LONDON, ONTARIO – “My goodness, why is he reading that right now?” my wife sometimes wonders when she sees me go digging through a book so apparently eccentric or retrograde or unconnected to the sort of fare that usually beckons my interest, that its appeal utterly stumps her. But recognizing the powerful influence which she uniquely exerts on my consciousness, she usually manages to muffle such questions for a while at least. Stuffed to the brim with prudential wisdom, she understands that – with reading as with writing – a word of discouragement or bewilderment that is voiced too soon may jinx the possibility of worthwhile engagement and exploration.
LONDON, ONTARIO – I first got to know Howard Katz, the founding pastor of Open Door Christian Fellowship Church, in the spring of 2008. I was doing up a feature article about him and his younger brother, Harvey, for the old quarterly, Christian Life in London, which was then edited by Rob Hueniken. The hook upon which the article was hung was that both brothers had published books just the year before with Believe Books, the U.S.-based publishing house operated by one of the great heroes of my life, former London mayor, Dianne Haskett.
LONDON, ONTARIO – If your house is anything like mine, in trying to accommodate your latest Christmas infusion of printed matter onto your shelves, you’re staring at your packed and buckling bookcases and asking yourself some challenging and even upsetting questions like, “Is there anything here I can part with? What’s the stuff I’ve got to keep, both for reasons of personal enthusiasm and because I want to maintain a coherent representation of the big picture, literature-wise?” May I recommend a handful of books to assist you in this ticklish matter of discernment? (If you don’t want to compound your problem with capacity, perhaps you should see if you can find any of these titles at the library.)
LONDON, ONTARIO – I’m staring down the deadline of another project that needs to be completed this week so, reaching into the Tickle Trunk for an oldie but a goodie to kick off the 2020’s (and commemorate the second anniversary of the Hermaneutics blog) let me favour you with this rather unorthodox profile of a brave and insightful London family. This piece has been tucked away in the vaults of my website since we launched it a few years ago, and I’ve been delighted to see that in just the last month, it’s been outpacing lots of more recent material and racking up hundreds of views. It’s been one of my all-time favourite pieces since its first publication in London magazine in 1985 under the editorship of Douglas Cassan.
LONDON, ONTARIO – When I was coming into the Catholic Church over the winter of 1983–84, I attended my first-ever midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral Basilica downtown and was amazed to see what even then seemed a throwback to something from the earlier half of the twentieth century. In a corner of the raised dais to the east of the altar was a tweedy looking technician wearing headphones and seated at a small wooden table, twiddling knobs on what looked like a World War II-issue transmitter. As inconspicuously as possible, this fellow was modulating the sound level of the entire ceremony – from the pre-Mass community carol sing to the readings and the homily and the Eucharistic prayers to the final rousing, trumpet-propelled recessional of Joy to the World – and sending it all out in a live broadcast over CFPL Radio airwaves to shut-ins and the elderly.
LONDON, ONTARIO - In addition to some of its more routinely trumpeted pleasures and solaces, as you get older Christmas also becomes an annual opportunity to spend time communing with the ghosts of the beloved dead. One old friend who’s taking up more pronounced residence in my thoughts this year is Jane Loptson, who died in the hallway outside of her apartment at the Mary Campbell Co-op in the early afternoon of December 27th, 2013. She had been venturing out to buy some groceries following a rough Christmas when she’d had more than her usual difficulty breathing. Jane would have turned sixty the following April though no one expected her to make old bones, saddled as she was for nearly half of her life with multiple sclerosis which incrementally wasted her body away (the 1980s would’ve been the last time she weighed more than a hundred pounds) and stripped away one physical faculty after another.
LONDON, ONTARIO – December is the month when even people who do not read and ordinarily display no love for the classics, are apt to bump into one of the dozens of film adaptations (or variations thereupon) of Charles Dickens’ (1812–70) single best-known story; his short novella from 1843, A Christmas Carol. And if they’re particularly lucky, the version of this preternaturally powerful parable which they’ll latch onto, is the 1951 production directed by Brian Desmond Hurst and starring Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge. This version is the truest to the original story, quoting great slabs of glorious Dickensian dialogue verbatim, and also spares its viewers the squirm-inducing misery of having to navigate or ignore any extraneous musical interludes of larded-on piety and sentiment. While it would be a shame if the only Dickens story one knew was A Christmas Carol (there’s so much more to explore!) even that limited reading or viewing would be sufficient to establish a fair idea of the author’s gifts and strengths.
LONDON, ONTARIO – At this month’s meeting of the Wrinklings, the membership was asked to bring along and talk about those treasured religious texts – be they prayer books, missals, sermons, catechisms, encyclicals, biographies, memoirs, spiritual reflections, theological compendiums or anthologies – which have provided them with the most nourishment and direction over the years. Of the eight members who turned out on that last Wednesday night in November, I was astonished and heartened to see that three of us (yes, I was one) cited the sermons of Ronald Knox. The foremost English Catholic spokesman from the 1920s until his death, the scholar/priest Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (1888–1957) is not exactly a household name today.
LONDON, ONTARIO – During my career earlier this century in retail sales, I made friends with a regular customer who read a lot of my stuff in the press and on slow days in the shop when there was nobody else around, he would pepper me with questions about various aspects of my faith. Provided I was in the right mood and felt up to the challenge, I enjoyed our conversations a lot. They required me to bring some lucidity and objective formulation to matters which were so subjective and interior that I realized I might not have developed much capacity to express them in a way that would be comprehensible to anyone else. In the phraseology of St. Augustine in his Confessions, discussing how tricky it can sometimes be to express those truths so foundational that we rarely pause to consider how we know what we know: “If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asks, I know not.” So I was grateful for the opportunity to try to cultivate some intelligibility.
LONDON, ONTARIO – During the car ride up to Latin Mass in St. Thomas yesterday, I kicked off our 2019 edition of the Christmas season perhaps one week earlier than I can usually get away with it. “I’m writing about it,” I said by way of belligerent explanation that brooked no objections, slipping the first disc of Handel’s Messiah into the car’s CD player. I blame this uncouth jumping of the Christmas queue entirely on Jane Glover whose magnificent, Handel in London (2018), I just finished reading last week. Glover, herself a conductor and director of the Glyndebourne Touring Opera and the London Mozart Players, has wonderfully expanded my appreciation of the German-born George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) whose formidable industry and gift for invention did so much to help England forge its own musical identity.
If you would like to contribute to the ongoing operations of Hermaneutics, there are now a few options available.
THE AQUINAS LECTURE
G.K. CHESTERTON AND THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE
ALL LIFE IS A GIFT :
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRADITION :