Monday, December 31, 2018

In the Coming Year, We Can Be Sure of One Thing...

Happy New Year 2019.๐ŸŒŸ

There is one thing we can be CERTAIN about in this coming year: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5).
May Jesus born of Mary--Jesus who is the light of the world--guide your steps and draw you onward as you journey through the coming days, weeks, and months.
In joy and sorrow, success and failure, adventure and disaster, understanding and perplexity - STAY WITH HIM!

Never give up on Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of Mary, our Creator, Redeemer, and Lord, ... and our brotherHe has come to dwell with us and save us because He loves us. 
He wants to be with us.
He comes to where we are, and draws our lives into the mystery of His love for the Father in the Holy Spirit. He seeks us and finds us wherever we are, in whatever condition, and He stays with us. If we open our hearts to make room for Him, He will transform our hearts and draw all the circumstances of our lives toward the good.

This is the truth, for the new year of 2019, for every year, every month, every day, every hour, every moment. Whatever may come, He is here. Stay with Him.

Happy New Year! God bless you all.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Walking Together "in the Ambit of a Greater Love"

On the Feast of the Holy Family, I was led by the entry in Magnificat to meditate on some observations from chapter 13 of Father Julian Carron's book Disarming Beauty.

The current leader of the "Communion and Liberation" movement expresses some points about human love (such as it is experienced even in the unique relationship of marriage) that correspond to what I continue to see in my own life, and shed light upon it. Carron states: "In the loving encounter between man and woman, at the very moment in which the boundless dimensions of our desire are revealed to us, the possibility of fulfillment appears. Or, more precisely, as we perceive in the person we love the promise of fulfillment, the whole infinite potential of our desire for happiness is enkindled. This is why nothing makes us understand the mystery of our humanity better than the man-woman relationship."

At the same time he notes that in the reality of such love between human beings "two infinite needs to be loved meet two fragile and limited capacities to love. Only in the ambit of a greater love do they not consume themselves in pretension and not resign themselves, but walk together, each towards a fullness of which the other is sign. Only in the ambit of a greater love can people avoid being consumed with the claim, laden with violence, that the other, who is limited, must answer to the infinite desire he awakens, making impossible both the fulfillment of the person whose desire has been awakened and that of the person he loves."

Through the ecstasy of our love, we awaken and deepen in each other a transcendence that is beyond ourselves, toward which we must journey together.

The Infinite One, who alone corresponds to the origin and destiny of our personal being, is the One toward whom the interpersonal experience of love points, the One who fulfills its promise.

And in Jesus Christ, the Infinite One dwells among us and proposes himself as the truth and fulfillment of the limitless desire sparked by human love. Jesus is the source, sustenance, and destiny of the relationship between man and woman, and all human interpersonal relationships. He is the One through whom and for whom we have been created. He is at the core of our existence, our affectivity, and our freedom. He is the One who establishes us in relation to one another, and draws us to himself.

As Father Carron states, "Jesus reveals the importance of the promise his person constitutes for those who let him in. It is not an interference on Jesus’ part in the most intimate level of human feelings, but rather the greatest promise ever made to man: the fulfillment of all his human desire, which is Jesus’ very person. 

"Therefore, if you do not love Christ, Beauty made flesh, more than the person you love, the latter relationship withers, because Christ is the truth of this relationship, the fullness to which both partners point, and in whom their relationship is fulfilled. Only by letting him in is it possible for the most beautiful relationship that can happen in life not to be corrupted and die in time. This is the audacity of his claim."

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Family Time at Christmas

Let's catch up on some Christmas family things.

I'm overdue with posting about "The Christmas Day Food." I actually don't have a lot of food pictures, just because... well, I just didn't take many pictures.

Nevertheless, I am a true foodie at heart. I can't just let a place setting like this go undocumented. Some of the dishes and plates are from my parents:

Side dish spinach salad was even better than it looks here:

Then there's the feature which, of course, is a lovely pasta and beef dish. Not the best picture, but I was in a hurry to EAT!

The wine was excellent, from our own local friends at Rappahannock Cellars. It must have been a Christmas present from somebody. It was a perfect companion for the food.

The best companions, of course, were the family sitting around the table. For years it was too easy to take those full chairs for granted. It's been great having everyone around. [Shhhh ... these "kids" were secretly photographed, so don't tell them ... this seems desperate, but I don't mind sneaking a few candid shots, because no matter how old they get, they'll always be our kids.]

After all, it wasn't that long ago (well, 2003 is maybe a bit "long ago") when the four oldest kids looked like this at Christmas time (see below). It's something you never really forget as a parent, even though it's great to see them grow up.

Really, family is precious in all its "seasons," even in the midst of its many challenges, and even with the sorrows that cannot be avoided in this present life because we are humanly connected to other changing, fragile, suffering people.

The day after Christmas we all went to see my Dad (a.k.a. "Papa"). The grandchildren have been to see him various times before, but this was the first time we were all there together (all seven of us plus my brother).

It was a lot for Dad to take in, but he had some degree of recognition at different moments. He knew he was with family. With his shifting moods came also some smiles and laughter. I'm grateful that for now my Dad's face can still light up with a smile.

Tomorrow we will travel to see my homebound Mom, and we will celebrate not only Christmas with her but also her 80th birthday (a day she is observing gratefully but also discreetly, without fanfare).

Mom has had such a difficult and bewildering year, the beginning of which saw the rapid erosion of Dad's physical and mental health. Now she is—by these strange circumstances of life—separated by 70 miles from him.

She has not been able to see him since his big breakdown last March. She misses him and suffers because of this, and from many other things too. Dad misses her a lot, though less and less in a conscious way (as far as we can tell) since he often seems to think she's in the next room, or that he's back at the condo.

Diverse health problems and the whimsical bureaucracy of the 21st Century "First-World" Healthcare "system" have resulted in this distance between them that, for now at least, can't be resolved. I'm glad their physical needs are being met. Our society is good at doing that. But with human persons, relationships, and community, we're "lost at sea" and don't know how to find one another. It breaks my heart.

I guess for now we (their children and grandchildren) remain the living bond between my parents as we continue being a meaningful presence in both their lives. What unites our family above all, however, is Jesus who accompanies us through all of this. I pray that, through Him, we can have some joy and even "cheer" with Mom ("Grandma") tomorrow. There is no longer any way to ignore reality here, so we have to live with it. That's a good thing, even if it's hard.

I want to hold on tight to Jesus in His humanity right now. He is human, really. How easily we forget that fact, and yet it's so important. It's everything.

Simple things can help us remember. The kids being home, great food, my wife who brings so much class to everything she does -- I'm thankful for these very concrete human blessings at Christmas. Life can be hard, but it also finds ways to surprise us with touches of beauty, things that make us rediscover familiar and "ordinary" realities in new ways.

We are sustained by the life of Christ in the Church, by His sacraments, and by these commemorations in the liturgical year. His humanity touches us and extends the presence of His love to all the features, problems, and sufferings of life, enabling us to continue the journey.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Thursday, December 27, 2018

He Still Comes to Dwell Among Us

Christmas is an invitation to faith, trust, and love.

In our world that is so violent and selfish, that seems so hopeless in so many ways, God still comes to dwell with us.

Christmas calls us to reaffirm our faith in the mystery of the Incarnation, in God’s definitive intervention into the story of the human race; God making Himself present in the midst of human cruelty, barbarism, blindness, idolatry, and willful ignorance of His compassion and love.

Sometimes Christmas can seem a little abstract, as the world seems to go on in the same way as ever, with all of its conflicts and pride and grasping for power.

We also don't seem to change much. Our lives are still a mess. We've spent another year going around in circles, seeking our own satisfaction, accumulating new grievances, complaining, gossiping, screwing up the relationships that matter most to us, hurting the people we love.

And now it's Christmas and we stress out over gifts and food, and then we go to church and kneel before the infant Jesus because it's what we're "supposed to do." But maybe now it strikes us again, this mystery that we think we know and yet always seen to forget.

God has made Himself small. He has come among us in poverty and need.

The incomprehensibility of God is not that of an irrational, alien cosmic dictator who makes up rules that infringe on our otherwise autonomous self-sufficient personality, and who threatens us with violence if we don't comply. This is the strange idea born of servile fear. Indeed, God is truly incomprehensible, but His is the incomprehensibility of Love.

We have come to pray to God, and here we are gazing upon the image of a baby.

Not because we thought it would be a good idea to represent God as a baby, but because God really became a baby.

We didn't make this up. It happened. God came into the world. He made Himself "small" so that He could enter into our lives.

What does this mean for us? We can only grasp this by faith. We can only live the reality of this by trust and love. Let us ask the Lord to stir up this faith, trust, and love in our hearts.

If we let God into our hearts—the God who has become so small for our sake—we will begin to discover what this is all about. God has come to us. God has given everything. He has poured Himself out in Love. He can do this because He is Love.

And He has come to be the One who accompanies us in our misery and leads us out and beyond all of it. The fullness of the revelation of God’s love is mercy.

This baby is God's mercy. The God who is Love wants to be close to us, to save us. His name is Jesus.

Jesus is the gift of God’s merciful Love to the world, to restore—indeed to transform—human beings into His image and likeness. He is the reason for the joy that calls out to our hearts at Christmas.

He wants to take care of the messes of our lives, to come to us not as a threat to our humanity, but precisely as the One who generates that humanity, who creates love, who creates freedom, who makes me to be my true self.

The "real me" is created and redeemed in the image and likeness of God. The "real me" is not found in distraction and evasion born of fear, or the graspings of pride. The "real me" is made for freedom, for love, for self-giving in a relationship with the God who is Freedom, Love, Gift, who gives Himself to me—and also in relationship with all my brothers and sisters among whom I find Him again and again, the One who comes to be with us, the One who gives Himself away: Jesus, our baby brother.

Let us believe in Him, trust Him, love Him, knowing that all has been accomplished, that in the risen and glorified Jesus and Mary the New Creation has already begun in its fullness.

Meanwhile, let us live our faith in this present age so that we might grow into the fullness of trust and perfect adherence to His mercy, and so that we might witness the gift of God’s love in a world of sin, a world of confusion and violence, a world that is afraid of God, that wants to forget God.

Let us not forget Him. We so often share in the folly of a would-be "self-sufficient," sinful world that strives to live without God, and then groans with the awful anxiety of so much darkness, the dread of being alone, the failures and the guilt that cannot be fixed, and the fear of dying without knowing why.

Yet "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son" and God still loves the world through this irrevocable gift.

The gift is Jesus.

He has come to dwell with us, and He offers Himself to everyone who will receive Him with faith, trust, and love.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Merry Christmas 2018 ... Part 2 ๐Ÿ˜‰

On the Second Day of Christmas we have... the "official" family Christmas card, digitally designed by yours truly:        .

Remember to Keep Celebrating Christmas over the next eight days, and then beyond as we celebrate God's coming into the world to dwell with us and save us.   .

Whatever confusion, shadows, or darkness we find in our environment, our circumstances, or our selves, Jesus Christ is the light of the world.   .

His light shines for us, and leads us along the way.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas 2018

Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas 2018!๐ŸŒฒ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŽ Jesus Christ Our Savior is Born!❤ He has come to be with us, in the whole of our lives, in our joys and in our pain.

Today is Day One of the Christmas Octave and the Christmas Season. Don't forget to keep celebrating. The image above is an original work of digital art by me.

You might be wondering where the family picture is. I was ill when we got back from midnight Mass and so I had to go straight to bed. But the "kids" took their own picture, and they are the ones everybody likes to see anyway.

They sure have grown up a lot in the years of this blog. Eileen and I will try to get a picture with the tree too (although we don't look much different from last year).

Wherever we are this Christmas, may we find sustenance and strength in this God who took our weakness upon Himself.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year? Really??

The lights. The parties. The presents. Time off from work. Well-wishing all around. Isn't it wonderful?

Christmas is almost here. Are we feeling "merry" yet? "Holly-Jolly"? We're trying. Maybe another glass of that eggnog-plus-special-secret-ingredients (you know, the one that's NOT for the kids) might help.๐Ÿ˜‰

We want so much to be happy. Especially now, when everybody else is having warm fuzzy time 'round the fireplace. Everybody on Instagram is smiling at us. We're supposed to be happy.

This time of year can feel like it carries an extra weight, an obligation to be happy even if we don't know how, or don't think we can be happy.

What's wrong with us? Isn't this the season of joy? It's "the-most-won-der-ful-tiiiiime-of-the-year!" So put on a happy face. Suck it up, chump!

We try so hard...

We try to make Christmas joy happen. Or, at least, we try to make something happen that feels like joy. That's understandable. We don't want to be Scrooge. We want to do our best to be cheerful. Sometimes it goes pretty well. Occasionally it's a train wreck. Sometimes we have a total blast.

But there is one thing that always happens, every single year, no matter what.

It ends. January comes, and everybody goes back to work.

Even if we make the perfect Christmas, it doesn't last. Yet, we desire this "joy" with all the depth of our hearts, and not only at Christmas. All year we are searching for it, but we can't capture it. We can't construct for ourselves a happiness that is good enough for our hearts.

During the holiday season, perhaps we try harder. But why? Really! Maybe Scrooge is right. Maybe it is all "humbug."

Although the 21st Century Scrooge knows that his employees work more efficiently if they get an occasional break. He has the statistics on that. Periodic holidays are a factor in the management of human resources. Also, it gives a boost to the whole economy.

To put it simply, Christmas is good for business. 

But is that all we can say about it, ultimately? Maybe it would be better to forget about the whole "joy" thing. It's not practical. Whatever we do, we end up disappointed anyway.

But here's the thing: we are disappointed because we expect something but we don't know how to get it, we don't know how to make it happen.

[Everybody knows more or less what I'm going to say here. But that's not the point. This is not an abstract intellectual exercise. This is a meditation.]

We must take time to remember that the real happiness, the real joy of Christmas, does not have its source in anything we make.

The joy of Christmas is a gift. It is a gift freely given to us. A real wonder. An utterly surprising, amazing, unimaginable gift that has been given to each and every one of us without exception.

It's great to do what we can to celebrate this gift, remember it, enter more deeply into this joy. Our work, our health, our feelings are important to this celebration. But it's not about us creating joy for ourselves.

It's about the fact that joy has come into the world. We have been created for this joy. Joy is our destiny. Joy is here for us, as a gift we can receive and a path we can travel.

Maybe we don't "feel it" this Christmas. We are tired, overwhelmed, sick, or moody. We should ask for help. We deserve help. But if there's not enough help, still these things will pass. There are pains and sorrows in life, terrible sorrows even, but these also will come to an end (unless we insist on holding onto them forever).

However we feel, let's remember, affirm, and celebrate the fact that the joy we long for with all our being has come to us in a way far beyond anything we could have imagined. Joy is present as a gift, as the promise of a fulfillment, and as sustenance here and now for the journey toward that fulfillment, however hard this part of the journey may be.

Even if our hearts are filled to the brim with sorrow, we must never give up.

This Joy is greater than our hearts.  

Thursday, December 20, 2018

"Christmas is Coming" -- Why We Celebrate

Christmas is coming very soon. Even the Janaros need to think about getting our tree and decorations up. We will leave them up long after New Year's in keeping with the Christmas season.

Yesterday afternoon the sun was bright and the air was pleasant even though it was a bit windy.

I decided to do a "Front Yard" video about these final days of preparation for Christmas. I was actually pretty tired, and so the video is a little awkward. But I might as well share it.

We always have reason to rejoice and reason to hope.  .

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Root of Jesse is the Hope of Everyone

I tried to design a graphic presentation of the "O Antiphon" for December 19 (on the Roman calendar) and I came up with something like this :    .

He has come as a "sign for the peoples" of the whole world. The child whose birth we will soon celebrate is the ultimate hope of everyone, the answer to the human heart's searching, the center of all history: "to you all nations shall have recourse."  .

What else can we say? Jesus, "come, save us!!"

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

What Elephant??

Elephant? What elephant?

Hmmm.... What's going on here?

The reason we don't see the "elephant in the room" is because we are all inside the elephant!๐Ÿ˜ฎ #PerspectiveMatters  #MediaGeneratesEnvironment 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Amy Lee: A Great Artist Who Keeps Getting Better

Amy Lee's birthday was last week.

If you read this blog all the time (๐Ÿ˜‰) you know that I wrote about her last Summer when I went with my kids to her amazing concert with her band and a full orchestra and Lindsey Stirling too.

Amy Lee is one of my favorite people in the contemporary music world and she is a whirlwind of creativity in more ways than people realize. What we see up front with Amy is a striking, talented performer who has had a variety of stage personae over the years but who always pours all her energy into giving a powerful, dynamic show. But...

WAIT. STOP. Some of you, no doubt, are thinking, "Who is Amy Lee?" I must say that I am proud of her for the fact that she is not ridiculously famous. She is certainly well-known among the significant circles of people who value her music.

Amy Lee is an extraordinary musical artist, and I want to write something more about her.

I am aware of the fact that the world of contemporary music and art is a deeply ambivalent domain, but there is much good and much beauty in the work of artists today. There are also admirable resources of humanity in artists who live and endure their psychologically complex creative personalities—sometimes under enormous external pressures and expectations—and try to bring together sounds into original forms of beautiful expression.

Artists are peculiar people. That is a fact that is not always pleasant or comprehensible to others. Creativity pushes the limits of human energy, and it takes its toll on those who are called to it.

I am particularly concerned about the overwhelming, overheated tension that envelops a creative person in today's world when they enter the strange space of intersection between art, communications media, and celebrity status. It's like a vortex that often opens suddenly and unexpectedly, where it is all too easy for the creative person to lose their footing and be sucked down.

Amy Lee was a celebrity in this wildly artificial way, once upon a time, as the frontwoman of a rock band that sold an avalanche of CDs and "blew up the radio" (and also the nascent digital streaming world) with their first industry labeled album and several major hit songs in the year 2003.

"Ah!" ... some of you (late millennials, mostly) are thinking, "you mean Amy Lee from Evanescence. Oh yeah, I remember her! I loved that band when I was 12 years old. Way back in the early Aughts, 'Bring Me to Life' and 'My Immortal' and all those desperate, sad songs, and those videos where Amy Lee is drowning or falling from a skyscraper in a big billowy Victorian dress. Yeah. I still have that album ... somewhere. Whatever happened to them, or her? Didn't they do something recently?"

The short answers are "they have been around and active in music the whole time" and "yes, they sure did."

The hard rocking band Evanescence made a huge splash in 2003. A group of young people from Little Rock, Arkansas, some of whom had been playing together since 1998, caught the trend of the times which was swinging away from highly produced glitz and glamor and toward a loud edgy sound and more fringy fashions. But Evanescence had a unique factor that remains the defining feature of their sound: the brilliant, intuitive, visionary, persistent, wildly talented, relentless musical volcano named Amy Lee.

In those early days she was a diminutive oddball kid with long hair dyed black-as-night, and a variety of mixed outfits that ranged from Gothic dresses to calf-length black boots. She had brooding eyes with a stud poking through one pierced eyebrow. You could be forgiven for wondering if she even knew how to smile.

But behind all of that costume was a very nice, intelligent, determined girl who dreamed of making great music. She was a classically trained pianist and the student leader of her award winning high school choir. Intensely artistic and melancholic, she wrote sad, introspective songs as an outlet for her emotions. She had begun studying composition at a music conservatory when Evanescence was offered a record deal.

Amy could write music using actual music notation. She could arrange music for choir. But Evanescence put her under the spotlight as a lead singer. A female-fronted heavy rock band was an unusual thing back in the early Aughts. But Amy absolutely "killed it"! She made history.

From the start, her voice soared over crunching guitars and heavy drumbeats with a haunting beauty, and then it would suddenly dive down into her rich lower register. People were "shook" by it.

And her voice continued to develop as she continued to challenge it with the increasingly complex songs she was writing. It's hard to describe the unique sound that Any Lee has developed over 15 years. It's not operatic or choral but it's not exactly like any contemporary style, though she draws on elements from all of these.

She has an "epic voice" that is compelling and cathartic to listen to, almost regardless of the words. She could sing from a grocery list and make it like bells ringing inside your soul. But Amy does more than sing. She plays the piano impressively. She is also a serious composer; she creates layers of bold, original vocal and instrumental music with texture and depth. She is authentic, passionate, and focused. She works very hard in the studio to record melody and harmony with precision and naturalness. Her voice and technique include idiosyncratic elements (one could even call them "flaws") but she integrates these into her overall vocal presentation to underscore the emotions of a song.

Evanescence was always something more than "just a rock band." Amy's vision was to make music on a grand and dramatic scale, to fuse the energy of rock with the intensity and seriousness of classical and film music and the expansive explorations of electronic music. Her aim was to weave these elements together with her own powerful vocals and the exquisitely written two or three part harmonies surrounding the melody line. And then, of course, sing all of it. The result has been a remarkable collection of songs crafted through an enormous amount of hard work in the studio.

It is also especially awesome to hear Amy present these ambitious compositions on a live stage. Amy the composer is perhaps "ahead" of Amy the singer, at least in live performance. She has some songs that I'm not sure anybody could sing perfectly in concert, but it's thrilling to see her try.... Sometimes in a live show she may strain or fall a little flat, but it's more than forgivable, and when she does nail it, it's stupendous.

But how much music has she made? With Evanescence, fame in 2003 brought a lot of pressures and some personal conflicts. The debut album, Fallen, sold around twenty million copies (and continues to sell even today). But Amy refused to be pushed by the record company into cranking out another album. She took her time and prioritized not only her own artistic pace but also her private and personal life. The second album (The Open Door) did not appear until 2006. It also went multi-platinum in sales, but more importantly (at least in my opinion) it was a significant creative advancement. Then, after extensive struggles with the record company, the third album (called simply Evanescence) came out near the end of 2011.

Through all this time (and even before it), Amy made music together with a variety of other talented musicians who were part of the Evanescence band at different periods in its history. They have also made very important contributions to the composition, sound, and virtuosity of the band's recordings and performances. The story of the band and its many lineup changes is long and complex; it's worth noting that the current group (most of whom were part of the 2011 record) may be the strongest lineup yet in terms of superior artistry and versatility. From the very beginning, however, Evanescence has been "Amy Lee's band"—her vision, her leadership, and her immense and multifaceted creative energy are pervasive throughout the whole catalog of Evanescence music, and are responsible for its consistent and distinctive character. Of all the many factors of Amy's central and defining place in the band, her inimitable soul-stirring voice is only the most obvious one.

