“We submit to every demand of Love.”

Have you ever felt as if God is speaking to you? Leading you? Directing you? That He is trying to get your attention in some way by constantly bringing to your attention a subject, item or idea? This is how I’ve felt recently with regards to the Divine Liturgy – the Catholic Mass. While my work continues on studying and creating an outline about the Divine Office (more on that another time) the Mass has come to the fore. Most likely because the Divine Liturgy and the Divine Office are so closely related and fit so neatly hand in hand. It may be to awaken me from my malaise and to remind me of what I bear witness to each time I attend Mass; to shake me from complacency that may be setting in and succumbing to what Father Richard Heilman referred to as spiritual lethargy.

It could also be that God is answering the prayer that I have prayed each day for the last three weeks, brought about by my recklessly immersing myself in and internalizing the overwhelming horrors from Syria and Iraq as I prepare for my own son’s departure into the Marine Corps. Each day I pray for Fortitude, Wisdom and Hope. That has become my mantra, and I believe God is showing me where the answers await.

“I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy, which at times has even come to be conceived of etsi Deus non daretur (as though God were not there): in that it is a matter of indifference whether or not God exists and whether or not He speaks to us and hears us.” – Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

Lord, grant me the gifts of Fortitude, Wisdom and Hope. Make me salt, and make me light. Let me never be indifferent to Your presence in this world and in my life. Amen.

Below are two passages about the Mass from books that I am currently reading. Or finished, as I completed my journey with Christopher late last night.

There was no indifference or complacency to be found at Iwo Jima at this Mass.

There was no indifference or complacency to be found at Iwo Jima at this Mass.

The first passage is from David Athley’s Christopher. It is from an email written to the book’s protagonist by his long-time love. She is a devout and practicing Catholic. He, while Catholic, will only attend Mass and not receive Communion. Somewhat of a mystic, he refuses because he recognizes Holy Communion for what it is, and is not confident that he would be able to withstand the consuming of Christ’s body and blood, soul and divinity. It is a beautiful summation of the Mass.

The second passage is an excerpt from The Portal of the Mystery of Hope by Charles Péguy.

*****

Dear Christopher,

Despite all the damage done by sinners in the Church, the Mass is the hope of civilization.

The Mass is the pinnacle of philosophy. Our minds approach the Holy Gifts in fear of God, the beginning of wisdom. Our hearts accept the Holy Gifts in love of God, the end of wisdom.

The Divine Liturgy is the epitome of language and poetry. It is the most powerful form of drama, a play that appears to descend into tragedy, yet ends in the height of heavenly bliss.

The Mass is housed in the most glorious architecture ever constructed. Not all churches are grand, but the world has been given the supreme cathedrals to remind us of the majesty of the Maker, who appears on the altars.

The Divine Liturgy is the grand unified theory of physics. Beyond all of the quarks, multiple dimensions, and dark matter is the greatest gift to science: Transubstantiation.

The Mass is the quintessence of agriculture – the simply fruits of the earth transformed into spiritual nutrition.

The Mass is the bloodline of the best art. From icons to stained glass to mosaics to statuary to all of the variations of paintings, the Sacrifice enlivens creativity.

The Divine Liturgy is a perfect education. It is reality. We kneel. We bow. We give up our rebellions and embrace the hierarchy of the created order. We submit to every demand of Love.

The Mass gives voice to the music of angels, the chant of nine choirs and seven heavens. It culminates in the most noble act of physicality. We accept into our bodies the Creator of all flesh, in whom we live and dance and have our being.

The Mass is the most personal relationship that one can have with God.

The Mass is the most heavenly occurrence on earth, and the most viciously attacked – from within the Church and without.

The Mass has produced the humble, superhuman saints, multitudes of heroic men and women, from the beginning of the Church to the end, miracle workers from every walk of life – patrons for every holy passion.

The Divine Liturgy of Heaven gathers the most purposeful community in the world, the assembly of Communicants. Beyond the goodness of human friendship, the friends of Heaven are perfected in the Feast.

The Mass makes life worth living. It is the gateway out of our self-inflicted pain, to fully enter into the death and resurrection of Christ.

Will you, in the name of Love, become a Communicant?

TheMass

Photo credit: catholicbible101.com

I am so resplendent in my creation.
In all that happens to men and to people, and to the poor.
And even to the rich.
Who don’t want to be my creatures.
And who take refuge.
From being my servants.
In all the good and evil that man has done and undone.
(And I am above it all, because I am the master, and I do what he has undone and I undo what he has done.)
And unto the temptation to sin.
Even.
And all that happened to my son.
Because of man.
My creature.
Whom I had created.
In the conception, in the birth and in the life and in the death of my son.
And in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

In every birth and in every life.
And in every death.
And in eternal life that will never end.
That will overcome all death.

I am so resplendent in my creation.

That in order really not to see me these poor people would have to be blind.

*****

“Hear Mass daily; it will prosper the whole day. All your duties will be performed the better for it, and your soul will be stronger to bear its daily cross. The Mass is the most holy act of religion; you can do nothing that can give greater glory to God or be more profitable for your soul than to hear Mass both frequently and devoutly. It is the favorite devotion of the saints.” – St. Peter Julian Eymard

The extended prayer of good books

Man Reading. Oil on canvas by John Singer Sargent (undated)

Man Reading. Oil on canvas (undated) by John Singer Sargent [1856-1925]

There are some books that you can’t escape. No matter how many times you pass them over after putting them on your wish list years ago they’ve managed to hang on through every purge of your list.

So finally you order them. The time is right for whatever reason and you order them.

Yesterday I received two such books. One had been on my Amazon Wish List since May of 2011. The other had actually been removed a year ago and made a return to my list this summer. This is rare. Usually it’s “down the memory hole” once purged.

*****

portalofthemysteryofhope_bookcoverThe faith that I love the best, says God, is hope.

Thus begins Charles Péguy’s The Portal of the Mystery of Hope. One of the few poems by the French poet to be translated into English, it his masterpiece. I began to read it last night and am 30+ pages in. I confess to having been moved to tears once or twice so far. To date my favorite poems have included the likes of Dante’s Divine Comedy and Eliot’s Four Quartets and I am confident that The Portal of the Mystery of Hope will find its way onto if not atop this list. As I’ve spent much of the past two weeks praying for Fortitude, Wisdom and Hope in my own life I thought it time to order this book.

Péguy wrote Hope a few years before he was killed at the Battle of the Marne in 1914 during WWI at the age of 41.

I want to offer a summary of this poem but have yet a long way to travel. I plan on re-reading it several times however and have marked several passages to share later. I’ll just say for now that it is a narration in the voice of God the Father and is a meditation on the three virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity (Love) with Hope presented as a little girl that races ahead of her sisters Faith and Love. Many themes are covered by Péguy including fatherhood, childhood and the beauty of work.

After meeting the three sisters the poem becomes an extended meditation on fatherhood and mortality. This is the section that has connected with me the most so far. It continues for just over 20 pages and I’m including just a small section of it below:

For them, their father’s kiss is a game, an amusement, a ceremony.
A greeting.
Something taken for granted, something very good, without importance.
A simple little thing.
Something they don’t even particularly notice.
Which is as much to say.
It’s become such a habit.
It’s just something they’re owed.
Their heart is pure.
They receive it like a morsel of bread.
They play, they have fun with it like a morsel of bread.
Their father’s kiss. It’s their daily bread. If they only knew what it meant to their father.
Poor children. But that’s none of their business.
They’ll have plenty of time to learn about that later.
For now they only know, when their eyes meet their father’s gaze.
That he doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself enough.
In life.

*****

The book that fell off my list but returned is Christopher by David Athey. Published in 2011 the book is described as follows:

Haunted by the heavenly, yet born of this earth, Chris grows toward manhood seeking to discover and become worthy of the perfect girl, but yearning even more to satisfy his God-hunger.

Page by page, mystery by mystery, adventure after adventure, and with ever-growing urgency, Christopher struggles to see the Light that is ever ancient and ever new, and finally to hear the Song that is beyond human language.

A modern love story and a quest for the Holy Grail, Christopher is a tribute to genuine love and to the Faith that shaped the best of our Western Civilization.

christopher_book coverI would sum it up as an individual’s dance with faith. I read the first one hundred pages last night before turning my bedside lamp off at 12:57am. I like that each chapter varies between 2-4 pages so that the book really seems to soar along from scene to scene. When we meet Christopher he is 11 years old, the only child of “children of the 60s” and adjusting to life on Lake Superior near Duluth, Minnesota after relocating from Sacramento, California.

Is it great literature? Probably not, and may seem an odd choice to some. But it has connected with me and brought back to mind scenes and thoughts from my own youth. In my experience with Divine Providence I’ve learned that there are reasons for events in our lives and that we don’t always discover what the reasons are. But I figure there is a reason this book kept coming back onto my radar. It has become personal. And isn’t that what all great books do on some level?

For example, this exchange between Christopher and the mother of his best friend Terra contained a truth about vocation that I needed to hear.

The band transitioned to the Chicken Dance, and the dancers responded like little kids. Chris was intrigued by the spectacle of Minnesotans flapping their arms. He noticed the growing smile on Mrs. Corwin’s face, and he said, “I’ll bet you miss your husband.”

The smile remained on the woman’s face, while her eyes grew sad. “Marriage is not a romance, Christopher. It is a sacrament. Like the priesthood.”

The boy nodded, wishing he’d kept his mouth shut.

“Do you think the priesthood is fun? It’s a sacrifice, Christopher. No matter what vocation you choose – or get called to by God – you have to give up almost everything else. Oh, don’t look at me like that. I have much joy in my life. Every vocation has its joys. Yes. And its sufferings.”

Mrs. Corwin took a big drink and gestured toward a young couple on the dance floor. “Marriage is more like a liturgy than a romance.”

As one Amazon reviewer pointed out:

Saint Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” It is a catholic (universal) truth that we are all seeking God. If we don’t seek to satisfy that innate restlessness with Him, we will constantly be choosing superficial substitutions. This novel is the story of young Christopher who is in search of truth and ultimate meaning. Even at a young age, Christopher has the ability to see the presence of the holy in the natural world, yet he does not know God fully. Still, his mystical heart continues to search for true love which he must be prepared to give himself to unconditionally.

Christopher is an engaging novel that communicates the beauty and love of God. Through unique characters we see that the journey to know Him includes brokenness, loneliness and despair. It is a difficult road, but it is the only one that ultimately brings true, pure and everlasting joy.

That, in a nutshell, is why this book is resonating with me so far. And believe it or not I do see a correlation between the excerpt I placed above from Hope regarding fatherhood and the sacrifice of vocation as described in Christopher. There is much to meditate upon here.

*****

prayer of the presence of god_book coverI rounded out my order with The Prayer of the Presence of God by a Carthusian monk named Dom Augustin Guillerand because of my continued research and interest in prayer.

The first two books have been like that. Like prayer.

It has been my experience that the books I’ve enjoyed most in this life are like extended prayers.

Lord, please help me to write my own book of prayer for someone someday.

*****

Exit Question: Have any books connected with you as extended prayers in this way? Were there certain scenes, descriptions of nature, or characters that stood out in this way for you?

Friday Five – Volume 85

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

First up is one of the best stories I read in August. It’s about Vivian Maier, a quiet woman and an outstanding photographer whose talent and gift to us was almost lost to history.

In 2007, a young man named John Maloof bought boxes of photographic negatives at a Chicago auction house. Taking a chance and spending a few hundred dollars, he made the purchase knowing the items could prove worthless. On first look, this appeared to be the case, however, the images he saw were intriguing enough to spark his curiosity. Maloof thought the photographs good, but then had to admit he knew nothing about photography. Nevertheless, he felt there was something here, if not sure what exactly. It was at this point that his quest began. With little more than the name of the photographer, and even that had multiple spellings, he started to search for answers. The principal question he faced being: who was Vivian Maier? Initial searches drew a blank—a complete blank in fact. Frustratingly, nothing turned up, it was like she had never existed, but he had evidence to the contrary and so persisted.

Maloof and his collaborators are to be commended, as, watching the film, one feels Maier did all she could to cover her tracks. Nevertheless, through a combination of dogged determination and more than a little sleuthing the filmmakers managed to construct a portrait of an artist as compelling as any committed to screen in recent years. And, in the process, unearthed a unique photographic record of New York City and Chicago. In addition, what was becoming apparent, from the reactions of professional photographers and public alike, was the power of these images: once seen they were unlikely to be forgotten.

Read the story and get to know Vivian Maier. Watch the trailer to the documentary. And finally visit her website. But don’t just click quickly through the portolios. Take your time and really look deep into what she captured. If you are a storyteller just think of the hundreds of stories within the most common, every day and unassuming photos shown here.

— 2 —

I have many favorites in her gallery, but one stood out to me. It is a perfect representation of the throw-away culture that exists today.

June 1953, New York, NY

June 1953, New York, NY – (Photograph by Vivian Maier)

— 3 —

Last Thursday, August 28th, was the feast day of St. Augustine of Hippo and I’d copied this quote to use in last week’s Friday Five. And since I forgot here it is this week.

Recalling the rapture of the soul seized by God on the far side of death, St. Augustine reminds us of the joys that await those who love God.

There we shall rest and we shall see;
there we shall see and we shall love.
Behold what shall be in the end and
shall not end.

— 4 —

This article written by Deacon Branson Hipp is a much needed reminder that men are more than the sum of the checks on our checklists. Or at least we should be.

My dad never read Chesterton in his life. He doesn’t smoke a pipe or dress like he lives in the 1930’s. He often wears jean shorts (sorry to sell you out Dad), and he doesn’t have a fancy beard. He appears as just another guy.

But my dad works hard, is good at his work, is faithful to his wife, and lovingly raised five kids with no complaints. Very often he would get the raw deal in birthdays and celebrations, but he never seemed to mind. I never, ever, heard him fight with my mom, because whenever they had a disagreement, they would go behind closed doors to rationally figure out what to do next. He goes to Church every Sunday and he prays daily for his family. He is an amazing cook and is funnier than I give him credit for.

He’s stubborn and often drives me crazy.

But he is a real man, and he taught all of us kids that to be a man means humility and faithfulness, holy steadfastness to one’s state of life, whatever that is. He is a man, and a great father. At the end of the day, the externals matter a whole lot less than we think they do. They are flashy, but they don’t endure.

— 5 —

the office_cast

Several months ago my oldest son got hooked on watching The Office on Netflix. After several attempts at persuading me to do the same by he and his girlfriend (who is also a fan) I succumbed over Labor Day weekend and agreed to watch the first few episodes.

As of last night I’m halfway through the third season. This is the first time ever that I’ve binge watched a series on Netflix. How on earth did I miss this show was it was on from 2005-2013? What Office Space (1999) was to movies this series is to television for any of us who have spent significant time working in an office environment.

Friday Five – Volume 84

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

“Within me there is a spring that is very deep. And in that spring is God. Sometimes I am able to reach it, more often it is covered with stone and sand: in that moment God is buried, so one must dig him up again.” – written in the diary of Etty Hillesum, a 29-year old Dutch woman whose life was dissolved a few months later in the gas chambers at Auschwitz on November 30, 1943.

the encounter - book coverThis quote comes from the introduction to a book I began last night. The Encounter: Discovering God Through Prayer by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi. Released only yesterday by Saint Benedict Press I happened upon it by chance in Gloria Deo, our local Catholic bookstore. Prayer has increasingly become a large area of interest for me. My bookshelves and the books stacked next to my bed bear witness to this.

My favorite prayers are the Mass, the Divine Office, the rosary and the Amina Christi – probably in that order. As I’ve aged and my years of being able to wage a physical war begin to wane I have realized that the real war is that fought against the principalities and powers of this world through prayer. Prayer truly is the one weapon I wield. It is not a weapon forged for conquest or domination or punishment. Those are the weapons of this world. As this is not my world and I am but an exile…a stranger in a strange land…my interest in staying connected with that truth has multiplied. Hence the books, the study and the practice of prayer.

For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12

— 2 —

In his book Cardinal Ravasi describes the four verbs of prayer: Breathe. Think. Struggle. Love.

“The ancients rightly said that prayer is breathing. This shows how foolish it is to talk about the reason why one must pray. Why do I breathe? Because otherwise I would die. It is the same way with prayer.” – Sǿren Kierkegaard, philosopher (1813-1855)

The greatest book on prayer we have received is the Psalter: those 150 hymns/prayers are something that I’ve come to appreciate and to fall in love with since I began to pray the Divine Office over ten years ago. I began to not only pray them but to study them through the aid of several books and commentaries purchased through the years. In time they do become something I breathe. When I pray them I think, I experience struggle, and deep, deep love. Just this morning at dawn as I prayed Psalm 77 during Friday Matins I noticed something I’d not “seen” before:

…and in the gleam of the dawn they came to Him,
Remembering that God was their help and the Most High God, their redeemer.

That’s precisely the what and the why of what I do during Lauds, or Morning Prayer, each day.

Prayer, especially the prayers of the Divine Office, convey the rhythm of our day and our week. They are truly the rhythm of life. In Pius Parsch’s book The Breviary Explained (a book on the Divine Office) he writes:

The Breviary should be the ladder on which the soul mounts to heaven. As the seasons of the year have their effect on nature, giving the trees growth and blossom and fruit, so too the Church year with its course of feasts and seasons should affect the soul. Through contact and “exposure” to the Church year, our soul matures for heaven; no book offers more contact with the life of the Church’s liturgical year than does the Breviary. With this prayer book, moreover, the Church accompanies us through the day, and for each hour of the day she gives us a sword and a shield to spread and defend the kingdom of God in our soul: all this accomplished by the marvelous arrangement of hourly prayers.

The Breviary is prayer on the hour. As the prayer that paces with the Church year, it is in a sublime sense our guardian angel, our guide through life.

— 3 —

One more quote from The Encounter:

We as well can echo the “You song” that the Hasidim, the “pious,” the Jews of Central Europe intoned in contemplating their landscape, even when this was overshadowed by the terror of the pogrom, the anti-Semitic massacres.

Wherever I may go, You;
wherever I may stop, You;
only You,
still You,
always You.
Heaven You,
earth You.
Wherever I turn and look, only You,
still You,
always You.

— 4 —

Seen on my Twitter feed this week from Sr. Lisa Marie Doty (@Sr_Lisa): Ten ways to Love. My Mom’s list next to her computer. A good list for all of us!

10 Ways to Love

— 5 —

As an aside I have started to read The Iliad by Homer. This passage from Book II stood out as I read it the other night:

His separate troops let every leader call,
Each strengthen each, and all encourage all.

It is obvious that this ol’ world is in desperate need of prayer. For prayer is the conveyance of love onto and into the world. It is a direct line of communication from our heart to the very heart of Love itself. Our world needs people of humility and a selfless poverty to lend their mind, soul and heart to this love. It is the one way that all of us may step forward and be counted. These are the troops to which I now belong. Through prayer let us “each strengthen each, and all encourage all.”

*****

As Jean-Baptiste Chautard recounts in his book The Soul of The Apostolate, Pope St. Pius X was conversing with a group of his cardinals one day. The pope asked them: “What is the thing we most need, today, to save society?”

“Build Catholic schools,” said one.

“No.”

“More churches,” said another.

“Still no.”

“Speed up the recruiting of priests,” said a third.

“No, no,” said the pope. “The most necessary thing of all, at this time, is for every parish to possess a group of laymen who will be at the same time virtuous, enlightened, resolute, and truly apostolic.”

Source

Apostles are men and women of prayer by the way.

Selfies on O Street – a love song

I’d like to thank the woman I sat next to at the stoplight this morning on the way to work for providing me with the inspiration to butcher Warren Zevon’s poor song Werewolves of London after watching her strain at the red light to get her pose and smile just right for the camera. I’m sorry Warren, but it’s just one of those things I had to get out of my system. For those not familiar with Lincoln, Nebraska, O Street is the main east-west highway through our city and goes straight through the heart of downtown  and our main business district.

Photo: allgags.com

Photo: allgags.com

Selfies on O Street

I saw a woman with a smartphone in her hand
Sitting at a stoplight on O Street in the morning sun
She was lookin’ to take a selfie big smile on her face
Gonna post and wait for the affirmations to roll in

Aaahoo! Selfies on O Street
Aaahoo!
Aaahoo! Selfies on O Street
Aaahoo!

Ya see them snappin’ around your office
Ya better not get sucked in
Driver lady hit the car in front of her own that day
Takin’ selfies on O Street again

Aaahoo! Selfies on O Street
Aaahoo!
Aaahoo! Selfies on O Street
Aaahoo!

She’s the tightly-curled gal who snapchats in Starbucks
Lately she’s Instagram’d at Caribou
You better avoid getting in her way
She’ll smash your car with her yellow Jeep
I’d like to run over her damned phone

Aaahoo! Selfies on O Street
Aaahoo!
Aaahoo! Selfies on O Street
Aaahoo!

Well, I saw her walking on 13th downtown
Takin’ selfies on O Street
Makin’ a duck face at Walgreens
Takin’ selfies on O Street
I saw her drinkin’ a Fish Bowl at Duffy’s Tavern
And her permed curls were slick

Aaahoo! Selfies on O Street
Smile big now
Aaahoo! Selfies on O Street

Friday Five – Volume 83

Friday Five-Mere Observations

“The longer I live, the more I have the feeling like God looks down, like when you’ve just bitten into a vanilla ice cream cone, you just get the feeling God’s going, ‘Yes! He enjoys it, and I made his taste buds and I made vanilla and he’s putting it together and he’s experiencing what I created him to experience.’ ” ― Rich Mullins

— 1 —

Lately as I’ve stood in line at any coffee shop or restaurant I’ve made it a point to look around at my fellow line dwellers. By my unofficial count over 70% stand slouched over with their gaze held in check by their smartphone. No commentary here other than to say if I was going to start over with my career I’d consider becoming a chiropractor.

Ok…just one comment (by proxy):

cartoon_cone of shame

— 2 —

“Don’t wish to be like the gilded weather-cock on top of a great building: however much it shines, and however high it stands, it adds nothing to the solidity of the building. Rather be like an old stone block hidden in the foundations, underground, where no one can see you: because of you the house will not fall.” – St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way #590

Too many preening cocks taking selfies today. A house built upon sand will not stand. We need more foundational stones. Therein lies the path of humility.

Along those lines…

Today’s America is drunk with the intoxicating effects of materialism, worshipping Mammon as a god that gives her what she thinks she wants. In her addiction to consumerism and her idolization of gadgets, she is forgetting her duty to God. Indeed, she has forgotten the true God she is called to serve in favour of mere “godgets,” the trinket deities of trivia and trash.

In order to truly serve their nation, true Americans must fearlessly criticize her for her waywardness. More importantly, we must evangelize her, bringing her to the fullness of faith in the God under Whom she owes her existence. Only when America kneels before her true God will she become truly civilized; only when she kneels will she become the land of the free and the home of the brave; only when she kneels will American faith and culture become part of the faith and culture of Christendom; only when she kneels, will she rise. – Joseph Pearce, Beauteous Truth, p.42

As I said last week this book is proving to be a great read.

— 3 —

One of the most obvious lessons of the past several weeks has been the exposing of feminist groups in America as being nothing more than political shills whose sole aim is fundraising for the purpose of electing Democratic party candidates. In their eyes the greatest evil on earth is Hobby Lobby.

But I’m a man so what I think doesn’t count. Kate Bryan, however, is a woman. And she  points out the obvious in this piece.

The feminist movement has completely failed women if when women need them most, they are nowhere to be found. The Islamic State’s genocide is the real “War on Women”, yet so-called “feminists” and so-called “feminist organizations” have remained silent.

If these women and their organizations truly cared about women and their well-being, they would have spoken out on this issue from the beginning. According to their actions, these organizations don’t truly care about women, they only care about boosting their profits.

She said it, not me. Forgive my treading to this ground but one of the things that grates my teeth the most is the hypocrisy of those women I know who espouse these views and drum up sympathy for them only to shirk their so-called beliefs when the rubber hits the road.

— 4 —

Ok, so I grumbled and groused a bit in the first three installments. Now for a 180.

I read Sam Guzman’s piece The Quietness of Good the other day and it brought to mind something I’d written after a retreat in the fall of 2012. First from Sam:

Yes, good is very much present. In fact, it is everywhere—it is simply very quiet and very humble. Being, existence itself, is the first good, from which all other gifts flow. But goodness is seen in so much else—in a hearty meal, in a smile, in a kind word, in the sacrifice of a parent for a child, in blue skies on a Spring day, or Sandhill cranes gliding silently overhead.

But while this goodness surrounds us, it is hardly ever noticed. Very often we completely ignore it while we complain about this or that.

And that is the very problem. We have grown so cold to the ocean of goodness in which we swim, in which we live and move and have our being, that we no longer notice it. We never notice it, that is, until it is gone—like a fish does not notice water until he is taken out of it. In short, we do not see goodness because it is the rule. We only notice suffering because it is the exception.

Yep. Guilty of that, I am. Right up there ^^^ in this very blog in fact. More Sam:

It is our solemn duty to open our eyes to this radiance of being. To do so, we must outgrow our petulant discontent and melancholy grumbling by cleansing the lenses of our soul to see the goodness that our Infernal Enemy is trying his very best to drown out. Most of all, we must be grateful.

For the simple truth is that we can never be grateful enough. We can never be fully aware of just how good things really are. If we were, this knowledge would crush us under the weight of its glory. But we can learn to sense the silent presence of goodness through thanksgiving.

In my 2012 piece The Beauty of Creation I wrote about the First Principle of St. Ignatius from The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I strained to capture my meditations on this principle from my bench seat near some trees at the base of a South Dakota prairie hill.

Life really is that simple, and we do far too often allow ourselves to be distracted by the things that truly do not matter. The second paragraph of The First Principle is a mini-principle of its own: a principle of simplification. It is a call for us to make use of and enjoy God’s creation, but not get so distracted in the things that don’t matter that we neglect or ignore the things that do. Yeah, that’d be me. Guilty as charged. Since returning from my retreat I’ve made a conscious effort to not become like so many of those I see walking downtown each day, noses buried in a 4 inch screen. We miss so much, no wonder we become so jaded. No wonder we no longer praise.

Yeah, no wonder. And that’s the problem. We’ve simply forgotten. Fortunately He hasn’t forgotten us.

A reminder from myself that I’ve still got work to do on this point.

— 5 —

To further illustrate that concept regarding God’s love affair with his creation throughout time I’ll cite one of the few things I’ve read in a combox that wasn’t dreck. Many people have an understandably difficult time reconciling the God of the Old Testament with the Son, Jesus Christ, in the New Testament. I get that, and until I dug deeper into Holy Scripture and the concept of salvation history through reading, studying and prayer I struggled as well. As “MarcAlcan” writes in a comment on this piece on frustrations in prayer we are often only seeing a smaller picture.

___________

(quoting a previous commenter) “The Old Testament God is not someone I want to hang out with.”

Only because you have a deficient knowledge of the Old Testament.

I think your knowledge of the OT would be like the way this letter has been mangled:

Dear Son, I ….. don’t want to spend time ….with …. you because I … shower you with …. all the evil that has been besetting you these past few days. I want to pour ….. into your heart … hatred and anger …

When the full letter reads like this:

Dear Son, I have been thinking a lot about you these past few days and though you don’t want to spend time with me, I would like to spend time with you because I want to shower you with blessings and remove all the evil that has been besetting you these past few days. I want to pour out my love into your heart that you may experience joy and not be filled with hatred and anger anymore.

___________

At the top I posted a favorite quote of mine by the late Rich Mullins. Another is:

Folks, God knew you at your worst before He ever sent Christ to die for you. And the good news of Christianity is not that Christ came into the world to make good little boys and girls. Christ came into the world to take away the sins that you’ve allowed to come between you and God. It’s sad to me to believe—to look out there and see—when you’re driving down the road and you see people who are afraid, you see people who are angry, and you go, “If only you knew how crazy about you God was! God already loved you, if only you knew!”

Amen.

A brief vacation in Paradise

Today I found myself staring into this painting.

Welcome to Paradise Terry Redlin (1989)

Welcome to Paradise
Terry Redlin (1989)

After navigating staircases and a skywalk to get from my office to the Sasquatch Café across the street, I caught myself melting into this scene. I had placed my order for a Bacon Vacation (salad, bacon, corn, bacon, some other stuff, and bacon) and I stepped back from the line. I turned and saw this painting erected on an easel where it was displayed for the purposes of being auctioned for some cause or another. I’d seen it for the past few weeks, but today was slightly different. You see I’m worn down, way down. I’m beyond mentally tired and looking for an escape. Where some choose other means of escape such as drugs, alcohol, or sex, others check out by distracting themselves in the inanities of everyday life such as social media. I used to check out by reading about the news and current events. Only I can feel I’m in danger of being consumed by it, just as other addicts experience the same by other means.

And then I saw this.

I should mention that I’ve been an admirer of Terry Redlin’s paintings for over two decades. He hails from South Dakota, not far from the neck of the woods (or prairie) where I grew up and so I “get” it. Or he gets me. I can remember as a young boy traveling with my dad down dirt roads that wound around the rolling hills and gentle valleys until you came upon such a scene. Perhaps not as idyllic as painted here, or perhaps even moreso.

This is where I want to be today. Right now. Tonight.

Look closer...

Look closer…

Look closer and you’ll see that recent rains have left puddles in the road in front of the store, just past the woodpile and sign informing you that you’ve reached Paradise Lake, population 13. The jeep tells you that an old friend is here, and the corners of your mouth turn upwards slightly as your last conversation or tall tales comes to mind. Or the jeep is owned by a stranger who might become a friend and share new stories with you and the store owner that you will rehash in the future. An Irish setter is resting in front of the store, the same dog that you pat on the head each time you take the first step up towards the door or sit on the bench beside him to shoot the breeze before heading inside for supplies and easy conversation. He sees you and does not get up, but you note his tail wagging in anticipation of your arrival.

The sun is setting. The lights of this outpost of civilization are aglow. You can hear the wind rustling through the trees, the ducks flying overhead, crickets chirping and the gentle lapping of the lake’s waters. Behind the green bench you can see the table and chair where I’d be found on summer and fall evenings. This evening.

This is where I wanted to be today………

Brittany calls my name to indicate that my salad was ready. Taking a deep breath and casting one last, long look at the painting, I turned to retrieve my Bacon Vacation and enter back into the present. It was a different vacation I had in mind when walking back to my desk.