2016 Advent Retreat at St. Joseph’s Abbey (ephemeral coruscations that piped their short song and vanished…)

St. Joseph's Abbey 2014/15/16“It is faith that makes us walk in its obscurity in this life: For we walk by faith. From start to finish we shall follow that way, ever on the alert lest we stray from it, enticed all too readily by lights too human, which will quickly leave us disillusioned.” – The Prayer of Love and Silence by a Carthusian

“…the point is to remember that an empire or civilization is also transitory. All achievements and triumphs, in so far as they are merely this-worldly achievements and triumphs, will come to nothing in the end.” – C.S. Lewis

Every retreat is very different and this one was no exception. This was my third consecutive winter retreat (the second during Advent) and whilst no personal theme emerged (discernment is always very tricky), the silence was a nice panacea from the vitriol and divisiveness of a bitter election (and ongoing hyperbole and histrionics).

I took two books by C.S. Lewis from the Limestone library. The first was The World’s Last Night and Other Essays and the other The Great Divorce. Here is Lewis, in the former, from his essay of the same title:

“I can imagine no man who will look with more horror on the End than a conscientious revolutionary who has, in a sense sincerely, been justifying cruelties and injustices inflicted on millions of his contemporaries by the benefits which he hopes to confer on future generations: generations who, as one terrible moment reveals to him, were never going to exist. Then he will see the massacres, the faked trials, the deportations, to be all ineffaceably real, an essential part, his part, in the drama that has just ended: while the future Utopia had never been anything but a fantasy.”

As we approach the shortest day of the year, Lewis asks us about our preparedness for the “irresistible light” that’s to come again:

“I do not find that pictures of physical catastrophe–that sign in the clouds, those heavens rolled up like a scroll–help one so much as the naked idea of Judgement. We cannot always be excited. We can, perhaps, train ourselves to ask more and more often how the thing which we are saying or doing (or failing to do) at each moment will look when the irresistible light streams in upon it; that light which is so different from the light of this world–and yet, even now, we know just enough of it to take it into account. Women sometimes have the problem of trying to judge by artificial light how a dress will look by daylight. That is very like the problem of all of us: to dress our souls not for the electric lights of the present world but for the daylight of the next. The good dress is the one that will face that light. For that light will last longer.”

In The Great Divorce, Lewis continues his reflection on light (and the daylight of the next):

“I glanced round the bus. Though the windows were closed, and soon muffed, the bus was full of light. It was cruel light. I shrank from the faces and forms by which I was surrounded. They were all fixed faces, full not of possibilities but impossibilities, some gaunt, some bloated, some glaring with idiotic ferocity, some drowned beyond recovery in dreams; but all, in one way or another, distorted and faded. One had a feeling that they might fall to pieces at any moment if the light grew much stronger. Then–there was a mirror on the end wall of the bus–I caught sight of my own.

I kept thinking about Gollum, from the pen of another Inkling, after reading that excerpt:

“‘Light, light of Sun and Moon, he still feared and hated, and he always will, I think; but he was cunning. He found he could hide from daylight and moonshine, and make his way swiftly and softly by dead of night with his pale cold eyes…'”

In one more passage from The Great Divorce, Lewis writes about glimpses of heaven (and light) captured through the eyes of the artist:

“‘No. You’re forgetting,’ said the Spirit. ‘That was not how you began. Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about light…When you painted on earth–at least in your earlier days–it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the early landscape. The success of your painting was that it enabled others to see glimpses too.'”

On one of my very first retreats to St. Joseph’s I found a book in the Abbey Bookstore by Peter Kreeft entitled, C.S. Lewis for the Third Millennium. I return to it often, and just found this relevant and very beautiful passage that brings together this rumination:

“The vacuum is the typically modern world view, which we would call the joyless cosmology. Lewis’ is the joyful cosmology. We have all breathed that modern air, even those who disbelieve it or even despise it. Our lungs are full of reductionism, which is dead air. Then, suddenly, a gust of wet, salty air blows in from the sea, and our spirits spring up like children, full of mysterious joy. A smell from another country, a gleam of celestial beauty falling on our jungle of filth and imbecility (to use a formula from Perelandra itself). An angel, a heavenly messenger, a star. Ralph Waldo Emerson (I think) said: ‘If the stars should only appear one night in a thousand years, how mankind would wonder and be grateful for that vision of Heaven that had been shown!’ Well, something like the “Great Dance” appears only once in a thousand books. That is why we appreciate it, as a Bedouin appreciates an oasis.”

St. Joseph’s Flickr Album
Advent Retreat at St. Joseph’s Abbey
Weekend 327.0 (2015 Winter Retreat)

Weekend 376.0

(1) Edward Johnston, designer of the iconic Underground typeface and ‘bullseye’ symbol, died on this day in 1944

Weekend 375.0

St. Joseph's Abbey(1) Feel Better and Quiet the Spirit: Chris Derby SJ discusses why the “silent treatment” seems to work on removing people from their usual “noisy” environments. They end up feeling better and quieting the spirit. (WCBS Newsradio 880)

(2) A quote on silence from St. Augustine:

“Let us leave a little room for reflection, room too for silence. Enter into yourself, and leave behind all noise and confusion. Look within yourself. See whether there be some delightful hidden place in your consciousness where you can be free of noise and argument, where you need not be carrying on your disputes and planning to have your own stubborn way. Hear the word in quietness, that you may understand it.”

(3) A timely quote from Sir Winston Churchill:

“All great movements, every vigorous impulse that a community may feel, become perverted and distorted as time passes, and the atmosphere of the earth seems fatal to the noble aspirations of its peoples. A wide humanitarian sympathy in a nation easily degenerates into hysteria. A military spirit tends towards brutality. Liberty leads to licence, restraint to tyranny. The pride of race is distended to blustering arrogance. The fear of God produces bigotry and superstition. There appears no exception to the mournful rule, and the best efforts of men, however glorious their early results, have dismal endings, like plants which shoot and bud and put forth beautiful flowers, and then grow rank and course and are withered by the winter. It is only when we reflect that the decay gives birth to fresh life, and that new enthusiasms spring up to take the place of those that die, as the acorn is nourished by the dead leaves of the oak, the hope strengthens that the rise and fall of men and their movements are only the changing foliage of the ever-growing tree of life, while underneath a greater revolution goes on continually.”

Before you vote…

(1) ObamaCare’s Chickens Come Home to Roost: Democrats, anticipating rage over huge premium increases scheduled for 2017, are already trying to blame Republicans

(2) Forget the FBI cache; the Podesta emails show how America is run

(3) The Clintons — At the End of All

“The Clintons suffer from greed, as defined by Aristotle: endless acquisition solely for the benefit of self. With their insatiable appetites, they resented the limits that multimillionaire status put on them, boundaries they could bypass only by accumulating ever greater riches. The billion-dollar foundation squared the circle of progressive politicians profiting from the public purse by offering a veneer of “doing good” while offering free luxury travel commensurate with the style of the global rich, by offering sinecures for their loyal but otherwise unemployable cronies, and by spinning off lobbying and speaking fees (the original font of their $100-million-plus personal fortune and the likely reason for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to put all her communications, mercantile included, on a private server safe from government scrutiny). Acquiring money to the extent that money would become superfluous was certainly a Clinton telos — and the subtext of the entire Podesta trove and the disclosures about the Clinton Foundation.”

Endless River

Grand Organ(1) Two quotes from Sir Winston Churchill: “…whatever the worries of the hour or the threats of the future once the picture has begun to flow along…they pass out into shadow and darkness.”

“Let us be contented with what has happened to us and thankful for all we have been spared. Let us accept the natural order in which we move. Let us reconcile ourselves to the mysterious rhythm of our destinies, such as they must be in this world of space and time. Let us treasure our joys but not bewail our sorrows. The glory of light cannot exist without its shadows. Life is a whole, and good and ill must be accepted together. The journey has been enjoyable and well worth making—once.”

(2) The Grand Organ at the Royal Albert Hall. This is the organ used by Richard “Nick” Wright on Autumn 68′ on ‘The Endless River’.

Blaring Orchestria

“The man with the miniature orchestra” by Dave Algonquin.

“There were phrases of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony that still made Coe cry. He always thought it had to do with the circumstances of the composition itself. He imagined Beethoven deaf and soul-sick, his heart broken, scribbling furiously while death stood in the doorway clipping his nails. Still, Coe thought, it might have been living in the country that was making him cry. It was killing him with its silence and loneliness, making everything ordinary too beautiful to bear.”

Weekend 374.0 (XR-1)

“In a series of remarkable episodes that began airing in 1995, Disney tapped the best experts he could find to sketch humanity’s space future – literally “sketch” as animator Ward Kimball brought the dry explanations of scientists to squiggly-lined life.”

– Brian Fies, Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?

Images are from Walt Disney’s Tomorrowland – Man in Space

Pacific Atoll Launch Site I
Pacific Atoll Launch Site II
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Weekend 373.0

(1) I-75/University Parkway Diverging Diamond Interchange Design (YouTube)

(2) Creator of Brompton folding bicycle steps down from company’s board – disgruntled at way business is run (This is Money)

(3) Disney’s secret archive revealed: Hidden sketches of Mickey Mouse and friends are seen for the first time (Daily Mail)

Invisible transfers, long distance calls, hollow laughter in marble halls…

“For hard cash, we will lie and deceive…even our masters don’t know the webs we weave.”

– Pink Floyd

(1) The Mendacity Behind Obama’s Mockery of the Cash-for-Iran Story by Claudia Rosett

“Welcome, once again, to the vertigo of the Obama “narrative,” in which the priority of his “most transparent” administration is not to deal honestly with the American public, but to spin a web of half truths, enmeshed in complexities, to cover up highly questionable uses of power — and then, if caught red-handed, use the bully pulpit to deride and dismiss the critics.”

“One might almost suppose Obama knows quite well that cash shipments to Tehran are actually a very big story. A story that quite reasonably raises glaring questions about his dealings with Iran, and the integrity of the narrative he offers the public.”

Weekend 372.1

“So the little prince, in spite of all the good will that was inseparable from his love, had soon come to doubt her. He had taken seriously words which were without importance, and it made him very unhappy.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Weekend 372.0 (…it’s worth trying to explain in picture…)

(1) Friday A/V Club: What We Left at the World’s Fair: John Crowley and Jason Robards look back at a festival of social planning


The World of Tomorrow 1/6
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(1b) Some Interesting Disney-Related World’s Fair Trivia:

(a) Salvador Dali had a pavilion in the Amusements Area of the Fair and was later hired by Walt Disney
(b) Walt’s WED Enterprises designed 4 attractions for the 1964/65 World’s Fair
(c) His dad attended and told Walt about the 1892 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago
(d) Walt also travelled by rail to the 1948 Chicago Railroad Fair, held at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, with his colleague Ward Kimball.

(1c) A quote from Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow by Brian Fies:

“Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966, maybe the last person in America with the resources to build a futuristic utopia who actually believed it could work. His EPCOT dream quietly expired soon after, and its name was given to a theme park.”

Musical Interlude

(1) String Quartet No. 2 In D Major

Weekend 371.0

(1) How miniature objects reveal bigger pictures (CBS This Morning)

Weekend 370.1

The apple tree in my backyard has rust. The good folks at the local nursery assure me it will survive, but I’m still devatsted nonetheless (no apples in the fall). The tree was a salvage project in a backyard overrun with invasive and insidious vines.

I wanted a good quote to demonstrate the import of trees so I naturally pulled Tolkien from the bookshelf.

“A sweet fountain played there in the sun, and a sward of bright green lay about it; but in the midst, drooping over the pool, stood a dead tree, and the falling drops dripped sadly from its barren and broken branches back into the clear water.”

I’m hoping this doesn’t end up ‘laid to rest in the silence of Rath Dínen.’

“For it is said that, though the fruit of the Tree comes seldom to ripeness, yet the life within may then lie sleeping through many long years, and none can foretell thw time in which it will awake. Remember this. For if ever a fruit ripens, it should be planted, lest the line die out of the world.”

Weekend 370.0

(1) After Brexit: the myth of post‑truth politics (spiked)

“But perhaps the worst thing about the post-truth notion is the way it redefines politics. It makes politics like religion. Remainers, these complainers about post-truth politics, self-consciously elevate their worldview to the level of a transcendental truth. So anyone who criticises them is not simply disagreeing — he’s post-truth, he’s against the truth. This is the cry of the religious, not the political. It was traditionally the man of the cloth who would say there is a truth, existing, indisputable, and our choice is simply to embrace it and be saved or deny it and be damned.