Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: El Gato Negro

Sometimes foreign movie posters capture the essence of the thing so much better than the American ones. That cat looks like a panther, ready to strike!

Halloween Lagniappe: H.P. Lovecraft

Through all this horror my cat stalked unperturbed. Once I saw him monstrously perched atop a mountain of bones, and wondered at the secrets that might lie behind his yellow eyes.
H.P. Lovecraft, The Rats in the Walls
Another of my favorite horror authors chimes in for Halloween from one of my favorite of his stories. A lesser tale, but still a good 'un.

Genesis Notes: Covenant Renewed

After all that Noah has endured and all that he has seen God do it is pretty disappointing to watch him get drunk and act just like a regular person. I always accepted it as part of Noah's human nature. However, there is a deeper lesson to be seen here.

I'll add that it took me watching the movie Noah to realize that wine wasn't invented until after the ark landed again — so we can soften our judgment of Noah. Though the commentary below still holds true in thinking of how we feel about flawed heroes.
Did you feel disappointed when Noah, a man so bright in faith and obedience, succumbed to drunkenness, which led to something even darker? In the bleak wasteland of a world given over to evil, Noah seemed like a man we could trust. He looked like a hero.

Why is it so difficult to accept flawed heroes? Is it because all humans long for a perfect human, one who will not disappoint us and let our dreams die? Ever since Adam, we have been looking for one who won't botch things up. We want to see a human be all that God meant for us to be.

The characters of the Old Testament, like Adam and Abel and Noah, begin to prepare us for just such a Person. Even though humans in the story until His arrival disappoint us from time to time, we should never let their humanity sour us or tempt us to be contemptuous of them. We must never forget that God's promise in Gen. 3:15 to defeat His enemy through humans means that step by step in this battle, God's work will have a human face on it. This is the magnificent condescension of God to man. It is also God's resounding confirmation that He did not make a mistake in creating him. God knows very well what weaknesses beset humanity. Nevertheless, He works relentlessly to make sure that someday our dream of human perfection will be a reality, not a dream. To be a Christian means not being squeamish about human beings doing divine work. This is especially true for Catholics, because sometimes our Protestant brethren protest that we have too many "mere humans" in our understanding of redemption. We have Mary, "just a woman," as Queen of Heaven and Mother of the Church. We have a pope, "only a man," who sits in the line of Peter and holds the keys of the kingdom. We have saints, men and women who are "just like us," to serve as our examples and advocates in their lives as God's friends. When this charge is raised against us, we should bow our heads, give thanks to God, and smile deeply in our souls. A "human" Church? Exactly.

I always loved the rainbow as a sign of God's promise to man. I never thought of it being a so called "risky" move on God's part until this reflection pointed out how man has a tendency to worship God's creation instead of the creator Himself. Certainly I never saw it as affirmation of the sacraments but that is pointed out as well.

Dankgebet nach Verlassen der Arche Noah, Domenico Morelli
Man, weakened by sin, has the potential to miss the messages God gives him. Was it possible that men would see the importance God attached to that beautiful rainbow and begin to worship it instead of God, Who created and used it? Certainly. We know for a fact that men regularly worshipped what God created instead of the Creator Himself. Nevertheless, God took that risk in order to communicate with man in a truly human way. As the Catechism says, "In human life, signs and symbols occupy an important place. As a being at once body and spirit, man expresses and perceives spiritual realities through physical signs and symbols. As a social being, man needs signs and symbols to communicate with others, through language, gestures, and actions. The same holds true for his relationship with God." (CCC 1146) In our human lives, we make use of natural and social symbols all the time. In fact, we can't imagine life without them. God, in the rainbow, joins Who He is and what He does to an element in nature that will have meaning to mortals. We call these actions "sacraments." Scripture is full of examples of God working this way among His people. The culmination, of course, is the Incarnation-God taking on the most profoundly human form of communication, flesh, to reveal to men Who He is. The sacramental nature of Catholic life is deeply rooted in this biblical truth about how God works among men, glimpsed first in the beautiful bow in Noah's sky. [emphasis added]

All quoted material is from Genesis: God and His Creation.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: On the Sea

On the Sea by Edward B. Gordon

Halloween Lagniappe: Edgar Allen Poe

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.
Edgar Allan Poe
Next Monday is Halloween. Of course, we've got a Poe quote here. I'd be remiss not to.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Back from the Dead Cemetery Walk

Perhaps it goes without saying that it’s held in the dark. You must reserve tickets for the free event in advance and then groups of 8-15 people are let in at a time, greeted by a lantern-carrying grave digger who welcomes the participants and sets the stage for what they’ll encounter. During the approximately 40-minute walk, many familiar people show up, like St. Therese of Liseux, St. John de Brebeuf, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. John of the Cross, St. Gianna Molla, and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). There are souls in purgatory, two young children from heaven, and even a Screwtape devil. Sometimes these characters even know participants by name, which enhances the personal experience, and provides an extra surprise.
I'm not into haunted houses but this? This I would do in a heartbeat.

This is in Maryland so if you're near there give it a try. Read more at Bringing Back the Dead ... Catholic Style.

Worth a Thousand Words: Souvenirs

Souvenirs by Karin Jurick

The Ghost House

A melancholy and evocative poem by Robert Frost.

I dwell in a lonely house I know
That vanished many a summer ago,
And left no trace but the cellar walls,
And a cellar in which the daylight falls,
And the purple-stemmed wild raspberries grow.

O’er ruined fences the grape-vines shield
The woods come back to the mowing field;
The orchard tree has grown one copse
Of new wood and old where the woodpecker chops;
The footpath down to the well is healed.

I dwell with a strangely aching heart
In that vanished abode there far apart
On that disused and forgotten road
That has no dust-bath now for the toad.
Night comes; the black bats tumble and dart;

The whippoorwill is coming to shout
And hush and cluck and flutter about:
I hear him begin far enough away
Full many a time to say his say
Before he arrives to say it out.

It is under the small, dim, summer star.
I know not who these mute folk are
Who share the unlit place with me—
Those stones out under the low-limbed tree
Doubtless bear names that the mosses mar.

They are tireless folk, but slow and sad,
Though two, close-keeping, are lass and lad,—
With none among them that ever sings,
And yet, in view of how many things,
As sweet companions as might be had.

In which we encounter deserted mansions, flying bullets, dancing, and arms about each other.

Chapter 5 of Oh, Murderer Mine by Norbert Davis is ready for your listening pleasure at Forgotten Classics!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: For president, Abram Lincoln

For president, Abram Lincoln. For vice president, Hannibal Hamlin
via Library of Congress
Print shows a large campaign banner for Republican presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln and running mate Hannibal Hamlin. Lincoln's first name is given here as "Abram." The banner consists of a thirty-three star American flag pattern printed on cloth. In the corner a bust portrait of Lincoln, encircled by stars, appears on a blue field.

Well Said: Horror, Monster, and Monstrance

Next week we'll begin counting down to Halloween with some of my favorite spooky quotes and images. But let's put it in perspective first ... Catholic perspective that is!
By Toby Ord
Most people don't think of horror as a genre of literature or film that is particularly agreeable to Christian sensibilities. However, two of the great practitioners of horror on both page and screen consider their work to be an extension of the gospel. Stephen King, author of many a scary tale, says that he considers himself the spiritual heir of the great Puritan preacher, Jonathan Edwards (who preached the famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"). William Peter Blatty, who penned "The Exorcist" wrote the story precisely in order to show both the depths of demonic evil and to remind the world of the reality of Christ-like self-sacrifice.

By Broederhugo
It is the depth of the darkness of the Enemy that paradoxically highlights the brilliance of the light of Heaven. Indeed, the word "monster" comes from the same root as the word "demonstrate" and "monstrance." A "monster" demonstrates what we can and will be apart from Christ. A monstrance shows forth the saving eucharistic, and self-sacrificial power of him who underwent the worst horror the world has ever known to save us from the terrors of Hell. He has prepared a eucharistic table for us in the presence of Satan himself--and deprived him of his prey.

This Halloween, be not afraid.
Catholic Exchange, Word of Encouragement, Oct. 31, 2005

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: The Green Parasol

Guy Rose, The Green Parasol, c. 1909-1911
via Arts Everyday Living

Lagniappe: Valley of the Kings

The Valley of the Kings, where huge stone gods loomed above. Dust shifted in a strange downpour of tears from their eyes, tears made of sand and powdered rock.

The boys leaned into the shadows. Like a dry river bottom, the corridors led down to deep vaults where lay the linen-wrapped dead. Dust fountains echoed and played in strange courtyards a mile below. The boys ached, listening. The tombs breathed out a sick exhalation of paprika, cinnamon, and powdered camel dung. Somewhere, a mummy dreamed, coughed in its sleep, unraveled a bandage, twitched its dusty tongue and turned over for another thousand-year snooze ...

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Genesis Notes: Symbolism in Noah's Story

In that glorious way that Scripture has, the story of Noah and the flood work on more than one level. There are worlds of symbolism therein as the early Church Fathers found. Genesis: God and His Creation elucidates for us.

Noah's Ark, Tecamachalco Church in Puebla, Mexico
via SMU

The Fathers of the Early Church saw the ark as a figure of the Church. "God ordered Noah to build an ark in which he and his family would escape from the devastation of the flood. Undoubtedly the ark is a symbol of the City of God on pilgrimage in this world; that is, a symbol of the Church which was saved by the wood on which there hung the Mediator between God and men-Christ Jesus, Himself a man. Even the measurements of length, height, and breadth of the ark are a symbol of the human body in which He came ... The door open in the side of the ark surely symbolizes the open wound made by the lance in the side of the Crucified-the door by which those who come to him enter in the sense that believers enter the Church by means of the sacraments which issued from that wound." (St. Augustine, De civitate Dei, 15, 26; quoted in The Navarre Bible: Pentateuch, Princeton, NJ: Scepter Publishers, 1999; pg. 70)
The number seven should remind us of the hallowing of the seventh day of the first creation, which became a sign of the covenant God made with all creation. We are to comprehend that God is undertaking a re-creation of the earth and even of man himself, in a sense. He wants to renew the covenant. We should not mistake this for just another attempt to get things right. Rather, we are to absorb from all the details that evoke the creation that it is God Who desires to free man from his problems. God's unrelenting initiative in seeking to restore man to his original destiny is unequivocal proof of His love for us. The enormity of God's persistent love should rise up above all the details of man's early history as the sun rises in the morning sky. We dare not interpret any of it apart from the illumination of that bright light. Behind, above, beneath, before, and throughout everything is the glorious love of God for mere mortals. "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Thy Name in all the earth!" (Ps. 8:9)
"In the beginning," the earth was without form and void, and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2). To read in Genesis 8:7 that "the wind" of God, which is His breath, the Holy Spirit, is blowing over the earth helps us to recognize the beginning of the re-creation. The repetitive use of language from the original creation story teaches us that God's original plan for the universe and for man was a perfect plan. That is why the re-creation scenes in Scripture, wherever they appear, always use language from the original one. God doesn't keep trying out new ideas until something works. He is determined to make His original plan work, no matter what rises up to derail it. No fault can be found with the plan. Human history will reveal where the problem lies.
The Church helps us to see the Holy Spirit as the dove that looks for habitable ground. In the days of Noah, it was dry earth that the dove sought and finally found. The appearance of the dove with the olive branch was a sign that a new life for man on the earth was about to begin. At the baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit descending on Him in the form of a dove is a powerful sign that finally the soil of the human soul will be fit for the presence of God's Spirit once again. Is there any thought more beautiful than this?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Starling

taken by the incomparable Remo Savisaar

October Lagniappe: The Ghosts' High-Noon!

From Ruddigore by Gilbert and Sullivan.
When the night wind howls in the chimney cowls, and the bat in the moonlight flies,
And inky clouds, like funeral shrouds, sail over the midnight skies –
When the footpads quail at the night-bird's wail, and black dogs bay at the moon,
Then is the spectres' holiday – then is the ghosts' high-noon!

Ha! ha!
For then is the ghosts' high-noon!

As the sob of the breeze sweeps over the trees, and the mists lie low on the fen,
From grey tomb-stones are gathered the bones that once were women and men,
And away they go, with a mop and a mow, to the revel that ends too soon,
For cockcrow limits our holiday – the dead of the night's high-noon!

Ha! ha!
For then is the ghosts' high-noon!

And then each ghost with his ladye-toast to their churchyard beds takes flight,
With a kiss, perhaps, on her lantern chaps, and a grisly grim "good-night";
Till the welcome knell of the midnight bell rings forth its jolliest tune,
And ushers in our next high holiday – the dead of the night's high-noon!

Ha! ha!
For then is the ghosts' high-noon!

Julie and Scott head out to live in the woods because, frankly, everyone else is just doing it wrong.

Sure, they'll miss butter and glass windows and apples, but they'll have more pointy sticks than anyone has ever had.

And a witch.

Or two.

The Witch (2015) is the subject of Episode 144 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.