Thursday, November 29, 2012

THE LORD


I've been re-visiting Fr. Romana Guardini's The Lord (copyright 1954, with an intro by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger). I bought my copy around 1994, devoured it, and dipping in at random now my thought is: No wonder I converted. 

Really, life has something impossible about it! It is forced to desire what it can never have. It is as though from the very start some fundamental mistake had been made, as evinced by everything we do. And then the dreadful transitoriness of it all. Is it possible that things exist only through self-destruction? Doesn’t to live mean to pass over? The more intensively we live, the swifter the passing? Doesn’t death begin already in life? With desperate truth a modern biologist has defined life as the movement towards death. Yet what a monstrosity to define life only as part of death! Is death then better ordered? Must we surrender our deepest instinct to Biology?[p. 272]

Mary’s anointing of Christ’s head with the precious spikenard is the perfect symbol of his readiness for sacrifice. The gesture is one of holy beauty, and he thanks her for it accordingly: “Amen, I say to you, wherever in the whole world this gospel is preached, this also that she has done shall be told in memory of her” (Matt. 26:10-13).
The words suggest melancholy, but in Jesus there is no such thing; only, a plumbless sense of destiny, unspeakable pain that it should come as it did, and with the pain, a love that is neither tired nor embittered, but remains purest devotion to the end. Perfect knowledge and perfect love in one, and a freedom of heart quick to sense the fleeting delicacy of the woman’s act, and to transform it into a lasting symbol. As Jesus and his apostles seat themselves at the final pasch, this readiness for sacrifice assumes holy proportions: “And when the hour had come, he reclined at table, and the twelve apostles with him. And he said to them, ‘I have greatly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer;…’” (Luke 22:14-15). It shouldn’t be necessary to point out that there is not a trace of Dionysian urge to self-obliteration in Christ, but unfortunately for us heirs of modernity who live among sullied words and blurred thoughts, it is imperative that we clarify our thinking and speaking again and again. The desire of which Jesus speaks is part of the same determination to obey the paternal will that runs through his entire life: love that is truth, knowledge and obedient devotion (that state of heart which finds its purest expression in the prayer of Gethsemane. [p. 266]

Does God know that it will end with the death of the Messiah? Certainly, from all eternity. And still it should not happen. Does he desire Jesus’s death? Certainly, from all eternity. If the people close their hearts his love must take this road. Still, they should not close their hearts. It is obvious that with our human intelligence we shall never comprehend. God’s eternal omniscience and our freedom of choice; that which should not be, but is; form which the act of salvation is supposed to take, and that which it actually does;—all this remains for us a hopelessly entangled mystery. What happens is simultaneously freedom and necessity: God's gift laid in human hands. To ponder these things makes sense only when we are able without disregarding truth to lift them to the plane of adoration. To be a Christian means to stand on that level. Indeed, one is Christian in the degree that that one is open to these mysteries, that one accepts them in faith through the word of God, thus 'understanding,' willing, living them.
We have often spoken of the 'must' which led the Lord to his death; however, something is still lacking. When Jesus says: "...and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the Scribes; and they will condemn him to death" he does not look as he speaks at mankind in general, but at me. Everyone who hears Jesus speak of the 'necessity' of the road to Jerusalem, should substitute himself for the Scribes and the Pharisees. That necessity is woven of the eternal Father, of Jesus and his mission, and of me--all that I am and do; not a distant nation a long, long time ago. It is I, with all my indifference, refusals and failings, who strap the cross of Calvary to Christ's shoulders.

[pp. 268-269]

Or as Fr. Peter Cameron observed at the recent Magnificat Day of Faith, the place to start the "new evangelization" is the Confessional.

FR. GUARDINI (1885-1968)
HOW CAN YOU NOT LOVE THAT FACE?...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A FIRST-RATE HEART


F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) once famously observed, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." Scott was deep into the booze, and though I find much to admire in his work, it seems to me that the real test of a first-rate intelligence would be to ponder which of the two opposed ideas is true--for example, "God is dead" versus "And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world" [Mt. 28:20]--and then to act on and live by it.

What interests me more than a first-rate intelligence is a first-rate heart (which, by my definition of heart, incorporates the full depth and height and breadth of intelligence), the test of which is to be constantly seeking and seeing the connections between two ideas that, while not necessarily opposed, are seemingly unrelated.

For instance, these two quotes from Caryll Houselander (1901-1954), aka The Divine Eccentric. Caryll was a convert who endured a nightmarish childhood and ever after had an especially deep and tender bond with traumatized children.

"I am sure, as never before, that the Russian idea of Christ, humble, suffering, and crowned with thorns is the only true one; that it is impossible to be a Christian unless the humility of poverty of Christ is taken literally and all that tends towards power, grandeur, success and so on, is avoided and despised."

and

"I think all teddy bears need knitted suits."


Sunday, November 25, 2012

THE END OF PRO-LIFE POLITICS

THE FIRST CAMELLIA
A recent piece in CatholicCulture.org, "The End of Pro-Life Politics" by Dr. Jeff Mirius, is a must-read.

An excerpt:

When all is said and done, this political emphasis of the pro-life movement has built and sustained many pro-life organizations; it has provided quite a few jobs; it has created claims on the loyalties and purses of pro-life Christians; it has become a significant industry. And it has accomplished almost nothing.

The time has come to admit the obvious and, in consequence, to speak the unspeakable. Is it not clear now that the social order as we know it in the West is utterly incapable of sustaining successful pro-life politics? The evidence is overwhelming. First, there is again the remarkable lack of success over the past forty years despite the staggering resources expended in the cause. Second, in the United States at least, this lack of success seems to conflict with polls that repeatedly show a majority of voters to prefer restrictions on abortion—which proves that such voters do not regard abortion as significant enough to influence their votes. Third, as indicated at the outset, the number of other serious social and political challenges which have so rapidly emerged in recent years are clear signs that our mainstream culture has problems far deeper than a disagreement about how to handle the question of legal abortion.

It is no longer satisfactory—in fact I would say it is disingenuous—to stress (for example, in response to the Obama juggernaut) that we simply need to go back to the trenches and mobilize more people and more resources in the same political effort next time around. Twenty-five years ago this seemed to make sense. Ten years ago people were reluctant to suggest that it did not. Today, anybody who thinks this is a reasonable response to the problems we face either has his head in the sand or possesses a vested interest in the economic viability of one or more of the many pro-life organizations which—almost certainly through no great fault of their own—simply cannot succeed...

Yes, we have a grave obligation to be pro-life in our thinking and to favor a culture of life in everything we do. But we have no grave obligation to make political change a high practical priority, not when a realistic assessment shows that the likelihood of positive political change ranges, at our current moment in history, somewhere between extraordinarily unlikely and impossible. Western culture cannot now sustain it...

This misreading of the signs has unfortunately caused us to waste enormous amounts of energy fighting not so much for Christ as for political outcomes which cannot be sustained without Christ...


I urge you to read the piece in full. It underscores many similar thoughts I've advanced here (e.g., "Why I Am For Life, not Pro-Life") and in my (loooong) essay, "Poor Baby."

Just one additional thought: That the pro-life movement has become a "significant industry" points up another hidden cost of abortion; namely, the potential for spiritual corruption when we make a career out of using the very weapons of "us vs. them" aggression, power-mongering, and war mentality that give rise to abortion in the first place.

In fact, the very notion of a "war on abortion" is emblematic to me of a near fatal misreading of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Truly, who among us can bear the scandal of the Cross? Really--results that are that meager? Weapons--charity, meekness, love--that seem to avail so little against the worldly powers and principalities? Our anonymous trudging to Mass, to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to Adoration--these seemingly ridiculously "small" acts, this laughable devotion, are supposed to prevail against the gates of hell?

Mother Teresa tending the dying untouchables on the streets of Calcutta--where is the medical advance, the girrrrl power, the relevance, in that? St. Therese of Lisieux, behind the Carmelite grille, writing the Apostle's Creed in her own blood and wearing it against her heart--what contemporary pregnant single mother is that supposed to speak to?

Where is the glamour of triumph, the pumped fist, the crowing victory speech in the inner life of prayer that Christ assured Mary, Martha's sister, was "the better part?"

Are we to give our whole strength, our whole mind, our whole heart and still be denied even the quiet consolation that we have helped convert even a single heart; that our sacrifices have gone to ease the pain of even one other human being; that we have prevented even one abortion?

Yes.

That is the Crucifixion. And our belief that our work and heart and charity and prayer do bear fruit is  the Resurrection.

How, where, and when we cannot know. But we do know this: "No follower of mine shall wander in the dark; he shall have the light of life." (John 8:12)

THE SILVER LAKE RESERVOIR

Thursday, November 22, 2012

AVOIDING "THE MEAGERNESS"


I will tell you what I have learned myself. For me, a long five or six mile walk helps. And one must go alone and every day. I have done this for many years. It is at these times I seem to get re-charged. If I do not walk one day, I seem to have on the next what Van Gogh calls “the meagerness”…

My explanation of it is that when I walk in a carefree way, without straining to get to my destination, then I am living in the present. And it is only then that the creative power flourishes.

Of course all through your day, however busy you are, these little times come. But they are very short in most lives. We are always doing something—talking, reading, listening to the radio, planning what to do next. The mind is kept naggingly busy on some easy, unimportant, external thing all day.

That is why most people are so afraid of being alone. For after a few minutes of unpleasant mental vacancy, the creative thoughts begin to come. And these thoughts at first are bound to be depressing, because the first thing they say is what a senseless thing life is with nothing but talk, meals, reading, uninteresting work and listening to the radio. But that is the beginning. It is just where your imagination is leading you to see how life can better.

But if you would only persist. If you would continue to be alone for a long time, amblingly swinging your legs for many miles and living in the present, then you will be rewarded: thoughts, good ideas, plots for novels, longings, decisions, revelations will come to you.


--Brenda UelandIf You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence and Spiritpp. 42-44



Tuesday, November 20, 2012

THIS I BELIEVE: "BRANDING" IS THE ANTI-CHRIST









A reader named Tom recently wrote:

Hi Heather, thought I'd share a little of my journal since I wrote about you!:

Kind of off-putting to read [an apparently popular Catholic blogger's] latest post, so rife as it is with salesmanship and branding (the latter not the kind you used to do to cattle but what you do to and for yourself). He links to a blogger who tells you how to get more readers, a subject that utterly bores me. You are who you are, and you either find an audience or you don't. The great joy of blogging is precisely that with it - unlike just about every other area of your life - you don't have to conform to the expectations of others.

Part of my attraction to Heather King is her semi-fatal "anti-branding" tendency, her refusal to be co-opted by labels of "left" or "right" or water down her message to appeal to the masses. Part of branding is consistency (i.e. "don't surprise anyone") , punchy posts, and a complete lack of eccentricity, but Heather's are eclectic and leisurely meandering, and sometimes punctuated by homemade photos or unfamiliar lyrics from long forgotten songs. I've always been a fan of the homemade, the local, the "Other", the surprising, the real"...


I considered this high praise indeed and I must say I was kind of tickled that anyone would write about me in his or her journal (especially as I write about so MANY people in my own, though usually with not nearly so much kindness).

I replied, in part:

I really came to blogging because I had so much material and I was sick of sending the pieces out one by one and waiting months to get an answer (often a rejection). So though of course I am always scrambling to earn a livelihood (fyi, the blog brought in maybe two grand in donations the whole year), in a way it started out and has remained a kind of spontaneous (though I spend hours and hours a week at it) eruption of love...I think to love Christ is to be fully human. Not a brand, not a shill for yourself as opposed to Christ, not an entrepreneur whose "product" is the Gospels. You can't promote the Cross...

But you can, and in fact perhaps are obliged to, promote your own original thought, expression, work etc. Interestingly, the same week I received an email from another reader, this one named Bob:

"I found you recently via Magnificat. Since that ‘Meditation of the Day’, I purchased Shirt of Flame, finished it, and just started reading it a second time...I also enjoy blog very much. In fact, your blog prompted my email today. Have you ever considered posting your blog in tumblr?

I stumbled onto tumblr recently while attempting to become more ‘social media’ literate. If you’re not familiar with it, I would encourage spending some time there. It has strong artistic overtones, and much of its content is first rate. It’s also edgy and youthful, it seems to be a popular medium for youth venting and expression, some of which is tasteful and some of which is not.

My (limited) research indicates that it is sorely missing the kind of practical, thoughtful and insightful spirituality that I found in ‘Shirt of Flame’ and on your blog. In short, I think you’re needed in the tumblr community and encourage you to consider blogging there as well."


I had heard of tumblr. [And wondered why on God's green earth they annoyingly deleted the "e"]. And upon receiving Bob's email I took a quick look and, as I told him, quailed. As with twitter, I sort of can't get my mind around what it even is. On the other hand, he may be right that the time has come for home-made photos, lyrics to arcane songs, eccentricity, the surprising, the "real," and a practicing, ardent Catholic with a blog that is something other than a marketplace.

So I asked if I could post his email as a kind of call--I'm thinking maybe there's someone out there with a "semi-fatal, anti-branding" sensibility similar to mine who is conversant with tumblr and would be willing to get Shirt of Flame (the blog) up? If so, lemme know...

AREN'T THESE CRAZY BEAUTIFUL, ESSENCE-OF-ORCHID PIX?
I TOOK THEM ONE RECENT MORNING AT THE THEATER WHERE
I TEACH WRITING SAT. MORNINGS.
THERE WAS A VASE OF THEM AGAINST A BLACK VELVET CURTAIN
AND...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

SICKNESS IS A PLACE


Calvin Lashway of Las Cruces, NM, weighed in recently with this interview with Jonathan Rogers, author of a new book about the one, the only, Flannery O'Connor: The Terrible Speed of Mercy: A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O'Connor."

Here's how the interview begins:

"Interviewer Trevin Wax: What initially attracted you to Flannery O’Connor’s work?

Jonathan Rogers: I grew up in Middle Georgia, fifty miles from Flannery O’Connor’s Milledgeville. Long before I read any of her stories, I had heard of the peculiar writer who had lived up the road. I heard a few anecdotes from people who had actually met her, and she seemed so charming and likable and – well, normal – that it was hard to imagine that she was the same person who wrote those dark, sometimes gruesome stories.

The incongruity was sharpened by the fact that she looked like some of the women in my family. On the one hand, it felt like Flannery O’Connor was old home folks. She looked like my people, talked like my people, went to some of the same places my people went. But on the other hand, she wrote about things that my people wouldn’t ever talk about.

I have been aware of that incongruity for almost as long as I have been aware of Flannery O’Connor, long before I knew anything about her faith commitments, which make her even more perplexing for many readers. Those incongruities are at the center of my biography: how could this woman have written these stories?"...

Some quotes from Flannery O'Connor who as you may or may not know, suffered for years from, and died of lupus at the age of 39:

"Sickness is a place."

“The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.”

“The type of mind that can understand good fiction is not necessarily the educated mind, but it is at all times the kind of mind that is willing to have its sense of mystery deepened by contact with reality, and its sense of reality deepened by contact with mystery.”


And to me perhaps most gripping of all, as Jonathan Rogers observed: "Mostly she let herself be misinterpreted."

FLANNERY O'CONNOR'S DESK, CHAIR AND CRUTCHES
ANDALUSIA FARM: MILLEDGEVILLE, GEORGIA

Friday, November 16, 2012

DAY IS DONE


The days are short and I have taken to my usual wintry practice of creeping about the streets toward dusk. This time of year a marginal quiet descends, the colors are sharp, and the air, even in L.A., has a bite. Already, along Sunset Junction, you can smell holiday smells: the rich fragrance of roasting meat, sumptuous cheeses, spices, hot cider, good leather, roasting coffee, fresh bread...

But I never stay in Sunset Junction for long. Consumed by "nostalgia for the infinite," I walk through and keep going, drawn by abandoned lots, scruffy patches of sidewalk, deserted alleys, the people with shopping carts rooting through Dumpsters...

Day is done, but love unfailing
Dwells ever here;
Shadows fall, but hope, prevailing,
Calms every fear.
Loving Father, none forsaking,
Take our hearts, of Love’s own making,
Watch our sleeping, guard our waking,
Be always near.

Dark descends, but Light unending
Shines through our night;
You are with us, ever lending
New strength to sight;
One in love, your truth confessing,
One in hope of heaven’s blessings,
May we see, in love’s possessing,
Love’s endless light!

Eyes will close, but you, unsleeping,
Watch by our side;
Death may come: in Love’s safe keeping
Still we abide.
God of love, all evil quelling,
Sin forgiving, fear dispelling,
Stay with us, our hearts indwelling,
This eventide.

Richard Carney of Claremorris, Co. Mayo Ireland singis this beautiful Welsh hymn.



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

THE OLIVE BRANCH


The other day I was talking to my friend Tony about a documentary I’ve been watching about Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's "Minister of Propoganda." The rise to power, the strategizing, even the horrifying murder of his six children in the bunker didn't grab me most. What did was an incident from Goebbel's youth. “When he was a kid, he got something wrong with his foot,” I reported eagerly (as if that explained everything, which it just might). “He became lame and all his little friends deserted him”…

I didn’t even need to elaborate. Having sustained our own wounds of abandonment, rejection, and loneliness (as who has not?), we both knew to think: I wonder if things would have been different, for millions of people later, if just one person had been kinder then…

After awhile, Tony mused, “I wonder why some people transmit their wounds by committing terrible, insane violence. And others grow an olive branch inside them.”








THIS ISN'T AN OLIVE BRANCH, BUT IT'S A BEAUTIFUL BRANCH
I SPOTTED ON THE SIDEWALK THE OTHER AFTERNOON,
PICKED UP, BRUSHED OFF, AND BROUGHT BACK TO MY ROOM.
IT HAS KEPT ME GOOD COMPANY EVER SINCE.

Monday, November 12, 2012

WE ARE EASTER PEOPLE


From reader Marilyn Crawford of Raleigh, NC:

Hi Heather - I actually had to quit watching TV about 4 months ago. I spent the month before the election working on canvassing my neighborhood and worked 8 hours at the polls on election night. I woke up the 'day after' thinking I would be quite 'down' and instead my first thought was ...'but we are Easter people'. I have no idea why that popped into my brain, but this chatter is not what matters. One of my husband's clients called and wanted him to bring the paperwork to her house to sell all her investments.

Since this client is also a good friend of mine, a much older lady who has spent MUCH too much time watching the news this past view years, I told my husband "tell her that we are Easter people." He was mystified but did - she decided not to sell her investments and calmed down. I spent an hour at Adoration Wednesday evening and all in all it was a terrific day.

I have come to realize that 'practicing Catholic' doesn't mean showing up for Mass once a week, but its more like practicing the piano - the more you do, the more it becomes a 'part' of you - all day, every day.

Life is strange, but beautiful.

Cheers,
Marilyn











The other day, late afternoon, I was walking along Sunset Blvd.
near the 99-Cents Only store in Silver Lake when I looked up at the palm trees and
for a second thought they were draped with tinsel. It was "only" the sun,
gilding the edges...
 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

GUEST SERMON: ROSS J. KING

NAOMI, RUTH AND ORPAH
WILLIAM BLAKE, 1795
We have a peacemaker among us. I refer to my second youngest brother Ross J. King who holds an M.Div from Fuller Theological Seminary (among other degrees), teaches special ed. in Lowell, Massachusetts, is the father of the illustrious Allen E. King (aka "The King of Amherst Park"), and occasionally delivers the sermon at churches in the Nashua, New Hampshire area.

Here's last Sunday's offering which is just as, if not more, applicable post- as pre-election. Cooperation, compassion, communion--How...sane. How...characteristic of Christ-like love...How...radical!.....

Sermon: “Wherever God Calls, I Will Follow”
November 4, 2012

 One of our lectionary readings today comes from the first chapter of the book of Ruth. You may know the name but not the details of the story. This is a small book, set in the 12th century B.C., but it is a story with significant historical and religious consequences for Israel and for us. It is a story with a theme which people of every nation can relate to—that of friendship. The  friendship is between two women: Ruth and Naomi.

Naomi is poor and widowed. On top of that both of her sons have died, so she has no viable means of  support. All she has left in the land of Moab where she lives are her two daughters-in-law (Orpah and Ruth).  In her own eyes, Naomi feels her life, as she knew it, is pretty much over. In a male-dominated culture and society she is without the help of her husband and both of her sons, and given her age she has no hope to remarry. She has seen the tough side of life, even believing that the hand of God had turned against her. She gets word that back in the land of Judah, where her husband is from, there may be more food available. Naomi makes the decision to return to Judah, and for a while she is accompanied by the two younger women. But early in the journey, Naomi urges both Ruth and Orpah to return to Moab.  Orpah, decides to heed Naomi’s recommendation and she returns . But Ruth is resistant and is determined to stay with her mother-in-law, no matter what.

Ruth’s decision seems strange to those of us who live in a society in which the far margin of fidelity to family extends no further than our relationship to our parents, siblings, or spouse. I suspect most of us haven’t had nearly as close a relationship with our in-laws as Ruth did, or as we wish we had.  But Ruth’s desire to stay with her mother-in-law is unshakable. Like a true friend who you can count on when the going gets tough, Ruth refuses to leave her mother-in-law in her time of great need. The words which are so well known in this story of  the Hebrew Scriptures come at the end of today’s passage. Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”

It’s evident in this story that Ruth and Naomi are both tenacious. Consider the resilience Naomi had- willing to make the long trip by herself. This isn’t to say she wouldn’t want companionship, but she wants her  daughters-in-law to have  a better life. She’s convinced that they will have an easier life if they stay where they are, stay where they know their surroundings, stay where their extended family are and where they have the most likelihood of remarrying.

Do Naomi’s personal experiences may resonate with you. Have you, like Naomi, lost a spouse, a significant other, or a close friend? Have you felt, as Naomi did, anxiety or fear at the prospect of dealing with a change of circumstance or an alteration of what you have become accustomed to? Have you experienced troubling feelings stemming from abandonment of another type, perhaps on the job you have—not getting the promotion you expected, not being rewarded or appreciated for your job performance? Have you been treated unjustly or spitefully by someone who was jealous or envious of you, at work or in your life outside of work?

I get the impression, despite what she said about her situation, that Naomi is a person of great faith. She is willing to set out for Bethlehem by herself, without the protection that so many other women of her age and even much younger would want to have. What about Ruth? Just why did she go? It’s possible that she might have sensed that her destiny was someone intertwined with Naomi’s. Perhaps she offered to go sensing that she had much to learn from her wise mother-in-law. Another possibility, one which seems most plausible, is that Ruth saw Naomi’s need and responded instinctively and sincerely. In Ruth’s courageous display of concern for the needs of her mother-in-law, we see reflected the wisdom inherent in today’s passage from Mark, in which Jesus is asked about what the greatest commandment is. The response recorded is almost word for word what we find in the other gospels, around this same question. “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. And the second commandment is this : ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

These words of Jesus echo another clarion command: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is what we have enshrined as  The Golden Rule. And the emphasis in the rule is on the other. God wants us to finally get it—the secret of life is not about me or I, it’s about living with our neighbors in mind, for to do so is to honor God and to actualize Jesus’ teachings.

There are  many contemporary points of connection to this Golden Rule, which Ruth exemplified in her support of  Naomi. One which comes to mind is the hurricane which devastated New York City and the New Jersey coast this past week. In times of disaster, we suddenly seem so concerned about our neighbor, but why is it that we so often wait for a disaster before we recognize and acknowledge our common humanity? I’ve thought this week of the rivalry between fans of Boston sports teams and those of New York. And I realize, in these times of great need, how superficial, petty, and unimportant such rivalries are. How about you?

We have a presidential and senatorial election in 2 days, and I’m struck by the enormous divide between what Jesus preached about and the rancorous and divisive presidential campaign which we have all been witness for the past several months; a campaign in which Republican and Democratic leaders continue to profess belief that the enactment of their ideas into law is the only way out of our current economic and social problems. I often wonder what would Jesus say in the face of so many politicians who believe that their side is all right and the other side is all wrong.

Do you strongly believe, as do I, that a fundamental contributing factor accounting for the global economic crisis we face is because we haven’t put neighbor first? There is still hope for we humans; we see evidence of such hope in the massive outpouring of response to help victims of the hurricane; a response which is proof of  the desire we have as creatures made in God’s image to respond to the pressing needs of our neighbor. When we reach out with compassion to our neighbors we experience a transformational joy which takes the high value we place on individualism in our culture and a “what’s in for me” mentality and exposes it for what it is- false, specious, superficial, egotistical, selfish. Those who have taken time to reflect on this dynamic discover that the focus on the self cannot, no matter how far and wide we seek it, bring us the level of contentment we yearn for deep in our souls. In today’s reading from the gospel of Mark, Jesus, responding to the scribe who understood the wisdom inherent in these two greatest commandments, clearly alluded to the connection between living out of the commandments and the unfolding of God’s Kingdom.

My sister Heather lives in Los Angeles and is a prolific writer around Christianity and culture. She maintains and active blog on her website where she regularly shares her reflections about life and the inherent struggle involved in living out the two great commandments.

Heather recently took a trip to a retreat center in Arizona and on her blog she shared some reflections she saw in one of the rooms at the retreat center. These words, which are attributed to Mother Teresa, remind us of the importance of  following God’s ways above all else-- despite how we have been treated, despite the bad breaks we’ve experienced, despite the difference between how we thought life would turn out for us and how it actually has. Here are the words from that retreat center in Arizona:

"People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; forgive them anyway.
 If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends, and some true enemies; be successful anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, others may be jealous; be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will forget tomorrow; do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; give your best anyway.
For you see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; it was never between you and them anyway." [* Note: the passage was apparently written around 1968 by Kent M. Keith, at the time a 19-year-old Harvard student]: 

Like Naomi and Ruth, many of us have discovered that life is unpredictable and it often turns out differently than we had hoped for. We can lose something very dear to us and then be faced with a future which is uncharted, challenging, and uncertain. Just ask the victims of the recent hurricane, some of whom have lost all their worldly possessions. It can be overwhelming to work so hard and to see such destruction. It takes a lot of faith to not lose faith in such times.

But the good news of Jesus Christ is that life does have a purpose, life does have meaning. Like Ruth and Naomi, we are reminded that life is like a pilgrimage and there is some pretty challenging terrain to traverse along the way. As we continue our pilgrimage, let us remember to follow Jesus’ wise teachings. Let us befriend one another and let us support our neighbors both near and far.

Like our ancestors who set off from far off lands, but who had faith that God would lead, let us do the same, despite how uncertain and unpredictable the future may seem to us at this moment. Let us continually pray to God for strength and guidance along the way. Let us renew our commitment, each one of us, no matter our past and no matter what confronts us, to the vision which other sojourners of our faith have maintained in difficult times, and declare anew:  “Wherever God calls, I will follow.”        

AMEN


MULTI-TALENTED ROSCOE
LITTLE-KNOWN FACT: HE IS ALSO SUPER FUNNY! 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

NEWS OF THE DAY






woo-hoo, folks: as of Nov. 7, we have hit the half a million pageview mark!
Pageviews all time history
500,079
More news:  the proposed New Zealand speaking tour, which was to have taken place the week after Easter 2013, has been shelved. Turns out the folks could bring me over and put me up but could not pay me for speaking which as I told the good Lucy O'Donoghue, is not in my budget.

Let me make abundantly clear that the thing falling through was through no lack of trying on the part of Lucy, who put forth well-nigh superhuman effort, enlisting the aid of the Bishop of Auckland, every other Catholic luminary in the country, and I'm not sure but what the Pope himself. Seriously, if you ever want an event organizer, let me know and I'll put you in touch with her. She was simply phenomenal, and I want to give a huge shout-out as well to faithful reader/supporter Stephen Sparrow of Christchurch, and to Jo Fielding, of I believe Dunde. All three went way out of their way, devoted time, energy, and effort way beyond the call of duty, enticed me with photos, links and places to stay I am sorry to miss, and fought mightily on my behalf. I am deeply humbled and deeply grateful.

I have worked myself into a state of semi-catatonia by trying to be all things to all people and am thus saying no to just about everything that is not essential to my own convalescence for awhile.

Meanwhile I'm applying to MacDowell, the artist's colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, for a month or two or however long or short they'd have me next summer. A cottage in the NH woods. Solitude. Quiet. Writing time. Oh please, God.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

NOTES FROM ALL OVER

AUTUMN: WINDSHIELD WIPER #7
 I hear from folks far and wide. Herewith a small sampling:

From Fr. Patrick Beno of St. Agnes parish in Green Bay, Wisconsin, whose book club is discussing Shirt of Flame:
"P.S. Ever listen to the music of Beirut? ( a band led by a young fella named Zach Condon.)
It's wonderful stuff."

From a happily-married father of six in the mid-West:
"I found that your story speaks to me about Hope in a very profound way."

From Fr. Seán MacGiollarnath of Dublin, Ireland:
"May Jesus enlighten you, may he give you his Spirit, may he enable
you to be and to do at each moment what’s most pleasing to him: in a
word, let him live in you. I ask him this for you, for everyone. Let’s
ask together, for every human being, what we ask for ourselves.
(Blessed Charles de Foucauld)."

From faithful reader/commenter Tom DeFreitas:

"I spent a wee bit of last night rereading part of De Profundis, Oscar Wilde's prison letter to Lord Alfred Douglas, when what, to my wondering eyes should appear, but this sentence:

The martyr in his 'shirt of flame' may be looking on the face of God, but to him who is piling the faggots or loosening the logs for the blast the whole scene is no more than the slaying of an ox is to the butcher, or the felling of a tree to the charcoal burner in the forest, or the fall of a flower to one who is mowing down the grass with a scythe.

This, from 1897, decades before T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets!

And the phrase 'shirt of flame' carries a footnote to the effect that Oscar Wilde might be remembering a line from the Scottish dramatist Alexander Smith: "Like a pale martyr in his shirt of fire."

It wouldn't surprise me if Saint John of the Cross had something somewhere about a camisa del fuego! Or if Dante had someone wearing a camicia della fiamma! (or, del fuoco ...)

At any rate, I thought you'd appreciate a bit of the history of the provenance of this compelling and very poetic image!"

And from a 55-year-old friend who is dying, and in agony, from treatment for 4th-stage lung cancer: "I'm sad, but why should I be given more than anyone else? And I've been given so much"...

Such are the music-lovers, thinkers, word-smiths, pray-ers, and giants who walk among us.

STILL LIFE: PERSIMMON, PEAR, WALNUTS,
AND MUMMIFIED POMEGRANATE

Sunday, November 4, 2012

THE PERILOUS CALL OF CHRIST

HEAD OF CHRIST, REMBRANDT
VOTE FOR HIM!
Recently I rec'd an email taking me to task for a recent post about my aversion, squarely anti-abortion though I am, to reducing faith to an isolated political issue; and specifically about my not taking kindly to a woman who had jabbed her finger in my face and demanded to know, "Would you vote for Obama?"

My response was to think, "Well let's see, if there were a runoff between Hitler and Goebbels and Hitler were promoting some rudimentary kind of national health care, I suppose, if I had to vote, I could consider voting for Hitler. So I said, 'Well, I guess I might' "--the point being that Goebbels and Hitler were so close in basic philosophy, goals and world view as to be virtually interchangeable. And the other point being that when people are violent with us--and jabbing your finger in someone face is violent--we tend to want to be violent, sarcasm being another form of violence, ourselves.

Anyway, the sender then went on to say:

"I can understand being against abortion, but I can't understand not helping people have knowledge and tools to keep themselves from getting pregnant. I know several young women who keep a condom in their wallets, so that they can say, I'm not having sex with you unless you use a condom, and they can be in charge."

Now this I found telling. This points up exactly why I avoid identifying as either politically right or politically left: namely, that if one or the other candidate happens to land on the “right” side of a particular issue, it’s by accident—it’s not because of Christ. Because the image of a 14-year-old girl carrying condoms in her purse strikes me the same way as an image I recently came across of an attractive young blond in camo fatigues wearing an expression of what was apparently meant to be wholesome blood lust and cradling a giant gun in her lap: namely, the unpleasant, nerve-jangling shock you get when unexpectedly coming across an image of the rawest, rankest porn.

I took the time to write a long reply to the sender of the email, among other things thanking the person for reminding me of my own huge capacity for violence. I never heard back and am thinking, on the eve of the election, to reprint some of my (slightly amplified) response here.

The long answer, for now, is that from the Catholic viewpoint, the pregnancies that are prevented by all forms of birth control, esp. BC pills, essentially an abortificient, are themselves kind of holocaust, just as war is always its own form of holocaust. Birth control--itself a form of violence--is not the way to prevent abortion, another form a violence. For a teenage girl to keep a condom in her purse so she can be "in control" for when she has casual, uncommitted sex--and the very fact that the sex is outside the protective, nurturing, sacrament of marriage and not open to children means it is prima facie casual and uncommitted--to me is not a triumph, or a solution, or in any way a move toward Christ-like love...it is a lie and the furtherance of a lie (I know first-hand because I lived that lie for many years), and it is just the kind of shortcut/end run, aimed toward power, fleeting pleasure, the objectification of ourselves and the other, and an utter disregard for the spiritual and emotional consequences of our actions upon which our culture and politics is founded. All that is, or should be, most precious in us, most inviolable, is in essence, killed...

Basically our thought is: It's too hard to love our enemy, so let's maintain that waterboarding isn't torture, spend $100 billion more in the next four years on 'defense', and kill him. It's too hard to treasure ourselves and to teach our children to treasure themselves, so let's give them condoms. I think this is part of why Christ said, "You have heard it said, "You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire" [Mt 5:21-22]...The point is not that God is peering into our every action and thought, waiting to pounce when we're wrong. The point is that politics concerns itself with imposing from without while Christianity concerns itself with the conversion from within of the individual human heart. I am quite sure that if we treated ourselves, our capacity for love, our sexuality, our neighbor, and our world as Christ taught us to that the global population would regulate itself in a way that is never going to happen, and has not happened, when we try it "our" way. 


This all sounds very sterile and that is one reason I dislike the whole framework of politics as a venue for discussing or working out faith.  The sublime wonder of Christianity is that we are never going to be brought to our full joy, our full flower, our full capacity to give and receive love, except by abandoning ourselves to this strange and paradoxical God. That is why Christ was so dangerous. Not because he was anti-politics but because he was anti-lie. That is way more dangerous to the powers-that-be--inside and outside ourselves--than treason... 


Politics are all about power, control, and being "in charge." Religion is all about abandonment, surrender, and obedience to the Man who said, "I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you." And that is why, to me, to try to mix one with the other does a disservice to both. 

To that end, the best thing I heard at the Magnificat Day of Faith was a quote from French playwright Jean Anouilh (1910-1987): "Beauty is one of the rare things that does not lead to doubt about God."

And this Henri Nouwen quote, just in from my brother Ross: “Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly.” Which the Lord knows is all of us.