Thursday, October 31, 2013

Quote (and Action!) of the Day

For months I've been cautioning people not to be doing cartwheels in the pews every time Pope Francis says something hopeful about changing the ultra orthodox, natural law obsessed, pre-Vatican II, restorationist direction of his last two predecessors. Wait until there's more than words. Wait until there's action ... either the issuing of papal encyclicals or actual changes in the way the hierarchy is conducting church business.

Well, today's news about the Vatican conducting a global parish level survey of faithful Catholics on issues ranging from contraception to same-sex marriage to divorce meets my criteria for a partial celebration.

No, we don't yet know if the Vatican will ever release the findings of this study. No, we don't yet know that the findings of this study might not be altered to suit the anti-gay agendas of his predecessors (thus continuing their work, while not taking the blame for it). But that the Vatican is even conducting this survey is a statement in and of itself. It says to the world, "We, the institutional church hierarchy, are no longer assuming we have all the answers to the questions of life and the mysteries of love – and we care about what you, the body church, think."

And that, my friends, is a most refreshing change in our church.

NOTE: To respond to Pope Francis' call for the articulation of the 'Sense of the Faithful,' and to let him know your thoughts on a range of issues relating to marriage, family, and sexuality, please complete the 2014 Synod of the Family online survey, which is being administered by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

This survey can be found here.

Your responses will be forwarded to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and to the appropriate officials in the Vatican, including Pope Francis himself. Thank you!

Related Off-site Links:
Vatican Asks Bishops to Consult Laity on Same-Sex Marriage, Contraception, Divorce – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, November 1, 2013).
Vatican Surveys Church on Family Issues Including Gay Marriage – Steve Scherer (Reuters via Yahoo! News, November 1, 2013).
Pope Francis Consulting the Faithful on Marriage, Family – and Sexuality – Terence Weldon (Queering the Church, November 1, 2013).
Pope Francis Wants to Hear Your Opinion – Christopher Hale (Millennial, November 1, 2013).
Vatican Asks for Parish-level Input on Synod Document – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter, October 31, 2013).
The Vatican's Poll – James Martin, SJ (America, October 31, 2013).
Survey Says . . .Questions from a Ewe (November 2, 2013).
Wow, the Vatican is Seeking Input for the Synod On the Family – Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, November 2, 2013).
What Would You Say About Marriage and Family at the Upcoming Synod? – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, October 9, 2013).
Ending Marginalization in the Catholic Church – Roy Bourgeois (The Washington Post via The Progressive Catholic Voice, September 17, 2013).
Aggiornamento: Contemporary Belief, Contemporary Language – John A. Dick (Another Voice via The Progressive Catholic Voice, June 3, 2013).
Reforming the Catholic Church Today: Three Perspectives – William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, May 14, 2013).
The Call of the Baptized: Be the Church, Live the Mission – Paul Lakeland (The Progressive Catholic Voice, September 19, 2010).
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 1) – Rosemary Radford Ruether (The Progressive Catholic Voice, July 15, 2010).
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 2) – Rosemary Radford Ruether (The Progressive Catholic Voice, July 19, 2010).
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 3) – Rosemary Radford Ruether (The Progressive Catholic Voice, July 28, 2010).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Pope Francis' Understanding of Catholicism: An Orchestra in Which All Can Play!
Quote of the Day – August 7, 2013
Why I Take Hope in Pope Francis' Statement on Gay Priests
What It Means to Be Catholic
The Catholic Challenge
The Call to Be Dialogical Catholics
"If the People Don't Believe It, It's Not True"
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
Roger Haight on the Church We Need
Rosemary Haughton and the "True Catholic Enterprise"
Gospel Leadership
A Time to Re-think the Basis and Repair the Damage
Time for a Church for Grown-Ups
A Church That Can and Cannot Change
Comprehending the “Fullness of Truth”
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 1)
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 2)
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 3)
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 4)
To Whom the Future of the Catholic Church Belongs

There is a Ghost . . .

Today is Halloween, which here in the U.S. has become a horrendous commercial spectacle. This despite the fact that the day has roots in the Catholic celebrations of November 1, “All Hollows Day” (or “All Saints Day”) and November 2, “All Souls Day.”

Deeper still . . . elements of Halloween developed from a pagan holy day, the ancient Celtic feast of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), which was the eve of the new year. It was a time when it was believed the veil between this world and the next was at its thinnest, and people and spirits could “cross over,” could pass back and forth between the two worlds. Huge bonfires were lit on hilltops – some say to frighten away evil spirits; others, to warm the souls of the departed. Perhaps both.

Personally, I like to gather up all these names, origins, meanings, and dates and speak simply of Hallowtide, and emphasize the transformative power, the witch power, the time calls to mind.

And so to mark Hallowtide this year at The Wild Reed, I share Marianne Faithfull's haunting song, "There is a Ghost," accompanied by an artful video by Christina Bon.

There is a ghost, and it goes out
On the land, on the land
It's lifted up, it feels and floats
On many hands, on many hands

Oh, my lover, oh, my lover
Never was there another
Where has my lover man gone?

There is a dream you've had before
And forgotten many times, so many times
When you remember who I am, just call
When you remember who I am . . .

There is a tree and its leaves have gone
For what it's seen, it stands alone

Oh, my lover, oh, my lover
Go now, go now find another
Where has my lover man gone?

Away, away . . . across the land
Across the land
Across the land . . .

– Marianne Faithfull
(from the 2004 album Before the Poison)

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Halloween Thoughts
A Hallowtide Reflection
The Signal Man – A Ghost Story by Charles Dickens
Halloween Hijinks
Irene Monroe on Halloween as "America's Gay Holiday"
All You Holy Men and Women
Photo of the Day – October 31, 2012

Related Off-site Links:
If a Druid Rings the Doorbell – Michael Tortorello (New York Times, October 30, 2013).
Halloween Was So Much WEIRDer Back Then: Creepy and Disturbing Vintage Halloween PhotosWeird Tales Magazine (October 26, 2013).
A Ghost Story – from George Orwell? – Danny Heitman (Christian Science Monitor, October 30, 2013).
Five Christian Theologies Scarier Than Halloween – Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite (The Washington Post, October 28, 2013).

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cornwall's – and Winston Graham's – Angry Tide


The gale was becoming a little less violent
with the onset of dusk. That was not saying much;
[His horse] staggered under the constant buffeting,
and even here, two hundred feet above the sea,
puffs of foam drifted like ghosts,
dodging and dipping in the wind.

– Excerpted from The Angry Tide:
A Novel of Cornwall, 1798-1799
by Winston Graham
pp. 418

Last weekend saw a massive windstorm sweep across Northwestern Europe.

The storm was given different names in different regions. In southern England it was referred to as the St. Jude Storm; in Sweden, Cyclone Simone. In other parts of continental Europe it was called Cyclone Christian. Regardless of its name it was a severe meteorological occurrence, one that caused the death of at least seventeen people and, in Denmark, the strongest wind gust ever to be recorded in the country's history.

One of the areas of southwest England hardest hit was Cornwall, which is both a county and a peninsula bordered to the north and west by the Celtic Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the east by the county of Devon, over the River Tamar. Anyone remotely familiar with this blog would know that I'm a great admirer of Winston Graham's Poldark novels, which are set in Cornwall at the turn of the nineteenth century.

The twelve novels that comprise the Poldark saga exemplify historical/romantic fiction at its best. Drawing on the insights of Helen Hughes’ book The Historical Romance, critic Ellen Moody notes the following about the first Poldark novel and, in turn, I would argue, much of the entire series:

What historical romance . . . [does] is highlight and dramatize versions of fear and hope we experience today – in Ross Poldark [there is] war, class and gender inferiority, money. The time of revolution, the later eighteenth and early nineteenth century, has been a favorite period for dramatizing dislocation and political themes – for criticizing the way the political arrangements of present society through a mirroring technique.

We are invited to spend our time with the aristocratic world and with a hero who is charismatic and exemplifies qualities we are to admire . . . [T]here are also romantic heroines, in this case I’ll add Elizabeth Chynoweth. Graham shows Elizabeth making bad decisions which leave her in the power of the bullying, crude, amoral, and resentful George Warleggan.

And everyone does suffer a lot in these dramas. . . .

Indeed, there is much passion in the Poldark novels – along with, of course, lots of adventure and history. And, yes, people do suffer as a result of certain actions undertaken when in the grip of intense emotional and sexual feelings.

Graham's seventh Poldark novel, The Angry Tide, sees a number of key characters tormented to varying degrees with emotions of jealousy, suspicion, desperation, and rage – all of which are grounded in a single previous act of passion, an act that puts into question the parentage of Valentine Warleggan, the four-year-old son of George and Elizabeth. They are emotions that have largely been repressed for years, but they come surging to the surface in unison with a great gale, one which actually took place in December 1799, just off the coast of Cornwall where Graham sets the lives of his characters.

The gale of December the ninth, 1799, was little worse than a half dozen others that might occur most years; but it was distinguished by the great seas it brought in. The worst of the storms had been far out in the Atlantic, and the coast suffered the effects. Nine ships of varying sizes were wrecked, mainly along the south coast, and particularly in the area of the Manacles, but a few came to grief along the north coast.

. . . [Continuing his journey home from London, Ross] had caught the new express coach that left Torpoint at seven-thirty and was due in Truro soon after midday. The gale delayed the coach, and two o'clock had gone when, after a brief and early dinner at the Royal, he mounted his hired horse for the last stage.

. . . His arrival [at Nampara on the north coast] was unannounced and unexpected. The first person who saw him was a thin, long-legged eight-year-old boy staggering across the garden carrying a ball of twine. His scream was lost in the scream of the wind, but soon he was in his father's arms and soon there was all confusion. . . . In the midst of it Ross asked where his wife was and was told that Mama had gone off with Uncle Drake early this morning and had said she would not be back to dinner.

"Daddy!" Jeremy shouted, above the chatter of his sister and the welcome of the servants. "Daddy, come and look at the sea!"

So they all went to look, at least as far as the stile leading down to the beach; further it was unsafe to go. Where the beach would have been at any time except the highest of tides, was a battlefield of giant waves. The sea was washing away the lower sandhills and the roots of marram grass. As they stood there a wave came rushing up over the rough stony ground and licked at the foot of the stile, leaving a trail of froth to overflow and smear their boots. Surf in the ordinary sense progresses from deep water to shallow, losing height as it comes. Today waves were hitting the rocks below Wheal Leisure with such weight that they generated a new surf running at right angles to the flow of the sea, with geysers of water spouting high from the collisions. A new and irrational surf broke against the gentler rocks below the Long Field. Mountains of spume collected wherever the sea drew breath, and then blew like bursting shells across the land. The sea was so high there was no horizon and the clouds so low that they sagged into the sea.

– Excerpted from The Angry Tide: A Novel of Cornwall, 1798-1799 (1977)
by Winston Graham
pp. 414-416

Above: "A Group of Figures in a Storm" (1799-1800)
by Joseph Mallord William Turner (medium graphite on paper, Tate Gallery).

The second excerpt I share from The Angry Tide gives a sense of the surge of human emotion that painfully and destructively sweeps through Winston Graham's seventh Poldark novel. As noted above, this emotional turmoil stems from the bitter enmity and suspicion about the parentage of George and Elizabeth Warleggan's son, Valentine.

In this excerpt, for example, there's a reference to a comment made by Geoffrey Charles, the adolescent son of Elizabeth and her first husband Francis Poldark, killed tragically in a mining accident when Geoffrey Charles was just a boy. Home one summer from school, Geoffrey Charles had flippantly remarked that his young half-brother was "the spot and living image of [Uncle] Ross,” i.e. Ross Poldark, the main character in the saga . . . and Elizabeth's first love before even Francis.

Also mentioned in the excerpt below is Agatha Poldark, Francis' and Ross' great aunt. A spinster well into her nineties, Agatha continued to live at Trenwith House, the Poldark ancestral home, after Elizabeth's marriage to George Warleggan in 1793.

Trenwith, now owned by George, has become the Warleggan's country retreat. It was here that Aunt Agatha died in 1795, four years prior to the events of The Angry Tide. It is also at Trenwith that the following exchange between George and Elizabeth takes place on the stormy evening of December 9, 1799.

George found Elizabeth in her bedroom, whence she had gone after quieting Valentine and talking to him and admiring his painting. George moved around the bedroom for a few moments, picking up one or two things and looking at them and setting them down.

He said casually: "It is good to be in this house again. Having been absent so long one forgets its virtues."

Elizabeth did not reply, but examined a tiny blemish on her face.

George said: "A disagreeable ride and a disagreeable welcome. I fear I lost my temper downstairs."

"There was nothing disagreeable until you made it so."

He turned his head slowly, viewing her with quiet hostility.

"You feel perfectly content that your cousin should be marrying that insolent down-at-heel Methodist?"

"Not happy, no," said Elizabeth. "But before this we attempted to guide her, and perhaps we guided her wrong. Now there is nothing to be done. She is a woman—no longer a girl—and a widow, without ties, except those that her mother-in-law has accepted. We cannot control her, and it is stupid not to admit the fact."

"Stupid," he said. "I see. And is it not stupid of you to have invited her here?"

"I hardly expected you to arrive today."

"And that excuses it?"

"I don't consider any excuse necessary," she said quietly.

"Ah, so that is it."

"Yes . . . that is it."

George recognized the steely sound in Elizabeth's voice which meant that she was willing for once to do battle. He realized that at this moment her anger was greater than his own. His had reached its peak downstairs when he had turned Morwenna out of the house, and was evaporating into a sardonic ill-humor.

. . . He said with a dry laugh: "I have ridden here especially to see you, and we quarrel over two trivial people who concern us very little at all."

"There is one who does concern us both."

"Who is that?"


. . . Elizabeth was sitting at her dressing table in a long flowing robe which hid the child she was bearing, and her slim shoulders and straight back seemed almost girlish as when he had first seen them twenty years ago. The usual mixed emotions struggled within him when he looked at her. She was the only human being who could disturb him in this way.

"I have been—busy—scarce time to eat. I came here to rest. Valentine's prattle—annoys me."

"It is only the prattle of a normal boy. He was vastly upset tonight at being so dismissed."

George did not speak.

"Have you been in to see him since?" Elizabeth asked.


"Then you should."

George's neck stiffened all over again. Another reprimand. Ever since he came in this room everything she said had been a reprimand. As if she were the master. As if hers were the money, the mines, the bank, the properties, the membership of the House, the business connections. It was insufferable! He could have struck her. He could have squeezed her neck between his fingers and silenced her in half a minute.

She turned and half smiled at him. "You should, George."

His feelings broke then, like a wave against the immutable rocks. And the immutability lay in his concern for this woman and what she thought of him.

"Elizabeth," he said harshly. "You know at times I am in torment."

"Because of the thoughtless words of another child?" She was bringing the issue into the open.

"Possibly. Partly. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings . . ."

"So you think Geoffrey Charles in idleness points the truth, while all I have sworn to you before is false?"

He lowered his head like a goaded bull. "One does not always see these things in such precise terms. Let us say at times I have been in torment; and then—then I speak my mind without concern for the courtesies of polite conversation. Then, no doubt, you reflect on the hazards of having married a blacksmith's son."

"I did not say that."

"You said as good as that."

"No, I did not. And if you are in torment, George, how do you think I feel when you come into this house and ride roughshod over everyone and are violent to my cousin and cruel to our son? Our son, George! Our son! No, I do not think I have married a blacksmith's son, I think I have married a man who still carries a terrible weight upon his shoulders, a terrible evil weight of jealousy and suspicion that nothing and nobody can remove! Not anything I say! Not anything I have sworn! Not anything I may do! You will carry this black load for evermore and ruin the rest of our married life with it! . . . If there is to be more to our married life? . . ."

George looked into the darkness of his own soul and knew that she spoke the truth. He collected his temper, struggled with it, strove to put it aside. "Yes, well; we have had all this out before."

"So I had thought."

"It is not a pretty subject. Old Agatha laid a curse upon our marriage, I believe, and—"

"Agatha?" She turned swiftly. "Aunt Agatha? What has she to do with this?"

He brooded a moment."I had not intended ever to tell you . . ."

"I think it is time you told me, whatever there is to tell."

He still hesitated, plucking at his lip. "No matter now."

"Tell me!"

"Well, the night she died she—when I went up to tell her she was only ninety-eight and not a centenarian as she pretended—she turned on me—I believe it was out of spite, out of revenge . . ."

"What did she say?"

"She said that Valentine was not my child."

Elizabeth stared at him, her face bitter.

"So that was where it all came from . . ."

"Yes. Most of it. All of it, I suppose."

"And you believed her? You believed a half-demented old woman?

"She said you had not been married long enough to me to bear the child to its full term."

"Valentine was premature. I fell on the stairs!"

"So you said . . ."

"So I said! You still think, then, in spite of everything I've told you, that I have been living a deliberate lie ever since Valentine was born? That I never fell down the stairs, that I made it all up, to pass off Valentine as your child when he was not! Did Aunt Agatha tell you all that too?"

"No. But that was clearly what she meant. And why should she say anything of the sort?—"

"Because she hated you, George, that is why. She hated you just as much as you hated her! And how could she hate anyone more than you, when you had just ruined her precious birthday celebrations! She would say anything, anything that came into her head to damage you before she died."

"I thought you were fond of her."

"Of course I was!"

"Then why should she say something that might spoil your life just as much as mine?"

"Because hurting you was more important to her than anything else at that moment. It must have been. It was a vile trick of yours to ruin everything for her—"

"No trick! It was the truth!"

"Which no one need have known but for you! If you had come to see me first I would have besought you to say nothing about it. The celebration would have gone off, and everyone would have been happy, and in a few months Aunt Agatha would have passed peaceably away, content with her great triumph. But no! You had to go up and see her and tell her—you had to exact your cheap and petty revenge on her! So she tried to fight back, to hit you back with any weapon she had. And she could see you were happy in your child; this was your great pride, that you had a son, a son to follow you and succeed to all your processions. So she had to try and destroy that. I don't suppose it ever entered her head to consider me—or Valentine. Her one aim was to revenge herself on you! . . . And she did, didn't she? She succeeded!" Elizabeth laughed harshly. "She succeeded more than she could ever have imagined! Ever since then the venom has been working in your veins, and it will go on working till the day you die! What a revenge, George, what a revenge she scored on you, all because of your mean triumph! Every day you've lived since then has been destroyed for you by Aunt Agatha!"

The sweat was standing out on his face. "God damn you, how dare you say anything like that to me! Mean and petty, you call me. Cheap and petty. I'll not suffer such insults!" He turned as if to walk out of the room. "I sought to set things to rights about her age, that was all. Trust a Poldark to be cheating—"

"She didn't know it!"

"I suspect she did." At the door he turned again, came back to the dressing table. "And what you have said to me tonight, Elizabeth—apart from such unforgivable insults—is totally untrue! It is not true that Agatha has poisoned my life ever since she died. Elizabeth, stop laughing!"

Elizabeth had her knuckles to her mouth, trying to control her laughter, the hysteria. She hiccuped, and coughed and laughed again, then retched.

"Are you ill?"

"I think," she said, "I'm going to faint." . . .

– Excerpted from The Angry Tide: A Novel of Cornwall, 1798-1799 (1977)
by Winston Graham
pp. 428-434

UPDATE: Poldark Returns!

Poldark, a new BBC adaptation of Winston Graham's acclaimed novels, premiered March 8, 2015 on BBC One. It has since been broadcast in many other countries. This new adaptation is written by Debbie Horsfield and features (above, from left) Jack Farthing as George Warleggan, Heida Reed as Elizabeth Poldark Warleggan (née Chynoweth), Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark, Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza Poldark (née Carne), Luke Norris as Dr Dwight Enys, Gabriella Wilde as Caroline Penvenen, and (at right) Caroline Blakiston as Agatha Poldark.

For more about the new Poldark, see The Wild Reed posts:
Return of the (Cornish) Native
Poldark: Unfurling in Perfect Form
Thoughts on the PBS Premiere of Poldark
The Renegade Returns
He's Back!

Related Off-site Links:
Graham’s The Angry Tide (Part 1): A Murder Brings a Reprieve – Ellen Moody (Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two, December 5, 2010).
Graham’s The Angry Tide (Part 2): Failure in London; Elizabeth’s Death – Ellen Moody (Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two, December 6, 2010).
Winston Graham’s Memoirs of a Private Man: “An Instinctive Feminist” – Ellen Moody (Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two, November 7, 2010).
Literary Cornwall: Winston Graham and the Poldark NovelsOliver's Cornwall (2013).
Cornwall Hit by Storms, Downpours and Hail as Summer 2013 Comes to a Sudden End – C.M. Josh Barrie (The Cornishman, September 7, 2013).
Precautions as Storm Set to Hit CornwallCornish Guardian (October 27, 2013).
Britain Awaits Worst Storm in Five Years – Sam Jones (The Guardian, October 27, 2013).
Hurricane-Force Winds Batter Britain – Gregory Katz(The Huffington Post, October 28, 2013).

See also the previous Poldark-related Wild Reed posts:
Passion, Time and Tide
A "Useful Marriage" for Morwenna
A Sea Dragon of an Emotion . . . "Causing Half the Trouble of the World, and Half the Joy"
"Hers Would Be the Perpetual Ache of Loss and Loneliness"
Demelza Takes a Chance (Part 1)
Demelza Takes a Chance (Part 2)
Captain Blamey Comes A-Calling
Rendezvous in Truro
Into the Greenwood
"I Want You to Become a Part of Me – Each to Become a Part of the Other"
Time and Remembrance in the Poldark Novels

Image 1: Towering waves crash on to the cliff at Sennen, Cornwall. (Photographer unknown)
Image 2: Waves crash on the harbour at Porthleven, Cornwall, Sunday, October 27, 2013. (Photographer unknown)
Image 3: Storm waves sweep Plymouth, Devon, Sunday, October 27, 2013. (Photo: Plymouth Herald)
Image 4: Waves crash onto the cliffs surrounding Porthleven, Cornwall, Sunday, October 27, 2013. (Photo: Ben Birchall/AP)
Images from the 1975-77 BBC Poldark television series: Eileen May as Aunt Agatha, Ralph Bates as George, and Jill Townsend as Elizabeth.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pope Francis' Understanding of Catholicism: An Orchestra in Which All Can Play!

When I was a little boy growing up in Australia, my introduction to an orchestra was through two things. The first was the Little Golden Book, Animal Orchestra. I loved all the different animals in this orchestra and how they all played so happily together!

The second thing that introduced me to the idea (and actually sounds) of an orchestra was a 45 rpm recording of Danny Kaye's Tubby the Tuba. It's quite a sad little tale at first, as poor Tubby never feels as though he's really listened to or appreciated for who he is by his orchestra. He longs for a melody of his own but is constantly told by the other orchestra members that that's simply not possible.

Then one day a friendly bullfrog helps Tubby get in touch with his own special melody. The next day a kind conductor allows Tubby to play it. The hearts and minds of the other orchestra members are opened and soon they are all playing along. The result is something harmonious, beautiful and new. (But, hey, don't just take my word for it. You can hear for yourself the recording of Tubby the Tuba that my brothers and I listened to by clicking here!).

The pope's orchestra

I was reminded of both Animal Orchestra and Tubby's story when I recently read a commentary by Terence Weldon at his always informative and insightful blog, Queering the Church. In this particular post, Terence shares his thoughts on a Vatican Information Service report on Pope Francis' October 9 general audience address. The pope's central message in this address is that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are eroded by the pursuit of uniformity. Following, with a couple of additional links, is what Terence has to say about this . . .

If the Catholic right has already been surprised by our new pope, following remarks during his in – flight press conference in July, confused by his long September interview with Jesuit magazines, in a state of panic at the thought of the planned extraordinary synod on the family, how will they respond to this?

As part of the catechesis in a general audience, Wednesday October 9th, Pope Francis flatly contradicted a central tenet dearly held by what I think of as rabidly orthotoxic Catholics – those who are convinced that the deposit of faith is precisely defined (in terms exactly matching their own understanding, especially of all matters sexual), that all true Catholics are required to believe and follow absolutely every detail of this deposit as specified in the Catechism, and presented by the Vatican, and that failing to follow these rules, endangers one’s hopes of eternal salvation – and that questioning their validity counts as heresy. For that reason, they believe, it is their solemn religious obligation to correct and rebuke those who differ in their opinions from their own, deeming such rebukes an act of mercy, saving their miserable souls from damnation.

This view of course, ignores the facts, that embedded in the Catechism itself, and in numerous Vatican documents, are numerous references that contradict this narrow view. There is explicit recognition of the importance of conscience, not all elements of teaching are of the same level of importance, and not all require the same degree of assent. A close reading of the Catechism, furthermore, exposes elements that are self – contradictory (especially on matters of human sexuality). In effect, it is impossible for every Catholic to follow meticulously every line of the Catechism, every detail of every Vatican decree, or for every Catholic to interpret and apply these in the same way, as orthotoxic Catholics expect.

So what will they make of the pope’s very clear statement that their expected uniformity, of practice and belief, is simply NOT a mark of Catholicism, after all? Instead, in describing three meanings of the term “Catholic”, he gave the third as inclusive of diversity. Elaborating, he used the image of a symphony orchestra, in which different notes and tone colours of the many different instruments combine in glorious harmony. The challenge for the right is acute: for them it is an article of faith that the pope, guided by God, must be right – so what are they to make of papal pronouncements that contradict their central conviction that Catholicism requires absolute conformity? Or that their own desire to impose uniformity “erodes the gifts of the Holy Spirit”?

It is not clear from the Vatican Information Service report exactly what characteristics he was referring to, but it is likely that he was thinking in terms of practice and belief, rather than demographics – where many measures of diversity are self-evident. LGBT Catholics however, can reasonably take these words to heart as including sexual, gender and family diversity – and certainly, applicable to diversity of interpretation, on Catholic sexual theology.

What Terence says reminds me of the insights of historian Gary Macy, insights I've previously shared at The Wild Reed. Basically, Macy, in his book, Treasures from the Storeroom: Medieval Religion and the Eucharist, reveals the long-held theology within the Church that recognizes and celebrates “each generation of Christians as equally graced by God, each striving to fulfill God’s will as they understand it. Each generation failing, misunderstanding, or succeeding as much as we do [today].”

“If this theological approach is correct,” says Macy, “then the past seems not so much a simple path leading (how reassuring!) right to our doorstep, but rather many paths attempting to find their way to God. Perhaps not surprisingly, seen from this perspective, the past may well be more tolerant of diversity than some scholars have led us to believe.”

Diversity: Our true tradition

According to Macy, “the discovery of such diversity suggests two theological conclusions. First . . . is the well-founded belief that our true tradition is diversity itself.”

“To be tolerant is a substantial part of our better Christian heritage,” insists Macy. Furthermore, “If there was diversity in the past, and that diversity was tolerated, then the best way to truly honor the past is to foster such diversity in the present.”

“Secondly,” continues Macy, “this understanding of the history of Christianity frees us in the present from a tremendous burden. If the past did not lead ineffably to us, then the future does not absolutely depend upon us ‘getting it right’ either (whatever that might mean to different groups). We are surely called to do and live by, to the best of our ability, what we determine to be God’s will (just as those in the past were supposed to do).”

Macy also notes that “in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a truly autocratic notion of Church was propagated with great success and then read back into the rest of Christian Catholic history. [In the] twenty-first century we are still wrestling with this terrifically successful campaign of misinformation.”

Here in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minnesota we have an archbishop, John Nienstedt, very much committed to this “autocratic notion of Church.” The previous pope encouraged such a notion. Not so Francis. Were does that leave prelates like Nienstedt? One thing's for sure, he's still very much opposed to dialogue and diversity. Yet what is the theological basis for such opposition? It’s certainly not reflected in the example of Pope Francis, nor is it to be found in the theology of our forebears, who, as Macy documents, embraced a theological tradition which recognized “each generation of Christians [as being] equally graced by God, [and] striving to fulfill God’s will as they understand it.”

No, the theology that Archbishop Nienstedt and other so-called "traditionalists" embrace is far more narrow, prescriptive, and authoritarian. Macy describes it as the ‘Big Book of Doctrine’ school of theology.

“This strange form of authoritarianism,” says Macy when describing this particular school of theology, “fomented both by the ultra-montanism of the late nineteenth-century papacy and by Enlightenment anti-clericalism, understands Roman Catholicism as fundamentally an attempt to provide the definitive answers to all questions, usually in one ‘big book of doctrine,’ whether it be Thomas’s Summa, Denzinger’s Enchiridion, or lately the Roman Catechism of the Universal Church.”

Of course, I'm well aware that the church is nowhere near as accepting of diversity, and thus the gifts of all, regardless of gender and sexual orientation, as I'd like it to be. But I continue to be pleasantly astounded at how much of what Pope Francis says and does moves things in the right direction.

Related Off-site Links:
From Today's Office: Doctrinal Development is Inevitable – Terence Weldon (Queering the Church, October 11, 2013).
The Pope's Radical Whisper – Frank Bruni (New York Times via The Progressive Catholic Voice, September 22, 2013).
Pope Francis Breathes New Life Into Bernardin's Contested Legacy – David Gibson (Religion News Service via National Catholic Reporter, October 26, 2013).
Conservative Catholics Question Pope Francis' Approach – Michelle Boorstein and Elizabeth Tenety (The Washington Post via The Progressive Catholic Voice, October 15, 2013).
With New Pope, a More Open Church? – Michael O’Loughlin (Religion and Politics, October 15, 2013).
Casual Pope Puts Vatican on Alert with Quips – Nicole Winfield (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, October 9, 2013).
A Big Heart Open to God: An Exclusive Interview with Pope Francis – Antonio Spadaro, S.J. (America, September 30, 2013).
The Pope: How the Church Will Change – Eugenio Scalfari (La Repubblica, October 1, 2013).
Dueling Worldviews – Paula Ruddy (The Progressive Catholic Voice, August 19, 2013).
Pope Francis is Unsettling – and Dividing – the Catholic Right – David Gibson (Religion News Service, August 6, 2013).
It's Time for Real Authority for Women in the Church – Editorial Staff (National Catholic Reporter, October 5, 2013).
The Wounds Will Not Heal If the Teachings Remain the Same – Jamie Manson (National Catholic Reporter, September 25, 2013).

Monday, October 28, 2013

Prayer of the Week

Awaken me to the holy,
to the divinity of all creation;
O, that I might honor the sacredness
of all life!
May all the resentment and bitterness
that live in me be transformed
by your Love.

. . . Yes, guide me into wholeness,
harmony, and balance,
that I may be a peaceful presence.
Let me give witness to your Way,
that others may grow in trust and truth!

O, Great Awakener, open the eyes
and ears of my heart;
let my dormant talents be made known.

. . . May I open myself to change,
to being guided by the Spirit;
may I risk the unknown
and live into the Mystery!

– Excerpted from Psalm 109
as translated by Nan C. Merrill
in Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
There Must Be Balance
Then I Shall Leap Into Love
A Dance of Divine Light
The Soul of a Dancer
Seeking Balance
Sufism: A Call to Awaken

Image: Dancers Pablo Aran Gimeno (front) and Fernando Mendoza Suels in “Iphigenie auf Tauris.” (Photo: Uwe Schinkel)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Time and Remembrance in the Poldark Novels

I've always appreciated and enjoyed the way author Winston Graham highlights and celebrates family bonds and history throughout his Poldark series of novels. Written between 1945 and 2002, the twelve novels that comprise this series are set in Cornwall, England, from 1783 to 1820, and are centered on the lives and loves of two generations of the Poldark family.

Now, here's something I experienced when between April and September of this year I re-read all twelve Poldark novels back-to-back: Because such a long time period is covered, I found that when a character in one of the later books recalled a past event I often experienced a strong sense of kinship with both the character and the event being remembered. After all, I was remembering with them an event – often a pivotal, emotionally-charged event – which, in a sense, I had lived through too when it first took place, perhaps eleven novels previously. And in the world of the Poldark novels, that could mean a quarter-of-a-century ago! Time and remembrance, indeed! A good example of what I mean can be found in the previous Poldark-related Wild Reed post, A Sea Dragon of An Emotion.

The excerpt I share today doesn't quite have the same punch, simply because it's taken from the first Poldark novel. Its focus is on Ross Poldark's thoughts while attending the funeral of his uncle Charles. Although readers of this novel would not have the same degree of shared history with Charles as they would later have with, say, Ross or his wife Demelza in the later novels, they nevertheless would have become familiar enough with Charles's character so as to relate to Ross's musings. And even if you haven't read this particular novel, I'm thinking you've probably had certain experiences that will enable you to relate to the situation in which Ross finds himself; a situation that Winston Graham masterfully, and humorously, conveys.

September of that year [1787] was clouded by the death of Charles. The old man had grunted miserably on all through the summer, and the doctor had given him up a half-dozen times. Then one day, perversely, he collapsed just after Choake had made his most favourable report of the year, and died before he could be re-summoned.

Ross went to the funeral, but neither Elizabeth nor Verity was there, both being ill. The funeral attracted a big attendance both of village and mining people and of the local gentry, for Charles had been looked on as the senior personage of the district and had been generally liked within the limits of his acquaintance.

Cousin William-Alfred took the service and, himself affected by the bereavement, preached a sermon which was widely agreed to be of outstanding quality. Its theme was 'A Man of God.' What did the phrase mean, he asked? It meant to nourish those attributes in which Christ himself had been so conspicuous: truth and honesty, purity of heart, humility, grace and love. How many of us had such qualities? Could we look into our own hearts and see there the qualities necessary to make us men and women of God? A time such as this, when we mourned the passing of a great and good man, was a time for self-inspection and a renewed dedication. It was true to say that in the loss of our dear friend Charles Poldark we marked the passing of a man of God. His way had been upright; he had never spoken an ill word. From him you grew to expect kindness and the courtesy of the true gentleman who knew no evil and looked for none in others. The steady unselfish leadership of a man whose existence was an example to us all.

After William-Alfred had been talking in this vein for five minutes Ross heard a sniff in the pew beside him and saw Mrs Henshawe dabbing unashamedly at her nose. Captain Henshawe too was blinking his blue eyes, and several others wee weeping quietly. Yes, it was a 'beautiful' sermon, tugging at the emotions and conjuring up pictures of greatness and peace. But were they talking about the decent peppery ordinary old man he knew, or had the subject strayed to the story of some saint of the past? Or were there two men being buried under the same name? One perhaps had shown himself to such as Ross, while the other had been reserved for the view of men of deep insight like William-Alfred. Ross tried to remember Charles before he was ill, Charles with his love of cockfighting and his hearty appetite, with his perpetual flatulence and passion for gin, with his occasional generosities and meannesses and faults and virtues, like most men. There was some mistake somewhere. Oh well, this was a special occasion . . . But Charles himself would surely have been amused. Or would he have shed a tear with the rest for the manner of man who had passed away?

– Excerpted from Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787 (1945)
by Winston Graham
pp. 361-362

For previous Poldark-related posts, see:
Passion, Time and Tide
A "Useful Marriage" for Morwenna
"Hers Would Be the Perpetual Ache of Loss and Loneliness"
Demelza Takes a Chance (Part 1)
Demelza Takes a Chance (Part 2)
Captain Blamey Comes A-Calling
Rendezvous in Truro
A Sea Dragon of an Emotion . . . "Causing Half the Trouble of the World, and Half the Joy"
Into the Greenwood
"I Want You to Become a Part of Me – Each to Become a Part of the Other"

Related Off-site Links:
Winston Graham's Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall – Kate Sherrod (Kate of Mind, April 15, 2013).
Teaching Graham’s Ross Poldark: The Pleasures and Uses of Popular Historical Fiction and Romance – Ellen Moody (Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two, April 19, 2011).
The Official Winston Graham and Poldark Website

Opening Image: Four of the twelve Poldark novels atop my mantel piece! – Ross Poldark, Demelza, The Stranger from the Sea, and The Miller's Dance. (Photo: Michael J. Bayly)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Quote of the Day

. . . We trust that even if he is not charged with a crime, Archbishop John C. Nienstedt will step down from the role of Archbishop for which he is not suited. If he were to emerge from the clerical culture, there are many roles in which he could serve admirably.

We trust that after John Nienstedt’s resignation, the Task Force will design and implement a working procedure for removing immature men from the priesthood and putting them in safe environments.

We trust that Pope Francis, as a first step, will instruct his U.S. delegate to seek recommendations from all the people in this archdiocese in replacing the Archbishop. We hope that he will continue that practice in each diocese when appointing leadership for them.

Who knows what other reforms could follow?

– The Editorial Team of The Progressive Catholic Voice
(Paula Ruddy, Mary Beckfeld, and Michael Bayly)
"Can the Archdiocese Continue Under the Leadership
of John C. Nienstedt?
October 20, 2013

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the Unravelment Continues

Related Off-site Links:
Retired Archbishop Harry Flynn Resigns from St. Thomas Trustees – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio, October 19, 2013).
Could Archbishop Nienstedt Face Charges or Lose His Job? – Beth Hawkins (MinnPost, October 14, 2013).
Archdiocese of Wobegon – Grant Gallicho (Commonweal, October 14, 2013).
Under Fire, Archbishop Nienstedt Scrambles to Respond – Jean Hopfensperger (Star Tribune, October 6, 2013).
Minnesota Archdiocese Accused of Withholding Child Porn from Police – Joe Winter (National Catholic Reporter, October 4, 2013).
Archdiocese Hid Hugo Priest's Child Porn Stash, St. Paul Police Say – Emily Gurnon (Pioneer Press, October 4, 2013).
Former Official: Archdiocese Didn't Report Priest's Pornography – Madeleine Baran and Mike Cronin (Minnesota Public Radio, October 4, 2013).
Rev. Peter Laird, Top Deputy of Archdiocese, Resigns – Madeleine Baran and Rupa Shenoy (Minnesota Public Radio, October 3, 2013).
"Trust Your Shepherds" – Rev. Michael Tegeder (The Progressive Catholic Voice, September 26, 2013).
Archdiocese Knew of Priest's Sexual Misbehavior, Yet Kept Him in Ministry – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio, September 23, 2013).

UPDATES: Twin Cities Archdiocese Delays $160 Million Capital Campaign – Tom Scheck (Minnesota Public Radio, October 22, 2013).
Pastor Calls for 'Fresh Start in Leadership' for Catholic Archdiocese Over Sex Abuse Cases – Beth Hawkins (MinnPost, October 22, 2013).
Archdiocese's Priest Pension-Fund Policy Gives Some Abusers Bigger Checks Than Typical Clerical Retirees – Beth Hawkins (MinnPost, October 23, 2013).
Nienstedt Responds: "There Are No Offending Priests in Active Ministry" – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio, October 23, 2013).
October 23, 2013.
My Pledge to Restore Trust – Archbishop John C. Nienstedt (The Catholic Spirit, October 24, 2013).
Archbishop Nienstedt Apologizes to Victims of Clergy Sex Abuse – Beth Hawkins (MinnPost, October 24, 2013).
Catholic Coalition for Church Reform Votes No Confidence in the Leadership of Archbishop John C. NienstedtThe Progressive Catholic Voice (October 24, 2013).
Wide-Ranging Reaction to Nienstedt Apology: Praise, Gratitude – and More Calls for Resignation – Beth Hawkins (MinnPost, October 25, 2013).

Pahá Sápa Adventure

Part 6: Hot Springs, South Dakota

Goodness! Where has the time gone? It's been over two months since I last posted an installment in this series documenting my time in the Black Hills, and almost six months since the trip itself. A brief recap is therefore in order!

In early June I traveled to Pahá Sápa, which is the Lakota (or Sioux) name for that area of North America also known as the Black Hills of South Dakota. Accompanying me on this journey were my friends Kathleen, Joey and Will.

To start at the beginning of The Wild Reed's Pahá Sápa Adventure series, click here. You'll eventually get back to this post!

Alternatively, you can just stay put and check out the historic town of Hot Springs, South Dakota, which Kathleen, Joey, Will and I visited on Tuesday, June 11, 2013.

Above: With Kathleen in Hot Springs, SD.

According to Wikipedia:

The Sioux and Cheyenne people frequented the area, appreciating its warm springs. European settlers arrived in the second half of the nineteenth century. The city, first known as Minnekahta, was renamed in 1882 and a variety of health resorts were built on the basis of the springs.

Hot Springs is one of the warmest places in South Dakota with an annual mean temperature of 48.6 °F (9.2 °C). . . . The city center contains over 35 sandstone buildings and is the home of a 105-year old United States Department of Veterans Affairs hospital (Black Hills Healthcare System - Hot Springs Campus), which was deemed a National Historic Landmark in 2011. The 100-bed center offers extensive outpatient treatment, acute hospital care, PTSD treatment, and an alcohol and drug treatment facility.

Above: Will and Joey shooting some pool in a Hot Springs bar.

Above: The Blue Bison Cafe.

The Blue Bison is located in the historic Holman building, constructed in 1901. According to the cafe's website, the Holman building is the "last of the Richardsonian Romanesque influenced buildings built in Hot Springs." Also, "[one] quality of the building is the well-preserved store front and cast iron columns. The front of the building is of sandstone construction, and the 22 inch thick walls are locally mined flagstone." The side windows are clearly a later addition.

Aside from the Mammoth Site (which we did not get to see), the other major attraction in Hot Springs is Evans Plunge Indoor Pool and Mineral Spa (which we did visit). Evans Plunge has a long and interesting history, one that can be read about in the image above and by clicking here.

Above: Will and Joey walking alongside the Fall River which flows through the center of Hot Springs.

Following the advice of a local shop owner, we drove a short distance out of Hot Springs to the beautiful area pictured above and below.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Pahá Sápa Bound
Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 1: The Journey Begins
Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 2: The Badlands
Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 3: Camp Life
Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 4: "The Heart of Everything That Is"
Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 5: "I Will Return to You in the Stone"

Saturday, October 19, 2013

I Knew It!

This is Eddie. He's what his primary human companions and I call "the wonder dog." He's a very sweet and intelligent creature, and I feel very fortunate to have him and two other dogs – Quinn and Charlie – in my life.

Left: With Quinn and Eddie – March 2011.

Since first getting to know each other about four years ago, the three dogs and I have developed a very special bond. Friends have observed and remarked on this, and on the different ways the dogs express it. For instance, whenever I visit the home of my friends where the three dogs live, Quinn makes a special bark made at no other time. And Eddie always expresses a sorrowful whimper and follows me to the door whenever I leave to go home.

I've mentioned previously that I believe we are in the midst of a major paradigm shift. At its root, this shift is an expansion in consciousness, in the way we as humans relate to ourselves, to one another, and to all aspects of creation. As a spiritual seeker, I believe that it is Sacred Mystery, the loving and transforming presence at the heart of all, that is awakening us to this shift and sustaining us in our efforts to embody it – individually and collective – in all our actions of body, speech, and mind.

Our embodiment of such actions are changing the way we think about and relate to non-human animals. Of course, this change has been taking place for years, but lately it's been getting some, shall we say, "mainstream" attention. For instance, journalist Mark Bekoff recently spoke to Psychology Today contributor and Emory University neuroeconomics professor Gregory Berns about the findings from a unique research project that Berns initiated called the Dog Project. Berns shares these findings in more detail in a recent essay in the New York Times called "Dogs Are People, Too" and in his new book, How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain (New Harvest, 2013). The gist of Bern's findings is that in terms of emotions, dogs and humans show striking similarities – something that's not in the least bit surprising to me! (Hence the title of this post!)

Following are some of Mark Bekoff's thoughts after interviewing Professor Gregory Berns.

A paradigm shift is in the works. We can no longer hide from the scientific evidence. All in all, dogs and humans show striking similarities in the activity of an important brain region called the caudate nucleus. So, do dogs love us and miss us when we're gone? The data strongly suggest they do. And, those data can further move humanity away from simplistic, reductionist, behaviorist explanations of animal behavior and animal emotions and also be used to protect dogs and other animals from being abused. Right now, animals are legally considered to be property, just like a backpack or bicycle.

To quote Professor Berns: "But now, by using the MRI to push away the limitations of behaviorism, we can no longer hide from the evidence. Dogs, and probably many other animals, especially our closest primate relatives, seem to have emotions just like us. And this means we must reconsider their treatment as property. . . . Perhaps someday we may see a case arguing for a dog's rights based on brain-imaging findings." I'm sure society will as these data greatly expand what people know about the minds of other animals.

I'd argue that Berns could have made a stronger statement and not used the phrase "seem to," because available data clearly show that many other animals have very rich and deep emotional lives and that the question at hand is why did emotions evolve — and what are they good for — rather than if they've evolved. Furthermore, while some critics of Berns's work feel that he is suggesting that prior to his studies researchers didn't really know if other animals were smart and emotional beings, this is not so. He hasn't "reinvented the wheel" so to speak, and never suggested that he has. However, he has, indeed, expanded the methods by which scientists can access the minds of other animals, and this is an important move.

Another important question needs to be addressed: Are the emotional lives of other animals exactly the same as those of humans? Scientists really don't know, and that isn't an important issue: Different people experience joy and grief differently, for example, but we don't say that if those emotions differ then one person feels something and the other doesn't. My sisters and I responded to, and grieved, the death of our parents rather differently, however we all felt deep grief at their passing. Similarly, dogs and other animals surely show individual differences in how they experience various emotions and this also is an intriguing area for future research, a point I emphasized in my books The Emotional Lives of Animals (New World Library, 2008) and, with Jessica Pierce, Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

Move over B F. Skinner and those who defy and deny what scientists know by continuing to claim that people who say that other animals have rich and deep emotional lives are being overly sentimental and "soft", anthropomorphic and non-scientific. They're wrong.

– Mark Bekoff
"Scans Reveal Striking Similarity Between Human and Canine Minds"
October 14, 2013

Above: Eddie and Phil.

Related Off-site Links:
Stages of Cosmic Consciousness – Mary Conrow Coelo (, October 20, 2013).
Animal Emotions: Do Animals Think and Feel? – Writings of Marc Bekoff (Psychology Today).
Seven Ways Animals Are Like Humans – Stephanie Pappas (, November 15, 2012).
Do Plants Feel Pain? – Tony Leather (
No Face, But Plants Like Life Too – Carol Kaesuk Yoon (New York Times, March 14, 2011).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Photo(s) of the Day – December 7, 2012
Photo of the Day – May 24, 2011
Out and About – Autumn 2012
Out and About – Spring 2013
Photo of the Day – March 23, 2011
Threshold Musings

Right: With Charlie, October 2012.

Images: Michael J. Bayly and Philip Jacquet-Morrison.