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Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

Well, that’s strange. In my rush to publish this on Thursday night/Friday morning, I guess I published it for last Friday (the 8th). Huh. Those of you who subscribe to direct links saw it, but those who just show up to look at the front page…probably didn’t. So here it is again….

— 1 —

Yes, yes, I have more to say about social media and the internet and such, but I got a bit tired of saying it, so we can all wait a bit more. God knows, the landscape will probably undergo another avalanche and earthquake before we’re even close, so there’s no hurry. Ever.

If you want to check out what I’ve been gabbing about, just click backward.

The rest of this will be ridiculously random. Apologies in advance. I’m in a strange mood tonight.

— 2 —

With Ordinary Time, we’re in year B – which means the focus of the Sunday Gospels is Mark.

Consider this book – The Memoirs of St. Peter as an apt accompaniment to this year. I am! I’ve had the book for a while, read chunks of it, but will be keeping it at hand as a reference and spiritual companion to the Mass readings.

— 3 —

I have been reading about St. Margaret of Scotland the past couple of days. If you’d like to read the biography of her written by Turgot, her spiritual advisor and confessor, you can access it through the Internet Archive here.

St. Margaret of Scotland

I do have a work purpose in studying up on her, which means I am reading about her, searching for lessons and finding teachable moments.

What have I found? What I often find: Sanctity begins when we find ourselves in a certain moment and pray, not that God will help us “be happy” or “find our true selves” – but when we pray, instead, for God to work through us to serve the people he’s put in our lives, especially the poor.

— 4 —

To go from saints to sinners, but really, who has the right to proclaim the difference except for God, from the Public Domain Review – quickly becoming a favorite site – pages from the first published collection of mug shots.

Image

Not a bad looking crew for horse thieves, barn burners and pickpockets….

Quite thought-provoking.

— 5 —

Really, really interesting piece on a 1939 attempt to present a jazz, mostly Black version of A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

When Swingin’ the Dream opened on Broadway on 29 November 1939, the creators of this jazz version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream had every expectation of a smash hit. The music alone seemed worth the price of admission. Among the hits were Ain’t Misbehavin’, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Jeepers Creepers, and

If you go down to the woods … Butterfly McQueen as Puck, Maxine Sullivan as Titania and Louis Armstrong as Bottom/Pyramus.

Darn That Dream. All this was intermingled with swing renditions of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, from his 1842 Midsummer Night’s Dream. The music was performed by some of the biggest names around: Bud Freeman’s band played on one side of the stage, Benny Goodman’s inter-racial group on the other, and in the centre Donald Voorhees conducted an orchestra of 50.

The Shakespeare musical had a 150-strong cast, featuring many of America’s most popular black artists, including Maxine Sullivan as Titania, Juano Hernandez as Oberon and none other than Louis Armstrong as Bottom. The trumpeter reportedly turned down a part in another Broadway-bound jazz show, Young Man With a Horn, to star in it. Butterfly McQueen (AKA Prissy in Gone With the Wind) played Puck. Agnes de Mille, who a year later would break new ground in her Black Ritual for the newly formed Negro Unit of Ballet Theatre, oversaw the choreography.

The dancers included the great tap star Bill Bailey, the three Dandridge sisters (who played Titania’s pixie attendants), as well as 13 tireless jitterbugging couples. With set designs based on Walt Disney cartoons, it looked great, too. Sullivan’s Titania entered enthroned in a “World of Tomorrow” electric wheelchair, microphones appeared in the shape of snakes and caterpillars, while a pull-down bed hung from a tree.


It seemed destined to a be a hit, and a startlingly original one. But Swingin’ the Dream closed after only 13 performances – and lost its investors a staggering $100,000, the equivalent to about $2m today. Critics continue to debate what went wrong, hampered by the fact that no script for the show, other than a few pages from the Pyramus and Thisbe scene, has ever been found, despite extensive searches.

More

— 6 —

As I mentioned a few days ago, I’ve been reading Hemingway stories. I must say that “An Alpine Idyll” is one of the strangest stories I’ve ever read. Not in a necessarily bad way – just…..strange.

I wonder if it’s based on something he heard about that really happened?

— 7 —

Anyway. Speaking of Gospels, today’s Gospel from the Mass readings is the healing of the paralytic from (of course) Mark. Here’s the first page of my retelling from the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.

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Over the past half-decade or so, blogs – which along with discussion boards of various types, had long provided the main venues for conversation and expression on the Internet – have been thoroughly usurped by social media: Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, primarily. And probably others my aged self isn’t aware of.

I use three of those, but minimally. I’ve had TikTok on my phone a couple of times, but deleted it. I know that my younger two sons (19 and 16) and their crowd pretty much only use Snapchat to communicate – rather than texting, even.

I generally don’t engage in “discussion” on any of them, unless it’s on a post by someone I actually, really know in some sense. And I don’t stay long. And I haven’t accepted new Facebook friends in years.

From the beginning of their rise – among my middle-age set, that is – I’ve maintained a distance, in terms of time and energy, from these platforms. I had an intuition from the beginning that there was something about them that didn’t serve my purpose in being online, and really, in the end, primarily served the owners of the platforms themselves.

And here’s what I eventually concluded. It’s rather challenging for me to put into words. Let’s see how I do. I’m going to focus on Instagram and Facebook because as problematic as Twitter is, it doesn’t share quite the same issues, and I think most of the “self-expression” energy these days is on those platforms, as well as TikTok, which I am not as familiar with. And guess what, Instagram is now owned by Facebook, so surprise – they have the same limitations.

First off, I want to acknowledge the given – that all of these platforms exploit the human desire to argue, score points and have the last word. These platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter have made themselves essential in spreading news and information. I mean – how did you arrive here anyway? Yeah.

They exploit our aspirations and our desires and our need for community and our attention-seeking instincts. They are deliberately addictive. Those are problems, but they are not the problems I’m going to explore here. This isn’t about sharing family photos. It’s about producing content that you hope will impact people and that you believe is meaningful beyond the present moment.

Let’s be concrete. Say I want to write a microblog on Instagram, a couple hundred heartfelt words attached to a pretty picture. Great. People will read it…

If they follow me…

If it happens to come on their feed by way of the platform’s current algorithm.

Sure, people can read it, but what if it strikes them as something worth keeping and sharing? They can easily share it with folks within the platform, who might take two seconds to read it and then…scroll on. Share with someone not on Instagram or Facebook? A little more challenging. Save it? less easily with those outside. They can archive it – within the app. Or I guess they can send themselves a link to share. Do you want to find a post on a certain topic? No luck unless the poster has hashtagged it with the specific hashtag you’re looking for.

And Facebook? Same. With the complication that my experience in Facebook is that posts – even your own posts that you want to revisit – are incredibly difficult to find. The search features on both apps are almost useless and are subject to change.

And of course, this is no accident.

There is a reason these platforms make it difficult to search and share posts beyond their system. They want to keep you inside, in that loop.

They make it super easy to create. You don’t have to know any code, you don’t have to think about design. You just type in the blank that’s provided for you, and the platform handles the rest.

And – I might add – it’s free. There is no financial cost to use it. It’s free.

What a deal!

But of course your space on these platforms is not actually your space, in any sense. Your posts can be removed for any reason. The rules governing your presence and content are not made by you – they’re made by the platform, and change all the time. Your ability to share what you create is directed in ways the platform determines, and to me, this has always been the feature of these platforms that’s given me pause, even more than the possibility of removal.

We’ve all seen it. For example, on my Facebook feed, no matter how I fiddle with the settings, I always see posts from the same people, few of whom I’ve ever interacted with, and hardly ever see posts coming through from people I actually know. Plus ads. Lots and lots of ads. I’m guessing Instagram is the same way, but I’ve long stepped away from any general perusal of Instagram – there are a few people – family and real-life friends – whose posts I see because I purposely seek them out – and that’s it.

What’s the most frequent complaint about these platforms from users? Besides trying to find ways to do paragraphs in Instagram, of course? It’s all about the feed – They’re not letting me see what I’m really interested in.

Oh.

Then maybe, go find what you’re interested in….somewhere else.

And further, the platforms – all of them – are designed to exploit your ego and desire for attention. They make it seemingly easy to get attention because of the ease of posting. Then the closed nature of the systems – which are presented as if they are for the sake of your safety and privacy –  move the user to prioritize churning out posts that get more attention from other users, always, always fighting that algorithm.

In short: these platforms get us in by making creating and sharing within the platform easy and free. But what you post speeds by the reader, is difficult to hold on to, is designed to be most easily shared within the platform, therefore bringing in new users.

 They’re for brand establishing, attention gathering and impression making. They’re really not for thoughtfulness, for nuance, for exploring. You don’t sit with these posts and save them and come back to them. You note them, maybe comment, nod and scroll on.

The content is, moreover, going to be shaped by the platform. Not in the sense of outright censorship or shadowbanning or restrictions, but, well, simply because as the Man said, the medium is the message.

If Facebook is the place you want to see and be seen, you’ll shape your content to what Facebook privileges and with what the Facebook audience values. Same with any of the platforms, just as with all media.

I wrote 800-word faith-n-life columns for years, and the shape and rhythm of those columns became second nature: incident – tension – hopeful and inspiring, perhaps self-deprecating resolution.  I thought in 800-word chunks and in daily life, was keenly aware, always on the lookout for the inspirational moment.

These platforms are no different from any other medium in that regard – columns, traditional news stories, essays – the medium is the message.

Which is fine. But given the transitory nature of these platforms – the ease of posting, but then the difficulties of finding and keeping, not to speak of the privacy and data issues – is it worth my time?  

Maybe it’s worth yours. Maybe you’re trying to do what I suggested above – establish a brand, get attention and make an impression. Go for it. Spend your time on it. I’m questioning the means, and yes, I’m questioning the message, too.

All digital media is ephemeral, including this space. No doubt about that. It can all be gone tomorrow. The systems could go down, the servers melt, or whatever they might do. Censorship and deplatforming exists everywhere from WordPress to Blogger to Reddit. No illusions there.

But the unique thing about social media platforms that has discouraged me from engaging to much on them is the clear sense that those spaces are not mine and that I’m a servant of the platform. We, as we’ve been told over and over again, are the product. My Instagram account exists the way it exists not to benefit me or even those who might read me there, but to benefit Instagram. The space doesn’t encourage staying, keeping or maintaining or searching. It privileges the present moment and then scrolling on. It also privileges making connections and placing information in them – that make it very hard to let go. All my memories are on Facebook! I can’t quit!

I know that some people have what they see as meaningful presences on these platforms. I’m always glad to see a wry Dorian Speed post or Ann Engelhart teaching me about watercolor. It’s become, annoyingly, the way I keep up with local businesses – is  Paramount or Rougaroux open today? Just check the Gram. When I’m about to go on a trip and want to double check the weather conditions, I often do a search for recent posts from that location to see what it looks like over there and what folks are wearing. So no, I’m not immune.

Communication. We have to do it. We want to do it. We’re called to do it.

Information is to be shared, discussed and acted upon.

But on whose terms? Who is really shaping the content and reach of the message I think I want to send?

The whole thing is ephemeral. All of it. Not just on our screens, either.

I’ve written dozens, if not hundreds of columns. I didn’t keep them. I doubt anyone did. They were written, read, made their impact, such as it was, and are gone. I’ve written books, some of which still sell decently, some of which are out of print. I hate to think of how many blog posts I’ve written. Again – typed out, published, and probably forgotten, even by me. None of it was written in total freedom, either. There were editors and audiences and publishing needs that determined what I wrote and was finally published under my name. And no question that publishers have, from time immemorial, profited from writers’ work in a skewed, unjust way. So in a sense, this is more of the same. But is it? That’s what I’m trying to work out here.

The world is fleeting. Our words, our thoughts are as dust. But ironically, that doesn’t make them pointless. What is the best use of these fleeting limited signs and symbols that we use to express our deepest yearnings and truest selves? How shall we use them in a way that actually does communicate our value and their significance, even as we acknowledge that they – and we – are like straw?

For the ephemeral nature of social media, and its use of us and our experiences as the product, enthusiastically offered just so we can be seen and heard, seems different to me. It seems to put into question the time spent on it, both creating and scrolling.

In that world, we only matter to the extent that we fill in the blanks, and what we put in those blanks is only seen if we work hard to learn the rules the Powers have established (today), shape our content to satisfy, not only their rules, but their intentions and priorities that they’ve figured out will get us coming back again and again…for now.

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I’m going to be writing a little bit about the Internet and social media every day this week.

“A little bit” and “every day” are nothing more than a probably pointless attempt at self-discipline. This is the kind of knotty issue I do contemplate every day and that might lead me sit for hours in front of the computer hashing out ridiculously long walls of text. So I’m going to limit myself. And sitting here, it’s 9:15 am – I am committing to publish this by 10. AM. Let’s see how I do.

Strange times, what with social media bannings and excommunications and attempts to even deny upstarts and dissidents a framework for their businesses. There’s a lot to unpack here, a challenging task because of the almost frantic narrative shaping that’s happening. We really don’t know – as usual. I have my suspicions. I think the core of what’s happening, both in Congress and in Big Tech, is an effort to strip Trump of his power immediately,  before 1/20, not because they seriously think he will have a second term, but because of what he can still do in the next couple of weeks: namely declassify, pardon and issue executive orders (as Pompeo did regarding Taiwan in the last couple of days.)

We’ll see.

That’s not my subject today, anyway.

And yes, what is “actually happening” in the United States government is more important the Internet/social media treatment of it, but they are also intimately connected.

I also want to be very clear on something else: there are serious issues here, related to repression of information and news, and the greater power that has concentrated in a few hands as other news sources have disappeared. That’s not my subject today.

Over the past couple of days, the calls to Follow Me on [Alternative Platform] have heightened. I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook (and hardly any at all commenting or “discussing”), but every other post, it seems, over the past few days has been invitations to migrate, declarations of cancellation and so on.

Valerie Cherish Take 3 GIF by The Comeback HBO - Find & Share on GIPHY

I won’t be following anyone on to any new platforms. Not a one. In fact, this is a clarifying moment for me. It’s time to take a few more steps away. I’m in the process of stripping down my FB presence – they don’t make it easy, that’s for sure. It might take a few weeks, but in the end, I’ll still have a FB page, but it will only have a week’s worth of posts on it at a time – and none of those personal, just links from here.

(My only concern – and the reason I’m taking time – is to catch personal photos or anecdotes I might have posted there, but not saved elsewhere.)


Before this (yes) wall o’ text, let me just give you an abstract. Maybe save you some time:

If you’re frustrated by the limitations of social media, discern why. Maybe it’s not time to find another, more acceptable form of social media. Maybe it’s time to turn away.

Pay attention, come to me;

listen, and your soul will live.

-Today’s first reading. Isaiah 55

Let me offer a little spiritual perspective. Limited, as usual. Perhaps even wrong – not unusual. But perhaps it might help one or two of you.

When we live, shaped by a framework of Catholic spirituality, we live in tension – an acknowledged tension between radical acceptance of God’s will and acceptance of God’s call to courageously plunge into the world and, with his help, affect radical change.

I think following the latter path correctly is totally dependent on embracing the former.

And in traditional Catholic spirituality, acceptance of God’s will in my life means approaching a particular event or circumstance, not with a reflexive reaction of rejection or outrage or determination to do what I did before, but rather of calm watching and listening.

What’s happening here? What is God teaching me through this? How can I grow through this? What does this invite me to embrace that’s good and from God? What elements of my life or the world is it revealing to me I should turn from or change?

So, in the wake of great loss – say, a death – you can rage and grieve – and there is a place for that – but then there is a point at which such emotions become an exhausting treadmill, not to speak of a rejection of God’s will, and it’s time to take a look at life, not as you want it to be, but as it is.

How can I grow closer to God now, not despite this, but through this?

For that – lest we forget – is why we’re here. Not to make our voices heard, not to right earthly injustices, but to grow in holiness. We may do that through those other efforts, but our first reason for existence stems from the fact that God created us, God loves us, and wants us to love him and dwell with him forever.

So when something happens – good, bad, indifferent – our call is to stop, look and listen, set our egos aside, and say….what does this reveal? About my sins? About my temptations? About my love of God and neighbor?

So much for no wall of text.

Anyway. All that is to say – in a moment like this, I find it really ironic that as we have spent years fretting and clucking over the mostly negative impact of particularly social media on our individual and social lives – the minute the true face of these powers is revealed, so many of us respond by….trying to find another way to remain in their caves.

What about this? What about seeing this as a clarifying moment and girding your loins and actually leaving the cave?

Maybe begin with the following. First recognize that this internet/social media loop is not random. It didn’t just happen. Like marketing, it’s designed.

It’s designed to elevate and harness various aspects of human personality and behavior, not for the benefit of society, not for your personal benefit, but for their profit.

There’s no nobility here. There’s no idealism. It’s about money and power, period.

It’s about using particular types of energy that make you tick, like you’re a cog in a machine.

  • First, and most obviously, you’ve given up your data. All of it. It’s there, from your Social Security number to what you searched for on Ebay just now. It’s all there.

But of more interest to me is how this ecosystem engages and exploits:

  • Our curiosity
  • Our nosiness
  • Our anxiety
  • Our loneliness
  • Our aspirations
  • Our desires
  • Our tribalism
  • Our anger
  • Our ego
  • Our creativity
  • Our drive for change
  • Our desire for freedom

Yes, the Internet can help us direct our good qualities in positive ways. But I think it’s clear, particularly in the context of the authoritarian ecosystem this is turning out to be, it’s mostly a negative and it’s time to leave it behind, as much as we can.

For it is good and natural to:

  • Want to know and understand
  • Feel as if I belong
  • Know that I’m not alone in my views, interests and loyalties
  • Express myself
  • Connect
  • Play
  • Share what I know
  • Share my gifts

How does social media exploit these good, even holy aspirations and desires and turn them into destructive, demeaning dross?

Double Indemnity

So as with anything else – we look to this digital empire and we must discern. It’s true of any moment, of any situation – there is a neutral aspect to it, there is the potential for positive outcomes, and there is always, no matter what, temptation. Temptation to let our qualities, both good and bad, be used for the sake of another’s profit and power.

As you can see, this isn’t so much a comment of the events over the past week, but more a nudge offered about how to approach the moment. To stand apart from the events, whether they be in Washington or on the screen in your hand, and to consider how truth is being served by the events and how they are used, and to consider what how this digital ecosystem is tempting us, what it’s delivering and who is ultimately benefiting.

To consider how they are all exploiting you, your anger, your idealism, your anxiety, and even your desire for change.

And how do we get out? What do we do?

We look at the good aspects of life that we hoped were served by this ecosystem – and perhaps were and are – and we consider two points in relation to that:

  • What is the cost of finding community, self-expression and so on in the context of this digital/social media world?
  • What temptations does this digital world touch and exploit in me?

All that  – yes – wall of text – is to say – here’s this moment. It’s clarifying even as it’s very confusing. Perhaps it makes sense to respond by finding another outlet that won’t exploit both your worst and best instincts and censor you when you violate the chosen narrative.

Or perhaps….it doesn’t make any sense at all.

9:56. Made it!

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— 1 —

Happy New Year to you. Just a note on how life changes, and how time goes on in case you are wondering if you will ever be out of this or that stage of life…

Our New Year’s Eve? Well, besides the far-flung in NYC, Charleston and Louisville, all celebrating in their own ways, the three of us here spent the evening, first at Mass – two of us downtown at the Cathedral, and then the youngest playing at his parish job, driving himself now. After our Mass, College Guy drove off to meet up with friends, youngest drove from church to a friend’s house, then drove back here and walked down to a neighborhood friend’s house for the rest of the night.

And I sat and read Gogol and Don Quixote and listened to Mary Lou Williams.

How about that.

Just as no time is tricky to navigate, so, when it surprises you is so much…time.

— 2 —

Not much writing in this space this week. Te Deum is here. I was in Living Faith on Tuesday – and will return there in a couple of weeks. A new set of those is due Monday (for the July-August issue), so I’ll be working on those over the weekend, as well as planning out at least the first part of American Literature for the high schooler.

Although we might start with The Overcoat for some general work in symbolism and such. I spent so much time thinking about it…why let it just rest in my head? Might was well share the bounty…

I will say that I’ve been gratified and humbled over the past few days as I’ve received several notes regarding my 2020: A Book of Grace-Filled Days that wrapped up yesterday. Folks said they were actually sorry it had come to an end, and they appreciated what I had to share. So kind! It was not a super-fun book to write (just imagine writing almost 400 individual devotional entries…..) and I don’t plan on doing it again any time soon. Maybe in another ten years when more life has happened.

But it is so nice when people take time to write and let you know that your work was helpful to them in some way. Thank you!

(And I’ll just mention that it’s not out of print – still for sale, as are all past editions by other writers – including 2021, of course. No, the dates won’t match, but you can still buy it and match the feast days yourself. And no, I don’t profit from your purchase in any way – it’s the kind of work for which you’re paid a flat fee – no royalties. Just making the suggestion!)

— 3 —

Are you making resolutions? Well, here’s a Twitter thread featuring some of Dorothy Day’s New Year’s resolutions over the years.

Here’s 1960:

Image

More.

— 4 —

I recently discovered the Public Domain Review, which is such a treasure chest of fascinating, beautiful, interesting images and information.

Here’s a link to their top ten posts of the year. Including this post on 19th century Japanese firemen’s coats. Gorgeous.

— 5 —

What a lovely video this is, on Etsuro Sotoo, the Japanese stonemason who is now the Chief Sculptor at Sagrada Familia.

“Sotoo was motivated mainly by the opportunity to be exposed to stone,” says director David Cerqueiro, “and later by the admiration of the genius of Antoni Gaudí—back then a still-to-be-recognized figure of outstanding universal value.”

Known as quite a guarded and private character, Sotoo only granted Cerqueiro the opportunity to profile his life’s work after the director made several attempts to meet with him in person and over email. “Some of those attempts included having to attend mass at the basilica several times,” says the director. “The film briefly explores, tactfully but sincerely, the emotional inner workings behind a forty-year career devoted to one project.” 

Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece continues to exercise its charms over Sotoo who converted to Catholicism so he could gain a deeper understanding of Gaudí’s genius and his relationship with God through architecture. “I discovered an artist profoundly driven by faith. Although encased by organized religion, his faith is more closely related to the transcendental aspirations of genuine art,” says the director. “That’s how I ended up with a subtle portrayal of an ontological inquiry, personified by a surprisingly little-known major artist who seems to be more preoccupied with the intrinsic moral legacy of his work than by its formal expression or its public recognition.”

Gaudi talked with God about something very big and profound. To this day, no one really knows what it was about.

-Etsuro Sotoo, Chief Sculptor, Sagrada Familia

— 6 —

Those of you who’ve followed me for a while know about the Sister Servants of Casa Maria here in Birmingham. A small order dedicated to prayer (of course) and retreat ministry – the also do catechesis of various kinds in parishes in the area.

They provided music for one of our Cathedral’s Sunday Vespers during Advent. You can listen here.

Both of my younger sons spent a few years serving Mass and Benediction at the convent, and we have another connection, as well – my college roommate from UT (the real one, in Knoxville) is a sister there.

They haven’t been able to have public Mass or retreats since March, of course, but I thought you’d enjoy reading their latest newsletter and taking a look at a couple of their videos – you might remember I posted a link to their offering of “I’ll Fly Away” a few months ago. This is simply of their Christmas preparation, with more at the linked Vimeo page.

— 7 —

Therefore, we can ask ourselves: what is the reason why some men see and find, while others do not? What opens the eyes and the heart? What is lacking in those who remain indifferent, in those who point out the road but do not move? We can answer: too much self-assurance, the claim to knowing reality, the presumption of having formulated a definitive judgment on everything closes them and makes their hearts insensitive to the newness of God. They are certain of the idea that they have formed of the world and no longer let themselves be involved in the intimacy of an adventure with a God who wants to meet them. They place their confidence in themselves rather than in him, and they do not think it possible that God could be so great as to make himself small so as to come really close to us.

Lastly, what they lack is authentic humility, which is able to submit to what is greater, but also authentic courage, which leads to belief in what is truly great even if it is manifested in a helpless Baby. They lack the evangelical capacity to be children at heart, to feel wonder, and to emerge from themselves in order to follow the path indicated by the star, the path of God. God has the power to open our eyes and to save us. Let us therefore ask him to give us a heart that is wise and innocent, that allows us to see the Star of his mercy, to proceed along his way, in order to find him and be flooded with the great light and true joy that he brought to this world. Amen.  Source

"amy welborn"

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So my oldest landed in his former town of Atlanta this morning and tried to go to Mass.

Good luck with that.

No entrance without a ticket, and even then you had to be there forty-five minutes early.

Garbage. Complete and utter garbage.

The Church’s response to the pandemic has been about 80% terrible – the 20% being the ministers, ordained and lay, who have heroically visited the sick in hospital, care facilities, and homes, and the parishes that have remained open – in some way – continuing to communicate the truth that yes, we all need Jesus and Jesus is Here, in this place, in this world.

But that 80%?

Are you even ready?

Do you even remember that it’s Christmas, and even in normal years, your numbers multiply to the point at which you’ve got to double up Masses and hold them all over the property? That this is the time of year in which the lost, the disaffected, the questioning, the broken, turn up?

Because they’ve heard this rumor that there is actually an answer to their questions, a reason for their being, a meaning to their suffering and One Who Loves? And maybe that One who lay in a manger in Bethlehem dwells among us still and the place to meet him again is in this place with a cross on top, light streaming from windows, doors….open?

And that this year, a year of confusion, displacement, suffering, fear and death…that pull might be even…stronger?

Are folks involved with these matters aware that even in a normal year, practicing Protestants regularly show up to Christmas Mass, especially Midnight Mass, because their own churches don’t do much for Christmas, especially if it’s not on a Sunday? And this year, far more Protestant churches have gone completely virtual and remain so, and so those hungering for flesh and blood religion, for fellowship, to be fed…might hear that the Catholic church down the road still seems to be in business and might be a place to try to experience that?

And so what are you going to do about it?

What are the ticket-taking, pew-roping, reservation-demanding Catholics powers-that-be that be going to do about it?

Are you going to find a way to actually be welcoming and get these folks through the doors at which they’ve gathered so they can be touched and moved by the Lord they are sincerely seeking?

Or are you going to position your sour-faced ushers Ministers of Hospitality at the door, arms crossed, offering not much more than “Sorry. Tickets required. Had to get here early. Merry Christmas. Stay safe.” Clubby, insular, satisfied and yes, using the word of the year…safe.

If the rules are strict and the will to work around them is weak, are you at least going to have true ministers of hospitality at the door, recognizing the lost and the seeker, ready with prayer and more information and an invitation to please, please come back to this place – even tomorrow, when the people are mostly gone, we’ll be open, Jesus will be here and we will be here to pray with you at the end of this horrible, frightening year, to be in the quiet where, almost unbelievably, peace and more unexpectedly, joy can be found?

What will we do?

Where will we be?

Who will we be?

Thank you for the comments so far. Hopefully, this will turn up information of creative ways parishes and dioceses are dealing with this challenge. And to be clear, the question I pose here is not…”Why don’t you open up?” But rather…”What are you going to do when people show up?” Or, call or inquire. “Sorry. No ticket? No, you can’t come in. Merry Christmas and stay safe out there!”

For more of what I’ve written about creative responses to pandemic, epidemic and plague, start with these two posts:

1918, Sisters and Church Closings

Birmingham priest Fr. Coyle and the 1918 Spanish Flu

“The Orations did not stop…” St. Charles Borromeo, Milan and the Plague:

….the clergy are told to prepare each household for the devotional activities devised for the extraordinary circumstances by teaching them a variety of prayers, litanies, and Psalms ahead of the quarantine. During the quarantine, bells across the parish were to be rung seven times a day, approximately every two hours, to call the households to prayer. Once begun, the bell would be rung again every quarter hour, until the fourth bell signals an end to the hour of prayer. While the bell rings,

litanies or supplications will be chanted or recited at the direction of the Bishop. This will be performed in such a way that one group sings from the windows or the doors of their homes, and then another group sings and responds in turn.

To ensure that these prayers are carried out properly, the decree continues, a member of the clergy or someone trained in these prayers (possibly the head of the household) should also come to a window or door at the appointed times to direct the prayers and stir up enthusiasm for this devotion. To further facilitate these devotional activities, Borromeo instructed the parish clergy to be supplied with books ‘that contain certain prayers, litanies, and oration, which will be made freely available, in order that he may go and distribute them to his own or other parishes’.

… Borromeo’s directive to sing at doors and windows was evidently put into practice and impressed a number of chroniclers. In his Relatione verissima, Paolo Bisciola reports:

[W]hen the plague began to grow, this practice [of singing the litanies in public] was interrupted, so as not to allow the congregations to provide it more fuel. The orations did not stop, however, because each person stood in his house at the window or door and made them from there […] Just think, in walking around Milan, one heard nothing but song, veneration of God, and supplication to the saints, such that one almost wished for these tribulations to last longer.

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— 1 —

Incoming: Screed.

Ah, well.

What’s up? Well, working on an audio element to support a textbook series, recorded a short video in support of a new family Lenten devotional from Creative Communications for the Parish, worked on some other stuff. I guess. Getting ready for Christmas, but of course that takes on a different tone and energy when it’s a stir-crazy you, a 16-year old, a 19-year old, with a 38-year old coming to visit than it did when everyone was small. I am a very last-minute person when it comes to Christmas, so yes, I guess we’ll get a tree up this weekend.

Once probably 25 years ago, or so, I was aghast when my (late) mother announced that she might not even want to put up a tree at Christmas that year. What? How can you? What are you saying???

Let’s just say…I get it. Time to pass the torch, and I’m pleased to say that the next generation (son/daughter-in-law – mostly the latter of course – and daughter/son-in-law) seem to have taken up that torch with firm hands and run with it. They are welcome to it!

Not much viewing – been watching Mad Men with College Guy for his first time. Almost done with season 1. We also watched My Favorite Wife – a favorite of mine which I’d watched with Kid #5 back in the Olden Days of early March right before College Guy came home for “Spring Break” …..hahahahahaha. So now it was his turn. Love the movie and find it fascinating for reasons I explain here.

Image result for my favorite wife tcm randolph gif

Movie Son continues his path of watching, watching, watching and then writing, writing, writing. He’s currently on a Fellini jag.

Now, these two characters (Gelsomina and Zampano) are at the center of the film, but it’s really Zampano’s story in the end. He’s left alone on a beach (the same beach that Gelsomina was found in the town and a similar beach to where the movie began) with nothing but the bitter feeling in his stomach that his loneliness and isolation at that time is entirely his own fault. He hasn’t changed, but he has come to a realization (I’ve read it as “ripened”, which I think is a good way to describe it). I’m not sure I would go so far as to call it a redemption, but it’s certainly redemptive. He doesn’t do anything to make up for his failings as a man responsible for a simple woman, but he does begin to understand his failings that led to his empty life. Gelsomina provided joy and happiness wherever she went, but she was never accepted, especially by Zampano who could have learned the most from her.

— 2 —

Here’s a diversion that looks intriguing, although I really can’t figure out how to do it. I’m waiting for one of the sons to come back home to figure it out for me.

Blob Opera.

Google's Blob Opera is a weird and wonderful experiment - CNET

— 3 —

Notes on this week’s American lit reading. First, some Walt Whitman. What did we emphasize? His self-understanding of himself as an American poet, what he was trying to express about America and then, more broadly, about the human experience. Also his engagement with Eastern thought.

I many not be on his wavelength on every point, but I found great simpatico in his vision of the communion of human beings and their experiences over space and time, as well as the cumulative impact of an individual’s experiences on her life.

So:

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry:

The similitudes of the past and those of the future,
The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings, on the walk in the street and the passage over the river,
The current rushing so swiftly and swimming with me far away,
The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them,
The certainty of others, the life, love, sight, hearing of others.

Others will enter the gates of the ferry and cross from shore to shore,
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide,
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east,
Others will see the islands large and small;
Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour high,
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them,
Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring-in of the flood-tide, the falling-back to the sea of the ebb-tide.

— 4 —

And on the second point, There Was a Child Went Forth Every Day:

THERE was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became,

And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part
of the day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass and white and red morning-glories, and white and red
clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,
And the Third-month lambs and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and
the mare’s foal and the cow’s calf,
And the noisy brood of the barnyard or by the mire of the pond-
side,

And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there, and
the beautiful curious liquid,
And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads, all became part
of him.

— 5 —

And, to finish up the “semester,” such as it is around here, we decided to leave chronology behind and go seasonal instead, reading Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory,” which – in case you’ve never read it – you can read here.

A lovely, moving piece, rich with imagery and suggestion as well as rock-solid details that put you right in the presence of these two outcasts, the seven-year old child and his only friend, his elderly cousin.

An interesting note. I have the most recent edition of the Norton Anthology of American Literature, 1865 to the present – three fat volumes purchased for College Guy’s class in the spring, but retained and not resold because I knew we’d be using it in the homeschool. Capote’s not in it – at all. I mean, I get it, I suppose. He’s not a “serious” writer, but how does one define that? His writing certainly had an impact. I don’t like In Cold Blood for a lot of reasons, but no matter what I think of the book, it did have an enormous influence on American writing, and I think it’s an impact that should be discussed. I mean, there’s an excerpt from Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust in the anthology, for pete’s sake – a seminal work in some ways, but indifferently, awkwardly written – not even close to the quality of what Capote was capable of in his best work.

Odd.

— 6 —

My own current read, separate from school? The Complete Henry Bech by John Updike. Why? In the library, desperate for an actual book-on-paper to read, with an armful of non-fiction, I came upon the U’s in fiction and decided to give Updike a go again. I read Rabbit, Run and at least one other Rabbit book in high school (not for high school, but in high school, plucked from my parents’ bookshelves), and then his very good In the Beauty of the Lilies , about America’s loss of (Protestant) faith, when it was published. I do remember Bech is Back from those same parental bookshelves, but never had a real interest in the books, believing that thinly disguised autobiography of a privileged, randy male writer was not my cup of tea.

Well, I don’t know what my final verdict will be, but I’m enjoying it far more than I expected. Updike’s prose overcomes much of my prejudices.

His mother. He had taken her death as a bump in his road, an inconvenience in his busy postwar reconstruction of himself. He had seen death in war and had learned to sneer at its perennial melodrama. He had denied his mother’s death the reality it must have had to her, this chasm that numbed as it swallowed; and now it was swallowing him. He had scarcely mourned. No one sat shivah. No Kaddish had been said. Six thousand years of observance had been overturned in Bech.

— 7 —

Here’s the Fourth Sunday of Advent approaching, with the Gospel narrative of the Annunciation.

From the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories

EPSON MFP image

From the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols

EPSON MFP image

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

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Another repeat – still on the road, hither and yon.

Yesterday,  brought you the Immaculate Conception via the Monkees, today, it’s St. Juan Diego (whose feast is today, even though we won’t celebrate it because it’s, well..Sunday)  via a literary dog.

Perhaps some of you remember the 1990’s PBS series, Wishbone. My older kids grew up with it, and I confess, I loved it. The conceit? A dog daydreams about being a character in various works of literature. It was kind of crazy, but it actually worked.

And believe it or not, the show actually dramatized a religious narrative in Viva, Wishbone!  – which involved Our Lady of Guadalupe, in which our friend Wishbone portrays, yes, Juan Diego.

Now, the story deviates. I just watched a bit of the climax, and the whole roses/tilma thing is not presented as the traditional narrative would have it. So you might not want to use it as a catechetical tool.  But take a look on YouTube, and just remember a time – not so long ago – when even PBS portrayed religion as something other than the Opium of Particularly Stupid Bigots.

Access parts 2 & 3 via this link.

wishbone guadalupe

More seriously, here are some photos from our 2018 trip to the shrine:

Your eyes are not deceiving you and it’s not bad camerawork – in the photo on the far left, the old church – the original shrine – is indeed tilting. Earthquakes, of course.

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Advent brings with it great saints. Over the next week, we have Francis Xavier, John Damascene, Nicholas, Ambrose, and today, St. Andrew, brother of Peter, fisherman, disciple, martyr.

(Would you like a study guide accompanying all of Pope Benedict XVI’s talks on the apostles? Here’s a pdf of one I wrote for OSV. Seriously – feel free to print, copy and use in whatever way you’d like. Zoom small group study!)

Who, what, when, where, why….

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The first striking characteristic of Andrew is his name:  it is not Hebrew, as might have been expected, but Greek, indicative of a certain cultural openness in his family that cannot be ignored. We are in Galilee, where the Greek language and culture are quite present. Andrew comes second in the list of the Twelve, as in Matthew (10: 1-4) and in Luke (6: 13-16); or fourth, as in Mark (3: 13-18) and in the Acts (1: 13-14). In any case, he certainly enjoyed great prestige within the early Christian communities.

The kinship between Peter and Andrew, as well as the joint call that Jesus addressed to them, are explicitly mentioned in the Gospels. We read:  “As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men'” (Mt 4: 18-19; Mk 1: 16-17).

From the Fourth Gospel we know another important detail:  Andrew had previously been a disciple of John the Baptist:  and this shows us that he was a man who was searching, who shared in Israel’s hope, who wanted to know better the word of the Lord, the presence of the Lord.

He was truly a man of faith and hope; and one day he heard John the Baptist proclaiming Jesus as:  “the Lamb of God” (Jn 1: 36); so he was stirred, and with another unnamed disciple followed Jesus, the one whom John had called “the Lamb of God”. The Evangelist says that “they saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day…” (Jn 1: 37-39).

Thus, Andrew enjoyed precious moments of intimacy with Jesus. The account continues with one important annotation:  “One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus” (Jn 1: 40-43), straightaway showing an unusual apostolic spirit.

Andrew, then, was the first of the Apostles to be called to follow Jesus. Exactly for this reason the liturgy of the Byzantine Church honours him with the nickname:  “Protokletos”, [protoclete] which means, precisely, “the first called”.

And it is certain that it is partly because of the family tie between Peter and Andrew that the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople feel one another in a special way to be Sister Churches. To emphasize this relationship, my Predecessor Pope Paul VI, in 1964, returned the important relic of St Andrew, which until then had been kept in the Vatican Basilica, to the Orthodox Metropolitan Bishop of the city of Patras in Greece, where tradition has it that the Apostle was crucified.

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The Gospel traditions mention Andrew’s name in particular on another three occasions that tell us something more about this man. The first is that of the multiplication of the loaves in Galilee. On that occasion, it was Andrew who pointed out to Jesus the presence of a young boy who had with him five barley loaves and two fish:  not much, he remarked, for themultitudes who had gathered in that place (cf. Jn 6: 8-9).

