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Lovescape crucified: in memoriam Francis van der Lugt SJ

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- from one Jesuit to another across centuries ]

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The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote these lines in his incomparable poem, The Wreck of the Deutschland, in 1875 — an ode on what was for the poet a deeply moving current event, though the world was not ripe for such a poem, and it was not until 1918, almost thirty years after his death, that the poem was finally published:

Joy fall to thee, father Francis,
Drawn to the Life that died;
With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance…

The poem is dedicated to five Franciscan nuns drowned in a shipwreck as they fled the Prussian anti-Catholicism of the Falk Laws for safe haven in England — but his words apply with equal force to his fellow Jesuit, Francis van der Lugt, killed and now buried in his garden in Homs.

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A quick round up of blog and press reports will give us something of the flavor of the man, and include some pertinent details along the way.

In a blog post titled The good fight ends, Dutch Catholic blogger Mark de Vries writes:

An exemplary icon of steadfast dedication to those in need is no more. Father Frans van der Lugt was abducted, shot and killed this morning in Homs, Syria, the city and country that was his home for more than four decades. The Dutch Jesuit priest did not think of leaving his home and the community he was a part of – consisting not only of the few Christians in the city, but also, especially in later years, of his Muslim neighbours in the widest sense – as civil war engulfed Syria and cut off the part of Homs where Fr. Frans lived from the rest of the world.

The Telegraph reported:

During more than three years of war, Father Francis Van der Lugt, 75, had insisted on remaining in the destroyed Old City of Homs, risking starvation and near constant shellfire, until every last civilian could be evacuated from the district.

The Jesuit priest – of the same order as the Pope – had helped to keep the plight of the Old City’s residents in the international spotlight by writing letters to his church order in Holland, and posting video messages from inside his monastery in the besieged Bustan al-Diwan district.

The DC Laus Deo blog:

Christians used to make up 10% of the Syrian population before the Civil War, but Christians have been brutalized for their faith during the conflict Fr. van der Lugt reasoned that he was the only priest remaining to minister to his people so how could he leave.

The Washington Post reported:

The Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans called Fr van der Lugt “a Syrian among Syrians” who refused to abandon his adopted people even when it meant risking his own life…

Khaled Erksoussi, head of operations at the Syrian Arab Red Crescent said of him:

He was one of the very few people who could cross the front lines in Homs. Whoever killed him is hindering any effort for peace. Whoever killed him knew he had good relations with almost everybody.

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For Pope Francis this was the death of a fellow priest, a fellow Jesuit, and a namesake of his papal name. He spoke of his feelings at a General Audience in St Peter’s Square on Wednesday:

Last Monday in Homs, Syria, Fr Frans van der Lugt one of my Dutch Jesuit confreres was assassinated at the age 75. He arrived in Syria some 5o years ago and always did good to everyone generously and with love. He was therefore loved and highly esteemed by Christians and Muslims.

His brutal murder has deeply distressed me and has made me think again of the many people who are suffering and dying in that tormented country, my beloved Syria, which for too long has been the prey of a bloody conflict that continues to reap death and destruction. I also think of the many people who have been kidnapped, Christians and Muslims, Syrians and those from other countries, including bishops and priests. Let us ask the Lord that they may soon return to their loved ones and to their families and communities.

From my heart I invite you all to join me in prayer for peace in Syria and the region, and I launch a heartfelt appeal to the Syrian leaders and to the international community: Please, silence the weapons, put an end to the violence! No more war! No more destruction! May humanitarian laws be respected, may the people who need humanitarian assistance be cared for and may the desired peace be attained through dialogue and reconciliation.

Let us ask our Mother Mary, Queen of Peace, to give us this gift for Syria, and let us all pray together. Ave Maria

And he made this appeal, this prayer to the Virgin beloved of Christians and Muslims alike, after offering a short discourse on wisdom:

In the Bible we are told that Solomon, at the time of his coronation as King of Israel, had asked for the gift of wisdom (cf. 1 Kings 3:9). And wisdom is precisely this: it is the grace of being able to see everything with the eyes of God. It is simply this: it is to see the world, to see situations, circumstances, problems, everything through God’s eyes. This is wisdom. Sometimes we see things according to our liking or according to the condition of our heart, with love or with hate, with envy…. No, this is not God’s perspective. Wisdom is what the Holy Spirit works in us so as to enable us to see things with the eyes of God. This is the gift of wisdom.

To see the world, to see situations, circumstances, problems, Muslims, Christians, everyone and everything through God’s eyes — this is wisdom.

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Fr. Francis’ own words, sent to colleagues to alert the world:

We refuse to die of hunger in Homs. We Christians and Muslims love life and want to live.

[...]

Christians and Muslims are going through a difficult and painful time and we are faced with many problems. The greatest of these is hunger. People have nothing to eat. There is nothing more painful than watching mothers searching for food for their children in the streets.

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Today as so often, Christians are killed, Muslims are killed, innocents are killed and not so innocents — for as the saying goes, all have fallen short of the glory — yet there are those among us too who have loved, fallibly yet with strong assurance, loved even those who would kill them, those such as Fr. Francis, such as Fr. de Chergé and the monks of Tibhirine

There’s a stubborn grace that comes from long love of neighbor, a grace that stands its ground under fire, that will not budge, for in its simplicity it shares the hardships of others in its own flesh, undivided and inseparable from its place in time, its neighborhood.

Fr. Francis van der Lugt did not budge. This is love in full bloom, the rest is tentative.

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Joy fall to thee, father Francis,
Drawn to the Life that died;
With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance, his
Lovescape crucified

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March 25th: the Feast of the Annunciation

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron ]
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Sound the trumpets
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Lo! Angel has neither bird nor dragonfly wings,
is no butterfly nor fairy, but a messenger, banners
of sarcenet on trumpets its means of flight,
music its essence, words the music’s clothing –
and its proclamation now and always still
and barefoot: that word becomes flesh among us,
glory slashing through the near sky to speak –

Comes thus an angel to Miryam, proclaiming
unspeakable silence becoming slowly within her
audible, sensible, the little toes prodding,
a tiny god developing such heart and hands
as may later work miracle, find in the blind, sight,
raise from the dead the living, sound forth
annunciation’s own enunciation — Word’s words…

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On “Form is emptiness; emptiness also is form”

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a little transhumanist techno-buddhism -- the title quote comes from the Buddhist text known as the Heart Sutra ]
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You might think the form of the Buddha would be fluid — but thangka painters are instructed to paint him according to graphical formulae not unlike the floor-plans and elevations architects draw up for tract-houses…

Canon of the Physical Proportions of a Great Being

The image of Buddha, who was called The Greatest Yogin of all Times, expresses serene quiescence. The harmony of his physical proportions is the expression of great beauty. The required measurements are laid down in the canon (or standard pattern) of Buddhist art, which corresponds to ideal physical proportions. The span is the basic measure, i.e. the distance from the tip of the middle finger to the tip of the thumb of the outspread hand. This distance corresponds to the space between the dimple in the chin and the hair-line. Each span has twelve finger-breadths. The whole figure measures 108 finger-breadths or 9 spans corresponding to the macro-micro-cosmic harmony measurements.

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Let’s go transhumanist on this. The artist Wang Zi Won is now exhibiting Mechanical Buddhas and Other Religious Icons

The artist predicts that in the future humans will evolve and adapt themselves to enhanced science and technology just as men and animals in the past evolved to adapt themselves to their natural circumstances. He sees this future as our destiny, not as a negative, gloomy dystopia. His work is thus based on neither utopia not dystopia. Wang represents the relations between man, technology and science through the bodies of cyborgs.

The artist considers it important to escape from human bondage in order to achieve harmony between men and machines. He thinks this harmony can be achieved through the process of religious practices and spiritual enlightenment. In Buddhism, the Bodhisattva of Compassion helps people attain enlightenment, Arhat is a spiritual practitioner of asceticism, and Buddha is a being who reaches the highest level of enlightenment. Through them, the artist intends to follow the path of enlightenment, breaking away from anxiety, agony, and pain. The artist has no intention to emphasize religious connotations through these Buddhist icons but to reflect his own or our own existence between utopia and dystopia.

Notice how well the white porcelain skin of this mechanical Buddha — graceful in its every fluid motion — embodies #4 in the celebrated 32 Excellent Signs of a Buddha’s Enlightening Body:

The skin of a Buddha, no matter how old he is, remains unwrinkled and as smooth as that of an infant nursing on his mother’s milk. This reflects his having always been generous with nourishing food and drink. In the Pali tradition, this sign is having tender hands and feet.

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In just 14 contemplative seconds, see how their mechanical halos move these Buddhas in another of Wang Zi Won’s works:

These figures make terrific counterparts to Theo Jansen‘s marvelous Strandbeests, which I featured in last week’s Sunday surprise.

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Groucho Marx is supposed to have said “Blessed are the cracked, for they shall let in the light” — but then Spike Milligan is also supposed to have said it, which figures.

Or as William Butler Yeats” Crazy Jane suggests in his poem Crazy Jane Talks With The Bishop:

For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent

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Here’s Leonard Cohen on the same general topic:

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On Magic: Jane’s and the Jesuits

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a brief note on my own bi-focal vision, with appreciation to Marina Warner ]
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I was just reading Marina Warner‘s recent essay On Magic — and protective magic in particular — and was struck by the phrase:

Calligraphic blazons act as icons, gems are incised with prayers to release their talismanic powers, phylacteries hold tightly wound documents written all over with blessings and invocations…

Calligraphic blazons?

My oh my! Only a click away, IHS, the “global information company” that brings us IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review, was tweeting me something or other and naturally, their avatar showed up (above, upper panel) on my screen, then in my eyes (etc), and finally (after a couple milliseconds?) in what Coleridge called the “hooks and eyes” of memory… where they hooked up very nicely indeed with the logo of the Society of Jesus (above, lower panel).

Jane’s and the Jesuits. I mean, they’re both in the security business, right? The Jesuits want to protect us from sin, heresy, and other matters which will make life hot for us in the next world, while Jane’s wants to protect us from VBIEDs, CBRN weapons and other such things — widely considered more pressing — which might make life hot for us in this one.

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Let’s skip the Jesuits and the seculars for a moment, and turn to Judaism and Islam. Marina writes:

Kabbalistic beliefs share common ground in this love of letters as potent, active powers in themselves: “Every word an angel, every letter an angel, and the spaces between them” was a tenet of the mystical Isaac Luria in Prague. According to analogous Muslim practices involving inscription, the right words work even when they’re hidden, indecipherable, or have disappeared altogether: they need only to have made contact, for their presence lingers in the substances where they were once inscribed, transferred by means of the magic operation of writing.

That last is, as cultural anthropologists know, a homeopathic concept — compare this, from the US (NIH) National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine backgrounder:

The alternative medical system of homeopathy was developed in Germany at the end of the 18th century. Supporters of homeopathy point to two unconventional theories: “like cures like”—the notion that a disease can be cured by a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people; and “law of minimum dose”—the notion that the lower the dose of the medication, the greater its effectiveness. Many homeopathic remedies are so diluted that no molecules of the original substance remain.

The thing is, there are two worldviews at work here, and Marina very nicely finesses the pair of them when, discussing the “talismanically protective clothes” in a Paris exhibit of “Ottoman princes’ wardrobes from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries”, she says:

Looked at from one angle, the Turkish practice was rankly superstitious, a fabulous, extreme, and crazy example of human fantasy in the doomed quest for mastery of natural forces. But looked at from another angle, the attempt to activate blessing and security through acts of writing rather than simple speech acts, and then by wearing the texts on one’s body, shows us a new dimension of word power and communicates an extraordinary degree of trust in the active literate imagination.

Superstitious, fabulous and crazy in enlightened scientific terms, yes — and yet seen from another angle, an extraordinary degree of trust in the active literate imagination…

John Donne opts for both, compressing two worlds into a mere four words:

At the round earths imagin’d corners, blow
Your trumpets, Angells…

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Okay and Amen.

I’d now like to broaden the subject from word to world, and to deepen it from magic to sacrament.

In my next, I’ll draw on Tara Isabella Burton‘s suggestion: Study Theology, Even If You Don’t Believe in God — and Dana Gioia‘s piece, The Catholic Writer Today. Onwards.

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On Squaring the Circle

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron ]
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This post, the first of several at our temporary Zenpunditry.Wordpress backup site — make a note of the URL — while ZP itself was down for a week, also contained an announcement of that problem, now no longer required.
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I don’t have anything earth-shattering to report by way of an immanent apocalypse, but my interest in form got nicely tweaked yesterday when I finished watching the movie of Faulkner‘s As I lay Dying — which uses a lot of split screen work that reminded me of my collection of DoubleQuotes in the Wild…

Image

But anyway, I was saying…

I finished the film, stunned and impressed, and went to look see if I could find a copy of the book (I thought it was a short story) online, and came across what to me is the most exquisite short paragraph devoted to form — the second para in As I Lay Dying

The path runs straight as a plumb-line, worn smooth by feet and baked brick-hard by July, between the green rows of laidby cotton, to the cottonhouse in the center of the field, where it turns and circles the cottonhouse at four soft right angles and goes on across the field again, worn so by feet in fading precision.

Such awesome beauty there, squaring the circle, circling the square — and for me, the recollection too of John Donne doing a similar rounded squaring:

At the round earth’s imagined corners, blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scatter’d bodies go…

Such exquisite geometries both great writers offer us.

I suggest it’s because they have an eye for form — they look or the shapes, the patterns in things — they’re constantly scanning, constantly practicing pattern-recognition.

Which as you know, is an desirable cognitive skill in analytic work — one of the way to connect the dots.

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