On Sirach

Sirach is the last of the wisdom books in the Catholic canon of the Old Testament. As such, it may be regarded as a massive summation of the Israelite wisdom tradition–a meditation on the entirety of Israel’s Scriptures from the perspective of “wisdom” (Hebrew hokhmah), the practical knowledge of righteous living. Because Sirach provides such a useful digest of the moral teachings of the Jewish Scriptures, the early Church used it extensively in catechesis and moral instruction, so much so that it came to be known as “Ecclesiasticus” — that is, “the Church’s little book”.

….despite the eventual rejection of Sirach by medieval Judaism and later by Protestantism, it was, in fact, regarded as Scripture by a substantial number of Jews during the Second Temple period and beyond. It was this latter view that the early Church inherited; not only was Sirach viewed as inspired by the majority of Church Fathers, but it was (as stated above) one of the most popular books in the Old Testament, generating a remarkable amount of commentary.

From “A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: The Old Testament” by Bergsma and Pitre.

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Robert Frost: Seven Favorite Poems

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Culture of the Incarnation

From the introduction in Tracey Rowland’s 2017 book “The Culture of the Incarnation: Essays in Catholic Theology”:

This is a collection of essays that have previously been published in separate journals over the past decade. In one way or another, they each take seriously the idea that the Incarnation was the greatest revolution in world history. When the Word became flesh, a new era of grace began, redemption from the effects of the first sin became possible, and humanity found itself in a sacramental cosmos. As St. Thomas Aquinas expressed the idea poetically, Et antiquum, Novo cedat ritui: ancient rites have now departed; newer rites of grace prevail.

These newer rites of grace opened the gates to a Christian humanism and a whole cultural order built upon it. St John Paul II described such a culture as a civilisation of love and contrasted it with a culture of death. Pope Benedict XVI described the culture of death as a dictatorship of relativism. These two men, who were arguably two of the finest scholars ever to occupy the Chair of St. Peter, shared a quarter century of intellectual partnership. During this time, they offered the world a theological analysis of the current crisis in which Western culture finds itself. The essays in the present volume amplify this analysis.

. . . .


  • Introduction
  • Beyond the Correlationist Paradigm: Joseph Ratzinger on Re-Evangelization and Mass Culture.
  • The World in the Theology of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
  • Augustinian and Thomist Engagements with the World
  • Variations on the Theme of Christian Hope in the Works of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
  • Culture in the Thought of John Paul II and Benedict XVI
  • Poland and Communism (for Those Too Young to Remember)
  • The Contribution of the Polish Intelligentsia to the Breakthrough of 1989
  • The Humanism of the Incarnation: Catholic, Barthian, and Dutch Reformed

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My Parish

I find the Divine Liturgy at my parish to be very romantic, intellectually coherent, and incredibly beautiful.

My love she speaks like silence

Without ideals or violence

She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful

Yet she’s true, like ice, like fire

People carry roses

Make promises by the hours

My love she laughs like the flowers

Valentines can’t buy her

In the dime stores and bus stations

People talk of situations

Read books, repeat quotations

Draw conclusions on the wall

Some speak of the future

My love she speaks softly

She knows there’s no success like failure

And that failure’s no success at all

The cloak and dagger dangles

Madams light the candles

In ceremonies of the horsemen

Even the pawn must hold a grudge

Statues made of matchsticks

Crumble into one another

My love winks, she does not bother

She knows too much to argue or to judge

The bridge at midnight trembles

The country doctor rambles

Bankers’ nieces seek perfection

Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring

The wind howls like a hammer

The night blows cold and rainy

My love she’s like some raven

At my window with a broken wing
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It is hard to convey the beauty and goodness of God. Hence, on the one hand, the necessity of the Incarnation and on the other hand, ministers focusing instead on the much easier task of saying what folks should do.

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Religion as Natural Phenomenon

The below is from David Bentley Hart’s book review Daniel Dennett Hunts the Snark


Dennett, needless to say, has no curiosity regarding any actual faith or its intellectual tradition. His few references to Christian history make it clear that his historical consciousness is little more than a compilation of threadbare eighteenth-and nineteenth-century caricatures. In the six spacious pages he devotes to the question of whether there is any reason to believe in God (or, really, devotes mostly to quoting himself at length on why the question is not worth considering), he does not address any of the reasons for which persons actually do believe but merely recites a few of the arguments that freshmen are given in introductory courses on the philosophy of religion. Even then, his mental sloth is so enormous that he raises only those counterarguments that all competent scholars of philosophical history know to be the ones that do not work.

The world of faith is all a terra incognita to Dennett; the only map he knows of it is, like the map used by the Bellman, a “perfect and absolute blank!”—though, in Dennett’s case, bearing a warning that “Here there be dragons.” Or, perhaps, “Here there be Boojums”:

beware of the day,
If your Snark be a Boojum! For then
You will softly and suddenly vanish away,
And never be met with again! 

All Dennett knows is that something he dreads haunts the world, something intolerant and violent and irrational, and he wants to conjure it away. This, of course, raises the now quite hoary-headed question of how, in the wake of the twentieth century, the committed secularist dare wax either sanctimonious toward faith or sanguine toward secular reason, but Dennett is not one to pause before doubts of that sort. He is certain there is some single immense thing out there called religion, and that by its very nature it endangers us all and ought as a whole to be abolished. This being so, it is probably less important to him that his argument be good than that, for purely persuasive purposes, it appear to be grounded in irrefutable science-which it can never be.

All of this probably matters little, because-again—the most crucial defect of Breaking the Spell is its ultimate pointlessness. Let us assume there is far greater substance to Dennett’s argument than I grant. Very well. Dennett need not have made such an effort to argue his point in the first place. Of course religion is a natural phenomenon. Who would be so foolish as to deny that? Religion is ubiquitous in human culture and obviously constitutes an essential element in the evolution of society, and obviously has itself evolved. It is as natural to humanity as language or song or mating rituals. Dennett may imagine that such a suggestion is provocative and novel, and he may believe that there are legions of sincere souls out there desperately committed to the notion that religion itself is some sort of miraculous exception to the rule of nature, but, in either case, he is deceived.

For one thing, it does not logically follow that, simply because religion as such is a natural phenomenon, it cannot become the vehicle of divine truth, or that it is not in some sense oriented toward a transcendent reality. To imagine that it does so follow is to fall prey to a version of the genetic fallacy, the belief that one need only determine the causal sequence by which something comes into being in order to understand its nature, meaning, content, uses, or value. For another thing, no one believes in religion. Christians, for instance, believe that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead and is now, by the power of the Holy Spirit, present to his Church as its Lord. This claim is at once historical and spiritual, and has given rise to an immense diversity of natural expressions: moral, artistic, philosophical, social, legal, and (of course) religious. Regarding “religion” as such, though, it is in keeping with theological tradition to see it as something common to all societies, many of whose manifestations are violent, idiotic, despotic, superstitious, amoral, degrading, and false. The most one can say about religion in the abstract is that it gives ambiguous expression to what Christian tradition calls the “natural desire for God,” and to a human openness to spiritual truth, revelation, or grace. Dennett may imagine that, by gravely informing us that this natural desire for God is in fact a desire for God that is natural, he is confronting us with a conceptual revolution, but, in fact, all he has produced is a minor modification of syntax.

These are rather elementary points, really, and rather obvious too. After all, the marvelous strength and fecundity of modern science is the result of the ascetical rigor with which it limits the scope of its inquiries. In the terms of Aristotle’s fourfold scheme of causality, science as we understand it now concerns itself solely with efficient and material causes while leaving the questions of formal and final causes unaddressed. Its aim is the scrupulous reconstruction of how things and events are generated or unfold, not speculation on why things become what they are or on the purpose of their existence. Much less is it concerned with the ontological cause of what it investigates: It has nothing to say regarding being as such, or how it is that anything exists at all, or what makes the universe to be. This is not to say that it has somehow disproved the reality of these other kinds of causality, or even entirely dispensed with formality or finality (at least as heuristic devices). But, still, such causes lie mostly outside the purview of modern science, and one believes in them, if one does, for reasons of an entirely different order.

Of course, one is free to regard formal and final causality as fictions (though they will always tend to reassert themselves, even if only subtly), and one may dismiss the question of being as meaningless or imponderable (though it is neither). But one should also then relinquish ambitions for empirical method it cannot fulfill. This applies to every discourse that aspires to the status of a science. If one wants to pursue a science of religion, one should know from the first that one will never produce a theory that could possibly be relevant to whether one should or should not believe that, for example, the transcendent God has revealed himself in history or within one’s own life.

Certainly the Christian should be undismayed by the notion that religion is natural “all the way down.” Indeed, it should not matter whether religion is the result of evolutionary imperatives, or of an inclination toward belief inscribed in our genes and in the structure of our brains, or even (more fantastically) of memes that have impressed themselves on our minds and cultures and languages. All things are natural. But nature itself is created toward an end—its consummation in God—and is informed by a more eminent causality—the creative will of God—and is sustained in existence by its participation in the being that flows from God, who is the infinite wellspring of all actuality. And religion, as a part of nature, possesses an innate entelechy and is oriented like everything else toward the union of God and his creatures. Nor should the Christian expect to find any lacunae in the fabric of nature, needing to be repaired by the periodic interventions of a cosmic maintenance technician. God’s transcendence is absolute: He is cause of all things by giving existence to the whole, but nowhere need he act as a rival to any of the contingent, finite, secondary causes by which the universe lives, moves, and has its being in him.

In the end, nothing of any significance is decided by talking about religion in the abstract. It is a somewhat inane topic, really, relevant neither to belief nor to disbelief. It does not touch on the rationales or the experiences that determine anyone’s ultimate convictions, and certainly nothing important is to be learned from Daniel Dennett’s rancorous exchanges with nonexistent persons regarding the prospects for an impossible science devoted to an intrinsically indeterminate object. If Dennett really wishes to undertake a scientific investigation of faith, he should promptly abandon his efforts to describe religion in the abstract and attempt instead to enter into the actual world of belief in order to weigh its claims from within. As a first step, he should certainly—purely in the interest of sound scientific method and empirical rigor—begin praying. This is a drastic and implausible prescription, no doubt, but it is the only means by which he could possibly begin to acquire any knowledge of what belief is or what it is not.

As Peter Heath observed some decades ago in his wonderful book The Philosopher’s Alice, Lewis Carroll was not a writer of nonsense but rather an absurdist, and a Carrollian character is absurd precisely because he does not blithely depart from the rules but “persists in adhering to them long after it has ceased to be sensible to do so, and regardless of the extravagances which hereby result.” When Carroll’s characters assume the authoritative tone, the opinions they express are invariably ridiculous, but those opinions “are held on principle and backed by formal argument. . . . The humor lies not in any arbitrary defiance of principle, but in seeing a reasonable position pushed or twisted by uncritical acceptance into a wholly unreasonable shape.”

Iwould hesitate to say that Breaking the Spell is, in this sense, entirely absurd, as I doubt that it is tightly reasoned enough to merit the description. What does seem clear, however, is that, in its general form, the book’s argument is one that strives (not always successfully) to preserve the shape of reason, logic, and method, even though that shape has been largely evacuated of all rational, logical, or empirical content. To put the matter bluntly, no one could mistake it for a genuinely substantial argument who was not firmly intent on doing so before ever reading the book. Viewed impartially, Dennett’s project leads nowhere, and its diffuse and flimsy methods are altogether unequal to the task of capturing the complex, bewildering, endlessly diverse thing they are designed to subdue.

Dennett sets out with perhaps a pardonable excess of ambition—in the words of the Butcher,

In one moment I’ve seen what has hitherto been
Enveloped in absolute mystery,
And without extra charge I will give you at large
A lesson in Natural History. 

But it soon becomes obvious that Dennett has no lesson to impart. He is, when all is said and done, merely hunting a Snark, and in some sense he can hardly avoid sharing the Baker’s fate. One need only read Breaking the Spell and then attempt to apply it in some meaningful or illuminative way to the terrible and splendid realities of religious belief to confirm this, because, once one has done that, one will immediately discover that the book’s entire argument has “softly and suddenly vanished away.” And this, to the reflective reader, should come as no surprise, really, given the nature both of Dennett’s quest and of the quarry he has chosen to pursue—“For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.”

David Bentley Hart is an Eastern Orthodox theologian and the author of The Beauty of the Infinite.

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Incense Does Not Zoom

At our parish, prayer rises as incense
  To the Lord: at Vespers, Orthros, and the Divine Liturgy.
The Psalms are chanted without censoring
  As the censer is swung enthusiastically among the faithful.
The incense reaches the hidden places, the silent places.
  Incense does not Zoom.

With the patina of millenia, we pray the Psalms:
  Incense filling the sanctuary, every nook and cranny.
We, following our priest, join saints triumphant as we pray -
  Joining as the incense is swung singly, doubly and circular.
The incense reaches the hidden places, the silent places.
  Incense does not Zoom.
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A Funeral Dream

I dreamed of being at a funeral. I don’t know whom the funeral was for but do remember:

  • that it is important to honor the dead. And the dying.
  • that the form, the liturgy if you will, is important.
  • that being there is important to restrain the violence of a foolish and corrupt generation.
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Forgiveness Sunday

In the Byzantine Catholic church, Great Lent begins this evening with Forgiveness Sunday Vespers. Especially poignant this year given the warfare in Ukraine.

Forgiveness Sunday

In the Orthodox Church, the last Sunday before Great Lent – the day on which, at Vespers, Lent is liturgically announced and inaugurated – is called Forgiveness Sunday. On the morning of that Sunday, at the Divine Liturgy, we hear the words of Christ:

“If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses…” (Mark 6:14-15)

Then after Vespers – after hearing the announcement of Lent in the Great Prokeimenon: “Turn not away Thy face from Thy child for I am afflicted! Hear me speedily! Draw near unto my soul and deliver it!”, after making our entrance into Lenten worship, with its special memories, with the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, with its prostrations – we ask forgiveness from each other, we perform the rite of forgiveness and reconciliation. And as we approach each other with words of reconciliation, the choir intones the Paschal hymns, filling the church with the anticipation of Paschal joy.

What is the meaning of this rite? Why is it that the Church wants us to begin Lenten season with forgiveness and reconciliation? These questions are in order because for too many people Lent means primarily, and almost exclusively, a change of diet, the compliance with ecclesiastical regulations concerning fasting. They understand fasting as an end in itself, as a “good deed” required by God and carrying in itself its merit and its reward. But, the Church spares no effort in revealing to us that fasting is but a means, one among many, towards a higher goal: the spiritual renewal of man, his return to God, true repentance and, therefore, true reconciliation. The Church spares no effort in warning us against a hypocritical and pharisaic fasting, against the reduction of religion to mere external obligations. As a Lenten hymn says:

In vain do you rejoice in no eating, O soul!

For you abstain from food,

But from passions you are not purified.

If you persevere in sin, you will perform a useless fast.

Now, forgiveness stands at the very center of Christian faith and of Christian life because Christianity itself is, above all, the religion of forgiveness. God forgives us, and His forgiveness is in Christ, His Son, Whom He sends to us, so that by sharing in His humanity we may share in His love and be truly reconciled with God. Indeed, Christianity has no other content but love. And it is primarily the renewal of that love, a return to it, a growth in it, that we seek in Great Lent, in fasting and prayer, in the entire spirit and the entire effort of that season. Thus, truly forgiveness is both the beginning of, and the proper condition for the Lenten season.

One may ask, however: Why should I perform this rite when I have no “enemies”? Why should I ask forgiveness from people who have done nothing to me, and whom I hardly know? To ask these questions, is to misunderstand the Orthodox teaching concerning forgiveness. It is true, that open enmity, personal hatred, real animosity may be absent from our life, though if we experience them, it may be easier for us to repent, for these feelings openly contradict Divine commandments. But, the Church reveals to us that there are much subtler ways of offending Divine Love. These are indifference, selfishness, lack of interest in other people, of any real concern for them — in short, that wall which we usually erect around ourselves, thinking that by being “polite” and “friendly” we fulfill God’s commandments. The rite of forgiveness is so important precisely because it makes us realize – be it only for one minute – that our entire relationship to other men is wrong, makes us experience that encounter of one child of God with another, of one person created by God with another, makes us feel that mutual “recognition” which is so terribly lacking in our cold and dehumanized world.

On that unique evening, listening to the joyful Paschal hymns we are called to make a spiritual discovery: to taste of another mode of life and relationship with people, of life whose essence is love. We can discover that always and everywhere Christ, the Divine Love Himself, stands in the midst of us, transforming our mutual alienation into brotherhood. As l advance towards the other, as the other comes to me – we begin to realize that it is Christ Who brings us together by His love for both of us.

And because we make this discovery – and because this discovery is that of the Kingdom of God itself: the Kingdom of Peace and Love, of reconciliation with God and, in Him, with all that exists – we hear the hymns of that Feast, which once a year, “opens to us the doors of Paradise.” We know why we shall fast and pray, what we shall seek during the long Lenten pilgrimage. Forgiveness Sunday: the day on which we acquire the power to make our fasting – true fasting; our effort – true effort; our reconciliation with God – true reconciliation.

Father Alexander Schmemann

Introduction to the DRE/OCA 1975-1982 Forgiveness Sunday Vespers.

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Baptism at St George (Melkite)

Here are three videos from a recent baptism at my parish, St George (Melkite). The weight accorded to the sacrament of baptism here has transformed my outlook.

https://www.facebook.com/652259618/videos/332339398821544/ (conclusion of baptism)

https://www.facebook.com/652259618/videos/4856751877713561/ (teaching about baptism)

https://www.facebook.com/652259618/videos/6998438110230397/ (proclamation in the sanctuary)

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What Exists

Does God exist? On the surface, this may appear to be a rather straightforward (not to say easy) question. But the disagreement between those who answer “yes” and those who answer “no” is not straightforward at all. It is, rather, “one of those fundamental disagreements that extends to how the disagreement is to be characterized,” as the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre once observed. Atheists and theists not only disagree about whether God exists; they also disagree about what it means to disagree about whether God exists.

This disagreement over disagreement is at its most obvious when it comes to popular debates about science and religion. Against those who profess belief in God, there are those who profess that modern science renders such belief irrational. According to these “scientific atheists,” as we might call them, the existence of God is a hypothesis of the same kind as the hypotheses of natural science, and thus may be tested empirically in the same way that we test other such hypotheses. Unsurprisingly, the “God hypothesis” fails such tests, and so scientific atheists conclude that the hypothesis is false and that belief in God is unwarranted and irrational.

Implicit here is a misunderstanding of what is at issue in the debate over God’s existence. For theists, God is not the kind of thing that could be tested by the methods of natural science. The reason is that God is not a part of the observable universe, but rather the transcendent cause of the universe. So the inability of modern science to confirm God’s existence does not show that belief in God is unwarranted or irrational; but only that modern science does not have a monopoly on warranted rational belief about what exists.

. . .

From https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/the-hole-in-atheist-arguments-about-what-exists/

The Hole in Atheist Arguments About Whether God Exists

by M. Anthony Mills

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John Muir’s Boyhood

The Story of My Boyhood and Youth

by John Muir

Chapter I

A Boyhood in Scotland

WHEN I was a boy in Scotland I was fond of everything that was wild, and all my life I’ve been growing fonder and fonder of wild places and wild creatures. Fortunately around my native town of Dunbar, by the stormy North Sea, there was no lack of wildness, though most of the land lay in smooth cultivation, With red-blooded playmates, wild as myself, I loved to wander in the fields to hear the birds sing, and along the seashore to gaze and wonder at the shells and seaweeds, eels and crabs in the pools among the rocks when the tide was low; and best of all to watch the waves in awful storms thundering on the black headlands and craggy ruins of the old Dunbar Castle when the sea and the sky, the waves and the clouds, were mingled together as one. We never thought of playing truant, but after I was five or six years old I ran away to the seashore or the fields most every Saturday, and every day in the school vacations except Sundays, though solemnly warned that I must play at home in the garden and back yard, lest I should learn to think bad thoughts and say bad words. All in vain. In spite of the sure sore punishments that followed like shadows, the natural inherited wildness in our blood ran true on its glorious course as invincible and unstoppable as stars.

My earliest recollections of the country were gained on short walks with my grandfather when I was perhaps not over three years old. On one of these walks grandfather took me to Lord Lauderdale’s gardens, where I saw figs growing against a sunny wall and tasted some of them, and got as many apples to eat as I wished. On another memorable walk in a hayfield, when we sat down to rest on one of the haycocks I heard a sharp, prickly, stinging cry, and, jumping up eagerly, called grandfather’s attention to it. He said he heard only the wind, but I insisted on digging into the hay and turning it over until we discovered the source of the strange exciting sound–a mother field mouse with half a dozen naked young hanging to her teats. This to me was a wonderful discovery. No hunter could have been more excited on discovering a bear and her cubs in a wilderness den.

I was sent to school before I had completed my third year. The first schoolday was doubtless full of wonders, but I am not able to recall any of them. I remember the servant washing my face and getting soap in my eyes, and mother hanging a little green bag with my first book in it around my neck so I would not lose it, and its blowing back in the sea-wind like a flag. But before I was sent to school my grandfather, as I was told, had taught me my letters from shop signs across the street. I can remember distinctly how proud I was when I had spelled my way through the little first book into the second, which seemed large and important, and so on to the third. Going from one book to another formed a grand triumphal advancement, the memories of which still stand out in clear relief.

