Selections from Jesus, Son of Man

Earlier I posted comments for Kahlil Gibran’s moving Jesus, Son of Man, and now share some quotations from it.

Then He looked at me, and the noontide of His eyes was upon me, and He said, “You have many lovers, and yet I alone love you. Other men love themselves in your nearness. I love you in your self. Other men see a beauty in you that shall fade away sooner than their own years. But I see in you a beauty that shall not fade away, and in the autumn of your days that beauty shall not be afraid to gaze at itself in the mirror, and it shall not be offended. I alone love the unseen in you.”

He would begin a story thus: “The ploughman went forth to the field to sow his seeds.” Or, “Once there was a rich man who had many vineyards.” Or, “A shepherd counted his sheep at eventide and found that one sheep was missing.” And such words would carry His listeners into their simpler selves, and into the ancient of their days. At heart we are all ploughmen, and we all love the vineyard. And in the pastures of our memory there is a shepherd and a flock and the lost sheep. And there is the plough-share and the winepress and the threshing-floor. He knew the source of our older self, and the persistent thread of which we are woven. The Greek and the Roman orators spoke to their listeners of life as it seemed to the mind. The Nazarene spoke of a longing that lodged in the heart.

Many times the Christ has come to the world, and He has walked many lands. And always He has been deemed a stranger and a madman.

And one evening as we sat beside the stream He said, “Behold the brook and listen to its music. Forever shall it seek the sea, and though it is for ever seeking, it sings its mystery from noon to noon. “Would that you seek the Father as the brook seeks the sea.”

And then He said, “Judea would have a king, and she would march against the legions of Rome. I shall not be her king. The diadems of Zion were fashioned for lesser brows. And the ring of Solomon is small for this finger. “Behold my hand. See you not that it is over-strong to hold a sceptre, and over-sinewed to wield a common sword? Nay, I shall not command Syrian flesh against Roman. But you with my words shall wake that city, and my spirit shall speak to her second dawn. My words shall be an invisible army with horses and chariots, and without axe or spear I shall conquer the priests of Jerusalem, and the Caesars. I shall not sit upon a throne where slaves have sat and ruled other slaves. Nor will I rebel against the sons of Italy. But I shall be a tempest in their sky, and a song in their soul. “

He was a mountain burning in the night, yet He was a soft glow beyond the hills. He was a tempest in the sky, yet He was a murmur in the mist of daybreak. He was a torrent pouring from the heights to the plains to destroy all things in its path. And He was like the laughter of children.

But the grave halts not Jesus’ walking to the enemies’ camp to tame and take captive those who had opposed Him.

And when we were sitting about the board, one of the publicans questioned Jesus, saying, “Is it true that you and your disciples break the law, and make fire on the sabbath day?” And Jesus answered him saying, “We do indeed make fire on the sabbath day. We would inflame the sabbath day, and we would burn with our touch the dry stubble of all days.”

They say He raised the dead to life. If you can tell me what is death, then I will tell you what is life. In a field I have watched an acorn, a thing so still and seemingly useless. And in the spring I have seen that acorn take roots and rise, the beginning of an oak tree, towards the sun. Surely you would deem this a miracle, yet that miracle is wrought a thousand thousand times in the drowsiness of every autumn and the passion of every spring. Why shall it not be wrought in the heart of man? Shall not the seasons meet in the hand or upon the lips of a Man Anointed? If our God hsa given to earth the art to nestle seed whilst the seed is seemingly dead, why shall He not give to the heart of man to breathe life into another heart, even a heart seemingly dead?

My friend, you like all other Romans would conceive life rather than live it. You would rule lands rather than be ruled by the spirit. You would conquer races and be cursed by them rather than stay in Rome and be blest and happy. You think but of armies marching and of ships launched into the sea. How shall you then understand Jesus of Nazareth, a man simple and alone, who came without armies or ships, to establish a kingdom in the heart and an empire in the free spaces of the soul?

I loved him and I shall love him forevermore. If love were in the flesh I would burn it out with hot irons and be at peace. But it is in the soul, unreachable.

