Thursday, March 21, 2019

Great First Line: Equal Rites

This is a story about magic and where it goes and perhaps more importantly where it comes from and why, although it doesn't pretend to answer all or any of these questions.
Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

Coffee and potatoes

Albert Anker, Still life: coffee and potatoes
via Lines and Colors

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The action of God in history and time

The lesson repeated over and over again in the books of the Bible — unlike the one suggested by Greco-Roman paganism — is that man, in the events of history, is not the plaything of a blind fate but in the hands of a Power, a Principle, a personal God on whom all depends and who wishes to lead him to his true goal.

This is what gives the Bible its very special meaning and what was already known by its inspired authors, who, in all they wrote, had but one purpose: to bring home to men the action of God in the world and in the dimension of time. To reproach them with lack of the famous modern "objectivity" is pointless. For them, history is written at God's dictation as part of His designs: the moral writings seek to elevate man to the likeness of God; poetry in its various forms exalts the glory of the Most High and furnishes believers iwth the means of associating themselves with His work through prayer; and the midrashim bring home the infallibility of His actions.

What give the historical study of the Bible its whole import and puts the Bible as a history book in a class by itself is that this slice of events cut out of time and space reveals the divine action; in fact, it is the divine action, directed toward revelation. An indissoluble union of human realities — some of them a painful, even a lamentable sight — and transcendent and divine realities; that is the very substance of the Bible; that is what constitutes its greatness, but also its difficulty.
Henri Daniel-Rops, What is the Bible?

Assyrian Horses

Assyrian horses, alabaster bas-relief from Nineveh, 7th century BC

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Band Baaja Baaraat (Band Music and Revelry)

Bittoo meets Shruti when he crashes a wedding for free food and she tries to have him thrown out. He's interested in flirting but she's all business about her future, which does not include romance. That's ironic because she's going to begin a wedding planning service. When his father wants Bittoo to return to the sugar cane farm, Bittoo throws in his lot with Shruti's. It's strictly business. Of course.

This is a solid romantic comedy and a much better movie than the description makes it seem. The script often surprised me by taking unexpected turns. Probably the most refreshing bit was that it focused much less on the problems of running a wedding planning company than those of their relationship. Normally that wouldn't be a plus for me but these two actors elevated the movie and with the plot twists it all worked. Plenty of songs and dance numbers kept it fun and the item number is wonderfully over the top.

Solemnity of St. Joseph

Good news! NO FASTING on a solemnity. So enjoy a break from your Lenten fasting while giving thanks for St. Joseph. May he help us to all be so self-giving and faithful.

Giuseppe Maria Lo Spagnolo Crespi - Death of Saint Joseph [c.1712]
Via Gandalf's Gallery
The season of Lent is interrupted by the Solemnity of Joseph, Husband of Mary. With the exception of Our Lady, there is no greater saint in Heaven than Saint Joseph. This feast originated in the fifteenth century and was then extended to the whole church in 1621. In 1847 Pope Pius IX named Saint Joseph Patron of the Universal Church. Pope John XXIII had Saint Joseph's name included in the Roman Canon.

Here was an ordinary man to whom God granted extraordinary graces. Joseph was to fulfill a most singular mission in the salvific design of God. He experienced indescribable joys along with the trials of doubt and suffering. We recall his perplexity at the mystery of Mary's conception, at the extreme of material poverty in Bethlehem, at the prophecies of Simeon in the Temple, at the hurried flight into Egypt, at the difficulties of having to live in a foreign land, at the return from Egypt and the threat posed by Archelaus. Joseph proved himself always faithful to the will of God. He showed himself always ready to set aside his own human plans and considerations.

The explanation for this remarkable fidelity is that Jesus and Mary were at the centre of Joseph's life. Joseph's self-giving is an interweaving of faithful love, loving faith and confident hope. His feast is thus a good opportunity for us to renew our commitment to the Christian calling God has given each of us. (St. J. Escrivá, Christ is passing by)

In Conversation with God, Vol. 6: Special Feasts: January to June

St. Joseph, Terror of Demons
by Deacon Lawrence Klimecki
My favorite title for St. Joseph is Terror of Demons. For more about that title, read at the link for the picture above.

Monday, March 18, 2019

March Snow

Edward B. Gordon,
Today the snow blustered over land and sea. Flakes as big as handkerchiefs danced in the wind.
Nothing like that here so maybe that's why I like the painting!

"Freedom in the service of the good," freedom that allowed "itself to be led by the Spirit of God."

Too much autonomy was a likely to yield despotism as the hideous statist projects of the last century. True freedom, Benedict [XVI] taught, was something else. It was "freedom in the service of the good," freedom that allowed "itself to be led by the Spirit of God." To know what God wants and to bring oneself into conformity with the transcendent order of the universe, then, was freedom. That was the essence of Israel's joy, what set it apart from the pagans with their idols and god-emperors. The Christian, however, had the added joy of knowing the "face" of the law: self-sacrificial love. The road to fullest freedom ran through the Cross.
Sohab Amari; From Fire, By Water

Friday, March 15, 2019

Hannah & Rose discuss medieval hair, non-medieval poetry ...

... and the smelliest poison in the world as they watch Tristan & Isolde (2006). Get it in episode 35 of More is More, the bad movie podcast.

The most remarkable record a people ever left

So the Bible is in the first place a history. It is the record of a people, in fact the most remarkable record a people has ever left, for future generations, of all it did, suffered, believed, thought, and hoped. It is the record of a family, Abraham's, kept for about two thousand years, the record of a family that from the Patriarch to Jesus can be followed in its human destiny as well as in its providential mission. That is what gives unity to the Bible and all its heterogeneous parts.
Henri Daniel-Rops, What is the Bible?

Fritillaries in a Copper Vase

Vincent van Gogh, Fritillaries in a Copper Vase, 1887
Vivid. Bright. Full of life. Like a flame captured in a vase.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Rewatching Secretariat: "He holds not back at the sound of the trumpet."

I first reviewed this movie in 2010 after a preview screening but recently rewatched it. I was surprised at how much I loved it still and how inspiring it was. I shouldn't have been surprised. For one thing it was Roger Ebert's movie of the year

I thought I'd rerun the review in case you forgot it too ... or missed it the first time around.

Do you give the horse his strength, and endow his neck with splendor?

Do you make the steed to quiver while his thunderous snorting spreads terror?

He jubilantly paws the plain and rushes in his might against the weapons.

He laughs at fear and cannot be deterred; he turns not back from the sword.

Around him rattles the quiver, flashes the spear and the javelin.

Frenzied and trembling he devours the ground; he holds not back at the sound of the trumpet,

but at each blast he cries, "Aha!" Even from afar he scents the battle, the roar of the chiefs and the shouting.
Job 39:19-25
These are the opening words of the movie, Secretariat. It is part of God's speech to Job when asking him where he was when God made the world. Unusual as it is to hear a long passage from the Bible quoted when showing us a racehorse glorying in running, it is nonetheless a perfect definition for the true story of Secretariat and his owner, Penny Chenery.

In 1969, Penny Chenery is a Colorado housewife and mother when she must take on the management of her ailing father's Virginia horse stables. Struggling to make ends meet, she hires veteran trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich) who is haunted by past big losses. When a crucial decision must be made about which colt may become a winning racehorse she goes against conventional wisdom in what will become a pattern for the future. Using her hard won knowledge, innate sense of what is right, and stubborn determination to never give up, Penny Chenery makes great inroads into the male-dominated business.

There are inevitable strains on family and marriage as Chenery continually commutes and runs the business as well as being a wife and mother. These are not a large part of the movie but are nonetheless important subtext for what Chenery accomplishes, as is the parallel journey with a daughter who is discovering her true self. Although most of the attention is on Chenery's struggles, we also become well acquainted with that incredible horse, Secretariat, including his prodigious appetite, trademark late start from the gate, sheer joy in running, and endearing love of the limelight.

It is no secret that Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973, but just as in watching the movie Apollo 13, knowing the outcome in no way detracts from the tension when viewing this film. This is a true story that reads like a work of fiction with myriad unbelievable twists and turns. I remember watching the three races in which Secretariat ran and the truly amazing performance he gave at The Belmont, in the crowning victory. However, I had no idea of what was at stake or the road traveled to get there and this behind-the-scenes story was fascinating.

The overall message is that we must live life to the fullest, joyfully, and to strive with all that is in us to do our utmost. Emphasizing that message was the unashamed reference to religion in the movie. From the beginning when the book of Job is quoted at length, to joyous gospel songs at two crucial scenes, to the stable hand Eddie's comments about lifting each other up, there is a definite subtext of faith which is as rare these days as it is welcome. This is skillfully done without ever clubbing the viewer over the head, which is also welcome.

This is not a perfect movie. The missteps seemed to always be in a desire to "help" the audience understand the movie better. I am not sure whether it was the director or studio who felt that the audience wouldn't understand the speed and power of the horses in some of the close racing scenes without using modern editing techniques (removing frames perhaps?) to make the motion seem faster. The overall effect, however, was to give us less to see of the very thing that they wanted to celebrate, namely the power and speed of these graceful animals and their riders as they compete. Reality, in this case, did not need enhancement. Likewise, when one of the daughters said her mother was "Awesome," I winced. Not in 1973. She'd have said her mother was cool or groovy. We get it. Stay in character. Conversely, the place where we could have used the help was in including a long shot of the end of the Belmont race, where one really needs a visual demonstration to understand the enormity of just how that race turned out. However, these are relatively minor flaws and easily overlooked.

I was stunned when director Randall Wallace appeared at our preview screening. He spoke feelingly about his pride in making a family movie celebrating time honored virtues which anyone in America could watch. He can be rightly proud of this accomplishment in telling an incredible story in a captivating, inspirational way. As the movie began I was reminded of the movies that Disney used to make long ago. Toward the end, it had surpassed them in the richness of the storytelling.

The question on everyone's mind going into this movie is most probably, "How does it compare with Seabiscuit?" I can tell you that it would be like comparing apples and oranges. Both are enjoyable in their own ways. Seabiscuit was more of a period piece and multiple character study. This is a straight forward, inspirational movie of the same sort as The Blind Side. The actors are not called upon to stretch their talents in part because they are telling a straight forward story. The possible exception to this might be John Malkovich who, for a change, was not playing John Malkovich as is the trend lately. He turned in a charming and likable performance as the quirky, flamboyantly dressed, but overall normal trainer.

Highly recommended.


Courtesan (after Eisen), 1887, Vincent van Gogh

Its beauty was the work of human hands yet transcendent in effect.

This [church] was a holy place, set apart from the banality and corruption of human affairs. It was a place of right worship. Its beauty was the work of human hands yet transcendent in effect. Here beauty paid an enduring homage to the theological precepts that inspired and preceded it. And if metalwork and masonry and painting directed my imagination to spiritual realities, was that not because Almighty God had blessed me with a receptive imagination in the first place?
Sohab Amari; From Fire, By Water

Wednesday, March 13, 2019


Vincent van Gogh. Montmartre. Paris. Autumn 1886.

Lent: Who Do You Say I Am?

From a long ago insert I wrote for our church bulletin.
Who Do You Say I Am?
Filled with the holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. ...
Luke, chapter 4

The common practice today is to measure the Bible against the so-called modern worldview, whose fundamental dogma is that God cannot act in history—that everything to do with God is to be relegated to the domain of subjectivity. And so the Bible no longer speaks of God, the living God; no, now we alone speak and decide what God can do and what we will and should do. And the Antichrist, with an air of scholarly excellence, tells us that any exegesis1 that reads the Bible from the perspective of faith in the living God, in order to listen to what God has to say, is fundamentalism; he wants to convince us that only his kind of exegesis, the supposedly purely scientific kind, in which God says nothing and has nothing to say, is able to keep abreast of the times.

The theological debate between Jesus and the devil is a dispute over the correct interpretation of Scripture, and it is relevant to every period of history. The hermeneutical2 question lying at the basis of proper scriptural exegesis is this: What picture of God are we working with? The dispute about interpretation is ultimately a dispute about who God is. Yet in practice, the struggle over the image of God, which underlies the debate about valid biblical interpretation, is decided by the picture we form of Christ: Is he, who remained without worldly power, really the son of the living God? ...

The point at issue is revealed in Jesus’ answer, which is also taken from Deuteronomy: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut 6:16). ... The issue, then, is the one we have already encountered: God has to submit to experiment. He is “tested,” just as products are tested. He must submit to the conditions that we say are necessary if we are to reach certainty. If he doesn’t grant us now the protection he promises in Psalm 91,3 then he is simply not God. He will have shown his own word, and himself, too to be false.

We are dealing with the vast question as to how we can and cannot know God, how we are related to God and how we can lose him. The arrogance that would make God an object and impose our laboratory conditions upon him is incapable of finding him. For it already implies that we deny God as God by placing ourselves above him, by discarding the whole dimension of love, of interior listening; by no longer acknowledging as real anything but what we can experimentally test and grasp. To think like that is to make oneself God. And to do that is to abase not only God, but the world and oneself, too.

Joseph Ratzinger4,­ Jesus of Nazareth


We are quite used to thinking of Jesus’ struggle with temptation as a scenario of the devil offering worldly methods which Jesus spurns while worshiping God. This often leads to us considering what we must struggle with or deny in order to follow Jesus.This is valid, however, we have seen this piece of scripture presented so many times that it can be easy to miss levels of meaning aside from struggle with physical desires and denial.

Therefore, it is startling to see Joseph Ratzinger boldly state that Jesus’ verbal battle with the devil is one of Biblical interpretation. It brings us down to earth with a thump. Moving to this different level of understanding scripture offers challenges to our easy doubts of God’s presence in our lives and in our world.

It is easy to doubt and to fall back on the well worn phrase “trust but verify.” Indeed, we have been taught this lesson by the world, where business and politics, to name merely two influences, have given us much reason to be wary, cynical and doubtful of claims we cannot see, touch, or prove scientifically.

However, we cannot use these criteria when it comes to friends, loves, children, spouses, or, most importantly, God. With these cherished relationships, we must learn in a way that cannot be quantified. We must release our need to control. We must listen. We must remain open. We must learn. We must trust.

We may not know what questions to ask in order to learn to love God better. Jesus came to bring us the answers before the questions were spoken. We can find them by being open to God’s living word and listening.

1 Critical explanation or analysis, especially of a text.

2 The theory and methodology of interpretation, especially of scriptural text.

3 Psalm 91 is a prayer of someone who has taken refuge in the security of the temple. Verses 11-12 state, “For God commands the angels to guard you in all your ways. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” Read the entire psalm to see the statement of God’s promises therein.

4 Pope Benedict XVI wrote Jesus of Nazareth under his own name, Joseph Ratzinger.