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Posts Tagged ‘7 Quick Takes’

— 1 —

Happy feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  In 2006, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke about him to…Jesuits!

St Ignatius of Loyola was first and foremost a man of God who in his life put God, his greatest glory and his greatest service, first. He was a profoundly prayerful man for whom the daily celebration of the Eucharist was the heart and crowning point of his day.

Thus, he left his followers a precious spiritual legacy that must not be lost or forgotten. Precisely because he was a man of God, St Ignatius was a faithful servant of the Church, in which he saw and venerated the Bride of the Lord and the Mother of Christians. And the special vow of obedience to the Pope, which he himself describes as “our first and principal foundation” (MI, Series III, I., p. 162), was born from his desire to serve the Church in the most beneficial way possible.

This ecclesial characteristic, so specific to the Society of Jesus, lives on in you and in your apostolic activities, dear Jesuits, so that you may faithfully meet the urgent needs of the Church today.

Among these, it is important in my opinion to point out your cultural commitment in the areas of theology and philosophy in which the Society of Jesus has traditionally been present, as well as the dialogue with modern culture, which, if it boasts on the one hand of the marvellous progress in the scientific field, remains heavily marked by positivist and materialist scientism.

Naturally, the effort to promote a culture inspired by Gospel values in cordial collaboration with the other ecclesial realities demands an intense spiritual and cultural training. For this very reason, St Ignatius wanted young Jesuits to be formed for many years in spiritual life and in study. It is good that this tradition be maintained and reinforced, also given the growing complexity and vastness of modern culture.

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St. Ignatius was in my Loyola Kids Book of Saints, and you can read the entire chapter here:

Because he had spent all those months in his sickbed, Ignatius got bored. He asked for something to read. He was hoping for adventure books, tales that were popular back then: knights fighting for the hands of beautiful ladies, traveling to distant lands, and battling strange creatures.

But for some reason, two completely different books were brought to Ignatius. One was a book about the life of Christ, and the other was a collection of saints’ stories.

Ignatius read these books. He thought about them. He was struck by the great sacrifices that the saints had made for God. He was overwhelmed by their love of Jesus.

And Ignatius thought, “Why am I using my life just for myself? These people did so much good during their time on earth. Why can’t I?”

Ignatius decided that he would use the talents God had given him—his strength, his leadership ability, his bravery, and his intelligence—to serve God and God’s people.

While Ignatius continued to heal, he started praying very seriously. God’s peace filled his heart and assured him that he was on the right path.

When Ignatius was all healed and ready to walk and travel again, he left his home to prepare for his new life. It wasn’t easy. He was 30, which was considered old in those days, and he was getting a late start in his studies for the priesthood. In those days, the Mass was said only in Latin, and Latin was the language all educated people used to communicate with each other. Ignatius didn’t know a bit of Latin. So for his first Latin lessons, big, rough Ignatius had to sit in a classroom with a bunch of 10-year-old boys who were learning Latin for the first time too!

That takes a different kind of strength, doesn’t it?

saints

— 3—

Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.

In The Words We Pray, I wrote about the Suscipe Prayer. That chapter is excerpted here:

The more you roll this prayer around in your soul, and the more you think about it, the more radical it is revealed to be.

One of the primary themes of the Spiritual Exercises is that of attachments and affections. Ignatius offers the account of “three classes of men” who have been given a sum of money, and who all want to rid themselves of it because they know their attachment to this worldly good impedes their salvation.

The first class would really like to rid themselves of the attachment, but the hour of death comes, and they haven’t even tried. The second class would also like to give up the attachment, but do so, conveniently, without actually giving anything up.

Is this sounding familiar at all?

The third class wants to get rid of the attachment to the money, which they, like the others, know is a burden standing in the way. But they make no stipulations as to how this attachment is relinquished; they are indifferent about the method. Whatever God wants, they want. In a word, they are the free ones.

The prayer “Take Lord, receive” is possible only because the retreatant has opened himself to the reality of who God is, what God’s purpose is for humanity, and what God has done for him in a particularly intense way.

A Response to God’s Love

The retreatant has seen that there is really no other response to life that does God justice. What love the Father has for us in letting us be called children of God, John says (1 John 3:1). What gift does our love prompt us to give?

In ages past, and probably in the minds of some of us still, that gift of self to God, putting oneself totally at God’s disposal, is possible only for people called to a vowed religious life. Well, God didn’t institute religious life in the second chapter of Genesis. He instituted marriage and family. I’m not a nun, but the Scriptures tell us repeatedly that all creation is groaning and being reborn and moving toward completion in God. Every speck of creation, everything that happens, every kid kicking a soccer ball down a road in Guatemala, each office worker in New Delhi, every ancient great-grandmother in a rest home in Boynton Beach, every baby swimming in utero at this moment around the world—all are beloved by God and are being constantly invited by him to love. And all can respond.

— 4 —

For more information on these and other books, go here, to yesterday’s post. 

— 5 —

Earlier this week, we tagged along on a tour of the Mercedes plant – it’s between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, and is the only Mercedes plant in North America.

Did you know that Mercedes doesn’t mass-produce these cars in bulk, but rather builds each car to order? Maybe you did, but I didn’t. It was interesting to observe and later discuss the distinctions between what part of the process is automated and which still must be left in human hands – for example, putting the panels in the doors and the flexible tubing stuff around the windows.

.— 6—

Over the past week, I’ve been reading some of the letters of St. Francis de Sales, found here in this book on the Internet Archive – the place to go for out-of-print books of any kind, usually offered in a number of different formats.  I usually pick the Kindle option and read it on the app on my Ipad.  A couple of excerpts of passages I particularly appreciated:

Those who are simply good people walk in the way
of God ; but the devout run, and when they are very
devout they fly. Now, I will tell you some rules which
you must keep if you would be truly devout.

Before all it is necessary to keep the general com-
mandments of God and the Church, which are made
for every faithful Christian ; without this there can be
no devotion in the world. That, every one knows.

Besides the general commandments, it is necessary
carefully to observe the particular commandments
which each person has in regard to his vocation, and
whoever observes not this, if he should raise the dead,
does not cease to be in sin and to be damned if he die
in it. As, for example, it is commanded to bishops to
visit their sheep, — to teach, correct, console; I may
pass the whole week in prayer, I may fast all my life,
if I do not do that, I am lost ….

*********************

Be on your guard not to let your carefulness turn
to solicitude and anxiety ; and though you are tossed
on the waves and amid the winds of many troubles,
always look up to heaven, and say to our Lord : O
God, it is for you I voyage and sail : be my guide,
and my pilot. Then comfort yourself in this, that
when we are in port, the delights we shall have there
will outbalance the labours endured in getting there.
But we are on our way there, amid all these storms, if
we have a right heart, good intention, firm courage^
our eyes on God, and in him all our trust.

And if the violence of the tempest sometimes disturbs
our stomach, and makes our head swim a little, let us
not be surprised ; but, as soon as ever we can, let us
take breath again, and encourage ourselves to do better.
You continue to walk in our good resolutions, I am
sure. Be not troubled, then, at these little attacks
of disquiet and annoyance which the multiplicity of
domestic affairs causes you ; no, my dearest child, for
this serves as an exercise to practise those most dear
and lovely virtues which our Lord has recommended
us. Believe me, true virtue does not thrive in exterior
repose, anymore than good fish in the stagnant waters
of a marsh. Vive Jesus ‘

— 7 —

Coming soon….. Diana von Glahn, aka The Faithful Traveler, is starting a daily radio show on Real Life Radio. The show starts next week.

And every Friday…I’ll be on it!

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

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Coming soon….. Diana von Glahn, aka The Faithful Traveler, is starting a daily radio show on Real Life Radio. 

And every Friday…I’ll be on it!

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We’ll be talking about traveling with children/family travel, etc….the show begins on August 3, so be sure to tune in – we’ve recorded two segments already.  I’ve been talking about my life in general, some of our trips, and in particular our humongous three-month trip to Europe in the fall of 2012, with an emphasis on Assisi. Be sure to tune in! 

— 2 —

When last we spoke, we had just visited Warm Springs, Georgia, which again…I recommend. 

After that, we headed further south. The boys spent a couple of days with their family members in Florida.  I was also in Florida, in the Jax/St. Augustine area.  I had work to do, so I spent a lot of time in various Panera Breads doing that but I also stopped by here:

Chamblin’s Uptown – a great used bookstore, although I still maintain that Jacksonville is a strange, unappealing city.  The Durrells are for me and my younger son, the snake book is for him, Twelve Mighty Orphans is for the older one (and he’s devouring it), and No Name, which I’ve already read in e-form, is for my daughter, because I think she would like it.

