Archive for October, 2013

October 22, 2013

without my sadness the songbirds are only a forest of beaks

Poem by Taha Muhammad Ali (29.IV.1984) in So What: New and Selected Poems, 1971-2005.

The Falcon



If ever,

sadness, it might

be in my power

to free myself

from you one day,

then I would feel,


the suicide’s delight as he’s freed

from all responsibility!

And imagine that I

were suddenly

released from you,

like flocks of the Sada’ –

the death-owl –

being released

from our fields and skulls. . .

What would happen then?

What would happen

were I to abandon you now?

Suppose I were, at this very moment,

to leave you behind,

as the drunkard leaves the tavern –

what would I lose?

For me it’s sufficient to simply

not know sadness any longer –

not know it as winter approaches

and not when it departs,

not when summer arrives,

and not when the season moves on.

The rivers’ vagrancy wouldn’t sadden me,

nor would the birds’ being sent away.

Not even the flowers


would stir

the obscure shades of sorrow in me,

or the various sorts of melancholy

that always remain a mystery.





and you, O river –

after my sadness is freed from you,

rivers will no longer be rivers,

nor birds birds,

and even the flowers themselves

will cease being flowers!

For without my sorrow,

at the end of the day,

rivers will only be water,

and the flower

merely a plant –

without my grief.

Without me

The bird will be seized

by night and perish.

And those that remain

after my longing

and apart from my solitude –

a crow here,

a screech owl there –

won’t be birds,

and not songbirds.

For. . . what is the bird

without my memories?

What is the songbird

without my longing,

and what is song?

What is the bird beyond my burning?

Without my sadness

the songbirds are only

a forest of beaks,

a thicket of claws!

The songbird without my sadness

is merely a mass of flesh;

it wouldn’t be covered

by a single feather,

except. . .

for the adder’s pursuit;

and no fine down would clothe it –

the sand’s gown across the dune –


from the kestrel’s enticement

and the hunters’ lure!



And still,

it seems

I really will

be freed of you –

that I’ll leave you

and find rest at last!

For the very first time,

I’ll give up

and abandon you

as the pirate abandons his ship.

But I will not bury you

in the sands of the shore

as the thieves of the sea

bury their earrings and coins.

I’ll leave you to the foxes –

and never return.




And yet. . .

by God, my sadness,

before we part

I’d ask of you,

before you leave

as those who’ve already left us,

I have but a single request:

I fear that I won’t see you

after I say farewell –

for when it comes

to saying farewell,

I am – in fact – something wondrous:

Every single thing I leave

in the world

is lost for eternity!

And I do not stretch

out my hand

in saying farewell to a creature

without my wishing, in vain,

not to die

before I’d see it again.




I’d like you, sadness,

to tell me

something that perplexes me.

I will not ask you how

it is that I was destined

to be slaughtered in this fashion!

Nor will I ask

what your purpose is

in having made me so –

to fall like kingdoms

and crack like the walls of volcanoes.

I will not plead with you to tell me

why you’d have me

scatter like clouds

and collapse

like the eagle’s features.

Matters such as these,


concern me,

but I have become addicted to them

and now I’d like to let them rest,

as fear, sometimes, begins to doze

and seeds seem to drowse.




Also. . .

I will not ask

where you came from

how you prepared,

or where you are going.

More than once

I followed you

when you weren’t paying attention.

Like a Bedouin tracker,

I followed your trail. . .

And always you led me there –

to that same place,

and that same time,

and to those very same springs!




I won’t even ask you



or how you came

to settle like this

in the palm of my hand,

a trained falcon

whose memories come

in waves like the sailor’s weeping –

whose wings in the night

are blue daggers,

whose eyes are like two lovers,

their lids resembling

two green imploring arms.




What baffles me,

my sadness,

is why you’re so much

greater than I am –

deeper than my wakefulness,

and more remote than all my dreams!

Your fingerprints are more complex

than my identity.

And your visage resembles

A vast desert:

before it the path loses heart.

Ports refuse it!

What confuses me is

that you are bigger than my day,

greater than my past,

and larger than my tomorrow.




In my childhood,


I saw a songbird

being attacked by a viper.

The bird had been maimed

and the flock had left it,

and the fear I witnessed

exploding in its eyes. . .

as it tried to flee –

I cannot forget:

Forests, moons, and lakes –

exile, streams,

and pastures the eye can’t hold –

all were heaped up around its neck

and gave way,

unraveling in a flash,

so strong was its fright!

Massacres and cities

were gathered there in its gaze

with tremendous speed

and, in terror, were burning –

spreading across its feathers,

its cry, its legs!

That small bird’s fear

cannot possibly be

its alone!

That songbird’s fear cannot possibly

be the fear of a single bird!

The fear of that small bird,

my sadness,

cannot be fathomed except

as the fear of the flock as a whole.




Yes, you baffle me, sadness,

in that, most of the time,

you’ve confused me –

for I haven’t been able to recognize you!

And how often have I denied you. . .

How often have doubts contended with me

over you, when evening and birds

and trees fall in –

aligned like columns

in the distance toward the horizon,

all waiting for their portion from you

like the dispossessed awaiting aid

upon their day of calamity?

How often have I denied you

even as I was studying your traces,

bewildered by you,

unsure of you,

turning over

what remained of your nest,

as remains of ancient manuscripts

piece by piece are turned?

Are you my private sadness?

Are you truly the sadness

of a single person?

Is it conceivable

that you are mine alone –

for I cannot understand you

except to think that you might be

a secret sadness the flock

has hidden with me?

Is it in my power to leave you

when I barely know you

except as something stalked,

pursued by snakes

and anticipated by spears?

Could I really let you go

when I am not aware of you

except in your being

a forbidden sadness

the age has left me,

entrusted to me,

charged me to protect?



Most likely,


you are not mine alone

and, so long as you are mine and theirs,

how could I possibly

do with you what I will?

October 20, 2013

all of Christian doctrine is rooted

And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, he expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25–27) The meaning of these Scriptures has been a preoccupation of Luke’s gospel from the start. It was the burden of Jesus’ first sermon at the synagogue in Nazareth. It was the subject of his conversation with Moses and Elijah on the mount of the Transfiguration. In the present scene, Jesus feigns ignorance precisely with a view to teaching these two disciples—and through them, all Christians to the end of time—his own understanding of the biblical text. All of Christian doctrine is rooted, I believe, in Jesus’ Paschal discourse to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. The timing of that discourse is likewise significant, for it took place on the very day of his rising from the dead; on that day “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David,” demonstrated that he “was worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals.”

From The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ by Patrick Henry Reardon.

October 20, 2013

his long-established pessimism was about to be shaken

“Rabbi,” they answered, “lately the Jews sought to stone you, and are you going there again?” It was Thomas who accepted the tragedy of the thing: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:8, 16). Thomas may also have been something of a loner, which would explain why, when the risen Lord paid his first visit to the assembled apostles, Thomas “was not with them when Jesus came” (20:24). One speculates that he may have gone off to get a better grip on himself. It had been a very tough week, after all. Just as Thomas had suspected it would, Jesus’ life ended in tragedy. This, the apostle was sure, was the biggest tragedy he had ever seen. Yet he was coping with it, somehow. Years of an inner docility to inevitable fate had schooled him in the discipline of endurance. Yes, he would get through this too. He was a man who could deal with misfortune and sorrow. Just don’t disturb Thomas with hope.

Thomas sensed that his long-established pessimism was about to be shaken. He rose and faced the entering light. He saw the familiar face and recognized the familiar voice: “Peace to you!” We do not know if Thomas felt, at that moment, some urge to hide behind the other apostles. He was not given the chance. Turning to Thomas, the risen Jesus fully appreciated the irony of the hour. Nor would we be wrong, I think, to imagine a smile coming over the glorious face of the one who said to his beloved pessimist: “Reach your finger here, and inspect my hands; and reach your hand here, and place it into my side.”

From The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ by Patrick Henry Reardon.

October 20, 2013

a lonely lighthouse keeper

Candles will not burn all day, so someone had to stay on the island to light them at the last minute, as well as to look after the lighthouse. That someone was to be Titty. For one thing, Roger could not be left alone, and John and Susan would both be needed for sailing the two ships. For another, Titty longed to have Wild Cat Island all to herself, to be a lonely lighthouse keeper, to be Robinson Crusoe, and to feel just what a really desert island was like. A blanket would do for a goatskin.

Another lovely passage from the children’s book Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome.

October 18, 2013

spiritual dew will envelop your soul

Just as a calm and sheltered harbour provides great security to the ships moored there, so does the temple of God: when people enter it, it snatches them away from worldly affairs as from a storm, and gives them the capacity to stand and listen to God’s words in calm and security.

This place is the bedrock of virtue and the school of spiritual life…. You need only set foot on the threshold of a church and at once you are liberated from the cares of daily life.

Go on into the church, and a spiritual dew will envelop your soul. The stillness there moves you to awe, and teaches you how to live spiritually.

It elevates your thoughts and prevents you from remembering things or matters belonging to the present life. It transports you from earth to heaven.

And if there is such great gain from simply being in church when no service is going on, then how much benefit will people derive from being present … when the holy Apostles proclaim the Gospel, Christ stands in our midst, God the Father receives the Mysteries that are performed and the Holy Spirit gives His own joy.

Attributed in several online sources to St. John Chrysostom (although I have been unable to find the work from which this is taken).


October 17, 2013

every aspect of the curse

The godhead is indivisible. God does not abandon his friends and loyal servants—much less His Son. Therefore, Jesus’ cry conveyed not an objective, reified condition of his being, but rather his human experience of distance from God. The abandonment was psychological, not ontological. It often happens that God’s friends and loyal servants feel abandoned, and they feel it very keenly. And when they do, they often enough have recourse to the book of Psalms . . . as Jesus does in the present case. When the Savior expressed this painful experience in prayer, the opening line of Psalm 22 arose to his lips—in Hebrew, ’Eli, ’Eli, lamah ‘azavtani—“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” He could hardly have prayed this line of the Psalter unless he knew the Father was still “my God.” In making this prayer his own, Jesus was hardly expressing a sentiment unique to himself. He was, rather, identifying himself with every human being who has ever felt alienated from God, abandoned by God, estranged from God. Jesus became, for us, what the ram in the thorns became for Isaac. That is to say, in making this very human prayer, Jesus expressed oneness with the rest of humanity so that (in the words of a Baptist friend of mine) “the full weight of the curse fell upon the Son as sin-bearer, the fulfillment of both the scapegoat, and the sacrifices of the old covenant. Jesus, thus, experienced every aspect of the curse: death, exile, broken communion with God.” Perhaps this prayer best expresses what we mean when we speak of “the days of his flesh” (Hebrews 5:7). It was in this deep sense of dereliction that we perceive, most truly, that “the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us” (John 1:14). After he prayed the first line of Psalm 22, did Jesus go on to finish that psalm silently? Christians have always suspected that this was the case.

…If Jesus did pray this short sequence of psalms, it took only a few minutes for him to reach Psalm 31:5, which Luke identifies as his final words on the cross: “Into Your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Indeed, I suspect that these were the very words—recorded by Luke—to which Matthew and Mark refer when they tell us: “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit.”

…John records another detail of the scene not mentioned by the other Evangelists: “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out” (19:34). Taken together, then, John speaks of three things issuing forth from the Savior’s immolated body: the Spirit, the water, and the blood. These things have to do with the gathering of the church at the foot of the cross because this is the place where Jesus’ identity is truly known: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM” (John 8:28). These three components—the Spirit, the water, and the blood—appear also in the cover letter for John’s gospel as the “three witnesses” of the Christian mystery: “And there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three are one” (1 John 5:8). Speaking of the gathering of the church at the foot of the cross, Jesus had declared, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

From The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ by Patrick Henry Reardon.

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October 17, 2013

begins with the word “Today”

In Luke’s narrative the encounter with the two thieves immediately precedes Jesus’ death so that his words to the second thief, promising to meet him that day in Paradise, are the last recorded words of the Savior to another human being during his earthly life. This final kindness, his message to the thief, represents the last thing Jesus has to say to his disciples on this earth. Luke’s gospel has now come full circle: When Jesus began his public ministry, his first sentence to the human race began with the word “Today” (Luke 4:21). On the cross, his final sentence to the human race begins with the word “Today.”

From The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ by Patrick Henry Reardon.

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October 17, 2013

those wounds were simply unbearable to think about

Eight times in all, then, the Evangelists speak of Jesus’ scourging, always briefly and with restraint, avoiding the painful details. These would be too much for the reader to bear. In this respect we may contrast the Evangelists with David and Isaiah. The Psalter and the book of Isaiah dwell lovingly on every wound in the Savior’s body. The Old Testament accounts of Jesus’ Passion are vivid and detailed; his very bones are numbered. Unlike the four Evangelists, these Old Testament prophets saw the Passion from a greater distance, so to speak, but they described it in greater detail. The four gospels, on the other hand, were closer to the event. When they were written, those sacred wounds were still very fresh in the minds of Christians. To many Christians, those wounds were simply unbearable to think about. After all, the Evangelists and their first readers knew exactly what was entailed in those brief references to the scourging, especially when that form of torture accompanied a death sentence. In that setting there were no limits to the number of strokes or the ingenuity of the soldiers to inflict more pain and greater damage. Sometimes the beatings were so severe that the prisoners did not survive them. Indeed, the copious bleeding served to hasten a death on the cross. In this respect, we observe that the Savior’s two crucified companions outlived him, and a strong case can be made that the immediate cause of Jesus’ death was exsanguination.

From The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ by Patrick Henry Reardon.

October 17, 2013

angel danced with devil


THAT night the whole world mingled,
The souls were babes at play,
And angel danced with devil.
And God cried, ‘Holiday!’

The sea had climbed the mountain peaks,
And shouted to the stars
To come to play: and down they came
Splashing in happy wars.

The pine grew apples for a whim,
The cart-horse built a nest;
The oxen flew, the flowers sang,
The sun rose in the west.

And ‘neath the load of many worlds,
The lowest life God made
Lifted his huge and heavy limbs
And into heaven strayed.

To where the highest life God made
Before His presence stands;
But God himself cried, ‘Holiday!’
And she gave me both her hands.

Poem by G.K. Chesterton.

October 14, 2013

the good that you sow in the hearts of your children

It will be enough if you take care to instruct your children in the fear of God…. The good that you sow in the hearts of your children while they are young will blossom forth in their hearts when they come to full maturity, and after enduring the bitter trials of school and contemporary life, which often break off the branches of a good Christian upbringing in the home.

St. Ambrose quoted in Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina (published 2005 by the Holy Trinity monastery in Jordanville, NY).

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