Saturday, August 31, 2013

Things Learned

Having come across this post by Raewyn while lazing about reading other people's posts when I was supposed to be writing my own, I thought I'd join in on this "things learned in August" link-up, because I have learned a lot of things in August, both important and very non-important.  I am also supremely glad that it will be over tomorrow, so I'm celebrating.  Visit the original post here.

1. I was not meant to join the Daughters of Mary.  I was following my own will in pursuing it, not God's.

2.  You actually have to work to be holy, and you don't get to just choose to not be.  And you can't do anything by yourself but need God's grace if you're going to have any strength at all.  It's like expecting to have energy without ever eating.

3.  Speaking of eating, I also learned that pesto paninis are the best Friday dinner ever. All you do is put provolone, pesto, red onions, tomatoes, avocado, and red or orange bell peppers in a roll and stick it in a buttered pan or panini press until it's browned and melty and beautiful.  Then you eat it.  And it's delicious.

4.  I am super-duper unbelievably lucky to know two people who love literature at least as much as I do, and I am even more blessed to be being paid by one of them to listen to some absolutely lovely literature lectures and write about them.  It's temporary, but it's my first job and a dream job - one I never dreamed of, but a dream job nevertheless.  The other person is subjected to small bursts of email-ranting on Dickinson, Tolkien, Dickens, and the like, and far from objecting, responds in kind.

5.  Speaking of literature, I learned through the aforementioned lectures that Emily Dickinson is basically queen of the poetical universe.  She is definitely my favorite poet now.

6.  Sleeping in is way overrated.  Enough said.

7.  Bringing up authors again, one biggish thing I've learned in August is that spiritual reading is actually...not painful.  I've read a ton of religious books (partly because the only way I can make myself behave remotely well is to constantly remind myself by reading), and the most eye-opening spiritual book I've read this month was definitely The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila -- her autobiography. (Note: I have not read the version in the link and don't know if it's altered or a weird translation or anything, so don't blame me if it is.)  That book is just -- stunning.

8.  I am not cut out for being a stay-at-home daughter.  I have always been an independent person and I always told my mom I'd move out as soon as I turned eighteen.  That's not exactly happening, but I'm still joining a convent as soon as I find one, so hopefully I will still move out when I'm eighteen.  I never had any desire to be a stay-at-home daughter, and having finished school and being "almost grown-up" has just intensified that opinion. 

9.  I love English country dancing/square dancing.  I knew this already, but an impromptu, music-less lesson in the park by one of the girls from church a few weeks ago reminded me.   I don't know what it is about it, but it's so much fun.

10.  I am an autumn girl, and there's nothing I can do about it.  I was born in October, but I always insisted that I liked summer best.  And while I do like summer, it's always tainted by air conditioning and boredom and (up till now) the stress of overdue schoolwork.  The *idea* of summer is still my favorite, but in the real world, fall is best - the part that still above 45 degrees, that is.  I am looking forward to the cooler weather.

Monday, August 26, 2013

My God and My All

As I generally do when I can't sleep, last night I was thinking about things, and somehow I started thinking about the phrase "my God and my All."  As you probably know, this is an ejaculation which one can say throughout the day and also which one should offer to God at the Elevation of the Host during the Mass.  I say it each time I go to Mass, but I never really think about what it means.  "My God and my All."  It may sound a bit exaggerated to some, but if one is truly living as one ought, God truly is his or her all - everything, the only thing, all things in One.  He created everything, He sustains everything, without Him there is nothing.  And he possesses, in a sense, every relationship to us as well.  I made a list.  And I made it into a graphic, because that's just a thing I do.

Made with this, use it if you like.  No credit necessary, it took like five minutes.
Aren't we lucky? No matter how lonely we are in a worldly sense, we have everyone we could possibly need in God.  (And Mary.  And that's not even mentioning the saints and angels....) 

God is also our All in the sense that He is all that matters - everything else can and must, if we want to be holy, be sacrificed to Him, even if it's our life.  We're not really losing anything because God is our Everything, so all we're losing is Nothing.  When one reads the great mystical saints like Teresa of Avila (highly recommended), one sees that a soul closely united to God doesn't really care even about whether its body is dead or alive, because the life of the body matters little compared to the life of the soul, and often even hinders it.  (Since people like to misinterpret everything, let me just say that this is by no means an excuse for suicide, which is a mortal sin and so kills the soul as well as the body.  Obviously.  And we still have an obligation to care for our bodies, no matter how burdensome it is - and since most of us enjoy caring for our bodies much more than caring for our souls anyway, that shouldn't be a problem.)

I could keep going on, but I'm in a hurry and I'm not sure anyone will care about this topic anyway.  But next time you say the aspiration "my God and my All," really think about and mean it with all your heart.  God will give you the grace to really make Him your all, if you truly desire it and ask Him humbly and perseveringly.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Imitation of Christ: Of Asking Divine Assistance, and of Confidence of Recovering Grace

I read this chapter of the Imitation this morning and thought, as I found it very consoling, my readers might as well.  It might be a tiny bit long for some people, but think about the fact that I typed two-thirds of the chapter out for you and stick with it. :p

The Imitation of Christ
by Thomas a Kempis
Chapter 30
Son, I am the Lord, who give strength in the day of trouble.
Come to Me when it is not well with thee.  This is that which most of all hinders heavenly comfort, that thou are slow in turning thyself to prayer.
For before thou earnestly prayest to Me thou seekest in the meantime many comforts and delightest thyself in outward things.
And hence it comes to pass that all things avail thee little till thou take notice that I am He that delivers those that trust in Me.  Nor is there out of Me any powerful help, or profitable counsel, or lasting rememdy.
But now having recovered spirit after the storm, grow thou strong again in the light of My tender mercies; for I am at hand to repair all, not only to the full, but even with abundance and above measure.
2.  Is anything difficult to Me? or shall I be like one that promises and does not perform?
Where is thy faith? Stand firmly and with perseverance.
Have patience and be of good courage, comfort will come to thee in its proper season.
Wait for Me, wait, I will come and cure thee. It is a temptation that troubles thee, and a vain fear that frightens thee.  What does that solicitude about future accidents bring thee but only sorrow upon sorrow? "Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof." (Matt. 6:34).
It is a vain and unprofitable thing to conceive either grief or jor for future things, which perhaps will never happen.
3.  But it is incident to man to be deluded with such imaginations; and a sign of a soul that is yet weak and to be easily drawn away by the suggestions of the enemy.
For he cares not whether it be with things true or false that he abuses and deceives thee, whether he overthrow thee with the love of things present or the fear of things to comee.
"Let not, therefore, thy heart be troubled and let it not be afraid." (John 14:27).
Believe in Me and trust in My mercy.  When thou thinkest I am far from thee, I am often nearest to thee.  When thou judgest that almost all is lost, the oftentimes it is that thou art in the way of gaining the greatest merit.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

T.S. Eliot - Murder in the Cathedral

Murder in the Cathedral was my last reading assignment in English and my first exposure to T.S. Eliot - and wow.  I just wandered around like a zombie after finishing it because I just could not straighten out what I thought of it.  I liked it but I hated it, it was perfect but it was awful.  In short, it was a very conflicting play.  I get the feeling that most of Eliot's work is like this.

Naturally, the plot was very good, but as it is a true story, that is to be expected,  (For those who have no idea what the play is about, it's the tale of the murder of St. Thomas à Becket in Canterbury Cathedral.)  The atmosphere is what really got to me, though.  It was depressing and just really, really dark for most of the play.  I think it's just one of those books that you know is good, but is not comfortable, if that makes sense.  (Sort of like Gone with the Wind.) It's enjoyable, but one of those things you can't stay immersed in for too long.
The poetry has a strong cadence and almost reads like music; I love strong rhythms in poetry so I definitely appreciated that.  Especially in plays or epic poems a prominent rhythm is important, I think, because it makes it easier to get through the often unfamiliar experience of reading a story set in poetry rather than prose.
Now, many of us know that Eliot is often considered one of the fathers of modern poetry.  I, personally, am not fond of most modern poetry.  Therefore I had rather a bias against the man, fair or not; but while I could see that modernity and how it could have influenced poetry today, it didn't bother me too much - it was still very good.  Because of the leaning towards modern poetry, the lines are simpler, direct, and strikingly forceful.  BUT.  One can feel the taint of  it, not only in the poetry itself but in the overall feeling of the work.  If you pay attention when you read or listen to music you will probably know the feeling of modernity: a sort of empty, despairing taste it leaves in your mouth. It is well-mixed with other elements in Murder in the Cathedral and so was not so overwhelming, but I still detected its presence.

Now, the Chorus.  I usually don't really understand choruses in general (in plays, I mean), but this one takes the cake.  It's made up of the Women of Canterbury, and they seem a pretty miserable lot.  Also, I can't imagine how their lines are supposed to be said in a performance - are they supposed to be said naturally, or sort of chanted?  Especially since it's a whole group of women... If by chance their lines were chanted, it would make a pretty creepifying spectacle, because they provide a lot of the darkness of the play.  Imagine a group of female voices in unison, sort of deadpan-chanting the following lines:  
The agents of hell disappear, the human, they shrink and dissolve,
Into dust on the wind, forgotten, unmemorable; only is here
The white flat face of Death, God's silent servant,
And behind the face of Death the Judgement
And behind the Judgement the Void, more horrid than active shapes of hell;
Emptiness, absence, separation from God; 
The horror of the effortless journey, to the empty land,
Which is no land, emptiness, absence, the Void. 
I'll say this for Eliot: he knew how to create emotions. Only, the emotions he creates are mostly negative, like terror and fear and despair, so no credit for him, really.  Flipping through the book to find that passage, I found a word to describe the element combating the dreariness of modernity: richness.  Eliot's writing has a richness which, though not at all like the color-drenched richness of Chesterton or the spiritual richness of St. Teresa, is essential to the impact his poetry makes, and saves it from being entirely modern.  Modern poetry is generally too concerned with being abstract and pressing the "enter" button as much as possible to have any element of richness.

And do note that I chose the most depressing lines I could find to highlight my point in that excerpt.  There is much heroism and even beauty in the play, being as it is a very Catholic story, though T.S. Eliot himself was not a Catholic, as far as I know.  I find the interest of secular writers in Catholic martyrdom very intriguing - you have this, A Man for All Seasons, various movies made about St. Joan of Arc over the years, etc.  Perhaps it is simply the sensational element in martyrdom that appeals to them, but I like to believe it is something deeper. The Catholicity in Murder in the Cathedral is strongly present, from the perfectly-handled Tempters (and Thomas' refutation of them) to the lines of the Dies Irae in the Chorus to the Archbishop's last words: Now to Almighty God, to the Blesssed Mary ever Virgin, to the blessed John the Baptist, the holy apostles Peter and Paul, to the blessed martyr Denys, and to all the Saints, I commend my cause and that of the Church.

 It is a very true play, and is certainly worth taking the time to read.  It's a lot to process - so sorry if I have rambled unnecessarily here, especially about modern poetry!  As you may see, I have still not entirely made up my mind about it, though I am recommending it.  If you have read it, tell me about it so that we can discuss its relative merits and demerits.  It's the sort of book that must be discussed to be understood properly, I believe.

Recommended for ages 16+, unless you are especially mature. No star rating because I just can't decide!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Life Lately

Well, a lot has happened in this past month, especially the last two weeks.  Thank you all for putting up with my extended absence, and thank you for the prayers!  I did finish my school in the allotted time - I took my last French test on July 31, right on schedule, and my GPA is 3.3 - which is all right, I suppose.  (It may go up when they finally add in my independent studies.)  It feels odd to be done.  Every morning I still wake up and think that I have to go down and write an English essay or an American Government research paper.

The third week in July I had a break because my dear friend Victoria came down for a week-long visit, which was lovely.  We watched low-budget syfy miniseries, ate much ice cream, had deep conversations, and even went to Busch Gardens! 

Now the biggest news.  The day after I finished school, I had a talk with our priest (who is amazing) and my parents, and we decided that I should wait for maybe a year before entering religious life.  I'm investigating other convents to visit right now, and in September I plan to visit one in Arizona - the Sisters of St. Thomas Aquinas.  I'm very excited, both because - well, nuns - and because I've never been so far west and south in the United States before.  It will be quite an adventure, God willing that it works out.  I was sad to put off entering a convent, but I think ultimately it was the right decision, and hopefully it won't be for too long!

So yes,  that's been my life lately.  Very exciting.  I shall be blogging more regularly now, since I have more time, so expect new posts again!

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