Tag Archives: joy

Wings or the woodworm.

“An offspring of [the sin of] pride is censure, which is unfortunately also a habit of many Christians, who tend to concern themselves more with others than themselves. This is a phenomenon of our time and of a society that pushes people into a continuous observation of others, and not of the self.

“Modern man’s myriad occupations and activities do not want him to ever remain alone to study, to contemplate, to pray, to attain self-awareness, self critique, self-control and to be reminded of death. The so-called Mass Media are incessantly preoccupied with scandal-seeking, persistently and at length, with human passions, with sins, with others’ misdemeanors. These kinds of things provoke, impress, and, even if they do not scandalize, they nevertheless burden the soul and the mind with filth and ugliness and they actually reassure us, by making us believe that ‘we are better’ than those advertised.

“Thus, a person becomes accustomed to the mediocrity, the tepidity and the transience of superficial day-to-day life, never comparing himself to saints and heroes. This is how censure prevails in our time – by giving man the impression that he is justly imposing a kind of cleansing, by mud-slinging at others, albeit contaminating himself by generating malice, hatred, hostility, resentfulness, envy and frigidity. Saint Maximos the Confessor in fact states that the one who constantly scrutinizes others’ sins, or judges his brothers based on suspicion only, has not even begun to repent, nor has he begun any research into discovering his own sins.”

-Monk Moses of Holy Mount Athos

I thought I would re-publish a few posts from the early days of my blog, say ten years ago, such as the quote above from Monk Moses, also known as Elder Moses the Athonite. I ran across a video of him talking about humility, and noticed that I’d also commented on it back then, about how helpful it was. I followed my own recommendation and listened once more. Oh, yes. The elder seems to emanate the joy and meekness that he talks about; I’m so glad I watched again, and got reacquainted. His words come alive through the sweetness of his countenance, especially when he is quoting Scripture or a saint, which he does quite a bit for such a short video.

In it he warns us that pride “like a woodworm eats away at the whole trunk” of our life, but humility begets “joy that has to do with internal calm, sobriety and serenity, that gives the sweetness and redemption of Christ.”

“Humility’s the guard dog of all the other virtues, and humility, says St. Basil the Great, is the raiment of the Godhead. Out of His extreme humility Christ came down, abandoned the glory of the heavens, and became the least of all people.”

“Humility and love, as St. Kosmas Aitolos says, are the two wings that fly us straight to heaven.”

I hope you will watch this video and through it meet Father Moses yourself:

“Humility, the Foundation of all Virtues.”

Echoes of harmonies and blisse.

St Andrew’s Church in Bemerton, Wiltshire

This is the church where George Herbert served as rector for a only a few years before his death at the age of 39. He was born in Wales in 1593, into a wealthy and powerful family. The poet John Donne was his godfather, which was surely an important role, as his father Richard died when George was three years old. After his university education he held posts at Cambridge, was briefly a member of parliament, and held the clerical post of prebend.

But it wasn’t until 1629 that he decided to enter the priesthood and was appointed to the parish where “he lived, preached and wrote poetry; he also helped to rebuild the Bemerton church and rectory out of his own funds.”

He knew he was dying (of consumption); it was in that last year of life that he sent all of his poems to his friend Nicholas Ferrar, asking him to publish them if he thought they were good for anything. He said that they held “a picture of the many spiritual conflicts that have passed between God and my soul, before I could subject mine to the will of Jesus, my Master.” Commenting on George Herbert’s religious poetry later in the 17th century, Richard Baxter said that the poet “speaks to God like one that really believeth in God, and whose business in the world is most with God. Heart-work and heaven-work make up his books.”

His prose works include a volume of nearly 1200 “outlandish proverbs” that he collected, and which is currently available on Amazon. That’s one that looks interesting to me, too.

Charles Cotton described George Herbert as a “soul composed of harmonies,” and it seems that he was also a skilled lutenist and composed hymns. More than ninety of Herbert’s poems have been set for singing over the centuries by composers like Benjamin Britten, Henry Purcell, and Ralph Vaughan Williams. When I read that the Wesley brothers adapted a few dozen for the Methodist hymnal, I checked out our family’s inheritance of hymnals from Methodist and Presbyterian churches but only found one attribution to Herbert.

But I do have a collection of his poems. I’ve shared other works of this poet; now here is one that I only recently noticed, whose echo-dialogue and themes I like very much. I found online a thorough exploration of the poem by Inge Leimberg, who tells us that “In Herbert the three themes of death, being restored from death, and spiritual vision are closely bound up with music and poetry (which to Herbert are one and the same).” I haven’t finished reading her essay, but I did catch one example of the layers of meaning he was famous for; “holy leaves” likely refer not just to leaves, but also to pages of the Bible.

One friend was of the opinion that Herbert would be singing his melodies with the angels in heaven, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the angels do join in with this harmonious and persevering soul.

HEAVEN

O who will show me those delights on high?
Echo.         I.
Thou Echo, thou art mortall, all men know.
Echo.         No.
Wert thou not born among the trees and leaves?
Echo.         Leaves.
And are there any leaves, that still abide?
Echo.         Bide.
What leaves are they? impart the matter wholly.
Echo.         Holy.
Are holy leaves the Echo then of blisse?
Echo.         Yes.
Then tell me, what is that supreme delight?
Echo.         Light.
Light to the minde : what shall the will enjoy?
Echo.         Joy.
But are there cares and businesse with the pleasure?
Echo.         Leisure.
Light, joy, and leisure ; but shall they persever?
Echo.         Ever.

-George Herbert 1593–1633

Spider Christmas Day

I know it’s their Christmas, because all the spiders in town had been awake all night decorating. They ran to and fro along the creek banks for miles stringing their prettiest threads over pyracantha, ceanothus, grass and star jasmine — the milk thistle was draped extra thick and milky — but clearly their favorite thing to deck with silver and white was the wild fennel, at every stage of its growth, from fine fronds to long-dried seeds.

After a half hour of admiring the holy day celebrations of spiders, I was brought up short by a different sort of beauty. Willow bushes rising from the creek are lifting their buds heavenward; it must be their message of resurrection joy that filled my heart to bursting.

Christ is risen!

 

Away from shadows and wilting.

For a half hour I walked my loop bending backward to take pictures of these crazy clouds. They filled the whole sky.

After a while I thought maybe they were blending together too much to be quite as interesting, and my neck was getting tired. By then I was closer to home noticing the street view, and several unwatered lawns in the neighborhood with a cheery wildflower/weed display:

DESPAIR

So much gloom and doubt in our poetry –
flowers wilting on the table,
the self regarding itself in a watery mirror.

Dead leaves cover the ground,
the wind moans in the chimney,
and the tendrils of the yew tree inch toward the coffin.

I wonder what the ancient Chinese poets
would make of all this,
these shadows and empty cupboards?

Today, with the sun blazing in the trees,
my thoughts turn to the great
tenth-century celebrators of experience,

Wa-Hoo, whose delight in the smallest things
could hardly be restrained,
and to his joyous counterpart in the western provinces,
Ye-Hah.

-Billy Collins