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Today is the memorial of St. Marianne Cope.

Who is she? (From a website dedicated to her)

A Sister of St. Francis, Marianne was canonized Oct. 21, 2012. She is the first Franciscan woman from North America to be canonized, and only the 11th American saint. A woman of great valor, this beloved mother of outcasts, spent her early years in central New York where she served as a leader in the field of health care, education and of her own congregation. Responding to a call to care for the poor sick on the then Sandwich Islands, she devoted 35 years to caring for those afflicted with Hansen’s disease on Kalaupapa, Molokai, Hawaii.

More:

  In 1862 she entered the Sisters of Saint Francis in Syracuse, New York, after having postponed her entrance nine years in order to work to support her family. She was instrumental in the founding of several schools and hospitals for immigrants. In 1883 she led a group of sisters to the Hawaiian Islands to care for the poor, especially those suffering from leprosy. In 1888 she went to Kalaupapa, Moloka‘i, where she set up a home for girls with leprosy. After the death of Saint Damien de Veuster she also took over the home he built for boys. She died on 9 August, 1918. 

Perhaps you know that author Robert Lewis Stevenson wrote an “open letter” in defense of Fr. Damien, against a gossipy, bigoted accusatory published piece written by a Presbyterian minister in Hawaii. Stevenson had visited Molokai – after Fr. Damien’s death – and was strongly affected by it, and was moved to defend the priest.

You can read that letter here.

During his bit more than a week on Molokai, he spent time with Sr. Marianne Cope, of course, and even purchased a piano for the colony. He also wrote a poem about the experience, the gist of which is that even though the sufferings of those with Hansen’s Disease might cause one to doubt the existence of God, that skepticism is corrected by the loving presence of the Sisters:

marianne cope - Robert louis stevenson

To the Reverend Sister Marianne, Matron of the Bishop Home, Kalaupapa. 


To see the infinite pity of this place, 
The mangled limb, the devastated face, 
The innocent sufferers smiling at the rod, 
A fool were tempted to deny his God. 
He sees, and shrinks; but if he look again, 
Lo, beauty springing from the breasts of pain! 
He marks the sisters on the painful shores, 
And even a fool is silent and adores.

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The problem with the film adaptation of Dan Delillo’s White Noise?

There’s not enough of it.

White noise, that is.

Or spirituality for that matter, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

DeLillo’s book is (in part) about the landscape in which we postmoderns dwell, a landscape suffused with, well, white noise. A continual buzz of stimulation, information and entertainment that surrounds us, builds narratives and ultimately distract us from the issue that’s tormenting us all: death.

In Baumbagh’s film, while mostly watchable and entertaining in its own way – until the painful last third – we don’t pick up on that, we don’t sense that, we don’t hear or see any of that. It’s a mildly quirky suburban dramedy that resolves itself in near-sweetness, which the novel does not, at all. He captures the “white noise” of family life, but beyond that, no.  There’s really not much mystery here, and White Noise the novel is suffused with uncertainty and mystery. The most concrete example of this is the Toxic Event itself – its nature is never made clear or explicit in the novel, but in the film, oddly, it’s explained (a collision). I think that’s the movie’s biggest mistake, by far.

(There are others: Both Gerwig and Driver are a bit too young, Gerwig especially. In the movie, the youngest child, Wilder, is the offspring of the oft-married Jack and Babette, but in the novel, none of the children are fully related to anyone else in the family, which is important – the family is thoroughly postmodern – a collection of individuals. In the novel, Babette doesn’t appear in that last sequence of events.)

This isn’t a film I want to write about as much as I want to chew over it with someone else who’s seen it and also read the novel. There’s just a lot to say, notions and insights that emerge when I consider, not what the film includes, but what it doesn’t.

First off, please know that, um, I’d never read DeLillo before last week, when the coming film inspired me to check out the novel. It wasn’t as long as I expected, and I thought I’d knock it off fairly quickly, but that didn’t happen. It took me a good week to finish it, not because it’s impenetrable or dauntingly complex, but because it’s stuffed. I wouldn’t say it’s rich, either – just…stuffed.

And so I think this post will turn more on the novel than the film, with a bit of circling back at the end.

As I read White Noise I was put in mind of Walker Percy, and wondered if anyone had ever written comparing the two. A quick search didn’t turn up much, but yes: the vaguely apocalyptic landscape, the fractured family, the puzzled male protagonist, and – this is important – the medicalization of soul problems. When you are taking pills to ward off your fear of death, seems like that’s Percy territory.

Not surprisingly, I experienced White Noise (the novel) as not just a satire of contemporary American life, but also an exploration of spiritual presence and absence. Joshua Ferris lays it out quite well in this piece, so I’ll quote him. At length.

White Noise begins and ends with a ritual. The first is the cavalcade of station wagons arriving for the new school year, which Jack describes as a spectacle—“a brilliant event, invariably”—and which he has not missed in 21 years. It ends with the communal nightly pilgrimage to the highway overpass where he, his family and his neighbors witness the exalted sunsets that might be a temporary result of fallout from the toxic spill or something permanently deserving of awe. “[W]e don’t know whether we are watching in wonder or dread,” he says, as if commenting upon the entire phenomenon of white noise itself. In the end, neither he nor Delillo provides an answer.

Between these two rituals, the attentive reader encounters the high priest of Hitler Studies who tries to both evade and master death through his submersion in a “larger-than-death” figure; the ascetic-visionary-guru Murray Jay Siskind; the fundamentalist Alfonse Stompanato who discusses pop culture with the “closed logic of a religious zealot, one who kills for his beliefs”; amulets and vestments, like Jack’s copy of Mein Kampf, which he clutches to his chest at moments of discomfort, and his dark black glasses and heavy academic robe which bestow upon him “the dignity, significance and prestige” appropriate to priests; the rhetoric of exhortations as issued from some holy order found in Jack’s command “May the days be aimless. Let the seasons drift. Do not advance the action according to a plan”; amulets like the visor Denise wears day and night and later the protective mask Steffie refuses to take off; glossolalia; invocations (“Dacron, Orlon, Lycra Spandex,” “MasterCard, Visa, American Express”); the use of drugs, in this case not for ecstatic religious purposes but for death assuagement; numerology (“Is death odd-numbered?”); congregations, whether at the supermarket, on the overpass or in the classroom; superstitions (“It is the nature and pleasure of townspeople to distrust the city”); the miracle of Wilder’s unharmed tricycle ride across the freeway; and many other customs, rites and rituals, not only that of Friday-night TV, but Jack’s more “formal custom” afterwards of reading deeply into Hitler; the heavy visitation to the most photographed barn in America (“Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender… we’ve agreed to be part of a collective experience,” Murray tells Jack, elevating a scene typically presented as a lament about the simulation’s preeminence over the real—the photograph of the barn over the barn itself—to one of overt religious import that better explicates Josiah Royce than Jean Baudrillard), and finally Babette’s very secular custom, conspicuously occurring in the otherwise inactive Congregational church, of teaching the elderly how to stand, sit and walk, later upgraded to eating and drinking.

This overwhelming litany of how Delillo fleshes out traditional religious elements in the post-Christian world of White Noise is not exhaustive. He has done nothing short of scuttling the entirety of established religious systems only to remake one, full of the same structures and accoutrements, out of the stuff of American cultural life, very often out of the same white noise that doubles in the book as the agent of death against which those structures and accoutrements are intended to protect. The protective devices of this new pseudo-religion meet with mixed success in giving comfort to Jack Gladney as he struggles with his death fears, but no matter. Their domain is not so one-dimensional as to provide only protective devices. They also reveal to him glimpses of greater meaning, of awe and of transcendence. Above all, they reveal that Delillo goes beyond cultural assessment in White Noise to show—if we didn’t know it already from The Names—that he is a writer deeply, almost preternaturally attuned to the eternal human encounter with what constitutes the religious and the spiritual.


Yes, you’re reading that having watched the film and wondering…what?

In another article (somewhere), I read about the character of Wilder, the youngest child in the family. Those of you who have only watched the film will find my description unrecognizable. What’s in the film in general is very faithful the book – what makes the adaptation so unsatisfactory is what is left out, which is a lot of important elements: most of all, the sense of white noise and the spiritual ghosts, including what DeLillo gives us in Wilder.

In the movie, he’s just a young child who is carted around and only speaks once, and whose presence, his mother says, makes her happy.

In the novel he’s quite different. His silence is often commented upon – it is not clear whether his worldlessness is a choice or a disability. He does make noise, though – especially one day when he cries, weeps and wails from dawn to dusk. This is an important and lengthy interlude in the book. No one knows what to do. Wilder just cries and cries. They take him to the doctor. He keeps crying. But it’s not just crying. It’s a profound, deep keening – DeLillo uses the word – that his stepfather experiences, in part, as something profound with which he feels a desire to connect. In the midst of all the distracting white noise, here’s a deeply human noise coming from a real place, and so Jack, being a human, and being a human who thinks about death, senses it comes from a place where he might find…something. “It might not be so terrible to have to listen to this a while longer,” he thinks.

The family members’ responses and interactions with Wilder are almost like those of worshippers to a holy presence in their midst – they take care of him, they fawn over him, they respond to him ritually (yes yes yes yes). And in the end, when Wilder mounts his tricycle and rides across all the lanes of the highway without being harmed, we sense that he is, indeed, something special – even if that specialness resides in his innocence and, in the midst of a world that fears and denies death, his fearlessness.

Baumbach either didn’t understand or chose to ignore the spiritual implications of White Noise. It really is, as Ferris says, a book that invites us to look at and listen to the world around us and consider the possibility that we are still worshipping, we are still ritualizing, we still are looking for miracles and listening to sacred texts, and none of it seems to be helping.


I want to say something about the closing credits sequence. It’s a long (8-minute) stylized dance routine, involving all the characters, in the, bright, gleaming A & P. In White Noise, the supermarket functions in the same way the village church would – a gathering place, a place to build community, to fill one’s needs, to admire human ingenuity and creativity, but today, controlled and given, rather than evolved from who we are in an organic way. I suppose Baumbach conceived this sequence a way to communicate that. A supermarket scene closes out the novel, as well. But let’s look at the difference:

In the novel, the last chapter is composed of three scenes: Wilder with his tricycle, the gathering to watch the sunset, and then the supermarket. But what happens in the store? Well, the shelves have been rearranged. People – especially older people – are confused.

The supermarket shelves have been rearranged. It happened one day without warning. There is agitation and panic in the aisles, dismay in the faces of older shoppers.[…]They scrutinize the small print on packages, wary of a second level of betrayal. The men scan for stamped dates, the women for ingredients. Many have trouble making out the words. Smeared print, ghost images. In the altered shelves, the ambient roar, in the plain and heartless fact of their decline, they try to work their way through confusion. But in the end it doesn’t matter what they see or think they see. The terminals are equipped with holographic scanners, which decode the binary secret of every item, infallibly. This is the language of waves and radiation, or how the dead speak to the living. And this is where we wait together, regardless of our age, our carts stocked with brightly colored goods. A slowly moving line, satisfying, giving us time to glance at the tabloids in the racks. Everything we need that is not food or love is here in the tabloid racks. The tales of the supernatural and the extraterrestrial. The miracle vitamins, the cures for cancer, the remedies for obesity. The cults of the famous and the dead.”

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I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here.  Book and movie takes, as well as links to other monthly highlights, at the end of this post.

Several post-V2-music related posts (in prep for the Substack, which will revive from winter dormancy this Friday), some pre-Advent thoughts, and, in travel, summing up the Mexico trip and a Thanksgiving trip to Colorado.

All November posts here.

In December? Lots of movie, book and gender-related posts, as well as saints, Advent and Christmas. Go here for all of them. A couple of highlights below.


Anyway, my point of disagreement with Douthat has to do with his core notion – in this column at least – that Vatican II was about making the practice of Catholicism easier. Okay, he does qualify this:

The idea was not simply to make Catholicism easier, of course; the hope was that a truer Christianity would flourish once rote obedience diminished.

But then proceeds to point out that the results are what matter, not the stated intentions. I disagree. I think it’s important to get the intentions right – as right as we can, given the fog of history.

And what were the intentions, if not just to “make it easier?” Too much for a mere blog post, but the core of it seemed to be a conviction that vibrant, authentic faith rooted in a free response to God’s invitation – was impeded by legalistic language and practice, as well as by the accretion of tradition and an “outdated” human anthropology and medieval Eurocentricism, blah, blah, blah. Yes, there’s even more – I would suggest the boredom, stupidity and loss of faith of religious professionals played more of a part than we like to admit – as well as other more complex, nuanced, factors, but when you read the documents and those that came afterwards, this is the clear, stated intention.

Secondly, if you go to these videos and read the comments, you will read many, may fond memories people have of this music.

I don’t necessarily have fond memories of this era’s music, but I certainly do have memories. Listening to the podcast, I was shocked by how much I could just join right in on after not having sung any of it for decades.

Of my hands, I give…to you….Oh Lord….

As several have pointed out in the comments, as simplistic and even annoying as some of this early music was, a great deal of it was at least Scripture based. That core was forgotten at certain points – as we see below – but then picked up again by the St. Louis Jesuits who, even their detractors admit, wrote music rooted in Scripture texts.

There are a number of striking, weird aspects to this corner of history, but one of the most pressing questions to me is why the course taken for the sake of lay “active participation” and the cause of restoring ancient forms completely ignored the Eastern liturgical tradition which involves a relatively high degree of possible lay participation, is musical (chanted) from beginning to end, and is, yes ancient.

Of course Latin churchmen still at that time undoubtedly harbored disdain for the East and since the agenda was centered on ModernNewProgressSignsoftheTimes I guess dudes in crowns chanting behind icon screens didn’t exactly fit that model, but still.

One more road – one more – not taken. Tragically.

Hence the Christian is not afraid of the clock, nor is he in cunning complicity with it. The Christian life is not really a “victory over time” because time is not and cannot be a real antagonist. Of course, the Christian life is a victory over death: but it is a victory which accepts death and accepts the lapse of time that inevitably leads to death. But it does this in a full consciousness that death is in no sense a “triumph of time.” For the Christian, time is no longer the devourer of all things. Christian worship is at peace with time because the lapse of time no longer concerns the Christian whose life is “hidden with Christ in God.”

That’s Thomas Merton, not me.

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

From a friend who was also at that Mass, I learned that a parish near me had added a 7am Sunday Spanish Mass to the lineup. Since, due to old age I suppose, early morning Masses are starting to be my jam, I decided to check it out, not expecting a big crowd since the Sunday afternoon Spanish Mass was still in place.

Wrong!

The place was packed!

This is a marvelous piece about the effect and importance of singing the Torah.

Although obviously from a Jewish context and perspective, it might be enlightening for any of us who think about prayer and liturgy, no matter what tradition.


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I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here.  Book and movie takes, as well as links to other monthly highlights, at the end of this post.

All May posts here.


It also strikes me that intense discernment of “vocation” in the world is a luxury good, an expression of privilege. And in the modern world of self-fulfillment, quite often twisted into a baptized version of privileged “life journey,” and a way to avoid serving and meeting the needs of those right in front of us, right now.

There is a spiritually healthy way of talking about lay vocation in the world, I think, but it’s not a way that centers on personal fulfillment. It challenges us to ask: “What does the world need? What do the people in this world need? How can I help? How must I help?”

I will add that there have always been actually pastoral pastors and ministers who have listened to seekers’ and inquirers’ stories in the mode of the apostle Philip. They have been open to the presence of the seeker on the road. They’ve taken the time to instruct and answer their questions. And when the Spirit moves, they don’t hold up more and more hoops. They stop the chariot right there, and go find some water.

So there’s that.

But that’s what we’re here for, isn’t it? Not just for our family members, but for everyone. This thing we call love takes different forms in various circumstances, but always at the heart of it, it seems to me, are two things: presence and self-gift. That’s where the decision starts, the answer to the question begins.

