Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Reading for Ash Wednesday

Take care not to parade your goodness, or you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

When you do good do it without fanfare, not like the pretenders who indoors and out grind the organs of publicity. I tell you they are already repaid in echoes.

Don't keep a scrapbook of good deeds. Your Father in heaven will remember them for you and reward you.

When you pray you mustn't be like the pretenders who maintain a public piety. I tell you their prayers are already answered.

When you pray, go into your room and shut the door. Pray to your Father quietly, and your Father who hears all things will help you talk with him.

Don't mumble a lot of prayers, as if to conjure your Father. He is with you now and knows what you need before you ask him.

Pray like this: Our Father, who are in heaven, glory to your name; your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven; give us today our day's bread, and forgive us our sins as we forgive them who sin against us; and keep us from temptation, and defend us from the devil.

If you forgive others their wrongs, your Father in heaven will forgive you. If you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven.

When you fast don't act wretched, like pretenders playing beggars. I tell you they are already repaid in groans. When you fast put on a genial mask, so that nobody but your Father will notice you are fasting. Then your Father, who misses nothing, will applaud you.

Art is irremediably of this world, not the next.

— Jacques Barzun, The Use and Abuse of Art, 1974, 88

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Javanese sense of personhood is indeed at a far remove from our own, yet surely it is considerably more accessible to us than Mr. Geertz says it is. Doubtless if any of us were to see a friend respond to the death of his wife as the Javanese young man did ["greeting everyone with a set smile and formal apologies for his wife's absence and trying by mystical techniques to flatten out, as he himself put it, the hills and valleys of his emotion into an even level plain" — Geertz], we would conclude that he was in a state of severe mental pathology. But when we regard the Javanese behavior apart from the context of our own lives, we do not, I think, experience an insuperable difficulty in giving credence to the concepts on which it is based, and, what is more, for many of us it will be not merely comprehensibile but actually may have quite considerable charm.

— Lionel Trilling, "Why We Read Jane Austen," The Last Decade, 1979, 222.

Monday, February 15, 2010