A July 4th Reflection – “something more than common”

Weems “Life of Washington”

In 1861 the newly elected 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, was slowly making his way from Springfield, MO to the nation’s capital. On this journey Mr. Lincoln stopped at various points to make speeches to the people who came to wish him well (or ill – he only received 39.8% of the popular vote in the previous November’s four way race.

Here are his words spoken to the New Jersey State Senate in Trenton on February 21, 1861:

Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Senate of the State of New-Jersey: I am very grateful to you for the honorable reception of which I have been the object. I cannot but remember the place that New-Jersey holds in our early history. In the early Revolutionary struggle, few of the States among the old Thirteen had more of the battle-fields of the country within their limits than old New-Jersey. May I be pardoned if, upon this occasion, I mention that away back in my childhood, the earliest days of my being able to read, I got hold of a small book, such a one as few of the younger members have ever seen, “Weem’s Life of Washington.” I remember all the accounts there given of the battle fields and struggles for the liberties of the country, and none fixed themselves upon my imagination so deeply as the struggle here at Trenton, New-Jersey. The crossing of the river; the contest with the Hessians; the great hardships endured at that time, all fixed themselves on my memory more than any single revolutionary event; and you all know, for you have all been boys, how these early impressions last longer than any others. I recollect thinking then, boy even though I was, that there must have been something more than common that those men struggled for; that something even more than National Independence; that something that held out a great promise to all the people of the world to all time to come; I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated in accordance with the original idea for which that struggle was made, and I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle. You give me this reception, as I understand, without distinction of party. I learn that this body is composed of a majority of gentlemen who, in the exercise of their best judgment in the choice of a Chief Magistrate, did not think I was the man. I understand, nevertheless, that they came forward here to greet me as the constitutional President of the United States — as citizens of the United States, to meet the man who, for the time being, is the representative man of the nation, united by a purpose to perpetuate the Union and liberties of the people. As such, I accept this reception more gratefully than I could do did I believe it was tendered to me as an individual.

There is much to ponder in Lincoln’s address to the New Jersey Senate, especially in these days of turmoil and divisiveness in our land and in the world. How gracious are his words when compared to the frequent bombast we are subjected to from podiums, Twitter screens and news outlets. But I would focus our thoughts on the oft quoted lines:

“there must have been something more than common that those men struggled for; that something even more than National Independence; that something that held out a great promise to all the people of the world to all time to come; I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated in accordance with the original idea for which that struggle was made, and I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle.”

A Happy and Blessed Fourth of July to All!

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What will remain?

Poems from a Diary

1974

Who will last? And what? The wind will stay, 
and the blind man's blindness when he's gone away,
and a thread of foam - a sign of the sea -
and a bit of cloud snarled in a tree.
 
Who will last? And what? A word as green 
as Genesis, making grasses grow. 
And what the prideful rose might mean, 
Seven of those grasses know.
 
Of all that northflung starry stuff, 
the star descended in the tear will last. 
In its jar, a drop of wine stands fast. 
Who lasts? God abides - isn't that enough? 

Abraham Sutzkever

In these uncertain times the question often comes to mind, “What will remain?”. I learned of this poem and poet only recently in a podcast from Tikvah’s The Stories Jews Tell by Ruth Wisse. The life story of the yiddish poet Abraham Sutzkever is an amazing tale in itself. Enduring the brutal Nazi occupation of the Vilna ghetto in 1943 and surviving to testify at the Nuremburg trials against the murderer of his mother and newborn son; ultimately arriving in British Mandate Palestine shortly before the birth of the state of Israel.

One may imagine out of such an experience the poet could have produced a more nihilistic view as other survivors of the holocaust had. For those whose lives are being shattered and destroyed in Ukraine our enduring inflation with its high gasoline prices and mortgage rates and impending recession may seem of small consequence. The world I knew over the past fifty years is indeed falling apart, and I ask myself “What will remain of the world I knew?”. Faith, hope, and love – as St. Paul reminds us (1 Cor 13), will always remain, and the greatest of these is love.

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Remembering with Gratitude and Sorrow

Amid the aftermath of the most recent episodes of civilian slaughter we come to our National Day of Remembrance for the lives given in service to our country. With so few in America now serving in the armed forces, and with the ignominious end to our long military engagement in Afghanistan only months behind us, we may not be in a mood to give much thought to this day.

So, let us try on this day to find a few moments in which we may pause and give thanks for all the sacrifices made on our behalf by those we may never know. The sorrow of their families whose losses are immeasurable is heartbreaking. And so is the sorrow we feel for the current state of America. May God grant us repentance for our sins and healing for our sin sick land. God have mercy.

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Spring Newsletter – Reflections on Sophocles’ Antigone & Changes Ahead…

We are celebrating this Easter season of Resurrection by offering to all who stop by our dusty corner of the internet the complimentary downloadable MP3 audio file of Gil Bailie’s Reflections on Sophocles’ Antigone. Follow the link below to download a complimentary copy of Part One. In this first part of the series Gil shows how Sophocles expands the horizon of the play from what appears to be a conflict between duty to the state and duty to god to include the vast scope of human endeavor whose only limit is our mortality. Sophocles is asking his 5th century BC audience what it means to be human.

There exists a gospel/musical rendition of Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus featuring Morgan Freeman and the Blind Boys of Alabama. The original play was written at the end of Sophocles’ life and only performed after his death. The musical is a late 20th century AD update on the story that I believe those interested in our work will enjoy. A video recording of the entire performance is posted on YouTube. The player below starts at the point in the play where the specific choral ode from Sophocles’ Antigone which Gil highlights in his talk has been incorporated into the later work. I’ve also linked to an online English translation of the Greek text. It would be best to listen to Gil’s unpacking of the main elements in this story first. Enjoy!



As an added perspective on humanity’s mortality, our 21st century technological world manifests still more wonders than Sophocles could ever have imagined, even challenging our mortal limit by proposing a vision of a deathless disembodied existence in some metaverse – while, at the same time, scenes from the war in Ukraine, along with drug overdose deaths of despair, and shootings in our cities (not to mention the continuing COVID plague) underscore death’s continuing limit to human endeavor, presumption and pride. God help us!


Changes coming down the road…

I have been making noises about finding younger and more competent hands to guide this work for a few years. Now into my seventh decade it is time to welcome new talent and energy even as I remain enthusiastic about the work Gil Bailie has done and continues to do. These days I am less able to keep up with the rapid changes in our primary means of disseminating that work via the internet. Over the course of this year, I will be working with our board to bring into our small enterprise new hands to keep the plates spinning. At the same time, we will also be giving our website a complete overhaul. It has been seven years since our current website was published, and while it still functions, it has become less friendly for sharing our work on social media sites.

Additionally, we are coming to the end of the project begun in 2009 to bring all of Gil Bailie’s audio materials into the digital age. With the completion of Reflections on Sophocles’ Antigone and Reflections on Homer’s Iliad later this year we hope to focus on providing Gil Bailie’s audio presentations as free podcasts and downloadable audio files rather than items on our store. We will still retain the opportunity for those who find our work of value to support us through donations, but we will no longer be selling items on our store. This will also greatly simplify work required in the business office. This also means that we will not be selling CD versions of Gil’s presentations. However, once I have mailed out the last CD copies of the Sophocles’ Antigone and Homer’s Iliad series later this year, we will continue to offer CD versions from Gil’s audio catalog to all who materially support our efforts.

Our hope is that with a redesigned website and fresh hands on the tiller the work of launching and promoting Gil’s new book, to be published by Angelico Press early next year, will be facilitated. If possible, as a bonus, we will attempt to have audio book versions of the new book as well as God’s Gamble available by the release date. This is very ambitious, I know! But with God’s help and yours we will try our best to make it happen.

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Secularized Messianism

In the middle of the last century, Hans Urs von Balthasar worried that the West was “preparing highly developed civilizations for a degenerate materialistic and nihilistic form of Western thought, which expresses the resentments of the inventors of this secularized Messianism.”
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The Quieting of Mary with the Resurrected One

What they felt then: is it not
above all other mysteries the sweetest
and yet still earthly:
when he, pale from the grave,
his burdens laid down, went to her:
risen in all places.
Oh, first to her. How they
inexpressibly began to heal.
Yes heal: that simple. They felt no need
to touch each other strongly.
He placed his hand, which next
would be eternal, for scarcely
a second on her womanly shoulder.
And they began
quietly as trees in spring
in infinite simultaneity
their season
of ultimate communing.

Rainer Maria Rilke
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Pascha – Death is not the end

It may be difficult for denizens of the 21st century to appreciate the hopelessness felt in the presence of death by their distant ancestors prior to the experience of that first Easter in Roman occupied Judea circa 30 BCE. Among the Jews of that period there were disagreements about whether a righteous person after death could expect to be resurrected on the day of judgement or not.  The Hebrew concept of Sheol never was well explicated. In any case, Sheol was not a place where a living person might wish to end up. Except for followers of the Zohar, among the traditions of the Jews much more emphasis had been given to the ethical implications of the tree of knowledge than the metaphysical implications of the tree of life in humanity’s Edenic home. Having seen the gruesome execution of Jesus, his disciples clearly did not expect their Lord’s returning to life. They had witnessed Jesus calling Lazarus out of the tomb. But Jesus was now dead and, in their eyes, there was no one who could raise him from the tomb. Hopeless, they cowered behind locked doors fearing that they might be the next to be arrested and tortured by either the Romans or the mobs of Jerusalem.

One of the most powerful proofs of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection is the change that came over his disciples in the days following the discovery of the empty tomb on Easter morning. From fearful and hiding to fearless and openly proclaiming Jesus as Lord on Pentecost the disciples with the help of Paul of Tarsus began to spread the gospel around the world.

When Jesus, in agony nailed to his cross, spoke to the thief dying on his cross, “today you will be with me in paradise”, Our Lord opened for us the way of hope through repentance into the boundless mercy of God, leading us back to the tree of eternal life.

In the sad statistics about the dramatic increase in drug overdose deaths and suicides over the past years, perhaps it is not hard to understand the hopelessness our contemporaries experience as our culture, especially in the West, rejects its Christian heritage. Desperately seeking a material solution for a spiritual problem, we are offered….what? A deathless existence in some kind of silicon based metaverse? It is not surprising that many end up in despair. God help us.

We began this paschal journey 40 days ago on Ash Wednesday. I offered then a song of the late Leonard Cohen, who was a sort of Hebrew prophet to our age. Today I turn again to another contemporary Hebrew prophet, Bob Dylan:

Death Is Not the End

When you’re sad and when you’re lonely
And you haven’t got a friend
Just remember that death is not the end
And all that you’ve held sacred
Falls down and does not mend
Just remember that death is not the end
Not the end, not the end
Just remember that death is not the end

When you’re standing at the crossroads
That you cannot comprehend
Just remember that death is not the end
And all your dreams have vanished
And you don’t know what’s up the bend
Just remember that death is not the end
Not the end, not the end
Just remember that death is not the end

When the storm clouds gather ’round you
And heavy rains descend
Just remember that death is not the end
And there’s no one there to comfort you
With a helpin’ hand to lend
Just remember that death is not the end
Not the end, not the end
Just remember that death is not the end

Oh, the tree of life is growing
Where the spirit never dies
And the bright light of salvation shines
In dark and empty skies

When the cities are on fire
With the burning flesh of men
Just remember that death is not the end
And you search in vain to find
Just one law-abiding citizen
Just remember that death is not the end
Not the end, not the end
Just remember that death is not the end

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A Glimpse of Paradise…

One of the most glorious sights in the world is a wide, beaming smile of someone who has a missing front tooth. It is a glimpse of the human condition, both fallen and redeemed. The only lasting crown is a crown of thorns.
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The deritualization of social life …

“The deritualization of social life invites struggles for power. Far from being an enlightening process, the destruction of ritual in Western culture is a major symptom of its demonic character, opening up the possibility of some persons feeding themselves on the destruction of others. Here, indeed, sex and politics converge in anti-credal movement, a convulsive fury of systematic destruction at once sexual and technological.”
– Philip Rieff
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Faith has set its mark on history…

Hans Urs von Balthasar

Hans Urs von Balthasar, quoting Reinhold Schneider: “Faith has set it mark on history to such an extent that man has no longer any other choice than that of being a servant or an enemy of the faith, one cannot fail to see “that everyone who hates is a servant of what he hates. The foes bear a testimony that is no less weighty than that of the adherents…faith triumphs even on the funeral pyre of mockery.”

Reinhold Schneider

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