Monday, July 30, 2018

How Much God Loved Humanity

In His unfathomable love for us, God reveals the mystery that He Himself is Love.

In the words of a great Father of the Church: "Anyone can grant favors, anyone can bestow gifts, any prosperous benefactor can love those who are deferential to him; but will he be comparable to Him who took the adversities of His own people onto Himself; who puts Himself forward to block dangers threatening His own; who hands Himself over to punishments for His own, who confronts death face-to-face in order to remove them from destruction and preserve them for life? Love is proved by adversities, the weight of affection is determined by the dangers endured, perfect charity is confirmed by death.... That dominion is true which commands by love, not by fear; which subjects both bodies and hearts to itself by means of affection; which by loving furnishes servants for itself who are not unwilling, but willing. [Jesus died because] He wanted it to be known how much God loved humanity, since He wanted to be loved rather than feared" (Saint Peter "Chrysologus" Archbishop of Ravenna [Fifth Century], feast day July 30th).

Sunday, July 29, 2018

"Bear With One Another Through Love..."

"Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the spirit
through the bond of peace:
one body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all."

~Ephesians 4:1-6

Friday, July 27, 2018

Evanescence and Lindsey Stirling: A Synthesis of Music

"Abstract-painting stylizing" of a bad photo. Lindsey Stirling and Amy Lee "killing it"!
We had a splendid experience this week.

John Paul, Agnese, and I attended a big concert with about 20,000 other people in Northern Virginia on Tuesday night.

Though I love music, I don't get to many concerts these days, certainly not as many as I would like. Outside of the Appaloosa Festival, I hadn't been to a large venue in a long time.

The lineup for this show, however, was extraordinary. The incredibly creative Amy Lee with Evanescence was on the bill, with their rock-classical-music-fusion project called Synthesis that has been touring for almost a year in collaboration with local orchestras throughout the world.

Then there was Lindsey Stirling. I don't even need to tell you who she is, or why I would want to see this YouTube superstar's famous electronic violin-and-dance show. This time, she would also have the orchestra.

Two full shows, one after the other, with some music together as well. "I don't think I could make it through all that," I thought. Unfortunately, with my unreliable health, I have to look at things this way. If I'm not realistic, I'll have to pay the price, and sometimes its more than I or my family can bear.

This gives you an idea of the layout. We
weren't close but it didn't matter. We had
seats and we were dry. Famous cellist
Dave Eggar and drummer Chuck Palmer
were the "opener" and they were great too.
But the shaky fancam video clips people posted from the first combo shows at the beginning of July really impressed me. As the Virginia date drew near, I wondered, "Can I do this? But how?"

If I pace myself I can do big activities here and there... I knew this would take a lot out of me, but it wasn't impossible. Still, what clinched it for me was having these terrific adult children who wanted to bring me to this concert. All the driving-parking business taken care of, no worries for me.

So, we did it!

The best thing was that we had a great time together! Eileen and the other kids weren't really interested, and I don't know if they would have liked it. But for John Paul, Agnese, and me, it was perfect.

We had a blast. It was a memorable time together.

It was also one of the most outstanding concerts I have ever seen. It exceeded my expectations. It was stunning, beautiful, awesome, loud, three hours long... it was almost too much, but it didn't cross the line (it certainly didn't cross our line).

Lindsey Stirling's set was terrific, of course, but it was more than anything she's done before.

There were huge digital panels beaming a brilliant variety of coordinated video imagery, added to the choreography and the usual rivers of intensive music from Lindsey's plugged-in violin and the orchestral accompaniment. It was breathtaking. It's hard to believe that this tour is Lindsey's first time performing with an orchestra. There was an excellent interplay between the glowing bright riffs of her electronic violin and the classical richness of orchestral music. It all worked amazingly well. It was remarkable. Really, I have never seen anything quite like it on a stage before.

The whole evening was great. Words, pictures, or videos can't convey what happened. So much talent and hard work on so many levels came together in such an outstanding way.

Evanescence, Synthesis. I have meaning to write about this album and now I have to, after seeing it so powerfully presented. It's a larger sound, with more dramatic intensity as well as a whole spectrum of nuance. But it also still rocks.

I am so WIPED OUT, but for a good reason. Right now I'm trying to recuperate. I pushed myself on Tuesday night (and I'm glad I did). I'm exhausted, but it was a wonderful time. It was a great time with my kids. And the artist/musician/media-nerd in me was blown away. I have lots of reflections about the whole thing still in my head, and I am only beginning to ponder them. I can't write much about it yet.

(Of course, with me, everything gets "pondered." I share what I can, when I can, with anyone who might be interested.)

First, I just want to give a shout out to the extraordinary Amy Lee, who brought all these talented people together. She has come a long way from that spooky-looking kid on the cover of their first album in 2003. That kid had a lot of dreams. She has long been underestimated as an artist, a composer, a creative genius.

There were no doubts about any of that on Tuesday night. She nailed all of her own rich melodic songs, her evocative voice working beautifully with the orchestra, bringing out all those signature tones that only Amy Lee's voice can produce. And she played the piano beautifully, and basically just owned the stage. It was a command performance.

I didn't get any good pictures, but I have assembled a collage of a few poor ones (along with a screenshot at the bottom from a 2017 video where she first explained the project) in appreciation for the great lady behind this whole unique musical enterprise.

Amy Lee, you keep getting more amazing and more accomplished! I do believe the best is yet to come.✨

I hope that this is the first of many collaborations between these two Queens of Music. In the much better, official-ish pictures below (credit to the owners—Amy's pic is from the Evanescence website) it might look like their complementarity is as simple as a harmonious contrast between "somber" and "bright," or "melancholy" and "cheerful."

But that would be an over-simplification. Amy Lee's art has always been more like a light in the darkness. Precisely through her music she refuses to brood on sorrow, but endures and struggles to overcome it, and reaches out in hope of being rescued from it.

Lindsey Stirling's art is also a light in a different context: it is a light that shines bravely, that refuses to be snuffed out by the darkness that is always fighting against it.

Even here, I am over-simplifying it, but perhaps I'm moving a little closer to why these shows—even beyond their displays of musical virtuosity and high-tech "virtual fireworks"—have been such happy events.

These are two courageous women, who have persevered in their artistic vision against the trends (and against those in the "music business" who try to turn artists into slaves of perceived trends and dependable financial profits).

An orchestra plays surrounded by the light show.
These two women have succeeded in contemporary music without compromising their integrity. They have done it by staying focused, by patience, hard work, and finding collaborators who share their vision and who also contribute to it in countless ways. They also continue to grow and develop, to try new things, to take risks (the most recent of which is this huge 31 city tour, with a different orchestra in each city).

What I saw Tuesday night was the gathering together of vast resources, talents, energies, and technology with all its glitter and power and wildness and strangeness. All of this was dedicated to an effort to make something beautiful, and true, and good, from all the stuff and complexity of contemporary life.

They succeeded. But human arts never attain absolute perfection. A true artist remains "restless," and thereby continues to be creative.

I can't wait to hear (and see) what they'll do next.🎵😊

Monday, July 23, 2018

"I Will Give You Rest..."

Jesus said:
"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."
(Matthew 11:28-30).

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Staying With Others in the Poverty of Our Own Hearts

Our commitment to loving one another and living in communion faces many challenges. We must learn that real love means staying with other persons before, above, and beyond our capacity to fix their problems, relieve their sufferings, or accomplish anything that seems "useful" for them.

The fundamental and ultimate reason for companionship with another person is the fact that every human person—simply by virtue of being a person—deserves to be loved. This love affirms the value of the person in his or her very existence.

Often we focus so much on "what we can do" that we tend (even if only subconsciously) to distance ourselves from people when we can't do anything to make them better or help them in some perceiveable way.

Why is it so hard to just stay with people and "suffer-with" them?

Perhaps part of it is the fact that suffering unveils something of the mystery of the essential, underlying need at the core of the person. All our necessary and worthwhile efforts to relieve suffering and improve people's lives eventually reach their limit. The life of this world, of time and space, is limited by its nature.

But the human person is not satisfied by these limits. This is why human suffering is ultimately so dramatic, inscrutable, and ... terrifying!

Human suffering is personal. For the person we accompany in solidarity, there is always that dimension of suffering that is a "cry" addressed to the Mystery, that expresses the aching of the need for the infinite that also burns within our own hearts.

In its utterly personal and particular depth, suffering reveals that we cannot satisfy or fulfill one another or ourselves by our own power. We cannot resolve our own mystery; indeed we experience ourselves as frustrated and incapacitated even as we continue to hope for something beyond ourselves, beyond the whole universe.

The irresolvable dimension of human suffering is both strange and familiar to us. We want to be present with the suffering person to the end. Yet it is only natural that we experience a very intense emotion of fear—a fear not only for those we accompany, but also for ourselves.

We are afraid of our own vulnerability and helplessness that is exposed when we live the awful solidarity with another person in their disability and pain, when we must be impacted and struck by it without any real or imagined defenses. We must not be overcome by this fear. We must not give in to discouragement.

They are helpless and all we can do is be helpless with them.

We can "cry out" together with them, from the poverty of our own hearts, for the answer to the mystery of our own being.

Apparently meaningless suffering cannot be the final word on life. How can it be possible for the unique human person—infinite in their desire and persistent in their search—to be crushed in the end?

How can "I" be crushed...?

If we accept being crushed, we deny our humanity. There has to be something more! Our most desperate cries in the greatest of our pains can still be cries for help to the One who made us, who sustains us in being, and who calls us to fulfillment in freedom and love, to happiness.

We have not been made for nothing! We have not been made to be negated by life. Even if we think we deserve it, we must not lose hope.

No matter where we are in life's journey, no matter how much we already know, we need to follow the Ultimate Mystery that calls us beyond our own limits, that helps us if we ask with trust even in the midst of all the strangeness of whatever we're going through.

Salvation never comes in exactly the way we "expect." It's like the arrival of someone we know well, but who we feel like we are meeting all over again "for the first time."

Salvation is always surprising, always entering in as a new reality, an unexpected encounter that convinces us that we are loved more that we can ever imagine.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Sharing in the Needs and Sufferings of Others

Here is a quotation from a great text that has challenged and encouraged me in so many ways:

"Practical activity will always be insufficient, unless it visibly expresses a love for man, a love nourished by an encounter with Christ. My deep personal sharing in the needs and sufferings of others [thus] becomes a sharing of my very self with them: if my gift is not to prove a source of humiliation, I must give to others not only something that is my own, but my very self; I must be personally present in my gift.

"This proper way of serving others also leads to humility. The one who serves does not consider himself superior to the one served, however miserable his situation at the moment may be. Christ took the lowest place in the world—the Cross—and by this radical humility he redeemed us and constantly comes to our aid.

"Those who are in a position to help others will realize that in doing so they themselves receive help; being able to help others is no merit or achievement of their own. This duty is a grace. The more we do for others, the more we understand and can appropriate the words of Christ: 'We are useless servants' (Luke 17:10). We recognize that we are not acting on the basis of any superiority or greater personal efficiency, but because the Lord has graciously enabled us to do so.

"There are times when the burden of need and our own limitations might tempt us to become discouraged. But precisely then we are helped by the knowledge that, in the end, we are only instruments in the Lord's hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world.

"In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. To do all we can with what strength we have, however, is the task which keeps the good servant of Jesus Christ always at work: 'The love of Christ urges us on' (2 Corinthians 5:14)."

~Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est 34-35

Monday, July 16, 2018

Simple Things

I have tried to run this original freehand digital sketch through all kinds of filters. Nothing seems to improve it.

In fact, I'm satisfied with the way it is. It's a simple thing, hardly worth posting here. But I gave some time to it.

I need a lot of time to find the value of simple things.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Saint Benedict's Day

July 11th is the feast of Saint Benedict on the universal Roman Calendar. As the Rule reminds us: We must never despair of God's mercy.

"Let us, then, make it our aim to work for peace and to strengthen one another" (Romans 14:19).

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Christina Grimmie: "More Than Life"

"Love never ends" (1 Corinthians 13:8).

Remembering Christina Grimmie (March 12, 1994–June 10, 2016) with sorrow, anguish, even incomprehension—but also (and above all) with a firm hope in the Love that is stronger than death.

She remains a sign of hope for all of us.💚

Monday, July 9, 2018

"Power Made Perfect in Weakness"—What Does This Mean?

It must be a painful ordeal to pass through the mystery indicated by the text cited below from the twelfth chapter of 2 Corinithians. I admit that I am afraid of it, and feel powerless to walk with others as they endure it.

How much do I really trust in the mercy and the goodness of God?

Still, "God is good." What else could he be? He is that goodness that creates, sustains, and draws to himself every person.

But why, then, the darkness? Why suffering?

Sin has brought suffering and death into the world. But why does God allow us to sin? Why does he allow sin to devastate the world? Of course, I know that love can only be embraced in freedom, and he allows us to reject him. He also empowers us to participate in his redeeming love.

Freedom is profound, but sometimes it seems so complicated, and even overwhelming. The little human being—the bodily person in the world of time and space, who spends a third of his or her life asleep and much of the rest of it eating, drinking, and "going to the bathroom"—the little human being gets beaten down, gets sick, gets old, or just gets exhausted.

Saint Paul doesn't tell us the concrete details of his "thorn in the flesh." But we know of the many hardships he endured, of his own fragility, of all his suffering. In 2Corinthians12, Paul says he begged the Lord to give him some relief.

God's child begs him for help. What is God's answer? How does God answer our begging, when we're just helpless and there doesn't seem to be a way out?

There is no discourse that can communicate this "answer." God's answer is that he comes to be with us, to seek out each one of us, and to stay with us. His "answer" is to love us, and draw us into the experience of the infinite mystery of his goodness, of communion with his very being, He who is Absolute Love.

He created us for this communion, and it corresponds to what our hearts truly seek. To accomplish this fulfillment, to bring us to himself forever, God comes to dwell with us in our weakness.

In limited, human terms, he says that "power is made perfect in weakness." I am very far from understanding what this really means for me, for my actions today, my motives, my hopes and aspirations for the future, my love for Eileen and the kids, for my brother, my family and friends, for my Dad and my Mom...

Still, Jesus is here.

Jesus is here with me in my confusion and anxiety. He is with every person on the unique path they travel. Jesus is with us in our weakness.

"My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."

Here is the love of God expressed in relation to the suffering of each one of us. To the natural mind it sounds like an incomprehensible paradox, but faith grasps that it refers to the fact that Jesus has embraced all the suffering of each one of us on the Cross, carried it (and us) as his own, and thereby has revealed the infinite measure and depth of the love of God in his resurrection.

He begins to draw us into that Love by the gift of the Holy Spirit, and enables us to hope in that Love as the ultimate fulfillment, the true meaning of everything, of every moment—even the moments that seem impossible to endure.

Jesus wants to stay with us. He is with us, whether we suffer because of our own sins or are afflicted by others or even just constrained and hindered by the restrictions of the most banal circumstances of life.

In speaking of his own afflictions, Saint Paul told the Corinthians:

"Three times I begged the Lord about this,
that it might leave me,
but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.'
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong."

~2 Corinthians 12:8-10

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

My Country is Still a Young Country

Happy Fourth of July! Happy Birthday to the United States of America!

My country is 242 years old today. As a nation we are still relatively young, even though we have had a very large impact on the world since the Twentieth Century.

Still, we are perhaps younger than we realize.

In Italy I lived in a building that was more than 242 years old, and it wasn't a historical landmark or a museum. It was just a building. Indeed, it was one of the "newer" buildings! In Europe it's not unusual to find ordinary people who have lived in the same town or region since the Middle Ages.

Of course, there is also a great deal of movement and change in ancient societies over the passing of the centuries, for many reasons. Some things are lost, others are gained. A place like Rome is a kind of living example of this peculiar and ongoing vitality over two and a half millennia.

Seen in this context, the U.S.A. is a young country, and Americans are an even younger "people," so many of whom (including me) are descended from immigrants who arrived long after this nation was founded. After three generations of my family being here, however, I have become very distinctively American (my time living in Italy certainly convinced me that I was far from being "Italian" in any real sense of Italy's contemporary national life).

I have not lost my connection to my Mediterranean ethnic and cultural roots. My heritage and the heritages of immigrants from all over the world are part of the fabric of the American people. We are a young people, a growing people. Even if our ancestors weren't here for the actual American founding, we celebrate today because this is our country.

My ancestors were grateful to become American citizens and I am grateful to be one. I am grateful too that my children are American citizens—and they are descended from not only Italian but also from Irish, Spanish, and Filipino immigrants!

I love my country, which does not mean that I excuse its historical errors or ignore its current flaws. I try to love my country with realism and hope, two factors that seem particularly essential to any kind of real love in this world.

My country is a beautiful country. I have seen much of it over the years. Perhaps I'm biased, but nothing is more beautiful to me than the (truly old) Appalachian Mountains where I have spent most of my life.

So what will we do today? It looks like I will be house-bound and in bed most of the day, but others in the family are (or will be) out attending various celebrations. 

People do many things to celebrate July Fourth: there are parades, parties, barbeques, and, of course, fireworks. And I think many Americans would agree that today is an especially good day to pray. That is one thing I can do with them.

What I have written below is not "polished" or proposed as any kind of formal prayer. It's just the thoughts that came to my mind earlier today. I originally posted them on social media, and I shall reproduce them here below:

Dear God, thank you,
thank you for everything you have given to us!
Continue to provide for all our needs,
and make us good stewards of this beautiful and abundant land
you have entrusted to our care.
Give us respect for the dignity of each and every human person
without exception,
whom you have created in your image.
Grant us the courage to treat with justice, love, and compassion
the most vulnerable persons in our midst,
and all who are suffering.
Grant us peace and solidarity
with the many other nations and peoples of the world,
working together with them responsibly and wisely
in these tumultuous times for the good of all.
Dear God, please bless the U.S.A., my sweet home;
Bless all peoples and nations who turn to you
with their many needs in this world.
And bring us all through this life's journey
to the joy of being with you forever.

Monday, July 2, 2018

You Should "Try Thai"!

Beer from Bangkok is just the beginning.
Let's start off July on a lighter note.

We have learned a few things from the experience of our younger, more free-wheeling days, when we could pop around the WashingtonDC /Virginia /Maryland metro area in search of interesting cuisine.

In those long ago days, kids could be carted along, or (even better) left in the hands of happy grandparents (on both coasts: we also did a fair amount of eating in the San Francisco Bay Area, when we visited Eileen's parents in California).

Here's one thing we learned: Don't judge a Thai Restaurant by its hokey name or by its "unlikely" location.

Eileen and I celebrated our anniversary at "Try Thai" Restaurant and Sushi Bar which, I am happy to say, is right on Main Street in our own little Front Royal, Virginia. It's all but a stone's throw away from our house. What a splendid addition to our town center, along with its craft shops, antique stores, and cafes, the park, the gazebo, and other promising new places such as the Front Royal Brewery and an art gallery. All of this is nestled in the Shenandoah Valley surrounded by the Blue Ridge mountains. It's pleasant just to walk there on an early summer evening.

On this evening, the weather was wet. But the Try Thai restaurant more than made up for that. The food we had was awesome! It compared well with any Thai food we've had in any Big City. I'm not a restaurant reviewer, so I'll just share a few pictures. You can learn more by visiting the website (click HERE). If you're a local, definitely check it out.

The first picture shows our delightful main course, the "Special of the Day"—a (whole) Red Snapper, cooked perfectly, which was accompanied by a sweet and sour sauce with plenty of fresh chunks of fruit and veggies. Yum!😋

This fish could fill the bellies of two very hungry people in one sitting. Order more than one and you'll have some magical leftovers to put in your fridge for your next meal.

We both loved the presentation, the arrangement of the cooked fish pieces in their "original package" including the head (which has some of the best meat if you do a little work to get it out, but you're not required to do that). The body of the fish was well prepared and easy to eat. Occasional bones were not surprising and simple to remove. I wish I had taken a picture of the generous bowl of sauce.

I didn't take many pictures. I was too busy eating.

So the Special was excellent, and we hope they'll offer it again frequently. We were also pleased by the appetizers. All the food we saw looked very fine, and the service was good and personable.

For me, what inevitably distinguishes the quality of a Thai Restaurant is how they prepare my personal favorite: chicken and coconut milk soup. The soup at Try Thai was just as it should be, and more. The hot spice was enough to keep my attention, but not overwhelming or overdone. It played well with the other flavors, and there was a generous portion of chicken.

I ordered the cup, and it is pictured below. A bowl of this wonderful stuff could serve as a meal all on its own. Delicious!😋

We had a lovely evening.

In conclusion, all I can say is that you really should "TRY THAI"!😉