Friday, September 19, 2014

MEDITATIONS OF A BEEKEEPER


ANDORRA S. HOWARD WITH HER BEES

This week's arts and culture column is on the fascinating subject of beekeeping. In an 800-word piece, I could barely scratch the surface, but here you go. It begins:

Earlier this year, I visited Madonna House: the lay community in Combermere, Ontario, founded by the late Russian emigré and mystic Catherine Doherty.

Life at Madonna House is deeply incarnational. Members grow their own food, cut their own wood, make their own altar cloths, candles, icons. My last day there, Andorra Howard, a community member for 30 years, took me to see the bees she tends and loves. As she worked, she told me some of what she’s learned:

“I’ve been the ‘official’ Madonna House beekeeper for three years now. The job has been one of the most wonderful, fulfilling and challenging of my apostolic life.

“When I was first asked to look after our hive I spent a day with our local bee inspector to learn beekeeping. He never worked with gloves and sometimes without even a veil!"...

READ THE PIECE HERE.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

THE LAW OF THE LAND VERSUS THE LAW OF OUR HEARTS



AS THE SUN ROSE ON A BOUQUET OF DAHLIAS
THE OTHER MORNING...

This week in Aleteia I continue my pondering on the strange, to me, tendency to conflate discipleship of Christ with patriotism. To be a good neighbor is a very much higher calling than to be a good citizen...

Here's how the piece begins:

"Lately I’ve been thinking about my days in the early ’90s as a Beverly Hills lawyer. That was when I first started asking the deep questions: What was I born for? Who do I want to serve? I sincerely wanted to help alleviate the suffering of the world but working as a lawyer, making money for the first time in my life (I was close to 40 at the time), I started to realize I didn’t want to align myself with the rich and the powerful. I didn’t want to lord it over the rest of society.

I come from a blue collar family and some of my feelings arose from a congenital sympathy for the underdog. But when I began to read the Gospels, I found that this was the stance of Christ as well. "Blessed are the poor in spirit." "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness." What I really started to ponder was “Say yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no.” Nothing could have been further from that creed than the “law” of civil litigation.

That was when I began to see that there’s a law of the land and there’s a Higher Law.

That was when I began to see that the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court had no more idea of how the world really works than a Skid Row drunk"...

READ THE PIECE HERE!


Monday, September 15, 2014

THE EXCITEMENT OF A SIMPLE STROLL


THE MAGIC HOUR, SOUTH BENTON AVE., LA,  LOOKING NORTH
LOOK AT THAT RESPLENDENT GOLDEN STRUCTURE
IN THE DISTANCE!
"Then, some days ago, walking past the rocks in the park on my way to the subway, and suddenly aware of the intense greenness of the leaves, that same happy yet mostly vague and excited feeling came back to me."
--Alfred Kazin’s Journals, selected and edited by Richard M. Cook, p. 130

"I always had a sense of being followed, of being desired a sense of hope and expectation."
--Dorothy Day

"Religion consists of the belief that everything that happens to us is extraordinarily important. It can never disappear from the world for this reason."
--Italian poet Cesare Pavese (1908-1950)

One of the fruits of thinking that everything’s important is that you begin to live every second at an inner fever pitch, in such a way that all your powers and talents and faculties are brought to a thrilling, vitalized, height.

Either that, or like Pavese, you kill yourself.




Saturday, September 13, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: THE RISE, CREATIVITY, FAILURE AND MASTERY



AUTUMN LEAVES.
THESE WERE FROM LATE JULY, IN MASSACHUSETTS

This week's arts and culture column is a review of a book by Sarah Lewis called The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery.

Here's how it starts:

"As a free-lance creative writer, I can hardly read enough about rejection and failure. So here’s a book that recently caught my eye: “The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure and the Search for Mastery” (Simon & Schuster).

Sarah Lewis rightly points out the danger of falling into a rut of the safe and the familiar. She beautifully articulates our sense that what we long to achieve in our creative endeavors lies forever just beyond our reach.

She emphasizes that even spectacular setbacks can sharpen our resolve. Still, toiling away in my humble room, I couldn’t totally relate, career-wise, to some of the folks she profiles: Sara Blakely, the billionaire founder of “the girdle-refining line” Spanx; Andre Geim, the Nobel-winning physicist who managed the first isolation of a two-dimensional object (it’s graphene).

One of my favorite passages was about Ben Saunders, a Devon-born explorer who became only “the third person in the world to reach the North Pole solo and on foot.” After achieving this staggering feat, wanting to share his joy with someone, he warmed his satellite battery by tucking it under his arm and called his mother.

