Weakness at the Beginning of Lent

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I am tired. I feel tired and afraid, with no control over anything. At my best moments, I realise that this is a gift – the gift of awareness, of truth. Because the truth is we are never in control over anything. We invent little worlds (our group of friends; our family; our parish; our monastery) over which we may claim some sort of dominion. We invent silly games (our careers, the rules of our society) which we can win. We upgrade or downgrade these games carefully, so that we are never pushed beyond what we feel we can control.

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But look up, look beyond the borders of these silly little kingdoms where we rule. Lent is a horrid period. Year by year, Lent is when some force within me pushes me out of my comfort zones, and I find myself in a lions’ den, face to face with the beasts, utterly unprepared to fight, totally helpless, fully aware that the only possible outcome is to be slaughtered.

This is nothing new. This happens every year. Yet, I somehow survive, because the same Force that pushes me out of my self-created kingdoms, out of my self-created games – that same Force saves me from those wild beasts at the last moment.

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And this changes everything.

Perhaps I should not share this with you. Perhaps it would help the monastery more if I kept my weakness to myself and pretended to be someone I am not. This would be the proper thing to do – but I have never tried to be proper; I have never cared to replace my honest, weak self with the false image of a man who is in control. Those who play this game are one step away from a type of suicide – not to allow yourself to be seen, to cover yourself under the expectations of others, to betray the feeble, yet precious being that you are out of fear that you will not stand up to the standards of others… This is the definition of hell, the betrayal of one’s deepest, most intimate self. I don’t want to leave this world having played a respectable part, yet knowing that who-I-am was never visible. What can be worse than to go though life as someone else?  What bigger failure than to sell out your own self?

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If you don’t live as yourself – weak and fallen, as you are – how can you love? Whose love is it that you feel? With whose love do you embrace the world around you? Whose good deeds and whose sins are your good deeds and your sins? When you hide yourself under an image, you basically step aside and die – all that is left is the image you created. It is this image – not yourself – who loves and hates, who lives and dies. You will never experience love – your love – until you own up to your true self. You will never experience life – not even death, ultimately – until you settle down in your own life and accept yourself as you are. I don’t mean this in the sense of ‘this is who I am and there is no reason to change’, but in the sense of ‘this is who I am, this is the real starting point of any change’.

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No healing is possible. No repentance is possible. No prayer is possible, until the heart that heals, repents and prays is your sinful, fallen, yet beating heart. False images do not have hearts. False images do not love. Most painful than all, false images will never reflect Christ, because there is nothing false in Christ, nothing common between Life and void. Prayer begins with pain at one’s fallen nature; it grows out of this pain, and its flowers bloom out of it.

By Father Seraphim Aldea

 

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Rage, Rage At the Dying of the Light

Or, The Hollow Gaze Of a  Beast

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I am beginning to think that I am secretly a bear. I definitely have the social skills of one. I am as voluble as a bear during hibernation, and as attached to my room as a bear to its cave. In all honesty, I am continuously amazed anyone still wants to talk to me given how bad I am at keeping in touch. The simple reality is that I function in a state of amazement. I have rewritten this paragraph so many times; I can find no better way to describe this. I function like a stunned being. I go through the motions I see in other people; I do what it takes to be functional in this world. But deep down, I am paralysed.

I once saw a huge bull being taken to the slaughterhouse. I was in my monastery in Moldavia at the time. The animals know. The know perfectly well that behind that big door there is death. Many of them go wild, and desperation takes over. Some times, their hearts fail and they collapse, so they have to be dragged inside. I remember this bull: a huge, beautiful animal. I remember its stare. Its muscles had completely frozen; there was no movement at all – not a blink, not a sound. At the centre of that heard of bellowing animals, fighting to escape death, I remember that hollow, frozen gaze as the bull was pushed by three men towards the gate, inside the slaughterhouse.

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I function very much like that stunned animal. When I look in the mirror (which I purposely try not to do) I recognise that gaze. There is something of that in everyone. Often times, I switch off as people talk to me about their holidays and homes and plans. I switch off and I try to recognise that frozen gaze in their eyes: beyond the noise, beyond the superficial glitter of life, that hollowness is always there. It is imprinted in us. It is part of what makes us who we are, part of what makes us human.

I suppose this is my apology for failing to always keep ‘on schedule’ with posting here, recording our podcasts and so on. I am sorry. I am aware I should be doing more, especially as many of you continue to support the monastery even through these periods of silence. Perhaps you feel something. Perhaps you yourselves recognise something in this silence.

I have prayed to make sense of this desperation. I live with a perfect hope that we shall all survive the slaughterhouse, but this hope comes with an equally perfect awareness of the hollowness of this life. I have prayed to make sense of this. I have also prayed that I loose neither the hope, nor the desperation; living with both creates an intense tension, and that tension feeds my heart. I have an intuition that this tension will lead me to Life.

If I have learned something so far, it is that I must protect and treasure this life, because the seed of Life is buried in it. The hollowness of this life, its senselessness, its pain have taught me that I myself can only get as far as the gate of the slaughterhouse. If there is any hope to make it beyond that gate, if there is any hope to survive it, it does not come from me. I cannot be my own saviour. I cannot be anyone’s saviour. This is a tough lesson to learn and impossible to fully accept without the grace of God. I am nothing without a Saviour. It is a tough lesson, but we cannot run away from it. Horrid as it feels, this is the foundation of all our hope.

Just think how different things could have been, had Adam stared into his own hollowness and accepted it, instead of collapsing at the feet of the devil. Had Adam accepted this truth, had he accepted that he cannot be his own saviour, has he reached out for a Saviour, this world would have known a different history. Perhaps this is the point of it all: to learn the lesson Adam has not; to stare into the hollowness of our being and not despair, to not collapse as he did, because we know that a Saviour has taken on the form of this hollowness and lifted it up to Life.

http://www.mullmonastery.com/monastery-blog/the-hollow-gaze-of-a-beast/

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The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot

Mistah Kurtz – he dead.

A penny for the Old Guy

I

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when 
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour, 
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other kingdom 
Remember us – if at all – not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men 
The stuffed men. 

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IIEyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear: 
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column 
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are 
In the wind’s singing 
More distant and more solemn 
Than a fading star.Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom 
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer – 

Not that final meeting 
In the twilight kingdom

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III

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom 
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone. 

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IV

The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places 
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of this tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men. 

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V

Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning. 

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion 
And the act
Falls the Shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom 

Between the conception
And the creation 
Between the emotion 
And the response
Falls the Shadow

Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm 
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom 

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but with a whimper. 

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Beating Christmas (and Life) Blues

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“My God, I cannot ‘stand’ your Love, because It is Immense and there is no place for It in my small heart ” (Translation of the scroll)

  1. Blessed are those who love Christ more than all the worldly things and live far from the world and near God, with heavenly joys upon the earth.

  2. Blessed are those who manage to live in obscu­rity and acquired great virtues but did not acquire even a small name for themselves.

  3. Blessed are those who manage to act the fool and, in this way, protected their spiritual wealth 

 

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4. Blessed are those who do not preach the Gospel with words, but live it and preach it with their silence, with the Grace of God, which betrays them.

  5. Blessed are those who rejoice when unjustly ac­cused, rather than when they are justly praised for their virtuous life. Here are the signs of holiness, not in the dry exertion of bodily asceticism and the great number of struggles, which, when not carried out with humility and the aim to take off the old man, create only illusions.

  6. Blessed are those who prefer to be wronged rather than to wrong others and accept serenely and silently injustices. In this way, they reveal in practice that they believe in “one God, the Father Almighty” and expect to be vindicated by Him and not by human beings who repay in this life with vanity.
 

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7. Blessed are those who have been born crippled or became so due to their own carelessness, yet do not grumble but glorify God. They will hold the best place in Paradise along with the Confessors and Martyrs, who gave their hands and feet for the love of Christ and now constantly kiss with devoutness the hands and feet of Christ in Paradise.

