Month: April 2019

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SAINTS WE MAY OR MAY NOT FEEL

I DO THOROUGHLY APPROVE OF THE CROWN OF THORNS AND STIGMATA…

Am I alone in this, or are there certain saints you just can’t cotton to?

God forgive me and I’m sure she’s praying for me in heaven, but I cannot for the life of me for example get the appeal of St. Faustina and that corny Divine Mercy painting. She’s always telling some anecdote where one of her sisters FOOLISHLY  as it turns out underestimated her, and then humble-bragging that Jesus appeared and anointed he for some special mission, using words that do not sound remotely in any way like those used by Our Savior in the Gospels.

Such as “My love deceives no one,” and “Get to know God by contemplating his attributes” and “You will go back to earth, and there you will suffer much, but not for long; you will accomplish my will and my desires, and a faithful servant of mine will help you do this.”

Jesus for one thing is a man of few words. Like to Mary Magdalene, in the Garden after the Resurrection, he said simply, “Mary.” To St. Francis, “Rebuild my Church.” To Saul, “Why dost thou persecutest me?” To Mother Teresa, oh I don’t know, that thing on the train, “Help me out” or something like that. Plus he was never gratuitously cryptic. “A faithful servant of mine will help you do this,” instantly gives rise to the obsessive thought, “Well, who already?”

 On the cross, he said, to Mary, “Woman, behold your son,” and to John, “Behold your mother.” He didn’t leave them guessing.

Then there’s Catherine of Siena who–I mean did she really have to drink the pus from her mother superior’s cancerous breast? It’s not so much that it grosses me out, but isn’t it enough that we have to try to find affordable health insurance. and live in a culture where schoolchildren are being massacred by fellow gun-owning citizens, and accept the fact that Trader Joe’s no longer carries fat-free creamer?

When I was in Rome a few years ago, some very nice nuns the way I remember it took me through  St. Catherine’s quite beautiful church and I’m pretty sure urged me to kneel in her crypt which was under an altar of some kind I think…I felt pretty guilty and I’m sure apologized down there for not being crazy about her. I’m sure she’s praying for me, too. Still, I find I rarely groove to her reflections.

The point being 1) what do I know? and 2) the whole beauty of the treasury of the Church’s saints is that there is someone in there to appeal to everyone. I adore the Virgin Martyrs for example who I’m sure aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. And Christ no doubt speaks, when he does speak, in the language and words that are bound to resonate with the particular  heart he’s addressing.

Like to me he kind of says, Hon, could you please try not to be QUITE so much of a crab, jerk, showoff, whiner, etc, as the case may be on any given day.

Pray for us, Sts. Faustina and Catherine of Siena!

i MEAN COMPARE THIS…
TO THIS BY REMBRANDT…

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FAITH HEALER: A PLAY BY BRIAN FRIEL

Here’s how this week’s arts and culture piece begins:

Kathryn Kuhlman (1907-1976), a Methodist faith healer and born-again Christian, had a weekly program in the 1960s and ’70s that I sorely regret having missed.

How can you not love an evangelist who was married (briefly) to a man named Burroughs A. Waltrip of Dallas, and who was sued by her personal administrator for purportedly stashing away a million bucks in jewelry and another million in fine art?

Plus I actually agree with everything she says: “I, too, beLIEVE in miracles! I, too believe that Jesus Chrrrist is the very Son of the living God. I, too, believe that love is something you … DO!”

Which brings me to “Faith Healer,” by Irish playwright Brian Friel, at the Odyssey Theater Ensemble in West LA through May 12.

Director Ron Sossi (also the Odyssey’s artistic director) describes the play as “at once a Rashomon type mystery, a delving into talent versus sham and, ultimately, a uniquely metaphysical view of life” — well, sign me up!

Brian Friel (1929-2015), perhaps best known for “Dancing at Lughnasa,” wrote prodigiously and is considered one of Ireland’s most prominent contemporary playwrights. “Faith Healer” premiered in 1979 and comprises four monologues.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

PAUL NORWOOD AS FANTASTIC FRANK HARDY
IN “FAITH HEALER” AT THE ODYSSEY

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GOOD FRIDAY

GIOTTO
THE CRUCIFIXION

I am eating a large slice of three-day-old bread, sitting in my room with the fan turned up in a feeble attempt to drown out the construction noise in the apt above mine, and thinking of
Christ, scourged, bloody, exhausted, thirsty, being nailed to a cross on Mt. Calvary.

I’m also contemplating how I can complete the cleanup I’ve committed to at one one of many meetings in ten minutes flat later today, then race to St. Andrew’s for the Good Friday service at 1:30.

Wonderful reflections in Magnificat this Holy Week.

From the First Station of the Via Matris–The Way of Our Sorrowful Mother (modeled on the Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross)–by Fr. Peter John Cameron. The First Station is The Prophecy of Simeon at the Presentation, when Christ as an infant was presented at the Temple to be consecrated to God, and Simeon, an elderly prophet, told Mary: “And you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.”

“What Mary is promised on this joyous day is sorrow. How many of us come to God with presuppositions, prejucides and presumptions about how life should be. We are cursed with the desire to bend destiny to our own way of  seeing things, our skewed expectations. Left to ourselves, we idolize our urge to establish meaning and value as we would like them to be. We wonder: How can humiliation, contradiction, persecution, privation, pain, betrayal, suffering, or loss in any way contribute to our happiness? There are the very thoughts that the pierced heart of Mary lays bare for us.”

And from the First Station of the Via Crucis: Jesus is Condemned to Death, by Monsignor Charles Fink:

“Lord life seems very unfair at times, and we are apt to feel sorry for ourselves. Why do others get recognition when we do not? Why do the evil prosper while we, trying to be good, barely make ends meet? Why do things so often go not as we would like them to? Lord, when such questions arise to haunt us, let us find comfort in you–perfect innocence, unjustly condemned. Let us remember that ever since the Fall of Adam, life has been, and ever will be unfair; that we are called to be good not for immediate good but because you are good; that if we are treated unfairly, it is nothing compared to the unfairness with which you were treated; and that the response is not “Why me, Lord?” bur rather, “Lord, I know that you are with me in this trial.”

It’s true–I tend not to be terribly surprised when life treats others unjustly; but I’m always shocked when life treats me unjustly. I like to think my role is to comfort, console and support those who have been treated unjustly–seldom does it occur to me that my role is to cast my lot with the rest of humanity/the Mystical Body, and put up with being treated unjustly myself.

It’s always a comfort to know I’m not doing anything “wrong.” I haven’t failed at being a good manager and controller. I’ve just one more time been shown that all the managing and controlling in the world doesn’t prevail one iota against the human condition, against reality.

And this from last night, Holy Thursday:

“One day [Christ] said to Saint Catherine of Siena: “I take thy heart from thee and give thee mine.”

Ponder THAT for a moment–as Christ commends his spirit to God and, in the final Agony, breathes his last.

TRADE YOU!

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A WOMAN IN THE POLAR NIGHT

Another reading tip: Christiane Ritter’s A Woman in the Polar Night.

Here’s the Kirkus Review:

The isolation of Arctic Spitsbergen which Mrs. Ritter faced with her husband for a long season brought unique trials and joys. In pensive prose she unfolds the fierce glory of the Arctic as she watched the waning of the light, walked through December no-man’s-mist into the eerie splendor of perpetual, brilliant night, waited through storm in the solitary Gray Hook hut for the return of her husband. Pitting human strength against the forces of nature in a simple issue of survival, she acquired the “”polar mentality”” peculiar to the place, an immense calm and acceptance of life-rhythms. With the spring came the pack-ice and the bears, foxes and seals for food and pelt — having seen a dead world, she rejoiced in the miracle of life. Unusual, thoughtful, this has beauty in the simple expression of immense interior experience.

The season in question occurred in the mid-1930s, on the island of Spitsbergen above Norway. Christiane arrived in July. After massive packing and preparation, the long boat journey from Austria, the trepidation and excitement, the entry into “unpeopled land…montains, glaciers, blue rocks, white ice,” and the prospect of getting to see her husband who she hasn’t seen in months, Hermann greets her with a “There you are then,” and laughs quietly. They then travel by Norwegian steamer for another day and night toward the Gray Hook coast, though “I have not the least idea in what direction we are traveling or where we are.”

“My husband then reveals that there is to be another man with us for the winter.” In a teeny cabin, in the middle of literally nowhere!

Christiane is neither a whiner nor a self-pitier and a good thing. She learns to cook and eat seal, ptarmigan, and eider ducks whose severed heads are used for bait to catch foxes. Carcasses, skeletons and skins in varying states of decay litter the yard and festoon the roof.  At one point Hermann and Karl, the “other man,” take off to hunt leaving her alone for thirteen days while an Arctic storm rages.

Having been advised that a daily walk is essential, she goes out in gale force winds, gets down on all fours and crawls around the cabin twenty times, ten times clockwise, ten times counterclockwise. When the men aren’t out hunting (she learns to shoot, too), the three of them sew, mend, launder, knit, bake, and play patience with a deck of soot-blackened cards.

First, it’s light all the time, then, slowly, it becomes dark all the time–for months. The beauty, ever-changing, is indescribable. But the Arctic is not for the faint of heart or psyche.

“Today the heavens are shining in the blue light of the vanished day. In the north a red-yellow moon stands out against a bank of fog. Like the reflection of a distant conflagration the northern lights, growing steadily more visible, drift in subdued reddish gleams across the sky. Moonlight and Arctic light are warm and glowing in contrast to the cold blue of the sky…[T]he spur of the mountain stretching in front of it is in shadow. It looks as though the jaws of hell had opened behind the shadowed mountain wall, outlining its massive bulk with a diabolical glare.

These are scenes not made for human eyes. The drama of the polar world sinking slowly into shadow is played out in utter silence and remoteness. The scenes are charged with sorcery.”

Then she learns of another danger: becoming moonstruck:

“It is full moon. No European can have any idea of what this means on the smooth frozen surface of the earth. It is as though we were dissolving in moonlight, as though the moonlight were eating us up. It makes no difference when we go back into the hut under the snow after a moonlight trip. The light seems to follow us everywhere. One’s entire consciousness is penetrated by the brightness; it is as though we were being drawn into the moon itself…Neither the walls of the hut nor the roof of snow can dispel my fancy that I am moonlight myself, gliding along the glittering spines and ridges of the mountains, through the white valleys…

“Now Chrissie has got rar,“* says Karl, shaking his head.  “Ishavet kaller. ** You must be reasonable.”

*Rar–the strangeness which overcomes many who spend the winter in polar regions.
** Ishavet kaller–The Arctic calls. This is what the Spitsbergen hunters say when one of their comrades, for mysterious reasons of his own, throws himself into the sea, an occurrence that is still authentically reported today (the book was published in 1938).

Weird, right?

I have a version of kar at home that consists of occasionally wanting to lie down, leave a note saying, “Wake me when it’s over” and swallow a whole huge bunch of sleeping pills.

But no: of all weeks, no. Whatever our own suffering, we must stay awake for an hour with Christ as he undergoes the Agony in the Garden at Gethsemane.

Blessed Holy Week to all.

CHRISTIANE AND HERMANN AT THEIR HUT.
BACK IN AUSTRIA, SHE LIVED TO 103. 

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SOLD FOR A FARTHING: THE STORY OF A SPARROW

This week’s arts and culture piece begins like this:

Nothing brings me more joy than sharing a little-known book. Here is one such hidden treasure: “Sold for a Farthing,” by Clare Kipps (1953).

Kipps was an air raid warden in London. Her husband died in 1940. Two weeks later she found an injured sparrow on her front stoop.

“Feeling that if a new-born infant is left outside one’s doorstep something should be done about it, I picked it up, wrapped it in warm flannel and, sitting over the kitchen fire, endeavored for several hours to revive it. After I had succeeded in opening its soft beak … I propped it open with a spent match and dripped one drop of warm milk every minute down its little throat.”

The bird had a deformed leg and one wing set at an odd angle. Knowing that releasing him into the wild would mean certain death, she proceeded to nurse him back to health. A mutual bond was formed and the two ended up living in a kind of strange, quasi-conjugal bliss for the next 12 years.

At first Kipps had to learn not to step on, disturb, or inadvertently crush the sparrow. Though the bird was tamed, Kipps, to her credit, never viewed him as a pet. She viewed him as an equal, a creation of God: an individual unlike any other, worthy of observation, respect, and love. Her aim was to call the bird as high as its capacities and gifts allowed.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

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ON NOISE, PART II

“The more unintelligent a man is, the less mysterious existence seems to him.”
–Arthur Schopenhauer

Also, Schopenhauer argued, the higher your tolerance for noise, the lower your intelligence. Piggybacking on my post of last week–because stupid people don’t think.

Plus how would you like to live in this Manhattan neighborhood? Where Rich Neighbors Are Digging a Basement Pool in Their $100 Million Brownstone, and the “extremely loud and incredibly expensive renovations have shattered a formerly quiet residential block.” One elderly man who had lived in his apartment for years DIED in the midst of this unholy cacophony.

I’m doing slightly better since my last post, and I will leave the subject after this.

But what I don’t understand is how any thinking human being could impose such noise on another. I would as soon hack off a man’s arm with a machete as creep up under his window and blast a leaf-blower, or subject a renter to six months of daily construction noise, or explode my basement to put in a swimming pool. I do think we prepare our place in the afterlife here on earth and–let’s just leave it at that.

I barely even know who Schopenhauer is but I learned of his quote about noise from the above NYT article and look–here is a whole delightful essay on the subject!

In his day, the bane of his existence was the incessant cracking of whips over horses and other poor animals–so at least we can be grateful we’re past that.

Here’s how the essay begins:

Kant has written a treatise on The Vital Powers; but I should like to write a dirge on them, since their lavish use in the form of knocking, hammering, and tumbling things about has made the whole of my life a daily torment. Certainly there are people, nay, very many, who will smile at this, because they are not sensitive to noise; it is precisely these people, however, who are not sensitive to argument, thought, poetry or art, in short, to any kind of intellectual impression: a fact to be assigned to the coarse quality and strong texture of their brain tissues. On the other hand, in the biographies or in other records of the personal utterances of almost all great writers, I find complaints of the pain that noise has occasioned to intellectual men. For example, in the case of Kant, Goethe, Lichtenberg, Jean Paul; and indeed when no mention is made of the matter it is merely because the context did not lead up to it. I should explain the subject we are treating in this way: If a big diamond is cut up into pieces, it immediately loses its value as a whole; or if an army is scattered or divided into small bodies, it loses all its power; and in the same way a great intellect has no more power than an ordinary one as soon as it is interrupted, disturbed, distracted, or diverted; for its superiority entails that it concentrates all its strength on one point and object, just as a concave mirror concentrates all the rays of light thrown upon it. Noisy interruption prevents this concentration. This is why the most eminent intellects have always been strongly averse to any kind of disturbance, interruption and distraction, and above everything to that violent interruption which is caused by noise; other people do not take any particular notice of this sort of thing. The most intelligent of all the European nations has called “Never interrupt” the eleventh commandment. But noise is the most impertinent of all interruptions, for it not only interrupts our own thoughts but disperses them. Where, however, there is nothing to interrupt, noise naturally will not be felt particularly. Sometimes a trifling but incessant noise torments and disturbs me for a time, and before I become distinctly conscious of it I feel it merely as the effort of thinking becomes more difficult, just as I should feel a weight on my foot; then I realise what it is.


I write from the Pasadena Central Library and am thinking I should leave these good people some money in my will. Even filled with homeless people, the place is way quieter than my apartment.

In fact, I wonder if the homeless don’t come here for some quiet, too.
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THE ADVENTURERS’ CLUB OF LA

THE MAIN HALL

Here’s how this week’s arts and culture piece begins:

The Adventurers’ Club of Los Angeles, established in 1921, is a private men’s club that occasionally opens its doors to ladies for an evening that includes dinner and a lecture. I attended on one such recent night and found myself thrust into a delightful warp of time and culture.


Located at the juncture of the 5 and the 110, the club is situated in a Lincoln Heights neighborhood of pool halls and nail salons. Skirting the prostitutes plying their wares on Broadway, you go up a set of stairs and find yourself plunged into a space with the decor and feel of the silent-movie era.


Edgar Rice Burroughs might have spoken here, or Roald Amundsen, polar explorer, who probably actually did speak here, given that he was a member (#188A).


A very nice man named Matthew, who at 32 is the second-youngest member of the club, gave me a tour. My head reeled: a stuffed polar bear shot by Steven L. Rose on March 13, 1965, in the Chukchi Sea; a zebra skin splayed across the dining room wall; laminated newspaper articles with headlines such as, “Nile Conqueror Recounts Thrills,” LA Times Sept. 13, 1951; “Peter DePaolo, Indy 500 Winner, Dead at 82,” LA Times, Nov. 27, 1980.


Names I was afraid to admit I’d never heard of were dropped in hushed and worshipping tones: Doolittle (Jimmy Doolittle, #800, General, USAF); MacCready (Paul MacCready, #959, designer of the first man-powered plane to cross the English Channel).

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

I ONCE DROVE TO THE CENTRAL COAST AND SAW A SEAL–SO THERE!
THOUGH MOST OF MY ADVENTURES TAKE PLACE WITHIN THE WALLS
OF MY APARTMENT…

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THE LIFE OF CHRIST IN WOODCUTS BY JAMES REID

“COULDSN’T NOT THOU WATCH WITH ME
ONE HOUR?”
COPYRIGHT ESTATE OF JAMES COLBERT REID

Here’s how this week’s arts and culture column begins:

A few years ago a friend gave me a book called “The Life of Christ in Woodcuts” by James Reid — per the jacket one of “a host of maverick artists” from the early 20th century who “introduced the idea of the graphic novel, a story told exclusively with wood engravings.”

Originally brought out in 1930, the book was republished in 2009 by Dover Press.

“Glory be to God,” wrote poet Gerard Manley Hopkins for “All things counter, original, spare, strange.” I can hardly think of a better description of the person of Christ, nor of a more eloquent portrayal of that strangeness than that to be found in Reid’s work.

These beautiful, highly accomplished woodcuts make for a deeply moving book. Without using a single word, Reid somehow manages to convey the whole sweep of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection. Interestingly, the cuts are not even titled: instead, the book is divided into four sections: “The Infant,” “The Boy,” “The Son of Man” and “The Messiah.”

A sorrow and a deep silence seem to surround Christ, starting in infancy and continuing throughout his exile on earth: the flight into Egypt, the garden of Gethsemane, the deposition before Pilate, the crowning with thorns.

One of my favorite blocks is of Christ as a young man, watching from afar as the other young people are pairing up, walking arm in arm around town.

Though only the back of his head is visible, you can see the idea forming: “Oh, that looks lovely. That is one of the highest callings for a human being, marriage and children! … And somehow … I am meant to live out another mystery”…

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.