Tuesday, December 15, 2015

O Eve

I first posted this in 2010, and expressed a hope that a recording of the song would be released soon. I recently heard from the composer, Frank La Rocca, that it is now available for purchase at Amazon as a track on the album Winter Waves. Check it out, especially if you love Advent hymns, traditional sacred music, or just gorgeous choral music! (If one of the last two, you might also like to take a look at his album In This Place.) 

Prints of the illustration and poem are also available from the sisters!


I can't express the depths to which this resonates with me, in me. I'm only just now noticing the reverberations in my soul--which, I think, is an echo of the song's own development: an unpretentious progression of talents outpoured, until suddenly you realize that your breath has been taken away, and breathing deeply again you are refreshed and a little bit shaken.

First, I read about a card. I don't know if the picture came first or the poem, but both were original works sent out as a Christmas greeting by the Trappistine nuns at Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey. When I first came upon them over at The Anchoress I thought the picture was a nice, bright drawing and the poem was a nice, well-written verse.

A simple image, but loaded with meaning.

A short, graceful verse about two mothers, two daughters, an ancient idea but new.

O Eve!

My mother, my daughter, life-giving Eve,
Do not be ashamed, do not grieve.
The former things have passed away,
Our God has brought us to a New Day.
See, I am with Child,
Through whom all will be reconciled.
O Eve! My sister, my friend,
We will rejoice together
Life without end.

Then I started studying them. I noticed details in the picture, like the snake coiled around both of Eve's feet but crushed under Mary's. The arch of pear tree limbs like a church window, heavy with fruit. The many other signs of Eve's shame--head bent, the clutched apple, nakedness barely covered--and the hand outstretched to touch her hope within Mary's grace-clothed, grace-filled body. Very intellectually satisfying.

And then I heard this.

You know what they say about music, that it is the language of the angels and of the divine, that it is a form of prayer in itself, that it gives us a sense of the infinite. I think my favorite is by Sidney Lanier:

"Music is love in search of a word."

When I heard this piece, for four minutes I felt that I was Eve, and all my years of sorrow were at an end, and a gentle hand was leading me out of a thicket of thorns into daylight.

Advent is here--but some people might have a hard time looking forward to Christmas, even if they don't know it or understand why. Some people have a problem with a God who is so intimate. Some might struggle with despair--with accepting forgiveness, or trusting it. Some of these things I understand, and I know and trust that God has a way to touch these people with his healing love.

For me, I think when my dark night of the soul comes, I will sit in the dark and listen to this and cry for joy.

Monday, November 23, 2015

So, heh, I discovered reading challenges this year...

Source: Freeimages

I'm actually an old hat at reading challenges. Can you say "summer reading program"? For the past few years, though, my reading habits have manifested two quirks: lots and lots of picture books, and hundreds of books, mostly nonfiction, that I borrow from the library, get halfway through, and return. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But late last year I started reading a lot at bibliophile Anne Bogel's blog, Modern Mrs Darcy. At the beginning of the year, Anne announced her 2015 reading challenge. Then I kept hearing about more, and before I knew it, I had signed on for seven* challenges for the year.

Some I am in the home stretch for, and some I've already finished, and some—well, I'm just going to have to push to make it. I did allow cross-posting, in the sense of letting one book count for more than one challenge (although, of course, not the same book more than once in the same challenge). I also kept a reading journal this year, the first time in a long time that I actually tracked my reading. This let me record some general thoughts (not a full review or report) of each book, and counts as an overall log that also includes the books that didn't fit into even one challenge (there were a few).

These are the challenges I accepted for 2015:

The Modern Mrs. Darcy 2015 Reading Challenge. The one that started it all.

26 Books to Read in 2015 (with Bringing Up Burns), the next random one I found. It looked fun so I said, why not another one?

2015 Reading Challenge by PopSugar—a bit of a whopper, with 50 books! Maybe not a big deal by itself, but if you're reading for six* other challenges, it can begin to dictate your choices!

2015 Authors A to Z Reading Challenge. Definitely some new finds for this one, as it was challenging just to find authors for some letters.

Twelve Books from Your Own Library (That You Haven't Read Yet). I didn't find a formal challenge for this year, per se, but heard clues about something similar for previous years and decided this was a Very Good Idea.

