Sunday, November 30, 2008

Woman in art

This is very cool. Think of adjectives that describe these faces. They will not include "steamy," "hot," "salacious," etc...


Over Thanksgiving, I had the distinct pleasure--between the sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie--of good conversation with old friends. In particular, the Scientist Dad and I were able to discuss Blaise Pascal and the meaning of philosophy over baby food and coffee with a Philosopher Pater Familias.

One problem of teaching philosophy, posited he, is that you can only reward students with good grades when they demonstrate sufficient knowledge of the material. For example, the students who tend to get the best grades are the girls who sit in the back of the class and say nothing, but WOW do they know how to study. They may or may not have taken, for example, Augustine's Confessions to heart. Students, however, who engage the material, ask the philosophical questions, and apply their answers to their lives (i.e., put them into action) may or may not get good grades in philosophy class. But they are the students doing precisely what the teacher wants (or, at any rate, what a good teacher wants); the students philosophizing cannot be rewarded for actually doing philosophy.

This is the nature of wisdom: it eludes the obvious rewards.

But how to prod students to bring wisdom to their lives? Pascal recognizes the problem (of course): a man can study and even master the proofs for the existence of God, but five minutes after leaving his desk he will doubt God's existence. Reason's mastery of a subject (God) does not guarantee it will enter into his heart (which, for Pascal, is the center of the whole person).

The trick, he says, is to begin to act, to behave as if God existed. Or as if a moral life would make you happy. Or as if material things were unimportant. It is only in acting--in putting on a mask, so to speak--that the heart engages in truth. Reason cannot be certain of truth, especially in the post-modern world, until the heart is certain of truth. And for the heart to be certain, the man must bend his will and his life to certainty.

So, for the unbeliever who seeks God, Pascal suggests going into a church (a church housing the Eucharist) and kneeling. Go to a liturgy and say the prayers. The whole person--in the body's prayerful motions, the heart's desire, the mind's rest--becomes convicted of God's existence and his own wretchedness. In surrendering to the attractive face of the Redeemer, the heart begins to move to peace and certainty and love, and soon joy follows.

A good reminder for Advent. Our wretchedness. God's revelation in Christ. Joy.

First Sunday in Advent

Do not forget to make space for longing this Advent:

"It was when I was happiest that I longed most...The sweetest thing in all my life has been the find the place where all the beauty came from." ~CS Lewis, Till We Have Faces

Friday, November 28, 2008

Beautiful Friday.

What do the Philosopher Mom, various philosophizing progeny, and the Scientist Dad plan to do today? Absolutely. Nothing. (Well, maybe go for a run, bake some bread, and play "Scoop the Baby" with our family spatula.) We're just going to relish a day of rest. And maybe decorate for Advent...

Addendum: And while I intended this post to be rather tongue-in-cheek, this story from the NYT makes the whole day rather nauseating. It's not all fun-and-games out there.

Here's an exhortation for you, thanks to Nathan via Upturned Earth:

"Black Friday? Nay! Buy Nothing Day!

Rather than hoarding the hottest new d.v.d. player or Tickle-Me-Whoever, take a stand against rampant materialist consumerism, the idolization of stuff, and cultural meaningless. Just. Buy. Nothing. Spend time with your family. Read a book; read to your children, rather than buying inconsequential garbage for them. Attend Mass. Go for a walk. Bust out Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue or one of Beethoven’s symphonies and rediscover cultural artifacts with lifespans greater than the warranty on Step 2’s 50’s Diner ...

Live, as humans, rather than merely functioning as television-commercial-hypnotized purchasing drones. Eschew the malls, Wal*Marts, and shopping “plazas” and rediscover the hearth. How often, in the modern workaday world, have many of us the opportunity to embrace an essentially free day? We should cherish it, rather than squander it standing in line to save a few dollars we could better use in countless other ways. After all, we ready ourselves not for the Christmas shopping season, but for Advent, in which we prepare ourselves to celebrate Christmas, the birth of Christ, a gift far greater than Best Buy could ever proffer."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Being thus arived in a good harbor and brought safe
to land, they fell upon their knees & blessed ye God
of heaven, who had brought them over ye vast &
furious ocean, and delivered them from all ye periles &
miseries therof, againe to set their feete on ye firme
and stable earth, their proper elemente.
~William Bradford, A History of Plimouth Plantation

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What I always wanted to say.

