The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Paraguayan Cedars

Del aire al aire, como una red vacía,

iba yo entre las calles y la atmósfera, llegando y despidiendo,

en el advenimiento del otoño la moneda extendida

de las hojas, y entre la primavera y las espigas,

lo que el más grande amor, como dentro de un guante

que cae, nos entrega como una larga luna.....

-Pablo Neruda, Las Alturas de Machu Picchu

Now a revelation was given to me, my brethren, while I slept, by a young man of comely appearance, who said to me, "Who do you think that old woman is from whom you received the book?" And I said, "The Sibyl." "You are in a mistake," says he; " it is not the Sibyl." " Who is it then?" say I. And he said, "It is the Church." And I said to him, "Why then is she an old woman? " Because," said he, "she was created first of all. On this account is she old. And for her sake was the world made."

-The Sheperd of Hermas

The dimmest light protruding through the darkness, the folly of ages, the life of the dead. What wonders can be born here, what souls torn asunder on the lost cadences of heartless phrases, divine and putrid, coming up from hollow echoes, floors, windows, the very entrails of betrayal, distraction, a life decayed like a saint's hand.... discolored, covered in wax.....

Twelve pillars, twelve tribes, twelve apostles.... It took six hours to anoint them, to spread ash on the floor, to light the altar on fire.... plumes, plumes of smoke. Perhaps they reached God. It is hard to know what can reach heaven and what actually does. Prayer performed in distraction: mumbled pride. That is folly. I spent many an hour burying my faith through routine.

From air to air, continent to continent, church to church. The desert, yellow and gray like the unwatched morning. I used to stand in vigil over lamps that burned meekly in spoilt clouds of incense. I used to watch and move my fingers over those notches. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God.... I used to move my fingers and watch, watch the eyes of the Pantocrator, seated and listening. Here we were, the New Jerusalem, Zion, covered in blood, vicious, uncaring, plotting sacrilege in our hearts.....

The doors of the church came two days before the church's consecration. They were sturdy and heavy, capable of withstanding the ugly weather of the pampa. It took dozens of men to move them, having come by truck straight from Paraguay. Paraguayan cedars, towering over the jungles of South America. Now here, to be anointed, to seal the Body of Christ.... Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.

Our minds should wander through secret tunnels, cathedrals, catacombs. There the eternal Word was first heard by so many, echoing, secret, booming, sung and lamented... sins and redemption, the swelling of pain and the hope of redemption. There life ended and began anew. There man remembered, as Origen said. He remembered who he was, his dignity and his heart. There he learned to love again, not with a love that perishes, but with the love that made the world and carved a new world out of sin and shame. We remembered even as children. We remembered our true being, and to come home.

Towering, they sway above the canopy. There we are all Zaccheus, we are all hoping the Master calls us down. And He always does. I used to like to kneel in the choir loft of the seminary church and look down at the high altar. "I will sup with you tonight...."

Creaking of wood, the old forest of salvation in the late afternoon breeze. The Church, triumphant, grandiose, cosmic, here in this small vessel of concrete and wood. It spills into our hearts in the guise of wooden saints, old women with head coverings and rosaries, children kneeling at the side of their mothers, men walking home from work. Beads. Clouds of incense and vestments that glimmer in the light of morning. Again, reminding us, bidding us, welcoming us home. Towering over the heads of angels, serene light, hallowed stone, she emerges, Mater Gloriosa, Mater Immaculata, Mater Assumpta in coelo....

She heaves, cries, sobs, sings, dances, fills up the universe with the sweet odor of grace. And she is us, and we are her. In the mumblings of priests, she is us and we are her. In the prayers of selfishness and desparation, she is us and we are her. In the first moment of being washed clean and the last moment of being led out of her prostrate in death, she is us and we are her. Emerging and shrinking back, in cowardice and courage, in sorrow and in joy.... turris fortitudinis a facie inimici...

Mighty like the cedars of Lebabon, taken from among the nations, flowing from the side of the Savior.....

Si ociosa no, asistió naturaleza

Incapaz a la tuya, oh gran Señora,

Concepción limpia, donde ciega ignora

Lo que muda admiró de tu pureza.

Díganlo, oh Virgen, la mayor belleza

Del día, cuya luz tu manto dora,

La que calzas nocturna brilladora,

Los que ciñen carbunclos tu cabeza.

Pura la Iglesia ya, pura te llama

La Escuela, y todo pío afecto sabio

Cultas en tu favor da plumas bellas

¿Qué mucho, pues, si aun hoy sellado el labio,

Si la naturaleza aun hoy te aclama

Virgen pura, si el sol, luna y estrellas?

-Luis de Góngora y Argote


At 9:26 AM, Blogger Arturo Vasquez said...

The translations to the poems that begin this post are coming a little late, but here they are. They are very raw and literal, but they give you a sense of what is being talked about.

The first is the opening stanza of the Heights of Machu Picchu, from Neruda's magnum opus, Canto General:

From air to air like an empty net
I went between streets and the atmosphere,
Coming and saying goodbye,
In the arrival of autumn, the extended coin
Of leaves, and between spring and heads of grain,
That which the greatest love, as if in a glow
That falls, gives us over like a long moon

The second poem is much more difficult to translate, as it comes from the most Baroque writer in the Castilian tongue, Góngora y Argote. But here is some sense of the poem:

If tireless, nature attended
Incapable of your own, O great Lady,
Pure conception, where blindly it ignores
What it without words admired of your purity.

Let them say it, o Virgin, the greater beauty
Of day, whose light your mantle illumines,
That which you place on your feet , nocturnal and brilliant,
Those which crown your head with crimson stones.

The Church now calls you pure,
The School, and all pious and wise affection
You inspire in your favor, giving beautiful plumes.

How much, then, if even today the lip is sealed with it,
If nature even now proclaims you
Pure Virgin, even the sun, moon and stars?

This post is the second of my series on things I like about Roman Catholicism. This is a brief and humble "De Ecclesia".

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