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Camino Winds | Jesus the Son of Man

Amid a category 4 hurricane that levels homes and floods an entire town, a man is murdered. The police shake their heads, insisting he was merely struck by storm debris. But falling limbs don’t leave blood splatter inside a home and on a golf club. Falling limbs don’t remove a computer hard drive containing a manuscript with secrets that some unknown parties want kept concealed. When rare book trafficker Bruce Cable realizes that there’s something rotten in the state of Florida, he enlists the help of the very people who nearly fingered him several years ago for the theft of rare manuscripts from Princeton University. As luck would have it, though, the killer falls into police custody in the final quarter of the novel, through circumstances entirely unrelated to the investigation. A novel with a unique setting and promising start is thus abruptly truncated in a manner disappointingly similar to a Deus ex machina conclusion. Lured in by the hurricane, I was disappointed that Bruce wasn’t nearly as fun in this novel as he was in the original Camino Island, and absolutely peeved at the rush-job ending. Grisham might as well be James Patterson at this point.

Far more engaging was my return to Khalil Gibran. I say ‘return’ because I haven’t featured Gibran here in eleven years (Sand and Foam being the last I ‘read’), but I frequently read from both Sand and Foam and The Prophet. Gibran was the first mystic writer I ever encountered, and he ensnared me completely: I often quote him internally, listening to his voice in my head and thinking about the words. This Lent I decided to finally read his Jesus, Son of Man, which I purchased years ago. I found it as beautifully written as I’ve come to expect from Gibran, delivered in prose that carries the grace of poetry. The work is presented as reminiscences of Jesus from those who knew him, with reflections offered in the months or years after his disappearance. Those contributing are many familiar Biblical personages — the disciples, the various Marys, minor characters in the New Testament like Simeon and Joseph of Arimathea, as well as invented ones — Greek traders, Syrian farmers, etc. Their opinions on Jesus vary widely: while most speak of him with awe and love, there are others who still scoff and spit. Beauty prevails, though. When Gibran has Jesus or the disciples speak, their language is drawn from the New Testament but given a certain Gibranian flair. Those familiar with Gibran will recognize his poetic style, interpreting and bringing the beauty of many Gospel stories all the more to mind. I’m going to follow this post with a few quotes; more are available if you follow me on Goodreads. I loved it and was reminded of why Gibran has stayed so close to my mind in the fourteen years I’ve known of him.

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Wisdom Wednesday: Self Reliance

Liberated from facebook, mostly likely the “Psychology of Stoicism, Buddhism, Epicureanism, Etc” group page. Douglas is an especially good source for this kind of quote because of his background: he found help to teach himself to read, and he escaped from slavery through his own will. Even in slavery, he was not a subject, but a man, and when he escaped to freedom he only made obvious the independent spirit which already existed in him. Slavery’s power lies not in circumstances.

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2021: February Review

Annnnnd that’s a wrap for February. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but spring is definitely on the way here: after several weeks of bitter cold, we’re suddenly enjoying balmy 80 degree days – 26 degree days, for the Celsius folk.

Challenge Progress:

Science Survey: Two books read, but only one new category, Local Astronomy, filled.. (The Bird Way was excellent, but a redundant Flora and Fauna entry.) Survey status: 3/12.

Classics: One more (Cold Sassy Tree) down. So far I’ve only been hitting Southern Lit, but English lit will get a good shellacking in April. List status: 4/50.

Climbing Mount Doom: Four books read (Why We’re Here, The Network, Forgotten Continent, The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History), which puts me back on track for my hoped-for average of 2 per month.

“Read More Southern Lit/History”: Four more titles!

The Unreviewed:

The Hardest Job in the World: The US Presidency. I just finished this one Saturday morning and will knock out a review within the next couple of days.

The Newly Bought:
The War of 1812, John Mahone. A deliciously old book that smells like old books should. It’s bigger than expected, so here’s hoping my interest in the Creek war/ war of 1812 can sustain me through it.

The Metropolis: A History of Humankind’s Greatest Invention. A birthday gift card purchase.

Dark Age Ahead, Jane Jacobs. Published ten or so years ago from the author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Mao’s Great Famine, Frank Dikotter. It happened to be on sale the same week I was reading The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History. Will possibly use as part of a China series.

Why Balloons Rise and Apples Fall: Physics in Bite Sized Chunks, Jeff Stewart. I’d literally just gone inside Books a Million for coffee when I saw this marked half off. (I was in the neighborhood for dog and garden supplies — heaven knows I have enough books already!)

Purgatorio and Paradiso, Dante, translated by Anthony Esolen. These are for the Classics Club. I’m playing with the idea of reading Purgatorio during Lent and Paradiso during the Easter season.

Disaster By Choice: How Our Actions Turn Natural Hazards into Catastrophes, Ilan Kelman.

Okay, no more book purchases for me for a while, except for Read of England prep!

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The end approaches

Earlier last year David Mack, one of Treklit’s leading authors, suggested that To Lose the Earth was the last planned book in the Treklit continuity, as future releases would be centered on the current shows. It appears that a finale of sorts is in the works. From TrekCentral:

Not only does the description of the trilogy sound ominous, but “Coda” literally refers to a concluding passage or section of a work. I can’t say I like the idea of an official ‘end’ to the Trek literary universe that’s grown over the last twenty years: at least if it had died by neglect we could always pretend they’d resurrect it. Now the authors sound like they’re being enlisted to snuff out their own creation.

Ah, well. At least we have The Orville.

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The Last Stargazers

The Last Stargazer: The Enduring Story of Astronomy’s Vanishing Explorers
© 2020 Emily Levesque
336 pages

Emily Levesque was drawn to the stars from childhood on. Having realized her dream of studying them for a living, in The Last Stargazers she offers readers a glimpse into the workday lives of astronomers across the spectrum (literally, in this case), and reflections on why we should study the stars to begin with.  Levesque draws on her own globe-hopping studies and interviews with other astronomers in the field to create this review of the practice and review of modern astronomy. 

Although the brain’s mental image of an astronomer might be someone like Galileo peering through a telescope, discovering the moons of  Jupiter,  precious few astronomers ever do any direct stargazing. It’s rare, Levesque writes, to find an astronomer who is intimately familiar with the night sky the way the public expects – instantly knowing what star is what.  Most astronomers today aren’t directly involved in the observation: even if they’re working at an observatory, they’re usually safely ensconced in another room all together, letting a computerized dome do its observations at their remote-controlled bidding. Instead of directly studying the skies, or plate photographs thereof, they’re receiving data and crunching numbers.   To a degree, they don’t even need to be there, and one modern practice allows multiple astronomers to timeshare an observatory by submitting research requests:  if there are different requests that dovetail nicely (two astronomers wanting to study the same area, but with different exposures, for instance),  the telescope can conduct both studies simultaneously and transmit the  respective data to their interested parties.   

To the stars’ innate ability to ensnare our imagination, and the fascinating ways scientists collect data (including from a flying observatory), Levesque adds colorful background . Because of the nature of their work, observatories are typically built in remote places where light and radio emissions from human activity are minimized, and in the case of optical observatories,  the higher they are the better the ‘seeing’ is.  This means astronomers often work in nearly undeveloped locations, with many natural hazards: snowstorms, volcanos,   wildlife,etc,   Astronomers who are physically present at the station are long removed from help, and have to be able to think on their feet in stressed conditions to make ad-hoc adjustments to save either the machines or their data from unexpected events.   

As someone perennially fascinated  by the stars and the study thereof,  I enjoyed The Last Stargazers thoroughly.  It’s rare to find a book that demonstrates how astronomy is done, rather than telling the reader what’s been discovered: Mike Brown’s How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had it Coming is the only other nonfiction title I’ve read that offers such insight. (Carl Sagan’s Contact got into the nuts and bolts, but it was fiction.)   I hope Levesque continues to write in the future:   we need more astronomer-authors!  

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The death of Liberty

“Liberty never dies from direct attack. No man ever arises and says ‘Down with Liberty.’ Liberty has died in 14 countries in a single score of years from weakening its safeguards, from demoralization of the moral stamina of the people….If we examine the fate of wrecked republics throughout the world we find their first symptoms in the weakening of the legislative arm. Subservience in legislative halls is the spot where liberty and political morals commit suicide.” – Herbert Hoover, as quoted in The Hardest Job in the World

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Cold Sassy Tree

Cold Sassy Tree
© 1984 Olive Ann Burns
391 pages

“I know now the difference between a writer and an author. A  writer writes, and an author speaks.”   Those words came from Leaving Cold Sassy, an unfinished sequel to this work which I first read in late middle school or early high school.  Over the years, most of the story was lost to me, aside from a few bits and bobs – an old widower scandalizing the town by marrying a young Yankee,  the family driving the town’s first ‘artermobile’ down main street – and my lingering affection for it. But  those words remained with me, and they came to mind all the more as I ventured again into Cold Sassy this past week. 

Cold Sassy Tree takes place in a small north-Georgia village at the crossroads of two centuries,  peopled by greying Confederate veterans and their children, who look to the future with excitement. Great things are going on in far away places in New York, but Cold Sassy seems as untroubled and deeply rooted as the sassafras tree downtown.  But then the Grand Duke of Cold Sassy’s wife dies, and the duke himself, Rucker Blakeslee, announces that he’s marrying his shop girl – a Yankee several decades too young for him.  Though the town is scandalized, ol’ Rucker Blakeslee is just getting started.  

When I read this as a child I suppose I was mostly enamored of it because it was the first ‘southern’ novel I’d encountered. As an adult, though, I noticed how much of the novel is driven by tensions in the characters’ relationships with one another.  There’s a slow-brewing family war between Rucker’s daughters, who view their new stepmother as a young usurper who has stolen their potential inheritance, bewitching their daddy in the process. The chief relationship is the main character Will’s bond with his grandfather:  he is as surprised by the marriage as anyone, but torn between loyalties and affections: he knows his folks don’t like the new Mrs. Blakeslee,  but he’s half in love with her himself.   Will is also growing up and developing his own personality: he has a friendship with a mill girl that everyone disapproves of, and his hopes for the future don’t involve the family store. 

Cold Sassy Tree is not an exciting, dramatic novel; this is not Gone with the Wind, with larger than life characters screaming at each other across the stage, and a war raging in the background. It is instead a cozy, intimate novel, where we see characters falling in love and grappling with the consequences, or trying to rise above old prejudices or make peace with novelties; it’s a tale of growing up, and learning wisdom from losses and growth along the way.  As with life, it mixes joys and sorrows: although tension is constant (Will is constantly stuck between his grandpa and his parents), so are the laughs:  Rucker  has plainly been waiting a lifetime to have this much fun, and now that he no longer has to fear scandalizing his wife of thirty years, all bets are off.    

Rereading Cold Sassy Tree is like visiting an old relative and finding out they’re more interesting than you remember. I’d forgotten much of the story, but the years between my readings has also made it possible to get more of out it; reading about a boy losing his grandfather is very different when you’ve actually done it. I suspect a novel like this isn’t for anyone; there’s no sweeping narrative, just family drama and the story of a town and a boy growing up, with an old man’s wit, wisdom, and cackling or grumbling in the background.

Selections

“Livin’ is like pourin’ water out of a tumbler into a dang Coca-Cola bottle. If’n you skeered you can’t do it, you cain’t. If’n you say to yourself, “By dang, I can do it!” then, by dang, you won’t slosh a drop.”

“T.R.’s real name was Theodore Roosevelt. He was just a puppy when Papa took me to Atlanta to hear the president speak; I named him Theodore Roosevelt when I got home that day—then shortened it to T.R. so folks wouldn’t think my dog was a Republican.”

