Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Encounter with Little Drummer Boy

Call me Martian, but it's true that I heard the song Little Drummer Boy for the first time right about two weeks ago. The first two times from the lips of little school children, the third time by the Irish group The Priests. I liked it instantly and perceived instinctively that this was no mere children's song, and there was something grave and romantic about it. The melody hauntingly reminds me of music of the North-West regions of China, where the Uighur minority resides, evoking a time and space far and away.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the song on Wikipedia, and read this:
The story is somewhat similar to an 12th century legend retold by Anatole France as Le Jongleur de Notre Dame (French: Our Lady's Juggler), which was adapted into an opera in 1902 by Jules Massenet. In the French legend, however, a juggler juggles before the statue of the Virgin Mary, and the statue, according to which version of the legend one reads, either smiles at him or throws him a rose (or both, as in the 1984 television film, The Juggler of Notre Dame.)

There! It all made sense! That legend about the Juggler of Notre Dame is one of my all-time favorite stories. That juggling alone suffices to please the Lady, that joy was the single requisite inside Eden, that play may be a vocation...The legend is pertinent to an artist as well: does art have to attach itself to some utilitarian purpose, find its reason for existence outside of itself? When asked what justified his profession as a painter, Willem de Kooning pointed at an acrobat standing on his head on backstage, replied,"Who asked him to stand on his head?"

And the poor drummer boy played his best for the new born King, and Mary nodded.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

God's Originality

"Allowing God to be original in His work of converting souls," was the subject of the sermon by our priest a while back. It's one that stuck with me. Whether it's due to eagerness to help, or lack of humility, we all at times want to use our own experience to teach, to show "the way." This, the sermon warned, could put us in danger of interfering with God's unique plan for each individual.

To know the difference of giving spiritual counsel, and to stand out of God's way, calls for Prudence, Prince of all virtues.

I knew what God did for me, but I never thought in terms of His "originality." Once I place my memories in that lens, I marvel at all the wonders God had placed at each turn of that pilgrim's path. "How original, He had been with me!" Ten years sitting in the Sunday masses, frightened by what I might read in the Bible, charmed by secular learning and prestige, pestered by the Marxian mantra that "religion is the opiate of the masses", surrounded by a crowd who prided itself in "subversive" behavior and "de-constructionist" worldview...I resisted change.

I had a Catholic husband, with whom I sat in the pew for ten year. He never lifted a finger to proselytise anyone, including me. I caught him watch mass on EWTN a few times, and felt like an intruder into private space. I made an announcement one day that I would no longer go to mass with him, stating that I did not belong to either the Church or its congregation. He said it would be okay if that was how I felt, but he had to and really liked to go to mass, and he just really liked for me to be there with him at mass. Yes, he said, he just liked it that way.

The following Sunday, I got up and went with him again. I did not make another similar announcement, but would not become a Catholic until at least six years later.

I did not mean to write a conversion story here. Many have assumed that I became Catholic simply because I'm married to one. I don't attempt to dispute their assumption, nor speculate what would have been had I married a Baptist, a Quaker, or a vegetarian, but God did seem to have a purpose in planting me in a Catholic pew first, with a Catholic who did not try to convert me.

And the conversion was not a simple outcome of mystifying twists and turns in circumstances, but rather brought into fruition by death and destruction. That's just another part of the whole story of which I will get into later.

I would not be able to stop if I don't put a brake on this right now. All I wanted to show, is in what utter originality, even bewilderingly so, God had steered me. And all this, was brought on by a brief conversation I had with a friend yesterday about faith and Catholicism.

To be continued...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Drive-by Noting

  • Working on a few paintings. Feeling like in love with painting all over again.
  • I had a running list of things that irritated me on a given day that I'd been wanting to let out.
  • I had a running list of cob-webs and dust bunnies in the dark chambers of my own soul which I couldn't, really, let out anywhere.
  • So I went to Confession, in stead, last Saturday.
  • I'm feeling all better now.
  • In my mid-40s I discovered that it's more important to know what I CAN'T/WON'T do, than to know what I CAN/Will do.
  • That is not to say that I haven't discovered the wisdom that it's better that I love Temperance, than hate gluttony; love Prudence, than regret carelessness.
  • I continue to be shocked that people still think being "open-minded" is up-to-date. Same goes for some folk's pronouncement of being progressive without the slightest sense of embarrassment.
  • What's wrong with me?
  • I love Milton Avery. His works remind me of what my late professor H said about Matisse's Red Studio, that it is "a fiction." That, in turn, reminds me of how the Chinese artists traditionally never considered art to be an instrument for mimicking physical reality. Never entered their mind, it seems.

Milton Avery, Birds Over Sea, Phillip's Collection
Henry Matisse, Red Studio

Thursday, December 9, 2010

God's Love Letter

Today's reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah:
I will make of you a threshing sledge, sharp, new, and double-edged. To thresh the mountains and crush them, to make the hills like chaff. When you winnow them, the wind shall carry them off, and the storm shall scatter them.
Wow. And this:
I will plant in the desert the cedar, acacia, myrtle, and olive; I will set in the wasteland and the cypress, together with the plane tree and pine, that all may see and know, observe and understand, that the hand of the LORD has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.
Despair not, you wasteland. This is Advent. Your God has written you a love letter.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Our Fair, Fair, Lady

I simply don't understand why other Christians have problem with our love for Our Lady. What's all this talk about "too much Mary, not enough Jesus"? How does one's love for one's mother diminish his love for God? 

On this feast day of Immaculate Conception, Catholics awake with a recognition that there is privilege on this day. With lightened hearts and steps we rise and flock to Church, almost giddily, in a peculiar mood anticipating an encounter with a fair and exulted lady. Corners around usual anxieties and irritations seem to lose their sharpness, voices soften, greetings more sincere, dour thoughts recedes into distance...All on account that we have just given ourselves over to a most gracious and fair Ambassador, and she will see to the security of our hidden desires and dreams.

Much theology has been written on the Church's Marian doctrines. Beautiful, they are. But concept and  intellect pale against the experience of standing in Mass, singing our love for this Lady of singular beauty, the one who bore the Savior in her womb and raised him lovingly. It is this experience, blood and flesh, that gives me goose bumps. Here I am, amongst many, sharing the very same affection children have for their mother, secure in the knowledge that all will be well. That recognition is world apart from any theory or intellectual appropriation. Knowledge thus freely given, not acquired, is why it is blessed. And one knows it beyond any doubt when one is blessed.

The priest who said Mass this morning is from India. Yet what he spoke was the same affection, the same love. I did not feel the least apart from him, in spite of his heavy accent; he is my brother because we have the same mother.

I love you, Blessed Mother!