March 18, 2016

Failure to Concur

This year Good Friday falls on March 25, which would be observed as the Feast of the Annunciation were it not for our rules of precedence which privilege the days of Holy and Easter Weeks above all other Feasts. This is the last time Good Friday will fall on March 25 in this century, and when it does, the power of Cross will once again gently nudge the Virgin Mother forward by a bit over a week.

This failed concurrence gives rise to imagery of such weight I cannot shift it so easily from my mind. Nor have others found it so light a thing. Here is the poem John Donne wrote in 1608 on a similar concurrence.

Upon the Annunciation and Passion Falling upon One Day. 1608

Tamely, frail body, abstain today; today
My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away.
She sees Him man, so like God made in this,
That of them both a circle emblem is,
Whose first and last concur; this doubtful day
Of feast or fast, Christ came and went away;
She sees Him nothing twice at once, who’s all;
She sees a Cedar plant itself and fall,
Her Maker put to making, and the head
Of life at once not yet alive yet dead;
She sees at once the virgin mother stay
Reclused at home, public at Golgotha;
Sad and rejoiced she’s seen at once, and seen
At almost fifty and at scarce fifteen;
At once a Son is promised her, and gone;
Gabriel gives Christ to her, He her to John;
Not fully a mother, she’s in orbity,
At once receiver and the legacy;
All this, and all between, this day hath shown,
The abridgement of Christ’s story, which makes one
(As in plain maps, the furthest west is east)
Of the Angels’ Ave and Consummatum est.
How well the Church, God’s court of faculties,
Deals in some times and seldom joining these!
As by the self-fixed Pole we never do
Direct our course, but the next star thereto,
Which shows where the other is and which we say
(Because it strays not far) doth never stray,
So God by His Church, nearest to Him, we know
And stand firm, if we by her motion go;
His Spirit, as His fiery pillar doth
Lead, and His Church, as cloud, to one end both.
This Church, by letting these days join, hath shown
Death and conception in mankind is one:
Or ‘twas in Him the same humility
That He would be a man and leave to be:
Or as creation He had made, as God,
With the last judgment but one period,
His imitating Spouse would join in one
Manhood’s extremes: He shall come, He is gone:
Or as though the least of His pains, deeds, or words,
Would busy a life, she all this day affords;
This treasure then, in gross, my soul uplay,
And in my life retail it every day.

And here is my short poem upon the Annunciation, reminding us that whether the feasts concur or not, salvation is all One.

She knelt beside the neatly planted rows
of cummin, dill, and mint. The clear March sky
was bright; a flock of birds flew high.
She pinched a leaf;
                    then, suddenly, she froze —
a voice had spoken. There was no one there.
It spoke a second time; she looked around.
“How can this be?” she asked the vacant air.
Once more it spoke, yet there was not a sound.
She paused again; her answer in her mind.

In thirty years and three, her words would find
an echo: “Not my will, but thine be done,”
said in another garden by her son,
while three friends slept.
                           So here none heard her words —
except an angel, a high flight of birds,
and three neat rows of cummin, mint, and dill:
“Be it to me according to thy will.”

Bless this day of contrast and devotion, of sacrifice and blessing. Bless us all.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 14, 2016

Stanzas on the Way of the Cross

The Lord who set his hand upon the deep,
who stretched the compass on the heavens’ face,
who planned the universe and gave it life,
here, now, is trapped — the victim of a plot.
The judge is judged, and shares a sinner’s fate,
while Pilate, at the warning of his wife,
evades his guilt with water and a towel,
delivering up the one who would deliver
the world that owed him all of its existence.
The very ones who call out for his death —
that he deserves to die — owe him their breath.

The eternal word now mutely keeps his peace
and opens not his mouth. The worthy one,
held worthless now, takes up his heavy cross.
The one who bore the weight of all the worlds
now wearily takes up a cross of wood.
The Lamb of God who takes away our sins,
in meekness his last pilgrimage begins.

A star shot from its place in heaven and fell
down to the depths of the abyss. Was Christ’s
descent less terrible, his humble stooping down?
Yet humbly he had washed the apostles’ feet,
so now he falls to wash away our sin.
Can we do less than kneel here and adore
the one who all our sin and anguish bore?

A mother’s pain! to see her own child die —
tragic reversal, when age sees youth undone.
The heart that stored such hope, such promised joy
now breaks to see the ruin of that hope.
Yet breaking, that heart’s hope finds its release
and brings the world the promise of its peace.

Simon didn’t know who Jesus was;
just that he’d better do as he was told:
take up that cross and carry it a while.
What unknown hands lift crosses from our backs?
Who serves us? And what strangers do we serve?
Whom do we serve, if not our Lord himself,
who told us that as we each do unto
the least of them we do it unto him?
To follow him we must take up that cross —
to save our lives our lives must suffer loss.

He came to show us all that we could be,
to stand displayed a perfect man, that we
might have a model for our lives. Instead
we turned away; and worse, we cursed and mocked
his beauty, so much greater than our own.
Yet all our hurts and harms could not deface
the inner glory of his perfect soul,
and his wounds only served to make us whole.

How can he bear that weight? How can he bear
the gathered sorrows of a billion souls?
How bear these sins, since he is innocent?
It is no wonder he should fall, beneath
the heavy weight of all this unearned guilt.
All we like sheep are scattered, wandering, lost;
we set the price; and he has paid the cost.

What tears are these? Whence comes this grievous moan?
Is it for him, or for the loss of hope?
If this is how the world will treat its Lord,
what hope is there for anyone? For us?
If green wood burns so easily, what flames
will ravage those whose hearts and souls are dry?
It seems for our own sins we’d better cry.

Where is the light? The candles have gone out!
There is no hope, no way to see the way;
the one we hoped would lead us has collapsed.
Yet in his fall, this third bone-weary fall,
his voice cries out, Remember me, O Lord;
and God, who hears the fallen, will not fail.
Up from the depths and darkness without light,
he calls on our behalf through our long night,
his prayer ascending God’s high throne unto:
Father, forgive; they know not what they do.

The night before, he’d spoken of his blood,
and blessed the cup of wine, removed his robe
and kneeling, washed their feet; and later, in
the garden kneeled again, and asked his God
to let the cup of bitterness pass by.
All comes together here: wine, blood and gall.
The garments are removed, the veil undone:
We see the naked glory of the Son.

The carpenter of Nazareth is brought
at last to Skull Hill’s bloody, dismal mound.
Between two criminals, hemmed in by sin,
the sinless one is nailed upon the cross.
How many times had he with his own hands
wielded the hammer, pegging wooden frames,
or driven nails. He’d made good yokes, good yokes
for oxen at the plough, or at the cart.
Yet here he is undone with his own art.

What legacy is this, what parting gift?
A mother loses one son, gains another,
as John, belov’d disciple, gains a mother.
The end has come; time for one bitter taste
of vinegar on a sponge, a gasping breath,
the words of commendation, and of death.

Long, long ago, an angel called her bless’d
and full of grace. Did Gabriel know the course
her life would take, the life of her womb’s fruit,
the Son of God — that it would come to this?
And did he know as well that this was not
the end, that there was more — far more — to come?
Yet Mary’s grief is not relieved in this,
as on his wounded brow she plants a kiss.

His foster father was named Joseph, too;
in death, he takes another Joseph’s tomb.
He had no earthly father of his own,
nor would he have a grave but as a gift.
His birthplace was a stable let on loan,
his burial in a tomb another built.
And all this was to free us from our guilt.
The Way is ended, now the tomb is sealed —
our eyes have seen the love of God revealed.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 10, 2016

Disagreement, Good and Bad

The Church of England is in the process of exploring the limits of disagreement on matters of sexuality. One might say the Anglican Communion as a whole is doing the same. England already reached a settlement on the propriety of women bishops, allowing "both integrities" to flourish side by side in peaceful contradiction. (The nation that gave us Lewis Carroll has done itself proud in this.)

The goal, of course, is a peaceful detente, going by the name "good disagreement." The church has been plagued by disagreement -- good and bad -- from the days of Peter and Paul. Ultimately it is the object of the (dis)agreement that determines whether it can be (a) a peaceable willingness to bear with difference or (b) a cause for schism. "It seemed important at the time" is the watchword of warning for any church tempted to divide over what may turn out in the long run to have been a minor point of dispute. Remember the common cup, and vernacular liturgy? Or circumcision? The church's history is draped with conflicts that in retrospect have faded and lost their color; so much so one is tempted to ask, "What was the matter?" What matters — the living Text — is Christ, and him crucified, died, buried, risen and ascended. All the rest is gloss.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

March 7, 2016

Duned, We're Duned

[satire on]

There can be little doubt that D J Trump of Old Terra thought of himself as the Kwisatz Haderach (“he who can be in all places at once”). His confidence in his eventual success was nourished by his uncanny prescience, supported by his devotion to melange, which he stockpiled in vast quantities, and the superhuman speed with which he could alter his positions. He had strong support for this belief based on passages of the Orange Catholic Bible, which he held to be descriptive of his personal features, the result of the blend of bloodlines (the characteristic red hair of the Harkonnens, and the eerie blue “Ibad” eyes of the Atreides, enhanced by consumption of the spice). Supported by the ghola Christie, his efforts were crowned with the success he presaged, leading, as historians have reconstructed, to the atomic war of the early 21st century.

— from Tales of Old Terra by Princess Irulan

[satire off, with a tip of the hat to Frank and Brian Herbert]


March 3, 2016

Political gloss on Mark 4:25

There used to be a joke among Anglican religious that people who came from money entered the Franciscans and people who grew up poor joined Holy Cross. With the electorate it is often the reverse. People with money want to keep their money, and so in self-interest choose the candidate less likely to increase the tax burden on the highest brackets. And vice versa. Cui bono, quid pro quo, and q.e.d.


March 2, 2016

Rare Political Outburst

As much as the GOP would like to pretend that Donald Trump is simply the crazy cousin that they hid in the basement all these years instead of providing adequate mental health care, this is not really the case. The truth is that the GOP has labored on this, though unwittingly, ever since Barak Obama came on the scene, even before he was elected. They have nourished falsehoods and suspicions; they have prejudiciously pledged themselves to obstruction of anything he might propose; they have been as good as their word and blocked actions not terribly unlike some they themselves proposed in earlier days; they have fostered unreasonableness and know-nothingism as if these were cardinal virtues, feeding denial of science and common sense at the capacious breast of religious quackery. In short, they have none other than themselves to answer to the charge that things have gone terribly wrong.

I rarely make political comments on this blog, but I could not resist at this point. Mea culpa.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG