On the always sage advice of The Anchoress that the best way to recover from a fall off your blog is to climb right back on it with a little something every day, I’m back. Not quite George Costanza-style yet,
but here I am. And because Saturday is a low readership day, I’m going to start with a collection of little bits, like the 7 Quick Takes Friday format popularized by Jen Fulwiller at Conversion Diary. I’m hoping to make this a regular Saturday thing, and taking counsel from my spiritual director, Pope Francis, I’m going to devote this space to things (other than fat) that keep me from being a long-faced Christian—small bursts of joy that move me to praise God. Because Saturdays are associated with the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, and because joy is always a mystery, I’m calling this little tapas plate Five for Joy. Please feel free to add your own joyful mysteries by leaving a comment or blogging them on your own and linking here.
Order, like most things, is random.
I am a total sucker for stories like this one from last night’s CBS Evening News. Terrific enough that these two people rediscovered each other late in life, but the mystery writer/codebreaker angle just nails it. I dare you not to cry when you hear (or decipher in the photo of the letter, like I did—it’s a pretty simple code, though a Dan Brown hero would need 37 one-paragraph-long chapters to Oh my God!?! puzzle it out) the content of the message Mr Attebery sent.
After I posted this on my Facebook page, my provocateur friend (OK, one of them) posted the photo of a couple of elderly men who just got married after 68 years together. I’m not up to being provocatated, especially in a week that’s brought such long-faced idiocies as a priest threatening to refuse Communion to anyone in a Boy Scout uniform. Though my Church does not recognize their marriage, these guys—like the couple profiled on CBS, whose marriage is also not Catholic—are far past the meaning-of-marriage debate in any sense other than the purely legal, so I’ll just stop with the polemics and wish ‘em joy.
Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor.
For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.
Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?
And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, KJV)
Love is a mystery and a joy, the very Mystery God is. As one who has slept alone for a very long time, I like thinking it’s never too late to break the code.
Onshore flow. The marine layer. June Gloom. Whatever you call it, it’s back, and I love it.
How do you know it’s early summer in Southern California? You wake up chilly.
Doesn’t matter that it may reach the low 100s later in the day. Most June mornings in LA start out overcast, cool, and damp, as seasonal weather patterns bring a blanket of cloud from the ocean to tuck around the foothills, the way my grandson pulls his blanket over his head when the world gets too freakin loud. Inland, the air smells like saltwater. The occasional seagull divebombs the ubiquitous crows.
It may last only a couple of hours, the way it did this morning, or all day, the way it always did for my Juneborn son’s birthday parties. Sun worshipers despise it, but to me it’s real SoCal weather. This morning, waking up to a chill breeze from the open window, a woolly gray landscape, and a gull’s call of Mine! Mine! Mine!, I grinned. I rolled over. I pulled my blanket over my head. I gave thanks.
BENEDICITE, aquae omnes, quae super caelos sunt, Domino, benedicat omnis virtutis Domino!
One of the great pleasures of relying on the public library for reading matter, in this my hoarding-recovery life, is rereading or newly discovering old books. Comfort reading is like comfort food, only less fattening. I don’t mean junk reading, necessarily, though that can have its own charms. I’m talking midlist favorites from my past: the mysteries of Mary Stewart (who was my first travel guide to the world as a young teen) and Josephine Tey and Charlotte Armstrong (who wrote about the Glendale and Pasadena and Hollywood Hills I knew growing up and am back home in); the historical romances of Anya Seton and Elizabeth Goudge and Daphne DuMaurier. These all have much more description—of places, eras, costume, setting, stuff—than anybody has patience for today, but I’m reveling in it, even as I can recite bits by heart.
And sometimes you pick up something that speaks louder than it did when it was first published. Today’s joy in that way is Morris L. West’s 1981 The Clowns of God, a novel about apocalypses and faith and the Vatican that begins with the unprecedented abdication of a pope, and unwinds as a mystery explored by a thinly veiled Hans Kung figure. Yes, it’s dated, both politically and theologically, but West is a pretty good storyteller with the kind of whispers-in-the-loggia knowledge of the Church’s inner workings that poor Dan Brown would kill for, and then not know what to do with if he had it.
It’s the best kind of comfort fiction, raising Big Questions and your heart rate at the same time. Plus, it’s timely in a way West couldn’t have imagined. Here’s his Pope Emeritus, Jean Marie Barette—a French bishop known for his pastoral works and evangelization and ecumenism, bumped up to Curia member in an unimportant congregation, chosen as a compromise candidate in a deadlocked conclave—on the system and its limitations:
I tell you, Carl, when you stand for the first time on that balcony and look across St Peter’s Square and hear the applause of the crowd, you really believe you’re someone! . . . After that, of course, you learn very fast. The whole system is designed to surround you with the air of absolute authority, and resolutely to obstruct your use of it. The long liturgical ceremonies and the public appearances are theater pieces in which you are stage-managed like an actor. Your private audiences are diplomatic occasions. You talk banalities. You bless medals. You are photographed for the posterity of your visitors.
Meantime, the bureaucracy grinds on, filtering what comes to your desk, editing and glossing what you hand down. You are besieged by counselors whose sole object seems to be to delay decision. You cannot act except through intermediaries. There are not enough hours in the day to digest a tenth of the information presented to you—and the language of Curial documents is as carefully designed as American officialese or the double-talk of the Marxists. (p. 90)
I can’t get past the notion that Papa Francis had these paragraphs memorized, and ever since the Room of Tears has been saying in his own way what my Puritan New England grandfather used to say when he’d had enough: “We’ll have none of that!” (The none, in Grandpa Bert’s voice, was pronounced to rhyme with gone.)
I praise Christ Jesus, the Word made flesh, for writers and words and books and libraries and librarians! Joy that doesn’t cost anything (well, unless you’re like me and rack up the overdue fines, which the really nice Armenian librarian usually waives part of because she thinks only a seriously ill or disturbed person would forget to renew books online)—that’s a mystery!
I purchased this CD on The Anchoress’s recommendation, and I’m passing on its loveliness to you. Old hymns and chants, and even a new one (“A Rose Unpetalled”), sung in the voices of angels, with no theatrics whatsoever. Because it’s prayer. If you don’t think your life would be immeasurably improved by having your own chapel of cloistered nuns singing “Let All Flesh Keep Silence” just down the hall (or over the desk, or across the dashboard) from where you are freaking out from being a person of such little faith and such huge flying-monkey anxieties, you are much saner and more spiritually sound than I am, and it gives me joy to think of you. The rest of you, dash those flying monkeys against the Cross of Christ (more Anchoress advice, by way of St Benedict), take two “Jesu Dulcis Memoria”s, and call me in the morning.
Mystery in music, praise God!
I came way too late to Magnificat, the stupendously lovely monthly worship aid available by subscription, but it gives me joy every time I flip it open. With simplified versions of Morning and Evening Prayer for each day (plus a couple of rotating Complines each month), the propers and lectionary for every Mass, the Order of the Mass, and everything you need for Adoration and Benediction, plus lovely art, profound reflections, and lives of the saints, all in a perfectly portable form, I’m not sure how I managed to live without it. I even sprang for a sweet leather cover with ribbon bookmarks, because I’m OCD about rumpling pages this nicely printed. (I bought this cheapish one, but you can get all kinds of fancier, even monogrammed covers. I’m not that OCD.)
I’m not shilling for the Magnificat folks, but if you’re a subscriber who wants to share this joy, and keep others from languishing as long as I did, this is the time. Look for a mail-in promotional offer in your June issue. Three-month gift subscriptions are available this month for the very very reduced price of $5 each, and if you bring joy to 4 of your friends, you’ll get a free month yourself.
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness—on the bus, in church, at the beach, in bed under your June Gloom blanket. Praise God!