— 3—

I also spent some time in St. Augustine, but not a lot, since I’ve been there many times before. My main impression this time, as it is every time I go there, because every time I go there it’s summer, is that it’s so. bloody. hot.  I don’t get it.  The temperature there is the same or lower than it is in Birmingham, but it’s so much more miserable. Bleh.

Anyway, the real point is that over the past month or so, I’ve spent time with two other Catholic blogger-types and one of my oldest friends, and neither Instagrammed or Facebooked any of it!

#Proud

— 4 —

Today (if you are reading this on Friday, July 24) is the feast of St. Charblel Makhlouf, who was Lebanese, but who is also very popular in Mexico.  I wrote about it here:

I was particularly interested in the saint in the center – San Charbel Maklouf – for I had seen his image in several homes during the week.  Why is a Lebanese saint so popular in Mexico?

(For, I was told, he is – along with St. Jude, one of the most popular saints in Mexico.)

The person I was talking to didn’t really know, but I assume at least part of the reason has to do with the fact that Lebanese are an important minority in Mexico,with deep roots going back more than a century. The world’s richest man (trading the spot with Gates now and then), Carlos Slim, is Lebanese -Mexican Maronite. Salma Hayak is part Lebanese-Mexican.

Most of all, of course, he’s popular because of the power of his intercession. I didn’t see it, but it’s common in Mexico to drape statues of San Charbel with ribbons on which you’ve written prayers. You can see images from the Flickr pool here, here and here.

— 5 —

Speaking of St. Charbel, readers may or may not know that Maronite Catholics are not unknown in the South.  Particularly along railroad line – the Lebanese were one of the ethnic groups that showed up to do the work.  I gave a woman’s day of recollection over in Jackson, Mississippi, once and a huge proportion of the women present claimed Lebanese roots.  Here in Birmingham, the Maronite Catholic Church, St. Elias, is venerable and established.  The Catholic school my boys used to go to had a Maronite school Mass twice a year. Fr. Mitch Pacwa, who lives here, is bi-ritual and regularly celebrates the Maronite liturgy at St. Elias when he is in town.

A few years ago, I went to an estate sale, and this one was unusual because there was lots of Catholic stuff.  That’s not a normal feature of estate sales in Birmingham, Alabama.  But this one was very Catholic and specifically, very Maronite.  This was one of my treasures from that day:

Do you have a St. Charbel thermometer?

Didn’t think so.

.— 6—

Ice cream is not that hard to make, and is so, so good.  I go between David Lebovitz’s base (eggs) and Jeni’s (no eggs, cornstarch & cream cheese).

This was a David Lebovitz base wtih a bit of chocolate syrup mixed in, as well as melted chocolate & a dab of olive oil for a straciatella thing.

"amy welborn"

— 7 —

If anything is ever going to drive me off of social media, it’s photographs of people’s feet. 

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Here’s some fun news!  Diana von Glahn, aka The Faithful Traveler, is starting a daily radio show on Real Life Radio. 

And every Friday…I’ll be on it!

amy-welborn3

We’ll be talking about traveling with children/family travel, etc….the show begins on August 3, so be sure to tune in – we’ve recorded our first segment already and it was a lot of fun.  I’m really looking forward to working with Diana on this project. 

— 2 —

Speaking of travel….(you knew this was coming)….

We had a great day visiting Warm Springs, Georgia. 

Warm Springs, of course, is the site of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Little White House.

It’s in east-central Georgia, and we’re in centralish Alabama, so you’d think we’d have visited sooner.  Well, it’s not that quick of a trip from Birmingham, really.  It took a little over 2 ½ hours to get there, on a path that took us on I-20, then down exit 205 through all kinds of nice places – and I mean that.  Take a look at this lovely Art Deco theater in Manchester, Georgia.

"amy welborn"

When I had envisioned this trip, uh, two days ago, I had thought we would be able to cram a lot more in that we did.   And perhaps if we’d left at 7 am rather than 8, we would have, but darn that  change to the Eastern Time Zone.  I’d thought we might run through Columbus and hit the Infantry Museum, or maybe get to Albany’s Chehaw Park Zoo (small, it says, but free w/our Birmingham Zoo membership, so why not) or their little river-themed aquarium but because we got a later start and because Warm Springs took longer – in a good way – than I’d anticipated – all that will have to wait.

