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A couple of nights ago, I read a short, funny, mildly satirical novel by Alfred Noyes, published in 1929 and called The Sun Cure. 

(Noyes is perhaps best known to modern readers as the author of the widely-anthologized poem, “The Highwayman.” After the death of his first wife, he married a woman who was a member of one of England’s deeply rooted Catholic families, and converted himself, around the time that The Sun Cure was published. He was the author of an intriguing-sounding apologetic called The Unknown God, which I believe I’ll try to get my hands on. Here is a good article introducing Noyes, and here is a blog post by William Newton on the writer.)

Sun-Cure-Noyes

The “Books” section of the Chicago Daily Tribune, with a review of The Sun Cure right next to a review of Graham Green’s first novel, The Man Within.  Click on the graphic for a full version of the image..perhaps a bit easier to read. 

The premise was irresistible.  Basil Strode is a young, infallible-in-his-own-eyes Anglican curate who  finds himself caught in the countryside without any clothes on.  He was clothed when he embarked upon his walk, but through a series of… circumstances, his clothes are lost to him and he must find his way back home with the least amount of humiliation he can manage.

It’s short, very funny in parts, and generally quite knowing and wise. The satire centers, in a lesser way, on the dynamics of parish life – not an unusual literary theme. The anxious, persistent low-grade fever of anti-Catholicism is never far from the surface:

Then came an anonymous post-card, referring to genuflections as “antics” and asking Mr. Strode why he did not go over to Rome at once. 

From a letter of a parishioner to the vicar, anxious about the curate’s disappearance:

It might be worth trying to find out whether the dreadful little convent in the village knows anything about it. Stella Maris, I believe it is called. He once attempted to persuade me that our own dear little Norman church was built by monks. 

I love this. The original holistic spirituality:

…Dear old Dad hasn’t any prejudices of that sort. He even says that he likes incense, and wishes that Basil could have his own way about it. He told the vicar that now he’s getting on in life, he doesn’t see very well, and he doesn’t hear very well, so he rather thought he would enjoy a church where he could smell his religion. 

What is satirized in a more general way are  intellectual fashions of the day.

The specifics of those fashions are less important than the greater point: Most of the time, self-proclaimed radical cultural stances are expressions, not of ground-breaking, courageous  individual originality, but of a safe, comfortable herd mentality.  They are just that: fashions.

The “sun cure” recommended to him by a friend for other reasons and experienced in this almost accidental way did indeed strip the curate, but of more than his clothes. Two other characters converse about him during his puzzling absence:

“…I meant that if he could only break away from this pseudo-modernity, and pseudo-intellectualism; if could just once defy his own age, instead of defying the dead Victorians….I should feel that he was really his own self, instead of a variation on a current them….”

“…..One does get so sick of the notion of the present moment — that because its conventions aren’t those of the last century, it has no conventions of its own. …”

 

The curate had, at some point in the past, insulted a woman who expressed what he would term as simpler, less sophisticated tastes than his own. The woman who is the object of the curate’s affection takes him to task for this and tells him that his snobbery is off-putting. He argues that surely she would not refuse his hand based on “literary grounds.”  She responds:

“They are not literary grounds. They are human grounds. Miss Bird, as I told you, is unlike your ‘distinguished’ anonymities in having a few quite genuine beliefs; and you used the cheap phrases of pseudo-metaphysical charlatan, in a precious literary weekly, to snub her. I saw the hurt look on her face long after you had wiped your boots on her perfectly sincere love of certain perfectly true and simple things. I walked home with her; and it was in her eyes when we said good-night…..”

Basil tells her, helpfully, that next Sunday, he’ll be quoting Strindberg in his sermon.

“….Very well. I don’t go to church to hear a high-brow Anglican curate quoting a Scandinavian lunatic…”

I was very struck by this exchange near the end of the book. Written almost a hundred years ago, in a cultural and social quite different from our own…but exactly the same:

Half of our differences at the present day are just differences of patter — the patter of one convention clashes with the patter of another — and we miss everything that’s worth having. I long to get away, sometimes, from my own generation. I don’t care whether it’s into the past, or into the future, so long as it’s away from the patter into simple realities again. I hate being a slave to my own age. 

I read The Sun Cure via the Gutenberg Canada website – the US site has several of his poetry collections, but not this novel. It’s a short book – I read it in an evening, and enjoyed it a great deal.

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Over the past couple of days I re-read Francois Mauriac’s Woman of the Pharisees.

It was on the shelf downstairs in the basement, it had been a decade or more since I had read it, and I admit that I was looking for a smaller book I could keep in my purse to pull out in those moments in which I might otherwise Take Out the Phone.

(Studying the Phone is not a huge problem for me. I don’t have a deep urge to check feeds and such at all times. But as I wrote a few weeks ago, the sight of everyone in a waiting room or even a restaurant, eyes glued to a phone, fingers scrolling, has really started to get to me. I don’t want to be a part of that, partly because I don’t want to model that for my kids, but also because I want to be attentive to my surroundings, and, if the surroundings are boring, engaged with something other than a screen. Even if the screen has a book or an academic article in its glow. Short version: I don’t grow any wiser from spending that ten minutes scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. But I do grow wiser, even just a little bit, from spending ten minutes with Francois Mauriac.)

Okay. So Woman of the Pharisees is an intense exploration of religious hypocrisy. Brigitte Pian is the woman in question, the narrator’s stepmother. She is an externally devout woman who sees her duty in life to guide others to and on the correct spiritual path – in other words, to dominate and exert control through prideful spiritual manipulation.

What interested me about Mauriac’s treatment of this whole situation is its subtelty and  allowance for nuance. That is, there are no caricatures and no cartoon villains or heroes. Brigitte is monstrous and hurts many people – but she actually does engage in generous works of charity, daily. When she finally is humbled and turns from her arrogance, her "amy welborn"subsequent life moves in a rather pathetic, even slightly ridiculous direction. Those she has harmed have their own deep flaws and there is a sense that perhaps Brigitte Pian was not completely off-base in her assessments of their situations.

The question being, then,  in a world of screw-ups, of which we are one, how can  we balance the trick of letting God work through us and staying out of His way?

What Mauriac excels at is exploring the motivation for religious faith and action, as well as how human beings react to authentic spirituality when they encounter it: mostly, they are repelled and fight hard against it.

Just a couple of quotes, not necessarily related to what I’ve discussed above, but just passages I liked:

Here Brigitte reassures herself about her spiritual progress:

There had been a time when she was worried by the spiritual aridity that marked her relations with her God; but since then she had read somewhere that it is as a rule the beginners on whom the tangible marks of Grace are showered, since it is only in that way that they can be extricated from the slough of this world and set upon the right path. The kind of insensitiveness that afflicted her was, she gathered, a sign that she had long ago emerged from those lower regions of the spiritual life where fervor is usually suspect. In this way her frigid soul was led on to glory in its own lack of warmth.

A priest – Calou –  is a major character in the novel, having been given charge of a difficult boy, a classmate of the narrator’s. The boy tries to shock the priest by saying he doesn’t believe in any of those “old wives’ tales,” and asks the priest if he is surprised by his lack of faith. The priest responds:

Why should it?….The really surprising this is that a man should believe….The really surprising thing is that what we believe should be true. The really surprising thing is that the truth should really exist, that it should have taken on flesh, that I can keep it a prisoner here beneath these old vaults that don’t interest you, thanks to the strength in these great hands of mine which your uncle Adhemar admires so much. Yes, you little oddity, I can never get over feeling how absurd, how utterly mad, it is that what we believe should be precisely and literally true!”

The conversation continues as the boy reveals that despite his unbelief, back at school, he goes to Confession, as required, just making things up, and, again, as required, receives Communion.

But what did it matter whether one believed or not? It didn’t make the slightest difference.

He had expected an outburst, but it did not come.

You really think so?” asked Monsieur Calou.

Jean presented an insolent face to his gaze. But he felt shamed by its gentle sadness.

Every Saturday and every Sunday, for Heaven knows how long….two years at least, O Lord!”

Monsieur Calou looked at the handsome face, at the unsullied brow beneath the mop of dakr hair in which one lighter lock shone like a flame. He could say no more than: “Lie down a little before dinner my boy.” Then he hurried off towards the church without looking back. His gent shoulders made him seem less than his real height.

Finally, very briefly…the narrator sees Brigitte Pian years after the main events of the novel when she is old, frail and not the woman she once was:

When I alluded to past events, she talked of them quite openly. But I could feel that she had become detached from even the consciousness of her faults, and that she had decided to lay everything at the throne of the Great Compassion…..

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Well, let’s do a Daily Homeschool Report, shall we?

  • What serendipity. Today was the feast of St. Zita, the patron saint of Lucca – one of the cities in Tuscany we will probably be visiting soon.
  • I say “probably” because TUSCANY YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY.
  • (Can’t decide where to go)
  • So anyway, that was a fun discovery. We read about St. Zita, then looked up Lucca-Santa-Zita-dá-o-manto-ao-mendigo-211x300Zita images both on the general Internet thing, as well as Instagram, where we could find Zita/Lucca related images from right now.
  • I pointed out to him that the sanctity of St. Zita, who was a household servant,  illustrates an important truth: What matters in life is not worldly values of success or achievement, but holiness. This truth is expressed in the Church’s celebration of those the world considers “lowly” and not only talking nicely about them, but holding them up as models worthy for imitation.
  • In what other context in life on this planet do you find servants and beggars held up as role models for all, including the wealthy and powerful?
  • Prayer.
  • Observation from the couch: I was thinking about the things we eat and how weird it is that fruit want to be eaten. Nothing else – not leafy things or vegetables or animals want to be eaten, but the whole reason for a fruit is to be eaten and then the seeds spread around by the creatures afterwards.
  • Huh.
  • And then a narrative about some tree in Borneo the fruit of which orangutans are crazy about, consume like made and aid in the propagation of as a consequence.
  • Cursive practice can be delayed no longer. I dug out a book I’d forgotten we have – practicing cursive through wacky sentences. We’ve been practicing cursive through Catholic thoughts for two years, so time to change it up.
  • Math was just review from 6th grade Evan-Moor books.  The great news of the week has been that Beast Academy 5B has been released. Finally! We should get it tomorrow, but won’t start until Monday. I think we will be out of pocket all day Friday, so might as well just wait.
  • History – he finished reading the chapter on the buildup to the civil war in the Catholic Textbook Project book, did the workbook pages, then we watched three Hip Hughes History videos – on the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott decision. Love them.
  • Latin review of prepositions that take the ablative case.
  • I had suggested a wandering about town afternoon, starting with the Botanical Gardens.  Well, the gardens are right across the road from the Zoo, so when we reached the vicinity, you can guess what happened.  I had thought that after his 6-week Zookeeper’s class, he’d be done with the zoo for a while, but apparently not. So I took the zoo fork, not the garden fork and then…
  • We saw an owl. Sitting on a fence not far from the zoo entrance, and I did wonder if he had escaped. I have never seen an owl outside of captivity before – heard plenty of them, but never saw one.  He was just sitting there, looking, as owls do. We swung around and parked in a shopping center parking lot and slowly walked across the road, hoping to get a close look, but before we could get there…whoosh – he was gone. We searched a bit, but didn’t see him. Still – it was pretty exciting just to see him for that short while.
  • Once in the zoo, I got a tour of the classes’ activities and work. They did things like fed the Komodo dragon (while the animal is kept in another enclosure, they placed dead rodents around the main cage – burying some a little bit under leaves and so on – and then the animal was let back in to dig up his dinner; they raked up debris in one cage, formerly used for storks, and transferred it to another used for some other bird. Things like that.
  • We spent some time with the cassuwary, which he had pet during the class – the bird was in a box they place him in to examine him (they are dangerous), and the kids were allowed to touch the back of the bird.
  • We then grabbed lunch and took a quick trip to the Birmingham Museum of Art – it’s free, so it’s an easy field trip. At this point in the day (evening), I don’t remember much about our conversation, but just know that it was the typical stroll through the Renaissance galleries, then up to the native American and Asian galleries, all the while him conversing and narrating and observing. I hardly say anything.
  • There was a group sitting in front of the prized Bierstadt being talked at by a docent, but the odd thing was that some in the group were blindfolded and others were wearing goggles of some sort or another. I had no idea what they were doing, but later decided that they must have been doing this kind of tour to increase empathy for the visually impaired. 
  • The most interesting piece was a recent acquistion – a large screen depicting the Battle of Ichinotani. Very well presented, clearly explained, and beautiful to examine. 
  • An extra note from yesterday: I sent him outside to find flowers so we could compare stamen/pistel/stigma, etc, and one of the lovely things we were able to see was in very carefully tearing apart a small wild violet from the yard, under the microscope we could see the tiny glistening pearly ovules. Very interesting.

"amy welborn"

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First off, we’re in the thick of First Communion season….get your signed books here.

Friendship  with  Jesus – B16’s dialogue ith First Communion children

Be Saints!  – B16’s dialogue with British children

I don’t have copies of the next two in the bookstore, but you can find them in most Catholic bookstores and online.

Loyola Kids Book of Saints

Loyola Kids Book of Heroes

Also – Mother’s Day isn’t too far away…..how about The Catholic Woman’s Book of Days?

 

  • Over the weekend, I blogged on pseudo-culture – the BBC show Happy Valley and the post-war noir In a Lonely Place. 
  • Not much going on this past weekend. 11-year old had a piano competition/judging thing on Saturday and they served at Casa Maria on Sunday, so we were tied to home. That’s okay, we’ll be flitting about soon enough.
  • We watched Ben-Hur. Over three days. I hadn’t seen it in years. Probably close to forty of them. You know it’s about four hours long, right? You can see how that happened – given the filmmaking conventions of the day and the fact that if you are going to spend a heap of money on a production, you might as well go all-out and give the audience its money’s worth.

    There is a remake of Ben-Hur coming out and I’ve read a bit of well I never online and can’t remake a classic!

    Well, yes you can. The 1959 version was a remake of the classic silent version, and really, don’t make pronouncements about it being impossible to improve on the ’59 film until you actually rewatch it.

    The length is unnecessary. Those long, lingering dialogue scenes are melodramatic and often risible. Charlton Heston is a terrible actor in this thing. I mean…terrible. The best scenes are the famed set-pieces: The galley scenes, the chariot race and the leper-colony material. The chariot race remains spectacular. Everything else is overlong, stiff and too reverent. The score, as per usual with films like this is overwhelming. Shut up.

    The new version doesn’t look particularly good, though – just judging from the trailers and given that the production team is that Roma Downey crew,  we can be sure that the Christian content will remain intact. But it’s also a good guess that an in-your face CGI-enhanced chariot race will have nothing on the Boyd/Heston matchup of ’59.

    And remember that when the snarky protests come about Ben-Hur being “too Christian” the book was subtitled A Tale of the Christ. It’s about forgiveness, a forgiving heart and mercy that was only found through an encounter with Christ. It comes through in the ’59 version of course, since the movie was part and parcel of that late-50’s Biblical epic boom, but it is pretty stilted and dramatically reverent.

    We had watched Gladiator the week before and had good conversations comparing the two (as in – the plot was just lifted and transposed)  and then digging a bit into history, checking the accuracy (not much on Gladiator, of course)  and looking into the history of the filming of both, as well.

  • Random bloggy link of the day: Taking class notes by hand is far better than doing so on a computer.   Tech-crazy schools always bragging about being all-digital, take, er, note.  You’re helping no one except tech companies.

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A few months ago I read The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes – a midcentury, mostly noir author, and I enjoyed it very much. Tautly written, with quite interesting insight into racial issues and abortion from the period, it definitely deserves the status of a reprint edition in the New York Review of Books series.

I had been wanting to read her most well-known novel In a Lonely Place for a time, but couldn’t find it any local libraries and dithered on just ordering a used copy from in-a-lonely-placesomewhere. Finally did it, though, started it last week, with some fits and starts, and ended up reading most of it this evening.

It’s her most well-known book because a film starring Humphrey Bogart was made from it, a film which I have not seen, but, from the plot summary seems to take the barest bones of Hughes’ novel and..recreate it. The movie does sound good, though, but not also doesn’t seem to have the same general focus of the novel, which is to get inside the mind of a serial murderer.

The book is written in the third-person, but with a limited point of view – that of Dix Steele, the character we slowly begin to realize is not quite right. It’s not stated right away, but I don’t think I’m spoiling much from stating it here – after all, you know there’s no reason for the book to exist if he’s actually just an innocent, happy-go-lucky World War II vet out in California trying to write a novel.

There were some surprises, though, and it was interesting to watch how Hughes handles the violence completely off-stage, as it were. This choice invites the reader to be more attentive to the text, to listen to Dix’s thoughts and study his actions more carefully. There was one plot point I should have picked up right away but didn’t until about twenty pages from the end, causing a Well, duh! to resound through the house.

It’s a cool, controlled, entertaining cat-and-mouse game, a snapshot of postwar LA, and an interesting literary exercise – to put us inside the mind of a character, but never specifically depicting his most important acts. I enjoyed The Expendable Man more – I found it more surprising and revelatory – but this was not a bad way at all to spend a couple of hours.

Yeah, not exactly the same vibe as the novel….

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Today is Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s birthday.  He’s 89.

If you would like an simple introduction to this thought written for a popular audience, try my Come Meet Jesus: An Invitation from Pope Benedict XVI.  

It’s out of print, but you can by inexpensive used copies here.

AND you can download a free (pdf file) copy of it here.

This book is centered on Christ as the center of Pope Benedict’s thought and work as theologian and vocation as Pope.   It seemed to me that he is “proposing pope benedict XVIJesus Christ” both to the world and to the Church.  He was about reweaving a tapestry that has been sorely frayed and tattered:

  • Offering the Good News to a broken humanity and a suffering world that in Jesus Christ, all of our yearnings and hopes are fulfilled and all of our sins forgiven.  We don’t know who we are or why we are here. In Christ, we discover why.  But it is more than an intellectual discovery. In Christ – in Christ – we are joined to him, and his love dwells within us, his presence lives and binds us.
  • Re-presenting Jesus Christ even to those of us who are members of the Body already.  This wise, experienced man has seen how Christians fall. How we forget what the point is. How we unconsciously adopt the call of the world to see our faith has nothing more than a worthy choice of an appealing story that gives us a vague hope because it is meaningful.   He is calling us to re-examine our own faith and see how we have been seduced by a view of faith that puts it in the category of “lifestyle choice.”
  • Challenging the modern ethos that separates “faith”  and “spirituality” from “religion” – an appeal that is made not only to non-believers, but to believers as well, believers who stay away from Church, who neglect or scorn religious devotions and practices, who reject the wisdom of the Church –  one cannot have Christ without Church.

And of course, there are the children’s books – still timely, with the typical great quotes that offer the typical B16-ian reassurance and respectful nudge to something more. 

Friendship with Jesus: An Invitation from Pope Benedict XVI

"amy welborn"

Be Saints 

"amy welborn"

Get signed copies of both of these books (signed by Ann & me,….not Benedict, unfortunately…here.)

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The date has been set – September 4.

Mother Teresa is in my Loyola Kids’ Book of Heroes.  Here are the first couple of pages:

 

You can read most of the rest of the entry here. 

"amy welborn"

And looking ahead, you can read the entry on St. Patrick from the Loyola Kids Book of Saints here. 

I don’t have copies of these books to sell from home, but I do have lots of picture books – Friendship with Jesus, Be Saints, Adventure in Assisi – here. 

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