In this case, it is worth highlighting Andrew’s realism. He noticed the boy, that is, he had already asked the question:  “but what good is that for so many?” (ibid.), and recognized the insufficiency of his minimal resources. Jesus, however, knew how to make them sufficient for the multitude of people who had come to hear him.

The second occasion was at Jerusalem. As he left the city, a disciple drew Jesus’ attention to the sight of the massive walls that supported the Temple. The Teacher’s response was surprising:  he said that of those walls not one stone would be left upon another. Then Andrew, together with Peter, James and John, questioned him:  “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign when these things are all to be accomplished?” (Mk 13: 1-4).

In answer to this question Jesus gave an important discourse on the destruction of Jerusalem and on the end of the world, in which he asked his disciples to be wise in interpreting the signs of the times and to be constantly on their guard.

From this event we can deduce that we should not be afraid to ask Jesus questions but at the same time that we must be ready to accept even the surprising and difficult teachings that he offers us.

Lastly, a third initiative of Andrew is recorded in the Gospels:  the scene is still Jerusalem, shortly before the Passion. For the Feast of the Passover, John recounts, some Greeks had come to the city, probably proselytes or God-fearing men who had come up to worship the God of Israel at the Passover Feast. Andrew and Philip, the two Apostles with Greek names, served as interpreters and mediators of this small group of Greeks with Jesus.

The Lord’s answer to their question – as so often in John’s Gospel – appears enigmatic, but precisely in this way proves full of meaning. Jesus said to the two disciples and, through them, to the Greek world:  “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. I solemnly assure you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (12: 23-24).

Jesus wants to say:  Yes, my meeting with the Greeks will take place, but not as a simple, brief conversation between myself and a few others, motivated above all by curiosity. The hour of my glorification will come with my death, which can be compared with the falling into the earth of a grain of wheat. My death on the Cross will bring forth great fruitfulness:  in the Resurrection the “dead grain of wheat” – a symbol of myself crucified – will become the bread of life for the world; it will be a light for the peoples and cultures.

Yes, the encounter with the Greek soul, with the Greek world, will be achieved in that profundity to which the grain of wheat refers, which attracts to itself the forces of heaven and earth and becomes bread.

In other words, Jesus was prophesying about the Church of the Greeks, the Church of the pagans, the Church of the world, as a fruit of his Pasch.

Some very ancient traditions not only see Andrew, who communicated these words to the Greeks, as the interpreter of some Greeks at the meeting with Jesus recalled here, but consider him the Apostle to the Greeks in the years subsequent to Pentecost. They enable us to know that for the rest of his life he was the preacher and interpreter of Jesus for the Greek world.

"amy welborn"

Peter, his brother, travelled from Jerusalem through Antioch and reached Rome to exercise his universal mission; Andrew, instead, was the Apostle of the Greek world. So it is that in life and in death they appear as true brothers – a brotherhood that is symbolically expressed in the special reciprocal relations of the See of Rome and of Constantinople, which are truly Sister Churches.

A later tradition, as has been mentioned, tells of Andrew’s death at Patras, where he too suffered the torture of crucifixion. At that supreme moment, however, like his brother Peter, he asked to be nailed to a cross different from the Cross of Jesus. In his case it was a diagonal or X-shaped cross, which has thus come to be known as “St Andrew’s cross”.

This is what the Apostle is claimed to have said on that occasion, according to an ancient story (which dates back to the beginning of the sixth century), entitled The Passion of Andrew: 
“Hail, O Cross, inaugurated by the Body of Christ and adorned with his limbs as though they were precious pearls. Before the Lord mounted you, you inspired an earthly fear. Now, instead, endowed with heavenly love, you are accepted as a gift.

“Believers know of the great joy that you possess, and of the multitude of gifts you have prepared. I come to you, therefore, confident and joyful, so that you too may receive me exultant as a disciple of the One who was hung upon you…. O blessed Cross, clothed in the majesty and beauty of the Lord’s limbs!… Take me, carry me far from men, and restore me to my Teacher, so that, through you, the one who redeemed me by you, may receive me. Hail, O Cross; yes, hail indeed!”.

Here, as can be seen, is a very profound Christian spirituality. It does not view the Cross as an instrument of torture but rather as the incomparable means for perfect configuration to the Redeemer, to the grain of wheat that fell into the earth.

Here we have a very important lesson to learn:  our own crosses acquire value if we consider them and accept them as a part of the Cross of Christ, if a reflection of his light illuminates them.

It is by that Cross alone that our sufferings too are ennobled and acquire their true meaning.

The Apostle Andrew, therefore, teaches us to follow Jesus with promptness (cf. Mt 4: 20; Mk 1: 18), to speak enthusiastically about him to those we meet, and especially, to cultivate a relationship of true familiarity with him, acutely aware that in him alone can we find the ultimate meaning of our life and death.

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Nativity scenes from the three most well-known Catholic Worker artists. More at this link.

Here are passages from some of Dorothy Day’s writings on Advent:

Advent is a time of waiting – from On Pilgrimage, 1948

ADVENT IS a time of waiting, of expectation, of silence. Waiting for our Lord to be born. A pregnant woman is so happy, so content. She lives in such a garment of silence, and it is as though she were listening to hear the stir of life within her. One always hears that stirring compared to the rustling of a bird in the hand. But the intentness with which one awaits such stirring is like nothing so much as a blanket of silence.

Be still. Did I hear something?

……

Many people think an examination of conscience is a morbid affair. Péguy has some verses which Donald Gallagher read to me once in the St. Louis House of Hospitality. (He and Cy Echele opened the house there.) They were about examination of conscience. There is a place for it, he said, at the beginning of the Mass. “I have sinned in thought, word, and deed, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” But after you get done with it, don’t go on brooding about it; don’t keep thinking of it. You wipe your feet at the door of the church as you go in, and you do not keep contemplating your dirty feet.

Here is my examination at the beginning of Advent, at the beginning of a new year. Lack of charity, criticism of superiors, of neighbors, of friends and enemies. Idle talk, impatience, lack of self-control and mortification towards self, and of love towards others. Pride and presumption. (It is good to have visitors – one’s faults stand out in the company of others.) Self-will, desire not to be corrected, to have one’s own way. The desire in turn to correct others, impatience in thought and speech.

The remedy is recollection and silence. Meanness about giving time to others and wasting it myself. Constant desire for comfort. First impulse is always to make myself comfortable. If cold, to put on warmth; if hot, to become cool; if hungry, to eat; and what one likes – always the first thought is of one’s own comfort. It is hard for a woman to be indifferent about little material things. She is a homemaker, a cook; she likes to do material things. So let her do them for others, always. Woman’s job is to love. Enlarge Thou my heart, Lord, that Thou mayest enter in.

The first column in an Advent series from 1966, which focuses on Mary:

And now even the prayer, the Hail Mary, has been left out of the listing of Catholic prayers from the new Dutch catechism, so we are told in our diocesan paper.

After reading this I changed my mind about writing about the counsels for this first of an Advent series and decided to write about the Blessed Mother instead. She is, of course, a controversial figure, the last thing in the world she would want to be.

It is fitting to write about her in Advent, and I would like to tell in simple fashion about Mary in my life.

WHEN I was a very little child, perhaps not more than six, I used to have recurrent nightmares of a great God, King of heaven and earth which encompassed all, stretched out over all of us in a most impersonal way, and

Dorothy Day – Auckland Theology & Religious Studies

with this nightmare came also a great noise like that made by a galloping horseman which increased in volume until the sound filled all the earth. It was a terrifying dream and when I called out, my mother used to come and sit by the bedside and hold my hand and talk to me until I fell asleep. That passed, and then a few years later I met a little girl by the name of Mary Harrington who told me about the Blessed Mother and a heaven peopled with saints, and this also was a great comfort to me.

Years passed and I attended high school and college and then went to work for the Socialist and Communist movements in the early 20’s. Nevertheless, I often dropped into churches. One winter when I was working in New Orleans and living across the street from the cathedral there I found great joy in attending Benediction. That Christmas a Communist friend gave me a rosary. “You were always dropping into the cathedral,” she explained.

I did not know how to say the prayers but I kept it by me. I did not know any Catholics and would have been afraid to approach a priest or nun, for fear of their reading into such an approach some expectation which was not there.

More.

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The temptation to be performatively meditative and thoughtful about Advent will run strong this year, I’m guessing.

It’s natural. 2020 has been a strange year for everyone and a hard year for many. Tragic, even.

Not surprising then, that as the calendar year draws to a close and Advent begins, it seems a proper moment for stock-taking and pondering. What do all of these disruptions, changes and challenges mean? What is this new world and how do we live in it?

Well, when I read through this Sunday’s readings, I was struck, most of all by the old news, once again, that all this disruption, change and challenge is not new at all.

For most of human history, most people, even the wealthy, have lived on the edge of earthly existence, with very little sense of control. Life was precarious. High maternal mortality, high childhood mortality, high mortality, period. Populations subject to the vagaries of climate and natural disaster, without benefit of satellite or radar to know what’s coming. Famine, floods and pestilence always on the horizon of possibility, which meant, not that you’d have to put off a trip to the store and consider a week or month-long disruption of the supply chain, but that you, your children and maybe your whole village would  starve.  Brutal rulers, punishments and restrictions, pogroms and genocide.

And you don’t even have to reach back to the Middle Ages to find it.

In such a context, it is not difficult to remember that you yourself are not God, or even a god, that you don’t create your own destiny. With that understanding, it’s not so much of a challenge to live in the knowledge that any joy or contentment you can grab from life on earth will not – and cannot – be tied to material prosperity and peak physical health, for neither of those things will probably ever come to you at all.

For most of human history, it hasn’t been the full, satisfied college degree holder looking to scratch a vague itch of existential despair who’s been hearing the Good News. It’s been the peasant nursing constantly aching teeth, squinting to see through weakened eyes, middle-aged at thirty, working hard from dawn to dusk, remember dead children, hearing rumors of war, studying the skies, waiting and praying for rain, subject to the whims of human authorities.

If they could see us, reeling from our present-day troubles, they might well ask us, “Well…what did you expect?”

Listen to today’s first reading, from Isaiah. Better yet, read the entire context – Isaiah 63-64. It’s an astonishing outcry of a people in exile, a wild mix of all that every person feels in time of loss and crisis: What did we do to do deserve this? Why are we suffering so? Have we done wrong? Are we suffering consequences of that wrong? God is so harsh with us! God seems to be silent, hidden and absent? But….you know what? He’s our Father. We trust him. He’s like a potter, we’re clay. Go ahead, Shape us.

The voices come to us from 2700 years ago – 2700 years – questioning, railing and ultimately trusting – and it’s as if they could be speaking today

Well, they are.

Same human race, same struggle, same veil we yearn to lift, same ache in our hearts for peace, wholeness, life and love.

Same cry for a savior.


I’ve attached this poem to another Advent post in the past, but it seemed fitting here. Written at the end of World War II, the poet says of it:

This poem, ‘Expectans Expectavi’, which is the title of a psalm, “I waited patiently for the Lord”, is about waiting, written at the end of the last war when the whole world, really, seemed to be holding its breath for the return of ordinary life, and all the soldiers from overseas, and I thought of it in the wintertime, at Christmas, with the carols and the children’s faces, recalling the refugees of the time. The poem happened to be chosen to be posted up on the underground, so although I never saw it myself, several of my friends have been surprised by it in the middle of a crowd of people standing up in the tube train.

Expectans Expectavi

The candid freezing season again:
Candle and cracker, needles of fir and frost;
Carols that through the night air pass, piercing
The glassy husk of heart and heaven;
Children’s faces white in the pane, bright in the tree-light.

And the waiting season again,
That begs a crust and suffers joy vicariously:
In bodily starvation now, in the spirit’s exile always.
O might the hilarious reign of love begin, let in
Like carols from the cold
The lost who crowd the pane, numb outcasts into welcome.

Advent is a reset, yes, but if we listen carefully to God’s Word and the lives of others beyond our own bubble of time and space, it can be a reset that anchors us more deeply in communion with the reality of the ebb, flow and crashing and burning of human experience, an experience that our privileged houses of sand manage to hide from us – those houses of sand Jesus warned us about for just that reason: they trick us, the rich man of the Gospel, into thinking we don’t need God.

That we don’t need a savior.

And so we listen to the Scriptures proclaimed at Mass and in the Church’s prayer, we listen to the saints whose words are given to us during this season, and we’re reminded that none of this is about hoping and dreaming that someday life will get “back to normal” or that this particular type of suffering and difficulty will end and then peace on earth will reign right now, in its fullness.

It’s about acknowledging the mess – the mess that’s now and the mess that came before the present mess – and lifting up that mess to God, trusting that he will take it and somehow make good come out of it, a type of rescue, if you will. It doesn’t diminish a bit of our current suffering. It simply situates it and puts us into communion with others who have suffered – which is everyone.

And then, as the weeks of Advent pass, we listen to the cries and questions asked and answered over centuries past in the context of Word, prayer, song and art – it becomes clearer and clearer: Yesterday and today, the human family speaks from the same broken, suffering heart – and yes, He hears us. And look right here in the mess, just look: here he is.

Others have found him. Keep looking. So can you.

Korean nativity
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