Quotations: October 2008 Archives

from Acedia & Me
Kathleen Norris

The monastic perspective can assist us specifically with regard to understanding the value of community. Imagine for a moment that the people you encounter at home, work, or school are the very people God has given you to pray with, eat with, and play with for the rest of your life. And you are supposed to thank God for this, every day, several times a day. This is what monastic people take on. And what they've learned from this particular asceticism, in attempting to live in peace with themselves and with others, may constitute their greatest gift to us.

What struck me as I read this passage is that, in fact, it should not require any remarkable feat of imagination, because this is, in fact, precisely what God has done. Not perhaps for the rest of our lives, given our mobile society, but certainly for that entire portion of our lives while we live amongst these people.

What's important here is the necessity of thanking God for these people regardless of how we might feel about them, and thanking Him for the community that we have around us. Honestly, how many of us can claim that we do that faithfully every day? I don't see any raised hands on this side of the ether.

Bookmark and Share

On Brevity (not)


An amusing sample of the prose of a Nobel-Prize winning author.

from Death with Interruptions
José Saramago

Lovers of concision, laconicism and economy of language will doubtless be asking, if the idea is such a simple one, why did we need all this waffle to arrive, at last, at the critical point. The answer is equally simple, and we will give it using a current and very trendy term, that will, we hope, make up for the archaisms with which, in the likely opinion of some, we have spattered this account as if with mold, and that term is context. Now everyone knows what we mean by context, but there could have been doubts had we rather dully used that dreadful archaism background, which is, moreover, not entirely faithful to the truth, given that the context gives not only the background but all the innumerable other grounds that exist between the subject observed and the line of the horizon. It would be better then if we called it a framework. Yes, a framework, and now that we finally have it well and truly framed, the moment has come to reveal the nature of the trick that the maphia thought up to avoid any chance of a conflict that might prejudice their interests. As we have said, a child could have come up with the idea. It was this, to take the sufferer across the frontier, and, once he or she had died, to bring him or her back to be buried in the maternal bosom of his country of origin.

I don't know why the book is written in this way--long discursive paragraphs that include everything imaginable; single sentense that contain pages and pages of dialog, Seemingly endless and pointless detail about minor characters and odd incidents. And yet, despite all of that which seems an over-abundance, there is about this book something really enjoyable. It is a kind of romp that compels the reader through. I'll let you know if I think the same by the end of the book. But for the moment, I'm having a good time trying to figure out the purpose of the choice of narration.

Bookmark and Share

First, Happy Birthday Ms. Rice--I'm three days late, but very gratified at the gift you've given us all with your confession.

The subtitle of this book is revealing: A Spiritual Confession. It is not a confession in the sense of enumerating sins but a kind of Martin Luther confession--"Here I stand, I can do no other." But Ms. Rice stands firmly with the Church despite blemishes and a long period of estrangement, during which she called herself an atheist. During this period she struggled hard to maintain her atheism, but if the truth be told, there were signs always of the Holy Spirit at work bringing her gently home.

The book is superb. We learn enough of Ms. Rice for the events and revelations to make sense, but not so much that one is perhaps distracted by too much information. Much of the book focuses on her early life in New Orleans and the preliterate formation of her faith--a formation that endured the trials of a long period of distance (38 years.)

As one progresses through Ms. Rice's story, one learns many details about her including her real name, and incidentally her birthday.

It's hard to know where to start in looking at the book, but perhaps the best place is in the facts that most fascinate me. Ms. Rice had a great deal of difficulty in her early life obtaining information through reading. This continued through her early college career. How interesting then that she took up pen and made her living through her writing.

I have said before, and I do not mean it as unkindly as it sounds, that i have never cared much for Ms. Rice's writing style. Up until her Life of Jesus books, I had not completed an entire novel although I tried nearly all of the early ones. But given the struggle she had with literacy, the gift of writing that she has is an enormous accomplishment. It does not make me inclined to like the writing style any better, but it does cause me to bow down once again before the Creator who so mysteriously imbued her with these contradictory trends. Who knows the divine path in it? But divine it is and through the combination of these things, Ms Rice was able to return to her early love of the Lord. More, it is to be hoped that by sharing the story of her struggle she will lead a great many back home with her.

One more point before I proceed to the final analysis. Ms. Rice determinedly does not apologize for the fiction she produced up until the Jesus Books. She, in fact, helps explain the personal meaning of the writing in her life. Regardless of whether or not it had any personal meaning, she is right not to apologize for it. A writer writes because they cannot do otherwise, and a writer writes what is in the depths of her or his heart. If that is darkness, perhaps writing is a means of exorcism, if light perhaps it is a means of praise. Ms. Rice has had both, and through her writing she struggled with her alienation from the faith. Ultimately, that writing may have been instrumental in bringing her home. Yes, she wrote about darkness, because I have not read all the way through a book, I cannot comment on the nature of this, and do not wish to. I heartily endorse Ms. Rice's attitude toward her work. It would seem that a thinking reader, or even a casual reader, would be engaged throughout her work in the struggle that she waged. And by that engagement they might come to a tempering of faith, or perhaps to the cusp of faith. I don't know.

All of that said, when we get to the end of the book, we cannot but realize that Ms. Rice has some very unorthodox views of the faith. Not heterodox, and not necessarily unorthodox in the sense of denying doctrine, but she brings to her view of the Holy Family a unique set of issues involving gender identification and equity. These are good to hear about. Ms. Rice is not proselytizing her notions, but giving us a deep and honest sense of where she stands. That is refreshing. She is disturbed by the pedophilia scandal. She is upset by the notion that women cannot be ordained. She has little patience for some of the patterns of the Pre-Vatican II church (the index of forbidden books) even while she cherishes its beauty and magnificence. She struggles with some of the divisions within the church and with some of the church teachings on sexuality. And for all of that, she has come and intends to remain there. Let me share with you a stirring passage from the end of the book:

from Called Out of Darkness
Anne Rice

But I see people driven away from churches by these issues. And some for their whole lives.

And too many make the mistake I made. They leave the loving figure of Jesus Christ because they feel they have to leave his churches.

I will never leave Him again, no matter what the scandals or the quarrels of His church on earth, and I will not leave His church either.

Next Sunday, I will walk into my parish church as I do every week, and I will celebrate the Mass with my fellow Catholics, and I will stand before the altar of the Lord.

I stop here, not because that is the end of a beautiful passage, but because, you all should have the pleasure of reading it for yourself.

Ms. Rices' story is told in beautiful and simple prose. There are within these pages prose poems and long litanies of praise. (She even gives us pause to reconsider our opinions about the commercialization of Christmas--in a wonderful, beautiful way.) But they never intrude, nor are they ever dull or extraneous. I was buoyed up in my own lackluster spiritual life by being able to share for a moment the difficult journey of this determined woman. It is good to know that the spiritual life is a struggle for all and that my own bleakness does not hold a candle to the torment others feel as they seek meaning in Jesus Christ. Not that I relish that all must struggle, but it's good to see once again how good the Lord has been to me.

Let me recommend this book to the attention of everyone who struggles with the Church, either doctrinally or spiritually. Or if you know someone who is hurt and struggling, buy this book and give it to them. For seekers, at whatever stage, Ms. Rice's work will give hope and some measure of joy. And let me part with this passage from near the end:

Why did He do it this way? Think about it. He made the Universe. So He could have done it any way that He liked. He knew what His intentions were. He knew what we were. He knew what He meant to do. Why begin in such complete obscurity and helplessness? Why begin in the arms of a woman who had to provide for His every physical need?

I find myself confounded by this, as confounded as I am by the horror of the Crucifixion--that the Lord surrendered to the process of birth and maturation, that He entrusted Himself to the weakness and the inevitable frustrations of a developing little boy.

This is not merely the measure of love, but the measure of an overwhelming affirmation of the human condition. You have been a child, so I became a child. That seems to be what the Infant in Mary's arms is saying to me. No wonder He can later say with such conviction in Matthew 18: "Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." He had become a child, quite literally and completely, to enter the Kingdom of Humankind.

I found myself dazzled by this as I thought of it this morning. I was dazzled by His long journey from babyhood to manhood, dazzled by the tenderness of those little hands and little feet.

Nothing short of magnificent. Anne Rice threatens to teach me how to love God again as I should. I can only say with a great fullness of heart and aching, yearning--hank you for this birthday gift you have given me and everyone who chances to read it. What a real blessing, what a vulnerable sharing.

Bookmark and Share

From Anne Rice


There is a very cogent point made at the beginning of Anne Rice's spiritual confession that is borne out by another book I reviewed here recently:

from Called out of Darkness
Anne Rice

The reason I've taken so long to describe this world in detail is because it is the world I knew before I was taught to read.

The knowledge of God, His Divine Son, and His saints was entirely iconic. And as scientists tell us, what we learn through pictures or icons is strikingly different from what we learn through the written word. The brain receives this information in a unique way. Learn from books is something else altogether.

Well, not entirely correct, but close enough; that is, the what may eventually be the same, but the how (which makes all the difference) will be quite startlingly different. And if we grant that the how influences the what . . . well, you get the point.

According to John Medina (see Brain Rules, below), the brain does not treat the two differently (at one level). Iconic images and the written word are both viewed and treated by the brain as images, hence, it processes them in similar ways. However, because the iconic image is direct, it requires no further processing--the image is there. Certainly interpretation is required in the way interpretation is required when we look at a glass of water; and it does not preclude an aesthetic level of additional interpretation and appreciation. However, the written word is viewed as very much the same--images that are disassembled and stored in the same way other images are. However, the written word consists of a set of images that must be processed and interpreted before they can have any real meaning other than images. That is, there is no immediate meaning in the written word--it requires further analysis--hence when we hit upon a word we do not know, the image of the word does not tell us what the word means.

All of this is to say pretty much what Ms Rice says here--we learn from the two differently. They enter the brain and roll around in similar ways, but the end result is quite different--powerfully different. Hence, it is often easier to be affected by and learn from amazing images than it is to read about it and try to internalize it. A good icon of St. Therese (for example) is likely to bring me more immediately into her company than any amount of reading about her.

Don't know why i maunder on about this except that I found it an interesting correspondence between disparate writers with very different purposes.

Bookmark and Share

I Can Sympathize


from The Selected Poems of Wang Wei
tr. David Hinton

The Way It Is

Faint shadow, a house, and traces of rain.
In courtyard depths, the gate's still closed

past noon. That lazy, I gaze at moss until
its azure-green comes seeping into robes.

Yep, been there, done that, and I have the souvenirs still here about my person.

Bookmark and Share



About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Quotations category from October 2008.

Quotations: September 2008 is the previous archive.

Quotations: November 2008 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll