"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Saturday, November 28, 2015


Genuine religion is not about speculating about God or the soul
or about what happened in the past or will happen in the future;
it cares only about one thing — finding out
exactly what should or should not be done in this lifetime.


It is terrible when people do not know God,
but it is worse when people identify as God what is not God.

Leo Tolstoy
Path of Life or
Calendar of Wisdom, 1909
as translated by M. Cote, 2002

Stretching from All Saints' Day on the 1st to St. Andrew's Day on the 30th, November is a month for honoring all deserving Saints and Souls. It begins and ends with a Holy Day, including some good ones in between, such as Martinmas. It's a month for showing respect to the Living and the Dead, which brings me to the ever - popular topic of taking the name of the Lord in vain, as in The Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain" (Exodus 20:7 KJV).

It's true that the endless chorus of "oh my god" that passes for expression and dialogue in daily conversation grows tiresome very quickly, not so much because it's disrespectful but because it indicates such a limited vocabulary and lack of imagination -- similar to adults who chew gum visibly in public -- ewww, puh - lease, gag me! "OMG" is no better, yet somehow I find it less annoying -- sort of the way that changing "Kentucky Fried Chicken" to "KFC" made the meal seem a little less greasy.

Is the third commandment merely a rule against saying,"Oh my God" or does it suggest something more substantial than that? In answer to this question, it is helpful to consider that the Bible also says "strive not about words to no profit" 2 Timothy 2:14 (NRSV). So you don't care for your neighbor's choice of slang? Well, here's a simple solution: just turn the other ear.

I've long been inspired by Frederick's comment in the Woody Allen film Hannah and her Sisters:

"If Jesus came back and saw what's going on in his name,
he'd never stop throwing up."

I appreciate this understanding of not taking God's name in vain. I never did believe -- as I was taught in childhood -- that it meant not saying "Gee whiz" or "Goddamnitbullshittohell." What it really means is not ascribing your beliefs to God and doing your own will in God's name.

Contemporary American song writer Ben Folds suggests the same idea in his his song Jesusland:
"Town to town
broadcast to each house, they drop your name
but no one knows your face
Billboards quoting things you'd never say
you hang your head and pray
for Jesusland . . .
crosses flying high above the malls . . .

Additional thoughts
from a couple of thoughtful Episcopalians:

Ambassador / Senator John Danforth (who, believe it or not, was the speaker at my college graduation): "Moderate Christians are less certain about when and how our beliefs can be translated into statutory form, not because of a lack of faith in God but because of a healthy acknowledgement of the limitations of human beings. Like conservative Christians, we attend church, read the Bible and say our prayers.

"But for us, the only absolute standard of behavior is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Repeatedly in the Gospels, we find that the Love Commandment takes precedence when it conflicts with laws. We struggle to follow that commandment as we face the realities of everyday living, and we do not agree that our responsibility to live as Christians can be codified by legislators.

"When, on television, we see a person in a persistent vegetative state, one who will never recover, we believe that allowing the natural and merciful end to her ordeal is more loving than imposing government power to keep her hooked up to a feeding tube.

"When we see an opportunity to save our neighbors' lives through stem cell research, we believe that it is our duty to pursue that research, and to oppose legislation that would impede us from doing so.

"We think that efforts to haul references of God into the public square, into schools and courthouses, are far more apt to divide Americans than to advance faith.

"Following a Lord who reached out in compassion to all human beings, we oppose amending the Constitution in a way that would humiliate homosexuals.

"For us, living the Love Commandment may be at odds with efforts to encapsulate Christianity in a political agenda. We strongly support the separation of church and state, both because that principle is essential to holding together a diverse country, and because the policies of the state always fall short of the demands of faith. Aware that even our most passionate ventures into politics are efforts to carry the treasure of religion in the earthen vessel of government, we proceed in a spirit of humility . . ."

~ from the essay Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers ~
The New York Times, 17 June 2005


Bishop John Shelby Spong: “God is not a Christian, God is not a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist. All of those are human systems which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition, I walk through my tradition, but I don't think my tradition defines God, I think it only points me to God.”


And from an English bishop
within the Eastern Orthodox Church

Kallistos Ware: “We see that it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.”

~ from his book The Orthodox Way ~

Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, December 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Longly, Longingly

Lady Lavery Banknote

James Joyce Banknote

Why can't the United States of America ever have writers
on our paper money like Ireland and England?

In a novel of so many unforgettable lines and phrases, one passage more than any other stood out for me when I first read Joyce's Ulysses as an undergraduate. It was this:
"A warm shock of air heat of mustard hanched on Mr Bloom's heart. He raised his eyes and met the stare of a bilious clock. Two. Pub clock five minutes fast. Time going on. Hands moving. Two. Not yet.

His midriff yearned then upward, sank within him, yearned more longly longingly.

~ James Joyce, Ulysses, 172 - 73

The ache in Bloom's midriff brought to mind a few lines from a poem that I had loved back in highschool:
"I felt a soft caving in my stomach
As at the top of the highest slide
When I had been a child, but was not afraid . . ."
~ John Logan, "The Picnic"

So unexpected to encounter in fiction, poetry, or otherwise, such a visceral sensation described so accurately -- and the word longly -- had I ever heard it before? I don't think so. Though I've never fancied myself a poet, Joyce's strong, sad imagery inspired me to attempt my own rendition of heartache in the gut:

The Ache You Wear

You fall into her arms like crying,
feel her lips in your hair,
soothing like a parent
and something else.

Wooden and broken,
you lean rigidly.
Your forehead rests against breasts
which must be like your own.

With each soft motion,
the ache you wear like a brace
begins to melt, drips
slowly down your back.

Like congestion, it seeps inside,
fills the space between every rib,
then tatters into loose bits
that choke upward and sink within you.

Yearning for a familiarity,
you move toward this woman
and this one comfort
after taking leave of him.

For this time you fall away
from any pain.
Thick rags are floating
now in your stomach.

As connection and coincidence would have it, I recently came across the following within just a few months of each other:

1." . . . The feeling
resembles lumps of raw dough

weighing down a child’s stomach on baking day.
Or Rilke said it, ‘My heart. . .
Could I say of it, it overflows
with bitterness . . . but no, as though

its contents were simply balled into
formless lumps, thus
do I carry it about.’ . . . "

~ Denise Levertov, "Life At War"

2. "The pain he had felt in his chest after breakfast was gone: in its place he now had in his middle a curious, dry, empty, swollen feeling. As if he carried something inside him, hollow, but beyond his size and growing bigger."

~ Jessamyn West, Friendly Persuasion, 73

3. "For weeks, thinking of that made me feel like a chute had opened in my stomach and my heart was descending through it."

~ Curtis Sittenfeld, American Wife, 20

4. "This is what I liked about my friends: just sitting around and telling stories. . . . I couldn't help but think about school and everything else ending. I liked standing just outside the couches and watching them -- it was kind of sad I didn't mind, and so I just listened, letting all the happiness and the sadness of this ending swirl around in mine, each sharpening the other. For the longest time, it felt kind of like my chest was cracking open, but not precisely in an unpleasant way."

~ John Green, Paper Towns, 215

5. "They were nowhere near butterflies in the stomach. They were electric bricks. They sunk. They zapped. They made me want to keel over."

~ Heather Kirn Lanier, Teaching in the Terrordome, 37


Not unlike the sunset:
" . . . all the happiness and the sadness of this ending swirl . . . "

Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, November 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading