Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Michael Ward

I grew up reading The Chronicles of Narnia, and was always enthralled by the beauty and creativity of the series. With those books is the first time I remember consciously recognizing foreshadowing and symbolism on my own. As someone who is studying to teach English, it's with fondness I remember those experiences. When I saw that Ward had published a book about the seven books corresponding to the seven medieval planets, I avoided it for a while because I had some idea that it might taint those early memories of Narnia. I didn't want to see those stories broken down and analyzed to death. But let me say that Planet Narnia actually enhanced those initial memories for me. It was not a deconstruction; Ward's approach was respectful of the stories as whole. In fact, his explication tied things together in such a way that showed the stories to be more "whole" than I originally thought. For example, the first half of Prince Caspian, when the children are in the forests and the trees are awakened, always seemed a strange and inconsistent contrast to the the last half, which is all about duels and battles. An understanding of Ares as both militant and silvan deity unites the two parts of the story. I found myself totally engrossed in discovery while reading Planet Narnia, and even more impressed at the subtlety of Lewis. The exciting discoveries, the sensibility to the stories as they were meant to be read, and convincing explication has left me to view Planet Narnia as an exemplar of literary criticism.

Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection by Pope Benedict XVI

My dad gave this to me as an early Easter gift so that I could read it at the seasonable time of Lent. The individuality and centrality of Jesus Christ comes out so powerfully in Benexict XVI's writings. Certainly, the book gave me a deeper knowledge of how much my life is bound up in Christ's. It consistently presents Him as the One in whose presence every other desire pales to nothingness.

"...a distinguishing feature of the disciple of Jesus is the fact that he
'lives': beyond the mere fact of existing, he has found and embraced the real life that everyone is seeking. On the basis of such texts, the
early Christians called themselves simply 'the living' (hoi zontes).
They had found what all are seeking -- life itself, full and, hence,
indestructible life."

Pope Benedict discusses how Christ created us for this eternal life, made it possible by His death and resurrection, and calls us to life in the Gospels. The pope has impressive scholarly knowledge, but just as evident is his love for Christ, and how entirely his life is bound up in the Kingdom of God.

Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
How interesting to read about the early family memories of Pope Benedict XVI and his close-call experiences as a youth in Nazi Germany. In one story, he and a group of his comrades were battered by an SS officer trying to make "'voluntary' recruits," but he was sent away (relieved) with "mockery and verbal abuse" because of his stated intention to become a Catholic priest! I also enjoyed seeing the passion he had for his studies in seminary, and how that carried over to his passion for teaching. He wrote with enthusiasm about a great many authors and works, and discussed some of his own first projects. These memoirs confirmed even more for me what a scholarly pope we have.

A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy
by Thomas Buergenthal
This was a riveting story, and it was, of course, interesting to get inside another personal perspective of World War II and the Holocaust. I've heard the distant, unsympathetic facts of the Holocaust many times before, but a first-hand account brings the tragedy to life. In one part, he describes how his family took in two young children who had lost their parents. In the short time they were together, the children became like his siblings, but it only took a quick gesture from an SS officer and they were sent away to the gas chambers, never to be heard of again. Things like that stood out to me from the book -- the suddenness of his separation from his mother -- the way that life could be going one way and then change so dramatically in only a few moments. In the end, though, I was disappointed at Buergenthal's attribution to fate and fate only.

My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir by Clarence Thomas
I don't normally read this many memoirs, but here is another one I read over the summer. I didn't know much about Justice Thomas, but I had respect and interest for "the silent justice." His memories of the strong, consistent, disciplinary parenting of his grandparents, and especially of Catholic school and serving Mass, held my attention. I learned about the inferiority he felt, even after earning a law degree from Yale. The affirmative action dynamics at the time made him feel that his degree was worthless. He wrote that, "as a symbol of my disillusionment, I peeled a fifteen-cent price sticker off a package of cigars and stuck it on the frame of my law degree...Instead of hanging it on the wall of my Supreme Court office, I stored it in the basement of my Virginia home." His description of the "high-tech lynching" was enlightening. However, he certainly did not paint an idealized version of himself; I was surprised at the candid admittance of faults and acknowledgement of mistakes throughout the book. A disappointment I had was that he didn't give a clear indication of the nature of his faith in the end; however, I thought the book well-worth the read.

Lift Up Your Heart: A Guide to Spiritual Peace by Fulton Sheen
Sheen's writing is like his speaking: passionate, clear, and to-the-point, but not just to any point, to the right one. He hits on the true nature, purpose, and fulfillment of man. He is knowledgable about the field of psychology, and this was one of the first works I read that really connected psychology and spirituality. He exposes the lie that selfishness will bring any kind of peace, and shows how peace can only come from selfless love. He also proclaims unashamedly that selfless love can only come from God. My commonplace book has almost two full pages of quotes from this book; it is full of truisms. Something I especially loved was his line-by-line exposition of parts of Francis Thompson's The Hound of Heaven,which has become a new favorite poem. It's a pleasure to read someone so devoted to Christ who is also so well-read!

Our Lady of Kibeho: Mary Speaks to the World from the Heart of Africa by Immaculée Ilibagiza

Even though I tend to be hesitant about mystics and miracles, it intruiged me that one of the few Vatican approved Marian apparitions took place in a little town in Rwanda. I thought that the prophecies of the genocide were convincing, and I was familiar with Immaculée from EWTN and her book Left to Tell about her experiences of the Rwandan genocide. I expected it to be a good story, but I didn't expect it to delight me like it did. I've had some emotional reservations about Marian devotion, but this story seemed to melt them away. The manner in which she appeared to the children was so simple and motherly. The children felt so surrounded by love that they would laugh and giggle in her presence. She showed intense love for her "children" in the messages she gave, and also wisdom, even though her words were so simple. I enjoyed reading about it from Immaculée's perspective, because she was a child when they apparitions began, and witnessed miracles -- not just physical miracles, but changes in the hearts of her family and village. Reading this book, there's been a change in me as well -- a greater devotion to Christ through Our Lady, and a deepened understanding of the mysteries of the faith through the Rosary and the special Rosary of the Seven Sorrows.

Being a Christian is like being a superhero. Absolutely nothing can conquer us if we choose to follow Christ, because Christ has already conquered it all.

Embarassment can't cast us down; jeers do nothing to us; we can take misunderstandings and even hatred from others. We can live through, sickness, pain, hunger, and thirst with actual joy and contentment. Even being stabbed to death; tortured & beheaded; hanged, drawn, & quartered; or murdered in gas chambers can't defeat us.

St. Paul told the Philippians, "I know how to be abased." I am learning this as I grow as a Christian. I can count it all joy when anything horrible, disappointing, or even irritating happens to me. If I have a headache, it's a joy because I can become more united to Christ. Every bit of suffering drives me to Him, my Love. Every bit helps me understand His Passion a little more. And anyway, He suffered it all before me, so I know I have nothing to fear.
You know what else? What's earthly suffering when we are living for an eternal Heaven? Nothing.
So HA, Pain! Love trumps you!

St. Paul also said, "I know how to abound." Everyone thinks they know how to do this, but few truly do. The Christians do because, when they have riches, they aren't attached to them, so they can use them freely. When a Christian enjoys earthly things, they can truly enjoy them. Why? Because they aren't trying to make them something they're not. They're NOT the end-all. We know that they are only tastes of the beauty of the life to come.

"In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.

"I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."

The search for the Fountain of Youth has never ended. Humans have always been trying to cure themselves of Mortality's children - Aging, Disease, Plague, Famine, War, Flood, &c. The most unhealthy thing that can happen to you is to die.

Death is a natural process, but everything in us screams DEATH IS NOT NATURAL!!! when we are faced with it. Face a corpse and see how natural you feel. We can't look at a body stripped of its spirit without a deep sense of strangeness. Death is so wrong for us.

Why, when people come to the end of their lives, do they wonder at "how quickly time went by"? A minute is always 60 seconds, an hour is always 60 minutes, a day is always 24 hours. We have never known time to be any slower; death has always come at the same, ceaseless pace, so when we meet it, why are we so surprised? To have a sand glass emptying our lives away is so wrong for us!

What would you say to a man who, not only affirmed the existence of a Fountain of Youth, but claimed to be the very Fountain!

Some said, "This saying is hard, who can accept it?"

One said, "You have the words of eternal life."

Others said, "Crucify him!"

Are we so resigned to the wrong of death that we would kill One who offered the right? He claimed, "Whoever believes has eternal life," "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life." "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish."

I don't know about you, but I think I would like to be immortal! Not living forever with pain and decay, but with love and vitality. This man offers that! And He is called the "Firstborn from the Dead" -- having ascended from this earth in a physical, human, but imperishable body. He sent for his mother in the same way, and He promises us a "Resurrection from the Dead."

I think I will enter His Immortality School. I'll feast and celebrate on the Firstborn's birthday - Sunday - when He was born from a tomb to an everlasting life. I'll follow His words to the death, and without fear, because He literally conquered death.

Death has no power over me; I am freed! Alleluia!

The Artist

His canvas is the sky; His media are water and air.

Every painting is a study of His original.

His most prized works of art, the ones that He labored over most to make perfect, are little artists.

These artists are fashioned in such a way that they can choose to embrace or deface the Artist's creations, and they have chosen wrongly.

Their colors run together and become confused, they become darkened, and are thrown about without any thought of preserving their original beauty. They were not made for this.

But, if they will let Him, the Artist will painstakingly re-fashion them into the perfect works of art He designed. Then they will be more beautiful than any of His landscapes or sunsets, His moonrises or constellations.

He said so many strange things, seemed so thoughtful and wise. He spoke as if he were a thousand years old when he was only 33. He would go off by himself, away from the crowds. What did he do when he was up on the mountainside? Perhaps his friends watched him from a distance, seeing only his lips move, not knowing what he said.

He broke so many social rules, speaking to a trice-outcast woman at a well, confronting leaders as hypocrites, inviting himself to dinner at a tax-collector's house. He didn't have a place to lay his head; he went on foot from place to place. He told so many incomprehensible stories about things like yeast, coins, grapes, seeds, pearls, and weddings. Those listening could tell they were analogies, but didn't understand what he was analogizing.

What a weird man. What weird things happened around him! Think of all those blind, lame, deaf, bleeding, and dying people that flocked to him and came away raving about their healing, even though he told them not to. Why did he tell them to be silent about their healing?
What did he scribble in the sand at the stoning of the adulterous woman? What must she have thought when his simple, piercing question drove away her torturers, and he alone remained? How must she have looked up at him? I wonder what his face looked like when he told her to go and sin no more.

How amazing that a 12-year-old would somehow end up teaching the wisest of the wise in the temple! He must be special one; he will grow up to do great things.

Everyone expected him to do great things. If he was the Messiah, he would free them from Roman rule. He was the leader they looked for, but he was a meek, silent man who was led like a sheep to the slaughter to be crucified by the Romans. The people must have been shocked and totally bewildered as to what kind of leader he really was.

Did the earth really shake when he died, and did the temple veil really tear in half at that moment? It makes me wonder.

His followers were totally insane. What kind of crazy idiot would WANT to be crucified UPSIDOWN? They spoke in all kinds of unexpected languages and cared as little for money and possessions as anyone. They were glad to die, and there never ran out of people who were glad to die for him. 2000 years after this man lived, there are still people who rave about him.
I don't know how anyone can rest until they find the truth out about this mysterious man. Who is he and what is he about?

What if Heaven's not the afterlife, but rather, earth is the pre-life? This was the epiphany I had when reading Miracles by C.S. Lewis four Easters ago. This book made me consider the supernatural world at an entirely higher level. As a child, my idea of Heaven was a limited little dream world. I imagined flying over green hills, children playing, and a smiling Jesus sitting on a lawn chair. It wasn't a bad prospect, but I don't see it as worth dying a martyr's death.

What if Heaven's not the supernatural, but rather, earth is the sub-natural? This is a passage from the book that I will never forget:

Confusion between Spirit and soul (or "ghost") has here done much harm. Ghosts
must be pictured, if we are to picture them at all, as shadowy and tenuous, for
ghosts are half-men, one element abstracted from a creature that ought to have
flesh. But Spirit, if pictured at all, must be pictured in the very opposite
way. Neither God nor even the gods are "shadowy" in traditional imagination...If we must have a mental picture to symbolise Spirit, we should represent it as something heavier than matter.

A crude analogy of miracles in my mind is the idea of a 3-dimensional person strolling into a 2-dimensional world. He seems to break all the rules; he seems crazy and will probably be killed off. But he is the one with most substance; they simply can't comprehend it.

We are "real" because we are derived from the true Reality, the Existence, the I AM. The common cultural images of God simply won't do. If there is a supernatural Being like that, He must be absolutely terrifyingly unfathomable, but how many of us regard Him in that way?

