Literary: February 2007 Archives



from The Listening Heart
A.J. Conyers

Of course the obverse side of that question also comes into view. What happens when a society loses this idea of its existence and of what shapes its existence? The sentiment of "being called," of experiencing life as a pilgrimage, is not, of course, altogether missing from modern life, but it is a much diminished idea without the attractive and compelling presence it once had. It has been reduced to philosophies about "work" or "occupation," or confined to the church "professions." Rightly understood, however, it is a view in which human life is drawn toward some purpose that is greater than the individual, one that stands above national interests, that invests life with nobility and beauty, and creates "room" for the common life. More than "work" and more than a "religious identity" or membership in a religious community, it is the notion that being human means one is drawn toward a destiny--and not simply as a worker or as a religionist, but as a soul that properly belongs to that which is yet dimly seen, but which already lays claim to one's very existence.

This is a powerful statement of what "vocation" actually means. We talk of "having a vocation," but it is a misunderstanding, a limitation of vocation that does injustice to the ordinary individual. Each one of us has a vocation, a specific calling. We are needed at a certain place, performing a certain function within the body of Christ. The vast majority of us are called to the vocation of married life. And within that vocation to stand as God would have us stand. St. Therese of Lisieux noted that her vocation was not merely to be a Carmelite, although that was the first step on her way to realization. Her call was to be "love at the heart of the Church." And while she may have stated it most clearly, all of us share some part in the vocation for those around us. For the homeless, those without friends, those who are despised, we are called to be love at the heart of the Church. But beyond that there is a unique identity for each of us--a place we must find and accept among God's people and it is unique. There is no jostling for position. James and John misunderstood this when they asked who would sit at His right hand--they turned vocation into competition. But for our own true vocations there is no competition because no one else can do what we are specifically called to do. And if we fail to do it, it will be left undone. That is the meaning of vocation. The call to our place--and that call takes in all that we are--it is as unique as we are, while at the same time all vocations share commonalities. At once unique and universal, our vocation once found is our opportunity to imitate the Blessed Mother and say with all that we are, "Yes."

That is the meaning and the power of vocation--living completely allied to God as God would have us be, doing what serves Him in the way He needs us to serve.

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In my present light reading, this quotation:

from Forever Odd
Dean Koontz

The less depth a belief system has, the greater the fervency with which its adherents embrace it. The most vociferous, the most fanatical are those whose cobbled faith is founded on the shakiest ground.

It's in a novel. It's the personal thoughts of a character. It has no great pretense at wisdom. And yet there is something about it that is suggestive and worthy of examination. I think particularly of Tom Cruise bouncing on a couch and proclaiming his all encompassing perduring love for whoever it is he's presently involved with. And I think of other similar situations. What comes to mind when you read the quotation?

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An Interesting Turn of Phrase


From a book I am reading at present, referring to the Vatican Secret Archives:

"The place was preternaturally silent, as though it had learned to be noiseless over the long years of its existence."

Comes a Horseman--Robert Liparulo

I hope to have more reaction to this book as soon as I can finish it.

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The Social Gospel

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I've always been a little suspicious of social-gospelers--those who would have it that Jesus came to Earth primarily as politician.

from "Foreword" by Archbishop Desmond TuTu
in Transfiguration
Fr. John Deaf

Traditionally the account of Our Lord's transfiguration and its sequel in the healing of the boy possessed by a demon has been interpreted as providing a paradigm of the encounter with God leading to engagement with the world, with evil, that the spiritual experience is not meant to insulate us against the rigors of life as experienced by most of God's children in a hostile world out there.

The encounter with God would constrain us to work for a new ordering of society, where we would beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks, and we would study war no more. . . . It is to see a fulfillment of God's dream, a new heaven and a new earth, when God will wipe away all tears and the wolf and the lamb will feed together and the lion will eat straw like the ox--"For they shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord" (Isaiah 65:25).

This book is a clarion call for us to be engaged in the project for world peace. We ignore it at our peril.

There is nothing in these words that is particularly provocative. It has long been central to the Carmelite tradition that contemplative prayer and union with God was not for the sake of the individual but for the sake of all the world. The plan of life of a lay Carmelite is to practice our faith and pray so that ultimately we might bring the fruits of contemplation to a world desperate for the smallest hint of the presence of God. The cloistered bring to the world the power of prayer and the presence amongst us of those who are God's intimate friends--to use a not-exactly correlative eastern term, Boddhisatvas--those who have attained enlightenment (in our case presence and Union with God) and remained behind to help others along the way--not necessarily by DOING anything, but simply by being a shining example to all.

However, my problem with the social gospel comes when Jesus is reduced to a political emissary from God whose sole purpose is to make things better on Earth for the majority of people. While this is certainly a part of His mission, it is, by no means, the full scope of what He came to do.

I approach this book, written by a disciple of the Berrigan brothers with some trepidation. While I strongly desire to agree with the central premise, I must admit to some prejudice against the case on the superficial evidence.

So, reading the book to record reactions will be an exercise in reining in those straining hounds that want to rip the premise to shreds on the basis of the fact that it appears at surface not to conform with the fullness of the Gospel message.

This is all said before the fact. I haven't read the book nor given the author the opportunity to argue his case. But I do myself and my audience no good if I do not start my undertaking with a sharp sense of my own suspicion and doubt. I want what is said here to be true, and I want to find elements of the truth, but I fear I may be overwhelmed by the tide of incidentals that while having nothing to do with the central argument, nevertheless inundate the central point. Tom, at Disputations, already noted one that I had observed in previewing the book--the constant dunning, drumming reference to the oppressive male hierarchy of the Church and how that is an instance of this same violence toward people. He speaks constantly of a male-dominated Church, while my experience is that it is one of the only Churches to hold up the supreme place of Our Lady, Mother of the Church and in a very real sense Mother of our Faith.

But already, I'm arguing, and I haven't even given my guest a cup of coffee and asked him to sit down. So, I must put myself and my misgivings aside and try to assess the worth of what is said.

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from Teaching a Stone to Talk
Annie Dillard, cited in The Language of God
Francis S. Collins.

We as a people have moved from pantheism to pan-atheism. . . is is difficult to undo our own damage and to recall t our presence that which we have asked to leave. It is hard to desecrate a grove and change your mind. We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it. We are lighting matches in vain under every green tree. Did the wind used to cry and the hills shout forth praise? Now speech has perished from the lifeless things of the earth, and living things say very little to very few. . . . And yet, it could be that wherever there is motion there is noise, as when a whale breaches and smacks the water, and wherever there is stillness there is the small, still voice, God's speaking from the whirlwind, nature's old song and dance, the show we drove from town. . . . What have we been doing all these centuries but trying to call God back to the mountain, or, failing that, raise a peep out of anything that isn't us? What is the difference between a cathedral and a physics lab? Aren't they both saying: Hello?

We explore the unknown to find something that is not us while we ignore what has been made known that plainly, unequivocally shows it. We are an amazingly perverse people.

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A Personal Insight that Resonates


from The Faith of a Write
Joyce Carol Oates

I'm a writer absolutely mesmerized by places; much of my writing is a way of assuaging homesickness, and the settings my characters inhabit are as crucial to me as the characters themselves.

Homesickness. Almost all of what we do is a way of assuaging homesickness, of trying to forget for a moment that we are not aware of the presence of the One who loves us. We anaesthetize ourselves against the pain of being far from home, lonely, and cold in a world that, while beautiful, offers cold comfort in comparison to being with the One who loves us deeply and completely.

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I don't much care for many of the works of Joyce Carol Oates, although some stand out brilliantly against her vast opus; however, I have always liked the sense of the person I received when reading Joyce Carol Oates. An example:

from The Faith of a Writer
Joyce Carol Oates

What advice can an older writer presume to offer a younger? Only what he or she might wish to have been told years ago. Don't be discouraged! Don't cast sidelong glances and compare yourself to others among your peers! (Writing is not a race. No one really "wins." The satisfaction is in the effort, and rarely in the consequent rewards, if there are any.) And again, write your heart out.

Read widely and without apology. Read what you want to read, not what someone tells you you should read. (As Hamlet remarks, "I know not 'should.' ") Immerse yourself in a writer you love, and read everything he or she has written, including the very earliest work. Especially the very earliest work. Before the great writer became great, or even good, he/she was groping for a way, fumbling to acquire a voice, perhaps just like you.

What good common-sense. What profound human sympathy. It is this strain and these things that I love when I find them in Oates's writing. They lift me up as I read them and set me down gently, renewed and ready to go on again.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Literary category from February 2007.

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