Wednesday, October 7, 2015

In Which I Attempt to Emulate a Marshwiggle

During the past week or so, mostly in conjunction with the pope's visit I think, I have begun to sense an almost palpable darkness in the hearts of several people whom I know. If it were one or two people I would just shrug it off because most everybody is in a gloomy mood now and then, but it's more widespread than that. This morning I was thinking it reminded me of something, and I realized it was this.
Now the Witch said nothing at all, but moved gently across the room, always keeping her face and eyes very steadily toward the Prince. When she had come to a little ark set in the wall not far from the fireplace, she opened it, and took out first a handful of a green powder. This she threw on the fire. It did not blaze much, but a very sweet and drowsy smell came from it. And all through the conversation which followed, that smell grew stronger, and filled the room, and made it harder to think. Secondly, she took out a musical instrument rather like a mandolin. She began to play it with her fingers--a steady, monotonous thrumming that you didn't notice after a few minutes. But the less you noticed it, the more it got into your brain and your blood. This also made it hard to think. After she had thrummed for a time (and the sweet smell was now strong), she began speaking in a sweet, quiet voice.
"Narnia?" she said. "Narnia? I have often heard your Lordship utter that name in your ravings. Dear Prince, you are very sick. There is no land called Narnia." 

I think that if we know that where sin abounds grace doth much more abound, we have to also realize that the converse is true. Where grace abounds, the purveyor of sin is eager to get in his innings. Thrum, thrum, thrum it goes. The pope is about to do something that will destroy the Church. The synod is rigged. How can so-and-so can say thus-and-so? And the smoke whirls and thickens, and we stumble on almost to the brink of despair.

In all the confusion, it's difficult to know what is true and what isn't, but what we know for sure is this. Jesus did not wake up this morning and say, "Hey, what's going on? How am I ever going to deal with this mess?" And we also know this. None of us is living in this particular place and this particular time by mistake, and each of us is called in some specific way to shine among [a warped and crooked generation] like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. Phil 2:15-16.

Note that I am not saying that these are not dire times for the Church. They are. But if we constantly let ourselves be distracted by our fears, and doubts, and the opinion of everyone on earth who has access to a computer, it will be impossible to emit even a very dull glow. We need spend much more time on prayer, on what we know to be Truth as we do on the spurious news of the world. We can't afford at this time be muddled in our thinking or troubled in our hearts. We need to quiet the thrum, thrum, thrum and listen for the still, small voice.

Chapter 1 of 2 Peter tells us this:
...[W]e possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
Do it. We don't have time not to do it.

For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. Isaiah 60:2

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Pope's Visit

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matt 5:11-12
As I read about and listen to what people have to say about the Holy Father's visit to America, what continually puzzles me is that almost everyone seems to look at the visit from a purely political point of view. It's hard to know, really, what the pope has done and said because it is ceaselessly spun from every direction. What if it has nothing to do with politics? What if he doesn't really care what the media thinks? What if he is just exercising the role of a prophet and speaking to his people--and I believe he would include all people in this category--about the gospel? I think that we have to at least consider this possibility.

 I'm sure that Jesus did not go home at night and worry about how Ceasar, or Caiaphas, or the 1st century version of media pundits took his message. I don't think the pope does either. And none of us can really judge the effects of this visit because none of us knows what is happening on a spiritual level. Nobody knows how the individuals who have seen him in person, looked him in the face or even watched him on TV have been changed by their experience with the pope, and how that change may affect the world. It's not just what the pope is doing and saying; it's the Holy Spirit inhabiting the words of the Gospel and moving in peoples' hearts.

It seems to me that our response should be, as our response should always be, to look at ourselves and ask where we fall short of the gospel and pray to be changed. Then we won't have time to fret ourselves to death about what the media and the administration and the powers that be think, and we will be prepared for whatever comes, good or bad.
Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go.Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly,That my life may only be a radiance of Yours.Shine through me, and be so in meThat every soul I come in contact withMay feel Your presence in my soul.Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine,So to shine as to be a light to others;The light, O Jesus will be all from You; none of it will be mine;It will be you, shining on others through me.Let me thus praise You the way You love best, by shining on those around me.Let me preach You without preaching, not by words but by my example,By the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do,The evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You. Amen. Blessed John Henry Newman

Friday, October 2, 2015

Who We Are

By me this time, not Anthony Esolen.

By this time, everybody has read about Lila Perry, the transexual teenager who wants to use the girls' restroom. For most of us this disconnect between body and soul boggles the mind. And then, I have heard discussions on public radio about Body Integrity Identity Disorder wherein people do not feel like parts of their bodies belong to them, and are having limbs amputated. These are extreme examples of this dis-integration of body and soul, but they are only the far end of spectrum on which we all find ourselves in one way or another.

We don't know a great deal about Adam and Eve's life before the Fall, but one thing we do know is that they were not gnostic, neither were they materialists. They didn't have to convince themselves to get out of bed in the morning; they didn't overeat until they were miserable; they would have been completely stymied by Paul's declaration in Romans that, "What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate." Their bodies and souls were united in perfect harmony, so much so that I wonder if they even thought of them as being two different things.

We, post-Fall, are in some ways like Aristophanes's, divided androgynous beings.
After the division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half, came together, and throwing their arms about one another, entwined in mutual embraces, longing to grow into one, they began to die from hunger and self-neglect, because they did not like to do anything apart . . .
There is something within us that always yearns for that original integrity, and yet, there something else within us that keeps us always at war with ourselves. It seems to me that the entire battle of our lives is to get it all back together, so to speak--to be truly human. I always laugh a bit whenever someone says that we act a certain way because we are only human. No! We act that way because our humanity is damaged.

Sometimes, there is a tendency to opt out of the battle by jettisoning one part or the other. At one end of this spectrum are those who are ultra-spiritual, holding the body of no value at all and anxious to be shed of it. At the other are the materialists. But the rest of us are somewhere in between. We seldom find the correct balance between then two, and I think it's important to realize that this is true because it gives us more compassion for those who are to the right and left of us on the spectrum.

Of course, we can never fix ourselves. We can only fix our eyes firmly on the Lord while he performs the painful reuniting surgery that is the stuff of our lives. It never ceases to be difficult, and even the saints, who achieve such a remarkable degree of harmony between body and soul, are never free of the pain separation, while they long for that day when they finally become who they were created to be.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Getting Into Narnia

A couple of years ago, I posted some pictures that I took in the Cypress Swamp that lies along the Natchez Trace. It's impossible to tell from the pictures how very beautiful it was because the reflection of the light off the water filled the entire swamp and it was like walking underwater. It was (that overused word) magical; more than that, it was numinous.

I very much wanted to share this place with my husband, so on our way to the shore this weekend, I made plans to stop there along the way. I was excited as we walked down the (very difficult) steps to the bridge which leads into the swamp, and then we got there and it was--nice. I couldn't figure out what was wrong until I realized that it was almost completely dry. There was only a small stream trickling down the middle. The living water was gone, taking the light with it. I told Bill and a friend later that it just goes to show that you can't get into Narnia twice the same way.

The next morning at 4:00 AM, I walked on the porch of the beach house that we had rented and saw the enormous, bright, orange moon beginning to set into the bay. I sat and watched as it fell below a cloud on the horizon and then appeared suddenly below the cloud, looking for all the world like the grin of the Cheshire Cat. This was just the beginning.

I went down to the little covered area on the end of the pier (don't know what this is called) and spent the next three hours in a state of wonder. Although there were no stars visible in the north, where the moon had been, I turned around and saw that the sky in the south was filled with stars and I watched as they moved across the sky, and then at twilight the water turned to silver, moving gently up the bay and lapping quietly on the shore. It reminded me forcibly of a line from Elizabeth's Goudge's The Scent of Water where a dying woman says that she is sailing out on living water.

And then with the light came the birds, hundreds of them skimming the water or circling in the air, gliding and swooping and sometimes diving for a fish. They were the living embodiment of the scripture which talks about the glorious freedom of the sons of God. On and on they came, sometimes settling for a while on the piers, and then rising again to the light.

As I sat there immersed in all this glory, and glory it truly was, I knew that I was being changed forever in some way that I don't even yet understand. It was some kind of Transfiguration, an illumination that would stay with me and carry me through the rest of my life. It was like light from Light.

