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Thursday, May 30, 2013

"On Longing for Death"....

is a poem written by The Maestro, who has been so gracious as to allow me to post it here. It is a very thought-provoking reflection about the yearnings we have in this life, and how they are only a small taste of what exists in the next life. The poetry has excellent fluidity, as well...I am really impressed!

P.S. This is ironic, but I believe the blogger over at New Sherwood who publicized and spread abroad my Robin Hood piece last year is The Maestro's father! What go's around come's around, for it's a small blogosphere, after all...;-)

On Longing for Death

Each night I sleep, my body to restore,
Yet morning rise, as weary as before.
The day renewed, such newness life has not:
Each day is with the same despondence fraught.

Down on my knees I pray my daily prayer;
Yet, with it, consolation is but rare.
My faith is threatened at its very root,
And in my heart arises grave dispute.

My duties I perform mechanically,
A mere observance of necessity.
Success comes not with pleasure nor delight,
But only adds unto this wretched plight.

In health or illness, burdens never cease,
In rest or labor, never have I peace.
Alas, this life holds no true joy for me,
But ‘tis a tank of parched aridity.

What goodness that there is upon this earth,
Whatever hath true beauty or true worth;
Such things have little joy for me in store,
But only stir a want for something more.

If life holds not for me what my heart craves,
What left is there for me except the grave?
If troubles haunt me at my every breath,
Why should I not desire the sting of death?

Ah, death, thou door to blissful liberty!
To many minds thou art a penalty,
A defect that our nature must endure –
But nay, to me, thou art a needed cure!

A man might think of death and cower in fear:
Yet ‘tis the only thought that gives me cheer.
For death provides for me the sole relief
From all this world of sorrow and of grief.

In death I am released from this dread cage,
And sundry sorrows finally assuaged.
In death my soul at last can fly away
And free itself from life’s monotonous ways.

But lo! For all my grief-filled heart’s desire,
There is a settled time I must expire.
This time alone may I my death expect,
Or death itself will lose its sweet effect.

Till then, I must in waiting persevere,
For not in vain hath Fortune placed me here,
But that I may my duties well perform,
And brave the agitation of the storm.

Unless I do what God hath had in mind,
Then even death itself will not be kind.
Unless I act in concert with God’s grace,
I shall not ever look upon His face.

"Ah, death, thou door to blissful liberty!"

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Being of opposite genders.......

often proves to be a barrier between people who would otherwise make good friends. There's an overemphasis on the possibility of "romance" between male and female which serves to crush the natural flow of friendship between one human being and another. The fear and nervous energy built up around an epic "encounter" makes some people behave like zombies, or like actors on a stage, or like cads and slinks pursuing one another in animalistic fashion.

     As a girl, I find it somewhat challenging to make and maintain friendships with males (save a handful of special exceptions), mostly because of the way they react to me as a female. They either put on some kind of show, or go silent, or give a synthetic sort of attention that makes one feel used. I think one of the main problems is that the boys tend to view the girls more as "females" than as human beings who are seeking sincere relationships and to be treated with kindness and respect. We don't want to be patronized. We don't want to be treated like fluffy little pets to be patted on the head and dismissed with a kick. There is such a thing as social graces and polite conversation without phoniness.

     I have no doubt that males have a different role to play in the world than females, but we are both equals. It may be their job to be the strong, protective types, and ours to be the tender, nurturing types (and I have no problem with that!), but both of us are called by God to be loving to everyone, no matter what their color, creed, or gender. We're not supposed to use each other, either in a physical or in an emotional way. Certainly, no form of human love is perfect, but we are supposed to try to grow in love through Our Lord Jesus Christ. That is our call as Catholics, as Christians, and as human beings. As Pope Francis recently stated (causing a rather bizarre flare of overreaction), all human beings were redeemed by Christ on the Cross, and we are all called "to do good."

    Of course, the different meanings of the word "love" are bound to get easilly entangled and hopelessly confused over the course of our lives. What we mean when we say we "love" someone is sometimes hard to define all at once. Sometimes we just enjoy their company and like being with them. We share our hearts, bear one another's burdens, and enter into one of the greatest gifts God has given to man: true friendship. This type of love should never underrated as "below" romantic love. On the contrary, friendship should come before any type of romance can even get off the ground. But obviously not all friendships between men and women end in vowing to hitch up "till death do us part." It doesn't mean that anything is wrong with the friendship; it just means that romance hasn't grown out of it.

    However, male/female friendship often becomes increasingly strained when romance is found elsewhere. For example, if a young man and a young woman are friends, but then one of them or both of them get "steady" significant others, can they still remain friends with each other without ruining their newfound romances? I believe so. Sadly, too often those who get "steadies" will feel pressured to abandon all forms of friendship with those of the opposite gender for fear that it should be taken as a romance, or that they will "lead on" the other party. But I think most of this beating around the bush/friend-dumping causes more pain than simply making it clear that no romance exists between you and the friend. If that friend can abide by the arrangement, then treat them as you always have, as a person of worth who you are glad to have as at least a small part of your life. You may both go off marry other people and still remain friends with each other, even introducing each other to your respective fiances/spouses!
     Now, clearly the movements of the heart are hard to put into a box. It's only natural that romantic relationships that have the potential of turning into marital relationships should take precedence over friendship relationships, and much less time will be put towards the former than previously. Furthermore, the Eternal Triangle cannot always be avoided, and sometimes friendships that had hints of romance in them can become dangerous in some delicate circumstances and must be broken off. But I'd say it's only fair to give the friend the benefit of being the bigger man/woman and to"descend to be only a friend", as opposed to leaving him/her flat with no explanation and making him/her feel like a plague victim! Besides, some friends never even have any romantic thoughts towards you in the first place, the ditching them because of gender is really just being petty. 

    Naturally, friendship problems don't just occur in male/female dynamics. Friends of the same gender can be randomly hot-and-cold for unexplained reasons, proving themselves to be not very good friends at all. They need prayers, because they need to grow in spiritual maturity in order to learn how to become a true friend. Friends will always offend each other sometimes, and I have no doubt I have done so repeatedly in the past. In fact, if any friends who feel I have offended them are reading this, I wish to ask their forgiveness for my failings now. Equally so, I forgive them for any ways they may have hurt me, and pray that our friendship may remain true-hearted. It is a rare and priceless thing. The Holy Bible sums it up thus in the Book of Sirach 6:5–17:

"A kind mouth multiplies friends,
and gracious lips prompt friendly greetings.

Let your acquaintances be many,
but one in a thousand your confidant.

When you gain a friend, first test him,
and be not too ready to trust him

For one sort of friend is a friend when it suits him,
but he will not be with you in time of distress.

Another is a friend who becomes an enemy,
and tells of the quarrel to your shame.

Another is a friend, a boon companion,
who will not be with you when sorrow comes.

When things go well, he is your other self,
and lords it over your servants;

But if you are brought low,
he turns against you and avoids meeting you.

Keep away from your enemies;
be on your guard with your friends.

A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter;
he who finds one finds a treasure.

A faithful friend is beyond price,
no sum can balance his worth.

A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy,
such as he who fears God finds;

For he who fears God behaves accordingly,
and his friend will be like himself."

"A Faithful Friend"

Two Saints of the "Angles turned Angels".....

share a feast day on May 26. One was the "Father of English History", and the other was the one who spread Christianity throughout England and whose exploits were documented by the former! Do read on:

St. Bede the Venerable

    Bede was born in the 7th century near present-day Newcaslte, England. His family seems to have been of comfortably well-to-do Saxon stock, and at age seven the lad was sent to be educated at the monestary of Monkwearmouth. Like the Celtic peoples, it seems likely that sending young children to be reared in "foster home" settings was the norm of the elite. Bede was evebtyakkt transferred to Monkwearmouth's sister monestary in Jarrow, a place where he would make his permanent home. Four years after arriving, the plague broke out, and only the teen-aged Bede and another surviving monk at Jarrow were capable of singing the full offices. The near brush with death was a close call for the history of English historical documentation! Bede became a deacon at age 19, and was ordained a priest at age 30. Shortly before his ordaination, he began to write his first works, the De Arte Metrica and De Schematibus et Tropis, to be used in a class-room setting.

    Over the course of his life, he went on to write some 60 books, most of which are still preserved today and serve as an invaluable chronicle of early England and Christinity in the Dark Ages. One of his most famous works is Historia Ecclesiastica, a History of the English Church and People. Replete with anecdotes, legends, and pain-stakingly well-documented view of early history, Bede wrote it to show the growth and unity of the Church in England, as well as the development and gradual unification of the English people. He also was the first one to coin A.D./B.C. as a way of marking history from a Christological perspective. While his writing is often colored with local bias and personal opinonion, his efforst gained him the title "Father of English History." Bede died at Jarrow on May 26, 735 AD. He was made the only English Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII.

St. Augustine of Canterbury

    Augustine was the prior of monestary in Rome who was chosen by Pope Gregory the Great to embark on a missionary expedition to England in 597. According to legend, the Pope first became interested in converting the Germanic tribes who had settled in Britain in the wake of Rome's withdrawal when he saw two handsome boys being sold at a slave market. Gregory inquired what race they came from. The slave-dealer replied that they were Angles. "Not Angles, but angels," quipped Gregory, "for someday they shall sing praises to God in Heaven." One way or another, Gregory couldn't get the fair-haired people out of his head or heart, and the mission was on. Augustine and his companions started across Europe, reaching Gaul and being regaled by tales of how barbaric the Anglo-Saxons could be. Feeling a little green, Augustine wrote and appeal to the pope to quit while they were ahead. Gregory would have none of it.
    Eventually the intrepid missionaries landed in Kent, where King Ethelbert and his French Christian wife, Queen Bertha. Although the king was at first suspicious, standing under a huge oak tree to protect himself from "Christian magic", he eventually agreed to allow Augustine and his followers to set up camp in Kent and go about their missionary endeavors in peace. Eventually, the king himself converted, starting a mass conversion of his people to Christianity. Augustine established his first episcopal see at Canterbury and was consecrated as its first bishop. He went on to establish two more bishoprics, one in London and one in Rochester. Pagan temples were consecrated for Christian worship, and pagan festivals were reinvented to incorporate Christian meanings, helping to create the culturally rich liturgical calendar we have today. Augustine died on May 26, 604 A.D. His willingness to overcome his own weakness and face the unknown unleashed a missionary fervor that spread throughout England with all the gusto that Pope Gregory had so ardently desired.

St. Bede and St. Augustine, Ora pro nobis!!!

Venerable Bede

St. Augustine of Canterbury

Monday, May 20, 2013

"The Voice of a Kingdom"...

started out as a poem in honor of the British accents I've fallen in love with through the TV or over the phone! However, by the end, it became something of a retort to the anti-British sentiments of one of my uncles who I saw for the first time in almost nine years during our NJ trip for my grandmother's funeral. Also, it reflects my own emotional connection to the UK, and guesses at the meaning of a prediction made by a priest before I was born. Forgive me if the following comes off as overly sentimental or disjointed! It was just one of those things I felt the need to express on paper...

The Voice of a Kingdom

They ask me why I love this land,
Then mock me for my lack of words;
How can I define such a mystic thing,
Bound by a cord that cannot be traced,
Swelling in my soul like the twilight tides,
Chanted by a people I have never seen?

Her voice is ruby-rich and ocean-deep,
Befitting a kingdom with hard-hewn ways,
Formed in fighting for a way of life
Where freedom and law hold balanced sway,
Rooted in the old, yet blooming anew,
Using head and heart to dare and dream

Her past is glory-gold and bitter-black,
Blazing passion and lashing pain,
With stiff-lipped courage and pompous pride
That won an empire but wounded the weak,
Hiding truth behind good intentions
And cursing herself with the stain of sin

But her children rose to their better selves,
Battling tyrants without and within;
From nobles to commons they voiced their minds
And bold, unbending nerve displayed,
For their fathers had signed at Runnymede,
And slammed grand doors in a messenger’s face


Humility shielding a brilliant thought,
So simply expressed, yet deeply profound,
Spoken in tones of warmth and frankness,
Clear and lilting, like silver whistle notes,
Drifting to earth like clean, crisp snow flakes,
Covering dark soil with a cloak of white

