Ray pitched the job to Kenny and I in the depths of a Michigan January early in Richard Nixon’s second administration.  Ray’s older brother Otis was going through a nasty divorce, and he needed someone to drive his Mercedes 280SL from Oxnard, California to Tillamook, Oregon.  Ray wanted some company, but most of all, he wanted somebody to drive his Opel Kadette while he drove the Mercedes.  Ray, Kenny, and I were an oddly assorted trio.   Ray was a clean-cut, buttoned-down sort, studying finance at a state university way before finance was cool.  He kept his hair short and his face clean-shaven.  Kenny was a transplant from eastern Kentucky, a long-haired “hillbilly” with a gentle, dreamy side, and a very talented guitar player.  I was a hippie’s hippie, and I worked with both of them in a chemical dye factory that was on strike.

We drove out to Oxnard, California in Ray’s Opel, where we picked up the court papers that let us take possession of Otis’ Mercedes convertible.  Under the suspicious eye of Otis’ soon-to-be ex-wife, we headed north to Oregon.  It took us more than a week, since we were in no hurry to return to Michigan only to hang around waiting for the strike to end.  There were the usual intoxicancfiles7808ts involved, but in retrospect that isn’t what I remember most about the trip.  We decided to take California Highway 1 up the coast, camping along the way.  The scenery was spectacular, The weather remained flawless even as we moved north of San Francisco into the Redwood country and up into Oregon.

Most of all, I remember the people we encountered on the way.  We picked up hitch-hikers.  Our unusual cars and Kenny’s guitar opened a lot of doors for us that ordinarily would have remained closed even in those freewheeling days.  If I had kept a notebook, I would have had enough to populate a Dickens novel with picaresque characters.   There was Selene, the Indian hooker we picked up in Ventura and whose Gujarati pimp, who turned out to be a really capital fellow, showed up to collect her in San Luis Obispo.  There was Mike the reluctant Mafia guy, who said he really wanted to run a car lot like his father in Lompoc.  There was Jack, the hitch-hiking preacher, who delivered a hair-raising exegesis of the book of Revelation around the campfire the one night he spent with us, and who was impressed with all the old-timey gospel songs Kenny knew on his guitar.

There was the dark-haired, dark-eyed, guitar-bodied Maria Altagracia Mendoza, as beautiful and as emotionally fragile as Lucia di Lammermoor and nearly as self-destructive, along with her Brillo-haired handler/lover/therapist Rosemary.  Maria e837324a75b8b7f184fa70b936ca79c0Altagracia claimed to be a direct descendant of a Spanish count who had been given land grants in the area, and she demanded to be called “Countess”.  Rosemary never claimed to be anything except a San Francisco Giants fan, but it was amazing how well she kept the “Countess” on an even keel.

There was Davie, and Pete his Native American “blood brother”, who we picked up between Santa Rosa and Sebastopol.  Davie was hitchhiking in to buy a carton of cigarettes and ended up going with us all the way up to Redding.   We hung around Coos Bay for a weekend while Kenny tried to convince Rachel to come with us.  We were just outside of Newport when we found out Rachel wasn’t 19 as she claimed, but 14.  It was a chance for Ray to find out what his brother’s Mercedes was capable of as he drove the 100 miles back to Rachel’s house and still pulled into his brother’s driveway only a half an hour after we did.

I decided to fly back to Michigan from Portland, and Ray and Kenny drove back in the Kadette.  It was a sad feeling, as all of us knew we would never probably be together again, and certainly not as happy as we had been.  It was true.  Three months later, I had a come-to-Jesus moment and ended up in a Central Florida Bible college.  Ray finished his degree in finance, married, and I lost track of him.  I ran into Kenny late in the decade at his older sister’s wedding.  He had had a “come-to-Jesus” moment of his own, and it made mine seem mundane by comparison.

“I was on the beach in Maine, walking my sister’s dog’, he explained.  ‘It was January, just like when we went to California with Ray, remember?  Something happened though.  I had been reading Pascal’s Pensées, and thinking about what he meant about the Fire, when suddenly the heavens opened.  My sister’s dog escaped from the leash and went running down the beach as fast as he could.”  Kenny curved his hand for emphasis.  “The curve of the dog’s back was like, perfection, you know?  And I saw the fire, Pascal’s fire, coming down from heaven, except that it was inside everything; me, the dog, the waves, the clouds, the other people on the beach, everything.”

higginsHe continued explaining his vision.  “I knew then that God loved us all, in Christ, in a way that I could never put into words.  There was a warmth in my chest that made me sweat, even though the wind was cold.  I couldn’t stop crying, or smiling.  One man walked up to me and said he had never seen anybody who looked as happy as I did, but i couldn’t put into words what I wanted to say to him.  ‘I love you’ I finally told him, and I think it kind of freaked him out.”

“It was like when you and Ray and me went out to California to help his brother with his divorce.  That was a really happy time for me, man, for all of us.  I know we didn’t know the Lord then, but it was a real special time we had together.   This was like all that, but melted down and pressed together into a single afternoon, into a single point.  Here’s the thing, Mule, the whole Universe is like that.”

I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t admit I was jealous of Kenny and his mystical experience, although I’m glad he shared it with me as far as he could.  Kenny has dropped completely out off the map.  He doesn’t have a social media presence, and his sister says he was accepted into an arts and design school in the late 90s, but never showed up for classes.

It is Holy Week.  Lent is over.  Any self-deception I still harbor about self-improvement through asceticism and renunciation is over.  “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”.  Jeremiah 8.20.

OB-TT305_071312_J_20120713122619Today in my church a young family brought their children for baptism, and the parents were chrismated into the Church.  It was a joyous occasion.  They brought a lot of family and friends with them, most of whom had never entered an Orthodox church before.  The effort expended resembled a small military campaign.  The family’s oldest child was old enough to require the “moonshiners’ baptistry”, so the lesser clergy had to trundle it out from the storage shed, rinse it out, and set it up in the center of the sanctuary.  Then it needed to be filled with water, and not cold water either.  The Orthodox Church does not make provision for the flesh, but it is also not needlessly cruel to small children.  A warming coil was found, and the water was tepid when the time came for the baptisms.

