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A bit more on St. Bernard of Clairvaux, this post centered on one of his writings – De Consideratione . It is really a set of letters written to Pope Eugenius III by the saint. Here’s some background before we get to the quotes.

St. Bernard was the great Cistercian preacher, reformer and theologian. From a Benedictine website:

Bernard’s spiritual writing as well as his extraordinary personal magnetism began to attract many to Clairvaux and the other Cistercian monasteries, leading to many new foundations…Although he suffered from constant physical debility and had to govern a monastery that soon housed several hundred monks and was sending forth groups regularly to begin new monasteries (he personally saw to the establishment of sixty-five of the three hundred Cistercian monasteries founded during his thirty-eight years as abbot), he yet found time to compose many and varied spiritual works that still speak to us today. He laid out a solid foundation for the spiritual life in his works on grace and free will, humility and love. …

In 1145, one of Bernard’s students and a fellow Cistercian was elected Pope, taking the name Eugenius III. These were quite tumultuous times for the papacy. A very, very short version:

Eugenius was elected on the same day Lucius II,  his predecessor,  died – killed, a contemporary historian tells us, in the midst of a battle against opponents of the bernard-clairvaux-2pope’s temporal power. Elements of Roman society – primarily merchants and craftspeople – had been attempting to resuscitate the Roman Senate and diminish papal temporal powers. This was an intense, years-long struggle which came to involve other European rulers. After Lucius’ death, the conclave gathered and elected a Cistercian monk who had Bernard of Clairvaux behind him, an indication, I suppose, of what they thought it was going to take to fix the mess.

(Image source)

And so Bernard wrote this treatise for his student over several years, advising him on how to conduct himself as Pope. It reflects all of these controversies and tensions, but at the core of it is a very simple call: remember you are dust.

So why care about these almost 1000-year old words of advice to a pope? A few reasons, I think.

First, Bernard was a spiritual writer giving spiritual advice to a man seeking to maintain his focus on Christ and the essence of his vocation in a landscape in which his office had been corrupted and temptation to give in to that corruption was strong. I think that’s a tension many of us experience: how do I keep my eyes fixed on Christ in the midst of distractions and temptations? How do I know when to act, when to listen, when to withdraw, when to engage? How many times have you thought, You know, I could be a much better Christian if I were in different circumstances…..

Well, then.

Secondly, it’s just interesting and always valuable to see the mess the Church  – and the papacy – has been in the past.  While it can certainly be scandalous and challenging to understand, it also..helps us understand. It can help us distinguish between rock and sand in the present moment.

Third, it gives us a look at some papal criticism. Yes, Bernard was a saint, spiritual master and Eugenius’ spiritual father, in a way, so he had standing. But even if none of us stand in that position to this or any other pope or even bishop, it’s helpful to read and study what Bernard says to Eugenius – what he deems fair game for challenge and examination, how he goes about it, and what he thinks it’s important to warn Eugenius about.

You can find the text here.

One more thing: sometimes when people allude to historical problems with the Church and papacy, it becomes a silencing weapon: Calm down! See! The Spirit always brings us through!  Well, here’s the thing: The life of the Church is not a performance with the Holy Spirit pulling strings and waving wands, and the rest of us watching from the audience.  The Holy Spirit works to preserve the Church through reformers, annoying critics, weird historical events and who knows what else.

Learning a bit of history does not offer any prescriptions for the present, nor does it define the present moment in either positive or negative ways. What I hope learning a bit of history does is disrupt, challenge and point us toward reform.

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These first two quotations certainly specifically apply to the distractions of the papal office, but also can apply to any of us. Have peace from distractions, but don’t make peace with them. Meme-worthy, Bernard!

The second quote intrigues me as he advises Eugenius to not get complacent – you might feel all right now, but don’t take that for granted.

I desire indeed that though shouldst have peace from distractions, but I do not want thee to make peace with them, that is, by learning to love them: there is nothing I fear more for thee than this.   1:1

Rely not too much on thy present disposition for there is nothing in the soul so firmly established as that it cannot be removed by time and neglect. A wound grows callous when not attended to in time and becomes incapable of cure in proportion as it lose sensibility. Furthermore, pain that is sharp and continuous cannot long endure : if not otherwise got rid of, it must speedily succumb to its own violence. mean to say : either a remedy will soon be found to assuage it, or from its continuance a state of apathywill result. What disposition cannot be induced, or destroyed, or changed to its contrary by the force of habit and usage ? How many have come by use to find pleasure in the evil which before inspired only horror and disgust ? 

After a while, when thou hast become a little accustomed to it, it will not appear so very dreadful. Later on it will shock thee less; later still it will have ceased to shock thee at all. Finally thou wilt begin to take delight in it. Thus, little by little, mayest though proceed to hardness of heart and from that to a loathing for virtue. And in this way, as I have said, a continuous pain will soon find relief either in a complete cure or in utter insensibility.  1:2

Some firm reminders of what humility means – and remember the political and social context, which involved the question of the pope’s role:

That thou has been raised to the pinnacle of honour and power is a fact undeniable. But for what purpose hast thou been thus elevated? Here is a question that calls for the most serious consideration. It was not, as I suppose merely that thou mightiest enjoy the glory of lordship…..Consequently let us likewise, that we may not think too highly of ourselves, always bear this in mind ,that a duty of service has been imposed on us, and not a dominion.  2:6

Go forth into the field of thy Lord, and consider diligently with what a wild luxuriance of thorns and thistles it is covered even today from the ancient malediction. Go forth, I say, into the world, because the world is the field that is committed to thy care. Go forth, then, into this field, not however as the owner, but as the steward, in order to supervise and look after the things wherof thou shalt one day have to render an account. Go forth, I repeat, with the two feet, as it were, of attentive solitude and solicitous attention…. 2:6

For where is the man to whom something is not always wanting? Indeed he who considers that he is wanting in nothing proves himself thereby to be wanting in everything. What if thou art the Sovereign Pontiff? Dost thou think that, because thou art supreme in authority, thou art likewise supreme in every respect? 2.7

Can there be any doubt that thou art more a man than a bishop? ….Thinkest thou that thou didst enter the world wearing the tiara? Or glittering with jewels? Or clothed in silk? Or adorned with plumes? Or bespangled with gold? No. If, then, from before the face of thy consideration thou wilt with a breath, so to speak, blow away these things as morning mists that quickly pass and disappear: thou shalt behold a man, naked and poor, and wretched and miserable; a man grieving that he is a man, blushing for his nakedness, lamenting that he is born, complaining of his existence..and hence living in alarm. 2:9

Whenever thou rememberest thy dignity as Sovereign Pontiff, reflect also that not only wert thou once, but that thou art still nothing better than the vilest slime of the earth.  2:9

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He offers various pointers for the Pope as an leader of an organization and of his own household, observations which are startling in their continued applicability. First – the problem of leaders believing too easily what they are told by those who surround them.

The fault to which I refer is excessive credulity, a most crafty little fox, against whose cunning wiles I have never known any of those in authority to be sufficiently on their guard. Hence the indignation which they so often exhibit without any reasonable cause; hence the frequent verdicts given against the innocent; hence also the condemnations pronounced against the absent. 2:14

Then…how to speak.

Thy lips have been consecrated to the Gospel of Christ. Therefore it is unlawful for thee now to use them for jesting, and a sacrilege to have them thus habitually employed…Observe that it is not jests or fables but the law of God that is to be sought from the mouth of a priest. 2:13

An interesting complaint about how supplicants use the Pope to their own advantage, bypassing the local authorities, going straight to the Pope, telling their side, and then waving the flag of papal approval:

“…has recourse to thee, and returns in triumph ,boasting of thy protection, whose avenging justice he ought rather to have experienced.” 3.2

How the Pope should relate to his household. Before this, Bernard tells Eugenius to trust the details of the household to others, but…

But keep informed of ….the character and conduct of each member of thy household. Thou shouldst not be the last to know the faults of thy domestics, which, as I have reason to believe, is commonly enough the case with bishops…charge thyself personally with the discipline of thy house…

….I would not have thee to be austere in thy manner, but only grave. Austerity is wont to repel the timid, whereas the effect of gravity is to sober the frivolous. …Be the Pope in the palace, but at home show thyself more as a father. Make thyself loved, if possible, by thy domestics; otherwise let them fear thee. It is always good to keep a guard over thy lips, yet not so as to exclude the grace of affability.  4:6

I do love the distinction between austerity and gravity and his observation on the effect of both. So wise and still true.

Now here is a great quote. Fascinating. First, Bernard lets loose on “the Roman people” who have been giving popes such fits. Hmm. He might want to work on his accompanying skills.

But then..the second part of the quote is applicable to all of us..well, me at least. These are very wise words about how we should view our own efforts in relation to God’s will and power. Stick that in your Ministry Fruits Evaluation Pipe and smoke it.

But what shall I say of thy people? They are the Roman people! I cannot express what I think of them more briefly and forcibly than by giving them this title. What fact has been so well known to every age as the arrogance and pride of the Romans? They are a people who are strangers to peace and accustomed to tumult; a people ferocious and intractable even until now; a people that know not how to submit whilst resistance is possible. Behold thy cross…..nevertheless do not lose heart. What is required of thee is not the cure of the patient but the solicitous care of him. “Take care of him,” said the Good Samaritan to the innkeeper, not “cure him” or “heal him”.[what follows are several Pauline references to the point that ‘success’ is not the goal, for we don’t know what ‘success’ means in God’s eyes, but rather our dedication and labor] .   I beseech thee, therefore, to do what is thy part. As for the rest, God will be able to accomplish what appertains to Him without any need of thy care and solicitude. Plant, water, spare no pains, and thou has discharged thy duty. It belongs not to thee, but God to give the increase whenever it pleaseth him. 

Finally, this, which is just beautiful:

We must still go on seeking Him Who has not yet been sufficiently found and Who can never be too much sought. But perhaps it will be more becoming to seek Him, yea, and more easy to find Him, by fervent prayer than by argumentation. Therefore let me now put an end to the book, although not to the seeking. 

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Source

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A couple of things:

First, here’s a link to a post I’ve offered the last couple of years on Benedict, monasticism and the culture. 

Secondly, here are some pages from The Loyola Kids Book of Saints on St. Benedict.Benedict4

He’s in under “Saints are people who teach us new ways to pray.” Here are some excerpts – click on images to get a fuller view.

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(The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols is supposedly in the mail – I hope to have my copies by Friday.)

Finally – I’ve posted this before, but in case you have missed it, this is a fantastic video from the Benedictines at St. Bernard’s Abbey, located about 45 minutes north of Birmingham. It’s wonderful, not just because of the way in which the monastic vocation is explained, but because those words really apply to all of us as we discern God’s will – every moment of every day.

The Benedictine Monks of St. Bernard Abbey from Electric Peak Creative on Vimeo.

 

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Last full day, that is. I began writing this in the airport hotel before waking the boys to head over to the airport for our 11 AM Monday flight and I’m finishing it up in Dallas at 9:45 AM Monday. Amazing – it makes up for the whole two days we lost at the beginning, I guess….

Those of you who have followed this trip know that the plans changed over the month before we left. My original original thought was to split the time between Tokyo and Kyoto, and therefore fly into Tokyo and out of either Kyoto or Osaka. I then decided it would be better to stay in one place, so booked the AirBnB for Tokyo for the entire duration. Then AirBnB and Japan had their problems, so the trip was split again. For which I am now, at the end of it, very grateful. I’m so glad we spent time in Kyoto – more thoughts on that score later. When all of that came down, I looked into changing flights to leave out of Osaka or Kyoto, but the cost for changing was ridiculous (which I will never, ever understand – except I do understand – profit – but really.) so I stuck with a departure from Tokyo, knowing that we’d have to spend at least half a day getting back up here. I had hope that it wouldn’t be wasted because the town of Narita – near the airport – apparently had Things to See. Hopefully, we’d see them.

And we did – not as much as I would have liked, but we did see a few things, and, as I always say – it’s all new to me, and whatever we saw – were things that we saw, worth seeing and thinking about and learning from.

In order to see anything at the end of the day, we’d have to start early. Mass was the big challenge of the day. I’d been researching it for two days. First idea was a church less than a mile from the apartment that we could walk/train to – but as I discovered when I walked there on Saturday morning for research, Mass was at 10:30, which was too late. Next idea was a church about halfway up the train route from our place to Kyoto Station. Mass there was at 9. I thought we could just take our stuff, go to Mass, then get back on the train to the station. I got a bit of pushback on the whole “march into Mass with backpacks and suitcases” idea. Then I looked one more time and found a church with Mass at 7 am. Okay, I said, if you don’t want to do the 9 am, we’ll do 7 – but that means, well, getting up at 6 (20 minute train ride, 6 minute walk). They agreed, and my compromise was that when we got back and finished packing and cleaning, we’d grab a taxi to the station – although I felt fully confident by this point in getting us there with luggage on the train, especially since it was Sunday morning – but they, again, were not enthused.

And it worked. We got up, walked to our train station, rode the train with a few other people, found the right neighborhood, which, it seems, must have it share of bars and clubs, considering the number of tired looking groups of young women in micro-minis (never seen in Japan during the day, in my experience) and trendy-looking guys either walking towards the train station or hanging out on the sidewalks. They’d obviously been up all night and were just wrapping it up.

I discovered later that we’d actually attended Mass at the Cathedral. It was a nice modern structure, with a roof sweeping upward and stained glass on one side. The church was maybe a third full – pretty good for 7am! – and was a little more demographically diverse than we’d seen in the Tokyo church – a lot of older women, yes (many wearing veils, as is normal here for older women), but a few families, more westerners and a greater sprinkling of young adults.

Music was minimal – opening and closing song and the Responsorial Psalm sung. Communion in the hand is the norm here, in case you are interested (which it isn’t, for example, in some areas of Europe, particularly Italy, where I’ve attended Mass), and the Sign of Peace is awesome: quick bows all around and we’re done.

Then across the lovely river,  back on the train (which was a bit more crowded by this point) pack up, clean up the apartment, take photos of the apartment (which I always mean to do right when we arrive, but never do, and then we immediately trash the place, so it’s not presentable), then walk up the street to the train station, get a taxi, then a 15-minute ride to the Kyoto Station to catch the bullet train. That journey was uneventful (I think it always is – there’s never been an accident with these trains) and quick and moderately scenic – more rice paddies and batting cages, everywhere.

I’d done some research and discovered what I thought was the best solution to get from the Tokyo station to our hotel near the airport: a shuttle bus that runs directly from the station to the airport hotels. We’d catch it – because I thought it ran more or less constantly – check in, or at least store our luggage – and then head into the town of Narita to get one last taste of Japan.

Well, as per usual, things didn’t turn out as hoped or planned. Everything ran later than I thought. We got to Narita airport and two out of the three of us were hungry enough to merit a meal (and granted – it was two o’clock by this time and no one had eaten anything all day except for some sweet rolls after Mass), and since we’d be at the airport anyway I decided we a) turn in our Pasmo transportation cards to get the refunds due on those and b) complete the check-in process for our flight. I couldn’t finish (b) online because I suppose passport confirmation was needed. So we did all those things, and by the time we got down to the place where the shuttle stopped, we discovered that it did not, indeed, run around the clock, but only once an hour – so we’d have thirty minutes to wait until the next journey.

Fine. Pay a cab to take us five minutes to the hotel. No problem. Because we’d get to the hotel and soon enough be able to hop on the shuttle to town, which, I thought I’d understood, ran around the clock. Well, no. It doesn’t run around the clock or even around the hour. We got into our room a little after 2:30 and discovered that the next shuttle to town wouldn’t be until 4:15. Drat. Especially since what I read online indicated that the big Zen temple I wanted to visit in Narita closed at 4 on Sundays, plus most of the restaurants seemed to close at five.

This was not going as I’d hoped. Because particularly after the debacle that marked the beginning of our trip, I didn’t particularly want to lose one more day of this rather expensive jaunt on a travel day. I admit that I let my irritation spill over – something I usually try very hard not to let happen, especially since I grew up in a household marked by very high flood markings on the wall made by years of irritation spilling over.

So we waited and hung out in the hotel room for an hour or so. We headed down to the lobby for the shuttle where a fluent English-speaking employee (finally!) told me that while the doors of the temple might close at 4, the grounds were certainly open – which made me feel better.

Fast forward: shuttle to town – Narita which is a very busy, suburb-like city, just like your American suburb except for the sign lettering. We were dropped at the train station in the middle of town, and made our way down the tourist-oriented street, lined with shops and restaurants, most of which were, indeed, either closed or in the process of closing.

But all was not lost!

Narita is known for unagi– eel. It’s the local delicacy, and many restaurants feature the …er…processing…of the eel right in the front of the house. As in: one guy grabs a live eel from a buck of water, chops its neck, takes its still wriggling body, skins and de-spines it, and hands it to the next guy, who cuts it up into pieces which are then put on skewers. The spines are fried and sold as bar food, essentially.

Before we went, I was all up for trying it, but once we got there, the only place still open and selling was rather expensive – about twenty-five bucks for four pieces with rice, and I just wasn’t willing to invest the time and money on something I wasn’t even sure I’d like. If it had been one skewer of part of an eel for like five bucks, sure – but this was just too much for the moment and my mood. At least I got to see the process, which is what I was really after.

Then we proceeded down the hill to the Shingon Buddhist temple, which is part of a large park. It was gorgeous. These temples and shrines are naturally not as interesting to me as churches are, but I find them fascinating, nonetheless.

We walked around a bit, saw temples, pagodas, statues and turtles. The time down by the water was deeply peaceful and something I needed at that moment, the last night of a long trip, the night before leaving to return home.

As we rounded our way back out of the park, a small group of girls – most probably between 8-12 appeared, each carrying a pole with rings on the end. They were led by adult women, and it became pretty clear to me that they were rehearsing for something – perhaps a  procession of some sort. They’d walk around, rhythmically banging the poles on the ground, stopping at various points, including right in front of the main temple, at which point, two young men with them would go part way up the steps, stop, and them lead them all in a bow.

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A small group of women was gathered nearby watching, and I’m assuming they were the girls’ mothers. It was like Dance Moms: Buddhist Edition.

A short walk back up the hill, where the few shops that had been open when arrived had closed. There was an activity happening in front of the tourist office, thought: a group with fans, doing some sort of chanting and waving. It seemed to me it was a cultural activity directed at tourists – sort of like if you were in Spain and there was an invitation to try to do flamenco.

Dinner was very good – a fitting last meal for Japan. Granted, the place was not people by locals – it seemed to be mostly tourists or airline employees (the decorations were all airline-related), but it was tasty nonetheless: fried rice for one, a ginger pork dish for another, a great chili-based soup with pork for me, and dumplings for all.

Everything, it seemed, turned out all right in the end.

 

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Christmas in New York City….what to say?

How about…been there, done that. 

Or…There. That’s done. 

I’d always thought Christmastime in the City would be fun to experience, and now that my oldest lives there, we had a good excuse. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve got the gist of the trip: we left Christmas night from Atlanta, spent Tuesday-Thursday there, left at the crack of dawn on Friday for other parts of the country. I was glad to do it, glad to spend time with my son and see friends, but heavens, it was cold and wow, it was crowded. As I said: been there, done that was what I thought as we flew away for points south!  Highlights:

  • First highlight was in getting there in the first place. The boys were scheduled to serve Christmas Day Mass at the convent, and when I made the reservations, did so assuming that Mass was at the usual Sunday morning time – 11am. Only to find out a few weeks later that no, Mass was at 12:30. Flights were at 6:19. From Atlanta. 2 hours from Birmingham.  A time zone ahead. So essentially, we would be leaving for a 6:19 flight a little more than four hours before it took off from two hours away, with perfect traffic.
  • Well, we obviously made it. The most tension-inducing aspect of the situation was that I had purchased United’s most recent low-level fare – the Basic Economy, which comes with a lot of restrictions, most of which – only being able to take a personal carry-on like a backpack, no guaranteed seating together – didn’t bother me (we each took a backpack, which was fine for three days, even in winter weather – we are not fashionistas), but there’s one more restriction: you can’t check in ahead of time online unless you are checking a bag (which costs extra, natch). This is to enable them to enforce the no-carry-on rule on site, so it’s understandable, but still. You know how it is when you’re racing to the airport. You can think: Well, at least I’m already checked in. Nope.
  • But, we made it, with time to spare. Go me. I mean…go. 
  • We flew into Newark, which was a first. Arrived, then took the very crowded train into Manhattan. Why was it so packed on Christmas night? It seemed to me, since it was crowded when we boarded at the airport, that the riders were folks who’d done their Christmas elsewhere and were returning home. We had to stand for most of the trip, but that’s fine.
  • Got to Penn Station, then walked the seven blocks in the cold to our hotel – the Leo House.
  • Now, this was a new discovery for me. I am not sure how it had never crossed my radar before. The Leo House is a Catholic guesthouse that’s been around for decades, named after Leo XIII and originally founded to be a safe haven for German immigrants. You can read its history here. It certainly showed its age – particularly in the bathrooms – but it was very clean and the breakfast was substantial and varied every day. I prepaid, and so we had a double room – two rooms connected by a bathroom, with three beds – for under $200/night. With breakfast. In Manhattan. In a good location, a block down from a subway, with the Empire State Building in view. It worked. It would be just about perfect if the bathrooms were updated, but that would be a multi-million dollar, probably unaffordable project. I’d stay there again – and probably will!
  • Day one (summarized on Instagram here). Yes, we went to the Central Park Zoo. We’d never been, and online commentary indicated that it wasn’t a bad winter activity – there were animals that flourish outside in the cold, and there was enough indoors to make it bearable. Walked through the park by the skating rink (we heard them introduce a skating session with about 5 minutes of announced warnings and disclaimers – #ModernTimes) – then to the subway to take it up to the Natural History Museum, which was…packed. As was everything over those three days. It made sense: Christmastime in the City has its appeal, plus it was so bloody cold, any attraction that was indoors was…attractive.
  • I stood line to get tickets – me and many Russians. We paid extra to see the Mummy exhibit, and probably shouldn’t have. It is part of this museum trend to just bring in extra $$$ with special exhibits that have a particular appeal – you think, “Oh, we want to see mummies!” and so you can…but for a price! Anyway, we’d seen many mummy displays all over the world, so I’m not sure why I gave into the pressure on this one (from the sales clerk, not my kids), but I did and was irritated. There wasn’t a lot to it that we had not seen elsewhere.
  • But I did see Mammoths and mastadons, which interested me because I’d just read this book. I find these early mammals much more interesting than dinosaurs, perhaps because they are closer to us in time, and in fact inhabited the planet with us.
  • We’d been here before, but it was several years and a couple of trips ago, but it was worth a revisit. I like the Field Museum in Chicago better, though….
  • Then dinner with my son and my friends Ann and Paul Engelhart at this very good French restaurant..and then Hansel and Gretel at the Metropolitan Opera.
  • I need to think a bit more about this production, but I’d say that it was interesting, worth the time and money, and captured an aspect of the thematic essence of the piece while missing another part of it. Let’s put it this way: it’s not a light holiday confection, but honestly, who thinks of Hansel and Gretel this way? It’s a dark tale of suffering, temptation, exploitation and revenge or justice – or both. The German Expressionistic tone of much of the production brings out this darkness effectively, but what was muted was the spirituality of the piece, which is pretty strong: Hansel and Gretel are protected by angels, and in a sense, their journey to the witches’ house is a journey they’re led on for the salvation of others – the children the witch has turned into gingerbread who are freed by Hansel and Gretel, brought to that place by their own suffering.
  • The weird thing about the evening was this: a friend of mine from Alabama was in NYC at the same time. We’d said we’d meet on Wednesday or Thursday, but we came very close, without knowing it, on Tuesday night: she and her group ate at a restaurant on the same block as ours at the same time…and then they went to The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center…as we were at Hansel and Gretel. 
  • Small world, again.

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Remember when I used to do those? Well, maybe I’ll sort of start again. Sometimes.

This week is going to be pretty busy, and Monday and Friday would be the only two days in which there would be much uninterrupted actually-at-home time. Because:

  • Tuesday is a two-hour science center class (squid dissection! Mom gets two hours to work on her next book at the trendy food court across the street!) and boxing class in the afternoon.
  • Wednesday morning, a repair guy is coming to start the process of fixing the various broken things and places that have started piling up around here. Then Wednesday afternoon is Zookeeper-for –  (half) – a – day.
  • Thursday morning is the two-hour photography class (2 more hours for mom to work!) and then piano.

So we tried to pack it in today – and we did – and still had time for an outing.

  • Prayer: Saint of the day (John Cupertino), Mass readings, prayer, practice Pater Noster.  First reading was from 1 Timothy, so I spent a couple of minutes reviewing the Pauline epistles with him and the difference between the Pastoral Epistles and the others.
  • Religion-related. Someone he knows a bit from the Catholic group Fraternus entered the Benedictine monastery up the road as a postulant this past weekend. We read about that on the monastery’s Facebook page and then watched the excellent video that was produced last year about St. Bernard’s with the added bonus that the (familial) brother of one of his friends who is a (religious) brother in formation there is in the video here and there.
  • That was followed by a discussion of the stages in the monastic vocation, using the page from St. Bernard’s website. 
  • Animal Farm. He has his leisure reading always going on, but he also will have “school” reading, assigned by me. Over the past couple of weeks it’s been this. I selected it because it’s short, interesting, accessible and a good way into discussions of history (which he wanted to emphasize this year)  and literature (allegory). He finished it over the weekend, so we went over the Sparknotes analyses of those chapters and reviewed some of the charts I’d printed out about the allegorical associations. Talked a bit about post World War-II Soviet expansion and watched a short video about the Berlin Wall.
  • One of his own goals that he has set for himself this month is memorizing all the US presidents in order as a beginning framework for studying for the History Bee (exam coming in January – so this is just beginning). He recited what he knew and we had some random discussions about some of the presidents.
  • Spanish: this was his desire – to start more serious work on Spanish. I’d purchased a curriculum (which I will be writing about soon – it has given me Food For Thought in a couple of areas). We’d been dipping in and out of the introductory chapter over the past couple of weeks and got serious today with the first actual chapter  – going over the vocabulary, watching the videos and doing the activities.
  • Math: He’s on Chapter 3 of the Art of Problem Solving PreAlgebra book. Today he watched the video associated with the first section and then went over the material and did the set of problems – the topic is number theory and, more specifically, multiples.
  • I showed him a form I’d printed out for him to log all the books he reads this year. I just think it will be good for him to have, and he’ll enjoy looking at it at the end of the year. And yes, we’ve been very good about my plan of recording learning instead of planning it. It works very well for us. We note every topic discussed/dealt with over the course of the week in a planner, and then at the end of very week, he fills out a log summarizing the week’s learning and activities.
  • He got up around 9:30 and when we finished all this it was about 11:45. Yah. So there was time for a requested jaunt for him to finish his photography homework – made all the better now because his brother drives himself to school so we don’t have that upper boundary of a necessary return time. We do have the limitation of a car I’m still afraid to drive too far away, but maybe sometime soon I’ll actually take in the used car I bought for $2k to get checked out and get an assessment of whether it’s safe to drive. (It feels fine – I’m just a little skittish about taking it too far….)
  • So the jaunt was to a “nature park” that’s about ten minutes from my house, but I had no idea existed until about two weeks ago when I was driving on the road and saw the sign for it. It’s on the side of a substantial hill in between a residential area and a commercial area of Irondale (where EWTN is located), and it doesn’t have amazing rock or water features, but it was a decent walk, with good trails, bright orange lichen and many spiders. Good subjects. (Photos below were taken by me with the phone – he had control of the camera, and I don’t know what he ended up taking photos of and keeping.)

 

And back home, we discovered that the moon had apparently fallen to earth:

IMG_20170918_183110

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— 1 —

This week’s takes are mostly about listening and watching. Things will get interesting over the next few days, but probably mostly on Instagram – so head over there to keep up.

— 2 —

In Our Time has sadly gone into its summer break, but it ended on a very high note with an excellent program on bird migration. What I particularly enjoyed about it was Melvyn Bragg’s infectious awestruck attitude about the whole business, which mirrors mine – How do they know?  – and the fact that he just couldn’t get over it, which is the proper attitude in the face of mystery. Secondly, the scientists on the program were all refreshingly honest about the answers to Melvyn’s questions, which most of the time involved a lot of we’re not sure and maybe and…we just don’t know. 

So much of the media’s reporting on science is couched in almost religious and certainly ideological certainty – a certainty which many, if not most scientists themselves would reject. I always enjoy the scholars on In Our Time, who are willing to admit what they don’t know and engage in respectful disagreement about what they think they might have a handle on.

— 3 —

Also this week, I listened to In Our Time broadcasts on the poet John Clare, of whom I am ashamed to say I had never heard, and Hannah Arendt. 

The program on Clare was interesting because, well, it was all new to me, but also because of the material presented about Clare’s relationship with publishing. He was a farmer, and while we might think, “poor lower class poet rejected by the smart set,” in fact the truth was the opposite – ever since Burns, the search had been on for the next Big Country Poet, and it was thought for while that Clare might be the one. And then he ended up in insane asylums for two decades, sadly, probably because of manic depression.

The program on Hannah Arendt set her work in helpful context, with a great deal of discussion about how she was misunderstood by critics. In brief, the “banality of evil” is not an invitation to diminish evil, but an explanation of how evil can become just another job to do.

— 4 —

And then I discovered a new BBC podcast program!

It’s called Science Stories and while the format is different than In Our Time, the general attitude and approach are the same, emphasizing the importance of  context as we seek to understand past scientific endeavors, which is something I appreciate so much, and is so refreshing, surrounded as we are in our media sea of context-free accusations, assertions, presumptions and fabrications.

And guess what? Religion is quite often part of the context – and might even be a paradigmatic framework for the context – and that is okay. 

On a science program!

So, for example, a program on Robert Grosseteste, 13th century Bishop of Lincoln and teacher, famously, of Roger Bacon. Grosseteste was, as many learned men of the time were, a polymath, but this particular episode of Science Stories focused on what the presenter termed his proto-“Big Bang” theory rooted in his observations of light and informed by his Genesis-shaped faith. It’s only 28 minutes and well worth your time. A taste:

Scientist: The story I was told when I was growing up was before 1600, all was darkness and…theology and dogmatism…and then suddenly Newton, Galileo, Kepler, who-hoa – all is light and Enlightenment and we get back on track with science. And you know, that’s never rung true because science doesn’t work like that – we all make little steps and we all, as Newton said, stand on the shoulders of giants. I think in Grosseteste, we’ve come across one of the giants on which the early modern scientists stood…..

….Presenter: And the motivation, certainly, for people like Grosseteste was ultimately a religious one, a theological one.

Scientist: Yes, it’s very clear that he would have been mystified by the question, “Can you reconcile your science with your religion?”  – he would have looked at you very askance and said, “What do you mean? That’s why I’m doing this science!”

.

— 5 —

The episode on “The Anglo Saxon Remedy that kills MRSA”  was also fascinating, involving researchers who are exploring these 1100-year old books of remedies with the aim of not only figuring out the origins of these remedies but also their effectiveness.

As in the previous program, spirituality is given due credit and respect as are techniques and approaches we might want to initially wave off as nothing more than superstition – for example, chanting a rhyme or prayer in association with the application of the remedy. As the researchers pointed out, it was not mere superstition at work here – in a world without clocks, this would be a way of keeping time as you applied the compress or shook the mixture.

— 6 —

My older son has been working a lot at night, so we haven’t been doing a lot of movies – two we have watched over the past week have been The Seven Samurai and Twelve Angry Men.  We spread out The Seven Samurai over two nights, although I think we could have done it all in one, in retrospect. It’s quite absorbing and didn’t feel at all like an almost 4-hour movie (as opposed to the Heston Ben-Hur which felt every minute of it to me during last year’s rewatch after 40 years, probably –  #confessyourunpopularopinion)

They really liked The Seven Samurai, and so I see more Kurosawa in our future, whenever we can manage another evening, which won’t be for a while, it looks like, what with travel and work. Probably The Hidden Forest, which inspired Star Wars, would make the most sense, although I’m more interested in Stray Dog. We won’t do Rashomon. 

Twelve Angry Men is, of course, much shorter – having begun as a television drama – and quite an efficient and compelling way to introduce a good discussion of appearance, reality, truth and integrity. There’s one simplistic psychological-torment-motivation subplot that was annoying and overwrought, but then that is par for the late-50’s course.

Oh, and one night after work, the 16-year old pulled Doctor Strangelove off the shelf and "amy welborn"took it in his room to watch it. Speaking of context, what I offered him afterwards was that early 60’s context of nuclear terror which led the young parents of a two-year old, living in Texas in the fall of 1962, to formulate a plan about what they’d do if the bombs dropped – a plan that involved an overdose of sleeping pills, as they calmly reminisced a few decades later. The grown daughter was startled, to say the least, but the fact that her quite traditional parents had felt driven to concoct such a plan showed how frightened people really were at the time. They weren’t building bomb shelters just for the fun of it.

Speaking of mid-century psychological-torment-subplots..

Kidding!

— 7 —

Okay! Let’s have a saint!

Today is the feast of Kateri Tekakwitha. She’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints – a couple of pages of which are available online. 

 

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

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Benedict4

He’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints under “Saints are people who teach us new ways to pray.” Here are some excerpts – click on images to get a fuller view.

BenedictI

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