Friday, June 20, 2014

On Vacation ...

We're hitting the road to go see my mother in Florida. I haven't seen her in much too long and I'm pretty excited! Also my sister lives there and I haven't seen her in just as long a time ... again, much too long!

We've got a beach-side hotel room and afterward will drive to St. Augustine for a belated 30th anniversary celebration.

Also, I'm really looking forward to the long car trip with Tom. We listen to music (Don Walser anyone?), sample audiobooks (finally, I'm going to get him to try The Martian - hey, we've got Malcolm Gladwell as a backup), I knit, and we talk. The sort of talking you do on a 2-day trip has such a different quality than normal conversations during everyday life. The changing landscape, the music and stories, and even roadside experiences all weave in together to bring out subjects you wouldn't think of otherwise.

It can be a golden time. At least it is for us.

I'm going to try to really live up to the true sense of vacation by vacating my computer as well as Dallas. So I won't be around for comments or email until we get back at the beginning of July.

In the meantime, don't forget that we could actually go on a trip together next spring ... to the Holy Land. Sign up and then we'll have 10 days of travel for some of those golden conversations.

The Narnia Code by Michael Ward

The Narnia Code: C. S. Lewis and the Secret of the Seven HeavensThe Narnia Code: C. S. Lewis and the Secret of the Seven Heavens by Michael Ward

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In "The Narnia Code," Michael Ward takes the reader through each of the seven Narnia books and reveals how each story embodies and expresses the characteristics of one of the seven planets of medieval cosmology--Jupiter, Mars, Sol, Luna, Mercury, Venus and Saturn--planets which Lewis described as "spiritual symbols of permanent value." How does medieval cosmology relate to the Christian underpinnings of the series? How did it impact Lewis's depiction of Aslan, the Christlike character at the heart of the books?
This was free to borrow on my Kindle, so I gave it a shot.

And I was really intrigued with the idea that Lewis was using medieval cosmology as themes for each of the Narnia books. After reading That Hideous Strength in which eldils from different planets are significant, Ward's idea made sense.

The whole explanation of medieval cosmology as seen in the Narnia books is riveting and, if for no other reason, I am very glad to be introduced to the subject.

I am 50% done and am really enthralled by this idea. I actually will pick up the Narnia series with book 4 after I'm done with this one.

I've requested Ward's earlier, more scholarly, book on this subject and also C.S. Lewis's "The Discarded Image" for his explanation of medieval mindsets (it's supposed to be pretty amazing).

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Julie trudges through the desert with no water. Scott knows where to find a good well ...

... and also fascinating history about the Holy Land. A lot of history. They both enjoy a tall glass of ice water while discussing The Source by James Michener at a Good Story is Hard to Find.

In which there is a father-daughter reunion. And things go from bad to worse. Again.

More H. Rider Haggard adventure in The People of the Mist at Forgotten Classics.

Worth a Thousand Words: Young Woman in a Summer Shower

Suzuki Harunobu, A Young Woman in a Summer Shower, 1765
I love the dynamic quality of the young woman having lost her shoe while the wind flaps at her clothing and laundry. I can feel that wind.

Well Said: Pilgrimage and willingness to be profoundly changed

Although the taking of pilgrimages to holy shrines and sacred places has played a major role in most world religions (especially medieval Catholicism), today only Islam maintains a strong and visible commitment to this ancient discipline. True, many modern Americans will take secular, consumer-driven pilgrimages to such places as Disney world or Graceland or Manhattan, while others will take more intellectual and aesthetic pilgrimages to Rome or to Athens or to Stratford-upon-Avon. A number of Jews and Christians will even make their way to the Holy Land. Still something, I fear, has been lost. Perhaps it is that sense of messianic anticipation that coverts the journey into a longing for higher purpose. Perhaps it is that willingness to be profoundly changed that transforms it into a voyage of self-discovery. Perhaps we simply insulate ourselves too much.

First off, this is an excellent book and I will be reviewing it very soon.

Now then, I have been musing on this idea of pilgrimage. And I've been doing it for long before this Holy Land Pilgrimage came up.

I'm perfectly open to change and self-discovery if they happen to find me where I am. I don't have to be at home. I can be on vacation.

However, the idea of traveling with that as a goal is not one I have ever cared about. To be perfectly honest, I was actively disinterested in visiting the Holy Land, until a few years ago when a friend brought me an undeniable "message from God." He wants me to go to the Holy Land.

Not a message I was dying to hear, actually.

It has taken several years to get myself used to the idea. I've always been of a mind that the wide world is one of the reasons we were sent the Holy Spirit. We don't have to go to one place to get holy, God does it within us where we are. I am willing to be profoundly changed (obviously or we wouldn't have this blog as evidence). However, given the opportunity, I do like to dictate terms while we do it. And evidently location.

That said, the years of wrestling with this idea, while trying to figure out how to afford it, have given me a peace about pilgrimage. In fact, I've come to identify with Abraham's journey to Canaan more and more.

Musing about Abraham and this book and also some of Diana's comments have made me also consider a pilgrimage as a tribute, a sacrifice, an acknowledgement to the physical ... to Christ's Incarnation. There are things we experience physically that affect us in ways we can't predict. Pilgrimage may indeed be one of the most profound ways to pay tribute and give thanks for Christ's Incarnation.

And I like thinking about it that way. As an offering of thanks and of myself.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Poppies

by Edward B. Gordon
This is such a fresh, spring-like scene. Who could resist it? Let's take a walk ...

Lagniappe: Harold's watch

In fact, Harold had never once paid attention to his watch other than to find out the time. And, honestly, it drove his watch crazy.
Stranger Than Fiction movie

Live in Dallas? Want to Make Your Good Marriage Better?

Long-time readers know that I have been involved with the Beyond Cana marriage enrichment retreat since our parish began offering it.

I can't begin to say how many ways our involvement has made my own marriage better except by recommending it to you. It isn't sappy. It is practical. And yet you come away more in love than ever.

No one will observe or interfere in any way with each couple's time alone. Nor will you be required to share any of your discussions. (Just wanted to address those with the same qualms I had before attending!)

If you are Catholic married couple and live in the DFW area, you might want to consider spending a weekend (July 25-27) making your good marriage better. Details are here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Waiting

Waiting (c.1879-1882). Edgar Degas
via Books and Art
I look at this and think, "I've had days like that."

Fortunately, not lately. They don't look as if they were merely waiting but tired, beat-down, worn out. Of course, this is simply my interpretation which is the great thing about art. It can speak to us all differently. You may not see that same feeling there. Maybe I get it from the leaning forward. It could just be a very uncomfortable bench.

I also wonder what they are thinking. These days both of them would be very busy with cell phones, music, and whatnot. I myself would probably be reading a book instead of tracing lines with the end of my umbrella. (Hey, that's what she's doing. If you don't see it, then ... well, I said it above. Degas put something else there for you. Isn't it great?)

Monday, June 16, 2014

Worth A Thousand Words: Bayeux Tapestry

I'd never even heard of the Bayeux Tapestry when my husband and I went to France after just being married a couple of years. He'd always wanted to see it and couldn't believe I'd never been told about it.

I remember the huge church where it had originally been hung and then the museum next door where you could walk around and view the entire thing. Which we did with a field trip of English school kids who had crossed the Channel to see this part of their heritage. I had no idea that English and French heritage overlapped (yes, I was just a touch ignorant). Or of the beauty of this hand-sewn tribute to the Norman invasion of England.

It was simply amazing.

I was reminded of it recently because Joseph from Zombie Parent's Guide was there.

That made me look at Wikipedia where you can look at the entire thing in one piece. This is really neat.

Individual scenes may be examined close up at this Wikipedia spot. Also neat.

Well Said: What Influences You

It is always hard to tell what your influences are. Everything you've seen, experienced, read, or heard gets broken down like compost in your head and then your own ideas grow out of that compost.
J.K. Rowling, 1999 interview
Of course, she was speaking about writing but I think that applies to life in a lot of ways too.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Lost in Africa

Lost in Africa: A Yarn of Adventure. Frederick Horatio Winder
via Books and Art
This spoke to me as soon as I saw it since I'm about halfway through reading aloud The People of the Mist by H. Rider Haggard over at Forgotten Classics.

Also, I guess it is a sign of our times that I looked at the fellow in the lower right corner and, just for a second, thought he was on his cell phone.

Echoes of heaven: It's really hard to have a better day than this

For the last few weeks I have been praying the "Only for today" prayer, St. John XXIII's "decalogue." It's really amazing how often during a day one of the "only for today" lines will float to the top of my mind just when in need reinforcement in not mentioning getting my feelings hurt or not trying to "improve" anyone but myself, and so forth.

This morning I realized my thoughts had wandered and I firmly applied myself to the line I'd just read unthinkingly:
9) Only for today, I will firmly believe, despite appearances, that the good Providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in this world.
And as it penetrated, I was suddenly seized with the joy of an ineffable moment of knowing just how well God knows me, really knows me, and loves me and ... well, it's ineffable.

I'll just say that I had, at that moment, a capacity to receive and what I received was joy.

Then on GoodReads I got an email from Manny, who swims in the same parts of the internet I do and also comments here (we're pals is what that all means). He pointed me to the Our Sunday Visitor piece Untangling the Catholic Web.
I can’t help but think that if you can only read five blogs, these are among the best.
Happy Catholic was listed among a lot of luminaries and international spots (like the Vatican or Cardinal Dolan - I'm getting giddy just thinking of it). I knew something was coming because I'd supplied a photo, but I'd completely forgotten all about it. By the way, this piece has tons of good places for you to find solid Catholic info online, so go read it.

That was like a bouquet of flowers to begin the day.

Then I swung by Manny's place Ashes From Burnt Roses and got a shocker that stopped me in my tracks. Manny had just reviewed my book Happy Catholic. He read it for Lent, for heavens' sakes which is about the biggest compliment there is.

His review included not one but four excerpts. So I know he wasn't kidding around when he said he liked it. Prefacing all this was the nicest set of compliments for this blog that I've ever read. (I mean, Manny and I are pals, but I had no idea ... Manny, you sweetheart!)
It’s hip, fresh, and on contemporary culture from a Roman Catholic perspective. Her motto which is right at the top of the blog and reflects her upbeat personality is, “Not always happy, but always happy to be Catholic.”
It was like closing the door with one set of flowers only to have the doorbell instantly ring to find another set waiting for me.

Just in case I didn't get the point, right? The "good providence of God" - that timing - sometimes I have to remind myself that there is no such thing as coincidence. This is the sort of thing that helps with that.

As today's "well said" points out:
And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, which we assume only accessorize our days, are effective for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives. I know the idea seems strange, but I also know that it just so happens to be true.
And brings joy.

Well Said: All these things are here to save our lives

As Harold took a bite of Bavarian sugar cookie, he finally felt as if everything was going to be ok. Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies. And, fortunately, when there aren’t any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin, or a kind and loving gesture, or subtle encouragement, or a loving embrace, or an offer of comfort, not to mention hospital gurneys and nose plugs, an uneaten Danish, soft-spoken secrets, and Fender Stratocasters, and maybe the occasional piece of fiction. And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, which we assume only accessorize our days, are effective for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives. I know the idea seems strange, but I also know that it just so happens to be true.
Zach Helm, Stranger Than Fiction: The Shooting Script
Lately, this is my life. And it is good.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: The Cardsharps

The Cardsharps by Caravaggio (c.1594)
This is via My Daily Art Display where a series is beginning on Georges de la Tour. He was greatly inspired by Caravaggio, who is a favorite of mine (more than de la Tour, I'm afraid). Go take a look at the post because it features a lot of art and really interesting observations.

And don't let anyone you don't know well stand behind you when you're playing cards.

Well Said: Of course, in a novel people's hearts break ...

Of course, in a novel, people's hearts break, and they die, and that is the end of it; and in a story this is very convenient. But in real life we do not die when all that makes life bright dies to us. There is a most busy and important round of eating, drinking, dressing, walking, visiting, buying, selling, talking, reading, and all that makes up what is commonly called living, yet to be gone through; and this yet remained to Augustine. Had his wife been a whole woman, she might yet have done something—as woman can—to mend the broken threads of life, and weave again into a tissue of brightness. But Marie St. Clare could not even see that they had been broken. As before stated, she consisted of a fine figure, a pair of splendid eyes, and a hundred thousand dollars; and none of these items were precisely the ones to minister to a mind diseased.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin
I am reading this for the third time, which allows me to pursue it at a very leisurely pace and simply enjoy it. Stowe was such a great writer in the Dickensian style I love. I like even more that she and Charles Dickens were great admirers of each others' writing. This book does contain a great deal of heartbreak, suffering, and hypocrisy. However, it is interwoven with a great deal of humor and insight that leavens the whole, makes it timeless, and a real pleasure to read.

Marie St. Clare was spoiled in the true sense of the word through complete indulgence. Stowe's comments and examples find vivid echoes in the behavior of heedless parents and spoiled children today. Entitlement is no new thing and it is shown in all possible ways here, including those which make the reader laugh. I mean to say, the mind that conceived of putting Marie St. Clare up against Miss Ophelia, a no-nonsense Vermonter, is a mind that understands humor.

Also, I think of the conversation about books to take on a long trip (yes, for a Holy Land Pilgrimage ... it's on my mind!) and I look at this little, light version and smile. It is a Collector's Library edition. I love little books and this series fills the bill. They are generally inexpensive, between $5-$10, hardback with a ribbon marker and gilt edges, and 4" x 6". This 644 page book weights only around 11 ounces, making it a perfect bedtime book and easy to slip into my bag during the day in case I am stuck in line somewhere.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Well Said: Critics who treat adult as a term of approval

Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.
C.S. Lewis, On Three Ways of Writing for Children
Some self important ninny wrote a piece over at Slate advising everyone that we should read what we like but if we're reading books written for children then we should be embarrassed. I can just see her now, looking over her glasses at us in severe, professorial mode.

Two actual professors, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, loved children's literature and I thank heavens they did since they wrote for us what they themselves enjoyed reading.

A life without The Hobbit. Or even without The Little Princess or Little House on the Prairie, which I occasionally reread. What sort of life is that anyway? It sounds pretty joyless to me.

Or do you think she secretly reads The Hobbit under her bedcovers with a flashlight so no one sees her?

Either way, I feel sorry for her. What a lot she's cutting out of her life by putting such broad restrictions on what she allows into her reading pile.

I've seen this mentioned all over but the most recent place is Redecorating Middle-earth in Early Lovecraft, where Amy H. Sturgis has a link to a wicked, tongue-in-cheek response.

Worth a Thousand Words:

Claude Monet, The Bridge at Argenteuil, 1874
via Arts Everyday Living
This just one of a host of Monet pieces featured in Arts Everyday Living's post Monet & the Seine, Discovering Paradise, along with some interesting commentary.

It is so glorious looking. I want to go to there.

Pray for the Inhabitants of Mosul

First Things has a post Father Najeeb's request for prayers.
As you will have read by now, Sunni militants have driven the Iraqi government from the city of Mosul in a sudden and violent offensive. The non-combatant civilian population has been imperiled as a result, among whom are some Dominican friars. One friar living in Mosul, Fr. Najeeb Michaeel, O.P. composed the following request, which I pass along as relayed and translated for me by a confrere:
Bad news. I write you in a situation of violence in Mosul that is very critical and even apocalyptic. Most of the inhabitants of the city have already abandoned their houses and fled into the villages and are sleeping in the open without anything to eat or drink. Many thousands of armed men from the Islamic Groups of Da’ash have attacked the city of Mosul for the last two days. They have assassinated adults and children. The bodies have been left in the streets and in the houses by the hundreds, without pity. The regular forces and the army have also fled the city, along with the governor. In the mosques, they cry “Allah Akbar, long live the Islamic State.” Qaraqosh is overflowing with refugees of all kinds, without food or lodging. The check points and the Kurdish forces are blocking innumerable refugees from entering Kurdistan. What we are living and what we have seen over the last two days is horrible and catastrophic. The priory of Mar Behnam and other churches fell into the hands of the rebels this morning. . . . and now they have come here and entered Qaraqosh five minutes ago, and we are now surrounded and threatened with death. . . . pray for us. I’m sorry that I can’t continue . . . They are not far from our convent. . . . Don’t reply. . . .
Dominicans have been ministering in Iraq (sponsored by the French Provinces) since 1750. The Order’s presence includes both Dominican friars and sisters (Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena).
There is more to the post and I encourage you to go read. But first pray. Above all pray for these victims of terrorism.

In which the People of the Mist do not embrace a religion of love. And things go from bad to worse.

More of The People of the Mist by H. Rider Haggard at Forgotten Classics podcast. Enjoy!

Tuscany Prize for Catholic Fiction — Deadline June 30

Are you the next great writer of Catholic fiction? The Tuscany Prize is your chance to find out.
The Tuscany Prize for Catholic Fiction is a literary prize to promote writers and great undiscovered stories of Catholic fiction.

What is Catholic fiction? Stories that capture the imagination of the reader and are infused with the presence of God and faith — subtly, symbolically or deliberately.

Think of Flannery O’Connor, Graham Greene, J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton and many others whose writings reflected the thoughts of the great writer Gerard Manley Hopkins: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

This is the “stuff” of literature that wins the Tuscany Prize.

Do you have a manuscript? A Novel? A Young Adult Novel? A short story?

Would you like it published?

Does your story have themes of faith and struggle, of grace and nature, atonement, courage, redemption and hope? Whether it is fiction, historical fiction, mystery, fantasy or humor, the Tuscany Press is open to all genres.

We seek original great stories of unpublished/self-published works of fiction.

Are you the next great writer of Catholic fiction? We invite you to send in your manuscript.

Submission Deadline: June 30, 2014
Click through the link to find where to submit manuscripts.

If you want to see the 2013 winners, What World Is This? And Other Stories is available on Kindle today for just 99 cents. The collection of 2013 Tuscany Prize winners features National Book Award Winner Gloria Whelan.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Well Said: Being a Christian...

Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.
Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer
Yes. Yes. Yes.

Worth a Thousand Words: Wrought Iron Door

Wrought Iron Door
taken by Barcelona Photoblog
This a detail of the ironwork at the entrance of Palau del Baro de Quadras in Barcelona. There is more information about the artist and links to other wonderful art that you can see on the streets of Barcelona. It must be nice to live somewhere like that. Dallas has a few dribs and drabs of art around, but not on the scale of doors and lamp posts. That would be nice.

At the Movies and Related News: Philomena

Philomena (2013, Stephen Frears dir.)

I'm not a fan of movies where the theme is "bash the bad guys" especially when the "bad guys" have been bashed by many a moviemaker already. You know what I mean: Slavetraders, Nazis, heartless mine owners, and so forth. I don't deny the bad guys need bashing much of the time, I just don't care to get my "facts" via a one-sided, often manipulative film. And I often find the subject matter too sad to want to watch. I can read articles or a book if need be, where I will often find more nuanced, complete information.

Therefore, I'd managed to avoid Philomena until forced to watch it for a movie discussion group. If you have to watch a "bash the bad Irish Catholic nuns" film, this is probably the one you want. In this case they preach shame to unwed mothers while allowing rich American Catholics to adopt the babies without the mothers' permission. The mothers have to work in a horrible, prison-like laundry. It's definitely not Christian by any stretch of the imagination. So - very bad nuns.

Philomena (Judi Dench) is a woman who alongside reporter Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) journeys to America to find the illegitimate son who was adopted 50 years ago. Philomena is still a Catholic, something that atheist Sixsmith just can't fathom after what was done to her.

So far, all is according to what we'd expect. The nuns are bad, the reporter is angry, and the film is fairly predictable and manipulative. So why do I say it is worth watching?

Judi Dench, as we'd expect, turns in a stellar performance as a little, old Irish lady who loves romances and salad bars. She also shows the fruit of fortitude in living with life's hard knocks, deep empathy, and keen insight. In some ways it made me think of my mother-in-law who had a gift for delivering simple but penetrating insights while we were doing something mundane like making potato salad. You never expected it but you always remembered it.

Philomena's, set between the two judgmental, unyielding, self-righteous forces of Mother Hildegarde and Martin Sixsmith, who delivers the takeaway message of the movie. This is reinforced by the view of her son's life, which points up the fact that life is often not easy no matter what one's circumstances. Viewers are left to ponder what actions they themselves take when life delivers a brutal blow.

It hadn't escaped my attention that this movie was in my life at just the time to make me pay attention to more terrible news about the Irish Catholic Church. We were specifically watching the movie as a contrast piece to I Confess featuring Montgomery Clift as a very holy priest from around the same time period. Obviously I needed to do my homework.

And I'm glad I did. It solidified one thing I already knew.

It doesn't matter who is committing evil, under what "trustworthy" banner whether religious, teacher, coach, or friend. Evil is evil. Vision is skewed.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness... — Matthew 23:27-28
Jennifer Fitz has an excellent piece on the Irish news, Evil is Easy, which only served to cement the reading I above, which I'd heard on a podcast while mulling this over. Jennifer pointed out that we need not only point fingers at the past. (Don't stop at this bit ... go read it all.)
What you and I need to fear, then, is not our tolerance of cruelty towards Irish unwed mothers of the mid-20th century, but our tolerance of some other horror that perhaps we can’t even see.
This formed an excellent talking point for the movie group, as a matter of fact. We also wound up discussing Irish culture as a whole which led to some of the points I read in Pia de Solenni's excellent coverage. I'll let you discover them for yourself in these pieces:
The best overall media analysis, as is so often the case in anything about religion, comes from GetReligion. Read In Irish children's deaths, clarity doesn't thrive in a septic tank to see who is reporting honestly and who is spinning without complete information.

For me the best commentary was that of Irish Independent columnist David Quinn. It is a thoughtful and thorough piece which leaves us with a truth that cannot be denied.
Why didn't the children and adults encounter a proper Christian witness, real love, when they walked through their doors? Why was it impersonal rules and regulations on a good day and cruelty of a sometimes very extreme kind on other days?

I think it was because Christianity in Ireland had by then hardened into something that was all too often more about punishment than mercy and forgiveness. To that extent Christianity in Ireland had become, in the strict meaning of the term, anti-Christ, and the church is still living this down.
With all that said, these are the sorts of things I read to get a real grip on a situation. You can't turn to a movie like Philomena expecting more than one view. We're just lucky that Philomena herself had the one view we really needed.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Sir Ian Reads

via Awesome People Reading
This resonated because I'm already thinking about what books to take to the Holy Land. Not for research! Pfft! NO, for my own personal reading. And not on the Kindle. I'll take my Kindle, but not for main reading.

Right now, front runners are my paperbacks of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have resigned myself to the fact that the big, one-volume book would be too heavy.

What books would you take on a long journey? Kindle or real?

(Want to know more about my Holy Land journey? Or come along? Check it out.)

Well Said: A Capacity to Receive

After all, you must have a capacity to receive, or even omnipotence can’t give. Perhaps your own passion temporarily destroys the capacity.

For all sorts of mistakes are possible when you are dealing with Him. Long ago, before we were married, H. was haunted all one morning as she went about her work with the obscure sense of God (so to speak) ‘at her elbow,’ demanding her attention. And of course, not being a perfected saint, she had the feeling that it would be a question, as it usually is, of some unrepented sin or tedious duty. At last she gave in—I know how one puts it off—and faced Him. But the message was, ‘I want to give you something’ and instantly she entered into joy.
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
That's what happens when you think you know it all. Ahem - which would never happen to me! Of course not!

I wish I didn't identify so well with H's putting it off.

What We've Been Watching: Encounters at the End of the World

Encounters at the End of the World (dir. Werner Herzog, 2007)

I know I'll never make it to Antarctica and when a friend recommended this documentary it seemed like a good way to see what it is like. I had no idea so many different kinds of research were underway in that icy environment.

And there is Warner Herzog too. I admit it took me several visits to the video store, weighing the Herzog-factor, before I gave in and rented this. His involvement was much as I recall it from Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The dreamy German voiceover, with the (evidently) requisite 10 minutes of insane pondering over some very strange question (in this case about what aliens 1,000 years in the future would think of some of the goofy things people have sitting around). Oh Werner, you dreamer!

Other than that, though it was interesting. Not ground breaking but good enough.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Well Said: Masks and Truth

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth.
Oscar Wilde
So true. And it sends my thoughts off in a lot of directions: the people I know who absolutely will tell you the truth without a mask, Adam and Eve hiding their nakedness from God (which is where the mask comes in), confession behind the screen versus face-to-face, and much more.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Lagniappe: Magic and murder

"Can a magician kill a man by magic?" Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. "I suppose a magician might," he admitted, "but a gentleman never could."
Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
This is worthy of Jeeves and Wooster, don't you think? If there were magic in their world.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: The Complete Home

The Complete Home: An Encyclopedia of Domestic Life and Affairs. 1879.
via Books and Art
This is a really glorious book cover. I can only imagine how proud Mrs. Julia McNair Wright must have been when it was published. I also like the beauty implied by the flowers and ornaments, which would be the beauty that a purchaser would hope to bring to their home with the helpful tips inside.

Well Said: More to life than living ...

"There's got to be more to life than just living," Foyle said to the robot.

"Then find it for yourself, sir. Don't ask the world to stop moving just because you have doubts."
Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination
We all like to think that we are the center of everything (and, indeed, to ourselves we are). Not only did I like the inherent truth of this passage but it made me laugh that it took a robot to focus the question properly.

Saints and Social Justice: A Guide to Changing the World by Brandon Vogt

Saints and Social Justice: A Guide to the Changing WorldSaints and Social Justice: A Guide to Changing the World by Brandon Vogt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The phrases "social justice" and "solidarity" could hardly have been more unwisely coined or adapted by the Catholic Church in my opinion. From the moment I heard them, they turned me off. I always thought they sounded like some lame department name you'd read about in a spy novel set in communist Russia. I mean really - solidarity? What does that even mean to the average person? Nothing.

However, if one digs deeper beneath the stiff, offputting phrases, one finds the heart of Christianity. They mean treating each person as if they belong, going out of one's way to find Christ in each individual, and following God's will (with Christ's help) to help each person one encounters. In other words, fully living your Christian life, whether as an individual or as part of the larger community.
“It’s good that you exist” — carries great power. To someone struggling with alcohol, who drinks away his loneliness, we say, “It’s good that you exist.” To someone who loathes her body and thinks she’s too fat, too skinny, too short, or not good enough, we say, “It’s good that you exist.” To the addict, the slave, the homeless man, even the murderer, we say, “It’s good that you exist.”

This phrase reminds people that they have intrinsic value, regardless of what they produce, or how they look, or if they have it all together. It echoes what God said immediately after creating the first man: “[He] looked at everything he had made, and found it very good” (Gn 1:31).

Next time you want to uplift someone’s dignity, remind them of that wonderful truth: “It’s good that you exist.”
This is ably illustrated by Brandon Vogt's book, which highlights 14 different saints whose lives were spent giving dignity and aid to the less fortunate. Ranging from housewives to priests, in all sorts of different life situations, these people were open enough to God's wishes to do extraordinary things. Vogt also does a great job of helping us relate by contrasting each saint with another one or two who lived out similar "missions" in different ways. He ends each section by relating these saints' larger missions to our own lives, so we can see where we might do more or act in ways that hadn't occurred to us previously.

He ends each section by relating these saints' larger missions to our own lives, so we can see where we might do more or act in ways that hadn't occurred to us previously. This is important because these saints achieved so much that we might feel any small drops of help we can achieve are not going to make a difference. Vogt's gentle questions and examples helps us see that our drops matter because all of them together add up to a large ocean.

And this, no matter what stupid phrase is used to describe it, is something dear to my heart, a lesson I've been learning a little better every day in my 14 years as a Catholic. Each time I've followed that internal prompting, despite my fears of not knowing enough or being rejected or looking stupid, I have been rewarded. My efforts have had effects, in their own small way, which I never could have imagined. And I have grown and changed for the better myself along the way.

I found this book really inspiring. I especially enjoyed the amount of detail Vogt gave for each saint. Even the ones I knew about, like Peter Claver, Frances of Rome, or Dorothy Day, took on unexpected meaning for me because I hadn't realized there was so much I didn't know about them. Of course, there were some who were brand new to me and I really enjoyed learning about their lives.

This is a well written and inspiring book and one that should help us understand that "social justice" and "solidarity" mean "living as a Christian" no matter what your condition in life.

Please Mr. Vogt, may I have another? Perhaps one about the martyrs? You pick the subject. I'll read it.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Angels and Saints Blog Tour: St. Monica and St. Augustine

You may recall my review of this book which ran last week. If not, no worries. You can find it right here.

I chose to take my day of the blog tour to look at St. Monica and St. Augustine. (Which, to be fair, was what I thought my assignment was, so maybe my review jumped the gun. No matter. This is just icing on the cake, right?)

So after you've read Scott Hahn's fine Angels and Saints book, what difference will it really make in your life? If you feel drawn to one of the saints or angels you read about, consider striking up a relationship. It will change your life, deepen your faith, and give you a new friend.

Allow me to illustrate.

St. Augustine was my first saint friend. Thanks to a book of daily reflections based on excerpts of his writing, I got to know him before I really invested much thought in my patron saint, Martha.

I could relate to St. Augustine. Stubborn, searching for truth, understanding the reason for living the clean life but not wanting to commit to it fully. He's the poster boy not only for his age but for the ages since then.

Not only that, but he was able to put words to feelings and thoughts that I, a new convert, hadn't really even been able to articulate until I read them and knew how right they were.
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
I appreciated his mother, St. Monica, who followed her wayward son from city to city, reasoning with him and crying for his conversion and, most importantly, never ceasing her prayers. For 17 years.

[Side note about St. Monica. This is all most books ever tell you. I recently read St. Augustine's Confessions. Oh, yes, did I mention he wrote the first autobiography? Yep. Anyway, he gives full tribute to his mother's role as a role model and in saving his soul. He also gives a lot of her own personal story which shows she was a woman who fought her own personal demons and won, while serving as a splendid example to the women in her town. Definitely read it. I recommend the middle third if, like me, you have trouble getting into it.]

Soon after I learned all this about St. Augustine and St. Monica, I thought of my parents. Atheists, not probably going to listen to me talking about religion, and it troubled me greatly. I felt a greater and greater yearning for them to come to know the happiness and freedom I felt now that I knew Christ.

So I lit a votive candle and enlisted St. Augustine and St. Monica in praying with me for my parents' souls. I vowed that even if it took ten years I'd match Monica's faithfulness in prayer. (Boy oh boy, am I glad that I thought she'd prayed for 10 years and didn't know then that it was 17 years!) I joked to myself that I had visions of sitting by their deathbeds, rosary in hand, not giving up. Little could I foresee that was exactly where I found myself 10 years later as my father was dying. Or how richly God would answer our prayers. It stretched me, it changed me, and I grew during the entire process.

Scott Hahn's book gives a succinct overview of Augustine's life and Monica's influence. However, he doesn't stop there but points out how God used both Monica and Augustine to enrich the lives of each other, those around them, and those who have followed. I especially appreciated the point that St. Augustine wouldn't have been as effective when he was a bishop who was bringing congregations of heretics back to the Catholic faith, if he hadn't had firsthand experience of being a heretic himself.

That's an aspect of Augustine's life I hadn't realized and showed me yet another way I relate to him. As someone raised without any faith, with completely secular values, I am often able to explain to atheists and agnostics what the Catholic point of view might be on a particular issue. I can do it with an understanding of what they believe and where the differences are. Not as well as St. Augustine, but I'm working on getting better at it.