The children being baptized were an active lot, even more so than most small children.  My wife and I had babysat these particular children before, so we were expecting a spectacle.  We were not disappointed.  The difficulty was getting all the children in the same spot.  They were excited about the number of aunts, uncles, and cousins in attendance, so one or another of them would slip away while Father was herding the others towards the font.  By the time the prodigal was corralled and brought into the fold, another would have escaped.  This continued until it was no longer cute, then the relatives intervened and the service was allowed to continue.

The baptismal service in the Orthodox Church resembles a great deal the services for Great and Holy Theophany.  I can see now why Orthodoxy is so much “all of one piece”, so that you can’t change one part without doing damage to the whole tapestry, and also why you need to pay attention to what is going on in the services.  Orthodoxy is not an ideology extracted from a text, it is wet, or sweet like incense, or sharp,like the pain in your knees after too many prostrations, and it takes time to make the connections.

One by one, the children were guided up the stairs by Father.  The look on the oldest child’s face was priceless.  She was old enough (about six) to realize that something very important was happening.  Of course, the children all enjoyed being the center of attention, but the eldest, a girl, was perceptive enough to realize it wasn’t all about her.  Her eyes darted back and forth between the icon of Christ and the water, and maybe I am reading something into a six year old girl’s actions, but it appeared to me as if she understood the connection.

The third child, also a girl, was the wiggliest and complained the loudest.  I don’t think she was quite three.  Father dunked her three times in rapid succession, and she let out a yowl that rattled the rafters.  The last child was much easier.  God has had mercy on these particular parents, and has blessed them with a relatively tranquil child after the other three little dynamos.  Then came the chrismations, the presenting of crosses and icons, and the procession of the boys behind the iconostasis for their churching.

I tried not to think of the countless people for whom that would be an offense and an outrage, that the  boys should be paraded behind the iconostasis and their sisters excluded.

After the baptism service came the Divine Liturgy for Lazarus Saturday. On the day before Palm Sunday, the Orthdox Church celebrates the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  As Father explained it, it is first of all a glimmer of hope to start us on a very difficult road; the road past the Cross to the Tomb during Holy Week.  Lazarus was a particular man.  He had a family; two sisters who loved him deeply and mourned him bitterly.  His resurrection is an earnest of our own, even though he had to die again eventually.

I didn’t know that he became a bishop in Cyprus later.

Since it has been three months since I have posted here, I need to make a decision about what I want to do here and what direction I want to go in.  It astounds me that this blog still gets about 30 hits a day from all kinds of different places and that some of my oldest posts are the most popular.

Discussions of gender and sexuality I would like to retreat from.  My views on humanity expressed in maleness and femaleness are not only objectionable to the vast majority of my fellow Christians, but lo and behold, they may not even be as Orthodox as I thought they were.  Exposure to some of St. Maximus the Confessor’s thinking on man as male and female dislodged me from my dogmatic slumber.

The problem with binary solutions to everything – prickly Malacandrian Blog And Mabloggery over and against gooey Perelandran Sexual Existentialism – is that they foster that continual us-vs-them low-grade conflict that militates against our salvation.  As Father Philotheos Faros points out in Functional And Dysfunctional Christianity, individuals define themselves over against, and in competition with, other individuals.  Odio ergo sum.  On the other hand, persons can only come into the fullness of their personhood in communion with other persons, who will supply what is lacking.

That’s a hard word for me.  I am deeply invested in being right.  I need to adopt the attitude of Matushka Elizabeth, the beloved virgin-wife of St. John of Kronstadt: “I am content to let God reveal who is right and who is wrong.”

After resisting the temptation for almost twenty years, I finally started reading Robert Jordan’s series The Wheel Of Time.  I had heard a lot of things that were not good about this series; that it is over-written, that Jordan reuses the same female character over and over again, that it suffers from a lack of focus.  Although it is hard to judge from reading the first volume of the series, The Eye Of The World, I can see justification for all of those criticisms.

One thing that annoys me is how often his characters chuckle.  I have had to learn to un-notice this lest it distract me from the 69ce7060db8f84725b405b10dd982607other virtues of Jordan’s storytelling.  It is true that Jordan (actually pulp writer James Oliver Rigney, Jr) is wordy.  If Joe Abercrombie had written this series, there would have been three or four sharply written battles by now.  If George R.R. Martin had written it, half of the characters in whom I had invested my emotional capital would already have been killed off in unexpected ways.  If JRR Tolkien had written it, I would already have been exposed to a half-dozen invented languages.  Jordan has just moved me about two hundred miles down the road from the protagonists’ home turf, and nothing much has happened yet.

Oh well.

Jordan/Rigney is American, and rumor has reached me that a lot of the sturm und drang of postwar American life finds a reflection in The Wheel of Time.  Having slogged through Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and having unexpectedly enjoyed the experience, I am willing to give Jordan/Rigney the benefit of the doubt.  I have also heard that his female characters get better and more full-orbed, although I don’t expect them to rise to level of Martin’s.

Anyone who expects the Orthodox observance of Lent to make them a better person or a better Christian is laboring under a severe delusion.  We’re about halfway through now, and never have I felt more like human refuse than I feel right now.  I have to admit my cowardice, my love of comfort and convenience, my propensity for judging others harshly and demanding special consideration for myself, my snippiness and shortness with my wife, my family and my fellow parishioners.  What makes it worse is that I have to admit that even repentance and confession is not likely to make me any better.  Maybe if I undertook some severe spiritual chemotherapy á la St. Mary of Egypt it might make some dent in my habitual solipsism…

When the fast ends, I will return to my normal self-indulgent lifestyle with a sigh of relief.  The additional calories will be put to use not in service to God and others, but towards my ongoing project of self-delusion and self-justification, which project must necessarily end some day.

I need the mercies of God and the forgiveness and forbearance of others as much now, maybe even more, than I did when I began this Christian project.

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In my last post, I see that I was toying with the idea of separate spiritualities for men and women.  I am certain now that this does not obtain.  The existence of men and women saints bears this out, as does the means of their sanctification, which is identical for men and women.  I am also certain that there is a place before God where men and women are identical, this is a place spoken of by Paul when he wrote in Galatians that in Christ the distinctions between humans disappear.  Nevertheless, I don’t think this place is accessible to most of us most of the time.  It is a very holy place, and I don’t think modern Egalitarian Christians are coming from this place when they scold Traditionalist Christians for “oppressing women”.

19cp684v8ebxgjpgProtestants don’t as a rule pursue a personal relationship with the Mother of God, and I think this is a big problem for them.   It kind of neuters them.   It forces relationships between the sexes into an abstract realm of “personhood” rather than manhood and womanhood.  Following Fr. Stephen Freeman, if we look to Christ to see perfect humanity revealed, then we look to His mother to see perfect femininity revealed, to see the woman qua woman brought to perfection.   It is interesting that the primordial man-woman relationship in Christianity is the mother-son relationship; that between Our Lord and His mother, rather than God allowing Ærself/Ærselves to incarnate as a pair of Divine Siblings like Apollo and Artemis, or as a pair of divine spouses such as Rama and Sita/Osiris and Isis.  The power dynamics between a mother and a son are subtle, and I think they are closer to what Paul hints at when he enjoins “mutual submission” than anything attainable by spouses or siblings.

Since this is my own blog, I’ll say what I please.  I don’t care for “persons”, and androgynes make me uneasy.  There is a full frontal assault in anything that reminds us of our contingency and interrupts our project of self-creation and self-definition.  I remember reading on a Christian feminist site that feminism was necessary because without it women would be “dependent on men”, as if that were a bad thing.  My life is dependent on a legion of people who have been proxied away from me and hidden from sight; the immigrant women who package my poultry, the man at the wastewater plant who separates me from my excrement, the priest who serves me the Mysteries.   The assault on sexual essentialism is to me an assault on the givenness of sex and sexual differences.

I think there is a quote attributed to Margaret Atwood that says “Men are afraid women will laugh at them; women are afraid men will kill them.”  Now, that is a pretty big difference.  I remember the first time I wandered into a site dedicated to Christian feminism and began to “share” my views.  The women invoked violent abuse almost immediately.  Some of the women had to excuse themselves, saying that my opinions were “triggering” memories of abuse.  Now, I was raised Old School, and was forbidden to raise a hand against a woman in anger.   I was taught that it was unmanly, and I still believe that to be true.

A lot of the feminist rhetoric I read centers on the propensity of men towards violence.  Like Tommy in Rudyard Kipling’s poem, masculine violence is excoriated until it is necessary.  In the emerging monocultural managerial globalist Utopia, violence is outsourced.  It is the monopoly of the managing class.  Now, soap and antibiotics may have produced a world where most of us survive childhood, and fertilizer may have made it possible for most of us to eat without eliminating our neighbors, but none of us can be certain how long these conditions will obtain.  It may not be advisable to breed out or propagandize out male violence just yet.  If there is a Biblical character that I think of as being a masculine man, it is the Blessed Forerunner and Baptist John, of whom it is said that there is none greater “born of woman”.  I do not think it is a coincidence that he appears at the left hand of the icon of Christ in every Orthodox church on the planet, with Our Lord’s mother on the right hand.  In the Forerunner I see male violence redeemed, deified.  The Kingdom of Heaven continues to suffer violence and the violent, like John, take it by force.

Part One

227777Just on a whim, this morning I entered the phrase “male spirituality” into Google.   The quotation marks are explicit, so that Google would search for the phrase rather than the two words.  What came back was an interesting potpourri of links that I had only the time to skim the very surface of, much like a water-skeeter dances across the surface of a pond without breaking the surface tension.  If she stops (I believe water-skeeters, like bees, are female), she drowns.  There is almost no subject in the contemporary universe of discourse where there is as much danger of drowning is as in discussing sex, gender, and the relationship between the sexes.  So I’m going to try to keep things as light as possible, to avoid breaking surface tension, to avoid drowning.  For this reason, I start with a question, and it is not rhetorical.  I am open to wherever the investigation leads.

About a year ago, someone asked me point blank in an email if I believed that men and women were equal.   Because I didn’t really want to engage with this person and because the probability of mutual respect and civil discourse was minimal, I responded ‘Of course.  What’s your point? ‘  It was cowardly on my part, I guess, because I don’t even believe men and men or women and women are equal, or that the same man or woman is equal diachronically.  It got me thinking about our concept of equality.  What does it mean for a man to be equal to a woman?  What does it mean for a man to be equal to another man?  It obviously isn’t the same as identity, or being the same, which is the schoolyard equivalent.   Sameness is more of a function of manufactured things, things made by machine, on purpose, to be as identical as possible.  Variety, diversity is more of a function of nature.   But we live in a time where manufactured equality is crucial.  Among other things, it makes it much easier and much less expensive to repair our cars, build a house, or track a household’s consumption of peanut butter.  Also, we grow from the playground into the courtroom, but we carry our playground concepts with us when we go, and they grow along with us.

Equality, then, has to be something of an abstraction.  We have to consciously disregard differences if we are going to treat two things as equal.  I am a Trinitarian Christian, and therefore I can be neither a holist nor a reductionist.  Neither the similarities nor the differences between men and women are absolute.  The prevailing sentiment is that the differences between men and women should be minimized, that they are culturally defined, and these differences should never enter into consideration when a man or a woman is considering a course of action.  Biology will have her tribute, though.  Barring a technology that I can only imagine as infernal, men will never give birth, and a trained female mixed martial arts fighter would be suicidal to enter the Thunderdome against her male counterpart.   These are differences of the body, of the human being considered as a physical object with all of its quiddity and measurability.  A toaster and a grandmother dropped from Galileo’s tower will both strike the pavement simultaneously, but no one on this side of madness would consider them equal because of that.

