Friday, September 21, 2018

Road Trip — Charleston


I've always heard it is one of America's most beautiful cities. And I love Revolutionary history, which Charleston abounds in. This year we put off traveling, hoping crowds would lessen when school began. We didn't count on hurricane season, but it seems as if Charleston got off fairly easy. So we're going to find out for ourselves.

You know how it is — we love a road trip. So we're driving.

There is something about seeing the land change as you drive by. About meeting the different people on the way, hearing new accents, seeing food specialties change. You understand the country a little differently.

That slow evolution also is reflected on the people traveling, as Tom and I have found. Listening to music or audiobooks, letting silence fill the car, watching miles slip away - these are all conducive to reflections that we just don't have time for in regular life. We may never have the time to develop the thoughts, much less carry them through into conversation. Long hours in the car lend themselves to such things.

So we embrace the simple road trip. I get my knitting, we pick out audiobooks and podcasts, pack up the cocktail kit for our evenings, and hit the road. Plus, you have the chance for side trips which indulge at least one person's special interests. And we've got one of those planned ... Muscle Shoals style. Maybe we'll also swing down to Savannah, Tom being interested in Revolutionary ports (hey any excuse, right?)

More on all that once we return, in about a week. There will be a few planned posts popping up here for some of my favorite feast days.

The Whole Business of Life, The Only Road to Love and Peace

[Obedience] appears to me more and more the whole business of life, the only road to love and peace — the cross and the crown in one ... What indeed can we imagine Heaven to be but unimpeded obedience. I think this is one of the causes of our love of inanimate nature, that in it we see things which unswervingly carry out the will of their Creator, and are therefore wholly beautiful: and through their kind of obedience is infinitely lower than ours, yet the degree is so much more perfect ...
C.S. Lewis, letter to Alan Griffiths


Dunlin, Remo Savisaar

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Deviant Rising by Alexander Barnes and Christopher Preiman

The Helix was created to revolutionize the way we communicate. But even the purest of intentions can spawn terrible evil.

This wasn’t what Lithia had in mind when she decided to run away from home. Her ship was not meant to carry a fugitive wanted in two galaxies, or the stowaways running from a war that wasn’t hers. She just wanted to live a quiet, peaceful life alongside her brother. But now she knows too much about The Helix, the secret hidden deep within it, and what it would mean for all humankind if she walked away.
Deviant Rising is a solid space opera with big ideas, likable characters, and plenty of action.

The Helix is a universal communications system which everyone in the future is as addicted to as we are addicted to the internet. And what's not to like? It connects with your brain, feeding all the info you need on demand. At least that's how the people of the United Planets of Earth (UPE) feel about it. Out on the Frontier, well, that's a different story. They're pretty independent and not crazy about the UPE's edict that they hook up to the Helix.

And so a rebellion begins.

There's more to it than that, of course. Star Wars style, this tale is told through the eyes of several people who are unconnected to any big doings of government, politics, or power. Or so they think. I mentioned Star Wars and we do meet some familiar character types with motivations that are similar. But the feel I had more was of Firefly, with stubborn people on the fringes of society doing what they must to scratch along and, if necessary, make things right.

I really enjoyed this future San Francisco with the rich people living high up in full sunlight and the poor stuck at the bottom in the Undercity where no light ever penetrates. What a novel idea for establishing privilege and caste. I also enjoyed the Archer's Agony setting, with the story of how the dead ships docking just became part of the structure. That sounds just about right for a frontier culture without lots of resources.

There's a big cast of characters, including my favorites:  a cyborg-assassin with a conscience (we love to love those bad boys, right?) and a naturally gifted engineer who's never happier than when he gets his hands on an engine to fix (like Kaylee from Firefly). They are part of three different plots that come together (natch) into one fast paced story.

In a lot of ways it made me think of my favorite Robert Heinlein stories, the "juveniles" which didn't dumb it down but gave us plenty of action to go with the ideas.

