Blaise Pascal, Penseé 347: “Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this. All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.”

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday, 2012

The bible is undoubtedly the most influential book in Western literature. Painting, sculpture, music, literature--It has left its dominant mark on all of these these for the past 2,000 years. It's influence turns up in surprising ways. Consider this famous passage from Isaiah, the Old Testament reading from today's Good Friday mass:

Isaiah 52:12 to Isaiah 52:13, The Suffering Servant:

52:13 Behold, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. 14As many were astonished at him--his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men-- 15 so shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand.

53:1 Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand; 11 he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Now consider this song, which would have only been familiar to blue grass fans before the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou. Dan Tymanski (with Alison Kraus playing backup fiddle!):

An exact translation? Of course not. But it shows one way that Christians read the bible and are meant to read it--by making it the story of their own lives. The suffering of Christ is meaningful to us. Our suffering is meaningful to Christ. And therefore, our suffering is meaningful to ourselves, so we can write songs about it.

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