Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page

Wishing for wisdom

In Catholic imagination, Christian mysticism, G. K. Chesterton, meaning of death/life on November 28, 2010 at 2:11 am

What is it about 19th century men and women–or at least, 20th century men and women who are now long-since gone–that makes them more appealing than our contemporaries? I find myself drawn to reading, reading about, listening to, great figures of the not too distant past, in ways that I am not–about people in similar positions, today. I’m thinking of G. K. Chesterton, Ronald Knox, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Buber, Eleanor Roosevelt, C. J. Jung, Simone Weil, R. W. Emerson, Jorge Luis Borges, Thomas Merton, Howard Thurman (a diverse bunch, yes, I realize). I think that what all of these might have in common is a desire, above all, for wisdom.

In contrast, this seems rare, today. Today, we specialize. Today, we try to keep to what we know and leave what we don’t know to others. Success today comes by following more clearly defined paths. And maybe we don’t listen as well as people once listened. With listening comes wisdom. There’s no question that we encounter a wider range of experiences and opinions by the natural course of living than people probably ever have, or ever have wished to, but it doesn’t seem to be creating people of wisdom.

Philip Larkin (among many others) must be wrong

In Advent reflections, Catholic imagination, meaning of death/life on November 25, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Despite all of the other ways in which I am resolutely modern, I will always keep living as if there is most definitely an eternity to which I am destined to go and experience, knowing others as I know them here and now, being enlightened towards the previously unknown, and somehow knowing God with a new kind of intimacy.

Philip Larkin, whose irony I enjoy, famously wrote: “The sure extinction that we travel to / And shall be lost in always”

I think he was wrong.


In Monastic spirituality, Spiritual practice on November 21, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Here’s a new/old spiritual practice. Try it for the first time this year.

Don’t shop on the day after Thanksgiving (Friday, November 26). Don’t participate in that madness. Instead, take the day to do some clearing out of what’s old and what’s extra in your life. Clean out your closets, pantries, and shelves — and give the extra stuff away. Ahhhh! That will feel good, and is good for you and others!

Leaving family behind for God?

In Catholic imagination, Christ-following, Strange religious customs on November 15, 2010 at 11:48 am

One of the persistent themes in the ascetic tales of both East and West is the presumption of virtue in choosing the religious life over family life. The two never go hand in hand. This sort of renunciation is an ancient path, well-worn by domestic discontents. For example, remember the story of The Buddha and how he abandoned wife and child in order to begin his spiritual path. The tradition so reveres him for this that it’s said the gods muffled the hooves of the horses’ feet so that no one would hear him leave in the middle of the night.

Then, consider this less famous parallel example from the Christian West: St. Paul’s bachelorhood, and his teaching that it is better to remain single than to marry. The man who can remain single without “burning” with desire for a woman is superior to the man who is drawn to the attachments of wife and family life.

Body and soul are sensuous colleagues

In Almost Catholic book, Catholic imagination on November 7, 2010 at 4:33 pm

John Milton appears to have been the first person to coin the word sensuous, in order to distinguish from the titillation of the sensual. He once explained that the soul and the body are “sensuous colleagues” when joined together in a human being. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, another poet, took up the distinction and later declared, “The understanding, wherever it does not possess or use the reason, as another and inward eye, may be defined the conception of the sensuous.” And Jack Kerouac wrote in one of his King James Version-like psalm-meditations: “[T]hank you, O Lord, for small meeds of truth and warmth Thou hast poured into this willing vessel, and thank you for confusion, mistake, and Horror’s sadness, that breed in Thy Name. Keep my flesh in Thee everlasting.”

A prayer (with gardening imagery) inspired by St. Clare

In Clare of Assisi, Prayers of the mystics on November 7, 2010 at 12:45 am

This prayer is taken from the St. Clare Prayer Book and is loosely based on a prayer from the traditional Capuchin Office of St. Clare.


May the Lord make you a gardener

among the vines,

pulling weeds, aerating soil,

tending to the needs of both the roots and leaves.

The vines will flourish and grow,

giving forth their fragrance,

spreading their bounty in the light.

May it be so. Amen.

Thanks to Michelle Van Loon…

In Catholic and Protestant, evolving Protestants, Making saints, Strange religious customs on November 3, 2010 at 1:50 pm

For this mini-review of my book, The Lure of Saints: A Protestant Experience of Catholic Tradition on the Christianity Today blog for women. Seems like I have a kindred spirit in Michelle!

Why saints are both strange and marvelous

In Catholic imagination, Christ-following, evolving Protestants, Making saints on November 3, 2010 at 1:45 pm

I sometimes feel a bit like Don Quixote, who read hundreds of books on chivalry and knighthood and then foolishly determined to wander the world imitating them by righting wrongs, helping ladies in distress, and bringing nobility back to the people along his path. Quixote often scolded Sancho Panza, his infinitely cleverer companion, for laughing at his expense, talking too much, and questioning his actions. A wickedly funny character created by Miguel de Cervantes for his famous novel by the same name, Don Quixote is perhaps the greatest idealist in history, fictional or true. He is at times a holy fool, a saint (according to W. H. Auden), and a mirror image of each person who tries hard to be something he or she has read about in books.

Don Quixote is considered foolish precisely because he wholeheartedly believes that what he has read in books about medieval knights actually happened. He is egotistical because he sincerely believes that he, too, can be a gallant knight. But irony is rich throughout the novel, as we are never quite sure if Don Quixote might actually be the sanest person around. He never seems to know that he is playing a role, as in a play—because a knight is very clearly not what Don Quixote is, deep down, with all of his bumbling and mistakes.

Perhaps such role-playing is what we all are doing who read the Lives of saints, at least those of us who are trying to imitate the explorers and exemplars who have gone before us.


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