Thursday, November 29, 2012

Henry is Home

During Jude's adoption process, I had the pleasure of getting to know Carla, the giving and generous mother of a large family. Carla fought long and hard to adopt little Henry, a baby in a Ukrainian orphanage with a rare and serious health condition, and then longer and harder to provide him not only with a loving home, but also with the extensive medical care he needed to grow and thrive. Carla was Henry's fierce and untiring advocate from the moment she found out about him.

Last night, following complications from a recent surgery (the last of many), Henry went to his real home. He was two years old.

The writer Andrew Solomon has gotten a lot of adulation from the press lately for his just-released book, Far From the Tree, which explores the confounding -- to him -- ability of parents to love their children who, among other things, were born with severe disabilities. He would have done well to learn from people like Carla, who actively seek out and choose such children to love.

Leila writes movingly:

Carla had big dreams for her Henry -- that he would be free of pain, and that he would walk and dance and run! That he would be a faithful disciple of Christ Jesus, becoming a pure reflection of our Lord to all who encountered him, and that he would become a great saint, enter into Heaven, and dwell in the House of the Lord forever!

All these dreams of his loving mother have been realized tonight.

Henry is with God, in a place where there is no more pain and no more weeping. But his family is devastated. Please pray for them.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Artists and the Church: A Jazz Mass

An excellent article about the efforts of the great jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams, above, to have the Masses she composed celebrated, rather than "performed."

(The author notes that there are few "jazz performers in the Pantheon of great Catholic artists," but he neglects to mention Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa, and the Marsalis brothers, among many others.)

You haven't read it, because it's in Commonweal!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Winterreise Smackdown

You know and love this performance.

But this one is better. (It starts at 13:34. Sorry, I couldn't find a video just of this one number.)

It just is.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tear-Water Tea

This may be the most perfect work of literature in the whole history of humanity (I've only recently discovered it).

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Advent Novena 2012

I will be praying the Saint Andrew novena again this Advent season.  If you're not familiar with this practice, it involves saying the following prayer fifteen times a day, from Saint Andrew's feast day, November 30, until December 24: 

Hail, and blessed be the hour and moment at which the Son of God was born of a most pure Virgin in a stable at midnight in Bethlehem in the piercing cold.  At that hour, vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, to hear my prayers and grant my desires (mention your intentions here).  Through Jesus Christ and His Most Blessed Mother.

I have some very pressing and difficult personal intentions that I will be praying for. I also have a tradition of praying for the intentions of others into whose friendship God has led me through the mysterious ties of the interwebs. If you would like me to add your intentions to my novena, please leave a note in the combox.

Also, please pray for our little Jude, who has to have surgery on Saint Andrew's feast day, November 30.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Saint Dorothy Update

The cause for Dorothy Day's canonization is going forward.

Cardinal Dolan, speaking at the canonically-required consultation on her cause, described Day's journey towards conversion as "Augustinian," noting that

she was the first to admit it: [there was] sexual immorality, there was a religious search, there was a pregnancy out of wedlock, and an abortion. Like Saul on the way to Damascus, she was radically changed [and has become] a saint for our time.

(Though he didn't mention it, Day was also divorced.)

Retired Cardinal McCarrick of Washington, a native New Yorker, suggested that "[of] all the people we need to reach out to, all the people that are hard to get at, the street people, the ones who are on drugs, the ones who have had abortions, she was one of them," suggesting Day as a natural advocate and intercessor for these populations, whose members she and her fellows served in the Catholic Worker movement

Nevertheless, although Day was well-known for her dedication to the spiritually backbreaking work of meeting the poor and the marginalized where they were and loving them for who they were, I believe she has a powerful message, too, for others more privileged -- for those whom Elisabeth Leseur (whose cause for canonization is also open) called "[the] carefree ones who live for themselves. They more than the others [more overtly suffering], perhaps, need to be loved."

There has been some lively discussion of Day in the comboxes of this blog, with some commenters wondering whether her past, or some of her non-theological ideas, might disqualify her from sainthood. Nothing could be further from the truth. We know that many saints were reckless, heedless, careless, destructive sinners, not to mention wrong about many things; nevertheless, the Church acknowledges these flawed individuals as sharing the company of the blessed, and we regard them as powerful advocates before God, which strikes me as ample demonstration of the simple mercy of Christ, whose ways are not our ways, and who loves sinners with a love we cannot begin to fathom.

UPDATE, 11/28/12: Lovely commentary here.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

More Book News (Not My Own)

As some of you may know, our good friend Sally Thomas, in addition to being an essayist, blogger, and homeschooling advocate extraordinaire, is a poet. Her work has been published in the New Yorker and First Things, among other places, and she has just come out with a collection of her poems, Brief Light. Like everything she writes, it is excellent.

If you're not familiar with her poetry, Sally is a master of classical form, uses simple language to powerful effect, sees the world around her with an unflinching eye and writes about it with a beautifully restrained quality of compassion. If you read this blog regularly, you'll know that I'm a constant reader of poetry, and I do not exaggerate when I say that Sally is one of the best American poets writing. So go buy her book already.

Oh, and I see she's having a Giveaway-ish Event. You might even win a copy!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Opposite Sides of the Same Cultural Coin

Where hedonism was once a short walk around the block from profound conversion (see Augustine of Hippo, Oscar Wilde, and Ève Lavallière, among many others), it is now, according to Eve Tushnet, a culturally-sanctioned and expected segue to secular bourgeois complacency.

An excerpt:

A woman who has sex with multiple partners (maybe hooking up a lot if she’s at a more elite college), contracepting throughout and having at least one abortion, then cohabits, then marries in her early 30s if at all, might be a hedonist or a relativist. In my experience she’s much more likely to be trying to do everything right, finish her education and start climbing the economic ladder and make good rather than hasty choices in her men. Her mother usually supports or even pressures her in her decision to abort, and many of the decisions I’ve described are made not in the service of personal sexual liberation but as a means to preserve her relationships. A lot of the time it doesn’t work–the marriage or cohabitation she really hoped would be “the one” still breaks up–but she sees all the alternative choices as even riskier, and therefore irresponsible.

Read the rest of Eve's provocative and important piece. It may not square with what you've come to assume if you've been raised in a more traditional environment and have always striven towards a traditional adulthood achieved by means of a traditional morality, but in my experience, and in the experience of so many women I've known, she is absolutely right.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Does Voting Make You Evil?

It's election day, and everyone is an armchair theologian, separating the sheep from the goats. I learned four years ago just how virulently, and even proudly, some self-styled Catholic apologists indulge in slander and hate at this time, and also that they believe it is justified and defensible. Um, no, sorry.

Anyway, vote or don't vote as you wish, and here is another perspective on the matter.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Quick Takes: Playground Procrastination Edition

1. After promising radio silence yesterday, here I am back again. Remembering how I blogged my way through my dissertation calls to mind how tempting distractions are when deadlines loom. So, in the interest both of feeding my procrastination jones and of trying to get some real work done during naptime, this will be dashed off in the form of quick takes.

2. Many of the playgrounds in my new city and its environs are beautiful in the sense that the equipment is new and top-of-the-line, and some are very nicely landscaped into the surrounding parks. Many of these parks, though, are bordered on all sides by expressway overpasses, busy roads, and dive bars, which gives you a jarring feeling when you look up from spotting your toddler and remember where you are.  I've written before about the weird emptiness of the playgrounds here and the metaphysical loneliness they call forth. Sometimes, however, we're not alone when we go to play. It depends on the hour and the weather. There is one park in particular where I often see children who appear to be participating in supervised visitation with a non-custodial parent. You can tell this because there will be a bunch of children with a feckless-looking dad, long sleeves covering his arms even in summer, and a woman who appears to have no relation to the family wearing a name-badge on a lanyard around her neck; she will later take the kids away in a mini-van, while the father rides off on a bicycle too small for him.

3. Sometimes in the playground I'll see a young mother sitting on a bench, her head bent over her hands, which are working rapidly before her. I'll think, "Oh, a knitter!" and have a warm rush of nostalgia for playgrounds in certain neighborhoods of New York, as well as for graduate school, the subway, and other places where women, including me, would knit when we had the chance to sit down. I move closer to see what she's working on, but as I come nearer, I realize that the mom in the playground is actually texting. It's a small reminder of the fact that very few people in our culture make things with their hands now, and that we spend inordinate amounts of time on the fleeting and the evanescent.

4. It's hard not to think of my new city as a troubled place. I don't mean just in the obvious economic sense shared by so many post-industrial cities in the Rust Belt; it also seems to me that people are unhappy here. The other day I drove to CVS to get a jug of milk, and parked my car next to another that was blaring hip-hop through the open windows. Inside were a preschool-aged white girl in a car seat and a dreadlocked black man clearly not her father. When I got into the store, I picked out the mother right away, in fleece pajama pants with her hair pulled back severely. Why is this an emblem of unhappiness to me? Because of the obvious rupture in the little girl's family of origin. Because so many poor women are on a chronic lonely search to find a man who will love them and their children, a man who will stay, and because that search so often proves fruitless. Because their children bounce from school to school as the women move in with boyfriend after boyfriend. Because this happens all the time here.

5. I want to bring something good to this troubled place, but I don't know how. In spite of the fact that the music I spent most of my career performing is intimate, beautiful, even healing, and in spite of the fact that I believe people here truly need that kind of beauty as a tonic for the soul, I'm also quite sure that no one here wants to hear it. So instead I'm writing this book that I've been asked to write, which a few people will read, but not the right ones somehow.

6. Nonetheless, I think about my book contract. I think about my children. I think about my house. I think about the fact that I can drive a car, which is no small feat. I think that, had we remained in New York, these things would all look, and indeed be, very different. We certainly wouldn't have Jude.

7. But still, I would like to give something beautiful to this place.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Book News

I've been quiet here lately because of the big project that I mentioned a while back. That project was a book proposal, and the result (hoped-for, of course) has been that I've been offered a book contract, which is naturally an even bigger project. It's not the sort of book contract that some people maintain blogs in the hopes of landing (those people, of course, don't generally blog anonymously); it's a scholarly book on an obscure theoretical topic in music and cultural studies. It will be published in 2014 by a well-respected academic press, but it's extremely unlikely that I'll ever see any profits from it. In fact, I would be very surprised if, after its publication, more than a hundred people ever read my book, though I hope some scholars might find it useful.

Anyway, all this to say that I will be maintaining some kind of intermittent blogging routine over the next several months, since I will be working against a deadline, have a lot of research to do, and have limited windows of time in which to do it. There are lots of things I would like to write about here -- quietly, anonymously -- but for the most part I'll have to make use of my free time to work quietly and virtually anonymously on this other project.

Love to all in the meantime.