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August 14, 2005

Opening Your Eyes May Lead to Surprizes

I have been to EPCOT hundreds of times. Yes, I'm one of those. I don't spend my time bemoaning the "disneyfication of culture." I leave that to people with far too much time on their hands. I love to walk around the parks and gardens and I love to watch the people here on vacation.

That's really kind of a side point. I was there this afternoon, and after lo! these many trips, I opened my eyes and what should I see but this lovely specimen of Dicksonia--a tree fern native to Australia and New Zealand and last of the remnant common on land several hundred million years ago--known variously (depending upon the part found) as Lepidodendron Sigillaria or Stigmaria.


Also present near the grand waterworks fountain, this flower. I don't know it's name--I'm not a botantist. But it spoke to me as I passed so I took its picture.


Also walking along, this stunning setting:

red carpet.jpg

and this, for those who have not ever been so fortunate--the fruiting structure of a banana:

Banana Fruiting Structure.jpg

But the Dicksonia really wowed me. I thought I had seen it all, but it all goes to show what can happen when you open your eyes.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 7:33 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

All those of you older than about 40 have already seen it. I became reacquainted with it last week. I had forgotten how lovely, low-key, charming, and heart-felt this film was. In addition, the cinematography is simply stunning.

Do yourself a favor and see this soonest if you have not already.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 7:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The New Life and Detachment

I started this once before and the mercy of the thunderstorm spared you its first incarnation. Therefore, you'll have to suffer with this one--at best a poor recreation of the sterling brilliance of both exposition and prose that was my first post. Oh well.

I was thinking. (Stop that! I heard that long drawn sigh. I know I should listen to the words my Grandpappy never said, "Son, before you set out on a mission, you oughta be sure you got the equipment to finish it.") All of your objections aside--it does happen, equipped or otherwise. It occurred to me that in the canons of Carmelite thought there is little (perhaps nothing) so terrifying as St. John of the Cross's insistence upon the necessity of detachment for the proper cultivation of and advancement in true Christian prayer life. The reactions to this pronouncement vary from--"I'm not a Carmelite, what does that have to do with me?" To, "I'd rather lick the driveway clean."

Even most Carmelites try to dodge the teaching. "After all, Detachment is a means, not an end in itself. So I'll just sit over here and do my own thing until detachment comes along and slaps me upside the head." And so they live their lives, completely undetached and nearly perfectly indifferent and unaware of the fact.

Now, detachment isn't going to come along and knock you upside the head. It isn't going to happen overnight. And, honestly, it is continuous, very hard work. So why do it? Well, basically because St. John of the Cross was right, and the thunk I had this afternoon is a stab at trying to show why.

A few weeks back I wrote an entry on Jesus's proclamation, "Behold, I make all things new." All things--everything--that includes us. How can we be new if we are still doing everything we did before? How can we be new if we are completely ingrained in habit? How can Jesus recreate each one of us if we steadfastly refuse to be recreated?

Detachment is our part of the work (aided by grace, of course) that complements the power of Jesus's resurrection. He raises us to new life, and we cooperate with the help of the graces of God by allowing ourselves to be changed.

John of the Cross advises that when we are faced with a choice, we should always choose the thing we like the least. This habit is an aid to becoming detached. It is also an aid to becoming new. When faced with choices, many of us prefer to take the better known route, or the thing we like better. Why do we like it better? Most often because we know it better. The path is clearer and our knowledge of how to navigate it extensive. Or perhaps because we just don't like to try new things.

If we choose what we presently like less, we may find in it certain hardships and graces that do not come from choosing what we know and love. We will nearly always find in it a challenge to grow in love. When we choose the lesser-known path we are learning to surrender bit-by-bit. And we are opening ourselves up to being changed.

Before you first volunteered to work the Sunday Donut line or help out in the distribution of food to those in need in the parish, you probably didn't think that it was anything you particularly wanted to do. And yet, as you grew into it, you may have discovered hidden graces and surprises. "There's joy in them there tasks!" Our lives should be lives of increasing en-joy-ment--not in the sense of entertainment, but rather in growing in an understanding and participation in God's Kingdom on Earth.