But what happens when we leave the body, as we suppose, behind?  What happens when we move into the realm of the spirit, of that indefinable something that differentiates the grandmother from the toaster, indeed, even from a birch tree, sea snail, or a Shetland pony ?  Surely we leave the distinctions of the body behind.  Now, I am not a trained theologian, but I can follow theologians when they talk, and that is a useful skill.   What I want to do is examine evidence both for and against the idea of gender-specific spirituality and leave aside the urgency of coming to a conclusion.  Especially, I don’t want to be railroaded towards a conclusion.  I may as well mention the Manosphere, especially its Christian “branch”, whose meticulously ground and deeply resentful axes will find plenty of timber upon which to assay purchase.

soefiI lean by temperament and upbringing to believe that men and women will respond to God differently.  I am not alone in thinking so.  Very soon after becoming a conscious disciple of Christ I was assailed by a group of married Christian women who wanted me to ‘evangelize’ their husbands.  It was thought that, being a man, it would be easier for me to encourage them to participate in churchly activities.  I was a dismal failure at this.  I am a transplanted Yankee.   Their husbands were Southern good ol’ boys.   Church was, for them, something that it was fitting for women and children to be involved in, and Yankees, who don’t much care for NASCAR and whose football loyalties were tied to Big Ten teams with highly suspect ground games.  “Men are too proud for church.  Their masculine pride won’t allow them to accept any help, even from the Lord”, one wife complained to me in the presence of our pastor.  This pastor  had been on the ground at Guadalcanal.   I don’t think anybody could accuse him of a lack of masculinity.  Yet the fact remained, men were scarce in our church.   They were scarce in the Pentecostal Church, in the Baptist Church, in the Methodist Church.  They were less scarce in the PCA Presbyterian church, but they tended to be bookish and intellectual.  If they were aggressive, it was usually with a lawyerly kind of aggression.

The Orthodox church doesn’t have this problem.  If anything, it has too many men.  It is said that Orthodoxy attracts and retains men because it is “challenging”.    The rules are more stringent in Orthodoxy than they are in other precincts of Christendom.  The fasting rules are strict.  The Orthodox faithful are vegan some 40% of the year, and often at inconvenient times.  Services are long and you are expected to stand for most them.  Prayers are interminable, and no quarter is given to the flesh.  It remains that many people believe that Orthodoxy has a “heroic ethos” that “attracts men”.  The less charitable accuse us of being the last bastion of the He-Man Woman Haters Club that used to be coterminous with Christendom and has been reduced in these enlightened times to a diminishing circle of Slavic waggons, and THAT is what attracts men, and you are welcome to them.

A thousand words in, and I haven’t even quoted a Bible verse.  I’ll do that next time.  Actually I think the venerable Auld Booke is more egalitarian than I am, but that for next time.

For the Monday after Pentecost, commonly known as The Day of the Holy Spirit in the Calendar of the Eastern Church


fireplace, fireO Heavenly  King, the Most Gracious Comforter and Spirit of Truth, even before the ages do You proceed from the Father and rest forever in the Son!  O inexhaustible source; of the endowments of Godliness Who divides them unto whom-so-ever You will; for thereby have we unworthy ones also been sanctified, as they were signed upon us on the day of our baptism! Take regard then for the prayer of Your servants, come to us, dwell among us, and cleanse our souls; that we may be made ready as dwelling-places of the Most Holy Trinity!

Yes, O Most Gracious One! Be not reviled at our impurities and wounds of sin, but cleanse them with the total healing of Your chrismation. Enlighten our minds that we can comprehend both the vanity of the world, and of those which are in the world; vitalize our consciousness, that in never being silent it will advise us to work at eliminating those things which demote us; direct and renew our heart, that it will no longer be a source of evil thoughts and unfit desires; and, extinguish the flames of our passions with Your dew-bearing breath, that the blessed image of the Divine will not be darkened within us.

Drive away from us the spirit of boastfulness, of melancholy, of ambition and of vain talk; endow us with a spirit of love and patience, a spirit of meekness and of humble wisdom, a spirit of purity and of righteousness; that then, our feeble hearts having been set aright, we may progress along the path of Your holy commandments without laziness:

cozyfireSo then, having toppled every sin and worked in total righteousness, we may be accounted an end that is peaceful and without shame; to enter into the heavenly Jerusalem, and  to worship You together with the Father and the Son, as the Trinity That is One in Essence and Indivisible, unto the ages of ages.


Translated by Subdeacon David Fritz of Wilkes-Barre, PA.  May his memory be eternal.

To speak about Progressive Rock these days is to talk about passion, and the love of music [for it’s own sake]. The days of deep industry and commercial success during the 70s are long gone. The current progressive music movement is underground, honest, small and vibrant.  Rock Progresivo Peru – Giusseppe Risica Carella

BritanniaForty five years ago a friend loaned me an album and insisted that I listen to it.  The name of the album was The Court Of The Crimson King by King Crimson.  It ruined our friendship, because I played the record until I ground the grooves out.  The music on that album was a quantum leap over other music I was listening to at the time.  It was more complex and required stricter attention.  I sought out more music like it, and stumbled across Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma and Renaissance’s self-titled debut.  Another friend recommended Time And A Word by another English band called Yes, whose singer hit higher notes than I believed possible for a man.  A guitar playing friend introduced me to the man he called the guitarist’s guitarist, John McLaughlin.  There was also a group called Genesis that turned out music that was better than it should have been, since their lead singer wore a dress, and sometimes dressed like a flower.  Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull were everywhere on the newly significant FM band.  Finally, there was an outfit called Gentle Giant whose stuff I never liked on first listen but which grew on me as I listened.  Records by these artists and many others entered my collection and defined my musical tastes, at least in popular music.  The embryonic music press called it “symphonic rock” or “art rock”, but eventually settled on the appellation “progressive rock”.

