February 13, 2017

Let's Play...Why's My Bookbag (or e-read equiv) So D*mn Heavy?

Saturday I fell headlong heedlessly into a print ocean. I was determined to go for quantity if not quality.

First up was the new Evelyn Waugh biography. I asked myself why, given he was an uncharitable, sex-addicted prose-master (is that uncharitable?) and I guess I had my answer right there. Why not read the Ian Ker biography of St. Gilbert of Chesterton? Or the bio of Russell Kirk, imbiber of ancient wisdom? Really, what can Waugh teach given that his talent for writing is nontransferable?

Then I lapped up some William Least Heat Moon and some lively dialogue that reads like fiction. Here he has a repairman come over and talk about his son while doing a job:
A couple of months before setting out to travel the Ouachita Valley, I had an electrician rewire a storage space I was converting into a small exercise room. I explained to the man, only a few years younger than I, old folks don’t need storage —they need muscle. The remark found resonance in him and considerably slowed the job, since he apparently wasn’t able to talk while simultaneously holding a tool or length of conduit. He put down his screwdriver to exposit more clearly his means of teaching his grandson rudiments of basketball to help the boy make his school team.

“I never played down to him. He had to match me, but it didn’t take long before he could outrun me, outjump me. That young body! Hell, he could get it to piss over the hood of a pickup.” He stopped. “Excuse my phraseology, but you know what I’m saying.”

He took a length of conduit, measured it, and put it down once more. “Oh, man! To be seventeen again!” (Conduit up, conduit down.) “He could outdo me in every way but one, and I had that advantage only because he couldn’t see it, no matter how I tried to explain it.” (Screw-driver in hand, screwdriver back into tool belt.) “Time!” he said, referring to what he was using too much of for my project. “The boy doesn’t know what to do with time except to burn it. That’s my one advantage. If he isn’t fiddling with an electronic game, he spends his time dreaming impossible things —climbing Mount Everest or dating some starlet of the hour.”

Having forgotten the conduit measurement, he remeasured. “I tell him, ‘Okay, you can outrun me, but what good is it if you’re not running to some productive place?’” (Here, a piece of conduit actually got attached to the wall.) “I tell him he’s like a trash collector, except he goes around just collecting days so he can haul them off to dump them.” (Junction box screwed to the wall.) “Time’s his enemy because he’s got too much of it, and it’s my enemy because I’m running out of it.” I could see why. (Next length of conduit measured and set down.) “Old Mother Nature’s a smart-ass, you know. When you finally learn how to use time, you can’t even piss over a hubcap.” (Conduit remeasured.) “Excuse my phraseology, but you know what I’m saying.”
Then wasted time reading New Yorker Jeffery Tubin's old slanted book on the Supreme Court. Just can't resist those gossipy, what-are-they-really-like scenes. It's almost humorous how Tubin's love and affection for the liberal justices comes out spontaneously.

Read some of High Dive novel. Mentions that the problem with having a fall-back plan is you're likely to fall back on it. Commitment uber alles. Also liked this line, about a girl who was cool because she didn't care if she looked cool: "Lack of self-awareness has its own perfect appeal."

Riveting Heather King quote from a book she's reading:
“Maslow ...said transcenders, on the other hand, “had illuminations or insights” that motivated them to transform their lives and the lives of others. They felt a sense of destiny, sought truth, did not judge, and viewed pain, even in their love lives, as an opportunity to grow. Maslow considered peak experiences, mystical visions, and self-creation as natural parts of our higher circuitry.". --Brenda Schaeffer, Is It Love Or Is It Addiction?
Which is interesting in that that "desire to transform the lives of others" is what evangelism would seem to imply. St. Paul, the master evangelist, was certainly highly motivated to transform the lives of others, and well he did.

Anyway I love that sentiment that "mysticism is natural", that it's accessible to us all. (Although Maslow's not exactly Scripture though.)


I find it a humorous juxtaposition but an appropriate one, that Song of Songs follows Ecclesiastes in the Bible. It's surely no accident - the one answers the other. The first says "all is meaningless" and the second says "except for love". The first represents our time on earth, the second our time in Heaven.

Found this from a Patheos blogger:
"I count [these two books] among my most cherished members of the canon.
Without them I don’t think there is enough space for God to roam around. Although these books are certainly unique in their presentation of God, they are unique in a good way that opens our imaginations to new ways to encounter the divine. They open up mystical playgrounds, and theological escape hatches. I love it.
I need to be able to love God deeply, madly, passionately, and with abandon; like in the Song of Songs. Our culture is awash in cheap sex. I need a place where it is rich. Song of Songs can provide that place.
I also need to be reminded of a God that can meet me in the midst of my duty. Sometimes the feeling of passion for God are gone. My fear of the LORD is tainted with doubt and God does not seem personal at all. The world can seem empty at times, and even the good things I have can appear fleeting, evanescent, and absurd. Ecclesiastes gives me a sacred space in those times. It helps lead me into the desert where God can work something new in me. Ecclesiastes guides me to under the wings of the monastic traditions of my faith and through the dark night of the soul. It demonstrates that even in austerity there is richness in God."

I read where the gospel of Matthew was given pride of place as the first because it was the historically seen as the most important and favored. I can't pick one of the gospels as a favorite, mostly because each have things I like and things I'm less fond of. Different strengths. For example, I always feel guilty with Luke like I'm not too favored given my (relative) wealth but I love his emphasis on prayer and Mary.  With Mark, it seems like Jesus is always tirelessly performing miracles.

Here's my rough could-be-wrong one sentence impressions of the gospels:

Matthew: the authoritative Christ
Mark: the approachable Christ
Luke: the contemplative Christ
John: the consoling Christ

Another view: Matthew for conservatives, Luke for liberals, Mark for non-ideologues, and John for everybody since he transcends labels.


Good homily at Mass the other day - I appreciated how this young Dominican isn't shy around deep questions. He's refreshingly ambitious in how much he's willing to take in a mere 5-minute homily.

Specifically he talked about the origin of Original Sin. How our first parents were without disordered desires. They could eat the precisely correct amount - no more, no less, than what was perfectly desirable. They could not lust. They could be lazy. In other words, they had no trouble with the passions. In a sense, they were like the angels in the lack of temptation around bodily sin. However, like the angel Lucifer, they were susceptible to spiritual sin, namely of wanting to be God. The devil famously would prefer to be master of Hell than a servant in Heaven - in other words, to deny he too is a creaturely beings designed for service.

The priest said that of course it's objectively better to be master rather than servant. Who wouldn't prefer that? To have complete control over our circumstances? But the Tree Adam and Eve grasped at (to become gods) was the Tree that Jesus became and freely offered, such that we can become like God after all by virtue of his divine gift.

And what a revelatory NABRE footnote concerning today's reading from Genesis:
"The Lord God planted a paradise [= pleasure park] in Eden.” It should be noted, however, that the garden was not intended as a paradise for the human race, but as a pleasure park for God; the man tended it for God. The story is not about “paradise lost.”

Interesting to read Deut 28 given it mentions "blessed be the fruit of your womb", obviously later echoed in the NT as applying to Mary. I read the whole passage and considered it as foreshadowing of Mary:
If you will only obey the Lord your God, by diligently observing all his commandments...Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb...The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you; they shall come out against you one way, and flee before you seven ways...The Lord will open for you his rich storehouse, the heavens, to give the rain of your land in its season and to bless all your undertakings. You will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow. The Lord will make you the head, and not the tail; you shall be only at the top, and not at the bottom—if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God.
That last part reminds me of Mary as Queen of Heaven, Queen of even the angels! The part about the Lord opening his rich storehouse reminds me of her storehouse of grace and how she would "lend to many nations, but will not borrow", which is certain on the grace front; she lends to us and need not borrow being preserved from Original Sin. And the part about enemies fleeing reminds me of the demons being cowed and of the prophesy in Genesis "I will put enmity between the woman and the serpent."

In the "paradise lost" notion I've always subscribed to, I pictured that it's as if we were gods before the Fall when in fact we were still creatures subject to the test. We may've been immortal but we still had to humbly submit to a greater power than ourselves. We still had to work even - to cultivate the garden as it says in Genesis.

The sobering thing is that even without our passions we are still quite capable of sin, witness the angels who fell as well as Adam and Eve. One hundred percent of prelapsarian humans fell and perhaps a third of the angels as well. No wonder pride is the ultimate enemy.

There's a kind of odd consolation in reading about the Fall since it helps explain the why of it all - the why of demonic possession ("he will bruise their heel" - a literal bruising in the case of St. Padre Pio) and of course the necessity of death, to fulfill the truth of the word of God as far as the consequence of partaking of the forbidden fruit.

The Fall's effects applied even to two people for whom it didn't happen: Jesus and Mary. Both were conceived without sin like Adam and Eve. And yet both took on the consequences of Original Sin: difficulty in labor for Mary if not literally than symbolically given how a sword pierced her heart, and death for both, although we're not sure about Mary on that aspect.

At Byzantine service heard the Prodigal Son gospel; one thing that occurred to me for the first time ever was how even in exile the prodigal was in at least one way morally impressive: he would not steal despite his great hunger: "He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating, and no one gave him anything."

I also thought during the First Reading about the connection between the Eucharist and sex: how in both cases we join ourselves physically to another, and how in both cases we see how seriously God takes material things: in the first case, how seriously he takes what we do with our bodies, and in the second, how seriously he treats union with us such that he's willing to risk ridicule by changing bread and wine into Himself. "He who eats and drinks my Body and Blood gains eternal life", he says, and he who commits adultery with someone not his wife risks eternal hellfire.

Thirsting for culture in a dry land, I took 7-yr old Sammy to the Art Museum where a piano soloist was offering a concert. I thought it was free - it seemed the last art museum concert was - but this one was $30 for me and $10 for Sammy. I said "no thanks" but the kind lady at the ticket counter said, "Oh go on ahead anyway." And then to Sam she said, "you'll be inspired!" (Of course Sam had no openness to being inspired except by the kids movie he was watching on my iphone - that was obviously the only way I was going to get him to go with me!) He'd actually been there before, on a class field trip! A pretty young woman reported to me that she loved my sweatshirt, which says "Eat. Breathe. Sleep. Books."

I gave the ticket lady the $15 I had on me, though now I wished I'd just accepted the largess and be $15 better off. But good to support the arts, I should say. We left after an hour, at intermission, to prevent Sam from getting too restive. Plus I was having a helluva time trying to suppress my cough. The more I thought: "don't cough! People are trying to listen to this great music!" the more I had to cough. My eyes watered and I involuntarily near-coughed. Grateful between pieces when I could cough while applauding.

I dropped $20 at gift shop which was an unforced error. Never let Sam go shopping with you else he'll beg and wheedle you like a master playa.


Michelangelo's poetry:

Swift through the eyes unto the heart within
All lovely forms that thrall our spirit stray;
So smooth and broad and open is the way
That thousands and not hundreds enter in.
Burdened with scruples and weighed down with sin,
These mortal beauties fill me with dismay;
Nor find I one that doth not strive to stay
My soul on transient joy, or lets me win
The heaven I yearn for. Lo, when erring love —
Who fills the world, howe’er his power we shun,
Else were the world a grave and we undone —
Assails the soul, if grace refuse to fan
Our purged desires and make them soar above,
What grief it were to have been born a man!

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