Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Book Review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*CK

I didn't want to read this book. When my husband first told me about it I was immediately disdainful and defensive. "Give me a break! Like our society needs MORE encouragement to care about nothing!" My husband said that's not what the book was actually about, that it was a great read and everyone could benefit from it because we're all paying attention to the wrong thing and putting our priorities in the wrong order. I took that personally, too. "So you're saying my priorities are wrong?"

Well, turns out my book club decided this would be a good read. I procrastinated as long as I could, which wasn't hard because the wait list for this book at the library is so epic I could wait years and still not be #1. But I was determined. I said to myself, "I am NOT spending money on this book!"(Read with the same intonation as Paul Giamatti insists he's not drinking a merlot in Sideways.)

Hence, with less than a week until book group, I put out an appeal on Facebook for someone to lend me the book, and a friend told me I could get the audiobook for free from Hoopla.

Faced now with the reality of having to either listen to this book, or admit to myself that I was willing to judge it without actually reading it, I downloaded the audiobook and started listening.

As it turns out, I love this book. Yes, it has a few flaws. Yes, it has a lot of f-bombs.* Sure, there are a plethora of eye-rolling, clickbaity chapter titles and one-liners. But I have now read/listened to this book in its entirety, with an open heart, and I have to say the truths are meaningful enough that I give it my endorsement. I think everyone should read this book.

Why, you ask? Well, let me tell you! Because it takes the fundamental, proven truths that philosophers have uncovered over centuries of human experience and repackages them in surprising ways. For instance:

Problems never stop; they merely get exchanged and/or upgraded.
Happiness comes from solving problems. The keyword here is “solving.” If you’re avoiding your problems or feel like you don’t have any problems, then you’re going to make yourself miserable. If you feel like you have problems that you can’t solve, you will likewise make yourself miserable. The secret sauce is in the solving of the problems, not in not having problems in the first place.
On the surface, this isn't all that deep. I think most people would acknowledge in their heart of hearts that there really isn't any "perfect life" where they won't have any problems and be perfectly happy at all times. I mean, that's not realistic.

And yet it's evident that our society is obsessed with avoiding suffering and eliminating problems. The fallacy surrounding us is that if only we had enough money, or the "right information," or knew the "right people," all our problems would be solved. The idea that our entire lives are going to consist of one problem after another is anathema to the comfortable life we think we want. As Mark Manson puts it, though:

I can ask you "What do you want out of life?" A more interesting question, a question that most people never consider, is, “What pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for?” Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.
I love this. What we are willing to endure is the determinant of our happiness. Roger Federer genuinely enjoys the pain associated with tennis. He enjoys training, studying other player's technique, thinking about tennis, preparing for a match, playing the match, and analyzing his performance afterwards.  Obviously, winning is much more enjoyable than losing, getting muscle cramps, or sweating while repeatedly practicing a serve. But if there isn't a sort of pleasure in the pain, even achieving winning status won't actually make him happy (see Andre Agassi's autobiography Open.)

Or here's another bit that I want to print out and frame:
The more we choose to accept responsibility in our lives, the more power we will exercise over our lives. Accepting responsibility for our problems is thus the first step to solving them. ... But there are also problems that we aren’t at fault for, yet we are still responsible for them.  ... 
Here’s one way to think about the distinction between the two concepts. Fault is past tense. Responsibility is present tense. Fault results from choices that have already been made. Responsibility results from the choices you’re currently making, every second of every day. 
I have never heard it put this way before. This has always been something I struggled with: it's just not FAIR that someone would have to bear the burden of another person's bad choices and mistakes! True. It's not fair. But it happens, and what we choose to do about it is what matters. We can't abdicate our responsibilities just because they're not our fault. We think we should be able to pass off the problem to whoever is at fault for it, but that doesn't actually work to our benefit the way we think it should. Often, the main argument here stems from the fact that whoever is taking the responsibility has to also bear the suffering associated with the situation. Well, that's actually okay, too. In fact, the suffering can be good.

Here's the essential corollary: 

Suffering without purpose is meaningless. 

But what gives you purpose? Ah...see, here's one of the greatest truths and biggest flaws in this book. Mark Manson says that purpose comes from knowing your values and making choices that are in line with those values. So if you value having lots of free time to create art, you will choose a job that doesn't require a great deal of time or mental energy. It's likely that you will suffer for a long time being bored at your job and living your life without financial security, but the suffering has purpose. It's supporting your ability to create art, and art is more important to you than financial security. So you actually love your suffering, and find it beautiful, because it's through that suffering that you are attaining the freedom that truly fulfills you.

These sorts of analogies are ever-present in the book, and all stem from the core advice he's giving the reader: to be intentional about what you value. The flaw in this is that it's very easy to spend your entire life pursuing the wrong values. Manson acknowledges this, and he does have a section where he advises the reader to consider their values under the following metrics:

Defining Good and Bad Values
Good values are 1) reality-based, 2) socially constructive, and 3) immediate and controllable.
Bad values are 1) superstitious, 2) socially destructive, and 3) not immediate or controllable. 

When I say this is a flaw, I don't mean that Mark Manson is wrong in his approach. But he's left out something that I consider to be of such fundamental importance that to omit it compromises his effectiveness. When he talks about whether a value is "socially constructive or destructive" he doesn't define the society he's trying to construct. He leaves it to the reader to determine whether the value is constructive or destructive, based (I assume) either on its results or its perception among like-minded people. This is likely because he comes from a humanist perspective rather than a religious one (in fact, the book makes it quite clear that he distrusts the faithful because of their  blind "certainty" which is another word for "faith.") In other words, he argues that what makes a value good is its independence from anything outside the reader's own self, but the truth is that goodness CANNOT be subjective.

Some examples of good, healthy values: honesty, innovation, vulnerability, standing up for oneself, standing up for others, self-respect, curiosity, charity, humility, creativity.
Some examples of bad, unhealthy values: dominance through manipulation or violence, indiscriminate fucking, feeling good all the time, always being the center of attention, not being alone, being liked by everybody, being rich for the sake of being rich, sacrificing small animals to the pagan gods.
You’ll notice that good, healthy values are achieved internally. Something like creativity or humility can be experienced right now. You simply have to orient your mind in a certain way to experience it. These values are immediate and controllable and engage you with the world as it is rather than how you wish it were.

From my perspective, there isn't a way to judge the merits of a value unless there is an external morality to hold it against. How can innovation be a value in and of itself? Innovation doesn't always lead to good things. The atomic bomb was an innovation. So was communism. Same thing with self-respect. I commend self-respect and believe all people should have it, but what does it do? Unless it's based on the truth that we are children of God, created in His image and therefore worthy of human dignity, AND THEN that truth leads us to the knowledge that ALL humanity is therefore worthy of human dignity, AND THEN we afford ALL PEOPLE that dignity, our self-respect is nothing more than a limited value which has no meaning outside our own experience of it.

Most societies have a complicated and not always well-defined set of social mores. Manson makes it the point of his book to challenge these mores and give his reader the tools to critically analyze the assumptions and values imposed by society, but stops short of providing an external system upon which the reader can then base their revised values.

The result is what Manson has observed about his own life's journey: he goes from one focus to another, likely drawing nearer and nearer to the truth, but never actually finding it, because real truth cannot be found within us.

Despite this, his advice is essential for those struggling with finding a constructive way to work through life's disappointments. It is the antidote to the "you can be anything you want, the sky's the limit, just believe in yourself and pursue your dreams!" false empowerment of the 80s and 90s that, from what I can see, has led to disillusionment when children grow up and discover that achieving their goals doesn't bring the happy ending they were promised by Disney, just more and different problems to overcome. Manson says, "That's ok! In fact, it's good!" Life is about meeting challenges and growing/learning/trying. There's no endpoint where the struggles are over and you just enjoy life like a Sultan in a fairy tale. Instead, choose the right struggles, and you'll enjoy the problems.

*Don't try to listen to this book in the car with kids. :)

Monday, October 30, 2017

First, Love God

 From this morning's prayer time:

The question on my heart: Why is it necessary to love God if He doesn't need our love?

What I wrote in my prayer journal: Because we cannot love the unlovable. We cannot love God unless we truly know Him for who He is. Love for God assures right understanding and a desire to serve Him  -- through, by, and in perfect love. Thus the Greatest Commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind, which then MUST lead to love for yourself and neighbor because if we love God we will love what God loves, and He loves us!

More thoughts:  God doesn't need our love, or our works, or or prayers, or our devotion. He is entirely and completely divine and whole without anything we could offer. Thus, our love for Him and His desire for that love does not stem from something that benefits Him, rather it benefits US. WE need to love Him, because that's how we come to understand what love actually is. If God is love, but we don't know how to love, then how can we know God? And if God is love, but we don't know God, then how can we know how to love?

In "The Second Greatest Story Ever Told," Fr. Gaitley talks about the heresy of Jansenism and the pain it wrought upon the Church in the 18th century. It is this same pain I see between Catholics and other Christians in our country today, and between Secular Humanists and followers of any major religion. Our definitions of love are vastly different; so different that love to one group looks like hate to the other.

So this is why is it not enough to be a "moral person." It is not enough to "live a good life" that focuses on being kind to others and tolerant of their beliefs. It is not enough to simply be responsible stewards of our blessings, and perhaps create some beauty in the world. If our understanding of God is twisted, our understanding of love will be twisted, and our attempts to love and create beauty will also be twisted.

True love, God's love, is radical. So radical that it looks like insanity to those outside the relationship. Our current political climate is like the book of Hosea. The sorrow we experience at every failed attempt to reach one another is a mirror of God's sorrow as He reaches out to us with the answer to every human problem, and still we turn away because we don't believe! Lest you worry that I speak from one political party of another, let me remind you, gentle reader, that I belong to neither, and count as my dearest friends those on all sides who have beliefs that I consider utterly, completely, abhorrently wrong. I am not speaking to any of you, but to all of you, and to myself.

Whatever the problem: Love God.

Seek God.

Know God.

If there is any doubt in our minds or hearts about His mercy, His goodness, or His perfection, that is a sign our understanding is incomplete. Many of the Saints struggled to comprehend His ways throughout their lives, but by the end, all their doubts and questions were answered through the gentle and unrelenting revelation of His love in their hearts. I am struggling, too. Please pray for me.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Marian Consecration

My favorite image of Mary: Our Lady of Grace
Today is Consecration Day for me! I had tried while pregnant with Ian to get through the 33 Days to Morning Glory, and encountered too many spiritual barriers to make it all the way through. But this time has been a wellspring of blessings and comfort. I was able to see changes in my life from the second week, and am doing things I've never been able to do in my entire life. God is truly blessing this little endeavor.

What has helped most is the new ability to let go of my children's futures. I have always struggled with this idea. "Letting Go" is impossible for me because I care so deeply; the only way I've ever been able to do it is by giving up hope and decreasing my love and care. This was possible with people in my life before I had kids. Even my husband (God bless him) I could love less when he disappointed me or refused to meet my needs. It was very difficult, and caused years of strife, but I was able to "let go" of my expectations for him and it turned out to be what saved our marriage. I accepted him for who he is, worked on meeting my own needs, and in time we grew a beautiful partnership of equals. But I only got there by going through a long period of believing in my heart of hearts that this marriage would not last. I don't recommend this.

I couldn't do that with my kids. No matter how much I tried, I could not love them less or care less about their future. Well-meaning friends and family would tell me that there was really no way to assure obedience or compliance from my children, and that I should expect their defiance, and be unbothered by it. To me, that felt like telling someone not to worry about the bear wandering into their campground because, hey, you're in the woods! You should expect bears and be unbothered by them!

Yet, they were right. I should expect defiance from my children, even when I am asking them to do what is right and good, because they are children. They have not yet developed the inner self-discipline to do what is right on their own. If they had, I wouldn't need to ask! And it's unlikely they'll develop this until they've been living on their own for some time, simply because that's the dynamic of family life.

So how does this look, practically, in my own home life? It means less yelling. A lot less. Granted, there was a great deal of yelling before so it's not like my home is a haven of peace and gentleness quite yet. But it is significantly different now, because I know that their behavior is not my responsibility. I've always KNOWN that intellectually, but I haven't been able to accept it emotionally until now.

I hope to blog more in the future about how my parenting has changed and my motherhood has flourished, amid all of the challenges I've always faced. For today, I am basking in the joy of my consecration and the knowledge that my Blessed Mother is near me.

Image credit.

Monday, July 17, 2017


There's a scene in the movie Ghost where Whoopi Goldberg is holding a seance and one of the "spirits" in the room takes over her body. Her clothes billow out, her face grows grave, and she is no longer herself.

Depression is like that for me. I am suddenly taken over by someone, or something, else, something that is not me, but is in my body controlling what I think, say, and feel. I am there, too, but muted, like an echo or a conscience. I see what's happening, I know it's not right. It's not who I am or who I want to be. And I can't do much but watch and mourn.

The person who takes over when I'm depressed is Angry. Everything bothers her. Everything is pointless. Friends don't understand. Family members do nothing but judge. The children are hopeless and helpless drains on me and, one day, on society. Every choice I've ever made was wrong and my life is meaningless.

From my journal a week ago: Back here again. Screaming and swearing at the children. Watching TV because my brain is dead. Feeling like I should never have married and become a mother because it just sucks and my children suck and I hate everything about it. I like little, little babies. They're cuddly, and I get tons of endorphins from breastfeeding, and in the middle of the night I pray and commiserate with eternity through those moments which every mother shares. The rest of it is stupid and awful. I fucking HATE cleaning up their messes. I hate trying to teach them right from wrong. I hate their stupid fucking attitudes. I wish I'd never had kids.

The worst is that during this awful time, when I need the Lord so desperately, I am unable to pray. Literally, I cannot form the words to any prayers. I will start, and get a sentence in, and AngryTN says "What's the point? He doesn't answer."  Then instead of praying, I begin to list all the grievances I have against God. He never healed me during my pregnancies. He hasn't converted my husband. We are still struggling financially. Nothing I've tried with my eldest son is working. I follow the teachings of the Church and where does it lead me?

So I try again, but prayer angers me. Angers me so that I deliberately begin to think about something as far from God as I can; something vengeful, something lewd, something heretical.

When AngryTN is gone, I am filled with regret and shame. I don't know why I am not strong enough to fight her. I don't know why God hasn't healed me of the depression, or at least shown me how I can get help! I have tried medication, I have tried therapy (both talk and EMDR), I do all those things that they recommend (at one point my therapist read me the list and I do 9/10 of them on a daily or weekly basis and the 10th I tried for three years without success.) I am on supplements to regulate my hormones. I've tried blood tests and natural doctors.

Nothing is working.

I found comfort from a surprising source yesterday. My dad called to tell me of an insight he'd been given during contemplation, which he was told to share with me. It is complicated, and I fear to write it down because without more explanation it may do more harm than good. But he helped me to see that my sufferings are not evidence that I am doing it wrong, but rather an opportunity to do even more good for those I love. I hope to write a longer post about it sometime, because the conversation I had with my Dad was so beautiful that I know others can be helped by it, too.

In the meantime, I am moving forward with what I know to be true and right. This prayer is on the wall of my bathroom so I can be reminded of it every day.

God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission—I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. 

He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.

Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. 

He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me—still He knows what He is about.

O Emmanuel, Deign to fulfill Thy high purposes in me whatever they be—work in and through me. I am born to serve Thee, to be Thine, to be Thy instrument. Let me be Thy blind instrument. I ask not to see—I ask not to know—I ask simply to be used. 

--Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Judgment Judgment Everywhere and Nary a Drop of Truth

I've been wanting, for some time, to write a post that sort of brings together various articles I've read and insights I've had related to the stress that comes from being a mother in this modern era.

It boils down to one simple fact: In today's modern parenthood there is no truth, only judgment. 

Every single day there are at least two articles on my Facebook, Blogger, or Yahoo feed that contradict each other so fundamentally that, frankly, I am not sure how anyone could possibly know how to parent. So every day I am reminded how very extremely critically important my job is as a mother and how none of it actually matters at all. It's so important to set boundaries. But don't say "no!" And make sure you let them fail. Safely, of course, in small ways before they reach high school, and making exceptions for necessary interventions.

"I think when you use the word 'fail,' you alienate a lot of people," said children's television host Miss Lori, a mom of three. "I believe in allowing my children to stumble." Teaching them how to get up again is enormously important, said the social media strategist and contributor. "But fail, not so much, especially in school. Our education system is already failing them in most cities. Their school résumé is too important, and they have too few years to amass it."

Oh, I thought if you don't let them fail it's because you have issues with anxiety and control. If they're sick, mentally ill, overweight, or stressed, you're not doing your job right. Maybe it's because you've provided them too many toys, activities, choices, and information. You can't let them out of your sight, ever!  Besides, time with them is the most important way you show your love. But don't helicopter them! And here's a great article about how the best way a parent can prevent bullying is to teach their kids to defend themselves rather than relying on school or parental authority, except that you must also teach them that it's NOT OKAY to EVER use violence in any way against anyone for any reason.

“Responding physically to physical attacks is not the right first response,” she told TODAY Parents. “However, ... we cannot allow children to become victimized. If a child tries a verbal deflection and is met with physical threats, he or she needs to know that they have the right to defend themselves physically.” “One possible consequence is that physically defending yourself against an attack might lead to a fight. Your child might lose that fight. They may get hurt. The attacker may get hurt. The teachers, mentors or adults in charge, may get involved. Your child might get sanctioned for fighting,” he wrote.
How's that for the perfect illustration of a lose/lose situation? You have the right to defend yourself, but doing so will probably lead to sanctions and adults getting involved, but at least the bullying will stop...except probably not because the whole point of the article is that adult involvement doesn't effectively stop bullying or teach children how to respond to bullying behaviors!

Not that I need the internet to be shown my failures. Every time I lose my temper, each well-meaning "observation" from family members, all the hundreds of times per day the kids fight with each other, talk back to me, whine, complain, act selfishly, lie, break something, or eat a bunch of candy, convinces me that my parenting is abysmal and I am raising the next generation of entitled brats, and hence, that my entire life's purpose is worse than useless.

Yes, I know, this is a sign of depression. From this article, about the stress to be "perfect": "When you have depression, it's about constantly battling the negative thoughts and constantly battling the comparison. And it's so tiring." Someone who doesn't battle this disease will simply advise me not to care about other people, not to listen to any voice but my own. The problem is, I don't trust my own voice or my own perspective.

Love this post from Bunmi Laditan
How To Be A Mom in 2017: Make sure your children's academic, emotional, psychological, mental, spiritual, physical, nutritional, and social needs are met while being careful not to overstimulate, understimulate, improperly medicate, helicopter, or neglect them in a screen-free, processed foods-free, GMO-free, negative energy-free, plastic-free, body positive, socially conscious, egalitarian but also authoritative, nurturing but fostering of independence, gentle but not overly permissive, pesticide-free two-story, multilingual home preferably in a cul-de-sac with a backyard and 1.5 siblings spaced at least two year apart for proper development also don't forget the coconut oil.
How To Be A Mom In Literally Every Generation Before Ours: Feed them sometimes.
(This is why we're crazy.)

Here's a question I'd like answered: "How do we get past this?"

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Spring Break

We took a great trip to Glenwood Springs for Spring Break. This is our third year going as a family, and the first year I actually got to ride the alpine coaster seeing as I was not needed to hold a baby up at the top. I won't lie, I was pretty nervous the first ride down, but it's awesome!!

Image result for chips and salsa meme
We left on Sunday just before noon and ate lunch that I packed for each kid in the car. I told them they could have a pop with dinner if they finished their lunch bags, and each of them did. I love the drive through the mountains, past all the different colored strata and across the Vail Pass. The weather was nice in Glenwood so we went right to the hot springs for a couple hours, then grabbed dinner at our favorite Mexican place in town. What is it that's so good about Mexican? It's the corn, right? The corn and the cheese? Yeah. That's just such an awesome combination. We stuffed ourselves with chips and salsa while trading Chips and Salsa memes. My favorite:

We stayed at the Hotel Glenwood Springs, at the base of the Adventure Park, and I have to say, it's what makes the vacation.
Yes, the hot springs are awesome. Yes, the Adventure Park, too. But if we stayed at a regular hotel the kids would not clamor to go back again next year. This hotel is totally awesome. They have their own pool and hot tub, with a zero depth entry, fountain, and baby slide for the littles, as well as a bball hoop, lazy river, and HUGE twirly slide for bigger kids. We spent SO MUCH TIME at this pool. Dan camped out at the base of the slide, quite literally playing the role of the Catcher in the Rye (except he was waist deep in water instead of rye) and caught the non-swimmers as they came shooting down the slide. My eldest had a great time playing HORSE with anyone nearby, attempting ridiculous and dangerous shots from In The Hot Tub! On The Steps! At The Opposite End of The Pool! Behind the Hoop! etc. We stayed three nights and on the last night they gave us a complimentary large pizza cooked by their pizza bar in the lobby, and a board game.

The pizza tasted good. It wasn't a true crust, just a Boboli type that's already cooked and they top it and broil it up so it's all melty. But the kids loved it and, did I mention, it was FREE? I thought it was such a nice touch that they threw that in for our stay. Also, they have a game room in the basement with Wii (Mario carts), a blackboard and chalk, bean bags, foosball table, and a little craft center with coloring books and crayons. We were down there quite a bit, and all the kids like having their own little room where they could hang out.

I decided ahead of time to spring for the kitchenette suite at the hotel and I'm thrilled with that option. We were able to eat something I cooked half the meals, and it also made breakfast much more pleasant. Their breafast is good: waffles, yogurt, cereal, juices, coffes and tea, fruit, hard boiled eggs, and toast/bagels/donuts. But I can't have hard boiled eggs, and the kids don't like them, so that left us without a protein option for breakfast. Also, the girls are dairy free. So I was able to bring my paleo sausage breakfast hash (loosely based on this recipe but adjusted to my FODMAP sensitivities) to heat up for myself, and have almond milk in the fridge for the girls to put in their cereal, and we were happy as clams. Other meals included fried rice, which I made by sauteing a chicken breast on the stove top and mixing it with chopped snap peas and carrots, then adding soy sauce and pre-cooked rice I'd prepared before we left. For two of the lunches I made sandwiches for the kids and served them with cut carrots and potato chips, and for Dan and I rolled roasted vegetables (prepared before we left) with cream cheese in a tortilla.

 We had spent all day Monday at the Adventure Park, going down the alpine slide a million times, playing laser tag (Meia got scared but the older kids had fun,) touring the caves, and watching 4D movies (yep, you wear 3-D glasses to watch a film, and the chairs move and shake, and it sprays you with mist for a full sensory experience.) The gondola ride to the top of the mountain is always fun, although the line to get on the gondola is less so. We waited an entire hour, and we were one of the early ones because all we had to do was walk out of our hotel after breakfast. My boys found a fiberglass stake while we were in line and started dueling with it, only to find that the fiberglass wasn't stable. They ended up with tiny shards embedded in their hands. I raced back up to the room to get my tweezers, but even so they were in pain until we got to the top and asked the gift shop lady for some tape. That helped a bit more (my youngest stopped holding his hand at his side and began to actually use it again after the tape) but I don't think they were totally free until they went back to the pool that afternoon. We got some great pictures of the boys in the Squeeze Box, and the weather was perfect.

Tuesday the weather wasn't great. But I knew that was predicted from checking the weather a week before, and I'd brought some movies. We watched Adventures in Babysitting (which is dirtier than I remember it and I'm hoping the kids were as baffled by some of those references as I was back in the day) Groundhog Day (which I had to keep assuring them was going to be awesome because it starts pretty slow) and the new Ghostbusters (which had me dying of laughter. Chris Hemsworth dancing at the end is so great!) As I've mentioned, there was enough in the hotel to keep the kids occupied, so we didn't have to brave the cold.

All the kids were sad when we had to leave; we spent the maximum amount of time in the pool as possible and then went to the park to picnic and walk along the river before finally getting into the car around 2 pm to head home. We stopped on the way back in Frisco for coffee/hot chocolates and treats and were back home by dinnertime. All in all, we had a wonderful time. Kids got along except for a couple incidents which is to be expected and didn't ruin anything. We're planning to do it again next year!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Art Meditation on Mary Magdalene

As we move into Holy Week, we can prepare by entering our Lord's Passion through the eyes of someone who was there. Here is a meditation on four works of art featuring Mary Magdalene, which I originally wrote for my Moms and Tots ministry.

We know Mary Magdalene best for her visit to Christ’s tomb, bringing the spices to anoint him. While it is not certain, many also believe she is the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair at the home of the Pharisee in Luke 7: 36-50. 

In this painting by Nik Helbig, Mary and Jesus are painted in an impressionist style. The softness of the lines surrounding them give the illusion of her hair, which is the same color as Jesus’ hands and cloak. We are meant to see that His spirit and hers are united in this moment where she honors Jesus and is forgiven of all her sins. The brightest part of this painting is her face, right in the center. Her eyes are open as she gazes at His feet, gently touching them. And we see this touch echoed above, as Jesus lays His hand gently on her head.  As you look at this painting, what sort of emotions come to you? The colors are like a rainbow after a storm, evoking the hope that comes after darkness. Mary is peaceful, yet not happy. Her sins have burdened her so much all her life. This is the very moment of her forgiveness; she has not yet felt the weight lifting off her. She is still bent, crouched over the feet of the only one who she believes can save her. What is she thinking right now, as she feels Jesus lay his hand on her head? Take a moment to sit with this painting and allow the Lord to speak to you through this image.

The next painting depicts Mary at the tomb on Easter morning. It is titled Noli Me Tangere (Latin for “Do not touch me” or “Do not cling to me”) and was painted by James Jacques Joseph Tissot. In John’s Gospel, when Mary finally recognizes Jesus, she falls down to worship Him. He replies, telling her not to hold on to him, because he has not yet ascended to the Father, but to go and tell the disciples that she has seen Him. In this painting, though they are very close, there is a distance between them. Mary does not look at Jesus; her face is pressed into the ground, but she raises her hands in supplication. She knows this is the Son of God, risen from the dead. The apologetics site “Unam Sanctam Catholicam” describes the moment this way:
In addition to fear of the Lord, Christ inspired within Mary a deepening of faith through His gentle command to cease touching Him. Physically touching the Lord surely served as a great comfort to Mary Magdalene. In the midst of our Lord’s Passion, Mary remained close to Him, right beside the Cross. In the midst of her great grief, the body of our Lord is that which Mary sought. Yet, Mary’s faith was great; hence, she was the first witness of the Resurrection, the first one to see the Risen Lord. With the removal of this comfort from physical touch, with this abandonment of self, Mary would have to grow in faith. Her faith in Christ, rather than physical touching of Christ, would have to be her comfort and consolation. This deepening of faith in Mary Magdalene certainly would have been preparatory for the time between Christ’s Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Spirit. It is as though by saying “For I have not yet ascended to the Father” Christ is also revealing to Mary that His salvation of mankind is not yet finished; He still must ascend to Heaven and send His Spirit. With the sending of the Holy Spirit, there is a more complete restoration of the union, the “touch,” between Christ and man. Mary was being told to wait, rely on her faith, wait for the Spirit, and grow keen to the spiritual Presence of our Lord.
Notice some of the details the artist has included, and ponder what meaning they have to you. Jesus’ hand is in the three fingered blessing that was common in early Medieval and Renaissance art. The three outstretched fingers alludes to the Trinity. Is he blessing Mary, or showing us that He is going to the Father? Both the tomb and the temple are visible in this painting. The tomb housed the body of Christ and was the site of His resurrection. The temple was the spiritual center of the Jewish faith, and housed the Ark of the Covenant the Word of God. Christ, too, is the Word of God, and the tomb parallels the Temple where God Himself entered to encounter His people. Take a moment to examine the painting, and see if the Lord gives you any other insights.

Here is Mary in a very different light. Mark Hough paints her standing, her eyes lifted, her face full of wonder and awe. The halo behind her head signifies that she is a holy woman, and the banner above her head proclaims “I have seen the Lord!” but it is her face that communicates most clearly her encounter with God. Notice how her hand is in almost the same position as Jesus’ in the last painting. But she is not blessing the Apostles; she is instructing them. Here is Mary as the messenger, the original evangelist, proclaiming the Good News. The columns and arches behind her evoke the naves of a Cathedral, and her rich and beautiful clothes are colored with Christian symbolism: Red for martyrdom and the blood Christ shed on the cross, Gold for his kingship and the glory of his resurrection, White for purity, forgiveness, and salvation, and a thin band of blue, the color of our Blessed Mother, which binds together Christ’s sacrifice and our redemption.

Take a moment to reflect on this image. If you were one of the Apostles, seeing Mary come to you like this, would you believe something miraculous and inexplicable had indeed occurred?

Lastly we have this painting by Francesco Hayez, titled:  Crucifixion with Mary Magdalene Kneeling and Weeping. In this image we see brought together all three of her roles. She is wiping his feet with her hair, as she did to honor him at the home of the Pharisee. Now she does it to comfort him in his agony. See how one arm embraces the cross? At the time, she would not have known its glory, but from the perspective of history, we the viewer can see that the cross is an instrument of salvation. Just as she was forgiven all her sins, so  are we. The cross is glorious, we adore it as we adore Christ because he sanctified it. We will venerate the cross this coming Holy Thursday, as Mary Magdalene is doing here. Look now at her face. Her eyes are downcast, yet she has a slight smile, and her face is bright like the line of the horizon behind her. The darkness surrounds Jesus, except for a circle almost like a halo  just around the top of the cross. But around Mary it is not dark.  She still has Jesus, and that brings her hope and life.  But death is coming. The skull beside the Cross, Christ's closed eyes, and the descending darkness makes that clear. Here  were are at the very last moments of Christ’s life, and Mary is clinging to him, and clinging to the Cross.

When Mary Magdalene sees the man at Jesus’ tomb, she thinks he is a gardener. It doesn’t occur to her that it is Jesus. She is blinded by her grief, her own human failings, because in that moment, she believed her struggles were greater than God himself.  She has forgotten Christ’s promise that he will rebuild this temple in three days (Cf, Jn 2:19).  She, who sat at the feet of Jesus as he suffered on the cross, does not recognize that Christ is standing in front of her. 

Take a moment now to see God in this painting, and to seek Him in your heart and in your everyday fears and hardships.