Searing words from sarcastic tongues
When a challenge is made and the fight is on,
Opponents striking with wit and wile,
With harsh tones clashing like unsheathed swords,
Echoing through venerable, hallowed halls
And rousing pale ghosts from picture frames

A voice uplifted in a jaunty song
Of ship and sail and a lust for life
Or easing into a slow, sorrowful ballad
Of lovers parted by the veil of death,
Rising in the night like mist on the mountains,
Mingling with the fiddles and the pounding drums

A haunting wail in the midst of war,
As the red gore flows and the souls are judged,
Scorning the sting of cold steel and hot lead,
Piercing men’s hearts and bidding them fight,
Stirring the blood through the breath of the piper,
Settling on the ground like thick morning fog

A ringing bell in the London air,
Keeping the time and pacing the pulse
Of a city as intricate as its streets are tangled;
Or a stag in the moors making his moan,
Bellowing like a horn of the early nomads,
Weaving through stones that encircled stand


I’m caught by an ancient magnetic pull,
With an ocean to cross and a people to reach,
As a wayfaring pilgrim, youthful, untried,
Called by a voice of a kingdom and land,
Waiting for the time, like the prophets of old,
When my mission is ready and the harvest is ripe

I know I must go, or reach out a hand,
Since before I was born, I was meant for the quest,
How can one define such a mystic thing,
Bound by a rope that burns like fire,
Blowing through my soul like a heavy gale,
Beckoned by a people I have yet to see?

"Drifting to earth like clean, crisp snowflakes....."

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Tolkien Party and the Talent Show....

were both memorable events from back in January that most you have heard me mention in passing, but never got the whole story! Hence, though it be late in the spring season, I shall endeavor to relay the happenings here……

    My friend J. had thrown many a Tolkien-themed party in the past, but since I had never watched the films or read the books, she had never thought to invite me. However, when I finally did watch the trilogy, the fringe benefits included the chance to be invited to one of the fan-girl/boys get-togethers. Although I’m not a fan (certainly not to my friend’s level, at least!), I do enjoy parties, especially when cool costumes are involved. And this particular party was designated as one in which everyone could dress as their favorite Tolkien character. Hence, my mom helped me dig out a purple dress, scarlet-brocade belt, and gold-painted plastic sword, and I became Arwen for a day!

     There was one itsy-bitsy problem, however. The purple cape that had originally gone with the dress had been loaned to a friend some years back when we were involved in All Saints Day celebrations at a local Catholic Shrine. Fortunately, we managed to get into contact with her again, and she and her mother very considerately paid for it to be shipped back to us. Being a very active “actress-in-training”, my friend was able to understand well the dilemma of piecing together a costume last-minute! So I dress up for the party, cape and all, and my dad took some marvelous pictures of me.

    So party-time arrived, and dad drove me to my friend’s house. The sign on the door read “For Party Business Only”, in memory of Bilbo Baggins, and I was let in by my friend and her sisters. Three were dressed as hobbits, and one as Galadriel. It was perfect, because she was a blonde, too! As we mused over the fact that our mutual hair-colors both fit our chosen characters very well, a few other interesting personages came to the door, including a knight in home-made armor (who identified himself as a character from one of the rarely-read appendixes), a hooded Black Rider, an Elvin Prince in a bathrobe and a Caesar-like crown! Of course, there were also a few more hobbits to go around :-)

     After dining on cold-cut sandwiches, spicy potato chips, soft pretzels with butter, brownies, leftover Christmas candy, and pumpkin pie with frozen cool whip (I delicacy I had never before tasted!), we all sat around in the living room and played Tolkien trivia games. Admittedly, I couldn’t even begin to keep pace with some of the experts in the room, especially because they were obviously more focused on the books than the films! However, things picked up when everyone started “reenacting” favorite scenes in The Hobbit movie. Even though I’ve never seen it, it was a blast watching everyone trying to imitate it!

    After that several of the boys started singing the dwarf theme from the film, in deep, rich voices that I was quite impressed with. In response, I wound up singing “Edge of Night” from The Return of the King. All singers present got a round of applause from the patient listeners as they munched on the goodies they had snatched form the counter! Before leaving, I nearly tripped over Mr. Knight’s scattered armor that he had stripped off due to near heat exhaustion (!), but fortunately no damage was done to myself or the get-up, and the former wearer promptly started packing up his gear in response to my scolding him from across the room! So ended the ever-memorable Tolkien extravaganza.

    Later on in the month, the Talent Show was held in a town nearby for the benefit of a homeless shelter. I auditioned at a local church building, singing “The Flower of Finnae”. This Irish ballad set in the early 18th century is about a girl named Eileen whose lover, Fergus, had left their native town of Finnae to fight in an Irish regiment within the French Army known as “The Wild Geese”, founded by the Jacobite Irish soldiers expelled from Ireland by King William III. She went to the battlefront in search of him, only to learn that he had been killed in an ill-fated engagement at Flanders. Heart-broken yet still devoted, she remained in the land where he had fallen and entered a Benedictine Convent which housed the battle-flag captured by his regiment before their eventual defeat.

    Several weeks after successfully passing the audition, we went to the rehearsal the night before the actual performance. It was held in a high school auditorium, with excellent acoustics and a state-of-the-art sound system. Really, doing a gig with that set-up could really spoil an amateur musician! But anyway, the assortment of performers was really fascinating. The majority of the contestants were either in their teens or early twenties, but several were middle-aged men, a few were under 13, and the special guest-star (last year’s winner) was a Country/Western singer in his 80’s! The different talents displayed were equally diverse. There were pianists, an organist, a trumpet player, a drummer, a baton twirler, multiple dancers, a small Country band, and numerous singers...Pearl of Tyburn among them, and scheduled to go on as the finale act the next day!

    The following afternoon we returned to the high school where I was ushered back-stage to a waiting room with the other contestants. There, I befriended another soloist who was preparing to sing Dolly Parton’s famous “9 to 5”. She and I chatted, exchanged emails, and went through some warm-up vocal exercises together. Meantime, a tall young gentleman decked out in a 19th century style top hat, frock coat, and elegant boots paced back and forth, sucking on a lemon, and practicing his own rendition of a number from Le Miserables. Also, the Country band was seated behind us, trying to properly synchronize their lead vocal and harmony, and one of the pianists was practicing his selection. A charming young man from a Korean background, he gave me repeated encouragements, telling me that nerves were natural, and if one didn’t feel them, something would be very wrong!

     So time passes, and one by one the contestants are called on stage to do their bit. At last, it was my friend the “9 to 5” vocalist’s turn. After a little while, she returned looking slightly distraught. “What happened?” I inquired concernedly. “My voice cracked,” she admitted. I knew the feeling all to well. The catastrophe at Bay City remained fresh in my mind, and I was well aware of the sickening sensation that settles in when things go dreadfully wrong in mid-performance. I gave her what encouragement that I could, and indeed I have no doubt she will make good. She has since told me that she won a prize at another recent contest and plans on entering a contest to get the chance to sing at the largest annual BBQ in the USA! She plans on going into music therapy for a career.

    Anyway, my turn came at the end, and I was called out on stage. I was nervous; I hadn’t sung in front of that many people in a long while, and I shifted about on stage quite a bit (as revealed in the video recording of the event!). After giving a brief explanation of the song and dedicating to my late grandmother of Irish ancestry, I waited for the music to come on. Again, I couldn’t help but be amazed at how beautiful it sounded over those sweeeeet speakers, and I couldn’t help but get excited by the way my voice carried on those marvelous mics! It’s always hard to balance vocal clarity with emotion, but I tried, and I think it went reasonably well. It was fun to hear the applause of that many people, anyway! In the end, the highly-talented organist won the contest and generously donated the prize money to the homeless shelter. My friend the pianist, the drummer boy, and the top-hat chap were placed as well.

    All in all, I’m glad to have been a part of the community conviviality the broke up a difficult and drear winter, and I’ll you posted on other musical and social events yours truly takes part in!

My Costume Inspiration - Liv Tylor as Arwen

The (Generic) Talent Show Curtain Rises!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Texas Road-House Special.....

meaning, a few special treats from the pen of Mack the Magnificient! The first is about Russian Orthodox Easter; the other is about a peaceful evening that gives way to reflections about the after-life.

Christos Voskrese!

(For Tod)

The world is unusually quiet this dawn

With fading stars withdrawing in good grace

And drowsy, dreaming sunflowers, dewy-drooped,

Their golden crowns all motionless and still,

Stand patiently in their ordered garden rows,

Almost as if they wait for lazy bees

To wake and work, and so begin the day.

A solitary swallow sweeps the sky;

An early finch proclaims his leafy seat

While Old Kashtanka limps around the yard

Snuffling the boundaries on her morning patrol.

Then wide-yawning Mikhail, happily barefoot,

A lump of bread for nibbling in one hand,

A birch switch swishing menace in the other

Appears, and whistles up his father’s cows:

“Hey!  Alina, and Antonina! Up!

Up, up, Diana and Dominika!

You, too, Varvara and Valentina!

Pashka is here, and dawn, and spring, and life!”

And they are not reluctant then to rise

From sweet and grassy beds, with udders full,

Cow-gossip-lowing to the dairy barn.

Anastasia lights the ikon lamp

And crosses herself as her mother taught.

She’ll brew the tea, the strong black wake-up tea,

And think about that naughty, handsome Yuri

Who winked at her during the Liturgy

On the holiest midnight of the year.

O pray that watchful Father did not see!

Breakfast will be merry, an echo-feast

Of last night’s eggs, pysanky, sausage, kulich.

And Mother will pack Babushka’s basket,

Because only a mother can do that right

When Father Vasily arrived last night

In a limping Lada haloed in smoke,

The men put out their cigarettes and helped

With every precious vestment, cope, and chain,

For old Saint Basil’s has not its own priest,

Not since the Czar, and Seraphim-Diveyevo

From time to time, for weddings, holy days,

Funerals, supplies the needs of the parish,

Often with Father Vasily (whose mother

Begins most conversations with “My son,

The priest.…”), much to the amusement of all.

Voices fell, temperatures fell, darkness fell

And stars hovered low over the silent fields,

Dark larches, parking lots, and tractor sheds.

Inside the lightless church the priest began

The ancient prayers of desolate emptiness

To which the faithful whispered in reply,

Unworthy mourners at the Garden tomb,

Spiraling deeper and deeper in grief

Until that Word, by Saint Mary Magdalene

Revealed, with candles, hymns, and midnight bells

Spoke light and life to poor but hopeful souls.

The world is unusually quiet this dawn;

The sun is new-lamb warm upon creation,      

For Pascha gently rests upon the earth,

This holy Russia, whose martyrs and saints

Enlighten the nations through their witness of faith,

Mercy, blessings, penance, and prayer eternal

Now rising with a resurrection hymn,

And even needful chores are liturgies:

“Christos Voskrese  – Christ is risen indeed!”

And Old Kashtanka limps around the yard

Snuffling the boundaries on her morning patrol.

A Twilight Study

Perhaps there is no reason why these thoughts

Should be reconstructed, recalled, re-read,  

This dusk in spring, soft-scented, green, and still,

With cumulous clouds rehearsing  for the summer,

Silently flinging the westering sun about,

And from the grass the early mosquitoes

With tiny, unseen wings grudge wheeling birds

Utility, charm, sometimes majesty.

Mischievous cats dancing like couplets in rhyme

Along the fence-top in alla breve time

Torment with pirouettes the ground-bound dogs,

Provoking from their playmates envious barks,

Prologue to reconciliation

And Eden’s sleep beneath the ancient moon.

Why should this hour, gentle with Vesper joys,

Be scanned and disciplined as iamb’d lines

In poor remembrance of reality,

A catalogue of senses lived in time

And reconsidered then on ink-marked page,

Or screen luminescent within a box?

Old Adam knew such tranquil gardened evenings,

And generations yet beyond the stars

Will live on earth such happy sunset peace;

Yet still, somehow, this moment of Creation

Is now commended to a leaf or so,

And when the actors of these moments past

Joy in the eternal summer of God,

Someone will read these lines, and delight in them.

"Christ is risen indeed!"


"Silently flinging the westering sun about....."