The third book contained interesting stories as well as plain reading and spelling lessons. To me the best story of all was “Llewellyn’s Dog,” the first animal that comes to mind after the needle-voiced field mouse. It so deeply interested and touched me and some of my classmates that we read it over and over with aching hearts, both in and out of school, and shed bitter tears over the brave faithful dog, Gelert, slain by his own master, who imagined that he had devoured his son because he came to him all bloody when the boy was lost, though he had saved the child’s life by killing a big wolf. We have to look far back to learn how great may be the capacity of a child’s heart for sorrow and sympathy with animals as well as with human friends and neighbors. This auld-lang-syne story stands out in the throng of old schoolday memories as clearly as if I had myself been one of that Welsh hunting-party–heard the bugles blowing, seen Gelert slain, joined in the search for the lost child, discovered it at last happy and smiling among the grass and bushes beside the dead, angled wolf, and wept with Llewellyn over the sad fate of his noble, faithful dog friend.

Another favorite in this book was Southey’s poem “The Inchcape Bell,” a story of a priest and a pirate. A good priest in order to warn seamen in dark stormy weather hung a big bell on the dangerous Inchcape Rock. The greater the storm and higher the waves, the louder rang the warning bell, until it was cut off and sunk by wicked Ralph the Rover. One fine day, as the story goes, when the bell was raging gently, the pirate put out to the rock, saying, “I’ll Sink that bell and plague the Abbot of Aberbrothok.” So he cut the rope, and down went the bell “with a gurgling sound; the bubbles rose and burst around,” etc. Then “Ralph the Rover sailed away; he scoured the seas for many a day; and now, grown rich with plundered store, he steers his course for Scotland’s shore.” Then came a terrible storm with cloud darkness and night darkness and high roaring waves. “Now where we are,” cried the pirate, “I cannot tell, but I wish I could hear the Inchcape bell.” And the story goes on to tell how the wretched rover “tore his hair,” and curst himself in his despair,” when “with a shivering shock” the stout ship struck on the Inchcape Rock, and went down with Ralph and his plunder beside the good priest’s bell. The story appealed to our love of kind deeds and of wildness and fair play.

A lot of terrifying experiences connected with these first schooldays grew out of crimes committed by the keeper of a low lodging-house in Edinburgh, who allowed poor home-less wretches to sleep on benches or the floor for a penny or so a night, and, when kind Death crane to their relief, sold the bodies for dissection to Dr. Hare of the medical school. None of us children ever heard anything like the original story. The servant girls told us that “Dandy Doctors,” clad in long black cloaks and supplied with a store of sticking-plaster of wondrous adhesiveness, prowled at night about the country lanes and even the tow streets, watching for children to choke and sell. The Dandy Doctor’s business method, as the servants explained it, was with lightning quickness to clap a sticking-plaster on the face of a scholar, covering mouth and nose, preventing breathing or crying for help, then pop us under his long black cloak and carry us to Edinburgh to be sold and sliced into small pieces for folk to learn how we were made. We always mentioned the name “Dandy Doctor” in a fearful whisper, and never dared venture out of doors after dark. In the short winter days it got dark before school closed, and in cloudy weather we sometimes had difficulty in finding our way home unless a servant with a lantern was sent for us; but during the Dandy Doctor period the school was closed earlier, for if detained until the usual hour the teacher could not get us to leave the schoolroom. We would rather stay all night supperless than dare the mysterious doctors supposed to be lying in wait for us. We had to go up a hill called the Davel Brae that lay between the schoolhouse and the main street. One evening just before dark, as we were running up the hill, one of the boys shouted, “A Dandy Doctor! A Dandy Doctor!” and we all fled pellmell back into the school-house to the astonishment of Mungo Siddons, the teacher. I can remember to this day the amused look on the good dominie’s face as he stared and tried to guess what had got into us, until one of the older boys breathlessly explained that there was an awful big Dandy Doctor on the Brae and we couldna gang hame. Others corroborated the dreadful news. “Yes! We saw him, plain as onything, with his lang black cloak to hide us in, and some of us thought we saw a sticken-plaister ready in has hand.” We were in such a state of fear and trembling that the teacher saw he wasn’t going to get rid of us without going himself as leader. He went only a short distance, however, and turned us over to the care of the two biggest scholars, who led us to the top of the Brae and then left us to scurry home and dash into the door like pursued squirrels diving into their holes.

Just before school skaled (closed), we all arose and sang the fine hymn “Lord, dismiss us with Thy blessing.” In the spring when the swallows were coming back from their winter homes we sang–

“Welcome, welcome, little stranger,
Welcome from a foreign shore:
Safe escaped from many a danger . . .”

and while singing we all swayed in rhythm with the music. “The Cuckoo,” that always told his none in the spring of the year, was another favorite song, and when there was nothing in particular to call to mind any special bird or animal, the songs we sang were widely varied, such as

“The whale, the beast for me,
Plunging along through the deep, deep sea.”

But the best of all was “Lord, dismiss us with Thy blessing,” though at that time the most significant part I fear was the first three words.

With my school lessons father made me learn hymns and Bible verses. For learning “Rock of Ages” he gave me a penny, and I thus became suddenly rich. Scotch boys are seldom spoiled with money. We thought more of a penny those economical days than the poorest American schoolboy thinks of a dollar. To decide what to do with that first penny was an extravagantly serious affair. I ran in great excitement up and down the street, examining the tempting goodies in the shop windows before venturing on so important an investment. My playmates also became excited when the wonderful news got abroad that Johnnie Muir had a penny, hoping to obtain a taste of the orange, apple, or candy it was likely to bring forth.

At this time infants were baptized and vaccinated a few days after birth. I remember very well a fight with the doctor when my brother David was vaccinated. This happened, I think, before I was sent to school. I couldn’t imagine what the doctor, a tall, sever-looking man in black, was doing to my brother, but as mother, who was holding him in her arms, offered no objection, I looked on quietly while he scratched the arm until I saw blood. Then, unable to trust even my mother, I managed to spring up high enough to grab and bite the doctor’s arm, yelling that I wasna gan to let him hurt my bonnie brither, while to my utter astonishment mother and the doctor only laughed at me. So far from complete at times is sympathy between parents and children, and so much like wild beasts are baby boys, little fighting, biting, climbing pagans.

Father was proud of his garden and seemed always to be trying to make it as much like Eden as possible, and in a corner of it he gave each of us a little bit of ground for our very own, in which we planted what we best liked, wondering how the hard dry seeds could change into soft leaves and flowers and find their way out to the light; and, to see how they were coming on, we used to dig up the larger ones, such as peas and beans, every day. My aunt had a corner assigned to her in our garden, which she filled with lilies, and we all looked with the utmost respect and admiration at that precious lily-bed and wondered whether when we grew up we should ever be rich enough to own one anything like so grand. We imagined that each lily was worth an enormous sum of money and never dared to touch a single leaf or petal of them. We really stood in awe of them. Far, far was I then from the wild lily gardens of California that I was destined to see in their glory.

When I was a little boy at Mungo Siddons’s school a flower-show was held in Dunbar, and I saw a number of the exhibitors carrying large handfuls of dahlias, the first I had ever seen. I thought them marvelous in size and beauty and, as in the case of my aunt’s lilies, wondered if I should ever be rich enough to own some of them.

Although I never dared to touch my aunt’s sacred lilies, I have good cause to remember stealing some common flowers from an apothecary, Peter Lawson, who also answered the purpose of a regular physician to most of the poor people of the town and adjacent country. He had a pony which was considered very wild and dangerous, and when he was called out of town he mounted this wonderful beast, which, after standing long in the stable, was frisky and boisterous, and often to our delight reared and jumped and danced about from side to side of the street before he could be persuaded to go ahead. We boys gazed in awful admiration and wondered how the druggist could be so brave and able as to get on and stay on that wild beast’s back. This famous Peter loved flowers and had a fine garden surrounded by an iron fence, through the bars of which, when I thought no one saw me, I oftentimes snatched a flower and took to my heels. One day Peter discovered me in this mischief, dashed out into the street and caught me. I screamed that I wouldna steal any more if he would let me go. He did n’t say anything but just dragged me along to the stable where he kept the wild pony, pushed me in right back of its heels, and shut the door. I was screaming, of course, but as soon as I was imprisoned the fear of being kicked quenched all noise. I hardly dared breathe. My only hope was in motionless silence. Imagine the agony I endured! I did not steal any more of his flowers. He was a good hard judge of boy nature.

I was in Peter’s hands some time before this, when I was about two and a half years old. The servant girl bathed us small folk before putting us to bed. The smarting soapy scrubbings of the Saturday nights in preparation for the Sabbath were particularly severe, and we all dreaded them. My sister Sarah, the next older than me, wanted the long-legged stool I was sitting on awaiting my turn, so she just tipped me off. My chin struck on the edge of the bath-tub, and, as I was tallying at the time, my tongue happened to be in the way of my teeth when they were closed by the blow, and a deep gash was cut on the side of it, which bled profusely. Mother came running at the noise I made, wrapped me up, put me in the servant girl’s arms and told her to run with me through the garden and out by a back way to Peter Lawson to have something done to stop the bleeding. He simply rubbed a wad of cotton into my mouth after soaking it in some brown astringent stuff, and told me to be sure to keep my mouth shut and all would soon be well. Mother put me to bed, calmed my fears, and told me to lie still and sleep like a gude bairn. But just as I was dropping of to sleep I swallowed the bulky wad of medicated cotton and with it, as I imagined, my tongue also. My scream over so great a loss brought mother, and when she anxiously took me in her arms and inquired what was the matter, I told her that I had swallowed my tongue. She only laughed at me, much to my astonishment, when I expected that she would bewail the awful loss her boy had sustained. My sisters, who were older than I, oftentimes said when I happened to be talking too much, “It’s a pity you had n’t swallowed at least half of that long tongue of yours when you were little.”

It appears natural for children to be fond of water, although the Scotch method of making every duty dismal contrived to make necessary bathing for health terrible to us. I well remember among the awful experiences of childhood being taken by the servant to the seashore when I was between two and three years old, stripped at the side of a deep pool in the rocks, plunged into it among crawling crawfish and slippery wriggling snake-like eels, and drawn up gasping and shrieking only to be plunged down again and again. As the time approached for this terrible bathing, I used to hide in the darkest corners of the house, and oftentimes a long search was required to find me. But after we were a few years older, we enjoyed bathing with other boys as we wandered along the shore, careful, however, not to get into a pool that had an invisible boy-devouring monster at the bottom of it. Such pools, miniature maelstroms, were called “sookin-in-goats” and were well known to most of us. Nevertheless we never ventured into any pool on strange parts of the coast before we had thrust a stick into it. If the stick were not pulled out of our hands, we boldly entered and enjoyed plashing and ducking long ere we had learned to swim.

