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

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

From an Old Notebook

A Lullaby

How long this all is, Lord! I will go wherever you will have me, I will do whatever you want me to do. How I suffer sometimes here! But like Mary, I look down upon you, sleeping on my chest, and the cold and darkness of this night vanishes in your slumbering little face. What more could I want? What more do I want? But I still want more! Look how I do everything that I am told, but look how I never pay any attention to you. I worry, I complain, I mock others… and there you lie, asleep, you say nothing, you don’t accuse me of being a hypocrite, of having a cruel heart that your sleeping head has to listen to all day long. Yet you listen to it beating and it gives you rest… you still sleep on my cold heart of stone. The faint thumping of forgetfulness, of an unsettled soul who looks for happiness in something that isn’t you. And yet you sleep through all my sins, my affronts to your little infant heart… and yet you sleep.

I look at the sky and see only darkness, the earth and only frigid dirt of a world destroyed by sin. I begin to worry and turn in circles in my head about what I am going to do, what I am going to say, and what everyone is going to think of me… looking straight ahead, all I see is chaos, the uncertain, my sins, my foul tongue, thieves, wild beasts, a rocky path, and then I look down at you, and you are luminous beyond all light, peaceful, eyes shut, and you turn your little bald head slightly to find a more comfortable spot on that half-dead rock…

and still you sleep.

-Seminario Nuestra Señora Corredentora, La Reja, Argentina
May 13th, 2002

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Osculetur me osculo oris sui : quia meliora sunt ubera tua vino...

My heart, bring me some sign plucked from the roses of hope's garden

You cannot bring a flower in bloom? Bring me an autumn leaf

Companion of my begging days, get up and go out quickly

Pawn anything- your life, your clothes- and bring abundant wine

O God, You have brought forth all this from what was non-existent

Bring me a kiss or two, brought from the corner of her mouth

- from The Seeing Eye: Selections from the Urdu and Persian Ghazals of Ghalib, translated by Ralph Russell

Monday, May 28, 2007

But the Greatest of These...

Two Dusty Albums


Arturo Vásquez

(for AG)

The rising of love
Is grandiose in the mind;

It peeks in with the first light
And keeps the time
With her hands,

Gently clapping, cramped
Rooms of trinkets-
Lives piled up with dust
And untouched.

The past rocks vigorously
In her chair-
Neglected scraps of paper
Between pages.

All of these faces, behold
The treasure of widows
And lonely nights-
The syncopated cooing of babies
And the smiles and vibrant talk
Of innocence sealed off
From tomorrow.

Somber monuments emerge
Of grown-up parting.

This is where I left myself
And I am left-

The echo of birdsong alone
Beyond that threshold
Leads me up
From Hades-

Orpheus is taking
Eurydice’s hand.

For when I was a child,
I spoke as a child,
I wept as a child,
I laughed the last rays
Of dusk as a child,

But when I became a man,
I put all of these small things
Into my heart.

And now I take your hand
And ascend into the
New morning
Of photographs dreamt
But not yet taken.

Wedding Song

And Other Hauntings of the Past

Points arrive in our lives when we realize that things are so transitory, that things that we thought would be established forever are at the point of fading away. And there are times when we realize that what is important is much different from what we first thought was important. The time comes when the past must begin to fade away, and only that which is before you, dim and undiscovered, waits for you as if in the next room.

If I am certain of anything, I am certain that I am quite an odd duck. With very few people do I feel completely comfortable, and I have always been at the margin of things, savoring and contemplating many aspects of life that are often times neglected. But I have come to take for granted certain things and people, my extended family especially. Only this weekend, with the marriage of my cousin and my grandfather's eightieth birthday, have I realized that all of the established order of my family will fade away and move on. The closeness, the traditions, and the life of the old country will soon be dead, and even though they have been the existential background of how I lived, I have realized too that I was always a stranger in them. It is that feeling of rootlessness that is causing me much pause, both in planning a beautiful future and in mourning, with the understanding of their inevitable downfall, the memories of an innocent past.

AG has said in this comment that we Internet religion divas may be making too much of an issue of religious matters that are really none of our business. As Roman Catholics at least, our obligations to the Church are very simple and blissfully few: obey the hierarchy in matters in which we have to obey (or at least not vocally voice our opposition and defer to them) and give the Church money to be able to sustain its various apostolic works. This does not even entail signing on to the current party line; the Gospel is not a party line, and more often than not has little to do with ecclesiastical policy.

Loving God and neighbor requires little guidance from L'Osservatore Romano or EWTN. Having been a cleric and a monk, I might have some meagre excuses for obsessing about certain internal matters of the Church (call it force of habit). But the more time I am out of the habit, the more time I have to deal with bills, career choices, and time management, the more I realize that too much of an obsession with ecclesiastical matters would amount to escapism. Really, what can I do about the Pope doing this or that, the Vatican releasing this or that document, etc.? I might as well get more into sports teams, for at least they have on and off seasons and you can know with much more certainty what the outcomes will be.

There is too much before me in my life right now that to dwell on the past would be the greatest sin I could ever commit. I used to make religion into an idol that would drive and guide my life. It was the only thing I would obsess over, and the only thing I thought mattered. But where was Christ in all of it? Where was love? I realize now that it was always in my family, and maybe I realized this weekend that it too is changing. So it is no longer my business to look backward or to be nostalgic. And this goes for the Church as well. The Church, as it is, is the Church that Christ wants for us. And it is none of my business to tweak it to my expectations. There are more potent manifestations of God in my life now, more normal roads to the Kingdom of Heaven, than what ecclesiastics do or do not do.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Hollister Hiatus

Going home for the weekend!

Hollister! Hooray!

My cousin is getting married tommorrow. The couple will be married in Mission San Juan Bautista, five miles outside of Hollister, shown above. Please keep them in your prayers.

I'm off the hook for blogging until at least Monday night.

God bless,


To Reiterate...

My main fear about modern forms of Christianity is that they treat men like angels and not men. Such terms as "purify", "rationalize", and "reform" thus send nervous shivers down my spine. I of course do not think that the average Christian should be in the dark, but he should also realize that there is not a whole lot of light in what we believe either. We are still very much in the shadows.
The Gospel is about realizing what is important in our relationship with God, not about purging all elements we might deem as suspicious. Christianity is a religion for human beings, not for angels. That means it will at times seem superstitious, hypocritical, and contradictory. So be it. It is a hospital for souls, not a spectacle of angelic grace.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

And Remember...

Always pray to the Virgin, especially when you're sad, and she will take your sorrows away. And remember to thank her when you are happy, too. Mothers like to be thanked.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Big Soul, Small Cosmos...

For Proclus Soul is a living intermediary between the physical and intellectual world. It is the position of the contiguous of physics, in contact rather than at one with the higher and lower hypostases, intellect and the material world respectively. Touching both center and extremity, Soul extends its power through everything.

-Emilie Kutash, "A Physics for the Psyche? Proclus’ Institutia Physica and the 'Life' of the Soul"

The greatest leap that man must take at this point in order to believe in the Gospel is not to be able to believe in the multiplication of loaves, the healing of the sick, or even the resurrection of the dead. Really, it does not even start with whether he believes in God or not. We are far from a situation where things can be that simple. No, the burning question at this point is: do you think that you are really important?

This needs some explaining, for if modern man is anything, he is self-centered. But he is self-centered like a pauper or a beggar is self-centered. There is no longer any dignity in it, no longer any sense of importance. Our modern minds dwell in a universe that is almost infinite, governed by stringent laws, and in the end, fundamentally meaningless. This is true at least for the post-Christian perspective. In the great scheme of things, in the context of billions of years, man is but a blink of an eye, a lost sojourner in a vast void that will perish one day like everything else. That is the faith that is anti-faith, that is what surrounds us and poisons the heart today. If someone is to come to believe, and to believe firmly, he has but one choice: to affirm that in the end, he matters.

That of course is the great insight of Christianity in general: the insight about the human person. We are all individual human persons, made in the image and likeness of God. Look up at the stars, look at the vastness of the ocean, the colorful poem that is the sky at sunset, and you are seeing the gift that your Father made for you. As St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote, it is the human heart that contains all of these things and brings them into itself, and offers them back to the Father as a clean oblation, a graceful synthesis, and a song of praise. To be a Christian is to believe in one’s own greatness; in spite of being small, we are so much larger than even the physical universe itself. We are the vessels of the eternal, the receptacles of love, and the storehouses of the beautiful. We are the summit around which all things dance.

As Gabriela Mistral wrote last century:

Creo en mi corazón, ramo de aromas
que mi Señor como una fronda agita,
perfumando de amor toda la vida
y haciéndola bendita.

Creo en mi corazón, el que no pide nada
porque es capaz del sumo ensueño
y abraza en el ensueño lo creado:
¡inmenso dueño!...

Creo en mi corazón, en que el gusano

no ha de morder, pues mellará a la muerte;
creo en mi corazón, el reclinado
en el pecho de Dios terrible y fuerte.

(I believe in my heart, branch of fragrances
That my Lord shakes like a frond,
Perfuming with love all of life
And making it blessed.

I believe in my heart, that which asks for nothing
Because it can achieve even the highest dream
And embraces in the dream all of the created:
O immense lord!...

I believe in my heart, that which the worm
Shall not bite, for it shall deprive death of honor;
I believe in my heart, that which reclines
On the chest of the fearsome and powerful God.)

The photo is that of the nebula named for Gabriela Mistral. “Virtus in astra tendit….”

On Real Love

I used to have a vision of love as somber, sober, untouchable, and distant. In a cell in the desert, one is never really touched in one's profound being. You are always yours, never anyone else's. You hover over yourself, you live in yourself, and you never really die to yourself. You are alone, infertile, living, but truly non-existent. You are locked in your own soul, waiting for something that will never come.

Now I know what love really is, how it bleeds you sweetly of who you are, how it throws you into joyful lamentation, lifts you up with hooks of hope and sweetness. It is not the solitude of the cloister, but the solitude of being for the other. It is real life, emergence, longing, and the death of a seed in the ground. It emerges, that blessed uncertainty of the Beloved's eyes, more certain than any doctrine, more awesome than the most glorious landscape. I am lost and I return home. She is the negation of my self, and at the same time she is all things...

Monday, May 21, 2007

Ritual and Return

...[I]f Iamblichus placed special emphasis on the importance of ritual over reason it was because of the culture in which he lived, a time when the rites of recovering our divinity, of re-entering the sphere, were being lost due to what he perceived as the intellectual hubris of the Greeks. For Iamblichus and other Neoplatonists, the sacred art of returning to the gods was a tradition going back to Hermes, Orpheus, Pythagoras and Plato, each of whom presented these anagogic practices in a different way... And what these traditions aimed at was, in Plato's language, homoiosis theo, becoming god-like, and what this required was a complete transformation of the soul: initiation, a death, and a rebirth of consciousness."

-Gregory Shaw, "The Sphere and the Altar of Sacrifice"

So is the sacred the result of thought, or rather at its origin? In many modern theological models, it is assumed in philosophy that the human mind is fundamentally independent from the sacred, and thus at its origins begins in the darkness of unbelief, and must ascend, through the dim light of reason, towards the truth. For these Neoplatonists, wisdom itself is divinely given, and it is not purely a rational exercise in the dialectic. At its heart is culture, religion, and ritual. Western philosophy may have gotten its start not in an all-too-human contemplation sealed off from forces superior to itself, but as itself a part of a series of rituals to return to the Divine. Perhaps that is why we face the postmodern impasse in philosophical thought now; not because of a flaw in first principles, but rather because we have separated ourselves from the Divine Play of the cosmos and ritual

Oh those Spaniards!

Some songs stuck in my head right now:

La Oreja de Van Gogh's En Mi Lado del Sofa

Nacha Pop's Lucha de Gigantes

"yo sin tu amor, soy un montón de cosas menos yo..."

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Declaration of Faith

Once in a while, one has to make a public declaration of Faith. It has been pointed out by some voices I respect that I have been sowing confusion around the Internet. Alas, this is a symptom of my all-too-human pride and cynicism. I apologize. So here is what I believe, what I hold as the absolute truth, and what I pray to God that I might have the strength to shed my blood for if called upon:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible: And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages; God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not made; consubstantial with the Father, by Whom all things were made: Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man. He was crucified also for us, suffered under Pontius Pilate, and was buried: And the third day He arose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven. He sitteth at the right hand of the Father: and He shall come again with glory, to judge the living and the dead: and His kingdom shall have no end: And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, Who, together with the Father and the Son, is adored and glorified: Who spoke by the prophets. And one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the remission of sins. And I expect the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.


O my God, I firmly believe that Thou art one God in three Divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; I believe that Thy Divine Son became man, and died for our sins, and that He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches, because Thou hast revealed them, who canst neither deceive nor be deceived. Amen.

So that means I believe in purgatory, indulgences, papal infallibility, all the Marian doctrines (especially the Marian doctrines), and any other unpopular, medieval, and "backwards" doctrine you can throw at me.

In reflecting as to why I believe all these things, I present you with these prayers, first in Latin, and in their English translations:

Sacrosanctae et individuae Trinitati, crucifixi Domini nostri Jesu Christi humanitati, beatissimae et gloriosissimae semperque Virginis Mariae fecundae intergitati, et omnium Sanctorum universitati sit sempiterna laus, honor, virtus, gloria et gratiarum actio ab omni creatura, nobisque remissio omnium peccatorum: per infinita saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Everlasting praise, honor, power, and glory be given by all creatures to the most holy and undivided Trinity, to the humanity of our crucified Lord Jesus Christ, to the most fruitful purity of the most blessed and glorious Mary ever Virgin, and to the company of all the saints; and may we obtain the remission of all our sins through all eternity. Amen

-traditional prayer after saying the Divine Office

Suscipe sancta Trinitas, hanc oblationem, quam tibi offerimus ob memoriam passionis, resurrectionis, et ascensionis Jesu Christi Domini nostri: et in honorem beatae Mariae semper Virginis, et beati Joannis Baptistae, et sanctorum Apostolorum Petri et Pauli, et istorum, et omnium Sanctorum: ut illis proficiat ad honorem, nobis autem ad salutem: et illi pro nobis intercedere dignentur in coelis, quorum memoriam agimus in terris. Per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum.

Accept, most Holy Trinity, this offering which we are making to You in remembrance of the passion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, Our Lord; and in honor of blessed Mary, ever Virgin, Blessed John the Baptist, the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and of (name of the Saints whose relics are in the Altar) and of all the Saints; that it may add to their honor and aid our salvation; and may they deign to intercede in heaven for us who honor their memory here on earth. Through the same Christ our Lord.

-offertory prayer of the Roman rite, 1962 and before

In both of these prayers, you can see what separates Roman Catholicism from the other Western confessions: our God, our Christ, and our Church are much LARGER and all-encompassing phenomena than what they are for Protestantism. God is not belittled or disrespected when we honor the Virgin Mary, the saints, or anyone else. This is so because God's whole point in making anything was to impart His love and glory onto all things. Even though God is perfectly happy without Creation, His aim is to reign in glory, but not to reign alone. Through the mysteries of the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of the Word of God, all things are called into His body, and it is for that reason, for the fact that we are all grafted into Christ, that the cosmos is sacred, and that we, either living or dead, are sacred because we form the Church. And that is why many of the things we do look superstitious, primitive, and unreformed. And that is why our world is so much more beautiful and enchanted than the dreary universes of Calvin, Cranmer, or Zwingli.

And for me at least, the Catholic Church, with all of its rabble, its quaint ceremonies, and the near occasions of bargaining with God, looks the most like the time of the ancient Patriarchs, the kingdom of Israel, or the unruly mobs that surrounded Jesus looking for a cure for their ills. As I have said before, I believe in the Roman Catholic Church because it is the most human religion conceivable. And I believe, in spite of my own heeing and hawing about it, that it is the Israel of God.

So there. If I don't express this on any non-Catholic blogs I may go on, it is because I am being diplomatic, and I believe that in the end, the mercy of the Lord endures forever. But I am obliged to live by and give witness to the truth. And the truth lies in the "una, sancta, catholica et apostolica Ecclesia Romana".

(The picture by the way is from the Shrine of the Holy Infant of Atocha in Mexico, where my mother brought me as a very young child.)


When the Last Vestiges of a Sentiment in You Dies

Ahh, the wonders of YouTube! I was watching the infamous episcopal consecrations that Archbishop Lefebvre did back in 1988, the ones that got him booted out of the Church (although through a legal mechanism). Of course, I still had a sense of admiration for what I was watching; one cannot help but marvel at the traditional rite of episcopal consecration. And it's not as if now I am horrified at the prospect that anyone could defy the Pope that way (to the contrary...) . However, I am now very weary of the movement that His Grace started as a sheer concept. That is, I have a real problem with capital "T" "Tradition".

Sometimes I think that what the SSPX teaches is not real Catholicism. Of course, I know that if SSPX adherents say their prayers and live virtuous lives, they will go to Heaven. That is not the issue. It is just that with my own experience in the SSPX, I am beginning to realize that in its rhetoric, the SSPX replaces the concrete, real life Church with a vague beast called "Tradition". This beast is basically the Catholicism formulated by a small sector of people since the French Revolution. It is not a religion of triumph, but rather a paranoid religion of decline; it is not tradition, but an absolutist ideology tied into certain political and philosophical reactions to modernity.

We can all appreciate what the Society of St. Pius X has done in the preservation of the traditional liturgy. Let's face it, if they did not preserve it in all corners of the world regardless of what the ordinaries of the dioceses thought, who would have? Maybe some old priests who said the old Mass in a closet, but who would have formed a new generation of priests to preserve that liturgy? Only the pressure of the "schismatics" kept the old liturgy alive to a large extent.

By its own admission, however, the SSPX believes that the liturgy is an outgrowth of a certain theological, Counter-Reformation worldview, and not a thing to be venerated in itself. That is why it is always accompanied with the agenda of distributism, Thomistic moderate realism, and apologetics for everything from the Confederacy here in the United States, to right-wing dictatorships in South America, to the Vichy regime of Marshall Petain in France. (Lefebvre in his last book, Spiritual Itinerary, praises Petain by name.) For them, St. Anselm's theory of vicarious satisfaction that accentuates the propitiatory aspect of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass also carries with it the ideal of the Catholic family as agrarian, patriarchal, and fundamentally reactionary. They would be right if they said that this was the agenda of some of the Popes up to Pius XII, but now they are a platform without a party and a body without a head.

As AG has been pointing out to me lately, how traditional was the traditional liturgy really? If people like me care so much about it, why did it die the death almost forty years ago now not with a bang but with a whimper? Has anything really changed? Or has the world continued as it has always been, only some externals have changed of what we do in church? Back then, no one knew Latin, and everyone pretty much did their own thing in the pews. Now, it is just a little more coordinated: people do their own thing, but with parts to speak. At least now, as AG says, black Catholics in the south don't have to stand in the back of the church so that white people don't have to sit next to them. That at least is progess.

Yes, the state of the liturgy nowadays does make me sad. I will admit that. I know the old liturgy so well that it does edify me very much. But I realize now that women in mantillas with their noses stuck deep in black missals are just as much a new phenomenon as Clown Masses and charismatic revivals. Neither can claim more antiquity than the year 1964. None of these things are "Tradition". If anything, Tradition is still there, and it will always be there, regardless of forms of worship, working in an imperceptible and hidden manner. It is the actions of the Holy Ghost in the world, and He does not work according to my theories of aesthetics, theology, or history.

So I too don't care about this Motu Proprio business. And even though I don't think calling oneself a "Lefebvrist" (or "traditionalist" or "traditional Catholic") is the most terrible thing in the world, it may not be the most good faith position in the Church. As long as we keep the Gospel alive in our hearts, and love our enemies and live by the teachings of the Church to the best of our abilities, that is Tradition, a propitiatory sacrifice, and the life of the Trinity among us.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Memed Again....

This time by Julio from Hispania Sancta.

I think Julio is a really cool guy, especially since he is also a fellow Latino (though you could argue that people of Cuban heritage and people of Mexican heritage are like apples and oranges). Anyway, he reads my blog, and I read his, and I am flattered that he feels I make him think, to the point that he has awarded my blog with the now roaming Thinking Blogger award. This in spite of the fact that my main purpose for blogging is to post cool looking pictures and confuse the heck out of people. (Like I confused AG with this old poem that now I think I might have just phoned in. I do have my moments. As one priest once said about me: "Arturo is a very humble man, with a lot of things to be humble about..." He was a pretty cool priest.)

So here are the rules, as is mandatory if you get tagged:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think;

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme;

3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).

So anyway, here are the top five for me, which I post in the order in which I found them:

1. The Undercroft: Not much has been going on there lately, but the archives are well worth checking out. This is one of the blogs that brought me back to Roman Catholicism.

2. The Lion and the Cardinal: Already tagged, but it needs to get tagged again for emphasis. This is the other blog that brought me back to Roman Catholicism.

3. The Scrivener: I don't read him as much as I should, but if he does anything, he makes me think.

4. Go Sit in the Corner: The most kindred spirit I have on the Internet: theology, history, science, dance, music, and pretty pictures..... It really is the only site I think I need.

5. Cruising Down the Coast of the High Barbaree : I just found this blog, and am very intrigued by it. I suppose I like to see how the "other side" lives; the man who does this blog is a Missouri Synod Lutheran, and he has a way of expressing things, even if I don't really agree with a lot of what he says. Anyway, consider it the Protestant affirmative action case on my otherwise thouroughly unreformed blog.

This being said, I think there is way too much "erudition" on the Internet. I try to avoid sites that get me bogged down in the minutiae of a particular aspect of theological doctrine. If you want that kind of stuff, that is what books, solitary contemplation, and a good chat over booze are for. I don't think any of the sites I mentioned ever do this: the com-boxes seem to be pretty tame affairs, and that is the way I like them.

Honorable mentions include:

Ecce Ergo, Quia Vocasti Me: Too bad I couldn't do six....

Fr. Anthony Chadwick, whose blog, In Medio Stat Virtus is now defunct.

The Reformed Catholicism site, which isn't really a blog, otherwise, I would have mentioned it.

So there you have it. Now you know where you can find even more of Pseudo-Iamblichus ranting.

(I won't post the award thingy, because it will just increase my hubris, and I don't need that.)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Unreformed Catholicism

Some Random Notes in Search of a Notion

From late medieval France:

A widow had only one child whom she tenderly loved. On hearing that this son had been taken [in war] by the enemy, chained and put in prison, she burst into tears, and addressing herself to the Virgin, to whom she was especially devoted, she asked with obstinacy for the release of her son; but when she saw at last that her prayers remained unanswered, she went to the church where there was a sculptured image of Mary, and there, before the image, she said: “Holy Virgin, I have begged you to deliver my son, and you have not been willing to help an unhappy mother! I’ve implored your patronage for my son, and you have refused it! Very good! Just as my son has been taken away from me, so I am going to take away yours, and keep him as a hostage!” Saying this, she approached, took the statue of the child on the Virgin’s breast, carried it home, wrapped it in a spotless linen, and locked it up in a box, happy to have such a hostage for her son’s return. Now, the following night, the Virgin appeared to the young man, opened the prison doors, and said: “Tell your mother, my child, to return me my son now that I have returned hers!” The young man came back home to his mother and told her of his miraculous deliverance; and she, overjoyed, hastened to go with the little Jesus to the Virgin saying to her: “I thank you, heavenly lady, for restoring me my child, and in return I restore yours.”

-cited by Paul J. Vanderwood in Juan Soldado: Rapist, Murderer, Martyr, Saint

The same thing happened in my family as I wrote here.

What relationship does the Gospel have with culture and human frailty? Is it to restore the pristine purity of the Gospel so over laden with human traditions, exaggerations, and superstitions? Or is the notion of reform merely hubris?

What does it mean to worship God “in spirit and in truth”? Does the Gospel mean that we have to strip human nature as much as possible of its humanity, its longing for beauty and comfort? Or does the Gospel sanctify the tendencies of the Gentiles to have an all-too-human religion?

A voice said to him, "Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat." But Peter said, "Certainly not, sir. For never have I eaten anything profane and unclean." The voice spoke to him again, a second time, "What God has made clean, you are not to call profane."

Perhaps one of the most absurd statements one can make is: “It all started to go wrong when…” Fill in the blank: the end of the Patristic Church, the insertion of the Filioque into the Creed, scholasticism, the Council of Trent, etc. Any answer other than, “when Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise” might just be a bit hard to prove.

We believe that a crucified Jewish carpenter rose from the dead. Some Lourdes water won’t kill you.

-AG , in this comment

Disbelieve nothing amazing concerning the gods or divine dogmas. (The third Pythagorean symbol)

Commentary by Iamblichus: ...[T]his dogma sufficently venerates and unfolds the transcendency of the Gods, affording us a viaticum, and recalls to our memory that we ought not to estimate divine power by our judgment. But it is likely that some things should appear difficult and impossible to us, in consequence of our corporeal subsistence, and from our association with generation and corruption; from our having a momentary existence; from being subject to a variety of diseases; from the smallness of our habitation.... This symbol in a particular manner introduces the knowledge of the Gods, as beings who are able to affect all things.... so that the precept, disbelieve nothing, is equivalent to participate in and acquire those things through which you will not disbelieve; that is to say, acquire disciplines and scientific demonstrations.

-from The Exhortation to Philosophy

The more it looks like Voodoo, the more Catholic it really is.

-Pseudo-Iamblichus, after he downed a few shots of tequila

So how are we to take the actions of the woman who kidnapped the Christ-child? Should we shrug it off as superstition, or view it as divine condescension to human frailty?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Russian Church Stuff

The Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia have formally re-united. Since my experience with Eastern Orthodoxy has been primarily through the Russians, it is significant for me. Father Anastassy of the Russian Church Abroad was sceptical before his death that this day would ever come, and I don't think he was enthusiastic about the prospect. But there it is, the Cold War is over, and the churches are reconciled.

Incidentally, George Balanchine, whose biography I am reading, was a devout Russian Orthodox believer. Like many Christians, however, he was no saint. By his own admission, he liked women and had an eye for beautiful ones, and his numerous marriages and relationships attest to this. Like my note on Lope de Vega in a previous post, however, one should not consider too much the man's style of life in order to judge his sincere religiosity. (Indeed, it would be very beneficial in our day and age not just to read the lives of saints, but also of members of the Christian "B Team": people who were not perfect but still sincere believers.)

He liked to tell of his experience as a boy seeing his uncle ordained to the priesthood. In the Byzantine service, the deacon is actually covered like a corpse while he lies face down and prostrate on the floor, and then is uncovered and emerges transformed into a priest. (Not that simple, I know, but let's leave it like that just for the sake of brevity.) This was one of his first exposures to the theatrical, but to a transcendent theatrical that would inspire him for the rest of his life.

He would make a sumptuous feast for his friends at Pascha (Orthodox Easter). He was a very good cook, so good that he could cheer up his friend Igor Stravinsky just with the promise of making him a good meal. In fact, a week before Stravinsky died, Balanchine went to visit his friend on his death bed. Stravinsky was barely able to speak at that point, but Balanchine promised to make him some Russian delicacy, and Stravinsky's tortured response, trying to muster enough strength to speak, was, "WHEN?!"

For both Stravinsky and Balanchine, however, both Orthodox Christians, there was a profound sense even in their most innovative work that they were not creating, but rather assembling. Only God creates. The artist has more in common with a craftsman than he does with God. The material is already there. All man does is to put it all together, with God's help.

The Russian Church, and thus the Russian soul, has given me a keen sense of the beautiful. There was a time in my life I spent more time in Russian Orthodox churches than I did in any other kind of church. The beauty, objectivity, and seriousness of what goes on at an All-Night Vigil or Divine Liturgy can transform you if you let it do so. Most of the time the services were all in Old Slavonic, but I really did absorb much of it like a sponge.

I will always be a foreigner there, but it was beautiful while it lasted. That is why I say sometimes that the Orthodox liturgy is almost too beautiful: it's beautiful, but it's not home. In some ways, it will always be theatre to me. But I do like theatre.
(AG has posted something about Balanchine and religion here. It is well worth reading.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Music for Buses

You are not
The lonely destination

Only the cry of gulls overhead
Signals the last
Indwelling of fog

You are not
The humming of motors
The intense lamentation of
Wheels on pavement

The lone nurse standing
By the late night bus stop

You are the first
Dispersal of clouds
At dawn

The mighty cries of the sunrise

The sunset kissing the mountains
Colorful with roofs
And shimmering with glass

You are that one verse
Sung before the day begins

Before sirens wail and
The leaves begin
To smell of worry

Like a warm drink
I have drunk you in

And you have remained here
In me

A love never empty
A blanket that never fades

-Arturo Vásquez

Where to Go From Here

Variations on a Meme

Archistrategos tagged me for a meme two weeks ago now asking me about what books I was reading. I told him that at that time I wasn't reading anything since I have been too busy. However, I now present a rather belated and unorthodox response.

Now that it is summer, I have quite a few things on the front burner in terms of reading, but as usual there may be some vague method to my madness, so I will just present a bunch of random quotes, and then try to sort it all out:

But the worst was that a separation had been made [in the Renaissance] between liturgy and popular devotion, between liturgy and daily life - a separation, under the unhappy consequences of which the Roman Catholic Church primarily has to suffer today. This is all the result of a fatal, morbid pride, which tempts man to take himself so seriously that he forgets that human life has the nature of a game. And at the same time he forgets God. For the meeting of God with man, of man with God, is a holy play, a sacer ludus. The theological nature of the dance, as we discovered lies in movement; that of the drama, in movement and countermovement. God moved; he came down to earth. Then the puppets on earth moved also; or if one prefers, the bones in the dry valley of Ezekiel. God began; we followed. For we are only "God's masques and costume balls", as Luther says, or "God's toys" as Plato puts it. The most ancient drama, the drama that rules the world, is the drama of the meeting of God and man.... When the liturgy does not bring us to adoration and sacrifice, we even begin to imagine that we had given impetus to the drama. The dramatic vanishes from our lives, and we are suddenly once more dead marionettes, to whose countermovement movement is lacking.

-Sacred and Profane Beauty: The Holy in Art by Gerardus van der Leuw

In order to act with the gods in cosmogenesis the soul must become mortal and lose its place in the circling of the heavens: once incarnated the soul "becomes a stranger to itself" and is confined to a single physical form. This loss is not an illusion but an experienced reality, and although Plotinus and Porphyry characterized the soul's recovery of divinity by suggesting that, in some way, we never fully descend into a body, it was critical to Iamblichus, for cosmological reasons, to insist that the soul does descend. To deny our descent was equivalent to denying the soul's role in cosmogenesis, and, consequently, the possiblity of recovering our divine identity.

-Gregory Shaw, "The Sphere and the Altar of Sacrifice", in History of Platonism: Plato Redivivus

She hears my grief, and for a while retires into herself
What captivating sympathy! What artless mastery!

The object of creation was mankind, and nothing else
We are the point round which the seven compasses revolve

-The Seeing Eye: Selections from the Urdu and Persian Ghazals of Ghalib, as translated by Ralph Russell

The ideal is that of a particular kind of beauty, a centuries-old, thouroughly artificial way of moving, which, when shaped into ballets by a choreographer, becomes art of a special sort- an elusive, evanescent art, as fleeting as fireworks or soap bubbles, that nevertheless has the power not only to entrance beholders but even, in some mysterious manner, to convey an experience of lasting significance.... "First comes sweat," Balanchine used to say, speaking in a low, agreeable voice, tinged with accents of his native Russia. "Then comes the beauty - if you're vairy [sic] lucky and have said your prayers."

-Balanchine: A Biography by Bernard Taper (I am also watching the American Masters documentary on Balanchine, shown above.)

What ties all of this together? It is the fundamental question of this blog: what does it mean to be a human being? What does it mean to be a human being in relation to our end, who is God? Why is it that we are coming apart in our being rather than coming together? Why is it so hard for postmodern man to accept his nature as an incarnate spirit?

These are questions. Not answers.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


I thank God for my mother especially, for my grandmothers, my great grandmother, and for all mothers and women who will one day be mothers (one especially). And of course, for our mother in Heaven, the Most Holy Virgin Mother of God.

Here is some Mother's Day reading from my archives:

Saturday, May 12, 2007

In Thanksgiving

Dear Readers,
Once in a while, it is appropriate that I thank all of you, and that I publicly thank God for everything. I am probably closing one of the most stressful times of my life right now, and I have done way too much whining to myself, others, my guardian angel, and God. But let me just say this right now: life is good, and I have so many reasons to be happy! And so do you! And I am so thankful for all of you, who put up with my pontificating, snide comments, and pseudo-mysticism. I thank those of you who read what I write and those who pray for me, those who comfort me and those who put me in check when I am wrong or way off. I thank those who know me in person and put up with my sometimes abrasive and melodramatic personality, and those who only have to put up with it indirectly in writing. And to those who love me, to my family, and that special someone, thank you. This is a great ride, and it is not over yet....
But why should I write anymore? Let us let Gabriela Mistral take over:
Acción de Gracias

Gracias, Señor, por el día que asoma
devuelto como el Padre y el Hijo.
Lo esperamos sumidos en la noche,
pero volvió como el que vuelve a amar
y regresó como el que mucho ama,
y con él van y van llegando
el bosque cantador y el mar arrebatado,
el rostro de la madre y del hijo,
y los caminos borrosos del miedo.

Gracias, Señor, por la ruta que hicimos
Cegados de la niebla maldadosa,
Y por los ojos vivos del arroyo,
Y por el canto ya devuelto de la alondra.
Gracias por cuanto regresa devuelto
al oído del hombre y de la bestia,
y por la risa de los pescadores
que van guiñando a la ola y la pesca
y a la mujer que en el umbral espera
con el vaso de leche y con el beso.

Gracias te doy por el tordo vehemente
que canta y canta en la higuera escogida
el alba en cuanto sabe que es la primavera,
y al crepúsculo allá en mi Valle que me ama y espera
y adonde he de volver porque él es mío
y suya soy, y lo sueño y lo vivo
así despierta y lo mismo dormida.


Thank you, Lord, for the day that begins to loom
Restored like the Father and the Son.
We waited for it immersed in night,
But it returned like a man who returns to love
And it came back like a person who loves much,
And with it they go and they are coming
The singing forest and the uprooted sea,
The face of the mother and of the son,
And the muddied roads of fear.

Thank you, Lord, for the route which we made
Blinded by the thickest fog,
And for the living eyes of the stream,
And for the song returned to the lark.
Thank you for that which returns to
The hearing of man and beast,
And for the laughter of fisherman
Who go lurching towards the wave and the catch
And for the woman who waits on the porch
With a glass of milk and a kiss.

Thank you for the insistent thrush
That sings and sings in the chosen fig tree
And for the dawn which knows that it is spring
And the dusk over there in my Valley that loves me and awaits
And to which I have to return because it is mine
And I belong to it, and I dream it and I live it
In this way awake, and the same asleep.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Lighthouse of the Blind


Arturo Vasquez

An old note appears
Partially veiled by the waves;
A sinking city rises again,
Old fingers pecking at a piano-
Swiftly they race against
The barking of dogs
And distant night traffic.

See, only open your heart,
And do not close those eyelids
So sealed by time
And turning away.

See and open, and maybe
You too will be tied
To that swaying masthead:
Ten year old siren hymns
Filling evening's
Sorrowful hallway.

Beckoning behind stone walls,
That bride of bulbs so brilliant
That shimmers in the country dark.

A ray strikes her face:
Is she seen or
Merely caressed
With a white stick
Of flourescent air?

Is it too much music
For the night?
Or can it all be heard
Without neglect or indifference?

A calm lake of
Lapping songs,
Stars that do not see
But are swallowed by
Weary eyes.

Perhaps she saw it outside
But now she is going in.
She closes the door on the mist
Lying serenely on the grass.

-Hollister, CA
September 4th, 2003

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

a heady heavy love
speaks my yearning
calls me
to give my all
and seek the place
of no return
to lay bare my heart
for you
to whom i surrender
to you
for whom i wait

-bell hooks
When Angels Speak of Love

photo credit

Mea Culpa

"But didn't worship develop over centuries, and who were they to change it forty years ago?" some astute reader with traditional inclinations wonders. They are probably the same people who have been screwing things up for centuries, whether through the teaching of heresy or denial of the sacraments based on race and ethnicity or abuse of power...etc. 'They' are 'us', and we're all guilty of failure to love, caritas. And the result is disorder - the abuses sometimes displayed in the Novus Ordo liturgy aren't the result of the evil actions of a small group of men - the Almighty is certainly great enough to preserve liturgy - no, they are your fault and my fault. Those "Clown Masses?" They are the result of what I have done and what I have failed to do. And what I have failed to do is not to banish the participants of the Clown Mass out of the Church, but to pray, to give myself over to God. I've chosen sin, too many times, over Him Who gives Life. And by doing so, I have allowed Him to be mocked.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Charismatic Movement

I came across this article on my web travels. As readers of this blog may know, I was raised in the charismatic movement within the Catholic Church, and most of my family is still active in it. If anything, my life to this point can be considered a rebellion against this upbringing. (I still think speaking in tongues is really creepy, especially when you do it in front of children.)

I suppose anything goes these days, and charismatics are in general good and honest people who are very sincere about their faith. Most of them are quite orthodox when it comes to many things. Still, it all gives me pause, since working yourself into such commotion could just become a very dubious manifestation of a natural, quasi-hypnotic state. (I am just going by childhood memories here.) The Holy Ghost, in my experience at least, is always in the still, small voice; He is often not in the drum-set or the bass guitar.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Vox Clamantis....

Bartolo passed through town every December when he knew that most people had returned from work up north. He always came by selling his poems. By the end of the first day, they were almost sold out because the names of the people in the town appeared in the poems. And when he read them aloud it was something emotional and serious. I recall that one time he told the people to read the poems out loud because the spoken word was the seed of love in the darkness.
….porque la voz era la semilla del amor en la oscuridad.

-Tomás Rivera, …y no se lo tragó la tierra (…And the Earth Did Not Devour Him)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

On the Crucifix

A Jesús Crucificado

A vos corriendo voy, brazos sagrados,
en la cruz sacrosanta descubiertos,
que para recibirme estáis abiertos,
y para no castigarme estáis clavados.

A vos, divinos ojos eclipsados,
de tanta sangre y lágrimas cubiertos,
que para perdonarme estáis despiertos
y para no confundirme estáis cerrados.

A vos, clavados pies para no huirme;
a vos, cabeza baja, por llamarme;
a vos, sangre vertida para ungirme;

a vos, costado abierto quiero unirme;
a vos, clavos preciosos quiero atarme
con ligadura dulce, estable, firme.

(Juan M. García T., poeta colombiano)

(To Jesús Crucified

To you do I flee, holy arms,
On the holy cross uncovered,
To receive me you are wide open,
And to not punish me are you nailed.

To you, divine and eclipsed eyes,
Covered with tears and blood,
In order to forgive me you are awake
And in order not to scare me you are closed.

To you, feet nailed so as not to make me flee;
To you, bowed head, that calls me;
To you, blood shed, that washes me;

To you, opened side that unites me;
To you, precious nails do I want to tie myself
With a sweet, stable, and firm bond. )
(Image and poem found on this site)

Even during my fascination with Byzantine iconography, the figure of the Roman Catholic traditional crucifix always moved me. The crucifix and I have a lot of biography together. In the old Catholic church in Hollister, the most prominent side feature of what is left of the interior of the church is a life size crucifix whose feet I must have kissed hundreds of times. Mothers will still bring their children up to it to kiss the feet, and I have seen grown men crawl towards the cross to do the same.

In seminary, I would always pass a large crucifix on the way to my room until they put it up in the church itself. In my grandparent’s house, one hangs over the living room, half broken and with a bloody corpus hanging from it.

I have tried to think what it must have meant for young children like me growing up for hundreds of years with this image at the center of our Faith. I know that the crucifix has not always played the role that it did; indeed, its prominence is quite recent in terms of Christian centuries. Even the first crucifixes, as it is often pointed out, were more of the Christus Victor than the over-the-top displays of Catholic despair of Baroque Catholicism. Non-Mediterranean crucifixes also tend to be “cleaned up” a bit, with an immaculate corpus with surgically made wounds hanging from two very well crafted boards. Get to the Latin crucifixes, and then you are entering the realm that I am used to: knees, hands, sides, forehead, all opened up and bloodied. Eyes staring up in despair or closed in defeat. A visage that can scare a child or lead you to the farthest depths of compunction and pity. As a child, that is the crucifix I was looking at.

The word that I am looking for, many of you might protest, is grotesque. What did it do to the consciousness of Christian people to enter the church for hundreds of years and stare at this icon of death, as one of my Orthodox readers once called it? Is there some sort of psychological trauma that inflicts the consciousness of Western man that this image caused, as some Eastern Christian theologians would point out? What was the point of having a realistic image of a naked criminal agonizing on a tree as the most prominent religious symbol of the largest group that calls itself Christian?

There is not one answer, but I have one that I like to think is the most poetic, at least to me. I am currently reading the short stories of the Brazilian writer, Clarice Lispector. In two of her stories, “Love” and “The Smallest Woman in the World”, people confront the other as grotesque, different, and loveable. In the former, a housewife’s life is briefly overturned by seeing an anonymous blind man chewing gum. In the latter, a French explorer finds the smallest Pygmy woman in the world and, after many weeks of playing the scientist with his specimen, realizes briefly that she is just as much a human being as he is. This is indeed a common theme in Lispector and in literature in general: the grotesque can serve not just as something that shocks, but it can also reveal, and self-reveal.

The cross in itself has a theology, but the crucifix adds a spin to it. The crucifix speaks to us on how really strange and unsettling daily life really is. The fact that Catholics can walk past a life size portrayal of naked man being executed and not flinch shows us how far we are from seeing the world in its proper light. And that is the root of our problems: we look past the Other, or we see him either as a target or a burden. How many people must have walked by Calvary’s foot when the Savior of the world hung from a tree, and did not even stop to see what was going on because it was too bloody, too unpleasant, and too grotesque? The crucifix shows God becoming completely Other, and when He becomes completely Other, He shows us ourselves as we really are.

To hide this reality, to try to “transfigure” it, does it no justice. There is suffering, poverty, sadness, and despair here and now. This is the image of God suffering with us in a suffering that will not be complete until the entire body of Christ has suffered it. As one of my favorite sayings by Pascal goes: “Jesus Christ will be agony until the end of the world. We must not sleep the while."
And in that, there is both compunction and comfort, fear and mercy, despair and hope. It is not the despair and hope of theologians, but the despair and hope of daily life.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

For My Life and My Joy

Woman is a ray of God: she is not the earthly beloved. She is creative: you might say she is not created.


And this....


Come, climb the skies; above their blue vault make your resting place
Seek the beloved of both worlds to hold in your embrace

Who told you you must ask favours from the azure sky?
Be stern; confront the stars, and wrest from them your heart’s desire


Joy in the raging flood and, like the bridge’s image, dance
Know where you are, but move beyond the bounds of self, and dance

She will not keep her word – treasure the moment that she gives it
When lovely women pledge their word, rejoice in it, and dance

Delight in moving on. Why think about your destination?
Don’t measure progress; hear the summons of the bell, and dance

Once we were young and flourished like the flowers in the gardens
Come flames; now we are straw and thorns, devour us, and dance

In love you have not yet attained the limit of delight
Be like the whirlwind’s dust and rise into the air, and dance

Abandon all outworn norms so dear to our good friends
When they are celebrating, wail; when they are mourning, dance

The good are ‘angry’. Hypocrites ‘love’you. Don’t be like them
Don’t hide within yourself. Come out into the open. Dance!

Don’t look for grief in burning or for joy in flowering
In the hot wind’s embrace, and with the breeze of morning, dance!

Ghalib, rejoice that there is one in whose bonds you are tied
Flourish; welcome distress; and in the ties of bondage, dance

From The Seeing Eye: Selections from the Urdu and Persian Ghazals of Ghalib
(translation by Ralph Russell)