Saturday, April 08, 2006

Dappled Things

The Lent/Easter 2006 edition of Dappled Things has been published. Check it out!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

How much do you really know about yaks?

(Reprinted from the Portsmouth Abbey Beacon, February 27, 2002)

Across Portsmouth Abbey, speculation is rife concerning the strange, foul-smelling creatures behind the Stillman Dining Hall. They are not yaks, as many ignorant people believe. Though they resemble these worthy animals in appearance, and in their strange fascination with cornbread, the true Himalayan yak is never found at low altitudes, preferring the health benefits of the rarified mountain air. Nor are they Scottish Highland cattle, as many supposedly “educated” people claim. For one thing, their accent is Lowland Scottish, distinguished by shorter vowels, simpler diphthongs, and a vibrating “r” sound.

Our own Matt Papi and Justin Bauer have just spent a term as Community Service interns studying these remarkable and fascinating animals. It is especially fitting that our Community Service program has taken the first step towards dialogue between students and yaks, for dialogue is the first step towards understanding. Although complete understanding has not yet been reached- our custom of Morning Lunch is as incomprehensible to them as their obsession with backgammon is to us- nevertheless we have learned much about these wonderful creatures, and hopefully they have learned much about us as well.

What do yaks like to do in their free time? Besides backgammon, at which they excel, they enjoy cornbread and reruns of “Star Trek.” Some time ago they were successfully introduced to the multi-player computer game “Half-Life”, and proved quite adept at it, but they have since been barred from the Computer Lab for trying to download inappropriate material from the Internet. Their strong competitive instinct has allowed them to dominate in pick-up soccer games and Ultimate Frisbee against Abbey students, and they are sometimes seen playing one-on-one basketball in the gym. For relaxation, they like to listen to ethnic Albanian music which causes them to fall into a hypnotic state.

There is one question concerning the yaks that is surely on everyone’s mind. Are they being raised for mystery meat? The answer is certainly no. Yak meat is easily identified by its chewy consistency and savory aroma when grilled, and is widely prized as a delicacy. It cannot be considered “mystery meat” except in parts of Scandinavia where it is virtually unknown, reindeer being considered superior.

What to do if you ever encounter a yak in an unexpected place such as the library or an elevator: Most importantly, do not attempt to solicit the assistance of bystanders. You are probably doomed, and yelling for help will only endanger the lives of others. If you are lucky, you can hold the yak off long enough for everyone else to escape. Do not panic. Yaks respect bravery in a victim. If you know a little Latin, now would be a good time to use it. “Morituri te salutant” is the customary formula in such situations.

Beneath their gruff exterior, yaks are gentle and fun-loving creatures. In fact, they seldom attack unless provoked. Some might even argue that they are the Abbey’s greatest asset, although most would reserve that honor for General Tso’s Chicken. Many students are totally dependent on these animals for meat, clothing, transportation, and yak butter tea. Its hair is woven into rugs and blankets to protect against the frigid Portsmouth winters and its horns are carved for decoration and made into utensils. Even the dung is dried and used for fuel.


Monday, February 13, 2006

In the news

The National Catholic Register interviews Dappled Things. Check it out!

Also, four more days to submit to our Lent/Easter 2005 issue!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Chesterton Quote of the Day

FEBRUARY 2nd (Candlemas)

But as I sat scrawling these silly figures on brown paper, it began to dawn on me, to my great disgust, that I had let one chalk, and that a most exquisite and essential one, behind. I searched all my pockets, but I could not find any white chalk. Now, those who are acquainted with all the philosophy (nay, religion) which is typified in the art of drawing on brown paper, know that white is positive and essential. I cannot avoid remarking here upon a moral significance. One of the wise and awful truths which this brown-paper art reveals is this: that white is a colour. It is not a mere absence of colour, it is a shining and affirmative thing: as fierce as red, as definite as black. When (so to speak) your pencil grows red hot, it draws roses; when it grows white hot, it draws stars. And one of the two or three defiant verities of the best religious morality -- of real Christianity, for example -- is exactly this same thing. The chief assertion of religious morality is that white is a colour. Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell. Mercy does not mean not being cruel or sparing people revenge or punishment: it means a plain and positive thing like the sun, which one has either seen or not seen. Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong; it means something flaming like Joan of Arc. In a word, God paints in many colours, but He never paints so gorgeously -- I had almost said so gaudily -- as when He paints in white.

'Tremendous Trifles' via Chesterton Day by Day


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Fabula de lupo qui ad lunam volavit

For the second meeting of my Free University Latin class I had my students write a story. Having gone over basic grammar in the first class, I gave them a list of vocabulary (first and second declension nouns, first conjugation verbs, adjectives, et al) and let them have at it. For simplicity, the present tense is the default, though that reads a bit awkwardly. Translation follows below.

Amica lupum ad lunam iactat. Lupus ad caelum volat, ergo iratus est. Amicam laudo. Dum saltamus cantasmusque in agro, lupus vaccas lunae salutat, quae purpurae sunt; sed alias non salutat, quia mortuae sunt. Agricolam, qui in lunā habitat, lupus culpat pro vaccis mortuis. Lupus cum agricolā pugnat.
Amicam meam rogo per quam viam ad lunam navigabimus.
"Viā magnā et umidā," amica cantat.
"Cur cantas?"
"Quia in tabernā eram."
Gladios magnos portantes viam navigamus. In lunā, cum gladiis saltamus. Agricola lupusque nos laudant. Vaccae purpurae lunae de nobis fabulam narrabit. Finis.

My friend throws the wolf to the moon. The wolf flies toward the sky, therefore he is angry. I praise my friend. While we are dancing and singing in the field, the wolf greets the moon-cows which are purple; but he does not greet the others, because they are dead. The wolf blames the farmer who lives on the moon on behalf of the dead cows. The wolf fights with the farmer. I ask my friend by what road we will sail to the moon.
"By the great wet road," my friend sings.
"Why are you singing?"
"Because I was in the tavern."
Carrying large swords we sail the road. On the moon, we dance with our swords. The farmer and the wolf praise us. The purple moon-cows will tell the story about us. The end.

And who says Latin's dead?

Friday, January 06, 2006


Feast of the Epiphany

The Wise Men
G.K. Chesterton

Step softly, under snow or rain,
To find the place where men can pray;
The way is all so very plain
That we may lose the way.

Oh, we have learnt to peer and pore
On tortured puzzles from our youth,
We know all the labyrinthine lore,
We are the three wise men of yore,
And we know all things but truth.

We have gone round and round the hill
And lost the wood among the trees,
And learnt long names for every ill,
And serve the made gods, naming still
The furies the Eumenides.

The gods of violence took the veil
Of vision and philosophy,
The Serpent that brought all men bale,
He bites his own accursed tail,
And calls himself Eternity.

Go humbly ... it has hailed and snowed...
With voices low and lanterns lit;
So very simple is the road,
That we may stray from it.

The world grows terrible and white,
And blinding white the breaking day;
We walk bewildered in the light,
For something is too large for sight,
And something much too plain to say.

The Child that was ere worlds begun
(... We need but walk a little way,
We need but see a latch undone...)
The Child that played with moon and sun
Is playing with a little hay.

The house from which the heavens are fed,
The old strange house that is our own,
Where trick of words are never said,
And Mercy is as plain as bread,
And Honour is as hard as stone.

Go humbly, humble are the skies,
And low and large and fierce the Star;
So very near the Manger lies
That we may travel far.

Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes
To roar to the resounding plain.
And the whole heaven shouts and shakes,
For God Himself is born again,
And we are little children walking
Through the snow and rain.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Happy New Year

Eheu fugaces, Postume, Postume,
labuntur anni...

-Horace, Odes 2.14

Happy New Year from all of us here at the Sacred and the Profane. (Well, I guess that's just me.) I find myself back at school on the eve of what promises to be an interesting Winter Study, my last at Williams. As of this morning, I am taking a class called Aikido and Ethics, for which I had previously signed up but didn't get into; I got an email today informing me that a spot had opened up, so I took it as a sign. I still hope to sit in on J.R.R. Tolkien, Middle Earth, and Modern Medievalism which is what I had been registered for. The latter is of course a bit more up my alley, but the Aikido class looked like a good opportunity to try something I'd probably never otherwise do, so I'm glad I got the chance to take it after all. We'll see how it works out.

Of course, this adds up to a somewhat busier schedule than I had anticipated. I'm also hoping to teach two courses in the "Free University" offered this month: "Introduction to Gregorian Chant" (co-taught with a professor in the PoliSci department) and "Is Latin Dead?", a quick (and hopefully entertaining) intro to the basics of the Latin language for anyone curious enough to sign up. I tried to offer the chant class last year and got a good number of signups, but unfortunately lost my voice for the entire month (I could talk, but not sing) and had to call the class off. I'm hoping for better luck this time.

Then, of course, there are the traditional Winter Study pastimes of sledding (and snow bocce, the most fun you'll ever have with a dining hall tray) and watching movies. Williams Catholic is also fielding (rinking?) a broomball team at my instigation, making our debut on the ice tomorrow night. After tossing out names from "The Ice Crusades" and "The Spanish Inquisition" (nobody expects them) to "Corporal Mortification" and "The Council of Trent" we settled on "The Papal Bulls". Yes, my principal motive in forming a team was to come up with as many wildly inappopriate names as possible. But the broomball part should be fun too.

And so it begins! Further updates as events warrant.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Chesterton Quote of the Day

There are innumerable persons with eyeglasses and green garments who pray for the return of the maypole or the Olympian Games. But there is about these people a haunting and alarming something which suggests that it is just possible that they do not keep Christmas. If so, where is the sense of all their dreams of festive traditions? Here is a solid and ancient festive tradition still plying a roaring trade in the streets, and they think it vulgar. If this is so, let them be very certain of this: that they are the kind of people who in the time of the maypole would have thought the maypole vulgar; who in the time of the Canterbury pilgrimage would have thought the Canterbury pilgrimage vulgar; who in the time of the Olympian Games would have thought the Olympian Games vulgar. Nor can there be any reasonable doubt that they were vulgar. Let no man deceive himself; if by vulgarity we mean coarseness of speech, rowdiness of behaviour, gossip, horseplay, and some heavy drinking: vulgarity there always was, wherever there was joy, wherever there was faith in the gods.

'Heretics' via Chesterton Day by Day.

Not for nothing am I known in some circles as Joe "D'Exciting Revelry" McDonough.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

In dulci iubilo

...let us our homage show;
our heart's joy reclineth
in praesepio,
and like a bright star shineth
matris in gremio,
Alpha es et O, Alpha es et O.
Yes, Aquinas, There is a Santa Claus (Touchstone)
O Jesu parvule,
I yearn for thee alway,
Hear me, I beseech thee,
O Puer optime!
My prayer let it reach thee,
O Princeps gloriae!
Trahe me post te, trahe me post te.
Hrodulf the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Old English Pages)
O Patris caritas,
O Nati lenitas!
Deeply were we stained
per nostra crimina,
But Thou hast for us gained
coelorum gaudia;
O that we were there, O that we were there.
The House of Christmas (G.K. Chesterton)
Ubi sunt gaudia,
In any place but there?
There are angels singing
nova cantica,
There the bells are ringing
in Regis curia;
O that we were there! O that we were there.

-14th century German

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

December at Williams...

is blurring through the last two weeks of classes, running from class to rehearsal to dinner to rehearsal to Rosary to homework to sleep; on Friday, the last day of class, dyeing my hair green and telling people that St. Patrick's day fell early this year (the Celtic church and their lunar calendar, you know); returning from dinner and collapsing onto my bed, exhausted; it is also getting up the next morning, a Saturday, to take a self-scheduled Greek exam at 8:30am so that it can be finished in time for a 10:30 rehearsal with an impromptu schola before a two-hour choir rehearsal at 11:00...

Later that day, it is singing carols up and down Spring Street with the Elizabethans, ducking into the post office for our yearly attempt at Handel's Hallelujah chorus (this year, for the first time, with sheet music) and then gathering around and closing our eyes to sing Rachmaninoff's Bogoroditse Devo because it's beautiful enough not to need a reason. That night, sledding down Bee Hill in the light of the not-quite full moon, the lights of Williamstown to the north, the wide dark expanse of Greylock southward, Orion askew in the east, Sirius twinkling madly above the horizon. Then, on Sunday, Lessons and Carols in Thompson Chapel, playing the organ and chanting with the schola and singing with the choir, twice; putting the choir robes away for the last time and hanging the jingle bell ribbon with the first three; I notice two are red, two purple.

Back in the Chapel on Monday for three hours of recording for the next Elizabethans CD, then gathering around the piano to plunk out Christmas carols because we don't want to stop singing if it means studying for exams, or maybe just because we don't want to stop singing. Tuesday and Wednesday, writing a paper, wishing I was more of a writer and less of an obsessive prose stylist; Thursday, two exams and the bittersweet feeling of another semester down. Then three days of throwing together the inaugural online edition of Dappled Things (q.v.), fussing over style sheets and applying endless html tags, searching through my files for appropriate winter photos to replace the autumn leaves motif, finally running outside to capture icicles and snowbound vistas, finally catching the sunlight as it broke through the clouds to illuminate the hills beyond the dark evergreens, administering a little artful cropping to eliminate the roof of the athletic complex just below. Publishing, finally, and settling down to clean my room and pack. Sic transit, indeed. Is it over already?

And how did it get to be almost Christmas so soon?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Two from GKC


A MAN must love a thing very much if he not only practises it without any hope of fame or money, but even practises it without any hope of doing it well. Such a man must love the toils of the work more than any other man can love the rewards of it.



AMONG all the strange things that men have forgotten, the most universal and catastrophic lapse of memory is that by which they have forgotten that they are living on a star.


Chesterton Day by Day

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Almost a Humorous Mystery

In honor of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?" They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. (John 8:3-8)

Suddenly a single stone came flying from the crowd. Jesus turned. "Mother, I was trying to make a point!" (apocryphal)

This story, while not found in most manuscripts of John and eventually excluded from the canon, shows that the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (not to be confused with the Virgin Birth) was already present in some form in the early Church. Apart from the admittedly problematic elements associated with Mary throwing stones, from which it is easy to see why it was condemned as apocryphal, the story itself is clearly an affirmation of Mary's immaculate purity and freedom from sin. Of course, a crucial strike against the story was the observation of some theologians that her sinlessness cannot be affirmed through a sinful action (throwing the stone), although others have argued that the action was not sinful, being prescribed by the Law and done in accordance with the literal words of Our Lord. (The Catholic Encyclopedia article inexplicably makes no mention of this debate).

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Third Humorous Mystery

The Third Humorous Mystery is the Storm at Sea.

Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. (Matthew 14:22-23)

Remember what Chesterton said about Jesus going up on a mountain to pray. Clearly it was in a moment of mirth on the mountain that Our Lord decided to go check up on his disciples. A little practical joke would show that there were no hard feelings about their lack of faith in the whole multiplication of the loaves business that afternoon. "You think that was a big deal? Look! Watch me walk on water!" He could just imagine their faces.

Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came towards them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. "It is a ghost," they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." Peter said to him in reply, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." (14:27-28)

Jesus knew he could count on Peter to blurt out something he'd immediately regret. And don't think He wasn't going to hold him to it.

He said, "Come." Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water towards Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried aloud, "Lord, save me!" (14:29-30)

Omniscience includes knowing when a joke has gone too far, and the Lord is "merciful and gracious... abounding in kindness" (Psalm 103:8).

Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who where in the boat did him homage, saying "Truly, you are the Son of God." (14:31-33)

We laugh, of course, but at least Peter got out of the boat when he was called- however much he may have regretted ever speaking up in the first place. Would that we always had the courage to do as much, no matter how strong the wind or high the waves. Ora pro nobis.

(The First and Second Humorous Mysteries)

Photo Credit: Felicity

Friday, December 02, 2005

Chesterton Quote of the Day

Our wisdom, whether expressed in private or public, belongs to the world, but our folly belongs to those we love.

from 'Browning' via Chesterton Day by Day.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Goodbye November, Hello March

I take back what I said about "loca frigidissima." The rains have washed away the snow and temperatures have been pushing 60 degrees here in Williamstown. Guess I didn't need those winter clothes after all.

In other news, the Elizabethans will be presenting a concert as explosive as his blazing automatics this Saturday, December 3rd at 4:00pm in Thompson Chapel. My on-campus readership is highly encouraged to attend. If you don't mind me referring to you collectively.