Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Loser Letters.

I have the distinct privilege of being back on the book review wagon this month. Mary Eberstadt's The Loser Letters: A Comic Tale of Life, Death, and Atheism was simply the Best Way to begin again. You must read this book. Period.

"Witty satire" doesn't even touch what Eberstadt does in this series of letters from "A.F. Christian" (as in, "A Former") to the "Brights," her term for the Hitchens, Dawkins, and other spokesmen of the so-called "New Atheism." A.F. is the self-proclaimed numero uno convert to atheism, although she has some issues with the way these spokesmen market it to the masses. Her ten letters are intended to point out atheism's weak spots in order to improve the Bright influence.

Along the way, she addresses sex (!), Christian converts from atheism, the problem of families and children, abortion, and that nagging human guilt-complex. A.F. takes shots (albeit admiring shots) at famous Dulls (aka, Christians) from George Weigel to GEM Anscombe, from Whittaker Chambers to GK Chesterton, from John Paul II to Michaelangelo, all the while actually showcasing their genius. She draws directly from current culture (although the book is already dating itself with references to Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell--oops!) and makes hilarious use of BFF, LOL, and TTFN, etc.

Even the chapter titles are hilarious: "Chapter One: The Trouble With Experience" and "Query: Do Atheists Know any Women, Children, or Families?"

But the best part is, or course, finishing for the first time. I laughed out loud for eight chapters and then cried uncontrollably (could have been the hormones, but I think not). You will have to read it to see why.

Teasers: Discover whether Jesus or Satan is a midget! Find out why I want to be Mary Eberstadt someday!

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 The Loser Letters.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Another thought.

"My nature sometimes rebels ... when there are difficult things to be done, but my determination to suffer for this great God never wavers, so I ask Him not to pay any heed to these feelings of weakness, but to command me to do what He pleases, and, with His help, I shall not fail to do it..."

~Teresa of Avila, Camino

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A thought.

from Job 5.17-18

Happy is the man whom God reproves!
The Almighty's chastening do not reject.
For he wounds, but he binds up,
he smites, but his hands give healing.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Great book: And There Was Light.

Sounds like a manual for Kabbalah: And There Was Light. But it's actually one of the best books I've read on WWII, the resistance, and concentration camp survivors.

This promises to become a classic. Lusseyran, with exquisite language, tells the almost-fairy-tale of how, after being blinded in an accident at the age of eight, he grew to become one of the leaders of the Resistance. The story itself is a cliff-hanger (strangely, since of course he survives), but he also gives a profound portrait of the life of the blind. He could see in ways that we with eyes cannot--he could see colors for people, able to tell instinctively their true character and motives hidden even to the men themselves. His friends would rely on him for direction in life as well as on the streets of Paris. Finally, he survived the worst of the concentration camps--the "special" hospitals for the unfit--and he did so with joy and humor.

A must-read. I would quote it endlessly, but I already returned it to its owner.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A good question.

Miriam: "Mommy. You know how the angel killed all those first born Egyptians?"

Me: (cleaning up baby spit-up while doling out gold fish. whole grain, of course) "Uh. Yep."

Miriam: "Well, were they good babies or bad babies?"

Me: (oh, geeesh.) "Uh. Well. You know, God had a plan for those babies. We just don't always understand it."

Miriam: "Oh. Well, I do."

Good. You can write the book.

And that was the third time we had that conversation today.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Seriously ouch.

I've been reading St. Josemaria Escriva's The Way, a collection of fragments of his spiritual writing. It's perfect for my brain-state. But here is last night's tid-bit:

"675. It's true that he was a sinner. But don't pass so final a judgment. Have pity in your heart and don't forget that he may yet be an Augustine, while you remain just another mediocrity."

Whew. That's the best reason for "judge not" I've heard in a long while. And the best reason to remain humble.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Saving the Boomers.

Barbara Nicolosi (thanks, Anchoress!) has a provocative piece up at Patheos. She describes the aging baby boomer generation without any sugar coating:

"Boomers today are a very unentertaining mix of "Never regret! Life starts at 70!" and "Life is a cruel joke, ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.'" Movies like It's Complicated showcase a bunch of grey hairs still acting badly, swallowing their shame, and ignoring their appropriate role as the wise mentors of the younger generations. The Dorian Greyish dark echo of this kind of story, are movies like There Will Be Blood and the chillingly titled No Country for Old Men, in which the characters' lives of narcissism and greed devolve into cynicism and brutality."

To be fair, the boomers did bring along the civil rights movement and ... well, that's about all I can think of. Oh, the charismatic movement in the Church and Christian communities. That was a good thing. My parents are of the younger end of that generation and, still having been in grade school, escaped the worst madness of 1968 and beyond. They enjoyed the more grounded evangelical end of the Jesus freaks. Praise you, Lord.

Nicolosi has a chilling warning for the older boomers:

"History is devastatingly cyclical. The Boomers made the case that they should end their marriages and abort their children for the God Expediency. Their children, stripped of any attachment to a moral framework, will eye the old grey hairs, drooling and in diapers -- but certainly still sneering -- and consider expedient "Death with Dignity" to be a sensible and pragmatic policy."

While I certainly don't think many individual members of my generation will make a cold calculation to kill mom and dad since mom and dad killed their siblings and divorced, I have no doubt that such a cultural trend is possible. Like the characters in Juno, which Nicolosi references, our peers will stumble vaguely toward either a cowardly morphine shot or else to a heroic care for the parents who ruined their young lives. The choice will hardly be virtuous or vicious: We have simply not received the formation that would make us really culpable for our choices.

Here, I think Nicolosi gets it right:

"I suspect the only way to reach the Millennials and Gen Xers, from a spiritual standpoint, will be with a powerful, renewed ethic of the value of suffering and the urgent need for forgiveness. We need hero stories perhaps more urgently than any generation of humanity that has come before."

I certainly know that I have a great need to forgive the boomer generation--there are days I find it nearly impossible, mostly because the true boomers in my life who made such devastating choices simply deny that they did anything wrong. How do you forgive the unrepentant? Christ did from the cross. It must be done, and it must be done in him.

I'm thinking about hero stories a lot as I prepare to teach Miriam this year. Nicolosi's historical analysis here convicts me that she and her sisters will have plenty of opportunities to emulate the heroes of old. But more on that later... heroism calls me to change another diaper.

Friday, July 16, 2010

July 16-- Our Lady of Mount Carmel

A blessed feast day to the entire Carmelite family.

“The sign of the Scapular nourishes the devotion of believers and makes them sensitive to the Virgin Mother's loving presence in their lives. The Scapular is essentially a 'habit'. Those who receive it are associated with the Order of Carmel and dedicate themselves to the service of Our Lady for the good of the whole Church.

“Therefore two truths are evoked by the sign of the Scapular:

- the constant protection of the Blessed Virgin, not only on life's journey but also at the moment of passing into the fullness of eternal glory

- the awareness that devotion to Mary cannot be limited to prayers and tributes in her honor on certain occasions, but must become a 'habit', that is, a permanent orientation of one's own Christian conduct, woven of prayer and interior life, through frequent reception of the sacraments and the concrete practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.”

(from the message of John Paul II
to the Carmelite Family
on the 750th anniversary
of the bestowal of the Scapular)

Via the Savannah Carmel.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Prayer and narrative and learning to pray.

The past two months have been mad. As in, crazy mad. The pregnancy broke my body, the baby continues to break our bodies with the late-night feedings and unpredictable sleep patterns. The move broke our hearts as we left dear friends and the laurels of graduations and set out for the aptly named Pioneer Valley. And I could go on and on... but a post dripping with self-pity wouldn't capture the reality of the last weeks.

Because, I realized early one morning, our lives and their happenings are only real, are only reality, from the point of view of eternity. What is really going on in our lives, our hearts, is part of a much larger narrative. It is the peculiar story of our Maker drawing us back inexorably to himself.

And so, if I am to begin to tell the story of Ana Therese's first two months of life, I will have to begin with the story of a prayer.

Prayer has been a hot topic lately. Elizabeth Foss ends her Velveteen Me series with thoughts on prayer. She wonders if we are meant to think in narrative, as bloggers tend to do. No, she says, we are meant to think in prayer: "I think we're supposed to think--or not think-- in prayer. Thinking in narrative focuses our minds and our hearts on ourselves. Living a one-piece life of genuine prayer focuses both heart and mind on God."

Melanie responds. "But I also think that we were made to think in narrative. That is precisely how I think we were meant to think because that is the way God most often speaks to us, has spoken to us. It starts with In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth and it ends with the wedding feast of the Lamb."

She ponders the long narrative of Scripture and the story-telling Psalms. Prayer and a life story cannot be so easily distinguished, and I would agree. I think of the story of the Chosen People and I remember also Augustine's Confessions and Newman's Apologia. Both men reflected on their life's narrative and put it into an eternal perspective. Then they offered it to God with glad thanksgiving, and it became a prayer. The prayer of saints.

Then I found Evolgia again. Although she has been through enormous pain recently and was forced to take down her vast homeschooling resources, her thoughts on motherhood are still up. These words are what have blessed me the most from her blog. (I actually like the quiet of her site now.) She wrote, late in her latest pregnancy, of how she was pushed to the edge of sanity (it seemed) by nausea and exhaustion. Good, said her spiritual father, now you can learn to pray. Those words stopped me for days.

Now I can learn to pray.

I have always been a woman of prayer. At least, I talked about prayer to myself a lot. I have talked to God regularly my whole life. But motherhood and, in particular, this third child and the circumstances of her birth have stripped me of most of what I thought was prayer, what I thought was righteousness, what I thought I wanted. My daily story changed so radically that I hardly recognized myself. How could I pray when so much was gone so suddenly and when I was, well, just so darned tired? The narrative was, and still is, so broken and so fragmented. So was I. So am I.

But I have never prayed so deeply and with so little consolation. I say that objectively--there's no perky, chipper feeling or "Oh, wow!" moment yet. It is what it is. The narrative of motherhood.

Evolgia said it perfectly:

"It seems to me that being a mother is like any form of asceticism in the Church. The struggle isn't aimed at causing us pain for the sake of punishment, but for the purpose of bringing us to the end of ourselves. As long as we continue to rely on our own strength, we do not have the humility necessary to enter into prayer. It is only when we have reached the end of self, dropped the facade of being in control, and given up the mistaken thought that we are capable of great things, that we can cry out from our depths, asking God for His mercy and help. Being a mother not only teaches a woman to live for another person, but teaches her to call upon the only Person who can give the grace and strength to do so."

(Hmm. I can't figure out how to make this excerpt black.)

The narrative of motherhood and the story of a marriage are meant to become a prayer, which is simply the raising of a heart to God. When looked at from the eternal perspective, they belong to that long story that began with the Word and ends at the marriage feast of the Lamb. The whole story is a raising to God, and it's part of his plan that I am fully aware of that. I am aware of that grand story in a way that dogs or whales or trees are not--that's part of what makes me human and in His Image.

Narrative can become narcissistic. I think most of our popular culture--and probably most autobiography--falls into that trap. But it certainly doesn't have to. My daily story--nurse baby, nap, nurse baby, dress, eat while chasing 2 yr old, read stories, nurse baby, bounce baby, break up fight, realize it's only 7.45am, on and on--is a prayer. Slowly, painfully, raising my heart to God in and out of the fragments of daily life. It is both a story I watch unfold and the one I live without thinking. At the end of myself I will find Him.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A little link.

I think I may have found a computer, thanks to a generous donor! It's ancient, but the keypad works, so we'll see if time to write presents itself as well. Until it shows its face, however, I'm still on Todd's laptop on weekends.

To keep you from that pile of laundry...

Here is a link to my mother's new website: Art Works by EM Cunis. Check her out and you may just want an original! Her church decor is rich--my favorite banners of all time, and so much better than the contemporary "minimalist" stuff you normally see. Not that I'm biased...

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Literally, I am wireless. The computer continues to be, well, broken, making blogging and other Internet activities extremely limited. I actually tried posting via the iPod the other day. Since it takes me about 15 minutes to type one sentence, however, I gave the exercise up as futile.

So, until I have a more macro-sized keyboard at my fingertips... this blog will have to sleep.

But I'm still reading yours!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Joy and sleep deprivation.

I am shamelessly cribbing an excerpt from Chesterton's Orthodoxy sent by a dear friend. In these days of sleep deprivation, I find it impossible to conceal my tears and suffering. It is good to be reminded that He never tried.

"Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume, I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who have ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on his open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet he concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the temple, And asked the men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell..."

Joy is often a hidden thing; I am even sometimes unaware of it within myself. But when it shines forth, suddenly, in an unexpected moment... it is then that I know the truth that Teresa of Avila spoke: There is One alive in my very center whose eternal joy cannot be quenched. I know He lives, not because of a philosophical proof, but because in the midst of tears I find myself laughing. Divine mirth.

"Yet he restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that he covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth."