleon) uses these three metaphors for a thought:

Fish: “I believe that if you sit quietly, like you’re fishing, you will catch ideas. The real, you know, beautiful, big ones swim kinda deep down there so you have to be very quiet, and you know, wait for them to come along.”

Flash: “If you catch an idea, you know, any idea, it wasn’t there and then it’s there! It might just be a small fragment…but you gotta write that idea down right away. And as you’re writing, sometimes it’s amazing how much comes out, you know, from that one flash…And in your mind the idea is seen and felt and it explodes like it’s got electricity and light connected to it.”

The explosion is an agrarian one, like the moment germination errupts from inside the dark walls of a…

Seed: So, you get an idea and it is like a seed. And…it explodes…And it has all the images and the feeling. And it’s like in an instant you know the idea, in an instant [a flash]…Then, the thing is translating that to some medium.

Lynch talks of waiting for the ideas like fish and cathing the big ones that live deep takes the most time. The poet Ted Hughes talks about ideas like both foxes and fishes. Ideas are critters to be actively waited for and sniffed out. A practice that, Hughes says, requires surrender:

And that process of raid, or persuasion, or ambush, or dogged hunting, or surrender, is the kind of thinking we have to learn, and if we don’t somehow learn it, then our minds line us like the fish in the pond of a man who can’t fish.

Beowulf, bro.

Robin Sloan:

The classic poem Beowulf begins with the Old English word “hwæt,” which has proven tricky to translate; it’s a call to attention, something like “hark!” or “behold!” Tolkien chose the musty “Lo!” Seamus Heaney, in his translation published twenty years ago—the first Beowulf I encountered—brought it up to date, opening with a winning “So!” Now, Maria Dahvana Headley, in a bracingly contemporary translation, does Heaney one better. Her Beowulf begins with—wait for it—“Bro!” Beowulf always was a little bro-y, wasn’t it? I love the way these translations speak to one another; neither Heaney nor Headley’s choices would be as appealing without the knowledge of what came before. Lo/So/Bro: a perfect progression.

Sloan’s commentary of casual Beowulf translation reminded me of John Gardner’s book Grendel. I read it for the first time last year and really enjoyed the rhapsodized re-telling of the Beowulf story from the point-of-view of the monster. Seems to me on the first reading to stand in the tradition of the unsettling groteesque characteristic of Flannery O’Connor.

After reading the book, I stumbled on some insightful commentary from Gardner in a letter he wrote to a group of young students. I appreciate when authors help readers understand their stories without nuetering the story.

" desire the help of grace is the beginning of grace..."

—St. Augustine, On Rebuke and Grace Ch II

Treebeard in a Forest of Options

Benedict, Bombadill, Gandalf, and Beck
Treebeard “supposes.” His option: “must do.”
Given no choice, with the threat to his neck,
he heralds his plan and follows it through.

Tim Ferris interviewed Chuck Palahniuk on his podcast recently. Not long into the interview, Palahniuk explains the phenomenon that some readers of his story, “Guts” experience. They pass-out. Maybe that shocking detail made me lean in to hear, what I think to be, a profound summary of what Palahniuk understands his calling to be. He says:

The goal is to make people laugh and then to really break their heart.

This, of course, makes complete sense coming from the man who wrote Fight Club. A movie that holds much of it’s college-aged-viewing charm after first viewing. I think because even after you have been whiplashed by the surprise ending, you ache to see old forms of personhood and institution crumble (while a Pixies song plays) to death.

At the same time, hearing the master of modern-grotesque describe his aim as an author, I was suprised. His words stunned me for their uncanny resemblence to a few lines of rhyme from C.S. Lewis.

Have you not seen that in our days
Of any whose story, song or art
Delights us, our sincerest praise
Means, when all’s said, ‘You break my heart?

“Laughter through tears.”

Writing on the subjects of diversity and inclusion for some new job stuff, I came across this Love-Actually-type video on inclusion. It’s a great artifact of rhetorical mastery: logos and tear-worthy pathos.

George Herbert's Pre-sermon Prayer

An excerpt from George Herbert’s book A Priest to The Temple: Or The Country Parson, His Character, And Rule of Holy Life, included in the chapter titled, “The Authour’s Prayer before Sermon.”

Thou hast exalted thy mercy above all things; and hast made our salvation, not our punishment, thy glory: so that then where sin abounded, not death, but grace superabounded; accordingly, when we had sinned beyond any help in heaven or earth, then thou saidest, Lo, I come! then did the Lord of life, unable of himselfe to die, contrive to do it. He took flesh, he wept, he died; for his enemies he died; even for those that derided him then, and still despise him. Blessed Saviour!

Narrow Scope Anxiety

Possible Answers to Prayer

Your petitions—though they continue to bear
just the one signature—have been duly recorded.
Your anxieties—despite their constant,

relatively narrow scope and inadvertent
entertainment value—nonetheless serve
to bring your person vividly to mind.

Your repentance—all but obscured beneath
a burgeoning, yellow fog of frankly more
conspicuous resentment—is sufficient.

Your intermittent concern for the sick,
the suffering, the needy poor is sometimes
recognizable to me, if not to them.

Your angers, your zeal, your lipsmackingly
righteous indignation toward the many
whose habits and sympathies offend you—

these must burn away before you’ll apprehend
how near I am, with what fervor I adore
precisely these, the several who rouse your passions.

Supreme Thanks

Thank you, Jenzia Burgos, for the incredible resource of a Black Music History Library. Today, I read Greg Tate’s review of Ashley Kahn’s book A Love Supreme. The article includes this block quote describing how Coltrane’s album begins:

Elvin Jones leans to his left and, striking a Chinese gong, opens the album with an ethereal, exotic splash. “It’s the signal of something different,” remarks [Alice and John Coltrane’s son] Ravi. “You don’t hear that instrument anywhere else on any other John Coltrane recording.” … In one stroke, the hammered metal’s distinctive shimmer clears the air of standard jazz practice… . Coltrane enters with a brief fanfare. Whether blown from minarets or at military barracks, as a call to prayer or to arms, it’s a time-honored device with a timeless function …

Now I’m gonna go listen to “Psalm” and read Coltrane’s liner-notes poem. Salud!

Every US National Park ranked.