It seems to me that our "special relationship" is with the wrong nation. These pictures should tell you why.
Sunday, 1 May 2016
"'A great Shadow has departed,' said Gandalf, and then he laughed, and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then, as a sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from his bed." J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Book VI, Chapter IV.
My Irish grandfather was a "retired" Christian, like me. My father says it was a combination of things that drove him from the Roman church, his education by the Christian Brothers, brutal even by Irish standards, and other things that I don't know. But to-day, the Day of Days in the Christian kalendar, in my own troubles I recall the story I was told of him one Easter morning many years ago. An elderly lady from his parish, who was late for the Mass, found him sat on a wall outside the church unwilling to go in. She besought him by all the means that she could to go in with her, but he couldn't, and he picked up his cane and went home. So far as I know that was the last time he went near or by a church as living man.
This is roughly where I am. I would like to share in the joy of Easter, rejoicing that Christ hath beguiled Death by Death, but I can't. My heart is stone within me.
Saturday, 30 April 2016
"The Emperor at once sent Boullotes, declaring to the Patriarch that he was striving on his behalf with regard to the Pope through messengers and that it was necessary that he also should resist. Then towards late afternoon, the bishops came again from the Pope and demanded the kissing of the foot. The Patriarch replied, with appropriate resistance: 'Where does the Pope have this from or which of the councils gave it to him? Show where he has it from and where it is registered. Nevertheless, the Pope says that he is the successor of St Peter. If then he is the successor of Peter, we also are successors of the rest of the apostles. Did the apostles kiss the foot of St Peter? Who has heard of that?' The bishops replied that it is an antient custom of the Pope and that everybody bestows this kiss on him, both bishops and kings, the Emperor of the Germans and the Cardinals who are greater than the Emperor and are also ordained. The Patriarch said: 'This is an innovation and I will never submit to doing it. But if the Pope wishes me to kiss him like a brother, according to our ancestral and ecclesiastical custom, I shall go to him. If he does not accept this, I am renouncing everything and turning back.' So the bishops went off to tell these things to the Pope and were away for a long time. Then they came again, saying the same things and: 'How is it possible for the Pope to be deprived of such honour?' But the Patriarch stuck to his earlier speeches and struggles. In the meantime many words were exchanged on both sides and much opposition was made about the kiss both by the Patriarch and by his entourage. In the end the Patriarch ordained: 'If the Pope does not renounce the kissing of the foot from our bishops and my cross-bearing officials, it is impossible for me to disembark from the ship. It seems to me that the present gathering and discussion is not in accordance with God's will, which is why God has brought to us such a great obstacle, whence I shall return without fail, while still in the ship, before I am troubled by other terrible things.' The bishops returned and informed the Pope of this and after a long time they returned and said this: 'His Holiness the Pope, for the good of peace and so that there should be no obstacle in this divine undertaking of the Union for this reason, sets aside his own right and behold, he invites your great Holiness to come. However, he stipulates that he wished to prepare his reception of you in a different manner, for he thought to make this in public in the gathering of officials and with a great display. Now, on the other hand, he will not do this because he is greatly robbed of his own honour and is not willing to make this obvious to all. Instead he will receive you in his own apartment, with only the Cardinals present. So come first with six of your own men with whom you wish to come and, after they have made their obeisance, let another six come and make their obeisance and, when they have left, again let another six come and make their obeisance, and let as many as you ordain make their obeisance in the same manner.'" From the Memoirs of Sylvester Syropoulos, recording the voyage of the Greeks to Italy for the Council of Florence, 1438-39 (emphasis my own).
It's unfortunate that the Pope wished to humiliate the Patriarch by having him kiss his foot in front of officials and with great display, and that only threats by the Patriarch of departure induced him to set aside his own "honour," and to greet him with the Cardinals privately instead. Does it remind my Tolkienian following of anything in The Lord of the Rings?
Friday, 29 April 2016
I took some woolen trousers to the dry cleaners in Blackfen this afternoon. I noticed over the door to the back room a silver plaque, featuring a book with some faded Arabic script. I asked the proprietor about it, and he seemed reluctant to say what it was (I knew what it was). He said that it was a Qur'anic blessing, but his embarrassment was clear to see (he kept mentioning extremists, and that he was just "an ordinary guy"), so to put his mind at ease I told him that I owned an English translation of the Qu'ran, that I had read bits of it, which he found reassuring. But I stopped short of telling him that I was a Christian; not out of fear that he might ruin my trousers, just out of a sense of shame. If I had told him, I would no doubt have said that it was Good Friday, which would have put me in the awkward situation of trying to explain to him why I was having my dry cleaning done on Good Friday, and why I was not at church, and why I had not made even a feeble attempt at fasting, and all those other things. Also why my faith was so lukewarm. It's there, and God willing always will be, but is as embers dying in a corner of the hearth, scarce to be noticed and giving no warmth or succour.
I suppose my brief conversation with the young Muslim chap goes to shew you that opportunities to preach the Gospel always present themselves. This seems all the more reason that we should have a lively faith in God, and not the kind of apathetic, "Lord, you know how it is" faith that I have.
Let me explain the picture: it's a "micropub," Blackfen's very first. It's been open for about a year, I think. It's not often that I "plug" local businesses, considering most of my audience are in the United States of America and Russia, but anybody in the Bexley area might like to pay a visit some time. The dry cleaners is next door and rather kindly, for a Muslim-run business, promotes it too. That's called neighbourliness, a quality distinctly lacking in multicultural Britain.
Thursday, 28 April 2016
"Digory was just turning to go back to the gates when he stopped to have one last look around. He got a terrible shock. He was not alone. There, only a few yards away from him, stood the Witch. She was just throwing away the core of an apple which she had eaten. The juice was darker than you would expect and had made a horrid stain round her mouth. Digory guessed at once that she must have climbed in over the wall. And he began to see that there might be some sense in that last line about getting your heart's desire and getting despair along with it. For the Witch looked stronger and prouder than ever, and even, in a way, triumphant; but her face was deadly white, white as salt." C.S Lewis, The Magician's Nephew, Chapter Thirteen.
Or, in the plain words of Scripture: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber." John 10:1.
This is me at yestereven, wrapped in a filthy dressing gown (given to me, as are most of my clothes these days), double chin and all. I am aiming, of course, for a Dr Evadne Hinge look. I used also to have a chain for my glasses like Dr Hinge but since I am short-sighted I found the chain cumbersome and stopped wearing it. That was when I was 17 or 18. All I need now is some henna. I am not sure how that will go down with my parents, who have already compared me with hippies and even people with Down's syndrome (thank you, mother) for not having my hair short, but we'll just have to wait and see. I've never liked short hair and I really do think that there ought to be other distinctions between men and women than hair.
Tuesday, 26 April 2016
As so often happens with the most outspoken, fundamentalist types: they're eventually shewn up to be just as filthy as the rest of us. I've been openly homosexual for many years, often at great personal cost, and what praise do I get? But now we see that the man with the worst syrup I've ever seen is being lauded to heaven by some for his "courage" in pre-empting his archdiocesan opponents by coming clean about his sordid sexual past. I don't think that these revelations make him any more credible than they would have done had they remained in his closet with all the rest of the bones. Can any of you say that you're that surprised? He is not St Mary Magdalene! He's just another pseud.
UPDATE: I had thought that Michael Voris was the author of that disgraceful article on the Catholic News Agency website (now removed), which claimed that homosexuals were inapt to the study and practice of liturgy because of inherent ostentation, flippancy and effeminacy, but I was mistaken. That was actually another pseud called Louie Verrecchio. Nonetheless, if you can stomach the effeminacy of "JM," please do read the thread on my old post.
Monday, 25 April 2016
'"Pippin,' said Frodo, 'didn't you say that Gandalf was less close than of old? He was weary of his labours then, I think. Now he is recovering.'
"And Gandalf said: 'Many folk like to know beforehand what is to be set on the table; but those who have laboured to prepare the feast like to keep their secret; for wonder makes the words of praise louder."' The Lord of the Rings, Book VI, Chapter V.
In all the years that I have been reading Tolkien, I have never fully understood this; furthermore it reminds me of some theme I have read elsewhere. Can anybody offer a suggestion from the corpus of Christian literature? It is faintly reminiscent of something, like Reepicheep's coracle from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, or that passage from The Pilgrim's Progress about the burden being loosed from Christian's shoulders, "then was Christian light and gladsome."
Art: S. Juchimov, a Russian illustrator. Gandalf is seen in a blue mantle, like his archangelic sire Manwë. As Treebeard saluted him so movingly at Isengard: "Well, come now! You have proved mightiest, and all your labours have gone well."
Sunday, 24 April 2016
See the thread over at my recent post "Seeing..."
Someone once said that people who go on about the Sack of Constantinople by the forces of Western Christendom in 1204 conveniently forget the "massacre of the Latins" in 1182 at the hands of a Greek mob. That may be true of some but it's not true of me. I am not saying that I have sentimental feelings about an atrocity that took place eight centuries ago, still less that I have any sympathy at all for greedy Venetian and Genoese merchants who grew fat off the decadence of a diminished Empire, but before we get into "who started it," I think it behoves us to remember the danger of excusing present action because of perceived collective past suffering. David Grün and Golda Meyerson knew this very well by cynically turning the "holocaust" to their advantage, and we see this also in a petty way in the kind of positive discrimination enshrined in race relations, disability and other equalities. You may not be a Nazi, or a slave driver, or a homophobe, or whatever. But that doesn't matter, your parents were Nazis, your grandparents owned slaves; there is a cultural debt. No doubt some of the Venetians pounding at the gates of the most Christian City in Europe had relatives killed in the massacre, but does that excuse what they did? What they set up? No it doesn't, and I maintain that the events of that year were among the most grievous and regrettable in the entire history of the Church. Unforgivable, even.
"'Work of the Enemy!" said Gandalf. 'Such deeds he loves; friend at war with friend; loyalty divided in confusion of hearts.'" J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Book V, Chapter VII. As ever, Gandalf is the voice of reason and reconciliation.
Christopher Tolkien's unique insight into his father's work is shewn most clearly in the fascinating introduction to The Children of Húrin, particularly in his description of the diabolical curse. I'll let him speak for himself:
"But being incarnate Morgoth was afraid. My father wrote of him: 'As he grew in malice, and sent forth from himself the evil that he conceived in lies and creatures of wickedness, his power passed into them and was dispersed, and he himself became ever more earth-bound, unwilling to issue from his dark strongholds.' Thus when Fingolfin, High King of the Noldorin Elves, rode alone to Angband to challenge Morgoth to combat, he cried at the gate: 'Come forth, thou coward king, to fight with thine own hand! Den-dweller, wielder of thralls, liar and lurker, foe of Gods and Elves, come! For I would see thy craven face.' Then (it is told) 'Morgoth came. For he could not refuse such a challenge before the face of his captains.' He fought with the great hammer Grond, which at each blow made a great pit, and he beat Fingolfin to the ground; but as he died he pinned the great foot of Morgoth to the earth, 'and the black blood gushed forth and filled the pits of Grond. Morgoth went ever halt thereafter.' So also, when Beren and Lúthien, in the shapes of a wolf and a bat, made their way into the deepest hall in Angband, where Morgoth sat, Lúthien cast a spell on him: and 'suddenly he fell, as a hill sliding in avalanche, and hurled like thunder from his throne lay prone upon the floors of hell. The iron crown rolled echoing from his head.'
"The curse of such a being, who can claim that 'the shadow of my purpose lies upon Arda [the Earth], and all that is in it bends slowly and surely to my will,' is unlike the curses or imprecations of beings of far less power. Morgoth is not 'invoking' evil or calamity on Húrin and his children, he is not 'calling on' a higher power to be the agent: for he, 'Master of the fates of Arda' as he named himself to Húrin, intends to bring about the ruin of his enemy by the force of his own gigantic will. Thus he 'designs' the future of those whom he hates, and so he says to Húrin: 'Upon all whom you love my thought shall weigh as a cloud of Doom, and it shall bring them down into darkness and despair.'
"The torment that he devised for Húrin was 'to see with Morgoth's eyes.' My father gave a definition of what this meant: if one were forced to look into Morgoth's eye he would 'see' (or receive in his mind from Morgoth's mind) a compellingly credible picture of events, distorted by Morgoth's bottomless malice; and if indeed any could refuse Morgoth's command, Húrin did not. This was in part, my father said, because his love of his kin, and his anguished anxiety for them made him desire to learn all that he could of them, no matter what the source; and in part from pride, believing that he had defeated Morgoth in debate, and that he could 'outstare' Morgoth, or at least retain his critical reason and distinguish between fact and malice.
"Throughout Túrin's life from the time of his departure from Dor-lómin, and the life of his sister Niënor who never saw her father, this was the fate of Húrin, seated immovably in a high place of Thangorodrim in increasing bitterness inspired by his tormentor.
"In the tale of Túrin, who named himself Turambar 'Master of Fate,' the curse of Morgoth seems to be seen as a power unleashed to work evil, seeking out its victims; so the fallen Vala himself is said to fear that Túrin 'would grow to such a power that the curse that he had laid upon him would become void, and he would escape the doom that had been designed for him' (p.147). And afterwards in Nargothrond Túrin concealed his true name, so that when Gwindor revealed it he was angered: 'You have done ill to me, friend, to betray my right name, and call down my doom upon me, from which I would lie hid.' It was Gwindor who had told Túrin of the rumour that ran through Angband, where Gwindor had been held prisoner, that Morgoth had laid a curse on Húrin and all his kin. But now he replied to Túrin's wrath: 'the doom lies in yourself, not in your name.'
"So essential is this complex conception in the story that my father even proposed an alternative title to it: Narn e'Rach Morgoth, The Tale of the Curse of Morgoth. And his view of it is seen in these words: 'So ended the tale of Túrin the hapless; the worst of the works of Morgoth among Men in the ancient world.'"
 Tolkien quotes here from The History of Middle-earth, rather than the "canonical" Silmarillion narrative.
 Readers will no doubt recall that compelling scene from Book V of The Lord of the Rings, "The Siege of Gondor" (itself reminiscent, with its siege towers and orcish technology, of the Siege of Constantinople in 1453), when the soldiery of the Dark Lord brought their battering ram, named "Grond," in memory of the Hammer of the Underworld of old. This naming seems to contradict what the chronicler says in the Grey Annals that "the orcs made no boast of that duel," that is between Fingolfin and Morgoth, if the orcs should have named their new machine in memory of that old hammer.
 C.f the words of Melian the Maia to Húrin when he entered Doriath bearing the Necklace of the Dwarves out of the darkness of Nargothrond.
Art: Alan Lee. Poor old Húrin sat in that high place for twenty-eight years, "bound by the power of Morgoth."
Saturday, 23 April 2016
It's interesting that another Google widget is directing me to the pious connexion between Shakespeare's anniversary and St George's day. Why do we assume that men die on precise dates? In 1616 England followed the venerable Julian Kalendar, unlike Spain whose most famous bard (or rather novelist) Cervantes died on the same date, but not on the same day, as Shakespeare, that is upon the twenty-third day of April (new style), exactly four hundred years ago to-day. I believe that four centuries ago there was a discrepancy of ten or eleven days between the two kalendars. England didn't capitulate to the false kalendar until the 18th century and, like our antient currency and imperial weights and measures, I wish we'd go back.
My English teacher once stupidly told me that England had a Reformation, not a Renaissance. Like Tolkien, I'm not particularly keen on Shakespeare but he stands firmly against that assertion. I think my favourite Shakespeare-inspired quotation is: "prick me and I bleed." I often say that to people who accuse me of snobbery.
This halting post shews up just how ignorant I am of English literature, doesn't it. We read only Romeo & Juliet and Macbeth at school. When I told my Latin teacher at Heythrop she was appalled, and said that she had studied three different Shakespeare works a year, every year she was at school. I suppose we have government philistines to thank for that. The attitude that says: "oh, there's no point in memorising lists of dead kings or repeating lines of old poetry ad nauseum. We need to get a general sense of how we got to where we are instead." Mrs Granden, my Latin teacher at school, once said that she was not teaching us Latin to make us fluent, but she was grateful that I took an interest and gave me some old battered books (which I still have), books that she used to use before waves of dumbed-down new curricula took over. It's the same with Shakespeare. I now have no inclination whatever to read Shakespeare, or to see a play at the Globe Theatre, because I never liked it at school, and we were never encouraged to like it. But I would say that it would have been nice to have had the opportunity.
Friday, 22 April 2016
"Then Túrin became weary, and he looked about him, and knew the bitterness of exile; and for all the light and laughter of the Elven-halls his thought turned to Beleg and their life in the woods, and thence far away, to Morwen in Dor-lómin in the house of his father; and he frowned, because of the darkness of his thoughts, and made no answer to Saeros." J.R.R. Tolkien, The Children of Húrin, chapter V.
Far be it from me to add to where Tolkien left off but I can imagine this very vividly. Túrin would have turned away and sighed a heavy sigh, and felt as though his heart had been pierced by a burning lance. A shadow, scarce to be concealed, would then come over his fair countenance, the sun would become wan amidst the day, and he would long to be far, far away. This is called loneliness, and if my description of it resonates with you, then God knows I understand it too well. Like Túrin, I feel lonely most often in the company of others. On those rare occasions that I go to church, at work. I have felt it at a friend's house in the deep country; I have felt it at parties (that is in those far off days when I was still tolerable enough to be invited to them). I feel especially lonely in town. It seems ironic that we might feel lonely in the company of others, surrounded by people. One thinks naturally that the tonic for loneliness is people. But there is a distinction between the state of being alone and being lonely. There are times when my mind wanders, through bucolic idylls into cathedral churches in the time gone by, but then I come back, either to an empty room or to my workplace, and whatever pleasure I took in my mind's palace is gone.
Is there a cure for loneliness? Because it clearly isn't people.
Art: Ted Nasmith. It depicts the unfortunate events that took place the morning after Túrin felt the bitterness of exile.