Saturday, November 23, 2013

Dorothy Day's Therese

Until last week, I didn't know that Dorothy Day had written a book about St. Thérèse, much less that I
owned a copy. The fact that I came across it at all is a happy accident of the book-dusting marathon, although I didn't really notice what it was when I was dusting it and putting it on the shelf with the saint books. I don't even remember now what finally made me realize what it was.

Whatever it may have been, I thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Day's retelling of the life of St. Thérèse. She says in the preface that she first encountered the Little Flower shortly after her own conversion when her confessor, Fr. Zachary, gave her a copy of Story of a Soul saying it would do her good. Ms. Day was still working for the Communist Party and thought that it was "pious pap," and that Fr. Zachary and other priests were insulting to women. She says it took her a long time to realize the value of Thérèse, and sadly, she never tells us what changed her mind. It's too bad because I would really like to know.

Although Ms. Day's political views make a few brief appearances in the narrative, for the most part it is all the Little Flower's story, and a very straightforward story it is. There's none of the sentimentality that one finds in some works about St. Thérèse, but Ms. Day's admiration for and devotion to St. Thérèse is always quietly obvious. On the surface, these two--the sheltered, innocent virgin who died at 24, and the wordly-wise activist who lived to the age of 83--seem to be an odd pair, but on closer observation one sees that insistent, unswerving determination to follow God's call that characterizes them both. There's also that willingness to buck authority when they are sure they are doing the right thing.

Most of the story that Ms. Day tells was familiar to me, as it would be to anyone who has read Story of a Soul and Last Conversations; however, she fills out the better-known facts with information from other sources. I particularly appreciated her biographies of Thérèse's family, most notably those of her sisters. Before reading this book, her sisters were just a sort of amorphous mass to me, but now they are individual personalities, especially Marie and Leonie.

In the last chapter, Ms. Day comes back to her roots. She tells us, and this possibly explains part of the Little Flower's attraction for her, that St. Thérèse is a saint of the people, that it was the common man who spread the devotion to her "Little Way" and clamored for her canonization. She quotes Pope Pius XI's homily at the canonization Mass saying, "If the way of spiritual childhood became general, who does not see how easily would be realized the reformation of human society . . . ." How sadly this statement rings down through the years to us. We who live in a time when even children are too sophisticated for childhood. But the promise is still there. The narrow road of the "Little Way" still beckons.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Spider Woman's Daughter by Anne Hillerman

I've missed Joe Leaphorn & Jim Chee, I really have, but when Tony Hillerman died in 2008 I resigned myself to their permanent absence. So, when I saw that Hillerman's daughter, Anne, had written "A Leaphorn and Chee Novel," I was tempted . . . tempted. Hillerman's daughter might know his work so well that she could step into his shoes. And I really wanted something to read that wasn't improving or serious. And it's so easy on a Kindle--one little click and there it was.

Is Spider Woman's Daughter the answer to every Hillerman fan's dream? Well, no. Is it a pretty good read? Well, I think so. I waver. I wonder if I just want it to be a pretty good read, but if she writes another novel, I will definitely read it. 

One thing that Ms. Hillerman did right was present most of the story from the point of view of Jim Chee's wife, Bernadette Manuelito. While we've met Bernie in a few of the Hillerman novels, we don't know her so well that we have exacting expectations for her character, and Ms. Hillerman's portrayal of Leaphorn and Chee is not as authentic as one might wish--I'm not sure it could be--so it's better that we see the better part of the action through Bernie's eyes. They are feminine eyes, and overall Spider Woman's Daughter has a more feminine atmosphere than its predecessors.

Unfortunately for the new novel, the atmosphere of the originals is one of the most important elements of mysteries. Gone is that dark, brooding sense of another world which is never entirely absent from Hillerman's work. Ms. Hillerman offers up plenty of Indian culture, but instead of drawing us into the Spider Woman's web, as her father did so well, she almost writes her lessons on a blackboard. She's more the teacher than the shaman.

Moreover, she hasn't mastered the legerdemain that's necessary for a writer of mysteries. It was obvious to me very early on who the villian was. I have to admit, though, that her father was sometimes a bit weak in that area, too, but I never minded much because his stories, his characters, and his ability to immerse one in the Native American ethos trump any shortcomings he might have had.

Despite the above weaknesses, and others which I haven't mentioned, I still enjoyed the book. Maybe I was just glad to meet up with Leaphorn and Chee again, even though they weren't quite themselves. Maybe, and I hope this is true, Anne Hillerman will be able to come closer to the mark in the future. We'll just have to wait and see. I obviously couldn't recommend this book unreservedly, but if you are a Hillerman fan, you might want to check it out. I have a sneaking suspicion that it might just be more of woman's book than a man's, and I'm curious to know if men find that to be true also, so I hope some of you will read it.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Off to a Good Start

This morning while I was eating breakfast and reading The Way of Perfection on my Kindle, I noticed that something was trying to download and taking it's own sweet time. I was a bit worried about what it might be and if I should try to block it in some way. First Things appears like this every month, but I think I just got one, so I didn't think it was that. Then when I checked my email at work, I had received a notice from Amazon saying that I had purchased Prayer Journal. "What the heck is that all about?" And then it was this! I'd forgotten that I pre-ordered it and that today was the release date. 

I've only had a minute to glance at it, but the first paragraph augurs well.
Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth's shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of dear God, is that my self shadow will grown so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Regarding All Saints

When I was writing the post on All Saints' Day, I was wishing I could show you a large work by Owen Swain called Saints Sung and Unsung, and now I can. I'm not sure why it goes to the bottom of the page, but if you scroll up just a bit, you can see the whole work and a gallery of the individual pictures. If you scroll up to the top, you can read a bit about the work. 


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Take Your Books Unto the Lord and Leave Them There?

St. Theresa of Avila in The Way of Perfection tells us:
It is when I possess least that I have the fewest worries, and the Lord knows that, as far as I can tell, I am more afflicted when there is excess of anything than when there is lack of it . . .
Moreover, the gospel from the second chapter of Luke today says, "In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

After I had been living in the condo for a couple of months with a minimum of furniture and just enough dishes for us to eat with one friend, it occurred to me that I was perfectly happy without the house full of stuff that was accruing bushels of plaster dust in Mississippi. It was amazingly easy to keep everything clean--to be honest, though, the almost complete lack of dust was a help--and there was never any trouble finding anything.

I remember that after I realized there was a tree on the house and that, thankfully, everyone was all right, my first thought was, "I'll never live in this house again," and my next, almost simultaneous, thought was, "All the books are going to get wet," and then I immediately realized that if that happened, a great burden would be lifted from my shoulders. And I was right--at least about the last part.

I think I've mentioned that we did not lose anything in the Great Fall except for a lot of carpet that had had too much exposure to a sick cat and some wallpaper that I've always hated. The furniture that was sitting on the wet carpet was somehow not damaged, and every book was dry. After sitting in a damp house in Mississippi in July with no air conditioning for a month, they were miraculously okay. Except for some rather fragrant books that I've picked up at book sales, none of them had any smell of mildew. I can't figure it out--unless all the plaster dust soaked up the dampness.

And boy was there plaster dust, which gets us back to St. Theresa. I'm pretty sure that if I hadn't had any books, the house would have been completely back to normal after a week or two at the most. As it is, it's been almost five weeks, and we're still working. The books are a burden indeed, but are they a necessary burden, or even a desirable burden? That's what I'm trying to figure out.

For a while now, I've been able to pray, "Do with me as You will," without being completely terrified, but I read something a few weeks ago that said we ought to pray everyday, "What would You have me do?" For some reason that's not entirely clear to me, that's a lot more difficult for me to pray. It's one thing to surrender yourself to something that is happening, and that you probably don't have any control over anyway. It's another thing to be given marching orders, especially when they are seldom very clear, and you aren't really sure if they are coming from the right direction. It was easy to renounce the books when I thought they were going to be destroyed anyway, but not so easy when I have to choose to do it.

So, after weeks and weeks of dusting and arranging, I've managed to get rid of something like 350 books and four bookshelves. Of course, this was only about a quarter of the entire library, but at least the books are no longer double-shelved or stacked on the floor, and some of the shelves could actually hold more books, but I hope not. I'm having to ask myself if I really need 30 volumes of the Church Fathers, or two different 10-volume surveys of world history or whether someone else could make better use of them. I just don't know.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Visually Similar

I was finally able to find who the artist of the picture I used on All Saints' Day was. His name is Ira Thomas and his website is here.

I found it by looking for visually similar images in Google. The first offering was this:


CORRECTION: Ira tells me that she is a woman.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Before and After

A few days before the tree fell, I took this picture to use as the cover picture on my Facebook profile.

Pretty close to the same shot today.

You can see the outline of the old barn in the top pictures, but, of course, the trumpet vine was green then. It actually does not look quite this desolate. The colors are pretty vivid, we're having a beautiful Fall, but they are washed out because the sun was so bright. You can see by the position of the small tree on the left and the birdhouse on the right that the scale is about the same. That's the stump of the tree under the birdhouse. It's about as tall as I am, so about 5.5 feet.

This picture was taken the day after the big event when they had just gotten the tree off the roof. You can see that the edge of the roof looks kind of chewed up and that the remains of the tree are lying across the yard. You can also see that the tree on the left, which had to come down a couple of days later, is definitely leaning closer to the ground than before. 

That little V-shaped trunk in front of the back of the truck is the remains of this, which was a beautiful ornamental plum tree. One of the things I loved about this house when I bought it was the trees, and so far we have lost six of them, and at least two more need to come down. I can't complain too much because the inside of the house is so much better than before, but it will take me a long time to get used to driving into the driveway and seeing that second view instead of the first. It will take me even longer to get used to driving up on a still winter night and not being able to look at the stars through the branches of the trees, or to waking up on a moonlit night and not seeing their moon shadows across the yard.


Friday, November 1, 2013

All Saints' Day

You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Actually, I think that even people who know what All Saints' Day really is--a day to honor all those Saints whose names and stories we don't know--have a very difficult time talking about, celebrating, or imaging this day without bringing famous saints into it. In our homeschool group, we used to have All Saints' parties where the kids dressed up as saints, and it never occurred to me to think, "Oh, but that's not what it's about." I wonder if it might be a good idea to have a party where the kids dressed up as, and told the story of someone whom they imagine to be one of those invisible saints. It might get us all thinking.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

On another note, I am currently imprisoned. There are men here fixing seams in my carpet. I was in the kitchen, and wanted to go work in the bedroom, but they were working in the living room and had moved the couch into a position that blocked the way to the bedroom, so I came down into one of the bedrooms where I had a few things to do, and now they are working right outside the bedroom door.  I wish I'd stayed in the kitchen, because that's the room next to the bathroom.