Looking for Humble Leaders

“What measures would you enact to check and restrain your own power as a public servant?”

In my previous post noting my pet criteria for selecting a candidate, I said that the question above would be what I’d initially ask if given the opportunity to question a candidate for public office. Yes, even if I were given the chance to ask only one question, that question would be it. A colleague of mine at work responded, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

I am quite serious.

In his book History and Truth, the late philosopher Paul Ricoeur wrote:
Power is the central question of politics: Who commands? For whom? Within what limits and under what restrictions? It is in activities which concern power, either from the side of those who possess it or from the side of those who come under its sway, challenge it, or court it—it is in all these activities that the destiny of a nation is created or doomed.

[…]

The most deadly passions proliferate around power: pride, hate, fear. This sinister trilogy shows that wherever is man’s greatness is also his fault.
We can use the power of the State to do great things for the common good. We can aid the poor, the oppressed, and the destitute. The hungry can be fed, the thirsty given drink, and the homeless provided shelter. We can wield this power to defend the innocent, to protect ourselves from harm, and to punish the guilty. We can pour this power into organizing society, regulating our economic endeavors, advancing knowledge and understanding. The list goes on.

But the political power used for good is the same power that tempts the powerful to sins of pride, hate, and fear. No sinner is immune to its dark pull on the heart and mind.

It may be a particular temptation for Americans to consider themselves more immune to the corruptive nature of power because we have used power often and well to advance freedom for ourselves and for others. Russell Kirk, who didn’t shy away from declaring the greatness of the American cause, knew better: “I am afraid that we must confess, now, that Americans have no peculiar exemption from Sin, as a people, and that pure power, in our hands, is as dreadful as pure power in the hands of any other nation.” Kirk also didn’t shy away from noting our vices and failures. He had a sense of the humility that I so look for in our public servants; the humility that doesn’t demean one’s vision of self, but rather clarifies one’s vision of self.

To be humble is to see the truth of oneself. The character Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings is a model of this humility. The character in the books was not the pusillanimous orc-slayer played, albeit well, by Viggo Mortensen, whose beloved had constantly to tell him to toughen up and be a man. The magnanimous Aragorn of the books knew his competence to be king and pursued the throne of Gondor prudently and patiently. He knew he was a great man. He saw himself truly, his foul-looking vices and his shrouded virtues.

He was humble, not proud. He knew the power of the Ring and the raw power of the State would easily corrupt him, despite his greatness of body and soul. He used power, sought it for the good of Middle-Earth, yet he knew the dangers that such power holds.

Today the President of the United States, aided not a little by self-described limited-government conservatives, wields power the scope and degree of which is frightening to behold. His daily decisions affect the whole world in ways we cannot calculate or imagine. The collected power of the U.S. government extends even wider and pierces even deeper.

To make matters worse, we are losing the placements of checks and balances in our country. Lawyers write secret memos granting secret powers to those whose power is supposed to come from the consent of the governed. Supreme Courts strike down state laws banning the killing of unborn human beings, and the states have no immediate check upon the unaccountable nine, whose jobs are pretty much secure no matter how ludicrous their logic. Read the Declaration of Independence. As Joseph Sobran has argued, some of the tyrannies of King George pale in comparison to the crap we’re perpetrating today.

Chesterton wrote that we will be governed either by rules or by rulers. Humble public servants knows this. They will make sure that the rules restrain them so that they will not cease to be responsible leaders by becoming tyrannical rulers.

If we are to have a free society, then we must have humble leaders who will wield power prudently.

*This post is the second part of a series on my pet criteria for choosing a candidate for public office.

My Pet Criteria for Selecting Candidates

With all the talk about what makes a conservative or a liberal and what issues are non-negotiable for serious voters, I thought I’d add to the discussion my criteria for selecting a candidate for public service, particularly the President of the United States. I will admit that these arbitrarily numbered five criteria are my pet prerequisites for a candidate to receive my vote.

The criteria I use most in choosing my public servants has less to do with issues per se and more to do with good old fashion Aristotelian virtue. As novelist and commentator Mark Helprin said, “When we vote for president, we're not just voting on his political positions. Something could happen you cannot foresee to change those. The only way to judge is on the character of the man. We must know what the man is.”

So here, in no particular order, are the five marks of character I most look for when assessing the competence of a candidate for public office:

1. Justice – Now here’s a word that is used in variety of ways in our public discourse, so some clarification is in order. By having the virtue of justice, a candidate would not simply treat every man and women according to their desserts, for as Hamlet asked, who should escape whipping? Rather, a public servant should have the virtue of justice based on a sense of the dignity of the human person and, as Portia said, seasoned with mercy. I’d also add to this understanding of justice an understanding of our obligations to the environment. Justice is the purpose of the State, and thus the reason for public servants. They should have a sense of individual and communal responsibility, a sense of social solidarity and obligation, and an understanding of rights and duties. Public servants should serve the public by serving the general welfare and common good and real needs of the people they serve.

I look for candidates who are aware that we the people have real needs that cannot always be sufficiently met with private enterprises and institutions. I seek candidates who know that people are due certain rights not because they are citizens or because they work, but because they are human persons. All the talk over the entitlement culture tends to obscure the fact that there are things to which we are entitled, such as life (which means more than not being killed).

2. Humility – While I look for candidates who will use the power of the State for the general welfare and good of the world, I also look for those who appreciate that there are limits to the powers of government and human instruments and that they themselves have no immunity to the corruptive nature of power. The power of the State is largely the power of coercion, and coercive power corrupts coercively. If I were given the opportunity to ask one question to a candidate, I wouldn’t hesitate to ask the following: What measures would you enact to check and restrain your own power as a public servant?

3. Prudence – Plato, Edmund Burke, and Russell Kirk all agreed that prudence is the chief virtue of the statesman. In our culture of rampant consequentialism, I look especially for candidates who would say with Faramir, “But fear no more! I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory.” By serving the public, our leaders should protect freedom, and real freedom means freedom to choose the good. As Herbert Marcuse wisely noted, freedom is found in the quality of choice and not in the range of choices. Choosing evil for the sake of the good destroys freedom.

4. Hospitality – Too much of our political discourse is steeped in intellectual violence whereby the other is deliberately misunderstood and reduced to a false narrative. I say enough calling each other “baby-killers” or “anti-women” as if one’s motivation for his or her position on the abortion issue were a matter of reveling in the deaths of infants or the hateful oppression of women. Our public servants need to be leaders in this regard, making an effort to welcome others and their positions in a hermeneutic of hospitality. They should seek to understand the other with the awareness that the other is always more than their understanding. Our public servants should be in the business of civilized community, not barbaric alienation.

5. Erudition and Experience – Plato wrote of the philosopher king, and while I don’t think our public servants need to have a doctorate of philosophy to do their jobs, I do believe that our public servants should be profound thinkers and learned in our heritage of knowledge and wisdom and the contributions to knowledge and wisdom from other cultures and civilizations. As we move closer to global interaction, our public servants would do well to be multi-lingual, able to communicate with others across the globe and enter into their ways of seeing and thinking about the world.

Yes, I know; I’m setting myself up for disappointment.

More Lenten Hermeneutics

"[W]e create 'narratives' for our own lives all of the time. We often live in images and in denial. We live with personas and identities. To some extent we must. As a public person, I know I have to behave a certain way in order to get some things done. But the problem with our self-created narratives is that too often we begin to believe them.

The story of the good thief is the story of someone who has thrown away his narrative. The other thief still seems angry and provocative while mocking Jesus on the cross. He is still controlled by his emotions and his own 'false self.'

We create narratives all of the time in order to avoid the guilt of sin. 'My spouse doesn’t understand me. I am a unique person with unique needs. If only I was given the chance to show how great I am. If someone would just appreciate me for who I am.' When we create a narrative like that one, it will take on a life of its own and we run the risk of eventually making all kinds of excuses for the behaviors in which we find ourselves.

I see a real lack of willingness for people to acknowledge that they are sinners in the first place and to really look within themselves in the second place. People sometimes ask me if I am a sinner and I say of course I am. They get terribly upset! What crime has he done! What does he mean? When we choose not to love, we are sinners. When God is not first in our lives, we are sinners. When we act out of selfishness, we are sinners."

- Rev. Timothy J. Heines


Lenten Hermeneutics

"Our Lenten season begins with words of forgiveness. I think the first thing to notice is that this statement, on its surface, does not appear to be one of unconditional forgiveness. Jesus seems to say 'Father forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.' That particular interpretation has led to mischief among many whose Christian conversion is superficial. Jesus is not giving a conditional forgiveness. Instead, Jesus is revealing something about not only the nature of forgiveness and that which it engenders, but also about his own nature and all that it implies.

