"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Poetry: “Easter Wings” by George Herbert [Updated]

For Easter Sunday, by the great seventeenth century poet, George Herbert.  

Easter Wings
by George Herbert

Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
   Though foolishly he lost the same,
      Decaying more and more,
        Till he became
           Most poore:
           With  thee
        Oh let me rise
   As larks, harmoniously,
  And sing this day  thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My  tender  age  in  sorrow   did   beginne:
   And still with sicknesses and shame
      Thou  didst  so  punish  sinne,
         That  I  became
           Most thinne.
           With  thee
        Let me combine
      And feel this day thy victorie:
   For,  if  I  imp  my  wing  on  thine

Affliction shall  advance the  flight in  me.

Notice how the poem is shaped in the form of wings.  This is an example of Shape Poetry.  The poem’s typography form the shape of a dove with wings.  Notice also how the skinny sections are about poor and thin.  That’s no coincidence.  Here is an image of the poem in its actual printing.

You can read more about “Easter Wings” here.  

You can also hear the poem read with this video.

A Blessed Resurrection Sunday to you all!

UPDATE (27 Mar, 2016 9:40 PM): Great minds think alike.  Fr. Dwight Longenecker posted on this same poem for Easter Sunday reading over at Imaginative Conservative.  His essay goes into more depth and well worth the read, here.  

Friday, March 25, 2016

Faith Filled Friday: Contemporary Holy Martyrs for Good Friday

I know the Brussels terror attack is very much in the news today, but I assume most have heard about the ISIS attack in Yemen on a retirement home a few weeks ago (March 4th) run by the Sisters of Charity, part of the late Mother Theresa's ministry. If you haven't you can get filled in by this news clip.

Five Nuns ran the retirement home, one survived, a Sister Sally and she recounted the events. The following are a second hand retelling from a Sister Rio, written down by a Sister Adriana. Sister Sally is apparently in shock and has not come out in public yet.
This Yemen massacre was what I think finally pushed the Obama administration to agree that the slaughter of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East to be classified as genocide. I don't know why it took the Obama administration this long - it's been evident for a long time - but at least we should be grateful they finally did.
So for Good Friday, here is the second hand retelling of what happened that morning.  The description is gruesome and brought me to tears. You might want to pass on it. It's a little disjointed, as you can imagine something like this might be.
SISTER RIO’S WORDS TO SISTER ADRIANA, MC: Friday, midday, March 4, 2016
Sisters had Mass, breakfast as usual. As usual, Father stays back in chapel to say prayers, then to fix things around the compound.
8:00am: Said apostolate prayer and all 5 went to home.
8:30am: ISIS dressed in blue came in, killed guard and driver.
5 young Ethiopian men (Christian) began running to tell the sisters ISIS was here to kill them. They were killed one by one. They tied them to trees, shot them in the head and smashed their heads.
The sisters ran 2 by 2 in different directions, as they have mens and ladies home. 4 working women were screaming, “Don’t kill the sisters! Don’t kill the sisters!” One was the cook for 15 years. They killed them as well.
They caught Sr. Judith and Sr. Reginette first, tied them up, shot them in the head and smashed their heads. When the sisters ran in different directions, the Superior ran to the convent to try to warn Father Tom.
They caught Sr. Anselm and Sr. Marguerite, tied them, shot them in the head and smashed their heads in the sand.
Meanwhile, the Superior could not get to the convent. It is not clear how many ISIS men were there.
She saw all the sisters and helpers killed. The ISIS men were already getting to the convent so she went into the refridgerator room, since the door was open. These ISIS men were everywhere, searching for her, as they knew there were 5. At least three times they came into the fridgerator room. She did not hide, but remained standing behind the door – they never saw her. This is miraculous.
Meanwhile, at the convent, Father had heard the screaming and consumed all the Hosts. He had no time to consume the large Host, so he threw the oil out of the sanctuary lamp and dissolved it in the water.
A neighbor saw them put Father Tom in their car. They did not find any trace of Father anywhere. All the religious articles were smashed and destroyed – Our Lady, crucifix, altar, tabernacle, lectionary stand – even their prayer books and Bibles.

10:00 or 10:15am: The ISIS men finished and left.
Sr. Sally came to get the bodies of the sisters. She got them all. She went to the patients to each one individually to see if they were OK. All were OK. Not one was hurt.
The son of the woman who was the cook (who was killed) was calling her on her cellphone. Since she was not answering, he called the police, and he went with the police there and found this great massacre. The police and the son arrived at about 10:30am.
The police tried to take Sr. Sally out of there — she refused to leave the people who were crying, “Don’t leave us; stay with us.” But the police forced her to go with them because the ISIS knew there were 5 sisters, and they were convinced they will not stop until they kill her too. So finally she had to leave. She took one set of clothes and the sisters’ bodies, and the police brought them to an international hospital called “Doctors Without Borders” for protection. As there was not enough room in the mortuary of that hospital for the sisters’ bodies, the police brought their bodies to a bigger hospital mortuary.
Sr. Sally told Sr. Rio she is so sad because she is alone and did not die with her sisters. Sr. Rio told her God wanted a witness and told her, “Who would have found the sisters’ bodies and who would ever tell us what happened? God wants us to know.”
Pope Francis had his secretary contact the Yemen Secretary of State very often – about once a week to check up on the sisters and reassure them of his closeness. Today, the Pope’s secretary sent the message: “I thank them — Little M.C. martyrs.” He said he is offering the 40-hour First Friday devotion for them.
Sr. Sally told Sr. Rio that Fr. Tom tells them every day, “Let us be ready for martyrdom.”
Sr. Judith — they were trying so hard to take her for senior course, but they were not able to get her out.
Sr. Reginette — they were trying to send her for junior course but could not get her out.
God wanted them there.
Aden is rich city – a port city. Aden wanted to be its own state, so they got ISIS in to help them fight against Yemen. So ISIS won for Aden. That was the war last year, with all the bombing. They won, so that is over, but ISIS won’t leave. They want to take over and exterminate any Christian presence. They did not kill the sisters in the war because they had no political reason to waste time on them. But now, they are the only Christian presence, and ISIS wants to get rid of all Christianity. So they are real martyrs — died because they are Christians. They could have died so many times in the war, but God wanted it to be clear they are martyrs for the faith.
Sr. Rio said Sr. Sally is fully surrendered. The police are trying to get her out because they will just keep after her until they kill her. She is fully surrendered and told Sr. Rio – whatever God wants. She said the other Muslims are so respectful of them. She said to pray that their blood will be the seeds for peace in the Middle East and to stop the ISIS.
She said that if they kidnapped Father Tom most probably they will wait 2 days, then ask in exchange for Father Tom either money or the release of their members held in prison.
Sr. Rio said they were so faithful – ISIS knew exactly when they leave and when to break in. And because of their faithfulness, they were in the right place at the right time and were ready when the Bridegroom came.
Sr. Adriana said she thinks the crushing of the heads has some evil connection with “She will crush head of the serpent,” some kind of mockery or evil meaning.
Sister M. Sally, MC (Superior)
Sister M. Anselm, MC (Bihar)
Sister M. Marguerite, MC (Rwanda)
Sister M. Judith, MC (Kenya)
Sister M. Reginette, MC (Rwanda)

I thought that after the Holocaust, the world promised never again would we be idle in the face of genocide. But as you can read here, there has been a long string of genocides across the world since WWII. I don't know why humanity succumbs to such evil, but here it is again. On this Good Friday, give a special prayer or two for the innocent people massacred here and across the Middle East, especially for these modern day Holy Martyrs who have died simply for being Christian. May they rest in peace.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Music Tuesday: Fox TV’s The Passion

This was on TV Sunday night, Palm Sunday, and I missed it.  I didn’t know about it, but I did see the blog posts Monday Morning.  It’s a musical narrative of Christ’s last week leading to the Resurrection.  Kathy Schiffer, the producer of the show, writes about it on Aleteia.  

“I didn’t want to create a show just for believers. I wanted to reach those who know nothing!”

Adam Anders is talking about his latest project, The Passion, a creative and contemporary retelling of the Gospel narrative which will be broadcast live from New Orleans on Palm Sunday. Anders is executive producer and executive music producer for The Passion. At Fox’s New Orleans studio, he talked to reporters about the project.