What's in a Name 2015. The shortest, maybe funnest one of the lot. Okay, they have all been fun, but I think I could have easily been happy with twice as many categories as this one had.

A Year of Reading Challenges for Kids. So they can play along.

*Oh, did I say seven challenges? I meant eight!—I found this Back to the Classics Challenge 2015 late in the year, and decided to tack it on. Why not? I had already read several books that qualified.

I didn't restrict myself to only new books, i.e. books I hadn't read before (since some of the categories were specifically rereads), unless the category or challenge specifically stipulated a new read. I did try, though, to give priority to new discoveries and books from my To Be Read pile.  I'll post my reading for each challenge in a separate post, and repeat books will link back to the challenge in which they were originally listed.

I've already decided to limit my reading challenges next year. Participating in so many challenges has definitely helped me to read more, discover new books, and expand my choices. But I have found that in my eagerness/anxiety to complete a challenge (/all of them) I would forego reading something that I might have preferred to read instead, for the sake of filling an empty slot. This has its good points, admittedly—it's a challenge, after all. (I did ask myself a couple of times, "Why would you deliberately read a book with a bad review?" There are a lot of answers to that; but that's just an example of when I might rather be reading something else!) It also meant I was sometimes reading rather than doing something else I would rather, or needed to, do. I find myself sympathizing with this perspective as the year closes.

I'm really glad to have challenged myself and completed them all (I will complete them all), and I find that I don't need to do so much next year. I might get weak and cave if I see a really interesting one, and I've been more than tempted to host one (or two) of my own. But for now, my intention is to tackle my Booklust Pinterest board. I'll formalize it later, but the basic idea is to read one new book from each list that I've pinned, and a handful of singleton titles on the board.

Have you participated in any reading challenges this year? If so, what was your favorite aspect of it? Will you do one next year?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Why I Didn't Post Anything about Planned Parenthood Last Week

At around the time that this video came out, I posted on Facebook what were basically a couple of shoulder shrugs about Stone Mountain and medical child abuse panic. I did not post about Planned Parenthood, despite, and maybe partly because of, the fact that it was everywhere. Abortion is a scourge of our society, of a magnitude far greater than those other things I posted about. So I started wondering to myself: why didn't I raise my voice, when likely I should have, and should continue tirelessly to do so? I came up with three reasons.

1) Ever since the great online debate about the morality of lying for a greater good, I have been deeply ambivalent about the tactics of such exposés as this one. What's done is done, and you can judge for yourself what has been done, and continues to be done.

2) I don't have the stomach for it. Part of my writing process is agonizing for days over just a semi-serious post. I have read enough about it today; I am shaking slightly in my seat as I write this. Others are doing a much better job than I would. I'll just link to a few, who in turn have a few links to share. There's a plethora of links, because even though it's not really news, this is really huge. Simcha Fisher at the National Catholic Register gives just the facts. Fr. Dwight Longenecker at Standing On My Head lays it out plainly. Rebecca Hamilton at Public Catholic explains what happens now. And Elizabeth Scalia at The Anchoress illustrates how it's all cosmically connected.

3) Ultimately, I guess I didn't post anything because of this. If you, for the sake of medical progress, or women's health, or personal autonomy, or libertarianism, or anything else, think that any part—any part—of this is okay, are you going to be convinced otherwise by anything I say?

Are you?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

St Augustine on Homeschooling (and some links)

I didn't expect to find homeschooling wisdom while reading St Augustine's Confessions; but I shouldn't have been surprised either. Confessions is a brilliant autobiography right from his childhood days; and homeschooling is, really, basically anything about life with children/as a child.

I've always been an eclectic homeschooler: aspiring to a classical education, loving and admiring the Charlotte Mason method, in grateful awe of unschooling, making frequent use of unit studies and even spurts of "drill and kill." Not so much confused, I often simply don't know which approach resonates most with me. When I read the following (and more), it reminded me of my own recent struggles with my approach to homeschooling.

St. Augustine writes in Book I about his studies as a boy, when he disliked studying and was beaten for not making sufficient progress. In this he says:

In boyhood itself, however, (so much less dreaded for me than youth,) I loved not study, and hated to be forced to it. Yet I was forced; and this is well done towards me, but I did not well; for, unless forced, I had not learned. But no one doth well against his will, even though what he doth, be well. Yet neither did they will force me, but what was well came to me from Thee, my God... So by those who did not well, Thou didst well for me; and by my own sin Thou didst punish me. For Thou hast commanded, and so it is, that every inordinate affection should be its own punishment.

But why did I so much hate the Greek, which I studied is a boy? I do not yet fully know. The Latin I loved; not what my first Masters, but with the so-called grammarians taught me. For those first lessons, reading, writing, and arithmetic, I thought as great a burden and penalty as any Greek....

But now, my God, cry Thou aloud in my soul; and let Thy truth tell me, "Not so, not so. Far better was that first study." For low, I would readily forget the wanderings of Aeneas and all the rest, rather than how to read and write.... Let not either buyers or sellers of grammar-learning cry out against me. For if I question whether it be true, that Aeneas came on a time to Carthage, as the Poet tells, the less learned will reply that they know not, the more learned that he never did. But should I ask with what letters the name "Aeneas" is written, everyone who has learned this will answer me are right, as to the signs which men have conventionally settled. If, again, I should ask, which might be forgotten with least detriment to the concerns of life, reading and writing or these poetic fictions? Who does not for see, what all must answer who have not wholly forgotten themselves?

But then he also admits this:
Difficulty, in truth, the difficulty of a foreign language, dashed, as it were, with gall all the sweetness of Grecian fable. For not one word of it did I understand, and to make me understand I was urged for vehemently with cruel threats and punishment. Time was also, (as an infant,) I knew no Latin; but this I learned without fear of suffering, by mere observation, amid the caresses of my nursery and jests of friends, smiling and sportively encouraging me. This I learned without any pressure of punishment to urge me on, for my heart urged me to give birth to its conceptions, which I could only do by learning words not of those who taught, but of those who talked with me; in his ears also I gave birth to the thoughts, whatever I conceived. No doubt then, that a free curiosity has more force in our learning these things, and a frightful enforcement.

It's not some new revelation to me that a desire to learn actually helps learning. Or that a punishment-strong system is less than ideal. Or that no matter how much more fun the other stuff is, you have to get those basics down. But it was a balm to see such an ancient reflection of that. Reading it reaffirmed both the ideal and appeal of child-led learning and the logic of a rigorous skills-based curriculum. You may think this would not help to resolve any struggle between the two; but it reinforces in me an inclination to treat them as two separate legs on which to stand. 

In the spirit of the continued mission to nurture love of learning and a deeper engagement in education, here are some links I've recently found worth pondering.

I'm looking forward to working this Charlotte Mason approach to grammar instruction into our year. I think it will both help ground the principles of grammar for my kids and give me more excuses to read all together during school hours. 

This list of 25 Latin phrases every student should know looks like a fun addition to language studies.

I love this video about Shakespearean pronunciation every time it pops up somewhere; perhaps you and your older kids will like it too. 

This states research project with printables looks promising!

This has inspired me both to re-emphasize nature study and to encourage the kids to take the plunge into living science, to seek out what interests them during our science studies.

And this post by Melissa Wiley about (not) teaching reading encourages me to lay all my word-nerd glory on the kids at full power. (Blessedly simple follow-up post here.) 

What is inspiring you as the new school year approaches?

Friday, July 3, 2015

"Why Is Homosexuality a Sin?"

I don't really pay attention to the campaigns (or currently even the news) of the various politicians competing for our attention. But when it popped up in my feed, I clicked on the post on Herman Cain's site, called "A detailed explanation of why Christians don't accept gay marriage."

For those genuinely interested in understanding.

Given the nature of the discussion following the gay marriage ruling last week, one thing that's clear to me as a Christian who opposes gay marriage is that very few secular people - and sadly, by no means all Christians - really understand why Christians take the position we do.
I had recently seen a request on Facebook asking for just this sort of information. The asker, who was a friend of a friend (so I was unable to comment on the thread), seemed earnestly perplexed as to why anyone would think that homosexuality is a sin. That, rather than specifically gay marriage, was his question. I made a general offer on my page to discuss it, and the ensuing thread touched on gay marriage, the authority of the Church, science history—but never actually got around to discussing the question of what makes homosexuality a sin. So I wanted to see what someone else would say.

The post was pretty good as far as it went: basically, "Because homosexual activity is deadly to your soul." I've seen the same sort of thing from a favorite Catholic writer two years ago (he's updated it: Why the Catholic Church Will Never Support Gay Marriage). It's sinful, and sin kills your eternal soul. And we love you, so we don't want that.

The seriousness of sin has been largely lost in today's society. Those who believe in a God of love and forgiveness often cannot conceive of the possibility that he could allow anyone to go to Hell. That's a discussion for another day; but if you have at least a basic understanding what Christians believe about Hell, you can appreciate with Penn Jillette why we take sin seriously.

But neither post addressed homosexuality* per se. How could it be sinful? Unfortunately, all most people hear as an explanation to this question is, "The Bible tells me so." The first author says, correctly, that the Bible reveals that "God intended a natural order for how we would receive and engage in the gift of sexual activity, and it likewise establishes that homosexual sex is outside that established order." That's true, but it's not compelling to people who don't accept the authority of the Bible. Why is there a natural order for sexual activity?

The answer to this is also from the Bible; but it is compelling, not because of any commanding authority, but because of its beauty.

God is love. (1 John 4:8)

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. (Genesis 1:31–2:1)

And God said, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth." (Genesis 1:28, and 9:1)

Simply put, God is love; he created us out of love; and he wants more of us to love.

God endowed us, through our sexual function, with the ability to participate in the crown of creation. We do not, even now, fully comprehend the power we hold. A glimpse of it is in the "little death" of lovers' embrace who "feel the earth move." In the world-changing sight of two blue lines. In the first sound of a heartbeat at the doctor's office. Parents especially get that glimpse when they hold that hoped-for child in their arms and look her and each other in the face.

This is humankind at its most Godlike, a power of staggering responsibility. Indeed, it is the recreation of the image of God from Genesis: when a man and a woman engage in the sexual act—that act called "making love"—that makes them "one flesh" (and especially when they conceive a child during this unitive act), the family they create is the fullest possible image—icon—of the Trinity: three persons in one God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And it's not just about making babies. The physical and emotional aspects of sex naturally and deeply bind up those who engage in it. The natural order places sexual activity solidly and solely within the context of marriage to safeguard both that power and the people involved in it.

This concept is called the Theology of the Body, and it actually goes beyond sex to address many aspects of the body, both male and female, in relation to God and each other. Dr. Gregory Popcak, for instance, likes to discuss the theology of the body with regard to attachment parenting. Pope St. John Paul II spoke to women about their "feminine genius" in ways that had nothing to do with the exercise of sex. Catholics are learning how intimately the theology of the body intertwines with the Cross and the Eucharist, the heart of the faith. You can find many authors, speakers, and teachers exploring this concept. Since it's summed up as the nuptial meaning of our physical human forms, which are biologically either male or female, sexuality is at its heart.

The human being, body and soul, was created holy in the image of God. Human sexuality, with its unitive and procreative power, is sacred. Abusing something sacred is not merely sinful; it is the definition of profanity.  So that is what the litany of sexual sins in the Bible is about. Every expression of sex (and reproduction, for that matter) that does not take place within the respect, honor, and protect the power of the combined unitive and procreative power of the human body—that is, between a husband and a wife who are open to the possibility of children—is an abuse of sexuality. Homosexual behavior, artificial birth control, premarital sex, in vitro fertilization, adultery: all do violence to the integrity of that sexuality.

This is why this sort of behavior is a sin: because you are sacred and holy, and not to be profaned.

* I always try to begin by clarifying that homosexuality itself is not a sin. We confess that we sin by thought, word, and deed—but not by being. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Cross of Marriage

Being married is the hardest thing I've ever done. People say raising a child, for example, is hard. But parenting is easy compared to marriage. It's a cheat to say that, of course, because if you are married, parenting is a part of the marriage. Just like everything is a part of the marriage. Every Christian's primary vocation is to grow holier, to become more like Christ. And here's what that looks like for every single one of us:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  Matthew 16:24
For Christians whose vocation is marriage, that means it takes up every aspect of your life into itself, as you strive to become more holy in the process of sharing that life wholly with another person. Every single thing you do has the potential to affect someone else, and you are similarly entwined with the actions of another person.

I think Eve Tushnet speaks insightfully about marriage in her post at Patheos, "Marriage as Work vs Marriage as the Cross":
Conservatives often argue that Americans have a Disneyfied, “soulmate” view of marriage, which makes us unprepared for the fact that marriage–like all vocations–can be terribly hard. I don’t think that’s quite right. We do have a cultural vocabulary for talking about the “hard parts” of marriage. The problem is that we have only one vocabulary, only one metaphor; and it’s a metaphor which resonates with the fix-it, prosperity-gospel elements in the American character. Our one vocabulary for talking about the woe that is in marriage is the idea that “marriage is hard work.” You hear this everywhere....

But also, marriage can be the Cross. 
She goes on to say that we have lost the vocabulary to talk about marriage as a cross, and that this loss has some negative effects. The whole thing is worth a read. Ms. Tushnet mentions the danger of judging someone whose marriage isn't ideal, or is failing, as if they aren't putting in the "work." She mentions that we are in danger of overlooking the simple fact that patience—just waiting it out—is often what pulls a marriage through. She didn't say this in so many words, but I think that the absence of this "marriage as cross" outlook highlights the American sense of self-reliance that too often becomes a trap for despair. There's the danger of thinking that your marriage is all up to you, and besides the danger of self-judgment (thinking you are a failure if your marriage is a failure), you risk that a mentality of "I did all I could" absolves any subsequent decision to break up a marriage if your efforts don't yield the results you think they should.

The whole idea reminded me of something I read a while back. We liked it so much my husband wrote the idea into a best man's speech for a wedding he attended a few years ago:
When the bride and bridegroom go to the church to be married they carry a Crucifix with them. The priest blesses the Crucifix and instead of saying that they have found the ideal partner with whom to share their lives, he exclaims, “You have found your Cross! It is a Cross to love, to carry with you, a Cross that is not to be thrown off, but rather cherished.”

When they interchange the marital vows, the bride puts her right hand on this Crucifix and the groom puts his right hand over hers. Both are bound together and united to the Cross. The priest covers their hands with his stole while they pronounce their promises to love one other in good times and in bad, proclaiming their vows to be faithful according to the rites of the Church.

Then they both first kiss the Cross, not each other. If one abandons the other, they abandon Christ on the Cross. They lose Jesus! After the wedding, the newly-weds cross the threshold of their home to enthrone that same Crucifix in a place of honour. It becomes the reference point of their lives and the place of family prayer, for the young couple believes deeply that the family is born of the Cross.
The rest is just as beautiful.

Don't you think we could all benefit from hearing this more?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Losing Ellery

I think I started showing some time around Christmas. It depended on what I wore, but my permanent bump from ten pregnancies started to grow, so that (to me) it was obviously not a leftover "mummy tummy"—this was a new baby bump. I continued to wear my normal clothes until this past week when I tried a maxi skirt over my bump and thought, "hmm, it's getting time."

I wore a pair of maternity jeans the day before I lost the baby.

I had been bleeding on and off for several weeks, but I've had bleeding at this stage many times before and we'd never lost a baby. One time it turned into an abruption and premature birth. We handled the rest of our "threatened miscarriages" with bed rest. We figured we knew the drill. 

But we always knew this was a possibility. The bleeding picked up. Sunday morning I woke up...different. I stayed in bed for a little while, until cramping and bleeding—more than bleeding—drove me out.

It was all relatively mild. All the same, it reminded me unmistakably of the immediate postpartum phase. Only this time, there was no emotional allowance for the messy processes of my body, no happy thoughts occupying my mind from the next room. Likely I would have had a similar aversion to the gore of childbirth that I felt now, had there not been the overwhelming joy of that new life at my side. 

Likely the baby died days or weeks before.

It may seem odd to feel in that moment a kinship to the women who undergo abortions. The ones who choose this end and particularly reject that overwhelming joy and that new life. But I did. I felt the desire to remove myself and let my body take care of this without me. I felt a sense of dread at what I might see, even as I had moments of near panic that we would never have Ellery's little form to baptize and bury. I felt revulsion at every physical proof of my transition to "not-pregnant."

Mostly, I don't feel guilty for feeling this way. It's well within "normal" to have such reactions to suffering a loss. This is a time of grief for me.

It is for them as well. The ones that choose.

I'm getting back to normal, and I missed the baby. We told the kids earlier this week, and we all miss the baby—the baby now, and the baby that would have been. But we're all getting back to normal, whatever that will be. I love my family. All of them.

Ellery Raphael, pray for your mama. Pray for all the mamas, and their babies. Pray for all of us, your family. Jesus, have mercy on us, and keep my little Ellery close.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Books and Blogs

My not-so-new favorite blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy, recently posted about how she tracks her reading ("begrudgingly"). I've been wanting to do this ever since I signed up with Goodreads in 2012. I got started in earnest as part of my 2013 resolutions and even wrote a review of The Hobbit that the impressive Julie Davis liked, but then Amazon acquired Goodreads, and I was mad at Amazon about something (I don't remember what but it probably still applies), and I swore off Goodreads. I've thought about book journals and Pinterest and the like, but I guess the truth is that I am also one who would rather spend her time reading books than logging them.

But her post got me thinking perhaps I should give it another go. Plus, the volume of book-blogging she does has me wondering just how much book-reading I actually do—not as much as I would like, I'd bet. I think tracking my reading will help me get a better idea than the stacks of library books on my nightstand, and maybe give me the nudge to finish a few more of those titles before they go back to the library. (Not to mention the ones I bought or held on to with high hopes, only to forget them over and over again between dustings.)

So hey, what better way to start than with a reading challenge!

Two of them, actually, because reading challenges are fun—maybe better than book clubs. I would obsessively collect more to participate in if I wanted to indulge in optimistic hopes about meeting goals and stuff. (Yeah, I don't do New Year's resolutions anymore.)

Graphic from samantha-lin.com

In fairness, the first one that caught my eye gets the first mention: The Authors A to Z Reading Challenge. Super simple, super fun: try to read a book by one author (use the author's last name) for each letter of the alphabet. I don't really have a plan for this one, beyond reading a few books I already know I want to read, start filling in the letters, and plug in any holes as I see the need and opportunity. Doubling up with the second challenge is allowed, and I already have some thoughts for that one that may give me some of those more obscure letters.

Of course the second challenge is Modern Mrs. Darcy's own. The 2015 Reading Challenge got me to actually commit to some more intentional reading this year, or from now on, or something. As I looked at the different categories, I started thinking of titles I wanted to read for each one, and I thought, yeah, this could be fun. Go check it out; she's got a Pinterest board and a printable, yeah?

graphic from ModernMrsDarcy.com

Soon I'll tell you about some of the reading I've been doing and planning, and I'll describe how we track the kids' reading. In the meantime, tell me: should I give Goodreads another go? I really can't decide. 

And if you've got a fun reading challenge you're doing (or if you think one up and need company), tell me about it, too!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

So what does being 40...

...make me?

Advanced Maternal Age!

We're expecting our 11th baby, and another July baby at that. We have five birthdays in July right now, including Jason's, and our due date for this baby is July 24 (alternately July 27). As of now, I am even willing to go over a few days to get into August, but I doubt once I am there I will be so desirous of novelty.

Being pregnant at 40 seems to be some sort of buzz issue if you pay attention to things like women's websites and gossip rags. Here are two opposing (or maybe not so much?) takes on it: Age and Fertility: Getting Pregnant in Your 40s vs. Why Fertility Is Far from Finished at 40.

Meanwhile, I'm not freaking out. Mostly. But in every pregnancy I welcome your prayers. And, may I say, I hope to see you back here again soon? I'm encouraged by this assessment of the state of blogging that sees a return to "the old days" when people engaged each other more on blogs. I'm not one to be consistently prone to publishing long pieces here, but I've always loved blogs for their community-building nature. I hope to be here more and engage in a bit of conversation.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Heaven Is For Real

This post was written in August 2014, and was a casualty of the whirlwind that is our life. In the spirit of catching up (my unspoken resolution for 2015), I am posting it in the hope that someone finds it worthwhile despite being *gasp* five months old.

We recently watched the movie "Heaven is for Real." I enjoyed it, but I remembered reading some sort of caution about it, so afterwards I went looking.

So far the only things I have come up with were that many criticized it (and the book on which it was based) for being unbiblical, and that it promotes a Universalist view of salvation.

