Summary of the Law (said at every Sunday Mass)

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Five Quick Takes

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The assault of Christmas has begun, complete with terrible music. I don’t hate Christmas music per se, but I find that the selection played in public is mostly of that segment I do hate. Generally I prefer religious to secular Christmas songs, not on principle, but simply because there are lots of religious songs in the genre that I like and few secular ones. (That, and some of the secular ones, like Baby It’s Cold Outside, are frankly creepy.) I strongly prefer something that has a mysterious, almost a haunting, note to it, something MediƦval; I’ve always found that note to evoke certain qualities of Christmas—the sense of nestling together with cold outside and warmth within, the traditional magical associations, and the grand mystery of God entering his own creation secretly in the dead of night—which the sugary, sentimental music about presents and Santa and family just fall so far short of.

The movie The Santa Clause, of all things, actually presented a surprisingly complex and winsome picture of the mythos that incorporated a sense of ancientry, that taste of spice and well as sugar, that even a secular Christmas needs in order to keep from being merely just another toothaches-and-hangovers festival. Loreena McKennitt’s enchanting album To Drive the Cold Winter Away does the same; my family opens presents to it every year.


And Thanksgiving also exists. I did a Thanksgayving celebration last year, with a small group of friends who lived away from their families. (My family usually observes the holiday on the following Saturday, since both my sisters are married and have large families-in-law, so the scheduling is a headache otherwise.) I’m not sure what I’ll do this year; possibly, bask in my lack of obligations.


I saw IT: Chapter One with a friend in Pittsburgh, near Halloween. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know exactly how faithful it was to the source material, but it was a pretty good film; I give it a B+.

It got me thinking about horror as a genre. What is it we go to horror looking for? I mean, to be scared, obviously, but why and how? I mean, you can read or watch true crime stuff, which is often pretty frightening yet clearly touches a different nerve; even when the antagonist of a horror movie is a ‘mundane’ threat like a serial killer, there’s always something else, some element of being beyond our normal frame of reference, that makes it more than just a story about a crime. Whether it’s a fantastic element like a ghost or a witch or a vampire, a sci-fi element like an alien or an AI, or merely a realistic yet unknown element like a cult or a lunatic, horror seems to appeal to our sense of being unprotected from an Other.

This, to me, makes it a perfect vehicle for exploring religion. Not only in the sense that sincerely religious characters make excellent horror villains (and excellent heroes, too, like Vanessa Ives and Ethan Chandler in Penny Dreadful), but in the sense that horror, I suspect by its nature, involves itself with some kind of intrusion into the known world by an unknown, which is very largely what religion deals in as well: certainly Semitic religion, such as Judaism and Christianity, and several varieties of neo-paganism as well. It’s said that the most frightening thing to the mind is the unknown, and there’s nothing more incomprehensible or uncontrollable than Deity.


I could do with prayer, Mudbloods. I’m not in great shape, spiritually speaking. I have no one to thank but myself, and in fact God’s arranged things so that I don’t have to deal with a tithe of the consequences of my actions; but I do need to work on my problems all the same, and one of those problems is not praying well, or much. So, I could use your help.


If my check on Friday is as good as I think it’s going to be, I’ll be able to afford not only Christmas presents, but my next tattoo. I want to get an IHC monogram (a representation of the name of Jesus as written in Greek letters), over my left pec. I have two already: on my left shoulder, the cross and M from the back of the miraculous medal, and on my right, my two favorite lines from Dante’s Purgatorio.1 The monogram would be my third, and I want the sign for Virgo as my fourth, maybe on one of my calves. I’d like to get a few more after that; we’ll see.

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1The lines in question are:
‘Sovegna vos a temps de ma dolor,’
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gl’affina.
These roughly translate to: ‘“Think ye betimes of how I suffer here,” / Then plunged him in the fire which refines them’ (Purg. XXVI.147-148); the words are spoken by a soul in Purgatory, coming to the edge of the purifying fires that sanctify the Lustful to beg Dante for his prayers, and then casting himself back into the penance that strengthens his love for God. I had the first line done in black and the second in red, in imitation of the instructions in a missal or sacramentary (text printed in black is what to say, and text in red is what to do). This doubles as an allusion to T. S. Eliot, another favorite author of mine, who quoted these lines in several of his poems.

1 comment:

  1. Have you heard the Christmas albums by the Boston Camerata? Medieval Christmas is one and a somewhat hard to find Sing We Noel. Totally absolutely what you're looking for, and worth taking the trouble to track down. You can find a lot of SWN on YouTube, but the album is perfectly put together and should be listened to that way. :)