Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Episode V

Horatius came into the lady’s presence with discreet alacrity, though he had deliberately left his dark blue jerkin undone, revealing a crimson waistcoat. Matched with the loose drape of breeches, his costume more than hinted of the Moorish garb. The odd smile about his lips suggested this intention, as he first glanced at his anxious valet, then the lady.

Sitting in magnificent possession of one of his cunningly wrought, birch chairs, she rose slowly on seeing him, her willowy form revealing the tallest woman Horatius had ever beheld. A veil of embroidered fuchsia obscured the face in a cloudy haze, while ebon plaited hair hung freely against her sea green gown. Only two eyes of cacao, settled under black eyebrows on olive skin, showed any glimmer of the woman herself.

Horatius, a man so rarely bewitched until he had come to Fiona Saoirsesophie, never sought to hide the fact from himself when he was enchanted. He bowed to his guest, and already he determined to imprison her as he was imprisoned. The unprincipled voluptuary begged leave to seat himself, as breakfast was laid before the two.

‘I have come this early for no idle reason,’ the lady said lowly in the fluid, accent of Arabia, as she resumed her seat. A flick of her wrist and an elegant African brought a marble coffer before them. The lady opened it, and drew out a white melon, then a yellow, and last a green.

‘There are no such delicacies grown here as yet, but I propose to do such wonders on the estate which thou hast procured for me,’ she continued, cutting the luscious fruit into fine cubes.

‘A most handsome proposal,’ Horatius smiled, ‘wine has been perfected here by the castle estate, but perhaps fruit is still lacking.’ He cocked his head. ‘Wilt thou eat with the veil obscuring thy mouth? In this pious country, it is a shield only fitting in the presence of base men, and our ladies are too well guarded and virtuous to admit its necessity.’

The dark eyes met his again, and very slowly, she drew the gauze from her face, which smiled in an ironic pout. ‘I am no longer Muslim, thou shouldst know, and as the Archbishop may witness at the time I choose. My name is Breehna Lucia, and I have come to this land as a renegade from my own for abandoning the creed I once professed.’

Horatius chuckled as he sampled the fruit, ‘Such intelligence would have eased thine entrance into our province.’

‘Undoubtedly,’ she replied laconically.

Breakfast being concluded, Horatio rose and offered Breehna his hand. ‘Wouldst thou care to join me for coffee on the dais?’

She arched her brows, placing her hand on his more lightly than the kiss of an eyelash on a lover’s cheek. ‘I was not aware that coffee was so regularly served in this northern province.’

‘It is not. I was given the sapling of a Java tree during my sojourn in Arabian lands.’

Breehna took in the golden darkness of his countenance from the periphery of her ebon orbs. Yes, he could have been in Arabia. Her eyelids fluttered as they came out on the dais into the flushed rising sun. As if to guide her, her host tilted her hand to the left while pressing his rough palm against her wrist. She felt her cheeks warm as he led her towards the table, where a mandolin lay propped against one of its legs.

‘I see thou admirest the instrument. It is made from the wood of a rose bush and was embellished by the wife of the bard who played upon it. Be seated and I shall play for thee.’

The lady seated herself with an unsettling feeling of gratitude, and brought the black brew to her lips. Its soothing familiarity comforted her, until Horatius began to sing. It was a Spanish melody that had the ring of kinship with her own culture, and its yearning rendered her breathless. Not knowing to fear, Breehna turned her dark eyes towards those of the enchanter.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Wounded bodies retreat. The natural reaction of one who is in pain is to curl up, not to sprawl. An affectionate dog becomes an aggressive mongrel when it hurts; snails pull into their shells at the approach of a finger, and all injured animals flee into their hovels, regardless of whom or what is approaching.

Man however is both matter and spirit. As an animal, he keeps his broken arm protectively pinned to his breast. As he is rational, he stretches it vulnerably forth for a physician to examine it. His reason triumphs over his flesh with ease regarding physical pain. It is a much
greater challenge for the wisdom of man's soul to counsel the pains of his heart or the worries of his mind. Worst of all is when that wisdom faulters in itself, and he is plagued by doubts.

No doctor can heal a man, and no teacher can enlighten him. What a doctor can do is remove the splinter, set the limb, or kill the germ. Then the body must reknit its flesh, reunite its bone, or rebuild after the devastation of disease. The medic removes impediments, so the body may heal itself. A teacher may debunk error, construct syllogisms, and demonstrate facts. The student must be attentive and willing for his own reason to truly imbibe the lesson.
Man then can only help man by
prompting; he can never reach into his brother and assist him directly. That must be a thing his brother does for himself.

This truth applies to the healing properties of the rest of creation. As I look out at a clear sky with the bright hue of a robin's egg, at the silvery green of trees just budding forth, feel the warmth of the sun through my window and the crisp breeze wisping through the room, I am thoroughly aware of the fact that were I miserable, these things would be give me no delight.

I may offer a piece of cake to a man grouchy about the traffic, not to a
man whose car has been stolen. Sunshine gladdens the heart after winter, not after the destruction of one's home. The sudden appearance of a Mandarin Duck beneath the bushes by the canal is uplifting on a dull day, not after the death of a loved one. In fact, wed with grief, these erstwhile joyous things but exacerbate pain. A tragedy occurring in the Christmas season is worse for that fact.

Yet, when pain so engulfed me last autumn that I felt my soul had been cloven in two from crown to toe, I found myself inexplicably soothed as I lay on the stiff mattress of a hostel in Kraków. The trumpet rang out from the basilica, at first melodiously intoning the Marian hymn and then
dying abruptly. I breathed out a sigh and went gladly to sleep.

The next day found me on my knees in the Adoration Chapel of the Franciscan Church--the chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows. It glowed from the light of the arched windows, glaringly white and opaque
but for a colourful image set in the middle, each one depicting one of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady. The walls by contrast were comfortingly dark and lushly decorated. Skies of midnight blue and studded with gold stars spread across the low, vaulted ceiling. Vines of flowers and ivy crept up the walls in deep shades of green, purple, and red. One might have been in the Garden of Gethsemane. And behind the resplendent, gold monstrance, was an image of the Virgin Mother. Her posture was neither straight, nor bending. Her form leaned away as if startled or repelled. The spirit, however, rejected the instinct of the flesh, and so her neck remained submissively bent. Her eyes were as red as blood, and two inexhaustible streams of tears poured forth from those swollen orbs. Her hands were in prayer, though barely pressed together, the fingers hardly touching one another, as if it exhausted her strength to raise her arms but that high.

I had hoped for an answer in that chapel. I received none, and like a surly child, I attempted to resist consolation. No, I would sorrow if I could not have what I asked for, and guidance did not seem like such a great boon to crave anyhow. Yet, as I gazed at her, and then at the Host, I felt my burdens ease, even against my will. For all things in this passing life give us but transient joys and pains. The sheep may desire the Shepherd to fill their trough with water, to be
comforted by its steady supply, but if He comes to them one by one with nothing but a cup in His hand, this must be accepted.

Yet, I felt urged again to rebel.

'O Lord, give me enough to be satiated!'

'Nay, you shall have but enough to go on.'

Yet, I did not wish to go on feeling as I did. The self within me wanted to dash that insulting little cup to earth. Give me a stream of life, not a thimble! But I looked at her again. Emptied of strength and being emptied further still, she stood in a posture of prayer.
She opened not her mouth to curse nor to sob, but with pressed lips and pressed palms, wept before the Passion of Our Lord.

I heard the congregation rising in the main body of the church, and the Communion hymn was intoned. I wrung my hands and wondered if should I receive the Body and Blood. I felt devastated, frustrated, and indignant. But I did not feel alone. And like most sulky children, all I truly wanted was for my parents to come find me in my shadowy corner and plead with me to come out. But they could only beg me; they could not make me open my arms to them like and automaton and spring forth from my gloom. I could drink the cup the Shepherd offered and trudge further up the mount, hoping for more draughts along the way, or I could perish of thirst in the barren ravine with only my pride for company.

Communion would be over soon if I did not hurry, so with the embarrassment of a difficult relative who at last decides to attend the party, I hurried out to receive my Lover in the guise of Bread.

Since that painful episode I have received my answer, though it was an arduous journey to attain it. As the Triduum approaches, those of us who are happy must prepare to reflect on pain. Those of us who are miserable must strive to unite our woes with those of God. Easter is not a
holiday that rushes on us, attempting to twist our hearts and minds to adjust to its mood. This solemn occasion bends the whole of the earth unto itself, drawing us out of our personal lives into its mysteries. Its commerical delights are not strong enough or distracting enough to drown its importance as, alas, is the case with many souls concerning Christmas. Easter's plunge into the abyss of misery is deep enough to pull any soul out of its gloom and into the light of the Resurrection.

On the Great Night forthcoming, the true Healer and the true Teacher is yearning to right your soul. If the day itself is the only
consolation offered, do not resist, weary pilgrim. Do not curl up your limbs and hide your wounded self. Quench the cup, and march onward. If you do not find your answer, you will always have the Answer.

Regina coeli, laetare, alleluia: Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia. Resurrexit sicut dixit, alleluia. Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.

V. Gaude et laetare, Virgo Maria, Alleluia,

R. Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia.

Monday, April 11, 2011

No one who loves Paradise Lost has ever been able to show me any worth in that work. Was it beautifully written? Yes, and Nazis were well dressed. But poetry is meant to illumine as well as to delight, and the occasionally mad ramblings of Blake and the thoroughly bitter words of Pullman show clearly that the fruit of Milton's tree is indeed death.

There is no way of knowing if Milton would be pleased by his legacy or not. I usually respect the author's word by taking him to mean what he says; I
also, as a rule, credit him with gaining the result from his readers that he intended. In Milton's case, those two things contradict one another.

Concerning what the author said, Milton hated the Roman Catholic Church. Like many Puritans, he despised her beauty, her learning, her history, and all her great works, as well as her popery and dogma. One way to discredit a thing one hates is to link it with that which everyone hates. If a roommate wishes me to stop playing Wagner in my room, then she is likely to say: 'You know he was Hitler's favourite composer, right?' And the mention of that murderer's name does make it difficult for me to roll my eyes at her lack of taste.

So if one loves heroic ideals, splendour in dress and architecture, admires personal ambition which leads to excellence, or any other thing produced from the womb of the Earth, then it isn't a horrible strategy to say such things have their roots in Hell itself.

There is one problem, Milton was so contra natura that what he called evil, any other man (without his religious bias) would call good. And these natural goods, for natural men, overpowered even the taint of diabolic association. The superbly opulent, glittering conclave of the demons in his Paradise Lost, garbed in crimson like cardinals and uttering heroic speeches, their will to strive for greatness even in the face of the impossible, even Satan's unrequited infatuation with Eve, all serve to seduce the souls reading Milton's work. I have never met a soul who did not sympathize with Prometheus against Zeus. Putting the devil in the former's place therefore does not seem like sound pedagogy for Puritan doctrine.

Perhaps this early confusion of sympathies was intended by Milton, who
intended to dispel it by the coming of the angels and God, making the reader ashamed of his earlier, wordly attachment. But Milton's God is unlikable and even unimpressive. His angels are dull, promiscuous creatures (though they still manage to blush), and one finishes the book still considering Satan to be the tragic hero.

Dante showed in his immemorial poetry that the Non Serviam of Lucifer buried the rebel as a prisoner of ice in
his own Hell, drooling and munching the bodies of traitors. He is pathetic, isolated, and hateful for all eternity. The Non Serviam of Milton's Satan may have earned him banishment from Heaven, but it is the kind of noble banishment reflected in the lyrics of Bonnie Dundee:

And awa tae the hills, tae the lee and the rocks
Ere I own a userper I'll couch with the fox
So tremble false whigs in the mid'st o' yer glee
For ye've no seen the last o' my bonnets and me

Like the noble Jacobites, the pious White Russians, or Joss Whedon's iron-willed Browncoats, the fallen angels of Milton may say the same of what they fought for as Malcolm Reynolds said of his cause:

'May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.'

Was Milton so obtuse concerning human nature as to believe his Satan would not be the victor in the hearts of his readers? Or was he truly, as Blake said, '...of the devil's party without knowing it'?

We have Milton then to thank for rendering that insane, baleful utterance, Non Serviam, a courageous thing to say in the eyes of those who do not adore God. Last Friday such a phrase emerged again (with cataclysmic import) in the media.

A powerful man was given the opportunity to repent for his former misdeeds, to take a stand for the weak and helpless, and to do so without losing any more face that he had already lost amongst his former admirers. He could easily have blamed a majority that forced his hand; he was not asked to perform an act of sacrificial heroism. No Calvary was waiting for him if he had done the right thing.

Instead, this vitaphobic shell of a statesman stood his ground for the most brutal evil of our 'civilized' age: the murder of a child to protect her parents' right to indulge their sexuality. While sewing his own nation's soil with salt, he simultaneously rubbed it into the wounds of those who care. The money for these murders would still come out of their hard-pressed pockets.

Of course, not being an eloquent or poetic man, the American President did not quote Lucifer at the endgame. He put it far more simply.

But when Boehner later asked for the elimination of funds for Title X -- spending for women's health and family planning organizations that also provide abortion services, the aide said the president flatly refused.

The president replied, "Nope. Zero."

Boehner continued to push to discuss the funds, the aide recalled.

The President repeated: "Nope. Zero."

"'John, this is it,'" the aide described the president as saying. "'This is it, John."

There was a long pause as no one spoke in the Oval Office spoke. [sic]
Thursday, April 7, 2011
These images sum it up.

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Warsaw, Poland
Domine, spero quia mundum vicisti. Lord, I trust that Thou hast overcome the world. Panie, ufam, żeś pokonał świat.
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