(Also in later trips to the area will be Andersonville, although that will be tough – I’ve been there, and it’s so very sad and awful…so maybe in a couple of years – and in a more hopeful theme, the Habitat for Humanity headquarters in Americus. )

And the Jimmy Carter stuff?

Nah.

SO…what did we see.

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Here’s the basics:  FDR heard about the perhaps healing properties of the springs in 1924.  He visited, fell in love with the area, began coming regularly, and soon after used a big chunk of his own fortune to purchase a by then-dilapidated resort hotel and 1200 acres around the springs, with the intention of building a rehabilitation facility.  It grew into a large, wonderful institution, which, even more wonderfully, outlived its usefulness for polio patients with the advent of the polio vaccine in 1955.  At the point it transitioned into offering services for people with a wide range of disabilities, which it still does today.  It seemed pretty busy on our visit. 

FDR had a small (6-room) house built nearby, which is of course, where he died on April 12, 1945 after suffering a stroke while having his portrait painted.  The famous photograph of the man with a tear-streaked face playing the accordion as FDR’s body passed by? That happened in front of Georgia Hall, the main building at the Warm Springs center.

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We began there, at Georgia Hall, and took a brief, self guided walking tour of the quadrangle.  Most of the original buildings are not used for their original purposes, since, of course, there are no more polio patients, and I am not even sure if they have long-term residential patients.

(Forgive the quality of some of these photographs.  I got increasingly irritated with my camera because it seemed as if the lens were dirty.  I kept wiping it clean, but the pictures still looked fuzzy.  WHY?  Maybe because you had inadvertently pushed the scene selector to “soft” – that’s why.)

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In the quadrangle.  What you see is an area with stairs, and ground composed of various materials to give patients practice in walking on different surfaces. 

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This was the children’s solarium.  When it was in use, it had a ceiling-high birdcage in the center. 

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“Polio Hall of Fame” – busts of researchers and others instrumental in the fight against the disease. 

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The chapel was locked, but I got this shot through a window.  There is extra space in the front for room for wheelchairs and gurneys. FDR last attend a service here on Easter Sunday a couple of weeks before he died. 

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Again, through a window.  This is an indoor pool that was constructed for patients for whom transportation down the hill to the outdoor pools was too difficult.  

— 4 —

The historic pools:

(In addition to the actual pools, there is a small exhibit in the building.  The admission to the Little White House includes admission to the pools. There is no cost to tour the rehabilitation facility.)

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The pools are empty, of course, but spring water comes up in a fountain on one end.  Forgive the soft focus!!!

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— 5 —

The Little White House...first a small, very good museum that gave a good overview of FDR’s life in general and in relation to Warm Springs.  Many personal artifacts on display including a couple of wheelchairs and braces.

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People sent FDR canes as gifts…

FDR last portrait

That final portrait…fuzzy.

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The dining area – it is really one big space with the living room below.  It’s a dogtrot design, with the path between these two spaces extending between a back patio and the front foyer and front door. That’s the easel on which the portrait was sitting. 

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— 6 —

Afterwards, we headed about 7 miles out of town, up Pine Mountain to Dowdell Knob – a wonderful overlook where FDR enjoyed coming and even hosting barbecues.  (That stone structure is the grill, filled in so people won’t mess with it. The placard said that the “picnics” were served on cloth-covered tablecloths with china and glassware.)

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There’s also a statue of FDR there, which you can see at the link.

— 7 —

Not done yet!  Also in Warm Springs is a National Fish Hatchery.  There’s a teeny-tiny aquarium with some gar and bass and such and an explanation of the Hatchery’s purpose and work.  There are display pools with fish you can feed, and one with an alligator….

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Then down to Albany where we saw the Ray Charles Memorial…very musical! Also very, very buggy – I was going to try to go to Radium Springs – it sounded interesting – but at 96 degrees,  I scratched the prospect of exploring more bug-infested waters and we moved on….

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— 1 —

Not much reading this week. In fact, I didn’t crack a book open at all.  Yikes.  Traveling, plus a work deadline which occupied me until this morning.  Well, I did start reading Jane Eyre, as promised.  Just got one chapter in before other concerns took over, though. I’ll get back to that, as well as a couple of books I checked out earlier this week, including Copyright Wars: Three Centuries of Trans-Atlantic Battle. It’s a subject that interests me not only as a writer, not only as a Catholic writer who was told she had to get ICEL’s permission to have the text of the Hail Mary and the Our Father in a book (to be fair, the fellow at ICEL’s response was the polite written equivalent of, “Er….sure. Wait, what?”, but also as the former editor of the Loyola Classics series.  One of my responsibilities in that was researching and obtaining permissions, a task I really enjoyed for some odd reason.  Librarian and researcher genes, I guess.

— 2 —

We saw a really excellent production of The Music Man this evening at one of our local theaters."amy welborn" Mostly great cast, including a Harold Hill who echoed Robert Preston rather brilliantly without slavish imitation.  Not that referencing Preston is necessary, but it’s probably a challenge to skirt his influence completely, since the identification between actor and part is so close in this case.  That imbalance between first and second act, though, in which the first act is stuffed full of non-stop great music, while the second act must pause and Do Plot so all can be resolved – it’s in The Music Man and almost every other musical I can think of.  Are there exceptions?

— 3—

It brought back a couple of memories – first, my daughter’s 8th grade class doing a “junior” version of the play (she was one of the Pick-a-Little ladies), and then at some point in middle school, I think, one of my older sons had to learn “Rock Island” for music class – I think all the boys had to do it or something, maybe? I was actually impressed with the assignment. And it’s certainly an improvement over the sight (and sound) of struggling through those high notes in “Both Sides Now,” which is one of my more vivid memories of grade school music class. That and the controversy aroused by having us sing “One Tin Soldier.”  Oh, the 60’s and 70’s. Much controversy.  And honestly, even reconstructing it in my hazy memory makes me laugh.  Imagine a bunch of ten year olds pounding out “Go ahead and hate your neighbor! Go ahead and cheat a friend! Do it the name of Heaven! You can justify it in the end!” Imagine some teacher who thought it was awesome and he was such an brave iconoclast.

People. So crazy.

— 4 —

Speaking of school memories, twice this week I’ve had the chance to share the Fun Fact that in my high school in the 70’s – a Catholic high school in the South – we had a smoking pit.  It was a corner of sidewalk where those of age – mostly seniors  – could smoke.  Of course, for most of us today, it’s difficult to imagine a time in which anyone could smoke indoors in any public space, but the concept of having a sanctioned area for high school students to smoke during school seems especially bizarre, doesn’t it?

Anyone else experience that?

(And no, I never smoked.  My father was a lifelong, heavy smoker, it killed him, and I always hated it.)

— 5 —

I had a strange spike in blog hits today.  I discovered that it was because  Fr. Blake linked to my years-old report of a visit to his parish, a visit I was fortunate enough to make during a longish layover at Gatwick. He offered the link as a response of sorts to a ridiculous, agenda-laden Ship of Fools report on the parish.

— 6 —

Today is one of my days in Living Faith. Look for another on July 5.

— 7 —

Speaking of today – it’s July 3 and the feasts of St. Thomas the Twin.  Speaking of St. Thomas, here’s Pope Emeritus Benedict’s General Audience talk on him from 2006. 

Then, the proverbial scene of the doubting Thomas that occurred eight days after Easter is very well known. At first he did not believe that Jesus had appeared in his absence and said:  “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe” (Jn 20: 25).

Basically, from these words emerges the conviction that Jesus can now be recognized by his wounds rather than by his face. Thomas holds that the signs that confirm Jesus’ identity are now above all his wounds, in which he reveals to us how much he loved us. In this the Apostle is not mistaken.

St. Thomas July 3

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Tomorrow (June 27) is the memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria.  Here’s what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said about St. Cyril in his General Audience in 2007:

Cyril’s writings – truly numerous and already widely disseminated in various Latin and Eastern translations in his own lifetime, attested to by their instant success – are of the utmost importance for the history of Christianity. His commentaries on many of the New and Old Testament Books are important, including those on the entire Pentateuch, Isaiah, the Psalms and the Gospels of John and Luke. Also important are his many doctrinal works, in which the defence of the Trinitarian faith against the Arian and Nestorian theses recurs. The basis of Cyril’s teaching is the ecclesiastical tradition and in particular, as I mentioned, the writings of Athanasius, his great Predecessor in the See of Alexandria. Among Cyril’s other writings, the books Against Julian deserve mention. They were the last great response to the anti-Christian controversies, probably dictated by the Bishop of Alexandria in the last years of his life to respond to the work Against the Galileans, composed many years earlier in 363 by the Emperor known as the “Apostate” for having abandoned the Christianity in which he was raised.

The Christian faith is first and foremost the encounter with Jesus, “a Person, which gives life a new horizon” (Deus Caritas Est, n. 1). St Cyril of Alexandria was an unflagging, staunch witness of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, emphasizing above all his unity, as he repeats in 433 in his first letter (PG 77, 228-237) to Bishop Succensus: “Only one is the Son, only one the Lord Jesus Christ, both before the Incarnation and after the Incarnation. Indeed, the Logos born of God the Father was not one Son and the one born of the Blessed Virgin another; but we believe that the very One who was born before the ages was also born according to the flesh and of a woman”. Over and above its doctrinal meaning, this assertion shows that faith in Jesus the Logos born of the Father is firmly rooted in history because, as St Cyril affirms, this same Jesus came in time with his birth from Mary, the Theotò-kos, and in accordance with his promise will always be with us. And this is important: God is eternal, he is born of a woman, and he stays with us every day. In this trust we live, in this trust we find the way for our life.

— 2 —

Cyril was, of course, a theologian, engaged in discourse concerned with theological precision.

We are often told these days that such concerns are nothing but casuistry.  Theology, it is sometimes said or at least implied, is an obstacle to faith.

And it can be.

This is of course, not a new discussion, and is indeed reflective of an authentic dynamic and tension within Christian discourse since….the beginning.

But as anyone with an understanding of what it means to be Catholic in its breadth and depth understands the danger of sweeping generalizations that sweep out one side of the either/or.

Catholicism is the expression of the loving Presence of Jesus Christ in the world. But the human beings Jesus encounters are intelligent, reasonable, and seek to understand.

Precision matters.  As time goes on, the precision might harden, become brittle and lifeless, and finally crack, but that doesn’t mean that the search for the closest words and ideas – even in negation – should be scoffed at or cast aside.  The process is important, and more than that, inevitable.  You can dismiss theological discourse, you can go on and on, talking in a “pastoral” way but do you know what?

Stubbornly, the questions will be raised.

How do you know this?

Where do your words come from?

Who is God?

Why is this a sin, but this not?

Who are you to tell me all about this, anyway?

Son of God? Mother of God? What? 

Questions that deserve answers with language as precise as possible, humble and so aware of the limitations of that language.

But yes, that deserve answers.  Which is what Catholic theology is all about, and what it’s for.

We keep talking, thinking, searching, in faith, aware of our limitations but also aware of who we are as rational beings created in the image of God.

Logos and agape.

Not either, not or.

Both.

— 3 —

Some interesting reading and listening this week.  The listening first.

As I said this past week on Twitter – spend  less time on Facebook this week and listen to some good podcasts instead.  As long time readers know, my favorites are those from BBC Radio 4, particularly In Our Time.  There is simply nothing like it on American radio.  A brisk jaunt through some topic led by Melvyn Bragg and three academics.  It’s very tightly structured, and not a free-for all, but it’s always interesting and disagreements are certainly aired.

It’s also very non-American in that it’s absolutely free from PC cant or snideness when addressing issues of religion.  Historical figures’ religious faith is taken seriously and respectfully.  So refreshing.

— 4 —

This week I listened to an episode on Jane Eyre, which I confess….I’VE NEVER READ.  I have no idea how that happened, since as a teen, I read most of Austen, Hardy and even Middlemarch. 

That said, I think I’ll read it now….probably over this weekend.

The program examined Bronte’s life, particularly as it might have inspired various aspects of the book, her process of writing it, the plot and major themes, its reception and, at the end, its religious themes….as was pointed out, the last word in the novel is “Jesus.”

— 5 —

Next was an episode on the Curies.  I read a children’s biography of Marie Curie as a child and was quite inspired by it (obviously not to be a scientist, but there was a time around 5th grade when I thought I would be a doctor…so, sort of inspired, I guess).

Religion entered the discussion as the differences between Curie’s mother (observant Catholic) and father (atheist scientist) were touched on and brought back into play in the later French context.  Good discussion of the family dynamics, especially after Pierre’s death, and a clarifying section on Marie’s scientific achievements and the distinction between her chemistry and physics Nobel prizes. 

