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Easter Sunday: The Encounter With Beauty

The Morning of the Resurrection, 1886 -- Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones

The Morning of the Resurrection, 1886 — Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones

“. . . Mary stood weeping outside the tomb and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Saying this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord!’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” John 20: 11-18

“The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes [. . .] draws man out of himself, wrenches him away from resignation and from being content with the humdrum — it even makes him suffer, piercing him like a dart; but, in so doing, it ‘reawakens’ him, opening afresh the eyes of his heart and mind, giving him wings.” — Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI

“Faith in the resurrection of Jesus says that there is a future for every human being . . . God exists: that is the real message of Easter. Anyone who even begins to grasp what this means also knows what it means to be redeemed.” — Benedict XVI

Beauty Break: A Found Poem

Skippy’s up to almost 2 hours a day between piano, electric guitar and acoustic guitar. The house is filled with music and I love it. My favorite part of it all is when he just relaxes and it becomes something other than a practice session. I call it “plinking,” meaning he just goes into the zone and composes or picks a favorite song out by ear. Simply lovely….

Today, I heard strumming on the acoustic behind a podcast I was listening to while cooking in the kitchen, and next:

“Mom, did you hear what I was playing?”

“Yes…it’s a little noisy out here, so yes, vaguely, and it sounded good.”

“I found a new favorite song. . . ”

“You did?” Me, semi-distracted. . .

“Want me to show you?” And he starts singing a song that gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. “And the leaves that are green, turn to brown. . . . “

Skippy playing Simon and Garfunkel's "Leaves That Are Green"

Skippy playing Simon and Garfunkel’s “Leaves That Are Green”

And he proceeds to sing and play Simon and Garfunkel’s song of the same name, nearly impeccably, by ear. My boy and I are kindred spirits when it comes to music and I love that he appreciates and hears the poetry in a song like this.

If you’ve never heard it, or have forgotten it because its been too long, do yourself a favor and listen now. There isn’t enough poetry in the world today, and we need to grasp it and hold onto it when we find it, wherever that may be.

Recovering A Sense Of Awe

Snowflake

They say that every snowflake is different. If that were true, how could the world go on? How could we ever get up off our knees? How could we ever recover from the wonder of it? — Jeanette Winterson, The Passion

On the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux

Words to live by on the Feast of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face:

“If I did not simply live from one moment to the next, it would be impossible for me to keep my patience. I can see only the present, I forget the past, and I take good care not to think about the future. We get discouraged and feel despair because we brood about the past and the future. It is such a folly to pass one’s time fretting, instead of resting quietly on the heart of Jesus.”

St. Therese, help me always to believe as you did, in God’s great love for me, so that I might imitate your “Little Way” each day.

For more information and resources about St. Therese of Lisieux, click here.

The Sacrament of the Present Moment

The Holy Grail, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

One of the very best books I read this summer — perhaps all year — was Christian McEwan’s lovely World Enough and Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down. I posted an excerpt here that really spoke to me. Christian points true north in her recommendation that we reclaim quiet and slowness, and relearn to savor awareness in lives too often gone awry by speed, haste, and multi-tasking, our creativity and imagination suffocated by the noise that attends these harried, unfocused but increasingly “normal” behaviors. I have an intrinsic horror of chaos and I do not believe it is possible for me to live a truly creative life, in either a spiritual or an artistic sense,  in an environment that seeks to encourage chaos instead of order, harmony, and balance.

The truth is, I don’t have to participate in the chaos. I do have a choice, though I may be made to feel as though I don’t, or that in exercising my choice to slow down and swim on my own side of the stream I am somehow “not with it” and need to “get up to speed.” I’ve been struggling with the sense that my life, my mind, my health, and my world have all been unravelling with greater speed and urgency over the last couple of years, so Christian’s book was just what the doctor ordered. I took quite seriously her encouragement to “Choose to refuse,” and have been practicing the simple art of saying “No,” along with the attendant art of not apologizing or feeling guilty for saying it and using the resulting new-found time to be more available to the opportunities God is offering to me in the sacrament of the present moment.

Being more present to what is happening in the moment is necessarily going to look different for each person. It all depends on how plugged in or overextended you are. A good friend of mine is experimenting with unplugging from the Internet each weekend to allow for quiet spaces to process her writing. One thing I’m doing is trying to stay with the task at hand and resist heartily the urge to multi-task — meaning if I’m helping my son with his math lesson and the phone rings, I let it ring. This is extremely difficult to do because as a full-time mother and housewife, full-time home schooler, and part-time high school teacher I’ve got my hands full and there is rarely a moment when someone doesn’t want or need something from me. How do I meet everyone’s needs and still have something left over? Prayer is essential, but so is slowing down and making a place for quiet and a more moderate pace through the day.

One of the things people praise our current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, for is his ability to make the person with whom he is speaking feel like the only person in the world. This is a tall order. But should it be? Why is it so hard for us to pay attention to who or what is right in front of us, without being distracted by something or someone else? Obviously, prudence and discretion is required: if I’m driving and my son wants me to look at or listen to something that requires too much of my attention, well, he simply has to wait. Keeping us alive and safe in that moment is the most important thing. But in this time of instant gratification and self-centered social interactions, this kind of patience is difficult to acquire and practice, for others and for ourselves. Yet it seems to me essential. Rather than whipping myself and others into higher speed, I must learn to be OK with allowing myself and others to move slow, appreciating the time it takes to be on task and do a job well and thoroughly before moving on to something else, and allowing the person I’m interacting with the gift of my full and undivided attention. Because God is present to me in the moment, not in the next thing on my to-do list, not in what I could be doing instead. But right there, in what I am doing NOW, in who I am with NOW.

Michelle Aldredge at gwarlingo has taken up the clarion call issued in McEwan’s World Enough and Time and has an article today about Christian and her book as part of her new series on creativity, which I highly recommend following — it’s worth every minute you’ll spend reading. You can also hear an interview with Christian on Writer’s Voice with Francesca Rheannon. Christian’s book is worth seeking out and reading slowly. Treat it like a personal retreat, a gift to yourself, a promise to take back some of what you might be allowing to be taken from you. Reading it may be a step towards reclaiming a more creatively aware, spiritually intuitive self. Not everyone is going to be happy with your choosing to refuse and not everyone will understand the grace that will be revealed to you in each moment that you choose to pay attention and focus on what is happening NOW. But you’ll be better for it and the inner change it will work in you will be evidence that you’re on the right path to living a saner, more peaceful, more present life.

What have you got to lose?

The Best Ever Pesto Recipe

Photo: BasilGardening.com

As summer wanes, I’ve been gifted with a bumper crop of basil, which is wonderful because I have the most awesome pesto recipe ever! With the weather here heating up beyond tolerable, school starting, and going back to work after a summer off, I’ve had little time or energy for much of anything, so it’s nice to be able to make something quick, without turning on the stove, with herbs fresh from the garden.

The traditional way to serve pesto in Italy’s Cinque Terre region, is with pasta cooked with potatoes and green beans. But if pasta isn’t your thing, or if you don’t want to turn the stove on AT ALL, pesto is fabulous on grilled chicken or fish and is perfect tossed with assorted grilled bell peppers or roasted potatoes. Freeze any leftovers in an ice-cube tray for winter or nights when you don’t have time to cook. 1-2 cubes per person is a good bet. Be sure and put the pesto cubes in a freeze zip bag — they’ll keep about 3 months. Buon appetito!

Trenette con Pesto alla Genovese (serves 6)

Ingredients

50 fresh medium basil leaves

2 garlic cloves

1 cup grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Parmesan-Pecorino Romano blend

2 Tbsp. pine toasted pine nuts

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

5 1/2/ tsp. sea salt

1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper

1 Tbsp. creme fraiche (if creme fraiche is unavailable in your area, substitute soft cream cheese)

1/2 lb Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, quartered, and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices

1/2 lb. green beans cut into 1 inch lengths (I use haricot verts, but regular green beans will do. If using regular, you may want to use only 1/4 lb)

1 lb dry trenette or linguini

Place basil in bowl of food processor and chop fine. Add the garlic and continue chopping. Add cheese and pine nuts and process until the nuts are chopped fine. Gradually add the olive oil while the motor is running. Add 1/2 tsp. salt and the pepper and pulse to combine. Add the creme fraiche and pulse to combine. Do not over process — this whole procedure should only take a few minutes. (If you are making ahead, pour the pesto into a bowl, cover with a thin layer of olive oil to preserve color, and refrigerate until ready to use. The pesto should be used within one day of preparing or frozen.)

Bring 5 qts. water to a boil and add remaining salt. Add the potatoes and return to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. About 2-3 minutes before the end of the pasta cooking time, add the beans to the pasta and potatoes.

While pasta cooks, heat the pesto in a large saute pan with 1-2 Tbsp. of the cooking water from the pasta. Do not boil. Transfer pasta, potatoes, and beans to colander to drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Add pasta to the pan with the pesto and toss to coat evenly. Add reserved water as needed.

* This recipe is adapted from the Il Fornaio Pasta Book — a highly recommended cookbook with traditional regional Italian dishes. The dish will use all of the pesto, so if you’ve got enough basil, double the recipe and freeze the rest.

August 4: The Birthday of Percy Bysshe Shelley

Nothing is more human than for man to desire naturally things impossible to his nature. It is, indeed, the property of a nature which is not closed up in matter like the nature of physical things, but which is intellectual or infinitized by the spirit. It is the property of a metaphysical nature. Such desires reach for the infinite, because the intellect thirsts for being and being is infinite.
JACQUES MARITAIN, Approaches to God

Years ago, a friend took a writing sabbatical in England and sent me an image of Percy Shelley‘s Memorial on a postcard. I thought then that it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. The sculpture is a fitting memorial to a man who searched for truth by exploring Beauty through poetry. The memorial always reminds me of Shelley’s own poem “Adonais,” which he wrote as an elegy to John Keats, whose untimely death at the age of 26 from tuberculosis greatly saddened Shelley. But Shelley himself died young, drowning in a storm while sailing before he turned 30, the event so poignantly called to mind in the composition of the memorial. One might even find “Adonais” to be hauntingly prophetic of Shelley’s own early demise.

 
I
I weep for Adonais – he is dead!
Oh weep for Adonais! Tho’ our tears
Thaw not the frost which binds so dear a head!
And thou, sad Hour, selected from all years
To mourn our loss, rouse thy obscure compeers,
And teach them thine own sorrow! Say: “With me
Died Adonais; till the future dares
Forget the Past, his fate and fame shall be
An echo and a light unto eternity!”
 
**********
 
LIV
That Light whose smile kindles the Universe,
That Beauty in which all things work and move,
That Benediction which the eclipsing Curse
Of birth can quench not, that sustaining Love
Which thro’ the web of being blindly wove
By man and beast and earth and air and sea,
Burns bright or dim, as each are mirrors of
The fire for which all thirst; now beams on me,
Consuming the last clouds of cold mortality. 
 
LV
The breath whose might I have invoked in song
Descends on me; my spirit’s bark is driven,
Far from the shore, far from the trebling throng
Whose sails were never to the tempest given;
The massy earth and sphered skies are riven!
I am bourne darkly, fearfully, afar;
Whilst burning thro’ the inmost veil of Heaven,
The soul of Adonais, like a star,
Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are.
 

It might be argued that Shelley’s atheism precludes reading his work as a testament to the existence of God.  I disagree. There are many paths and tributaries that feed in to the one Way to God and the artist can come close to God, can know God, through his art. Without doubt, Shelley sought truth and he sought it through Beauty. It would not be wrong to suggest that Beauty, in all its forms, was Shelley’s god. But God himself is the author of Beauty. He IS Beauty. As Keats so aptly wrote, “Beauty is Truth, and Truth Beauty.” Shelley’s quest for the infinite placed him squarely in the presence of all Truth, however unconscious of it he might have been.  To paraphrase (badly) Flannery O’Connor, whether or not we understand it, know it, or believe it, it’s true just the same.

Shelley’s poetry certainly raises the heart, mind, and soul to God. It is infused with a beautiful sense of the spiritual, the eternal, and a grasping sense of truth that necessarily points from inside to somewhere outside of man and — as “Adonais” makes clear — an awareness that man is himself made for eternal life. Man is not all there is, Beauty is not an “accident,” and the gift of the ability to create beauty, harmony, and order is one proof that God exists. Art itself can prove the lie of atheism.

One can imagine Shelley being literally awakened by the kiss of Beauty, even at the moment of death.   Remembering today with gratitude the gift of a beautiful poet, whose work points to God’s work in what surely must be a beautiful soul.

The Awakening of Adonis, by John William Waterhouse