December 31, 2012

Seven Long Takes


Scene outside our door at dusk yesterday.
The high, high ceiling of St. Ann's Church caught my eye Christmas Day. There in the rafters was a small blue-stained glass window, one seemingly put there just for the angels to enjoy. What a marvelous touch, I thought, putting that little window way up there as if symbolizing the heights to which we are called to or representing the element of surprise that God employs. It has about it a kind of divine hiddenness about it, as if the church designer wanted touches that transcended utility or usefulness. That little window could not be observed up close by anybody and yet I imagine the artist wasn't making it half-assedly in an attitude of "well, nobody will see this up close" but more in the spirit that God intends all of our works to be: done in a spirit of care because God sees.

St. Ann's has the little surprises of old churches, like an inexplicable nook on the other side of the altar. It's a building that invites exploration unlike most dull, modern churches which tend to eliminate mystery, much as the church in the years immediately following Vatican II tried to eliminate mystery by dumping Latin and watering down "Catholic distinctives" like the rosary. So often art and architecture and liturgy mirror what we believe. Or don't believe.

I love the stained glass windows at St. John's Byzantine church, even more so because they quote inspiring Scripture at the bottom of them instead of having the gauche script of many Roman Catholic churches, "Donated by Mr. and Mrs. So and So".

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After-Christmas was marked dramatically by conditions just shy of a blizzard. Cincy supposedly had a blizzard, while we got a winter storm, the difference apparently being just 5mph in wind (20-25mph with 40mph gusts for them). We were supposed to get a gaudy 6-10 inches of snow, but I'm thinking we ended up with maybe 4-5. Certainly wasn't overtiring shoveling the driveway. Never one to let a good crisis go to waste, I decided to work from home on the 26th.

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Books! You knaves! You drive me to distraction with your infinite variety and buy-crying, voices calling to me with such seductive flair! I had to buy Hilary Mantel's "Bringing Up the Bodies" of course, seeing how it's about a period of history I'm particularly interested in (King Henry VIII-era). And of course I had to buy Jody Bottum's work called "Christmas Plains" simply on the basis of his discursive, eclectic and engaging writing.

Finished ye olde "The Bartender's Tale", my 16th of the rapidly fading 2012. It was engaging if a bit sentimental. Kind of Earl Hammer-ish in some ways.

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From Chesterton:
"Christ­mas occurs in the win­ter. It is the ele­ment not mere­ly of con­trast, but actu­al­ly of antag­o­nism. It pre­serves every­thing that was best in the mere­ly prim­i­tive or pagan view of such cer­e­monies or such ban­quets. If we are carous­ing, at least we are war­riors carous­ing. We hang above us, as it were, the shields and battle-axes with which we must do bat­tle with the giants of the snow and hail. All com­fort must be based on dis­com­fort. Man choos­es when he wish­es to be most joy­ful the very moment when the whole mate­r­i­al uni­verse is most sad. It is this con­tra­dic­tion and mys­ti­cal defi­ance which gives a qual­i­ty of man­li­ness and real­i­ty to the old win­ter feasts which is not char­ac­ter­is­tic of the sunny felic­i­ties of the Earth­ly Par­adise."
-- “Christ­mas Books,” Appre­ci­a­tions

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I'm getting little gleams of goodness from the Catechism readings. Like the following passage, which offers a kind of "course correction" on my assumption that God the Father approved of his Son's obedience in being baptized by John merely for his own sake:
"Father’s voice responds to the Son’s acceptance, proclaiming his entire delight in his Son. The Spirit whom Jesus possessed in fullness from his conception comes to “rest on him.” Jesus will be the source of the Spirit for all mankind. At his baptism “the heavens were opened”—the heavens that Adam’s sin had closed—and the waters were sanctified by the descent of Jesus and the Spirit, a prelude to the new creation."
This suggests that the Father's joy over Jesus was for our sake, that Jesus had, with his Baptism, opened the heavens for us! Again it shows a Father not bent on receiving his obedience for His own sake, but towards a goal of restoration of everyone. I've always pictured it as God the Father seeing Jesus subordinating himself to John and saying with exasperation, "At last! Someone down there has done it right!" False!

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Despite all the turmoil and craziness of the holiday season, there was under-girding it all a kind of feeling hard to describe. If it felt like a roller-coaster ride during which I wasn't much in control and barely hanging on, there was a sort of refreshing brainlessness to it, a change of pace from the heavy mind use that constitutes my daily life of reading and computer programming. The great chill - it was in the 20s yesterday which is reasonably uncomfortable for someone of Irish heritage who, in his blood, has rarely seen sub-40 temps - contributed to a feeling of convalescence, of those "bad old days" when I actually got a cold or flu once or twice a year and thus was "subjected" to a massive influx of entertainment.

Thinking of getting Tom Wolfe's latest novel about Miami titled "Back to Blood". The title is a reference to a character saying that in these post-religion days we're losing that which united us and thus we're "back to blood", i.e. feeling solidarity only towards those of our ethnicity. Downloaded first chapter on Kindle and am surprised by how engrossing it is. I'm going to order the hardback because I wanted to re-experience the sensuous presence of a physically well-built book, as most of Wolfe's are. I'm not sure it's the best thing for him to write so nakedly about tensions between whites and Latinos (does writing about race inflame the situation further?) but it's interesting to read his novelistic reportage on how many Hispanics view "Americanos", the term used by Miami Cubans when talking among themselves. "Anglo" is the term for whites when they're talking to outsiders. I sense it's not a good sign when you refer to a group by one name within your own group and by a different name outside that group. Ala the n-word being used by whites historically.

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So the sweet uplands of vacation are now behind me and I face the physics of moving my body from shower to car to parking garage to work.

Began watching How Beer Saved the World last night, a tasty little Netflix offering. A documentary with a sense of humor. Also have "Captain America" in the queue.

For better or worse, I'm long past the need to do something social on New Year's Eve simply because it's New Year's Eve. In the bad old 80s and 90s it was a grand holiday spent at bars with the boys looking for girls. But certainly marriage drains the social impulse greatly by eliminating the chase of the skirt. Not sure how much was my appreciation for camaraderie with the guys and how much was desire for finding a potential mate.

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Didn't go to my Byzantine parish yesterday in part because that Eastern liturgy's music is not influenced by liturgical season. Nothing really of Christmas to it. But the carols at my Roman Catholic parish were terribly saccharine, like Away in a Manger. My least favorite ones with two of the four I'd never even heard of. Oh but I was hoping for "O Come All Ye Faithful". I know Christmas is supposed to be twelve days, but the flavor at mass is more "one and done" as compared to Easter. With Easter, you're likely to hear "Jesus Christ Was Risen Today" two consecutive Sundays, while with Christmas the Sunday after we're celebrating the Holy Family and the childhood of Jesus. There are still Christmas hymns sung on the Sunday after but they tend to be more like "Away in a Manger" than "Hark the Herald Angels Sing". A bit o' a letdown. Not that we go to church for the hymns of course.

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Grandson Sam was saying over and over, "I want Netflix." About ten times we'd watched the familiar castle at the beginning of a Netflix'd Disney show, rewinding and cheering as it loomed back into view. Definitely as he nears 3 years old he's feeling his oats these days, is much more assertive and energetic. Gosh I don't know how parents do it, but about the 70th time Sam said "I want Netflix" I felt a bit of chaos: I was trying to figure out how to program the remote to the new TV while Sam was saying "I want Netflix" while our 100lb dog was trying to hop in my lap and while baby Will was starting to cry. I can see so clearly the necessity of mancaves and just why they are so popular. They're completely optional - unless you have kids.

My wife certainly seems in her wheelhouse here in this land of kids and plenty. Vacations at home are always her favorite since she has the comforts of home, joined with the possibility of making home improvements of some type, joined also with ubiquitous grandchildren opportunities.

Parents take on superhuman qualities in my eyes after getting a glimmer of what they go through daily. (Stepson Aaron says his secret to parenting is "have very low expectations about how the day will go.") Kids drive parents crazy, almost by design it would seem. It's sobering to realize I was once all need, all noise and an effective agent of parental insanity.

I must admit that drinking with the kids here makes the kids being here 62% more enjoyable by volume, where volume is measured by the ale pint and the wail-cry. All-in-all much nicer where "nicer" is defined downwardly. I'm thinking that it's better to bring a bad mood into a medium mood versus transforming a medium mood to a great mood. Ok, enough whining. And wine-ing.

Sam was unbearably cute in a video Steph made of him waiting for my arrival on Christmas Day. He was waiting by door, looking for any sign of "Paw-Paw" and alternating between audible thoughts of Paw-paw and Uncle Bud, the latter of whom Sam said over and over, "Uncle Bud has a boo-boo." (His nemesis Uncle Bud being in the hospital for a potential blood clot.) Sam was giddy upon recognizing my car in the driveway and when I got in immediately treated me to a drum solo on his new equipment.

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It looks like my fetish to "live like a hunter-gatherer because that's the way we evolved except with respect to alcohol consumption" may have another requirement. I just read a Daily Beast article on the parenting hunter/gatherer style and it seems that "allo-parenting" is probably good for kids and certainly has the wisdom of the ages behind it.

Allo-parenting is basically letting everyone help raise your child, particularly grandparents and aunts and uncles. So it would seem that parents spending less time with kids is not likely to weaken the parent/child bond.

The article certainly makes me queasy on certain things, like the insouciance traditional societies have with regard to premarital sex - and it makes me outraged over others, like the approval of infanticide. My fetish for all things natural comes up against the object of man as a dogma-making animal. That which make us different from animals is that we don't simply do what "comes natural". We are called to something higher. The author of the piece seems mainly concerned only with what "works" rather than what's right. The two notions aren't the same.

And of course I'm not exactly thrilled about how traditional societies reject consuming anything passively from outsiders, be it books, movies, etc... But that would explain their marked sociability and length of time spent talking. If one doesn't read or watch tv, you have plenty of time and inclination to find your entertainment in talking to others and being more sociable. I predict the explosion of entertainment options with the invention of tablets and smart phones will make social skills even rarer going forward.

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Am haunted by Cardinal Dolan quoting St. Padre Pio today as saying something along the lines that "silence and tears are the only way to God". Must google exact quote. I think about how rarely I do either one.

Cardinal Ratzinger writes about silence in a recent meditation in "Co-Workers of the Truth":
"Christmas beckons us to enter into God’s silence; and his mystery remains unknown to so many because they cannot find the silence in which God is active. How can we find it? Absence of words alone does not yet produce it. For a person may well remain silent outwardly, while inside he is completely torn apart by the restlessness of so many things. A person may well be silent, and yet there is a frightening noise inside him. To enter into silence means: to discover a new inner order."

"The dinosaurs are said to have become extinct because their development went in the wrong direction: plenty of armor plate and little brain, plenty of muscles and little sense. Are we not also about to develop in a wrong direction: plenty of technology but little soul? A thick armor plate of material expertise but an emptied heart? Dearth of the ability to perceive God’s voice in us, to recognize and acknowledge what is good and beautiful and true? Is it not high time for an adjustment in our 'evolutionary' course?"

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