Whatever you have, whatever you can give to who needs it at that moment…

…that’s what you do now.

To fulfill our duties in ordinary life, letting the love of Christ live and grow in us, bringing Christ to each and every interaction whether it be washing dishes, conducting a meeting, comforting a child, hammering a nail?

To do that? Even those quiet, ordinary tasks are ways to be his witnesses to all nations. 

There is great depth and richness in the imagery of sheep and shepherd, not reducible to simplistic allusions to gentleness and lambs, as appealing as that may be. It has profound historical resonance in relation to Israel and its kings. It is about intimacy and recognition and protection, for, if you think about it, the rod and staff of Psalm 23 are not decorative. They are for support, they are for warding off enemies. The critique of contemporary shepherds implicit in all of the Scripture readings is directed at their weakness and failure to protect the sheep.

Because, indeed, we’re not walled off from the broader culture. People enter into that sacred space carrying everything with them, and Christ seeks to redeem all of it.  So knowing that Mother’s Day permeates the culture, accepting it, but also accepting that motherhood and parenthood in general is far more complex than the greeting cards and commercials and even Super-Authentic-and-Relatable-Instagram-Influencers let on, and that people come bearing, not only motherhood-related joy, but motherhood-related pain as well – the Body of Christ embraces and takes it all in.

Why the heavenly messengers challenge those of us still on earth, are you just standing here? He’s told you what to do …move on and out and get going!

So it’s an appropriate day, it seems, to talk about a unique way in which evangelists in the past took that challenge to heart and, instead of just sitting around wondering what to do – actually did something creative to share the Good News.

***Spoiler alert: it’s a method that was eventually banned by bishops. Of course. ***


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I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here.  Book and movie takes, as well as links to other monthly highlights, at the end of this post.

All March 2022 posts here.

(As you can see from the images below, it was also the month we saw Lyle Lovett and Dwight Yoakum within a 2-week span. I didn’t write at length about either concert, but the pics are there for my memory’s sake.)


Do you or any of the adults that you know want to talk to other people’s kids about either sexual matters or even your own personal lives? Is making sure that any kids in your circle understand you or even know what you did last weekend important?

Is it even normal for a 40-year old to want a bunch of 11-year olds to “know who I really am?” much less to want to dig into their personal lives?

Um, no.

It would seem to me that after decades of discussing how the “fun mom” and the “cool coach” and the “drama teacher who lets us hang out at his apartment” and the “priest who drinks beer with us” are all basically emotionally arrested groomers and often abusers – we would be determined to insist on more walls between the adults who care for and educate young people and their charges, not fewer.

If Mom is always “doing her best” just because she’s Mom – why the heck are so many of us still grappling with Mom and Dad issues into adulthood?

We waited for the carrier, and when it came, she asked the baggage handler, Maleta? – referring to her checked bag, so now my Spanish vocabulary has been expanded by one more word, and then her phone rang while the baby was fussing a bit, so I took the baby – Jose! – and ended up carrying him through the airport while she talked on the phone, I presume to her relatives who were, indeed, there to meet her, with the women immediately swarming over the baby and everyone saying gracias and buenas noches and some of us…. phew.

In other words, our instinctive reaction to some Catholic moment from the past might be: Wow, that’s pretty crazy. And it might have been! But we might consider a follow-up as we consider our own lives: Wow, that’s pretty crazy, too, to be honest.

As I said, ours is not to point and laugh and bask in our superiority. Because we don’t have anything to brag about.

That is not to argue that the past is golden, ossified and preserved in amber for our devotion and emulation. The Catholic past is a riotous dynamic which includes moments worth reverencing and moments worth critiquing.

For the history of the Church may not be properly understood by the secular definition of “progress” but it certainly has the dynamic of reform baked into it – that is indeed, our history: Establishing a thought or practice or other reality that is faithful to the Gospel, and then, invariably, that moment drifting, corrupting and being an example, no longer of love, but of human pride and folly. And so we pray, discern, perhaps painfully tear down what have become idols, and begin again.

I was once at a Mass celebrated by a bishop, who was very happy at the end of Mass. He crowed, “We were really Church tonight!” I got it. I understood. On an emotional level, it was not an unreasonable reaction. But the point is: no matter how freaking boring it may seem to you– it’s still Church.

So there’s where ritual comes in.


January 2022 Highlights

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October 2022 Highlights

November and December 2022 Highlights

Books of 2022

Movies and Television of 2022

Read Full Post »

I did this last year (Here’s one post, with links to all the others.) It’s a way for me to sort through things, retrieve ideas that might work for longer pieces in other spaces, make me feel horrible about my terrible memory (did I write that?) and so on. I don’t include posts on saints or travel here. The saints because I tend to re-run them, no apologies, and the travel posts because they are collected here. Gender-related posts here.  Book and movie takes, as well as links to other monthly highlights, at the end of this post.

All February posts here.


I got to church a little late, and left a little early as is my probably unfortunate habit these days. I was surprised because the church was more full than I’d seen it ages. The music was as mediocre as always, but the preaching was good and there were no narcissistic liturgical shenanigans. A crowd of teens sat in the front, I’m thinking at the end of a Confirmation retreat. A man in the back pew smiled and graciously made room for my latecoming self. A mentally disabled man limped past me after Communion. The deacon brought the Eucharist to an elderly woman in a wheelchair, and the mother in front of me pointed to the words of the Creed in her little boy’s Magnifikid.

It is not easy to be a person, to be a human, to be a Catholic. I don’t think it ever has been, and the institution and the people help sometimes and hurt quite a bit.

I don’t know what to make of it all, and have not yet figured out how to say what I do make of it, but I think I do know that nothing begins until you open the door, take that uphill walk, find your place with the rest of the broken, no matter when you arrive, and try to listen.

This is conjecture on my part, and I’m generally not a fan of conjecture or scene-construction when it comes to Jesus words and activities in the Gospels, but this simple possibility – that Jesus could have told similar stories and made similar points in many different contexts  – might point to, for some of you, perhaps, a more helpful way to the presence of Jesus in the Gospels than the constant focus on intra-Gospel differences and authorial intention does.

The assumption of certain narratives as normative, deviations as heresy and honest discussion and exploration of data, evidence and experience as a threat is not what I call progress.

I’m thinking about this, not just because I happily stir-fried some asparagus the other day, but also because it’s time to start thinking again about the Gallery of Regrettable Lenten Food and how much even home cooking has changed over the years, mostly thanks to access to higher quality ingredients – and also because I made salmon cakes last night. I’ve never made salmon cakes or loaf or croquettes in my life, but it was also a regular part of our menus growing up (not with fresh salmon, but with canned, of course) – and also because as I was making the slaw to go with the salmon cakes, I pulled out some powdered mustard and some celery seeds, saw they were from Kroger’s, which meant they’d come from my parents’ house, looked at the sell-by dates, saw they were….. 2004 and 2009 – since my parents died in 2001 and 2011, that was not surprising, and well, I guess it’s time to toss them. Finally.

It’s worth a read, always, and perhaps especially as we live in a time in which government and corporate solutions are not only proposed and suggested but mandated by our betters who assert that the evidence is sound and settled and who present it all with the highest confidence in their own expertise and the deepest contempt for their skeptics’…skepticism.

Even with the post-Conciliar anxiety about “participation,” I have always felt that one of the great strengths of the Catholic Mass has been the sense that we do, indeed, come as we are to this place, and that’s okay. We are joyful and mourning, curious, doubtful, restless, fearful and content. God has gathered us here, and we trust that in the liturgy, in this point in space and time, he will meet us where we are, as we are. The liturgy – in its objective nature, its traditional formality and even its silence – gives us all room to celebrate, to grieve, to wonder, to praise, to drift.

This entertains me because all three takes are very expressive of our respective personalities: Careful and usually accurate assessment of the landscape, then making a decision based on that; A willful determination not to be wrong, ever; and, er…hope something works, be glad when it does, but you know, whatever happens happens, so let’s move on.

Back to music. We’ve never been on the High Performance Road. But we’ve also been blessed because from the beginning, his excellent teacher has understood this kid, accepted his goals, made sure that if he changed his mind he had the tools to take those steps, but if he doesn’t – well, even if you don’t want to practice three hours a day and try for Julliard, you can still go deep into the music, play it beautifully, grow from the experience, and bring some of that beauty with whoever happens to be listening at the moment, whether it’s the fifty parents and grandparents at the recital, or if it’s the elderly woman and her daughter, walking quiet, steady laps around the church after their rosary while you practice in there.

I think I made her cry again.

And hopefully, all of this will bear fruit in that no matter where he goes, he’ll always find a keyboard when his fingers start itching, and maybe even find others to jam with, not because there’s a big audience to please or a scholarship on the line, and to certainly use his gifts for God’s glory and the service of others when called to, but in the end, to sit at the piano, most of all, for the pure, absolute joy, in communion with that mystery in your own soul, expressed in musical language gifted to you by a riot of brilliant, quirky friends across time.


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Time for the traditional end-of-trip summary!

Where: Guanajuato, Mexico

When: October 26 – November 2, 2022

How: Flew from BHM-DFW-BJX. Left Birmingham at 5:30 am or thereabouts, arrived at the airport in Leon at 11am. Got from the airport to the B & B in Guanajuato with a driver recommended by the B & B, but there are plenty of taxis and drivers and buses to get you the 18 miles from the airport to Guanajuato.

Return was the same route, but the flights were not as smooth. Oh, BJX-DFW was fine, but there was a never-really-explained and definitely never-apologized-for 3.5 hour delay in DFW. I had been psyched to get home by 5, but…that didn’t work out.

Airline: American (I have no airline loyalty. I go with whatever’s cheapest with the best routing.)

Why: As I explained in this post, I have been to Mexico a few times, really like the country, and have several areas which I look forward to visiting in the future. I had seen those iconic panoramic photos of Guanajuato with its brilliantly colored houses and churches for years and decided when some time opened up – it was time to go.

Many travelers who go to that part of Mexico hone in on San Miguel de Allende. There is certainly a lot to see there, but it is also has a very high number of ex-pat permanent or semi-permanent residents. Don’t quote me on this, but I’ve read it’s as high as 25% Americans and Canadians living there now. I’ll go someday, but didn’t want that kind of experience this time.

Where 2.0: As in…where did I stay?

I usually go for apartments first when I travel, and I did look at several in Guanajuato and almost bit…but I’m glad I didn’t. In looking at hotels and such, the Casa Zuniga popped up with such stellar reviews and such reasonable pricing, I decided to go with it, and I’m very glad I did, partly because before I went, I really didn’t understand the layout of the city, and I might have ended up with an apartment high on a hill on the other side of town from where the funicular runs. No bueno.

