Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Well Said: I have been bent and broken ...

Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but - I hope - into a better shape.”
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
No wonder I love him. He tells the truth. This isn't one we want to think about in our own lives, but when we've gotten done hearing Dickens tell it ... we understand that truth a little better.

Worth a Thousand Words: Pepsi 12 Oz.

Pepsi 12 Oz.
painted by James Neil Hollingsworth
I'm continually in awe of James Neil Hollingsworth's realistic paintings. Just look at the way the empty bottle refracts the box. This one is best viewed large to really appreciate it. If you click through the link and then on the painting you'll see what I mean.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Sacred Year by Michael Yankoski

The Sacred Year: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice -- How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My LifeThe Sacred Year: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice -- How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Life by Michael Yankoski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Father Solomon spoke again, and the shaking of my foundation continued. "The God who called you into existence ex nihilio—out of nothing—is the same God who holds you in existence this moment and every moment. Were he to withdraw his hand, you would vanish wihtout memory. All things would. No, you can't make God love you. You can't make God like you. But nor do you need to; he already does. Never forget that is why he made you—because he wants you to exist. He wants you to live life in all its fullness."
Now this is interesting. What happens when a Protestant motivational speaker realizes he is in perpetual inner turmoil, goes to a monastery to rest for a week, and takes a monk's advice to explore spiritual practices for a more authentic encounter with God? Is there a way to live intentionally that shapes us so we can better catch God's wind in our sails and "allow Him to move us?"

Catholicism has a long tradition of various disciplines designed to help believers do this. Not every Catholic practices such disciplines. It just depends on the person. Yankoski's dive into different spiritual practices is a bit more extreme than the average Catholic, I'd say, because he's meeting every few weeks with a spiritual director and their conversations lead him from one discipline into another.

This is interesting me both as a Catholic and as someone who too often skirts the shallow end of the pool. Which is probably why the Patheos book club began soliciting Catholics to read this book.

Right from the beginning this book is compelling. I'm more or less familiar with most of the practices that Yankoski engages with. Some are part of me, like lectio divina, and keeping the Sabbath. Others I dance around, trying and leaving, then returning to again occasionally. Yet others I have sampled and found not to be helpful.

Every chapter in the book had at least one moment that made me more aware. I've practiced keeping the Sabbath for several years now. And so while I was nodding my head at some of Yankoski's realizations on that topic, he also had some wonderful moments like this one which opened my eyes.
One thing this Sacred Year is beginning to show me is how each of these spiritual practices can work like an antidote to some of the more poisonous aspects of our culture today. Tey are refreshing and life giving, whereas so often the habits and methods I've developed in my frenzied, stressed-out life are deadly poisons. The spiritual practices work like balm on wounds,healing even if painful at first.

Thus silence counteracts noise. And contemplation counteracts commodification.

Might Sabbath counteract the idol of the self-made man?

No wonder I mocked Sabbath at first: idols always die hard.
I have to say there are some practices that I had a hard time accepting that the author was coming to completely unawares, such as being aware of how our lives often affect those who are less fortunate (think Chinese children working in shoe factories sort of situations). That is, after all, one of the cries of conscience of our secular society, to be aware of how privilege comes at such a cost. However, perhaps it had never occurred to him to connect it with faith somehow. However, even these chapters had moments that were valuable for me.

This book is inspirational for any Christian who struggles with how to be "in the world" and yet not "of the world." That is a line that both Catholic and Protestant struggle with. If we read enough history, we know that it is also something that not only modern people have struggled with. Michael Yankoski discovered that turning to these spiritual traditions eases the way to help us "live life in all its fullness" ... and he shares that discovery with us.

I really enjoyed this book and will be rereading it.

Note: I wish they'd have included an appendix briefly explaining how to do some of the traditional practices (like the Examen).

The review copy was provided by the Patheos Book Club. Publishers pay for Patheos to feature their books. My review is my own based solely on the book's merits.

St. Jerome, The Thunderer

Saint Jerome visited by angels by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi
I just realized it is St. Jerome's feast day. Like many, I have a fondness for this crochety, language specialist and translator, who was a spiritual director to many holy women. This amusing poem captures a great deal of the spirit of this very human saint.

The Thunderer

God’s angry man, His crotchety scholar
Was Saint Jerome,
The great name-caller
Who cared not a dime
For the laws of Libel
And in his spare time
Translated the Bible.
Quick to disparage
All joys but learning
Jerome thought marriage
Better than burning;
But didn’t like woman’s
Painted cheeks;
Didn’t like Romans,
Didn’t like Greeks,
Hated Pagans
For their Pagan ways,
Yet doted on Cicero all of his days.

A born reformer, cross and gifted,
He scolded mankind
Sterner than Swift did;
Worked to save
The world from the heathen;
Fled to a cave
For peace to breathe in,
Promptly wherewith
For miles around
He filled the air with
Fury and sound.
In a mighty prose
For Almighty ends,
He thrust at his foes,
Quarreled with his friends,
And served his Master,
Though with complaint.
He wasn’t a plaster sort of a saint.

But he swelled men’s minds
With a Christian leaven.
It takes all kinds
To make a heaven.

From "Times Three" by Phyllis McGinley

Well Said: Pope Benedict is like the "grandfather of all grandfathers"

Retired pontiff Benedict XVI joined some 50,000 pilgrims in Saint Peter’s Square on Sunday, Sept. 28 for a meeting between Pope Francis and elderly people from around the world.

Welcoming his predecessor, the Holy Father described Pope Benedict as the “grandfather of all grandfathers.”

“I have said many times that it gives me great pleasure that he lives here in the Vatican, because it is like having a wise grandfather at home. Thank you!”
Catholic News Agency, via The Deacon's Bench
I love the idea of Pope Francis bumping into Benedict XVI in the garden in the evenings and the two of them exchanging a few words about whatever is on the Pope's mind at the time. For some reason that possibility just never occurred to me. It sounds very companionable and comfortable.

Worth a Thousand Words: Among the Pines

Amongst the Pines (1915). Stanhope Alexander Forbes (Irish, 1857-1947).
via Books and Art
I feel as if I'm there with the dappled light on the page, the earth beneath me as I lie reading....

Monday, September 29, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Down by the Watering Hole

Down by the Watering Hole
taken by Valerie, ucumari photography
Some rights reserved.
I believe this is the definition of cute.

Well Said: "... and yet she was a happy woman."

Miss Bates…had never boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as possible. And yet she was a happy woman, and a woman whom no one named without good-will. It was her own universal goodwill and contented temper which worked such wonders. She loved every body, was interested in every body’s happiness and quick-sighted to every body’s merits; thought herself a most fortunate creature, and surrounded with blessings in such an excellent mother and so many good neighbours and friends, and a home that wanted for nothing. The simplicity and cheerfulness of her nature, her contented and grateful spirit, were a recommendation to every body and a mine of felicity to herself.”
Jane Austen, Emma
Would that I could do as well as Miss Bates under similar circumstances. This didn't stop her from trying everyone's nerves with her twittery, repetitive, nonstop talking. But it helped keep everyone around her both kind in return and generous against her poverty and need. And gave them an excellent example for their own lives.

Feast of the Archangels

This is one of my favorite feast days so I re-present one of my favorite posts about it.



All art from 
Gryphon Rampant where they have art, stories, comics, trivia and merchandise with a faith based focus
(Now when they put one of these archangels on some things, I'll buy them!) 
The liturgy for today celebrates the feast of the three archangels who have been venerated throughout the history of the Church, Michael (from the Hebrew Who is like God?) is the archangel who defends the friends of God against Satan and all his evil angels. Gabriel, (the Power of God), is chosen by the Creator to announce to Mary the mystery of the Incarnation. Raphael, (the Medicine of God), is the archangel who takes care of Tobias on his journey.

I have a special fondness for angels and it is a sign of my Catholic geekiness, I suppose, that I got an excited "Christmas morning" sort of thrill when I realized today's feast.

I read for the first time about angels when we were in the hospital with my father-in-law after his stroke. That made a big impression on me at the time. I always attribute the miracle that happened to the Holy Family but the angels are divine messengers and so have their place in it as well. Because of that I always have remembered that we can call not only on our friends for intercessory prayer, but also on angels for intercession and help. The prayer to St. Michael is one of my favorites.
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray. And do thou, O prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl around the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
Some more on angels.
You should be aware that the word "angel" denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels.
From a homily by Pope Saint Gregory the Great
Read more about angels at Catholic Culture.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Weekend Joke: Atheists

This is from xkcd (Randall Munroe) who graciously allows me to share his humor here.

He's got a new book out which has me drooling just having looked through the Amazon sample: What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. It isn't cartoons, other than those which illustrate the answers. Orson Scott Card's review gives a good idea of what it's like.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Herbed Pita Crisps

You want to make these. Heck, you definitely want to eat these! Get 'em at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

In which a vacation turns into an encounter with gods older than recorded history ...

...  in our latest sampling of "tall tales told in taverns"  at Forgotten Classics podcast.

Great Expectations Time After Time

One of my GoodReads friends said that watching me try to force myself to finish Great Expectations was better than the book itself. I feel rather proud actually as my usual practice is to just toss a book when it's not working for me. Even the classics (especially Russian classics).

But this is Charles Dickens who I learned to love with A Tale of Two Cities, and who left me awestruck after reading Bleak House and Little Dorrit. And I am now quite glad I did. If you're interested, a tale of my trek through Great Expectations follows.

Great ExpectationsGreat Expectations by Charles Dickens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A kind friend gave me the Blackstone Audio read by Simon Prebble, a narrator whose shoes other readers are not fit to touch.

I've never really been interested in reading Great Expectations. However, it's been too long since I've had any Dickens in my life. At least a month or two. And that's too long.

Oh Dickens, Dickens. I'm still in the very early pages but already his little observations are making me laugh.

I really hate Pip. Really, really. However, I had a great breakthrough when I went and read G.K.Chesterton's introduction to this novel. It made me realize Dickens' boldness in writing a novel with an antihero. I realize he is far from the first to do so, but I really hadn't expected it since his other books that I've read have all had at least one likable heroic protagonist. This accounts for my difficulty in connecting with the book, which I'm a third of the way through. And it helps me to reorient mentally on the story.

Secondly, something Chesterton said made me go look at GE's chronology. I hadn't realized it was the next to the last finished novel Dickens wrote, thus making it more a more mature work. I realized that I needed to trust this author to show me something new, to sit back and let the story sink in, rather than to rush to judgment because I would like to give Pip a good smack.

Chastened ... I continue ...

Just can't make myself go back to this book after I stopped to read something else. Even fantastic narration can't make up for the fact that I'm just not into the story. If I pick this up, and anything is possible (!), it will be in print because that will go much faster than audio.


Having finished all the Jane Austen books and casting around for a classic for "background" reading ... I thought I'd give this book yet another try. My method was to skim the second half of the book from my Kindle as fast as I could (a couple of hours ... I'm a topnotch skimmer). Naturally as the plot twisted and turned I found myself slowing down in many spots to enjoy the story's development. Oh Dickens ... you did it again. This is not Bleak House or Little Dorrit (or even A Tale of Two Cities) but the second half definitely redeemed the first half.

I am now listening to the second half in audio so I pick up the details I missed in my breakneck race through the print version. I picked up the library's audiobook which is by Michael Page and I like this narration much better, though I couldn't tell you why as Simon Prebble is a longtime favorite of mine. But, once again, it is making all the difference. Audio got me through Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It got me through The Lord of the Rings. It got me through C. S. Lewis's space trilogy. And now, it is redeeming Great Expectations for me.

I am really enjoying all the funny bits that Dickens includes in the midst of the drama, such as Pip and Bentley Drummle standing shoulder to shoulder refusing to give up the fire, or the Aged's reading of the newspaper aloud.

I still feel all the mooning after Estella to be quite boring but am willing to put up with it based on the rest of what is happing.

I was interested to see that this book has two endings. The original and the one that Dicken's good friend Edward Bulwer-Lytton asked for. I love that Dickens was so obliging as to write a second ending for him. My copy had both. I'm not sure which I preferred as both work well.

Well Said: Rain

Planting seeds inevitably changes my feelings about rain.
Luci Shaw
Context is all. The trick is to keep the context when it is outside one's immediate experience. Or to say it another way, the trick is thinking outside the box, thinking outside my box.

Being a Christian has made me much better at that because Jesus continually demands it. All you have to do is read the Gospels with any attention to see how He was always asking people to tilt their heads and look at things from a new angle, from God's angle. I forget to do that a lot of the time, but I do remember sometimes.

Worth a Thousand Words: French Mediterranean

French Mediterranean
via The French Sampler
I'd like to be able to look across the street (or plaza or whatever) and see this.

Julie joins the Judean People's Front and Scott prophesies ...

Julie joins the Judean People's Front (NOT the People's Front of Judea) (a group nobody likes), and Scott prophesies "nobody will really know where lieth those little things with the sort of raffia work base that has an attachment."

Eventually, they get around to discussing Monty Python's Life of Brian at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast in Episode 92.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Well Said: Hurrying

There are more important things to do than hurry.
Robert Farrar Capon
Really countercultural. Really true.

Worth a Thousand Words: Vesuvius in Eruption

J. M. W. Turner, Vesuvius in Eruption, between 1817 and 1820
via Wikipedia and Google Art Project
'Unfortunately I met Mr. Turner at the Academy a night or two after I received this letter ; and he asked me if I had heard from Mr. Lennox. I was obliged to say 'yes.'

'Well, and how does he like the picture?'

'He thinks it indistinct.'

'You should tell him,' he replied, 'that indistinctness is my forte.'
Walter Thornbury. The Life of J.M.W. Turner,:
... Founded on Letters and Papers Furnished by
His Friends and Fellow Academicians.
The picture filled me with awe and the quote made me laugh. Turner, you have it all!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Well Said: The Romance of Catholicism

Outside Christianity, the magic is not in life. For the pagan or neopagan progressive, life is pain followed either by endless nothingness or by endless reincarnations of endless pain. ...

But I am a Catholic. In my world, every sunrise is the trumpet blast of Creation, more astonishing than the bomb burst, and every nightfall is the opening of a vast roof into the infinite dance of deep Heaven, where the stars and planets reel and waltz to the music of the spheres. ...

Romance? Let me say something of the wild poetry that now rules my life.

I have a charm chalked on my front door to call a blessing down from wide Heaven. I carry a Rosary like a deadly weapon in my pocket and hang the medallion of Saint Justin Martyr, whose name I take as my true name, atop my computer monitor where he can stare at me.

Two angels follow me unseen as I walk, and I live in a world of exorcists and barefoot friars, muses and prophets, healers who lay on hands, mighty spiritual warriors hidden in crippled bodies, and fallen angels made of pure malicious spirit obeying their damned and darkened Sultan from his darkest throne in Hell. And I live in a world where a holy Child was born a secret king beneath a magic star, and the animals knelt and prayed. And from that dread lord, the small Child will save us.

You might think my world inane, or insane, or uncouth, or false, but by the beard of Saint Nicholas, by the Breastplate of Saint Patrick, and by the severed head of Saint Valentine, no one can say it is not romantic.

My life these days is a storybook story. If there were more romance in it, it would be enough to choke Jonah’s whale. Without Catholicism, there is no romance. Outside the Church, where are the miracles?

Should I hide this? Should I hide a world larger and more glorious than mortal worlds?

It is the only type of story worth a man’s time to tell or heed.

I enjoyed the entire article but when I got to the part excerpted above it was as if I had drums beating in the background, that martial music played in Battlestar Galactica. It was the same way I feel when I read St. Patrick's Breastplate aloud. I read this to my husband and to our priest. By the time I got done both were laughing and nodding and had a certain light in their eyes as they said, "Yes. Exactly!"

Worth a Thousand Words: Die Schleuse

Die Schleuse (the lock)
painted by Edward B. Gordon
I can hear the waves slapping on the walls, feel the uncertainty of the boat not centered where it should go, in sum - I'm there.