Fragments, Fumbles, Scraps, and Scratchings

Luke 10:25-37

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

— Luke 10:25-37, New International Version (NIV)


The Norm of American Religion

Some years ago I came to know a liberal American church distinguished for its extraordinary intellectual life. It was a small parish composed of exceptionally gifted persons and possessed of a small but exceptionally beautiful church building. Under the leadership of a scholarly minister of philosophic mind, it had become, as one observer remarked, a little esoteric circle of intellectual highbrows. It came to me vividly at the time that this was not a parish to be imitated, that this was not the ideal American church. What it was doing was notable and in its way highly admirable, but it could not be normal, it was not imitable. It seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, that it would be far more important for any church to achieve a character not extraordinary or inimitable but rather such as might conceivably become the norm of American religion.

— Von Odgen Vogt, The Primacy of Worship (1958)

Science and Religion

My college years lay in that time, now scarcely remembered, when Greek and Latin were required studies. There was then some tension between the classics and the growing influence of science. Now it is seen that the open mind of classicism and the searching mind of science are united in a struggle with medieval and Reformation dogmatism. A deep but needless cleft between these forces is not lessening but widening. It is an ominous division which, if not healed, will bring untold disasters of spiritual disorder upon our nation and upon mankind.

— Von Odgen Vogt, The Primacy of Worship (1958)

Good Morning

Below globe’s edge the sun still hid
But sky was glowing bright
And a thousand birds raised a raucous cheer
To greet the close of night
— Koppantó

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney died last week. I haven’t read his poetry, but was enchanted a couple of years ago by his translation of Beowulf. Here he describes the “voice” he wanted for his translation:

It is one thing to find lexical meanings for the words and to have some feel for how the metre might go, but it is quite another thing to find the tuning fork that will give you the note and pitch for the overall music of the work. Without some melody sensed or promised, it is simply impossible for a poet to establish the translator’s right-of-way into and through a text. I was therefore lucky to hear this enabling note almost straight away, a familiar local voice, one that had belonged to relatives of my father’s, people whom I had once described in a poem as “big voiced Scullions.

I called them “big voiced” because when the men of the family spoke, the words they uttered came across with a weighty distinctness, phonetic units as separate and defined as delph platters displayed on a dresser shelf. A simple sentence such as “We cut the corn to-day” took on immense dignity when one of the Scullions spoke it. They had a kind of Native American solemnity of utterance, as if they were announcing verdicts rather than making small talk. And when I came to ask myself how I wanted Beowulf to sound in my version, I realized I wanted it to be speakable by one of those relatives. I therefore tried to frame the famous opening lines in cadences that would have suited their voices, but that still echoed with the sound and sense of the Anglo-Saxon.

He goes on to explain his choice for the first word of the poem:

Conventional renderings of hwaet, the first word of the poem, tend towards the archaic literary, with “lo” and “hark” and “behold” and “attend” and — more colloquially — “listen” being some of the solutions offered previously. But in Hiberno-English Scullionspeak, the particle “so” came naturally to the rescue, because in that idiom “so” operates as an expression which obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention. So, “so” it was.

I know nothing of Heaney’s “Scullionspeak”, but this use of “so” is familiar and natural to me, perhaps a legacy of my rural Illinois origins, and his explanation instantly won me over. A poetic translation of a poem is really a new poem no matter how closely it adheres to the original, and since I have found his Beowulf so appealing I probably would like his work in general. Now, I suppose, I really should read some of his other poetry.

RIP Seamus Heaney.

On the Uses of Peasants

Peasants as entertainment in Eighteenth-Century Hungary:

When Prince Nicholaus [Esterházy] entertained important visitors at the palace Eszterháza, among the featured attractions were idyllic scenes of merrymaking staged by local peasants … Prior to such festivals, estate officials circulated princely orders desiring peasant couples to assemble, dressed in their Sunday clothes and finery and accompanied by musicians and their village banners, to dance and sing for the aristocratic visitors. These “peasant lads and lasses” (“Pauern Purschen und Mädl”) received in return plentiful bread, wine, beer, and meat. Contemporary reports enthusiastically described the peasant merrymaking, and the great joy evinced by the rustics on such occasions.

For example, the wedding of the prince’s neice Countess von Lamberg and Count Poggi in September 1770, as described in the Pressburger Zeitung:

There suddenly appeared “a large group of local peasant men and women, who contributed not a little to the diversion of the lofty company through their peasant dances, their country songs, and the great merriment that was evident on their faces; this peasant festival lasted a great part of the night, during which care was taken to enliven it more and more through generous distribution of wine and much food.”

and a festival held in honor of Maria Theresia, 1-3 September 1773 —

The princely administrator of the Esterházy estate through which the empress would pass on her way to Eszterháza (the estate Hornstein) was instructed by the prince’s regent to have various parishes assemble musical bands and village flags and shout “vivat Maria Theresia!” as the empress passed.

The amiability manifested by the gaily dressed peasants at Esterházy festivals, mentioned at the outset of this chapter — the dancing and shouts of “Vivat” — was largely superficial. Suspicious about the terms of payment for their efforts, peasant couples often agreed to participate in these festivities only under pressure from officials of the landlord. When the carousing and the show of bonhomie ended, the tenants of Prince Esterházy returned home to a very different reality.

— Rebecca Gates-Coon, The Landed Estates of the Esterházy Princes: Hungary During the Reforms of Maria Theresia and Joseph II

Dance and Play

Whether we think of the sacred or magical dances of savages, or of the Greek ritual dances, or of the dancing of King David before the Ark of the Covenant, or of the dance simply as part of a festival, it is always at all periods and with all peoples pure play, the purest and most perfect form of play that exists. Not every form of dancing, it is true, shows this play-quality to the full. It is most readily discernible in choral or figure dances, but it is also there in the solo dance — wherever, in fact, the dance is a performance, an exhibition, a display of rhythmical movement as in the minuet or quadrille. The supersession of the round dance, choral and figure dances by dancing à deux, whether this take the form of gyrating as in the waltz or polka or the slitherings and slidings and even acrobatics of contemporary dancing, is probably to be regarded as a symptom of declining culture. There are reasons enough for such an assertion if we survey the history of the dance and the high standards of beauty and style it attained in former ages, and still attains where the dance has been revived as an art-form — e.g. the ballet. For the rest, however, it is certain that the play-quality tends to be obscured in modern forms of dancing.

— Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture, [translated by R.F.C. Hull]


Tolerance is a social rather than a religious virtue. A broad-minded view of the private belief of others undoubtedly makes for the happiness of society; but it is an attitude impossible for those whose personal religion is strong. For if we know that we have found the key and guiding principle of Life, we cannot allow our friends to flounder blindly in the darkness. We may recognize that without the key they may yet lead virtuous and admirable lives, but their task is made unnecessarily hard; it is our duty to help them on to the true Path, to show them the light that will illuminate it all. Opinions may vary as to the nature of the help that should be given, whether peaceful persuasion and a shining example, or a sword and the auto da fé. But no really religious man can pass the unbeliever by and do nothing.

Still more than the unbeliever it is the wrong believer, the heretic rather than the infidel, whose conversion is the concern of the faithful. For the infidel is often impossible to win. No one can prove that Christianity is better than Buddhism or Islam. Those who believe it to be so, do so not from logical argument but from an instinctive conviction that its fundamental message is the true revelation, whereas those of other creeds are false or unimportant. But the heretic Christian is in a different position. He believes, like the orthodox, in the basic article of Christian faith, that Jesus of Nazareth died to redeem us. But he gives his faith another interpretation, an interpretation that leads him, in orthodox eyes, into dangerous and avoidable error.

His crime is therefore the more serious. The infidel in his unbelief leaves Christianity alone. The heretic accepts its principles but by perverting them destroys their value, undermining the whole Christian position. Yet heresy is hard to exterminate. “For there must be also heresies among you”, said St Paul; and indeed orthodox doctrine is complex and difficult, and it is tempting to make some simplification here or there–tempting, but not to be endured.

— Steven Runciman, The Medieval Manichee: A Study of the Christian Dualist Heresy

The Whole Duty of Man

I believe in the existence of a universe of suns and planets, among which there is one sun belonging to our planetary system; and that other suns, being more remote, are called stars; but that they are indeed suns to other planetary systems. I believe that the whole universe is NATURE, and that the word NATURE embraces the whole universe, and that God and Nature, so far as we can attach any rational idea to either, are perfectly synonymous terms. Hence I am not an Atheist, but a Pantheist; that is, instead of believing there is no God, I believe that in the abstract, all is God; and that all power that is, is in God, and that there is no power except that which proceeds from God. I believe that there can be no will or intelligence where there is no sense; and no sense where there are no organs of sense; and hence sense, will, and intelligence, is the effect, and not the cause, of organization. I believe in all that logically results from these premises, whether good, bad, or indifferent. Hence, I believe, that God is all in all; and that it is in God we live, move, and have our being; and that the whole duty of man consists in living as long as he can, and in promoting as much happiness as he can while he lives.

A Philosophical Creed
Written at Hebron, N.H., May 28, 1833,
By Abner Kneeland

Touch Not My Lips with the White Fire

Touch not my lips with the white fire
From the glowing altar of some peaceful shrine.
Thrust not into my hands the scroll of wisdom
Gleaned through the patient toil of the centuries;
Give me no finished chart that I may follow
Without effort or the bitter taste of tears.
I do not crave the comfort of the ancient creeds,
Nor the sheltered harbor where the great winds cease to blow;
But winnow my heart, O God; torture my mind
With doubt. Let me feel the clean gales of the open sea,
Until Thy creative life is my life and my joy;
One with the miracle of Spring and the blowing grain,
The yearning of my fellowmen and the endless reach of stars.

–Alfred Storer Cole, “Touch Not My Lips with the White Fire”

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