Sunday, February 28, 2010

Second Sunday of Lent

About Reading Through Lent
If it’s the religious life you want, you out to know right now that you’re missing out on every single goddam religious action that’s going on around this house. You don’t even have sense enough to drink when somebody brings you a cup of consecrated chicken soup—which is the only kind of chicken soup Bessie ever brings to anybody around this madhouse. So just tell me, just tell me, buddy. Even if you went out and searched the whole world for a master —some guru, some holy man—to tell you how to say your Jesus Prayer properly, what good would it do you? How in hell are you going to recognize a legitimate holy man when you see one if you don't even know a cup of consecrated chicken soup when it's right in front of your nose? Can you tell me that?"
JD Salinger, Franny and Zooey

My soul can find no staircase to Heaven unless it be through Earth’s loveliness.

Most but not all quotes taken from the compilation A Lent Sourcebook: The Forty Days, ed. by J. Robert Baker, Evelyn Kaehler and Peter Mazar.  Liturgy Training Publication, 1990. 

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Saturday of the First Week of Lent

About Reading Through Lent

Picture, if you will, me. I am walking on East Fifty-first Street an hour ago and I decided to construct and develop a really decorative, general-all-purpose apology. Not compli¬cated, just the words, "I am sorry," said with a little style. 

Sorry for what?

Anything. For being late, early, stupid, asleep, silly, alive. (He moves about now, acting out the scene in the street for her) Well, y'know when you're walking down the street talking to yourself how sometimes you suddenly say a coupla words out loud? So I said, "I'm sorry," and this fella, complete stranger, he looks up a second and says, "That's all right, Mac," and goes right on. He automatically forgave me. I communicated. Five-o'clock rush-hour in midtown you could say, "Sir, I believe your hair is on fire," and they wouldn't hear you.

So I decided to test the whole thing out scientifically; I stayed right there on the corner of Fifty-first and Lex for a while, just saying "I'm sorry" to everybody that went by. "Oh, I'm so sorry, sir ... " "I'm terribly sorry, madam ... " "Say there, miss, I'm sorry." Of course, some people just gave me a funny look, but Sandy, I swear, seventy-five percent of them forgave me. "Forget it, buddy ... " "That's OK, really." Two ladies forgave me in unison, one fella forgave me from a passing car, and one guy forgave me for his dog. "Poofer forgives the nice man, don't you, Poofer?" Oh Sandy, it was fabulous. I had tapped some vast reservoir. Something had happened in all of them for which they felt somebody should apologize. If you went up to people on the street and offered them money, they'd refuse it. But everybody accepts apology immediately. It is the most negotiable currency. I said to them, "I am sorry." And they were all so generous, so kind. You could give 'em love and it wouldn't be accepted half as graciously, as unquestioningly ....

Sandy, I could run up on the roof right now and holler, "I am sorry," and half a million people would holler right back, "That's OK, just see that you don't do it again!" ... That's the most you should expect from life, Sandy, a really good apology for all the things you won't get.
Herb Gardner, A Thousand Clowns

Scobie said sharply, “Don’t talk nonsense, dear. We’d forgive most things if we knew the facts.”
Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter

Most but not all quotes taken from the compilation A Lent Sourcebook: The Forty Days, ed. by J. Robert Baker, Evelyn Kaehler and Peter Mazar.  Liturgy Training Publication, 1990. 

Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday of the First Week of Lent

About Reading Through Lent

Incline us, O God, to think humbly of ourselves, to be saved only in the examination of our own conduct, to consider our fellow creatures with kindness, and to judge of all they say and do with the charity which we would desire from them ourselves.
Jane Austen

Lent was a season during which, not only all amusements and theatrical entertainments were forbidden by the civil authority, but even the law courts were closed, and this in order to secure that peace and calm of heart, which is so indispensable for the soul's self-examination, and reconciliation with her offended Maker. As early as the year 380, Gratian and Theodosius enacted that judges should suspend all law-suits and proceedings during the forty days preceding Easter. The Theodosian Code contains several regulations of this nature; and we find Councils, held in the ninth century, urging the kings of that period to enforce the one we have mentioned, seeing that it had been sanctioned by the canons, and approved by the fathers of the church. These admirable Christian traditions have long since fallen into disuse in the countries of Europe; but they are still kept among the Turks, who, during the days of Ramadan, forbid all law proceedings. What a humiliation for us Christians!
Prosper Guéranger

O my God, the petitioners stand before they gate, and the needy seek refuge in they courts. The ship of the wretched stand on the shore of the ocean of they grace and goodness, seeking passage into the presence of thy mercy and compassion. O my God, if in this blessed month thou forgivest only those whose fasting and performance is right, who will take the part of the transgressors who default, when they perish in the sea of sins and transgressions? O my God, if thou art merciful only toward the obedient, who will take the part of the rebellious? If thou receivest only those who have done well, then what of those who have fallen short?
Muslim prayer for Ramadan, the month of fasting

Most but not all quotes taken from the compilation A Lent Sourcebook: The Forty Days, ed. by J. Robert Baker, Evelyn Kaehler and Peter Mazar.  Liturgy Training Publication, 1990. 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thursday of the First Week of Lent

About Reading Through Lent

My dear old mother has more sense than any of you. I felt like her when I saw this place - felt that I must have it - that never, never, never could I let it go; only she thought it was the houses and the kitchen ranges and the linene and china, when it was really all the human souls to be saved: not weak souls in starved bodies, sobbing with gratitude for a scrap of bread and treacle, but fulfilled, quarrelsome, snobbish, uppish creatures, all standing on their little rights and dignities, and thinking that my father ought to be greatly obliged to them for making so much money for him--and so he ought. That is where salvation is really wanted. My father shall never throw it in my teeth again that my converts were bribed with bread. I have got rid of the bribe of bread. I have got rid of the bribe of heaven. Let God's work be done for its own sake: the work God had to create us to do because it cannot be done except by living men and women. When I die, let God be in my debt, not I in God's; and let me forgive God as becomes a woman of my rank.

Then the way of life lies through the factory of death?

Yes, through the raising of hell to heaven and of humanity to God, through the unveiling of an eternal light in the valley of the shadow. Oh, did you think my courage would never come back? Did you believe that I was a deserter? That I, who have stood in the streets, and taken my people to my heart, and talked of the holiest and greatest things with them, could ever turn back and chatter foolishly to fashionable people about nothing in a drawing room? Never, never, never, never: Major Barbara will die with the colors!

George Bernard Shaw, Major Barbara

Actually there are are only two philosophies of life: one is first the feast and then the headache: the other is first the fast and then the feast. Deferred joys purchased by sacrifice are always the sweetest.
Fulton J. Sheen

Both responses, feasting and fasting, are based on the knowledge that food is gift. Both portray a relationship to God. . .The abuses of feasting or fasting all stem from a single fact: the failure to remember that food is God's gift. Those who eat to excess suffer from the delusion that they sustain their own lives and that the lives of all other creatures are insignificant. Those who fast only to win the acclaim of others or to force God's own hand also presume that they sustain their own lives.
Irene Nowell

Most quotes taken from the compilation A Lent Sourcebook: The Forty Days, ed. by J. Robert Baker, Evelyn Kaehler and Peter Mazar.  Liturgy Training Publication, 1990. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wednesday of the First Week of Lent

About Reading Through Lent

We may say this of the face of sloth: that at any stage it is the face of those who are already old beyond their years, who seem never to have known any springtime, whether in their own lives or around them each year, in whom the sap seems never to have risen.
Henry Fairlie

I don't like someone who doesn't sleep, says God.
Sleep is the friend of humans.
Sleep is the friend of God.
Sleep is perhaps the most beautiful thing
     I have ever created.
And I myself rested on the seventh day.
One whose heart is pure, sleeps.
And one who sleeps has a pure heart.
That is the great secret of being as indefatigable as a child,
Of having that strength in the legs that a child has,
Those new legs, those new souls,
And to begin afred every morning, ever new,
Like te young hope, new hope.
But they tell me that there are people
Who work well and sleep badly.
Who don't sleep. What a lack of confidence in me!
Charles Peguy

There is only one purpose for punishment, and that is to teach a lesson. And there is only one lesson to be taught, and that is love. Perfect love banishes fear; and when we are not afraid, we know that love which includes forgiveness.

