Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Thoughts on Prayer

An old priest once told me that you never have to say a formal prayer in your life. A friend who is a nun told me that she makes up her own novenas. My dissertation advisor, who is Catholic, confessed that she didn't know how to pray; my good friend Soprannie confided to me once that she knew only one prayer, but said it frequently: "Jesus, walk with me." Saint Paul's injunction to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17) inspired the classic work of Eastern Christian mysticism The Way of a Pilgrim, as well as J.D. Salinger's self-conscious commentary upon it, Franny and Zooey. A respected friend of mine, a laicized priest, has become a teacher of Centering Prayer, while others claim that its techniques are dangerous and heterodox.

During my most recent pregnancy, my sister, a professed Buddhist, told me that she was doing a special White Tara practice for me. Thinking anything would help, I also asked her to do it, whatever it was, for a friend. I ended up in the confessional, where the priest suggested that the will of God could not be changed. I left in doubt, for the Bible is full of examples of the will of God being changed through petitionary prayer, one instance among many being God's relenting on his promise to destroy Nineveh in the book of Jonah, which Jonah, pictured above, found very annoying.

So I'm wondering: how should I pray? And for what? Can prayer be boiled down to the essentials of "please" and "thank you"? The Psalms, which make up the meat of the Church's public prayer, can be divided that way, into songs of pleading and songs of praise. I know I should pray for my sister's reconversion back to the Catholic faith, for instance. But what about my first husband, M.?

He is a cradle Buddhist; his father is a Buddhist priest. Many years ago, when our marriage was ending and I asked him to forgive me for the wrongs I'd done him, he replied that forgiveness was a Christian concept that had no place in his philosophy. We haven't had much contact over the years, but I know that he has switched careers from being an uncompromising and visionary visual artist to a corporate lawyer, and that he has a family. When I think of him, it is with respect and affection, and I pray that God will prosper the work of his hands and give him and his family peace. But should I also be praying for his conversion?

As the African tribesman said to the missionary, "Is it true that when I did not know about Jesus Christ, if I died and did not confess Him, I would be spared the fires of Hell, but now that I know Him, if I die and do not confess Him, I will not be spared?"

The missionary answered, "It is true."

The tribesman replied, "Then why did you tell me?"

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sleepless in Sodom

This blog is a year old now, and I've spent much of that year trying to parse my past and understand how it dovetails with my present: how I got, in essence, from there to here. I will be blogging somewhat more sporadically over the next few weeks, however. My husband is starting a new job in a different city, so, after twenty-three years in New York, I will be moving somewhere else.

I've lived many places within New York City itself. Each time I've moved, it's seemed like a hejira -- to use the definition Joni Mitchell chose for her 1976 album of the same name, a flight away from danger. In the past twenty-three years of my life in this city, years of inevitable missteps and irrevocable mistakes, I've often longed to be able to retreat to some place where no one would know me, and perhaps now I'll have the chance. But even starting over in a new place does not free one from oneself. For those who are conscious of the effects of their sinfulness upon themselves and the world -- those who've been fortunate enough to receive the gift of penitence -- the remembrance of the old self remains crushingly raw. The old self informs the new; as the historian of conversion Karl F. Morrison has written (quoted also below, in this post):

Conversion is often portrayed as a positive event, a turning toward. It also has a negative aspect, a turning away. The event of formal adhesion [to the new faith] may consist of this flight toward the future and from the past. But . . . . the old life overshadows the understanding of the new. The event may produce a transformation; but something resistant to change informs understanding it, and retention of the old may indeed have been a condition without which there could have been no change.

This sums up quite well my understanding of my own life. I don't believe that this or any other move will bring me the freedom from the old self about which I've fantasized for many years; but I hope that, in the new city, I will find a way to integrate past and present in a new way. Singing, Saint Augustine says in his commentary on Psalm 95, is building; perhaps I will be able to build something new.

Lot's wife, when leaving Sodom, defied God's command and looked back. I don't know how I can leave without looking back at my friends, loved ones, beloved colleagues and students, and not be overwhelmed with wonder at their brave lives and with sorrow at leaving them. But life is shot through with these leavetakings, some delicate and some devastating.

