Thursday, April 26, 2012

To read The Hunger Games

I came to the Harry Potter books late. Finally I read them because I decided that I needed to be literate in the phenomenon. I still have not decided such a thing about, and therefore have yet to read, the Twilight series. But The Hunger Games seems to be closing in on me.

The Hunger Games (both in book and movie form) is being touted by people I trust as insightful, inspiring (or is that disturbing in an inspiring way?), and provocative for our times, but I didn't really want to read it. It seemed too dark, too intense for me to enjoy. The Roman Coliseum is exactly what I thought of when I heard its premise.

That's what Fr. Robert Barron thought of too, and a slew of other cultural "antecedents" for what basically boils down to the human instinct for scapegoating and human sacrifice. Maybe you've seen the video (H/T everybody); he also discusses it at the National Review Online in an article entitled "The Hunger Games: A Prophecy?" saying:
The really interesting question is this: Why has this motif of the sacrificial victim played such a large role in the human imagination for so long? Why do we keep acting out this scenario, both in reality and in our literature?
What haunted me as I watched
The Hunger Games was that the instinct for human sacrifice is never far from the surface and that it could easily exist alongside of tremendous cultural and technological sophistication. I suspect that this film is disturbingly prophetic.
Brian Green of TheMoralMinefield got to Fr. Barron's thoughts first, and argues that the prophecy is already coming true. I actually read his post on the subject before reading or watching Fr. Barron's, and he crystallized for me a new reason to hate reality TV. I thought of the manipulation and scheming that go on in Survivor, but he illustrated his point with the American Idol-type reality shows, where the diamonds in the rough are celebrated and the less fortunate scapegoated:
We all know how these shows go. A bunch of different acts get up there and most flop and are berated for our amusement by Simon Cowell (let’s call him “Caesar” for now) who, for example, belittles these poor teens when they first come on stage. The other Caesars, I mean judges, might be a bit nicer, but still get their thumbs up or down votes. The crowds of course express their adulation or contempt with their voices.
The message is that these individuals exist for our pleasure, and their social status and feelings, exalted or denigrated, exist as our playthings. And when we are done with them they are thrown away, as good objects of amusement always are – at least that is what we are told by our consumptive culture. All sacrificed for our public entertainment. They are sacrificed for us, that we might be amused.
He tells us that, as we increasingly cast off our Christian moorings, we shouldn't be surprised if we see scapegoating to progress further into reality.
In the dystopian future America of The Hunger Games, they have fed their virtuous ideals to the lions, and so naturally humans follow suit. And in our real world, the first reality TV show began this course. No longer would we just pretend to scapegoat and sacrifice with actors, instead we would take real people and actually, really, scapegoat and sacrifice them, albeit socially and emotionally sacrificed and not physically. Reality is so much more emotionally investing that fiction. And if that means a few will need to be used as social sacrificial pawns, then so be it.
How depressing. But he thinks that The Hunger Games could help us turn back from this progression. So, I'll add it to my library loan list. If you haven't already, go read his thoughts. And watch Fr. Barron--oh, all right, here it is--as he distills the ideas behind The Hunger Games through literary theorist Rene Girard's thoughts on the universal impulse of scapegoating, and the only answer that liberates us from it.

(Of course, I've never read Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, or Animal Farm either. I wonder if I should now.)

Oh, and here's some more, about what could be coming:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Quick n Dirty ROW80 Update

Haven't counted my words today yet, and not done, so I'll go with yesterday's count and target for check-in:

Word count to date: 10,294
Target to date: 11,500

I'm 1206 words behind, which is actually a net gain from last week when I was 1604 words behind; and I'm pretty sure I'm catching up some more tonight. Five hundred words a day is alternately easier and harder than I thought it would be. I'm already thinking about goals for the next round: fewer words, but more to a purpose.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Thoughts on a prayer for humility

That others may be loved more than I,
 Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. 
That others may be esteemed more than I ... 
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease ... 
That others may be chosen and I set aside ... 
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ... 
That others may be preferred to me in everything... 
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should… 

The first time I heard this snippet of a prayer called the Litany for Humility was on the tail end of an EWTN show. I was taken with the last line: “That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should.” This petition was a balm to me. I was in a rough spot spiritually—agonizing over my wrong direction, reeling from the distance I had placed between me and God, mourning a community of believers I had left and struggling to find a place among the ones I had discovered. I especially grieved over the closeness to God I had once felt, and the holiness I had believed myself to possess, only to find it to be a “vanity of vanities.” I guess this was my first real dry spell, my first dark night of the soul.

And here was a prayer, prayed by a holy man, brought forth by another holy man as a model prayer, that told me I didn’t have to aspire to be the holiest person around. This wasn’t necessarily a new concept for me—but there was a new twist to it: the very real possibility that perhaps I ought not to. God had a relationship with me, even if to me it felt tenuous; he had a design for that relationship, and I didn’t need to aspire beyond it, even if I saw others soaring past me to heights of holiness. God would tend to my soul if I let him.

The rest of the litany was hard: "That others may be esteemed more than I." "That others may be chosen and I set aside." "That others may be praised and I unnoticed." This was hard for me to accept. I am the type of person who thrives on affirmation. If I don’t know from others that I’m doing a good job, that I’m on the right path, I wither. And in my new isolation, I was finding out—again, for the first time in earnest—how true that is. I couldn’t see my way to forgoing the accolades for which I was currently starved.

Again I was struck by a grace borne in a particular line: “Grant me the grace to desire it.” Jesus said not to care what others think, but what our Heavenly Father thinks. God, who made me, knows the needs of my heart. He also wants to free me from depending on others who are as sinful as I am, on anyone but him. I cannot be free unless He gives me that grace. So in this prayer he teaches me to ask him for it. He is waiting to give me every grace I need to grow in the particular holiness to which he calls me, including conforming my desires to His will. So that, in the end, he will give me this ultimate affirmation: "Well done, good and faithful servant; come home and take your reward."

Image credit

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Needle and thREAD

needle and thREAD

Remember that sewing machine class I took? I have projects and projects lined up for it. And here comes Elizabeth Foss with a link up for us non-knitters sewists and book lovers. Right now I'm working on a rectangular cushion for the changing table in the nursery. See that pretty, vintage-y, pink rose fabric? I have more of it after the cushions is done; I'm sure I ll have no problem coming up with other nursery-type things to use it up. Next project is a dress for Cora, but for that I'm using the peach and pink and red pinstripe shirt shown, and this pattern, the one I used to help me cobble together Anwen's baptism gown last year.

On top of all of this girly, spring colors is my current pleasure reading, an heirloom hardback copy of Lord of the Rings. My husband bought me this some years ago, probably knowing I needed something sturdy. I reread it regularly. I always seem to gravitate toward starting it on Bilbo and Frodo's birthday in September; but this year I decided on March. Originally, I planned to start on March 25th, the day of the destruction of the ring in Tolkien's calendar. Tolkien chose this day because is said to be the date of the Crucifixion, the first Good Friday; but I missed it and ended up cracking the book open ten minutes before Holy Saturday began while I nursed Anwen to sleep. I didn't make it past the first page that night, myself, and have kept a nice leisurely pace since.

What are you reading and making?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A few things for ROW80

I mentioned my goal of an average of 500 words a day. Originally it was just 500 words, every day; but I found that some days are more prolific than others, and some completely miss. I try to make sure I do some writing everyday so that I at least get 100 words into the curve. I have found that when I take the time, the words come. I average about 500 words per 20 minutes. I don't know if that's good or not; I'd like to be faster--but it is what it is, and I know what to schedule.

One thing that helps me generate words is to participate in other mass writing endeavors in an informal way. (Usually this amounts to brainstorming. I am painfully slow once I hit the revising and editing stage of a piece.) The NaNoWriMo movement has inspired many of them, including my more solitary ramp-up work. By this I mean several outlines for novels I have fleshed out to varying degrees, anticipating the year I finally participate.

Also, I have linked before to the CWG's 30,000 Words for Christ--I think of it as a Catholic NANoWriMo for Bloggers, but it is much more flexible than that. More like "A Round of 30,000 Words in 30 Days." April is National Poetry Month, so the NaPoWriMo challenge is another one. The idea is to write one poem a day for 30 days. The NaPoWriMo website has a prompt every day to stimulate your imagination, and I'm collecting other prompts along the way. I don't commit to finishing a poem each day, but I do try to start one. I don't feel confident in my skills as a poet yet; I'd like to reach at least journeyman status in the craft, so I'm carefully protecting and developing my drafts in anticipation of a master's tutelage at some point.

There is also a charming and imaginative exercise called PiBoIdMo that takes place in November--that is, the Picture Book Idea Month. I thought I'd give it a trial run while I'm on a creative spree. The object there is to come up with 30 ideas for children's picture book manuscripts in 30 days. After that, it's up to you to develop them as you see fit.

All in all, these activities are a wealth of material for brainstorming, which is in turn a great way to meet a word count.

And then there's always pouring my heart out in the journal.

Word count to date: 6896
Running target: 8500 (so I'm roughly 4 days behind. As I say, the day's not over.)

Here's the link-up.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

What if You Could Save the World?

I would be a Universalist if I could. I cannot bear the idea of anyone being in Hell. If you have a proper understanding of Hell, it's not something you would wish on your worst enemy.

Since I also believe in free will, I have to accept the possibility.

I can't save the world. Jesus already did that. But in the Bible, Paul talks to the Colossians about "filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, on behalf of his body, which is the Church." Mark Shea explains it this way:
As to “lack”, the term doesn’t refer to God lacking anything, nor to some inadequacy on Christ’s part but to our lack. For instance, God is the giver of all things and intends us to have all we need. Yet, in this world, people experience lack everyday. Why? In no small part because we (who are entrusted with the task of distributing what is needed for the common good) don’t supply the lack. So people starve or go thirsty. Is that because there is a lack on the part of the author of Being? No.

In the same way, Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient. But since he has made us participants in that sacrifice, our acts of sacrifice *matter* too...

The bottom line is: Christ mediates his grace to us through creatures, especially other people.

So Scripture makes it clear that we are to participate in bringing the salvation of Christ to the world. But the whole world is saved not in one fell collective swoop, but one soul at a time. And for each soul, the moment of truth is the judgment that occurs at death.

I have a theory about this moment. I believe that, just as we cannot commit mortal sin without full knowledge of and consent to the sin, so we cannot be condemned to hell without similar requirements being met. So, at the moment of death, at some super-conscious level beyond the body, we will see everything. At that moment when our life passes before our eyes, we will see the full extent of our sins, and it will become clear how gloriously good and lovable is God. And that is what, at one time, tempted me to think that no one could go to Hell, for how could anyone come face to face with Love himself and not want to spend eternity there?

Since then, though, I have seen how pride and despair can distort a relationship. When confronted with our sins, we are apt either to get self-defensive or self-condemning. Either one, taken to the extreme, can cause us to reject reconciliation--and rebuff even Love himself. It's happened before.

Feel free to set me straight if I'm wrong. But I'd say it lines up pretty well with what St. Faustina writes in her diary:
God’s mercy sometimes touches the sinner at the last moment in a wondrous and mysterious way. Outwardly, it seems as if everything were lost, but it is not so. The soul, illumined by a ray of God’s powerful final grace, turns to God in the last moment with such a power of love that, in an instant, it receives from God absolution of sins and remission of punishment, while outwardly it shows no sign either of repentance or of contrition, because souls [at that stage] no longer react to external things. Oh, how beyond comprehension is God’s mercy! But - horror! - There are also souls who voluntarily and consciously reject and scorn this grace! Although a person is at the point of death, the merciful God gives the soul that interior vivid moment, so that if the soul is willing, it has the possibility of returning to God. But sometimes, the obduracy in souls is so great that consciously they choose hell...

St Faustina, whose visions gave us the Divine Mercy Chaplet and inspired the designation of the second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday, wrote about praying for those close to death. She related that Jesus said to her, "I desire that this mercy flow out upon the whole world through your heart. Let no one who approaches you go away without that trust in My mercy, which I so ardently desire for souls. Pray as much as you can for the dying. By your entreaties, obtain for them trust in My mercy, because they have most need of trust, and have it the least."

We are all, at that moment of truth, miserable sinners. Some of us will have formed in this world a habit of trusting God's grace; this will give us an advantage, in that we will be better primed to accept his mercy. But what about those who have no practice of turning to God? Those who are too smart for religion, are used to being in control of their lives, or have never been credibly evangelized? What about those who are all too aware of their sins, who don't think God will or can or should forgive them?

Jesus prayed on the cross for mercy for the people who killed him, and that day a thief and a pagan soldier became believers. Though it is improbable that I will imitate Jesus in his death, I can imitate Him in prayer. Maybe, by praying for those who will die today, I can unleash the grace that is waiting for them.

What if I did this every day?

What if you joined me?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Easter Friday

Today is the first Friday of the Easter season, the first Friday since Lent. I always think of it as the closest thing to an anniversary of Good Friday*, of the Death that Died, that we have on the calendar. And so, one of the things that I always do, without any deliberate sense of tradition but as something that just seems to fit somehow, is eat meat. In a spirit of feasting, yes--it's the season of the wedding feast of the Lamb--but much more in a spirit of defiance. If Easter Monday also has this attribute as God's Laughter Day, Easter Friday has to me the additional benefit of flinging off mourning and pain by forgoing the usual self-imposed privations of fasting and abstinence. The kids are thinking pepperoni pizza for dinner tonight. And I am planning this--the pizza rustica that I never get around to making in time for Easter. 

In their calendar, the Eastern churches call the day Bright Friday. Isn't that lovely?

Friday still retains its character as the day Jesus died for the sin of the world, so acts of penance are still to the fore of my mind. One of the most obvious is to pray the Mercy Chaplet, especially at 3:00. And if you didn't get in on the Divine Mercy novena that began on Good Friday (or lost track of it, as I did), why not make a nine-hour novena today or tomorrow?

What are your thoughts this Friday?

*Which, I know, is itself a sort of anniversary. But I think when anything so life-altering happens, the date exactly to the week after it will have this quality. Often forcibly. Think of a week-old baby, or the first full week of unemployment, of the lifetime of a week since the death of a friend, child or spouse.

Rolled Into One: {phfr} Quick Takes

round button chicken

1 {Pretty}

Little girls with flowers are a perennial favorite.

2 {Pretty}

Also, pretty babies out of doors. Playing a baby recorder.

3 {Happy}

We went strawberry picking yesterday. It was a cold morning; the fields have been busy and the rows somewhat picked over, but we still got plenty.

4 {Happy}

The two littlest Easter egg hunters.

He would holler "EGG! Eggeggeggeggegg!" upon seeing any brightly colored object twenty feet away.

She would call, "My egg! My egg!" upon seeing it, retrieving it, if it fell out of her basket, if she suspected someone would steal it, and other related occurrences.

Her first hunt

5 {Funny}

I'm not going to post the good pictures, but here is my baby boy, swinging free, if you'll excuse the expression. Doesn't the innocence and utter lack of self-consciousness of a three-year-old on a warm spring day make your heart just bubble with joy?

6 {Real}

The kids found a dead bird on the ground while playing outside. I think, based on its coloring, it was a female hairy woodpecker. We don't really know what happened to it. I have told them before not to touch dead animals (yes, we've encountered others) but they just couldn't leave the poor thing neglected, so they constructed a grave around it. I heard them making plans for the funeral: "I already said a prayer for it." "Let's make a cross to put on top."

7 {Real}

They never all look at the same time. (This one was close.)

Visit Like Mother, Like Daughter for more {phfr} and Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Well, actually, I have kind of fallen down on the job already: a day late for my check-in; and my goal is an average of 500 words a day (40,000 words by the end of the round). I am up to 3197, but I should be up to 5500 by the end of today. The truth is, the Easter weekend threw me, and I haven't caught a gear since. Day's not over yet, though...

In all, I am pleased with the endeavor so far. By the first official day I had already done a few practice days and was getting in the habit. The second day I wrote long on something that was tough but promising to me, and I lost it when my browser froze. Not encouraging, to say the least. I'd hate to think what will happen when I come to the proverbial day when I lose a really important file, like a whole novel--which I'm given the impression happens sooner or later to every writer. Maybe by then I will be so fit that the event will not be so crushing as it appears to be from the distance of today.

The third day was busy and I leaped around a bit to get my count in, and that's when I noticed two things. "Writers write," they say, and I finally felt justified again in my interior claim to the title. I have been regularly writing, and I have plans. This is no small thing, because I have, in a swampish, deep gray place in my heart, been doubting whether, even if God meant for me to be a writer, had given me the gifts, I would ever do anything to justify the idea. I was no longer fighting against letting the dream sink. (The Parable of the Talents comes strongly to mind.) But I am a writer, and it is good to have that part of me alive and awake again.

Also, leaping around to make up the 500 words was actually much more productive than I anticipated. I am documenting ideas, but also I am developing them; and inch by inch, word by word, they take shape. I do not have to worry yet about slogging along on one major project. In a chat I recently participated in for the CWCO, the presenter mentioned that she had written one of her novels by committing to writing at least one sentence a day, which basically happened in her bathroom at night. I have found it true that leaping around different ideas, rather being than a cop-out or cheat to making my word count, is actually effective in moving me along.

I also took a suggestion from reader/fellow writer AmyBeth Inverness and will probably only check in once a week from now on. Next time I'll share a few of the things that keep me writing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hello, Friends!

Dear readers,

It's been so long since we have talked! How was your Lenten season, and Easter? Mine was pretty good. Well, honestly, I think my Lent was pretty milquetoast--I don' t feel that I challenged myself, hardly at all--and what I did ask of myself, I fudged even on that. I felt like a failure from the get-go. But when I read a post about failing at Lent, I thought, "Yep--I get it now"--and this Lent became one of those prolonged moments of attempting to come to terms with my utter inability to do anything good without grace.

In other news, I took a sewing machine class, we sent our dog Hondo for obedience training (I can't believe it!--I've never told you about him, have I?), and we lost another chicken-- one of the two last roosters. We really need to get more hens anyway. And I guess foxes and coyotes have to eat too, but boy is it sickening. On the good side, I discovered up-close-and-personal the beauty of colored eggs, when we got some from a friend. I never knew brown, blue, and green would make me so happy. Also, I rediscovered my bread machine, as I do at some point every year. We made some early St. Joseph's Day bread that turned out so well I almost swore off store-bought for good. The machine is running right now.

I participated in the Catholic Writers Conference Online, which, if it did not electrify me, only did not so because I retain a firmly realistic understanding of my weaknesses and liabilities. These being what they are, the conference managed to get past them and bring new life to my writing subvocation. You should at least indirectly see some of that here soon; and though you may not perceive any difference at this site, I mention it because if you are a Catholic writer or aspiring writer, you really should be there next year. (There's a live conference this August; if you go I will be jealous.)

For Easter I got snookered into going to the Easter vigil this year. I say "snookered" because, as much as I love and long to go to the Easter vigil mass, it was not my idea. I knew it was a long mass, and have you ever taken nine kids (three of them under four years old) to a vigil mass? But everyone behaved beautifully for the hours and the ages; and Jason's mom and my mom, dad, and sister were there to help us, and it was beautiful and joyful and solemn. Not to say it was completely without incident, but hearing the Exultet made up for any such things. It was a "night truly blessed."

The next day we hosted a little Easter get-together with family friends and I made some of these bird nest cookies--a recipe for haystacks, modified for spring--which I saw at someone else's blog. (Was it you, Charlotte?) So cute.

I didn't get a picture until someone started to eat the last one!

So those are not so much highlights as snippets of what I've been up to. The babies get more beautiful every day.

(I'll have to rediscover my camera so I can show you a few more of these sorts of things, won't I?) Hope to hear from you soon!


Happy Easter! Alleluia!

"He Is Risen," Arthur Hughes, 1893

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

1st ROW80 count

So far, so good. In 80 days, to meet my goal, I will write at least 40,000 words. My target for today is 1500. To date, I have written 1707 words.

I plan on skipping the link up this Sunday; I'll post Monday and if the round-up is still accepting links, I'll join then. More commentary next week.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Checking in...

Blessed Holy Week! I have been on a quasi-intentional blogging fast, which has been fruitful in unexpected ways. And so it will continue, with this exception. I'm joining the new session of A Round of Words in 80 Days, which starts today. This is the second session of the year.

The beauty of this particular program is that you can set any writing goal you want to, as long as it's measurable. My goal is 500 "new" words a day, of anything--journal, first drafts, brainstorms, blog posts, whatever. I would like to do more, but I'm not in the habit of writing every day and I want to start small. So. Per the rules for RoW80, I am linking with my 500-words-a-day goal at the RoW80 blog and I will check in on Wednesdays and Sundays.

To the CWGuildees, I'll join you next year!


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