“Courage, dear heart”

I’ve been unsure whether and what to write in the last few days. The temptation to offer uneducated opinions seems to be strong in much of the online community, and I don’t want to add my voice to the noise.

Yet there has been a lot of beautiful communication as well; people offering to help out, teachers offering assistance to parents homeschooling in the coming days, folks eager to make deliveries / shopping runs for older people or others more vulnerable to the illness. It’s good to remember how wonderful human beings can be.

I’m thinking about writing some posts in the next few weeks with ideas/resources for ELA teachers who are transitioning to teaching online, so watch for those and feel free to share with parents or other teachers who might find them useful.

In the meantime, a passage from C. S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader I have always loved, that seems timely. Of course, the situation in the story is by no means an accurate analogy for our situation now — but Lucy’s response feels right. A long excerpt below (Lewis’ works are now in the public domain).

The crew of the ship are headed into a mysterious darkness hovering over the sea:

So the three lanterns, at the stern, and the prow and the masthead, were all lit, and Drinian ordered two torches amidships. Pale and feeble they looked in the sunshine. Then all the men except some who were left below at the oars were ordered on deck and fully armed and posted in their battle stations with swords drawn. Lucy and two archers were posted on the fighting top with bows bent and arrows on the string. Rynelf was in the bows with his line ready to take soundings. Reepicheep, Edmund, Eustace and Caspian, glittering in mail, were with him. Drinian took the tiller.

“And now, in Aslan’s name, forward!” cried Caspian. “A slow, steady stroke. And let every man be silent and keep his ears open for orders.”

With a creak and a groan the Dawn Treader started to creep forward as the men began to row. Lucy, up in the fighting top, had a wonderful view of the exact moment at which they entered the darkness. The bows had already disappeared before the sunlight had left the stern. She saw it go. At one minute the gilded stern, the blue sea, and the sky, were all in broad daylight: next minute the sea and sky had vanished, the stern lantern – which had been hardly noticeable before – was the only thing to show where the ship ended. In front of the lantern she could see the black shape of Drinian crouching at the tiller. Down below her the two torches made visible two small patches of deck and gleamed on swords and helmets, and forward there was another island of light on the forecastle. Apart from that, the fighting top, lit by the masthead light which was only just above her, seemed to be a little lighted world of its own floating in lonely darkness. And the lights themselves, as always happens with lights when you have to have them at the wrong time of day, looked lurid and unnatural. She also noticed that she was very cold.

How long this voyage into the darkness lasted, nobody knew. Except for the creak of the rowlocks and the splash of the oars there was nothing to show that they were moving at all. Edmund, peering from the bows, could see nothing except the reflection of the lantern in the water before him. It looked a greasy sort of reflection, and the ripple made by their advancing prow appeared to be heavy, small, and lifeless. As time went on everyone except the rowers began to shiver with cold.

Suddenly, from somewhere – no one’s sense of direction was very clear by now – there came a cry, either of some inhuman voice or else a voice of one in such extremity of terror that he had almost lost his humanity.

Caspian was still trying to speak – his mouth was too dry – when the shrill voice of Reepicheep, which sounded louder than usual in that silence, was heard.

“Who calls?” it piped. “If you are a foe we do not fear you, and if you are a friend your enemies shall be taught the fear of us.”

“Mercy!” cried the voice. “Mercy! Even if you are only one more dream, have merry. Take me on board. Take me, even if you strike me dead. But in the name of all mercies do not fade away and leave me in this horrible land.”

“Where are you?” shouted Caspian. “Come aboard and welcome.”

There came another cry, whether of joy or terror, and then they knew that someone was swimming towards them.

“Stand by to heave him up, men,” said Caspian.

“Aye, aye, your Majesty,” said the sailors. Several crowded to the port bulwark with ropes and one, leaning far out over the side, held the torch. A wild, white face appeared in the blackness of the water, and then, after some scrambling and pulling, a dozen friendly hands had heaved the stranger on board.

