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Listen : James Carse

Posted by Remy on September 1, 2011

“…a creative listener is not someone who simply allows me to say what I already want to say, but someone whose listening actually makes it possible for me to say what I never could have said, and thus to be a new kind of person, one I have never been before and could not have been before this directed listening.”
-James Carse, The Silence of God

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from the Book of Common Prayer

Posted by Remy on June 16, 2011

O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.

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Dust of Snow : a close reading

Posted by Remy on September 2, 2010

Dust of Snow

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Robert Frost

As in many of Frost’s poems the spectre of Death is never far off and this poem seems no different. At the first level of meaning is a crow shaking snow from a tree on top of the speaker, an event that changes his mood.

Part of understanding poetry comes from asking the text questions, such as: how does snow falling on someone change his mood? Why dust of snow, an image important enough to be used as the title? Is the type of tree significant? Is the type of bird significant?

Often to ask the question brings ready answers. Wintry settings are often pictures of Death. Perhaps the dust of snow invokes the dust to dust-ness of life. Crows are often harbingers of death. And while a hemlock tree isn’t poisonous, the very mentioning of hemlock is enough to bring up ominous overtones. But the chief question remains, how does a light fall of snow change the speaker’s mood?

We could answer that the levity of the situation is enough to lighten his mood. Or perhaps so many symbols of death have reminded him that life is short. But there’s more to notice here. In the latter half of the poem we have a gift, a change of heart, and the salvation at the end of the day. Of course, being covered with snow is itself often used as a symbol of forgiveness (matched with the repentance in line six), perhaps too snow falling has some baptismal element. These details indicate a deeper change of heart than a simple carpe diem dictum.

There are still two critical details that we haven’t discussed. The first is just a little trinket of a word that is the thread that will unravel this poem for us. It is the final word, rued, meaning to suffer, to loathe, to grieve. It comes from the old English word meaning sorrow and repentance. But not only that, it does double duty, it is also a pun for rood, a cross or crucifix.

The final critical detail is how the heart is changed. It is not the crow that gives the new heart, it is not the snow that gives the new heart, it is the way the crow shakes down the snow that changes the speaker’s heart. The question then is: what is that way a crow shakes snow from a tree? It is here that a knowledge of the rest of Frost’s poetry serves us well. Frost is a walker, a vigorous, relentless walker of the woods, and often his poems are in that very setting. Even apart from that it makes sense to see that while the man in the poem is walking, he is ruing the day. There is some turmoil or disdain that he carries with him as he walks the woods. Coming around a tree he startles -above him- a crow, which, squawking loudly no doubt, causes the bird to leap from his perch and fly away, thus sending down a light sprinkling of snow. This is the way a crow shakes down snow. The change of heart comes from both seeing the crow fleeing and the act of flying, the ascension itself.

This epiphany is echoed in its meter. Written primarily in iambic dimeter, there are three lines that break the pattern, lines four, five, and eight. The appearance of the hemlock tree calls for an anapestic interruption: “from a HEMlock TREE”.  This ramps up the energy of the line causing it to spill across the stanza into the next line: “has GIV -en my HEART”. These two lines, anapest iamb// iamb anapest, emulate the change of heart, the increased heartbeat of the surprise gift. It is a cacophony, followed by the cadence of the sixth and seventh lines, which return to iambic dimeter. But the final line reminds us of the transformation with a rambunctious anapest -of a DAY-, a little skip at the end that reveals reality is forever changed.

Suddenly our apparition of death loses its strength; it flies away in fear. It is this flight, Death itself running away, this method, that changes his heart; it is ascension, a glimpse of resurrection, that drives off death; it is the gift, the baptismal rain, that has brought salvation.  On a day both rued and rood-ed, the crux of joy and sorrow, comes an unexpected gift, the day of death from which flows all life. Even a man of such tattered faith as Robert Frost knew that on the heels of death, in the very dust, beneath the cawing carrion bird, resurrection rises.

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Christian Scepticism

Posted by Remy on August 13, 2010

“Learn what you can, but cultivate Christian scepticism. It will keep you free -not free to do anything you please, but free to be formed by something larger than your own intellect or the intellects of those around you.”

-Flannery O’Connor

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Gratitude : GK Chesterton

Posted by Remy on March 20, 2010

It is dangerous to open a book by GK Chesterton because the man spoke in quips. Tempted by many I post only one:

It is a good exercise, in empty or ugly hours of the day, to look at anything, the coalscuttle or the bookcase, and think how happy one could be to have brought it out of the sinking ship on to the solitary island.

-GK Chesterton, The Ethics of Elfland

I once went an entire year attributing every quote to GK Chesterton.

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How the Unity We Have in Christ Spreads To All Areas

Posted by Remy on December 16, 2009

“Feed my sheep” does not mean “Be fed by my shepherd”.

Roman, Orthodox, and sectarian protestants hinge doctrinal unity on intellectual assent. Biblically, table fellowship is first not last.

ERH writes about the three epochs of Christianity, the first epoch is the Unity of God is spread, God defeating the plurality of gods, the second epoch is the Unity of the World, where the world is connected together, and the third stage is the Unity of Man, in which race and class are no longer divisive.  We are in the last stages of the second epoch, entering the third.

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An Advent Prayer

Posted by Remy on December 11, 2009

Drop down, ye heavens, from above: and let the skies pour down righteousness. Let the earth open: and let them bring forth salvation.

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A Few Thoughts on Love

Posted by Remy on June 11, 2009

I recently heard an atheist complain that what he found so offensive about Christianity was that his love was demanded. As an unbeliever, and therefore one who does not take responsibility for anything including his ability to love, we should not be surprised at this. 

But this is surprising:

1 John 4:19 is translated: “We loved him because He first loved us.” but the Greek doesn’t say that. It says “We love, because He first loved us.” We have the ability to love, because we are loved.

Only the Trinitarian God is love and only from the Trinitarian God can we love. Christianity has been and is at the forefront of all manifestations of love.

Consider marriage. Love as a prerequisite for marriage is a new thing. Prior to this marriages were political, for social standing, for convenience. Only in the Bible are Husbands called to love their wives, and the older women are to teach the younger to love their husbands. But as we’ve matured things have changed.

We now cannot envision a world in which there is not romantic love prior to marriage.

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The End of Religion

Posted by Remy on June 6, 2009

The ancient world was a terrifying place. Gods were worshipped out of fear and gods were everywhere. Inside the doorways of Romans were idols and upon entrance one would sprinkle dust above them, a simple offering to assuage their pettiness. Here are just a few:

Cardea : goddess of  door hinges
Carnea : goddess of the door handle
Lima : goddess of the threshhold
Portunes : god of locked doors

Part of the slavery of the old world was just this, forced attention to the gods. When Christianity hit the world it looked like atheism. There was no blood, but the blood of the wine. There was no holy place, but anywhere two or three gathered in the God’s name. There was no cult, no secret knowledge, no discrimination, no inner circle. This for the ancient world was religion and Christianity didn’t have any of it. Their temple was the body of the dead, buried, and risen God/man, who died for His people.

Christianity is easy, it doesn’t register as sacred work to the man made religions. The burden is too light, salvation too cheap, emotions too happy. Christianity kills those superficial things men like in their religions and demands something more radical than fear, more reckless than murder-sacrifice, more simple than the complications of paganism: do justly, love mercy and walk humbly.

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Theotokos : Points for Discussion

Posted by Remy on May 26, 2009

  • Theotokos means “God bearer” and was applied to Mary in the Christological controversies.
  • In the ensuing centuries this temporary role was made eternal.
  • “Therefore a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife.”
  • If she isn’t part of the bride she’s been left behind.
  • In John 19:26 Mary was shifted from mother to sister and to bride.
  • The perpetual virginity of Mary serves no theological purpose.
  • The perpetual virginity of Mary was invented by a bunch of virgins with sexual hang-ups because the early church had a low view of the body.
  • Virginity is something to be lost within marriage, not something to treasure.
  • It is not dishonorable to say that Mary had sex and bore children (as Matt. 12.46 says), rather it is to further honor her.

The next step for Romanists is to name Mary coredemptrix, a petition that garnered over six million signatures including Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

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