My daughter, trust in what I have said and you shall be blessed. Those who disbelieve and tell you that you are wrong shall be revealed and their words of wrong guidance shall be destroyed but not forgotten. I will show them what you said was true and all shall see how they disbelieved the future.
You, my daughter, will spread the word of God and will bring people closer. You will speak to the children and the adults; you will speak of what you know the love and mercy of God is. You will speak in various languages.
Once I come again, people will still have to be guided and shown the way, for there are many things people do not understand, about the gentleness of their Father, about the tenderness of his mercy or about his understanding of people. Your Father knows you through and through; he knows what you desire and need; he knows your future.
Those of us who knew and loved this man have many memories.
However, our memories are mysterious, even to us, because until you understand the man, you cannot understand the meaning of everything that he said, and everything that he did.
So let us take a moment to delve into the mystery of who this man was. This is an appropriate time, and I am well-qualified to speak on it, being the one who loved him most during his time on earth.
This man had a wife and three children: a daughter, and two sons.
God gave him a tenderness for his own children, and he loved to hold them — a good beginning.
However, something went wrong here where everything should have gone right.
The key word in his life story is the word “prefer.”
I will explain. Very early on, the man conceived in his heart the idea that his daughter should prefer him. It was an idea almost without clear lines, at first. It was more of a vague sentiment, at first.
In some ways, it was a game. The funny thing was that it was a game that was so easy to win. There was not really any competition, for the daughter’s mother counted the girl as nothing, or as worse than nothing.
(The man didn’t mind, entirely, when his wife raged at him, or at the girl. It only strengthened his case. It only proved that he was, well, better. The girl saw clearly that he was the martyr.)
And besides, a little bit of attention went a very long way. Passing the time listening to the girl prattle on about what she thought about everything was the main thing. She had a lot of questions, and he had the answers. She took his answers on all matters as very authoritative. His input was important. He saw that he could lift her up, by telling her that eventually her teeth would straighten out, or he could cast her down, by telling her that she must keep her hair short because it was too thin to wear long, and that she needs to wear bangs because her forehead was too big. His approval was essential to her, and that was very gratifying. It was not impossible to give his approval either, for she sometimes had some impressive results. Mind you, he was careful to be sparing in his praise.
Years passed, and although the man had braced himself for the day when the girl would have a boyfriend, it did come as a bit of a nasty shock when the first interloper appeared. The man certainly did not express support for him, and was glad when he was finally gone. When the second appeared, he took the same approach; mild, quiet disapproval seemed to be the best style.
Eventually, the girl found a husband, and he initially took the stance of cautious approval. After all, there did not seem to be much to gain with quiet disapproval; it hadn’t worked in this case. And besides, he was happy at the arrival of grandchildren. To hold them was wonderful, and he relished the time he could spend with them.
However, as her marriage continued, he grew increasingly discontent, and he nurtured his sourness. It became obvious. Social events grew awkward. When questioned about his negativity, he gave no answers. And indeed, he would not have been able to adequately identify what he was doing and what he wanted. He was just tossing a match, to see what would burn.
But you could not say that he was unhappy during this time. He was the same as always. And the new arrangements which were made to accommodate him were quite satisfactory. He was no longer expected to attend any birthdays or other special occasions, but still saw his grandchildren almost every weekend. And actually, what he had now was even better than before: he had the girl and her children all to himself. He counted himself as victorious.
Later, however, the girl changed her approach, and would return to her husband during the weekend grandparent-grandchild visits. This was not quite as satisfactory. It felt like a snub.
And here, sadly, a plan which had always hovered overhead finally landed in his heart. The word was ‘prefer.’
A bond could be built, from grandfather to grandchild, and from grandchild to grandfather, which was bigger, better, stronger than the one from child to mother. (The bond from child to father was not even competition, he surmised.)
A new game.
Now the grandchildren became his sole focus — his friends. They could have a special code, and special rituals. And, most interestingly, he was able to use his wife as his ally. Together, they could study the girl’s family, and critique and scorn all that was so very, very wrong.
And so it continued.
The great misstep occurred one evening at the home of the girl. You see, his wife had her own games, and one was about power. When one young grandchild politely declined to obey her, the grandmother placed her hands on this grandchild’s face, and hissed that the child must obey. Always, always, Obey the Grandmother! The rage was frightening, and the child ran away.
Things changed after that, and the grandchildren were far more difficult to reach. Opportunities were fewer, and the man knew that the culprit was the girl. But you could not say that he was entirely unhappy. He was the same.
He was able to create new opportunities. He could innocently offer to walk the girl’s dog. Surely, nobody would mind if he walked the dog, and maybe he would stay for a while. The dog was always thrilled to see him. Indeed, the dog probably preferred him.
But then he got a new idea, in imitation of the attacks of another.
He mounted a campaign. It was a terribly fun game. He chose new allies from what he viewed as her inner circle.
Ah, it was like nothing he had ever done — delightful, thrilling.
He soberly presented the facts about the girl, the very sad facts. Who would disbelieve a father?
Answer: Anyone who loved her would have disbelieved, but these did not love her either, and were only too happy to hear all about her fall from grace. Tell me more, they said.
Yet the girl was fine. It was her new rules that had enraged and horrified those who were accustomed to doing as they pleased.
And God, being good, willed it that the words would soon be discovered. The girl saw the words written about her.
The words revealed that her father lied many times and in many ways to many people. The lies were meant to divide and defame.
The words revealed that the inner circle was only too happy to cluck and to scorn, and to exult over the sad tale told about her. They felt united against her, and the man felt, once again, that he was preferred, and that he was important, to share such news.
The words revealed that she had not known the man. The love that she felt was real, but it was the love of the Father, and not the love of the man.
And so now you know more about the man who lies here. No more will he fool anyone. No more will anyone be deceived into thinking that his kind words and actions stemmed from a heart that was gentle and loving.
Luis Iscla Rovira wrote Spanish Proverbs: A Survey of Spanish Culture and Civilization (In 2850 Proverbs). Mr. Rovira was born in 1917. I don’t know if he’s still alive. If he is, please tell him I said hello.
I enjoyed his book. I went through the proverbs, and I especially liked certain ones.
Why do we like certain proverbs? We like them because we find them to be true. It’s fun to find that your experience matches a proverb that someone once made and which others remembered. And the reason the funny ones are funny is because they capture something true. And the poignant ones express truth too, just in a different way.
What do you think of this one?
Al establecerse en una isla, el primer edificio que levanta el espańol es una iglesia; el francés un fuerte; el holandés una factorIa, y el inglés una taberna.
(After taking up residence on an island, the first building a Spaniard raises is a church; the French a fort; the Dutch a commercial agency, and the British a pub.)
Or how about this one?
“En la peleteria de Burgos, nos veremos,” dijo una zorra al despedirse de otra.
(“In the fur shop of Burgos we shall meet again,” said one fox while bidding goodbye to another.)
So I have been meaning, for quite a while, to share my favorites with you. This is how you count to fourteen in Spanish: uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve, diez, once, doce, trece, catorce.
Quien poco sabe, presto lo reza.
The more one knows, the less one boasts of his knowledge.
And I want to say:
Boasting is an interesting phenomenon, because people already are very selective about what they reveal about themselves. They already tend to reveal the good stuff and hide the bad. And there are so many variations on this. Some of the clever ones reveal some of the bad so that you think they’re revealing all the bad. Others exaggerate the bad so that you will contradict them, and tell them how good they are. Some of them hide the good so that they will fit in better with others.
I think two things matter when we think about boasting.
First, context matters. Someone recently sent me, out of the blue, an email entitled, “Thirty years later,” intending to remind me (and a few others) that it had been thirty years since he received a certain award. He had already told me about this award, and I had already expressed my admiration in person a few years ago. You would think that would have been enough, but I guess it’s not.
Maybe I’ll get another such email in 2029, and 2039.
Or maybe it’s a five year kind of thing: 2024, 2029, 2034 . . .
Sometimes revealing something good about yourself fits with a larger point that is worth making. You are putting such-and-such a fact into service. That’s context. You might tell someone about your successes because you want to encourage them to succeed in the same way, for example. What is not acceptable is for you to seize on any noun, verb or adjective in the conversation, and pretend that now you have the context to boast. Did someone say airplane? That reminds me of the time I was on an airplane and I spoke to someone famous! Did someone say theatre? That reminds me of the time I directed my own show! Did someone say Europe? Let me remind you about the time I travelled! That’s not context. That’s just boasting at any opportunity. And trying to talk about something which is so unconnected to the lives of your listeners, and so long ago (yes, I know it feels like yesterday), is a sign that you are currently not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. How is it that you’re so absorbed with what you did so long ago? Look, while you boast about what has been, the successful are thinking about what they plan to do next — fix the screen door, make gazpacho, write some lyrics, finish the errands, start a novena, weed the garden.
And as a homage to St. Josemaria Escriva on this Spanish-themed post, let me say again that doing good and wholesome things pays dividends beyond the obvious. For one thing, skill builds on skill. As a housewife makes one good meal after the next, she becomes more knowledgeable. By the time she’s middle-aged, you’ll be only too happy to sit at her table. For another, honest deeds done with good intentions are pleasing to God, and God may use work in one area (what is considered “small”) as preparation for work in another (what is considered “great”).
Second, truth is an issue when we address the issue of boasting. I won’t discuss false boasts — that is just another form of lying. What I will say is that people often overestimate their ability and their achievements, because they are familiar with their own, but unfamiliar with those of other people. But are you really more intelligent than others? Are you really more skilled than others? Are you really a better whatever than others? I remember how I used to notice that in the announcement section of newspapers, the biggest look-at-what-my-daughter-did photographs and descriptions were from those families where the daughter finished an education degree or a nursing degree. You rarely saw such notices for the families where the daughter had finished medical school, for instance. Now don’t get me wrong. Some people were meant to be nurses, and some people were meant to be teachers — that part is okay, but the boasting suggested to me that perhaps these families weren’t used to having someone on their family tree earn a degree. It was a novelty.
The Spanish quotation shows that part of knowing a lot is knowing that there are so many people who have accomplished so much more than you have. I think it happens far too often (I saw it frequently) that while one person in a room boasts about what she has done and seen and been, another person, who has accomplished and seen and been so much more, does not boast at all. Which person would you rather be?
Mirados desde el tendido, todos los toros son chicos.
Viewed from the stands, all bulls are small.
And I want to say:
The biggest battles are spiritual. There is nothing more difficult than doing what is right when everything goes against it. And when I say “everything,” I mean both external and internal forces. After all, the greatest opposition to doing what is right is so often within your own mind, heart, and soul. There can be, indeed, agony involved in fighting the natural impulse to flee, to hide, or in some way — any way — to avoid what is difficult. Who can stand his ground when the bull charges? And this is how we can understand the biblical idea that the way to heaven is narrow. Often, doing the right thing leaves only one or two options, and both feel excruciatingly difficult. Doing the wrong thing appears easier in the moment, and how many ways there are to do the wrong thing! There are a wide variety of ways to avoid doing right. The road to hell is wide.
Yet, as with battles of all kinds, how true it is that those who rarely require themselves to fight the spiritual battles have a mistaken idea of how it feels. These cowards do not know what it is to fight, but they also do not know how it feels to triumph.
Más te ama quien te hace bueno que quien te agrada.
A person who helps you to be good loves you more than a person whose only concern is to please you.
And I want to say:
Trying to please another person can be a good thing or a bad thing. It depends on your motive. What are you trying to do? Do you actually care about this person? Or do you hope to continue receiving some benefits from him/her, or hope to receive a future benefit? Or are you just wanting to avoid uncomfortable feelings or awkward social situations? Or are you behaving in a way that suits your view of yourself?
The truth is that sooner or later, every close relationship will be put to the test, and you will have to decide between saying what is true and saying what is “nice.” Now, if I want you to be good — which I do — I might have to tell you what is true. Will that please you?
Si mal me quiere, peor me querrá a quien dijere la verdad.
He who does not like me now will like me even less for telling the truth about him.
And I want to say:
I saw sayings to the effect that you can destroy a friendship with the truth, and to the effect that ‘my friends do not like me because I tell the truth,’ but they are not quite right. A good friendship has a solid foundation, and it is, in fact, strengthened by the truth, not weakened. The stem of a flower becomes stronger as the breezes and winds blow. It can be difficult to hear unpleasant truths, but a true friend understands your intentions. Your intention is not to wound, but to say what is true, in order to have an honest exchange of ideas, thoughts, and emotions, and to ultimately grow closer. That’s what friendship is about. Over time, your friend will trust you above all other companions who say only what they believe your friend wants to hear. And as for you, it is your false friends who will fall away when you speak the truths that they don’t want to hear. They will leave because they didn’t actually like you in the first place, as the quotation states. They were there only for the benefits.
La envidia sigue al mérito, como la sombra al cuerpo.
Envy follows worth as a shadow follows a body.
Si los envidioso volaran, siempre estariamos a la sombra.
If the envious could fly, we would always be in the shade.
And I want to say:
These quotations are wise. They show how common envy is. I did not perceive the prevalence of envy, and I was unfamiliar with its manifestations. I did not know how it lurked in so many hearts, and dominated them. I knew that where you find two female friends growing up almost as sisters, you will most likely find competition and envy, and I knew that sisters-in-law and cousins are frequently competitive, but I did not perceive the extent to which envy exists within families. I did not know that many grandmothers envy their granddaughters. I did not know that many men envy their sons. I did not know that a father could envy his daughter. Oh, envy! Poison for humanity, fuel for so many actions!
Do you know why I did not understand how common envy was? I will tell you. It is because when I found envy in my own heart, I loathed it, and argued with it until I subdued it. I found a way to be at peace with someone else having something nice (an object, a relationship, a talent, etc) that I didn’t have. I could argue with myself like this: a) she is a good person, and it is good that she has this; b) she has suffered so much in other ways, so it is good that she has this; c) I don’t want this; d) I don’t need this; e) her accomplishment is praiseworthy, and I can feel fortunate to know such a person; f) God has given her this special talent — who am I to challenge that? g) she has earned it by making sacrifices that I wouldn’t be willing to make; h) perhaps later I will have such a thing or something similar; i) perhaps God knows it wouldn’t be good for me to have such a thing; j) such things are fleeting; k) I have other things instead; l) maybe there are hidden disadvantages or burdens associated with having it; m) even though I can’t have it all to myself, I can enjoy seeing it from time to time; n) even though I can’t have it all to myself, I can be glad that such a thing exists/has been done.
So I can say that envy was not, and is not, a part of my life. Instead, I am able to be genuinely happy for what other people have (with the exception of cases where they have stolen it). I don’t have to own or personally have things in order to enjoy them.
De almas bien templadas es no tener envidia de nadie.
The privilege of self-restrained and generous people is not to envy anyone.
And I want to say:
I like this proverb, of course. I don’t think you would normally make a connection between “self-control” and freedom from envy, but, as I have discussed, envy can be subdued, if not eradicated altogether (it will, of course, attempt to arise all the time, like all temptations), with examination and control of one’s thoughts.
Más vale guerra abierta que paz fingida.
An open war is preferable to a sham peace.
And I want to say:
Canadians, in particular, live in a world of false peace. We sacrifice truth in order to appear ‘polite,’ and ‘nice.’ I have spoken about this before. In the context of relationships, which is what this comment is about, I would rather know that my enemies are my enemies than be fooled by the appearance of friendship. The worst damage is always done by those who pretend to love you.
Quien no te ama, en la plaza te difama.
He who does not love you, discredits you in public.
And I want to say:
Let’s make a distinction here, based on both truth and motive. One speaker tells the truth in order warn the innocent, and in order to spur evil-doers to reconsider and reform their ways. Another speaker invents what is false in order to make the innocent look bad. The first speaker is motivated by love for the sinner, the innocent, and the truth. The second speaker loves neither the innocent person nor the truth.
Donde hay hijos, ni parientes ni amigos.
Relatives and friends are not welcome when parents want to enjoy the company of their children.
And I want to say:
It is a sad but general rule that a parent will feel self-conscious and on guard when there are observers nearby, in the form of relatives and friends (or strangers). Thinking about what others will think causes the parents to experience some level of stress, and they often cannot properly enjoy their own children.
Likewise, children notice that relatives and the friends of their parents introduce a new atmosphere, new standards, and new methods of interacting which are usually unfamiliar, often odd, and sometimes unpleasant. Yet at the same time, the child also notices that his parents and these others appear to have a warm relationship, and he does not know where he fits in the arrangement. If the parents emphasize the importance of these guests (“We have to clean up! Auntie is coming!” “Remember to speak nicely to Grandpa!” “Make sure you share all your toys with your cousins!”) and imply that the child’s wishes and needs must take second place to the wishes and needs of these relatives and friends, then the child will not fully communicate with his own parents when issues arise, believing that his own parents will take the side of their friends, their friends’ children, or the relatives. Further, the child may believe that these relatives and family friends are a permanent part of family life, and that speaking up about difficulties or issues or preferences will change nothing. All of this is unfortunate. The lines of communication should always be open. Every child should know that he is a priority for the parents. Every child should understand that his views about these outsiders (for that is what they are) is always welcome. A child should know that changes can be made to the patterns of family life to better take care of the child, who is, after all, the vulnerable one.
El galán que no hiere firme, despedirle.
Get rid of a suitor who does not try hard enough.
And I want to say:
I worry for the women whose boyfriends do not appreciate and cherish them. It’s never good when the man is lazy, lukewarm, or apathetic towards the one who is supposed to be the love of his life. If he doesn’t have enthusiasm, energy and action at the beginning, when will he have it? Nowadays women do not value themselves sufficiently; they accept very poor treatment from men in the hopes that it will all work out in the end, but the standards are best set at the outset of a relationship. Show him that you will not compromise your morals, and that you are worth his best efforts. Why waste time with or settle for a man who believes himself to be entitled to so much for so little?
La que se casa con un viudo, rival tiene en el otro mundo.
The woman who marries a widower has a rival in the other world.
And I want to say:
This is an interesting thought. It is true that a man would remember his first wife, and make comparisons frequently.
But the situation nowadays, in the age of divorce, is far worse. Nowadays, rivals are alive and well, as people marry other people’s husbands and wives regularly.
Más vale quien Dios ayuda que quien mucho madruga.
He whom God helps does more than he who rises early.
And I want to say:
We sometimes think of God as remote. We imagine humanity on earth, doing its own thing. We sometimes imagine that there are two types. On the one side are the hard workers who wake up early, eat all the right foods, and live punctual, righteous lives. On the other side are the indulgent slackers, who are unfocused, inefficient and suffer the consequences of their poor choices.
This proverb reminds us that God is active. He watches, and he knows. He knows that things are not how they seem. He knows that some of those hard workers are thinking only of themselves, and that they are overly careful about their routines and are stingy with their time for others and for God. He knows that some of those who don’t rise early are busy with his work, and busy doing things that are pleasing to him.
So what are you doing? If what you do is pleasing to God, then God will help you with it, and you will be doing more than those who rise early. Human standards of efficiency and productivity — can these even be compared to the activities of the Creator, who made everything and who keeps everything alive and in motion? He directs the course of our spinning earth on its rocket ride around the sun. Can he not help those who do his work?
La que por mí se desvela, esa es mi madre y mi abuela.
The woman who watches over me carefully is my true mother and grandmother.
And I want to say:
This proverb speaks about intention. Who is a mother? A woman who carefully watches over someone acts as a mother, and can be called the true mother and grandmother. The implication is that a woman who does not care about her child is not the true mother or grandmother of that child.
Who is your mother?
You have the same mother that I have. Remember what Jesus said? As he died, Jesus said, “Behold your mother.” With these words, Jesus made Mary the mother of all of us. She watches over you and me carefully. She is our true mother.
I like umbrellas that are clear and dome-shaped.
I don’t like math, physics or chemistry.
I like wearing pigtails on a hot day.
I don’t like waiting for medication at the pharmacy.
I like green vases, because they suit all kinds of flowers, and I especially like them if they are footed. I like footed vases in general.
I don’t like parkades.
I like getting green lights and green turning arrows.
I don’t like going through airport security.
I like ocean bays.
I don’t like acrylic yarn or fabric.
I like good conversation.
I don’t like the smell of cleaning products. I recently needed to get the Rocket fixed up for some minor body damage (someone must have bumped it while it was parked), and the body shop also “detailed” it (cleaned it), which meant that I needed to drive with the windows down for a good long while.
I like the shade of trees on a sunny day.
I don’t like needing eye glasses to read.
I like generous return policies.
I don’t like tattoos. They signal a lack of good judgment.
I like films and television shows, but I almost never watch them, because in order to find one worth watching, you would have to watch five hundred unworthy ones.
I don’t like it when hares try to eat the plants in my garden boxes.
I like the fur on my dog because it’s soft and neither too long nor too short, and just the right shade of brown.
I don’t like trying to understand flight reward miles or credit card point systems.
I like delphiniums and other blue flowers, such as brunnera and forget-me-nots.
I don’t like having to pay for grocery bags at the grocery store, but even worse is managing reusable or extra grocery bags.
I like being able to drive forward out of a parking spot, instead of reversing.
I don’t like vehicles with loud mufflers.
I like online grocery ordering. It’s nice to be able to decide on all your groceries at home, and then pick them up without wandering all around the grocery store. Some of the supermarkets are huge, and it takes a long time.
I like it when my home team wins.
I dislike it when priests distribute the Eucharist poorly. When it is done well, the person receiving has time to make an act of faith while the priest elevates it slightly. When Fr. Mike McC. does it, he doesn’t wait for the response (“Amen.”) He just takes the Body and puts it immediately into the parishioner’s open hand while saying “Body of Christ.” It’s faster for him that way.
I liked it when Korea defeated the reigning world champion, Germany, at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and all the Mexicans were ecstatic. I liked it when Ukraine took first place at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019, and Korea took second, and Ecuador and Panama took third and fourth.
I don’t like it when things don’t ship to Canada.
I like the smell and taste of grilled meat.
I don’t like hearing gross stories on the radio from the DJ or other listeners. And I especially dislike hearing gross stories from the pulpit. Fr. Samson David A. was the worst for this, because he relished incorporating disgusting and distasteful tales into his homilies. Indeed, he takes first, second, third, and fourth prize for the worst homilies I have heard in my not-so-short life so far.
I like having interesting magazines to read in a waiting area.
I don’t like it when I can’t connect to the internet, or when a device I’m using completely loses its charge.
I like bone china.
I don’t like icy sidewalks in the winter.
I like to go to little shops and look at all the little things they have for sale.
I don’t like amusement park rides.
I like diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, amethysts, aquamarine, citrine, topaz, tanzanite, and all other clear gems. I also like pearls.
I don’t like jade.
I like begonias and impatiens blooming profusely in the shade.
I like stone walls and cobblestone streets.
I don’t like thinking about how computers or cars work.
I like going to the farmer’s market in the summer and getting a big box of peaches.
I don’t like it when priests drive 2016 BMW X4 M40i s.
I like helping people learn English.
I don’t like it when neighbours neglect their front yard and home exterior.
I like going to parties, dinners, big events, and get-togethers of all kinds.
I don’t like being unable to unsubscribe from certain emails, such as the ones from “The American TFP” (The American Society for Truth, Faith and Property).
I like Rice Krispie squares.
I dislike changing my password.
I like riding on those motorized carts inside big airports.
I don’t like casinos, and I protest the participation of charitable and community organizations in their successful operation.
I like being able to cook well.
I dislike it when I want to pay by cash, but don’t have enough with me.
I like the air after it rains.
I dislike having to prove I’m not a robot.
I like waltzes.
I don’t like it when people double-park on a crowded Mass day.
I like having free time to catch up on everything.
I dislike it when priests exit the confessional without looking at or speaking to the disappointed parishioners waiting in line, and even worse is when they make it seem as if people are being a burden by coming when they do: “We priests often come at 3:30 to find a line forming. There is always time for a few confessions but priests need time to spiritually prepare to celebrate the Eucharist and cannot deal adequately with this long line. If Saturday confession has become your practice, please consider one of the other available times . . .”
I like carriage rides.
I dislike attending bank appointments.
I like pistachio-flavoured gelato.
I don’t like it when people lie to me or about me.
I like heavy proper furniture made of real wood.
I don’t like applying for scholarships or finding sponsors for my projects.
I like beeswax candles.
I don’t like it when people stand too close behind me in line.
I like looking at and sharing nice photographs.
I dislike it when people don’t say thank you.
I like seeing all the stars from a place away from the city lights.
I don’t like graffiti.
I like the glow of city lights.
I like neat handwriting.
I dislike suffering.
I like portulaca, because I met these flowers as a child, and I was astounded by their beauty. They remind me of tissue-paper crafts.
I don’t like uploading really large files.
I like tissue-paper crafts.
I don’t like downloading really large files.
I like coming home after being away.
I like music in the minor key.
I don’t like the writing of Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor or Thomas Merton, among others.
I like it when stains come out of clothing.
I don’t like most floral shirts.
I like laughing.
I dislike running late and showing up late.
I like knowing a good tailor.
I dislike seeing straws, water bottles or fast-food packaging after they’ve been used.
I like getting good advice.
I don’t like sad endings.
I like subtly striped sheets because then I know which way goes where.
I don’t like when my hands get chapped.
I like it when my favourite songs play on the radio.
I don’t like feeling excluded.
I like weddings and wedding anniversaries. I like wedding gowns and wedding flowers.
I like this day, July 31.
I like this summer.
I like the messages.
I like spending time with my family.
I like finishing and posting blog posts.
Motherhood is known to mothers
But even these forget
Even mothers forget
The secrets that they knew
Perhaps it would be better if they would remember
How close to death it felt
To give birth
Perhaps it would be better if they would remember
How much goodness and life
Came out of pain
For you see, that’s the crux of the mystery
That’s where a mother shares in
And the secret is: it repeats
The mother’s power
Does not end at the birth of her child
The mother’s power
To shape and to form, through her own suffering,
Extends to the spiritual
In the way that Christ paid the ransom for all
A mother can pay the ransom for her own
If she wants to
St. Monica paid it
And St. Augustine remembered it
For the sake of other mothers who know what is worth wanting
This is a mystery
But it is true
A mother can save her own
And you argue with me
Your agenda is to hide your own sin
A mother can save her own
Though a child sins in a way that seems new
(Sin is a corpse wearing makeup in the latest styles)
Though a child sins openly or behind closed doors
(Sin is everywhere)
A mother can save her own
Don’t speak to me of consent!
You do so for the sake of argument!
And should be ashamed
Does a child grant permission to be conceived?
Does a child grant permission to be born?
In the same way
A mother has the power
Through her own pain
To save her own
It’s a mystery
But it is the pattern
Those who can save
One sinner atones for the sins of another
This is news to you?
It’s the mystery of the mother
Always giving birth
She knows the seas
The Baltic might be her favorite
But she remembers the Sea of Azov, the Black, and the Bay of Biscay
Ports of An Mhuir Cheilteach, Newquay, Boston, and Victoria
She has arrived at these
Waterways of Dnipro, Wisła, Siene, Juan de Fuca, and Canale Grande
She has sailed on these
Cobblestone streets of Assisi, Ávila, Dublin, and Kyiv
She has walked on these
Cathedrals of Paris, Rome, Florence, and Lviv
She has prayed in these
And in Wadowice
She is no stranger to the land
She will say that Madrid was nice
Novo Selo was sweet
Brussels too brief
And London too long
She is no stranger to the land
She was born on it as a matter of fact
Suddenly one morning
She was here
As she was always meant to be
She surveys the land
As Noah did when he disembarked
The animals belong to her
And the garden grows lush at her feet
But her eyes are blue like the sea
And there is so much below the surface
Yet if you saw her gentle face
You would never know
That she knows so much
About the ways of heaven and earth
About the ways of humanity
Tell me how she knows so much
If you can
She watches the skies
An experienced sailor
Who remembers the storms
Blackness, rushing water, attacks from every side
Who could continue?
There were times
She carried the crew
She has seen much
She has seen the face of her beloved
And has known both loss and longing
She knows the face of suffering
You could say she knows the thorns
She has worn the crown
But enough of this
She reminds us
That now it is spring
Now we are on the other side of the divide
The earth is being renewed
And the rose knows that this is her time
Her time to bud and bloom
To reign again as the queen of flowers
There she is
Consider the paradox
Simplicity and complexity
Hidden yet open
Abundance in even a single bloom
How many poets have sung the praises of the rose?
Its fragrance, elegance
Its very name
Metaphor for everything beautiful
Symbol of love
Love on earth and love from above
There she is
Soon it will be her time
She has comforted others
She will be comforted
She has fought
And she has won
Soon it will be her time
To wear another crown
I have seen her crown
But I have not seen her wear it
The gems are clear yet white
Not refracting light
As if each gem is a fragment of a star
Each gem mysteriously attached to the next
In the way that one event in life
Connects to another
I have seen her crown
But I have not seen her wear it
For now she remains hidden
Who grasps the paradox
Of the simple and the complex
Of the smooth surface and the hidden depths
Of the wise and the young?
Who remembers how God gave wisdom to the four
As in Daniel 1:17?
Yes, Daniel of Lion’s Den fame
I have seen her crown
A crown which cannot be bought
But which she has won
I think you will be there when she receives this crown
It will be placed upon her head
Yet symbolizing more
Symbols and rhymes
Riddles and references
Must suffice for the reader
And for the poet
For it is not yet time
I have seen her crown
And I will see her wear it
A voice rings out
As clear as a bell
Sounding through a wintry valley
So for a moment
While other voices are stilled
While they wonder
Who cries like this?
It is the cry of the wolf
The wolf who for now
Will not speak
Who for now
Will sing her song
It is a song of pain
But of strength in pain
A child is born
Exactly on time
And this child also cries
They listen again
They are confused
Why is this not the cry of a newborn one?
Oh I will tell you why
This child has already seen
Through the eyes of another
What the world has to offer
This child has advanced
What is better
Now the wolves cry
Their love is fierce and
Their love is
Do you dare come between them?
Do you challenge them?
They are not what they seem
You do not know them
They move swiftly across the snow
(A sinner must love the snow)
For they are the hunters
The snow silences and subdues
These two continue
Shoulder to shoulder
Mother and child
Child and child
Mother and mother
Alpha and alpha
Across vast distances
Do you know?
Do you know what they have seen?
Do you know what they have heard?
You cannot fathom such
But if you look into their eyes
You will see
The flash and the glint
Beauty and danger and daring and will
You will see
Her crown is shaped like the petals of a lily
Like petals of fire
But He said
There is also a glow
What is this glow?
Do you understand?
Do you know?
This glow is the glow of love
Loyalty and devotion
Across vast distances
Later her song will be sung
Later her tale will be told
But for now,
Only a voice ringing out
Over vast distances
A bell sounding through a wintry valley
She climbed Ben Nevis as a matter of course
The course of her life involved scaling peaks routinely
And this wasn’t the highest
Peaks in thin blue air belong
To those who begin on the ground
Where the wildcat shrieks
Where help is nowhere to be found
Peaks in thin blue air belong
To those who plan, who work, and most of all,
To those who want
Strength is given to those who want to be strong
Of all kinds
Sometimes she won by never beginning
Sometimes she won by finally ending
What weighed her down
Or what might
To climb is to be light
To climb is to fight, mainly, oneself
But of course there are others
Who could not bear to see her on the high ground
The high ground which couldn’t be taken from her
She wanted what others did not want
She wanted wisdom
Upon reading Solomon’s praise of it
Better than silver
Better than gold
After Ben Nevis, mountains covered in snow
Standing at one peak and looking at others
A sinner must love the snow
“Come now, let us reason together,
says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.”
Indeed, who had escaped the era of darkness without stain?
In any case
She packed her briefcase and continued her trek.
For what was she seeking?
For whom was she seeking?
She sought for a companion for the journey
Across the millennium
And on the other side of the divide
Which began on 01.01.01
A child was conceived
A baby of and for the third millennium
Unstained by what had come before
Here words must pause
One day you will see this one
This one who accompanied humanity
As we fell down into the eschatological fold
Between the dark past and the bright future
And rose up again
One day the story will fully be told
And you’ll understand
Everything that I cannot say now
By straightforward prose
So for now only a poem
Reckless in meter
And accidental in rhyme
A poem about a girl
Who got what she wanted
She wanted what others did not want
She wanted wisdom
Upon reading Solomon’s praise of it
Better than silver
Better than gold
This blog post is for you.
You’re thinking about getting a divorce.
You’ve played it out in your mind, mostly.
With respect to the kids, you’re pretty much positive that they’d stay with you, so you’re not worried about that.
With respect to money, you feel quite secure about your ability to earn it, so you’re not worried about that.
With respect to dividing things up, you feel that it should be quite manageable, so you’re not worried about that.
With respect to feeling alone, or being on your own, you have a pretty solid network of friends and people to turn to, so you’re not worried about that.
“Besides, lots of people divorce all the time.
It’s not like you would be the first.
And the kids will be fine.
They’re more bonded to you anyhow.
They’ll hardly notice the difference, especially if you keep the house.
But even if you can’t keep the house, you’ll find somewhere good, somewhere close to the school.
There are probably a lot of cute places nearby, and you always have tons of decorating ideas, so you can make a place look cozy.
It might almost be fun–kind of a new adventure.
The point is that you’re just sick and tired of all of his bullshit.
And you just aren’t going to put up with it anymore.
Why should you?
If he thinks he can just get away with it, then he’s in for a rude awakening.
He’ll realize that he should have treated you better.
But you don’t care what he thinks. It will be too late. It’s already too late.
The lines of the song speak to you:
Who’s gonna walk you through the dark side of the morning?
Who’s gonna rock you when the sun won’t let you sleep?
Who’s waking up to drive you home when you’re drunk and all alone?
It ain’t me.
It ain’t me.
You know that a reckoning is long overdue.
This time, he’s gone too far.
What’s the point of staying together?
There’s no point in sticking around when there’s no future.
It’s not even good for the kids, to see you argue like this.
Besides, you could very well find someone new.
You’re still attractive.
Not too old, yet.
There are a lot of men out there.
Hell, you could easily find someone way better.
Remember that one guy?
You seemed to really hit it off.
Or what about that other one?
He seemed kind of interested.
That’s the kind of guy you need.
The type you deserve.
Why stay in a dead-end marriage?
Life is short.
Why be miserable?”
Now let’s talk.
Let’s talk about this.
Imagination is a powerful thing, no doubt about it.
But you have to keep track of what it offers you.
Don’t let it run the show, because the imagination is, well, not known for its wisdom.
I notice that there is a distinct pattern to your thoughts, and I challenge that.
This is what I see:
When you imagine a future with your husband, you see misery, emptiness and loneliness.
When you imagine a future without him, you see happiness, victory and opportunity.
Who gave you the ability to see the future?
Lend me your imagination for a moment.
Let me paint you a different picture.
I speak not from my own experience, but from what I have seen.
What I have seen is that separated and divorced women are experiencing a lot of pain.
The pain is very deep.
Fast forward two and a half years from today.
Your children are standing by the door in their coats, and the older one already has his boots on.
You’re helping your younger one, who hasn’t yet recovered from the mini-crisis at lunchtime, and the older one says, “They’re here! I see their car!”
You check yourself in the mirror. Unfortunately, you haven’t had time to have a shower yet, and you reach for your lipstick; maybe that will be enough to look presentable.
Your husband (nowadays you call him “my ex” because that’s just easiest) is walking towards the front door. He knocks, and the children are thrilled to greet him, “Daddy, Daddy!”
He says, “Hello princess!” “Hello Superman!” (He always calls him that.) You explain that the younger one was upset because she got ketchup on BunnyBunny, and you haven’t had a chance to clean BunnyBunny, but you need to wash her before she can play with her again. Your ex seems somewhat understanding, and is about to say something, but is interrupted by “Hey Superman!” exclaimed by Kaylee, his wife, who is stepping out of the vehicle. (You can’t help but notice that the vehicle is nicer than any of the ones that your husband bought while you were married.) She gives your son a high-five and a big hug, and she walks towards the front door holding your son’s hand.
She says hello to you, and looks at what you’re wearing. You suddenly feel self-conscious, because she has an obviously new coat and is holding her fancy purse (as if she really couldn’t have left it in the car!) The woman’s got an attitude — of all the people he could have chosen, he had to find this one! But it’s not as if you can exactly say anything. She glances at your living room and says, “Looks like someone’s had a busy morning!” and she laughs, looking at your husband, as if she’s made some very witty type of joke. He laughs too. “Let’s go, Princess,” he says, and he lifts up your daughter and they all go to the car.
The house is suddenly really quiet now. BunnyBunny looks at you.
Six months later:
Your children come home from their weekend visit with Daddy and Kaylee. They are full of news. “Daddy is buying a new house!” This is quite a surprise, but nowadays it seems like all news about everything important comes through the children. Where will this house be? When? Why? You try to stay calm, and you choose your words carefully, because you don’t really know what your own children will report back to others about your reaction. “Oh, really? That’s interesting.”
Nine months later:
You see that Kaylee has posted photos of their new house. There’s a picture of everything: the front yard, the back yard, and there’s a picture of the kitchen. Who needs a kitchen that big? You’re not sure she even does much cooking. She’s posted a picture of the new bathroom with lit candles all over the place (so staged!), and some of her friends have made comments, which you read. “How romantic!” “Love it!” “So jealous, Kaylee!” The whole thing is upsetting beyond belief, not that you would ever admit that to anyone, ever. You decide you’ll post some pictures of your own, of something. The homemade cake photo might be a good choice, but you’ll have to double-check it. On the other hand, maybe that’s not flashy enough.
Three months later:
The new guy that you’ve been seeing appears to be a bit of a loser. Definitely better than the last fellow, but not necessarily someone you can count on. It’s the second time in a row that he has said he needs to “meet up with the guys” when you thought you had plans. Exactly what is the issue, you would like to know. Perhaps Sonia’s free tonight, and you could meet up with her. You’ve already got a babysitter scheduled, after all. Sonia is quite understanding; she’s been divorced for something like 8 years, and has had her share of dating disasters. But she’s not free tonight, because she’s got some sort of bowling thing. Bowling! Who goes bowling these days? And you can’t call any of your married friends on the spur of the moment like this. And besides, even if they were free, you don’t really want them to know everything. Let them think you’re having fun.
The babysitter arrives (you’ve decided to go to the mall), and you find yourself talking to her for forty-five minutes, instead of leaving. She’s quite the sympathetic listener, as it turns out. She plans to go to law school, she says. You’re not sure what you think about that. The lawyer you had certainly charged an arm and a leg, as if you were made out of money. Two hundred and fifty dollars an hour! The whole divorce experience was highly unpleasant, with way too much detail coming out onto public affidavits. Your sister-in-law actually went to the courthouse and printed them all out just to read for herself, as if it was any of her business! Your ex hired a nasty-piece-of-work lawyer, who was always coming up with new angles and making the process entirely more expensive than it needed to be. What a disaster that was. And the judge! The judge, who couldn’t care less about anything that you said, just wound up giving normal visitation rights to your ex even after he read everything. And you thought the legal system would be fair! You thought it would give a damn. But you don’t tell the babysitter about that, because you feel kind of stupid for fighting so hard for so little. You finally head out the door, because, after all, you are paying her to babysit, and you don’t want her telling her parents that all you did was stand in the doorway and talk forever. You don’t want people to think you’re pathetic.
You decide to find a sensible purpose for shopping, and you’ve decided that it will be to find a birthday present for your niece. She will be turning 13, and it will be nice to have the time to find something good.
You look around for a while, going from store to store. It seems futile quite quickly. You’re so used to online shopping that buying something without reading online reviews seems like a terrible gamble. But you persist, looking for something that looks nice enough. After all, the whole family will be there, and you don’t want people to think you cheaped out. Ever since the divorce, you feel like everyone thinks you don’t have enough money, but they don’t say anything, so you can’t actually address what you think they’re thinking. Not with words, anyway.
Six months later:
You’re at the grocery store, and you run into Leanne and her husband in the bakery section. You haven’t seen her since you lived in the old neighbourhood, and you certainly didn’t expect to see her here. She’s on her way to a baby shower, she says, which makes you wonder why her husband is with her. “I injured my neck recently, and I just can’t shoulder check, so Jason has to drive me everywhere! I’ve got my own chauffeur these days!” You laugh because she’s trying to be funny, but you know that if you get sick or injured, there’s nobody there to drive you. Meeting her with her husband after all these years seems to highlight your own changed situation, and the truth is that you just want to say goodbye. But she has news. She knows someone who works with your ex, and it’s becoming rather well-known that he got his vasectomy reversed, and don’t you find that interesting?
You feel sick.
Why on earth?
This, you didn’t see coming.
Mind you, those vasectomy reversals don’t always work, do they? Why on earth would he do that? He doesn’t even like kids that much, does he? He used to complain, and now he wants more? Or is it that Kaylee wants kids? And he’s doing whatever she wants?
You feel dizzy, but you manage some more small talk (who knows what it was), say goodbye, pay for your groceries, and leave the store. This is just disgusting. Your hands are shaking, and you don’t know if you’ll be able to drive home okay.
Two years later:
You’ve decided to start your own business, because it wouldn’t hurt to have a little bit of side income. Your ex was late — twice! — on his support payments, which of course makes no sense when you know perfectly well that he has enough money for everything else. At least, that’s what it sounds like, from what the kids tell you about things. And what about that post about his fancy new barbecue, and what about the “little” trip to Cancun? If he can afford that, then he can afford to make his support payments on time, is what you think. It’s just SO aggravating (and somewhat humiliating) to remind him about it! It was far better when the payments were directly deposited into the account. In any case, a side business would probably be a good idea. Lots of people earn income on the side. It doesn’t mean they’re desperate or anything. Maybe they’re just talented.
A text comes in. Your son wants to know how many seats he should request for the school play. You groan internally, because you know that the school doesn’t have the sense to realize that maybe parents who are divorced won’t want to be seated together. You text back: “Ask dad if he is coming, and how many seats he wants.” You look at your calendar, to double check the start time of the play. A text comes in, “Dad says buy two for him.”
Two weeks later:
You’re early, and you settle yourself in one of your designated seats in the school gymnasium. Your ex walks in, with Kaylee, who is apparently in a talkative mood. She sits between you and your ex, and if the seating arrangement makes her feel uncomfortable, you would never know it. She’s got lots to say, about her new job as a teacher’s assistant, and about how she is really fed up with her housekeeper. You wonder if it’s just you, or whether everything she says is intended to rile you.
At one point during the conversation, you catch the eye of your ex, and you notice that he’s looking at you, not her. You’re taken aback, and for a moment, you find it difficult to concentrate on what she’s just said. (Something about getting a puppy?) The lights go dim and the play begins. Now comes the part where your son is in the spotlight. When he triumphantly finishes his lines, you and your ex openly look at each other, being proud in the same way. It’s a very strange moment, and you don’t have time to process everything you are feeling.
When the play is done, your son finds you in the audience. He’s flushed and very happy with how he did. You take photos of him and you ask your ex to take photos of you with him while he’s still in costume. Another photo: your son, you, your daughter, this one taken by your ex. Then a surprise. Your ex takes a selfie and produces another photo: your son, your daughter, you, your ex.
You take back your phone and you recognize it immediately for what it is: a family portrait.
Was that the moment? Was that the moment that something within you changed direction? Is that all it takes? A photo?
You ask your son to take another photo.
You put your arm behind your ex, and he puts his on your shoulder. Does he realize what you’re doing? Does Kaylee?
Here it is. It’s done and you’re both smiling.
You show it to him, and you smile your very best smile.
Am I flirting? you ask yourself.
Oh yeah. This is actually happening. This is actually what you’re doing. You almost feel as if you’re watching someone else, someone who has a very clear idea of what she’s doing.
You say to your ex, “Our Superman sure can act! I wonder where he gets that from?” He looks like he’ll say something, but he doesn’t; maybe it’s because Kaylee is right there. So it becomes one of those rhetorical questions. “Our Superman” — you reflect on your words.
When the night is over, when you get home, you look carefully at the photos. Would getting back together even be possible? How would that even work? Does he still love you? Do you still love him? What would people say?
Obviously, friendship must come first before anything. And besides, you rationalize, it’s good for parents to be friends anyway. Better for the kids. Everyone says you should be friends if you can.
Oh! What a strange romance you contemplate. The children would approve, of course. But what if you argued again? Surely that would happen. Would we have to get divorced again? Would we be like those Hollywood celebrities who remarry someone they’ve already divorced? Wouldn’t that be ridiculous?
You don’t want to be ridiculous, but on the other hand, what have you got to lose?
You’ve done crazier things.
Or maybe not.
But maybe this one is worth doing.
I can’t believe that I’m seriously considering flirting with my own husband, you say to yourself, forgetting to call him your ex.
I was definitely flirting tonight, you say to yourself. Never mind “considering flirting;” I’ve already done it.
You go online and upload the photos, and your daughter studies them. “Why did you really get divorced?” she asks. What a moment for such a question! You reach for the typical words, something that begins with, “Well, honey, sometimes people just . . . ” but now those words sound like avoidance. You say, “I don’t know,” and are surprised that this answer sounds fairly reasonable.
You post three photos. One of your son, one of the four of you, and one of you with your ex. And of course they need captions, because you always write captions. The first caption is easy. The second is trickier. How about “us without Kaylee”? How about “How things used to be”? You decide on “Family.” The third photo should be harder, but you already know what you’re going to write. You post, “Still my favorite guy.”
You click ‘post photo’ before you have a moment to change your mind.
And then you freak out.
“What on earth have I just done?!?!” You are mortified and shocked and horrified at the same time. The dam of lies breaks open, and you are immediately tormented with lies that everyone will think you are a total desperate idiot who has no business wrecking another household years after your own divorce. Everyone will think you have gone mad, and that you can’t cope with your divorce. Everyone will think you are pathetic and a loser and unable to find anyone half-decent to date (some truth in that one). You can NOT believe you believed it was a good idea. Your face feels hot. You wonder if anybody has seen it. Maybe you could just delete it. Should you delete just the last one, or all 3?
You hold up your phone and look.
He saw them.
He saw them!
He saw your posts, and
And he liked them,
All of them!
He liked them!
“Oh this is SO weird!” you say out loud. And your daughter, in the next room, says, “What’s so weird?” Should you explain?
Three years later:
It’s Saturday. It’s lunch time. It’s battered fish and french fries, all from the frozen section of the supermarket. The morning has been busy. Your son is assembling his social studies project but the kitchen table needs to be cleared before anyone can eat. Your daughter is writing a book report and doesn’t come when you say that lunch is ready. You’re thinking about a million things and then it happens. The bowl with the ketchup in it tips over, and the ketchup splatters all over BunnyBunny. A crisis. Your younger daughter, who has learned to talk quite early, says, “BunnyBunny all dirty all over!” and you bring BunnyBunny to the sink for a wash up. Your husband says to her, “Don’t worry honey. BunnyBunny will be fine. Your Mommy and Daddy know all about making things like new again.”
Who knows the future?
The grace of God flows through a sacramental marriage.
What appears to be empty can become fruitful.
What appears to be dead can come back to life.
What appears to be the end of the story can be just the beginning.
Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)
When ‘experts’ consider the art and objects left behind by those from prehistoric times, they make huge errors, because they begin with the notion that prehistoric people were quite a bit different from themselves. There is a snobbishness that prevents them from recognizing themselves in a prehistoric setting.
Most art historians concern themselves with the “who” and the “when” (by whom and when was this made?) and they feel pretty safe with the “how” question (what was used to create it, what techniques were used?), and outside of modern art, they also feel comfortable with the “what” questions (what is being depicted?).
However, the biggest question — the most interesting and important question — is “why”? Why did these people build this? Why did they draw this? Why did they bury people with this type of object? Yet it’s the most difficult one, and is so often answered with some vague guesses which show more about the academic trends within art history or within anthropology at that very moment.
Decades ago, I read about the cave paintings at Lascaux, France. (They were discovered in 1940 by some boys who were rescuing their dog from a hole, according to my textbook, which doesn’t tell me whether the boys were successful in rescuing their dog.)
Do you like cave paintings? I do. I dislike caves, of course, but I think it’s really interesting to see what has been preserved on the walls. I like, for instance, the stencil handprint art that appears in caves all over the world. Wikipedia says that “the oldest known cave painting is a red hand stencil in Maltravieso cave, Cáceres, Spain. It has been dated using the uranium-thorium method to older than 64,000 years and was made by a Neanderthal.” I remember seeing a picture of a child handprint adjacent to an adult handprint. So cute! And then, of course, there are animal pictures. People keep finding more, and as the technology for determining dates improves, the dates are revised, and get earlier and earlier. “The oldest date given to an animal cave painting is now a bull dated circa as over 40,000 years, at Lubang Jeriji Saléh cave, East Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia. Before this discovery, the oldest known cave painting was a depiction of a pig with a minimum age of 35,400 years, at Timpuseng cave in Sulawesi, Indonesia.” (also from Wikipedia’s “Cave Paintings.”)
With respect to the cave paintings at Lascaux, also made tens of thousands of years ago, experts cannot understand very much about them. It is only recently, for instance, that technology has revealed that the best drawings are often the oldest ones. And here art historians are in agreement that those with the highest level of realism are the most impressive.
I shake my head at the theories surrounding the creation of the art. H.W. Janson’s third edition of History of Art says this about the images:
Hidden away as they are in the bowels of the earth, to protect them from the casual intruder, these images must have served a purpose far more serious than mere decoration. There can be little doubt, in fact, that they were produced as part of a magic ritual, perhaps to secure a successful hunt. . . Apparently, people of the Old Stone Age made no clear distinction between image and reality; by making a picture of an animal they meant to bring the animal itself within their grasp, and in “killing” the image they thought they had killed the animal’s vital spirit. Hence a “dead” image lost its potency after the killing ritual had been performed, and could be disregarded when the spell had to be renewed. The magic worked, too, we may be sure; hunters whose courage was thus fortified were bound to be more successful when slaying these formidable beasts with their primitive weapons (27).
Notice how Mr. Janson adds “there can be little doubt,” “in fact,” and “we may be sure” to his theory, a theory that strikes me as really stupid. To say that a group of people “made no clear distinction between image and reality” is quite a stretch. The evidence for all of his theories is only the hidden location of the art! There are quite a few reasons a cave painter might choose a particular location. Some of these reasons would be based on practical considerations, and some would be a matter of personal preference. Did you hear about the artist who painted an entire ceiling instead of a wall?
It’s rather irresponsible to declare “Magic, magic!” with such little evidence. That edition was printed in 1986. The more modern editions of this book, headed by Penelope J.E. Davies, are similarly filled with a LOT of loose and wacky theories. It is absolutely exasperating to read. I threw the 2010 edition out because of the blasphemous bits, so I can’t give you the page number where she discusses the small markings which accompany many of the animal paintings at Lascaux. Her book says that these marks are probably drawings of traps or insects.
You see how the experts have no clue. A trap is a very different thing from an insect. And it doesn’t explain why the markings look nothing like traps nor insects.
And turning to the most up-to-date theories, the Wikipedia page about cave art demonstrates that the wild guessing continues, with a theory, for instance, about a shaman entering the cave in a “trance state” and painting alone in darkness (how impractical!), about obtaining power from the cave walls, about magic to increase the size of herds.
Why do these experts so quickly assume that these ancient civilizations were so weird? Entering into a trance and then doing art? Why such a theory?
That’s the thing with experts. They study a thing so long and their theories get more “deluxe” and improbable. They begin to believe that if they say something normal, their theory won’t sound educated enough.
But seriously, we should start with the basic reasons anyone would do anything. A child draws and paints without being asked. Why does the child do this? It’s a human desire, to depict what we see as accurately as we can with whatever equipment we have. An adult draws and paints. Why does the adult do this? Well, it’s for the same reason, but adults do it because they want to express themselves, and/or because they’re hoping or expecting to be paid. Let’s start there.
And I’ll tell you my theory about the little marks that are found near some of the animals.
One of the first steps in communicating with someone who does not speak your language is to settle on some basic nouns and verbs. For a child, you point to a picture of an elephant, and say “elephant,” even though the elephant is merely a foam cartoon version of an elephant. When you teach your language to those who don’t know it, you point to a picture of a bus, and say “bus.”
The cave at Lascaux served this purpose too. It would have been used by people to communicate about the animals that they have seen and hunted. After all, I can easily point to my arm if I want to express something basic to you about it, but I cannot easily point to an antelope to tell you that I saw a whole herd. How do you know that I am referring to this horned animal and not that horned animal? A picture comes in handy. A picture bridges the gap between people who are trying to communicate.
Pictures would have been drawn and painted on other surfaces before the cave drawings, and when the idea of making such a collection surfaced, the best artist(s) would have been chosen for the task. I doubt payment was involved; fame was probably enough.
About those little collections of lines and dots, I say it’s writing. I say it’s a depiction of the image in a written symbolic form.
A glorious dictionary.
Instead of redrawing the whole mammal again, those who understood this code would be able to use the shorthand version, and save themselves a whole lot of time.
When meeting a trustworthy new group of people who speak a different language, it would have been possible to bring them to this hidden place, the place of the dictionary.
I’ve never come across such a theory, mainly because the experts have all decided that there was no written language at that time, because nobody was intelligent enough for that.
Is that a racist theory? (Nowadays people like to accuse each other of racism.)
As for the evidence that these paintings were hit with spears, you can imagine all of the half-baked theories that exist. I disagree that it was some sort of religious preparatory ritual on the eve of a hunt. I think it was just goofing around, probably by later generations who didn’t know the artist. See if you can hit the animal with your spear from here. See if you can hit it with your eyes closed. Oh, let me do that again. No, it’s my turn.
The word “ritual” is used by art and anthropology experts too often. If they don’t understand why something is a certain way, they invent a religious ritual, adding in whatever details they want.
The end result is a strange combination. The makers of these ancient artifacts are presented as rather one-dimensional survival-based people who care only about hunting and fertility, yet they also supposedly have really complicated and abstract religious practices. When it comes to art, they make it and interact with it only as part of their religious rituals.
So there’s hunting and mating — everything else, including art, goes into the religion bucket. Handy!
The modern expert lacks the whole picture.
The truth is that those who lived long ago did pretty much everything we do. They laughed and danced, and joked around and teased each other. They wore jewellery (have you seen the bracelets from Mizyn, Ukraine, intricately carved from mammoth bone at least 20,000 years ago?) and decked themselves out when the occasion called for it. Of course, religion would have been part of society, because people are spiritual beings, but we don’t really know much about their belief systems, and the expert’s opinions are often just guesses (and cannot reflect on the individual moral state of anyone). It is safe to say, in any case, that people from long ago were able to cooperate and be kind, but they were often competitive and envious too. They loved each other and hated each other. They argued and fought and betrayed each other, but not always. Sometimes they were better than that. They had God’s grace too, after all. And they thought about small things and about big things. The thoughts about big things “does not happen with animals. Inner life means spiritual life. It revolves around truth and goodness. And it includes a whole multitude of problems, of which two seem central: what is the ultimate cause of everything and — how to be good and possess goodness at its fullest” (Karol Wojtyła’s Love and Responsibility, 22-23).
And when they slept, they dreamed.
In short, they were just like us. Never mind about homo habilis and homo floresiensis. Never mind the latest theories, to be challenged in the very near future. People are people, and you’ll be further off the mark by beginning with an assumption of ignorance and difference than with an assumption of intelligence and similarity.
Fewer people believed the earth was flat than is commonly believed. Many civilizations knew the earth was round, but we overlook this, almost as if we prefer to believe those who have gone before us weren’t as ‘advanced’ as we are. (We routinely dismiss people as inferior if they are from an era with different technology or different scientific theories.) Yet we advanced sorts have a tendency to flatten everything. We have a tendency to imagine ancient people as less than human, and we do the same thing to saints and to Jesus, by which I mean that we imagine them as static characters lacking the full range of emotions and behaviours that we have. We have in our minds a caricature of the saint, just as we have a caricature of Homo neanderthalensis. The saint never raises his voice. The saint never swears. The saint never shows anger. The saint never feels lust. The saint never overeats or oversleeps. The saint never gets bored at Mass. Of course, and of course. Such views are problematic because they make sainthood seem absolutely out of reach. The Church says we are all supposed to be saints, but such a declaration seems absurd if every saint has always been so static, so perfect.
So we have to be careful. We can’t make the saints or Jesus or Mary into flat cardboard cut-outs. Their experience of life as a human on earth was just as complicated, difficult, and unpredictable as ours. Although they may have been shown the broad outlines of some future events, they rarely knew what was around the next corner; each of their days were filled with the strange but typical mixture of happiness and sadness. They had countless interactions with all types of people, and these people were that strange but typical mixture of good and bad. They lived in a big round messy world where things were always changing, and where people were being born and dying. Sometimes we picture the Holy Family as wearing halos as they moved through their earthly lives, surrounded by gentle adorers the way that a church statue is surrounded by pilgrims, but it wasn’t like that at all. Jesus got his toes stepped on, both by accident and on purpose. Mary got jostled in crowds. St. Joseph would be shortchanged by customers and have a hard day at work. Just like us, they were routinely thwarted in what they wanted. Just like us, they wanted various things and suffered when things went sideways. To imagine Jesus as untouchable and free from all the bumps and bruises of daily life is to deny his human experience and possibly his humanity as well.
I used to be quite surprised at all of the references to idol worship in the bible. It struck me as quite strange that people would make or obtain some figure, and then proceed to worship it, or believe that it had any power of any kind. I said to myself that this was so nonsensical, and yet I would read how time after time, the Israelites would be tempted to imitate nearby cultures in this way. While Moses was gone from the people, they wasted no time in collecting gold jewellery, melting it and worshipping the resulting mound of gold, shaped like a calf. This is the sight that confronted Moses as he descended from Mount Sinai, holding the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. “And Moses turned, and went down from the mountain with the two tables of the testimony in his hands, tables that were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables” (Exodus 32:15-16).
I like the vividness of the details, describing the realization of Moses and Joshua as they reach the camp: “When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear” (Exod. 32:17-18).
To say that Moses was rather displeased would make him sound like an English gentleman. He was furious! And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tables out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain” (Exod.32:19).
Moses was astonished, mortified, and extremely hurt that the people had done exactly what would displease God the most. He was especially dismayed by Aaron, asking him about his terrible leadership: “What did this people do to you that you have brought a great sin upon them?” (Exod.32:21)
What was the first Commandment written onto the tablets which Moses had just received?
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.
— Exod. 20:2-4
It is not that all images are prohibited, but that the context or intention matters. Sometimes images are appropriate: “Already in the Old Testament, God ordained or permitted the making of images that pointed symbolically toward salvation by the incarnate Word: so it was with the bronze serpent, the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 2130).
It is in the discussion of the first commandment that the Catholic Church warns against idolatry:
2112 The first commandment condemns polytheism. It requires man neither to believe in, nor to venerate, other divinities than the one true God. Scripture constantly recalls this rejection of “idols, [of] silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.” These empty idols make their worshippers empty: “Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them.” God, however, is the “living God” who gives life and intervenes in history.
2113 Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc. Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Many martyrs died for not adoring “the Beast” refusing even to simulate such worship. Idolatry rejects the unique Lordship of God; it is therefore incompatible with communion with God.
2114 Human life finds its unity in the adoration of the one God. The commandment to worship the Lord alone integrates man and saves him from an endless disintegration. Idolatry is a perversion of man’s innate religious sense. An idolater is someone who “transfers his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God.”
These words talk about the idols of false pagan worship, but they go beyond the worship of objects. There’s a mention of idolizing a race, and idolizing the state. There’s a mention of idolizing ancestors.
And it has always seemed appropriate to me that we would hear of cautions against idolatry in these more abstract forms, because as I looked around, I did not see anybody actually worshipping objects. I didn’t hear of people talking to objects as if they had feelings, or, worse yet, powers.
But nowadays, people are tapping on their books to wake them up, and they are holding object after object in order to observe the reaction in themselves. Sometimes they make a point of holding the object very close to themselves, to feel something. They are talking to their objects, saying “Thank you for your service.” They are putting love into their objects while smoothing them with the palms of their hands.
This is just not okay.
Yet it seems that we are not allowed to say that this type of behaviour is “woo-woo, nonsense,” which it is. Indeed, those who criticize such practices are viewed as being woefully ignorant of the big picture, as if a big picture reason could justify such behaviour. Don’t you realize these ideas are rooted in Shintoism? they scold, as if old belief systems can’t be wrong, as if one cannot criticize a belief system if one didn’t practice it. They scold: you haven’t taken the time to understand this method and its religious underpinnings. If you weren’t so stubborn, you’d profit from “interreligious learning.” Many rush to the defence of this type of animism, and hope, in the process, to appear cultured and open-minded. But look: it doesn’t matter whether your excuse for talking to your broken vacuum is rooted in ancient paganism or something you made up yesterday. If an idea is wrong, it’s wrong. Tapping a book to wake it up is weird at best, and idolatrous at worst: “Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise!” (Hab. 2:19)
Saying that inanimate objects deserve any level of reverence, love and honour is leading people directly into idolatry.
Do not pretend that there is anything divine, magical, or powerful contained within the objects in your home. They are just objects, meant to be used.
I watched Marie Kondo’s visit to the home of Katie Couric. I didn’t see her enter the home, but you may already know her entrance ritual. Sometimes when she enters a home, she carries a large armful of huge boxes (to avoid an ecstatic hug from a hyper fan?) and she invariably bows, in order to pay homage to all of the kami (gods) within the objects in the house. Ms. Kondo worked for 5 years at a Shinto temple as a miko (priestess or temple maiden).
These are some of the things she said:
“It’s really important when we’re going through these items to really hold them in your hands and then put them against your body and feel for yourself whether you’re going to feel as if all of the cells in your body are raising. And a feeling of joy.”
“So one important thing to do before you let go of an item is to say ‘thank you’ to the item.”
“One very important thing about folding is that you use the palms of your hands to pour love into your clothes. Thank you for keeping me warm.”
”I love folding. Folding to me feels like I am having a conversation with my clothes. I see it as an important opportunity to show my gratitude towards the clothes.”
“And as you do it [folding], you really start to understand these sensations within you.”
A sympathetic therapist should feel sorry for a person who confides, “Folding to me feels like I am having a conversation with my clothes.”
I don’t have a problem with her folding and organizing techniques. Use them if you want, but if you do her first step, which is to visualize the kind of life that you want, please answer the question without reference to your objects or even your current home. That, after all, is the problem with this question. Those who answer it are thinking about decluttering and getting organized, so their answers are about being able to find things, and about not feeling weighed down by things. They want to entertain guests in a clean space; they want to be able to walk through a clean room. They are thinking along those lines.
Think more broadly. Make your world bigger and rounder than that.
At the end of the day, life is not actually about how you organized your stuff, and how you treated your stuff. It’s about how you treated those around you. To focus on objects, going so far as to imagine (or heaven forbid, believe) them to have life, is to live a flattened life. It is a sad distortion of both earthly and spiritual reality, one which reduces what is important and dynamic (the human person, community and God), while elevating and expanding what is merely man-made. Psalm 135 says, “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.” This quote says that you will make yourself like the thing that you idolize: you’re making yourself more similar to that neatly folded bed sheet than you should. By paying excessive amounts of attention to objects (the designated idols are apparently already in our homes — no need to purchase them or melt down any gold), a person reduces his life experience to a cardboard version of the real thing. Sadly, a person overly concerned with objects begins to view people negatively. People aren’t as fun: they’re less controllable and predictable and they aren’t tidy. Even worse, those who idolize objects begin to use the same standards on people that they use on objects. It is both disturbing and telling that in her introduction (visible via Amazon’s preview function) Ms. Kondo writes:
A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming. I mean it. Here are just a few of the testimonies I receive on a daily basis from former clients: . . . ‘Your course taught me what I really need and what I don’t. So I got a divorce. Now I feel much happier.’
Yikes and double-yikes.
A person must not be evaluated based on his or her usefulness. This quotation celebrates a flippant attitude towards matrimony, and suggests that “feeling better” justifies the decision. Divorce is almost always painful, and it is often tragic.
But let’s talk about this issue of results. Those who criticize Marie Kondo’s methods are always met with a response something like this: “Well, I used her methods, and now my place is tidy, so you’re wrong.” The unspoken (and probably unconscious) and illogical argument here is that Ms. Kondo’s methods are effective, and therefore she is right about everything. But the truth is that Ms. Kondo is right about all the little things (how to fold garments, for instance), and wrong about all the big things (why to fold garments, for instance).
As it was with the cave paintings, the most interesting and the most important question is “why.” Why do you fold these towels? Why do you fold these socks? Why do you arrange your shirts in rainbow order?
Please have a reason that’s bigger and broader than the object itself. You can think, for example, in the style of St. Josemaria Escriva, who said take care of your tools. That’s part of your work, and your work is your offering to God. Or you can consider home organization and storage as part of your life of service to those around you. We are all called to a life of service, and those who are married and those who are in families are called to serve them. Keeping a tidy home is one aspect of this (but not as important as some things, such as keeping everyone fed). And if you live alone, you can still have many sensible motives for doing what you’re doing. Perhaps you want to organize your things so that you can find what you have more quickly. That’s enough of a reason. Perhaps you think the shirts look prettier when arranged in rainbow order. That’s fine. That’s enough. You can stop there. You truly don’t need to whisper gratitude to your garments and kitchen utensils when putting them away or discarding them. Don’t add layers of idolatry into the mix. Come back to reality. Give thanks to God, not objects.
I could not have predicted, years ago, that one day I would, in all seriousness, ask people to stop treating objects as if they contained a live spirit. I thought that this type of strange behaviour was confined to the past, but you see, we are no better than those of long ago, and the Catechism is so right in saying that idolatry “remains a constant temptation to faith” (para 2113).
We may not believe that the world is flat, but we’re ready to take large steps towards odd practices of idolatry because it’s popular, and because we’ve heard of or experienced “the life-changing magic.” In so doing, we run the risk of making our lives one-dimensional.
And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down; for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods!’”
To summarize, Marie Kondo’s empire is based on telling people to improve their relationship with their objects.
I say that’s not good enough.
That’s too small and too flat.
You’re bigger than that.
Improve your relationship with your spouse. Improve your relationship with your children. Time is short. Life is precious. One day, you may not have these people in your life, so use your time well. Do things with them and for them. You will never regret acts done in love.
Improve your relationship with God. He loves you, and wants everything for you. Open yourself to him, love this invisible yet mighty God, and your life will begin to change in all the right ways. Some things will change quickly, and other things will change more slowly. He will give you the grace to overcome problems, and he will help you achieve what does not seem possible now. He is a living God, and loving him will make you more alive. Moreover, he knows what you want even better than you know, and he has the power to make these dreams come true, if you would put your trust in him.
Be open! Expand your horizons!