Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 was fine.

In the grand tradition of Jen from Conversion Diary, here are my lessons from 2009 and their relevant resolutions for 2010.

1. Lesson: Some things just ain't gonna happen, folks. You have to pick and choose what kind of resolutions you're going to make. My 2008 resolutions sure looked great. In fact, the ones I listed here were great, because they were focused on the interior and little things. But I also had some other resolutions tucked away, such as... I'm going to teach an awesome Ancient History course in the fall; I'm going to run a half-marathon and lose 15 pounds; I'm going to clean out my entire house in the fall and start a small tutoring business. Then I was pregnant and in bed for three months. None of those things happened, and it was a little bit of a shocker. The point is: it's okay to have great plans for the Things I Want To Do. But they need to be ruled over by one resolution and one resolution only: Be it done unto me according to your Word. The things I wanted to do--running, teaching, making money--didn't happen; but it was not a failure. It was a victory. Resolution: Put hopes and trials into an eternal perspective. The only point of anything is to become closer to the Father.

2. Lesson: Give the guy a break and let him do his job. About February or March, I picked up a terrifically bad habit of rolling my eyes behind Todd's back when I was frustrated. I justified it by thinking, "Well, at least I'm not yelling at him!" The problem with this juvenile coping mechanism? Instead of helping me love him more for his quirks, it actually reinforced all the resentful feelings in my heart. It's a dividing habit, not a bonding habit. The grace of the sacrament of marriage is not about finding clandestine ways to express my spousal angst; it is about really learning to love how my husband goes about being a husband and a father. If I ask God to give me joy in the Scientist's methodical re-ordering of the medicine cabinet, then His promise in that sacrament is that He will give me that joy. Resolution: Seek joy in what was irritating, so that I may be a less irritable wife.

3. Lesson: The hidden life is a beautiful life. This year was full of opportunities to become more hidden in our little home. The girls are growing and need more undivided attention. Sickness kept me quiet. A beautiful book on the spiritual life deepened my love for quiet prayer. I see fewer fruits--but also realize that seeing the fruit of the hidden life is not necessary. Edith Stein wrote in The Hidden Life: "The deeper a soul is bound to God, the more completely surrendered to grace, the stronger will be its influence on the form of the church. Conversely, the more an era is engulfed in sin and estrangement from God, the more it needs souls united to God. And God does not permit a deficiency. The greatest figures of prophecy and sanctity step forth out of the darkest night... Certainly the decisive turning points in world history are substantially co-determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions. And we will only find out about those souls to whom we owe the decisive turning points in our personal lives on the day when all that is hidden is revealed.... We may live in confident certainty that what the Spirit of God secretly effects in us bears fruits in the kingdom of God. We will see them in eternity." Resolution: Embrace the vocation to a hidden life. Be bound to God and all afire for him.

4. Lesson: Children belong only to God. I've been struck repeatedly over the years with the radical difference between our culture's view of children and the Judeo-Christian view of children. One side says, "I have a right to have my child/ren when and how I want in order to have those maternal experiences as I choose." The other side says, "Behold, children are a gift from the Lord. Blessed the mother of many." Multiple friends and relatives suffered multiple miscarriages this year; and many of you in the blogosphere have watched women lose infants to SIDS or Trisomy-18. Behold, children are a gift from the Lord. They are not mine; my experience of motherhood is not something I earned or even chose (except in the choice to be open to it). I won't even attempt to give explanations of the loss of children or the pains of motherhood: that would be stupid at best. But I do know that viewing children as a right or "MINE" only causes a more distressing suffering to countless bereaved mothers--more distressing because the suffering seems punitive or pointless. The only truth I can grasp--and that gives some meaning to the loss of a baby--is that each one of us is His alone, and we are given to one another according to His ways, which are not ours. Resolution: Hold the children tightly today, give thanks in all circumstances, and offer their little lives to their Father in heaven.

5. Lesson: We are never alone, even though given my druthers I'd be a hermit. This year, the communion of the saints became home for me. What a cloud of witnesses surrounds us and urges us on to the finish line. Therese, John Paul II, Padre Pio, Benedict and Scholastica, Gianna, Clare, Augustine, John Henry Newman... they all have been simply present along with their countless companions, even when I'm not directly addressing them. They are given to us, not created by us. And how I need them. Resolution: Cultivate these friendships as I would any other dear and cherished friendship.

6. Lesson: Only One can stir my heart, and He's not an academic treatise (although sometimes he speaks through such things). I discovered some great songs this year from Sara Groves. "Jeremiah" and "What I Thought I Wanted" were favorites. But this one expresses my whole prayer for this year and all the years to come. Resolution: Lord God, always draw me closer to you. Let me know your unbounded and incomparable love. Expand my heart to hold in all eternity, all joy, all peace, all your creation, all you are. Give us everything you have for us, only let us give you thanks for it all. And let us trust that in all things you are working your beautiful will and bringing us home to your heaven. Amen.

And, of course, I will be renewing my yearly resolution since 2000: "Don't be stupid." Have a blessed 2010.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Faith of the Little Things

Although Christmas has been largely (no pun intended) about surviving sleepless nights and bronchial lungs this year, I was blessed with a few moments to read the central chapters of GK Chesterton's Everlasting Man. Ostensibly, I was preparing to lead a seminar on the Roman Empire. God had additional ends in mind.

Here is Chesterton on what Christmas meant to that ancient and founding world:

"It might be suggested, in a somewhat violent image, that nothing had happened in that fold or crack in the great gray hills [of Bethlehem] except that the whole universe had been turned inside out. I mean that all the eyes of wonder and worship which had been turned outwards to the largest thing were now. turned inward to the smallest. The very image will suggest all that multitudinous marvel of converging eyes that makes so much of the colored Catholic imagery like a peacock's tail., But it is true in a sense that God who bad been only a circumference was seen as a centre; and a centre is infinitely small. It is true that the spiritual spiral henceforward works inwards instead of outwards, and in that sense is centripetal and not centrifugal. The faith becomes, in more ways than one, a religion of little things."

Hans Urs von Balthasar mentioned last week that a world that forgets the incarnation will be a world without women and children (not literally, of course, but rather a world that refuses value to the womanly and childlike things). This is close to what Chesterton claims for Christianity: the faith is a faith of the "little things"--infants, manure (human and animal), night-time feedings, a mother's wordless adoration and service, a father's irreplaceable protection of the helpless.

It was a great comfort to be reminded in all the illness and frustration: our God is a God who was little. Mary wasn't sleeping much during the Christmas octave either--she was attending to the little things, the everlasting things.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.... We have seen his glory.

May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts this blessed octave. All's quiet here--the bronchitis and various viruses are lifting slowly but surely. All is most well.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fourth Sunday of Advent

And who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

The Philosophical Household is still slain by a virus, so depth of thought escapes me. Fortunately, the Anchoress has a beautiful reflection on Mary and Elizabeth's joy for today (along with her usual wealth of links).

Be still these past few days... find that cloister in your heart. (I speak mostly to myself!)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The "education of man."

I've been dipping into Hans Urs von Balthasar over and over again this Advent. Love Alone is Credible is surely, as I've exuded before on this page, one of the best spiritual readings for the penitential seasons.

This week, it's been "Love as Form," which sounds awfully technical but is in fact not. Rather, as he nears the end of his little work, von Balthasar seems to be moving away from the philosophical and theological categories and analyses and into Scriptural and mystical themes (informed always, of course, by the truths of the faith). In this chapter in particular, he embarks on a long meditation on the form, or character, of Christ's own love: "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving one another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you forgive. And above all these put on love..." (Col 3:12-14)

This passage particularly strikes home in Advent, as he moves into a brief discussion of the Old Testament and the preparation for Jesus's coming: "This love is first of all the goal of the entire Old Testament education of man, which sought to conform man inwardly to God... [The Jewish people] thus knew only that [they] must continue to transcend toward some goal, but without having any vision of the final form itself."

Who could have guessed that this "final form" of love would be God taking on human nature in order to sacrifice that nature on behalf of all the world?

As we keep adding those ornaments to our Jesse Tree and reading the words of Isaiah and the prophets, we must give thanks that we have seen that "final form" of love. That little infant, born to die, is the absolute, final, and only necessary Word.

Giving order to the complexities and distress of our lives, our families, our nations.

Giving peace the world cannot give.

The form of love, for which the world was long prepared and for which our prophets longed.

Monday, December 14, 2009

St. John of the Cross

Today the Church remembers St. John of the Cross, one of the great reformers (along with awesome lady Teresa of Avila) of the Carmelite order. A house full of sleepless children and husbands prevents anything too eloquent, so here are some excerpts and quotes instead...

from New

"St. John has often been represented as a grim character; nothing could be more untrue. He was indeed austere in the extreme with himself, and, to some extent, also with others, but both from his writings and from the depositions of those who knew him, we see in him a man overflowing with charity and kindness, a poetical mind deeply influenced by all that is beautiful and attractive."

from the Dark Night of the Soul:

Upon a darkened night the flame of love was burning in my breast
And by a lantern bright I fled my house while all in quiet rest.
Shrouded by the night and by the secret stair I quickly fled.
The veil concealed my eyes while all within lay quiet as the dead

and here, Loreena McKennitt sets him to music:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Homechooling in crisis?

Dear friend Aaron Martin of To Dust You Shall Return has posted a couple of links to his law school paper Homeschooling in Germany and the United States. From the abstract:

"In March 2009, the Georgia House of Representatives passed House Resolution 850, urging the German Federal Government to legalize homeschooling. The resolution was one illustration of how advocacy groups throughout the United States have put pressure on Germany to change its draconian laws regarding homeschooling, laws that were enacted in 1938 during the Nazi regime. But while legislators are calling for Germany to change its laws, battles rage within the United States over the same issues.

This Note evaluates the state of homeschooling in the United States and Germany, both by considering the historical development in each country and through analysis of current cases. Although Germany and the United States have very different approaches to homeschooling and parental rights over the education of children, similar pressures threaten the status quo in each country. For Germany to concede rights to parents would undermine its strong nationalistic education system; individual judges in the United States feel that our relatively liberal homeschooling laws threaten the fabric of our pluralistic society and concede too much to individual - and often religious - beliefs."

This is a legal/academic paper, but it helps tremendously in understanding the debate over a parent's right to educate his/her child. This is a freedom we enjoy in the United States, but it is by no means a sure thing. Be wise, be informed! This note is a great place to start...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A moment...

... to breathe.

Fresh bread baking in the oven, a baby baking in the womb.

A little Pandora radio on so softly.

Some Hans Urs von Balthasar: "Love is an a priori Yes to whatever may come, whether it be the Cross, or being plunged into absolute abandonment, or being forgotten, or utter uselessness and meaninglessness. It is the Son's Yes to the Father, the Mother's Yes to the angel, because he carries God's Word..." (loving this book...)

An examination of conscience for tonight's Penance Service.

And the promise of a coming King.

O holy moment.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Why an Immaculate Conception.

This day a shoot came forth from the root of Jesse; this day Mary was conceived without any stain of sin; this day she crushed the head of the serpent.
(Traditional Antiphon, via Magnificat)

This antiphon really clarified today's solemnity for me. The amazing thing about the Immaculate Conception is that today we remember how a one-celled zygote--at the very moment Mary came into being--a tiny new person crushed the head of Satan. How audacious is that? (Only the Church would celebrate a one-celled person. This is one reason why I love being Catholic.)

Today, like the great feast of the Annunciation (when Christ became a one-celled zygote), we get a special glimpse into the mystery of God's will. The One who is Absolute Love--whose ways are beyond our ways--shows us it is his perfect will to defeat all evil and sin through the participation of a tiny person. Through Mary, who begins life today, He will take on flesh and make it possible for each one of us to take on divinity.

Celebrating a conception is truly odd. Celebrating the conception of God's mother is truly necessary. Necessary to knowing Him more.

But I was still having a hard time understanding why Mary was free of original sin. (Part of the answer is, of course, that she didn't have to be--Absolute Love does all sorts of unnecessary things.) Then Hans Urs von Balthasar gave me this:

"We [Christians] do not represent the proper measure of absolute love in human form to the world as isolated individuals. We do not have a monopoly on its spirit; we are merely failing members of a comprehensive whole who have been allowed to share in this spirit. Whatever is impure and fallible in us becomes immaculate and infallible in the innermost core of this whole.... As members [of the whole], we participate in the humility of the handmaid, in her perfect obedience to the Lord, to the extent that we are obedient as parts to her whole.... She is an essential step in the process of our integration on the way to the Parousia." ("Love as Deed," in Love Alone is Credible)

We don't do this alone. We can't become holy alone. God chose to place Mary, a singular woman preserved from original sin, on the way from what we are to what we must become. As we become more and more obedient to the Church--the whole of the Body of Christ--we become more and more one with Mary's own obedience to the whole of God's will. And that is the essential step in our salvation.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pain and the gift.

This is beautiful from A Holy Experience. Read the whole thing:

"I press my hand against the cold pane and feel December. I remember to breathe. I remember to smile. I prayed for a time such as this, with these children and this husband and this life, and I am tired and I am weary, but it comes and I can see its reflection in the window.

A smile.

Because there is no passing by this way again.

This labor and pain, it's part of receiving the gift."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Augustine on Prayer.

Fr. Cliff Ermatinger has compiled a little Q & A book on the practice of prayer according to St. Augustine, one of my favorite people of all time. St. Augustine Answers 101 Questions on Prayer is, not surprisingly, now on the bookshelf with my favorite basic prayer manuals. Fr. Ermatinger mostly acts as an editor, allowing the great saint to speak in his own words on the most fundamental questions about prayer: What is prayer? Why and when should I pray? How do we pray without ceasing?

Books on prayer usually turn me off. It always seems like we should stop talking about how to pray and just pray. But sometimes someone (usually a Doctor of the Church) writes something down that articulates perfectly what happens when we pray. It makes me want to pray more, pray more deeply.

Here are a few samples for your Advent stillness:

Where should I look for God? "It is difficult to find Christ in a crowd. Your mind needs a certain solitude, for it is only by this type of contemplative solitude that God is seen. A crowd has noise, yet this seeing requires secrecy ... Do not seek Christ in a crowd: He is not like one from among the crowd, for he excels every crowd."

What if I don't feel drawn to prayer? "No man comes unless he is drawn. There are those he draws and there are those he does not draw. Do not even consider why he draws one and why he does not draw another, if you do not want to err. Simply accept it and then understand ... There is no sea so deep as the thoughts of God, who makes evil men to flourish and the good to suffer -- nothing so profound, nothing so deep. And it is upon that deep, in that profundity that every unbelieving soul is wrecked. Do you want to cross over the deep? Then do not move away from the wood of Christ's cross. You shall not sink; just hold tight to Christ."

Is God merciful to all who call on him? "Consider well, bretheren, what good things God gives to sinners -- and then learn what he gives to his servants. To those sinners who blaspheme him every day, he gives sky and the earth, he gives springs, fruit, health, children, wealth, bounty. All these good things God alone can give. If he gives such as this to sinners, what must he have reserved for his faithful ones? No, not the earth, but heaven. But perhaps with 'heaven' I understate it; for he gives himself ... Heaven is beautiful, but even more beautiful is its Maker."

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company, and the reviewer received a free copy of the text in exchange for her opinion. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on St. Augustine Answers 101 Questions on Prayer.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

First Sunday of Advent: Finding a Virgin's Purity

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh: There shall come forth a star out of Jacob, And a sceptre shall rise out of Israel, And shall smite through the corners of Moab, And break down all the sons of tumult. ~Numbers 24:17

One of the perks of bedrest and the Internet Age is that I was able to get almost all Christmas shopping done before today. I've never begun Advent with so little need to focus on Christmas! My hope this year is to focus, for the first two weeks, on Christ's second coming and only then on remembering his nativity in Bethlehem.

Purity of heart means just that focus, that singularity of purpose. And so, this first week of Advent, I hope to desire only that one thing necessary--the face of God.

From this Sunday's Gospel:

"But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare; for it will come upon all who swell upon the face of the earth. But watch at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place and to stand before the Son of Man." ~ Luke 21: 34-36

Drunkenness is not currently my biggest temptation, but dissipation--the spending of my mind and time on empty pursuits--aLinknd the cares of this life--one translation mentions "daily anxieties"--are certainly things I must pray to escape. I cannot avoid them on my own. But the quiet and waiting of Advent are a gift given to provide us with the strength and peace we will need to stand before the Creator and Judge.

Advent in my heart is this singleness of purpose, the Virgin's purity: I wait only for One, the Son of Man. God alone inspires my longing. "I shall see him, but not now..."

And check out the Abbess at St. Walburga. She wrote a beautiful address to her dear sisters on just this theme. Thanks to the Anchoress!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thankgiving Day to all you Americans. May the others all enjoy a beautiful Thursday. There is so much to be grateful for in our little family: We are all together again at last, and will enjoy a few days of rest in New England before resuming life in our home in the South.

May the Lord of abundance and mercy be in your homes this weekend. See you for the Advent kickoff...

Painting by NC Wyeth, from Pilgrims

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christ the King

The Lamb who was slain is worthy to receive strength and divinity, wisdom and power and honor...

At the end of the liturgical year, we remember that Christ is king. It was delightful to read Benedict XVI in Magnificat this morning--it sort of gave a direction to my thoughts on obedience.

"The feast of Christ the King is therefore not a feast of those who are subjugated, but a feast of those who know that they are in the hands of the one who writes straight with crooked lines."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rehabilitiating obedience.

Needless to say, obedience gets a bad rap in our culture. It's as if our country spent the 60's and 70's shaking off authority, tradition, subjection, and obedience--some of which really had to go--and now can't salvage the beauty and strength of these disciplines. We got rid of the 50's suburban housewife thing, and also lost the way men and women can complement each other in a home. We were liberated from all sorts of harmful prejudices (real and imagined), and now can't find any reason for the only legitimate prejudice, a horror of sin.

But for the past few months I've been noticing the prevalence of obedience in the Scriptures. What I call "obedience words" also pop up repeatedly: subdued, subjection, authority, to reign. I've also noticed how happy the writers of Scripture seem about all this subduing. These are from the past week's Magnificat morning prayer sessions:

Paul: "Do you not know," he cries, "that if you present yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, of the one you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?" (Romans 6: 16)

And again, "When everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the One who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all." (I Corinthians 15:28)

David (or whoever wrote Psalm 47): "The Lord, the Most High, we must fear, great king over all the earth."

Then, of course, there's the whole "obedience to other people" motif. Wives, be subordinate to your husbands. Children, honor your parents. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. Those can be a bit harder to swallow, because although God may give these other people authority over me, I may not find their edicts palatable all the time. Don't I know better?

The first observation in order seems to be this: Human beings are an obeying sort of thing. That means that, just by virtue of being human, we are going to live in subjection to something. The second point is this: Also by virtue of being human, we get to choose to whom we subject ourselves.

That choice will either make us happy beyond all comprehension, leave us dissatisfied and wanting more, OR make us perfectly wretched and miserable.

For example, I am currently subject (among other pregnancy cravings) to Lime Tostito Chips. Wow. I just have to be munching on lime-flavor-dusted chips every ten minutes. And they leave me wanting more chips. Then I want more. I'm never full when I am obedient to the Lime Tostitos.

I have in the past chosen to be obedient to a debilitating frustration with a college roommate. Oh, that was a tough year. I was wretchedly miserable just thinking about going back to the room. I hated the way she hummed, talked on the phone, and dressed--it was like sandpaper on my soul. That was bad obedience, and it was my choice.

But there is one obedience that has given my endless joy: "Lord, I come to do your will." Subjection to God, and to God through the "righteous authorities" around me, is so much more fundamental than obedience to Lime Tostitos or to personal grudges. It is so fundamental, in fact, that it makes all the other slaveries--to sin and to weakness--seem small and silly. God subjects all the other authorities in my life to himself, and those that are found wanting he offers to take away.

I suppose that is why the persecuted Christians all over the world find so much joy in suffering for Christ. They may be frustrated day-to-day, being unable to raise their children in the faith or profess their beliefs openly, but they know they are not ultimately subject to anyone but God.

I'd like to end this now--the rambling must cease. I am subject to the authority of my children's needs, after all. And that obedience has certainly been a gift and a joy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dead Poets Month V

I've never included Thomas Aquinas in Dead Poets Month, because I have a hard time with translations in general. But Gerard Manley Hopkins was a poet par excellence, and his translation of Adoro Te Devote is itself a masterpiece. Below the text is a clip of the Latin in chant.

Adoro Te Devote
St. Thomas Aquinas

trans. Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God's Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there's nothing true.

On the cross thy godhead made no sign to men,
Here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The sky begins to clear...

Hi, mom. I got bigger while you were pregnant.

It's about time for an update on the pregnancy. I've just started feeling those first flutters of a new life--wow. I forget each time how strange it is to suddenly feel that little person whose life has thrown our lives into such change so quickly and who is so worth the price.

And I am coming back to life! It is like rising from the dead to suddenly wake up one morning and want a pickle and mustard sandwich. With a side of Lime Tostitos. Then, a few nights later, I had to have Mu Shu beef (you know, the cabbage stir-fry with the little pancakes and soy sauce). And so on. By November 7, I was eating three meals per day and down to two doses of the medication.

The clouds lifted, the sun shone through, and the world was renewed.

My mother has been so wonderful--reminding me to go slowly, don't push it too fast. She still does all diapers and the cooking, which lets me just play with the girls. Oh! To play with one's own children! To return from the dead.

Of course, returning to life is not without its bumps. When I rejoined my parents at dinner about a week ago, my 4-year-old promptly decided to see if Mommy was really "in charge" now. Haha. Yes, dear, I am still in charge here. And the past three days I've realized that the 15-month-old I left in August is now an 18-month-old who plays new games, has new words I don't really understand, and professes her newfound opinions with healthy vigor.

I have great trepidation on the one hand: We return to our home in the Deep South (and to our dearest Scientist Dad) on December 1st. The tickets are bought, the time draws near. Can I really do this? Grocery shopping, laundry, diapers, discipline, cooking... What will happen when it's just me and the girls and this bulging belly all day? What if...?

But surely the lesson of severe illness is that all such fear, while natural, must be put aside with the other childish things. There is no "what if" in God's plan, and he can amply provide for our struggle to follow his will. All those little tasks will come on one (or two or three!) at a time, and I'm sure the times will come when my heart and body will break. But all will be most well. Hasn't he shown me that already these past three months?

Show me, again, Lord. Show me again and again and again.

Dead Poets Month IV

So melancholy. So November.

He Remembers Forgotten Beauty
~William Butler Yeats

When my arms wrap you round I press
My heart upon the loveliness
That has long faded from the world;
The jewelled crowns that kings have hurled
In shadowy pools, when armies fled;
The love-tales wrought with silken thread
By dreaming ladies upon cloth
That has made fat the murderous moth;
The roses that of old time were
Woven by ladies in their hair,
The dew-cold lilies ladies bore
Through many a sacred corridor
Where such grey clouds of incense rose
That only God's eyes did not close:
For that pale breast and lingering hand
Come from a more dream-heavy land,
A more dream-heavy hour than this;
And when you sigh from kiss to kiss
I hear white Beauty sighing, too,
For hours when all must fade like dew,
But flame on flame, and deep on deep,
Throne over throne where in half sleep,
Their swords upon their iron knees,
Brood her high lonely mysteries.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dead Poets Month III

Here is a lovely translation (from this website) of Rilke's Love Song. I love the line "Whose are the hands that play our unison?"

Love Song
Rainer Maria Rilke

How shall I hold my soul and yet not touch
Or stir it with your own? How shall I place
It clear of you to anything beyond?
How gladly I would stow it next to such
Things in the darkness as will not be found
Down in an alien and silent space
That does not resonate when you resound.
But everything that stirs us, me and you,
Takes us together like a bow when two
Taut strings are stroked into the voice of one.
What instrument have we been lain along?
Whose are the hands that play our unison?
What a sweet song!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Categorical impossibilities.

Have you ever had one of those conversations when, having been accused of thinking something so ridiculously opposite to what you have been thinking, you simply have nothing to say in your defense? It happened to me today.

The particular outcome, however, was not in the end rage or frustration (although I worked through those in turn). In this case, it is gratitude and joy.

You see, the accusation was that the Church and, praise God, by extension I was being judgmental. I was "putting people at the back of the bus," making the call about who was "inadequte or adequate, worth or unworthy, good or bad." The situation was intensely personal, rife with emotions and long-held wounds spilling over.

And as I listened to the accusation, all I could think was, "Whaaaa?" It was tempting--the Temptor was very present today--to take it all personally and lash back. Suddenly, however, a light seemed to break into my heart and mind: There was no need to explain myself. The answer and the healing wasn't in me at all. The answer happened long ago and far away.
Here's what I mean: It struck me that these categories--inadequate and adequate, worthy, unworthy, judgmental, nonjudgmental, etc...--simply have no place at all in our hearts anymore. The message of the Cross is that we are all unworthy, inadequate, and fallen. And we are all redeemed and invited into the resurrection. I don't have to make that call--I indeed cannot make that call ever again.

And so my only response was, "No. You are mistaken. You see, in Jesus I believe that these categories you've constructed---they are no more. They do not exist for me, or for the Church. There is only God's judgment, when truth and mercy shall meet, justice and peace shall kiss."

When you think about it, that is only a cause for joy. To look those labels in the face, to ask the question, "Who is worthy?" and to answer, "We are not worthy. But we are loved." Let us live in the light of love.

Then all the "rules" and laws that seem to pass judgment on us and show us our failures (when have I ever kept the Law?) become avenues, not of His censure, but of His grace. Because I am fallen, because I am inadequate, He is all and everything in me. As Psalm 119 cries, "The law of the Lord is my delight," even when it seems hard. It is never hard, for He is full of mercy.

Another Easter alleluia.

*NB: When I speak of the Church, I refer, of course, to her divine nature--not forgetting that she is made, too, of sinners as grossly offensive as I.*

Dead Poets Month II

I found this snippet from Pope (not the pope, just Pope) quite funny and self-revealing. It is very true that, where I find my own natural self lacking I make up for it with ample pride.
from "An Essay on Criticism"

Of all the Causes which conspire to blind
Man's erring judgment, and misguide the mind,
What weak head with strongest bias rules,
Is Pride, the never-failing vice of fools.
Whatever nature has in worth deny'd,
She gives in large recruits of needful Pride;
For as in bodies, thus in souls, we find
What wants in blood and spirits, swell'd with wind:
Pide, where Wit fails, steps in to our defence,
And fills up all the mighty Void of sense.
If once right reason drives that cloud away,
Truth breaks upon us with resistless day.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dead Poets Month I

I always celebrate November with poetry. Piles of years and books on philosophy have failed to give me more sense of the meaning of life and death than a really good poem (though the best philosophers often write like poets--Pascal, Augustine). So, the month of the dead is "Dead Poets Month."

To start us off, some Lithuanian remnants. (If YOU have a favorite dead poet, let me know!)

On the Road, Czeslaw Milosz

To what summoned? And to whom? blindly, God almighty,
through horizons of woolly haze.

Fata morganas of coppery scales on the fortresses of
maritime provinces.

Through a smoke of vines burning over creekbeds or through
the blue myrrh of dimmed churches,

To the unattainable, small valley, shaded forever by words,
where the two of us, naked and kneeling, are cleansed by an
unreal spring.

Without the apple of knowledge, on long loops from earth to
sky, from sky to the dried blood of potter's soil.

Disinherited of prophecies, eating bread at noon under a
tall pine stronger than any hope.

(St.-Paul-de-Vence, 1967)

Image: CD Friedrich, Man and Woman Contemplating Over the Moon

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Saints Day.

This is right up there with my all-time favorite feast days. It is the ultimate "Christmas morning togetherness" day--recalling our greatest hope and greatest treasure in heaven. In the light of the saints we see Light itself.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"Open to life."

Since beginning a second journey through an HG pregnancy, I have often felt almost removed, like a spectator to some gigantic upheaval in my family. My body, also, seems other most of the time (probably thanks to the meds keeping me hydrated). It is as if I'm not the one carrying any cross, but rather the one forever being carried.

This has given me a new perspective on the Church's teaching that we be "open to life." The emphasis with the teaching is usually that each conjugal act be open or that married couple be open.

But it's much more than that.

In our experience, being "open to life" has affected each and every family member and most of our closest friends. Everyone has sacrificed for this new little life and (thanks be to God) everyone looks forward to meeting the "new one."

My parents, happily married for almost 32 years and empty-nesters for 3 years, have taken two very energetic small children into their care. 24-7 care. Not to mention footing the grocery bills for an 18-month-old who eats like an adolescent male.

The Scientist's parents have given up weekends and evenings to help out my parents.

Back home, our employers, friends, neighbors and doctors have been outstandingly generous with their time and flexibility. And most of all: prayers.

This pregnancy exemplifies what healthcare should look like--openness to life, eagerness to serve, and understanding hearts full of encouragement and wisdom.

Being "open to life" is a call, I have found, to every single one of us. It is a love of God's own plan, not just for one couple's happiness and joy and sacrifice, but also for everyone around them.

We are filled with joy.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Mercy Minutes

My latest sampling from The Catholic Company (Mr. Government, I received a free copy of this book in return for this review) was Mercy Minutes: Daily Gems of St. Faustina to Transform Your Prayer Life. Compiled by the Rev. George W. Kisocki, CSB, it offers two or three short quotes from the Diary of St. Faustina for each day of the year.

Be warned: Faustina is intense. "Nothing disturbs my peace." "O Jesus, my heart stops beating when I think of you!" "I do not know how to love partially!" There were days when I would read the excerpts, eyebrows raised, and shelve it with an exasperated sigh. But that tells you more about my weaknesses than about the book.

This would be a great companion prayer-book for those of us with little time and who find brief excerpts inspiring and motivating. I have to admit that I prefer the whole thing--just buy the Diary! But that is 800 pages of overwhelming love; this smaller book is a good way to get to know Faustina a little more slowly.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Mercy Minutes.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Opening the doors: UPDATE

Today's announcement and reports of Benedict XVI's big fat "Welcome!" to the Anglican communities seeking full communion with Rome: Very Exciting. From what I understand, which may or may not be clear, the Church--in a new Apostolic Constitution, which is in itself a Big Deal--is opening the doors in an unprecedented way to full and visible communion for those who love Peter and also love the Anglican liturgy and (little-t) traditions.

I'll let the Anchoress do the reporting while I sit in my recliner and give thanks. Ut unum sint.

UPDATE: Creative Minority Report has its share of comments, too. Hilarious.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

An angle: "Every sperm is sacred."

The Anchoress dug into her archives today and re-posted a 2005 entry: Every Sperm is Sacred. It's a great, lay (as she insists on framing it) explanation of the Catholic Church's teaching on this whole fertility thing. She puts it in her usual, humorous way, which I find gentle and others find abrasive.

The best bit is when she ties the sort of Thomistic "ends-means/essence-final end" explanation to the Whole Point: openness to God's will. A tidbit:

"One of the jobs of the church is to help us find our openness to God – to help us to maintain that openness to His will, so that we might reach our own best and highest spiritual potential; we are not called to dwell in darkness but to live in the light, and in holiness. We are called to holiness: “Be holy as my Father in heaven is Holy.”

Holiness is not something that we can compartmentalize.
If we are holy, it is a permeation of our entire being, and our holiness will be reflected in all that we do, in our every action and choice, and the path to holiness begins with an openness to God, in whom we live and move and have our being. If holiness is our quest, there can then be no limits to our openness.

This is not a difficult thing to understand, at all. It is difficult in practice, but the church is not here to baby us along and make the roads wide and smooth. Christ told us the way is narrow, and not easy. What was it Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Quite right."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Teresa of Avila, October 15th

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Teresa of Avila, one the great Doctors of our faith. Reading her Interior Mansions was one of the great steps of my, as of many others', conversion, and I am grateful to remember her each year. One of her most beloved prayers for you today:

Let nothing disturb you
Let nothing affright you.
All things are passing.
God never changeth.
Patient endurance attaineth all things.
Who God possesseth
Nothing is wanting.
God alone sufficeth. Amen.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Self-control and obedience.

Magnificat had a splendid, if predictably opaque, little meditation by Hans Urs von Balthasar today. It struck me particularly as I wrestle with a few sickness-related demons. But first, the quote:

"Christ's act of creating space in himself for God is not self-mastery, but is itself already obedience, an obedience willing to take on whatever task the 'ever greater Father' gives."

He's drawing a profound distinction here between self-mastery and obedience, which is at the heart of our relationship to Christ, "who became obedient to death, even death on a cross." The difference is that in self-mastery I am the one doing great things, I am the one accomplishing the will of the Father. In obedience, however, it is not I but Christ living in me. Obedience is not only the perfect imitation of Jesus himself, but is also the forgetting of myself even to death.

This distinction has been driven home to me these past weeks (almost months now) of illness. Early on, the demon that plagued my heart was fear: "How can I do this again? What if I have to go through this three more times? Five more times? I can't do this!" I had multiple people telling me that we were being so obedient to the Church, so open to life, so brave. But their encouragement was a burden to my tiny, contracted heart: "What if I give in? What if we're not obedient to death?" And I cannot tell you how all of the sudden the world became full of women saying, "Oh, three is enough for me" or "I was done at two."

And it was all wrong. You see, I was trying to be strong and trying to master my fear. I thought that Todd and I had to do it. Buckle down, folks, and bear your cross! It was all wrong.

When it comes to these intimate and (sometimes) frightening invitations from God--especially the invitation to accept our fertility in all its seeming brokenness--He doesn't ask us to show how brave and strong we are. All he asks is obedience, a simple yes. Letting him come and do it for me. Is three enough for me? It doesn't matter, because that's wrong question. The only prayer that matters is this: "Lord Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner. All of you is more that enough for me." All he has for us is enough for us.

Obedience unto death, even death on a cross. The willing heart will simply say, "Do in me whatever task the Father has given." And he will do it. Not me.

An Easter Alleluia.

Monday, October 5, 2009

All six.

So, you may (or may not) wonder how it's going here in preggersville.

The good news is: 1) the baby is still fine and happily sucking away in the womb; 2) the girls love living at my parents' house; 3) my mother is surviving a new shot at stay-at-home-mommyhood.

And I am 9 weeks and 1 day along. This is no sprint to the finish, though. I've been sick now for about 5 weeks, and if Isabella's gestation was any precedent, have about 9 more weeks of this to go. I move like an 85-year-old and eat like the pickiest 4-year-old. I've lost about 12 pounds so far--though on bad days it's more like 15 because of dehydration. Today's a good day, so I think I'll eat a popsicle!

Deep thoughts have included, "Wow. Dorothy Sayers was a genius," "St. ________ (fillintheblank), pray for us!" and "One day at a time." Sometimes I hum Johnny Cash, "And it burns, burns, buuurrnnssss, that ring of fi-yer!"

One deep blessing this weekend: My home parish church--St. Matthew/Holy Trinity--offered the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick at the Saturday evening Mass. My dad, dear and glorious physician that he is, took me along. I realized that now I have received all six sacraments for which I'm eligible at this one little church building: Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Confession, Holy Matrimony, and this Anointing. Such a humble little building, with such banal and offensive music, and one of my favorite crucifixes.... and so much grace. God does not withhold any blessing from our lives.

In spite of emptiness, the good Lord visited my heart on Saturday: "My yoke is easy, my burden is light." Whatever that means, it is good. I'll think about it later, and just love it right now.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Love, God, and Lies.

Amy Welbourn says it beautifully: Belief in God is no pie-in-the-sky ticket to inner peace. Let's keep it real, people.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Friday, September 25, 2009

When to pray.

I'd forgotten something from my pregnancy with Isabella--during which I also battled HG: It is not a spiritual retreat. When you're very sick, there are few consolations in prayer. Although it is a privilege to suffer for a little person, it is also all-consuming. I'll have to remember this: Pray when you are healthy, so that when you are sick you can just be sick. If you are never healthy again, then rest in knowing that prayer--at least as you have known it--is not necessary. Only emptiness and a glance is necessary.

St. Therese reminded me the other day, via an article in First Things, that suffering is not ecstasies and flights of romantic passion. It is simply to be in pain--but not alone.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Just for fun.

This is about what my brain is capable of right now. It reminds me of how awesome my husband has been. Not only has he NOT said any of the below-mentioned phrases, but he has also spent all night awake in a hospital triage room, cleaned up various vomit, forced me to keep sipping, and somehow kept the children alive, too. This one's for you, sweets.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Valley of the Shadow.

For those of you finding out via the blogosphere over your morning coffee, my apologies! We found out that we're expecting our newest little philosopher around mid-May of 2010. We are thrilled and can't wait to meet this new, irreplaceable little person.

In the meantime, however, the Philosopher Mom will be battling a few months worth of hyperemesis gravidarum. Your prayers are much needed and greatly appreciated as we pack up our little ones, ship us off to the grandparents, and leave the Scientist Dad behind to cry over his beakers. (He'll probably have some fun times, too!)

Blogging will be light, but a sometime escape. Until we meet again, keep your eyes fixed on the True, the Good, and the Beautiful!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day.

It seems oddly appropriate on "Labor" Day (for us Americans, anyway!) to ponder the event that leads in most cases to labor: conception. Sara Fox Peterson at has a good article on the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception. In particular, she addresses whether a couple with a "medical reason" may in good conscience use a drug or treatment that will result in sterilization. The answer, of course, is "yes": If the drug is not specifically designed for the sole purpose of contracepting. Then she notes this challenging quote from John Paul II:

Contraception is to be judged so profoundly unlawful as to be never, for any reason, justified. To think or to say the contrary is equal to maintaining that in human life, situations may arise in which it is lawful not to recognize God as God.” (Pope John Paul II – Osservatore Romano, October, 10, 1983)

That is, the Church's teaching on contraception is not about who we are, our male and female parts, the hang-ups of old white guys in the Vatican... It is about who God is.

The Scientist Dad and I partook of a Planet Earth marathon yesterday. What we couldn't get over was how prolific creation is. Even in the most hostile environments, there is life in one bizarre form or another. Not only is there life everywhere, but everywhere life is bent on reproducing. Metabolize and reproduce. That's about it. The God who made all that--from the cave fish to the snow leopords, from the cicadas to the great redwoods--is clearly the sort of Being who loves life. The God who is God alone made us, too, along with our rather stange system of reproduction. To recognize God as God is to stand in profound awe of that power.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Blessed Mother Teresa

Somehow "Blessed Teresa of Calcutta" hasn't caught on yet--she is still "Mother Teresa" twelve years after her death. Today is her anniversary, and I wanted to remember her as one of the greatest thinkers I have ever read. But she would think that silly: instead, she is one of the greatest mothers of our time.

Here is a beautiful memorial piece from First Things: "She silenced even a Jesuit who joked that she seemed to be getting smaller: “Yes, and I must get smaller until I am small enough to fit into the heart of Jesus.”"

Friday, September 4, 2009

Peace on a Friday.

In spite of nightmares about H1N1, restless toddler, and exceptionally clingy 4-year-old, all is most well. Have a beautiful weekend sharing in your little part of the eternal peace.
Pillar of Cloud
~John Henry Newman

LEAD, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,—
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet! I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years!

So long thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

In the best of company.

The Anchoress has up a stirring post profiling several priests of recent (in Churchyears) memory. My prayer is hers: "Grant us more such gifts, O Lord." No philosophy can alone account for such men.

Thanks to Melanie at Wine Dark Sea!

Be Holy.

Fr. Thomas G. Morrow gives a beautiful and practical introduction to Catholic spirituality with Be Holy: A Catholic's Guide to the Spiritual Life. The blurb on the back is a little lofty and completely turned me off at first: "Be Holy is the guide you'll need to achieve holiness now and heaven later." Gargh.

But immediately, the author himself makes it clear that what you need in order to become holy is Truth, grace, and large doses of the sacramental life of the Church. Much more up my alley.

I was particularly struck by Morrow's decision to open with a goo 30 pages on what he calls the "motivations for holiness"--why should we want to be holy, anyway? He goes right the four Last Things: the delight of heaven (which he describes mostly in terms of a "divine marriage"), the reality of Hell, the suffering of purgatory, and the pursuit of happiness here on earth. It is a phenomenal chapter--I learned a lot about the meaning of purgatory for example. And it's a great opportunity to see a diocesan priest writing about these things. I haven't heard the word "purgatory" at Mass in at least 5 years (the last time I remember it was as a joke about the Baltimore Catechism).

It's great motivation.

He also offers eminently practical guidelines--taken from the great spiritual directors of the Church's history--for growth in holiness. He lists and explains the different categories of virtues, the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, to name a few. The language is simple and straightforward, with many anecdotes from real people's lives to illustrate the concepts.

This book is probably the best introduction to the Whole Catholic Thing I've seen in a long time. I hope to use it in some way with OCIA (RCIA) this year, and would highly recommend it for anyone who wants to learn more about what it means to be Catholic.
This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Be Holy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bones and sinews.

I'm slogging through, er, writing a brief talk for a neuroscience class under the dubious title assigned to me): "What philosophy can do for neuroscience." Sigh. I'm off my game here, but Plato (being dead) never is. I came across a wonderful bit from the Phaedo that certainly helped me withstand materialist reductions.

When Socrates asked why he was sitting in the jail awaiting trial, he noted that Anaxagoras would have told him that he sat there because his limbs bent at the joints, his sinews stretched, and his rear touched the seat which was in the jail. In other words, Anaxagoras would have explained it all in terms of his body parts.

Socrates’s answer speaks to us today as we hear things like, "Well, the neurons explain away free will."

"By the dog, I think these sinews and bones could long ago have been in Megara or among the Boetians, taken there by my belief as to the best course, if I had not thought it more right and honorable to endure whatever penalty the city ordered rather than escape and run away. To call those things—sinews, bones, joints, sockets—causes is too absurd. If someone said that without bones and sinews and all such things, I should be able to do what I decided, he would be right, but surely to say that they are the cause of what I do, and not that I have chosen the best course, even though I act with my mind, is to speak very lazily and carelessly. Imagine not being able to distinguish the real cause from that without which the cause would not be able to act as a cause!” (Phaedo, 98e-99b)

He then goes on to a brilliant philosophical discourse on the immortality of the soul, asking all the deepest questions of our longings and attempting to grasp at answers that take account of all he knows—his body, his thoughts, his country, his upbringing, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

And it is a bumbling brilliancy—as all such grapplings are. And Socrates would laugh at neurophilosophy's confidence that soon, at last, knowing the whole of the brain, we will understand ourselves. For we will understand only a little something of a much greater whole. And, without the reference to the whole, the material part will lose its certainty, for it will lose its context.

As Socrates knew, it is only in appeal to all things—seen and unseen—that the satisfaction of our deepest, and philosophical, questions even begin to emerge into the light.

Monday, August 24, 2009


This greeted me in the inbox this morning. Pope Paul VI seems to follow my dear friend Tracy around. He haunted her with a quote from "Evangelization of the Modern World" this weekend. I love how his definition of witness does two things: (1) it binds Christians to the reality of the Church while at the same time (2) embracing all vocations, states of life, and daily actions in its scope.

"Above all, the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness. Take a Christian or a handful of Christians, who in the midst of their own community, show their capacity for understanding and acceptance, their sharing of life and destiny with other people, their solidarity with the efforts of all for whatever is noble and good. Let us suppose that, in addition, they radiate in an altogether simple and unaffected way their faith in values that go beyond current values, and their hope in something not seen and that one would not dare to imagine. Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live. Here we have the initial act of evangelization." ~Paul VI

Friday, August 21, 2009

People of the word.

Here's a great little reflection piece of advice from I Take Joy:

"Do not fill your schedules with unnecessary activities and lists of textbooks and unnecessary busy work--it will wear you out and demotivate your children. Instead, delight in great stories, teach the word passionately. Greatly value and treasure words and ideas and history in front of your children so that they will fall in love with language and knowledge."

Children are already so motivated to greatness... this is easy for them and harder for us. My discipline and self-control--with regards to media, book choices, and time management--will bear exponential amounts of fruit in the girls. Motivation to keep going.

What Cinderella does for me.

Miriam is intensely inhabiting her imagination these days, her favorite personas being Cinderella, the Queen of Heaven, Mrs. Tittlemouse, and Snow White. Note that of the four favorites, three are notorious for their cleaning skills. Hence my joy.

Miriam: "Mummy. I cannot go to the ball until the windows are washed and the laundry folded."

Me: "That's right." (I'm the "mean mother.")

Miriam: "Please, please, let me wash your windows."

And she did. For 30 minutes. Not spotless, but I can live with a four-year-old princess who does her chores.

Thank you, Cinderella.