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Archive for the ‘Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols’ Category

Today is his feastday!

From The Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols. 

Here is a link to some of his homilies. It’s pdf. 

Then, a General Audience from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, from 2011:

It is only the prayerful soul that can progress in spiritual life: this is the privileged object of St Anthony’s preaching. He is thoroughly familiar with the shortcomings of human nature, with our tendency to lapse into sin, which is why he continuously urges us to fight the inclination to avidity, pride and impurity; instead of practising the virtues of poverty and generosity, of humility and obedience, of chastity and of purity. At the beginning of the 13th century, in the context of the rebirth of the city and the flourishing of trade, the number of people who were insensitive to the needs of the poor increased. This is why on various occasions Anthony invites the faithful to think of the true riches, those of the heart, which make people good and merciful and permit them to lay up treasure in Heaven. “O rich people”, he urged them, “befriend… the poor, welcome them into your homes: it will subsequently be they who receive you in the eternal tabernacles in which is the beauty of peace, the confidence of security and the opulent tranquillity of eternal satiety” (ibid., p. 29).

Is not this, dear friends, perhaps a very important teaching today too, when the financial crisis and serious economic inequalities impoverish many people and create conditions of poverty? In my Encyclical Caritas in Veritate I recall: “The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred” (n. 45).

Anthony, in the school of Francis, always put Christ at the centre of his life and thinking, of his action and of his preaching. This is another characteristic feature of Franciscan theology: Christocentrism. Franciscan theology willingly contemplates and invites others to contemplate the mysteries of the Lord’s humanity, the man Jesus, and in a special way the mystery of the Nativity: God who made himself a Child and gave himself into our hands, a mystery that gives rise to sentiments of love and gratitude for divine goodness.

Not only the Nativity, a central point of Christ’s love for humanity, but also the vision of the Crucified One inspired in Anthony thoughts of gratitude to God and esteem for the dignity of the human person, so that all believers and non-believers might find in the Crucified One and in his image a life-enriching meaning. St Anthony writes: “Christ who is your life is hanging before you, so that you may look at the Cross as in a mirror. There you will be able to know how mortal were your wounds, that no medicine other than the Blood of the Son of God could heal. If you look closely, you will be able to realize how great your human dignity and your value are…. Nowhere other than looking at himself in the mirror of the Cross can man better understand how much he is worth” (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi III, pp. 213-214).

In meditating on these words we are better able to understand the importance of the image of the Crucified One for our culture, for our humanity that is born from the Christian faith. Precisely by looking at the Crucified One we see, as St Anthony says, how great are the dignity and worth of the human being. At no other point can we understand how much the human person is worth, precisely because God makes us so important, considers us so important that, in his opinion, we are worthy of his suffering; thus all human dignity appears in the mirror of the Crucified One and our gazing upon him is ever a source of acknowledgement of human dignity.

Dear friends, may Anthony of Padua, so widely venerated by the faithful, intercede for the whole Church and especially for those who are dedicated to preaching; let us pray the Lord that he will help us learn a little of this art from St Anthony. May preachers, drawing inspiration from his example, be effective in their communication by taking pains to combine solid and sound doctrine with sincere and fervent devotion. In this Year for Priests, let us pray that priests and deacons will carry out with concern this ministry of the proclamation of the word of God, making it timely for the faithful, especially through liturgical homilies. May they effectively present the eternal beauty of Christ, just as Anthony recommended: “If you preach Jesus, he will melt hardened hearts; if you invoke him he will soften harsh temptations; if you think of him he will enlighten your mind; if you read of him he will satifsfy your intellect” (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi III, p. 59).

Secondly, for children, an excerpt from my Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints:

Then one day something happened that was almost as strange as the ship wandering off course. There was a large meeting of Franciscans and Dominicans, but oddly enough, the plans for who would give the sermon at the meeting fell through. There were plenty of fine preachers present, but none of them were prepared.

"amy welborn"Those in charge of the meeting went down the line of friars. “Would you care to give the sermon, Brother? No? What about you, Father? No? Well, what about you, Fr. Anthony—is that your name?”

Slowly, Anthony rose, and just as slowly, he began to speak. The other friars sat up to listen. There was something very special about Anthony. He didn’t use complicated language, but his holiness and love for God shone through his words. He was one of the best preachers they had ever heard!

From that point on, Anthony’s quiet life in the hospital kitchen was over. For the rest of his life, he traveled around Italy and France, preaching sermons in churches and town squares to people who came from miles around.

His listeners heard Anthony speak about how important it is for us to live every day in God’s presence. As a result of his words, hundreds of people changed their lives and bad habits, bringing Jesus back into their hearts.

Next, some photos of the huge Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua from our trip in 2012.

(No photos were allowed inside)

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June is dedicated in a special way to devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Mary’s heart – the Immaculate Heart of Mary – is the focus of August).

In a time and culture in which hardly any of us understand what love actually is, in which dehumanizing hate and contempt dominate public discourse, a daily prayer (you can find some here) focused simply on love might just have surprising power.

In a church culture which often reflects contemporary values that emphasize achievement and self-actualization and fulfillment by doing the Next Big Amazing Thing in Your Very Big Amazing Life, a daily prayer centered on opening ourselves to sharing the love pouring forth from the heart of Jesus in just ordinary ways might provide a welcome refocus as we get our bearings for summer.

Here are the pages on the Sacred Heart from The Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols. 

Click on each image for a larger version.

As you can see, the structure of the book is: for every entry, the left-hand page features a beautiful illustration and a brief definition. On the facing page, you will find a longer explanation, suitable for older children.

More about the book – and the others in the series – here. 

 

 

 

 

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Today is “Good Shepherd Sunday,” and what many of us might not realize, as we hear homilies about 1st century sheep herders and Old Testament imagery, is that Jesus’ words about being a shepherd in today’s Gospel are part of a larger narrative. Jesus alludes to sheep and shepherds in other contexts throughout the Gospels, but it’s important to realize that today’s passage, from John 10, doesn’t just exist as a collection of quotable sayings that Jesus is standing around tossing out. It’s actually the second part of another event – the healing of the man born blind, described in John 9. Go back and read it for yourself!

Jesus’ words about being a shepherd to whom the sheep respond and who gathers and protects, rather than abandons his sheep, is, in fact, not a general illustration, but a continuation of his attack on the Pharisees who had excommunicated the man born blind. This is a case in which the useful, but of course not original division of Scripture into chapters can actually hamper our understanding.

When I wrote about Jesus as the Good Shepherd in the the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories, I focused on this passage and did be sure to place it in context. I took a slightly different angle, though – appropriate to the audience of children, of course – and focused on listening to the voice of Jesus who cares for us and rescues us – and being able to recognize that voice in the midst of all the other voices that call to us.

The excerpts below are just the first and last pages of the section – the first so you can see how they are introduced, and the last, so you can see how each chapter ends – with a tie-back into Catholic-specific stuff and then questions for review and reflection.

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Then, the first page of the entry on “Shepherd” from The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. Remember how the book is organized – this first page has a basic explanation, and then the facing page has a more in-depth exploration of the symbol.

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Finally, the chapter on the Second Sunday of Easter (which was traditionally Good Shepherd Sunday until You-Know-What) from the 1947 7th grade textbook which I often share with you. 

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I’ve been highlighting elements of my books that are related to Mary. Today it’s The Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols. 

Of course, the wealth of Marian imagery in Catholic tradition is…beyond one book. Especially one relatively short, basic children’s book. But here’s some of what we have.

Remember the structure of the book. Each entry has three parts – an illustration, a brief definition/explanation under that illustration, and then on the facing page, a more detailed explanation suitable for older children.

What I’m sharing is by no means complete – just a few samples!

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For more information.

Mary and the Christian Life

Salve Regina

Ave Maria and Memorare

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Well, hello there. It’s been busy, hasn’t it? Click back for posts on various other subjects, including my tour of some different kind of Triduum moments here in Birmingham.  I’m Thursdayjust going to digest today. Maybe more later, but probably not.

Watching: We’ll get the negatives out of the way first. Against my better judgment and probably in violation of some moral code, I watched Veep again this week, and man, it just gets worse and worse. I don’t mean in terms of language and such – it’s always “bad” in that respect, but rather in terms of plotting and character and just the whole “humor” department, which is a problem when you’re a “comedy.” This was a total, uncomfortable mess, even more forced than usual. Bah.

Then, also against my better judgment, I finished off season 1 and the first three episodes of season 2 of Killing Eve, the trendy Show of the Moment. Why did I pick it up again after being not impressed the first time around? Well, probably because I didn’t have a book to grab me and after six days of Being With People I needed down time with fake people whose lives did not involve piano or organ lessons, thinking about exams, graduations or me preparing meals.

Verdict? No change. Well – maybe a change, since I like it even less than I did after the first viewing chunk. I continue to like all of the actors very much, but the whole thing strikes me as a shallow exercise in (feeble) wit and style. In that way, it reminds me of House of Cards which I stopped watching after season 2 because in all of the conniving, there was never anything of moral consequence at stake.  How odd that this show – which revolves around the quest to find a professional assassin, for heaven’s sake Image result for killing eve– leaves me with the same feeling. In this case, it’s not that no one is trying to stop the evil (as was the case with House of Cards – everyone was a bad guy), it’s that the reasons they’re in pursuit of this killer are so ambiguous and weird, it becomes all just no more than a psycho-sexual game. Which perhaps is the point, and not something I have an inherent objection to. No, my problem is that the motives of the primary pursuer – Eve, played by Sandra Oh – have been, since the beginning, opaque. We know little about her past, why she’s in this line of work, what’s motivated her in the past, or even what her expertise is. Here she is, for some reason, fixated on this killer. I would imagine that the conceit of a cat-and-mouse game between killer and the law could be legitimately framed in a way to bring out themes of mutual obsession and a twisted sense of desire that in some way echoes a romantic pursuit, but my problem with Eve is that whatever is there seems to come from nowhere and is, as I said, all style and no substance.

If there’s nothing human at stake, it’s hard for humans to be truly interested, and not just entertained. 

Listening:

Finally got back into In Our Time after a winter’s hiatus. Yesterday was this episode on the Great Famine with lots of interesting and balanced discussion on how to deal with humanitarian crises and the complex causes of same.

Musically, a bunch of pieces tossed out by M’s piano teacher to consider for a next piece to work on, including this, this and this. He’s settled on this Prokofiev, which is pretty crazy, but I say that at the beginning of every new piece: No way he can play that. And somehow, every time, thanks to talent, (some) hard work and an excellent teacher,  he does.

Should I write a heartfelt Instagram microblog with a photo of him at the piano to inspire you to believe in yourself, overcome challenges and achieve your goals?

Nah. 

Also, as I’ve mentioned before, this organist. We listened to several of his performances, including this 1812 Overture, this very fun Pirates of the Caribbean and this duet with a pianist of Shostakovich’s Waltz #2, which we play on the piano together.

This evening, I listened to some John Fields Piano Sonatas, which I liked very much, and then a couple of Schubert lieder, including this – why? (Since I usually don’t listen to vocal music while I’m reading – can’t concentrate) – because it was part of the book I was reading, and I wanted to fill out the atmosphere. And the book?

Reading: Lucy Gayheart by Willa Cather

The only other Cather books I’ve read are the obligatory-for-Catholic-literary-types Death Comes for the Archbishop a few times and then, a couple of years ago, The Professor’s House. You can read my post about it here. Re-reading it, I can see some of the same concerns in Lucy. It’s interesting.

So first, my denseness. I saw references to this as a “novella” and so knew it wouldn’t be very long. I read it on my Kindle , but not on an actual Kindle app – from this website, with continual scrolling. No pages, and no progress bar. So I’d been reading for a while, a lot had happened, and I got to the end of the current webpage. No more scrolling. Okay. It seemed like an abrupt ending, but perhaps that was the point? I shrugged. That was interesting,  I thought.

I then turned to an article I’d skimmed earlier – this one about Joanne Woodward (sorry, NYTimes, so yes, paywall..sometimes. I find that reading things on different devices can sometimes work around those limitations), who adored this book and always hoped to make a film about it. I got to the end of the article, which described the last sentence of the novel, and I thought, Wait, what? That wasn’t the end *I* read! 

So I returned to the book and sure enough, down there on the bottom was a “next” button. The book has three “books”  – and I’d only read the first!

But by that time, I was tired, so there we have this evening’s read. Which is good, because I wasn’t ready to leave that world quite yet.

Lucy Gayheart is a young woman from a small Nebraska town who is a music student, teacher and accompanist in Chicago. The book opens with Lucy on break back home and then we quickly hop on the train with her an travel back to Chicago. I’ll write a full post on it when I finish, but for now, I’ll mention a few things:

Yes, Willa Cather was a woman, a female writer, but even so, reading a book like this is a useful corrective to the narrow-mindedness of the present, a constrained and ignorant vision of the past in which we imagine a world peopled with gender stereotypes all happily lived and perpetuated by stock male and female characters, waiting for Betty and Gloria to liberate them.

No. Lucy is a person  – fully drawn, person who has an independent life there in the early 20th century, living on her own in the big city, earning her keep – and it’s fine. Yes, there is a sense, hovering here and there, that after this little adventure, she’ll end up back home, domesticated, giving lessons to children in the front parlor – but that’s of a piece, really, with the life trajectories of all the characters, male and female. I don’t know how the book ends yet (I keep reading “sad” in reviews, so….) but I’m going to guess that many of the characters are going to be bumping up against disappointment and constraints – not just the women.

Secondly, a few passages that were striking and beautiful. This one took my breath away, as Cather describes an experience in which Lucy catches a hint of the transcendent on one cold, crisp night:

Lucy felt drowsy and dreamy, glad to be warm. The sleigh was such a tiny moving spot on that still white country settling into shadow and silence. Suddenly Lucy started and struggled under the tight blankets. In the darkening sky she had seen the first star come out; it brought her heart into her throat. That point of silver light spoke to her like a signal, released another kind of life and feeling which did not belong here. It overpowered her. With a mere thought she had reached that star and it had answered, recognition had flashed between. Something knew, then, in the unknowing waste: something had always known, forever! That joy of saluting what is far above one was an eternal thing, not merely something that had happened to her ignorance and her foolish heart.

The flash of understanding lasted but a moment. Then everything was confused again. Lucy shut her eyes and leaned on Harry’s shoulder to escape from what she had gone so far to snatch. It was too bright and too sharp. It hurt, and made one feel small and lost.

On the train, on the way to Chicago:

Lucy undressed quickly, got into her berth, and turned off the lights. At last she was alone, lying still in the dark, and could give herself up to the vibration of the train, — a rhythm that had to do with escape, change, chance, with life hurrying forward. That sense of release and surrender went all over her body; she seemed to lie in it as in a warm bath. Tomorrow night at this time she would be coming home from Clement Sebastian’s recital. In a few hours one could cover that incalculable distance; from the winter country and homely neighbours, to the city where the air trembled like a tuning-fork with unimaginable possibilities.

Finally, this – a passage in which, to use the current lingo, I felt seen. I mean – that feeling of having one’s own life, of being able to set things right without being bothered. That’s everyone’s notion of paradise, right? Right? 

The next morning Lucy was in Chicago, in her own room, unpacking and putting her things to rights. She lived in a somewhat unusual manner; had a room two flights up over a bakery, in one of the grimy streets off the river.

When she first came to Chicago she had stayed at a students’ boarding-house, but she didn’t like the pervasive informality of the place, nor the Southern gentlewoman of fallen fortunes who conducted it. She told her teacher, Professor Auerbach, that she would never get on unless she could live alone with her piano, where there would be no gay voices in the hall or friendly taps at her door. Auerbach took her out to his house, and they consulted with his wife. Mrs. Auerbach knew exactly what to do. She and Lucy went to see Mrs. Schneff and her bakery.

The Schneff bakery was an old German landmark in that part of the city. On the ground floor was the bake shop, and a homely restaurant specializing in German dishes, conducted by Mrs. Schneff. On the top floor was a glove factory. The three floors between, the Schneffs rented to people who did not want to take long leases; travelling salesmen, clerks, railroad men who must be near the station. The food in the bakery downstairs was good enough, and there were no table companions or table jokes. Everyone had his own little table, attended to his own business, and read his paper. Lucy had taken a room here at once, and for the first time in her life she could come and go like a boy; no one fussing about, no one hovering over her. There were inconveniences, to be sure. The lodgers came and went by an open stairway which led up from the street beside the front door of the restaurant; the winter winds blew up through the halls — burglars might come, too, but so far they never had. There was no parlour in which Lucy could receive callers. When she went anywhere with one of Auerbach’s students, the young man waited for her on the stairway, or met her in the restaurant below.

This morning Lucy was glad as never before to be back with her own things and her own will. After she had unpacked, she arranged and rearranged; nothing was too much trouble. The moment she had shut the door upon the baggage man, she seemed to find herself again. Out there in Haverford she had scarcely been herself at all; she had been trying to feel and behave like someone she no longer was; as children go on playing the old games to please their elders, after they have ceased to be children at heart.

Oh, yes, the Melville – The Confidence-Man.  I read two or three chapters and then put it down. I read a few articles about the book and decided that was good enough. I could see that if my interests were slightly different, it would be worth my time, but as such – it’s not right now. 

 

Writing: Not very productive, other than blog posts. Unfortunately. Well, writing-related – it’s my Black Friday season, the time in which my author sales ranking reaches its peak for the year – between Easter and Mother’s Day, essentially. 

 

I did start collating book-related posts on this page. 

Also writing: Movie and fiction-writing son. Lots of posts here, including thoughts on silent comedies, as well as the French film Jean de Florette. 

Today’s the feast of St. Mark. We’re obviously still within the Easter Octave, so we don’t commemorate in liturgically, but here’s the page on the symbols for the four evangelists from The Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols anyway:

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Cooking! 

No big Easter dinner here. I didn’t cook – we went to Buffalo Wild Wings. Yup! No shame.

img_20190421_113842-1But I did contribute to the cause by spending a lot of time making a pound cake on Saturday, for post-Vigil celebration. It was a great pound cake – I followed the recipe exactly and it worked well. 

Also did some Chicken Tinga from this recipe – I think last Thursday. 

Monday night: Flank steak using this rub (and steak just a bit more expensive, from Fresh Market rather than the regular grocery story. So much more flavor) and these potatoes, which are a favorite around here. 

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Just a reminder of Triduum-related material available here. All links take  you to longer blog posts and more images.

The Correct Thing for Holy Week Always

"amy welborn"

Holy Thursday

Agony in the Garden

 

Holy Thursday in Puebla, Mexico last year. It was amazing. I’d gone for the Good Friday processions, but it was Holy Thursday evening that made the biggest impression on me:

 

So we set out. And discovered something new and quite wonderful. Those of you with roots in this culture won’t be surprised. But I don’t and I was. This visitation of the seven churches is A Thing.  It’s what everyone is doing on Holy Thursday night – wandering around the center of the city with their families and friends, stopping in churches, praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament and enjoying the end of Lent -for at the door of every church were vendors set up selling the typical snacks of this area – the corn, the little tortillas, frying, topped with salsas and cheese, and turnovers.

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Good Friday

 

"amy welborn"

Good Friday in Puebla, Mexico last year

 

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From The Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols

 

From The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories

 

More resources for children and adults.

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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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