Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

A brief and thoughtful video on a great — and much misunderstood — spiritual writer of the twentieth-century.

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Lavery_Maiss_Auras“Lavery Maiss Auras” by John Lavery – http://kevinalfredstrom.com/art/v/paintings/Sir+John+Lavery_Miss_Auras_the_red_book.jpg.html. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lavery_Maiss_Auras.jpg#/media/File:Lavery_Maiss_Auras.jpg

Reading can open up a whole new world of adventure, knowledge, and inspiration.  But who has the time, right?

I recently came across blogger Brandon Vogt’s “Read More Books Now” video series.  Vogt, an avid bibliophile, shares the secrets of a “big reader” and shows us how to find time for reading in the midst of a busy schedule.

If you are a bookworm like myself, I highly recommend you check it out.  The series is totally free, but is being offered on a limited-time basis…in fact, only three more days.

Here’s the link: http://www.readmorebooksnow.com.

Image from Wikipedia

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Okay, okay…let’s start with a concession: This is a big time of year for the premiere of all kinds of movies.  But as a viewer, I have always felt it strangely appropriate that all three “Lord of the Rings” films came out at Christmastime.  And now the “Hobbit” films are coming out during the holiday season as well.  Somehow, it just feels right.

And maybe it’s providential…if for no other reason, because of the Hobbits.

TreebeardThere is an interesting scene in “The Two Towers,” the second book in Tolkien’s “Rings” trilogy, in which Hobbits Merry and Pippin tell Treebeard the story of their journey.  Here is Treebeard’s response:

There is something very big going on … By root and twig, but it is a strange business: up sprout a little folk that are not in the old lists (of creatures), and behold! the Nine forgotten Riders reappear to hunt them, and Gandalf takes them on a great journey, and Galadriel harbours them in Caras Galadon, and Orcs pursue them down all the leagues of Wilderland: indeed they seem to be caught up in a great storm. (‘The Two Towers,” Book III, Chapter 4 — bold mine)

I highlighted the bold section for a reason.  With “little people” appearing during the Third Age of Middle Earth, Tolkien’s Christianity seems to be peeping through the rafters.

NativityOne of the best commentaries on Christmas comes from C.S. Lewis, who said — I believe in “Mere Christianity” — that Christ’s coming into the world as an infant, born into poverty at that, was a deeply subversive act.  Coming to reclaim mankind and the world and to free them from the tyrannical power of the devil, he had to slip into enemy territory — behind enemy lines, as it were — unseen.

And, like the Hobbits, Christ was pursued by those seeking His death from the moment of His birth.  Those familiar with the New Testament will recall the slaughter of the innocents and the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt.

The Third Age of Middle Earth, unbeknownst to its inhabitants, would witness cataclysmic events that would decide the fate of the world.  Against the threat of Sauron, the Dark Lord, the might of Men and Elves would not avail.

Perceiving the oncoming storm, Gandalf the Wizard intuits that Middle Earth will need the help of a people with a whole new “skill set.”  Hence, he gets the Hobbits involved.

Still from The Hobbit: The Desolation of SmaugWhether it is Bilbo Baggins slipping into the dragon Smaug’s lair as a “burglar” or Frodo and Sam slipping into Mordor, the Hobbits are perfect “weapons” by virtue of their smallness and ability to creep into enemy territory unnoticed.  In this way, they are able to overthrow the usurpers that possess, or seek to possess, what is not theirs.

As we approach Christmas Day, let us celebrate Hobbits…and the birth of the Little King Who slips into the lair to defeat our Smaug.

Images of Treebeard and the Nativity from Wikipedia; others obtained through a Google image search

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Mr._Fezziwig's_BallFans of “A Christmas Carol” will remember that Scrooge is bothered by the light that the Ghost of Christmas Past brings, and asks that the spirit place the cap it carries on its head to diminish it.

“What(?)” exclaimed the Ghost, “would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give? Is it not enough that you are one of those whose passions made this cap, and force me through whole trains of years to wear it low upon my brow!” (A Christmas Carol, Stave II)

What Dickens’ specific religious persuasion was I’m not sure, but I can’t help but think he might have been influenced, at least in part, by Christ’s words in John’s Gospel:

And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. (John 3: 19-20 — bold mine)

Besides being linked to the mystery of time, the past is also a judgement.  How many of us cringe at the memory of past faults, whether serious or trivial?  How often do past embarrassments creep into our minds, causing us to blush?

The thing about the past is that it is set in stone.  It cannot be changed.  The past can be forgiven, but not erased.  A person can be redeemed and changed, but past actions cannot be turned into past non-actions.  The train of effects set in motion by a particular action can be arrested and fixed, but the action itself cannot be undone.

In Scrooge’s case, as well as in ours often enough, to confront the past is to face the forgotten, the wrong turn(s) that led to current problems.

Scrooge’s journey into his own past uncovers much that has been repressed — childhood loneliness, among other things.  Most significant, however, is a matter of guilt.  We learn that he was engaged to a woman named Belle, whom he spurned for the idol of money.

Ultimately, Scrooge’s miserly accumulation of wealth and the psychological distance he puts between himself and humanity are forms of protection against his own past — just as humanity’s wars, factions, attachments, etc. protect us against the memory of the Fall.

We can probably assume that the sequential location of the past among the three modes of time is not the only reason for the Ghost of Christmas Past having the first spot in Scrooge’s journey of redemption.  Oftentimes, it is in facing the past, acknowledging the problems that lie hidden, that we get the ball rolling on the healing process (after all, how are we going to know how to heal if we don’t even know what to heal?).

That is one of Christianity’s greatest secrets.  In Genesis, we have the revelation of both our origin — God’s all-loving creation of the world out of nothing, culminating in the creation of mankind, with whom He desires fellowship — and our root problem — mankind’s disobedience to and estrangement from his Creator and Father.

When we turn to God and acknowledge this, as well as our own individual sins, then we can begin to heal.  Not only that, but God Himself comes down to us to get everything started, before we even take our first steps.  That’s the real Christmas present.

Image from Wikipedia

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Ghost_of_Christmas_PastThis is a follow-up to my post of Youtuber Brett Fawcett’s reflections on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” last week.

Brett’s video is excellent, in this blogger’s humble opinion — but he did neglect to offer any reflections on the Ghost of Christmas Past, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to fill in the gap.

It’s interesting how many faces this particular specter has had in the story’s various adaptations, ranging from a little girl in “The Muppet Christmas Carol” to an elderly man in the Alastair Sim version.  To be sure, this is arguably the hardest of Dickens’ ghosts to get a handle on, yet at the same time the one that presents the most options for creativity.

When I finally read Dickens’ unabridged classic at age 13, I was taken by the Ghost of Christmas Past’s very ethereal and otherworldly character.  Dickens’ description offers a vision of one who is neither male nor female, and yet has the qualities of both; neither old nor young, yet both indescribably ancient and yet young with a youth that could rejuvenate the dawn.

Here is my take: Whereas the Ghost of Christmas Present represents, as Fawcett said, “Father Christmas” — or the “Christmas spirit” — and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come represents the “angel of death,” the Ghost of Christmas Past represents the mystery of time.

I would suggest that it is the past, more than either of the other modes of time, that makes us aware of this mystery.  What is peculiar about the past is that it has actuality, but not the immediate accessibility of the present. So it’s going to take on a more mysterious quality for us.

But there is something else as well.  We live always in the present, to be sure.  But the more aware we become of ourselves (growing from infancy to maturity), the more aware we become of our present and our past.  We become aware of events and realities that, in various ways, contribute to and influence the present situation.  It seems that we first learn this in reference to ourselves, and then eventually to cultures, etc.  And from that, we infer that present realities contribute to an as-yet unrealized mode of time — namely, the future.  In short, I would suggest (and I’m no philosopher or developmental psychologist, so take my words with a grain of salt) that perhaps our sense of time develops out of our sense of the past.

Finally, our fascination with the mystery of time is largely teleological in nature.  In layman’s terms, this means it pertains to our deepest questions about:

  • Where we came from;
  • Where we’re going; and
  • What the meaning of everything is in the meantime

ApocalypseI will conclude by attempting a very basic summary of how Christians understand time: Time pertains to creation’s movement, under God’s providential guidance, toward the “summing up” of all things in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:10).  What this will look like in the end, “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived” (1 Cor. 2:9).

This is a destiny that involves the whole cosmos, but also each human being individually.  Our story is His story, our time a longing for His eternity.

I’ll look closer at Dickens’ “time-honored” ghost in part two.

Images from Wikipedia

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DF-SC-84-11899Veterans Day is one of those rare holidays that pay homage to the lost virtue of heroism.

Along with our policemen, firefighters, and other public servants who put themselves in harm’s way for our freedom and safety, our men and women in uniform are a sign of contradiction.

Most of us prize subjective contentment as the summum bonum of life.  We pride ourselves on enjoyment and convenience.  So when people — flesh-and-blood human beings just like us — dedicate themselves to complete self-oblation, to the risk of life and limb for a cause higher than themselves…well, we cannot help but admire that, but at the same time it’s hard for us to understand.

Our veterans and those currently serving speak to us of mankind’s greatest potential glory.  For to give oneself away in the service of others and of a higher cause is part of the essence of sainthood, the call to which is universal.


Okay.  So we’re all called to sainthood.  But I want to reflect a little bit on those who are called to a higher degree of sanctity during this life — not for their own glory, but for the good of the multitudes.  The ones I speak of are veterans and warriors indeed, but of a different sort.

I am talking, of course, about the priesthood.  And to expand on my statement, I want to take a look at priestly spirituality as either directly portrayed or vaguely alluded to in three popular works of art:

1. The Lord of the Rings

Jrrt_lotr_cover_designThe priestly character of Aragorn as a ranger comes across a little more clearly in the books than in the movies.  Consider this quote from “The Fellowship of the Ring,” which Aragorn addresses to Boromir, a warrior of the more conventional sort:

If Gondor, Boromir, has been a stalwart tower, we have played another part.  Many evil things there are that your strong walls and bright swords do not stay.  You know little of the lands beyond your bounds.  Peace and freedom, do you say?  The North would have known them little but for us.  Fear would have destroyed them.  But when dark things come from the houseless hills, or creep from sunless woods, they fly from us.  What roads would any dare to tread, what safety would there be in quiet lands, or in the homes of simple men at night, if the Dúnedain were asleep, or were all gone into the grave?

And yet less thanks have we than you.  Travellers scowl at us, and countrymen give us scornful names. “Strider” I am to one fat man who lives within a day’s march of foes that would freeze his heart, or lay his little town in ruin, if he were not guarded ceaselessly.  Yet we would not have it otherwise.  If simple folk are free from care and fear, simple they will be, and we must be secret to keep them so.  That has been the task of my kindred, while the years have lengthened and the grass has grown. (pp. 278-279)*

Enough said, right?  I can’t help but think that J.R.R. Tolkien, a devout Catholic, had in mind the priests who raised him as an orphan, who absolved him of his sins, who gave him Our Lord in the Eucharist (Tolkien was a daily communicant), and who lived lives of chastity, prayer, discipline, and service so that Christ’s work may continue to be present in and nourish the world.

Anyway, I’ll be expanding on how this applies to the priesthood in my next two illustrations.

* Tolkien, J.R.R.  The Lord of the Rings: Part One — The Fellowship of the Ring.  New York: Ballantine Books, 1966

P.S. I am assuming this quotation falls under Fair Use laws, as my intention is to comment on it.  But if it in any ways violates copyright law, someone please let me know, and I will promptly either remove it or modify it so that it is shorter.

Images from Wikipedia

For part two, click here.

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PearceBannerAbout a week ago I shared an interview with Joseph Pearce, former Neo-Nazi and current literary biographer, on his recent book “Race With the Devil: My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love.”

Well, now blogger Brandon Vogt is giving away a free copy of the book through Rafflecopter.  Check it out:


Image from http://www.brandonvogt.com/blog

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RunawayBunnyThis is going to be a quickie — in the wake of Mother’s Day, I thought I’d draw people’s attention to an “oldie-but-goodie” by Margaret Wise Brown: The 1942 picture book “The Runaway Bunny.”

Mothers, take time to read this to your kids.  Afterwards, you can tell them, “That’s how much I love you.”

Basically, the book deals with a mother rabbit’s assurance to her young son that she would pursue him lovingly if he ever ran away, and that no matter what he did to get away from her, she would always set out to find him.

While reading this book, I thought to myself: “Yes — this is precisely how mothers reflect the love of God.”

For God lovingly pursues us even when we run away from Him:

When they heard the sound of the LORD God moving about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

The LORD God then called to the man and asked him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3: 8-9)

Photo from Wikipedia

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“Rain Man” is a great movie, and there are a number of other artistic works — some good, some not so good — that offer insight into autism from both the “normal” perspective and that of the autistic person.

But I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t close out Autism Awareness Month (it’s still April 30th as I type this, despite what the heading says) with my own thoughts on the autism phenomenon, having studied it in an academic context as well as having professional and personal experience with it.


One thing I’ve heard people say is that autistic children have no love in them (or some variation of that).  Well, that’s not necessarily true.

We have to keep in mind that such judgments are born of our own perspectives, rather than from the very perspectives that give rise to these apparently “unloving” behaviors.

Imagine you are autistic.  Your senses are all thrown off.  Some are too strong, others not strong enough.  The sound of a door closing lightly is like a bludgeon being rammed right into your eardrums.  Shirts that most people would normally wear feel like porcupine quills against your skin.  A simple hug can make you feel like you are being enveloped by a bed of nails.

Or, think of the social aspects of autism.  By way of introduction, let’s state the obvious: A construction worker would not be comfortable if one day he were suddenly forced to work in an accounting firm; a preschool teacher would be thrown off if she found herself working in a maximum security prison; a surgeon going into the kitchen at an upscale restaurant would find himself similarly baffled.

You might have the same feeling as an autistic person in a standard social situation.  Your brain is wired a little differently, so you are coming into these situations from a completely different vantage point.  Social situations are therefore scary, their rules and nuances strange and unfamiliar.

All human beings have an innate desire for closeness, for interaction…and the autistic child is no exception.  But keep in mind that social interaction — to say nothing of love — always involves a certain degree of risk.  It requires us to go out of ourselves in order to meet the other, and at the same time it demands that we have sufficient confidence in ourselves to make that leap.

Autistic children don’t know how to form that kind of relationship, and I think that has much to do with the fact that they have all they can do just to feel safe and make sense of their day-to-day world.

So what do we do?


Above all, I think we need to approach autism in a spirit of openness.  We should pay attention to autistic people and get to know them.  What makes them tick?  What do they respond well to?  What makes them anxious, afraid, angry, or otherwise agitated?  What do they seem to want?

The same holds true for autistic people as for any other human being: If we can find a way to connect with them on their level, we can make progress (though we have to keep in mind that “progress” might mean something different from what we expect — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing).

Ian's WalkIf you are looking for some illustration of how this might play out, I would highly recommend “Ian’s Walk: A Story about Autism,” a picture book by Laurie Lears.  This is a great story about a young girl who draws closer to her autistic brother by learning to see the world as he does.

I hope these reflections are helpful.  I am by no means an expert on autism, but hopefully my $0.02 have meant something to somebody.

Photos from Wikipedia

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I haven’t given a link to Catholic blogger Brandon Vogt’s “Weekly Giveaways” in a long time.  This is his latest free offer.  For more information and to enter to win, go to http://brandonvogt.com/heaven-earth-giveaway/

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