Archive for December, 2012

December 26, 2012

the things we already have

Learning to love “the things we already have” is always the fount and foundation of contentment, happiness, and wonder:

The whole object of real art, of real romance—and, above all, of real religion—is to prevent people from losing the humility and gratitude which are thankful for daylight and daily bread; to prevent them from regarding daily life as dull or domestic life as narrow; to teach them to feel in the sunlight the song of Apollo and in the bread the epic of the plough. What is now needed most is intensive imagination. I mean the power to turn our imaginations inwards, on the things we already have, and to make those things live. It is not merely seeking new experiences, which rapidly become old experiences. It is really learning how to experience our experiences. It is learning how to enjoy our enjoyments.

From G.K. Chesterton in the Illustrated London News, October 20, 1924. [Quoted in Common Sense 101: Lessons from G.K. Chesterton by Dale Ahlquist (28-29).]

December 26, 2012

people who can be started by common things

Indeed, it is a [tragic] fact that the same progressives who insist that government shall be democratic often insist that art must be [elitist], and “the public”, which is a god when they are talking about votes, becomes a brute when they are talking about books and pictures.

[The solution] does not lie in increasing the number of artists who can startle us with complex things, but by increasing the number of people who can be started by common things. It lies in restoring relish and receptivity to human society; and that is another question and a more important one.

…What the modern world wants is religion or something that will create a certain ultimate spirit of humility, of enthusiasm, and of thanks. It is not even to be done merely by educating the people in the artistic virtues of insight and selection. It is to be done much more by educating the artists in the popular virtues of astonishment and enjoyment.

From “Are the Artists Gone Mad?” by G.K. Chesterton in Century Magazine, December 1922. [Quoted in Common Sense 101: Lessons from G.K. Chesterton by Dale Ahlquist (58-59).]

December 20, 2012

turn your heart into a cow-stall

Popular quotation from Angelius Silesius (1624-1677):

If you could turn your heart into a cow-stall,
Christ would be born again on earth!

And also from his work The Cherubinean Wanderer:

Had Christ a thousand times,
Been born in Bethlehem,
But not in thee, thy sin
Would still thy soul condemn.

December 12, 2012

deep within the clay

A nativity poem by Scott Cairns (about the overshadowing of Mary by the Holy Spirit):

Deep within the clay, and O my people
very deep within the wholly earthen
compound of our kind arrives of one clear,
star-illumined evening a spark igniting
once again the ember of our lately
banked noetic fire. She burns but she
is not consumed. The dew falls gently,
suffusing the pure fleece. Her human flesh
adorns its Lord, and lo, the wall comes down.
And—do you feel the pulse?—we all become
the kindled kindred of a King whose birth
thereafter bears to all a bright nativity.

Composed for an event with Gordon College students in Orvieto, Italy. See this page.

December 11, 2012

anything that was good or beautiful in his writing

George Sayer, in his essay “Recollections of J.R.R. Tolkien” from the book “Tolkien: A Celebration” (edited by Joseph Pearce):

In the pew in front of us there were two or three children who were trying to follow the service in a simple picture-book missal. [Tolkien] seemed to be more interested in them than in events at the altar. He lent over and helped them. When we came out of the church we found he was not with us. I went back and found him kneeling in front of the Lady Altar with the young children and their mother, talking happily and I think telling stories about Our Lady. I knew the mother and found out later that the children were enthralled. This again was typical; he loved children and had the gift of getting on well with them. “Mummy, can we always go to church with that nice man?” The story also illustrates one of the most important things about him, his great devotion to Our Lady. He wrote me years later a letter in which he stated that he attributed anything that was good or beautiful in his writing to the influence of Our Lady, “the greatest influence in my life”. He meant it. An obvious example is the character of Galadriel.

December 11, 2012

taught by a Star

This sampling of ancient Christian hymns connected to Mary and the Nativity (and taken from Orthodox service books) represent a remarkable range of theological insights:

From the most common megalynarion (used in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom):

It is truly meet to bless thee, O Theotokos,
ever blessed and most blameless and the Mother of our God:
More honourable than the Cherubim,
and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim,
who without corruption gave birth to God the Word,
true Theotokos, we magnify thee.

From the Propers for the Feast of St. Nicholas (Preparation for the Nativity of Christ):

O cave, make ready, for the Ewe Lamb comes, bearing Christ in her womb!
O manger, receive Him Who by a word has released the dwellers of earth from lawlessness!
Shepherds, abiding in the fields, bear witness to the fearful wonder!
You magi from Persia, offer to the King gold, myrrh and frankincense,
for the Lord has appeared from a Virgin Mother!
And she, bending over Him as a handmaiden,
worshiped Him as He lay in her arms, saying to Him:
“How were You sown as seed in me?
How have You grown within me,//
my Deliverer and my God?”

