Monday, April 26, 2021

Wake up!

Netherlands Bach Society
In 'Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme', performed by the Netherlands Bach Society for All of Bach, everything revolves around the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. They wait throughout the night with burning lamps for the arrival of the bridegroom. Five of them have brought along extra oil to keep their lamp burning. The others run out of oil and go off to buy some more. The bridegroom arrives while they are away.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

One eternal day

J.C. Ryle:
The day is coming when there shall be a congregation that shall never break up, and a Sabbath that shall never end, a song of praise that shall never cease, and an assembly that shall never be dispersed. In that assembly shall be found all who have ‘worshiped God in spirit’ upon earth. If we are such, we shall be there.

Here we often worship God with a deep sense of weakness, corruption, and infirmity. There, at last, we shall be able, with a renewed body, to serve Him without weariness, and to attend on Him without distraction.

Here, at our very best, we see through a glass darkly, and know the Lord Jesus Christ most imperfectly. It is our grief that we do not know Him better and love Him more.

There, freed from all the dross and defilement of indwelling sin, we shall see Jesus as we have been seen, and know as we have been known. Surely, if faith has been sweet and peace-giving, sight will be far better.

Here we have often found it hard to worship God joyfully, by reason of the sorrows and cares of this world. Tears over the graves of those we loved have often made it hard to sing praise. Crushed hopes and family sorrows have sometimes made us hang our harps on the willows.

There every tear shall be dried, every saint who has fallen asleep in Christ shall meet us once more, and every hard thing in our life-journey shall be made clear and plain as the sun at noon-day.

Here we have often felt that we stand comparatively alone, and that even in God’s house the real spiritual worshipers are comparatively few.

There we shall at length see a multitude of brethren and sisters that no man can number, all of one heart and one mind, all free from blemishes, weaknesses, and infirmities, all rejoicing in one Saviour, and all prepared to spend an eternity in His praise. We shall have worshiping companions enough in heaven.

Armed with such hopes as these, let us lift up our hearts and look forward! The time is very short. The night is far spent. The day is at hand. Let us worship on, pray on, praise on, and read on.

Let us contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, and resist manfully every effort to spoil Scriptural worship. Let us strive earnestly to hand down the light of Gospel worship to our children’s children.

Yet a little time and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Blessed in that day will be those, and those only, who are found true worshipers, ‘worshipers in spirit and truth!'”
J.C. Ryle, “Worship” in Knots Untied: Being Plain Statements on Disputed Points in Religion, London: William Hunt and Company, 1885.

Friday, April 23, 2021

New every morning

My denomination emails me a Bible passage and meditation every morning. This morning it was Lamentations 3:22-33. They use the English Standard Version, a version I like very much, but I prefer the Revised Standard Version for this passage.
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is thy faithfulness.

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
(Lamentations 3:22-26, RSV)

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Chronological snobbery

Michael Dirda:
.... Until the last third of the 20th century, education broadly meant familiarity with the best that had been written or thought, discovered or imagined, painted or composed. The classics, in other words, the high spots. In my own childhood, adults still sent away for International Correspondence School courses, working men and women hurried to night classes after supper, and “30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary” by Wilfred Funk and Norman Lewis reached the bestseller list. High culture mattered. Leonard Bernstein taught music appreciation on television, Clifton Fadiman shared his infectious enthusiasm for great books in “The Lifetime Reading Plan,” Dr. Bergen Evans discussed English usage on a weekly radio program titled “Words in the News.”

Today we’re liable to dismiss all this as an antiquated, even antiquarian, approach to what it means to be educated. To think that people once actually pored over books, scribbled on three-by-five note cards, wrote papers and paid homage to what Yeats called the “monuments of unageing intellect.” How naive! In 2021, by contrast, the past — that seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of knowledge, culture and human achievement — is too often portrayed as little better than a vile sink of iniquity. With a smug sense of our own superiority, we downplay our ancestors’ real accomplishments to dwell on their moral failings. Just wait till our grandchildren get hold of us. ....
Michael Dirda, "Remember when high culture was revered? Louis Menand’s ‘The Free World’ made me nostalgic," Washington Post, April 22, 2021.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021


It snowed lightly here today. Spring is, for the moment, postponed. Samuel Johnson in Rambler No. 5:
There is, indeed, something inexpressibly pleasing in the annual renovation of the world, and the new display of the treasures of nature. The cold and darkness of winter, with the naked deformity of every object on which we turn our eyes, make us rejoice at the succeeding season, as well for what we have escaped as for what we may enjoy; and every budding flower, which a warm situation brings early to our view, is considered by us as a messenger to notify the approach of more joyous days.

The spring affords to a mind, so free from the disturbance of cares or passions as to be vacant to calm amusements, almost every thing that our present state makes us capable of enjoying. The variegated verdure of the fields and woods, the succession of grateful odours, the voice of pleasure pouring out its notes on every side, with the gladness apparently conceived by every animal, from the growth of his food, and the clemency of the weather, throw over the whole earth an air of gaiety, significantly expressed by the smile of nature. ....

A man that has formed this habit of turning every new object to his entertainment, finds in the productions of nature an inexhaustible stock of materials upon which he can employ himself, without any temptations to envy or malevolence; faults, perhaps, seldom totally avoided by those, whose judgment is much exercised upon the works of art. He has always a certain prospect of discovering new reasons for adoring the sovereign Author of the universe....
Samuel Johnson, Rambler No. 5

Monday, April 19, 2021

On Narnia

In "Why the bigotry of CS Lewis’s Narnia books shouldn’t disqualify their magic"  Katherine Langrish argues for the continuing value of the books albeit conceding more to the critics than I would:
.... With all its faults, Narnia is a world rich in allusions not only to Christianity, but to ballads, fairy tales, medieval and Renaissance literature, to Plato, Greek and Norse mythology, and to classic children’s books by Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald and E Nesbit. Narnia is stuffed with exciting ideas. It was Lewis who introduced me, aged nine, to Socratic logic and the concept of the multiverse.

As for his effortlessly drawn characters, a child could learn much without even realising it from meeting selfish Uncle Andrew in The Magician’s Nephew, who thinks the rules are for the little people. In Prince Caspian, Nikabrik the Dwarf is a narrow, passionately focussed jihadi whose anger I could understand because I knew the story of the oppression and persecution of his race.

And what about the wonderful passage in The Silver Chair when, turning Plato’s parable of the cave on its head, the Green Lady almost gaslights the children into agreeing that her dismal Underland is the only real world? It’s followed by Puddleglum’s splendid defence of the power and importance of the imagination: “We’re just babies playing a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play world which licks your real world hollow.” It made me want to cheer; it still does. ....

For me, reading the Seven Chronicles as a child was a life-changing experience. I still love them, and if I now see flaws where once I saw perfection, that’s because I’m grown up and Narnia was part of my growing. It’s always there in my past, and it’s still here – now, today, tomorrow – for any child who wants to open the wardrobe door and push past those fur coats.
Katherine Langrish, "Why the bigotry of CS Lewis’s Narnia books shouldn’t disqualify their magic," The Telegraph, April 19, 2021.

"Fresh courage take..."

The performance omits the fifth verse

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His gracious will.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
William Cowper, 1774

Friday, April 16, 2021


Patrick Kurp, who is younger than I am, on the advantages of age:
On this date, April 16, in 1939, George Santayana wrote in a letter to his friend William Lyon Phelps, the American writer and academic: “.... I heartily agree that old age is, or may be as in my case, far happier than youth. Even physically pleasanter. I was never more entertained and less troubled than I am now.” ....

I aspire to Santayana’s condition and thus far, at age sixty-eight, have experienced it. Aging has been mellowing – less worrying, less striving for attention, less desire to argue and set others straight. The ego seems to have settled on its proper dimensions. I’m content to be a spectator; not, in any sense, an activist. The world is a far more amusing place than it once was. Comedy is everywhere. ....
Anecdotal Evidence, "I Was Never More Entertained," April 16, 2021.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The greatest detective?

From Michael Dirda's review of a new book about Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot:
In the recent Washington Post poll to choose the greatest fictional detectives of all time, the top four vote-getters, tallied in descending order, were Armand Gamache, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Bosch and Hercule Poirot. Pfui, as Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe would say. ....

No, looked at historically, the only true contenders for world’s finest super-sleuth are Holmes and Poirot (with Wolfe and G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown close behind). Being a member of the Baker Street Irregulars and having written a book about Arthur Conan Doyle, I don’t need to say more about my own loyalties. But what about that other fellow, the protagonist of 33 novels and more than 50 short stories by Dame Agatha Christie? ....

...I impetuously decided to try an experiment: What would it be like to reread, after half a century, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd when I already knew its trick?

This time, Christie’s hints to the killer’s identity stood out almost too obviously, yet I quickly surrendered to the zest and smoothness of the fast-paced storytelling. James Sheppard, the village doctor who assists Poirot and narrates the book, proved far more witty than I remembered, though his deductive skills are no better than Dr. Watson’s: When Sheppard first sees Poirot, he tells his comically nosy sister Caroline, “There’s no doubt at all about what the man’s profession has been. He’s a retired hairdresser. Look at that mustache of his.” ....

...The Murder of Roger Ackroyd remains a triumph. As Poirot stresses when speaking of its solution, “Everything is simple, if you arrange the facts methodically.” That sounds easy enough, but only a great detective, like the fastidious Belgian (or Sherlock Holmes!), can disentangle the essential from the inessential. (more)
"Who is the greatest fictional detective? A new book reminds us why it’s Poirot," Washington Post, April 14, 2021.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

"There are strange things done in the midnight sun...."

Jay Nordlinger today:
Time was, boys and men memorized poems by Robert W. Service. Did girls and women? I don’t think so, but I could be wrong. Ronald Reagan committed Service poems to memory. While he was president, he memorably unleashed a little of “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” This was at an event with the education secretary, Bill Bennett. ....

Once, Pierre Trudeau challenged Reagan to recite “The Shooting of Dan McGrew.” They were at a state dinner — Buckingham Palace — where Reagan sat between the Queen Mother and Trudeau. Reagan accepted the challenge and recited the poem, all 112 lines. ....

He also writes of John McCain, who was campaigning across New Hampshire. Aboard the candidate’s bus was a crew from Comedy Central. They asked him, “Who’s your favorite poet?” McCain answered, “Robert Service, I guess.” The crew then challenged him to recite some — which he did: “The Cremation of Sam McGee” (115 lines). ....
"Poems by Heart"

Friday, April 9, 2021


Reading tonight from the "Memories of Mary Elizabeth Bond Skaggs" (1994), my mother.
I was born (Mary Elizabeth Bond) August 3, 1911 to Charles Austin and Maud Virginia (Hefner) Bond on Canoe Run, Roanoke, West Virginia. I was the fifth of eight children — Beatrice Mora, Walter Clarence, John Stanley, Luther Harold, Mary Elizabeth, Richard William, Charles Hefner, and Robert Levi.

We lived on my Grandfather’s farm until three of the older children were ready for high school. I have pleasant memories of these eight years of my life. Through third grade I attended the one room school with my sister and brothers. Charles and Robert did not attend the country school as we moved to Salem before they were of school age. My teacher was Mr. Tom Snyder. I remember the pot-bellied stove which stood in the middle of the room and the girls occupied one side of the room and the boys the other. Only one other (Warren Pickerall) was in my class. We went to the front of the room and stood beside our teacher for our reading and perhaps other work. I remember doing numbers on the blackboard and was impressed with Warren’s height as his work was so much higher on the board. We had work to do at our desks but also listened in as older classes went to the front of the room for their sessions with the teacher. Perhaps I even napped with my head on my desk at times. I remember doing ovals and push-pulls and forming letters as I learned to write. Recess was always fun. After we took our turn at the out-side toilet and had a drink of water from the pump there was time for activity. A stream ran across the road near the school and when it froze over the big boys and maybe girls too skated there. When I was little I was little so sometimes the big boys would carry me as they skated. In the spring I remember going across the road into the woods and gathering wild flowers. One Thanksgiving our cousins, Elizabeth, Virginia and Mary came on the train from Salem and went to school with us on Friday after Thanksgiving. That must have been an experience for them. Walter always carried the lunch basket and we gathered round to eat together.

Many of our church people lived relatively close together in what I believe was called “Seven Day Valley.” We lived farther away but went to church regularly. Dad was a deacon. We were related to most of the people there. Often we were invited to dinner. The older children sometimes went one place while the younger children went with Mom and Dad. At Uncle Lee’s (grandfather’s brother) there were always hickory nuts to crack (and eat) while dinner was being prepared. I seem to remember a spring in Uncle John Heavener’s under-ground cellar in the side of the hill. Often there were cool apples there! Aunt Darla had large loaves of freshly baked bread and Aunt Lily Bee had good meals too. You couldn’t go wrong! At a given time our family would meet and return home together. Sometimes Ruth and Main, (first cousins of Dad but near the ages of Bea and Walter) would come home with us and stay over night. We liked to have them come.

My Grandmother Bond died before I was born. Grandfather lived with us part of the time and with Aunt Goldie (his daughter) and Uncle Doc in Salem and visited from time to time in the homes of Uncle Arthur (Dad’s twin brother) and Uncle Ahva. We always enjoyed having Grandpa with us. His room was across the hall from our living room. I liked to go to his room, sit on a stool beside his chair in front of the fire and talk to him. He kept a diary, a small book which he carried in his pocket and wrote in any time — not just at the close of day. Always he mentioned the weather. I have ten years of his diaries including the World War I years. Uncle Doc served over-seas and sometimes Aunt Goldie and Bond (a cousin about my age) came to the farm and spent time with us. The cattle scales used by the farmers round-about were on Grandfather’s farm — a testament to his honesty. Grandfather Bond made shoes and repaired shoes. He had a shop a little way from the house where he did his work. In my time which was after Grandma died he only mended shoes, I think. I learned some of the tools of his trade as I spent time with him in the shop.

My Grandfather Hefner was a blacksmith. He was small in stature but very strong. I don’t remember my Grandmother Hefner except in a wheelchair. During my life they lived in Burnsville. They had lived in Roanoke earlier. I don’t remember them visiting us on the farm. I do remember going to Burnsville with Bea one Easter. This was the first time I had colored eggs. They were so pretty I took one home and kept it long — too long! ....
Ten pages in all. I have no pictures of her at that young age. After her memory began to fail Mom would sit and read her "memories" over and over.


Richard Brookhiser spent some of his COVID confinement reading Sherlock Holmes stories aloud to his wife. He writes "The stories vary in quality...but all satisfy. Why?" Part of his answer:
The primary, and obvious, reason is the immortal pair. Holmes is fascinating by himself: the law-enforcer who is a skillful house-breaker, the misanthrope and misogynist who can charm stable hands and old ladies, the loner who defends society, the man who sports personal items presented to him by two different European royal houses but who is familiar with waterfront opium dens. He is simultaneously benevolent and cold; when the KKK — one clue that this mid-century boy reader did not need to have explained — manages to kill one of his clients, Holmes is wounded as an outfoxed professional and moved by the horror of the deed.

Dr. Watson is a reader transported into the story. Though he cannot unravel the mysteries any faster than we can, he does have a field of expertise (besides medicine) — and that is Holmesology. He does not know what his friend is thinking, but he almost always knows that he is thinking, and he can tell whether those thoughts are fruitful or still stymied. Watson’s double function as “author” also applies the final coat of verisimilitude. ....

The stories thrive on their sense of place. The crime-fighters venture into the countryside, where, however small the town, there is an inn to serve as a base of operations, and a noble or at least centuries-old house in which they must operate. But their preferred habitat is the city — Holmes “loved to lie in the very centre of five millions of people.” ....

The best, most vivid place is the era. The stories existed in real Victorian time when they first ran, but by the end of Doyle’s career they became nostalgic (the last ones appeared alongside flappers). A century-plus on, they are wholly so. .... (more)
Richard Brookhiser, "The Comforts of Holmes," National Review, April 19, 2021.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Unconditional curiosity

Patrick Kurp today:
“Nobody anymore under the age of fifty has any education whatsoever.”

