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Tag: Christ

Adventus

Saturday, 1 December, 2018

The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming” and the central theme of Advent is the coming of Christ to earth. The Advent season begins tomorrow and it’s observed by Christian churches as a time of waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas.

The Coming by R.S. Thomas, a 20th century Anglican poet-priest from Wales, centres on a conversation between the Father and Son about the suffering of humanity. Thomas invokes the hardship of life in a small farming community in rural Wales, but his “scorched land” could refer to any country torn by conflict: Syria, Yemen, Ukraine…

Thomas imagines the Son’s response to the suffering and pain the Father asks him to look at, but the decision is reserved until the final line. Looking at the “bare hill” and the “thin arms” of the hungry people, the Son finally responds: “Let me go there.”

The Coming

And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows; a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.

On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.

R.S. Thomas (1913 – 2000)


Today is Saint Edmund’s Day. It’s personal

Tuesday, 20 November, 2018

According to Bernard Burke’s Vicissitudes of Families, the banner of Saint Edmund, with its three crowns on a blue background, was among those borne during the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169. The bearers included Maurice FitzGerald, Robert Fitz-Stephen, Redmund Fitz-Hugh, Meiler FitzHenry and Robert Fitz-Bernard. From then on, Saint Edmund’s banner became the standard for Ireland during the Plantagenet era. By the way, Richard de Clare and Raymond le Gros, who featured prominently in the Norman invasion, dedicated a chapel of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin to Saint Edmund.

The banner of Saint Edmund Who was Saint Edmund? Well, when the Great Heathen Army advanced on East Anglia in 869, the obscure King Edmund led the resistance and he met his death on 20 November at a place known as Haegelisdun, after he refused the Vikings’ demand that he renounce Christ. They beat him, tied him to a tree, shot him with arrows and then beheaded him on the orders of Ivar the Boneless and his brother Ubba. Legend has it that his head was then thrown into the forest but was found by searchers after following the cries of a wolf that was calling out, in Latin, Hic, Hic, Hic (“Here, Here, Here”.)

The name Edmund, which is also spelled Edmond, contains the elements ēad (“prosperity, riches”) and mund (“protector”). The Irish Gaelic forms are Éamon, Éaman and Éamann. The corresponding Anglicised forms are Eamon and Eamonn.

Your blogger’s grandfather on the maternal side was Edmond O’Donnell. He is buried in the graveyard of Lisvernane Church in the Glen of Aherlow, County Tipperary.


Done is a battell on the dragon blak

Wednesday, 28 March, 2018 0 Comments

Easter approacheth. Time for a preparatory poem and our choice is a masterpiece of Scottish medieval verse, Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro (Christ is risen from the grave), by William Dunbar (1460 – 1520). This is one of the greatest of early Easter poems in English and it has one of the greatest of all opening lines: “Done is a battell on the dragon blak” (The battle against the black dragon is done). The theme is the Resurrection and Christ is cast in the role of a noble knight.

Some of the language is easily decrypted but the gulf between our 21st global century and Dunbar’s early 16th-century Scotland is apparent. Here’s how he depicts evil:

The auld kene tegir, with his teith on char,
Whilk in a wait has lyne for us so lang,
Thinking to grip us in his clowis strang

In modern English, this can be rendered as, “The old sharp tiger with his teeth ajar / Which has lain in wait for us so long / Hoping to grip us in his strong claws.” Those “clowis” give bite to Dunbar’s language, which is a miscellany of elemental sounds and delightful alliteration: “Whilk in a wait” is wonderful. By the way, here’s a modern translation of the poem. And now, a snippet of the original:

Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro

Done is a battell on the dragon blak,
Our campion Chyrst confoundit has his force;
The yettis of hell are broken with a crak,
The signe triumphall raisit is of the cross,
The divillis trymmillis with hiddous voce,
The saulis are borrowit and to the bliss can go,
Chyrst with his bloud our ransonis dois indoce:
Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro.

Dungin is the deidly dragon Lucifer,
The crewall serpent with the mortall stang;
The auld kene tegir, with his teith on char,
Whilk in a wait has lyne for us so lang,
Thinking to grip us in his clowis strang;
The merciful Lord wald nocht that it were so,
He made him for to failye of that fang.
Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro.

The Dragon Blak


The Magi for the Epiphany

Saturday, 6 January, 2018 1 Comment

Something unexpected took place in Bethlehem and the otherworldly magi, who “appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky”, are doing their best to comprehend the incomprehensible. It’s a long way from Bethlehem to Bloomsbury, but that was where William Butler Yeats was living in 1914 when he wrote The Magi. In a mere eight lines, he follows the journey of the three wise men with “ancient faces” that resemble “rain-beaten stones”, who are forever watching and waiting, “all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more” the thing that will satisfy their search for meaning.

Is Yeats saying that the world has yet to discover the meaning of Christ’s brief time on earth? Is it so that we cannot be fulfilled until “the uncontrollable mystery” is decrypted? Today, the quest for the secret of “the uncontrollable mystery” is increasingly fervent. Anthony Levandowski, for example, is the “Dean” of a brand new Silicon Valley religion called Way of the Future that worships artificial intelligence.

The Magi

Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depths of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

William Butler Yeats

Yeats uses a series of “s”-sounding words — stones, stiff, still, silver, side by side, unsatisfied — to paint a picture of the mysterious Magi, who wear “stiff, painted clothes” and “helms of silver”. His use of alliteration and repetition underpins the characteristics of the “unsatisfied ones”. On this Feast of the Epiphany, let us hope that they, and all of us, find some satisfaction this year.

The Sacred Heart Lamp


Remembering the crowded-out ones

Sunday, 24 December, 2017 0 Comments

In her essay, “The Light in the Dark”, which was published in the American edition of Vogue in 1950, Elizabeth Bowen pondered her own childhood and the meaning of the Christ child. Her love of the Nativity didn’t prevent her, however, from accepting that Christmas is, for many, a time of desperation:

“There are those whom Christmas touches only by its bitter meaningless to them — for this is a season to which natural indifference is impossible; those who dread or hate it shrink from its power. And — multiplied by the catastrophes of the world there are the derelict, the placeless; those who are where they are under duress, or those who find themselves by sheer bleak fortuity, without ties or love. Of these many, how few can be comforted — at least concretely; the practical reach and scope of our giving, in view of this trouble, can but seem poor and small. We can, only, humbly keep these unknown in mind — which is to say in imagination. The Child was born of his travel-wearied Mother in a stable because there was no room at the inn. Is not this a time to remember the crowded-out ones? Now is it, at Christmas, when we feel to the full the happiest implications of being human, that the sense of all other humanity most insistently presses against our doors and windows. To meet it, we send out into the dark some thought — however groping, vague and unformulated. Who is to say, at this season, what mystic circuit may set itself up between man and man?”

Elizabeth Bowen, like T.S. Eliot, placed Christianity at the core of her meditations on Christmas and that’s why her words continue to resonate.

Elizabeth Bowen


The lamb and the wolf on 8 December

Friday, 8 December, 2017 0 Comments

The increasingly oppressive commercial Christmas begins on 1 October and then bludgeons consumers into submission with an incessant drumbeat of shopping commands and mawkish carols all the way until midnight on 24 December. The Christmas of the faithful, on the other hand, starts on the first Sunday of Advent and ends on 6 January, the feast day that commemorates the visit of the Magi.

But there is another date, and it’s to be found in the calendar of popular piety: 8 December. Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and it once marked the point when Christmas began in earnest. For my mother, the 8th of December was a serious shopping day and many essential “messages” were purchased in “Town” in preparation for the festivities.