First of all, by saying these words, our Lord is revealing the manner by which all of us can become forgiving people and the purpose of forgiveness. He understands the other person. So often, in our human interaction, we speak past one another in our daily dealings. So much division, so much rivalry, and certainly all envy stem from a refusal to appreciate the perspective of the other. And when we fail to appreciate the perspective of the other, what we are ultimately doing is failing to appreciate the 'otherness' of the other. In other words, we fail to appreciate the personhood and the dignity of the other."

- Rev. Timothy J. Heines

The Dark Side of the Blogosphere

My welcome to Vox Nova readers who may have fallen into this pit of postmodernism from a link by Policraticus. Alas, I cannot promise any post here will help you distinguish postmodernism from postmodernity.

My Postmodern Motto

Christ is the Word, the Word that is no construct, the Word that is the undeconstructible.

A Friend's Disagreement

Counseling Kevin disagrees with the thesis of my post on the USA becoming a bi-lingual society, and I share some of his and commenter Steph's concerns, particularly about the necessity of communication for communion. My response follows.

The USA: A Bi-Lingual Nation?

Driving to work the other day, I was listening to the tail end of the Mike Gallagher show. In an effort to show what dark days were ahead if Barack Hussein Obama (Gallagher emphasizes that middle name) becomes president, the radio show host played a new advertisement from the Obama campaign that was soon to play across the State of Texas. The offending and ominous aspect to the advertisement? With the exception of a few recordings from Obama’s campaign speeches, the entire advertisement was in Spanish.

Gallagher’s first caller, after a moment of utter speechlessness, said, “What the hell was that?”

Suffice it to say that I was perplexed at Gallagher’s shock and dismay. As a radio host out of Dallas, he knows that Texas has a large Hispanic population and that there are radio stations for the state’s Spanish-speaking communities. As a follower of politics, he should know that Obama needs to reach out to Hispanic voters, a group with which Hillary has an advantage. Then again, Gallagher is the guy who suggested that we have Muslim only lines at airports, so his thinking process can tend towards the wacky.

Now I know that Gallagher and others like Pat Buchanan are concerned that with the flood of foreigners coming into the United States and not assimilating into our culture and language, the US Identity is in danger of changing forever. One can look to Europe to see how the change in demographics with the growth of Muslim populations is going to change the character of Europe. There is alarm, and not unfounded, that the US could see its heritage, traditions, and ways of life altered with continued immigration and its welcoming the other to remain as other while living within its borders. Indeed, the presence of the other as other within our borders alters our identity. That the US is the great defender of justice, order, and freedom in the galaxy only heightens the fear of the USA’s alteration.

One of the signs of the times is the growing use of Spanish by companies, churches, and companies within the States. The US is slowly but steadily becoming a bi-lingual nation. I imagine Mike Gallagher and others dread a future enforced bi-lingual education in our schools. Personally, I welcome it, not the least because the US has over the last century become more and more illiterate. I can see how having to study two languages in school would be a remedy to our struggles with the language arts.

The way I look at it, national identities are not permanent things, and they should not be seen as such. That the US in its singular language has accomplished great and marvelous deeds I have no doubt. That the US would have to sacrifice much of its character by becoming a bi-lingual nation I do not doubt either. Truly, we may not have a choice in whether or not we become a nation of multiple languages. We do have a choice about how we respond to that reality that is to come.

As someone who thinks that language opens reality to us and shapes our perception and interpretation of reality—there are even subjective elements to the word “reality”—I fully understand and appreciate how important language is to human life, culture, and community. The growing use of Spanish in the US is not something to be taken lightly. It gives us new opportunities and demands of us painful sacrifices.

A new language opens to us more of reality. I say let’s make the most of this gift.

Deceptions and Distractions

Andrew Sullivan worries that our focus on the torture of waterboarding has distracted us from the other tortures such as stress positions and sleep deprivation that our government has employed in its endeavors to keep us safe from terrorists. He also notes how torture-supporters in the media have helped to move hearts and minds into accepting torture as a just means of defense by using deceptive language that downplays the horrors of what we're doing.

I fear that we are headed down a dark path in which we are in grave danger of further losing sight of human dignity and worth. We have a culture of death as it is. The pro-lifers who defend the practice of torture and obscure its reality undercut their own cause. A start down the right path would involve being honest and accurate about our dark deeds.

Repentance is also in order.

A Proposed Solution

On the heels of a discussion over heath insurance, Darwin Catholic offers a thoughtful conservative answer for how to pay for heathcare. A good discussion follows. I lean towards another solution; nevertheless, Darwin, who has clearly thought this issue through more than I have, serves us much healthy food for thought.

Thoughts While Far Away

Close friends of ours from Franciscan University of Steubenville are embarking on an adventure of service and solidarity to China, and they've begun a blog to record their thoughts and experiences in a far away and foreign land. JM, Liz, and their baby Leo leave tomorrow for Nanjing.

Please keep them in your prayers, and whether you know them or not, you may want to visit their site for a first hand perspective of unfolding events in a country that more and more will be dominating our news.

Congrats and God bless you, JM and Liz!

"Theology of the Body in Pain"

"[T]orture replaces God's creating and sustaining imagination with the destructive imagination of the torturer -- distorting and ruining all the words that make the world."
The quote is from Eve Tushnet's fascinating post today applying theology of the body to the analysis of torture. Check it out. It's better than anything you're going to read here.

Helprin on Hissy Fits

Novelist and commentator Mark Helprin chides talk radio critics of McCain:
One can agree or disagree with his peripheral positions, but political orthodoxy is political death. If those who are in a hissy fit about Sen. McCain would rather have Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, they will get Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton -- how delightful to go to jail for building your house on land once visited by an exotic moth -- and they will wake up to a great regret, as if in their drunkenness they had taken Shrek to bed.

But, guess what? Even if, as the country veers left, living conservatives gnash their teeth and dead ones spin in their graves, a small class of conservatives will benefit. And who might they be? They might be those whose influence and coffers swell on discontent, and who find attacking a president easier and more sensational than the dreary business of defending one. They rose during the Clinton years. Perhaps they are nostalgic. It isn't worth it, however, for the rest of us.

So, rather than playing recklessly with electoral politics by sabotaging their own party ostensibly for its impurity but equally for the sake of their self-indulgent pique, each of these compulsive talkers might be a tad less self-righteous, look to the long run, discipline himself, suck it up, and be a man. And that would apply equally as well to the gorgeous Laura Ingraham and the relentlessly crocodilian Ann Coulter.
Blogger Michelle Malkin responds in defense of conservative talk radio:
The most anti-conservative rhetoric against conservative talk radio these days is coming from supposedly free-market conservatives. It's disgusting.

Author Mark Helprin's grenade in The Wall Street Journal stands out.

[...]

Cocooned conservative establishment snobs denigrate talk-radio hosts for preaching to the choir. But these same critics have no problem using the medium to market their own work. Ask their publicists. The message of the anti-conservative conservatives dissing talk radio: Self-interest for me, but not for thee.

No need to wait for a Clinton to take the White House. Clintonism is alive and well among conservative talk-radio haters on both sides of the aisle.

Good News from the Senate -UPDATED-

The Senate passed a bill today with a ban on waterboarding. McCain voted against it, but he may have done so on grounds unrelated to the banning of water-torture. I’d like to know what those were.

I try not to judge congressmen on their votes without knowing why they voted as they did. Often a politician objects to a bill not in substance but for its method, its added features, or its means of addressing that end. The said bill may have contained elements worth rejecting the whole of the bill. I don’t know.

Sometimes we confuse means and ends, especially on hot button issues, or what Karl Keating calls the non-negotiable issues. (There are only five of those, though, so it's relatively easy to keep track of them).

McCain, for instance, has been criticized for not defending traditional marriage because he opposes a constitutional amendment pertaining to the meaning of marriage. That’s hardly a logical conclusion. As I understand it, McCain thinks marriage should be a state issue as opposed to a federal issue. His objection is to the means, not the end.

For some, though, there’s only one right means of addressing an issue, and any deviation from that means is an attempt to negotiate a non-negotiable.

UPDATE: Here is McCain's reasons why he voted against the measure (scroll down). I'm less than impressed.

Draw Me a Line, Please

A caller to a radio talk show I was listening to last evening was understandably expressing her exasperation with war protesters who bad-mouthed members of the military. This caller then made an argument I frequently hear: that the war protesters are criticizing the very people who give them the freedom to criticize.

While I understand that ideally the military exists for the purpose of defending life and liberty, I just don’t get the idea that if we were not in Iraq right now, or fighting terrorists “over there,” then war protesters would lose their freedom to protest. Their cause, maybe, but their freedom?

Can someone connect the dots for me how our having the freedom to protest wars is contingent upon our having fought the current conflict or other particular wars in recent history?

School Prepares for Transgender Second Grader

This line says it all:
Wong says mental health professionals will be available if students, staff, or parents have any concerns at all.
So those who have concerns are the ones who may be mentally unhealthy?