I had no idea this man existed until ten minutes ago, but ... Exactly. This is perspective.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Divine Image, by William Blake

To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is Man, his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, turk, or jew;
Where Mercy, Love, & Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I must remember this...

"Try not to feel good when thou art not good, but cry to Him who is good. He changes not because thou changest. Nay, He has an especial tenderness of love toward thee for that thou art in the dark and hast no light, and His heart is glad when thou doest arise and say, "I will go to my Father." ...Fold the arms of they faith, and wait in the quietness until light goes up in thy darkness. For the arms of thy Faith I say, but not of thy Action: bethink thee of something that thou oughtest to do, and go to do it, if it be but the sweeping of a room, or the preparing of a meal, or a visit to a friend. Heed not thy feeling: Do thy work."

~George MacDonald

Thanks to High Desert Home.

Miriam the theologian. Part II.

In Which Installement Miriam Launches Upon A Theologie of the Bodie

Miriam: Mummy, boys and girls are different.

PM: Oh, well, yes they are.

M: They like diffrent things. I like pink and baby dolls. Boys sometimes don't like baby dolls. But Eric (male pre-school friend) likes baby dolls and he's a boy.

PM: (stymied silence: Has she discovered the "spectrum" theory of gender-based preference?)

M: And mommies have diffrent faces.

PM: What do you mean, Miriam?

M: Well, Erika (friend of Philosopher Mom) has a face and it's not your face. And other mommies don't have a Erika face (sic).

PM: Yes. Why do you think that is?

M: (thinks) They are diffrent people. So they have diffrent arms and legs, too.


Life without distinctions is meaningless. Life without faces (and arms and legs) would be simply ... not human!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More "almost poetry."

"Revelation interrogates reason." ~ J. Budziszewski, First Things Dec. 2008

Chew on that one.

It's like poetry.

Here I am breaking more barriers! Positively exploding pre-conceptions!

Seriously, I'm working through the Louis de Montefort consecration to Mary right now. A dear friend put together new meditations--along with some new translations of the prayers and poems--for the 33-day "interior retreat." This was today's meditation, from John Paul II's first encyclical:

Redemptor Hominis 2.10

The human dimension of the mystery of the Redemption

"Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. This, as has already been said, is why Christ the Redeemer "fully reveals man to himself." If we may use the expression, this is the human dimension of the mystery of the Redemption. In this dimension man finds again the greatness, dignity and value that belong to his humanity. In the mystery of the Redemption man becomes newly "expressed" and, in a way, is newly created. He is newly created! "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." The man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly – and not just in accordance with immediate, partial, often superficial, and even illusory standards and measures of his being – he must with his unrest, uncertainty and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ. He must, so to speak, enter into him with all his own self, he must "appropriate" and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself. If this profound process takes place within him, he then bears fruit not only of adoration of God but also of deep wonder at himself. How precious must man be in the eyes of the Creator, if he "gained so great a Redeemer," and if God "gave his only Son" in order that man "should not perish but have eternal life."

In reality, the name for that deep amazement at man's worth and dignity is the Gospel, that is to say: the Good News. It is also called Christianity."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Breaking my rule.

It is my own adopted rule that Dead Poets Month (DPM) only present entire poems written originally in English. Translations, however profound, by their very nature represent a loss to the reader. The cadence and lilt of a language--and the cultural sense of its words and syllables--simply cannot transfer. And snippets of poems are just that: snippets, soundbites that demand context and further reading.

But then there's Dante. I can't read Italian and confess I have never read the entire Paradiso in one gulp. Still, no DPM is complete without him, and rules were made for man, not man for rules! To ameliorate, I've included the original Italian side-by-side. From Canto III.55:

E questa sorte che par giù cotanto,
però n'è data, perché fuor negletti
li nostri voti, e vòti in alcun canto".
And we are to be found within a sphere
this low, because we have neglected vows,
so that in some respect we were deficient."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A picture is worth...

Yes. A thousand words.

I once had someone seriously say that a roadblock to the Church, for him, was the fact that pope wore expensive shoes. Without wishing to dismiss his obviously well-informed, well-reasoned, and invincibly obstinate objections to such frivolity (the pope's shoes, by the way, were gifts), all I could muster was, "Oh, is that all?"

I must reflect aloud: Call me shallow, but couldn't this sunglasses-and-rosary combo totally make up for dorky red shoes? So cool. I could forgive a lot to have this German as my shepherd!

(Yes, I'm being facetious.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

The child, Gerard Manley Hopkins

‘THE CHILD is father to the man.’
How can he be? The words are wild.
Suck any sense from that who can:
‘The child is father to the man.’
No; what the poet did write ran,
‘The man is father to the child.’
‘The child is father to the man!’
How can he be? The words are wild.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Solitude, by John Henry Newman

THERE is in stillness oft a magic power
To calm the breast, when struggling passions lower;
Touch'd by its influence, in the soul arise
Diviner feelings, kindred with the skies.
By this the Arab's kindling thoughts expand,
When circling skies inclose the desert sand;
For this the hermit seeks the thickest grove,
To catch th' inspiring glow of heavenly love.
It is not solely in the freedom given
To purify and fix the heart on heaven;
There is a Spirit singing aye in air,
That lifts us high above all mortal care.
No mortal measure swells that mystic sound,
No mortal minstrel breathes such tones around,—
The Angels' hymn,—the sovereign harmony
That guides the rolling orbs along the sky,— {4}
And hence perchance the tales of saints who view'd
And heard Angelic choirs in solitude.
By most unheard,—because the earthly din
Of toil or mirth has charms their ears to win.
Alas for man! he knows not of the bliss,
The heaven that brightens such a life as this.

The Cave of the Yellow Dog

Now, here is a philosophical movie--contemplative, removed, and resisting the rapid shot-flickers of your usual Hollywood fare. It's more documentary than drama, but that is its strength. And here's the best part: your kids can watch it! Miriam wants to herd goats and live in a yurt now. And, she informs me, she speaks "Mongolan."

Perfect fare for the stomach flu; perfect antidote to the suburb-blues. Not that we'd know...

GK Chesterton on the pessimists

Here is GK Chesterton's little poem to pessimists... Introduced in his own words.

"Forgive me if I say, in my old-world fashion, that I'm damned if I ever feel like [the Hollow Men] ... I knew that the world was perishable and would end, but I did not think it would end in a whimper, but, if anything, with a trump of doom ... I will even be so indecently frivolous as to burst into song, and say to the young pessimists:

Some sneer, some snigger, some simper;
in the youth where we laughed, and sang.
And they may end with a whimper
But we will end with a bang."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Jen over at Conversion Diary has said it so well. I've been mulling over the historical analogy between abortion and the Holocaust, especially since some in-laws took exception to it during election debates. The obvious difference between the two slaughters is the awareness and emotional/spiritual suffering of the victims: a tiny fetus can't experience the dread or terror of a Jewish mother or father. Another difference is the sheer number of victims: abortion has claimed nearly 50 million lives in America alone since its legalization.

But, as Jen writes so well, the root is the same:

"What I came to see, though, was that for all the many differences, there is one thing that is the same about the Holocaust and the modern practice of abortion, and it is something critical:

At the root of both scourges is a particular strain of evil, the most virulent that the devil possesses. It is the kind of evil that works to take away the humanity of human beings. It whispers in the ears of one group of people that a certain other group of people are something less than human, less worthy of life because of race or religion or physical ability or age. And once this is accomplished, once a group of people have been thoroughly dehumanized in the mind of their society, evil can run wild while the populace yawns."

More disturbing to me--in my recent conversations--has been the ability of some to insist that, no matter how horrible abortion is, we must not work to change the laws regarding abortion "rights." In a strange twist, they tell me that, yes, abortion is another Holocaust. But we have no right to do anything about it. Has anyone else encountered this line of reasoning? This philosopher mom shudders at its implications, and hopes it is a case of invincible ignorance.

A live poet invades!

Since I'm a utilitarian,
I'll eat the vegetarian.

~AM Juster

Sunday, November 9, 2008

by George Herbert

My God, I heard this day,
That none doth build a stately habitation,
But he that means to dwell therein.
What house more stately hath there been,
Or can be, than is Man? to whose creation
All things are in decay.

For Man is ev'ry thing,
And more:
He is a tree, yet bears no fruit;
A beast, yet is, or should be more:
Reason and speech we only bring.
Parrots may thank us, if they are not mute,
They go upon the score.

Man is all symmetry,
Full of proportions, one limb to another,
And all to all the world besides:
Each part may call the farthest brother:
For head with foot hath private amity,
And both with moons and tides.

Nothing hath got so far,
But Man hath caught and kept it, as his prey.
His eyes dismount the highest star:
He is in little all the sphere.
Herbs gladly cure our flesh; because that they
Find their acquaintance there.

For us the winds do blow,
The earth doth rest, heav'n move, and fountains flow.
Nothing we see, but means our good,
As our delight, or as our treasure:
The whole is, either our cupboard of food,
Or cabinet of pleasure.

The stars have us to bed;
Night draws the curtain, which the sun withdraws;
Music and light attend our head.
All things unto our flesh are kind
In their descent and being; to our mind
In their ascent and cause.

Each thing is full of duty:
Waters united are our navigation;
Distinguished, our habitation;
Below, our drink; above, our meat;
Both are our cleanliness.
Hath one such beauty?
Then how are all things neat?

More servants wait on Man,
Than he'll take notice of: in ev'ry path
He treads down that which doth befriend him,
When sickness makes him pale and wan.
Oh mighty love! Man is one world, and hath
Another to attend him.

Since then, my God, thou hast
So brave a palace built; O dwell in it,
That it may dwell with thee at last!
Till then, afford us so much wit;
That, as the world serves us, we may serve thee,
And both thy servants be.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Who loves the rain,
And loves his home,
And looks on life with quiet eyes,
Him will I follow through the storm,
And at his hearth-fire keep me warm;
Nor hell nor heaven shall that soul surprise
Who loves the rain
And loves his home,
And looks on life with quiet eyes.

~Frances Shaw

Thursday, November 6, 2008


by Czeslaw Milosz

Love means to learn to look at yourself
The way one looks at distant things
For you are only one thing among many.
And whoever sees that way heals his heart,
Without knowing it, from various ills—
A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.

Then he wants to use himself and things
So that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It doesn’t matter whether he knows what he serves:
Who serves best doesn’t always understand.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Where were you...

...when you learned Barack Obama was our new president?

I was sitting in our little living room, nursing our six-month-old baby girl at 3.30am. Her little fists were clenched, her eyes shut tight, and she was content and trusting. She's just a few pounds, a few months, a few inches removed from my womb. She is undoubtedly the same child who, one year ago, was the size of a peanut and was making me sicker than the plague. A gift.

My heart was too full to speak: Change our hearts, Lord.

UPDATE: Read this from Tom Hoopes. It's so, well, balanced. Annie's point (in the comments on this post) is well-taken. Although--because I must be faithful to truth, goodness, and beauty--this election didn't offer any real choices in terms of the vote, the GOP ticket wasn't perfect. I am grateful to have had a choice at all... and that the election's outcome clarifies what was gray. From the Feminine Genius: "Since the Catholic vote went predominantly to pro-abortion candidates, it behooves us to pray hard and work hard for a restoration of authentic truths." Obviously, our approach to "preach without words" hasn't worked very effectively: human beings need words and actions and prayers. Rational creatures of speech, living out the truth in action, articulating that truth... all these cry out for renewed effort and vigilance. And the need for authentic witness to authentic truths is a cry to both parties, to all rulers of every age.

Dead Poets Humor

Because I'm feeling a little punchy... NB: This is humorous. It's not serious.

A Word to Husbands

To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up.

~Ogden Nash

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A vote for them.

This situation, with its lights and shadows, ought to make us all fully aware that we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the “culture of death” and the “culture of life”. We find ourselves not only “faced with” but necessarily “in the midst of” this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life.
– Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II

Thanks for the quote, Danielle!

Dead Poets Month continues

Doesn't this nicely complement election day?

The Day is Done

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.

I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me
That my soul cannot resist:

A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.

Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of day.

Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of Time.

For, like strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life's endless toil and endeavor;
And to-night I long for rest.

Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;

Who, through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.

Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.

Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.

And the night shall be filled with music
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Grave of Keats
by Oscar Wilde

Rid of the world's injustice, and his pain,
He rests at last beneath God's veil of blue:
Taken from life when life and love were new
The youngest of the martyrs here is lain,
Fair as Sebastian, and as early slain.
No cypress shades his grave, no funeral yew,
But gentle violets weeping with the dew
Weave on his bones an ever-blossoming chain.
O proudest heart that broke for misery!
O sweetest lips since those of Mitylene!
O poet-painter of our English Land!
Thy name was writ in water - it shall stand:
And tears like mine will keep thy memory green,
As Isabella did her Basil-tree.

I mostly chose this poem because of Isabella's name in the last line and the "gentle violets weeping with the dew."

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Poetry month begins...

November is poetry month. Here is one of my absolute favorites: a repeat from last year. I believe it is one of the most poignant arguments against abortion (and contraception, for that matter) in the English language.

The Great Minimum
by G.K. Chesterton

It is something to have wept as we have wept,
It is something to have done as we have done,
It is something to have watched when all men slept,
And seen the stars which never see the sun.

It is something to have smelt the mystic rose,
Although it break and leave the thorny rods,
It is something to have hungered once as those
Must hunger who have ate the bread of gods.

To have seen you and your unforgotten face,
Brave as a blast of trumpets for the fray,
Pure as white lilies in a watery space,
It were something, though you went from me today.

To have known the things that from the weak are furled,
Perilous ancient passions, strange and high;
It is something to be wiser than the world,
It is something to be older than the sky.

In a time of sceptic moths and cynic rusts,
And fattened lives that of their sweetness tire
In a world of flying loves and fading lusts,
It is something to be sure of a desire.

Lo, blessed are our ears for they have heard;
Yea, blessed are our eyes for they have seen:
Let the thunder break on man and beast and bird
And the lightning. It is something to have been.

All Souls 2008

Today the Church prays for the dead. We "celebrate their lives"--not so much by parties or reminiscence--by asking God to grant them the fullness of life in eternity. Amen.

Because of the time change, the girls were up at 5am this morning. We were blessed, however, with a family run followed by pancakes together. We've taken to watching EWTN on the Scientist Dad's computer, and this morning they ran the Mass in the Extraordinary Form from Birmingham, England. Today, the Oratory there transferred the remains of John Henry Newman from the main church to a smaller chapel--he may soon be beatified, I gathered.

A great thinker, a great man:

"We can believe what we choose. We are answerable for what we choose to believe."

Saturday, November 1, 2008

All Saints Day 2008

Here is Miriam's hallows get-up. She saw a clip of the movie "Therese" a few weeks ago and immediately determined to be Therese for trick-or-treat. She loved the habit so much, she wore it to Mass this morning--much to the delight of our Monsignour!