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…and then in the air. Four hour drive to the airport from here (they say) and then a couple flights and then boom! Home!

Which will be great, although this was nice, too:

 

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Gracias, Honduras, 6:30 am, 11/21. Hotel Guancascos.

I’ll be back tomorrow – maybe even late tonight – with Friday takes, and then spend the weekend pulling together my traditional post-trip set of posts summarizing things.

In the meantime, don’t forget Advent is coming – and in particular today, I’ll call your attention to this daily devotional, which begins on the first Sunday of Advent this year, and continues to December 31, 2020:

 

 

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…we climbed a smaller hill, did Spanish homework, and rested.

Perhaps we should have gone back today, but I had no idea how much time we’d actually want here, not knowing much about the area. We were essentially “done” last night, and not just because the 10k hike did us in…there wasn’t much left to see that was within walking distance. But that’s okay…it would have been insane and painful to go from yesterday to a 4-hour drive to the airport and the flights back home.

So it was good to have a day to not do much.

That smaller hill is right behind our hotel, atop of which stands the Fuerte San Cristobal. Nothing much happened there, and there’s not much to see but the views, but it ate up about twenty minutes, so there’s that:

Below is a good view of the Celaque National Park mountain range. The highest peak is, well, the highest peak in Honduras. I believe our Death March took us to the high peak on the left.

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We wandered into the town for some food. Lunch happened at this small cafeteria right across from the square and the church. It was homey, excellent and cheap (of course) – about $4/plate.

(Exterior, chicken, cerdo (pork), interior garden)

Here’s the San Marco church in the daytime. If you look at photos of it from the past, the trim is painted gold.

Then it was back to the hotel for much of the afternoon, where he worked on Spanish homework, I wrote a bit, and we watched the utility workers doing repairs and replacements on a series of poles down the street in front of us – the reason, we can safely assume, the power was out most of the afternoon.

Eventually, we made it back downtown, where we got our final Honduran meal from here, in the square. Roger helped us order – he’s a native Honduran who moved to the US, lived there for over two decades, became a citizen, and has recently returned here to help his mother.

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Then dessert in a cafe kiosk in the square which features and upstairs looking down on the park. I couldn’t get any panoramic shots, but I did get this weird looking tree:

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And that’s it from Honduras – probably – unless we get stuck here tomorrow, then who knows what I”d have to say?

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Settled in our new place…

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(If you followed me on Instagram, you would have heard those church bells ringing the Angelus…)

We had a leisurely sleep-in – no Spanish class to go to! – and then did some shopping in town, including at the amazing, labyrinthine indoor market – I won’t pretend it was “charming” in a way that a tourist-oriented market would be, but it was certainly an experience – stalls selling everything under the sun from shoes to rope to food jammed together – you think you’re done, and well,there’s another corner with another wall stuffed with purses or bags of spices…

El Merced is a gorgeous colonial-era church which, it seems, like most churches around here, is not open except during Masses. This is too bad (but I’m sure they have their reasons – which are probably, I’m guessing about crime, vandalism and the value of 350-year old carvings.)

I got a shot of the exterior from the locked gate and wondered why the door was open. We went across the street for a bit, and while we were there, workmen came out of the church bearing some chunks of wood,unlocked the gate, continued out, and left the gate unlocked. That was our chance! I sped up to the church, peaked in, told M to watch to make sure we didn’t get locked in the property, took photos, saw a young man standing at another door that led to a garden, asked him, “Aqui, okay?” He shook his head. “No okay?” He nodded. I had M as him when the church was open. “Domingo.” Okay, then – well, at least I got some photos…

 

Another stop was at the park, where M had a long conversation with Frankie, who approached us as we sat on the park bench, playing with a golf ball. I don’t know why he wanted to talk – sometimes children approach us, seeing that we are not Honduran, IMG_20191118_103232.jpgwanting to speak English. He didn’t, and I kept waiting, I admit, for a request for money..but it never came, and we passed him later in town, him striding jauntily down the street on his own, waving to us cheerily as he passed. So I supposed he was just friendly? For he was – and clearly very smart. M got most of what he said – and when he had trouble, Frankie made a great show of being in despair – shaking his head, and holding it in his hands. What we understood was that he liked Star Wars, Legos, Groot, snakes and Jackie Chan. The only English he spoke was when telling us how many Lego sets he had at home – “One, two, three….” all the way up to ten.

More Spanish practice came here – a shop featuring homemade preserves and sweets. There was lots to sample of the salsa, preserves, and pickled everything from yucca to some sort of egg to various chilis and beyond. The lady running it was very kind and took several minutes to talk with M.

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No lunch – we had a big, late breakfast – and then it was off to more hot springs, this one featuring a zipline over a river. The springs were not nearly as attractive as the Luna Jaguar springs back in Copan, even more so because the major pool was closed for repairs. Ah, well – those who ziplined enjoyed it!

 

Back here, rest, and a dinner at a place that was fine – run by several women with a couple of children zipping about – but we were confused by the massive bed of fried plaintains under the meat. We couldn’t imagine anyone eating all of that…

Tomorrow: the mountain. Yikes.

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….$4 for the both of us.

(Not counting the extras – hot chocolate and cheesecake)

So…

Morning, school as per usual.  He seems to be making progress, and what he’s doing is certainly equivalent to a couple of months of American high school Spanish II. So…I just put it all in the “I could be paying this in tuition” column.

After class, we refreshed, then went to Buena Baleada – a fast-food place (w/the appearance of a chain, but I don’t know if it is or not) – centered on the typical Honduran food called, well – a Baleada – a flour tortilla spread with beans, with the addition of your choice of meat, cheese, and a sauce or two. Served with pickled carrots. $1/each plate, plenty for lunch.

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We then found a mototaxi driver to take us out to Las Sepulturas, return in 90 minutes, and then take us a bit further out to another ruins site – El Rastrojón –wait for us while we looked around (it’s small) and then take us back (cost, $15 USD for his time and driving)

On Las Sepulturas:

The site has a very long history of occupation, including a house dating from the Early Preclassical period. In the Middle Preclassical period, great platforms of cobblestone were constructed and several elaborate burials were made. By the year 800AD, the complex consisted of about 50 buildings arranged around 7 large squares.

At this time, the most important building was the Bacabs’ Palace, the residence of a powerful nobleman in the time of Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat. The exterior of the building has high quality sculpted decorations and a stone bench with carved glyphs inside. One part of the complex formed a sub-district, or neighborhood, occupied by inhabitants who were not Mayans, but natives of central Honduras, involved in the commercial network that brought goods from that region.

On El Rastrojon:

In Rastrojón, the ancient Mayas built two impressive architectural groups of residences. One of them has been under continuous investigation since its discovery. It has buildings with rooms built with stone blocks. Part of the decorations was stuccoed benches with finely carved exteriors as if the inhabitants of the site had belonged to members of the Copan nobility.

Research reveals that the Mayan complex presents architectural collapses never before seen throughout the Copan valley. This is because El Rastrojón was built on the slopes of the hill with unstable terrain and geological faults. Researchers believe that the Maya knew of the danger present to their buildings, however, the religious significance of the place, its altitude, and the water springs that it possessed perhaps motivated them to build there regardless.

Although most architectural monuments of the Rastrojón are destroyed, the site is unique and important because of its excellent location and the vast array of archaeological material to be found. Buildings, sculptures, mosaics, spears, arrowheads and an impressive temple are believed to have been built in honor of the twelfth Mayan ruler “Smoke Jaguar”, the main propeller of the development of the Mayan state.

The location of the site in a strategic place in the Copan valley, together with archaeological material (spearheads and arrows) and sculptural themes, suggests that Rastrojón was a place designed for the defense of the city during the time of the greatest political conflicts for the kingdom of Copan and to honor the memory of one of the most important rulers in the dynastic history of the city.

There was a nice nature trail that takes you around the first site – loads of birds, a toad and an agouti were spotted. (There are no monkeys in this part of Honduras, in case you are wondering – there were when Stephens came in the mid 19th century, but it’s too populous now). It was good to get a sense of how this residential group was situated in relation to the main ruins, and to see the Scribe’s House, in particular, but the main palace was mostly under tarp cover and was being actively excavated and restored – which was interesting to see happening – the digging, the sifting, the cataloguing. Also visible were (I understand from reading around) benches/surfaces with original plaster still intact.

El Rastrojon was a quick trip – the site is on a hill right next to the property of a Clarion hotel, situated up a road and behind a gate – I’m glad we didn’t stay there, so far from town!

As the excerpt above indicates, El Rastrojon is important because of its location and theorized role in relation to the main site – for current visitors, it’s fascinating to see the building, split in parts, half slid down the hill, as well as the image (on the right) of the leader emerging from the mouth of the puma.

Mototaxi driver dropped us back off at the square, where we found the Municipal Building, which is now housing an exhibit of photographic prints (in a space shared, as you can see, with Christmas Decor Central)  from the late 19th century Harvard’s Peobody Museum-funded excavations. You can read about these photographs and see the images here. 

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One of the largest and most valuable collections in the Peabody archives contains more than 10,000 19th-century glass plate negatives. The earliest images in this unique collection were taken at Copan, Honduras, and are part of this exhibition, “Fragile Memories.”

The Copan glass plate negatives are “dry plate,” a process introduced in the 1870s of coating glass plates with a light-sensitive gelatin. As long as the fragile plate itself was not broken, the medium was hardy—relatively resistant to temperature and humidity fluctuations. Indeed, for more than 115 years the Copan negatives have endured, surviving the tropical climate of Central America, where they were shot, as well as transportation to and storage in the United States.

The digitization of the Peabody Museum’s glass plate negatives, which took two years, has opened a new chapter in the investigation of Copan by revealing new archaeological details and information…

….The United States’ fascination with Latin America’s cultural heritage in the late 19th century grew simultaneously with its economic and political interests in the area. By the time Peabody Museum Director Frederick Putnam first dispatched an expedition to Copan in 1891, scholars and the public alike were intrigued by ancient Maya writing, sculpture, and architecture.

The young expedition explorers were barely prepared for the tropical environment and cultural differences they were to encounter. Their initial enthusiasm often dashed by illness and even death, it is remarkable that they returned with anything at all.

The 600 glass plate negatives, paper molds, stone sculptures, ceramics, maps, and notes they carried back established the Peabody Museum and Harvard University as forerunners in Maya and Central American archaeology and ethnology.

You can go to the site and see the images – very instructive and even startling to see the “before” of the ruins and compare them to the “after” of the present and consider the process for pulling these structures together in a way faithful to their original construction…

You might be particularly interested in this shot of the community gathered with the visiting priest for the celebration of the feast of San Jose. 

It was about four by that time, so back for about an hour rest, then catch a mototaxi up to The Tea and Chocolate Place – the family business of our Sunday ruins guide, retired archaeologist David Sedat. You can read about it here.

In 2003, David Sedat and his family started the Copán 2012 Botanical Research Station (or 2012 Project, named so because the year 2012 marked the next cycle of the ancient Maya calendar) to regenerate the steepest, most eroded landscape in Copán Ruinas, Honduras, and helping mitigate poverty and nutritional issues in the area. This experiment was founded on 20 acres of very steep, badly eroded and ruined farmland overlooking the Mayan Ruins of Copan, Honduras. Here, the utilization of simple soil-conservation techniques (no burning, preservation of native species of plants, living hedgerows, and micro-terraces) along with the planting of many different kinds of trees and shrubs has demonstrated the viability of regenerating the landscape with useful permanent crops.

The first self-sustaining endeavor to come from the Copán 2012 Botanical Research Station was Noni Maya Copán, a family business (also established in 2003) that began to process and market natural, sustainably grown products (the Plumed Pyramid Products) from both new and old crops found suited to the area, among them the Noni tree (Morinda citrifolia).

Today, from the vantage point of the Copán 2012 Botanical Research Station overlooking the Ruins of Copán, visitors can see first-hand the effects of both ancient and modern populations in shaping the landscape.

On the outskirts of Copán where we live, we have built what it is now our Visitor Center (The Tea & Chocolate Place), a peaceful, garden-like setting where you can enjoy a healthful tea or chocolate beverage (along with a traditional local snack) while watching the sun go down. The Tea & Chocolate Place is not a traditional coffee shop nor restaurant but a state-of-the art showcase for natural herbal products grown at the nearby Copán 2012 Experimental Botanical Research Station.

 

Enjoyed hot chocolate and chocolate cheesecake, bought some items, communed with a friend, and then walked back, stashed the purchases, and went to the street place we ate at the previous evening, this time just to share (not with the dog, sorry)  three tacos al pastor – $2 for the plate. Delicious and just enough.

Today – after class, probably (I hope) some hiking in an area up on one of the hills above the town….

 

 

 

 

 

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Coming to you from this morning’s office:

Sorry, not a coffee drinker, and a helpful young man in the convenience store dug behind all the regular bottles to find me a couple of Sabor Ligero – Coca-Cola Light, which is what you find outside the US instead of Diet Coke. You can also find Coke Zero, but I prefer the non-sweetness of this – which is not as perversely satisfying as the metallic mouth feel of Diet Coke, but hey. #GratitudeNovember or whatever.

Today’s the second day of Spanish school. I stayed at the school all morning yesterday, but there’s no need – so here I am back at our B & B, watching French tourists come and go.

All right – let’s do Monday:

Refresher: Kid #5, about to turn 15 next week has a long-standing interest in MesoAmerican civilizations, especially the Maya. It inspired past trips to the Yucatan and Guatemala. He is homeschooled, studied Spanish in 8th grade in school, has been doing his best on his own at home (mostly via this Great Courses and other random videos and reading, at the moment, El Hobbit.) But of course he needs more, and it seemed to be a good idea to combine the two interests – see a set of ruins he’s long wanted to visit and take a week of intensive Spanish study.

I had originally looked into Antigua, Guatemala, simply because I wanted to go there, but after thinking about it and considering options, it seemed as if the setting of Copan would give us more opportunities for after-school activities in the afternoons. There is a IMG_20191111_084415.jpglot to do around Antigua (not so much archaeological sites, but natural and cultural), but most of them seem to call for more than an afternoon. So, I was thinking, “We can do a week in Antigua, and then go to Copan”…I thought…why not just go to Copan for the week? As it turns out, there are a couple of well-regarded and reviewed Spanish language schools here, and so far – on day 2 – it seems to be working out well.

Monday morning, we rose, ate the typically well-prepared breakfast here at the B & B, then walked the six blocks or so to the school, located off the central square. It’s on the rooftop of a building housing a restaurant, a dental practice and some other businesses. He was introduced to a teacher, took a placement test, and then spent the next few hours learning how much he had to learn!

Humbling…

We then dropped our stuff off at the B & B, and ate lunch at a place recommended to us by our Copan guide – Cafe San Rafael – a lovely space centered on locally-made cheeses, as well as coffees (of course). It was more expensive than the typical local fare (full meal, for example, the previous night, for  both of us for 135 Lempira – about $5.50 USD), but worth it.

Then we took a mototaxi – what you’d know, more generally, as a “tuk-tuk” – they don’t Screenshot 2019-11-12 at 10.36.09 AMcall them that here – the prevalent mode of transportation in these parts – up  about 2 km to Macaw Mountain, a nature reserve originally started for birds that had served their usefulness to their owners as pets. You can read about it here. It was a good break from the hustle and bustle of town – we’d seen the flock of Macaws that fly freely at the ruins (and will see them again today) – and these guys are mostly in cages because they are being bred and trained to fly (those hatched in captivity), but still, it was a pleasant afternoon.

