On his way to betray Jesus to the chief priests, Judas may have said to himself, “I am not betraying Him. Nothing of the kind. If I was handing Him over to be killed, that would be betrayal. If I personally stabbed Him, that would be betrayal. But all I am doing is telling some people who are looking for Him where they can find Him. I am not even breaking any laws. How is it breaking the law to tell one person where another person is? If I told Jesus where the chief priests and temple guards were, would I be betraying the chief priests? Obviously not.
I recently reviewed The Seven Laws of Teaching, an 1886 manual for teachers by professor John Milton Gregory that is still recommended in Classical circles today. Teachers often hold up the Seven Laws as a model worthy of emulation, and evaluate their own performance against it. Here’s a paraphrased list:
In my last article, “Can Mathematics be Parables?” I considered the fantastical realm of “imaginary” numbers. Now, wander with me across a terrain of numbers even more dazzlingly head-spinning . . . and even more hazardous, perhaps, to encounter.
Adam means “man,” and so Adam is not really “the first man,” but simply “the first.” A sad man is actually a “sad Adam.” A beautiful woman is “a beautiful Adam.” I am the Adam Joshua. My wife is the Adam Paula. The first Adam was not a particular Adam, but a universal Adam. To say that Adam was “a man” is redundant. “Adam was man” simply means that “Adam was Adam.” Adam was both “Adam” and beyond “Adam.”
Jessie went to Rome with her girlfriends for a week and the drugs were good and there was a man she met named Paulo for two days. It all happened very fast. Little time was given to the usual things American tourists do in the Eternal City. They slept through the daylight hours, and at night the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, and the Plaza Navona were all closed. Before going out for dinner, Jessie removed her blouse at the hotel swimming pool but an old man shouted at her until she put it back on. They ate salads which they could not distinguish from the salads in America.
This darkest day of the church year is fraught with harsh paradoxes: the crowds that hailed Christ as king mere days ago now cry for his crucifixion; the only perfect Man is condemned as a criminal; the sins of the all the world’s time and space are expiated at the point of a cross in the hours of a death; the eternal God perishes; and this Friday of deepest tragedy is yet called “good.” But T.S. Eliot contemplates another paradox in his poetic meditation on Good Friday from The Four Quartets: the mystery of our healing at the hands of a wounded Savior.
Along with the treasuries of church liturgies, sacred music, special meals, and supremely, Scripture’s Passion narratives, poetry can aid the remembrance and contemplation we seek during the high days of Holy Week. This will be the first of several poem postings offered as Holy Week meditations, each including a brief guide to the poem before presenting the poem in full.
American poetry education has fallen in a bad way. Any young person who reads poetry for pleasure knows this, for the lover of verse often knows few, if any, fellow aficionados of Keats and Yeats, let alone Brodsky or Baudelaire. When I ask people my age what they think about poetry, they usually say it is boring, difficult to understand, and elitist. They recall their experience of reading poetry in grade school as learning to decode the impenetrable and all-elusive meaning of an early-modern text, or perhaps just making one up ad-hoc, in hopes of a good grade.
In Timaeus, Plato writes:
And so people are all but ignorant of the fact that time really is the wanderings of these bodies, bewilderingly numerous as they are and astonishingly variegated. It is none the less possible, however, to discern that the perfect number of time brings to completion the perfect year at that moment when the relative speeds of all eight periods have been completed together and, measured by the circle of the Same that moves uniformly, have achieved their consummation.
A great many ancient fables and tales about genies reveal the ambiguity and slipperiness of language. You know the deal. A man finds a magic lamp, releases a genie, and asks for a million dollars, but then receives a million dollars in Monopoly money because he did not specify he wanted legal US tender. On his second wish he asks for a million dollars in legal US tender, then gets legal US tender from the future which cannot be spent for a hundred years.