A rhetorical exaggeration, but still sobering. It’s tempting to assume ignorance metastasizes untreatably across generations, that the young are willfully blind to their inheritance. Many are, and have been taught by parents and teachers to scorn learning. But the opposite of ignorance is not a college degree but unconditional curiosity. My essential education occurred not in classrooms but in libraries and wherever I happened to be reading a good book or listening to someone more knowledgeable than I.

The writer quoted above is Guy Davenport in a letter to James Laughlin on this date, April 6, in 1994. ....
Anecdotal Evidence, "Having Been Taught How to Find Things"

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Addison's Walk, Magdalen College, Oxford

.... On September 19, 1931, in what might rank as one of the most important conversations in literary history, Lewis took his friend and colleague J.R.R. Tolkien on a walk along the River Cherwell near Magdalen College. .... (more)


From the hymn "Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain," words by John of Damascus (675–749).
Tis the spring of souls today;
Christ has burst His prison,
And from three days’ sleep in death
As a sun hath risen;
All the winter of our sins,
Long and dark, is flying
From His light, to whom we give
Laud and praise undying.
Neither might the gates of death,
Nor the tomb’s dark portal,
Nor the watchers, nor the seal
Hold Thee as a mortal;
But today amidst the twelve
Thou didst stand, bestowing
That Thy peace which evermore
Passeth human knowing.
"Alleluia!" now we cry
To our King immortal,
Who, triumphant, burst the bars
Of the tomb’s dark portal;
"Alleluia!" with the Son,
God the Father praising,
"Alleluia!" yet again
To the Spirit raising.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

David Suchet

David Suchet, on becoming a Christian:
“Agatha Christie puts into Poirot’s mouth the words, ‘I am un bon Catholique’. He says his prayers and reads the Bible with a cup of hot chocolate every night of his life. He is a very religious man.” And so, too, is 74-year-old Suchet.

He quietly became a Christian in 1986, “fairly late in life”, but in recent years has been more public about his faith. To mark this Easter, when many churches will still be closed, he has recorded a reading of the whole of John’s Gospel that goes live tomorrow (Sunday 4 April) at 4pm on Westminster Abbey’s YouTube channel. ....
David Suchet: ‘I often wonder what Poirot would have made of my walk to faith,’ The Telegraph, April 3, 2021.

A Saturday kind of faith



.... Martin Luther said himself that Saturday was the day that God himself lay cold in the grave. Friday was death, Sunday was hope, but Saturday was that seemingly ignored middle day between them when God occupied a dirty grave in a little garden outside Jerusalem. Saturday is about waiting, about uncertainty, about not knowing what’ll happen. ....

So much of Christian faith is Saturday faith. ....

A medieval theologian, Anselm, once described the kind of faith that comes with Saturday—fides quaerens intellectum: “faith seeking understanding.” By that, he meant that faith isn’t something that arises after moments of understanding. Rather, faith is something that you cling to when understanding and reason lay dead. We don’t believe once we understand it—we believe in order to understand it. Saturday’s like that: offering a day of waiting, a day of ambiguity, a day when God is sovereign even if our ideas and theologies and expectations about him are not. It is the day that our ignorance is our witness and our proclamation. Truth is, our intellect will always be one step behind in our love of God. We don’t love God once we understand him; we love God in order to understand him. ....

At times, we are all like the two disciples on their way to Emmaus who were really close to Jesus but didn’t always know it. In Luke 24, two disciples walked away from Jerusalem, where they’d just seen their Lord and Master die on the cross. Leaving, dejected, upset, hopeless, and broken, to find the next stage in their lives and careers. Unbeknownst to them, Jesus had been resurrected and was actually walking alongside them on their way to Emmaus. The hope of Sunday hadn’t dawned on them yet. The Gospels tell us that, on their way to Emmaus, the disciples were “downcast.”

That experience is the kind of experience Saturday is all about. .... (more)
A.J. Swoboda is a pastor in Portland, Oregon. This is from his A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension between Belief and Experience, excerpted in Christianity Today.