Back to town in a mototaxi, a rest, then out to get tickets for a Saturday excursion (we were originally going to leave Saturday, but decided this day-long excursion would be worth it), then dinner here – it was good – I had chicken, son had beef, with typical accompaniments. Monday Night Football en espanol on television, a cat wandering about. I prefer the more street-food stuff – the dishes cooked under tents in nooks and crannies  throughout town – and we have and will have plenty of that – but it’s nice to have a break from that to eat an actual enclosed space, as well!

Then a stroll into the center where we saw the pernicious influence of the USA in…Christmas decorations! On November 11! Ah, well…then to this small archaeological museum to fill out our Copan knowledge. Across the way, the church doors were open, so we went over to peek in and saw a man speaking to a fairly large group of folks – some sort of educational or mission activity I suppose. Children were racing around outside and since we obviously do not look native to these parts, were shouting, “Hello!” to us – one little boy (and I mean little – he was probably no more than 6 or 7) – was especially determined, so we took a few minutes for him to practice his English  – of which he was very proud – with us –  he could count to twelve, he knew all the greetings, and could tell me, when I asked him – gato? CAT! perro? DOG!

Back to the room…homework time for one of us, and me, reading John Lloyd Stephens on Copan. I have at home, for some reason, just the second volume of his great work – I think I got it when we first started on this path, and it’s the second volume that deals with the Yucatan. What I hadn’t realized was that Copan was actually the first ruins he encountered, the first place that revealed to him that maybe everything we thought we knew about this part of the world is wrong….It’s absolutely fascinating reading. 

Off-topic – Older Son is working his way through Billy Wilder’s oeuvre. Check it out here. 

Later!

(Don’t forget Instagram!) 

 

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Well, hello from Honduras!
I would say, “Hola,” except this meme, pointedly and regularly shared with me before, during and after our trip to Spain earlier this year, stills weighs heavily:

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So, no Spanish will be attempted.

Expect to see extensive blogging this week. I have four hours every morning, while this is happening:

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I’m hanging out this morning, but if it’s okay with everyone, during the rest of the week, I might make my way back to the B & B or wander. There’s not much to see, though, and we have every afternoon to do more wandering, so I’m thinking my best use of time will be to work either here or there, including sharing with you in this space.

After a typically rocky beginning to the trip, things have smoothed out nicely. When I say “typically” rocky, I don’t mean typically for me, I mean typically for leaving from the Birmingham airport. With all due respect, I think I’ve had more absurd delays from that airport than not. Delays that have necessitated totally scrapping a scheduled departure and leaving the next morning instead. Delays that have led to missing a connecting flight to Japan by maybe ten minutes, necessitating an overnight stay in Dallas and a lost day in Japan.

Things like that.

Luckily, we didn’t have a connecting flight to catch and even more fortunately this time, the airline – in the person of the pilot, specifically, was very good about keeping us informed – in complete violation of what I have long been under the impression was was Airline Rule #1: Obfuscate, deflect, and when that fails, just lie. No, this fellow, clearly wanting to get to Houston as badly as the rest of us, kept us as informed as possible on this very bizarre problem: the geniuses on duty couldn’t move the jetbridge. There was a problem, and evidently, for a solid hour, there was no one associate with the BHM airport staff that could be reached to give advice. The updates we got were things like: “Well, they’re going to gather every spare employee in the airport and try to push it.” That didn’t work. “Now they’re going to try the airplane tug.” Finally the pilot said, basically, “Screw it. We’re going to back out verrrrry slowly and if we break something, well, we break something.”
Nothing broke! We got to Houston about an hour late, and traveling mercies in restrospect on those rushing to make connections, but our only task was grabbing a hotel shuttle and getting some sleep.
Saturday morning:
Up early, hotel breakfast, then shuttle back to the airport for the a bit-less-than three hour flight to San Pedro Sula. Passengers were probably about half Honduran, half..not. I’m assuming most of those who weren’t, were were either going to Roatan to fish and/or dive or on mission trips. You could kind of tell the difference between the groups – I’m assuming the bros with the sunglasses latched on the back of their head  and the t-shirts barely covering their guts were in the former category, but hey, these days, who knows! And who am I to judge?

Immigration was bizarrely lengthy because of a strange situation. There were about thirty quite elderly people – who looked to be Honduran – all in wheelchairs, in the “special cases” line. Not long after we arrived, it seems as if an executive decision was made to prioritize these people – no argument from me there – and so the rest of us ended up waiting probably thirty minutes later than we would have otherwise. I really, really wondered what these group of wheel-chair bound elderly had been up to – they were all in Delta chairs (who knew they had so many) but I didn’t catch their flight origin. My main theories: They were native Hondurans living in the US who were being brought home for a visit in a group. They were Hondurans who were given the chance to go up to visit relations in the US in a group. Or three – they had been on a pilgrimage somewhere.
Anyway, we finally got through – without demands for papers from this child’s father allowing his travel – which happened to us in Belize and will explain to anyone who searches my purse and wonders why I am carrying a death certificate and a birth certificate with me on this trip…
…and met our driver, arranged by our hotel here in Copan.
Yes, there were other choices. We could have taken a bus. We could have rented a car. Let’s just say, I’m glad I did neither. We will probably end up on a bus for some parts of this trip, but for my initial entrance into the country, not knowing what the heck I’m doing and even being – I realized with a start on the flight over – totally clueless on the currency – I went for the driver and private car.
As I said – good choice. By car, it was a solid four-hour drive, which means, on a bus, it would have been longer, and, to boot, we would have had to leave the airport and go into the city to even catch the bus. We probably wouldn’t have arrived until 8 or so.
And driving? No thanks.

Let’s put it this way – if I were in the country for even just a week, being driven around, gaining understanding of the “rules” of the road, I could do it at that point. Avoid the (many) potholes, slow waaaay down for the (many) speed bumps, don’t freak out about the armed police stops (three, I think on the journey), and watch out for the people, dogs and chickens right on the edge of the road.
But again – right off a plane, new to the country? Probably jumping in a car and driving four hours would not be the best idea.
We arrived at our lovely B & B, freshened up, and headed out for food.
Copan Ruinas is a small town, central square, much poverty, but also set up for tourists who come mostly to visit the Mayan ruins. Lots of restaurants, a smattering of English spoken.

Our first food stop was in a courtyard where three women were set up – a food court, really. We just picked one and had a simple, lovely serving of pinchos.
That did not satisfy the young man who hadn’t eaten since the hotel breakfast, so we wandered out to find more. We settled for a touch more “formal” sit-down restaurant that’s centered on grilled meat. Not wanting a full meal, we just went for an appetizer of beans, cheese and chorizo kept warm over a cunning little charcoal brazier. At one point, seven heavily armed law/military guys came and sat at the table behind us – I mean, with their handguns on their hips and their rifles across their chests, even as they ate…I mean, yeah, you’re not going to hang your big gun (whatever they were) on the back of your chair, sure. I wasn’t going to stand up and get a photo (although they did gather and take a selfie at the table), but you can see one fellow behind my son in one of the photos.
Does a heavily armed culture make you feel more or less safe? Hard to say…
Anyway, we wandered, went into a few shops, and then back to sleep…

 

Blog post on Sunday Mass is already published here. 

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Repost from a previous year. New stuff coming soon…from Honduras…

My search for material to share with you on today’s feast naturally led to other interesting places which ate up too much time but also reminded me of how much good stuff is out there to read, and how limited our sense of the past is, and how we suffer for that narrowness.

Anyway.  To start where I like to, if possible – with the pastoral and clear catechesis of B16, from a 2007 Angelus talk:

Today, 11 November, the Church remembers St Martin, Bishop of Tours, one of the most celebrated and venerated Saints of Europe. Born of pagan parents in Pannonia, in what is today Hungary, he was directed by his father to a military career around the year 316. Still an adolescent, Martin came into contact with Christianity and, overcoming many difficulties, he enrolled as a catechumen in order to prepare for Baptism. He would receive the Sacrament in his 20s, but he would still stay for a long time in the army, where he would give testimony of his new lifestyle: respectful and inclusive of all, he treated his attendant as a brother and avoided vulgar entertainment. Leaving military service, he went to Poitiers in France near the holy Bishop Hilary. He was ordained a deacon and priest by him, chose the monastic life and with some disciples established the oldest monastery known in Europe at Ligugé. About 10 years later, the Christians of Tours, who were without a Pastor, acclaimed him their Bishop. From that time, Martin dedicated himself with ardent zeal to the evangelization of the countryside and the formation of the clergy. While many miracles are attributed to him, St Martin is known most of all for an act of fraternal charity. While still a young soldier, he met a poor man on the street numb and trembling from the cold. He then took his own cloak and, cutting it in two with his sword, gave half to that man. Jesus appeared to him that night in a dream smiling, dressed in the same cloak.

Dear brothers and sisters, St Martin’s charitable gesture flows from the same logic that drove Jesus to multiply the loaves for the hungry crowd, but most of all to leave himself to humanity as food in the Eucharist, supreme Sign of God’s love, Sacramentum caritatis. It is the logic of sharing which he used to authentically explain love of neighbour. May St Martin help us to understand that only by means of a common commitment to sharing is it possible to respond to the great challenge of our times: to build a world of peace and justice where each person can live with dignity. This can be achieved if a world model of authentic solidarity prevails which assures to all inhabitants of the planet food, water, necessary medical treatment, and also work and energy resources as well as cultural benefits, scientific and technological knowledge.

Let us turn now to the Virgin Mary so that all Christians may be like St Martin, generous witnesses of the Gospel of love and tireless builders of jointly responsible sharing.

St. Martin is also mentioned in the 2005 encyclical, Deus Caritas Est:

Finally, let us consider the saints, who exercised charity in an exemplary way. Our thoughts turn especially to Martin of Tours († 397), the soldier who became a monk and a bishop: he is almost like an icon, illustrating the irreplaceable value of the individual testimony to charity. At the gates of Amiens, Martin gave half of his cloak to a poor man: Jesus himself, that night, appeared to him in a dream wearing that cloak, confirming the permanent validity of the Gospel saying: “I was naked and you clothed me … as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:36, 40).[36] Yet in the history of the Church, how many other testimonies to charity could be quoted! In particular, the entire monastic movement, from its origins with Saint Anthony the Abbot († 356), expresses an immense service of charity towards neighbour. In his encounter “face to face” with the God who is Love, the monk senses the impelling need to transform his whole life into service of neighbour, in addition to service of God. This explains the great emphasis on hospitality, refuge and care of the infirm in the vicinity of the monasteries. It also explains the immense initiatives of human welfare and Christian formation, aimed above all at the very poor, who became the object of care firstly for the monastic and mendicant orders, and later for the various male and female religious institutes all through the history of the Church. The figures of saints such as Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, John of God, Camillus of Lellis, Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Giuseppe B. Cottolengo, John Bosco, Luigi Orione, Teresa of Calcutta to name but a few—stand out as lasting models of social charity for all people of good will. The saints are the true bearers of light within history, for they are men and women of faith, hope and love.

And then I spent some time with The Life of St. Martin written by a contemporary and defender, Sulpitius Severus:

ACCORDINGLY, at a certain period, when he had nothing except his arms and his simple military dress, in the middle of winter, a winter which had shown itself more severe than ordinary, so that the extreme cold was proving fatal to many, he happened to meet at the gate of the city of Amiens a poor man destitute of clothing. He was entreating those that passed by to have compassion upon him, but all passed the wretched man without notice, when Martin, that man full of God, recognized that a being to whom others showed no pity, was, in that respect, left to him. Yet, what should he do? He had nothing except the cloak in which he was clad, for he had already parted with the rest of his garments for similar purposes. Taking, therefore, his sword with which he was girt, he divided his cloak into two equal parts, and gave one part to the poor man, while he again clothed himself with the remainder. Upon this, some of the by-standers laughed, because he was now an unsightly object, and stood out as but partly dressed. Many, however, who were of sounder understanding, groaned deeply because they themselves had done nothing similar. They especially felt this, because, being possessed of more than Martin, they could have clothed the poor man without reducing themselves to nakedness. In the following night, when Martin had resigned himself to sleep, he had a vision of Christ arrayed in that part of his cloak with which he had clothed the poor man. He contemplated the Lord with the greatest attention, and was told to own as his the robe which he had given. Ere long, he heard Jesus saying with a clear voice to the multitude of angels standing round — “Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe.” The Lord, truly mindful of his own words (who had said when on earth — “Inasmuch as ye have done these things to one of the least of these, ye have done them unto me”), declared that he himself had been clothed in that poor man; and to confirm the testimony he bore to so good a deed, he condescended to show him himself in that very dress which the poor man had received. After this vision the sainted man was not puffed up with human glory, but, acknowledging the goodness of God in what had been done, and being now of the age of twenty years, he hastened to receive baptism. He did not, however, all at once, retire from military service, yielding to the entreaties of his tribune, whom he admitted to be his familiar tent-companion.[11] For the tribune promised that, after the period of his office had expired, he too would retire from the world. Martin, kept back by the expectation of this event, continued, although but in name, to act the part of a soldier, for nearly two years after he had received baptism.

The whole thing is fairly short and quite interesting to read – as I read this ancient documents, what I am always looking for is commonalities – of human nature, of belief, of human choices and reactions. Consider the reactions of the bystanders described in the passage above.

Has anything really changed?

Underneath all that is “new” for us…has anything fundamental about who we are and the redemption for which we yearn really changed?

Well, anyway.

Traditions of Martinmas.

More from Cooking for Christ, a cookbook published by the Catholic Rural Life Conference, which I wrote about here. 

A partial list of subsequent burrows that ate up this evening:

Martin of Tours
By Charles L. O’Donnell

“AS I today was wayfaring”—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—low—
Said Christ in heaven’s evening—
The Holies yet more hushed and slow—
“I met a knight upon the road;
A plumed charger he bestrode.

“He saw the beggar that was I—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—long—
Head and foot one beggary—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—song— 
One that shivered in the cold
While his horse trailed cloth of gold.

“Down he leaped, his sword outdrawn—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—swells—
Cleaved his cloak, laid half upon—
Holy! now a peal of bells—
Shoulders that the cross had spanned;
And I think he kissed my hand.

“Then he passed the road along,
Holy, Holy, Holy!—laud— 
Caroling a knightly song—
Holy! in the face of God.
Yea, Father, by Thy sovereign name,
Begging is a goodly game.”

Restoration

From these dead leaves the winds have caught
And on the brown earth fling,
Yea, from their dust, new hosts shall rise
At the trumpet call of Spring.

Thus may the winds our ashes take,
But in that far dusk dim,
When God’s eye hath burnt up the worlds,
This flesh shall stand with Him.

It is the merit of O’Brien’s study to illuminate this long-hidden context.  Boutle’s profound experiences of purgation, illumination, dark nights, union, and the prayer of simple regard are now rooted in her distinctive vocation as wife and mother.  Her experience of the cross is tied to her struggles with an alcoholic and increasingly violent husband.  The cultivation of patience proved difficult in the presence of a mother-in-law, who externally was considered a living saint due to her generosity toward the poor, but who became venomously sarcastic in the privacy of the home.  Boutle’s hope of eternal life became fused with the certitude that she would be reunited with her beloved daughter, Elisabeth, who died at the age of 14.  Her growing union with Jesus is a union marked by experiences shaped by gender and marital status.

O’Brien also highlights the stormy social and ecclesiastical context of Boutle’s life.  Boutle’s devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is one of a piece with the piety of French Catholicism in the late 19th century.  Already wounded by the anti-Christian campaigns of the French Revolution and the Paris Commune of 1871, the French church witnessed with apprehension the growing anti-clericalism of the Third Republic. Catholic schools were abolished, and religious orders expelled.  Practicing Catholics soon learned that they could not hope for promotion in a hostile public school system, civil service, and officer corps.  Boutle’s prayer is increasingly marked by intercession for a France which was quickly renouncing all traces of her Catholic heritage.  Her experience of a supernatural peace rests uneasily with bewilderment over the virtual disappearance of Catholic belief among her nation’s urban elite.  Controlling her anger at the anti-clerical remarks made by relatives and acquaintances over the dinner table became a serious ascetical task. Her close affiliation with the Parisian convent of the Adoration Reparatrix nuns also reflects the spirituality of the period.  The emphasis on reparation during the perpetual adoration practiced by the nuns, and their lay associates, was very much a social reparation for the apostasy and persecution represented by a newly secularized France.

O’Brien’s scholarly biography of Mathilde Boutle provides a distinctive spiritual guide for those called to the office of wife and mother, especially in moments of suffering related to spouse and children.  It is also a very modern guide for dealing with Christian bewilderment arising from a powerful religious indifference in a society where a once-vital church has quickly collapsed.

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—1 —

 

"amy welborn"

Happy All Saints!

I’m in Living Faith today. 

Before we get rolling here with some Thoughts, I’ll just mention, since it is obligatory on Social Media, our Halloween experience.

Image result for empty space

 

Yeah, nada this year. I don’t think we had any trick-or-treaters last year (our house is in a neighborhood, yes, but the street is kind off enough to take it away from main Halloween traffic), so this year, I didn’t even purchase any candy – we had a few Gansito on hand, so I decided that if anyone showed up, that’s what they’d get.

Well, it was also in the 30’s here in Alabama, so add that to the situation, and you have, again, no trick-or-treaters, and an almost 15-year old who’s been over the holiday for a couple of years, so it was indeed, a quiet night here.

Which is fine. There might be some aspects of Parenting Young Children in America I miss at this point, but not many. My stance is more of walking past various aisles in the store – baby needs, feminine hygiene products, Halloween gear and (especially) Valentines  – and thinking Thank God that part of my life is in the past. What next?

— 2 —

45153548_1941244522590541_4383519909506711552_n

 

I am convicted of the truth of the Christian – Catholic faith by odd things. Yes, the traditional arguments and proofs have their power and make sense, but in the end, it is manifestations of paradox and a certain kind of skewing that gives me confidence of the truth. I am not as enamored of Chesterton as some are, but where he does appeal to me is his grasp of the paradox at the heart of reality, reflected and clarified in the Incarnation and the faith that flows from it.

The role of the saints in Catholic life makes a similar argument for me, if you will. There are many things to be said about saints, many ways in which they are used to argue for the Faith: they gave up so much for this…it must  be true. And so on. But I come at the saints from a slightly different angle.

— 3 —

For when I look at the role of saints within Catholic life and spirituality, I see nothing like it any other institution, culture or subculture in human history. Yes, all cultures honor other human beings, some even have their miracle-workers. They have their wise men and founders, they have their holy fools and mystics.

But in what other human context are rulers and managers and the wealthy told that their life – their real life  – depends on honoring, emulating and humbly seeking the prayers of a beggar?

— 4 —

 

Or a young woman who died in her early 20’s, almost completely unknown?

 

— 5 –

Or a young African woman?

Image result for josephine bakhita

When I consider the Communion of Saints, I see a great deal. I see the Body of Christ, visible and invisible, militant and triumphant. But I also see the breadth and depth of human experience in a way that no other aspect of life affords me and which, in fact, some aspects of life – parochialism, pride, secularism – hide from me. In touch with the saints, I stay in touch with real history in a more complete way, with human experience and with the presence of the Word made Flesh, encountered and embodied in the lives of his saints. Every single day, in the calendar of memorials and feasts, I meet them. I can’t rest easy and pretend that my corner of experience affords me all I need to know.

— 6 —

 

Here with the saints, we are taught that grace can dwell in every life, from any corner or level that the world erects. We can’t sit easily, proud and blind and dismissive of the other. The peacemaker is invited to beg the soldier’s prayers. The professor turns to the untutored child martyr. The merchant busily engaged with the world encounters the intense bearded figure, alone in the desert.

 

"amy welborn"

On today’s Solemnity of All Saints, our hearts are dilated to the dimensions of Heaven, exceeding the limits of time and space.

-B16

"amy welborn"

 

 

— 7 —

And yes, I like to read and write about saints:

 

 

More on my books related to saints here. 

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

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Yeah, I’m fed up. 

Time to return to trans issues. Why now? Because while it seems to be something that’s sucking all the air out of every single room every single day, over the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen an uptick in the news:

But the general picture is being painted in pretty bright colors, isn’t it? (Although pastel – not bright – blue is the trans color).

Here’s what I have to say – resist. 

This is a bizarre, deeply damaging moment we’re living in, driven by a tiny minority of people suffering various forms of mental illness. And yes, there are various forms. Once you start looking into this world, you come to understand that there is really no such thing as a monolithic gentle group of “trans folks” we’re gently reminded to welcome by gentle Fr. Martin, all gently seeking understanding for their differences.

No – there’s a little more to it than that.

There are different iterations and roots of this type of dysphoria, obviously, like any mental illness, not all understood.  There are men who experience this desire, frankly, as a fetish. It’s called autogynephilia, and it’s a thing – a male being aroused by the idea of himself as a woman. There are young people who have been abused, who are on the spectrum, who are deeply influenced by what they see online, there are pre-teen and teen girls who are confused, disturbed and revolted by the physical changes they’re experiencing. There are teen girls and boys, young adults, who look at this weird world of strict gender conformity, the land of pink and the world of blue, and think…I don’t fit here. I’m different. Maybe I fit….there. 

There’s a lot to say and lot to do and much to resist, but here’s where it starts – here’s the bottom line:

Resist and reject gender self-identity in all spheres of life, including the law. 

That is to say: You are not a woman because you believe you are. You’re not a boy because you’ve decided you are.

Don’t let the law budge an inch on this score. 

This – the notion that one can simply decide what gender you are and then merit treatment and rights on that score – is the root of all current trans activism, including political activism, embodied in this country in the so-called Equality Act – endorsed by all the current Democratic candidates for president and passed by the House last spring. (You know your constitution, so you know that “passed by the House” means nothing unless it’s also “passed by the Senate” and signed by the President. But still – it’s there.) Most people don’t understand this. They think that transing is all about people who have gone through counseling and years of medical treatment and surgery – right? Nope. Not at all.

At the core of the Equality Act and similar efforts in England, a person should be treated according to the gender he or she (?) claims, even if they are still physically intact, have never had surgery – and maybe never even intend to. It doesn’t matter if they “pass” or not or what they look like to you.

You’re a girl because you say you are.

Image result for rachel mckinnon

No. Resist.

Resist attempts to change the law, resist the intrusion of this into your schools, your public spaces  – snort derisively  when you’re asked your pronouns – and never stop being deeply and annoyingly logical. So if your community passes some sort of Self-ID in terms of gender, the next time you go to the DMV or have to fill out a form indicating your identifying characteristics – go crazy. If you’re Asian with straight black hair, demand to be accepted as an Irish redhead. If you’re obviously a woman, calmly claim that you’re a dude. If you’re 60, put down 1982 as your birthdate. And don’t let go – demand to know why – if that guy over there can be named “woman of the year,” can win women’s sporting events, can be awarded a woman’s spot on a committee – it is perfectly logical that I, too, can self-identify in any way, respect or category I decide. 

There is no logical argument. None. 

It is mostly misogynistic, crowd-driven, profit-fueled gnosticism. 

And those of you who call yourselves feminists, take note here. The greatest energy in the trans movement is of biological males demanding access to women’s spaces: restrooms, athletics, locker rooms, shelters, prisons and honors. You do not see female–to-male individuals making the same demands. As I’ve said before, I see this movement in part as Peak Misogyny, enabled by medical technology and profit-seeking pharmaceutical companies. (Because if you do physically transition, guess what? You’re on medication…for the rest of your life.)  Peak Misogyny which is trying to create a world in which actual girls and  women hopefully commit to their own erasure and the best women always turn out to be  men.

Yes. Erasure of actual women, is what it all seems to be about, in the end.

From a great column in the UK Telegraph a few days ago, by Celia Walden:

“This cloakroom may be used by any person regardless of gender identity or expression,” reads a notice on the toilet door of the bar I’m in on Saturday night. This is designed to give me a hit of self-importance. I have choices, options, both in terms of who I am and how I decide to express that all-important self to the world: a world waiting with bated breath for me to tell them why I’m special.

And yet I don’t feel reassured by this open-minded toilet, because everyone in the bar is drunk, the corridor it’s situated in is dimly-lit – and the only other people queuing outside it are men. So instead what I feel is uneasy, undignified, un-safe.

I’m guessing younger women are getting used to the feeling of vulnerability I felt so acutely on Saturday night. Just as British schoolgirls are getting used to their Mao-esque, gender-neutral uniforms, and “holding it in” all day at school (with the risk of contracting infections): anything to avoid using the gender-neutral toilets.

****

But this is an attack on women. And I don’t think the leading feminist campaigner, Julie Bindel, was exaggerating when she said on Sunday: “We’re now moving towards the total elimination of women’s biology.”

This isn’t about feminists, activists, sociologists and the deliberately impenetrable jargon they all choose to use in their very public duels. And it’s not about who gets to claim periods, with all their paraphernalia, either (but have them, please, along with stretch marks, the menopause, and the certainty that you’ve been ripped off by every MOT guy you’ve come across).

This is about fragile young girls still struggling to come to terms with their own changing bodies being forced into preposterous intimacy with boys. It’s about transgender athletes like Rachel McKinnon – who won the Masters Track Cycling World Championships on Saturday for the second year running – killing women’s sports.
It’s about the series of future crimes, assaults and intimidations that will have to happen before someone works out that having a load of drunk men and women using the same toilets in bars and clubs was Not A Smart Move. It’s about rapists being indulged and coddled by the police while their victims are effectively mocked.

And it’s about knowing when we’ve reached peak gender insanity. Please God, let this be it.

“This” will not be “it” all by itself. It won’t be “it” unless human beings stop it.

And it needs to stop – and the law could play a part in stopping it – or opening up the floodgates. Either way. The citizens of this country – who make the laws, remember – could demand, for a start, that their state and federal representatives ban medical transitioning of minors – no drugs, no puberty blockers, no hormones, and God help us, no surgery. No teen girls lining up for binders and mastectomies, no boys, their genitals shrunk by years of puberty blockers and estrogen, having their penises and testicles sliced off, the remaining skin tucked in to form what amounts nothing more than an open wound that must, for the rest of their lives – the rest of their lives  – be dilated daily for….what? 

Start with banning that in your state. Don’t allow it and run the medical professionals who profit from it out of business. And then stand firm against the Equality Act. If you have the opportunity to interact with one of the Democratic candidates, ask them about it and don’t let go. Don’t accept platitudes. Ask, over and over – Should any biological male who says he is female be granted access to women’s spaces such as locker rooms? Well, we need to be an inclusive society, welcoming of all people. Great. Should any biological male who says he is female be granted access to women’s spaces such as locker rooms and restrooms? Trans folks experience a lot of discrimination, you know. That’s too bad. Should any biological male who says he is female be granted access to women’s spaces such as locker rooms, restrooms and prisons? I’m for equality for all people. Good for you. Should any biological male who says he is female be granted access to women’s spaces such as locker rooms, restrooms, prisons and shelters for abused women?

As noted above, I’ve written about this before – links at the bottom of this post. I want to end, though, with a lengthy excerpt from a column by Janice Turner in a September issue of the UK Times, reproduces here at the Fair Play for Women FB page:

The Oscar-winning singer Sam Smith, a gay man, has “come out” as non-binary because, rehearsing a dance routine, he discovered a “vivacious woman inside my body”. He said of his fat-deposits: “There’s a bit of a woman in me who won’t let me look like that. I put on weight in places women put on weight. That spring-boarded everything.” So Smith knew his “gender identity” wasn’t male because he frets about his figure like us ladies. Just as Eddie Izzard believes that he has “girl genetics” because he paints his nails.

This is progress, I’m told. Feminists must embrace the idea that womanhood is predicated upon hoary old stereotypes while flamboyant or “vivacious” gay men must accept they are not really male. That I refuse to call Sam Smith “they” is not from disrespect (I never misgender trans people) but because the concept “non-binary” is sexist, homophobic and, above all, damaging to the mental health of fragile young people. And we should have the courage to say so.

Yet because policymakers and broadcasters prefer to surf rainbow flag approval than suffer a Twitter storm, in just a few years, with zero debate, public institutions have converted to a new state religion: the magical, wholly unscientific belief that biological sex does not exist while “gender identity” is real.

Let’s start with the Office for National Statistics, whose definition of “sex” includes “something that is assigned at birth”: ie a child being male or female is not an observable fact even in utero but randomly allocated and therefore provisional. The ONS also notes “gender is increasingly understood as not binary but on a spectrum . . . along a continuum between man and woman”.

“Increasingly understood” suggests some scientific breakthrough when it is merely a fashionable theory. Because postmodern academics such as Judith Butler believe sex can be erased, the government may change the census question from birth sex to “lived sex”, thus undermining the very integrity of government data.

Gender religion has now swept into schools as shown in a leaked Equality and Human Rights Commission report, which proposes that male pupils who identify as female should be taught sex education with girls. Not only would they remain ignorant of their own developing bodies, but such classes are supposed to spare shy girls from talking about periods among boys.

The EHRC states that natal male trans pupils must use girls’ changing rooms: any girl upset about this should use, say, the disabled lavatory. Sports should be divided by gender identity, even if girls will no longer win their own races. All these plans breach the 2010 Equality Act where sex is a protected characteristic — but they preach the new gender liturgy.

Even more zealous is the BBC Teach website which provides classroom materials. In a film for key stage 2 pupils — seven to 11-year-olds — a small child asks a teacher: “How many gender identities are there?” The teacher replies that it’s a really exciting question: “We know we have male and female, but there are over 100 if not more gender identities now.” (Note the “now”, implying cutting-edge new research.) The unease and puzzlement on these kids’ faces — what are all these genders? which one am I? — made me furious.

The government’s own No Outsiders programme simply teaches primary kids that some families have gay parents, and boys can like mermaids just like girls. Yet the BBC believes nine-year-olds should go googling the supposed 100 genders. Which include “Perigender: identifying with a gender but not as a gender” or “Vapogender: a gender that feels like smoke”. In other words, they are made up, mystical nonsense: gender Pokemons.

At puberty, developing a new sexed body can distress many children. Girls, especially, hate their breasts, are appalled by periods, loathe the sudden attention from men. Ruth Hunt, the former head of Stonewall, told me she thought teenage girls often declare themselves “non-binary” as a temporary holding bay, while they come to terms with their bodies and a world which expects them to look like Love Island babes. A fair point.

Watching videos by “non-binary” young people, I was struck by their reasoning. “I can avoid beauty standards of either sex,” one crop-haired girl said. “I always hated rough sports but my dad made me play,” a fey boy said. They saw the problem: a constricting world, but their solution was to identify out of it. Instead of challenging rigid ideas about masculinity, say you’re not a man.

The non-binary fad would be as harmless as goths or punks, if social media and peer pressure weren’t pushing so many towards medical transition: if you don’t fit with society’s gender rules, change your pronouns or ultimately, via hormones, your body. Besides, is it wise to send vulnerable young people out to battle against our very language, telling them that anyone who fails to call them “they” is hateful, has even committed a crime? How can this not amplify, rather than lessen, your anxiety and alienation?

Better to understand that your sex is immutable, that you don’t need some off-the-shelf gender identity because instead you have a complex, unique personality. “I’m not male or female,” says Sam Smith. “I think I flow somewhere in between.” Darling, don’t we all.

My posts:

An introductory post.

The Feminine Genius of the Cowgirl in Red

But Look How Much I Gained

Peaked?

Peaked yet? – if you want to read a shorter summary and skip all my meanderings, go here.

It’s called dysphoria. It’s about not feeling quite right. It’s about not feeling at home in your body or even in the world.

I am careful in speaking about mental illness, because it really is a challenge to understand and discuss. Who among us is “normal” or “whole?” Who relates to themselves and to the world with complete clarity? None of us. Not a one.

So I am not sure how to talk about this – what is not normal, what is clearly mental illness – without being required to define what normal is. You feel as if you are not a woman? Well, let me tell you what you should feel like.

Who can do that? I don’t think it’s possible. That was one of my points in those previous posts.

But clearly, body and gender dysphoria are forms of mental illness. They are rooted in various factors, they can present in different way for varying lengths of time, and healing, if it comes, is as varied as the individuals involved.

Now, honestly – once you accept that – this is a form of mental illness – much of the present moment clicks into place, especially if mental illness has ever played a part in your life:  the insistence of putting oneself and one’s felt needs in the center of every, single conversation and issue, the unblinkered focus on the self and trying to find a way to feel okay and then being affirmed, from every corner, in that okaynes. No matter how difficult it is to define “healthy” and “ill” we do know that healthy people, in general – don’t act this way. 

So yeah, that’s what’s going to happen. If you’ve ever been part of a group – a class, a workplace, a family, a neighborhood – where there’s someone who’s struggling with mental illness, quite often, those struggles tend to dominate everyone’s lives and every gathering, don’t they?

Understand that, and the pieces of that puzzle – how has the issue of such a tiny, tiny minority come to dominate the culture, and so quickly and why do they act like this? – click right into place.

They’re not well.

***

Finally, to close up this tedious Wall of Text with some philosophizing.

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Add to my list above: an affluent, sterile, leisure-oriented, performative culture – a material one stripped of the transcendent, with no road but an earthly one and no destination but a grave.

And being taught from the beginning of your life on this earth that fulfillment and happiness are not only possible, but expected. That a great deal of this happiness and fulfillment lies in just who you are and the wonderfulness that you are and being accepting of the marvelous being that you are.

But what if you’re not feeling it? What if you’ve had horrendous experiences in life that have made, it seems, a sense of self – much less a contented, whole self – challenging? What if what’s inside doesn’t match what your family, your community or even the big world tells you is correct and normal?

Raised in a material, appearance, emotion and achievement-oriented culture – despair for the dis-oriented might seem to lie just on the other side of every door, around every corner.

But consider another way – formed to value this life and who you are, but also understanding that, because of weighty mystery, you – along with everyone else on earth – is broken, sees through a glass darkly – including yourself – and that as hard as it is, it is also okay, because this is not your home. 

Oh, the suffering remains, and strangeness. But one just might be spared the perceived need to fix oneself right here and right now and make what’s outside “match” what’s inside.

And the older you get, the more true you see this is.

I turned – unbelievably – 59 this week. A few weeks ago, on our way back from Spain, I spent time with my friend Ann Englehart, who also turned 59 this summer. Over great Greek food in Astoria, I looked at her and asked the question that had been weighing on me:

“Do you feel fifty-freaking-nine years old?”

“NO!” she exclaimed, clearly relieved to hear someone else say it.

What does it even mean? we wondered, articulating the same thoughts aloud. What does it mean to be “almost sixty” – but to feel no older than, say forty, and to wonder – was I ever even 45 or 52? I just seem to have leapt from still almost youngish adulthood to AARP discounts without blinking. My appearance is changing, and I look at women two decades older than I and I know – God willing I make it that far – that there will be a day when I, too, will be unrecognizable to my younger self.

It’s very, very weird. It’s challenging. I completely understand why people – especially those in the public eye – get work done to stave off the sagging and the wrinkles. It’s so strange when what you look like on the outside doesn’t match what you feel on the inside. It’s disorienting. You might even say it’s dysphoric, if that’s a word. Centered in those feelings, living as though this were the only reality and all that matters, the temptation to use all the technology at one’s disposal to fix it – to make it all match up – might be very strong.

But understanding that disassociation and sense of dislocation in another way, as an invitation. An invitation, a hint to listen to the heart that seeks and yearns for wholeness and unity, to understand that while it’s not perfectly possible on this earth, the yearning for it is a hint that somewhere, it does exists, and it waits – and the hard, puzzling journey we’re on does not, in fact end where the world tells us.

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one that is to come.

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I began this blog post this morning. Or maybe even Sunday night? Not sure. With the best of intentions. Focus! Engage!

The whole business would go a whole lot better, I think, if I would be resolute and disciplined and do this writing before allowing myself even a glimpse at the news in the morning. Or just, as I’m doing now, set things down in the evening, when the news has had the whole day to work its way through my system.

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I was going to digest, but I think I’ll go a little broader and just pound out some notes on the current state of the homeschool. Because, besides the news, that’s what absorbs much of my brain space at the moment.

And since some of you might not make it to the end of the details and blathering, let me get The Point out of the way right away. Things are going well – I think. No balls have been dropped yet, although the pace in some areas is slower than I’d hoped. He seems content – and believe me, I check every day.

But our space an Ecstatic Little Home Education Cottage, top to bottom, dawn to dusk? No. We’re doing this thing, and it’s a good thing, but it’s not the ideal. Both of us wish there were school options that better fit his life and interests here, but without going into details – there just aren’t. I’ve written about that before. Our choices range from terrible to well-meaning mediocrity to budget-draining Wokeness, with the best public schools far away, on the other side of our zoning lines, and I’m not up for going to the trouble of selling a house and moving across town…for that.

(As I’ve mentioned, we do have an IB school here – my daughter went – but I am just not a believer in such high level intensity at the high school level  – and the ideological aspects of the humanities in these programs are a big negative. Why spend years stressing and sweating over courses taught from particular narrow perspectives, when you can get the broad view in a much more relaxed way from you know, reading a book at home? Save the intensity and ideological battles for college.)

So this is what we’re doing, and it’s evolving – especially now, as he takes on more musical responsibilities. I have no trouble admitting that for my part, my stance is a straggly woven tapestry of gratitude, interest, resentment, impatience, contentment and readiness to just be done with this part of my life.

But you know what? This is what I signed up for, and so this is where I am.

No, I didn’t sign up for “homeschooling a teenager as a single parent at the age of 59” when my first kid was born. But when I accepted parenthood, what I did sign up for was to subsume my own desires to their best interests.

This is not a motherhood thing. It’s a parenthood thing. It’s what all parents are called to do, it’s a parent’s responsibility – to sacrifice for their children. It begins with a mother’s sacrifice of her body to nurture life. It continues as parents set aside, if it’s necessary, their own plans in order to meet their children’s needs. It’s the way of the world: parents working jobs they can barely stand so the children that they’ve brought into the world can eat. Parents changing situations that give them pleasure so they can have more freedom and space to pay more attention to their children. Sometimes those sacrifices involve distance, don’t they? A parent having to migrate or be deployed in order to provide, a parent working long hours or double shifts so the kids can eat and have shelter. A parent in a profession that requires intense and time-consuming training or emotionally demanding presence.

Sometimes it all comes together. Parents work at something they enjoy, kids are provided for, family flourishes. But much of the time, in life, something has to give. Parents everywhere, all the time, make tough decisions on this score. I’m a medical professional, and I serve loads of people and even save lives – and in order to get there, I had to be less present to my kids than I would have if I’d been in a less demanding profession. I’m in ministry, and everyone in my congregation or apostolate wants a piece of me and thinks they have a right to that – and I do help a lot of them – but at what price to my kids?

No, it’s not easy – and healthy adults emerge from all sorts of crazy circumstances – sometimes the healthiest come out of the weirdest places.  Resilience can’t be predicted or planned.

And every one of us knows, if we’ve honestly reflected on our experiences as former children,  so many of us spend a lot of our growing up and growing into adulthood looking at that greener grass: It would have been so much better if my parents hadn’t gotten divorced. Man, I wish my parents had just split up – they would have both been so much happier. I know I’d have been so much better off if they’d put me in Catholic schools – what were they thinking? Man, Catholic school really messed me up – what were they thinking? I wish my parents would have supported me being in sports or dance or music! I can’t believe they pushed me to do sports or dance or music for so long – I think it was really for them, not me, you know? My parents hardly ever hugged me. I just really wished my parents could have just left me alone for like five minutes. Our family vacations were so great! Hell, defined: a family vacation. 

Growing to adulthood means smashing the idols of your childhood and family life, seeing it for the flawed mess that it was, and looking to the only perfect Parent to fill the gaps.

Which means, then, that parenting means teaching your children, in direct and mostly subtle ways, that lesson exactly: I’m trying here, but I’m not perfect, and I’m sorry for the mistakes that will be and have been made. Let me introduce you to God who, unlike me, will never let you down. 

And in all that, in all the complications and trade-offs, the kids have to come first.  As I indicated above, there are different ways in which they can, indeed, come first – so if they only way you can feed them is to spend your earning time away from them – that’s what you have to do. Or if you’re a messed up individual, maybe “putting the kids first” means that you outsource what you can’t emotionally or mentally manage to loving adults who can. Self-care, maintaining sanity and balance – that’s for the kids, too.

But, in this present moment, in a privileged culture centered on the individual, it might not be a bad thing to recall the concept of sacrifice. We can congratulate ourselves on fulfilling our own desires as adults and claim that because we’re “happier,” of course our kids will be happier – and sometimes this might be true. But what also might be true is that at times we have a responsibility to sacrifice our own desires for our dependents’  – children, aging parents, disabled siblings – well-being.

As I finished that last paragraph, I had a sentence that said something like trusting that God will bring us greater joy than we could have planned – but then I cut it. Obviously. Why? Because I find myself resistant to encouraging expectations of “joy” or “happiness” simply because those are such subjective terms, and so misunderstood.

Traditional spiritual practices remind us, all the time, to have no expectations of results, but to privilege faithfulness instead. It’s not – be careful here – that the deeper joy isn’t promised or won’t come – it’s that “joy” or “happiness” can’t be a goal. Seeking “happiness” or “fulfillment” or “satisfaction” has never been a fundamental goal of the Christian life – being faithful to Christ’s call to love sacrificially is. Do you see the difference?

Basically: Even though I fail every day many times, I see the shape of parenting as essentially: love in whatever way is called for in the moment, sacrifice my own desires for their best interest, and really – try not to be a whiny martyr about it. 

And if that’s where you’re at – if you’re in a place of sacrifice, you’re in the exact place that parents and thoughtful humans have always dwelt – and that sacrifice of your own desires for the good of others?

Is a place of grace. 

You’re doing a good – a great – thing. 

Just don’t be a whiny faux martyr about it – much.

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Well, that went in unexpected directions. It was all probably the Spirit working to get stuff out of my system so *I* wouldn’t be a whiny martyr in the rest of this blog post.

Here’s the summary of what’s going on in the Homeschool.

Main development is that Musician Son has an actual job now. A regular, recurring job at the age of 14 – hope it’s recurring! He’s the regular organist at the Sunday Masses of a small parish not too far from our home – the parish in which his sister was married this past summer. It’s a perfect opportunity for him, and not just because he did, indeed, play on that organ for the wedding – it’s a small parish, really committed to going in the right direction, musically, with most of the cantoring and directing being done by Adrianne Price, whom EWTN viewers will know from, well, EWTN. She’s patient, kind and prayerful – a great support for a young musician.

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So, many thanks to his teacher, Bruce Ludwick of the Cathedral of St. Paul, and the pastor, Fr. Vu – who’s giving him a chance. Here we go!

And by “we” – I mean – “we.” Yeah, well. AMDG and all that, right? Because this definitely impacts more than him. He needs to practice organ more – and no, we don’t own an organ, so that means more time in the car and sitting in churches. And he has a weekend commitment now. Which impacts our Big Homeschool Travel Dreams. I already had our November Honduras trip planned, so I gave them the dates for that ahead of time, but at this point, we are sort of stuck here for a while. We’ll see. Trying not to be irritated at that, trying to remember that this is all for God, right, and WOW it’s GREAT that I get to spend more time in churches….I keep saying, with all these older kids and in-law kids and grandkids plus all the needs of just..the world…it doesn’t seem that there’s enough time in the day for all the prayers that need to be said, so well..here ya go. Fine. Whatever. Fine. 

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Because of this, while both other music lessons continue (jazz and regular, classical piano), the pace has slowed and commitments cut. He needs to focus on organ right now.

Math: Working on Algebra II, combining Art of Problem Solving with other resources, mostly Khan Academy and this great teacher from Australia – Mr. Woo! M thinks he’s great and has already developed a very accurate impression of the fellow.

Here’s a nice TedX talk from Eddie Woo, and here’s an interview with him from a religious publication -he’s a Christian, and here’s something he says in the interview which dovetails a bit with what I wrote above: 

Mr Woo’s devotion to the ideal of Christian service even extended to his choice of teaching subject. Amazingly, despite arguably being Australia’s best-known maths teacher, his preferred choice of topic was English or history.

He chose maths because of the shortage of maths teachers.

(Maths) was not an area I was particularly gifted in or passionate about – but I did that from a service point of view because I knew that there was need,” he said.

“I follow someone who didn’t come to be served but to serve. That’s part of who I am. So to me that makes perfect sense even though to the world it doesn’t.”

Latin: On chapter 12 of Latin for the New Millenium, occasional meetings with the tutor – we will increase the frequency of those meetings after Christmas, when he starts prepping for the National Latin Exam.

Spanish: He does on his own, using the Great Courses Spanish II – and of course he’ll have a week of immersion in Honduras. He’s also working in El Hobbit – he’s re-reading IMG_20191022_090802.jpgthe English version, and thought it would be fun to attempt the Spanish.

History: All over the place, self-directed, although in the next couple of weeks, I’m going to have him do some focused Colonial and post-Colonial Central American history. He’s been fixating on World War II lately.

Science:  Biology, once a week, with the homeschool co-op, taught by a local Ph.D.

Literature: This is where the pace has slowed. He’s still reading the Iliad – although I think he’ll finish this week. I wanted to do King Lear to go with the production being mounted by Atlanta Shakespeare, but I don’t think we’re going to have a chance to see it with our trip and all. So we’ll do another Shakespeare in early winter to go with either the Alabama or Atlanta Shakespeare productions – whatever they are. I can’t remember at the moment.

Writing: We’ve finally gotten started using this Norton book, which is very good. He reads an essay, we talk about the questions, and he does a writing exercise. The focus is on clarity of thought and expressing those thoughts in engaging and precise ways.

Religion: Besides, you know, hearing two homilies every weekend now, plus occasional daily Mass, and our discussion of the feastdays and Scripture readings on the days we don’t go to daily Mass – we’re doing Old Testament. He’s finishing Genesis this week. He just straight up reads it, we use this as a reference book when necessary. You know, I used to teach this stuff, so…it’s not a problem. Old Testament and Church History were always my favorite courses to teach, which was convenient, because those tended to be the courses that other department members liked teaching least. He’s supposed to be memorizing the names of the books of the Bible, too. Not sure if that is happening. I guess I should check on that.

guess. 

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