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Sunday’s Gospel is the account of Jesus calming the storm from Mark 4. Here’s an excerpt from my retelling of the Gospel storm narratives from the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories. 

Click on each image for a larger version. You can see the structure, and note the end – at the end of each entry, I draw a spiritual or church-related point and then pose a “think quietly” question and a prayer prompt.


This Sunday’s first reading is a very short excerpt from the book of Job. I suppose because it matches Mark’s account of Jesus calming the storm:

The Lord addressed Job out of the storm and said:
Who shut within doors the sea,
when it burst forth from the womb;
when I made the clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling bands?
When I set limits for it
and fastened the bar of its door,
and said: Thus far shall you come but no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stilled!

As I say, repeatedly, a decent spiritual practice is to be led by the liturgical life of the Church. We do not know how to pray as we ought says Paul. But, he continues, the Spirit leads us. And, as Jesus promised, the Spirit dwells in the Church. So, there you have it. You don’t know how to pray as you ought: be led, not by your own whims and desires, but by the Spirit through the Church.

So, Job.

It’s Sunday’s first reading. Have you ever read the entire book? Like, from the Bible?

No?

Why not try it?

Why not take a few minutes that you’re spending scrolling through the Gram or Twitter or Reddit and give some time to this instead?

You might be surprised.

What do we think we all know about Job?

He’s…patient. Right? The “patience of Job.”

I have no idea where that came from, for in my reading, Job isn’t patient. Well, maybe he is in the sense that he could have, early on, beat up on his super-helpful “friends,” but didn’t. So sure – patient.

But other than that? No.

Job, as you probably know, suffers greatly. Everything is taken from him in tragic and faithful ways.

Well, say his friends. You probably deserve it, bud.

You must have done something to bring on the divine wrath in this way. Say you’re sorry and move on.

But guess what?

Job doesn’t buy this line, at all. No, he says. Sure I’m a sinner, but there’s nothing I’ve done to deserve every member of my family being taken from me, all my earthly goods wiped out and me, here, covered in boils. Nothing.

And so, much of the book of Job is this…argument. The friends trying to convince Job that he deserved this, Job fighting back and questioning, questioning, questioning.

Finally, God steps in.

God answers. In a whirlwind, in a storm, God comes to Job.

Well, who are you? God asks. Where were you when I made all this?

What do you know about any of this?

Nothing. Nada. Not a thing, of course. Because God’s ways are great and so much bigger, and we are so small, and our perspective so limited.

In the end, Job understands. Despite not getting the answer he thought he was looking for, he encountered Truth.

When I read Job, here’s one of the points I take away.

In this narrative, God comes in a very personal way to one character. He addresses one figure, he meets one person, if not face-to-face, as close as is possible. if your name’s not Moses.

Job.

The one who argued, who refused to accept platitudes, the one who asked questions.

And Job, the one who wouldn’t stop asking those questions, once he was met by the answer of the living God, stepped back, stepped away and acknowledged the vast difference between himself, a creature, and the Creator is in the end rewarded, while the friends who blandly assured Job of what they knew was true? Well, the Lord’s anger blazes against them because they, God’s purported defenders had not “spoken rightly” about the Almighty.

Go chew on that for a while.

Perhaps patience here can be defined, not as compliant silence, but as deep trust that doesn’t preclude seeking, probing and questions. And is prepared to be put in one’s place when the answers finally arrive.

****

For children (yes):

I don’t have this book anymore, but it was a favorite. It’s not in print either, but you can probably find a copy somewhere. Oh, I see it’s been reissued as a board book now.

Originally – Who’s a Friend of the Water-Spurting Whale? illustrated, obviously, by Tomie de Paola, now God is Great, God is Good.

Something I return to over and over is the presentation of Catholic life in the past from the past – in contemporary accounts in books and periodicals, in novels and memoirs. In trying to understand the continuities and discontinuities in Catholic life, secondary histories can only go so far, and how far they go is limited, not only by distance, but by bias.