Note: The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was officially defined as an article of the Catholic Faith by Pope Pius IX in 1854, and the dogma professes that Christ’s Mother was exempt from original sin from the moment of her conception. Traditional belief in the Immaculate Conception long preceded its formal definition, however, which is evident in this 16th century Spanish villancico:

Riu, riu, chiu
The river bank protects it.
God kept our lamb
From the wolf.
The rabid wolf
Wanted to bite her
But Almighty God knew
How to defend her.
Riu, riu, chiu

The lamb there is a stand-in for the Mother of Christ while the wolf is the devil. The words “riu, riu, chiu” are meant to evoke the call of the nightingale — a bird whose call has traditionally served as a muse to poets down the ages.


Oscar Wilde’s Good Friday in Genoa

Friday, 14 April, 2017 0 Comments

The juxtaposition of paganism and Christianity was a constant theme in Oscar Wilde’s poetry. This is nowhere more apparent than in his sonnet, Written in Holy Week at Genoa when Wilde is awakened from a daydream by a “young boy-priest”. His sensuous charms are far more real than the suffering embodied by “The Cross, the Crown, the Soldiers and the Spear”, and those “dear Hellenic hours” are preferable to thoughts of the crucified Christ. But the “bitter pain” cannot be ignored.

Written in Holy Week at Genoa

I wandered in Scoglietto’s green retreat,
The oranges on each o’erhanging spray
Burned as bright lamps of gold to shame the day;
Some startled bird with fluttering wings and fleet
Made snow of all the blossoms, at my feet
Like silver moons the pale narcissi lay:
And the curved waves that streaked the sapphire bay
Laughed i’ the sun, and life seemed very sweet.
Outside the young boy-priest passed singing clear,
“Jesus the Son of Mary has been slain,
O come and fill his sepulchre with flowers.”
Ah, God! Ah, God! those dear Hellenic hours
Had drowned all memory of Thy bitter pain,
The Cross, the Crown, the Soldiers, and the Spear.

Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)

Today, Good Friday, is a special day for those the world over who will meditate on the mystery of The Way of the Cross.

The Cross


A cold coming we had of it

Friday, 6 January, 2017 0 Comments

Was it the birth of a new world (Christianity) or the death of an old one (polytheism) that caused his crisis in belief? The speaker in The Journey Of The Magi says that since returning home following their visit to see the infant Christ, he and his companions have felt uneasy among their compatriots, who now seem to be “an alien people clutching their gods” (in contrast to the believers in the newly arrived Jesus, who worship one god only).

T. S. Eliot converted to Christianity in 1927, the same year he wrote Journey of the Magi in a single day, one Sunday morning. “I had been thinking about it in church,” Eliot told his wife Valerie years later, “and when I got home I opened a half-bottle of Booth’s Gin, poured myself a drink, and began to write. By lunchtime, the poem, and the half-bottle of gin, were both finished.” This is for the Feast of the Epiphany.

The Journey Of The Magi

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

T. S. Eliot (26 September 1888 — 4 January 1965)

A cold coming


Good Friday meditation

Friday, 25 March, 2016 0 Comments

One of the earliest Christian poems in English is The Dream of the Rood. Language note: The Old English word ‘rood’ means ‘crucifix’. Recorded by scribes in the 10th-century Vercelli Book, The Dream of the Rood is carved in Anglo-Saxon runes on the 8th century Ruthwell Cross, and is one of the most valuable works of Old English verse.

The sorrowful quality of the religious rites of Good Friday day reminds us of Christ’s humiliation and suffering on this day. This excerpt from The Dream of the Rood is dedicated to all those who were humiliated and tortured in life. Their brave defiance of “wicked men” inspires us every day.

“Now you may understand, dear warrior,
That I have suffered deeds of wicked men
And grievous sorrows. Now the time has come
That far and wide on earth men honour me,
And all this great and glorious creation,
And to this beacon offers prayers. On me
The Son of God once suffered; therefore now
I tower mighty underneath the heavens,
And I may heal all those in awe of me.
Once I became the cruelest of tortures,
Most hateful to all nations, till the time
I opened the right way of life for men.”

Mammy praying