Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Cinch Review

On Prayer: Heschel, Ysabella, etc.

On Prayer: Heschel, YsabellaPrayer would seem to be a very simple thing, a straightforward concept that the devout and the atheistic alike easily understand. “Please God, do this for me, make that right, fix this problem.” Yet the older I’ve gotten the more I’ve come to believe that the beating heart of prayer is actually something far simpler that I ever comprehended as a young person, loaded as I was with the ideas and traditions to which I happened to be exposed. And it is the simplicity on the far side of complexity (as per Oliver Wendell Holmes) that is most to be desired.

Some of what seems to me to be great and ultimately simple wisdom on the nature of prayer is below from Abraham Joshua Heschel:

The true source of prayer […] is not an emotion but an insight. It is the insight into the mystery of reality, the sense of the ineffable, that enables us to pray. As long as we refuse to take notice of what is beyond our sight, beyond our reason; as long as we are blind to the mystery of being, the way to prayer is closed to us. If the rise of the sun is but a daily routine of nature, there is no reason to say, In mercy Thou givest light the the earth and to those that dwell on it … every day constantly. If bread is nothing but flour moistened, kneaded, baked and then brought forth from the oven, it is meaningless to say, Blessed art Thou … who bringest forth bread from the earth.

The way to prayer leads through acts of wonder and radical amazement. The illusion of total intelligibility, the indifference to the mystery that is everywhere, the foolishness of ultimate self-reliance are serious obstacles on the way. It is in moments of our being faced with the mystery of living and dying, of knowing and not-knowing, of love and the inability of love—that we pray, that we address ourselves to Him who is beyond the mystery.

That’s from Heschel’s book Man’s Quest For God.


Continue reading On Prayer: Heschel, Ysabella, etc.

The Cinch Review

Paul Simon & Mark Steyn (and “Born at the Right Time”)

Paul Simon with Mark Steyn

Recently contributed by someone to YouTube is a one-hour TV interview with Paul Simon, conducted by Mark Steyn in the 1980s (embedded below). Some of us who are fans of Mark Steyn’s sharp-witted topical commentary are amused by the references he occasionally makes to his apparently glamorous former life as a globe-trotting hob-knobber with musical luminati. “As Paul Simon once said to me,” he’ll insert as an aside in some piece on how utterly depraved and beyond-hope the Western world has become; on other occasions it might be: “as I once said to Frank Sinatra …”

Well, there’s now at least video evidence of his proximity to Paul Simon at one particular time, and an extended time at that, talking to him at his home on Long Island and driving around Queens with him visiting Simon’s childhood haunts. And there is Steyn, the same hairy bearded guy with a very-hard-to-place accent who we know very well, except at this point he is still in possession of (quite a bit of) baby fat, so he somewhat resembles a hirsute cherub. The decline of Western civilization has clearly caused him to lose weight, and I guess that must be one of the silver linings of that particular cloud.

But you don’t see very much of Mark Steyn, because the show is actually focused on Paul Simon, who, judging by the conversation, had most recently released the Graceland album. Although about twenty-five years have passed since this interview, it is a superbly intimate portrait of Simon the artist. Steyn knows music and the art of song in particular, and he is a perceptive and sensitive interviewer. I especially appreciate the time spent on songs from the Hearts & Bones album as I harbor a special love for that record and believe that “Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War” likely still stands as Simon’s most perfect song and recording. And I say that as a serious fan who believes that every Paul Simon album (post-Simon & Garfunkel) contains multiple doozies. Continue reading Paul Simon & Mark Steyn (and “Born at the Right Time”)

The Cinch Review

The Wisdom of Jim Rockford

The Rockford FilesJames Rockford. 1970s TV detective. Lovable loser. Does he ever get paid for a case? He always gets to the truth of the situation somehow, but the paycheck seems to evade him for one reason or another virtually every time. That obviously explains why he lives in a grungy trailer on the beach. On the other hand, something’s got to be paying for his shiny Pontiac Firebird, which gets bashed up quite often.

Although The Rockford Files has been in syndicated reruns since record-keeping began, I’ve been getting reacquainted with it through the internet service “Hulu,” where there are currently three seasons available to watch for free. I like watching this way because as compared to regular TV, where scenes are often brutally edited to squeeze the show into a time-slot with the requisite number of commercials, on “Hulu” you seem to see every minute of what’s on the original tape (even if advertisements sometimes butt in at odd moments). And naturally it’s nice to watch a show just when you feel like it. Me and Mrs. C. recently finished watching everything available from Kojak—the often-brilliant 1970s police show with Telly Savalas set in New York City. Continue reading The Wisdom of Jim Rockford

The Cinch Review

Twelve Gates to the City

Twelve Gates to the City“Twelve Gates to the City” is a classic gospel number by the Reverend Gary Davis which Bob Dylan recently sang (in Toronto on July 15th, with guest musicians Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and and Jim James of My Morning Jacket). On YouTube you might just find someone’s amateur recording of that performance, and no doubt a version or two from the inestimable Rev. Davis himself (also purchasable here). But, in advance of a brief reflection of my own on the song, here’s a different version, a live one from the very charming singer Eilen Jewell and her band.

(Their recording of that is available with other great gospel numbers on an album titled The Sacred Shakers,a side project of Eilen Jewell and various musical compatriots.)

The song “Twelve Gates to the City” was inspired by chapter 21 of the Book of Revelation, where John’s vision of the New Jerusalem is described.

It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.

The walls of the city are said to be made of jasper, and the city itself is described as “pure gold, like clear glass.” As it happens, Bob Dylan once wrote a song of his own presumably inspired by the same passage of scripture, titled “City of Gold” (never officially released by him, but recorded by the Dixie Hummingbirds and featured on the soundtrack album for Dylan’s blockbuster movie, Masked & Anonymous).

Now, the length and width of the New Jerusalem are each specified in Revelation as being “12,000 stadia,” a measurement which in modern terms is equal to 1380 miles. That’s a heckuva big city. In fact, when you think about it, that is a city big enough for billions of people to live in. Naturally, the population density would be affected by zoning regulations, building codes and the like; on these, however, John the Revelator is unforthcoming. Continue reading Twelve Gates to the City