Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Taking my leave...

For three days, the philosophy family will be hiking, swimming, and generally carousing around the foothills of Mt. Washington. It is truly beautiful here, as only poetry can tell.

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough; 5
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: 10
Praise him.

~Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Pied Beauty"

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Reminder for Me on Martha's Day

It makes holiness seem almost doable. Very appropriate for the feast of St. Martha--many thanks to Elizabeth Foss.

"1. Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once. 2. Only for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance: I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behavior; I will not criticize anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself. 3. Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one. 4. Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes. 5. Only for today, I will devote ten minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul. 6. Only for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it. 7. Only for today, I will do at least one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure no one notices. 8. Only for today, I will make a plan for myself: I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils: hastiness and indecision. 9. Only for today, I will firmly believe, despite appearances, that the good Providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in this world. 10. Only for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for twelve hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life." ~Bl. Pope John XXIII

But the above must be coupled with this, or I will think I can do it all myself!

"Do not lose any opportunity, however small, of showing sweetness of temper toward everyone. Do not trust in your industry to carry you successfully through all your affairs but only in God's help; and then rest securely in his care of you, believing that he will do what is best for you, providing that you for your part work diligently and yet without straining. Without straining and gently, I say, for violent effort spoils both your heart and the business in hand, and is not really diligence but rather over-eagerness and agitation." ~St. Francis de Sales

Thanks to Magnificat.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Indifference and the Untameable John

Subtitle: How Potty-Training Made Mother a Stoic

I have often found great use for Stoicism's ethics--though little for its cosmology--when confronted with the more trying bits of life. My very human tendency to defeat suffering through apatheia (understood here as "clear judgment" rather than our modern sense of indifferent lethargy) has served me well. Marcus Aurelius gives pagan voice to my little serenity prayer:

"Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill... I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him; for we have come into the world to work together..."

But, after one year of attempted toilet training, my morning mantra has changed:

"Say to myself in the early (very early) morning: I shall meet today an intractable child unwilling to sit upon the potty. This has come upon her through ignorance of diaper-less living... She cannot harm me, for I am already potty-trained and wear not diapers; I cannot be angry with her, for it shall all be in accordance with nature."

I find myself unmoved by her protests and tears. Her refusal to "go" anywhere but in her drawers leaves me quiet, accepting, but firm. It is all in accordance with nature. The flip-side: Her successes (which are coming more and more frequently, Deo gratias), too, leave me unmoved. Therefore, in my stolid equanimity before the highs and lows of life (i.e., potty-training), I have become a confirmed Stoic. All is as it has been determined.

Too bad they were condemned as heretics. I shall have to find a more redeemed version.

Friday, July 25, 2008

HV turns 40!

"The question of human procreation, like every other question which touches human life, involves more than the limited aspects specific to such disciplines as biology, psychology, demography or sociology. It is the whole man and the whole mission to which he is called that must be considered: both its natural, earthly aspects and its supernatural, eternal aspects." ~Paul VI, Humanae Vitae

This is a reminder that today marks the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae. Celebrate by reading the encyclical or the resources noted below.

UPDATE: Sonitus Sanctus has posted links to an mp3 of Dr. Janet Smith's "Contraception, Why Not?" It is the best summation of the Church's teaching on the subject. Period. And very accessible... Also posted is a recording of a debate between Dr. Smith and Dr. (formerly Fr.) Charles Curran. Excellent and not-to-be-missed!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Friendship, the Internet, and Aristotle

Melanie Bettinelli recently responded to Elizabeth Foss's musings on the balance between mothering, friendships maintained online, and the balance of time spent blogging/emailing/reading vs. time spent in face-to-face relationships. The exchange is just what discourse among women should be: a sincere self-examination--who am I and who should I become?--that seeks the wisdom and love to be had from one another.

Foss wonders how much time spent on the Internet is "too much." We spend time slinking away from our children "just to check" an email or website--and often find the next hour consumed in some thought or online conversation. Sometimes we (I) justify this time spent as being a much-needed re-charge. Some adult conversation after so many little voices all day. But is this really "time alone"? Foss says not. Mothers do need time off, time alone. Internet time is not that time.

But does it fulfill a very real need? Can the relationships formed and conversations pursued online be the deep and fast friendships that every human being desires? Again, Foss tends to think not. Real friendships are nurtured face-to-face in the hardest moments of life.My first reaction to the discussion--in my black-an-white world I like to construct--was that Foss was dead-on. Surely a more human life would be a more un-plugged life. And it is an objective fact, which often finds its way in the confessional with me, that I spend too much time telling Miriam, "Two more minutes, darling. I have to finish this email." My first reaction was an intense desire (the easy way out) to throw out the computer and television.

But Foss herself discourages that, acknowledging that the answer is not to reject life online:

"I can't tell [you] how much time to spend online. I can't even seem to set those hard, fast parameters for myself, but I can offer this: make sure the time you spend is really nurturing you. Make sure it's making you a better wife, a better mother, a better Christian. Your time is so precious and your time alone is so scarce. Make it count. Make it matter."

The greatest gift I ever received from my friends at Regnum Christi was Fr. Maciel's meditation on time and eternity. It is an offense against God to waste time. We need to be nurtured--just as we mothers are called to nurture--but that time we take for ourselves must count. It must be real.

Here is where Bettinelli begins her musings. Friends of the kind Foss describes do not always appear readily in our physical environment: "For me the internet is a primary source of that female companionship that I crave. It's where I sip coffee (metaphorically speaking) and chat about books, about education, about childrearing, about faith, about hopes and fears and dreams. It does nourish me, fill me, give me something to recharge my batteries. And I have found a faith community online as well, brothers and sisters to pray with me and for me, people I can in turn pray for, the Body of Christ, not at all incorporeal for all that my connection to it is "virtual." And maybe because it fills a hole that no person in my immediate physical environment does, I have a very very hard time finding that balance, setting those boundaries."

(You really should just read the whole thing.)

I think Bettinelli's discovery of a true community online where that nurturing takes place is an authentically human discovery. I have spent years of my life in places where true friends simply were not. The year I graduated college and got married in particular was a year of loneliness: my only real girlfriends all (and I do mean all) entered religious life and Todd and I were in Boston, a difficult place for young Catholics. The time was not wasted, and in the years since we have found a real community of friends in Atlanta, but I remember the year of feeling that there was no face-to-face time with another woman of the same aspirations. I would have loved to know there were other young wives and mothers out there who loved to think, pray, and just be wives and mothers.

Aristotle tells us that true friendship is a friendship based on virtue. Each friend finds in the other what is good and, in a Christian context, holy about him or her. They desire that the other live a truly human life. Their minds and hearts yearn for the same things. One is to the other "as another self." These things are all possible online--as they were in times past through letters or phone calls. The time spent on relationships based on virtue and a desire for greater virtue is not time wasted.

The struggle to set boundaries and not steal time away from our families goes on in almost every arena: work, writing, Internet use, exercise, art, and even haircuts. The desire for friends physically present to us will also not be satiated online. To spend more and more time on the Internet in an effort to fill our thirsts is to travel down the wrong path. Remember, Erika: It's all shadows--real life hasn't begun yet. I must pray daily to conform my little shadows to the reality of Trinitarian love. Online friendships and discussions that bring us closer to that reality are truly worthy of our time, so long as we remember their inherent lack of the physical. "Life together" must, in the end, include that day-to-day physical closeness in order to fulfill our need to be "bodies among other bodies," persons among other persons.

I have found in the writings of Foss, Bettinelli, Bean, and several others models to emulate and lifestyles I'd like to incorporate into our own. I am grateful for these relationships, but I do wish I could meet them face-to-face. The dear friends I have been given who have lived--if only for a short time--just over the hill or down the hall will always mean more than blogs. And I look forward to more of them, more of family, as many as the good Lord shall send.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Unity as communion

A certain Manichaeism pervades our culture's understanding of sexuality--as you can see by reading the articles on Humanae Vitae posted below. The radical separation of "me" from "my body" does almost irreparable destruction to both.

Benedict XVI's address to young people at World Youth Day, then, provides a timely and healing brew: Augustine found particular healing of his own Manichean past not only in the mystery of the Incarnation, but also in a deepened understanding of the Holy Spirit. Read the whole thing here (Whispers in the Loggia also provides excellent coverage of WYD in general).

Here's the teaser:

"Augustine’s understanding of the Holy Spirit evolved gradually; it was a struggle. As a young man he had followed Manichaeism - one of those attempts I mentioned earlier, to create a spiritual utopia by radically separating the things of the spirit from the things of the flesh. Hence he was at first suspicious of the Christian teaching that God had become man. Yet his experience of the love of God present in the Church led him to investigate its source in the life of the Triune God. This led him to three particular insights about the Holy Spirit as the bond of unity within the Blessed Trinity: unity as communion, unity as abiding love, and unity as giving and gift. These three insights are not just theoretical. They help explain how the Spirit works. In a world where both individuals and communities often suffer from an absence of unity or cohesion, these insights help us remain attuned to the Spirit and to extend and clarify the scope of our witness."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Summer of '68

There's a lot of reminisce this summer about the warmer days of 1968. The commercials catering to baby-boomers in particular have celebrated Woodstock, bushy dreads, the age of rock 'n' roll, and on and on. (For a great synopsis of the most important events of the 1960's, by the way, check out George Wiegel's "The Sixties, Again and Again.")

But it is also the anniversary of Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae, or "On Human Life." This is the encyclical known as the "contraception no-no." Or by less flattering and more obscene names. But it is, more than anything, an exhortation to a Christocentric understanding of the human person, the human body, and what it means to be male and female.

To mark the anniversary (which is, to be precise, July 25), here are a couple of resources.

Kathryn Jean Lopez over at National Review Online has a brief and witty reflection on the document. As she notes, it seems that Paul VI predicted in 1968 what the cover of Cosmo in July 2008 would look like. The pope warned that mass acceptance of contraception would lead to, among other tragedies, the mass objectification and denigration of the female body (and, one can argue, by necessity the male body). Cosmo's headlines this month certainly confirm that warning...

And, best of all, First Things headlines this month with a longer article by Mary Ebersdadt on the reception of Humanae Vitae, the current understanding (or total lack thereof) of its teaching, and the aftermath of a sexual revolution that permeated the Church almost as broadly as it did the secular world:

"Let’s begin by meditating upon what might be called the first of the secular ironies now evident: Humanae Vitae’s specific predictions about what the world would look like if artificial contraception became widespread. The encyclical warned of four resulting trends: a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments."


She gives an amusing description of the "cafeteria" attitude most Catholics tender toward the Church teaching on contraception. If you don't laugh, you'll cry, they say... But it prompted me to wonder that in all my adult life, attending Mass almost daily in churches up and down the Eastern seaboard, many of those churches being "quite orthodox," why I have never heard a homily on contraception. I have heard two homilies on sexual ethics--both explaining well the sanctity of sex within marriage. I have heard three that mention the impossibility of gay "marriage." The general dearth is astonishing, given the urgent need for clarity on these issues. Cause and effect are one and the same...

But on and on I go. Read the articles. Read the encyclical. If your mind is made up against the teaching, look at it again. Talk to couples living it out in their marriages. See if perhaps your head and your heart can come along the high adventure that it is to be fully human. That was what the summer of '68 sought; it is what Paul VI preached.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

"In the days to come, the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it..." ~Isaiah 2:2

Blessed feast to all you dear Carmelites, secular Carmelites, and Carmelites-at-heart!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Hey, I knew that guy!

So far, summer reading in NH has included Magnificat, back-issues of National Review, and Gut Check, by Tarek Saab, of The Apprentice fame. The subtitle is "Confronting love, work, and manhood in your twenties"--and that pretty much does no justice whatsoever to Saab's message. This is less a self-help book for young men than a Confessions.

Saab tells his story of conversion from the ego-centric hedonism of his college years (though I'm afraid his exploits are tame compared to most) to a muscular understanding of what it takes to be a man for God in our current American culture. The story is also the spring-board for reflections on the particular pressures our culture places on young men in the workplace and the perpetual-adolescence malaise in social settings.

Saab's thoughtfulness and the breadth of his sources of inspiration (he quotes Pope Pius XII, St. Paul, St. Augustine, Fulton Sheen, C.S. Lewis, and G.K. Chesterton, to name a few) are truly impressive, but most of all his deep humility. His peace and joy have been hard-won.

The book is well-worth a read (and well-worth buying a few copies for dissemination among your male friends!). And, hey! I knew that guy at CUA briefly and superficially through Campus Ministry--it's glorious to read that he has become, indeed, a better human being than I! Onward to Christ, Tarek, alleluia.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Feeling very


The Philosopher Mom and Scientist Dad (with progeny) are in the wild, wild wood of New Hampshire enjoying a cool summer breeze. Somehow, my thoughts turn more to blueberries, coffee, and the sensual delights of lakes, forests, and valleys than to the angst of life. As it should be. For to be a great philosopher, one must also be fully human. And to delight in creation because of the Creator is a peculiarly human activity. As is rest from the necessary tasks of life.

And so, coming full circle: it is at these moments that we are most philosophical!

Leisure, the basis of culture. Gratitude, the basis of joy.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Blogging the Body

If all goes well, a new blog is coming your way: Blogging the Body. Beginning this week, a group of seven women from a spectrum of perspectives (say that ten times fast!) will be reading and discussing John Paul II's lectures on the theology of the body. We're starting from the beginning and going all the way through. If you've never read the lectures, this may be a neat (one of my most-hated adjectives!) way to dabble your toes.

I can't promise a uniformally orthodox reading of the text--it's more of a Bible-study kind of scenario, I think. Here's what the intention is:

"In 1979 JP II began a series of Wednesday addresses on embodied Christian sexuality and love which were subsequently collected and published under the title Theology of the Body. In total, there are 129 lectures divided into six cycles (Marriage [1-23], Adultery [24-50], Resurrection of the Body [51-72], Celibacy and Virginity [73-86], the Sacrament of Marriage [87-113], and Contraception [114-129]). TOTB already enjoys a cult-like following from many sentimental devotees. Theologians have addressed TOTB, it is the major work guiding a movement known as The New "Feminism," and study guides have been published to tell the reader how she should respond. We are not exactly interested in any of that. Nor are we interested in reductive and angry 2nd-Wave critiques. We're post-Judith Butler now and discourse matters, or something like that. We are, however, interested in engaging with the text in a quasi formalist way—meaning, reading and responding to the texts without theory or authoritative glosses... The objective will be to intellectually and spiritually engage with the text... We are interested in critical-, philosophical- and theological-oriented responses but we also want each response to be made by an individual embodied feminine subject—i.e. a real woman with a real mind and a real body."

Could be interesting, so check it out once in a while.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Not Dead Yet

Disturbing, yet worth a read. It makes me weep all over again for Terri Schiavo.

A Second Nature

I have been following Elizabeth Foss's summer book study on Charlotte Mason and was particularly struck by her entry on habits.

Miriam has had me at a loss with discipline: she doesn't seem to respond (i.e., do what I want her to do) to time-out, corporal punishment, explanations, etc... I've tried everything. Foss/Mason get me back on track here. Discipline is not about getting the child to do what I want her to do at that moment. It is about forming her habits so that she can act in a fully human way.

And in order to form her in good habits, boy, had I better have good habits, too! This part from Foss hit home:

"This is "pay now or pay later" parenting philosophy. I can assign a task and then motivate myself to teach patiently how it is done properly and to inspect to see that it has been completed properly--over and over again until it is a habit--or I can take the easy road now and not follow through, only to be faced with that same poorly done task, or task not done at all forever more. This goes way beyond the habit of doing household chores cheerfully and well. It means addressing every small lie and insisting upon the truth. It means stopping in my tracks to correct a whining child and insist on a pleasant voice (or a nap) every single time. It means ensuring first time obedience. It's work. but it's going to be work either way. An untrained child or a poorly trained child will be much, much more work as an unruly teenager or young adult."

I have to discipline myself to be Miriam's mother: there is no task I have on my list for today (groceries, lunch, laundry, dinner, blogging, e-mail, calls) that supersedes the child's need for good habits. I have to be willing and discipline myself to stop what I am doing to train her in the way she should go--and to rejoice with her when she does something well.

This is intentional living--no more simply "getting through the day" until Daddy comes home and I can have "me time." To form good habits in myself and my children I must intend to do so. That is, I, the mother, must be a philosopher! And, believe it or not, one of the greatest philosophers is right there with me: Aristotle said that a habit is as a second nature. The habits formed in our childhood are nearly impossible to change. We do not "grow out of them," but rather must work our way in or out of them with intention and labor.

The good habits I want to instill in Miriam begin with my attentiveness to her action. It means giving her the confidence that I and her father are with her to help her form those habits (virtues) which will make her life a happy life "without the constant wear and tear of the moral effort of decision." Mason also wrote, "Once, twice, three times in a day, he will still, no doubt, have to choose between the highest and the less high, the best and the less good course. But all the minor moralities of life may be made habitual to him. He has been brought up to be courteous, prompt, punctual, neat, considerate; and he practices these virtues without conscious effort." That is, the habits of the child--which become the habits of the man or woman--are as second nature, leaving room in his or her life to concentrate on higher things.

It may sound awfully strict, but I have found that when I am attentive to these little habits in Miriam and my own life, our day is happier. We have more time for books and coloring and baking. We have fewer trips to the time-out corner. We try to be neat, courteous, and prompt; we demand truth over desire. And we are joyful.

And I read it all so long ago in Aristotle: the virtuous man is the supremely happy man. To think the Nichomachean Ethics could be true in a toddler house!