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.