Tag Archives: the heart

See how the sower goes on.

“When the times are fulfilled and the end is at hand, when the world’s autumn comes and God sends His angels to reap the harvest — what will they find in the barren fields of our hearts? And yet, the time is nearly accomplished and the end close by for each of us, the time which we shall each face even before the common harvest.

“But let us not be downhearted. See how the sower goes on sowing among the rocks and thorns and by the roadside. This means that he places some hope even in such fields as these.

“And we know from the lives of the saints how often a soul which had seemed irreclaimably stifled by sin, blinded by passion, hardened in evil, became good ground, fertile and productive, purified of poisonous mixtures and alien seeds.”

-Fr. Alexander Elchaninov,  Diary of a Russian Priest

 

Since we are poor, a warmth.

FINAL SOLILOQUY OF THE INTERIOR PARAMOUR

Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.
We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole,
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous.

Within its vital boundary, in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one…
How high that highest candle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.

-Wallace Stevens

I discovered this poem on the blog Kingdom Poets, where the poet-blogger D.S. Martin wonders if Stevens ought even to be “mentioned in a blog about Christian poetry.” Martin also quotes a few speculative lines from a biographer of Stevens, as to the lifelong skeptic’s motives for receiving Christian baptism on his deathbed. I’d like to read more of what he wrote later in life, but the images and evocations of this poem are familiar enough to me to make me think that Wallace Stevens had truly tasted of the Kingdom of God, that Holy Spirit-quickened heart where Christ dwells, of which He spoke when He said, “The Kingdom of God is within you.”

St. Porphyrios said provocatively, “Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet.Father Stephen Freeman has quoted the saint when he writes about “what can drive us both to poetry as well as theology”:

“The reduction of the world and its ‘history’ are the tools of those who lack the imagination and patience to find the truth. The Fathers tell us to ‘pay attention.’ This is true with regard to the heart, but it is also true with regard to the world around us. Attention does not solve the mystery, but it at least acknowledges its presence and gives rise to enough wonder to make understanding possible at some point.”

“Evil is never creative. It is destructive and occasionally diverse in its activities. But creativity requires energy and commitment. Evil’s own entropy always reduces it to banality and boredom. It prefers prose: poetry is too much work.”

Fr. Stephen also quotes a poem from e.e. cummings, including the lines, “i do not know what it is about you… only something in me understands…”

The type of somethings that e.e. cummings refers to can’t be known intellectually, but they are the testimony of our own experience that “mystery is not only an aspect of the divine, but part of the nature of all reality. Everything is far more than it appears.”

I am eternally grateful to writers like Wallace Stevens who commit their strength of mind and length of days to sharing their glimpses of the mysterious reality behind the obvious,

…since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

The poetry of a wise man might crack your shell.

Many people seem to think that politics will save us, that if we could just get the right people, or “our people” in office, they would begin to set things right, however we envision that. Anthony Esolen in the article Listening Up, in the Nov-Dec 2019 issue of Touchstone magazine, discusses some reasons for this idea, and its often corresponding impulse to judge our human forefathers for their sins, judgment not “by eternal verities, but by the cheap modern substitute, the ‘political.'”

He believes we lack historical imagination, and he sets out to consider the different ways one might make better use of stories and history in general, giving examples first from antiquity:

So to attempt to transpose Xenophon or Cyrus to the current day, and to grill him with “political” questions, is not to think politically at all, but to replace reality with a caricature. You will learn nothing from Xenophon that way. You may instead be out to teach him a lesson, him, that is, being the cartoon Xenophon you have made. At no time do you allow yourself to be still and to learn, so that the poetry of a wise man might penetrate your shell, crack it open, and show you the stars.

Once you enter the world of history, you encounter the maddening complexity of human affairs, not to mention that labyrinth called the human heart. With hindsight we can say, with some confidence, that the young Octavius was far better suited for governing the Roman world than was the elder and more experienced Antony. We cannot be so sure of ourselves, though, when it comes to the noble-minded Brutus, and the ambitious and capable Julius Caesar, whom he assassinated.

Esolen goes on to mention American leaders of note, and of complex history and character, such as William Tecumseh Sherman, and Stonewall Jackson, “a genuinely kindly owner of slaves.” And then he comes to his “three broad categories of modern man, each of them characterized by the stories they listen to and tell”: The Man of Faith, The Man of Wistful Unbelief, and the Man of Superstition.

I found his categories to be very helpful in understanding differences between people in the first two groups especially, and their stories that nourish our hearts. Oh, if only the third group would quiet down and listen to some true stories! But they don’t like the stories of the other two groups, and have their own ever-changing and doubtful heroes.

“History is too dark and tangled a forest for them, sacred Scripture too high a mountain to climb. Therefore they fall into worship of the biggest or most prominent things near them: sex, themselves, the State.”

“They are not brave enough to enter the dark caverns of the human heart…. they cannot forgive what men and women really are. They have no sense of sin, which afflicts everyone, including themselves, but they grasp at being among the elect, by having the most up-to-date pseudo-political opinions.”

You can read the whole article here: “Listening Up.”

People who make history know nothing about history.
You can see that in the sort of history they make.
-G.K. Chesterton

 

What can be lacking to them?

I became very gl IMG_2996 lily origfamiliar with these lily plants today, without finding out what their name is. I was at church helping to spruce up the large property. These might have waited to be cut back except that their irrigation lines are going to be re-done. So I bent over each of two or three dozen clumps, grabbed the leaves in my fist as though they were a hank of hair, and snip-snip-snipped, and on to the next.

All the while, I could not keep from humming the tune commonly used to sing St. Patrick’s Breastplate.  A few days ago I thought to memorize the words, and as I’ve never been part of a church that sang it I listened on YouTube and wrote the words on 3×5 cards, and sang along quite a bit one afternoon and evening.

Since then I have only managed to look at my cards enough to memorize the first stanza (below), but those lines have filled my heart to overflowing, as the melody plays night and day in my mind, never without those powerful reminders of the fullness of our faith, and the presence of Christ himself in my song.

St Patrick’s Breastplate

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this day to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

gl IMG_2993 church

So, I’ve been humming along with my Companion, as I wash the dishes or take a shower, or dig weeds. I glanced up this afternoon to see a side of the church that I don’t often look at, framed with olive branches and roses, and I had to scrunch down close to the dirt to get a strangely angled picture that takes it all in.

gl IMG_3005 weed

I didn’t have too many weeds to dig – I took this one’s picture because we have them all over the county this year, and I want to see if I can find it in Weeds of the West to learn its name.

The seed pods of the lilies were intriguing to me, with their shiny black and bumpy contents, about to pop out on to the ground. I brought a few home, wondering how hard it would be to get them to sprout…. gl IMG_3001 seeds

gl IMG_2995

So many people were helping out, pruning olives and wisteria, laying irrigation lines, trimming roses. We seemed to be finished by noon, except: the head gardener wanted four more big rosebushes on the other side of the property to be cut back. I had time, so I did them as the last thing. I had to stand in the middle, surrounded by floribundas, and toss the clippings over their heads into a bin outside of the thicket. This was oddly the best time of the whole day, maybe because I knew it was my last task, or maybe because they were such pure and lovely flowers.

Before I got in my car I took pictures of the Japanese Windflowers (or Japanese Anemones), of which we have two colors at church. I am excited to have some in my own new garden at home, but mine haven’t opened quite yet.

gl IMG_3013 windflower

I had planned to post the quote below tonight, and then the flowers and seeds and St. Patrick crowded in, but I think everything goes together pretty well.

How mistaken are those people who seek happiness outside of themselves, in foreign lands and journeys, in riches and glory, in great possessions and pleasures, in diversions and vain things which have a bitter end! It is the same thing to construct the tower of happiness outside of ourselves as it is to build a house in a place that is consistently shaken by earthquakes.

Happiness is found within ourselves, and blessed is the man who has understood this. Happiness is a pure heart, for such a heart becomes the throne of God. Thus says Christ of those who have pure hearts, “I will visit in them, and walk in them, and I will be a God to them, and they will be my people.” (2 Corinthians 6:16) What can be lacking to them? Nothing, nothing at all! For they have the greatest good in their hearts: God Himself!

~Saint Nektarios of Aegina