Archive for the ‘Amy Welborn’ Category


Let’s Digest:

WritingI’m in Living Faith today. Go here for that. Last one until the end of July. 

I finished putting my novel Nothing Else Occurs to Me up on Wattpad. Backstory here. 

amy_welbornThe guys were out of town from last Wednesday to Monday, so I did get some work done. Not as much as I’d hoped, but isn’t that always the case? I got the next batch of Living Faith devotionals done and submitted a week early. (For those interested – they are for a 2021 edition). I also got an excellent running start done on the Lent 2021-related project that’s due on 6/20.

I am not ordinarily a planner of anything, but with projects like that, you must. Besides the necessity, I just find it much easier to work within a plan and structure, with printed-out calendars and everything. It’s the only part of my life that involves printed-out calendars.

So, for example, in writing the Grace-Filled Days 2020 devotional – almost 400 individual entries required – I made a schedule. I think I gave myself four months to write it, planning to write 3 devotionals a day. It was the only way to do so without getting either overwhelmed at the beginning, or procrastinating and finding myself swamped at the end.

Yah, so, with this. I did a bunch while the guys were gone, did the hard thinking/planning part while I had greater stretches of uninterrupted time, and now all I have to do is whip out a couple a day for the next couple of weeks – and since I planned the structure and themes, it’s almost like filling in the blank. I’ll get the first draft done a week before it’s due, then spend an hour a day for a week rewriting, tightening, making sure word count is okay and so on.

I have a lot of other stuff swirling in my brain. I just need to tear myself away from News and Commentary and FOCUS.

Reading:  I read The Soul of Kindness by Elizabeth Taylor (the English novelist, not the actress). I’d read Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont last month and enjoyed it. It’s keen character observation, gentle satire, a bit of an edge, hints of sadness. That kind of thing. My kind of light reading.

The Soul of Kindness interested me because I kept thinking, why did she write this? As in: it’s not intensely plot-driven and for most of the book, the keen character observation doesn’t seem to lead to very high stakes. My question wasn’t asked out of frustration, but more curiosity – trying to get into the head of someone who spent months of her life creating these particular characters doing these things.

The center of the plot is a young, newly married woman who is well-meaning and somewhat – although not dramatically – meddlesome. She’s the soul of kindness. But.

I’d read the synopsis and anticipated more fireworks – as in this character is perceived as and struggled with as manipulative and conniving. But it’s slower and more subtle than that. And as such, in the end, more interesting and, I think, more realistic.

I’ve picked up another Taylor (virtually) and I’ll let you know how that goes.

I got a bunch of New Yorkers via library curbside pickup the other day (most of our branches are still closed). Several good articles:

An excellent profile of novelist Lionel Shriver. 

Much of Shriver’s value system revolves around tough-mindedness. Stop borrowing money you can’t pay back—and stop lending it, too, while you’re at it. Don’t dwell on your traumas, recover from them. Rejoice in your power, not in your oppression, and never, ever start a sentence with “As a . . .” Shriver has changed her name, her country, her accent, her religious affiliation, and the definition of “female” that she was raised to embody, in order to become a self-created, self-interested oddity, distinct from the mores of literary society. But you can’t outwit everything. The body inevitably gets the last word, forcing us all to accept an identity that there’s no escaping: mortal.

A fantastic article about DIY science, that almost made me verklempt. It’s always so inspiring to see people say “screw it” to large institutions and use their freedom and intelligence to help others.

In recent years, biohackers have largely figured out how to avoid intervention by the law. In 2016, Mixæl Laufer, a math professor in California who oversees an anarchist biohacking collective called Four Thieves Vinegar, devised instructions for building an EpiPen, the device that opens the airway of someone suffering an allergic reaction. He called his version an EpiPencil, and said that making it would cost about thirty dollars. At the time, Mylan, the manufacturer of the EpiPen, was charging as much as three hundred dollars for one. The EpiPencil was made by combining off-the-shelf parts: an auto-injector designed for diabetics which could be purchased online; epinephrine, which could be prescribed by coöperative doctors; a syringe and a needle. Four Thieves Vinegar, which is named after a medieval legend about a home-brewed antidote for the bubonic plague, shared the directions for the EpiPencil on its Web site and on YouTube. Because the group was not manufacturing or distributing the product, it technically did not violate F.D.A. rules. (YouTube removed the video, claiming that it promoted “acts that have an inherent risk of serious physical harm or death.”)

What the article misses, though, is how much of what we now call “science” was, in fact DIY and done by “amateurs” up until the 20th century. The professionalization of everything, originally intended to help and protect, in the end, doesn’t.

Fantastic deep-dive into the attempts to make the deepest dives to the deepest points of the ocean. 

Finally, a beautifully written piece on P.G. Wodehouse’s experience of being imprisoned by the Germans at the beginning of World War II and the reaction to his use of his experience.

One of the takeaways is that “cancel culture” is certainly nothing new, although social media intensifies to an absurd, unjust degree. Wodehouse was “cancelled” by much of British literary society for decades after the war because of this.

“I have no hesitation in saying that he has not the slightest realisation of what he is doing,” a good friend of Wodehouse’s wrote to the Daily Telegraph. “He is an easy-going and kindly man, cut off from public opinion here and with no one to advise him.” George Orwell, in his essay “In Defence of P. G. Wodehouse,” from 1945, concluded, of Wodehouse’s broadcasts, that “the main idea in making them was to keep in touch with his public and—the comedian’s ruling passion—to get a laugh.”