When I finally stumbled upon their eponymous third album not long after its release, it was my belated introduction to the whole odyssey of Evanescence as a musical phenomenon and Amy Lee as an artist. I was very late to the game, but I had no trouble working my way backwards to their origins. The third album is underappreciated and never got the attention it deserved. But it got my attention. (What a solid, tight, intricate piece of work it is!) Just when the fickle tongues of American pop-culture-people were saying, "Whatever happened to Evanescence?" there was in fact a great album and a world tour happening in 2012. I had just begun to discover them.

From 2003 - 2017, they released "only" three albums. But the quality of the music on those albums is consistently excellent. This makes sense. Excellence requires time.

Human beings also require time to live human lives. Between those album recordings, Amy Lee became a wife and mother. She also moved to Brooklyn (where there's a thriving young music culture), learned to play the harp, and built a home recording studio.

It also became clear that something had to be done to wrest her artistic freedom out of the hands of an irresponsible record label. Amy sued the record company for financial mismanagement and won (thereby gaining ownership and rights over the whole catalog and taking the emerging "independent" path). Also during this time, she collaborated in writing and performing film music, and released a delightful children's album (which my daughter Josefina loves ... and so do I).

Then in 2017 came the project called Synthesis, which revisits old songs and adds some new ones in a different context, with the accompaniment of a symphony orchestra as well as 21st century electronic instruments. The result is a splendid recording that reached number 1 on the Classical Music charts, and an even more remarkable tour which we got to see and hear with our own eyes and ears. Synthesis remains a beautiful and very moving work, with an unusual level of musical richness.

It's exciting that Amy is now independent from the music "industry" and is working with gifted collaborators who understand her passion for making music. People are always impatient for her to do more, but she does her best work in her own time and integrated into the rhythm of her whole life. In any case, we should realize by now that her creative energy is very fruitful.

After the grand effort and success of this past year, no one should blame her if she just wants to take a break. Nevertheless we will no doubt see Evanescence do more music, and Amy will always be working on something at least in her home studio. I hope she keeps putting things out on the Internet, and that she can count on us to be perceptive listeners who recognize her gifts, encourage her freedom, offer constructive responses, and just generally enjoy sharing in her awesome musical explorations. I would say: "Amy, take your time! The music inside you is worthy of our patience. You are giving us works of enduring beauty."

On December 13, Amy Lee turned 37 years old. I want to wish a belated Happy Birthday to this musical genius and all around magnanimous lady. She is a mature artist who keeps growing and learning more, and she's in a position to be a real leader for the younger generation of emerging artists.

And what a great year of music she has given us! Over nearly two decades, the name "Evanescence" has become somewhat ironic for a group that has made such solid music, and then expanded it into a genre-transcending rhapsodic adventure and brought it to opera houses and concert halls all over the world. Synthesis has blazed a trail and opened up new creative possibilities. What can we say? "Amy Lee, thank you so much!!"

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Yes, Virginia...๐Ÿ˜‰

Yes, Virginia... there is a Santa Claus, and he lives right here in the midst of your rolling hills, which is about as close to the North Pole as he wants to get! .

Christmas will be here soon. Ho, ho, and ho!๐Ÿ˜‰๐ŸŒฒAnd we anticipate the joy on this Third Sunday of Advent. The Rose color means it's Gaudete Sunday. Be of good cheer! .

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Rockin' Those Waters on Video

The people at Google want me to turn my videos into... well... videos! So they offer me different options for styling things I store or back up on my Google account. .

Okay, what the heck. Here are a few clips of our local felicitous stream backed by some prefabbed music (one of many possibilities I could have chosen). .

One of these days I'll let them give me a loop like this and just jam over it on my guitar. Then you'll get a real music video. .

Meanwhile, I'll just be lazy and go with the flow. .

This video does not contain the natural sounds of flowing water, but the images of water joined to the ever-more-pervasive sounds of "canned" electronic music. .

Don't judge me, man! .

At least this has an old-school sound to it. This stuff is getting easier and easier to do. If I can do this in five minutes, making real music and sharing it on YouTube might not be as daunting as this aging 1970s rocker thinks. .

Meanwhile, here's Rockin' Waters, a brief "experiment" in easy-peasy multimedia that goes beyond my generation's wildest dreams when we were growing up, way back in the era of corporate-controlled television (untouchable for us) and the only media we could make and share: muffled cassette tapes. .

You youngsters should not take your vast opportunities for granted!๐Ÿ˜‰ .

Friday, December 14, 2018

La Fiesta de San Juan ... de ★Noche★๐Ÿ”ฅ

Yesterday was light and today is ... DARK!?

San Juan de la Cruz. Saint John of the Cross. Today is his feast day. He is the great sixteenth century Carmelite reformer and mystic who is famous for his teaching about "the dark night of the soul." He is also one of the great poets of the Golden Age of Spanish literature.

San Juan's explanation of the periods of experiential "darkness" that occur at various times during the growth of our relationship with God is intended to encourage us. We need not "be afraid" of the darkness. Or, even if we do feel afraid, we can recognize that this kind of disorientation should not cause us to give up loving God and seeking to draw closer to him.

