1. Trust y’all had a happy, holy and blessed Triduum and Easter Week, and are now having a blessed and joyous Feast of the Annunciation. There are times when a certain profound yet routinely overlooked truth – that we are here to aid each other in attaining salvation – becomes so clear, so painfully obvious, that even I can’t miss it. This season is one of those times.
After hearing the author speak at Thomas Aquinas College, middle son sent us 33 Days to Merciful Love. Each night, my wife read a chapter for the day (as is intended) to me and our 12 year old son, ending yesterday on Divine Mercy Sunday.
This book is in every way something I, left to my own devices, would never in my lifetime have picked up, let alone read, let alone followed the program. And, truth be told, as my wife read, I meditated more on the Warrior’s chances of getting 73 wins and the nature of travel to and within a trinary star system than upon the Little Flower’s struggles with holiness. Yet, at the very end, last night after a celebratory Indian/Nepalese dinner (tip: stick to the butter chicken – the goat is too much work) we found ourselves at the local Perpetual Adoration chapel, reciting the family Consecration to Divine Mercy in the parking lot (honoring the silence observed in the chapel itself). Then we went inside for a few minutes.
I, with no interest in this but willing to go along so as not to scandalize my sons and wife, end up deeply moved – by a 12-year old boy’s obvious (if nonetheless boyishly awkward) reverence.
So now I’ve consecrated myself to Divine Mercy with only the vaguest idea what that means, dragged where I would not go by the efforts of my wife and sons.
I think this is how it is supposed to work.
2. I will forget my own advice as expressed in the following before the metaphorical ink is dry on this cyber-page. Just FYI.
One thing paying any attention at all to life should, it seems to me, make perfectly clear is that all of us are capable of high levels of both stupid and smart at any moment. There is no such thing as a completely smart or completely stupid person, just people who are doing a bit more of the one rather than the other at a given time. In the same way that progress is best understood as those cases where 100 steps forward have been made for every 99 steps back, smart people are those who are doing somewhat more smart stuff than stupid stuff. And, again like progress, just because you’re getting ahead in one area doesn’t mean you aren’t slipping back in some other, smart in one area doesn’t preclude being a manifest idiot in other areas.
I’ve used Samwise Gamgee as a model for an educated man. And so he is. He is also a model of a smart man. The smartest thing he does is refrain from having opinions about things he doesn’t know anything about – he is well aware that he is a gardener, and that he knows nothing but tales about elves, dwarfs and wizards. Yet, when called to act, he draws upon the wisdom of his people as expressed in the actions of heroes in exactly those tales – smart man!
The number of people I know or know of who, while brilliant in some part of their lives, can’t get and stay married, for example, even if that’s what they say they want to do, is legion. Samwise married Rosie and raised a bunch of little hobbits – what else could he possibly have done more brilliant than that?
I look in the mirror and see an aging man with increasingly poor eyesight who is willing, nay, eager to express an opinion about everything under the sun. Like the stopped clock, I’ve been brilliant once or twice – just like everybody else! (1) Similarly, I’ve done stuff that is so remarkably stupid I wince in my disbelief when remembering it.
3. Went to Lake Tahoe for the weekend with some families from school. At the lake itself, which is just under 5,000′ in elevation, there was no snow. Up above about 6,000′, there was lots:
What I liked most of all: It was about 60F out there on the snow, sunshine, blue skies. Well, actually, what I liked most is that out here in California, we generally keep our snow up on the mountains, where it is scenic, out of the way and yet convenient for visiting if that’s what floats your boat. Other parts of the country should adopt this wise policy!
4. How easily distracted am I? Consider:
I kneel down in lovely St. Theresa’s in South Lake Tahoe for the lovely Second Sunday of Easter Mass, and see the above abomination inches from my chin.
The church building follows the well-established pattern in resort areas in California of trying hard to look ‘natural’ – it’s made of timber and stone with large clear windows looking out on the pine trees. The interior is all sorts of sweepy and angular, sort of like an A-frame cottage with a creative arts degree and too much ambition for its own good.
Of course, one cannot actually build such a structure out of wood and stone – too many long unsupported spans, too many gravity-defying thrusts, too much high open space. (2) So, really, it’s a system of steel beams with wood stuck on them, and rock fascia over steel uprights, with glass and faux-dormer-style windows hung between and among the beams.
Weirdly enough, it looks kind of nice in person. Of course, the equally non rectilinear floorplan precludes rows of parallel pews of equal length, which are symbols of patriarchal oppression (or something) anyway, so we have a sort of amphitheatre-like array of pews of unequal length. Which brings us back to the picture above and my squirrel-level attention span.
Evidently, the church got a hold of a bunch of old pews and repurposed them. Trouble was, those old pews – not very old, they lack all the cool wood carving one finds on pews in old (especially German) parishes – appear to have been of a standard length, consistent with that oppressive style of church in which everybody sat in pews arrayed like soldiers ready to march, facing the same way, where the musicians were cruelly and, one supposes, oppressively stuck in the back where no one could see their reaction when the people applauded their latest partially successful efforts to sing a Jebbie song in unison.
No problem, says, I imagine, an ambitious parishioner with some power tools and time on his hands. I can just chop ’em down to size for the short pews, and stick pieces together for the long pews!
And so the parish, inevitably strapped for cash and trusting in God’s providential will, said OK.
We get a totally inoffensive and unremarkable set of pews for the first 4 rows, where all our intrepid volunteer carpenter needed to do was pull the end pieces off, cut the seat, back and rail to dimension, and put the end pieces back on. Piece of cake. Then it gets, um, interesting? He gets big points for not just cutting and piecing together the pews so that the cuts in the seat, back, and rail all align – that would have been even more ugly, and would not have worked structurally. Instead, he at least had the good sense to stagger the seams. So, structurally, it mostly works: little old ladies are not going to suddenly find themselves sitting on the floor as the pew disintegrates along the seams beneath them.
However: Aaaaw! My eyes! Starting with the 5th pew, each has one or more sections pieced together using the skills and techniques on display in that picture above. Exposed screws with the edges sanded down, a failed attempt to hide them with putty of an entirely wrong color, holding together two pieces of mismatched rail. Yikes.
So while I should have been meditating on, or at least listening to, the beautiful story from Acts where Peter’s shadow heals the sick, I’m thinking: maybe a biscuit cutter and a belt sander? Then, as Thomas has his doubts removed, I’m thinking: no, probably splines along the seat and back, dowels for the rails. By the end of the Mass, I was disassembling the pews in my head, cutting finger joints for the rails, doing a little light planing. He had to have done some disassembly in order to stagger the seams…
Yea, so, um, didn’t quite get a totally attentive and reverent Mass in on Sunday. Oops.
5. The education reading just not happening – serious burn-out. I’m switching back to sci-fi and Chesterton for a bit. Also, unbidden, the ghosts of the skeletons of some stories that have been haunting, however quietly, my mind for a couple decades have returned. Thus, wondering about getting to and around in a trinary star system… And, of course, the Brownson reviews remain unfinished, and there’s more Hegel to read, and I really want to do some Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr… And I have to work for a living. 1st world problems.
- An incident brought to mind: once stopped a friend dead by observing something I thought obvious: that daycare is how we prepare kids emotionally for the day they will stick us in a nursing home. I can’t even guess where on a stupid/smart axis that remark would lie. But for one moment, to one guy, I was some sort of genius. I guess.
- If you’re thinking: But! Gothic Cathedral! Stand down – while Gothic has all kinds of spans and thrusts, it also has a sense of order that is not shared by the subject church building. You can have huge spans and towering walls if you also have carefully planned buttresses. You can’t just decide that 20′ of beam is going to extend out over the sanctuary unsupported and also hold up the roof. You need steel and perhaps hallucinogenic drugs for that.