— 6 —

Speaking of 19th century women, over the past couple of days, I read a very good book called Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back by Janice Nimura.   It’s a very well-told history of five young Japanese women (really girls – ranging in age from 7 to young teens) who were sent from Japan to the United States to live and study in 1871.  Two returned fairly soon, but the three who remained ended up studying at Vassar and Bryn Mawr, Daughters of the Samuraiand each, in her own way, eventually made tremendous contributions to the cause of the education of Japanese women.

The author was blessed with fantastic resources – the women were faithful correspondents, some of which has been published, the American and eventually Japanese press covered various aspects of their lives, and they made speeches and wrote articles. 

Through the prism of these women’s lives, we learn quite a bit about late 19th century Japanese history and the sense that women in both countries had of themselves.

— 7 —

And once again….religion. And again, religion treated respectfully and honestly, since Christian faith motivated many of the women’s American benefactors, and one of the Japanese women converted to Christianity herself.  What is clear is something that anyone who has studied the history of both Protestant and Catholic Christianity both in the context of Europe and in its encounters with other non-European cultures:

Christianity elevates the status of women. And it was understood to do so.

This is one of the rarely-discussed reasons that Christianity was resisted in some traditional patriarchal cultures.  It was a profound motivator, especially for female Protestant missionaries. Everything happens within a particular context, of course.   The Japanese women of Nimura’s tale had, in our view, a “limited” understanding of what education should accomplish, and expressed

dissatisfaction with later more “radical” (in the 1910’s!) visions being expressed by younger women.  But in their own time, their work on behalf of women’s education was certainly radical in and of itself.

A really enjoyable, rich read.

 As I was pouring over this book last night, I was thinking about why historical fiction doesn’t interest me. I mean…the minute I pick up a novel and see that it has a real historical figure at its center, I lose interest. (Not necessarily events, of course, just a novel built around a particular real person.) I think part of that is because historians today have access to such rich sources, they can put their hand to it and pull out a narrative that’s as intriguing as any novel – more so.

(That said, I also resisted history that embroiders in any way – that sets up scenes not derived directly from sources or enters an historical figure’s mind. Hate that.  I thought there might be a bit of that at  the beginning of this book, but turning to the notes, I saw that she pulled the scenes I was questioning directly from correspondence. )

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— 1 —

A decent, different sort of week here.  The boys being otherwise occupied, I’ve had every day, all day, free.  To work.  To some, that might seem like a sad plight, but honestly, this is the first truly alone time since….last summer, I guess.  I used to be able to write at night, even after teaching all day, but those days are long gone, especially since I hit fifty, and especially since we started homeschooling.  I just can’t focus, and my creative energies are spent by the end of the day.  So this week has been exactly what I needed in order to hammer out a first draft of a project that isn’t actually due until next February, but there’s other stuff in the hopper that I will need to be working on this fall (somehow), so it will be good to get a solid draft done early.  I can revise and edit on the fly, just fine, but the initial writing takes a kind of focus I can only achieve when I’m alone for several hours at a time.

— 2 —

Since piano camp has left the camper exhausted every day, and every day has been a full day for him, there were no extra travels this week.  Last weekend, however, we did go to Sweetwater Creek State Park in Georgia, which was very nice and which you can read about here.  What I didn’t know when I initially wrote the post was that the Hunger Games movies were filmed in part there.  (They were filmed all over Atlanta, of course.  I guess.)

— 3 —

And what of the rest of the summer?  I’m not sure.

What’s weird is that I’m already thinking that summer is almost over, while some of my Facebook friends are just this week posting “last day of school” photos.  What?? We’ve been out for a month!

Of course, school (for the high schooler) also starts a month earlier than those northerners will be returning – orientation is August 6, classes start August 10.  Blah.

There’s only one other *obligation* owed during that time – a scout rafting trip – so we’re contemplating options.  Probably some combination of some local wandering and perhaps one bigger road trip.

— 4 —

Speaking of high school, you might read this very sad local story.  There are some ambiguities in the narrative, and some unanswered questions, but here’s the bottom line for the mother grieving the loss of her 14-year old daughter:

“If I had known then what I know now, one, she wouldn’t have had a smart phone,” Seller said. “She would have had a phone that could make a call, get a call, send a text, get a text. And all of her internet activity would have been in the living room.”

As far as I can tell, we are one of the last holdouts in this regard.  My 14-year old does not have a smart phone and only uses the internet in my presence. I just last week purchased a basic flip phone for them to use when they’re out and need to contact me. I wish more parents were holding firm on this. It makes it very, very difficult to hold the line. I don’t understand why 8-year olds have Instagram accounts.  I wish schools would be proactive, and along with all the other crap they send out on a constant basis, send out a weekly report to parents on the latest internet fads, from Kik to Snapchat to all those apps (which exist) which enable the other apps to remain hidden.

— 5 —

The good thing about not feeling an obligation to follow and comment on Every Catholic Story coming over the Interwebs is that you actually have time to read.

So this week I finished: Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians

It’s the story of a small group of mostly writers and performers who were gathered at a Manhattan bar called Pfaff’s by a man named Henry Clapp, the son of New England Congregationalists who found himself in Paris, was besotted with cafe life and returned to the United States, determined to recreate it.  Walt Whitman was the most well-known of the regulars, although he tended to stay on the margins.

It’s a good tale, if padded a bit – without Whitman, the book would probably be half as long, which would make it more of an Atlantiic Monthly article, which would then be bad, since the Boston-based Atlantic was Clapp’s bete noire. There are a slew of vivid, interesting characters whose lives show very vividly that excess and self-indulgence, as well as delusions of grandeur and relentless self-promotion are not unique to the 21st century would-be artiste. 

I was probably most taken by the story of Hugh Ludlow, who became very famous as a very young man because of his drug experimentation and the book he wrote about it called The Hasheesh Eater.  Ludlow couldn’t follow up on that book’s success, took various writing and office jobs, then in 1863, got the opportunity to accompany painter Albert Bierstadt out west.  Bierstadt was going to sketch and paint, and Ludlow would write about their travels, in articles that would be published in the New York Post, and then in a book.

This interested me, not just because of the fact that we’ve just been out West, nor just because of the interesting paths that were crossed on that trip, but because one of Bierstadt’s paintings of Yosemite – one of the fruits of that trip –  is one of the most treasured pieces of our Birmingham Museum of Art’s collection.  

The trip, however, did not end well.  They returned and Ludlow’s wife left him for Bierstadt, the book’s publication was delayed to the point that when it finally did make it to print, reviewers mocked it for being out of date, since by that time, the Transcontinental Railroad was finished, and going out West was not nearly as exotic a quest as it had been.

If you want a good introduction to the group, head to this comprehensive website – the Vault at Pfaff’s – from Lehigh University.  It’s a treasure trove, and will keep you busy for a while. 

— 6 —

I also finished The Wapshot Chronicle. I had begun it a month or two ago, so I was a little confused at first and required a refresher, but it didn’t take long to get into the swing of it.  It’s a strange book, and I suppose everyone is correct about Cheever being a stronger short story writer, but there’s some gorgeous writing, nonetheless.  There’s something unreal about the whole thing – it doesn’t feel as anchored in reality as do, say, Updike or Walker Percy – to take two male writers Wapshot Cheeverfrom around the same time – and everyone is fairly miserable and stumbling into things and life choices in the most haphazard way. I never could really picture either Moses or Coverly, the two brothers, in my mind.  They seemed more like two dimensions of the same person, which they probably are.

Just as quick sample, from near the end:

[Leander – the Wapshot father] went to early communion, happily, not convinced of the worth of his prayers but pleased with the fact that on his knees in Christ Church he was, more than in any other place in the world, face to face with the bare facts of his humanity.….Even as the service rose to the climax of bread and wine he noticed that the acolytes’ plush cushion was nailed to the floor of the chancel and that the altar cloth was embroidered with tulips but he also noticed, kneeling at the rail, that on the ecclesiastical and malodorous carpet were a few pine or fir needles that must have lain there all the months since Advent, and these cheered him as if this handful of sere needles had been shake from the Tree of Life and reminded him of its fragrance and vitality.

To no good end, unfortunately, but that’s the way it goes.  I’ve never read Cheever but for a few of the stories, and while reading the novel, I also read up on his famously sad and fractured life, and was confronted once more with the paradox of such a mess of a human being producing art that really does, in some admittedly imperfect way, reflect truth. Not that a mess of a human being wouldn’t be able to see truth – we are a mess, and we all have the capacity – but it’s the discipline required to express it in an artful way in the midst of the mess, which for Cheever included being drunk much of the time, that confounds me.

And what of all these lost, post-war, mid-century men?

— 7 —

Mill ruins, Sweetwater Creek State Park, west of Atlanta.

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— 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.

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