One of our best playgrounds was the famous old Dunbar Castle, to which King Edward fled after has defeat at Bannockburn. It was built more than a thousand years ago, and though we knew little of its history, we had heard many mysterious stories of the battles fought about its walls, and firmly believed that every bone we found in the ruins belonged to an ancient warrior. We tried to see who could climb highest on the crumbling peaks and crags, and took chances that no cautious mountaineer would try. That I did not fall and finish my rock-scrambling in those adventurous boyhood days seems now a reasonable wonder.

Among our best games were running, jumping, wrestling, and scrambling. I was so proud of my skill as a climber that when I first heard of hell from a servant girl who loved to tell its horrors and warn us that if we did anything wrong we would be cast into it, I always insisted that I could climb out of it. I imagined it was only a sooty pit with stone walls like those of the castle, and I felt sure there must be chinks and cracks in the masonry for fingers and toes. Anyhow the terrors of the horrible place seldom lasted long beyond the telling; for natural faith casts out fear.

Most of the Scotch children believe in ghosts, and some under peculiar conditions continue to believe in them all through life. Grave ghosts are deemed particularly dangerous, and many of the most credulous will go far out of their way to avoid passing through or near a graveyard in the dark. After being instructed by the servants in the nature, looks, and habits of the various black and white ghosts, boowuzzies, and witches we often speculated as to whether they could run fast, and tried to believe that we had a good chance to get away from most of them. To improve our speed and wind, we often took long runs into the country. Tam o’Shanter’s mare outran a lot of witches,–at least until she reached a place of safety beyond the keystone of the bridge,–and we thought perhaps we also might be able to out-run them.

Our house formerly belonged to a physician, and a servant girl told us that the ghost of the dead doctor haunted one of the unoccupied rooms in the second story that was kept dark on account of a heavy window-tax. Our bedroom was adjacent to the ghost room, which had in it a lot of chemical apparatus,–glass tubing, glass and brass retorts, test-tubes, flasks, etc.,–and we thought that those strange articles were still used by the old dead doctor in compounding physic. In the long summer days David and I were put to bed several hours before sunset. Mother tucked us in carefully, drew the curtains of the big old-fashioned bed, and told us to lie still and sleep like gude bairns; but we were usually out of bed, playing games of daring called “scootchers,” about as soon as our loving mother reached the foot of the stairs, for we could n’t lie still, however hard we might try. Going into the ghost room was regarded as a very great scootcher. After venturing in a few steps and rushing back in terror, I used to dare David to go as far without getting caught.

Boyhood Home at Dunbar, Scotland

The illustration on the preceding page shows on the left the house in which John Muir was born. Soon after his birth, the family moved into the next building, now used as a hotel. The main entrance was in the middle, and on the right Muir’s father kept a store where he sold flour and grain. The parlor was at the left of the entrance and the living-rooms above. The dormer window at the left is the one out of which John and David crawled in their daring “scootchers.”

The roof of our house, as well as the crags and walls of the old castle, offered fine mountaineering exercise. Our bedroom was lighted by a dormer window. One night I opened it in search of good scootchers and hung myself out over the slates, holding on to the sill, while the wind was making a balloon of my nightgown. I then dared David to try the adventure, and he did. Then I went out again and hung by one hand, and David did the same. Then I hung by one finger, being careful not to slip, and he did that too. Then I stood on the sill and examined the edge of the left wall of the window, crept up the slates along its side by slight finger-holds, got astride of the roof, sat there a few minutes looking at the scenery over the garden wall while the wind was howling and threatening to blow me off, then managed to slip down, catch hold of the sill, and get safely back into the room. But before attempting this scootcher, recognizing its dangerous character, with commendable caution I warned David that in case I should happen to slip I would grip the rain-trough when I was going over the eaves and hang on, and that he must then run fast downstairs and tell father to get a ladder for me, and tell him to be quick because I would soon be tired hanging dangling in the wind by my hands. After my return from this capital scootcher, David, not to be out-done, crawled up to the top of the window-roof, and got bravely astride of it; but in trying to return he lost courage and began to greet (to cry), “I canna get doon. Oh, I canna get doon.” I leaned out of the window and shouted encouragingly, “Dinna greet, Davie, dinna greet, I’ll help ye doon. If you greet, fayther will hear, and gee us baith an awfu’ skelping.” Then, standing on the sill and holding on by one hand to the window-casing, I directed him to slip his feet down within reach, and, after securing a good hold, I jumped inside and dragged him in by his heels. This finished scootcher-scrambling for the night and frightened us into bed.

In the short winter days, when it was dark even at our early bedtime, we usually spent the hours before going to sleep playing voyages around the world under the bed-clothing. After mother had carefully covered us, bade us good-night and gone downstairs, we set out on our travels. Burrowing like moles, we visited France, India, America, Australia, New Zealand, and all the places we had ever heard of; our travels never ending until we fell asleep. When mother came to take a last look at us, before she went to bed, to see that we were covered, we were oftentimes covered so well that she had difficulty in finding us, for we were hidden in all sorts of positions where I sleep happened to overtake us, but in the morning we always found ourselves in good order, lying straight like gude bairns, as she said.

Some fifty years later, when I visited Scotland, I got one of my Dunbar schoolmates to introduce me to the owners of our old home, from whom I obtained permission to go up-stairs to examine our bedroom window and judge what sort of adventure getting on its roof must have been, and with all my after experience in mountaineering, I found that what I had done in daring boyhood was now beyond my skill.

Boys are often at once cruel and merciful, thoughtlessly hard-hearted and tender-hearted, sympathetic, pitiful, and kind in ever-changing contrasts. Love of neighbors, human or animal, grows up amid savage traits, coarse and fine. When father made out to get us securely locked up in the back yard to prevent our shore and field wanderings, we had to play away the comparatively dull time as best we could. One of our amusements was hunting cats without seriously hurting them. These sagacious animals knew, however that, though not very dangerous, boys were not to be trusted. One time in particular I remember, when we began throwing stones at an experienced old Tom, not wishing to hurt him much, though he was a tempting mark. He soon saw what we were up to, fled to the stable, and climbed to the top of the hay manger. He was still within range, however, and we kept the stones flying faster and faster, but he just blinked and played possum without wincing either at our best shots or at the noise we made. I happened to strike him pretty hard with a good-sized pebble, but he still blinked and sat still as if without feeling. “He must be mortally wounded,” I said, “and now we must kill him to put him out of pain,” the savage in us rapes idly growing with indulgence. All took heartily to this sort of cat mercy and began throwing the heaviest stones we could manage, but that old fellow knew what characters we were, and just as we imagined him mercifully dead he evidently thought the play was becoming too serious and that it was time to retreat; for suddenly with a wild whirr and gurr of energy he launched himself over our heads, rushed across the yard in a blur of speed, climbed to the roof of another building and over the garden wall, out of pain and bad company, with all his lives wide awake and in good working order.

After we had thus learned that Tom had at least nine lives, we tried to verify the common saying that no matter how far cats fell they always landed on their feet unhurt. We caught one in our back yard, not Tom but a smaller one of manageable size, and somehow got him smuggled up to the top story of the house. I don’t know how in the world we managed to let go of him, for as soon as we opened the window and held him over the sill he knew his danger and made violent efforts to scratch and bite his way back into the room; but we determined to carry the thing through, and at last managed to drop him. I can remember to this day how the poor creature in danger of his life strained and balanced as he was falling and managed to alight on his feet. This was a cruel thing for even wild boys to do, and we never tried the experiment again, for we sincerely pitied the poor fellow when we saw him creeping slowly away, stunned and frightened, with it a swollen black and blue chin.

Again–showing the natural savagery of boys–we delighted in dog-fights, and even in the horrid red work of slaughter-houses, often running long distances and climbing over walls and roofs to see a pig killed, as soon as we heard the desperately earnest squealing. And if the butcher was good-natured, we begged him to let us get a near view of the mysterious insides and to give us a bladder to blow up for a foot-ball.

But here is an illustration of the better side of boy nature. In our back yard there were three elm trees and in the one nearest the house a pair of robin-redbreasts had their nest. When the young were almost able to fly, a troop of the celebrated “Scottish Grays,” visited Dunbar, and three or four of the fine horses were lodged in our stable. When the soldiers were polishing their swords and helmets, they happened to notice the nest, and just as they were leaving, one of them climbed the tree and robbed it. With sore sympathy we watched the young birds as the hard-hearted robber pushed them one by one beneath his jacket,– all but two that jumped out of the nest and tried to fly, but they were easily caught as they fluttered on the ground, and were hidden away with the rest. The distress of the bereaved parents, as they hovered and screamed over the frightened crying children they so long had loved and sheltered and fed, was pitiful to see; but the shining soldier rode grandly away on his big gray horse, caring only for the few pennies the young songbirds would bring and the beer they would buy, while we all, sisters and brothers, were crying and sobbing. I remember, as if it happened this day, how my heart fairly ached and choked me. Mother put us to bed and tried to comfort us, telling us that the little birds would be well fed and grow big, and soon learn to sing in pretty cages; but again and again we rehearsed the sad story of the poor bereaved birds and their frightened children, and could not be comforted. Father came into the room when we were half asleep and still sobbing, and I heard mother telling him that “a’ the bairns’ hearts were broken over the robbing of the nest in the elm.”

After attaining the manly, belligerent age of five or fix years, very few of my schooldays passed without a fist fight, and half a dozen was no uncommon number. When any classmate of our own age questioned our rank and standing as fighters, we always made haste to settle the matter at a quiet place on the Davel Brae. To be a “gude fechter” was our highest ambition, our dearest aim in life in or out of school. To be a good scholar was a secondary consideration, though we tried hard to hold high places in our classes and gloried in being Dux. We fairly reveled in the battle stories of glorious William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, with which every breath of Scotch air is saturated, and of course we were all going to be soldiers. On the Davel Brae battleground we often managed to bring on something like real war, greatly more exciting than personal combat. Choosing leaders, we divided into two armies. In winter damp snow furnished plenty of ammunition to make the thing serious, and in summer sand and grass sods. Cheering and Shouting some battle-cry such as “Bannockburn! Bannockburn! Scotland forever! The Last War in India!” we were led bravely on. For heavy battery work we stuffed our Scotch blue bonnets with snow and sand, sometimes mixed with gravel, and fired them at each other as cannon-balls.

Of course we always looked eagerly forward to vacation days and thought them slow in coming. Old Mungo Siddons gave us a lot of gooseberries or currants and wished us a happy time. Some sort of special closing-exercises–diggings recitations, etc.–celebrated the great day, but I remember only the berries, freedom from school work, and opportunities for run-away rambles in the fields and along the wave-beaten seashore.

An exciting time came when at the age of seven or eight years I left the auld Davel Brae school for the grammar school. Of course I had a terrible lot of fighting to do, because a new scholar had to meet every one of his age who dared to challenge him, this being the common introduction to a new school. It was very strenuous for the first month or so, establishing my fighting rank, taking up new studies, especially Latin and French, getting acquainted with new classmates and the master and his rules. In the first few Latin and French lessons the new teacher, Mr. Lyon, blandly smiled at our comical blunders, but pedagogical weather of the severest kind quickly set in, when for every mistake, everything short of perfection, the taws was promptly applied. We had to get three lessons every day in Latin, three in French, and as many in English, besides spelling, history, arithmetic, and geography. Word lessons in particular, the wouldst-couldst-shouldst-have-loved kind, were kept up, with much warlike thrashing, until I had committed the whole of the French, Latin, and English grammars to memory, and in connection with reading-lessons we were called on to recite parts of them with the rules over and over again, as if all the regular and irregular incomprehensible verb stuff was poetry. In addition to all this, father made me learn so many Bible verses every day that by the time I was eleven years of age I had about three fourths of the Old Testament and all of the New by heart and by sore flesh. I could recite the New Testament from the beginning of Matthew to the end of Revelation without a single stop. The dangers of cramming and of making scholars study at home instead of letting their little brains rest were never heard of in those days. We carried our school-books home in a strap every night and committed to memory our next day’s lessons before we went to bed, and to do that we had to bend our attention as closely on our tasks as lawyers on great million-dollar cases. I can’t conceive of anything that would now enable me to concentrate my attention more fully than when I was a mere stripling boy, and it was all done by whipping,–thrashing in general. Old-fashioned Scotch teachers spent no time in seeking short roads to knowledge, or in trying any of the new-fangled psychological methods so much in vogue nowadays. There was nothing said about making the seats easy or the lessons easy. We were simply driven pointblank against our books like soldiers against the enemy, and sternly ordered, “Up and at’em. Commit your lessons to memory!” If we failed in any part, however slight, we were whipped; for the grand, simple, all-sufficing Scotch discovery had been made that there was a close connection between the skin and the memory, and that irritating the skin excited the memory to any required degree.

Fighting was carried on still more vigorously in the high school than in the common school. Whenever any one was challenged, either the challenge was allowed or it was decided by a battle on the seashore, where with stubborn enthusiasm we battered each other as if we had not been sufficiently battered by the teacher. When we were so fortunate as to finish a fight without getting a black eye, we usually escaped a thrashing at home and another next morning at school, for other traces of the fray could be easily washed off at a well on the church brae, or concealed, or passed as results of playground accidents; but a black eye could never be explained away from downright fighting. A good double thrashing was the inevitable penalty, but an without avail; fighting went on without the slightest abatement, like natural storms; for no punishment less than death could quench the ancient inherited belligerence burning in our pagan blood. Nor could we be made to believe it was fair that father and teacher should thrash us so industriously for our good, while begrudging us the pleasure of thrashing each other for our good. All these various thrashings, however, were admirably influential in developing not only memory but fortitude as well. For if we did not endure our school punishments and fighting pains without flinching and making faces, we were mocked on the playground, and public opinion on a Scotch playground was a powerful agent in controlling behavior; therefore we at length managed to keep our features in smooth repose while enduring pain that would try anybody but an American Indian. Far from feeling that we were called on to endure too much pain, one of our playground games was thrashing each other with whips about two feet long made from the tough, wiry stems of a species of polygonum fastened together in a stiff, firm braid. One of us handing two of these whips to a companion to take his choice, we stood up close together and thrashed each other on the legs until one succumbed to the intolerable pain and thus lost the game. Nearly all of our playground games were strenuous,–shin-battering shinny, wrestling, prisoners’ base, and dogs and hares,–all augmenting in no slight degree our lessons in fortitude. Moreover, we regarded our punishments and pains of every sort as training for war, since we were all going to be soldiers. Besides single combats we sometimes assembled on Saturdays to meet the scholars of another school and very little was required for the growth of strained relations, and war. The immediate cause might be nothing more than a saucy stare. Perhaps the scholar stared at would insolently inquire, “What are ye glowerin’ at, Bob?” Bob would reply, “I’ll look where I hae a mind and hinder me if ye daur.” “Weel, Bob,” the outraged stared-at scholar would reply, “I’ll soon let ye see whether I daur or no” and give Bob a blow on the face This opened the battle, and every good scholar belonging to either school was drawn into it. After both sides were sore and weary, a strong lunged warrior would be heard above the din of battle shouting, “I’ll tell ye what we’ll dae wi’ ye. If ye’ll let us alone we’ll let ye alane!” and the school war ended as most wars between nations do; and some of them begin in much the same way.

Notwithstanding the great number of harshly enforced rules, not very good order was kept in school in my time. There were two schools within a few rods of each other, one for mathematics, navigation, etc., the other, called the grammar school, that I attended. The masters lived in a big freestone house within eight or ten yards of the schools, so that they could easily step out for anything they wanted or send one of the scholars. The moment our master disappeared, perhaps for a book or a drink, every scholar left his seat and his lessons, jumped on top of the benches and desks or crawled beneath them, tugging, rolling, wrestling, accomplishing in a minute a depth of disorder and din unbelievable save by a Scottish scholar. We even carried on war, class against class, in those wild, precious minutes. A watcher gave the alarm when the master opened his house-door to return, and it was a great feat to get into our places before he entered, adorned in awful majestic authority shouting “Silence!” and striking resounding blows with his cane on a desk or on some unfortunate scholar’s back.

Forty-seven years after leaving this fighting school, I returned on a visit to Scotland, and a cousin in Dunbar introduced me to a minister who was acquainted with the history of the school, and obtained for me an invitation to dine with the new master. Of course I gladly accepted, for I wanted to see the old place of fun and pain, and the battleground on the sands. Mr. Lyon, our able teacher and thrasher, I learned, had held his place as master of the school for twenty or thirty years after I left it, and had recently died in London, after preparing many young men for the English Universities. At the dinner-table, while I was recalling the amusements and fights of my old school-days, the minister remarked to the new master, “Now, don’t you wish that you had been teacher in those days, and gained the honor of walloping John Muir?” This pleasure so merrily suggested showed that the minister also had been a fighter in his youth. The old freestone school building was still perfectly sound, but the carved, ink-stained desks were almost whittled away.

The highest part of our playground back of the school commanded a view of the sea, and we loved to watch the passing ships and, judging by their rigging, make guesses as to the ports they had sailed from, those to which they were bound, what they were loaded with, their tonnage, etc. In stormy weather they were all smothered in clouds and spray, and showers of salt scud torn from the tops of the waves came flying over the playground wall. In those tremendous storms many a brave ship foundered or was tossed and smashed on the rocky shore. When a wreck occurred within a mile or two of the town, we often managed by running fast to reach it and pick up some of the spoils. In particular I remember visiting the battered fragments of an unfortunate brig or schooner that had been loaded with apples, and finding fine unpitiful sport in rushing into the spent waves and picking up the red-cheeked fruit from the frothy, seething foam.

All our school-books were extravagantly illustrated with drawings of every kind of sailing-vessel, and every boy owned some sort of craft whittled from a block of wood and trimmed with infinite pains,–sloops, schooners, brigs, and full-rigged ships, with their sails and string ropes properly adjusted and named for us by some old sailor. These precious toy craft with lead keels we learned to sail on a pond near the town. With the sails set at the proper angle to the wind, they made fast straight voyages across the pond to boys on the other side, who readjusted the sails and started them back on the return voyages. Oftentimes fleets of half a dozen or more were started together in exciting races.

Our most exciting sport, however, was playing with gunpowder. We made guns out of gas-pipe, mounted them on sticks of any shape, clubbed our pennies together for powder, gleaned pieces of lead here and there and cut them into slugs, and, while one aimed, another applied a match to the touch-hole. With these awful weapons we wandered along the beach and fired at the gulls and solan-geese as they passed us. Fortunately we never hurt any of them that we knew of. We also dug holes in the ground, put in a handful or two of powder, tamped it well around a fuse made of a wheat-stalk , and, reaching cautiously forward , touched a match to the straw. This we called making earthquakes. Oftentimes we went home with singed hair and faces well peppered with powder-grains that could not be washed out. Then, of course, came a correspondingly severe punishment from both father and teacher.

Another favorite sport was climbing trees and scaling garden-walls. Boys eight or ten years of age could get over almost any wall by standing on each other’s shoulders, thus making living ladders. To make walls secure against marauders, many of them were finished on top with broken bottles imbedded in lime, leaving the cutting edges sticking up; but with bunches of grass and weeds we could sit or stand in comfort on top of the jaggedest of them.

Like squirrels that begin to eat nuts before they are ripe, we began to eat apples about as soon as they were formed, causing, of course, desperate gastric disturbances to be cured by castor oil. Serious were the risks we ran in climbing and squeezing through hedges, and, of course, among the country folk we were far from welcome. Farmers passing us on the roads often shouted by way of greeting: “Oh, you vagabonds! Back to the toon wi’ ye. Gang back where ye belang. You’re up to mischief Ise warrant. I can see it. The gamekeeper’ll catch ye, and maist like ye’ll a’ be hanged some day.”

Breakfast in those auld-lang-syne days was simple oatmeal porridge, usually with a little milk or treacle, served in wooden dishes called “luggies,” formed of staves hooped together like miniature tubs about four or five inches in diameter. One of the staves, the lug or ear, a few inches longer than the others, served as a handle, while the number of luggies ranged in a row on a dresser indicated the size of the family. We never dreamed of anything to come after the porridge, or of asking for more. Our portions were consumed in about a couple of minutes; then off to school. At noon we came racing home ravenously hungry. The midday meal, called dinner, was usually vegetable broth, a small piece of boiled mutton, and barley-meal scone. None of us liked the barley scone bread, therefore we got all we wanted of it, and in desperation had to eat it, for we were always hungry, about as hungry after as before meals The evening meal was called “tea” and was served on our return from school. It consisted, as far as we children were concerned, of half a slice of white bread without butter, barley scone, and warm water with a little milk and sugar in it, a beverage called “content,” which warmed but neither cheered nor inebriated. Immediately after tea we ran across the street with our books to Grandfather Gilrye, who took pleasure in seeing us and hearing us recite our next day’s lessons. Then back home to supper, usually a boiled potato and piece of barley scone. Then family worship, and to bed.

Our amusements on Saturday afternoons and vacations depended mostly on getting away from home into the country, especially in the spring when the birds were calling loudest. Father sternly forbade David and me from playing truant in the fields with plundering wanderers like ourselves, fearing we might go on from bad to worse, get hurt in climbing over walls, caught by gamekeepers, or lost by falling over a cliff into the sea. “Play as much as you like in the back yard and garden,” he said, “and mind what you’ll get when you forget and disobey.” Thus he warned us with an awfully stern countenance, looking very hard-hearted, while naturally his heart was far from hard, though he devoutly believed in eternal punishment for bad boys both here and hereafter. Nevertheless, like devout martyrs of wildness, we stole away to the seashore or the green, sunny fields with almost religious regularity, taking advantage of opportunities when father was very busy, to join our companions, oftenest to hear the birds sing and hunt their nests, glorying in the number we had discovered and called our own. A sample of our nest chatter was something like this: Willie Chisholm would proudly exclaim–“I ken [know] seventeen nests, and you, Johnnie, ken only fifteen.”

“But I wouldna gie my fifteen for your seventeen, for five of mine are larks and mavises. You ken only three o’ the best singers.”

“Yes, Johnnie, but I ken six goldies and you ken only one. Maist of yours are only sparrows and linties and robin-redbreasts.”

Then perhaps Bob Richardson would loudly declare that he “kenned mair nests than onybody, for he kenned twenty-three, with about fifty eggs in them and mair than fifty young birds–maybe a hundred. Some of them naething but raw gorblings but lots of them as big as their mithers and ready to flee. And aboot fifty craw’s nests and three fox dens.”

“Oh, yes, Bob, but that’s no fair, for naebody counts craw’s nests and fox holes, and then you live in the country at Belle-haven where ye have the best chance.”

“Yes, but I ken a lot of bumbee’s nests, baith the red-legged and the yellow-legged kind.”

“Oh, wha cares for bumbee’s nests!”

“Weel, but here’s something! Ma father let me gang to a fox hunt, and man, it was grand to see the hounds and the lang-legged horses lowpin the dykes and burns and hedges!”

The nests, I fear, with the beautiful eggs and young birds, were prized quite as highly as the songs of the glad parents, but no Scotch boy that I know of ever failed to listen with enthusiasm to the songs of the skylarks. Oftentimes on a broad meadow near Dunbar we stood for hours enjoying their marvelous singing and soaring. From the grass where the nest was hidden the male would suddenly rise, as straight as if shot up, to a height of perhaps thirty or forty feet, and, sustaining himself with rapid wing-beats, pour down the most delicious melody, sweet and cleat and strong, overflowing all bounds, then suddenly he would soar higher again and again, ever higher and higher, soaring and singing until lost to sight even on perfectly clear days, and oftentimes in cloudy weather “far in the downy cloud,” as the poet says.

To test our eyes we often watched a lark until he seemed a faint speck in the sky and finally passed beyond the keenest-sighted of us all. “I see him yet!” we would cry, “I see him yet!” “I see him yet!” “I see him yet!” as he soared. And finally only one of us would be left to claim that he still saw him. At last he, too, would have to admit that the singer had soared beyond his sight, and still the music came pouring down to us in glorious profusion, from a height far above our vision, requiring marvelous power of wing and marvelous power of voice, for that rich, delicious, soft, and yet clear music was distinctly heard long after the bird was out of sight. Then, suddenly ceasing, the glorious singer would appear, falling like a bolt straight down to his nest, where his mate was sitting on the eggs.

It was far too common a practice among us to carry off a young lark just before it could fly, place it in a cage, and fondly, laboriously feed it. Sometimes we succeeded in keeping one alive for a year or two, and when awakened by the spring weather it was pitiful to see the quivering imprisoned soarer of the heavens rapidly beating its wings and singing as though it were flying and hovering in the air like its parents. To keep it in health we were taught that we must supply it with a sod of grass the size of the bottom of the cage, to make the poor bird feel as though it were at home on its native meadow,–a meadow perhaps a foot or at most two feet square. Again and again it would try to hover over that miniature meadow from its miniature sky just underneath the top of the cage. At last, conscience-stricken, we carried the beloved prisoner to the meadow west of Dunbar where it was born, and, blessing its sweet heart, bravely set it free, and our exceeding great reward was to see it fly and sing in the sky.

In the winter, when there was but little doing in the fields, we organized running-matches. A dozen or so of us would start out on races that were simply tests of endurance, running on and on along a public road over the breezy hills like hounds, without stopping or getting tired. The only serious trouble we ever felt in these long races was an occasional stitch in our sides. One of the boys started the story that sucking raw eggs was a sure cure for the stitches. We had hens in our back yard, and on the next Saturday we managed to swallow a couple of eggs apiece, a disgusting job, but we would do almost anything to mend our speed, and as soon as we could get away after taking the cure we set out on a ten or twenty mile run to prove its worth. We thought nothing of running right ahead ten or a dozen miles before turning back; for we knew nothing about taking time by the suns and none of us had a watch in those days. Indeed, we never cared about time until it began to get dark. Then we thought of home and the thrashing that awaited us. Late or early, the thrashing was sure, unless father happened to be away. If he was expected to return soon, mother made haste to get us to bed before his arrival. We escaped the thrashing next morning, for father never felt like thrashing us in cold blood on the calm holy Sabbath. But no punishment, however sure and severe, was of any avail against the attraction of the fields and woods. It had other uses, developing memory, etc., but in keeping us at home it was of no use at all. Wildness was ever sounding in our ears, and Nature saw to it that besides school lessons and church lessons some of her own lessons should be learned, perhaps with a view to the time when we should be called to wander in wildness to our heart’s content. Oh, the blessed enchantment of those Saturday runaways in the prime of the spring! How our young wondering eyes reveled in the sunny, breezy glory of the hills and the sky, every particle of us thrilling and tingling with the bees and glad birds and glad streams! Kings may be blessed; we were glorious, we were free,–school cares and scoldings, heart thrashings and flesh thrashings alike, were forgotten in the fullness of Nature’s glad wildness. These were my first excursions,–the beginnings of lifelong wanderings.

See https://vault.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/writings/books.aspx for more Muir writings online.

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Sacramental Theology

Below is the Introduction to ‘The Oxford Handbook of Sacramental Theology‘ edited by Hans Boersma and Matthew Levering. But first a brief excerpt from the introduction:

A Handbook on sacramental theology, even more than on most other Christian topics, makes poignantly manifest these divisions. They are not “mere” theoretical divisions but divisions at the level of basic Christian practice. Indeed, they involve our very unity with the crucified and risen Lord through the means by which he wills to unite us to his own self-offering to the Father in the Spirit. Yet the present Handbook also exhibits powerful streams and sources of unity in Christian sacramental faith and practice. The ecumenical organization and thrust of this Handbook need not lead us to seek a common denominator, whether found in Scripture or in the histories of the sacramental theologies of particular Christian communities. Rather than taking such an approach, we have sought instead to involve contributors whose sympathies and perspectives lie firmly within a particular Christian community. As a gift of the Holy Spirit, Christian unity requires learning how to perceive each other’s gifts, which can be done only when these gifts are fully and faithfully presented.

Abstract and Keywords

The sacraments are supposed to be the source of Christian unity, but all too often, and especially since the Reformation period, they have been a major part of Christian division. While in some ways poignantly manifesting these divisions, the chapters in this Handbook also indicate the fruitfulness of the ecumenical movement and it makes manifest the common threads binding together sacramental theology in the various Christian traditions. Alongside this ecumenical purpose, the Handbook also aims to make a historical and a missional contribution. Together, these three purposes suggest the ways in which study of the sacraments, from an explicitly theological perspective, may serve the self-understanding and unity of Christians today.

Keywords: sacramentshistoricalecumenicalmissionalbeautyhopedivisionunity

The vast subject of the sacraments of the Christian churches cannot be exhausted by one Handbook, valuable though we hope it will prove to be. As a multi-faceted introduction to sacramental theology, the purposes of this Handbook are threefold: historical, ecumenical, and missional. In this brief Introduction, therefore, we wish to briefly explain these three purposes.

First, of the 44 chapters that comprise our Handbook, 28 are historical. By devoting two-thirds of the Handbook to historical surveys, we are able to introduce readers to the historical roots and development of Christian sacramental worship. That history is testified to in the various writings of the New Testament, and it has important background both in the Old Testament and in Second Temple literature (some of which finds a place in the Catholic and Orthodox canons of Scripture). The contributors to this Handbook explain the diverse ways in which believers have construed the sacraments, both in inspired Scripture and in the history of the church’s practice. In Scripture and the early church, Orthodox, Protestants, and Catholics all find evidence that the first Christian communities celebrated and taught about the sacraments in a manner that Orthodox, Protestants, and Catholics today affirm as the foundation of their own faith and practice.

Over time, the diverse Christian churches have developed their own theological conversations, so that an expert in the sacramental theology of one ecclesial tradition or time period may devote a lifetime to studying a set of figures who may be almost unknown within other ecclesial traditions or time periods. Yet the historical surveys in this volume also show that in the diverse ecclesial traditions, the reception history of the scriptural testimony exhibits strong family resemblances. Furthermore, in each historical period, among Orthodox, Protestants, and Catholics we observe cross-fertilization and mutual indebtedness in the face of the problems and issues common to the historical period. Put simply: historical studies, including historical research into Scripture, exhibit not merely differences but also the seeds and evidence of unity.

(p. 2) Thus, for those who want to understand what has been taught about the sacraments in Scripture and across the generations by the major thinkers of the various Christian traditions, this Handbook provides an introduction. However, the volume also contains 16 chapters that are not classified as historical. These include a chapter on liturgical theology and the sacraments; constructive chapters on each of the sacraments (including the ecumenically contested ones); and theological and philosophical chapters that reflect on the sacraments in light of other theological loci (eschatology, the Trinity, and so forth). Not surprisingly, these chapters, too, reflect the divisions and distinctions that we find in the explicitly historical sections; and these constructive chapters also draw upon and develop the major sources that the historical chapters present to the reader. Not least because the authors of these constructive chapters are ecumenically diverse, the challenge of the historical chapters persists: where is Christian unity in worship to be found? As a second purpose, therefore, this Handbook is intended to be a contribution to Christian ecumenism.

How could it be otherwise, as Christians arrive at the 500th anniversary of the Reformation divisions? And at the same time, how could it be otherwise, given that the Christian gospel is as compelling as ever and Christ calls us to be one (John 17:22)? Ecumenically, the editors of the Unitas Books series—a series that like the present Handbook is a fruit of the great twentieth-century ecumenical movement—remind us that “[d]‌ivision has become deeply embedded in the everyday life and thought of the churches” (Hjelm, Root, and Rusch 2004: iii). A Handbook on sacramental theology, even more than on most other Christian topics, makes poignantly manifest these divisions. They are not “mere” theoretical divisions but divisions at the level of basic Christian practice. Indeed, they involve our very unity with the crucified and risen Lord through the means by which he wills to unite us to his own self-offering to the Father in the Spirit. Yet the present Handbook also exhibits powerful streams and sources of unity in Christian sacramental faith and practice. The ecumenical organization and thrust of this Handbook need not lead us to seek a common denominator, whether found in Scripture or in the histories of the sacramental theologies of particular Christian communities. Rather than taking such an approach, we have sought instead to involve contributors whose sympathies and perspectives lie firmly within a particular Christian community. As a gift of the Holy Spirit, Christian unity requires learning how to perceive each other’s gifts, which can be done only when these gifts are fully and faithfully presented.

Experience has also shown that the ecumenical movement falters when it becomes focused upon the churches themselves, rather than upon the Lord and upon bearing witness to his conquest of death, his call to charity in and through his Holy Spirit, and his invitation to everlasting sharing in the life of God. Thus, insofar as our Handbook has an ecumenical purpose, it unavoidably also has a missional dynamism. We are not suggesting that these chapters, or the volume as a whole, stand in for catechesis or have a catechetical intention. But the task of writing about Christianity, even in a painstakingly objective manner, inevitably invites the sharing of the gospel, the message of joy, and consummation and communion that lurks behind even the driest or (p. 3) most critical description. Moreover, this Handbook has been prepared and published during a time of religious transition and turmoil in the world. On the one hand, there are energetic and growing Christian movements, especially Pentecostal ones, for which many of the structures known to traditional ecumenism have become otiose. These new movements are present in a Christianity that is becoming more global than ever. In this global context—either paradoxically or predictably, depending upon one’s perspective—hierarchical structures (not least the papacy) are demonstrating their relevance and their power for energetic intellectual and pastoral renewal. On the other hand, other religions, such as Islam, and the rising popularity of atheism as a counter-religion, are also radically reshaping the landscape, not least in Europe, North America, and the Middle East.

A Handbook with a historical trajectory invites questions about the nature of history, which Christians understand to be guided and unified, in an often mysterious manner, by divine providence. Kevin Vanhoozer observes, “The Christian story—the grand narrative that encompasses the histories of the cosmos, of Israel, of Christ, and the church—has a beginning, middle, and end” (Vanhoozer 2010: 316). Written in the “middle,” this Handbook may turn out to be an instrument for the communication of Christian realities to societies and peoples who have turned away from the gospel or who have never truly heard it, or who have embraced the gospel but without historical knowledge of its Spirit-guided reception. In the midst of the Second Vatican Council, Yves Congar wrote, “Two-thirds of the world’s population live in Asia. It follows that we must rethink everything in terms of a mission and of a mission that is world-wide” (Congar 1963: 75). Indeed, no Handbook on sacramental theology can be truly historical and ecumenical without having also a missional dimension, a sense of the gospel as something not simply for the churches but something to be shared.

The connection between the gospel, sacraments, and mission is made explicit by the Orthodox Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos, who like Congar (and not coincidentally) was writing during the Second Vatican Council: “The Resurrection constitutes the backbone of Orthodox worship. … Orthodox hymnology—that of the period of Pentecost, as well as that of the Sunday Vespers and Matins—proclaims it as the very center par excellence of the salvation of all humankind and describes the missionary obligation that arises from this unique historical event” (Yannoulatos 2010: 28). Again, we trust readers will recognize that the Handbook has not been conceived as a labor of catechesis, however laudable such an endeavor may be. The point, rather, is that a work such as this, precisely as conceived with historical and ecumenical purposes, also by its nature has missional implications.

In short, while the divisions in Christian sacramental understanding and practice are certainly evident in this Handbook, the Handbook is not thereby without ecumenical and missional value. Ecumenically, division cannot be the focus, but rather the Lord’s gifts must be. In a chapter on the relationship of spirituality and theology, Alejandro García-Rivera offers a conclusion that we can apply to the situation encountered by an ecumenical Handbook on the sacraments, since the sacraments are sites of serious division and disharmony in Christian history that are nonetheless, and simultaneously, (p. 4) markers and instruments of unity and harmony: “We are, in the language of Vatican II, pilgrims, communities of discernment in the midst of a great suffering. Suffering, an ever present reality, is not the foundation of our discernment. Rather, the Glory of the Lord, Beauty itself, charges the world with values as signposts to a vision scarcely imagined” (García-Rivera 1998: 133). The sacraments are such signposts; the Lord, Beauty itself, has indeed charged the world with signposts. Death is not the end of the story. The material cosmos is not a site of endless, meaningless entropy, distance, and annihilation. The story of the Christian sacraments is, despite divisions in interpretation and practice, one of tremendous hope.


Congar, Yves (1963), Report from Rome: The First Session of the Vatican Council, trans. A. Manson (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1963).Find this resource:

García-Rivera, Alejandro (1998), “Wisdom, Beauty, and the Cosmos in Hispanic Spirituality and Theology,” in El Cuerpo de Cristo: The Hispanic Presence in the U.S. Catholic Church, ed. Peter J. Casarella and Raúl Gómez (New York: Crossroad), 106–133.Find this resource:

Hjelm, Norman A., Michael Root, and William G. Rusch (2004), “Unitas Books,” in Ola Tjørhom, Visible Church—Visible Unity: Ecumenical Ecclesiology and “The Great Tradition of the Church” (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press).Find this resource:

Vanhoozer, Kevin J. (2010), Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).Find this resource:

Yannoulatos, Archbishop Anastasios (2010), ”Orthodoxy and Mission,” in Yannoulatos, Mission in Christ’s Way: An Orthodox Understanding of Mission (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press), 25–37.Find this resource:

Hans Boersma

Hans Boersma holds the J. I. Packer Chair in Theology at Regent College, Vancouver. He has authored several books, including Embodiment and Virtue in Gregory of Nyssa (2013); Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry (2011); and Nouvelle Théologie and Sacramental Ontology: A Return to Mystery (2009). Together with Matthew Levering, he edited Heaven on Earth? Theological Interpretation in Ecumenical Dialogue (2013).

Matthew Levering

Matthew Levering, is Perry Family Foundation Professor of Theology at Mundelein Seminary. He serves as co-editor of two theological quarterlies, Nova et Vetera and the International Journal of Systematic Theology. He has authored numerous books, including Sacrifice and Community: Jewish Offering and Christian Eucharist (2005) and Christ and the Catholic Priesthood (2010). With Hans Boersma, he edited Heaven on Earth? Theological Interpretation in Ecumenical Dialogue (2013). He and Gilles Emery co-edited The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity.

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Novel Openings

Dante’s Comedy:

Midway upon the journey of our life

I found myself in a dark wilderness,

for I had wandered from the straight and true.

Austen’s Pride and Prejudice:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

James’ The Golden Bowl:

The Prince had always liked his London, when it had come to him; he was one of the Modern Romans who find by the Thames a more convincing image of the truth ancient state than any they had left by the Tiber.

Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited:

When I reached ‘C’ Company lines, which were at the top of the hill, I paused and looked back at the camp, just coming into full view below me through the grey mist of early morning.

Dickinson’s #466

I dwell in Possibility – a fairer House than Prose

Frost’s The Silken Tent

She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when a sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To every thing on earth the compass round,
And only by one’s going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

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Preparing for Lent

Below are the first few pages from Alexander Schememann’s book: Great Lent: Journey to Pasca.

Preparation for Lent

  1. THE DESIRE (Sunday of Zacchaeus)

Long before the actual beginning of Lent, the Church announces its approach and invites us to enter into the period of pre-lenten preparation. It is a characteristic feature of the Orthodox liturgical tradition that every major feast or season–Easter, Christmas, Lent, etc–is announced and ‘prepared’ in advance. Why? Because of the deep psychological insight by the Church into human nature. Knowing our lack of concentration and the frightening ‘worldliness’ of our life, the Church knows our inability to change rapidly, to go abruptly from one spiritual or mental state into another. Thus, long before the actual effort of Lent is to begin, the Church calls our attention to its seriousness and invites us to meditate on its significance. Before we can practice Lent we are given its meaning. This preparation includes fire consecutive Sundays preceding Lent, each one of the–through its particular Gospel lesson–dedicated to some fundamental aspect of repentance.

The very first announcement of Lent is made the Sunday on which the Gospel lesson about Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10) is read. It is the story of a man who is too short to see Jesus but who desired so much to see Him that he climbed up a tree. Jesus responded to his desire and went to his house. Thus the theme of this first announcement is desire. One might even say the man is desire, and this fundamental psychological truth about human nature is acknowledged by the Gospel: ‘Where your treasure is,’ says Christ, ‘there shall your heart be.’ A strong desire overcomes the natural limitations of man; when he passionately desires something he does things of which ‘normally’ he is incapable. Being ‘short’, he overcomes and transcends himself. The only question, therefore, is whether we desire the right things, whether the power of desire in us is aimed at the right goal, or whether–in the words of the existentialist atheist Jean Paul Sartre–man is a ‘useless passion.’

Zacchaeus desired the ‘right thing’; he wanted to see and approach christ. He is the first symbol of repentance, for repentance begins as the rediscovery of the deep nature of all desire: the desire for God and His righteousness, for the true life. Zacchaeus is ‘short’ — petty, sinful, and limited — yet his desire overcomes all this. It ‘forces’ Christ’s attention; it brings Christ to his home. Such, then, is the first announcement, the first invitation: ours is to desire that which is deepest and truest in ourselves, to acknowledge the thirst and hunger for the Absolute which is in us whether we know it or not, and which, when we deviate from it and turn our desires away, makes us indeed a ‘useless passion.’ And if we desire deeply enough, strongly enough, Christ will respond.

2. HUMILITY (Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee)

The next Sunday is called the ‘Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee.’ On the eve of this day, on Saturday at Vespers, the liturgical book of the lenten season — the Triodion — make sits first appearance and texts from it are added to the usual hymns and prayers of the weekly Resurrection service. They develop the next major aspect of repentance: humility.

The Gospel lesson (Lk 18:10-14) pictures a man who is always pleased with himself and who thinks that he complies with all the requirements of religion. He is self-assured and proud of himself. In reality, however, he has falsified the meaning of religion. He has reduced it to external observations and he measures his piety by the amount of money he contributes to the temple. As for the Publican, he humbles himself and his humility justifies him before God. If there is a moral quality almost completely disregarded and even denied today, it is indeed humility. The culture in which we live constantly instills in us the sense of pride, of self-glorification, and of self-righteousness. It is built on the assumption that man can achieve anything by himself and it even pictures God as the One who all the time ‘gives credit’ for man’s achievements and good deeds. Humility–be it individual or corporate, ethnic or national–is viewed as a sign of weakness, as something unbecoming a real man. Even our churches–are they not imbued with that same spirit of the Pharisee? De we not want our every contribution, every ‘good dead,’ all that we do ‘for the Church’ to be acknowledged, praised, publicized?

But what of humility? The answer to this question may seem a paradoxical one for it is rooted in a strange affirmation: God Himself is humble!

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Walking the Dogs

It is lovely, here in the Sierra – walking the dogs in the middle of the night. The air is still, the sky is clear, with the moon more than half. When I say that I get up and walk my pups in the middle of the night, folks respond as if that were some sort of burden. Rather, it is a calm joy and a good time for a short walk or just to sit and look at the hills and night sky as I ponder. Even if the weather were less pleasant – cold, windy, and wet – I would still enjoy getting out at night. Think of it as an old guy’s very luxurious camping.

My pups: Mr Darcy – a Scottish terrier, and Scout – a Labrador/Pointer, are outside dogs and are only crated at night and then not for more than six hours at a stretch. Mostly they are free to roam; however, not the entire 10 acre property but just the half acre oval bounded by an InvisibleFence. And when we are out for a walk or hike, I rarely have them on-leash. Leashes are for city dogs and city folks.

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Whether Charity is Friendship

From St Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica (Second Part of the Second Part, Question 23, Article 1)

Whether charity is friendship?

Objection 1: It would seem that charity is not friendship. For nothing is so appropriate to friendship as to dwell with one’s friend, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. viii, 5). Now charity is of man towards God and the angels, “whose dwelling [Douay: ‘conversation’] is not with men” (Dan. 2:11). Therefore charity is not friendship.

Objection 2: Further, there is no friendship without return of love (Ethic. viii, 2). But charity extends even to one’s enemies, according to Mat. 5:44: “Love your enemies.” Therefore charity is not friendship.

Objection 3: Further, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. viii, 3) there are three kinds of friendship, directed respectively towards the delightful, the useful, or the virtuous. Now charity is not the friendship for the useful or delightful; for Jerome says in his letter to Paulinus which is to be found at the beginning of the Bible: “True friendship cemented by Christ, is where men are drawn together, not by household interests, not by mere bodily presence, not by crafty and cajoling flattery, but by the fear of God, and the study of the Divine Scriptures.” No more is it friendship for the virtuous, since by charity we love even sinners, whereas friendship based on the virtuous is only for virtuous men (Ethic. viii). Therefore charity is not friendship.

On the contrary, It is written (Jn. 15:15): “I will not now call you servants . . . but My friends.” Now this was said to them by reason of nothing else than charity. Therefore charity is friendship.

I answer that, According to the Philosopher (Ethic. viii, 2,3) not every love has the character of friendship, but that love which is together with benevolence, when, to wit, we love someone so as to wish good to him. If, however, we do not wish good to what we love, but wish its good for ourselves, (thus we are said to love wine, or a horse, or the like), it is love not of friendship, but of a kind of concupiscence. For it would be absurd to speak of having friendship for wine or for a horse.

Yet neither does well-wishing suffice for friendship, for a certain mutual love is requisite, since friendship is between friend and friend: and this well-wishing is founded on some kind of communication.

Accordingly, since there is a communication between man and God, inasmuch as He communicates His happiness to us, some kind of friendship must needs be based on this same communication, of which it is written (1 Cor. 1:9): “God is faithful: by Whom you are called unto the fellowship of His Son.” The love which is based on this communication, is charity: wherefore it is evident that charity is the friendship of man for God.

Reply to Objection 1: Man’s life is twofold. There is his outward life in respect of his sensitive and corporeal nature: and with regard to this life there is no communication or fellowship between us and God or the angels. The other is man’s spiritual life in respect of his mind, and with regard to this life there is fellowship between us and both God and the angels, imperfectly indeed in this present state of life, wherefore it is written (Phil. 3:20): “Our conversation is in heaven.” But this “conversation” will be perfected in heaven, when “His servants shall serve Him, and they shall see His face” (Apoc. 22:3,4). Therefore charity is imperfect here, but will be perfected in heaven.

Reply to Objection 2: Friendship extends to a person in two ways: first in respect of himself, and in this way friendship never extends but to one’s friends: secondly, it extends to someone in respect of another, as, when a man has friendship for a certain person, for his sake he loves all belonging to him, be they children, servants, or connected with him in any way. Indeed so much do we love our friends, that for their sake we love all who belong to them, even if they hurt or hate us; so that, in this way, the friendship of charity extends even to our enemies, whom we love out of charity in relation to God, to Whom the friendship of charity is chiefly directed.

Reply to Objection 3: The friendship that is based on the virtuous is directed to none but a virtuous man as the principal person, but for his sake we love those who belong to him, even though they be not virtuous: in this way charity, which above all is friendship based on the virtuous, extends to sinners, whom, out of charity, we love for God’s sake.

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The Glen at Maude’s Tavern

The hills of Appalachia are wrinkled deep in time. Some places there, as the saying goes, you can’t get to from here. At least, if the here were televised America. And if not ….

There are three large structures in the Glen at Maude’s Tavern: the chapel, the abbey, and of course, the tavern. As to which is oldest, well, that has been the heart of many a heated argument by the bar at Maude’s Tavern – especially since nobody around here puts much value in being new. The tavern looks the newest, what with Joe Turner coming down from Northern Virginia back in the 70s to renovate it; however, his taking Sue Wesley as his wife, ‘as part of the renovation’ he’s fond of joking since she grew up at the tavern, and her roots being Cherokee ‘as are the mountains! Sue says’ give grounds for the tavern being oldest.

Certainly, none of the groups have been very particular about keeping written records and much is hard to make out in the fog of time. The chapel folks, the people of the Mt Zion Freewill Sanctified Baptist Chapel, going back to Scots settlers (refugees from the losing side of the 1650 Battle of Dunbar in the 3rd English Civil War), are what most folks associate with old-time Appalachian mountain culture. And then the abbey Riders, the Abbey of the Appalachian Riders for Our Lady, with their immediate roots in what some think a humorous convolution of Francis Asbury inspired Methodist circuit-riding with Francis Assisi inspired devotion to renewal of the Catholic Church, trace their roots all the way back to the first century after Our Lord’s rising from the dead. So, depending on one’s view of what counts as evidence and as connection, the abbey and the chapel and the tavern each have grounds for claiming to be the true foundation of the Glen.

Myself, Tom White, I’m a lapsed Unitarian, coming from a family of lapsed Unitarians. My mom lapsed from Unitarianism into Methodism and I continued the lapse all the way back into the Catholic Church (and into the Riders, in spite of or perhaps, because of their limiting brothers to two dozen books).

And, though I keep forgetting, since this might be read by someone outside the Glen, I really need to start with that, since it holds them all – the tavern, the abbey and the chapel. What with its geography, which kept it free from the reach of television’s invasion and of thoroughfares from elsewhere in the United States, it is in many ways a world of its own, a sociological laboratory of sorts, one might say. Any reader will, I trust, appreciate my reticence regarding the specific location and features of the Glen, in order to preserve its privacy. The crucial fact, both geographical and geological, is that it is fairly well isolated from the rest of the country. In fact, my descriptions of land and environment will often be of similar, though larger, regions far to the west: the Uinta Basin in Utah, the Flathead and Pend d’Oreille regions in Montana and Idaho, and the lower montane and Shenandoah Valley of the Sierra.

The first white men to set eyes on the Uinta Basin and Uinta Mountains were members of the small Spanish expedition from Santa Fe headed by Fray Silvestre Velez de Escalante and Fray Francisco Atanasio Dominguez. The expedition crossed into Utah and the Uinta Basin several miles northeast of present day Jensen [see the chapter ‘Las Llagas – San Andres’ in The Dominguez-Escalante Journal, University of Utah Press]. These explorers opened the Uinta Basin and the eastern portion of the Great Basin to Spanish, and later Mexican, American, and British fur-trappers and traders.

The Uinta Basin drew little interest during the initial phase of settlement of the Great Basin. Early in the 1860s Brigham Young did order a small expedition to the Uinta Basin to determine the suitability for locating settlements there. Upon the expedition’s return, the Deseret News reported that the expedition had found little there and that the basin was a “vast contiguity of waste…valueless excepting for nomadic purposes, hunting grounds for Indians and to hold the world together.”

To hold the world together – that is the purpose of the less traveled places of which I speak.

Chief Sitting Bull

At least two Paleo-Indian cultural sites (12,000-8,500 BC) have been located in the Uinta Basin. These people were primarily hunters of the mammoth, bison, and other big game. During the Archaic period (8,500-2,500 BC), the basin was occupied by Plateau Archaic People who were gatherers as well as hunters. More recently, people identified with the Fremont Culture have occupied the Uinta Basin. The Fremont Culture parallels in time and development the better known Anasazi Culture. People of the Fremont Culture lived in semi-subterranean shelters (kivas) and were dependent primarily upon corn agriculture and hunting of smaller game and fishing.

During the ethno-historical period (A.D. 1300 to present), the Uinta Basin has been occupied by a band of Utes. The basin was also occasionally visited by the Northern and Northwestern Shoshones (hence the picture of Chief Sitting Bull).

And then, there’s Father Pierre Jean De Smet and the tribes of what’s now Washington, Idaho,  and Montana; however, that will have to wait for another posting. I just wanted to introduce all the main characters and set the stage before getting back to Maude’s Tavern.

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20220104 Journal

During his viral podcast with Joe Rogan after he was banned by Twitter, Malone explained how the global population was being manipulated into remaining in a constant state of hysterical anxiety via mass formation psychosis.

“What the heck happened to Germany in the 20s and 30s? Very intelligent, highly educated population, and they went barking mad. And how did that happen?” asked Malone.

“The answer is mass formation psychosis.”

“When you have a society that has become decoupled from each other and has free-floating anxiety in a sense that things don’t make sense, we can’t understand it, and then their attention gets focused by a leader or series of events on one small point just like hypnosis, they literally become hypnotized and can be led anywhere,” he added.

“And one of the aspects of that phenomenon is that the people that they identify as their leaders, the ones typically that come in and say you have this pain and I can solve it for you. I and I alone,” Malone further explained, “Then they will follow that person. It doesn’t matter whether they lied to them or whatever. The data is irrelevant.”

“We had all those conditions. If you remember back before 2019 everyone was complaining, the world doesn’t make sense and we are all isolated from each other.”

“Then this thing happened, and everyone focused on it,” stated Malone, noting, “That is how mass formation psychosis happens and that is what has happened here.”

Malone’s summary of how health authorities seized on the unifying threat of the COVID-19 pandemic and exaggerated its thread to create mass hysteria is backed up by leaked details of how the UK government manipulated its population during the early days of the pandemic.

As first revealed by author and journalist Laura Dodsworth, scientists in the UK working as advisors for the government admitted using what they now admit to be “unethical” and “totalitarian” methods of instilling fear in the population in order to control behaviour during the pandemic.

The London Telegraph reported the comments made by Members of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviour (SPI-B), a sub-committee of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) the government’s chief scientific advisory group.

The report quotes a briefing from March 2020, as the first lockdown was decreed, that stated the government should drastically increase “the perceived level of personal threat” that the virus poses because “a substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened”.

One scientist with the SPI-B admits that “In March [2020] the Government was very worried about compliance and they thought people wouldn’t want to be locked down. There were discussions about fear being needed to encourage compliance, and decisions were made about how to ramp up the fear.”

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20211220 Journal

I pray for my family: for my children, grandchildren, and siblings – that they flourish. And for my parents, that they come to enjoy eternal life in Christ.

‘But your parents have died?’

Yes, but God is the creator of the cosmos, outside of our spacetime world, and so it is perfectly reasonable to continue to pray for my dad, for example, as I continue to ‘honor your mother and your father’.

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