June 29th, 2007

A Whole World Out There

Personal: Just New Bits – Dinner w/Dan and Amy; New Books; Ellis Paul, Katie Garvey, and Me;

Some notes about the last few days: I had a quiet, casual dinner over at the Lloyds' tonight, just catching up on the news with Dan and Amy, who celebrated their fourth wedding anniversary yesterday, on the Feast of Irenaeus, who happens to be Dan's eventual dissertation subject. Dan had grilled some steaks and we talked around the chatterings of Anna and the grins and gurgling of little Owen. They had gone out last night to the Trocadero, which I'd recommended to them, and apparently really enjoyed themselves. I'd actually thought of going over there myself last night, but ended up at Beans and Barley having a long dinner with a girl I've gone out with a couple of times, Slobodanka. So we hung around until the kids were in bed and then Dan and I dashed over to the Greenfield Half-Price Books with coupons celebrating their remodeling, and we scoured the DVD shelves.

More of my recent book splurge is drifting in.

The Abstracts of Karl Rahner's Theological Investigations I-23 by Daniel T. Pekarske, S.D.S., is a particular treasure – a research tool for Rahner's vast, unorganized work that Father Coffey had insisted I had to add to my library back when I was studying Rahner's Christology with him back in the 2003-04 school year. Pekarske even rates them on difficulty, with a 0.5 being accessible to anyone without a background in theology or philosophy, and a 4.0 being difficult even for theological specialists. Even the abstracts for a classic 4.0 article of his, like the breakthrough one on "Some Implications of the Scholastic Concept of Uncreated Grace" (yes, such an exciting, meaningful title) from Vol. I that we spent such time with, was difficult going. But I've been coming back to Rahner just as part of my thinking about grace in context of the dissertation, and so I figured it was time.

Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI. Hey, we got one of the kick-ass theologians of the 20th century, one of the leading progressive experts aiding the bishops during the Second Vatican Council, as Pope now. I had to see how he was going to talk Jesus to the 21st century. The intro and his reflections on the impact of the historical-critical methodologies of "historical Jesus" studies in the last few decades seemed dead-on. It's too bad they insisted on decorating the book in Ponderously Dull Papal Style: Christianity looks so much more like The Matrix to me.

With the purchase of a used copy of the out-of-print Mercies: Collected Poems by Sheldon Vanauken, I now complete my Vanauken collection, including is one novel and his historical study on the English sympathy and political intrigue for the Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War. Of course, his undisputed masterpiece is A Severe Mercy, which is more than a cut above the rest of his work. That is, of course, one of the greatest love stories of all time, all the moreso for being true.

I had a vivid flashback to a warm fall evening in 1998 where I attended a concert by the inimitable Ellis Paulwith Scott and Karen Kirner out at what I think was LVD's Concert Hall, then in an old pole barn out in Indiana Amish Country. I had heard some of Paul's music through Kevin, but on this night with just a few dozen of us sitting in chairs with the singer standing in front of us, going through all his many odd tunings song after song, I think I smiled more than I ever have through a night of music. Image after image just resonated as true and dead on target. At one point, in his song "Live In The Now," the lines
I'm alone on the highway, only silos break the view
A field of sunflowers, a scarecrow paying dues...
had me suddenly flash to the images of fields of sunflowers in Provence that Katie Garvey had written to me about and sent photographs from her summer a month or two earlier. I whispered to Karen for a pen and scrap of paper and jotted down the lines
Going home through sunflower fields,
Blossoms black, life must yield
and later that night, I went home and spun out Katie's story about her and Ryan that summer into the song "What They Have," with its stark sound being my attempt at capturing a quiet Provençal sound, as though the song were being spun in some still chapel in the south of France (hear the too-loud, distorted sample at iTunes, and far better samples here). It's not the only time someone else's song suddenly helped give birth to one of my own, with very different words and sounds nevertheless.