Rabbit Holes: Historicism

It’s Lent.  I meant to talk about the simultaneity of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day, but this column is a better treatment of the topic than I could give.

So.  It’s Lent, time of penitence and discipline and observances.  One of my disciplines for this Lent is the study of Isaiah.  I hope to find and commit to a particular theologian’s commentary on it (please leave any suggestions or recommendations in the comments), but in the meantime, there’s the simple act of reading it, of pondering the text itself.

Isaiah’s prophecy and visions regarding the nation of Israel being taken into captivity concern a specific event (or events, as sections of the prophecy point directly to Christ’s birth and his death).  I haven’t actually studied theology in great enough depth to tell you much more than that.

In my reading about God’s judgment of Judah, I came on this verse:

Isaiah 5:7:
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice,
but behold, bloodshed;
for righteousness,
but behold, an outcry!

When you read this in the wake of children being shot at a school in Florida, the bloodshed and outcry of the present day seem inextricable from what war and wickedness went on in Judah.

I got a bit concerned about myself, and whether I was being heretical by applying this scripture to the present concerns – concerned enough to try categorizing it, which meant my brother got a charming e-mail with the subject line “Heresy question.”

He categorized it as personal judgment, and potentially premillennialism.  Reading up on premillennialism suggested that the doctrine to avoid was historicism, which made me wonder if my favorite Lutheran blog had written anything on the subject.

Searching for the term brought this post to my attention.  It’s not actually focused on historicism, mentioning it once and moving on, but examines several other matters worth rumination.

Trent’s discussion of students properly being eager and earnest, of the proper wonder for the world as God’s creation, and of a joy that is serious, have all highlighted to me how I have lost my own zeal, my own earnestness, and thus my own joy:

Joy is not the opposite of seriousness. Joy is rather its concomitant, arising only from that which seriousness alone affords, for joy is the saved soul’s perception of God in His works, which are the good, the true, and the beautiful. The eye of faith takes joy in the good creation of God which it espies beneath the marring of sin, the good world which the fire of heaven will, at the last trumpet, purge and make new. Joy is the highest transfiguration of wonder. It is a deeply serious affair.

I feel convicted, that in the stead of true joy or delight, I might have instead been merely flippant.  But it is my hope that the study and discipline of Lent will pave the way for a wholly joyful Easter.

 

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Good Friday; the Stations of the Cross

Source: Good Friday; the Stations of the Cross

Malcolm Guite has written this beautiful sequence of sonnets, and shares with them St. Alban’s Stations of the Cross, Linda Richardson’s artwork, and his own audio recordings of the sonnets.

Among the lines that touched me most:

He and the earth he made were never closer,
Divinity and dust come face to face.
We flinch back from his via dolorosa,
He sets his face like flint and takes our place,
Staggers beneath the black weight of us all
And falls with us that he might break our fall.


Be with us when the road is twice as long
As we can bear. By weakness make us strong.

 

See, as they strip the robe from off his back
And spread his arms and nail them to the cross,
The dark nails pierce him and the sky turns black,
And love is firmly fastened onto loss.
But here a pure change happens. On this tree
Loss becomes gain, death opens into birth.
Here wounding heals and fastening makes free
Earth breathes in heaven, heaven roots in earth.
And here we see the length, the breadth, the height
Where love and hatred meet and love stays true
Where sin meets grace and darkness turns to light
We see what love can bear and be and do,
And here our saviour calls us to his side
His love is free, his arms are open wide.

In Natales et Pascha concurrentes

It is, for a little while yet, the 25th of March: the day the Church celebrates the Annunciation, whereby the Word was made Flesh.

It is also Friday, and we call this Friday good: for it is the day our Lord Jesus Christ climbed the shameful gallows-tree, transforming its shame to glory, trampling down death by death, bearing all sin in His sinless body to save us from our sin.

That these two great days occur together is apt, and rare; it will not occur again for 141 years.  On that account, John Donne wrote a poem (both here, and in the 2 prior links).  George Herbert also wrote a poem on the subject (item 67), this one in Latin, and that is the one I wanted to share:

Cum tu, Christe, cadis, nascor; mentémque ligavit
Una meam membris horula, téque cruci.
O me disparibus natum cum numine fatis!
Cur mihi das vitam, quam tibi, Christe, negas?
Quin moriar tecum: vitam, quam negligis ipse,
Accipe; ni talem des, tibi qualis erat.
Hoc mihi legatum tristi si funere præstes,
Christe, duplex fiet mors tua vita mihi:
Atque ibi per te sanctificer natalibus ipsis,
In vitam, et nervos Pascha coæva fluet.

Translated the best I can (after years without Latin practice, but with the benefit of some dictionaries):

When you, O Christ, fall, I rise;* it bound both my mind
And one of my members a little while, with you on the cross.
O how unlike, to me, that birth from the divine will now spoken!
Why do you give me life, when for yourself, Christ, you reject it?
I would even die with you: life, which itself you disregard,
Receive: unless you give such, as was given to you.
This would be a sad legacy for me if you would bestow death,
Christ, your death will doubly be made my life:
And yet, when I would be sanctified through your birth itself,
In life, and strength, your Passion coeval will flow.

*Alternately: When you, O Christ, die, I am born…

A friend has offered this (far superior) rendering:

As you die, o Christ, I am born: and my mind is bound
a little while with your limbs, to the Cross.
O what different destinies – of the man born, and the god.
Why do you give me life, which you, O Christ, renounce?
That I might die with you; take from me the life that you misprize [disregard],
unless you give to me a suffering similar to yours [??]
And if you grant to me – miserable creature – such a death,
o Christ, then your death would doubly be made my life.
And thus might my birth be sanctified to you
in life, and strength will flow from your sacrifice.

Und Gott Befiehit mir, daß ich schriebe

I keep reading Rilke of late.  There will be more thoughts of mine and poems of his to share later, but in the meantime, here’s one that seemed apt enough for Ash Wednesday.  Have a blessed Lenten season, my dears.

Und Gott befiehlt mir, daß ich schriebe:
And God commanded me, that I write:

Den Königen sei Grausamkeit.   Leave the cruelty to kings.
Sie ist der Engel vor der Liebe,  Without that angel barring
und ohne diesen Bogen bliebe   the way to love, there would be no arc
mir keine Brücke in die Zeit.     to be my bridge into time.

Und Gott befiehlt mir, daß ich male:
And God commanded me, that I paint:

Die Zeit ist mir mein tiefstes Weh,    Time is my deepest woe,
so legte ich in ihre Schale:                so I laid in Her bowl
das wache Weib, die Wundenmale,   the waking wife, the painted-wounds*,
den reichen Tod (daß er sie zahle),   the rich death (which he pays for)
der Städte bange Bacchanale,          the cities’ fearful bacchanalia,
den Wahnsinn und die Könige.        the madness and the kings.

Und Gott befiehlt mir, daß ich baue:
And God commanded me, that I build:

Den König bin ich von der Zeit.       I am the king of then and now,
Dir aber bin ich nur der graue          but to you I am just the gray
Mitwisser deiner Einsamkeit.           confidant of your loneliness.
Und bin das Auge mit der Braue  And I am the eye under the brow

 Das über meine Schulter schaue          …which looks over my shoulder
von Ewigkeit zu Ewigkeit.                     from eternity to eternity.

 

I confess my understanding of this poem to be limited, given that I’m working in translation and am by no means fluent in German. Any criticism or correction would be welcome.

God’s being was narrowed, in Christ, to a finite span of time; it seems to me that “time” thus becomes shorthand for saying “a human being with a mortal lifespan.”

Since God commanded me that I paint is followed by a description of woeful things laid in a bowl, I imagine the paint to be blood, dripping into a bowl from Christ’s side. His suffering the weight of the world’s sorrow allows such grievous things to be transformed into stories, song, and beauty.

*Kenning for stigmata

Throw the Lumber Over, Man!

Yesterday was the day of ashes, the reminder that we are all of dust and one day shall return to it.  So begins the penitential season of Lent, a time for reflection, repentance, and sacrifice.

Today a plethora of people are setting out into a variety of wilderness, a time of self-abnegation.  Some give up foods, be they meat, sweets, other snacks, or alcohol; some avoid the use of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, or various other sorts of social media; others set out to devote more time in prayer and pondering.

This time of sacrifice underscores the truth that man does not live by bread [or meat, or Internet, or sleep, or work, or play] alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  So many of the objects or activities surrounding us, demanding us, consuming us could [should] be set down.

On that note, here is a longish excerpt from Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), wherein the three men are planning what to take on a river-boating trip.  It expresses some of my dad’s maxims, but with more vigour:

The first list we made out had to be discarded. It was clear that the upper reaches of the Thames would not allow of the navigation of a boat sufficiently large to take the things we had set down as indispensable; so we tore the list up, and looked at one another!

George said:

“You know we are on a wrong track altogether. We must not think of the things we could do with, but only of the things that we can’t do without.”

George comes out really quite sensible at times. You’d be surprised. I call that downright wisdom, not merely as regards the present case, but with reference to our trip up the river of life, generally. How many people, on that voyage, load up the boat till it is ever in danger of swamping with a store of foolish things which they think essential to the pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are really only useless lumber.

How they pile the poor little craft mast-high with fine clothes and big houses; with useless servants, and a host of swell friends that do not care twopence for them, and that they do not care three ha’pence for; with expensive entertainments that nobody enjoys, with formalities and fashions, with pretence and ostentation, and with – oh, heaviest, maddest lumber of all! – the dread of what will my neighbour think, with luxuries that only cloy, with pleasures that bore, with empty show that, like the criminal’s iron crown of yore, makes to bleed and swoon the aching head that wears it!

It is lumber, man – all lumber! Throw it overboard. It makes the boat so heavy to pull, you nearly faint at the oars. It makes it so cumbersome and dangerous to manage, you never know a moment’s freedom from anxiety and care, never gain a moment’s rest for dreamy laziness – no time to watch the windy shadows skimming lightly o’er the shallows, or the glittering sunbeams flitting in and out among the ripples, or the great trees by the margin looking down at their own image, or the woods all green and golden, or the lilies white and yellow, or the sombre-waving rushes, or the sedges, or the orchis, or the blue forget-me-nots.

Throw the lumber over, man! Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.

You will find the boat easier to pull then, and it will not be so liable to upset, and it will not matter so much if it does upset; good, plain merchandise will stand water. You will have time to think as well as to work. Time to drink in life’s sunshine – time to listen to the Æolian music that the wind of God draws from the human heart-strings around us – time to –

I beg your pardon, really. I quite forgot.

A Foretaste of the Feast to Come

So I’m part of this choir that sings Handel’s Messiah in Hill Auditorium every year.  Sometimes that means we sigh at the fact that it’s December again and we’re singing Messiah for the 4th or 10th or 37th time.  Sometimes that means we pass over rehearsing Handel in favor of rehearsing more unfamiliar repertoire; this season, it’s MacMillan’s Tu Es Petrusthe finale of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, and Milhaud’s Oresteia.  Sometimes we hold our scores but never look at them, which can backfire on the odd occasion our conductor makes changes to the dynamics or duration of the notes.

It can get a bit wearing, is what I’m saying.  Singing a piece year after year ought to make it more polished, but I’m convinced I get worse at the melismas every time.  Squishing onto the risers never really gets better.  I typically end up counting how many movements are left.  December doesn’t really get any warmer (well, okay, it did this year.  One-off).  I never get any less liturgically confused.   The Hallelujah Chorus always feels so relaxed and somehow that doesn’t seem right.

And yet, no matter how wearing it gets, the moments remain which remind me why I do this – why I’m part of a choir, why I sing, why music is:  The end and final aim of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.  In high school, we had choir tour shirts with this line from Bach on the back, but it hardly seemed so true then as it does now.

During performances this weekend, that nigh-wearisome familiarity with the score allowed for the music to glorify God and refresh the soul as I’d never before experienced it.  The notes, the rhythms, the dynamics, the diction: they were not abandoned, but observing them was drawn up into conveying the meaning, the truth of words heard so often over the years that we sometimes cease to attend them.  To paraphrase our conductor, each chorus must be sung as though for the first time these words have ever been heard:

For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulders

Glory to God!  Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth.

Surely, surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruiséd for our iniquities.  The chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healéd. 

Let all the angels of God worship Him!

The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.

Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive!

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing!  Blessing and honor, glory, and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb.  Amen!

When the final cutoff arrived, it seemed to me that we hadn’t yet sung enough…in fact, it seemed we never could.  The power and verity of those words provided a glimpse of what praising God in perfect heavenly harmony might be like.  To focus one’s energy on the One who is worthy of all praise: this is delight.  This is what we were made for.  This is a foretaste of the feast of thanksgiving to come.

Shantih Shantih

Shantih Shantih

 

Uncovered head under precipitation;
You have forgotten your umbrella.
Venturing into the dark of anticipation,
Hoping to peruse some gazing stellar,
Only, you forgot to check the weather.
Or even to look at the sky and see
Its signs. And now you – oh, so clever! –
Are deprived of that sense exclusively.
But touch and sound and taste
And smell o’erwhelm your world
‘Til the rain comes over you and
Here, now, at last you must face
The lilac buds and ferns uncurled:
Intimate knowledge of the life of the land.

Epic Meme Saturday: Roguish Villainy

Oh, there are so many good types of villains!

The villains that are totally evil but still so attractive, the kinds are bumbling and cute, the kinds that make you shrivel in your pajamas, the kind that are so pompous that they make you laugh, the kind that are delightfully evil (differing from the shriveling kinds because they don’t give you night-meres)…. And oh so many more!

I think it would be possible to make it a lifelong hobby to categorize all the different kinds of villains one might encounter when venturing out into the scary and mysterious world of literature. I don’t know why one would want to do that, but it is possible!

All hobbies aside, I really don’t know who my favorite villain is. I love the demons in The Phantom Tollbooth, but I don’t know if they could really be called villains, they are more like a trial for the character to defeat. So I have to think of something more than just having fun reading about these dubious characters!!

Hm…

Well, I must say that when I read “King Lear” for the first time, I was shocked to find out that Edmund as a bad guy!

I mean, he had all the qualities of someone great; strength of character, vision, determination, courage, cunning…except they were all so sadly misplaced and he used them maliciously to achieve what he perceived as his own personal ‘good’ rather than using them honorably to reach a higher good. He let his bitterness at the way he was chained to his station poison all that could have been good in him.

Yet there is something so appealing about him, about what he could be. I almost wish he didn’t die, so that I could see if that hint that he could have become a real man ever came true.