Durtal – III

6 09 2021

Weathering the Storm

Sure I prayed, but not for safety. Whatever happens happens. I know better to ask God to alter His plans unless it’s very serious. Well, this might be serious. It started tranquilly enough. It was calm, the pressure dropped, it got a bit cooler. Then quiet and ominous. The first gust came, I anxiously looked at the news from the south, and saw what was coming: roofs coming off, rain slamming horizontally, trees swaying until they break. Water rising. By the time the sun was going down, the trees were moving in their Shiva dance of destruction. It would start and then stop again. The Internet went out, then the power. Just when you thought maybe the worst was over, then it would return: like incoming traffic, first distant, then growing to a pitch, the trees creaking. The biggest tree in the yard broke in two, and landed harmlessly on the other side of the yard, taking out the fence. By one in the morning, it still wasn’t over, but by then, I was tired of listening. Either something was going to happen, or it wouldn’t. The whistle of branches became fainter and the destructive gusts more spaced in time. At some point, I fell asleep…

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Durtal – II

19 08 2021
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Zelus domus tuae comedit me

July 16th, 2021

It was hard to get anything done that morning. Fortunately, I had the day off. I was finishing some work in the very early morning (remember on weekdays I get up at 3 am), when I checked Twitter and noticed something was abuzz. A document had come out from the Vatican about the traditional Latin Mass, but it wasn’t translated yet and wild reports were circulating about what it meant. I tried to muddle through the Italian, which is harder than you’d think for someone with a working knowledge of Latin and Spanish fluency. However, it became clear what the document meant. Traditiones Custodes issued by Pope Francis was meant to walk back the generous and theologically significant 2007 motu proprio of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, Summorum Pontificum. As I’ve written several times over the years, 2007 marked a point in the traditionalist movement when the old Mass became available to a larger number of Catholics in the United States, Europe, and a few other parts of the world. Priests no longer needed special permission from the Vatican to say the old Mass akin to getting a permit to handle nuclear waste or James Bond’s license to kill. A priest could just say the old Mass whenever it was requested of him by enough of his faithful, which opened up the traditional Mass to a lot of “normal” people (i.e. people not like me).

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Durtal – I

14 08 2021

Early morning driving

It’s three o’clock. Not early for me really. I arise from my bed, alone, do the necessary, and I am out the door in about fifteen minutes.

This time, not to work. But still, early morning driving is the same all days. My wondering if neighbors are alarmed by my being up and about at this hour (they are probably used to it). The random car that meets you at a stop light or sign (“What is that person doing up? Where are they going?”) Good luck if you have to get gas or if, before COVID-19, you wanted to run to the store for a very early errand (a couple of them used to be open at this hour). I once saw a family of four doing their grocery shopping at three in the morning. The youngest may have been two years old. You might see vagrants in front of a convenience store, trying to hitch a ride to somewhere, anywhere. A policeman might role up to the gas station for a cup of coffee, another person might be filling up their tank (again, what are they doing up at this hour?)

The thing that scares me most is the thought of hitting an animal. I have seen some weird ones at this hour: foxes, armadillos, tons of possums and raccoons. There was a doe and her faun who lived a mile from our house, you would see them dart into the woods during the spring days. At night, they would stand comfortably next to the road, until I rolled passed. I stopped in front of them and they fled in a panic. Down the road, I saw a deer leap over a four foot fence when my car came upon it in the middle of the road.

There is an audio book playing in the car. I dart past the eighteen wheelers and the random cars that also happen to be on this interstate. I envision in my mind’s eye what each exit looks like in the daylight, what animals must be up and about in those woods, what creatures are hunting and which fleeing for their lives. The loneliness and darkness hits you sometimes, like you’re one of the few people who survived some global calamity. “Everyone else is asleep. I am an island in this vast sea of silence.”

I get to the temple after about an hour. It is dark save for a light or two. I am weary but still quite awake. A devotee or two might see me and greet me quietly.

“Hare Krishna.”

“Hare Krishna prabhu!”

“I’m ok. Hari bol!”

Someone is in the corner chanting japa quietly. I look at the large head of Lord Jagannath, smiling, with a flower for a dimple below His nose. The bell rings on the door, open and close, open and close. Finally, after a few have gathered, the pujari blows on the conch. The curtain opens.

“Jai Sri Sri Radha Radha Kantha”.

I fall down flat sideways. Like a stick….

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Grifting

10 08 2021

The reason I wanted to read Wilfrid Sheed’s novel The Hack is that I was once involved in Catholic writing some years ago, and even got a check for it (which I donated to the Church). I was never more than an “amateur” and never sought to make it a regular source of income. Sheed’s novel is about a “professional” Catholic writer in the early 1960’s who has a severe case of writer’s block brought about by a crisis of faith. The protagonist author, Bertam Flax, writes kitschy emotional dreck for Catholic magazines and gives talks based on his notoriety as an author. This is how he supports his non-Catholic wife and their five children. The message of the novel is that Flax never really matured in his faith past the mediocre spirituality expressed in his poems and stories. The novel is supposed to be a cautionary tale about having an overly mercenary attitude towards your beliefs. Flax was supposedly Catholic just to make a buck, and not a Catholic who happened to make a living from his faith.

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Enthusiasm

23 04 2021

Suddenly, a woman from Orissa, unable to see Lord Jagannātha because of the crowd, climbed the column of Garuḍa, placing her foot on Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s shoulder. When he saw this, Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s personal servant, Govinda, hastily got her down from her position. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, however, chastised him for this. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said to Govinda, “O ādi-vasyā [uncivilized man], do not forbid this woman to climb the Garuḍa-stambha. Let her see Lord Jagannātha to her satisfaction.” When the woman came to her senses, however, she quickly climbed back down to the ground and, seeing Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, immediately begged at His lotus feet for forgiveness. Seeing the woman’s eagerness, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said, “Lord Jagannātha has not bestowed so much eagerness upon Me. “She has fully absorbed her body, mind and life in Lord Jagannātha. Therefore she was unaware that she was putting her foot on My shoulder. “Alas! How fortunate this woman is! I pray at her feet that she favor Me with her great eagerness to see Lord Jagannātha.” (CC Antya 14: 24-30)

As I have stated previously, I try to break down complex concepts into the simplest terms that I can understand. In that regard, I once stated to a devotee that the mood of the gopis is akin to the mood of screaming enthusiastic girls at pop or rock concerts back in the day. They think day and night about Krishna, their whole life is about getting a glimpse of Krishna, being in His presence, and finally being with Him by themselves in secret. Even during the rasa-lila, the height of all existence and the dance around which all else dances, each gopi felt like she was dancing with Krishna as if she was the only one there when in actuality He had multiplied Himself numerous times to be with each one. That’s like the young woman (and young man nowadays, perhaps) who thinks that the pop star is singing directly to her in a stadium full of other screaming fans.

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Notes on St. Bonaventure

5 09 2020
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As a Christian, my mind was Augustinian, though I am by no means a scholar of St. Augustine. As I have written elsewhere, I have always had a problem with Thomistic Scholasticism. This is not for lack of engagement, as I like reading Thomistic authors, and have even tackled the Angelic Doctor himself on occasion. Much of it still didn’t sit well with me. As stated previously, one of my difficulties was trying to reconcile faith and reason. Though my problematic dives into modern philosophy led me down disastrous paths, I think I have purged enough of their influence to soberly realize that the narrative of making sense of faith through purely rational premises still doesn’t appeal to me. In my opinion, trying to marry faith and reason too closely can only be done through “cooking the books,” or begging the question. If you value the “reasonableness” of faith that much, you are already beginning the inquiry with a foregone conclusion.

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The Cooking Gene

27 02 2019

I read this book recently, so I will just jot down some thoughts here. In general, reading books like this remind me of how shallow my roots are in this country. Mexican cuisine tends to be celebrated (even if in a bastardized form), while “soul food” such as collard greens and corn grits are little appreciated outside of the South and historically black communities. Personally, I like Southern food, and I think it just as nuanced and cultured as any other cuisine. Good gumbo or fried chicken is an art. At the same time, there is a sort of gentrification of these rural “uncultured” foods that I can also recognize as a concern. The throwaway foods of yesterday become the delicacies of today, and that can be very problematic. Read the rest of this entry »





The Benedict Option

6 02 2019

I have mulled over doing a review of this book that I recently read, and I am still not sure I can do it justice. The difficulty that I am finding is addressing the complexity and nuance of Dreher’s description of the problem of the contemporary conservative Christian malaise. The book draws inspiration from the last line of Catholic philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s book, After Virtue, wherein he contrasts the violent revolutionary Trotsky to the humble quiet movement of the monastic founder, St. Benedict. Dreher visits monastic communities as well as quasi-monastic lay communities that are trying to live a devout traditional life in the midst of the maelstrom of change that is 21st century society. Dreher, both in this book and on his widely-read blog, continues to document the perceived persecution of conservative Christians (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox) who refuse to go along with the liberal sexual politics of the modern era, among other changes. Read the rest of this entry »





This is not a liturgical post

19 05 2011

It is with some reluctance that I comment on Geoffrey Hull’s book, Banished Heart: Origins of Heteropraxis in the Catholic Church. I am not really interested in liturgy (as I have stated before), nor did I find the book all that compelling. Nevertheless, even my newly recovered philosophical orientation has not prevented me from pursuing a broad range of interests. A book that claims to analyze the degeneration of the religious ethos of the West can thus be of some interest to me.

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One of ballet’s Old Believers

17 02 2011

My wife is now reading the book being reviewed here . I agree with the reviewer on some issues, and will have to return more in depth to some of these ideas once I actually read the book. Here is the final part of the review:

Homans’s vehemence in upholding the values of elegance and proportion is heartening, a testament to the coherence and harmoniousness of ballet’s basic principles and codes. And inevitably, I too am captive to my own prejudices and experiences. Having come to ballet as an adult, in the post-Balanchine era, I find that my perspective is necessarily different from Homans’s. Her credo finds its strongest expression in the final chapter of Apollo’s Angels, a provocative essay with the lugubrious title “The Masters Are Dead and Gone.” Homans postulates that ballet is dying and perhaps beyond life support, complaining about the “dull, flat-screen look of today’s dances and dancers,” “artistically moribund” revivals, “dispiriting” performances that are “dull and lack vitality,” and an “inaccessible avant-garde.” Even ballet’s angels, it seems, are falling from the sky.

But ballet is always dying. Like all dance, it exists purely in time and leaves no record, and is an art of the external present. Unlike music, it does not have a consistent written language; video can capture only its shadow because it lacks the third dimension, where dancing lives. So we are left with the present. As Balanchine said, “There is only now.” In this light Homans’s discouragement feels like fatigue, her disappointment like complacency. She may tire of seeing yet another production of Giselle or Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, but what about the person who is seeing these ballets for the first time, who stumbles out of the theater in a daze, in tears of disbelief at what he has just witnessed? Is this not worth preserving, worth fighting for? As Homans wrote several years ago, in a different mood, “Who are we to hold old memories so tightly? Perhaps it is time to stop mourning and move on.”

I agree and disagree. One of my most recent themes here is that there is no “tradition” properly considered. Even our idea of ballet, of a woman in pointe shoes floating across the stage, is a radical transformation from the original court dancing of Louis XIV. As the reviewer also points out, Balanchine was also a great innovator. While I respect greatly Balanchine as the greatest choreographer of the 20th century at least, to say that there is no ballet history after him is a bit of an exaggeration. Not much of an exaggeration to be sure, but to say that an artform that has changed so much is coming to an end may be the real exaggeration. Really, how old are even the ballets of Petipa and Bournonville compared to the grand scheme of Western art? Not even as old as Beethoven. Don’t count ballet out yet.

But there are some factors that even the reviewer does not take into consideration that are also working against ballet’s future. It is truly an aristocratic art, and thus needs an aristocratic scale to be properly executed. Many have said that the young dancers today, in spite of being faster or being able to jump higher, and so on, have little musicality, little ability to carry themselves in the ethos of the ballets, etc. Really, this is a problem with many arts, including such things as traditional liturgy (not that liturgy really matters in the grand scheme of things). We live in a different world of blogging, tweeting, video games, and gadgets doing all sorts of things that fit in our pockets. What can a pas de deux really teach us? As the years go by, the things of the past begin to make less and less sense. Perhaps future generations will take up the mantle and carry on the arts of an autocratic past, but if there are other things that are seen as being more worth the while, one should not hold one’s breath waiting for a renaissance.