top soil

Wendell Berry:

A healthy soil is made by the life dying into it and by the life living in it, and to its double ability to drain and retain water we are complexly indebted… It is making life out of death [and] in a time when death is looked upon with almost universal enmity, it is hard to believe that the land we live on and the lives we live are the gifts of death. Yet that is so and it is the topsoil that makes it so.

Are all these things not also true of us, of human souls. We die daily, new life lives in us daily too. We drain and retain energy, creativity, ideas, experiences, being. Our lives in a most fundamental sense are the gifts of death. We are the topsoil of all creation.

“We die daily. Happy those who daily come to life as well.” George MacDonald

…for soil is improved by what humans do not do as well as by what they do. The proprieties of soil husbandry require acts that are much more complex than industrial acts, for these acts are conditioned by the ability not to act, by forbearance or self-restraint, sympathy or generosity.

We are improved by what we do not do as well as by what we do (ask Lao Tzu). Perhaps we too have lost the ability (if we ever did have it) “not to act” in relation to ourselves—are not all the virtues listed more necessary in your relationship to yourself?

changing the world

Paul Kingsnorth, Prophets and Doomers everywhere and for all time:

It’s a phrase I used to use all the time, but now I’m almost embarrassed even to look at it. Changing the world. Changing the world. Changing the world. It’s such an astonishing concept: that we have, or could ever have, the agency, ability or knowledge to change the nature of a vast, complex planet we barely understand, when most of us can’t even change ourselves. And that we imagine the results would be good if we did. What could be more superstitious?

And yet, changing the world is exactly destiny of both the world and man; inaugurated by Christ, ratified by His Church. It’s Ellul (of all people) who makes this point somewhere: the Progress now in our hearts is historically contingent, and historically contingent on the Incarnation and it’s cosmic repercussions. If the New Testament makes anything plain it is that we indeed have “the agency, ability and knowledge” to change the nature of “a vast, complex planet we barely understand etc.” and much else besides.

‘Changing the world’ is of course a modern notion.

Is it? (see above).

For another, more everyday reason: the world is getting worse.

Is it? And I’m serious. Kingsnorth is convinced, every good prophet is, and convinced for good reasons. But such a stark claim, without any qualifiers, how can it do justice to the “nature of a vast, complex” world (a bigger thing than a plant, a *much* bigger thing in fact)? But surely it has to be admitted that if that claim, “the world is getting worse”, is true (in the very sense Kingsnorth means it) it is in an importantly narrow sense. And deference to the things Kingsnorth himself most values and loves and reveres and stands-in-awe of—in a word: worships—is what makes must make it so.

I fear—more, I feel convicted—in light perhaps of the surety and (helpful) curtness with which Kingsnorth here makes these claims, that they themselves partake in the totalising surety of the systems they purport to have seen through and resist.

Which of us can lay limits on His ways being far above ours?

And should not those tremble who dare?




empty houses

The truest representation of the America I encountered that I know of.

Perhaps, of course, because most of my truest free time was spent doing just this.. looking at empty homes at night.

The cover of Carver’s Cathedral always did haunt me.

breaking our hearts

“Beasts”, Wilbur:

Meantime, at high windows
Far from thicket and pad-fall, suitors of excellence
Sigh and turn from their work to construe again the painful
Beauty of heaven, the lucid moon
And the risen hunter,

          Making such dreams for men
As told will break their hearts as always, bringing
Monsters into the city, crows on the public statues.
Navies fed to the fish in the dark
Unbridled waters.

Where shall the crows perch now?

neither lives nor marriages undefiled

Wisdom 14:

For the worshipping of idols not to be named is the beginning, the cause, and the end, of all evil… For whilst they slew their children in sacrifices, or used secret ceremonies, or made revellings of strange rites.. they kept neither lives nor marriages any longer undefiled.

He who has ears, let him hear.

what matters


It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects—military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life.

A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden—that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time.

Salman Rushdie:

We must agree on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, disagreement, cutting-edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world’s resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love.

*update* [02/04/2022]

John Ruskin:

To watch the corn grow, and the blossoms set; to draw hard breath over ploughshare or spade; to read, to think, to love, to hope, to pray — these are the things that make men happy; they have always had the power of doing these, they never will have the power to do more. The world’s prosperity or adversity depends upon our knowing and teaching these few things: but upon iron, or glass, or electricity, or steam, in no wise.

all which occur here

Traherne on the opinions of philosophers concerning happiness:

..they were so blind in the knowledge of it, and so different in their apprehensions. All which opinions fall in here, as all rivers fall into the sea, and agree together. Some placed happiness in riches, and some in honour, some in pleasure, and some in the contempt of all riches, honor, and pleasure; some in wisdom and some in firm stability of mind, some in empire and some in, love. Some in bare and naked contentment, some in contemplation, and some in action; some in rest and some in sufferings, and some in victory and triumph.

All which occur here [in the Christian life], for here is victory and triumph over our lusts, that we might live the life of clear reason, in the fruition of all riches, honours, and pleasures, which are by wisdom to be seen, and by love to be enjoyed in the highest empire, with great contentation, in solitude alone, in communion with all, by action and contemplation, attaining it by sufferings, and resting in the possession, with perfect victory and triumph over the world and evil men, or sin, death and hell, maugre all the oppositions of men and devils.

Someone acknowledging the completely baffling question of what the disposition of the Christian is ultimately meant to be, and how the tradition overwhelms the initiate with seemingly exclusive answers and directives, insurmountable tensions and incompatibilities.

And not only acknowledge but offer an answer! Christianity has it ALL he reckons, the whole panoply.

But this forces the question of time and season and saintly-distinctness, because if its all on the table, how any given saint is being called to live to God at any given time becomes in some sense a completely opaque thing from the outside? A knight of faith dynamic.

And hence how one is called to obey Christ, to follow your own pilgrimage in any season or age, is a discerned, mysterious, and limitedly formulaic thing.

ten thousand things

John Ames (first page):

There are thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.

Eihei Dogen:

To study the Buddha’s way is to study the self,
to study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be awakened by ten thousand things.

Lao Tzu:

Tao gives life to the one
The one gives life to the two
The two give life to the three
The three give life to ten thousand things

Matt Redman:

For all Your goodness
will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons
For my heart to find


I take His cross in my arms with joy; I bless it, I rejoice in it. Suffering for Christ is my garland. I would not exchange Christ for ten thousand worlds! nay, if the comparison could stand, I would not exchange Christ with heaven.