A book, Podcast and Grief

I look forward to reading J Todd Billings’ recent book, The End of the Christian Life📚. In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying the podcast he’s produced interviewing friends he met while writing the book.

In particular, I found Billings’ interview with Thomas Lynch on the human body refreshingly honest. Their conversation dignified the the dead and the work of those who oversee the last journey of this life. Lynch speaks of his work as an undertaker with genuine gratitude and poetic insight. He sees the beauty of the body, even in death.

In my work as a hospital chaplain, I’ve accompanied families of the dying. I think Lynch has it right when he says that, in those moments, the mundane is interrupted by mortality. Even the moment of death happens in-between breaths. There is a before and after death. Both spaces require their own sort of paying attention. Both are told as stories.

This theme of death and dying came home to me last week when I made the decision to put my dog to sleep, after he suffered sudden, internal bleeding. My pup, Moses was part of our family. My wife and I adopted him from the shelter and he moved around the country with us. His daily companionship and capacity to be present offered grace and peace. As one of God’s beloved creatures, he served us well and has his place in kingdom come, kept by God. I’ll miss you, Mosey.

In Every Tree

We sat outside at church this morning with a Live Oak blocking our view of the preacher. I kept thinking of this poem I read from Plough’s recent collection of Easter Poems.

I See His Blood

I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.

I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice—and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words.

All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.

Joseph Plunkett

Holy, Harrowing Saturday

Does he bear not only his future pain but the wounds, words, deeds, and things of all, for all time: the splitting of the atom, the finding of fire, the exploding of the bomb, the child pinned under the Pinto, the dog sunk in a black pond, the smoke rising over the vain city, the first split cell, mutation of fish, arrow into beast, tufts of gun smoke, sunspots on a high window, gallons of cold coffee? Does he bear it all, Christ, churning within him, every war that ever was or ever will be, dancing in his molecules so that it is just challenging to be around this man? Does Christ carry the you of two thousand years away, you and all your pretty madness, the girl you left behind, the bad movies, the failed exams, the love child, the weird quiet relief of cutting the lawn, the crushed cathedral, the mushroom and the cloud and the way a snake turns everything around it into sacred fear? Does he bear that, him down on the end of your bench? […] The disease, love, joy, tender flesh in a battlefield; a carjacking, a first kiss, a last breath. Does he carry these things, he who became sin?

—Joe Hoover, SJ O Death, Where is Thy Sting? A Meditation on Suffering

“The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the that Saturday they rested according to the commandment.”

St. Luke 23:55—56

Courage, Freedom, and Humility

“Moral advance carries with it intuitions of unity which are increasingly less misleading. Courage, which seemed at first to be something on its own, a sort of specialised daring of spirit, is now seen to be a particular operation of wisdom and love…Freedom, we find out, is not an inconsequential chucking of one’s weight about, it is the disciplined overcoming of self. Humility is not a peculiar habit of self-effacement, rather like having an inaudible voice, it is self-less respect for reality and one of the most difficult and central of all virtues.”

Iris Murdoch (1970/2013) The Sovereignty of Good, Routledge, p. 93.

A Season for Everything

Laity Lodge recently shared a newsletter featuring the ancient Japanese calendar of 72 seasons. Each lasting about 5 days, the 72 mark lived changes with attuned awareness and (as the website details) “the names of each season beautifully depict the tiny, delicate changes in nature that occur around us, year in year out.”

I’ve decided to call this 5-day-season in Austin, TX “The peach tree flowered despite some chill and the xmas lights are still up.”

Literary Hub posted every presidential inauguration poem ever performed to include Amanda Gorman’s latest contribution.

The young poet is now slated to read at the Super Bowl pregame.

With the farming of a verse...

Today in 1939, William Butler Yeats dies.

In Memory of W. B. Yeats
W. H. Auden - 1907-1973

I

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

What instruments we have agree The day of his death was a dark cold day.

II

You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

III

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

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.

Wonder

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
BY GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS
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.

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

—St. Augustine, On Rebuke and Grace Ch II