Month: March 2007

Seamus and me

I share Heaney’s inner tensions sometimes. At the heart of his poetry is the conflict between speech and silence. His father was exceptionally taciturn, his mother, well, rather voluble.

Both standpoints can be justified. A man’s ‘yea’ being ‘yea’ is the archetype of silent strength, whereas women, proficient at multitasking, can effortlessly mend, clean, organise and set the nation to rights, additionally complaining about male monocular vision which of course is no longer necessary for food provision.

Thank God we can navigate better than they can.

From “Personal Helicon” by Seamus Heaney:

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,

To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring

Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme

To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.

Marvellously wordless, after all….

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Days of Wine and Roses…not

Footfalls echo in the memory, down the passage which we did not take, towards the door we never opened into the rose-garden.”
T. S. Eliot
(1888-1965)

Shamelessly plagiarised this evening from another blog not a million miles from this one, my rose garden seems thornier than usual. After a fraught and difficult day, I almost had my (very early) dinner thrown away and… a new DVD has a virus. H’m.
Why are those around one allowed to insult and demean with impunity, but when their own tactic is returned to them, worlds implode?

As a later addition, implosion postponed, I think, but the detonator is touch-sensitive.

Whoever was kind enough to remind me of this

כִּי אָנֹכִי יָדַעְתִּי אֶתהַמַּחֲשָׁבֹת, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי חֹשֵׁב עֲלֵיכֶםנְאֻםיְהוָה מַחְשְׁבוֹת שָׁלוֹם וְלֹא
לְרָעָה, לָתֵת לָכֶם אַחֲרִית וְתִקְוָה

..has my thanks.

Secrets and Half-Truths

Having little to find to amuse this evening, I found myself doing a little aimless blogtrawling. Amazing what one comes up with. Sandwiched between a collection of stories from around the world on Islam and pan-Arabic affairs and a quite delicious morsel on hair care, I came across a beautifully wide-eyed, almost believable little entry about Rhonda Byrne’s “The Secret”. A little further investigation revealed a huge infrastructure of Web entries, much like discovering vast numbers of paramecia under a slide of apparently clear pondwater.

Rhonda defines The Secret as the law of attraction, which is the principle that “like attracts like.” Rhonda calls it “the most powerful law in the universe,” and says it is working all the time.

H’m. It might be stranger if it suspended activities for a while. What if gravity took a lunch break? And how come positive charges seem to dislike each other’s proximity?
Or, the strong nuclear force’s muscles got tired?

“What we do is we attract into our lives the things we want, and that is based on what we’re thinking and feeling,”

When I was little, I was taught that “I want doesn’t get.” A homespun principle, teaching the quite novel life skill of unselfishness. Most unfashionable.

Rhonda says – “The principle explains that we create our own circumstances by the choices we make in life. And the choices we make are fuelled by our thoughts—which means our thoughts are the most powerful things we have here on earth.” Die gedanken sind frei. Oh goody. I shall begin visualising beaches in Fiji immediately. The hype is spectacularly massive, as are the inventive methods people are choosing to exploit this hitherto unknown principle, invariably at the expense of others. The whole thing makes me tired.

Awe Exchange


Discovered a rare nugget – thanks Ben – in the form of a website devoted to the teachings of ‘the Rebbe’ a 19th century Jewish mystic, almost a Kabbalist.

Just to brighten everyone’s day, a few morsels to ponder…

“Develop your awe of heaven and you will diminish your fear of everyone else’s opinion.”

The grandeur of the morning overshadows small nocturnal fears, something I get to see every day as I watch the sunrise over the Arabian Gulf. Small ambitions are thus easier to abandon.

“The human being is a composite of body and soul. Consequently, all our affairs and activities likewise contain elements of both body and soul-the material and the spiritual. One’s mundane and routine activities are generally motivated by material and physical gain. Yet the “soul” within all these mundane affairs calls out for recognition-for the infusion of these ordinary affairs with an awareness of greater objectives and a higher purpose.”

Quite easy to forget when a class is close to riot and the AC has stopped working.

“Each one of us is a microcosm of all Creation. The achievement of harmony between one’s soul and one’s material life, is the achievement of harmony between the heaven and earth.”

Something of St John of the Cross here, I think. The idea that the soul must empty itself of self in order to be filled with God is the eternal human paradox, against which we kick and snarl.

I really must get out more..

Happy Purim – better late than never

“But when the plot came to the king’s attention, he issued written orders that the evil scheme Haman had devised against the Jews should come back onto his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows.” Esther 9:25


That’s what happens to bad Amalekites….
The Jews speak of a situation being described as A Purim Story It means a mad, disconnected series of events that do not seem to make sense, but in the end, all seems to work out just fine.
Purim is an ancient story of court intrigue, deception, miscommunication, drunken parties, assassination plots, a foolish king, a delinquent queen, villains, a strong hero and one beautiful heroine. A bit like a Middle Eastern Macbeth. Except for the happy ending.
For one little holiday, Purim’s 24 – hour carnival – like shenanigans certainly has it all. Given that the story involves the selection of a new queen after Vashti’s petulant non-appearance, we might suppose it to be the forerunner of the beauty contest. Purim is an occasion on which a bit of bad behaviour is permitted even within the walls of the synagogue itself. For example, during the public service in many congregations, when the reader of the Megillah mentions Haman , there is hissing, stamping, and rattling, a hangover from the 13th century. Purim is also a time for other unusual goings-on. For example, many congregations will read the prayers in ways that would be considered sacrilegious on any other occasion during the year – for example, singing some prayers to the tune of widely-known songs, like singing the Lord’s Prayer to the tune of “Colonel Bogey”. Outside the synagogue, Purim pranks dating from the Talmudic period seem commonplace. As early as the fifth century it was a custom to burn Haman in effigy on Purim, rather like on November 5th, when Guy Fawkes gets burned every year for having the temerity to attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

It seems it might even be a mitzvah to consume alcohol on Purim…Oh, dear……

Apocalypse whenever….


It’s really going to be interesting. The American Christians deciding who they want this time. GWB, for all his faults and, God knows, they are on sufficiently public display to be quite noticeable, has by and large, soothed the lions of the Christian Right, who have turned to tougher meat. Pat Robertson, whom I have been looking at recently, is on record as suggesting that assassination of that Amalekite President of Argentina might be quite an idea, and, much as George Fox denounced the citizenry of Lichfield, has suggested Divine retribution will surely fall on a small town called Dover for allowing the teaching of intelligent design in its schools. He and his ‘700 Club’ TV show seem universally popular. H’m. But, what price next time? The Democrats must surely win the prayer battle. Hillary C is a Methodist, nice girl from Park Ridge, Illinois, sensibly flat-shod and balanced, so the idea of her leading the meeting isn’t quite as remote a possibility as Rudy Giuliani inviting an altar call. Catholic guilt and freedom of worship are uneasy bedfellows. It remains to be seen whether the Bible belt will get behind the girl, or not. My guess is, they just might.

Celestial teapots


In The New Republic
last October, Thomas Nagel, a philosopher who calls himself “as much an outsider to religion” as Mr. Dawkins, extracts a quite cogent little nugget from the two-fingers-up-at-religion school of baloney, pointing out that what was meant by God was not, as Mr. Dawkins’s argument seemed to assume, “a complex physical inhabitant of the natural world.” instead, a la RD, “as some kind of chap, however supersized.”

Nor was belief in God analogous to belief in a Celestial Teapot, an example Mr. Dawkins borrowed from Bertrand Russell. If this insistence on theology beyond the level of Pat Robertson and biblical literalism was not enough, several reviewers banged on enthusiastically about double standards. One compared Mr. Dawkins’s volubility about religion’s vast wrongs with his silence “on the horrors that science and technology have wreaked on humanity” and the good that religion has produced. He writes:

“In a book of almost 400 pages, he can scarcely bring himself to concede that a single human benefit has flowed from religious faith, a view which is as a priori improbable as it is empirically false. The countless millions who have devoted their lives selflessly to the service of others in the name of Christ or Buddha or Allah are wiped from human history — and this by a self-appointed crusader against bigotry.” H’m. More good than harm, perhaps?

Another wrote: “No decent person can fail to be appalled by the sins committed in the name of religion,” but atheism has to be held to the same standard: “Dawkins has a difficult time facing up to the dual fact that (1) the 20th century was an experiment in secularism; and (2) the result was secular evil, an evil that, if anything, was more spectacularly virulent than that which came before.” Communism as a social disease, Nazi extermination camps, inter alia. Dawkins is not an amiable agnostic. It almost seems as if he is desperate to believe, perhaps standing, like Dostoyevsky, on the ladder just one rung below belief.

We might ask a more linear question: does ‘rational’ mean ‘ scientific’? “The fear of religion leads too many scientifically minded atheists to cling to a defensive, world-flattening reductionism.” writes another. In other words, tediously grey thinking.

It’s surely becoming clearer that emotional intelligence is as valuable if not more so in the survival struggle than academic attainments. We have more than one formula for understanding, a distinction made in Scripture by the separate use of both ‘wisdom’ and ‘knowledge’. The great achievements of physical science do not make it capable of encompassing everything, from mathematics to ethics to the experiences of a living animal. We still don’t know if a horse can sympathise with a rat, for example. Surely we have no reason to dismiss moral reasoning, introspection or conceptual analysis as ways of uncovering the truth just because they aren’t ‘physics’.