This passage in Georges Bernanos’ The Diary of a Country Priest comes from our hero’s mentor, the Priest of Torcy, who, if a little harsh, stands as a clear-eyed check on our young cleric’s idealism. This is his monologue on Christ’s love for the poor. But for the priest, and for Bernanos, the love for the poor is not some systematic ethic for justice—it is romance. Referring to the story of the widow’s costly perfume “wasted” on Jesus’ feet, the priest speaks (as Christ) to Judas, against his kind of cautionary, penny-wise methods for selling off a poor woman’s nard.
The poor you will always have with you, but me you have not always with you, answered Our Lord. Which amounts to this: don’t let the hour of mercy strike in vain. You’d do far better to cough up that money you stole, at once, instead of trying to get My apostles worked up over your imaginary financial deals in toilet waters, and your charitable enterprises. Moreover you think you’re flattering My notorious weakness for down-and-outs, but you’ve got hold of the wrong end of the stick. I’m not attached to My paupers like an English old maid to lost cats, or to the poor bulls in the Spanish bull-ring. I love poverty with a deep, reasoned, lucid love—as equal loves equal. I love her as a wife who is faithful and fruitful. If the poor man’s right was derived only from strict necessity, your piddling selfishness would soon reduce him to a bare minimum, paid for by unending gratitude and servility. You’ve been holding forth against this woman to-day who has just bathed My feet with very expensive nard, as though My poor people had no right to best scent…The poor you have always with you, just because there will always be the rich, that is to say there will always be hard and grasping men out for power more than possession. These men exist as much among the poor as among the rich, and the scallywag vomiting up his drink in the gutter is perhaps drunk with the very same dreams as Caesar asleep under his purple canopy. Rich and poor alike, you’d do better to look at yourselves in the mirror of want, for poverty is the image of your own fundamental illusion. Poverty is the emptiness in your hearts and in your hands. It is only because your malice is known to Me that I have placed poverty so high, crowned her and taken her as My bride.
From Orion Magazine’s celebration of poetry month.
When the time’s toxins
have seeped into every cell
and like a salted plot
from which all rain, all green, are gone
I and life are leached
somehow a seed
sprouts the instant
I acknowledge it:
little weedy hardy would-be
while deep within
roots like talons
are taking hold again
of this our only earth.
I recently came across a book that really spoke to me called The God Of The Mundane: Reflections on Ordinary Life for Ordinary People (2012) by Matthew B. Redmond. The thing I like most about the book is it’s pastoral—it really ministered to me as I read it. It’s main thrust is that God is at work in the ordinariness of our mostly mundane lives. This is actually the opposite of what one often hears in Christian circles (across the ideological spectrum) that urge us to do radical things and find God in mountain-top experiences.
Here is the description on the back of the book:
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To know just how He suffered — would be dear —
To know if any Human eyes were near
To whom He could entrust His wavering gaze —
Until it settle broad — on Paradise —
To know if He was patient — part content —
Was Dying as He thought — or different —
Was it a pleasant Day to die —
And did the Sunshine face his way —
What was His furthest mind — Of Home — or God —
Or what the Distant say —
At news that He ceased Human Nature
Such a Day —
And Wishes — Had He Any —
Just His Sigh — Accented —
Had been legible — to Me —
And was He Confident until
Ill fluttered out — in Everlasting Well —
And if He spoke — What name was Best —
What One broke off with
At the Drowsiest —
Was He afraid — or tranquil —
Might He know
How Conscious Consciousness — could grow —
Till Love that was — and Love too best to be —
Meet — and the Junction be Eternity
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
This month’s edition of Christianity Today features a cover story, “The Return of Shame,” that draws a clear, causative link between the prevalence of social media and its corollary stripping of privacy with the emergence of a shame-fame culture. I couldn’t help but relate this to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (and Billy Idol’s “Eyes without a Face”).
n contrast to a guilt culture wherein morality is evaluated on the basis on individual conscience, a shame culture’s efficacy rests on community’s conception of your behavior. According to Crouch, “you know you are good or bad by what your community says about you.” This…
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Whenever I read the letters of Paul and his great doctrine of justification by faith, there is always lurking in the background the problem posed by the Epistle of James and its not-so-apparent direct refutation of Paul. And in any discussion of justification by faith there always lurks the specter of James, always calling into question whether Paul was really correct in his understanding. Admittedly, for the longest time I never quite knew what to make of James 2, and its contradiction of Paul’s thesis that Abraham the ungodly was justified by faith, without works (Romans 4). It was Martin…
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“Twenty centuries of Christianity,” I said. “You’d think we’d learn.” I fingered the small cross. “In this world, He only promises we don’t suffer alone.”
-Phil Klay, Redeployment
2014’s National Book Award winner is an unusual one in several ways. First, it is not a novel but a collection of short stories. Its author is part of a new generation of writers who served in the War on Terror. And finally it goes beyond a simple celebration of the ‘other 1%,’ Americans who serve in the armed forces, and looks deeply and with a tone both tragic and colloquial into the moral…
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Walker Percy said that Wednesday afternoon is the worst time of the week, when an existential fugue settles over you – and as T-Bone Walker sang, “Thursday’s also sad.” The narrator of Ikiru said, “he will have to get a lot worse before he can get better.” So here’s some afternoon Law to help, from Conrad’s Lord Jim, as he describes a man trying to define himself, to narrate a shameful mistake from his past in such a way as to lessen his guilt:
It was solemn, and a little ridiculous too, as they always are, those struggles of an individual trying to save from the fire his idea of what his moral identity should be, this precious notion of a convention, only one of the rules of the game, nothing more, but all the same so terribly effective by its assumption of unlimited power over natural instincts, by the awful penalties of its failure.
Like you, I’ve currently been trying to move through season three of House of Cards as slowly as possible, and not watch the whole thing in one sitting. It’s hard to do, even though this season is a lot less binge-friendly than the first two. And it’s hard to do predominantly because the Underwood’s ‘house of cards’ is nearly finished, and also never finished. While manipulative play after manipulative play proves time and again that control is only one move ahead of them, the thrill in watching the show comes from this precise tension–that one slip of the hand, or…
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From his absolutely mandatory collection from last year, Idiot Psalms:
The breakfast was adequate, the fast
itself sub-par. We gluttons, having
modified our habits only somewhat
within the looming Lenten dark, failed
quite to shake our thick despair, an air
that clamped the heart, made moot the prayer.
As dim disciples having seen the light,
we supplied to it an unrelenting gloom.
Wipe your chin. I’m dying here
in Omaha, amid the flat, surrounded
by the beefy, land-locked generations,
the river, and the river’s rancid shore.
O what I wouldn’t give for a lifting,
cool salt breeze, a beach, a Labrador.
This guest post comes from Mockingbird friend Michael Centore. This piece is a wonderful companion to his amazing Los Angeles Review of Books piece on the Evergetinos, which can be read here.
“The great difficulty for filmmakers is precisely not to show things,” Robert Bresson once declared during an interview for French television. “Ideally, nothing should be shown, but that’s impossible.” Reading Notes on the Cinematographer, his 1975 collection of memoranda, fragments, quotes, and aphorisms, one gathers he felt the same way about writing: that, in both media, a sense of reverence for the “secret laws” of life is best…
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