December 2006 Archives

Ring out, Wild Bells


Ring out wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care of the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But Ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

A Sentimental Christmas


Richard John Neuhaus writes on the First Things website the following about the Christmas season set a:

"With stunning abruptness were jostled from the Christmas Mass (the Christ Mass) to the feast of St. Stephen proto-martyr and then on to the slaughter of the holy innocents it is an antidote to the sentimentality that inevitably attends devotion to the baby Jesus. A sentimentality, let it be allowed, that is not to be scorned. Others may make neat distinctions between "authentic sentiment" and sentimentality, but these days of Christmas are a time for the suspension of neat distinctions. Sentimentality is all too human and all too human is what God became."

I was happy to read this quote from Father Neuhaus; I for one am hopelessly sentimental about the Christmas season. My first memories are of stories of Santa Claus and going to church to play one of the shepherds in the Christmas pageant. It was a magical time of the year for me and I haven't forgotten. I hope to recover that feeling every year at this time, sometimes successfully sometimes not, but still I think it's part of Christmas, being childlike. So reading this from Father Neuhaus makes me feel that I haven't completely lost it and I'm not lost in a past that is hopelessly unrecoverable. Next year I think I'll try to celebrate Christmas even more as I did when I was seven years old and I won't feel guilty about.

It doesn't hurt that we are having our second blizzard in two weeks and that we have a something more than a white Christmas this year. It doesn't do much for going to work but it does to a great deal for helping keep the Christmas spirit alive a little longer.

A personal note. I am writing this post using a Christmas present from my wife. Since I broke my shoulder about a month ago I haven't been able to do much in the way of typing, or writing either. And so posting here has been sparse to say the least. My wife purchased voice recognition software, Dragon Naturally Speaking version 9, and while I find it difficult to dictate rather than to type, the more I use the software the more accurate it becomes. My original hope in obtaining this was simply to be able to get some text on paper so that I could correct it by hand into a final version. But it seems with this software I'm able to veryclose to a final version simply by dictating; I'm having to do no more than a minimal amount of correction. I'm able to "type" much more this way than I ever could by hand. And so while it looks like it may be several months before I'm able to really use my right arm again this may prove a bit of the godsend. The one thing the software doesn't seem to be able to do is put capital letters on the words that need capital letters. For example when I dictated "father Neuhaus" above it didn't put a capital letter on "father" so I'll have to train it to recognize the word Father as a title rather than just a word. Just a new toy to play with.




FROM St. Peter's Complaint, 1595
By Robert Southwell

As I in hoary winter's night stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow ;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty babe all burning bright did in the air appear ;
Who, scorchëd with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.
Alas, quoth he, but newly born in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I !
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns ;
The fuel justice layeth on, and mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men's defilëd souls,
For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.
With this he vanished out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I callëd unto mind that it was Christmas day.

From an Essay on Criticism


A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring;
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of Arts,
While from the bounded level of our mind
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind
But more advanced, behold with strange surprise
New distant scenes of endless science rise!

-Alexander Pope




"The beginning of Christendom is, strictly, at a point out of time. A metaphvsical trigonometry finds it among the spiritual Secrets, at the meeting of two heavenward lines, one drawn from Bethany along the Ascent of Messias, the other from Jerusalem against the Descent of the Paraclete. That measurement, the measurement of eternity in operation, of the bright cloud and the rushing wind, is, in effect, theology."

Charles Williams
Descent of the Dove

I believe tha if I wrote a paragraph like that, I would consider that I had achieved all I could and never write another word.



This quote comes from the first page of Chesterton’s book Heretics:

It is foolish, generally speaking, for a philosopher to set fire to another philosopher in Smithfield Market because they do not agree in their theory of the universe. That was done very frequently in the last decadence of the Middle Ages, and it failed altogether in its object. But there is one thing that is infinitely more absurd and unpractical than burning a man for his philosophy. This is the habit of saying that his philosophy does not matter, and this is done universally in the twentieth century, in the decadence of the great revolutionary period. General theories are everywhere condemned; the doctrine of the Rights of Man is dismissed with the doctrine of the Fall of Man. Atheism itself is too theological for us to-day. Revolution itself is too much of a system; liberty itself is too much of a restraint. We will have no generalizations. Mr. Bernard Shaw has put the view in a perfect epigram: “The golden rule is that there is no golden rule.” We are more and more to discuss details in art, politics, literature. A man’s opinion on tram cars matters; his opinion on Botticelli matters; his opinion on all things does not matter. He may turn over and explore a million objects, but he must not find that strange object, the universe; for if he does he will have a religion, and be lost. Everything matters — except everything.

We still have the habit of saying that a person’s philosophy “does not matter.” In fact, it has become almost an embarrassment for someone to profess to have any kind of philosophy. It means the person is likely to be intolerant, even “mean-spirited.” This, I think, is one of the notions behind the move in the last years to ban the notion of Christmas; we are told to celebrate not the most momentous event in human history but “the Holidays.” We can’t say Merry Christmas for fear of discomforting those who have no philosophy; we say “Seasons Greetings” or some other meaningless expression.

This reticence to express our deepest belief is not the role of the Christian, even if it does offend. I think of this especially at this time of year, and I think back with a pang of conscience at how inoffensive I have been over the past year. The one thing I do to try to correct the situation is wish everyone I meet a very heartfelt “Merry Christmas.” It’s the least I can do.

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