Month: April 2014

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THE BOOK TRAILER SHOOT

Monday I went out to Joshua Tree with a couple of crackerjack videographers from SMALLMEDIUMLARGE PRODUCTIONS to make a book trailer for my new book STRIPPED.

We left at 7 a.m.and returned at 9 p.m. For a two to three minute trailer! That’s how thorough these pros were!

I sat in the sun while with a lavalier for a looong time while they asked tons of trenchant questions and I worried about my hair and the many talks I’m giving in the next few weeks.

In between we had some lovely down time and I was able to walk up Covington Flats Road and get some pix of the wildflowers. The desert always looks sort of dull at first but as your eyes accustom, things start jumping out.

THE PRICKLY PEAR AND HEDGEHOG CACTUS ARE IN BLOOM
AND I COULDN’T GET ENOUGH OF THEM

ANGELA WOOD AND BEN GUZMAN.
A ROUND OF APPLAUSE PLEASE
FOR THE STARS OF SMALLMEDIUMLARGE PRODUCTIONS
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THE EDGE OF SADNESS: VAUDEVILLE ANTICS IN THE CHURCH

DETAIL, HEAD OF CHRIST, c. 1648-56
REMBRANDT
I’M GOING TO GET TO SEE THIS PAINTING IN A FEW WEEKS
AT THE PHILADELPHIA MUSEUM OF ART

Edwin O’Connor’s The Edge of Sadness won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1962. I can’t say I was crazy about the book. But in one stellar passage the protagonist, Fr. Hugh Kennedy, reflects on another priest, a TV personality who would whistle: first, say a “grand old favorite song such as ‘There is a Long Long Trail A-Winding,’  a popular song of the moment, such as ‘How Much Is That Doggie in the Window,’ then let us say the Ave Maria.”

He had a religious schtick, in other words. And as is still true today of such antics–on which there are many variations, some of which I’m sure I’ve been guilty of myself–people “loved” him.

“All roads lead to Rome. So they do, or so I hope, but I have my doubts about the highway of the Whistling Priest: that is, I wouldn’t think it led much of anywhere. I’ve always disliked and mistrusted this carnival shill approach to the Church—and yet heaven knows we see it often enough. Does it really work? I don’t think so, but more than that I think it’s all wrong. Because for one thing it’s so unworthy. I don’t mean by this that it’s too informal, too much in the market place, too “popular”; I do mean, quite simply, that it’s cheap. obviously when you talk about such things as God, religion, the church, man’s soul, to a great many different people, you much necessarily do so in a great many different ways and on a great many different levels. But none of these levels can be—or at least none of them should be—in any sense flashy or false or vulgar, because if they are—no matter what the apparent justification—you run the very serious risk of making God, religion the church, and man’s soul seem just a little bit of the same. It’s all very well to suggest that this really doesn’t matter so much, that what does matter is that, as a result, the people come in, but I think that’s a great mistake. I know they come in—and often in considerable numbers—in response to such techniques. That’s not surprising. The gaudy, the meretricious, frequently have a powerful and immediate seductiveness: at a fair or a circus, the children invariably make a beeline for those horrible puffs of pink candy. But what is surprising is that we sometimes take comfort from this: I know priests, for example, who will point with great pride to statistics proving the value of such appeals. So many appeals, so many souls for God: Q.E.D. Of course what the statistics don’t do so well is measure the depth, the strength, and the duration of the faith of those who do come in—or in other words, they tell you absolutely nothing about the only thing that counts. And—still more—while there are all sorts of statistics to tell you how man souls these tactics have brought in, there are no statistics at all to tell you how many they have kept out. Who knows, for instance, who can guess the number of those who, with every sympathy, with every good will, have tentatively approached the Church only to be repelled by vaudeville antics at their first point of contact? As I say, we have no statistics for that at all; if we had, they might not be so comforting”….

Edwin O’Connor, The Edge of Sadness

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THE LIFE OF A WRITER

From an interview in The Paris Review with Nobel Prize winning novelist Kenzaburo Oe:

INTERVIEWER

How did your family respond when you won the Nobel Prize?

OE

My family’s assessment of me didn’t change. I was sitting here reading. Hikari [Oe’s composer son, who has autism] was listening to music over there. My [others] son, who was a biochemistry student at the University of Tokyo, and my daughter, who was a student at Sophia University, were in the dining area. They didn’t expect me to win. There was a phone call at around nine P.M. Hikari answered it—that’s one of his hobbies, answering the phone. He can say, Hello, how are you? perfectly in French, German, Russian, Chinese, and Korean. So he answered the phone and said in English, No, and then again, No. Then Hikari handed me the phone. It was a member of the Nobel committee of the Swedish Academy. He asked me, Are you Kenzaburo? I asked him if Hikari had refused the Nobel Prize on my behalf and then I said, I’m sorry—I accept. I put the phone down, came back to this chair, sat down, and announced to my family, I’ve won it. My wife said, Is that right?

INTERVIEWER

That’s all she said?

OE

Yes, and my two children said nothing. They just went to their rooms quietly. Hikari continued to listen to music. I’ve never talked to him about the Nobel Prize.

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THE ROAD TO EMMAUS

ON THE ROAD
TO EMMAUS:

Luke 24:13-35


“Jesus meets
the two disciples (and scholars suggest that this was a man and his wife) and
asks them why they are so downhearted. One of them answers by telling Jesus
that, he, Jesus, must be the only person who is ignorant of what has just
happened, the crucifixion. Luke does not want us to miss the irony in this.
Jesus is, in fact, the only person who does
know
what has happened. But Jesus plays naïve and has them explain to him
their interpretation of the crucifixion. In their interpretation, the
crucifixion was understood as a humiliation so great that it is impossible to
integrate it into their faith. It effectively ends their faith and hope. To
this, Jesus responds harshly, calling them ‘foolish and senseless.’ Why?
Because, as Jewish believers, they would have been familiar with the Psalm that
says: “The fool says in his heart that there is no God!” And in their inability
to integrate the crucifixion into their vision of God, they were saying in
their hearts precisely what the foolish say; namely, that given this kind of
humiliation, there can be no God.”

–Ron
Rolheiser, Sacred Fire, p. 102






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LIVING BEAUTIFULLY

Ever more, I see that my desire for silence and solitude is a gift, perhaps the deepest gift I’ve been given. In silence, I see that no-one’s going to rescue us. No-one’s going to anaesthetize us. We don’t possess God. God possesses us.

In silence and solitude, I see that our life on earth is “a bad night spent at an uncomfortable inn,” as Teresa of Avila put it.

It’s an uncomfortable inn where we never feel truly at home, and at the same time, “Lord I have loved the beauty of Thy house and the place where Thy glory dwelleth” [Ps. 26]. It’s a night at an uncomfortable inn where we prepare for eternity, where everything registers, where every day, every minute, matters. And where we are broken open, over and over again, by beauty, by love, by truth.

As Evelyn Underhill said, “It seems so much easier in these days to live morally than to live beautifully. Lots of us manage to exist for years without ever sinning against society, but we sin against loveliness every hour of the day.”

THANKS FOR THE UNDERHILL QUOTE, SHUFFY! XO

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RESURRECTION MORNING


Artist Maureen White, who comprises the whole of my (Helena) Montana fan club, hand-painted these gorgeous wooden Easter eggs and sent them to me as a gift. They arrived in the mail Saturday, each individually wrapped, taped, and nestled in a bed of shredded grass-green paper. In the accompanying card, she suggested I might want to give one away and immediately I thought NO WAY. I am keeping them all… 

You can see more of Maureen’s work at urbanpasturesart.com.

Holy Week always wears me out, in a good way, as it’s designed to do. This year I thought Why not observe it, instead of writing about observing it, and have kept online activity to a minimum. 


So I went to Mass every day, and hung out with lots of fellow sober drunks for an hour or so every day, and more and more I see it (whatever “it” is) is all about coming alive. It’s about our hearts being broken open and getting a kick out of each other and giving ourselves a break. Period. 

Oh wait, it’s also about lettuce green and matte gold and madonna blue and blood red, about stars and lilies and lambs and pain deep beyond words and anxiety unto death and “allelulia” written in shiny dark blue paint edged with gold on the side of a wooden egg. And a card that says, “Thank you. Thank you for writing about God, mystery, faith, laughs, and a lot of other things.”

THE LIGHTING OF THE PASCHAL CANDLE
DOWNTOWN L.A. CATHEDRAL, EASTER VIGIL

MORE SCENES FROM THE CATHEDRAL

TRADER JOE’S
DARK CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER CUP.
HE IS RISEN.


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GOOD FRIDAY?

“Our error (thank God there is an error or life would be unendurable!) is that we use the word religious in a wrong way. The word religion stems from the Latin roots re, meaning again, and ligare, meaning to bind, bond, or bridge. Our common word ligature comes from the same root. Religion means, then, to bind together again. It can never be affixed to one of a pair of opposites. In the preceding discussion I have pointed out the secular versus the religious attitude. This is a flaming, flagrant error and is the seat of the most of the neurotic suffering of mankind. To think that one way of action is profane and another sacred is to make terrible misuse of the language. There is no such thing as a religious act or list of characteristics. There can only be a religious insight that bridges or heals. This is what restores and reconciles the opposites that have been torturing each of us. The religious faculty is the art of taking the opposites and binding them back together again, surmounting the split that has been causing so much suffering. It helps us move from contradiction—that painful condition where things oppose each other—to the realm of paradox, where we are able to entertain simultaneously two contradictory notions and give them equal dignity. Then, and only then, is there the possibility of grace, the spiritual experience of contradictions brought into a coherent whole—giving us a unity greater than either one of them.

To say [for example] that it is better to give than to receive is to indulge in the same kind of error that proves that 2 equals 3. To focus on one pair of opposites as ‘religious’ is truly a mistake. It is only the realm of synthesis that is worthy of the adjective.

We must restore the word religious to its true meaning: then it will regain its healing power. To heal, to bond, to join, to bridge, to put back together again—these are our sacred faculties.”
pp. 84-85

“It is good to win; it is also good to lose. It is good to have money; it is also good to give to the poor. Freedom is good; so is the acceptance of authority. To view the elements of our life in this paradoxical manner is to open a whole new series of possibilities. Let us not say that the opposites are adverse, but that they make up divine reality that is accessible to us in our human condition. It’s incorrect to label one of a pair is secular and the other religious. We must reframe this perspective and think that each represents a divine truth. It is only our inability to see the hidden unity that is problematic. To stay loyal to paradox is to earn the right to unity. Indeed, the most valuable experience of life is this “unified” vision, the most treasured experience of mystical theology, which is achieved by surrendering to paradox. The medieval world understood this experience, which took one beyond the collision of opposites and brought one into harmony with God.”
p. 88

Robert A. Johnson, Owning Your Own Shadow

THUS WE CALL THIS “GOOD” FRIDAY
NIKOLAI GE
CRUCIFIXION

For more Easter reflections, check out my column in this week’s ALETEIA: Love or Vinegar?

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PLEA TO THE TAX MAN

ROBERT WALSER

“Permit me to inform you,” I said frankly and freely to the tax man—or high, respectable revenue official—who gave me his governmental ear in order to follow attentively the report I was about to deliver, “that I enjoy, as a poor writer or homme de lettres, a very dubious income.

“It is self-evident that you will not find in my case the tiniest bit of amassed fortune, as I here affirm with deep regret, without, however, shedding any tears over the unfortunate fact.

“Despair I do not, but just as little can I exult or rejoice. I generally get along as best I can, as they say.

“I dispense with all luxuries. A single glance at my person should tell you this. The food I eat can be described as sufficient and frugal.

“It apparently occurred to you to consider that I might have at my disposal many sources of income. I feel myself, however, compelled to oppose, courteously but decisively, this belief along with all such suppositions, and to tell the simple unadorned truth, which is, in any case, that I am extremely free from wealth, but, on the other hand, laden with every sort of poverty, as you might be so kind as to write in your notebook.

“On Sundays I may scarcely allow myself to be seen on the streets, for I have no Sunday clothes. In my steady, thrifty way of life I am like a field mouse. Even a sparrow seems to have better prospects of prosperity than thid deliverer of a report and taxpayer you see before you. I have written several books, which unfortunately were quite poorly received by the reading public, and the consequences of this oppress my heart. Not for a moment do I doubt that you understand this, and that you will consequently realize my peculiar financial situation.

“Ordinary civil status, civil esteem, etc. I by no means possess; that’s as clear as daylight. Toward men such as myself, no sense of obligation seems to exist. Exceedingly few persons profess a lively interest in literature. Besides, the pitiless criticism of our work, which any manjack thinks himself obliged to practice, constitutes yet another abundant hurt that, like a drag chain, drags down the aspirant accomplisher of a state of modest wellbeing.

“Certainly there exist amicable patrons and friendly patronesses, who subsidize the poet nobly from time to time. But a gift is far from being income, and a subsidy is surely no fortune.

“For all these I hope convincing reasons, most honored sir, I would request you kindly to overlook all the increases in taxation which you have communicated to me, and in God’s name to set your rate of taxation in my case at as low a level as possible.”

–Robert Walser, from The Walk, trans. by Christopher Middleton with Susan Bernofsky

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THE SECRET AUDEN

A wonderful piece from the New York Review of Books:  “The Secret Auden” by Edward Mendelsen.

Excerpts:


W.H. Auden had a secret life that his closest friends knew little or nothing about. Everything about it was generous and honorable. He kept it secret because he would have been ashamed to have been praised for it.”

“Someone else recalled that Auden had once been told that a friend needed a medical operation that he couldn’t afford. Auden invited the friend to dinner, never mentioned the operation, but as the friend was leaving said, “I want you to have this,” and handed him a large notebook containing the manuscript of The Age of Anxiety. The University of Texas bought the notebook and the friend had the operation.”

“All the poems I have written were written for love,” [Auden] said; “naturally, when I have written one, I try to market it, but the prospect of a market played no role in its writing.”
A perfect thought with which to begin Holy Week.

“A REAL BOOK IS NOT ONE THAT WE READ,
BUT ONE THAT READS US.”
W.H. AUDEN