Casa Zuniga is unique in its origins and design, and an absolute delight. Owners – and builders, and cooks, and managers – Rick and Carmen are fascinating, knowledgeable and helpful hosts. My room was the “Ari” – and it was perfect for me. Breakfast was every morning at 9, and it was a time not only to enjoy great food (fruit salad, juice, eggs, guacamole, beans every morning, plus a unique entree – breakfast enchiladas, a quiche/frittata…etc.) but interesting company in conversation with fellow travelers (who, during my time, included, in weird small world moments – a couple from north Alabama, a couple from Charleston, a couple who’d been in Birmingham a two weekends before for work, as well as on the last days, two players from the LA Philharmonic, staying for some extra time after their Saturday evening concert.)

There are plenty of photos on the website – and here are a few of mine. The overlook view is from the patio.

How did I get around? Walked, walked, walked A lot.

The core of Guanajuato – and even a bit beyond the core – is very walkable – if you are in good shape. You can see a lot while staying on the (relatively) flat path through the middle of town – the bottom of the valley – but even venturing a bit beyond that necessitates climbing up, down and around. Casa Zuniga is located a good way up one of the hills, right next to the iconic “La Pipila” statue – and very conveniently, next to the funicular, which takes you up and down the hill at a low price (of course everything in Guanajuato is reasonably priced from a US perspective). The only problem is that it does operate according to specific hours, so if you’re out extra late…you’ll have to walk up (or take a taxi or Uber/Lyft from the bottom up to the top.)

(B & B is near the statue at the top of the hill in the photo on the far left)

What did I eat? Besides a great breakfast every morning at Casa Zuniga, mostly street food – I think I only ate two meals in restaurants: at the B & B recommended and very good Los Campos, and then at the B & B – guest recommended Los Huacales, also tasty. At Los Campos, aside from the guacamole, I had the Camarónes al ajillo which was delicious and which I am going to learn to cook right now. Los Huacales, chilaquiles verde.

Other than that it was tacos and variations of such, eaten from food stands, hole-in-the-wall takeout places and the market. All fantastic and all cheap, of course.

Mercado De Gavira – three levels of deliciousness
By far the most popular food stands were for elote – on the cob or in cups. Always the longest lines.

Health precautions: I’ve been to Mexico four times now, Honduras and Guatemala, with none of those stays being in protected, all-inclusive resort situations. We stay in small hotels, B & Bs and apartments, and eat where everyone else eats, and I’ve only gotten sick once, and I’m pretty sure I know why – that story here.

Before I go, I make an extra effort with probiotics for a couple of weeks. I don’t know if it helps, but I’ll just believe it does. And then…..I DO NOT DRINK THE TAP WATER. Not even to brush my teeth. Not even accidentally in the shower. I talked to a young woman on an airplane once years ago whose Mexico honeymoon had been ruined because her husband brushed his teeth or rinsed his mouth out in a shower in Mexico. I think it was a Sex in the City storyline, as well.

I’m also paranoid about eating the fresh fruit from street stands. They wash the fruit..but in what? It all looks great, but it seems risky to me.

(The tap water at Casa Zuniga is purified and softened, btw)

Did I feel safe? Absolutely. There was some violence in Guanajuato state a week or so before I left, but it was in another small town. Guanajuato city (the capitol of the state) was packed with tourists from all over, had a substantial police presence, and always felt very safe to me, even at night, trudging up those stupid stairs alone when I missed the funicular.

Regrets? I had intended – fully intended – to go to Dolores Hidalgo, which was the center of the movement for Mexican independence. But after my day trip to Leon, I felt…that was enough. There was plenty to see and do in Guanajuato itself. Another time hopefully. (And named, in case you don’t know, after the priest who was one of the movement’s primary leaders.)

The city was a small town known simply as Dolores when Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla uttered his famous cry for the independence of Mexico (the Grito de Dolores) there in the early hours of September 16, 1810, in front of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores parish church. After Mexico achieved independence, the town was renamed Dolores Hidalgo in his honor.

Is that it? I think so. You can find all the Guanajuato-related posts here, but below are the individual links detailing the trip in order. It was great! You should go! Tell Rick I sent you!

Day 1 – October 26, 2022: Travel day, wandering.

Day 2 – October 27, 2022: Churches, museums, tacos

Day 3 – October 28, 2022: Churches, museum, hike up to old silver mine, lunch at Los Huacales

Day 4 – October 29, 2022: La Valenciana church, day trip to Leon, Mass, dinner at Los Campos

Day 5 – October 30, 2022: Two concerts, lots of other music. Enchiladas.

Day 6 – October 31, 2022 Hike up to La Bufa. Parade. Volcanes tacos

Day 7 – November 1, 2022 Shopping, wandering, Mass, 2 saints’ processions, La Catrina parade, tacos

Many other travel-related posts here

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I repeat this post yearly – as I’ve said, readers come and go here, so why not?

It’s one of my favorite posts, along with, of course, the Gallery. 

New for 2022: St. Martin de Porres from the church of San Diego in Guanajuato, Mexico:

With Pope Pius X behind him, for some reason…

I love that the first saint we remember in a specific way after All Saints’ Day is St. Martin. He’s a strong reminder of what discipleship is: as followers of Christ, our call is to live like this – in deepest communion with Christ, risking all, bringing the love and mercy of Christ not only to all we meet, but, to extent our station in life permits it, to those outside, abroad, and outcast.

Civil governmental and social and cultural structures can enhance that or put up obstacles. That doesn’t change anything about how we’re called to meet our day, every day – like Martin and all the saints.

Canonization-of-St-Martin-de-Porres

We’ll start with the  July 1962 issue of Ebony and read about the canonization:

(Click on image for a larger version, or just go to the archives site and read it there.)

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Complete with sweet mid-century ads!

(Honestly, those back issues of Ebony…don’t know about you, but they put me at great risk of rabbit-hole exploring..fascinating. So be warned.)

From John XXIII’s homily at the canonization:

The example of Martin’s life is ample evidence that we can strive for holiness and salvation as Christ Jesus has shown us: first, by loving God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind; and second, by loving our neighbours as ourselves.

When Martin had come to realize that Christ Jesus suffered for us and that He carried our sins in his body on the cross, he would meditate with remarkable ardour and affection about Christ on the cross. Whenever he would contemplate Christ’s terrible torture he would be reduced to tears. He had an exceptional love for the great sacrament of the Eucharist and often spent long hours in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. His desire was to receive the sacrament in communion as often as he could.

Saint Martin, always obedient and inspired by his divine teacher, dealt with his brothers with that profound love which comes from pure faith and humility of spirit. He loved men because he honestly looked on them as God’s children and as his own brothers and sisters. Such was his humility that he loved them even more than himself and considered them to be better and more righteous than he was.

He excused the faults of others. He forgave the bitterest injuries, convinced that he deserved much severer punishments on account of his own sins. He tried with all his might to redeem the guilty; lovingly he comforted the sick; he provided food, clothing and medicine for the poor; he helped, as best he could, farm laborers and Negroes, as well as mulattoes, who were looked upon at that time as akin to slaves: thus he deserved to be called by the name the people gave him: ‘Martin the Charitable.’

The virtuous example and even the conversation of this saintly man exerted a powerful influence in drawing men to religion. It is remarkable how even today his influence can still call us toward the things of heaven.  Sad to say, not all of us understand these spiritual values as well as we should, nor do we give them a proper place in our lives. Many of us, in fact, strongly attracted by sin, may look upon these values as of little moment, even something of a nuisance, or we ignore them altogether. It is deeply rewarding for men striving for salvation to follow in Christ’s footsteps and to obey God’s commandments. If only everyone could learn this lesson from the example that Martin gave us.

From 2012 at the New Liturgical Movement blog, a post on a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the canonization, in Lima

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I’ve written in the past about artist Jean Charlot. Among many other things, he illustrated a biography of St. Martin de Porres:

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Oh. And let’s end with some Mary Lou Williams – jazz artist, Catholic.

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Some background:

Black Christ of the Andes

Suitable for the day, but I much prefer her Anima Christi


Last, and certainly least…he’s in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints – first page here

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Yes, believe it or not, the First Sunday of Advent is November 27, five weeks from this weekend. Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about resources? I have a few.

First, I would like to tell myself that since writing devotionals for children does not make me a child, being asked to contribute to devotionals for seniors doesn’t…

….well, never mind.

Anyway, I have a couple of entries in Creative Communications’ 2022 Advent devotional for seniors, found here.

Ahem. Moving on….

The resources I’m going to share now were written for for previous Advent seasons, but are still available in some format.

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(BTW – I don’t make any $$ from the sales of these booklets. The way it works is that these kinds of materials are, for the most part, written as works-for-hire. You write it, you get paid a flat fee, and that’s it. No subsequent royalties. I just …think what I’ve written is not terrible and hope my words might be helpful to someone out there…so I continue to spread the word!)

First, is the family devotional I wrote for Creative Communications for the Parish. They are clearly trying to reduce stock – copies are only .15! A deal for you, for sure. And given current delivery times through any service (I have stories…grrr..) you might want to order sooner rather than later.

The entries in this one are not dated – they are “First Sunday of Advent” – “Monday, first week of Advent” – and so on, so it is still useable.

There’s a digital version available here.  So if you’d like it for your own use in that format – go for it! 

Wonders Of His Love
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More samples – pdf 

Several years ago, I wrote another Advent family devotional. It’s no longer available in a print version, but the digital version can still be had here.  Only .99!

In 2016, Liguori published daily devotions I wrote for both Lent and Easter in English and Spanish. They publish new booklets by different authors every year, but mine are still available, both through Liguori and Amazon. These entries are not dated, either. So, still useable.

Liguori – English

(pdf sample)

Liguori  – Spanish

(pdf sample)

A daily Advent meditation book I pulled together from reflections my late husband had posted on his blog:

Unfortunately, and inexplicably to me, the booklet I wrote on St. Nicholas for Creative Communications is now officially out of print. You can still access the pdf of the sample – about half of the text – here. If you’re interested. 

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For more about St. Nicholas, visit the invaluable St. Nicholas Center.

Years ago, I wrote a few pamphlets for OSV, among them, “How to Celebrate Advent” and “How to Celebrate Christmas as a Catholic.” Both are available in English and Spanish.

How to Celebrate Advent. Also available in Spanish. 

PDF review copy of English version here.

PDF review copy of Spanish version here. 

How to Celebrate Christmas as a Catholic. 

PDF available for review here. 

PDF of the Spanish version available for review here.

And then….Bambinelli Sunday!

Bambinelli Sunday is now unfortunately out of print, but used copies are available – hence my rare Amazon link. Go buy them up!


Now for my books:

First, remember that my Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories is organized according to the liturgical year. The stories retold for Advent include “Prophets Say That a Messiah is Coming,” “Prophets Describe the Messiah,” “Zechariah Meets the Angel Gabriel” and so on.

In The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols, I include the Jesse Tree – the traditional artistic rendering of this concept.

Note how it’s organized – and this the organization of the entire book. On the left side for every entry is a short, simple explanation for younger children. On the right is a more in-depth entry for older students.

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Coming to you from Whole Foods….

Well, for the first time on this trip, I’m staying at a place with less-than optimal internet, which is ironic since this is the most expensive place in which I’ve stayed (which is not saying a whole lot, but still. It’s in a somewhat chi-chi part of town and the owner has the rental casita on a booster from the main house. Even if I plant myself right next to the contraption, photos still don’t load. Let’s see if Whole Foods comes through.)

Update: It did.

(And you wonder – why not just wait until tomorrow? Because I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow – I may not have internet all day, at all – and I don’t want a huge backload of this type of writing. I have other things I need/want to do when I get home.)

Saturday morning was my last morning in the lovely, perfect Tiny House outside of Abiquiu, New Mexico. Here’s the listing – it’s not on the normal rental sites, but on a site geared more towards campers. Hipcamp features campsites, yes, but also lists lodgings that are perhaps on campsites (yurts, cabins, treehouses) and spots like this. It’s also on VRBO. I do believe that the gentleman who owns the property built the house and probably designed it as well. It’s cunning, smart, and cozy – and as you can see, the location can’t be beat.

Good-bye Tiny House!

I cleaned up, packed up and headed out to Mass.

Where?

Here.

As I mentioned somewhere – perhaps it was on Instagram – I’d discovered a couple of days before that since this parish, now St. Thomas the Apostle, was originally founded as St. Rose of Lima in the colonial period, her feastday (which was Monday) is celebrated with a fiesta, that begins with Mass in the ruins of the original mission.

Not something I’m going to miss, amiright?

There were probably 75 people there, mostly Hispanic. The Mass was in English, with all music in Spanish and the Agnus Dei in Latin. The priest was Vietnamese. It was a lovely Mass, in a beautiful, moving setting.

I was standing in the back, and there were probably twenty people behind and around me.

Followed by a procession – not Eucharistic, but with images of St. Rose and the Blessed Virgin – into town. It was escorted by folks on horseback and the fire department. It’s about a two mile journey, and I wasn’t going to walk it, so while I waited, I headed down to the Chamo River for a bit of a break.

The procession arrived – my position was from the parking lot of the famed Bode’s General Store – which is the main shopping stop in Abiquiu.

Up to the fiesta. The church, St. Thomas was open, so of course I took a look. As you can see, it’s peppered with images of both St. Thomas and St. Rose.

I understand the mayordomo is a common role in churches down here. Don’t you think it’s a good idea to have an official parish mayordomo instead of the unofficial jockeying for the spot that’s inevitable anyway?

To cap off an already very interesting morning, I discovered that the O’Keefe house and studio was doing special tours from 1-3. Abiquiu residents were free, and non-residents were asked to give a suggested $20 donation, which would then go to benefit the church. I’m in!

It was not the full tour, of course – more of a walk through with a docent, who gave the basics, but didn’t go in depth. I didn’t get any photo of her studio because there were a few people in there already. But I did get photos of her perfect mid-century mod sitting room – the rocks on her window sill are just part of O’Keefe’s rock collection, which she enjoyed rearranging and studying. The black door is a subject she painted quite a bit.

The setting is….unbelievable. And yes, inspiring.

And remember, it’s just around the corner from the Penitente Morada.

Time to hit the road south to Santa Fe. I stopped in Romero’s fruit stand to pick up some chile powder and some chili-sprinkled dried fruit, then kept going. My rental wouldn’t be ready until 4, so I continued to the Plaza, walked around a bit, got my bearings, saw the Cathedral exterior, where folks were arriving for Mass. Then back up to the rental, through clothes in the washing machine, and then….to the opera!

This was the last night of the season for the Santa Fe Opera, which is performed, of course, in this quite stunning setting, open to the west, so the setting sun provides a backdrop for at least part of the evening, and then twinkling lights for the rest. It’s a gorgeous place.

As I considered attending this performance, I noted that tickets were somewhat scarce, and of course, not cheap. I was willing to pay a couple hundred bucks for the tickets, but then read somewhere about standing room tickets – for $15. How to get them? It’s not on the website. Are they available just on the day? Is it a lottery? What’s up? So, I did the radical thing – called the box office.

“Oh, you can buy them now, over the phone,” she said.

Well, that’s a done deal, then.

There are maybe two dozen standing room spaces, and understand this is not a Globe Groundlings situation where you’re just standing in a crowd. There’s a designated area all along the back of the Orchestra seats – the mixing board is in the middle – with stands on which you can lean, and which also have the little translation screens. Really – I would definitely do it again.

I’m especially glad that I only paid $15 because…wow, this production was not good. This review expresses my reaction in a much more knowledgeable way than I could manage. It just did not work, although the second act was better than the first.

But you know what? It was 12 minutes from my rental, and hearing the singing and the music in that setting for that price is not something I’m going to complain about.

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