Thursday, November 09, 2006

From Washington D.C. to Ancient China and back

My friend Jonathan Chaves will be presenting a reading from his new translation of the poetry of Zhang Ji, Cloud Gate Song at Chapters Bookstore in D.C. this Saturday.  The translation is an experiment which attempts to convey the original Chinese rhyme schemes to the English reader.  I would post a sample, but I have not yet received my copy from Amazon, which swears that it will ship it any day now.  Besides being a scholar and poet, Jonathan is a great reader and I would highly recommend the event to anyone in the area.


Until then, here is a sample from an earlier volume, Pilgrim of the Clouds; Poems and Essays from Ming China.  It seems particularly appropriate with the changes wrought by the recent election.  As each defeated incumbent slinks home, in his wake go dozens of aides, functionaries and officials all now jobless.  This is a story that would have been more than familiar to the scholar bureaucrats of ancient China.  Some elements of politics transcend time, place and culture.  However, I do not know if our own modern functionaries will have quite the same perspective in defeat:


ON RECEIVING News of My Termination

The time has come to devote myself to my hiker's stick;

I must have been a Buddhist monk in a former life!

Sick, I see returning home a kind of pardon.

A stranger here--being fired is like being promoted.

In my cup, thick wine; I get crazy-drunk,

eat my fill, then stagger up the green mountain.

The southern sect, the northern sect, I've tried them all;

this hermit has his own school of Zen philosophy.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rainy Tuesday morning. Where did the mountain go?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

About a week ago I had a visit to the blog from Sue Bell (no relation that I know). She is an aspiring jazz singer from Seattle who, in addition to saying nice things about the blog, provided a link to her own web page where one can listen to samples from her album. I listened, liked what I heard and followed the link to CD Baby and ordered the CD. Is she the next great voice in jazz or pop? No, but I like her. Why? It's hard to explain, but let me try.

Picture this: You are in a little jazz club. The band is great, all old pros who are tearing it up while trying to keep the music accessible to the casual drinker off the street. The club is almost empty. At the table with you is a talented friend who has sat in with the guys before. They invite her up on stage to do a few songs. Not show tunes or jazz standards, but some of those tunes from the seventies that you secretly liked but were too cool to admit to while putting your Clash or Elvis Costello lps on the turn table. She sounds great. Not a perfect voice, but she sings the hell out of those sappy old songs, stripping out the schmaltz and leaving the honest sentiment behind. And the band sounds like they are having the time of their lives. It's over, and as you walk out, you leave smiling.

Monday, November 06, 2006

While down with the flu this weekend I had the rare treat of being awakened out of a feverish sleep by phone call after phone call only to discover that it was not my wife checking in from her business trip, or my in-laws calling with an emergency or any of our neighbors reporting errant livestock. Instead, it was some damnable recorded voice droning on (and on and on) in behalf of one or the other of the rival candidates in the particularly nasty race for the Senate here in Virginia. It does you no good to scream at a robot, but I tried anyhow, croaking from my sickbed as I slammed the receiver down. And don't even get me started on the omnipresent t.v. ads. The professionals who run these campaigns must truly believe the voting populace consists of idiots who can be swayed by nothing more than a breathless voiceover magnifying the real or imagined sins of the rival candidate. I actually began this election cycle with a certain measure of respect for both George Allen and James Webb, which has declined steadily as their staff and supporters have done what they think is necessary to win my vote. Their thinking is, to say the least, flawed. While it may be unjust to judge the man by his minions, if their campaign staffs are a measure of the candidates' character, I no longer trust either of them to be my Senator. In fact, I am not sure I would trust either of them to be the guy who pushes my trash down with a pole at our local dump station before pushing the big red button on the compactor. Nonetheless, at some point tomorrow I will stand up in a polling place and be faced with the choice between one of the two. This leads me to introduce my own idea for election reform; Vote None of the Above.

I propose a law that would require that in any race there be an additional option to vote for "None of the Above" positioned immediately after the candidates' names. If "None of the Above" leads by a plurality of the vote at the conclusion of the election, then a new election would be held within a reasonable time to allow the parties to reconsider their choices. The parties could, if they were so inclined, re-nominate the same candidates and independents would be allowed to run again. If however "None of the Above" wins an absolute majority, none of the previous candidates would be allowed on the new ballot.

It could be argued that this crackpot proposal would potentially delay the filling of public office and throw our system of government in disarray. Well, as they say in the computer world, that's not a bug, it's a feature. Vote None of the Above!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The view from home this morning.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Many thanks to all the folks who stopped by the blog and particularly those who left comments. For those in search of a real phone of your own, try eBay, or if you do not mind paying a premium for a guarantee that everything works, Vintage Swank on Main Street in Front Royal, a few blocks away from my office, carries a fine selection.

Now that the Instalanche is subsiding, regular blogging will resume with usual selection of farm pictures, literary references, rural anecdotes and the occasional odd thought about my odd life.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Friday, October 27, 2006

October sunset

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Yes, it is a telephone. More particularly, it is a vintage Western Electric telephone, the kind you used to lease from Ma Bell back in the old monopoly days. It is nearly indestructible, the sound quality is great and it rings. It does not beep, buzz, squeak, play hip hop or chatter at you like a mini smoke alarm. There is an actual bell inside and it rings. Some days a small thing is all it takes to make me happy.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

By all evidence, the change of the season is here. Top coats are starting to come out of closets around the house. I put on a battered old farm coat yesterday to go track down a ewe who seemed to have some hoof problems and found a pocket full of twine and scraps from feed sacks, left there since early spring. The sheep seem to be noticing the change in light and temperature. Susan looked out the door Monday evening to find half the flock looking back at her, plainly expecting something. It is heading towards that time when we put them in the barn at night and supplement the sparse winter grass with grain and hay, but we are not there yet. We told them so, and eventually they gave up and went back to grazing, casting reproachful glances in our direction as they left.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Here is Twitch, the kitten in question, in focus this time. I had propped an old mattress against the wall in the living room until we could bring the farm truck around to load it up and carry it away. It was climbed, conquered and claimed by the latest addition to the household, lord, as you see, of all he surveys.

No, I have not become a modernist painter. This little bit of "found art" from my picture files illustrates what happens when a small kitten, tricky lighting, and a photographer who (a) did not check the camera settings and (b) did not put on his glasses all join together.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Morning Fog Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A New Year?

The Labor Day weekend just sailed by and I wake up to find myself well into September, the kids back at school and our late summer drought broken by heavy rains.  I'm glad to see the rain for the sake of our parched pastures, but now regret the chores I've put off which will be that much harder in a muddy barnyard.

The beginning of September has seemed like the beginning of the new year ever since I started school circa 1960, much more so than any short, cold day in January.  The old Roman/Byzantine Empire started the New Year on September 1st, and the Eastern Orthodox Churches still use that date to measure the start of the Ecclesiastical year.  There is no special celebration that I am aware of, but it is customary for Hierarchs to note the date with a message to the flock.  Here is meditation on time and new beginnings from Metropolitan Herman of the Orthodox Church in America.  Since we spin around the Sun in a sort of ellipse, Nature does not provide any absolute beginning for the year.  Even the seasons vary depending on your hemisphere.  The carousel keeps moving so fixing any one "start" will always be arbitrary.  It can't hurt though to have as many opportunities for a new beginning as possible.  So, for those of you who could use an excuse for a new start, a re-start, or just a chance to take stock and try again, Happy New Year!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Really, I had the pictures right there on the card.  I clicked the telephoto lens onto the camera, stepped stealthily out on the deck and caught the red fox prowling through the field next to the house.  Seventeen pictures downloaded to the computer, then deleted from the compact flash card.  When I went to open them up, gone, every last one of them, just like the fox himself when he caught sight of me.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Seraphims on-line

There are a number of "Seraphims" in the Orthodox blogging world.  One is a retired missionary bishop, author and saintly eccentric, currently visiting Moscow for the encouragement of small group of open minded Orthodox believers involved in service and evangelism.  Another is a fellow attorney who practices and prays at the southern end of the Appalachians a few states down from me.  I read both daily, but have a special affection for the second Seraphim whose life experience overlaps with mine in interesting ways.  I read this post last Thursday after a Wednesday I would not care to live over.  I had spent the previous afternoon fighting a doomed battle in a Court-appointed case where I was representing a mother whose child had been taken away for mostly justifiable reasons.  It was a hard case, which I believed I argued well, but ultimately unsuccessfully.  My client was broken hearted, I was depressed, and when my assistant found out that Virginia's Court appointment fee wouldn't cover even an hour of my time billed at our standard rate, she got depressed too.  I do these cases because somebody needs to, but they do exact a cost, emotionally, spiritually and financially.  It did my morale good to hear that sometimes it all works out:

I walked into the courtroom and gestured to my client to meet me in the back. He and his wife came back, still holding hands. He was almost distraught from worry and fear. “They’re coming home,” I said. My guy dissolved in tears and grabbed me in a bear hug, and for several minutes we stood there, me slapping his back, him sobbing, and — to be honest - me not completely dry eyed. Finally we broke, and I told him the plan. Visitation in his home starts on Saturday, and if all goes well, they will move in full time with him when Christmas break starts. He said he understood. I shook his hand, and he grabbed me again. “God bless you, man. God bless you,” he said. I stopped him. “I want to thank you for your prayers over these years,” I told him. “But your prayers have gotten you this: God has blessed you.”

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Try to remember . . .

I had intended to link to this when I read it on Monday, but forgot in the press of business, until my assistant printed out the New York Times review of the same show for me today.  Why should I care what Terry Teachout or the Times think of a revival of The Fantasticks?  Teachout's lovely and wistful account of his connection with the play and the changes it made in his life brought to mind the very great changes it made in my own life. 

It was my first, and probably last, appearance on stage as an adult.  I have no ambitions to hit the boards again, but on some mornings, if you put your ear to the door and listen closely over the sound of the shower, you may still hear a somewhat worse for the wear baritone telling you about September, grass, grain and the innocence of youth.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The view from home; morning sun and a little mist. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

If you have any literary pretensions at all, somewhere in the back of your mind is that vision of the perfect little coffee-house; a place to come in from the cold and find books, good company and a cup of something to take the chill away.  It appears that someone in Colorado Springs has been rummaging around in the back of my mind and brought a piece of that vision to life.  Anyone interested in setting up a Shenandoah Valley franchise?

Dormition of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church held it's Annual Greek Festival this past weekend. Family obligations kept me from helping the way I would have liked, but I did stop by for some pastries, some pictures and a little roast lamb. To read a little about the hard work that goes on behind the scenes in the kitchen, go here. (Registration may be required)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Small Pleasures

This past weekend I made a stop by Central Coffee Roasters after picking up some tools and placing an order for sheep mineral supplement at the nearby Co-op store.  While I realize that no sane person needs Certified Shade Grown Panama Finca Hartman or Yeman Mocca Matari or Sumatra Swiss Water Decaf dripping through the filter paper in the morning, there is just something about the smell of a fresh ground, properly roasted coffee ending it's journey from some exotic location at my breakfast table that drives me to fork over outlandish amounts of cash at least a few times a year for the experience. 

I am not sure whether this amounts to a guilty pleasure or not.  It perhaps goes into the same category as the Avengers Emma Peel mega-set DVD collection; not necessary, but probably not dangerous to your salvation in the long run.  In any event, I will continue to enjoy the scent from the grinder and coffee-maker in the morning and accept it as a kind of earthy incense blessing the beginning of the day.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Only in America . . .

New Software and Some Audio links

I have been trying out the Beta of Windows Live Writer, a free Microsoft produced blogging tool. So far I am quite pleased with it. The only oddity I have noticed is that, in the course of downloading your blog settings, it creates a temporary blog post. It is erased from the main blog page on completion of the download, but not before it propagates via RSS and ends up preserved in the archives. If any of you out there are trying to figure out why I have blogged a "Temporary Post Used For Style Detection," blame the Beta.

Every year St. Vladimir's Seminary holds a Summer Institute dedicated to an in depth examination of one particular topic in theology, liturgy or Church life. This year the topic was death. The Seminary has made available audio files in mp3 format of ten lectures through the Seminary Press website. Downloading via their system is, shall we say, a non-intuitive process. Go to this page and click "Buy Now" for the lectures you want and then proceed through the normal checkout process. Since the price is $0.00, you will not be charged, but at the end of the procedure will be given a download link for the selected files. I was lured to the site to listen to my favorite contemporary Orthodox theologian, David Bentley Hart, but have been impressed with all of the speakers I have listened to thus far.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Signs of the times

We are still in August, but the first signs of the changing season are here. This afternoon at lunch, the sycamore by the barn was filled with birds, calling and rattling wings, preparing to move south in a swirling black cloud. I have had to brake for a wider variety of creatures on our two lane road lately. This past week it has been raccoons. A few weeks ago it was box turtles. I do not know what inspires the great box turtle migration, but they are especially challenged by asphalt and passing cars. Retreating into one's shell just shy of the double yellow line is not the best way to insure survival of the species. Box turtles are singularly inoffensive and quite attractive in a modest way. I worry about them in a way that would never occur to me to worry about some of their larger cousins. Perhaps I identify with them as they plod along in a world grown too large and confusing, pulling one's head in from time to time when it all become a little too much to bear.

One of my favorite poets, Scott Cairns, has a new collection due out shortly, with excerpts now available on the Paraclete Press website. This one concerns our slow shelled friends, some of whom may actually walk on two legs, or in my own case, wait for me each morning in the shaving mirror.

On Slow Learning

If you have ever owned
a tortoise, you already know
how terribly difficult
paper training can be
for some pets.

Even if you get so far
as to instill in your tortoise
the value of achieving the paper,
there remains one obstacle—
your tortoise’s intrinsic sloth.

Even a well-intentioned tortoise
may find himself, in his journeys,
to be painfully far from the mark.

Failing, your tortoise may shy away
for weeks within his shell, utterly
ashamed, or looking up with tiny,
wet eyes might offer an honest shrug.
Forgive him.

Scott Cairns, from Compass of Affection - New and Selected Poems

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

It was hot today. The National Weather Service reports that the heat index, that measure of discomfort which stirs together heat and humidity to explain why sweat is rolling off your brow from a stroll across the parking lot, got up to 109 degrees. After work I walked down to the little run that cuts across the pasture with camera in hand, to find it reduced to a trickle. Still, sitting there by water under the shade of trees made the day's end a little more bearable. Here is a poem from Wendell Berry's volume, A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997 that finds hints of redemption in "the water flowing under the shadow of the trees":

After the slavery of the body, dumbfoundment
of the living flesh in the order of spending
and wasting, then comes the enslavement
of consciousness, the incarnation of mind
in machines. Once the mind is reduced
to the brain, then it falls within the grasp
of the machine. It is the mind incarnate
in the body, in community, and in the earth
that they cannot confine. The difference
is in love; the difference is in grief and joy.
Remember the body's pleasure and its sorrow.
Remember its grief at the loss of all it knew.
Remember its redemption in suffering
and in love. Remember its resurrection
on the last day, when all made things
that have not refused this passage
will return, clarified, each fully being
in the being of all. Remember the small
secret creases of the earth - the grassy,
the wooded, and the rocky - that the water
has made, finding its way. Remember
the voices of the water flowing. Remember
the water flowing under the shadows
of the trees, of the tall grasses, of the stones.
Remember the water striders walking over
the surface of the water as it flowed.
Remember the great sphere of the small
wren's song, through which the water flowed.
and the light fell. Remember, and come to rest
in light's ordinary miracle.

"Sabbath's - 1990"

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Yes, it has been a long time since anything new was posted here. Between work, farm, and Susan's recovery from her four surgeries (six if you count the biopsy and installation of the iv line) blogging has not seemed a high priority. I usually blog at the end of the day or first thing in the morning, either relaxing before sleep or easing myself into the day. For a long time this summer sleep came too late and morning came too early. Much has happened, most of it not of interest to anyone except a few family and friends. By and large we have kept close to home, except for a quick trip to St. Augustine Florida last weekend where I took the picture above at the chapel of the St. Photius Shrine, a little oasis in the old section of town, just steps away from throngs of shoppers and tourists. The trip itself might be the subject of another post on another day. Let us just say that my experience with United Express was very, very unlike my experience with the peace and tranquility of the Shrine.

In the meantime, those of you interested in the realities of the practice of law in these United States at the beginning of the 21st Century should go to Ancient Church, the weblog of a fellow attorney and Orthodox Christian and read his stories of text messages, saran wrap, machetes and advice for the lovelorn, courtesy of a series of domestic relations court cases. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

It was a busy weekend and a hectic week on the way. In the meantime, here is a link to a story in our local paper about a visit to the plane pictured in the previous post; "Airport's 'Howdy' gets a special visitor." The restoration of the plane is only partial. You can look straight through from tail to nose past the missing engine and see the surrounding mountains. A family of sparrows has sheltered in the fuselage. Listen closely and you hear chirping through the gun ports.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

On Memorial Day I had picked up younger son from visiting with a friend. The route home took us past our small local airport so I pulled over to look at the vintage 1950's Sabre Jet on display out front. I had read about it in the local paper, seen it as I drove by, but had never stopped for a closer look:

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Sunday afternoon I stopped by the flea market:

The market here is one of the larger in the area, with sellers who make a living at it, as well as folks simply flogging their junk on tarps in hopes of earning a few dollars. Walking the rows at a flea market is like beachcombing the ocean of our consumer culture. Here a pile of tools, there a box of eight-track tapes. Old vinyl lp's next to new Chinese plastic novelties. The odd rabbit or chicken. Fishing tackle, commemorative plates, a hand-cranked Victorola, t-shirts, a mobile tattoo parlour. If you want it, and have cash, it's here. I came to browse, not buy, but could not resist three cd's by jazz singer Karrin Allyson for fifty cents a piece. I don't know how they ended up next to the lots of used clothing and cheap sneakers from Singapore, but one man's trash, as they say, becomes another's treasure.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Morning sky, a chance of thunderstorms today.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

WARNING: The rare Orthodox Agrarian virus seems to be spreading. James at Paradosis has caught the bug. Fortunately it is in the early stages and may still be curable. Scroll down through the comments for this gem from Paige:

As a side note, I vividly remember being eight, watching a special on the news about a program to bring inner-city kids (I guess from Louisville) to my area to see cows and mountains and stuff. I kept thinking that was great, and wondering when the busses were going to come and take me and my friends to Louisville to see a real live mall, or a movie theater. Didn't happen.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

This past Saturday older and younger son and I, with the aid of a family friend, caught up on a number of farm chores that had been accumulating over the past few weeks. The rounding up of the flock went well with a single exception. When I got back from a quick run into town for supplies, friend and sons informed me that one particularly energetic lamb had split from the flock, jumped the cattleguard and headed down Browntown Road. The question put to me was whether we should chase the prodigal or just wait for his return while we worked with the rest of the flock. With visions of squealing brakes and crunching bumpers in my head, I led the crew out to search. We found the escapee about a quarter mile away, standing behind an old church which is now "The Freedom Club," an AA meeting house. The lamb had apparently taken the name to heart, because as soon as he saw us, he dashed into the woods behind the building, down a stream embankment and waded across Gooney Creek. We followed, splashing and sliding over slick stones. Two of us went left, two right and tried to surround him. The lamb, faced with imminent capture, surprised us all by bolting straight up the side of Buck Mountain and disappearing into the heavy underbrush.

At that point, tired, wet and with the day slipping away we returned to the rest of the flock. The next day, after hearing a report that the fugitive was back down by the creek, we headed out again. After the previous day's adventure I was ready to leave him be and let him grow into a local legend, "The Wild Sheep of Buck Mountain," but it was Sunday and the words of Matthew 18:12 were murmuring in the back of my mind: "What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?" We set out , trying to track him by hoof prints and deposits thoughtfully left on the lawn of the vacation lodge on the other side of the creek. Again to no avail. We trudged back in defeat, ready to plan the next campaign when my mother-in-law came up and told us that, while we were trudging around, the lamb had come back across the creek and a neighbor had chased it back into our pasture. I decided then that I was not a Good Shepherd by any biblical standard, because at that moment I truly, truly could not "rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray."

The view from home this morning.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Over at Moonmeadow Farm they are digging garden beds and working with temporary fencing. We have used temporary electric fences with various degrees of success. Some sheep respond well, others never get it. We had one lamb who was the sort that give sheep their reputation for minimal gray matter. She never did comprehend that sticking her head through the plastic mesh would (a)get her head stuck and (b)shock her repeatedly until we could shut off the charger and get her out. Morning by morning we would step outside and hear "baah . . . baah . . . baah . . ." and know that Sue was at it again.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

I occasionally read Washington Post columnist Jeanne Marie Laskas, another urban to rural transplant. She recounted her odyssey in her book Fifty Acres and a Poodle: A Story of Love, Livestock, and Finding Myself on a Farm . I had missed her piece in last Sunday's post until a friend printed it out and passed it on. Since our last few lambs are making their appearance, I thought I would link to it: Sweet Pea Had a Little Lamb.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mother and twins
Just when you thought the culture couldn't get any stranger, rock star Bono edits a special edition of the English paper the Independent and gets Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to name her ten favorite songs. Who knew that the diplomat, a classically trained pianist, rocks out to Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" when not brushing up on her Brahms concertos. I'm not even going to comment on Elton John's "Rocket Man" making her list.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

My last post in April noted the wrap up of the "Crunchy Con" book blog. Author Rod Dreher has taken his title and favorite issues over to where the discussion continues.

Artist Makoto Fujimura, who was also mentioned below, has an exhibit opening at American University's new museum space this Saturday in the flatlands east of us.

I leave you this evening with a picture of twin lambs, also recent arrivals.

Monday, May 15, 2006

I'm back.

The day after my last entry, I took my wife for an MRI to find out why a pulled leg muscle was not healing. That was the beginning of three weeks in two hospitals with four different surgical procedures. After being told to expect cancer, we were relieved to find out she had osteomyelitis, a serious bone infection, but not life threatening. She is back home on the farm over at the in-law's house getting anti-biotic treatments three times daily. Her mobility is restricted and there is one more surgery planned for early summer. Older and younger son and I have been living between the two households for the last several weeks and will probably keep it up until Susan is off the antibiotics.

April all but vanished while I was sleeping on hospital couches and spending long hours on the road. I usually try and slow down and pay attention to the burst of life in Spring. This year I caught it in glimpses, while heading somewhere else. We have some late lambs in the field, like the fellow pictured above who showed up on Saturday. Coming in late at night the headlights would pick out the fox kits heading for the culvert they were denning in until the rains came. A pair of cottontail rabbits come out onto the lawn during the early morning and evening hours. They appear to have been as busy as the foxes, judging from the small rabbit who ran under the hillside shed Sunday as I walked down to the barn.

Over at the in-laws house the peacocks are strutting for the hens, and the hens are shrieking at the slightest disturbance as they pick out nest sites. I will leave you with a picture of one of the cocks in full display, trying to add color to an otherwise gray afternoon.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The "Crunchy Con" blog discussion I linked to last week has wrapped up. Rod Dreher, the author of the book behind the blog ends it with the words; "Anyway, so long, and thanks for all the granola. Stagger onward rejoicing!" referencing both Douglas Adams and W. H. Auden. I had adopted the Auden quote as my own theme for Lent, so was delighted to see it. Auden has been showing up a lot in my reading and listening of late. In Dana Gioia's talk linked in Sunday's post he recites another Auden poem, As I Walked Out One Evening, which contains the wonderful line "You shall love your crooked neighbour / With your crooked heart." I will add this to the first quote as a theme for the remainder of Lent.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The view from my library today

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Sheep in the late afternoon.

Monday, April 03, 2006

A late afternoon thunderstorm came through with high winds, blowing rain and twenty minutes of sudden darkness. Just as we were settling in for a long rainy evening, it left as quickly as it came. Here is the view minutes after the rain stopped.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A number of years ago when I was on the vestry of our local Episcopal Church I helped put together a Lenten lecture and performance series on Christianity and the Arts. I called in some favors from friends and acquaintances who were singers, painters, playwrights and scholars who did some remarkable presentations. I have continued to be interested in the theme and was delighted to run across this group; The International Arts Movement, which describes itself as
"a catalyst arts organization committed to cultural and spiritual renewal. Its programs support individual artists in their work and embrace the entire arts community. IAM is active in Tokyo and New York City, with affiliations in Orlando, Los Angeles, and London. Its vision: a fusion of creativity and faith that expresses and illustrates God's intimate and merciful identity in the world. "

They are offering a free mp3 download via iTunes of Poet and NEA Chairman Dana Gioia's keynote address at their recent Artist as Reconciler conference. The founder of IAM, artist and Christian convert Makoto Fujimura has his own web page with links to his paintings, essays and weblog.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

For today's entry we return to In the Service of the King. It comes from a portion of the book where the author was serving as a deacon, leading Morning Prayer and preaching in a country parish where he traveled by buggy between the five churches in his charge.

But above all the rewards of his early ministry he holds the experience of that Sunday, when, for the encouragement of the truest-hearted gentleman he ever knew, he preached a sermon. This was a man who, in the midst of a losing fight with fortune, fought on with quivering lip from which no plaint ever came; whose gracious courtesies in the home, whose simple services of neighborly helpfulness, and whose hatred of a lie marked him as a man after God's own heart. The sermon was on Isaac, the commonplace man; the man without executive ability, the unprogressive son of a masterful father, but withal a good neighbor, a good husband, and one who found his place in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, God's own Westminster. When the service was over, and the deacon had just retired to the robing-room, the living Isaac of the parable opened the door, and gowned as he was, the deacon found himself lifted from his feet and held tight in the bear-like hug of his friend, who, after he had set him down, left without a word.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Apropos of Wednesday's post, I began the day by driving over to the other half of the farm to rescue a sheep that had gotten herself tangled in some old barbed wire. You have to picture this. The barbed wire is part of an old fence line, cut and coiled against a tree jutting out from some rocks in the hillside, with one end of the wire still tacked to the tree. The sheep managed to find this one spot in the midst of a hundred acres and then succeeded in getting her head through the coil , looping barbed wire twice around her neck, once across her body and embed several small loops in the wool on her backside. All without once puncturing her skin. She is one of our wilder ewes, and when she saw me coming to her rescue, she started running around the tree, carrying the wire with her about knee high. She circled and I jumped, hopping foot to foot, playing double-dutch with rows of sheep motivated rusty spiked wire, chasing after her, cursing myself for forgetting my work gloves and trying to remember when I had my last tetanus shot. After several close calls for both of us, she snagged herself on some rocks and I was able to pin her down well enough to untangle the barbs from her wool. After she was freed she headed off back towards the barn without so much as a thank you or even a glance backward. It was one of those days where I have to agree with eldest son when he says, "Face it Dad, sheep are just stupid."

Thursday, March 30, 2006

National Review On-line has been hosting a blog discussing a new book by columnist Rod Dreher: Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party). The discussion has been vigorous and sometimes heated as the participants discover that while they all may be "conservatives," they are trying to conserve very different things. An interesting journey back to first principles in a time of political expediency. If you find yourself uneasy with the offerings of the two major parties, you might find the discussion worthwhile.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

This morning, while on the way out to an early appointment, I saw vultures squatting on the banks of the little creek that trickles down from our spring into Gooney Run. Since vultures are not noted as aquatic birds, this was not a good sign. Sure enough, one of our ewes was down in the creek, and, from the amount of vulture activity, there did not seem to be much to be done except carry her off for a slightly more dignified and less public disposal. I continued on my way and on returning a short time later, looked up to see about nine vultures in a nearby tree, with four more pacing impatiently on the bank. I walked over to see what was holding them off and found an enormous red-tailed hawk perched on the side of the sheep, which had now formed a small white island in the creek, water backing up behind and flowing around her. The hawk and buzzards scattered as I approached and hauled the carcass out of the water, leaving it on the bank until we could get down with the farm truck.

What happened to her and how did she die? I don't know, and after our flying scavengers had helped themselves, much of the evidence was gone. With sheep it could be almost anything. Sometimes I think they do it as a kind of hobby, there being nothing much else happening in the pasture. There is a cowboy poet who laid out the unvarnished truth in one of his opuses:

Of all God's creatures in this world,
And I can't tell you why,
None can match a woolly sheep
When it comes to ways to die.

. . . (Here follow fifteen stanzas laying out in detail how his sheep have shuffled off this mortal coil. The first time I read the poem I showed it to my wife and said "See! It's not just us!). . .

Yep, sheep're the only critters I know
Who see life with a Kevorkian view.
Why go to the effort of living
When dying's so much easier to do?

From Woolly Ways to Die by Milo Yield.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

During Lent the Eastern Churches go to a collection called the Triodion for special additions to the daily and weekly cycle of prayers and services. There are several translations of this material in English. Archimandrite Ephraim of the monastery of St. Andrew in England has placed his own versions on-line as part of his growing collection of translations into English. A little closer to home, the sisters of the Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery in upstate New York post daily excerpts from their own translation of the Triodion here. Here is an excerpt from today's Vespers service:

I surpass the publican in transgressions,

but do not even compete in his repentance!

I have not accomplished the good deeds of the Pharisee,

yet I boldly out-do his boasting!

By Your infinite humility, Christ God

through which You laid low the high-minded demons on the Cross,

establish in me the good deeds of the one,

and the humility of mind of the other,

confirming in me the good intentions of each,

and save me, O Savior!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Yesterday was the Third Sunday in Lent, the Sunday of the Cross. As Father Alexander Schmemann describes it:

[T]he Cross is brought in a solemn procession to the center of the church and remains there for the entire week--with a special rite of veneration following each service. It is noteworthy that the theme of the Cross which dominates the hymnology of that Sunday is developed in terms not of suffering but of victory and joy. . . . The meaning of all this is clear. We are in Mid-Lent. On the one hand, the physical and spiritual effort, if it is serious and consistent, begins to be felt, its burden becomes more burdensome, our fatigue more evident. We need help and encouragement. On the other hand, having endured this fatigue, having climbed the mountain up to this point, we begin to see the end of our pilgrimage, and the rays of Easter grow in their intensity.

In our little congregation in Winchester we approached the cross set on a table in the center of the Church and surrounded by flowers. As we venerated the symbol of our salvation, we each received a few daffodils, in anticipation of the joy of the resurrection that meets us at the end of Lent. What follows is a little piece of liturgical drama that forms part of one of the hymns sung at Matins on the Sunday of the Cross. Hell itself cries out as the Cross of Christ undoes the fall of Adam.

Pilate set up three crosses in the place of the Skull, two for the thieves and one for the Giver of Life. Seeing Him, hell cried to those below: "O my ministers and powers! Who is this that has fixed a nail in my heart? A wooden spear has pierced me suddenly, and I am torn apart. Inwardly I suffer; anguish has seized my belly and my senses. My spirit trembles, and I am constrained to cast out Adam and his posterity. A tree brought them to my realm, but now the Tree of the Cross brings them back again to Paradise."

Sunday, March 26, 2006

On the whole, I'd prefer robins, but if migrating vultures are a harbringer of Spring, then I'll take them.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Can I go out? Can I come in?

Friday, March 24, 2006

I grew up fishing and hunting with my grandfather who loved the outdoors so much that he infected his son-in-law, my father, with the habit and did his best to pass it on to me. I have not hunted in many years and it has been far too long since the fishing rods in the basement have seen open water. Perhaps as spring approaches I will clean up the tackle and take my own sons out on the Shenandoah in memory of my father, grandfather, and the old "parson" who started it all.

The parson spent too much time in fishing, perhaps; but his memory at least is unregenerate; for he looks back upon that time spent in fishing as among the golden hours of life. He learned to know the woods and waters. He knew every hole of mink and otter in many miles. He knew the hillside where the first arbutus bloomed. He violated the game laws by shooting muskrats by moonlight, and argued questions of theology with a fine old preacher of another Church, who was such an enthusiastic fisherman that he would put on a small hook and fish in the bait bucket while the bacon was being fried for dinner. The parson still contends that fishing is the one democratic sport. He likes fishing for the same reason that Pat likes a street fight. "I dearly love a street fight," said Patrick, "for in a street fight, one man is just as good as another, and sometimes a blamed sight better." He has prayed for all sorts and conditions of men, and fished with them, too; and he has seen a reprobate, whom no man would trust for quarter, turn the boat, so that the other fellow could get the best fishing. Such a man only lacked training and opportunity to become a hero.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A long day today, so I turn again to In The Service of the King: A Parson's Story by Joseph B. Dunn. Tonight's excerpt shows that in spite of all the changes in education in the last hundred years, the student of the late nineteenth century is not that different from the student of the early twenty-first:

It is a strange fact that everything in the course, being held in memory by the fixed effort of the will, till returned to the professor and receipted for on a sheep-skin, promptly disappeared from his mind never to come back. The things he once knew best, he knows now not at all; and he is conscious that in his brain there are spots, now permanently barren, where the highest-priced knowledge obtainable once flourished for a season. The parson had been a student for thirty odd years. Half that period was spent not in tutelage, but in serfdom. Even now, when he has been out of school almost as long as he was in it, the form which the night-mare most frequently takes is the inquisitorial agony of the examination room.

The parson is persuaded that the ordinary diploma is nothing more or less than an honorable discharge from the ranks of learning on account of permanent disabilities.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Having re-read my great-grandfather's book, I may post portions of it here. This evening I give you the his opening lines which explain in short why I blog:

Some critic has said that the world is over-rich in the records of life's successes, that everybody knows the psychology of success, but that literature is actually in need of candid autobiographies of mediocrity. Satiated with the glare of bright colours, the reading public is eager for a drab literature. The tired ear longs for the droning monotone of Martin Tupper.

These reminiscences will appeal to tired minds alone. It is a journey through a flat country. There are plenty of resting-places, and the weary reader is not called upon to climb the hill of vision.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I had ordered a copy of a book by one of my great-grandfathers, the Rev. Joseph B. Dunn. It is a memoir of his life as an Episcopal minister in rural and small town Virginia at the turn of the century found on-line from a used book seller. It was waiting for me when I got home, a little battered from its travels from G. P. Putnam's Sons press where it was printed in 1915 until its arrival here this afternoon. So this evening will be spent with pen knife in hand opening the uncut pages and journeying in the company of my grandfather's father.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Our place here is on the edge of metro area sprawl. It makes for an odd mixture of rural and suburban. The surrounding mountains cut off most tv and cell phone reception. There are no water or sewer connections and we are our own trash service. At the same time, I am writing this on a high-speed cable cable modem courtesy of our cable tv company whose connections are strung below the power lines on the poles that march across the fields outside my window. It is, as I said, an odd mix that I tend to take for granted. After the evening feeding at the barn I find it as easy as anyone to escape into cyber-space or watch time tick by while gazing slack-jawed at a tv screen.

Nonetheless, the lack of certain services inevitably brings the real world crashing back in. A power failure means, not just lights out for a while, but no working well pump and soon thereafter no working indoor plumbing. Even if the grid stays up pretty reliably, dealing with your own trash on a regular basis keeps you grounded. We had a problem with the farm truck, our normal hauler to the county dump, and things had piled up a bit. When younger son and I got everything loaded and off on Saturday, the bags, boxes and other detritus of modern living from our own and my in-law's households filled the truck up over the bed and piled high until it was barely contained by the hay rack. If Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout had been an extra in the Grapes of Wrath it would have looked like our old Dodge truck heading down the back roads. Makes it hard to pretend that you don't know exactly what you are consuming, how much and how it is packaged. It is good to haul your own trash out if, for no other reason, it reminds you of just who you are and how you live. It can be a sobering discovery.

Those of us who are semi-regular Church-goers can get used to treating the Church like one more public utility. We get a little spiritual nourishment, lay down some worries, and head on without really much thought or effort. After all, that's what we pay priests and preachers to take care of for us. The disciplines of Great Lent break us out of that kind of complacency. We might think of it as the Church telling us that, for at least part of year, we need to haul out our own "spiritual" trash. We soon find that we have let a few things pile up and that they are getting a little ripe. The process shows in another sense just who we are and how we live. And this too can be a sobering discovery.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

This has been a slow weekend. A few farm chores, the weekly trash run to the county dump, some reading and a little late sleeping on Saturday morning. I have nothing new of my own to offer, so I pass on the following two excerpts from my reading for your own meditations on Lenten fasting.

[T]he purpose for fasting is to liberate man from the unlawful tyranny of the flesh, of that surrender of the spirit to the body and its appetites which is the tragic result of sin and the original fall of man. It is only by a slow and patient effort that man discovers that he "does not live by bread alone"--that he restores in himself the primacy of the spirit. It is of necessity and by its very nature a long and sustained effort. The time factor is essential for it takes time to uproot and to heal the common and universal disease which men have come to consider as their "normal" state.

From Great Lent by Alexander Schmemann

A Glutton is one who raids the icebox for a cure for spiritual malnutrition.

From Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC's of Faith by Frederick Buechner

Saturday, March 18, 2006

What's that your'e holding? Is it food? Is it for me?

Friday, March 17, 2006

Today is the commemoration of St. Patrick of Ireland. While we Orthodox do not have a dispensation to eat corned beef for the occasion, I can honor the life of Patrick by offering the following prayer, "The Deer's Cry," also known as "St. Patrick's Breastplate."

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity
Through belief in the threeness
Through confession of the Oneness
Towards the creator.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension
Through the strength of his decent for the Judgement of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim
In obedience to the Angels,
In the service of the Archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of Holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun
Brilliance of moon
Splendor of fire
Speed of lightning
Swiftness of wind
Depth of sea
Stability of earth
Firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's host to secure me
against snares of devils
against temptations of vices
against inclinations of nature
against everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and anear,
alone and in a crowd.

A summon today all these powers between me and these evils
Against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and my soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of heathenry,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that endangers manÂ?s body and soul.

Christ to protect me today
against poison, against burning,
against drowning, against wounding,
so that there may come abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Thrones,
Through confession of the Oneness
Towards the Creator.

Salvation is of the Lord
Salvation is of the Lord
Salvation is of Christ
May thy salvation, O Lord, be ever with us

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Another photo from the archives: Lamb in flight!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The poet Scott Cairns book Philokalia collects older and more recent poems, including his series of meditations on New Testament Greek words. In the poem below, he takes on the term "metanoia," normally translated as "repentance." I commend it to you for your own Lenten meditations.
Adventures in New Testament Greek:

Repentance, to be sure,
but of a species far
less likely to oblige
sheepish repetition.

Repentance, you'll observe,
glibly bears the bent
of thought revisited,
and mind's familiar stamp

-- a quaint, half-hearted
doubleness that couples
all compunction with a
pledge of recurrent screw-up.

The heart's metanoia,
on the other hand, turns
without regret, turns not
so much away, as toward,

as if the slow pilgrim
has been surprised to find
that sin is not so bad
as it is a waste of time.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

From the photo archives, taken at the end of December.
One of the books I am re-reading this Lent is Light in the Darkness, a collection of anecdotes, memories and reflections by Sergei Fudel. Fudel, a Russian Christian born at the turn of the last century, spent the better part of his life in Soviet prisons, labor camps or in exile as a consequence of his faith. Here is the passage that struck me tonight:

Prayer needs a certain quiet within us and around us. This is why it is so difficult to pray in our loud and arrogant days.

I remember a poem given me by G Chulkov, who later became a disciple of Father Alexei Mechev, and who was a friend of Alexander Blok:

I live in the worries of every day
But my heart, beneath their heavy weight,
Lives a life of its own,
Like a miracle of flame.

Hurrying to catch a bus,
Or bending over a book,
I can suddenly hear the murmur of fire
And I close my eyes.

Perhaps in our days, prayer does live "under a heavy weight."

Monday, March 13, 2006

Just as we secular folk do not pray as naturally as our forebearers did, so also our curses and complaints are pale and flacid imitations of their talent for full blooded poetic invective. I don't know that the following is at all edifying for Lent, as the wish for vengeance is one of those things we should really try to overcome in this season, but I give it to you anyhow. Perhaps the early Gaels prayed with such intensity because they lived the rest of their lives, for better or worse, with the same passion. Strange to us, but not so different from the world of the Psalms or the Prophets. It may be that we who are content with our small lives and small sins and petty grievences are further from real holiness than those who live (and sin) largely. It is a truism that great sinners, having learned the meaning of repentence, make great saints. If that is so, a blessing from the author of the following curse would be a great thing indeed.

THE wicked who would do me harm
May he take the throat disease,
Globularly, spirally, circularly,
Fluxy, pellety, horny-grim.

Be it harder than the stone,
Be it blacker than the coal,
Be it swifter than the duck,
Be it heavier than the lead.

Be it fiercer, fiercer, sharper, harsher, more malignant,
Than the hard, wound-quivering holly,
Be it sourer than the sained, lustrous, bitter, salt salt,
Seven seven times.

Oscillating thither,
Undulating hither,
Staggering downwards,
Floundering upwards.

Drivelling outwards,
Snivelling inwards,
Oft hurrying out,
Seldom coming in.

A wisp the portion of each hand,
A foot in the base of each pillar,
A leg the prop of each jamb,
A flux driving and dragging him.

A dysentery of blood from heart, from form, from bones,
From the liver, from the lobe, from the lungs,
And a searching of veins, of throat, and of kidneys,
To my contemners and traducers.

In name of the God of might,
Who warded from me every evil,
And who shielded me in strength,
From the net of my breakers
And destroyers.

(From the Carmina Gadelica)

Sunday, March 12, 2006

I found a new lamb in the flock this evening. He was easy to overlook, being nearly identical to one of the other late arrivals; all black except for a patch of white at the tip of his tail. It was a mild evening last night and a warm day today. Usually ewes find the foulest weather possible to give birth. In addition to other blessings I add today a thanks for unseasonably good weather and a healthy lamb. All in all a fine day in the barnyard. We do our best, and pray and hope for the best, but farming is never a sure proposition. At times I envy those of earlier ages who warded their fears and expressed their hopes unselfconsciously in song and prayer. The following is from Alexander Carmichael's Carmina Gadelica, a collection and translation of traditional Highland prayers, hymns, blessings and incantations preserved at the end of the nineteenth century:


May Mary the mild keep the sheep,
May Bride the calm keep the sheep,
May Columba keep the sheep,
May Maolruba keep the sheep,
May Carmac keep the sheep,
From the fox and the wolf.

May Oran keep the kine,
May Modan keep the kine,
May Donnan keep the kine,
May Moluag keep the kine,
May Maolruan keep the kine,
On soft land and hard land.

May the Spirit of peace preserve the flocks,
May the Son of Mary Virgin preserve the flocks,
May the God of glory preserve the flocks,
May the Three preserve the flocks,
From wounding and from death-loss,
From wounding and from death-loss.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Waiting for breakfast

Saturday Morning with the flock

Friday, March 10, 2006

As I noted below, my personal theme for this Lent is "Stagger onward rejoicing." To expand on this theme, I include below the following excerpt from The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, which has now joined First Fruits as part of my Lenten reading.

The source of false religion is the inability to rejoice, or, rather, the refusal of joy, whereas joy is absolutely essential because it is without any doubt the fruit of God's presence. One cannot know that God exists and not rejoice. Only in relation to joy are the fear of God and humility correct, genuine, fruitful. Outside of joy, they become demonic, the deepest distortion of any religious experience. A religion of fear. Religion of pseudo-humility. Religion of guilt: They are all temptations, traps--very strong indeed, not only in the world, but inside the Church . . .

The first, the main source of everything is "my soul rejoices in the Lord ..." The fear of sin does not save from sin. Joy in the Lord saves. A feeling of guilt or moralism does not liberate from the world and its temptations. Joy is the foundation of freedom, where we are called to stand. Where, how, when has this tonality of Christianity become distorted, dull---or rather, where, how, why have Christians become deaf to joy? . . .

People continuously come and ask for advice . . ..And some weakness or false shame keeps me from telling each of them, "I don't have any advice to give you. I have only weak, shaky, but, for me, unremitting joy. Do you want it?"

Thursday, March 09, 2006

From the Thursday segment of the Great Canon:

Do not require of me fruits worthy of repentance, for my strength is spent in me. Grant me ever a contrite heart and spiritual poverty, that I may offer these gifts to Thee as an acceptable sacrifice, O only savior.

Any time you begin serious work on your spiritual life, two dangers arise. The first is a perception that you are failing; your fasting rule falls apart, prayer is dry or non-existent, the whole enterprise is best abandoned before you embarrass yourself further. The second is the perception that you are succeeding and are only steps away from taking your place alongside the holy and enlightened. At the very least you have pulled away from the common crowd who do not have your discipline and insight. Despair or arrogance, the feeling of failure or the feeling of success; falling into either is a sign that the message of Lent has been missed. What does God require of us? That we come before him honestly in our weakness. There is no room for arrogance, because our poverty means more to God than our strength. There is no room for despair either, because it is in our poverty and weakness that Christ comes to us. Just as our strength will not bring him, neither will our failure drive him away. Our imperfect reality is gift enough for God, if it is given without pretense.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My copy of First Fruits of Prayer arrived yesterday and I have begun using it as part of my daily Lenten reading. A friend pointed out that, in addition to the written interview I linked below, one can listen to an interview with the author on "Come Receive the Light" an Orthodox radio ministry accessible through their web site or downloadable as a podcast via iTunes.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Tuesday morning at the barnyard

Monday, March 06, 2006

Now that we have begun Lent in both East and West, the question arises, why do we do it? Why do we have a season for repentance when we are called to repent regardless of the season? I guess it has to do with how you think of sin. Let us go back to the image of the spiritual life as a journey. We are, all of us, traveling into eternity. When NASA sends a probe out to Jupiter or beyond, the journey of that small piece of machinery is only a fraction of the journey that each of us takes. It is the belief of the Church that this life opens up into something so immeasurably larger that "eye has not seen nor ear heard" what it holds in store. As C. S. Lewis put it in his essay, "The Weight of Glory," we must
remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.
There are, as NASA would tell you, no minor navigation errors at the beginning of a journey of that length. Sin, over the long haul, is a failure of navigation. The term used for sin in the Greek New Testament, hamartia, means literally to miss the mark, like an archer missing a target. If the spiritual life is a journey, then repentance is not so much a matter of feeling guilty as it is making a course correction. Lent is the time set aside for us to check our navigation, take some sightings and see just how far off course we have drifted throughout the year. During Lent we check our position with God and the created world through the disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The purpose of the disciplines is not to punish or to justify ourselves, but to set right the course for our journey. As Lewis goes on to say in the passage we began quoting above
It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations--these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is with immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit--immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Tomorrow is Clean Monday, the beginning of Orthodox Lent. It is traditional to sing the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete during Compline services over the next four days. The Great Canon can be found conveniently divided into four portions for Monday through Thursday on the Monachos web site for printing or viewing on-line. The prolific and always readable Frederica Mathewes-Green has written a guide to the Canon, First Fruits of Prayer: A Forty-Day Journey Through the Canon of St. Andrew . My copy should arrive shortly and I will pass on any thoughts about it when I can. In the meantime, an interview with the author can be found here.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Tomorrow is the Sunday of Forgiveness, the last day before the beginning of Orthodox Lent. It is a commonplace in the literature to describe the spiritual life as a journey and this metaphor is often used for our passage through Lent. In ages past the archetypical traveler was the pilgrim. Today it is the tourist. Both the pilgrim and the tourist travel towards an experience. The pilgrim is seeking something larger than himself and the journey is an act of self-denial. The tourist is seeking to indulge and enhance his self by an act of consumption. Is there still a place for pilgrims in a world where travel is an industry? Self-denial in an age of consumption is a kind of foolishness and any pilgrimage, particularly a pilgimage in place where the journey is within oneself and the destination is always beyond ones grasp, is little understood in our secular age. The following poem on the topic by W. H. Auden has one of my favorite lines which I take as my theme for the coming Lenten journey; "Stagger onward rejoicing." We will fail, it will be hard at times, but underneath it all, this is a joyful journey.


Being set on the idea
Of getting to Atlantis,
You have discovered of course
Only the Ship of Fools is
Making the voyage this year,
As gales of abnormal force
Are predicted, and that you
Must therefore be ready to
Behave absurdly enough
To pass for one of The Boys,
At least appearing to love
Hard liquor, horseplay and noise.

Should storms, as may well happen,
Drive you to anchor a week
In some old harbour-city
Of Ionia, then speak
With her witty sholars, men
Who have proved there cannot be
Such a place as Atlantis:
Learn their logic, but notice
How its subtlety betrays
Their enormous simple grief;
Thus they shall teach you the ways
To doubt that you may believe.

If, later, you run aground
Among the headlands of Thrace,
Where with torches all night long
A naked barbaric race
Leaps frenziedly to the sound
Of conch and dissonant gong:
On that stony savage shore
Strip off your clothes and dance, for
Unless you are capable
Of forgetting completely
About Atlantis, you will
Never finish your journey.

Again, should you come to gay
Carthage or Corinth, take part
In their endless gaiety;
And if in some bar a tart,
As she strokes your hair, should say
"This is Atlantis, dearie,"
Listen with attentiveness
To her life-story: unless
You become acquainted now
With each refuge that tries to
Counterfeit Atlantis, how
Will you recognise the true?

Assuming you beach at last
Near Atlantis, and begin
That terrible trek inland
Through squalid woods and frozen
Thundras where all are soon lost;
If, forsaken then, you stand,
Dismissal everywhere,
Stone and now, silence and air,
O remember the great dead
And honour the fate you are,
Travelling and tormented,
Dialectic and bizarre.

Stagger onward rejoicing;
And even then if, perhaps
Having actually got
To the last col, you collapse
With all Atlantis shining
Below you yet you cannot
Descend, you should still be proud
Even to have been allowed
Just to peep at Atlantis
In a poetic vision:
Give thanks and lie down in peace,
Having seen your salvation.

All the little household gods
Have started crying, but say
Good-bye now, and put to sea.
Farewell, my dear, farewell: may
Hermes, master of the roads,
And the four dwarf Kabiri,
Protect and serve you always;
And may the Ancient of Days
Provide for all you must do
His invisible guidance,
Lifting up, dear, upon you
The light of His countenance.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Friday morning sunrise.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Even those of us who start our days walking through barnyards in rubber boots sometimes daydream about living the high life. I've been thinking about this lately, partly because I have been taking stock with the approach of Lent, but mostly because I have been watching a DVD collection of the William Powell and Myrna Loy "Thin Man" films from the thirties and forties. Now that was style. Even the low-lives in those movies wore better suits than I do. And I am sure that William Powell never had to worry about what might be on his shoes after a walk across the yard. I watch with a little bit of envy, but have to admit that, while it would be fun for a while, black tie for dinner would get awfully confining as a regular event. And, as far as I have been able to observe, livestock are not terribly impressed by formal wear.

Nonetheless, we have our daydreams. My mother-in-law, who trained as a classical pianist before becoming a teacher, has been redecorating her home on the other side of the farm now that she and my father-in-law are retired. For the first time in her married life she can have light colored carpets without fear of what he might track in from the barn. She is trying to bring a little elegance back into the household, but it is, I fear, an uphill battle. Not through any fault of her own but because the realities of rural life keep intruding. Lately, when I drive over after dark, I see along with the peacocks and farm cats, one or more opossums trundling across the driveway heading for the small gap under her kitchen porch. She has made great progress with the house, but I'm afraid that having porch possums may be a sign that we are still not quite ready for high society.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Don't let the clown suit fool you buddy, I'm one tough sheep.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Things seen around the farm this week:

Llamas racing the car neck and neck up the driveway.

Crows on the fenceposts, quarrelling in the morning light.

Gray fox in the upper field, sniffing for a rabbit already gone under the fence.

Blackbirds flocking and scattering through the sky like liquid.

New lamb hopping with legs that surely must be spring loaded.

Thirty or more sheep standing in the driveway, staring up at me on the deck. Yes, I'm sorry, the evening feeding is late today.

Mice in the barn at dark, sneaking out to steal grain from the feed troughs.

Orion rising over the ridgeline after twilight.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Tomorrow is Mardi Gras, or "Fat Tuesday" for us non-francophones. In the Christian West, it is the last day before Lent, and, in traditionally Catholic countries, a last chance for indulgence of the flesh before Ash Wednesday reminds us by imposition of ashes that our flesh is but dust and our life a thing of a moment in the face of eternity. In the Christian East we are also preparing for Lent, but in a far less colorful fashion. This past Sunday we commemorated the Last Judgment and began a fast from meat. The Sunday to come is Forgiveness Sunday and is the last day we eat dairy products before the Great Fast of Lent begins in full. (Which is why it is sometimes called "Cheesefare Sunday.") We ease gradually into the rigors of the Fast, with no convenient stopping point for one last hurrah. "Fat Tuesday" is an invitation to party. "Cheesefare Sunday" doesn't quite have the same ring and "Last Chance For Cheese!" would make a poor rallying cry for a good Bacchanal. While food choice is the most obvious part of the season, Great Lent is about far more than just going vegan for a few weeks. As we go through the fast I will try from time to time to put down a few thoughts about the inner meaning of the season. In the meantime, the webmaster at has put together a fine collection of resources for Great Lent which I would commend to the curious, either Eastern or Western.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

These pictures were taken within ten days of each other in mid February. As you can see, we have been having dramatic shifts in our local climate. It has made for beautiful scenery, confused livestock and many trips to the closet to add or shed another layer.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

This past Saturday the whole family was down at the barn working with the flock. The ewes and rams needed drenching while the lambs needed shots and tails docked. I always think of the reaction of our youngest when, just out of toddler-hood, he saw docking for the first time. He was horrified until Susan explained that if the lambs kept their tails, they would get caked with dirt and dung and the lambs would get sores, worms and infections. Youngest son, being a bright child and very concerned about the family animals, went back up to the house where he saw the family cat stretched out with his long, undocked tail. Susan intercepted him, scissors in hand and assured him that cats, unlike sheep, lived long and healthy lives with their tails firmly attached.

Monday, January 30, 2006

You can never tell who might drop in on a sunny afternoon. We allow landing rights to hang gliders and parasailors jumping off Skyline Drive to ride the thermals off the ridge line. This fellow finished his day in sky and touched down at a run in our upper field.
So that's where I left that coffee cup . . . Posted by Picasa

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A ewe wandered off by herself today. I found her near some tall grass with twins, our first lambs of the new year.