Friday, May 27, 2016

Blogging Around: Vans and Voices

The Lady in the Van

While she struggles with her own demons, her presence forces the whole neighborhood to examine just how much they're willing to help their fellow man, especially when their fellow man is so cantankerous and ungrateful.
Ah yes, it's one thing to give. Quite another to be charitable face-to-face. I was already interested in the movie but Rose's Double Exposure's review made me REALLY want to see it.


Worst logo spelling ever if you haven't heard of the company or concept. Think "Vocal ID" as you read over their worthy goal.
Over ten million people live with voicelessness. Much like Stephen Hawking, they rely on text-to-speech devices to express themselves. Yet, young or old, male or female, shy or outgoing — they all speak with similar voices.

Add to that the hundreds of millions who use generic sounding virtual assistants, GPS navigation, and screen readers, it becomes increasingly clear that digital voices must evolve.

VocaliD is the voice company that is bringing speaking machines to life. We leverage our voicebank and proprietary voice blending technology to create unique vocal persona for any device that turns text into speech.
You don't need special equipment and you can do it from your home in your spare time. Find out more at VocaliD.

Well Said: Joseph Waits for God and God Waits for Joseph

This is part of a commentary about Matthew 2:13 and the way that God communicates with Joseph in dreams.
Why is it that God cannot reveal his designs once and for all? Why must Joseph be continually dependent on God's next word, wherever and whenever it might come? ... Marvel of marvels, God conforms himself to the requirements of human psychology and history. God patiently shapes the fibers of a man's heart, that human love for God might be all the more genuine and lasting. The salvation Christ brings is for man, tailored to man's measure. It is no mere exhibition of what God can do. His sole purpose is the raising up of man from death to life, where man is and as he is. Therefore, Joseph ceaselessly waits for God and God for Joseph, and their ongoing dialogue is punctuated by the events going on in the world around God's Son and his Mother.

Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis,

Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word

Worth a Thousand Words: Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald, Down Beat, William P. Gottlieb photographer
Forms part of: William P. Gottlieb Collection (Library of Congress)
Caption from Down Beat: A cliché worth repeating is that Ella is the greatest natural singer in the world. It's a thought that hits you anew every time you hear the gal rock. Believe me, that diamond studded queen's crown she wears on her bosom is no uncalled-for affectation.

Genesis Notes: Intimidation

To me a serpent is a serpent is a snake. But that is not the case in Genesis. I knew the serpent had a way with words but I never considered that part of his power of persuasion might have been a fearsome appearance or the fact that he directly bypassed the chain of command to strike at a weak link.

A 17th-century carved depiction of the serpent in the Book of Genesis,
Stokesay Castle, taken by Nick Hubbard
The serpent is "that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world." He is described as a great red dragon, with seven crowned heads and ten horns. In the heavenly vision from Revelation, the crowns and horns represent his tremendous power-he is a creature that strikes fear and dread into the souls of mere men. There are several treacherous or intimidating elements in this scene. To begin with, the serpent’s appearance is frightening. Even if he did not appear as the dragon of Revelation, it was certainly not as a common snake. In Hebrew the same word is used for serpent and dragon. It was a frightening figure in Hebrew thought. If you can’t imagine a dragon, picture a coiled rattlesnake, ready to strike.

Apart from his appearance, the serpent’s presence is intimidating: where did this creature come from? He also is treacherous in his words: he contradicts the only source of knowledge Adam and Eve have, the Creator they know as Father who has been nothing but good to them. And he is intimidating in his method: the snake, as one of the beasts, is presumably under Adam’s dominion. Yet here he is presenting himself as a creature with superior knowledge and information. Not only that, he completely by-passes Adam, who was in charge of the garden, speaking instead to Eve. He appears to be no respecter of authority-a usurper, in fact. Suddenly, things are not as they had seemed.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Look What Mom Made Me!

A good mother knows what her child loves. In this case favorite books and my beloved podcast. And I've got a good mother! Of course!

Well Said: God's Perfect Vision of the Heart of a Man

God does not choose the way of open confrontation or aggressive polemics: his ultimate triumph springs from his wisdom, from his intimate knowledge of what lies at the bottom of things, from his perfect vision of what is contained in the heart of a man, which is what will determine the end of that man. And we ourselves, who are that man, will be saved only insofar as we begin to participate little by little, thanks to grace, in the vision of love and justice that God has of things. This is the only way of making our heart, sinful like Herod's, and our existence, destined for death like Herod's, migrate to that dimension where the life of God becomes our own sanctity and where the eternity of God becomes our own immortality.

Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis
Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word

Worth a Thousand Words: Portrait of the Artist's Mother

Portrait of the Artist's Mother (Rose Paxton), 1902, William McGregor Paxton

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Well Said: What Am I in Search Of?

What am I in search of? The only worthwhile search is one that opens us out to realities not produced by the self. Why search at all if all one seeks is a confirmation of age-old internal prejudices? If one searches for Christ—the Truth, the Light, the Beauty—in the world or in heaven "in order to destroy him", not to adore him and love him, but manipulate and conform him to our desires, it would have been better to have remained at the level of an idiocy that does not search at all. Not every search is laudable.
Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis,
Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word

Worth a Thousand Words: Supine Bull

A supine bull, one of the Nimrud ivories found by Sir Max Mallowan
taken by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg)
What fascinated me about this, aside from the actual artwork which I find charming, is that Max Mallowan was Agatha Christie's second husband. I love thinking about her cleaning this piece as she described in her book Come Tell Me How You Live, which was about going on digs with Mallowan. You can see more of them at Wikipedia:
Mallowan's wife was the famous British crime novelist, Agatha Christie (1890–1976), who was fascinated with archaeology, and who accompanied her husband on the Nimrud excavations. Christie helped photograph and preserve many of the ivories found during the excavations, explaining in her autobiography that she cleaned the ivories using a fine knitting needle, an orange stick and a pot of face cream.

The Third Most Important Day of the Year! My Birthday!

I say this every year, but that's just because it is always true. First is Easter, then is Christmas, then is ... my birthday!

Some people ignore their birthdays or don't want much fuss made. Not me. Everyone in the household knows it too. (To be fair, they all regard their birthdays to be the third most important day of the year.)

You notice that only Jesus trumps this day for me ... so then imagine the place He holds to overcome a lifetime of "most important day of the year" before I became Christian.

Hannah showed the proper spirit years ago when she was filling out a job application on Sunday and asked me what the date was. Then she answered her own question with, "Oh, wait. It must be the 22nd because I know Wednesday is the 25th." Yep, just like Christmas. All other dates are figured around this one.

Tom and I tried a French bistro last week for our anniversary. I liked it so much that we're going back again for this celebration. No birthday cake this year. I'd been thinking of making a Chocolate Mint Cake but there it would be just too heavy after French food. So we'll enjoy the restaurant's offerings which are, of course, perfect followups to French cuisine. Dark Chocolate Mousse, Profiteroles, Creme Brulee... mmmmm.


It is also the Venerable Bede's saint day which is also very cool. What better connection than someone who is always linked with books, reading, and writing?

Also, just last week I picked up a tip from him which has proven invaluable to get me to follow through on the Daily Examen every night. "Prayer is a discipline." Oh, yeah. I always feel as if it should just flow naturally and if I'm not in the mood, well, you know ... God will forgive me. No — this is like exercise. Do it whether you feel like it or not.

You will never read a better death than that of the Venerable Bede.
On the Tuesday before Ascension Day he was decidedly worse : a swelling appeared in his feet. Nevertheless he continued to dictate cheerfully, begging his scribe to write quickly, for he did not know how long he might last, or when it might please his Maker to take him. That night he lay awake, giving thanks alway. The next morning he urged the brethren to finish writing what they had begun, and when that was done, at nine o'clock, they walked in procession with the relics of the Saints the origin of our "perambulation day," according to the custom of the time. One stayed with him while the others were thus engaged, and after a time reminded him that there was still a chapter to finish, would it weary him to be consulted about it?" Get out your pen and ink," was Bede's reply, " and write fast, it is no trouble to me."


Even on the day of his death (the vigil of the Ascension, 735) the saint was still busy dictating a translation of the Gospel of St. John. In the evening the boy Wilbert, who was writing it, said to him: "There is still one sentence, dear master, which is not written down." And when this had been supplied, and the boy had told him it was finished, "Thou hast spoken truth," Bede answered, "it is finished. Take my head in thy hands for it much delights me to sit opposite any holy place where I used to pray, that so sitting I may call upon my Father." And thus upon the floor of his cell singing, "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost" and the rest, he peacefully breathed his last breath.

Also I love the fact that this is also St. (Padre) Pio's birthday. I still remember the sense of joy and light-heartedness that I received while reading a biography of him. It was a photo of him with his head thrown back laughing that first made me notice him. I thought, "Now there is someone I could talk to..."

While praying before a cross, he received the stigmata on 20 September 1918, the first priest ever to be so blessed. As word spread, especially after American soldiers brought home stories of Padre Pio following WWII, the priest himself became a point of pilgrimage for both the pious and the curious. He would hear confessions by the hour, reportedly able to read the consciences of those who held back. Reportedly able to bilocate, levitate, and heal by touch. Founded the House for the Relief of Suffering in 1956, a hospital that serves 60,000 a year. In the 1920's he started a series of prayer groups that continue today with over 400,000 members worldwide.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Well Said: Making Progress by Love

Faith is love that believes. Hope is love that expects. Adoration is love that worships. Prayer is love that petitions. Mercy is love that pardons. Charity is love that sacrifices itself. Mortification is love that immolates self. We can make more progress in one year by love than we could in ten through fear.
Saint Mary Euphrasia Pelletier
via A Year with Voices of the Saints by Bert Ghezzi

Worth a Thousand Words: Crystal Cherries

Crystal Cherries, James Neil Hollingsworth

Genesis Notes: The Creation of the Garden

Marie Beloux-Hodieux, Still Life with Basket of Flowers
via French Painters
GENESIS 2:8-17
Again, reading the information imparted by details makes me understand that I have not slowed down or given enough thought in the past to exactly what was being communicated. Did I notice that Adam was to till the land? Yes. Did I ever think about the implications of that statement? Of course not but perhaps this is my wake-up call to do a little more thinking when reading the Bible. There is a connection between this ancient story and the details of our every day lives that is undeniable. Except where noted otherwise, all excerpts come from Genesis Part 1: God and His Creation.

The garden was full of trees pleasing to the sight and taste. In other words, not only was man provided with what he needed, but he was also surrounded by sensuous beauty. The presence of unutterable beauty in the place where God meets man continued in the worship of Israel. The Holy of Holies contained the Ark of the Covenant, which was covered in gold and heavenly sculptures (see Ex. 25:10-22). The vestments of the High Priest were studded with gems so that when he went into the Holy of Holies on behalf of the people, he was arrayed in "beauty and glory" (see Ex. 28:40). The Church's tradition of exquisite beauty in her architecture and art continue what we see here in Genesis. God intends for man to experience beauty in His presence. As St. Thomas Aquinas taught, man's senses are ordered to beauty.

The "tree of life" grew fruit that imparted life. Something man ate would enable him to live forever (see Gen. 3:22). It is the first occasion of a natural element signifying and making present a grace from God, immortality. We call these "sacraments." Understanding this scene prepares us to understand what Jesus said to His disciples in John 6:51: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever."

The Complete Bible Handbook gives a fascinating overview of the symbolism of the Tree of Life.
The Tree of Life, or the Cosmic Tree, is a symbol common in many ancient religions. In Judaism it is associated with the almond tree; the almond was used as the pattern for the cups, capitals, and flowers of the menorah. In the Bible it appears not only in the Adam and Eve story, but in the New Testament. The cross is associated with the tree of Life, mentioned again in Revelation (22:2). The Tree of Life stood at the center of the world (the Garden of Eden), and Christ's Crucifixion is said to have happened at the center of the world. The two trees of Eden (Life and Knowledge) are also reflected in ancient Babylonian religion -- the Tree of Truth and the Tree of Life, which stood at the eastern entry to the Babylonian heaven.

Mankind was not created simply to enjoy creation but to take care of it and work it, to make it productive. In the Garden, work was not a curse before the Fall. Sharing in God's work is one way in which we live in His image. At this point in Genesis, according to the Catechism, "work is not yet a burden, but rather the collaboration [co-labor-ation] of man and woman with God in perfecting the visible creation." (378)

The need to keep or "guard" the garden makes one ask, "against what?" After all, this is Paradise, is it not? And haven't we just seen that God called all creation "very good?" This is a detail that should leave us on alert.

Adam's not finding a suitable helper among the animals is for his own benefit. He will know from his own experience that while he is like the beasts of the field in many ways, he is different and set apart from them. What he needs in his helper is one equal to himself. Notice here that this kind of knowledge is something Adam reaches through his own experience. It is different from the knowledge that is revealed to him by God. God told him what to eat and what not to eat in the garden. It wasn't left up to him. Man's knowledge in the Garden was of two types: one was revealed knowledge and the other was knowledge obtained through experience and reason.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler by Mark Riebling

Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler

Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler 

by Mark Riebling

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When the pope arose the next morning, he had made up his mind. He would engage the German military resistance and encourage a conservative counterrevolution. He would serve as secret foreign agent for the resistance—presenting and guaranteeing its plans to the British. He would partner with the generals not just to stop the war, but to eliminate Nazism by removing Hitler.
Right after WWII, the Soviets began a misinformation campaign claiming Pope Pius XII supported the Nazi regime. Jewish praise and testimony squashed that early effort, but it has been popping up ever since, from various anti-Catholic sources. Many historians have defended the pope but somehow what grabs the headlines is always the sensational anti-Catholicism which keeps rearing its head.

Church of Spies ably defends Pope Pius with an action-packed story and over 100 pages of footnotes and sources from recently uncovered documents.  Let's say right up front that author Mark Riebling is not a Catholic, in fact is a fallen-away Catholic, so he's speaking from a purely historical standpoint which I appreciate. He's got no axe to grind other than reporting history properly.

We learn that Pope Pius provided an incomparable network for passing information from deep within the German government to Britain and America. Simultaneously, the information gatherers became conspirators who vowed to take action themselves. With the pope's approval.

As a reader, the best part is that this reads like a spy thriller, from the beginning where the pope has the Papal Library wired with the best surveillance technology of the time to the end where we see conspirators stage a daring prison break in the Alps. In between, there were Jesuits with guns, double agents, incriminating notes swallowed,  escapes across rooftops, notes passed through prison laundries, and much more. This is all intercut with Hitler's real time actions which lends context and immediacy to the story.

I also found it very uplifting. Whether Catholic or not (Dietrich Bonhoeffer was among their number), these men were willing to sacrifice themselves to save others and stop evil. Some of the examples in the personal stories have inspired me since I read them. Church of Spies is a story that resonates in our own time as well as providing us with heroes for WWII.
They had found many compromising documents in the army safe at Zossen. Müller might as well consider himself a dead man.

Müller said evenly that he could accept that. Death meant "just a passage from this life to the next," Sonderegger later quoted him as saying. Sonderegger asked Müller whether he prayed. Müller said he did. Did he pray for the SS, too? Sonderegger asked. Müller said yes, he prayed for his enemies most of all.

Sonderegger fell quiet for a moment. Then, saying he would return "in three minutes," he put a sheet of paper on the table. ...
This book should lay to rest any questions of Pius XXII being "Hitler's Pope." Hitler knew to fear the Church's opposition. Now the story has been thoroughly and thrillingly told. The record is finally set straight.

It would make an exhilarating mini-series! C'mon Amazon ... Netflix ... HBO ... even regular network TV!

Well Said: Always and Instinctively Turning to God

Here [Robert Bellarmine] inspires readers with a reflection on verse one of Psalm 91, "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High":

Notice that what is said is not "he who trusts" ... but "he who dwells." This is to convince us that we are not to fly to the divine protection as men do to a tree or a doorway when it rains, but rather as little boys who run to their father's arms when anything frightens them. They know that they have mother and father there who would gladly give their hearts' blood to protect them.

But people who seek refuge from rain under a tree, have a good look round first. It is only when no better shelter is available that they run willy-nilly to the tree. Why is it that some men implore divine assistance without receiving it, and seem to put their trust in God without being protected by him? The reason is that they do not really dwell in the aid of the Most High, or take shelter under the providence of God as in their Father's house. They rather make sporadic dashes to it in time of trouble, as they do to a tree when there is a sudden shower. It is therefore very necessary for us to get into the way of always and instinctively turning to God.
Saint Robert Bellarmine
via Voices of the Saints by Bert Ghezzi

Worth a Thousand Words: A Princess of Mars

Frank E. Schoonover, A Princess of Mars

Friday, May 20, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Sumerian Book

Sumerian language cuneiform script clay tablet, 2400–2200 BC

Genesis Notes: Covenant and Being Human

The Garden of Eden, Thomas Cole (c. 1828)
The second chapter of Genesis focuses on humans. We get to see that they are not simply another kind of animal but have a special relationship with God. Catholic Scripture Study shows how economically this is revealed to those who know the "code".
His intention for His creation was always that it would exist with Him as His family. How do we know this? One clue appears right away in Genesis 2, but in order to recognize it, we have to understand a feature of a Hebrew word. The word translated as "seven" in our English text is the Hebrew word (sheba) for "oath-sharing." When men in ancient times came together to form a relationship in which they would treat each other as family, they swore an oath to seal the agreement. In Hebrew, "to swear an oath" means literally "to seven oneself." This kind of agreement is called a "covenant." In contrast to a contract, in which there is an exchange of property, in a covenant there is an exchange of persons: "I am yours, you are mine." ...

In Hebrew, ... would almost sound like God finished His work and rested on the "oath" day, and blessed the "oath" day and hallowed it. Perhaps a play on words, perhaps coincidence. But it is probable that to the ancient Hebrews who read this, the number seven would suggest God forming a covenant, or swearing an oath that established a family relationship with all the elements of creation. In blessing and hallowing it, He is setting apart or sanctifying creation. This bestows a kind of animation on what is inanimate. For example, in Gen. 2:4, the text reads, "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created." The word "generations" usually refers to living things. Likewise, this idea should prepare us for passages like Ps. 148, in which the heavens and the deep, sun and stars, snow and hills, sea monsters and cattle-ALL creation sings out in praise to the Lord Who created them. All creation is filled with God's life and is part of His household.

Well Said: Public Silence and Secret Action

Though Pius acted discreetly, he did not hide Hitler's attack plan under the proverbial bushel basket. During the second week of January 1940, a general fear gripped Western diplomats in rome as the pope's aides warned them of the German offensive, which Hitler had just rescheduled for the 14th. On the 10th, a Vatican prelate warned the Belgian ambassador at the Holy See, Adrien Nieuwenhuys, that the Germans would soon attack in the West. ...

Pius had in fact already shared the warning, while shielding the source. On 9 January, Cardinal Maglione directed the papal agent in Brussels, Monsignor Clemente Micara, to warn the Belgians about a coming German attack. Six days later, Maglione sent a similar message to his agent in The Hague, Monsignor Paolo Giobbe, asking him to warn the Dutch.

That same month, Pius made a veiled feint toward public protest. He wrote new details on Polish atrocities into Radio Vatican bulletins. But when Polish clergy protested that the broadcasts worsened the persecutions, Pius recommitted to public silence and secret action.
Mark Riebling, Church of Spies
This isn't making great bedtime reading because it is complex enough to require more attention than I can give in a sleepy state. However, it is endlessly fascinating watching the interwoven strands of this previously unknown story of attempts to stop Hitler.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Well Said: Moved by the Seasons, Moved by the Inklings

Humans change when they reflect upon the same truths year after year. Given the unique experiences of the year and their prior experiences with those truths, the ideas morph and take on new significance. Just as repeated activity allows someone to master an action; so also repeated reflection forms a person’s thought processes and heart. Via habituation, people are transformed. The church calendar’s intention is to help Christians meditate on Christ’s life, enabling them to consciously put on virtue and put off vice as they move through the cycle year by year. Its intention is transformation. …

Like the church calendar, I too am moved through the seasons, but they are seasons directed by the thoughts of the Inklings. I move from wrestling with doctrinal conundrums to wondering at the beauty contained within Christianity. Repeated consideration of the Inkling’s curriculum changed me. I found myself understanding my problems and successes through their ideas and stories.
Leilani Mueller, Arriving Where We Started, The Curator
Of course, I know intellectually that I am formed by what I read repeatedly. And what I reread has changed over the years. So who am I formed by now? Years ago I'd have laughed at the idea I'd love and reread Tolkien, Dickens, C.S. Lewis ... and certainly never Dante's Divine Comedy. Yet here I am being formed by them.

It's when the realization moves from intellectual to slapping me in the face that I wake up for an instant to the extent that reading transforms me.

Just the other day I was dealing with a particularly humbling realization and Jack Aubrey from Patrick O'Brian's seafaring series popped into my head. The insights I gained were grounding and, now that I think of it in this context, formational. I am seven books into the 20-book series. Though I am not rereading ... yet ... my slow listening to Patrick Tull's narration is slowly and surely sinking in and helping change me.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Jetty at Feste near Moss

Hans Gude (1825-1903), The Jetty at Feste near Moss
via Arts Everyday Living
This is another one which can be better appreciated by clicking on it to see the details in a larger format.

Double the Number of Books You Read — Without Speed Reading

Anyone who drops by here regularly knows that I am a book nut.

So I'm always surprised to hear that some people read a book a month or, even worse, one or two books a year. I've been blessed to be a naturally fast reader who loves books. But even I have found myself fighting in the last year to shove away distractions that cut into my reading time.

All that is to say that I was thrilled to see Brandon Vogt has developed video course for doubling the number of books you read, without speed reading.

I know he loves reading and I trust him to teach well. Find out more at Read More Books Now, which has a nice summary of all his points. The free offer is open for a week.

32 Years of Wedded Bliss

Is it terrible to repeat the same sentiments this year, that I did last year? But I feel the same, only moreso. I tweaked it a little, but only a very little.

On earth there is no heaven, but there are pieces of it. — Jules Renard

It's our wedding anniversary today and although our lives have their fair share of challenge at the moment, it has done nothing to our marriage but draw us closer together.

That makes all the years of working out how to best love and serve each other worth it. I'm sure we'll look back on this time and find it has done nothing but add to our deep love and respect for each other.

Dear, even-tempered Tom is truly my soul mate. I'm so very lucky that he loves me as much as I love him. He has taught me so much over the years about music, about thinking, about humor, about originality, about kindness and consideration. Not because he actively taught me but just by being around him. That in itself tells you a lot about the sort of person Tom is.

I'd be remiss not to mention that we are also very indebted to our parish's Beyond Cana program. It's the sort of thing we wished for when we hadn't been married very long and ran up against problems in learning to live together. Which is simply to say that in these days, often without the wisdom of our elders easily available, we need good advice. Beyond Cana offers that for us. As have books like For Better, For Worse, For God and Just Married. Just as in practicing your faith, when you are in a long-term relationship you have to keep paddling or you'll get swept downstream. No one in a good, long marriage makes it without work and advice.

It's wonderful having spent 32 years with someone. You know each other's references (jokes become real one-liners), you understand each other's moods, and it is a deep, restful relationship that is not without delightful times of surprise and passion.