Saturday 27 October 2018

Mass readings in Scots: Thirtieth Sunday of the Year (Year B)

Gospel reading
Mark 10: 46-52

And they cam tae Jericho; and as he gaed oot o’ Jericho wi’ his disciples and a hantle o’ folk, the son o’ Timeus, blin’ Bartimeus, the beggar, was sittin by the way. And whan he heard it was Jesus o’ Nazareth, he begude to cry oot, “Jesus, thou Son o' Dauvid! hae thou mercy on me!” And mony flytit on him, that he sud be quate. But he cry’t sae muckle the mair, an unco deal, “Thou Son o’ Dauvid! hae mercy on me!” And Jesus stude still, and said, “Ca' ye him !” and they ca’d the blin’ man, sayin, “Cheer up! Rise! He's ca’in ye!” And he, thrawin aff his manteel, sprang up, and cam to Jesus. And Jesus, answerin him, says, “What wad ye that I soud do till ye?” And the blin’ man said, “Lord! that I may hae my sicht!” And Jesus said to him, “Gang yere ways! yere faith has made ye hale!” And forthwith he gat his sicht, and follow’t Jesus.

[From The New Testament in Braid Scots William Wye Smith (1904) here]

Sunday 21 October 2018

Mass readings in Scots: Twenty-ninth Sunday of the Year (Year B)

First reading
Isaiah 53: 10-11

Bot sic weight, was the will o' the Lord till lay on him:
Gin his life be eneugh till hae-by wi' our sin,
a seed he sal see sal live lang eneugh in him;
an' ay in his han's the Lord's pleasur sal win.

O' his ain life-lang tholin,
he sa see, an' be willin:
the better he's kenned, this leal-man o' my ain; the mae he sal redd frae the wrang that's ontil them:
for the wyte o' their fauts, he sal carry't himlane.

[From Isaiah 53: 13-14, Isaiah frae Hebrew intil Scottis, by P. Hately Waddell 1879 (Amazon US here; Amazon UK here)]

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 32: 4-5, 18-20, 22

For right is the Lord's ain word;
an' ilk wark o' his ain's intil truth.
The right he lo'es, an' right-rechtin a';
the gude o' the Lord the yirth fu'fills.

Bot, the ee o' the Lord's on wha fear himsel,
on wha lippen a' till his likan:
Till redd out their saul frae diean-dune;
an' in dearth, till haud them thrivan.

Our life's but a tryst on the Lord;
our stoop an' our schild is he.
Lat yer luve be atowre us, Lord,
sae lang's we lippen till thee.

[From Psalm 33, The Psalms: frae Hebrew intil Scottis P. Hately Waddell (1891) here]

Second reading
Hebrews 4: 14-16

Tharfor we that haue a gret bischop, that persit heuenis, Jesu, the sonn of God, hald we the confessioun of oure hope. For we haue nocht a bischop, that may nocht haue compassioun on our infirmiteis bot was temptit be althingis be liknes, without synn. Tharfore go we with traist to the throne of his grace, that we get mercy, and find grace in couenabile help.

[From The New Testament in Scots Murdoch Nisbet [c.1520] (1903) vol 2 here]

Gospel reading
Mark 10: 35-45

And James and Johnne, Zebedeis sonnis, com to him, and said, "Maister, we will that quhat euir we ask thou do to vs." And he said to thame, "Quhat will ye that I do to you?" And thai said, "Graunt to vs that we sitt, that on [on] thi richt half, and that vthir on thi lift half, in thi glorie." And Jesus said to thame. "Ye wate nocht quhat ye ask: may ye drink the cup quhilk I sal drink? or be weschin with the baptyme in quhilk I am baptisit?" And thai said to him, "We may." And Jesus said to thame, "Ye sal drink the cup that I drink; and ye salbe weschin with the baptyme in quhilk I am baptizit: bot to sit at my richt half or lift ha[lf i]s nocht myn to gefe to you, bot to quhilk it is made reddie."

And the ten herd, and began to haue indignatioun of James and Johnne. Bot Jesus callit thame, and said to thaim, "Ye wate that thai that ar sene to haue princehede of folkis ar lordis of thame; and the princis of thame has powere of thame. Bot it is nocht sa amang you: bot quhaeuir wilbe made gretare, salbe your mynistere; and quhaeuir wilbe the first amang you, salbe the seruand of all. For quhy mannis sonn com nocht that it suld be ministerit to him, bot that he suld minister, and gefe his lif aganebying for mony."

 [From The New Testament in Scots Murdoch Nisbet [c.1520] (1901) vol 1 here]

Friday 19 October 2018

Review of Barbara Ehrenreich's 'Living with a Wild God'

I bought Ehrenreich's Living with a Wild God a while back frankly because it was, at the time, on one of those cheap offers from Kindle. I put off reading it because I expected a rather dreary account of spirituality from a secularised liberal -and, at least in part, that's what it is.

Most of the book, however, is a relatively straightforward account of the adolescence of a very smart, but unhappy girl. That makes it sound rather banal and indeed it is. Ehrenreich's parents are, cutting through the fluff, opinionated and irresponsible drunks. Coupled with the social tensions unleashed on America in the fifties and sixties, this makes for a narrative that is rather comforting in its familiarity: they eff you up, your mom and pop, but you're smart enough to escape (sort of). That said, I enjoyed this part. Ehrenreich writes well (albeit in that seamless, overly perfect style of the MFA teacher/professional writer determined to leave nothing thought unwritten or unsold). It works well as a coming of age narrative, and that was rather a relief after what I thought I was going to get.

But God does get a part, although rather a bit part compared to Barbara Ehrenreich's. His first walk on appearance is in her teenage years where, apparently prompted by lack of sleep and a stressful long drive, she has a vision of the world denuded of human meaning. (A bit like Sartre's  Nausea but without the nausea.) His second appearance is in late middle age where, having moved to the wilds of Florida, she starts to appreciate the extreme Otherness of wild creatures, particularly the dangerous ones. What appears to connect the two is a sense of an Otherness in the universe beyond Ehrenreich's adolescent solipsism: not exactly a God, but the hint of other entities or forces that are at least analogous to intelligences. (Another step in this process -and perhaps another walk on part for the deity- is in her recognition in her twenties of the real existence of other human minds in her increasing sense of social injustice and individual suffering which leads to a life of progressive activism.)

I can think of many worse ways of spending a few hours than reading this book. It offers the satisfaction both of a well written Bildungsroman and an insight into at least a version of the modern 'spirituality not religion' secularised mindset. What irritated me about it was that, despite the title, the God encountered is so very domesticated, so very Ehreneiched. Partly this is a result of the overcrafted style: every experience has been digested and transformed into well-formed, tasteful prose. But more important is the substantive expectedness of the Other encountered. Perhaps if you're a materialist and chemical biologist by training, it seems very daring, very wild to think of anything beyond molecules and gravity and exceptionless laws of nature. So when you find yourself talking like this, it's impossible to think of yourself as anything other than the edgiest kid on the block:

We have, in other words, made ourselves far lonelier than we have any reason to be. My adolescent solipsism is incidental compared to the collective solipsism our species has embraced for the last few centuries in the name of modernity and rationality, a worldview in which there exists no consciousness or agency other than our own, where nonhuman animals are dumb mechanisms, driven by instinct, where all other deities and spirits have been eliminated in favor of the unapproachable God of monotheism...
You first have to revise the question. To ask why is to ask  for a motive or a purpose, and a motive has to arise from an apparatus capable of framing an intention, which is what we normally call a mind. Thus the question why is always really the question who.
Since we have long since outgrown the easy answer -God- along with theism of any kind, we have to look for our who within what actually exists. No one is saying that the universe, as an entity, is alive, and certainly not that it has motives or desires. But the closer and more carefully we probe, the more it seethes with what looks like life...

(From the final chapter.)

 A mystery recognised, but then immediately reduced to something untroubling (not theism, not monotheism, not even polytheism) and frankly rather babbling in the way that a peasant might babble that the world was made out of rotting cheese. And who again is this 'us'? Who beyond the select circle of Enlighted Democrats would be surprised to discover that animals have desires and mental content, at least at the level of sometimes wanting to eat 'us'? Would Catholics be surprised at a world filled with saints, angels and demons? Would classical theists be content with the sort of Nobodaddy that Ehrenreich imagines and rejects rather than the 'what we call God' of the Quinque Viae? And never mind anything about Romanticism, or Spinoza or Schopenhauer: just Ehrenreich. A bit surprised because she and her circle are a bit surprised, but not too much surprised because the Other isn't really anything more than 'algorithms' but apparently ones with an 'unquenchable playfulness' (final chapter again) however that is supposed to work.

I have a tendency to snark and it's probably not helping here. But there's almost no indication that, it having occurred to her that the world is infested with non-human mind, she then does the obvious thing of looking carefully at what previous human minds have said about that (quickly flipping through the Upanishads as a fifteen year old doesn't count) or at least acknowledging that others have said an awful lot on this which she simply hasn't grappled with. Instead the purported wildness of this discovery becomes simply a trophy to be displayed on her cultural wall. Not only, she seems to say, do I inhabit this comfortable apartment with all modern amenities, but I am also superior to you because I acknowledge the Wild. And there it is, decapitated, labelled, and hung over my woodburning stove.

(For another view, The Guardian review is here.)

Saturday 13 October 2018

Mass readings in Scots: Twenty-eighth Sunday of the Year (Year B)

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 90 (89) 12-17 (resp. v.14)

O, mak our sauls content;
Syne sal we lilt an blithesum be.

 Thine angir’s pour, O, wha can tell?
’Tis marrow tae thy fear.
Tae count our days syne teach us, sae
Our herts may win sic lear.

O, mak our sauls content;
Syne sal we lilt an blithesum be.

O Lord, hou lang or Thou come back
Tae them at miss thee sair?
O, haud Thy haun frae Thine ain fowk
An, in Thy píty, spare.

O, mak our sauls content;
Syne sal we lilt an blithesum be.

Fu sune wi rowth o mercy sweet,
O, mak our sauls content;
Syne sal we lilt an blithesum be
Til aa our days be spent.

O, mak our sauls content;
Syne sal we lilt an blithesum be.

For aa the weary days at we
In dool an dolour lay,
An aa the years at ill befel,
Oh mak us gled, we pray.

O, mak our sauls content;
Syne sal we lilt an blithesum be.

Lat aa Thy fowk at thirldom ken
But líve Thy wark tae see,
An tae their bairns a gudely sicht
O Thine ain glorie gíe.

O, mak our sauls content;
Syne sal we lilt an blithesum be.

Syne let the glamour o the Lord,
Our God, upò us faa;
An siccar mak our warks o haun,
Ay, siccar mak thaim aa.

O, mak our sauls content;
Syne sal we lilt an blithesum be.

[From Psalm 90Worship in Scots, 'Psalms for Singing' Church of Scotland resource accessed 11/02/22), Thomas Thomson Alexander (1881 – 1945).]

Second reading
Hebrews 4: 12-13

For the word of God is quick, and spedy in wurking, and mare abile to perse than ony ii egget suerde, and strekis to the departing of the saule and of the spirit, and of the iunctouris and merchis, and rof thouchtis, and intentis of hartis. And na creature is vnuisibile in the sicht of God. For althingis ar nakit and opin to his een, to quham a word to vs.

[From The New Testament in Scots Murdoch Nisbet [c.1520] (1903) vol 2 here]

Gospel reading
Mark 10: 17-30

Ande quhen Jesus was gaan out in the way, a man rann before, and knelit before him, and prayt him, and said, "Gude maister, quhat sal I do that I resaue euirlasting lif?" And Jesus said to him, "Quhat sais thou that I am gude? thar is na man gude bot God himself. Thou knawis the comandmentis, do thou na adultrie, sla nocht, steil nocht, say nocht fals witnessing, do na fraude, honour thi fadere and moder. And he ansuerd and said to him, "Maistire, I haue kepit al thir thingis fra my youthe." And Jesus beheld him, and luvit him, and said to him, "Aa thing failyeis to thee: ga thou, and sell al thingis that thou has, and gefe to pure men, and thou sail haue tresoure in heuen: and cum, follou thou me." And he was full soroufull in the word, and past away murnyng: for he had mony possessiounns.

Jesus beheld about, and said to his discipilis, "How hardlie thai that haue richessis sal entire into the kingdom of God." And the discipilis war astonaisit in his wordis. And Jesus ansuerd, and said to thame, "Ye litil childire, how hard is it for men that traistis in richessis to entire [in]to the kingdom of God! It is lichtare a camele to [pas] throu an needlis ee than a riche man to entire into the kingdom of God." And thai wonndrit maire, and said amang thameself, "Quha may be savet?" And Jesus beheld thame, and said, "Anentis men it is impossibile, bot nocht anentis God: for all thingis ar possibile anentis God."

Ande Petir began to say to him, "Lo, we haue left al thingis, and has followit thee." Jesus ansuerde and saide, "Trewly I say to you, thare is na man that leifis hous, or brethire, or sisteris, or fadere and modere, or bairnis, ore feeldis, fore me, and fore the Gospell, quhilk sal nocht tak a hundreth fald sa mekile now in this tyme, housis, and brethir, and sisteris, and faderis, and moderis, and bairnis, and feeldis, with persecutiouns; and in the warld to cummyng euirlasting lif."

[From The New Testament in Scots Murdoch Nisbet [c.1520] (1901) vol 1 here]

Friday 12 October 2018

Medieval Scottish approaches to King Arthur

                                       Queen Guinevere's (Vanora's) burial mound in Meigle

Following on from earlier posts (here and here) on Arthur and Scotland...
From the fourteenth century onwards, the Merlin of Arthuriana began to appear as a character in Scottish pseudo-histories...They usually depicted Arthur in his familiar guise as a mightly king, with Merlin cast as a prophet and sorcerer at the royal court. Both characters were often treated unfavourably, chiefly because of the political implications of Merlin's prophecies. In Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae Merlin prophesied that Arthur would one day return to regain his authority over the whole of Britain. To many Scots in the Middle Ages, this was a profoundly unsettling prospect. They did not welcome the idea of being conquered -or reconquered- by an ambitious southern king, whether legendary or not. Moreover, HRB had not only shown Arthur as conquering Scotland but had also depicted his treacherous nephew Modred [sic] as a Scottish king. This, too, made Arthur seem like an enemy of the Scots. His negative image north of the Border was strengthened by the attitudes of contemporary English writers, many of whom saw Arthur as a model for their own kings. Arthur's supposed domination of Britain provided a template for English territorial ambitions in the 1300s and 1400s...Scottish writers responded by promoting Modred, not Arthur, as the legitimate overlord of ancient Britain...
This type of ill-feeling towards Arthur and Merlin was a characteristic of Scottish historical writing in the late medieval period and continued through the arguments over political union during the sixteenth century. At its heart was a broader opposition to the perceived 'Englishness' of Arthur and to the idea of a single, pan-British kingdom ruled by a southern monarch.

[From ch. 8, Scotland's Merlin: A Medieval Legend and its Dark Age Origins. Tim Clarkson, 2016. Review here.]

The discussion continues with particular reference to the treatment of Merlin in The Complaynt of Scotland.

I suppose the above passage reinforces for me the sense that many narratives which purport to tell 'our' national story don't adequately reflect deep differences in cultural history between Scotland and England, let alone the other parts of the UK. It's very easy to pick holes in the crasser Braveheart narratives of Nationalism. But Unionism faces the problem that, firstly, due to the appalling state of historical education in Scotland, probably the only thing that most Scottish children do know historically is that England kept invading Scotland; and, secondly, far too many narratives (of which Roberts' programme is an example) are provokingly blind to those deeper patterns of difference which any successful modern Unionism will have to negotiate rather than simply dismiss. 

Walter Scott provides a striking contrast here. His narratives are soaked in the detail of Scottish history and even antipathy towards England, but they also sublate those antagonisms, in part through the exercise of nostalgia and in part through the myth of enlightenment, into an acceptance of the Union. I see nothing of comparable subtlety occuring at the moment in Unionism, the arguments for which seem predominantly based on economic interest. My guess is that such a solely economic basis is inadequate for asabiyyah, and that consquently Unionism will ultimately prove increasingly unpersuasive. That would be a pity, not only for those who support the Union, but also for those Nationalists who, absent a worthy intellectual and cultural opponent, will be stuck with superficial, complacent and ultimately poisonous narratives of Utopian progress and being a lot nicer than the Southron.

Sunday 7 October 2018

Mass readings in Scots: Twenty-seventh Sunday of the Year (Year B)

Gospel reading
Mark 10: 2-16

And the Pharisees cam nar till him, and they wad ken, “Is it lawfu’ for a man to pit awa a wife?” tempin him. And answerin them, quo’ he, “What dis Moses commaun?” And they said, “Moses allooed a writin o’ divorce, and to put her awa.” But Jesus answer’t, “Anent the hardness o’ yere hearts, he wrate ye this commaun. But frae the first o’ the creation, God formed them male and female. And fore-anent this sal a man lea' his faither and his mither, and cling till his wife: and they twa sal be ae flesh: sae are they nae mair twa, but ae flesh. Whasae, than, God has joined thegither let-na man pit sindry!” And whan they war within again, the disciples speir’t at him anent it. And he says to them, “Whasae pits awa his wife, and take anither, commits adultery against his wife. And gin a woman divorces her husband, and taks anither, she commits adultery.”

And they war bringin till him bairns, that he soud touch them; but the disciples challenged them that brocht them. But when Jesus saw it, he was unco displeased, and said to them, “Lat the wee anes come to me: hinner-them-na: for o’ siccan anes is the kingdom o’ God! Truly say I t’ye, whasae taks-na till him the kingdom o’ God as a wee bairn, he’se in naegate comin in!” And he clippit them up in his airms, and socht blessings on them, and pat his hauns on them.

[From The New Testament in Braid Scots William Wye Smith (1904) here]

Tuesday 2 October 2018

Conservatism, hierarchy and solidarity

One of the words I'd like to hear used rather more by socially conservative commentators is that of 'solidarity'. Too often it's captured by the left -ironically in the service of a social fragmentation that pits sub-group agaist sub-group- or ignored by the right in favour of an eristic capitalism and Darwninian culture.

 The term “solidarity”, widely used by the Magisterium, expresses in summary fashion the need to recognize in the composite ties that unite men and social groups among themselves, the space given to human freedom for common growth in which all share and in which they participate. The commitment to this goal is translated into the positive contribution of seeing that nothing is lacking in the common cause and also of seeking points of possible agreement where attitudes of separation and fragmentation prevail. It translates into the willingness to give oneself for the good of one's neighbour, beyond any individual or particular interest. [Compendium of Social Doctrine, s.194 here]

There's a lot to be said here, but for the moment let's focus on the relationship between hierarchy and solidarity. As a rather chippy scion of White Van Man, I confess to a visceral loathing of hierarchy: I am in no doubt as to where my ancestors would have fitted into the squirearchical order and harbour a strong and not flattering suspicion as to where I actually fit. But balanced against this emotional reaction is the recognition of the importance of hierarchy to much existing conservative thought. How then to reconcile these competing perspectives?

It is fairly obvious that human beings differ greatly in their accomplishments and potentials. It is simply for that reason of realism that conservatives must reject an easy slogan of equality: to accept an equality which obscures the natural differences of people is simply a lie. On the other hand, recognition of our supernatural end and of our infinite individual worth to God also compels rejection of an easy abandonment of individuals to the scrapheap. Perhaps two key insights are these: we are all in this together and the world's judgment of worth is not God's. To the jaundiced conservative observer, much left wing politics looks like the barest Nietzschean will to power camouflaged by pious phrases: progressive leaders prattle on about equality while wringing out the system to procure social and monetary advantages for themselves. In recent times, the powerful progressives seem more and more animated by a feeling that they are not in it together with us: we are gammon, oppressors, the benighted; they are the vanguard, the blessed by history who will at best force us to act according to their will or at worst destroy us to allow their freedom.

Hierarchy can be seen as an attempt to humanise and mollify the general human urge to power and particularly that of the aggressive and naturally capable. By institutionalising rank and fitting it into a narrative of duty and being part of a community which it rules, the animal urges of power and aggression are fitted into a more humane and indeed divine order. It is, at the very least, power made obvious: instead of the Hampstead's liberal pretence of equality, there is a frank admission that, in some ways, we are not in this together, and that these differences can only be transformed with difficulty into social solidarity by imposing reciprocal and socially binding duties on the haves and have nots.

There is finally an irony about traditional hierarchy, a sour trick played on the alphas of our society of which they are half conscious in a conservative society but wholly unconscious in a secular one. Due to the subordination of the natural end to the supernatural end, those who rule politically (let alone captains of business or other movers and shakers of the polis) are subordinate to those who are close to God: the merest beggar may be of more importance in the true reality of the universe than the highest politician. Traditional hierarchies are, in Plato's terms in Book 8 of the Republic, a timocracy, government by honour. Unlike the truly (but unachievable) best society, where the truly good person (the saint) would rule, the timocratic society is a shadow of that best, unachievable society and one which pays honour to the appearance of virtue rather than to its reality. Crudely, by stuffing the mouths of the socially competitive with ermine and titles, they are flattered into becoming socially useful rather than simply using their power to bleed the rest of us. And yet, the shadow of the truth haunts them and calls them to something better, constantly reminding them that they are being paid in baubles which will not be the currency of their final, supernatural end. (A certain silliness in the get up of the traditional hierarchy is an essential part of its function: the best argument for the judiciary, for example, wearing large and uncomfortable wigs is not just that it is imposing, but also that it reveals a certain pantomimic quality to the things of this world.)