  8. Blessed are those who were born ugly and are de­spised here on earth, because they are entitled to the most beautiful place in Paradise, provided they glorify God and do not grumble.

  9. Blessed are those widows who wear black in this life, even unwillingly, but live a white spiritual life and glorify God without complaining, rather than the mis­erable ones who wear assorted clothes and live a spot­ted life.

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10. Blessed and thrice blessed are the orphans who have been deprived of their parents’ great affection, for they managed to have God as their Father already from this life. At the same time, they have the affection they were deprived of from their parents in God’s savings bank “with interest”.

  11. Blessed are those parents who avoid the use of the word “don’t” with their children, instead restraining them from evil through their holy life – a life which chil­dren imitate, joyfully following Christ with spiritual bravery.

  12. Blessed are those children who have been born “from their mother’s womb”(Mt. 19:12) holy, but even more blessed are those who were born with all the inherited passions of the world, struggled with sweat and up­rooted them and inherited the Kingdom of God in the sweat of their face (Cf. Gen. 3:19).

 

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13. Blessed are those children who lived from in­fancy in a spiritual environment and, thus, tirelessly ad­vanced in the spiritual life.

Thrice blessed, however, are the mistreated ones who were not helped at all (on the contrary, they were pushed towards evil), but as soon as they heard of Christ, their eyes glistened, and with a one hundred and eighty degree turn they suddenly made their soul to shine as well. They departed from the attraction of earth and moved into the spiritual sphere.

  14. Fortunate, worldly people say, are the astronauts who are able to spin in the air, orbit the moon or even walk on the moon.

Blessed, however, are the immaterial “Paradise-nauts”, who ascend often to God and travel about Paradise, their place of permanent abode, with the quickest of means and without much fuel, besides one crust of bread.

15. Blessed are those who glorify God for the moon that glimmers that they might walk at night.

More blessed, however, are those who have come to understand that neither the light of the moon is of the moon, nor the spiritual light of their soul of them­selves, but both are of God. Whether they can shine like a mirror, a pane of glass or the lid of a tin can, if the rays of the sun do not fall on them, it is impossible for them to shine.

 

 

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16. Fortunate, worldly people tell us, are those who live in crystal palaces and have all kinds of conven­iences.

Blessed, however, are those who have managed to sim­plify their life and become liberated from the web of this world’s development of numerous conveniences (i.e. many inconveniences), and were released from the frightening stress of our present age.

 

 17. Fortunate, worldly people say, are those who can enjoy the goods of the world.

Blessed, however, are those who give away every­thing for Christ and are deprived even of every hu­man consolation for Christ. Thus it is that they man­age to be found night and day near Christ and His di­vine consolation, which many times is so much that they say to God: “My God, Thy love cannot be en­dured, for it is great and cannot be fit within my small heart”.

  18. Fortunate, worldly people say, are those who have the greatest jobs and the largest mansions, since they possess all means and live comfortably.

Blessed, however, according to the divine Paul, are those who have but a nest to perch in, a little food and some coverings99• For, in this way, they’ve managed to become estranged from the vain world, using the earth as a footstool, as children of God, and their mind is con­stantly found close to God, their Good Father.

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  19. Fortunate are those who become generals and government ministers in their head by way of heavy drinking (even if just for a few hours), with the world­ly rejoicing over it.

Blessed, however, are those who have put off the old man and have become incorporeal, managing to be earthly angels with the Holy Spirit. They have found Paradise’s divine faucet and drink from it and are con­tinually inebriated from the heavenly wine.

  20. Blessed are those who were born crazy and will be judged as crazy, and, in this way, will enter Paradise without a passport.

Blessed and thrice blessed, however, are the very wise who feign foolishness for the love of Christ and mock all the vanity of the world. This foolishness for Christ’s sake is worth more than all the knowledge and wisdom of the wise of this world.

 

 

I beg all the Sisters to pray for God to give me, or rather take from me my little mind, and, in this way, se­cure Paradise for me by considering me a fool. Or, make me crazy with His love so I go out my self, outside of the earth and its pull, for, otherwise my life as a monk has no meaning. I became externally white as a monk. As I go I become internally black by being a negligent monk, but I justify myself as one unhealthy, when I hap­pen to be so; other times, I excuse myself again for be­ing ill, even though I am well, and so I deserve to be thoroughly thrashed. Pray for me.

 

May Christ and Panagia be with you,

With love of Christ, Your Brother, Monk Paisios

(“Timiou Stavrou”, December 2, 1972).

 

“Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger.
“Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
“Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did
to the false prophets… (Lk. 6:24-30)
“The Beatitudes” with Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Taken from the Elder’ Sixth Epistle

“…

Sister Abbess Philothei, Your blessing,

Today, a kind of craziness took hold of me and I took the pencil, as does the madman who writes his outbursts on the wall with charcoal, and I sat down to write my own things on paper like one crazed, and, again, like a lunatic, to send them to you in writ­ing. I am doing this latter craziness out of much love for my Sisters, that they might be edified, even if only a little.

The reason for the initial craziness was five let­ters, one after the other, from various parts of Greece on a variety of subjects. While the events described were great blessings of Godthose who wrote to me had fallen into despair because they dealt with them in a worldly way. 

After replying accordingly to their letters, I took the pencil like a madman, as I have said, and wrote this epistle. I believe that even a fifty-cent piece from your journeying brother will be something toward a flint for each one of the Sisters so as to light a little candle in her cell and offer her doxology to our Good God.

I feel great joy when every Sister, with her particu­lar cross carries out the equivalent struggle with philo­timo. 

It is a small thing to give to Christ a heart equal in size and as luminous as the sun out of gratitude for His great gifts, and especially for the particular honour He showed us monks by conscripting us with personal sum­mons to His Angelic Order.

A great honour also belongs to the parents who were thus made worthy of becoming related to God. Unfor­tunately, however, most parents do not realize this and, instead of being grateful to God, are infuriated etc., for they see everything in a worldly way, like those people I mentioned earlier, who became the reason for me to take the pencil and write everything that follows. …”

 

 

Canvas Bloodily Immolated on Calvary

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Time is Ripe for a David Jones Revival, the long neglected figure in the history of British Modernism. Poet and visual artist, draughtsman, printmaker, illustrator, painter, engraver, calligrapher and a genuine 20th-century visionary, David Jones’ (1895-1974) creative life was largely determined by two experiences. During World War I he served on the Western Front, an event that he regarded as epic and imbued with religious, moral and mythic overtones, in which Divine Grace manifested a continual presence. The second experience was his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1921.

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David Jones served in the trenches as a Private soldier from 1915 until 1918, was wounded at The Battle of The Somme, and spent more time on active service than any of the other First World War poets. He began writing poetry more than ten years after the 1918 Armstice, publishing his first major work in 1937. He continued painting, drawing and writing poetry throughout his comparatively long life in between episodes of depression caused by what would now be called post traumatic stress. He called his illness “Rosi”, referring almost fondly to the “rosi” in “neurosis”.

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David-Jones-Elephant-1928-National-Museum-of-Wales

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One of the most intense of his wartime recollections was of watching a Catholic mass for the first time. He was out alone in the Ypres sector scrounging for firewood in the woods when he became aware of a mass in progress in a ruined farmhouse. He watched the proceedings through a chink in the wall. He spotted the priest “in a gilt‑hued planeta, two points of flickering candlelight, white altar cloths and a few huddled figures in khaki”. The matter of factness of the scene impressed him. This almost businesslike routine had been going on for centuries. In 1921 Jones converted to Roman Catholicism. He said that “the mass makes sense of everything” and much of his poetry and paintings are religious, biblical and liturgical.

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After his conversion and for the rest of his life, Jones regarded his artistic and poetic vocation as a kind of priesthood, living and working very simply and alone. Despite all this acclaim, Jones was a humble man who never sought fame, which is probably just as well. For his last 20 years, until his death in 1974, he inhabited a single room in Harrow, welcoming visitors but otherwise pursuing his work in isolation. He called that room his “dug-out”, but in truth it was a monastic cell.

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We need to view him as fundamentally a maker. He formed things with his hands as he shaped things in his mind, combining the visual and verbal with creative intensity not seen in Britain since the time of William Blake.

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Jones visualized his Art as sacramental, holding affinities to the sacrament of the Eucharist: “the insistence that painting must be a thing and not the impression of something has affinity with what the Church said of the mass, that what was oblated under the species of bread and wine at the supper was the same thing as what was bloodily immolated on Calvary”.

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trustees of the David Jones estate; (c) A. J. Hyne; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

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When Igor Stravinsky made his last visit to England, he declared that it was largely a pilgrimage to visit David Jones. He visited him in the 1950s in the boarding house in Harrow, where he lived from 1947, after his second breakdown, until 1964. According to Stephen Spender, he remarked that it was ‘like visiting a holy man in his cell’. Recounting the same visit, Spender pictures Jones as a figure of saintly innocence, playing ‘a worn record of plain-song Gregorian chant […] with hands clasped across his knees and an expression of bliss on his face’.

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The Chapel in the Park, 1932

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The Chapel in the Park 1932 David Jones 1895-1974 Purchased 1940 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05054

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TS Eliot regarded In Parenthesis, Jones’s modernist poetry/prose epic, dramatising, distilling and mythologising his experiences on the Western Front during the First World War, as “a work of genius”. Auden similarly judged The Anathemata, published in 1957, as “very probably the finest long poem to be written in English this century”. Nonetheless, I personally find David Jones’ poetry highly rewarding, yet forbidding in its complexity, so, I’d rather dwell on some of this unworldly figure’s and visionary artist’s paintings which I find absolutely fascinating.

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Sanctus Christus de Capel-y-ffin, 1925

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Sanctus Christus de Capel-y-ffin 1925 David Jones 1895-1974 Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1983 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T03677

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Capel-y-ffin was the former monastery in the Monmouthshire Black Mountains where Eric Gill and his family moved in August 1924. David Jones first visited them there the following December, and the building at the left of this drawing loosely resembles the monastery, in its winter landscape. Eric Rowan (loc.cit.) compares this drawing to a wall painting of the Crucifixion made by David Jones at Capel-y-ffin in the same winter.

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The Garden Enclosed

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After he was received into the Roman Catholic church in 1921, Jones went to live with the artist Eric Gill and his family. The two figures in this picture represent Jones, and Gill’s daughter Petra. The picture was painted to mark their engagement in June 1924, when Petra was not quite eighteen. The title alludes to the Song of Solomon, chapter 4, v.12 ‘A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse’. An enclosed garden is also frequently used as a symbol for the virginity of the Virgin Mary. The geese, sacred to the classical goddess Juno and associated with young girls, flee from the embracing couple, alarmed by their passion. The doll on the ground may symbolise lost childhood.

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Aphrodite in Aulis 1940–1

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Aphrodite in Aulis 1940-1 David Jones 1895-1974 Purchased 1976 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T02036

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After fighting in the First World War, Jones went to art school in 1918. Long enthusiastic about Blake, in 1943 Jones saw Blake’s Body of Abel, shown in this display, much enlarged at a lantern slide lecture. His awareness of Blake’s ‘overwhelmimg’ qualities grew. As a watercolourist, engraver and poet, Jones has obvious affinities with Blake. Aphrodite was drawn during the Second World War. Its Classical and Christian allusions are comparable with Blake’s use of art when commenting on contemporary events. Aphrodite in Aulis fuses Christian and pagan energies, combining redemptive sacrifice with sexual bounty. The Greek goddess of love and fertility, chained to an altar, is flanked by a British and German soldier.

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Illustration to the Arthurian Legend: Guenever, 1938–40

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Illustration to the Arthurian Legend: Guenever 1938-40 David Jones 1895-1974 Purchased 1941 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05315

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This drawing, which was done at Sidmouth, is an illustration to an episode in the ‘Book of Sir Launcelot and Queen Guenever’ in Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Bk. XIX, Ch. 6. The artist has described the picture as follows (written statement of October 1958, in part based on a draft by Hugh Macandrew): ‘The traiterous Sir Meliagrance has captured Queen Guenever and her knights, and hearing of her abduction and the wounding and capture of her knights Sir Launcelot comes to her rescue. After being ambushed by the archers of Sir Meliagrance and enduring severe ordeal, shame and mischance Launcelot reaches the castle where the queen and her knights are captive. Meliagrance is in great fear and a kind of truce is arranged by the queen and Launcelot is admitted into the castle. When all are asleep Launcelot takes a ladder and, after breaking the window bars, climbs into the queen’s room.

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‘The marks on Launcelot’s feet, like stigmata, show that the knight has suffered greatly both in his journey to the castle and also in breaking down the bars. Chrétien de Troyes says that Launcelot “cared not for his wounds in his hands and feet” which inevitably suggests the wounds of the Passion, hence the attitude of the crucified Christ as seen on the Crucifix above the queen’s head is echoed in the movements of Launcelot.

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‘In this drawing and in “The Four Queens” there are fragments of a chapel and this chapel is in part associated with the ruined chapel of Capel-y-Ffin and in part with the church at Rock in Northumberland which appears in the Tate picture “The Chapel in the Park”. But in this Guenever picture it is seen as the, so to say, “garrison chapel” of the castle, the altar has been made ready for the next morning’s mass, with the mass-vestments laid out on it in the usual manner. In the Chrétien de Troyes version, when Launcelot approaches and leaves the queen’s bed he genuflects to her and the text says he does this “precisely as though he were before a shrine”. I think the association of these ideas may account, in part, for the inclusion of the altar. The St John’s Chapel in the Tower of London was also in mind.

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‘The men of the garrison of the castle are symbolised by the gun-team asleep with their halberds against the wall on the right, in a recess to the right of the chapel. The figures in the foreground are the queen’s wounded knights and her two maids; everybody is asleep except the little cat which is jumping off the queen’s bed as the wounded feet of Sir Launcelot come forward from the broken window-bars.

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llustration to the Arthurian Legend: The Four Queens Find Launcelot Sleeping, 1941

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Illustration to the Arthurian Legend: The Four Queens Find Launcelot Sleeping 1941 David Jones 1895-1974 Purchased 1941 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05316

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The stories of King Arthur and his knights had long been of interest to artists and writers as a remnant of a mysterious, lost national past. This drawing illustrates a passage in which Sir Launcelot is abducted by four queens. Launcelot, however, lies dreaming of his love, Queen Guinevere, who appears as a swan. The recumbent figure wears a German helmet and is deliberately reminiscent of the bodies of soldiers that Jones had seen on the battlefields of the 1914–18 war. Thus Medieval themes and styles are used to comment on more recent conflict.

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Chalice with Flowers and Pepperpot, c.1954–5

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Chalice with Flowers and Pepperpot circa 1954-5 David Jones 1895-1974 Purchased 1976 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T02038

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‘Chalice with Flowers and Pepperpot’ is one of a group of closely related watercolour drawings dating from the latter part of David Jones’s career. All feature a glass goblet or ‘chalice’ of flowers placed centrally on a table with various domestic objects assembled around. Lord Clark (in Agenda, op cit.) has characterised these flower paintings as follows: ‘Some of the finest of David Jones’s recent paintings are not of literary subjects but represent simply a vase of flowers on a table. A pleasant subject, but we are not for long under the illusion that this is an ordinary still life. The vase, broad and capacious like a Byzantine chalice of the 8th century, stands facing us on a plain table. Although no exclusively Christian symbol is visible, we have at once the feeling that this is an altar and that the flowers in some way represent part of the Eucharist. There are wine coloured carnations and ears of corn, thorny stems of roses and blood red petals which drop onto the small white table cloth. Yet none of this is insisted on, and we are far from the closed world of symbolism. Every flower is there for a dozen reasons, visual, iconographical or even on account of its name …’

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For more David Jones, watch a slideshow of 21 paintings of his at  http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/artists/david-jones

and also visit Tate at http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/david-jones-1370

A Spectral Array of Blues

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TROIS COULEURS: BLEU (1993) is a stunning film from one of the world’s preeminent directors, a rich, dark film with all the Kieslowski marks: death, silence, depression, and inner torment of the protagonist. Bleu is an impressive, inspired and inspiring anatomy of Loss, Death & Mourning with certain Christian overtones.

Desson Howe notes that “in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Blue,” the rehabilitation of a human spirit after painful tragedy is given stunning, aesthetic dimension. A story about a woman (Juliette Binoche) who loses her family (her composer-husband and 5-year-old daughter) in a car crash, this Polish-French production is also a spectral array of blues — cold, heart-chilling and beautiful.

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For the trauma of loss and persistence of memory, watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osu3j7N1fGU

Emotionally, “Blue” is a grim ordeal, as Binoche (still in the hospital recovering from the accident) attempts suicide, then retreats into deep-freeze mourning. But Kieslowski, cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, set designer Claude Lenoir and composer Zbigniew Preisner infuse the harrowing atmosphere with stylistic rhapsody.” (Washington Post, March 04, 1994 )

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More importantly, unlike Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, certain Christian themes throughout the movie offer the hope of redemption. Throughout Kieslowski implies a form of divine intervention or destiny at work, forcing Julie to come to terms with her past, others, and herself and serving as an agent of epiphanic inspiration.

There is also specifically love and forgiveness: Julie for example discovers that her late husband was having an affair. She tracks down Sandrine, Patrice’s mistress, and finds out that she is carrying his child; Julie arranges for her to have her husband’s house and recognition of his paternity for the child. What a ray of hope and redemption for such a “bleak” film, focusing on death and mourning, to end with the ultrasound of a baby, waiting to be born! Life conquers Death because Love is Life, and nothing, nobody can defeat Love, not even Death, the ultimate enemy.

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Then, there is humility, self-effacement and sacrifice. After the crash, in an attempt to blot out the trauma of loss, Julie destroys the score for her late husband’s last commissioned, though unfinished, work—a piece celebrating European unity, following the end of the Cold War. It is strongly suggested that she wrote, or at least co-wrote, her husband’s last work. Throughout there is an implication that she has hidden her own work behind the public face of her husband. In the final sequence she rewrites and completes the score and the Unity of Europe piece is played, while images are seen of all the people Julie has profoundly affected by her actions.

Significantly, this climactic piece which features chorus and a solo soprano is Saint Paul‘s 1 Corinthians 13 epistle in Greek, the hymn of love.

For a profound rendition of the Christian Hymn of Love (1 Cor, 13) , watch Trois Couleurs: ‘Bleu’ finale: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmQ88PWzvR0

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13 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 

6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 

13 And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

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So, although there are some scenes, themes and plot developments in Bleu which conflict in my opinion with a Christian outlook, such as the typical French twist with Julie and her husband’s friend becoming lovers, still I find this film so much more comforting, uplifting and inspiring than The Sad Book* and its like, so plenty in modern art!

*See https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2015/09/17/heartbreaking-anatomies-of-loss-death-mourning-iexemption/

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I’m Sad, not Bad

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This is me being sad.

Maybe you think I’m happy in this picture.

Really I’m sad but pretending I’m happy.

I’m doing this because I think people won’t like me if I look sad.

Sad Book by Michael Rosen: darkness in literature

Sometimes sad is very big.

It’s everywhere. All over me.

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Then I look like this.

And there’s nothing I can do about it.

What makes me most sad is when I think about my son Eddie. I loved him very, very much but he died anyway.

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Michael Rosen’s Sad Book: A Beautiful Anatomy of Loss, Illustrated by Quentin Blake

“Grief, when it comes, is nothing like we expect it to be,” Joan Didion wrote after losing the love of her life. “The people we most love do become a physical part of us,” Meghan O’Rourke observed in her magnificent memoir of loss, “ingrained in our synapses, in the pathways where memories are created.” Those wildly unexpected dimensions of grief and the synaptic traces of love are what celebrated British children’s book writer and poet Michael Rosen confronted when his eighteen-year-old son Eddie died suddenly of meningitis. Never-ending though the process of mourning may be, Rosen set out to exorcise its hardest edges and subtlest shapes five years later in Michael Rosen’s Sad Book (public library) — an immensely moving addition to the finest children’s books about loss, illustrated by none other than the great Quentin Blake.

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With extraordinary emotional elegance, Rosen welcomes the layers of grief, each unmasking a different shade of sadness — sadness that sneaks up on you mid-stride in the street; sadness that lurks as a backdrop to the happiest of moments; sadness that wraps around you like a shawl you don’t take off even in the shower.

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Blake, who has previously illustrated Sylvia Plath’s little-known children’s book and many of Roald Dahl’s stories, brings his unmistakably expressive sensibility to the book, here and there concretizing Rosen’s abstract words into visual vignettes that make you wonder what losses of his own he is holding in the mind’s eye as he draws.

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What emerges is a breathtaking bow before the central paradox of the human experience — the awareness that the heart’s enormous capacity for love is matched with an equal capacity for pain, and yet we love anyway and somehow find fragments of that love even amid the ruins of loss.

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With exquisite nuance, Rosen captures the contradictory feelings undergirding mourning — affection and anger, self-conscious introspection and longing for communion — and the way loss lodges itself in the psyche so that the vestiges of a particular loss always awaken the sadness of the all loss, that perennial heartbreak of beholding the absurdity of our longing for permanence in a universe of constant change.

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But what makes the story most singular and rewarding is that it refuses to indulge the cultural cliché of cushioning tragedy with the promise of a silver lining. It is redemptive not in manufacturing redemption but in being true to the human experience — intensely, beautifully, tragically true.”

Where is sad?

Sad is everywhere.

It comes along and finds you.

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When is sad?

Sad is anytime.

It comes along and finds you.

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Who is sad?

Sad is anyone.

It comes along and finds you.

 

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By Maria Popova

Source: http://www.brainpickings.org/2015/08/25/michael-rosens-sad-book-quentin-blake/

http://www.michaelrosen.co.uk

*

Be sure not to miss Michael Rosen’s absolutely breath-stopping telling of his story and reading of his book at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-SQE_bDWFY

*

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Still, I would really like to disagree very strongly with both Maria Popova’s and Michael Rosen’s conclusions as a Christian. Yes, it is all this, but there is so much more to it. What do you think? I have never experienced such profound loss myself, so maybe I don’t know what I am really talking about, but there must be more to it than all this pain and mourning.  But more about this on my next post …

A Cage

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I feel like a bird trapped in a small birdcage,

A birdcage hidden at the bottom of a dark basement.

And all I want to do is break out of the blackness,

And fly into the Sonlight which waits outside.

I can feel it, the Light –

It’s all around the basement.

The Light is greater than the basement.

All I want to do is get into that Light,

And loose myself in it.

But it is an impossible task – I can’t get out.

And the thick, murky black air closes in…

 *

I feel like I’m in a room with invisible walls.

But it’s so black in the room,

That I can’t see through the walls.

And I am the centre of the room.

Where I go, the room goes – I can’t get out.

I wish someone would chain the room still,

So I could get out into the Light outside.

… 

Oh Jesus, You are the Light of the world.

Please shatter this darkened prison I live in,

And take me into Your light.

Let it consume me, encompass me, surround me.

Let me become one with You, You in me, me in You.

 *

http://cornerstonethefoundation.blogspot.gr/p/depression-poems.html

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