Monthly Archives: October 2012

A Syriac Orthodox Chant for the Dead for All Hallow’s Eve


Beautiful and haunting, and appropriate for the day.

Original Poem for Halloween


Restless, they shift upon their earthen bed

As night enfolds the world in its wings drear.

Tonight, uneasy sleep the dead.

The pleasant autumn fades; the heavy tread

Of solstice hastens on the dying year—

Restless, they shift upon their earthen bed.

Forgotten memories stir in dusty head

Of blood that flows and eyes that see and ears that hear;

Tonight, uneasy sleep the dead.

The powdered hearts, no more by passions fed,

Long for love or hate, emotions’ sear;

Restless, they shift upon their earthen bed.

The living feel death’s jealousy, and dread,

And walk with quickened step and glance in fear.

Tonight, uneasy sleep the dead.

With doors and windows barred, await the thread

Of dawn that breaks dark’s hold, restores our cheer.

Restless, they shift upon their earthen bed—

Tonight, uneasy sleep the dead.

Rubá’í of the Day

When I am dead, with wine my body lave,
For obit chant a bacchanalian stave,
And, if you need me at the day of doom,
Beneath the tavern threshold seek my grave.

Rubá’í of the Day

Arise! and come, and of thy courtesy
Resolve my weary heart’s perplexity,
And fill my goblet, so that I may drink,
Or e’er they make their goblets out of me.

Rubá’í of the Day

Khaja! grant one request, and only one,
Wish me God-speed, and get your preaching done;
I walk aright, ’tis you who see awry;
Go! heal your purblind eyes, leave me alone.

Some Georgian Orthodox Chant to End the Weekend

h/t the Ochlophobist 

The Bhagavad Gītā

I grew up in a small town in the Bible Belt.  There were only a few more residents in my hometown–800–than students in the high school I went to–about 700 (my high school was in the county seat, with a population of 5000, which is still equivalent only to about two big-city high schools).  Until I was in my teens, I thought the only two religions that existed were “Baptist” and “Methodist”; and I was none too sure as to what the differences between them were, aside from their names.  As with most small-town, Bible Belt kids of the 70’s, I put in my time in Sunday school and vacation Bible school, though I avoided actual church services on Sunday like the plague (I went–was dragged, actually–to church maybe two three times before I was eighteen, and went about two or three times more, all of which were funerals, between eighteen and twenty-six).

I did have an old children’s literature book that my mother had had in college, which had a few of the Jātaka Tales, as well as a Hindu myth or two, in it.  Thus I did have some exposure to other religions and cultures in my youth, though in a spotty and inchoate way.  I was very much into Greek and Norse mythology, of which I read reams, but those were not living traditions (well, not then, anyway, as far as I knew), so for the purposes of discussion here, I leave them out.

When I was eighteen, I moved off to a college of 25,000 in a city of (at that time) 100,000 that was 130 miles from my home, in a part of my home state that was very much different from my hometown, both geographically and culturally.  By this time, in the process of researching a term paper on Islam in my senior year of high school (the Iranian Hostage Crisis was still in the news then), I had read Huston Smith’s classic The Religions of Man (since renamed to the more gender-inclusive The World’s Religions).  I had resolved to learn as much as I could about all the major religions.  Between the ages of seventeen and twenty, I read the King James Bible and the New English Bible, as I have discussed elsewhere.  Meanwhile, as has been mandatory for overly intellectual middle-class white kids since the 60’s, I read books of Asian wisdom in my freshman year at college (between the ages of eighteen and nineteen).  Specifically, I read (in what order, I don’t recall) the Koran, the Dhammapada, the Dao De Jing, and the Bhagavad Gītā (henceforth I dispense with the macrons, since the book has become sufficiently well-known for its title to have become partly Anglicized).  Read the rest of this entry

Your Own Personal Canon: Index

This is a new series distinct from my series of book (and other media) reviews.  This series contains essays on books that changed my life, were or are important to me for various reasons, and that I still reflect upon.  The first (and eponymous) essay in the series sets the stage.  Future essays will deal with specific books.

Your Own Personal Canon

The Bible (which required an entire series by itself)

The Bhagavad Gītā

The Dhammapada

The Tao Te Ching

Jonathan Livingston Seagull

The Gospel of Thomas

The Alice Books

A Canticle for Leibowitz

An Introduction to Zen Buddhism

The Jungle Book

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood


Your Own Personal Canon

“Canon” is an interesting word.  It comes via Greek from a Semitic original meaning something like “measuring rod”–thus, by extension, a “canon” is a “standard”.  It has come to mean a standard in the sense of the standard or officially approved writings of a particular religion.  Over the last few decades it has been extended from that to mean the accepted or approved works in a literary, cinematic, TV, comic, or other series of ongoing fictional stories–in short the “real” Star Trek or Harry Potter or such, as opposed to fanfics, pastiches, ripoffs, and other such works of heresy.   This makes an interesting connection between fandom and religion–but I digress.

What I’m interested in here is not holy writ per se nor fanboy stuff, but personal canons.  What do I mean?

I think that most thoughtful people, of whatever faith (or lack thereof), have “personal canons”–books (or other media, but for now I’m restricting it to books) that have greatly influenced them and which have continued to influence them.  Such books of a personal canon may be the scriptures of one’s religion, obviously, but are not limited to these, and don’t even necessarily include the “official” canon, at least not all parts of it to the same degree.  They may also be works of philosophy, history, literature, and so on.  They may be things we keep returning to, or things that we have been profoundly influenced by once, after which we never re-read them.  The possibilities are manifold.

A list of my own personal canon–not an exhaustive one, but representative–would look like this:

The Bible, of course; though I’d say that the most significant and influential books to me are Ecclesiastes, Job, parts of Psalms, and the Song of Songs from the Old Testament, and the Gospels (most particularly the Gospel of John), Acts, and Romans from the New Testament.  I give greater weight to the New Testament in general, not only as a Christian, obviously, but because as I’ve been re-reading the Bible, I find the nastier bits of the OT  harder to put up with.  I’ll be putting up a more detailed discussion of that issue later.

The Dao De Jing (or Tao Teh Ching, in Wade-Giles).  I have been profoundly influenced by this classic, and sometimes describe myself as a Daoist Catholic.  I first read it as a freshman in college, and have done so many times since.

The Dhammapada.  These verses from the Pali Canon, said to be the words of the Buddha himself, are ever worthy of re-reading and pondering.

The Divine Comedy and Paradise Lost.  ’Nuff said.

An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, by D. T. Suzuki.  My attitudes towards Suzuki have changed over the years–that’s a long story–but still not a bad source for a beginner to use in learning about Zen.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach, and The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, translated by Edward Fitzgerald.  Both more profound when you’re a teenager, but still sentimental favorites of mine.

Miracles and The Abolition of Man, by C. S. Lewis, both instrumental in the process of figuring out which faith to join.

Beyond Good and Evil, by Nietzsche.  I certainly disagree with him on many things, but he’s one of the best aphorists of all time, and it’s always useful and bracing to have the opposite perspective to think upon at times.

I could add more, and I could put in tons of commentary, but that’s a good start.  Let me open it up to all my readers in general here:  would you share your personal canons

Out of the Closet

From the time I was able to articulate how I felt, I knew I was different.  Even when I was young, I could tell that other people weren’t like me.  The things they wanted, that they said they felt–none of it resonated with me.  It was confusing.  I never spoke about it with my parents, although by my demeanor and oblique hints I think they might have suspected.  As I got older, I tried to socialize like everyone else, and never spoke about how I felt.  Life went on–I went to college, got a job, married, had a daughter.  Still, I knew I was different.

In conversations with others and from interactions I’ve had on the Internet, I’ve come to realize that I’m not alone.  There are others, many others like me, and I have started to seek them out.  I’m no longer willing to pretend in the face of those who oppose us.  I’m tired of pretending, of smiling and saying nothing, of subterfuge, of making nice, as if it’s OK for them to act that way, as if it’s not OK for me to be who I am.  No longer.  I am what I am, and I’m going to admit it, loudly and proudly.  If people don’t like it or disagree, I’m going to oppose them openly.  I’m coming out of the closet.

I’m a universalist.  Read the rest of this entry