Catholic Distance University

The Problem With Being Friendly

As my classmates and I were preparing for our study abroad in Rome, we had one professor tell us ladies in particular that we had to wipe those happy American smiles off our faces and proceed to greet the opportunistic foreign types with “looks of unmitigated hostility.” Americans are often known for being friendly happy sorts (remember the American soldier at the end of Life Is Beautiful?), and therefore present themselves as unsuspecting victims to certain unwelcome wiles. After one of my roommates had an overly-friendly man cat-call across the street at her, “Hey! Cali-fornia!” she started wearing a huge ring on her left finger in an attempt to ward off the creepers. Cue American Girl in Italy, a portrait personally and infamously known to myself and many of my classmates:

Orkin.AmericanGirl_kpf

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as the reserved German Lutheran theologian that he was, found himself a little in awe of this American friendliness during the year he spent studying in the States:

Living together day by day produces a strong spirit of comradeship, of a mutual readiness to help. The thousandfold “hullo” which sounds through the corridors of the hostel in the course of the days and which is not omitted even when someone is rushing past is not as meaningless as one might suppose. . . . No one remains alone in the dormitory. The unreservedness of life together makes one person open to another. . . . One says nothing against another member of the dormitory as long as he is a “good fellow.” (104)

Beyond this genial good nature that existed in the hallways, he also noticed a great tendency towards generosity in his American classmates, a generosity in national character that did great things for all of Europe in the years following World War II (see the Marshall Plan):

The student body of Union Theological seminary has, over the winter, continually provided food and lodging for thirty unemployed — among them three Germans [Remember, this is in 1931. Memories of the Kaiser and hatred of the German nation were fresh and real in much of America]. . . . This has led to considerable personal sacrifice of time and money. (105)

Americans are friendly, he says. They’re generous. They’re kind and giving. They speak well of their comrades, and take care of people who need help. Aren’t we great? He even goes so far as to note that “in the conflict between determination for truth with all of its consequences and the will for community, the latter prevails” (104). Spectacular! We care so much about getting along with each other that we sacrifice truth! Wait. Hold up. Something is very wrong here.

Bonhoeffer was a clear, very rational, logical and dispassionate thinker. In an earlier passage of this book, his biographer speaks of the withering eyebrow raise of Herr Bonhoeffer, used to full effect when any of his children uttered an opinion that was ill-founded or irrational, teaching them with gentle exactitude the necessity of tight thought processes. And so, in his observations of American students, Bonhoeffer is happy to see their good qualities, but, as always, looks at the circumstances of their affability from all points of view, and thus comes to the sound conclusion that there is something rotten within; there is an unintended and thus devious result of their focus on social needs. The great thinkers of America had come down from the mountain of intellectual stimulation and achievement to be with the people, but in doing so had forgotten the vital importance of intellectual discipline, learned on those heights, and so had forgotten their principles, all for the sake of being friendly. Being friendly and generous is good, of course. But if it comes at the expense and to the exclusion of the reasons behind it, you better watch out. This is when something unsavory hits the fan.

American theological students knew more about “everyday matters” than their German counterparts and were more concerned with the practical outworking of their theology, but “a predominant group [at Union] sees it in exclusively social needs.” He said “the intellectual preparation for the ministry is extraordinarily thin. . . . the theological education of this group is virtually nil, and the self-assurance which lightly makes mock of any specifically theological question is unwarranted and naive.” His conclusion was withering: “I am in fact of the opinion that one can learn extraordinarily little over there . . . but it seems to me that one also gains quiet insights . . . where one sees chiefly the threat which American signifies for us. (105-106)

Worrying about the needs of society is, obviously, not something that can be shunted aside. Of course we need to worry about them, and, more importantly, we need to do something about them. But without a solid philosophy and well thought out understanding of why we should worry about our fellow man, and a rationally arrived at conclusion of how we ought best to help the physically, emotionally, intellectually or spiritually suffering individuals around us, we are going to make some big mistakes. In other words, our love, which is a good thing, will be confused, misguided, and ultimately not accomplish as much as it might in its finest form.

Anecdote: I took an elective course in Child Growth and Development when I was in college. In one exercise, the professor asked us each to draw a picture of a man behind a house. Suffice it to say, I am no artist with a mechanical pencil, nor have I ever taken a proper studio arts class. Quickly sketching a box house with a chimney, two windows and a door, I then drew a stick figure man, circled him, and drew an arrow pointing behind the house. Thinking myself very clever, and a little bemused at the exercise, I waited fifteen or twenty minutes while my classmates were hard at work. As our teacher finally collected the drawings, she shuffled them so that neither she nor any of us would know who had drawn each one, then proceeded to the front of the room to analyze each picture for the class. Apparently, this is one way to judge the developmental stage of children; the more detailed their picture, the greater their development. When she got to mine, she said, “The person who has drawn this is at the same developmental stage as an average 8 year old.” Well, a little chagrined, but laughing just the same, I claimed my picture and offered my lack of training in the fundamentals of drawing as an excuse for my poor performance.

Do you hear what I’m saying? Do you hear what Bonhoeffer is saying? What exactly is that “threat which America signifies”? It is that self-assurance making a mockery of specifically theological matters and proceeding to social exercises without the proper training in the fundamentals. Remember, again, he is writing this in 1930, over eighty years ago. He was diagnosing a lack of intellectual rigor in Americas universities as a serious threat to social well-being, a threat which, “The enlightened American, rather than viewing . . . with skepticism, instead welcomes . . . as an example of progress” (106).

And now look where we are. Bonhoeffer’s biographer calls him a prophet. The threat which he spoke of has, in our day and age, come to fruition. And why? Because we’re all so damned friendly all the time. We’re freakishly, progressively, nonjudgmental. We’d rather just get along than dig in our heels and have an uncomfortable conversation about real truth. And what is the result of that? Everybody has their own truth which they are rarely called to defend or examine because any questioning of it is offensive and therefore not socially acceptable.

I’m an American. Guess what that means? I like smiling. I like being friendly. I like getting along with people. I like feeding people. It bothers me, a lot, when there’s somebody who for some reason doesn’t seem to like me, and I find myself agonizing over what I might have done to upset them. I like the idea of winning people by love, rather than with intellectual proofs. (And yes, part of that is the whole “cunning as serpents, gentle as doves” line — as in “You don’t realize it, because I’m being so nice and friendly, but I’m getting you closer and closer to my side!” Now my secret is out.)

