Thursday, January 13, 2022

Winter: Warm, Wet, Bright, Fiery, Frozen

Winter weather in this new year has been "interesting," so far. 

At least, it has been interesting to look at. My arthritis and overall physical condition didn't exactly thrill over the roller coaster ride of temperature and barometric pressure changes during the past couple of weeks.😝 We've had a little bit of sun (as indicated by the "bright and fiery" images here) and sometimes the warmth to go with it, such as temperatures over 60F at the beginning of the month. Mostly, however, it has been cloudy. On some days the clouds are distinctive and striking; other times we just have an unbroken, dull gray sky. The latter conditions generally don't inspire me to portray them in pictorial arts.

I can get out a bit when it's not too cold and/or wet. A little wet is okay. These are the months when I cherish especially those non-deciduous hardy leafy wintergreen plants that are more conspicuously "awake" when most of nature sleeps. Rhododendron are impressive all year round, but in the Winter they are still bright and perky (see below) and when it's warm I like to hang around them and pretend I'm on vacation on a tropical island (hence the portrait).

We have also had a couple of days of significant snow accumulation (by Virginia standards, where it melts fairly quickly). Snow is certainly lovely... to look at... once in a while.😉







Monday, January 10, 2022

Christina Grimmie: A Face that Shows the Way

For the past five years and seven months, this face has been among the most important human faces in my life. It is a face that challenges me, consoles me, and changes my perspective on reality again and again.

I return to Christina Grimmie every month, not only because I find her to be one of the most truly compelling “media icons” of the past decade (that sounds like an enormous claim, but I think history will show it to be true), nor only because she is one of my favorite human subjects for digital graphic art, in my ongoing efforts to understand and make creative use of its continually expanding tools.

I return to the memory of Christina because I need to see her face.

The whole of her gaze on life is more than the sum of its parts. I certainly never noticed this before she left this world, and it took some time for it to dawn upon me even afterwards. Now I know the sincerity, the honesty, the wise innocence, the humor, the unguarded vulnerability, and the courage that shaped her most mundane gestures, and the powerful clarity with which she looked at everyone and every thing in her brief beautiful life.

When she spoke those occasional serious words of faith, of testimony to God’s love, of affirmation of the inestimable value of each one of us as persons, she spoke with a kind of “authority” unusual for someone her age. When she looks at us and says that “we are loved,” it’s convincing. Her face, her manner, her vitality, her whole life are a convincing testimony for us - a communication of the gift of unconditional love and mercy from a person who has experienced that love and mercy herself.

Her communication became uniquely expansive, unconditional, and open to every person through her perseverance in love right up to its ultimate, utterly vulnerable expression at the completion of her life.

Her offering of herself in love won’t fade away with the passage of time. It endures.

I need to see Christina Grimmie’s face because she reminds me of the meaning and the aspiration and the hope of my own life (which I still struggle to learn after 59 years of living - so much “more time,” but too often wasted time). She helps me to remember the source of my own confidence, to remember to live each day, to remember why I live, and the One I live for.

She also helps me begin to see the way toward the final moment that inevitably draws closer as I grow older. She helps me to remember the promise of joy that is worth all the risks of love: the risks of living and dying. She reminds me not to be afraid.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Theophany: The Glory of God Revealed

The culmination of the Christmas Season is the Great Feast of the Theophany, known in the West as the "Baptism of the Lord." 

The Byzantine tradition especially emphazizes that the events commemorated on this day involving Jesus's ritual immersion in the Jordan river at the hands of John the Baptist are a public "manifestation of God" ("Theophany") in a hitherto unprecedented way. Today the Holy Trinity - the One God who is an ineffable communion of persons, the God who is Absolute Love - begins to be revealed and glorified in Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, the Beloved Son of the Father anointed in the Spirit. The great mission of God’s self-giving love is proclaimed.

Here are the antiphons from Morning Prayer in the Roman Rite:

(1) The soldier baptizes his king, the servant his Lord, John his Savior; the waters of the Jordan tremble, a dove hovers as a sign of witness, and the voice of the Father is heard: This is my Son.

(2) Springs of water were made holy as Christ revealed his glory to the world. Draw water from the fountain of the Savior, for Christ our God has hallowed all creation.

(3) You burned away man’s guilt by fire and the Holy Spirit. We give praise to you, our God and Redeemer.

Friday, January 7, 2022

My Research and Scholarship for 2022 and Beyond

Recently I indicated that I still was plugging away on my research, and I want to update where I am and broadly outline the aims and the scope of my studies in 2022 and beyond.

I do in fact have some “scholarly goals” for the time that remains to me, but as usual they are far too extensive to be realistic even if I lived literally all of what remains of the Chinese sage's symbolic 36,000 Days. But we’ll see how far we can get. What remains undone (insofar as it’s worth doing) can be taken up by others.

I would like to organize and develop my scattered writings on human power, technological infrastructure, media, and the challenges that persons and communities continue to face in the world’s massive, chaotic, and largely unexamined transition to a new global “epoch of power” of unprecedented proportions. My goal is neither naive celebration nor pre-judged condemnation of the continually emerging new technologies, but first to understand their impact on the life of the person and the (inevitably unnoticed) physical (including neurobiological), social, and relational environments they generate and sustain as they enter into common usage. 

I was born in 1963, and I am a first generation child of television. Our generation was raised without a thought regarding the impact of the T.V., this audiovisual communicator and processor of information and sensory experience that created a new and strange global “common space” in our homes, rearranging the furniture in our living rooms, altering our schedules, shaping the expectations of our sensory and emotional responses (in many ways? but how, and how much?). 

In any case, television has been a powerful force for good and evil, even if we remain perplexed (as I have been for my whole life) on what place it has in our lives and the ways it has impacted us, perhaps enriching, perhaps impoverishing our humanity in different ways. The same is true of other electronic media, which are emerging rapidly in the present time. When we understand how we are affected by these technologies, we will also be able to seek wisdom to subordinate them properly to the dignity of the person and the building of communion between persons. 

We must cultivate together the proper self-possession and self-discipline required to live in a media environment. Call it, if you will, “media ecology.” This is an important component of a wider (and urgently necessary) “technological ecology” that goes beyond all projects that try to manage technology and its human consequences simply by using other forms of technology. Nothing can replace the agency of the human person and the responsibility of human freedom - weak and embattled though it may be. This may all seem impossible in a world misshapen in so many other ways, but we must take heart, turn to the God who makes us exist, acknowledge God as the Mystery who moves our hearts, and then do the best we can. (Christians should know that Jesus is with us in this work, which is a work of mercy - both in relation to communication of the Gospel and the temporal good of this world in which we live here and now, which He loves and wherein our love - united with Him - sows the seeds of transfiguration.)

I would also like to progress far enough in my East Asian Studies Project that I can at least become familiar with the people who are “bridges” between East and West, and also between the ancient traditions and the current realities of Asian life and cultures during these unpredictable, changing, explosive times. I hope to be able to pass on some research (bibliographic if nothing else) that will help others to go further. This work is vital for a genuine globally inculturated “new evangelization.” It is also vital for the future of the world. Mutual ignorance is no longer an option.

I have always loved the Chinese people, and admired the many heights their classical humanism attained over the course of the centuries. I also have a very personal reason for wanting-to-understand-more, but I’ll tell that story another day. The odyssey of Chinese and Asian immigrants to the West, and their great hardships and quiet dignity, remain largely unknown by Westerners. When I was a boy I was much closer to a living experience of this story than I ever knew … and books and memoirs by others about their immigrant childhoods that I have recently read have reawakened in my mind and heart questions regarding things I never understood about my best friend in school: a brilliant, humble, jovial, articulate, amazingly talented Chinese-American guy. He was someone I really trusted, and something of a role model for me from Elementary School up to High School.

Yet I didn't know much about his life at home. He and his family were Evangelical Christians, and were serious about their faith. He had a couple of younger brothers, but I can't remember their names. I met his parents several times, but they spoke almost no English. I never knew when or why his parents came to the USA. I knew nothing about their work, or where they lived, or what financial position they held. He didn't talk about these things (in his perfect English); and when you're a kid there are lots of other things to talk about. We talked about serious things too: science, music, history, religion. We were both oddballs because we liked school and we excelled.

I never understood how - when we were 16 years old - what seemed at first like an ordinary illness for him became the awful tragedy that remains one of the great scars of my adolescence. I may never learn the answers, but I know now what I didn't know then, that so many of his people faced such immense challenges when they came to the USA. Many had fled horrific events in China, and accepted the lowest places and the most humiliating conditions so that their American-born children could succeed and have a better life. Their tenuous predicament at home was carefully hidden at school. I don't know if my friend was in any situation like this, but there were definitely Asian kids like him among our generation who were at the top of their class at school, but after school they would go to work in illegal sweat shops, and then do their homework at night in deplorable living conditions.

We never knew about this. Did my best friend die because he didn't have access to adequate medical care? In any case, I still can't make any sense of what happened, and I'll probably never know. But I want to know more in general about his people and their tragic, heroic suffering.

Asia: so much suffering. But, of course, we live in a world of suffering. I must remember to bear with hope, and to offer with love, the very small suffering that God allows to afflict me so that I might grow a little in love. I’m terribly impatient. Lord, grant that I persevere.

One reason that I persist in my study of China is out of loyalty to my friend from long ago. That, however, is not the only reason. Let me return now to my resume of future academic projects.

Regarding religious and theological topics, there are various possibilities. I have already written a lot of reflections on feast days and the spiritually rich variety of Collect prayers throughout the liturgical year in the Roman rite. I have an outline for a project to edit Patristic texts in a way that allows people to pray and meditate on the the testimony of the Fathers. I’m considering publishing in book form some (perhaps all) of the “conversion stories” I have written in my column, if nothing else to make them more accessible in a single source. Or, I may pick one story, or a few related stories, and expand on them in a book. There is much more to be said about so many of these people, and I already have drafts that I had to cut significantly in order to make the final article concise and within the limits of two pages. I could go on and on about “possibilities” in this realm, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. Let’s first see what actually gets done.

O Lord, grant that I might remember that my aim is not more achievements, or diversions, or passing time in amiable comfort, or even being useful or “helpful” according to the way I perceive such things. I will gladly accept such things, and work in whatever way I can, for as long as I can… but (I pray that I will do so) with serenity and trust in God, free from useless anxiety or brooding over my own faults and limits. My aim, each day, is to live for the glory of Christ in whatever circumstances He places me. It is a daily work to remember that this is why I live and breathe, that this alone encompasses all other endeavors, successes, failures, joys, and sorrows in this world. Jesus, have mercy on me.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

The “Wondrous” Beginning of Our Redemption

Here is the Collect Prayer for January 5, which is the “Twelfth Day of Christmas,” the eve of the celebration of the Epiphany in the universal Roman calendar (in the USA and some other places, it is transferred to the nearest Sunday).

Thus, we continue to say, “Merry Christmas Season!”🎄⭐️ 

God has come to save us and to dwell with us because He loves us immensely. Because He is with us, we can find joy even in the midst of our present sorrows and afflictions.



Tuesday, January 4, 2022

“He Loved Us and Sent His Son…”

“God is love. 

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

~ 1 John 4:8-12 

Monday, January 3, 2022

The 30th Anniversary of My 29th Birthday 🎉

The second day of the year has been my own personal “new-years-day” for… well… a long time; in fact, ever since I was born. It was 1963, which seems like antiquity to many people today. Indeed, so much has changed in the world at large (and in the small world of my immediate and extended family). So much has changed for me.

It’s in one way shocking for me that thirty years have passed since I noted briefly in my journal - on January 2, 1992 - that I was 29 years old. I was about to begin my last semester of graduate school as a lay student with the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception, the Dominican college on the campus of the Catholic University of America. At the time, I was regarded as quite the “budding intellectual prospect” with lots of creative ideas and a brilliant mind. The future stretched before me. It seemed so vast, so full of possibilities, such a promising realm wherein I was sure to make my mark and accomplish great things. I was 29 and I was "moving up" in my world. I still had big dreams.

Now those thirty years stretch behind me. In the material and circumstantial sense, things turned out totally different than any thing I expected (insofar as it is even possible to “expect” how one’s own life will unfold through various stages). It has not been thirty years of published academic books, articles, lecture tours, accolades, and making friends with people in high places. I have published a couple of books, a few articles, and eight years worth of monthly columns on “conversion stories” for a widely-circulated Catholic magazine. At least I have some sense that the small amount of what I have published has been worthwhile. Perhaps it is just as well that I have been hindered from unleashing too many words on the world.

Not that any of this was my main aspiration during the course of these past thirty years. In any case, other circumstances took priority: like getting married, having five children, raising them; working to solidify the foundations of a still-relatively-new Catholic liberal arts university in the Shenandoah Valley, teaching lots of classes and students, wearing different administrative hats, working too hard while neglecting my health in this beautiful, tick-infested countryside until Lyme Disease and other issues brought about a midlife physical and mental collapse that necessitated early “retirement.” There’s a book all about that (see Never Give Up: My Life and God's Mercy, Servant, 2010) and the ongoing story fills eleven years of this blog.

Thirty years. Children who were not yet born are now grown up. We are grandparents. A new rhythm is taking hold, as the house becomes emptier and quieter (except when everyone comes over, which is fine too). I hope I’m ready for whatever this new period of life brings. It may be a very brief period. Death is not unknown to cut these so-called “golden years” short. I hope this doesn’t happen, mostly because I feel that I’m still called to be with Eileen and the kids for a bit longer. Josefina is still only 15 years old. But death may come, and I can only trust in God.

If I live out another era of days, they will not be easy ones. Perhaps I may finish a few projects (more on that soon). I will ponder many things. I will pray for the younger generations. I would love to see all my kids grown and established on their vocational paths, and get to know my grandchildren. I know that grandparents can be a special presence in the lives of their grandchildren, and receive much joy from them (I saw both of these realities at work with my own parents and our kids, and I’m so grateful that they had that whole season of life - for them and for the kids too). 

Lately, the family always tease me that (given my recent “East Asian Studies”) I inevitably find a way to bring up China in every conversion. So, here I go: the Chinese (historically) saw the togetherness of “three generations” as a great blessing. There was no small insight in this observation. Chinese sages also referred to the span of a human life as “36,000 Days” … and I ran the numbers and found that to be something like 98 years. Few of them ever lived that long, so (in my ignorance) I’m going to assume that’s a symbolic number. I’m not looking to get that far. I pray that I can live well and at peace, one day at a time, for the measure of days that God wills in His infinite wisdom and goodness. Hmmm... well, I wish I were more stable in such an attitude. The fact is, I worry about dying. Of course! But I pray that I might live with trust in the Lord. I still have to keep asking Him for that trust, with hope that I will grow in trust according to His plan.

If I live the fullness of my elder years, and if my health permits, I want to go back to Rome someday with Eileen. If it’s just us, we can take our time and rest when we need it. We can see vistas again, pray at Saint Peter’s tomb, walk around, sit in the parks, eat cheese and panini and drink wine and read poetry. Maybe meet the Pope again (who knows who will be Pope by then, but perhaps they’ll have a special audience for “old people”😉). Maybe see old friends. We would have to pace ourselves pretty slowly (I would, at least). We haven’t been to Rome in 25 years but every inch of it is still “our city.” Three of the kids have been there since, but we threw those coins in the Trevi fountain for us. May God grant it.

In any case, I pray that I might live each day - day by day - for the glory of God’s infinite love, revealed and given through Jesus Christ whose birth we continue to celebrate.

And yes, I want to note that we finally “celebrated” the family Christmas… on the same day as my birthday.

This Christmas Season, we’ve also experienced vividly how “you never stop being a parent” even for your adult children. Agnese began feeling sick with a variety of symptoms in mid-December. She tested negative for Covid, and decided to come “home” (i.e. our home) to convalesce. But she didn’t improve, and further tests revealed possible internal organ problems. She was in the hospital for over a week, and the staff worked to stabilize symptoms and make extensive further tests. She finally came home New Years Eve, and is feeling better every day. Nevertheless she still needs to take certain medications, and doctors are still monitoring her condition and trying to understand what brought on her illness and whether it involves any systemic chronic issues. We would appreciate prayers for her health.

But she’s back home and everyone is happy about that and hopes she won’t need more hospital odysseys. Meanwhile, January 2nd was a Sunday this year, “Epiphany Sunday” in the USA. Everyone came over and we wrapped presents and opened them and had a lovely dinner together. I didn’t get a family picture. I don’t think those are going to happen at Christmastime anymore: there are too many of us and we are too big to fit in (I know that larger families get it done, but they must be more organized than we are).

I got a few “sneaky pics” - they don’t read this blog so they’ll never know, haha.😉 I can share a few below. What I enjoyed most was just being together with everyone. It was the best birthday gift I could have hoped for. “Three generations together” is a blessing indeed.



Saturday, January 1, 2022

A New Year, A “Marvelous Exchange”

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2022.🤓🍷

And Merry Christmas Day Eight, the Octave of Christmas Week, dedicated to Mary the Mother of Jesus, the Theotokos, Mother of God, Mother of the Word who became flesh in her womb, whose birth we continue to celebrate. 

[Image: Coptic Ethiopian icon of the Nativity]