I’ve been taking some time off the interweb, to help me relax into the Paschal season. It has helped a good deal. I had my first really pleasant Easter in several years (big holidays often trigger loneliness for me), and I took a few more days off than usual—sleeping until I’m done is quite a treat in itself. (They don’t really tell you what being a grown-up is like, do they?)
I am working on a new series, on why I am Side B; but since that involves dealing in such strong and frequently painful emotions, it felt super weird to post it on Easter Sunday! So I’m just doing some quick takes, and one thing I wanted to share was this really lovely prayer from the Vigil last night, the blessing of the Easter fire from which the Paschal Candle is lit:
O God, who, through thy Son, hast bestowed upon thy faithful people the fire of thy brightness: we beseech thee that thou wouldst sanctify this new fire to be profitable to our service: and grant unto us, that by this paschal feast we may be so inflamed with heavenly desires, that we may with pure hearts and minds attain unto the feast of thy eternal brightness; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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I’ve seen a number of particularly good articles on trans issues lately: a topic about which I’m considerably out of my depth. I’ve written a little about it, as a sort of observer, but I don’t feel competent to deal with the psychological or theological ramifications of trans experience. Of course, in one sense, I don’t have to, not being trans or genderqueer myself.
But on the other hand, all men (including women) are of one blood, and that goes double for my fellow Christians—not a few of whom, such as Anna Magdalena, Aoife Assumpta Hart, and Lindsey of A Queer Calling, are trans. I can’t not care about my brothers and sisters; if they’re human, they matter. And, in caring about them, I need to be prepared to frankly admit my ignorance: if I don’t know something but pretend that I do, the best case scenario is that I’ll get laughed at by people who know what they’re talking about, and the worst case is that I’ll seriously hurt someone who’s already confused and scared. Not worth it.
But there’s nothing like the horse’s mouth, especially when the horse is articulate and intelligent.1 The aforementioned Anna is on my blogroll at The Catholic Transgender, as is Lindsey (with his partner, Sarah) at A Queer Calling. Magdalene Visaggio (not to be confused with Anna Magdalena!) blogs at Sex, Death, & Revolution, though admittedly her posts are a little intellectually heavy for me—she is a theology student; Aoife2 can be found at AoifEschatology, as well as on Twitter. And last, but not least, the inimitable Melinda Selmys (whose recent horror collection Against Nature was a creepifying delight) has done several posts on her Patheos blog, Catholic Authenticity, addressing trans issues.
1I just finished rereading The Horse and His Boy, okay?
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Speaking of difficult subjects about which I’ve read articles I liked (now there’s a pickup line!), a friend of mine posted this piece from Christianity Today about one Daryl Davis, a black man who has made a point of befriending and learning about white supremacists. This has, not infrequently, led to their repenting their diseased ideology. From the article:
Davis goes to Klan rallies. He has invited Klansmen to his home and visited them. He calls some of them ‘friend’ even as they call him inferior. … Davis met the daughters of an incarcerated Klan member at the airport and drove them to the prison so that they could visit their father. Eventually the man’s family noticed that none of the man’s Klan colleagues were serving or loving them as much as Davis was. Their ideology of hate collapsed in the face of undeserved compassion.
‘When something bothers me, I try to learn about it,’ Davis told me in an exclusive interview … Part of what makes him so effective at talking to the Klan is that he has read every book he can find on the subject. He asks questions. He gathers information. He listens. Often, it is readily apparent that he knows more about the Klan, its history, and its practices, than does the person with whom he is dialoguing. ‘I never set out to convert anyone’ … Through a mix of diplomacy and Socratic questioning, he will sometimes see a racist begin to think about his ideology rather than simply proclaim it. Eventually, ‘they end up converting themselves.’
Read the whole thing here, and/or, for a more fuckword-laden parallel story from an ex-neo-Nazi’s perspective (sorry if I just spoiled all your future Christmases with the best present ever), go here.
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Writing is super fun sometimes, you guys. There’s a wonderful sense of discovery when you suddenly see the solution to a plot or character difficulty, and it’s artistically right and you know it’s right—there’s hardly any feeling like it. There are periods where it’s just a long, rough slog, sure, but the sweat of thy brow is included in pretty much anything worth doing. And as C. S. Lewis was fond of noting, a faint ache in the joints after a good day’s hike can be a positive pleasure: likewise here. I recently worked out an important, and significant, change in the plot of the novel I’m currently working on, the sequel to Death’s Dream Kingdom. Or, I don’t know, interquel, since it’s to be a trilogy, because of course it’s going to be a trilogy.
I won’t lay it out in detail, since I don’t want to turn the blog into a spoiler landmine; but I will say that it gave me a feeling sort of like one I got while working on the first book. I came up with the basic image from which my vampire novel grew in 2010, and sketched out some scenes, culminating in a first draft, over the next year or two. Then I did a plot treatment, complete with a dorky outline like they teach you to do in middle school; and only at this point did I say to myself, Geez, this story about undead superpowered cannibals has a lot of death in it.
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I am gradually coming to the conclusion that it is John Donne, more than William Shakespeare, who deserves the title of the finest poet of the English language to date. Reading Shakespeare is a pleasure, but reading Donne is an intoxication. His wit—his power to play on words and also, as it were, play on thoughts—is superior to that of any author I have read; hardly any author even approaches him, save Gerard Manley Hopkins (in sound) and G. K. Chesterton (in significance). Consider the dazzling weave of this poem3—and don’t just read the words; read them aloud, savor the sensuous pleasure of the tongue and the ear in reading.
Till now, Thou warmd’st with multiplying loves
Two larkes, two sparrowes, or two Doves,
All that is nothing unto this,
For thou this day couplest two Phœnixes;
Thou mak’st a Taper see
What the sunne never saw, and what the Arke
(Which was of foules, and beasts, the cage, and park,)
Did not containe, one bed containes, through Thee,
Two Phœnixes, whose joyned breasts
Are unto one another mutuall nests,
Where motion kindles such fires, as shall give
Yong Phœnixes, and yet the old shall live.
Whose love and courage never shall decline,
But make the whole year through, thy day, O Valentine.
They did, and night is come; and yet wee see
Formalities retarding thee.
What meane these Ladies, which (as though
They were to take a clock in peeces,) goe
So nicely about the Bride;
A Bride, before a good night could be said,
Should vanish from her cloathes, into her bed,
As Soules from bodies steale, and are not spy’d.
But now she is laid; What though shee bee?
Yet there are more delayes, For, where is he?
He comes, and passes through Spheare after Spheare,
First her sheetes, then her Armes, then any where.
Let not this day, then, but this night be thine,
Thy day was but the eve to this, O Valentine.
Here lyes a shee Sunne, and a hee Moone here,
She gives the best light to his Spheare,
Or each is both, and all, and so
They unto one another nothing owe,
And yet they doe, but are
So just and rich in that coyne which they pay,
That neither would, nor needs forbeare nor stay;
Neither desires to be spar’d, nor to spare,
They quickly pay their debt, and then
Take no acquittances, but pay again;
They pay, they give, they lend, and so let fall
No such occasion to be liberall.
More truth, more courage in these two doth shine,
Than all thy turtles have, and sparrows, Valentine.
3The poem is An Epithalamion, or Mariage Song: On the Lady Elizabeth, and Count Palatine Being Married on St. Valentines Day, which seemed a little prohibitively long for inclusion in the main text. The stanzas chosen are the second, sixth, and seventh.