Sunday, September 11, 2016

A shell, dishabited

This blog is named after a book by Madeleine L'Engle, one of my favorite authors and, as I have written about elsewhere, a great comfort to me in my childhood onwards. In one of her books, Meet the Austins, she quotes a poem by Thomas Brown (no, not Thomas Browne, the riveting author of Religio Medici, but a more obscure poet) called "Indwelling":

If thou couldst empty all thyself of self,
Like to a shell dishabited,
Then might He find thee on the Ocean shelf,
And say — "This is not dead," —
And fill thee with Himself instead.

But thou art all replete with very thou,
And hast such shrewd activity,
That, when He comes, He says — "This is enow
Unto itself — 'Twere better let it be:
It is so small and full, there is no room for Me."

The poem made an impact on me all those years ago, and now as my sabbatical begins and my Camino stretches out before me, I am drawn back to this poem again. I have been "all replete with very thou." A busyness, an urgency of the immediate, has had me in thrall lo, these many months.

Could possibly the Camino, whose symbol is (an empty!) scallop shell, be the vehicle by which I might, at least in moments, "empty all myself of self" and lose this "shrewd activity" that has gripped me of late? I hope so. The internal monologue is not easily turned off. It may be the meditative weariness of the pilgrim's road can produce the needed atmosphere. Desiderandumst!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Road Goes Ever On and On

Sixteen years ago, Liam and I walked the Dingle Way in County Kerry, Ireland, accompanied by Liam's sister, Maire, and her husband, Sean. It was one of the most amazing experiences of our lives. Sure, we often walked in pouring rain; we had to climb down one mountain by holding on to a fence, and had to forgo another due to heavy fog; the shortcut that took us through a too-boggy field also contained a too-protective bull, and Maire got electrocuted (just a bit) by a hidden electric fence, but all in all, we loved it.

Now, we are walking the Dingle Way again, sixteen years later, but this time our nephews Curran and Gareth are walking with us. Curran is 12 and Gareth is just turned 14. I hope they love the walk (and Ireland!) as much as I do.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The experience of mystery

"The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle.
It was the experience of mystery--even if mixed with fear--that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms--it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.
I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls. Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvellous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavour to comprehend a portion, be it never so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature."

--Einstein, The World as I See it

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hidden mirth

"Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city: Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth."

--G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Friday, August 14, 2009

Happy Birthday, Hans Christian Ørsted!

"The first, faint whisper of the wind from beyond the world"

"I, like you, am worried by the fact that the spontaneous appeal of the Christian story is so much less to me than that of Paganism . . . I think the thrill of the pagan stories and of romance may be due to the fact that they are mere beginnings―the first, faint whisper of the wind from beyond the world―while Christianity is the thing itself: and no thing, when you have really started on it, can have for you then and there just the same thrill as the first hint...

Delight is a bell that rings as you set your foot on the first step of a new flight of stairs leading upwards. Once you have started climbing you will notice only the hard work: it is when you have reached the landing and catch sight of the new stair that you may expect the bell again.”

(Letter, C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves, Nov. 8, 1931)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Satire and the "tu, quoque" argument

I enjoy clever satire. One of my favorite blogs (now dormant) was Brother Causticus at Titus One Ten. I thought it brilliant to use the lesser-known follow-up to Titus One Nine as a place to skewer, among other things, both sides of the Anglican ideological spectrum (his motto: "It is our intention to speak the truth in love; failing that, to speak the truth; and, when neither of these are possible, to speak. Unless things are perfectly unspeakable.") He was visited by both "reasserter" and reappraiser" alike. He was clever, and usually managed to poke fun without resorting to ad hominem malice.

Today I read two fairly random posts on two very different blogs: a long exchange of comments between Alcibiades and others at
Caliban's Dream about the company we keep and the extent to which we are responsible for the comments of those who frequent our blogs, and a long series of reponses to a very clever satire on the role of women in intellectual life. Both made me think about the prevalence of the "tu, quoque" argument.

In one oft-repeated analogy, our blogs are our living rooms, and we claim the right to escort those who misbehave out the door (i.e. ban/block/delete comments). We see this almost exclusively done, however, with those with whom we disagree. To be sure, some sites have elves who screen out the most egregious unpleasantness, but for the most part, the blogosphere is a free-for-all where things can get most unpleasant indeed. My question is, at what point do we escort our friends to the door?

In the case of the
vulgar joke, the racist remark, in "real life" these would be punished at the very least by the frozen stare. Perhaps even a stronger statement of disapproval. A guest who became quarrelsome or belligerent would be shown the door.

We have reached the point in the Anglican blogosphere where communication has virtually (pun intended) come to a standstill between those who find themselves on either extreme of the "current unpleasantess." And the epithets fly. And fly. "Why must you be so nasty?" each side asks as it prepares the next barrage. "You started it!" cries the other. "Pot, kettle, black!" both exclaim.

The tu, quoque argument (in essence, "you did/do it, too!") has become the justification for all sorts of spiteful attacks. However, it is a fallacy--a faulty argument. One cannot justify injustice with injustice, two rights don't make a wrong...etc.

we can push the analogy even further: if we truly mean it it when we say, "all are welcome in this place," whether it be our house or our blog, then we have a responsibility to make sure that our guests behave civilly to each other. No sniping over the sherry. No cruel digs over the dessert. And show them the door if they cannot play well with others, never to be invited back.

By the same token, (and this is just as important, I believe) if one is an invited guest in someone's house, one needs to be civil. But if I crash an intimate party, I might expect to receive less than a cordial welcome, and if I insult the host or the invited guests, I really can't complain if I am insulted in return.

Most of us know by now what to expect when we visit Mad Priest or Stand Firm or Father Christian Troll or VirtueOnline. Some of these blogs may be to your taste, some not. You get what you pay for. But (to crank out just one more analogy) if you show up to McDonalds looking for escargots farcis à la bourguignonne, you have two choices. Order a Big Mac, sit down, eat and enjoy, or walk out and find yourself a French restaurant.

And instead of "tu, quoque" perhaps, "Ego, quoque. Et mea culpa."

Sunday, August 9, 2009

O Beauty Ever Ancient

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

- Augustine, Confessions, 10.27

Saturday, August 8, 2009


It will show how out of the Blogoverse I have been in the past that it has only been today that I finally made the long overdue trip over to Cecilia at Closeted Pastor to see how she was doing. "But," I mused, "something is different." With the keen powers of discernment honed at Bryn Mawr College, I determined that her blog was no longer called "Closeted Pastor." Now it was called [Un] Closeted Pastor. Hmm...

Gloriosky, Hallelujah!

So I proceeded to read the wonderful story.

I am so happy for you and Beloved.

I will change my link accordingly.

What book would you waltz with?

I've been catching up on my blog reading--I've been away from it for too long and since I have a Saturday at leisure I am "backreading" one of my favorite blogs: Grandmère Mimi's Wounded Bird. I started at the beginning of March so I can work up to her epic Big Trip to See Mad Priest. (Yes, it's been that long....) It may take a while because it's all so good and she sends you off on such interesting sidetrips (for example, Oyster's post about his Unfortunate Incident.) In As I Further Reread Gilead, Grandmère quotes from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson:

The Reverend has a bad heart.

So I decided a little waltzing would be very good, and it was. I plan to do all my waltzing here in the study. I have thought I might have a book ready at hand to clutch if I began to experience unusual pain, so that it would have an especial recommendation from being found in my hands. That seemed theatrical, on consideration, and it might have the perverse effect of burdening the book with unpleasant associations. The ones I considered, by the way, were Donne and Herbert and Barth's "Epistle to the Romans" and Volume II of Calvin's "Institutes". Which is by no means to slight Volume I. p. 115.

It got me to thinking: what book would you waltz with?

Guess what? Pork Butt.

Went to the store to get a smoked ham hock to satisfy a bean soup craving. No ham hocks to be seen, but pork butt was on sale. Don't think I have ever bought pork butt before, but I've never tasted a part of the pig I didn't like,** so I picked one up. This dish came out so good that I went back to buy some more and put it in the freezer. Here's the recipe. It actually takes longer to type it than it does to cook it!

The night before you want to eat the soup:

Put a pound (or two) of small white beans to soak overnight. Navy beans are fine, too.

Take the pork butt (or half of it and freeze the other half, proportions are very adjustable!) and sear it in a very hot pan, all over, until it's good and browned. You'll probably find that there's some nice rendered fat already in the pan. Good. Put the pork butt in your crock pot.

Take a large onion or two smaller ones and slice. Not too thin. Cook the onion in the fat left in the pan until it loses that raw look and starts to be translucent. Dump the onion and the fat into the crock pot on top of the pork. Add a couple of whole peeled garlic cloves.

Deglaze the pan with about a cup or so of water; get all the good caramelized bits and dump this in the crock pot, too. Turn the crock pot on low and go to bed. (If it is too hot in the house, put your crock pot out on the back patio unless you live in the bayou like Grandmère and the gators will get it.)

In the morning you should find that the kitchen smells marvelous, the meat has acquired even more lovely color and the onions have virually melted away into velvelty loveliness. There will be a thick layer of fat rendered out. Take a heat-safe measuring cup and ladle the fat into it. It's ok if there's still a tiny bit left in the pot--it's tasty! Unless you're really good at it you'll also have some broth in the cup too. Let the fat cool a bit and put it in the fridge. You can separate the broth and add it back later.

(Don't make the mistake I did and unthinkingly dump this lovely lard into the trash! Save it and make rillettes!!! Here's a great recipe from a wonderfully poetic food blogger named Lindy. I love rillettes. )

Rinse the beans and add them to the crock pot. Add some salt free herb mix but no salt yet because it makes the beans tough. Add enough water to the pot to ensure the beans don't dry out. Go out into the wonderful world and do good and distribute. Forget not.

When you come back from doing good the pork should be falling apart tender and the beans cooked through. Add any additional seasoning you want (I like to pop in a spoonful of beef "Better Than Boullion"--adds salt and flavor--but I am a broth fanatic.)

I also like at this point to pull out the pork and shred it well (removing any bones) and put it back in for a while to meld everything together. Serve with crusty bread and you'll immediately wish you made a lot more! (I sprinkle green onions on top and add good vinegar.)

What to do with leftovers: the soup is even better the next day!
If the beans aren't tooo soupy it is great spooned into fresh corn tortillas, with cilantro, salsa and grated cheese. They are also super mixed with rice for a sort of casserole. I ate them for breakfast for days and I was very happy. Freeze the soup if you get tired of it before it's gone.

Tasty, inexpensive, and fairly good for you!

** full disclosure: I haven't tried any really bizarre pig parts, but we once roasted a whole pig on a spit for my mother's birthday....

A pork butt haiku:

Oh, lonely pork butt,
waiting there in the crockpot,
beans will be here soon.

1,325 Pope Hats

(from Craig's List)

Date: 2009-07-07, 3:17PM MST

Because of this terrible economy, I'm having to shut down my business. I have OVER 1300 Pope hats (replicas) that I REALLY need to get rid of. The pope hats came from China and are a little too small for most adult heads and are also irritating to the skin, so you would need to have long hair or wear a smaller hat underneath (just like the REAL POPE). Dogs do not like to wear these pope hats, but maybe a large cat or maybe a nice dog would wear one. My dogs will not but they are not very nice and always hate being dressed up like for Halloween when we tried to dress them up like batman but they became very very agitated and bit a neighbors kid. I will lock the dogs up when you come get all of these pope hats.

My wife is a devout catholic and she finds the presence of all of these pope hats all over the house to be blasphemous. I have pope hats in every closet, pope hats under the sing, pope hats full of other pope hats. She will not stop talking to me about getting rid of the pope hats and has started lighting candles all over the house for my soul but these pope hats are extremely flammable so its a problem in my house (there are pope hats everywhere)

I payed 10x what I'm asking for when I bought these pope hats. I still think there is a market for them maybe when the economy turns around. Act NOW! Don't miss this great deal! I have 1,325 total (I counted this morning). 3 of them have some dog bites and one of them is burnt to a crisp, but you can take that one or leave it. Bring 2-3 strong friends.

  • Location: Tempe
  • it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
PostingID: 1258405496


I suggest we all buy one for the upcoming party at MadPriest's house.

Clumber's a nice dog. He'll wear one. So will Rowan, I suspect.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Update from Holy Family

This new year has brought many changes to Holy Family. Our church continues to grow. Our rector has resigned and we have an interim rector, a new Senior and Junior Warden, and we have had five funerals in four months. (Father Bruce Kirkwood lost his long and valiant battle with cancer, and his memorial service was attended by one of the largest crowds ever seen at HFC--I dare not say how many for fear of the fire marshall.)

On April 4 we will have the Chrism Mass at Holy Family and then decorate the church for Palm Sunday. Liam will be out of town accompanying our students to the Alpha Chi convention, so I will have a few days with the house all by myself.

We are considering getting a couple of pugs this summer from the Pug Rescue, or a pug and a French bulldog. What do you think of the name "Martin Buber" for a pug?

Other than the usual lectures and grading, we are preparing to lead a group of students to Italy this summer. It's been tough getting enough students because of the economy, but it's finally falling into place.