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Friday, June 27, 2014

Summer Poems.....

from our Poet Laureate from Cattle Country, Cow-Punchin' Mack! The first is humorous, the second more melancholy, but both typically thought-provoking.



The Theory and Practice of Summer


In theory, Summer is capitalized
As a sovereign kingdom of happiness
An unfallen world of sunlight and bare feet
Both dancing lightly across a new-mown lawn
In practice, summer is when the mower won’t start
While weeds grow high in a season so dry
That heat and allergens veto all joy
The damp crushes deodorants and hopes
In theory, summer is idle hours
Saved in a magic piggie from long ago:
Comic books and plastic water blasters
And lying in the night-grass, counting the stars
In practice, summer means driving to work
In a wheezy old car that runs on notes
And gasoline more precious than rubies
While the boss sets an ambush at the time clock
But see:
In theory and practice, a little boy
Slow-pedals his bicycle to the creek
His fishing rod in hand, his dog behind,
And he will live for us our summers past



I Must be Buried in my Suit


“I must be buried in my suit,” he said,
“For soon I will be called to meet the King.

No, no, I do not scorn my workday clothes,
My ragged, oil-stained jeans and chambray shirt
The beatup hat I wore against the sun
For God was with me in the heat of the day
And the cold of the night when duty called –

I’ve torqued machine bolts through hard double shifts
Dug post holes, strung bob wire the summer long
And hammered, fenced, plowed, built, dug, cussed, and bled
Not for bragging, but to keep the children fed

I’ve ciphered accounts and counted the coins
And watched the boss’s child promoted up
For she had graduated college, you see,
And there she learned to send my job away
To some place on a map I saw in school,
Before somebody changed all of the names

And then the lady at the Social Security office
Told me that my life was privileged
But said that I’d get something anyway.
So my old clothes are fine for sitting on the porch
And lifting up a cup of Seaport to the dawn.

But you make sure I’m buried in my suit
Because I want to wear my Sunday best
When I am called away to meet the King.”


"A little boy.....his fishing rod in hand....."

Saturday, June 14, 2014

"Three-in-One"......

is a poem I wrote for this Flag Day/Father's Day/Trinity Sunday! Since all these things happened in one weekend this year, I figure I would try to tie together the "three-in-one" aspects of each. And the connection with all this? Well, my father is the one who inculcated with a deep reverence for our national flag and puts "Old Glory" out on our front porch every flag day. Also, my parents were married on Trinity Sunday many moons ago! So all my best wishes and blessings to all the fathers (especially and particularly my own, "Mr. B., the Entertainer's Entertainer!"), and flag wavers, and Christians seeking to grow in a deeper appreciation of the Mystery of the Holy Trinity.



Three-in-One


Red, White, and Blue,
The three-in-one
With stars and stripes
Together spun

Old stars seem new
And gleam as bright
As at Baltimore
On that long night

The stripes seem fresh
As wounds just cut
Who can claim her
Who’ll scorn that hurt?

***

Father, Son, and Guide,
The three-in-one
Three golden keys
Together strung

The stars They made
Like burning coals
And man they shaped
With a living soul

The stripes They bore
On the back of Christ
So the stars might stand
On the longest night

***

Father, Mother, Child,
The three-in-one
Through joys and trials
Together clung

Foundations built
On sturdy roots
Through love given
That bore fruit

On Father’s Day
The Flag flies free
And the colors match
The Trinity


"The Stripes They Bore on the Back of Christ....."





Friday, June 13, 2014

St. Anthony of Padua....

is a very special saint to me. More times than I can count, I’ve been in sticky situations involving lost stuff, a sweater, a bracelet, a book, a Microsoft document seemingly swallowed into the cyber abyss…..you name it! And each time, I have instinctively pleaded, “St. Anthony….HELP!!!!!”

    Most of the time, I’ve recovered “what once was mine”. But that’s really beside the point. The main gift that St. Anthony gives to us scatter-brained earthlings is peace in the midst of panic. For that, he has become one of the favorite “go-to” saints of the Catholic World. But there is so much more to the man and the saint than this.

    Born in 1195 A.D. and baptized Fernando, the future Anthony was a native of Lisbon, Portugal and his parents were pillars of the community. At age 15, he entered an Augustinian religious community but found it far too busy and worldly for his tastes. Instead of political debates with his old chums who clustered around the priory, Fernando sought deeper solitude to pray and study.

     He was eventually sent to Coimbra and immersed himself in nine years of intense theological study and was probably ordained a priest during that time. But then a passionate inspiration took hold of the young man that would change his life forever. The bodies of five martyred Franciscan monks who had been martyred for preaching to Christian Faith to Muslims in Morocco were brought to his monastery.

    On fire for the faith and hoping to follow their example, Fernando abandoned his studies as an Augustine, tromped over to a small Franciscan Friary, and announced, “Brother, I would gladly put on the habit of your Order if you would promise to send me as soon as possible to the land of the Saracens, that I may gain the crown of the holy martyrs.”

    After some initial struggles with his Augustinian superiors, Fernando was allowed to don the habit of the Franciscans and take a new name: Anthony. True to their word, the Franciscans agreed to send the eager-beaver young priest on a mission to Morocco. But God would have other plans for him. He fell ill on the ocean, and was forced to begin the long voyage home. However, a terrific storm blew his ship to Italy instead of his native Portugal. Landing in Sicily, he was taken in by a local Franciscan community who nursed him back to health.  

    Although rather depressed about the outcome of his missionary endeavors, Anthony got his wish for solitude in the monastery of Montepaelo in Northern Italy. He may have remained unknown to the world there if not for a random happening that exposed his gift as a preacher. One evening, after an ordination of Dominicans and Franciscans, once of the provincials asked for a friar to volunteer to give an impromptu sermon. Everyone, including Anthony, tried to get out of the assignment, until he was “drafted” to do so.

    Brilliantly yet without any airs, Anthony stunned the assembly with his wisdom, passion, and oratorical abilities. They had all known he was pious and excelled in his spiritual exercises, but this was something new and different. Such a light could not be kept under a bushel. Soon enough, St. Francis heard about the Portuguese friar with the gold tongue and assigned him to preach to the people of Northern Italy. His days of privacy were at an end.

    Anthony was determined to put his missionary zeal into practice by living the Gospel example of poverty and humility. In contrast to many of his contemporaries who held themselves above the common people, Anthony determined to reach out to the men and women on the street, showing genuine love and piety to those who were used to encountering snobbish religiosity.

  He also made it a point to travel through city in both Italy and France that were under the sway of heresies to try to win the people back to the faith. Nevertheless, he always used a positive approach instead of small-minded bickering, realizing it was often better to simply present the beauty of Christ and His Church as opposed to trying to disparage someone else’s argument directly.

    Although St. Francis initially watched Anthony with a cautious eye, concerned that he might let his knowledge go to his head, he eventually commissioned him to teach the friars theology. His first “post” was the friary at Bologna. Although none of the records his theological conferences survive, two volumes of his sermons do, and they clearly reveal his imaginative method of preaching, using allegory and symbolism to explain the Scriptures.

    Over the years, Anthony excelled in the ranks, becoming provincial superior of the Franciscans in Northern Italy and preaching in front of St. Francis’s dear friend, Pope Gregory IX. Still, he never let this prestige go to his head and always remained very much a preacher of the people. His headquarters was Padua, not far from Venice, earning him the title “Anthony of Padua.”

    Legends about St. Anthony abound. One of them has to do with how he became patron of lost articles. So the story goes, Anthony had a Book of Psalms that was one of his prized possessions, filled with notes he used to teach his fellow friars. One young novice, growing sick of the rigors of religious life, decided to go AWOL…and took Anthony’s Psalter with him! Desperate, Anthony fell on his knees and begged God to have the book returned to him, and that the robber would find his way back home. Sure enough, the novice was overcome with guilt, returning the book and returning to religious life.

    Another story tells of a woman whose child drowned. Begging the intercession of the now deceased Anthony, she promised that if her child were restored to life, she would give as much corn as the child’s weight to the poor. The child was indeed brought back to life. This concept of corn began the tradition of “St. Anthony Bread”, special bread blessed on the saint’s feast on July 13 and kept to bless the home with bounty.

    Once, when people refused to listen to Anthony preaching because they wanted nothing more to do with religion, he made a point to go out to the seashore and preach to the fish. Inspired, they leapt out of the water, and this definitively got the people’s attention. Anthony seemed to always have an affinity with the sea, and later on was made patron of seamen and travelers of every sort. Multiple miracles involve him calming storms, and he is also acknowledged as the saint who will help guide letters to their destinations. These combined tales brought about the tradition of drawing a fish on the back of envelopes and writing “S.A.G.” within it, standing for “Saint Anthony Guide.”

   It is also said St. Anthony had visions of the Christ Child and holding the small, vulnerable toddler in his arms. It was during one of these late night visitations that the Lord of Chatenaneuf entered the chapel unexpectedly. Amazed by the building bathed in light and the child in Anthony’s arms, he had to be calmed down and held to secrecy until after Anthony’s death. His death came in 1231, when he was only 36 years old. He spent his final day singing praises to the Lord and receiving the Last Sacraments of the Church. Towards the end, one of his followers asked him why he was staring upwards so intently. “I see my Lord!” Anthony responded, and his spirit left him. He is now a Doctor of the Church, and his tongue and vocal chords remain incorrupt to this day.

    Saint Anthony is so many things for so many people. He was a fiery young man, sometimes impulsive and definitely a romanticist. But he balanced this side of his personality with a deep thirst for learning and preaching, willing to alter his own intentions as providence altered his plans. Nevertheless, he always remained true to his calling as a missionary who used to voice to call the whole world to a deeper relationship with God and to sing his praises. In addition to calling on his help when we lose the car keys (which I’m sure he accepts with indulgence and mild amusement), we should also pray to him as we pursue our studies, discern our callings, and present the faith as missionaries to all those we encounter.    



St. Anthony, pray for us! And about those keys.....;-)

   
    

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A disoriented whale......

made a visit to London on June 3, 1658. It had driven into the Thames River by an unusually severe storm, and gleeful Londoners were quick to take advantage of the stranded sea creature’s misfortune and harpoon it for valuable oil and blubber. It was only afterwards that they began to wonder if the horrendous weather, accompanied by wintery temperatures, pelting hail, and the visit of a gargantuan wale, might be omens of some major upheaval to come. Not long after, Oliver Cromwell fell grievously ill and died three months later.
    
    He had been both a visionary and a tyrant, a hero for democracy turned into a champion for despotism. 
He had created a Model Army to preserve the supremacy of parliament, and then gone on to dissolve parliament and make himself military dictator. He had beheaded a king for suspending the law of the land while at the same time depriving the same king of a lawful trial. He outlawed moral depravity at the same time as he forbade the celebration of Christmas. He made England respected on a world-scale, but made many Englishmen lose respect for themselves. He had provided religious liberty for Protestant sects and Jews, but wiped out or sold into slavery half the population of Catholic Ireland.

    But though his leadership style had been paradoxical and he had dealt hard blows with an iron fist, he had at least managed to keep England from descending into a complete state of anarchy. Now that he was gone, his mild-mannered but incompetent son, Richard Cromwell, had taken over as Lord Protector. Before long, Richard escaped from the pressure of command by retiring to his country estate. The government was left in the hands of squabbling factions and the country once again tottered on the brink of total chaos.

    For the first time, high-ranking members of the Commonwealth government began to seriously consider a restoration of the monarchy. A member of this party was Edward Montague. An affable country squire with broad interests and moderate viewpoints, he was a distant relative of Oliver Cromwell who had served as an officer for Parliament during the English Civil War. However, he had distanced himself from the proceedings that lead to condemnation and execution of King Charles and began to feel that the revolution he had helped inaugurate might have gone too far.

    After Cromwell’s death, Montague joined the movement to bring back the dead king’s eldest son, Charles, and crown him as the rightful ruler. When the time had come to escort the exiled royal home to his native land, Montague volunteered his personal ship to ferry him across the channel. He even went so far as to change its name from “The Naseby”, which had been in honor of the Parliamentarian victory against King Charles I, to the “The Royal Charles”, in honor of the beheaded monarch’s son and heir. The year was 1660.
    After this unexpected change of fortunes, the newly crowned King Charles II made it his priority not to go on his travels again and to all in his power to keep the Stuarts on the throne. One of his first acts as king was to have Oliver Cromwell’s body exhumed and decapitated, sticking his skull on a spike atop the roof of the ceremonial hall where Charles I had been condemned to death in 1649.

    His head remained there for some twenty years, enduring heat, cold, wind, and rain indiscriminately until it finally could withstand no more and blew. It was picked up by a wayfaring soldier who turned it in at a pawn shop. From then on, it was a traveling specimen, installed in various cupboards and cubbyholes, public and private, until it finally reached Sidney Sussex College at Cambridge, where the young Cromwell had once been a fellow. There if found a place to rest in peace, away from memories of its former infamy.

   After the long years of enforced Puritanical morality, the royal court degenerated into a state of total immorality as King Charles II led by example, picking up and discarded mistress after mistress and populating his kingdom with illegitimate royal children. He came to be styled “The Merry Monarch” or “Old Rowley”, the name of a stallion who had famously sired a large prodigy.

    “A king is supposed to be the father of his people,” commented George Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham, “and Charles certainly was the father to a good many of them.” He was usually happy to acknowledge the children as his own and provide for them handsomely. One of his favorite illegitimate children was James, eventually titled The Duke of Monmouth. He was the son of Charles by Lucy Walter, his Welsh mistress he had acquired as a young prince in exile. After they split up, Charles had been determined to rescue his small son from Lucy, who he considered to be an unfit mother.

    Daniel O’Neale, one of Charles’ servants sent out to spy on Lucy, recounted that “he (James) cannot be safe from his mother’s intrigues wheresoever he is. It is a great pity so pretty a child should be in such hands as hiterto have neglected to teach him to read or to tell twenty, though he hath a great deal of wit and a great desire to learn.”

    Eventually, Charles did manage to attain custody of young James who was promptly sent to be raised and properly educated by Queen Henrietta Maria in Paris. When Charles became king of England, his young son eventually came back with him, and his father lavished favors on him while at the same time pursuing his womanizing career with verve. 

   Charles not only enjoyed women as lovers, but also as conversationalists, dinner companions, and a form of entertainment. He really couldn’t get along without several on the line at once. Jokes at the scandalous court were constantly being made about the king’s less than upstanding way with women. And the king played right along. Once, when a maid at court was heard singing a bawdy ballad about him, he knocked on her door. “Who’s there?” she inquired. “Old Rowley himself, madam, at your service,” he replied, cheerfully popping his head in. 

    All these supposedly merry improprieties were extremely painful for the king’s Portuguese Catholic wife, Queen Catherine of Braganza, who had fallen deeply in love with Charles when they wed. When she was first presented to him in England, he scoffed that she often melancholy (quite understandable considering the circumstances!) and commented that she resembled a bat because of her plain face and banana curls. But when push came to shove, Charles seemed to have developed an almost filial devotion to her, refusing to divorce her late in his reign to please Protestant Parliamentarians. Nevertheless, he continued to break her heart by spending more quality time and money on extramarital affairs.

    One of his most famous mistresses was the red-headed, hazel-eyed Nell Gwyn, a cockney comic actress who caught the king’s fancy while selling oranges, lemons, and sweetmeats in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. She became the king’s favorite new sexual toy to fondle and, perversely, an instant folk heroine. Hard-swearing and uneducated, she scandalized the upper-classes with her no-nonsense attitude towards her own role as a glorified harlot.

    But in addition to her voluptuous figure and lusty voice, Nell did have an attractive personality, which may have been how she managed to keep her position as one of the king’s top mistress until his death. She was honest, humorous, street-smart, and generally good-natured. After a maimed soldier approached her coach and begged her for alms, she took it upon herself to encourage the king to establish a hospital in London for disabled and aged soldiers, bringing about the creation of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea, designed by none other than Sir Christopher Wren.

    Charles was accepted by the most of the common people of England as an affable rogue, sometimes called “The King of Curs” because of his fondness for his spaniels and his generally naughty ways. He would often walk his dogs in St. James Park (at long last open to the public), feed the ducks in the nearby ponds, and chat with any of his subjects that happened to pass by. He enjoyed playing the French croquet-like game of paille-maille ( today known as Pall Mall) and spend leisurely hours with Nell Gwynn at the house he had given her conveniently set along the route of his favorite strolling place.

     On February 4, 1685, Charles lay dying of apoplexy. The good-intentioned Thomas Ken, Anglican Bishop of Bath and Wells, tried to administer Anglican Communion to him. But the king put him off, saying “There is time enough,” and “I will think of it.”

    The Duke of York sensed his brother’s inner turmoil and sent away the crowd of visitors, except for the Earls of Bath and Feversham. Then he asked Charles if he would like him to send for a Catholic priest. “For God’s sake, do,” the dying man replied.

    Promptly James ushered in Fr. John Huddleston, the Benedictine monk who had saved Charles’s life so many years ago when he was a young prince on the run in England. He had since become a chaplain at Somerset House under the Queen Dowager, Henrietta Maria, and Catherine of Braganza, and he had been patiently waiting in the queen’s room that whole evening in case the king might desire to see him. Now he prepared play his part in this final act of the long royal drama. “Sire, this good man once saved your body,” James asserted. “He comes now to save your soul.”   

    Everything having been prepared, the door was double-locked. After answering the questions that the priest put to him, King Charles II was at long last received into the Catholic Church. Last Rites were administered the Eucharist was laid on his tongue. He had trouble swallowing it, and a glass of water had to be called for. But even now the king’s final thoughts drifting to another subject close to heart, and some his last words were said to have been: “Let not poor Nelly starve.” He then apologized for being “such an unconscionable time a-dying” and asked an attendant to draw the curtains so he could see the sun rise from his window. Close to noon on February 6, 1685, Charles breathed his last.

    King Charles had loved Nell Gwyn more than any of his other mistresses in his life because she had not been greedy or jealous, but now that he was gone, Nell found herself financially and emotionally depleted. The Duke of York, now King James II, did pay off most of her debts grant her a pension in honor of the king’s dying request. Less than three years afterwards, Nell herself suffered a debilitating stroke which confined her to her bed.

    She died soon after at age 37, still leaving behind numerous debts but also a legacy to aid the Newgate prisoners in London. She was buried in the Church of St. Martin-in-the Fields in London. To fulfill one of her final requests, Thomas Tenison, Archbishop of Canterbury, preached a sermon on the text from Luke 15:7 at her funeral:  “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”     

    None can be sure whether the most cynical of Stuart kings and his hard-swearing mistress were sincere or not in their deathbed religious conversions, but history seems to have given them the benefit of the doubt.   


King Charles II, "The Merry Monarch", "Old Rowley", and "The King of Curs"

Friday, June 6, 2014

The 70th Anniversary of D-Day.....

is upon us. I have always felt a special connection what has been termed “the great generation”, a haunting connection that has often made me feel slightly out-of-place in my own time period. It is sometimes hard for me to believe that all the WWII vets are dying out, and that it is now 70 years since the largest amphibious landing assault in history. Didn’t all this just happen a few years ago?

    The death of my grandmother sort of brought home the reality that time is moving swiftly. For much of my young life, I was used to regarding the elderly as ever-present sources of wisdom in some sort of perpetual golden age. I got along better with the older members of my extended family than the younger ones. They had a better perspective on things. They could remember things like The Great Depression and WWII, and seemed to be beyond some of crazy pop fads of modernity.

    As the African proverb relates, “When an old man dies, a library burns down.” Thus is the case now, with so many of those time-worn, time-taught elderly members of our community slipping away, mentally and then physically. It is a melancholy reality, which leaves us with an even greater responsibility to preserve their legacy, learn from the lessons they taught us, and pray for their immortal souls.

    At D-Day, they literally “saved the world”. There is so much to take away from this, that an evil regime can be conquered, that the unity of nations in a just cause can be achieved, that unity within individual nations (I’m speaking of The United Kingdom in particular) is a worthy goal, that sacrifice is often necessary to bring about a greater good, that the human spirit can triumph darkest hours, and most importantly, that there is a providence that guides the fate of battle.

    This seems an appropriate day to take up the subject of war, the pros and cons and in betweens of it. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately since I started listening to more music from the old “folkies” such as Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, Bob Dillon, and Joan Baez. There seems to have been an explosion of folk-consciousness since Pete passed into eternity, some of which I understand and some of which I heartily disagree with. Their music may have been nice in that it brought back the olden ballads to 20th century audiences and made them popular again, but “social activism” varied from admirable to imbecilic in many quarters.

    And they were all ostensibly “anti-war”. In this, I think many of them missed a beat. The fact is that we do not live in a perfect world, and armed conflict is an inextricable part of the human experience. It is horrible, but it is true. For much of history, wars were blatantly fought for land rights and many peoples thrived as a warrior class. Is this the best way to live? Probably not, but I would not haughtily judge past generations for it. Within those wars and conflicts, humanity actually developed in ways it never would have. Courage and sacrifice, mercy and forgiveness, all played a part in the midst of the worst kind of travails.

    Naturally, I agree that wars should be avoided if they can be, that it is indeed hellish. But to presume that we have all the answers to create everlasting peace on earth is simply simplistic. We must strive for peace daily, but also prepare for combat on every level. I think most would agree that WWII can safely be called a “just war”, even by modern standards. The Allies weren’t perfect in all they did, but The Axis regime was another matter entirely. The evil had to be stopped, and war was the only way of doing it. So in that sense, thank God for the wars! Or have we come to glorify the battles we will not fight and the souls we will not save and the prayers we will not say? Is it only “live and let live”? It is all a modern phenomena in a culture of despair.

    Borrowed from Elizabeth’s lovely blog “One Light in a Dark World”, I leave you with the address of Gen. Eisenhower to his troops, June 6th, 1944:

     “Soldiers, Sailors and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!  You are about to embark on upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months.  The eyes of the world are upon you.  The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you.  In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed people of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

     Your task will not be an easy one.  Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.

     But this is the year 1944!  Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41.  The united Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man.  Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground.  Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men.  The tide has turned!  The free men of the world are marching together to victory!
     I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle.  We will accept nothing less than full victory!

     Good Luck!  And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”


"Good Luck!" -- Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A most interesting correspondence......

has been going on between me and a British friend who I met after he came to America to marry his fiancée and work at one of our local library branches. He identifies himself as Pagan, and so we have been discussing various aspects of our differing religious and spiritual practices. Some of the topics that have recently come up have inspired me to take them up in a blog post. For that, I am most thankful to him and his always intellectually deep and thought-provoking emails!

   I have always been fascinated by the mix of pagan and Christian traditions that shaped the culture of the west and how various practices carried over during periods of conversion. For example, the multi-faceted deities made an easy transition when the concept of The Holy Trinity was introduced. The emphasis on strange conception made the Incarnation of Christ seem applicable. The importance of the goddess as “Great Queen” made the Virgin Mary fit naturally into their sphere.

    Beyond that, there were elements of pre-Christian traditions that lent the Christian faith new freshness and vitality. The Celts inculcated their form of Christianity with a special for awe for the One God as Nature’s Creator and the timelessness of communion with the Divine. Their prayers and practices lend an appealing spiritual awareness that respects mystery yet a realization that God is everywhere. His spirit can be made manifest both through the silence of contemplation and the interaction between “soul-friends.” Another major source of compatibility between Paganism and Christianity was a sturdy belief in the everlasting nature of the soul.

    My friend and I were speaking about the afterlife and the difference between Christian and Pagan belief on the subject. As he informed me, Pagan interpretation is pretty loose, but Celtic mythology often refers to it as something of a higher plain of earth, not entirely different but not entirely the same. Also, there is sometimes a correlating belief that, after a time, souls would get to return to earth in another form. This is obviously in contrast with Heaven as described by traditional Christianity, but some people feel that the concept of living in eternal bliss, with nothing to strive after, would be terribly boring.

