Sunday, January 15, 2017

Reading


Last Fall, I read Thomas Merton's Seven Story Mountain for the second time and found that it had really improved since I was in my early 30s. It was like when I studied Anatomy and Physiology in my late 50s and found that somebody had put a whole lot more stuff inside cells since I was in high school when there were only 4 or 5 cell parts to memorize. I think it might be one of my favorite non-fiction books now--pretty close to Caryll Houselander
Now I am reading Merton's Thoughts in Solitude with my breakfast. I read a chapter--they're very short--or two a day, and sometimes I read the same one more than once. The current one is titled Reading.
Reading ought to be an act of homage to the God of all truth. We open our hearts to words that reflect the reality He has created or the greater Reality which He is. It is also an act of humility and reverence towards other men who are the instruments by which God communicated His truth to us.
So is he saying that all reading must be spiritual reading? Well, no.
Books can speak to us like God, like men or like the noise of the city we live in. They speak to us like God when they bring us light and peace and fill us with silence. They speak to us like God when we desire never to leave them. They speak to us like men when we desire to hear them again. They speak to us like the noise of the city when they hold us captive by a weariness that tells us nothing, give us no peace, and no support, nothing to remember, and yet will not let us escape. 
If this is true and it seems true to me, there is no sort of book that we ought to avoid except the one that speaks to us like the noise of the city.

One of my favorite kinds of books is one that is not ostensibly spiritual, but in which one finds grace in unexpected places--perhaps a grace that the author did not even intend. Sometimes the books aren't pretty. They may be filled with darkness, but the darkness is the perfect setting for that gleam of grace. The best example I can think of at the moment, and it's an example where I'm pretty certain the author wrote exactly what he intended, is The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

There are more kinds of reading than books. When I think of the noise of the city, I immediately think of Facebook, and presumably other social media with which I am not personally familiar. In fact, the whole last sentence of that quote pretty much describes social media.

I love the idea that the words that we read should reflect reality. We've probably all had the experience of reading a book that was beautifully written, but skewed in some way. I'm not talking about fantasy, which can be an excellent medium for reflecting truth, but books that are like a delicious fruit with poison at the center. I suspect from all I've heard, although I have not read them, that Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials books are of this sort. I hate to say this, and I know that some of you will disagree with me, but sometimes I think that Silence is one of those books.

Further on, Merton says, "Ideas and words are not the food of the intelligence, but truth." I've had to ask myself what he meat by this. I wondered if he was saying, "Ideas and words are not the food of the intelligence, but [the food of truth]" but that didn't quite seem to make sense. I think what he's saying is that ideas and words are truth--not just something utilitarian by which we can become more knowledgeable. And he goes on to say that they are not just, "an abstract truth that feeds the mind alone."
The Truth that a spiritual man seeks is the whole Truth, reality, existence and essence together, something that can be embraced and loved, something can sustain the homage and service of our actions: more than a thing: persons, or a Person. Him above all Whose essence is to exist. God.
Obviously, he is talking about the first two kinds of books here.

Thinking about all this reminded me of an oft-quoted passage from The Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis.
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk may one day be a creature which if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.
And the things we read are likewise leading us one way or the other, as do the things we chose to watch. I find it's very easy to get sucked into a series that is full of the noise of the city because I want to find out what's going to happen. It's much harder to pull back from one of these than it is to put down a book. Offering us nothing, as Merton says about the "noise of the city" books, they are truly difficult to escape.

Well, I have managed during the course of this post to include almost the entirety of this two-page meditation. The book, Thoughts in Solitude is full of short reflections. I had to pull myself up short just there because I started to say that they were helpful, and there's that utilitarian thing. They are more than helpful, they are a door into a solitude that is hard to find in a secular life, and they lead us bit closer to that Person, Who is Truth.

AMDG



Monday, January 9, 2017

Adventures



I meant to write about something very profound and powerful tonight that probably would have changed your life forever for the better, but somehow that didn't work out.

Every year when I come home from Christmas Mass, I take the Advent candles out of the wreath and replace them with white candles and we light them when we say our prayers during the Christmas season.

In the mornings when I am doing what I ought to be doing, I walk around the perimeter of three rooms in my house while I pray the Rosary. Today being the feast of The Baptism of the Lord, and there being quite a bit of candle left, I thought I would light the candles while I walked and prayed. So, the longest I am out of sight of the candles is maybe 30 seconds.


It's really amazing what a nice little fire you can get going in 30 seconds. 

Then earlier this evening I flushed the toilet and it made a sound, which if you heard it on X-Files, you would know for sure that something was about to leap out of that toilet and either eat your liver or inject some sort of venom into you that would make you become like unto itself. And the sound wouldn't stop for maybe 5 minutes and then the flowing of water ceased to be something that occurred in my house.

So, now I am in a hotel where everything seems to work, but I have been made to face, once again, a question that has puzzled me for years whenever I've stayed in a hotel, which is why?



I may have asked this question here before, but if I have it has been more than a year ago, and nobody gave me the answer.

The first time I saw this phenomenon, I was staying in a hotel room with three other women, and I thought it was so bizarre that I decided to fold the paper this way every time I went in the bathroom. And I did. And I waited for someone to comment on it, and nobody did, and nobody has ever mentioned it to this day. I have to wonder if they noticed--how could they not--and what they were thinking.

AMDG


Saturday, January 7, 2017

Tiny


 [Mary] saw the circles of velvet-covered wood diminishing in height and held together by a central upright, making shelves for the display of a host of miniature treasures, fairy things of silver and gold, jade, pinchbeck, glass, ebony and ivory, all so small that only the eyes of a child could fully perceive their glory... 
"An ivory coach, you see, Mary," whispered her cousin. "It's no bigger than a hazelnut but it's all there, the horses and the coachman and Queen Mab herself inside."                                                                   The Scent of Glory, Elizabeth Goudge

 One of the reasons, but by no means the only reason, that I love Elizabeth Goudge's Scent of Water is because of the little things. I have always loved miniature things. When I was little, I wanted so badly to be able to shrink down to their size--well, I'd still like to do that. I don't have any perfect little minatures like the one pictured above from the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls, and Toys, but I do have a bunch of tiny Nativity sets.

Unlike the small things in the museum, they are not at all valuable in anyone's eyes but my own. I bought some of them for a dollar or two on sale after Christmas in Hobby Lobby long ago, but I love them anyway. So, I thought that as the Christmas season is drawing to a close, I would post pictures of them.


This one is kind of a joke, but it's the oldest one and has something to do with one of the children, which is why I keep it, although I don't even remember which child. Poor St. Joseph and the shepherd can't even stand up. I don't usually even get it out but one of the grandchildren found it and put the pieces in the with the big crêche along with some animals from the toy basket. This was before Christmas, so the only authentic piece in the crêche is the ox in the back left corner.


As you can see, they all have different pieces. While they all have Mary and Joseph and Jesus and some others, the others are different. They all have angels too, but since I sometimes put the angels on top of the books, they didn't make the picture.


I think this one is kind of odd, but fun. The sheep look drunk.


Some of the animals seem to have disappeared this year. This one is missing a camel and a donkey and some sheep.




This is my favorite. It has twelve pieces and I've got them all along the length of the garland on our mantle.


This pewter set came from a craft fair at the museum where Bill worked for 28 years. I had been tempted to buy it for several years and I honestly can't remember if Bill bought them for a surprise or I just said, "Okay, this year we're buying it." The little plaster angels were a gift from my niece Sarah. One year when she was little, she had $11.00 and she took it to the dollar store and bought a 
gift for everyone.


Some of them are just little one or two pieces. The church goes on top of the Holy Family.


And that's that. I hope you all have a Blessed Epiphany.

AMDG












Friday, January 6, 2017

Booksellers


One day about thirty years ago, I walked into Davis Kidd Booksellers, a new bookstore in Memphis, and found myself wondering how I was ever going to make myself leave. Compared to the enormous bookstores of the last twenty years or so ago, it was quite small, but it was about 4 times as big as any bookstore in Memphis except college bookstores. And it was beautiful. The bookshelves were very nice and there were nice little alcoves for the different collections and there was a good selection of books. I asked them if I could live there. They looked at me like I was crazy, but in the nicest possible way.

I didn't really have enough money to buy new books at that time, but I loved going into the store now and then, and apparently a lot of other people did too, because soon they moved into a building that was much larger, but still very attractive and comfortable--the kind of place where you could sit all day and read, and they didn't mind if you did.

This looks a lot more inviting from one of those
 chairs when the fire is lit.
There were, of course, current best-sellers but there were classics and good history books, too. It wasn't unusual to run across something like a table full of books by and about T. S. Eliot. Well, there was everything you could want, and if you couldn't find it, the employees would be happy to help you find it, and if they didn't have it, they would get it for you.

The staff was second to none--always friendly and helpful--and once they started working there, they stayed a long time. Their exemplary customer service was what set the store over and above all the other bookstores. And the employees were knowledgeable. They knew their stock and they knew something about the books. I don't know why so many businesses seem oblivious to the fact that treating your customers right keeps them coming back, but we all know how rare it is to go to a store where you're treated as a valued customer. I watched a video the other day in which the owners of the store, Karen Davis and Thelma Kidd talked about booksellers and said that their motto was to be the best bookstore they could be. They came as close to reaching that goal as anyone could.

In 1996 when the store had been open for about eleven years, my 18 year old daughter, Rachel, got a job there, and worked there for the next 17 years. This, of course, made the bookstore even more attractive, (her discount made it extremely attractive) and after they opened a restaurant, my mother and sister and I used to eat lunch in the bistro sometimes, and Rachel would come eat with us. Sometimes other family members would be there too. As is about par for the course in our family, the only pictures I have of the store are of us eating--and the food was really good.

My oldest daughter, Lisa, my mom and Lisa's baby,
who is considerably bigger now.

Rachel and her daughter.

My mom and granddaughter, Tessa
For some reason, I can see my mother and I sitting in the window of this restaurant eating lunch with my grandmother as we did in many restaurants over the years, but Grandmamma died about the time the bookstore opened and long before the restaurant opened. I guess I just always think of her when the family gathers.

The bookstore also had other stuff--as bookstores almost always do these days. Most of the time I just walk by the stuff in other stores, but I must have had the same taste as the buyer for Davis Kidd because a good many of the knick knacks in my house were bought by me or for me by my daughter. This is my favorite.


When I have insomnia this is the cup I use to make my Sleepytime tea. so I can get back to sleep.

About 10 years ago, Ms. Davis and Ms. Kidd decided to get out of the book business and they sold the bookstore to Joseph-Beth, an Ohio-based chain. The new owners decided to keep the old name and the old employees, and from the customers' point of view, not much changed. Then about 6 years ago, Joseph-Beth filed for bankruptcy. The store came very close to closing at that time, but at the last minute was saved my a new investor and it became The Booksellers of Laurelwood--but I never called it anything but Davis Kidd and I don't think I'm alone.

Sadly, the reason I'm writing this post is because today is the last day that the Booksellers will be in business. It's really amazing that they have stayed open this long, managing to stand up to the challenges of the big discount bookstores and then Amazon. There aren't many independents that have. It may sound trite to say that Davis Kidd was not just a business, but a real part of the community, but it's true. There was always something going on there for the community; great children's programs and book signings--some small and some gigantic, e.g. Julie Andrews, or Jimmy Carter. They will really be missed. It make me want to cry--well, it makes me cry. And when it's gone, it will probably be the last of it's kind. 


AMDG







Tuesday, January 3, 2017

What I Didn't Write About

It occurs to me that anyone looking at this blog would think that I did nothing in 2016 but post other people's posts about saints, and very occasionally write about a saint myself. For some reason, writing about the saints here and movies at Light on Dark Water made writing anything else seem like an unbearable task.

There were a lot of things that I had planned to write about last year, so I thought that I would go ahead and write some of them now.

Anybody that has read this blog over the years knows that I have for many years wanted to make a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, but I've never been able to and at this point I think it's highly unlikely that I ever will. So, in 2012-13, my husband and I made a little pilgrimage to the three churches that we attend near our house (the closest being 12.5 miles away). We made journey in a lot of little walks of about 2 miles each, and there was a lot of bad weather over the weather, not to mention holidays and indolence, but we finally made it to all three--a total of about 37.5 miles. Not very impressive except for, perhaps, perseverance.


Then last Spring, I learned that these two Dominican Friars were going to be walking from New Orleans to Memphis, and they had invited people to walk with them for part of the way. It was perfect because they are Dominican, and at this point in my life I am surrounded by Dominicans, and not only that, they are friars of the St. Martin de Porres Province.  St. Martin de Porres! Patron of the blog! And then, the final goal of the pilgrimage was the National Shrine of St. Martin de Porres which just happens to be in my parish church, St. Peter in Memphis. Also, the penultimate stop was at St. Paul the Apostle, the church where I work. And part of their route (for the most part Highway 51 through Mississippi) was along the road we had walked in our pilgrimage to the churches.

Obviously I could not walk the whole way, and I really can't walk very far at all when the temperature is in the mid-90s, but as soon as they got within about two hours driving time from the house, and I had the day off, I drove down to meet them. In all I walked with them four times for about 2 miles each time. Again, not too impressive, but it was what I could do.

The way I did this was to drive until I found the friars and then turn around and drive back the way I had come for about a mile and a half, and find someplace to park. This isn't always the easiest along Highway 51. Then I would walk with them until I got back to the car and a bit further and then go back to the car and leave. The first night I stayed in a cabin nearby so that I could walk early the next morning before it got too hot. 

For the most part, we didn't talk while we walked and I just followed behind. It was interesting to watch the way the friars worked together without any verbal communication. When, for instance, I met them while they had been resting by the side I the road, I watched while they got all their stuff together and helped each other with their backpacks and things without ever speaking. It was like a routine they had worked out.

The first two days were hot, but there were a lot of trees along the way, so we were in the shade most of the time. The third day was really awful. There was no shade at all. I made this picture big so that you could see the train on our right. The whole time we were walking I could hear the metal cars banging and creaking as the metal expanded in the heat.


I was really happy to get back to my truck, but those guys still had about 15 miles to go. 

All this walking was through farmland and we only passed a few buidings and didn't see many cars at all. The last day that I walked the friars had spent the night with some parishioners from my former parish in Senatobia, and I met up with them just outside of town, so we were walking on sidewalks on a busy two-lane street, and the friars were being interviewed for a Catholic radio show. This picture was taken during a rest stop at Northwest Mississippi Community College. That's where I called it a day.


The next night they reached St. Paul in the late afternoon where they stayed in the rectory and were met the next morning by a group of Memphians who walked the last lap to St. Peter. These folks had recently been on a fairly long pilgrimage in Italy, so they were accomplished walkers. The building they are standing in front of is the building where I work.


I wish that I could say that I had some great spiritual revelation while I was walking, or that I spent that time deep in prayer. I did say the rosary as I walked along and while I was driving there, too, but for the most part, I was more concerned about just putting one foot in front of the other and trudging along, which, I suppose pretty much describes most of my spiritual life.

AMDG










Monday, January 2, 2017

A Sturdy Shelter



A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure. 
A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth. 
A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy, such as he who fears God finds; 
For he who fears God behaves accordingly, and his friend will be like himself.
                                                                                         Sirach 6:14-17


In a couple of hours some friends will arrive for lunch. I try to invite them down every year between Christmas and the Epiphany, although there have been years when we just couldn't make it work. It was a lot easier to find a way to get together when our kids were young and we could just bring them along. Now the kids are living all over the country and everyone is traveling all over the place to see their grandchildren.

The women who are coming today aren't just casual acquaintances, they are the friends that the scripture above describes. We have shared each others joys and sorrows for many years, and we know each others' strengths and weakness. Today we will pray and talk, and laugh, and maybe cry a bit. We will talk about our children and grandchildren, and we will talk about our faith and we will talk about our difficulties. We won't solve anything, but we will gain strength and grace to live our vocations. We will have had our life-saving remedy, and know that it is a treasure indeed.

And we may have a little wine to gladden our hearts, too.

And I also want to mention that there are a couple of you (You know who you are.) out there far away who ought to be here and who want to be here, and we will be thinking about you and praying for you and when we talk about you, we will only say nice things.

AMDG