zenpundit.com » monasticism

Archive for the ‘monasticism’ Category

Sunday surprise — Li Bai and the Song of Songs

Sunday, March 11th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — it’s all about a scarlet thread and some corks in a current ]

I have plenty of idle time between naps, and was binge watching The Churchmen on Netflix. Plus it’s a Sunday..


As you know, I track “twins” in events and quotations, mainly for sheer aesthetic pleasure, but also partly as an analytic tool — believing as I do that “two is the first number” and often a leading-edge clue to pattern, meaning, significance.

I’m used to finding others who have noted these twins or “DoubleQuotes” as I call them — “DoubleQuotes in the Wild” — but I’m not sure I’ve ever run across a clear description of someone else noting them, let alone in a scholarly manner that bridges the secular west and spiritual east — but lookee here!


Amazing indeed! And what a line! Your lips are like a thread of scarlet! worthy of Li Po, worthy indeed of the Song of Songs!

I’d have been very chuffed if I’d run across the same doublet between Li Bai – better known to me as Li Po — and the Song of Songs — which, by the way, is Solomon’s.


Li Po, who, drunk and out in a shallow boat, saw the moon reflected in the Yellow River, leaned over to kiss it, and drowned..

Solomon — but you know the story — seated in judgement, ordered a child be cut in two when two women claimed to be its mother — then commanded it be given to the one whose shocked pure love begged him to deliver it to the other.. wisdom as the test of love!


The discoverer of the binary “Your lips are like a thread of scarlet!” is a brilliant, generous-hearted, flawed founder and leader of a seminary in France who displeases ambitious Vaticanisti, is offered a choice of disgrace (on account off his flaws) or (as an “out”) a posting to an obscure but copacetic position in Shanghai..

A conversation ensues, in which he discusses his options with the nun who serves as his assistant:

The nun ancourages him to consider the Shanghai option..

That option has a certain seductive charm — following that scarlet thread.. but it represents being “bought off” rather than sticking by one’s guns come what may, and somehow weathering the consequences.


Our nun reflects:

And that’s an interesting idea.

At first glace it seems fatalistic — but that current moving the corks — the seminarians, the nun herself, the priest she serves, an ambitious president of the Franch bishops, various monsignori and a pope – maybe Christ, too? — has its own flows and undertows — a priest’s flaws included. It’s a complex system.

The corks are afloat in a complex system. A scarlet thread traces its curve in the complex system, from contemporary France to eighth- century China.


And when you’re afloat in a complex system — as we all are — “go with the flow” may be sound advice. That’s why the “corks in a current” idea seems so interesting to me. Sunday surprise!

Sunday surprise — the demonic and the sanctified, illuminated

Monday, February 12th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — may you and I play always among the vertues and against the vices ]

That we may discern the distance between the demonic and the sanctified, and play accordingly:


I’m curious about the elongated chess board on which our demon slaughters the very mind of the prayerful monk.




  • Emily Steiner, Twitter
  • Elizabeth Biggs, Twitter
  • The monk prays (above, sanctified), the devil slays the monk (below, demonic)



    It is four hundred years since Caxton published this book. We may be sure that so pains»taking a man did the best he could with the spelling. The alphabet he employed was inadequate to represent the sounds of the English language, and he had no other guide than the spelling of the scribes, who represented, as well as they could, the pronunciations in use in the several counties in which they lived. In the course of two hundred and fifty years, coming down to the days of Addison and Pope, a considerable degree of uniformity had been obtained, both in pronunciation, by means of travel, and in spelling, by the desire of printers to have a standard orthography for each word, in order to save themselves the trouble of thinking and comparing various orthographies.

    That’s from The Game of the Chesse: a Moral Treatise on the Duties of Life … Reprinted which I ran across while searching (via the keywords “moral” and “chesse” for this quote:

    Meantime, the king and queen, for recreation’s sake, began to play together. It looked not unlike chesse, only it had other laws, for it was the vertues and vices one against another, where it might be ingeniously discovered with what plots the vices lay in wait for the vertues, and how to re-encounter them again. This was so properly and artificially performed that it were to be wished that we had the like game too.

    That’s from The Chymical Marriage of Johann Valentin Andreae, first published in 1616, translated into English by Ezechiel Foxcroft in 1690.

    Pray, play most assiduously.

    War Books, local version

    Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — saved from a slush pile]

    A while back, I presumptuously submitted my effort for Modern War Institute‘s War Books Profile series, where it has languished on the slush pile for a few months now. No need to waste a decent post, though, so I’m posting it here, locally, on Zenpundit, for any who may be interested.


    Name: Charles Cameron

    Brief Biography:

    Charles Cameron is the managing editor of the strategy blog Zenpundit, and a past Principal Researcher with the Center for Millennial Studies at BU and Senior Analyst at The Arlington Institute. He is a three time finalist in the Atlantic Council Brent Scowcroft Center’s Art of the Future challenges, and author of the essay “The Dark Sacred: The Significance of Sacramental Analysis” in Robert J Bunker, Blood Sacrifices (a Terrorism Research Center Book). He is the designer of the HipBone family of conceptual games, and is currently working on a book on religious sanctions for violence titled Landmines in the Garden.

    Top Five Books:

    Mustafa Hamid & Leah Farrall, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan. Respectful enemies – he, a friend of UBL and Mullah Omar, she, a counter-terrorism expert for the Australian Federal Police – debate and confer across battle lines to draw a detailed picture of AQ structure and history. A unique collaboration.

    William McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse. The key to ISIS intensity has to do with what then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Dempsey called their “apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision.” McCants masterfully reveals that apocalyptic driver, and the somewhat obscure scriptures on which it is based.

    SH Nasr, ed., The Study Quran. With enemies such as ISIS and AQ that are given to quoting scriptural texts, it is important to have a reputable, non-sectarian translation and scholarly commentary on the Quran. This is that book.

    Hegghammer & Lacroix, The Meccan Rebellion: The Story of Juhayman al-‘Utaybi Revisited. A slim volume, a delight to hold in the hand, and packed with detailed scholarship on what is arguably the seed moment of contemporary Jihadism.

    John Kiser, The Monks of Tibhirine. This book, and Christian de Chergé’s astonishing letter to the jihadists who would shortly martyr him, is an eloquent testament to values we should cherish in a time of brutality and hatred.

    The One That Shaped Me The Most:

    Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game. The human mind, attuned to variety and complexity yet primed to understand complex matters in binary terms, tends to hold war and peace as poles apart. Musically speaking, war is equivalent to discord, peace to harmony. The musical technique of counterpoint, so central to Bach, plays “voices” against one another in a manner that recognizes their variety and individuality and allows for discord while constantly working to resolve it harmoniously. It thus offers us an analogy for the constant interplay of warlike and peaceable motivations, both within the individual human and among the world’s societies and cultures – an invaluable overview of the natural condition. Hesse’s novelistic Game shows analogy rather than linearity as the key to creative insight, and offers a contrapuntal play of ideas as the overarching architectural structure for comprehending a world of conflict and resolution. It won the Nobel.



    Reworking my list today, I might well reckon the McCants book has served its brilliant purpose, illuminating in fine detail the apocalyptic nature of ISIS theology, and substitute a no less valuable but more wide-focus tome, Shahab Ahmed’s What is Islam, which broadens our understanding by offering a comprehensive exploration of “lived Islam” across the centuries and continents, going far beyond “scriptual” Islam as understood by the fundamentalists.

    Ideally, of coure, there’d be room for both McCants and Ahmed, as there is in the tiny bookshelf on my desk..

    Onward, Christian Soldiers

    Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — as sung by FDR and Winston Churchill in August of 1941 ]

    It seems only appropriate first to bring you the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers as performed by the Manchester Citadel Band and Yorkshire Chorus of the Salvation Army — Christan Soldiers and Salvation Army both having meaning that blends the military with the religious:

    As regular readers here will know, the disjunction and conjunction of the spiritual and military is a central focus of my thoughts and posts here on Zenpundit.


    It may seem entirely trivial in comparison with the stunning footage that follows, but the article that brought me to think once again of the military-religious nexus was a piece from Russia’s Pravmir today, titled Bishop of the Russian Church compares Russia airbase in Syria to a monastery:

    “The situation is interesting in spiritual sense, it reminds of a big convent without Internet, television and almost without a telephone. All servicemen are involved in sport activities, they have a great demand in reading,” the hierarch said in his interview with the Pobeda radio.

    The bishop noted that the servicemen participated in pastoral conversations with great interest.

    “This informational blockade helps them refresh their conscience, in result they have a demand to talk about important spiritual moments. It impressed me much,” he confessed.

    The church official said he saw “an absolutely new face of our military forces there.”

    “Not only weapons and outfit, but their new way of thinking impressed me. It was seen in their discipline, in organization of service, which we witnessed during the week. It differed so much from all the things I saw before that I sincerely rejoiced,” the bishop said.

    That’s worth pondering, you know, as we think about Putin‘s Russia and current events in Syria..


    The near-pacifist son of a World War II naval war hero in me was intrigued enough to go searching for Onward Christian Soldiers as a musical match for this article, and it was in search of an appropriate rendering of the hymn that I ran across the FDR / Churchill footage.

    I am profoundly glad it did.

    In my view today, the most riveting rendering of Onward Christian Soldiers must be the one captured on archival footage here, with Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt present on the Royal Navy battleship HMS Prince of Wales in August 1941:

    The other hymn sung in that clip is the quintessential naval hymn, Eternal Father, Strong to Save with its refrain, O hear us when we call to Thee / For those in peril on the sea..

    My Latest on Lapido — Mother Teresa

    Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — writing about Mother Teresa as a balancing act ]

    My latest post on LapidoMedia, Mother Teresa: the making of a saint, opens thus:

    ‘MOST blessed Father, Holy Mother Church, beseeches your Holiness to enroll the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta among the saints, that she may be invoked as such by all the Christian faithful.’

    With these words, Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints petitioned Pope Francis to declare Mother Teresa of Calcutta a saint.

    There are five stages in the Catholic Church’s ‘canonization’ – the declaration that a saint is in heaven, and that their name may be included in the roll of the names of saints.

    In my article I write, “As with many people considered especially holy, Teresa’s life has often been discussed in terms of hushed veneration – and also harshly criticised by the unimpressed.” I’m not too convinced either by the hagiography with which the Church tends to surround her, nor with the vituperatuve criticism with which Christopher Hitchens, her chief detractor, attacks her.

    I have tried to write Teresa up in a way which balances the two. In my own quiet way, and reading it somewhat between the lines, my article attempts to bridge the two by suggesting that her specific “charism” or gift — the “wavelength” of love of which she is, for the Church, the examplar — was explicitly to bring spiritual, not medical, love to the dying, and that she accomplished this task, while her failure to accompany it with sound, even basic medical care — her clinics, for instance, commonly reused needles without sterilizing them — was the cause of much of Hitchens’ criticism, and has indeed been remedied by her order of nuns since her death.

    Christian theological discussion often distinguishes between the Historical Jesus and the Christ of Faith. It may well be that the historical Teresa will stand as a warning to missionaries to be adequately prepared for the proper medical treatment of those to whom they minister, while the Teresa of faith can be a beacon of hope and love in the lives of many. We can hope that the order of nuns she founded, the Missionaries of Charity, will take note of her work at both levels.

    Read the whole piece here on the Lapido site.

    Switch to our mobile site