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Top Ten Books Read in 2013 – 6

G.K Chesterton has become a regular on this annual countdown (and on the blog in general), partly because of his vast amount of writings and partly due to their wonderful commonsensical quality, always because he has a mustache. But as has been the case this year, we have another first, a book of poetry.

Wine, Water, and Song is a whimsical look at food and drink. Chesterton has great personal experience with both. Many of theWine, Water, and Song songs are taken from his novel, The Flying Inn, (which sounds like a book for next year). One of my favorite poems of the group in “The Logical Vegetarian.”

You will find me drinking rum,
Like a sailor in a slum,
You will find me drinking beer like a Bavarian.
You will find drinking gin
In the lowest kind of inn,
Because I am a rigid vegetarian.

One of the other great gems is “The Song of the Strange Ascetic”

If I had been a heathen,
I’d have praised the purple vine,
My slaves should dig the vineyard,
And I would drink the wine,
But Higgins is a heathen,
And his slaves grow lean and grey,
That he may drink some tepid milk
Exactly twice a day …
Now who can run can read it,
That riddle that I write,
Of why this poor old sinner,
Should sin without delight–?
But I, I cannot read it
(Although I run and run)
Of them that do not have the faith,
And will not have the fun.

Pick up a beer or high-ball of scotch and enjoy some good levity and even better insights.


What Do I Need to Know to Discern?

This is a selection from a longer work on prayer and discernment. It reflects on the question “How much do we need to know in order to discern our vocation?”
When it comes time for God to fulfill Adam and give him the greatest grace yet, he doesn’t leave him conscious for it. Maybe it is because Adam had already been so disappointed by all the gifts that he had seen while awake. Maybe it is because God is one of  those cheesy parents who force their kids to close their eyes before they pull out a birthday gift from behind their back. Or maybe, just maybe, it is because God’s graces are more valuable than sight and experience can ever reveal, though not so incomprehensible that sight and sound can’t make them apprehensive. 
Here it would be important to point out the distinction between apprehensive and comprehensive knowledge. It’s a distinction that is rarely mentioned in normal conversation, but it is terribly important, especially in the grace-knowledge relationship. To comprehend something is to understand it through-and-through, to know it in its deepest essence. When teachers talk of  reading comprehension, when lawyers talk of  comprehension of  the law, when politicians claim (falsely) that they can comprehend the economic situation, when scientists  claim (often truly) that they can comprehend a phenomena, they all mean this sort of knowledge. It’s a knowledge characterized by knowing the black and white, the ins-and-outs. It not only means that we know the thing itself, but that, using this knowledge, we can then predict exactly what will happen when we apply it. This type of  knowledge can only be applied to purely objective situations. However, we can never know God, or even each other for that matter, with a purely objective knowledge. In personal relationships, we are given a subjective knowledge of  the other, a partial (but still real!) knowledge of  the other. When they go to give us something of  themselves, our knowledge about them increases, but in a qualitatively different  way. In fact, as long as we try to comprehend (Latin for “to seize” or “grab”) others, we are never in a position to receive them as a gift. Just as a wrapped present can only be received with apprehensive knowledge, the wrapping paper obscuring the full nature of  the gift, so too must we receive each other, and God, as dignified subjects. The lack of  comprehension in no way decreases the nature of  the gift. In fact, by making it personal through apprehension, our knowledge is lifted to a higher plane, one in which the person who we know is a being beyond our grasp but still within full sight of  our vision. 
So before entrusting Adam with his first purely creaturely personal relationship, God makes sure that Adam is unconscious (“casts a deep sleep”) when He pulls woman from man’s side. And like a kid on Christmas morning, Adam wakes up to find a gift waiting for him. Only, this gift isn’t some plastic action figure or Barbie doll, but a living, breathing and beautiful woman. This moment is so moving, that the author of  Genesis has Adam recite the world’s first love poetry: 
“This one at last is bone of  my bones 
and flesh of  my flesh. 
She shall be called ‘woman’ for out of  
man she has been taken.” 
There’s a lot more from this passage
(Not too bad for Man’s first try at romantic verse. I can just picture a Lion King-esque scene with Adam rapping out this poem and all the animals of the Savanna making cool African sounding riffs in the background.)

There’s a lot more from this passage that needs to be discussed. For our immediate purposes, however, I would simply like to point out that Adam did not need to be conscious when Eve was  being made, even though the process was quite an intimate one. This is how God handled the first gift giving.  It is a standard He will set from this point forward. Whether its the Hebrew slaves asleep as the angel of  death passes over, or Samuel asleep in the temple before receiving his vocation, or Jonah in the belly of  the whale, or Jacob asleep at the base of  Jacobs ladder or Joseph asleep when he is told the marry Mary, Scripture makes it overwhelmingly clear that God makes a habit of  dispensing both graces and vocations while people are asleep.

John Updike’s The Resurrection

This poem was what opened the section on Easter Season in my devotional book. I always dig it when a popular contemporary writer speaks up for the Resurrected Lord.

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

From Updike, John. “Telephone Poles and Other Poems” (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,1961).

St. Philip in His Disciples

Being that today is the Feast of St. Philip Neri, who is the patron of my home parish I felt I would share with you a hymn written by one of Philip’s spiritual sons, John Henry Cardinal Newman.

St. Philip in His Disciples

I ASK not for fortune, for silken attire,
For servants to throng me, and crowds to admire;
I ask not for power, or for name or success,
These do not content me, these never can bless.

Let the world flaunt her glories! each glittering prize,
Though tempting to others, is nought in my eyes.
A child of St. Philip, my master and guide,
I would live as he lived, and would die as he died.

Why should I be sadden’d, though friendless I be?
For who in his youth was so lonely as he?
If spited and mock’d, so was he, when he cried
To his God on the cross to stand by his side. {313}

If scanty my fare, yet how was he fed?
On olives and herbs and a small roll of bread.
Are my joints and bones sore with aches and with pains?
Philip scourged his young flesh with fine iron chains.

A closet his home, where he, year after year,
Bore heat or cold greater than heat or cold here;
A rope stretch’d across it, and o’er it he spread
His small stock of clothes; and the floor was his bed.

One lodging besides; God’s temple he chose,
And he slept in its porch his few hours of repose;
Or studied by light which the altar-lamp gave,
Or knelt at the Martyr’s victorious grave.

I’m ashamed of myself, of my tears and my tongue,
So easily fretted, so often unstrung;
Mad at trifles, to which a chance moment gives birth,
Complaining of heaven, and complaining of earth. {314}

So now, with his help, no cross will I fear,
But will linger resign’d through my pilgrimage here.
A child of St. Philip, my master and guide,
I will live as he lived, and will die as he died.

A Poem to Begin Ordinary Time

Ordinary Time is now here;

Although it may appear
as if it has no import.
And time till Lent is short
Believe you me
It is no time to be carefree
It is during times so ordinary
That we should be wary.
Buckle up, and strap down
So as to earn the thorned crown.