I find that there’s nothing more helpful in overcoming assumptions about how Catholics surely understood their own faith lives and the institution than reading works from the past – and I don’t mean apologetics, as useful as that can be.

And even when I least expect it, I find nuggets and puzzles pieces – for example in That Summer in Paris, which I got at an estate sale simply because I’m interested in the period and two of the featured writers – Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Little did I know that author Morley Callaghan was Catholic and incorporated Catholic-type plotlines into some of his fiction.

And even here, there are points to note. This will be a lengthy post, so I’ll break it up. No commentary offered, except to say you can see how much has changed and how much hasn’t and how complicated relationships with faith have always been a part of human experience.

The first occurs on the ship over to Paris, when the Callaghans connect with a priest onboard:

Continue Reading »

A quick post about this quick read.

My son picked it up, read the cover flap and remarked, “Oh, so this is like Midnight in Paris. ” Well, sort of, but not really. Some of the same people, but living in real life, not Woody Allen’s fantasy.

Published in the early 60’s, after Hemingway’s suicide, and perhaps, in a way, inspired by it, the book is a memoir of just what it says – the summer of 1929, spent in Paris by (very) young Canadian writer Morley Callaghan and his wife. Callaghan had some contacts already, and traveled across the Atlantic hoping to spend his time hanging out with the likes of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Joyce.

Which he did.

And while there’s a lot of sitting in cafes, the book is about far more than sitting in cafes. It’s really about friendship, the ways we present ourselves, what we expose, what we conceal, and the fragile dynamics of relationships.

The primary tension Callaghan experiences over the summer is his puzzlement over Hemingway’s and Fitzgerald’s relationship, which he had believed to be friendly, but was not. Callaghan had become friends with Hemingway in Toronto when they both worked as reporters. He reconnects with Hemingway in Paris, they set up a regular boxing date, but it takes him longer to meet Fitzgerald. When he finally does, Fitzgerald frequently asks him if he’s seen Hemingway, and if Callaghan could take him along next time he’s going to meet up with Hemingway – and Hemingway responds non-committedly when Callaghan brings up Fitzgerald. It’s awkward for Callaghan and he doesn’t understand it at first – the writers are certainly different, but both appealing, so what’s the problem?

There’s no easy answer, but the story of that summer, as Callaghan tells it thirty years later, gives us insight into both men’s characters. Hemingway is very kind and affable, but clearly, as Callaghan sees it, on his way to presenting a character, rather than himself to the world. Fitzgerald initially strikes Callaghan as aristocratic and kind, if a bit elusive, but ends up just being sad, the whole mess coming to a head during a boxing workout in which Fitzgerald was timekeeper, and turned out badly, a very well-known incident in literary history, in fact.

(This is the kind of life being led at the time – this boxing workout between Hemingway and Callaghan had Fitzgerald as a timekeeper. During a previous workout, they’d enlisted Jean Miro to keep time. Personally, I’d rather watch a movie based in those realities rather than Allen’s ridiculous fantasies.)

MY two friends when I saw them separately, seemed to be wonderfully untroubled about each other. Ernest would have had me believe he hadn’t given a second thought to his words to Scott in the American Club. Nothing worth mentioning again had happened. When I saw Scott, he was superb too—he didn’t even ask for Ernest. And I joined in the general pretending. I became a man who “knew how to behave” as Ernest would say. I managed to give the impression of being completely unaware of any deep disappointments and hidden resentments. How could bitterness flare up if they weren’t seeing each other? I asked myself. For now that July had come they were both to go away, Ernest south, probably to Spain, and Scott would soon be off to the Riviera, What could be better than to have everybody go away for awhile? Everybody off to the seashore ! I was glad they were going. While they were away I could relax a little myself and pretend that we would all be the best of friends when they returned. I knew I ought to have stopped pretending. But pretending is contagious. It makes life more agreeable.

I should have said, “Ernest, I think you’ve got Scott all wrong,” But Ernest was a strange ingrown man who could make you feel his resentments were born of some deep primitive wisdom. Besides, I didn’t want to keep reminding him I had had a hand in his embarrassment. If I kept prodding him about Scott, if dared to suggest he might owe Scott an apology, I was afraid his vivid imagination would start working on me, and he wouldn’t want to see me either. Let the whole thing blow over, I thought.

There’s a lot to like in this book, and I particularly appreciated this observation on change:

But with time passing, I was learning the grim lesson that all writers who aren’t just morning glories, and go on, have to learn. In the beginning the good opinion of Hemingway and Fitzgerald had helped me to feel I was not alone—even in my hometown. Having passed the morning-glory period, I had learned that you can’t be sustained by the praise and admiration of a few friends. You lose them along the way anyway, and since you should always be changing and becoming something else, the friends, if they stay alive, may not stay with you. I find that people who like what I did when I was twenty-five often do not like what I do now, but I have learned that this is because they would like things to be done as they were done when they, themselves, were twenty-five or thirty—the time when they were most alive themselves. And those dreams I had of Paris—as a place—the lighted place—I had learned it had to be always in my own head, wherever I was. Sometimes in strange places I have remembered that prison chaplain who insisted that no prison should be so obviously escape proof that freedom was even beyond the imagination of the inmates. They ought to be allowed at least a condition for the comfort of their fantasies. I won’t enlarge on this splendid idea.

The summer ends. Callaghan and his wife realize that as charming as it is, as much of a literary adventure it had been, Paris was not home, and was not a place where he could take root and write from. They were pilgrims, visitors, travelers in Paris, and it was time to go home.

****

A twist that I discovered in doing a bit of research – the letters between the three of them related to this boxing match and the subsequent controversy were stolen from a bookseller in 1993 and have never been recovered:

The target — the prize — was the package of rare books and letters he had advertised for sale around the world: first editions of Hemingway’s first two books, one a personally inscribed copy to Callaghan, four original Hemingway letters, only one previously published, and more correspondence from Callaghan, Fitzgerald, Edmund Wilson and others.

The collection was not just rare. It was historic: the complete, post-fight exchange of the famous writers, squabbling over what had happened in the ring at the American Club in Paris that summer of 1929, and what happened after.

So, I read this book – which I’ll chat about it, specifically, in the next post – That Summer in Paris, about a young writer’s summer in, er, Paris in 1929, in which he palled around with the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald (and Joyce, as I mentioned here).

I picked it up at an estate sale a couple of months ago. The deceased had been a professor of literature and film and was of Palestinian roots. As I opened it the book – edition published in 1962 – the other day to begin reading, two things promptly tumbled from the pages:

They’re all words from the book, yes, even soutane and genuflect because a priest is encountered and churches are toured. And Callaghan was Catholic.

Anyway,

Of course, I don’t know who the very handsome fellow in the photograph is. The book’s owner, a Middle Eastern immigrant who ended up teaching college students in Alabama? A friend? Relative? I’ve no idea. But that ain’t Alabama, that’s for sure.

Nor do I know why he noted these particular words. Were they new to him? Words he needed to look up? Words he thought were interesting for one reason or another? Did he just like the sound of them?

You could easily compose a found poem from these words. Perhaps that’s what he was about, why he noted them.

Or even a short story.

That ineffable, articled old walrus was sipping an aperitif in the café. I noted his pallor, but he brushed me off in a peremptory manner and nodded at the priest across the way in his soutane. “He seems a bit of a scunner,” muttered the walrus. “Profligate, even.” I watched the cleric push open the doors of the church on the corner and enter. I imagined – wondered – if he’d genuflect as he went up the aisle of the church. I turned back to the walrus. “Well,” I said, as cheerfully as I could, “How’s the campaign for alderman going?”

I went and sat outside in the cool of the evening and wondered what I was supposed to say about these found things. And here I am, back again.

It seems to me to be something about the concrete.

