Month: September 2011

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BROTHER PAUL QUENON

DETAIL OF COWLS ON PEGS
PHOTO: BROTHER PAUL QUENON

Brother Paul has been a monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky since 1958.


My Novices: late 1950s

Young men came
looking for
–don’t know what–
Left the place
looking for
-don’t know what–
Of these I had no regrets.
Some came, seemed like
looking–
heard some talk about
-what-
stayed awhile
and left
talking like– Well,–
like somewhat.
Serious young men came looking.
took up talk about,
-don’t know what,
stayed long and left
talking
about everything what-not.
Some came completely
clear and sure about
what–
Those I sent away.
Silent young men, a few,
came looking for–
don’t know what-
stayed
and kept on looking
stayed and never got to
what–
wore out,
died,
had never stopped looking for
what–
For these I have no regrets.
All of these I loved, but
seems the part I loved the best
was–
don’t know what–
Br. Paul discusses his book of poems, Monkswear:

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MARTA: THE CLEANING LADY

TCHOTCHKE CORNER (ONE OF MANY)
ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI

Marta is the cleaning lady of the woman who owns the house where I live. Every other Wednesday she arrives around noon and stays until around 8, thereby, if I’m home, triggering a whole range of class-consciousness/economic/spiritual neuroses.  
I myself have never—oh my God, NEVER—had a cleaning lady in my life. The whole time Marta’s here I feel I should be asking if I can pitch in. She doesn’t clean my little wing (bedroom and bathroom), thank heaven, as that would drive me completely over the edge. My housemate once remarked, “I’m sure Marta’d be happy to clean your space if you want to throw her an extra 25 bucks.” “Oh, that’s okay,” I replied. I didn’t bother to say that I can’t afford twenty-five bucks and if I could, I’d give it to her. I wouldn’t make her clean my bathroom.
There’s nothing like making very little money but living in relative splendor to set up a kind of nagging cognitive dissonance. There’s nothing like trying to write while Marta’s here to make me feel like a hypocrite and a poseur. I’m sitting in my bedroom with the fan on, a glass of iced tea, and a basket of fresh figs writing about the Crucifixion while Marta’s out in the blazing sun emptying the mop bucket.

There’s also nothing like being in the presence of a ditchdigger or a cleaning lady or a bricklayer (as my father was) to make me feel that my whole life is a disloyalty to my blue-collar roots. My mother never—again, oh my God, NEVER—had a cleaning lady (and that was with eight kids).

So even though Marta’s younger than me, she triggers all the unresolved guilt and sorrow and pride I have for my own mother, for my paternal grandparents who came over from Ireland, for my father who worked so hard, for the fact that I escaped the blue-collar life for the writing life. There’s a whole world between the people who clean houses and the people who hire others to clean their houses, and that world–that gap–is where I live. 

There’s also the fact that having someone putter around the house for eight hours at a stretch makes me crazy. So while my for-the-oppressed-masses heart feels protective of and sympathetic toward Marta, the whole time she’s here I also wish she’d hurry up and leave.
Marta and I have somewhat (only somewhat because of the language barrier) bonded. We know the health problems of each other’s mothers (hers is in El Salvador). We both think it’s completely beneficial (and sane) to talk to plants. We’ve established that we’re both Católico. When I make my afternoon coffee, I always make extra for her her and remind her where the coffee and filters are and to make some for herself any time. 
Meanwhile Marta goes about her business–vacuuming, laundering, scrubbing–and makes everything shine. My liberal guilt has been part way assuaged since the day I happened to see her check and realized that when you even it out over the twenty years I’ve been writing, she makes more per hour than me. So in the end, I just have to realize I’m grateful to live in a clean house, I’m glad Marta gets to make some money, I’m glad my roommate sees fit to put up with me. As always, let everyone else tend their garden and I’ll tend mine.  
THIS YUCCA BLOOM IS COLLOQUIALLY KNOWN AS
“THE LORD’S CANDLE”

Anyway, this is the truly great thing. A few weeks ago I went to Sunday Mass at St. Francis of Assisi. As I stood in the Communion line, suddenly from the adjacent line I heard an excited whisper: “Het-ter. Het-ter.”

I turned.

“Marta!” I beamed. 
And side by side, inching along toward the altar, we embraced.

CRUCIFIX ABOVE THE ALTAR AT ST. FRANCIS CHURCH
GOLDEN GATE AVENUE, SILVER LAKE CA
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WHERE IS YOUR JOY?

[A]t heart, Christianity is not about alleviating physical misery or imparting an exciting and consoling message. At heart, Christianity is a communication of life


Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Love’s Sacred Order: The Four Loves Revisited

My friend Tensie lives up on the Central Coast of California with her husband Dennis and their two kids, Rozella and Thomas. Tensie and Dennis run the Guadalupe Catholic Worker: distributing food, running a small free clinic. The kids go to public school and are voracious readers, music lovers, group singers, jokesters, creative, generous and almost unbelievably well-mannered (as in they stand when you enter the room, serve you at table, and when you leave go stand on the porch and wave goodbye until your car is out of sight).

At night the four of them gather in the living room, light a candle, and have a period of evening prayer. (If you stay with them, you get to participate in this sublime event). They read from the Gospels, maybe, or a poem, or a bit of a story, and reflect on it. They go around the room and everyone tells something they were grateful for that day.

A few Advents ago, they’d been faithfully sticking to their prayer schedule. They’d done their evening prayer the night before, but the next morning was hard. There’d been a lot of hard mornings, the way Tensie tells it. And suddenly she saw a sheet of paper scoot under her and Dennis’s bedroom door. Right away, she recognized Thomas’s handwriting. She bent down, picked the paper up, and read: “WHERE IS YOUR JOY?”

***

Fr. Luigi Giussani notes: “Charity is the law of being and comes before natural likes and dislikes and feelings. Therefore, we can “do for others” while lacking any enthusiasm. There may very well be no so-called “concrete” result. For us, the only “concrete” attitude is attention to the person, that is, love for him.”

Joy is not necessarily exuberance, in other words. Joy does not necessarily even much show itself externally. Joy is a kind of trust maybe.

ROSES BLOOMING AMONG THE THORNS
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BENNY FINISHES THE CAMINO

photo: entremontanas.com

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an email from my friend Benny McCabe, who’s been walking the Camino.  

Here’a a note he sent about the finale: 


Castro Jeriz

The notice on the wall of the Alberque says

“The Camino de Santiago is not a marathon nor a gym where you can check your fitness.
It is a bank of challenges for your humility and a real lesson in your human and spiritual possibilities.”

It is that! Yesterday I decided not to continue to the hermitage which has only candlelight which was to be my last night before turnaround. My injured right leg said no, after 3 days of continuing with the help of anti inflamitories it was time to listen to my body, time to recuperate, to reflect, digest.

As the notice says ” it is the inner journey which is the important one.”

The outer journey has become a container within which the human condition is explored, the body is pushed beyond comfort levels, in the conversations and sharing a different consciousness is glimpsed and touched upon.

Many memories, maybe one to give a taste?

I had walked with mark, a young man from Canada, on and off for a few days. He had a tight timeframe to make it Santiago and we had taken our leave the previous night. Somehow we met up again the following day and walked for a few more hours. Then he said ” I feel as though I have come to a crossroads. I could continue walking and talking with you for the rest of today, in fact I could continue it for the rest of my life and it would be good. But I have to go on to Santiago and to think” I told him to go ahead. He replied ” I would like to offer you a gift” I said I would be honoured. He said” Always remember whatever you need is  inside of you and whenever you need it it is freely available” He then strode out with his two poles and long legs as he headed for a destination 20 days ahead. I had heard what he said many times but in that experience I got it!

A couple of more reflections from the wall which I think captures what the Camino is about?

“The authentic camino is that which each does inside of oneself. This might mean that you meet your Self and it could transform your life.

It is necessary to understand that time is a teacher.

The most important equipment is your attitude of searching.

Open your eyes to the beauty of the countryside, to the art. to those who offer you hospitality. To gratuity and generosity offer gratitude.”

17 days of walking, 13 different rooms slept in, sometimes with 30 others, never less than 4; 380 kilometres covered and another 450 waiting for the next time…..

It feels like a new relationship unfolds!

Benny

Sept 20 2011



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WE HAVE NO KING BUT CAESAR: THE PERILS OF…

SOME OF THE VERY FEW CHILDREN WHO SURVIVED AUSCHWITZ
photo: I Survived the 20th century Holocaust

“Do you think God cares only for Italy?” St. Francis of Assisi asked, and much as we love our country—its hills and plains, its valleys, deserts, prairies, coastlines, and most of all, its people—we cannot seriously believe that God—that Christ, the Son of Man—cares only (or at all, as a political entity) for the secular, civilian, man-made, ideological construct known as the United States.

We cannot seriously believe that any government is tantamount to God.

“My kingdom is not of this world,” said Christ [John 18:36], thereby laying to rest all efforts to parlay him or his message into secular or political power of any kind.

We participate in and support civic affairs insofar as conscience allows, but our salvation is not worked out with or through or by virtue of any government. No government–especially not ours–has ever taught or encouraged the person who is starving to give his or her bread to a child so the child may live.

To equate God with a government is to stray dangerously, perilously far from the Way, the Truth and the Life.

“Shall I crucify your King?” Pilate asked. The chief priests answered, ‘We have no King but Caesar.’” [John 19:15].

NIGHT AT GOLGOTHA
VASILI VASILIEVICH VERESHCHAGIN, 1869
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WHAT, ME WORRY?: THE SCOURGE OF OVERWORK

CHRIST AND THE STORM
GIORGIO DE CHIRICO, 1914
There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence…[and that is] activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of this innate violence.
–Thomas Merton

“Someday I’ll be able to be two places at once!” an acquaintance recently announced.

My goal is to be truly present, for five minutes before I die, in one place.

Hardly anything is more countercultural than refusing to be “busy.” I like a lot of space around my activities. I look upon being overscheduled and overcrowded as a failure on my part, not a triumph.   

Sometimes that means foregoing a lesser good–say TV–for a greater good. But really what that means in the willingness not to be relevant, which Henri Nouwen posited was one of the three temptations Satan held out to Christ in the desert.

I will put in massive amounts of work on things that interest me, but I balk at staying “busy” doing work I don’t believe in so I can buy things I don’t need, or on trying to be all things to all people, or because I can’t bear to sit in silence, contemplating the fact that one day I will  die…

To say I’m not busy is not to say I’m not absorbed, alert and interested. To say I’m not busy is not to say I’m idle.

In the Gospels, Christ seems utterly focused but he never seems rushed. He seems gathered. He seems intuitively sure of his priorities. When he learns that his cousin, John the Baptist, has been beheaded, he doesn’t rush around helping plan the funeral: he goes off to “a lonely place” to pray. When Mary and Martha, distraught, summon him to tend to the dying Lazarus, he doesn’t show up for three days.

In the boat with his disciples on a raging sea, he curls up and takes a nap.

Sometimes obligations to children and parents, the necessity to pay the rent, the general press of life means that we’re busy from dawn to dusk and beyond; that we can’t rest. But that’s different than staying wilfully, compulsively busy when we don’t have to.

If the Savior of the world could relax, we’re probably called to as well. If someone so exquisitely attuned to suffering was able to accept that he couldn’t heal everyone, we must be called to accept that, too.

That doesn’t mean we don’t give to the limit of our heart, mind, and strength.  It means he is the vine and we are the branches. It means we do the best we can, knowing we’re going to fall short.  It means we’re always willing to stretch ourselves and we’re also willing to let the results go.

Here’s a passage from Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research by John Steinbeck and Edward F. Ricketts:

LAZINESS AND BUSY-NESS

For in some beastly way this fine laziness has got itself a bad name. It is easy to see how it might have come into disrepute, if the result of laziness were hunger. But it rarely is. Hunger makes laziness impossible. It has even become sinful to be lazy. We wonder why. One could argue, particularly if one had a gift for laziness, that it is a relaxation pregnant of activity, a sense of rest from which directed effort may arise, whereas most busy-ness is merely a kind of nervous tic…

How can such a process have become a shame and a sin? Only in laziness can one achieve a state of contemplation which is a balancing of values, a weighing of oneself against the world and the world against itself. A busy man cannot find the time for such balancing. We do not think a lazy man can commit murders, nor great thefts, nor lead a mob. He would be more likely to think about it and laugh. And a nation of lazy contemplative men would be incapable of fighting a war unless their very laziness were attacked. Wars are the activities of busy-ness.

QUESTING HIBISCUS
MALTMAN AVENUE, LOS ANGELES
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AM I MY GAY BROTHER’S KEEPER?

CAIN AND ABEL
IL TINTORETTO, 1550-53

“[T]he Church can’t be put forward by anybody but God and one is apt to do great damage by trying; consequently Catholics may seem very remiss, almost lethargic, about coming forward with the Faith.”
–Flannery O’Connor

We hear a lot from the pulpit about loving our neighbor as ourselves, and loving each other as Christ loved us, but what we don’t hear nearly enough about, in my humble opinion, is: What does that look like in action? One line of thought has it that we’re called to point out another’s sins to him or her. A true friend will tell another when he or she is sinning, these folks maintain. A person of conviction is willing to speak the truth, no matter how uncomfortable. Friends don’t let friends have gay sex.

I must confess that  stance makes me recoil.  
I’ve said “Oh I’m a Catholic—please don’t speak disrespectfully of the Virgin Mary.” I’ve said, “You might want to stop right there, because I happen to be a devout Catholic myself.” I’ve said when a friend mentions that he’s been watching internet porn: “Oh that’s no good! You don’t want to be spending your time like that!” I’ve said: “Estelle! He’s married. 

As Simone Weil said, “One cannot imagine St. Francis of Assisi talking about rights. 

But I just can’t quite picture the circumstances under which I’d be moved to inform, say, my gay friends—with whom I’ve shared my joy, pain, stories, tragedies, triumphs, meals, struggles, and soul—that I disapprove of their sex lives (about which, by the way, I know (as is only appropriate) nothing).  
Ponder as I might, I truly can’t imagine how and when such an event might come to pass. When my gay friend, a clinical social worker whose clients are people with AIDS, addicts and alcoholics, is calling to wish me a happy birthday, as he has every year since high school? When my gay friend who teaches inner-city third graders, is calling to ask if I’d come speak to his students about writing? When my gay friend who works full-time as a health care advocate for the poor and in his “spare time,” volunteers at  a Skid Row soup kitchen, is serving me a meal of fava beans he grew in his garden, frittata from eggs laid by the chickens he raises, and figs from the tree in his yard, and asking about my mother?
I’m not sure what my point would be. To inform my  friends that homosexual sex is morally wrong? Cause I think it’s a pretty safe bet that, being over the age of five, they’ve heard that before (and if your friends are anything like my friends, have wrestled with it, agonized over it, suffered ongoing loneliness, ostracism, anguish, conflict and doubt over it). To inform them that, as a Catholic, I believe it’s wrong? Again, I think I can rest assured that, somewhere along the line, my friends have gotten wind of both Jesus and the Church’s stance on gay sex (not least of all because many of them were raised Catholic and have since left the Church). That would leave as my motive basically to inform my friends that I’m morally superior to them. Which in my case would require a kind of cognitive and emotional dissonance that even someone so eternally blind to her own shortcomings would find pretty much impossible to compute. 
If I disapproved of them, I wouldn’t have become friends with them in the first place, and I think this brings up a crucial point about the way Christ lived, taught, and drew people to him. Christ’s entire ministry was to proclaim the spirit of the law over the letter of the law; mercy over justice; love over vengeance, punishment, shaming, self-righteousness, and Phariseeism. So if we’re wondering whether we’re being derelict in our duty by failing to go around informing people that they’re sinning, Christ laid that worry to rest. He laid it to rest with, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” He laid it to rest with, “Take the beam out of your own eye before you take the mote out of your neighbor’s eye.”

Christ never went around telling people they were sinners (though he did frequently tell people they were hypocrites). He was alert for an opening. He was ready for the moment when they wanted to start living another way and started to cast about for a way to change and a direction to turn in.

photo: the vibe source

Now if you have a beef with a friend, if something’s gone wrong between the two of you, that’s the place, or one place, to be honest. We’re totally called to say “You know what, that hurt,” or “Wait a sec, that doesn’t strike me as quite fair,” or “I feel like you’re wanting more from me than I’m able to give. Here’s what I can give and happy—thrilled—to give it!”

Another place to be honest is when our friend comes to us and asks for our opinion or feedback or take on a prospective course of action. I happen to have the sacred honor of being a kind of spiritual  advisor to, among others, a couple of non-Catholic gay friends. Here are the kinds of things they come to me with: “I’m going home to visit my gun-toting, gay-bashing family: how can I love them while I’m there? How can I not give in to anger and fear?” Or “I’m starting to sort of throw my weight around at work. How can I be a worker among workers? How can I remind myself I’m basically there to be of service?” Or “My partner’s  sick again. I don’t mind going to the hospital every night but I’m stressed to the max. How can I be kind to her and kind to myself, too?”… 
Now what is going to be put me in the best position to lay down my life for these friends? Am I going to say “That’s a very good question,” but before I answer, narrow my eyes, lean in, and add, “By the way, gay people shouldn’t be having sex. Am I going to say, “That’s a very good question–but what you really need is to become a Christian.” No, because they are Christians. They’re Christians in spirit. Those are exactly the kinds of questions that a follower of Christ would ask and should be asking.
I’ll tell you why my way strikes me as more Gospel-based, and more authentically honest, than informing people they’re “sinners.” Because it requires me to sacrifice my time, energy, mind and heart. It requires me to give all of myself—not just my knowledge of the Catechism. It requires me to be vulnerable, to be awkward, to risk being wrong, to risk failing, to consent to NOT be very helpful, for my friend to disagree. It invites, and is underlain by, relationship.

If I were the formation director for a monastery, or an RCIA teacher, or a priest, and my friends came to me, I’d have a different relationship; I’d be acting in a different capacity. If they come to me as it is with a specific question or issue around their sexuality, I’m totally there, helping to lead them toward the God of their understanding. But under the circumstances, as soon as I inform my friends that I disapprove of their putative, not-in-issue sex lives, I’ve set up a barrier. I’ve created anxiety and mistrust—on both our parts. My gay friends (who,  like all my friends, are abundantly aware that I’m a practicing Catholic) are no longer going to come to feel safe to come to me with their concerns.

The tragedy there is not so much that they’re going to miss out on me: it’s that I’m going to miss out on them. 

Obviously if our friend takes to drinking Wild Turkey, shooting meth, and going to the baths every night I’m going to say, “Whoa, what’s going on?”

But I’m very troubled by the idea that the mark of a follower of Christ is that his or her friends are lily white.

I’m deeply troubled by the notion of only being willing to give, and to receive, from people with a perfect track record. In fact, that stance strikes me as the antithesis of Christianity. I don’t even know such a person, and the people I’ve met who THINK they have a perfect traffic record are way, way scarier to me than any “sinner.” .

We’re talking about Christ here. Christ who said “Healthy people don’t need a doctor; sick people do.” Christ, who said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Christ, who hung out with prostitutes, drunks, tax collectors, and I think it’s safe to assume, a whole ton of people who were “sexually disordered.”

How can we tell people they’re sexually disordered and also fail to offer them our passion, our warmth, our friendship?  How can we tell people they’re called to life-long celibacy (or to marry a member of the opposite sex to whom they’re not especially attracted) and not simultaneously offer them our deepest solidarity and our understanding? How am I going to be better placed to lead my friends to the love of Christ: by informing them they are wrong, or by encouraging them in the myriad ways they are right?

As Father Cantalamessa, the preacher to the papal household  notes: “It is not a question of God’s action depending on something that comes before it, because it clearly does not. What matters is knowing if God’s action requires something in response.

We’re brought to the light first, in other words. The response—of wonder, of gratitude, of wanting to give everything—comes afterward. 

To know Christ: this is what we want for our friends and for the world. But Christ himself—“a God so intensely alive he can afford to be dead,” as Hans Urs von Balthasar observed—strangely, does not demand that people recognize him or worship him or even call him by name before he begins to draw them to himself.

What’s required to start walking toward the light is not recognition of Christ qua Christ but purity of heart. What’s required to spiritually progress is a spirit of self-sacrifice, self-examination, service, and willingness–which all my friends have, or hope for, in spades.

At the final judgment, Christ tells us, we will be favored as sheep rather than goats not by virtue of the distance we maintained from the marginalized, but by how close we allowed ourselves to be invited to them. “For he who is not against us is for us” [Mark 9:40]. What joy in heaven–for our friends, for us–when we find we were with Him all along.

FR. RANIERO CANTALAMESSA,
PREACHER TO THE PAPAL HOUSEHOLD

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JESUS, SAVIOR, PILOT ME

on e-book!
(which is about the only way you’re gonna find it,
other than used)

I first heard “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me” twenty-odd years ago in rehab.

Heres’ the passage from Parched (which just made the 10 Best Addiction Memoir list at thefix.com):

At the beginning of my third week, Pam appointed me house mother. “I can’t be an authority figure,” I protested. “I hate authority.” But she made me do it anyway and, secretly, I was just the teensiest bit excited at the prospect of running the meetings and organizing weekend activity hours.

Saturday afternoon, we were all in the kitchen cleaning cupboards when a woman from a local church dropped off a stack of hymnals.


“Okay, I’m the boss around here,” I announced. “Who wants to sing?”

A chorus of girlish squeals went up: “Pam never makes us sing!” “No WAY! They made fun of me in school.” “Count me out, I couldn’t carry a tune in a suitcase.”

A mannish voice cut through the babble: “They tell me I don’t sound s’bad.” I looked over. Mo had one hand on her hip. With the thumb, fourth and fifth fingers of the other, she held a broom handle. The remaining two gripped a Chesterfield, stained ruby at the tip.

“Thank you, Maureen,” I said. “I’m glad to see someone around here is willing to participate in her own recovery.

“I’ll sing soprano,” Naomi piped up.

“I’m alto,” rumbled Mo.

“You’re more like basso profundo,” I said, “but we’ll make do.”

We started out with “Praise to the Lord” and gained a couple of new voices on “Holy, Holy, Holy.” “That’s the spirit,” I urged them on. “Who gives a shit about cleaning the kitchen?” By the time we got to “All Glory, Laud and Honor,” half the unit had set aside their sponges to join in. A bunch of us launched into “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” and then Mo taught us a hymn I’d never heard before:

“Boisterous waves obey Thy will
When thou sayest to them, “Be still.”
Wondrous sovereign of the sea
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”

Even the non-singers were impressed. When I suggested charades after dinner everyone joined in without a peep, and we all had such a blast I let everyone stay up past their bedtime…

Anyway, trolling youtube, I came across a couple of versions of this splendid hymn (written by Edward Hopper (1818-1888, so not THE Edward Hopper)) that I especially liked. (Both, unfortunately, have to my mind hopelessly hokey graphics, so if you feel the same way, just close your eyes).

