Sunday, March 30, 2008

Prayer Request

J. Colliver, The Annunciation

On Monday, the Feast of the Annunciation, I'm finishing my consecration to our Blessed Mother. Please pray for me!

So Close, Yet So Far

Divine Mercy Sunday found us doing a corporal act of Mercy. My grandfather (age 92) recently suffered a stroke while visiting his only child, my mother. On Friday night, we packed up all the kids & our dog to make "a visit to the sick."

After hearing dire reports of Grandpa's health, I was shocked to wake up late Saturday morning to find him happily clapping along to the latest Easter song that Hannah was currently composing on Mom's piano. He was the same lively Great-Grandfather that the kids have enjoyed for years. His few physical limitations hadn't affected his warm spirit or kind heart.

As a result of the visit, I found myself at my hometown Methodist church for the first time in five years. Jon & I took the kids to Catholic Mass at 9 AM. After coffee & donut hour, I still had time to hit a 10:30 United Methodist Church Service with my parents. I'd stopped going to double services whenever I came home after Alex's birth. Today, Jon said he'd happily handle all three kids so that I could sit with my family unaccompanied.

Going back to my original church home, felt warm and comfortable at first. My Dad and Grandfather were busy debating politics in the adult Sunday School Class when I first entered the church. So I stopped by the basement to say hello to my Mom who was busy cooking the "free monthly brunch" for college students. After being introduced to new minister's wife, I went upstairs to help guide my grandfather to his seat. (The stroke gave him some trouble walking.) I cheerfully said hello to my friends of my parents who have known me almost 20 years.

Once I walked into the church, things started to feel a little weird. There was no tabernacle, no holy water, no statutes of our Blessed Mother. The cross was barren, no picture of Jesus, no stations of the cross nor stain glass windows of the saints. I realized that it was impossible to kneel in the closely packed pews. I sort of brushed past these initial shocks in my eagerness to be back "home."

Today is the 33 year anniversary of the Day that I was Baptized. My parents were graduate students when I was born and not regularily attending any church. So I got baptized at my grandparent's church, Fairlington United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. My grandparents have attended this church for over 50 years. My parents got married in this church. (Ironically, it sits about five blocks from the current church of my regular confessor. I pass by it every Tuesday on my way to Rosary Group.)

I know that I got baptized on March 30, 1975 (at the age of three months) because I recently looked up my baptism card to find out when I can earn an indulgence by repeating my baptismal promises. Today, I found myself in a Methodist Church, sitting beside my grandfather and my father. I mentioned this fact so happily to them before church. I thanked them both so sincerely for having me baptized in the Christian faith.

That was the highlight of church service for me, the rest felt so odd and uncomfortable. The scripture readings were the same as I had heard earlier in Catholic church. The long sermon had a bunch of odd comments and factual inaccuracies. The most painful for me, was experiencing Methodist communion service as a Catholic for the first time. The Methodist use the exact same service as the Catholic Mass. The minister hold's up a glass of grape juice and says "This is the Blood of Christ".
He passes out pieces of bread and says "This is the Body of Christ." Communion is just a symbol, however, there is no transubstantiation. I gasped internally as the choir started singing "this is the blood of Christ," the same hymns I sing as a member of a Catholic Choir.

I've struggled this year with gaining a greater understanding of the Eucharist. I felt attending this church service was such a grace. For almost 28 years, I attented Methodist church services where the words of Mass didn't match the reality of what was being performed. I declined to eat of the table (I was the only one in church, the Methodist table is an open communion, even little children "eat" the bread and drink the cup). I prayed hard for the hearts of all those attending this service. It was a strange feeling, sitting outside the fold. Here were all of these extremely loving people who had surrounded me in my youth. At this service alone there were eight Methodist ministers. These people "worked" so hard at their faith, yet they were missing so many crucial aspects of Scripture, of the Holy Tradition & the Sacraments. Meanwhile, I'm so much more weak, so less intelligent in matters of doctrine --yet each week I'm carried further and further along on the currents of the Eucharist.

I have some more thoughts on this matter, but am feeling tongue tied at the moment.

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, please join my prayer that Christ will soon unite his entire Holy Church into one body.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Advice from a Mom of 12

On Tuesday, my mother’s group had a guest speaker. She introduced herself as a daughter from a family of 14, a mother of 12, and a Harvard graduate. (She said when her people give her a hard time about having a Harvard Degree & then having “all these children” she cheerfully responds “Well, at Harvard they told me to do something big. I became a mother, so I just did that “big!”).

The topic was “Sanctity & Motherhood.” There was so much wisdom dripping from this encounter. Here are a few highlights.

Our purpose as a Catholic is to become a saint. As mothers, we need to grow in virtue. We also need to help our children grow in virtue. She said, that everyone has some virtues that are easy to master, but others that are much harder due to our individual temperament. As parents, our increase in virtue will naturally help our children’s growth in virtue. As the same time, if there is a virtue that doesn’t come easily to you, don’t despair that your children will automatically also fail in that same way. Children lean from watching us struggle with a virtue. Sometimes, we are better teachers when we struggle with something, versus if it always comes easily to us.

