The Beltway Catechesis

Now that our son is almost ten, he has begun to feel his oats a bit: In the middle of fourth grade, he has begun to log a few life achievements that both we, and he, are proud: he has surmounted some of his attention problems and can stay focused on the tasks at hand—reading about military history, remembering to take out the trash, remembering to modulate his quick-start anger before it bursts from his lips.

He has also learned to complain about having to go to church. Sunday mornings in our house arrive drowsily and sun-soaked, the tendrils of smoke from the censer we always light curling up the stairs.

But by the time we are actually ready to walk out the door, between him and his little sister, it is all over but the shouting. In my daughter’s case, her complaints are minor, and classic: the ill-fitting patent leather shoes, her grumpiness at being told that taking a Bitty Baby stroller to the Divine Liturgy is inadvisable.

My son’s complaints are more subtle, and dangerous. Only occasionally will he trot out the old chestnut, “God is just an idea that somebody made up way back when,” because he knows that I know that at least for now, he doesn’t believe it: For any and all problems he has with God, I have seen him sincerely implore, and sincerely repent, before the invisible and ever-present altar of the Divine.

One of our dearest neighbors, a reader of this blog, has been in treatment for breast cancer these past six or so months, and when we say prayers at night, he always remembers to lift her name like a found jewel. And he was thankful when her chemotherapy regimen came to an end.

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Roots Trip to the Castles in My Bloodline, Part 2

Continued from yesterday.


A tempest of Winters temper—mine—had blown through the Highlands of Scotland on our harried, hurried itinerary, and I pondered that now in Ireland. My working notion of a “roots” trip up until that point pertained only in the genealogical sense: Scotland and Ireland being, respectively, my maternal and paternal ancestral stomping grounds.

But in my review of the course on spiritual hearing I’d begun the month prior, a most delicious linguistic epiphany was about to present itself like low-hanging fruit.

As opposed to those cerebral terms for some ugly manifestations in me—weaknesses, patterns, compulsions, dysfunctions—which lacked the texture and energy of the issues I needed to confront, I revisited in the course manual the notion of spiritual fruit.

As explicated by St. Paul in his Letter to the Galatians, the nine fruits of the Spirit are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

If you want to take an honest accounting of your produce in this department, take a road trip with your spouse and kids in another country. You might find yourself in many a moment, as I did, not much stronger than the dollar in the face of all that taxes you. [Read more...]

Roots Trip To the Castles in My Bloodline, Part 1

If you grew up in the Seventies as I did, you might recall a popular children’s T-shirt of the era—one at least popular among the reputedly disaffected youth of Cocopah Elementary in Scottsdale, Arizona. The caption (no graphics) went something like this:

My Parents Went On Vacation To Las Vegas and All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt.

Not just Las Vegas, of course; but Seattle, Chicago, New York, and so forth. Yet all we kids got—for the message was contagious despite the various places I had been with my parents—was a dusty, sunbaked playground in Scottsdale.

Fast-forward thousands of miles, and even more years than it seems, to the grassy, rain-soaked Highlands of Scotland where I just finished a hurried, harried “roots” trip with my wife and kids en route to a family sabbatical in Ireland. [Read more...]

The Poetics of Painting

Part Four: Tradition
Guest Post

By Daniel Siedell

Today’s post concludes our occasional series on “The Poetics of Painting.”

While touring an exhibition of Frank Stella’s paintings in 1970, critic Rosalind Krauss asked the exhibition’s organizer, fellow critic Michael Fried, why Stella, a Minimalist, felt compelled to paint stripes, again and again.

Fried responded with this story: When Stella was a student at Princeton, he would take the train into Manhattan and go to the Met where he would sit for hours in front of the canvases of the Spanish master Diego Velázquez (1599-1660). Stella wanted more than anything else to paint like Velázquez. But he knew he couldn’t, so he returned to his studio, and painted stripes.  [Read more...]