It Is Finished

All that perishes is done, its temporality
expired, its finite span come to an end.
Love dawns, and darkness runs for cover,
scattering to its mysterious retreats,
its caverns damp and chill and inhospitable to all
except the twisted denizens of night. But light
now floods the caves and crevices, and darkness
has no place to hide.

It is finished. Now everything begins, and
what now is, what has begun, is born of love
and cannot die. Remember this, in winters
that descend untimely, blighted by disease
or grief, when pain extinguishes anticipation,
faith is tested and found wanting, hope is lost.
But hopelessness is finished, and despair died
on the cross.

Now everything begins, and we reside
in that eternal morning where the sun
forever rises, lavishing magnificent
abundance on the living—energy for
what we are and what we shall become.

Like seeds dropped carelessly among dry weeds,
for what seemed an eternity we waited, tiny
miracles of life and possibility. We waited
comfortlessly, frozen, numb below the crust
of earth where we’d arrived, not understanding
why or how, borne by which wind or for what
purpose. There we lay, absurdly small and
weak, without the power to exchange our
situation with what we aspired to be—the oak,
the grapevine, even (if we had no other choice)
the common milkweed—anything alive
and free. We waited, with our destinies
obscure, obeying the imperative of life, until
the earth around us warmed and softened,
waking our imaginations. Smothering in
darkness, blind but sensing that the equinox
had come and gone—the sun returned at
last and lengthening the days—how urgently
we longed to break our bonds and dance.
And still we waited, waited on, exhilarated,
frightened, eager to explore; we would have
chosen to emerge before our time, too soon
discarding our protection but for intuition’s
wise reluctance, warning of another killing
frost… and so we waited, waited on, until
we thought that we must climb out of the
grave or die. Denied, we grew impatient, tried
to plan how it would be, and doubted our
ability to push through the detritus of
innumerable seasons, layers of debris that
moldered as we slept—dead grass; damp,
matted leaves; entangled roots of ancient trees
compounded by neglect and entropy… a feast
for worms, perhaps… for us, a trap, impenetrable
by such means as we possessed, without
momentum, drained of will, and utterly unequal
to the task.

So suddenly the moment comes, we are astonished
by the ease of our ascent despite our lack of
preparation, effortlessly rising through the loam
into the gentle light while slender threads roam
underground, revealing infinite supply.  Around us,
pomegranate, lavender, mesquite, and rose bloom
copiously, bearing fruit and indiscriminately offering
their attributes to creatures winged or crawling, great
or minuscule. We have been here before, astride
the grand continuum, awakening in spring, disporting
gleefully on endless-seeming summer afternoons, then
wonderfully ripening, as if we had reserved our true
magnificence for this extravagant display, this final
surge of life before the cycle of decay begins.

But we shall not descend again. Nature now is
satisfied, her laws suspended. She requires nothing
further from us. It is finished, and there will be
no more winters. Without limit, light becoming life
eternally, joy flows in rivers; bliss crowns the forests,
fields, and groves; and we have just begun to live.

All is as the Gospel promised:

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.*

It has begun, will be—and we shine on. Amen.

_IT-IS-FINISHED-LAKESIDE___

* From the Canticle of Zechariah, Luke 1:78-79
“It is finished” (John 19:30)

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Epiphany

adoration-of-the-magi-sandro-botticelli-c1475

Adoration of the Magi, Sandro Botticelli, c. 1475

God, send forth your spirit upon us.

Had we not wandered from the hearth
where burned the flame that gave us sight
and warmed our bones—had we not gone
from home, and left the fire behind;
then, captured in the snares of night,
we had no recollection of
from which direction we had come
nor could we see the firelight—
Until we knew that we were lost,
we did not call for you, O God.

Had we not wandered from the stream,
believing that the food and drink
we carried would suffice for thirst
and hunger—when the wells were dry,
our flasks were empty, long since gone
our meager stores of bread and wine—
and those who would have guided us
we pridefully had left behind—
Until the skies refused to rain,
we did not call upon your name.

And still you came with angel hosts
and gave from Heaven’s bounty all
we needed—what we needed most:
the certainty that when we call
on you, already you have come
with love and grace to lead us home.

reading-a-letter-by-delphin-enjolras-1857-1945

Reading a Letter, Delphin Enjolras, 1857-1945

From Wikipedia: Epiphany—also Theophany or Three Kings’ Day—is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God in his Son as the incarnation of Jesus Christ. In Western Christianity, the feast commemorates principally (but not solely) the visit of the Magi to the Christ child, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles. Moreover, the feast of the Epiphany, in some Western Christian denominations, also initiates the liturgical season of Epiphanytide. Eastern Christians, on the other hand, commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, seen as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God. The traditional date for the feast is January 6.

Colloquially, an epiphany is an “Aha!” or “Eureka!” moment, defined at merriam-webster.com as “an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.” The poem/prayer “Epiphany” above represents my own realization that only in darkness does light have meaning but the light is never withdrawn….

 

 

 

The Purest Race

The mountain village Juta in the Greater Caucasus
The mountain village Juta in the Greater Caucasus (Source: Kaukasus Reisen; see below or click on image for URL)

Who Do We Think We Are?

from Fanny’s journal of her time among the Ancients

There are more than 50 ethnic groups living in the [Caucasus region]… a geopolitical region at the border of Europe and Asia. It is home to the Caucasus Mountains, including Europe’s highest mountain (Mount Elbrus).  

The Caucasus Region, 1994

The Caucasus Region, 1994

North Caucasus  comprises… Russia (Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Adyghea, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachai-Cherkessia, North Ossetia, Krasnodar Krai, Stavropol Krai).    

 

A meadow in Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park

A meadow in Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park (Source: Kaukasus Reisen; see below or click on image for URL)

South Caucasus comprises… Armenia, Azerbaijan (including disputed Nagorno-Karabakh), Georgia (including disputed Abkhazia and South Ossetia)    

The village of Tindi, in Daghestan, in the late 1890s.

Tindi, Daghestan, late 1890s. "This region of the southern Caucasus is home to a mixed population, the majority of whom are Muslims (mosques and their adjoining minarets can be seen to both the left and right of the village). The photograph was taken by M. de Déchy, who returned from the area with large collections of plants, fossils, and photographs." Wikipedia, "Peoples of the Caucasus"

There is so much to write about:

How we traveled here (dirigible), Henry, Sister Alma Rose, Henry, Mr. Truman La Follette’s mama, how the Ancients’ communities remain hidden (not sure if I can even put this on paper, except to say that technology is both a help and a hindrance), Henry, how you can Pray Without Ceasing and still walk around and not bump into things, Henry….   

But I am going to begin with what is foremost in my mind (other than Henry), which I am trying to understand without passing judgment, which I am just beginning to study in preparation for being a Peacemaker of the Ancients, which was triggered by the YouTube dialogue at the very end of this little essay, which concerns…   

Ethnic Pride and Conflict among the Peoples of the Caucasus

 

I did not know that I was living a sheltered life. I believed that representatives of all manner of humanity came and went via Sister Alma Rose’s grass-green wraparound porch. I believed that “ethnic pride” was the kind of warm but not profound satisfaction I get out of my Scots heritage or the healthy awakening of pleasure in one’s own racial or ethnic background.   

Ethnic Map of the Caucasus

Ethnic Map of the Caucasus (User:PMX)

I also believed that YouTube was a website where people shared videos (ranging from very polished to I-just-bought-this-camera-47-minutes-ago) and laughed or gagged and then moved on. Which it is, and I am a big YouTube fan, and I am certain that since I reported the comments you will soon read if you just hang with me here a minute they will be expeditiously removed from YouTube, we can all continue to be big YouTube fans. (You will get a hernia if you try to diagram that sentence.)

Crossroads of cultures and continents

Maps and photographs of the Caucasus sometimes make it appear to be not an area that you would just stumble upon or where you would be stumbled upon, given the altitude and the rough terrain. If I wanted to hide, I might say to myself, “I think I’ll just pop into this little village here, elevation about forty-five-hundred feet and inaccessible by road during the winter and tucked nicely into this deep gorge where it’s practically invisible, and no one will ever find me.” 

Shatili in Khevsureti, Georgia, Sept. 2007. Source: Shatili_Arrival2. Author: SethTri

Shatili in Khevsureti, Georgia, Sept. 2007. Source: Shatili_Arrival2. Author: SethTri

But I would probably be wrong, because I would not have taken into account (a) the invention of the helicopter, and (b) the region’s unique geography: its position at the virtual dividing line of Europe and Asia and also, historically to some extent, between Christian and Muslim cultures, though in parts of the Caucasus adherents of Christianity and Islam have peacefully coexisted for a long time; the region’s proximity to the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, and the Volga River, all important for shipping by virtue of being filled with water; its wealth of natural resources, including oil and other minerals; and its inexplicable popularity among tourists who evidently collect musculoskeletal injuries instead of postcards on their vacations.  

During the many decades that the Caucasus was part of the Soviet Union, hardly anybody with a normal job like “weed control inspector” or “dentist” had ever heard of Nagorno-Karabakh or Abkhazia, unless one of those places happened to have a crabgrass or tooth-decay emergency that the Soviet professionals couldn’t handle, although that would have been unlikely in the extreme since, as I understand it, the Soviets basically marched the folk down out of the mountains, shouting instructions in whatever language had won the coin toss, and settled them in posh hotels to wait out the dictatorship.  

Tellingly, when the Soviet Union collapsed in, um, 1991? “a dozen or so families” decided to go back to what is literally a medieval fortress and village called Shatili, whose appearance is picturesque (see photo above) but bodes ill for coziness on those long, cold, high-altitude winters, though I could be mistaken, but I doubt it and under no circumstances will I go there without Sasha the Ski Patrol Samoyed. It’s just that, in the winter, once you’re there, you’re there, and that’s kind of the way it is until that bright summer day that signals the approach of autumn, and it seems that if you try to leave then you could be trampled by herds of trekkers taking advantage of the fine weather to photograph each other at their destination (Shatili) and then galloping back down the mountain with their overheated Samoyeds panting along behind.   

Grozny, Chechnya

Grozny, Chechnya. Source: trunghocduytan.com

I did uncover— after much searching, avoiding anything written using an alphabet in which all the letters look like cursive W’s as well as “ergative-agglutinative languages [such as Chechen,… Ingush and Bats, which are members…] of the Nakh branch of the Northeast Caucasian language family” [Chechen (depending on the dialect) can have up to 60 consonants and 44 vowels, not to mention geminate fortis stops, ejectives, ligatures, aspirations, frigates, and so forth (Wikipedia)] — a concise and (as far as I can tell) factual article using the familiar Latin alphabet with no diacritics, thank God, there are times when a diacritic could just throw a person right over the brink — with paragraphs excerpted below that account in part for perennial conflict in the Caucasus (as if it weren’t enough that there is less than a 10-percent chance that you will ever be in the same room with five other people who speak the same language and dialect as yours, even in your own home).

10th-century BCE rock engravings in Gobustan, Azerbaijan

10th-century BCE rock engravings in Gobustan, Azerbaijan

Since the region is among the oldest settled regions on earth and populated by peoples speaking languages related to no others in the world, it has a great deal of history which extends far back into ancient times.  During the Soviet period history was either suppressed or forced into a rigid, dogmatic framework which left most Caucasian peoples feeling cheated of their past, but deeply concerned about their identity and their roots.  With the collapse of communism, they are free to repossess their history and explore their roots….   

Each ethnic group has its own version of its origin and its past and these, more often than not, conflict with neighbors’ versions.  There is, thus, a great deal of argumentation about history.  More often than not, current problems are debated in terms of ancient texts, archaeology, and even legends and myths.  Intriguing and entertaining as such argumentation may be, it tends to exacerbate and obfuscate conflicts rather than facilitate settlement of them. —Paul B. Henze, “Conflict In The Caucasus: Background, Problems, and Prospects for Mitigation,” CircassianWorld.com, accessed May 18, 2010   

Bakuriani, in the Borjomi district of Georgia

Bakuriani, in the Borjomi district of Georgia. Photo: Tripwolf. Text: VisitGeorgia.ge. "The major part of the territory of Georgia is mountainous, therefore some of its regions like Khevsureti, Svaneti, Tusheti, Pshavi, Mtiuleti, Khevi ans Racha are hidden is high mountains. Each of them has its own history and traditions but they all have something in common: Americans cannot pronounce their names without extensive mouth surgery. NOT! Just seeing if you are paying attention. "Travelling in the mountains is an experience for live! Little has changed there since the Middle Ages. The fields are still worked with the scythe, and the ox and cart still remain the usual mode of transport. The people in the mountains live in a world of their own. They are proud and haughty as they have never had a master ruling over them. Even the continual aggressions of the enemy could not break their bellicose character. Although Christians, their religious practice still includes some pagan elements. Of course, ancient customs and traditions are very closely followed. In some parts the blood feud was observed even in the 20th century."

My research revealed little in the way of ethnic antipathy directed at Jews in particular, though there was some discussion about what constitutes genocide and there were isolated comments by Armenian sympathizers making light of the Holocaust or dismissing it as fiction.  

Comments on the video (I am ‘M’)

I have learned just enough about the Caucasus to understand how dismally ignorant I am. Just before I left Hilltop, however, Father Dooley and I spent hours discussing the history of the century preceding World War I, in which conflict, eastern European nationalism — in particular, Yugoslav nationalism, which no longer exists because the Yugoslavs, as a nationality, were a fiction, being actually composed of Serbs, Croats, Herzegovinians, and other peoples who couldn’t get along, and today, a century or so  later, there are so many splinter nationalist and ethnic groups* that some individuals have to be members of two groups at the same time — and so I was especially disheartened by the irrational and possibly inflammatory comments you are about to read, and in semi-real life, too, stirring what I suppose are similar chauvinistic passions.

* Some of the groups are just holdovers from antiquity, we postulate. 

Do I think that I, at not-quite-13, have more wisdom than “K” or “G”? Not necessarily, because I have never lived in the way described above under the photo of Bakuriani, that is, in a world of my own with no master, nor am I “bellicose” by nature. We puny weaklings learn early on that there are better ways to solve disputes. We also develop a sense of humor, which, perhaps, “being bellicose” and “having no master” do not facilitate. 

What I do know is that I am not fundamentally my nationality, my gender, my role in the family, my race, or any of the other qualities that Eckhart Tolle characterizes as “content” (emphasis on first syllable: CON-tent). Someone else has said that nothing you can know about yourself is your Self. Makes sense to me. 

Note that (1) The video referred to was a song about alchemy to which a fairly spectacular Caucasian video had been attached. The song itself is immaterial to the “debate.” (2) I have rearranged most of the comments into chronological order. (3) When you see the word Caucasian below, it will always refer to “Peoples of the Caucasus.”

dot

 3 months ago (?) — I`m very proud to be 100% caucasian! Caucasus will be free from russian Occupants. Our people will never give up to fight for freedom. Long live Caucasus!   

Pretty redhead

MOI, Fanny the Bilingual

3 months ago (?) — Georgians and all Caucasians always had to fight for the freedom. I think, that also this time it will not be peacefull, but the TRUTH is on our side. That gives me hope, that we`ll win.   

M – 1 week ago — [My comment addressed to creator of video, who did not participate in this conversation] I don’t know what is wrong with the 23 people who did not like this video. It is stunning. I just don’t know how you did it! You have L_____’s amazing song…, with YOUR beautiful video… which appears to relate to weddings, one long ago and one contemporary? And you make it work so well! I love the men’s dancing — They are the peacocks, the women are in the background. Thanks for this!    

G – 1 week ago — CAUCASIAN RACE THE PUREST EVER   

M – 3 days ago — Please. No one can control where they’re born or who their ancestors are. Your people and mine have been massacred because a bunch of people REALLY, REALLY did not like what we represented. And what do Jesus and all the wise prophets admonish us to do? Forgive. Emanate peace, not war. Who needs more wars?   

K – 3 days ago – 23 jews   

M — 3 days ago — Blaming the Jews is SO 20th-century. Isn’t it time we picked another scapegoat? How about the Congregationalists?   

K – 3 days ago — Not at all. The jews aren’t “scapegoats”, they are the aggressors.   

M – 3 days ago — ALL of them? My dentist? The kids I went to school with? Sweet Rabbi V_____ who brought me matzos and pineapple preserves when my family had nothing to eat? I truly, genuinely, with all my heart wish you and your people well, and I can understand (trust me) your feeling for this land that has been continuously occupied by your people perhaps longer than anywhere on earth. But the soul is more important than the tribe. No two souls are alike.   

K — 3 days ago — “ALL of them” ? Yes, of course, all of them, to the extent that they are jews. If Sweet Rabbi V_____ was so sweet with you I bet all my 20 $ that I own in cash that you are a jew. A rabbi is someone who knows the unholy jewish literature. He can prove to you that you must be cattle if you are not a parasite and that you are required to give up your property to them b/c all the wealth of the earth must be turned over to ugly tribal beelzebub. Thanks anyway for the reply.   

M — 45 minutes ago — I’ll take the $20 in quarters; I need them for the laundromat   

“K” gets around

Different issue, one in which I did not take part   

H – 3 days ago — You deserve to be killed
but I think you know that already
   

O – 2 days ago — Zionazi – I received your private love letter, in which you wrote: “I want to slit your throat open can you tell me where you live so I can slit your throat” I have a vehicle so why don’t you tell me where you live?  There are no bus stops for you near my house.   

K – 2 days ago — The United States look like they are on their way out and those wars for the jews help a lot. They tell the soldiers that the Afghans aren´t human and that´s why they are able to massacre them at a whim. It is the attitude of the kosher parasite who lives by his unholy and insane religion. If you aren´t a parasite then you must be his cattle.   

 

These comments were still in place this morning (Tuesday), though it had been only about 12 hours since I flagged them. And may I say something schoolmarmish and utterly irrelevant here? *** The last two syllables of antisemitic rhyme with critic. *** Please do not refer to a man as a chauvinist unless you really do mean that he is “fanatically patriotic.” *** Thank  you.   