As I looked at the piers, I was thinking about how ephemeral they were. They look permanent, but could disappear in a moment in the midst of a hurricane. And I thought about how suitable this is. How it teaches us not to hold fast to anything in this world. And then I remembered this conversation about Robert Frost's poem "Out, Out--". We talked about the sad truth that when someone we love dies, we grieve, but then pick up our lives and go on as before, although some part of us has been forever changed by the loss.

And then, I realized that in a way it's the same thing. Whether we are transfigured by grief or by glory, we go on. In our hearts and souls a momentous change has occurred, but on the surface, there is barely a ripple. We get up and do our accustomed chores. We eat and drink, and rejoice and mourn as before, but in an unseen reality, nothing is the same.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Truth of Real Things

Anyone who has spent any amount of time talking to me knows that politics is not my arena. I have spoken at length about how I believe that politics in our country is completely bankrupt, and that we could be spending our time and efforts in better ways. Then a few months ago after I had spent the preceding evening waxing eloquent on this topic, I woke up and found that Pope Francis had said that we had to be involved in politics. "Do I as a Catholic watch from my balcony?" he asked, "No, you can't watch from the balcony. Get right in there!"

Well, I still believe that I, personally, am not called to be in the middle of the fray--whatever gifts I have do not lie in that direction--and I still believe that Christians are rapidly losing the ability to be heard in the public square. However, I do try to at least seriously consider what the Holy Father says, and I thought that what I might be able to do is to write occasionally about some of the things we have to keep in mind when we engage in the political realm. This is my first attempt to do so.

While reading Josef Pieper (heavily informed by Thomas Aquinas) on the virtue of prudence, I came across this passage.
There can be false and crooked ways leading even to right goals. The meaning of the virtue of prudence, however, is primarily this: that not only the end of human action but also the means for its realization shall be in keeping with the truth of real things. This in turn necessitates that the egocentric "interests" of man be silenced in order that he may perceive the truth of real things, and so that reality itself may guide him to the proper means for realizing his goal. On the other hand, the meaning, or rather the folly, of cunning consists in this: that the loquacious and therefore unhearing bias of the "tactician" (only he who is silent can hear) obstructs the path of realization, blocks it off from the truth of real things. "Nor should a good end be pursued by means that are false and counterfeit but by such as are true," says Thomas.
Prudence, seeing "the truth of real things," informs all good actions. If we want to reach a good political outcome, we have to be good all the way. We can't overlook the truth in our opponents' arguments, or fudge the truth in any way in our own arguments. It is so tempting to do either of these things in a good cause, but doing so undermines our efforts.

Unfortunately, when I read many Catholic and other Christians commentators or bloggers, or just people commenting on articles or on Facebook, I come across a kind of manipulation of the facts. Sometimes it's a subtle bending of the truth, or a repetition of something that was originally read out of context. I'm not talking about political pundits or spin artists, I'm talking about sincere Christians who are trying to defend the culture or the Faith, but who slip into the folly of cunning and inadvertently cut themselves off from the truth of real things.

In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul admonishes us to, " blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world." If we are going to do this, we must first of all be quiet and listen to what is really being said. As the above quotes says, "only he who is silent can hear." We have to do some research to see if the information we are passing along is true and presented in the proper context. We must silence our egocentric interests. And then, having discovered as best we can the truth of real things, we speak, not to destroy our opponent, but to illuminate him for the good of his soul.
If we do otherwise, if we bend the truth, subtly alter the facts, suppress knowledge that seems to weaken our argument, we may win the day, but it will be a Pyrrhic victory because we will have destroyed our souls.

UPDATE: This by Stephen Greydanus is about exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about.

And this is wonderful--long but worth it and also touches on some of the things I'm trying to say. 
"The world is waiting for those who love it. If you don’t love men. Don’t preach to them." Fr. Vincent McNabb


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Over the Bent World.

The children ate their biscuits and drank their milk and the stormcock sang, and Mary thought, "I will remember about this rainbow place. When my own particular experience seems dark and hard I'll remember that it's really a shining thing holding like a flower to the branches of the tree, and that I travel in it, like Cinderella in her coach, to the ending of the days. And up above me in the tree the Seraph sings, and sometimes he sings peace for us and sometimes courage, praise, truth, love, death, but he is always the same Seraph. Who is he? On Mount Alverno St. Francis saw a great crucified Seraph above him, filling the heavens. I'll remember.                                                                                                  The Rosemary Tree, Elizabeth Goudge