Here I am, a 60-year old woman, writing a few things, tending to the people in her life in 2021, contemplating words noted down from a dead Palestinian scholar from a book written by a Canadian around the time I was born about the Writing Life in Paris circa 1929, around the time my mother was born. In Canada.

Almost a hundred years.

I don’t know what the connection means. I can’t explain, can’t think of a cozy, succinct circle to draw. All I know is that I like it.

I like the actual piece of paper and the photograph printed on paper surprising me, fluttering to the ground from the book made of paper that I bought in a garage in a real house from real people – the daughters, maybe, or granddaughters of the man in the picture – a mile or so from my real house – that somehow connects me to those people, and then to Palestine, to Paris, to Toronto, to all kinds of people, real people, trying to make sense of life, and caring enough about it all to leave their questions, if not their answers, behind for me to find.

ineffable…profligate….

genuflect (?)

The fatal contrast

It’s an apt juxtaposition of events: American Catholic bishops discussing a potential document on the Eucharist, including a section on “eucharistic coherence” and Juneteenth, long celebrated, but just-this-minute-declared federal holiday commemorating African-American emancipation.

The vote to write a document and then talk about it was more decisive than expected, although a core of senior prelates remained opposed. Keven Tierney writes about that and what it might mean here.

Hardly any of us, no matter how many solid individual bishops we know of, have much faith in the American bishops as a group. I’m just here to point out that this is nothing new. And the emancipation of enslaved peoples is a good way to understand that.

Just pick up any objective (aka, non-triumphalist) history of the Church in the United States and you will read that the leadership of the American Church (along with most Catholics south and north) stood in opposition to abolition of slavery and anything but gradual – very gradual – emancipation. I’m not going to rehash all that history here. It’s easily available. Last month, I highlighted this good, brief article in The Catholic Thing on the subject.

Here’s a quick and superficial summary of the period, from a 2013 article in American Catholic Studies.

Although Pope Gregory XVI’s In Supremo denounced the slave trade in 1839, the apostolic letter did not criticize the institution itself. Some historians have argued that the Pope’s death in 1846 and the election of Pius IX ended any form of a Vatican led anti-slavery initiative. Overall, Gregory XVI and his successor Pius IX made no attempt to intervene on the American slavery issue, even though some sources have suggested that Gregory XVI held anti-slavery sentiments.

Although the Gregory’s In Supremo provided Catholic abolitionists with a source to dispute the institution, it accounted for a rather powerless voice, because only a few American Catholics emerged as abolitionists during the pre-war period. The majority of Catholics actually favored slavery as a means of protecting the economic status of Irish and other European Catholic immigrants in the United States. In addition, numerous Northern abolitionists also held strong anti-Catholic sentiments. Republicans and freesoilers often “viewed slavery and Catholicism alike as regressive institutions.” A common chant of the movement included “down with slavery and popery!!” As a result, a strong political alliance formed between the Catholics and the pro-slavery Democratic Party. According to historian Mischa Honeck, even Catholics in Northern cities, such as Cincinnati, “principally voted for the socially conservative Democrats, not because they regarded chattel slavery as a positive good, but because they had come to identify opposition to it with the extreme Protestantism of the evangelical abolitionists.”

Other sources of Catholic tolerance toward slavery developed from the church’s conservative heritage.” According to historian John T. McGreevy, the Catholic position toward slavery “rested upon the pervasive fear of liberal individualism and social disorder that so shaped Catholic thought during the nineteenth century.” Most Catholics viewed abolition as a “misguided radicalism” that threatened the stability of the nation’s social order by potentially inciting racial conflict between African Americans and whites.

(That article is on JSTOR, which requires an account to view, but JSTOR is still giving access to 100 articles a month for simply registering, at no cost. If you’re interested, it’s a cinch to register and read it.)

And so most of the American bishops followed suit…staying as far away from politics as they could.

An exception was Archbishop John Purcell of Cincinnati, who evolved to become a vocal opponent of slavery and proponent of abolition and emancipation. This article – which is not on JSTOR and requires no registration – lays out his journey, and the reactions to him.

Archbishop John Baptist Purcell of Cincinnati was one of these minority voices, the first American Catholic bishop to offer public support for immediate emancipation of slaves. Through his teaching and the influence of his diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Telegraph, Purcell attempted to convince his readers of the inconsistency of slavery’s existence in a free nation while striking at the racial, religious, and political discord that shaped the loyalties of Catholics in antebellum America. Historians have largely ignored Purcell’s contribution to the intellectual and moral conversation of the period, mentioning him only in passing as an example of a divergent opinion. Yet his presence in Cincinnati was critical in shaping the ideological climate of the Ohio Valley during the Civil War era….

…..Early in his episcopacy, Purcell pronounced his own moral distaste for slavery yet seemed unwilling to assert these views to the Catholics of America or to become associated with the abolitionist movement. At a speech given in 1838 in his hometown of Mallow, County Cork, Ireland, Purcell spoke of the inconsistency between the Declaration of Independence and the existence of slavery. He later termed this inconsistency “the fatal contrast,” acknowledging his belief that America could not tolerate the institution of slavery if it were to be faithful to its ideals. At the time of his 1838 speech, however, Purcell blamed the “virus” of slavery less on the Americans as much as the English, who had established it during the colonial period. Clearly, Purcell found it safer to be anti-English than to level charges against his fellow countrymen….

But over time, Purcell changed his view. National unity and avoidance of violence remained a priority, but as Purcell saw the southern states’ intransigence, he came to embrace the view that if states were willing to secede and go to war over slavery – there was no reason not to abolish slavery, and in short order.

…Upon returning from a second trip to Europe on September 1, 1862, three weeks before Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Purcell delivered one of his most important speeches of the war. Reiterating the content of his 1838 speech delivered in Ireland, Purcell said that he believed “a people could not long survive the fatal contrast between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, the one asserting that all men are born free, sovereign and independent, that the other millions may be slaves.” Purcell further proclaimed that war could have been avoided if only the South had compromised, abolishing slavery “after a given period, say fifty, seventy, or a hundred years . . . and in the meantime, as the Northern States had done, fit her slaves, by education, to be men.”

Since compromise was then out of the question, Purcell went so far as to advocate emancipation of the slaves as a means of ending the war within three months’ time. While not demanding immediate emancipation, Purcell’s address stood in stark contrast to the beliefs and actions of his fellow Irish Catholics, some of whom had participated in racial rioting just months earlier.

This and subsequent statements were not well received by his fellow bishops:

In a pastoral letter written to the people of his diocese on January 27, 1864, Purcell stated his position in the clearest of terms: “We go with our whole heart and soul for the maintenance of the Union and the abolition of slavery — against neither of which does the Supreme Pontiff of Christendom utter a single word.” Bishop Spalding of Louisville, in particular, condemned the letter, saying that if Purcell could not produce a non-partisan pastoral letter, it would be best not to issue one. In fact, the opposition to Purcell was so great that the bishops of the surrounding dioceses refused to attend the Provincial Council that Purcell had planned to take place in Cincinnati the fourth Sunday after Easter, 1864.

The issues during those decades leading up to the Civil War were different than the issues related to “eucharistic coherence” and Catholic politicians. Bishops were struggling to maintain unity in a time when the nation was, indeed, splitting apart and war threatened.

But I think it is still worth bouncing the present day off of this particular corner of the past, don’t you?

When does the expressed concern to not engage in politics or seem too political become, indeed, a political act?

What is “unity?” What comprises it, what is its center? What is real and false unity?

Can we look at this objectively and admit how selective we can be with our calls to religious leadership to be counter-cultural, prophetic, and speak truth to secular power, yes?

And what about that sensus fidelium, or as it tends to work itself out these days, doctrine-by-polling. “Most American Catholics support…..” Well. In the mid-19th century, most American Catholics seem to have supported slavery and opposed abolition and emancipation. So?

Let’s see. Ambiguous papal statements that could be used to support the status quo of an immoral and unjust system. And were by American Catholic leadership. An American Catholic populace that also supported that injustice, or, at the very least, opposed and feared change.

So what’s changed?

Anything?

….

7 Quick Takes

—1 —

First off, new book this week – the Great Adventure Kids Catholic Bible Chronicle. More on it here.

— 2 —

Today? A funeral. No, not for anyone I know – Musician Son is playing organ at a funeral in a parish across town. Blessed Sacrament, which is, in my mind, the most beautiful church in this diocese. It’s the home of the main Latin Mass community.

(Forgive the Instagram captions – from Thursday’s practice.)

— 3 —

Here’s a page with the parish’s history. Construction was finished in 1930, but the interior decor dates to the mid-1950’s.

— 4 —

Last night we headed to our local independent film venue, Sidewalk Film, to see The Killing of Two Lovers produced by and starring Clayne Crawford, who was a featured role in one of the best television series of the decade, Rectify. He also had an ill-fated stint on the television reboot of Lethal Weapon, co-starring Daman Wayans from which he was, er, fired.

Crawford is from Alabama – Clay, which is east of here. And he was there at the screening and did a Q & A afterwards – which is why I wanted to go and take, especially, one of the two still living here, who has a strong interest in film and filmmaking. And it was worth it – this was an extremely low-budget production (30K) filmed over 12 days in a tiny town in Utah – and most valuable was Crawford’s exploration of the limits – but also the benefits – of working on a shoestring.

— 5 –

I’m going to have some Catholic-related Juneteenth content coming up later today, I hope. But until then, here’s a link from 2019 featuring interviews conducted by the Federal Writer’s Project/ WPA in the 1930’s, with formerly enslaved people – the article ran in the Montgomery paper on Jefferson Davis’ birthday that year, a day which, absurdly, is still celebrated as a state holiday in Alabama.

— 6 —

Here’s more about the project from the Atlantic.

— 7 —

Okay, let’s end with this. As much hate as I direct towards social media, yeah, yeah, I know good can come of it. Lots of good. Of course!

Here’s an example – a local (Birmingham area) young woman who fosters teens. Her TikTok is a treasure trove of advocacy and information – her philosophy about fostering teens, what she does, how she provides for them, why she fosters and lots of encouragement to others. Really worth checking out – the world is full of folks doing really good things for other humans. To the extent that social media can share their good news – okay, okay, it can be a good thing. I guess.

For more Quick Takes, Visit This Ain’t the Lyceum

It’s appropriate that I read this anecdote yesterday. I’d meant to post this, well, yesterday, but I got tired out after finishing watching Patton, an episode of Mad Men and then discussing various matters with the people who still live here.

But anyway. It’s from That Summer in Paris, a book I picked up at a recent estate sale, and is proving to be absolutely delightful – as well as an introduction to a writer I’d never heard of before, Canadian Morley Callaghan. Who was, as it turns out, Catholic, and did work Catholic themes into some of his fiction – as in Such is my Beloved, about a priest trying to reform two prostitutes.

So, obviously that rabbit hole will be explored later this week.

Anyway, in his mid-twenties, he arrived in Paris in the summer of 1929, with several publications to his name already, some connections made and many more, he hoped, on the way. He’d hoped to meet James Joyce, of course, but Sylvia Beach, Joyce’s gatekeeper at the Shakespeare & Co bookstore, was not helpful in that regard. But one night, it happened, and this…is very funny.

From That Summer in Paris:

It was a restaurant near the Gare Montparnasse, where the food was notably good. Just to the right as you go in we saw McAlmon sitting with the Joyces. The Irishman’s picture was as familiar to us as any movie star’s. He was a small-boned, dark Irishman with fine features. He had thick glasses and was wearing a dark suit. his courtly manner made it easy for us to sit down, and his wife, large bosomed with a good-natured face, offered us a massive motherly ease. They were both so unpretentious it became impossible for me to resort to Homeric formalities. I couldn’t even say, ‘Sir, you are the greatest writer of our time,’ for Joyce immediately became too chatty, too full of little bits of conversation, altogether unlike the impression we had been given of him…

….It was now ten o’clock. Turning to his wife, Joyce used the words I remember so well. ‘Have we still got that bottle of whisky in the house Nora?’


‘Yes we have,’ she said.


‘Perhaps Mr and Mrs Callaghan would like to drink it with us.’


Would we? My wife said we would indeed and I hid my excitement and elation. An evening at home with the Joyces, and Joyce willing to talk and gossip about other writers while we killed a bottle! Stories about Yeats, opinions about Proust!…It all danced wildly in my head as we left the restaurant….

And here follows a narrative of them walking down the street and Callaghan almost losing Joyce, since he’d forgotten that the man’s eyesight was quite impaired…..

…The Joyce apartment, at least the living room in which we sat, upset me. Nothing looked right. In the whole world there wasn’t a more original writer than Joyce, the exotic in the English language. In the work he had on hand he was exploring the language of the dream world. In this room where he led his life I must have expected to see some of the marks of his wild imagination. Yet the place was conservatively respectable….The room was all in a conventional middle-class pattern with, if I remember, a brown patterned wallpaper, a mantel, and a painting of Joyce’s father hanging above the mantel. Mrs Joyce had promptly brought out the bottle of Scotch. As we began to drink, we joked and laughed and Joyce got talking about the movies. A number of times a week he went to the movies. Movies interested him. As he talked I seemed to see him in a darkened theatre, the great prose master absorbed in camera technique, so like the dream technique, one picture then another flashing in his mind. Did it all add to his knowledge of the logic of the dream world?

Finnegans, Wake! : June 2020


As the conversation began to trail off I got ready. At the right moment I would plunge in and question him about his contemporaries. But damn it all, I was too slow. Something said about the movies had reminded McAlmon of his grandmother. In a warm, genial, expansive mood, and as much at home with the Joyces as he was with us, he talked about his dear old grandmother, with a happy nostalgic smile. The rich pleasure he got out of his boyhood

recollections was so pure that neither the Joyces nor my wife nor I could bear to interrupt. At least not at first. But he kept it up. For half an hour he went on and on. Under my breath I cursed him again and again. Instead of listening to Joyce, I was listening to McAlmon chuckling away about his grandmother. Quivering with impatience I looked at Joyce, who had an amused little smile. No one could interrupt McAlmon. Mrs Joyce seemed to have an extraordinary capacity for sitting motionless and looking interested. The day would come, I thought bitterly, when I would be able to tell my children I had sat one night with Joyce listening to McAlmon talking about his grandmother.

When McAlmon paused to take another drink, Joyce caught him off balance. ‘Do you think Mr and Mrs Callaghan would like to hear the record?’ he asked his wife.


‘What record?’ asked McAlmon, blinking suspiciously…Mrs Joyce was regarding my wife and me very gravely. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I think it might interest them.’


‘What record?’ McAlmon repeated uneasily.


Mrs Joyce rose, got a record out of a cabinet and put it on the machine. After a moment my wife and I looked at each other in astonishment. Aimee Semple McPherson was preaching a sermon! At that time, everyone in Europe and America had heard of Mrs McPherson, the attractive, seductive blonde evangelist from California. But why should Joyce be interested in the woman evangelist? and us? and McAlmon? Cut off, and therefore crestfallen, he too waited, mystified. Joyce had nodded to me, inviting my scholarly attention….

….The evangelist had an extraordinary voice, warm, low, throaty and imploring. But what was she asking for? As we listened, my wife and I exchanging glances, we became aware that the Joyces were watching us intently, while Mrs McPherson’s voice rose and fell. The voice, in a tone of ecstatic abandonment, took on an ancient familiar rhythm. It became like a woman’s urgent love moan as she begged. ‘Come, come on to me, And I will give you rest…and I will give you rest…Come, come…’ My wife, her eyebrows raised, caught my glance, then we averted our eyes, as if afraid that the Joyces would know what we were thinking. But Joyce, who had been watching us intently, had caught our glance. It was enough. He brightened and chuckled. Then Mrs Joyce, who had also kept her eyes on us, burst out laughing herself. Nothing had to be explained. Grinning mischievously, in enormous satisfaction with his small success, Joyce poured us another drink.


Before we could comment, his daughter, a pretty dark young woman, came in. And a few minutes later, his son too joined us. It was time for us to leave.


When we had taken Robert McAlmon, publisher of the city of Paris, home, we wandered over to the Coupole. That night we shared an extraordinary elation at being in Paris….It was a good night.

Pray Like This

PATER NOSTER

Image: Daniel Mitsui

Today’s Gospel is the account of the “Lord’s Prayer” from Matthew – embedded within the Sermon on the Mount:

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard. Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him. So you should pray like this:
‘Our Father in heaven,
may your name be held holy,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us.
And do not put us to the test,
but save us from the evil one.

Of course, we have taken Jesus at his word here – pray like this –  and taken these prayers as literally– how we are to pray.

Although, I wonder how widespread memorization of these words are among those who aren’t Catholic? Years ago, my daughter was in a high school production of Lilies of the Field down here in Birmingham.  There’s a scene in which the sisters recite the Lord’s Prayer. They weren’t off book then, but, you know…the Lord’s Prayer. My daughter was the only one who knew it by heart, here in Bible country. Perhaps none of the other girls were church-goers at all, but it did prompt me to wonder…would evangelicals  – those of whom who aren’t so much into Bible verse memorization anymore – know the Lord’s Prayer as a stand-alone?

Anyway, as a memorized prayer, taking Jesus literally, the Lord’s Prayer is foundational. But it is more than that.

Pray like this. Use these words, certainly, but just as importantly, listen to the shape of it, attend to the perspective. They are about how to pray, no matter what words – or no words – we bring. They are about an attitude and approach.

So often when we think about prayer, we focus on petitions and on ourselves. We begin by spilling out our guts to God about our problems, needs and the state of the world as we see it.  But how does Jesus tell us how to pray?

By beginning in giving praise to God and acknowledging who God is.

Half the prayer is that – God is Father, God is holy, God reigns. Oh, and then…may we be sustained. May we be forgiven. May we be faithful in the face of temptation.

Amen. 

Not a lot of words. No self-centered babbling. A lot of God, not much us.

As I said, a conscience-pricker.

A bit more, on a slightly different angle, from The Words We Pray. 

These images are small, and I don’t have time to fix that, but you can actually read the entire chapter on The Lord’s Prayer here. Just go to the table of contents and click on it. 

A new book!

Copies arrived in the mail yesterday – the Great Adventure Kids Catholic Bible Chronicles.

Based on the Great Adventure Bible Timeline, it takes most of the narratives highlighted in that program and retells them in a way appropriate for children. That means the structure was established before I entered the chat – the outline was provided for me, and so last summer and early fall I wrote the stories. It’s a very nice book – check out the video!

And here are a few sample pages – more on Ascension’s website.

Update:

Someone on Facebook asked the very good question of – what’s the difference between this book and the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories? Do they complement each other?

Yes!

As I wrote above, this new book is based on the “Great Adventure” Biblical timeline, and takes that approach – reading this book from beginning to end will immerse you in a continuous narrative of salvation history. I wrote it very consciously on that score, constantly making connections between stories.

The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories was structured and written by me as a way of introducing readers to the Scriptures through the eyes of the Church, if you will – by placing stories by way of when a Catholic would generally hear them in the context of Sunday Mass. It’s through the Mass that most Catholics ordinarily encounter the Bible and occurrence of these stories in the liturgical context isn’t random. It developed over the centuries and I think it’s important, not only that Catholic children know the Bible, but know the Bible as the Church has understood it and incorporated it into liturgical life.

I think both can be used effectively, and in different ways.

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