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:
Metanoia

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:

GUARDING THE FLOCKS

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.

Atlantis

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

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.