When we're asked to do one thing or another for the Parish most of us can think of ten-thousand reasons why we can't or ten-thousand things we'd rather be doing. And yet, if we surrendered just a little bit of ourselves. . .

That little bit of surrender gives Jesus room to get in, move the furniture around a bit and readjust our lives. It gives Him the ability to recreate us, to make us new. And it gives us a chance to experience joy. In detachment, in the deliberate choice of the less appealing of two licit options, we open a gateway to God. By not putting ourselves or what we want first, we begin to see things in a different light.

All habits, even the very best of them tend to create calluses. If we jog every night and run the same route because we know its length, we miss out on what we might see by running a different route. If we read the same kinds of books, we miss out on the huge variety of things available to all to read. When we serve ourselves, we eventually bury ourselves in our habits--wearing a rut too deep and too wide to emerge from.

But Jesus promised, "Behold, I make all things new." Every day provides the grace for beginning the transformation into the new person Jesus wants us to be. Detachment--leaving the old and known behind and choosing the new, different, and difficult--allow Jesus the space and the material to start forming us in the image He sees in us. It is slow. Sometimes it is difficult. But ultimately it will lead to our transformation and the transformation of all the world. God works with us, in us, and through us--He recreates us.

Jesus Himself said, "Cursed be the man who sets hand to plow and looks back--he is not worthy of the kingdom of God." Another hard saying was that we had to leaven Father and Mother, brother and sister, wife and children and follow Him. What does that mean? We are to abandon our responsibilities? No, rather, it is that we must abandon our old selves, our old habits, our old choices, our old ways of doing things and trust solely in his.

And back to the point of all of this--detachment is the discipline that instructs us in how to do this. Detachment is a means of letting go and allowing God to transform us. It isn't the dour, frightening, horrible thing we make it out to be. But too often we hate it because it does demand something of us--it does demand that we change and we make room for God.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 7:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 15, 2005

Dance of Death

Preston and Cloud's latest entry--the second in a series? the middle of a trilogy? The book pits the evil brother Diogenes against the good brother Aloysius to the latter's detriment. The book ends with the promise of a sequel, so the plot uniting this series must be all worked out. I hope that it is better overall than this first entry in the series which raises far too many questions and provides no answers.

Diogenes Pendergast has saved his brother from a fiendish Italian Count who, using Poe as his model, walled Aloysius up in a wall in the dungeons of his villa in Tuscany. (Talk about melodrama!) He has done so to insure that Aloysius is alive and well to see Diogenes commit "the perfect crime." Turns out that the perfect crime is directed at Aloysius because Diogenes hates him so much.

And on and on and on. This melodrama plays itself out in Snidely Whiplash fashion (think Perils of Pauline and you won't be much off-track--pardon the pun). Indeed, the climax of the piece takes place as the hero and heroine are threatened by a soon-to-arrive train at New York's "Iron Clock."

What's here is interesting. The writing is, as usual, sloppy without being truly dreadful. Too much detail here, too little there, long and pointless scenes all over the place, author's being coyly self-referential and trying to show their erudition--all rather crudely done. However, those points aside, the book is fun for an evening's read and quickly done with.

Of these authors my favorite book is still Thunderhead which, while suffering from some of these effects, seems to be much cleaner and more tightly plotted. I'd give this book a three out of five and recommend reading only if you're short on your current reading list.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 9:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Eyes Wide Open

You might ask, why then, all of the sudden, the rush of pictures. You say, "We're not particularly interested in any more of your flowers or odd pictures." (I know you don't say it out loud, you're far too courteous for that--but it may cross your mind--sort of like, who wants to see your home movies?)

The use of the camera is to train my eye, and hence my mind to see again. In the ordinary business of life, my senses have become too dulled with duty and obligation to serve me the way they once did when I was young as a source of endless delight and novelty.