The first is by the great, the inimitable Mahalia Jackson. And the second is by Laura Gibson, who I stumbled across by accident. Who knew a hymn could be catchy?…

Laura Gibson: Jesus Savior, Pilot Me

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SPRING AND FALL

SPRING AND FALL

To a young child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

–Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1880



WHO SAYS L.A. DOESN’T HAVE SEASONS?…

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I GET BY WITH A LOTTA HELP

Never let evil talk pass your lips; say only the good things men need to hear, things that will really help them.
–Ephesians 4: 29

A sampling of the greetings, insights, listening-reading-watching tips and general ephemera that crossed my desk this week:

From seminarian Tim Smith:

“Hey just biked 50 miles in the beauty of SouthEast Minnesota rolling hills and did a Holy Hour at this Amazing Shrine.

On the Way Home I Started Jamming to this sweet song. Know of My prayers.”


From Ron Wall of Calgary, Alberta who is preparing to move with his wife Diane and possibly his son Austin to St. Louis, MO: the visas just came through.

Introducing Huke Green.

From correspondent Kevin Funnell:

From Bernadette Murphy: a blog called Little Seal by Emily Rapp about Emily’s and her husband’s 18-month-old son Ronan who’s dying from Tay-Sachs disease. Reflections on culture, death, philosophy, theology, occasional stabs of joy, and the unhelpful things people sometimes say when your kid is sick.

CREPE MYRTLE
EFFIE STREET, LOS ANGELES

Re a youtube I recently posted of a Chinese choir singing Jean Sibilius’s “Finlandia”:

Lovely. As a 3rd generation Finn who grew up with stories of great uncles who died during the Winter War, I thank you. It’s all about “sisu.”

“Sisu” is a word that most consider difficult to translate but I heard it a lot growing up in regard to that Winter War when the Russians attacked Finland. It generally means “never give up…. stick to it….. bold determination….perseverance in the face of adversity….” but as it says on my t-shirt (acquired in Astoria, OR, a great destination for many immigrating Finns) — “SISU — It’s a Finn Thing.” Of course, in more commonplace terms, I also heard it when I was in high school, struggling with algebra, and ready to give up in disgust.

Here’s a link to a Time article in 1940: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,763161,00.html

In college, my cultural anthropology professor claimed that sisu arose from Finland’s history and it’s geographical location. Surrounded by bigger neighbors who tended toward bullying behaviors, Finns needed that certain “je ne sais quoi” to cope. She was also the person who informed me that linguistically Finland is the only northern European country with a language all its own — it’s an agglutinating tongue and does not have Germanic roots.

BRADFORD PEAR TREE (?)
LUCILE AVENUE, LOS ANGELES

A link to an article in The American Catholic re the surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945.

From the speech of Gen. Douglas MacArthur on that day:

Men since the beginning of time have sought peace…. Military alliances, balances of power, leagues of nations, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war. We have had our last chance. If we do not now devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature and all material and cultural development of the past two thousand years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.

Take away the uniforms, the show weapons, the top hats, the white gloves, the historic pens, and the flags and you have two battle-weary human beings who probably just wanted to sit down, shoot the breeze, and eat a meal together.

From poet Rita A. Simmonds:

Sunflower Beatitudes

These sealed sunflowers
stand to the sermon of the sun,
attentive they lean,
silent as seed.
How blessed
are the poor,
the meek,
the pure.
This earth will be theirs;
their eyes will see.
How blessed
and tall,
their heads still green.
They wait
for the sun
on faces unseen.

SUNFLOWERS, detail
VINCENT VAN GOGH, 1888