Saturday, April 25, 2009

Valedictory Address for Augustine 2009

My dear fellow students,
Toward the onset of this semester, Dr. Tingley remarked in a lecture dealing with Augustine’s treatise on Grace and Free Will that it would seem that “man does nothing good without either being naturally predisposed to goodness or being whacked.” Perhaps the same could be said for exercise of the intellect as for the will. Quite credibly, we human beings do not exercise our capacity to think without either being naturally predisposed to rigorous thought or being whacked. Just two days ago we discussed the immense difficulty we students face in attempting to succinctly describe the Augustine College experience to the uninitiated. I would like to suggest that the education, training, and community we have passed through in the past eight months (it seems both a day and a lifetime) could be accurately represented as a massive case of Being Whacked. Consequently, tonight I’d like to consider facets of Being Whacked in general and by Augustine College in particular.

When you imagine a “whacking” you likely think first of discipline. We must all admit that our time at Augustine has disciplined us. For many, if not all of us students, the process of learning to think rigorously and enunciate those thoughts clearly and compellingly involved not a little pain. Professorial reproof hurt your pride, the deluge of information made your heads ache. Growth demanded a stretching; the soreness attending your cognitive growth no less distressing for being internal. The interpersonal relationships you have built with each other and with your professors taxed your patience and required self-sacrifice while forcing you to hone your communication skills. Even though I was not privileged to share the first term with you, you widened your close, necessity- crafted community to welcome me in. For my part, you, my fellow students, along with the professors, friends of the college, and academic texts have knocked me clean off my haughty, if fragile, high horse, over and over again. I came to Augustine with many erroneous preconceptions, prejudices and over-self-confidence. Living and learning with and from you exposed my ignorance, corrected, humbled, and forced me to see the world through new eyes.

In many ways, we’ve whacked each other with our “abrasive personalities.” At times our words have not been kind or helpful and we have had to apologize and forgive, growing in maturity through each incident. Each one of us is unique, with interesting, if slightly unusual, quirks. I’ve often wondered if admittance to Augustine College requires that students must be, pardon the slang, a bit nutty. Despite all of our personality differences and eccentricities, each one of you has become very dear to me. Each of you has given me a little bit of yourselves in words, in images, and in love that I will treasure as long as I have memory. You’ve drawn me in and shared your life with me, from long walks, study sessions and intimate conversations to roof climbing, Star Wars and Dante. We’ve laughed at ourselves, each other and our professors, we’ve quibbled and repented. As a class we’ve struggled to understand, struggled to stay awake, struggled to finish papers. Together we’ve played the intellectual fool and paid the academic piper. Yes, we’ve “ruined” many professors’ days, and now we’re all here together about to be told to “get out” for good.

But Being Whacked intellectually means more than mere disciplinary training. It also indicates motivation. A nail does nothing till struck with a hammer. The force of the hammer’s shock drives the nail to accomplish its purpose, its telos. A croquet ball has potential energy by virtue of its weight and location, but remains snuggled slothfully into the grass until propelled by the impact of a mallet. Augustine College dealt us that blow to transform our potential intellectual energy into kinetic energy. Our professors taught us how to think, but they did not spoon feed us what we must think. By forcing us to examine primary sources and demonstrating the import of our conclusions, they motivated us to search for answers ourselves. Our professors disciplined us in frameworks of inquiry, supplied us with quality materials, and challenged us to seriously process the information to produce credible and supported conclusions. Within the past four months alone, fellow students, your labor has turned a worthwhile product in academic papers, conversation and debates, not to mention the encouragement, hilarity, and stimulation you have provided for the rest of us as a community. The questions you, my fellow students, have raised by simply being who you are, believing what you do, and becoming vulnerable enough to share yourself with our community will continue to drive my own quest for Truth. Through both faculty and each other, Augustine has dealt us a blow of both discipline and motivation: discipline of mind and motivation to use it.

Through Augustine College, we have been whacked sufficiently to move us through the first hoops of our adult lives. But how long will the momentum of that blow last us? Long enough to pack our belongings and travel home, shedding a few tears for the sundering of our fellowship? Long enough perhaps to order a few books from Dr. Patrick’s long list of suggestions? Long enough to engage logically in a handful of critical issue debates? Like any force here on this earth, the impetus of the Augustinian Whack will dwindle as it encounters friction, unless it is augmented by additional and greater stimulation. Unless we continue to feed the appetite for truth whetted by Augustine with good intellectual sustenance our metabolism will dwindle until we are left as mental couch potatoes. But pursuit of the truth does not end with scholarly inquiry. We have grown intellectually and as a community under the rod of Academic Instruction. Now, if we would hone the skills here inculcated, we must submit ourselves to the tutelage of the rod of Life. The world will be less kind than our professors at Augustine, less forgiving – if it be possible – than we have been toward each other, more confusing and frustrating than all the opinions of a dozen philosophers the night before a final exam. But just as we needed, and received, a good whack from each other and our professors to jumpstart the machinery of our intellect, so we require and must receive, to quote an anonymous professor, “a good kick in the ass” – in all likelihood more than one – to teach us how to live, how to practically employ what we have learned in this place to build and defend a home, a family, a way of life, based firmly in an understanding of Truth and an ongoing journey towards it.

The Rhythm and Rhyme of the Poem of My Life

Another chapter ends. How many, O Lord, how many meetings and partings must there be? I know You teach me through each one of them, but when will I find a settling place? Even home now, I know, is not my final resting place. I return, but it is not mine as it was before. On this Earth, I truly belong not any where. Truly this is so. As Michael Card sings (and, yes, this is a Michael Card post - I'll explain later)...

...We travel this dark world that has but one light,
for we have here no lasting town.

And sometimes we run by the power of His might,
On our own at the best we can plod.
What we hopefully look for is just beyond sight:
We are pilgrims to the City of God.

I know that throughout my journeying, my life is in God's hands and is a joyful beautiful thing, a precious incomparable gift from Him. So though I go on to sing a new verse, the same song continues, for....

Life is a song we must sing with our days
A poem with meaning more than words can say
A painting with colors no rainbow can tell
A lyric that rhymes either heaven or hell
We are living letters that doubt desecrates
We're the notes of the song of the chorus of faith
God shapes every second of our little lives
And minds every minute as the universe waits by

The pain and the longing
The joy and the moments of light
Are the rhythm and rhyme
The free verse of the poem of life

So look in the mirror and pray for the grace
To tear off the mask, see the art of your face
Open your ear lids to hear the sweet song
Of each moment that passes and pray to prolong
Your time in the ball of the dance of your days
Your canvas of colors of moments ablaze
With all that is holy
With the joy and the strife
With the rhythm and rhyme of the poem of your life
With the rhythm and rhyme of the poem of your life
watch here

The song of my life is "through-composed" with new music for every verse, though I'm amazed at how much every new verse refers to previous material. Yet it is all the same song, a song with an unknown ending; unknown, that is, to me. But it is a life marked by Christ, grounded in Holy Baptism and sustained by Christ's own Body and Blood. Need I know the end? No. I'm not directing the music. And why should I wish to extend the verse beyond what the composer intended? I've enjoyed the melody, I've danced to the tune. Now the tone changes and I with it.

It is well with my soul this night. As well as it shall ever be. For I am in Christ and Christ is in me. If I have died with Him, I shall also live with Him. And so I have, for so He has said when He put His Name upon me.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Random Packing Vexations

Oh, dear me. I'm not sure how I'm going to get everything home. This is most vexing. Book sales don't pay off....hmm.

So far, I've almost filled 3 checked bags and my carryon. All electronics are somehow crammed into my computer case. I can't remember what we used for a 4th checked bag coming up, though I know I had one. Maybe it was my backpack....I honestly don't remember. I sure hope I don't have to dump the bags out and repack them at the air port, though I'm told it's a definite possibility. I'll try to leave myself at least 4 if not five or six hours to get through everything at the air port since I've never flown alone before. I'm not apprehensive about the actual flight. I just don't care for all the red tape and making sure all my stuff ends up going where it should go.

Anyway...that was quite random and unthoughtful, but, heh, life is random sometimes.

And I want tea and a nap. This pharynx inflammation is not making my life comfortable and I'm praying it goes away in time for Graduation. If not, I won't be able to talk. I feel like a gargling machine. :P If anyone knows a remedy for sore, infected, inflamed throats, please send it my way!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

In Which I Attend Pascha and Transgress Orthodox Doctrine

I have just returned from a Pascha service at my dear friend's Orthodox church. It was very beautiful and her spiritual father reminds me alot of the ones I'll be returning to shortly.

I was pleased to be able to follow the liturgy quite well and pick up the chant decently by the end. Most of the chanted texts were familiar to me - well, the ones in English, that is. (I've also learned that in an unfamiliar chanted liturgy, if you simply lag about one second behind a clear singer, you can get the pitch of the next note and clue into the word from the first phonetic syllable and the context.)

Needless to say, I was enjoying the liturgy, incense, prayers, candles, beautiful icons, etc so much that I my analyzing awareness had relaxed by the time we entered the Divine Liturgy. Not being on my toes, I started into the Nicene Creed as I normally do, stumbling a bit because the translation being recited (no handouts or hymnals) was somewhat different than the typical Western rendition. That should have clued me into other differences between West and East surrounding the Creed, but nooo. I keep stumbling on...

..."the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the..... Oh!"

Suddenly, I felt a sharp elbow jab on my arm from Zack. I stopped, then realized what I had done! The Filioque in Orthodox Divine Liturgy! I almost burst out laughing, but jabbed Zack back instead. When I'd composed myself I snuck a peek at his face to see almost as big a grin as I had had on my own.

I'm still here. Nobody noticed the Western trespass on Eastern ground and I even got a blessing from Father M-- despite.

The Pascha service was beautiful and I'm very glad to have had this opportunity to attend such an important Christian service with my Orthodox friend, but all the same, I'll be glad to be back at my home parish in a week with my own dear Pastors and well-beloved liturgy.

Now to sleep before church tomorrow!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Philosophy Exam (in 3 hours)

Ahoy! I'm going to practice my exam on ya'll. If you don't want to know about it, why then, don't read - I won't be offended (not that I am anyway when people don't read this. As I've said before, this blog is mostly for me to have a place to spew random thoughts.)

So, first off, I need to memorize three quotes; 1 assigned quote and two quotes of my choice (from philosophers we've studied this semester).

Thomas Aquinas:
The purpose of the study of philosophy is not to learn what others have thought but to learn how the truth of things stands.

Blaise Pascal:
If man is not made for God, why is he only happy in God? If man is made for God, why is he so opposed to God?

Martin Buber:
Whoever says You does not have something; he has nothing. But he stands in relation.

And after that, I get to try to answer 50 short answer questions over all the "philosophers" we've covered this year.
Luther (with a tad of Erasmus)
Mill (and by extension Bentham)
Buber (with some background Nietsche)
and various Post-Moderns

Ho boy! Here we go!

And then we've got an Essay Question (worth a measly 40%) introducing a major idea from the term that we consider important. And that's what I'm going to sort of rudimentarily do here and now with Martin Buber's "I-Thou" philosophy.

According to Buber there are two attitudes a person can take toward the world and those in it corresponding to what he calls the "two basic words" which are actually word pairs. These attitudes are "I-You" and "I-It." To say You or It to a thing/person establishes a mode of relation to said thing/person. There is no "I" existence alone. "I" only exists in "I-You" mode or "I-It" mode. ("It" includes "He" and "She.") These words are said with one's being.

"It" is the object of goal directed verbs. I smell a flower; the flower is an "It." I measure a table; the table is an "It." I bandage a person; the person is "He." I test God; God is "He." The realm of Experience belongs to "I-It," because Experience experiences some thing.

Nor can one enter the realm of "I-You" by introspection or inner/spiritual experiences. Whether internal or external, the mode of relating via experience occurs solely in the realm of "I-It."

"Those who experience do not participate in the world. For the experience is "in them" and not between them and the world." In the same way, "the world does not participate in experience" but "allows itself to be experienced." In "I-It" mode, the subject abstracts some information or sensation from the object, but the object contributes nothing and neither does the subject. The act of sniffing the breeze captures information from the breeze but neither I nor the wind give each other anything.

If Experience is the way of functioning in the "I-It" realm, "I-You" establishes Relation. "Whoever says you does not have something for his object." He does not experience a "thing" or even a person. He stands in relation. He does not "have" anything at all. In Relation, "You" is not a conglomerate of qualities, but a Being - timeless, spaceless, unabstracted.

There are three categories of beings to which one can say "You": beings in nature, human beings, and spiritual beings. For each of these three categories, the "You" we say will take a slightly different form. In this post I will stick to "life with men" for "here the relation is manifest and enters language. We can give and receive the You." This relationship is reciprocal: both say "You," (though one can say You, thereby establishing the Relation mode of existence and the other know it not.)

"When I confront a human being as my You and speak the basic word I-You to him, then he is no thing among things nor does he consist of things." He's not a bunch of qualities nor is he bound by time and space. He's not merely a 16yr old with yellow hair and big feet in a tree. He's a being to whom I'm in relation. That doesn't mean he is abstracted from his age, hair color, shoe size, and perch, but that all of those things are seen in light of him. These things are seen as part of him, but once you abstract his hair color, shoe size, age or anyother quality from him, you no longer have him as a You but as an It. In relation, I do not experience my You. (There are occasions where I must deal with a person as He rather than You - both are necessary to living as a human - and those are the times when I experience him and his qualities.) Not experiencing does not mean that I do not know anything about my You when I am in relation; rather I know "only everything" for I no longer know particulars.

The "I-You" relation involves a "risk and sacrifice" for the "You" must be said with one's whole being. I in and I-It relationship can relax, removed from the object I experience, but I in the I-You experience puts myself in service to my You. This relation is both passive and active. "The You encounters me by grace - it cannot be found by seeking. But that I speak the basic word to it is a deed of my whole being, is my essential deed. The You encounters me. But I enter into a direct relationship to it. Thus the relationship is election and electing, passive and active at once...The concentration and fusion into a whole being can never be accomplished by men, can never be accomplished without me. I require a You to become; becoming I, I say You."

"I-You" relationships are completely unmediated in that no means comes between I and You. Such means is an obstacle to relation because it is an instrument of the It world. But the real divisive line of reality is not "between experience and non-experience, nor between the given and the not-given, nor between the world of being and the world of value, but across all the regions between You and It: between presence and object." Objects (It, He, She) reside in the past. I experienced a thunderstorm when I was three. I touched a starfish in 2007. The thunderstorm and the starfish are objects. They are past. Presence is being, is You. The "essential is lived in the present."

To bridge the boundary, some turn to the world of ideas. But ideas are not beings and cannot participate in I-You relations. "The It-humanity that some imagine, postulate, and advertise has nothing in common with the bodily humanity to which a human being can truly say You." One cannot love the idea of humanity. One must love persons. Only by saying You to each individual person can one say You to humanity. I-You relation demands action; "the essential act that here establishes directness is usually misunderstood as feeling, and thus misunderstood." Love, says Buber is not a feeling. "Feeling one "has"; love occurs. Fellings dwell in man, but man dwells in his love...Love is responsibility of an I for a You: in this consists what cannot consist in any feeling - the equality of all lovers, from the smallest to the greatest and from the blisfully secure whose life is circumscribed by the life of one beloved human being to him that is nailed his life long to the cross of the world, capable of what is immense and bold enough to risk it: to love man." These acts of an I-You relationship are reciprocal - not in that the one for whom they are done necessarily acts back but that "my You acts on me as I act on it. Our students teach us, our works form us."

Hatred, according to Buber, is not possible between and I and a You because hatred cannot be spoken with one's whole being nor can one hate if one truly sees a being in its wholeness." Hatred remains blind by its very nature; one can hate only part of a being. Whoever sees a whole being and must reject it, is no longer in the dominion of hatred but in the human limitation of the capacity to say You."

Though every You must at sometime become an It, be an object, it becomes again a You when an I speaks the basic word pair establishing I-You existence. One cannot at all times relate in the You world; the It world is necessary as well. The It world is firm and can be measured, put into nice little labeled boxes. The world of being, on the other hand, is present but unstable: "measure and comparison have fled." "It [the world of being] is your present; you have a present only insofar as you have it; and you can made it into an object for you and experience and use it - you must do that again and again - and then you have no present any more. Between you and it there is a reciprocity of giving: you say You to it and give yourself to it; it says You to you and gives itself to you. You cannot come to an understanding about it with others."

Man is tempted to live solely in the It world. It's much safer. There are do demands, no sacrifices, only using and experiencing. It is hard and objective. And so man is tempted to say You and mean It. Whoever means It says It with his being even if the form of his words is You; he establishes the I-It existence.
"One cannot live in the pure present: it would consume us if care were not taken that it is overcome quickly and thoroughly. But in pure past one can live; in fact, only there can a life be arranged. One only has to fill every moment with experiencing and using, and it ceases to burn."

I don't have time to explain more 'cause I've got to go take that exam. Hope this makes a little bit of sense! Bye, bye! :D

"And in all seriousness of truth, listen; without It a human being cannot live. But whoever lives only with that is not human."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Domine Quo Vadis?

Lord, where are you going?

If Christ goes before me, He treads down the path. What could not touch Him is powerless to harm those that are His.

Is He "going to Rome to be crucified again"? Then why should I flee? May I rest in His care, now and forever. May I hold firmly to His cross and passion and not give up hope or seek to build a life for myself when He gives one to me full and freely. May I trust Him and not grasp. May I grieve, but not as one without hope. Amen.

Meltdown Mode

So, (trying hard to comment objectively, aloof from myself)
I'm kind of in emotional meltdown mode today. I should be studying, but I'm not. I know it will pass, it always does (Praise be to Christ!), but that doesn't make it any easier when it does come, this churning sea of emotional turmoil. Maybe it's the fact that I discussed these pieces of art (among) in my art exam this morning.
Morning in the Riesengebirge - Caspar David Friedrich
On the Sailboat - Caspar David Friedrich

Or maybe I chose to discuss them because of this mood. At any rate, they were the paintings I found most simple to explain at length last night and today.
Good grief! I think I just want to cuddle into some solid warm sympathetic something and weep a little. I'm not sad, I'm just, I don't know. It sounds very silly and childish, but I've come to accept tears as an honorable outlet rather than a shame. They are substitutes for the words I can't say, don't even know how to say.

Some day, maybe I'll learn to be the strong woman I've tried to be since I was little. Back then, it was so easy to be Joan of Arc, Molly Pitcher, or other female patriots or saints of my fancy. Then, bang, something hit me at about 13 years old, started throwing me around at 15, and totally disoriented and hung me up by my thumbs at 16-17. Coming out of 17, I learned to ride the waves, predict them, and even to occasionally keep my mouth shut when the sea starts pitching. Now, I've become familiar to the point that the emotional upheaval is like an old annoying aquaintance. I know each feeling and what sorts of things it feels when it comes. I've learned to recognize that my reason does not control my "rational" thought during certain phases of my life. I'm becoming better at riding out the torrent, and waiting for a better day.

This is perhaps, my biggest point of contention with the Thomists I know: namely that man's thoughts and actions are rational (This may or may not reflect Aquinas: I can't even think about him right now.). You see, my thoughts were once rational. But sometimes, it is as if something else has hijacked my mind and completely turned my senses haywire. I'm in control, but it's not my rational me, or at least, it's a different rational me that's not rational. Then, say those Aristotelian men who've probably never undergone such an ordeal, it's your passions getting the better of your reason. But it's not. It's not a drive or a desire or a seeking the good. It's a whole different way of reasoning where logic doesn't satisfy or console, where this unreasonable reason takes control of one's mouth while the other reason cries in the background, "I don't really mean that. I'm so sorry. How, why does this other reasoning control me for these brief spans?" Deep down inside, I realize that my thoughts are incoherent and my words even less so.

It is so frustrating to live with two reasons - a reasonable and an unreasonable. Right now the unreasonable one wants me to unreasonably mourn a road I didn't take. But even that will pass, by God's grace.

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost.

Thanks to ODLBN for his wisdom and encouragement.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hail Thee Festival Day!

Hail thee Festival Day! Blest Day to be hallowed forever. Day when our Lord was raised, breaking the kingdom of death!

Christ is Risen!

He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

Christ is Risen!

He is truly Risen!

A holy kiss of this wonderous day to you all!

Unfortunately, I didn't get to sing Hail Thee Festival Day today. But apart from that, today was beyond amazing. Lest I forget it in the week of upcoming exams,* I'm going to try to record a bit of it here.

(Note: if you wish to read further, be aware that this post is quite slanted in the direction of the author's own opinion without any attempt at objectivity whatsoever.)

Last night I cast myself upon my bed having savored the first morsels of Easter munchables following an high Anglican Vigil and High Mass and having made more preparations for my feast today. (Did I mention that I was cooking in the kitchen from basically 7:30am to 5pm on Saturday?) I awoke at 5:15am, planning to mop the kitchen floor, take the chilled ham out of the freezer (which isn't really freezing), set out silverware, and sundry other minor dinner details. Instead I went back to bed for a scanty 15 minutes, before rising, dressing, grooming, and attending to ham & Co. Of course, I didn't have time to mop the floor.

I wore the same floral frock I have donned for the last 4 or 5 Easters - the one with with blue and purple flowers and a large, lace edged collar. Not exactly the warmest thing to wear for a freezing walk in the gray dawn, but I did sacrifice dress shoes for my dress boots (which are becoming very undressish now that I have walked in them for approximately an hour a day on hard concrete or salty slush since purchasing them.) Samantha and I set out at 6:20am for the Lutheran church I have been attending since my arrival here. The cold drove us to quite rapid speeds, and I think we broke my record for transit time to church - 25 minutes for what usually takes 30-40min.

Sunrise service was sparsely attended, unfortunately, but we sang four hymns (why couldn't we have sung more?) during the course of the service, used the whole of Divine Service Setting I (singing most parts = thumbs up), partook Eucharist (Praise be to Christ!), and I managed not cross myself too conspicuously (Why do I feel so self-conscious doing it in this church and not selfconscious at all in the other churches?). At the end of the service, the pastor called out from the back of the church, "He is Risen!" one last time. We responded, "He is Risen indeed!" -- At which he called out to us, "Good Job!" :P

Samantha and I betook ourselves to the basement and wolfed (in 15 min.) an excellent breakfast of pancakes, eggs, sausage, and coffee/hot chocolate (I skipped the caffeine for the fake chocolate). Then we high-tailed it out of there for the college, discussing the Blessed Virgin Mary and Other Assorted Saints (if you can abreviate BVM, why not OAS?) on the way. Samantha and I made it to the college to find Zack already there (you see, the man was our ride to his confirmation) donning confirmatory garb. I slipped the ham into the oven, remembering to turn the thing on, just in time to hop into the little blue car of Zack with Emily, Janice, and Samantha. (I wondered if Zach accompanied to his confirmation by four females might give the hens of the congregation cause to cackle. Apparently, the hens were ok, but why must all clergy be match-minded?)

We arrived a bit early (thank goodness! I was feeling quite, quite, quite ill [someone please teach me how to fast the Thurs-Fri-Sat without killing myself when I start to Pascally feast] but after a few minutes, I got over it) and took refuge beneath the earth - i.e. the basement - while the Matins above finished. I'm pretty sure that the Cathedral of the Annunciation could be the world's tiniest cathedral; it's at least in for the running. We packed the place full. The service was nifty, nice and liturgical. The biship was beaming, ruddily decked and toweringly hatted. The incense was strong, pervasive and cloudlike. Processions, liturgy, and curly bishop sticks are happy things. Zach sat in the front row (with his family) while the rest of us Augushteinians sat about 3/4 of the way from the front - which was still very close, distance-wise. Professor Tingley, his wife, and his two beautiful little daughters occupied the pew in front of us.

I liked the "Bish" (as Zach refers to him) a lot. What's not to like in full vestments and a high red hat which snaps open like a foldable laundry basket? I liked him even more when he compared the Holy Spirit to a wireless router. It sounds crazy, but the analogy totally worked - You can't see or explain how the Holy Spirit brings Christ to you, but He does. And making Zack explain the origins of the words "prevent" and "confirm" in Latin was brilliant. So the chap got confirmed, oiled, and blessed. (Dr.) Tingley stood up with him and was beaming that shy but very proud and happy Tingley sort of half smile. Of course, I didn't take the Eucharist, but I still opted for a blessing.
I actually really miss the communion blessing. I've almost been tempted in the past to ask my dear Pasto's for the blessing instead of the Sacrament, but I really want the Sacrament too.

After service, we took pictures of Zack and the Bishop; Zack, the Bish, the family; Zack, the Bish and Sponser/Standing-up-with-him-people (I don't remember what they're called). Yes, I got some pictures too. After all, I need a few un-nutty Zack pictures and how could I pass up snapping a photo of a real, live, uncaged Bishop? Then I ate food - confirmation refreshments - talked to other students, talked to Zack's family, talked to Zack's bishop who is a perfect mix of the corny and the ecclesiastic (He's Slightly Cwirlesque). Then we overloaded Zack's car by adding in Joel - who had also made it to the confirmation via another ride. On the way back, a strange golden onion-topped something piqued our curiousity so we pursuaded Zack to divert our route by it. We stopped so Joel could go up to it and read the label. He had to jump right through the hedge; he couldn't go around by the sidewalk. :P It turned out to be a ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia) and we spent the rest of the ride home discussing this phenomenon and noting police cars apparently watching tiger-flag waving protesters.

On returning home, I rescued the overflowing ham juice from the ham, basted and put the ham back in the oven, and devoted myself to completing dinner prep. I'll spare you, dear reader, a step by step commentary - other than that I shooed the boys out of the kitchen - but I must outline the menu:

Honey-Wheat bread and rolls
Mashed Potatoes
Honey,Lemon,Ginger Carrots
Mixed Veggies (corn, green beans, peas)
Pineapple, honey(+mustard) glazed ham
Devilled Monks (will discuss below)
Raspberry layered Jello
Lettuce Salad with other luscious toppings
Sliced Strawberries
Peach Crisp
Strawberry Milkshake

It was A TON of work, but it was absolutely magnificent!
Devilled Monks are my own creation. It came to me that I should gratify Emily's monk obsession by making devilled eggs in the form of Saxon monks. (Heehee!) I boiled the eggs, cut about a fourth inch off the top, and scooped out the yolk. I put the filling back in, pressing it out flat on the top to make a cm margin of yellow around the edges of the egg, and put the cap back on: visualize a yellow tonsure. Then I dipped a toothpick in balsamic vinegar and poked in little dark holes for eyes and smiley mouth. (Emily screamed and hugged me when she saw them: that made the trouble totally worth it.) Pictures might be forthcoming.

Anyway, I laid a nice table - sit down meal with table cloth, ceramic Easter table service, pretty serving bowls, etc. We were expecting 9 people for dinner - one didn't show up, but an extra did. We started late because of delay in arrivals at around 3:15pm; the food had started to cool, but that was ok. All in all we had:

Emily - sort of sub/honorary RA
Samantha - student
Zack - student
Joel - student
Jesse - Orthodox Clingon
Cyril - Eastern Catholic Clingon
Elizabeth - Orthodox Clingon
Reita - Anglican (becoming) Clingon

We ate, and ate, and talked, and sang some hymns, and talked, and then Cyril got up to go to church again, and we kept talking, and then the rest got up to go to church, etc at about 6:30pm.

Then Emily, Samantha and I headed to the chaplaincy (Da Place ov Cyril - hee hee) for Eastern Catholic Agape Vespers. It was lovely! We sang, we were "attentive" to "widom," the rather young priest (English is definitely not his first language, but his accent is beautiful) read/preached a sermon that I'd bet is from Chrysostom, though I'm not certain. It was so, so beautiful. We sang some more wonderful liturgy, got "incensed," and cried "Christ is Risen!" - "He is truly Risen!" responsively. Toward the end of the liturgy, while singing a beautiful resurrection chorus, people began to line up to kiss the icon of Christ. After kissing the icon, they began to greet the priest and each other by kissing each other on each cheek saying "Christ is Risen!" - "He is Truly Risen!"
At first, Emily, Samantha and I stood on the sidelines watching the joyful greetings. Having figured out the chorus, I was singing it with all my heart - "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life." After a few minutes, Harold, our Student Life Director worked his way over to us and greeted me in the same manner - "you can't come and not participate in the greeting." I was glad to receive it. A few others also extended greetings (kisses included in the package.) After about five minutes of this, Rebecca, Harold's wife, joyfully called out to us, "come, come! This isn't for Catholics only! You don't need to kiss the icon, but you must have a blessing and join us in greeting!" I could resist no longer. Sure, I wanted a blessing from the glowing priest; yes, I wanted to rub cheeks with every last person in that room and exclaim, "Christ is Risen!" - "He is Truly Risen!" a billion times! It was awesome!

After it was all over, Harold invited us to a Ukrainian Easter Party. "Hey, why not?" thought I. Oh, my goodness! Do Ukrainians know how to feast! There was enough rich pastries and cheeses and meat (especially pork sausages) to sink a battleship. And I have no idea how they fit so many people into that tiny little house. There were at least 10 families - kids included, plus single students. I didn't do much talking - watching Ukrainian Catholic culture keep Easter feast was pretty fascinating. Yes, there was the unavoidable beer keg, wine, and other such beverages. I opted for fresh apple cider. The trick to amusing one'self at parties where one is unfamiliar with the culture and ignorant of the language that half of the company speaks is to evesdrop on interesting conversations. Every now and again, several people would call relatives or friends, holding up their cell phones while the entire company sang rousing Easter hymns in Ukrainian (I think that's what it was) or English.

And now I'm home again, terribly tired out by cooking and feasting and singing. Tomorrow is my last day to study for exams and I haven't even begun. Yet, the Feast of Easter merits a break from academic pursuits. I don't regret it.

I'm especially glad that my dinner turned out so well. I've been planning it for some time. I was told by my guests that if I ever want to catch a husband, all I need to do is give the man that ham. Nice try boys. And Zack and Joel plotted to kidnap me to feed them and Emily to entertain them. :D It's nice to know that I can actually plan a feast and pull it off well. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment - a feeling like I've mastered something important - and it satisfies my feminine impulse to feed and nurture.

But I've a feeling I'll be eating leftover donuts for the next few days...

*Professor Bloedow gleefully explained that our upcoming αγων (test, contest) is the root of the English word "agony." Thanks Dr. Bloedow.

Christ is Risen!

Alleluia! Christ is Risen from Death and we with Him!

Now for a brief sleep before the glorious dawn breaks...

(I totally reek of the wondrous scent of incense; I wish my clothes would keep the smell through a washing, but I know that they won't.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

They don't make them like Daddy anymore.

They just don't. Dad is... he's, well, he's everything. I wish I could be like him, just a little. Mom too.

I don't know how they do it, how they keep on going. I don't understand how they know, how they are so confident. I want to do and not regret; to regret, be forgiven and put it behind me; to love, teach, lose my temper, and repent to and with my children. I want Mom's drive, Dad's knowledge.

I want to just look at them. I want to see, no, behold them. I want behold them looking at each other. I want to behold them in suit and gown. I want to see Dad in ripped, ragged, oil-stained Carhart's, stinking of diesel with wood curls in his hair and beard. I want to see mom with flour covering her grape-juice stained blouse, or on her hands and knees in a freshly plowed garden. I want to see them walking through the woods hand in hand. I want to see Mom in church, hear her weeping during a hymn. I want to see Mommy nodding during devotions as Daddy's mouth mirthfully twitches.

I want to see them when things aren't nice. I see again Daddy gently holding a dead rabbit, shaking with rage. I want to watch Mommy standing in a cemetery, her arms wrapped around her, looking at a red, heart-shaped, stone. I want to see Daddy stand beside her and watch them clasp each other close. I want to see Mom tired and black with frustration, angry at the exasperating undone chores. I want to watch Daddy, lying prostrate with the wracking pain of kidney stones, yet sealing in the groans. I want to watch him open his arms to a hurt wife, tense with resentment, and enclose her stiff form in a gentle embrace. I want to watch her force her angry arms to embrace him too and see the tense hurt relax and fall away as she melts into him. I want to see him massage her aching shoulders and watch her massage his aching feet. I want to watch them bandaging a burned child, see the hurt in their eyes preceding the spanking that touched me far less.

I want to see Dad balancing on a homemade ladder, far above the ground, and hear mom gasping in terror yet passing him tools as he calls for them. I want to see Daddy sneaking up to the house with a bouquet behind his back - for all the world like a sheepish five year old with dandilions. I want to watch Mom make Daddy's favorite cake.

It's not that I enjoy the sinfulness of my parents. I don't. But for all their sinfulness, I wouldn't have missed seeing the their repentance and forgiveness for each other and for me. They've shown me how to live. They've shown me love by living - living in front of me. I've seen them argue. I've seen them kiss. I've seen them cry together. I've seen them play. I've seen them work.They can work; my, can my parents work! I've seen the mud, the sweat, the mussed hair, the exhaustion, heard the laughter. I've watched them do things they didn't want to do but did anyway. I've gazed wide-eyed at the sacrifices.

No longer do I see them. I am far away. Yet these pictures in my mind are closer to my soul than any dead, still words in a book. I miss them. Yes, I long to be like them. I long to dance the earthy dance they dance in unashamedly earthy garments. But I would gladly give that all up to just watch them: to watch them for the rest of my life, understanding, pondering, and marveling in hushed awe at what I see.

They just don't make them like Daddy anymore. Mommy neither.

This is why girls burst into tears when their fathers send them brilliant email criticisms of their work - it's awe, love, and something akin to reverence.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Holy Week Ecumenism: a little bit of everything

Ahem. This is what the upcoming week looks like. I might as well get in all that I can while I still have the freedom and opportunity. This week is Western Holy Week. Next week I'll turn Eastern for at least one Pasca service - we'll see how much work I get done this week.

Monday: 7:30 pm. Latin Mass at a Traditional Roman Catholic church followed by Compline.

Tuesday: [? 7am Latin Mass?] 8:00pm. Tenebrae at a High-Anglican church.

Wednesday: 7:30pm. Tenebrae at the R.C. Cathedral Basilica.

Thursday: 7:30pm. Maundy Thursday Divine Service at my regular Lutheran church.

Friday: 10:30 am. Good Friday Service at my regular Lutheran church.
[? 3pm. Latin Mass? Passion Service at the Basilica?]

Saturday: evening sometime. Vigil at a High-Anglican church.

Sunday: 7:00 am. "Sonrise" Service at my regular Lutheran church.
8:30 am. Easter Breakfast.
10:00 am. Easter Service at an Anglo-Catholic Cathedral for a fellow student's confirmation.

Does that sound like a pretty decent week of ecumenistic churchgoing in the best liturgy of the Western Rite?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

MacDonald's Lilith: A Matter of Life and Death.

I sense another long night approaching; once again I'm seized by the blogging urge at an unearthly hour. Here goes:

Introducing George MacDonald on procreation, children, and submission in his novel Lilith. As I have not (to my loss which I hope to soon remedy) read anything else by MacDonald, I won't presume to add much interpretation to the passages: they speak for themselves.

Setting the Stage:
Lilith is a highly figurative work. Every detail hints at something else - both within the narrative and outside the narrative. Hence it is difficult to properly understand without it's fictional context or a sense of what the author is driving at. Yet the point of some passages could hardly speak clearer.
In this book, Lilith - the mythic first (angelic) wife of Adam (take it figuratively where you will) - is the great Antagonist (herself decieved by the Satanic Shadow). She hates living things, especially children and particularly her own daughter Lona, seeking their destruction, (sustaining and perpetuating her beauty and youth by feeding upon blood.) It is foretold that her child will be her undoing.
The primary recalcitrant protagonist, Mr. Vane, is a man of our world (or rather "dimension") who is slowly learning both who he is, his name, how to live, and how to die (the four themes intertwine quite closely) among other things. At the moment of this conversation, Mr. Vane discourses with Mara (Woman of Sorrow - hint, hint) about the land of Bulika where (though he does not know it) Lilith rules. Mara speaks:

There is a city in that grassy land," she replied, "where a woman is princess. The city is called Bulika. But certainly the princess is not a girl! She is older than this world, and came to it from yours -- with a terrible history, which is not over yet. She is an evil person, and prevails much with the Prince of the Power of the Air. The people of Bulika were formerly simple folk, tilling the ground and pasturing sheep. She came among them, and they received her hospitably. She taught them to dig for diamonds and opals and sell them to strangers, and made them give up tillage and pasturage and build a city. One day they found a huge snake and killed it; which so enraged her that she declared herself their princess, and became terrible to them. The name of the country at that time was The Land of Waters...But the wicked princess gathered up in her lap what she could of the water over the whold country, closed it in an egg, and carried it away. Her lap, however, would not hold more than half of it; and the instant she was gone, what she had not taken fled away underground, leaving the country as dry and dusty as her own heart. Were it not for the waters under it, every living thing would long ago have perished from it. For where no water is, o rain falls; and where no rain falls, no springs rise. Ever since then, the princess has lived in Bulika, holding the inhabitants in constant terror, and doing what she can to keep them from multipying. Yet they boast and believe themselves a prosperous, and certainly are a self-satisfied people -- good at bargaining and buying, good at selling and cheeting; holding well together for a common interest, and uterly treacherious where interests clas; proud of their princess and her power, and despising every one they get the better of; never doubting themselves the most honourable of all the nations, and each man counting himself better than any other. The depth of their worthlessness and height of their vain-glory no one can understand who has not been there to see, who has not learned to know the miserable misgoverned and self-deceived creatures.

Introducing Lilith's pride:
Mr. Vane, in his lonely journey toward Bulika, stumbled across a woman - or rather, what remained of a woman - lying uncovered, cold, and 'skeletonic' [word coined here] in the woods. Unwilling to leave a woman exposed, yet unwilling to bury her if life could by any means be brought back, Vane devotes over a month to her care in the merest hope of revival from the death which seems to hold her in its grip. He bathes her daily in a warm stream, squeezes juice into her lips, and focuses his whole attention, his very desire and hope, on the remote chance of recovering this once dazzlingly beautiful woman as a companion. Toward the latter weeks of his watch, however, a leech-like creature begins to suck his blood every night, but he pays it little mind for the flesh begins to fill out on his charge. One morning he is woken by the woman. This rather strange exchange fires from her lips (reminiscent of Lewis' Jadis [whom Lewis casts as a descendent of Lilith]):

I stopped: a strange smile had flickered over her beautiful face.
"Did you find me there?" she asked, pointing to the cave.
"No; I brought you there," I replied.
"You brought me ?"
"From where?"
"From the forest."
"What have you done with my clothes - and my jewels?"
"You had none when I found you."
"Then why did you not leave me?"
"Because I hoped you were not dead."
"Why should you have cared?"
"Because I was very lonely, and wanted you to live."
"You would have kept me enchanted for my beauty!" she said, with proud scorn.
Her words and her look aroused my indignation.
"There was no beauty in you," I said.
"Why, then, again, did you not led me alone?"
"Because you were of my own kind."
"Of your kind?" she cried, in a tone of utter contempt.
"I thought so, but I find I was mistaken!"
"Doubtless you pitied me!"
"Never had woman more claim on pity, or less on any other feeling!"
With an expression of pain, mortification, and anger un-utterable, she turned from me and stood silent. Starless night lay profound in the gulfs of her eyes: hate of him who brought it back had slain their splendour. The light of life was gone from them...

"Ha! How long do you pretend I have lain unconscious? -- Answer me at once."
"I cannot tell how long you had lain when I found you, but there was nothing left of you save skin and bone: that is more than three months ago. --Your hair was beautiful, nothing else! I have done for it what I could."...
...She gave a shudder of disgust, and stood for a while with her gaze fixed on the hurrying water. Then she turned to me:
"We must understand each other!" she said. "--You have done me the two worst of wrongs -- compelled me to live, and put me to shame: neither of them can I pardon!"
She raised her left hand, and flung it out as if repelling me. Something ice-cold struck me on the forehead....

Hang on a minute, Lilith! I'm starting to get a very vague idea of your value system and it looks a tad skewed from the get go: to compel you to live and to shame you by helping you are the greatest wrongs one could do to you?

Lilith's appetite for children, mothers, and hatred of procreation:
Vane has begun to have horrible doubts as to Lilith's identity (he doesn't yet know her name) after seeing her transform? into a spotted leopardess and charge toward Bulika. He sees a mother pursued by the leopardess, hears a scream of anguish, and rushes to the scene to find that the mother has crushed the leopardess' left paw with a stone, prompting the beast's bloody flight. He converses with the mother (who is herself not native to Bulika):

"There, my darling is asleep! The foul beast has not hurt her! -- Yes; it was my baby she was after!" she went on, caressing the child. "and then she would have torn her mother to pieces for carrying her off! -- Some say the princess has two white leopardesses," she continued: "I know only one -- with spots. Everybody knows her! If the princess hear of a baby, she sends her immediately to suck its blood, and then it either dies or grows up and idiot. I would have gone away with my baby, but the princess was from home, and I thought I might wait..."
"Why is the princess so cruel?"
"There is an old prophecy that a child will be the death of her. That is why she will listen to no offer of marriage, they say."
"But what will become of her country if she kills all the babies?"
"She does not care about her country. She sends witches around to teach the women spells that keep babies away, and give them horrible things to eat. Some say she is in league with the Shadows to put an end to the race. At night we hear the questing beast, and lie awake and shiver. She can tell at once the house where a baby is coming, and lies down at the door, watching to get in. There are words that have power to shoo her away, only they do not always work..."

Of Bulikian materialism and strangers:
Vane cowering in an alley when the spotted leopardess passes is joined by a Bulikian woman who condescends to speak to him, though strangers and poor are to be shunned.

"[The spotted leopardess] is kept in a cage, her mouth muzzled, and her feet in gloves of crocodile leather. Chained she is too; but she gets out often, and sucks the blood of any child she can lay hold of. Happily there are not many mothers in Bulika!"...
...I asked her many questions. She told me the people never did anything except dig for precious stones in their cellars. They were rich, and had everything made for them in other towns.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because it is a disgrace to work," she answered. "Everybody in Bulika knows that!"
I asked how they were rich if none of them earned money. She replied that their ancestors had saved for them, and they never spent. When they wanted money they sold a few of their gems.
"But there must be some poor!" I said.
"I suppose there must be, but we never think of such people. When one goes poor, we forget him. That is how we keep rich. We mean to be rich always."
"But when you have dug up all your precious stones and sold them, you will have to spend your money, and one day you will have none left!"
"We have so many, and there are so many still in the ground, that that day will never come," she replied.
"Suppose a strange people were to fall upon you, and take everything you have!"
"No strange people will dare; they are all horribly afraid of our princess. She it is who keeps us safe and free and rich!"
Every now and then as she spoke, she would stop and look behind her.
I asked why her people had such a hatred of strangers. She answered that the presence of a stranger defiled the city.
"How is that?" I said.
"Because we are more ancient and noble than any other nation. --Therefore," she added, "we always turn strangers out before night."...
..."Is there no place in the city for the taking in of strangers?"
"Such a place would be pulled down, and its owner burned. How is purity to be preserved except by keeping low people at a proper distance? Dignity is such a delicate thing!"

Wow, Bulikite! You live in constant fear of your princess, yet you speak of her as the one who keeps us "safe and free and rich." Wealth takes priority. Yours is a society where work is shameful - we spend our fathers' riches - and racism coexists with infanticide. Interesting connection with the latter two, but perhaps I shouldn't make much of it, Eh?

Lilith on aging:
Vane is foolishly (against Mr. Raven/Adam's advice) listening to Lilith who is attempting to seduce him to bend to her deceitful, selfish machinations:

"Our natures, however, are so different, that this may not be easy. Men and women live but to die; we, that is such as I --we are but a few -- live to live on. Old age is to you a horror; to me it is a dear desire: the older we grow, the nearer we are to our perfection. Your perfection is a poor thing, comes soon, and lasts but a little while; ours is a ceaseless ripening. I am not yet ripe, and have lived thousands of your years --how many, I never cared to note. The everlasting will not be measured."

Sooo, Lilith sees man's life as a horror, her own as everlasting exercise in perfection. Hmm. Let's see if we can expand on this.

Lilith's Drive for Personal Autonomy:
Deceived into performing service for Lilith, Vane accidentally leads her back into his world -- from which she may be able to reach her innocent daughter! Mr. Raven, the mysterious Crow/ Sexton/ Librarian, revealed in his true nature as Adam, exposes Lilith in the guise of a cat and gently but masterfully exercises his capacity to stay her for the moment and exhort her to repentence. She will have none of it:

...returning to the cat, stood over her and said, in a still, solemn voice: --
"Lilith, when you came here on the way to your evil will, you little thought into whose hands you were delivering yourself! -- Mr. Vane, when God created me...He brought me an angelic splendour to be my wife: there she lies! For her first thought was power; she counted it slavery to be one with me, and bear children for Him who gave her being. Once child, indeed, she bore; then, puffed with the fancy that she had created her, would have me fall down and worship her! Finding, however, that I would but love and honour, never obey and worship her, she poured out her blood to escape me, fled... How it is with her now, she best knows, but I know also. The one child of her body she fears and hates, and would kill, asserting a right which is a lie, over what God sent through her into His new world. Of creating, she knows no more than the crystal that takes its allotted shape, or the worm that makes two worms when it is cloven asunder. Vilest of God's creatures, she lives by the blood and lives and souls of men. She consumes and slays, but is powerless to destroy as to create.....

....It is but her jealousy that speaks, " he said, "jealousy self-kindled, foiled and fruitless; for here I am, her master now whom she would not have for her husband! while my beautiful Eve yet lives, hoping immortally! Her hated daughter lives also, but beyond her evil ken, one day to be what she counts her destruction -- for even Lilith shall be saved by her childbearing. Meanwhile she exults that my human wife plunged herself and me in despair, and has borne me a countless race of miserables; but my Eve repented, and is now beautiful as never was woman or angel, while her groaning, travailing world is the nursery of our Father's children. I to have repented, and am blessed. --Thou, Lilith, hast not yet repented; but thou must. --Tell me, is the great Shadow beautiful? Knowest thou how long thou wilt thyself remain beautiful? --Answer me, if thou knowest."
Then at last I understood that Mr. Raven was indeed Adam, the old and the new man; and that his wife, ministering in the house of the dead, was Eve, the mother of us all, the lady of the New Jerusalem.
The leopardess reared; the flickering and fleeing of her spots began; the princess at length stood radiant in her perfect shape.
"I am beautiful -- and immortal!" she said -- and she looked the goddess she would be.
"As a bush that burns, and is consumed," answered he who had been her husband. "--What is that under they right hand?"
For her arm lay across her bosom, and her hand was pressed to her side.
A swift pang contorted her beautiful face, and passed.
"It is but a leopard-spot that lingers! it will quickly follow those I have dismissed," she answered.
"Thou art beautiful because God created thee, but thou art the slave of sin: take they hand from thy side."
Her hand sank away, and as it dropt she looked him in the eyes with a quailing fierceness that had in it no surrender.
He gazed a moment at the spot.
"It is not on the leopard; it is in the woman!" he said. "Nor will it leave thee until it hath eaten to they heart, and they beauty hath flowed from thee through the open wound!"
She gave a glance downward, and shivered.
"Lilith," said Adam, and his tone had changed to a tender beseeching, "hear me, and repent, and He who made thee will cleanse thee!"
Her hand returned quivering to her side. Her face grew dark. She gave the cry of one from whom hope is vanishing. The cry passed into a howl. She lay writhing on the floor, a leopardess covered with spots.
"The evil thou meditatest," Adam resumed, "thou shalt never compass, will it fare with thee when Time hath vanished in the dawn of the eternal morn? Repent, I beseech thee; repent, and be again an angel of God!"
She rose, she stood upright, a woman once more, and said,
"I will not repent. I will drink the blood of thy child."

If you want to know what happens next, read the book: I haven't time to give the entire plot, and even this extended passage is perhaps a bit superfluous, but I couldn't resist including it. It's such a fascinating exchange.
The cat of Lilith shut up in a closet, Mr. Vane and Adam prepare to return to the other world to rescue Lona and the little ones she cares for. Adam comments on Lilith:

"We must be on our guard," he said, "or she will again outwit us. She would befool the very elect!"
How are we to be on our guard?" I asked.
"Every way," he answered." She fears, therefore hates her child, and is in this house on her way to destroy her. The birth of children is in her eyes the death of their parents, and every new generation the enemy of the last. Her daughter appears to her and open channel throuh which her immortality -- which yet she counts self-inherent -- is flowing fast away: to fill it up, almost from her birth she has pursued her with an utter enmity. But the result of her machinations hitherto is, that in the region she claims as her own, has appeared a colony of children, to which my daughter is heart and head and sheltering wings...

It appears that to Lilith, children challenge and steal the parent's life; they constitute a huge drain. Her own "immortality" must be preserved at all costs. Even mother love falls before the drive for self-deification.

Mr. Vane's refusal to die to live:
Once before, Mr. Vane refused Adam and Eve's admonition to sleep the death that dies into life. Now, Adam tells him that he will be no help to the children until he die and wake again. Vane had promised to listen to and obey Adam, but, atop Adam's steed, he changes his mind (Lilithesque). He deceives himself that, by virtue of his love for the Little Ones (Lona and her charges), his rebellion is justified:

"I long so much to ride after the leopardess," I answered, "that I can scarce restrain myself!"
"You have promised!"
"My debt to the Little Ones appears, I confess, a greater thing than my bond to you."
"Yield to temptation and you will bring mischief upon them -- and on yourself also."
"What matters it for me? I love them; and love works no evil. I will go."
But the truth was, I forgot the children, infatuate with the horse.
Eyes flashed through the darkness, and I knew that Adam stood in his own shape beside me. I knew also by his voice that eh repressed an indignation almost too strong for him.
"Mr. Vane," he said, "do you not know why you have not yet done anything worth doing?"
"Because I have been a fool," I answered.
"In everything."
"Which do you count your most indiscreet action?"
"Bringing the princess to life: I ought to have left her to her just fate."
"Nay, now you talk foolishly! You could not have done otherwise than you did, not knowing she was evil! --But you never brought any one to life! How could you, yourself dead?"
"I dead?" I cried.
"Yes," he answered; "and you will be dead, so long as you refused to die."...
..."Mr. Vane," croaked the raven, "think what you are doing! Twice already has evil befallen you --once from fear, and once from heedlessness: breach of word is far wose; it is a crime."
"The Little Ones are in frightful peril, and I brought it upon them!" I cried. "--But indeed I will not break my word to you. I will return, and spend in your house what nights --what days -- what years you please."
"I tell you once more you will do them other than good if you go to-night," he insisted.
But a false sense of power, a sense which had no root and was merely vibrated into me from the strength of the horse, had, alas, rendered me too stupid to listen to anything he said!

The end does not justify the means. Love is not a trump card which we can play to do what we really want. Though we are excellent at building up a huge castle of excuses for ourselves, rebellion is not the proper product of love. And the dead cannot make themselves or anyone else alive.

Lilith's Painful Repentence and the hand she cannot open:
Mr. Vane (disobeying Adam) has sought out the Little Ones - the children in the care of Lona whom he loves - and has organized them into a miniature army to take over Bulika, find their mothers and defeat the princess. When they reach the palace, Lona in affectionate childlike confidence makes a beeline for the arms of her mother--who dashes her to the marble pavement with demonic triumph. She breathes her last, the words, "Mother, Mother," on her lips. Vane is crushed, and repentent.The children bind Lilith whose strength has dwindled, though she's bloodthirsty enough still, and set out to bear the physically dead and the spiritually dead to Adam. Their first halt is the desert house of Mara ('catwoman,' the white leopardess). Vane tries to correct the children's misconceptions of Mara:

"Will the cat-woman --I mean the woman that istn't the cat-woman, and has no claws on her toes -- give her [Lilith] grapes?"
"She is more likely to give her scratches!"
"Why? --You say she is her friend!"
"That is just why. --A friend is one who gives us what we need, and the princess is sorely in need of a terrible scratching."...

Mara speaks:
"Mr. Vane," she said, "and you, Little Ones, I thank you! This woman would not yield to gentler measures; harder must have their turn. I must do what I can to make her repent!"
The pitiful-hearted Little Ones began to sob sorely.
"Will you hurt her very much, lady Mara?" said the girl I have just mentioned, putting her warm little hand in mine.
"Yes; I am afraid I must; I fear she will make me!" answered Mara. "It would be cruel to hurt her too little. It would have all to be done again, only worse."
"May I stop with her?"
"No, my child. She loves no one, therefore she cannot be with any one. There is One who will be with her, but she will not be with Him."
"Will the shadow that came down the hill be with her?"
"The great Shadow will be in her, I fear, but he cannot be with her, or with any one. She will know that I am beside her, but that will not comfort her...."

The Children are put to bed. Vane and Mara wait in her hearth room, Lilith recumbent and seemingly unconscious upon the settle, as the shadows congeal around them. Midnight comes, Mara rises and unwraps her previously muffled face:

Then I saw her face. It was lovely beyond speech --white and sad, heart-and-soul sad, but not unhappy, and I knew it never could be unhappy. Great tears were running down her cheeks; she wiped them away with her robe; her countenance grew very still, and she wept no more. But for the pity in every line of her expression, she would have seemed severe. She laid her hand on the head of the princess -- on the hair that grew low on the forehead, and stooping, breathed on the sallow brow. The body shuddered.
"Will you turn away from the wicked things you have been doing so long?" said Mara gently.
The princess did not answer. Mara put the question again, in the same soft, inviting tone.
Still there was no sign of hearing. She spoke the words a third time.
Then the seeming corpse opened its mouth and answered, its words appearing to frame themselves of something else than sound. --I cannot shape the thing further: sounds they were not, yet they were words to me.
"I will not," she said. "I will be myself and not another!"
"Alas, you are another now, not yourself! Will you not be your real self?"
"I will be what I mean myself now."
"If you were restored, would you not make what amends you could for the misery you have caused?"
"I would do after my nature."
"You do not know it: your nature is good, and you do evil!"
"I will do as my Self pleases --as my Self desires."
"You will do as the Shadow, overshadowing your Self inclines you?"
"I will do what I will do."
"You have killed your daugher, Lilith!"
"I have killed thousands. She is my own!"
"She was never yours as you are another's."
"I am not another's; I am my own, and my daughter is mine."
"Then, alas, your hour is come!"
"I care not. I am what I am; no one can take from me myself!"
"You are not the Self you imagine."
"So long as I feel myself what it pleases me to think myself, I care not. I am content to be to myself what I would be. What I choose to seem to myself makes me what I am. My own thought makes me me; my own thought of myself is me. Another shall not make me!"
"But another has made you, and can compel you to see what you have made yourself. You will not be able much longer to look to yourself anything but what he sees you! You will not much longer have satisfaction in the thought of yourself. At this moment you are aware of the coming change!"
"No one ever made me. I defy that Power to unmake me from a free woman! You are his slave, and I defy you! You may be able to torture me --I do not know, but you shall not compel me to anything against my will!"
"Such a compulsion would be without value. But there is a light that goes deeper than the will, a light that lights up the darkness behind it: that light can change your will, can make it truly yours and not another's --not the Shadow's. Into the created can pour itself the creating will, and so redeem it!"
"That light shall not enter me: I hate it! --Begone, slave!"
"I am no slave, for I love that light, and will with the deeper will which created mine. There is no slave but the creature that wills against its creator...
"You speak foolishness from a cowering heart! You imagine me given over to you: I defy you! I hold myself against you! What I choose to be, you cannot change. I will not be what you think me --what you say I am!"
"I am sorry: you must suffer!"
"But be free!"
"She alone is free who would make free; she loves not freedom who would enslave: she is herself a slave. Every life, every will, every heart that came within your ken, you have sought to subdue: you are the slave of every slave you have made --such a slave that you do not know it! See your own self!"

If you've made it this far, dear reader, I certainly hope you did not just skim that last passage: there's a lot there. Basically, Lilith thinks she is her own master and defies any one who would hold her accountable to aught but herself. She claims to control her very being - she is what she chooses to see herself. She claims to own her daughter.
The worm/leech which is Lilith, creeps into Lilith through the dark spot in her side. She begins to see herself in her horror. Mara speaks to Vane:

"...She sees at last the good she is not, the evil she is. She knows that she is herself the fire in which she is burning, but she does not know that the Light of Life is the heart of that fire. Her torment is that she is what she is. Do not fear for her; she is not forsaken. No gentler way to help her was left..." Large tears fell from her eyes on the woman who had never wept, and would not weep.
"Will you change your way?"she said at length.
"Why did he make me such?" gasped Lilith. "I would have made myself --oh, so different! I am glad it was he that made me and not I myself! He alone is to blame for what I am! Never would I have made such a worthless thing! He meant me such that I might know it and be miserable! I will not be made any longer!"
"Unmake yourself, then," said Mara.
"Alas, I cannot! You know it, and mock me! How often have I not agonised to cease, but the tyrant keeps me being! curse him! Now let him kill me!"
The words came in jets as from a dying fountain.
"Had he not made you," said Mara, gently and slowly, "you could not even hate him. But he did not make you such. You have made yourself what you are. --Be of better cheer: he can remake you."
"I will not be remade!"
"He will not change you; he will only restore you to what you were."
"I will not be aught of his making."

...."Those, alas, are not the tears of repentance!" she said. "The true tears gather in the eyes. Those are far more bitter, and not so good. Self-loathing is not sorrow. Yet it is good, for it marks a step in the way home, and in the father's arms the prodigal forgets the self he abominates. Once with his father, he is to himself of no more account. It will be so with her."
She went nearer and said,
"Will you restore that which you have wrongfully taken?"
"I have taken nothing," answered the princess, forcing out the words in spite of pain, "that I had not the right to take. My power to take manifested my right."

....I looked, and saw: before her, cast from unseen heavenly mirror, stood the freflection of herself, and beside it a form of splendent beauty. She trembed, and sank again on the floor helpless. She knew the one what God had intended her to be, the other what she had made herself...
..."You have conquered. Let me go into the wilderness and bewail myself."
Mara saw that her submission was not feigned, neither was it real. She looked at her a moment, and returned...
"Open thy hand, and let that which is in it go."
A fierce refusal seemed to struggle for passage, but she kept it prisoned.
"I cannot," she said. "I have no longer the power. Open it for me."
She held out the offending hand. It was more a paw than a hand. It seemed to me plain that she could not open it.
Mara did not even look at it.
"You must open it yourself," she said quietly.
"I have told you I cannot!"
"You can if you will --not indeed at once, but by persistent effort. What you have done, you do not yet wish undone --do not yet intend to undo!"
"You think so, I dare say, " rejoined the princes with a flash of insolence, "but I know that I cannot open my hand!"
"I know you better than you know yourself, and I know you can. You have oten opened it a little way. Without trouble and pain you cannot open it quite, but you can openit. At worst you could beat it open! i pray you, gather your strength, and open it wide."
"I will not try what I know impossible. It would be the part of a fool!"
"Which you have been playing all your life! Oh, you are hard to teach!"
Defiance reappeared on the face of the princess. She turned her back on Mara, saying,
"I know what you have been tormenting me for! You have not succeeded, nor shall you succeed! You shall yet find me stronger than you think! I will yet be mistress of myself! I am still what I have always know myself --queen of Hell, and mistress of the worlds!"

Then came the most fearful thing of all. I did not know what it was; I knew myself unable to imagine it; I knew only that it came near me I should die of terror! I now know that it was Life in Death --life dead, yet existent; and I knew that Lilith had had glimpses, but only glimpses of it before: it had never been with her until now....with my eyes I saw the face of a live death! She knew life only to know that it was dead, and that, in her, death lived. It was not merely that life had ceasedin her, but that she was consciously a dead thing. She had killed her life, and was dead --and knew it. She must death it for ever and ever! She had tried her hardest to unmake herself, and could not! She was a dead life! she could not cease! she must be! ...Her bodily eyes stood wide open, as if gazing into the heart of horror essential -- her own indestructible evil. Her right hand also was now clenched --upon existent Nothing --her inheritance!
But with God all things are possible: He can save even the rich!...
"I yield," said the princess. "I cannot hold out. I am defeated. --Not the less, I cannot open my hand."
"Have you tried?"
"I am trying now with all my might."
"I will take you to my father. You have wronged him worst of the created, therefore he best of the created can help you."
"How can he help me?"
"He will forgive you."
"Ah, if he would but help me to cease! Not even that I am capable of! I have no power over myself; I am a slave! I acknowledge it. Let me die."
"A slave thou art that shall one day be a child!" answered Mara. --"Verily, thou shalt die, but not as thou thinkest. Thou shalt die out of death into life. Now is the Life for, that never was against thee!"
Did you follow all that? Watch the unfolding drama of the hand when Lilith reaches the house of Adam where all sleep and die to live:
"Beautiful Eve, pursuade your husband to kill me: to you he will listen! Indeed I would but cannot open my hand."
"You cannot die without opening it. To kill you would not serve you," answered Eve. "But indeed he cannot! no one can kill you but the Shadow; and whom he kills never knows she is dead, but lives to do his will, and thinks she is doing her own."
"Show me then to my grave; I am so weary I can live no longer. I must go to the Shadow --yet I would not!"
She did not, could not understand!
..."You shall not go to the Shadow," I heard Eve say, as we passed them. "Even now is his head under my heel!"
..."Lilith," said Mara, you will not sleep, if you lie there a thousand years, until you have opened your hand, and yielded that which is not yours to give or to withhold."
"I cannot," she answered. "I would if I could, and gladly, for I am weary, and the shadows of death are gathering about me."
"They will gather and gather, but they cannot infold you while yet your hand remains unopened...Open your hand, and you will sleep indeed --then wake indeed."
"I am trying hard, but the fingers have grown together and into the palm."
"I pray you put forth the strength of your will. For the love of life, draw together your forces and break its bonds!"
"I have struggled in vain; I can do no more. I am very weary, and sleep lies heavy upon my lids."
"The moment you open you hand, you will sleep. Open it, and make an end."
A tinge of colour arose in teh parchment-like face; the contorted hand trembled with agonised effort, Mara took it, and sought to aid her.
"Hold, Mara!" cried her father. "There is danger!"
The princess turned her eyes upon Eve, beseechingly.
"There was a sword I once saw in your husband's hands," she murmured. "I fled when I saw it. I heard him who bore it say it would divide whatever was not one and indivisible!"
..."Bring it, Adam," pleaded Lilith, "and cut me off this hand that I may sleep."
"I will," he answered.
...She saw the sword, shuddered, and held out her hand. Adam took it. The sword gleamed once, there was one little gush of blood, and he laid the severed hand in Mara's lap. Lilith had given one moan, and was already fast asleep. ..."Where the dead deformity clung," replied Mara, "the true, lovely hand is already growing."
All right. Now to try to sum up why in the world I spent all this time typing out passages from a Victorian era fantasy about a bloodthirsty woman who won't die and happens to have a deformed hand.
Children are critical in George MacDonald's Lilith --in more ways than I have quoted here. The faith of the childlike makes them the wise ones in all their foolishness. They are the ones who, though living have already died and are thereby truly alive. (Which is why Lilith couldn't actually destroy Lona; she had already died into life.) Children are the gifts of the Father, hope for creation. They center the entire narrative which circles around Vane and Lilith becoming children. For Vane, the children seem to be the first people he ever loves (other than himself and his horses), while for Lilith, the first sign of permanent character change to good emerges when she expresses concern over the safety of the children. The children themselves, like the water, are hidden away, and their very lack of fear, protects them. (If you've read the book, think crossing the monster basin.) The very act of growing up (precipitated by increasing selfishness) renders them "bad giants" for it is as children that they receive and joy in good gifts.
Lilith, in her unregenerate state, abhores children and seeks their destruction because they threaten her power over her own existence and supremacy. She will not even allow other mothers their infants, but while teaching "her" people pride, greed, and cruelty, she enforces infanticide, and contraception. This stance against babies is described as a league with the Shadow to put an end to the human race and a malice toward the repentant Eve whose children are blessed and redeemed.
Is there an applicable lesson here? For one, MacDonald demonstrates the immeasurable blessing of children to their mothers and to the world. Evil seeks to prevent this blessing and murders it whenever possible. He also holds up children as the model of the wisdom of God in foolishness and as those who are ready to simply receive, trust, and love unquestioningly. The children even love Lilith when she bites them as they feed their captive; Lona loves her mother even when she slays her body. Because they love and trust, they sleep easiest and wake earliest.
I'm continually fascinated by MacDonald's descriptions of the people of Bulika as facets of their culture and society so nearly resemble our own. Can a culture like this be restored? For Bulika, one gets a sense that the waters unleashed by the burial of Lilith's hand in a deep spring will bring healing to the country and the city. Where are the waters of our day hid? What words repel the witches who prevent the birth of babies with horrible food? MacDonald's answer seems to indicate that only regeneration through repentence, forgiveness, and dying to one's own will and flesh, works the transformation of individuals and the culture. Yet repentence and surrender cannot come by an act of one's own strength - the eyes will not see until shown a true reflection; the hand will not open of one's own accord. For this, we need Mara - the "Lady of Sorrows," the "voice that called in the wilderness before ever the Baptist came," the one who calls to repentence. MacDonald seems purposely not to make her directly symbolic of any one individual. But she is the preacher who calls out, like wisdom in the streets, she holds up the mirror of the Law and offers bread and water to the hungry and thirsty. And until her work is done, she will not cease to beckon.
The end. I hope it's coherent.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Did I really just do that?

Someone tell me I did not just stay up until two in the morning ..... again.

Yes, well, I did. But it was worth it. With Graduation fast approaching, who knows whether I shall ever have another opportunity to sing hymns for 4 hours straight? Papers are overrated; hymns are not.

(But we just couldn't find it in us to pull ourselves together enough to sing "The Angel Gabriel" without laughing hysterically by the end of the first verse. We did try four times. Please don't ask me why because I don't want to ruin the hymn for you. )