Edmund thought he had never seen a wilder-looking man. Though he did not otherwise look very old, his hair was an untidy mop of white, his face was thin and drawn, and, for clothing, only a few wet rags hung about him. But what one mainly noticed were his eyes, which were so widely opened that he seemed to have no eyelids at all, and stared as if in an agony of pure fear. The moment his feet reached the deck he said:

“Fly! Fly! About with your ship and fly! Row, row, row for your lives away from this accursed shore.”

“Compose yourself,” said Reepicheep, “and tell us what the danger is. We are not used to flying.”

The stranger started horribly at the voice of the Mouse, which he had not noticed before.

“Nevertheless you will fly from here,” he gasped. “This is the Island where Dreams come true.”

“That’s the island I’ve been looking for this long time,” said one of the sailors. “I reckoned I’d find I was married to Nancy if we landed here.”

“And I’d find Tom alive again,” said another.

“Fools!” said the man, stamping his foot with rage. “That is the sort of talk that brought me here, and I’d better have been drowned or never born. Do you hear what I say? This is where dreams – dreams, do you understand, come to life, come real. Not daydreams: dreams.”

There was about half a minute’s silence and then, with a great clatter of armour, the whole crew were tumbling down the main hatch as quick as they could and flinging themselves on the oars to row as they had never rowed before; and Drinian was swinging round the tiller, and the boatswain was giving out the quickest stroke that had ever been heard at sea. For it had taken everyone just that half-minute to remember certain dreams they had had – dreams that make you afraid of going to sleep again – and to realize what it would mean to land on a country where dreams come true.

Only Reepicheep remained unmoved.

“Your Majesty, your Majesty,” he said, “are you going to tolerate this mutiny, this poltroonery? This is a panic, this is a rout.”

“Row, row,” bellowed Caspian. “Pull for all our lives. Is her head right, Drinian? You can say what you like, Reepicheep. There are some things no man can face.”

“It is, then, my good fortune not to be a man,” replied Reepicheep with a very stiff bow.

Lucy from up aloft had heard it all. In an instant that one of her own dreams which she had tried hardest to forget came back to her as vividly as if she had only just woken from it. So that was what was behind them, on the island, in the darkness! For a second she wanted to go down to the deck and be with Edmund and Caspian. But what was the use? If dreams began coming true, Edmund and Caspian themselves might turn into something horrible just as she reached them. She gripped the rail of the fighting top and tried to steady herself. They were rowing back to the light as hard as they could: it would be all right in a few seconds. But oh, if only it could be all right now!

Though the rowing made a good deal of noise it did not quite conceal the total silence which surrounded the ship.

Everyone knew it would be better not to listen, not to strain his ears for any sound from the darkness. But no one could help listening. And soon everyone was hearing things. Each one heard something different.

“Do you hear a noise like . . . like a huge pair of scissors opening and shutting .. . over there?” Eustace asked Rynelf.

“Hush!” said Rynelf. “I can hear them crawling up the sides of the ship.”

“It’s just going to settle on the mast,” said Caspian.

“Ugh!” said a sailor. “There are the gongs beginning. I knew they would.”

Caspian, trying not to look at anything (especially not to keep looking behind him), went aft to Drinian.

“Drinian,” he said in a very low voice. “How long did we take rowing in? – I mean rowing to where we picked up . the stranger.”

“Five minutes, perhaps,” whispered Drinian. “Why?”

“Because we’ve been more than that already trying to get out.”

Drinian’s hand shook on the tiller and a line of cold sweat ran down his face. The same idea was occurring to everyone on board. “We shall never get out, never get’ out,” moaned the rowers. “He’s steering us wrong. We’re going round and round in circles. We shall never get out.” The stranger, who had been lying in a huddled heap on the deck, sat up and burst out into a horrible screaming laugh.

“Never get out!” he yelled. “That’s it. Of course. We shall never get out. What a fool I was to have thought they would let me go as easily as that. No, no, we shall never get out.”

Lucy leant her head on the edge of the fighting top and whispered, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.” The darkness did not grow any less, but she began to feel a little – a very, very little – better. […]

“Look!” cried Rynelf’s voice hoarsely from the bows. There was a tiny speck of light ahead, and while they watched a broad beam of light fell from it upon the ship. It did not alter the surrounding darkness, but the whole ship was lit up as if by searchlight. Caspian blinked, stared round, saw the faces of his companions all with wild, fixed expressions. Everyone was staring in the same direction: behind everyone lay his black, sharply-edged shadow.

Lucy looked along the beam and presently saw something in it. At first it looked like a cross, then it looked like an aeroplane, then it looked like a kite, and at last with a whirring of wings it was right overhead and was an albatross. It circled three times round the mast and then perched for an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them. After that it spread its wings, rose, and began to fly slowly ahead, bearing a little to starboard. Drinian steered after it not doubting that it offered good guidance. But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, “Courage, dear heart,” and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s […]

If there were another Narnia book

There are some books you always come back to, no matter how long you have been away from them. You come back to be comforted, uplifted, to see old friends again…

Or you come back because there is something still nagging at you.

This post is for people who have read The Chronicles of Narnia. There are spoilers, so if you have not read the books, please go fill the gaping hole in your childhood as soon as possible and come back to this post afterwards.

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Now then–

The Pevensie children, who enter the world of Narnia through the wardrobe, help put an end to winters with no Christmases, and become kings and queens, appear in five out of the seven books in the series. One wonders if perhaps Narnia with all its creatures was created just for them — for their particular salvation, though of course they play a large role in saving Narnia in return many times.

They appear at the very end of book seven, The Last Battle, on the other side of the stable door and in Aslan’s country.

There are three fascinating plot choices Lewis made in this last book regarding the Pevensies:

  1. Peter, Edmund and Lucy die in a train crash. That is how they end up in Aslan’s country (heaven) at all.
  2. Susan, however, was not on the train, and does not die. So she is left alive in our world and is not present with the other three in the last book.
  3. We learn that Susan has stopped believing in Narnia altogether.

Briefly – #1 is fascinating because up until this point, the only main character who dies during any of the stories is Aslan himself, and he comes back because of the “deeper magic before the dawn of time.” The children’s deaths are not dwelt upon at length, but I remember feeling a little shock when my dad read this part to me when I was a child. I may have been dimly aware that I would have only been a few years younger than Lucy was at that point. Lewis does not seem to shy away from hinting at his young readers’ own mortality as they learn that the characters they have followed and identified with met a rather tragic end.

But it is points 2 and 3 that surprised me far more when I first read The Last Battle. In fact, “surprised” isn’t really the right word. “Horrified” might be closer.

The whole book, of course, is about the battle of belief. Eustace and Jill find themselves in a Narnia where many people do not believe in Aslan anymore, or confuse Aslan with the demonic figure Tash. The Pevensie children, who had saved Narnia long before, are now perceived as mere legends themselves.

And then we find out that Susan herself has also stopped believing:

“Sir,” said Tirian, when he had greeted all these. “If I have read the chronicle aright, there should be another. Has not your Majesty two sisters? Where is Queen Susan?”
“My sister Susan,’ answered Peter shortly and gravely, ‘is no longer a friend of Narnia.”
“Yes,” said Eustace, “and whenever you’ve tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says, ‘What wonderful memories you have! Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.’”
“Oh Susan!” said Jill. “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.”

C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle

I was crushed.

Initially, I was devastated by Peter, Edmund and Lucy’s seemingly quick recovery from the loss of their sister. They seem irritated with her instead of deeply wounded by her absence.

Then, I was angry with the culprit herself. How could Susan give Narnia up for nylons? How could she leave her brothers and sister and the world they had shared? Above all, how could she leave Aslan? 

And, finally, I was furious with the author. How could Lewis have left Susan?

If your feminist side, like mine, is also angry with Lewis for condemning Susan’s interest in “nylons and lipstick” and growing up, see Eileen Lee’s wonderful response to that complaint here. A taste:

It is not so much Susan’s external activities, I think, that Lewis wanted to highlight, but the condition of her heart. And this was her condition—that she was preoccupied with things that, while not necessarily bad, were not worthy to be the foundation of her identity or source of affirmation. For she was a Queen. She had simply forgotten so.

My younger self was angry with Lewis, and my older self is still troubled by his choice, but now I think perhaps he was onto something.

Losing one’s faith really is a form of forgetting.

I’ve written about the connection between faith and memory before, and so have Popes Francis and Benedict in Lumen Fidei. How often does our faith in God waver because we forget what he is really like?  How often do we sin because we forget ourselves?

How many friends of ours, or family members, have fallen away from faith because they seem to have forgotten something? You kind of want to shake them sometimes and say, “But don’t you remember?”

In Susan’s case the relationship between faith and memory is particularly striking. She wants to be “grown up” and leave her former identity behind. She has forgotten who she really is.

But of course Aslan has not. He always did say, “Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen.”

That line gives me hope for Susan, and for all the Susans in the world (of which number I am often included).

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Concept Art via Narniafans.com

Later, Lewis gave this tantalizing response to a concerned young reader in 1957:

“The books don’t tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there’s plenty of time for her to mend and perhaps she will get to Aslan’s country in the end . . . in her own way.”

via Matthew Alderman, “Whatever Happened to Susan Pevensie” First Things

His words still echo in my mind.

I have this crazy desire to write that book. How does Susan “get to Aslan’s country in the end, in her own way”? How does she react to the death of her entire family? (We learn the Pevensie parents also died in the crash.) Does she grow up like she wants to? Does she get married and have kids? Does her daughter get to Narnia somehow, even after the ending of that world in The Last Battle? (Time always was flexible between that world and ours.) Does the story somehow involve the horn of Queen Susan, which was lost after the events of Wardrobe and rediscovered in Prince Caspian? Or does it perhaps explore the chase of the ever-elusive White Stag?

I have, of course, no right to attempt such a story. The “canon” is closed.

And perhaps leaving Susan’s fate unresolved is wise. Lewis’ troubling, irritating choice alerts young readers to the fact that “the last battle” of your life–the only battle of your life–is the battle of faith, and that it is ongoing. You win, you lose, you win again, you lose again. Even a Queen of Narnia is not safe. And even a “grown up” is not lost.

Peter, Edmund, and Lucy are not devastated by Susan’s departure not just because the “sorrows of hell cannot touch the joys of heaven” but also because, perhaps, the separation may only be temporary. Susan’s story, Lewis indicates, is not over yet.

Neither is ours.

I can see the beginning chapter now.

They were not to take the train, because Mother hated trains. But Father was very ill and the doctors said country air was the kindest medicine left for him. The small farm cottage that had been left to them years ago was prepared. So the Walker family took a bus from London, and then another bus, and then another—each a little less crowded than the last…

When the Answer Exceeds the Question

I was so excited to begin Unit 2 with my kids today.

We have finally (!) wrapped up our unit on essay writing (although of course I’ll make them continually write essays all year long) and are ready to begin a unit on mythology.

Last year, I got two weeks into the Mythology Unit before I realized that most of my kids can’t read.

Well, they can sound out letters on a page. They can read tweets and Facebook statuses and text messages.

Some of them can even read Harry Potter and the Hunger Games and Nicholas Sparks.

But ask them to tackle something hefty and meaningful, and all of a sudden, it’s “This is boring” and “I don’t get it” and “Why can’t Shakespeare talk normal?” and “I give up.”

So yeah. They don’t know how to really read.

imagesTherefore I’ve decided, this year, to spend Unit 2 teaching them. The Unit is entitled, simply: “Mythology and Reading Strategies.”

So we started class with a bell work on “Explain the word ‘myth’ in your own words” and a discussion on how our modern (mis)understanding says that myths are basically “made-up stories”. Myths are untrue – which is why we have shows like “Mythbusters.”

And then we read an excerpt from Edith Hamilton’s Mythology in which she blows our modern conceptions to smithereens and defines myth very differently: myth is a type of “early science” (Hamilton, Mythology 10). It is an attempt to answer inescapable human questions: Where did we come from? Why is there suffering? How did the universe begin?

Of course, today, as I pointed out, science tries to answer these questions too. Where did we come from? Evolution. Why is there suffering? Psychology. (Well, anyway, psychology is the branch of science that largely tries to tackle that question.) How did the universe begin? The big bang. Et cetera.

So, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th period seemed to be pretty interested in all this. And then 6th period came in – my biggest class, and the class that has the largest number of struggling students.

Let me briefly inform you about how my 6th hour struggled with simple directions today, to give you some context for the real point of this blog entry:

Me: “Okay, today our table of contents is going to look a little bit different. Please write down our new Unit Title and objective…”

Student 1: “Wait, what? Where do I write this?”

Me: Raises hand as a reminder.

Student 1, raising hand: “I don’t get it. Where do I write this?”

Students 2, 3, 4, annoyed: “She said in the Table of Contents, Bryan!!”

Student 5: “Wait, Ms. Shea, I… [ raises hand, continues talking ]”

Me: “Jacob, please raise your hand.”

Student 5: Raises hand. Waits for me to call on him. Then: “Ms. Shea, where do I put the date?”

Student 6: “Yeah, aren’t we supposed to…”

Me: Raises hand to remind student 6 to please shut up.

Student 6: Raises hand.

Me: “Yes, Amy?”

Student 6: “Aren’t we supposed to put ‘2.1’ somewhere? Like, next to the thing? I’m so confused!” Panics.

Me, Employing Attention Procedure: “Everyone back to me please in 3… 2… 1… slant. Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen. I know these directions are a little bit different than usual. Please just copy down the unit title and the objective. Do not worry about the date or the number.”

Student 5: “But…!”

Me: Shakes head, hand to lips, indicating that now is not the time for questions.

Student 1: Raises hand.

Me: Shakes head again, indicating that now is not the time for questions.

Class: Finally begins to write down Unit Title and Unit Objective. Some hands still flutter into the air. Ms. Shea shakes her head, points at the smart board, and considers whether or not she should get a new job.

(Shea, “Classroom Struggles” vol. 358)

You get the idea.

Basically, by the time we got around to discussing Edith Hamilton’s definition of myth, after going to the library and checking out our books, we only had a few minutes left in class. I was feeling very frustrated and confused, because I was wondering what had possessed these kids today, and why they had forgotten every single procedure I had taught them and rehearsed with them over and over again at the beginning of the year.

Well, I guess we’ll just practice more on Monday.

As the Chaos drew to a close, one student in the back of the room raised his hand as the rest of his peers labored to finish writing down Hamilton’s definition of myth.

“Yes, Ryan?” I said.

“So, Ms. Shea. I don’t mean to be contrary or anything, but I’m just wondering.”

“Go ahead, Ryan,” I said, hopeful that possibly some real thinking had been provoked by this debacle of a lesson.

“We’re saying that all myths – like the Greek gods and stuff – are ways to explain mysteries in nature. But we know that the Greek gods aren’t real. So… um… how do we know that Christianity isn’t just another myth?”

My 6th hour class, being what it is, let out a loud and scandalized “Ohhhhhhhh!”

I smiled, trying to hide my inner panic. It was a great question. Ryan actually had done some real thinking, and I was proud of him. But the bell was about to ring. There was so much to say. I mean, people have written books on that very question. But there was no time.

“Everyone,” I said, “Let’s give snaps to Ryan for asking a great question. Ryan -” I looked at him directly, as the class applauded him, “- that is a wonderful question and I’m so glad you asked. We will be tackling that question during this unit. Make sure you bring it up again on Monday.”

Another hand shot up in the air, this time from our village atheist. Let’s call him Thomas.

Encouraged by Ryan’s success, he asked innocently, “So, Ms. Shea, since now we know all those other myths have been proven false, won’t there be a time in the future when our science and our Christianity is proven false?”

My 6th hour, being what it is, delightedly chanted “Ohhhhhhhhh!” and “You can’t say that Thomas!” and “He’s so right!” and “Shhhhh! What’s she gonna say?”

“Everybody, back to me please in 3, 2, and 1… Thank you.” A hush fell on the room. All eyes were on me.