When the lesson to be learned is not love, that is not punishment; it is revenge or retribution. Probably the lesson of love is the most terrible punishment of all—an almost intolerable anguish—for it means that the sinner has to realize what has been done, has to be truly sorry, to repent, to turn to God. And most of us are too filled with outrage at rape and murder to want the sinner to repent. We want the sinner to feel terrible, but not to turn to God and be made whole and be forgiven.

And so we show that we do not know the meaning of forgiveness any more than Jonah did in his vindictive outrage at the people of Nineveh.
Madeleine L’Engle

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

About Reading Through Lent

Pray for peace and grace and spiritual food,
For wisdom and guidance, for all these are good,
But don't forget the potatoes.
J.T. Pettee, "Prayer and Potatoes"

Prayer consists of attention. It is the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable toward God. The quality of the attention counts for much in the quality of the prayer. Warmth of heart cannot make up for it.

The highest part of the attention only makes contact with God, when prayer is intense and pure enough for such a contact to be established; but the whole attention is turned toward God.

Of course, exercises only develop a lower kind of attention. Nevertheless, they are extremely effective in increasing the power of attention that will be available at the time of prayer, on condition that they are carried out with a view to this purpose and this purpose alone.
Simone Weil

Monday, February 22, 2010

Monday of the First Week of Lent

About Reading Through Lent

If a man happens to be 36-years-old, as I happen to be, some great truth stands before the door of his life--some great opportunity to stand up for that which is right and that which is just, and he refuses to stand up because he wants to live a little longer and he is afraid his home will get bombed, or he's afraid that he will lose his job, or he's afraid that he will get shot…..he may go on and live until he's 80, and the cessation  of breathing in his life is merely the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.

We die when we refuse to stand up for that which is right.  We die when we refuse to take a stand for that which is true.  So we are going to stand up right here…letting the world know that we are determined to be free. 
Martin Luther King, Jr

In order to possess what you do not possess,
You must go by the way of dispossession.
T.S. Eliot

Sunday, February 21, 2010

First Sunday of Lent

About Reading Through Lent

As some may be surprised to learn, Ash Wednesday is not the beginning of Lent, but only the beginning of the lenten fast. . .The dramatic, medieval rites of Ash Wednesday may perhaps make a stronger and more immediate appeal to our feelings.  The Mass of the first Sunday however leads us deeper into the real mystery of Lent, uniting us more profoundly and more directly with [Christ.]
Thomas Merton

art by Cindy Lowy

Why is it so dark in here?" Meg asked.  She tried to look around, but all she could see was shadows.  Nevertheless there was a sense of openness, a feel of a gentle breeze moving lightly about, that kept the darkness from being oppressive.

Perplexity came to her from the beast. "What is this dark? What is this light? We do not understand.  Your father and the boy, Calvin, have asked this, too.  They say that it is night now on our planet and that they cannot see.  They have told us that our atmosphere is what they call opaque, so that the stars are not visible, and then they were surprised that we know stars, that we know their music and the movements of their dance far better than beings like you who spend hours studying them through what you call telescopes.  We do not understand what this means, to see."

"Well, it's what things look like," Meg said helplessly.

"We do not know what things look like, as you say," the beast said.  "We know what things are like.  It must be a very limiting thing, this seeing."

"Oh, no!" Meg cried.  It's--it's the most wonderful thing in the world!"

"What a very strange world yours must be!" the beast said, "that such a peculiar-seeming thing should be of such importance.  Try to tell me, what is this thing called light that you are able to do so little without?"

"Well, we can't see without it," Meg said, realizing that she was completely unable to explain vision and light and dark.  How can you explain sight on a world where no one has ever seen and where there is no need of eyes?  "Well, on this planet," she fumbled, "you have a sun, don't you?"

"A most wonderful sun, from which comes our warmth, and the rays which give us our flowers, our food, our music and all the things which make life and growth."

"Well," Meg said, "when we are turned toward the sun--our earth, our planet, I mean, toward our sun--we receive its light.  And when we're turned away from it, it is night.  And if we want to see we have to use artificial lights."

"Artificial lights," the beast sighed.  "How very complicated life on your planet must be.  Later on you must try to explain some more to me."

"All right," Meg promised, and yet she knew that to try to explain anything that could be seen with the eyes would be impossible, because the beasts in some way saw, knew, understood, far more completely than she, or her parents, or Calvin, or even Charles Wallace.

Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

About Reading Through Lent

I am being driven forward
Into an unknown land.
The pass grows steeper,
The air colder and sharper.
A wind from my unknown goal
Stirs the strings
Of expectation.

Still the question:
Shall I ever get there?
There where life resounds,
A clear pure note
In the silence.
Dag Hammarskjöld

Alyosha did not step on the steps, but went down rapidly. His soul, overflowing with rapture, was craving freedom and unlimited space. The vault of heaven, studded with softly shining stars, stretched wide and vast over him. From the zenith to the horizon the Milky Way stretched its two arms dimly across the sky. The fresh, motionless, still night enfolded the earth. The white towers and golden domes of the cathedral gleamed against the sapphire sky...The silence of the earth seemed to merge into the silence of the heavens, the mystery of the earth came in contact with the mystery of the stars...Aloysha stood, gazed, and suddenly he threw himself down flat upon the earth.

He did not know why he was embracing it. He could not have explained to himself why he longed so irresistibly to kiss it, to kiss it all, but he kissed it, weeping, sobbing and drenching it with his tears, and vowed frenziedly to love it, to love it for ever and ever. Water the earth with the tears of your gladness and love those tears, it rang in his soul. What was he weeping over? Oh, he was weeping in his rapture even over those stars which were shining for him from the abyss of space and he was not ashamed of that ecstasy. It was though the threads from all those innumerable worlds of God met all at once in his soul, and it was trembling all over as it came in contact with other worlds. He wanted to forgive everyone and for everything, and to beg forgiveness - oh! not for himself, but for all and for everything, and others are begging for me, it echoed in his soul again. But with ever moment he felt clearly and almost palpably that something firm and immovable, like the firmament itself, was entering his soul A sort of idea was gaining an ascendancy over his mind - and that for the rest of his life, for ever and ever. He had fallen upon the earth a weak youth, but he rose from it a resolute fighter for the rest of his life, and he realized and felt it suddenly, at the very moment of his rapture. And never, never for the rest of his life could Alyosha forget that moment.
Fyodor Dostoyevesky, The Brothers Karamazov

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday after Ash Wednesday

About Reading Through Lent

When the animals entered the Ark in pairs, one may imagine that allied species made much private remark on each other, and were tempted to think that so many forms feeding on the same store of fodder were eminently superfluous, as tending to diminish the rations. (I fear the part played by the vultures on that occasion would be too painful for art to represent, those birds being disadvantageously naked about the gullet, and apparently without rites and ceremonies.) 
George Eliot

Noah’s dove prayed: Lord of the world, rather a bitter olive leaf given by thee than sweets and honey provided by a human! 
The Talmud

picture from
Pictures of the temptation of Jesus often show him in a bleak and barren place, the only living being among bare, gloomy rocks.  Mark’s reference to animals reminds us that the reality was probably quite different.  We may imagine Jesus sitting among rabbits and wildflowers perhaps visited at night by a lion and in the morning by birds who came to investigate this new, and so quiet, dweller in their wilderness.  Not only human beings, but through them all created things, are called into the communion made possible when the power of the spirit in Jesus broke through barriers of possessiveness and lust for power.

Satan’s plausible suggestion is that if we want good things we must make sure we keep them to ourselves.  Someone else might take some.  But Noah’s ark is the sign that we can only be saved together.  Those who refuse untidy and unpredictable intimacy, clinging to their right to control and manipulate, drown in the water which they cannot control.  This water is the water of life, and life is the spirit that grows and flows and bears up the ark on its buoyant surface.
Rosemary Haughton

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

About Reading Through Lent

The brandished sword of GOD before them blazed
Fierce as a comet ; which with torrid heat,
And vapour as the Libyan air adust,
Began to parch that temperate clime : whereat
In either hand th’ hast’ning angel caught
Our ling’ring parents, and to the eastern gate
Led them direct, and down the cliff as fast
To the subjected plain ; then disappeared.
They looking back all th’ eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Waved over by that flaming brand ; the gate
With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms :
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon ;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide.
They, hand in hand, with wand’ring steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.
John Milton, Paradise Lost

We thinke that Paradise and Calvarie,
Christ's Crosse, and Adam's tree,
stood in one place;
Looke Lord, and finde both Adams met in me.
As the first Adams sweat surrounds my face,
May the last Adam's blood my soule embrace.
John Donne, Hymne to GOD my GOD, in my sicknesse

The average North American uses five time as much grain per person yearly as does one of the two billion persons living in poor countries. We use about 2000 pounds each. All but 150 pounds of this we consume indirectly in meat, eggs and alcoholic beverages.  But the poor Asian eats less than 400 pounds a year, most of it directly as rice or wheat. It may surprise us to realize that in Europe, where many of us have our roots and where people generally enjoy an adequate diet, each person consumes about 1000 pounds of grain a year, half of what a North American eats.
Doris Janzen Longacre

When the stomach is full, it is easy to talk of fasting.
St. Jerome

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

About Reading Through Lent

Ashes, ashes, all fall down. How could I have forgotten? Didn't I see the heavens wiped shut just yesterday, on the road walking? Didn't I fall from the dark of the stars to these senselit and noisome days? The great ridged granite millstone of time is illusion, for only the good is real; the great ridged granite millstone of space is illusion, for God is spirit and worlds his flimsiest dreams: but the illusions are almost perfect, are apparently perfect for generations on end, and the pain is also, and undeniably, real. The pain within the millstones' pitiless turning is real, for our love for each other--for world and all the products of extension--is real, vaulting, insofar as it is love, beyond the plane of the stones' sickening churn and arcing to the realm of spirit bare. And you can get caught holding one end of a love, when your father drops, and your mother; when a land is lost, or a time, and your friend blotted out, gone, your brother's body spoiled, and cold, your infant dead, and you dying: you reel out love's long line alone, stripped like a live wire loosing its sparks to a cloud, like a live wire loosed in space to longing and grief everlasting.

Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm (Harper & Row, 1977)

Whoever on that medieval day
decided that it had to be ashes
to sign the season, was in touch with death
but he’d forgotten the place of red earth,
remembered in the gut by those who know
dirt mixed with the blood of woman giving birth.

The flesh of one so full of hope cries out,
comes pushing now the growing, wintered well
in her womb, wailing songs of the longing
for life and love and gentleness of green
and a springtime sun to be welcoming
for us, to warm us out of these our tombs
to bid us light and peace and graciousness.

So we are signed with earth – with death and birth.

Mary Claire van Orsdal, OSU from A Lent Sourcebook LTP

Reading Through Lent

I've run the gamut of subjects on this blog, which I created initially to devote to reading, writing and all things literary.  Now I'm going to introduce a subject that I have previously tried to avoid.  I've tried not to talk about my spiritual beliefs, since few people truly believe that I am loathe to proselytize.  I'm a left-wing progressive Christian with a fondness for high church despite serving in a denomination that runs pretty much right through the middle - of everything.

Today, some members of my religion celebrate Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent.  In the past, I have gathered devotional readings for groups to which I belong.  The process calms me, allows to me to focus.  After all, words are to me what breathing is to yogis.

For the next forty-six days, I'll be posting devotional readings here at In Search of Giants.  My challenge to myself is to find those readings in literature as much as possible (there's a great one from J.D. Salinger, for example.)

Take the posts as you will: remove me from your Google reader, use them in your own spiritual journey, study them as interesting but irrelevant groups of words.  Disagree in the comments, pose questions, but do not belittle anyone's perspective.  Every person is entitled to his or her opinions, and I will delete disrespectful comments.  (What I expect, actually, is that there will be no comments, but, hey, I'm good with that.)

"Everything that is is holy." - James Agee 

Quotes taken from the compilation A Lent Sourcebook: The Forty Days, ed. by J. Robert Baker, Evelyn Kaehler and Peter Mazar.  Liturgy Training Publication, 1990.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day

Love, sex, romance.  You'd be hard-pressed to find a worthwhile novel without one of these aspects of human interaction.  Mr. Darcy and Heathcliff aside, some of the greatest lovers in history have charmed their way out of the pages of good books.  Here's a sampling of the leading literary men in my life.  Who are the men or women from yours?

Mart Belden (Trixie Belden series, Kathryn Campbell)

Gilbert Blythe (Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery)

John Little (Outlaws of Sherwood, Robin McKinley)

Luthe (The Hero and the Crown, Robin McKinley)

Numair (Wild Magic quartet, Tamora Pierce)

Brigan (Fire, Kristin Cashore)

Sirius Black (Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling)


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