"In general the soul makes greater progress when it least thinks so; indeed, most frequently when it imagines that it is losing. Having never before experienced the present novelty which dazzles it, and disturbs its former habits, it considers itself as losing, rather than as gaining ground, when it sees itself lost in a place it once knew, and in which it delighted, traveling by a road it knows not, and in which it has no pleasure... But inasmuch as God Himself is the guide of the soul in its blindness, the soul may well exult and say, 'In darkness and in safety,' now that it has come to a knowledge of its state" (Saint John of the Cross).

These precise observations of spiritual theology probably apply in a broader sense to much of the strangeness of ordinary human life. We must continue to trust in the wisdom and goodness of God throughout all the seemingly incomprehensible twists and turns and jolts and failures we experience, all that tempts us to question whether or not God really cares about us.

Of course he cares about us. But he has made us for himself; he has made our hearts for a fulfillment inexpressibly greater than we can understand or achieve by our own power. We won't reach the God who is infinite, transcendent Mystery, the God who is Infinite Love, until we have really endured something like these dark nights.

I spent some time today with Spanish verse of this great saint and poet. Some of the words are antiquated, but in general they are very accessible and certainly more concise, more rhythmic, more beautiful in their original form. I don't speak Spanish and I don't understand much of the many variations of spoken Spanish found throughout the Hispanic world. I do aspire to read, and with the many new and continually improving linguistic tools available to us, I hope to learn to read a bit better. Language is a wonderful thing in itself.

Here are the first six verses of the Song of the Soul that Knows God by Faith by San Juan de la Cruz:

Cantar de la Alma
que se huelga de conoscer a Dios por fe

Que bien se yo la fonte, que mana, y corre
aunque es de noche.

Aquella eterna fonte esta ascondida
que bien se yo do tiene su manida
aunque es de noche.

Su origen no lo se, pues no le tiene;
mas se que todo origen della viene,
aunque es de noche.

Se que no puede ser cosa tan bella
y que cielos y tierra beuen della
aunque es de noche.

Bien se que suelo en ella no se halla
y que ninguno puede vadealla
aunque es de noche.

Su claridad nunca es escurecida
y se que toda luz de ella es uenida
aunque es de noche.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

With Santa Lucia Comes the LIGHT (Literally)

Santa Lucia!๐Ÿ’–๐ŸŒŸ

In medieval times, this day (more or less) marked the Winter Solstice (which, given the accumulated lag over the centuries of the Julian Calendar, was pretty accurate back then).

"Lucia" of course comes from the Latin for "LIGHT." She's an early Christian martyr from Sicily who, according to accounts, got her eyes poked out.


Returning to astronomical concerns: the Gregorian calendar pushed everything back on track in the late 16th century. But it's still true that sunset starts getting later today. Technically, we will still lose a couple more minutes before the days start getting longer, but all the loss from now until the 21st (which is not much) is on the sunrise side of the day.

This means that we have passed the nadir of "afternoon darkness." (For the morning, at least there's coffee.☕)

Therefore, in the spirit of this traditional martyr's feast I wish you all a HAPPY MIDWINTER!❄⛄

... okay yeah, for Argentine and Australian peeps, of course, "Happy Midsummer" and stop-making-me-jealous-with-all-your-BEACH-pictures (I'm joking! ๐Ÿ˜‰).

Saint Lucy, pray for us!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Guadalupe Touches People One by One

Our Lady of Guadalupe, seen from walkway behind the main altar.
On this beautiful day of celebration for all the peoples of America and for the whole world, we rejoice in the very special companionship that Jesus has shared with us. That companionship was dramatically reaffirmed nearly 500 years ago, in the gift that the "little Mother" gave to a poor indigenous man in Mexico.

To put it another way, on December 12, 1531, the Virgin Mary took the world's first "selfie," which she shared with Juan Diego, and all the rest of us. But the pictures we take are only shadows compared to this uniquely vivid, mysterious, enduring, scientifically inexplicable image.

I have made three pilgrimages to the Basilica in Mexico City that holds the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Though it's great to have high resolution color photographs these days, no secondary picture can reproduce the original in all its facets. The image seems to have a vitality, powerful yet gentle; a presence that a superficial observer can easily ignore, but that reaches out in a personal way to those who spend time with her with open hearts. Of course, like any good mother, Mary is able pick up her children even when they are distracted, if she has something for them that they really need.   .

Everyone's experience with her there is different and personal; most of the time it's not something dramatic. Real motherhood is mostly an ordinary thing, an everyday thing. It is always a loving thing, a gift of love that shapes the lives of those who receive it. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe has remained with us through the past five centuries, through the whole unfolding of modern history. Her image is connected with various peoples, events, and worthy causes. But the reason she came, and continues to stay in this place by means of this unique "supernatural media event," because she wants to touch people one by one, to draw us into her tenderness.

She wants us to give her our burdens and sorrows and to listen to her so as to discover in a new way that each of us is loved, personally, intimately, by her Son Jesus.

Each one of us matters. Each one of us has a purpose.

Above all, each one of us is the child of a good God who will not fail us in time of need.

Our Merciful Mother gives us Jesus her Son and our brother. And she knows and cherishes each of us as his brothers and sisters, as her own children, and she attends us with great compassion throughout our lives.

Nuestra Seรฑora de Guadalupe, pray for us. .

For many years this print of the image has presided over our dining room table

So much symbolism, but also much that is intimate and personal. When I posted this on Instagram today, it appeared on my page right next to my previous post, which was a picture of a young woman who also has her hands folded and her head bowed, full of gratitude, who also shared herself with others and even said (in the accompanying text) "I feel like a mother to you." Obviously this is a coincidence, and not much of a coincidence at that. For all that, I didn't plan it, and it surprised and struck me personally. Behind the big theological term "spiritual maternity" there is a great reality which some are called to live in special ways. And they can share in the pattern of Mary's maternal solicitude for us even if they don't have explicit knowledge of the full scope of it. Why not? Really, nothing is a "coincidence" in God's good providence. God is good, all the time. (Btw: That same picture is directly below this blog post.)

Monday, December 10, 2018

Christina Grimmie: "God Gave Me Each of You for a Reason"

Today marks two and a half years since Christina Grimmie's life was taken. On the night of June 10, 2016—during an open meet-and-greet after her show in Orlando, Florida—she opened her arms to welcome yet another person, another face she'd never seen before, another stranger she was called to meet with love...

The stranger shot her four times, once in the head and three times in the chest, before turning his gun on himself. She was 22 years old.

Human reason reels in trying to make any sense of this horror. Even now, we still have no words... But consolation for Christina Grimmie's murder—and even a glimmer of a different kind of light that we cannot ignore—still reaches us from the most unexpected of places, from Christina Grimmie herself.

Two years prior to that fatal night, she wrote a special note to "Team Grimmie," her frands. She said some extraordinary things in that note, and she would repeat many of them again. More importantly, her life was true to these words, right up to the very last moment...

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Helping One Another to "Discern What is of Value"

"And this is my prayer:
that your love may increase ever more and more
in knowledge and every kind of perception,
to discern what is of value,
so that you may be pure and blameless
for the day of Christ,
filled with the fruit of righteousness
that comes through Jesus Christ
for the glory and praise of God."

~Philippians 1:9-11  .

This beautiful New Testament text is rich in meaning for daily life, and also gives broader indications for the Christian vocation in the Church and in the midst of the world.

Saint Paul prays that the love of the Philippians might increase "ever more and more" with knowledge and, indeed, with "every kind of perception" so that they might carry out a very crucial task: "to discern what is of value" in life and thereby bring forth "the fruit of righteousness."

There is much to be learned from meditation on this text. Jesus tells us, "Do not judge" and this is crucial, because each person belongs to God, and God alone knows their heart, their degree of moral responsibility, and His own plans to draw them to Himself.

But it is something different to practice "discernment." By the grace of the Spirit, and reason enlightened by faith and vivified by love, we can engage concrete realities in our own lives and give guidance to others (above all those entrusted to our care in various ways).

We are called, and given the grace, to discern "what is of value" as we journey through life. This is certainly important for our own lives. But it also suggests one important component of how we look at others and even the world at large. It's easy for us to fall into a pattern of looking at other people and trying to see what's wrong with them. We are inclined to search for their faults and for ways of behaving that are objectively sinful, then to reduce their identity to these negatives, and judge them rashly in our hearts (if not in our gossip-filled conversation).

Discernment, however, takes a different approach when looking at others. It is not blind to their faults and gives full weight to the hindrances of sin in their lives (knowing well enough how sin hinders all of us), but it does this within a larger perspective, as only one part of a broader focus.

Discernment seeks out "what is of value" in a person's life; it tries to discover (as much as possible, with great humility and respect for the person) where God is working to draw forth or enrich their heart's desire for goodness and beauty, their soul's search for truth and wisdom.

Discernment requires us to listen to the person, to allow them to talk about themselves and tell their story. It not only listens to their speech but also watches the way they treat others and the way that reality fascinates them and draws them beyond themselves. It looks for signs of how and where God is working. This is not to imply that such "signs" are going to be easy to find or to understand—God's action is essentially hidden, but by listening to a person's own words, to their story, and watching the way they respond in ordinary situations, discernment can at least gain some useful insights and learn something about "who they are" and "what matters to them" in life.

Then, in a crucial part of the process, discernment asks in prayer, "Lord, how do you want me to foster your work in this person's life? How can I be your instrument to build up the good, or at least to enliven and increase the desire for the good in them, so that they might draw closer to you?"

What kind of graces does a person hope to receive in this prayer? They seek graces associated with fraternal charity and the spiritual works of mercy, and for help in using the virtue of prudence elevated and further enlightened by the Gift of the Holy Spirit called "counsel."

Of course, some people may have a more particular gift, a "charism," for grasping the concrete good and helping others to see it more clearly and move toward it. A gift for discernment makes a person helpful to others. It is not a licence to be obtrusive, nor does it bestow psychic powers to read minds and predict the future.

Let me be clear: it is extremely rare for a person to have the extraordinary charism of "reading souls," and that is not what discernment aims for in any case. Ordinarily a person who claims such power should be avoided, especially in light of recent disasters in the Church caused by situations where the "cult of personality" dominated the interior lives of others. Genuine Christian relationships should enrich and deepen the experience of freedom as a gift from God that inheres in the inviolable core of every person.

The stories of a saint like Padre Pio "reading souls" have some measure of credibility in the context of his whole extraordinary life. Such stories are particular episodes that have been reported among many other remarkable occurrences. Padre Pio himself was a rare kind of saint, a wonderworker whose extraordinary charisms were bestowed on him for the good of the Church and the service of his brothers and sisters (and please note well: acknowledging the credibility of these remarkable gifts does not mean endorsing as true every story or rumor that circulates about Padre Pio on the internet).

Above all, Padre Pio was a saint, a man who loved God and human beings and whose holiness of life drew people to seek him out. He did not "advertise" his special gifts and he always humbly submitted to restrictions imposed by ecclesiastical authorities (even when they weren't fair). He called himself "a poor friar who prays," and his biggest "external" aspiration and concern was the building of a very special hospital called the "Home for the Relief of Suffering." He never wrote a book. He never went on a speaking tour. We have his own words from discrete correspondence. His humility was profound.

This digression about Saint Padre Pio (and certain misconceptions that might try to cite him as an example) is intended to point out that in seeking discernment we don't seek these kind of extraordinary powers. We seek to open our minds and hearts to the delicate breeze, the "still, small voice" of the Holy Spirit who works among us, and for a strengthening of practical reasoning informed by faith and assisted by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. With reference to others, discernment aims to serve them by helping them (without any kind of psychological manipulation, with profound respect for their freedom) to discern God's will in their life. Also, it entails helping to build up and nurture in them the love of whatever draws them closer to God, whatever is truly "of value" in them insofar as we are given to recognize it.

Obviously discernment is concerned with sinful behavior and never approves of evil. But by calling on God, being attentive, and loving what is good—what is "of value" here and now in a person's life—a discerning approach seeks to help the person in their particular struggle with evil, their need to resist sin. "Admonishing the sinner," even in the most basic rhetorical sense, requires attention to what might really be a useful or even comprehensible warning for a person. Genuine discernment will allow more space for God to shape a necessary admonition to the need of a particular person and to His grace.

Beyond that, however, a discerning approach can open us up to being instruments of God in building up, supporting, and serving one another on the journey we are making together toward our final fulfillment in Him. We are united as members of one Body in Jesus Christ.

He wants to give us abundant graces to help one another. There is no need for some artificial structure here, no need for special meetings where people sit around criticizing one another or making rash claims that "God told them that you need to do x or y." No, that quickly becomes a strange and manipulative situation.

The terms used to describe our relationship in Christ are "brothers and sisters." We can exercise discernment as we seek together "what is of value" within the connections and bonds that develop organically among Christ's members.

The relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ remain human relationships that grow in particular places and along the various and sometimes bumpy roads of human communities. They require the appropriate regard for the dignity of persons that allows space for the development of genuine and mature human friendships.

"Friendship in Christ" must not be a label we misuse or devalue. It is real human friendship informed by Christian love. Friends can help one another in the work of discerning God's will, by a humble but very real charism of the Holy Spirit that takes shape within the friendship as a human reality—a reality that is all the more profoundly human in the measure in which it is imbued by grace. Christian friendship is the life of faith vitally realized within a genuine human friendship; it is warm and familiar (in different ways, and not without the flaws and quirks that characterize all human things); it is respectful, trustworthy, well grounded, open beyond itself, and inserted into the life of the local and universal Church. It is the foretaste of a communion of persons destined to last forever.

Indeed, such friendship is in itself a thing of great value.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Friday, December 7, 2018

God is Always Good, But He's Not Always "Easy"

God is good. All the time.

He really is. We can't even begin to imagine how wildly overflowing, diffusive, and gratuitous He is in His goodness.

This is the very reason why His ways can seem strange and difficult to us. He sees the whole fulfillment of His goodness in eternity.

We don't see it. We journey through space and time, often with anxious, faltering steps, sometimes through heavy winds and fierce storms, sometimes in a moonless night.

We can get pretty disoriented, and wonder what's going on.

God is good. And He is true to the promise He has whispered in our hearts, and to the fullness of His revelation of that promise through Jesus. But He didn't promise it would be "easy."

He calls us to follow Him on the narrow path. He wants us to trust Him.

God is not easy with us. Though I'm sure He's much "easier"—kinder, more patient, more merciful, and more just—toward us than we are toward ourselves, and toward one another.

Nor should we be surprised that we do not understand His ways. God Himself is beyond our comprehension. He is the Mystery. He is never captured or grasped.

But He is trustworthy, and if we stay with Him, we will begin to understand the meaning and value of life and created things and the world and the peculiar moment of history He has entrusted to us.

He is merciful. He is faithful. He loves us. Indeed, He is with us!

This is what we are preparing to celebrate during the Advent season: He has come to dwell with us.

He has come, the One who creates and sustains our very being, our intelligence, our freedom. He has come, the One who is the ineffable source of the miracle that manifests itself everytime one of these strange little material entities in the universe says, "I am a 'someone'" and when it sees another speck of cosmic dust like itself and says, "You are a 'someone'!"

He has come, the One who makes our mysterious, otherwise inexplicable personhood real, vital, and so intimate that it is truly "our own." He comes to be with us, to be close to us, to fulfill to the end His fidelity, His mercy, His love for us.

He has come: Jesus.

He, the Eternal Word, took flesh in the womb of a woman, the always-and-all-holy woman He chose and prepared to be His mother. Jesus born of the Virgin Mary.

He has come to dwell with us, to make us His brothers and sisters. He wants us to be with Him forever, to share with Him the fulllfillment of all things, and above all to share in His own inexhaustible life, His glory, His joy, His love.

This is not "easy," but we don't really want "easy"; we want to be moved, to live beyond ourselves, toward a reality that is mysterious and great and good.

He comes, who encompasses and surpasses all our aspirations. Let us take time, in these days, to make room for Him in the center of our hearts, of our lives. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Melody of a Creek

Tuesday was cloudy and chilly, but I felt a bit perkier than usual so I decided to hang out at a nearby natural body of water called Happy Creek.

I got as close as I could to the water, and, I'm pleasantly surprised to say, did not fall in! (I have a long record of falling into water going back to toddlerhood, but not in a dangerous way, just inconvenient and klutzy.)

For many years I was an avid fisherman, and I even had a small boat I used to take on the Shenandoah River. I loved those days and I'm glad for all the experiences and memories of that time.

Now, I'm blessed to be surrounded by natural beauty all year long, and I have different kinds of adventures taking walks with my camera, or even just exploring the front yard.

Some days are better than others, of course. I only brought my phone to the creek, but I still took a few pictures. Then I decided to get a sustained bit of video footage of the creek. It's not high quality, but I'm too old to be picky.

Figuring there are a few other people who might want to watch a video of gentle flowing water and listen to the music of a creek, I posted it to my YouTube channel: