Monday, January 16, 2017

BEFORE TOTALLY LETTING GO OF CHRISTMAS...

ONE OF MY KITCHEN WINDOWS,
OVERLOOKING A BALCONY
FULL OF PLANTS. RAINING OUTSIDE AND A POT OF SOUP
ON THE STOVE INSIDE. 

THE LIGHT SHINES IN DARKNESS,
AND THE DARKNESS HAS NOT OVERCOME IT.

SIT DOWN AND TELL ME
ALL ABOUT YOURSELF.

Whoa, Advent began early this year. But then we had the Feast of Epiphany, with the star in the East and the wise men on January 8, and the Baptism of Christ, which is usually the next Sunday, the very next day, on a Monday.

And the day after that, we were back to Ordinary Time.

Which all seemed just a tad fast for my taste.

My decorations are down, but it's been deliciously cold, gloomy and rainy in southern Cal, and my apartment has seemed cozier than ever. So before bidding a final adieu to the 2016 Christmas season, I wanted to post these last photos and tell a last story.

After the 5 o'clock Mass on the Feast of the Epiphany, I came home and performed a little ritual.

My (tiny) bathroom has formed itself as a shrine of sorts. I have two sconces high up on either wall, each holding six beautiful beeswax candles, none of which had ever been lit.

So I thought, Well if Epiphany isn't the time to light the candles, no time is. So I got out my little stool, and the Announcement of Easter and the Moveable Feasts, which is likewise very beautiful, and one by one I lit all the candles, which actually took a while, and knelt, and said the prayer, which basically asks a blessing on the coming year, and all the further feasts and celebrations the year will bring.

Then I stood and basked in the light, and as the occasion was so momentous, thought to take a few pictures.

Then I realized the candles were making burn holes in the ceiling and basically melting the paint.

Somehow that exemplifies life, and my approach to it.

I had to blow all the candles out really fast.

But the radiance they threw will last me the whole year.


 


Saturday, January 14, 2017

CHRISTOPHER BOWMAN, THE LATE GENIUS SKATER


CHRISTOPHER BOWMAN
DONNING HIS COSTUME.
THE TATTOO READS "NOBODY'S PERFECT."

First, I posted last time about an upcoming radio show that's been moved ahead due to the fact that the station's out of Pittsburgh and Steelers have a huge game that night.

Here's the updated info:

Sunday, February 5, I'll have a radio interview on AMPLIFY, KDKA Pittsburgh, a CBS affiliate, with Fr. Ron Lengwin, 6-8 p.m. PST (3-5 EST). That's right. Two hours. A looooong chat with the Good Father about my life and work.

So tune in!

Next, this week's arts and culture column is about the late figure skater Christopher Bowman, a genius-on-the-ice who catastrophically, almost before his audience's eyes, self-destructed. His old youtubes make for fascinating watching.

Here's how the piece begins:

Christopher Bowman (1967-2008) was a flamboyant, profoundly talented figure skater from Southern California who blazed bright, burned out fast and died young.

He was known during his brief career as Bowman the Showman. His drinking, drug use and erratic, unpredictable behavior infuriated and perplexed his coaches, family and fans.

His left bicep bore a tattoo of a pitchfork-brandishing red devil with the caption: “Nobody’s perfect.”

And to watch him, even on grainy 1980s Youtube videos, is to be transported.

Born in Hollywood to parents Joyce and Nelson Bowman, he was a professional model as a baby and did commercials and TV shows as a child.

He won the World Junior Championship at the age of 15. He was also a two-time U.S. National Champion and a two-time World Medalist (silver in 1989, bronze in 1990). He won 7th place in the 1988 Olympic Winter Games and placed 4th in 1992.

You don’t have to know anything about skating — which I don’t — to involuntarily grin the second he came onto the ice. You don’t have to be a judge to know that his insouciant joy, his wild-card choreography and his courage were in a class to themselves.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.



Thursday, January 12, 2017

I'M GIVING A RETREAT JANUARY 20-22!




Now that the year's half over--no, seriously, how can it be January 12 already?--I bring good tidings:
I will be leading a weekend women's retreat based on the steps and principles of Al-Anon at Mary & Joseph Retreat Center in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, from Friday evening through Sunday noon, January 20-22.

So come!

The property is quite beautiful with peacocks, a labyrinth, a Blessed Sacrament chapel (not that you remotely have to be Catholic or of any religion to attend), and the Pacific Ocean right down the street with all kinds of vistas and hiking trails.

Also, Sunday, February 5, I'll have a radio interview on AMPLIFY, KDKA Pittsburgh, a CBS affiliate, with Fr. Ron Lengwin, 6-8 p.m. PST (3-5 EST). That's right. Two hours. A looooong chat with the Good Father about my life and work.

