Wednesday, December 28, 2016


"Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias the prophet, saying: A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning: Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not." From the Gospel of St. Matthew, read on the Feast of the Holy Innocents.

The Feast of the Holy Innocents has been celebrated since at least the 5th Century. There are other martyr's feasts during the 12 days of Christmas, of course, but this particular feast has always seemed to be to be particularly sorrowful. It is not on account of the little martyrs - they went to Heaven, to sit beside the Christ Child, giving their own lives that He might live to give His. No, it is on account of the quoted prophecy, "Rachel bewailing her children and would not be comforted, because they are not." The poor mothers. There cannot be many phrase containing so much grief and heartbreak in so few words. Indeed, in Rome, it was originally kept as a day of fasting in penance, and the Alleluia and the Glory are not sung during the Mass - the only day during Christmas when this occurs. 

However, a number of cheerful and even mad-capped traditions eventually became associated with the day - some of which have continued into modern times. A very good account of them may be found here. At the very bottom of the page there is also the fascinating reminder that the Novena to the Magi starts today. I had no idea that there was such a novena! I think I shall say it, with all do solemnity. 

Originally, I had rather wanted to post something new as far as songs go - but the Coventry Carol is the only carol I have come across for this day, which does make sense. I cannot decide which version I like better, so you are getting one by John Denver, because he's one of those classy old singers who doesn't feel as if he needs to torture the tune to make it "his". He just sings it, and it is refreshing. You are also getting it in Aramaic, because.... why not? It seemed fitting. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Merry Christmas.

Well, clearly my good intentions regarding the Great 'O' Antiphons came to naught. Such a pity. It is amazing how Life can be such a passionate mishmash of Joy of the Season, and Irritation of So High A Degree That One Wants to Punch Things and Possibly People... And further, how such a mishmash, even when Joy is the predominate emotion, renders one incapable of sincere and coherent blog posts. 

However, this is the season of the Christmas - the Great Christmas, or the Long Christmas as it has also been called - and however high Irritation might occasionally wax, it is a season of Joy and Good Will, of Music and Merriment, and Wonder at the God-made-Infant. And as such, it is unfitting not to mark it in someway here on this space on the Internet that attempts to devote itself to such glorious matters. (My how grandiose and self-important we have become!)

So first and foremost: A most merry and blessed Christmas to all of you! Please take a minute to enjoy this beautiful card, which I received from the Tolkien Society on Christmas Eve and which went a long way to putting me into the proper spirit of the great and holy Season:

I find it a particularly poignant picture, as it is based on a little sketch Tolkien appearing on this sheet of doodles, made during the time between his marriage to Edith, and being called up for active duty in the First World War. (There is also a wee kilted Scot in the corner. This pleases me.)

I also had every intention of sharing this St. Stephen's Day carol yesterday, when it actually was st. Stephen's Day, but alas, I was inefficient. Still it is a goodly song, and one that makes for good listening, so I am sharing it anyway, with apologies for my tardiness:


I also have a more timely carol to share - one in honour of St. John the Evangelist, whose feast day is today, and for which I have manifestly been unable to find an appropriate recordings of until today, though I first came across mention of it several years ago. This is a tune alternately known as To The Now, Crystys Der Derlyng or Prey for Us, Though Prince of Pes.

I shall now close, as it is half past ten, and I should like this to go up when it is still St. John's Day, properly speaking, and not flirting with being the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Merry Christmas to us all, my dears, and God bless us, everyone.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Great 'O' Antiphons - O Sapientia

Today marks one week until the Vigil of Christmas, and the beginning of the recitation of the 'O' Antiphons. I have mentioned the Antiphons before, but in the interest of thoroughness, I offer you this short history, from that most excellent website, Hymns and Carols of Christmas.

I always think I am going to mark this Advent posting each of the Antiphons on this blog, on their respective days. I have yet to manage it, but this year, I am off to a decent start by providing not only a link to O Sapientia, but also a little sketch of my own creation, to go along with the hymn. 

Normally, of course, I would post a bit of plain chant for your enjoyment, however, the idea of a being flashmobbed with a bit of Advent-tide polyphony so tickled my sense of delight, that I decided to post this one instead. Enjoy:

Sunday, December 11, 2016


I had every intention of doing posts on each Sunday in Advent. I am not going to whine and blame it on a cold, but I will say (sadly, sadly....) that either my aging immune system is starting to find the eternal business of warding away ailments to be too much for it, or seasonal ailments have a much more pernicious tenacity than they had in my youth. Colds are supposed to be relatively paltry ailments, aren't they? Someone should point that out to the nasty thingy that is going around ambushing the population here.

However, this being the 3rd Sunday in Advent - Gaudete Sunday, and half way through this season of penance, and the tenacious ailment slackening its vicious hold on my motivation, I thought I would take the time to mark this happy day with a rather beautiful excerpt from Handel's Messiah:

Today also seems like the ideal day to share a recently re-discovered Tolkien poem that was in the news a few months back. It is technically a Christmas poem, but the first couple stanza's seem so Advent that today seemed a very good day to most it:

 Grim was the world and grey last night:
The moon and stars were fled,
The hall was dark without song or light,
The fires were fallen dead.
The wind in the trees was like to the sea,
And over the mountains’ teeth
It whistled bitter-cold and free,
As a sword leapt from its sheath.
The lord of snows upreared his head ;
His mantle long and pale 
Upon the bitter blast was spread
 And hung o’er hill and dale.
 The world was blind, the boughs were bent, 
All ways and paths were wild : 
Then the veil of cloud apart was rent, 
And here was born a Child. 

 The ancient dome of heaven sheer 
Was pricked with distant light ; 
A star came shining white and clear 
Alone above the night. 
In the dale of dark in that hour of birth 
One voice on a sudden sang : 
Then all the bells in Heaven and Earth
 Together at midnight rang. 

 Mary sang in this world below : 
They heard her song arise
 O’er mist and over mountain snow
To the walls of Paradise,
 And the tongue of many bells was stirred 
In Heaven’s towers to ring 
When the voice of mortal maid was heard, 
That was mother of Heaven’s King. 

 Glad is the world and fair this night 
With stars about its head, 
And the hall is filled with laughter and light, 
And fires are burning red. 
The bells of Paradise now ring 
With bells of Christendom, 
And Gloria, Gloria we will sing 
That God on earth is come

It is not so strong as some of his later poems, but you can see glimpses of his future poetry in it. The imagery is strong and beautiful, and it seems the sort of thing that ought be set to melody, and sung by people who are glad to sing and do so heartily.

And with that, a very happy day to all of you, and a blessed Advent season.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Long time readers of this blog (bless you for your tenacity) will not be surprised to see that I am once again marking a somewhat esoteric observance on this blog. They will also remember (those of them who are blessed with long memories, unlike your humble servant here) that I have a fondness for fountain pens, which makes this particular bit of esoteria even better a fit than usual.

 I write predominantly with a fountain pen - this pen here, to be exact:

A Shaeffer Tuckaway, shown with a bottle of my ink of choice, Hero blue-black ink. 

But while that is my go-to pen, I have a small collection of fountain pens going for me:

So there you see the Tucky at the bottom. Then there's a black disposable fountain pen, which can actually be reused if you gently pull the nib part off and fill the barrel with ink. Behind them are a couple of modern pens which use cartridges rather than bottled ink. They are handy for travelling. Lastly, there is the steady and reliable calligraphy pen. When I was learning calligraphy, I used these sorts of cartridge pens, with their interchangeable nib sizes. They're a great learning tool, and I still use them to play around with and learn new styles. (Most of my calligraphy these days, however, is mostly done using a dip pen.) At present, I own two different bottles of ink. There is the blue-black ink, which is grand for daily work, laying down as it does, a fine, dark line, with just enough blue in it to give it personality. The other is a German ink. The label reads: Türkisgrüne Tinte, Waltraüd Bethge Papiere, Hamburg. It is a cool bottle. It even has a place for you to lay the pen after you've soaked up ink into it:

Green - even if it goes by the impressive sobriquet of "Turkish Green", is not a very versatile colour, so I use that mostly for playing around with, and even that is not frequent. 

So. What, exactly does one do with the totally fancy fountain pen? Well, I don't know what other people do, but I use mine for the same sort of every-day tasks one would use a regular pen for. I take it to work. I write notes with it. I write letters with it. I doodle with it.... I doodle a lot with it. Because, use see, there is something wonderfully tactile in the using of wet ink in metal nibs. It goes on with a deep, mysterious gleam, pooling for just a moment, a living wet line, full of magic, before it allows the fibers of the paper to draw it in. Even the fines points (and I prefer a fine tip on my pen) will lay down a much wetter line than any other pen, even fine, inky drawing pens. It gives personality to the writing, and particularly to the drawing. So when I've a moment or two, and have nothing else to do (even, mea culpa when I am at work) I doodle.

Sometimes it is just goofy things, featuring anything from demure birds to bowling skeletons:

Sometimes, it is get well doodles for a friend who is fond of Halloween, when that friend is feeling somewhat under the weather:

Sometimes, I decide to do quotes. I get all fancy and calligraphy-ee about my quotes:

(Sometimes, when I get all fancy and calligrahy-ee, my camera refuses to take a decent picture. This is disheartening.)

Sometimes, I have delusions of grandeur and attempt something splendid, such as this picture of Sir Gawain and a hawk, which I proudly named, "The Two Hawks" (Gawain's name meaning 'hawk', you see.)

(Sometimes I remember that there are filters on my cheap little camera phone, and I use them to take sepia colours of my art. This is a fountain pen and pencil sketch.)

Occasionally, my ambitious ideas actually work rather better than I expected:

(That is fountain pen for the most part, with a bit of gold gel pen for accent. I am contemplating making business card out of that one.)

I also have an odd habit of sticking fountain pens in my hair - an unhappy side effect of the fact that women's clothing so seldomly is designed with pockets. This is unfortunate, as I am often distracted, and tend to leave things lying about - I have lost fountain pens that way in the past. As a result, I just ended up sticking the thing into my hair, to keep from mislaying it:

There. I have laid my nerdiness bare before you. Judge not too harshly. Nor mind the rather grainy quality of the pictures. It is not always so easy to take photographs with a flip-phone camera as one could wish. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Happy Hobbit Day

Aye, It is late in the day for this.... nor as splendid a well-wishing as I had originally intended. But, better late than never. (I am sure Sam's Gaffer must have said that at some point.) and it is the thought that counts - even if the thought only ended up being a doodle on the back of an index card, with computer lettering applied on top of it. The curlicues turned out nicely though!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tolkien Week

Sunday was the first day of Tolkien Week - an annual observation that always occurs in September, during the week in which Hobbit Day falls. Hobbit Day, for those of you who are not card-carrying members of the Tolkien Society (as is Your's Truly) is September 22nd - Bilbo and Frodo's birthday. 

Let us all take a moment to fill our Tengwar-etched glasses with Goodly Libations, and raise them in Toast to the Professor!

I had originally intended to do a post on each day of this week, but though I have worked on a Tolkien related post each day, circumstances have conspired to ensure that I have not actually managed to publish a thing. Perhaps the rest of the week will go better?

I first of all present to you a Playlist! Please observe the sidebar, where a Tolkien playlist has replaced the Christmas one that was up there throughout Christmas.... and Lent and Easter and Pentecost. I will be adding to this Tolkien list, so do check back. I also present a small list of Things You Probably Did Not Know About Tolkien. Yes, yes, many of you count me among your more intimate acquaintances, so some of you will have heard me blaithering about this stuff. I trust, however, that the majority of it will be new.

1.) Most Tolkien fans are aware of the fact that he was a Philologist by profession, and familiar with (if not fluent in) a great number of languages. Many of them will also be aware of the fact that he wrote a number of mythic poems that were partly translations out of their original languages, and partly his own re-tellings of those stories. What most might not be aware of, is that one of his earliest efforts in this line is a poem entitled The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, which was published in the Welsh Review in 1945. It was modeled after an old Breton style of poetry and, indeed, was taken from a Breton story. It has been notoriously difficult to find since than, and as a consequence, is not well known. It was finally republished in 2002, but only in a Serbian translation of Tolkien's original. That edition was reprinted again in August of 2015. This time, it was bilingual, published in Serbian and English, with several new illustrations commissioned for the occasion. I went crazy with excitement over that, and bought it. It is gorgeous and I love it... Now at last, after 80 years of obscurity, it is slated to be officially republished in November of this year.

From Wikipedia

2.) Most people, (even a goodly number of non-Tolkien-fans) know that Tolkien created a writing system for his elvish languages. It is not, strictly speaking, an alphabet in the same way that ours is. It is a very phonetic system, with allowances for sounds that most people don't think about - such as schwas. Furthermore, he adapted it for different languages. High Elves, who speak Quenya, had a different 'mode' for using the Tengwar, than did the Sindaran speaking Low Elves. Tolkien invented a 'mode' for English as well. (Since then, quite a number of real-life languages have had 'modes' created for them, Check out this website for some of them.) Most Tolkien fans will also be aware of the fact that he created a runic alphabet for his dwarves as well. They show up most notably on Thorin's map of the Lonely Mountain. What is less well known is that he invented yet another writing system for his Elves to use, He called it the Sarati. The Sarati differs from the other two in that it is written in columns, rather than lines. Like the Tengwar, the vowels are merely diacritic markings:

3.) Tolkien worked on the Old English Dictionary during the years immediately following his demoblisation at the end of WWI. He became quite obsessed with the etymologies of the words "walrus" and "whale". 

4.) Tolkien worked on a translation of The Book of Jonas for the Jerusalem Bible, which was publish in 1966. A history of the project, and Tolkien's participation in it, may be found here. (Notice that Tolkien is once again dealing with a 'whale' :-) There is an interesting side note to this story for those of us who enjoy Lord of the Rings trivia. The character of Strider in The Fellowship of the Ring - and his introduction in the taproom of The Prancing Pony - was influenced in part by Tolkien's encounter with the Catholic poet, Roy Campbell, at The Eagle and Child pub, during a weekly meeting of the Inklings. Campbell was originally slated to work on the Jerusalem Bible as well - specifically, the Canticles. Given Campbell's strong, almost Elizabethan poetry, his work would have made for a very gorgeous translation. Unfortunately, Roy Campbell died in a car crash before he had a chance to complete anything. I can't help feeling that this is a great loss to the literary world, akin to Tolkien's uncompleted Fall of Arthur.
5.) There is a strong artistic streak in the family. Tolkien seems to have inherited his flair for handwritting from his mother's family: his grandfather was want to draw a circle around a little sixpence, and write out the entire Our Father in fine copperplate writing. Mable Tolkien herself wrote in a very fine hand, and taught her boys to do the same. Tolkien's grandson, Michael G. R. Tolkien, is a poet, who has also written a children's book. (The audio edition is read by Gerald Dickens, the great-great grandson of Charles Dickens!) Tim Tolkien - a great nephew of the Professor - is a sculptor of some note. He is best known for Sentinel, a modern steel sculpture of 3 Submarine Spitfires, peeling off in 3 different directions. Of more interest to Tolkien fans, he is assisting in the designing of a memorial to his great uncle, at Pembroke College. And then there is great granddaughter, Ruth Tolkien: singer, songwriter, and fencer. A blind fencer, who fights competitively. 

And on that note, I shall bid you all a good evening. I am going to have a nice cup of tea, and read Looking for the King - a book about the Inklings, which thus far has allowed its protagonists to meet Lewis and Williams, but not Tolkien - and, let us be honest. When I read a book about the Inklings, I am doing it for Tolkien.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

It's the Simple Things in Life you Treasure

There are pine nuts on the ground this week.

There are other signs of summer's waning, of course. There is a freshness to the morning, a coolness to the afternoon breeze – sweet after the heat of the last few weeks - and the subtle, telltale, rain-patter sound of dropping pine needles. But it was the tawny-golden, paper-winged pine nuts that stopped me in my tracks and made me thrill for the coming autumn. 

Because there were no pine nuts last year. Autumn of last year was a long, dry season, coming hard at the end of a long, dry summer, and a year that had no real winter to speak of. There was no ground water. Lawns withered. Wildflowers bloom briefly and faded in the heat. The shallow edge of the Lake turned desolate, drying out with a faint put persistant smell of rotting plants and stagnant water. There were little pockets of sickening pines, turning brown on the hillsides. By the end of the summer, all growing things had the aspect of refugees from a disaster, clinging to life on the edges of a dried-out world. Or perhaps that was just me, projecting my thirst for wet and cold onto the landscape around me...

And there were no pine nuts.

I cannot remember a single other autumn in which this happened. I’m sure that there have been others – perhaps even within my own lifetime – but I do not recall them. That lovely margin season between full summer, and the red-gold, life-scented autumn has always been marked by pine nuts. They come spinning down out of the sky, and land with the faintest little pat of a sound. By the middle of September, the ground is covered with them – neat, brown beads, plumb in their whirligig wings. We used to gather them as children, pulling the papers off gently, keeping the oval bit that grew around them intact; cracking them gently open between our teeth. They taste very little like the pine nuts one gets in the store. These are softer, sweeter – the pine taste both sharper and more subtle. They gleam pearl-white under their delicate aged-gold seed coats. 

Old habits die hard. I still feel the childish enthusiasm for gathering the nuts and eating them as I go for walks, or sit out in my yard. They are a fundamental part of Indian Summer for me – as vital to it as the chilled-red-wine quality of air. The lack of them last year saddened more than the brown dust and brittle clover that had been my yard all the long summer. 

But this year, there are pine nuts. Only a few so far. Summer has not quite let go its grip on us. Yet they are there, with their lovely little wood-bead and gold-paper casings. They still taste as sweetly of pine and the waning year as ever they did – sweeter, perhaps, for the year worth of wanting them. And perhaps for the sense of hope they engender. The drought is not over. Indeed, we may be fated to suffer it for some time more. But there is a promise of greener days in that embryonic life, a promise that with soft sun and gentle rain, they will become trees, and stand in the place of those that died of thirst. A promise that carries with it the sublimity of a Covenant - between Nature and God, and between God and Man: that if we just hold to our course, and be not afraid, He will bring joy and life to us again. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Field Notes from Life

I solved a mystery! See these things?

When I was growing up, we called them "wishing stars".  During the late summer and early fall, they can be seen flying delicately past on the slightest breeze. We used to catch them, make wishes on them, and let them carry the wish away with them. Occasionally, some of the younger people would make "pets" of them, naming them and keeping them around for while.

None of us knew what they were. Common sense pointed to the seeds of some multi-petalled plant that turns to fluff when it is finished flowering - something like a dandelion, but bigger. The mostly likely candidate was this flower:

from Wikipedia

which I think is called Mule Ear, but I could be wrong. The only thing is - those produce seeds the same way dandelions do - sort of umbrellas, with the seed dangling from a long handle, and the wishing stars were clearly fluff all the way around. By the sheerest accident, I discovered their host plant while I was strolling along the shoreline last week:

From I have a really good picture of the
thistle I saw, but I cannot get it to transfer from my phone to
my computer. Alack. We must content ourselves with a stock
photo from a dictionary instead. Such is life.

Yep, they are thistledown! I had no idea. I was ridiculously excited. It's the little things, you know.

I am not going to offer any apologies for the dreadful neglect of this blog I have been exhibiting of late, but I will proffer up two explanations. The first is simply that there has been a good deal of Life betwixt the last post and this one - very good Life at times, and very trying Life at others. It is not always easy to sit down and write when one is busy Living. The second is that I have been giving serious consideration to the sort of blog I actually want this to be. Right now, I feel as though is is something of a rummage room, full of odds and ends, some of which are quite splendid, but don't really go well with anything else in the same place.

I am still not entirely sure what I am wanting it to look like from here on out, but I do want it to have a regular schedule of posts: a poetry post (either my own, or one I've read that impressed me); a book review post; and arty post, etc. I like the tone if the writing well enough, but I would like to tighten it up a bit and treat it a little more seriously than I have been - not dabbling with it, but really writing on it. Until I have settled on a new model, posting will probably continue to be a bit spotty for a while.
In the meantime, however, it seemed like it was more than time to put something up here. So I present the following:

April/May: I went off to Ireland on a 3 week vacation. That is the longest vacation I have ever taken, and the first proper holiday I have had in a number of years. I was worried about it before hand, but there was no need to be. It was grand. I've always been in love with Ireland, but this trip reminded me of why. There is something in the wild changeableness of the weather, the smell of salt, and of peat - oh, how I love the smell of peat! Something in the the slower pace of life, the genuine interest the Irish seem to take in each other, the sense of being connected to the land, and of history lurking just around the corner of every place you stand. It suited me, and there was an odd sense of homecoming in it. I had great joy in my time there, and a hard time coming home afterwards. Highlights include:

 - Standing in O'Connell Street, in front of the GPO with thousands of Irishmen and women, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rebellion. I missed a lot of the official commemorations, which took place during Easter Week, but was there for the actual calendar date that the uprising started. There was music and speeches and poetry, and very few things get the heart going like standing in the middle of a crowd like that, with 4 old fellas from the North Counties, singing rebel songs with all one's might and mien.

 - Attending a High Mass at this Church.

 - Watching a common street worker, waist deep in a trench, chipping away at a bit of stone to add to the dry-stone wall he was making. Indeed, the Irish skill with stone, whether the ancient Monoliths of Newgrange and Howth, or the beehive chapels along the Dingle Coast or the sort of every-day craftsmanship highlighted here, impressed me hugely.

 - Attending an Irish Language Course in Gleann Chulm Cille.

 The course was intense, but fantastic, and I am absolutely mad about Irish again. But the Gleann.... oh, the Gleann! In reality, it is probably too remote and tree-less a place for me to live out my life there, but I wanted to, very much. It is a spare, and incredibly beautiful place, right on the broken edge of the world,

in which peat is still cut by hand from mountain bogs, there are no stores, but a basic grocery, sheep and cattle raising, and narrow, narrow roads. The sea pounds against the far end of the Gleann, and the smell of peat is everywhere.

And the fish! I had one of the simplest and best meals of my life and a tiny restaurant there - nothing more than cold, smoked fishes, and salad, and potatoes, and the brilliant brown bread that I took a passionate liking too and have been attempting to duplicate ever since I got home - but each bite was a revelation and I ate it all with a sense of wonder.

- Bike riding about Inish Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands, It was a beautiful, soft day, sunny and pleasant. The Island is not big, there are parts of it in which you can stand and see the whole thing, with the sea crashing in on it from every side. The wildflowers bloomed everywhere and the earth itself seem formed of music.

- Russell's Bed and Breakfast in Dingle. The Dingle Pennisula in general is wonderful. It has much of the wild beauty that so drew me in Gleann Chulomchille, but softened just enough.

I could spend months in the Gleann. I could live on Dingle. But Russells B&B was a highlight, not only of the Peninsula, but of the whole trip. It is exactly what one is expecting from a B&B - wonderfully comfortable rooms, full of intimate little touches that make you feel as though you are guest rather than a tenant. For breakfast, you can get smoked fish - which I did, and it rivaled the Gleann meal in its ability to amaze - or the catch of the day - which I also did. That memorable fish was swimming in Dingle Bay at dawn, and by breakfast time, was gently cooked in butter and sitting on my plate, tasting of nothing else on earth. The meals were further enlavished with heaps of that brown bread, and a most gorgeous homemade apple blackbearry jam that tasted of spring.

June/July: I discovered Memrise, thanks to a good friend. I was still on fire with Irish, and looking desperately for a way to keep a hand in on it. Memrise is an excellent way of learning languages. You choose a goal for yourself. I opted for a very low one, so that I'd be more likely to keep at it, and you get little mini-lessons, and reviews. It is fun. It is addicting. It makes one enthusiastic and inclined to run about telling all ones friends and relations about it, so that they sign up, and get addicted and start learning languages too. Of course, I am opting for Irish, Old English and Morse Code. The sister with whom I share my habitation, is learning Italian. Other sisters are opting for German. We cannot, in point of fact, speak to each other in our elementary new languages, but that doesn't keep us from being enthusiastic about it anyway.

I have also been going out for explores in the wild spots at the edge or our little town, preferably near sunset, when the air is cooler and there is a sweetness to it which is sadly lacking during the heat of summer days. And the world goes all dove-blue and old-gold, and the tree stand out like wrought-iron against the gloaming.

Mostly, I go out to the Marsh, which, in spite of its name, is  not very marshy. It is a margin place, where the river pours out into the lake. There are sandy stretches of beach, and scrappy shore-plants growing tenaciously along the spongy bits. There is meadow, and marsh, and river and pools, and finally there is the lake and in amoungst all this mad mix of habitats there are willows and wildflowers, waterfowl and Osprey, Hawks and songbirds. The air is full of the sound of running water and splashing waves, of bird calls, and the sighing of wind through the willows and the grasses. It is a beautiful and timeless place, in which it is easy to stop moving, to sit still, to step outside of the World, and for a quiet space, to lay down one's burdens - big or small - and truly rest. I generally go with a friend from work, a birder, who takes lovely and oddly personal pictures of it all. Thanks to his influence,  I can now name birds I have neither known nor named before and I can identify a small number of them by their songs. I come home from such peregrinations with pockets full of smooth lake stones, and feathers, and pine cones, fleetingly blue crawdad's claws, and paper-thin water-snail shells, ineffably delicate. And I come home home feeling that I am me again, that God is good, and that no matter what happens, I want to live in such a way that my life is a thank you for the sheer staggering beauty He saw fit to lavish on the world.

I have begun to practice watercolouring again. I am in no way an artist, but I take great pleasure in doodling. My little watercolours are very small, sketched very quickly from life, and feature more plants than anything else,

though occasionally, some-
thing with breath and pulse and means of movement. It is both soothing and exciting to take a little art kit along with me, and paint things. There is a great deal of joy in it, even if the result is just simple little thumbnails.

And with that, my tea is calling, and while one can be sustained by beauty alone for a considerable amount of time, the stomach, not to mention the personality, tends to rebel if forced into subjugation for too long. A tip of the hat to all of you, and I hope to return sooner next time.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Passion Sunday

From this Sunday until Easter, we enter into the most solemn time of the liturgical year. All Lent has been preparing us for Christ's Death and Resurrection. Beginning on Passion Sunday, we begin to prepare for His Death in earnest. From now until the Gloria is sung during Easter vigil, every crucifix, statue and holy picture within the church are shrouded in purple covers. Our Lord's impending betray and passion are foreshadowed in the daily readings, not only in the Mass, but in all the Divine Liturgy. Beginning on Palm Sunday, all four Passion Narratives from each of the Gospels will be read - Matthew on Sunday, Mark on Tuesday, Luke on Wednesday, and John on Friday. There are numerous beautiful and deeply moving ceremonies, prayers and hymns to bring to our minds the great love of God for us, and the great price He paid for our redemption. Passiontide into Easter vie with Christmas as my favourite time of the year.

From a purely selfish perspective - the last few weeks of Lent always seem to go by quickly. For four week, there is prayer and penance, fasting, and almsgiving. Quite often, it is a bit of a slog, that slow, breaking away from one's ordinary habits, the re-focusing on God, the discipline that is required to hold to good resolutions. And then, the Church gives one a break - Laetare Sunday (which was last week) - a day of hope and gladness in the midst of penitence. For a moment, we look beyond Calvary and see the victory after death. Then we hit a string of solemnities - Passion Sunday, Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter. With the intense focus on the mystery of Redemption, comes a feeling as of a battle being drawn, of stake all, and win all. Grief and hope, heartbreak, anguish, and exultation combine to produce a time of happening - a sense of participating in some great movement that is both terrible and splendid. 

Though I have not always been so faithful to my resolutions as I want to be, I can honestly say I have done my best this year. I have spent the last few weeks feeling as though I were a bit if iron, being given an edge. I have no idea of I actually am any better than I was at the beginning of the season - God knoweth, to quote St. Paul, but the hunger I have felt is more from a desire to be more Christlike, than from the purely human hunger that comes from reduced rations. And God, being good, has occasionally played Simeon's part in my own Cross carrying, and sent a bit of elemental joy into the somber world.

After one such occurrence, I composed this:

It was a wildly windy day, and though I cannot remember if there were clouds in the sky, or if it were merely bleached by a burning, winter sun, but the raven and the gull were caught in the light, and turned into creatures of silver flame as they slipped in great circles through the draught. At that moment, nothing else seemed to matter, but those two shining works of God's hands, and the goodness He has shown in making them as He did. And it was enough.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Celebrate With Me, My Friends!

Today is the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, also knows as The Angelic Doctor. St. Thomas possessed one of the keenest minds of his time - perhaps of any time. He wrote reams of theology and philosophy, could dissect and issue so thoroughly, that there is literally nothing left to say about it:

This is the truth.

He wrote poetry, and is responsible for much of the prayers for the Corpus Christi Mass. For years, his staggering intellect, weighty writing, and passionately pure virtue, left me rather in awe and very intimidated by him. 

Last year on his feast day, however, I discovered that one could have a bit of the Summa Theologica emailed daily, so that within a year, one would have read the whole thing. At that time, I was reading a fair bit of philosophy. Nothing terribly heavy, mind. I'd gone through most of C. S. Lewis's apologetic works - and, with allowances for inter-Christian ecumenical tendencies, very fine and clear writing they are indeed. I was dabbling with the Greeks - Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Aristotle was my favourite. As it turns out, he was Thomas' favourite as well - The Philosopher, is what Thomas called him. So when I was confronted with a opportunity to read the Summa in small doses, it seemed like so brilliant a plan that I signed up for it on the spot. 

I've stuck with it, too, though I'd occasionally fall behind, and slave away to catch up. Occasional, St. Thomas so beat his subject to death, that I was exhausted by it, before the subject itself was exhausted, and I would skip ahead a bit. But, for all intents and purposes, I have managed the whole thing. (Or nearly: due to a computer glitch, there were two days in which it did not come as it out, so I have two more days left of it... but almost!) And... well, there is no denying that it was a challenge. But St. Thomas, for all his weightiness of style, has a blunt and matter of fact approach to The Truth, and will not be put off by sophistry, nor muddled thinking. St. Thomas, in fact, is practical.

He can also be very literal:

This is is also the truth. 

He was also very human, however, in spite of his great virtue. He was, for example, a bookworm. There was one time in which he and a companion were travelling to Paris, where he was supposed to have dinner with the King. When the great city came in to view, the companion said, "How wonderful it must be to own that all!" To which Thomas replied, "I'd rather have that Chrysostom manuscript I can't get hold of!" I understand Thomas there.

He was also absent minded - a result of the intense mental battles against fallacy which he was constantly waging in his own head. During one of the formal dinners with King Louis of France - which he was obliged to attend - St. Thomas, rather than eating, drinking, or talking to his companions, just sat there, thinking. Conversation carried on all around him. People were enjoying themselves, and Thomas was lost in thought. Then, all at once, Thomas brought his fist down on the table with a tremendous crash, that stunned the assembly into silence, "And that will settle the Manichees!"(The King, to do him credit, merely sent for a secretary to write down Thomas' argument right then and there, in case he forgot it.) 

Furthermore, he had some of the most truly appalling handwriting I have ever laid eyes on:

Thomists everywhere should give ceaseless praise to God that St. Thomas mostly wrote by dictating to secretaries... because, that chicken scratch is impossible to read. 

In short, I have become very fond of St. Thomas Aquinas in the year that I have spent with him. He is still far too brilliant and holy for me. I feel in his presence, rather the way Sam Gamgee feels around the Elves. But his loftiness has been tempered by an appreciation for the sheer, exuberant, childlike enthusiasm with which he tackled the world. And a hearty thankfulness for the Summa. I've actually drawn on some of that reading, recently, to answer questions I didn't even realise I knew the answer too. It is satisfying. 

And on that note, I shall urge you all to read a little bit more about St. Thomas, here. And leave you with this picture, which is a bit too true:

Aw... The Angelic Doctor understands!:

St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Little Christmas

Today is the last day of twelve days of Christmas. It goes by various names - the Epiphany, Three Kings Day, Little Christmas. In many cultures, this is the traditional gift-giving day of the Christmas season, as this is the day commemorating the visit of the Three Kings to the Child Jesus. 

Star of Bethlehem, by Edward Burne-Jones, 19th c. has a whole page dedicated to traditional observances of the Epiphany.

Generally, the Wisemen are credited with leaving gifts, but in Italy, La Befana is said to do so. She was a good witch who provided lodgings for the Wisemen on their way to Bethlehem, They asked her to accompany them on remainder of the journey, but she declined, being too busy. She had a change of heart later on, however, and attempted to find the Child of Whom they had spoken.

La Befana the Christmas witch, said to walk or fly about Italy on her broom putting gifts in stockings or giving presents on Epiphany eve, January 5th, looking for the Christ child or her own or keeping watch over all children. She may be related to the Sabine/Roman Goddess Strenua who gave out New Years gifts:

My family has always celebrated Little Christmas. On Christmas morning, we all choose a gift to set aside for the Epiphany, and the Wisemen always come a leave another small gift or two as well. We have a dinner very similar to our Christmas dinner, and it is, in every way, a Little Christmas for us. It is rather a lovely way of keeping the spirit of the season throughout the entire season. 

It is rather late in the day to be posting this, I know, but this medley seems like a good way to end out the Long Christmas:

From the Propers of today's Mass: Alleluia, alleluia.We have seen His star in the East, and are come with gifts to adore the Lord. Alleluia.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Toast!

Today is Tolkien's Birthday. It is a festive day on this blog. We celebrate it by reading Tolkien books, listening to Tolkien music, watching Tolkien things - whether it be movies or lectures concerning the Professor is up to you - and, most importantly, filling one's cup with goodly drink, and toasting, "The Professor" at 9 pm precisely.

Today, however, I did something slightly different. I got bold. And, perhaps, a wee bit more nerdy that is usual, even for myself. Today, I joined The Tolkien Society. I get a card. I get subscriptions to Amon Hen and Mallorn magazines. I get a 15% discount if I want to take classes through the Mythgard Institute. I get the huge feeling of satisfaction that can only come to Tolkien fans, when they join and organisation that still counts him as its President. (Though the VP, his daughter, Priscilla, does most the work.)

Since I would dearly love for all of you to have something both Christmasy and Tolkien related so that all of you too, may celebrate the Author of the Century, I present this talk on The Father Christmas Letters. It is long(ish). But watch it anyway.

I hope you are all enjoying a splendid Christmas season, that the New Year has been good to you all thus far, and that you take a moment to wish J. R. R. Tolkien a happy birthday.