Thursday, June 22, 2017

Leave 'em wanting more

"There were mysteries, but only the devil had secrets."
-Alice Thomas Ellis

One of the things I find attractive about Catholicism is that it resists always giving clear-cut simplistic answers and, at some point, when you get down into nitty gritty bits about free will, human acts, and Divine Providence, we simply have to shrug and say "welp, it's a mystery!" ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Or else you can give yourself a headache à la Augustine who had to have God/an angel come and tell him "staaaahp it."

Recently, on Twitter, I got into a discussion about the nature of prayer:
- Whether God causes us to cause Him to effect things
- Whether God is immovable and we cannot cause Him to effect things in any sense

The tension with the second point (which I held and still hold but will be reading up on - there's an essay recommended to me as being pleasingly-Thomist -- I don't identify as a Thomist, tho. Just like Tommy Boy and it shows.) hinges on two things:
- Human acts correlate with effects BUT 
- These effects are not caused by Human acts 

If human acts do not cause these effects, what is the value of these human acts? There are ways to answer that question without robbing the human act of value - but I realized as I was going through this topic, that, in some sense, it didn't matter to me, practically speaking. Not that it doesn't matter in se, or that there is no right answer, or that there aren't implications depending on how you answer, but that whichever one it turns out to be will not affect how or whether I pray because it is so remote from my day-to-day life and the answer contains no proximate directive. And I'd hazard that few people would think the matter worth even a teeny crusade, though it might be worth a heated discussion at some Irish pub where you hurl friendly invectives at each other before going home while thinking the other person a bit stupid but nonetheless good-hearted.

But this sort of question about prayer is different from other sorts of questions:
- Whether it is permissible to use the death penalty in the US 
- Whether abortion is permissible or no
- Whether euthanasia is permissible or no 

And this sort of question about prayer is also different from these sets of questions:
- Whether there is a god / one or many gods 
- Whether Christ is God 
- Whether the Eucharist is Christ's Body and Blood

Answers to these questions have a direct bearing on human action and entail certain precepts: how we are to vote, how we are to worship, how we are to live. They are also, in a way, a bit easier to answer.

But it is a relief to admit that some realities are not easily boxed in, that there are questions which do not resolve easily, and that, sometimes, there is no satisfying answer, and that that's ok. There are mysteries. If it were otherwise, the world might not be as delightful.* 

As a child, I preferred shadows and hiddenness to the bright sun and exposed areas. If there is a dark secluded nook, what might be there? Maybe I could hide and there be found. Part of the joy comes in the seeking, part in the finding, part in being found.

It won't always be so in this way. In beatitude (should we reach it), we will contemplate the visage of God and be secure in Him, so there's some earthly aspect to the seeking that won't be present in heaven. What exactly heaven will be like, I dunno. God being infinite and human beings being finite there might still be a seeking of some kind but we will never thirst or feel an agonizing distance.

As we are, it is a mercy to have God hold some things from our human understanding. We are not held accountable for vastness of Divine Providence, there is sacred ground where we fear to tread but long to go, and we hand back to God our freely given trust and faith and He, in turn, gives us the gift of His infinite mystery.
...God is not absurd, if anything he is a mystery. The mystery, in its turn, is not irrational but is a superabundance of sense, of meaning, of truth. If, looking at the mystery, reason sees darkness, it is not because there is no light in the mystery, but rather because there is too much of it. -Benedict XVI
The world is better for that Mystery.

*My words about delight come from a studied reflection, not a naive or flippant belief that all is faeries, puppies, and kittens. If y'all want background on where I come from, see here. Being bitter and angry is no fun.

More DnD Writing

Because I've been pressed for time, haven't done much writing this week. So here's throwin' at ya some more from my DnD homebrew!

I'm unsure if this out-of-context DnD makes much sense, but it's a sampling of fictive writing. What's below is only about half of what I'd written up for the town - the rest being either utilitarian (oh, look, a healing temple - how intriguing! -- though I have been building on the theme of Pelor having a brother Pyrite and there being a religious divide on who to worship) or reveals hidden bits of the story. There's the off-chance that a player might read this blog, so keeping some interesting parts excised.


The City of Blithedale
The city of Blithedale is immense. High stone walls and ramparts surround the city on both sides of the river. Arched bridges span the river at several points and cobblestone roads thread throughout. You arrive around 5pm, and the sun is slanting golden against the houses - cramped together in some places, but with a few buildings of clearly higher estate.  This city once housed some major military forces. Artillery still stands on the city walls. People are hustling, getting back from their jobs and going home. The streets are filled with an open-air market that wends its way back and forth. Carpet-sellers, food booths, butchers, vegetables, jewelry stands, clothing wares, antiques, and all other manners of goods are displayed and haggled over. A couple of chickens run by your feet and a few children. [Kids are attempting to pickpocket - any rogues with passive perception of 10+ in the party notice.]


The Smithy is run by a dwarf called Oiltank Stain the Stinky Train. She’s not at work at the moment, but someone is using the forge to make iron daggers...lots and lots of daggers. He does not pay you any mind at all but is humming under his breath (Skyrim theme song).

[If asked, he comes from the town of Clavering. His name is Shovelhands and he came to Blithedale because he wanted to go to the Stabbawhay forest and hunt some orcs.]

Oiltank Stain has a forge, an anvil, sharpening stone, hammers, etc. Sells typical goods. Recently, people have been asking for more weapons - stockpiling them.

General Billage, head of this town’s garrison, came by earlier this week to get a bunch of weapons sharpened/armor cleaned/etc. Oiltank shrugs and says maybe it’s got something to do with the House of Wisdom -- strange things have been happening there, but, to be sure, SHE never sticks her nose into the supernatural.


Gillygate Inn
Gillygate inn is run by a very sullen looking innkeeper called Krea. She is snapping at all the servers, arguing with her guests, and generally being unpleasant. She’s a dwarf wearing a plain brown skirt, a hip holster with a billy-club, and her brawny arms are bulging under her shirt and stylish crop jacket. She is wearing ridiculously large hoop earrings that are half as big as her face. 

She’s angry because her bae was sent off to the House of Wisdom and has not returned.


Lady Farfalee's House
The Lady Farfalee’s house sits in the more affluent neighborhood. Clearly, this member of the council has a rather garish taste. The building is painted turquoise, the door red, the guards have multiple useless feathers stuck in their functional helmets. Lady Farfalee is known for being incredibly chic, holding parties with exotic foodstuffs, and inviting all the rich citizens or celebrities in town to dine.


Lord Omnium’s Home

[If they approach during the day.]
You approach Lord Omnium’s home and two guards stop you.
“Lord Omnium is not seeing any visitors this evening,” the guard says politely. “If you would like to leave your name, perhaps you may be able to call tomorrow.”


[If they approach during the night.]
You approach late at night and the guards let you in without even a question. Lord Omnium stands at his door and ushers you into his manor. There is a wide hall with doors leading off to various rooms, and a large staircase that leads to a higher level. Portraits of Lord Omnium’s ancestors hang across the wall and a few portraits of Lord Omnium and his wife Peronnell and son Sadon, King Potentate, and other members of the counsel (Lady Creatine, Lord Jarin, Lady Farfalee, and Lord Zalvador). The decor is understated, and elegant. Lord Omnium leads you up the wide staircase to the second level where it branches into two halls.

At the top of the staircase there is a portrait, taken many years ago, of the royal family: King Potentate, Queen Esme, and their children Merek the Brave and Thea the Wise. Lord Omnium pauses for a moment as he looks at the portrait and sighs [See tragic backstory of Merek the Brave.] before leading you down the hall and into a study room. Books line the walls - mostly, it seems, books on agronomy, accounting, and other things of that nature. There is a table with wines and liquors on it. He gestures towards it and said “please, help yourselves - you must be weary from your travels.”

[Players drive the interaction here - Lord Omnium asks them to investigate the House of Wisdom where strange things have been happening.]


Bookbinder Alley 
Blithedale was a center of learning before the great war broke out. Remnants of its past are still found in Bookbinder Alley where scholars used to go for their books and supplies before heading to the House of Wisdom for studies. The streets in this neighborhood are extremely narrow. No cart or horse could pass through these streets. Shop awnings stretch over the street and a few bookbinder shops are still open, with lanterns lit above their doors. One, in particular stands out: a shoppe called The Shambles. Through the hectagonal window-panes, you notice an old man hunched over a desk, his beard is overflowing and full, his clothes are all black (so that ink-stains don’t show), and he is mixing up a batch of something. Close to hand is a glass of red liquid that he sips from, from time to time, and occasionally consults a small pocket-watch as his ink pen makes scratching noises against the stretched sheep’s hide. There’s a cat that keeps trying to sit on the sheep’s hide and the owner absentmindedly pushes it off.