Yesterday, as I was walking around EPCOT, I must have looked like an absolute idiot, a grin a mile wide plastered on my face. As I looked for things to photograph for images and for "novelties" I saw a thousand new things for every one I actually took the time to photograph. Every flower is different in some subtle way, every arrangement of plants, every rock, every building, every ripple of water. And what is best of all, and you'll probably laugh, every one of them sings out joyfully of the Lord who created them all. Everything I see, every picture I take, every picture I don't take, every person I meet, I see God inviting me into a deeper conversation.

The camera has opened my eyes. It started as something to fill time and record events, and it rapidly became a way of focusing attention and really seeing things rather than just looking at them. The pictures may or may not be good--but the goodness lies beyond the lens in the God who has granted me so many things to see if I will just open my eyes. I have been invited to wander the world eyes wide open to see all that His creation offers and primarily what His creation sings about Him. I am so grateful.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 8:08 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

T(w)o(o) Hard Truths

In reading Gulley and Mulholland's If Grace is True in two short chapters I've encountered two experiential truths--statements the authors make that are confirmed not by authority, but by my own experience. In fact, one of the experiences recorded by the authors (not detailed below) so closely parallels my own it is nearly frightening.

But let me share with you the truths that I have experienced and that I find ring entirely true. At one point the authors say

I've never experienced a God of wrath. I've heard such a God preached. I've read of such a God. I've encountered wrathful people who claimed to be acting on God's behalf. I've even allowed such sentiments to tarnish my view of God. Yet, in the midst of all these distortions, I never experienced a wrathful God. (p. 11-12)

I couldn't agree more. In times of hardship, bereavement, devastation, despair, sorrow, anger, any negative feelings, the God who has been by my side hasn't been shaking a finger at me and saying, "See what you brought on yourself. I told you and told you and told you, and you wouldn't listen. This is your well-deserved comeuppance." No, the God I've experienced has said, "I love you." When my mother died suddenly, He was there saying, "I am with you through it all. Let me walk with you." I am ashamed to say that while I took Him up on part of that walk, I didn't follow through. And yet He still loves me. This is the God I experience every single day. Not a God of wrath, the keeper of the ledger in the skies, but rather a God of compassion and of intimacy, a God who wants good for me more than I desire it for myself. What a blessing! It hadn't occurred to me to state this truth--but I have never seen a God of wrath. I have not seen "the Glory of the coming of the Lord who is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored." I thought I always despised the song because it reeked of Northern imperialism, but I can see what I dislike is that this is not the image of the God I love, but a distortion. My God is more like verse 5: "In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,/With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me."

She might have learned what I've learned--that intimacy with God is not about joining a church. It's not about knowing your religion's doctrines, tenet by tenet. It's not about knowing your holy writings, backward and forward, in their original language. It's not about knowing God as a theory or abstraction. Intimacy with God is more like making love than joining a club, hearing a lecture, or reading a book. There are simply some things we must experience for ourselves. (p. 15)

To which I breathe a relieved Amen! If I were required to do any of the things delineated above I would miss salvation by ten-thousand parsecs or more. Even if my beliefs are wrong, seeking God with all my heart will correct erroneous perceptions. Loving Him will help alleviate my misconceptions. Intimacy is not achieved by question and answer, although it may initially help. It is achieved by loving unconditionally, by gazing into the gaze of the one who loves you and seeing yourself as you are loved. His love alone makes us worthy to be loved and we can only know it through knowing Him intimately. Like making love, it is far better to engage in the action that to hear a lecture on its physiology or read a book about the neuro-chemical patterns generated.

God loves us unconditionally. Isn't it about time that we returned the favor?

Posted by Steven Riddle at 8:31 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Metablogging Note

Two days from nearly nothing to rivalling my left-hand column. Amazing what happens when you start running off at the mouth. God is good (to me at least--don't know how He's treating my rapidly dwindling audience).

Posted by Steven Riddle at 9:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 18, 2005

Miss Marple and the Lesbians

There's so much I want to say in this one entry that I hope everything comes through coherently.

Let me start with a disclaimer. I have surmised that the fewer opinions I have on matters of import, the happier I generally am. I would resolve to have no opinions on any matter, but as that is out of the question (being the second most opinionated person on Earth), I have resolved to confine my opinions to matters of interest in which I can speak with, if not true expertise, at least a modicum of understanding. This would, of course, greatly narrow the scope of my discussion to golden-age mysteries and ME. Given that neither subject would have an enormous audience, today I plan to regale you with tales of Golden Age mysteries.

One of the few mysteries I recall with any sense of detail at all is A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie. I can't really account for why I recall this one, but I suspect that it was the first time I "solved" a mystery before the solution was revealed by the author. A Murder is Announced is by Agatha Christie and it features her detective Miss Marple (if the title hadn't already given this away.

I say I recall this book in some detail. I remembered as I was watching it that one of the victims was named Murgatroyd. Now, I had heard my mother say ten billion times "Heaven to Murgatroyd," and had puzzled over that expression long and hard. It had never occurred to me that Murgatroyd was a person's name. I also remember that the solution of the mystery hinged on the Shepherdess, and for me a seemingly cryptic statement from the one witness who could see anyting. In fact, this is what revealed the whole thing for me--so it wasn't really a fair solution, although, as the statement occurred a good 50 pages before the end and the discussion as to what was going on, I feel vindicated in considering this my first "solved" mystery--and solved on the clues.

A new series has come out recently featuring Miss Marple mysteries. Now, Miss Marple has not had the kind cinematic treatment of Hercule Poirot, etc. Her history starts with the delightful Dame Margaret Rutherford--who was indeed a wonderful cinematic presence but about as far from the essence of Miss Marple as one could get. She did, however, have Dame Agatha's approval. I recall a movie (The Mirror Crack'd) in which Helen Hayes played Miss Marple to the delightful strains of semi-villain Elizabeth Taylor. Finally, Joan Hickson did a very fine job of playing the "fluffy" wool-gathering old lady who is sharp as steel underneath.

The present incarnation is played by Gwendolin McEwan, and I have to say that it is certainly interesting and novel. I would say that McEwan doesn't come anywhere within fifty yards of the character as written by Agatha Christie (that was hit dead-on by Joan Hickson) and yet, as an interpretation of the Christie character, this is certainly acceptable and interesting.

What I find a bit disturbing is the proliferation of sexual antics that seems to bestrew itself across the screen in this most recent set of productions. I've only viewed two so far--Body in the Library and A Murder is Announced. In each of these there was at least one lesbian relationship and any number of adulterous assignations. Now, I probably missed a great deal in my early readings, but I don't think Dame Christie wrote a Lesbian couple into every one of her novels. And with Body in the Library it is this Lesbian "folie a deux" that gives us the denouement.

I really don't have anything against lesbians, on screen or otherwise, but I do have a problem with "reclaiming literature." One can never, with any authority, discuss authorial intention. But I suspect toleration for lesbians was not one of the chief agendas of the Agatha Christie novels, nor do I suspect that the thought of lesbian attachements so frequently crossed Dame Christie's mind.

On the other hand, I can be a seriously inattentive reader, paying attention only to what the author wishes me to look at (hence I'm not particularly good at solving mysteries because I'm always chasing after red herrings) and it is entirely possible that the whole plethora of novels is veritably overrun with lesbians and who knows what.

However, one gets the distinct impression that Miss Marple herself may be lesbian--and while that may be so, it conflicts with my understanding of the novels. Not that that should be any sort of guide or parameter. Nevertheless, it seems odd that watching a random two out of four of these mysteries, I should twice encounter lesbian couples who are integral to the action.

Oh, and Miss Marple is a sharp-tongued acidulous feminist to boot. I honestly don't recall it from the books, and frankly, it puts me off a bit to see it on the screen. Nevertheless, as with the Poirot movies, these are well done, Ms. McEwan is an interesting screen presence, and apart from these quibbles, an acceptable Miss Marple, and the mysteries are true to the books that gave them life (again apart from some of the overt lesbian themes, which may, in fact be present but to which I may be oblivious). Watch for yourself and derive an impression if you are familiar with these books. They are certainly with an hour and a half in comparison to much of the drivel churned out by television and movie producers of the present era.

Anyway, it was good to think back on A Murder is Announced even though I knew the murderer from about two minutes into the show until the end. It was interesting to see even the list Jane Marple produces before coming to the solution of the mystery. These really are, like the Poirot series, faithful to their mystery plot origin.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 9:09 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

TSO and Thoreau

Oh Dear, I find myself about to give birth to another of my endless opinions.

TSO asks why there is a dearth of Scholarly Biographies of Thoreau. I find that there are probably three groups of reasons.

(1) Thoreau, by all accounts, was a thoroughly (pardon the pun)unlikable person. I think often of his quotation, "I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than share a velvet cushion." Yes--and so he sits on his pumpkin and everyone leaves him alone--I think it right and proper.

(2) Thoreau does not fall easily into the many different quagmires that amount to "victim studies." Reputable scholarly works outside the historical sciences (and even within) seem to be much more interested in publishing agenda-driven victim studies than they are in really doing research. So far as anyone is able to discern Thoreau was not gay, lesbian, trans-gendered, a member of an oppressed minority; he didn't stutter or have a noticeable physical defect; when he was in company he was not unduly flatulent or disturbed by excessive gaseous eructations. In short, a Thoreau biography would not serve to advance any of the seriously limited agendas of modern scholarship, so why waste the time, ink, and paper?

(3) Thoreau's work was primarily a work of adolescence. That is to say that his primary contribution to our understanding of the world is rooted in adolescent non-compliance. Now, that isn't to say that it wasn't put to good purpose, but coupled with statements like the one above regarding velvet pumpkins, and an almost insatiable interest in himself, this makes Thoreau a rather less than entertaining figure to consider in any detail.

Now--let the fireworks of Thoreau's admirers begin. Oh, by the way, did I mention that I am actually one of them. Civil Disobedience is a useful and necessary concept--A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers is, at times stirring and lovely, as are snatches of writings here and there. And how can you not have a grudging admiration for a curmudgeon who was old at the age of twenty?

Posted by Steven Riddle at 10:37 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

TSO and Blogging

Despite the moribund state of much of the blogworld, duly noted and annotated in TSO's travels about the landscape, Mr. O is alive and kicking. He asks why there is a dearth of entries by once-prolific bloggers.

And the answer is that when I'm at my machine, I'm as noisy as I ever was. Problem is with nearly a month of vacation here and there, I haven't been at my machine as much. In addition, I've noted the need for mellowing and the need for autocultivation to bring about a clearer sense of where I need to be moving. I've been out taking pictures too often. (This weekend, I plan to return to EPCOT to see if the banana has bloomed.) And finally, and I speak for me alone, absence of wife and child for much of the summer leads to a certain moribundness. I've noted that I have to force myself to leave the house both physically and mentally. I consider this a good sign because it means that the life of family is stimulating and refreshing, keeping me young and alive and less likely to turn into the Thoreauian trogdolyte I would, left to my own resources, become. So all cheer the return of the troops at the end of August. Perhaps you won't have to look at so many pictures of flowers--maybe I'll find a more interesting subject. (Don't count on it--flowers fascinate me endlessly--both in the Georgia O'Keefe way and in the sheer dynamic brilliance and abundance of their success on Earth.)

Posted by Steven Riddle at 10:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

From Father Jim--An Obituary

Horrible beyond words. I mourn the world's loss.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 10:53 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 19, 2005

A Crossbreed of Eliot and Rowling

Witnit--a rather amusing, always entertaining blog that I somehow lost and now have found again alerts me to the presence of this wonderful bit of work--Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Poet For those already offended, this compounds the offense--for those amused by Potter, an amusement--for most a matter of no moment one way or the other.

A sample:

JUNE is the cruellest month, breeding
Voldemort out of the dead land, mixing
Crucio and Imperius, stirring
Harry to behave like a prat.
Winter kept us playing Quidditch, flying 5
Around with the stupid sport, ignoring
Our coursework until the exams.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 4:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack