8 Things that Make a Good Day

To tell the truth, I often agonize over how to spend my time: what is the right balance of work/play/socializing, etc etc etc. But there is something that helps me. The moral philosophers from Aristotle into the present day always ask what is the good–that which promotes man’s flourishing?

So I ask myself: what is good? What is flourishing? I think monks flourish. It’s no secret that I admire the avowed religious life very much.  But I think everyday lay people in cities and countries can flourish too. So what’s that like?

But what are the actual daily activities that comprise a life well spent?

  1. Loving relationships-spouse, friends, children, parents, churches, organizations, civic life. The people we love tie us together and are worth spending time with and enjoying.
  2. Cooking and eating – food is part of life, and a good part. Cooking it, enjoying and it and sharing it combine an connection with the source of food and sustenance, enjoyment and community, a chance to share partake in those relationships mentioned in 1.
  3. Enjoying art – music, books, visual art, etc. Beautiful things, natural or man-made, invite us to appreciate life simply as it is and sometimes to contemplate the source of the beauty. Man-made art adds a layer of human reflection to contemplation.
  4. Maintaining the goods of our lives – our homes, our tools, our clothes, aspects of our communities etc. It shows care and gratitude to repair and clean the things that contribute to our lives. It keeps us grounded to provide for own physical needs and that of others.
  5. Creating – contributing our gifts to something new and meaningful, be it pottery, gardening, painting, writing, carpentry. This work also contributes to our community and engenders mutual flourishing
  6. Exercising – Care for the body that allows us to live and move is so important
  7. Being in nature, even if it’s just the yard or garden, or gazing at the sky from our city balcony. Watching and interacting with creation is both an appreciation of beauty, and it reminds us of what it real and the forces of the earth which are more powerful than we are.
  8. Spirituality – in addition to appreciating the beautiful and loving one another, to attempt to and to commune with God, the source of all, restorer of all and our own maker, is the simplest grounding there can be.  (PS there is a short-cut, the sacraments, the Bible and the Catechism)

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Wordy Wednesday: The Lake Isle of Innisfree by W.B. Yeats

lake-isle-innisfree-irelandI used to hate poems and most “literature,” even though I loved reading and stories. But by the time I was finishing my undergraduate program, I had finally come to the realization that perhaps, maybe, poetry might be more than gibberish arrangements of the English lexicon.

Since art, faith and culture gracefully co-mingle in practice and in the quest for beauty, truth and goodness, perhaps some poems might be apt for this blog, particularly for their enjoyment.

Without further ado, one of my current favorites, The Lake Isle of Innisfree by William Butler Yeats:

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
Yeats (d. 1939) was Irish and Innisfree is an unihabitated island there that he spent summers on during his childhood. Yeats said he had inspiration once upon being reminded of that place to go there and live as Thoreau did in Walden in the U.S. (He didn’t actually do it though).
I like this poem because I have similar fantasies of living alone in nature like a monastic hermit. And I like the line “peace comes dropping slow,” because it reminds me of the honey which is mentioned in the first stanza.
Well, that’s all. Not an especially “deep, hidden meaning” here,  though I can be game for those too.
What do you think? Can poetry be fun? Is it always mind-mindbogglingly deep? Or perhaps always a load of blarney?

Freelance Friday: My essay for Sojourners on Russian Martyrs Elizabeth & Barbara

My latest freelance piece was for Sojourners’  Keeping the Feast Series on Saints.

Leading up to and during the communist revolution,

“St. Elizabeth went from being a princess to Russian nobility, to nun, to prisoner and martyr. Some roles were her choice — some were not. The state can be fickle. Yet all the while, Elizabeth never stopped using her gifts to contribute to society — even when all she could do was sing God’s glory from the bottom of a mineshaft.”

“Thus the precarious relationship between church and state unfolds. The church has a temporal reality, and we members live in secular society, too. But we must always remain somewhat apart from it — grateful wherever possible, but detached from outcomes and final loyalty.”

https://sojo.net/articles/keeping-feast/what-russian-martyrs-elizabeth-and-barbara-teach-us-about-christian

Thoughts? Any take-aways here?

The 1 Biggest Reason Nature Matters in our Spiritual Lives–from a Modern Point of View

 

iStock_000057827554_MediumBeing outside is one of the great pleasures in life, particularly in good weather. I love pulling weeds, planting seeds, pushing the kids around for a walk or run and even the occasional hike; (see my picture of Skellig Michael in Ireland above).

But I don’t consider the “why,” very often, as I do with a lot of other things.

This short article really hit-home for me about some of the reasons being outside feels so good and is so good for us.

“God created humans in the wild and placed us in a garden. We’re meant to live a substantial portion of our lives outdoors—and it’s a unique place to experience our Creator and restore our spirits.” – Michael Hyatt

In a sense, this is so obvious, and yet we don’t hear it enough. Our love for natural boils down to a simply, basic spiritual reality.

Great saints have said similar things, “The Heavens are singing the glory of God” -St. Francis.

Hyatt ‘s blog connects it with business and personal development, which is nice in this case because sometimes it helps to hear things in a contemporary context. And he has research and studies about how being in or even just seeing nature aids your mind, concentration, sleep habits, physical fitness and also spiritual life.  Continue reading

Catholic Poet, Dana Gioia, Reads at CUA and Calls on Catholics to Revive Their Place in the Arts

Poetry is far from dead, according to faithful poet Dana Gioia

On Friday, April 22, 2016 at Catholic University of America, Keane Auditorium was brimming with eighty students and locals and their quiet conversations as they awaited not a party but a poetry reading by renowned contemporary poet Dana Gioia, wearing a gray suit and pink tie, looking completely at his ease as honored guest, poet and speaker.

(Image from Catholic World Report)

As a few more stragglers joined the room and took their seats, a hush fell, and Gioia began the reading, or recitation more accurately, as he narrated most of the poems without checking the text, and when he did steal a glance at the pages, it was only occasional. Gioia shared twelve poems with personal introductions from his new book: “99 Poems, New and Selected.” One of them, “The Angel with the Broken Wing,” used first person perspective to the tell the story of a mexican carved angel that was vandalized during the persecutions and then removed from its ritual context and placed in a museum. “The staff finds me too fierce, and so they shut Faith’s ardor in this air-conditioned tomb,” read the end of its first stanza.

The introductory context he provided to each poem gave key interpretational clues. Afterwards, he took questions for almost thirty minutes, some regarding the role of the Catholic faith in the arts, a topic Gioia is well-known for addressing. In his 2013 landmark essay in First Things, “The Catholic Writer Today,” Gioia noted the decline of the presence of Catholics in the literary arts, a trend which seems to be met with mutual disinterest by both the Church and the secular arts establishment.

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Catholic Theologian Takes Own Life. My essay from T&C

man-1394395_640-300x199My latest from the Truth and Charity Forum: Mourning Stephen Webb.

Depression and faith have a complicated relationship.

Original posted here. 

“I mourn for Stephen Webb even though I did not know him personally. His work in First Things, particularly, “Saving Punishment,” affected me deeply. He was also brave enough to write about Christians and depression, and still, it claimed his life. As a people who exalt life, I can only hope that we can exalt his life and offer consolation to others because our faith has seen depression and suffering and there can be light on the other side of darkness.”

“Mental illness is full of contradictions and difficulties, and no one is immune. It’s not something we like to talk about because it can be embarrassing for a faith tradition that promises hope. Webb even commented that, “church leaders and theologians talk so little of this befuddling malady.” Deep friends are sometimes able to venture into these murky waters. And pray we do and do it often because no one needs to feel ashamed of depressive thoughts”
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Book Review: Stephen King’s On Writing

10569Stephen King’s On Writing was a Christmas gift; half-memoir, half-guide to writing, it was all memorable and enjoyable, regardless of the fact that I am not a huge Stephen King fan. I’ve read The Shining, but I don’t get much more into it than that.

Nevertheless, his stories about his childhood, early writings for local newspapers and re-workings of movie plots for his classmates were told with funny, self-deprecating flair, and the humble beginnings of his career were downright inspiring: two married English graduates raising little kids on King’s meager teacher’s salary, worried about affording “the pink stuff,” amoxicillin antibiotics, for their daughter’s ear infection, then to run away bestselling author of Carrie, followed by hit after hit.

Granted, Carrie was not his first novel and he had printed many short stories, but he went from seemingly impossible odds to near-overnight success; it gave my soul a smile to read about. When all seems lost, good things might be right around the corner.

As for the writing guide, that too gave a helpful outline of what building a literary career might look like as well as King’s opinions on language–(use few adverbs). Peppered with King’s typical, “earthy” language, a few of On Writing’s examples demonstrated perfectly what works and what doesn’t work in imaginative prose.

I’ll discuss two:

  1. The Simile: “When its on target, a good simile delights us in much the same way meeting an old friend in a crowd of strangers does.” (p. 178)

See that? He’s done it in the very sentence. A good simile connects a tiny piece of our experience and emotion to the physical act being described. All of a sudden, the author has made the connection for us. We all know how pleasant it is to recognize someone, and a good simile does just that.

2. King counsels the aspiring author to tell the story how she sees it, paying no head to trendy critics who pronounce the death of the linear novel. He tells us that he prefers stories written in order while admitting that you might not. Nevertheless, he says, “I’m an A-Z man; serve me the appetizer first and give me dessert if I eat my veggies” (225) as a metaphor for a story told in order.

I appreciated this sentence a lot for its simplicity of image and language, but also for how well it captures the simple pleasure of things taken in order. This is right about the level I like for longer prose. It’s illustrative without making you think about it; it just clicks.

Another book I am reading, which will not be named, uses far more poetic language in the structure of the novel.  She tells of finding her “glasses tipped atop her knobby head.” This sentence annoys me;  I have to stop reading to compose the mental image.

In poems, I like that. In novels, the things built from complete sentences, I’m not such a fan of phrasing that requires mental weight-lifting.

So I liked On Writing. I enjoyed the free-flowing examples incorporated into the text and the personal stories from his life and career.

Do you have any favorite memoirs? Are you a Stephen King fan? Got any favorite books on the craft of writing?

 

 

3 Principles for Pro-Faith Education (From T&C)

A recent piece of mine from the Truth and Charity Forum, “3 Principles for a Pro-Faith Education in the Modern Age,” in which I reflected on the most basic of basics of what I think kids need to learn in order to grow into thoughtful, curious, decent adults.

Where do they learn about reality? Their heritage? God’s love? In Nature, Art and each other, of course.

To see the elaborations; visit here

“As the social environment becomes more polarized, a need develops for education grounded firmly in the truths about life, its goodness and the human person. Catholic schools go a long way to meeting this need, but the foundations of learning are still worth considering as parents, the first educators of children and also for the sake of continual growth and reform in existing schools.”

Nature:

“The first step is going outside in the natural world, observing plant and animal life as well as geological phenomena, and learning about how it works. This comes innately to small children and adults, I think, and inspires wonder.

natureLater this serves as a foundation for hard sciences and math and also as an introduction to the wonder of God and creation.”

Art:

“Over time, the introduction of culture through poems, songs, prayers and art provides the foundation for all the humanities: literature, philosophy, history, languages etc. I even think that the love of one culture inspires not hatred for others, but curiosity because one has glimpsed the transformative and shaping power of language, beauty and thought.”

Love:

“Love of neighbor is much simpler; it is concern for others as equally worthy of love as we are. And it requires appropriate love of self because if we have no concept of our own lovableness before God despite our woundedness, we will be unable to see the lovableness of others despite their woundedness.”

http://www.truthandcharityforum.org/3-principles-for-pro-faith-education-in-the-modern-age/

What did you think of this? What would/did you share with your children? Where did they/do you want them to go to school?

Local Report: Lay Women Take Up the Cause of Mom Ministry

It’s Friday morning and there is coffee brewing in an unused classroom at St. Philip’s Parish in Falls Church, VA. Christina Landauer sets out donuts and stirring sticks while her two year old son plays with a Lightening McQueen riding car. Her infant is asleep in his stroller, and the two older children are in school. She is setting up for the moms group, which she founded.

I attend this group, and I’ll admit, it can be terrifyingly isolating to embark on the path of stay-at-home mother, particularly for those among us who did not grow up with sizeable experiences with young children. The endless, sleepless nights and the stresses of finicky napers and picky eaters can be enough to set anyone on edge. In these times, a welcoming home of women who are traveling the same road or who have traveled it is a comfort unlike any other, akin to the ugly duckling reuniting with her family of swans.

As Mass ends, other mothers slowly trickle in, some holding the hands of preschool aged little ones, some wearing infants or carrying them in a car seat. Some moms have both with them. There is an option for babysitting in the next room so that the women gathered can relax. A few kids go over to play, a few stay with their mothers.

As the group settles in, everyone introduces themselves: newcomers and old friends alike. They begin in prayer and Landauer shares a reflection on growing in holiness as a mother. There is an option for Confession and the chance to share, bond and grow as mothers.

I for one have been tremendously impressed by the kindness and warmth of the women in the St. Philip’s moms group. This is not a high school clique, but a community of folks who care, who are earnestly striving to follow Christ and are who are grateful both to help and to be helped along the way. Continue reading

Local Book Places: Nature Centers have Specialized Collections

I’ve been featuring local bookstores because finding just the right book can be a treasure hunt. And blazing a trail to the buried treasure chest can lead to many different locations.

For instance, if you take a sudden interest in the flora and fauna of your backyard, as I have recently, it can be hard to find places to learn to identity the trees by leaf or the birds by name. (Note that I tried googling “blackbirds in Virginia.” Somewhat helpful but nowhere near as comprehensive as a locally sourced print guide.)

Enter Hidden Oaks Nature Center

, one of the many nature centers in Fairfax and Arlington Co. They, and other centers, have small collections, open to the public, of precisely this sort of thing: classification guides to the plants and animals, geology, stars, etc.

Lovely! Now I can learn the names of the mushrooms sprouting from my aging mulch.

But the point here is that there are often specialized collections available outside of stores and public libraries, which can be especially useful if you have localized or highly targeted interests. They must be hunted however.

Colleges, local governmental resources like towns and counties are good starting places.

Here are some photos of the charming little collection at Hidden Oaks. It’s as quirky and sincere as it looks. Continue reading