A lot of fun and I hope there is a sequel though this is a stand alone novel.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs & Symbols by Amy Welborn

For centuries people learned about the Christian faith through paintings, sculptures, objects, and gestures. Simple images still convey deep messages if we learn how to see and understand them. Award-winning children’s author Amy Welborn has created a friendly and fascinating sourcebook on the signs and symbols of the Catholic faith.
I can't praise this book highly enough.

I originally was interested in this book so I could recommend it to young mothers I know. However, looking through it, I realized I have someone much closer who is going to be interested. My daughter, Rose, is helping teach religious education to fifth graders this year (that's Sunday School for any Protestants reading).

She's well catechized but it's been a long time, if ever, since she's had to make complex concepts simple without being dumbed down, interesting without being obvious. This book is the perfect resource for those needs. It doesn't only explain the basics, but gives broader context for other encounters the reader might have.

For example, after covering John the Baptist's symbols, we get a little art appreciation also:
John appears in some portraits of the baby Jesus and his mother. You know the other child is John because, even in these pictures, the little child is dressed in camel's hair and holds a staff or a lamb! The artist does not mean that the baby John was present at Jesus' birth. The image of the two babies reminds us that John's holy purpose was to share the Good News of Jesus, the Lamb of God.
Which is a nice reminder that knowing about the symbols is fine, but finding them in your church, art, and around the house are how they provide a lived experience of faith

While Rose and I randomly flipped pages we were impressed time and again by the beautiful simplicity with which Amy Welborn explained not only the symbols but the deeper messages to be taken away.

Reading about the Burning Bush in the Old Testament section, we learn:
As a sign, so the people would trust Moses and know it was God who had called him, God revealed his name from the bush: I am who I am. This means that God has not been created—God is existence.
Beautifully put. The children have an explanation to ponder. It is followed by a bit of insight to fall like a seed into young hearts:
When we see the symbol of the burning bush, we remember God's love, always ready to save. We remember that he called Moses and gave him the strength and grace to help others. And we remember how great God is, and we thank him for the gift of life—all that was, all that is, and all that is to come.
These things aren't bad for us to be reminded of either, so the benefits go to both the teacher/parent and child.

This is a book which I will give to my goddaughter (and grandchildren when they come along) when she is old enough to understand it. Which won't be that long from now!

For adults wanting more, I recommend Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols by Mike Aquilina. Really wonderful.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Scott warned Julie against going to the pool. ...

... She was sorry she ignored him when a were-possum wouldn't let her out of the water. If only she'd brought Scott's sword cane! Good Story 191: Cat People (1942), produced by Val Lewton

Monday, September 17, 2018

Morgens in Holland

Morgens in Holland, Edward B. Gordon

It is a human weakness of ours to be always crying out for complete novelty ...

It is a human weakness of ours to be always crying out for complete novelty, an entire disservice from our past. Our old traditions have become so dusty with neglect, so rusted with abuse, that we are for casting them on the scrap-heap and forgetting that they ever existed. The Church conserves; she bears traces still of the Jewish atmosphere in which she was cradled; traces, too, of the old heathen civilization which she conquered. And in her own history it is the same; nothing is altogether forgotten; every age of Christianity recalls the lineaments of an earlier time. People think of her as if she kept a lumber room; it is not so; hers is a treasure-house from which she can bring forth when they are needed things old as well as new.
Ronald Knox, Captive Flames

Like a Marriage Retreat in a Book: Reviewing For Better, For Worse, For God

I first reviewed this book in 2009, but still recommend it a lot, especially to people who can't make it to the Beyond Cana retreat. So I thought I'd rerun the review since it's been a good, long time since then.

... becoming one flesh means more than a physical union. Genesis says that God created man and woman to become one body. The Hebrew word for body or "flesh," refers to the physical body for sure, but it encompasses much more. Body includes the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. We're called to be united with our spouse physically, emotionally, and spiritually while retaining our unique individuality. God's design for this partnership is that it nurtures our lives and in so doing gives life to the world.

Men Are from Mars and Women Are from Venus--John Gray and his publishers picked a great title for his bestselling book on marriage. It has become a popular shorthand way of saying that men and women are profoundly different. They are so different that it often seems they live on different planets.

In addition to the obvious anatomical differences, men and women are "wired" differently in their communication styles, emotional makeup, and sexual responses. You and your spouse differ as individuals. Your temperaments are different. You come into marriage with dissimilar expectations, desires, hopes and approaches to problem solving. And while you don't really live on different planets, you come from different places. You were raised in different families. Your family of origin gave you ideas about marriage, child rearing, sex roles, and family values that are different from your spouse's. Some marriage experts say that incompatibility was never a valid reaon for divorce becuase all couples are incompatible to some extent.

Creating an "us" in the face of these differences is a challenging dimension of the vocation of marriage. to become "one," partners must understand the many ways in which they differ from each other and recognize how their differences can work in their favor in terms of their partnership. They also need to learn to manage these differences without hurting each other.

First, becoming an "us" is a realistic goal. The differences between men and women are great, but the desire to achieve unity is even greater. Men and women deeply desire each other; most men and women want to share their lives with a partner of the opposite sex. ... If God created us this way, we can be assured that he gives us the grace to achieve the union we desire.

Second, the work of becoming an "us" is spiritual work, and it requires spiritual disciplines, as already mentioned. Each vocation has its distinctive challenges, and becoming one with a particular other person for life is the unique challenge of marriage; the spiritual disciplines of marriage are the tools we use to achieve it. The disciplines we practice within marriage may seem mundane, such as counting to ten before returning an angry response, or waiting patiently for a spouse who is slow, but they accomplish something remarkable. They allow us to live in communion with someone who feels, perceives, reacts, responds, and loves differently from us.

Living in communion is holy because the conjugal life both mirrors and provides the world with an experience of belonging and acceptance God desires with us. Like the "communion" we experience in the sacraments of the Eucharist, marriage can provide the opportunity to "be one in Christ," the goal for all baptized believers.
Someone who has attended one of the Beyond Cana marriage enrichment retreats that Tom and I help to present may recognize many, if not all, of the principles above. Members of the presentation team definitely will. After working on these retreats for several years, I can tell you that I was blown away by Mary Jo Pederson's book. She consistently took the concepts that Tom and I have learned and practiced in that retreat and expanded upon them in knowledgeable, practical, spiritual, and even humorous ways.

If I included all the pieces that I read aloud to Tom, only to hear him say, "Wow. That is so true. This author is really good!" then we'd be here all day. This is the book I will be buying for newly weds, friends who wish they could make it to a retreat, and for our girls when they are getting married. It can't replace a retreat but it surely is a good supplement and a great grounding in reality for any married couple. Highest recommendations on this one.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Our Lady of Sorrows

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905), Pietà, 1876
Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many is Israel and for a sign that shall be contradicted. And your own soul a sword shall pierce, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
Luke 2:34-35
Any mother suffers when their child suffers. It is like a sword piercing their heart. However, Mary was no ordinary mother and her son was no ordinary son. John Paul II, in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater, commented:
Simeon's words seem like a "Second Annunciation" to Mary for they tell her of the historical circumstances in which the Son is to accomplish his mission, namely in misunderstanding and sorrow ... They also reveal that she will have to live her obedience of faith in suffering at the Saviour's side and that her motherhood will be mysterious and sorrowful.
If we stop to consider it, Mary must overcome many troubling and sorrowful circumstances through her life, beginning with trusting that Joseph will understand her pregnancy before their marriage. The circumstances of Jesus' birth, their flight into Egypt, then the trip to Nazareth where they must become established yet again, Jesus' disappearance in Jerusalem, and much more are her lot. Jesus sees fit to spare her none of these experiences, including witnessing his death inflicted in the most shameful manner the Romans can invent as the result of lies and conspiracy.
Today's feast is an occasion for us to accept all the adversity we encounter as personal purification, and to co-redeem with Christ. Mary our Mother teaches us not to complain in the midst of trials as we know she never would. She encourages us to unite our sufferings to the sacrifice of her son and so offer them as spiritual gifts for the benefit of our family, the Church, and all humanity.

The suffering we have at hand to sanctify often consists in small daily reverses. Extended periods of waiting, sudden changes of plans, and projects that do not turn out as we expected are all common examples. At times setbacks come in the form of reduced circumstances. Perhaps at a given moment we even lack necessities such as a job to support our family. Practicing the virtue of detachment well during such moments will be a great means for us to imitate and unite ourselves to Christ ...

The particular circumstances are frequently the most trying dimension of sickness. Perhaps its unexpected duration, our own helplessness or the dependence on others it engenders is the most difficult part of all. Maybe the distress due to solitude or the impossibility of fulfilling our duties of state is most taxing ... We ask Jesus for an increase of love, and tell him slowly and with complete abandonment as we have perhaps so often told him in a variety of situations: Is this what you want Lord? ... Then it is what I want too.
Is this what you want Lord? ... Then it is what I want too.

That is what hit me hard about this reflection. How often in my life should I say that instead of trying to dodge around what I know I should do? Way too often is my sorry response.

Except for this last bit, everything here is either quoted directly or paraphrased from In Conversation with God: Daily Meditations, Volume Seven, Special Feasts: July - December.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Exaltation of the Cross, Russian icon

Some time ago I read Anthony Esolen's commentary in Magnificat about the elevation of the cross from the point of view of an English monk's meditation written in the Middle Ages from the point of view of the cross itself. It has haunted me, in a good way I hasten to add, as I would come upon small annoyances and inconveniences and then remember the image of the young Hero as a warrior striding toward the cross. Shame on me if I do not at least attempt to match that valiant attitude.
For it is not a shy and effeminate Jesus, this Savior of ours, the Healer, the Chieftain. No courageous German could respect a man who did not fight. And will Christ own us, if we do not fight for him? The poet dares to make us see Calvary in a way that we are not used to -- but in a way that is right and just nevertheless. Says the cross:

Then the young Hero ungirt himself -- that was God almighty,
strong, stiff-willed, and strode to the gallows,
climbed stout-hearted in the sight of many; intended to set men free.

Yes, Jesus sweated blood in Gethsemane. But he took the cross to himself, suggests our poet, as eagerly as the warrior takes the battlefield, or the bridegroom takes the bride. He needs no armor here. He strips himself, he climbs. And though it all the cross, as the first and most loyal follower of the Chieftain, stands firm; trembles, but does not bow; is drenched with blood and driven through with the same spikes that pierce the body of Christ. 
Applying this to my daily life with its small and petty sacrifices, this helps immeasurably when I am reminding myself that my time is not really my own, that making a meal for a friend in need takes priority over my previous plans, and that even such a small thing is a step toward becoming a warrior in the young Hero's footsteps. It is surprising how contented one can be when embracing the cross with such an example.


This commentary is from 2008 and I repeat it here because it did me good to read it this morning. And I put the whole poem on the blog this morning so you can take it all in.

It is rare that I relate to the daily reading in Magnificat from the saints who wrote a really long time ago. I always read them though because you never can tell just when something is going to hit you right between the eyes.

As did this, which I read some years ago when I still had a subscription, from Saint Symeon the New theologian (died 1022):
... For Christians the cross is magnification, glory, and power: for all our power is in the power of Christ who was crucified; all our sinfulness is mortified by the death of Christ on the cross; and all our exaltation and all our glory are in the humility of God, who humbled himself to such an extent that he was pleased to die even between evil-doers and thieves. For this very reason Christians who believe in Christ sign themselves with the sign of the cross not simply, not just as it happens, not carelessly, but with all heedfulness, with fear and with trembling, and with extreme reverence. For the image of the cross shows the reconciliation and friendship into which man has entered with God.

Therefore the demons also fear the image of the cross, and they do not endure to see the sign of the cross depicted even in the air, but they flee from this immediately knowing that the cross is the sign of the friendship of men with God...

Those who have understood this mystery and in very fact have known in experience the authority and power which the cross has over demons, have likewise understood that the cross gives the soul strength, power, meaning, and divine wisdom... To the degree of the reverence which one has toward the cross, he receives corresponding power and help from God. To him may there be glory and dominion for ever. Amen.
Just a little something to remind me not to make the sign of the cross automatically, as so often happens, I am very sorry to say. I must be heedful of what that sign has cost and what that sign means for me in my relationship with God.


I like this commentary also, which I posted a few years ago, from Word Among Us, which comments upon the strangeness of the feast and the fact that we are reading about poisonous serpents. Good stuff.


This is short, but good. And says it all.

The cross is the hope of Christians.
The cross is the resurrection of the dead.
The cross is the way of the lost.
The cross is the saviour of the lost.
The cross is the staff of the lame.
The cross is the guide of the blind.
The cross is the strength of the weak.
The cross is the doctor of the sick.
The cross is the aim of the priests.
The cross is the hope of the hopeless.
The cross is the freedom of the slaves.
The cross is the power of the kings.
The cross is the water of the seeds.
The cross is the consolation of the bondsmen.
The cross is the source of those who seek water.
The cross is the cloth of the naked.
We thank you, Father, for the cross.

Dream of the Holy Rood, translated by Anthony Esolen

I am not a poetry lover but this might be my favorite poem of the few I do like. I just love it. As today is the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, it seems a good time to publish it.

"Rood" means rod or, in this case, crucifix. This is one of the oldest works of Old English literature and is an example of dream poetry. I love that category - dream poetry. 

This translation is not easy to find and I long ago copied it into my quote journal. Here's where I found it online (you have to have a Yahoo login to get to it).

Listen! When lapped in rest lay all who speak,
to me in a vision in the middle of the night
came the choicest of dreams, as I wish to recount.
Seemed to me that I saw one most splendid tree
arise into the air enwound with light,
beam-brightest, a beacon all beglazed with gold
showered upon it, with shimmering jewels
(like the five that shone up on the shoulder-span)
at its foot, on the earth — no felon's gallows, that,
but made lovely by the fore-shaping of the Lord of the hosts
who beheld it there, the hallowed, the angels,
with men the world over, and all this marvelous creation.

Wondrous was the victory-wood, and I, wounded with sins,
gashed, stained by guilt. I saw the tree of glory
robed in reverence and rays of joy,
garbed all in gold, with goodly gems
like the wrapping of lacework to honor the Ruler's tree.
Yet through that gold I glimpsed the grievous strife
endured by doomed men of old, as drops of blood sweat
from the strong side, the heart's side. With sorrow was I stirred,
shook before that sight so fair, for I saw that shimmering sign
change color and cloth, now clotted with the wet,
drenched in the running blood; now decked out in treasure.

Still I lay there a long while, beheld
raw-hearted with cares, the Healer's tree,
sign of the Savior, till I heard it speak out;
the best of all wood with these words began:

"It was years ago — as I yet call to mind —
when I was hewn down at the holt's end,
stripped up from my roots. Strong men seized me, men of hate,
carved me into a spectacle, commanded me to carry their criminals;
enemies enough bore me on their shoulders till on the bald mount they
set me,
planted me fast. Then I saw, full of heart,
mankind's Master make haste that he might climb upon me.
Then I dared not, against the dread Chieftain's words,
bend or break, when I beheld the ground trembling;
could have felled all those foes beneath,
struck them down, but I stood fast.

"Then the young Hero ungirt himself — that was God almighty —
strong, stiff-willed, and strode to the gallows,
climbed stout-hearted in the sight of many; intended to set men free.
I trembled when the bold Warrior embraced me, yet I dared not bend to
the earth,
fall to the ground for fear; to stand fast was my duty.
A rood was I reared up, bore the rich King,
the Guardian of heaven; I dared not give in.
They drove me through with dark spikes, deep wounds could be seen upon
open envy-thrusts, yet not a one of them dared I harm.
They mocked us both together. I was bedrenched with blood
spilled from the side of the Man as he sent up his spirit.
On that mount I endured many agonies,
words of wrath, saw racked in pain
the God of hosts. Then a gloom fell
and clouds shrouded the corpse of the all-Wielder,
its shimmering sheen; a shadow went forth,
wan, under the clouds. Then all God's creatures wept,
lamented the King's fall: Christ was on the cross.

"Nevertheless from afar to the noble Earl
eager men hastened; I beheld it all.
Stirred I was with deep sorrows, still I bowed to the men's hands,
humbly, brave of heart. Then from the heavy torments they took him,
bore away almighty God. The battle-grooms abandoned me there,
standing spike-pierced and spattered with blood.
They led him, limb-weary, away; beheld the Lord of heaven,
stood by his body, at his head, as, tired after the great strife,
he lay to rest awhile. Then they wrought for him an earth-house,
fighting men, in sight of the killer, carved it of bright stone,
laid in it the Lord of victories. A lay of sorrow they sang him,
grieving, as evening fell. From the glorious Prince they now parted,
wearily; there he rested, few of his band of warriors near.
But we three crosses wept for a good while, standing
where we had been set, as the song went up
from the bravers of battle. The body cooled,
fair fortress of life. Then felled were we all
to the hard earth — a horrible fate!
They dug us a deep pit; but the dear thanes of the Lord,
his friends sought me out and found where I was buried,
and girt me thereafter in gold and silver.

"Now, my good man, you may hear tell
that I have borne bale-dwellers' deeds,
terrible troubles. Now the time has come
that I am honored from east to west
by men the world over and by all this marvelous creation,
beseeching this beacon in prayer. On me the brave Son of God
suffered awhile; therefore wondrous I now
tower high beneath the heavens, and have the might to heal
any man of them all who meets me with awe.
I had been hewn once as the hardest of torments,
most loathsome to men, till I lay clear
the right road of life for the race of mankind.
Listen! The Ancient of glory exalted me then
over all the wood of the forest, the Watcher of heaven's kingdom,
as he did once for his mother, Mary herself,
almighty God, for the good of all men,
granting her worth above all womankind.

"Now, my dear man, this duty I give you,
that you say to men what you have seen tonight,
unwind in words that it is the wood of glory,
the same that almighty God suffered upon
for mankind's many sins
and for Adam's ancient deed.
Death's fruit Adam tasted; but after him the Lord
rose in his great might for man's salvation.
Then he ascended to the heavens. Here he will come again
to this middle-garden to seek mankind
on the day of doom, the dread Lord himself,
amidst his angels, almighty God,
intending then to judge, for the power of judgement is his,
what every man will have earned for himself,
living here in this lean short life.
There may no man remain unafraid
of whatever word the all-Wielder shall utter;
he shall seek among the many where that man should be
who would willingly die for the name of his Lord,
taste the same bitter death he once endured on the tree.
But no man then shall need to fear
who bears in his breast the best of signs,
for he shall come, through the cross, to that kingdom he seeks,
every soul from the earth-way,
who longs to dwell with the Lord almighty."

Light-spirited then I turned to the tree in prayer,
full of heart, bold, where with few fellows
I lay alone. Leaned my mind now,
made eager for the forth-way, for it had felt many
a longing-hour. It is now my life's joy
that I may try to seek the tree of triumph
once more often than all other men,
to honor it well; my will to do that
burns warm in my heart, and my hope, my salvation is
turned right to the Cross.
For I cannot boast
of rich friends on the earth, but forth have they gone,
fled the world's joys, wished to find the King of glory,
are home now in heaven with the High Father,
dwelling in glory, and every day I look
forth for that time when the tree of the Lord,
which here on earth I have once beheld,
shall lead me away from this lean short life
and bring me where the bliss is great,
the joys of heaven, where joined for the feast
sit the folk of the Lord, and bliss is forever,
and seat me then where ever thereafter
I may dwell in glory, delighting in joys
with the holy saints. Let him who on earth
suffered once for the sins of men
on the felon's wood be a friend to me,
for he loosed our bonds, gave us life again,
a heavenly home. Hope was made new,
with blessings and bliss for those who had burned in the fire;
the Son on that journey stood victory-fast,
mighty, triumphant, when amain with a host
of spirits he came to the kingdom of God,
the one-Wielder almighty, for his angels' joy
and the happiness of all the hallows who in heaven already
had been dwelling in glory, when God almighty,
their Lord, returned to his land, his home.

In the original formatting except for where a bit of punctuation didn't translate and I was left to guess what the unicode was replacing. My guess — an "em" dash.