For an example, she says she has ADD and constantly struggles with the virtue of “order.” Meanwhile, her son-in-law is a “neat freak.” He will come home and straighten up all the toys during his lunch break, stacking all the grandchildren’s dolls in a row, etc. She says her grandchildren aren’t necessarily learning “order” by having their father always pick up after them. Her own daughter, however, did have to learn “order” by having a Mom who had ADD and frequently “freak out” that the house was in total chaos from having 12 children.

(I thought this makes perfect sense because I’ve discovered that I’m a good Math teacher exactly because I’ve struggled so much in school to understand math concepts. I never thought to translate that concept into modeling virtue before. My hope is that my kids have a better chance at becoming meek by watching their mom struggle to control her temper so often)

Virtues can also be thought of as “age specific.” The virtues that we should be trying to most instill in children under the age of reason (below age 7) are: obedience, order and sincerity. (Having three key virtue goals for my kids will really help me!)

She also had great marriage advice. Just listening to her talk about her husband and their life in general was so inspiring. Right now, I can’t imagine what life would look like with the responsibility of twelve children! But her talk was filled of examples of an ordinary husband and wife, complimenting each other to bring about the tasks of raising a family. (And they must be doing something right because their oldest is a Poor Clare).

Here is some of her marriage advice:

a) Always go to bed at the same time as your husband.
“When his bedroom light goes out, your place is by his side.” I thought this was for “pillow talk” but what she explained was that as women, we are social creatures. We get out companionship & friendship needs met all the time from all different places, with friends, on the phone, on the Internet, chatting with the grocery store clerk. Most men are more the silent, quiet type. That means that during most of the day, they aren’t spilling out their feelings to co-workers. Your husband’s primary outlet for companionship is you, his wife. Husbands don’t even need to chat so much, as physically touch their wives. Going to sleep together at the same time is more important for him, than for you.

b) Always say yes to your husband
(This of course got lots of giggles from my group. Especially when the mom says “we try to follow NFP” and one mom laughed, “Not if you always say yes”)

c) Handing your husband a warm plate of dinner each night is one of the best ways to say, “I love you” (I struggle hard with making dinner with 3 little kids during the “ulcer” hour of 5-6 PM. Her talk inspired me to start looking at dinner as a concrete gift to give my husband instead of one more task in my day, equal to doing the laundry or picking up messy toys)

d) Pray the Divine Office (go Et Tu Jen!)
Get your spiritual needs met, (you can’t give love out unless you constantly feed divine love into your soul) and also encourage your husband to find Catholic friends and to do things that get his spiritual needs met

e) No matter how old or how young, get everyone in your house to take a nap at the same time.

f) Make sure you are getting 3 to 4 hours a day with your husband. Get up at the same time and have breakfast together. Have a solid family dinner hour. Make sure you have an hour of uninterrupted time after the kids go to bed. She also suggested taking the kids often to visit Dad at work. (Her husband is a doctor and she said she often said to her 12 “let’s see if we can catch Dad at the hospital right now.”)

(This prompted an interesting chat in my mother group about fathers and their daily commute. In our area of D.C. a 1 to 2 hour one-way commute is not unusual. This mother said she specifically picked a smaller, more expensive house that was a 4-minute drive to his husband’s workplace so that he could spend more time with his family. This is an issue close to my family’s heart since we are thinking about moving, but hate to give up access to Dad at lunchtime).

Just a few thoughts from a fascinating 1 1/2 hour talk. Have you received any good advice about “sanctity and motherhood” recently?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Happy Birthday Hannah!

Happy 5th Birthday to the girl who got the Benjamin kid party started!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Miniature Adults

The Puritans had a belief that children were "miniature adults." Children were expected to stand through out the family meal (Fathers sat on the family's only chair, Mothers usually sat a rough stool). Children were served their food last and were expected to stay silent unless asked a direct question. After the age of 3, Children were dressed in clothing styles exactly like their parents. They were expected at a young age to be fully purged from original sin.

I'm not sure there is much that I want to import of Puritanical childrearing into my own household, except the most basic premise that "children are miniature adults." This lovely post by Melissa Wiley has me thinking about the virtue of patience and most specifically about the tone in which I use to "correct" my children.

Today was an especially rough Easter Monday in our household. A busy Holy Week at church meant that no one has napped, cleaned or walked the dog according to our usual, humble routine. Stumbling upon Melissa's post this morning helped me shift from a "just grit my teeth to get through this without undoing all of grace Holy Saturday confession just won me" to a more "how can I best bring love and peace to this individual tense moment".

The decision to start treating my children as "miniature adults" came in a mundane setting. The oldest Benjamin children, (which can only happen when two artists decide to commingle their maverick DNA), have decided that they want to always exit from a different car door than they enter. If Alex goes in through the door closest to his car seat then wishes to scramble over his sister to come out through "Dad's door" (the one by the driver's seat). Meanwhile, Hannah wants to enter by the door blocked by Maria's car-seat and exit by "Mommy side" (the front passenger door.)

You can only imagine the headaches that ensue. No matter how quickly I get out of my seat-belt, a kid has beaten me to the other door, hit the parking brake with one foot, and knocked out the baby's pacifier with a flying shoe. Jon & I have tried to clamp down on this dangerous phase with threats, bribery, and a confiscated Willie Wanka Easter Egg. So far, nothing has worked.

This morning, after pulling up to "Party City," I thought about Melissa's post. I took a deep breath and started the fire-exit scramble by gentling picking up the baby. As the older kids were starting the unhitching of their seat belts, I gently opened Alex's door and played the part of the coachman. "Thank you so much for coming out of this door" I gushed. "It makes thing so much easier if I know which side to wait with the baby while you big kids get out. I like being able to open the door for you." Hearing my praise made Hannah turn around mid-scramble and head swiftly out of Alex's open door.

I held the baby in one arm and led a chain of tiny hands effortlessly across a parking lot. It was a small, humble moment. Holding hands with a light heart felt good. "I could do this more often," I thought. Instead of demanding that my kids follow my orders, I could make requests in the same gentleness of tone that I'll use when they turn 30.

Happy Easter

On my sixth anniversary of becoming a Catholic, I had the honor of singing Psalm 16 as a cantor at Easter Vigil Mass. I could list a thousand and one reasons why I'm so grateful for "coming home" after growing up in the hinderlands of Christianity. Here are my top 5, just from Easter Vigil 2008:

1) Watching my priest, hoarse from giving advice & absolution for over 12 hours of confession during Holy Week, say "I'm not in any condition to rasp out a homily this night. I don't think that I need to say one anyway. HE IS RISEN! That is enough, that is everything." (Such a contrast to my years as a Protestant when every preacher used Easter Service to show off their rhetorical skills to a packed house and cram a year's worth of advice into one sermon).

2) Hearing my priest switch to French during the Baptism ceremony. "I didn't know Father Brennan spoke French?" I whispered to my fellow choir member. Turns out that, in addition to becoming more fluent in Spanish, Father took several French study abroad trips in the past three years in order to better serve the new African immigrants (from French speaking countries) who have recently flooded into our parish.

3) Watching the rings get blessed from a couple in Togo who just joined the church. (The understanding of the sacrament of marriage is so holy and unique to the Catholic church.)

4)Watching the newbies take their first communion.

5) Renewing my baptismal vows for a sixth time to renounce the "glamor of evil" then taking the Eucharist with it's multiple graces to make that vow a reality.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Rogier Van der Weyden (1435)

Pietro Perugino

Greek Icon

Dali (1950)

Mattias Grunewald (1510)

El Greco

Hans Baldung Grien (1484-1545)

Good Friday

Many thanks for everyone who took this Lenten Art + Prayer walk with me. (I think special praise goes to Joshie who read 40 posts without finding much art he liked & Et Tu Jen, who may have uncovered a new appreciation for religious art)

May all of you dear friends have a blessed and holy walk with our Lord these next few days.

(I'm taking a blogging break until after Easter Vigil. May everyone have a blessed Easter Day)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Maundy Thursday

Taking of Christ, Caravaggio

(This is my favorite Caravaggio. I love the tension in Christ's hands and the look of physical pain on his face as he meekly receives Judas' kiss.The cloak frames the three faces of St. Peter, Jesus & Judas. Caravaggio chooses to paint the soliders in contemporary uniforms, while the disciples remain in more "traditional" garments.)

Prayer: Lord, Help us closely follow your steps during this way of the Cross.

PS: Fun background story on this painting currently located in the Irish National Gallery in Dublin. This Caravaggio painting was missing for over 200 years. Two graduate students found a crumbling entrybook which listed "Taking of Christ" as one of the paintings in Caravaggio's estate. The world-wide hunt for this "lost" painting was on. It turned up in the "eating room" of a Jesuit house. It had been hanging there for over sixty years. A widow had donated the painting as a way to say thanks to her priests for doing such wonderful services for her husband. Everyone in the Jesuit order assumed the painting was just a copy. On day an art historian was appraising various paintings which the Jesuit owned. He insisted that this painting be taken down from the wall and cleansed of dirt and grime. Underneath the grime were the original brushstrokes of Caravaggio. Now this beloved painting is hanging up in a museum. (I joked with Jon that instead of hanging on a gallery wall, maybe this painting served its best purpose by inspiring the priest's as they ate their meals!)

Last Day of Lent

Salvador Dali, "The Sacrament of the Last Supper"
National Gallery, Washington D.C.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

It's Holy Week, Stay Awake

Quote on the sculpture: "Most people don't know there are angels whose only job is to make sure you don't get too comfortable & fall asleep & miss your life."

Wall Sculpture, "StoryPeople"
Brian Andreas,
approx. 8"w x 34"h, found wood & wire
(I found this artist in college. He's a poet/artist & makes wonderful sculptures, prints & fine art books).

A Christian Passover Celebration

Back when Easter & Christmas meant long visits our parents, "Passover" was the first religious holiday that was uniquely our own. I brought the tradition of a Christian seder to Jon when we got married. We've had elaborate celebrations, like our first in 2002, when the toast "Next Year in Jeresulam" meant Jon would finish grad school in a few weeks and we'd finally be "free" to live in the same house instead of nine hours apart. We've had small celebrations, such as in 2003, when we hurriedly read the Haggidad over a cup of wine holding our first newborn in our arms.

Usually we celebrate Passover on Maundy Thursday. By participating so directly in the "last supper" the Catholic Church service later in the evening seems to glow with special relevance to the Eucharist. This year, choir practice moved our Passover celebration to Monday night. Here are some snapshots of our feast.

Jon & Alex outside our door with the "lamb's blood" (in our case, some uncooked lamb)

Alex places the blood on the lamb on door post & lintel so the angle of death will "passover" our house.

Our Passover Table. We eat on the floor, wearing our sandles, and carrying our staffs. (The waterproof baby blanket is required after Daddy spilled mustard on our white carpet last year!) We pour four glasses of wine, recite blessings, and trace the traditions of the 10 plauges of Egypt. (The horses are substitute for cows getting cattle diseases, the sunglasses are for the "darkness of the sky")

Washing the Baby's feet in Memory of Christ & St. Peter
(How many kiddie tatoos did Hannah fit on her arm?)

Hannah & Alex Wash the Baby's Feet
Yummy Matza!

There are a number of great passover sites on the internet (both Jewish and Christian). You can celebrate Passover on Thursday or on the acutal Jewish holiday (April 20 -21). We hope you try out some Matza bread this Easter!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Triumph of the Eucharist

Sir Peter Paul Rubens
The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek, c. 1626

I finally found an online photo of that incredible 16 foot high series of paintings that I saw in Sarasota, Florida two weeks ago. Here's a write up from when the painting went on tour to the National Gallery.

"Rubens served as court painter and diplomat to the governors of Flanders, Albert and Isabella of Spain. After her husband's death in 1621, Isabella commissioned Rubens to design twenty tapestries for the Convent of the Poor Clares in Madrid. The subject of the tapestry series, woven in Brussels and still in the Spanish convent, was The Triumph of the Eucharist. This Christian sacrament reenacts Jesus' transformation of bread and wine into his body and blood at the Last Supper.

This painting is a modello, or oil sketch, for one of the tapestries. The event illustrated, from Genesis 14:1-20, is the meeting of Abraham, returning victorious from war, and Melchizedek, high priest and king of Jerusalem. Crowned with a laurel wreath, Melchizedek offers the armor-clad Abraham bread and wine, prefiguring Christ's Eucharist.

For this tapestry design, Rubens used the ingenious device of presenting the narrative as though it appears on a tapestry itself. Three flying cherubs carry the heavy, fringed fabric before an imposing architectural setting. On the right, two servants climb out of a wine cellar. Are they real men standing in front of the tapestry, or are they images woven inside it? Such confounding illusions delighted baroque connoisseurs." (NGA Website

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Holy Week

Have a Blessed Holy Week everyone! Here's a song my choir sang today:

My God, My God, Why Have You Abandoned Me?
Jeremy Young

All who see me laugh at me,
they make fun of me,
they shake their heads and say:
"He relied on God?
Let his God save him!
Let God rescue him,
if God loves him!"

My God, My God
Why have you abandoned me?

I look around,
I see dogs,
I see shadowy figures
coming close to me!
They pierce my hands,
and my feet.
I can count all my bones!

My God, My God
Why have you abandoned me?

I see them taking all my clothes,
they even throw dice for them!
But you, oh God,
I feel you near!
Please God, come quickly!
Please God, help me.

My God, My God
Why have you abandoned me?

I will shout you name to my brothers and sisters!
In front of everyone I will sing your praises!
All you who stand in awe of God,
all you who love God,
all you who are descendants in faith,
give glory to God!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Second Look at Papa Abraham

Rembrandt van Rijn
Abraham's Sacrifice, 1655
etching and drypoint, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

"Here Rembrandt portrays the moment in the story when Abraham has raised the knife to sacrifice Isaac. An angel suddenly appears, calling, "Abraham! Abraham! Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God. In Rembrandt's work, the angel does not call to Abraham but swoops down in a stream of light and embraces him, seizing his arms to prevent him from killing his son. Many interpretations emphasize Isaac's terror. But Rembrandt focuses on Abraham, whose hand covers Isaac's eyes protectively, a tender gesture toward the son he has prepared to sacrifice. Abraham's eyes, pools of black, suggest blindness—his unwavering, blind faith in God." (NGA website)

I learned a new fact today. Muslims celebrate a religious holiday called Eid ul Adhaa, in which a sheep or goat is sacrificed and its meat shared with the poor, each year in rememberance of the "Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael at God's command" (Wikipedia).

Did you notice the change? Muslims belive that Ishmael (their direct descendant through Abraham's relationship with Sarah's slave Hagar) was the one to be sacrificed, instead of Isaac. Curiously, my preliminary online research showed that the text of the Torah, our Holy Scriptures and the Qur'an are fairly similar. The Torah and our Bible versus clearly say that Abraham was called to sacrifice "his only son, Isaac." I'm no expert on the Qur'an, yet the text appears to be silient on the actual name of the son to be sacrificed. The Qur'an states that Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice "his only son". Catholics (and Jews) believe that Isaac was the promised son, the one through whom Abraham was promised descendants "as countless as the stars." The text that I read from the Qur'an doesn't seem on its face to contradict this passage of Genisis. Yet some (not even all) Muslim experts insert Ishmael's name into the text since "only son" must mean that the events occured to Ishmael before Isaac was born.

This inter-family fight between all our brothers in the faith (Jews and Muslims) highlight the importance of this central event in establishing the initial priviledged relationship with God.

I realize how little I know about Islam. I want to read the Qur'an myself. I'll get more out of it if I have a good supportive text. Does anyone know a Catholic scholar who writes about passages in the Qur'an?

Prayer: Lord, as we prepare to celebrate your Passion, help us unite our prayers with our brothers in the faith, the descendants of Abraham. May all Jews, Muslims and Christians be one day united in singing praises to our one Creator in heaven.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Staying On Point/ Pointalism

I fell in love with the sport of fencing during my senior year in college. I love everything about fencing. I love the fancy footwork. I love the dramatic leaps, the delicate finger movements under my foil. I love pacing the narrow ten foot strip and the dash of a deflected repost. I even paced my dorm hallway at night with endless deep knee bends just to increase my stamina.

There was one part of fencing class that I hated; "point practice." One of the major keys of being a great fencer is to have 100% consistency in your fingers' fine motor skills. When you go for the dramatic leap to get a point, you need to be sure that your sword (the foil) will land exactly where you aim. To strengthen our aim, my fencing coach had us stand five feet from a 1/2 inch mark on our gym wall. Over and over again, we had to extend our arms and perfectly hit the mark.

I hated this practice. I'd hit the mark four or five times and then start getting bored. My mind would wander. The point of my sword would wander. I'd miss the mark. My foil point would go to far up or to far down. I try to refocus and my fingers would refuse to cooperate. My work on this exercise was beyond awful. "How long do we have to keep doing this?" I wonder outloud again and again.

This morning I thought about "point practice" and how it is the perfect metaphor for my struggles with stay-at-home motherhood. We had a great week. Lots of good home-school experiences, better discipline practice, fully cooked meals, clean laundry, etc. In general a lot more love and more cheerfulness in our home. Then came this morning. Baby girl is cutting her second incisor and is back to her "nursing all night long" routine. Instead of getting out of bed early to share a cheerful breakfast with my husband, I stayed in bed until 9:30. That left my awake older kids unattended for an hour, with only the barest, most incoherant mothering happening from my bedside.

When I finally got up, I found a raw egg on the living room carpet (how did a raw egg mixed into the batch of hard boiled Easter Eggs?) and purple marker smeared over my wooden dining room table. Luckily, I managed not to lose my temper since I distinctly remembered "can we play school?' and "can I eat an Easter egg" being part of the 'mom's in bed" morning conversation. So, I cleaned up the mess. I put the older kids back in their room to play and made myself a much needed cup of coffee.

This is "point practice" all over again, I realized. I've got so many talents for mothering. The major thing I lack is the virtue of temperance. Consistency is so against my natural inclinations. As a mother, I need to hit the mark day after day. It's not enought that somedays we make cookies, walk the stations of the cross, and indentify four types of pine trees. There are many things; meals, laundry, a steady morning routine, which have to be "hit" each day no matter what.

Steadiness, is a grace I'm eager to embrace this Easter Season.

For artistic inspiration, I chose "pointalism". In this form of impressionist painting, each paintstroke is a tiny, specific dot of color. From a distance, the dots blend together to create an illusion of form. The technique takes "forever!" Standing in front of the giant canvas of Sunday in the Park, you admire the stamina that Seurat had, even more than his brillant choice of subject matter or revolutionary color theory.

(click on picture to enlarge it)

Text from "Sister Wendy's American Masterpieces":
"Seurat's Grande Jatte is one of those rare works of art that stand alone; its transcendence is instinctively recognized by everyone. What makes this transcendence so mysterious is that the theme of the work is not some profound emotion or momentous event, but the most banal of workaday scenes: Parisians enjoying an afternoon in a local park. Yet we never seem to fathom its elusive power. Stranger still, when he painted it, Seurat was a mere 25 (with only seven more years to live), a young man with a scientific theory to prove; this is hardly the recipe for success. His theory was optical: the conviction that painting in dots, known as pointillism or divisionism, would produce a brighter color than painting in strokes.

"Seurat spent two years painting this picture, concentrating painstakingly on the landscape of the park before focusing on the people; always their shapes, never their personalities. Individuals did not interest him, only their formal elegance. There is no untidiness in Seurat; all is beautifully balanced. The park was quite a noisy place: a man blows his bugle, children run around, there are dogs. Yet the impression we receive is of silence, of control, of nothing disordered. I think it is this that makes La Grande Jatte so moving to us who live in such a disordered world: Seurat's control. There is an intellectual clarity here that sets him free to paint this small park with an astonishing poetry. Even if the people in the park are pairs or groups, they still seem alone in their concision of form - alone but not lonely. No figure encroaches on another's space: all coexist in peace.

"This is a world both real and unreal - a sacred world. We are often harried by life's pressures and its speed, and many of us think at times: Stop the world, I want to get off! In this painting, Seurat has "stopped the world," and it reveals itself as beautiful, sunlit, and silent - it is Seurat's world, from which we would never want to get off."

