Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Newborn Child

I first saw this picture, The Newborn Child by Georges de la Tour, in this book of daily meditations.

I was first struck by the sense of stillness and peace in the picture, and the thoughtful way that Mary was looking at her newborn infant. I have been planning to write something about it for several months.

When I posted it last night, I realized that Mary is not looking at Jesus, but seems to be intent on her own thoughts, and perhaps those thoughts are not so peaceful. Look at her hands, especially her right hand. This is hardly the loving caress of a peaceful mother. I wonder if de la Tour is implying that she is having some premonition of what is to come.

And who is that woman on the left? You can see above that the picture in the book has been cropped, and I originally thought it must be an angel, but in the full picture, you can see that she has no wings, and appears to be just an ordinary woman. Also, it looks very much as is the light is emanating from the child, but if you look very closely, you can see that the woman is holding a candle, the flame being hidden by her raised hand. 

I read on a Smithsonian website that experts question whether or not this is a Nativity scene. Perhaps it is not, de la Tour did paint secular images, but he painted a lot of religious subjects. I think that the picture below gives credence to the idea that it is a Nativity scene.

I originally saw this painting denominated as St. Anne with the Virgin in Linen,  but now I see that the Art Gallery of Ontario, where it resides, calls it St. Anne with the Christ Child, which makes me wonder if the woman in the first picture is supposed to be St. Anne. 

I also found this painting, The Angel Appears to St. Joseph in a Dream, in which the angel has no wings, so perhaps the mystery woman is supposed to be an angel.

I love poking around in these old masterpieces and trying to discover what the artist is trying to portray, and what the people in the paintings, the real people, must have been thinking and experiencing. I am not very good at all with the kind of meditation that involves putting myself in a scriptural narrative, but I find that a sort of visual meditation accomplishes the same purpose for me.

I don't know whether or not de la Tour conceived his painting as one of Mary and Jesus or not, although I strongly suspect that he did, and that perhaps the main motive for doubting this is that the experts in question would just rather that it not be. Even if he did not though, it only shows that Mary is the quintessential image of motherhood. We see in her the very form of a mother, and we strive to imitate what we see. And what mother has not sat holding her infant and sensing that faint chill of future peril to her child? 


Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Holy Spirit Will Come Upon You

I first saw this painting of the Annunciation by Filippo Lippi on the front of Prepare the Way, a book of Advent meditations by Ronald Thomas. I was looking at it as Bill and I prayed the Angelus one morning and noticed for the first time the Holy Spirit moving toward Mary not, as is usually pictured, from above, but flying towards her womb. Mary, instead of looking at Gabriel, or gazing up to Heaven as she is often depicted, is intently watching the Holy Spirit as He comes to her. She appears peaceful, but you can see the tension of expectation in the way she holds her arm and in her alert stillness. Her anticipation may be that of a virgin contemplating her wedding night. As I look at this picture, I get much less the sense of a universal event than that of a private consummation. And this may be at the very heart of Christian mystery, not only that mysterious things might happen out there in the universe but that they may, they will, happen to us--in us--in the most secret recesses of our bodies and souls.

I can remember the way that I felt when I was first pregnant. I knew that millions of women had been pregnant and that this would be a perfectly natural thing to happen, but I just could not believe that it could ever happen to me, and when it did, it was awesome in the true sense of the word. And if this overwhelming sense of mystery is what an ordinary sinful woman who has conceived a child in the ordinary way feels, what must this pure young woman have felt?

The cover of Prepare the Way shows Mary's side of Lippi's painting, and I was originally only going to write about this half of the picture, but then I saw the other side.

Here we have, not the powerful Gabriel with raised hand pointing heavenward, but a messenger wholly engaged in the miracle that he is announcing. His face is full of wonder, intent upon the moment of incarnation. His attitude is that of humility; his hand almost weighted down by astonishing reality that it declares--two natures in this one infant that will soon reside in Mary's womb.

In many depictions of the Annunciation, Gabriel are separated by some physical object: a short dividing wall like we see here, a pillar, a window, or even something like a tapestry behind Mary. This arrangement of Gabriel in the garden and Mary in a man-made space seemingly indicates a separation between heaven and earth. I found it in a few other paintings.

This one by Leonardo da Vinci bears many similarities with the Lippi, but the attitudes of Mary and Gabriel a completely different. It's more formal; less intimate.

The San Domenico Annunciation by Benozzo Gozzoli. You can see a made-up bed in the background on the far right, a symbol of Mary's virginity which is fairly common in pictures of the Annunciation, as is the unopened chest on the far right of the Lippi painting.

A 20th century Pre-Raphaelite Annunciation by John William Waterhouse. Pre-Raphaelite angels seem to always be excessively feminine.

It occurs to me as I write this that there have been quite a few pictures of the Annunciation on this blog over the years. It is one of the mysteries of the rosary that I find easiest to meditate on and I try to remember to say the Angelus morning, noon, and evening, so it's always on my mind. More than that I think, is that unceasing call, issued to all of us, to let Jesus be born in us--to inhabit us, body and soul--to let whatever comes to us that day be done according to His Word.

Click once on the pictures to see them enlarged.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Anne, Did You Know?

About 15 years ago I sat horrified in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Memphis when, after having been asked about the Immaculate Conception by the priest giving us a tour, a group of homeschooled students whose parents had been very faithfully educating them in the Faith, assured Father that the Immaculate Conception was when Jesus was conceived in Mary's womb. I wrote about this a couple of years ago, and noted that it surprised me that since this is such a common mis-conception, the gospel for the feast is the story of the Annunciation. Let's just see what we can do to confirm this error in the congregation's consciousness. 

I suppose that the reason for this choice is that there just isn't any appropriate gospel reading for this event, and very little else about Mary to choose from. You probably know that the story of Mary's conception is found in the Protoevangelium of James, a non-canonical document. Any cursory reading of the narrative will convince the reader that its omission from the Bible was a wise decision, but it's interesting because it is the source from which many legends about the early life of the Holy Family are derived. 

The reason for all of the above is that today my thoughts are with St. Anne.

What must her thoughts and feelings have been when she found that she was with child. Like Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth, a woman past all hope of motherhood, miraculously changed from a barren "failure" into the mother of the greatest woman who ever lived. Of course, she surely didn't know at the time what was in store for her daughter, but she did know that she was singularly blessed.

It's not unusual for mothers to think their children are perfect--at least when they are young--but she's one of the only two mothers who were ever right (Well, maybe St. Elizabeth, too.). And I guess this means that she was the only grandmother who ever had a perfect grandchild. I wonder if she was alive when Jesus was born. 

I wonder what she thought as she watched her daughter grow in perfection. I wonder if other mothers were jealous and spiteful. I wonder if she suffered when other children hurt her daughter. Well, of course she did. I wonder if she worried that she and Joachim would die when Mary was still young, leaving her without proper support.

I always get irritated this time of year when I hear the song, Mary, Did You Know? because yes, she did. But St. Anne--what did she know? What did she suspect? How did she and Joachim determine that Joseph was the proper spouse their daughter. There's just so much we can't know.


Thursday, December 4, 2014


When I was growing up, my grandparents had a beautiful back yard that was just perfect for a bunch of kids to run around in. It had two levels, and so there were steps to climb into the upper yard. There was orange honeysuckle to suck on--I thought that was the only kind of honeysuckle there was. There were places to hide and places to rest. The entire yard was surrounded by a brick wall and along the back wall there was a little wooded area that was probably only a row of trees, but when I was little it seemed like a forest. And then, at the end of the wall, in the very back corner of the yard, there was a gate that led outside.

So, what was outside the gate? The Secret Garden? Narnia? Well, most of the time there was a pretty boring little two lane road, but then one day the department of public works decided to dig up the entire road to bury some of these. 

They did some digging and then they dumped a whole lot of concrete pipes in the road and left them there for quite some time. Some of them were on their sides, and some were standing upright. In one place, the upright ones were left in a sort of flower form with one in the middle and the others in a circle around it. It was the best place to play, and thankfully our parents, not being the mollycoddling sort of parents people have now, let us play there. It was a great summer until one day a bunch of big boys came along and threw big clods of dirt at us and that was that. I still drive down that road sometimes, and when I do, I always think of those pipes lying there beneath the asphalt.

Later when I was in college, my friends and I used to have the occasional party at the house of a friend who lived on a little street that dead-ended shortly before what would soon become the northern leg of I-240. At the moment, it was just a big flat, mostly empty expanse of graded dirt, but what was there was a bunch of great big concrete pipes. I walked down there once with a friend who wasn't quite a boyfriend, but wasn't quite not a boyfriend, and we sat inside of one the pipes talking for a long time. It was great until some bigger boys came along in cars and started racing around up and down and around the pipes. I was very afraid that they would find us and that they would be mean (Would they throw clods of dirt at us?), but I don't think they ever knew we were inside.

So, I guess that if you have been reading this blog for very long, you will think that I am going to draw some spiritual analogy here, but I'm not. It's just that I was driving up the interstate this morning and got behind a truck full of concrete pipes and started remembering. 

Orange honeysuckle, by the way, has about twice as much nectar as the white and yellow sort and tastes much better. I loved to pinch off the end of the blossom and see that little drop of sweetness oozing out.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

For We Are His Handiwork

In Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night, Peter Wimsey buys Harriet Vane,
. . . a set of carved ivory chessmen . . . , for which she had conceived an unreasonable affection. . . . They were Chinese, and each piece was a complicated nest of little revolving balls, delicate as fine lace. 
When I first read this book, years and years ago, I conceived a mad desire to just see such a thing, and so I was nearly ecstatic when I found a set much like the one pictured below in the Peabody and Essex Museum in Salem, MA.  

These look larger than the ones I saw, which I remember as being about 2/3 of the size these are in the picture, and it was an entire set in a lovely case, and I believe they were more delicate and intricate. I kept thinking about how long it took someone to carve the figures, and how no one has the time to do work like this anymore and what a loss that is to the world. After staring at them for a while, I looked around at all the other objects from China and India that were in the room. There were so many exquisite little miracles of craftsmanship, and I wondered how many craftsmen of that caliber there are left in the world.

I remembered the chess set today when I saw the item that is going around Facebook about a young man, Benjamin Harff, who illuminated and bound a copy of Tolkien's Silmarillion. There's an interview with him here, and if you do a Google image search, you can see more of the illuminations.

I find myself a bit jealous of anyone who has the time to do such a thing, but then I wonder if I would take advantage of it if I had it. I probably would not. I like to think that given the time, I would write something here everyday, but I frequently waste the time when I have it. I remember before I worked, though, that I was always making something: sewing, embroidering, or knitting--nothing anywhere near this lovely, but it was very satisfying. I hope that someday I can get back to that. 


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

If It Delays . . .

From today's reading from Isaiah:
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea.
For some reason that image of the knowledge of the Lord filling the earth as water covering the sea  really struck me this morning. When water covers something, there is no escape, it flows into every little nook and cranny, slipping under the doors, finding the tiniest cracks. It reminds me of a dream I had once in which I was in a city that was flooded up to about my waist, but there wasn't any sense of there being anything wrong. The water was very clear and full of light, and calm. At first, when I read the verse it evoked a very peaceful scene like the one in the dream, but then again, water, like the knowledge of the Lord, can sometimes come in violent ways.

I have always loved Edward Hicks's renditions of the Peaceable Kingdom. He was a Quaker who lived in Pennsylvania in the late 18th/early 19th century. I've read that he thought that America was the coming of the peaceable kingdom, and that the treaty between William Penn and the Indians was a beginning of that kingdom. 

Hicks painted that scene over and over again. Here are a few more versions.

I'm not sure what to make of this guy.

Even his pictures of life in Pennsylvania reflected his belief that the kingdom was making itself known.

Unfortunately, Hicks was wrong. The kingdom did not arrive with the advent of the new land, except in the hearts of those who had already received it. And we are still waiting, entering into that season when we wait in joyful hope.
For the vision is a witness for the appointed time, a testimony to the end; it will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. Habakkuk 2:3

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Fallen Water by Sally Thomas

In October of 2012, I wrote a brief post about Sally Thomas's excellent book of poetry, Brief Light. I was going to review it after I read it, but I never did; however, Maclin Horton wrote a great review here.

Now Sally is going to have a chapbook published by Finishing Line Press, and if you like poetry, or know someone who does, I hope that you will go right over there and order one. There seems to be some sort of deadline coming up, so I hope you will do it now.

Here's a brief video about the book.

And a recommendation by David Mills.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Called By Name

Last year, in a conversation about giving money to people who are begging, someone, my friend Louise I think, said that when she gives money to someone,she asks him to pray for her. I thought this was a great idea, and I have found that although some people get a really shocked look on their faces when I do this, and mumble something in an embarrassed manner, most people agree pretty enthusiastically. Then one day it occurred to me that these people have names. So I started introducing myself, and asking them what their names were. There is almost always an immediate change in the atmosphere. We're smiling. We become two people having a conversation instead of participants in a rather awkward exchange. Occasionally, someone is so overjoyed that someone cares who they are, that I can tell that my acknowledgement of him as a person has become more important than whatever money I have given him.

About a month ago, I went to the drive-thru at Taco Bell and had to pull forward to wait for them to bring me my food. While I was waiting, I got into a conversation with a man who was standing there in the drizzling rain with a sign asking for help. I told him my name, and asked what his name was. He gave me a big smile, and said, "People call me Chris, but my name is Christopher--you know it sounds like Lucifer." And I replied, "Well, but Lucifer is the devil and Christopher means 'Christ-bearer.'" He smiled some more and proudly said, "That's right. Christ-bearer." 

I think that we all have a need to be called by our name. It lets us know that the people around us see us as people and not just anonymous ciphers. Our name is even more beautiful in the voice of those we love. It might not be our given name, but a nickname, or Mamma, or some pet name used only by our beloved.

The Lord calls us by name. We don't hear with our ears, but somehow in the deepest part of our souls, we know that He is calling. The name He speaks isn't the name that others use, but we recognize it because the name that He calls us is that which we were created to be. It is the very essence of ourselves. And on those rare occasions when we are still enough, we hear that name, and for that moment, we can almost see through that veil that separates us from that which we most desire.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

While I Was Shopping

This evening, just as I was about to pull into the parking lot of the grocery store, I noticed that a big, peachy, perfect full moon was rising over the trees ahead of me. So when I had parked the car, I stood in the parking lot for a while watching it, because so often when I see something like that I am in a hurry, or the moon is about to set, or I'm driving down a two-lane road with no shoulders so I can't stop. People were rushing in and out of the store. I don't know if anyone even noticed the lovely thing, so when a young woman got out of the car next to me, I said, "Look at that," and she did, and she said, "Oh, that's beautiful." Then after about half a minute she went on to the store, but before she went in, I saw her turn around and look at the moon.

A few minutes later inside the store, I was looking for something on the shelves and a little girl about 5 years old rode past me in a shopping cart. We exchanged hellos, and then she said, "You look pretty," which, I assure you, I did not. But I think maybe she was seeing the moon on my face.


Sunday, October 26, 2014


I first became a bit curious about Marilynne Robinson when Maclin Horton's wife posted a couple of quotes from Robinson's books on Facebook. Then a couple of other people mentioned her, so I went to the library and checked out Gilead, her second novel. I was immediately drawn in by the first page, but as I read further I was thinking, "Well, this is a nice book, a good book, an enjoyable book, but not much more than that"--and then I would come across something really lovely or something amazing.

The novel is written in the form of a long letter or journal being written by an old, dying man, John Ames, to his seven year old son. His intention is that the letter is to be read when the son is grown. Set in a small Iowa town, the narrative drifts back and forth in time, now describing physical realities in minute detail, now pondering metaphysical mysteries, now remembering the loves and friendships of the past, each informing and illuminating the other, all interwoven into a panorama of Ames's life.

I'm sure that most if not all of the readers of this post when seeing its title immediately thought of the hymn, There is a Balm in Gilead. It's a beautiful, peaceful, hopeful hymn, There is a balm in Gilead that makes the wounded whole/There is a balm in Gilead that heals the sin-sick soul. It doesn't, however, reflect the text from which it is taken. In a lament that sounds much like a description of our own day, Jeremiah (8:22) has been bemoaning the evil that has overtaken his people, and ends with,
Is there no balm in Gilead, no healer here? Why does not new flesh grow over the wound of the daughter of my people?
While John Ames's life is filled with beauty and consolation, it is far from being free from wounds, both in the past and the present. Ames often mentions his regret that not having ever imagined having an heir, he won't leave much for the boy and his mother; his family's past has its share of tragedy and unresolved relationships; and there is one long, difficult relationship that comes to the forefront of the novel.

When I was briefly discussing Gilead with Maclin, he sent me a link to this post so that I could see the discussion in the combox. He sent it mostly because I had said something about a comment that Robinson had made about Flannery O'Connor (negative) and there is a discussion of this in the combox. However, what really struck me about the comments was the varying opinions of what the novel was about: American slavery and the reactions of the churches, Calvinism and various other theological issues (Ames, his grandfather, father and best friend are preachers), liberal theology, and I get the idea that some people thought it was basically about nothing much. No one mentioned, at least I didn't see where anyone mentioned, what I thought was a strong and recurrent theme in the novel, and that is the relationships between fathers and sons.

As we read through the story of the Ames family, we encounter almost every sort of relationship between a father and son. We meet John's grandfather, father, brother, his best friend Boughton, and Boughton's son Jack, who is John's godson and namesake. Love runs through all these combinations of father and son, yes, but also anger, unforgiveness, and disappointment. And in some sense the culmination of this story of fathers and sons lies, I think, in the relationship, ongoing in the narrative, between the two who are related only by their name and sacrament.

One of the factors that contributes to the success of these stories of fathers and sons, and the novel in general is Robinson's ability to capture a male voice. I have found that it is very unusual for authors to write convincingly in the voice of the opposite sex. Thus with a few exceptions, it's Dickens's men that stand out for me, and Austen's women. Robinson, though, was really able to get into the male character.

Another strength of Gilead is the beautiful images she draws, and this is one of my favorites:
That mention reminded me of something I saw early one morning a few years ago, as I was walking up to the church. There was a young couple strolling along half a block ahead of me. The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain, and the trees were glistening and very wet. On some impulse, plain exuberance, I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch, and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them, and they laughed and took off running, the girl weeping water off her hair and her dress as if she were a little bit disgusted, but she wasn't. It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth. I don't know why I thought of that now, except perhaps because it is easy to  believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a Protestant novel and so readers will not always agree with the theology found in it, but this was not much of a problem for me. It's a quiet, beautiful novel of time and place, and thought, and familial love. I recommended it to, (read, forced down the throats of) my Catholic women's book club for next month, which is a departure for me because I never recommend anything that isn't Catholic unless it was written by C. S. Lewis, and I would recommended it to everyone.

Well, I have mentioned Maclin a couple of times and that is because I knew I wanted to write something about Gilead and I knew that he would too, and I didn't want to read what he had to say, or any discussion of it on Light on Dark Water before I wrote, so I thought maybe it would be fun to post on the same day, and that's what we decided. So if you are interested in reading what he wrote (He says it will be short.) You can click here. I suspect if there is any discussion, it is far more likely to be there, but if you do want to comment here, remember that before you click on the button to post your comment, you ought to save it first, so that if the comment disappears, you can paste it in another comment box. It usually works the second time around.  Blogger is very annoying nowadays.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

August 15 Again

I don't really miss my mother most of the time, but at certain moments something hits me. A couple of days ago, I was thinking about Thanksgiving and then I remembered that she always sat in the same chair (pictured), the chair I am sitting in now, and this year she won't be sitting there. It seems so strange. It reminds me of the day she died. There was a green chair with a footstool that she always sat in in her apartment and you may have read that she was sitting in the chair when she died. She had the leg with the broken hip up on the footstool. I wonder if she was getting ready to put the other one up too. My sister Lisa works next door to the apartment building, so she got there very fast, I guess she'd been alone with Mother, and the police were in the hallway, for about 45 minutes when I arrived.  We sat there for another hour or two before the funeral home people got there to take her away. And then other people came but no one would sit in the chair. Finally, I decided that we had to get it over with sooner or later, so I sat there. Now that chair is at Lisa's house. 

I have been wanting to write about what happened the day before Mother died and the morning she died, but I hesitated because I'm not sure what some members of my family might think about it, but I've decided to go ahead anyway. I had been pretty much talking to the Lord about how if she got sick a third time, I wished that He would just take her home. I felt a bit odd about it though. Of course, I would not have wanted her to die if she needed to be here for any reason that I didn't know, for some purpose of His, but I knew that she was ready to go--that she wanted it and was basically just waiting. She could occasionally if she wanted to get involved in a conversation, or be interested in what was going on around her, but she told me she felt like she was not really there. In some ways, she had already left. 

On Thursday the 14th, the brothers were having a vigil Mass for the Feast of the Assumption at Christian Brothers University, where my husband works, at 5:00 p.m., and since our parish Mass for the feast day was going to be at 8:00 p.m. on Friday night, we decided to attend the CBU Mass. The chaplain at CBU is very cerebral. I thought we would get a very intellectual explanation about the feast of the Assumption, and what we got was a very sentimental homily. I was amazed. I have never seen this priest show the slightest hint of sentiment before, although I don't know him well, so maybe he is different than he appears. He said that his mother was in her 90s and was fortunate enough to live in her own home, but what if she couldn't, and could only live in one room in a nursing home? And what if somehow he were elected pope and went to Rome to live in all that finery and left her in that one room. What would people think of him? And Jesus didn't want to leave His mother in that one room either, so He brought her to Heaven. Now, even I could knock some theological holes in that little story, but it didn't matter. I just thought, "Well, all right Lord, if that's the way it is, I'm going to pray for my mother to die."

So the next morning I prayed very specifically. I asked that she would die if she were ready spiritually and that it be very soon (Thy will be done, of course.) And, you know, it wasn't but 6 or 7 hours later that she did die. She died on the day Catholics celebrate the day that Jesus took his mother to Heaven.

I haven't told this story to many people. I worried about doing so, because if you are not at peace with the idea of your death, you might think this was awful, but it's not. It's the kind of death that we should all hope and pray for.

A few days at most before she died, I took Mother a statue of St. Martin de Porres and told her quite a bit about him. The next time I went to see her she said, "I just want you to know that St. Martin and I have been talking quite a bit." I asked her if he had been saying anything to her because you know I talk to him every day and he never has said anything to me yet. She said no, but that was okay. I'm pretty sure now that she was telling him she wanted to die--I've had more than one person tell me that she told them that--and I have an idea that he just came and got her.

I think I ought to add, since there might be someone reading this who doesn't know me well, that I would never do any physical thing to hasten anyone's death. I believe that that decision is up to God. I also would be very hesitant to pray in this way again. This time, though, I knew it was right.

I said at the beginning that I don't miss Mother very much. This isn't because I don't love her. I think it's because, as I said in an earlier post, I feel so close to the end of my own life, that it doesn't feel to me like she is far away. However long it will be before I see her again, even if I live to be as old as she did (which I doubt) it will seem like about a week.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

An Enduring Beauty

Meeting at the Golden Gate, Giotto

In April, I posted some pictures I had taken of statues of St. Anne, and talked a bit about how I had been asking her to pray for my family. (You have to scroll down in this link to see those pictures.) Then I came across this picture of Sts. Anne and Joachim by Giotto on the cover of a book I was reading, Love's Sacred Order: The Four Loves Revisited by Erasmo Leiva Merikakis. The story of this meeting of Anne and Joachim is found in the Protoevangelium of James, and so is legend, indeed we have no historical evidence or scriptural proof of anything about Mary's parents. There is a long, long tradition in the Church, however, of honoring the parents of Mary by these names.

In every statue of St. Anne, and almost every painting, she is pictured with the child Mary. Often St. Anne is teaching Mary. However, when I saw this painting it really struck me that the story of St. Anne is not just the story of a mother and grandmother, but that of a wife. What we see in the above picture is an image of a marriage, a long, faithful marriage of two people who through their faith and their constancy to each other are, "...bearing fruit in old age." Psalm 92:14. It is an icon of the quintessence of  marriage, a man and woman bearing with each other, bearing children, bearing together the adversities of life, and finally, bringing one another to Heaven.

In the past couple of years, I have been thinking a lot, I have had to think a lot, about how to talk to people who have homosexual attractions about what the Church really teaches about homosexuality. How do you speak the truth without completely alienating those you love? It's so difficult, and one way that seems to provide a plausible place to begin is to offer this image, this ideal that is so beautiful, and so difficult to achieve. It is an ideal of which we all fall short in some way, an ideal that we seldom see lived out in its entirety, but which we recognize immediately when we do see it as entirely good. 

Of course, this is only a very tentative beginning, but it benefits from beginning with what is right and beautiful rather than who is wrong and disordered. It's a promise and not a wound. And so, when I saw this document which has caused so much distress and conflict, I thought, "Well, there you go."
There is also the evening light behind the windowpanes in the houses of the cities, in modest residences of suburbs and villages, and even in mere shacks, which shines out brightly, warming bodies and souls. This light—the light of a wedding story—shines from the encounter between spouses: it is a gift, a grace expressed, as the Book of Genesis says (2:18), when the two are “face to face” as equal and mutual helpers. The love of man and woman teaches us that each needs the other in order to be truly self. Each remains different from the other that opens self and is revealed in the reciprocal gift. It is this that the bride of the Song of Songs sings in her canticle: “My beloved is mine and I am his… I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 2:16; 6:3).

Friday, October 17, 2014

We've Got the Whole World . . .

I went on retreat this past weekend, and this window was on the wall opposite me. Someone was good enough to send me this picture because I didn't take any while I was there. I wish it were more distinct, but it will do.

This isn't my favorite stained glass window in the world, but as I was looking at it, I started to think about Joseph in a way that I never have before. There is a joke that I can barely remember about how when something went wrong in the household of the Holy Family, everybody always knew whose fault it was. Sorry I can't remember how it goes, but I don't think it was particularly funny even when somebody told it correctly. After a couple of hours with this image of St. Joseph staring me in the face, I started thinking about the truth behind the joke.

As anyone who has been a parent knows, it's not very long before you realize you're going to mess up. You are going to mess up all the time. You are going to try to avoid the mistakes that your parents made, and you are going to make mistakes in the opposite direction, or you are going to realize that those things you thought were mistakes, were the best things you could have done for your children. You are going to perpetuate the dysfunction of the home where you grew up because you didn't even recognize it as dysfunction. You are going to be really, really tired and be impatient with your kids.

And as I sat there thinking about how Joseph was the sinful person in his home, I realized that this had to be. Jesus if He were to be like us in everything but sin, if He were to identify with us in our suffering, had to have an imperfect parent. I'm not saying that I think St. Joseph was a bad, or even a mediocre parent. I'm sure he was an excellent and very holy parent. He just wasn't perfect. When I look at this picture of Joseph (and this is a very young Joseph although you can't tell here) looking at the infant Jesus, I wonder if he was wondering what the heck an ordinary, sinful man was supposed to do with a perfect wife and a Son that was God. He must have wondered what God was thinking. So much seemed to depend on him, and he knew that he wasn't, nobody was, up to the job. And yet somehow, he completed his task.

It also seems to me that in this image Joseph is a perfect symbol for all Christians, all of us. Here we stand with the Body of Christ, the Church, in our hands to do with as best we can. Whatever our part in the Body may be, we aren't up to the job. We know it. Everybody else knows it, too. I frequently wonder what God was thinking.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Day Late

Not that that would surprise anyone.

I wanted to post this yesterday on the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila, but I didn't get home until after 10 last night. I know that I have written about her more than once, although the search engine can only come up with one post. I love St. Theresa. I very much identify with her, not because of her holiness, but because our faults are similar. I have also relied very heavily on the following prayer which I know I've posted here before, but given all the hysteria concern about the Synod and the Ebola Virus, I thought would be worth remembering.

Let nothing disturb thee.
Let nothing afright thee.
All things are passing.
God never changes.
Patient endurance attains to all things.
Whom God possesses in nothing is lacking.
God never changes.

I'd like to add that this isn't just a nice pious idea. It's very hard work, but it's possible for perfectly ordinary people, not just great saints. We have to turn our minds over and over again from whatever it is we're worrying about, but if we persevere, we can succeed. The Lord will help us to succeed. There will be times, many times, when we fail for one reason or another, and maybe even St. Teresa couldn't do it all the time, but as she said, it's that patient endurance.

Also, remember the Prayer of St. John Fisher on the sidebar. Couldn't be a better time to start praying for our bishops.


Monday, September 29, 2014

The Anteroom

The Net Mender, Marianne Stokes
In April I wrote in another post that when someone in our family dies, we move into a little anteroom of death--not able to follow  our loved one to the place where he has gone, but unable to go back to the everyday world, and it's the rare friend who is able to come in with us. This is what I expected to experience when my mother died, but I didn't. I didn't feel at all removed from the everyday world, nor did I feel at all separated from those around me. When I thought about it later, I realized that the reason I didn't go into the room was that I was already there. This is where I live now. And this is where I'm at home.

I know that many of you probably think that this is morbid or depressing. I'm sure that a few years ago, I would have felt the same way. But it's not. It's just that I have reached that place in my life where I have done all I felt that I needed to do, and that everything that comes now is just a prelude to that step over that final threshold.

Don't think that I'm saying that I think this is imminent. I don't. I might live for another 20 or 30 years. I might be called to do a lot of surprising things. I'm happy with my life and I'm surrounded by people I love who love me. I'll be happy to stay, but I'm also looking forward to letting go. It's a very peaceful place to be.
Death is swallowed up in victory. 
Where, O death, is your victory? 
Where, O death, is your sting? 
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 
But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Should you want to comment and find that Blogger is being recalcitrant, try this, write your comment and copy it. If it doesn't post, paste your comment into a new box. For some reason, this seems to work for me. JTC

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Time to Go?

We are thinking about moving. Neither one of us really wants to move, but we are thinking that pretty soon, we must. So now, on my way to and from work, or wherever else we are going, I keep my eyes open. I want to store it all up--and it's making things very difficult.

It is almost as if, knowing that I am thinking of leaving, the world around me is courting, It's been especially beautiful lately because of the mist.  This morning, there was a blanket of fog hovering over the cotton fields and the sunlight was at just the right angle to lay a veil of gold over the gray. It reminded me of that song that Lancelot sings in CamelotIf Ever I Would Leave You

How can I leave now when the mist is rising and weaving new mysteries every morning, or in the winter when everything is that lovely grayish brown except the one cardinal sitting in a tree like a burning heart; or in the Spring because of as e. e. cummings said, "the leaping greenly spirits of trees/and a blue dream of sky;and for everything/which is natural which is infinite which is yes"

And summer, well I have to admit that if I have to leave, summer would probably be the easiest time. It's so often hot and sometimes so muggy that I can hardly breathe, and I might be tempted to go even if Lancelot said that, "[my] face [had] a luster that put gold to shame." Still, it will be even hotter in the city where the concrete doesn't cool off even at night and there are no stars to speak of.

When Jane Eyre thought that she would have to leave Mr. Rochester and go to Ireland to be a governess there, she said, "I see the necessity of departure; and it is like looking on the necessity of death." And that is what it is like. It will be like a little death. But, death holds a promise, and that necessity doesn't sound anywhere near as threatening as it used to, about which more later.

For the present, at least, we are here and probably will be for a while. It might be a few years or a few months. I'm going to try to go on as if I will be here forever, although I'm hoping to get rid of some stuff. After moving my mother's stuff twice in less than 3 months, after moving a good bit of my own stuff twice in three months last year, I'm not in any hurry to start packing, and when I do, I want there to be less to pack.

As you may have noticed, I haven't been writing lately. I've wanted to, and there are things that I very much want to write about, but I just have not been able to do it. I think that my thoughts have been too unsettled and I haven't been able to concentrate on any one thing long enough to write about it. Things have begun to settle down now, though, so hopefully it won't be another 6 weeks before another post appears. 


Thursday, September 11, 2014

St. Martin's Blog

I think that I have mentioned before in a post that the page with the Novena to St. Martin de Porres which can be found on the sidebar has had as many visits as all the other posts combined. Sometimes people leave prayer requests in the comments, but they don't show up in the Recent Comments box because it's a page and not a post.

Recently, I've been talking to a young man who asked for prayers fairly often, and I would like to invite you all to read the comments on that page, and pray for him as he is in a situation where there is little spiritual support.



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.


Sunday, August 3, 2014


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.


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.


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.


Monday, July 14, 2014


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.


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.


Thursday, July 10, 2014


One day I was praying in church and I said to the Lord, "You can't imagine how much I love you." Then I thought, "Well, that's a really stupid thing to say. He knows exactly how much I love Him better than I do." And then, this is what came into my head, "You are the imagination of My Love for you." 

And so are you.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014


I'm pretty busy going back and forth to work and the hospital, so I thought I'd post a few pictures of some clouds I saw a couple of weeks ago. Of course, the pictures are woefully inadequate to show what I really saw, but they are kind of nice. This is a two-lane country road, but thank goodness they have built an extra lane in front of a housing development that got started, but stopped cold when the bottom fell out of the housing market. This made it possible for me to pull over and walk up and down the road taking pictures without risking my life--not that I haven't risked my life to take pictures for you before, but it's nice not to have to. Remember to click on them once to enlarge them. They look much better, I think.

I love the moon in this one. I didn't even realize it was there until I'd taken the picture.

I wish I could describe the way these clouds look. The big one on the right, just over the horizon, was glowing with a turquoise light.

Before I got to the country road, when I was still on the expressway, there was a full double rainbow running parallel to the road. The lower rainbow was one of the brightest I've ever seen. Sorry I was to big of wimp to take a picture. If it had been in front of the car, I might have done it, but on the side, it looked to risky.