Friday, March 27, 2015

"... the Gestapo officer sneered: 'Now you look like your Jewish Christ.'"

Although struck with an iron rod until one of his arms had to be amputated, the doctor would not be quieted. Finally, as DeMille's autobiography recounts, "one Gestapo officer beat the doctor's head against a stone wall until blood was streaming down his face." Holding a mirror before the doctor, the Gestapo officer sneered: "Take a look at yourself. Now you look like your Jewish Christ."

Lifting his remaining hand up, the doctor exclaimed, "Lord [Jesus], never in my life have I received such honor—to resemble You." Those would be his last words on Earth.
Who would have thought that such actions would have been inspired by a conversion thanks to viewing Cecil B. DeMille's The King of Kings?

This is from a few years ago, but it is worth reading again. A powerful story for Good Friday from the WSJ.

I am posting this well before Good Friday so that you can consider the movie as a choice for Holy Week viewing.

Worth a Thousand Words: Cast Shadows

Emile Friant, Cast Shadows, 1891
via French Painters

Well Said: Catching Truth in Our Net

In life and art both, as it seems to me, we are always trying to catch in our net of successive moments something that is not successive ... I think it is sometimes done — or very, very nearly done — in stories. I believe the effort to be well worth making.
C.S. Lewis, On Stories
Yes. Yes, yes, yes.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Preparing for Holy Week: Humility

This is a "repost" from previous years for Holy Week. However, I need it every single year to keep in mind for my own preparation ... and so thought I'd share them with y'all as well.

I think if we could be truly humble then everything else would fall into line ... the obedience, the loving others, loving God with our whole hearts, What a luxury that would be. Why is it so difficult to be humble? There are lots of answers to that. This fact remains. Just when I think I have it licked, my self jumps up and blindsides me into acting just the opposite.

We all have our own paths and problems with this essential virtue. With that in mind, I have gathered these words of wisdom for a weekend meditation.

As always, keep in mind that this was written during World War II as a series of letters being written by a senior demon advising his nephew on how best to gain souls. Therefore the perspective is topsy-turvy. For example, "The Enemy" is God and "Our Father" is the devil.
You must therefore conceal from the patient the true end of Humility. Let him think of it not as self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his talents and character. Some talents, I gather, he really has. Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be. No doubt they are in fact less valuable than he believes, but that is not the point. The great thing is to make him value an opinion for some quality other than truth, thus introducing an element of dishonesty and make-believe into the heart of what otherwise threatens to become a virtue. By this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. And since what they are trying to believe may, in some cases, be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it and we may have the chance of keeping their minds endlessly revolving on themselves in an effort to achieve the impossible. To anticipate the Enemy's strategy, we must consider His aims. The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end to be so free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor's talents -- or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognize all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. He wants to kill their animal self-love as soon as possible; but it is His long-term policy I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love -- a charity and gratitude for all selves including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbors as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbors. For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our Enemy; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with His left...
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Humility isn't the same thing as having a poor self-image. It's not about low self-esteem. It isn't about letting yourself become someone else's doormat. What it does mean, though, is that we recall always our utter dependence on God -- for life, for grace, for salvation. Humility knocks us off the pedestal we build for ourselves and helps us to realize that the universe doesn't revolve around us. The humble person learns to be indifferent to whether or not people praise him as much as he thinks he deserves. The humble person knows how to hold her tongue -- and her peace -- when things don't work out as she would prefer. Humility makes us consider that maybe the other guy is the one who's right.

To be humble means to be slow in asserting our wills, to hesitate before we insist on our rights, to swallow our pride and our complaints and our contrary opinions more often than we give vent to them. There are, of course, moments when it is right or even necessary to insist on our way and to tell everyone what we think: those moments, though, are far fewer than most of us would like to think. So many of those whom the culture praises as strong and assertive are merely self-absorbed and proud. Humility means to become small in spirit, like a little child, even though we may be wealthy, intelligent, and powerful in fact.
from the now defunct Dappled Things blog

Humility is the luxurious art of reducing ourselves to a point, not to a small thing or a large one, but to a thing with no size at all.
G.K. Chesterton

We'd like to be humble...but what if no one notices?
John Ortberg

Do it for the good, not for the goodies.
Father John Libone

For the most part, I do the thing which my own nature prompts me to do. It is embarrassing to earn so much respect and love for it.
Albert Einstein

When I am paid a compliment, I must compare myself with the little donkey that carried Christ on Palm Sunday. And I say to myself: If that little creature hearing the applause of the crowd, had become proud and had begun -- jackass that he was -- to bow his thanks right and left like a prima donna, how much hilarity he would have aroused! Don't act the same!
Cardinal Luciani, later Pope John Paul I

In fact, my philosophy is it's none of my business what other people think of me.
Jim Caviezel

... when the fault for a broken vase was wrongly put on her she kissed the ground and promised to be more careful.
Saint Therese of Lisieux

If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know who you are.
Mother Teresa

True humility is not an abject, groveling, self-despising spirit--it is but a right estimate of ourselves as God sees us.
Tryon Edwards

God is not proud...He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him.
CS Lewis

A Catholic Gardener's Spiritual Almanac by Margaret Rose Realy

A Catholic Gardener's Spiritual Almanac: Cultivating Your Faith Throughout the YearA Catholic Gardener's Spiritual Almanac: Cultivating Your Faith Throughout the Year by Margaret Rose Realy

I'm not a gardener.

In fact, I'm so not a gardener that I realized I don't have a single plant growing in my home. I have a few container plants on the front porch which I remember to water when we're in the middle of the blazing Texas summers.

(Do you hear that? I think we can hear Margaret Rose's heart breaking right now.)

And yet I read and enjoyed her A Garden of Visible Prayer about making prayer gardens. I readily agreed to read this book, which I'd normally never do.

It's because I like the idea of a garden. I suppose I'm what you'd call an armchair gardener just as many people read cookbooks they'll never use (which makes me cry, but that's another story).

I also enjoy reading almanacs, believe it or not. (Is that armchair farming?) I love the rhythms of the physical year moving through its cycles, which may be a reason I love the Catholic liturgical year so much.  Margaret Rose Realy combines the two by taking the best tips for gardening year-round and linking them with the Catholic liturgical year to weave a lovely devotional for everyone.

Each month has:
  • gardening focus for that time of year
  • traditions and feasts
  • saints appropriate for gardening
  • faith-filled gardening keyed to the liturgical year (a Lenten garden in March, a rosary or angel garden in October)
  • practical gardening advice
  • Biblical reflections
  • prayer focus
I also really enjoyed the frequent charts and lists of plants associated with faith, such as plants found on the Shroud of Turin or Marian garden plants. There is even the occasional recipe. Best of all are Realy's insights and reflections in which she openly shares her own faith.

I haven't finished this book because I want to read it as the year unfolds. Even if I never get out in the garden, I go walking daily. This is the sort of book that keeps me connected to the nature that I experience even on those little jaunts.

Highly recommended for the practical, faithful, and armchair gardeners.

It was a free review book. But they were my own opinions.

Worth a Thousand Words: Fox and Bird

Fox and Bird. Ink on Saunders Waterford hot pressed, 2.5 x 3.5″ (ACEO)
by Himmapaan

Well Said: God's Love and Senseless Folly

If even human love has its own reasoning, comprehensible only to the heart that is open to it, how much truer this must be of God's love! When it is the depth and power of God that stirs, is there anything of which love is incapable? The glory of it is so overwhelming that to all who do not accept love as an absolute point of departure, its manifestations must seem the most senseless folly.
Romano Guardini, The Lord
This book has been so thought provoking and so wonderful at speaking to me about my relationship with Jesus. What a perfect Lenten read and a great read for any time, which is a good thing since obviously I'm not going to finish it by Easter.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Automobile Bookplate

Automobile Bookplate from the Antioch Company
via Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie
where you may find a 2-part series on car bookplates

Well Said: How Did You Die?

How Did You Die?

Did you tackle that trouble that came your way
With a resolute heart and cheerful?
Or hide your face from the light of day
With a craven soul and fearful?
Oh, a trouble's a ton, or a trouble's an ounce,
Or a trouble is what you make it,
And it isn't the fact that you're hurt that counts,
But only how did you take it?

You are beaten to earth? Well, well, what's that?
Come up with a smiling face.
It's nothing against you to fall down flat,
But to lie there -- that's disgrace.
The harder you're thrown, why the higher you bounce;
Be proud of your blackened eye!
It isn't the fact that you're licked that counts,
It's how did you fight -- and why?

And though you be done to the death, what then?
If you battled the best you could,
If you played your part in the world of men,
Why, the Critic will call it good.
Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce,
And whether he's slow or spry,
It isn't the fact that you're dead that counts,
But only how did you die?

Edmund Vance Cooke, 1903
This is another poem from 101 Famous Poems, edited by Roy J. Cook. That's the book I'm using for daily poetry reading each morning. I love that book and I am often surprised at the famous lines that leap out at me while I'm reading. This poem didn't lead to that sort of revelation but it was one I liked for the simple truth it tells.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Outtakes 1, Kashmir

Outtakes 1, Kashmir
taken by the blue hour, shared by permission

Lagniappe: A Moral That Runs at Large

Little of all we value here
Wakes on the morn of its hundredth year
Without both feeling and looking queer.
In fact, there's nothing that keeps its youth,
So far as I know, but a tree and the truth.
(This is a moral that runs at large;
Take it. You're welcome. No extra charge.)

Oliver Wendell Holmes
This is an excerpt from a longer poem The Deacon's Masterpiece or "The One-Hoss Shay." It is hilarious. Not what I expected at all when I turned my poetry book's page for the morning read. But those last two lines of this excerpt give you a sense of how Holmes could mix something that seems very modern with the old fashioned comedy of a deacon building a carriage that will last!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Do the Monster Mash ... Hollywood Style

Last week I featured Attack the Block as a movie you might have missed. I was thrilled to see that someone gave it a try and now:
So now I have an entirely new appreciation for the genre of monster movies, where do I go from here?
I thought you'd never ask!

I'm not an expert by any means, but I know what I like. A list of what I like is below, with links to my reviews (you may have to scroll down in some of these entries to find the movie mentioned below).

  • Aliens: the perfect combination of monsters and adrenaline. Plus Sigourney Weaver. “I can handle myself.” “Yeah, I noticed.” One of my top 10 favorite movies.

  • King Kong (1933): Holy mackerel, what a show! The original is the best.

  • The Mummy (1999): This is just plain fun, along the lines of what would happen if Indiana Jones tangled with an ancient Egyptian curse (and lots of mummies, of course).

  • Shaun of the Dead: the zombie movie for people who don't like zombies. (Like me.)

  • District 9: What happens when aliens land in South Africa and have no way to get home?

  • Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter: Light on history, heavy on vampires, and a lot of fun.

Well Said: A Common Temptation

It is a common temptation of Satan to make us give up the reading of the Word and prayer when our enjoyment is gone; as if it were of no use to read the Scriptures when we do not enjoy them, and as if it were no use to pray when we have no spirit of prayer.
George Muller
In other words, don't worry about your feelings. Just do it anyway.

That's something I've had to rediscover lately. It is so often clear what I should do but when I factor in if I want to do it, then I begin finding excuses. The silly thing is that giving in to those excuses doesn't make me any happier. So I might as well just go ahead and do my duty, so to speak.

Worth a Thousand Words: Medieval Honey Bees

Medieval illustration from beekeeping manuscript
Via Animalarium where there is an antique treasure chest of illustrations for anyone who clicks through the link!

Friday, March 20, 2015

What I've Been Reading: Dickens and a Dab

A Dab of Dickens & A Touch of Twain: Literary Lives from Shakespeare's Old England to Frost's New England

Author Elliot Engel is an English professor and this book shows that anyone who takes his classes is lucky. This superb collection of brief biographical essays not only helps us understand famous literary personalities but explains what they wrote. It is simply amazing that Elliot Engel managed to do this so effectively and entertainingly in such brief pieces.

I was actually pleased to see that the book doesn't take up space with samples of the famous works. I can get those anywhere for the most part. This book is chock-full of Elliot Engel's brief, fascinating biographies and discussions of why these authors still appeal to us today. And that's what I really wanted.

David Copperfield

After reading Great Expectations (some time ago and after great struggles, we may recall) I had my first glimmerings of interest in reading David Copperfield. Both books tell the story of boys growing to adulthood. I knew that Great Expectations began with an inherently selfish person and David Copperfield seemed its opposite, with sweet David innocently unable to see the obvious in front of his face. Or so I'd gleaned.

I was curious to see what Charles Dickens did with such different internal motivations. I enjoyed about 2/3 of it quite well and was really fascinated by Dora's place in the scheme of things. Then Dickens suddenly seemed to turn very Victorian and become intent on wrapping up every loose end in a nice package with a bow on it. And somehow it stopped being quite so enjoyable.

I have a copy of G.K. Chesterton's Appreciations and Criticisms of the Work of Charles Dickens (free on the Kindle, read it here from Project Gutenberg). He sums up a lot of my problems with David Copperfield in ways that I won't share because they'd spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it yet. However, he hits the nail on the head about the book overall:
David Copperfield begins as if it were going to be a new kind of Dickens novel; then it gradually turns into an old kind of Dickens novel. It is here that many readers of this splendid book have been subtly and secretly irritated.
By the way, the Librivox recording features T. Hynes' lovely Irish accent and is wonderfully read.

Dombey and Son

I now am slowly listening my way through Dombey and Son. Why does the cover have a picture of a young lady (Florence, if you'd like to know) when the title is Dombey and Son? Ah, therein lies the tale!

I'm about a third of the way through and am finding it enjoyable in many ways, chiefly through the characters. The plot, less so. However, I've still got about 500 pages to go so it may get less predictable.

For a good, free recording try LibriVox's Mil Nicholson. She does some of the best voices I've ever heard although I don't enjoy her straight reading of the rest of the text quite as much.

I plumped for David Timson's reading which has some of the best expressive reading of the plain text I've heard, without being at all over the top about it.

Worth a Thousand Words: Mirror of the Soul Within

"The eye, which is the reflector of the external world, is also the mirror of the soul within."
taken by Valerie, ucumari photography
Some rights reserved.

Well Said: What is an apostle really?

What is an apostle really? ... It is difficult even to consider them "great religious personalities," if by this we mean bearers of inherent spiritual talents. John and Paul were probably exceptions, but we only risk misunderstanding them both by overstating this. On the whole, we do the apostle no service by considering him a great religious personality. This attitude is usually the beginning of unbelief. Personal importance, spiritual creativeness, dynamic faith are not decisive in his life. What counts is that Jesus Christ has called him, pressed his seal upon him, and sent him forth. ... It is not he who speaks, but Christ in him.
Romano Guardini, The Lord

NPR Wants You To Tell Them About Your Favorite Podcasts

NPR is working on ways to help people discover podcasts — and we need your help. We're looking for podcasts from public radio and beyond, and we'd love for you to share some of your favorite episodes with us.
The form is here.

Podcast producers/creators aren't allowed to toot their own horn in that form but obviously if you enjoy enjoy A Good Story is Hard to Find then please let them know!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lagniappe: Planned Improvisation

She glanced back at where my dad ... was having a technical discussion with the rest of the band. Lots of hand gestures as he indicated where he wanted solos to come in during the set because, as my dad always says, while improvisation and spontaneity may be the hallmarks of great jazz, the hallmark of being a great player is ensuring the rest of the band is spontaneously improvising the way you want them to.
Ben Aaronovitch, Broken Homes
Aha! I always suspected as much!

Worth a Thousand Words: Silver Moth

Katharine Hepburn dressed as the "Silver Moth" in CHRISTOPHER STRONG.
Designed by Walter Plunkett, 1933
via Silver Screen Modes
Can you believe this is Katherine Hepburn? It is her first starring role and I'd say it would be worth seeing the film just to see the other costumes at the masked ball she attends.

Do go to Silver Screen Mode to see the rest of the 10 Wildest Costumes in Film History. There is fascinating background as well. I notice the posing is often the same from movie to movie. Ah well, when one is wearing a simply fantastic outfit, part of the key is proper posing in a doorway.

I'll just indulge here in sharing my other favorite. Not the wildest but I simply love it. She looks like a bejeweled butterfly.

Evelyn Brent in SLIGHTLY SCARLET Costume design by Travis Banton, 1930

Solemnity of St. Joseph

Giuseppe Maria Lo Spagnolo Crespi - Death of Saint Joseph [c.1712]
Via Gandalf's Gallery
The season of Lent is interrupted by the Solemnity of Joseph, Husband of Mary. With the exception of Our Lady, there is no greater saint in Heaven than Saint Joseph. This feast originated in the fifteenth century and was then extended to the whole church in 1621. In 1847 Pope Pius IX named Saint Joseph Patron of the Universal Church. Pope John XXIII had Saint Joseph's name included in the Roman Canon.

Here was an ordinary man to whom God granted extraordinary graces. Joseph was to fulfill a most singular mission in the salvific design of God. He experienced indescribable joys along with the trials of doubt and suffering. We recall his perplexity at the mystery of Mary's conception, at the extreme of material poverty in Bethlehem, at the prophecies of Simeon in the Temple, at the hurried flight into Egypt, at the difficulties of having to live in a foreign land, at the return from Egypt and the threat posed by Archelaus. Joseph proved himself always faithful to the will of God. He showed himself always ready to set aside his own human plans and considerations.

The explanation for this remarkable fidelity is that Jesus and Mary were at the centre of Joseph's life. Joseph's self-giving is an interweaving of faithful love, loving faith and confident hope. His feast is thus a good opportunity for us to renew our commitment to the Christian calling God has given each of us. (St. J. Escrivá, Christ is passing by)

In Conversation with God, Vol. 6: Special Feasts: January to June