19 December 2010

New Heavens and New Earth

It is, I suppose, merely a sign of increasing age that I have become (a little :-)) less idealistic.  A sometime-reader of this blog will remember the enthusiasm with which, twenty-five or so years ago, I told him of my plans to build "the world's best short-wave receiver."  I have thought of my own tendency towards perfectionism - which has very often worked against any actual tendency in me toward perfection - as my inclination to building yet another "world's best receiver."

I'm not really cured of the disease of perfectionism.  Every time I start something, I have to fight the tendency to be sidetracked into WBR syndrome.  "If I am going to finish my Yapese dictionary, I really need to get all the words in the Yapese Bible in.  Oh, but then I'll have index them to the context they are a part of.  But in that case..."  I must keep in mind Chesterton's (What's Wrong With the World): "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly."

We must work.  We must do what we can.  Yet all our efforts are imperfect - and at the end, all that we do will fade - like the grass of the field that withers.  All is vanity.

And yet ... it is not so.  The same Bible tells us (I Cor 15:58) "...your labour is not in vain in the Lord."

It is a mystery to me what "new heavens and new earth" can be - yet somehow I think that what we do - especially what we do with love here in the old earth under the old heavens - may be re-presented to us one day, perfected and shown in real beauty.  Will it be rather like being a pupil of a great master artist?  We will listen to him, make our attempts at drawing something beautiful - our frustration always there are our inability to do perfectly what we want, yet knowing that we are trying - and then - perhaps? - he will take it, change a line here, a colour there - and let us see what we were aiming at all along?

Today at Mass - the Fourth Sunday in Advent - I felt, somehow, that the Lord was with me - that even now, in the old earth and under the old heavens, He is encouraging me to try, to do my best, knowing that it can never be good enough - but knowing that the end of all my starts and uncertain attempts will be to be renewed - to be made, after all, what I had always wanted them to be.

May it be so.

12 December 2010


A friend of mine has asked me a question - or rather expressed a difficulty he has and wonders if I have any thoughts on the matter:

I am trying to come up with a suitable response to (or way to approach) the "new atheists" (Hitchins, Dawkins, etc), who strike me as bigots, i.e. persons motivated by hatred of belief and believers, who do not take religious belief seriously.
A bigot (in the Wikipedia article's words) is "A bigot is a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially one exhibiting intolerance, and animosity toward those of differing beliefs."

I am, of course, not competent to answer this question :-)  I have not read the books by these authors attacking religion, and am not going to do so.  I have what seem to me sufficient reasons to put my faith in Jesus Christ and in the Catholic Church.  I do not see that anything anyone could say against these reasons could change that.

So does that make me a bigot?  I do not think so.  In the first place, it is not as though I have not considered, and considered at some length, the various arguments against faith.  These arguments appear to me not to offer anything to believe in, but only to suggest that the reasons persons have for believing in the Christian faith might have difficulties.

Fair enough - these reasons do unquestionably have difficulties.  Every question of importance in life, from whether to trust a particular person's integrity in business or love to the question of religious obedience has difficulties.  There is not - and, I think, cannot be - an argument in favour of, say, believing that my wife loves me that is totally unassailable.  She might, after all, be an imposter - in it for some benefit (which, to be sure, I cannot currently imagine: wealth, physical attractiveness, and social prestige would seem, at least, not to be in question :-)).

So I do not think I need to read yet one more attack on Christianity to feel that I have sufficiently considered the objections to my faith.  I absolutely believe in God.  I have what Newman calls assent.

But if I were inclined to try to respond to Hitchens or Dawkins - rather like that mouse responding to the lion, I would suppose - but still - if I were to try to respond, I hope I would take them seriously as persons convinced of a point of view.  From the discussions of their books that I have read on-line - and from the bloggings of persons who quite certainly share their point of view - I would say that, yes, they are bigots.  These reviews and bloggings do not, indeed, seem to me to take religious belief seriously.

Well, so what?  Why should they?  They consider God to be a delusion.  Do I take seriously the views of some maniac locked up in an asylum who assures me that he is Napoleon?  No, I do not.

But of course I do not write books to show him that he is deluded.

But here, I think, we can see at least one aspect of the attack of the "new atheists" on religion.  For the religious point of view is not held by a single unfortunate schizophreniac.  It is held, and held with vigour, by billions of persons.  Great good is done in the name of religion - but great evil is done in its name, as well.  Religion is no mean opponent.  Both of these men sincerely believe, I think, in the fundamentally malignant character of religion.  Both think it worthwhile to try to point out this fact.

The, to me undoubtable, bigotry of their approach is therefore the more regrettable.  If, after all, there is something to their argument, it seems to me they would win more hearers on the other side - that is, on the side of religion - but taking seriously the point of view of religious believers.  The best of religious believers have been the best, also, of humankind.  I do not see how a clear-sighted view of history can deny that.  There must be something in it that makes us accept what Hitchens and Dawkins think a delusion.

I do not have the impression that they really want to know what that is.

But then I have not read their books, and do not expect to.  So they have the last laugh - for now, at least.

06 December 2010


Well, see, I was going to post something here every week.  Then I missed the week-end of 20-21 November - not, I suspect, for any real reason but just because I did a bit of this and a bit of that - and then the week-end was over.

Once you do something once, it gets a lot easier to do it again.  The following week-end was pretty intense orchestra rehearsal.  And the week-end just past - 4-5 December - was the concerts.

I think a major reason I don't write is that I cannot really convince myself that anyone would be interested in what I have to say.  Occasionally I get a response, which appears to mean that my feeling is not entirely correct - but, still...

No, I am not urging anyone to start writing stuff back just for the sake of it!  I am just explaining how I feel.

In any case, I cannot write anything much at the moment.  It is Monday evening the 6th of December (Happy Feast of St Nicholas!).  I have been on leave all the week before the concerts, and today; tomorrow I am back to work.

We had a wonderful Saturday evening concert.  Sunday afternoon was very good except that one idiot totally failed to play the fairly obvious solo line at the end of one of the pieces everyone knows.

Yes, of course it was me.  The piece was Strauss's "Blue Danube Waltz"  I somehow missed the conductor's cue.  Nevertheless, the rest of it went well.

The business that led the doctor to talk about COPD (emphysema and chronic bronchitis) has continued to be a problem.  The doctor says it is not COPD - and doesn't know what is going on.  I have been referred to Middlemore to the ENT specialists there.  It is troubling - my voice is getting permanently hoarse.  At night my lungs get congested.  I would be glad of prayer.

I will try to reform my habits, replacing bad with good.  Next week-end I will try to write something - on what, I don't know.

14 November 2010


Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Exodus 20:8-11

And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.

Mark 2:24-28
(I notice that in the Exodus Sabbath command, the command is addressed to "thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates" - Susan wonders if that means wives don't get rest on the Sabbath :-)).

I confess I find the Mark 2:28 passage puzzling.

The Greek (for those of you who want to see it :-) - no accents or breathings and I'm too lazy to find a version with them) says:

"ωστε κυριος εστιν ο υιος του ανθρωπου και του σαββατου"

That first word - 'ωστε' - really means just something like 'therefore; so that; with the result that.'  So the King James quoted above is matched more or less by other translations in English and other languages I know.

It seems odd to me, and may be no more than a sort of textual puzzle.  Perhaps the underlying Aramaic doesn't mean that.  Doubtless there are Biblical textual scholars who could tell me.

As it stands, Jesus appears to be drawing a non sequitur.  What He says - the examples in which a technical Sabbath-breaking was justified by the ministering to human need - surely needs little explanation, is natural, is matched by many other Dominical sayings, and is a principle He says they themselves will do even for an ox;
The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?

Luke 13:15
None of this is the least puzzling.  We ourselves are inclined to be astonished at the rigid religiosity of the Pharisees, who want to upbraid Jesus for being kind to people.  It is surely true that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

But then Mark 2:28.

Why 'therefore?'  Why 'so that' (as some translations have it)?

I confess this is rather only more of a linguistic puzzle than a sort of spiritual lesson.  Nonetheless, there is something in it - at least something for me.

The key, I think, is in Our Lord's title for Himself: The Son of Man.

Perhaps I am quite wrong in this, and if there are any real Biblical scholars reading this, I would be grateful for their correction.

In its first usages in the Old Testament, "Son of Man" is just Hebrew parallelism - Numbers 23:19:
God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
and passim.

Ezekiel begins to make it seem like a title (2:1):
And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee
(sadly, some modern PC "non-sexist" translations destroy the connexion to Jesus's words by translating "Son of Man" in Ezekiel as 'mortal' - bad translation, bad theology, and bad English - but that is rather a different matter :-))

Throughout Ezekiel, God addresses Ezekiel by this inchoate title.

Jesus uses it almost universally for Himself.

The Sabbath was made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath - wherefore the Son of Man is the Lord even or also of the Sabbath.  The Son of Man - Hebrew 'בן אדם' - "Son of Man" - "Son of Adam" - is what Our Lord is.  What Adam lost has now been found.  The Lord of the Sabbath is the Sabbath - the eternal rest.

The wonderful Easter anthem cannot be improved on:

07 November 2010


If I had gone to Berkeley in my first year, my experience might have been different.  When I first went to UCLA, I was a worshipper at the shrine of science.  Berkeley was my second year and I was by then beginning to be self-confident, and interested in the idea of student life.

Or perhaps second-year University students are always like that.  The term 'sophomoric' is no accident.

At UCLA I had lived in a student residence; at Berkeley, four of us from Oroville - David Bennum, Lanny Cummins, I - and someone else - Lee Gunderson?? - lived together in a set of rooms in a rooming house - run by Mrs Logy - Logey?? - and I feel a retroactive sense of apology to her for the experiences we put her to.  I suspect she ran the rooming house because she had to have the income to survive; it cannot have been in any sense a positive experience for her.

Oh, not that we were drunkenly staggering through the place, vomiting on the furniture, anything of the sort.  We drank what would, today, seem astonishingly little.  Well, it was, after all, illegal!  We were, that year (September, 1961 - May, 1962) 19 years old.  In California, at the time, you had to be 21 in order to drink legally.

What we drank was wine.  How did we get it?  I don't really recall.  Perhaps David had some contacts.  We also were pipe smokers - this was, then, the thing for University students to do (I had a few really lovely smoking pipes - spent too much money on them and on tobacco) - and we bought a 'hookah' - a water pipe - with, I think, four pipes.  We put wine into it and smoked through it.

Then we tried to drink the wine :-)

I felt quite sorry for Lanny.  Lanny had, I believe, been brought up a serious Jehovah's Witness.  Our behaviour - that of the rest of us - was loud, foul-mouthed, inconsiderate.  I think it was quite upsetting to Lanny.

Lanny's life ended tragically - at least, it ended in a way that is distressing for me to contemplate.  Jehovah's Witnesses are pacifists - or, rather, they will not serve in the military of governments, because Jehovah's Kingdom is the government they serve.  I do not know anything of how it came to be - nor, in fact, have I any independent verification - but I was told, many years ago, that Lanny became an officer, went to VietNam, and was killed there.

I think this must represent a major turn-around in his religious thinking.  I pray daily for his soul.

Two things happened during that year at Berkeley that had significant effects on my later life.

The first had to do with my studies.  I was majoring in astronomy.  I hoped, eventually, to do my PhD in astronomy.  As I said in an earlier post about UCLA, a PhD programme at the University of California at the time required either three semesters of one foreign language, or two semesters each of two.  I had done second semester French at UCLA (having been given credit for the first semester because of my four years of high school French).  I started Russian there - or perhaps I took the two semesters of Russian that first year.  I don't remember.

But at Berkeley I took Spanish.  What was in my mind at the time, I do not know.  I think I probably just was following up the fascination with language that had been mine as long as I can remember.  The beginnings of what eventually led me into linguistics can be seen here.

Something of far greater significance happened to me in, I think, March of 1962.  I met Edna.

31 October 2010

Immanent injustice

OK, the title is just a play on words from the last post - the injustice in this case being my own telling you I was suffering COPD - when, according to the spirometry that was done on Thursday, this is not so.

I have just a few minutes now, having just come home from Mass and getting ready to leave for orchestra (pre-concert rehearsal and then the concert), so here is the collection of stuff, for those interested in my health, that seems to have come from this last week's tests and consultations:
  • I do not have COPD
  • I do not have asthma
  • I almost certainly do not have lung cancer or tuberculosis
  • My doctor does not think my cough is caused as a side effect of the blood pressure pills I take (cough is a rare side effect of them).
Which is all very well, but:
  • I do have some sort of increased amount of guck in my bronchial tubes - keep having to clear my throat, cough, etc
  • My voice has, over the past six months or so, gone very hoarse
My doctor is inclined to doubt the cancer-from-chewing-betel-nut connexion - saving that as a last resort.  She thinks I am experiencing a combination of (disgusting subject alert) post-nasal drip and reflux.  She has put me on pills for the latter, antihistamines for the former.  If no improvement in six months, then she will send me to a specialist otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat man to us ordinary mortals).

I hate talking about my health - disgusting subject - but some have asked, so I have promised to give this run-down.

Off to concert shortly.  It has been so wonderful being able to practise a fair bit these last few weeks, because I have been on leave.  Back to work on Tuesday!

23 October 2010

Immanent Justice

Belgian Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard made a stir recently by calling AIDS an example of "immanent justice".  It's an interesting concept - Jean Piaget thought that it was the natural assumption of children - what we call poetic justice is closely related.  I think the Archbishop only meant that AIDS was the natural consequence of certain sorts of behaviour.

Be that as it may, I am experiencing a bit of immanent justice myself (no, I haven't got AIDS!).

From the age of about 13 to 27 I smoked regularly, and, through most of that time, pretty heavily - for the last 6-8 years of that, probably at the average rate of two 20-cigarette packs per day.  At the end of 1969 I became a Christian, and in March, 1970, with intense prayer, I was given the grace to quit smoking.  I have not smoked since.  The statistics on smoking more or less seem to say that after this long a hiatus, my likelihood of lung cancer is not different from that of the general population.

There are other consequences.  Smoking damages the physical integrity of the lungs - and aging contributes to the process.  The consequence is an increased likelihood of COPD - "Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease" - which typically takes one of two forms (or both of them :-)) - chronic bronchitis or emphysema.

Over the past year or two, I have had an increasing tendency to cough, without any actual infective disease for the reason.  The last few months have seen the business get worse.  As I am on leave this month - October - I decided to go to talk to my doctor about it (again - I have talked to her about it in the past).  She sent me for chest X-rays, had me come back.  It is her opinion that COPD is what is happening to me.  They are going to do some spirometry tests next week to try to determine whether I am in the chronic bronchitis range (upper lungs, basically), emphysema (lower lungs), or both.  There is no treatment except that some of the anti-asthma drugs - like Ventolin - can give symptom relief.

I am always a little leery of posting personal experience stuff here - what a drag, to listen to old men moan on about their illnesses, or carry on about their garden, or whatever! - but my children do read this, and rather than e-mailing each of them distinctly, I thought it easier to put it here once for all.  Oh, and some of my children smoke - you know who you are! - so you might want to think about this.  The damage caused by smoking is irreversible, but continuing smoking increases the damage.

Just a thought :-)

But the idea of 'immanent justice' - that things that happen to us as a consequence of what we do are not just problems we have to deal with, but the actual appropriate results of our behaviour - interests me.  Are these things actual justice - or just the unfortunate consequences of things, and if we could find a way of avoiding the consequences, would the things be all right?  I would say that at least the latter view is tenable.  I don't think smoking is a sin - except, arguably, because you know it is likely to damage your body, and that (deliberately or negligently damaging your body) is sinful.  Yet it is interesting that the concept of 'immanent justice' is not simply obviously wrong.

It is said that chewing betel nut leads to an increased danger of cancer of the mouth, pharynx, oesophagus, and stomach.  For the eight years that we lived in Yap, I chewed betel nut heavily (never having been one to do things in moderation, as my two-pack-a-day cigarette habit shows).  I wonder if I have some more 'immanent justice' awaiting me :-)

16 October 2010


  • this is a theological post
  • it is pure speculation
So you have been warned.  If it sounds boring - or, even more likely, if it sounds likely to veer off into heresy (it is - and if any real theologian reads this, I would be very grateful for correction and clarification) - you may close your browser now!

OK, so you didn't close the browser.  Don't blame me.  I tried to warn you.

Ever since I became a Christian I wondered, at times, about Jesus's knowing things.  Sometimes He says very definitely that He does not know something - Mark 13:32, for instance:
But of that day and [that] hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
And He has to ask questions:
And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes?
The other night at our Rosary-cum-Bible-study evening we read the passage about the finding of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52), and read (verse 52) that:
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
I attempted to talk, off the cuff, a little about the fact that Jesus is both God and man; that as man He must learn things in the usual way; but that the teaching of the Church is that Jesus, though having two natures, is one Person, therefore He knows everything that God knows - which is to say that He is omniscient.  He knows everything.  He doesn't need His Mother to teach Him Hebrew - He knows it.  He doesn't need the doctors in the Temple to teach Him things.  The things they are teaching Him He, by His Spirit, taught them.

He is not two Persons.  What He knows, He knows.  This long article discusses this intricate subject.  I have not (yet :-)) read it.

Now the speculation bit...

I have just eaten a Kiwifruit.  I know what it tastes like.  How do I know?  I know because my senses tell me.  The tell me - not my brain, or my tongue, but me.  To be sure they use my tongue, my nerves, my brain, to tell me this.  But it is I who know this.

Suppose I had never eaten a Kiwifruit.  Would I know what one tastes like?  Well, I might know something.  I could be given comparisons to other fruit.  I could perform some chemical analysis.  If I knew enough of the human nervous system, had experience of eating other fruit, maybe I could know quite a lot about what a Kiwifruit tastes like.

I might know quite a lot about that experience - but I could not know that experience - not without experiencing it.

This analogy helps me.  Jesus is God Almighty.  He is before all worlds.  He is eternally in the Presence of the Father.  From Him as from the Father proceeds eternally the Holy Spirit.  He is the Word.  He almost is Knowledge.

When He tells us that "the Son" does not know when the Father has planned the consummation of all things - surely the Son does in fact know.  What could there be that the Son does not know.

It used to puzzle me when people would tell me that Jesus is here telling us that He does not know this ... as man.  I really couldn't make a lot out of that.  It almost tempted me to think, like a Nestorian, of Jesus almost as two Persons - Jesus, the Man, and Christ, the Son of God.

That cannot be.  Our Lord is just Himself.  He is One.  Yet I am helped by my Kiwifruit example.  I can know something of eating a Kiwifruit through my intellect.  My intellect is very limited, so I can only know a little about it without actually eating it.  But I can know something.  And so, perhaps, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity knows - and knows without limits - all things, including who touched Him, when the end of the age is, how to speak Hebrew - but without being man, He - even God! - cannot know the what-it-is-like to be a man.

This is all very, very dangerous speculation and could easily lead me into places I do not wish to go!  I think all speculation about the existential experience of God is, really, great foolishness.  Yet I cannot help but wonder.

For if there is anything to my speculation, it is very comforting news.  It does mean that God Himself knows what it is like to be tired.  God knows what it is like to be frustrated at a physical task - did Our Lord ever find Himself sighing in exasperation at a piece of work in His foster-father's workshop that just wouldn't seem to go right??  The thought is hopeful - or at least helpful.

For I have never suffered in any serious way; but suffering may - very likely does - await me.  We must all pass through that dark doorway that is one-way only.  Jesus on the Cross - whilst in perfect joy in the Beatific Vision - nevertheless saw that ending coming.  I know we think of His awful agony, and so we should.  Those of us who are not currently facing death may think of dying as something we will greet with relief - and so we may.  Yet I wonder.  Dylan Thomas, in his anguish at his own father's dying, expressed what I think we must all feel at the thought of the extinguishing of the light:


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Our Lord did not rage against the dying of the light, and nor should we.  Yet He knows what it is like.  He knows - He knows like the tasting of a fruit - the fears and anguish that lie behind Thomas's own loss.  May He grant us the grace and mercy to surrender our own spirit in peace into the Hands of the Father, as He did.

02 October 2010


The Latin word vacātiō, from which, ultimately, the English word 'vacation' comes (via, I think, French) means, according to Lewis and Short, 'freedom, exemption, immunity, dispensation' - especially, they say, 'exemption from military service.'  The word is derived, in Latin, from vacō 'to be empty, vacant' - and of course we get the word 'vacuum' from it as well.

I am on vacation - vacātiō - for a month - virtually all of October, although I worked yesterday, Friday the 1st of October, and I will actually go back to work on Tuesday the 2nd of November.

Susan is going off tomorrow, Sunday the 3rd, to her annual week-long theology course.  Someone has to deliver the newspapers whilst she is away, and that someone is normally me.  I had a fair bit of leave that I had to soak up.  After her course she is going to visit Helen in Newcastle for two weeks, so it seemed now was a good time to take that leave.  The end of October is our 'Family Concert' so I will just stay on vacation until November.

Vacations - 'freedom, exemption, immunity, dispensation', especially 'exemption from military service' - should be more than just time out.  It should be rather like a retreat.  I should spend time taking stock; deepen my prayer life; meditate.  In the (approximate) words of a character  in a Heinlein novel (Lazarus Long, if you want to know, in Methuselah's Children), I ought to 'take out my soul and examine it.'

I am not very good at that.  That, after all, is what mental prayer is supposed to be about - described, in that Wikipedia article, as 'a time of silence focused on God.'  And I flee mental prayer as the most terrifying thing in the world.

I don't think it is because I fear to meet God.  Well, perhaps that is inaccurate.  If I do not think that I fear to meet God, that is certainly because I have not the slightest realistic conception of what 'meeting God' would actually be like.  That only reflects my complete emptiness - vacuousness :-) - as a person.  I expect that if - when! - I actually meet God in reality, my reaction will one of wanting to shrink into a tiny speck and hope He won't notice me.  But in my feeble attempts at mental prayer, I am not consciously thinking of any such thing.

I think I fear mental prayer for the same reason I fear death.

Talking to another human being is a very natural thing to do.  I say something; you reply; I react.  I may, indeed, be subtly - or not so subtly - in control of things.  You and I are on a common plane.  We are commensurable.

I and God are incommensurable.  It is not just that, normally, I don't seem to receive conscious 'replies' from God.  Oh, I know that people will say to me, "The Lord told me this or that."  I assume that in most such cases the person means that in process of prayer and meditation, this or that idea came to him accompanied by a conviction that it is from God.  I do not for a moment discount such experiences, though I confess I rarely have them (which may, after all, be unsurprising, considering the topic I am writing about).  But I don't think that people are telling me that they have received some sort of verbal communication from God that is analogous to what their human friend might tell them.

It is not the lack of a perceptable reply from God.  My fear of mental prayer is a fear of stillness.  And that, I sometimes think, is a fear of what meeting God must be all about: total, unconditional surrender.

In dying, one by one my faculties - my senses, my ability to act, to do things - must slowly disappear.  I do not, of course, know what dying is like.  But what I imagine will be the thing I fear most is the void the complete surrender of myself, of my being, to that which is irresistible.

And surrender it ought to be.  The alternative is merely succumbing.  Being overcome.  Having one's resistance overpowered.  But I do not think that will be good.  I hope that, when I die, I will, at the end, willingly give up my life - render it up to the One Who has power, in any case, to take it.  It is not without reason that Our Lord said, "But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell." (Luke 12:5)

So that mental prayer ought to be a practice run.  In mental prayer I ought to cease my desire to get at my computer, to Google this or that, to play my horn, to read a book - even, perhaps, to chatter to God like the over-grown monkey that I sometimes feel like.  I should cease to have control, just for a while.  Oh, He loves me.  I believe that, astonishingly unbelievable as it sounds.  He loves me and no one can care more for my good than He.  But ... I do not wish to let go!  I do not wish to surrender.  Bliss though it will be - I do not wish to die.

May my vacation be a genuine vacātiō, a self-emptying, a time of freeing myself from the grip of my own I-must-be-in-control.  For that way lies inexpressible peace and joy.

19 September 2010


A friend recently told me of a couple of remarkable incidents in his life - he had told me of them in a discussion of the existence - and character - of God.  I am Catholic; he thinks of God as ... well, I hope he will not mind if I use his words, which, I think, express very well what may be the commonest view of God:
I prefer to not use the term God when I try to come to grips with the big questions. I would prefer the Great Mystery or, the Enigma. The observable universe is a projection of, or manifestation of, the Great Mystery. Through science we can gain only partial knowledge of the Great Mystery as manifested in the observable universe. An astonishing amount is within the realm of the knowable but, ultimately the Great Mystery is more likely than not, multidimensional with dimensions extending into the unknowable. These dimensions are unknowable to us in qualities and scope.
In a subsequent discussion, he described a couple of remarkable coincidences that had happened to him.  The details of those coincidences do not matter here.  They are of the 'uncanny that that should happen to me' sort - not preternatural, just ... uncanny :-)

I do not suggest that he offers these as in any sense indications of the existence of God - I do not think he does.  What they are, though, is evidence - perhaps - of the presence of purpose - even, it may be, Purpose - in the things that happen to me.

And I got to thinking about coincidences.

Whether non-Christians ever see such things as pointing to God, it is certain that we Christians sometimes seem to.  We have all known the person - perhaps we ourselves are one of these persons - who, in time of great need, have had that need met in a remarkable way - sometimes in answer to prayer.  And I wonder: is it right to see such things as genuine answers to prayer?

On reflexion, I think I would say that either everything that happens is an answer to prayer - or nothing is.

The question rests on the idea of intentionality.  Intentionality is a broad, and somewhat vague, concept.  Here I mean primarily, though, just that meaning of the word that in our common usage we have in mind.  We all know what I mean - and it matters a great deal to our normal life.  John bumps Susan's elbow and her coffee spills.  Is Susan angry?  Well, she might for a moment be, regardless of intentionality - but if she has reason to believe John did it accidentally - she saw him trip over something, for instance, nearly fall, bump her - and afterwards he apologises and tries (to her further dismay, no doubt :-)) to clean the carpet - then she judges her anger as unjust.

But if John smirks, dodges away - that is a very different matter!  John spilled her coffee intentionally.

I suggest that, unconsciously, what we see in remarkable coincidences is intentionality.

Consider: an aeroplane flies over.  Somehow - perhaps it is a small, light 'plane with some sort of opening to the air - a golf ball falls out.  It falls, perhaps a Kilometre down - to a golf course - and lands straight into the cup of the first hole!

Wow!!  Far out!!  What's the likelihood of that??!!

Or ... a great golfer - Tiger Woods BTS (Before The Scandal :-)) - tees off - and the same thing happens!

We are equally stunned - but for a very different reason.  Because we know that Tiger intended to attempt to do that very thing!  But in this case, the likelihood is much different.  To be sure, it is a remarkable stroke.  Perhaps - for I know nothing of golfing - it has never happened in the history of golf.  Nevertheless, if we could take into account Tiger's history and skill, his record, the history of that hole in that golf course, we would make a calculation that would, I suggest, make Tiger's stroke much more probable - even if very improbable in absolute terms - than the first example.

The difference is intentionality.

And if we believe in God, then in the first case, there is - if only we knew what God intended - no question of probability.  After all, choosing a golf-ball-sized spot of grass at random, the ball's landing anywhere at all is just as unlikely as its landing in the hole.  On the other hand, if we think that God's Providence is comprehensive - and if we are Christians of any orthodoxy at all, we claim to do so - then - leaving aside the mystery of the will (both human and angelic) - God intends what happens.

And I think hidden in the normal person's reaction to the aeroplane case is an assumption of something like this.  This is not to say that most people would think of it this way.  But few would be other than stonkered by such a thing's happening.  Some would, indeed, see something at least preternatural, if not supernatural in the strict sense, in the happening.  Some would - if the event corresponded to something in the person's own life - even be converted.

We Christians are prone to remarking on this or that event as 'providential.'  And we are right to do so.  Events - such as the arrival of that unexpected money just when that unexpected expense appeared - are, indeed, providential.

But so are the appearance of the unexpected expense when no 'providential' money appears.  Either all that happens is God's providence for us - and therefore, in some sense, an answer to prayer - if not my prayer, than the prayers of countless others - or nothing is.  God is quite capable of ordering all things in such a way that they seem remarkable - but normally He does not.  The appearance of my fortnightly pay in my bank account is as much a part of God's loving providence (and all God's providences are loving, even although we do not always receive them as such and they may ultimately amount to God's wrath for us) as the legacy from the uncle I didn't know I had.  The key is living really in faith that God's providence is always there for us, is always for us, even when painful, and is complete - down to the 'hairs of our head.'

12 September 2010


OK, really and truly no time to write anything this week-end - nor, probably, next.  Next concert is next Saturday the 18th, and I am struggling.  I have written before about my lip's being numb after the accident.  It is still numb, but that doesn't appear to affect my playing significantly.  What does definitely do so is that I have lost endurance.

Brass players will know what I mean - and other wind instrument players may, too, for all I know.  Playing a brass instrument is an intensely physical activity.  The muscles involved are principally in the face - though the diaphragm can get very fatigued as well.  But it is the face - the embouchure that is doing the work.  And it is the lips that are the heavy lifters.  And my lower lip gets exhausted easily.  I cannot carry on, particularly playing high notes, for as long as I used, and cannot as reliably hit high notes any longer.

Nevertheless, I think it will be all right.  As I said, no time to write much now, but the pieces we are playing are:
The Sorcerer's Apprentice is well-known from Disney's masterpiece Fantasia.  It is almost the most difficult one for us to play - though the others are no slouch.  Only The Moldau is straightforward music - and it is the lip-killer :-)

05 September 2010

What is religion?

Only time for a very brief note today.  A friend wrote me recently:
I ... wound up thinking religion is a psychological tapestry we use to cover the chinks of unknowable stuff about life and death, and to weave a story of meaning and community. Life is full of mysteries, so there are lots of chinks and lots of religions to cover them.
I wonder if that is true.

Oh, I suppose I know what the friend meant.  He may have meant something like the "God of the Gaps" - the "evolution can't explain the existence of man" sort of argument, so God is brought in as a sort of scientific hypothesis to explain man.  Even, pushing things much farther back, "evolution can indeed explain man by means of physical laws - but where do physical laws come from?"

And, indeed, I think that there are far more than 'chinks' in the range of our knowledge.  None of our knowledge is, after all, ultimate.  Stephen Hawkings has recently published his book "The Grand Design", explaining, in the works of the Wikipedia article, that "...invoking God is not necessary to explain the origins of the universe, and that the Big Bang is a consequence of the laws of physics alone" - but of course this leaves one with the laws of physics themselves to explain - and so on.

Nevertheless, I wouldn't precisely call this sort of thing 'religion.'  I would call it 'philosophy.'  Philosophy is of enormous importance.  One way or other, I suppose, every man has philosophical assumptions; those who think about their own thinking are conscious of them, but most are not.

In terms of philosophy, one may:
  • stop at the laws of physics - the physical universe is ultimate
  • add the laws of ethics - there is good and evil, right and wrong - and we will reap the consequences of our actions (karma, one way or another)
  • add a personal God, Who forgives or punishes
Religion, it seems to me, is not identical with any of these philosophical positions.  As a child, I stood in utter awe at the laws of physics.  I was an amateur astronomer, was later to major in astronomy at University - but I must say that I was drawn much more to the wonder and mystery of the heavens than to any actual practical desire to work out the physics of them (which, no doubt, explains my early failure to succeed in studying astronomy seriously).

But I would call the attitude I had one of religious awe.  I had no conception of God; I worshipped, nonetheless.

Then it must be that a man's religion can only rise as high as the conception of God he worships - and I think that is true.  To worship a God of morality is, it seems to me, higher than to worship a God Who is simply the physical All-That-Is - in the words of a song by the Incredible String Band, "Mother Everything."  To worship a personal God higher yet.  To worship the God as He actually is - as, as I believe, He has revealed Himself in the Scriptures and in the traditions of the Catholic Church, highest of all.

But worship is what religion is about.

Pascal's 'Memorial' says it all - I urge you to read the whole thing that link:
The year of grace 1654,Monday, 23 November, feast of St. Clement, pope and martyr, and others in the martyrology.

Vigil of St. Chrysogonus, martyr, and others.

From about half past ten at night until about half past midnight,
GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob,
not of the philosophers and of the learned.

28 August 2010

UCLA PostScript

Johnny once asked me to write, in these memoirs, about 'zany' things.

Trouble is, there are too many of these that I am not going to write about - at least not published on the web - perhaps for shame, perhaps, in some cases, for fear of the consequences...

But before I leave UCLA behind completely, I suppose there were a few things that might be classified by Johnny as 'zany' - like:
  • one beautiful moonlit night we went up onto the roof of our dormitory, the ten-story Dykstra Hall, made enormous paper aeroplanes by taping sheets of newspaper together, and sailed them down to 'frat row.'  It was a heavenly sight, seeing them float down in the clear air.  It was less heavenly when, the next day, we were (identified by whom?  I don't recall) nabbed and made to go clean them all up.
  • the time Mike Raugh climbed up on the outside of the building from the 7th floor (the highest men's floor) to the 8th floor (the lowest women's floor), intending to climb through the window into the foyer by the lifts.  The dorm warden came out, saw him from the car park, and just about had a heart attack.  Mike did, indeed, climb into the women's foyer, and went down the lift - this being the safest way of getting him off the ledge!  Recriminations followed :-)
  • the time we found, by accident, that slapping the incandescent light bulb over the study desk in your room made it turn much brighter!  After helping a few mates brighten their lights, we then worked out why the bulbs burnt out after a quarter of an hour or so - tungsten filaments burn quite well if a little oxygen is let into the bulb.  After that, we managed to 'help' several victims, before the word got around that if I or my friends showed up at your door, lock the door!  It also wasn't very long before the same (suffering) house warden began to wonder why there were so many requests for replacement light bulbs (yes, he caught us, eventually, and threatened to make us pay).
My real farewell to UCLA, however, involved Lowell Wood, mentioned in an earlier post.  Lowell was a senior when I was a freshman.  For some reason, he took a liking to me, introduced me to my first computer programming experience, and when my final exam schedule for the spring semester, 1961, turned out to have all but one of my exams bunched into the first three days - and then nothing for a week and a half - invited me to spend a week-end evening at his parents' house in Simi Valley.

What I remember of that week-end was the mountain lion.

There was, Lowell said, some company's site near his house where rocket engines were tested - and he had found that a test was scheduled for that evening.  How cool would it be to try and see it??!!

Only difficulty, if course, is that they don't exactly invited casual observers.  But Lowell told me that he knew of a back way that we could use.  We could climb up on a cliff overlooking the place and see the test - he had done it before.  Was I game?

OK, I don't need to answer that :-)

Simi Valley is in desert country.  We drove quite a distance, the last bits of it, I think, on a dirt road.  When we got out, it was dusk and getting chilly - I wished I had worn a jacket or something.  The details have grown a little hazy in almost fifty years, but I remember we got to a place where there was a fairly high rock face - and a narrow cleft in the rock.  Up that, and - just as Lowell had said - we are on a ledge overlooking the installation.  Over there, Lowell says, is the frame they anchor the rocket motor to.

We wait ... and wait ... and it gets dark.  Lights come on around the place.  Finally it is clear that, as Lowell surmised, they have postponed the test.  It won't happen tonight.  Oh, well, let's go home.

Back down the cleft, Lowell in front.  Lowell in front, and then Lowell stops.  Johnny (as I was still called then) behind - "what's up?  Why have you stopped?"

Lowell: "there's something down there."

Johnny: "what?"

Lowell (hesitating): "it's a mountain lion."


Back to the ledge.  And - clearly - neither of us is brave enough to go down, in the dark, with a cougar at bottom.

It turns out to be possible to climb down from the ledge - inside the fence rocket place (I think it is the Santa Susan Field Laboratory, with the test being done by Rocketdyne).

Trying to walk out casually, inconspicuously, past the guard gate does not work.  We are taken into an office.  We explain what we are doing there.  A guy comes in with what I suppose is a Geiger counter, runs a wand over the soles of our shoes, and says, "they're clean" - Lowell's response, "what could we have done to get dirty" doesn't draw any response from the guards - perhaps they don't see the joke :-)

Lowell's father is called and he has to come out to identify us.  We are let go, about 10PM.  No consequences, except that Lowell's father is definitely not amused.

That was the closest I have ever got to a mountain lion - and I didn't even get to see it.

I have already been told I am admitted to University of California, Berkeley - roughly, to me at the time, like being told I was eligible to go to Heaven.  I go home, after my last exam, work night shift in the local Stokley-Van Camp (long since swallowed by PepsiCo) fruit salad cannery that summer, and in September, 1961 am off, driven by David Bennum, my high school best friend, to Berkeley.

22 August 2010

UCLA - goodbye!

I spent only one year at UCLA.  It was, nevertheless, of some importance to me as it settled me in as a University student.  I was, I thought, going to be an astronomer.  This had been my intention from primary school.  Nevertheless, I was fascinated by language.  A University of California PhD at the time had a language requirement: either three semesters of one language, or two semesters each of two.

I had done four years of high school French.  I found that I could substitute that as a prerequisite for first-semester French, so I took the second semester of French, believing - incorrectly, I am sure - that taking one semester of French, even at a more advance level, would satisfy the two semesters requirement for one language, and I studied Russian both semesters of my first year.

It is interesting that I chose Russian.  Russian is not particularly important for astronomy.  German would surely have been of more use.  This reflects something of the atmosphere of that time.  America had been at war - a cold war, to be sure, but a war nonetheless - with Russia - with the Soviet Union, to be more accurate - since the end of the Second World War.  I think it not surprising that I studied Russian.  In the 1950s we were presented with a great many articles in magazines like Life about the superiority of Russian education, medicine, and other arts.  Robert Heinlein, in at least one novel (Farnham's Freehold), has his protagonist learn Russian.  So I studied Russian in addition to French.

Some time during that academic year - September, 1960 - May, 1961 - I applied to be admitted as an astronomy undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley, and was accepted.

16 August 2010


I have read in books about a person's having a dream that is very vivid, and whose memory stays with the person, for a long time - years, or even for life - but so far as I know the experience is rare. At least I don't think anyone has ever told me of long-remembered vivid dreams.

I have had one dream in my life that was very vivid and has stayed with me.  It occurred in 1973 or 1974 and has had a significant place in my thoughts - at least, I have brooded about its meaning on and off for over thirty-five years.  When I was on retreat this week-end just past, I meditated on it during prayer.  The dream was rather more of a nightmare, and it is with some reluctance that I have decided to try to describe it.  Yet I think it possible that, for me, at least, it may shed some light on ... well, you will see what, if any, light comes from it:

Susan and I are walking up a street - an 'avenue', in fact - a road lined with trees on both sides, though not straight - curving uphill.  We are, I know with dream knowledge, in Honolulu, on one of those roads up a gorge in the pali behind the city - not the Pali Highway itself, but it is associated with it in my mind.  There are large, fairly grand, houses on both sides.  It is afternoon - very peaceful, idyllic, a park-like atmosphere - but the light is dim, because of the trees.
 It is peaceful, but somehow I myself am a little uneasy.  I am unsure what we are doing there, where we are, where we are going.
In dreams, transitions are not always clear - or perhaps, over the years since I dreamt this, I have forgotten - but now we have left the road.  We have gone up a drive to one of the mansions.  But now we are lost.
Lost, and terrified.  Are we separated from one another?  I think so.  I - or we - are now wandering anxiously in bush.  I am very much afraid.  There are ... persons, though I am not sure they are human ... out here, living in houses on stilts.
And I know, with dream knowledge, that what we think of as ordered, ordinary life is only an artificially-maintained fiction, a kind of clearing in the midst of chaos - fated ultimately to be engulfed in the un-being of surrounding reality.
Told baldly, I am puzzled at the power that dream had on me.  I awoke, and was terrified.  Is this what life is really like?  Are order, meaning, love only stories we tell one another to keep away the surrounding Dark?  Susan will remember my talking with her about the dream at some length.

This is the dreadful image of "Professor Weston's" rind in C. S. Lewis's Perelandra:

“It's all true, you know,” he said at last.

“What's all true?” said Ransom.

Suddenly Weston turned on him with a snarl of rage. “It's all very well for you,” he said. “Drowning doesn't hurt and death is bound to come anyway, and all that nonsense. What do you know about death? It's all true, I tell you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I've been stuffing myself up with a lot of nonsense all my life,” said Weston. “Trying to persuade myself that it matters what happens to the human race . . . trying to believe that anything you can do will make the universe bearable. It's all rot, do you see?”

“And something else is truer!”

“Yes,” said Weston, and then was silent for a long time.

“We'd better turn our fishes head on to this,” said Ransom presently, his eyes on the sea, “or we'll be driven apart.” Weston obeyed without seeming to notice what he did, and for a time the two men were riding very slowly side by side. “I'll tell you what's true,” said Weston presently.


“A little child that creeps upstairs when nobody's looking and very slowly turns the handle to take one peep into the room where its grandmother's dead body is laid out - and then runs away and has bad dreams. An enormous grandmother, you understand.”

“What do you mean by saying that's truer?”

“I mean that child knows something about the universe which all science and all religion is trying to hide.” Ransom said nothing.

“Lots of things,” said Weston presently. “Children are afraid to go through a churchyard at night, and the grown-ups tell them not to be silly: but the children know better than the grown-ups. People in Central Africa doing beastly things with masks on in the middle of the night - and missionaries and civil servants say it's all superstition. Well, the blacks know more about the universe than the white people. Dirty priests in back streets in Dublin frightening half-witted children to death with stories about it. You'd say they are unenlightened. They're not: except that they think there is a way of escape. There isn't. That is the real universe, always has been, always will be. That's what it all means.”

“I'm not quite clear--” began Ransom, when Weston interrupted him.

“That's why it's so important to live as long as you can. All the good things are now - a thin little rind of what we call life, put on for show, and then-the real universe forever and ever. To thicken the rind by one centimetre - to live one week, one day, one half hour longer - that's the only thing that matters. Of course you don't know it: but every man who is waiting to be hanged knows it. You say ‘What difference does a short reprieve make?’ What difference!!”

“But nobody need go there,” said Ransom.

“I know that's what you believe,” said Weston. “But you're wrong. It's only a small parcel of civilised people who think that. Humanity as a whole knows better. It knows - Homer knew - that all the dead have sunk down into the inner darkness: under the rind. All witless, all twittering, gibbering, decaying. Bogeymen. Every savage knows that all ghosts hate the living who are still enjoying the rind: just as old women hate girls who still have their good looks. It's quite right to be afraid of the ghosts. You're going to be one all the same.”

“You don't believe in God,” said Ransom.
“Well, now, that's another point,” said Weston. “I've been to church as well as you when I was a boy. There's more sense in parts of the Bible than you religious people know. Doesn't it say He's the God of the living, not of the dead? That's just it. Perhaps your God does exist - but it makes no difference whether He does or not. No, of course you wouldn't see it; but one day you will. I don't think you've got the idea of the rind - the thin outer skin which we call life really clear. Picture the universe as an infinite globe with this very thin crust on the outside. But remember its thickness is a thickness of time. It's about seventy years thick in the best places. We are born on the surface of it and all our lives we are sinking through it. When we've got all the way through then we are what's called Dead: we've got into the dark part inside, the real globe. If your God exists, He's not in the globe - He's outside, like a moon. As we pass into the interior we pass out of His ken. He doesn't follow us in. You would express it by saying He's not in time - which you think comforting! In other words He stays put: out in the light and air, outside. But we are in time. We ‘move with the times’. That is, from His point of view, we move away, into what He regards as nonentity, where He never follows. That is all there is to us, all there ever was. He may be there in what you call ‘Life’, or He may not. What difference does it make? We're not going to be there for long!”
Reality is not self-existent.  All of reality depends, not only for its origin, but for its every-moment existence, on the will of God.  God creates all that is, and He keeps it in being.

He keeps it in being infallibly at the physical level.  Quanta do whatever quanta are supposed to do.  Gravity gravitates; radiation radiates.  Here God is master.  It may be, as some have suggested, that He works His mighty work of physical beingness through His countless hosts of angels.  Yet, if so, they do their work for Him and - of equal importance to me - for us.

So, also, for biological life, although here - and possibly also even with respect to what we call physical laws - laws of the Law Maker! - it may be that there are effects also of angels - and not all angels are well-intentioned.  Certainly the animal world that we see around us is at times horrifying.  Some have suggested that devils are at work here, as well.

Man is free.

There is a reality to my dream.  Ordered life - peace, tranquillity, benevolence - are not automatically guaranteed by God.  He intends us to be free.  He intends us to love - to love Him with our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and our neighbour as ourself.

We do not.  And so to some extent we live in a chaos of un-being that we ourselves have created.  Can we look for no help in finding a way out of the wilderness?

I awoke from my dream without the answer, though I was a Christian at the time, but very much a beginner.  Had I dreamt on, I might have found, in that wilderness itself, a place where a Tree had been planted.  That Tree was not like the lovely shade trees along my avenue.  It had a character not, at first sight, very different from the twisted and terrifying growths that surrounded it.  And it bore a Fruit - a Fruit which, consumed, brought death - or at least dying - to the eater.  But that dying had a strange effect not like other dying.  That dying was a dying to the old chaotic self of un-being - and a living to eternal Life.

08 August 2010

Happy the people the Lord has chosen to be His own

I was going to write something substantial today.  I am left now with writing something which is, indeed, substantial, but there won't be much writing to it.  It is not something that I feel able to say too much about.  It is, however, as substantial as anything can be.

God loves us.

I have a cycle that I follow in going through the Mysteries of the Rosary.  There used to be three sets of five, all reflecting on Our Lord's life, death, and Resurrection:
  • The Joyful Mysteries
  • The Sorrowful Mysteries
  • The Glorious Mysteries
Pope John Paul II, noting that there were none that meditated on Jesus's adult life, added:
  • The Luminous Mysteries
In order to spare you the geeky mathematics I use, I will just tell you that I have a formula I use to decide which mysteries I pray on a particular day, in such a way that I go through them all equally.

This morning I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries:
  1. The Agony in the Garden. Fruit of the Mystery: Sorrow for Sin, Uniformity with the will of God
  2. The Scourging at the Pillar. Fruit of the Mystery: Mortification, Purity
  3. The Crowning with Thorns. Fruit of the Mystery: Contempt of the world, Courage
  4. The Carrying of the Cross. Fruit of the Mystery: Patience
  5. The Crucifixion. Fruit of the Mystery: Salvation, Forgiveness
Look, I have nothing to say that, if you are a Christian, you have not read dozens of times - how amazing it is that God, seeing us lost, turned against Him, wallowing in our sins and miseries, 'sent' (strange word) His Son to die for our sins; raised Him for our justification; promises us eternal life if we will only believe Him, trust Him, love Him, live in His love for us and for the world.

God loves us.  It seems incredible to me, but there is no other way I can see it.  He loves us not for what we are, but ... well, He just loves us.  Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus a man, facing the Cross - could only have done what He did because He loved His Father, and His Father loves us - so He loves us.  There in that agony was the critical moment.  "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass for Me - yet not My will, but Thine."

I have pondered all day what to write and can do no better than this - because I cannot express it.  I went to Mass this morning, and at Mass, between the First and Second Readings - followed by the Gospel reading - is the Psalm.  The cantor chants the verses of the Psalm.  Between each section of, usually, four lines, we respond.  Our response today was:

     "Happy the people the Lord has chosen to be His own"

God loves us.  God grant us the gift of loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength - and our neighbour as ourself.

01 August 2010


I had occasion, early this morning, to look at a clip of the last few minutes of the movie "The Graduate":

The icons in this film clip include, especially strikingly, the locked church, the use of a Cross by Ben at the end both to fend off the crowd - and most movingly, the use of that same Cross to lock the crowd in.

I was born in 1942.  Although my own family's life never really matched the straight, up-tight stereotypes represented in the film - and though the film can easily be viewed simply as a classic romance of love fulfilled at last - there can be no doubt of its power as a symbol for the transition from the time of my youth - Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best - to the totally transformed world of "The Sixties"

All ages experience change.  John Henry Newman was born in 1801 - 14 years before the Battle of Waterloo - and died in 1890 in a world with the beginnings of commercial telephony, electric power, and automotive transport.  And he, also, experienced a great revolution, which I know only vaguely, that of German theological liberalism.  Still, to me, looking back, the change over his lifetime appears more gradual.

That of the Sixties was not gradual.  I have seen it said that the the revolution of the Sixties began on 22 November, 1963, with the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  It is easy to point to the pre-conditions of this change, easy to point to the persistence of the old.  Certainly a major pre-condition was the development of the female oral contraceptive.

