You Can’t Heal Yourself

If you could heal yourself, you’d already have done it.

You need help.

A teacher or therapist, a spiritual director or guru or sensei, a confessor or coach may certainly help. But at most such men can lead the horse to water, and nothing more. In the end, to be healed, you need to go ahead and drink the Living Water. This is the acceptance of supernatural help.

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Scaping Goats is Lots More Fun than Repentance

The more you can attribute blame for some bad thing to others, the less blame you need to shoulder yourself, and the less guilt you then need to suffer. And as guilt lessens, so does the costliness of the personal sacrifice adequate to its expiation.

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Howard Hanson: The Music of God in Nature

hanson-01-ca-1930

Howard Hanson (1896 – 1981) circa 1930

Nebraska-born of Swedish ancestry, Howard Harold Hanson (1896 ─ 1981) became by his mid-thirties what he had determined to become from an early age, the most popular American composer of serious music in the European concert tradition.  He had also become a sought-after teacher, orchestra leader, and musical administrator.  Hanson poured his seemingly inexhaustible vitality not only into the promotion of his own creativity, but, generously, into the promotion of his fellow composers, many of them, as time went on, his students at the Eastman School where he presided.  A radio documentary about the composer from the late 1980s revealed another side of the man.  Several of those interviewed by the producer complained – one of them indeed rather bitterly – about Hanson’s alleged egocentrism and insistence on getting his own way.  No doubt but that Hanson, believing himself a force, often stormed over those who, as he saw it, put themselves in the way of his schemes, his magnanimity in other circumstances notwithstanding.  The man being dead, however, and his personal entanglements being buried with him, the impressive practical and artistic achievements remain.  Paramount among these stands Hanson’s compositional legacy: Seven substantial symphonies, at least as many symphonic poems, a handful of concerted scores, numerous choral works, and an opera, which should have a more active place in the repertory, and not only by way of recordings.

With his contemporaries Roy Harris (1898 ─ 1979) and Aaron Copland (1900 ─ 1990), and with the slightly younger Samuel Barber (1910 ─ 1981), Hanson created a recognizably American sound in concert music, and demonstrated that American composers could adapt European musical forms to the conditions of a new society seeking to set its own mark on an inherited culture.  It is useful to compare Hanson’s legacy with the legacies of his countrymen-composers in the first half of the Twentieth Century.  Harris certainly matched Hanson in egocentrism, maybe exceeding him; but Harris lacked Hanson’s talent, peaking with his Symphony No. 3 (1937), really an extended passacaglia for orchestra, and repeating himself, at ever lower levels, for the remainder of his career.  Copland began as an avant-garde composer in the 1920s, assimilating influences from Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky; he found his marketable voice in the “cowboy” ballets of the 1930s and the populist, large-scale Symphony No. 3 (1946), for whose finale he adapted his own earlier Fanfare for the Common Man.  Copland wrote a surprisingly small number of works and ceased to compose altogether after 1964.

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René Girard – Imitation and Life Without God

In preparation for teaching a literature course in the 1950s, René Girard reread some of the classic novels. In the process he realized that the novelists had had profound insights into aspects of the human condition and that to a large degree, they were the same insights…

In Deceit, Desire and the Novel, possibly René Girard’s best book, he argues that denying the existence of God does not remove the desire for transcendent meaning. Thwarted from seeking spiritual satisfaction from above, the desire gets directed towards other people who it is imagined have god-like qualities of self-sufficiency and autonomy and that we alone have been excluded from this divine status – creating resentment and compounding human misery.

Likewise, various utopian ideas are an attempt to create heaven on earth, frequently creating hell on earth. Trying to satisfy transcendent desires in the realm of the immanent is a disaster, both in politics and in relationships between people.

In this essay published at the Sydney Traditionalist Forum, I also draw connections between Girard and St. Augustine’s notions of the role of God in human life.

René Girard – Imitation and Life Without God

O Tree of Glory

The Christmas Tree is a type of the Cross, which itself is a type of the axis mundi: the pole or ladder or rainbow bridge that in ancient cosmology coordinates, communicates and maintains all worlds, and worlds of worlds, from the deepest pit of Hel through Middle Earth, Valhalla and Asgard to the Seventh Heaven. Evergreen, and adorned with the blood red berries of the evergreen holly, it is a type too of the Burning Bush, which in turn is a type of the Menorah or Tree of Lights in the Temple in Jerusalem, and in the sanctuaries of churches throughout the New Jerusalem (look carefully: where there are no menorahs standing at either side of the altar, there are generally six candles upon it, flanking the central light of the Cross, as the six seraphim of the menorah flank the central light of their Angelic King)(the stone of the Altar Throne and the wood of the Tree above it are alike media of sacrifice, and thus types of each other; thus martyrs may rest sometimes in trees, sometimes in altars). It burns always but is never consumed or extinguished. The ever burning lights of the Tree are those of the menorah: angels, whose fire is the fuel of all becoming. The star at its top is their King, and a type of the Star of Bethlehem.

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Good King Wenceslas

My daughter and I finished trimming the Christmas Tree this evening (it has been for me a project compassing four days). We sang carols as we worked. This is our perennial tradition. At the verge of thirty, she cannot bear to welcome Christmas without it. For, she is a creature and evangel of tradition, our family’s chief enforcer of the rubric of those sacred familiar rites that began before time – her time, anyway. And the rite cannot be completed until, hanging angels and apples and stars as we sing, we finish together Good King Wenceslas. She sings the part of the page, I the part of the Saintly King. In the verses where the Poet is speaking – “page and monarch forth they went, forth they went together, through the rude wind’s wild lament, and the bitter weather” – we sing together, she on the treble, I the alto.

It is a soft, humble, earthy poem: bread, wine, pine logs – the stuff of the Eucharist, and of the ever burning evergreen Tree of the Passion of that High King to whom King Wenceslas had pledged his own pure, total, deathless fealty.

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A Basic Paradox

To be a person, to belong to a community, one must imitate and assimilate.  To be a person, and not to belong to the crowd, one must resist imitation and assimilation.  One must accept being the “minus one” in “unanimity minus one.”  Yet, as the behavior of the Apostles testifies, this is the hardest thing to do.

Unanimity minus one

Why does no one step forward to defend the scapegoat victim? An obvious answer is that aligning with the victim risks the wrath of the mob falling on the defender too.

The other is social conformity. On the face of it, this smacks of something wormlike and intensely ignoble.

In a famous experiment, a large crowd of people agree to lie. They will say that line A is shorter than line B even though the reverse is true. Just one person is the experimental subject and this person does not know about the pact shared by the others. This person will deny the evidence of his senses and agree with the crowd. Pathetic!

But, try to think of a single thing you think is true with important ethical implications that no one else at all believes. Give up? If no support is forthcoming from anyone at all – not a friend or family member – how would this belief be maintained?

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Fewtril: Grim Expectations

The gospel is, as everyone knows, “good news.” What is too often nowadays forgotten is that, for news to be good, expectations must have been grim. The doctor telling me that I have every chance of living to see my grandchildren is “good news” only when I had been living in the shadow of a diagnosis of galloping morbidity. “Good news” is sunshine breaking through a wrack of ominous clouds, not the promise of another hour of sunshine on a beautiful afternoon. If it is to be “good,” the news of the gospel must therefore stand out against a background of exceedingly grim expectations. A pardon from the governor is, after all, “good news” only to a prisoner, and most especially to a prisoner who is pining and fretting through his last hour on death row. And the grim expectation against which the information related in the gospel stands out as good is, of course, certainty of damnation and the suffering of eternal torments in Hell. To read the gospel as gospel, a man’s eyes, nose and throat must be burning with the stinking fumes of brimstone. Otherwise it’s just a story.