Tag Archives: Beauty

‘Apologetics and the Christian Imagination’ — A Richer, Deeper approach in connecting Souls With The Faith.

Are stories important for humanity? Is telling a story through books, movies, or the extemporaneous tales of mom and dad delivered to the children at bedtime simply an insignificant means of mere entertainment? In her book Apologetics and the Christian Imagination, Dr. Holly Ordway shows us that in truth stories are powerful tools of conveying meaning, tools that are important for the work of spreading the Faith and forming souls in it.

While showing great understanding of both apologetics and human nature, Dr. Ordway explores the relationship between reason and imagination and how the human person utilizes each to come to know reality. Furthermore, she instructs the reader on the art of Imaginative Apologetics, which is a richer, deeper approach in connecting souls with the Faith. In this entertaining and easy-to-read book, Ordway makes a convincing argument for this method of winning souls.

                  

C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, and George MacDonald are but a few of the masters of this technique which Ordway presents. Each figure is a fantastic storyteller with stories that, as she puts it, baptize the imagination that allow the person to find meaning in the Theological world and grow closer to the God hidden beneath the narrative.
Ordway teaches, “Imaginative apologetics seeks to harness the God-given faculty of imagination to work in cooperation with reason, to open a way for the work of the Holy Spirit and guide the will toward a commitment to Christ.” Through the stories told by one practicing this method, the hearers are able to receive more than just a definition to memorize. Instead, the hearers are given a deep descriptive tale that conveys the meaning of the Theological truths that sometime evade the persons being instructed.

The book thoroughly explains how Theological meaning can be lost on some souls who simply misunderstand the words. Dr. Ordway posits that many think poorly of the Christian Faith not because they disagree with what is taught, but because they are without the proper meaning conveyed by what is taught. The author explains, “To those who know Christ, and unfortunately also to many who do, much ‘Christian language’ rings empty. Although words like ‘grace’, ‘sin’, ‘heaven’, and ‘hell’ point to a reality, for many listeners they might as well be empty slogan or the equivalent of the user’s agreement on an upgrade to your phone’s operating system: words that are received without attention, and without grasp of their meaning.”

Being far from one to find the faults and leave us without a solution, Dr. Ordway emphasizes how we apologists can help our listeners create meaning and avoid the sophist misconceptions of our times by way of a good story. She creatively and intelligently instructs the reader by explaining the workings of linguistics and how we understand the various senses of speech that we hear. Furthermore, her understanding and delivery of the meaning of being literal is delightful to read.

With the Church’s call for a New Evangelization, and many faithful Christians responding to bring the Gospel back to the hearts of humanity, this book is an important piece for our times. It instructs the bearer of Good News on how to carry out the work of apologetics as well as doing so in a way that allows the hearer of the Word to better grasp the meaning of the message. Moreover, it leads us to carry out this work in an aesthetic, sometimes even inconspicuous, manner, which would allow for Theological meaning to enter into the hearts and minds of those that might otherwise be opposed to the words delivered in a more outward manner.

Especially in our day, we are witness to many artists, writers, and musicians working to evangelize through beauty. Dr. Ordway’s book is a wonderful companion for those who have heard and answered the call to do this. In fact, it would not be surprising if this book is a catalyst for more talented souls to take on such important work.

Classroom teachers and catechists too can find inspiration to utilize more of Imaginative Apologetics with their students. The way Dr. Ordway presents it, we can see the powerful impact that this method is able to have on the hearts and minds of those being formed, especially the young.

Finally, this book could be greatly beneficial for all people, both within the work of apologetics and without, as we can learn to find Faith and Truth in the stories we hear in our world today, whether these messages are intended or not.

For these reasons I highly recommend Dr. Ordway’s Apologetics and the Christian Imagination to all those working in apologetics and evangelization alike. It is a remarkable manual for leading souls to know and understand the deeply profound truths of our Faith. Hopefully, it will even lead certain souls to become the next C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, or George MacDonald, and enlarge the library of good Christian stories available to mankind today.

The Falling Away of Humanity from Experiencing God Through Nature

The beauty and complexity of the world is meant to continuously point humanity to our Creator. We are surrounded by trees, mountains, oceans, rivers, lakes, and clouds, and within these things much vibrant life is found, full of color and intricacies that are meant to leave us in awe and wonder. With its incredible and incomprehensible depth this beauty cannot be measured and yet allows us to grasp aspects of the nature of the Great Artist who created it. However, with people spending more time inside and away from nature, is human interaction with the natural world being attacked in order to diminish this grasping at God through it?

With this beautiful creation, God has left us a living story to narrate to us aspects of Himself. It is a via pulchritudinis, a way of beauty, not meant to only be confined to a few sentences of a definition, or even a few books, but a multitude of richness and diverse living and non-living entities delivering slight glances into a small part of God’s Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. St. Augustine, who purified his love of beauty, noted this as he attested,

“Some people, to discover God, read books. but there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Note it. Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead, He set before your eyes the things that He had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?”

We think to use clever analogies to explain notions to others, like the great coach, Vince Lombardi, using football to explain how to have a winning life with the words, “Football is like life — it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority,” or to communicate difficult teachings about God, like St. Patrick’s famous use of the shamrock. So too does God give us many metaphors to understand the untold amount of facets of Himself. However, more than words on a page, His analogies are realities that make up our existence, which we encounter each day with our minds and senses.

In these real-life metaphors, we see the Ocean reflecting His Power, His Greatness, and the truth that within Him there is an abundance of Life both knowable and yet greatly mysterious. We find a similar vibrancy of life in the trees of the forests, each one in a beautiful exchange with oxygen breathing creatures as the trees take in the carbon dioxide that we exhale and give to us the breath we need for our lungs, which is an amazing image of the gifts we can offer to God and the great and many gifts we receive from Him, including Life itself. Furthermore, we see the vast mystery of space, we share a slight experience of God’s view of us when we watch ants scatter across the ground, we see the Sun defeat the darkness morning after morning, and we can experience the love shared between ourselves and others, at times a great metaphor and at times not, in that we can actually share God’s actual life-giving Love with each other.

In this way, we can look out to the beauty of nature as a window to the Life of God and therefore grow closer to Him. St. Bernard of Clairvaux affirms this as he said, “Believe one who knows: You will find something greater in woods than in the books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters”. And St. John Demascus notes, “The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God”. Both of these quotes indicate the powerful effect of coming to know God by contemplating His marvelous Creation.

Every created thing shows us an aspect of God’s nature and so, due to His infinitude, we can understand the reason for His creating so much life over the span of many years. Keeping this in mind, we can come to know God through spending time in nature. We find help in understanding Him and our relationship with Him by being crushed by the immensity of the humongous ocean at the beach, we see His great love for us as we ponder the incredible colors of the Spring (only a good and loving God would place us in such beauty), we recognize His tender and caring role of providing for us by picking an apple from a tree. We can search the globe and find His goodness, truth and beauty in all the created things we come across.

We recognize that the deep connection we nourish with God through prayer is by all means greater than walking through the thick pine-wooded forest of North Georgia, but we can have a great aid in such a walk to come to see what God is like. Furthermore, we could reason that God made Nature as such so that we are able to have such a reflection, an “icon of the face of God.” We want to know God more in our hearts, but is what surrounds our hearts in this world meant to condition man for such contemplation?

If so, then is there a correlation between humans fearing God less and avoiding the natural world more? Is the decreasing number of stars visible in the skies over the cities we live in, and where humans are most known to replace God with their own pride and ego, a poetic sign of society sinking away from the contemplation of God? Are there so few stars visible in the suburbs and cities of modernity because we are sinking away from seeing His Glory through the powerful visage of the star-speckled night sky?

Even if there is not a general correlation for all, I believe that more belief in God can come through time spent within the Beauty of His Creation for many. Furthermore, we can all fall more in love with God through encountering it as St. John Chrysostom tells us, “From the creation, learn to admire the Lord! Indeed the magnitude and beauty of creation display a God who is the artificer of the universe. He has made the mode of creation to be our best teacher.” Because of this I think that being in touch with nature is something I need more of in my life.

It is Right and Just: Spending on Glorious Architecture

Truth is recognized by the beauty in which it manifests itself.

Singapore’s Cathedral of the Good Shepherd was recently renovated after suffering massive cracks from nearby construction which destabilized the building. Among the positive comments, one person wrote: “God doesn’t need this. It’s all just human vanity.”

Sure, God doesn’t need grand buildings. He doesn’t need anything. He’s the only completely self-sufficient being.

Santuario de las Lajas, Ipiales, Colombia
Santuario de las Lajas, Ipiales, Colombia

But He deserves it.

When people build majestic courtrooms, city halls, and castles, it serves to emphasize the importance of the proceedings carried out inside—the meting out of justice and the deliberation of governance.

When people make magnificent gestures to the ones they love, splurging on expensive meals and massive bouquets which are going to wilt, they are performing symbolic actions which express how much they cherish the beloved.

When Catholics build beautiful churches which cost considerable sums, we point to the sublime salvific significance of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as well as the importance of baptisms, Confirmations, Confessions, weddings, ordinations, and funerals, which are all conduits of God’s outpouring of grace in the Mystical Body of Christ. We express our love and reverence for God, the King and ruler of our hearts, present in the tabernacle. We create a sacred place where Heaven bends down to Earth, where the Kingdom of God is palpably upon us.

Church architecture is a statement which can convert hearts. Cathedrals are sermons in stone, speaking silently but eloquently of the grandeur of God. May we desist from scrimping on our churches, lest we turn hungry souls away from the presence of our Lord.

But after all, for us Catholics… a church… is more that just an ordinary spacious attractive meeting house. It is even more than just a house of prayer. It is the place for us where the living Presence of the Godhead dwells, it is the great audience chamber where the God made Flesh and Dwelt Among us is here constantly, here ready for you at all times, to listen to your prayers and your petitions. It is the one place, the one spot perhaps for each of us that is intimately connected with the most important, the greatest events of our lives.
George Cardinal Mundelein, Archbishop of Chicago, 1939

And it is from the Saints that we must learn to love Jesus, surrounding with affectionate care the holy tabernacles, the altars and the churches, His dwelling place (Mark 11:17). Everything must express decorum, everything must inspire devotion and adoration, even in the little things, even in details. Nothing will ever be too much when it concerns loving and honoring the “King of Glory” (Psalm 23:10). One thinks of a few old practices, for example, requiring that even perfumed water be used for the ablution of the fingers of the priest during Holy Mass.
Furthermore, Jesus chose to institute the Sacrament of Love in a respectable, beautiful place; namely, the Cenacle, which was a large dining hall, with furniture and carpeting (Luke 22:12). The Saints have always shown wholehearted zeal and resourcefulness in seeing to the beauty and tidiness of the house of God.
– Fr. Stefano Maria Manelli, F.I., Jesus Our Eucharistic Love

I have heard people say, “What about the Catholic Church with its art treasures in the Vatican and its elaborate church buildings? Why not sell them and give to the poor?” Yes, I have heard such remarks. I must tell you that they are wrong. Our first duty is to God and to give Him glory. Church buildings should always be the biggest and most beautiful buildings in any neighborhood.
There is, obviously, a balance to be maintained, and this could be overdone. But the principle is as I have stated.
The Real Mary MacKillop

Surely the Churches which we inherit are not the purchase of wealth nor the creation of genius, they are the fruits of martyrdom. They come of high deeds and sufferings, as long before their very building as we are after it. Their foundations are laid very deep, even in the preaching of Apostles, and the confession of Saints, and the first victories of the Gospel in our land. All that is so noble in their architecture, all that captivates the eye and makes its way to the heart, is not a human imagination, but a divine gift, a moral result, a spiritual work.
Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman

Image: Bernardo Andrade Tapia / PD-US

The Archived Life: On Scrapbooking, Catholic Liturgy, and Transitional Justice

By guest writer Melvyn Foo.

On all my holidays this year, my routine when I return to our accommodation is the same. I transfer the photos from my camera’s SD card to my laptop, I edit and select them, and then I upload them to Bonjournal1 and complete my travel log.

In the course of this most recent trip, I have come to call this routine ‘reaping the harvest’. By corollary, then, the day’s experiences are the seeds sown, the harvest of which are the memories that I immortalise in the web.

I have been asked repeatedly why I am so obsessive about archiving my life. I sometimes reply, “The unarchived life is not worth living.”

Remove the double negatives, rearrange, and you get something less tongue-in-cheek and more defensible: life is worth archiving.

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Scrapbooking is the epitome of archiving memories. You choose the happy snapshots, you write nice words, and you frame everything in a pretty page – exactly how you would like to remember those moments.

I am not good at scrapbooking. I took a course years ago, and since then, I have concluded that I have no natural talent for it. I take hours to do what the artsy girls can do in minutes (e.g. choosing paper). I work laboriously (e.g. take exact dimensions) to do what they do by sheer guesstimation. I use science (e.g. rule of thirds, triangulation) to do what they do by feel. (I have since learnt that you can’t really plan every detail out, so you just have to make decisions and improvise along the way. This works sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t. After all, just like jazz, improvisation requires talent, which I lack.)

It does not help that I have color disorder.

Despite my difficulties, I am still drawn to scrapbooking. I have a drawer full of materials, I have a Paper Market membership card (which may have expired), and I scrapbook a cover page for each year’s journal (which comprises largely of blogposts that I compile and print out).

Why? Why is the past – not just knowing what actually happened but remembering what happened – so important?

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An answer may be found in an unlikeliest of places: Catholic liturgy.

In every Mass, Catholics take Jesus’ words literally to “do this,” – i.e. to eat His body and drink His blood – “in remembrance of [Him].”2 This is not just symbolic. The Church holds that the Mass re-presents Jesus’ sacrifice on Golgotha.3 Father Jude had thus alluded in a talk on how there is only one Mass and “one single sacrifice”4 – the one on Golgotha – that we remember and re-present in all our Masses.

This remembrance and re-presentation is called anamnesis, which comprises the heart of the Eucharist.5 The word, sharing a similar etymology with ‘amnesia’, means “a calling to mind, remembrance”.

This word is also used in philosophy and in medicine. In philosophy, it is a Platonic concept which conceives of learning as a rediscovery of knowledge within us from past incarnations. In medicine, it refers to a patient’s medical history which a physician needs to know in order to diagnose and care for that patient.

Regardless of context, the point is the same: when we recall the past, we affect our present and our future. This is the power and the importance of memory.

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Transitional justice is an emerging field which increasingly recognizes the critical importance of memory (alongside the four traditional elements of truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence). This field studies the various processes by which a community recovers from large-scale human rights abuses. With the hindsight from Rwanda, Timor Leste, the former Yugoslavia, et al., it is now incontrovertible that criminal prosecutions alone, while necessary, are far from sufficient. More is required.

Memorialisation is one such process.

Professor Ariel Dulitzky thus wrote that “[c]ertain standards of the United Nations insist on the duty of remembering, educating about the past and rejecting negations of atrocities. They also highlight the role that archives play in the search of truth and justice, and they are also essential for recovering and building memory.”6

This is not just pure sentimentality. Professor Dulitzky quotes the UN Rapporteur on Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-recurrence, who says that “[it] does not suffice to acknowledge the suffering and strength of the victims,” and concludes that “ultimately, the challenge for a policy of memory is not building memorials or installing sleepy statues, but creating more fair, egalitarian and democratic societies.”7

Again, the point here is: remembering the past determines the present and charts the course for the future.

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And yet, if all that is required is to recollect objective historical facts, it is surprising that judicial rulings are insufficient. After all, the trial is democracy’s most potent fact-finding procedure. Why is more – in the likes of film, theatre, museums, etc – required?

In 2001, my family and another family got into a bad accident in South Africa. Both families were traveling together in a single vehicle. The tyre burst, the vehicle ran off the road, hit into barbed wire, and flipped a couple of times. We later learnt that the other family’s dad had been thrown out of the vehicle, and the vehicle had crushed his lungs, killing him instantly.

Two years later, they sued my dad, who had been driving the vehicle at the time of the accident. The judgment arising from the suit is reported as Loh Luan Choo Betsy (alias Loh Baby) (administratrix of the estate of Lim Him Long) and others v Foo Wah Jek [2004] SGHC 230; [2005] 1 SLR(R) 64. It is 18 pages long, and it goes through the evidence in detail. It mentions so much.

And yet it mentions so little. It does not mention the red-stained t-shirt that my mum had used to soak up the blood that had welled out when she performed CPR on their dad, which I had included in an essay based on this accident that I wrote in Secondary 4. It also does not mention a detail that I always talk about when I shared about this accident, that is, how fine the sand was, and how it got into my fingernails when I knelt down and clutched at it, praying to the patron saint of hopeless cases St Jude to make this all a dream.

And it does not even ask that most pressing of questions – where was God in all this? The answer becomes more layered as the years pass.

Examining the different processes of truth-finding, history-telling, and formation of collective memory, Professor Chrisje Brants and Professor Katrien Klep conclude: “The legal truth, laid down in the rulings of an international criminal court is, by definition, not open-ended. The verdict of a court is definite and authoritative; in this context, closure, not continued debate about what it has established as the truth, is its one and only purpose – indeed, on this its legitimacy depends. But then, also by definition, its contribution to history-telling, collective memory, and justice for victims is limited indeed.”8

In this regard, the learned writers also point out that “[h]istory and memory change as time goes on, and are never ‘finished.’”9

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Remembering the past, then, is not just a scientific and once-and-for-all endeavor of ascertaining the 5Ws+1H. It is also an art of attributing meaning and finding a narrative in the events that have happened.

Beyond the context of transitional justice, there is a word for this art of dwelling on the past: klexos. And of this artform, the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows echoes: “Maybe we should think of memory itself as a work of art—and a work of art is never finished, only abandoned.”

There are therefore two key elements in klexos: accuracy and meaning.

To speak of accuracy in recording the past is trite. Dates, names, sequence of events – these matter. Research on the fallibility of eye-witness memory highlights the grave consequences when we remember wrongly.

But to think of memory merely as a recording device is misconceived. In Elizabeth Loftus’ TEDtalk on the reliability of memory, she confirms that when we remember, we are not so much playing back what our senses have recorded. Instead, we reconstruct the past.

Beyond the factual data set of what actually happened, we make sense out of our past experiences, we connect the dots, we construct and reconstruct narrative arcs. We infuse an objective timeline with subjective meaning.

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The forms that the archives of our lives can take have evolved with the rise of social media. At the most extreme, Snapchat and Stories inveigh against the very idea of permanence, since the pictures and videos (allegedly) vanish forever after some time. Instagram heralded the prioritization of pictures over words. Twitter limited any expression of thought to 140 characters.

Perhaps it is inaccurate to conceive of these social media initiatives as archival tools, since they seek more to share and to capture the moment rather than to reflect on the past. All through a screen, of course. As one article puts it, “For Generation Z, there is no struggle to make sense of things. There is only the impulse to share.”

But there seems to be a counter-movement arising. Amidst the FLFC-culture of our times, slow journalism is gaining ground. A New Yorker staff writer opined: “We binge on instant knowledge, but we are learning the hazards, and readers are warier than they used to be of nanosecond-interpretations of Supreme Court decisions.” In 2015, The Huffington Post launched Highline,10 a magazine dedicated to running only cover stories based on months of investigations. Even our local newpspaper Today now has a section called the ‘Big Read’,11 which publishes longer and more thoughtful pieces.

While speed, brevity, and the power to grab attention will still remain foremost news values, slow journalism recognizes that readers also hunger for insight, for immersion, and for analysis. And the Web is taking notice.

But prose is not the only or even the best medium to archive, to reflect on, or to just make sense of life.

As a blogger, I am naturally a proponent of longform journaling. But as my Gen Z friend (who studies linguistics) counter-proposes, “Just cuz there r fewer words doesn’t mean we think less.”

Indeed, many of the Gen Z Instagram accounts that I follow are often filled with musings – be it through photos or captions or something in-between like typography – about life. One 20-year-old I know even has a third account (two is common among Gen Z – one ‘main’ account as a curated public persona and one ‘spam’ account for closer friends to follow) dedicated to more introspective posts.

While sheer wit and conviction certainly drive much of the content that Generation Z produces, not everything is simply “big, colorful, and hysterical”. There is depth and maturity too.

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Be it blogging, scrapbooking, or instagramming, a question persists: are we being merely self-indulgent? Archiving the great events or the lives people that have shaped history is uncontroversial. But what of the grain of our own lives, so lost and so insignificant in the sands of time?

Vanity is undoubtedly a temptation, against which the easiest way of resisting is to keep our archives private.

But as Brené Brown says (and the Gen Z instagrammer above quotes), “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”

These words resound with those of us who share regularly: we are honest with ourselves, we share with others, not necessarily in that order. To the extent, therefore, that the sharing of our lives intertwine with our pursuit of authenticity, perhaps we should be willing to endure some pretentiousness as the price of knowing ourselves.

For myself, blogging is many things. It is a way to make myself available to others. When people ask me a question about my life, the lazy (though admittedly lesser) alternative to sharing with them in person is to send them a link. It is also a way to make myself available to myself. It is amazingly convenient to have a compendium of my life to refer to at any time, to frame a more articulate sharing, to recall a personal story for a session, or just to remember what I went through before.

Perhaps, most importantly, it is a way for me to make sense of my world. To echo Gaiman, “All too often I write to find out what I think about a subject, not because I already know.”12

When my dad and I got into another bad accident in August 2014, I wrote about how I had lost faith in miracles. In September, I wrote about how I had to content with finding God in the ordinary, if I could not find Him in the extraordinary. In July 2015, I wrote again, but this time about how the accident formed part of a period of desolation, which was in turn, part of a larger narrative arc of learning to trust God.

The archive of my life thus becomes a lens through which I see the world. And if we can see the world in our grain of sand, we can move from klexos to sonder, to the humility of realizing that every person’s grain of life is as rich and as varied as our own.

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Moving beyond the individual, the wisdom of transitional justice underscores that klexos is not only relevant to individual lives, but to communities as well.

Just three weeks ago, I was surfing through our community’s spiritual bucket list, and I realized that some of us have already checked items off the list. To some extent, 1Cor12’s narrative has been captured in Mere Community. BASIC will be celebrating their 10th anniversary soon, and their ten years of journeying together will be digitally engraved into the blogs and Instagram accounts of their members.

Other memories are worth preserving. Consider, for example, OWL’s formation, journey, and eventual dissolution. There are precious shards here that I would love to see pieced together into a panel of stained glass.

Stained glass, after all, is a common sight in the Church.

In the final analysis, perhaps stained glass should be the ideal that all our archives aspire to. Because all our lives are broken and fragmented, and will remain so, regardless of how we curate or scrapbook our memories. It is only when we let Christ’s light shine through our past, into our present, and to guide our future, does beauty emerge.

Perhaps, then, it is not so much the unarchived, or even the unexamined life, but the un-examen-ed life, that is not worth living.

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1. Bonjournal is a minimalist travel logging app. It has a clean interface and limits the number of pictures per post to three. I have been using it since 2014, and will probably continue to do so.
2. Lk 22:19.
3. See CCC 1366.
4. CCC 1367.
5. See CCC 1106.
6. Ariel Dulitzky, “Memory, an essential element of transitional justice”, 20 April 2014. He was a member of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in 2014.
7. Ibid.
8. Chrisje Brants and Katrien Klep, “Transitional Justice: History-Telling, Collective Memory, and the Victim-Witness”, International Journal of Conflict and Violence Vol. 7(1) 2013, pp.36-49.
9. Ibid.
10. See e.g. “Mothers of ISIS“, a paradigm-shifting angle on ISIS recruitment.
11. See e.g. this article covering the glut of lawyers, providing probably the most comprehensive and insightful analysis on the situation. 
12. Neil Gaiman, “Some Reflections on Myth (with Several Digressions onto Gardening, Comics and Fairy Tales”, in A View from the Cheap Seats.

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This article was originally blogged at Mel.

Melvyn Foo is a Singaporean ex-lawyer. He is supposed to be a young adult, but he is really a lot more young than adult. He committed to God while sitting alone before a small and unadorned tabernacle. Since then, everything has pretty much fallen into place. You can visit his blog at http://melvynfoo.wordpress.com/

Order

Most of the liturgical year is comprised of “Ordinary Time”, when the Gospels follow the earthly ministry of Christ. This does not mean that the time is humdrum or nondescript; rather, it refers to ordinal numbers – first, second, third, and so on.

Humans have a compulsion to order things, and Catholics are no exception – we have ordered time according to the Gregorian calendar, constructed by Aloysius Lilius and Christopher Clavius SJ, and introduced by Pope Gregory XIII so that we could celebrate Easter in accordance with the seasons. Monks invented our system of timekeeping in order to pray the Divine Office. Catholics have formed healthcare, charity, school and art patronage systems throughout the ages, ordering human society according to Christian conceptions of what is good, true and beautiful.

Why do we do this? Watching the news is often depressing, because we are constantly reminded of the terrible suffering and disorder throughout the world. A friend asked me, “Can there be a world which is completely good?” We are used to living with contrasts: good and bad, better and worse.

Even just looking at ourselves and our loved ones can be a sobering process. We are so full of faults! Fr. Edmund Campion wrote in A Place in the City: “All attempts to live a religious life are partial, for to be human is to be a failure.1

Why, then, do we strive so hard for excellence or even perfection?

The word primordial comes from primus ordiri, “first” and “to begin”. In the beginning, God created a perfectly good, orderly world; Adam and Eve lived in harmony with God, each other, and creation, in a state of grace. The Greek word kósmos literally means “order”. With sin, humankind’s friendship with God was broken; suffering and chaos entered the world. Sin occurs when we act against our human nature, bringing harm to ourselves or to others.

Most ancient creation myths have the gods creating order out of chaos. The Judeo-Christian tradition is unique in positing creation ex nihilo, out of nothing. It is from this tradition that the Belgian priest and astronomer Msgr. Georges Lemaître formulated the “Big Bang Theory”, or hypothesis of the primeval atom.

Thus, in the Christian tradition, we do not subscribe to dualism. In the beginning, everything was good. Evil is a corruption or absence of goodness; it is not an equal force, but a parasite that distorts the goodness of creation.

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Our entire lives are strivings toward things we perceive to be good. The drug addict or chain smoker did not start off the habit of substance abuse simply by deciding to harm themselves thereby – even in a decision to self-harm, there is a perceived good of relief from emotional pain, or destroying what one thinks is irrevocably bad.

People who form cults generally seek some good, based on an ideal. The historian Ian Breward wrote in his book Australia: The Most Godless Place Under Heaven?:

“The desire to experience new kinds of community led a number of thoughtful and idealistic people to reject the patterns of vocation, family life and religion with which they had grown up. Their attempt to establish new patterns of social bonding in uncontaminated rural retreats can be seen as a secular monasticism, but they often discovered that to abolish the boundaries of authority, family and property created a whole series of problems which they did not have the spiritual and personal resources to solve. At their best, such groups have opened up new horizons of discipleship, but they have often learned some hard lessons about the intractable sinfulness and selfishness of partly-redeemed human nature.”2

We are tasked with proclaiming the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand; at the same time, we are faced with the reality of living out the Gospel in a world wracked by sin, and have to accept the limitations and sufferings which come with it. It is out of these very sufferings that God recreates the world, restoring it according to His divine plan. We were made in the image and likeness of God, but we are marred by concupiscence and sin; we are wonky compasses which need to be realigned with the magnet of the Gospel, so that we may point accurately to Christ, and lead others to Him.

Discord would not offend our ears if there were not a standard of perfect harmony against which to judge all sounds. In the same way the existence of evil is an argument for the existence of God. We should not recognize imperfections as such unless there were a Perfect which they opposed. The world cannot be rationally explained without God; its very complexity forces the mind to believe that there must be something beyond all this, to have put it together. When we see a painting inside a frame, we know that someone has joined the two together. When we see a watch, we know that some intelligence has assembled it. Matter does not form itself into patterns without intelligence to guide it. The whole material universe is an argument for God.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Crisis in History

Image: Amsterdam (via Joy-Sorrow).

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1 A Place in the City, p. 107. [Penguin Books Australia (Sydney, 1994)].

2 Australia: The Most Godless Place Under Heaven?, pp. 79-80 [Beacon Hill Books (Melbourne, 1988)].

Formation in Faery

Imagination is twofold, retentive (reproductive) and creative (productive). The object of the first is a sensible reality, which we have previously perceived as such. The creative forms its object by combining elements which were separately perceived. The analysis of the creative imagination is of considerable importance for the psychology of invention, and of artistic and intellectual initiative.
— “Imagination”, New Advent

The lesson for us, as parents, in this analysis of Tolkien’s Catholic imagination, is that our child’s formed imagination influences how he pictures reality. The Catholic character of their lives, the inclusion of the good, the true, and the beautiful in their environment, is going to have a profound effect on how they imagine what they imagine.
— Laura Berquist, “The Importance of the Imagination”, Catholic Culture

Man’s soul is rational, and that means he has both an intellect and will. The intellect desires truth; the will desires the good. But the imagination is something other. The imagination serves as a database of mental images stored by sensory experiences, and therefore, the intellect recalls images from the imagination which present it to the will as something to be desired. For this reason, it’s important to flood the imagination with the “good, true, and beautiful”, as St. Paul says in Philippians.
— Bryan Gonzalez, “Why We Must Form the Imagination of Our Children”, Those Catholic Men
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“Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother” by Edmund Dulac, in Picture Book for the Red Cross

As a child in sunny Singapore, I was brought up on a rich diet of Hans Christian Andersen, The Brothers Grimm, Perrault, Joseph Jacobs, Robert Louis Stevenson, Philippa Pearce, Oscar Wilde, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, and many other authors and transmitters of fantasy and mystery. I eagerly imbibed these tales of old (and not so old) which furnished the chambers of my mind, charging the world around me with wonder and beauty. When I wasn’t reading, I was watching Mother Goose videos and Shakespearean stop motion films.

One day, speaking with good friends in school, I realised that not everybody had been taught the nursery rhymes which I took for granted, the rhymes which had formed the foundation of my lifelong addiction to reading and poetry.

Later on, in Australia, I met homeschoolers whose strict parents had eliminated fairytales from their childhoods. One had no idea who Rumpelstiltskin was, and thought Pinocchio was just a character in Shrek. Another had avoided Enid Blyton, thinking her books were just for girls. These homeschoolers had been thoroughly schooled in Catholic teachings, but they struggled to see the point of some lessons in our liberal arts degree, like the philosophical exploration of possible worlds, and the latter woke me up at 3 a.m. one All Saints Day having a meltdown over his Philosophy essay.

I found echoes of this deprivation in an atheist mathematician whom I met admiring the gothic majesty of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. As we walked the streets of Melbourne, I inquired as to his favorite stories. He had somehow laid his hands on Dante and Crime and Punishment in his teens, but he never had fairytales in childhood. He said, “I read books about things like jellyfish and dinosaurs.” In high school, he chose to study science and mathematics, because he could not see the point in the humanities. He scoffed at Shakespeare and Chaucer.

I found these young people spiritually malnourished. They lacked a balanced educational diet. On one end, the Catholics had drunk the milk of Christian doctrine; on the other, the atheist had fed well on the meat of hard science and mathematics. But they both had not tasted of the sweet fruits of literature, the leafy vegetables of fairyland (Rapunzel, anyone?), the nourishing mythic roots of their own civilization. They turned their noses up at what they had never been taught to appreciate.

Why are fairytales so important? Many European fairytales have gruesome origins, but over the centuries they have been embedded with Christian virtues, as with Cinderella and Snow White. Even without the Christian content, these stories are important in teaching children basic morals and lessons about the perennial human struggle to triumph over selfishness, cruelty and misfortune. They provide basic human formation, building empathy, rewarding courage, affirming sacrificial love in the face of death. They broaden the mind, enlarging it to admit mysteries and other points of view. When you can place yourself in the shoes of a lowly kitchen maid or a young stowaway, you can begin to appreciate the value in every human life.

Far from useless trifles or evil explorations, fairytales are necessary in training a child to love the true, the good and the beautiful. They open our eyes to see with a sacramental vision, beholding with wonder the magic and mystery in God’s creation, which should not be reduced to mere scientific facts or cast aside with Puritan coldness. The way of faery is the way of virtue, learning how to love ourselves and others as co-pilgrims on the rocky road to the Heavenly City, where we may one day meet the Prince of peace and be welcomed as co-heirs to His Father’s kingdom.

In attempting to understand why intelligent young men and women were occasionally unable to grasp the significant human experiences treated by the Great Books, an American professor by the name of John Senior, who jointly founded and taught in a hugely successful Integrated Humanities Program based on the Great Books, concluded that a man cannot truly comprehend the 100 Great Books if he has not first had the soil of his imagination prepared and nourished by the thousand good books. Only in a mind enriched by the good books, Senior believed, can the significant experiences and truths of the great books take root and grow.
By the “good books”, Senior had in mind everything from the rhymes of Mother Goose, the Fables of Aesop and the Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, to works such as Treasure Island, The Wind in the Willows, Wuthering Heights and The Virginian. Senior recognised that just as in the spiritual life we must become as little children before we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven, so it is in the intellectual life.
— “Dr Stephen McInerney: fairy dust needed if Great Books are ever to take root”, The Catholic Weekly

“We need to keep being told fairy tales because we need to keep being reminded that fairy tales are always true — more true than mere fact because were this story merely factual, it would apply to one person at one time. But because it is fiction it applies to all of us, all throughout history, before and beyond.”
— Ross Lawhead, “The Truth of Fairy Tales: Gaiman’s Ocean and Chesterton’s Giant”, ABC Religion and Ethics

The most charming fairy tales spring out of the common events of everyday life.
— Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Elder-Tree Mother

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.
— Roald Dahl

The Beauty of (Our) Fall

I love autumn because the changing leaves are so incredibly beautiful, it blows me away every year. Yet, these pretty colors do more than give me something nice to look at. The leaves demonstrate to us the beauty in death. Which sounds like a weird thing to say, but I don’t think it is.

As Christians, we’re not new to death. We as Christians are called to a life of death and resurrection. Dying to ourselves, dying to our sin, dying to our desires. Dying and being resurrected. Resurrected over our temptations, resurrected over our desires, resurrected by the Father every morning to live yet another day.

We as Christians also know that the “dying” part is no fun. It’s not fun to fall flat on our face in the face of temptation. It’s not fun to die to our desires. It’s not fun to fail and have to ask the Father for aid and forgiveness! It is certainly (for most) not fun to get up in the morning!crossinautumn

So we tend to think about the “death end of things” from a cynical perspective. A “well, that’s just the way life goes” perspective. At best, we see it as “a chance to grow.”

But I think that autumn exists to point out to us the beauty in death. While, yes, failure isn’t a great experience, aren’t we all so thankful when we come out on the other side a better person? While we don’t like laying our desires at the foot of the Cross, aren’t we all thankful when we are purged of worldly inclinations? While no one enjoys suffering, aren’t we so glad when we see how much stronger we are for it?

Death is sort of beautiful in retrospect, then. Looking back and being so thankful for those “dying” parts of our life shows us that.

Now, I am a huge proponent of our carnal, human, physical nature. I love the idea of the physical world as created for us because we are material! God gave us the world, the trees, oceans, mountains, flowers, and the seasons to help us know Him better. Perhaps it’s possible, that the beauty we all see and enjoy during autumn isn’t there just because the chlorophyll is breaking down.

Maybe it’s not some remote philosophical idea that the world “reflects creation” in its “birth in spring, flourish in summer, wither in fall, death in winter” cycle. Maybe that cycle is closer to us than we think or know. Maybe it is meant to demonstrate to us how faithful the Lord is. He is so faithful that even when we die in our daily lives, God says “even when you sin, you’re still beautiful in my eyes.” Or, “even when you die, it’s beautiful, because it’s a part of your growth.” The leaves are just God’s way of saying that without saying it.

As the last of the leaves fall, thank God for the opportunity to experience His cross and resurrection everyday in our fallen nature. Thank God for the mercy of raising us up above our sinful nature. Thank God for the beauty present in the cycles of life, even death. May our final death someday lead to the greatest and most beautiful resurrection of all!

Taking Upon Us the Mystery of Things

When Job cries out against God in his suffering, God questions Job, “Can you draw out Leviathan with a hook, or snare his tongue with a line which you lower?”  Job answers, “I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you, therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”  His arrogance brings him shame, and he places his hope in mercy.

Orual realizes at the end of Till We Have Faces, “The complaint was the answer.”  She finds only silence after all her raging.  Job and Orual feel small in the presence of the Almighty.  Will the potter say to the clay, “Why have you made me?”  Will the man who is dust question, “Why did you breathe life into me?”  Will the woman formed from the rib say to the creator, “Why did you knit me?”

Job and Orual realize a truth they have always known when they recant their defiance.  They come to themselves.  T. S. Eliot prophesies that “the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time” (Little Gidding).  In God we discover our true selves, the end who is our beginning.  Saint Augustine cries, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in him.”  Blaise Pascal echoes, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?”  We long for a homecoming to heaven, a return to the place we have never seen.

The longing for heaven cannot be spoken just as the reproaches on Job’s and Orual’s tongues fail.  Wonder leads to silence.  All beauty mixes itself with sadness:  death and birth, funeral and marriage, loss and gain.  Francois Mauriac muses, “All I know is that beauty troubles the senses, for all that it concerns the spirit, that it breeds in one a sort of despairing happiness, leads to a contemplation that never wholly finds its object but is worth a world of kisses” (The Woman of the Pharisees).  Beauty deserves more than we can give it, and our helplessness finds voice only in love.

As beauty presents a mystery to be sought but not grasped, so suffering presents a mystery to be endured but not understood.  Lear gives Cordelia this vision:  “So we’ll live, / And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh / At gilded butterflies . . . And take upon ‘s the mystery of things, / As if we were God’s spies” (King Lear).   We know that God works although we do not see how.  We must take upon ourselves the glory of kings:  to search out God’s riddles.

As soon as we glimpse the beauty of tje world, we see that it must fade.  We revolt against the injustice of beauty perishing.  Man fades even as the flowers:  “When I behold the violet past prime / And sable curls all silvered o’er with white . . . Then of thy beauty do I question make / That thou among the wastes of time must go” (Shakespeare’s Sonnet 12).  How can something so lovely decay?  Or rather, how can it be preserved?  Hopkins provides the answer:  “Come then, your ways and airs and looks, locks, maidengear, gallantry and gaiety and grace . . . deliver it, early now, long before death / Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God beauty’s self and beauty’s giver” (The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo).  This investment reaps eternal rewards where thieves do not break in and steal.  To give beauty up is to save it forever.

Beauty and the Eye of the Beholder

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Piet Mondrian, from “Tableau 2”

Recently, I attended a talk about beauty. After asking his listeners about various things that they found beautiful (stars, music, the ocean), the speaker—a priest—presented us with online images of two works of art: an abstract composition by Piet Mondrian and the Transfiguration by Raphael. “Tell me which you think is more beautiful,” he said.

Although geometry and order are wonderful things, we all agreed that we didn’t find Mondrian’s work particularly pleasing. “All right, let’s change this up,” our speaker said, replacing Mondrian’s collection of rectangles and squares with an Afremovian splash of color. Comparing Leonid Afremov’s modern-impressionist rain scene with Raphael’s Renaissance work, he asked us again, “Now which do you think is more beautiful?

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Leonid Afremov, “Street of the Old Town”

After a moment of scrutiny, a girl in front of me pointed to the Afremov. “I like this one,” she declared.

“Why?” the priest asked her.

“Well,” considered the girl, “It deals with the subject more originally. I feel like there are a lot of other paintings that look like Raphael’s.”

Her friend sitting next to her agreed. “I love rain,” she said, “and I love color. So looking at this painting makes me happy.”

Transfiguration_Raphael
Raphael, “Transfiguration”

“I still think Raphael’s is more beautiful,” another listener quickly pointed out. “It shows a much deeper meaning than the other painting.”

Both parts of the argument had legitimate points. Beauty can be a difficult thing to discuss. During our comparison of the two paintings, we made several observations about beauty in art.

One of our more confusing questions was that if beauty comes from God, how can one thing be more beautiful to some people than others? There were people who enjoyed Afremov’s painting, but others couldn’t stand it. Can beauty be subjective?

It’s true that everyone has different personalities, preferences, and even memories that will influence how they see things. For example, though my personality may make me apt to grumble about rainy days, the girl’s friend in the discussion above may have happy memories of playing outside when it rained. Or she might make some connections, such as that between rainfall and God’s grace, which I might fail to make. As a result, she may have liked Afremov’s painting more than I did. Each of us is created to be wonderfully unique, and thus we might see different elements of beauty in different things.

That having been said, beauty is not just a personal preference. The concept of beauty should be kept separate from that of simply attractiveness. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that how truly beautiful something is depends in part on how well it expresses its essence, the truth of what it is. Our speaker also observed that truth, which comes from the indivisible God, is interconnected with beauty, which comes from the same indivisible God. So there is a certain objectivity about beauty, which we can take into consideration when looking at art. In the context of our art comparison, the Transfiguration’s style and subject matter bring our thoughts more directly to God than does Afremov’s portrayal of creation.

A brief note on medium. As implied above, how the subject matter is portrayed is significant to artwork’s beauty. Raphael’s exquisite rendering of nature and the human body add to his work’s loveliness and makes it easier to appreciate his subject. In fact, if art with a beautiful subject matter isn’t very pleasing, it’s probably because of the artist’s own failure to express its beauty and point viewers to God.

Finally, it’s very important to consider the effect of novelty. Many times I’ve highly enjoyed a film after watching it for the first time. But after a few run-throughs, I can see deficiencies in plot and acting, and find that the jokes I thought were funny are actually somewhat flat. This can be applied to art as well—don’t rely too much on first impressions. While we might not get particularly tired of looking at Afremov’s composition, someday we will probably run out of meaning to extract from it. On the other hand, Raphael’s Transfiguration skillfully depicts a sublime scene with connections to several stories and truths. The Transfiguration of Christ is a divine mystery, and so there is an indefinite amount of understanding to glean from it. The girl who found Raphael’s painting unoriginal at first may find that the more thoughtfully she looks at it, the more it will lead her to contemplate its divine subject, God, who is Beauty itself.

So which work did we decide to call more beautiful? For many reasons we generally came to agree that this title belonged to Raphael’s painting. But if you didn’t want to commit, you could always take the side of the religious sister in Father’s audience who, on being asked which painting was more beautiful, always said, “Both.”

On Beauty and Planned Parenthood

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One of my favorite authors, Dietrich von Hildebrand, makes an interesting argument about the relationship between beauty and virtue.  Essentially, what he said was that we ought to encourage people to attend to beauty, to seek it out in art, music, literature, poetry, and any other venue where it could be found.  We should expose young people to beauty, train them to recognize it and appreciate it, and that if we do this, we will be helping them to grow in virtue.  Why?  Because authentic beauty is itself a participation in the limitless beauty and grandeur of God, the one who creates and bestows beauty.

What I see happening with this current public relations nightmare for Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) is, perhaps the inverse of von Hildebrand’s suggestion: people are being confronted with the gruesome truth of PPFA.  They’re seeing the callous disregard for the dignity of human life, and are being awakened to the depths to which that organization regularly stoops.  It’s taken away the clean, well-crafted public image of PPFA.  It’s a look behind the curtain, and what people are seeing isn’t beautiful, it’s grotesque.

This latest mess with the videos released by the Center for Medical Progress is somewhat reminiscent of that iconic moment in The Wizard of Oz when we finally see behind the curtain in the Wizard’s court to reveal the real person behind the Wizard.  What Dorothy and her friends found was not a powerful, mysterious leader, but a cowardly man putting on a show for the residents of Oz.

A similar thing is beginning to happen, I think, with regard to PPFA and its current president, Cecile Richards.  Mrs. Richards likes to portray herself as a great champion of health care and, above all, the rights of women.  Yet her organization’s operations stand in direct contrast to that mission.  They can be considered a health care organization only when termination of an unborn life is considered a positively good thing.  They often bemoan the regulations different states have put in to limit abortions, such as the 20-week ban, waiting periods, ultrasounds, etc.  Based on their actions and their budget, the story PPFA tries to tell the media and dupe women into believing is an all out lie.  They sell abortions incredibly well, and they account for over half of their annual budget.

Whatever the reasons for those abortions, they inherently involve the killing of a small child.  A great deal of those aborted every year by PPFA (which performs in excess of 300,000 abortions every year) are women.  Yet instead of being empowered and defended, they are bought at a price: $470.  That is what a woman’s life is worth to Cecile Richards.  However sanitary the public image of PPFA has been, it is slowly being shown to be a farce.

In the view of von Hildebrand, the human heart always longs for beauty, and has a natural capacity to recognize it and, in that very recognition, we know God.  For instance, he said that

“…the beauty of the dome of Florence or of St. Peter’s, the beauty of the first chorale in St. Matthew’s Passion, or of Mozart’s Figaro—all these are, to be sure, immediately attached to audible and visible things; they are not connected with beauty of form merely by thoughts; they are not ideas that these express thereby, but in their quality they speak about another, higher reality—they make God known.”

Hildebrand also knows the beauty of marriage and human sexuality to be moments which take the goods of the human experience and transfigure them to a divine plane.  The fruit of sexual union, the birth of a new human life, is without question one of the most beautiful and essentially awe-inspiring moments in the world.  It is a time which calls to mind all of the grandeur of creation and points to the joy we hope to experience in the heavenly reward awaiting the end of our life.  Human life, which develops during pregnancy, calls for that same joy, respect, and awe.  It is beautiful, and it points to the author of beauty, God himself.

But PPFA and their supporters would have us think that there’s nothing mysterious and beautiful in pregnancy.  Or, at the very least, nothing which can’t wait until next time.  Nothing which deserves protection.  No, for PPFA, the developing life can be cast aside, then dismembered and repackaged for the honorable cause of scientific research.  This is a perversion and a twisting of beauty into the grotesque.

This encounter with beauty’s polar opposite can, I think, in a way awaken them to the beauty of the pro-life position and hopefully to the goodness of the Creator, the only one on whom we can call to really put an end to the holocaust that our country has legally sanctioned since 1973.

Pax,

Luke

On Sloth and Wonder

Every Christian shares in the universal call to partake in the Beatific Vision.  His baptism gives him this vocation.  The Gospel calls all men to be contemplatives.

Sloth and dissipation distort modern connotations of leisure, which formerly meant contemplation in rest.  The Greeks called leisure schole, whence we derive “school.”  School provides the place where teachers invite students to contemplate, to enjoy, to wonder.  It trains the heart to love aright.

We can take this meditative disposition into all of life.  A person who enjoys a sunset for its own sake participates in contemplation.  A parent delighting in the mere sight of his child partakes of wonder.  This principle helps to distinguish between drinking to get drunk and loving the taste of wine.  One tends toward gluttony, the other toward a love of beauty.  Rest for Christians should aim not at amusement but at musing.

The vision of beauty has elements of both fear and joy in it.  James S. Taylor writes of “the precise moment suspended between wonder (fear) and possession (joy), for the be-hold is to possess, to hold with the cognitive sense of the sensory-emotional response of near-simultaneous, fear-joy: the sensation of one’s heart leaping up in the chest” (Poetic Knowledge, 50).  He speaks of a knowledge which sees the essence of a thing and delights in its existence.  This vision of the world draws the gazer into union with the things which he sees and loves.  When the wonderer glimpses the gratuitousness of the universe, the fact that God did not have to create, but He did, his soul leaps in appreciation.  The one who muses walks a fine line between poetry and philosophy, as Josef Pieper observes: “The philosopher, [Aquinas] . . . says, is related to the poet in that both are concerned with mirandum, with wonder, with marveling and with that which makes us marvel” (qtd. in Poetic Knowledge, 79).  The eyes of the poet-philosopher see the world “as a vibrant arena of visible and invisible reality” (35).  Through faith we glimpse the spiritual meaning of the material world.

St Thomas Aquinas 2

When we make “linking earth to heaven” the goal of our thoughts, we transcend time (40).  Taylor points to “the time lost in childhood play; the time that seems to vanish when lovers are together, alone; the hours that have simply slipped away during a meal where there was wine and lively conversation” (76).  When we approach life from a place of rest and gratitude, we will be able to see the truth, beauty, and goodness of everyday life.  Taylor observes that “we learn to love what is beautiful and in this way know also the true and the good” (75).  Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.  Where charity and love are, God is there.

Women, God Does Not Make Mistakes

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In a society which tells women they are simply the sum of their parts—that all it takes for even a man to become a cover-worthy woman are the right curves in the right places—women are having an increasingly hard time feeling good about themselves. Between advertisements and social media, women feel like they are not good enough no matter where they turn, always being knocked down by the unending stream of images thrown at them defining what it really means to be beautiful—or rather sexy, since that seems to be all modern society cares about.

To the women who struggle with this, I am writing to you today to say that I am struggling beside you. For years I have grappled with never feeling like I am “enough” as a woman and will never be able to reach the standards society is setting. This feeling of inferiority led me to worry about many sad things, but the real depression settled in when my lack of self-esteem caused me to doubt my value to God. Ladies, I know there are those of you who have struggled with this too, who have looked in the mirror and asked God for “little miracles”: “God, couldn’t you just give a little more here, or a little less there? God, if you would just do that little thing, I know it would make me pretty. Then I would be enough.”

But ladies, I want to tell you something today that my parents told me when I was going through the worst part of my struggle. They looked at me one day as I sat across from them crying about my braces and my bangs, and they told me that it does not matter what the world thinks. God made me the way I am for a reason, gave me each freckle, hair, and blemish, and loves me just the way I am. As I thought about this, I realized something. Every day that I sat on my floor, hating my appearance and praying for a change, I was actually insulting God because I was implying that He had made a mistake.

delightsinyouWomen, God does not make mistakes! Every inch of you is beautiful because God made it! You are a masterpiece, made in God’s image, and if He stopped thinking about you for a second you would cease to exist! Do you know how much He must love you to think about you constantly?! Maybe you have aspects of your appearance you wrestle with, but as long as you are being a good steward of the body God has given you, then your perceived imperfections are actually parts of a beautiful uniqueness God gave especially to you!

Ladies, you know how often your beloved’s funny little quirks make him so unique and special to you? Or how the cute bump in your son’s nose or the birthmark on your daughter’s cheek are all just as special to you as his perfect smile or her adorable laugh? That is love, love sees every part of the beloved as beautiful, the perfection and imperfection, because it all combines to make the total person. The scars and imperfections tell a story, are physical signs of the strength within, the courage which dared to overcome those flaws and be defined by something greater instead.

God loves you ladies! He loves each and every one of you just the way you are! And He does not make mistakes! So when you look at yourself in the mirror, don’t see all the ways you are lacking, see a woman who is cherished! God as Father created you and loves each part of you as His own, and God as Beloved cherishes every inch of you as part of the one He adores, even unto death. Our Father is the King and our Beloved is Prince, which means we are destined to be Princesses in the Kingdom of Heaven, if we faithfully live our lives for Him. You are God’s Princesses, you are so special! And when you allow that to be your identity, when you allow His love to be enough, rather than doubting whether you are enough, you are free to live joyfully again. And that beautiful joy will penetrate your soul and reveal the true beauty within your hearts.

So today ladies, pray for two things. If you know there are ways that you have not taken care of yourselves, have eaten too much or too little or hurt yourself in more extreme ways, ask God for the courage to overcome these insecurities and be defined by His love rather than your fear. And most importantly, ask Him for the peace to look upon yourselves today and remember that He does not make mistakes, and you are all beloved just the way you are.

I’ll be praying for and with you, ladies! Turn to Mary for help when you are distressed: God assumed her into Heaven and loved her body and soul, just as He loves each of us. She understands the struggles we face; appeal to her womanhood and pray to feel her gentle love when you are hurting. She will always be there for you, as will her Son. God bless each and every one of you beautiful ladies today!