Standing in line at the grocery store, too overwhelmed to speak, she began crying and asked him to call her back. So he called his girlfriend: the message went to voicemail.

“After 72 days of trudging alone on the pack and pressure ice, at times swimming through the ‘inky black water’ of the Arctic Ocean over three miles deep,” Lewis observes, “he had no cheering squad, no flag to plant.”

Now that I could relate to. Because we are all, in our way, walking to the North Pole"...

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

BOOK TRAILER FOR STRIPPED, MY LATEST MEMOIR!



Check it out, folks: the PROFESSIONAL trailer for my latest book: STRIPPED: CANCER, CULTURE, AND THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING.

Angela Wood and Ben Guzman of SMALLMEDIUMLARGE PRODUCTIONS  created, filmed, edited, and pulled this whole amazing thing together. From HOURS of footage.

Last night I was lying in bed reading the current issue of the New Yorker. Interestingly, in it is a piece by Jerome Groopman called "The Transformation: A breakthrough in leukemia treatment." He talks about how the prevailing thought about cancer, up to very recently, has been to kill the cancer. But now they're discovering, with a certain kind of leukemia, and a new drug, how to make the cells mature and heal.

"The Agios drug, instead of killing the leukemic cells--immature blood cells gone haywire--coaxes them into maturing into functioning blood cells. Cancerous cells traditionally have been viewed as a lost cause, fit only for destruction The emerging research on A.M.L. [a kind of leukemia] suggest that at least come cancer cells might be redeemable [emphasis mine]: they still carry their original programming and can be pressed back onto a pathway to health."

Later, Groopman notes: "The images at Agios showed robust marrow: the leukemic cells had been forced to mature and had reverted to functioning white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. They were transformed [emphasis mine]."

Then he writes about a precursor to the new Agios drug, a drug called ATRA that had been developed thirty-five years ago.

"The idea for ATRA grew out of research by Zhen-yi Wang and Zhu Chen, of the Ruijin Hospital, in Shanghai. There were studying acute promyelocytic leukemia and wondered whether there was another way to treat the cancerous cells besides killing them. Want was inspired by a passage from the Analects of Confucius: 'If you use laws to direct the people, and punishments to control them, they will merely try to evade the punishments and will have no sense of shame. But if by virtue you guide them, and by the rites you control them, there will be a sense of shame and of right.' Wang later wrote, 'If cancer cells are considreed elements with 'bad' social behavior in our body, 'educating' rather than killing these elements might represent a much better solution."

These are exactly the kind of thoughts that came to me in my own 'walk' (I was prostrate with fear most of the time, actually) with cancer, except I was inspired by the nonviolent Christ of the Gospels! The operative point being that there is an order and a harmony to the universe that applies from the macro to the micro, from the cellular level to the global level, from our innermost hearts to the laws that govern the movement of the sun and stars.  And if we get very, very quiet we can hear it, feel it, touch it.

So check out my book trailer and then go watch a bud open! Or for you folks back East, a leaf turn color...




Tuesday, September 9, 2014

BACK IN THE USSR

WHERE'D POLAND GO?...

Here's how this week's Aleteia piece begins:

"I have never claimed to be the go-to person for "current events," but recently I may have surpassed myself.

I was chatting with a friend when she announced that she was thinking of taking a trip to Poland.

"Is that so?" I said politely, thinking dreamily of Czeslaw Milosz, Wisława Szymborska, St. Maximilian Kolbe. "Now, is Poland still part of Russia?"

"Part of … Russia?" she inquired.

"Yeah, you know. The U.S.S.R."

I could tell by the look on her face that I'd committed yet another mortifying gaffe. I'm used to such looks, having stopped watching TV sometime around the time Mr. Ed concluded its run"...


READ THE POST HERE.

Monday, September 8, 2014

THE DESERT IN THE CITY


WALKING UP  THE HILL TO THE GETTY CENTER,
BRENTWOOD, LA
YOU CAN TAKE THE TRAM BUT I LOVE
THE ANTICIPATION, SMELLS, AND WORK OF THE WALK



"I shall tell you something else which is very important for busy people like you who say they have no time to pray.

Try to look at the reality in which you live--your work, your commitments, your relationships, your meetings, your walks, the shopping, the newspapers, the children--as a single whole from whcih you cannot disengage yourself, a whole which you have to think about.

I shall say more: a whole by means of which God speaks to you and through which He guides you.

So it is not by fleeing that you will find God more easily, but it is by changing your heart that you will see things differently.

The desert in the city is only possible on these terms: that you see things with a new eye, touch them with a new spirit, love them with a new heart."

*****

"I know you've got a question to ask me and I know what it is.

You want to know why the innocent have to suffer, why the poor have to suffer, why the Just Man had to die

I used not to know the reason for these things.

When I discovered the reason it was Christ Himself who told me.

You ask Him this evening; He will tell you

And perhaps He will add the phrase which meant so much to me when He was explaining that universal salvation depends on the vocation of some to pay for all.

'You shall not escape from love.'

If in the Kingdom we ask the innocent who suffered for sinners, the poor who paid for the rich, the tortured who shed blood for the powerful, whether it is just or mistaken to pay so dear, we shall hear them tell us:

'It was necessary so that no-one might escape from Love.' "

--Carlo CarrettoThe Desert in the City




THE GROUNDS AND GARDENS,
GETTY CENTER

Saturday, September 6, 2014

ST. THÉRÈSE: THE PLAY, AT THE L.A. CATHEDRAL

ST. THÉRÈSE, SECOND FROM LEFT, IN THE LAUNDRY ROOM AT
THE CARMEL IN LISIUEX
I've spent the week editing the ms. for my new book STUMBLE: VICE, VIRTUE AND THE SPACE BETWEEN.

We had a bit of a battle because the publisher wanted the subtitle to be Virtue, Vice and the Space In-Between and I was frantic to explain that, under the circumstances, between was a preposition, not an adjective, and the hyphen was therefore misplaced. Would that be beyond awful, to have the title of your book be grammatically incorrect? Anyway, so instead of taking out the hyphen, they took out the "in." Which I'm not sure is right, either. Would you say, the closet, the window, and the space between? Or would you say, the closet, the window, and the space in between? Actually, don't answer that. I've already looked at about a zillion sites.

It'll be fine.
And I'm thrilled about the book.

Anyhoo, this week's arts and culture column is on a play about St. T of Lisieux that's coming to the LA.. Cathedral on September 26 (in English; the 28th in Spanish).

Here's how the piece starts:

Michel Pascal is a cradle Catholic, born in France. Church was his home, his soul, always. His parents brought him to Lisieux as a child of six and he became smitten with Thérèse, the Little Flower.

All these years later, “St. Therese” — the play he has written, directed and produced — has been staged all over the world, more than 700 times since 2009. This month, he’ll bring it to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

Michel sat down with me in the courtyard of the Cathedral recently after Sunday Mass to tell the story of the play:

“As a child you have not enough words. As an adult, you have too many. But I felt the power and presence of Therese, even as a child. I returned many times to the Carmel at Lisieux. For 20 years, I had the idea of the play...


Mark your calendars and READ THE PIECE HERE.

Have a grand weekend. I'll be watching the Wozniacki-Williams US Open final tomorrow.

ST. THÉRÈSE ON HER DEATHBED

Thursday, September 4, 2014

THE WILD ABANDONMENT OF DUENDE



all photos © Mikoko Hara
from a current exhibit at the Getty Center: "IN FOCUS: TOKYO."
Hara was born in 1967, graduated from Keio University,
and is interested in "distance and isolation of people in public spaces – especially of women."
these photos, which I found extraordinarily moving, are from a series called AGNUS DEI
[which as you may know means Lamb of God]

"Duende rises through the body. It burns through the soles of a dancer’s feet, or expands in the torso of a singer It courses through the blood and breakers through a poet’s back like a pair of wings It smokes through the lungs; it scorches the voice; it magnifies the words. It is risky and deathward leaning. “The duende does not come at all unless he sees that death is possible,” [Garcia de] Lorca says (Deep Song). Duende, then, means something like artistic inspiration in the face of death. It has an element of mortal panic and fear. It has the power of wild abandonment. It speaks to an art that touches and transfigures death…”

-Edward Hirsch, TheDemon and the Angel; Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration


all photos © Mikoko Hara

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

JACQUES LUSSEYRAN: A HERO FOR OUR TIMES


This week's Aleteia post is about one of my all-time heroes: Jacques Lusseyran.  at the age of 17, from the back of his parents' Paris apartment after the Nazi invasion of France, Lusseyran organized an underground resistance movement, was betrayed by a member, saw many of his friends die under torture, spent 16 months at Buchenwald, and survived to write a memoir that should be known far and wide: And There Was Light.

Oh--did I say he was blind?

As I say in the piece, "He was a hero in the mold of Christ: a man who laid down his life for his friends not in the course of committing violence, but by insisting upon love."

Something to think about when so many are committing the egregious theological error of confusing loyalty to and love for Christ with patriotism.

READ THE PIECE HERE.