Depth in the Shallows

The Queen of Wit

Florence King: Sabre Tongue Of The South

Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye by Florence King

Another mouth from the South, Florence King combined wit, weightiness, and a withering glare at all things American.  Like Flannery O’ Connor, King had a special talent for mocking the underlying assumptions of daily life in her native South.  Like Walker Percy, King had a profound philosophical depth that lurked beneath even her shallowest observations.  And like P.G. Wodehouse, her sense of humor was relentless.  Dubbed the Queen of Mean, Florence King regaled readers with stories, essays, and sharp commentary. King’s personal life, political views, and fierce independence defy easy categorization.  Florence King recently died, but her wild wit lives.

“To make sure I learned the etiquette of grieving, Granny took me with her to the many funerals she attended. O Death, where is thy sting? Search me. I grew up looking at so many corpses that I still feel a faint touch of surprise whenever I see people move.”

The Russians Are Coming!

Back Is the New Forward

War, Progress, and the End of History by Vladimir Soloviev 

I can hear the groans.  All five of you.  The Russians? Really? It’s just that, you know, they’re so dark and brooding.  Yes, they are. That is precisely why we should be reading them. Because if we brood with them in their darkness, we will see clearly by the light of wisdom. Vladimir Soloviev (1853-1900), Russian poet, philosopher, and mystic (and I would add prophet), is not writing a Hollywood screenplay based on the Left Behind series.  But as Christians we believe in Christ, and in the one Christ warned us about, that is, the Anti-Christ.  The doctrine of the Anti-Christ has been with us for two thousand years and written about by such luminaries as Aquinas.  Soloviev writes in this tradition.  His point is not to scare, it is rather to warn and prepare.  The world is not eternal. The End will come.  It does not matter when, but it does matter that each of us is ready.  You either believe this is true or you believe it is untrue.  If the latter, well, go your ways.  If the former, then it is incumbent upon all of us to look around and see the forces coalescing against the Truth.  These forces are not innocuous expressions of human freedom. They are the rebellion of Lucifer continued on earth.  Therefore, as the Master said, be vigilant and stay awake. And while you are awake, read the Russians.

“a willful blindness to the existing and coming state of things is too readily indulged in by many people today”

“The historical forces reigning over the masses of humanity will yet have to come to blows and become intermingled with each other before the new head grows on the self-lacerating body of the beast: the world unifying power of the Anti-Christ, who ‘will speak high-sounding and splendid words,’ and will cast a glittering veil of good and truth over the mystery of utter lawlessness in the time of its final revelation, so that even the chosen, in the words of the Scriptures, will be reduced to the great betrayal.”


The Hurtful Heights Of Humor

Farce Can Be a Fine Kick In The Arse

Piccadilly Jim by P.G. Wodehouse

Ever laugh so hard your belly hurts? For those of you who need a little levity and have been avoiding this blog because, well, it’s so “existential” (actual reader comment), as if Flannery O’ Connor doesn’t make you laugh,  here is some of the best fun in the English language.  P.G. Wodehouse needs no introduction from me, but many people these days don’t seem to know him outside of PBS.  If Downton Abbey was downright hilarious it might approach the humorous heights of Wodehouse.  It wouldn’t hurt to take a break from Seth Rogen movies and Jimmy Kimmel clips would it? Get Wodehouse.  Pick a book, any book, and the only regret you will have is not having done so sooner.

“He wore the unmistakable look of a man about to be present at a row between women, and only a wet cat in a strange backyard bears itself with less jauntiness than a man faced by such a prospect.”

