Archive for January 2010

TRAVELING NORTH

January 27, 2010

Good-bye for a few days;  we’re heading north. 

400 miles of this.   Kind of like a  “Road to Nowhere,”   but there’s a little city at the end of this road.  

You can tell, because traffic gets heavier:That is:   Coming, Going, and Snowmobile.    All at the same time!

And there are other things to see along the way.   We will actually pass by three of our country’s Great Lakes!    How’s that for a trip!

Of course, the Lakes are frozen too.Yes,  those are really waves.   Uh…frozen for the winter, as far as the eye can see.  This was Lake Michigan. 

We’ll be back on Monday to thaw out.

 

P.S. –  Good-bye Thursdays and Fridays.  See you next week.   Don’t keep your Bibles closed while I’m gone!

Please pray for God’s mercy on us during our travels, and for God’s blessing on Hubbie’s Mom – it’s her  91st  birthday this weekend!

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A FUNNY THING HAPPENED…

January 26, 2010

Yes, that’s me  ( a little while ago)  enjoying my reading!

I don’t actually remember a time when I didn’t know how to read.   I didn’t always know “all” the words, but I was always reading.    I still don’t know all the words.

Reading books is fun.  Selecting books is fun.   Receiving them in the mail is … sometimes full of funny surprises.

I had one of those funny surprises today, courtesy of the US Postal Service.    And speaking of not knowing all the words,  my “surprise” says:   NE VORBESTE and PARINTELE CLEPOAS and things like:  IAR PE CEI CE FAC MAI MULTE CASATORII…DECI, DUPA A DOUA NUNTA NU….

I hope I didn’t cuss at anyone just then, but I think the  man in the photo said it first and he doesn’t look like the cussing type.

Anyone know the language?

I had ordered a few little inexpensive paperbacks and some booklets for my classes.    What I received was a mangled package,  some of my books,   five of these strange volumes, and a wrinkled slip of paper with a printed apology from the post office.   “They are sorry and they hope I will retain my confidence in them in the future.”

I called the book company and had a little discussion with them.   They assure me that they don’t send out foreign language books.  We figured out what must have happened is a little “accident” in the postal sorting room and a few packages spilled open in  the “book rate” area.     The postal workers probably reassembled the packages as best they could and sent them on – with apologies.

So,   this is the man who wandered into my world from I know not where.   He seemed worth listening to until I saw the back of another of those books:I don’t know…..I’m not given to fanaticism, and that back wall makes me nervous.  Is this normal….in some places?   Maybe he’s a collector.   Or a collector in addition to….

Oh, well.   It’s fun to share your funny surprises.    And I think I must have done that today —   Someone somewhere is probably surprised to be reading instructions on how to use the Brown Scapular!     

Deo gratias!    And thanks for the books that I did get.

CAN’T SAY I’M NOT TRYING!

January 25, 2010

New! High-Tech Concept for shoes!   They’ll teach your legs how to walk!

Haven’t had much time with those new shoes – until today.   Grabbed them on my way out to class because they were the ones most handy.   I figured I’d get used to them in some non-demanding place, like in a little classroom.

I didn’t find out my mistake until I arrived at the parking lot and tried to get out of the car.

I’ve already written that these shoes are like walking with two little rocking chairs on your feet, but side to side as well as back and forth.    …Opened the car door, holding  purse, books, Bible, and carry-bag, stood up and spun sideways into the car.  Steering problems with these shoes.

So I carefully took aim and — rocking forward across the parking lot, with a little help with my books from a kind stranger — I made it to the front door…and two flights of stairs.   The steps seemed “different” somehow;  different direction too.

Class was fine.  Class was good.   But afterwards I discovered these shoes don’t go DOWN the stairs, not without a great deal of reluctance.    Everyone is happily talking about their own experiences with new shoes, and I’m wondering what taking each next step is going to do to me.

At home, with dinner in the oven, I thought I’d give these shoes a real try, like a walk around our “little” block.      .4 mile.   Four tenths  of a mile.    I started out down the middle of the street – and immediately my whole body said:  “I don’t know how to do this!”     Seriously!  After many decades of walking….

When you force an issues, you usually don’t come out the winner.   Half way around the block,  every muscle associated with walking, from the middle of my shoulders down to my feet, registered extreme fatigue!   (Two-tenths of a mile, mind you.)

 The way back seemed as long as the way forward.    I slowed my pace  until the neighbors probably thought I was trying to sneak up on something.    I just concentrated on creating a  s-l-o-w   rhythm for the last…oh, tenth of a mile.

But then — the oddest thing happened.   All by themsleves, my calf muscles “let go” of their fatigue.   They became light and smooth and efficient.   I couldn’t feel them working, but I knew they were doing the right thing.   Then the sensation moved upwards,  and  the effort  in my knees  disappeared;    then above the knees…..  I was a well-oiled glorious walking machine….

It reminded me of the runner’s high I used to get, where after so many miles I could no longer feel my body, and my feet seemed to move preternaturally fast as I floated over the surface.  Something like that.

A “tenth of a mile” goes by pretty fast when all is working in harmony as God intended your legs to work.

I’m going to like these shoes…some day.

But not yet.   I came into the house, wiped the snow off the shoes, and as I was walking around in stocking feet,   getting the dinner on the table… trying to walk around, I didn’t have my own feet anymore.    It felt like I was walking on huge, flat-footed Bigfoot feet…made of wooden blocks.   

   And  my feet hurt  in these socks.   All my muscles are protesting…..

3rd Sunday P.E. – BE AT PEACE

January 25, 2010

The Third Sunday After Epiphany.   Today the Epistle Reading caught my attention because it fit in so well with recent readings from St. Francis de Sales.

We live in a “thorny” world.  

Everyday troubles can poke and pick at us and people can be prickly.  Sometimes things don’t go “smoothly”  without any fault of our own.

One verse from today’s  Epistle  (Romans, chapter 12)   recognizes that we don’t live in a perfect world, at least not the one that matches our own ideal.  It says:  “If it be possible, as much as is in you, have peace with all men.”

According to Dom Prosper Gueranger, in his Liturgical Year, Vol. 3, our Savior “came to establish peace between heaven and earth; men, therefore, ought to be at peace with one another.”

First, there is peace between God and us; that’s the possibility that Jesus established, and that’s our lifelong mandate, to live in such a way that between us and our God there is always a real peace.   If He were to appear suddenly before us, “peace be unto you” would reflect the reality in our relationship with him.

Once things are settled between us and our God, then God helps us become the person we were meant to be, and as St. Francis de Sales writes,  we can sing out praises to God beautifully, right from the center of our being, no matter what our circumstances are. 

St. Francis put it like this:    The nightingale sitting in the middle of a thornbush sings out her song sweetly because she is who she is, and she is at peace and can express her sense of “calm joy,”  which he calls the grace of ineffable serenity.

If  it be possible, as much as in you…”   as much peace as you have within you, with that peace, ” have peace with all men.”

We’re not required to go out and make “the Whole World” peaceful.     We’re not able to “fix” other people.    We’ll always find ourselves living in a thornbush.    Just make sure we’re one of the nightingales, not one of the thorns.

PHILOSOPHY OF SHOES

January 23, 2010

Friday, my unexpectedly no-class day turned out to be a day of many, many errands, one of which was to finally make a decision on a good pair of walking/running shoes.  I have a little problem with my decision.  But first:I’m not sure if it shows up well, but see how the heel curves upwards?   The shoes have a very negative heel which curves gently forward into the rest of the shoe.  When you walk in these shoes, you get the sensation of walking on two little rocking chairs.

In addition to the negative heel, you also get very soft edges under your heels to deliberately “unsupport” your walking activity, whether you pronate or supinate.  That means it’s up to your own muscles to walk correctly.   (The two “white dots” on either side of the heel are actually the beginnings of the hard part of the sole.

 I’ve heard about this new technology for a couple of months now, and last week the newspapers were full of articles on the latest finding:   all the athletic shoes we’ve been running in for the past twenty years or so have really been harming our joints.   They have been giving us too much support, and not always in the right direction.

I have two philosophies when it comes to shoes:   ” less is better.”   I didn’t put my own kids in shoes until a month or so after they were walking.   I try not to wear shoes much myself, at least at home, thanks partly to Suzy who looked me up and down whenever I came home, and then finally stared meaningfully into my eyes, appalled that I had shoes on my feet.   I don’t know what her problem was, but….the shoes kind of automatically came off within a minute or two.

The second little philosophy is “natural is better.”    Natural materials.   Something like leather, sturdy hemp, reindeer skin  sealskin– mammoth hide – ha ha – for outdoor wear.   Indoors, if it’s cold, again, doe skin, felt, linen, cotton….   (Nothing Suzy had to worry about very often!)   

These new shoes pass both my tests in a modern, technical sort of way.   And  I needed a  little boost;  a little encouragement to get outside again after several months of healing from a broken foot and then being distracted with unhappy indoor matters.  I’m absolutely shocked to feel how weak my leg muscles have become.   What is this?   I guess good intentions don’t count.

So, a healthy body is a good thing, right, insofar as it is our responsibility to contribute to our health by proper eating and lots of exercise?   And well-made shoes help towards that end too, right?

My problem is…these shoes were expensive.    Not as expensive as the First Lady wears when she hands out food in a Washington soup kitchen.    But they cost more than I’ve ever paid for shoes.   They cost more than my personal contribution to some Haitian orphans. 

So, between yesterday and today, I’ve received two very nice material things.    In light of  today’s world,  this seems…excessive.    The new table is for the benefit of everyone.  The shoes are just for me.

Is this a confessible offense?

THE LAST CHRISTMAS PRESENT

January 23, 2010

(…Of 2009, that is.)

Well, we finally did it!   We completed our gift-giving.   This is what I had requested:

When we first moved into this house — let’s see….Reagan was president! — when we first moved here, I could see this house had great possiblities for decorating.  I always had a vision for an  entry way table like this.

My friends always come in holding purses, books, food, or mittens and hats.  When they need to hang up their coats and jackets, there was nowhere at all to put down their things while they are struggling with buttons and sleeves and hangars.    If a whole group arrived, I usualy did a two-handed juggling act, receiving and returning miscellaneous objects to hands reaching out.

Ha!  No more!

When you stand on our front porch and open the door, this is what you’ll see:

Relief!

(Thanks again, hubbie.)

I GOT CANCELED

January 22, 2010

Usually it’s the teacher who cancels the class.    This time the class canceled the teacher.   My ladies in tomorrow’s Bible Study have a mutual friend whose mother died.   They all want to go to the funeral.   They told me to take the morning off.    hmmmph

The day is, thus, open.    Hubbie and I may go out to get my Christmas present.   We’ll see.   We’re not exactly time-directed.

MOTHER’S FAMILY

January 21, 2010

I probably should put up the other two photos I got in the mail with my Mom’s picture.  Here is my Dad nowadays, also 83.   He’s the one behind the guitar in the back row.  They’re playing for a Community Center Christmas dance.  

I’ve seen the dancers…they sure don’t act like they’re in their 80s either.     Aerobic tangos.   Aerobic polkas.   Aerobic two-steps.    Last time hubbie and I were down there in the hyperactive South, we requested a waltz.   Sheeeesh.

Well, no family is complete without one of these.

I can tell it’s my Dad’s house.   Wall to wall guitars and electronics.   And ever-present cats.      Interesting home.

BEAUTIFUL MOTHER

January 20, 2010

I have two.

My  Dad just sent this photo of my Mom  to me.    She is 83 years old.    This was taken on 10-24-09, according to the date on the back of the photo.  

She was at an air show at their local airport.   My Dad’s band was asked to provide background entertainment, and Mom came along as one of the “musicians’ wives” – a role she has played since 1944, beginning as a young Marine Corps Band member’s wife.

She has funny stories to tell about keeping my Dad’s Dress Blues in proper shape.

She is, for me,  a perfect mother.     She is my example of simple, everyday, constant and consistent love.     I would not have thought of doing anything to cause her discomfort or displeasure.    That’s what a mother’s love does, if you let it.

In truth, every disciple of Jesus has two:

“Behold, thy Mother…”   (John 19:26,27)        Beautiful Mother.

It’s why we read about Lutherans and Episcopalians…even some Baptist groups are praying the rosary.    Insofar as they consider themselves disciples of Jesus, they heed His words and accept her maternal care and stand in awe at her love and beauty.

The beauty of such love…..makes better disciples of us all.

ME AND “WHAT ARMY”?

January 19, 2010

No one but me

Slim postings for a day or two.  I’m in the middle of a “big battle” – ha!   All my classes have started again, so I’m dealing with the realityof four class preps during the week.  It’s fun, but it takes up a lot of  time – and I sometimes wonder whether I’m up to the challenge.   

But there’s no one else but me  (to live my life).    I learned that from Bible Study today!

Presented with a battle

So here’s the battle:   It’s Benhadad of Syria besieging King Ahab in Samaria, Israel.    Benhadad makes a series of menacing  threats until even the weak-willed Ahab stands up and says:  “Not so fast!  You’d better not boast of your victory over me yet!

Or more precisely, he says to Benhadad’s messengers:  (III Kings 20:11)  –  “…Tell him, Let not the girded boast himself as the ungirded!”

You know, the guy putting on his armor, girding himself with sword, etc., has the battle ahead of him;   the guy who is taking off his armor is done with battle;  he knows the outcome and is in a better position to feel confident.

A few centuries earlier another king said this:   (Proverbs 27:1) “Boast not yourself for tomorrow; for thou knowest not what the day to come will bring forth.”

Well, good advice is never welcomed by your enemy.    King Ahab of Israel watches as Benhadad orders his army to attack.   A prophet comes to Ahab and says:   Not to worry.   God is going to deliver them into your hands today.”

Marching Orders

God is “invisible.”   And “up there.”    Standing before Ahab is only a scraggly-bearded man  with long robes covering his skinny prophet’s- body.    Ahab asks a reasonable question:   Okay, this army will be delivered into my hands — by whom?

The prophet tells him a whole bunch of little princelings will gather their  armies to fight. 

Okay, there’s the army for Israel.   “And who is going to lead them?”

“You” — the prophet says. 

Me and What Army?

Back to the beginning:   “I sometimes wonder if I’m up to the challenge. ”     Big challenges, little challenges;  big tragedies,  little tragedies;   big obstacles,  little obstacles.   

The constant witness of the Church is that God is with us, and the “army” of saints is ready to help.     And I’m the captain of my own life.   Without excuse.    (sighhhh….)   

The real tragedy is not to fight….and to feel confident about ourselves before the battle is over.    I need to think like the man who is girding himself with sword and armor, not like the man who is taking them off. 

I can identify with King Ahab today.

ONE HAITIAN

January 17, 2010

“God’s Reflection in Ebony”

What a wonderful man this is!   Pierre Toussaint.   Blessed Pierre Toussaint, to be exact.  A  slave in Haiti and in the United States.

In the mid-18th century, Haiti was a French colony, supplying France with great riches.  It produced an abundant supply of coffee, indigo, sugar, tobacco, and fruit.  French plantation owners could become unimaginably wealthy in a very short time, but this was accomplished by brutally controlling hundreds of thousands of African slaves who were treated with brutality and cruelty.

Across the ocean, both King and Church could write decrees to establish fair treatment  for the slaves, but in Haiti  it was not politically correct to extend justice to slaves.    “French planters who treated slaves with even minimal Christian respect were considered by their peers to be threats to the securty of the island.”

And yet there were a few Catholic gentlemen who defied the wealthy society of Haitian landowners.    Among these were Jean Berard, who owned Pierre Toussant and others, and, because of  his faith, treated his slaves with respect.    When rebellion, revolution, and religious frenzy of the non-Catholic religions threatened to erupt into violence,  Berard moved his family and many servants to New York City in the very young United States of America.

Pierre Toussaint thus came to America, a slave to a wealthy family.   His master had taught him the Faith, and his own character made him an attractive  man of worth and honor.   “Courteous, kind, and cheerful, Pierre attracted people.  His quiet wit and gaiety lifted the spirits of those around him.”

He was taught the skill of hairdressing, and eventually served many clients in New York.   As the Berard household endured increasing financial misfortune, it was Pierre’s income that held the household together.     He gave his emotional support and encouragement and  income  freely to the family to whom he belonged.

“From his earliest years, PIerre was a devout man.  He began each day by attending 6:00 Mass…followed by a stop in the city markets..and then a long day, on his feet, as the city’s popular  hairdresser….As a black man he was not allowed to ride the city’s horsecars, but he harbored no resentment..16 hours each day, either working or walking….he exhibited   joy on the streets to all….”

This is a small part of the picture we have of Pierre Toussaint, admired by his contemporaries.     Freed at age 41 by the widowed and dying Mrs. Berard,  with fortune and fate  in  his own hands, he married the young lady he loved:Juliette Noel.  She was only fifteen, and also a devout Catholic.   He bought her freedom, married her, and together they worked, earned money, raised a daughter, and invested in the welfare of the less fortunate in New York City.  He freely and patiently explained the Catholic Faith to anyone who asked.

This is one of their projects, a large, modern orphanage directed by the Sisters of Charity that Mother Seton had established.

When the two were in their 80’s, Pierre was asked why he didn’t stop working now.  His reply was recorded for us:   “If I stop working, I will not have enough  money to give to others.”

Fortunately for us, there are many existing records of the esteem in which he was held by all people.   At 87 years old, not long before his death,  he was asked by a friend if there was anything he needed.   “No,” he repliled, with a serene smile, “Nothing on earth.”

General Philip Schuyler of Revolutionary war fame, wrote this about him:  “I have known Christians who were not gentlemen, and gentlemen who were not Christians.  One man I know who is both, and that man is black.”   That’s from the historical record.

(Quotations in italics taken from:  Ten Christians  edited by Boniface Hanley, and described briefly at The Reading Shelf. (click)) 

IT COULD BE US

January 17, 2010

How close we are to these people in Haiti.

Here is a hilly street in Port Au Prince:

It’s hard to take a good photo that shows how steep a city hilly street is.  I know.   Our daughter lives in San Francisco, on a steep hilly street, lined with multi-colored, multi- storied houses, and our photographs don’t show the inclines very well.

Our daughter – and millions of other Americans – live in an eathquake-prone city.   I had the chilling feeling that this could be her street.   No reason why not.   

We’re all in this together on Planet Earth.

QUESTIONS, NOT ANSWERS

January 16, 2010

Like many of you, I’ve turned on my television this week to watch the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti.

We hear the usual questions asked:   If God is “all-powerful,”  then why didn’t He stop this earthquake?   If God is a “good” God, then why did He permit this to happen?   Was this disaster a “moral judgment” that God permitted?   Then why do the good suffer along with the bad?

These are good philosophical questions;   we ought to know how we’d answer them.  (You will be challenged with them!)    But for those experiencing pain and loss and tragedy, right now, those questions are hardly relevant.

God didn’t promise us anything near paradise in this world, but He did promise to be with us to the end.  He offers love, compassion, and comfort as we make our way towards Him.   But how does He know what kind of  compassion and comfort we need?

It wasn’t only love He was experiencing on the Cross.   It wasn’t only pain.  It was also sorrow, grief, loss, being utterly alone and rejected, unaided, uncomforted;  feeling the human sense of  impending death that we call mortal fear.    His compassion for us comes through His actual experience with this world.

I would like to give the people of Haiti water, food, medical care, shelter, comfort, but above all I woud like to assure them that we have a Savior Who reallyknows what humans go through,  whether it be a disaster of  the stupendous magnitude  of what is happening in Haiti right now or whether it be  our  private, personal pain.

This is the Savior who promised to be always with us.

Compassion, not answers;  not even questions.

SURPRISE IN THE SPRUCE TUNNEL

January 14, 2010

It seemed like a good day to get my bearings in the Spruce Tunnel.    As the  arrows say, whichever way you choose, you’ll get there.

It was  a sunny day today up here in the north.   Almost.

For some reason, even though my camera battery goes into a Death Spiral outdoors in the cold air,  I turned the camera on early.     Good thing!

As I rounded a curve, I came across this lovely creature, about 40 feet away:

He hadn’t seen me just yet, but then he did – and he did a double-take, kind of amusing and kind of sad.  He’s a little blurry,  actually moving like lightning.   His eyes drilled right into me!

He wasted no time getting back to safety in the woods.   From one quick click of the camera to the next, he had already  joined his companions in flight:We have white-tailed deer up here and that was about the only thing I could see of several fleeing deer.

Have you heard about this verse from the Bible?   It’s after the Great Flood and when our Age is just beginning:   “And God blessed Noah and his sons.  And he said to them:  increase and multiply, and fill the earth.   And let the fear and dread of you be upon all the beasts of the earth…the fowls of the air…the fishes of the sea…”   Genesis 9:1,2) It is so, but it makes me sad.

A skillful  forest dweller I am not – but I think I found the freshest tracks that the deer had just made:

I went on further, moving as quietly and non-threateningly as I could,  wandering here and there, exploring pathways.    I came to one pathway that I decided not to  pursue.  Climbing over things is fun, but I had a skirt on, and  the branches…..you know…Just seemed like a series of  “no’s” to me.

“I used to be beautiful when I was young.”

I used to be beautiful when I was young.     Ha!

