7 Last Words — Know Not.

Garrett muses on what it means to follow God with both the head and the heart.

One of my guilty pleasures is reading the rules of various Tabletop Role-Playing Games, such as Dungeons & Dragons. Just reading the rules, since I have no one to play with (although hopefully that will change soon). For me, there’s something therapeutic about seeing a world broken down into simple rules and concepts. Yes, I know I’m a nerd. A while back during a moment of procrastination, I was browsing the Character Class section of a game called Dungeon World, when a particular line in the ‘Paladin’ class section caught my attention:

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“Ash-Wednesday” and Lenten Resolutions

Reflecting on T.S. Eliot’s poem, ‘Ash-Wednesday’ Garrett shares his Lenten resolutions.

So, what are you giving up this Lent?

I once saw a YouTube video (now taken down), where the speaker suggested that rather than giving up an arbitrary minor inconvenience to us during this season, we should instead follow a 3-step process: 1) Figure out where God wants us to be. 2) Think of something that will help us reach that goal. 3) Carry it out throughout Lent and be sure to think of what will happen once the season ends. I found this process helpful as it helps us to construct a sustainable framework of spiritual self-improvement as we enter the season of Lent.

So how does this influence me, personally, this Lent? I admit that in the present moment, I find myself in a complicated position. I find myself growing in my love for God, and also my desire to defend Him and His Church on campus, both in the classroom and by serving him through my friends. “When I was a child” said Saint Paul, “I used to talk like a child, and think like a child, and argue as a child, but now that I am a man, all childish ways are put behind me” (1 Cor 13:11). Never have these words held so much meaning for me. I strongly feel that the call for me this Lent is to take a good hard look at my life and leave behind the ‘childish’ things in my life so that I can become more mature in my faith, ready to share it and pass it on.

And yet, through prayer I also realize the need to be patient, to allow God’s plan to unfold in my life and purify me as I become more aware of my flaws and foibles. If undertaken in a prideful manner, my Lenten resolution can very easily become self-serving, a form of self-improvement rather than a drawing nearer to God. So how am I to negotiate this tension between self-seeking glory and the greater glory of God? I believe this question was also considered by T.S. Eliot in his conversion poem, ‘Ash-Wednesday’.

I’ve written elsewhere on this site about Elliot, introducing him and his poetry in preparation for this article. This was because despite his complexity, Elliot’s poetry really spoke to me throughout the last year in some of my darkest moments, and I’d like to share it with as many people as possible. From the first part of ‘Ash-Wednesday’, which we will be looking at in this article, it is obvious that Elliot could grasp the issue I’m struggling with now – the ease of which we can use holy language to mask selfish motives.

“Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?”

Eliot begins by turning our usual expectations of ‘church-y’ language on its head, much like how I mention he often does in my previous article. He said that he does not ‘hope to turn again’, when hope is a word of such significance to a Christian (e.g. Faith, Hope and Love). Likewise, we often use ‘turn’ in a positive sense – metanoia, a turning towards the Lord. ‘Turning’ has connotations of repentance and salvation.

But remember the context here: if this is Eliot’s conversion poem, then he is already on the side of Christ, or at least striving to be. To hope to turn, in that case, would be to turn away from Jesus and back to the world. Describing himself as an ‘aged eagle’ (remember also that Eliot was born an American), he portrays himself as tired of the ‘usual reign’ of sin in his life, where he would compete with and be envious of others (this man’s gift and that man’s scope).

Returning to the eagle, one famous biblical image is the promise of Isaiah 40:31 – “but those who hope in the Lord renew their strength, they put out wings like eagles. They run and do not grow weary, walk and never tire.” Perhaps this Lent, one call for me is to recognize that I too am an ‘aged eagle’, grown old with pride and sin. It is only by turning –truly turning!- to the Lord can my strength be renewed.

“Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.”

Skipping a little ahead in the poem, Eliot goes back to this theme of eagles. Well, wings, at least. In keeping with the idea of turning to the Lord in our weariness to be renewed, the poet describes an inhospitable environment around him. Eliot describes the air as ‘thoroughly small and dry/ Smaller and dryer than the will’, the air seeming to represent the things beyond our control, or rather, the things in God’s control. I may have lofty Lenten ambitions, but it is also important for me to remember that it is God that sets the stage for me to grow – the wings of an old eagle are ‘no longer wings to fly’ after all!

I love also the last two lines, ‘Teach us to care and not to care/ Teach us to sit still.’ I think these lines reveal to us something about detachment, that it isn’t necessarily something that you can force by supressing your attachments and putting up the façade that you have it all under control. Rather, detachment comes when you allow God to be at the center of your life, allowing Him to put everything in its proper place, to be a teacher to us.

This first part then ends with these two line:

“Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.”

Sound familiar? Those lines are taken straight from the famous Hail Mary prayer, where we ask our Blessed Mother to intercede for us. I think that this is a nice way to end the first part of the poem, and a nice way to end my Lenten reflection as well. As Lent dawns upon us, let us keep each other in prayer, and ask for the intercession of the Saints in heaven as well, so that we can all look forward to Easter with our lives renewed!

I hope you enjoyed my Lenten sharing, and also along the way found Eliot less confusing and somewhat informative as we went through his poem. All the best with your Lenten resolutions and God bless!

A Christmas Song for Three Guilds: An Analysis Part 4

In the final part of the analysis, Garrett discusses the trials and responsibilities of creating art.

Welcome back to our final instalment of our analysis of G.K. Chesterton’s poem, A Christmas Song for Three Guilds! As always, the previous three parts can be found on this very site, and I highly recommend at least reading Part 1 first to provide some of the context behind my analysis. Otherwise, you might find some of the more violent imagery in the poem a little off-putting. Today, we’ll be listening to Saint Luke, the Patron Saint of Painters, as he teaches us the virtue of Prudence.

So why is Saint Luke the Patron of Painters? Wasn’t he a doctor? Well, Christian tradition has him as the first painter of religious icons, with various holy images attributed to his hand. In fact, in the medieval era, it was common for Painter’s Guilds to be known as Guilds of Saint Luke. Chesterton portrays Luke’s message as a warning to painters and those involved in the arts, exhorting them to be careful about what exactly they’re painting.

So for the final time, let’s begin our analysis!

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Obi-Wan Kenobi and Spiritual Mentorship

Garrett uses the Star Wars phenomenon to reflect on Christian leadership.

With the premiere of Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, and a whole slew of movies, books, and various other media on the horizon, it seems that Star Wars is poised to seize the hearts of a new generation of fans.

So why is Star Wars so popular? Father Dwight Longenecker from the blog “Standing on My Head” offers a rather convincing explanation. The reason behind Star Wars’ success is that it follows the “Hero’s Journey” narrative. The movies tap into the innate spirituality and heroism that dwells in the average viewer, inspiring them to be something greater than themselves:

“Star Wars works because it works at a deeply human level of awareness. Following the hero’s quest, the films unlock the human potential for greatness. With the spiritual theme underlying the hero’s quest the films also keep alive in the human imagination the importance of prayer, spirituality and a “higher force”.”

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A Christmas Song for Three Guilds: An Analysis (Part 1)

Garrett begins an analysis of Chesterton’s poem, “A Christmas Song for Three Guilds”.

What does Advent mean to us, on a personal level? How does this brief season, where we prepare for the coming of Jesus, relate to how we live our lives for the rest of the year? Before the dawn of Advent proper, we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, where we recognize the sovereignty of Jesus in our lives, in preparation for his coming as the newborn king. But many find this idea of Jesus as ‘King’ problematic – in a democratic era, kingship can easily be seen as something oppressive and tyrannical. Therefore in this Advent season, I’d like to turn to G.K. Chesterton’s poem A Christmas Song for Three Guilds, which I believe suggests a much more egalitarian idea of the Kingdom of God than we are likely to picture.

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Playing Herod: An Advent Reflection

Garrett reflects on what we can learn from Herod’s bad example as we move into the Advent season.

Last December, I went with a group of Catholic university friends on a mission trip to Cambodia, to an education centre run by the Marist brothers. I remember vividly one item on the agenda in particular: to put up a Nativity play to entertain the kids. It was at our lodging one night when the director of the play announced the roles, after discussing with the trip leader. And lo and behold, the director revealed, yours truly was to play Herod.

Now, I admit I’ve always been somewhat thin-skinned and sensitive, so my first instinct was hurt and shock at being asked to play the ‘villain’ of the Nativity story. But as I prepared for the role, and looking back on that time with the benefit of hindsight, I find myself having to accept an uncomfortable truth – that old Herod and I may have more than a little in common. As we draw nearer to Advent once again, I offer this short reflection in the hope that it may provide some insight into the common pitfalls that may occur as we prepare ourselves spiritually for the birth of Our Lord.

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Make a Holiness Check! Tabletop RPGs and the Faith

Garrett writes on Table-Top RPGs, Imagination, and Moral and Spiritual Development.

A while back I came across a Reddit post by a user with the wonderful online moniker ‘Stirfriar’. Introducing himself as a Franciscan Friar, he went on to describe the many amazing experiences he and his brothers in the friary had while playing tabletop role-playing games in their leisure time.

These aren’t the RPGs one might think of – videogames like Fallout or Skyrim. Rather, these are more like elaborate boardgames – though not necessarily requiring a board. Dungeons and Dragons is the most popular example of such games, but there are many other examples. The basic setup is that a group of players come together, each controlling a single character. One player is designated the ‘Game Master’, and they are in charge of coming up with a story that involves the players, controlling any other characters in the game. There is a game mechanic for deciding the outcomes of player actions, – usually rolling dice – but I’ve seen playing cards used as well, and these successes and failures move the story a long.

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