1) A particularly Lenten roundup this week, starting with this very beautiful, concise reflection from Will Willimon over at OnFaith, called “Good News! You’re a Sinner and Lent Is Here,” which deals primarily with the deep relief that comes in knowing yourself as a sinner. (Reminds us a little of someone we get to meet in NYC this spring, who has spoken quite frankly about the “cruel optimism” of our contemporary world.) The truth is, more often than not, the scandal of the Christian faith is not merely the nature or existence of God, but the sin of humankind—and the…
Another Week Ends: Lenten Anthropology Meets Carl Rogers, New Community, Charlie Kaufman, Oscars Morality, Auden (Again), and Katims on Crying
Another Week Ends: Secret Auden, Eagleton Deicide, Remembering Wes, Method Acting, True Detective, and Russian Tourist Tips
1. Holy smokes! Have you read Edward Mendelson’s “The Secret Auden” in the NY Review of Books?! If not, run don’t walk. It’s a jaw-dropping, incredibly inspiring catalog of the clandestine episodes of grace initiated by our all-time favorite Wystan–about as honest a Matthew 6:5 vibe as I’ve come across in ages. Lest these remarkable stories be dismissed as mere hagiography, Mendelson (author of the indispensable Later Auden) doesn’t lionize the great poet, instead tracing the ‘good works’ back to their root–which is not a sense of earning or credit (clearly) but of genuine humility brought on by piercing self-knowledge….
“To some people, I may seem calm. But if you could peer beneath the surface, you would see that I’m like a duck—paddling, paddling, paddling…” – Scott Stossel
You don’t have to have a therapist on speed dial to relate. You don’t need a prescription to Xanax or Ativan, or a shelf full of ‘dealing with anxiety’ books to know what he’s talking about. You don’t even need to be interested in mental health. If you have a pulse, you know. Of course, it helps if you have an Internet connection too. The skyrocketing rates of anxiety in America are no…
Our Father, whose creative Will
Asked Being for us all,
Confirm it that Thy Primal Love
May weave in us the freedom of
The actually deficient on
The justly actual.
Though written by Thy children with
A smudged and crooked line,
The Word is ever legible,
Thy Meaning unequivocal,
And for Thy Goodness even sin
Is valid as a sign.
Inflict Thy promises with each
Occasion of distress,
That from our incoherence we
May learn to put our trust in Thee,
And brutal fact persuade us to
Adventure, Art, and Peace.
Yet another profound look into a chronicled book-for-the-ages from Lynn MacDougall. This is part one of a new series:
“A child may ask, ‘What is the world’s story about?’ And a grown man or woman may wonder, ‘What way will the world go? How does it end and, while we’re at it, what’s the story about?”
I’m in my second reading of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. The first foray into this work was motivated by Mumford and Son’s “Timshel,” a reference to the story. Late nights reading, bent pages, pens and highlighters later, I’m fairly sure my family was ready to…
A couple more memorable observations from The Dyer’s Hand:
A sense of humor develops in a society to the degree that its members are simultaneously conscious of being each a unique person and of being all in common subjection to unalterable laws.
We enjoy caricatures of our friends because we do not want to think of their changing, above all, of their dying; we enjoy caricatures of our enemies because we do not want to consider the possibility of their having a change of heart so that we would have to forgive them.
On a related note, I find Auden’s Marginalia laugh-out-loud funny…
This one comes to us from W.H. Auden, who included it as the entry on Puritanism in “A Certain World: a commonplace book,” his collection of alphabetized wisdom. As beautiful a distillation of the Protestant ‘break-through’ as it may be, the words are actually not Wystan’s. It’s an excerpt from The Oxford History of English Literature, written by none other than Clive Staples Lewis.
“Theologically, Protestantism was either a recovery, or a development, or an exaggeration (it is not for the literary historian to say which) of Pauline theology… In the mind of a Tyndale or Luther, as in the mind…
A trio of gems from W.H. Auden’s essay on “Christianity and Art”, which can be found in the collection The Dyer’s Hand:
To a Christian, the godlike man is not the hero who does extraordinary deeds, but the holy man, the saint, who does good deeds. But the gospel defines a good deed as one done in secret, hidden, so far as it is possible, even from the doer, and forbids private prayer and fasting in public. This means that art, which by its nature can only deal with what can and should be manifested, cannot portray a saint. – pg…
Another batch of deep wisdom from poet Wystan, this time from his essay “Writing” which can be found in The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays.
Poetry is not magic. In so far as poetry, or any other of the arts, can be said to have an ulterior purpose, it is, by telling the truth, to disenchant and disintoxicate.
‘The unacknowledged legislators of the world’ describes the secret police, not the poets.
Catharsis is properly effected, not by works of art, but by religious rites. It is also effected, usually improperly, by bullfights, professional football matches, bad movies, military bands and monster rallies at…
From the great poet’s essay “The Prince’s Dog,” which can be found his invaluable collection, The Dyer’s Hand. Wystan is reflecting on Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” specifically in reference to Angelo (who is forgiven by Isabella but pardoned by the Duke). Of course, the insights transcend their context:
The one who forgives must be in a position to do something for the other which, if he were not forgiving, he would not do. This means that my enemy must be at my mercy; but, to the spirit of charity, it is irrelevant whether I am at my enemy’s mercy or he…
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)
The poet W.H. Auden once wrote, “Nothing that is possible can save us/ We who must die demand a miracle”. This is a bold statement, and one whose truth might not be self-evident in everyday life. Many of the problems we face on a daily level can be fixed, or at least, addressed: If our car breaks down, we can take it to the garage. If we get a headache, we can take some…
Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.
Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.
Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
Expounding to an unpriestly people,
Law is the words in my priestly book,
Law is my pulpit and my steeple.
Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I’ve told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.
Yet law-abiding scholars write: