Friday, June 30, 2023


Closing Remarks

Aldous Huxley closes his 1952 masterwork The Devils of Loudun with an epilogue that has the feeling of a sermon.  It is a fairly short sermon as sermons go, but a dense one.  His theme is transcendence.  

What does "transcendence" mean?  He does not define it for us.  If we had to define it for him, it might be something like "escaping from the prison of everyday self."

But not all transcendence is in a lofty direction.  There is something called "downward transcendence," as when one falls prey to the passions of the mob -- "herd-intoxication."  And there is "horizontal transcendence," when one becomes lost in some very human cul de sac.  The cul de sac might be scientific materialism; it might be a war (even a just one!); it might be a marriage.  

And even if we are on the path of lofty, upward transcendence, the path is full of perils.  Many perish and fall by the wayside.

No, the odds are stacked against those of us who want to escape the prison of everyday self --

... great goods and ... enormous evils are the fruits of man's capacity for total and continuous self-identification with an idea, a feeling, a cause.  How can we have the good without the evil, a high civilization without saturation bombing, or the extermination of religious and political heretics?  The answer is that we cannot have it so long as our self-transcendence remains merely horizontal.  When we identify ourselves with an idea or a cause we are in fact worshiping something homemade, something partial and parochial, something that, however noble, is yet all too human.  "Patriotism," as a great patriot concluded on the eve of her execution by her country's enemies, "is not enough."  Neither is socialism, nor communism, nor capitalism; neither is art, nor science, nor public order, nor any given religion or church.  All of these are indispensable, but none of them is enough.  Civilization demands from the individual devoted self-identification with the highest of human causes.  But if this self-identification with what is human is not accompanied by a constant and consistent effort to achieve upward self-transcendence into the universal life of the Spirit, the goods achieved will always be mingled with counterbalancing evils.  "We make," wrote Pascal, "an idol of truth itself; for truth without charity is not God, but His image and idol, which we must neither love or worship."  And it is not merely wrong to worship an idol; it is also exceedingly inexpedient.  The worship of truth apart from charity -- self-identification with science unaccompanied by self-identification with the Ground of all being -- results in the kind of situation which now confronts us.  Every idol, however exalted, turns out, in the long run, to be a Moloch, hungry for human sacrifice. 

Thursday, June 15, 2023


A Conjured Memory

From the Hour of the Wolf.  From long ago.  From grammar school.  The nuns and  their rather fractured French.

A single phrase repeated, repeatedly.  Repeated because it closed out a prayer, or several different prayers including, I think, the one that Jesus Himself taught us.

Ainsi soi-t-il.

"So be it," or "amen."  

And not long thereafter, the French of other nuns, of the "Singing Nuns," invaded our car radios on the Top Forty shows of Woo Woo Ginsburg (who, it must be assumed, had fallen from the faith at that time) and others.  It got sandwiched in, somehow, between the blasphemies of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly, and it was, of all things, a song about The Pure Silence of Divine Contemplation, as practiced in the cloistered halls of St. Dominic, founder of the Dominicans.

Il ne parle que du Bon Dieu.

"He speaks only of the Good ['Lord' in our parlance]."

And it had a joy and a bounce about it, not unlike that of George Harrison's "Hare Rama," or the Hawkins Singers in "Oh Happy Day," both to dominate the charts later.

Sunday, June 11, 2023


A Crumbling Carapace That We Choose to Nest Within a Friendlier One

My toys.  Both my boat and my truck are a shiny bright blue, very pleasing to the eye.  I use them to fool Mother Nature if only for a fleeting spell.

Imagine, if you will, that in the last decade of his life Stephen Hawking had both the means and the motive to purchase and pilot a vintage Mustang fighter plane, a P-51D to be precise, the kind that used to race once a year at Reno NV before the tragic accident about which you no doubt have heard.  

On clear days, the sun would have glinted on his wings and his undercarriage as he made the "by the book" steep turn from base leg to final, taking care to stay at least 10 mph over the placard "dirty" stall speed of the airplane, which was 93 mph.  

But even on days of low overcast, when little vortices of condensation would have chased his wingtips as he dropped out of the cloud cover and prepared for the same steep turn, he would have, via the airplane, projected power, grace and panache, specifically in defiance of his actual physical grotesquerie.  Casual witnesses on the flightline, not even knowing who he was, would have sometimes applauded when he shut Lucky Lainey down and the big prop came to a silent stop.

He would have had a special fibreboard screen made, such that only a couple of his minions actually would have seen how he had to be extracted from the plane through its retracted canopy. In a joke that he would have constructed against himself, they would have carried him off, curled up in a ball and secreted in a fleece-lined but otherwise classically simple burlap sack.  He would have giggled at the humiliation, at the yin and the yang of his lofty but equally accursed life.

In his case not mine, there was a feature film that depicted him as a handsome and vigorous young man, as indeed he was before he got sick.  It made a bit of a splash, but very few remember it, fewer and fewer with each passing year.  And yet, according to Christian cosmology, it is in this form that Stephen will rise from the dead, from his own eponymous "black hole," on the Last Day, the Day of Judgment, the dies irae.

Will that monumental intellect, which in its hubris and in best-seller print promised to reveal to us the Mind of God not via revelation in the biblical sense but via mere science, get lost in the multitude on that day of wrath, for want of nothing more than a horrible but more-familiar-to-us carapace?

Only time will tell.

Friday, June 9, 2023


A Generous Helping of Garlic-Mashed Potatoes

For a limited time only, and only 99 cents.

Saturday, June 3, 2023


Our Language Is Intrinsically and Intensely Metaphorical

And no one knows how we comprehend each new metaphor, even in this age of ubiquitous AI.

You were "the apple of my eye."

Jesus and his disciples were "fishers of men."  (This a powerful metaphor but one that collapses quickly; did the new converts to Christianity flop around on the deck at the feet of Our Lord in the boat that was bouncing in the Sea of Galilee?)

America "the melting pot," and Columbia "the Gem of the Ocean."

The "bivouacking" behavior of the South American army ant.  Here, the metaphor is so natural that one wants to ask "Why would the ants not bivouac?  They travel in armies after all!"

The "depths of your depravity."