Progressive rock morphed into big business by the late seventies.  Pink Floyd in particular became one of the largest draws in the music industry, and I was able to hear Yes at one of their concerts at about this time.  However, the more complex bands like King Crimson or McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra never achieved a similar level of popularity but enjoyed a high reputation among people “who knew a lot about music”.  Bands like Styx, Journey, and Kansas took the “progressive” formula, simplified it [Kansas less so, Journey more so, Styx in the middle] for mass consumption, and made bank, filling stadiums around the world.  Then suddenly, from about 1982 on, the whole scene just disappeared.  Punk rock happened, and popular music moved back to a simpler, earlier paradigm.  People wanted to dance, and nobody could really dance to the odd rhythms and jarring time signature changes that progressive rock offered.  One of my favorite bands, Genesis, became a pop/disco band after their vocalist and guitarist left to embark on solo careers.

I appreciated a lot of the new music.  “New Wave” it was called, and it was everywhere by the mid-eighties, thanks to a concurrent fashion movement and a very risky media gamble called MTV.  It wasn’t long before New Wave was replaced by a plethora of confusing genres, “post-punk”, “dreampop”, and of course “grunge”.  I married and started having children, and could no longer afford the time to keep up with an increasingly fractious music scene.  Nevertheless, I found that nothing could get me into a nostalgic early 70s groove than putting Selling England By The Pound and reading Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard Of Earthsea.  Don’t ask me why, but fantasy literature of the Tolkienesque variety and progressive rock seem to blend very well. Before the advent of Peter Jackson’s movies, progressive musicians had a reputation for creating Tolkien soundscapes, or for using names like “Gandalf” or “Silmaril” for their band names.

When it became possible to download music on the Internet in the late 1990s (first on Usenet, then on Napster), I decided to renew some old acquaintances,  I found out that a band I cared very much for in the height of the progressive era, Renaissance, whose female lead singer had an operatic range, put out one of their best albums long after I stopped listening.  I was able to sample music from obscurer bands like Finch, Wally, and Gryphon whose works I had missed back in the 70s.  I discovered that just at the time progressive rock went out of style in the UK and the USA, the Italians took it over and carried it to new heights.  I learned about Banco del Mutuo SoccorsoPremiata Forneria Marconi and Le Orme.  Most importantly, I found that new music was being made in this style and finding an audience.  I became acquainted with Marillion, Spock’s Beard, IQ, Echolyn, Citizen Cain, Clepsydra and many others.  It was at this time that I first heard of the best Christian music nobody was listening to.   I don’t know if that’s fair to Iona, who has always had a small and vocal fan base in the US, to say that nobody listened to them.   They should have been much more popular than they were.  They were a Celtic/progressive/folk-rock band with astounding musicianship and deep meditative lyrics.

If the CCM community’s failure to properly appreciate Iona was disturbing, that same community’s almost complete ignorance of Spock’s Beard frontman Neal Morse is almost criminal.   Spock’s Beard was probably the best, and certainly the most commercially successful, of the new breed of progressive rock bands that arose in the 1990s.  Neal converted to Evangelical Christianity somewhere around 2002  and started kicking out albums as quickly as Prince ever did.  Starting with Testimony, he issued a series of Christian based CDs that contained the most earnest Christian message since Keith Green.  OK, maybe since Rich Mullen.  I don’t know why he never cracked the Positive Hits barrier.  His music is light years ahead of the current Coldplay and Beyonce clones that populate the K-JOY playlist.  Maybe it’s because he’s not easily digestible like Mercy Me and he isn’t ironic and faux-edgy enough for the Fair Trade and Soul Patch brigade.  Come to think of it, I’ve never heard Iona, Over The Rhine, or Dirt Poor Robins on K-JOY either.  It’s been two decades since I’ve heard Keith Green, and I haven’t heard Rich Mullins lately, either.  Well, more’s their loss.

Just last year, though, I found out that progressive rock had hit a new high water mark.  While my attention was elsewhere, English progressive rock band Big Big Train released a series of CDs that equal anything Genesis, Yes, or King Crimson was making back in the 70s.  I sampled Big Big Train in the early 2000s, on their CD Gathering Speed, but I wasn’t impressed. On a whim, though, I purchased a download for the EP they issued in 2010,  Far Skies Deep Time.  It was 99 cents.  From the very first track, all the elements were there; the Peter Gabriel-like vocals, the soaring melodies, the elegiac lyrics, and above all the overarching and interpenetrating sense of Englishness.  By the time the EP finished 44 minutes later (of course a prog EP would be 44 minutes long with only 5 songs), I was in tears.  A quick review of some music-oriented websites confirmed my suspicions, progressive rock was roaring back.    Brand new bands with names like Sihouette, Life Line Project, and Fright Pig were making unconscionably great music, and neo-progressive veterans like the Flower Kings, Shamall, The Enid, RWPL, and Glass Hammer were making the best music they had ever made.   One enthusiastic  critic  called 2012 the best year in progressive rock ever.

Yet, the resurgence seems to be primarily artistic.  I never hear it on the radio, even on the college station I listen to most often.  They have a progressive rock program but it’s mostly obscure stuff from the 70s with a lot of Frank Zappa-inspired freeform jazz-fusion.   My children’s friends aren’t listening to modern prog rock.  My son  likes Japanese noise artists like Boris or Merzbow, and my daughter is addicted to Korean pop music, which is slightly disturbing considering that K-pop is subsidized by the South Korean government and is a significant export for the South Korean economy.   Maybe all this great music is like Colin Maloy and the Decemberists, who put out the best Jethro Tull album since Heavy Horses.  My son tells me all his friends’ dads like the Decemberists too.  It’s Dad-rock for nostalgic, disaffected dads.   Still, it could be worse.  It’s nice to have the musical universe indulge you one last time.

PS – If The Decemberists’ The Crane Wife is the best Jethro Tull album since Heavy Horses, then Big Big Train’s The Underfall Yard is the best Genesis album since Wind And Wuthering, and it just gets better and better  Just sayin’.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent for Western Christians.   Eastern Christians have been celebrating Lent since Monday, known as Clean Monday.

My head is a little dizzy, but my body feels strangely light and responsive.   It is a good time to pray:

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despondency, lust for power and idle talk.
But grant unto me, Thy servant, a spirit of chastity (integrity), humility, patience and love.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to judge my brother. For blessed art Thou unto the ages. Amen.

May it be so with us.

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 11.37.41 AMTolkien proposed to the love of his life, Edith Bratt, as soon as he was legally able to do so; at midnight on his 21st birthday.   They married three years later and remained married until her death in 1971.  They had four children.  Looking for references to sex in Tolkien’s Legendarium is a tedious task for those accustomed to  modern salaciousness.  The Elves and Men in his narratives are monogamous and well-behaved, seeking glory on the battlefield rather than in the boudoir.  

CS Lewis was a celibate academic until late in life.  My suspicion is that “Jack” Lewis had something of a thing for the ‘Bad Girl’.  It surfaces from time to time in his fiction (most transparently in The Magician’s Nephew), and I certainly think Joy Davidson scratched that itch admirably.

Owen Barfield married the beautiful and gracious Maud Douie.  They had two children of their own and fostered a third.  His devotion to Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy was a thorn in her side throughout their lives together.  Barfield is interesting in that he contemplates sex in his philosophical works at a time when the Sexual Revolution of the 60s and the 70s was just beginning to gather momentum, and he already had the advantage of a long memory and could discern it in seminis in the works of Swinburne and Lawrence.

Charles Williams, among the Inklings, is the most interested in developing a theology of sex, erotic love, and marriage.  According to many, he is not a pristine fountain from which to draw water;  his own marriage was troubled, he had dalliances with younger women who were drawn to his circle, and he held some heterodox opinions about the role of sex in the Early Church.

Nevertheless, Williams remains almost alone among Christian thinkers in investigating erotic desire from a theological perspective.  This essay of his I  lifted from a copyrighted sources which I believe is either out of print or so obscurely marketed as to amount to the same thing.  I reproduce it here for the benefit of Williams fans and other people who may find it useful.  It pulls together several strands in his thinking; the hermetical or occult, the Poetical, and the Christian.  It is a remarkable essay and a true tour-de-force.


From the ‘Dublin Review,’ July 1942

IN the Prelude (book viii, 11.279-81) Wordsworth wrote:

the human form

To me became an index of delight, 

Of grace and honour, power and worthiness.

The most important word there is index. There are moments in all poetry when the reader has to ask himself whether a word used by the poet is accurate not only for the poet’s universe but for the reader’s own. It is a secondary decision, since the first must be only of the poetic value, but it is sometimes important. That is so here; the word index, pressed to its literal meaning, is a word which demands attention, and afterwards assent or dissent.

It is true that Wordsworth himself did not develop the idea; he is speaking generally, and in other passages his genius suggests that the index is to a volume written in a strange language. This is no weakness in Wordsworth; it was, on one side, his particular business.  Thus the image of the Leech-Gatherer in Resolution and Independence is drawn at least as inhuman as human; so is the Soldier in Book IV of the Prelude who is the cause of such terror, and the other wanderers; the woman with the pitcher, and even Lucy Gray, are of the same kind. They are on the borders of two worlds, which almost pass and repass into each other. Wordsworth, of all the Romantics, came nearest to defining and mapping that border-land.

There are, of course, also his more exclusively human figures- Michael, for instance, in the poem of that name. Here the human form suggests to him the grandeur of the moral virtues; it is the suffering and labouring spirit of man which he sees. That may have been what he had chiefly in mind in the passage I have quoted: man as ‘a solitary object and sublime’, but man also ‘with the most common; husband, father’, who

suffered with the rest

From vice and folly, wretchedness and fear.

But the passage is capable of another reading, and one which proposes to us a real, if less usual, sequence. It is that reading which I wish now to discuss, and the word index is the beginning. The question proposed is whether we shall take that word seriously as a statement of the relation of the human form to.’grace and honour, power and worthiness’. The human form meant, to Wordsworth, the shape of the shepherd seen among the hills. There it was high and distant.  It was a whole being significant of a greater whole-which is, in some sense, the definition of objects seen romantically. But the lines might be applied to the same shape, seen near at hand and analytically. They might refer to the body itself; it is that which can be considered as an index.

What then would be meant by the word? Nothing but itself. An index is a list of various subjects, with reference to those places where, in the text of the volume, they are treated at greater length.  But, at least, the words naming the subjects are the same; and a really good index will give some idea of the particular kind of treatment offered on the separate pages. Some such idea, Wordsworth’s lines suggest, the body and even the members of the body may give of the delight, grace, honour, power, and worthiness of man’s structure. The structure of the body is an index to the structure of a greater whole.

I am anxious not to use words which seem too much to separate the physical structure from the whole. The fact of death, and the ensuing separation of ‘body’ and ‘soul’, lead us to consider them too much as separate identities conjoined. But I hope it is not unorthodox to say that body and soul are one identity, and that all our inevitable but unfortunate verbal distinctions are therefore something less than true. Death has been regarded by the Christian Church as an outrage-a necessary outrage, perhaps, but still an outrage. It has been held to be an improper and grotesque schism in a single identity-to which submission, but not consent, is to be offered; a thing, like sin, that ought not to be and yet is. The distress of our Lord in His Passion may perhaps not improperly be supposed to be due to His contemplation of this all but inconceivable schism in His own sacred and single identity. If our manhoods were from the first meant indivisibly, how much more His!

