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Sunday
Nov172013

Notes from Clear Creek Monastery

I have put off publishing these notes for a year, because I thought they might serve as the basis for some larger more formal work. That larger, more formal work has been summarily rejected by those who could potentially publish it, so I offer you my notes (in the raw, only slightly edited from the handwritten originals) from my visit to Clear Creek Monastery on November 3-4, 2012. The picture attached is the notebook that originally contained them. The other pictures attached are of the monastery, my room, and the path between the monastery and my room. These sketches are unpolished; my brain is unpolished. They read like a stream of loosely related thoughts; I live in a stream of unrelated thoughts. You want realist writing? Here it is. You want smooth prose? Beat it.
 

      Arrived at the monastery. The silence is incredible. No trains; no sirens; no cars roaring by; not even an animal sound. Maybe they respect the monks too. But even in the silence, my mind is running with endless changing and ridiculous images, words and songs with which I’ve filled it. That true silence, inner silence would take time. But the quiet is lovely. I slept like a workman. God has made all things good in their time and place. Praise be to Him.

            At 7:20 we walked the two miles to the monastery itself (later we found out about a shortcut). The sun was just coming up and the trees were every shade of orange and yellow. Death is never more beautiful than in the Fall. The Sun through bare branches made them look like the most substantive objects on earth—perfectly black. There were deer jumping across the road and a little breeze rustling the leaves. The air was cool and delightfully sharp as it should be on an autumn morning. I wish I knew the names of all the trees.

            The monastery is a work in progress, but complete enough to be grand and beautiful. It is all stone with round spiraling stairwells, pillars, courtyards, arches, stained glass and cupola windows letting in the morning light. I’m glad the monastery is still under construction. It gives a fresh, living feeling and even smell. Inside all his hushed. They talk quietly; they sing their Gregorian chants quietly; they move quietly; they open and close doors quietly but the quiet makes all other sounds ever so much more piquant. I hear every footfall, sniff, cough and rustle of clothes. The sounds of life are not drowned out here. Even as I write, back at my cell, the only sound is my pen scratching this page and my hand squeaking on the desk. I am noticeably calmer here, out of subconscious deference to my surroundings, no doubt.

            We ate a wonderful breakfast in silence with the monks: homemade bread and peanut butter, coffee, cold cereal, milk only a day or two out of the cow, jellies and apple butter. I remembered to thank the LORD for the meal; the silence made me enjoy it all the more. Again, the sounds of pouring coffee, peanut butter being spread and scraped onto bread, clinking plates, steps down the corridor and even chewing were noticeable and made the meal seem more real and nourishing. The monks were younger than I expected. Their heads were shaved and they looked, for the most part, pensive and grave. They ate standing. I hope the joy of the LORD tempers their obvious respect, reverence and fear for Him. They intimidated me at first—mostly their black robes that flowed and rustled terribly as they moved.

 In all this quiet, a sneeze is a significant event!

***********

            The service (High Mass) was beautiful: incense, Gregorian singing in Latin, sunlight streaming through the windows revealed by the smoke of the incense and suspended dust particles—little planets in a sunbeam. The Kyrie was unearthly—or hyper-earthly (the earth as it should be, that is). Some might scoff and call it pageantry, but done with a heart of worship, all the ceremony is fitting, proper and worshipful. Protestants don’t always reverence God like this. Fear of pageantry and “show” has killed much of the beauty in worship.

            The monks, with their shaved heads, look extremely healthy, pale, but ruddy; not too skinny—never fat. They are models of balance and discipline—at least outwardly. Our little group seems unsettled, even frenzied in contrast. When it gets too quiet, we get restive and fidgety. Of course Luther could not find inner rest, even as a monk. Brother Lawrence did. These monks work eight hours, pray eight hours and rest eight hours—most likely the key to their health (spiritual too).
 

            I could write a whole page on the incense. What a shame the sense of smell is not exploited in most protestant worship! (I don’t use that exclamation point lightly) We use two senses (sight, hearing) but what about the others? (An exclamation point and a rhetorical question in one paragraph! What would Stuart Busenitz think? -ET) During mass I was surrounded, even overwhelmed with the worship. Had I understood the significance of all the gestures and smells and words, the effect would have been stunning.

************

            I’m sitting now in a courtyard of the monastery, wood fenced with clean-cut, thick grass, and one lonely small tree (someday to be a great oak). Past the fence, all that can be seen are deciduous trees crowning a little hill and looking more like a painting than any painting I have come across. I’m sitting in an archway at the edge of the courtyard—one of ten brick archways. Between it and the grass is a border of white pebbles and rocks, presumably a drainage buffer. The whole scene is presided over by a stolid, grave saint standing on his pedestal, unmoved by his surroundings. I can’t help but think he would be happier if he were in the sunlight with a bird perching on his head rather than supervising a brick causeway from a corner. But I probably shouldn’t move the statues . . .

***********

            One wonderful thing about monasteries, and castles for that matter, is all the windows, line upon line of them. For where there are windows there are rooms, seemingly hundreds of them bustling with monastic activity—filled with relics or precious documents, translation work, barrels of monk made beer, crates piled cheese curds or prostrated, praying men—the bigger the monastery, the more mysterious and wonderful the thought of its rooms. They become less like rooms and more like caves to be searched and discovered. In a place this colossal, the chance of secret tunnels and rooms goes up exponentially!

Silence isn’t really silence after all;

It only hushes bigger voices so we can hear the small.

            The sacred and the secular are touching here. No calling church spiritual and a meal worldly. God is revered and thanked equally at both. There is only one thing lacking—mirth! Joy! Do the brothers ever laugh with happiness? I sure hope so (Not if they are taking their cues from this ever-serious statue). You might say he is serious as a statue.

***********

            Lunch: Fish, local vegitables (green and yellow) a light bisque, homemade bread, bottled lemonade, creamed spinach sauce over cuscus, a green apple, a creamy spread over wheat or white bread slices, coffee and water. We ate in silence and chanted a Latin prayer (bowing at intervals) before and after the repast. The food was filling and satisfying.

            I saw joy on a monk’s face this afternoon. We were working in the woods around the abbey, and the monk assigned to us was all kind smiles and cheerful words. He seemed genuinely happy. What a relief! The number one enemy of contentment in a monastery would be curiosity . . . though that may be the number one enemy of contentment. (Period) Or at least number two.

            These monks really do have a splendid life here, but I’m worried they have no way of knowing that, having nothing to which they can compare their lives. Curiosity could kill the monk.

            The trouble with being fashionable in a monastery is finding someone to notice.

            Eating in silence makes the fare something for which you want to give thanks. It focuses your gratefulness on the fruits of the earth and the stunning variety of the produce to be had by the industrious. A good or bad meal can encapsulate the character of a country, city or even house. The meals here—with all their home-grown goodness—silently sing God’s praises and embody the work of the men eating them.

************

I sure do like my little cell here. No clutter!

 

A modest simple room with little in it’s all I need.

A desk, a chair, a bed, a lamp, a sink will do indeed.

But now I see I’ve left out something vital to the place,

My wife, my love must be there—with a smile upon her face.

************
 

            (Sunday) Breakfast was the same as it was yesterday: bread (wheat and white) with jams and homemade peanut butter, cold cereal, coffee poured from large tin pots and unpasteurized milk in sweating tin jugs. Supper last night was much like lunch—silence, but with  a monk reading from “spiritual” literature, all in chant. There was lemonade, a bisque, pasta covered in monk-made gouda cheese, fresh bread, water in glazed clay jugs, and a bread pudding served with applesauce.

       The monks have a brewer. Sadly, I have neither seen nor tasted the fruits of his noble labor. I’ll have to look into that.

            This monastery is much like an empire—large, multifaceted, full of produce and varied labor, mostly self-sustaining and fiercely proud of itself (in a good way). They make gouda cheese, wine, beer, peanut butter, raise cattle and sheep; have large gardens for fresh vegetables. There are monks who paint, write, forge metal sculpt, garden, serve guests and dig ditches. It is like being in a one thousand acre city-state of seventeenth century Germany. They care little for Washington politics (as far as I can tell) because they have no need for most of what Washington has to offer, outside of defense and liberty to function as they wish. This empire in the mini, committed to prayer, is the foundation of every local church whether they acknowledge these monks as Christian brothers or not. What a comfort and solace to know these men are constantly praying for believers throughout Christendom.

            One more high mass, another service, lunch and off to Kansas and all the noise.

 

R. Eric Tippin
November 3-4, 2012
Clear Creek Monastery, Oklahoma

Monday
Nov112013

The Path To Rome (A Blurb)

A good book is worth reading posthaste, and a terrible book is hardly worth mentioning. Therefore, why all the hem-hawing over lengthy reviews? For the purpose of keeping them short and to the point, we submit our blurbs:

 

 

 

 

Lector: "I only regret I did not goad him more, prolonging the magic. Alas, it is over. Oh, to read it again for the first time!" -P. Tippin

"Firmly ahead of its time by staying hopelessly behind it—full of wild claims and filled with ancient truth." -R. Eric Tippin

 

 

 

 The Path To Rome by Hilaire Belloc

Saturday
Nov092013

Killjoy Canons

A literary canon for the ironic age.

But because things evidently false are not only printed, but many things of truth most falsely set forth -- Sir Thomas Browne

It has come to the attention of the Killjoy Critic that the literary canon ought to be redefined. We ask, "What books ought to be read by all cultured and intelligent people?" The only overarching criteria can be the author. How narrow-minded, intolerant and oppressive is the writer? Though a paradox, it is true that we need a narrower, yet more open-minded canon. For the gate of the narrow-minded oppressor that leads to life and joy is indeed narrow, but the open-minded and tolerant gate of the Killjoy Critic leads to death, despair and depression.

The following is our criteria:

Christianity is the most oppressive worldview. Nothing is safe from its oppression. Christians should be tossed from the canon.

America is the most oppressive nation. Americans should be tossed.

Religion in general is oppressive. All religious writers should be tossed.

Universal truth is oppressive. Any who hold to any sort of universal truth should be tossed.

Morality is oppressive. Anyone who holds to any high moral standard of any kind should be tossed.

White Anglo-Saxon is the most oppressive race. White, Anglo-Saxon writers should be tossed.

Men are the most oppressive gender. All men should be tossed.

Women, mothers especially, oppress children. All women should be tossed.

Teenagers oppress other teenagers and younger children, so all teenage writers should be tossed.

All children oppress each other and, more importantly, nature: Send a boy outside for five minutes and the limbs of a tree have turned into a weapon and a squirrel has gone to his eternal home. Children writers ought to be tossed.

Here it may be obviously deduced that the Killjoy Critic believes the canon should consist of literature written by the often overlooked author of our world: Mother Nature. Everything is a text right? So too nature writes her epics in the skies and plains, and perhaps we can find a healthy abode of good, quality, open-minded and un-oppressive literature in the realm of the animal and plant kingdom.

Of course carnivores eat herbivores, so carnivores should be tossed.

On that note, herbivores eat plants. So herbivores should be tossed.

And trees kill off their leaves and clouds send their snow that kills off other species.

And all plants oppress the carbon dioxide in the air.

Carbon dioxide oppresses the icebergs and polar bears.

It is fair to say that icebergs aren't technically innocent, considering what happened to the Titanic.

But we can assume that the Titanic was full of white, Anglo-Saxon people who were possibly Christian or bourgeois which makes it okay.

Of course, one could say that icebergs don't really write anything. He would argue that if they did, they would naturally take out their pent up rage on the White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant Male who has so oppressed him by all the carbon he has been pumping into the air.

Thus, in the end we must determine that Mother Nature oppresses herself and, if given the chance, humanity. Mother Nature must be tossed.

Therefore, and in conclusion, I proclaim that when we consider all the oppressive literature, the literary canon ought to exclusively consist of the tolerant and open-minded literary criticism of the Killjoy Critic who is both open to and oppressed by all other views.

Sam Snow (theficklefarce.wordpress.com)
My dilapidated & crumbling home
6 November 2013

Painting:
The Mouth of the Tay
Oil on canvas, 1871-1874
James Cassie

Saturday
Nov022013

Write as the Wind Blows

 

 

 

"Write as the wind blows and command all words like an army! See them how they stand in rank ready for assualt, the jolly, swaggering fellows!"

--Hilaire Belloc, The Path to Rome

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Lowell Thomas, 1962,via Photographers Gallery.

Thursday
Oct312013

Study for 'The Haunted House' (An Oil Selection)


Study for 'The Haunted House'

Oil on Board, 1878-1959

Alfred James Munnings

     "I believe that the whole frame of a beast doth perish, and is left in the same state after death as before it was materialed unto life . . . that the souls of the faithful, as they leave earth, take possession of Heaven: that those apparitions and ghosts of departed persons are not the wandering souls of men, but the unquiet walks of Devils, prompting and suggesting us unto mischief, blood, and villainy; instilling and stealing into our hearts that the blessed Spirits are not at rest in their graves, but wander solicitous of the affairs of the world. But that those phantasms appear often, and do frequent cemeteries, charnel houses, and churches, it is because those are the dormitories of the dead, where the Devil, like an insolent champion, beholds with pride the spoils and trophies of his victory over Adam."

--Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici