to hear in its full glory

[Pythagoras] was born on the island of Samos about 580 B.C. Like many another ancient philosopher he journeyed in his youth to Egypt, where for an indefinite number of years he pursued studies in astronomy, geometry, and theology under the tutelage of Egyptian priests. After further extensive travels, which some ancient commentators say took him as far east as India (a claim which lacks adequate support, however) he returned to his native insular province only to find it in the grip of a dictatorship. So now, as a man of mature years, he migrated to Crotona in southern Italy, probably accompanied by younger men who had become his disciples.

The city of Crotona, which had been founded as early as the eighth century B.C. by Greek colonists, possessed a good natural harbor, which made it a center of sea trade and thereby economically prosperous. Moreover it was said to possess the best school of medicine in any of the Greek colonies of the west. In this attractive location Pythagoras established a school of his own, distinguished by its pursuit of higher studies in mathematics, astronomy, music, metaphysics, and polydaemonistic theology; by a disciplined community life, which included both a daily regimen of activities and studies and the practice of non-possession by sharing unreservedly all the necessities of living; and by carefully guarded conditions of membership which nevertheless allowed (for the first time in history, so far as is known) the admission of women as members. Unfortunately the inhabitants of Crotona regarded the school as an intruder and its head as a dangerous wizard who was rumored to have a golden thigh and to possess various queer magical powers. Hostilities mounted, and at length when Pythagoras had become a very old man there was a mob uprising, which made a vicious attack upon the school, burned the buildings, and murdered or exiled the members.

The nature of daily living in the school, both its moral and its intellectual disciplines, can perhaps best be understood as an intellectualized development from earlier mystery cults such as the Eleusinian. The main Eleusinian practices involved two steps—undergoing purification and revelation, the ritualistic sea-bathing by boys undergoing initiation and the dramatic exhibition in a dark room of the sacred grain stalk in a flash of light. Granted that the ritual and the mystery had a symbolic character for the ancient Eleusinian worshipers, Pythagoras in talking over the basic pattern minimized the ritual and stressed the symbolic character of the religions formulations. Ritual gave way to purposively guided action. The practice of silence each morning, between rising from bed and the ascetically sparse community breakfast, was a means on the one hand of reawakening one’s inner affinity with the divine, and on the other hand of exercising and strengthening one’s power of memory by daily practice in recalling the ordered events of the preceding day, then of the day before that, and so on. Community meals, readings aloud, and the practice of sharing were at once a zestful part of daily living and a symbolic reaffirmation of the participative nature of life—the human soul’s participation in the divine reality that envelops us and thereby in the aims and needs of the Pythagorean brotherhood. Within this harmonious social framework the higher studies—philosophical, mathematical, musical—were pursued, with the hope (and perhaps the occasional realization) of the ultimate Pythagorean aim—to hear in its full glory, and with an intuitive grasp of its hidden meaning, the Music of the Spheres.

From The Presocratics by Philip Wheelwright, the start of chapter 7 “Pythagoreanism” (200-202).

directing worship in the traffic

But “there are things,” wrote Marianne Moore, “that are important beyond all this fiddle.” The old-time guide of souls asserts the priority of the “beyond” over “this fiddle.” Who is available for this work other than pastors? A few poets, perhaps; and children, always. But children are not good guides, and most of our poets have lost interest in God. That leaves pastors as guides through the mysteries. Century after century we live with our conscience, our passions, our neighbors, and our God. Any narrower view of our relationships does not match our real humanity.

…If pastors become accomplices in treating every child as a problem to be figured out, every spouse as a problem to be dealt with, every clash of wills in choir or committee as a problem to be adjudicated, we abdicate our most important work, which is directing worship in the traffic, discovering the presence of the cross in the paradoxes and chaos between Sundays, calling attention to the “splendor in the ordinary,” and, most of all, teaching a life of prayer to our friends and companions in the pilgrimage.

From The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson.

infinitely pleasant

Medwyn, Taran saw, had gardens of both flowers and vegetables behind his cottage. To his surprise, Taran found himself yearning to work with Coll in his own vegetable plot. The weeding and hoeing he had so despised at Caer Dallben now seemed, as he thought of his past journey and the journey yet to come, infinitely pleasant.

From the Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander in “The Hidden Valley” (118).

unfathomable gift

Gabriel Marcel wrote that life is not so much a problem to be solved as a mystery to be explored. That is certainly the biblical stance: life is not something we manage to hammer together and keep in repair by our wits; it is an unfathomable gift. We are immersed in mysteries: incredible love, confounding evil, the creation, the cross, grace, God. The secularized mind is terrorized by mysteries. Thus it makes lists, labels people, assigns roles, and solves problems. But a solved life is a reduced life. These tightly buttoned-up people never take great faith risks or make convincing love talk. They deny or ignore the mysteries and diminish human existence to what can be managed, controlled, and fixed. We live in a cult of experts who explain and solve.

From The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson.

we spin gossamers of air

From Bonhoeffer by Eric Mataxas (page 19):

Sometimes in the evenings they played ball games with the village children in the meadow. Inside they played guessing games and sang folk songs. They “watched the mists from the meadows waft and rise along the fir-trees,” Sabine noted, and they watched dusk fall. When the moon appeared, they sang “Der Mond ist Aufgegangen”:

Der Mond ist aufgegangen,

die goldnen Sternlein prangen

am Himmel hell und klar!

Der Wald steht Schwarz und schweigt

und aus den Wiesen steiget

der weiβe Nebel wunderbar.

The worlds of folklore and religion were so mingled in early twentieth-century German culture that even families who didn’t go to church were often deeply Christian. This folk song is typical, beginning as a paean to the beauty of the natural world, but soon turning into a meditation on mankind’s need for God and finally into a prayer, asking God to help us “poor and prideful sinners” to see his salvation when we die—and in the meantime here on earth to help us to be “like little children, cheerful and faithful.”

Full lyrics (translated by Matthias Claudius, 1773):

The moon has risen.
The golden stars shine
in the sky, brightly and clearly.
The woods stand black and silent.
And magically, from the meadows
the white mist is rising.

How still is the world
and, wrapped in dusk,
as intimate and lovely
as a still chamber
where you can sleep
while forgetting the day’s grief.

Do you see the moon up there?
You can only see half of it,
all the same, it is round and beautiful.
The same goes for many things
that we laugh at without hesitation,
just because our eyes don’t see them.

We proud children of man
are vain poor sinners
who do not know much at all.
We spin gossamers of air
and search for many skills
and further depart from our goal.

God. let us see your salvation,
let us neither trust in any transitory things,
nor enjoy vanity.
Let us become naiv
and here on earth let us be, in your eyes,
devout and happy like children.

Without grief, will you finally please
take us out of this world
by a gentle death;
and when you will have taken us,
let us get to Heaven,
you, our Lord and God.

So then, brothers,
lie down in the name of God –
The evening breeze is cold.
Spare us punishment, God,
and grant us peaceful sleep –
and also to our sick neighbour.

deeply rooted obligation to be guardians

The rich world of his ancestors set the standards for Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s own life. It gave him a certainty of judgement and manner that cannot be acquired in a single generation. He grew up in a family that believed the essence of learning lay not in a formal education but in the deeply rooted obligation to be guardians of a great historical heritage and intellectual tradition.

By Eberhard Bethge quoted by at the start of chapter one in Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Mataxas (page 5).

how I loathe big issues

From The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction by Eugene H. Peterson (in a section entitled “Small Talk: A Pastoral Art”):

Most of us, most of the time, are engaged in simple routine tasks, and small talk is the natural language. If pastors belittle it, we belittle what most people are doing most of the time, and the gospel is misrepresented.

“Lord, how I loathe big issues!” is a sentence I copied from C.S. Lewis’s letters and have kept as a reminder. …Lewis warned of the nose-in-the-air arrogance that is oblivious to the homely and the out-of-the-way, and therefore misses participating in most of the rich reality of existence.

…Humility means staying close the ground (humus), to people, to everyday life, to what is happening with all its down-to-earthness.

facing the stream of light pouring down

Persons in the Middle Ages who withdrew from the traffic of the everyday to contemplate the ways of God and the mysteries of being, giving themselves to a life of sacrifice and prayer, were called anchorites (from the Greek, anachoreo, to withdraw to a place apart). They often lived in sheds fastened to the walls of a church. These spare shacks commonly had a world-side window through which the nun or monk received the sights and sounds of the creation as data for contemplation. These barnacle-like rooms were called anchorholds. Dillard calls her cabin on Tinker Creek an anchorhold, and plays with the word: “I think of this house clamped to the side of Tinker Creek as an anchorhold. It holds me at anchor to the rock bottom of the creek itself, and it keeps me steadied in the current, as a sea anchor does, facing the stream of light pouring down. It’s a good place to live; there’s a lot to think about.”

From The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction by Eugene H. Peterson