Archive for September, 2009|Monthly archive page

Nicolas Berdyaev & Our Natural Fear of Mysticism

In Christian mysticism on September 30, 2009 at 4:32 pm

This seems to be so very true…

“We are always surrounded by an infinite world of which we are extremely afraid because we are unable to bear the vision of it, and we defend ourselves against this ‘redoubtable infinite’ by a certain deafness and blindness. We are so afraid of being blinded and deafened by our contact with it that we try to oppose it, partly by imposing on it certain rigid limitations, and partly by our own inertia; and surely nothing but fire from Heaven can melt such hardness.”

–Nicolas Berdyaev, from Freedom and the Spirit, 1935

The Values of the Middle Ages–Naive?

In Catholic imagination, G. K. Chesterton on September 30, 2009 at 2:41 pm

No, not at all, and Stratford Caldecott makes the case very convincingly in a new article on Godspy. Well worth reading! (Wish I had written it myself!)

R. Crumb’s The Book of Genesis: Illustrated

In Spiritual practice, Strange religious customs on September 28, 2009 at 10:11 pm

R. Crumb’s new Genesis: Illustrated is more fascinating all the time. (It formally releases in three weeks.)

In a new interview just published, Crumb says that he actually hates the Bible, can’t believe that people still believe all of its nonsense, and yet, he spent four years working on this project?


More later on how Crumb’s book relates to the history of illustrating Scripture.

Fasting with Jewish Friends Today

In meaning of death/life, Monastic spirituality, Spiritual practice on September 28, 2009 at 2:30 am

I am now in the midst of the Yom Kippur fast, in solidarity with some good Jewish friends. This lasts from sundown today until sundown tomorrow, or, less literally: from the start of tonight’s service (which I attended in Montpelier Vermont) until sundown tomorrow. A Jewish fast means no food and no liquid, which is different from most Christian fasts, which usually involve food only. In this case, for about 25 hours.

I love the Kol Nidre prayer that is the central portion of tonight’s service. Listen to the tune that makes it much-loved in the Jewish world. (Just scroll about half way down the page of this link…)

The language of the Yom Kippur liturgy should make good spiritual sense to a contemplative Christian. We, too, live in hope of God’s forgiveness, and we, too, need to return to God again and again in repentance.

The Myth of Francis and Clare as Lovers

In Clare of Assisi, Francis of Assisi on September 24, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Did you know that the idea of Francis and Clare of Assisi being lovers is nonexistent in any of the early stories about them? It’s a myth that basically began in the 1970s with Franco Zeffirelli‘s saccharine film (very much a product of the early 1970s!), Brother Sun, Sister Moon, first released in 1972.

Zeffirelli got many of his notions from Nikos Kazantzakis’s great novel (great, even though he messes around with this aspect of the story, probably to satisfy his own lusty ideas of what was reasonable and possible in a human being), Saint Francis, first published in 1953.

Congrats to Uwem Akpan!

In Catholic imagination, meaning of death/life, The Catholic Church--meaning of on September 19, 2009 at 2:55 pm

The Nigerian-born, Jesuit-priest, author has just become Oprah’s latest book pick–for his first collection of short stories: Say You’re One of Them. It couldn’t happen to a nicer man, and the money (believe me, this will result in a couple of million dollars for the author) couldn’t go to better uses, as Uwem is back in Africa serving as a parish priest!

Here’s the interview that I did with Uwem Akpan last year for

“to change” –Cistercian sign language

In Catholic imagination, Monastic spirituality on September 19, 2009 at 2:26 am

to change

“place open hands in front of the chest with palms facing inward, then pass one over the other alternately”

A Dictionary of the Cistercian Sign Language

Cistercian Sign Language

In Catholic imagination, Monastic spirituality on September 17, 2009 at 10:56 pm

I love Cistercian sign language, although Trappists no longer use it in the monastery today.

Trappists still live by a principle of silence, although it is not as strict as it once was. The young Thomas Merton wrote with enthusiasm for the austerities of silence in the 1940s: “Life in these monasteries is austere. In fact, when you compare it with the way people live in the world outside, the austerity is fantastic.” (The Waters of Siloe) Centuries earlier, Cistercian monks developed a sign language all their own, derived from practices in other monastic orders, using hand signs in place of words in both formal and more casual situations. “Eat” was demonstrated by pretending to place something in your mouth. “Mass,” by the priestly gesture of breaking the bread. And more mundane, a brother would ask another brother if he wanted coffee by placing the first two fingers of the right hand onto the wrist of the left hand, as if he was checking his pulse. Other excerpts of Cistercian sign language may be found at the heading of each chapter in my new book, Cloister Talks.

Clare and Common Mystics

In Christian mysticism, Clare of Assisi on September 16, 2009 at 2:01 am

The mystic is as uncommon in Christianity today as it was in Clare of Assisi’s day. But the goals of the mystic are the goals of normal faith, even when they are expressed in language that is more vivid and pictorial than we might normally be accustomed to.

In the last century, Teilhard de Chardin once prayed “When you stretched out nets to imprison me…thrilled with greater joy than when you offered me wings….the only element I hanker after in your gifts is the fragrance of your power over me, and the touch of your hand upon me….what exhilarates us human creatures more than freedom…is the joy of finding and surrendering…the rapture of being possessed.” (The Prayer of the Universe) Such is the mystical goal of any Christian, and it fairly represents how Clare of Assisi felt about Jesus.

James Ensor at MOMA

In Christian mysticism, meaning of death/life on September 12, 2009 at 2:47 pm

There are only nine days left to see the incredible James Ensor exhibit at MOMA. You can also see most all of it on-line, if you live nowhere near NYC.

Here’s my review from “America.”


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