30 Years and Running

The only 2 pictures I carry in my wallet:

Anne-Martine 8th Grade
Miss Anne-Martine Brilliant, around 8th grade. I love this picture, and have carried it in my wallet for over 30 years. I just like to be reminded of the sweet, bookish girl who grew up to be my wife. 
Kids
Our 4 oldest, taken about 16 years ago. The personalities of these kids hinted at in this picture absolutely held true as they got older. I don’t carry a picture of our youngest son – must remedy that!  The photo paper has not held up so well, but we have other copies. 

30 years ago, right around this hour, the lovely Anne-Martine Terese Brilliant stood in front of God and church full of people  and vowed to be my wife. I, with much less trepidation than would have been called for in her case, likewise vowed to be her husband. And, thus, we confected a sacrament together. It was pretty fun. It keeps getting better.

Three decades, two trips to England and one to Italy, 5 children born and 2 miscarried, the founding of a very weird school, the loss of a son at age 20,  the loss of 3 parents and two sisters and one grandmother, a college graduation, a household that’s gone from 2 residents to 7 to 3, endless birthdays and holidays and holy days later – I’d do it all over, no questions.

Now we face more of the troubles life presents if you embrace it, more relatives getting old, sick or both, more growing pains with kids and friends and relatives, more concerns with what it means to be a mother and fathers, a wife and a husband to and in the world, more questions about God’s will and whether we are surrendering to it.

Accepting all this, with any luck, Anne-Martine and I get to grow old ourselves, together. If God so wills, then we, in the fullness of our lives and surrounded by our children and children’s children, will join our son and our parents and siblings in the places He has prepared for us, and await the family we leave briefly behind.

Thank you, Anne-Martine. Thank You, my Lord and my God. Have mercy on us, and let Your Light shine on us!

 

Mothers

Late, as usual…

Saturday, the three members of the Moore clan still in Concord attended a very sweet wedding at our church. Helen, and Les got married after finding each other 50 years after being high school sweethearts.  After getting to know each other in band (Les: trombone; Helen: clarinet) and sitting next to each other on the band bus and otherwise become an ‘item’,  Les joined the army upon graduation and went away. Helen waited 6 years, then got married; Les also got married somewhere thousands of miles from Helen. All this happened about 50 years ago.

Then, a few years ago, Helen’s husband died. More recently, Les’s wife died. His mind turned to Helen, and, with the help of his children, he tracked her down on Facebook and asked if he could come see her. She said yes. (I can only imagine what went through her mind! She must have a very forgiving soul!) Next thing you know, Helen sells her house in Florida and moves to Concord to be with Les, enters the Church to better share his life (which is how we got to know them) and marries the guy! They are a cuuuute couple.

I don’t really know them all that well – my beloved got to know them better. Les has some children, but Helen was childless. Everything in my limited knowledge of her suggests she’ll step right into the mother role for Les’s grown children and the grandmother role for her new grandchildren.

Which is a very good thing, essential, even. The role of mother may be created by biology, but is much more than that. Human beings are not solitary animals, nor even family-group animals. As Aristotle says,  man is a political animal. The smallest unit in which a man can act politically is the polis, the city. To state the obvious: no city, no society can exist for more than a generation without mothers, and biology is only part of it. Something that has slowly dawned on me over the 30 years I’ve been married and the 25 years I’ve been a father: the roles of mother and father only begin in the family, but are truly expressed and deeply needed in the community at large.

This is why the church blesses and recognizes as a sacrament even a wedding between two elderly people who are far past the age for producing children. As wonderful as conceiving and raising children is, it remains just a part of the picture, and not, ultimately, a required part. A marriage is a marriage even if no children are produced; a woman can be a wife and even a mother without bearing children of her own. C. S. Lewis makes this point in That Hideous Strength in the characters of the Dimbles – a childless couple who nonetheless serve an indispensable role as mother and father to many children of all ages.

I watch my wife and other mothers who have embraced the fullness of their vocation, and see them mothering EVERYBODY. Just as fathers will gather to be patriots – fathers to their country – mothers act as mothers to their society and culture. In this rich moral universe – the real world – there is no either/or for mothers – acting as a mother to her own children by its very nature moves her to be a mother at large. Just as being a father means sacrificing for the culture and society in general, being mother means nurturing not only her own children, but nurturing the children of all ages who embody the culture in which her biological children live. Mother love is in this way the opposite of loving mankind – she loves exactly those real people in her life, and in the lives of her children and family, that make up the relationship among friends that is the ideal of society.  No mere abstractions.

I love my wife more for being the mother of our children, just as I suspect she loves me more for being their father. Like all mothers to the degree they embrace their vocations as such, she is moved by her natures, by her loves for me and our children, to try to do good for our friends and neighbors. It is the sum of all these little actions by all the selfless mothers out there that create the emotional backbone of a culture, that enable us to see in others somebody’s son or daughter, and to love them at least a little for that alone.

For these reasons, Mother’s Day is not just the celebration of the blessing a mother is to her own children – although it is certainly that – but a day to recognize the essential role motherhood plays in any society worth living in. In this days where everything about mothers from their basic biological role to their honored and noble place in society are viciously attacked, let us celebrate mothers in their full glory.

Holy Thursday Art

A happy, holy and blessed Holy Thursday to all who read this blog and their loved ones.

Let’s look at some nearly randomly chosen Last Supper art:

By anonimous master – Basilica di San Marco, turistic book, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4274743

Along the east coast of Italy, facing what used to be the Eastern Roman Empire across the Adriatic Sea, there are a number of churches that look east for their architecture and style. San Marco, in Venice, is the most outstanding. Above is a mosaic of the Last Supper, from sometime after the 10th century, capturing the moment in St. John’s Gospel where, at Peter’s urging, John lays his head on Jesus’s chest and asks who it is who will betray Him. Typically of iconography, little attempt is made at realism – feature, not a bug, as the point of all such art is to raise our minds to contemplation of the Truth, not artistic realism.

An oddity: all 12 apostles are shown – and each has a halo. Since, at this point in the narrative, Judas has not yet left to lead the soldiers to Christ, is the artist trying to tell us he is still an Apostle, still counted among the holy?

Here, for example, from a few centuries later:

Image result for holy grail the last supper
“The Last Supper” by Jaume Huguet (c. 1450)Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona

Note that John still had his head on Christ’s chest, even though at this point Christ is shown consecrating the bread and wine. Judas, front center left, does not have a halo. He is depicted as having already abandoned himself to treachery and the devil. There’s a long history of northern Europeans – largely, the Germanic tribes – having a very legalistic view of things which the missionaries from Italy had a devilish time trying to convert them from, such as compiling books of exactly what penalty each carefully-defined sin would get them in the confessional. The Eastern artist wanted to convey that even Judas was chosen by Christ for holiness and salvation. Huguet wants us to know who the bad guy is.

Image result for fra angelico last supper
The Last Supper, Fra Angelico, 1422

Meanwhile, back in Italy at roughly the same time, Blessed Fra Angelico painted this Last Supper in San Marco – the Florentine Dominican monastery, not the Venetian Basilica.

Giotto, Last Supper, 1305. Awkward seating, odd dark halos, which everyone gets. Giotto was working out this whole realism stuff within the context of the Byzantine style of the time. It works better some times than others.

Fra Angelico wanted to be realistic, after the fashion of Giotto, with real figures shown doing real things.  He’s also working with the existing architecture – he’s fitting this fresco on a wall under an arch, which intrudes in the upper left. He takes these considerations, and makes them strengths. He can’t hang his Apostles suspended in mid-air behind a table whose surface is in another plane from wherever it is the Apostles are located, so he wraps the table around under the arch, gives the three Apostles sitting there a higher built-in bench to sit on so that they line up nicely heightwise with the Apostles along the other stretch of table.

 

But there’s not enough room to show all 12 in this manner. Our Byzantine artist in Venice would have just packed them in, and that’s what Huguet did – nobody is eating dinner in his picture, they’re practically sitting on top of each other.  Fra Angelico instead shows 4 empty seats that, had the Apostles been sitting on those benches, would have put them awkwardly with their backs to us, and instead has them kneeling – a nice reference to the way people would have received Communion in the churches in Italy in his day. These four Apostles obscure each other – unlike the other 8, they are not individuals, but a crowd. I think Fra Angelico did this on purpose, to have those 4 represent us, the people not at the table at the Last Supper, kneeling to receive Him today nonetheless. Also, he sticks Judas in that crowd, compromising on the halo question by giving him a dark one – Judas is still among the chosen Apostles, but he is losing the gift of grace as he embraces treachery.

Unlike the other paintings, here the table is cleared of dinner. “When supper had ended” we are told in Scripture, Christ consecrated the bread and wine. The other artists wanted to emphasize the Passover meal, and so showed it still on the table. Fra Angelico wants to emphasize the connection between what went on at the Last Supper and what goes on today at Mass, so the table is cleared. It is the Lamb of God distributing Himself Who is portrayed, Who completes and supersedes the pascal lamb of the Israelites.

Christ comes around the table to distribute Communion, just as the priest at Mass comes down to the railing. Assuming Christ was sitting in the middle, he’s starting with John, who would have been next to him according to John’s Gospel, and, as the youngest would be a beardless Apostle. But there’s also a clean-shaven Apostle on the end, so can’t be sure.

Finally, he puts Mary (I’m pretty sure) kneeling in lower left. Some tradition place her at the Last Supper, although she is not mentioned there in the Gospels. It serves Fra Angelico’s purposes to show her there – she is also us, in a way, the woman who said yes and for whom the Almighty has done great things. That yes and use by God for great things is what we aspire to.  Judas is in a kneeling crowd, a crowd of those aspiring to what Mary has achieved – total surrender to the will of God. He could have chosen otherwise.

There are hundreds of other wonderful representations of the Last Supper. Maybe in future years we’ll get to a few more.

1,000.

So this here is blog post 1,000. First off, thanks to my regular readers, who seem to number somewhere in the 30-40 range, for stopping by, reading my humble ramblings, and thus encouraging me to continue. Lots of great comments over the years.

I’ve been at this for 7 years; at it more or less seriously for 4, since November of 2012 – that’s when I started consistently posting 10 – 20 times a month.  100,000 page views seemed in reach as well, but for unknown reasons the number of views is lower this year than last, after years of a steady upward trend. I’ll hit that milestone, such as it is, early next year.

Top posts:

2016-top-posts

One post remain one of the Internet’s preferred sources of analysis on John Donne’s Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day. The humble write-up assembles in one place a bunch of factoids and conjectures on this poem I’ve never seen assembled in one place before, and which one is unlikely to come across or put together just casually reading. So, perhaps this is my one small service. (1)

Iconography – started out posting quite a bit on this topic, but stopped, because anyone could find out anything I might say on the subject reading any decent book on the topic. I want to be value add in some sense, however little that value might be. I do have vivid memories of the two times I’ve managed to make it to Europe in my life, time I spent gawking at great art. Maybe I should resume, but focus on stuff I saw in person?  That ‘Fra Angelico: Annunciation‘ is one such as that.

Both those top posts got that way without benefit of incoming traffic from links posted elsewhere. The next batch show up because somebody much more widely read than I linked to them:

The World is Made of Styrofoam Balls and Pipe Cleaners  got linked by some grade school science education program somewhere. This is the oddest link, seems to me.

I’d prefer to forget about Vaccines and Autism: This is Starting to Get Really Weird because I mortally offended a Catholic science writer who by all accounts is a perfectly wonderful human being who under any other circumstances I’d have gone to great lengths not to offend. But if I’m going to call out fake/bad science in general, I have an even greater duty to call it out when it’s from one of our own, as it were. Sigh. Got linked from several directions.

Is Adolescence Even Real? was linked by Jen Fullwiler. ‘Nuff said.

My Sagan Obsession has gotten linked to by John C. Wright.

LCWR and Me was also linked to by Jen Fullwiler.

In Memoriam is a page about our son Andrew’s life and death. There is talk among people here who knew him best to present his case to the bishop for being declared a ‘Servant of God’ – we just recently heard about this, as 2017 will be the 5-year anniversary of his death, the earliest this process can begin. All I can say is: wow. God only knows if these efforts will amount to anything or go anywhere, but I’m touched and a bit awed that people are even thinking of it. So, if you feel inclined to pray about this, please do, that God’s will be done.

And so on. After these posts, all time hits drop below 500 on any individual piece. The top post on education history is The Higher Education Mish-Mash. I suppose one of the things I ended up wanting this blog to do was to incite a little interest in the roots of our current educational system. So far, I’m mostly preaching to the choir, it seems, but have had some much-appreciated push-back by a few intrepid souls. As I am wont to say to people: I don’t want you to believe me, I want you to look into it yourselves! I may try to push a little harder (whatever that means) to get more eyeballs on some of the education stuff I hope to be posting on in the upcoming year.

Again, thanks to everyone for reading and encouraging me, commenting and correcting me. I don’t know how close I am to 1 million words on this blog, but I can’t be too far off by now. I’m expecting magic: 1 million words tossed out there, and *boom* – I’m a great blogger.

That is how it works, right?  😉

  1. But seriously, if anyone has figured out what “wither, as to the bed’s feet, life is shrunk, dead and interred’ means, I’m all ears. One can just speculate that Donne had some weird image of all the bedding shoved toward the end of the bed and onto the floor by a restless sleeper, but that makes no sense. I’m betting that ‘bed’s feet’ is some slang or euphemism. Other than that, I think I understand the poem as well as anyone can.  Oh – here’s an idea: does bed’s feet refer to a footlocker or blanket chest, typically kept at the foot of the bed? Then, as winter rolls in, and as all the blankets come out, the things of summer – and love – are packed away – ‘dead, and interred’ – until next spring. This fits nicely with the imagery and thrust of rest of the poem. Maybe I’ll have to update that analysis…

Can’t Complain…

Perhaps I should even be *thankful*?

For years, the family has gone down to visit extended family in Southern California for a few days before Thanksgiving. This year, a friend of my little brother cut us a deal on a beach rental. This beach rental:

That’s the view off the balcony. It’s a two-bedroom apartment above an ancient snack shack right on the pier in Newport Beach. Way Cool. This fine Sunday morning, I grabbed a cup ‘o Joe at an establishment for that purpose a 45 second walk away, and am watching some surfers and paddle boarders do their things to the south of the pier.  Last night, after a dinner of homemade pastrami sandwiches with my brother and his wife, we walked out on the pier and watched 5 seals swimming down below. Our theory: the lights on the pier perhaps attract fish the seals eat? The seals were very active(1).

We’re a 12 minute walk along the beach from the local Catholic Church. They even have daily Mass. The high yesterday was 82; today it’s forecast to be 79. Flip-flops and t-shirts. Insanely beautiful. In late November. There are reasons 20+ million people live in SoCal.

Wednesday morning, we leave to go back north. On the way, we’ll grab Son #2 and a couple of his friends from Thomas Aquinas College, drop them off at their families, and have Thanksgiving proper with the extended in-laws in San Francisco. The only insane part: We’ll bomb down next Sunday to return said college students to their school – a 10 hour round trip under good conditions, but on the most insane traffic day of the year. But hey, c’mon, all in all, small price to pay.

Only downside so far: my beloved wife has a cold! She from whom germs flee in despair! Praying for a quick recovery.

If I’m ever so tragically stupid as to complain about my life, you could, right after smacking me upside the head, remind me of Thanksgiving, 2015.

  1. One of the little shops at the base of the pier has mounted on the wall a 600 lbs Great White – caught off the pier back in the ’60s. So, seeing both those seals (which I never saw here as a kid – but don’t forget, we are Destroying the Planet(tm)) and surfers in the water is a little bracing. Seals are to Great Whites as Deer are to Mountain Lions – if there is a supply of one, you’re will eventually find a supply of the other.

500th Post, Malta, Thanks, Recap

A well-weathered fence post
The number of this post is unknown.
© Copyright Evelyn Simak and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

So, almost 4 years since I started, here is my 500th post.

Heartfelt thanks to any and all who have stopped by and read any of my scribblings. I hope you found them informative, or at least entertaining.

Recap: There have been about 30,000 views, almost all of which occurred in the last 2 years – didn’t write much the first 2. I’ve done nothing to publicize this blog apart from linking back to it in the profiles I use to comment on other blogs. A couple much better bloggers have linked back to here – Mike Flynn, Jen Fulweiler, John C. Wright and Renee Lin (hope I’m not forgetting anybody!) which has driven traffic my way – thanks!

The most common things people come here for are, evidently, information on Christian iconography and John Donne’s Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day.  Which is cool, but a descent library would serve them better. (In fact, I stopped writing about iconography once I reached the point where I was simply regurgitating stuff I’d read, with nothing to add – seemed I should provide a bibliography at that point and be done with it. On Donne, I took a seminar on that poem decades ago, got infatuated with it, memorized it, and just kept collecting information on it. So, maybe I am the go-to guy on that. A scary thought.)

I’ve evidently got a reader in Malta – I get a single hit from there regularly. Which is cool, because Malta is one place I’d love to visit.  So, hi, whoever you are.

Almost filled the card on Country Bingo – the only major place lacking is China. Wonder why that is? Otherwise, it’s central African countries, a couple holdouts in South America, Greenland, a couple Stans – that sort of thing.

So, here’s to the next 500. Heck, if I’d just finish all the drafts I’ve piled up so far, I’d have big head start! Of course, the dark side of the economic recovery (such as it is) is that I’m so busy I don’t have the energy to write very often. Yea, yea, cry me river…

Shoot, all this means I may have *3* regular readers by now!   Thanks again, team!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m grateful I have a job which allows me to take care of my family in a style pretty easy to get accustomed to. However, still looking at one more week (at least) of stupid-busy (heavy on the stupid – when you consult, the customer can be unconsciously rude and demanding, and there’s not a lot you can do about it. I took this week off – not that you could tell from the billable hours. And for anyone of a technical bent who imagines that if only companies could be run by engineers rather than by pushy sales types, life would be good – I have some counter-examples.)

File:Punishment sisyph.jpg
It’s not as bad as all that. Someday, I get to die! As the Little Flower might say: Woo Hoo!

I could whine, but, hey, I’ve got a job, that would be extremely disrespectful of those who don’t. So, here’s the plan as soon as I get some time:

1. Post thoughts on Orestes Brownson’s “The American Republic” written at the conclusion of the Civil War. To whet your interest: Brownson’s thoughts are almost eerie  in the way they straddle a transition between two epochs – he’s a man totally engaged in the intellectual life of America who came of age before the Civil War, and saw the great working out of the ideas in the Declaration and the Constitution, and asks the quasi-metaphysical question: what has to be true for the positions taken in these documents to be true? Yet, after the Civil War, things have changed, paths have been chosen, and other forever closed off. The result is that Brownson sounds one moment like a throwback and the next like a prophet, discussing today’s problems 150 years ago.

When he wrote this, he’d already converted to Catholicism, after having been a minister or preacher in various flavors of Protestantism. He does not hesitate to pull from Church teachings to clarify political issues. It’s bracing, really.

2. Then will plow through the 3 books on American education history and politics that I recently acquired. Collectively, they’re not too long. And hey, they’re not Hegel or Pestalozzi – should be almost fun!

3. Then, I’ve got a pile of books that I’m part way through reading or rereading: Tacitus, education in the ancient world, Aristotle’s Prior Analytics and I’d have to clean up the mess  by my bed to see what else.

So, the plan is get back to posting about Important Things here, which, apart from the poor lost souls who fall into this here abyss by Googling iconography, John Donne, Vittoria or Styrofoam ball molecules, seems to be what attracts both my regular readers.

And I’m really grateful for the regular readers – thanks, guys! It’s frankly a quirk in the Cosmos that there are good souls willing to read anything I write – I really appreciate it.