…Unwedded Virgin, from where have you come?
Who has given you birth?
Who is your mother?
How can you carry your Creator in your arms?
How is your womb free from corruption?

Most holy one, we see great and fearful mysteries upon earth fulfilled in you;
we adorn the cave as a house worthy of you;
we ask the heavens to send us a star,
for behold, the Magi proceed from the East to the West,
desiring to see the Salvation of mortal men//
shining in your arms as a Pillar of Flame.

From the Royal Hours of the Nativity:

Troparion (Tone 4)
Mary was of David’s seed, So she went with Joseph to register in Bethlehem. She bore in her womb the fruit not sown by man. The time for the birth was at hand. Since there was no room at the inn, The cave became a beautiful palace for the queen. Christ is born, raising up the image that fell of old.
…Prepare, O Bethlehem, For Eden has been opened to all. Adorn yourself, O Ephratha, For the Tree of Life blossoms forth from the virgin in the cave. Her womb is a spiritual paradise planted with the Fruit Divine; If we eat of it, we shall live forever and not die like Adam. Christ is coming to restore the image which He made in the beginning.

Troparion (Tone 8)
Make ready, O Bethlehem. Let the manger be prepared. Let the cave show its welcome. The truth comes and the shadow flees. God is born of a virgin and revealed to men. He is clothed in our flesh, and makes it divine. Therefore Adam is renewed, and cries with Eve, Thy favor has appeared on earth, O Lord, For the salvation of the human race.

From the Great Compline and Matins of the Nativity:

Nativity Troparion (Tone 4)
Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, has shown to the world the light of wisdom. For by it, those who worshiped the stars, were taught by a Star to adore Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Orient from on high. O Lord, glory to Thee!

The Litiya
Let heaven and earth as was foretold rejoice today. Angels and man let us keep the spiritual feast.
…Heaven and earth are united today for Christ is born. Today has God come to earth, and man gone up to heaven.

Aposticha
A great and marvelous wonder has come to pass this day: a Virgin bears a child, and her womb suffers no corruption. The Word is made flesh, yet ceases not to dwell with the Father.
…Today the Virgin gives birth to the Maker of all! Eden offers a cave. To those in darkness a star reveals Christ, the Sun! Wise men are enlightened by faith and worship with gifts.
…Sing, O Jerusalem! Make merry, all who love Zion! Today Adam’s ancient bonds are broken! Paradise is opened to us! The serpent is cast down! Long ago our first mother was deceived by him. Now he sees a woman become Mother of the Creator. O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! Through Eve, woman became a tool of sin, bringing death to all flesh; but through Mary she becomes the first-fruits of salvation for all the world. For God, the All-Perfect is born of Her. By His birth He seals Her Virginity. He is bound in swaddling cloths to loose the bonds of sin! Through His birth, the pains of Eve are healed! Let all creation sing and dance for joy, for Christ has come to restore and to save our souls.

Fire is a symbol of God (“For the Lord your God is a consuming fire,” Deuteronomy 4:24), and the burning bush, which was not consumed by fire, is considered a symbol of Mary, who carried the fire of the Divinity in her womb and was not consumed by it. References to Mary’s womb containing God “without corruption” refer to the miraculous fact that her womb was not destroyed by God’s presence. Also, language about the Christ child “shining in your arms as a Pillar of Flame” recognize that Mary continued to handle the Divine fire in intimate ways even after Christ’s birth. Because Mary caries this fire and light, she is therefore also called the “Golden Lampstand” and “Golden Censor.” Mary’s identity as the “Unburnt Bush” is depicted here in a painting by Nicholas Froment called “The Burning Bush” (1476, Wood, 410 x 305 cm, Cathedrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence):

Nicholas Froment The Burning Bush 1476 Wood 410 x 305 cm Cathedrale Saint Sauveur in Aix-en-Provence

This unburnt bush image also brings to mind the tree of life imagery used of Mary in the Nativity hymns above. Below are three examples of the traditional Orthodox “Unburnt Bush” icon. They depict Mary within a green or brown star (representing the bush) and superimposed over a red star (representing the fire). They are also filled with many other Old Testament symbols connected to Mary, Divine fire, and epiphany:

neopalimaya_kupina_2

Russian_-_Presentation_of_the_Virgin_in_the_Temple_and_the_Virgin_of_the_Burning_Bush_-_Walters_372664_-_Back

unburnt bush icons

December 10, 2012

irresistibly impelled to welcome life with gratitude

From pages 114-115 of “Creative Vow as the Essence of Fatherhood” in Homo Viator by Gabriel Marcel (1965):

The man of today tends to establish, as far as he can, an order of things in which the words “to place oneself at life’s disposal” have literally no meaning. This is true above all in so far as he asserts the primacy of technics and technical knowledge. …Technics are seen as all the systematized methods which enable man to subordinate nature, considered as blind or even rebellious, to his own ends. But it must be noted that the point at which man’s powers of wonder are applied is thus inevitably shifted: what now seems worthy of admiration is above all technical skill in all its forms, it is no longer in any way the spontaneous course of phenomena, which has on the contrary rather to be controlled and domesticated, somewhat as a river is by locks. This admiration is tinged with a shade of defiance of a truly Luciferian character, it can hardly be separated from the consciousness of a revenge taken upon Nature whose yoke it has borne so long and so impatiently. This is particularly clear with regard to living nature. …Without any given reason, they agree to regard life itself as a “sale blague” (rotten humbug), or at least as the rumbling of threatening possibilities against which it would be impossible to take too many precautions, whereas formerly it was hailed as a revelation, or at the very least a promise and pledge of a marvelous and unlimited renewal. …It is to be noticed in passing that the development of prophylactic methods and of systems of insurance, because at bottom these correspond to analogous inner tendencies, have helped to foment in souls a spirit of suspicious vigilance, which is perhaps incompatible with the inward eagerness of a being who is irresistibly impelled to welcome life with gratitude.

December 10, 2012

quivering anticipation of a plenitude

From pages 116-124 of “Creative Vow as the Essence of Fatherhood” in Homo Viator by Gabriel Marcel (1965):

Fatherhood … only exists as the carrying out of a responsibility, shouldered and sustained. …It utterly denies its own nature when it is the mere blind generation of a being not only incapable of providing for his progeny and guiding their spiritual development, but of realising and acknowledging the obligations he has undertaken towards them. It is probably in contrast with such inertia and blindness that we can best understand what the pure act of fatherhood should be. …This pure act is inconceivable without what I proposed to call the væu créateur.

…This væu créateur is no other than the fiat by which I decide to put all my energies at the service of this possibility which is already imposing itself upon me, but only upon me, as a reality, so that I may transform it into a reality for all, that is to say into an established work. This means that the væu, far from being reduced to a mere wish, has the character of an engagement and a decision. But this engagement or this decision is not made simply within my own being, something transcendent is involved, however indistinct my consciousness of it may as yet be.

…It is at bottom a question of spontaneous confidence in life which can almost equally be regarded as a call or as a response. It is this, and this alone, which enables man to establish his roots in the universe and to develop to his full stature.

…We have to lay down the principle that our children are destined, as we are ourselves, to render a special service, to share in a work; we have humbly to acknowledge that we cannot conceive of this work in its entirety and that a fortiori we are incapable of knowing or imagining how it is destined to shape itself for the young will it is our province to awaken to a consciousness of itself. We can see clearly enough that the væu créateur implies the combination of a deep personal humility and an unshaken confidence in life, conceived of not as a natural force but as an unfathomable order, divine in its principle. Now it is exactly the opposite combination which tends most often to be effected before our eyes, that is to say a maximum of personal pretension associated as we have seen with a radical agnosticism concerning life, its value and its meaning.

…It becomes possible to understand the fundamental nature of the væu créateur, wherein we believe we have found the essence of fatherhood to lie. It is the quivering anticipation of a plenitude, of a pleroma in the bosom of life, no longer an endless improvisation of disappointing variations on a few given themes, [that] will be satisfied, concentrated and reassembled around the absolute Person who alone can give it the infrangible seal of unity.

December 8, 2012

God who uses corporeal objects continually

Blessed is God who uses corporeal objects continually to draw us close in a symbolic way to a knowledge of God’s invisible nature. O name of Jesus, key to all gifts, open up for me the great door to your treasure-house, that I may enter and praise you with the praise that comes from the heart.

From The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev.

December 6, 2012

you that love the feasts

Glorious Nicholas, the holy preacher of Christ,
you are the great and fervent protector of those in danger,
those on land and sea, far off or near;
for you are a most compassionate and mighty intercessor.
Therefore, as we assemble, we cry aloud://
“Pray to the Lord that we may be delivered from all danger!”

…What crowns of praise shall we weave the Bishop?
Although he lived in Myra,
he reaches out in spirit to all who sincerely love him.
He is the consolation of all in affliction, the refuge of all in danger,
the tower of godliness, the champion of the faithful,//
for whose sake the greatly merciful Christ has laid low the arrogance of
the Enemy.

…You that love the feasts,
let us gather and sing the praises of the fair ornament of bishops,
the glory of the Fathers, the fount of wonders and the great protector of the faithful.
Let us say: “Rejoice, guardian of the people of Myra,
their chief and honored counselor and the pillar that cannot be moved!
Rejoice, light filled with brightness!
You make the ends of the world shine with wonders.
Rejoice, divine delight of the afflicted,
the fervent advocate of those who suffer from injustice!
And now, all-blessed Nicholas, never cease praying to Christ our God//
for those who honor the high feast of your memorial with faith and love!”

now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

From the “Propers for the Feast of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia” (Orthodox Church of America).

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