"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

26 March 2009


In Chapter 5 of Death on a Friday Afternoon, Neuhaus addresses the fifth word of Jesus from the Cross: "I thirst." He emphasizes the traditional missionary nature of the words -- Christ's thirsting for lost souls, the Fountain of life who quenches their thirst for Him: "I thirst; I quench," as written above the doors of the Sisters of Charity missions of Mother Theresa.

But throughout the chapter runs a thread which especially draws me: the gospel is a story, Neuhaus reminds us, a story we both live and tell. "It is the true story about the world and everybody in the world," Neuhaus writes, "the story of the amazing grace by which [the world] is redeemed." It is also the story of "our lives in the world," of how we are to live: we are the salt and light of the world, Jesus tells us -- not our message merely, but we ourselves, the lives we live not just on faraway mission fields but in the daily round of the ordinary wherever we find ourselves.

It is the story of everyone in the world, Neuhaus says, "whether they know it or not. [. . .] The Church is the mission of Christ, who continues to seek and to save the lost who do not know their story. Their story is Christ, the way, the truth, and the life of all." Through us, "Christ, the lover, proposes" to the lost.

Christ's story is the story of "fidelity to the Father to the very end, to the death." To effect our salvation, to redeem this lost world, Christ had to "[lay[ down His life [in] perfect obedience, abandonment, loss of control, committing all to the Father." He "trusts that the Father will not finally abandon Him," Neuhaus concedes, but reminds us too that His "trust is vindicated only after the cup is emptied," after His complete abandonment to the Father's will" -- "not My will but Thine be done."

And the invitation to us is, yes, a proposal to be the Bride in all her loveliness when He comes into His kingdom -- but also, and more immediately, to "share in His suffering." Christ "did not suffer and die in order that we need not suffer and die, but in order that our suffering and death might be joined to His in redemptive victory." We are offered the astonishing privilege of "participation in the suffering of Christ" as part of what it means to live Christ's life in a suffering world. As He emptied Himself for our sake, abandoned Himself entirely to the Father's will, so we too are invited to empty ourselves to His will, so we too live to His glory.

To live to His glory, Neuhaus reminds us, is not a "driven, frenetic, sweated, interminable quest for saving souls. It is doing for His glory what God has given us to do." We are not all called to deepest Africa or the darkness of the inner city. But wherever we are called, we are to live to please God: "Souls are saved," Neuhaus writes, "by saved souls who live out their salvation by thinking and living differently, with a martyr's resolve, in a world marked by falsehood, baseness, injustice, impurity, ugliness and mediocrity." We do this freely, confident in His love, "with a kind of reckless abandon that is holy insouciance," knowing that our only Judge is the loving Father of the Son He gave to redeem us.

Our story is His story -- a story of abandonment to the Creator-Father who desires our redemption, a story of participation in the suffering of His Son to redeem the suffering of a lost world, a story for all people for all time. Christ thirsts for lost souls, for our souls. He "thirsts for those who throw away their lives in the everydayness of duties discerned and duties done" -- those who will live His story, day in and day out, trusting that He will glorify Himself in our obedience and self-abandonment.

25 March 2009

"Come, Christians, Join to Sing!"

Please go to Mere Comments to enjoy Tony Esolen's wonderful new post, "Come, Christians, Join to Sing!"

22 March 2009

The Day of the Jackal

Murder mysteries are my usual "light reading" choice. Spy thrillers are not my cup of tea; too much political intrigue as a rule to keep my interest. But when we went to McKay's at the beginning of spring break a couple of weeks ago, I picked up Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal, thinking I ought to give it a try since it is such a well-regarded classic of the genre. I began reading just a chapter a day when I could get to it, enjoying it much more than I'd thought I would . . . then yesterday, with about the last half to go, I couldn't put it down till I finished. It's a truly excellent work.

Perhaps "spy" is a bit of a misnomer; it's about an assassin who is hired by resistance forces to kill Charles deGaulle, and the hunt for him when the plot is discovered. But Forsyth skillfully weaves in the political background of the story and the rationale of the rebels, remaining true to history as he creates his own characters and plot to place within its bounds. No one knows who the Jackal is, except that he is a tall, blonde Englishman who has never been connected with any name or any crime. Forsyth first introduces us to the rebels and their decision to hire a foreign assassin after their sixth attempt to kill deGaulle goes astray and one of their leaders is executed; then he follows the Jackal's meticulous planning, including the various disguises he prepares (along with passports and papers for each), leaving us no doubt of his cool and merciless character. Finally, the government forces discover the plot and the hunt is on -- Commissaire Ledel versus the Jackal in a battle of wits, the stakes literally life or death.

Forsyth kept my attention with every* word. He writes with much detail, but every* detail essential. His style is not mannered in any way; it is an excellent example of realist writing which keeps the writer out of the text through any obvious mannerisms or commentary. The structure is perfect as he moves back and forth between simultaneous events without losing the thread of the narrative, neither giving away too much too soon nor holding back needed information to follow the complex plot. We never learn who the Jackal is, and he is portrayed as a mysterious and unknowable man with no conscience but a taste for the good life, which he plans to live after completing this last job for enough money to "retire" on. Many of the other characters are well-rounded, not overly stereotyped (some of the more minor ones are, of course; one can't have such a huge cast as he does without some shorthand characterization); he is particularly good at creating the tensions of conversation in which there are competing personal and professional interests.

Ironies of all sorts abound, and the hypocrisies and ambitions of the politicians (and the hubris of deGaulle) are interestingly contrasted with Ledel's single-minded pursuit of criminals who would destroy the peace. When the government men following the investigation complain of his contacting heads of police in other states, Ledel says mildly, "all countries, whatever their political outlook, are opposed to crime. So we are not involved in the same rivalries as the more political branches of international relations." They needn't worry about the discretion of police in other countries, he assures them: "The political assassin is the world's outlaw." After receiving the assignment, the narrator tells us that Ledel might have been thinking of the immense power given him or the honors that might come if he succeeded or the repercussions of failure -- but "[b]ecause he was what he was, he thought of none of these things. He was puzzling as to how he would explain over the phone to Amelie [his wife] that he was not coming home until further notice."

The contrast of the small, henpecked detective with the confident, handsome, physically strong Jackal works excellently. The Jackal knows his job and pursues it single-mindedly, certain of his success because certain of his own abilities, and driven by his selfish desires. But the detective, whose appearance works against him in the government briefing room, is no less single-minded and at least as brilliant. He, however, places his confidence in his method and his colleagues, not in his personal brilliance, and is driven by his ideal of justice. And Forsyth develops their battle in a novel I highly recommend.

*My one caveat: I did feel that the few scenes of sexual intimacy were overdone and gratuitous; one doesn't need the detail there either to follow the plot or to understand the characters. These are not frequent, but I found them disturbing.

14 March 2009

The Hermeneutics of Suspicion

Reading Chapter 4 of Death on a Friday Afternoon, I was struck by the following passage, possibly because my friend Pamela and I have discussed the topic a few times as she's been studying for her MA comps this semester.

Neuhaus speaks of "the toxic cultural air of a disenchanted world in which the mark of sophistication is to reduce wonder to banality. Even more, the acids of intellectual urbanity turn sacrifice into delusion, generosity into greed, and love into self-aggrandizement. In academic circles, this is called 'the hermeneutics of suspicion,' meaning that things are interpreted to reveal that they are not in fact what they appear to be. At least things that seem to suggest the true, the beautiful and the good are not what they appear to be. They must be exposed and debunked if we are to get to 'the truth of the matter.' The false, the self-serving, the ugly and the evil, on the other hand, are permitted to stand as revealing 'the real world.'"

All I can say to this is yes, indeed. We call happy endings and lovely poetry "cheesy," and only accept as real that which is cynical and ugly and despairing. How sad. Because the only real story there is to tell, despite its having to take place in a broken world, is filled with loveliness and ends more happily than we can even imagine.

10 March 2009

Spring Hope

I went out just as night descended this evening to find Phoebe in a lovely amber dress floating among clouds dark against the newly night sky. Just now I went out again to enjoy the spring air and found her changed to her brightest pure white, holding the floating clouds at bay with her brilliant beams. I can barely breathe, my eyes are on fire, but I cannot resist spring, the new life, the abundance, the color bursting into view . . . the hope of beauty everlasting.

08 March 2009

"A Strange Glory"

Chapter 3 of
Death on a Friday Afternoon is a meditation on the third word from the Cross, first to Mary and then to John: "Woman, behold your son. [. . .] Behold, your mother!" Here Neuhaus explores the position of Mary as simultaneously mother of Jesus and first disciple of Jesus. He emphasizes two of her statements in particular.

"Let it be to me according to your word." Mary accepts, in full trust, the commission of God to bear His Son and have her own heart broken. She risks all human security -- how could she know if Joseph would choose to protect her? -- for absolute obedience to the Absolute. She is our model for how to respond to the Father, no matter what He asks of us.

"Do whatever He tells you." These, Neuhaus notes, are the last words
of Mary recorded in the Scriptures, and he stresses their importance: "Everything about Mary is from Christ and to Christ," he writes; "Mary is the icon of the disciple-Church."

Mary's obedience and trust show us our own way. "To say that Mary's way is not our way is to say that Christ's way is not our way," Neuhaus says, "for Mary was in every respect the disciple of her Son." And "What she said she also did, and in her loss of her Son and her loss of herself she knew 'Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.'"

Mary gave herself in "total availabilty to the will of God. She had no business of her own. She was always on call." But it is this availability, this trust that leads one through the inevitable hardship and brokenness of obedience -- for we are all called to die to self and abandon all that we see for only a hope -- to the light of the Cross. "At the heart of darkness the hope of the world is dying on a cross, and the longest stride of soul is to see in this a strange glory": the glory of hope and redemption, of love and life.

"In wonder is wisdom born." I desire to lose myself this Lent in wonder at the strange glory of the Cross, the redemption that would come, not from armed battle and kingly grasp of power, but from the utter sacrifice that to the world was a fool's mad suicide. May we have the courage, the trust, the will, to "do whatever He tells us," to know that the Fool is truly King of kings and Lord of lords and worthy of all glory and honor and praise.

01 March 2009

"Judge Not"

Chapter 2 of
Death on a Friday Afternoon is “Judge Not,” on the words “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” I love a couple of the remarks Neuhaus makes in the second paragraph: the thief on the cross “stole at the end a reward he did not deserve,” and then, considering the judgment image of the sheep and goats, “The good thief is a found sheep. More accurately, he is a goat who was made an honorary sheep just before his time ran out.” Neuhaus often makes me laugh with such witty gems.

Neuhaus discusses the thief’s mustard seed faith, hardly able to crack the earth as he first knows and expressed it even as he is dying beside his Lord, and says, “Christ’s response to our faith is ever so much greater than our faith. Give Him an opening, almost any opening, and He opens life to wonder beyond measure.” How true this proves every day. No matter how I feel, how harried I am, whether depression has emerged from the depths to take over mind and heart yet again, the least overture to Him, made in the weakest possible faith (“I believe, help Thou my unbelief!” or, perhaps, “to whom else should I turn? You alone have the words of life . . .”) – He answers, answers with abundant blessing if I will open my eyes to see. So often I think to be blessed means for things to go well – my mother-in-law’s cancer would have been cured, my daddy will know me again, the computer will work as I want it to and not keep wasting my time . . . But so often He showers me with a very different kind of blessing – showing me how to die well, demonstrating loving service before me, teaching me to be patient . . . perhaps accompanied by a lovely moonrise or an encouraging poem or a word of hope from a dear friend . . . Oh, He blesses every day the feeblest movement of faith.

I’m sure I posted this thought last time I read the book, but I love its wonderful truth: “The farther [Christian thinkers and mystics] travel on the roads of thought and contemplation, the more they know that they do not know. The most rigorous thought and the most exalted spiritual experience brings us, again and again, to exclaim with St. Paul, ‘O the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!’ Therefore it is rightly said that all theology is finally doxology. That is to say, all analysis and explanation finally dissolves into wonder and praise.” I want to be one who praises Him because I do not know but the smallest thing about Him.

Neuhaus says, “The entire discussion of judgment and grace in the Letter to the Romans is to drive home how total is our dependence upon God’s grace in Christ.” This is a truth that, thank Him, is almost forced on me every day: between depression, fibromyalgia, arthritis, exhaustion, my need for His grace is held before me. This is not to say that I don’t often forget it, still; I am not that mature. I would rather find some solution to my difficulties, complain about them to receive the attention of others, use them as excuses to fail. Rather, it is only to say that I have reminders before me if I choose to see them, and He uses them to teach this slow-to-learn heart, gradually, to think of Him first, instead of only after exhausting all other futile attempts to find relief. And He does not give relief from the difficulties themselves, not often, but meets me in them with the strength – His strength – to do His work.

A last thought for this post: “We are saved [. . .] on behalf of all, to be reconcilers, intercessors, and mediators for all.” We are not saved to be separated from the world, to be against the world, Neuhaus says. We are saved to be about Christ’s business of reconciliation, loving and praying for all to know Him. It is so easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of our days, to be disgusted by the ever-increasing depths of sin surrounding us, to insulate ourselves safely within our holy country clubs . . . but we must see the world as He sees it: God “desires all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” And how shall they see unless we go where they are, hear unless we speak what we know?

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us – and let us be willing conveyors of that mercy to the world around us.