 

THE DREADED BOOK DISCUSSION

January 13, 2010

That’s the book, the book that has given me so much trouble for the past week or so.     Reading it was a little like being hit on the side of the head with a baseball bat….over and over and over.   Then standing up and saying:  “Aw, gee…hit me again…I’m still reading.”    

I felt frustrated,  astonished at the stupidity, angered, insulted,   enraged,   and then somewhat  nauseated.  

Exactly why did I continue to read a book which continually maligned my own civilization and that of most of my friends, maligned with fallacies, calumnies, deliberate lies, accusations, with every sub-plot, every characterization, every dialogue meant to put Western Civilization in the worst light?  

About a third of the way through I began making a list of examples, because I thought maybe it was just an emotional impression that was growing in me – I needed objective evidence from the book.     Two type-written pages later, I had a list of many, many examples where Christianity and Western Civ  in general came out looking dirty, smelly,  oppressive, ignorant, ugly, unrefined, hypocritical,  adulterous, lust-filled,  tyrannical, violent, uneducated, cowardly, duplicitous – you get the picture.    And it was the words of the author that made such things explicit, not my overly-vigilant sensitivities.  

Even down to minor  details such as the handwriting.    Guess whose people wrote in small, cramped, ugly, illegible handwriting?   (There was more than one reference to this throughout the book.)   And guess whose people wrote in beautiful, graceful saracen curves?       

Which reminds me:   The name of the book is  The People of the Book.   That was her first historical fallacy, the first of many inaccurate stereotypes.    People who are unaware of the Faith that built Western Civilization think that there are three major religions who share “a book” – Christian, Mohammedenism, and Jewish.      Perhaps evangelicals and other protestants think their religion is founded on the Bible – and that this is similar to the Jewish Scriptures – similar enough –  and that the Koran is pretty similar to the Bible, and so there you have it:  three religions based on a “book.”

Without sorting that out, why those three holy books are not at all similar, I can speak to the Faith that founded Western Civilization  (which has been in the process of being deconstructed for several centuries now) –   The Christian Faith as it existed in all the centuries of  Western Civilization since about 30 A.D., give or take a few years, was never “based upon” a “book”  –  the Faith is founded on revealed doctrine which is presented in the form of Tradition, Scriptures (including now the  New Testament), and the authority of Christ passed on to His disciples and on to their disciples, and so on.  Three equal interrelated foundations.

You don’t have to believe in that now…. but you ought to see what the historical record is.    You’ll find that the Catholic Church never considered itself based upon the “Bible Alone.”     It is not a “people of the book.”    Therein lies division, distortion, and extremism.

Does the United States have any enemies?    Does Christianity have any enemies?  Is anyone attacking the principles of Western Civilization?    Anyone at all?    By all means, Miss Author of this book, let us exalt those who attack us.

I’m still sick to my stomach.

Lesson learned?    I love my friends in the Book Club.    I’m so sorry they were included in the author’s insults.      I’ve heard all these attacks before;  and I’m getting too old to waste time on another book assault.     I learned that I can speak up a little in my Book Club but that I hated doing it.   They are nice, nice people.     I hope I don’t kearn that I”m too “nice” to let the author know of her impact on a few of her readers.   

Aaaaaargh!    What a world we live in!

TAMING THE CHOICES

January 13, 2010

 

Objects of Prayer:  A few decades ago in Christianity Today, I think it was, an article instructed its readers  to “pray the newspaper.”    (That is, to pray for the people or the issues that captured your attention.)     Certainly, we evangelicals already had a “prayer notebook”  which we kept up to date and took with us where we went, but here was another huge source of prayer needs.     So many choices to pray for!

Camera on rollerblades.  (that would be me)    I almost got a new camera for my birthday last Fall.   My generous husband told me just choose one; any one.  That’s a serious gift.  With a new set of classes starting, football season beginining,  Suzy’s illness, and the holidays coming up, I was just too overwhelmed to make the choice.  

                                                   Books  Don’t even get me started on books!  There are books I must read (for my own good).   There are books I have to read (like for Book Club tonight).    There are books I ought to read.  And there are books I want to read.   So many choices!

Even if I live as long as I want, I have to deal with the truth that my lifespan is more than half over;  maybe even pushing two-thirds.  Yikes!    And there are so many things I want to do first….amidst my busy days filled with things I must do.

Oh, I’m not unique in having all these choices to make.    In attempting to solve the problem, I’ve observed something.     Great saints, great leaders, great thinkers, great and effective people all over have at least two things in common:  First of all, they are men of prayer – much prayer throughout the day:  routine morning and evening prayer,  scheduled prayer at the traditional Hours of the day, and spontaneous prayer many times as needed.    In economic terms:   prayer is the value-added calculation of a man’s worth!

The second thing  great people have in common is a resolve not to waste time, and they keep this resolve by adhering to a daily schedule.     Seems like such a mundane idea,  but it’s the abundance of choices that knock us off our  routines.     

Discipline keeps us sticking to a well-thought-out schedule.   But the funny thing about disciplne:    That’s the one thing that is not open to choices.    Think about it.     Discipline stands above and beyond all the choices.    Once you choose to be disciplined about  your life,  then the only choice is “To be (disciplined) or not to be (disciplined).”

INTO NOTHING MUCH

January 11, 2010

I thought I’d report on a DVD I rented out this past weekend:

I do not subscribe to the common phrase: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”   It’s not.  Beauty is objective;  a quality that rational minds can recognize, analyze, and enjoy.    More correctly but less poetically:  “The eye of the beholder may or may not recognize beauty.”   

And so perhaps the fault is mine…or in mine eye.      The movie on the DVD is called “Into Great Silence,”  acclaimed as “Breathtaking!”    “Amazing!”   “Stunning!”      “Unforgettable!”

I’ll have to admit I expected to be a little stunned.  I certainly liked the idea that the film maker had:  to videotape the daily life of a small group of Carthusian monks tucked away in the French Alps and then to present on DVD what he saw.   I was sure that somehow the quiet beauty of life dedicated to God, to prayer, to service, in praise of the beauty of His creation, etc. etc., would be impressive, and I was eager to enter the experience. 

Eager and open…..and then puzzled.     What I actually saw was a film maker who was able to make a video appear to be a series of still shots.  Two hours’ worth of still shots. Towards the end I even ran the DVD at double speed – and it still looked like a series of still shots.    (Although by then I had become frustrated;  I do admit to seeing a little movement.) 

Now, many of the individual still shots were beautiful.   There were many (many, many, many, many) shots of hallways and corners of rooms where brilliant sunlight contrasted itself against dark stony spaces.   There were many (many, many…) close-ups of  pieces of plants and animal fur and cloth, stunning in the detail of  Texture.

There was a little movement:     There were dramatic moments of filmy curtains that nearly moved in a gentle breeze.   Dustmotes filtered downward.   Frequently.    There were numerous opportunities to watch breathlessly as a water droplet formed ….eventually formed….and then slowly detached itself from the underside of some  smooth rounded surface.    And bell ringing scenes were placed randomly throughout, although admittedly there is not much movement to bell-ringing.   The rope is so long that a slow gentle downward tug is all that is needed, apparently, to make a small sound ring out from some great distance away.   It was not clear what action necessarily followed any given bell-ringing.  

And the faces of the men;  young men; old men;  men concentrating on some work; men staring rather blankly into space or at prayer books.   Close, close, close-ups.   Far too many eyebrows.   Yeeeesh.    Close-ups of masticating  jaw lines…..And yet, it didn’t add up.   Throughout the day, throughout the seasons shown on the video, there was not a hint of  pattern, meaning, or purpose.   Two young men were received into the order…we assume they had a reason.   

I didn’t mean all that to be too harsh.   Each screen shot was beautiful.    Worthy of framing.    

I do mean  to be a bit harsh in the following assessment:     This film HAS TO be the product of a senior thesis from a talented film school major.  His assignment was to “Create a Dramatic Cinematic Tableau” using any location, any theme.    The following elements must be present:     1.  Show contrasts of light and darkness.    2.   Use texture; including rough, smooth, woven, natural grains, liquid, solid.     3.   Show objects that move in a setting of non-movment.    4.  Include subjects from human life and from the natural world.   Preferably humans in the natural world.    5.  For extra credit show young and old.   Very, very old is good.    6.  Do not use a script.   Do not use a theme.   And expecially, do not have a plan!

I’d give this guy about a B-.

But then,  the eye of this beholder was not “amazed” and “stunned” – and I’m still breathing.

THE HOLY FAMILY

January 10, 2010

A Family like no other:

So much beautiful art work concerning the Holy Family.  I like this one because the parents are large, protective, and definitely human, and the Child Jesus is appropriately young, but also noticeably holy, as though even his willing position of subordination in a family as small child could not obscure his divinity.

Love, devotion, and togetherness.

It is said that Jesus sanctified all family life by living in a family.   All who abide in Jesus may abide also in His household.  The role of Joseph as head and protector of the Holy Family  and the role of Mary as mother extends to all those who need spiritual parenting.

What is spiritual parenting?

The Holy Family again, but see who is at the doorway?  The hint is all the rose petals flowing our from her.   This is St. Therese, the Little Flower.   Her full name is St. Therese of the Child Jesus and of His Holy Face.

At first I thought this  drawing was a representation of some mystical experience that St. Therese says she had had, but I don’t think so.  I think it is a visual representation of the reality of her devotion to the Child Jesus, so much so that she has, in one sense, found a home with the Holy Family, through her contemplation and holy openness to all that the circumstances of the Holy Family can teach her.

She has not achieved the impossible.    The Holy Family at Nazareth is for us to contemplate too.   The more you look, the more you see.    The sweet invitation is open to any of us who would like to find our place there, with the Child Jesus, in innocence, littleness, and holiness.

THE “BEAUTY” OF SATURDAY

January 9, 2010

“We are without excuse,” St. Paul said (in Romans 1) if we choose to believe there is no God, because evidence of Him can be seen throughout all the world –  and in our lives.

This ghostly figure rising from my pond last night, after midnight…

…resulted in this beautiful photo, by early  morning’s light. 

Well, it’s  “beautiful”  if you own a pair of ice skates!   (And a  thanks to our ghostly neighbor “Mr. Zamboni-Man” !)  That transformation from snow-covered pond to glistening ice rink  got me thinking of another kind of transformation.   (I listen to St. Paul.)

It’s Saturday.

For some, a  remembrance of the day after the Crucifixion.     It’s common to hurry our minds from Good Friday to Easter Sunday,  but that’s not the way it really happened.  The day after the Crucifixion must have been one of the longest for  Jesus’ friends – and His Mother.    I beleive it’s possible – and likely – that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, knew where He was, but knowing where your Loved One is does not make the suffering of bereavement any less.  Grief is suffering.   It just is.

But suffering, for a believer, is tempered by the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love, all of which are nurtured on a foundation of Trust.     Trust addresses the pain of this world by the assurance that Jesus has triumphed over the Enemy of God and of all Mankind, and that He will rise again, beinging Joy to all of His people – as He said.

Saturday is Mary’s Day.

The grief of the Virgin Mary for her Son Jesus is a fruitful starting point for meditation.

Great artwork throughout the centuries have attempted to show the beauty of the Virgin Mary, and we know intuitively that this is appropriate because a soul that is united to God begins to take on the image of God.    The more pure the soul the more purely conformed to His image…..and He is “Altogether Lovely,” as the old evangelical melody  put it.   “Fairer than ten thousand is this wonderful Friend of mine….”   –  Ahhh, you just have to sing it.

According to the Bible, from the Annunciation to the prophecy of Simeon to the foot of the Cross, Mary’s life was to be intimately involved with Jesus, through His Passion and Death for the life of His Church.     Mary kept her soul trustfully united with Him.    This is the way to become “lovely.”     As we keep our eyes on Jesus and conform our lives to His life,  our souls are being purified, to the point of spiritual beauty.

Isn’t that what the angels are seeing in us?    (I Peter 1:12)   “…which things the angels desire to look into.” 

Don’t let a Saturday go to waste!    The angels are watching our tranformation from the darkness of “midnight” to a glistening future.

FRIDAY BENEATH THE CROSS

January 8, 2010

It’s Friday.

Time to pay homage.

Time to be serious for a moment about serious things.

Are we people who live in a world of pain and difficulties, of striving and strife, of troubles and grief, who are occasionally surprised by beauty and joy?

Or are we people who live in a world of beauty and order who are surpised when discord or hurt, bereavement or pain occasionally enter our lives?

Is it natural to be troubled by the world around us?   Or is it more natural to be delighted with this present world?

There is a verse from the Bible which stands in the way of  quick answers:   “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”  (I. Cor. 15:19)

Tonight….I think….I’m…going to answer all those questions above with the word:  Yes.

All things come to us from the Hands which He once held tight to the Cross.   

All things come from Him;  therefore, all things point to Him.

He sees us, knows us, calls us patiently.