Thinking about this makes me wonder about the growing belief in "spirituality," but not in God. It seems that we think that, if Nature is the only thing that exists, it must have existed forever self-sustainably, and is therefore somehow spiritual or supernatural. However, that leaves us with spiritual characterizations, but no Character, no Person.

I don't know if that will make sense to anyone reading this; I shied away from writing this post for a long while because Miracles has inspired me to ponder infinity more than any other book, and infinity is impossible to explain, only to expound upon...more...and more...and more...however, I think the expoundings of C.S. Lewis are well worth reading and re-reading.

Meditating on the Passion of Christ reveals so many truths to the soul. It amazes me that the passion is so bloody and gruesome, but at the same time, comforting. Maybe comforting isn't the right word. Restoring. It would seem that God Himself endured every kind of suffering that we endure as humans. Christ must have been the most human man in history. He endured: hunger, temptation, poverty, fatigue, dread, betrayal of friends, indifference of friends, death of friends, being misunderstood, ostracism, attempted stoning, pain in the head, pain in the feet, pain in the hands, pain in the side, pain in the back, pain in the knees, inability to breathe, dizziness from blood loss, thirst, falling, falling again, mortification, splinters, falling again, watching his mother suffer, mockery, beatings, injustice, helplessness, feeling totally forsaken by God, death, hell. Is there anything we suffer that He doesn't understand?

This is the way I want to see clothes: Beauty is not in the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, & wearing of fine clothing. Clothes are beautiful, but they themselves are not beauty. Rather, beauty is in the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. What matters more: God's sight or man's? Which carries more weight? What did Our Lord Himself choose to wear when he walked on earth? He wore a simple tunic without seam, woven from top to bottom. Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin (nor shop); yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Is a child ever any less or more beautiful because of the way they're dressed? Truly, I say to you, unless you turn & become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Why do we trouble ourselves so much with things that have no eternal value? Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy. We should be ready to lay our garments across the back of the donkey that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. We should gladly lay them on the road before Him, praising Him. After all, He was stripped of His garments to be exposed on a criminal's cross for love of us. "Yet even now," says the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts & not your garments." The Lord desires our hearts. What good is it if we "offer" things up for 40 days if we have no love? It means nothing. We must offer it for a purpose; offer it with devotion. My heart should go first to Him, then everything else can follow: my wardrobe, my jewelry, my "style." Once my perspective is focused on Him, then I can have the right perspective on clothes.

To someone who was raised Evangelical, "praying" something like the Apostle's Creed is a little odd. It doesn't sound like a prayer; it doesn't address God (or anyone really). It's a statement of things we believe.

Well, our lives should be a statement of things we believe, and our lives should also be a prayer - daily presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God (Rom 12:1).

Then how are we living the Creed? Reciting it is only the verbal affirmation, but are we affirming it with our actions?

I believe in God.

...the Father. Really? Do I acknowledge my Father? Do I act as His child? Do I try to become worthy of His inheritance?

...the Almighty. Do I have proper awe and fear toward the One with all might? Do I trust in his power when I don't know how things will turn out, or do I try to be "almighty" over my own life?

...Creator of heaven and earth. When I walk outside, do I rejoice in the beauty of the created world? Do I rejoice in the beauty of people created in God's image?

I believe in Jesus Christ.

...His only Son, our LORD. Who has lordship over my daily thoughts and actions?

...who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. Do I really believe in a man who was conceived in the womb of a virgin? If true, it was the most marvelous birth in history. Do I act like it was? Do I tell others about it?

...suffered under Pontius Pilate, was cruficied, died, and was buried. Do I daily remember the sacrifice that our Lord offered for us? The fact that God Himself would suffer in a human body and die should never cease to put us in awe or inspire us toward love.

...He descended into Hell. He'll do anything for us! He went to Hell and back to win our souls! What am I doing for Him?

...He ascended into Heaven. Do I acknowledge the power of the Man who confronted death, defeated it entirely, and then ascended to eternal life?

...He is seated at the right hand of the Father. If the Lord of my life is in the most powerful position of Heaven, why should I ever worry?

...from whence He shall come to judge the living & the dead. Am I preparing myself (and others) for a judgement day?

I believe in the Holy Spirit.

...the Holy Catholic Church. If I believe the Holy Spirit preserves this Church, shouldn't I follow and defend her?

...the communion of saints. Am I aware of the "cloud of witnesses" around me? Do I make an effort to learn from the wisdom of the saints? Do I ask for their prayers?

...the forgiveness of sins. Do I return continuously to God because I know He will forgive me, or do I stubbornly hold off on repentance?

...the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. What is the goal of my life, my first desire, my true home?

Amen. I want to be saying "Amen" with my life.

This book has helped me understand freedom and love, desire and fulfillment, femininity and masculinity. I never realized how much I needed Mary till I read it. My Protestant heritage did not set up Mary to play a role in my spiritual life. As a new Catholic, I accepted Marian dogmas and devotion; I even defended them, but I didn't really love them till I read The World's First Love by Fulton Sheen.

In Mary I find my vocation as a person. God could work His will through her because she had humility.

My soul doth magnify the Lord / and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior / because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid.
And she could be perfectly glorified in her Assumption and Coronation because she had no self-glory. She gave everything she was to God, fulfilling her human purpose. This morning, I woke up with hope, because even though it may seem impossible for God to work His perfect will through me, I know He can because He's done it before -- with Mary.

My vocation as a person is to give glory to God, and none to myself. Then my spirit can truly rejoice like Mary in her Magnificat.

In her I find my vocation as a woman.

"She has the vocation of generating life, either in the flesh or in the spirit..." - Chapter 6 - The Virgin Mother
She gave physical life to Our Lord, and she gives spiritual life to the Church as its mother. We are "her offspring, those who keep God's commandments and bear witness to Jesus." (Revelation 12:17)

My vocation as a woman is to give life, which is to give Christ. Mary gave Christ as no other could have possibly done!

"The key to understanding Mary is this: We do not start with Mary. We start with Christ, the Son of the Living God! The less we think of Him, the less we think of her; the more we think of Him, the more we think of her; the more we adore His Divinity, the more we venerate her Motherhood; the less we adore His Divinity, the less reason we have for respecting her." - (Ch. 5)

A year ago, spending the first few moments of January 1, 2010 in the candle-lit chapel, praying and singing with my sister and our friends, asking God to sustain us in the new year.

Many days (and nights) of ice-skating on the pond with my family - racing, jumping, misusing hockey sticks, spinning, falling, and laughing.
Passing by the Church every day after class, often stopping and encountering the supernatural graces of adoration.

Enjoying chapters of Moby Dick every night (for a goodly time), being awed, amused, and better educated on whaling ships. Enjoying Martin Chuzzlewit after that and getting my much-loved annual dose of Dickens.

A Lent without music. A Holy Thursday Mass and constant adoration with my father and sister until midnight. A fervent and glorious Easter Vigil.
High school graduation, 18th birthday, first job. The opportunity to increase my solidarity with humanity by working a cash register and a drive-thru. Praising God that I could find a job in the employment wasteland of my hometown.

Sitting in the heat and light of the sun on the community college lawn, closing my eyes to the music and choosing Deas Vail every single time.

Meeting a Dominican sister in the Dairy Queen. A few months later, getting a letter from halfway across the country, explaining that she had met a friend of mine who gave her my address. Beginning a treasured correspondence.

Taking a roadtrip with my sister, listening to (m)orning by Mae as we drove into a sunrising sky. Meeting our family at the campgrounds, getting caught hiking in the rain to find shelter in a cleft and pray a rosary.
Stargazing late into the night with Future of Forestry's Traveler's Song repeating on my iPod.

Picnicking for my sister's birthday. Picknicking with my cousins. Picknicking often on the college campus with newly made friends.

Making use of the school's tucked away meditation room and rediscovering the mysteries of the Gospel with what became a daily rosary.

Eating Swiss cheese, talking to fish, watching childrens' movies, burning popcorn, playing outdated board games, re-enacting ET, and swaying in unison with my first roommate in the freshman dorm.

A global issues class that blew my mind twice a week.
A Psalter's concert that brought Psalms to my lips for weeks afterward.

Moongazing with a stranger on the campus lawn and talking theology for hours into the night, losing favor with campus security. Having the widest range of philosophical discussions I've ever had in any one semester of school.

Watching my little siblings get older. Conversing with the 2-year-old whose default answer to any question was "applesauce." Playing and laughing with them.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of both sets of grandparents! Savoring reunions and reminiscences and thanking God for my rare family heritage!

And the biggest gift of all: meeting my sister Maria on Christmas Day.

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