Here is the trailer:

Kathy continues on how the idea came about:

Anders first got the idea for The Passion after he was invited to attend a similar large-scale production in Holland. In that country, he reported, only 7 percent of the population goes to church. In contrast, since the musical production of The Passion was introduced there in 2011, it has been viewed by more than 50 percent of Holland’s populace. Anders was excited to realize that this performance could bring the Gospel to people who might otherwise know nothing about it.

“The Catholic Church [in the Netherlands] got behind it, helping to fund and promote it,” Anders told me. “It just took the country by storm. So when I saw that response in a country that’s largely atheist, I thought This is perfect! We’ve got to get it here!”

What a fantastic idea, and New Orleans is a great selection for the host city.  Kathy continues:

The procession will originate at New Orleans’ iconic Superdome, where thousands of displaced persons took refuge during Hurricane Katrina. The relevance of New Orleans as a “resurrected city” is not lost on Anders. “Tyler Perry, who grew up in New Orleans, will talk about it,” he told me. “The Superdome, where this starts, has become a symbol of suffering. There is, in people’s minds, that powerful visual of people trapped by the swirling floodwaters. So many lives have been changed — for better and worse. The city lost thousands of people, some who died and some who left and never came back. My own brother lived here and never returned after Katrina. Now he’s back here for the first time — he’ll be playing in the band.”

So who is in it? 

The Passion features a star-studded cast from a wide range of musical genres. Tyler Perry is the host and narrator. Cuban American singer/songwriter/actor Jencarlos Canela will play Jesus, clad in a beige trenchcoat. Chris Daughtry stars as Judas, and Trisha Yearwood portrays Jesus’ mother, Mary. British singer/songwriter Seal steps into the role of Pontius Pilate. Christian artist Michael W. Smith plays a disciple. And Nischelle Turner, entertainment correspondent for CNN and anchor/correspondent for Entertainment Tonight in effect plays herself — as a reporter on the streets of New Orleans, interviewing people from the crowd during the live procession. Three musical groups — a band from Los Angeles, a New Orleans jazz band and a choir of voices from local churches — will perform, and there will be an appearance by New Orleans’ famed Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

To be honest, other than Seal, I don’t know any of them, but don’t go by me.  I’m pop culture illiterate.  Christopher Rossi gave it a fine review on his blog, Christopher Closeup/

The use of modern songs as the heart of the production showed that God (or at least a spiritual subtext) can be found in popular culture if we open our eyes and ears. Jencarlos Canela as Jesus singing “Calling All Angels” in the Garden of Gethsemane was especially fitting. (“When there is no place safe and no safe place to put my head / When you feel the world shake from the words that are said / And I’m calling all angels / I’m calling all you angels.”). And his duet with Prince Royce as Peter on the Phillip Phillips hit “Home,” brought a new dimension to the song when thought of from the point of view of how Peter felt when Jesus told him he would be the head of His church. (“Settle down, it’ll all be clear / Don’t pay no mind to the demons / They fill you with fear / The trouble—it might drag you down / If you get lost, you can always be found / Just know you’re not alone / ‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home.”)

Now if you missed it like I did, you can still watch it on streamed at Fox.com, here

I’ve been watching it and I love it.  It’s gospel and very American music.  I also love the scenes of New Orleans French Quarter.  I’ve only been there once (actually a few months before Hurricane Katrina) and I recognize a number of the wonderful city visuals.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Interior Castle by St. Theresa of Avila, Part 2

Here were my observations for the second and third mansions from the Goodreads Catholic Thought book club discussions on St. Theresa of Avila's Interior Castle.

You can read Part 1, here.  

Second Mansion

Susan Margaret wrote: "In the first paragraph on the Second Mansions, Teresa mentions something that I think all of us on Goodreads – Catholic Thought have in common and that is, “…most of us never get tired of the multitude of books that deal with matters of the soul” (pg 55, Mirabai Starr edition). I really like the fact that Teresa is such an avid reader; it gives me something I can easily relate to. "

Manny in repsnse: I'm amazed at how learned she is. I don't know the details of her biography; how did she become so well read and a fine writer for a woman of her age. It's a rare woman in her times that even got to go to school, let alone be so exceptional. 

Kerstin wrote: "I find her writing style a little rambling. It almost seems as if one has to make a synopsis of every paragraph to extract what the essence is."

Manny in repsonse: Kerstin, if I may speculate, I think what you're having trouble with is St. Theresa's poeticism. She writes like a poet. So much of what she says is in analogies, similes, and metaphors, and therefore it's not direct. And to be fair to St. Theresa, the subject matter doesn't lend itself to direct speech. Such spirituality is difficult to express, and one has to grasp for comparisons. I could be wrong. I could also be the translation. 

For me, I had similar issues at the beginning. But over time her style has worked its way into my head. I'm fifteen pages from the end, and her writing seems quite logical and conversive. 

Matthew in the Introduction section mentioned he felt he was mostly in the first mansion.  I would have to say for me—and I bet most of us here—are in the second mansion.  In the 2nd paragraph is where she describes those people:

“In this part of the castle are found souls which. have begun to practise prayer; they realize the importance of their not remaining in the first mansions, yet often lack determination to quit their present condition by avoiding occasions of sin, which is a very perilous state to be in.  However, it is a great grace that they should sometimes make good their escape from the vipers and poisonous creatures around them and should understand the need of avoiding them. In some way these souls suffer a great deal more than those in the first mansions, although not in such danger, as they begin to understand their peril and there are great hopes of their entering farther into the castle. I say that they suffer a great deal more, for those in an earlier stage are like deaf-mutes and are not so distressed at being unable to speak, while the others, who can hear but cannot talk, find it much harder. At the same time, it is better not to be deaf, and a decided advantage to hear what is said to us.”

Yes that probably describes me.  I pray and understand the condition of my sins, and understand the need to avoid them, but I can’t say I break free of them often.  She goes on in the next paragraph to understand the psychology of me and those like me:

“These souls hear our Lord calling them, for as they approach nearer to where His Majesty dwells He proves a loving Neighbour, though they may still be engaged in the amusements and business, the pleasures and vanities of this world. While in this state we continually fall into sin and rise again, for the creatures amongst whom we dwell are so venomous, so vicious, and so dangerous, that it is almost impossible to avoid being tripped up by them. Yet such are the pity and compassion of this Lord of ours, so desirous is He that we should seek Him and enjoy His company, that in one way or another He never ceases calling us to Him. So sweet is His voice, that the poor soul is disconsolate at being unable to follow His bidding at once, and therefore, as I said, suffers more than if it could not hear Him.”

Though I hear our Lord, we are just too wrapped up in the business and amusements of this world, like the Super Bowl.  You would think that watching the Super Bowl would be relatively innocuous but it would amaze how many little sins will happen during the course of a Super Bowl party: the language, the bad thoughts, the gambling, the pleasure of watching someone lose, etc.  All venial sins, I’m sure, but sins nonetheless sins which pull you away from elevating the soul.  

Third Mansion

Along the line of needing a trusted spiritual adviser, this paragraph from the first chapter of the third mansion suggests that it would be helpful and that it might not:

"Still I must give you one warning: be not too confident because you are nuns and the daughters of such a Mother. David was very holy, yet you know what Solomon became.  Therefore do not rely on your enclosure, on your penitential life, nor on your continual exercise of prayer and constant communion with God, nor trust in having left the world or in the idea that you hold its ways in horror. All this is good, but is not enough, as I have already said, to remove all fear; therefore meditate on this text and often recall it: 'Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord.' "

You could look at that paragraph and conclude you can't do it on your own,  Even Solomon failed.  But it also warns that just because you have Theresa of Avila as a spiritual mother, it doesn't mean that you will progress.  I've never had a spiritual director, and it would have to be someone I really felt comfortable with if I were to take one on, but I don't know how much it helps.  I guess it can't hurt.

In reply to Andy above, I found this somewhere in the middle in the second chapter to be significant:

“Believe me, the question is not whether we wear the religious habit or not, but whether we practise the virtues and submit our will in all things to the will of God. The object of our life must be to do what He requires of us: let us not ask that our will may be done, but His. If we have not yet attained to this, let us be humble, as I said above. Humility is the ointment for our wounds; if we have it, although perhaps He may defer His coming for a time, God, Who is our Physician, will come and heal us.”