There Will Be Blood, An Interpretative Sketch

I suspect Flannery O’Connor would have appreciated the mystery and manners of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, particularly its vile characters, its parody of Christian imagery, and its fascination with the soul-eating effects of sin and the moments of grace that arise from the macabre.

Unlike his other films Boogie Nights and Magnolia, Blood is not ultimately about atonement and reconciliation, but about the decent into madness and hell on earth. When its protagonist Daniel Plainview shouts he is a sinner in a baptismal ceremony presided by preacher Eli Sunday, he would be making an understatement if he weren’t being almost entirely insincere. “Give me the blood, Lord, and let me get away!” he yells. Plainview thinks God is nothing but a superstition, but he agrees to be baptized by Eli as part of an agreement to purchase vital land from a church member.

The movie shows us Daniel’s hatred consume him bit by bit until he has gained all he wanted and has garnered nothing he cares about. Indeed, he cares for nothing, not himself, not his things, certainly not his son. In his blood flow neither life nor love, but greed and hatred.

The film’s end has baffled not a few viewers and reviewers, for it changes the whole dynamic of the narrative. We finally see into the depths of Eli and Daniel, and what we see are lives filled with sound and fury signifying nothing. In an act of pure cruelty and in parody of his baptism at Eli’s hand, Daniel demands Eli renounce his faith in order to be saved from the market collapse that ushered in the Great Depression. Only Daniel tricks Eli, for the terms of the deal turn out to be meaningless. Eli falls and then dies in an act of drunken, violent rage from the hands of Daniel. The blood that ends the film is not spilt from a deed of planning and calculation, but it is nevertheless inevitable, an overflowing of Daniel’s violent hatred of every person and everything, himself and his things included.

In his rage before descending to murder, Daniel shouts, “Did you think your song and dance and your superstition would help you, Eli? I am the Third Revelation! I am who the Lord has chosen!” When it dawns on Daniel that he has murdered and this time will not be able to hide the body and blood, he utters in a voice of utter nonchalance, “I am finished,” echoing in perversion the final words of Christ on the Cross. He has substituted himself for God, and the effects of that can only be bloody and bad.

There is blood, and when it pours at the end it pours not for salvation but in damnation. Yet the saving Blood of Christ for which Daniel has substituted his act of hateful, bloody murder remains as a specter, haunting the final scene and with it the whole film.

Dante would be proud.

Hell-Bent Souls

"I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people ... There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want to earn enough money that I can get away from everyone ... I see the worst in people. I don't need to look past seeing them to get all I need. I've built my hatreds up over the years, little by little, Henry...to have you here gives me a second breath. I can't keep doing this on my own with these...people."

- Daniel Plainview, from There Will Be Blood

Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson excels at exploring the nasty, soul-shattering effects of sin upon individuals, families, and communities. His films have portrayed graphic and raw images of sinful behavior. He reminds me of Dante and Flannery O'Connor, albeit more secular. I've heard Anderson is a lapsed Catholic; whatever his religious practices (if any), he's retained a bit of Catholic imagination.

Anderson accurately and brutally depicts the destructiveness of vice, and unlike some filmmakers today who have a great grasp of evil but no sense of the sacred, he seems open to the mysterious work of grace in the world. Magnolia was a film in which the characters were open to receiving grace. There Will Be Blood, which my wife and I saw this evening, plays more like a tale told to the Pilgrim in Dante's Inferno.

It’s tense, fascinating, and morally tragic. The character names are very intriguing, and have me wondering if this film is not an allegory on some levels.

Why I Was Smart to Marry an Artist

One reason, anyway:

"Art is paramount to the philosopher, precisely because it opens to him, as it were, the holy of holies, where burns in eternal and original unity, as if in a single flame, that which in nature and history is rent asunder, and in life and action, no less than in thought, must forever fly apart. The view of nature, which the philosopher frames artificially, is for art the original and natural one."

- F.W.J. Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism

From Burke to Kirk and Beyond...


Those interested in the thought of conservative legends Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk, and how that thought can be applied to civilization today, may want to click on over to a blog called From Burke to Kirk and Beyond...


The Russell Kirk quote at the heading reads: "Not by force of arms are civilizations held together, but by subtle threads of moral and intellectual principle."


Good stuff. Check it out.

It's Official

We have an official torture policy perpetrated by a torture presidency.