When an M.I.5 officer and former barrister, Major Edward Cussen, interviewed Wodehouse, he said that he had wanted to reach out to his American public, who had written to him and sent him parcels while he was interned. Wodehouse said that there was also “a less creditable motive. I thought that people, hearing the talks, would admire me for having kept cheerful under difficult conditions but I think I can say that what chiefly led me to make the talks was gratitude.” Later, Wodehouse wrote to the editor of The Saturday Evening Post that he didn’t understand why the broadcasts were seen to be callous: “Mine simply flippant cheerful attitude of all British prisoners. It was a point of honor with us not to whine.” Wodehouse failed to understand how even a children’s bedtime story broadcast on Nazi radio could be a form of propaganda.

And yet, across time, Wodehouse’s naïveté seems the less extraordinary of his qualities. There are lots of political fools. Wodehouse had a rarer trait, too: a capacity for remaining interested and curious, even in a setting of deprivation. His resilient happiness, to me, remains heroic, and more essentially who he was. In his second broadcast, he writes of going to sleep on the floor of his cramped cell: “My last waking thought, I remember, was that, while this was a hell of a thing to have happened to a respectable old gentleman in his declining years, it was all pretty darned interesting and that I could hardly wait to see what the morrow would bring forth.”

But first – the writer, novelist Rivka Galchen, presents the appeal of Wodehouse quite beautifully:

My first encounter with Wodehouse was as a teen-ager, as my hard-of-hearing father stood two feet away from the television, the volume turned up to maximum. The Jeeves-and-Wooster stories were made into a television series, which began airing on PBS in 1990. My father, who was born in September, 1939, in the British-mandated Palestine, and grew up in a collective-farming community, and who by the goofy wheel of fortune was now teaching classes in fluid dynamics at the University of Oklahoma, in Norman—my dad thought “Jeeves and Wooster” was hilarious. In my memory, he watched these episodes, all of them, while wearing a towel, fresh out of the shower. That not-losing-a-minute feeling remains. I watched the episodes, too. Or at least was in the room while they were on.

I aspired to find the show funny, but didn’t, really. We had a couple of the books in our house—“Right Ho, Jeeves” and “Joy in the Morning”—and I read them dutifully, more bemused than amused. Like that of many comfortable teen-agers, my reading taste was more for the moody, or the extreme. I didn’t fall for Wodehouse until I had passed through the inevitable losses, fears, disappointments, and embarrassments that even a fortunate person accumulates over the decades—only then did the Jeeves-and-Wooster books become essential comforts. These are not difficult modernist tomes. One favorite plot hinges on a banjolele. I don’t necessarily read them front to back, but pick them up more as someone would a whiskey-and-soda, or a hymnal. The books are cozier than cozy mysteries, and, like a mystery, they help take one’s mind off real calamities.

…I’m reading Wodehouse novels every evening now, not because my own life is difficult—I’m eating a lot of peanut butter, and am healthy—but because whenever the impersonal or personal news cycle becomes overwhelming I find that it’s easier to transition into a night of sleep after a character is described as looking like a bewildered halibut. Having taught Wodehouse for a few years, I’ve discovered that most students have never heard of him. This seems to me a missed opportunity to improve the public’s mental health.


Watching: Umberto D., described here. 

Cooking: Not much, considering I was on my own for much of the week. But I did make a batch of scones to freezeand take out for breakfasts. Made Chicken Tinga yesterday. Oh, and a variation on my – slow-roast-tomatoes-into-candy technique. I slow roasted a batch of cheap tomatoes for a bit more than an hour with garlic and onion, tossed with oil, vinegar, butter, oregano and marjoram. After a couple of hours, took it out, squashed it about a bit, and now I have some of the most delicious pasta sauce I’ve ever made.

This morning:


That little bit of effort you don’t want to put out the night before – just do it. Throw the flour, salt, yeast and water together, let it sit, pull it out in the morning and bake. It’s worth it.

Read Full Post »

Umberto D



One of the no-one-else-will-be-interested-in-this films I watched last week was de Sica’s Umberto D. 

One of the great postwar Italian neorealist films, shot on location in Rome, two out of the three central characters were played by non-actors. A very simple plot: Umberto D is an elderly pensioner, in debt, being threatened with eviction by his landlady. What will he do?

The film highlights the pressures of post-war Italy, although it doesn’t seem that Umberto’s dilemma is presented as anything widespread or emblematic. Yes, the film begins with a protest of pensioners demanding more from the government, but it seems that Umberto is suffering more than most, and that because of debt he’s incurred – for some reason. We don’t know why, we don’t know why he is alone, we don’t know anything about his background, only his present. It’s interesting because that lack of context meant that I, at least, had less sympathy for the character than I might have otherwise.

But nevertheless, the fellow is being treated horribly by his landlady, a striving artiste and generally terrible person who wants to remake his flat into a salon and rents out rooms in her building (including Umberto’s) to canoodling couples. His only ally is the serving girl/maid/housekeeper, a young woman (also played by a non-actor) who has gotten pregnant – and isn’t quite sure who the father is.

The movie is a series of scenes of Umberto trying to figure a way out of his dilemma. He doesn’t have many possessions, but tries to sell what he can to meet his rent. He elevates a mild sickness into a reason to go to the hospital for a few day. It’s a Catholic hospital, of course, and the scene with a sister racing through a rosary with the patients before serving a meal is priceless. He considers and attempts begging.


His only real friend is his little dog, and it’s this relationship that’s the center of the film. The dog gives him comfort, the dog is willing to help him beg, if necessary. While Umberto is in the hospital, the landlady lets the dog get loose, and Umberto’s search leads him to the pound where we see stray animals being lifted from their cages by hooks, packed into a crate and then pushed into a gassing chamber. That’s quite something.

Eventually, Umberto, it is clear, reaches the end of his rope and decides that his only way out is to get out of life completely. I won’t spoil the rest of the film for you, but just know that Umberto’s relationship with the dog plays a central role here, too. It’s his only relationship, his only tie to life, and so his love for the dog, his instinct to care for him – and the dog’s instinct to care for him and protect his own life, shape these final events.

The ending is both satisfying and not. Not because we don’t really see a resolution to the central practical problem that’s been presented to us up to this point – where is he going to live? What is he going to live on? That question is completely unanswered. But another question is answered – how is he going to live? That is – how is Umberto going to make his way in this world in the time he has left?

The answer, to quote E.M. Forster: Only connect. 

Simple, but because we know the practical problems remain, not simplistic, either.

And provocative because it nudges us to look at the person next to us in line at the store or walking her dog with, perhaps, a renewed sense of compassion: what burdens are you carrying? 

Anyway, I enjoyed it for the reasons above, as well as the historic aspects – I love seeing these scenes of postwar Rome, studying the scenes to absorb how people lived, comported themselves and did ordinary things like eat in a busy cafe or get ants out of the rooming house kitchen (burn them with a flaming newspaper and then just brush wave the ashes on the floor).

I watched  it via Kanopy, which you might or might not be able to access through your local public library.


Read Full Post »

Alcuin Break

It seems, in a time in which your screens are filled with the latest Hot Takes  on the latest Outrage, it makes no sense to reach back centuries and present you with a 9th century poem and some words about the writer.

Well, to me, it seems like the best time. The constant, frantic mass of information and opinion that surrounds us demands perspective. This post doesn’t directly relate to disease or racism, but it does, I think, pertain to just…life. The world.

And that is what all of this mess comes down to. How do we live in the world and what do we make of it? What matters? What doesn’t?

I’ve also learned that my intuitions on what to post usually bear some fruit, for someone, somewhere. So, last week’s random find of a Robert Hart Benson passage evidently helped a priest pull together some thoughts for a homily – which lots of people heard. So, sure. Anything for the cause, really.

I’ve been lax on posting thoughts on the various In Our Time podcasts I’ve been listening to on my walks. This one aired back in January, on Alcuin, and it was very good. I mean – they all are – but I am always particularly appreciative of the balance and context In Our Time gives to religious figures from the past, refusing to hold them up to contemporary standards, respectful of who these people were in the place and time in which they lived.

Anyway, here’s the page for the Alcuin program. These programs are very easy to download and listen to, and I believe the entire program’s run – hundreds of shows – are available.

Who’s Alcuin?

You can read the old Catholic Encyclopedia article here.

He’s in the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. 

(Click for a readable version of this page)


But briefly, from the program’s website:

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Alcuin of York, c735-804AD, who promoted education as a goal in itself, and had a fundamental role in the renaissance at Charlemagne’s court. He wrote poetry and many letters, hundreds of which survive and provide insight into his life and times. He was born in or near York and spent most of his life in Northumbria before accepting an invitation to Charlemagne’s court in Aachen. To this he brought Anglo-Saxon humanism, encouraging a broad liberal education for itself and the better to understand Christian doctrine. He left to be abbot at Marmoutier, Tours, where the monks were developing the Carolingian script that influenced the Roman typeface.

There was a great deal that interested me in the broadcast. The discussion about the difference between cathedral and monastic schools, for example – gave me something to consider: the cathedral schools had a more expansive reach and, ultimately, course of study because they took students in from all over – and sent them back out again.

Secondly, Alcuin’s letters, which tell us a great deal about life during this period.

And finally (because I want to make this short[er])  – his poetry. The poem that I want to highlight for you is quite moving. It reflects all sorts of things: the beauty of God’s world, age, change, decline – and inevitability of all of it.

I share it with you just to help you remember – that as the world might seem to be shifting under your feet or changing too fast, leaving you behind – Alcuin wrote this over a thousand years ago. You’re not alone.

Here are the first two lines of O Mea Cella in Latin.

O mea cella, mihi habitatio dulcis, amata,
semper in aeternum, o mea cella, vale.

Even if you don’t know Latin, you can probably work it out. Here’s a full translation, original found here, copyright Steven R. Perkins:

O my cell, for me a dwelling sweet, beloved,
Ever into eternity, o my cell, farewell.
On every side a tree with resounding branches encloses you,
A small forest ever laden with flower-bearing foliage.
All the fields will yet bloom with health-bringing herbs,
Which the doctor’s hand seeks as a resource of health.
Rivers surround you on all sides with flowering banks,
Where the rejoicing fisherman stretches his nets.
Throughout the gardens your cloisters are redolent with fruit-bearing branches,
The white lilies are mixed with little red roses.
Every type of flying creatures cries out the morning odes,
And praises the creator God in its mouth.
In you the nourishing voice of the teacher once cried out,
Which handed on the books of wisdom with a sacred mouth.
In you at certain times the holy praise of the thunderer
Sounded with peacemaking voices and spirits.
You, my cell, I now lament with tearful songs,
And groaning I lament your downfall in my breast.
Because you have suddenly fled the songs of the bards,
And an entirely unknown band holds you now.
Neither Flaccus nor the bard Homer will have you now,
Nor do boys sing the muses through your roofs.
All the glory of the age is thus turned, for suddenly
All things are changed by various orders.
Nothing remains forever, nothing is truly immutable.
Shady night obscures the sacred day,
And suddenly frigid winter casts off the beautiful flowers,
And a harsher wind disturbs the placid sea.
The sacred youth that used to chase deer in the meadows
Now reclines tired, older on a staff. 
Poor us, why do we love you a fugitive, o world?
You flee from us always, everywhere rushing.
You who flee, may you flee, let us always love Christ.
Always may the love of God hold our hearts.
May that holy One defend His servants from their dire enemy, 35
Taking our hearts, His own, to heaven.
Whom with our whole heart let us equally praise and love.
That holy One is our glory, life, and welfare.