Humility and submission to the will of God in all things—which is the same thing—is how one makes it to the third mansion.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Literature in the News: Walt Whitman Letter to a Dying Soldier Found

A letter written by Walt Whitman for an illiterate, dying soldier has been found in the National Archives.  From the Washington Post:  

Pvt. Robert N. Jabo, of the 8th New Hampshire infantry, was dying of tuberculosis in Washington’s Harewood Hospital and needed to write to his family.

The Civil War had been over for months. Most soldiers had gone home. And Jabo’s wife and six children were no doubt wondering where he was.

But he was sick and illiterate. So a cheerful, bearded man who regularly visited hospitalized soldiers offered to write a letter for him.

The cheerful bearded man turned out to be Walt Whitman.  Whitman wrote many letters for the wounded and ill of the Civil War.  During the war Whitman helped in the hospitals in Washington D.C. where many of the Union wounded were brought. 

The letter was written on both sides of a plain sheet of lined paper, which was probably Whitman’s. It was written with a pen in neat, legible script, probably on Jan. 21, 1866.

“I am mustered out of the service but am not at present well enough to come home,” it says on the front side. “My complaint is an affection of the lungs. . . . I hope you will try to write back as soon as you receive this and let me know how you all are.”

Wilson, of Arlington, turned the letter over.

“Well I send you all my love, and must now close,” it ends. “Your affectionate husband . . . ”

Two lines down, came the surprise: “Written by Walt Whitman, a friend.”

It’s an amazing find.  I’m not sure if I’ve said this before on a Whitman post of mine, but I’ll say it again.  Whitman was an incredibly compassionate man and a truly good soul.

Here’s an image of the actual letter, with Whitman’s signature prominent.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Matthew Monday: Basketball Final

This was Matthew’s second year in basketball skills clinic, a one day a week class over the winter on Saturdays to learn how to play basketball.  It’s for kids from five years old to about ten, and they have it in the school gymnasium.  Like last year, the clinic ended with a game.  I forgot to bring a camera last year, but I remembered this year.

Last year for some strange reason they divided the squads between the big kids verses the little kids for the game.  I don’t know if it was intentional or it just fell that way, but as you can imagine it was a rout.  This year it was fairer.  I think they divided the kids by under eight in one game and over in another. 

Here’s Matthew before the game, first a photo and then a little video of him warming up.

Notice he can dribble, and not badly for a six year old.  But as you will see in the game, he forgets to dribble and just runs with the ball.  He wasn’t the only one, however.  Just about all the kids in the heat of the moment ran with the ball, no matter how many times people were screaming to dribble.  Matthew was put on the team with the yellow tanks, while the opposition got the blue.  You can pick out Matthew from the red long sleeve shirt he has underneath.

It was really hilarious watching the kids run around.  Unfortunately for the yellow team, none of their kids could reach the basket on a shot.  The blue team had a few kids that could really shoot, and they scored eight baskets to yellow’s zip.  So Matthew’s team lost again this year.  He was disappointed, but he still had a blast.

Here’s one more clip. 

I think the parents had more fun watching the game than the kids playing it.

Here’s the Yellow Team group picture.

They are so cute.  And here Matthew displaying his medal.  All the kids got a medal.

My handsome athlete.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Interior Castle by St. Theresa of Avila, Part 1

I’ve been reading The Interior Castle by St. Theresa of Avila, and as I’ve mentioned we’ve been having a discussion of it as part of a book club read for the Catholic Thought group at Goodreads.  We’re still going through, and you’re welcome to join our book club and participate if you like.  Below are my contributions to the discussion.  They are my posts put together sequentially.  Even though you might miss the give and take and not notice when one posts ends and another starts, I think you’ll be able to get my thoughts. 

For you information, The Interior Castle divides into seven mansions, and our group is taking each one in series.   I’ll break these up into a few posts.  I’ll post these as part of a Faith Filled Friday series.  This first one will cover the Preface and first mansion.  If you wish to read The Interior Castle, you can do so online, here


I’m not sure what is considered the Introduction.  If we mean the introduction by the editor, then everyone’s translation will probably have a different introduction.  So I’m not going to comment on the introduction in my edition.

But St. Theresa does have a Preface, and if that’s what Doreen is calling the Introduction, I do have a couple of thoughts, and these are just random thoughts that come to me as I read and jot down in the margins.

She comments in that second paragraph that she has already said what she will say in this book in other books.  I have not read any other of her books, but I am a little surprised by that.  What did she mean?  I am not aware she wrote about a spiritual journey in the form of a castle before.  The Wikipedia entry does not mention that she wrote anything along those lines before.  Her book The Way to Perfection speaks about ways of prayer that perfect the soul and the four stages of perfection.  This book describes seven stages of the soul.  Are they the same thing only now she’s come up with seven categories instead of four, a sort of fine tuning on her original thoughts?  If anyone has read The Way to Perfection, can someone comment on the difference between the two books?

I love her metaphors and similes.  The Castle with all these rooms is a metaphor that shapes the book.  Also in that second paragraph she says she “writes mechanically as birds taught to speak.” So she says she writes as a parrot speaks.  I find that unusual.  So does that imply someone taught her?  I find what she says extremely original.
In the last paragraph in the Preface she says she’s been commanded to write this for the nuns in the convents “because women best understand each other’s language.”  Well, that’s probably true back in her day when I bet most women were illiterate.  I wonder how many of those nuns in her day could read.

First Mansion

I think we should quote the central sentence of the entire book, right in that first paragraph in the First Mansion:

“I thought of the soul as resembling a castle, formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal, and containing many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions.”

I agree, that’s a great image, but as I look at it more carefully she says the castle is “formed of a diamond or very transparent crystal.”  Normally we think of a soul as being vaporous and amorphous.  A crystal is just the opposite.  It’s hard.  I don’t think she explains why.

And look at the end of that complicated metaphor.  The soul (resembling a mansion) has “many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions.”  What confuses me is that I thought the soul enters these rooms but here she seems to be saying that the soul is made up of rooms.  Fast forward to the fifth paragraph where she addresses that:

“Now let us return to our beautiful and charming castle and discover how to enter it. This appears incongruous: if this castle is the soul, clearly no one can have to enter it, for it is the person himself: one might as well tell some one to go into a room he is already in! There are, however, very different ways of being in this castle; many souls live in the courtyard of the building where the sentinels stand, neither caring to enter farther, nor to know who dwells in that most delightful place, what is in it and what rooms it contains.  Certain books on prayer that you have read advise the soul to enter into itself, and this is what I mean.”

So the soul is a castle with rooms and yet it walks into its rooms, into itself.  Now that is mystical!

There were interesting passages in chapter 2 as well.  For instance the very opening lines:

“Before going farther, I wish you to consider the state to which mortal sin brings this magnificent and beautiful castle, this pearl of the East, this tree of life, planted beside the living waters of life which symbolize God Himself. No night can be so dark, no gloom nor blackness can compare to its obscurity. Suffice it to say that the sun in the centre of the soul, which gave it such splendour and beauty, is totally eclipsed, though the spirit is as fitted to enjoy God's presence as is the crystal to reflect the sun. While the soul is in mortal sin nothing can profit it; none of its good works merit an eternal reward, since they do not proceed from God as their first principle, and by Him alone is our virtue real virtue. The soul separated from Him is no longer pleasing in His eyes, because by committing a mortal sin, instead of seeking to please God, it prefers to gratify the devil, the prince of darkness, and so comes to share his blackness.”

There’s that crystal again as I mentioned it in my other comment.  And a few lines into the next paragraph, St. Theresa brings in what will be another big metaphor later in this book, the spring or river:

“In a state of grace the soul is like a well of limpid water, from which flow only streams of clearest crystal. Its works are pleasing both to God and man, rising from the River of Life, beside which it is rooted like a tree. Otherwise it would produce neither leaves nor fruit, for the waters of grace nourish it, keep it from withering from drought, and cause it to bring forth good fruit. But the soul by sinning withdraws from this stream of life, and growing beside a black and fetid pool, can produce nothing but disgusting and unwholesome fruit.”

There’s the crystal again.  I think in St. Theresa’s symbolism, the crystal represents the pure soul.  I’m pretty sure that tree beside the river is an allusion to the beginning of Psalm 1:

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in company with scoffers.  Rather, the law of the Lord is his joy; and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted near streams of water that yields its fruit in season; its leaves never wither; whatever he does prospers.”

Another interesting passage is that on self-knowledge.  It’s a few paragraphs in from the beginning of the chapter.

“A soul which gives itself to prayer, either much or little, should on no account be kept within narrow bounds. Since God has given it such great dignity, permit it to wander at will through the rooms of the castle, from the lowest to the highest. Let it not force itself to remain for very long in the same mansion, even that of self-knowledge. Mark well, however, that self-knowledge is indispensable, even for those whom God takes to dwell in the same mansion with Himself. Nothing else, however elevated, perfects the soul which must never seek to forget its own nothingness. Let humility be always at work, like the bee at the honeycomb, or all will be lost. But, remember, the bee leaves its hive to fly in search of flowers and the soul should sometimes cease thinking of itself to rise in meditation on the grandeur and majesty of its God. It will learn its own baseness better thus than by self-contemplation, and will be freer from the reptiles which enter the first room where self-knowledge is acquired. Although it is a great grace from God to practise self-examination, yet 'too much is as bad as too little,' as they say; believe me, by God's help, we shall advance more by contemplating the Divinity than by keeping our eyes fixed on ourselves, poor creatures of earth that we are.”

There’s a lot to unpack there.  As I think I understand it, the sequence of events is prayer leads being industrious like the bee, which leads to humility which leads to self-knowledge.  It’s this self-knowledge that leads to the first mansions.  Now to be frank, I don’t know what she means by “self-knowledge.”  She doesn’t define it, but it seems to be different than self-examination.  That too is interesting because that contrasts with Jesuit spirituality, where self-examination plays a big part.  St. Theresa says—and this may be her Carmelite spirituality—that it’s better to focus n the Divinity than on oneself.  Still I’m at a loss to know what she means by self-knowledge.  Did she define it somewhere and I missed it?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Part 1

It’s always hard to write about a novel you are currently reading for the first time and haven’t finished.  I’m reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and it’s certainly enjoyable enough.  But here I am almost a third of the way through, and the main storyline—or what I think is the main storyline since perhaps I don’t know—has only come up in a suggestion, the innuendo that Atticus Finch, attorney, will be defending a “nigger” in court.  So what are these first hundred pages all about if it’s not the storyline and why am I enjoying it?

The novel is divided into two parts.  The first part, which I’ve now read, deals with the life in the southern town of Maycomb, Alabama as seen through the eyes of a six to seven year old girl, nicknamed Scout.  Except for the narrative section of trying to get a reclusive named Boo Radley to come out of his home, the stories are parallel anecdotes.  They could have been individual short stories.

Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it.  In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square.  Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square.  Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning.  Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.

People moved slowly then.  They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything.  A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer.  There was no hurry, for there was o where to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.  But it was a time of vague optimism for some of the people: Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself.

That last sentence is a clever way of situating the time to 1933, the year President Franklyn Roosevelt took office and used that famous line.  I’m not going to give you a summary, but just to make the point there are a series of anecdotes involving Scout, her older brother Jem, and a childhood friend, Dill.  We get anecdotes of school, Miss Caroline the teacher, Miss Maudie the neighbor, the Radleys, also neighbors, her father Atticus, his siblings, a rabid dog that threatens the neighborhood, a fire that burnt down Miss Maudie’s home, and the passing of a cantankerous old woman, Mrs. Dubose.  What’s important here is that Lee is creating the world of a southern town in the early part of the twentieth century: family oriented, neighborly, but also racist.  Also of importance is the delineation of Scout’s character, a tomboy trying to fit into her world.  Here’s an interesting anecdote at the beginning of the third chapter.

Catching Walter Cunningham in the schoolyard gave me some pleasure, but whn I was rubbing his nose in the dirt Jem came by and told me to stop.  “You’re bigger’n he is,” he said.

“He’s as old as you, nearly,” I said.  “He’s made me start off on the wrong foot.”

“Let him go, Scout.  Why?”

“He didn’t have any lunch,” I said, and explained my involvement in Walter’s dietary affairs. 

Walter had picked himself up and was standing quietly listening to Jem and me.  His fists were half cocked, as if expecting an onslaught from both of us.  I stomped at him to chase him away, but Jem put out his hand and stopped me.  He examined Walter with an air of speculation.  “Your daddy Mr. Walter Cunningham from Old Sarum?” he asked, and Walter knodded.

Walter looked as if he had been raised on fish food: his eyes, as blue as Dill Harris’s, were red-rimmed and watery.  There was no color in his face except at the tip of his nose, which was mostly pink.  He fingered the straps of his overalls, nervously picking at the metal hooks.

Jem suddenly grinned at him.  “Come on home to dinner with us Walter,” he said.  “We’d be glad to have you.”

Walter’s face brightened, then darkened.

Jem said, “Our daddy’s a friend of your daddy’s.  Scout here, she’s crazy—she won’t fight you any more.

“I wouldn’t be too certain of that,” I said.  Jem’s free dispensation of my pledge irked me, but precious noontime minutes were ticking away.  “Yeah Walter, I won’t jump yuou again.  Don’t you like butterbeans?  Our Cal’s a real good cook.”

Walter stood where he was, biting his lip.  Jem and I gave up, and we were nearly to the Radley Place when Walter called, “Hey, I’m comin’!”

This little scene captures in a microcosm the themes of the book: fairness, justice, friendliness, and a religious obligation, suggested by the diction “free dispensation,” which alludes to the theological dispensation of grace.

At this point in my reading, I just don’t understand the significance of Boo Radley.  So why is the first third of the novel outside the main storyline?  Shouldn’t a writer put the reader in media res?  If you conceptualize the storyline to be Atticus’ defense of Tom Robinson at his trial, then the novel is incorrectly plotted, and perhaps even Scout’s first person point of view is badly chosen.  But you have to give the novelist her due.  The main storyline is not the trial but the education of Jean Louise Finch, her moral development, and the blossoming of her femininity.  The trial is in service of Scout’s development, not the other way around.  When the trial is first brought up, at the beginning of chapter nine, it is tied to Atticus educating Scout.

You can just take that back, boy!

This order, given by me to Cecil Jacobs, was the beginning of a rather thin time for Jem and me.  My fists were clenched and I was ready to let fly.  Atticus had promised me he would wear me out if he ever heard of me fighting any more; I was far too old and too big for such childish things, and the sooner I learned to hold in, the better off everybody would be.  I soon fogot.

Cecil Jacobs made me forget.  He in the schoolyard the day before that Scout Finch
S daddy defended niggers.  I denied it, but told Jem.

“What’d he mean sayin’ that? I asked.

“Nothing,” Jem said.  “Ask Atticus, he’ll tell you.”

“Do you defend niggers, Atticus?” I asked him that evening.

“Of course I do.  Don’t say nigger, Scout.  That’s common.”

“’s what everybody at school says.”

“From now on it’ll be everybody less one—“

“Well if you don’t want me to grow up talkin’ that way, why do you send me to school?”

My father looked at me mildly, amusement in his eyes.  Despite our compromise, my campaign to avoid school had continued in one form or another since my first day’s dose of it: the beginning of last September had brought on sinking spells, dizziness, and mild gastric complaints.  I went so far as to pay a nickel for the privilege of rubbing my head against of rubbing my head against the head of Miss Rachel’s cook’s son, who was afflicted with a tremendous ringworm.  It didn’t take.

But I was worrying another bone.  “Do all lawyers defend n-Negroes, Atticus?

“Of course they do, Scout.”

“Then why did Cecil say you defended niggers?  He made it sound like you were runnin’ a still.”

Atticus sighed.  “I’m simply defending a Negro—his name’s Tom Robinson.  He lives in that little settlement beyond the town dump.  He’s member of Calpurnia’s church, and Cal knows his family well.  She says they’re clean living folks.  Scout, you aren’t old enough to understand some things yet, but there’s been some high talk around town to the effect that I shouldn’t do much about defending this man.  It’s a peculiar case—it won’t come tio trial until summer session.  John Taylor was kind enough to give us a postponement…”

Here Scout is taught about vulgar talk, the dehumanization of people, justice, and even the “childishness” of fighting.  A novel about the development of the central character is called a Bildunsroman.  Childishness will eventually turn to maturity.