    I can understand this theory on the surface, but I think it is very bound up in human nature as we now know it. In this world we live in, we honestly don’t know what true contentment is. We can experience happiness and pleasure, certainly, but we are indeed always striving after something and never completely put at rest. We cannot even imagine what that sort of state would be like. We all too often have a greeting card concept of paradise, with fluffy white clouds and laundry-detergent scented angels playing tin foil harps. Even imagining all our current earthly desires fulfilled would not give us the right picture. We are still land-locked.

    I usually make it a point not to try to picture Heaven, since I know it will be all wrong. I believe it is intrinsically impossible for me to get the proper picture while I am here on earth, just it would be impossible for me to understand Three Persons in One God. Even the mystics who experienced glimpses of Heaven said that if they had seen the whole thing it would have killed them. It is not our world.

    What I do believe is that the world beyond will be a place outside of time that is realer than real. It is that “thing” we are always searching after; it is the ultimate “thing” that puts our hearts to rest. Once they are at rest, we will be truly contended. Do you we know what heavenly movements are like? Do we understand the dimensions as they apply to our senses? No, and we never will in life. It is the secret of the dead. What we do know that is that will love, fully now, without restraint, and purged from all that has been bad within us. This would not make us less ourselves, but more ourselves, and we would only realize that when we are, indeed, perfect.

     Some might think perfection is not a thing to be strived after, but for Christians is certainly is. We will not achieve it in this life, but that should not keep us from striving. And after all, this life is not the end of the story. The Catholic concept of Purgatory is deeply embedded in this necessity for purification before reaching Heaven. In essence, the ultimate striving is for perfection, and the ultimate perfection is God, and God reigns supreme in His Kingdom.

    Another topic my friend and I spoke about the concept of The Passion and Redemption as seen by Christians. To some, the idea of an all-knowing, all-powerful God creating human beings with free will and then having His Son (part of Himself) die to redeem sounds rather incongruent with logic. Why would He would He go through all that if He knew what was going to happen beforehand? Why would he make human beings with the proclivity for sin just so he could deprive them any happiness in the afterlife?

    Trying to understand an all-knowing God is a futile venture to begin with, so it does sort of defy logic. But then, if God is Love, He really had no choice but to give us Free Will, or otherwise it would have like creating robots He could manipulate. And in the end, our human nature gives us just as much of a proclivity to do the right thing as it does to do the wrong thing. Furthermore, according to Christian doctrine, we were first endowed with Sanctifying Grace, making it possible for us to be perfect. It was only after The First Fall that we tumbled downhill. We sort of “broke through the barrier”, and there was no turning back. We gave the Evil One a claim on us.

    Why did Christ have to die to break this claim? It’s not a clear-cut thing, but the simplest thing to say is that only death can conquer death. God had to die, as one of us, to reclaim and redeem us. The curtain in the Temple separating God and Man had to be split. One legend speculates that God’s foreknowledge of these events is what made Lucifer become Satan. The Great Angel of Light, learning that God had foreseen the rebellion of man and was willing to die to redeem, was so disgusted he rebelled against God and later helped lure man into sin, setting into motion the events that had been foreseen.

    Lastly, there is the issue of Hell. Really, if one believes in a place of perfect joy, it is not hard to believe that there is a total opposite, a place of perfect misery. Like the Law of Newton, it has something to do with every force having an equal force loosed against it. It is horrible to think about, but for me, it’s not hard to believe in. As an optimist, I find it easy to see the good in other people and the good in the world. I see it all as reflecting the goodness of God, and the future goodness of Heaven. But on the flip side, my sensitivity makes me feel the evils of people and the world keenly. I can see the presence of the demons and imagine their lair of darkness, what C.S. Lewis described as a place where they most heinous crimes can be committed with a quiet voice and manicured fingernails.

   There is, of course, the age-old question: Why would a loving God send anyone to such horror, even if they were a horrible person? Like all the best sort of questions, it cannot be snappily answered. But we can hearken back to the devil’s rebellion and our own free will. We cannot serve two masters. We must be One with God or One with Satan. In the end, we will abide with one or the other, forever. It is our choice.



Alternate Eternities