My dream existence

Friday, December 14, 2007

It's that Time of Year, when the World Falls in Love. . . .

. . .every song you hear seems to say "Merry Christmas! May your new year dreams come true!" I've always loved the Christmas Waltz because it absolutely captures the joy and romance of the Christmas season. Sure, it never mentions anything about the birth of our Saviour, but its gay melody and sweeping rhythm evoke a delight only possible to souls who know that all in the world is Truly Right, that life has been redeemed, elevated, and beautified by the God-made-Man.

Two thousand years after the fact, Christmas is just as breath-taking as it ever was. Despite the fact that the season is hugely over-commercialized, you can't help but experience a thrill in your heart as Advent makes its way toward Bethlehem. And as cliche as the sights and sounds may seem, they nonetheless assert their appropriateness to this time of year, and give us a pleasure which only Christmas can invest in them.

The spicy tang of fir trees--the sound of sleigh bells jingling through the air--twinkling lights adorning doors and windows--candles gleaming inside--chestnuts roasting on an open fire--the sparkle of moonlight on the snow--the tinkling of champagne flutes--the strains of Christmas choirs coming through church doors and sounding in cathedral towers--warm mugs of chocolate--men in tuxes, women in evening gowns swirling about a marble dance floor--skaters gliding across frozen ponds--the crunch of snow and ice beneath your feet as you walk down gaily lit city streets--family carols around the piano--couples caught under the mistletoe--mulled wine and eggnog--presents under the tree. It's because Christ is born and Christmas is here that these things are so full of enchantment.

And even if there's no snow out your window, you haven't gone ice skating in years, and sleigh rides are only something you can imagine, it doesn't really matter because each one of us is inspired by a personal Christmas fairyland twirling about in our rose-colored Christmas spirits. The whole world really is in love at Christmas--with its Maker, with itself, and with each one of us. Maybe this year we can let the King of Love reign in our hearts with enough grace to last til next Christmas, so that this delight can infuse a whole new way of life. So, "this song of mine in three-quarter time wishes you and yours the same thing too!"

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Tranquility of Grey

There's something about mist that's delightfully stilling. Some people find grey days very depressing, and I will admit that too many of them in a row can have a decidedly dampening effect on one's spirits. However, when cold days are still something of a phenomenon, and you're revelling in sweaters, long skirts, and boots, the facets of grey weather are more soothing than saddening.

Yesterday, I took time out from work to go for a twenty minute walk in the afternoon. The sky was completely overcast with a dense blanket of silver clouds, and the temperature was such that the morning mist had never had a chance to lift. What impressed me immediately about the day was its quietness. I stepped out of the building, and everthing was perfectly still. Even the ring of my boot heels was softened by the silence around me.

As I wended my way up the road and back again, a soft frosting of dew-like rain settled on my hair, cocooning me in the texture of the day. All about me was tranquility, and with a whisper, that peace stole right into my heart, leaving me utterly content with a blissful quiet in my soul. Only grey misty days are capable of producing just that kind of stillness, that simple uncomplicated silence that is happy just to be what it is, as it is--not anticipatory, not active, not lazy, not languid--just complete.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Glories of Autumn

Well, autumn is officially upon us according to the calendar, and it's even beginning to feel like it outside. The temperature has dropped; there's a lovely breeze, and the trees are beginning to show hints of their true colors.

I've never like the word "fall" because it absolutely fails to capture the reality of autumn. "Fall" soounds depressed, hurt, dull, and dreary. But "autumn" sounds spicy and rich, just like the season itself. "Autumn" speaks of pumpkin pie, cinnamon candles, hot cider, long walks, bonfires and marshmallows. "Autumn" sounds like the tapestry of warmth sewn by the changing trees. It sounds like the blanket of mist that shrouds the mornings, and like the incense of woodsmoke that permeates the atmosphere during this delightful season.

I find it remarkable that this season which signals the waning of the year is yet so full of energy. In fact, no other season is so energetic as autumn. No other season has that delicious crispness in the air, that invigorating clarity and liveliness that makes you want to burst with joy and activity. No other season makes you feel so capable of accomplishing great things. What a gift--to be given the spice of life in this wonderful time of the year!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Happy Feast of the Assumption

At Mass today, the priest gave an excellent homily, in which he pointed out that Mary is our example of Catholic joy. "My soul REJOICES in God, my Saviour!" Catholics have every reason to be filled with joy, but many times we are not. Joy does not necessarily mean a giddy sort of happiness, but rather an all-encompassing sort of peace. The Lord is mighty, and He has done great things for me and for the world. He is all-powerful, and all shall work according to His will in the end, so I should have no worry or fear. I am in His hands, and because of this I have joy.
Mary is a neat reminder to us to have no fear, but to trust joyfully in the goodness and mercy of the Lord! This is the day which the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Superfluous Has a Point and Useless is Good

Men often wonder why women are so pleased by things like boxes of chocolate, bouquets of flowers, a pretty dress, fancy soap, and old china. Oftentimes, men themselves would naturally be much more inclined to like and give things that are useful, like a set of tools, a new electronic device, a month of gas for the car, or something of that nature. While we women certainly understand the value of such items, we rarely get that same thrill of pure unadulterated joy as we do when we behold a frilly Easter hat, a budding rose, or a footed teacup.

So why do we tend to go for "knick-knacks," these decorative, but not necessarily always useful bits of beauty and fun?

I think it's because God wanted humans to experience a bit of his own thrill in superfluousness. After all, He is the One Who decided to create the world in the first place, a bit of superfluousness in and of itself. Compared with God Himself, the world has no great value at all, but He had so much Love that He decided to create a world and people to share His wealth. And when this fairly insignificant world was created, God took great pleasure in it. He pronounced it good, and walked in the garden with mankind, taking delight in the beauties of His creation, despite the fact that they added nothing whatsoever to His Being, despite the fact that they were not really "useful" to Him.

Isn't that the way women enjoy "frivolous" "useless" things--bits of lace, porcelain figures in elegant poses, and silk-covered stilettos? We don't need them; they're not particularly useful; they're just pretty, and we absolutely love them.

I think God entrusted women with a mission to bring this sense of gratuitous goodness into the world. Men couldn't do it because they were created with a nature that's all about justice. It doesn't make "sense" to enjoy these silly things; they're not worth it. And men are right, so far as it goes. But women were created with a nature that's all about love, and love is all about beauty, and true love overflows without ceasing until it encompasses everything within reach. Women know about the insanity of love, the "injustice" of love. Their very bodies are a monument to this. Because of this intimate understanding of the gratuitous nature of love, it actually makes great sense that women should be able to derive great joy from little, useless, silly things. It is precisely these things that bring beauty into our lives, and it is precisely in our enjoyment of them that we mirror God's own enjoyment of His creation.

**disclaimer: Obviously, not all men are totally robot-practical, and incapable of sensitivity to these "superfluous" things. Also, not all women are as pleased by "useless" things as are others. Still, in general, men and women tend to look at these things differently. Regardless, the fundamental point about "gratuity" being good is still worth making.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Joys of Nature

The other day, I took a short walk across a more heavily wooded area on the campus of the college near my office. It was a beautiful day--no students around, bright sunshine, thick green foliage on the tall trees, flowers in bloom all around, birds chirping merrily, and bees tilting through the air on their drunken way home.

It was simply the most peaceful experience I've had in a month, and it was utterly lovely!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Absolute Peace

"Beauty is a form of genius--is higher, indeed, than genius, as it needs no explanation. It is of the great facts in the world like sunlight, or springtime, or the reflection in dark water of that silver shell we call the moon" --Oscar Wilde

He was right. Beauty is a fact of the world, bigger and more complete than all of the evils and sorrows of this world put together. It is a fact of the world and it is comforting, for it is God working among us. It is above genius, because it is the product of God's Word. It needs no explanation, because it is written in our souls.

No matter what evils occur in the day-to-day, the beauty with which we are surrounded is always there, showing that God never ceases to walk beside us with His love and His mercy. His beauty is His promise.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Til Death Do They Part

This morning, while parked at a stoplight, I experienced a moment that was outside of time, and which touched me rather deeply.

A classic American car drove by, and in it sat a couple, at least 80 years old. What touched me so much was how together they looked, and how much time they had clearly spent together. The window into their world was like looking at a little bit of heaven on earth.

There they were, as wrinkled as they could be, but dressed up for driving. She had a scarf over her head (despite it's being a closed car) and a co-ordinated suit, while he was wearing a fedora and a sports coat. They were smiling and talking, probably sharing some little family joke, and for all I know, they were probably holding hands on the seat.

I thought back to what it must have been like the first time she ever got in his car back in the 40's. She would have gaily tied her kerchief over her head to keep her perfectly done hair in place while they went driving in the open car, skipped down the walkway to the car, hopped up into the passenger seat, and flashed her man a smile as he closed the door after her. He probably grinned a little to himself, straightened his coat as he came around the front of the car, and flashed her an equally beguiling smile as he slid in behind the wheel. And then they were off. . .for the rest of their lives. And there they were again today, just as happy looking as they would have been their first day together, doing just the same things they did back then, only a little bit slower......

and slower until the day when Love Himself will take them to be with Him.

Surely trial has touched them as it touches all of us; undoubtedly difficulties presented themselves with frequency along their roads. However, they weathered it all, and they did it with grace, and with love. It is indeed a many-splendored thing, when love has been lived well and truly!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Great Thursday

Great Thursday, otherwise known as Holy Thursday, is so named because it was on this day that Christ gave to His Church His greatest gifts: The Eucharist, and the priesthood to administer His sacraments for the rest of time. Outside of the Redemption itself, we have been given nothing so great as these admirable gifts.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Liturgical Blooms

There is so much of beauty in the traditions of the Catholic Church. In the old days, Palm Sunday used to be known also as Pascha Floridum, or the Bud of Pascha. This is a truly lovely thought. Easter Sunday (Pascha) is only eight days away, and so Palm Sunday is like the little flower bud that begins to show its colors before it blossoms to its full glory a few days later. That little flower bud still has alot of work to do--it still needs to break through the shell around it, just like we still have to go through the trials of Holy Week, and finish cracking our shells of sin. But then at the end, the bud becomes a gorgeous celebration of life and color, while our Easter Sunday reveals the glory of the Risen Christ and our consequent rebirth in His Light.

In 1513, the Spaniards discovered a peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico. It just so happened to be the day of Pascha Floridum, so the Spaniards named that peninsula Florida. Our own state of Florida was named after a lovely Catholic tradition--what a neat thought.

Pussy willows came into use in the northern European countries during the Middle Ages. Palms were very hard to come by, so churches in northern Europe didn't usually have any for Palm Sunday. They had to use various other branches instead. Pussy willows came into favor because they worked well with the symbolism of the Pascha Floridum.

There are so many wonderful things about the Catholic Church, but certainly her traditions are among the best things about her. They infuse a sense of romance and adventure into our lives. They give us something to look forward to, and something to live up to. They dress up our lives, and make the passing of time special. Thank you, Lord, for tradition!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Our Most Blessed Lady of Sorrows

This is one of the most beautiful and most moving paintings I think I have ever seen. Without being the least bit overdone, Fra Angelico has managed to capture most evocatively the holy anguish and exhaustion of the Blessed Mother of Christ after the death of her Son. There is so much love in this painting. It is so real in its sorrow, so strong in its weakness. What a beautiful meditation for Lent!

Monday, March 05, 2007


I recently ran across a great little piece in a charming book about food: "The meal is the essential act of life. It is the habitual ceremony, the long record of marriage, the school for behavior, the prelude to love. Among all peoples and in all times, every significant event in life--be it wedding, triumph, or birth--is marked by a meal or the sharing of food or drink. The meal is the emblem of civilization. What would one know of life as it should be lived or nights as they should be spent apart from meals?"--James and Kay Salter's Life Is Meals

What a lovely thought! A ceremony, something special, that happens again and again. The accompaniment and companion of a loving and faithful marriage. The place where manners are learned, traditions passed down, and culture reborn. The place where all the best ideas about life, beauty, religion, truth, etc. are discussed and renewed.

Food does always seem to be at the heart of everything. We can't in fact live for very long without eating, so of necessity, meals happen regularly. But so much has happened around food. The Old Testament is full of warfare and strife, much of which was started because someone didn't have enough food. The New Testament is full of miracles that have to do with the multiplication and provision of food, both physical and spiritual. Many of these miracles occurred within a ritual or ceremonial setting, and the greatest of these miracles (Christ's gift of His own Body and Blood) continues without ceasing to this day.

What history may have been made over the dinner table, when heads of state gather to discuss matters of international consequence? What great novels, poetry, and music may have been written on the inspiration of an idea tossed out in dinner conversation? What strange philosophies and new sciences may have germinated from vigorous interchange carried out over a hearty meal?

Meals are the natural occasions of all such phenomena, for they are the times when people are together long enough to relax and to be able to think and to share ideas with one another. "The meal is the emblem of civilization" because it fosters the components of culture, without which there is no civilization. The Greeks, for instance, made a huge issue of hospitality--of making sure that guests and sojourners were fed well and with proper ceremony. They were one of the greatest civilizations this earth has ever known.

Think of the old black and white films. Certainly society was not perfect at the time; nor were the movies. But there was always something so satisfying about their portrayal of meals. In the movies, people made time for meals. They "dressed for dinner," made a point of eating together, presented the food in an appealing way, and took time to enjoy the food and each other at table. Those scenes always seemed so right, so just, so proper--all was right in the world so long as people dressed for a good dinner.

Well, we don't live in the movies, but perhaps they aren't so far wrong in this sense. After all, where is America now with its T.V. dinners, fast food, and eating disorders? Most of society is unhappy; families don't know each other anymore, and very little of true beauty and lasting value is being produced to enhance our culture. In fact, culture is dead in America, and society is crumbling.

So, while meals may not solve every problem in the land, perhaps it wouldn't be such a bad idea to reintroduce some of the old customs and ideas about meals. Maybe we should make time to prepare good meals with our own hands, and to serve them with artistry. Maybe we should bring back the tradition of dressing for dinner, and spending an hour at table in conversation. If we perhaps stepped outside of our normal lives just long enough to do this, we might find our spirits calmed, and our hearts uplifted. Maybe families would learn to appreciate each other again, and maybe ideas of value would have time to generate.

Meals aren't just about existing; meals are about living. Bon Appetit!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Beautiful Bad Weather

For all that bad weather (ice storms, blizzards, etc.) can be so inconvenient, even debilitating, the one good thing that seems to accompany bad weather is the sudden emergence of good samaritans.

Over the past few weeks, there have been several little storms and things that have ended up putting me in a bad position one way or another. Each time, I was rescued by at least one charitable individual.

In an ice storm, my car ended up in a ditch. I called my brother, and he immediately dropped what he was doing and convinced several other young men to do likewise. They came out and got my car to a safe location, which happened to be the driveway of an older gentleman who lived right by the scene of the accident. He offered of his own accord the use of his driveway for as long as I needed the car to stay there. I'd never laid eyes on the man before in my life. An off-duty policeman, who happened to be rescuing his daughter (whose car had suffered a similar fate as mine), drove me home.

In the most recent storm, we had a few inches of snow sandwiched between two layers of astonishingly thick ice. The town and county plows never even came through our neighborhood. The man who lives next door, however, owns a tractor. He very graciously plowed my steep driveway, and then proceeded to clear a track through the streets of our neighborhood, helped here and there by those who have snow-blowers. They were at it most of the day, working to clear away the treacherous snow and ice for everyone.

I was very impressed and touched by this behavior. While I know that naturally, we need this kind of weather to keep the earth green and alive, I am inclined to wonder if spiritually, God allows this sort of weather so that we may have opportunities for charity, and occasion to remember that the world is not yet wholly lost, nor without individuals willing to go the extra mile for neighbors in need.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Christmas Trees

I find it very interesting that through the various traditions surrounding it, not to mention its essential nature, the Christmas tree symbolizes so perfectly the individual whose birth we celebrate by having that Christmas tree in the first place.

By its nature, a Christmas tree is a fitting symbol for the newborn Savior because it is first of all green, a color long associated with life. Moreover, Christmas trees are usually, if not always, evergreens, which means that like the Christ-child Who was born in the coldest, darkest part of the year, the Christmas tree brings life into the harshest part of the year when the world is dead, as it were.

In its decoration, the Christmas tree images Christ no less. Typically, trees are trimmed to a point, so that starting from a widespread fullness at the bottom, they softly taper to a tiny point at the top, drawing the eye upward and heavenward. Does not Christ work in the same manner, for He never spoke or acted but in the name of "My Father in Heaven," ever guiding us to consider our highest calling, and our final end--eternal life with God.

We deck the branches of our Christmas trees in hundreds of little lights, so that each tree radiates a soft but intense glow that draws our gaze into its very heart. Even so Christ, Who radiates the light of His grace so beautifully and so strongly that we can hardly help but be drawn into Him ourselves, our souls warmed and fulfilled by that light of grace.

Perhaps the mere presence of a Christmas tree in our homes helps us to appreciate the goodness and beauty of our Infant Messiah. . .and perhaps, if we were to spend more time contemplating the beauty of our Christmas trees, we might in time find we'd learned much more about our God Who condescended to be born for us.