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Good Friday: The Encounter With Love

The Crucifixion, Edward Burne-Jones

The Crucifixion, Edward Burne-Jones

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

” . . . God did not reveal his love in a classroom but in the midst of the interactions between Jesus and those around him. This invites us to re-read the scriptural witness to Christ’s death with faith-filled prayerful attention . . . to grasp the depths of his redeeming love as this love is revealed in every detail of Jesus’ words, actions, sufferings, and even his silences throughout the Passion. The meaning of redemption is love, and the goal of faith is to understand it more and more fully . . . [F]aith seeks to know better the love of the One who loved us first.”– Douglas Bushman, Magnificat Year of Faith Companion, March 26

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The Vocation to Faith in Love

“Miranda,” by John William Waterhouse, 1875

“Each of us is loved by God with a limitless, unconditioned and unconditional love that we can never destroy or even diminish. We are loved into existence; cherished in our existence; affirmed absolutely in death and beyond. This love is independent of our merits or demerits. Nothing whatsoever can separate us from this love. For it is the breadth; it is the length; it is the height and it is the depth — there is nowhere beyond it, above or below it. It is All: the limitless ocean that encompasses our tiny, threatened, fragile yet infinitely precious self. This is not merely impersonal, protective benevolence but a love that gives self, that offers inconceivable intimacy and that seeks reciprocity. We can never define or draw a line around what God will do for each one of us. We are exposed to the infinite. Against this truth what does our sense of impotence matter? In genuine faith — which must, of course, be worked for — and in that surrender of self which is faith in act, we begin to discern that, far from our helplessness being a human misfortune, something that ought not to be, it signals a limitless calling and is the other side of a vocation that goes beyond what can be perceived by mind and sense. To accept it is to assent to our vocation, to becoming who we truly are, to being truly human. We are made for union with the divine, nothing less. We are called to share the life of God. Our restlessness, our insatiable longings, our discontent and  experience of helplessness are to be traced to our divine destiny. Commitment in faith to this truth is to destroy existential anxiety. Faith alone can overcome the world and the threat the world imposes. It does not follow that we lose the feeling of anxiety and fear — we would be the poorer for that — but these now play a role that is creative not destructive. Fear can cripple, paralyze, prompt us to shirk and evade life. Faith enables us to live with reality, braving its challenge.”

— From Essence of Prayer, by Ruth Burrows OCD

The New Noblewoman: An Authentic Feminine Mystique For This Generation

If you’ve increasingly felt distanced from the superficial, politicized, less than intelligent propaganda that currently passes itself off as “literature and media for women” then welcome to a breath of fresh air, a place where the unique inner life of the feminine spirit and mind is nurtured and cultivated, prized and revered. Welcome to The New Noblewoman (TNN).

Amanda Millay Lanier, founder and editor of TNN has graciously agreed to be interviewed for one tiny violetAmanda has created something totally unique to fill a noticeable void in the realm of women’s magazines and her work is simply saturated with BEAUTY!  Of course,  I fell in love with her publication and wanted to share it with you here. Grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and spend some time with Amanda as she shares her thoughts on beauty, the essence of what it means to be a woman, her eye for fine art, and her plans for the future of The New Noblewoman, then pop right over and check out the magazine!

one tiny violet (otv): How did the idea for The New Noblewoman (TNN) come about? In what ways is it different from other women’s magazines today?

Amanda Millay Lanier (AML): The concept actually started as a book. I’ve always been fascinated by history, especially the images of daily life in well-done historical dramas. I’ve always wished I could “go back in time,” but rather than simply pine away for the old days, I decided to figure out how to incorporate those elements into my life today. I started researching and writing a book that would describe the houses, clothing, food, and customs of women throughout history, and talk about how women can live similarly in the modern world. But given how hard it can be to find a publisher, and how discouraging it would be to work on a project for years with no feedback, I decided to create a website instead.

The New Noblewoman is different from other women’s magazines in a couple of main areas. One is that the articles—whether on style or gardening—draw heavily from the past. Reading TNN is a combination of a regular women’s magazine and a history lesson.

Armand Point, "The Golden Legend," 1898

Another difference is the images that accompany the articles. The world is filled with incredible artwork—yet magazines always use these awful staged photographs of models or celebrities. So reading TNN is also a way to get an art education as well, and it’s much more visually appealing than the typical women’s magazine due to the artwork.

A third key difference is in the values the site promotes: TNN is for modern women who are dealing with real problems—whether it’s what clothing to buy, relating to your spouse, or keeping a New Year’s resolution. But TNN focuses on ways to address these issues with wisdom and values that are timeless and emphasize good character and honor (both things that are rarely addressed directly in the typical women’s magazine).

otv: What does it mean to be a “noblewoman” in today’s society? Is it simply one facet of being a woman, or does it encompass several aspects of women’s experience?

William Blake, "Jacob's Ladder" 1800

AML:I think any woman can choose to be a “noblewoman” today. In ancient Greek, the word aristocrat simply means “the best,” and any woman today can be the best type of woman she aspires to.

And being the best (i.e., being “a new noblewoman”) should be something that infuses every aspect of a woman’s being—the way she walks, how she dresses, what type of food she prepares, what she does in her leisure time.

Of course, there isn’t just one set script for any of these things. Although TNN discusses etiquette and classic style, I think being noble is primarily about discovering your true self and fully exploring your talents. The only required aspect to being noble today (which is the same as it was throughout history) involves seeking out the higher aspects of life rather than being caught up in the materialistic, consumer society that surrounds us and is propagandized to us every day. That higher aspect could be through a love of art, literature, philosophy, homemaking, mothering, politics, or religion.

otv: How do you imagine the reader of TNN and what can that reader expect when she visits TNN for the first time?

AML: The readership of TNN is very diverse. There are women readers from college-age to middle-age, and a number of men too! We have a slideshow that features some recent articles and most popular articles, which provides a showcase of featured artwork. A reader can explore the website by the latest articles, which start on the homepage, or browse by topic. Our categories are Beauty & Style, Home & Garden, A Woman Should Know, Relationships & Etiquette, Poetry, and Inspirationals (a selection of inspiring quotes).

otv: The tagline for TNN – “The Art of True Womanhood” – raises two interesting questions: What does it mean to be a true woman? And in what ways is being this true woman an art?

AML: One thing that all nobles in history have in common is their emphasis on religion—since it’s only recently that there have been societies that are completely secular.   Whether it was pagan Rome, Hindus in India, or Christianity throughout the Middle Ages, the nobility were supposed to be ruled by spiritual guidelines and submit to the authority of the priests. If they didn’t have religious guidelines to temper their hearts, it would be easy for people with so much power to rule badly and no longer be the protectors of the people (and we have countless examples in history of when this happened). So I think the deepest truth of what it means to be a woman relates to her life as a spiritual being.

Frank Cadogan Cowper, "La Belle Dame sans Merci," 1926

There’s a lot of debate about what constitutes an art—nowadays almost anything crafty or creative is called art, and I think we’ve become a little too generous in the definition. I think an art should be something that requires extensive practice, combined with skill, and also be something that impacts the core of one’s being. You can be a fabulous musician, but if there’s no feeling in it, then you’re merely a highly skilled technician rather than an artist. And being a woman is no different—it requires training, education, practice (and failure!), as well as the capacity to feel. Women have to switch between so many roles in one day—bring a nurturing mother, a sensual lover, a hard-minded businesswoman (even if it’s only a household budget), and a creative artist for her own projects—being a woman really does seem like a lifelong practice in mastering an art.

otv: You’ve worked as a journalist. How have your experiences in journalism and media shaped your vision for TNN?

AML: One thing that I love about the Internet is that it’s allowed so many great websites and blogs to flourish that never existed in the days of print journalism. It also allows for a greater variety of opinions, since not everyone on the Internet is beholden to the interests of their advertisers and owners. But one thing I don’t like about the Internet is how casual it’s made writing, due to attention spans getting shorter and the desire of audiences for quick, superficial blurbs of information. With TNN, I bring back more of an essay style for articles, and try to make every article actually worth reading. There are no catchy headlines that fail to deliver any substance.

My first job was at a newspaper, and as a print journalist you’re taught that the space you have for words is very valuable. It could be worth hundreds of dollars in advertising, so you have to make each sentence valuable. You’re also not allowed to delve into your own feelings and experiences like people do with blogs. But readers do like personal stories, so it’s been a challenge to add a little bit of personality to articles, while keeping it at the level of a magazine rather than a personal blog.

otv: In a recent article on TNN discussing the film Coco and Igor, you distinguish between the way the two female characters are presented in the film and posit the question as to which one offers the best model for women. The answer, you suggest, lies in women “maintaining a reverence and adherence to traditional customs and rites, combined with a modern self-determination to follow one’s dreams.” What do you see as the greatest difficulty women today have in achieving this balance? How do you see TNN helping today’s woman aspire to and achieve a balance between these two ideals?

AML: In the film Coco and Igor, the traditional lifestyle isn’t completely working for Stravinsky’s wife. Some parts do—like retaining some Russian décor and clothing—but she’s not able to function well in the changing world and is out-of-touch with her daughters. But Coco Chanel is a little too modern. She’s a little too hard-headed for her business and doesn’t respect the sacred rite of marriage.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, "Umbrellas," 1883

I think of traditions—whether religious, cultural, or familial—as living things that go beyond the mere external forms, but the external forms are important as well. For example, everyone knows that clothing doesn’t make the person—we don’t say a woman wearing pants is “less of a woman” than one in a long dress. But in a way, clothing does impact the person wearing it quite profoundly. Putting on an evening dress and fine jewelry causes us to act differently than when we’re wearing jean shorts; walking into Notre Dame Cathedral produces a type of spiritual awe that we don’t feel when walking into a church in an office building with TV screens everywhere.

I think about (and struggle with) the dichotomy between a traditional lifestyle and modern individuality every day, and many of the articles on TNN are inspired by my daily life. And these are questions that many women have. How do we dress in a way that’s inspired by the past, without looking like we’re in a Halloween costume? How do we adhere to traditional customs, even for simple things like serving tea, without seeming either pretentious or silly? How can we be traditional wives, while also protecting ourselves financially? I’ll be exploring all of these things as I reshape my own life to better fit my ideals, so readers can follow along on my journey and share their own experiences as well.

otv: One of the functions of TNN is as a virtual art gallery, which is unique. Can you tell us about some of your favorite artists? What message does their work convey about women and beauty that you feel is important today?

AML: My favorite painters are probably the Pre-Raphaelites, since their paintings are not only visually beautiful, but depict stories and myths that are very moving as well. Some of my favorites are John Everett Millais, Edward Burne-Jones, John William Waterhouse, and Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale.

As for contemporary artists, I love the genre of pop surrealism, especially Nicoletta Ceccoli, Camille Rose Garcia, Joe Sorren, Marc Burckhardt, Ray Caesar, and Mark Ryden—all who draw from the old masters but with a modern flair.

Most of these artists present very idealized images of women, combined with aesthetics from the ancient world, Arthurian legend, or the world of European drawing rooms. These are worlds that, while not better than the present in every way, women long for and are inspired by. I think it’s important to showcase such images to demonstrate the level of beauty that is possible in a society. As the world continues to change, many readers of TNN will be involved in defining how we want our cities, neighborhoods, and homes to be, and considering the great wealth we have today and the advances we’ve made in technology, there’s no reason that we can’t aspire to revive or reinterpret the most beautiful examples from the past.

otv: How is the art you choose for the magazine reflective of the image you’d like to cultivate, both for the magazine and your readership?

AML: Nowadays art has been replaced by advertising. If you look in a magazine, you won’t find any art, just pages and pages of artistic ads. These advertisements are trying to sell you a product, by using an image of a better world. I’m trying to sell that better world itself, and to teach women how to create it for themselves.

otv: Tell us about some of the women who are or have been an inspiration to you. What influence have they had on your concept for TNN?

Frances Macdonald, "Spring," c. 1900-05

AML: There are so many to choose from. I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of women who’ve struggled with having to choose between being an artist and being a wife and mother. These women often thought that women’s emancipation would have a great liberating effect for women, but I’m not convinced the situation is better for women today. Most women still have the same struggles, but with the added stress of working outside of the home added to the mix. In that genre, I’ve been inspired by the writers Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, and Philippa Burrell; the dancer Isadora Duncan; and the diarist and painter Marie Bashkirtseff.

otv: Many women today experience pressure to look, act, or dress a certain way that is not reflective of whom they are on the inside. What advice would you give to the woman who struggles to achieve a real sense of style or beauty in her daily life?

AML: That is so hard to do, and I struggle with it all the time. One of the biggest problems I’ve faced in the fashion arena is that shops today simply don’t offer the type of clothing I’d like to wear. To other women, I’d recommend spending some time reflecting on who you think you are as a woman (or who you want to become), and what type of clothing and lifestyle will help you feel that way.

I’m in the process of revamping my wardrobe (and plan to write about it soon). It involves getting rid of everything that doesn’t fit well or that doesn’t fit the image I want to cultivate for myself. By the time I’m finished, I’ll have much less in my closet, but it will only be the items I truly love—a better wardrobe overnight just by getting rid of things. I’ve found that I have to actually get rid of clothing or put it away, since otherwise I’d never put on a dress when it’s so much easier to throw on a pair of jeans.

As for other areas of life—Kierkegaard talked about how you can only go from one quality to another by a leap (a leap to faith). There are analogies to the type of spiritual despair he discussed even in unhappiness with style and beauty in one’s daily life. For women experiencing this, I think it takes one of these leaps to faith—to either becoming the person you truly think you should be or in freeing yourself of the image of what others think you should be. It takes a conscious decision to start living and thinking in a different way, combined with daily affirmations of the reasons why you’re changing (in order to keep at it until these changes become habits). Of course, this will only change you, and not any externals like having to work in an ugly cubicle or deal with unpleasant people, but eventually these external changes will start changing your spirit and the way you view and interact with the world too.

otv: The time-tested value of virtue and the practice of manners, of acting like ladies and gentlemen, has faded in popularity in today’s culture. How can mothers of young girls work to raise young women who know and value what it is to be a lady? Alternatively, how can mothers raise boys to be men who behave courteously and with a chivalric attitude towards young women?

AML: That is such a tough thing to teach these days! I was buying etiquette books when I was in elementary school, but the influences of other children and the television can make the work of the most devoted parent seem futile—even with a child like me, who had a natural inclination to these things.

Adam Emory Albright, "Children Playing With A Kite"

The most important advice is to get rid of cable TV, or at least screen what you let your kids watch. My husband and I use the money we save from not having TV to build a DVD library, and it works great. (Plus, forcing ourselves to wait until shows come out on DVD is good practice in not getting everything we want right away.)

For young girls, I’d advise finding books and movies that portray the values you want your daughters to have—art is very powerful in shaping ideals and values, especially of young people! Use what you can of their interests to guide them to better values: If they love Disney princesses, show them what princesses from fairy tales or from England are like, and help them to live like a princess in their life by doing volunteer work, respecting others, and being polite and tidy.

For young men, there are a lot of stories of knights and adventurers that can help them find chivalry interesting. Giving them chores and responsibilities that are described as “manly” can help them in their self-esteem, and instill in their minds that men and women are different, and that girls need a little more respect and care than their boy friends.

I’d also enroll both boys and girls in cotillion or dance classes around 4th to 8th grade (the age for these classes seems to vary by location). They’ll learn how to dance (which is one of the best ways to ensure your son will always be popular with the ladies!), will get used to wearing dresses or suits and interacting with the opposite sex in a more formal environment, and will learn a lot of social etiquette too.

I think it mostly comes down to determining what your standards are, sticking to them yourselves, and making your kids do those things too. Although it sounds petty, an explanation as simple and firm as “this is how our family does things,” can be enough to get kids to do something. After 20 years of having to write thank-you notes and make pleasant conversation during dinner, they’ll start bragging to their friends about their upbringing rather than complaining about it.

otv: What is your response to critics who say nobility is out of style or old-fashioned?

AML: There are several ways nobility can be interpreted. One is as “the best,” as I mentioned before. Another is as the rulers of a society. And another is as people of noble soul. And none of these will ever disappear. We will always have people considered “the best” in society and whom others try to emulate, and we will always have some kind of ruling class. Unfortunately, today these people are typically either celebrities or the capitalists who’ve made the most money. Part of the mission of The New Noblewoman is to change people’s perceptions back to what they were for most of history—that the best people are those of the best character, and that those are the ones who should be the leaders of society, whether in the political, artistic, or educational arenas.

otv: What made you decide to offer a free online platform for the magazine and is this platform crucial to TNN’s identity? Any plans for a print edition in the future?

AML: It would be great to have a print magazine in the future—but given the costs associated with printing, distributing, and managing a large staff of writers, designers, and a sales team—it’s not likely unless we receive a lot of investor interest.

I do have plans to do a series of books down the road—both free e-books and print books. Some will be original content, similar to the articles on the website. Others will be compilations of artwork, essays, and poetry. And there are some great books by women that are out of print (or in poor editions) that I’ve love to republish.

otv: Tell us some of your short- and long-term goals for the magazine as it grows.

AML: I’ll be starting a series on concert music, which will highlight some of the great classical recordings that can be seen for free on YouTube. I’ll also be doing more in the “Famous Lives” series and digging up some classic essays to reprint along with the poetry. Another new feature down the road will take readers through various museums and art galleries of the world, including some galleries of contemporary artists.

I’m also looking into starting a non-profit arm of The New Noblewoman. The response to the website so far has been amazing, and there are a lot of people interested in donating money but who need to have a tax write-off. Having a non-profit branch will allow TNN to be not only a website and publishing house, but to focus on outreach in order to start a bit of a cultural revolution among women.

Thank you, Amanda, for your gracious sharing and for the gift of The New Noblewoman — clearly a much-needed presence in women’s media. I encourage all of my one tiny violet readers to take a beauty break and visit The New Noblewoman regularly — it’s free! — to read all of the articles Amanda shares about here, and sign up to receive her weekly e-newsletter, which includes new content posted to the site.

Beautiful Book Pick: Sarah’s Key

Every once in awhile, some one stumbles upon something that is a revelation to her, something that forces her to rethink a singular event. That event can no longer be viewed as just happening to a large group of anonymous people. Now it is seen as having happened to one person, a person with a name, a heart, feelings and a life who was changed forever by that singular event. Thus, it can be said that some of the best historical fiction focuses on unexplored, uncomfortable, or even secret events that really happened. Examining history through the lens of little explored — or selectively forgotten  — events provides an opportunity to rethink what we already know, and ponder more deeply what still lies hidden from our view.

In her novel Sarah’s Key, Tatiana De Rosnay confronts the difficulties involved in bringing these historical secrets to light. She turns the spotlight on a significant but little explored event that many in France, and the world, would likely prefer to forget: the  cooperation of the French police with Nazi demands for the deportation of French Jews during WWII that resulted in what has come to be called the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup.  It’s a can’t-put-it-down read that forces us to examine the everyday injustices that we participate in, either by direct cooperation or simply by not speaking or acting out against them.

The plot turns on Julia Jarmond, a 40-ish American journalist living in Paris, assigned to cover the commemorative anniversary of the Roundup for an American Paris weekly. In the beginning of the novel, short chapters alternate deftly between the past — specifically, July 1942, following one anonymous family, and more particularly the daughter of that family, through the Vel’ d’Hiv — and the present, in which we become acquainted with Julia and the unusual circumstances that end up making her the perfect, the only, person who could truly write this story. Somewhere near the middle of the novel, the parallel lines of the lives of these two women converge in an intense conflagration.

Deportation of Jews from France/ Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The anonymity of the Jewish family who are victims of the roundup underscores the intensely essential, but often forgotten fact, that history happens to individual human beings. The acts of individuals or collective groups have astonishing and often irreparable and horrific consequences in the lives of everyday people. This is a reality glossed over by the sweeping, impersonal, and biased narratives of history books throughout the world. Every character tellingly has a name in the 1942 portions of the novel, except the “girl” and her family. “The girl” is at once no one to those who wish to exterminate her, but is in every sense SOME ONE to those who love her. This nameless “girl” lived through an atrocity no one wants to think about or remember. She lives, breathes, feels, and believes and she has a story to tell, a promise to keep, and a difference to make. 

From the very beginning, Julia encounters many obstacles to completing her assignment — her husband, Bernard, and his family refuse to condone her research as worthwhile and make every effort to discourage her completely from proceeding. In addition, much historical evidence of the Roundup has been conveniently wiped away: the buildings in the area of the Velodrome and the Velodrome itself have all been razed, articles and pictures are hard to come by except through one Jewish agency who still seeks to find and name all those missing in the Holocaust, and the majority of witnesses are deceased. No one, it seems, thinks the Vel’ d’Hiv worth remembering or worth writing about. On top of everything, Julia struggles with a disintegrating marriage and the feeling that she is fading, disconnected from who and what she thought she’d become. The assignment, despite its difficulties, renews her sense of purpose and her joy in her vocation while presenting her with the challenge of puzzling out and asserting an individual identity from amidst a group that would seek to annihilate it.

There are two holocausts personified in the novel. The Jewish holocaust is juxtaposed against another holocaust, no less morally problematic and reprehensible. Julia is forced to choose either to confront or to participate in this modern-day atrocity.  The juxtaposition of moral choices and the individual’s participation in murder through lack of defiance or failure to speak weighs the holocaust of one generation against that of another with very disturbing parallels, which Julia fails to see (at least early on). While she is confused and repulsed by those who stood by and failed to do anything to save those who were rounded up and deported during the Vel’ d’Hiv, she herself fails to recognize the moral turpitude of her own situation until it is nearly too late. This is a theme that pervades the novel from beginning to end: It is easier to go with the flow, to do nothing that will cause commotion, to simply give in and cooperate. It is easier to ignore, to forget……. The saying that history repeats itself is never more true than in this fact: we often fail to take the lessons from history and apply it to ourselves, to our own society or personal situations; hence, what seems innocuous and gradually asserts itself as the moral norm is really the germ of some past nefarious deed reincarnating itself under another form, with the same devastating effects.

If there is any fault with the book it might be that the ending is a little too tidy or predictable, and there are places in the last quarter of the book where the writing slips into sentimentality or a reliance on easy plot devices. But these minor technicalities are forgiveable and do not take anything away from the main action of the novel — Julia’s growth and catharsis through this intimate and personal encounter with individuals who were previously “dead” in their anonymity — an anonymity forced upon them because their experience was too horrible to look upon or contemplate, because there was no one who could or would help them live with what had happened to them —  and whom she fearlessly and purposely brings back to life through uncovering and giving voice to their secrets, secrets that belong not only to them, but to all of humanity. In doing so, Julia uncovers and admits her own secrets, and looks deeply in to the places where her own life is most at risk, bringing everything in to the light and changing herself and those who know her profoundly.

Beauty Take-Away: This novel really brings the inherent dignity of the human being into sharp focus against others who have total disregard for this dignity. One view is beautiful and divine; the other is dark and devolves into the utter blackness of despair. It is not an easy novel to read — there are times when it is excruciatingly painful to go on to the next sentence. But the imminitable dignity, beauty, and gift of human life is present on every page. Ultimately it is a novel of hope and faith and a belief in God. De Rosnay weaves a story of life out of the ruins of the culture of death. This is a rare occurrence in mainstream fiction today and it is what makes Sarah’s Key so worth reading.

About the film: Read the book first. As in all cases, the book is better. The film is not unsuccessful, but it fails to reach the depth of insight the book accomplishes and glosses over some of the major conflicts that weigh so heavily in the development of Julia’s character in the novel.

Seeds of Grace: Empty Canvas, Revisited

My sorrow, when she’s here with me, thinks these dark days of autumn rain are beautiful as days can be; she loves the bare, the withered tree; she walks the sodden pasture lane.
Robert Frost

As we move in to the months of autumn, I’m beginning to tend to the things that will enable us to settle in for the winter — or at least as much of a winter as we ever get here in Southern California. The days are rapidly shortening and in the last week, the night time temperatures have dropped well into the 40s. This is my signal to take a beauty break, get back out into the garden, and start tidying things up.

For those of you who have been reading here for a few months, you may remember when I posted about starting our garden back in June. I thought it might be fun to share with you what I ended up with.

No matter how many plants and seeds I nurture along, I can never get over the miracle of life in the garden. This year, there were a few surprises. The tomatoes were seedling transplants that took forever to get going. But once they did, as you can see they literally took over the entire plot! I’ve never had such high-maintenace tomatoes in my life! They grew outwards and trailed more like a squash vine than the tall, more bushy tomatoes I am used to. Some of the branches were easily 10 feet long or more. Obviously, they refused to be confined to tomatoe cages or really to be contained at all.  While producing a great deal of fruit, these hardy plants eventually posed a danger to the rest of the garden community by blocking the sun. Thus, the beans and peas died, the basil shrivelled, and the parsley had to fight to stay alive. Today I cut it way back to let in some light and cleared away the not-so-lucky plants who were unable to thrive under the vast tomatoe canopy. 

Two unexpected miracles. . . . this little half-eaten kale plant was started from a tiny seed back in June. It struggled to survive and at one point, I really thought I’d lost it. Suddenly it started growing. After 4 months its still under 6 inches tall and shows continual assault from some unseen pest. But I am hopeful that it’ll survive to provide at least a few meals for us this winter.

The other miracle are the brussels sprouts, also started from seed. The seed which produces this alien-looking plant is quite small, and the gardening catalog I purchased them from emphasized that brussels sprouts are not easy to grow. Ever hopeful, I figured I’d plant them and see what happened. Like the kale, they took forever to sprout and it seemed like they were barely hanging on for months. But in late August, these too took off and have continued to thrive, despite the encroaching tomatoes. Amongst the layers of leaves (which the gardening catalog says to leave on to protect the young stalk) we can see a central stalk forming with the beginnings of the buds that will eventually become the sprouts! These guys still have a long way to go — today I discovered powdery mildew on some of the lower leaves, likely caused by the tomatoes blocking the sun. Still, I’m hopeful. . . .its amazing that, after everything, such a tiny seed can produce such a large plant. (And I know that a lot of people simply despise brussels sprouts, but if these little ones make it, I’ll be sharing a recipe that will convert you, guaranteed!)

As I help the garden move through its final phases, I am reminded that each season in nature symbolizes a corresponding season of human life. As I enter into fall, I am reminded of my aging, of the miles I’ve gone on my journey and those I still have yet to go, and see that in the perhaps not-too-distant future I may enter the winter of illness and death. In her wisdom, the Church seems to be aware that, consciously or unconsciously, we may be having such thoughts about the road we are walking and so she ushers us into the last two months of the year with the great feast of All Saints. 

The Feast of All Saints reminds me that I am living in the fields of the Lord. Looking to all of the holy men and women who have gone before me, both known and unknown, I am reminded of the fact that, no matter what things may look like on the outside or how much it may feel like I am struggling just to survive or how many pests threaten to devour me, the seed of grace (God’s life in me) which I received at baptism is alive, producing and responding to the tending of the Constant Gardener.

In his book The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Vol. 1, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Legrange uses the analogy of the seed to explore the truth of the gift of sanctifying grace we are given at our baptism. The invisible seed of grace is in many ways similar to the tiny kale seed, or brussels sprout seed, I planted. It is pure potential. Legrange says that, “The value of a seed can be known only if we have some idea of what should grow from it; for example, in the order of nature, to know the value of the seed contained in an acorn, we must have seen a fully developed oak. In the human order, to know the value of the rational soul which still slumbers in a little child, we must know the normal possibilities of the human soul in the man who has reached his full development. Likewise, we cannot know the value of sanctifying grace, which is in the soul of every baptized infant and in all the just, unless we have considered, at least imperfectly, what the full development of this grace will be in eternity.” The full development of this seed of sanctifying grace can be seen in the lives of the saints, who share with us their experiences on the path to holiness. Just as each acorn contains within it all that is necessary to become a great oak tree, so each of us possessed of sanctifying grace contain everything necessary to become a great saint, however little and unknown we may be.

Typically, people associate the advent of spring with growth, new life, and rebirth and the Church is no different. But the Church encourages us to focus on the opportunities we are given for growth and rebirth throughout the year. At a time during the natural year when many in the secular world may find themselves occupied with thoughts of loss, decay, and death, the Church reminds us through the feast of All Saints, and the commemoration of the Holy Souls, that there hope in new life and that this hope is not seasonal but is rather a daily, year-round truth. God promises us through His Son that He will make all things new.

Entering into autumn through the gateway of remembering our family in heaven reminds me to look again and be grateful for the tiny seed of grace I received at baptism, and to recall that while my own garden might be on its way out, God is still nurturing, planting, pruning, and feeding the garden of my soul where all of the seasons exist simultaneously.

A Meditation on Woman, in Celebration of the Feast of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Edith Stein was a prominent Jewish philosopher, writer, teacher, and professor in pre-WWII Germany. After reading The Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, Edith converted to Catholicism and eventually became a Carmelite nun, taking the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She continued to write and study. During the war, Catholics of Jewish heritage were arrested by the Nazis and deported to concentration camps. St. Teresa Benedicta was executed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz in 1942. Her feast day is today, August 9.

Much of St. Teresa Benedicta’s work was given to illuminating the role of women and their vocation. She has much to say to us today and deep reading gives echoes of the writings of Blessed John Paul II. The following is taken from “The Ethos of Women’s Professions,” a lecture given by Dr. Stein at a meeting of the Catholic Association of Academics in Salzburg, Austria, on September 1, 1930. The entire text can be found in The Collected Works of Edith Stein, Vol. 2: Essays on Woman.

“Only by the power of grace can nature be liberated from its dross, restored to its purity, and made free to receive divine life. And this divine life itself is the inner driving power from which acts of love come forth. Whoever wants to preserve this life continually within herself must nourish it constantly from the source whence it flows without end — from the holy sacraments, above all from the sacrament of love. To have divine love as its inner form, a woman’s life must be a Eucharistic life. Only in daily, confidential relationship with the Lord in the tabernacle can one forget self, become free of all one’s own wishes and pretensions, and have a heart open to all the needs and wants of others. Whoever seeks to consult with the Eucharistic God in all her concerns, whoever lets herself be purified by the sanctifying power coming from the sacrifice at the altar, offering herself to the Lord in this sacrifice, whoever receives the Lord in her soul’s innermost depth in Holy Communion cannot but be drawn ever more deeply and powerfully into the flow of divine life, incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, her heart converted to the likeness of the divine heart.

Something else is related to this. When we entrust all the troubles of our earthly existence confidently to the divine heart, we are relieved of them. Then our soul is free to participate in the divine life. Then we walk by the side of the Savior on the path that He travelled on this eath during His earthly existence and still travels in the mystical afterlife. Indeed, with the eyes of faith, we penetrate into the secret depths of His hidden life within the pale of the godhead. On the other hand, this participation in the divine life has a liberating power initself; it lessens the weight of our earthly concerns and grants us a bit of eternity even in this finitude, a reflection of beatitude, a transformation into light. But the invitation to the transformation in God’s hand is given to us by God Himself in the liturgy of the Church. Therefore, the life of an authentic Catholic woman is also a liturgical life. Whoever prays together with the Curch in spirit and in truth knows that her whole life must be formed by this life of prayer.”

The Feast of Pentecost

Pentecost  

by Tiziano Vecelli (Titian), 1490-1576

“…I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells in you, and will be in you. . . .These things I have spoken while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14: 16-17, 25-26)

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. . . .” (Acts 2: 1-4)