(This painting has also been turned into a play called "Sunday in the Park" which is currently performing on Broadway).

Prayer: Lord, give us the strength and temperance to consistently hit the mark on our daily tasks.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Peter Pan

Peter Pan
Sir George Frampton, R.A., P.R.B.S. (1860-1928)
Kensington Gardens, London
Photograph 1999 copyright George P. Landow,

Today I wrote out the bills for the paycheck Jon gets tomorrow. After our trip to Florida, my traffic ticket, our high heating bills and the frantic bribery which is accompanying Alex's toilet training, our squeaky tight budget is far off track. No time to recoup our losses in the near future. The next two weeks will bring us Easter, a trip to my parents house, and Hannah's birthday. At times like these you can only trust Providence and fling yourself on the delightful words of J. M. Barrie's "Peter Pan."

"For a week or two after Wendy [was born] it was doubtful whether they would be able to keep her, as she was another mouth to feed. Mr. Darling was frightfully proud of her, but he was very honourable, and he sat on the edge of Mrs. Darling's bed, holding her hand and calculating expenses, while she looked at him imploringly. She wanted to risk it, come what might, but that was not his way; his way was with a pencil and a piece of paper, and if she confused him with suggestions he had to begin at the beginning again.

'Now don't interrupt,' he would beg of her. "I have one pound seventeen here, and two and six at the office; I can cut off my coffee at the office, say ten shillings, making two nine and six, with your eighteen and three makes three nine seven, with five naught naught in my cheque-book, makes nine seven, dot and carry seven-don't speak, my own- and the pound you lent to that man who came to the door- quiet, child- dot and carry- child, there, you've done it!- did I say nine nine seven? yes, I said nine, nine seven; the question is, can we try it for a year on nine, nine seven?

'Of course we can, George,' she cried. But she was prejudiced in Wendy's favor, and he was really the grander character of the two.

'Remember mumps,' he warned her almost threateningly and off he went again. 'Mumps one pound, that is what I have put down, but I dare say it will be more like thirty shillings- don't speak-measles one five, German measles half a guinea, makes two fifteen six- don't waggle your finger- whooping-cough, say fifteen shillings'- and so on it went, and it added up differently each time; but at last Wendy just got through, with mumps reduced to twelve six, and the two kinds of measles treated as one.

There was the same excitement over John, and Michael had even a narrower squeak; but both were kept, and soon you might have seen the three of them going in a row to Miss Fulson's Kindergarten school." (pg 9-10).

(If you have not read J.M. Barrie's original Peter Pan, or seen Jonny Depp play Barrie in the movie "Finding Neverland", I highly recommend both)

Prayer: Lord, we need your guidance to make prudent financial decisions for our families. Help all Americans, however, avoid Mr. Darling's antics. May we never count the "high" cost of childrearing as a reason to exclude new babies from our families.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Veteran In A New Field, Winslow Homer 1865
Boston Fine Art Museum

This is a famous American painting of a Confederate solider "demobalized" after the end of the Civil War. On the lower left hand corner there is a grey army jacket and an army canteen. Homer choose an ordinary moment in time which is also highly symbolic. Cutting wheat was an important part of American ante-bellum agriculture. Yet it also harkens to the glory of the Roman solider who easily puts down his weapon in a time of peace and returns to his farm work. There is also a Biblical passage which states "and their weapons shall be beaten into plowshares." The tension of the scythe cutting full heads of wheat, also suggests the many young men who were killed in battle.

Crack the Whip, Winslow Homer 1800s
American Art Museum, Washington D.C.

This iconic painting is one of Homer's most famous, showing boys at play beside a one-room school house on the frontier. The boys are humble (no one has no shoes) yet happy. Despite their current poverty, the boys have the promise of a free education and a free land from the US Homestead Act.

Prayer: Lord, while we are at work and at play, let us humbly remember the fighting men and women who are far from their families this Lenten Season. May we all pray for peace this Easter.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Greek Icon

The Transfiguration
Theophanes the Greek, 1403

Iconography is different than "regular" painting. It is intended to be a window onto divine understanding. This icon from 1403 shows the strong Byzantine tradition (all those symmetrical folds of the garments) combined with a new knowledge of proper anatomy (the position of the kneeling disciples). Theophanes the Greek is one of the most famous icon makers in history.

Prayer: Lord, please help us understand the dual nature of your humanity and your divinity as we prepare to walk in your footsteps this coming Holy Week.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Pro-Life Art

For the last year, I've noticed "pro-life" messages coming from the oddest places. Even before Juno, there were 20 something movies like "Knocked up" and "The Waitress." Life started being protected by even most jadded of the artistic set. These movie scenes give me so much hope. Artists are the avante garde of society, if they are starting to promote the value of life since conception, how can a reversal of public opinion be far behind?

During the writer strike, my husband and I discovered reruns on of Friday Night Lights, the television series of a high school football team set in Dillion, Texas. Even if you're a newbie to this fantastic series, please check out the best "pro-life" speech I've ever seen on TV.

To set the stage, Jason is a former star quarterback who became paralysed after a bad football tackle. Dealing with the emotions of his injury, he falls into unchastity with a one-night stand. When the girl tells him she's pregnant, he realizes that this is his one chance to become a father. (His spinal injury makes fertility a near impossibility.) The writers use this "injury" to explain why Jason desperately wants this baby. While very few 18 year old's worry about their fertility, Jason's situation is typical of the helpless the situation of fathers today. The decision to have an abortion rests entirely with the child's mother. Jason's plea for the mother of his child to choose life is one of the most touching things I've seen on television.
Kudos to the writers of Friday Night Lights!

I'll try to figure out how to better post a link to this series. In the meantime, use this link:

Episode 215, go to min. 40
the conversation is from mins. 40-43

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sister Wendy Beckett

El Greco, Christ on the Cross,
One of Sister Wendy's favorite paintings

"Prayer In Everyday Life"

"Everybody reading this book has his or her own vocation and his or her own life.

Perhaps you have a baby? Perhaps you have an especially demanding workload? Perhaps you are lonely? Perhaps you are angry? None of this matters. It is who you are that God comes to in prayer, and if it is a tired, fractious, despondent man or woman, He still takes you to Himself with infinite love and makes the best of what you can give Him. Your life is not my life. I long to use what has happened and is happening to me as a place where God can reveal His love. My regime, my life, may sound more romantic, more spiritual thant yours, but yours is equally valid, equally a place for God to reveal Himself. Crying baby, difficult boss, the pressures of the mortgage, all of the horrors of the workplace- none of these are invalidating; they just make part of the reality that is you, and it is only to this reality that God can respond.

What matters is that whatever your circumstances, however helpful (like mine) or unhelpful (I hope not like yours) we retain possession of our selfhood and offer it to God. It is the offering that matters, the will, the choosing. If you life is difficult, it could well be that you are more open to God than someone like myself whose life has been so sheltered.

Sometimes people have told me, "I felt too sick to pray." If you think about it, this is really saying, "God cannot come to the sick." What is meant is, "I feel too sick to feel I am pryaing," or "I feel too worried to feel I am praying. How can I pray when all I can think about is my coming operation?" This misunderstands the essence of prayer, which is God's business. You bring yourself ni whatever state you are and offer that to God. There may be very little satisfaction in this. All you may be conscious of are your own feelings, miserable and inadequate, but God does not ask us to pass a test of how beautiful our feelings are. He simply wants us to pray." (Sister Wendy on Prayer, pg 42-43).

Prayer: Christ, come to us as we are. Find us broken and alone. Heal us in time for your Easter Day.

A Catholic Art Critic

"Becoming Catholic" has been a gradual process for me. I have some definative moments, to be sure. But mostly the changes have been slow and steady. I've slipped from the shallow pool of Protestantism into the deep end of the Catholic faith. However, I usually don't notice the dramatic change until I look around from my frantic treading water, notice how far the pool floor is beneath me and think "Wow, never thought I'd be in this deep before."

Going to the swimming pool and going to the beach in Florida was a great time to measure how far my little family has grown up this year. Going to an art museum with my husband for the first time in almost five years without a kid (thank you cousin Suzanne!) was a mark on how far we have both grown as Catholics.

The Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida is a collection of European "great names" bought with money from circus tickets. The museum sits in a recreated Italian villia with two wings on each side. The first thing you notice when you enter the museum are 15 foot high paintings done by Peter Paul Ruben. I spent my time mostly in the Counter-Reformation and medival art gallery. For the first time, I skipped over most of the greek revival and baroque art. (Those are just myths I thought, I need to drink in some truth).

I've never been much of a Ruben's girl before. The pudgy angels and flowly fabrics before seemed "a little much." This time I wasn't solely looking through the eyes of art, as if I were picking out a fun sofa fabric. This time I looked through the eyes of Faith.

Ruben's entire collection was a defense of the basic article of our Catholic faith, transubstantiation. This is a mystery which I've been trying dive deeper into this Lent. Sitting in the middle of these huge, huge paintings, I carried on an intimate conversation with the famous painter. He showed me paintings of the early "echos" of transubstantiation, manna from heaven, the food sacrifices from the old prophets. He showed me "defenders of the Eucharist", Saint Clare of Assisi holding a giant monstronce while Thomas Aquinus scribbles behind her with the quill pen. "Doesn't Saint Clare look like an old friend?" I mused.

Sitting with Ruben, I felt calmed and protected. This debate against Protestant hearsay has been going on for over 500 hundred years. The force of the Counter-Reformation is still going on. Yet, Ruben knew the truth. He spent years painting his giant paintings to make sure that the world recognized the beauty of the Eucharist as well. Not initially liking the pearly "flesh" tones on his human figures seems like such a petty reason to dismiss an artist out of hand. We have so much basic theology in common. I look foward into drinking in Ruben, El Greco and Carvaggio this Easter season.


Who knew that the creator of the Lobster Telephone (1936) also struggled to come to terms with his Catholic faith? We checked it all out and more at the St. Petersburg's Salvador Dali Museum.

St. John of the Cross (Dali's painting is based on a 16th century sketch by this beloved saint).


Peter Paul Ruben, The Deposition

Unfortunately, I haven't found images on the web of the amazing 10 foot high Ruben paintings on "defense of the Eucharist" that we saw at the Ringling Museum. It turns out that Ruben was born a Protestant, but later converted with his mother to Catholicism. He was an important painter of the Counter-Reformation. Most of his religious work "defends the truth of the faith" against Protestant attack.

From what I remember of Art 100, this is an unusal painting which shows the "heaviness" of Christ's dead body. Painters usuasally show Christ as rail thin and frail. (Check out your own church crucifix next week). Showing Christ as "barely human" is supposed to communicate his divine nature. Ruben takes the opposite approach. We get a sense of Christ's fully developed muscles, of the complete weight of his dead body which takes several mourners to unload from the cross. This loss of a fully human Jesus communicates the despair and loss of Good Friday.

The Sorrowful Mysteries

Blue Madonna (The Sorrowful Mysteries), Carlo Dolci, 1660
Ringling Museum, Sarasota, Florida

Jon & I prayed by this arresting image of our Blessed Mother. The cobalt blue in this painting "glows" in person. We loved seeing the sliver of her face. The eyes show the weight of her sorrow, but she's not "depressed". Her head is slightly tilted in resignation and perfect humility. I feel like this is the face that we'll see more clearly in heaven. It was like having an intimate conversation with a painter who died over 300 hundred years before we were born.

Prayer: Blessed Mother, pray for us. Help us to bear our crosses with wisdom and humility.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Beach Day

I'm signing in from a remote (read a heavenly location- St. Petersburg, Florida) and I am running into some technical difficulty importing pictures to my website. Please use this link for a sweet look at how I spent my day).

Mary Cassatt
Children Playing on the Beach
National Gallery

"Children Playing on a Beach demonstrates Mary Cassatt's skill at capturing the natural attitudes of children. The intent expression on one child's face, the lowered angles of their heads, and the set of their shoulders suggest complete concentration on their activities. Especially appealing is the awkward way in which the toddler on the left grips the long handle of her shovel while holding the rim of the bucket with her other pudgy hand.

Cassatt's interest in structure and strong sense of patterning comes through clearly in this painting. Her careful brushstrokes follow the contours of the girls' arms, legs, and heads, creating the solid areas of color typical of her work after 1883. To keep the center of attention on the little girls, Cassatt treated the seascape background more loosely; the boats on the ocean melt into a haze of natural light. She emphasized surface pattern by repeating the accents of dark dresses under crisp white pinafores." (NGA website)

Prayer:Ave Maris Stella
Hail, O Star of the ocean,
God's own Mother blest,
ever sinless Virgin,
gate of heav'nly rest.

Taking that sweet Ave,
which from Gabriel came,
peace confirm within us,
changing Eve's name.

Break the sinners' fetters,
make our blindness day,
Chase all evils from us,
for all blessings pray.

Show thyself a Mother,
may the Word divine
born for us thine Infant
hear our prayers through thine.

Virgin all excelling,
mildest of the mild,
free from guilt preserve us
meek and undefiled.

Keep our life all spotless,
make our way secure
till we find in Jesus,
joy for evermore.

Praise to God the Father,
honor to the Son,
in the Holy Spirit,
be the glory one. Amen.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

More Gorgous Dutch Shots

Pieter de Hooch
A Dutch Courtyard, 1658/1660
Andrew W. Mellon Collection
National Gallery

I'm not sure what our internet connection will be over the next few days. Here's another gorgous Dutch pictures to get you through. I'll write more about how important the 1650s were for Dutch artists, soon! Hope to introduce you all to some more new favorite painters.

Prayer: Blessed Mother, help us extend hospitality to those we meet, especially whenever we feel too tired or too cross.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Our Daily Work

Just another ordinary, busy day as a mother. Filled to the brim with tasks for many small people, plus a few larger ones as well. Nothing unusual. Yet, take a look at how beautiful the simple task of answering a "can I go out and play" question while changing the bedsheets can look through the perspective of time.

Pieter de Hooch
The Bedroom, 1658/1660
Widener Collection
National Gallery, Washington D.C.

"[This painting] depicts a mother changing the linen in a “sleeping cupboard” while her daughter seems to ask to go out in the backyard to play. The tidy parlor, lined in blue-and-white glazed tiles, recalls that Delft was a major ceramic center. It is noteworthy that even this modest household proudly displays three framed paintings and mirrors." (NGA Website)

Prayer: Lord, infuse us with the spirit of Mary while we complete our many Martha tasks.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Good Shepard

Good Shepherd, Roman Catacomb

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd.
I shall not want
In verdant pastures
He gives me repose.

He guides me in right paths
For his namesake.
Even thought I walk in the dark valley,
I fear no evil;
For you are at my side
With your rod and your staff
That give me courage.

You spread the table before me
In the sight of my foes
That give me courage.

You spread the table before me
In the sight of my foes
You anoint my head with oil
My cup overflows.

Only goodness and kindness follow me
All the days of my life
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
For years to come.

Saturday, March 1, 2008


El Greco, St. Martin & The Beggar