My Lenten Journey with Dante, Augustine, and Samwise

David Russell Mosley

botticelli-augustine

Lent
24 February 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

It’s been a while since I’ve written, I apologize. Early in January I got asked to teach an extra class for Johnson University, one developed by someone else, and I’ve been snowed in by homework ever since. I have finally caught up, however, and am now waiting for my students to turn in their final projects, a research paper on the Apostles’ Creed, this Sunday. While I probably should be working on my conference paper for the NEMAAR in April, or either of the two books I have coming out, I thought I would stop to write a little something about Lent.

A little over a month ago I wrote about trying to return to a life of pilgrimage. While Lent is an excellent time to engage in the journeying nature of the faith, I admit to having struggled with it a bit. My Lenten fasts have been going OK, but I have this sense that this Lent could be particularly transformative for me, if I only allow it. It was, therefore, rather providential that I came across “First Steps, Brancaster” by poet Malcolm Guite. Guite’s poem, while set in Winter, hit me on day when the weather was warm and I was sitting outside. Sadly, it has gotten colder again, it even snowed last night. Nevertheless, read this stanza:

This is the day to leave the dark behind you

Take the adventure, step beyond the hearth,

Shake off at last the shackles that confined you,

And find the courage for the forward path.

You yearned for freedom through the long night watches,

The day has come and you are free to choose,

Now is your time and season.

Companioned still by your familiar crutches,

And leaning on the props you hope to lose,

You step outside and widen your horizon.

This season, Lent, this day, is when I begin the first steps of my journey. I am moving forward, limping, but heading forward nevertheless. I have not only my crutches but my guides. This Lent I am reading several books that I think will help me as they are themselves stories of journeys, quests, and pilgrimages. As I wrote to you in my letter on pilgrimage, I am still reading Dante’s Divine Comedy. Just yesterday I left the ante-room of Purgatory with Virgil and the Pilgrim. Later today I will enter the garden of Eden with them working my way ever closer to the Beatific Vision, or at least whatever glimpses I can get of it this side of the parousia. I am also reading Augustine’s Confessions journeying with him into the depths of my soul, into the depths of my sin, so I can come out of the muck and mire of my sinfulness and reach up and be raised up to the Trinity. Lastly, I’m re-reading The Lord of the Rings, which I read every year. I am joining Frodo, Sam, and the others on a journey to see new beauties and face new horrors in the hope that when I return home, should I return home, I will not return the same.

I hope this Lent will be transformative for me, but even more, I hope it will be transformative for you.

Sincerely,

David

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What I’m Reading II: Mary, Aquinas, the Devil, Snape, and the Birth of Narnia

David Russell Mosley

Lent
St Polycarp
23 February 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Well, as often happens, the books I read have changed since the last time I updated you on what I’m reading. Here’s the new list.

Handmaid of the Lord by Adrienne von Speyr

Speyr is a new author for me. I’ve read so much about her in the works of Stratford Caldecott. She’s a Catholic Convert and a mystic whose confessor was Hans Urs von Balthasar, another person whose had a profound impact on me. This book is a series of reflections on the Virgin Mary. I’m not very far in since I’m just reading a chapter a day for Lent. Already there is some real beauty in the way she expresses herself and describes the Mother of our Lord, but there are some parts I struggle with. I love Mary, and covet her prayers, but I am not settled on some of the titles ascribed to her, like Mediatrix. This will be a profound and provocative read for me, challenging both my Protestant presuppositions, and my Catholic leanings.

The Prayers and Hymns of St Thomas Aquinas by Thomas Aquinas 

I started looking for something like this when I first came across the prayer for Scholars by Thomas Aquinas. So I was quite pleased when I found a Latin and English edition of some of the prayers and songs of the angelic doctor. This book is fairly simple, each prayer is in Latin on one page and English on the adjacent. The prayers themselves are beautiful and the editors have laid them out like poetry. I’ve also been using this text in my Lenten devotions. I have decided to say one prayer a day for each day in Lent, first in English and then again in Latin.

On the Fall of the Devil by Anselm

I’ve been enjoying my reading of Anselm. It was great to read the Monologion and the Proslogion together, something I’d never done before. I haven’t started reading this one yet, but it comes in a little semi-related trilogy with On Truth and On the Free Will. Anselm’s dialogs are masterful and I look forward to reading this one as well.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

How many times have I read this book? Multiple times a year since it came out; so some might say too many. Still, I love the Harry Potter series. It has its flaws, Rowling is not the theologian that say Lewis, Tolkien, Sayers, Chesterton, or O’Connor are. Even in presenting a world that is meant, in some ways, to be Faërie, yet it is plagued with all the same problems our world is. Nevertheless, this story of hope and salvation is one that I am constantly drawn to. Half-Blood Prince is in weird place for me. Order of the Phoenix is somewhat of transitional book. In the previous four it’s all about keeping Voldemort from coming back or fighting against his effects (Tom Riddle from the diary, Peter Pettigrew, or Death Eater at Hogwarts). Then, once he returns at the end of Goblet of Fire each book is about defeating him outright, but Order of the Phoenix is only the beginning of that story and is the beginning of the darkness. Therefore, Half-Blood Prince sees the real preparation of Harry by Dumbledore for ultimately defeating Voldemort. This can make it feel like its simply build-up for book 7. The first three are absolutely stand-alones, most of book 4 is as well. This book cannot stand on its own. It is pure preparation for the final battle.

The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis

I’ve decided to read Lewis’s books in the order he wrote them, roughly. This means I’m finishing with The Magician’s Nephew. It’s a really interesting experience. In The Last Battle, we see the end of Narnia, or the shadowlands Narnia anyway. Now, however, after Narnia’s death, I get to visit Narnia one last time. I get to visit it at the very beginning. In a way, it feels like reading Genesis after reading Revelation. Doing that would change how one reads Genesis, for the better, I think. However, at least as regards Narnia, I think you can or should only do this after you’ve read the books once before. Getting them in intended order first allows for one to then read them in a new order and see how that changes one’s perspective from the original reading.

Anyway, this is what I’m reading now. What are you reading?

Sincerely yours,
David

Lenten Activities in 2015

David Russell Mosley


Ordinary Time
17 February 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Lent is nearly upon us again. While both Advent and Lent are times of fasting, Lent feels very different from Advent. Part of that probably has to do with how our culture deals with Christmas and Easter. Christmas is more deeply rooted in our culture, with more common customs and rituals. This plays out into Advent as we buy Advent calendars, begin singing Christmas carols and other wintry songs. What Easter and Lenten customs there are and have been are less firmly rooted in our cultural consciousness. Sure we have candies and flowers (though candies are typically off limits in Lent). We have few Easter songs that everyone knows, the way they might “Joy to the World” or “What Child Is This?” or “Silent Night”. But there’s something more. Advent leads us to a simply joyous event: the birth of Christ. What pain there is in childbirth is quickly overcome once the child is here. In Lent, however, not only is our focus in part on our sinfulness, but also on the Light having gone out of the world. We aren’t Mary awaiting the birth of the Lord, but Israel awaiting the end of the dessert wandering. Equally, rather than passing through labour, we must pass through the grave (and quite probably Hell) before we can reach the celebration of Easter. However, this ought to make Easter all the more joyous for us, for in it is bound up all the pain and suffering of life in this fallen cosmos.

As I said, Lent is a time of fasting. Now traditionally, this is a food and drink fast. That is, people fasted typically from various meats, flour, butter, sugar, oils, alcohol, etc. I still hope to do a proper Lenten fast in this fashion someday. However, this year is not that year. Instead, I am fasting from most social media, primarily Facebook and Twitter (don’t worry, I’ll still be writing here). I will also be fasting from iPhone games. I tend to get rather addicted to these games, so I thought it appropriate to give them up. I’m also giving up sweets this Lent. I have an insatiable sweet tooth and little self-control. So, no more sweets for me. Sundays in Lent are feast days, though typically it is a complete feast since you’ve typically gotten rid of all your flour, butter, etc. Nevertheless, I will be indulging in some sweets on Sundays, but still not social media or phone games.

Another plan I have for this lent is to get more disciplined in my prayer life. I’m typically fairly good at getting Morning and Evening prayer in most days. But I want to do better. I also want to add a few more set times of prayer. So, some time in the midmorning, I plan to pray the Rosary; in the early afternoon, I will say a prayer from The Prayers and Hymns of Thomas Aquinas.

The final thing I’ve decided to do for Lent is to read some spiritual books I’ve never read before. I may add more as I finish the two I’ve set myself. The two books I’ve already planned to read are The Handmaid of the Lord by Adrienne von Speyr and The Cloud of Unknowing by an unknown Englishman in the late fourteenth century. I chose von Speyr’s book because she is a relatively contemporary mystic who saw many visions. She was also heavily influenced by her confessor Hans Urs von Balthasar. I chose the second as my ancient/medieval read. I know very little about it and look forward to learning more.

So, what are you doing this Lent? How are you preparing yourselves for the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour? Are you giving anything specific up, taking anything specific up, or reading anything in particular? Do let me know.

Sincerely yours,
David

A Guide to Knowing Your Saints: St Patrick

st_patrick

Dear Friends and Family,

Today many people will be putting on massive amounts of green, buying Guinness, or some other beer that is or has been made to look green, will put on some Flogging Molly, the Dubliners, the Irish Rovers, or the Dropkick Murpheys and will get completely hammered celebrating what they’ve come to call St Paddy’s Day, the day for celebrating all things “Irish”. There are so many problems with this.

I could give you a detailed (or perhaps rather vague) history of who St Patrick was (below you’ll see a video giving you some background on our understanding of Patrick today). Instead I just want to focus on a two key aspects.

Patrick was not Irish

We forget this all the time, but Patrick was born and raised in Britain some time in the fifth century. He may have been part Roman and part Briton, but he was certainly not at all Irish. I’m not saying that St Patrick’s day should not include a celebration of positive aspects of Irish culture, but it isn’t an occasion to wear so much green (or orange if you’re supporting the Northern Irish) it’s offensive and to dwell purely on Irish stereotypes. It ought to be a day of reflection on how one man, even if only in myth, could have such an impact on an island as to have his death remembered.

Patrick was a Christian

Somewhere along the line this has been forgotten. Patrick was a monk who, earlier in life, had been taken as a slave to Ireland and later in life returned as a priest and monk to spread the news of Jesus Christ. He potentially combatted heretical Christians and antagonistic pagans to show them that the God of Jesus Christ is the true God and that Christ is his Son and the Spirit is his Spirit; that each is a person and yet is still one God. Today ought to be a celebration of a life of devotion to Jesus Christ. Yes, let’s celebrate (this should be no solemn affair), but remember what it is we are celebrating: the spreading of the good news of Jesus Christ.

I recommend you check out my friend Peter’s post from last year: St. Patrick’s Day.

Let me leave with a video on St Patrick from Thomas O’Loughlin and a passage from Patrick’s Confession.

From his Confession Part II, 16 on his learning to pray:

But after I had come to Ireland,
it was then that I was made to shepherd the flocks day after day,
and, as I did so, I would pray all the time, right through the day.
More and more the love of God and fear of him grew strong within me,
and as my faith grew, so the Spirit became more and more active,
so that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers,
and at night only slightly less.
Although I might be staying in a forest or out on a mountainside,
it would be the same;
even before dawn broke, I would be aroused to pray.
In snow, in frost, in rain,
I would hardly notice any discomfort,
and I was never slack but always full of energy.
It is clear to me now, that this was due to the fervor of the Spirit within me.

May we all find ourselves so filled with the fervor of the Spirit.

Yours,
David

Lent: The Light Has Gone out of the World

Dear Friends and Family,

We’re just over half-way through Lent and I’ve realised I didn’t do a post about it. There is a lot I could tell you about the history of Lent; how it started as a forty-hour fast before Easter to symbolise the time Christ spent in the tomb and then evolved into forty days of limited fasting to connect better with the Israelites in the desert and Christ in the wilderness. Instead, however, I just want to write a brief apology for Lent.

For many Christians Christmas and Easter are easy to understand. Even Pentecost and Ascension Day make sense since they’re days in the life of Christ. Lent is just a different bird. Lent is in place to remind us that Christ died, that the light of the world was snuffed out. We commiserate with the disciples who, still misunderstanding Christ, thought he had come to restore the Davidic Kingdom. We recognise our sinfulness during this time and dedicate ourselves anew to repentance. We fast to remember that the true source of our being is God, not food, not the comforts of this life, but God.

I know some Christians who see all Christian celebrations and commemorations as inappropriate because we ought to be celebrating Christ’s life, death, and resurrection all the time. This is true. It does not, however, negate the usefulness of year in and year out living in the rhythm of Christ’s Birth, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and sending of the Spirit to the Church. We ought to set aside specific times to think about and discuss these things. Otherwise our view could become myopic, we could become sidetracked by whatever aspects of salvation speak to us most. In the Church Calendar we abate that fear. In Lent, we remember why we needed a saviour and why we tend to myopia in the first place.

Spend these next few weeks reminding yourself why you needed a saviour and Easter will seem all the more felicitous for it.

A Lenten Prayer

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Yours,

David