   

Photo sources
Kaukasus Reisen— Flora in the Caucasus, a Botanical Journey to Kazbegi, Bakuriani and to the Black Sea Region, June/July 2009
Tripwolf, Bakuriani   

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Movie Time


Partridge in a Pear Tree Wall Tapestry

"A Partridge in a Pear Tree" wall tapestry (art.com)

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Warm your feet by the fire

The popcorn’s warm and buttery. The cocoa’s thick and rich and… well, chocolaty. It must be time… Yes! It is! … for the annual Sister Alma Rose Semisecular* Christmastide Videorama.

* To Sister Alma Rose, nothing is truly secular. Is there somewhere God isn’t? She doesn’t think so.

First, but not necessarily foremost, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” by Straight No Chaser, whom we adore, in close harmony with nutty variations and a few outright departures. (The song itself — not the Straight No Chaser rendition — might be three hundred years old — no one seems to be sure — nor can anyone say with certainty whether each day’s gift has any particular significance.)

Okay, these next two give Sister Alma Rose goosebumps, but not me. I just sob.

Christmas in the Trenches

“Perhaps,” Sister Alma Rose ventures, “y’all have heard the story of ‘Christmas in the Trenches'”:

Australian infantry wearing gas masks, Ypres, 1917

Australian infantry wearing gas masks, Ypres, 1917

Christmas truce” is a term used to describe several brief, unofficial cessations of hostilities that occurred on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day between German and British or French troops in World War I, particularly that between British and German troops stationed along the Western Front during Christmas 1914. In 1915 there was a similar Christmas truce between German and French troops, and during Easter 1916 a truce also existed on the Eastern Front. —Wikipedia

It is said that after the particular truce described in the song “Christmas in the Trenches” (by folksinger/songwriter John McCutcheon), the soldiers were unable to or refused to fight and had to be sent home. Sister Alma Rose does not know whether this is true, nor does she know whether it makes them heroes or fools (cowards they certainly were not), nor should it reflect on the courage and honor of those who stayed and fought, or of those who do so till this day, God bless them all.

Bing and Bowie

Mama, the musician, likes to introduce this video:

If you’re under a certain age, you need to understand the subtext of this 1977 performance. Bing Crosby — one of the biggest stars of the 1940s and 1950s, and still a popular celebrity when he died in 1977, was very straitlaced and conservative, a strict Roman Catholic, and David Bowie… wasn’t.

Bing Crosby: He could carry a tune

Bing Crosby

Bing Crosby

Bing Crosby’s singing and acting career “stretched over more than half a century from 1926 until his death. Crosby was a best-selling artist until well into the rock era, with over half a billion records in circulation.” (Wikipedia)

Apart from some youthful drinking and indulgence in marijuana, Bing was so squeaky-clean, both publicly and privately, that the public sometimes wished (although it was none of “the public’s” business) that he were less strict with his four sons (from his marriage to Dixie Lee, who suffered from acute alcoholism and who died of cancer in 1952). Two of the couple’s four sons committed suicide, Lindsay in 1989 and Dennis in 1991. Bing Crosby had three children with his second wife, Kathryn Grant Crosby.

Asked what he would write for his own epitaph, Crosby replied, “He was an average guy who could carry a tune.” Well, Bing, if you say so.

David Bowie — Mega-Shocker, Megastar

Iman and David Bowie

Iman and David Bowie; photo by David Shankbone

David Bowie is a highly respected “English musician, actor, record producer and arranger. Active in five decades of popular music and frequently reinventing his music and image, Bowie is widely regarded as an innovator, particularly for his work in the 1970s. He has been cited as an influence by many musicians and is known for his distinctive voice and the intellectual depth of his work.” (Wikipedia)

His music has been tagged as “psychedelic folk,” “glam rock,” “heavy metal,” and a dozen other styles, some of which he invented. On tour, he has startled even hard-core fans with his androgynous appearance, “ultra” theatrics, and “shocking stage moments….”

He married the Somali-born supermodel Iman Abdulmajid at Saint James Church in Florence in 1992. Their daughter, Alexandria Zahra Jones (she goes by “Lexi”), was born in August 2000. The family has homes in Manhattan and London.

David Bowie, "Music's Most Fashionable Man" 2009

David Bowie, "Music's Most Fashionable Man" 2009

Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones, Bowie’s son with his first wife, was born in 1971. He earned a bachelor’s degree and then graduated as a director from the London Film School.

Bowie has been notorious at times — for years of heavy drug abuse, particularly cocaine; and for “politically radical comments, saying that Britain could benefit from a fascist leader and that Adolf Hitler was ‘the first super-star.'” Yet Bowie has steadily reinvented his image and his music so creatively that he is said to have progressed from “superstar” to “megastar.” Some who know him well say that the private David Bowie is at heart a family man but that periodically shocking the public is part of his mystique.

Culture Clash

The wildly differing backgrounds of Bowie and Crosby set up a cultural tension between the two that makes their duet all the more poignant — like watching the Crips and Bloods Mixed Chorus, maybe. It’s also helpful to know that “White Christmas” was a huge hit for Bing Crosby — his signature song, in a way.

This video is lovely, and Bing and Bowie are fun to watch. The duet, I think, is overorchestrated, which blunts the impact of the two very different men making music together. Even so, it’s a rare treat. I hope you enjoy it. And a very Merry Christmas to you….

Bing Crosby - White Christmas Album

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    Hurry Up and Listen

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    Sister Alma Rose Insists…

    Omigosh. If it’s still December 3 when y’all read this, go immediately to the Morning Prayer at DivineOffice.org and listen to…

    Hymn: Amazing Grace by Jane Chifley And Pat McGrath from their album Traditional Catholic Hymns – Lifeboat 14

    Sister Alma Rose could dig up only one album by Lifeboat 14 — Who Will Adore Him? (2004) — upon which “Amazing Grace” could not be found.  She looked on several sites and finally discovered this description of the band at Eternity Music:

    It’s finally here! Who Will Adore Him? is a CD by Lifeboat 14 containing a mixture of rock, folk, serenade and country. It’s taken a long time and is worth every moment of listening.

    Music that will rock you. Music about Mary and the Blessed sacrament. Music that’s Australian. Music that’s Catholic.

    You won’t find anything but faith on this CD.

    Every Lifeboat 14 album has different artists performing…. The band was founded by Jane Chifley.

    Sister Alma Rose sampled several cuts from the album, but none was as clean, elegant, and simply lovely as the unpretentious duet “Amazing Grace.”

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    Catholic Things part 2

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    Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c. 1440

    Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c. 1440

    ‘Pray Without Ceasing’

    From ancient times the Church has had the custom of celebrating each day the liturgy of the hours. In this way the Church fulfills the Lord’s precept to pray without ceasing, at once offering its praise to God the Father and interceding for the salvation of the world. —Office of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship

    Fanny McElroy

    I, Fanny McElroy

    When I, Fanny McElroy, first discovered The Brother Cadfael Mysteries, by Ellis Peters, I ripped through them like a scairt rabbit about to be et by a hawk, as Sister Alma Rose says her Daddy Pete says, or maybe it’s “a hawk after a scairt rabbit.” Anyway, I read them fast. And then there weren’t any more, because Ellis Peters died, so for the longest time I put off reading the final book, the twentieth, because I didn’t want to say goodbye to Brother Cadfael, a Welsh Benedictine monk living at Shrewsbury Abbey during the 12th century, but I found other books to read because I had become fascinated by all things medieval and all things Roman Catholic.

    Compline — Coronation of the Virgin

    Compline — Coronation of the Virgin

    I loved Brother Cadfael’s irreverent way of being genuinely and truly religious, his painstaking cultivation of herbs for healing, his humor and his kindness. And the way he told the time not by the clock but by the Canonical Hours for Prayer — Matins, Lauds, Vespers, Compline, and so forth. Sister Alma Rose has specific times for prayer during the day, and if I am at her house when one of those times comes, we go into her chapel and pray together, and sometimes we pray out loud, sometimes we don’t, and she reads a psalm and we sing a hymn — harmonizing rather nicely, if I do say so — but the thing is, she always seems to know what she’s doing, I mean there aren’t any awkward “what should we do now?” moments. And now I know why.

    The Liturgy of the Hours

    Book of Hours, Paris, c. 1410

    Book of Hours, Paris, c. 1410

    One lazy summer afternoon I was sitting on the steps of Sister Alma Rose’s great green wraparound porch half-listening to Sister Alma Rose talking with Father Dooley and his sister Bernadette, who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and who is a willowy, fair-haired, freckled young woman who has, as she says, “quite enough money,” and her occupation is Doer of Good Deeds, and she would have become a nun, she told us, but she wanted to get married and have children, which she hasn’t, yet, but she’s only something like twenty-two, so she spends her time visiting the sick and does what she calls “healing prayer work,” and sometimes she takes in the homeless, temporarily, like mothers with children running from an abusive man, that sort of thing, not scary people or drug addicts.

    Versicle: Poem on a Stick?

    So I’m sitting there, drowsy with the sun and the hum of a summer afternoon, and I perk up when I hear Bernadette say “Compline,” so I get up from the step and go over to the green wicker table and sit in the one vacant green wicker chair and listen to Bernadette talking about the Liturgy of the Hours, which is also called the Divine Office, I have no idea why, but Catholics have funny names for everything, like antiphon and breviary and versicle, which is not “a poem on a stick,” as I suggested, and everyone laughed, which was very gratifying because when one thinks that one is being very clever, it’s good to know that others think so too.

    The Hours of Jeanne D'Evreaux

    The Hours of Jeanne d'Evreaux

    I think that everyone was surprised by my fascination with such a dry subject as the Divine Office, which I had thought was something from long ago… well, which it is, but it is still practiced, or “celebrated,” as Father Dooley says, and he as a priest is obligated to “celebrate” the Liturgy of the Hours, but it is a joy to him, he says, and Bernadette also “celebrates” the Liturgy of the Hours, and Sister Alma Rose says that her daily prayer times are “based on” the Liturgy of the Hours. “Fanny McElroy,” she says, “y’all have been celebrating it with me for years,” and then she laughs and pours me a glass of Mr. Truman LaFollette’s incomparable lemonade.

    Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1410

    Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1410

    Sister Alma Rose is not Catholic (she has referred to herself as “a Christian Jewish Buddhist,” probably offending adherents of all three religions, but she doesn’t mind — like J. Krishnamurti, she doesn’t mind much of anything, she says, and she is certainly the most serene person I have ever known, though in a crisis she becomes very exercised and shouts prayers to Heaven).

    I am not a Catholic either, but there are many things I like about Catholicism, and here is one of them: For two thousand years or so, in spite of corruption and scandal and competition from other religions, and popes who had mistresses and children, and bishops who plotted royal assassinations, and so forth, the Catholic Church has inspired, comforted, counseled, educated, and healed. Irish monks preserved the knowledge from Roman and Greek antiquity by copying a huge lot of documents by hand (read How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, by Thomas Cahill).

    Sister Alma Rose has told me about the vile perverted priests who prey on young boys, but I don’t think that those sick men’s transgressions erase all the good that the church has done. And I love the idea of Confession, and the Rosary, and having one’s own personal saint, and Mary the Mother of Jesus, with her woman’s wisdom and her tender heart, and, of course, the Liturgy of the Hours. And, basically, that Catholic worship has gone on uninterrupted for hundreds and hundreds of years.

    Some facts about the Liturgy of the Hours

    So I ask a thousand questions, and here is some of what I find out about the Divine Office:

    It sprang from Jewish prayer practices (“Seven times a day I praise you,” it says in the Psalms)

    It began rather simply, with reading or chanting psalms; reading from the Old Testament, the  Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and epistles; and canticles, which are basically hymns from the Bible but not usually from the psalms.

    By the end of the fifth century, the Canonical Hours were — and this is a lot of praying and involves getting up in the middle of the night

    • Matins (during the night), sometimes referred to as Vigils or Nocturns, or in monastic usage the Night Office; it is now called the Office of Readings
    • Lauds or Dawn Prayer (at Dawn)
    • Prime or Early Morning Prayer (First Hour = 6 a.m.)
    • Terce (rhymes with “purse”) or Mid-Morning Prayer (Third Hour = 9 a.m.)
    • Sext (rhymes with “next”) or Midday Prayer (Sixth Hour = 12 noon)
    • None (rhymes with “John”?) or Mid-Afternoon Prayer (Ninth Hour = 3 p.m.)
    • Vespers or Evening Prayer (“at the lighting of the lamps”)
    • Compline (KOM-plin) or Night Prayer (before retiring)

    Wow! Don’t you love it that the time for Vespers is “at the lighting of the lamps”?

    The complete Liturgy of the Hours is contained in the Roman Breviary. Most of the pictures on this page are from personal breviaries made for wealthy people in the Middle Ages.

    Très Riches Heures calendar page

    Très Riches Heures calendar page

    All hours begin with Ps. 69-70 v.2, “God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me,” and then the doxology:  “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.”

    The Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer may consist of

    • opening versicle (a short verse said or sung by a priest or minister in public worship and followed by a response from the congregation) or (for morning prayer) the invitatory (Psalm 94)
    • a hymn, composed by the Church
    • two psalms, or parts of psalms with a scriptural canticle. At Morning Prayer, this consists of a psalm of praise, a canticle from the Old Testament, followed by another psalm. At Evening Prayer this consists of two psalms, or one psalm divided into two parts, and a scriptural canticle taken from the New Testament.
    • a short passage from scripture
    • a responsory (chant or anthem recited after a reading in a church service) typically a verse of scripture, but sometimes liturgical poetry
    • a canticle taken from the Gospel of Luke: the Canticle of Zechariah (Benedictus [Blessed be]) for morning prayer, and the Canticle of Mary (Magnificat: The “Song of Mary” from the Gospel of Luke, Magnificat anima mea Dominum = My soul doth magnify the Lord) for evening prayer

      Russian Orthodox icon, Zechariah

      Zechariah, Russian Orthodox icon

    Nativity from an Antiphon

    Nativity from an Antiphon

    It looks complicated, doesn’t it? But I have to tell you, it is refreshing and renewing to drop everything at 3 p.m. or whatever because that is the time you have set aside for prayer. And if you’re not Catholic, you can develop your own structure for prayer and praise, as Sister Alma Rose has done, she created a sort of hybrid of the Divine Office, and Father Dooley says that’s fine with him, he encourages everyone to pray in the way that suits them best, as long as there’s no mutilation of poultry and stuff like that.

    Well, you can buy the complete Liturgy of the Hours in four volumes for more money than I have in my piggy bank, which last time I counted was $97.13, I am saving for a school trip to walk the Appalachian Trail, but there are less expensive books, such as those that have only the Morning Prayer and the Evening Prayer.

    There is much, much more to be told about the subject, but Bernadette had to leave to go back to Grand Rapids and her Good Works, which she does out of love and not to earn points toward Heaven or anything like that. So I will just tell you that I, Fanny, “celebrate” the Hours four times a day using the website DivineOffice.org, which has an audio version with beautiful music, and there are other websites with text versions. Sometimes I pray with Mama, and sometimes with Sister Alma Rose, and sometimes it’s just I, Fanny.

    Even if you are not a Christian, you might enjoy this prayer discipline, which is principally made up of psalms anyway, though the references to Jesus Christ Our Savior might make you cringe, I don’t know. What I do know is that I need and enjoy discipline and structure in my prayer life, and for me, Fanny McElroy, the Divine Office is the beginning of that discipline and structure.

    Chant; Troparion; hook-and-banner notation

    Chant; Troparion; hook-and-banner notation

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    Father Dooley's temporary church

    Father Dooley's temporary church

    Religious Differences

    Sister Alma Rose is not a Roman Catholic, but she is telling Father Dooley and me that she used to want to be a nun “in the worst way.” (Ha ha.)

    “Oh?” Father Dooley says interestedly, raising one eyebrow, which, I don’t know HOW he does that, but of course I don’t know how to whistle, either, though I can do cartwheels one-handed. “What changed your mind?”

    I have made Father Dooley promise to always keep me informed of his whereabouts, if one of us moves out of Hilltop, so that when the Pope allows priests to get married I can get to his city on the next plane. Father Dooley's, not the Pope's

    I have made Father Dooley promise to always keep me informed of his whereabouts, if one of us moves out of Hilltop, so that when the Pope allows priests to get married I can jet to his city on the next plane. Father Dooley's, not the Pope's

    “The wardrobe,” Sister Alma Rose says, “because, really, can y’all picture what I’d look like in one of them outfits? A giant beetle, is what I’d look like.”

    Father Dooley laughs and says that many nuns just wear regular street clothes these days, and Sister Alma Rose says that would take all the fun out of it. Like, why be a doctor if you’re not going to wear a white lab coat and a stethoscope?

    Father Dooley is spending a lot of time sitting on Sister Alma Rose’s porch this fall because his church, Saints Peter and Paul, had a bad fire and no one can go into the building.

    They are having church, or, whaddayacallit, Mass, and, I guess, Confession and Catechism and the Inquisition and the other stuff that Catholics do, in an empty warehouse that used to be Hilltop Elementary School when Mama and Daddy were kids.

    But Father Dooley’s paper files and computer and desk, et cetera, all got burnt to a Frito, and he has this lackey priest-in-waiting who is taking care of that little administrative problem while he, Father Dooley, sits on Sister Alma Rose’s porch and drinks Mr. Truman LaFollette’s indescribable lemonade.

    The Catechism Lesson, Jules-Alexis Muenier 1890

    The Catechism Lesson, by Jules-Alexis Muenier 1890

    But Father Dooley is not slacking off, oh, no, he is here on church business, because we are talking about Catholic things, two in particular: (1) the execution of heretics by means of setting fire to them, and (2) the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours), which, unlike Father Dooley’s office, is extant.

    Transubstantiation is NOT “a way for commuters to get to work”

    Lady Jane Grey (above) and Queen Mary each believed that the other's soul was damned. And they MEANT it! The Reformers had piled up a lot of grievances over the centuries during which the Roman Catholic Church had amassed power, money, and land. It was the rule rather than the exception for popes and cardinals to have mistresses, if not secret wives and children. Priests lined their pockets with "indulgences" — money from their Flocks for the wiping away of sins.

    Lady Jane Grey (above, looking a bit peaked) and Queen Mary each believed that the other's soul was damned. And they MEANT it! The Reformers had piled up a lot of grievances over the centuries during which the Roman Catholic Church had amassed power, money, and land. It was the rule rather than the exception for popes and cardinals to have mistresses, if not secret wives and children. Priests lined their pockets with "indulgences" — money from their Flocks for the wiping away of sins.

    Father Dooley and I have been debating the following question:

    Why did Lady Jane Grey have to die?

    And the short answer, we agree, is that Lady Jane, a Protestant, made quite a point of NOT believing in transubstantiation and a few other points of Roman Catholic doctrine at a time when a VERY Catholic queen, Mary I, was on the throne in England. (That’s “Mary the First,” not “Mary Eye.”)

    Transubstantiation is the alleged changing of the bread and wine served at holy communion into the actual body and blood of Christ.

    NOW: It’s not like Catholics believe that the bread turns into, like, skin and fingers and toes and the wine gets all thick and red and has little platelets swimming around in it. Father Dooley says that the substance of the “host” and the wine changes but not their their appearance or texture.

    I, personally, do not care, and neither does Sister Alma Rose, who dislikes discussing doctrinal issues.

    She says that we all believe in the same God, who created the universe as an expression of divine love, and that God knows and cares about us each individually, and that God makes his love known to us through grace… and if we can agree on that, why aren’t we having a big ecumenical party and celebrating instead of arguing about minor details?

    A medieval Mass being celebrated by a bishop

    A medieval Mass being celebrated by a bishop

    Father Dooley says several things in response, which I will summarize:

    1. Everybody DOESN’T agree with that, what Sister Alma Rose says, and in fact some of it could be considered “doctrine.” (Sister Alma Rose snorts.)
    2. Our actions have consequences: Like, if you stick your hand in a pot of boiling water, your hand will burn.
    3. We are all screwing up (Father Dooley’s words) all the time, acting in unloving ways. Love is a miracle, a gift of grace, and cannot be deserved. If we always got what we deserved, we would be crackers.
    4. Jesus’ life and teachings, death, and resurrection are proof of a higher law, which is that God’s love is greater than the law of consequences; or, rather, that God, through Jesus, paid the piper so that we wouldn’t have to go around weighed down by guilt and anxiety. This only works if we admit we behaved badly (confession) and want very much not to keep behaving badly (repentance), and if we accept the sacrifice (communion) and are grateful for it. That is the freedom Jesus promised; that is the Good News.
    5. We are likely to take communion more to heart — to be blown away by the liberating acceptance of God’s sacrifice for our sakes — if we believe that the bread is Jesus’ body and the wine is his blood, than if we are just eating stale bread crumbs and drinking grape juice.
    6. This is not all just a matter of collecting chits for the Afterlife. Salvation is here and now, overcoming sickness and all manner of other here-and-now penalties for less-than-perfect behavior.

    Well, I say to Father Dooley, this is all fine and good, but I still don’t think it’s worth having your head chopped off over. Transubstantiation is not even in the Bible, after all. Jesus said, at the Last Supper, “This is my body, broken for you,” but he was always speaking metaphorically, saying stuff like, “I am the vine and you are the branches,” et cetera.

    The  Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci, 1498

    The Last Supper, by Leonardo da Vinci 1498

    The Nine Days’ Queen

    King Edward VI of England, William Scrots, c. 1550

    King Edward VI of England, by William Scrots c. 1550

    Lady Jane Grey was the Queen of England for nine days in 1553, after Edward VI and before Mary I, “Bloody Mary,” as she came to be called. (For more information, see “Historical Background,” below.)

    Lady Jane did not want to be queen. She was only sixteen, and she was indeed a staunch Protestant, but a group of greedy grownups, including her own parents, made her marry this awful man, Lord Guilford Dudley, and then persuaded the ruling council to name her queen, and so queen she was, for nine days, until Mary Tudor swept down upon London with several thousand of the faithful, and, voila, Mary was queen and Jane was imprisoned in the Tower of London, convicted of high treason, and sentenced to death.

    Mary and Jane were cousins, and Mary really did not want to execute Jane, knowing that Jane was made queen over her own objections. Mary told Jane she would let her off the hook if Jane would just convert to the True Faith, Roman Catholicism, and to tell you the truth, if I’d been Jane, I would have said, fine, okay, but I would have had my fingers crossed and then I would have gone back to my cozy life of studying Protestant doctrine and having my servants do my laundry and cook my meals. But Jane, a better woman than I, or a more stubborn one, refused.

    A 15th-century representation of the Tower of London. Shown is the White Tower, begun by William the Conquerer in 1078. The White Tower still stands, but it is now part of a large complex of buildings that comprise "The Tower"

    A 15th-century representation of the Tower of London. Shown is the White Tower, begun by William the Conquerer in 1078. The White Tower still stands, but it is now part of a large complex of buildings that comprise "The Tower"

    Jane was mostly concerned with doctrinal issues. She could not accept the Roman Catholic belief in transubstantiation — plus, she had an illegal English translation of the Bible, and she was studying Greek and Hebrew so that she could read the original biblical texts rather than translations. The Catholic Church didn’t want lay persons reading the Bible at all, because if they read it than they would begin to interpret it.

    Verdict: A sad waste of a young life

    My debate with Father Dooley is no debate at all, as it turns out, because we pretty much agree about Lady Jane.

    “Two things,” says Father Dooley, holding up two fingers so I won’t forget that he has two points to make.

    “First, it’s hard for our modern ecumenical way of thinking to understand how radical it was to depart in any way from Catholic doctrine. For centuries, the Catholic church had been the ONLY Christian church, and it was not used to being disagreed with. In fact, when Henry VIII broke with the church, the Pope excommunicated him, and all of England with him. Heaven, according to the church, was not available to those who had been excommunicated.

    Death by burning

    Death by burning

    “Second, even in the context of her time, and I believe she was beheaded in the 1550s, Lady Jane could have saved herself in good conscience. As brilliant a scholar as she was, she was also very young and very new to the heady freedom of Protestant thinking. Even her Protestant teachers warned her that she was excessively dogmatic. It’s very sad, really, especially since Elizabeth would be queen within a few years, and the policy of her reign was one of tolerance.”

    Mary Tudor — Queen Mary I, or “Bloody Mary,” as she has become known — was merciful to her cousin Jane in having her beheaded. Before the end of Mary’s reign, almost three hundred “heretics” would be burned on street corners, in full view of the populace.

    Eternal damnation

    Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer and founder of Christian Science

    Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer and founder of Christian Science

    Mary seems to have sincerely believed that her reign of terror was saving souls from eternal damnation — not the souls of those being burned, it was too late for them — but the souls of those who looked on, who heard the screams and smelled the charred flesh.

    Sister Alma Rose has no patience with preachers of hellfire and damnation. She believes that we grow spiritually over a succession of earthly incarnations. Thus she does not believe that ANY souls are consigned eternally to hell. She likes to quote Mary Baker Eddy on the subject:

    Does Divine Love commit a fraud on humanity by making man inclined to sin, and then punishing him for it? …In common justice, we must admit that God will not punish man for doing what he created man capable of doing, and knew from the outset that man would do. God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil.”  —Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, 356:25 ff.

    To be continued… Praying the Hours (the Divine Office)

    The Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c. 1440

    The Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c. 1440

    Historical Background — The Man Who Would Be Pope

    Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII of England, was beheaded May 19, 1536, at the Tower of London

    Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII of England, was beheaded May 19, 1536, at the Tower of London

    I have been reading a lot of historical fiction about England (c. 1150 – 1600) lately, and I’ve read, like, five books in a row about Anne Boleyn

    —because it’s so much fun to find out which authors think that

    • (a) Anne Boleyn was a world-class B-word (Daddy won’t let me say or spell the B-word that rhymes with witch, but then he also didn’t think that I should be reading about Anne Boleyn because if he had his way I’d still be reading Thomas the Tank Engine and playing with Barbies, which, excuse me, are way more obscene than Anne Boleyn), and (b) Henry VIII the longsuffering husband, as opposed to those authors who think that
    • (a) Anne Boleyn was June Cleaver in tights — no, wait, it was Henry who wore tights — and (b) Henry was a cruel tyrant.
    Henry VIII, King of England, born 1491, reigned 1509-1547

    Henry VIII, King of England, born 1491, reigned 1509-1547

    The truth is that Henry was a spoiled baby, and spoiled babies are often tyrants. But because he was the King of England and not an ACTUAL baby, his tyrannical acts had lasting and tragic consequences, inasmuch as there was no one with the authority to send him to bed without his supper.

    Henry established the Church of England, as separate from the Roman Catholic Church, with himself as the Supreme Head.

    He’d been waiting six years for the Pope to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn and make her queen and force her by intimidation and other methods that hardly ever work to have healthy baby boys.

    Finally, tired of waiting for the Pope, he said, in effect, “I’ll just make up my OWN church and marry Anne and dissolve the wealthy monasteries and seize all their stuff.”

    But he, Henry, did not mean for church doctrine or worship to change at all. He was not in sympathy with reformers such as Martin Luther. The English Reformation, however, got away from him. Once started, it couldn’t be stopped.

    * * *

    The Succession

    Tudor_succession_diagram(2)

    Jane Seymour, Queen Consort of England 1536-1537

    Jane Seymour, Queen Consort of England 1536-1537

    When Henry died, AT LONG LAST, his only legitimate son, Edward Tudor, became Edward VI, King of England.

    Edward, whose mother was Jane Seymour (Henry’s third wife; she died a few weeks after giving birth), was only nine years old and he didn’t really run the country… a bunch of greedy grownups made all the political decisions.

    But Edward was a committed Protestant and so while he was king the real Reformers in England were more active.

    At age fifteen, after he had been king for only six years, Edward died of a lung disease (probably tuberculosis).

    Then all hell broke loose.

    Henry’s elder daughter Mary Tudor was next in line in the Succession (the list of who gets to be in charge of England when the current ruler dies; see diagram above), but everybody knew that she would restore Catholic rule and persecute Protestants, of whom there were growing numbers.

    Mary Tudor, Queen of France, daughter of Henry VII of England, sister of Henry VIII, wife of Louis XII of France and then of Charles Brandon, 1st duke of Suffolk; Mary and Charles were the maternal grandparents of Lady Jane Grey

    Mary Tudor, Queen of France, daughter of Henry VII of England, sister of Henry VIII, wife of Louis XII of France and then of Charles Brandon, 1st duke of Suffolk; Mary and Charles were the maternal grandparents of Lady Jane Grey

    Lady Jane Grey was the granddaughter of Henry’s sister Mary, and she (Jane) had a legitimate claim to the throne if you took the position that Mary Tudor and Elizabeth, who was next on the list after Mary, were bastards (sorry, Daddy), which, technically, they were since Henry’s marriages to their mothers had been annulled.

    As explained above, Lady Jane was basically manhandled to the throne by the evil John Dudley, First Duke of Northumberland, the father of Guilford Dudley, whom Jane was forced to marry. When the time of reckoning came, father and son were executed along with Lady Jane, though I doubt whether Queen Mary had many regrets about ridding the kingdom of those two.

    Guilford’s brother Robert Dudley, First Earl of Leicester, was cut from different cloth. He was a man of intelligence and character (the rumors that he killed his first wife, Mary, have been judged by history to be false). He and Queen Elizabeth had been childhood friends, and it is generally believed that they had a lifelong love affair that was never consummated.

    Eventually he married Lettice Knollys, a granddaughter of Lady Mary Boleyn, Anne’s sister.

    I, Fanny

    I, Fanny