Still Let Me Love

’Tis time this heart should be unmoved,
Since others it hath ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
Still let me love!

~Lord Byron, from On This The Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year

George Gordon, later to be known as Lord Byron was born on this day, January 22nd in 1788. He composed a poem on his 36th birthday which was to become a eulogy: He died only a few weeks later on April 19th. Lord Bryon shares a strange kinship with Marilyn Monroe who also died at 36. Like Marilyn, his mesmerizing face, riotous living, many love affairs, and tragic death has made him a romantic, fascinating figure. His mystique was so iconic that even today, an alluringly dark, mysterious, and moody man is said to be Byronic. 

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Crying Out For Barabbas

185900George Orwell died on this day, January 21st in 1950.  He wrote his masterwork 1984 in 1948 (yes – he merely flipped the last two years as a nod to “where things are headed.”) The book enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in recent years as the current political environment in the United States and other Western countries seemed to flirt more and more with totalitarianism. Many see similarities to Orwell’s view of a government-controlled by “Big Brother.”

In the book he said

“Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.”

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Martin Luther King Jr.

Racism is not new, nor will it be eradicated in this age.  The inherent belief that one race is superior to another is rooted in the worse kind of idolatry.  It’s all a world of double standards, and they are a fearful thing. They allow you to hold diametrically aligned but contrasting views in the cradle of your mind with no moral angst whatsoever. It takes children a while to get the hang of it, but not long. The problem, of course, is that we all are guilty and remedy requires a hard lonesome fight against the resolute crowd.

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Between Hopes and Heaven

Edgar Allan Poe was born on this day, January 19th in 1809.  He is a master of macabre, but no tale is more unsettling than William Wilson. It is the story of a man haunted since his youth by a double who shares his name, his size, his features, and even his birthday. Intimate rivals as schoolboys, the two Wilsons part ways, but the narrator finds, as he leads a life of cruelty and extravagant debauchery across Europe, that his double appears again and again at his side to remind him of his nature in low, insinuating whispers. When, finally, the narrator is driven to murder his twin, he finds that he has murdered himself. In a further blurring of identity, the Wilsons share their birthday with their creator, Edgar Allan Poe.

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Zen Is Not Enough

Ernest Hemingway defined courage as “grace under pressure”, but I don’t think that goes far enough. It’s insufficient to achieve zen-like tranquility of inner equilibrium in the midst of outer chaos. For that, a lobotomy will do just fine. Being able to stay calm only gets you so far.

The church celebrates the Confession of St Peter on this day, January 18th as a remembrance of Peter’s bold statement to Jesus “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15).  It’s important to remember that much was still ahead of Peter.  It was fear that later caused him to deny Christ and remorse consumed him afterward, but it was his love for Jesus that led him to a life of bold leadership, ultimately resulting in his martyrdom.

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The Road To Character by David Brooks

9780812993257Who will officiate your funeral?  If you died today, is there someone on the planet who actually knows you well enough to describe not only the biographical you, but the real you – or more so, the best you?  In his masterful book, The Road to Character, David Brooks describes these as eulogy virtues.  We all want to be better people, but what does that mean?

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Battling The Devil

It has never been easy to be a teenager. Crossing the border from childhood to adulthood comes with an assortment of demons and when you are thirteen-year-old Michelangelo, the experience comes out in paint. That’s right, he was thirteen when he painted The Torment of Saint Anthony.

The church celebrates Saint Anthony today (January 17) and his life was instructive. He inherited wealth from his parents at age twenty but gave it all away to live in simplicity and solitude, devoting himself to contemplation and prayer. He is known for being the father of monasticism and for his ability to battle the devil against temptations of every stripe.

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Speaking in Silence

Susan Sontag was born on this day, January 16th in 1933. In her book The Aesthetics of Silence she said

Every era has to reinvent the project of “spirituality” for itself (Spirituality = plans, terminologies, ideas of deportment aimed at the resolution of painful structural contradictions inherent in the human situation, at the completion of human consciousness, at transcendence.) In the modern era, one of the most active metaphors for the spiritual project is “art.” …The art of our time is noisy with appeals for silence. A coquettish, even cheerful nihilism. One recognizes the imperative of silence but goes on speaking anyway.

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Quartet For The End Of Time

On this day, January 15th in 1941, something of a miracle took place.  Olivier Messiaen was a prisoner of war under Nazi Germany and was held in Stalag 8A at Görlitz in Silesia, about fifty miles east of Dresden. Here he suffered extremes of cold and hunger, but here also his musical imagination was fired, and a masterpiece born.

As Jeremy Begbie describes in his book Resounding Truth:

In the camp with him were a violinist, a clarinetist, and a cellist—all highly competent and experienced players. The first rehearsal of an emerging quartet took place in one of the barrack washrooms, where in the absence of a piano, they could play only through a movement for violin, clarinet, and cello. The first performance of the complete Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time) on January 15, 1941, is one of the great stories of modern music: for nearly an hour, hundreds of prisoners and soldiers sat in Barrack 27B in the depths of a subzero winter, the wounded lying on stretchers at the front of the audience. They listened to the four performers, the composer in wooden clogs struggling with a run-down, out-of-tune upright piano. As one of the players later recalled, the music seemed to transfigure the misery of Stalag 8A “into something sublime.” The composer himself remarked that he had “never … been listened to with such consideration and understanding.”

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Distortions Of Meaning

The master of wordplay, Lewis Carroll died on this day, January 14th in 1898. He introduced us to Wonderland and it seems we are now a bit lost in it. As with Carroll’s tale, communication, and our collective conversation is today handicapped by the discounting and rebranding of words.  When “spiritual” is good but “religious” is bad, we might think it sick or dope, and we might be right. No wait, that’s wrong. What?

“‎You’re not the same as you were before,” he said. You were much more… muchier… you’ve lost your muchness.”

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