And now I will have to learn to drive.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Saint Mary Magdalene, Penitent

Today is the feast day of Saint Mary Magdalene, apostle and penitent. She is mentioned by name in all the gospels, and is identified as the woman from whom Christ cast seven demons. In the sixth century, however, Pope Saint Gregory the Great conflated Mary of Magdala with the nameless woman who washed Christ's feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50), and with Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus (Luke 10:38-42 and John 11), giving the Church a powerful figure of repentance and spiritual renewal: at once a reformed prostitute; one of the very few who stayed with Christ at the Crucifixion; in her identification with Mary of Bethany, the first contemplative; and, as the first witness to the Resurrection, apostola apostolorum, the Apostle to the Apostles. In the Middle Ages, Mary Magdalene came to be identified also with the Samaritan woman, living in sin with her sixth "husband," who Christ asks for a drink of water (John 4:1-42), and with the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-11).

Nonetheless, on today, her feast day, the Common of Virgins is read. It was believed in the Middle Ages, when there was a strong popluar devotion to the Magdalene, that after her conversion her virginity had been restored; indeed, she was even called "Our Lady Magdalene." Mary Magdalene's ethos is reversal: she embodies not only the miraculous transit from great sin to great sanctity, but also the mysterious paradox of Christianity itself, whereby one state can be transformed by the grace of God into its complete opposite. As Christ says in John 16:20, "Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy."

May Saint Mary Magdalene intercede for us all.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Prophet Elijah

July 20th is the Roman Catholic feast day of the great prophet Elijah (in Latin, Elias; in Hebrew, Eliyahu). Tradition holds him to be the founder of the Carmelite order, whose full name is the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Elijah's connection to Mount Carmel in Judea begins with his contest on the mountainside with the priests of Ba'al (1 Kings 18), in which he definitively demonstrates that the God of Israel is the only God. In the next chapter of Kings, Elijah experiences another mountain adventure of great significance. He has gone up this time to Mount Horeb, where God instructs him to wait for Him. God then sets loose a terrifying display of natural events before the mouth of Elijah's cave, but Elijah is able to recognize that God, though He has set the disasters of hurricane, fire, and earthquake into motion, is not in these events. At the brink of despair, Elijah is able instead to discern God in what follows: the gentle whisper, the "still small voice." Carmelite spirituality seeks to imitate Elijah's ethos of deep listening -- listening for the voice of God, to paraphrase one of the order's great saints, in even in the darkest night of the soul.

Elijah is also a type of the Blessed Virgin Mary; he does not die, but is assumed into heaven, as she would be (2 Kings 2). Because he was assumed and did not die, Jesus's followers speculated that Jesus himself was the second coming of Elijah. Christ tells his disciples in Matthew 17:11-12: "To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished," drawing a parallel between Elijah and John the Baptist. In His Transfiguration, Christ is seen talking with Moses and Elijah.

In addition, according to Elena Maria Vidal at Tea at Trianon,

Most of the early fathers of the Church identify Elias as one of the "two witnesses" in Chapter 11 of the Apocalypse, who do battle with the Antichrist. The two witnesses are martyred by the son of perdition, but their resurrection and ascension into Heaven ushers in the final defeat of "the beast." (see Apocalypse 11) The exact manner in which such cryptic prophecies will be fulfilled remains to be seen. It is interesting, however, that Carmelites have always used red vestments on July 20 in honor of the martyrdom of Elias that is to come.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Six Quirks Adventure [UPDATED]

Maclin Horton of Light on Dark Water has tagged me for a meme. Like Maclin, the term (which I first heard in a seminar, taught by an intimidatingly brilliant professor, on Beethoven's composition sketchbooks) makes me uncomfortable. But I'm game. The rules require that I post them, so here they are.

1. Link the person(s) who tagged you
2. Mention the rules on your blog
3. Tell about 6 unspectacular quirks of yours
4. Tag 6 fellow bloggers by linking them
5. Leave a comment on each of the tagged blogger’s blogs letting them know they’ve been tagged

As I told Maclin, I have a hard time differentiating my unspectacular quirks from my grievous faults, but I'll try.

1. When reading a novel, I always want to eat what the characters are eating. This started in childhood: I remember, when I was reading Heidi by Johanna Spyri, balling up small pieces of bread and cheese between my fingers, putting them in my pocketbook, and going to sit at the end of the walk to eat them, gaze out at the imaginary mountains, and pretend I was the title character. I still remember the food in certain scenes from my girlhood reading: the community clambake in Misty of Chincoteague, for instance, and the steak and kidney pudding served to Velvet Brown by her butcher father in National Velvet (a wonderful book, by the way). In my early twenties, I read through most of the Maigret novels by Georges Simenon, and once again the eating scenes from those remarkably laconic books stand out in my memory: I even started rubbing the inside of my teak salad bowl with a clove of cut garlic after reading a scene in which the proprietress of a hotel on the Riviera did the same in Maigret on the Riviera.

2. I love anchovies. My favorite snack is an English muffin toasted hard with butter and anchovy paste, preferably washed down with a glass of pineapple juice.

3. I get a physical and emotional rush when I enter a library of any kind, particularly a university library. There is nothing to compare with this feeling, and it makes me a) want to stay in that library forever, and b) wish that I'd skipped all those years I spent singing and gone straight for my M.S. in library science instead.

4. In spite of my erstwhile small professional career as an opera singer, I intensely dislike listening to opera. It's rarely enjoyable for me; I find it exhaustingly hard work. In fact, I listen to music far less frequently than anyone I know.

5. I love grocery shopping.

6. I've always had an intense interest in Kaspar Hauser. My favorite movie is Werner Herzog's The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser, which affected me profoundly the first time I saw it at the age of twenty. One scene in particluar still haunts me: Kaspar, in the home of his protector, is overwhelmed by the new world of lights, shapes, and colors into which he has in effect just been born, and he lets a glass drop out of his hand, telling the housekeeper in his stilted way, "Ich bin von alles abgetrennt" (I am separated from everything).

One of the reasons for my interest in Hauser is the fact that one of his protectors was the German poet Georg Daumer, whose verses Brahms set in some of the latter's most beautiful art songs. In looking for a link to insert for Daumer, moreover, I have just found out something I never knew: that he was a convert to Catholicism. I'm sensing another meme here, at least in terms of this blog. . .

Now, for the last step, I am tagging Brenda at the Crazy Stable, Fallen Sparrow at his eponymous blog, Tertium Quid at From Burke to Kirk, Kyle R. Cupp at Postmodern Papist, Joshua Snyder at The Western Confucian, and my dear friend (and sometime nemesis) Robot Boy at Robert Anasi's Journal. I hope this doesn't create any unwanted extra work for my blogging comrades.

UPDATE: I wanted to post a link to one of Brahms's Daumer songs. I was looking for my favorite, "Unbewegte laue Luft," but couldn't find it, so I've settled for this video of the lovely "Wie bist du, meine Königin." I'm a bit unconvinced by the baritone, but I'm posting it anyway because the pianist is so, so good. Here is a translation of Daumer's poem by Emily Ezust:

How blissful you are, my queen,
When you are gentle and good!
Merely smile, and spring fragrance wafts
Through my spirit blissfully!

The brightness of freshly blooming roses,
Shall I compare it to yours?
Ah, soaring over all that blooms
Is your bloom, blissful!

Wander through dead wastelands,
And green shadows will be spreading,
Even if fearful sultriness
Broods there without end... blissfully!

Let me die in your arms!
It is in them that Death itself,
Even if the sharpest pain
Rages in my breast... is blissful!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Invisible Cities [UPDATED]

A few days ago, I started thinking about a piece I read many years ago in the New York Review of Books. It was an essay about a certain little pocket park at the meeting of Broadway, West 106th Street, and West End Avenue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Though I rarely venture to that part of town these days, Straus Park has been well-known to me over the years. I worked with an opera coach on the Broadway side of the park, and collaborated on some art song recitals with an excellent pianist who lived on the West End side. In fact, there are dozens of voice teachers and repertoire coaches centered within a half-mile radius of the park, and several close friends from my past, mostly dispersed now, also lived nearby. I can't count the number of times I've walked past the park on Sunday evenings in all seasons of the year, but the memory of the park in summer stands out for me the most. (In fact, summer always seems to me to illuminate, even to gild, the city in all its dirt and noise. In summer, there's a strange phenomenon of absolute quiet that descends upon even the busiest streets at certain moments of the day; it's as if the summer brings oases of silence and solitude to the city, which, though they are of only a few seconds' duration, seem to buzz and hum with a kind of active peace.)

I couldn't remember either its title or its author, but I was able to locate the article, "Shadow Cities" by André Aciman, through a full-text search of the database of the New York Review, available through my university's library (unless you're a subscriber, the link will only allow you to access a portion of it, but the essay is also published in Aciman's collection False Papers).

Aciman describes little Straus Park and its environs as a place laboring under the weight of memory. He himself, like so many others, came to New York as an exile (he is an Egyptian Jew whose family was forced from their homeland in the 1950s). He relates his association with the semi-decrepit patch of concrete ringed by benches, which began when he was a doctoral student at Columbia:

I had come here, an exile from Alexandria, doing what all exiles do on impulse, which is to look for their homeland abroad, to bridge the things here to things there, to rewrite the present so as not to write off the past . . . . I hate it when stores change names, the way I hate any change of season, not because I like winter more than spring, or because I like old store X better than new store Y, but because . . . . [in] the disappearance of small things, I read the tokens of my own dislocation, of my own transiency. An exile reads change the way he reads time, memory, self, love, fear, beauty: in the key of loss. . . .

This was the year I rediscovered the Busch Quartet's 1930s recordings of Beethoven, and I imagined its members playing everywhere in those Old World, pre-war living rooms around Straus Park. And by force of visualizing them here I had projected them onto the park as well, so that its benches and the statue and the surrounding buildings and stores were, like holy men, stigmatized by Beethoven's music as it was played by a group of exiles from Hitler's Reich. . . .

Here you could come sit, and let your mind drift in four different directions: Broadway, which at this height had an unspecified Northern European cast; West End [Avenue], decidedly Londonish; 107th [Street], very quiet, very narrow, tucked away around the corner, reminded me of those deceptively humble alleys where one finds stately homes along the canals of Amsterdam. And 106th, as it descended toward Central Park, looked like the main alley of small towns on the Italian Riviera, where, after much trundling in the blinding light at noon and the stagnant odor of fuel from the train station where you just got off, you finally approach a sort of cove, which you can't make out yet, but which you know is there, hidden behind a thick row of Mediterranean pines, over which, if you really strain your eyes, you'll catch the tops of striped beach umbrellas jutting beyond the trees, and beyond these, if you could just take a few steps closer, the sudden, spectacular blue of the sea.

I distinctly remember, when I read this essay in 1997, feeling exhausted and irritated by Aciman's somewhat strained, I thought, comparison of the streetscapes of the Upper West Side to places like London and the Italian Riviera. First of all, I told myself, it doesn't look anything like that. And secondly, why couldn't he just be in the moment, just be where he was? Why must everything be overlain with the patina of loss, seen through the lens of regret?

In the intervening years, however, I have come to feel much as Aciman does. I am not an exile in the physical, geographical sense; I've been a New Yorker for the past twenty-three years. But my New York is like every tourist's Rome: a city built upon layers and layers of the past. My New York does not conjure images of other cities, but rather ghosts of my own life within its borders. A corner like 106th and Broadway is like a memory vault for me: in fact, there are hundreds of street corners in the city which, if I took myself on a walking tour of my past, would cause me to shed tears of grief, regret, embarrassment, loss, and resignation.

A city like this is a tabula rasa for those who come to it in varying states of exile. For those of us who come to maturity here, it becomes a palimpsest, a pentimento, upon which we attempt to write our lives, scratch them out, and start over again.

The historian Karl F. Morrison has written:

Conversion is often portrayed as a positive event, a turning toward. It also has a negative aspect, a turning away. The event of formal adhesion [to the new faith] may consist of this flight toward the future and from the past. But . . . . the old life overshadows the understanding of the new. The event may produce a transformation; but something resistant to change informs understanding it, and retention of the old may indeed have been a condition without which there could have been no change.

As much as I have wished to turn away from the old life in my ongoing conversion, I can never be free of it. My hope now is that it will remain not only as a thorn in my flesh in the Pauline sense, but that some beauty might be born of it.

(The statue pictured above is the guiding spirit, so to speak, of Straus Park: a memorial to a married couple who perished on the Titanic, it is called "Memory.")

UPDATE (correction): Aciman's family went into exile in the 1960s, not the 1950s, as I have it above.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

"We'll go no more a-roving"

My husband found this wonderful video of a 1980 performance of the folk song "The Jolly Beggar" by the Irish neo-folk band Planxty. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Breast is Best?

There's a fascinating and disturbing interchange on Inside Catholic about breastfeeding at Mass. One commenter (#22) sees nursing a baby in public at all as part of a Satanic plot to destroy motherhood. This reminds me of a letter I read a while back in the New Oxford Review which asserted that sex is solely for the creation of babies, which, as I understand it, actually controverts Catholic doctrine; after all, sex is not proscribed for those past childbearing years, those who are already expecting a child, or those medically proven infertile.

