Seventeen light show

A playful post.

My daughter Maria is a film major, and her passion is film editing. For fun, she adds a glowing scribble animation effect to existing videos to highlight and interpret movement. At least that’s my explanation! She adds them frame by frame, so it’s a ginormous amount of work. Such fun! Here’s her latest:

A Hidden Life

Without any commentary yet, I have to recommend with the strongest insistence that all see Terrance Malick’s new film, A Hidden Life — about Austrian farmer Bl. Franz Jägerstätter and his family. It is a masterpiece of iconography that powerfully and convincingly narrates how beauty saves the world. He is now the patron saint of all my work on the lay vocation.
My wife and I saw it last night at the New Orleans Film Festival.

Kyrie eleison

Image result for sunflower turning toward sun

My wife, Patti, has been a music director in parish contexts for over 30 years. She is an accomplished vocal performer, an exacting choral conductor and a gifted composer. She treats her work as a sacred task in service to the majesty and dignity of the divine liturgy, and experiences her work as an act of prayer and as a call to prayer. Anyone who has ever watched her conduct knows it is pure choreography. David twirling about the Ark of the Covenant with unhampered joy — with abandon! — is the best analogy I can think of. Her ebullience and intensity electrify every space she enters.

And as any artist knows, the grace of bringing beauty into the world plants the Cross of Christ, the origin and standard of all beauty, deep into the core of her being. How grateful we we should always be to artists.

Patti has brought into our family over the years a steady diet of the arts, and has taught our children — and especially me — the intimate relationship between God and beauty. There have been many times over the years when some of my most profound experiences of God in prayer, in the context of liturgical worship, have come through her work.

One example I felt moved to share today was when she had the choir perform Mary E. Smisek’s Kyrie, which is an arrangement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, opus 92, movement 2. The Kyrie eleison, which is Greek for “Lord have mercy,” stands at the heart of the Penitential Act in the Mass. In those ancient words drawn from Sacred Scripture, we sinners — like Isaiah — seek God’s forgiveness and healing grace as we enter into the holy-holy-holy presence of God:

Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! — Isaiah 6:5

It was Lent, and my chosen penance that year was exposing in me just what a weak and pathetic man I was. That year, the combination of graduate studies, my job and our four small children was an “exhaustion-cocktail,” and so my threshold of tolerance was low. I began to back off on my early morning prayer discipline, as my struggles with guilt made prayer uncomfortable, and I found excellent excuses to busy myself with other things. I am excellent at that.

It was the third Sunday of Lent, and as Mass unfolded the Kyrie began. I had never heard this arrangement before. Immediately, its magnificent tones washed over me and I experienced the most profound awareness of being loved by God very specifically in what I considered my most loathsome self. I saw myself as a frightened child and immediately thought of God calling out to Adam, who was hiding in shame amid Eden’s trees: “Where are you?” But whereas previously I had always thought of those words as a divinely irritated reproach, I knew in that moment, with absolute clarity, these were words of tender compassion.

That grace not only remained with me throughout Lent, and emboldened me to return to daily prayer, but to this day if I hear this piece of music I am transported at once into the Garden, where mercy again calls out: “Where are you?” I am also reminded of Fr. Tom Hopko’s searching insight,

Whenever we pray Kyrie eleison, don’t imagine we’re trying to convince God to be something He isn’t. Like, “O God, you are usually a tyrant, be nice today if you please!”

No!

We are simply making a declaration in the imperative form: “O God, you who ARE mercy, be who you are toward me!” Like a sunflower that turns toward the sun to receive its warmth and light, only when we confess with faith who God truly is can we receive what He longs to give us…

Dr. Mario, what is prayer?

On this memorial feast day of St. Teresa of Avila, doctor of prayer, it seemed appropriate to share a podcast my friend, Dr. Mario Sacasa, and I did on prayer. Dr. Mario’s podcasts are a treasury of wisdom, and I highly recommend them to all interested in the ways faith and reality intersect in hope: https://faithandmarriage.org/alwayshope/

He is a long time friend, colleague and inspiration to me and my family!

Trouble is a Friend

For my birthday, my daughter Maria, along with Mashley’s lead singer Ashley, did a cover of a song I have asked them for four years to record — Lenka’s Trouble is a Friend. I am a huge Lenka fan. Maria presented it to me on Sunday after I got back in town from a work trip. I was overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude.

I know they get lots of suggestions for songs to cover, so I have refrained from proliferating requests, but somehow in my imagination I always heard them covering this song. Using a super creative setting for the song, Maria recorded the guitar part earlier, loaded it into Ashley’s phone so she could sing with it and then she edited it all later. It took tons of time to practice, plan, record and edit. A labor of love!

The haunting words and minor key, the play on dark and light, the low percussive hum of the road noise, the harmonies, the rosary cross swinging, the falling phone and the final “slurp” all make it a supremely wonderful work of art for a man who loves, above all else, the beauty of the “broken form.”

Thank you my dear daughter and dear Ashley, women beautiful inside and out.

Don’t Believe the Hype

This is a really odd post for St Maximilian’s feast day. No obvious link. But it’s what I wrote. And it’s the last piece I have to post for a while as the semester ramps up!

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When I recently watched the new music video for Twenty One Pilots’ song, The Hype, and I teared up.

Not exactly sure why I did, or why I am even telling you this, but here’s what I thought later — in fact, these thoughts came to me after I spent part of an afternoon with my daughter Maria and her friends discussing TØP lyrics. It was sublime. No, those young women are sublime.

The song and the video are about Tyler & Josh’s fierce struggle to stay grounded, as over the last 10 years they have skyrocketed to international fame. Fame brings with it myriad temptations to delusions of grandeur or to being crushed beneath the critics. In this song, they refuse to buy into the “hype” — good or bad — around them. But it’s not easy, as Tyler sings:

Sometimes I feel cold, even paralyzed
My interior world needs to sanitize

The song and the video take us down into Tyler’s interior world (heart and home), where he hopes to sanitize any contamination. Tyler, who finds solace in music and lyric-writing, takes us through a wild allegorical re-telling of the band’s rapid rise to fame (through the roof!), violent fall, purging, and the final recovery of firm footing where they began: in the humility of home with family and friends. With this return to the true center, a broken and scattered interior world is restored to right-order.

So it seems to me.

Why did this all move me? Maybe because I have such a deep reverence for people who achieve popularity and yet remain unfazed (or uncontaminated) by it. Who keep their priorities in order, and don’t sell their souls to gain the world. These also use their public status (in ecclesial or secular culture) to benefit and bring joy and good to others, not principally to feed their wallets or egos. I have seen how popularity can subtly (and not so subtly) change the mindset and motivations of good people, destroy their core relationships and quickly poison the good being done.

It’s also why Jesus hammered on His disciples about power, influence, talents, gifts being given for service. Along those lines, a mentor once said to me, “Whenever people praise anything you do, think immediately to yourself: How much God must love them to give me these gifts. Because your gifts aren’t about you. And when they criticize you, thank them for doing you a great service: keeping you honest.”

And friendship. Friends keep it real and are an anchor of life.

Oh the greatness of our crucified God-Hero, Jesus Christ, who redeemed power and influence by His cross, who faced criticism with courage and humility. He used His popularity with people and His rejection by the people as opportunities to serve, to lift us up, and to bring us back to the Father’s house.

TØP offers a message of depth and hope to an increasingly homeless and orphaned culture. I’m grateful they’ve chosen to not believe the hype. Which is why Tyler announced this summer they will be taking time off from touring so he and his wife can start a family.

Sometimes I feel cold, even paralyzed
My interior world needs to sanitize
I’ve got to step through or I’ll dissipate
I’ll record my step through for my basement tapes
Nice to know my kind will be on my side
I don’t believe the hype
And you know you’re a terrible sight
But you’ll be just fine
Just don’t believe the hype
Yeah, they might be talking behind your head
Your exterior world can step off instead
It might take some friends and a warmer shirt
But you don’t get thick skin without getting burnt
Nice to know my kind will be on my side
I don’t believe the hype
And you know you’re a terrible sight
But you’ll be just fine
Just don’t believe the hype
No, I don’t know which way I’m going
But I can hear my way around
No, I don’t know which way I’m going
But I can hear my way around
No, I don’t know which way I’m going
But I can hear my way around
No, I don’t know which way I’m going
But I can hear my way around
But I can hear my way around
Nice to know my kind will be on my side
I don’t believe the hype
And you know you’re a terrible sight
But you’ll be just fine
Just don’t believe the hype (don’t believe the hype)
Nice to know my kind will be on my side
I don’t believe the hype
And you know you’re a terrible sight
But you’ll be just fine
Just don’t believe the hype
Nice to know my kind will be on my side
I don’t believe the hype
And you know you’re a terrible sight
But you’ll be just fine
Just don’t believe the hype
Source: LyricFind

Missing the Mockingbird’s dive

A journal entry from a month ago:

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About five years ago I saw a mockingbird make a straight vertical descent from the roof gutter of a four-story building. It was an act as careless and spontaneous as the curl of a stem or the kindling of a star. — Annie Dillard

I have to say that, for me, one of the bitterest curses of the smartphone is its power to distract from the beauty, surprises and annoyances of the real world. As we look down at our glowing screens, mediating a self-selected (or ad driven) reality, will miss the unruly, unpredictable epiphanies of earth, sea, sky or faces around us. And as we are repeatedly immersed in streaming Xfinity megabits per second, our minds dull, become impatient to the unhurried and un-swiped pace of life.

I try hard not to hate on smartphones. They offer immense advantages, obviously, and they are a staple of life now. My problems with them are my problems, and I know some virtuous users. But it becomes harder and harder for me to not grieve their negative effects. It’s been almost two years since I re-adopted a flip phone, after I realized in the smartphone I had met my match. I had been seduced by the allure of voice-to-text, seized by that low buzz itch to check news alerts, social media updates, search articles, look something up, listen to YouTube or Spotify — oh, and back to more voice-to-text.

I disliked who I had become. But there I was. Though I’d won the rationalization battle, I’d lost too much of my inner freedom.

That is, until the day my 92 year old God-inhabited mom, who had been trying to tell me something while I was screen-gazing, accosted me in a rare moment of impatience: “I’m glad I was born when I was. We didn’t have those things. We talked.”

I looked up and woke up.

A few flip-phone beneficial side-effects: My five senses reawakened to the world around me. My geographical imagination (without a phone GPS) rekindled and I rediscovered the wonder of getting lost and asking for directions. My attention span refocused and expanded. I’ve been reminded of the arduousness of meaningful communication. I’ve gloried more readily in fleeting moments that escape recording, and labor to have them inhabit my soul.

I really believe a new “Christian distinctive” should look something like this: We are the new radicals noted for strolling on a beach, sitting on a porch, walking in a mall, swinging in a park, waiting at a bus stop, standing in line at a checkout, exercising on a treadmill, eating in a restaurant, sitting alone at home, or (gasp!) driving a car … without once looking at our phone.

Yes, we are the Masters, and these are our phone-servants.

Tertullian wrote in the third century, “See, [the pagans say of Christians], how they love one another…” Maybe a new Tertullian will write in 20 years of Christians:

The pagans marvel about us, saying, “See how they love one another! At extreme length they dwell together without a device in hand or in ear. They live in the world with such serenity and attentiveness, even in silence and boredom. Have they gone mad?”

And among our number, maybe a new St. Francis can again arise, per Pope Francis’ vision:

Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever St. Francis would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason.

His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”.

Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs.

By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

Stop, and try to see a Mockingbird dive…