Love, Courage and Secondhand Lions - Moominpappa

[Note:  movie spoilers ahead]

We recently watched Secondhand Lions, with brothers Hub (Robert Duvall) and Garth (Michael Caine). Their life together has kept me thinking for the last few weeks about love and courage.

Hub is the hero in all the stories, who experienced the life changing true love for one woman and with her loss and the loss of his youthful energies feels his life is over. It's Hub who rescues his brother Garth over and over again at great personal risk. He shows the strength, prowess, courage and love of twenty ordinary men.

But it's Garth who has the greater love and courage. He follows his brother to Europe, through two world wars, through the French Foreign Legion, and into many adventures, without personal prowess or ability, getting into scrape after scrape from which his brother has to rescue him. Yet he continues to follow his brother without question. It's his devotion to Hub that has made the side of the powerful brotherly bond that is so flexibly strong it can transform itself to become a family for Walter.

And in the end we know that Hub never had any pilot lessons, and knew about flying only from a book. We're taught in countless stories and movies that anyone can fly a plane, but landing is another story. And Garth goes for that flight with Hub, and loves every minute of it, knowing where his brother is leading him and gladly going along for the ride. Hub's love and courage is the active kind - the kind men are more often able to muster. Garth's is of the more rare, abiding, waiting, trusting kind. It reminds me more of Someone else who put His life into the hands of others for love's sake and went where He was led.


The Liturgy - Moominpappa

This is a comment that Moominpappa made regarding this quote from "Leaving Chruch:  A Memoir of Faith:  Part II":

Some people find a set liturgy to be boring - the same thing every week.  I don't.

And Moominpappa's comment:

The line about the liturgy being boring reminds me of a quote. Keep in mind that what follows is written by an elder devil to his nephew (who is new to being a temptor, and is getting advice). So in the quote "The Enemy" (and "He" with a capital "H") is God. The demonic advice reveals interesting realities of God and an interesting view of us, time, and change.

"The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart—an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship. The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, the Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating Pleasurable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together on the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm.
He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme. He gives them in His Church a spiritual year; they change from a fast to a feast, but it is the same feast as before.

Now just as we pick out and exaggerate the pleasure of eating to produce gluttony, so we pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty. This demand is entirely our workmanship. If we neglect our duty, men will be not only contented but transported by the mixed novelty and familiarity of snowdrops this January, sunrise this morning, plum pudding this Christmas. Children, until we have taught them better, will be perfectly happy with a seasonal round of games in which conkers succeed hopscotch as regularly as autumn follows summer. Only by our incessant efforts is the demand for infinite, or unrhythmical, change kept up."

C.S.Lewis - The Screwtape Letters, number XXV.

Often, when I am "transported" by the sight of autumn colors, or the first zephyr lily, or the first hummingbird of summer, I think of this quote about the round of seasonal games and the liturgical year. And the liturgy does the same thing to me, and brings this to mind again. The single liturgical celebration is deliberately formed like a day, with dawn, noon, and dusk, with meals at certain intervals, with the comings and greetings of visitors. The liturgical seasons are formed like the chronological year they parallel, yet transcend. They transcend the chronological because this is not a normal event, and this is not normal time and space. The Eucharistic celebration encompasses all of time and space, steps outside time and space, is all at once and all in a moment. It is everywhen and the One When, where all must come sooner of later, and where some choose to come often for the refreshing of their souls. This is the central event, the Moment, the big bang of Christianity. Like the singularity from which all the physical universe came, this point is the Singularity from which all the human spiritual universe comes. It's like a mobius, curling back around in time to redeem time from beginning to end, making all sides one side after all, facing the One Light, from which the shadows must flee.

So the celebrating of the liturgy is all of the church, repentant and triumphant, piled deep like drifts of autumn leaves or the close packed flowers of millefiore; it's all the saints from all of time beneath the altar in Revelations; it's faith believing beyond our feeble senses to capture all the presence of the hour; it's food in another dimension; it's chairos over chronos; it's Immanual, God with us.


Nearest Book Meme - Moominpappa

Moominpappa decided the nearest book meme sounded like fun so, when I read mine to him, he picked up the nearest book (which also happened to be one of my library books), found the page, and read aloud (with gusto):

"Merlin was shouting into the full bathtub, and when he got no response, turned and bellowed into the sink that he'd also filled with water.  For good measure he'd also filled up the bidet and a washing basin, plus naturally he also had the toilet to bear his wrath.  "Nimue!" he kept calling, moving from one container of water to another to another.  "Stop playing around!...

From here.

Red Rosy Bush - Moominpappa

I wish I was a red rosy bush,
By the banks of the sea,
And every time my true love would pass by
She could pick a rose off of me.

Years and decades and centuries ago we started singing bedtime songs to our children. It began with the usual nursery rhymes. My favorites were “Sing a Song of Sixpence” and “One Misty Moisty Morning.” Over time, though, both singer and listener called for more variety.

I reached back into my own childhood and remembered an old favorite. “Leatherwing Bat.”

“I,” said the little leatherwing bat,
“I’ll tell you the reason that…
The reason that I fly by night
Is because I lost my heart’s delight.”

And so through three or four other unhappy animals with lessons to learn about love. The tune is well matched to the words, with sharp short lines and accented rhymes. I have always loved it, never mind that it paints a gloomy view of relationships.

Later I recalled “Red Rosy Bush.” I had heard it as a child on a Harry Belafonte record my parents had. It pleasantly haunted me then and I could recall the tune and almost all of the words. It took me quite some time to track down the rest. Singing this took more control and range than I had used before, but I stretched to reach this one because, again, the tune is marvelously fit to the words and sentiments.

At Old Salem several Christmases ago we heard a fiddler playing in the Tavern. It was getting dark, the candles were lit, the tunes were traditional. Except that we were the only ones in the common room with the fiddler, we could have imagined ourselves back in the late 1700s. While we were moving away from the common room, I heard the fiddle take up an eerie melody in a minor key. I stood still in shock, plunged back into my childhood. This mournful plaintive song had been on a Christmas album in our house. I had never known its name. I rushed back to the common room, listened with tears in my eyes and my heart in my throat until he finished, then asked the name of the tune. He told me, and when I explained how much it meant to me he mentioned that it had words. He let me copy them out while he went on playing for other visitors.

That hymn is actually an Advent hymn, not Christmas. “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent.” It began an Internet search later that evening for other old Christmas tunes that I had known and loved and never heard any more. I printed them off and began using them for bedtimes during that Christmas season.

From there the whole thing has gotten deliciously carried away. I now have a blue folder almost an inch thick full of printed lyrics to all sorts of things. Our daughter and younger son get a song each night from this heap; they each have a different “place” in the pages. Folk songs, show tunes, old standards, current well crafted pop, hymns – it’s all jumbled together. The only criteria are that they have to work a cappella, they have to have good words, and I have to enjoy singing them.

The Fox, Mush Mush Mush, Until the Night, In Dulci Jubilo, As Time Goes By, Old Kentucky Home, Scotland the Brave, Codfish Ball, Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones, That’s Amore, Winkin’ Blinkin’ and Nod, White Squall, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Put on a Happy Face, How Can I Keep from Singing, Orbiting Jupiter, Stars Fell on Alabama, Pop Goes the Weasel, Lions at the Door, People Will Say We’re in Love, On the Street Where You Live, Summerfly, Endless Chain, Let the River Run, Speak Softly Love, Red Sombrero, All the Things You Are, Barefoot Children in the Rain, The Minstrel Boy, We Gather Together, Eres Tu, Trouble in the Fields, Bali Hai…

I love to sing these and over a hundred others, coming round to them again in the folder. I try to put myself into them as much as I can, sing them with sincerity and feeling, identifying with the voice. Many nights we end up discussing the ups and downs, the wisdom and folly portrayed in the stories.

But most of all, I am passing on a love for these tunes, for singing, for music, for life. And I’m kissing my lovely children goodnight as I close the fat blue folder.


Tag, I'm It - Moominpappa

Moominlight tagged me; here are my memes.

Category 1: 4 Jobs I have had in my life

Groundsman for NYC weekenders
Bag boy at Winn Dixie
Student loan teacher cancellation processor
Snow shovel for a loveable chain-smoking, gambling, Genesee drinking, animal loving ancient tinsmith.

Category 2: 4 movies I could watch over and over

My Neighbor Totoro by Miyazaki (especially the bus-stop scene with the umbrella)
The Thief and the Cobbler ("I am Roofless, and this is my band of brigands.")
The Frisco Kid ("I dunno, I think it's some kind of a Torah.")
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels ("Ruprect, don't take the cork off your fork.")

Category 3: 4 places you have lived

Gallatin, NY
Greenville, NC
Winston-Salem, NC
Bynum, NC

Category 4: 4 TV shows you love to watch

Like Moominlight, I don't watch anything right now - but things I have been hooked by in the past are...
Star Trek, Deep Space Nine
Aly McBeal
Darma and Greg (the first two seasons)
The Sopranos (just 5 or 6 episodes, but they gripped me)

Category 5: 4 Places you have been on vacation

Sacandega Reservoir in NY
Backpacking on Elk Mountain in Colorado
Charleston, SC
Blowing Rock, NC

Category 6: 4 Websites you visit daily

Art by Shano
Wally Torta's illustrated blog
Our company's website (home page at work)

Category 7: 4 of your favorite foods

Escargot from Gaulart et Maliclet on Broad St in Charleston, SC
An open faced croissant sandwich called Grouper Madelaine, with white wine sauce and rose grapes from La Madelaine on Church St in Charlseton, SC (no longer)
Steak fries and birch beer from the Rose and Thistle restaurant in Winston-Salem, NC (no longer)
My own Saturday morning eggs with a side of olives and a side of butter saute'd cremini mushrooms.

Category 8: 4 places you'd rather be right now

Walking with my sweetie blog hostess at the Bass Lake at the Cone Manor in Blowing Rock
New Mexico
Clermont on the Hudson River in NY
Provence - maybe somewhere near Sisteron, with cocquelicot blooming in the fields

Category 9: 4 bloggers you are tagging

I don't know 4 bloggers!  I'm new to this stuff!

Art by Shano 

Until next time - Moominpappa

"Cor ad cor loquitur" - Moominpappa

I have begun to paint again.  Watercolors this time; I've never used them before.  The painting has become a way to understand not only the world around me, which I see in new ways because I look hard at the light, colors, and shapes of things, but more importantly the worlds inside me.

I am astounded that I can draw the larger compositions from photographs, layering ten or twenty images one top of each other into a jumble of lines and shapes, and things begin to emerge.  Things that usually have nothing to do with the photos and objects I've been drawing.  Shapes looming out of the fog.  Being emerging from nothingness.

And I am sometimes moved to tears to find that the deepest most childlike yearnings and hopes of my heart are what emerge.  How can this be?  How can the objective lines of real things be superimposed and come out creating deeply missed surreal places and cherished things.

One is a harbor at sunset, with a sail and an egret flying towards a lit door that illuminates the blue water of dusk.  Another is breakfast in the garden, with the strong gold light of early day casting stark shadows of trees across the lawn.  Another is my alter-ego, red bearded Virgil Tangelo, in a big beached rowboat bubblebath, wearing an admiral's hat, dreaming of tropical nautical adventures while rubber ducks snooze around him.  An early painting in this series is a scene with sheep going up a steep hillside that I later recognized as Baou St. Jeannet in Provence, a place I never quite left after we visited in the late eighties.  The very first watercolor is a painting of green hills, giant dandelion seed globes, kites and goldfish in a deep blue sky.  It is my childhood essence of a perfect summer day. During dinner just minutes later my daughter played a new soundtrack from a Miyazaki film, and when I asked the name of a particularly lovely piece of music, she told me it was called, "A Summer Day."  The sudden synchronicity, after finishing my first painting in many years, made me weep.

These paintings have become prayers.  I sense God smiling and laughing at me and with me in these images.  I am loving and longing on paper without regard for outcomes.  I am experiencing the grace of redeemed dreams and the powerful healing that goes on all the time below the surface of all our unmet hopes and the lost lands of our childhoods.  We are made to long for Eden.  Heaven is where all the tears will be wiped away; I am crying those tears in color. 

I have been weary of the appearances and mirages of church community, and living out my frustrations in a different way than Moominlight.  Like another pappa I know, who finds peace from church politics in his pastures and says, "I feel God more while standing among my cows," I have had to duck out for fresh air and silence.  I know it makes Moominlight's path more difficult, but I couldn't breathe.  In my case the silence is of the time outside time when my mind is tied up in the creating, and another Creator nudges my hand to reach into my heart and pull out things that need the light of day.  The silence of chairos, balm for my heart amidst the noise of chronos.

Eventually I will be ready for church again, just as I am now painting again after blocked decades.  I will one day pick up my pallet and walk, just as He has recently cured my long mute artist.  In the meantime I feel like a hermit, praying in solitude and coming into community infrequently for the sustenance of the Eucharist.  I find I cannot go very long without Him incarnate in the host and wine.  I find that another comfort in this lovely wilderness I am wandering for a while.  In His mercy...  By His grace...


Daily Mass - by Moominpappa

Comparing a Sunday morning’s Roman Catholic liturgy to daily mass, a line of poetry lingered in my mind.

“I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,”

I’ve looked up this poem again, by Theodore Roethke, and while it might be a stretch to make all parts of the poem dance with my ideas of the daily mass, much of the spirit fits. In the scripture God also used the words of desire to reach us. Roethke says,

“Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,”

Simplicity marks the daily mass. It seems disrobed; long lines, beautiful limbs. A nude in black and white, the underlying bones informing the grace of every shape. The greeting, the confession, the Gloria, the readings, the brief meditation, the opening of the Eucharistic prayer, the Sanctus, the Great Amen, the Lord’s Prayer, the Agnus Dei, the Eucharist, a silence to appreciate the miraculous, the sending. This simple, elegant dance without costume. The prayers, the readings, the breathtaking movement from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist with the silent repositioning of candle flame.

“My eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees;
Her several parts could keep a pure repose,
Or one hip quiver with a mobile nose
(She moved in circles, and those circles moved.)”

People rise silently and walk to the ambo to read the day’s scriptures. The words are delivered without ornament. The naked spoken truth makes something new in each heart.

“The shapes a bright container can contain!”

The last stanza speaks of age, choices, and nostalgia:

“Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay:
I'm martyr to a motion not my own;
What's freedom for? To know eternity.
I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.
But who would count eternity in days?
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:
(I measure time by how a body sways.)”

And as the world rolls us closer to eternity, we too measure time by how the church’s body sways, in waves of daily mass circling the globe, day on day, forever.


For the entire poem, see

Now We Are Six (Again) - Moominpappa

I am in the midst of an artistic recovery, and going back like an archeologist and excavating the play from my past.  Art turns on play.  Art is play.  Our six year old sometimes mentions the quote from "Sunday in the Park with George," "Work is what you do for others, leibchin; art is what you do for yourself."  I'm not sure it is meant in a positive vein in the play - but it's as true a statement as appears anywhere in the musical.

Which brings me to Pooh.  We love the twenty stories written by A.A.Milne, and read them aloud at special times, like around the fire.  It struck me recently that there is only one artist in the Pooh stories, and it's the bear himself.  He writes poems, he writes songs, he invents games (Poohsticks).  Rabbit and Owl are too concerned with results and appearances to play and make art.  Eyeore is too down-turned to consider playing and creating.  Christopher Robin is the other one who just plays, and in a way he is the inspiration for the grander art that is the Pooh stories themselves.  And isn't it interesting that the most memorable and far reaching art of Milne's entire creative life was a set of stories written for the least serious (but most important) reason of all?  To play with his child?

We have a hard time playing after we grow up.  Somehow we have mistakenly defined growing up as when we get serious and quit playing around.  Most of us stop being freely creative at the same time.  We prevent our creative outflow by talking it down in one way or another.  Even Pooh does this, talking about his poems and songs as "no good."  But he writes them anyway, given even half a chance, and he is always willing to share them with others regardless of what his inner censor might be saying.  We wouldn't have "Cottleston Pie" if he'd held back.

But the resulting artwork is not the important part.  Ideally it would just be the end result of an exploration, an essay, an "attempt" to see or think through an interesting possibility.  Pooh's art is like that - seeing where the humming goes.  If it's enlightening to others to review the course of that journey, then the work might be worth something in it's own right.  But mostly art is about the doing - the activity of painting in order to see, or writing in order to understand, or dancing in order to feel.

A friend of mine tries to live by the motto "Dance like no one is watching."  Feel.  Play.  I'm trying to do that, and the paintings have started again for the first time in over a decade.  More importantly, this time I know what went wrong with all the prior blossomings, and I also have no confusion about what I want to paint.  The latter is really new to me.  I plan to paint like no one's watching.  I plan to shush the voices that criticize the effort (while listening to the voices that point out what would be even more fun to do next time).  And I plan to show the results of the fun to others, and ponder the value of any comments in a playful light.  Like Poohbear.

Got an inner Pooh you need to let loose?  Isn't he (with Christopher Robin) the happiest creature in the woods?  And why is that?  Wouldn't you choose to be the happiest creature?  Do you need some quiet to listen to your honey jars calling you home?  If you listened, what would they tell you?  I've been surprised and not surprised at mine.  Some of the revelations are followed immediately with, "Well, YEAH!  What were ya thinkin?!"  Things from almost 30 years ago suddenly make sense.  Things I've loved RESTLESSLY for all my life suddenly have something to DO in my life.  There's playing to do.  Gotta go.Pooh