It is one of the intellectual results of the Fall that our language has always to speak in terms of the Fall; and that we cannot help our language does not make it any more true. The epigrams of saints, doctors, and poets, are the nearest we can go to the recovery of that ancient validity, our unfallen speech. To treat the body as an index is to assume that, as in an index the verbal element-the word given-is the same as in the whole text, so in the physical structure of the greater index the element-the quality given-is the same as in the whole structure. Another poet, Patmore, put the thing in a similar light when he wrote that

from the graced decorum of the hair,

Ev’n to the tingling sweet

Soles of the simple earth-confiding feet

And from the inmost heart

Outwards unto the thin

Silk curtains of the skin,

Every least part

Astonish’d hears


‘The spheres’ there are likely to mean, first, the outer heavens. This idea is practically that of the microcosm and the macrocosm: the idea that a man is a small replica of the universe. Man was ‘the workshop of all things’, ‘a little world’, mundus minor exemplum majoris mundi ordine, filius totius mundi. It is a very ancient idea; it was held before Christianity and has been held during Christianity; it was common to Christians, Jews, and Mohammedans; and, for all I know, the scientific hypothesis of evolution bears a relation to the union of the two. Into that, however, I am not learned enough to go. The idea went through many changes, but its general principle remained constant: that man was the rational epitome of the universe. It led, of course, to many absurdities, and (if you choose like any other idea) to some evils. Some writers catalogued painstakingly the more obvious fantasies: hair was the grass or the forests; bones were mountains; the sun was the eyes, and so on. Astrology, if not based on it, at least found the idea convenient; however we may reject that ancient study, it had at least this philosophic principle mixed up with it-that each man, being unique, was a unique image of the universe, that the spatially Dante_and_beatricegreater affected the spatially lesser, and the calculable influences of the stars were only calculable because each man represented and reproduced the whole. Astrology then was a high and learned science; it was forbidden for good reasons, but it was not fatalistic. It did not say ‘this will certainly happen’; it said: ‘Given these stellar and individual relations, this result is likely.’ But the will of God and the wills of men were allowed much freedom to interfere with the result.  Sapiens dominabitur astris. The paragraphs in our papers today bear as much resemblance to the science as texts lifted up on boards outside churches do to the whole dogmas of the Church. The paragraphs are, I allow, more likely to harm; the texts, on the whole, are innocuous.

Beside, or rather along with, this study went the patterns of other occult schools. The word ‘occult’ has come into general use, and is convenient, if no moral sense is given it simply as itself. It deals with hidden things, and their investigation. But in this case we are concerned not so much with the pretended operations of those occult schools as with a certain imagination of relation in the universe, and that only to pass beyond it. The signs of the Zodiac were, according to some students, related to the parts of the physical body. The particular attributions varied, and all were in many respects arbitrary. But some of them were extremely suggestive; they may be allowed at least a kind of authentic poetic vision. Thus, in one pattern, the house of the Water-carrier was referred to the eyes; the house of the Twins to the arms and hands; the house of the Scorpion to the privy parts and the sexual organs; and the house of the Balances to the buttocks.

It will be clear that these four attributions at least had a great significance. It will be clear also that in such a poetic (so to call it) imagination, we are dealing with a kind of macrocosmic-rnicrocosmic union of a more serious and more profitable kind than the mere exposition by a debased astrology of chances in a man’s personal life.  It may be invention, but if so, it is great invention; the houses of the Zodiac, with their special influences ruling in special divisions of the spatial universe, may be but the fables of astronomy; it must be admitted that few certain facts support them. But they are not unworthy fables. They direct attention to the principles at work both in the spatial heavens and in the structure of man’s body. Aquarius is for water, clarity, vision; Gemini are for a plural motion, activity, and achievement; Libra is for that true strength of balance on which the structure of man depends.

With this suggestion, we are on the point of deserting the spatial heavens for something else. The like regions of the spheres, of which Patmore spoke, here begin to be transferred to the spiritual heavens. ‘As above, so below’ ran the old maxim, but even that dichotomy is doubtful. The houses of the Zodiac, in this, do but confuse the issue, except in so far as they, like the whole universe, exhibit the mystery by which spirit becomes flesh, without losing spirit. Perhaps the best verbal example is in the common use of the word ‘heart’. Even in our common speech the word is ambiguous. To call Hitler heartless means that he seems to be without the common principle of compassion. It is said that Tertullian (but I have not found the reference) said that ‘the supreme principle of intelligence and vitality’, ‘the sovereign faculty’ of man, resided ‘where the Egyptians taught- Namque bomini sanguis circumcordialis est sensus, the sense of man is in the blood around the heart’. At least the pulsating organ presents, for man, his proper physical rhythm in the whole mundus minor exemplum majoris mundi ordine. As our meaning – physical life or compassionate life – so the word heart. Compassion is the union of man with his fellows, as is the blood. The permitted devotion to the Sacred Heart is to the source of both. The physical heart is, in this sense, an ‘index’ to both. Gerard Hopkins wrote, of the Blessed Virgin:


If I have understood

She holds high motherhood

Towards all our ghostly good

And plays in grace her part

About man’s beating heart,

Laying, like air’s fine flood,

The death dance in his blood;

Yet no part but what will

Be Christ our Saviour still.

The visionary forms of the occult schools are but dreams of the Divine Body. All these brief allusions show that there have been some traditions of significance-poetic, occult, religious. Christians, however, may be permitted to press the significance more closely; they may be allowed to ask whether the body is not indeed a living epigram of virtue. There have been doctors who held that Christ would not have become incarnate if man had not sinned; there have been doctors who held that He would. Either way, it is clear that the Sacred Body was itself virtue. The same qualities that made His adorable soul made boorstinHis adorable flesh. If the devotion to the Sacred Heart does not, in itself, imply something of the sort, I do not know what it does imply. The virtues are both spiritual and physical – or rather they are expressed in those two categories. This is recognized in what are regarded as the more ‘noble’ members in the body-the heart, the eyes. But it is not so often recognized as a truth underlying all the members-the stomach, the buttocks. That is partly because we have too long equated the body as such with the ‘flesh’ of St. Paul. But ‘flesh’ is no more that than (as Mgr. Knox pointed out recently in the Tablet) it is ‘sex’. The body was holily created, is holily redeemed, and is to be holily raised from the dead. It is, in fact, for all our difficulties with it, less fallen, merely in itself, than the soul in which the quality of the will is held to reside; for it was a sin of the will which degraded us. ‘The evidence of things not seen’ is in the body seen as this epigram; nay, in some sense, even ‘the substance of things hoped for’, for what part it has in that substance remains to it unspoiled.

It is in this sense then that the body is indeed an ‘index’ to delight, power, and the rest. ‘Who conceives’, wrote Prior,

‘Who conceives, what bards devise,

That heaven is placed in Celia’s eyes?’


Well, no; not so simply as that. But Celia’s eyes are a part of the body which (said Patmore, who was orthodox enough)

Astonish’d hears

And sweet replies to some like region of the spheres.

And those spheres are not merely the old spatial macro cosmic heavens, but the deep heaven of our inner being. The discernment of pure goodwill, of (let it be said for a moment) pure love in Celia’s eyes, at some high moment of radiant interchange or indeed at any other moment, is no less part of the heavenly vision (so tiny and remote as it may be) because it is a physical as well as a spiritual vision. The word ‘sacramental’ has perhaps here served us a little less than well; it has, in popular usage, suggested rather the spiritual using the physical than a common-say, a single-operation.

Eyes then are compacted power; they are an index of vision; they see and refer us to greater seeing. Nor has the stomach a less noble office. It digests food; that is, in its own particular method, it deals with the nourishment offered by the universe. It is a physical formula of that health which destroys certain elements-the bacteria which harmfully approach us. By it we learn to consume; by it therefore to be, in turn, consumed. So even with those poor despised things, the buttocks. There is no seated figure, no image of any seated figure, which does not rely on them for its strength and balance. They are at the bottom of the sober dignity of judges; the grace of a throned woman; the hierarchical session of the Pope himself reposes on them: into even greater images and phrases we need not now go.

It will be thought I labour the obvious; and I will not go through the physical structure suggesting and propounding identities. The point will have been sufficiently made if the sense of that structure being heavenly not by a mere likeness but in its own proper nature is achieved. It is a point not so much of doctrine as of imagination.  That imagination is at once individual and social. The temples of the Holy Ghost are constructed all on one plan: and our duties to our material fellows are duties to structures of beatitude. The relation of the Incarnation to our own mode of generation is blessedly veiled.  But its relation to those other identities of power is not at all doubtful. It is not only physical structures we neglect or damage by our social evils; it is living indexes of life. The Virtues exist in all of them materially, but it is the Virtues which so exist.  Christ, in some sense, derived His flesh from them, for He derived it from His Mother, and she from her ancestors, and they from all mankind.

The Sacred Body is the plan upon which physical human creation was built, for it is the centre of physical human creation. The great dreams of the human form as including the whole universe are in this less than the truth. As His, so ours; the body, in this sense of an index, is also a pattern. We carry about with us an operative synthesis of the Virtues; and it may be held that when we fall in love (for example), we fall in love precisely with the operative synthesis.

Grace was in all her steps, heaven in her eye;

In every gesture dignity and love;


Is much more a definite statement of fact than we had supposed; footsteps are astonishing movements of grace. That we cannot properly direct and control our sensations and emotions is not surprising; butparadiso-761559 the greatness of man is written even in his incapacity, and when he sins he sins because of a vision which, even though clouded, is great and ultimate. As every heresy is a truth pushed disproportionately, so with every sin; at least, with every physical sin.  But, however in those states of ‘falling in love’ the vision of a patterned universe is revealed to us, the revelation vanishes, and we are left to study it slowly, heavily, and painfully. All that the present essay attempts to do is to present a point of view which has behind it, one way and another, a great tradition-a tradition which, for Christians, directs particular attention to the Sacred Body as the Archtype of all bodies. In this sense the Eucharist exposes also its value. The ‘index’ of our bodies, the incarnate qualities of the moral universe, receive the Archtype of all moralities truly incarnated; and not only the pattern in the soul and will but the pattern in the body is renewed. Or, better, in that unity which we, under the influence of our Greek culture, divide into soul and body. ‘Socrates’, Dr. William Ellis writes, ‘invented the concept which permeates every part of modern thinking, the concept of the twofold nature of man, of man as a union of the active, or spiritual, with the inactive, or corporeal; the concept, in short, of the organism as a dead carcass activated  by a living ghost. Even if we repudiate this idea, we are still half-dominated by it, so deeply does it underlie our pattern of culture.’  I am far from suggesting that this is the proper Christian view. But there is, I think, no doubt that it is not far from the popular Christian view. The fuss that has been made about Browning’s line (not that that was Browning’s fault)-‘nor soul helps flesh more now than flesh helps souI’-shows that. It was repeated almost as a new revelation, though indeed the Lady Julian had said almost the same thing centuries before. We have to overcome that lazy habit of the imagination-the outrage of death notwithstanding. We experience, physically, in its proper mode, the Kingdom of God: the imperial structure of the body carries its own high doctrines-of vision, of digestion of mysteries, of balance, of movement, of operation. ‘That soul’, said Dante in the Convivio, ‘which embraces all these powers [the rational, the sensitive, and the vegetative] is the most perfect of all the rest.’ The rational, or self-conscious, power is indeed the noblest, but we must ask from it a complete self-consciousness, and not a self-consciousness in schism.

It was suggested that the stress of this imagination may be an incentive to our social revolution. For if the body of our neighbor is compact of these heavenly qualities, incarnated influences, then we are indeed neglecting the actual Kingdom of God in neglecting it. It is the living type of the Arch-typal. We have not merely to obey a remote moral law in feeding and succouring and sheltering it. It is the ‘index’ of power; tear away the index, and we are left without the power; tear away the index, and we are left without the delight. Let the whole to which that index witnesses be as immense as any volume of truth may be, and still the value of that small substance remains. Every student of a learned work uses the index attentively. A good index can indeed be studied in itself.   To study the body so is to increase our preparation for the whole great text.


The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan


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