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What are you Waiting For?

19 Oct The Waiting Place – Dr Seauss
The Waiting Place – Dr Seauss

The Waiting Place – Dr Seauss

 

  Something feels off, not quite right? You must be in a bout of sadness. If so, what would lift you out the unwelcomed sullenness? Get home and grab a glass of Shiraz. It has worked before. Maybe start that book that you set on the edge of the dresser weeks ago and have passed in between the last duty and the next obligation. Fine. But, the words are uninteresting. Flip through photos to remember spring or munch on candy corn from the freezer and think of upcoming autumn. Uneventful. Sun always does the trick, so bike down to the park. Ride quick across the bridge, too. There is nothing in the Twin Cities that can revive a torpid soul like flying over the Mississippi. And so you do.

   But this time it seems to be only a river to get over. How was it before? The fishing spot, the place for a long run. It was a shoreline wondering with a cigar hanging from your lip mid good conversation: like that one on the nature of space travel or whether your friends were for or against gardens inside the house. The river has been the reason for sitting all evening to watch the sinking sun. How once you were flabbergasted for a whole afternoon by the fact that this section of water somehow makes it to Memphis and Baton Rouge, and then may someday splash a Cuban kid or rain on Mongolia. Now you cross the bridge with some appreciation, of course, but in no way are you elated to sing into the wind or ride without hands.  It is a bunch of water and you are entering busy traffic driven by the overworked and unaware.

   It is as if there was once a kind of life to be experienced inside the kayaking or homemade Juicy Lucy’s on the grill. However, in sadness, the components are still there: trees, friends, evening time, but the crucial component is missing – that hidden life within it all. The stuff that presses itself into memory and catches you from falling asleep to the world has left your surroundings.

   So what to do to get it back? Two options: fill the day with more activity and as many short thrills as one can manage. Or wait. Wait until that life comes again, and get ready for its coming. For the Christian, this life, or liveliness, is from God and can only be seen as an unachievable gift. And according to a saint, Bernard of Clairvaux, waiting is a kind of active searching: “let us wait for the Lord, let us seek after Him.” It is a brave way to remain tied to what you wait for. Waiting is not a giving up, but a realization that we cannot create our happiness, but to be ready for when it is given.

– Laura Eusterman

 

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Return from Skyfall: Bond’s Comments on Culture

1 Jan

The brave new world of the twenty-first century wrestles on an ever-evolving basis with technology that puts information at our fingertips, tries to outsmart our enemies and our friends, and develops new frontiers. It tries to place the new and progressive on the front lines while disposing of anything redundant or without purpose. This is precisely the focal point of the twenty-third installment of the James Bond franchise, Skyfall.

Return from Skyfall: Bond’s Comments on Culture

Bond returns as a vestige of the old ways, that which is tried and true but vulnerable in a weaker, older body, fighting against an individual enemy who lurks in the shadows of technology. Silva, former MI6 agent gone rogue, harnesses technology to eliminate anything deemed redundant or without purpose. He glories in his own life of “pick your own mission,” a life of selfish terrorist actions. In MI6 itself, a new character, “Q,” represents the new generation, all about tech and gadgets. He tells Bond, “I’ll hazard I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field.” At the same time, M, director of MI6, faces an inquiry regarding her antiquated actions costing lives and money but unapologetically clings to what she feels and knows is right.

Our daily fast-paced culture is not far behind this scenario. Too quickly we are prepared to dispose of old ways and accept whatever is new be it technology, relationships, lifestyles, or religion. “Our enemies are not nations or flags” as M put it, “they are individuals in the shadows.” We fight against one another and those who used to be and ought to be on our side. There is no more room to dialogue. Distraction and noise drown out the silence required to actually deal with our problems. It is time to go back to Skyfall, Bond’s childhood home, our own roots, “to go back in time where we’ll have the advantage.”

“Sometimes the old ways are best,” says the gamekeeper at Skyfall, the ways that change the rules on our common enemy to get him on an impossible field where he has forgotten how to play. For the Church this means, daily prayer, an orientation of mind and heart to God, and true healing, a painful but renewing process. The journey toward healing a broken world requires all of us to abandon our desires, wants, and ideas for a greater God beyond our understanding. Numbers, strength, and even “good feelings” do not matter but faithfulness does. M proclaims she “did at least one thing right,” which was to put Bond, the symbol of the tried and true, back in the field. M quotes from Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses”:

We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

-Kellen O’Grady

Photography and Beauty

23 Aug
Charalambos Epaminonda’s Virgin of the Sign

Charalambos Epaminonda’s Virgin of the Sign

The light of the morning sun burns the sky with rays of gold, waking the city. The wrinkles of my great aunt line her face with tales of the past, to be discovered through long afternoon conversations. Montana mountains loom over valleys, crystal lakes gleam and stretch to rest at the base of splendor. The synchronized laughter of mother and daughter with uncanny similarity caught in a celebration. The still frame.

We experience, we capture, and we archive. Then what? As a closet photographer I have struggled with the idea of art as I captured moment after moment over the past decade. With the development of digital photography these captured moments became ever so frequent. At one point I turned on my computer and I was overwhelmed by the thousands of moments I had captured yet forgotten. Photography was no longer an art to me, it was supplementing my memory.

He Sang Frank Sinatra all day long. I wish I wanted a pumpkin...

He Sang Frank Sinatra all day long. I wish I wanted a pumpkin…

Upon this realization I vowed to put down my digital camera and return to film. There is a risk to film photography, the moments captured in frames with no certainty in their release. Only when you have successfully developed the roll, bypassing all the possible moments of premature exposure to light, can you marvel in the still frame. With this risk, I once again became aware of the moment, not allowing my memory to rely on the outcome of the capture. The beauty became fleeting but I knew there had to have been more.

With the click of the shutter came an acute awareness of the moment. The reflection of the light, the crisp clear water of the river, and the sound of the laughter pulsing through my veins, rattling my bones, beckoning my lungs to gasp for air. I wasn’t capturing a memory anymore, I was grasping for beauty, a beauty that directed me towards something else, towards the Infinite. The subscript of a friend’s email sends me a quote by C.S. Lewis from The Weight of Glory, “We do not want merely to see beauty… We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it… At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.” I grasp at beauty because it is infinite, because I want to be a part of it. It is the reflection of Christ. It is Christ. Standing in front of these moments, with the shutter at my fingertips, I am beckoned to sing Alleluia.

-Colleen Pesci

 

What Fell Furtive Thing Within?

13 Aug

What fell furtive thing within
My beating breast
Doth don a darkening cloak?

What deadly secret whim
Doth hold my heaving chest,
And with a poison soak
The marrows of my soul?


What wretched act unknown,
Too well preformed,
Doth make a conscience ache
With grievous moans?
What holds a man forlorned
Of what doth make
The angels Heaven keep?


What thieving ghoulish mark
Of blackened orb
Doth dot my holy spirit sore?
What cunning comer harks
The measure to absorb
Of all my better lifelong lore,
For to abolish all that’s in me good?


Alas! is it not my own and secret sin?
Is it not my own and evil act?
Is it not my own and wretched whim,
That ruined the everlasting pact,
I made of old in younger years
To keep for sure through joys and tears?


And now it’s broke; and I do weep
To have forsook the Lord who keeps
Me still within my cheat,
And loves me, more my heart doth beat
The pulse of holy life within.
And I am not in soul yet dead;
I’m not forsaken of the One
Whom I have oft offend.


My Lord, my Lord
O good and gracious Lord!
My doomed sin I place
‘Fore Thy forgiving throne,
And swear to Thee
Upon Thy longing love
That never more my sin shall be.


-Michael Panka

Finding Wisdom in Summer Blockbusters

27 Jun

Uptown Theater

One of the best ways to find relief from the Twin Cities’ hottest and most humid summer days is to relax in the soft seats of an air conditioned movie theatre, where at last you can untangle yourself from heat’s embrace. I often go to the beautiful Landmark Theaters, where you can see the more obscure and foreign films. Or I cross the mighty Mississippi to my other favorite and a Minneapolis treasure, Riverview Theatre, where the original decor from the 1950s brings you back to the days of Grace Kelly’s beauty and Jimmy Stewart’s signature drawl.


The blockbuster that ushered in this summer was the highly anticipated “The Avengers.” Why is it that thousands all over the world crowded the movie theaters to watch fictional characters in tight pants doing completely unrealistic things? It wasn’t purely to have mindless entertainment or an escape from the heat and reality. In a way, the superhero movies of today are modern day versions of fairy tales, and we watch them for the same reasons people read and still read the beloved once upon a time tales: to experience the blurred lines between fantasy and reality in the struggle of good versus evil, and to indulge the desire for good to triumph over evil.

Amid Tony Stark’s witty one-liners, the gods of mischief and thunder warring against each other, and Captain America wielding his trusty shield, the viewers find themselves in a world where at last good is recognized, and freedom is fought for. The world of Marvel is filled with things not of our world; however, the difficulties, virtues, and vices of the Marvel world are much like what we face in our own world: greed, love, selfishness, sacrifice, despair, and abuse of human dignity. In a world where it may seem that evil with its many faces triumphs, fairy tales and superheroes give us the consolation of happy endings, and remind us of the possibility of our triumphant salvation in life everlasting in Heaven, the ultimate happy ending.

J.R.R.Tolkien titled this consolation of happy endings as ‘eucatastrophe.’ At the turn of events, when the Avengers at last defeat the evil forces, the audience is given a glimpse of joy, of heart’s desire. The joy in happy endings is what makes a eucatastrophic tale, and it is what makes a true fairy tale or superhero movie attractive to human sentiments and desires. As Tolkien writes concerning happy endings, “it does not deny the existence…of sorrow and failure:… it denies…universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”

We watch superhero movies because our instinctual reaction to the sufferings of this world, rooted in our desire and aims for salvation, is to depend on good triumphing, and Christ, superheroes, saints, and ourselves procuring our happy ending with Christ in Heaven.

As Nick Fury says, “I still believe in heroes.”

-Zita Larson

Prudence and Superheroes

23 Jun
Prudence Mosaic - Cathedral of Saint Paul

Prudence Mosaic – Cathedral of Saint Paul

I used to teach ‘the virtues’ to children at a Catholic summer camp. I don’t think they walked away with enlightened minds devoted to my message: how to live a fully human life, but ran from the classroom with this on the forefront of their little minds instead: “I am Ironman.” My particular lesson that day was on the human virtue of Prudence as laid out by Saint Thomas Aquinas. Prudence is the ability or habit of right judgment. For 9-year-old boys—who cares? But it is little known that there are subcategories or ‘powers’ specific to the virtue. These are what caught their imagination: circumspection, foresight, and caution.

Jason Bourne has this one down—circumspection. It is the ability to look around a room, or one’s state in life, and see everything in relation to each other. Bourne can tell you where the nearest firearm is hidden outside a diner window. Foresight is the power of probabilities. It is the ability to recognize patterns and human behaviors to predict what will happen next. It is done by calculation, similar to JARVIS keeping Tony Stark from self-destruction, or by reliance on strong intuition. Caution is the power to sense danger. The cautious are sensitive to deception, disorder, and missing pieces. They can sense bad intentions and risky situations; they like risks but only the right ones.

While I taught the anxious little ones, they were surprised to find out that people could become ‘powerful.’ They thought humans are humans and God is God and that every once in a while if a human goes off-course God will swoop in with something called “grace” to either stick them back on track or give them a present for being good. Grace does play a role in our lives; without it we would cease to exist. But grace does not usually work like a spider bite or freak accident. Sometimes grace works more slowly, under the skin, through tragedy and the mundane. These kids idolized Bruce Wayne’s sense of justice and Steve Roger’s fearlessness. But at the same time they could not make the connection that with practice they could live out similar virtues.

I don’t think Saint Thomas wrote a load of a lot on the virtues because it helps us ‘believe,’ but because it is useful for a meaningful, faithful life. Prudence acts on what is at hand. It does not give us a principle to use, but it is specific to the moment of danger. The habit of prudence also connects everyday actions to the significant and makes us reach for something higher than ourselves. It changes our minds from seeing God as a watch tower to seeing him as powerful, intimate, and eager for us to think and act wisely under pressure. It seemed simple enough for kid boys to take on—they ran from the classroom karate chopping each other, which means they heard something—well done, boys.

-Laura Eusterman

A Catholic in the Walker

14 Feb

“Where is all the art?” I turned to the angry man who directed this question at me, my mouth slightly agape, momentarily, speechless. We were standing in the middle of an art museum. “The art. Where is it?”

I work at the Walker Art Center. I am used to a certain degree of frustration and head shaking as people confront the Walker’s collection. Contemporary art isn’t easy. The meaning of each work isn’t always obvious—if there is a meaning, which sometimes there isn’t. Often, there is controversy, either through the subject matter or the medium used in the work. I used to be in the camp that looked at the Walker and thought, “I must be missing something, because I don’t see it.”

"Blue Plate Special" - John Waters

"Blue Plate Special" - John Waters

The “it” that I refer to is that kernel of truth we hope to find in art. Consider any number of classical paintings and sculpture—works that have drawn people in for centuries. They persist not only because of the artist’s skill, but also because they help turn our hearts and minds to God. In doing so, these great works proclaim a theological aesthetic—a message through the medium of art that is good, true, and beautiful. Must the theological aesthetic of the work be so obvious as to contain a Biblical or religious story? Must the work portray only people or nature? Does it have to be displayed in large print for all to see and none to dispute?

I spend every day in the Walker galleries. I must confront the works of art placed before me and, with time, many pieces have affected me deeply. If modern art’s most basic fault is that it requires time and attention, then I understand why the man was angry. He wanted something that he could understand quickly. Yet that which is good, true, and beautiful is rarely quick and easy.

This became plain to me on the day I found a woman weeping in that same gallery the angry man dismissed. She told me she spent her days tending to her son, severely injured in an assault. She looked around the gallery and said, “Today is the first day in months where I feel like I can breathe. All this beauty is overwhelming me.”

Contemporary art achieves a beauty when the viewer approaches with a willing receptivity. Much like in our relationship with God, receptivity takes time to develop. We can seek truth and beauty and goodness our whole lives, but if we only look in the same place again and again, how much are we missing?

– Allison Hendrickson