Casting Out The Demon Of Denial

Denial of the Demon Haunted World

The New Demons by Jacques Ellul

One of my favorite lines from the movie, The Usual Suspects, is spoken by Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey). “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.”  Years ago, Carl Sagan (you know, the Billions and Billions guy) authored a book called The Demon Haunted World, bemoaning  pseudoscience, and with it, religious belief, as plaguing the world in the shape of demons.  Irrational beliefs of unenlightened humans.  The only antidote, per Sagan, is scientific truth.  Science is the only arbiter of truth.  All else must step aside as so much rubbish.  The trouble, though, is that in the rarified air of cosmology, or the cozy consensus of climate change scientists, you do not end up with a Universal Truth supported by indisputable evidence.  You get belief.  Not in God, of course, but belief—unsupported by experimental evidence—in climate changing (it no doubt is) exactly the way science says it is, or belief in the origin of the universe the way cosmologists say it originated.  These are merely beliefs wearing the fashionable cloak of science.  Jacques Ellul, French theologian, professor, and Christian anarchist,  points out in his book, The New Demons, that whether we acknowledge it or not, we all worship.  It may be God,  money, or the government, but it’s worship and we do it.  So simply stamping out traditional religion, i.e. Christianity, Judaism, et al we get new ones.  That is, the belief in an ideology as the Universal Truth.  There is plenty of evidence for this throughout history. Environmentalism, Scientism, Socialism, and Individualism all possess the passion and fervor of religion.  So whom or what do you serve?

“The elimination of traditional religions by modern culture is a process that creates new religions.”



Powerless Over The Power Within

Violence, Power, and the Heart of Man

The End of the Modern World by Romano Guardini

Armenia.  Auschwitz.  Rwanda. Christian Syria.  The power of man has grown over the millennia.  So has our misuse of it.  God gave Adam and Eve dominion over all creation.  It wasn’t long before our primeval parents rejected the authority of God for the power of the Serpent.  Even today, so many of us see the natural authority of God as a burden, and we trade it for the free power of the Serpent.  We forget that the authority of God gives us Eden, the power of the Serpent gives us Exile.  All the evil in the world has its origin in the human heart.  In this book by renowned German-Italian philosopher and theologian, Romano Guardini, we read in panoramic detail about man struggling to master the world and free himself.  We learn that instead man is in thrall to power because he does not master himself.  Guardini is not predicting an end to the world.   Rather, he is teaching us about the end of the modern age and the power driven violence of the age to come.  We see our world on fire in so many ways and we know it is true.  And we should know this is just the beginning.  The answer is within and the hope is Above.

“Man today holds power over things, but we can assert confidently that he does not yet have power over his own power.”

“Now and forever man will live at the brink of an ever-growing danger which shall leave its mark upon his entire existence.”

“Again and again one is haunted by the fear that in the final analysis only violence will be used in an effort to solve the flood of problems which threaten to engulf humanity.”

The Mystery Of Love And The Delight Of Life

A Stranger at Home

Signposts in a Strange Land by Walker Percy

If you have never wondered why we are here and what life is all about then you are probably at home in the world.  But if you have a sneaking suspicion that on your very best day, this cannot be all there is, Walker Percy is your man.  A man with a worldly inheritance of money and a legacy of family suicides, Percy was confronted at a young age with what this life is and how to live it.  After getting through medical school, Percy contracted tuberculosis from a corpse.  This left him unable to practice medicine or do anything else but rest and recover for years.  Deprived of distractions, Percy squared off with the most unsettling questions of life.  Author of famous works such as The Moviegoer and Love in the Ruins, it is in Percy’s essays that we discover his answers to our questions.

“This life is much too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then be asked what you make of it and have to answer, ‘Scientific humanism.’ That won’t do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore, I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and infinite delight; i.e., God.”

A Good Woman Is Hard To Find

The Scandal of Grace and the Disgrace of Rejection

The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor 

Flannery O’Connor,  Southern writer, devout Catholic, and devoted owner of peacocks, understood the scandal of grace.  Her stories are infused with it.  Author of two novels and three collections of short stories, she famously described the subject of her writing as the action of grace in territory largely held by the devil.  She understood the profound truth that we become by grace what we are not by nature.  Most of us live by nature, demanding of others what we will not give.  But if by grace we give others what they do not deserve by nature, the life we save, as O’Connor has it, might be our own.  Giving requires sacrifice and we all want the crown without the cross.  O’Connor reminds us this is impossible, although she does it often in a humorous and violent way.  The best gifts come in ugly wrapping.  And that is what is so amazing about grace (if you spend your time watching The Bachelor you may be surprised to know that “amazing” actually means something other than a description of a date).

“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.”

Sign Of Contradiction

The Lie of the World and the Freedom of Truth

Letters, Essays, & Notebooks of Simone Weil

Do NOT read Simone Weil if you wish to remain comfortable and undisturbed in your life.  T.S. Eliot famously described this extraordinary woman as “at the same time more truly a lover of order and hierarchy than most of those who call themselves Conservative, and more truly a lover of the people than most of those who call themselves Socialist.”  She possessed the wisdom of age though she died young, she possessed profound depth in a world of shallow preoccupation, and she sought the truth even in the world’s most cherished lies.  She understood true freedom of a person, body and soul, exists in obedience.  Not a forced obedience by power or money (bearing the mark of slavery or prostitution) but an obedience freely given.  An obedience that acknowledges the truth of our origin in the Origin of Truth.  We are the Imago Dei.

“Since obedience is in fact the imprescribable law of human life, the only distinction that needs to be made is between obedience which is consented to and obedience which is not.  Where obedience is consented to there is freedom: there, and nowhere else.  It is not in parliament, nor in the press, nor in any institution that freedom can dwell.  It dwells in obedience.  Where obedience does not have everywhere a daily and permanent flavor of freedom, there is no freedom.  Freedom is the flavor of true obedience.”

Building The Self When Others Seek to Destroy

Deepening in the Shallows of Persecution

The life and diaries of Etty Hillesum

In the face of bodily dissolution by Nazi killers, Dutch-Jewish thinker, writer, and mystic, Etty Hillesum, sought unification with the Divine.  Hillesum faced death by living life.  Not merely by continuing to breathe, but by living a life fully alive. She fiercely refused to be defined by those who sought her death. She demonstrated that even in the midst of confinement and death, the spirit is truly free.

“This morning I cycled along the Station Quay enjoying the broad sweep of the sky at the edge of the city and breathing unrationed air. And everywhere signs barring Jews from the paths and the open country. But above the one narrow path still left to us stretches the sky, intact. They can’t do anything to us, they really can’t. They can harass us, they can rob us of our material goods, of our freedom of movement, but we ourselves forfeit our greatest assets by our misguided compliance. By our feelings of being persecuted, humiliated, and oppressed. By our own hatred. By our swagger, which hides our fear. We may of course be sad and depressed by what has been done to us; that is only human and understandable. However: our greatest injury is one we inflict upon ourselves. I find life beautiful, and I feel free. The sky within me is as wide as the one stretching above my head. I believe in God and I believe in man, and I say so without embarrassment. Life is hard, but that is not a bad thing. If one starts by taking one’s own importance seriously, the rest follows. It is not morbid individualism to work on oneself. True peace will come only when every individual finds peace within himself…”

The Truth Of Myth

The Lie of Material Progress

Mythopoeia by J.R.R. Tolkien

You’ve seen The Lord of the Rings. Maybe you even read the books. But Tolkien, devout Catholic, philologist, and author of The Silmarillion, The Children of Hurin, and The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, was foremost a defender of the Truth. For him, the Truth inhered in the mystical, not the material. He fought in WWI and lived through the devastation of the Somme.  Witness to the logical end of material progress for man in the regress of war, he turned to the Truth in the Myth of Man. Mythopoeia is his response to those who claim myths are lies. Truth is not limited to fact. And rarely is it synonymous with fact. After all, someone who asserts a fact often invites only argument as to what constitutes the fact.  But Truth, objective and eternal, is assented to on a deeper level than fact. And so we have Jesus offering parables to give us Truth that is beyond time and place. Eternal Truth. Tolkien spent his life giving us True Myths. Mythopoeia is a spirited defense of his life work.

“I will not walk with your progressive apes,
erect and sapient. Before them gapes
the dark abyss to which their progress tends
if by God’s mercy progress ever ends,
and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
unfruitful course with changing of a name.”

%d bloggers like this: