Saturday, April 08, 2023

The Golden Gate Bridge and the Harrowing of Hades


I’ve loved bridges for as long as I can remember. I think because I grew up near the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, I experienced them first as objects of great beauty and wonder rather than just functional devices that make it more efficient to get from point A to point B. Bridges are amazing and majestic. They are stable and effective. They’re also strategic. How many great stories involve destroying, defending, capturing or making a last stand on a bridge?

According to Wikipedia, more than 100,000 vehicles cross the Golden Gate Bridge every day, but to truly appreciate it both as an object of great beauty and an incredible engineering marvel, you need to take the time to walk across it in a leisurely fashion, bundled up against the bitter wind (even in the summer), to feel the gentle sway of the bridge, to listen to the seagulls and the foghorns (over the din of the traffic behind you clicking over the sections of roadway), to smell the salty sea air, to touch the powerful, enormous cables, to see the majestic towers up close and to watch the sailboats and ferries navigate their way around the sparkling waters of San Francisco Bay. It’s an intense experience you will never forget, but without taking that time, or even without knowing ahead of time that it gets mighty cold out in the middle, your experience and understanding and appreciation of the Golden Gate Bridge will be rather deficient. 

I wonder if Holy Saturday is a little like this. Is Holy Saturday just a bridge between two more important days? Are we still in Good Friday mourning? Are we starting our Easter celebrations? Do we just need more time to finish our to-do lists?

Thankfully, we can look to the Roman Missal - that beautiful book with all the prayers and instructions for Masses and liturgies throughout the year. The page for Holy Saturday is almost entirely blank. Just a few brief instructions for the day. Here’s one:

“On Holy Saturday the Church waits at the Lord’s tomb in prayer and fasting, meditating on his Passion and Death and on his Descent into Hell, and awaiting his Resurrection.”

Descent into Hell is certainly interesting. It comes up every Sunday in the Creed, but I haven’t encountered it in a lot of places myself. Only in the last few years, I’ve come across three things that I’ve found helpful in meditating on this.

First because I’m a bit of a nerd that way, I looked at the Catechism which says that Jesus really did die on Good Friday (my students often get confused about this). There’s a lot more theology here about how God’s divine person remained with both his human body and his human soul, but the gist is that his human body remained in the tomb while his human soul descended into Hell just like all human souls did at that time when they died. Except he was also the Savior, so He was able to call forth “the just” and bring them into heaven. The Catechism goes on to explain that “The gospel was preached even to the dead.” 

Second, the most beautiful description I’ve heard of what Jesus was up to is in the “Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday”. Here’s just a snippet:

“Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. 

The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying, “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” 

The third, the  traditional icon “The Harrowing of Hades” is a dramatic and colorful depiction of Jesus grabbing Adam and Eve each by a wrist and yanking them out of their tombs and into eternal life. 

Icon: The Harrowing of Hades

While pondering this icon yesterday, I was drawn to Jesus’ feet. I wondered where he planted his feet to pull Adam and Eve to himself. Then I noticed that everything else in the picture besides Jesus is off balance and the ground under him seems to be a bit of a mess - I think he’s standing on the broken doors and smashed hardware of the gates of Hell. 

And then it struck me… 

of course… 

He is solid ground. 

He is the firm foundation. 

He himself became the strategic rallying point. 

The stable, beautiful, majestic bridge. 

The liberating way from hell into heaven. 

Friday, December 09, 2022

Consolation for Ria

Ria got a neat piece of consolation today for missing ChesterCon. This month's issue of St. Joseph Messenger, which includes her essay on "the Beauty of the Mass" (that won honorable mention in their writing contest earlier this year) arrived in the mail today!!!

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Balance and Good Thinking

The concept of balance has been on my mind and heart a lot lately, especially in looking at it as opposed to the problem of perfectionism.

When I was getting ready to head off to college, I first came in contact with C.S. Lewis' essay on Reading Old Books.This essay changed my life in many ways and my way of looking at the world forever. This quote, especially: "Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes." This is an idea really worth stewing on, because a first read might give you the wrong idea. It might be tempting to think that the mistakes he's talking about are the ones "the other guy" is making out there and that we as Christians and Catholics are nobly fighting. But I don't think that's what he means. It's harder in some ways to accept the fact that we are deeply affected by the ideas of our own era, even when we think we are diametrically opposed to everything in our modern culture.

He is saying that there are certain kinds of wrong thinking that tend to prevail in a certain era, no matter what side of the pew or political aisle you fall on. And he proposes that the solution is to read books from other eras - not as having ideas more perfect than our own, but as opportunities to broaden our perspective and our thinking. To compare and contrast and come out with perhaps just a little more wisdom than we could get from only looking at our contemporaries.

He explains in the same essay: "The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them." (emphasis mine)

So I've spent a bit of time contemplating what sort of thinking in myself AND out in the world might be problematic, especially through his method (and I already do love history). And one that keeps coming up over and over again is the idea of balance.

I'd like to illustrate a few different places/ways this concept has come up for me lately.

1. Affluence - Even for many (including me!) in our country who certainly wouldn't be described as wealthy, our culture is one in which we overflow with luxury and are deeply affected by a very consumerist society.

Right now, this is illustrated for me by a recent trip to a new Meijer store that just opened in our neck of the woods. I will admit to being very happy to this addition to our shopping choices, especially as an alternative to both Target and Walmart. It's a very nice store with full grocery and big box store options - in many ways more thorough and more varied than our local Target and Walmart. That's not an entirely bad thing. The prices are good and we can find a lot of our needs and wants all in one place.

The thing that stopped me in my tracks was really a silly thing. I was walking through the Sporting Goods department on my way to the garden center and I came across a large section of rolls of athletic tape, all identical except for their huge array of colors. 

Note (12/28/2021): I never finished writing this blog post but thought there was enough to go ahead and publish it anyway.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Some Thoughts on Race

There certainly has been a lot to think about during this wild ride of a year and I thought I'd start out the second half of the year by returning to my old thinking spot to sort out a few ideas.

False Dichotomies:

It's not new, but perhaps not often recognized, that American politicians, media and secular culture often present us with a false dichotomy of only two choices that we are "called on" to pick between and then blindly support regarding any particular issue.

For example, you get to be...

...either a six-days-of-creation-Biblical-literalist or an evolutionist who doesn't consider God to be a part of the picture.

...either someone who believes that abortion should be ended or someone who is concerned about the plight of refugees and immigrants.

...either someone who strongly supports the status quo because that's the way you show support for police officers or someone who violently and indiscriminately wants to destroy all law and order in our country.

I'm pretty sick of these kinds of options continually being offered by media (both right and left) and I reject them. There are better options.

I believe in faith and science.

I'm concerned about and strive to love the unborn (and their mothers!) and refugees and immigrants.

I respect and admire police officers and I think we need a lot of reform of the system, partly for the sake of the good officers.

I've spent quite a bit of time walking with a family that I would describe as vulnerable through a very difficult legal battle. From this perspective, I believe it's particularly wrong and unfair that some people are more vulnerable in our legal system simply because of the color of their skin.

An Imperfect Analogy:

Before the priest abuse scandal broke in Boston in 2002, I was vaguely aware that there was a problem with some bad priests. When the news broke big, I welcomed it because I knew it would force the problems into the light and require reckoning and reform. This is especially vital when dealing with people of influence and authority (especially spiritual!). I had no idea how bad or extensive or painful it would be. But I did believe it to be necessary and I have never changed my mind on that point. This is certainly not because I hate priests or the Church, but quite the opposite. Evil must be rooted out. People (especially the vulnerable - children, the disabled, etc.) must be protected. And good reforms can only be good for the Church and for our many good priests - they even help protect innocent priests from false accusations.

I feel very similarly about the police, though I think the details can be more difficult to unravel, because force can be a very necessary thing but it is also easily abused. The police are in a position of incredible influence, power and authority. There are clearly some bad ones. The system at least needs to have a way to root them out and hold them accountable. But also, it seems to me that a lot of good police officers are harmed by, or even end up taking the blame for a deeply flawed system.

The movie Spotlight is an excellent presentation of the breaking of this story in the media. It's a painful but excellent movie, best for parents and older teens.

Pray and Love:

A very central tenet of my belief as a Catholic is that every person is unique and unrepeatable and made in the image and likeness of God. Jesus gave us some great insights and guidance into what that should look like (and what we should ask forgiveness for when we fail):

Love your enemies.

Do good to those who harm you.

Love one another as I have loved you.

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.

Be Quiet and Listen and Learn:

Speak less. Use words carefully. Wait/verify before you post on Facebook. Spend less time on Facebook! Read less news and more Scripture and real books. This is some of what I'm working on!

I've read/listened to a lot of testimonies by black people who have had problematic encounters with the police and others. These include some people I know personally. I've also read some heartbreaking testimonies by black Catholics, who have been deeply hurt by clueless and careless words from fellow Catholics. I believe these testimonies are true. I will try to share some in a separate post.

I love history. I'm curious by nature and I read a lot. Over the past 10 years or so, I've read/watched quite a bit on the history of racism in our country. A lot of what I've read has been compelling, eye-opening and rather horrifying, though there are some bright spots too (and I've included a few heroes in the research list below). I'm sure there's a lot more for me to learn! I don't have any simple answers to how to make things better, but I'm pretty confident that it will help for people to listen and learn. Here are some subjects and resources that might help. Please preview everything before sharing them with your children, and share what they are ready for. The movies I have listed are mostly pretty family-friendly. Please preview anyway, partly because I don't entirely trust my memory on the details. The subjects for research can be a lot more complex, depending on how far you dig.

Movies based on True Stories:






Just Mercy

Other Movies Worth Watching:

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

Lilies of the Field

West Side Story

Topics for Research:

Generally, I recommend reading from a few diverse sources online and in print, including, but not limited to, searching out the Catholic perspective. Catholic Encyclopedia, Wikipedia and Snopes can all be pretty helpful.

The Know Nothing

Chinese Exclusion Act

St. Francis Cabrini

The Eugenics movement in the United States

St. Katherine Drexel

Ida B. Wells and the history of lynching in the South

Jim Crow Laws

Tulsa Race Riots of 1921

The practice of Redlining

History of Confederate Monuments in the U.S. (Date of origin and location are pretty interesting to take a close look at.)

Sr. Thea Bowman

Breonna Taylor and no knock warrants.

More to add later...

Monday, May 13, 2019

Best Picture Marathon: Broadway Melody (1929)

Broadway Melody  PG13  1 hour, 40 minutes 
Director: Harry Beaumont
Starring: Bessie Love, Anita Page, Charles King

Like Wings, Broadway Melody would seem a lot less impressive out of the context of when it was made and what technological advances they were showing off.

Broadway Melody opens with a cacophonous scene in a music shop/studio where many people are rehearsing/practicing many different types of songs right on top of each other. It was clearly something that couldn't have existed just a few years before.

I must admit that most of our familiarity with 1920s musicals comes from the musical Singin' in the Rain (1952). While watching Broadway Melody, Singing in the Rain came to mind many times, and not just because of the era. A little Googling helped me discover that Singin' in the Rain was written to bring together a bunch of the music of Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, who wrote the music for Broadway Melody. (Singin' in the Rain was produced by Arthur Freed.)

So final consensus here was that this is mostly interesting as a piece of history. The parody Dogway Melody (found in the special features on the DVD from our library) was more entertaining.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Best Picture Marathon: Wings (1927)

As a family, we have long been interested in movies of (almost) all sorts and are a bit geeky about things like the Academy Awards. We've been talking for quite awhile about trying to watch the Academy Award Best Pictures in order and finally watched our first one last night. What really helped with getting this marathon started is that our local library has almost every Best Picture winner in their DVD collection.

Wings  PG13  2 hours, 24 minutes  
Director: William A. Wellman

Starring: Clara Bow, Charles Rogers, Richard Arlen and Gary Cooper

Wings is the epic story of two young men, Jack and David, who are in love with the same woman, Sylvia, and Mary, who is in love with Jack. Jack and David head off to war as bitter rivals, but end up becoming the best of friends as fighter pilots on the front lines in the last days of World War I.

Most of our family are not enthusiastic about silent films. The overall sentiment was that this was a bit overly long and dated, even though there were some great laugh-out-loud moments.

Bernie commented that Wings was the least silent film she's ever watched, because the restored version that we rented on Amazon had constant music plus lots of added sound effects.

Ria's impression was that movie-making of the time was still in transition from books - because the captions were so lengthy and descriptive.

It's fair to watch Wings for its historical value, but you can also pick up some context by watching this documentary (we haven't finished watching it yet). A couple of interesting tidbits we learned from it were that the director himself was a World War I fighter pilot and the movie was the famous Edith Head's first as lead costumer (Edith Head was the inspiration behind Edna "E" Mode from The Incredibles). Look for the other 3 parts of the documentary on Youtube...

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

First Day in my First Atrium

So, fast forward a year after the events of my introduction to CGS post and we are in the midst of implementing our very first CGS Session (and we are all first-time catechists) - utilizing the materials for Level I with a group of 7 year old Summer Religious Ed Students.

I came back to the blog simply because I thought it would make a good place to record some of the highlights of our efforts. I hope to get some more pictures up here soon too.

We've been working hard all year to get our Level I atrium put together (and are still working hard on getting it put together!) and I've managed to use some of the presentations for our 2nd graders over the course of the last year with great success!

Yesterday was our first day of our first actual CGS session.

We put a LOT of effort into preparations and researching/finding creative solutions to using Level I materials with slightly older children. We especially put a lot of preparations into being ready to help 14 children enter into the atrium with a limited number of adults/teens, a limited amount of time and a limited number of practical life materials.

Here is some of what we did to make things work:

First of all we were fortunate enough to have three trained CGS peeps and one CGS enthusiast assistant (though two of the adults can't be there the whole time).

We started out in a homeroom and had some practical life/free shelf materials available there (including a great big line to walk with all kinds of goodies to carefully carry). Having a homeroom is helping us preserve the integrity and sacredness of the atrium and give special differentiation between the two spaces. We are also all removing our shoes when we are in the atrium.

We did the Introduction to the Atrium  and the Enthronement of the Bible almost immediately, but then brought everyone back to the homeroom to talk about what we saw and then keep most of the group busy while a few children were started on practical life lessons at a time.

Here is what we observed on the first day:

First of all, it's a great bunch of kids. No drama or behavior issues.

What I did notice was that some of the kids seemed particularly shy or not particularly happy to be there (at least no smiles). I was very pleased to see that all of them adapted very quickly to the atrium.

Here are a few examples:

Two little boys (one of whom might have been drawing guns when he first got into the atrium) asked for the presentation on flower arranging. They tackled this work with great enthusiasm and focus and were reluctant to leave the atrium when they were invited to go to recess. They changed their minds after a moment's discussion, but first eagerly showed me what they had *made* - two beautiful little floral bouquets that they had (without any suggestion from me) placed in front of the lovely statue of the Madonna and Child. I very carefully aimed for a pondering-rather-than-praising response and could only come up with "What does that make you think about?" Without hesitation, they said "Jesus" and happily left for recess.

That first few hours was really intense and it was hard not to be hurried (I'm sure I failed some of the time). We made some reasonable compromises, like allowing the children to present practical life materials to each other.

And it was good. It wasn't perfect. I realized rather quickly that I had forgotten some things that I meant to say (you kind of have to jump in with both feet in this thing!) and yet it was quite good and it worked. And God provides!

Some of our surmises were pretty on track, for example, we thought that it might be worthwhile to have a lot of the art and extension works (such as tracing packets and collages) ready to go since we figured it would help the pace of working through materials not go too fast and that artwork would be an especially good way to help them ponder the materials. I think this worked rather well.

In the end, the clearest sign on this first day that this new endeavor was working is that all of the children showed good signs of normalization: peace, focus, interest and joy. 

Introduction to An Unexpected Detour

Last summer I was peacefully going through my life in fairly expected directions when something unexpected happened. I learned that there was going to be training for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) at a local parish. I knew these few facts at the time:

  • That CGS was a Montessori-based religious ed program (and I've loved Montessori for a long time) 
  • That friends of mine had traveled to neighboring states to take the training.
  • A friend of mine from my parish was planning to take the training (because our pastor wanted to get the program going at our parish).
  • The second person from the parish would only be charged half price. 
Connecting these dots caused me to check into whether my parish would want to send me along for the training as well. I was already working at the parish as a liturgical assistant, but thought it might be handy to have a staff member (who already loved Montessori) to take the training in order to help advocate for it, even though I didn't expect to be able to be a catechist - and I definitely had no intention of applying for the open position of DRE (who would be expected to implement the program).

 The pastor said yes and I rearranged my schedule in order to free up the week for Level I, Part 1 training. And fell instantly in love. Although she missed the first day of training, my daughter Kate joined me beginning on day 2 and has been by my side ever since.

We (Kate and I) took the fast track with training by taking Level I, Part 2 at another neighboring parish just a few weeks later. I tentatively and tenuously started to do what I could to help brainstorm getting
the program started.

There are a lot of twists and turns to the whole story, but, in a nutshell, my pastor asked me to take the job of DRE and promised to get me help (and hired a full-time assistant within a few weeks) and be very flexible regarding our family/homeschooling needs. After a lot of prayer and intense family discussions I said yes.

Just wanted to share a brief introduction to this new piece of my life as I am hoping to blog about some parts of the story/journey.
Beautiful Peg Doll Apostles painted by Bernie (age 18)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Celebration of Our Family's Favorite Children's Book Illustrators

This post is based on a meme I participated in on Facebook.

It was so much fun to pick out favorite illustrators, but I wasn't able to include all of them on Facebook. These are from a list I just made of ones whose illustrations, especially (but also stories since many of them are both author and illustrator) had a huge impact on our family - and are really, in many ways, a part of our family.

C.W. Anderson Billy and Blaze

Virginia Lee Burton Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

I hated having to pick between Mike Mulligan and Katy and the Big Snow. Mike Mulligan won out partly because we managed to find a board book copy when Frank was little and I think it was his very favorite thing for some time. I also have loved The Little House since I was a child.

 Barbara Cooney Miss Rumphius 

We were first introduced to Miss Rumphius when my sister kindly passed along to us a box of picture books that her girls had out-grown. Thanks Sharon! If you were to buy one book based on the recommendations in this post, I would pick this one.

"You must do something to make the world more beautiful."

Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire. 

Although their Greek Myths is probably the most read title at our house, I want to especially point out Abe Lincoln which was the first book we discovered of theirs and which completely captivated Ria when she was very small. 

Here is a description I wrote about that episode many years ago: 

When my children were young Abe Lincoln by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire was one of their favorite books. My three year old daughter was making sand-castles in the back one day. While they looked like a collection of sand-hills to the untrained eye, she was kind enough to elaborate on their construction. "This sandcastle is like Abraham Lincoln's house," she explained, "because it has bear-skin rugs."

Tomie de Paola  The Lady of Guadalupe

We have so many favorites among his lovely books, but probably my favorite is The Lady of Guadalupe. Like Abe Lincoln above, it was the first of his books we were introduced to, in fact I believed I borrowed it from the same library at the same time as Abe Lincoln. Other favorites include The Legend of the Poinsettia, The Night of Las Posadas and his 26 Fairmount Avenue series, which is autobiographical.

Marjorie Flack. Angus and the Ducks

Angus in the Ducks holds an extra special place in our hearts for Gus, especially, at about age 2, learn to love stories and also because we have a very dear recording of Kate at age 3 or 4 reciting it from memory.

Now, I have to admit that Ria has always loved a read-aloud. When she was quite small, she would sit through chapter books such as the Little House books like no other child I've ever seen. (This doesn't by any means indicate that she was an angelic child - she was the only one of my children that seemed to resent - at least for a while - the arrival of a younger sibling). But when Gus came along, things got a little trickier. When he got to be about 2 years old or so, there was nothing that would get him more noisy and upset than when I tried to sit down and read a story aloud to Ria. He would babble and complain like anything and it seemed there wasn't a whole lot I could do. I was pretty stubborn too and wouldn't let him win the day, I'd at least finish reading the chapter I was on, even if I had to be quite loud and deliberate about it. At that time he wasn't very interested even in picture books for some reason - probably had gotten fed up with all the chapter books I read to Ria.

One day, though, I found just the right book for him at the right time. It was Angus and the Ducks by Marjorie Flack. We had found a lovely old hardcover copy at our library book sale and he loved it immediately. The illustrations are enchanting. The language is simple, but charming. He loved the dog and the duck noises were very funny. It's interesting how certain books have become major milestones for us in our child-raising. This one we will always appreciate because it's the book that helped Gus start to love books.

We also love The Story about Ping.

Maj Lindman Flicka, Ricka and Dicka

Arnold Lobel. Frog and Toad

We especially loved his Frog and Toad series. They are such a charming and engaging story of friendship, especially amidst the sadness and frustrations of life.

Robert McCloskey.  Blueberries for Sal

My personal favorite is Blueberries for Sal. "Little Bear and Little Sal's mother and Little Sal and Little Bear's mother were all mixed up with each other among the blueberries on Blueberry Hill."

I also have to mention that Make Way for Ducklings was a favorite of John's when he was a child. We also love One Morning in Maine and Homer Price so very, very much. 

Helen Oxenbury Clap Hands

I don't know that we ever had any other of her books, but Clap Hands was THE board book that every one of our kids loved when they were little.

Richard Scarry The Best Word Book Ever

Who didn't grow up with the most fun game of finding the different objects on the fabulously detailed and rabbit-covered pages of Richard Scarry's books?

Maurice Sendak. Little Bear  

All of my children enjoyed these funny little stories and I appreciated the underlying themes of gratitude and imagination.

Hilda Van Stockum  A Day on Skates

Although we love all of her books and illustrations, I think A Day on Skates takes the cake for favorite, especially in the illustration category.

Bill Waterson Calvin and Hobbes

Garth Williams Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Pascale Wirth The Selfish Giant and The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde 

When I asked Ria, who has always had a strong sense of beauty, which children's book illustrators had the biggest impact on her as a child, the first one that came to mind for her was Pascale Wirth because of the illustrations in our copies of The Selfish Giant and The Happy Prince.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016