I glanced at the clock. The second hand had almost reached twelve.

“Thomas, you have asked a very good question too. We have to confront these questions in this unit…”

The bell rang.

Too late.

The thing is, Ryan’s question would take volumes to answer. And I am afraid that if I tried to answer it in front of that class (who, you remember, struggles with copying down unit titles), I would only confuse most of them more. But if I do not address the question at all with them, those that bother to think about it might believe there is no answer, or that I don’t care to give it, or whatever.

Thomas’ question comes from a slightly different place and more likely demonstrates more misunderstandings than it generates. Still, it should be addressed fairly.

I feel like handing Ryan a copy of At the Origin of the Christian Claim by Father Guissani and giving Thomas Mere Christianity by Lewis.

Ironically, both of these books are far above their reading levels right now.

But I guess I have planned to teach them reading strategies during this unit…

Eliade, as quoted by Guisanni, says, “In the archaic world the myth alone is real. It tells of manifestations of the only indubitable reality – the sacred” (Guissani, At the Origins of the Christian Claim 23).

Julien Ries, quoted in the same book, observes that “A myth is a story which is true, sacred, and exemplary, which has a specific meaning and which entails repetition[…]” (Ibid).

C. S. Lewis says, “The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The Old Myth of the dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history” (“Myth Become Fact”).

And further:

Christians also need to be reminded . . . that what became Fact was a Myth, that it carries with it into the world of Fact all the properties of a myth. God is more than a god, not less; Christ is more than Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. . . . We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic . . . shall we refuse to be mythopathic? For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight . . . (Ibid, 67)

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“Doubting Thomas” by Caravaggio

 

7 Quick Takes Friday (3/21/14)

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Before anything else:

Two UD alums just lost their 3 year old and 6 year old daughters in a car accident the other day. Please pray for them and consider participating in this fund for them.

Sean and Becca Lewis Fund

More here:

Elizabeth Scalia at the Anchoress

Calah Alexander at Barefoot and Pregnant

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Do I say something about this or do I not?

Lewis said, when his wife died: “I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate if they do, and if they don’t.”

I’ve found that suffering of this magnitude often is best respected with silence — the silence of Mary watching her Son on the cross, perhaps even the mysterious silence of God the Father that drives all of us–His Son included–into anguish and loneliness and fear.

Some people conclude that this silence reveals absence. They ask “why” and of course receive no answer.

Others discover in the silence the gaze from Jesus on his cross.

C. S. Lewis describes grief better than most people–but only because, in this book, he was describing it from the inside:

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth of falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?” (Lewis, A Grief Observed)

“Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.” (Ibid)

“It is hard to have patience with people who say, ‘There is no death’ or ‘Death doesn’t matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesn’t matter.” (Ibid)

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Also, I’m not going to apologize for being a “downer” in a (normally lighthearted) Quick Takes post. It is okay to be sad. And it is good to grieve for others. I don’t know whether it helps in any practical way, but it seems to me rather a matter of justice that we give up our own happiness sometimes to grieve for the pain of others, even those we do not know.

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The Pope (as usual) has challenging things to say that we ought to listen to. (Yes I’m okay with ending some of my sentences with a preposition.)

He says (as others have said) that when we rely on other things or people besides God, we become pagans, because we turn these other things or people into idols.

But then he makes a really interesting point about being a pagan and how it affects our identity.

When we cease to trust in God, when we cease to call God “Father,” we begin to see ourselves differently too:

“Do I still have a name or have I begun to lose my name and … call myself ‘I’? I, me, with me, for me, only ‘I’? For me, for me . . . always that self-centeredness: ‘I.’”

Without God, or with God pushed to the periphery, we think of ourselves only as an “I”. And spite Martin Buber’s beautiful reflections on the “I-Thou” relationship, which Pope Benedict mentioned quite a lot in his writings, Pope Francis here suggests that all of this “I” and “me” is actually deceptive. We are thinking about ourselves all wrong.

Only in God do we receive our true name, which is not “I” or “me,” but “Son,” he said, according to Vatican Radio. But when we place our trust in others, our accomplishments, or even ourselves, we lose sight of our true worth as a child of God. (Catholic News Agency)

My true name is not among the names I (!) use all the time: I, me, my etc.

It is “Son” or “Daughter.”

We recognize our true identity with that name.

And this is beautiful:

“If one of us in life, having so much trust in man and in ourselves, we end up losing the name, losing this dignity, there is still a chance to say this word that is more than magic, it is more, it is strong: ‘Father.’”

“He always waits for us to open a door that we do not see and says to us: ‘Son.’”

(via Catholic News Agency, “Rely on God alone, Pope Encourages in Homily”)

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Good news:

I will be returning to Louisiana at the end of the year to see some of my former students graduate! They were sophomores during my first year in ACE, and now they’re all grown up.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to see them!

And MORE good news:

Although for a while there was some serious doubt that ACE teachers would be returning to the Diocese of Baton Rouge…….

Some miracle happened and so they are!

I am so happy that my former school and the other schools ACE serves in that diocese will continue to receive support from new teachers. We’re not perfect, and we don’t know everything, but ACE teachers bring a lot of love to the table.

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Speaking of ACE…

The ACE Bus, on it’s national tour, came to Colorado last week and I was able to reconnect with some amazing people and meet former ACE teachers who live out here.

Read about their awesome visit here:

The Peak of Excellence: Faith and Academics Collide in Colorado by Eric Prister

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It has been a busy, busy week. I’ve been pushing myself to go out and meet new people and it has been lots of fun, but my Introversion is kicking in big time.

And hey, it’s the beginning of spring break.

fridaynight

 

All Saints’ Day

Five years ago today, I was in Munich, Germany.

I was here:

munich
A picture I took while in the Cathedral in Munich, Germany for All Saint’s Day.

(And then after that I was at the Hofbrahaus. Ahem.)

It was the very end of the famous (in the UD world) “10 day”–that fabled time during our Rome semester in which the campus was closed to us and we were told to go have some adventures. And boy, did we have some adventures!

Sidenote: By the way, this is one of the many reasons I love UD. They push us to go beyond our comfort zones and to not be afraid. We can read Nietzche (and even like him, and some of the things he says) and still be Catholic. As St. Paul says, “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Anyway!

I was in Munich, this day, five years ago, after having spent three days in Paris and a day before that in Lourdes and the days before that in Barcelona, Spain.

On my third day in Paris, the eve of All Saints’ Day, I had gone to Notre Dame Cathedral for the Vigil Mass. Actually, we barely made it to Mass on time because we had spent the day exploring Versailles. I remembering running from the metro stop to the cathedral, and being astounded that, although the choir was singing, no one had begun to proceed down the main aisle. For some strange reason, the Mass had started late and we were therefore on time.

notredame
I snagged this photo before dashing into Mass.

It was one of the many little things on that memorable trip that added up to grace.

My grandfather had died earlier that year, and I had been struggling for months trying to really accept it. For the first time, death had become real to me. And yet, during Holy Communion that evening, with the choir’s voices swelling behind me and lifting up my grief to the highest parts of the cathedral, I felt very close to him, and very aware that in the Communion of Saints, he was with me. I remember walking down the aisle of Notre Dame for Holy Communion and asking him to help me.

I love All Saints’ Day. I don’t think we really think about it enough, or what it really means. Or at least, not until someone whom we love dies. Then, I think, we begin to see it.

C. S. Lewis, for many years already an apologist for Christianity, became far more convincing when his wife died. In his amazing book, A Grief Observed, he shares his pain and brings some real clarity to what is at stake when we talk about death, and the saints, and heaven. He gets to the heart of the matter – of the fear we all feel when we encounter death. Is it The End? Is there really a Heaven? Or do we simply just stop existing? Were the saints wrong after all? Is there Nothing?

What about the people we love who die?

These questions only start to really matter to us when we face death for real:

If H. ‘is not,’ then she never was. I mistook a cloud of atoms for a person. There aren’t, and never were, any people. Death only reveals the vacuity that was always there. What we call the living are simply those who have not yet been unmasked. All equally bankrupt, but some not yet declared.

But this must be nonsense; vacuity revealed to whom? Bankruptcy declared to whom? To other boxes of fireworks or clouds of atoms. I will never believe — more strictly I can’t believe — that one set of physical events could be, or make, a mistake about other sets. (Lewis, A Grief Observed)

All Saints’ Day is about this frightening experience. In it, the Church affirms that, not only the somewhat distant halo-bearing statues and stained-glass images, but also the living and breathing people we knew and loved for years, are still real. More real, in fact, than we are now — even as we struggle to remember them as clearly as we would like – that face, that laugh, that way of saving something just so, that odd habit, that wink.

This solemnity is about all the uncanonized saints. This solemnity tells me that yes, in fact, I may meet C. S. Lewis himself someday — and Flannery O’Connor, and my great-grandparents, and all the people whose words I have read or whose stories others have told me or whose faces I have seen in photographs and icons, but who have remained for me silent witnesses.

Two of my friends who I was traveling with, Rachel and Teresa, had to bolt out of the cathedral after Mass to catch their overnight train to Munich. They were late. Far too late.

But so was the train.

I remember thinking, rather stubbornly, that my grandfather had to exist still, because I knew I was still his “sweetheart”–as he used to call my sister and me. Not even death could change that.

I’m not saying it was (or is) easy for me to believe this. I think atheists and agnostics have the wrong idea if they think that believing in heaven or in God is easier than not. As O’Connor says,

I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do.

What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God. (O’Connor, The Habit of Being, my emphasis).

One of my friends on our ten day journey was struggling a lot with faith, and with believing in particular providence (the idea that God actively intervenes in our day-to-day lives, rather than in a more general way). Yet I think those ten days gallivanting around Europe did more to lead her to convert to Catholicism than anything I ever could have said or done. Throughout our Rome semester, I prayed for her at the tombs of many saints — in particular, the tomb of Saint Monica (Saint Augustine’s mother), in Rome.

We probably have no idea how many saints are paying attention to us right now, and how God gives us grace through them.

My favorite image from Narnia is the scene in The Last Battle where Tirian stumbles through the stable door and finds himself in the “Real Narnia,” and sees for the first time all the old heroes he had only heard of in stories – and his own father, and all those whom he had ever loved. One of the other characters says,

I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia so much is because it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in! (Lewis, The Last Battle)

And to any of you who are grieving the loss of someone dear to you, and are confronting death face to face, I think ending with Lewis’ words is best. Here, he describes an experience that happens to him many months after the most harrowing stages of his grief. Excuse the very long quote, but it is worth it:

… Something quite unexpected has happened. It came this morning early. For various reasons, not in themselves at all mysterious, my heart was lighter than it had been for many weeks. For one thing, I suppose I am recovering physically from a good deal of mere exhaustion. … And suddenly, at the very moment when, so far, I mourned H. least, I remembered her best. Indeed, it was something (almost) better than memory; an instantaneous, unanswerable impression. To say it was like a meeting would be going too far. Yet there was that in it which tempts one to use those words. It was as if the lifting of the sorrow removed a barrier.

Why has no one told me these things? How easily I might have misjudged another man in the same situation? I might have said, ‘He’s got over it. He’s forgotten his wife,’ when the truth was, ‘He remembers her better because he has partly got over it.’

Such was the fact. And I believe I can make sense of it. You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears. You can’t, in most things, get what you want if you want it too desperately: anyway, you can’t get the best out of it. ‘Now! Let’s have a real good talk’ reduces everyone to silence. ‘I must get a good sleep tonight’ ushers in hours of wakefulness. Delicious drinks are wasted on a really ravenous thirst. Is it similarly the very intensity of the longing that draws the iron curtain, that makes us feel we are staring into a vacuum when we think about our dead? ‘Them as asks’ (at any rate ‘as asks too importunately’) don’t get. Perhaps can’t.

And so, perhaps, with God. I have gradually come to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted. Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear. (Lewis, A Grief Observed)

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candles at the back of the cathedral in Munich.