All posts tagged: literature

Reassessing the Terrifying Modernist Religion of Rilke’s Elegies

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the Angelic Orders? And even if one were to suddenly take me to its heart, I would vanish into its stronger existence. For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, that we are still able to bear, and we revere it so, because it calmly disdains to destroy us. Every Angel is terror. And so I hold myself back and swallow the cry of a darkened sobbing. Ah, who then can we make use of? Not Angels: not men, and the resourceful creatures see clearly that we are not really at home in the interpreted world. —Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies I. The task of interpreting the Duino Elegies is not an easy one. These poems express the experiences and ideas of perhaps the most sensitive and subtle German poet of modern times. Rainer Maria Rilke’s intellectual and spiritual horizon was broad. His life was full of undercurrents, inner tensions and hidden depths. We do not need to read his Notebook of Malte Laurids Brigge …

Baudelaire, Maistre, and Original Sin

J oseph Conrad once said “It seems as if the discovery made by many men at various times that there is much evil in the world were the source of a proud and unholy joy.” He was musing about fiction, and his insight is worth bearing in mind when we consider that of Baudelaire and Maistre. The Freudian unconscious has a certain transcendental status. Moreover, in its insistence on the primal scene, the crime of patricide as the basis for civilization, pervasive guilt, and yet a forgotten founding crime—this psychoanalytic notion of the unconscious is arguably the return of Original Sin in the more user-friendly mental constructs of modernity. We all know that the industrial and social revolutions in Europe in the 19th century brought along a certain ebbing of religion, a certain erosion of the belief in a transcendental. Yet, there are ways in which the unconscious reinstates a transcendental, as we know. Freud’s unconscious is the royal road back to a transcendental register, even if the map is frequently upside down. That is, …

Brideshead Revisited During Lent

Sorting out our many possessive, grasping loves, and redirecting them towards God is the objective of Lent asceticism. Charles Ryder, in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, is transformed by becoming friends with Sebastian Flyte. His love for Sebastian opens him up to a joy in life he has never known. Although their love is tinged with a possessiveness that eventually kills it, Charles is permanently changed. Their relationship raises a theological question: what is the nature of eros? Is it ultimately selfish and unworthy of a Christian, or is it the very soil without which grace cannot take root? In Charles’s spiritual journey, an answer is proposed through suffering and renunciation. It is through, and not in spite of his eros for Sebastian, and later for Sebastian’s sister Julia, that Charles is led to agape, self-gift, and so ultimately from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. Et in Arcadia Ego Charles and Sebastian in Arcadia By the time Charles Ryder and Lord Sebastian Flyte meet, they are in their second term at Oxford. Each has already begun …

What Mary Oliver Knows About Death and Beauty

Like many of her devoted readers, I spent the months after Mary Oliver’s death re-reading her poems. Her books boast the most worn spines on my bookshelf, but I have to admit that they have seen some neglect since I started an MFA program in poetry two years ago. Mary Oliver is not the kind of poet you are supposed to talk about in class, especially when you are asked to talk about poets that inspire and challenge you (I learned this the hard way on about the third day of class). I get it: her poems do not have an overt political edge, they do not do anything shocking in terms of form, and they do not seem to be scared of being sentimental. One of my favorite poetry professors, a sharp editor, once critiqued a poem I wrote for a workshop: too much wonder in too small of a space. He would hate reading Mary Oliver. I stopped mentioning Mary Oliver on the first day of workshops, when we would customarily introduce ourselves …

The Wayward Daughters

“All my days I have longed equally to travel the right road and to take my own errant path,” confesses Kristin Lavransdatter, a wealthy Norwegian noblewoman and titular character of Nobel Prize-winner Sigrid Undset’s three-part novel.[1] Set in the fourteenth century, the saga follows the life of Kristin, one of the most complex female characters of 20th century literature, from womb to tomb. She wrestles with the weight of sin, her refusal to reconcile her will with God’s, and the suffering that accompanies her wayward decisions. In Brideshead Revisited, British novelist Evelyn Waugh brings another multi-layered female character to life: Lady Julia Flyte, a wealthy heiress living decadently in 20th century England. Each woman is raised in a devout Catholic home and yet is caught between her own passions and her love for God. Separated not only by geography and several centuries, Kristin and Julia’s lives are very different. Kristin is a mother of many and she lives to become a grandmother. Julia is childless. But Kristin Lavransdatter and Brideshead Revisited share the same themes …

Church Life Journal’s Best of 2018

Dear Readers, Thank you for blessing Church Life Journal with your support this past year. We reached more readers with our theological explorations than we could have ever imagined. We couldn’t have done it without all your generous shares, retweets, and personal recommendations. Please keep them coming. My special thanks also goes out to Tim O’Malley for his sage meta-advice on running the journal’s many operations, and Jay Martin for introducing me to an endless stream of contributors. Ultimately, my thanks goes out to all our contributors who continually surprise me with the quality, intelligence, and beauty of their writing. I submit to you our most-read essays of 2018 below as a token of my appreciation and as a promise of what you can expect in 2019 (besides a website redesign). Please click on the essay titles to access what look like the most intriguing reads. A Happy New Year to you and Merry conclusion to your Christmas season. May your Christmas trees make it to February 2nd! In Christ, Artur Rosman, CLJ Managing Editor The …

A Commonplace Christmas

The Nativity by G.K. Chesterton For unto us a child is born. —Isaiah The thatch of the roof was as golden, Though dusty the straw was and old, The wind was a peal as of trumpets, Though barren and blowing and cold: The mother’s hair was a glory, Though loosened and torn, For under the eaves in the gloaming— A child was born. O, if a man sought a sign in the inmost That God shaketh broadest his best, That things fairest are oldest and simplest, In the first days created and blest: Far flush all the tufts of the clover, Thick mellows the corn, A cloud shapes, a daisy is opened — A child is born. With raw mists of the earth-rise about them, Risen red from the ribs of the earth, Wild and huddled, the man and the woman, Bent dumb o’er the earliest birth; Ere the first roof was hammered above them. The first skin was worn, Before code, before creed, before conscience— A child was born. What know we of aeons …

Fear the Innocence of Children

You know, sometimes I imagine what any decent agnostic of average intelligence might say, if by some impossible chance one of those intolerable praters were to let him stand awhile in the pulpit, in his stead, on the day consecrated to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, for instance: “Ladies and gentlemen,” he would begin, “I don’t share all your beliefs, but I probably know more about the history of the church than you do, because I happen to have read it, and not many parishioners can say that. (If I’m wrong, let those who have signify in the usual manner.) “Well now, I know you’re not inclined to worry much about what people of my sort think. And the most pious among you are even very anxious to avoid all discussion with infidels, in case they were to ‘lose their faith,’ as they put it. All I can say is their ‘faith’ must be hanging by a thread. It makes you wonder what the faith of the lukewarm can be! We often call such poor creatures …

Advent Faith Is Not a Big Electric Blanket

In his 1958 essay “The Meaning of Advent” collected in Dogma and Preaching, the then-Father Joseph Ratzinger writes of St. John the Baptist as “the great figure that dominates Advent,” who—along with the Blessed Mother—are “the two great types of Advent existence.”[1] Since Advent is a penitential season wherein all Christians are called to undergo a sober re-examination of one’s conformity (or lack thereof) to Christ and the state of one’s preparation for his second coming in his triumphant Parousia, we would all do well to place ourselves before the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets and heralds of the coming of the Messiah. “Challenging and active,” writes Ratzinger, “he stands before us, a type of masculine mission in life. He is the stern herald who summons the people to metanoia: to a change of heart or conversion.”[2] Since the Catholic faith is incarnational and sacramental, however, one need not limit oneself to the biblical witness itself, although one should always start there. There are other places that one may turn as well …

Third Sunday in Advent: A Call to Surrender

Third Sunday in Advent by John Keble What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? . . . But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. —St. Matthew xi. 7, 9. WHAT went ye out to see O’er the rude sandy lea, Where stately Jordan flows by many a palm, Or where Gennesaret’s wave Delights the flowers to lave, That o’er her western slope breathe airs of balm. All through the summer night, Those blossoms red and bright Spread their soft breasts, unheeding, to the breeze, Like hermits watching still Around the sacred hill, Where erst our Saviour watched upon His knees. A Paschal moon above Seems like a saint to rove, Left shining in the world with Christ alone; Below, the lake’s still face Sleeps sweetly in th’ embrace Of mountains terrac’d high with mossy stone. Here may we sit, and dream Over the heavenly theme, Till to our soul the former days return; Till …