First Friday of Lent, 2021
It was the British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, who is alleged to have said that a week in politics is a long time. However true this might be, it is true that a week in life is a long time. Much has happened in the past week.
A week ago, I flew to Kansas City and was then driven to Fort Scott for the Prairie Troubadour conference. I gave the keynote address that evening and then, since last Friday also happened to be my sixtieth birthday, I imbibed fermented and distilled beverages very liberally, which is all too easy in the company of friends. Truth be told, and this is confession time, I imbibed so liberally that the line between temperance and intemperance was crossed, as was the line between prudence and imprudence. Needless to say, at the earliest opportunity, I went to confession; the sacramental sort of confession and not merely the sort of confession that one makes in one’s diary, such as this one.
I returned home late on Sunday, which was of course St. Valentine’s Day. I had, therefore, been away from Ladydale and consequently away from my family on two very significant days. We made up for my absence by having a family party on Shrove Tuesday, in the company of some close friends. The photograph shows me holding a bakewell tart (a traditional English pastry) in one hand and a copy of Pride and Prejudice in the other. The connection is that Jane Austen wrote part of Pride and Prejudice in the hotel in Bakewell, Derbyshire, at which we stayed on one of the pilgrimages to England that I’ve led. On that occasion, two of our pilgrims actually stayed in the very room in which the inimitable Miss Austen stayed. Such merriment having been given its rightful place on Shrove Tuesday, or what is also called Fat Tuesday, the doom of Lent duly fell on the following day.
Apart from the things one gives up, in my case fermented and distilled beverages, coffee (but not tea!), chocolate and desserts, there are also those things one takes on. I try to spend more time in prayer and to read only books that might be conducive to a Lenten retreat. This year, I’ve returned to a couple of old favourites, two books by the early twentieth century Dominican, Fr. Vincent McNabb, a friend of Chesterton who described him as walking on a crystal floor above his head. I can think of few better endorsements of a person’s sanctity than such praise from a man of Chesterton’s spiritual stature. One of the books is a collection of short reflections that Fr. McNabb gave on a spiritual retreat in England during World War II; the other is a collection of his homilies, given throughout the liturgical year. I read his homily for Ash Wednesday on the day in question and will read those for each of the Sundays of Lent and into Holy Week.
The third book I’m reading is a recently published book by Fr. Paul Pearson of the Toronto Oratory: Spiritual Direction from Dante: Ascending Mount Purgatory (TAN Books). This is essentially a spiritual retreat, reflecting on Dante’s ascent of Mount Purgatory and the assent to the will of God that such an ascent requires. I’m really enjoying it, if one can be said to “enjoy” the purgatorial acceptance and embrace of suffering.
On other matters, I began teaching an online seminar for Memoria College on “Poems Everyone Should Know”, commencing on Ash Wednesday, not with Eliot’s poem of that title, which would have been appropriate, but with Hopkins’ “The Wreck of the Deutschland”, one of the most profound meditations on the mystery of suffering ever written. We will continue with the close reading, line-by-line, of this poem in next week’s class, a great way to start Lent.
Yesterday I finally dispatched the completed manuscript of my latest book to the folks at Ignatius Press. I’m really happy with it and hope that they will be too.
This morning, I continued the lectures that I’m giving to a group of students in Chile, organized by Red Cultural, with which I have worked closely for the past twelve or fifteen years or so. Time’s a blur! Our topic over the next four weeks will by Homer’s Odyssey.
The other astonishing thing this week has been the sheer number of different species of birds descending daily on our birdfeeder, far more than we’ve ever seen before, including several species that we’ve never seen before. Susannah has been carefully identifying these. This is the list of species that we’ve seen this past week:
Yellow Rumped Warbler
White Throated Sparrow
White Breasted Nuthatch
Red Breasted Nuthatch
It’s astonishing! As I look out the window as I write, I see a downy woodpecker pecking at the suet cake. Today has also afforded several spectacular views of red-tailed hawks swooping on would-be prey, though, as far as I can make out, they’ve always left empty-handed, or empty-taloned. And so, having moved from prayers to preyers, and from rapture to raptors, and from bards of prayer to birds of prey, I’ll silence myself before any worse puns are committed. Lenten blessings!