Read Full Post »

Here they are from the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols. 


The first reading from Mass today, from Acts – a page from The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes from the section, “Heroes are known by their love.”


Read Full Post »

—1 —

An interesting few days.

The two fellows who still live here are gone for a bit to visit family elsewhere. They’ll be back early next week, but for the moment, I’m alone for the first time since Christmas.

I was talking to my son who lives in NYC, where they’re opening things up, slowly but surely. The past week, he’s finally had some consistent social, face-to-face interaction with friends again – for the first time in months.

Each of experiencing welcome change, for opposite, but related reasons.

I add – quickly – that it will also be a welcome change when the guys return!

But everyone needs a break now and then, yes?

— 2 —

So what am I doing? Working. I have a project due on June 20, and I’m trying to get it halfway finished by Monday. Then I can coast, working on it for probably an hour or so a day until it’s due.

For me, the part of a project like this that requires the most focus is the framing and thinking through the shape and emphasis of it. And that kind of focus is hard for me to grab in small chunks. I need to have a large expanse of time in which I know I’m not going to be interrupted by anything. It didn’t used to be that way, but you know, guys, I’ll be sixty in a few weeks, and so something like concentration is harder to come by.

Today (Thursday) was a framing/get in the groove day. That done, I can work on it for a couple of hours a day till Monday, and then put my mind to the next fiction project.

Still getting chapters of Nothing Else Occurs to Me up on Wattpad. Slowly but surely. (Backstory: here)

— 3 —

So….we have a new bishop here in Birmingham. Bishop Steven Raica, formerly of the Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan.

I’ve not met him yet, don’t know a thing about him.

If you’re interested, you can watch the Vespers and Installation Mass that were broadcast on EWTN. If you do, you’ll get to hear the voices of our Cathedral’s core schola, which has been singing Cathedral Masses even through much of the lockdown, when Masses were streaming-only, not public.




As I’ve said before, it’s an approach that makes sense. If you’re not going to have congregational singing, consider the liturgical history of the Church, consider what developed during the centuries when congregational singing in the West was not the norm – and use that. 

It’s far preferable than having to listen to someone gamely warbling Praise and Worship music up there all by themselves.

— 4 —

Okay, I’ve not only been working the past couple of days. I’ve tried to walk a couple of hours a day – which means listening to my BBC radio podcasts – and I’ve read quite a bit as well as (gasp) watched a few movies – films that wouldn’t interest my housemates. So let’s do a quick survey.

First, reading – I finally finished Trevor’s The Boarding-House. That was a tough slog. I was most interested in the structure of it, which switched between points of view very quickly without transitions, as well as the historical detail revealed about London in the early ’60’s. The switching was confusing at first (I read it on Kindle and thought there was something wrong with the formatting), but once I got accustomed to it, I didn’t mind. My problem with the book is that I didn’t care about any of the characters and couldn’t figure out why I should spend time with them.

Anyway, I have a couple more short novels that I checked out via Hoopla that I will try to knock off over the next couple of days, then I think I’m going to plunge back into some Wilkie Collins. I need an absorbing, crazy read like No Name (reviewed here) in my life. I’d started Poor Miss Finch a couple of weeks ago, and will probably return to that. 

— 5 –

Now, movies.

I started watching Rocketman. I did like a few Elton John songs as a teen, but am definitely not a fan, but I was curious about the structure of the film and wanted to see the sections about his early life. Ended up watching the whole thing, not because it was great, but simply because of inertia, I suppose.

I did like the structure – I mean, why not tell a sketchy biographical tale of a living musician by making it a musical of sorts? I actually liked most of the musical set-pieces quite a lot. I think they worked. But the psychological trajectory and personal motivation offered was superficial – to be expected when the piece is produced by intimates and is about a living figure – and formulaic.

Bernie Taupin emerges as the one person you wouldn’t mind spending time with, to be sure.

— 6 —

Il Posto via the Kanopy platform. I gather you’re not supposed to say this is Italian Neorealism, since it’s not immediately postwar, but, well, you could have fooled me. It’s slow and observant, and I liked it quite a bit.

It’s the story of a young man from a village outside Milan who travels to the great city to test for a job, gets the job and begins working at the job. That’s it. It offers us a fascinating look at Italian life in the period and a rather trenchant, mostly wordless critique of white-collar work in large companies.

Except he won’t, and that’s what is so crushing about Il Posto. Antonietta comes to represent the youthful dreams that stagnate in an office building and the drudgery a job enforces. Once Domenico accepts his position as a messenger, Olmi breaks away from his lead for the first time. He takes us on an evening tour of the off-the-clock activities of the accounting staff that Domenico will eventually join. Some have very common, uninspired existences, others harbor their youthful folly as if it were rare treasure. There is the older man who goes to the pub and sings a song that is intended for someone not so advanced in years, and the would-be novelist who scribbles out his book in secret, hiding his light under a towel. Domenico tells his new boss that he may still go to night school to pursue the vocation he wants, but Olmi is showing us the true likelihood of that happening. Domenico’s father told his son that a job like this one is for life, and as the boy will learn, these positions tend to only open up when somebody dies.

Much of Olmi’s framing is intentionally expressionistic. The corporate world alternates between imposing, with the workers appearing small next to the business structure, and claustrophobic, cramped into their own little spaces. On the other hand, though Ermanno Olmi and cameraman Lamberto Caimi shot Il Posto in such a way to show life as it was, hoping to render the dreary gray of an average day, the black-and-white photography has taken on a nostalgic beauty over the years. Domenico and his peers just look more stylish, with their clean haircuts and their suits and ties, than we expect our youths to look today. Looking at Il Posto is like looking at photographs in a vintage magazine back issue: by being frozen in time, the images seem simpler, more desirable, than the busy world we’re used to today. Maybe that was by design. Maybe Olmi wanted it all to look hopeful and modern if only to add to the impact of the crushing blows to come.

The subverted ending of Il Posto sneaks up on the audience. We’ve been trained to expect something more, just like Domenico. We realize that there is nothing else mere moments before he does, and we can only brace ourselves for the heartbreak that is coming.

— 7 —

The Virgin Spring (1960) | The Criterion Collection

Finally, in a move that will please Son #2, I finally watched The Virgin Spring – his pick for his #1 Bergman. Here’s his review, and here’s his list. 

(He’s currently working his way through Hitchcock)

Okay, okay. I agree. It’s a great film, and I’m glad I finally watched it. I’m not an afficiando of Bergman’s films, but I have come to understand a bit about his spiritual-wrestling throughreading my son’s reviews. 

The standouts of that violence made the contemporary New York Times critic say that the movie was a thin morality tale below Bergman’s talents, but there’s actually so much more. What is there just isn’t spoken about, but it lingers in the background of everything. The conflict between the paganism of Odin and the monotheism of the new Christianity isn’t a stand-in for a simplistic good vs. evil battle. Instead, there are interesting shades within each character that drive the ideas even further. The father, Tore, obviously clings to his old pagan ways and has been dragged into the new Christianity by his wife Mareta. Their daughter, Karin, is beautiful and eager to look her best for her mission to deliver candles to the church, but she is also haughty, entitled, and manipulates her parents with ease. Ingeri, the pregnant Odin worshiper the family has taken in as a ward, prays for Karin’s defilement but confesses to Tore after the crime and begs for the punishment Tore will mete out to the perpetrators.

Where this movie stands out in Bergman’s filmography most for me is the thematic thrust of the film. The Virgin Spring came out in 1960, just a few years after the existential The Seventh Seal and right before the Silence Trilogy, and yet the thematic point isn’t a form of rejection of religion. In fact, the titular spring is an embrace of the idea that man’s concept of God, as manifested by the Church, is correct. It’s a natural extension of the story he was trying to tell, but also an artifact of the fact that he didn’t actually write the movie. God is still silent in the face of the violence placed upon the innocent Karin, but the existence of the spring that shoots from where her lifeless head had laid for a day, opening up immediately after Tore had promised to build a church of mortar and stone on the spot, is God’s communication. He speaks more in that than in anything else Bergman made.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

Read Full Post »

In doing a bit of research for a project, I ran across the full texts of several of Robert Hugh Benson’s books at the Notre Dame Archives. I had landed there via a chapter in The Friendship of Christ. I’m going to reprint a chunk of this chapter here, but go here for the whole thing. 

There is much talk these days about leaving and staying in the Church, both in terms of the strange current situation of distance, separation, closings and a sense of abandonment, as well as in terms of individual journeys and decisions. This chapter just struck me as pertinent and illustrative of a way of thinking about Church belonging and individual Catholic spirituality that used to be normal, but just isn’t anymore in most circles. It’s an expansive vision that has seen it all and understands the ways of human belief and is not pie-in-the-sky idealistic.

Please do share it with anyone you think might be helped by it.

It’s a chapter on the Purgative Way:

THE initial stage of the Friendship formed with Jesus Christ is usually one of extraordinary happiness. For the soul has found for the first time a companion whose sympathy is perfect and whose Presence is continuous. It is not, necessarily, that the soul consciously attends every instant to this new intimate, so much as that she is never wholly unconscious of him. As she goes about her ordinary business, paying to each detail of it as much attention as ever, the fact that He is present within her is never entirely forgotten: He is there as is the sunlight or the air, illuminating, freshening and inspiring all that she experiences. From time to time Screenshot 2020-06-24 at 5.09.57 PMshe turns to Him with a word or two; at times He speaks gently to her. She views all that she sees from His standpoint, or rather from her standpoint in Him; lovely things are more lovely because of His loveliness; painful things are less distressing because of His consolation. Nothing is indifferent, because He is present. Even when she sleeps, her heart wakes to him.

Yet this is only the initial stage of the process; and it is sweet largely because it is new. Certainly she has experienced a tremendous fact, yet so far she has but just entered upon it. There outstretches before her a road that ends only in the Beatific Vision; but there are countless stages to be passed before that end is attained.

For the Friendship, as so formed, is not an end in itself. Christ’s desire is indeed to consummate it as soon as may be; yet it cannot be consummated by His mere desire. The soul herself must be educated, must be purified and cleansed so perfectly as to be united with Him by nothing except His grace. She must be first purged and then illuminated, first stripped of herself and then adorned with His favours, before she is fit for her final union. These two stages are named by spiritual writers, the Way of Purgation and the Way of Illumination, respectively: and our subject now is the Way of Purgation.

I. At first, as has been said, the soul takes extraordinary pleasure in all those external things which, it appears to her, are sanctified by Christ’s Presence, and more especially by those which are most directly connected with His grace. For example, a soul that has just formed this Friendship — that has, perhaps, either just entered the Catholic Church by conversion, or has, for the first time, consciously and deliberately awakened to the glories of Catholicism, or even to some imperfect form of Christianity, as that system through which Christ has approached her — finds an overwhelming joy in even the most exterior details of that system. The human organization of the Church, her methods, her forms of worship, her music and her art — all these things seem to the soul as wholly heavenly and divine.

And, extremely often, the first sign that the Way of purgation has been really entered, lies in a consciousness that there is beginning for her an experience which the world calls Disillusionment. It may come in a dozen different ways.

She may, for example, be brought face to face with some catastrophe in external matters. She may meet with an unworthy priest, a disunited congregation, some scandal in Christian life, in exactly that sphere where Christ seemed to her evidently supreme. She had thought that the Church must be perfect, because it was the Church of Christ, or the priesthood stainless because it was after the Order of Melchisedech; and she finds to her dismay that there is a human side even to those things that are most associated with Divinity on earth. Or it comes to her, perhaps, in forms of worship. The novelty begins to wear off, and the sweetness of familiarity has not yet had time to form; and she finds that those very things which had seemed to her to be the most directly connected with her new Friend are in themselves external, temporary and transitory. Her love for Christ was so great as to have gilded over all those exterior matters which He and she had in common; now the gilding begins to wear thin, and she sees them to be but earthly after all. And, the more acute her imaginative love at the beginning, the more acute her disappointment now.

This then is usually the first stage of Purgation; she becomes disillusioned with human things, and finds that however Christian they may be, they are not, after all, Christ.

Immediately the first danger presents itself; for there is no cleansing process which has not within it a certain destructive power; and if she is, after all, but a superficial kind of soul, she will lose her Friendship with Christ (such as it was), together with those little gifts and enticements of His with which He wooed and pleased her. There are wandering souls in the world who have failed under this test; who have mistaken human romance for an internal love, who have turned back again from Christ so soon as He has put off His ornaments. But if she be stronger than this, she will have learned her first lesson — that Divinity is not in these earthly things, that the love of Christ is a deeper thing than the mere presents He makes to His new friends.

II. The next stage of Purgation lies in what may be called, in a sense, the Disillusionment with Divine things. The earthly side has failed her, or rather has fallen off from the reality; now it begins to seem to her as if the Divine side failed her too.

A brilliant phrase of Faber well describes one element in this Disillusionment — the “monotony of Piety.” There comes a time sooner or later when not only do the external things of religion — music, art, liturgy — or the external things of earthly life — the companionship of friends, conversation, business relations — things which at the beginning of the Divine Friendship seemed radiant with Christ’s love — begin to wear thin; but the very heart and essence of them begin to fail also. For example, the actual exercise of prayer becomes wearisome; the thrill of meditation, so exquisite at first, when every meditation was a looking into the eyes of Jesus, begins to cease its vibrations. The sacraments, which, she has been informed, work ex opere operato, — (confer solid grace, that is to say, apart from the fervour of the soul’s own action) — become wearisome and monotonous, and, so far as she can see, do not fulfil their own promises. The very things that were intended as helps, seem to become additional burdens.

Or she sets her heart, let us say, on some grace or favour, some positive virtue which she knows it must be her Friend’s will to confer upon her; she prays, she agonizes, she strives, she pleads — and there is no voice nor any that answers. Her temptations are what they have ever been; her human nature, she perceives, after all is unchanged. She had thought that her newly formed friendship with Christ altered once and for all her old self, together with her relations with him; and, behold! she is the same as ever. Christ has cheated her, it almost seems, with promises He cannot or will not fulfil. Even in those very matters in which she trusted Him most, those very provinces in which He must obviously be supreme, it seems that, after all, He is no more to her than He had been before she knew Him so intimately.

Now this stage is an infinitely more dangerous one than the preceding; for while it is comparatively easy to distinguish between Christ and, let us say, ecclesiastical music, it is not so easy to distinguish between Christ and grace — or rather between Christ and our own imaginative conceptions of what grace should be and do.

There is first the danger of gradually losing hold on religion altogether, during a long lapse of discouragement; of turning with bitter reproaches upon the silent Friend who will not answer. “I trnsted You; I believed in You; I thought I had found my Lover at last. And now You too, like all the rest, have failed me.” A soul such as this passes often, in a burst of resentment and disappointment, either to some other religion — some modern fad that promises quick and verifiable returns in spiritual things — or to that same state in which she had been before she ever knew Christ. (Only, it must be remembered, a soul that has once known Christ can never be quite as one that has not known Him.) Or there remains one further state more outrageous and unnatural than any — the state of a cynical and “disillusioned” Christian. “Yes, I too,” she tells some ardent soul, “I too was once as you are. I too, in my youthful enthusiasm, once thought I had found the secret. . . . But you will become practical, some day, too. You will understand, too, that romance is not truth. You will become ordinary and workaday like myself. . . . Yes, it is all very mysterious. Perhaps, after all, experience is the only truth worth having.”

Yet, if all goes well; if the soul is yet strong enough still to cleave to what seems now a mere memory; if she is confident that an initiation so bewilderingly beautiful as was hers when the Friendship of Christ first came to her, cannot, in the long run, lead to barrenness and cynicism and desolation; if she can but cry in her sincerity that it is better to kneel eternally at the grave of the buried Jesus than to go back and mix again in the ways of the world; then she learns at least one lesson when Jesus rises again (as He always does) — that she cannot hold Him in the old way, because He is “not yet ascended to His Father,” and that, in one word, the object of religion is that the soul should serve God, not that God should serve the soul.

III. There follows, however, a third stage before the Way of Purgation is wholly passed. The soul has learned that external things are not Christ; that internal things are not Christ. She has become “disillusioned,” first with the frame of the picture, and next with the picture itself, before she has reached the original. She now has to learn the last lesson of all, and become disillusioned with herself.

Up to now she has always retained a belief, however faint and humble, that there was something in herself, and of herself, that attracted Christ towards her. She has been at least tempted to think that Christ had failed her; now she has to learn that it is she who, all along, in spite of her childlike love, has been failing Christ; and this is at once the real essence and object of Purgation. She has been stripped of all her coverings, of her ornaments and her clothes; now she has to be stripped of herself, that she may be the kind of disciple that He wishes.

Go here to read the rest. 


Read Full Post »

I must decrease


Today is the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.

Nativity of John the Baptist

You probably already know that there are only three birthdays celebrated during the liturgical year: Jesus (December 25), Mary (September 8) and John – today.

The feast coincides with the summer solstice, so of course it’s a time of celebration of the season as well, as ancient European traditions, many involving fire on the eve of the feast. This article from Dappled Things  is excellent:

Before it was the title of a Nikolai Gogol short story, St. John’s Eve was one of the most festive days of the year, and also one of the strangest. Much like All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween, St. John’s Eve (June 23) was a night of revelry, bonfires, treat-begging, and terrifying incursions from the spirit world. The cultural weight of St. John’s Eve has faded in the West, aside from the occasional bonfire party.

A few nights ago I participated in a group reading of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play set on this same night. The mythical Theseus is cast as the newlywed skeptic who disbelieves in fairies, trying to force an unwanted marriage on the poor Hermia. Meanwhile, the fairy-king Oberon is dealing with his own marital difficulties in questionable ways, particularly by making his queen Titania fall in love with a donkey-headed mortal actor. Many romantic hijinks later, and all the lovers have finally settled with the beloveds they desired. It’s not exactly a St. John’s Eve festival, but the feast’s customary ties to nuptial ceremonies are evident throughout.

Why has Halloween found purchase in popular culture, even to the point of absurd excess, while the spooky June holy day has fallen into disuse? Maybe because our increasingly irreligious society can only bear one annual celebration of preternatural invasions. Maybe the autumn weather has something to do with it—there is something romantically melancholy about the chill air and falling leaves. Maybe its questionable ties to a pagan Celtic festival has given Halloween the aspect of forbidden, and therefore desirable, fruit.

St. John’s birth (his beheading has its own feast day) was heralded by one such fantastical invasion, when St. Gabriel frightened the prophet’s poor father dumb. The closing “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence of Disney’s Fantasia is a St. John’s Eve story, and one could truly imagine the Devil retreating in cowardice at the birth of the Forerunner of Christ. Who knows what temptations the adult John had to face in the desert, but surely they could have competed with St. Anthony’s. The bonfires too are a reminder of the Gospel description of John: “He was a burning and a shining light, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.”

And although the Gospel of the day is, of course, the narrative of the announcement of John’s birth to his father in the Temple, the feast nonetheless puts us in mind of what John, as an adult,  said of his role in salvation history:

He must increase; I must decrease.

(John 3:30)

In various other places (can’t remember where – sorry) I have read the observation which I’ll share with you – we celebrate the coming of John, the Forerunner, on days after  the longest days in which time and seasons turn and after which, the light of day begins to fade, ever so gradually.

I must decrease…

The birth of Christ is celebrated in the days when, finally, after weeks of growing darkness, light gains the upper hand again..

He must increase…


Let’s get back to today’s Gospel. Here’s the recounting of the beginning of John’s life from the Loyola Kid Book of Bible Stories. 

Remember how the book is organized. The stories are grouped according to how one would generally hear them proclaimed in the context of the liturgy. Generally. The stories are retold, with a couple of reflection questions at the end. Forgive the poor scan of the second (which is the last) page. I think you can make it out.

One of the aspects of John’s origin story that has always struck me is the fact that his father received the news of his conception and name while he was doing something very specific: his duty. Moreover, this obligation, was related to the liturgy. He had a role assisting in Temple worship, a context that was not a free-for-all of doing-what-the-Spirit-leads, but structured and considered a “given.”

Couple that experience with how Mary received her comparable news: in obscurity, in a backwater of the Roman Empire, given to a very ordinary young woman just living her ordinary life.

Yes, consider the two together and what do you hear: God meets us in the midst of ordinary life, as we are fulfilling our duties and offering our prayers and worship. Those things are not obstacles to authenticity, they’re not barriers to deep, “Spirit-filled” lives.

They are the way. 




Read Full Post »

Had a very strange, unusual experience yesterday. Encapsulated in this Instagram story:


No, I’m not going anywhere, except to Atlanta to take people to the airport. But it does mean a few days of (I hope) great productivity. What it doesn’t mean is a trip to Ikea on that Atlanta journey, since the hints I’ve read online indicate that there’s a considerable wait just to get into the store, which just reopened about ten days ago. Forget that. Let’s digest:

Writing: I have something due on July 20. Haven’t started writing it yet. Hopefully over the next week I’ll get it about half done as well as get myself in a sort of groove, so that once people return, the hard part of framing and envisioning will be done and I can just write a few hundred words in between music practices and food prep and other shenanigans.

I am putting up a chapter a day to the novel I wrote about here. Two up so far, one more coming later today.

I’ll be in Living Faith on Sunday. You’ll be able to see it here. 

A lot of my book sales are seasonal, specifically– Christmas and then Easter/First Communion/Confirmation related. I don’t have access to book sales from the various publishers that publish my books, but I do have some metric that Amazon provides authors. I don’t think it’s just Amazon sales, but I’m not sure. Anyway, not surprisingly, compared to previous years, this spring’s sales have been laughably miniscule. Totally expected. Shrug. The interesting thing, though, is that over the past two weeks, there’s been a rather dramatic uptick. Not at the typical height of April/May, but about four times as high as a normal June.

First Communions are back, baby!

Listening:  As reported, we have moved on from Brahms, Haydn and Prokofiev(you can listen here to the entire playlist – it’s public now – and he got “Excellents” from all three judges in the competition) to Gershwin (the big three Preludes plus Novelette in Fourths and Debussy’s First Arabesque. That’s the summer playlist, with him beginning to tackle the entire Moonlight Sonata as his big project for next year. Plus, I think the teacher is wanting him to do some Chopin Etude.

Watching: A bit of a blip in movie watching, as work schedules, hanging out with friends The Man in the White Suit (1951) - IMDband a new video game have interfered. After Hobson’s Choice, we stayed in England and took in the Ealing comedy The Man in the White Suit

A low-key satire about human beings’ response to innovation and change. Alec Guinness portrays an unassuming yet committed young scientist who is trying to invent an indestructible fabric. He seems to succeed, but the initially-welcomed development is soon understood to have repercussions for almost everyone – from the big business tycoons to labor. It’s a movie about persistence, creativity, resistance to change and yes, my favorite theme, unintended consequences. Not as hilarious as The Lavender Hill Mob or quite as dark as Kind Hearts and Coronets,  but a gem of a film.

A Nanoscale Perspective on The Man in the White Suit - 2020 Science

We watched in on the Kanopy platform via the library, and followed it withthis Buster Keaton short,also on Kanopy.

Reading:  Wandering about the internet, searching through book blogging and reading sites, I happened upon this entry focusing on a mid-century novelist who apparently penned relatively short, sharp and dark books. I’m sold. I picked up The Girl on the Via Flaminia  – reviewed here, and read it in an evening.

(My main go-to for books like this, the Internet Archive, has been hit with legal action restricting what books it can make available for borrowing – books that you could borrow for a week or more are now only available for an hour. Hopefully they can get that straightened out soon. I discovered that this was available via Hoopla from my local library. It seems to me that Hoopla’s holdings have greatly expanded since the last time I checked, before Covid.)

I enjoyed it very much, although, you know, it wasn’t a laugh riot or anything. Set in Rome during the last stages of the Second World War, it’s about an American soldier who attempts an arrangement with a young Italian woman. A step above prostitution, in his mind, but is it really? Aside from the interesting landscape of wartime Rome, it confronts us with important questions about victory, defeat and occupation – and the impact of these Important Events on ordinary people, who simply want to live their lives.

I’ll be reading more of him.

Now I’m reading The Boarding House by William Trevor, which I also borrowed digitally from Hoopla. It’s quite a strange book. I started it last week and gave up after twenty pages, but then returned to last night. I’ll stick with it this time.

Cooking: Three major recent successes:

Madeleines. They were Son #4’s favorite bakery good from France years ago, and it just wp-1592919871186.jpgoccurred to me a couple of weeks ago that I should try to make them. Ordered a pan for the purpose, and followed this recipe – success! The recipe is correct though – these are not items that keep. They really are only good the first day.

These ribs. I ended up marinating them for almost three days (kept meaning to cook them, but life interfered). Delicious. Excellent. And yes, the Chinese cooking wine does make a difference. (Obtained, along with the ribs, from our local mega-Asian grocery store. $2.99 a bottle.)

A bone-in ribeye cooked via this method – the reverse sear.This is the second time I’ve done this, and I’m sold. Yes, I splurged on a higher cut of steak (when you’re only buying one, and you do it once a month….go ahead), so that makes a difference, but this method really does produce a wonderfully juicy steak, no resting required.

Now…no cooking for a week!


Read Full Post »

From Be Saints!

I also have a chapter of St. Thomas More in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints.




Read Full Post »

Nothing Else Occurs to Me

I wrote this years ago. 


As in – I had to search through my old Yahoo mail account to pin down the dates.

I wrote the thing, and I even got representation.  A literary agent who had little in common with me or the subject matter, but saw potential in the work anyway – which I saw as a good sign. She worked hard to try to find a place for it, but alas. It didn’t happen.

Nothing Else occurs to me

But , perhaps not alas. Perhaps there was a reason. After all, there’s a reason for everything.

Over the years, I’ve thought about publishing it on Amazon Kindle or going some other self-publication route. But I’ve been stymied by the fact that as time goes on, certain references render it dated. And I’ve also wondered if my tone was right. It’s about teens, but it’s not really a young adult novel. But it’s not written at an adult level, either. I liked the story and I liked the characters and I thought I was saying something that needed to be heard in this tale, and I often wondered if it was worth a rewrite with a better sense of audience.

Well, I’ve moved on. I have other things I’m trying to write now, other tales to tell. So I decided to just put this up on Wattpad for anyone who wants to read it and might benefit from it. We’ll go old school and serialize it. I’ve no idea how you’ll respond to it or if any aspects will give offense. I tried to say true things in this story. Which is really all I ever do.

Chapter 1: Nothing Else Occurs to Me


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: