Zen moment

I look around
housework done
everything clean
then, I frown
it won’t last
dust on the mirror

Morrow on evil

What is the vilest stereotype of a hermit? Start with the image of the old loner, secretive, suspicious, furtive. That is what Lance Morrow begins to depict in a short chapter of his Evil, An Investigation (2003), which he indicates is a true story. There is always an easy disposition in the popular mind to portray solitaries as mentally sick, quietly deranged and morbid, but thankfully keeping to themselves. In Morrow’s example, the latter becomes a redeeming virtue, for it keeps the particular man from ever committing a crime. That is what the writer hopes, at least. But we do know that for every solitary like his example there are myriad other men (and women) gliding smoothly or otherwise through the corridors of society and power, with little of the observable clues that would make them clearly what Morrow calls evil.


In most Western languages, the word “disaster” comes from the Latin dies aster, meaning “bad star.” According to this primordial view of the universe, calamity is precipitated by the unfavorable alignment of stars and planets. Subconsciously or otherwise, our culture still thinks of nature as irrational and vindictive, sometimes acting to punish for past evil, sometimes presenting omens of more to come. From these ideas it is an easy step to the notion of God using nature or to the dichotomy of nature versus God, with the inevitable question of why God sends or permits evil.
Yet man-made disasters, though incremental, have been and are far more insidious and destructive to humans, sentient beings, and the earth itself. From war and exploitation to destruction of the environment, the bad stars are human. Would media report these man-made disasters in the same way? No, because they occur incrementally, gradually, while popular attention is always seized by the sudden and sensational. Patterns and increments fall below the threshod of the average person’s perception. Slow dissolution and destruction, like time and space, are stretched out over lifetimes. The bad stars sit behind desks and hide behind walls and do not reign in the heavens.

Anchoress of Shere

Little is known of the 14th-century English anchoress Christine Carpenter, but a book and a film have decided on versions of her life and motives.
Anchoress of Shere by Paul L. Moorcraft (2002) shifts between a narrative of medieval events and the chronicle of the psychopathic Catholic priest recreating the history while pursuing his own violent fantasies. The book is published by Poisoned Pen Press but is not a diverting mystery, like a Brother Cadfael or Sister Fidelma. It is a sadistic and masochistic tract. Even from the point of view of the contradictory plot, how can the mad protagonist know anything about spirituality? For that matter, how can a reader learn anything about a medieval anchoress, or the novelist presume to explain anchoritic spirituality?
Being a visual medium, the film Anchoress (1995) can do a little more with an imaginative setting, realistic atmosphere, and characterization. But no comment — not having seen the film. Critics concentrate on the uninspired acting, though the plot seems more plausible. But salaciousness is always the theme of the day. This is not the spirituality of Julian of Norwich or the daily eremitical life addressed by Aelred’s Guide for Anchoresses.
Thankfully, modern minds have done little more to eremitism than these two awful versions.

Moon and sun

At dusk, the full moon is a lantern hung in the trees, the slender pine trees against the sky like black grill-like slivers over the source of light. In a nearby tree I notice a vague and unfamiliar shape. A moment later the shape eerily passes before me in a straight line, in utter silence, and disappears towards the moon: either an owl or a bat.
At dawn, the rising sun, further south than its nocturnal counterpart, tries to etch a like presence, but it is too diffuse and awash with reddish tints that drip everywhere. For a moment the intensity of light is not dissimilar to that of the moon, but only for a moment. Soon the brash sun is stumbling forth, forcing its way onto the stage called sky.