So tune in!

Meanwhile, it is pouring rain here in Pasadena and after our years-long drought, we are grateful! I may take a stroll through Huntington Gardens this afternoon with my umbrella.


In luce tua videmus lucem:
“In your light we see light.”
--Psalm 36

Saturday, January 7, 2017

PASADENA'S LOWER ARROYO


I have barely been able to contain myself over the discovery of Pasadena's Lower Arroyo. Less than two miles from my apartment, and hard by the world-renowned Rose Bowl, the Arroyo, technically a flood control channel for the water than snakes down from the mountains (plus it is RAINING in Southern California madly, after a years-long drought!), runs through some of Pasadena's most beautiful neighborhoods.

I've barely scratched the surface but there are WPA bridges, native plant gardens, restoration organizations, birds galore, stray benches, hidden spots to sit and ponder, miles of trails to walk, and infinite photo possibilities.

Here are a few I took recently during the magic hour and then closer to dusk.

More to come. Happy happy 2017.









Sunday, January 1, 2017

HAPPY 2017




I'm not sure why, but lately I've been inexorably drawn to children's classics, and have even bought an antique bisque (well-used and patched-up of course) DOLL.

That's right. I'm reverting to my infancy or perhaps "re-parenting" myself. Or something. The Velveteen RabbitThe Secret GardenThe Wind in the WillowsPeter PanAlice in WonderlandThe Yearling--these books formed me and the older I get, the more grateful I am for them.

How it is that animals understand things I do not know, but it is certain that they do understand. Perhaps there is a language which is not made of words and everything in the world understands it. Perhaps there is a soul hidden in everything and it can always speak, without even making a sound, to another soul. But whatsoever was the reason, the rat knew from that moment that he was safe—even though he was a rat. He knew that this young human being sitting on the red footstool would not jump up and terrify him with wild, sharp noises or throw heavy objects at him which, if they did not fall and crush him, would send him limping in his scurry back to his hole. He was really a very nice rat, and did not mean the least harm. When he had stood on his hind legs and sniffed the air, with his bright eyes fixed on Sara, he had hoped that she would understand this, and would not begin by hating him as an enemy. When the mysterious thing which speaks without saying any words told him that she would not, he went softly toward the crumbs and began to eat them. As he did it he glanced every now and then at Sara, just as the sparrows had done, and his expression was so very apologetic that it touched her heart.

--Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess






SCENES FROM MY FRIEND JUDY'S GARDEN

CABBAGE, BREAD, AND SAUSAGE SOUP,
SERVED IN COPPER TUREEN AT JUDY'S RECENT LUNCHEON.
MY PEOPLE HAVE CLASS!




Monday, December 26, 2016

THE TERRIBLE AND THE BEAUTIFUL





"War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector employs the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today."

--John F. Kennedy, Letter to  Navy friend, quoted in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (Houghton Mifflin, 1965), 88.

I found the quote in a magazine called Plough Quarterly, which I HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

*****

"I promised him I would bear it," she said. "And I will. You have to bear things. Think what soldiers bear! Papa is a soldier. If there was a war he would have to bear marching and thirstiness and, perhaps, deep wounds. And he would never say a word--not one word."

--Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess




THE LEAVES KNOW


Friday, December 23, 2016

BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT




"And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn."
--Luke 2:7

Carlo Carretto, on poverty:

Judgments on the question of poverty are difficult to make. The garb of a pauper, a small house, a wooden table, a chipped cup, the plaited haversack—these are external signs. Then there is the reality, the true poverty, which is altogether interior and invisible.

Today, I prefer the reality. And I actually see it is better, see it in its real essence, because now it has become something more vast, and universal.

The one who cannot meet the rent is not the only poor person. He or she is poor as well who is suffering from cancer.

Those who live in burned-out slums are not the only poor. He or she is poor as well who is on drugs, who is unloved, who is marginalized, who is alone…

So it is difficult to judge.

And I do not wish to judge.

So I only say, place yourselves directly before God and be judged by him.

And keep one thing in mind.

At the vespers of your life you will be judged by your love, not by your poverty.

I say this because out on the frontiers of the Church poverty has become a battlefield, where the poor hate the rich, and the laborer hates his or her employer.

This is no longer blessedness. It is not even the Gospel. This is Marxism…

Never forget, God is love. Poverty is but his garment.





Wednesday, December 21, 2016

CARYLL HOUSELANDER: THE LITTLE WAY OF THE INFANT JESUS



This week's arts and culture column is on one of my favorite spiritual writers.

It begins like this:

Caryll Houselander (1901-1954) was a British mystic, poet and spiritual teacher who wore a pair of big round tortoiseshell glasses, lived in London during the Blitz and, until she died at 53 from breast cancer, apparently barely slept or ate. A friend observed: “She used to cover her face with some abominable chalky-white substance which gave it quite often the tragic look one associates with clowns and great comedians.”

“That Divine Eccentric,” Maisie Ward’s fine biography, charts Houselander’s difficult childhood, her reversion to the Church in 1925 and her unrequited love for a British spy who would be the model for Ian Fleming’s “James Bond.” She had an eclectic coterie of friends. She never married. And she was utterly devoted to Christ.

Ward writes, “The sure cure for bitterness, Caryll comments, is to pray and do penance for the person: love will grow in proportion. ‘It is not according to how much penance I do or how many prayers I say, but how much love I put into it.’”

She became a prolific and popular author. Her works include “The Reed of God,” “A Rocking-Horse Catholic” and “The Risen Christ.”

“Guilt” (1951) contains passages on the mental suffering, among others, of serial killer Peter Kürten (“The Monster of Düsseldorf”), Hans Christian Andersen, Arthur Rimbaud and St. Thérèse of Lisieux.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Friday, December 16, 2016

THE VIRGIN OF GUADALUPE AT THE BOWERS MUSEUM



Whoops, I forgot to post last week's arts and culture column which was about an exhibit at the Bowers Museum. 

This entailed a very gnarly drive to Santa Ana. If you live in LA, "no-one" goes, except under extreme duress, to Orange County (and I'm quite sure vice versa). Don't ask me why. Possibly because the drive is on the 5 freeway, which is not exactly scenic. Also, I suppose, there's a difference in sensibility, which I won't get into.

Anyway, I bravely made my way down and back. Here's how the piece that resulted begins:

Years ago, I attended a retreat led by a priest named Father Bill.

Father Bill combined high intelligence, a black sense of humor and a tender heart. He’d been educated, among other places, in Rome. He’d studied with the pope. He’d come back to Southern California and landed at a parish where he’d thought to impart some of his deep theological insights. Instead, the people kept stringing up tinsel, lights and tissue paper cutouts. Every time he turned around they were loading up the sanctuary with Sacred Heart prayer cards and plastic statues of Mary.

One day at the beach, pondering his dilemma, he set up his chair near a young father and his little girl. The father was trying to nap and the little girl would bring her pail down to the water, fill it with shells and, staggering under its weight, bring it back. “Daddy, Daddy! Look!” The father would open one eye, say “That’s nice, honey” and roll over on his other side. The little girl would totter back to the shoreline, fill her empty pail with shells, and drag it back: “Daddy! Daddy!”

Suddenly Father Bill realized this little girl was like the Latinos at his church. They wanted to throw a party for the Father they loved! They wanted to shower Him with trinkets and gifts!

He heard a “voice” saying, “If I want to change the Church, Bill, I’ll do it.”


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

ABANDONMENT WOUND




An interesting reflection as we move toward the Story of the Stable: the stupendous birth from which all else flowed and continues to flow.

"If every newborn baby has an appetite for forward motion, the next step is to find out why it hates lying still.

Penetrating further into the causes of anxiety and anger in the very young, Dr Bowlby concluded that the complex instinctual bond between a mother and her child – the child’s screams of alarm (quite different to the whimperings of cold or hunger or sickness); the mother’s ‘uncanny’ ability to hear those screams; the child’s fear of the dark, and of strangers; its terror of rapidly approaching objects; its invention of nightmarish monsters where none exist; in short, all those ‘puzzling phobias’ which Freud sought to explain and failed, could, in fact, be explained by the constant presence of predators in the primaeval home of man.

Bowlby quotes from William James' Principles of Psychology, ‘The greatest source of terror in childhood is solitude.’ A solitary child, kicking and yelling in its cot, is not, therefore, necessarily showing the first signs of the Death Wish, or of the Will to Power, or of an ‘aggressive drive’ to bash its brother’s teeth in. These may or may not develop later. No. The child is yelling – if you transpose the cot on to the African thornscrub – because, unless the mother comes back in a couple of minutes, a hyena will have got it.

Every child appears to have an innate mental picture of the ‘thing’ that might attack: so much so that any threatening ‘thing’, even if it is not the real ‘thing’, will trigger off a predictable sequence of defensive behaviour. The screams and kicks are the first line of defence. The mother must then be prepared to fight for the child; and the father to fight for them both. The danger doubles at night, because man has no night vision and the big cats hunt at night. And surely this most Manichean drama – of light, darkness and the Beast – lies at the heart of the human predicament.

Visitors to a baby ward in hospital are often surprised by the silence. Yet if the mother really has abandoned her child, its only chance of survival is to shut its mouth."


--Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines, Penguin Classics, 1987, pp. 232-233.