Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Something else Gerard Manley Hopkins said

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) was born in England, educated at Oxford and ordained a Catholic priest in Ireland. Perhaps believing his new style of poetry to be incompatible with the austerities of Jesuit life, Hopkins' poems were not published until after his death. His most well known poem is The Wreck of the Deutschland.  

The German ship S.S.Deutschland came apart between midnight and morning, December 7, 1875, after battling a near month long storm. Rescue efforts were slow and inadequate. Word spread of the ships demise whereupon men from neighboring villages converged on the beach to loot the corpses that washed up on the shore.

Among the dead were five Franciscan nuns who were headed to America, escaping the Falk Laws persecution of Catholics in Germany. Hopkins, so disappointed and revolted by this looting, dedicated the poem to the memory of the nuns. Near the end of the poem he writes:

Dame at our door
Drowned, and among our shoals
Remember us in the roads, the heaven-haven of the Reward
Our King back, Oh upon English souls!
Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us,
be a crimson-cresseted east,
More brightening her, rare-dear Britain, as his reign rolls...

Dame at our door. "Dame" is a way of addressing an English nun. At our door: The German nuns washed ashore - at England's door.

Remember us in the roads, the heaven-haven of the Reward: Hopkins is asking the prayers of the nuns who drowned and were looted - perhaps the silver crucifix ripped from their side beads.

Our King back, Oh upon English souls: Hopkins prays for his nation to know Christ again. St.Thomas More (16th c.) said of his own country: "England would have yawned at the Sermon on the Mount." And our own nation?

Notice then that Hopkins uses easter as a verb and not a noun. Let him easter in us. As if to say: Let Christ raise us up to be a new creation - a new, transformed kind of human person. 

Then: Be a dayspring to the dimness of us. Dayspring is the precise point on the horizon where the light of the sun appears to begin the new day. Let Christ return to this country to begin in us a new way of being a people.

The words easter, dayspring, crimson-cresseted and brightening signify change: to brighten our human dimness. The dim heart of the nation. The dim heart of the Church. The dim heart of corporations and committees, commissions and classrooms. The dim conscience: lying, enabling, violent, manipulating, turning-the-blind-eye, blaming and rationalizing.

And I would add, Let Christ easter in us: this United States which allows through machination and interpretation the trafficking of organs, tissues and cells harvested from aborted babies.  And then, further twisting it up, makes it sound charitable, philanthropic and altruistic, claiming these stolen body parts help science and medicine to cure childhood and other diseases. Looting!

Americans were "shocked and appalled" (self-righteous people love those words) when it was reported that the Chinese were harvesting the organs of executed prisoners. We're no different. This country forfeits all claims to the word exceptional so long as fetal looting-remains on the national conscience - the smear of blood-money on the national hands.

Holy Gerard Manley Hopkins,  
grieved at the looting, 
pray for Christ-God to easter in us!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Consciousness of Jesus ~ and My Own

This painting is titled: Finding the Saviour in the Temple by William Hunt. The Gospel account is Luke 2:41-52. After a trip to Jerusalem, Jesus became separated from Mary and Joseph. A frantic three-day family search followed, all the way back to the city, before Jesus was found sitting with the religious teachers in the great Temple. 

In Hunt's painting Mary is hugging and kissing the young Jesus who seems hesitant. He turns his cheek to his mother, his left leg is poised to resist being pulled in by her. And after she (perhaps testily) asks Jesus what he's been up to, he responds, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" He knows where he comes from, what he's about, what needs to be done, where his deepest connection is. That's conscious.

We tend to think of conscious and consciousness as hospital terms - "The patient is slipping in and out of consciousness," we say. Maybe the words aware and awareness are more helpful to us. 

One monk speaks of our culture as sleepwalking ~ absorbed with only what's right in front of us: to do, to blindly accept, accomplish, get to, purchase, consume. Sleepwalking is dangerous. Sleepwalkers bump into things. Sleepwalkers have no awareness. Sleepwalkers have no recollection. 

Here's some vignettes and ideas that might help us to consider our own consciousness. They might cause us to consider, to reflect, to ponder about ourselves and the place from which we're living.

  • There are monks who when walking in the woods are careful to place their feet so they don't step on ferns. That's conscious.
  • Saint Francis picked up worms from the road placing them safely off to the side in the grass. How aware!
  • Have a cup of tea and do nothing else ~ just enjoy the tea. How mindful!
  • Write an old-fashioned letter ~ paper, pen, envelope, stamp. Or a journal entry for a month. Or a poem. Or your own lyrics to a song or hymn tune. Writing slows us down and helps us to be more thoughtful. No one else has to see it, unless you choose to share it.
  • Sit and ask yourself: Why am I so fearful? So anxious? So angry? So inwardly bored? So overwhelmed? So needy? And don't accept "I don't know" as an answer.
  • Arrange flowers - even roadside flowers in a vase. Place them carefully. Changing the water each day is a little expression of gratitude for the gift each flower makes. This will dispel gloom.
  • There are 150 psalms (poem-prayers) in the Old Testament. They express every kind of human emotion before God. Carefully read one a day or even part of one. Don't try to figure them out. Find the one line that resonates with you. Hold that line inside.
  • When seeing something good or lovely, don't pass by, but at least inwardly stop and feel gratitude. That's conscious.
  • Stop for a moment before eating and consider the gift of food and drink. This delays the instant gratification we're so accustomed to in our culture.
  • Some Americans had completed a week long retreat in a Japanese mountain monastery. Before their departure a monk gave them some buckets and rags to clean the bathrooms in the guesthouse. When the Americans complained that there were no chemical cleansers, the monk replied, "Oh we would never put chemicals in a drain. Chemicals don't break down and using them might pollute the water supply of the villagers at the bottom of the mountain."
  • Listen to classical music: Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Mozart. No house-cleaning, no reading, no meal preparation - just listening. What kind of inner response do you have?
  • Memorize a prayer or poem or the words to a hymn. There's not much memorizing anymore except maybe the names of the 31 flavors and the rapper's lyrics. I believe there is a real value to having memorized my prayers and catechism answers as a boy - it set me in an inner direction. 
  • Large art books are discounted in book stores. Buy one or two and just ponder the pictures. What goes on inside when looking at great paintings, maybe especially the ones about which I say, I don't understand it.
  • Learn to identify the names of trees by their leaves and bark. In the winter time set up a feeder and observe birds and learn their names. Observe your inner sense of things while your eyes do their own observing. That's an attitude of docility: there is much to learn.
  • Take care of  some houseplants, being sensitive and responsive to their water, nutrient, light and pruning needs. Don't accept the old excuse, "Oh every plant I touch just dies."  When we buy a plant there is a little tag stuck in the soil with care instructions. 
  • Take pictures of things that are delightful and arresting (that make you stop). Think beyond the children and grand children. There's something of a photographer in each of us. Take the pictures for yourself - not everything has to be shared.
  • In a diner booth across from me: the dad immediately set up and got lost in his computer, the laptop screen even creating a wall between himself and his young son who sat silently shredding paper napkins. Unconscious sleepwalker. Play a board game with a child, read with a child, throw a ball around with a child. The child will benefit, but so will you.
  • Get yourself to the doctor for the thing you've been concerned about (and perhaps haven't even shared with a loved-one) and about which you've done nothing. That's consciousness. 
  • During a monastery retreat I was talking with Brother Luke, the guest master and asked, "How much should I leave the monastery for the time I've been here?" He answered, "We ask for nothing." So I said, "Well, that doesn't help me - what would you like?" He said, "Only your comfort."  This is mindfulness.
  • When Brother Roger, the prior of the Taize Monastery, was at table and the bowl of food was passed to him, rather than putting anything on his own plate, he turned to the brother on his right and served him first. How awake!.
If my response to this is - "Oh I don't have time for any of this...I'm too busy," I would have to agree, too busy. But we can change that.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Intercessions ~ Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

St. John Vianney ~ Cure of Ars

Every country has its own sins;/ we ask God to forgive ours:/ where there is racism,/ violence,/ consumerist greed and aggression,/ our own forms of idolatry/ and belief that problems are to be resolved by death./We pray boldly for our conversion./ We pray to the Lord.

As August begins/ we pray for those who celebrate birthdays,/ anniversaries and other days of remembrance,/ asking for them/ good health,/ safety,/ peace and well-being./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday is the Feast of Saint John Vianney/ the patron saint of parish priests./ We pray for priests to guide us out of exhausted and false religion/ to the fresh beauty of the Gospels./ We pray to the Lord.

August 6th is the Feast of the Lord's Transfiguration and the 60th anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki./ We ask God to show the world the way to be freed of these weapons/ capable of destroying the paradise-planet God has given us./ We pray to the Lord.

Life on this planet is difficult and burdensome for many children./ We pray:/ asking for them the health,/ nutrition,/ education,/ inclusive love and peace they need to grow well./ We pray to the Lord.

For those who work in hospitals and clinics,/ for researchers, rescuers and technicians./ For the sick,/ the weak and the dying/ and for those who care for them./ We pray to the Lord.

And we pray for all who have died this week,/ entrusting them to the kind love of Jesus/ who forgives,/ heals,/ restores and brings to life./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Yellow Loosestrife

Yellow Loosestrife along the retreat house road

This is Fringed Loosestrife. It is sometimes called Yellow Loosestrife or Willow~Herb because it has willow-like leaves. Loosestrife grows in damp wooded areas and thickets throughout much of the country, blooming from June to August. Loosestrife's delicate flowers face downward. I wonder if that's a design feature to shed rain?

Loosestrife's botanical name is Lysimachia ciliata which may have meant loosen (to end, to drop, to let go of) strife.  So the meaning of the plant's name is Loosen the Strife: set us free from all the fighting and argument, the hatred and enmity, the contention and resentment.

Maybe we should make Yellow Loosestrife the National Flower and put it on each state flag. Big bouquets of it in every church, synagogue and mosque. A sprig on every politician's podium - on every cleric's pulpit. Fields of  it along the highway median. Gardens of Loosestrife around all the government buildings! Vases of it in every home, office and news-entertainment studio.