I found it interesting that (in the film—I haven’t read the book yet) some of the people in Paster Todd’s church were resistant to the idea of a literal trip to Heaven. I’m not sure what problem they were having. Was it that Heaven is a real place? It seemed that way at times. Todd protests at one point, “Why does it have to be just a mythology?” At these times I wanted to take them by the shoulders and say, “Why is this so difficult for you? Just what do you claim to believe in, anyway?” But at other times, it really seemed to be more complex, and I think, in a sense, their skepticism honored the complexities of walking by faith in this life. Because for some, it really did seem for them to come down to a crisis of faith that resembles St. John of the Cross’s “Dark Night of the Soul” (what I understand of it—still have to read that one, too) that a more spiritually mature person experiences.

As for the “unbiblical” claims, well, maybe that accounts for some of the problem. Maybe this is too simple, but for self-described Bible Christians who adhere to the literal words of Scripture—no more, no less—maybe it’s just that they had no framework for handling such a claim as what Heaven consists of. That’s not as much of a problem for Catholics. We have the freedom and safety of a living Magisterium. We have the ecstasies and visions of the saints for predecents. We have a very clear set of principles for judging private revelations, which in itself allows for the possibility that this little boy’s experience is genuine. And though it would be tough to submit this particular phenomenon for ecclesiastical approval, we can apply the basic ideas of such guidance: I heard nothing in the things film-Colton reported about Jesus or Heaven that contradicts the revealed truth as safeguarded to and by the Church.

Those who want to say such visions of Jesus and Heaven are unbiblical and therefore problematic seem to me to have God pretty tightly restricted. Frankly, I find such objections laughable. But in the movie, Todd offers even them an acceptable way of looking at what this was—basically, an interpretation of Heaven, as seen by a four-year-old boy. In fact, at first I was disappointed in that characterization. It seemed too wishy-washy—I wanted him to come out and say, “Yes, my son went to Heaven and I believe it!” But I quickly saw the wisdom of the approach he took. It felt very like the approach of the Church to approved apparitions: “We see no obstacle to belief, no harm in believing it; you’re not required to, but it might do you some good.” I’d like to read the book before making any firmer (personal) judgment, but I haven’t seen anything troublesome about what he reports.

What resounds in my own mind as I contemplate the possibility of Colton’s account of Heaven is this: "What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor: 2:9).

As for the Universalist issue, Brantly Millegan at Aleteia says that the movie left out a crucial focus on Christianity and its view of salvation that was present in the book:

This theme of God’s love meaning that people can’t be excluded from heaven is explicitly communicated in one particular scene in the film. Todd is sitting in a cemetery with a woman who lost her adult son in the military, and she asks him if he thinks her son went to heaven. Todd responds along these lines, “Do you love your son? [Yes.] Do I love my son? [Yes.] Do you think God loves my son who went to heaven as much as he loves your son?” The implication ends up being that since Colton went to heaven (albeit briefly), and since God loves both Colton and the woman’s son, the woman’s son must also have gone to heaven.

Todd doesn’t say, “Don’t worry, we both know your son loved Christ.” He says, in effect, “Don’t worry, God loves him, therefore he’s in heaven.”

Actually, Todd doesn’t say that either, because I was listening for it. Here’s how the scene actually goes:

Nancy: Do you think—I have to ask—do you think my son went to heaven?

Todd: Do you love your son, still?

Nancy: Of course.

Todd: Do you think I love mine?

Nancy: I know you do.

Todd: Do you think I love my son more than you love yours?

Nancy: No.

Todd: Do you think God loves my son more than he loves yours?

That’s it. The last question is not answered, just contemplated. Even if it were explicitly answered, "No," is there anything in that answer that is untrue?

Todd says a few minutes before this dialogue that he failed the grieving parent in her hour of need. My assumption about this statement, based on a limited understanding of a common Protestant view of salvation, is this: it was his belief that as far as anyone knew, this woman’s son was not saved, and so he could not offer her any hope at his graveside. The Catholic Church, while recognizing the need to be reconciled with God for salvation, also leaves open, through the richness of her teachings and the counsel of the saints, the possibility through God's vast mercy of that reconciliation and salvation in all kinds of situations—a mercy that is not bound by his sacraments or any other stricture save our own free will.

I agree with Millegan that the film would have been more true if the idea of some kind of reciprocal relationship with Christ had been preserved. But I also agree with Kathy Schiffer, who has written about both the book and the movie, that this movie is a good movie (in the sense of approaching "God-liness"), and Hollywood needs to make more movies as full of faith as this one.

When I think of the nonbelievers who took part in making this film, and who have seen and will see it, I think of what one review highlighted of Colton’s words: “We don’t ever have to be afraid.” Doesn’t that sound like someone to you?

Or, more to the point, where JP got it to begin with: 

It’s my opinion that many are kept from God by fear, and that goes for believers and nonbelievers. When someone judges you, rightly or wrongly—and especially when you are afraid of being rejected, one protective response is to do the rejecting first. It’s a way of shielding yourself from the risks inherent in loving someone, and as C. S. Lewis noted, the only place where you can be safe from love is hell.


Just for good measure, I believe that hell is for real too, and offer this fascinating counterpoint: The Flip Side of Heaven Is For Real.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Developing a New Battle Plan

Fr. Dwight Longenecker at Standing on My Head has published a piece that asks and answers the question: What is Pope Francis up to with this recent announcement of new cardinals?

It's exciting news, but there's one part of his analysis that particularly caught me. In noting the unusual demographics of this group of cardinals, he says:

This shift in the Sistine Chapel’s population not only means the next pope is certainly going to be chosen from the developing world, but it changes the complexion of the church’s leadership. What we have known in the recent past is the predominance of European and North American liberals or moderates. They have been concerned with church affairs, theological questions and moral debates that have reflected the concerns of Europe and North America. The hot button issues have been women’s ordination, married priests, same sex marriage, abortion, economics and politics. Burdened by intellectual doubt, undermined by liberal Biblical scholarship, infected with modernism and weakened by establishment links, the European and North American leadership have too often presented a church that was worldly, mildly unbelieving and unconcerned about the core gospel values and the need to evangelize.

It is this kind of Catholicism that the Pope wants to engage. It is not so much that he sees the concerns of the developed church as irrelevant as he see them as secondary to more pressing matters in the battle to live the faith and proclaim the gospel.

This is such a comfort to me, when I take the time to think about it. The culture of our country, reflected even in our faith, is both insecure and belligerent, and serious subjects have the ability to polarize quickly. The news and content demanding my attention, loaded as it is with these "hot-button issues," sucks the Christian joy right out of me. Every day I must make the choice to disengage in order to protect my primary vocation and mission; I have a duty to my husband and family to maintain the joy and peace that are the fruits of our faith. Sure, I still feel the need to defend the truth the Church proclaims, but it usually leaves me feeling...defensive. What's worse, some of those I would call allies in the culture wars of America and American Catholicism, who are on the defensive too, seem to hold as their motto "The best defense is a good offense." Jesus said he came to bring not peace but a sword, but it's still true that you can't evangelize people if you're alienating them.

Yet I still feel the need to engage the world. Isn't that what Christianity is all about, becoming so overwhelmed with the Good News that we simply must spread it? This projected effect of Pope Francis' news cardinals is a return to roots, so to speak. Fr. Longenecker says Pope Francis is "putting together his battalions for battle."

Only our focus will shift from infighting among fellow men and among Christians, to the defeat of the true Enemy.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Black-eyed Pea Salad for the New Year

Am I really going to end a four-month blogging hiatus by posting a recipe?

Yes. Yes, I am. Happy New Year.

I can eat traditionally prepared black-eyed peas, but I don't care much for them. This salad, on the other hand, I eat straight out of the bowl. I make it for my good-luck black-eyed-peas-for-New-Year's-Day dish. It's better after a day or so to let the flavors blend and settle and all, but I can't wait that long before I eat half of it by myself. Luckily, it's a great lunch. 

Black-eyed Pea Salad

One large tomato
One green bell pepper
Two green onions
Six fresh mushrooms
One garlic clove
One 8-ounce bottle of Italian dressing
Two 16-ounce cans of black eyed peas, rinsed and drained

Chop the tomato. Seed and chop the bellpepper. Sliced the green onions and mushrooms. Mince the garlic. Place them all in a bowl. Stir in the peas and the Italian dressing. Cover and chill, stirring occasionally, for eight hours. 

The original recipe calls for diced celery and pimiento, which I almost never use. I don't have anything against them, I just never remember to buy them. It also says to drain the salad before serving and garnish it with more sliced green onions but I don't find it necessary. 

Oh, and I turned 40 last year. You know what that makes me? Stay tuned....


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