Nevertheless, the world of 1968 - when I, in particular, first used marijuana and LSD - was so different from that of 1963 that I think it worthwhile calling it a revolution.

My own conversion to Christianity, at the end of 1969, can certainly be seen as a reaction to all of this.  Indeed, the 'Jesus Movement' is contemporaneous with that, and I am certainly part of it.  I suppose we are all parts of great movements of this sort.  It was certainly a revolution for me - and I thank God for that.  Certainly in 1963 I could never have the changes my life was to experience.

Nor those of the world.

24 July 2010


Or at least close to it.

I was going to write about something else this week-end - the subject of forgiveness, if you must know - but am not ready to yet, and I thought some of you might want to know what the outcome of my court case was.

I pled 'guilty.'

Sort of.  I went to see a local lawyer.  He allowed as how I was sure to get off from the charge of careless driving (had I said in these maunderings that I was charged with careless driving?  If I hadn't, I was), but that it was a fact that I had passed out whilst driving, that I was, in his terms, in 'mature years' (that means 'old' :-)), and that I didn't want to encourage prosecutors to advise the licensing authorities that it might be as well that a medical investigation be taken into my suitability as a driver.

I have no previous record of any driving trouble, not even a speeding ticket.  Mr Blackwood said that if I asked for what is called 'diversion,' I was certain to be granted it.  'Diversion' means that you do some action - sort of like doing your penance after Confession :-) - and then you are not listed as convicted.

So it was.  On the 16th of July, 9 in the morning, I appeared at court in Pukekohe, together with fifteen or twenty other ne'er-do-wells.  We were called up in alphabetic order.  Some of us were definitely goats.  The duty lawyer tells them that they are not eligible for diversion (presumably they are old customers), and must appear at 10AM when court is in session.

The rest of us are the sheep.  "Enter, ye who have not been here before, into the relative joy of diversion."

I never even got to see a JP (non-prisonable offences, such as mine, are seen only by Justices of the Peace; you have to hurt somebody to see a proper judge).  The Clerk of Courts gives me a little form to sign.  I have until the 24th of September to :
  1. Get a statement from my insurance company testifying that all financial claims have been taken care of.
  2. Do a "Defensive Driving" course.
I am still waiting for the statement from my insurance company which I requested a week ago - I may have to ring them again this week.  But the DD course comprises four two-hour evening sessions in a classroom, and one hour on the road.

I have had two sessions so far.  The time spent is a nuisance, of course, and much of the instruction is not terribly relevant to me - I am not highly tempted to take girls out driving and show off by doing burn-outs in my 'van - the course being aimed especially at young persons.  But it has been not unpleasant, has been a little instructive, and not terribly expensive ($170 - I don't know yet how much the lawyer will cost - less, I hope, than $500, from what I have heard).  There are 9 of us in the course.  Only one many is of 'mature years' - mid-50's I would guess.  He and two of the young boys there are there for diversion, like me.  The other five are also young - still in high school.  One of them says he just wants to improve his driving.

The other four are there because of a change in the New Zealand licensing laws that happened ten or fifteen years ago.  It used to be that you got your learner's licence.  You then had to wait a certain length of time - six months?? - and took a road test.  You now had a full licence.

Now you take the written test and get a learner's licence (and have to post a big yellow 'L' in your car's rear window).  After some months you take a road test.  If you pass, you now have a restricted licence.  You can't carry passengers - or maybe it's that you can't carry passengers unless you are accompanied by an older full-licensed driver.  There are other restrictions.

After another long time - a year if you are under 25 - you can take another road test.  But this one is different.  You have to drive properly - and, in addition, the tester tells you to explain what potential hazards you encountered, and how you might have dealt with them.  That's a bit scarier.

The DD course is there in part to teach the young persons how to do that.  And it does another thing.  It knocks six months off that obligatory waiting time.  And that is why four of the people in the class are there.

I quite enjoy the class.  It is a pleasure getting to know these people in this context.  I suppose they are not statistically average - after all, they (or their parents) are paying $170 for the course.  They are doing a fair bit of work (I have to - sigh! - make a safe-driving poster!  And there is quite a lot of other home work).  They seem serious about learning to drive well.  One of them, a young girl, wants to learn to drive racing cars for sport, for goodness' sake!

So it has been fun.  But I will be glad when it is all over :-)

17 July 2010


I chose St Francis de Sales as my confirmation saint.  He was the Bishop of Geneva, and had won many Calvinists back to the "Old Faith" - so I thought it appropriate that I, a once-Calvinist, should ask for his patronage.

Bishops are busy men - and St Francis de Sales was no exception.  However, he found time to write.  And one book that he wrote has been enormously popular, amongst Protestants and Catholics alike.  It is called, in the usual English translation of the title, "Introduction to the Devout Life".  Unlike some books of spiritual reading, it is aimed at persons in all walks of life, not just those called to a religious vocation (monks, nuns, friars, and sisters).

I read it in the first year or two that I was a Catholic, but did not find it terribly helpful - too flowery, too ... well, too 'religious' perhaps :-)

Recently I decided to try it again and have had a very different experience.  Perhaps I have changed in the ten or fifteen years since then.

In particular, after the first introductory paragraphs, he leads the reader in ten meditations:
  4. ON SIN
  7. ON HELL
It may not be true to say that you get out of such helps what you put into them - nevertheless, reading alone will not do much for you.  You must meditate.

Yesterday I read, and meditated upon, number 8 - "On Heaven."  I confess that the thought of Heaven has never meant very much to me.  The presentations in de Sales's book, like so many attempts to talk about Heaven (including the ones in the Bible), are lovely enough - but, frankly, just not much more than the best of earth:
Consider a fair and clear night, and reflect how delightful it is to behold the sky bespangled with all that multitude and variety of stars; then join this beautiful sight with that of a fine day, so that the brightness of the sun may not prevent the clear view of the stars nor of the moon; and then say boldly that all this beauty put together is nothing when compared with the excellence of the great heavenly paradise.
That's from the book, and very lovely it is, and it is, no doubt, true that nothing earthly can compare with the "excellence of the great heavenly paradise."  Nothing, indeed, can compare - so the comparison, alas!, fails.


That is the word that came to me.  Home.

I'm afraid it falls flat as I write it.  At the time - and still when I think about it - I am moved with deep emotion.

The word 'home' has never seemed to mean a great deal to me.  No doubt I loved the home my parents made for me - but I do not recall any very serious homesickness when I left it, first for University, and then to get married.  I know that Susan's experience and feelings about home are very different from mine - she has told me so often.

And yet - the feeling of homesickness - the German word Sehnsucht for which, interestingly, Yapese has a word (taawreeng), but there is no adequate English translation - that feeling is what I think I am feeling.  It is surely what C. S. Lewis meant, misleadingly, I feel, by 'joy' in his spiritual autobiography "Surprised by Joy"  It is the inconsolable grief (I think I have the phrase from Lewis) of the lost child, longing to be home.

That will be Heaven - lost no longer.

11 July 2010


My cat sleeps a lot (no, this is not my cat - but it's cute, don't you think?)

This post is a bit of a muddle - or even more of a muddle than usual, if that's appropriate.  Because I am muddled about sleep.

A few nights ago I lay down to go to sleep for the night - and had suddenly the thought that this was a very strange thing to do.  I lay down and was, indeed, ready for bed - but my thoughts went to the work I had been doing, and to the work I would do the next day.  And I lay - for a little while! :-) - pondering this: why do we sleep?

To retort that it's a 'biological need' only pushes the matter farther back.  Why is it a biological need?  Do all creatures sleep?  This article appears to indicate that most animals sleep.  It says "Rats kept from sleeping die within a couple of weeks,[1] but the exact function of sleep is still unknown."

There is an ambiguity about sleep.  The Scriptures never mention sleep as something that will happen in Heaven - but it is often likened to death.  Death is called 'sleep' more than once.  And a cemetery is just a dormitory - a κοιμητήριον - the Greek means a sleeping place.

Yet we are to 'watch' - the Greek is αγρυπνειτε - stay awake!  It is the Day of the Lord - never the night.  We are to work whilst it is day - the night cometh when no man can work.

The night prayer of the Church - Compline - ends with the recital of the Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon, which begins with "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace ..." - and the antiphon for the prayer is "Keep us safe, Lord, while we are awake, and guard us as we sleep, so that we can keep watch with Christ and rest in peace."

I said I was muddled. I do think that sleep is a little death. It is - and we need not fear it.  It is that which 'knits up the ravel'd sleave of care.'  It is the rest that God gives us to be strong for our duties.  When we die, we will be watched over by Him, if we die in friendship with Him.  But it is a reminder - a reminder that we are not sufficient in ourselves.  If we could do without sleep - be always on the go, always doing - we would, perhaps, be tempted to forget that we begin our being out of nothing, by His call; we live the first nine months of our lives in passive reception of the means of our lives; we must cease our activity 8 hours or so in 24; and at the end we will - God grant it! - rest in the Lord, knowing that it is by Him that we will be raised to the wakening that is followed by no dying, no sleeping - and not by ourselves.

07 July 2010

Come on in, the water's freezing!

I didn't post anything this last week-end - busy, as usual - and I don't usually just cross-post; it smacks of laziness (oh, ok, it is laziness).  But please read the post in this link.  And if you're not a Catholic - at least ask yourself why we Catholics feel this way: the worst thing in the world is being a Catholic - except not being a Catholic.

27 June 2010


The little boy in front of me in the pew - probably 8 years old as he has been presented to the congregation today with 20 or so others as being prepared for Confirmation and First Communion when the bishop comes down next month - is spinning a Rosary around in self-amusement, whilst Deacon Hans gives the homily.

For the most part the congregation are paying attention - at least, they are not engaged in clearly unrelated activities.  A woman is smiling at her child on the right side; there is a man in a wheelchair who suffers from some sort of palsy and is unable to suppress, at times, a kind of moaning that rises and falls, then stops.  Very small children occasionally cry out, even run about.  Most of us are fairly attentive most of the time - or so we seem.  I myself am paying only partial heed to the Deacon's words, and amuse myself by listening to my tinnitus - and then feel guilty and listen again - or ponder what I will write on my blog this week-end.

So much, I am afraid, of my life is like this congregation of quite serious Catholics - serious because they are, indeed, all here on a Sunday, when they could be asleep, or watching sport, or doing any of a hundred other things more amusing.  Many of them - those whose working schedules does not prevent it - are at weekday Mass as well.

Yet, being here, none of us, perhaps, is as fully attentive as we might be.  And - when one thinks of it - this is odd.  We believe - we believe in our deepest most absolute being, with utter conviction - that almighty God - the Uncreate, the Origin and Source of all being, the Sun in Whose light we see light - that He, with unspeakable majesty and humilty, is about to change bread and wine into His own Body and Blood, and offer Himself to us as food and drink - as the Medicine of Immortality.  Ought we not to be trembling in abject and adoring holy fear?

My own life - my inner being - is so much like this ordinary - but is anything in the world really ordinary?! - congregation at Sunday Mass.  An attempt is being made to focus on God Who, His Word says, has adopted me as one of His Sons, on Him Who is the source of all truth and light and joy.  An attempt, but not much of an attempt.  My life ought to be a life of prayer.  My every action ought to be an intercourse with the Divine Master.  Like this congregation, with children misbehaving, adults sometimes bored, perhaps hiding secret acts that amount to putrid sores on the Body of which they are part, my own life is a mixture, a medley of genuine seeking after the Holy One together with the trivial - and at times, of that which I would be ashamed to be brought to light.

This is prayer.  This is my life.  And it is only - God grant it! - by the presence of the Holy Spirit that the specks of gold amidst the dross and base metal exist and can be offered to Him.  May He purify me, even although through suffering, so that the dross may be burned away, the base metal poured off, and the gold that is His product be finally offered to the Master Craftsman Who may deign to place it in some not unworthy place in the great Work He is making!

19 June 2010

The white horse and the victory of baptismal grace

Today I went to the baptism of a tiny wee baby - a little crumpled up boy not long acquainted with the sun. On the surface of things, he briefly left the security of his mother's or father's arms to have some invading water hit his head - while in fact he was being embraced in the arms of a new Father and a new mother - the Father who is ultimately at the source of everything, not just this boy's being, but all created being.... and a mother who is espoused to God for ever as a Bride washed spotless in the blood of the Lamb.

Unbeknown to him, the whole dispensation of the cross was given to him - he was washed in the water that flowed from the right side of the temple, from the pierced side of the Crucified Christ... "and all those whom that water touched were saved...."

He was visited by the rider of the white horse in the first seal of the book of the Apocalypse. And that rider has conquered and will go on to conquer. The rider will conquer in the struggles of this wee boy as they unfold throughout his life.

He has been given the grace for the victory of love over the struggle with the tendency to pride (the second seal), to vanity (the third seal), to self-indulgence (the fourth seal). He has been given the grace for the victory of love over the tendency to self-righteousness (the fifth seal). He has been given the grace for the victory of love no matter what state the world is in by the time he reaches manhood (the sixth seal). He has been given all he needs to answer the call to contemplation (the seventh seal) because the very Trinity is now dwelling in his soul and prompting him in every impulse of prayer.

This boy's life is about to unfold - he is about to embark on the battlefield of the world - called to the victory of love and assailed from every direction by what would stop love from being itself. But he is not alone - not left only to natural defences. He has now all the supernatural means that he needs to belong to the Victor, to participate in and live the same victory. He is in Christ, a new creation, open to the full redemption of the cross - where mercy triumphs over every darkness. Mercy is his only hope. May mercy always be his joy and homeland.

The wrath of God

On Saturday Mass in Pukekohe, it is my turn to read the first reading.  Some days I rather feel I were not so privileged:
After the death of Jehoiada, the princes of Judah came and paid homage to King Joash, and the king then listened to them. They forsook the temple of the LORD, the God of their fathers, and began to serve the sacred poles and the idols; and because of this crime of theirs, wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem. Although prophets were sent to them to convert them to the LORD, the people would not listen to their warnings. Then the Spirit of God possessed Zechariah, son of Jehoiada the priest. He took his stand above the people and said to them: “God says, ‘Why are you transgressing the LORD’s commands, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have abandoned the LORD, he has abandoned you.’” But they conspired against him, and at the king’s order they stoned him to death in the court of the LORD’s temple. Thus King Joash was unmindful of the devotion shown him by Jehoiada, Zechariah’s father, and slew his son. And as Zechariah was dying, he said, “May the LORD see and avenge.”

At the turn of the year a force of Arameans came up against Joash. They invaded Judah and Jerusalem, did away with all the princes of the people, and sent all their spoil to the king of Damascus. Though the Aramean force came with few men, the Lord surrendered a very large force into their power, because Judah had abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers. So punishment was meted out to Joash. After the Arameans had departed from him, leaving him in grievous suffering, his servants conspired against him because of the murder of the son of Jehoiada the priest. He was buried in the City of David, but not in the tombs of the kings. (2nd Chronicles 24:17-25)
I mean, you feel a bit awful saying all that to the congregation :-)  I haven't personally killed any prophets' sons, or worshipped and sacred poles or idols (at least not literal ones).  Still ...

I intended to go to Confession today, and had already intended opening my soul to God about my rather pathetic prayer life.  I intend to spend at least half an hour a day in what Catholics call 'mental prayer' - what Protestants just refer to as personal prayer, prayer of the heart - in addition to certain Scripture reading, and reading of other spiritual literature.

Such are my intentions.

What is the anger of God?  It is not the anger of someone for whom you promised to do something, and then you didn't do it - "You said the car you sold me had no faults but I have discovered a huge ding in the side of it!!"  Nor is it the anger of someone to whom you have done something damaging - "You (*&*^% !! - you are going to pay for the damage to my lawn!!"

It is the anger of a lover.

I go to God so routinely when I want something, when only He can help me, when something is lacking that I am helpless before.  And He hears me.  He provides, even when I do not ask, my very being, my life's breath, my environment, my regular paycheque, my health.  And then there is the special needs and I ask - and never in vain.

He wants me.  Only He knows why.  I am not, it seems to me, lovable in my self.  I cannot understand why God loves me - but He does.  I know it.  He loves me and wants me to be there for Him - only for Him.

I express myself poorly, I know.  But I know this is the heart of it.  He is a jealous God.  He loves me so much that He will not settle for less than my whole heart.

His love for you is not less.