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7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

Tomorrow’s St. Anthony of Padua’s feast day – check out the entry I wrote on St. Anthony in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints here at the Loyola website.  It’s like a free trial!

"amy welborn"

St. Anthony’s Basilica in Padua.  Fall 2012.

— 2 —

Today, youngest son and I took a brief afternoon journey to a small town about 20 miles south of here.  There was an easy walking trail I’d heard about, and we had business on the south end of Birmingham, so we’d do a loop of sorts.

The trail was short and flat and developed, but it ran next to and around a creek, so that was nice. What was even better was that we saw:

  • a beaver working on his dam. From a distance, but no doubt that’s who it was and what he was doing.
  • a rabbit swimming across the creek.

Wait, what?  That’s what we said.  But it was unmistakably, a rabbit, who hopped out of the woods on one side, dove in and swam steadily across to the other. Who knew?

Well, lots of people probably, since it was, I’d assume, a swamp rabbit – the largest rabbit species in the Southeast and, as I remembered later, responsible for dragging Jimmy Carter down even further back in 1979.

"amy welborn"

— 3 —

So there was that, and various small fish and a very large beetle, mimosas, reminders of the grist mill that once stood in the area, and very many bugs. It was a good walk, giving us a chance to see and learn of a few new things.

Before heading back north, we stopped at a new (to us) gourmet popsicle shop called Frios (similar to Birmingham’s own Steel City Pops) – my son had a salted caramel and I had a fantastic spicy pineapple.  The fellow in the shop said, after hearing where we were from, “That’s a long way to come to take a walk.”  I said, not really. It’s a new place, and we like to go new places and see new things.

Like swamp rabbits.

What we would have missed by just sitting around the house….

"amy welborn"

— 4 —

We watched Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman last night.  The ten-year old enjoyed it – especially the scenes with the monkey, not surprisingly.  There’s also a lengthy scene in the “Municipal Plunge” – an indoor swimming pool – which was interesting to me partly because I’m always studying this kind of stuff in movies from an historical perspective – to see how men and women dressed and interacted in such venues almost ninety years ago.  Anyway, in that scene, Keaton must cope with the awkwardness of losing his swimming trunks, and my son remarked, “You know, when they have a swimming pool scene in a movie, that always happens.  Always.” 

(Pro-tip, if you have cable.  About once a month, if I think about it, I go through a couple of weeks’ worth of the Turner Classic Movies schedule, and DVR the heck out of it. At any given time, we have about twenty good movies on tap. I do the same with nature shows.)

— 5 —

I don’t believe related the chipmunk story.

About three days before we left for the Wild West Trip, I awoke one morning to the sounds of scratching on a screen.  I am functionally blind without my contacts, so I couldn’t see across the room to the source of the sound, which kept on coming from the direction of an almost wall-length set of transom windows (50’s house) about over five feet from the floor.  The scratches kept coming.  I thought perhaps a bird was outside, or had started to nest out there..or something. I put in my contacts.

There was a chipmunk sitting on the ledge of the window.

Inside. 

My room.

When my mother was a little younger than I am now, she was bitten by a chipmunk.  We were looking at what would become our family’s own 50’s era home in Knoxville at the time. She peered into a trash can outside, and saw a chipmunk stranded at the bottom.  Why she didn’t just tip the can over and let it out, I’ll never know.  But instead, she reached down to rescue it by hand, and of course the terrified thing bit her.

And didn’t let go.

They had to put a lighted match to its nose to make it release her finger, but done in a way that it could immediately be trapped in some sort of container and taken to the hospital and tested for rabies.

(Which it didn’t have.)

And here I was, forty years later, confronting yet another chipmunk in another mid-century home. At eye level this time, though.

What to do?

First I tried to shoo it into a trash can (wait…..), but it just leapt off the ledge, used my desk chair as a spring board, and then took off out of my room.

I’m almost certain I saw it race into the first open door available, which would have been the hall closet – the boys’ bedroom doors were already closed, so no worries there.

When the boys woke up, I told them about it, and they immediately exchanged meaningful glances, the younger triumphant, the older one huffily abashed.

“I TOLD YOU I SAW A CHIPMUNK!” 

It seems the day before, the younger son had sworn that a chipmunk had jumped out from among a jumble of books on his bedroom floor.  He told his brother, but his brother scoffed and said it must have been a bug or he was seeing things.

So the next thing was to try to get it out.  Since I was sure it was in the closet, we set up an elaborate walled pathway that would lead from the closet to the back patio door.

(We discussed just putting the snake in there for a day, but ultimately decided against it.)

The moment came.  I pushed the door open, we braced ourselves…..

Nothing.

I poked around the closet with a broom handle, pushed blankets aside…nothing. I removed everything from the closet…nothing.

As I said, this was a couple of days before our trip, so since I wasn’t going to spend any more time searching, we just had to trust that it had escaped some other way, and that we wouldn’t return to the stench of death upon our return.

(We didn’t.)

— 6 —

As I wrote earlier, my younger son and I went to Atlanta this past week.  I forgot to post this photo, which is of an art installation on the first floor of the museum, viewed from the winding stairwell. It’s called “Utah Sky,” after the name of the paint color of the sky, and it’s Asian-inspired, but it reminds me of my beloved Mexican oilcloth more than anything.

amy welborn

— 7 —

Current reads:

Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians

The Wapshot Chronicle.

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

St. Barnabas

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, from a 2007 General Audience

Continuing our journey among the protagonists who were the first to spread Christianity, today let us turn our attention to some of St Paul’s other collaborators. We must recognize that the Apostle is an eloquent example of a man open to collaboration: he did not want to do everything in the Church on his own but availed himself of many and very different colleagues.

We cannot reflect on all these precious assistants because they were numerous. It suffices to recall among the others, Epaphras (cf. Col 1: 7; 4: 12; Phlm 23); Epaphroditus (cf. Phil 2: 25; 4: 18), Tychicus (cf. Acts 20: 4; Eph 6: 21; Col 4: 7; II Tm 4: 12; Ti 3: 12), Urbanus (cf. Rm 16: 9), Gaius and Aristarchus (cf. Acts 19: 29; 20: 4; 27: 2; Col 4: 10). And women such as Phoebe, (Rom 16: 1), Tryphaena and Tryphosa (cf. Rom 16: 12), Persis, the mother of Rufus, whom Paul called “his mother and mine” (cf. Rom 16: 12-13), not to mention married couples such as Prisca and Aquila (cf. Rom 16: 3; I Cor 16: 19; II Tm 4: 19).

Among this great array of St Paul’s male and female collaborators, let us focus today on three of these people who played a particularly significant role in the initial evangelization: Barnabas, Silas, and Apollos.

Barnabas means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4: 36) or “son of consolation”. He was a Levite Jew, a native of Cyprus, and this was his nickname. Having settled in Jerusalem, he was one of the first to embrace Christianity after the Lord’s Resurrection. With immense generosity, he sold a field which belonged to him, and gave the money to the Apostles for the Church’s needs (Acts 4: 37).

It was he who vouched for the sincerity of Saul’s conversion before the Jerusalem community that still feared its former persecutor (cf. Acts 9: 27).

Sent to Antioch in Syria, he went to meet Paul in Tarsus, where he had withdrawn, and spent a whole year with him there, dedicated to the evangelization of that important city in whose Church Barnabas was known as a II-Barnabasprophet and teacher (cf. Acts 13: 1).

At the time of the first conversions of the Gentiles, therefore, Barnabas realized that Saul’s hour had come. As Paul had retired to his native town of Tarsus, he went there to look for him. Thus, at that important moment, Barnabas, as it were, restored Paul to the Church; in this sense he gave back to her the Apostle to the Gentiles.

The Church of Antioch sent Barnabas on a mission with Paul, which became known as the Apostle’s first missionary journey. In fact, it was Barnabas’ missionary voyage since it was he who was really in charge of it and Paul had joined him as a collaborator, visiting the regions of Cyprus and Central and Southern Anatolia in present-day Turkey, with the cities of Attalia, Perga, Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe (cf. Acts 13-14).

Together with Paul, he then went to the so-called Council of Jerusalem where after a profound examination of the question, the Apostles with the Elders decided to discontinue the practice of circumcision so that it was no longer a feature of the Christian identity (cf. Acts 15: 1-35). It was only in this way that, in the end, they officially made possible the Church of the Gentiles, a Church without circumcision; we are children of Abraham simply through faith in Christ.

The two, Paul and Barnabas, disagreed at the beginning of the second missionary journey because Barnabas was determined to take with them as a companion John called Mark, whereas Paul was against it, since the young man had deserted them during their previous journey (cf. Acts 13: 13; 15: 36-40).

Hence there are also disputes, disagreements and controversies among saints. And I find this very comforting, because we see that the saints have not “fallen from Heaven”. They are people like us, who also have complicated problems.

Holiness does not consist in never having erred or sinned. Holiness increases the capacity for conversion, for repentance, for willingness to start again and, especially, for reconciliation and forgiveness.

So it was that Paul, who had been somewhat harsh and bitter with regard to Mark, in the end found himself with him once again. In St Paul’s last Letters, to Philemon and in his Second Letter to Timothy, Mark actually appears as one of his “fellow workers”.

Consequently, it is not the fact that we have never erred but our capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness which makes us saints. And we can all learn this way of holiness. In any case, Barnabas, together with John Mark, returned to Cyprus (Acts 15: 39) in about the year 49. From that moment we lose track of him. Tertullian attributes to him the Letter to the Hebrews. This is not improbable. Since he belonged to the tribe of Levi, Barnabas may have been interested in the topic of the priesthood; and the Letter to the Hebrews interprets Jesus’ priesthood for us in an extraordinary way.

And, Fr. Steve Grunow:

One of the greatest desires we have is to be remembered, to be able to rest in a sense of accomplishments and receive recognition. True holiness delivers us from this inclination. For we are not called by the Lord to receive honors or even to see the great work of our lives to fruition. We give generously of what the Lord has given us, not because we will necessarily get something in return, but becasue in doing so we give praise to God and imitate the love by which he saved us.

Any memorial we seek for ourselves in this world passes away. What endures are faith, hope and love.

This spiritual truth should not only challenge us, but encourage us, for it means that everything is not simply dependent upon us. We are part of a greater purpose than our own ego, and a greater power than our own will moves us, shapes us and directs us toward our ultimate destiny.

On this feast of Barnabas, let us give praise to God for the life and destiny he has given us in Jesus Christ.

Looking ahead on the calendar a couple of days, you can read my entry for St. Anthony of Padua (June 13) from The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints here. 

It was a quick trip to the ATL with youngest son, since Brother is camping it this week….and discounted at every turn thanks to local memberships…

Zoo Atlanta recently opened a new reptile and amphibian house, so I thought we’d go see it. (half price w/Birmingham Zoo membership, thanks)  From the age of the panda bears, I judged it had been about a year and a half since our last visit and then my son reminded me of the Halloween hijinks going on at that last visit, so yes, a year and a half.

It’s a smallish zoo for a big city, but it’s nicely done.  Aside from the reptiles and the pandas it’s most noted for its gorilla group, which is indeed substantial and quite interesting to watch.

The reptile house is high-ceilinged and well-lit. The new thing in zoos is to put the descriptions on mounted tablets, which is great for being able to offer more information, but problematic because, well, printed placards don’t require electrical connections and don’t break.

"amy welborn"

One of the charming elements of the old reptile house were the large panels mounted on either side of the doors, depicting the roles of these creatures in cultural history.  It would be a shame not to repurpose them in some way.

"amy welborn"

Keep cool, friends.

Fighting traffic we swung by the Varsity so my son could have a very late lunch – the food is mediocre at best, but it’s an institution and a tourist mecca, so why not.

varsity-atlanta

Then fight more traffic to get to the High Museum of Art. (My Atlanta son said, “What are you doing up there? Don’t you know there’s a Rolling Stones concert at Georgia Tech tonight?” Er, no.) Our Birmingham Museum of Art membership would get us either free admission to the permanent collection or half price admission to the special exhibits. But since that is folded into the regular admission price, it meant, we would have spent half-price to visit the whole thing instead of no-price to visit half. Got it?

Now, I want to see the special exhibits – particularly the photos by Gordon Parks – but we were getting pressed for time – it was 3:45 and they closed at 5, so I opted for a free swing through the permanent collection, which we had seen before, but again, not for a couple of years.

I enjoy any museum visit, as does my son, but honestly, the High always leaves me a little aggravated.  The layout is confusing – it’s spread out over two, sometimes (depending on the special exhibits) three buildings and a first-time visitor might do some wandering before figuring out how to get from one to the other.  In addition, it’s a bit expensive (almost $20/adult), but I suppose that is justified by the fact that the special exhibits are included in that ticket – no bait and switch as you sometimes find at museums of all kinds in regard to special exhibitions. Third, the permanent collection is small for the major (only?) art museum in a city the size of and with the aspirations of Atlanta.

Honestly? The permanent collection of our very own Birmingham Museum of Art can hold its own very well, thanks against what the High has on display in its permanent galleries.  Yes, the special exhibits have given the High a slight edge in the past – we’ve seen Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring as well as some great Venetian masters and a good Dali exhibit there – but that permanent collection? Come to Birmingham and see something comparable….for free. 

Anyway, back to Atlanta.  This is one of the pieces that caught my eye this time:

Jacque David

It’s a terracotta maquette – a model – for a larger bust of the great French artist Jacques Louis-David, which is in the Louvre. Notice the distended left cheek?  It turns out that David had been injured in a sword fight as a young man, and the wound developed into this disfiguring tumor.  You can read about it here and here.

I was also intrigued by Hail, Mary by Luc-Olivier Merson. 

Luc Olivier Merson

You can read an awkwardly-translated but still interesting article about the 19th century artist here.  He did everything from paint to design stamps and currency to design mosaics for Sacre-Coeur, and he does seem to dance on the edge of kitsch, but I don’t know…at least he’s trying to say something about something. I mean…

merson flight into Egypt

MFA, Boston.

Okay, then back through the traffic to have a great meal with Oldest Son at the Carroll Street Cafe. Back to Birmingham with a fantastic, if at times unnerving lightening show to the south of I-20. Today? Piano lesson and pool. Tomorrow…who knows….

"high museum of art"

Los Trompos – on the plaza in front of the High Museum. 

Living Faith

Two entries this week in Living Faith. As I have said before, they put them up online on the day they appear.

"amy welborn"June 8

As a consequence of some ill-considered decisions by a nine-year-old, I recently spent five hours in a hospital’s emergency room.    More.

June 10

I have never climbed a real mountain and have no strong desire to. But I have ambled among hills, some of which might come close to being mountains and sometimes feel that way, depending on what kind of shape I’m in.  More

Easy subscription here (digital format, no less!)

It’s Thursday, May 21, and we need to get going, both back in history and in terms of these blog posts….

Now here’s an example of how it’s important, while traveling, to leave space and time for new and unexpected discoveries.  At this point, the shape of the next three days was to be mostly Bryce Canyon. But since I had never been there before, I had no idea how much time we would want or need to get our fill of it.  Would Thursday late afternoon and evening and Friday be enough? Or would that leave us aching for more and regretful that we didn’t have it? Would we want two full days? Three? The accommodations were booked – Thursday and Friday night at Bryce, Saturday night just over the border in Arizona, on the way to the Grand Canyon. But we could spend all day Thursday at Bryce (once we arrived)…or just the evening.  We could spend most of the day Saturday, too. Hmmm.

Decision time.  So, since we had that stretch of time open to us on Saturday, upon rising Thursday morning, I thought we might take a slight detour, head just fifteen minutes north of St. George to Snow Canyon State Park.

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It was…great. 

We spent all morning there, and could have probably spent the day.

It’s a gorgeous, fascinating landscape with lots of fossilized sand dunes, lava fields and white hills (hence the name).

(We never got the white hills, by the way)

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We spent our morning climbing over the dunes.

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Then set out in search of lava tunnels.

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"snow canyon state park"

The trail to those tunnels is clearly marked at first, but somehow, we missed another sign at a crossroads – later, when we did find it, we all wondered how we’d missed it, but we did. No matter. That particular detour led, as detours often do, though, to one of the more memorable sites of our trip – a prairie dog stretched out in a bush, leisurely stuffing berries into its furry fat cheeks.

We didn’t actually go into the lava tunnels because we weren’t at all equipped for it, and besides, I don’t do things like go into lava tunnels when I’m traveling alone with two kids. I’ll do a lot, but I always have the what if something happens  caution in the back of my mind. I mean…there’s only me. Aside from my obvious safety concerns about my kids, sorry, but * I*  have to stay safe. There’s no fallback.

I believe I had read about this park before, but hadn’t worked it in because I was fixated on the big sites and, I’ll repeat, I had no good understanding of the distances, and didn’t realize that it was such an easy drive from St. George. It would be a great spot to spend an entire day…or two….

"amy welborn"

We finished up around lunchtime then headed back into St. George to the Chick-fil-A my son had tracked down, and then it was on to Bryce….

"bryce canyon"

Which is amazing. Other-worldly, and quite out of the blue. You could spend your life living five miles away and never know it’s there – which is sort of what happened, historically.

Almost every natural site we visited on this trip was a canyon or valley, but none were anything at all alike.

Bryce Canyon is called a “canyon,” but it’s not primarily formed, as most “canyons” are by a body of water moving through it, carving that canyon which is the first stage to “valley.”

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These hoodoos and other formations have been formed, they say, not by the wind-generated erosion like that which formed the hoodoos we saw in New Mexico, but by a particular process.  Bryce is in an area subject to extreme temperature variations. During the winter, there is a lot of snow and ice, which settles into the rock. With all these temperature fluctuations and the presence of the freezing, then melting ice, the softer forms of rock crack and erode away.

Let’s backtrack a bit.  How did I get to Bryce? Well, I drove on the interstate 15, then up and over.  For the next few days we’d be staying in accommodations that, I knew, held monopolies over the areas in which they were located, and prices on things like breakfast bars and snacks and fruit would be high (I was right).  I wanted to avoid being gouged, so a side-trip to the Wal-Mart in Cedar City, Utah seemed like a good idea, and it was….and by the way, that was a bit of a shock…to get out of the car into temps in the high 30’s? What?

(It ended up not being that cold in Bryce, though.)

The drive to Bryce takes you through the beautiful and aptly named Red Canyon, which we would visit on the way out.

Now, this part of the entry is for those considering visiting Bryce.  I want to clarify a couple of points that were fuzzy to me before I got there and actually saw how things were laid out.

If you want to stay at Bryce, you don’t have a busy little town as you do at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, or Springdale outside of Zion, with more accommodations and restaurants from which to choose that are right there. (Not necessarily a bad thing, except….)

Starting from the closest to Bryce, your choices are:

  • To stay in the park and the historic Bryce Canyon Lodge, part of the NPS, but operated by Forever Resorts (which also operates the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge).  This is, of course, right in the park, with hiking trails jutting off from it – great location.  There are rooms in the lodge itself, plus a bunch of cabins, which looked nice.  I checked here, but there was never any availability that popped up during the month I was searching. Note, there’s no internet at the Lodge.
  • Moving out from there, you have  the Ruby’s Inn complex right outside the park itself – and I mean, right outside. It’s a five minute drive from the Visitor’s Center. There are two hotels, a general store, a souvenir shop, a campground, gas station, etc. The hotels are now part of the Best Western chain. Super convenient, but you pay for it.
  • Then moving maybe ten to fifteen minutes further down the road, off the Ruby’s Inn property, there are a number of smaller hotels, motels and cabin outfits.

Of course, you can guess that the price of the accommodations increases, the closer you get to the park.

The Lodge wasn’t going to happen for us, so I settled on Ruby’s Inn. It wasn’t terrible. It was fine!  The room was clean and normal sized. I got an internet special, so that helped.  But if I were to do it again, I wouldn’t stay there. Here’s why:

  • The distance of the other, smaller, less expensive accommodations from the park isn’t that far, and the drive is very easy.  You’re not having to deal with winding switchbacks or driving through miles of nothing to get from those further-away hotels to Bryce Canyon.  You can stay in a decent place for less money that’s fifteen minutes away on straight roads that are no hassle to drive any time of the day or night.
  • The Ruby’s Inn complex is a monopoly – they own that property right outside the park (they were the original developers of the area as a park, and that’s all a very interesting history), and ….they hold that monopoly.  Prices on food in both the stores and in the restaurants are very high – ridiculously high, even for an area in which prices do tend to be higher in restaurants because of a general lack of competition and the cost of getting supplies.  I mean….$23 for a mediocre buffet for anyone over 11?
  • I just wouldn’t want to get caught in that web again.

So, that said, there we are…

Checked in, along with half of Germany and a third of Japan (amazing!), and set out to explore.  We drove into the Visitor’s Center, looked around there, then drove on down to a couple of hiking/walking trailheads.

(Note – Bryce, like Zion, runs a shuttle bus system.  Unlike Zion during the summer months, it’s not required, but recommended because of possible parking issues. We drove the car, and had no issues, but it was also early in the season.  Judging from what I saw, I would guess that taking the shuttle in the summer would be your best choice unless you were getting there at 6 AM)

OH – forgot this.  Admission to these popular parks is not cheap, and that’s okay, since they really are one of the things that we do best, and a big chunk of the rest of the world gets to us via these parks, so they’re worth the upkeep. Plus, Nature.  It’s now $25 per private car. Because we were visiting so many of these parks on this trip, I opted to just go ahead and purchase the “America the Beautiful” pass for $80 that gets us into all federal recreation sites (that sounds….penitentiary-like, doesn’t it?).

We drove out to Sunset Point, then walked the Rim Trail to Inspiration Point. Then we did a big chunk of the Queen’s Garden Trail.

It really is unreal.

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And gorgeous.

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Then back to settle in a bit more, eat and then return to the Lodge for a nighttime ranger program on astronomy. We drove out to the Lodge, at which point I discovered I had the program time wrong, so we had 45 minutes to kill. We killed it by driving up through a good chunk of the park and stopping at various viewpoints.

At one viewpoint, there was a very friendly, large raven.  The couple that was there when we drove up said it just hopped right up to them. No fear.  Obviously it has been fed by human beings, and this is too bad.  It really was a little menacing, very Birds-like.  When we went to our car it roused itself and flew right to our car, obviously holding out for one last opportunity.  People are stupid.  Don’t feed the wildlife. Please!

Now, back to the Lodge for the program.  I had been looking forward to this.  In fact, I had scheduled us to be at Bryce on a Thursday night so we could catch one of these astronomy programs.  It turned out not to be….the best use of our time for a couple of reasons.

  • It was cloudy.  This couldn’t be helped, but it did mean there would be no actual star-viewing.  But surely the program would be worth it anyway?
  • Sorry, no. We heard some ranger programs at the Grand Canyon that were very good, and this, unfortunately, was not anywhere near the standard of those.  The well-intentioned, enthusiastic fellow spent an hour giving a sort-of history of the science of astronomy, most of which was familiar to anyone with a high school education and not engagingly-enough presented to interest anyone else.   I had expected a presentation about the skies above Bryce Canyon in May  – what’s up there, how to see it, where to look….and that’s not what we got at all. It was fairly torturous.  Not a good start to the NPS Ranger talk program…but it did get much better, so stay tuned for that.

But this would be awaiting us in the morning….so get a good night’s sleep!

"amy welborn"

St. Ephrem

(or Ephraim or Ephream)

One of today’s optional memorials.

From Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s lengthy General Audience series on great figures in Christianity. November 28, 2007.

Common opinion today supposes Christianity to be a European religion which subsequently exported the culture of this Continent to other countries. But the reality is far more complex since the roots of the Christian religion are found in the Old Testament, hence, in Jerusalem and the Semitic world. Christianity is still nourished by these Old Testament roots. Furthermore, its expansion in the first centuries was both towards the West – towards the Greco-Latin world, where it later inspired European culture – and in the direction of the East, as far as Persia and India. It St_Ephraim_The_Syrianthus contributed to creating a specific culture in Semitic languages with an identity of its own. To demonstrate this cultural pluralism of the one Christian faith in its origins, I spoke in my Catechesis last Wednesday of a representative of this other Christianity who is almost unknown to us: Aphraates, the Persian sage. Today, along the same lines, I would like to talk about St Ephrem the Syrian, who was born into a Christian family in Nisibis in about 306 A.D. He was Christianity’s most important Syriac-speaking representative and uniquely succeeded in reconciling the vocations of theologian and poet. He was educated and grew up beside James, Bishop of Nisibis (303-338), and with him founded the theological school in his city. He was ordained a deacon and was intensely active in local Christian community life until 363, the year when Nisibis fell into Persian hands. Ephrem then emigrated to Edessa, where he continued his activity as a preacher. He died in this city in 373, a victim of the disease he contracted while caring for those infected with the plague. It is not known for certain whether he was a monk, but we can be sure in any case that he remained a deacon throughout his life and embraced virginity and poverty. Thus, the common and fundamental Christian identity appears in the specificity of his own cultural expression: faith, hope – the hope which makes it possible to live poor and chaste in this world, placing every expectation in the Lord – and lastly, charity, to the point of giving his life through nursing those sick with the plague.

St Ephrem has left us an important theological inheritance. His substantial opus can be divided into four categories: works written in ordinary prose (his polemic works or biblical commentaries); works written in poetic prose; homilies in verse; and lastly, hymns, undoubtedly Ephrem’s most abundant production. He is a rich and interesting author in many ways, but especially from the theological point of view. It is the fact that theology and poetry converge in his work which makes it so special. If we desire to approach his doctrine, we must insist on this from the outset: namely, on the fact that he produces theology in poetical form. Poetry enabled him to deepen his theological reflection through paradoxes and images. At the same time, his theology became liturgy, became music; indeed, he was a great composer, a musician. Theology, reflection on the faith, poetry, song and praise of God go together; and it is precisely in this liturgical character that the divine truth emerges clearly in Ephrem’s theology. In his search for God, in his theological activity, he employed the way of paradoxes and symbols. He made ample use of contrasting images because they served to emphasize the mystery of God.

He continues, giving examples of Ephrem’s works, then concludes:

The figure of Ephrem is still absolutely timely for the life of the various Christian Churches. We discover him in the first place as a theologian who reflects poetically, on the basis of Holy Scripture, on the mystery of man’s redemption brought about by Christ, the Word of God incarnate. His is a theological reflection expressed in images and symbols taken from nature, daily life and the Bible. Ephrem gives his poetry and liturgical hymns a didactic and catechetical character: they are theological hymns yet at the same time suitable for recitation or liturgical song. On the occasion of liturgical feasts, Ephrem made use of these hymns to spread Church doctrine. Time has proven them to be an extremely effective catechetical instrument for the Christian community.

Ephrem’s reflection on the theme of God the Creator is important: nothing in creation is isolated and the world, next to Sacred Scripture, is a Bible of God. By using his freedom wrongly, man upsets the cosmic order. The role of women was important to Ephrem. The way he spoke of them was always inspired with sensitivity and respect: the dwelling place of Jesus in Mary’s womb greatly increased women’s dignity. Ephrem held that just as there is no Redemption without Jesus, there is no Incarnation without Mary. The divine and human dimensions of the mystery of our redemption can already be found in Ephrem’s texts; poetically and with fundamentally scriptural images, he anticipated the theological background and in some way the very language of the great Christological definitions of the fifth-century Councils.

Ephrem, honoured by Christian tradition with the title “Harp of the Holy Spirit”, remained a deacon of the Church throughout his life. It was a crucial and emblematic decision: he was a deacon, a servant, in his liturgical ministry, and more radically, in his love for Christ, whose praises he sang in an unparalleled way, and also in his love for his brethren, whom he introduced with rare skill to the knowledge of divine Revelation.

Links to the writings of St. Ephrem.

Image source.

Corpus Christi

"amy welborn"

Casa Maria Retreat House in Birmingham (well, actually, Irondale, I think) Alabama.

Here’s a retreat schedule.

As I have written before, the advantage of going to a retreat house for Mass, even every so often, is that you are pretty much guaranteed a good homily. Yesterday was no exception, as the retreat master was Discalced Carmelite Fr. James Zakowicz, O.C.D.  

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