“Well’m, faith ain’t no magic wand or money-back gar’ntee, either one. Hit’s jest a way a’livin’. Hit means you don’t worry th’ew the days. Hit means you go’on be holdin’ on to God in good or bad times, and you accept whatever happens. Hit means you respect life like it is – like God made it- even when it ain’t what you’d order from the wholesale house. Faith don’t mean the Lord go’n make lions lay down with lambs jest cause you ast him to, or make fire not burn. Some folks, when they pray to git well and don’t even git better, they say God let’m down. But I say that warn’t even what Jesus was a-talkin’ bout. When Jesus said ast and you’ll git it, He was givin’ a gar’ntee a-spiritual healin, not body healin’. He was sayin’ thet if’n you git beat down – scairt to death you cain’t do what you got to, or scairt you go’n die, ir scairt folks won’t like you- why, all you got to do is put yore hand in God’s and He’ll lift you up.”

Related:
Wendell Berry’s Port William books

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Top Ten Books That Made Me Laugh

This week Top Ten Tuesday is looking at funny books, so I’m listing my ten favorite P.G. Wodehouse novels. Okay, I won’t go that far, but..

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Max Shulman. I was given this collection of ’40s-era campus stories as a graduation present from my high school librarian, and fell for it instantly. It’s one of my Very Favorite Books, one I’ve rebought over the years as my reading copies have fallen apart. I’ve since read a lot more of Shulman but Many Loves is the vintage stuff.

Sharpe’s series ,Bernard Cornwell. I’m not going to pinpoint a particular book, because Cornwell’s gift for inserting humor into tense action sequences is consistent throughout the series. The humor is mostly Sharpe himself, who has little patience for pretentious higher-ups lecturing him (“I never invited him to a duel. I offered to beat the hell out of him.”) , but other characters like Hogan and Harper also provide smiles.

Saxon chronicles, Bernard Cornwell. The humor in the Saxon stories is again mostly in dialogue, but there’s also situational humor — as when Uhtred draws his sword to kill a man after the intended piously asks God to strike him down that instant if he’s ever lied. (“Lord Uhtred, NO!” cries Aethelflaed.) Other characters also help:

“Oh, lord, I am so many things! A scholar, a priest, an eater of cheese, and now I am chaplain to Lord Uhtred, the pagan who slaughters priests. That’s what they tell me. I’d be eternally grateful if you refrained from slaughtering me. May I have a servant, please?” (Death of Kings)

The Best Cook in the World, Rick Bragg. Stories around southern cooking, particularly behind Bragg’s mama’s best recipes. (“She does not cook chitlin’s, because she knows what God made them to do.”) . Bragg ‘s other works are replete with humor, too.

The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde. This one had me roaring when I watched the stage production at Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and reading the play is almost as good:

“I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.”

Pretty Much Anything By P.G. Wodehouse. I read Wodehouse because Isaac Asimov mentioned him so many times, and Asimov is my most-read author (70+ books). I’ve mentioned this many times since I first read Wodehouse in 2015, but you don’t know how funny English can be unless you have experienced him, especially in full form in the Jeeves & Wooster stories. Wodehouse’s narration is a ball, as is his dialogue. He’s a pick-me-up that’s unputdownable. The Wooster stories concern a lovable if useless young aristo who spends his days cavorting with the fellas, and putting his mind to work rescuing himself or his friends from precarious situations like gainful employment or marriage. Invariably he only makes matters worse, but his butler Jeeves is forever in the background pulling strings and playing the straight man to Wooster’s absurdism. I can’t help but hear Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie when I read the novels, which makes it even funnier.

“And yet, if he wants this female to be his wife, he’s got to say so, what? I mean, only civil to mention it.”
“Precisely, sir.”

“It seems to me, Jeeves, that the ceremony may be one fraught with considerable interest.”
“Yes, sir.”
“What, in your opinion, will the harvest be?”
“One finds it difficult to hazard a conjecture, sir.”
“You mean imagination boggles?”
“Yes, sir.”
I inspected my imagination. He was right. It boggled.

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Death and madness in China

The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History
© 2016 Frank Dikotter
433 pages

In twenty-five years of reading history, I know of no man who has instigated more human suffering and death at a broader scale than Mao Tse-tung, the rebel turned architect of a nightmare state. He is rivaled only by Lenin and Stalin, Hitler being a pale and overly medicated imitation, and any book on the cultural revolution serves an example as to why. I’ve long put off reading this title, because the Cultural Revolution horrifies and disturbs me like little else. Episodes like it have happened before; Byzantine iconoclasm, Puritanism, the French revolution — some zeal seizes the mob and its wrathful energy is poured out on the impure past, and beauty is destroyed to make society conform to an abstract ideal. But the cultural revolution was total, murderous bedlam, instigated by Mao to solidify his own position by turning the first generation of Chinese children raised under his regime against his interior rivals to shore up power after destalinization swept Russia.. But the fire he kindled consumed its own, and in A Cultural Revolution we receive not only the full scope of the endless, stupefyingly horrible brutality, but witness too flashes of hope — people’s growing alienation from the state, and their rebellion in the face of starvation. Although Dikotter’s dispassionate record of abuse after abuse doesn’t scourge the soul as effectively as say, The Rape of Nanking, or Wild Swans, it’s sufficient enough that I don’t want to dwell on it at length. The chaos and carnage are horrific, as is the realization that these were not just 20-somethings being set on teachers and the like, but schoolchildren — children given the whip by ideology and set on their elders. Wild Swans had already communicated much of the awfulness for me, but Dikotter’s broader review made me aware of how the Revolution wasn’t one frenzied episode, but rather a series of related outbreaks that finally exhausted themselves when Mao’s lieutenant mysteriously died after Mao caught wind that he was planning to murder the murderer-in-chief. Of particular interest to me were the brief looks at how man adapts to living in a tyrannical society, in which his neighbors are the agents of his oppression — the people who would turn him in for doing the wrong thing, or not having the wrong opinions.

SELECTIONS

“But in an odd twist of fate, the attempt to replace individual rewards with moral incentives during the Great Leap Forward had already produced a nation of entrepreneurs. People had not simply waited to starve to death. In a society in disintegration, they had resorted to every means available to survive. So destructive was radical collectivisation that at every level the population tried to circumvent, undermine or exploit the master plan, covertly giving full scope to the profit motive that the party was trying to eliminate. As the catastrophe unfolded, claiming tens of millions of victims, the very survival of an ordinary person came to depend on the ability to lie, charm, hide, steal, cheat, pilfer, forage, smuggle, trick, manipulate or otherwise outwit the state.”

“Zhai Zhenhua was one of the girls from an elite middle school who joined the Red Guards. The first time she saw a friend remove her belt to beat a victim until his clothes were drenched in blood, she recoiled. But she did not want to fall behind, so she persevered. At first she avoided eye contact with a human target, justifying the beatings by imagining how they were plotting the return of the old society. But after a few beatings she got the hang of it. ‘My heart hardened and I became used to the blood. I waved my belt like an automaton and whipped with an empty mind.’”

At one point a quiet man who was an expert in experimental phonetics was declared a counter-revolutionary in the middle of a study session. Everybody was stunned. The team leader used the occasion to announce triumphantly that even a person who had never spoken about political matters could be an enemy in his heart, and such inner convictions could no longer be concealed from the proletariat.”

“But despite the house raids, the book burnings, the public humiliations and all the purges, not to mention the ceaseless campaigns of re-education, from study classes in Mao Zedong Thought to May Seventh Cadre Schools, old habits died hard. The Cultural Revolution aimed to transform every aspect of an individual’s life, including his innermost thoughts and personal feelings, but in many cases it managed to exact only outward compliance. People fought deception with deception, lies with lies and empty rhetoric with empty slogans. Many were great actors, pretending to conform, knowing precisely what to say when required.

Related:
The Tragedy of Liberation, Frank Dikoetter
Wild Swans, Chang Jung. A memoir of the Revolution, which destroys the lives of the subject’s parents, despite their status as True Believers as far as Mao and the party went
The Rape of Nanking, Iris Chang. If you want to read about more death. Perhaps the suffering Chinese people endured at the hands of Japan hardened them and allowed them to be just as brutal to each other twenty years later.

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