Murder in the Cathedral

In my ongoing effort not to buy, borrow, or bum any more books until I read all of those I currently own, I finished this little gem Saturday. Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot is a play in verse about the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 in Canterbury Cathedral. Caught up in one of the perennial conflicts between priest and king, this narrative opens in the Archbishop’s Hall on December 2nd, 1170. A Chorus, consisting of women of Canterbury gather at the cathedral with some premonition of a dreadful event to come. They reminisce on their suffering as they reflect upon their archbishop, Thomas Becket. He has been in exile from England for seven years after a disastrous clash with King Henry II. The women worry that his return from France could make their lives more difficult by angering the king further. Upon his return to England, four persuasive tempters try to prevent him from re-assuming his role as archbishop. They remind him of the power and influence he held as Lord Chancellor to Henry II prior to his religious ordination.

Archbishop Thomas Becket was honored and venerated as saint and martyr by both the Catholic and Anglican church for defending the Church against the encroachments and infringements of the State. Eliot explores Becket’s murder from this perspective. In this short play Eliot shows his mastery of the British form of Church and State. In so doing, he sends a message that those who do not practice justice shall some day receive vengeance. This book was totally different than those I normally read. At first I was out of my comfort zone, but in the end, I really enjoyed this short work. It provoked me to think deeply and honestly about my faith. Eliot is indeed a master wordsmith, and I enjoyed the style, the language, and the imagery. I know that most will not enjoy a dramatization in verse, but I found it teeming with. . .  drama.

A few of my favorite quotes from the play:

“Destiny waits in the hand of God, not in the hands of statesmen.”

“The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

“In life there is not time to grieve long
But this, this is out of life, this is out of time,
An instant eternity of evil and wrong.”

“Servant of God has chance of greater sin
And sorrow, than the man who serves a king.
For those who serve the greater cause may make the cause serve them,
Still doing right: and striving with political men
May make that cause political, not by what they do
But by what they are.”

Although I found the demeanor of Thomas Becket’s martyrdom in this narration to be courageous- regretfully, I found it to also be self serving and prideful. The Apostles of Christ; Paul, John, Peter, etc… were put to death (martyred) because of their refusal to deny Jesus as Savior and King. In my opinion, this is a completely different animal that we see in Murder In The Cathedral – but you be the judge and read it for free here at INTERNET ARCHIVE.

Publisher: Mariner Books. March 1964.
Page Count: 96

It’s The Small Things

You know how it is don’t you? Whether the sky outside is bright and sunny or soggy and sullen, it can be dull and gray inside your heart. But then something happens; something as small as finding that your child has made you a surprise out of Legos, or walking through the scent of fresh cut grass, or stepping out your back door into a sudden sunrise…and then the gray goes away. That’s why I like this short poem.

Dust of Snow:
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood,
And saved some part
Of a day I rued.
Robert Frost

The bird you see above is a Red-tailed Hawk rather than a crow, but it insisted on posing for this blog post. This hawk and several other birds of prey appear almost daily on my fence. They seem to take much pleasure snagging and eating the many reptiles that inhabit my yard.

Original photo. Florida 2020

A Light On A Hill

I’ve always had a fascination for lighthouses, especially those of my childhood along the Southeast coast of the U.S. – If they could talk, I imagine they’d spin salty yarns of ships, storms, and marauding pirates forever lost in the sea’s black abyss. My interest piqued when as a lad in grammar school I read about one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – the famous Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt. It’s the first lighthouse ever recorded in history and built by Ptolemy in the 3rd century.

Lighthouses still illicit piratical adventure for me; but more often than not, they’ve become an old world analogy illustrating a principle. Historically lighthouses have pierced the dangerous darkness of the ocean’s night to safely guide sailors on their passage. They stand immovable, faithfully beaming their resplendent light, identifying treacherous coastlines, unforeseen shoals, and securely leading trusting vessels to the protection of the harbor.

Like a lighthouse, God’s Word warns us of the dangers we face on this pilgrimage of life. It protects us against error, the wiles and schemes of the evil one, and gives us an alternative to the devastating consequences of a life lived without Christ. The Bible will continue to be the Christian’s beacon. It will faithfully and truthfully guide us until we land safely on heaven’s shore.

I decided after a lifetime of enchantment with them to try my hand at painting one. Here is the completed and framed work. It’s currently enjoying a wall in our living room right above my bookcase and Lazy-Boy.

Thy word have I hidden in my heart that I might not sin against you. Psalm 199:11

Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105

Winsor & Newton watercolors, 9"x12" - self-framed

May’s Advice – A Poem

Dive headlong into summer.
Spring has become saturated
with too many memories – let them go
I’m telling you.
It doesn’t pay
to hold onto full things.
Maybe May will be the month
that lives up to its name – short and sweet,
sucking the nectar out of the flowers
and painting sunshine onto our hearts.

Original verse and photograph
© Peninsula Journal

Book Review – (Quarantine Edition)

Although I’ve read Lolita, Anna Karenina, and a handful of others, my desultory efforts continue with regard to reading a big swath of the great Russian novels. When I do manage to pull something out of the cobwebs, it’s by Anton Chekov. The Duel is one such title. I’m not quite sure if it was while I was in college or shortly thereafter that I came to adore the works of Chekhov. His Russian prose is astonishingly simple for a novice to read, but his writing is far from simplistic. I’ve not read this story since 2015. The Duel reminded me once again why I enjoy his prose.

Chekhov is not your stereotypical Russian classic author. It’s for this very reason I’d recommend him to you. Especially those of you who love classic literature, but like me, are a bit subdued when it comes to the Russian novels affectionately referred to as doorstops. Chekov is really a superb master of shorter forms, (The Duel is 128 pages in my edition) he’s much more focused on the everyday life of his characters. He leaves the philosophical and the interpretations in the background for the reader to mull over and devise. He describes his characters with such precise detail that it’s easy to forget they’re fictitious – for instance, there’s this line:

“the young zoologist Von Koren, who came to the Black Sea in the summers to study the embryology of jellyfish.”

How can you not resist getting to know Von Koren? What I savored most about The Duel is the way the main characters were all too intellectual for their own good. Laevsky continually sees his life and every emotion through the lens of literature, and not at all as it really is. He’s recently become disenchanted with Natasha, his mistress (who left her husband by the way to live with him), and thus references Tolstoy and Anna Karenina when he’s with her or talking about her. The story opens with him deciding whether he even has a moral obligation to stay with her, or if he can leave her like he wishes to, and one chapter ends with:

“In my indecision I am reminiscent of Hamlet,” Laevsky thought on the way. “How rightly Shakespeare observed it! Ah, how rightly!”

Von Koren, meanwhile, has been seduced by evolution theory and its darker counterpoint, social Darwinism. He sees the world in black and white with an uncompromising and unflinching perspective. His ideas include the notion that those who are morally weak should be eliminated before they have the chance to reproduce.

Chekhov also manages to weave wonderful humor throughout the story. There’s a lot of Pushkin tributes too, and the subtle respect to Chekhov’s predecessors are admirable. Chekhov’s willingness to suppress expectations are astonishing as well, and I challenge any reader to guess how things will inevitably conclude.

With the Governor’s stay-at-home orders in place and my home filled to capacity for hours on end, it often feels and sounds like Camp Hiawatha meets Fight Club. The tensions are sometimes palpable, and as an essential worker, I humbly confess that on occasion, I’m all too happy when Monday’s roll around and I have to go back to work. On the weekends, there is very little peace and quiet except when everyone’s asleep, so The Duel was a captivating and ironic (in title only) way to spend two hours of quiet time before anyone was awake. As usual, I plan to read more Russian literature in the coming year, but truth is, I’ll probably just read more Chekhov.

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov
January 29 1860 – July 15 1904

An Open Letter Of Apology

Pardon me, but were you the young blonde whom I was standing behind outside in the Costco line on Saturday morning waiting to purchase toilet paper? If so, I would really like to apologize. I recognize the way in which I was peering over your shoulder and craning my neck around like a giraffe was an appalling instance of bad manners. My Mother would be embarrassed and disappointed in me, but I was just desperate to see what book you were reading.

Actually, you were so engrossed in its pages that you probably didn’t even notice me. In fact, you were so preoccupied that I had to tell you it was your turn to go in. I do have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by your choice in literature. In my observation, young women of your age are usually attracted to romance novels or vampire stuff. I have read Tolkien’s The Hobbit and his other high fantasy novels, and to be candid, they were most riveting as you’ve no doubt concluded! But we could have talked about that couldn’t we… If I’d had the courage to come closer than the prescribed social distancing guidelines and strike up a conversation one reader to another? Except so entranced were you with goblins, wargs and spiders, and so deep in Mirkwood Forest were you that you probably wouldn’t have appreciated my bringing you back to the mask wearing, hand sanitizing, concrete jungle of the parking lot one little iota.

Anyway, should we happen to find ourselves in the same line again one day, I promise to try and behave in a more comely and couth manner. I too hope you found toilet paper. By the time I rounded the paper isle, it was already gone. 

Signed –
Apologetic Book Addict

Of Crickets And Communion

Despite the inconveniences of the shelter-in-place order in Florida, the evenings here at dusk have been unseasonably cool and pleasant of late. The stifling Florida heat and humidity of the day time hours all but dissipate when the gulf breeze comes calling. And so it is, that I’ve been sitting on the back porch listening to the crickets chirp their happy night songs. The sounds of the tiny creature reminded me of a poem. I love the little poem because it’s simple, kind, incisive, gracious, and peaceful; it’s all the things I’m not sometimes. The words are far more discerning and elegant than I could ever assemble, and feeling defeated, worn, and threadbare, I whispered it under my breath as a sort-of prayer. There’s much to be gleaned from this humble cricket’s prayer. His heart thankful and full of praise. His chirps enveloped and encouraged me even in my human frailty and sinful state. Thank you God for crickets, and for letting me understand them last night.

O God,
I am little and very black,
but I thank you
for having shed
our warm sun
and the quivering of Your golden corn
on my humble life.
Then take – but be forbearing, Lord-
this little impulse of my love:
this note of music
You have set thrilling in my heart.

Prayers From The Ark. Carmen Bernos de Gasztold (1919 - 1995).
France. Translated by Rumer Godden.