I’m an American. Guess what else that means? I have a tendency to let things slide that, thanks to the education my parents gave me, I know I should object to. I have a self-cosseted naivete that likes to believe that everyone is “a good fellow,” that each person is doing the best they know how, and that I have no legs to stand on to tell them, however kindly, to shape up and start living up to their full potential. Thanks to poor sots like myself, we find ourselves in this cesspit of relativistic confusion where each person, in his misguided and poorly founded pursuit of love and happiness, to which the laws of nature entitle him (here in America, we’re really good at talking about our individual liberties), has become a god unto himself. We are ready to follow emotion rather than reason, and to reject a call to cold and unimpassioned examination of facts. Such a course of action would undoubtedly lead to all kinds of unpleasantness, after all. It’s much nicer to let people who maybe don’t know any better do irreparable damage to themselves, their children, and the people they love, than it is to convince them that they might have made a mistake. It’s easier, too. Believe it or not, I don’t exactly fancy someone spitting on me and throwing lit cigarettes at me.

So, what will it be, friends? Comfort, or truth?

This post appeared previously on Taking Back Our Brave New World.

 

Why Saving Mr. Banks is Worth Seeing

Disney’s newest dramatic offering, Saving Mr. Banks, made a quiet splash over Christmas. But for all it’s unobtrusiveness, the story of how Walt Disney finally convinced the reluctant author of Mary Poppins, Pamela L. Travers, to allow him to make her beloved novel into a movie is one of the best films to come out of the studio in some time. The performances are stellar, there are plenty of decent reviews out there, and this post is not meant to be another, except to say that in spite of all the contested opinions about the key players and how they are represented, the movie stands on its own as a good story. However, the film also deals with two important themes that are either overlooked or only briefly mentioned in the reviews, but which offer two key reasons why you should see it.

Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. Walt Disney Films.

Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. Walt Disney Films.

One of these themes is the tension between two artists over the concept of an original work of art. P.L. Travers conceived of Mary Poppins and through her own creative gifts brought the plot, setting, and characters to life through the medium of words. It is clear throughout the film that the novel is beloved, and not only by children – adults “can’t put it down.” As the artist, Travers is charged with preserving the integrity of the work and she has a horror – an arguably justified one – of the “art” Disney produces. She rightfully believes his “animated cartoons” have no place in or business with her story and is convinced he will ruin it. Her anxiety is borne out time and again as she discovers daily the “adaptations” he plans for her art, each one taking the original concept farther and farther from the “truth” of the story as she imagined it.

Critics may see Travers’s attitude in all of this as uptight and unappreciative. But the theme and the lesson it begs to teach is a critical one. To understand the weight of it we need look no further than December’s novel-to-film premiere of Peter Jackson’s newest Hobbit film. There is no need to waste time reviewing the film; rather, I only want to point out by way of example that the film had very little to do with Tolkien’s novel. The departure from the original work of art was overt and extensive and, sadly, horrifying. While Tolkien’s novel offered a fairy tale coming-of-virtue saga in the best of the tradition and appropriate for all ages, Jackson’s film dispenses with the theme of virtue pretty much entirely in favor of gratuitous, malicious violence — including decapitations, extended bitter battle scenes and grotesque orcs which do not appear in the novel – and weakly drawn “new” characters who forge relationships which simply do not exist in any of Tolkien’s work, not to mention the egregious abuse the character of Legolas endures in a story Tolkien never intended him to appear in.

The travesty Jackson perpetrates on Tolkien’s art is exactly the type of travesty Travers fears her work will suffer at the hands of Disney in Saving Mr. Banks. It is a disturbing cultural trend that it now acceptable to judge the merits of a vast array of literary arts by the film adaptations made of them. It is so easy to just “see the film” of anything these days, rather than to commit to the mental, emotional, and perhaps spiritual effort involved in engaging over time with a literary text. Sadly it isn’t unusual to hear someone say, as I did recently, when I told a woman she really ought to read Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, “Oh, I really didn’t like that movie at all!”  Her experience with a mediocre movie soured her on reading the book, which is in essence very different from the film. The ease with which we say, “I’ll just watch the film” version of any book distances us from the truth that an author, somewhere in time, grappled mightily to bring this text to life, a text we see no problem with reducing to mere fragments of sound bites that more often than not have little if anything to do with the original work.

Thus, one of the things Saving Mr. Banks does is remind us of the delicate tension that exists between preserving an artist’s original intention in her work alongside the creative potential of the artist who would reinterpret it through a new medium. The integrity of the original work must be respected. We owe it to authors, and to ourselves, to experience the text in its original form before experiencing it reimagined, regurgitated or remade by someone else. Saving Mr. Banks and the example of Jackson’s non-Hobbit remind us of what is at stake and what can be lost when we fail to respect the integrity and dignity of a work of art.

The other idea Saving Mr. Banks explores well is Tolkien’s principle of eucatastrophe: story, particularly fairy story, can and should be a healing event in the life of the reader by way of the consoling joy of the happy ending – even though it arises from what looks to be darkness itself – and all of the hope and promise contained within it. Writers write, consciously or unconsciously, about what they experience in life; their art grows out of who they are as human beings, of what they know and believe of life, and the ways in which their experience has affected them. In the film, Travers writes to heal and to make what went wrong in her past somehow right. She writes to save lives, her own and her father’s. “These characters are family to me,” Travers says, hinting not only at how closely the artist relates to her work, but to the truth behind the art: that literature arises from experience, in order to make sense of it, to heal from it, to share it. The braided flashbacks of Travers’s life that punctuate the film show the visceral truth of this element of the writer’s life.

For all his faults and scheming, Disney does see that the crux of Travers’s novel

Walt Disney Pictures

Walt Disney Pictures

isn’t about the children at all, but about what Mary Poppins is able to do to save Mr. Banks. Disney’s ability to express his deep understanding of this to Travers affirms the very core of her as an artist. Though their artistic vision is fundamentally different, he sees the truth of her story and promises her that he can and will make this element stand out in his film adaptation, telling her the job of a storyteller is to reintroduce order, to mend, to heal. This is a beautifully stated reminder of Tolkien’s principle that is sadly lost in much modern storytelling.  Whether or not Disney’s film adaptation of Travers’s novel is finally faithful is open to question; in the world of the film, that the principle of fidelity to the goal of the art is even raised is noteworthy and deserving of attention. Ultimately, Travers does experience her own happy ending, a catharsis and healing evidenced by the fact that her mood and attitude is significantly lighter at the end of the film than it was at the beginning. In addition, she takes up writing again and lets the light shine on the darkness of her solitary life. It might be she needed to see her happy ending through some other storyteller’s eyes to gain the benefit of healing. In the end, this is a truth many of us can relate to and appreciate. The film’s depiction of it is touching.

Saving Mr. Banks undoubtedly presents an amazing cast at the top of their game, an excellent script, and technical accomplishment. But Disney’s ultimate success with the film is in pointing to the dignity of the artist, to the integrity of the literary arts as deserving of great respect, and to the core truth of the healing power of any good story in its essence.  In doing so, the film raises a gauntlet for those who assume the challenges that come with adapting an original literary work of art to another medium. The irony that this gauntlet is thrown down by Disney is not lost on this writer. And maybe that is another reason the film is worth going to see.

 

Pre-Christian Infusion: Faith. Hope and Charity in The Lord of the Rings

David Rozema

In the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas distinguishes the four cardinal moral virtues of fortitude, temperance, wisdom, and justice from the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love (charity). He maintains that the moral virtues of fortitude, temperance, wisdom, and justice are virtues only in “a restricted sense”: they bring only a “natural happiness.” But the very same moral virtues can be a part of a “supernatural happiness” if the practice of them is supported by the theological virtues. So a person may possess the moral virtues of fortitude, temperance, wisdom, and justice without possessing the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, but that person’s moral virtue will be imperfect. [Read more...]

When the Goad Rises

Every Tuesday and Thursday evening, the priests at my parish celebrate mass in the Extraordinary Form. Which is great, you know, because if I happen to be there on those evenings, I get to feel morally superior and well-educated, because I know when to sit and kneel down and stand up and genuflect and bow and cross myself and beat myself. And I know Latin. And I have a missal. So that adds up to what? 8 gold stars? Let’s keep it to a modest 7, since kneeling and genuflecting are kind of the same thing.

Thirty seconds before communion, the priest holds up the host, and I get excited to say the Domine non sum dignus prayer because I like the way Latin sounds, and I like the fact that I know that prayer, and can rattle it off without even thinking, while the uneducated plebe at the end of the pew is hopelessly lost even when he tries to read along.

And then, disaster strikes.

The guy 6 pews ahead on my right starts thumping his chest with notable abandon, and reciting the prayer with deafening volume, conspicuous speed, and deadly accuracy. And. my. goad. rises. Who the hell does he think he is? What a moron. What a self-righteous dweeb. Get over yourself already, dude.

Enter Brideshead Revisited. (Let’s be honest; when does it not enter?) “When people hate with all that energy, it is something in themselves they are hating.”

Remember when Julia hits Charles in the face? "'I hate it.' Her anger was as  unexpected as every change on  this  evening of swift veering moods. Suddenly  she  cut me  across  the face  with  her switch,  a vicious, stinging little blow as hard as she could strike. 'Now do you see how I hate it?' She hit me again.

Remember when Julia hits Charles in the face? “‘I hate it.’ Her anger was as unexpected as every change on this evening of swift veering moods. Suddenly she cut me across the face with her switch, a vicious, stinging little blow as hard as she could strike. ‘Now do you see how I hate it?’ She hit me again.”

We all just came back from Christmas, right? Family. Oh yes. Our families. There is nothing we dislike so much as seeing our own faults writ large. There is nothing so troubling as seeing our own weaknesses bared, out on display, raw and fractious and ready for a fight. And there is nowhere that the elements for such titanic disaster align so perfectly as at a large family gathering. The thing about families is, they share the bad traits as well as the good ones. Parents love it when their children look like them; it makes them feel proud, like they’ve left a mark on the world, and reminds them that they’re immortal and powerful (I helped create that child!). And guess what else? Even if they fail to realize it, as often they do, parents are particularly harsh with those children who most perpetuate their own faults. We do hate to be reminded of our shortcomings and failures (I helped spawn that thieving hooligan! Or, you know, whatever it is you’ve been spawning lately.).

So, here I am to preach at you. You see, after all, what with my 7 gold stars and everything, that’s what I’m qualified to do. Next time you feel like throttling somebody, chucking your substantial missal across 6 pews to knock the holy-roller off his kneeler, walloping the 6 year old or the 16 year old, badmouthing the boss or belittling your brother, take a breather. Think of the ways you’re like that idiot, and realize what it is you’re actually hating.

A New Kind of New Year’s Resolution

While I’ve never been much for making New Year’s resolutions, I do try to think about the things I’d like to do differently and the things I’d like to accomplish each New Year. And that is the thing about resolutions – they are all about “I”. This is not necessarily a negative; goodness knows there are an infinite number of things I could and should work to improve upon in my life and in my self. But this is where most resolutions begin and end – with ME. Which is likely why most of mine fade into the background, because I lack the resolve, strength, memory, or will to fulfill them over the course of the year. There is a paradox here – I want to be the one to make the necessary changes, but the truth is I am my own biggest obstacle.

Mary Untier of Knots, painted by Johann Georg Melchior Schmidtner, c. 1700. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Mary Untier of Knots, painted by Johann Georg Melchior Schmidtner, c. 1700. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

It isn’t a coincidence that the Catholic Church celebrates New Year’s Day as the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God. This is a day, the first day of a new year filled with hope and promise, in which the Church invites me to remember that I have a mother who is very concerned with everything that concerns me and all those I care about. She wants me to remember to involve and include her in my thoughts, plans, hopes, dreams, and resolutions for the year. This year, instead of going it alone as has been my past practice, I’ve decided to turn over my resolutions and all that needs fixing and improving and adjusting in my life to someone else’s more capable hands: Mary, the Untier of Knots.

The knots and difficulties I experience in my relationships and family life; the knots and difficulties associated with my health, finances, teaching, and writing; the knots and difficulties with my spiritual life and the lives of those most dear to me; the knots and difficulties associated with the good I’d like to do in the world and the suffering that breaks my heart . . . Mary’s capable hands can attend to all these things and more. Not only that, but unlike myself, Mary doesn’t get tired or discouraged or bored or forgetful about any of these resolutions. Full of God’s grace and love, she lives to act as the conduit of that same grace and love in my life, working tirelessly to untie the knots that paralyze me, that hold me bound and keep me from moving closer towards holiness and her Son. And because some knots are necessary and useful in life, Mary can take the loose ends that I am helpless to connect or understand the meaning or purpose of and find ways to knit and weave them together, creating the lasting, necessary grace-knots that aid me along on my walk of faith through this life.

This year, the only resolution I am making is to hang this image of the Blessed Mother in a prominent place in my home, to pray to God to deepen my faith and trust in His providence, and continue to make the effort to entrust all the resolutions and plans and dreams and aspirations and hopes I would like to make to Mary’s cooperation with God’s plans for my life and the lives of those I love. With her help and intercession, the knots in my life can be undone or reworked, my faith life can deepen, and the joy of God’s love can work through me to others as each knot/obstacle is loosened.

May the coming year be a blessed one for you and all whom you love. Mary, untier of knots, pray for us!

Our Holy Father has been a consistent reminder of the need for Mary in our lives and has himself a great devotion to Mary as the Undoer of Knots. Read on for excerpts from Pope Francis’s beautiful catechesis on Mary’s work as the untier of knots for all and how it corresponds to her faith journey, which serves as an example for our own, as well as a portion of his homily on this Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. 

From “The Faith of Mary” delivered Saturday October 12, 2013

. . . Mary always brings us to Jesus. She is a woman of faith, a true believer. What was Mary’s faith like?

1. The first aspect of her faith is this: Mary’s faith unties the knot of sin (cf. Lumen Gentium, 56). What does that mean? The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council took up a phrase of Saint Irenaeus, who states that “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by the obedience of Mary; what the virgin Eve bound by her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith” (Adversus Haereses, III, 22, 4).

The “knot” of disobedience, the “knot” of unbelief. When children disobey their parents, we can say that a little “knot” is created. This happens if the child acts with an awareness of what he or she is doing, especially if there is a lie involved. At that moment, they break trust with their parents. How often does this happen! Then the relationship with their parents needs to be purified of this fault; the child has to ask forgiveness so that harmony and trust can be restored. Something of the same sort happens in our relationship with God. When we do not listen to him, when we do not follow his will, we do concrete things that demonstrate our lack of trust in him – for that is what sin is – and a kind of knot is created deep within us. These knots take away our peace and serenity. They are dangerous, since many knots can form a tangle which gets more and more painful and difficult to undo.

But nothing is impossible for God’s mercy! Even the most tangled knots are loosened by his grace. And Mary, whose “yes” opened the door for God to undo the knot of the ancient disobedience, is the Mother who patiently and lovingly brings us to God, so that he can untangle the knots of our soul by his fatherly mercy. We might ask ourselves: What knots do I have in my life? Do I ask Mary to help me trust in God’s mercy, in order to change?

2. A second aspect is that Mary’s faith gave human flesh to Jesus. As the Council says: “Through her faith and obedience, she gave birth on earth to the very Son of the Father, without knowing man but by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit” (Lumen Gentium, 63). This was a point on which the Fathers of the Church greatly insisted: Mary first conceived Jesus in faith and then in the flesh, when she said “yes” to the message God gave her through the angel. What does this mean? It means that God did not want to become man by ignoring our freedom; he wanted to pass through Mary’s free assent, her “yes”.

But what took place most singularly in the Virgin Mary also takes place within us, spiritually, when we receive the word of God with a good and sincere heart and put it into practice. It is as if God takes flesh within us; he comes to dwell in us, for he dwells in all who love him and keep his word.

Let us ask ourselves: Do we think about this? Or do we think that Jesus’ incarnation is simply a past event which has nothing to do with us personally? Believing in Jesus means giving him our flesh with the humility and courage of Mary, so that he can continue to dwell in our midst. It means giving him our hands, to caress the little ones and the poor; our feet, to go forth and meet our brothers and sisters; our arms, to hold up the weak and to work in the Lord’s vineyard, our minds, to think and act in the light of the Gospel; and especially our hearts, to love and to make choices in accordance with God’s will. All this happens thanks to the working of the Holy Spirit. Let us be led by him!

3. The third aspect is Mary’s faith as a journey. The Council says that Mary “advanced in her pilgrimage of faith” (Lumen Gentium, 58). In this way she precedes us on this pilgrimage, she accompanies and sustains us.

How was Mary’s faith a journey? In the sense that her entire life was to follow her Son: he is the way, he is the path! To press forward in faith, to advance in the spiritual pilgrimage which is faith, is nothing other than to follow Jesus; to listen to him and be guided by his words; to see how he acts and to follow in his footsteps; to have his same sentiments of humility, mercy, closeness to others, but also his firm rejection of hypocrisy, duplicity and idolatry. The way of Jesus is the way of a love which is faithful to the end, even unto sacrificing one’s life; it is the way of the cross. The journey of faith thus passes through the cross. Mary understood this from the beginning, when Herod sought to kill the newborn Jesus. But then this experience of the cross became deeper when Jesus was rejected and Mary’s faith encountered misunderstanding and contempt, and when Jesus’ “hour” came, the hour of his passion, when Mary’s faith was a little flame burning in the night. Through the night of Holy Saturday, Mary kept watch. Her flame, small but bright, remained burning until the dawn of the resurrection. And when she received word that the tomb was empty, her heart was filled with the joy of faith: Christian faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This was the culmination of Mary’s journey of faith, and that of the whole Church. What is our faith like? Like Mary, do we keep it burning even at times of difficulty and darkness? Do I have the joy of faith?

 

From Pope Francis’s homily of the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, delivered January 1, 2014. 

“Our pilgrimage of faith has been inseparably linked to Mary ever since Jesus, dying on the Cross, gave her to us as our Mother, saying: “Behold your Mother!” (Jn 19:27). These words serve as a testament, bequeathing to the world a Mother. From that moment on, the Mother of God also became our Mother! When the faith of the disciples was most tested by difficulties and uncertainties, Jesus entrusted them to Mary, who was the first to believe, and whose faith would never fail. The “woman” became our Mother when she lost her divine Son. Her sorrowing heart was enlarged to make room for all men and women, all, whether good or bad, and she loves them as she loved Jesus. The woman who at the wedding at Cana in Galilee gave her faith-filled cooperation so that the wonders of God could be displayed in the world, at Calvary kept alive the flame of faith in the resurrection of her Son, and she communicates this with maternal affection to each and every person. Mary becomes in this way a source of hope and true joy!

The Mother of the Redeemer goes before us and continually strengthens us in faith, in our vocation and in our mission. By her example of humility and openness to God’s will she helps us to transmit our faith in a joyful proclamation of the Gospel to all, without reservation. In this way our mission will be fruitful, because it is modeled on the motherhood of Mary. To her let us entrust our journey of faith, the desires of our heart, our needs and the needs of the whole world, especially of those who hunger and thirst for justice and peace, and for God. Let us then together invoke her, and I invite you to invoke her three times, following the example of those brothers and sisters of Ephesus: Mother of God! Mother of God! Mother of God! Amen.”

 

 

 

Why We Need Your Help (Yes, YOU!)

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21

Dear Readers,

How many billions, with a “b,” were spent during the last election? Whether your candidates won or lost, please consider the following question: now that the great electoral effort is over, are we any closer to a society in which the center of our common life is the truth that we are beings created in the image of God? If your answer to that question is in the negative, then we want you to consider supporting Dappled Things, a journal dedicated to transforming our culture. We believe that when a culture is not dehumanizing, but ennobling, electoral politics will take care of themselves. [Read more...]

A Case For the Devil

Damian J. Ference

After twenty-three years of Catholic school I can count on one hand the number of lessons or lectures I remember about the devil.

My first bit of formal instruction came in kindergarten. Sister Vincent taught us a song about having joy in our hearts, and if the devil didn’t like it he could sit on a tack. I had a hard time seeing the need for an archangel like Michael, having his way with the devil while wielding a shiny silver sword, if a sharp tack would do the job just as well. [Read more...]

The Space Between: Ritual and the Practice of Art

“ Routine is the condition of survival.” – Flannery O’Connor

Is ritual necessary to the making of art? I hear arguments on both sides. While I have recently heard several writers I respect more or less say that for them writing rituals are anathema, the truth is that artists throughout history have settled themselves into the necessary frame of mind and physical space by marking the time set aside for the practice of their craft with some type of highly personal ritual. And it appears as though the having of a ritual is more the norm than not having one, at least that is one thing I gathered from exploring Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, edited by Mason Curry.

One of Curry’s goals with the book is to “show how grand creative visions translate to small daily increments; how one’s working habits influence the work itself, and vice versa.”  In essence, it is these small, often seemingly insignificant, routines and rituals that box off the incremental bits of time necessary to make art, that in fact create the space between daily life and artistic practice which allow an artist to set aside not only the time, but her very self, to become an instrument in service to her unique gift.

Mark Twain writing in bedThe word routine suggests the idea of merely going through the motions or even a lack of engagement with the task at hand. But Curry makes the point that daily routines or rituals surrounding one’s creative practice are also choices and that “in the right hands, [these choices] can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time (the most limited resource of all) as well as willpower, self-discipline, optimism.” In other words the routine or ritual signifies the settling down to the task at hand, it initiates the habitual practice which will allow the work to commence, proceed and ultimately finish. It is a signal to the body and the mind that “it is time.” Thus, for certain artists, rituals can be an essential component in their creative processes. And these rituals or routines are as widely diverse as the artists who practice them and Curry’s book is an enjoyable wealth of examples of the diverse ways in which all sorts of artists approach the time designated to engage their work.

I confess to having a simple ritual for accomplishing my writing, and while it is assuredly less colorful than some others, it is no less effective in enabling me to achieve an openness of body, mind, and spirit in which I can create.

My ritual begins with an obnoxious alarm, which does a pretty decent job of dragging me out of bed at 5 a.m. on most mornings. After a valiant effort at my morning meditation, it’s a solitary coffee and breakfast during which I spend about 30 minutes reading — this nutritional caffeinated interlude is essential to promote blood flow to my still somnambulent brain – at the end of which I am ready to pay a visit to my novel.

The room where I write is dark. I light a fragrant candle, bless myself, and say a prayer for guidance in my work. The candle and prayer are essential reminders that I am beholden for the gift of my art and that whatever I manage to craft must bear light within it.

Then it’s time for poetry, which at the moment happens to be a moment’s rest reading selections from Averno, by Louise Gluck. I read somewhere that a writer should read a poem a day to keep her use of language supple and facile and I think this is wise advice. Prefacing my writing time in the company of a brilliant word-artist is the mental equivalent to stretching before lifting weights. Words used with precision fire strong images and sensations in my mind, speeding access to the as yet undiscovered store of words, ideas, and pictures waiting to be chosen to bring the world I am creating to life.

Then I simply write as much as I can on my own project for 15 or 20 minutes. At the end of my allotted writing time, I save what I’ve written, say a prayer in thanksgiving for the work I’ve been able to do, blow out the candle, and walk back to the world outside my imagination to begin my day as mom-teacher-wife and all that entails. Far from feeling routine, these simple daily habits leading up to and through my writing time immediately prepare my mind, limber up my imagination, and open an emotional and spiritual space to encounter the strange mystery of the creative process. They enable me to persevere in finding my way through the fictional world and characters I am creating. From my own experience I can say that having a ritual attached to my writing practice reminds me what I’m about and signals to my brain and heart that the time to work and “be” in the world of my novel is NOW.

This doesn’t mean that I am unable to write without the ritual, however, and I think this is an important point, because I hear other writers suggest that there is some sort of superstition attached to having a writing ritual, that it limits you to creating only against the backdrop of the ritual and conditions you to need or believe certain things about your artistic practice without which you hamstring yourself and so are unable to accomplish your work in the absence of said ritual. The mind is a vast and mysterious enterprise and certain temperaments or personalities are extremely susceptible to stimuli. For these individuals to align themselves and their creative practice to a routine or habit may make it impossible for them to do the work of art if their lives or circumstances change suddenly and the ritual becomes impossible or the space becomes unavailable or the object associated with their ritual is lost or destroyed. I like Bernard Malamud’s perspective on ritual as quoted in Curry’s book. Clearly, he sees value in rituals and routines, but emphasizes there is no substitution for hard work and self-knowledge.

“There’s no one way — there’s too much drivel about this subject. You’re who you are, not Fitzgerald or Thomas Wolfe. You write by sitting down and writing. There’s no particular time or place — you suit yourself, your nature. How one works, assuming he’s disciplined, doesn’t matter. If he or she is not disciplined, no sympathetic magic will help. The trick is to make time — not steal it — and produce the fiction. If the stories come, you get them written, you’re on the right track. Eventually, everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you.”

It is up to each artist to ensure that the work takes priority over any ritual and that she is able to write in the absence of the ritual simply because the work must be done. After all, in my day-job, I must show up even if I do not have the right outfit or am missing some of my materials. The principle of committing to and accomplishing the work must take precedence over any “accessory” that inspires or motivates the worker.

That said, rituals can be of great assistance to certain artists. It’s all in how you think of them. In her book Pen On Fire, Barbara DeMarco-Barrett says that “rituals help us to change modes.” She compares a writer’s ritual and what it accomplishes to her actions upon entering a Catholic church, whereupon she immediately dips her finger into the holy water font and blesses herself. This simple act “helps me transition to a more spiritual place,” writes DeMarco-Barrett. “For writers, rituals counteract inertia and trigger the desire to write.” And for some writers, this is the golden ticket. For though writers may disagree on the importance of or even the need for ritual, no writer will ever tell you that it is easy to keep her butt in the chair – to even GET to the chair – to sit down to write. It is one of the most challenging aspects of the craft and no writer I’ve ever met has found it easy to WANT the pain of what writing really is, as opposed to the romantic notions we conceive when we aren’t actually doing the work. And this perhaps more than any other reason is a strong case for building ritual into your artistic practice – because it helps you to be and do what you are meant for. That’s a tall order, but the ritual helps us rise to the challenge.

The word ritual itself suggests formality. It even sounds religious. Ritual implies the act it signifies as being special and important, worthy of ceremony. We have ritual ceremonies for all of the special and important events in our communal lives as humans: We have rituals surrounding the swearing-in of witnesses, judges, and heads of state; rituals surrounding childbirth and death, commencements and weddings, birthdays and gala benefits. Rituals signify that the event we are participating in is something worthy of notice and that by our participation in the event we are in some sense “becoming” something other than what we are or were before. Rituals signify movement from one state of being to another.

The practice of creating art can and should be elevated to an act worthy of ritual, even if that means the ritual is carried out by the artist in solitude. The mere fact that an artist has a ritual implies and signifies an awareness of the importance of the creative act and the need to be very clearly present to the mystery inherent in that act, as well as to the mysterious transformation of self within the act.

In her diary, Virginia Woolf touches on this in a subtle, numinous way. She writes: “It is a mistake to think that literature can be produced in the raw. One must get out of life . . . one must become externalised; very, very concentrated, all at one point, not having to draw upon the scattered parts of one’s character, living in the brain. . . [W]hen I write I’m merely a sensibility.” (Tuesday, August 22nd, 1922) in this, Woolf alludes to the practice of living in the present moment. Rituals can accomplish this, enabling the writer to be focused on the task at hand, with all its attendant requirements, open to the unfolding mystery of creation. If I believe the practice of my art is a sacred act, something like praying, my writing ritual is capable of  “transitioning me to [that] more spiritual place” which DeMarco-Barrett refers to, and in some way opens me to receive inspiration. My writing ritual allows me to escape mental chaos and distraction by placing me in the now, attentive only to what flows from some unknown place in my imagination to become the words on the page. It is an experience of seamless, quiet focus. It is the beginning of the practice of the presence of God. My ritual leads me to create from a place of prayer. All art can be a prayer when carried out with an eye towards being in the present moment. Writing rituals and the act of creativity itself are then elevated to something sacred and the ritual signifies the importance of the act.

Regardless of the oddity or seeming banality of the artistic ritual, the goal seems to be to open the artist, to move her out of absorption with the self, thus allowing her to become a conduit to the act of creation.  And this is a worthwhile goal to have, any way you accomplish it.

 

Portions of this piece originally appeared on Persephone Writes.

 

 

G.K. Chesterton and the Use of the Imagination

Dale Ahlquist 

The purpose of the imagination is to make us more like God. Sounds like something a serpent might say. But it’s not. That really is the purpose of the imagination. To make us more like God. After all, our imagination is a gift from God. It is perhaps one of the greatest gifts God has given us. It not only separates us from the beasts, it allows us to create new worlds of our own. Our imagination gives us a kind of omnipotence. There is almost nothing that we cannot do within the infinity of our minds. The Creator has made us in His own image. That is, he has made us creators. Our creativity is re-creation. And yes, it is recreation as well. It is restorative and rejuvenating. It is a pleasure. It is peace. It is a gift that we have abused, but perhaps even worse, it is a gift we have left unused. [Read more...]

Idols and Ideals in Love

(Spoiler alert: I give away the endings of some of the books I talk about in this post.)

Ah, but I miss her.
All I have is a picture of her.
It was taken years ago,
I was a kid, you know,
Just leanin’ up against that El Dorado.

All of you bluegrass folk music fans out there probably recognize these lyrics from Old Crow Medicine Show’s “My Good Gal.” When I listen to this song, it makes me think about a lot of things. How are we supposed to draw the line between making an ideal out of love and our beloved, and being a cynic about the impossibility of love? Are we supposed to believe all the poems and songs and movies that talk about how powerful it is, how eternal it is, how transforming and beatific it is? Or, if we see other people who believe all that, perhaps we should shake our heads and say, wow, you poor dumb suckers, and walk away as the “sadder but wiser” participants in the game. I suppose I’m not the only one to wonder, as it seems that so many of the books I’ve read seem to have quite a bit to say on the subject.

When I was a teacher, I directed Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband. Briefly, it’s about a man whom everyone thought to be outstanding and perfect, intelligent and kind, who turns out to have a less-than-perfect past. His wife is a woman of high moral character and unyielding principles. When she discovers his history, it almost destroys their marriage. The scene of discovery:

Lady Chiltern: You were to me something apart from common life, a thing pure, noble, honest, without stain. The world seemed to me finer because you were in it, and goodness more real because you lived. And now—oh, when I think that I made of a man like you my ideal! the ideal of my life!

Sir Robert Chiltern: There was your mistake. There was your error. The error all women commit. Why can’t you women love us, faults and all? Why do you place us on monstrous pedestals? We have all feet of clay, women as well as men: but when we men love women, we love them knowing their weaknesses, their follies, their imperfections, love them all the more, it may be, for that reason. It is not the perfect, but the imperfect, who have need of love. It is when we are wounded by our own hand, or by the hands of others, that love should come to cure us — else what use is love at all? Women think that they are making ideals of men. What they are making of us are false idols merely. You made your false idol of me, and I had not the courage to come down, show you my wounds, tell you my weaknesses. I was afraid I might lose your love, as I have lost it now. Let women make no more ideals of men! let them not put them on altars and bow before them, or they may ruin other lives as completely as you—you whom I have so wildly loved—have ruined mine! (43-44, Dover Thrift Editions)

Certainly, we can agree with Sir Robert that women make ideals of men. Young women are in love with love, and, when they find an object (and I say object though I am talking about a man, for he is functionally an object in the worst of these cases) which can supposedly carry the weight of all their fairy tales, well, they get used to the idea that this is it. This is “the perfect guy,” the one who will “make all their dreams come true.” It’s natural that every woman should assume that she will be the one to have the perfect life, because really, with any amount of self-respect, we recognize that we are worthy of perfection and so expect that we will have it. That’s a good thing, stemming from a sense of our dignity and worth and our privileged place in creation. And when we find that guy who makes the world seem like a better place, a finer world, who makes goodness seem more real merely by the fact of his existence, it’s easy to get carried away and decide that yes, here is the perfection for which I was made.

Where I disagree with Sir Robert is that men love women knowing all of their faults. Perhaps in some cases that is true, but certainly not in every case. It’s a two-way street; men are not immune from making ideals of the women they love. For instance, the concept of medieval love, which was by no means localized or specific to a certain place or story, was all about the man pedestalizing the woman whom he didn’t actually know. Think about Dante and Beatrice, or Arcite and Palamon falling in love with Emily in The Canterbury Tales. (There’s a great passage in Neville Coghill’s introduction to Chaucer that talks about the intensity of this practice—read up on it there if you need a little review.) And in the Old Crow song up at the top, guess what happens with his “El Dorado”?

And she don’t have the courtesy
To shut the door
when she’s been playin’ whore
Don’t wanna see his rags piled on the floor.

My good gal ain’t no good to me
And I only wish that she could see
That I miss her…

I drove her out of town,
And I shot her down,
And I left her there in the cold, cold ground.

El Dorado, huh? Bad for her, bad for him. For a little more development on this idea, let’s look at Jay Gatsby. Why did he ever fall for a flake like Daisy, anyway? Perhaps I’m being too harsh with her, but given the outcome of the book, I have very little energy to spend on pitying the ignoramus (ignorama?). Perhaps she had been more equal to him in her younger years, but, based on the following passage, I don’t think she ever deserved him. The narrator recounts the moment that Gatsby first kissed Daisy, shackled himself to a mortal, and limited his godly potential:

His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete. (112, Scribners, 1953) (Footnote!)

Does he have any inkling of what that kiss would later compel him to do? He’s completely gone over her, and shapes his whole life, where and how he lives, in order to pursue her and win her back, years after this moment, years after she was married to someone else. He is giving up his incredible potential, for indeed he is a man of great talent and intelligence, to join himself with this perishable, white-faced girl. Certainly, she is beautiful. And certainly love requires sacrifice. But he gave up everything for her, remade himself, allowed himself to be incarnated in wedding his “unutterable visions” to her weak offering. He makes himself a slave to a woman unworthy of his great devotion, his star-struck love, and is killed because of it. Meanwhile, she lives without outward consequence for the harm she has done, the evil she has inflicted. Gatsby perhaps begins to realize his mistake as he is trying to convince Daisy to run away with him. In this scene, she is trapped between her husband (Tom) and her lover. She is too weak and torn to make a decision, as both press her, in turn, to stay and to flee. Her cousin, Nick, and her friend, Jordan, watch awkwardly. (I’ve curtailed the exchange here to the essential bits.)

Gatsby walked over and stood beside her.
“Daisy, that’s all over now,” he said earnestly. “It doesn’t matter anymore. Just tell him the truth—that you never loved him—and it’s all wiped out forever. . . You never loved him.”
She hesitated. Her eyes fell on Jordan and me with a sort of appeal, as though she realized at last what she was doing—and as though she had never, all along, intended doing anything at all.
“I never loved him,” she said, with perceptible reluctance.
“Not at Kapiolani?” demanded Tom suddenly. “Not that day I carried you down from the punch Bowl to keep your shoes dry?” There was a husky tenderness in his tone . . . . “Daisy?”

“Oh, you want too much!” she cried to Gatsby. “I love you now—isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past.” She began to sob helplessly. “I did love him once—but I loved you too.” Gatsby’s eyes opened and closed.
“You loved me too?” he repeated. (132-133)

Gatsby is perhaps realizing that Daisy is not what he once thought. No wonder she can’t stand under the weight of his expectations. She’s right—he does ask too much. Is it such a crime that she once loved her husband, perhaps does still love him? And besides, how many of us have only ever loved one person? I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but I think that it’s far more likely that most of us fall in love more than once. It would be glorious if each of us could end happily with the first person we fell in love with, and never had the distraction or memory of someone else who might at odd and unexpected times come back to our consciousness. But, realistically, how likely is that? And should we really hold it against someone else if they too have loved someone else before they loved us? Daisy’s predicament is slightly worse, of course, because she loved Gatsby “too.” I can understand his hurt in that situation. A little healthy jealousy in love is, well, healthy. But Daisy was set up for failure from the start, because she simply is no match for Gatsby. And, really, from the moment of her marriage, Gatsby’s destruction is marked. He’s charted himself, listening to the tuning of the stars, to pursue a woman who is not for him. Of course it ends in tragedy. He lived in a dream, just as did the speaker of the Old Crow song, and just as Lady Chiltern did.

Clearly, then, at this point we can all agree that making ideals of the man or woman that we love doesn’t end well for them, and it doesn’t end well for us. Pedestalizing and idolizing mere humans sets them up to fall short of our expectations, that is, sets them up for failure, and also sets us up to blame and perhaps hate them for it when it was really our fault in the first place. But does this mean that we have to throw up our hands and embrace a life of celibacy, because really, why should we put ourselves in a less than ideal situation? Why commit to something we know will only end in imperfection? Let’s hold out for that perfect situation, whatever it might be. That’s what we’re worth, after all. But, hold on. As Charles Ryder puts it in that most brilliantly and subtlely Catholic of all Catholic novels, “To know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom.” (We could have a long discussion on what he means exactly, and various qualifications about how to understand that and how celibacy fits into it, but let’s accept it for now and hash it out later if you’re not happy.)

So, if that really is the root of all wisdom, perhaps it’s something we should contemplate doing. And if we should contemplate doing it, how on earth can we do it without lowering our self-respect by accepting something less than perfect, without lowering our standards, and without hurting either ourselves or the person we allow ourselves to love? Well, friends, this brings to Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer. At the end of it, incredibly enough, Jack “Binx” Bolling relinquishes his fascination with those big-bottomed sturdy western girls and weds his cousin, Kate (she’s not blood-related, in case you’re worried). Although Jack has his own issues to sort out, Kate is a mess, too. The following conversation takes place on Jack’s 30th birthday. He had promised his aunt that he would visit her that day and tell her his life plan. Kate asks him:

“What do you plan to do?”
I shrug. There is only one thing I can do: listen to people, see how they stick themselves into the world, hand them along a ways in their dark journey and be handed along, and for good and selfish reasons. It only remains to decide whether this vocation is best pursued in a service station or—
“Are you going to medical school?”
“If she wants me to.”
“Does that mean you can’t marry me now?”
“No. You have plenty of money.”
“Then let us understand each other.”
“All right.”
“I don’t know whether I can succeed.”
“I know you don’t.”
“It seems the wildest sort of thing to do.”
“Yes.”
“We had better make it fast.”
“All right.”
“I am so afraid.” (233, Vintage International, 1989)

The “it” of the conversation is marriage, and Kate doesn’t know whether she can do it, thinks it the wildest sort of thing to do, and is terribly afraid of it. And Jack doesn’t seem to think that life is such a treat either, based on the one thing he thinks he can do. But watch what happens:

“If I could be sure you knew how frightened I am, it would help a great deal.”
“You can be sure.”
“Not merely of marriage. This afternoon I wanted some cigarettes, but the thought of going to the drugstore turned me to jelly.”
I am silent.
“I am frightened when I am alone and I am frightened when I am with people. The only time I’m not frightened is when I’m with you. You’ll have to be with me a great deal.”
“I will.”
“It seems that if we are together a great deal and you tell me the simplest things and not laugh at me—I beg you for pity’s own sake never to laugh at me—tell me things like: Kate, it is all right for you to go down to the drugstore, and give me a kiss, then I will believe you. Will you do that?”
“Yes, I’ll do that.”
She has started plucking at her thumb in earnest, tearing away little shreds of flesh. I take her hand and kiss the blood.
“But you must try not to hurt yourself so much.”
“I will try! I will!” (234)

Intelligent as she is, Kate can have no misunderstanding about the flaws in Jack’s character, about how long he takes to make something of his life, about his lazy dalliances, and his constant attempts to escape from a reality that he is actually terrified of as well. But her weakness, her dependency on him, gives him a reason to step up and do something. He sees her need, and actually decides to be something to help her conquer her fears, to help her be something. Because really, that’s what love is. Real human love doesn’t mean perfection on earth—of course we were intended for perfection, and of course we should never abandon that goal, never forget the dignity and the beatification of the perfection that is our birthright. But human love, in its best form, is a perfecting force. Because it is human, it is flawed. Because those participating in it are human, they are flawed. And yet, Jack says, I’ll take care of you, but in return, you have to promise to stop hurting yourself. And voila! She promises and is one step closer to perfection. So if you can look at a fellow human squarely and honestly, and, like Robert Chiltern said, love them despite their flaws and their shortcomings and perhaps sometimes because of the peculiarities of character that those flaws lend them—if you can look at them like that and still decide that they are worth the wedding, worth the incarnation that takes you away from the dreams of deity that are no more than dreams in the sky, then you might, one day, actually achieve that share in divinity. Love is a perfecting force. The best love sees somebody for what they are, and, though content with that, tries to help them to become the most worthy version of themselves. Love sees the actuality and the potential, and is not solely focused on either one. (Footnote!)

So, long story short, don’t make an ideal of human love or the object of it. Love involves fear, shedding of blood, stripping of flesh, tears, uncertainty, and, as we see with Gatsby, the possibility of failure. But wouldn’t it be worse not to have it at all? CS Lewis says something in The Four Loves about the heart of the one who refuses to love being all safe in a nice airtight little box, which then suffocates the heart, dries it up, and leaves its owner with no heart at all. Jack Bolling can’t dispel Kate’s fear of what surrounds her, and her attachment to him makes her all the more vulnerable to her fear of the outside world. For, once she begins to depend on him, what will happen if all of the sudden he is gone? Then she might really kill herself, as she once almost did. But it’s a risk worth taking. There is a peace, a calmness, an easing of all tensions at the end of The Moviegoer. They have an understanding with each other, help each other, are kind to each other, and are able to do what they need to do in this life because of each other. That, if nothing else, seems like a good enough reason to allow ourselves to know and love one other human being. Don’t expect perfection, don’t expect unmarred bliss, but do expect human happiness, and don’t sell yourself short by settling for someone who can’t even give you that. I’ll leave you with a bit of one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letters:

“Zelda and I sometimes indulge in terrible four day rows that always start with a drinking party but we’re still enormously in love and about the only truly happily married couple I know. The cheerfullest things in life are first Zelda and second the hope that my book has something extraordinary about it.” source

Zelda burned in a hospital fire eight years after Fitzgerald died at the home of his mistress, so perhaps they are not the best example of marital bliss. But this letter, written almost 25 years before her death, does paint a somewhat attractive picture. Perhaps, though, we’d best stick with Binx and Kate.

Footnotes:
1. By the way, they messed this line up in the recent movie; overall I was impressed with the adaptation, but I have to criticize their high-handed liberality with such an essential passage.
2. A further development on that idea of love as a perfecting force came out in a discussion about all this with my mother. She is a wise lady if there ever was one, and was the early impetus behind my love of literature. Her thoughts on the matter:
And another thing, you can’t go into it with the idea in mind that you will change the one you love. You have to love a person despite all the imperfections, and because you have what Alice von Hildebrand speaks of as the “Taber Vision” of the beloved. You see that person in a way that no one else does, you see the possibility of perfection, of glory, even glimmers of it in the here and now. A good image of it is one of those partly cloudy days when a shaft of sunlight appears through the clouds. Maybe you are the only one who sees that light in the beloved, but you know it is there. Still, you can’t push the clouds away so that he is only light. In the best of relationships, and with a lot of input from God and the angels and the communion of saints, you move in the direction of mostly sunny, but you can’t set out to do that for someone or, worse yet, to someone. It just happens that you “bring out the best” in one another, and perhaps most of all when you realize that despite all your faults that person loves you, too, just like you do him. And when I say, “It just happens,” I do mean that it happens when you are doing the work to love one another well. To love one another, not to change each other. This movement toward perfection is the fruit of real love.
 

This post appeared previously on Life in the Gap and Taking Back Our Brave New World.

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