All posts filed under: Arts

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 …

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Someone Is Hidden in This Dark

Advent by Jessica Powers I live my Advent in the womb of Mary. And on one night when a great star swings free from its high mooring and walks down the sky to be the dot above the Christus i, I shall be born of her by blessed grace. I wait in Mary-darkness, faith’s walled place, with hope’s expectance of nativity. I knew for long she carried me and fed me, guarded and loved me, though I could not see. But only now, with inward jubilee, I come upon earth’s most amazing knowledge: someone is hidden in this dark with me. During the final week of Advent, the Church intensifies the preparations for Christ’s coming at Christmas by focusing the faithful’s gaze on the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jessica Powers’ poem Advent invites the reader to participate in that intensification by imagining herself in the womb of Mary, to “wait in Mary-darkness, faith’s walled place”—the protective, immaculate womb of her who is Mother of God, Mother of the Church, Mother of every Christian son and daughter. …

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 …

The Unremarkable Sunday in Advent

Second Sunday in Advent by John Keble And when these things begin to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. St. Luke xxi. 28. Not till the freezing blast is still, Till freely leaps the sparkling rill, And gales sweep soft from summer skies, As o’er a sleeping infant’s eyes A mother’s kiss; ere calls like these, No sunny gleam awakes the trees, Nor dare the tender flowerets show Their bosoms to th’ uncertain glow. Why then, in sad and wintry time, Her heavens all dark with doubt and crime, Why lifts the Church her drooping head, As though her evil hour were fled? Is she less wise than leaves of spring, Or birds that cower with folded wing? What sees she in this lowering sky To tempt her meditative eye? She has a charm, a word of fire, A pledge of love that cannot tire; By tempests, earthquakes, and by wars, By rushing waves and falling stars, By every sign her Lord foretold, She sees the world …

Dostoevsky on the Demonic Decimation of a Shareable World

One way of thinking of the modern demonic is that it is marked by an otherness viewed not as a threatening outside, but a shocking inside contributing to the doubling of a self that cannot find ballast and thereby becomes capable of intentional forms of evil far beyond the circumscription of the human flesh and psyche. Given this definition, my proposal is that the literary figure who is most penetrating and expansive on the topic is Fyodor Dostoevsky. There are other writers with plausible claims to this mantle, perhaps one of the French trio of André Gide, Georges Bataille, and Jean Genet, maybe even William Golding who unerringly exposes our collective illusions regarding sympathy and fraternity throughout his oeuvre and not simply in Lord of the Flies. Needless to say, under scrutiny the bona fides of Golding as the connoisseur of the modern demonic do not hold up. As a writer Golding is more focused on the return of the repressed than on the endlessly spiraling reflection that is the ground of acts of evil …

First Sunday in Advent: The Bridegroom Comes

Advent Sunday by Christina Rossetti BEHOLD, the Bridegroom cometh: go ye out With lighted lamps and garlands round about To meet Him in a rapture with a shout. It may be at the midnight, black as pitch, Earth shall cast up her poor, cast up her rich. It may be at the crowing of the cock Earth shall upheave her depth, uproot her rock. For lo, the Bridegroom fetcheth home the Bride: His Hands are Hands she knows, she knows His Side. Like pure Rebekah at the appointed place, Veiled, she unveils her face to meet His Face. Like great Queen Esther in her triumphing, She triumphs in the Presence of her King. His Eyes are as a Dove’s, and she’s Dove-eyed; He knows His lovely mirror, sister, Bride. He speaks with Dove-voice of exceeding love, And she with love-voice of an answering Dove. Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: go we out With lamps ablaze and garlands round about To meet Him in a rapture with a shout. Christina Rossetti’s “Advent Sunday” provides a framework for the …

Charles Péguy’s Difficult Hope

Charles Péguy died with a bullet through the head on September 5, 1914. The First World War was but a few months old. Péguy is impossible to really characterize. He has a way of defying summarization, and so too do his poems. There is much too much between the lines, in the meandering prose, in the life. He was French, born of peasants in Orléans in 1873, and he considered himself a child of the Republic that had lurched into existence somehow in the 19th century after a couple turns at empire and emperor. He was convinced that his generation was the last of the real republicans, whom he traced backward with an impracticable, zigzagging line from 1848 to 1830 to the first breath of the first revolution.[1] Péguy can be understood, insists on being understood, by knowing something of the Dreyfus Affair. He bound himself to the event tightly and inexorably, and refused to relinquish it.[2] One Alfred Dreyfus, a captain in the military, was convicted of treason and thrown in jail for life …

Dostoevsky’s Literary Burden of Representing Saints

Perhaps no one in the history of modern literature was as conscious as Dostoevsky regarding the literary burden taken on when it came to presenting or representing an unassailably good person. Such a depiction was weighed down with representational disadvantages: it took talent but was not impossible to depict a great sinner who undergoes conversion or is capable of such; it took a unique talent, someone of Dostoevsky’s psychological acuity, to lay bare the psyche of the person alienated from others, self, and God and free-falling into incoherence. But how to depict a truly good man, indeed, a man who is nothing short of a saint, someone who has died to self and made himself available to others, was a task for which Dostoevsky was unsure that his or indeed anyone’s literary gifts were a match. Hagiography is a genre of long-standing, but no modern writer confuses it with literature, which requires characters that are not only believable in the modern world, but show the capacity to negotiate and transcend it. But just such a …