Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Death on the Nile (2022)

 


Kenneth Branagh has decided to extend his Poirot franchise, following the commercial success of Murder on the Orient Express, with a mostly star-studded version of Death on the Nile. I didn't even like his previous attempt, but I am a big sucker for Agatha Christie, so sure as shooting (of which there is an excess in this movie), I hied me down to our local movie palace. 

There I sat, watching dumb trailers, gearing myself up for more of Branagh's historically unprecedented take on Poirot's mustache. And lo! The movie starts on the Belgian front in 1914, where a fresh-faced farmboy named Poirot observes the birds on the wind and urges his elaborately mustachioed commanding officer to attack the Germans now, under cover of gas. (Darwin, the in-house WWI expert: "Gas wasn't used until 1915.") The attack is a success, but young Poirot's face is blown up a la the Phantom of the Opera. His loving fiance√©, in a speech the screenwriters carefully wordsmithed, extols the virtues of love and urges him to grow a mustache. 

Nothing in this is canonical. Poirot was neither a farmer nor, as Sarah Phelps would have us believe in her execrable BBC adaptation of The ABC Murders, a priest. Christie, if anyone bothers to consult her, has given us his backstory: he was an up-and-coming Belgian policeman as a youth, and by WWI was past the age of military service -- was in fact, around 1914, a refugee in England, where he solved The Mysterious Affair at Styles (the first draft of which was written in 1916 by the 26-year-old dispensary assistant Agatha Christie, who had worked with Belgian refugees). 

But taking all this rather mundane backstory into account would require more grounding in realism than Branagh is prepared to give. Death on the Nile is a production oddly unmoored from reality, with the aesthetic and emotional nuance of a video game. Everything is too slick, too overwritten, too on the nose. A choreographed dance scene at a nightclub goes through the motions of seduction without once feeling like something any two humans might ever do. Gal Gadot and Armie Hammer, as the glossy young rich things at the center of the mystery, wear their costumes as competently as wind-up mannequins. The emotion is flat, the sexuality forced, the representation predictable, and the scenery retouched. 

Let us, while we are on the subject, ponder the tropes of modern screenwriting. All of the character traits from the novel have been jumbled up and reassigned, with several of the more appealing comic subcharacters eliminated all together (along with any touch of humor). Poirot is castigated at one point by a character who has a justifiable grievance against him, and yet the reproach is excessive in its vehemence. This same self-righteous condemnation makes an appearance once or twice more in the movie, from various characters. The screenwriters seem to think it a compelling form of moral discourse. It is not. It lacks what T.S. Eliot called "the objective correlative": an emotional reaction that rightly corresponds to the provoking stimulus. Fictional characters, of course, are always over-reacting to statements or situations, in ways that reveal their motivations. The problem is when the writer pens an overreaction as a justified emotional state, as some kind of moral positioning. "How dare you!" shaming is never interesting unless it reveals conflict within the accusing character. 

May I suggest, for anyone yearning for a handsome Death on the Nile adaptation, the version with the definitive Poirot, David Suchet, with the fine J.J. Feild as the heiress's simple husband. Feild is the poor man's Jude Law, but most of us are poor men. This production is not without its problems, and the first thirty seconds (revealing a sexual relationship that viewers will have reason to assume anyway) can be profitably skipped, but it retains both the plot and the human scale of Christie's novel. And human scale is a quality the viewer will crave after a dose of Branagh's packaged grandeur.

No Fly Zones Are Not Light Steps


While I'm mostly repulsed by the kind of responses that have come out of the isolationist wings of the right and left, I do think it's worth noting that some of the things people in the internationalist wings have been saying show a lack of engagement with the realities of how things work.
Notably, when people are demanding to know why the US and NATO don't set up a no-fly zone over Ukraine so that there can be a "fair fight", I think they are not considering that a no-fly zone is not just some good sense rule that can be thrown up. A military no-fly zone is a declaration by a stronger power that they will potentially shoot down any military aircraft operating in a region.

The US was well able to enforce no-fly zones over Iraq because the US had massive air superiority over Iraq and no real qualms about shooting down Iraqi planes if necessary in order to enforce it.

While I don't have any doubt the USAF could take on Russia's air force successfully, it would certainly be a much more difficult task, but that's not the real question here. The issue with trying to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine is that this would mean telling Russia that if they fly military aircraft over Ukraine in support of their invasion there, we would shoot those aircraft down. There is a word for telling another country that you'll shoot down their aircraft, and that word is "war". Trying to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine would essentially mean entering the war on an aerial basis, and getting into a hot war with Russia is something which we've been at pains to avoid since 1945 and 1949 when Russia first tested nuclear weapons.

Because the US has been so used in recent decades to acting as the force behind international standards in dealing with small rogue regimes, it's easy to think that something like a no-fly zone is simply something that can be imposed like a speed limit.  But the ability to do that is very much dependent on situations where we're dealing with a country we're not really that worried about antagonizing.  Sure, Iraq did not appreciate having a no-fly zone imposed on it after the Gulf War in 1991, but since the US and Iraq were still in a state of suspended quasi war, and Iraq had no ability to hurt the US in any significant way, the fact that they didn't like having a no-fly zone enforced against them didn't matter all that much. 

Russia, on the other hand, would have serious ways of making their displeasure felt. And there are good reasons for the sake of the US and the rest of the world, to avoid getting into a hot war with Russia, even if that means letting them get away with really bad behavior in the meantime.

Indeed, this is the very bad situation we find ourselves in again after a thirty year break in the Cold War. Russia is no longer exactly the "evil empire" which President Reagan dubbed it.  Not it's a corrupt petrol state with retains many of the remnants of an imperial military, and along with that the desperate national desire (at least among some of its leaders) to reclaim that imperial place in the world. 

The Soviet empire was never a "coalition of the willing".  Consider, after all, that the Warsaw Pact was a coalition notable for repeatedly invading its own members. In that light, it's hardly surprising that former members have become quite eager to join NATO. 

But all this creates a dangerous balance.  On the one hand, Russia is a regional bad actor whose neighbors would naturally want to enter into defensive alliances for protection against it. On the other, if sufficiently desperate Russia has the ability to plunge the world into all out nuclear war. 

This means that unlike countries like Iraq or Afghanistan, or even rogue regimes with smaller nuclear capabilities like Pakistan or North Korea, in any confrontation with Russia the US and its allies have to decide: is this something worth risking nuclear war over. That would not be a rational or moral escalation for Russia to make as a result of having their planes and helicopters shot down as they're invading a neighbor, but Putin is not a leader notable for always being moral or rational.

I don't know what the answers are here.  I wish there were easy solutions to the problem of a powerful and malign country wanting to dominate countries which only recently escaped its shadow. The fact that Russia has nuclear weapons cannot become a reason to simply let them do whatever they want.  And yet, as we try to navigate this world we must at least recognize its difficulties. 

Thursday, February 24, 2022

WordGirl: Why is She Showing up in my Recommended Videos?

 Greetings Friends, 3AM Splinter reporting!

Many of you probably know about PBS Kids, the children's entertainment offshoot of the Public Broadcasting Service that features shows centered around education, and today's object of my late-night ramblings is no exception.

WordGirl is a superhero show with a villain-of-the-week formula that teaches an expanded vocabulary to kids (words like quarrel or doppelgänger). The heroine of the show is, surprisingly, WordGirl. Originating from Planet Lexicon, WordGirl sports the basic Superman power package: super strength, flight, super speed, and an advanced vocabulary for a 10-year-old girl. WordGirl's mild-mannered alter-ego is Becky Botsford, who lives with her adopted parents and younger brother DJ as well as their pet monkey/WordGirl's sidekick Bob/Captain Huggy Face (also from Planet Lexicon). Throughout the episodes, WordGirl must face off against villains trying to commit crimes in Fair City while keeping her life as Becky Botsford a secret.

Why am I telling you about this show? Well, during the time I spend removed from the company of other human beings because people are best taken in measured quantities, I sometimes find myself turning off my brain and cruising through YouTube. Over the course of this week I have noticed an increasing trend; WordGirl out of context. Performing a quick search shows that the majority of these were made within the last month, most of them not even a week old as of today. Just searching for WordGirl shows more outliers stretching as far back as when the show was actually airing, but the two-month timeframe still stands. 

Why this sudden interest in WordGirl content? Looking at the history of WordGirl, it became an independent show in 2007 and was aimed at an audience of 4 to 9 year-olds. The show ran for eight seasons and stopped airing in 2014, continuing to release new episodes on the PBS Kids website for another year, finishing with a runtime of eight years. Looking through the channels that are posting WordGirl content now (there were only seven that I could find) five were started in the 2013-2019 timeframe and four of them were started while the show was still airing. The other two had begun within the last two years, one of which had only started on February 2nd and all the videos were WordGirl, which messes with my already sleep-deprived data. All this to say, the kids who grew up watching WordGirl as the audience it was intended for are now in the 17-23 age zone: prime nostalgia candidates. Taking their sadness that the past is over and putting it into a creative outlet. Splendiferous (As a final side note, I found another channel that is only WordGirl clips that started on Feb 20th, 2022).

My friends, it is now 5:55 here, so I'm going to wait half an hour and have breakfast. Thank you for accompanying me down a rabbit hole.


Monday, February 21, 2022

Twelfth Night of Insanity

I didn't ask to be attacked in this way, but my daughter just walked in and informed me that a) Lent starts next week, and b) her 16th birthday is on Ash Wednesday. I ought to be meditating on the passage of time, or considering my end, but my first thought was, "Well, good thing I didn't schedule play rehearsals on Wednesday, because I can't cancel anything this close to the show."

I am directing Twelfth Night for our community theater, and we perform March 11-13, which is within three weeks of rehearsal from now. This week, next week, tech week, and then the show. It is not enough time. We're not quite done blocking the entire show, and then we'll need to start running. I told people to be off book on February 27, which is rich considering that I haven't looked at my own lines outside of rehearsal. (Besides directing, I am playing Maria, and Darwin is Sir Toby, and Julia is Olivia, and Isabel is one of a quartet of Fabians, and William is the Servant with one line in Act 3.4 and one line I took from my lines.)

Twelfth Night is my favorite Shakespeare, and I've teched it at least twice, so I have quite a passing familiarity with the script, besides that I work it three nights a week now and for at least an hour a day of prep. That's one reason why I'm not too worried (yet) about memorization. Another is that I've turned over a number of my lines to the Fabians, a gaggle of maidservants who are always underfoot causing mischief. It is a truth of theater, especially of the community variety, that you end up tailoring the show to the talent. In this case, we had several young ladies who were excellent and yet not quite right for Olivia or Viola, and so, in trying to see how we could add servants to support Fabian, we just ended up splitting the role four ways. The Fabians are a great comic presence and have a lot of stage time even in scenes where they have no lines, so it's not a bit part for anyone.

Some might call it nepotism, but I cast my daughter as Olivia because that way I got her boyfriend as Sebastian, and let me tell you that it is pulling teeth to get young men for a show. Then my daughter's co-worker was interested in trying out, and she's exactly the same height as the boyfriend, so that netted me my Viola. Sebastian and Viola both have fun personalities and are picking up on each other's quirks, netting me new character facets that I hadn't considered just reading the script.

The show is set in that period known as "Old Fashioned". We have boots and jazz shoes. We have hats and wigs from the costume stash. We have a Hamilton dress my daughter made for Halloween. Between Darwin and our producer, we have several fencing foils. Illyria is red and Messaline is green, which helps us tailor our choices. As we've dug into costumes, we've been delving into character. What does Orsino wear? Military jackets. He's in charge of the troops, only he's not there now because he's wounded, which is why he doesn't go see Olivia himself. And Olivia doesn't like him because her brother died in the war. And Antonio is also in danger, because he fought on Messaline's side. And that's why Viola doesn't want anyone to know who she is in the beginning! And that's why her father has talked of Duke Orsino, the bachelor... And so everything starts to come together.

There's some music in the play. We have a guitar player, and our Feste is a good singer, so I've been tinkering with tunes to get something we can master in our short time. Come Away Death fits to the tune of Greensleeves. The Rain it Raineth Everyday, for which we know the original tune, can be sung a capella like a sea shanty. We know what O Mistress Mine sounded like, but the Elizabethan setting isn't doing for me, so my brother and I worked up the tune into a Postmodern Jukebox arrangement, and, for my sins, I am learning the ukelele at age 43.

We perform in a big square room in the rec center, which will have seating on three sides, a big carpet in the middle with an urn and two benches, and screens behind all the chairs so we can enter from all four corners. Lighting? Haven't thought about it yet. Sound? No mikes, no tech problems. Tickets? 50 per show, and we can't yet tell whether that's too ambitious, or whether we're going to sell out every performance. 

And we go up in three weeks, which is not enough time. 

But next week is Lent! And that means Lenten letters. If you'd like me to write you an honest-to-goodness paper letter during Lent (or Easter season, if I get backed up), please drop me a note at darwincatholic (@) gmail.com, and I'll put you on the list. I can't promise I'll start writing until after the show, but I will write.

Friday, February 18, 2022

The Secret History and Me

Tara Isabella Burton has a piece up at Gawker about Donna Tartt's novel The Secret History. The framing is a tempting one for me: Burton talks about how she found the novel at seventeen and about re-reading it now when she is thirty. I too first read The Secret History at seventeen (and read it again, and read it again, through my college years as I earned my BA in Classics) and I sat down and re-read it with middle-aged eyes a couple years ago at the age of forty-one.



Unlike Burton, I liked Tartt's book a great deal at both ages. And given her reasons for disliking the book, the desire to write an explanation for my own feelings has been gnawing at me. 

Burton's complaint is rooted in her conclusion that The Secret History expresses an essentially nihilistic worldview and fails to convey a sense of beauty which is rooted in truth. I don't think that Tartt's world is one of nihilism, though I do think that the truth is not grasped fully by any of her characters.  

I thought about block-quoting sections of Burton's post, but it's really best to read it yourself if you want more than the one sentence summary. What follows is primarily my own reaction to the novel and how I came to it rather than a rebuttal of hers.  After all, how can one rebut a reaction?

You know, from the short prologue, that The Secret History is the story of a set of friendships gone awry. You know that the novel is about the murder of one of the set of college friends before you even know who are they are. The reason for the killing takes many more pages to lay out.

With this dark hint of what's to come, the story unfolds linearly, though it is told by the narrator from memory and with a consciousness of what comes after:

Does such a thing as "the fatal flaw," that showy dark crack running down the middle of life, exist outside of literature? I used to think it didn't. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.

A moi. L'histoire d'une de mes folies.

My name is Richard Papen. I am twenty-eight years old and I had never seen New England or Hampden College until I was nineteen.

As a seventeen year old, this suggested to me a narrator telling the story long after the fact. Twenty-eight seemed terribly old.  Today, it more conveys to me that the narrator is still fairly young, and although he has a different perspective than his twenty year old self, he is still somewhat trapped in the self dramatization of youth.

Richard feels an alien within his family, and in the suburban wasteland of Plano, California where he grew up. And after various false starts (pre-med where he finds himself revolted by dealing with dissections, switching to English out of rebellion, taking Greek as his foreign language because the class time doesn't require him to wake up early and then finding that he's good at Greek) he becomes enamored with a brochure he finds for a tiny liberal arts college in Vermont. Succeeding in transferring there, he seeks to follow up on his Greek studies and discovers that the sole Classics professor, Julian Morrow, runs his department like a members only club, with only the few students he selects permitted. These five students immediately capture Richard's imagination, and in a desperate attempt to join them he goes to Julian and manages to bluff and plead his way into being accepted as a student.

What follows is a seemingly idyllic period. Having yearned for a different life which offers beauty and a feeling of insight into the deeper and better things, Richard seems to have found this both in the small social circle of Julien's students and also in their studies in Greek and Latin. 

There are hints around the edges that this is not as true as it seems. The bits of Julian's teaching we see are perhaps a little pat, perhaps more focused on aesthetics that truth. And the bits of description of what it's like to study Greek and Latin are perhaps more what you could wish it felt like than like my own (admittedly mediocre) experience of studying ancient languages. The different sets of characters also can seem either too achingly perfect or too shallowly depraved. 

I don't think this is because Tartt (whose prose throughout is gemlike in its perfection) doesn't know about Classics or about people. Rather, it's a function of who Richard is and what his temptations are. Richard desperately wants to discover the beautiful, something wholly other from the background he is rejecting, and something he can become a part of. He has a tendency to read all cultural and intellectual virtues into the group that he aspires to fit in with, and it is only slowly (in the fallout of the crime they commit in order to protect their little group) that the narration begins to make it more clear that Homeric epithets aside they are not so very different from their fellow students, except by virtue of having done something particularly terrible.

Of course, the difficulty for a novelist in sketching an idyllic landscape in order to show how people have come to set up for themselves an idol, some other good than God, is that for a beauty-craving reader the idyllic landscape may itself become an idol. Given the idyllic college setting early in the novel, and the consciously anachronistic aesthetics of the Classics set into which Richard is trying to fit, it's natural for readers to think of another idyllic college setting: the first third of Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Burton, in her critique, goes all in on the idea of a relationship between Secret History and Brideshead:

Take Richard Papen, our disaffected narrator, who comes to Hampden and soon falls under the spell of mysterious Classics professor Julian Morrow and his coterie of favored students, each of whom is characterized by little more than aesthetic tropes: everyone’s Homeric epithets plucked from performing sortilege on a copy of Brideshead. There is intellectual Henry, posh gay Francis, ambiguously incestuous siblings Charles and Camilla, and foppish jerk Bunny, Hampden’s counterpart to Anthony Blanche.

Though how she makes Bunny out to be either a fop or similar to Anthony Blanche I can't make out.  If one were to draw a line between Tartt's characters and those in Brideshead, it seems to me that Bunny would be a down-at-the-heals Boy Mulcaster. But actually, I don't think there's much similarity between Tartt's character's and Waugh's.

What is, I think, similar is that the picture drawn by both authors is so attractive at a surface level it's easy for an unwary reader to see it as being intended as an ideal. But, of course, neither is intended as an ideal. Waugh's narrator Charles says of the Oxford interlude:

Now, that summer term with Sebastian, it seemed as though I was being given a brief spell of what I had never known, a happy childhood, and though its toys were silk shirts and liqueurs and cigars and its naughtiness high in the catalogue of grave sins, there was something of nursery freshness about us that fell little short of the joy of innocence.

It's easy to lean hard on the "joy of innocence" phrase and think of all the antics of Charles and Sebastian during their Oxford years as fundamentally good, while seeing dour religion as the cruel force which came and ruined it all.  Or even if accepting the fundamentally saving nature of religion later in the book, to at least see the Oxford interlude as good and beautiful and an important introduction to truth. And, of course, in a sense it is. It is during his time with Sebastian that Charles learns to love another person, and that is a first step on his long path to learning to love God. But it is also a period during which Charles and Sebastian infuse themselves with the grave sins which will haunt them through the rest of the novel. 

Similarly, I think the idyllic period in The Secret History is so successfully executed that it is perhaps too easy for a reader to see it as something that we're supposed to see as fundamentally good. But, of course, we know from that prologue that something went very wrong in this little group of friends. And as we get further into it, we find that this is in great part because they have allowed themselves to think of others -- those who don't share their learning, those who don't share their aesthetics -- as not being real people worth considering.

It's a risk I recall well from my college days, when people tended to divide themselves up into precisely defined social and aesthetic groups: the party kids and the hobbits, the flip flop people and the trench coat people. So many ways we found to classify ourselves. 

The fictional Hampden College with its party kids and hippies and self-styled intellectuals wearing tweed and chain smoking fit well with the brushes with secular liberal arts colleges I'd had.  During a surreal stay at St. John's College, New Mexico (a small liberal arts college focused on reading the Great Books) my student guide assured me through a cloud of clove cigarette smoke that "You come here believing stuff, but once you've read Plato you realize that nothing is true."  Then she kindly invited me to come a basement party to smoke pot and read poetry in French with her friends. While at the other pole of the college experience from this self conscious but empty intellectualism was the Halloween party I briefly visited, in search of a drink, a a different secular college, with its beer-slick floor, people throwing up in corners, and one drunk guest methodically smashing all the panes out of a set of French doors with his fist, while pausing every few crashes to examine the accumulating cuts in his fist.

It was this impression of people who treated their intellectualism as a drug rather than a search for truth, as compared to the 'normies' who went straight for the drugs and didn't bother with the intellectualism, that was to a great extent responsible for my deciding to head off for the calmer waters of a wholesome, if at times mediocre, religious college.

With this experience of mid-nineties college culture, the world of Tartt's creation was entirely believable to me.

The characters, with their attraction to the Classics, but as a source of intense experience rather than as a window to a higher truth, seemed to be playing a beautiful but dangerous game. Is it not the most dangerous game to seek the old gods while not believing in them? No good reader of Euripides will be surprised that entering into Bacchic rites leads to tragedy.

This is not, as I said before, a book much like Brideshead, and if one wants to see it go all the way from college idyll to tragedy to the halting Sign of the Cross that marks the culmination of the history of Charles Ryder's interactions with the Flyte family, then one will be disappointed. 

I don't think that the book leaves us in a place of nihilism. But as it wraps up the post-college lives of its characters up until the point of the narrative (not quite ten years after the core events) it seems clear to me that the characters are coming to some realizations of what sin is, and what part is has played in their lives. It's a book peopled largely with lapsed Catholics (in this sense, too, Richard Papen is an outsider) and a scene on Ash Wednesday near the end provides some of its closing notes. And yet, Ash Wednesday, as Catholics know, is much more a beginning than an end. Whether these characters will choose to talk the forty long days to Easter is not within the scope of the book. But it seems to me they know more of the world at the end than at the beginning, and I am not without hope, however much Richard may be so in the moment that he narrates to us.

Saturday, February 05, 2022

Novena for Order 2022: Day 9

 

Agape Feast, from the Catacomb of St. Priscilla, 2nd-4th cen. AD

As I reach the end of my novena, I don't know if my life is approaching better order. If anything, I'm more aware of where I lack it. In general, I have a happy, easy life, in which our lifestyle is well suited to my inclinations: we have a gentle educational routine which seems to be bearing fruit; the house is pleasant, comfortable, and moderately clean; we like to be with each other. But as I try to write this paid piece, I am stymied. My habits of disciplined creativity are rusty. 

This is not the worst thing ever. Establishing a strong, stable foundation for my family will bear fruit in eternity in a way no personal endeavor of mine will do. But as I want my children to go from strength to strength, I'd like to grow from strength to strength, both creatively and spiritually. I would like my life to be ordered, not to my comfort, but to my flourishing. I want torder my life wisely, as the prayer says. This gives me plenty to think about as Lent nears, and one has the gift of actually being able to choose your own sacrifice.

"May grace come, and this world pass away." (Didache 10:6)

For Ordering a Life Wisely
St. Thomas Aquinas

O merciful God, grant that I may
desire ardently,
search prudently,
recognize truly,
and bring to perfect completion
whatever is pleasing to You
for the praise and glory of Your name.

Put my life in good order, O my God

Grant that I may know
what You require me to do.

Bestow upon me
the power to accomplish your will,
as is necessary and fitting
for the salvation of my soul.

Grant to me, O Lord my God,
that I may not falter in times
of prosperity or adversity,
so that I may not be exalted in the former,
nor dejected in the latter.

May I not rejoice in anything
unless it leads me to You;
may I not be saddened by anything
unless it turns me from You.

May I desire to please no one,
nor fear to displease anyone,
but You.

May all transitory things, O Lord,
be worthless to me
and may all things eternal
be ever cherished by me.

May any joy without You
be burdensome for me
and may I not desire anything else
besides You.

May all work, O Lord
delight me when done for Your sake.
and may all repose not centered in You
be ever wearisome for me.

Grant unto me, my God,
that I may direct my heart to You
and that in my failures
I may ever feel remorse for my sins
and never lose the resolve to change.

O Lord my God, make me
submissive without protest,
poor without discouragement,
chaste without regret,
patient without complaint,
humble without posturing,
cheerful without frivolity,
mature without gloom,
and quick-witted without flippancy.

O Lord my God, let me
fear You without losing hope,
be truthful without guile,
do good works without presumption,
rebuke my neighbor without haughtiness,
and -- without hypocrisy --
strengthen him by word and example.

Give to me, O Lord God,
a watchful heart,
which no capricious thought
can lure away from You.

Give to me,
a noble heart,
which no unworthy desire can debase.

Give to me
a resolute heart,
which no evil intention can divert.

Give to me
a stalwart heart,
which no tribulation can overcome.

Give to me
a temperate heart,
which no violent passion can enslave.

Give to me, O Lord my God,
understanding of You,
diligence in seeking You,
wisdom in finding You,
discourse ever pleasing to You,
perseverance in waiting for You,
and confidence in finally embracing You.

Grant
that with Your hardships
I may be burdened in reparation here,
that Your benefits
I may use in gratitude upon the way,
that in Your joys
I may delight by glorifying You
in the Kingdom of Heaven.

You Who live and reign,
God, world without end.

Amen.

translation by Robert Anderson and Johann Moser
from The Aquinas Prayer Book

Friday, February 04, 2022

Novena for Order 2022: Day 8

Agape Feast, from the Catacomb of St. Priscilla, 2nd-4th cen. AD

I have spent quantities of time working on a paid writing project today, on a subject which should be (and has been in the past) effortless and fun. But every sentence is born of contraction-like bursts of creative agony, immediately followed by the intense drive to step away from the work: to snack, to clean, to look out the window, to read something else, to click around. Perhaps a little of this mental abstraction is an okay thing. All ideas must percolate. But I'm only brewing up sludge here. Why does work feel like... work?

"May grace come, and this world pass away." (Didache 10:6)

For Ordering a Life Wisely
St. Thomas Aquinas

O merciful God, grant that I may
desire ardently,
search prudently,
recognize truly,
and bring to perfect completion
whatever is pleasing to You
for the praise and glory of Your name.

Put my life in good order, O my God

Grant that I may know
what You require me to do.

Bestow upon me
the power to accomplish your will,
as is necessary and fitting
for the salvation of my soul.

Grant to me, O Lord my God,
that I may not falter in times
of prosperity or adversity,
so that I may not be exalted in the former,
nor dejected in the latter.

May I not rejoice in anything
unless it leads me to You;
may I not be saddened by anything
unless it turns me from You.

May I desire to please no one,
nor fear to displease anyone,
but You.

May all transitory things, O Lord,
be worthless to me
and may all things eternal
be ever cherished by me.

May any joy without You
be burdensome for me
and may I not desire anything else
besides You.

May all work, O Lord
delight me when done for Your sake.
and may all repose not centered in You
be ever wearisome for me.

Grant unto me, my God,
that I may direct my heart to You
and that in my failures
I may ever feel remorse for my sins
and never lose the resolve to change.

O Lord my God, make me
submissive without protest,
poor without discouragement,
chaste without regret,
patient without complaint,
humble without posturing,
cheerful without frivolity,
mature without gloom,
and quick-witted without flippancy.

O Lord my God, let me
fear You without losing hope,
be truthful without guile,
do good works without presumption,
rebuke my neighbor without haughtiness,
and -- without hypocrisy --
strengthen him by word and example.

Give to me, O Lord God,
a watchful heart,
which no capricious thought
can lure away from You.

Give to me,
a noble heart,
which no unworthy desire can debase.

Give to me
a resolute heart,
which no evil intention can divert.

Give to me
a stalwart heart,
which no tribulation can overcome.

Give to me
a temperate heart,
which no violent passion can enslave.

Give to me, O Lord my God,
understanding of You,
diligence in seeking You,
wisdom in finding You,
discourse ever pleasing to You,
perseverance in waiting for You,
and confidence in finally embracing You.

Grant
that with Your hardships
I may be burdened in reparation here,
that Your benefits
I may use in gratitude upon the way,
that in Your joys
I may delight by glorifying You
in the Kingdom of Heaven.

You Who live and reign,
God, world without end.

Amen.

translation by Robert Anderson and Johann Moser
from The Aquinas Prayer Book