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Monday
Dec222014

The Art of Rest

THE ART OF REST

The musician masters it
in the elision from play
to silence,
lift of bow hair from the string,
mouthpiece drawn away from lips,
the metronomic count
no one can hear, the exactness
in the next note sounded, a cycle
of forgettings and remembrances.
 
Or to be among those included
only as an afterthought, unnamed,
an auditioner passed on for a role,
a contributor fallen short of standout effort,
any who linger on the fringe
of limelight, who long to bathe
in a citrus glow.
 
Or relaxation’s elusive sidekick,
more potent than the strongest drug, the want
of every life. In death, of course, the tables turn—
that familiar stone engraving, the rip
from brain and blood and beat to join instead
with peace, where the living wonder
if it is, indeed, history,
or something else entirely.
 
We might think of sleep
as the oldest instance of the form,
the challenge greater before the first mattress
of leaves, straw, skin.
There are those who retain that skill
of ancient times; those of us awake hear
the rosiny scratch of dreams in the pitch
of every breath,
the song of it all,
the marks of the composer.

Bryn Homuth

On a sleepless midwinter night

December 19, 2014 

Image: "James VI Asleep at Church"
Oil on Canvas - Date Unknown
John Ritchie 

Monday
Dec222014

The Jolly Janitor: An Imitation on Christmas

The following is an imitation of G.K. Chesterton's prose.

The more a modern American student progresses in his studies, the further away he gets from common sense. The closer he gets to the specific knowledge of academics and astronauts, the further away he moves from the common truth known by gardeners and garbage men. The judge may hold the mallet in his right hand and the Law in his left; the common juryman holds his keys in his right and the Home in his left. He has the keys to the kingdom of his home; he has the keys to the kingdom of his family; he has the keys to the kingdom of common humanity. Some may even say he has the keys to the kingdom of heaven. It might be truly stated that the whole heavenly sense of a matter is summed up in the general truths of gardeners and garbage men—the gardener sees the beginning of a matter; the garbage man the end. But the modern notion is that because the gardener does not know the science behind his gardening, that the gardener really knows very little about gardening; that the garbage man is unfamiliar with the sociological aspects of modern dumps, he truly knows nothing of the reality of taking out the garbage. But it may be that the less science and sociology a man knows, the better he can know a thing. The botanist may barge in on the gardener planting tulips or turnips; he may proclaim some scientific fact about the tulip and give a sociological panegyric on the turnip; he will almost certainly fail to realize that a tulip is a colorful mitre on a green stick and the turnip a court jester—each shouting philosophical truths as they shoot up from the ground.

The truth is that a tulip is not meant to be studied as much as it is to be wondered at. It is the cold botanist who has facts before faith who cannot see that faith must precede facts. The common gardener knows enough to plant the seed; he may wonder enough at the cycle of plant life to buy the botanist’s book; but he will never be so ignorant—and might I say arrogant—to leave off wondering where the first seed came from. He is not so interested in answering the question of whether the seed or the tulip came first. He is amused that either came at all. And thus it is with nearly every facet of life, that the more a man knows a thing, the easier it is for him to explain away its existence. And the more we begin explaining away the existence of tulips and turnips, the easier it becomes to explain away the elk and the elephant—the easier it becomes to explain away the monkey and the man. The fault of the modern is not that he seeks answers; the fault of the modern is that he is content with the answers he does find; the fault of the modern is that he lives in perpetual discontent.

We hopeless moderns have placed so much hope in science and sociology that we’ve even explained away hope—we’ve socialized it, if you will. Like every other word, we’ve redefined hope to mean not placing trust in something unseen but in something seen. It may be said that the rhetoric of the modern is distrustful of that which he cannot see. And to live in distrust of what one cannot see is that same as to live, not just without hope but in disdain of hope. It is to live for the physical and not the spiritual; it is to live for the present and not eternity; it is, in short, to live for turnips and not court jesters.

It happened one day as I was sitting at my desk that the new janitor arrived to collect my trash. It must here be noted that the common notion that janitors make up the lower end of society is both false and contradictory. A modern will preach that money is not important and then berate the janitor for not making money; he will preach that cleanliness is not next to godliness but is godliness, and then tell the janitor to envy his boss—to stop making things clean and instead make them dirty. But the truth is janitors are faeries among us, waving their wands and making all things clean. If all janitors took the advice of sociologists and scientists, the trashcans would never be taken out; more importantly, their intellectual trash would never be taken out. Instead of telling the janitor to stop cleaning, we ought to applaud the fact that he is the one soul among us who actually does clean. For the janitor is not just a man who cleans the floors and takes out the trash; he is a great buttress to truth. He may know little about the demographics of socioeconomic class or the science of his cleaning solution; he does know that when a thing is dirty, it ought to be cleaned.

And this is perhaps why janitors are often happier men than academics. For as the janitor ambled into my office to take out the trash, I could not help but notice the smile on his face as he asked me how I was doing. I answered and then returned the question, receiving his common reply:

“Every day is Christmas.”

Christmas may be last the defense to a hopeless world. It may be more like a modern to proclaim that everyday is Halloween; it may be that a postmodern Christmas is the most depressing day of the year. But one thing that will never escape the common man—of which I associate my janitor—is the fundamental meaning behind Christmas. For Christmas signifies the dawn; it signifies new life and the joy of birth; it signifies the invasion of the King in the guise of a carpenter; it signifies, in this, the whole heavenly sense of common tasks like carpentry or cleaning. Christmas, one might say, is that one day of our morbid modern world which still holds on to the ideal that all men are created equal. It is the day when Scrooges buy turkeys for their clerks; when Tiny Tims become great moralists and philosophers; when pessimists can be optimists and janitors, mayors. It is, in short, the day the world was flipped upside down. It is the claim that a God became a child, that God, in effect, chose to wonder. It cannot be explained away but is itself a thing only to be wondered at. And the whole modern world lives from day to day in this denial. For the botanist to say he comprehends the tulip is the philosopher saying he comprehends the incarnation. It is precisely the philosophers and scientists who make such claims; janitors do not. And in this it may be said that philosophers cannot comprehend the incarnation because it makes no sense and janitors do comprehend the incarnation because it makes no sense. It may be said that modern philosophers cannot believe even what they see and that janitors believe in the unseen because of what they see. It may even be said that janitors alone can wonder, that janitors, consequently, are the true optimists among us. And in my pessimistic modern ways, I asked my janitor that if every day was Christmas, what day was Christmas

“Why,” he answered with a smile. “It’s Christmas.”

Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written by the dreadful way of the computer keyboard,
Manhattan, KS
Some day in October, 2014

Painting: "The Custodian,"
By Harry Rutherford,
Oil on canvas, 1947

Friday
Dec192014

The New Name

To him that overcometh, I will give a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.— REV. ii. 17.
 
I say, in brief, the giving of the white stone with the new name is the communication of what God thinks about the man to the man. It is the divine judgment, the solemn holy doom of the righteous man, the "Come, thou blessed," spoken to the individual. 
 
In order to see this, we must first understand what is the idea of a name,— that is, what is the perfect notion of a name. For, seeing the mystical energy of a holy mind here speaks of God as giving something, we must understand that the essential thing, and not any of its accidents or imitations, is intended.
 
A name of the ordinary kind in this world, has nothing essential in it. It is but a label by which one man and a scrap of his external history may be known from another man and a scrap of his history. The only names which have significance are those which the popular judgment or prejudice or humour bestows, either for ridicule or honour, upon a few out of the many. Each of these is founded upon some external characteristic of the man, upon some predominant peculiarity of temper, some excellence or the reverse of character, or something which he does or has done well or ill enough, or at least, singularly enough, to render him, in the eyes of the people, worthy of such distinction from other men. As far as they go, these are real names, for, in some poor measure, they express individuality.
 
The true name is one which expresses the character, the nature, the being, the meaning of the person who bears it. It is the man's own symbol,— his soul's picture, in a word,— the sign which belongs to him and to no one else. Who can give a man this, his own name? God alone. For no one but God sees what the man is, or even, seeing what he is, could express in a name- word the sum and harmony of what he sees. To whom is this name given? To him that overcometh. When is it given? When he has overcome. Does God then not know what a man is going to become? As surely as he sees the oak which he put there lying in the heart of the acorn. Why then does he wait till the man has become by overcoming ere he settles what his name shall be? He does not wait; he knows his name from the first. But as— although repentance comes because God pardons— yet the man becomes aware of the pardon only in the repentance; so it is only when the man has become his name that God gives him the stone with the name upon it, for then first can he understand what his name signifies. It is the blossom, the perfection, the completion, that determines the name; and God foresees that from the first, because he made it so; but the tree of the soul, before its blossom comes, cannot understand what blossom it is to bear, and could not know what the word meant, which, in representing its own unarrived completeness, named itself. Such a name cannot be given until the man is the name.

 

George Macdonald
Excerpt from Unspoken Sermons 

Illustration by David Sankey

Tuesday
Dec162014

Ambler, No. 34 [On Taking the Common Highway]

Image:
"A Mooreland Road"
Oil on Canvas - Date Unknown
Charles John Holmes 

Saturday
Dec132014

Subzero Hunt


SUBZERO HUNT

Draw closed the curtain of the woods
as you trace a boot-stamped furrow
through tree-lined fringe;
cabin lights dwindle to a thin haze
before headlamp and trail remain
your only guides, the beam
whetting edges of muddled tracks,
labyrinthine in their aimless wind,
some hoof, some heel, some overlaid,
as though prints tread by some mythic creature.
Listen beyond your heartbeat’s reverberant brush,
fabric against fabric, beyond the hum
inside yourself, to this—a pure, intimate silence,
where even whispered breath
disrupts the untouched scene. Rustle, snap, crunch,
snug your rifle to palm and shoulder,
the heft of icy metal, the single shot within.
Up the stand, settle to chair, and stop
 
all but your scanning eyes. There is a pull to the immobile
that the cold cannot ignore, a welcoming,
to inhabit the stowed reserves of warmth
sunk down beneath the flesh. This begins your meld
with the backdrop of the land,
like an optical illusion in reverse,
tucking back into obscurity,
another fallen log, another branch
sheathed in frost, another acorn or apple core
cratered in the snow. When the deer pad in with the dawn
to feed, when you raise and aim and fire
and drag the gutted carcass away,
the blood warm on your hands,
the blood flowing hot, afresh in your stiffened legs,
you may think back to that morning wait,
that readiness to endure, and wonder
if a piece of you remains, never to thaw,
frozen to the roost.


Bryn Homuth
A log cabin, in the Minnesota wilderness
11 December 2014

Image:
"Fox in Snow"
Oil on Canvas - Date Unknown
Tom Stephenson