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April 2011

The Beatification of John Paul II

I'm curious as to what others think about it. Although I was (am) a huge admirer and in a more-than-formal sense a follower of the late Pope, and think "Pope Saint John Paul II the Great" is a justifiable title, I'm still a little bothered by the speed of these proceedings. For that matter I was a little bothered by the general speeding-up of the canonization process which he instituted. I guess I was always slightly uneasy about the rock-star adulation he received, and this seems partially a continuation of that. Though if it tempted him to pride in the earlier days of his pontificate, his last years of very public weakness and decline surely would have corrected that.


"Everybody says it sounds like a train"

Checking the headlines this morning, I see that the loss of life from yesterday's tornadoes has been far greater than I thought last night. Far greater: I can't recall anything even approaching this in the past. I lived in Tuscaloosa, where most of the deaths seem to have taken place, for over 10 years (that's where the University of Alabama is). I knew, when I saw news stories that said a tornado had come up McFarland Boulevard, that the physical damage would be great. But for some reason I didn't expect so many casualties. 

If you want to see just how devastating these storms can be, look through some of the photos here

In the mid-70s, when I was living in Tuscaloosa, there was a period of several years that produced a lot of tornadoes in north Alabama. I heard one once. I had the radio on, and heard a warning that one had been sighted near Moundville, a dozen miles or so southwest of Tuscaloosa. Within a minute or two I heard it. Everybody's right: it does sound like a train--but a huge train, a train with a locomotive fifty feet tall. It was passing perhaps half a mile (less than a kilometer) or so from where I was, and fortunately did a relatively small amount of damage. I remember that sound, though.


In case you've heard about the tornadoes in Alabama and are wondering: they're nowhere near me--they're 200 miles/320km or more away.

Trump for President?

When I started seeing headlines about this a few weeks ago, I thought we would all have a good laugh and then the apparition would fade away. But it hasn't, and I'm beginning to be worried.


A Dream of Death

Sunday Night Journal — April 24, 2011: Easter Sunday

I’ve had what can best be described as a very serene Triduum. And I am contributing further to that serenity by allowing myself a day of something more akin to leisure than is generally the case for me on Sunday. Rather than writing something new for the Sunday Night Journal, I’m re-publishing part of an old one, from Halloween of 2004 (which it seems I have not yet transferred here from my pre-blog web site), the first year of the journal. I remember thinking at the time I wrote it that I had not really captured the desperate terror of the dream, but it would probably be impossible do that, and perhaps a simple description is enough, to anyone able or willing to imagine it. I called it a dream of death but it would be more precise to call it a dream of hell. If you find it disturbing and perhaps rather dark for Easter Sunday, well, let it serve to make the light of the Resurrection shine more brightly for you, as it did for me.

***

October 31, 2004

I had an especially vivid and disturbing dream of death a few nights ago which has left the subject very much on my mind. I can’t describe the dream in detail, but I remember very clearly the emotion it provoked, which was something close to panic. It was not a dream about the pain and fear of the process of dying, but about the state of death itself. In the dream this state was one of disorientation, helplessness, and disconnection. I could not think or perceive clearly and could not act at all. I was aware of other souls around me but could not in any way commune with them. I think it was very much like the state which C.S. Lewis somewhere describes as possibly being what it might be like to be a ghost. And it made me think of the scene in Perelandra where the hell-bound spirit of Weston returns briefly to his body and begs Ransom to help him: what Weston describes is somewhat similar to what I dreamed, and he is in pure panic to escape it.

Somehow in my dream I did pull (or was pulled) away from this state, but only to find myself in a state of dread similar to Weston’s and feeling that it must be possible somehow to escape the inevitability of re-entering what I had just left. I felt the full horror of that inevitability and the hopelessness of escape. I saw the world as a sort of ever-narrowing tunnel through which all the human race must proceed, and as it narrowed we would lose more and more of life—our bodies, our memories, our ability to think clearly and to use language—but never lose everything, that is, never entirely cease to exist or to have some kind of broken and fragmentary consciousness—a sort of permanent burial alive.

I awoke feeling certain of the inevitability of death and simultaneously that the certainty was perfectly intolerable. Most especially, I couldn’t bear the fact that we don’t really know what death will bring. I can face the idea of extinction well enough, but not the idea of permanent living death. I felt a need to know what would happen after death with an intensity that I can only compare to the need for air one feels after holding one’s breath for thirty seconds or more. How, I thought—I was still half asleep and in the grip of the dream—could it be possible that we must all face such a thing without knowing what will happen? How can it be that no one has ever returned to tell us?

And then, of course, coming fully awake, I realized that someone has done so, or claims to have, and moreover claims to be able to tell us what we must do in order to escape a condition which is perhaps something like what I had dreamed. And I remembered that his claim is not merely his own but one well attested by eye-witnesses. Why should we not believe it? I have been a Christian for many years but I think this was the first time I experienced viscerally the intense relief and joy and release from dread with which many pagans have received the Gospel.

O Death, where is thy victory?


Holy Saturday

I sort of wanted to post something about Holy Saturday, but haven't had time, so I'll link to this, from Sally Thomas, instead.

The thought I had, that I wanted to elaborate on, but which, now that I think about it, perhaps needs no elaboration, is this: in a sense most of our lives, at least the rest of our lives after we really learn the meaning of pain, is spent in Holy Saturday: the suspended time between death and the possibility of some kind of resurrection. I don't think that hope is entirely absent even in those who don't believe. It has a way of not being dead even when you think it is.


Barber: Hermit Songs, V. The Crucifixion

At the cry of the first bird
They began to crucify Thee, 0 Swan!
Never shall lament cease because of that.
It was like the parting of day from night.
Ah, sore was the suffering borne
By the body of Mary's Son,
But sorer still to Him was the grief
Which for His sake
Came upon His Mother.

 

(Thanks to this site for the text.)


Cat People and Curse of the Cat People

I know this is not exactly appropriate for Wednesday of Holy Week, but I'm going to go ahead and write about these while they're still fresh on my mind, having watched the second of them last night. My wife and I watch a lot of movies together, but she's not necessarily interested in some of the same stuff I am, so I've been using Tuesday nights, when she's "attending" an online class, as a convenient time to watch some of those. 

Cat People is considered a "horror" classic of the '40s. I put that in quotes because there isn't any actual violence, blood, and gore in it--"supernatural suspense" would be a better description. I thought it might be fun in a campy or so-bad-it's-good sort of way, but it's considerably better than I expected. I wouldn't recommend it strongly unless you just like this sort of thing, but it does create an atmosphere very successfully, and the story has substance. It has an interesting philosophical dimension: the cat woman (of course it's a woman) is descended from Serbian witches who turn into panthers under the influence of strong emotion, especially negative emotion. She deeply wishes for this not to happen, but nobody takes her seriously, and she's treated as having a psychological problem. And her efforts to avoid the transformation have the unintended effect of helping to bring it on. The psychiatrist who attempts to treat her is a Man of Science who thinks he can explain everything in material terms, and I don't think I'll be giving away too much if I say that effort doesn't end well.

 So, that was last Tuesday. And I had no reason to think that the other movie on the DVD, Curse of the Cat People, would be anything but a silly sequel intended to capitalize on the success of the first (which was a huge hit, apparently) by repeating more or less the same story. So I intended to send the DVD back to Netflix without watching the second movie, but for some reason I kept thinking well, maybe I'll just check out the first ten minutes or so, and putting off sending it back, and pretty soon it was Tuesday night again and I decided to give it a try.

I'm really glad I did. This must be the most misleadingly named movie of all time. It has nothing to do with cat people per se, except that the character who was the cat woman in the first movie is involved, and it has nothing to do with a curse--if "cat people" had to be in the title, Blessing of the Cat People would have been more accurate. It is a sequel of sorts to the first movie, but is very, very different. It's not remotely a horror movie, even by 1940s standards, but rather, a sort of ghost story, a lovely and lyrical ghost story about a lonely little girl. It actually gave me more chills than Cat People, but those were produced by very skillful direction, not by anything sensationalistic. It's about loneliness and misunderstanding and love and redemption, and I do recommend it. My only reservation is that it ends a bit abruptly, not wrapping up a couple of things that I thought were important. (Well, and much of the acting in both is less than great, but it's ok.) You really would need to watch the first one first, though, as there are some things in the second that wouldn't entirely make sense without it.