Sunday, August 17, 2014

Solemnity of the Assumption

My mom died Friday morning, the Solemnity of the Assumption. I am fine, although exhausted. It was very peaceful. The maintenance man at her apartment spoke with her at 11:15 am and went to get something and when he came back at 11:30, she was sitting in her chair and had died. She just looked like she was taking a nap. She had been anointed when she was in the hospital, so all is well. She had a great day Thursday. She got her hair done which is a big thing for her. She did her laundry! I can't figure out how you take your laundry and soap down the hall to the machine when you are using a walker. She had dinner with my sister, and played bridge. The best day she had had since she got home. I had dinner with her Wednesday, and talked to her probably half an hour before she died. Of course, we told each other that we loved each other. I got to be alone with her body for a while and kiss her good-bye. What a great feast day to die on.

Some of you have gotten a private message or email just like this. Sorry for the duplication, but things are a bit hectic.

 AMDG

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Windows

This week as part of my morning prayer I have been reading passages from Benedictus: Day by Day with Pope Benedict XVI. It was put together by the people who publish Magnificat, so it it a beautiful little book, filled with gorgeous art, and has a great selection of thought (and prayer)-provoking readings from Benedict XVI's writing. It seems to be out of print, but you can get a used copy here for basically the cost of shipping.

This picture of the Visitation by Mariotto Albertinelli was a facing page between April and May. I had not heard of Albertinelli before, but when I looked at his work, several pieces were familiar to me.


This is the most compelling picture that I have seen in a good while. There is nothing ethereal or stylized here. These are real women--the kind of women we see everyday. They are beautiful with a beauty that comes from their essential characters. They are strong with a strength that is intrinsically feminine. This is one of the quarrels that I have with 20th century Feminists. Instead of mining this wealth of feminine strength, they relied on a poor imitation of masculine strength and lost on both fronts.The women in this picture haven't made that mistake.

And then, there's this look.


This is a gaze that is so intimate that is draws you in, and yet, how many of us could bear it if we were there in person? Here is look that is filled with love, concern for the other, and the deep knowledge that something beyond the knowledge of man is hidden within them. It asks the question, "How is it with you?" And the answers, "The Lord has done great things for me," "And why is this granted to me...?"  I can't imagine what Albertinelli drew on to create this image. 

As I was thinking about this painting, it occurred to me that this may have been the first time that two people looked at each other with a love that was informed by the love of Jesus, the first conversation between two people who knew that the Creator had entered His creation. How overwhelming it must have been to them. How comforting it must have been to them to be able to share the miracle within her with the only person in the world that could truly understand how it felt.

AMDG

Saturday, August 2, 2014

I Will Consider


I have been attending a class on Ignatian meditation and contemplation. We are told that when we begin either one, the first thing is to think, I will consider how the Lord our God looks upon me. The first time I read that, I immediately thought, "Well, I'm sure He looks at me and thinks what a mess I am," or some such thing. Then I realized, "Wait, this is not what I'm being asked to consider." What we are asked to consider is how the Lord our God looks upon us with deep, and all-encompassing love, and how He longs to draw us into that love.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about, and experiencing a bit of, what it means to live in that all-encompassing love. I almost hate to try to write anything about it because I've read so much about it in my life, so many passages from the Saints that were beautiful, but effectively left me cold. It's obvious that most of the little epiphanies that we have in our spiritual lives are very personal and can't really be communicated to anyone else. Still, occasionally something that someone else has written serves as a sort of jumping off point for me, and so I write hoping that maybe this will be the case for someone else. Also, we build up a little treasury of head knowledge about our life of faith, and while it may lie dormant for a long time, sometimes Our Lord mines that little treasury for something, or a group of somethings to illuminate.

At the moment, the most brilliant gem in my little treasure box is the realization of the primacy of love. Of course, I know this, but I often don't realize it. There is a pendulum that is constantly swinging in the Church, and in our individual lives between the emphasis on this primacy of love and the importance of rules and right practice. You can't really swing too far in the direction of authentic love, but we often veer off into that insidious imitation of love that becomes mushy sentimentalism. When we realize the mistake we tend to try and correct it by rushing headlong toward the shelter that can be found in dotting all our i's and crossing all our t's, and generally being good girls and boys. And the rules are good, and right practice is good, in fact they are both great goods when they are in the service of love; however, we tend to veer off into a sort of practical orthodoxy that is grounded in fear, and pits us against our weaker brothers and sisters who lack our self-perceived perfection.

As in everything else, the answer doesn't come from separating these two goods but by bringing them together in their right relationship. The rules and right practice are foundational. They are important in the way a loom is important to the weaving of fabric. However, the really important thing is the fabric, and the material that we use to weave the fabric of our lives is the love that we have been given by the One Who teaches us our craft. When we make a mistake in that weaving, either because our loom is deficient in some way, or because we have made a tangled mess of the thread of love, He can use that mistake to make the fabric more beautiful than it would have been before. Occasionally, we have to adjust the loom, or mend a broken frame, but most of the time we need to be paying attention to the fabric because eventually, we are going to take that fabric off the loom, wrap it around ourselves and leave the loom behind.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I started this post over a week ago, and I really wanted to post it on the feast day of St. Ignatius, but I just haven't had time to write. My daughter was here for a week and now my sister is in town helping with my mother who has been in rehab for the past three weeks. Mother is going home today, and I hope she gets to stay there for a while. She moved just over two months ago, and since then she has spent over 5 weeks in the hospital. 

We have a lot of decisions to make concerning all areas of my mother's life, and a lot of matters that have to be addressed immediately. Please keep us in your prayers, both for wisdom to make the right decisions, and the stamina to be able to do all we need to do. Also, pray that we will be able to continue to be charitable to one another in our exhaustion.

AMDG

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Traveling Mercies

Yesterday, my husband and I drove to Nashville, about 5 hours from our home, to meet my daughter who was arriving on the Megabus from Louisville. There are Megabus routes to and from Louisville, and there are Megabus routes to and from Memphis, but there is no point at which these routes meet, so Nashville is the closest she could get.

This is where the Megabus drops people off in Nashville.


Across the street


so you can understand why I wanted to make sure we were there when the bus arrived.

Of course, I knew from experience that we would probably end up waiting, and wait we did for over an hour. The lot was filled with cars full of people who were also waiting. In the car next to us was a family from Murfreesboro, TN, an older couple and two mid-30ish men. After a while, I got to talking with the older man. He was very thin and pale with a black cowboy hat, a cross hanging from his neck, and a fancy belt buckle. His wife, sitting across from me in the car, was fairly heavy and both of them looked like they had had a very hard life. They were there to pick up somebody on the bus from Chicago and then they were all driving to Atlanta.

Before very long, they began to tell me about the mercy of the Lord--how He is the God of second chances, and how good He had been to them. The man (I never knew their names.) told me about how they had been in a head-on collision in their old car but as soon as he knew no one was hurt, he started thanking God for His traveling mercies because it didn't matter that the car was destroyed because the car was immaterial next to life. 

Then they were without a car for three months, but a preacher had told them that if they planted a seed, God would make it grow in 3 months. So, they planted a seed and 90 days later, they got this 2013 car--the newest car he'd ever had. Not only that, but they had been living in a place that you wouldn't believe for the past 3 years. Previous to that, the wife had prayed for someplace to live even if it was a shack, and, said he, "You better watch what you pray for because you might get it." About the time they got the car, though, the Lord got them a one-room apartment, and they were happy as they could be. They were about to start working in their church, he teaching the young kids, and she in the nursery, and the Lord had blessed them with traveling mercies that day, and he would pray for them for us, too.

Encounters like this continually humble me. I sometimes think of myself as having had a difficult life--we frequent lived fairly close to the edge financially--but it was never anything like the penury these people have experience. I wonder why I am so blessed in so many ways, and it makes me feel like God must expect a lot from me in consequence of this. It's a little scary.

And also, their faith humbles me. I have had a fairly good education and I've read quite a bit of theology, and I can discuss little thorny details of the Faith, but these people just believe. I'm sure there's technically a good bit of error in their belief system, but I'm sure it does not matter a whit. They are grateful and they know Who they are grateful to, and they are filled with a degree of innocent trust that I'm sure I will never attain.

Finally, the buses arrived and we waited for the passengers to disembark. I began to worry that they might be holding them for ransom. While we stood around the parking lot, I struck up a conversation with a woman from another car, and then Bill told me that someone else, a young black man in his late 20s, needed our help to jump-start his car, he would come help direct me while I moved the car into position as soon as he got his cell phone back from another man who was borrowing it. 

While I was sitting in the car after having maneuvered it onto the sidewalk, I was thinking about how 2 or 3 years ago, I would have been terrified at the idea of sitting in that parking lot for an hour. I would never have gotten out of the car or talked to the other people there. And how much I would have missed.

AMDG


Monday, July 14, 2014

Comments

I don't know what is the matter with them. Sometimes if you try more than once, you can get it to work. I've taken to copying my comments before I send them in case I have to try again--and again.

AMDG

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Mud, Mark Twain, and Myth


I have to begin with this boat. The movie begins with these boys, Ellis and Neckbone, and this boat in the tree. A boat which is, we soon discover, stamped in mud with the sign of the cross.

The boys, of course, lose no time in boarding the boat and claiming it for their own, but they soon find evidence that someone has been there before them. That someone is Mud, wearing a shirt with the eye of a wolf sewn in it for protection, a tattoo of a snake down his right arm, and a cross made of nails in the heel of shoe. He's in danger, and on the run, but he's waiting. Waiting for a beautiful woman with bird tattoos on her hands, a woman who saved his life when he was bitten by a snake. Juniper.

I first became aware of the the movie Mud when I saw a poster for it at the theatre where I went to see To the Wonder. At the time, I don't think I more than noticed it, but when someone commented on a blog that it was the, "Best film consciously set in the South that I've seen in a long time," I filed it away for future reference. 

I don't have much time to watch movies nowadays, and when I do have the time, I usually prefer to read, so it's taken me over a year to get around to Mud. A couple of weeks ago while I was on vacation, I finally sat down and watched it, and I enjoyed it very much. It was a good story, the characters were well-drawn, and the actors did a great job. And that was about all I thought about it until later.

After a while, I started thinking about Mud and why he was named Mud. And I got thinking about how the Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground. And here was this man named Mud living alone in the woods with a snake on his arm to remind him, "... to watch out for the snake," and waiting for this woman from whom he had been separated. "Hmmm," I thought, "that's kind of interesting." And the more I thought, the more Bible references and types there seemed to be from beginning to end.

There is this boat. There is a man who has no parents that anyone remembers, not even Mud. There is a sort of garden, the kind of garden that you might find east of Eden if it were in the rural American South and had been left untended for, say, fifteen and half minutes.There is an enigmatic, fatherly figure who raised Mud as much as he was ever raised, and who is removed from the community, but who is observing what goes on. There are snakes. There is a redemptive act. There is a sort of Baptism. There is a rescue by boat.

And there is a woman. When I thought about the woman, it seemed as she was not the best type of Eve--maybe Lilith--maybe a combination between the two. Tom, the fatherly figure, says of Juniper that, "She’d bed down with the meanest snake she could find, then when things went bad she’d go runnin’ to Mud."

After thinking about all this for a while, and deciding I would write this post, and what I would write in this post, I thought I'd go looking around the internet to see if there was any indication that anyone connected with Mud would mention the biblical aspects of the movie. I wasn't too surprised to see that there wasn't. 

What I found most often was that Mud was a coming of age film. An article in The Guardian  says, 
It's a film that wears its influences on its sleeve: this "big ol' story", as [director Jeff] Nichols calls it, is Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn rewritten for modern times. Nichols is happy to acknowledge it. "I first read Tom Sawyer when I was in 8th grade, 13 years old. I realised since that Mark Twain just bottled what it felt like to be a child. I wanted to check back in with that and see what a modern-day boy on the river is like."
In another interview, Nichols says, that he was making a getaway film but stumbled backwards into making a coming of age film. So, "this 'big ol' story,' but not The Story.

Several times I have come across movies, books, and even one ballet, in which biblical or specifically Christian references or analogies--sometimes very profound and beautiful--seemed very obvious to me, and yet it also seemed obvious that there was nothing in the creator's knowledge or experience to account for them. It makes me wonder. Is the Story of our Fall and Redemption written so deep in the nature of all things that it seeps through unsuspected? We see it pre-figured in ancient texts, so it must be. It reminds me of Tolkien's On Fairy Stories.

I did finally find a blog post in First Things which mentions the biblical analogy. The author, Carl Scott, is mostly writing about misogyny in the movie. I very much noticed this myself, although it's not something I consciously look for. And a few other good blog posts from Scott and Peter Lawler on the movie here, here, and here. There is some comparison of Mud and one of my favorite recent movies, True Grit going on in their blogs, too.

AMDG