Thursday, December 29, 2016

Good King Wenceslas and His Friends - column

Mack Hall, HSG

Good King Wenceslas and His Friends

There is far more to the days after Christmas Day than digestion and football, though I have friends and relatives who would stoutly argue the point. Certainly a lowering of expectations begins a great degree of tranquility in the last days of the old year. Shopping as a blood sport is over for another ten months. Lunch is a pleasant browse through leftovers. Obligatory merriment is off the calendar for a while.

In the Western calendar the 26th of December is St. Stephen’s Day, honoring the first Christian martyr and the patron of charities. St. Paul helped in the stoning by guarding the stoners’ coats. He later regretted that. In the USA this is usually get-back-to-work day; in other cultures this is a day of merriment following the religious observation of Christmas Day.

Good King Wenceslaus, later a martyr himself, “looked out” on the Feast of Saint Stephen and saw a poor man. Following St. Stephen’s example of charity, Wenceslaus and his page (who was not happy about it) journeyed six miles through winter’s ice and snow tracking the poor man to deliver food and wood to his humble abode.

The 28th of December commemorates the Massacre of the Holy Innocents, detailed in Saint Matthew 2:16. King Herod failed to understand the meaning of the Magi, and ordered the slaughter of children whom he perceived to be a threat to him. This is anticipated in Jeremiah 31:15: “…Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted for them, because they are not.”

The 29th of December honors Saint Thomas Becket, martyred by King Henry II in 1170 for the freedom of the Church. The 1964 film Becket, adapted from Jean Anouilh’s play and directed by the great Hal Wallis (Casablanca, True Grit), artfully conflates and simplifies events for the sake of the movie’s length, but serves the topic very well. In 1535 Henry VIII finally accomplished the suppression of the Church (as always, in the name of freedom), and had the remains of Becket burned and the ashes scattered.

The first of January is the Solemnity of Mary, and the 6th of January is the Feast of the Epiphany, when the Three Kings visited the Holy Family.

And may the Three Kings visit all of us in our humble homes this happy new year of 2017.


Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Morning - Some Dissembling Required

Lawrence Hall

Christmas Morning – Some Dissembling Required

Does the quiet magic disappear at dawn?
The Star, the stable, shepherds, wise men three
And all the mysteries of Christmas Eve
Seem less than vapor on bright Christmas Day

Among the litter of expectations
Cast happily about, and on the floor
The wrappings and ribbons of little gifts
Received and given around the festive tree

But every noisy moment reminds us:
The quiet magic never goes away

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What Went ye into the Desert too See? - poem

What Went ye into the Desert to See?

What went ye into the desert to see?
A pale liturgist swaying in the wind?
A theologian dressed in soft clich├ęs?
But what went ye to the desert to see?
Thyself, holier than anyone else?
A profit on your Catholic Me-‘blog?
But what ye went out there to see?

Go back.  Go back to the desert, and there
See the least grain of sand, larger than thee.

Lawrence Hall

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Winter Solstice - The Year's Compline - poem

Lawrence Hall

Winter Solstice – The Year’s Compline

The winter solstice is the year withdrawing
From all the busy-ness of being-ness,
And life in all its transfigurations
Seems lost beyond this cold, mist-haunted world

Time almost stops. Low-orbiting, the sun
Drifts dimly, drably through Orion’s realm
Morning becomes deep dusk; there is no noon
Four candles are the guardians of failing light

Until that Night when they too disappear
Beneath a Star, before a greater Light

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Pilgrimage Along the A1 - Saint Michael's in Chesterton - poem

Pilgrimage Along the A1 - Saint Michael's in Chesterton

For all DeBeauvilles, Beauvilles, Bevilles, and Bevils Everywhere

From Peterborough drops a road
Across the Fens, into the past
(Where wary wraiths still wear the woad);
It comes to Chesterton at last.

And we will walk along that track,
Or hop a bus, perhaps; you know
How hard it is to sling a pack
When one is sixty-old, and slow.

That mapped blue line across our land
Follows along a Roman way
Where Hereward the Wake made stand
In mists where secret islands lay.

In Chesterton a Norman tower
Beside Saint Michael’s guards the fields;
Though clockless, still it counts slow hours
And centuries long hidden and sealed.

And there before a looted tomb,
Long bare of candles, flowers, and prayers,
We will in our poor Latin resume
Aves for old de Beauville’s cares.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Millennials at Work and War - poem

Lawrence Hall

Millennials at Work and War

Scorn not the snowflake who stands watch for us

Now thrown into the existential struggle
Surrendering their youth and taking up life
They muster in the fields and factories
And in their elders’ undeclared, shadowy wars
Uniformed in an unappreciated sense
Of duty and dignity while scorned by those
Who take their ease upon the couches of sloth
And fling cheap mockery at millennials
Who take up tools and work and love of life
Sometimes to die in deserts still unmapped
While generals dismiss their casualties as light
Despised as snowflakes by keyboard commandos
Who never got closer to any war
Than a John Wayne ketchup-bloody movie.
Some work long double shifts through university
In a sawmill, shop, or fast foodery
Only to be dismissed as slacker layabouts,
But expected to trust those who condemn them
For not being the greatest generation
As defined by those who never served at all
And while being criticized they will grab
A quick cup of coffee for the night shift
Staffing the hospitals and police patrols
That keep their sneering critics alive and safe
They drive the trucks, they man the ships, they work
They drill for oil, these useless millennials
While idlers lounge long in the coffee shops
And YooToob computered jokes about them
Millennials have no time for coloring books
Or comfort animals or revolution
For they are weary with study and work
The best of them make no demands, but, sure
A little respect, hard-earned, would be nice
If only the scripted singer-songwriters
Would pack up the tired old stereotypes
And see millennials as they truly are
But darkness falls – they must go back to work
On the eleven-seven, the graveyard shift
They do not burn draft cards or Medicare cards
Instead through work they illuminate this world
And build it up with continued sacrifice

Scorn not the snowflake who stands watch for us

The House of Winds - poem

Lawrence Hall

The House of Winds

The House of Winds can be accessed with this:
A work-order from Aeolus time-stamped
Printed in three official colors – pink
For the customer, blue for the tech

And yellow for the infallible file
Large locks must be unlocked, and chain-link gates
Forced open over institutional gravel
The House of Winds is a shipping container

Where Burgess’ Merry Little Breezes
Are now forbidden playtime or recess

Happy, Happy Christmas - column

Mack Hall, HSG

Happy, Happy Christmas

          Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can     
          recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveler,
          thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!

- Charles Dickens

Every year the sort of people who are against just about everything do a downer on Christmas: “There really wasn’t a star; it was a blah, blah, blah,” “The stable was really a cave blah, blah, blah,” “Christmas trees are really pagan blah, blah, blah,” “Christmas wasn’t really in the winter because blah, blah, blah,” and a genuine lie, “Christmas is really an adaptation of the ancient Roman something or other because blah, blah.”

All of this is on the Intergossip, so it must be true.

The first Christmas logically came late in history, and since there are only 365 days in a solar year, the Nativity had to fall on one of them. And if it happens that on that day there was an older belief somewhere that a certain Sacred Lucky Rock had to be appeased with sacrificial offerings of sophomores for a good fishing season, what is that to us? If a man whose birthday is March 25th learns that the day is the Feast of the Annunciation he does not dismiss the holy day by sputtering “Impossible! That’s my birthday!”

Christmas falls at the time of the winter solstice, the darkest time of the year, the point at which the light – or Light – returns. Our pagan ancestors were skilled in astronomy and would have had their own ways of celebrating the return of the sun. This does not veto the Incarnation; it anticipates it.

The external observations and cultural celebrations of Christmas change. Christians in ancient Cyrene could hardly go dashing through the snow where there is no snow, and nomadic tribes at the extremes of the empire would not sing about Christmas time in the city when they had never seen a city. A boar’s head on the table was a big thing in the province of Britannia, but not in Jerusalem. What is any of that to us?

As with most holy days, Christmas is anticipated by a time of reflection and prayer. The day itself is a religious occasion, followed by a period of merriment. That we tend to mix these events out of sequence now does not invalidate any of them. The Twelve Days of Christmas, from Christmas Eve through the Feast of the Epiphany, are poorly served by the silly song. But what is any of that to us?

The Eastern Christian may fault the Western Christian for celebrating Christmas on the 25th of December, and the Western Christian may fault the Eastern Christian for celebrating Christmas on the 7th of January (Gregorian calendar), but neither will fault Christmas for being Christmas.

          This is the month, and this the happy morn,
          Wherein the Son of Heav'n's eternal King,
          Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
          Our great redemption from above did bring;
          For so the holy sages once did sing,
          That he our deadly forfeit should release,
          And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.

- John Milton, “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity”


The Service of Nine Lessons and Carols, with Descants by Russian Spies - column

Mack Hall, HSG

The Service of Nine Lessons and Carols, with Descants by Russian Spies

The C.I.A. opines that Russian spies changed the results of the recent presidential election. Given the C.I.A.’s many, many accomplishments over the last fifty years, from the Bay of Pigs to Viet-Nam to that fellow holed up in the Peruvian embassy in London, well, who can doubt them?

I suppose I should have reported to somebody about Boris and Natasha hovering around me while I voted, offering me Rolls-Royce automobiles and villas in the south of France if only I would vote Vladimirista. As a loyalist I manfully refused to do so.

My next column will be posted from my private island in the Caribbean.

+ + +

The Oxford American, which is published in Conway, Arkansas, not in any Oxford anywhere, reports that Panama City, Florida is a center of ukulele music. Saint Andrews’ Church, for instance, is home to a ukulele orchestra of some 200 members.

One shudders at the horror. The ukulele might not be the Devil’s instrument, but I’m pretty sure that in Book 4 of John Milton’s Paradise Lost there is a mention (in iambic pentameter, the meter of the angels) of all ukuleles being cast down into (That Place).

+ + +

The Paris Review, which is published in New York, not in Paris, recently featured a first-person narrative which includes the sentence “Raul lives here in Tucson on an expired green card.”

That has to be a really big green card.

+ + +

Viola Desmond, a business woman, was jailed in 1946 for sitting in the whites-only section of a movie theatre. In Canada. The nation that jailed her is now honoring her by placing her picture on their ten-dollar bill.

+ + +

The Service of Nine Lessons and Carols dates to the nineteenth century and in its modern form owes much to an Anglican chaplain’s grim experiences in the First World War:

+ + +

Almost two hundred years ago Charles Dickens wrote in The Pickwick Papers, “Christmas was close at hand, in all his bluff and hearty honesty; it was the season of hospitality, merriment, and open-heartedness…”

Gaudete Sunday has passed, which means Christmas is close at hand for us too. May we indeed make it a season of open-heartedness.


Stern Notes, Banknotes, General Mattis, and Mrs. Trump - column

Mack Hall, HSG

Stern Notes, Banknotes, General Mattis, and Mrs. Trump

The Chinese government in Peking / Peiping / Beijing has issued a stern note to the United States government complaining that Mr. Trump is a bad boy for accepting a congratulatory telephone from another Chinese government in Taipei.

Mr. Trump is a bad boy, but as an American he is free, just as you and I are, to accept telephone calls from anyone he chooses. He could of course start by accepting telephone calls from former students at Trump University.

How does a young man or woman starting out in life secure a job sending and receiving stern notes? One always reads about nations sending stern notes to one another. What, exactly, are stern notes? What are the qualifications for sending and receiving stern notes? What does the stern notes gig pay?

+ + +

Someone named Tom Ford refuses to dress Melania Trump. I’m not sure why this is news; Mrs. Trump has been dressing herself since she was a small child. Besides, I don’t think Mr. Ford was asked to dress Mrs. Trump. Mrs. Trump would probably prefer that Mr. Ford stay out of her closet and remain in his.

+ + +

Mr. Trump has proposed retired general James Mattis – whose nicknames are “Mad Dog,” “Chaos,” and “The Warrior-Monk” – as Secretary of Defense, a post which was once more honestly titled Secretary of War.

The general is by repute the best of Marines, a scholar, and a man concerned with the welfare of the men and women in the military. Now that he is a civilian he is permitted to serve in a state office reserved for civilians. May he serve in the best traditions of the Republic.

General Mattis’ wisdom is demonstrated in many of his famous quotations, including: “Engage your brain before you engage your weapon” and “Power Point makes you stupid.”

Still, several questions obtain:

1. Why would a great war-leader choose to submit himself to the leadership of a person who, when freedom called, answered only to a heel spur?

2. Why would a great war-leader choose to submit himself to the leadership of a person who, until someone reminded him about his desire for votes, repeatedly expressed his contempt for the military, especially prisoners of war?

3. General Mattis’ personal library is said to contain about 6,000 books. Does General Mattis’ scholarship include familiarity with the foundation legal document of this nation, the Constitution, especially with regard to Article 1, Section 8? That topic has been ignored since June of 1942, when Congress declared war on Romania.

Still, you gotta respect a man who knows that Power Point makes you stupid.

+ + +

The United Kingdom’s new five-pound note (about $8, give or take the price of a cup of Twining’s or the economic value of the South Sandwich Islands) is being rejected by The Usual Suspects because it is said to contain traces of animal DNA. Eeek! I have a solution – let all good and true Englishvegans send me all of those contaminated five-pound banknotes. I’ll recycle them carefully.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

December Through the Windshield - poem

Lawrence Hall

December Through the Windshield

The windshield wipers hiss-scratch-thunk, scratch-thunk
Scratch-thunk against the pre-dawn wind and rain
Thick sodden leaves protest against their fall
And cling forlornly until swept away

To disappear into the autumn night
Their loss unseen by two frail beams of light
Patrolling in advance, into the cold
Pgnoring the casualties left behind

December hastens to the year’s end while
The windshield wipers hiss-scratch-thunk, scratch-thunk

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Advent Rosary - poem

Lawrence Hall

Advent Rosary

Dark Advent is a silent waiting time
When autumn chills into pale, year-end days
And joy seems smothered by hard-frosting rime:
Cold is the debt that spring to winter pays

The seasons link to seasons in a chain,
The chain of being that links, also, our souls,
Seasons and souls, not always without pain:
Summer’s wild lightning falls and thunder rolls.

Linked to us too, rose by mystical rose,
This holy Advent is Our Lady’s Grace
To us who wait in exile sad; she knows
Where souls and seasons sing, the Night, the Place.

Seasons and souls, linked to days dreary-dim:
Follow them with roses to Bethlehem

Morning Mirror Face - poem

Lawrence Hall

Morning Mirror Face

The sleeve of your bathrobe brushes away
The steam – and there you are, your morning face
All washed and ready for a day of hope
And happy service to humanity

Look not upon a straying, graying hair
But make instead a funny face and laugh
And see again the eyes of dreaming youth
And tell yourself a joke you’ve never heard

The sleeve of your bathrobe brushes away
The unhappy remnants of yesterday

The Local Department Store's Last Christmas - poem

Lawrence Hall

The Local Department Store’s Last Christmas

The overly-arranged rat-packery
Of cool-cat Christmas songs from the fifties
Descends like stardust date-expired upon
The ghosts of Christmases that never were

The aisles are teeming only with those notes
Because unlike the music of the past
Old customers have not been stored on tapes
To be replayed among the China-made

White Christmas Drummer Boy Jingle-Bell Rocks
Only mechanical air wah-wah-wah