Saturday, January 31, 2009

Now There's a Bible Study I Can Get Behind


Listen now to: The Simpsons at Church

Thanks to Deacon Ken for thinking of me when hearing this story and getting the link! Even more so since he is not a Simpsons fan ... poor fellow.

Was it the knitting? Was it the Hail Marys? What does it take to get through a visit to the emergency room?

Probably both are what it takes to get calmly, almost meditatively, through a trip to the emergency room when you are afraid that your husband has an appendix that is about to burst. (Turns out it was a kidney stone ... excruciating pain but no imminent loss to life ... and it buys you a couple of hits of morphine to book. Poor fellow now has a prescription for Vicodin and can look forward to some more rounds of pain while waiting for it to all pass away. Get it? Pass ... well, never mind.)

I remember reading a knitter's account of being in either New York or Washington D.C. when Sept. 11 happened. She was stranded at the train station for hours and was thankful to have an unfinished sock to knit in her purse. It gave her something to do without disconnecting her from the people around her ... and kept her calm.

That has always been in the back of my mind for some reason. So when Tom gave me my Peacock Blue Newport Knitting Bag for Christmas I started carrying around the latest unfinished sock. The other day I asked myself why I was doing that when clearly I rarely had time to knit while I was out and about.

Yesterday afternoon was my answer. After the pain levels had been reduced to a dull roar by the morphine, I pulled out my knitting and luckily was just working on the heel (which for non-knitters means that it was fairly brainless and could be shoved back into the bag at a second's notice without losing my place). We were there from about 1:30 until after 6:00 during which time there were many dull periods of waiting around. I managed to turn the heel and am now working on the gussets to shape the foot.

As for the Hail Marys, those never stopped until the doctor came in and confirmed the triage nurse's first "probably a kidney stone" comment. It is very comforting to know that while you are knitting, you are also streaming prayer for Mary and other saints who pop to mind to pray with you ... not only for your loved one but also for those other frightened and hurting souls that you can see everywhere. As well as those kind, trained ones who are there to help. Once again, I am happy to be Catholic.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Genesis Initiative

From my in-box ... though since I just watched Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan a couple of weeks ago, this might not have had the initial effect they would have expected ... though that was the "Genesis device" now that I think of it ...
New Catholic Group Launches Media Initiative

For far too long, Catholic artists and filmmakers have struggled to finance their projects and receive the training necessary to perfect their craft, hindering them from spreading their message of faith, hope, and love of God and His church. Today, we are happy to announce that a group of Catholics has come together to address this pressing cultural need.

The Genesis Initiative is a grassroots, non-profit organization aimed at funding worthy television and motion picture projects that promote Catholic values, teachings, and historical figures. ...
Their website can be found here.

This is What I Call Optimism

Grass Snake taken by Remo Savisaar

He adds that the fish is a flounder

Families, Audiobooks, San Francisco History, and Uncle Tom's Cabin

All can be found in Episode 71 of Forgotten Classics.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

You Can Learn the Most Useful Things from an Audiobook

Trying out the first couple chapters of Lost Gods from Podiobooks, a scam to steal ATM cards was described. The book is about Anansi, a trickster god, who is living in Canada. Who knew the scam pulled by a competitor of his was a real scam?

Until I got this from The Anchoress ... check out this Snopes entry on how a piece of film can be used to steal your ATM card.

By the way, I will be going back for more of Lost Gods when I've cleared out some of my stacked up audiobook listening. I'm a sucker for Anansi stories and this sounded good.

Hot Cocoa Coming Up

Grab a mug at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Deep Prayer and Pearl Diving

This discussion of deep prayer from Mother Teresa's Secret Fire (discussed here) has come to my mind continually since I read it some weeks ago. There is something about that idea of diving beneath the tumultuous surface into the calmer, deeper waters that makes distractions easier to brush off somehow.
The first means is to use silence. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence. We cannot put ourselves directly in the presence of God if we do not practice internal and external silence. (Mother Teresa)

Engaging in deep prayer is much like diving for pearls. Some minimal effort is required for a pearl diver to overcome his natural buoyancy, to arrive at the depths where the treasure lies -- and to remain there for the duration. In prayer as well, there is a kind of natural buoyancy at work, drawing us back to the surface. like the diver, we need some simple, persevering effort to remain there in the depths, where all is quiet and peace in God's presence.

A storm of thoughts and distractions may go on above us, but as long as we provide that minimal inner movement that allows us to stay below. the storms of distraction cannot touch us; they do not affect or interrupt our prayer. Whenever we experience turbulence, whenever we find ourselves buffeted by thoughts, it is a sign that we have been imperceptibly returning to the surface. We need only that small effort once again to return below, like the small kick of the diver's fins, and again we are at peace in an inward Eden. What this means for prayer, and our perennial battle with distractions, is that thoughts and distractions are no longer an obstacle -- we merely stay beneath them, consistently seeking this deeper "place of the heart."

[...]

We need to create our own inner hermitage, an inner sanctum where nothing and no one but God can enter -- where God can abide alone, "face-to-face" with the soul. This is the motive behind Jesus' teaching: "When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father... in secret (Mt 6:6).

Finding the "place of the heart" builds on the practice of establishing faith-contact with God at the outset of prayer. Before engaging in prayer, we first take a brief moment to enter into conscious and deliberate contact -- not with a God hidden above the clouds, nor floating on the mind's ruminations, but with the living God abiding in the depths of our soul.

Once we have taken this first step and consciously established faith-contact with God, we simply begin to move the focus of our awareness away from the surface, towards the center of the soul. We shift our attention from the level of the head to the level of the heart. There is nothing difficult or mysterious abut this at all. Though the "heart" referred to here is not the physical heart per se, there is such an intimate, God-made connection between soul and body that by shifting our focus inward, to a level corresponding to the are of the heart, we find ourselves moving towards a deeper level of the soul as well.
This also hit a chord with me because I have found that if I do not say my two customary prayers at the very beginning, then I struggle in prayer much more. I realized this some time before Father Langford's words put it into true focus for me. First I seek God deliberately, using those prayers repeatedly if necessary to calm my mind and soul so that I may attempt to duck my head beneath the surface and begin to listen as well as to talk.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Curt Jester Really Knows How to Make a Girl's Day ...

... ok, two girls' days.

Thank you, Jeff.

The Mark Shea Experience

There is something so wonderful about getting to meet bloggers, especially those you respect highly, face-to-face. So you can see why one of the things I really looked forward to last weekend was getting to hear Mark Shea speak.

I remember back when Happy Catholic was getting started and I was so shy (yes, believe it or not!). Mark so kindly posted a link to the blog and I got a hundred hits that day instead of my usual ten! Woohoo!

Also, I had just read Amazing Grace for Survivors (review to come) and amongst the many stories of terrible incidents that God reached through were some smaller ones of tragedy as many of us can relate to. Mark has a story in there about the tortures of high school as experienced by so many of us ... the shy, the geeky, the unpopular ... and it was one I thought reminded us that there are many sorts of experiences that we must "survive" even if they often fade as we reach maturity.

We were late getting there as Rose's flight was delayed but were able to hear the last half of his talk: This is My Body - An Evangelical Discovers the Real Presence. He was warm, personable, and witty (and I hear his first talk was hilarious about what's wrong with Catholicism which goes over every wrong preconception about the Church). What was most important to me was that he was so good at pointing out the charitable reasoning every time he was telling the Evangelical point of view. Granted, he was talking about himself at one point, but it was still nice. Interestingly there were several Protestants there asking questions, even going so far as to read from their Bibles with questions ... which were answered openly and charitably as one would expect.

Over lunch, I got to meet him and must credit Mark Windsor (now not blogging but let us hold out hope for a future return to the blogosphere for him) for a good prep. It was immensely flattering for Mark W. to say, "This is Julie D..." and for Mark SHEA (all these Marks ...) to say with enthusiasm, "OH, HAPPY CATHOLIC!" (There was a brief glow, "He's heard of my blog!" Then I realized that Mark W is good at prep. But it was a nice two seconds while it lasted!)

Mark then gave a riveting talk based on his book "Making Senses Out of Scripture: Reading the Bible as the First Christians Did." That is one of the first books I read when I figured out that Catholics look at many layers of the Bible. A fascinating book and a wonderful talk, I am tellin' ya.

If you have only ever read Mark's blog, you are not getting that whole Mark Shea Experience (if only I had psychedelic images proper for this subject!). There is something about hearing this gracious, humorous, realistic man talk that really makes you think things through on a different level. I also can recommend his books if he isn't coming to an area near you. It is not the complete experience but it is the next best thing.

If you don't believe me, then you can see that Heather agrees. Though she said so much more to the point. That must be nice. Some day she must tell me how she does that!

I have since remembered that his book about Mary should be out soon (at least I think so ... I am bad about keeping track of these things). I can't wait!

Fireproof Review ... The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

This movie was viewed from a review DVD provided by the distributor.

The plot:
At home with his wife of seven years, fireman Caleb Holt shows little of the bravery he displays on the job, and has a failing marriage as a result. Fighting over every little thing, Caleb and his wife, Catherine (Erin Bethea), are on the verge of signing divorce papers when Caleb's father and coworkers urge him to approach his marriage in the same way he fights vicious flames. When Caleb's father gives him the "Love Dare," a 40-day guide to religiously motivated marriage help, Caleb begins a difficult journey to reclaim his wife, and in the process, his faith in God.

With several action-packed scenes, FIREPROOF uses fire metaphors in its exploration of marriage. The film offers an alternative to the common romantic comedy and, some might argue, a more multidimensional view of romance. The film examines both the ups and inevitable downs of married life, offering faith as a prescription for saving what may at first glance appear to have already failed. Likely to please its target audience, the film offers a fresh perspective on marriage and inspiring relationship tips viewers may want to try regardless of their faith.
The intended audience: Christians and married couples

Will they like it?: Yes.

Will everyone else like it?: Doubtful.

This is a typical "Christian movie" and to make sure we get the point, they hit us over the head with it like a hammer on a nail. There is little "art" or "story" in this movie and that leaves those uninterested in Christian themes or marriage in the cold.

THE GOOD
As someone who has helped present several marriage retreats as well as gone on one of my own that we repeat annually, I can testify that the movie hits on crucial points for a successful marriage. What they are telling us are key points in how to serve our spouse willingly and lovingly as Jesus set the example for us.

I did like the fact that the husband takes truly heroic measures in changing his behavior and that it must be sincere before it begins to change him and, therefore, become something that his wife will accept as real. I also like that the husband's parents spring to his aid with the 40 Days book and also with constant prayer. That felt very real to me. The other thing that felt very real was the affirmation Caleb receives toward the end.

I also liked very much the father's bravery in speaking the truth about his faith to Caleb who makes it clear, in very realistic terms, that he has no interest in anything Christian. The story falls somewhat short in what revelation prompts Caleb to make a life changing decision but does a very good job, on the other hand, with showing a revelation develop in the wife's understanding.

Although I am critical of the story, they still managed to surprise us in a couple of spots with their twists which helped even out some rough spots from elsewhere.

Some of the actors are locals from where the film was shot (or so I believe from the publicity info). If so, someone should sign those nurses up for contracts. They were a delight, fully believable, and our favorite characters. I also especially enjoyed Ken Bevel's best friend role. He was believable and engaged our sympathies as the friend who has been down the hard road of recovering his marriage from trouble.

THE BAD
Before I go into this, let me be clear. I don't have a problem with movies created for a specific audience. The Passion of the Christ was made for Christians and I found it to be a devotional experience. Mel Gibson had the advantage of Hollywood clout and was able to produce a piece that was beautiful, sounded beautiful, and had a lot of money invested to do so. Many small movies do not have this luxury. That is fine. Movies are all about the story. If a story is well thought out and engaging then the trappings do not matter so much. Even subpar acting can be forgiven because we are so engaged in the story.

This movie was shot on a shoe-string budget in thirty days. I do not mind that. I have seen many indie movies with low production values (The Castle and Eagle vs Shark both come to mind) and enjoyed them thoroughly. That would because there was a fully realized story that had fully realized characters.

Unfortunately, Fireproof forgot to give us a story along the way. That is not really true, actually. It is extremely focused on a bad marriage and plunges us into it with little else as the main focus. There were clear attempts to give a well-rounded story by including the nurses at the hospital and the hijinks at the fire station, as well as the firefighters performing daring rescues from precarious situations. Some of these worked while others were predictable. However, when one is dealing with a subpar story then the acting needs to be fantastic to carry it off. This was largely not true in this movie.

This movie was fortunate in having a wide distribution and earning a good profit. I see that the director and a relative wrote the story. I hope in the future they will use a good chunk of that money to hire a screenwriter to flesh out and polish the story.

THE UGLY
They gave us an extremely one-sided story in which the husband is the bad guy and the wife is the victim. Regardless of the fact that we see the wife do several things which she should not if she is truly blameless, this is all implied as a result of the husband's neglect. Never do we see her take part of the blame.

As well, the wife is hampered from getting any advice about her marriage because her mother is incapacitated from a stroke and cannot talk. Why does the wife not turn to her father? Presumably he might have something to say about marriage. The gaggle of friends piling on the husband-bashing advice could have included at least one person with a tad of understanding.

The men and women were very divided throughout the movie, to the point of having the husband very angry at his mother the whole time. We were rooting for his dad to give him a whap upside the head for his complete disrespect of her.

It felt as if people who hated men wrote the script, which is ironic because it was men who wrote it. Perhaps a woman should have helped polish it.

IN THE END ... I still recommend it if you are in the target audience.
I know it sounds as if I hated this movie. I did not. As I say it is very good for the intended audience. I recommend it to Christians and married couples, with the reservations above. If you are expecting a "Christian movie" then you will not be disappointed.

I just wish it could have been something that would have spoken past those boundaries to those who fall outside the specific audience.

GOOD MOVIES FEATURING MARRIAGE
These movies do not have marriage ostensibly as their main point but as our family reflected on Fireproof, these are the ones that we felt brought up very good points as well as being good movies overall.
  • Regarding Henry
  • Shall We Dance (Japanese version)
  • The Paper
  • Parenthood
  • The Castle
  • World Trade Center
  • Firefly
More about "Christian Movies and Art"
To be blunt, if a film purports to be a “Christian film” it supposedly is done for the glory of God. You don’t glorify God by making lousy movies.

We need great movies.
Read Scott Nehring's article Less Christian Art - More Christian Artists.

A Crash Course in the Economy

Ready to learn everything you need to know about the economy in the shortest amount of time?

The Crash Course is a condensed online version of Chris Martenson's "End of Money" seminar.

What is it?

The Crash Course seeks to provide you with a baseline understanding of the economy so that you can better appreciate the risks that we all face. ...
A series of videos between 3 and 20 minutes in length. All 20 sections take 3 hours and 23 minutes to watch in full. I am just beginning to watch them.

As recommended by The Seanachai who you should be either reading or listening to just for the sheer entertainment ... and sometimes also for learning interesting things.

Friday, January 23, 2009

It's Funny Because It's True





Saw this at The Anchoress first and then everywhere. Just now had a chance to watch.

My summary: Jon Stewart is a brave comedian and I salute him. Don't agree with him a lot but he's honest enough to go where I live this time for that laugh.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hot Pepper Popcorn

Get this easy but delicious recipe over at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Jeffrey Overstreet's Onto a Good Idea Here ...

[...]
  • How The Reader could be chosen over WALL-E (oh, right, it’s about The Holocaust!)…

  • How Ron Howard could get a Best Director nomination over Andrew Stanton or Christopher Nolan…

  • How The Fall could be ignored for cinematography… [...]

  • How The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — a rewrite of Forrest Gump that manages to run almost three hours in spite of having a central character who is completely uninteresting (outside of his disease symptoms, anyway) — got a Best Picture nomination…
I have seen just enough of the Oscar nominated movies as well as those Jeffrey mentions (or have heard Rose's pronouncements, which clearly I trust more than the Oscar committee) to know that he speaks the truth.

He proposes very specific plans for an Oscar Boycott Party. Check it out.

Blame Jack Benny for My Broken "Lost" Resolution

Actually, blame PBS for their series Make 'Em Laugh for my missing Lost.

I have been taping the series and it was on directly opposite Lost. We have halfway converted over to digital tv, having put a DVR to use. However, the VCR is not connected as we need to get a little box for it. So I had one taping opportunity and I chose to go with the laughter.

Now whether I would have been so cavalier about missing Lost had I not known that they would be rerun on Saturday, I don't know. Let us hope I am not put to that test!

So I begin this season as I ended the last, already behind and trying to catch up ... while studiously averting my eyes from any articles about the show.

By the way, KERA showed Comedy in Bloom, a great documentary about Jack Benny, after the series last night. We wound up watching the whole thing and laughing out loud the whole time. Especially great was watching how many times Rose cracked up. I love to see that basic comedy still works. Jack Benny was one of the greatest. I still remember listening to the radio after he died as they played show after show in tribute. Like Rose, I cracked up.

Prayer Journals

At the bottom of my list of prayer intentions I mention that I put requests into my prayer journal. Shannon asked:
Prayer is something I am trying to grow in, and I am intrigued by the idea of a prayer journal. I am unfamiliar with the concept and I'm curious how one would use a prayer journal. What kinds of things do you write in there? Is it a prayer in the form of a dialog? Is it a place just to keep track of prayer intentions?
I don't think I have ever mentioned anything specific before so that is a good question. I have heard of two sorts of prayer journals. The first is where someone journals their prayers and I believe also what answers they received along the way. I'm afraid that I'd then get so into writing things down I would forget about the praying part ... which says a good deal about my personality I fear.

The second sort of journal is the kind I keep, one with a list of intentions. Being a "list-ish" sort of person, I have different categories on different pages of a little black Moleskine notebook with headings for family and friends, clergy, illness, the dead (for prayers for those in Purgatory), discernment, and special concerns (which includes the many sorts of prayers that don't fall under all those other areas). I also have a page of saints that have called themselves to my attention ... as quite often, reading that page will lead me into other areas of meditation or remind me of an intercessor for a prayer request.

Sometimes I carefully read through everyone listed, pausing briefly to lift each one in prayer.

Other times I will read the headings and offer a general prayer for all listed there, letting my eye fall where it will. On those days, there usually are several names that will stand out for me and they come back to me all day. I take that as a special day of more intensive prayer for those people.

There probably are many other sorts of prayer journals and ways to intercede for others in prayer. Please do drop into the comments box and let us know so that we may all grow in prayer for each other.

There are not too many things nicer than getting a surprise email ...

... from a friend saying that they are saying a prayer for you for no special reason and wishing you a blessed day.

What a treat and what a great reminder of how many friends God has given me.

I have a smile thiiiiiiiiiiis big right now.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Imagine the Potential



An inconvenient truth that we pray is heeded in the hearts and minds of our country.

From CatholicVote.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Small Businesses and the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act

Aquinas and More Sets Up CPSIA Central to Help Other Retailers

Colorado Springs, CO (January 20, 2009) – Aquinas and More Catholic Goods is announcing a new section of its blog, CPSIA Central, to help educate others about the CPSIA. This new law will affect Aquinas and More and many other retailers in the country, and the company is very concerned about the livelihood of other retailers who may not yet be well-informed about the law.

On February 10, 2009 the new law will go into effect and threaten many independent and small businesses. This law, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), mandates that every children's product – toys, books, apparel, CDs, and much more – marketed to and used by children aged 12 and younger be tested at an approved lab for a variety of toxins, including lead. This law is devastating to many small businesses who deal with or make children's items, because it requires testing to be done and documentation available by February 10 for retailers, or the products will have to be destroyed at that time. Testing isn't cheap – it can range from a couple hundred dollars to $4000 per item. Failure to comply with this law can result in a minimum fine of $100,000, and possibly even five years in prison. Retailers, suppliers, and manufacturers are all affected and responsible.

Somehow, this law is going largely unnoticed by the media and by many who will be directly affected once the law goes into effect. Aquinas and More Catholic Goods has set up a special section on its blog, Musings From a Catholic Bookstore, to help others educate themselves about this far-reaching law. CPSIA Central can be found here . This page was set up because, while calling vendors to see what they were doing about CPSIA, Aquinas and More discovered that the majority had never even heard of this law and so are obviously unprepared. In the interest of helping as many as possible understand and prepare for this law, CPSIA Central includes important information and polls to gauge how this will affect people.

Aquinas and More has also included a list of vendors who are certified and those who have been contacted but are not yet certified. As most people have been blindsided by this law only recently, very few are compliant. Of the 27 vendors we have contacted at the time of writing this release, only two are prepared with products being tested and documentation forthcoming. 16 of those 27 are currently researching the law, and were largely unaware of it prior to our call. Aquinas and More has yet to hear back from nine of those who have been contacted. Because there has been so little information about this law in the media or anywhere else, most vendors will most likely not be prepared with the necessary testing and documentation in time for the deadline, which is now only three weeks away.

For more information about the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, check CPSIA Central frequently, as it will continue to be updated with the latest information. If you are a Christian vendor or retailer, please send Aquinas and More any updated information you might have so they can keep the information current on CPSIA Central.
I have read about this law recently and it almost seems tailor made to put small businesses out of business altogether. I realize that the overall goal is laudable but surely there is a better way than slapping down a bandaid like this.

Check out Aquinas and More's page and pass it on.

Congratulations President Obama from Your Loyal Opposition

Loyal opposition is the concept that one can be opposed to the actions of the government or ruling party of the day without being opposed to the constitution of the political system.
When I read Steven Riddle's comments about this change in administration, what he said echoed my feelings. He used the term "loyal opposition" and it seems good to me.

I hope for more from President Obama than he has promised those of us who would like different solutions than he proposes. I pray for him and for all our leaders. Enjoy the inauguration and the celebrations because you are taking on a huge job in a time of great uncertainty. May God bless you and all of us, including your loyal opposition.

"Grades? I Don't Think We Have Those."

Hmmmm, no, we told Rose ... we were pretty sure that even a fine arts school has to have grades.

To her surprise she not only found a transcript, but also a Dean's List. Which she was on.

That academic scholarship (small but much appreciated) is assured for another semester. Whew!

On Coming Alive ...

Yesterday, this was the quote of the day.
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
Howard Thurman
A commenter mentioned:
True...but unhelpful to some of us. The thing that makes me come alive won't support my family...
I would like to gently encourage us to look past the immediacy of jobs. Remember, he didn't say ... earn a living by coming alive, did he? Let us take me as an example ...

In my case it is this blog. And also the podcast.

Also my Catholic women's book club. What fun and I get so much good from it.

Not to mention the Beyond Cana retreat that Tom and I help present twice yearly. Those are not only inspirational but the monthly formation meetings for the team help keep our marriage solidly anchored in reality ... and grace ... and the friendship and love of our friends.

Those things not only benefit me ... make me come alive, as it were ... but hopefully also help another person or two. And except for the hotel for the Beyond Cana retreat time, they are largely free or very inexpensive, except for the time that I invest. Any one activity like those above are enough to help make us come alive.

For Tom an example is meeting with the guys he went through CRHP with.

For one daughter it is swing dancing (free lessons and minimal cost on dance nights). For another it is delving deep into movies.

A friend last night spoke of coming alive when she became a 3rd order lay Dominican. You should have seen her face light up. It was beautiful. (My goodness gracious, I see that she went home and began writing about it right here!)

At The Deacon's Bench that quote is being applied to serving the poor, but I also see it as something that the men who stepped up and became deacons have done. They don't make a living becoming deacons for the most part but they are fulfilling their highest potential ... and I think they would tell you that it was another step on the way to coming alive.

We can't always see an immediate benefit, just as I didn't when my husband encouraged me to begin a blog. But guess what? We actually have gotten work from people who saw Happy Catholic. So you never can tell how God is going to use that pursuit of what he built into you ... that coming alive ... to your benefit either.

Don't fall into the trap of simply applying that quote to practicalities. Break your thinking out ... come alive.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Really, really, really quick review of Greener Than You Think by Ward Moore

Because I'm crazy busy but just finished listening to this book from Librivox, read by Lee Elliott who did such a great job that I am going to look for more narrations from that source.

WOW!

I want to do a better review than that later but here's the description from Librivox:
Do remember reading a panic-mongering news story a while back about genetically engineered “Frankengrass” “escaping” from the golf course where it had been planted? That news story was foreshadowed decades previously in the form of prophetic fiction wherein a pushy salesman, a cash-strapped scientist, and a clump of crabgrass accidentally merge forces with apocalyptic consequences. A triple-genre combo of science fiction, horror, and satire, Greener Than You Think is a forgotten classic that resonates beautifully with modern times. This is a faithful reading of a 1947 first edition text.


So timely.

Such a surprise ending.

So very funny! Low key funny but it is there continually and emphasized perfectly by Elliott.

Can't praise this book enough.

Worth a Thousand Words

Snoozy Cat
taken by D.L. Ennis at Visual Thoughts

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Off to the Pro-Life Mass and March Today - Updated With Video Link

If we don't stand up and counted, no legislators will know that we care.

That is what I realized last year at my first Pro-Life March. Please consider being there if there is one in your area.

As Bishop Vasa says:
Regardless of how many years have passed since the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court Decision and regardless of how prevalent and routine abortion has become in this country, the simple truth remains, it is an act of extreme violence to the pre-born child and to the distressed mother. Thus, if anyone says, "I love God" and still favors abortion, he is, to quote St. John, a liar. May we all live out faithfully what it means to love God.
He says much else, all of it good, as does The Curt Jester where I saw the bishop's letter.

Go and read...

On a personal note, we're meeting Heather there and I am expecting to see a few others I know as well. I hope it's standing room only, spilling out into the halls.

What Happened at the March
Mark Windsor, the founder of the feast for me with his fasting and praying monthly challenge, and one daughter prayed the rosary at a nearby abortion clinic. He says:
We got there right at 8:00 and went to the abortion clinic. ... You'd have loved the clinic scene this year. My guess is that there were about 4x the number of people this year as last. They were on both sides of the street and on the next block as well. There were also only 5 "clinic support" people there instead of a dozen. It was enough to warm the heart (while freezing the hind quarters).
Unfortunately their household is falling prey to the flu and his daughter began getting feverish before Mass so they had to go home. Hope everyone pulls out of it fast, Mark!

We attended Mass first at the cathedral. I had forgotten just how moving the red rose ceremony is. As Heather writes:
A representative born in each year since 1973 comes forward and places a red rose in a basket before the altar. Each person and each rose represents about 1.2 million people whose lives were violated and destroyed before they were even born.
As they place the rose in the basket deep bell is rung once. It makes it a very solemn occasion. The last person, representing the current year, is a pregnant woman. Just looking at all those people, thinking of all the baby boys and girls who have been murdered in that time was sobering. It made it more tangible somehow.

Two things resonate more than any other from Bishop Farrell's fine homily. The first is that we must never give up hope. The second is that a true culture of life would make it inconsequential if Roe v. Wade were never overturned ... for the simple reason that no one would avail themselves of it. This hadn't occurred to me before. It cast me back to a recent email conversation with a downcast friend in which I fell back again upon my favorite example of triumph against all odds. First century Christians. They lived the culture of life, of being true disciples of Jesus Christ, in such a genuine way that they changed the world despite not being able to affect laws. We can do the same.

The march was really great ... there were about 2,000 people, twice the number of last year. Tom and I have vowed to make notes this year and remember to encourage our friends join us. 2,000 is good but not enough! The march is not difficult but when one has never done it then the idea is intimidating.

The bishop had a very strict directive about behavior during the march. He wanted no chatting, no goofing around or offensive remarks or signs. He reminded us that we were marching with the Lord as did the people of Israel when they marched out of slavery. Wow. It was a much quieter and more meditative walk with small groups here and there praying the rosary aloud or singing.

It really was something to pause at the turn and look back (as everyone ahead of us was doing) and see the solid line of marchers going on as far as the eye could see. We were near the front and waited close to 15 minutes at the law building before everyone got there. Amazing.

Also inspiring were the cars that would honk as the police held them back so we could pass. Once we all looked and saw the driver of the car vigorously applauding the entire time the march went by ... simultaneously the passenger held up a shirt to the front window (couldn't see what was on it but it was clearly in support). Another time, on the way back, a driver similarly honked and when we all looked over, he gave us vigorous thumbs up.

Right before we continued the march (didn't retrace steps but went on around to finish the square, so to speak, winding up at the Baptist church), we sang the first two verses of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Sounds corny but as is so often the case with that sort of thing it left me teary-eyed.

Heather has a much more comprehensive report. I'm looking forward to seeing the photos she took ... and you can now see them here.

Here's one which particularly caught my eye not only because it was great to see the clergy marching too, but because this particular priest is our Vicar for Clergy, who will be celebrating our Saturday Mass at the Beyond Cana marriage enrichment retreat. (You know how I like to link everything together ... with the slightest excuse!)


Here is a short video that gives a sense of being there. Thanks to Laura for this!


Heather points us toward the Catholic Pro-Life Committe Dallas photos ... where I saw my friend Ronda who is also the STA pro-life go-to gal. She was one of those who carried a red rose for those who were killed in her birth year. It made it all the more poignant for me thinking of how many people like her we were missing knowing ...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Unknown Ricardo Montalban - Faithful Catholic - Updated

Out of everything I’ve seen him in, I like to imagine Armando was the character most like Ricardo Montalb├ín in real life. You see, I took a small interest in Mr. Montalb├ín’s off-screen doings when in 2002, just after my return to The Church, he received the first annual Spirit of Angelus Award, an honor given “for a body of film work of surpassing quality complemented by a faith lived with integrity and generosity.” At his acceptance speech, he noted that his Catholic faith was the most important thing in his life, followed closely by his marriage. It wasn’t just talk. He remained happily married to actress Georgiana Young for 63 years (63 YEARS!) until her passing in late 2007. On the Church side, in 1998, he was recommended by his Bishop for membership as a Knight in the Order of St. Gregory the Great, an award given by the Vatican to acknowledge an individual's particular meritorious service to the Church.
Read it all over at The B-Movie Catechism.

How appropriate this cartoon from Savage Chickens is, after the commentary in the comments box about The Wrath of Khan.

This 'N' That

Things We Like
  • Whiskas Purrfectly Fish. Of course, this is the cat's choice. She insisted I put it first. She comes racing from anywhere in the house as soon as it is opened and begins gobbling it up with most unbecoming haste. She's never liked a cat food this well. And I like that it is in a pouch ... very easy to open, etc.

  • German gingerbread. This was a gift from my brother and his family as they have unfettered access to such things. We got a big container of it for Christmas. It comes in all different sorts of shapes and sometimes is glazed and sometimes is chocolate covered. The most amazing thing is that although the gingerbread itself looks all alike ... they somehow manage to make each sort taste different. It is truly an art which the Germans have perfected.

  • Spaced. This is the television show that Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) did before their movies. Somewhat slow moving it is nonetheless hilarious. Chock full of sci-fi, pop culture, and video game references, it chronicles the adventures of a guy and girl who pretend to be a couple in order to fulfill the rental requirements for a decent flat. You either will like this or you won't. We all do except for Rose who prefers to ignore it while doing soduku. But 3 outta 4 ain't bad!

  • Interweave Knit Magazine. Especially when I was about to subscribe after not getting it for a while ... and then they sent me a 50% off "please come back" subscription offer. Score!

  • Finishing things. A New Year's resolution of sorts was to do one thing at a time and resist flitting off when halfway through a project to begin something else. So hard and yet so very satisfying. I realize from the difficulty I'm having with this one that I'd gotten deep into the habit of distraction in practically everything.
Things We're Reading
  • The Shining by Stephen King. Hannah finished this recently and there is nothing like the fun of discussing a favorite book with someone who's just read it. She had some interesting observations that I hadn't thought of since I read it so long ago (though many, many times). For instance, she pointed out that true evil doesn't vary it's lies. Jack is told that the house wants him. Of course, we all know that the house wants Danny. Jack knows it too which is why he becomes so jealous and angry towards him. Well, that and the fact that he's going crazy. She's reading The Stand now and we are having a lot of fun talking about that too.

  • The Word Made Fresh by Meredith Gould ... how to be a church communications employee AND a Christian. Ha! More challenging than one might think.

  • Eating India by Chitrita Banerji ... expat and culinary historian looks at the food of India while traveling the Great Trunk Road

  • Viking's Dawn by Henry Treece ... finished this one. A fantastic YA story from 1956 of a stripling off on his first Viking raids. Unpolitically correct but has plenty of empathy and heart. Waiting for the sequels to come from the library.

My Pick for Overlooked Musical

Scott at Good News Film Reviews has three musical recommendations. Go see his comments ... I'll wait ...

He is wrong only in that The Sound of Music should NEVER be anyone's number one musical. It is good for kiddos but it is treacly and I much prefer Singin' in the Rain which has the virtue of being a fantastically funny movie as well.

I must say that I never thought of classifying The Wizard of Oz as a musical but I can see where that would come from.

I have never been able to make it all the way through The Fiddler on the Roof. Hate it. Now, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. THAT is a top three musical pick. Especially when you consider that they were running very short of film and thought of cutting the "Lonesome Polecat" number because they could only do one take. Everyone wanted to try anyway and it was perfect. That is amazing because they had to chop axes in sync and other such feats.

Check it out.



In case that left you feeling as if those brothers were sissies, I can't resist adding the barn raising dance. One-upmanship and athletic talent ... to music.

Worth a Thousand Words

Turtle on the Path taken by AC Parker

If I hadn't seen the name of the photo I would have been puzzling over just what this object was. And then once you know ... it all comes into focus! I love it!

Thanks to Kate for sending me to his photo blog. Check it out as he has some great photos for sale over there.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pittsburgh Pilgrimage Point: Baby Elephants!


Not Catholic related but what is better than an adorable baby elephant? Unless it is two adorable baby elephants.

Whenever we visit somewhere it seems as if we always wind up at the zoo. This elephant page at their website makes me think the Pittsburgh Zoo is a pretty good one. Pittsburgh's Zoo and Aquarium is one of only six such combos in the country.

Why do we care about Pittsburgh? We're seeing if anyone wants to join us so we can make a Pittsburgh trip into a Pittsburgh Catholic pilgrimage! Check out the link and let me know if you are interested.

Not Only am I Not Smarter Than This Sixth Grader ...

... I suspect that most current day sixth graders would not do well with these questions either.

Take a look at this 1916 history test from a Brooklyn parochial school. Via Deacon Greg.

I Blame It All on Hypnotoad and the Egg

They really didn't put their hearts into it ... I must have a very stern talk with them!

Seriously, much thanks to everyone who voted and also to the Weblog Awards folks who worked so hard to give us all so much fun. I can't imagine how much work this was. Just consider the statistics: "This year's turnout was simply amazing; 3.2 million page views, 2 million visitors, and 933,022 votes cast in 48 categories." Wow!

Congratulations to Father Z. in the Best Religious Blog category and all the winners, who you can see here.

She's Got a Fever
Not for a cowbell though. Heather has blog award mania and lists upcoming awards we can look forward to ... including ... The Catholic Blog Awards!

A Comment on the Movie Doubt

SPOILERS about ending included.

Rose went to see Doubt yesterday and came back with a positive review. She said the movie was fine, criticized the director for such obvious work of screen angles to make his point ("We get it," she said, "There is doubt. You can stop canting [slanting] the angles so much. Sheez.") Well, I never knew that was the point of some "canted angles" so moving on.

My question was about the story line since that is a movie I don't feel interested in seeing. Rose was surprised and quite pleased that the very traditional nun was the one who was right instead of going with the easy ending of criticizing her and letting the pleasant priest be right. She said that there was very little doubt left via many small clues by the end of the movie that the priest had been a child molester, that his mother allowed it, and that the only one standing up for the kid was the unlikable, strict nun played by Meryl Streep. In fact, the indictment against the Church for moving him and making him pastor of another parish was made all the stronger for her reaction.

This brings to mind something that a friend of mine said once (maybe it was Marcia?), that the decrease in nuns was among the many factors that helped create the conditions of the Church's sex scandal. "They kept an eye on the priests," she said. "Nothing got by them."

Turning over the plot of that movie it sounds as if the screenwriter (who I believe was also the director) knew that well.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Upcoming Events

March for Life
Tom and I will be there for the Mass and the March, meeting Heather early at the church to pray some of the rosary.

I was shocked last year to hear that the thousand of us who showed up were the largest number they'd ever had. Like most people I know, I had assumed that everyone else was showing up. Don't make that assumption. The only numbers politicians will really understand are large numbers of people moved enough to show up in the middle of winter to defend unborn babies' lives.

Full details can be found here for the Dallas March for Life.


Mark Shea is Coming to Dallas Wylie!

Mark Shea is coming to Dallas! Woohoo! Tom and I will be there as well. I think that Heather will be there also and maybe some other pals of mine.

It is free but they are requesting pre-registration in order to plan for the lunch. St. Anthony's website is here. You can download a newsletter and various posters that have information about upcoming talks.

It's the Last Day to Kiss the Egg!


Finally, I hear you saying, those darned Weblog Awards will be done!

Yes, but not without a last exhortation to kiss the egg for the little Jamaican bobsled team in this race.

We're going for second place but we'll give it all we've got.

So, c'mon ... kiss the egg!

(And if you don't know what that means
then get to a video store and catch up on Cool Runnings)


Let's get the vote out.


The 2008 Weblog Awards

Voting ends today at 5:00 p.m.


Also of interest: This article which identifies what we largely know ... most blog awards are popularity contests, no matter how they try to balance nominations and award selection. The results can be swayed by blogs who flog the vote. This was written by a blogger finalist for the Weblog awards who promised his readers he wouldn't ask for their votes (noble fellow ...)

I would just like to take this opportunity to say ... what awards aren't popularity contests? Isn't that the point? Popularity means that something is commonly liked or approved. The Oscars? C'mon ... Heath Ledge will be nominated for Best Supporting Actor and probably win. He deserves it for his excellent acting but we all know that underlying that is his early, tragic death. Let's take something that is not nearly as well known ... The Hugo Awards for science fiction. Run by and voted on by fans. Yep, fans.

As for flogging the vote, that too goes on throughout the awards worlds. More, it is the tone of the flogging that I would wonder about than the fact that it happens. Around here, the only reason for it is to have fun with a contest which (let's face it) I'm not going to win. But I'm going to enjoy it anyway ... and hopefully others will as well. If I were a definite front-runner then I'd drop it altogether because it wouldn't be sporting. Not everyone takes this attitude, but let's face it. These are blog awards that mean exactly nothing if we aren't having fun. Truly, these are the awards where anyone who is a finalist is already a winner simply because of the numbers of people submitting nominations.

Ironically, the person who wrote the article ... sent it to me via email saying, "I thought this was something you and your readers would find interesting." Flogging readership for his article? Why I believe he is ...

Gene Wolfe Doesn't Get the Feminine Mind-Set

Warning: spoiler in the last paragraph.

An Evil Guest by Gene Wolfe is a pulp thriller that includes aliens, South Sea gods, and two enigmatic men vying for the hand of a young actress on the rise. Imagine the results if Raymond Chandler, H.P. Lovecraft, and Walter B.Gibson (creator of The Shadow) all conspired to write a book together, set 100 years in our future. Despite how odd that sounds, the first two-thirds of the book is fairly straight forward. When you get to the last part, it suddenly takes off as if a rocket was lit under you and the reader is left hanging on for all they're worth to keep up.

It is a fun ride and one that I enjoyed. Except for a key part of logic, it all held together. Unfortunately that key logic is integral to the very last line of the book which sums it all up. Essentially describing the reasons for a complete change of heart, actress Cassie delivers a long monologue while walking down the street with a friend. It rang so false that I was convinced she was doing it to poke for reactions of possible betrayal from her friend. Not so. It turns out that the change of heart described, which rang so falsely, was intended to give Cassie the reason for every subsequent action she takes. It took me a long time to realize that but I was able to suspend my disbelief until reading the last line of the book, which depends completely upon our belief in that speech.

No takers here. If that is how Wolfe and his editors think that a woman can change her mind in the way described about a man who she loathes and fears, then they have another think coming. If one is going to hang an entire section of a book, indeed that book's denouement, upon one set of emotions entirely replacing another, then that part at least needs to be real and human and ring true. Perhaps few women read Wolfe's books. I don't know about that. However, as one who does I can testify that such a patently false shift in Cassie's motivation feels like a cheap, easy trick a la "a shot rang out and everyone fell dead." Certainly it makes me lose respect for the author and editors who simply seem lazy in retrospect. It's too bad because I really liked the book and was willing to overlook the false feel until that final line which tied everything to Cassie's faked feelings.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I Didn't Want It to Come to This, But You Give Me No Choice ...

As my brother put it, the Religious blog weblog award category is like watching Tiger Woods. One person is solidly in front and the rest fight it out for second.

I see that Father Dwight is getting worried ... let's take it to him (isn't that the good ol' Catholic fightin' spirit I've always heard of?)

I am a fairly peaceful person though and I really don't want to fight it out. I will simply turn to that which has stood us in good stead before.

Hypnotoad!


Listen carefully and go vote for Happy Catholic in the 2009 Weblog Awards.

You may then turn off your computer ... you will remember nothing of this later ...

UPDATE
Don't forget to vote for The Anchoress who used to be way ahead but now has fallen behind thanks to some folks who just can't relax and have fun but have to make everything into a left versus right contest. *sigh*

As The Anchoress said on Friday, "I’m being told that some “lefty” sites are trying to co-ordinate to defeat me ... That always cracks me up; it’s so schoolyard. No matter what I still get my nifty “finalist” button, and I much prefer looking at the “awards” as good-natured fun, and not some absurd cut-throat matter."

I applaud her good nature but will keep voting anyway ... vote for her here.

Jewish and Catholic Tradition

I came across this in the Intellectual Devotional (which I love) and it really struck home. I didn't realize that Catholic Tradition has its roots so firmly in Jewish Tradition. It makes complete sense since so many of our customs and devotions were developed from those that the first Christians had practiced in their Jewish faith before conversion. It also gives another leg to stand on when discussing Tradition with Protestant friends who often have been told that Catholics came up with this concept out of thin air. What a useful and fascinating tidbit of information.
From the beginning, the Torah was accompanied by an oral tradition, which was necessary for its complete understanding. Although it was thought to be blasphemous to write the oral tradition down, the necessity for doing so eventually became apparent, leading to the creation of the Mishna. Later, as rabbis discussed and debated these two texts, the Talmud was written in order to compile their arguments.
The Intellectual Devotional

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Review: The Beauty of Grace Calendar


I think I've said before that I'm hazy on the whole concept of indulgences. Oh, I get the big picture but applying it to my life and circumstances is something that I have a tenuous hold on at best.

This 2009 Calendar of Indulgences logically lays out the foundation and understanding of indulgences and then follows that up with monthly information about opportunities. As well, they continue with education by featuring quote from saints, defenses of Catholic concepts such as veneration of Mary, and prayers. Calendar days are marked with saints days and handy reminders about regular practices like confession. It is all excellent information and would be welcome in any Catholic home.

At this point it is only fair to mention that I have an extremely high standard when it comes to design and production. In fact, there is a certain cookbook which I cannot bring myself to open because the terrible layout causes me such pain.

This calendar is not in that category but definitely could have benefited from a more subtle hand in the layout. Generally layout is perfectly adequate and the friends I showed it to did not wince the way that our household did when they were viewing it.Shadows are not necessary nearly as often or as dark. Certainly the printer's logo need not be on every page. The back cover would surely suffice. Lighter colors could have been used practically everywhere in order to better enhance the monthly photos of lovely Church murals. They are still lovely, to be sure, but the overall layout tends to distract from them.

As I said, these layout problems are in this viewer's eye and probably will not be noticed by the regular calendar user. This is an excellent educational and informational calendar and I definitely recommend it.

This review was written as part of The Catholic Company product reviewer program. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on 2009 Calendar of Indulgences.

Other Catholic Company reviews may be found here. You can find all active reviews of this product here.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Ok, I know it's wrong to pray for votes ...


... so I'll just politely remind everyone that Happy Catholic has now edged further into third place ... and Father Longenecker is only (ha ... only!) two hundred votes ahead.

Ok, never mind. Miracles happen ... though admittedly usually not for that sort of thing.

Look, don't make me break out the secret weapon. Let's make this easy.

You can vote daily in the Weblog Awards ... let's get out there and kiss the egg!

(Kiss the egg you ask? What's up with that?
For the pop-culturally deficient, here's the scoop.)

So Again We Hear That San Antonio is the Spot for the 2009 Catholic New Media Celebration - Updated

Jen at Conversion Diary heard it and I believe her.

Now, how about if instead of just talking about it on a podcast occasionally there were a few updates made to the website so we could take a look at dates?

Not that I'm excited about this or anything.

Let me just say this. There is nothing like San Antonio, one of America's unique cities ... and our family uses any excuse to go. THEN add in the chance to see a bunch of the bloggers and podcasters that I feel I already know?

I. am. there.

If only anyone would write something down about it. C'mon gang, I'm beggin' here.

UPDATE
I got an email from The Catholic Company which says the date is June 27. So we can pencil that in until a certain website is updated ...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Evolution of Technology



A German ad for Saturn, from the ad agency Scholz&Friends. I have been told that Saturn is a consumer electronics chain. Via Miss Cellania (whose site occasionally contains explicit content).

I Confess That I'm Really Enjoying ...


... the horse race taking place for second place in the Best Religious Blogs award. (Is it very wrong that every time I think of Father Z and his award domination, I inevitably am drawn to think of World War Z? Maybe it's just the letter "Z" ... yeah, that's it. Not the hopelessness of trying to overcome that lead ...)

Anyway, Happy Catholic has slightly edged into third place. Let's go for second! C'mon, y'all. I have faith (well, duh!). We can do it!

Don't forget that you can vote in the Weblog Awards every day. C'mon people, kiss the egg!

(Kiss the egg you ask? What's up with that? For the pop-culturally deficient, here's the scoop.)

This Just In ... The Raving Theist is Very Punny

His daily headlines have had me in stitches and now that he turns his powers on one of his amiable commenting pals ... with the full force of a basket of kittens behind it ... I am falling down laughing.

Just How Much Does God Love You?

After reading an excerpt about God's divine thirst and love for us (from Mother Teresa's Secret Fire), Jane wrote a great post about coming to that realization herself. The money quote that I think we should all take and apply to our own lives.
... At some point, I started getting nudges that God loved me.

But not in that intellectual, “God loves me, all is good” kind of way, but rather, “I would run through fire to be with you. I wait by the phone hoping you’ll call. When the mail comes, I’m disappointed if there isn’t a letter from you. I stalk your Twitter account to see what you’ve been up to. When I’m at the grocery store, I see the Ritter Sport marzipans in the candy aisle and I buy a package to leave on your desk so you’ll find them in the morning.”
That is so perfect because it makes the immediateness of God in our lives so real, so tangible. (Except God leaves me Butterfingers or halvah.) Go read the entire post ... you may want to first read the excerpt linked above because she tells you to do that anyway ... and then go on to read her further meditations upon how we define and limit God. This is just where the book goes and I will be providing some further excerpts for that as well later on.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Seven Archangels: Annihilation is up for a Reader's Choice Award

You may recall that I was pretty enthusiastic about Seven Archangels: Annihilation by Jane Lebak.

So I was delighted to find that her book is currently in second place in the Preditors & Editors Readers' Poll which is open until January 14.

If you read the book and liked it, I encourage you to vote. No matter what it is interesting to take a look at all the different titles there.

You also may be interested in Jane's blog, Seven angels, four kids, one family. Jane is consistently self aware, down-to-earth, and ... you know this matters to me ... hilarious.

4th Place? Really? Did You Know I Have the Space Pope's Encorsement?


I didn't want to have to pull out the big guns ... but, there you go. Also His Crocodylus insisted and who am I to argue?

(Also, I've gotta thank The Anchoress for her real life endorsement ... I'm blushing ... well, not so much that I'm not telling you about it but ... anyway, thanks Anchoress!)

Don't forget that you can vote in the Weblog Awards every day. C'mon people, kiss the egg!

(Kiss the egg you ask? What's up with that? For the pop-culturally deficient, here's the scoop.)

Who Do You Call When the Internet Goes Down?

It just makes sense! From Dr. Boli's Celebrated Magazine.

Worth a Thousand Words

Vincent van Gogh. Montmartre. Paris. Autumn 1886.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

10,000 Hours, Prayer, and Mother Teresa

Now that this is written, I see it is one of my "pondering" posts. Ready to follow those connection? Don't say I didn't warn ya. It's long, baby, long!
... ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert -- in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is the equivalent to roughly three hours per day, or twenty hours per week, of practice over ten years. Of course, this doesn't address why some people don't seem to get anywhere when they practice, and why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others. But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.
Dr. Daniel Levitin, Your Brain on Music
My husband came across this concept when reading Your Brain on Music and it resonated. This is because we are at that age of life when we have put in 10,000 hours and more during our careers. It is also because he was trying to pinpoint how best to get across the "practice, practice, practice" concept to a new employee. This did it in a nutshell. Once we knew about the 10,000 hours it seemed as if we saw it everywhere. Often it was not communicated using that exact phrase which has been picked up by pop-sociologist Malcolm Gladwell and now is relatively common. However, the concept always was there. It is one that mankind knew for most of our history, that to be very good, a master of something, one must continually strive to be better. In other words: practice.

I was thinking over my New Year's resolution to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, in essence three times a day using Magnificat which I already receive to use for our priest's weekly scripture study class. (For more specifics about the Liturgy of the hours, look to Will Duquette at The View from the Foothills and Jen at Conversion Diary who blogged about their experiences taking up this daily prayer.) I have said before that I don't make New Year's resolutions which I don't in terms of something big and new to change my life. What I do is tend to make that one of the three or four times annually that I renew various resolutions to incrementally move forward. Occasionally, I actually do move forward. Which is so gratifying that I can then reset that resolution up a notch for more improvement.

A couple of days ago, that 10,000 hours and daily prayer collided in my brain. I suddenly realized, "How do we get good at prayer? We need 10,000 hours!" Perhaps I don't need to tell you the simultaneous feelings of triumphant discovery and of dismay that resounded. After all, those of us in regular life are unlikely to spend an entire hour a day at prayer. I mean to say ... 10,000 days ... why that's ... wait, 365 days a year ... where's a calculator ... oh never mind, I already know the answer. Oy veh, that's a whole lotta prayer!

Right. Steady, daily prayer, for our whole lives. Got it.

Now it isn't as if I haven't known this, read it, heard it around, sagely nodded my head at it. After all, who in their right mind would think that they could get to know someone really well with maybe 10, 15 minutes a day talking to that person? And with us doing most of the talking?

It is not that I do not pray. I do in little bits here and there all day long, but it is about the mundane things of every day life, the "help me to stay patient" that in a marriage would be something like, "can you take the trash out, honey?" Hard to build and maintain a deep relationship on that.

Somehow combining all this with the actual idea of 10,000 hours hit hard. I carried it around with me at the same time as it made it much more compelling to pick up that Magnificat thrice daily and make a serious effort to find silence and to dive deeper than I have been lately into listening as well as speaking.

Then last night I was reading Mother Teresa's Secret Fire in the most comfortable of circumstances. A cold, sleeting night outside, Hannah's head on my shoulder as she napped. Occasionally I would read her "this great little piece" from the book (she may have been napping in self defense). Rose leaning on Tom's shoulder on another couch as they worked together on a problem in exporting a video clip with a transparent background mask (or maybe without ... I couldn't tell) and their voices occasionally good-naturedly rising in: "Oh, you film people don't get it ..." "Oh, you graphics people ..."

I meant to only read one chapter but was drawn on and on. It is written that way, so simple but compelling at the same time. The book tells us of how Mother Teresa was transformed by God and then leads us to consider how we are called for that same sort of transformation. The chapter about the mystery of prayer didn't hit me like a brick but gently was integrated into my previous thinking as a natural progression. The following excerpts are cobbled together from the chapter to give you a taste. In a nutshell let me give you this summary: "What can be more important than prayer?"
"My secret is simple...I pray."

She knew that everything stands or falls depending on the depth of one's prayer. Our transformation depends entirely on God and, therefore, on our conscious contact with him -- and so, "What can be more important than prayer?"

If prayer unlocks the door to our encounter, then the key that unlocks the door to prayer is faith -- the sum of our freely chosen, actively applied convictions about god. But faith is more than the sum content of belief -- it is above all the act of belief. It is the act of clinging in the night to an unseen sun, and by that simple act bringing the fullness of that sun within us; as St. Paul writes, "[May] Christ ... dwell in your hearts by faith" (Eph 3:17). Faith is a virtue; it is that God-driven, beyond-human power ("virtue," from the Latin virtus, meaning "power") to place ourselves, with or without feeling, in direct and intimate contact with the very God in whom we believe:
Prayer is the fruit of faith. If we have faith, we will want to pray.
[...]

Faith determines the boundaries and the horizon of our entire spiritual life. We do not need more information about our faith, as much as we need more actual faith -- more conscious faith-contact in our daily prayer-encounters with God. The dimensions of our faith become the exact dimensions, large or small, through which God and his love must pass in order to reach us. God's gifts are not a reward for our faith; they are instead the direct consequence of our faith, the result of opening with the faith-portal between our soul and the Almighty.

[...]

We cannot change ourselves, no matter how long or hard we try. Love along changes us. We can only be loved into a new life -- and most powerfully, by the One who is love. The source of all love, source of all the goodness we saw in Mother Teresa, abides within each one of us. Were we able to interrupt our hurried lives and take the time to go within, we would gradually find ourselves caught up in this tide of divinizing, transforming love. But this process can only be started through prayer. It is only in prayer that we access god's unlimited love, and unleash its transforming effects in our lives.

This transformative process begins in the innermost recesses of the soul and moves outward -- to embrace thoughts, emotions, activities, and the whole of one's being. That Mother Teresa's transformation came about through prayer was confirmed in her own words: "My secret is simple -- I pray." ...

There is a simple key to fruitful prayer. It is to first take the time to touch God in faith before we engage in prayer, to be in a state of contact with him before "saying" prayers. Simply put, it is to "pray before you pray."

This simple practice can change our experience of prayer. This may seem like a small adjustment, but it opens us onto a reality as large and powerful as God himself. Without conscious faith, our prayer is not true contact, not prayer at all, but simply cogitation. Transformation is God's free gift, but it is only our free act of contact in faith that makes that gift possible. We will still encounter struggles and distractions -- but we will at least be touching the hem of his robe, however briefly, every day of our lives.

[...]
Love to pray, feel often during the day the need for prayer and take the trouble to pray. If you want to pray better, you must pray more. Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God's gift of Himself. Ask and seek and your heart will grow big enough to receive Him and keep Him as your own.
In other words, quit thinking and talking about prayer and take the time to go do it. Repeatedly. Faithfully in faith.

As I say, I already know this. In fact, at various times in my life I actually have done it. However, it is so easy to fall away from doing into talking about something as if it were being done.

Perhaps in addition to that 10,000 hours, I need 10,000 reminders. At any rate, I will begin again ... I have at least 10,000 hours of listening and conversation to achieve and I need to start now.

One other thing. As I read that section about Mother Teresa's transformation I thought, "But I don't want to be transformed into Mother Teresa." Of course, that was a knee-jerk reaction. We all know the answer, right? The one that shot into my head immediately. "I don't want you to be Mother Teresa. I want you to be you."

Yes. Time to get started.