For the record, I nursed my son on demand wherever that happened to be, including at Mass, and never thought much about it (he just weaned at 28 months, and I did try to avoid nursing him in public after he was about two, since nursing an older baby is something that is frowned upon most places in America). I never used a blanket. There are lots of discreet ways to do it without covering your baby's head, which always seemed to me like something a baby wouldn't really want to have done to him.

Hat tip: Cosmos-Liturgy-Sex.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"Art lives by devouring her own offspring"

I came upon a passage on the music blog Soho the Dog from a book I loved as a young girl, Twenty Years at Hull House by the great social reformer Jane Addams. Addams writes of the music classes offered at her pioneering Chicago settlement house:

From the beginning we had classes in music, and the Hull-House Music School, which is housed in quarters of its own in our quieter court, was opened in 1893. The school is designed to give a thorough musical instruction to a limited number of children. From the first lessons they are taught to compose and to reduce to order the musical suggestions which may come to them, and in this wise the school has sometimes been able to recover the songs of the immigrants through their children. Some of these folk songs have never been committed to paper, but have survived through the centuries because of a touch of undying poetry which the world has always cherished . . . .

Some of the pupils in the music school have developed during the years into trained musicians and are supporting themselves in their chosen profession. On the other hand, we constantly see the most promising musical ability extinguished when the young people enter industries which so sap their vitality that they cannot carry on serious study in the scanty hours outside of factory work. Many cases indisputably illustrate this: a Bohemian girl, who, in order to earn money for pressing family needs, first ruined her voice in a six months' constant vaudeville engagement, returned to her trade working overtime in a vain effort to continue the vaudeville income; another young girl whom Hull-House had sent to the high school so long as her parents consented, because we realized that a beautiful voice is often unavailable through lack of the informing mind, later extinguished her promise in a tobacco factory; a third girl who had supported her little sisters since she was fourteen, eagerly used her fine voice for earning money at entertainments held late after her day's work, until exposure and fatigue ruined her health as well as a musician's future; a young man whose music-loving family gave him every possible opportunity, and who produced some charming and even joyous songs during the long struggle with tuberculosis which preceded his death, had made a brave beginning, not only as a teacher of music but as a composer. In the little service held at Hull-House in his memory, when the children sang his composition, "How Sweet is the Shepherd's Sweet Lot," it was hard to realize that such an interpretive pastoral could have been produced by one whose childhood had been passed in a crowded city quarter. . . .

It has been pointed out many times that Art lives by devouring her own offspring and the world has come to justify even that sacrifice, but we are unfortified and unsolaced when we see the children of Art devoured, not by her, but by the uncouth stranger, Modern Industry, who, needlessly ruthless and brutal to her own children, is quickly fatal to the offspring of the gentler mother. And so schools in art for those who go to work at the age when more fortunate young people are still sheltered and educated, constantly epitomize one of the haunting problems of life; why do we permit the waste of this most precious human faculty, this consummate possession of civilization? When we fail to provide the vessel in which it may be treasured, it runs out upon the ground and is irretrievably lost.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Culture of Death and the Divinity Within

Dawn Eden has posted a video of an interview that Margaret Sanger gave to Mike Wallace in 1957. Here is Sanger's answer when Wallace asks her to define her religious beliefs:

Well, I have a different attitude about--the divine--I feel that we have divinity within us, and the more we express the good part of our lives, the more the divine within us expresses itself.I suppose I would call myself an Episcopalian by religion and there's a--many other, if you travel around the world you get quite a bit of the feeling of all--all religions--have so much alike in the divine part of our own being. And I suppose you just couldn't just put that into a book or you couldn't put it to a phrase or a sentence.

I was struck by the similarity between Sanger's tentatively-stated credo and the principles of the New Age spirituality that has become so pervasive in the past twenty or thirty years. The ideas that we have "divinity within us," that "the more we express the good part of our lives, the more the divine within us expresses itself," and that all religions are one sound as if they come from the playbook of any one of the innumerable channelers, energy healers, gurus and mystics of various stripes who inhabit the post-Christian American landscape. I never realized that there was a synergy between New Age spirituality and the blatant eugenicism of people like Sanger (and by extension, of Planned Parenthood), but I suppose it makes sense. The Nazi Party, after all, based its philosophy on an amalgam of occult belief systems from Theosophy to yoga; as Hitler himself told a Leipzig newspaper in 1931:

I intend to set up a thousand year Reich and anyone who supports me in battle is a fellow-fighter for a unique spiritual-I would almost say divine-creation. At the decisive moment the decisive factor is not the ratio of strength but the spiritual force employed.

Sometimes the facade of love and light that overlays the New Age cracks just a little to reveal what is really underneath.

For a comprehensive exegesis of the New Age, see the Pontifical Council for Culture's illuminating document Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Water of Life, whose authors have given a sly nod in their title to the aspirations of the Age of Aquarius (and, lest anyone doubt the hipness of the Pontifical Council for Culture, the subheadings in the document refer to popular song titles, e.g. "Enchantment: There Must Be an Angel"; "Wholeness: A Magical Mystery Tour," etc.).

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Gangster Finds God

This is the kind of conversion story I love to read. It makes me wonder what might have happened to Pinkie in one of my all-time favorite novels, Brighton Rock, had Graham Greene allowed him to live.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Mourning Into Joy

A few years ago, in the first week of my doctoral studies, I came across a fleeting reference in a footnote to the book Mourning Into Joy: Music, Raphael, and Saint Cecilia by Thomas H. Connolly. I immediately knew that I had to read it. I was preparing for Confirmation at the same time (although a cradle Catholic, that sacrament had gone missing during the time of my family's first heady, later sad and sodden, experiments with aggiornamento), and considered taking Saint Cecilia's name as my Confirmation name, for the obvious reason that she is the patroness of music and musicians. But that seemed a little corny to me, and I was unsure. When I read Connolly's book, however, my mind was made up: Cecilia would be my name -- not just because of her association with music, but also because of her much more ancient association with the profoundly Christian concept of mourning turned to joy, and, thus, with radical spiritual conversion. Connolly links the history of Saint Cecilia's portrayal with musical instruments to the history of the iconography of King David: the image of David-in-Penitence, with his crown and harp cast down in mourning for his adultery with Bathsheba and his de facto ordering of her husband Uriah's murder, was a popular one in the Middle Ages, and even Henry VIII had himself painted as David-in-Penitence to advertise his humility. David's life and words, through the Psalter, made up the meat of the early and medieval Church: seven times a day, monastics prayed (and still pray) the Psalms, thus identifying themselves and the Church with a man whose ethos was not only penitence, but even the paradox of complete reversal: David was a shepherd and a king, a "man after God's own heart" who was also a grievous sinner, an unarmed boy who slew a giant, the great musician and poet who sang and danced before the Lord, and the penitent who cast down his harp and crown in grief and recognition. That mysterious paradox of reversal, it seems to me, is essential to the Christian message: the words of Christ in John 16:20 -- "Amen, amen I say to you, that you shall lament and weep, but the world shall rejoice; and you shall be made sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy" -- exemplify this paradox.

While searching for something else, as always seems to be the way, I came upon a lovely post about living the Psalms of David on a blog evocatively called Cloud by Day, Fire by Night, referring the guises under which God led Moses and the Israelites out of Egypt. The blog's author, Kirsten, beautifully emphasizes David's iconography of holy paradox as she writes:

I do not know whether we need to experience the infinity of grief in order to know its counterpart in joy, but I do know this: David’s heart held the breadth of it and did not seek to contain it, this heart that was said to be like God’s own.

And that is truth I can grab onto.

(P.S. Kirsten has images of some of the female Roman martyrs named in the canon of the Mass along the right side of her blog, including Saint Cecilia.)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

"The enemy is not human"

Jennifer of Et Tu? has a powerful essay in the new issue of America, in which she describes her shift from a pro-choice to a pro-life worldview.

From the article:

My pro-choice views (and I imagine those of many others) were motivated by loving concern: I just did not want women to have to suffer, to have to devalue themselves by dealing with unwanted pregnancies. Since it was an inherent part of my worldview that everyone except people with “hang-ups” eventually has sex, and that sex is, under normal circumstances, only about the relationship between the two people involved, I was lured into one of the oldest, biggest, most tempting lies in human history: the enemy is not human. Babies had become the enemy because of their tendency to pop up and ruin everything; and just as societies are tempted to dehumanize their fellow human beings on the other side of the line in wartime, so had I, and we as a society, dehumanized what we saw as the enemy of sex.

As I was reading up on the Catholic Church’s understanding of sex, marriage and contraception, everything changed. I had always assumed that Catholic teachings against birth control were outdated notions, even a thinly disguised attempt to oppress the faithful. What I found, however, was that these teachings expressed a fundamentally different understanding of sex. And once I discovered this, I never saw the world the same way again.

She is right, of course: the true enemey is not human, and he works continually to make us believe the same about our brothers and sisters. Do read this very honest and sensitively-written essay.