Thursday, July 19, 2012

Gratitude=Happiness x Wonder

"I would maintain that thanks is the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder."-GKC, 1917

There are truly refreshing moments in life when we are relieved of the pressure of standing alone with some thought by discovering that it has already been said or thought by another. When I read the above quote, I was so taken up by the joy of this phrase that I wanted to share it with all those present. I felt as if something special, almost sacramental, had occured. And indeed (as you will read), a communion had taken place. Unfortunately, the place I found myself reading this passage was a coffee shop, where such delicate and delicious thoughts lost in the shuffle. Starbucks does us no favors by printing all sorts of maxims on their cups: one becomes deceived that they are all of equal quality (isn't it ironic that, regardless of quality, they all end up in the garbage can).

Anyway, for months now I had found myself trying to say that above quote, but being impaired by not having yet read it. In fact, I had almost taken the extremely treacherous step of trying to write the idea out myself, but was happily prevented from doing so by discovering that I was a century too late. So, instead of a sloppy, second rate version of the above truth, I was taken up with the less tedious task of writing a commentary on it.

And the commentary will be short (though commentary is never as brief as the primary source): Our dependence on God creates as thrill in us that can reach the point of anxiety. Speaking personally, my experience of it often involves a signifigant amount of anxiety. Recently, a close friend of mine rightfully corrected this anxiety by comparing our reception of God's grace to the catching of a frisbee. She stated that, just like a frisbee, grace seems to waver delicately between heaven and earth. She insisted, however, that this should not be a source of fear. We should be confident that, if God tossed us the frisbee, He had ever intention of our catching it. And the intention of the Divine is above suspicion.

Now, she left off the metaphor here, but I will pick it up again by pointing out that I have often dropped a frisbee. She was very right to correct my fear, but the fear was justified. The great feeling of gratitude that comes from participating in Reality is that happiness comes at a risk. That is to say, love comes at a price. There can be no wonder unless the pass can be dropped. There must be some real chance that frisbee will slip through my fingers, otherwise my wonder at catching it will indeed slip through my fingers. But my friend was right: fear is not the right response. Wonder is the right response.

I do not plan here to tackle the topic of Divine Will and human freedom, only to comment that our freedom is indeed Divinely willed. God wants to give us grace (otherwise it could not be gratia, gift) and, in doing so, there must be the real risk that we might not acccept that gift (overwise, it would be said to be forced on us, and not given). What has to happen is a willing to unwill, an active choice to be passive and catch the pass. Some call this surrender. Some call this receptivity. Whatever it is called, it result in thanks, in gratitude, in eucharist. And Eurcharist is the source and summit of life.

When we come to God in this way (that is, in the Eucharist) what we find is that startling fact that He came to Himself in this way. He gave Himself on the cross. For our Salvation did indeed waver between heaven and earth, and when Christ passed on His Spirit, there had to be some real risk that the pass might be dropped. And now my commentary must end, for I have reached the limits of what mere words can express. There is a Divine Silence that surrounds this mystery of Calvary, where even the Word refused to speak. All I can say is that when we have some experience of this love, speaking louder in its silence than all the tongues of man, the very value of Reality seems to double up on itself. We exist most when be understand what it would be to cease to exist. Value pours in from every corner of consciousness. Our happiness is multiplied by wonder, even as drift dying in mid-heaven. The matter of catching the frisbee becomes secondary to the fact that there was a God so loving as to pass it to us in the first place. That we should even be there to catch it becomes the content of our gratitude.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Of Hair and Health Care, by GKC

This is a Chesterton essay that acts as the conclusion of his book What's Wrong with the World. Though written over a century ago, it asks just how far the government can go in matters of health and hygiene. It's pertinence to our current situation cannot be overstated.

A little while ago certain doctors and other persons permitted by modern law to dictate to their shabbier fellow-citizens, sent out an order that all little girls should have their hair cut short. I mean, of course, all little girls whose parents were poor. Many very unhealthy habits are common among rich little girls, but it will be long before any doctors interfere forcibly with them. Now, the case for this particular interference was this, that the poor are pressed down from above into such stinking and suffocating underworlds of squalor, that poor people must not be allowed to have hair, because in their case it must mean lice in the hair. Therefore, the doctors propose to abolish the hair. It never seems to have occurred to them to abolish the lice. Yet it could be done. As is common in most modern discussions the unmentionable thing is the pivot of the whole discussion. It is obvious to any Christian man (that is, to any man with a free soul) that any coercion applied to a cabman's daughter ought, if possible, to be applied to a Cabinet Minister's daughter. I will not ask why the doctors do not, as a matter of fact apply their rule to a Cabinet Minister's daughter. I will not ask, because I know. They do not because they dare not. But what is the excuse they would urge, what is the plausible argument they would use, for thus cutting and clipping poor children and not rich? Their argument would be that the disease is more likely to be in the hair of poor people than of rich. And why? Because the poor children are forced (against all the instincts of the highly domestic working classes) to crowd together in close rooms under a wildly inefficient system of public instruction; and because in one out of the forty children there may be offense. And why? Because the poor man is so ground down by the great rents of the great ground landlords that his wife often has to work as well as he. Therefore she has no time to look after the children, therefore one in forty of them is dirty. Because the workingman has these two persons on top of him, the landlord sitting (literally) on his stomach, and the schoolmaster sitting (literally) on his head, the workingman must allow his little girl's hair, first to be neglected from poverty, next to be poisoned by promiscuity, and, lastly, to be abolished by hygiene. He, perhaps, was proud of his little girl's hair. But he does not count.

Upon this simple principle (or rather precedent) the sociological doctor drives gayly ahead. When a crapulous tyranny crushes men down into the dirt, so that their very hair is dirty, the scientific course is clear. It would be long and laborious to cut off the heads of the tyrants; it is easier to cut off the hair of the slaves. In the same way, if it should ever happen that poor children, screaming with toothache, disturbed any schoolmaster or artistic gentleman, it would be easy to pull out all the teeth of the poor; if their nails were disgustingly dirty, their nails could be plucked out; if their noses were indecently blown, their noses could be cut off. The appearance of our humbler fellow-citizen could be quite strikingly simplified before we had done with him. But all this is not a bit wilder than the brute fact that a doctor can walk into the house of a free man, whose daughter's hair may be as clean as spring flowers, and order him to cut it off. It never seems to strike these people that the lesson of lice in the slums is the wrongness of slums, not the wrongness of hair. Hair is, to say the least of it, a rooted thing. Its enemy (like the other insects and oriental armies of whom we have spoken) sweep upon us but seldom. In truth, it is only by eternal institutions like hair that we can test passing institutions like empires. If a house is so built as to knock a man's head off when he enters it, it is built wrong.

The mob can never rebel unless it is conservative, at least enough to have conserved some reasons for rebelling. It is the most awful thought in all our anarchy, that most of the ancient blows struck for freedom would not be struck at all to-day, because of the obscuration of the clean, popular customs from which they came. The insult that brought down the hammer of Wat Tyler might now be called a medical examination. That which Virginius loathed and avenged as foul slavery might now be praised as free love. The cruel taunt of Foulon, "Let them eat grass," might now be represented as the dying cry of an idealistic vegetarian. Those great scissors of science that would snip off the curls of the poor little school children are ceaselessly snapping closer and closer to cut off all the corners and fringes of the arts and honors of the poor. Soon they will be twisting necks to suit clean collars, and hacking feet to fit new boots. It never seems to strike them that the body is more than raiment; that the Sabbath was made for man; that all institutions shall be judged and damned by whether they have fitted the normal flesh and spirit. It is the test of political sanity to keep your head. It is the test of artistic sanity to keep your hair on.

Now the whole parable and purpose of these last pages, and indeed of all these pages, is this: to assert that we must instantly begin all over again, and begin at the other end. I begin with a little girl's hair. That I know is a good thing at any rate. Whatever else is evil, the pride of a good mother in the beauty of her daughter is good. It is one of those adamantine tendernesses which are the touchstones of every age and race. If other things are against it, other things must go down. If landlords and laws and sciences are against it, landlords and laws and sciences must go down. With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilization. Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home: because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property; because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution. That little urchin with the gold-red hair, whom I have just watched toddling past my house, she shall not be lopped and lamed and altered; her hair shall not be cut short like a convict's; no, all the kingdoms of the earth shall be hacked about and mutilated to suit her. She is the human and sacred image; all around her the social fabric shall sway and split and fall; the pillars of society shall be shaken, and the roofs of ages come rushing down, and not one hair of her head shall be harmed.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Catholic Bloggers Summer Reading Extravaganza

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are starting something new (well I don't think it's been done before but if you know link it in the comments). After speaking with some fellow bloggers who like to read, we decided to do a blogger summer reading club. I've done reading clubs before where we read a book and talk about it. We attempted here on the blog, a few years ago, a summer reading thing which turned out to be a monologue (mine, sorry) for way too long (3 months of posts).

After learning from those mistakes, we taken up again the goal of a collaborative and communional reading and writing on a book. We have chosen the book: The Father's Tale by Michael O'Brien.

My sister has raved about his writing for the last few years and I was given some of his books, as an ordination gift, by some friends of mine. Despite that, I felt drawn to this story of a father who had lost his son, having recently become a father (of souls). This novel is no 200 page detective yarn (to which I'm naturally drawn) but rather a 1,200 page tale.

Joining me on this libraventure (I just made it up but I'm thinking of coining it) is:

Angelica Quinonez from Through a Glass Onion

Claudio Mora from Greater Love Has No One Than This

Emmy Cecilia from Journeys from a Catholic Nerd Writer

Jeff Young from Catholic Foodie

Lisa Schmidt from The Practicing Catholic

Sarah Reinhard from Snoring Scholar and New Evangelizers

Sarah Vabulas from Catholic Drinkie

We will be posting bi-weekly thoughts on the book and (hopefully) responding to each other. Start following each of the blogs and get to see this in action. We will be posting things on Twitter as well. If you want to pick up the book and follow along with us go here. Feel free to chime in as you read the book or if you've already read the book share your thoughts.

Here's the reading plan:

There are four sections in the book. We will be taking each section in bi-weekly increments so you will definitely see posts on:

Section 1 - July 23
Section 2 - August 6
Section 3 - August 20
Section 4 - September 3

There will be sporadic posts here and there about it but you can expect writing at those times. You will also see links to the other posts on each of the blogs bring things full circle. Then at the end, I hope to gather some thoughts from each of the readings for a sort of meta-review.

Monday, July 2, 2012

So, The Health Care Thing

I promised those who know me (the lucky and unlucky few) that I would make no statement on the Health Care Issue until the Supreme Court had made its statement, both its assenting and dissenting statements. My idea in doing this was both practical and penetiential. Too often I speak too quickly, taking on the tone of authority prior to the authority getting its fair chance (for if authority ever carried with it a particular privilege, it is it's right to speak before all others, so that when the others criticise, they can at least know what statement it is they are criticising). It has been over four days since the highest court in the land has made that comment, with five justices saying one thing and four justices saying something completely different. Anyone who knows me knows that I agree with the four that disagreed with the five whose opinion now carries the force of law. But because we live in a country where the fine seperation between force of conscience and force of law is so gladly understood as running parallel to the seperation between Church and state, it is up to us, as citizens, to determine which side to take in the debate (and not up to the Court).

In that spirit, there is only one thing that our President has said that has made me want to stand up in objection. He has said many things that I object to (and many things that I agree with), but this statement alone unleashed the ticklish desire to denounce him. He said that now that the highest court in the land had spoken, that all arguments should cease and that the inevitability of progress should be embraced. The history of this country has taught me otherwise. Should we have let Plessey v. Furguson have the last say simply because it was said by the Supreme Court? If anything, it is when the 'high court' falters that the people, a higher court still, are called upon to argue at the top of their lungs. The beautiful thing about our Republic is that strange and stirring fact that if 5 people sitting on the high bench are wrong, than it is up to the 300 million of us who were not on their bench to refuse to take it sitting down.

Many other writers have expressed more clearly, more concisely and more conscientously the objections to the Health Care Bill. Most of these objections are selfish and unessential to the arguement. But the arguement should still happen. Which brings me to the point of this essay (if calling it a 'point' is truly appropriate). The reason that the now-debated 1st Amendment exists is because the Founding Fathers truly believed that there were areas of the citizen's life over which the government should have no control. Those areas included (but are not limited to) religion, speech and assembly. The current ruling seems to infer that my bodily health is excluded from such protection, that there is no amendment in our Constitution that can prevent the law from investigating the health status of my lungs. Some extremists say that this could lead the government to tax our breathing. The fact that supporters of the bill can only rejoin, "No, but we can tax the person who monitors your breathing" is far from comforting. But whatever they say, they still cannot tax the sounds that come out of my lungs, and that is a comfort.

What is less comforting is the odd truth that the President and his supporters agree with free speech and free love, but have little concern with free health and free religion. They would rather cheap health care and ambivalent religion. They wish to tax both the biological body and bodies of faith, and that which is taxable is neither legally nor finacially free. As a US Citizen, your body and soul now come with a price tag in the eyes of the government, and there is nothing comforting about that fact.

Please do me a favor before I wrap up this short reflection (editorial, manifesto, soliloquy?). Do NOT assume that I side with the GOP or Tea Party on this thing. The only elephant in the room is my large and perhaps naive hope that freedom of speech still stands in this country. When I spoke of us all speaking at the 'top of our lungs,' it is because I believe that that 'top' is of a higher authority than the top court. We might lose our voices, and the government might tax our laryngitis, but they have yet to pass a bill that can tax our words. And as philosophy affirms that the pen is mighiter than the sword, theology affirms that the Word is mightier than the Court.