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From the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols

Her feast is coming up next Monday.

As I’ve done for the past couple of years, I’m going to offer a daily excerpt from my book Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies, now available as an e-book for .99.

Remember, that the book was written in the context of the Da Vinci Code fever, so I pay particular attention to the gnostic writings that Brown and others whose work he used depended on for their claims.

Not many people may be looking to DVC as anything but an artifact on the remainder table (we can hope), but as is always the case with these, er, teachable moments – it remains a teachable moment. How do we understand the Gospels? How do we understand the complexity of tradition?  Mary Magdalene is a good way to enter into those discussions.

So.

Chapter 1:

Before the legends, myths, and speculation, and even before the best-selling novels, there was something else: the Gospels.

The figure of Mary Magdalene has inspired a wealth of art, devotion, and charitable works throughout Christian history, but if we want to really understand her, we have to open the Gospels, because all we really know for sure is right there.

The evidence seems, at first glance, frustratingly slim: an introduction in Luke, and then Mary’s presence at the cross and at the empty tomb mentioned in all four amy-welborn-book2Gospels. Not much to go on, it seems.

But in the context, the situation isn’t as bad as it appears. After all, no one besides Jesus is described in any detail in the Gospels, and even the portrait of Jesus, as evocative as it is, omits details that we moderns are programmed to think are important. Perhaps, given the context, the Gospels tell us more about Mary Magdalene than we think.

Trustworthy?

Before we actually meet the Mary Magdalene of the Gospels, it might be a good idea to remind ourselves of exactly what the Gospels are and how to read them.

The word “Gospel” means, of course, “good news,” or evangel in Greek, which is why we call the writers of the Gospels evangelists. The four Gospels in the New Testament have been accepted as the most authoritative and accurate writings on Jesus’ life since the early second century. Even today, scholars who study early  Christianity, whether they are believers or not, know that when studying Jesus and the early Christian movement, the Gospels and other New Testament writings are the place to begin.

Sometimes in my speaking on this issue, I have fielded questions about the reliability of the Gospels. A questioner will say something like, “Well, they were written so long after the events, how can we trust them to tell the truth?”

In addition, even those of us who have received some sort of religious education might have been taught, implicitly, to be skeptical of the Gospels. We’re reminded, right off, that the Gospels are not history or biography, and that they tell us far more about the community that produced them than about Jesus himself.

In short, all of this gets distilled into the conviction that when it comes to early Christianity, all documents and texts are of equal value in telling us about Jesus. You can’t pick the best according to historical reliability, so you pick the one with the “story” that means the most to you. So, if the Gospel of Mark displeases you, you can go ahead and create your Jesus from what you read in the Gospelof Philip or the Pistis Sophia.

Sorry, but it just doesn’t work that way. As we will see in more detail when we get to the Gnostic writings, there is simply no comparison between the four canonical Gospels and other writ-ings. The canonical Gospels were not written that distant from the events described — forty or fifty years — and were written in an oral culture that took great care to preserve what it heard with care; the community’s history depended on it. When you actually read the Gospels, you see comments here and there from the evangel-ists themselves about what they were trying to do, and part of that involved, according to their own admission, being as accurate as possible (see Luke 1:1-4, for example).

No, the Gospels are not straight history or biography in the contemporary sense. They are testaments of faith. But they are testaments of faith rooted in what really happened. The evangelists, and by extension, the early Christians, were not about making up stories for which they would later, oddly, give their lives. They were not cleverly presenting their inner psychological transformations in the form of concrete stories. They were witnesses to the amazing action of God in history, through Jesus. amy-welborn-book3They are testimonies of faith, yes, but faith rooted in the realities of God’s movement in the world.

It’s also good to listen to modern Gospel critics carefully. More often than not, those who disdain the Gospels are quick to claim some other text as “gospel,” as the source of truth. Their choice of what to believe usually has far less to do with historical reliability than it does with other factors.

So, no, not all historical texts are equally reliable. When it comes to Jesus and the events of the mid-first century, the canonical Gospels are really the only place to begin.

Now, on to Mary Magdalene.

Magdala

Luke introduces us to Mary Magdalene in chapter 8 of his Gospel:

 

“Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, preach-ing and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,and Joanna,the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.” (Luke 8:1-3)

So here she is: a woman from whom Jesus had driven seven demons, joined with other women, also healed by Jesus, who had left their lives behind to follow him.

Mary is mentioned first in this list, as she is in every list of female disciples, in every Gospel, similar to the way that in lists of the twelve apostles Peter’s name always comes first. The precise reason for Mary’s consistent preeminence is impossible to determine, but we can guess that it might have much to do with her important role related to the Resurrection, as well as to recognition of her faithfulness to Jesus.

These women “provided for them out of their means.” This might mean one of two things, or both: that the women assisted Jesus and his disciples by preparing meals and so on, or that they supported them financially. The second explanation is supported by the presence of Joanna, the wife of a member of Herod’s court, on the list. Perhaps some of these women were, indeed, wealthy enough to give Jesus’ ministry a financial base. (Some legends about Mary have played off of this, as we will see later, suggesting that she was quite wealthy and actually owned the town of Magdala.)

What stands out about Mary is that she’s identified, not by her relationship to a man, as most women would be at that time, but to a town. This indicates that Mary wasn’t married, and perhaps even that she had outlived her father and other male relatives: she was a single woman, able to give support to Jesus out of gratitude for what he had done for her.

Magdala was located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, about four miles north of the major city of Tiberias. Today, it is a village with a few hundred inhabitants, some abandoned archaeological digs, and only the most inconspicuous memorials to its most well-known inhabitant.

“Magdala” is derived from the Hebrew Migdal, which means “fortress” or “tower.” It was also called “Tarichea,” which means “salted fish,” a name which reveals the town’s primary industry during the first century, the salting and pickling of fish. Excavations led by Franciscans in the 1970s revealed a structure that some think was a synagogue (others a springhouse), as well as a couple of large villas and, from later centuries, what might be a Byzan-tine monastery. Magdala is described by Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, as having forty thousand inhabitants, six thou-sand of whom were killed in one of the battles during the Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-70), but most modern historians believe those numbers are far too high.

Jewish tradition suggests that Magdala was ultimately destroyed as a punishment for prostitution, and another strain holds that in ancient times Job’s daughters died there. Pilgrim accounts from the ninth through the thirteenth centuries report the existence of a church in Magdala, supposedly built in the fourth century by St. Helena, who discovered the True Cross in Jerusalem.

By the seventeenth century, pilgrims reported nothing but ruins at Magdala.

Possessed

Mary — like Peter, Andrew, and the other apostles — walked away from life as she knew it, abandoned everything to follow Jesus. Why?

“. . . from whom seven demons had gone out.”

Exorcism is an aspect of Jesus’ ministry that many of us either forget about or ignore, but the Gospels make clear how important it is: Mark, in fact, describes an exorcism as Jesus’ first mighty deed, in the midst of his preaching (1:25). Some modern com-mentators might declare that what the ancients referred to as pos-session was nothing more than mental illness, but there is really no reason to assume that is true. The “demons,” or unclean or evil spirits, we see mentioned sixty-three times in the Gospels were understood as forces that indeed possessed people, inhabiting them, bringing on what we would describe as mental problems, emotional disturbances, and even physical illness. The symptoms, however, were, to the ancient mind, only that: symptoms. The deeper problem was the alienation from the rest of the human family and from God produced by this mysterious force of evil.

In the world in which Jesus lived, seven was a number that symbolized completion, from the seven days of creation (Genesis 1:1-2:3) to the seven seals on God’s book in Revelation (5:1) and the seven horns and eyes of the Lamb in the same vision (5:6). Mary’s possession by seven demons (also explicitly mentioned in Mark 16:9) indicates to us that her possession was serious and overwhelming — total, in fact. She was wholly in the grip of these evil spirits, and Jesus freed her — totally.

So of course, she left everything and followed him.

It’s worth noting now, even though we’ll discuss it more later, that nowhere in the New Testament is the condition of possession synonymous with sinfulness. The “sinners” in the Gospels — the tax collectors, those who cannot or will not observe the Law, the prostitutes — are clearly distinguished from those possessed. Some Christian thinkers have linked Mary Magdalene to various sinful, unnamed women in the Gospels because of her identification as formerly possessed. There may be reasons, indeed, to link Mary to these women, but possession is not one of them, because the conditions — possession and sinfulness — are not the same thing in the minds of the evangelists.

Disciple

The evangelists used the texts, memories, and oral traditions they had at hand to communicate the Good News about Jesus. Because they were human beings, their writing and editing bears the stamp of their unique concerns and interests. Just as you and a spouse might tell the same story, emphasizing different aspects of it to make different points — perhaps you want to tell the story of your missed flight as a warning about being organized and prepared, and he wants to tell it as a way to highlight the need to go with the flow — the evangelists shaped the fundamental story of Jesus in accord with what struck them as the most significant points of his life and ministry, what their audiences most needed to hear.

In the eighth chapter of his Gospel, Luke has finished introducing Jesus, and is ready to really help his audience understand what being a disciple means. He begins by describing who is following Jesus — the Twelve and the women — and then offers a general description of what Jesus’ ministry is about. Jesus then tells his first parable (the parable of the sower and the seeds, which is the first parable Jesus relates in all of the Gospels), then quickly calms a storm, performs another dramatic exorcism, raises a little girl back to life, and in the midst of it tells his followers, firmly, that his blood relations are not his family, but rather those who “hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21).

So that’s the context of the introduction of Mary Magdalene and the other women — not just to set the stage, to complete the cast of characters, because Luke, like all of the other evangelists, didn’t have vellum to spare to do such a thing. Every word he wrote had a purpose, and it was very focused — here, to set before us, in quick, strong strokes, what this kingdom of God was all about. What do we learn from the presence of the women?

First, we learn that women are present, period. Women were not chattel slaves in first-century Judaism, by any means, but neither were they often, if ever, seen leaving their ordinary lives to follow a rabbi. In fact, scholar Ben Witherington describes this conduct as “scandalous” in the cultural context (Women in the Ministry of Jesus [Cambridge University Press, 1984]):

“We know women were allowed to hear the word of God in the synagogue but they were never disciples of a rabbi unless their husband or master was a rabbi willing to teach them.Though a woman might be taught certain negative precepts of the Law out of necessity,this did not mean they would be taught rabbinic explanations of Torah. For a Jewish woman to leave home and travel with a rabbi was not only unheard of, it was scandalous. Even more scandalous was the fact that women, both respectable and not, were among Jesus’ traveling companions.” (Witherington, p. 117)

And not just any women, either. As we noted earlier, Mary Magdalene was once possessed by seven demons. In this culture, those possessed were ostracized — one man Jesus exorcised is described as living in a cemetery (Luke 8:27). Mary Magdalene, formerly at the margins of society, has been transformed by Jesus and is now welcomed as a disciple. The barriers of class, too, are broken, Luke hints, with the presence of Joanna, the wife of a per-son of stature. In God’s kingdom, Luke makes clear, the world we know is being turned upside down.

Just as every phrase and scene in the Gospels is carefully chosen under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so are the parts of the Gospel related. We meet Mary Magdalene here, but we will not see her again for many chapters — until the Passion narrative begins. But when we do encounter her — again, with the other women — here’s what she will be doing: she will be standing near the cross, she will then be preparing Jesus’ body for burial, and later she will see and witness to the empty tomb, and encounter the risen Jesus.

Mary will be serving, still. She serves, watches, and waits, the only remaining link between Jesus’ Galilean ministry, his Passion, and the Resurrection. She is introduced as a grateful, faithful dis-ciple, and that she will remain, a witness to the life Jesus brings.

 

Already, there’s a sort of mystery: what were these demons? What exactly happened to Mary? The evangelists don’t tell us, perhaps because they and Mary herself knew that life with Jesus is not about looking back into the past, but rather rejoicing in God’s power to transform our lives in the present.

 

Questions for Reflection

 

  1. What do we know about Mary Magdalene’s life from the Gospels?
  1. What does her presence in Jesus’ ministry tell you about the kingdom of God that Jesus preached?
  2.   How has God acted in your life with power? How do you respond to that? How would you like to respond?

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Took a quick trip over to Cordoba on Monday.

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A note about the train in Spain: it’s not cheap. I mean – it can be if you book ahead and/or choose their least busy times. And I suppose the actual Spaniards who use the system have their discount and reward cards and do just fine. But for me, deciding to do this at almost the last minute, with a crew that I don’t want to force an early rising on – no, it wasn’t cheap.

The grandson’s parents are in Grenada for an overnight (3 hours by bus..so not a daytrip we’re going to take), so the four of us headed to the train station, then to Cordoba.

The main site in Cordoba is the Mosque-Cathedral. They have an excellent webiste here.

Short version: The site was first a Visigoth Chapel (I am not sure if the chapel dates from the Arian days or a point after the Visigoths generally embraced orthodoxy), then taken over by Muslims, who built the impressive mosque. The Christians got it back after the 12th century Reconquista, and in the 16th century, they plunked a church in the middle of the former mosque.

And do remember that much of what you read about the supposed golden age of tolerance in Cordoba (at one time western capital of the Islamic empire and the largest city in Europe) is myth-making. Yes, it was “peaceful” co-existence, but there were reasons for that, reasons related to law, taxation and punishment. A prison that happens to be functional can be described as a “peaceful” place, after all. Before we came over I read The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise, and one of the points the author makes is specifically related to this structure – that’s it’s not just the new Muslim leaders struck a deal with the conquered for the site. They, you know, took it. For a summary of his broader argument, read this article. 

For more, here’s Matthew Bunson in the NCRegister, with the added angle of the recent push by Muslims and Spanish leftists to return the mosque to Muslims.

Such was the beauty of the Great Mosque, the Mezquita in Spanish, that when Córdoba was captured by King Ferdinand, one of the first decisions he had to face was what to do with it.

The new ruler decided to transform the mosque into the city’s new cathedral. Respectful of the architecture, he maintained the columns and even preserved the ornate horseshoe-arched mihrab, or prayer niche, and its stunning dome above.

The minaret, meanwhile, was converted to a bell tower, with bells brought from Santiago de Compostela. In effect, Ferdinand preserved the mosque’s beauty for posterity.

With the exception of the chapels found throughout, the one major structural change was made in the 16th century, when Emperor Charles V permitted Bishop Alonso Manrique to construct a Renaissance cathedral in the middle of the building.

Fortunately, the current governing laws in Spain prevent such outright seizure, and Bishop Fernández has also been assured that, should this actually happen, Pope Francis and the Holy See would enter the fray. That will, of course, not stop opposition officials from trying.

And while the current law blocks such expropriation, other goals might be more attainable. The bishop warned of “the more immediate objectives, such as asking for them [Muslims] to be able to share the cathedral … but that’s not possible, neither for the Catholics nor for the Muslims.”

Equally, there is no desperate need for prayer space on the part of Muslims, as there are barely 1,500 in the city, which is served by two mosques. The Islamic population in Spain, while growing through immigration, makes up barely 4% of the total population.

Local Muslims are also not behind the controversy. The push is coming from outside of Spain, and it is believed that much of the funding is being provided by Arab countries, with some Church officials and even Ambassador Ruperez warning that funding may even be coming from Qatar, which is facing many accusations of being a state sponsor of international terrorism.

It’s quite interesting – you can see plenty of photos at the official site and I have a bit of video on Instagram. I will say that many of the guides I read indicated you should give the site two hours, but we found one hour plenty – but perhaps a factor in that is a five-year old.

Anyway, some impressions:

The structure is quite beautiful, unique and stunning. The repetition of the identical striped double arches, juxtaposed with the wild Baroque of the Cathedral is an expression, in a way, of  differences between Islam and Catholicism – something even my teens picked up on without my prompting.

It was not very busy on this Monday in June. If there had been no school groups, it would have been even less so.

Here’s the most interesting thing I saw.

We were in a small exhibit on some particular silvermaker who made chalices. At one point, a Muslim family (who’d been on the train with us from Seville and, it would turn out, would also be on the same return train) came over, led by a security guard, who pointed up to a particular pillar. They told him thank you, then asked him a few questions, studied the pillar, and took photos of it. They left. Not a couple of minutes later another small Muslim group came over, found the pillar, discussed it, pointed, and took photos.

It was this:

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I asked the guard the significance. He barely spoke English, but he was able to indicate that it said something about Allah being the only God (probably a portion of the Shahada) and very important to Muslims. Well, yes. So what I concluded (and I can’t find anything about this online in the time I have at the moment) is that it must be the only remaining original Arabic/Koranic script left in the structure. You could see  similar spaces on the other column capitals that had obviously been scraped clean.

And then a third Muslim group came by, stopped, searched, pointed and photographed – three in the space of five minutes.

All right then, after that, it was about four (we’d come on an early afternoon train). We went to the Moorish/Roman bridge. Found a bathroom. Made our way to the ancient Synagogue, which was closed (it’s a museum, so of course, yeah – on a Monday – closed), then decided, eh, find ice cream and just go to the station.

Which we did. We didn’t do a lot of wandering. I was glad to have gone and seen the Cathedral, but the area around it is super, super touristy. I’ve been on plenty of ancient winding European streets, so spending a hot afternoon with a five-year old on narrow streets crammed with souvenir shops and other tourists doesn’t have much appeal to me. So a slow meander back to the station, back to Seville on a slower train, went to the grocery store, provide food for the youngest one, put him to sleep, and then M and I went out for some late-night tapas. Set out at ten, it was still light outside and the streets were busy and restaurants were crowded with all sorts of groups, including families.

We found a good tapas bar – we weren’t super hungry, but I just wanted to try some new things. So I found a new thing on the menu and ordered it. As I was sitting there waiting and watching the action behind the bar, I pointed and laughed and this weird thing being plated – “Look,” I said, “It’s a piece of cake with…lettuce on the side! What in the world?”

And then the waiter grabbed it and put it in front of me.

Oh!

Not exactly what I expected when ordering a “zucchini tart.” But it was good!

Also below: innovations from Spanish cuisine, including free 2L coke bottles with your Seagram’s and one I can truly get behind – pre-skewered relishes in a jar.

 

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— 1 —

Getting ready here – ready to write the “Pre-trip letter of death,” as we call it – the email I send out to my adult kids before a big trip. You know: location of the estate documents, attorney contact information, detailed (to the extent that it’s been planned) itinerary, insurance information, passport #s.

Fun!

You know why I do this right? There’s some superstition involved, yes: if I overprepare for disaster nothing will happen. But it’s also just, in my mind, an act of love. I’ve dealt with two deaths and estates over the past ten years: my husband’s and my dad’s (my mother died 18 years ago, just a few days after J was born, so I really had no involvement until the final Do you want any of this? stage.) – one unexpected and one, if not entirely predicted, not a total shock, considering he’d been smoking for sixty years and drinking heavily for a lot of that as well.

And you know what? It’s a pain in the neck. I mean – even with a will and other preparations, it’s a hassle, added on top of grief. Who needs that? Life is so complicated now, it’s not as if you can just shut the door and move on. If something happens to me or us, I owe it to the people I’m leaving behind to make the clean-up as smooth as possible. That begins with leaving clear instructions .

Well, it actually starts with having a will and other pertinent documents…you’ve got that, right?

(New readers don’t know this, but my late husband didn’t have a will at the time of his death – and neither did I, of course. It was a huge hassle, and issues still pop up occasionally, mainly related to publishing contracts. Get your wills made and make sure every account you have (529/401K/mutual funds) has designated heirs  – a “successor owner.”)

 — 2 —

 

So what else do I do besides write the letter-of-death to prepare for three weeks in Europe? Maybe do a little planning? A little.

(In my own defense, I secured the Seville apartment back in February, when we first settled on the trip. Airfare came much later – in April.)

I finally did start some thinking – mostly about post-Seville –  and discovered the delightful note that one of our weirder destinations – the cemetery from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly  – is just kilometers away from the monastery of the famed Chant monks – S. Domingo de Silos. It will be a spectacular end to the trip, all round, for everyone, with all of our…interests.

(There’s a good, if overlong documentary on the effort to find and restore the cemetery – it’s called Sad Hill Unearthed and you can watch it here.)

I also realized that we’ll be in Seville during Corpus Christi (June 20), with a great-looking procession and hopefully other activities. We’ll be in Spain for St. John’s Day – and Spain, as in many European countries, St. John’s Eve is celebrated with bonfires. The Spain bonfires seem to be mostly centered in beach areas, but I’m still looking….

Corpus Christi in Sevilla

— 3 —

Pentecost is coming! Is your parish dropping rose petals from the ceiling?

 

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-4–

I don’t know anything about the “40 Book Challenge” – but here’s a parent/librarian who pushed back against what she describes as its misuse:

In our district, kids were challenged to read 40 books. They would read 20 books the first semester and another 20 books the second semester. They had to read a very regimented list of books and were required to keep a reading log AND to fulfill a one page question sheet for each completed book to get credit. They were graded and after the first semester, when many of the kids hadn’t read the first 20 books, they had to turn in a sheet each Friday and if they didn’t their punishment was to give up their recess to walk laps. Only two of the options each semester were free choice books, everything else was designed to make them read a variety of genres. Half of the books had to be over 80 pages in length. It was a one size fits all approach that left little wiggle room for the various types and stages of readers. It was limiting, punitive, and left little room for enjoyment or exploration. And it highly regulated our children’s freedom outside of class, which is incredibly difficult because school time is now so very regulated and regimented.

This is how that first semester went in our home. As I attempted to keep my child on task to meet the various requirements and goals, we fought. A lot. My child, already behind and feeling a lot of insecurity and resenment towards reading, responded exactly as you would expect. She cried. She fought. She procrastinated. She told me she hated reading. She told me she hated me. She told me she was stupid and a failure and that she hated herself. It was a very difficult semester in our home, for everyone. But most importantly, I worried that she wasn’t going to make it out of the 4th grade with any positive emotions surrounding herself, me or reading. It felt like everyone was being harmed and damaged.

–5 —

“‘The Great Convent Scandal'” That Transfixed Victorian England.” Somewhat interesting, but I’m left confused by exactly why the bullies fixated on this particular nun:

One hundred and fifty years ago a legal case involving three nuns was front-page news in Britain and Ireland. The plaintiff was Susanna Mary Saurin, a member of the Sisters of Mercy, and she was suing her former superiors, Mary Starr and Mary Kennedy, for false imprisonment, libel, assault and conspiracy to force her out of the order. Or as the barrister representing Saurin put it, “wretched little bits of spite and hatred … heightened by all those small acts of torture with which women are so profoundly and so peculiarly acquainted”.

Saurin, also known as Sister Mary Scholastica, was not an obvious person to embarrass the Church; she was from an Irish Catholic family and two of her sisters were Carmelite nuns. One brother was a Jesuit and her uncle was a parish priest. Nor had Saurin been pressurised to become a nun. Her parents felt that two daughters in the convent was quite sufficient and consented with reluctance.

She was sent to a new convent in Yorkshire where Starr was the superior, with Kennedy as her deputy. Problems began after Starr asked Saurin what conversation she had had with the priest when she was in Confession, Saurin not unnaturally refused to say, and thereafter matters went from bad to worse.

Saurin claimed in the trial to have been subjected to numerous petty but vindictive actions by Starr and Kennedy. She claimed she was accused of disobedience for writing to her uncle, the priest, and she was not provided with letters sent by her family – either that or she was only allowed to have them for a short period before they were torn up.

— 6 —

More on the Chant  recording, 25 years old this year. I didn’t know that it was a compilation of older recordings:

Maybe most perplexing is the fact that the recordings had come out years earlier, on four separate releases between 1973 and 1982. These were later packaged into a two-disc set, Las Mejores Obras del Canto Gregoriano, which was released in Spain, where it reached Number One in 1993. The Spanish label that put it out marketed it as a stress reliever. This tipped off Angel that it could be a hit, if they could figure out how to sell it.

“We consciously decided to go for the widest possible distribution, the widest possible sales opportunity,” Steven Murphy, Angel’s president, told the Times. “So we took a very classically packaged product, with two CDs and a demure cover and lots of notes about the works, and we programmed a one-CD version of it. We called it Chant, so it would have a name the way a pop album does. And we came up with the cover as a way of appealing to a young audience.”

Improbably, the label’s marketing campaign — coupled with a general zeitgeist that propelled New Agey, Chant-adjacent ensembles like Enigma and Dead Can Dance to stardom — turned it into a hit.

“It’s hip in its own right,” Murphy said of the album to the Chicago Tribune. “It’s not unlike when you had the sound of Jimi Hendrix and the acoustic Grateful Dead. Now, you have Pearl Jam and Chant all in the same space. They are not exclusive.”

It became such a phenomenon, in fact, that the monks’ Spanish monastery, located in Burgos, became a tourist trap in the mid-Nineties. Another Angel rep told Entertainment Weekly in January 1995 that rooms in the abbey were booked through the summer — even if it wasn’t open to all. When the label was running a promotion to win a chance to spend the night there, they had to exclude women because of the monks’ rules. “If a woman wins, she’ll stay in a nearby hotel and be taken on a guided tour,” the rep told the magazine.

 

— 7 —

Writing notes:

Pentecost is coming:

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From The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes which, annoyingly enough, has been unavailable since late April (high season). I assume they are trying to get another printing done, but why it’s taking so long I have no idea. 

I was in Living Faith earlier this week. 

Crystal Embers by [Vining, David]My 2020 daily devotional won’t, of course, start until Advent 2019, but it will be published in about a month. So if you’d like to take a look at it and consider it, for example, as a gift for your school’s teachers or parish/diocesan staff – you’ll have plenty of time!

And…one of my older sons is prepping another novel for publication – Crystal Embers. 

You can read an excerpt here – along with his almost daily thoughts on film.

 

A civil war ends, and a knight returns home to a land and wife he no longer knows. A wife mourns over her lost child as her husband returns from years of civil strife. Alone, they have nothing, but together perhaps they could rebuild.

Before they can try on their own, though, they encounter a dragon on their land. Swept up in the flying monster’s beauty and power, they pack up and leave the home that holds nothing for them anymore.

The pair travel through the war torn countryside, seeing the remnants of violence that plague the land while chasing a dragon that flies above it all.

In a land of dying magic and open wounds, follow the knight and his lady as they search for meaning in a new world for both of them.

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

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Just get out there. Go. Live that faith as if it’s actually real to you.

Here’s an excerpt from The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories. It’s not the whole thing – just the first page and the last two. I’m sharing the last two with you, both in jpeg and text form, so you can see my take here. As I’ve very tediously said before, the structure of this book involves retelling Bible narratives at age-appropriate levels, and then tying the story into a more specifically Catholic theme.

Here you go:

 

Click on images for larger versions. Here’s the text of the last section:

In the ages before the computer or even the telephone or the printing press, men and women listened carefully to the words of Jesus that the Apostles remembered. They passed on those words and wrote them down. They took these Gospels and the prayers of the Church with them, written on scrolls and in books. They carried the love of Jesus in their hearts and climbed over icy mountains, walked through dark forests, and sailed over oceans to share Jesus’ words with others. Often, they had to learn other languages to do this. Sometimes, traveling to new places was dangerous and uncertain.

Jesus’ friends told women, men, boys, and girls from every continent in the world this truth that would change their lives. They told them the Good News that they were here on earth because God wanted them to be here. Jesus had come to earth to forgive their sins and bring them close to God. They told them that this world is not all there is: when people say yes to God, they will live forever in God’s presence. Christians traveled into jungles, villages, and cities, teaching what Jesus had taught and remembering that he was always with them.

Over the centuries, since just a few people stood on the mountain with Jesus, women, men, boys, and girls have been baptized into the Body of Christ in every corner of the world. They have heard the Great Commission and lived by it. They have passed on prayers and rituals. They have encountered Jesus in the sacraments. They have painted pictures, sculpted statues, and written music as a way of telling people about Jesus. They have taken children on their laps and, by the light of a flickering fire, guided their tiny hands across their bodies in the Sign of the Cross:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit ..

Because of them—all of them—you and I can say our prayers. Because those first friends of Jesus accepted the mission he gave them, you and I can meet Jesus in the Eucharist.

Jesus’ earthly body ascended into heaven that day but as he promised, he is always present. We don’t look up at the sky. We don’t have to. He is all around us: the Body of Christ.
To read the whole story in the Bible, go to Matthew 28:16-20 and Acts 1:6-11.
Think Quietly: What mission did Jesus give the Apostles? How has the Church fulfilled Jesus’ Great Commission?
Pray Together: Jesus, you send us out in your name. Be with us as we spread the Good News.

 

More.

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I mentioned it in the Quick Takes post, but it might have gotten lost for you: In honor of the Feast of the Visitation and the end of May, Mary’s month –  Mary and the Christian Life is free today and tomorrow – up until midnight Saturday.

Backstory, for those of you unfamiliar with the book Mary and the Christian Life is a simple book introducing the reader to Mary: what Scripture reveals about her, what Tradition teaches, and how all of that relates to our lives as disciples of Jesus. I pull in devotions, prayers and even plants.The book was published by Word Among Us in 2008, and is now out of print. When a book goes out of print, rights revert to the author, and we can do what we like with it – and what I like to do is make my out-of-print books available to you at low or no cost – why let all that work go to waste?!

 

Really – it’s the kind of thing where, if you have someone you know who doesn’t get Catholics and Mary, is uncomfortable with Marian doctrines and devotion or is just curious – what a perfect opportunity, right? “Here’s a free book to read about it!” 

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I’ve been highlighting aspects of my books that are Mary-related.

Mary and the Christian Life

Salve Regina

Today, just a couple of scans of pages from the chapters in The Words We Pray about the Hail, Mary and the Memorare. 

As I said, they are random – just to give you a taste of the style of writing and the focus. The chapters in the book, each focused on a particular traditional Catholic prayer, are a mix of history and spiritual reflection.

"amy welborn"

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More from The Words We Pray

The Introduction

An excerpt on praying traditional prayers.

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Well, it’s been a few days since we digested, so let’s go for it:

amy_welbornWriting:  I was in Living Faith last Sunday. Next appearance won’t be until the beginning of May.

Several blog posts – just scroll back for those. Lots of travel blathering to assuage my guilt about privilege and such. Dug up an old piece I wrote on St. Benedict the Black (Moor), posted that and discovered that I’ve been annoyed by the same things for a long time.

Lots of sitting around, staring and jotting notes.

Oh! The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols is a finalist for an “Excellence in Publishing Award” from the Association of Catholic Publishers. 

Listening:   Much Liszt and Ginastera still, but not as much Beethoven – we may be almost done with this particular piece for the year after last Saturday. Hopefully not img_20190409_200229completely done – that would mean he didn’t do well enough to advance to the state level – but we’ll see. Waiting for those results.

As that area of piano winds down, the jazz and organ levels up. Lots of listening to this this week – and for the next few weeks. 

Reading: All right, here we go. First, let’s do what’s in progress.

Rare for me, I purchased a brand new book, simply on the basis on a recommendation. I don’t remember where I saw this mentioned, but since it involved the Gospel of Mark – along with John, one of my two favorites – and seemed to take on some of my concerns, I was in: The Memoirs of St. Peter: A New Translation of the Gospel of Mark. 

Simply reading the introduction was a revelation and prompted me to regret, once again, the thrust of Biblical studies in the era in which I came of age – the 80’s and 90’s – rooted in the historical-critical method, aka – as it panned out for most of us –  skepticism. I suppose what we are seeing now needed that stage to exist. Perhaps this moment couldn’t have come to life without both the shaking of old pietistic assumptions as well as the hard contextual work of the historical-critical scholars, but still. What time wasted, what distance created between the reader and Christ by fixating us – even the lay reader via Bible studies and homiletics – on what Matthew is saying to his Jewish readers here and how it differs from what Luke is saying to his Gentile readers there. 

More as I go along.

I’ve read two novels since last we spoke on these matters:

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Why this and how? The typical rabbit-trail route. Browsing the “new releases” I came upon her TranscriptionIt looked mildly interesting, which led me to go to the “A’s” in the fiction section and see what else she’d written – a lot, as it turned out – so I plucked out a couple to try. I ended up starting with this one rather than the newest. It was..okay.

She writes well, and that’s why it wasn’t time wasted for me. I learned some things from reading her. But the novel wasn’t ultimately satisfying for me and led me to decide to just return the others I’d checked out and move on.

There are three mysteries introduced in the story, which end up being…sort of connected. I think what put me off was, first, I figured things out pretty early, and I never figure mysteries out. Maybe I’m just getting smarter, but I doubt that.

Secondly, there is a theme of abuse within a family which is treated rather lightly by surviving family members when it comes to light. The abuse was terrible, and I found the reaction of characters both unbelievable and – hate to use the word, but this is it – offensive.

My only other comment on the book is that once again  – Catholic themes and imagery pop up, and I wasn’t even looking for them – again. A family member ends up in a convent and while the treatment of this tumbles a little bit into caricature, and I honestly don’t think this person would have actually been accepted into religious life considering her issues and weirdness, still – there was a theme of contrition and doing penance for one’s sins that required a working out, and where do you go when you need to make that happen? Catholic Land, of course!

Now, for a much better, more serious book – The Blood of the Lamb by Peter de Vries. 

(The link goes to an archive.org version that you can “borrow.” The book is still in print, though and easy to find. )

As I mentioned the other day, de Vries was a favorite of my father’s and was quite popular in the 60’s. I’d never read anything by him, and this novel is a departure from his usual humorous work – although it has its moments as well.

I rarely, if ever suggest to you “You should read this book” –  simply because life is short, people’s tastes vary, and who am I?

But I’m going to make an exception here. I think you should read this book – if you’re interested in faith, period, but particularly faith and art.

Here’s an excellent essay from Image introducing de Vries, and particularly this book:

IT WAS AN ORDINARY autumn night in suburban Chicago when I received the most disturbing book I have ever read. I was seventeen, slouching in my bedroom making a half-hearted attempt at homework, my sweaty cross-country clothes festering on the floor. My father appeared at the doorway and handed me a yellowed paperback that looked at least a few decades old.

“You might like this,” he said.

It was The Blood of the Lamb by Peter De Vries. I had heard De Vries’s name for the first time only a few days earlier. It came up at the family dinner table, and as I learned about him, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of him sooner. He was once a well-known satirist who published twenty-six novels, most of them commercially successful. He spent forty-three years as an editor at TheNew Yorker, his short stories appearing regularly in its pages. He enjoyed a privileged perch in the cultural landscape, friends with J.D. Salinger and James Thurber.

And he came from our people—the Dutch Calvinists of Chicago. He attended my religious high school and college. He grew up in the same South Side neighborhood as my grandmother, worshipping at the same church, Second Christian Reformed on Seventy-Second Street. According to a family story, he had dated her, or tried to date her. Or they shared a hymnal at a Sunday evening church service. By Dutch Calvinist standards, that’s practically second base.

A short synopsis:

Don Wanderhope is , as the essay above says, from Dutch Calvinist stock, living in Chicago, when we first meet him, in the late 1920’s. His father runs a refuse company (common among Dutch Calvinists, according to this essay), and he grows to adulthood listening in on theological arguments, helping his father, going to school, discovering girls, and yearning for a different, more refined life.

Image result for blood of the lam de vriesHe gets into a bit of trouble with one girl (a hilarious scene – I mean, who can blame them for not anticipating the model home being shown on a Sunday evening?) but is spared from marrying her by a TB diagnosis. He goes to Colorado sanatorium (I always enjoy fictional sanatorium scenes because my mother had TB and spent time in one in New Hampshire in her youth – and remembered the time, in a way, as the best time of her life.) where he meets another girl, falls in love, but that ends and he heads back to Chicago, mostly healed (if he was ever really that ill at all) discovers his father in the beginning stages of dementia, goes to college, marries, moves to New York, works in advertising, has a daughter who eventually dies of leukemia.

I won’t say spoiler alert because everyone knows that the illness, suffering and death of the character’s daughter is the center of the novel – because it’s autobiographical. The novel was published a year after de Vries’ own 10-year old daughter died of leukemia, and oh, it is raw and painful and sorrowful.

So, no – if subject matter like that would be difficult for you to handle, you shouldn’t read it.

But if you can handle it, and you want to be immersed in a very honest, challenging exploration of faith and theodicy – pick it up.

Before I read it, I was under the impression that the book was the cry of an atheist soul, but it’s really not. It’s the cry of a suffering, loving soul who just doesn’t understand. It’s a dramatization of the question: You, a human parent, would do everything you could to alleviate your child’s suffering – why doesn’t God do the same for his own suffering children? This. Makes. No. Sense.

Jeffrey Frank, writing in The New Yorker in 2004 about De Vries’s legacy, calls the following hospital scenes “as unbearable as anything in modern literature.” I can’t say that he’s exaggerating. Don and Carol make a series of visits to a New York hospital, each time receiving assurances from her oncologist, Dr. Scoville, about his progress researching cures. De Vries charts the development of her leukemia in excruciating detail, tracking the cycles of remission and broken hopes, with each medication more desperate than the last.

Don joins the other parents in trying to preserve a sense of normalcy. They throw birthday parties and speak of returning to school in the fall. He watches a dying infant crawl the hallway “wearing a turban of surgical gauze, whom a passing nurse snatched up and returned to its crib.”

He describes these incidents as if laying out evidence against a heartless God. Here the book’s title becomes clear. It refers not to the blood of Jesus, the lamb of scripture, but to the young girl. Don’s innocent lamb is poisoned by her own blood.

When I read the book at seventeen, it was De Vries’s intensity that rattled me so deeply. The Blood of the Lamb attacked my community’s faith, furiously, from within. That’s something that Hitchens and the so-called New Atheists couldn’t do. We were taught to expect “the world” to mock our faith. But here was one of our own doing the same, and he struck me as funny, sophisticated, and intelligent in doing so. I felt an uncomfortable shiver of recognition, because I knew, even if it went unspoken, that our faith clashed with modern science, that our scriptures carried contradictions, and that religion often fueled as much bigotry as good in the world. I couldn’t defend the reasons for my faith against De Vries.

Returning to the book as an adult, I realize I misremembered two things. First, De Vries reserves as much rage for medical authorities as religious ones. When Dr. Scoville glibly tells him about the “exciting chase” of developing chemotherapy drugs, Wanderhope responds, “Do you believe in God as well as play at him?”

Second, I remembered Wanderhope as a settled unbeliever from his university days onward. Yet it’s clear that he keeps searching for divine guidance until the very end of his daughter’s life, even carrying a crucifix and medal of Saint Christopher. His retort to Dr. Scoville is a bitter joke, yet it’s also the question he can’t stop asking.

I’m going to close with a few quotes from the novel, but I want to point out something alluded to in what the essayist says here, something that is so interesting to me. De Vries’ background was solid Dutch Calvinist, and the theological discussions at the beginning take on faith in that context – predestination, and so on. But as the novel moves to New York, the religious context and imagery become very, very Catholic. The practical reason is that there’s a Catholic church on the way to the hospital. Wanderhope is always passing it and even stopping in. The crucifix outside the church becomes the focus of a final, enraged gesture.

Partly, I suppose because this reflects de Vries’ own actual experience, partly because well, Calvinists don’t have a lot of imagery that lends itself to dramatization of inner faith turmoil.

Once again. 

He resented such questions as people do who have thought a great deal about them. The superficial and slipshod have ready answers, but those looking this complex life straight in the eye acquire a wealth of perception so composed of delicately balanced contradictions that they dread, or resent, the call to couch any part of it in a bland generalization. The vanity (if not outrage) of trying to cage this dance of atoms in a single definition may give the weariness of age with the cry of youth for answers the appearance of boredom.

 

I made a tentative conclusion. It seemed from all of this that uppermost among human joys is the negative one of restoration: not going to the stars, but learning that one may stay where one is.

 

The greatest experience open to man then is the recovery of the commonplace. Coffee in the morning and whiskeys in the evening again without fear. Books to read without that shadow falling across the page.

Dead drunk and cold-sober, he wandered out into the garden in the cool of the evening, awaiting the coming of the Lord.

There is a point when life, having showered us with jewels for nothing, begins to exact our life’s blood for paste.

And then, on a light note, this – reflecting the mid-1930’s. The content is more explicit now, but really, has anything changed? The pride in putting something stupid out there and selling it as a manifestation of some sort of artistic progress?

One summer when Carol was attending day camp, Greta had an affair with a man named Mel Carter. He was an Eastern publicity representative for a film studio, and often instructed dinner parties to which we went in those days with accounts of the movies’ coming of age. ‘We have a picture coming up,’ he said once, ‘in which a character says “son of a bitch.” Lots of exciting things are happening. Still, it’s only a beginning. Much remains to be done.’

 

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