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The Beer Option

Without the benefit of modern central heating, 13th century Norwegians probably had no trouble keeping their beer cold—and their water as well. Perhaps for this reason, Norway’s clergy had a hard time baptizing souls. “Look, Father Olaf!—the font’s frozen solid again!”

But whatever the reason, as R. Jared Staudt relates in his book The Beer Option: Brewing a Catholic Culture Yesterday and Today, back in the day, Norway’s chilblained clergy had opted to baptize with beer instead of water. It was apparently just something one did in the Land of the Midnight Sun.

That is, at least until warmer heads in Rome prevailed—and Pope Gregory IX put the pontifical kibosh on the whole suds-as-salvific idea. Quoting from Gregory’s official buzz-killing letter regarding the Norwegian innovation, Staudt writes: “‘Since according to the Gospel teaching, a man must be born again of water and the Holy Ghost,’ Gregory writes those are not to be considered validly baptized who have been baptized with beer.”

Acknowledging the dangers of this and other more earthly instances of beery excess, Staudt has written a sober book-length case for restoring to its proper Catholic context the frothy brew that made Milwaukee—and many a monastery—famous.

Winter Reverie Whilst Walking

My nose
Is froze
And so’s
My toes*

* Poetic license, my toes are fine.

Make and Model

The strict manners that make a spider’s Tuesday
Computes the butterfly on spring’s flywheel—

It spins with stark confabulations, say,
Of deeper truths than those left to unreel

The darkest places, full of silences,
Which make of flesh a creeping thought, abstract

And let of blood. Lost as alliances
Among the vehicles of man’s exact

Discourse with mystery, the earth will preach
Of stars’ infinitude, soliloquies

That pulse the veins and carry (more than reach)
Shivering spasms of an April breeze.

The one possible prayer is day to night—
A web ensnared in dew, tattered by light.

Untitled

My oldest daughter’s moon reflects my sun.
My youngest daughter’s sun collects my moon.
The woven strands of stars undone
Within my mind begin to weave a tune
That sings around me in a tunic form
With threads of gravity and mystery
To shield my soul against the wind and warm
The wintry past with future history.

Sig Line

Martin Buber
Philosopher
Pronouns: I, thou

Quo magis mutatur, eo magis statur…

I notice that a breed of people is emerging which my soul deeply abhors. I do not see anybody becoming better, but everybody worse, at least those I know. And so I am deeply grieved at having preached freedom of the spirit in my earlier writings. I did so in good faith, without any suspicion that such a breed would result. I was hoping for a decrease in human ceremonies with a consequent increase in genuine piety. Now the ceremonies are discarded, but the result is not freedom of spirit but unbridled license of the flesh.  Some cities in Germany are filled with vagabonds – monks who have fled the monastery, married priests, most of them starving and naked. All they do is dance, eat, drink, and go whoring. They do not teach and do not learn. There is no moderation, no genuine goodness. Wherever such men exist, good learning and piety are in a state of collapse. I would write at greater length on this subject, if it were safe to commit it to writing…

– (emphasis added) Erasmus, from “Letter to a Monk,” Basel, Germany, October 15, 1527 (which sought to refute a popular saying at the time about the Protestant Revolt: “Erasmus laid the egg; Luther hatched it.”).

Summer of Love

Paul scowled and drew in breath, a red splotch creeping up his neck. They’d been playing the game of “Who can make Paul explode” for 35 years.

Summer of Love, by Thom Caraway

Read “Summer of Love,” Thom Caraway’s contribution to Summer Stories in The Spokesman-Review.

Carthage Nights

Nunc medea Aenean secum per moenia ducit
Sidoniassque ostentat opes urbemque paratam,
incipit effari mediaque in voce resistit…
– IV.74-76

I
This sword of honor leaves you unimpressed
And beds were made for peaceful war because,
My Dido, beauty bares a naked breast

Against the hilted scabbard’s fitness test,
These Carthage nights. But love at last withdraws —
Its sword of honor leaves you unimpressed.

You watch me, crucified by lust, but blessed
Enough to know. I grasp for words like straws:
“My Dido’s beauty bares a naked breast,”

I say as we, two stars the dark undressed,
Are drifting, driven, set apart by laws
My sword of honor leaves. You, unimpressed,

Sought to sound the distance with bitter jest:
“Carthage hides from light yet shines its flaws
In Dido. Beauty bares its naked breast

But Dido spreads her legs for any guest
Who promises to lie before he draws
His sword for beauty. Leave me. Unimpressed,
So did — o honor — bare its naked breast.”

II
Aeneas mistook her little black dress
For armor. Queen of cocktails, so precise,
This princess, green-eyed, was a hot mess
Amid the hors d’oeuvers and the cracked ice.
A royal battle ensued – he overdrank
Her lethal concoction of ruby lips
And slender arms until he failed to rank
His forces and dribbled out easy quips
About the night that glows like amethyst,
The whole city lit like a shaking torch –
Then let slip Carthago delenda est
Between kissing sips on her painted porch.
His word of honor left her unimpressed —
So Dido’s beauty bared a naked breast.

Serial Dreams

Look at the parameters of this mirror… – St. Clare of Assisi

I
The first, Italian Baroque, with its warmth
The kind you find in California hills
At midday – and in it, St. Francis speaks
Not as the Hallmark saint that loves the birds,
A daffy hippy with a crazy gaze,
But verging tears, wickedly specific
About my sins. A shadow falls across
His joy — like algae blooms in a fountain:
“I cannot serve you, king, who have no being,
For sorrow’s bread is full of murdered yeast.”

II
The second, like the first, but more measured —
With columns and clean form, as classical
As the staff lines of hemp stretching to catch
The taut tendrils a busy vine-dresser
Attends to, bidding fruit with sharpened shears
And grafting twine. In it, St. Thomas laughs
At me, part Falstaff and part Friar Tuck,
And more jolly than the dour word Summa
Might connote: “Ha! but to sell your body
At power’s price!” He lifts a cup and drinks.

III
Third and final, back to early music,
Choired voices chanting like a fresh pack
Of cards — no saints and no holy counsel,
Only a mirror from which Dante peers,
But not at me. The human hum of song
Mortars his meaning, cosmic as all flesh –
So modern souls may follow suit — now, today,
Hodie: “Gentlemen, time’s fine spirit
Winnows the parse of being from nothing
Doing.” I look again to see myself.

‘… On the Wings of the Wind …’

From the Armadio degli Argenti of Blessed John of Fiesole, OP (Fra Angelico), c. 1450

From the Armadio degli Argenti of Blessed John of Fiesole, OP (Fra Angelico), c. 1450

… he came, cherub-mounted, borne up on the wings of the wind….

Pslam 18:11