Not wanting to make a demolition zone of government policies, legal precedents, and even entire institutions, Mukasey says waterboarding was legal when we did it, thanks to the not-so-politically-neutral Office of Legal Council. Remember those torture memos? The law is what they say it is, and we can't just go overruling them, else their whole power to establish the legality of torture and other policies of the president goes to pot. Lawsuits would abound, and interrogators would fear prosecution. The intelligence community wouldn’t be effective—not that the administration takes their estimates seriously.

Hayden may say it is illegal now, but the White House is open to waterboarding again depending on the circumstances, and its pet OLC’s purpose is to assess or decide the legality of the president’s policies. To top it off, President Bush wants torture memo author Steven Bradbury to stay on as the OLC head.

The torture option remains on the table, despite its long history of illegality and our pro-life president’s assertions that we don’t torture.

With the constant media distortions of waterboarding, which they describe with the same graphic precision they describe abortion procedures, it is understandable why many people do not see it as torture. But torture it is. It is not simulated drowning; it is actual drowning:

Waterboarding induces panic and suffering by forcing a person to inhale water into the sinuses, pharynx, larynx, trachea, and lungs. The head is tilted back and water is poured into the upturned mouth or nose. Eventually the subject cannot exhale more air or cough out more water, the lungs are collapsed, and the sinuses and trachea are filled with water. The subject is drowned from the inside, filling with water from the head down. The chest and lungs are kept higher than the head so that coughing draws water up and into the lungs while avoiding total suffocation. "His sufferings must be that of a man who is drowning, but cannot drown."
I pray our public servants, present and future, have the moral sense to outlaw this barbarism.

See http://waterboarding.org/.

Ash Wednesday

By T.S. Eliot

I

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.


II

Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to sateity
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.


III

At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitul face of hope and of despair.

At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jaggèd, like an old man's mouth drivelling, beyond repair,
Or the toothed gullet of an agèd shark.

At the first turning of the third stair
Was a slotted window bellied like the figs's fruit
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
Lilac and brown hair;
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind
over the third stair,
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
Climbing the third stair.

Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy

but speak the word only.


IV

Who walked between the violet and the violet
Whe walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary's colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs

Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary's colour,
Sovegna vos

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing

White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.

The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke no word

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile


V

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season, time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.

O my people.


VI

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

Merry Mardi Gras!

It's the eve of the day we Catholics remember that we come from and will return to ashes and dust, and what do we do? We celebrate with song and dance, food and drink, laughter and fellowship. Why? Because ashes and dust are neither the beginning nor the end of the story.

Is There Hope in Reason?

I heard a joke the other day about the difference between a terrorist and a liturgist. Answer: You can negotiate with a terrorist.

Hearing the joke made me think of the oft-stated idea that there are certain people (like terrorists) who cannot be reasoned with, anymore than one could reason with, say, the terminator.

We’ve all met people whose capacity for rational thought is highly dubious, people enslaved by their appetites, ideologies, or evil wills. We all know what it’s like to try to reason with someone who doesn’t think reasonably. Perhaps we don’t think reasonably ourselves. We hear on the news of some people so twisted and deformed by malice that they understand nothing but their hatred and pain.

Is there no hope for such people? Is it despairing to hold that some people can never be reasoned with?

By Example

We expect others to respect our borders, but can they expect us to respect theirs?

Quote for the Day

"Pope John Paul II preached 'Do Not Be Afraid; look to Jesus.' Talk radio preaches 'Be Afraid and Look to Us.'"

- The Anchoress

Iraq War

McCain says we're winning. Reid says we're losing. I say they're guessing. At best, they are attempting to calculate the incalculable.

IIInnnterrrestiiing - UPDATED



Wow, McCain is really disliked. In the video above, Ann Coulter says in no uncertain terms that she'd support Clinton over McCain. Aside from New York senator being in Coulter's eyes more conservative than the Arizona senator, Coulter is also miffed with McCain's "fight against torture," as she calls it.

If I may paraphrase Mel Gibson's William Wallace, "If these are conservatives, I'm ashamed to call myself one."

Personally I find the prospect of a McCain presidency tolerable. I don't welcome it, but I won't lose sleep over it. I’m also amused by Mark Levin’s radio tantrums over the possibility. If nothing else, McCain can nip this torture issue in the bud before the new pro-choicers dominate conservative politics.

UPDATE: McCain has no honor, says she.

You Know You've Got Something Special...

...When Catholics United for the Faith and the socially liberal media think it's a good thing.