Archive for July, 2012

Ashe frowned.

“I don’t like to think of ourselves as working against each other.”

“Why not?” [asked Joan.]

“Because I like you.”

“I like you, Mr. Marson; but we must not let sentiment interfere with business. You want Mr. Peters’ five thousand dollars. So do I.”

“I hate the thought of being the instrument to prevent you from getting the money.”

“You won’t be. I shall be the instrument to prevent you from getting it. I don’t like that thought, either; but one has got to face it.”

“It makes me feel mean.”

“That’s simply your old-fashioned masculine attitude toward the female, Mr. Marson. You look on woman as a weak creature, to be shielded and petted. We aren’t anything of the sort. We’re terrors! We’re as hard as nails. We’re awful creatures. You mustn’t let my sex interfere with your trying to get this reward. Think of me as though I were another man. We’re up against each other in a fair fight, and I don’t want any special privileges. If you don’t do your best from now onward I shall never forgive you. Do you understand?”

“I suppose so.”

“And we shall need to do our best. That little man with the glasses is on his guard. I was listening to you last night from behind the door. By the way, you shouldn’t have told me to run away and then have stayed yourself to be caught. That is an example of the sort of thing I mean. It was chivalry—not business.”

“I had a story ready to account for my being there. You had not.”

“And what a capital story it was! I shall borrow it for my own use. If I am caught I shall say I had to read Aline to sleep because she suffers from insomnia. And I shouldn’t wonder if she did—poor girl! She doesn’t get enough to eat. She is being starved—poor child! I heard one of the footmen say that she refused everything at dinner last night. And, though she vows it isn’t, my belief is that it’s all because she is afraid to make a stand against her old father. It’s a shame!”

“She is a weak creature, to be shielded and petted,” said Ashe solemnly.

Joan laughed.

P. G. Wodehouse, Something New ch. vi (1915).


Read Full Post »

And [Tirian] called out “Aslan! Aslan! Aslan! Come and help us now.”

But the darkness and the cold and the quietness went on just the same.

“Let me be killed,” cried the King. “I ask nothing for myself. But come and save all Narnia.”

And still there was no change in the night or the wood, but there began to be a kind of change inside Tirian. Without knowing why, he began to feel a faint hope. And he felt somehow stronger.

C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle 49-50 (1956).

Read Full Post »

Freddie felt in his pocket, produced a cigarette case, and from it extracted a newspaper clipping.

“Did you read about poor old Percy in the papers? The case, you know?”


“Lord Stockheath, you know.”

“Oh, the Stockheath breach-of-promise case? I did more than that. I was in court all three days.” R. Jones emitted a cozy chuckle. “Is he a pal of yours? A cousin, eh? I wish you had seen him in the witness box, with Jellicoe-Smith cross-examining him! The funniest thing I ever heard! And his letters to the girl! They read them out in court; and of all—”

“Don’t, old man! Dickie, old top—please! I know all about it. I read the reports. They made poor old Percy look like an absolute ass.”

“Well, Nature had done that already; but I’m bound to say they improved on Nature’s work. I should think your Cousin Percy must have felt like a plucked chicken.”

A spasm of pain passed over the Honorable Freddie’s vacant face. He wriggled in his chair.

“Dickie, old man, I wish you wouldn’t talk like that. It makes me feel ill.”

“Why, is he such a pal of yours as all that?”

“It’s not that. It’s—the fact is, Dickie, old top, I’m in exactly the same bally hole as poor old Percy was, myself!”

“What! You have been sued for breach of promise?”

“Not absolutely that—yet. Look here; I’ll tell you the whole thing. Do you remember a show at the Piccadilly about a year ago called “The Baby Doll”? There was a girl in the chorus.”

“Several—I remember noticing.”

“No; I mean one particular girl—a girl called Joan Valentine. The rotten part is that I never met her.”

“Pull yourself together, Freddie. What exactly is the trouble?”

“Well—don’t you see?—I used to go to the show every other night, and I fell frightfully in love with this girl—”

“Without having met her?”

“Yes. You see, I was rather an ass in those days.”

“No, no!” said R. Jones handsomely.

“I must have been or I shouldn’t have been such an ass, don’t you know! Well, as I was saying, I used to write this girl letters, saying how much I was in love with her; and—and—”

“Specifically proposing marriage?”

“I can’t remember. I expect I did. I was awfully in love.”

“How was that if you never met her?”

“She wouldn’t meet me. She wouldn’t even come out to luncheon. She didn’t even answer my letters—just sent word down by the Johnny at the stage door. And then—”

Freddie’s voice died away. He thrust the knob of his cane into his mouth in a sort of frenzy.

“What then?” inquired R. Jones.

A scarlet blush manifested itself on Freddie’s young face. His eyes wandered sidewise. After a long pause a single word escaped him, almost inaudible:


R. Jones trembled as though an electric current had been passed through his plump frame. His little eyes sparkled with merriment.

“You wrote her poetry!”

“Yards of it, old boy—yards of it!” groaned Freddie. Panic filled him with speech. “You see the frightful hole I’m in? This girl is bound to have kept the letters. I don’t remember whether I actually proposed to her or not; but anyway she’s got enough material to make it worth while to have a dash at an action—especially after poor old Percy has just got soaked for such a pile of money and made breach-of-promise cases the fashion, so to speak.

“And now that the announcement of my engagement is out she’s certain to get busy. Probably she has been waiting for something of the sort. Don’t you see that all the cards are in her hands? We couldn’t afford to let the thing come into court. That poetry would dish my marriage for a certainty. I’d have to emigrate or something! Goodness knows what would happen at home! My old gov’nor would murder me! So you see what a frightful hole I’m in, don’t you, Dickie, old man?”

P. G. Wodehouse, Something New ch. II (1915).

Read Full Post »

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. (1)

The General Confession opens with a sweet address: to our Father in heaven, the Almighty One with absolute authority to pronounce judgments that silence the judgments of the lesser, stingier, nearsighted judges who surround us daily — including the one we see in the mirror. And the high and mighty One who dwells in the heavens and does as he pleases is “most merciful.” It is his good pleasure to give us the Kingdom (2). He gives a full day’s wage to the workers hired at the eleventh hour (3). He welcomes the prodigal son home. He kindly holds out his hands to the prodigal’s bitter older brother (4). Indeed, outbreaks of his generosity are liable to happen anywhere. He sends Elijah to a bereaved widow in Sidon — a hotbed of Baal worship, where the people assumed the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel had no business meddling (5). Much later he sends his Son to the same region to heal the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman (6). He sends Jonah, kicking and screaming, over five hundred miles of wilderness to call Nineveh to repent (7). He takes Ruth the Moabite and makes her mother to the kings of God’s covenant people, and part of the Christ’s family tree (8). He draws Naaman the leprous Syrian to the prophet Elisha for cleansing (9). The walls of the Kingdom are porous. Its agents go out to the ends of the earth, and its doors are open to all who would enter.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (10). Or, as Simon and Garfunkel have it:

Blessed are the sat upon, spat upon, ratted on . . .
Blessed are the meth drinkers, pot sellers, illusion dwellers . . .
Blessed are the penny rookers, cheap hookers, groovy lookers (11)

And it’s a good thing, too. For after the glorious opening address, the General Confession turns sharply to the sordid truth about ourselves: “We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.”

There are, I confess, few phrases in the Prayer Book that I enjoy more than “devices and desires of our our hearts.” Had P. D. James not beaten me to it I think I would have taken a wicked delight in writing a novel with the title Devices and Desires (Miserable Offenders would pack a similar punch, but lacks the intrigue). “Devices and desires . . .” If anyone frets over the supposed inability of words to convey meaning with weight and clarity, please step out of the fog of postmodern deconstruction for two seconds and listen to that phrase: “devices and desires.” Can its meaning really be doubted or mistaken? Does it not land heavy as a sledgehammer, and cut sharp as a scalpel?

But for all my delight in Thomas Cranmer’s brilliant wordsmithing, there are also few phrases that inflict greater pain. For, sadly, I have been following the devices and desires of my own heart too much since . . . well, conception (12). “I want. I need. Pay attention to me.” These are the thoughts that govern far too much of my interaction with the world. I want the universe to be all about me. I scream like an unweaned child when I don’t get my way. I preen like a self-satisfied toddler on the toilet when it looks like I’ve succeeded in my potty-training. Granted, advancing age and years of education have lent these things a mask of sophistication, which enables me frequently to deceive the watching world and — almost as frequently — myself. God is not deceived.

And in some precious moments, he undeceives me. He does this through (among other agents) his prophets:

The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it? (13)

And through his Son:

What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. (14)

And through the Church, and the confession that opens the daily office: “We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.”

G. K. Chesterton once noted the absurdity of denying human sin, “which [we] can see in the street.” But we really don’t have to go even that far to see sin. Sartre correctly said that “hell is other people.” He could have added, “hell is also myself.” On a good day, it is right there, in the twisted devices and desires of my heart, that I see the depth and power of hell with most horrifying clarity. And shudder.

That stark picture preempts the typical evasions. Like: “I really didn’t mean to. I didn’t want things to end so badly. I meant better in my heart.” There is no weaseling off responsibility. I did not mean better, certainly not in my heart. We are culpable precisely because our bad acts — thoughts, words, and deeds — proceed from the heart. They can proceed from nowhere else.

But there is, admittedly, a little more to it. Why do we turn to the “devices and desires of our own hearts”? The General Confession tells us in its very first admission:

“We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep” (15).

Life is hard. And scary. And bewildering. And we are by nature small, needy, dependent creatures, whose vision is not always adequate to see where legitimate creature-comforts — daily bread, for example — will come from, or when they’ll arrive. That is scary, and a frightened sheep will run every which way but the right way. So we may know, in times of relative peace, that our Father in heaven knows what we need and will give it to us if we seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness (16). Scare us a little, though, and we’ll go back to depending on those bad old devices and desires to give us what we need. That does not lessen our culpability in the least — the lack of faith is nothing less than spitting at the generosity of a most generous Father — but it explains how we go so far astray. I don’t usually get up in the morning consciously plotting to put my “devices and desires” in the driver’s seat. Yet in the driver’s seat they end up, because I’m a scared and foolish sheep.

If the opening admissions of the General Confession were turned into a horror flick, the one making them would be at once confessing to being the ghoulish villain and the guy who walks into the dark room without turning on the light. So we can be grateful the Confession doesn’t stop there, but goes on to better things. Who knows? There may yet be a way to brighten the villain’s thoughts. And, for once, the audience’s collective “Man, flick the light switch!” might actually get through.

(1) The General Confession from the Order for Morning Prayer, from The Book of Common Prayer.
(2) Luke 12:32
(3) Matthew 20:1-16
(4) Luke 15:11-32
(5) 1 Kings 17:8-24
(6) Mark 7:24-30
(7) Jonah
(8) Ruth
(9) 2 Kings 5:1-14
(10) Matthew 5:3
(11) Paul Simon, “Blessed” (from Sounds of Silence, 1966)
(12) Psalm 51:5
(13) Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV)
(14) Mark 7:20-23 (ESV)
(15) The prayer book here alludes to Isaiah 53:6
(16) Matthew 6:33

Read Full Post »

Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you
As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy ;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

John Donne, Holy Sonnet xiv.

Read Full Post »

O GOD, who hast prepared for those who love thee such good things as pass man’s understanding; Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity.  Book of Common Prayer 197 (1928).

Read Full Post »

False joys say ever, “I am for th’grasping” —
Then flee, like smoke, through fingers as they close;
Faithful joys are only for the asking,
And only in th’open hand find repose.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »