Posts Tagged ‘Lent’

That far country

April 12, 2019

If anyone thinks that this present life is a life not only of labour but also of reward, a life not only of sowing seed but also of harvesting, then we must let him follow the rules of sagacity that are in harmony with his view of life. But we would not care to ask his advice, since he is, after all, an alien and a foreigner who has no knowledge of, no connection with, that far country about which we are asking.

— Kierkegaard,
“The Expectancy of Eternal Salvation”.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me

April 5, 2019

We need to recognize […] that this commandment is a hard discipline: it destroys, it breaks in order to bind; like a cautery, it wounds in order to heal; and now, in order to heal the damage it has in part inflicted, it must be applied again. In practical terms, I suspect that this means that Christians must make an ever more concerted effort to recall and recover the wisdom and centrality of the ascetic tradition. It takes formidable faith and devotion to resist the evils of one’s age, and it is to the history of Christian asceticism — especially, perhaps, the apophthegms of the Desert Fathers — that all Christians, whether married or not, should turn for guidance. To have no god but the God of Christ, after all, means today that we must endure the lenten privations of what is most certainly a dark age, and strive to resist the bland solace, inane charms, brute viciousness, and dazed passivity of post-Christian culture—all of which are so tempting precisely because they enjoin us to believe in and adore ourselves.

It means also to remain aloof from many of the moral languages of our time, which are — even at their most sentimental, tender, and tolerant — usually as decadent and egoistic as the currently most fashionable vices. It means, in short, self-abnegation, contrarianism, a willingness not only to welcome but to condemn, and a refusal of secularization as fierce as the refusal of our Christian ancestors to burn incense to the genius of the emperor. This is not an especially grim prescription, I should add: Christian asceticism is not, after all, a cruel disfigurement of the will, contaminated by the world-weariness or malice towards creation that one can justly ascribe to many other varieties of religious detachment. It is, rather, the cultivation of the pure heart and pure eye, which allows one to receive the world, and rejoice in it, not as a possession of the will or an occasion for the exercise of power, but as the good gift of God.

— David Bentley Hart,
“Freedom and Decency”.

Purity of heart

March 29, 2019

By faith are our hearts purified to see what only the pure in heart see.

— William of St. Thierry,
The Mirror of Faith.

Faith, hope, love, and life

March 22, 2019

The unfaithful believe other things, hope for other things, love other things than do the faithful, and of necessity therefore they live differently.

— William of St. Thierry,
The Mirror of Faith.

Lenten difficulties

March 15, 2019

Just to collect one’s mind in prayer at a specified time and to pray inwardly, even though for only a moment, is more difficult than to occupy a city.

— Kierkegaard,
“Patience in Expectancy”.

Ash Wednesday, 2017

March 1, 2017

As a suitable meditation for today, I offer Messiaen’s beautiful Les Offrandes Oubliées:

Messiaen wrote the following note about the piece:

The Offrandes Oubliées, written in 1930, was first performed on February 19, 1931, at the Théatre des Champs Elysées in Paris, under the direction of Walter Straram. I had just turned 22. It was my first work played by an orchestra and my first contact with the public at large.

The work is in three parts:

  • The Cross: lamentation of the strings, the sorrowful ‘neumes’ of which divide the melody into groups of uneven duration, cut by long mauve and grey wailings.
  • The Sin: presented here as a kind of ‘race to the abyss’ in an almost ‘mechanized’ speed. You will notice the strong flexional ending accents, whistling of the harmonics in glissando, the incisive calls of the trumpets.
  • The Eucharist: long and slow phrase of the violins, which rises over a blanket of pianissimo chords, with reds, gold, blues (like a faraway stained glass window), in the light of muted solo chords. The sin is the forgetting of God. The Cross and the Eucharist are the Divine Offerings. ‘This is my Body, given for you – this is my Blood, spilled for you.’

To those who will be observing it, I wish you a good, difficult, and fruitful Lent.

Lenten reading: “the sharp dart”

March 6, 2015

He may well be loved, but not thought. By love He can be caught and held, but by thinking never. Therefore, though it may be good sometimes to think particularly about God’s kindness and worth, and though it may be enlightening too, and a part of contemplation, yet in the work now before us it must be put down and covered with a cloud of forgetting. And you are to step over it resolutely and eagerly, with a devout and kindling love, and try to penetrate that darkness above you. Strike that thick cloud of unknowing with the sharp dart of longing love, and on no account whatever think of giving up.

The Cloud of Unknowing.

Ash Wednesday, 2014

March 5, 2014

Of all the many musical settings of Psalm 51 130, my favourite is Arvo Pärt’s. It is luminously simple, but it never fails to move me. Even if you’ve not heard it before, I expect you would find it not too difficult to sing along with the score, and what better day to do it?

Once at a time

February 19, 2013

Work out your own salvation
with fear and trembling.
— Epistle to the Philippians —

In the context of a discussion of Kierkegaard, Etienne Gilson touches on a matter fit for Lenten reflection:

Christianity’s own goal and solemn promise is to give each man eternal beatitude. It is both that promise and the way to fulfill it. Such a promise is for man of a literally “infinite” interest, and the only way for him to welcome it is to experience an “infinite passion” for it. In terms of the religious life, this means that the only answer a man can give to God’s message is a passionate will to achieve his own salvation, that is, to achieve his own infinite beatitude. A half-hearted effort to such an end would be quite out of proportion with it; it would not at all be a will to that end; it would not be that will at all.

On the other hand, if such a will actually arises in any man, it has to be the will to his own salvation, because what God has promised is actually to save him. Whether or not he was aware of the fact, Kierkegaard himself was merely repeating Bernard of Clairvaux, when he said: “This problem concerns no one but me.” And such indeed is the case, if the problem actually is to know how I myself can share in that beatitude which Christianity promises.

True enough, the same problem arises for each and every man, so that for an infinite number of men its solution, which is Christianity itself, is bound to be the same, but this does not mean that there is a general solution to the problem. Quite the reverse. Out of its own nature, this is such a problem as requires to be solved, an infinite number of times, once at a time; to solve it differently is not to solve it at all.

Being and Some Philosophers

Fire

March 13, 2011

Abbot Lot came to Abbot Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and according as I am able I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: Why not be totally changed into fire?

(From Thomas Merton: The Wisdom of the Desert)