lookingland: (angel)
( Oct. 22nd, 2008 07:32 am)
got a last-minute ticket to the Vatican Splendors exhibit last night. considering that at this rate i will never get to the real Vatican, this was a nice chance to see some very cool pieces, including a few that have never been exhibited before. it was especially nice to see pieces from the collection that belonged to Pope John Paul II (his pastoral staff was especially wonderful).

votive plaque from the tomb of Saint Peter

i love museums and looking at old crap (right?). i was also excited to see numerous items from the pontificate of Blessed Pius IX, who was Pope during much of the Victorian era (1846-78) and the longest reigning pope (John Paul II comes in a close second). also, there were some delicious hand-written books and wonderful bits and pieces from all over the world. all in all a good deal of feasting for the eyeballs was had.

not feeling terribly creative otherwise. i have to work on my brother's gallery now. gotta get that done.

happy wednesday all!

: D
lookingland: (picasso)
( Feb. 7th, 2008 07:35 am)
spiritual matters: welcome to the year of the rat! the year of the pig (my year) is over (i wasn't especially lucky, but i guess i could have been otherwise hit by a bus). and it ended on ash wednesday, which is good for me: start fresh today. went to mass at the university, which was odd ~ first time at a "triage" mass not in an actual church. also, the fastest mass i've even witnessed (twenty minutes, tops). but father jim was a personable fellow and not the least bit slapdish and the crowd who showed up was respectful and serious. it was nice to see so many young people (moslty men!) coming to celebrate. i haven't been to confession, so i received ashes, but no Communion. i'm going to try to be prepared for confession this saturday. please pray for me, my flist friends who are thus inclined!

update on the mugshot from yesterday: my friend mooey did some research on Claude F. Hankins. she found out some further information about his case: namely, that Claude shot an older man who made nasty advances on him (yick), that he served 10 years in san quentin (not 4), and that after he got out of prison, he married, had a family, and lived to a ripe old age, dying in 1965. photographs are so evocative. the paths they take you down are filled with such pathos. i am sad for Claude because of his childhood lost, but hopeful for him that the remainder of his life was full.

fun projects for all: [livejournal.com profile] gwyn_hwyfar is doing this fun book meme. i hope other people on my flist will also do it! i'll try to take pictures as well.

progress of the day: i'm off to go draw right this minute. anxious to get posting, but i want to make sure i can get over the hump of the eight-page slump (i'm on page 6 currently). i recycled old art for the last three pages, so i'm not 100% sure i like it, but i don't want to get bogged in self-criticism.

meanwhile, go check out Loyalty & Liberty from the fabulous [livejournal.com profile] redcoatcat. if you dig historical dramas, this is an online wonderful graphic novel set in the late 18th century (American Revolution! lobsters! tea parties, boston-style! cats in gaiters!) with exceptional painterly artwork!

p.s. all you midwesterners suffering from too much snow: SEND IT TO MINNESOTA! : o p
the weekend is almost here, but that's no relief to my ears since i will be buried in homework during the whole of it. i am trying to visit lj at least once a day and make an update if on nothing else, the reading that i am doing (which may be totally blah to most of you).

i am reading the second book in the Baroque Cycle, King of the Vagabonds and it's not going well 60 pages in. if anyone plans to read it eventually, you might want to just skip these posts because my opinions are hugely subjective and i think you ought to experience it for yourself. also, i'll be posting spoilers upon spoilers.

anyway, so in the second book, stephenson has done 187 annoying writerly things and the only reason i am pressing onward is the hope that eventually we will come back to daniel waterhouse and things might improve. to enumerate the crimes:

1. invented a country from which Eliza comes ~ how convenient now, she doesn't have to conform to any particular mores of 17th century europe and can be just as "modern" as he pleases. yuck. and she's beautiful and clever ~ smarter at Jack's game then he is ~ total dullsville.

2. introduced technical language into the 17th century sphere in a bid to be ~ oh, i don't really know what. i mean, i guess i can see that it's intentional (and that this will later tie in to the whole "systems of the world" thing, but it's annoying when we're been so nicely ensconced in the past until now.

3. Jack and Eliza have now conversed for about 40 pages about their pasts. boring boring awful. not only are both characters these ridiculously rich storytellers (they're all sounding like stephenson now), but he finds the most ridiculous interruptions to cliff-hang their tales. Jack will suddenly say: oh, i don't want to hear anymore ~ just at the most interesting part. oh brother! it literally feels like stephenson was making stuff up as he went along (a lot of it is also repetitious), then he would get tired and stop. and no one ever bothered to edit any of it.
honestly, were it not for my prurient interest in 17th century plagues and disasters, i doubt i would still be reading. i will say, however, that stephsenson as a storyteller is still generally pretty good and i think most people would really love this and love getting away from the political and scientific blithering of the Royal Society which preceded it for 300 pages. it's active and campy and even though they are endlessly talking and walking, it moves well enough. it's just everything i hate about an adventure story; your mileage may vary.

finally, and this is just a personal thing: i am not liking the anti-religious bent emerging in the book. while it waffles for and against one or another church (or all of them, perhaps), it's a little heavy-handed in the whole "religion is the enemy of science" (which is lame, though i have to concede that this was more likely true in many circles in the 17th century).

ah well, the picture of the day is something i found browsing for 17th century manuscripts, from an article about the "cult" of the Sacred Heart (to which, i suppose, i am a card-carrying member). i am saving the site here because this is a theme that comes up in my own work. the article is really interesting. good grist for you metaphorists out there.

Mark 4:35-38
He saith to them that day,
when evening was come:
Let us pass over to the other side.
And sending away the multitude,
they take him even as he was in the ship:
and there were other ships with him.
And there arose a great storm of wind,
and the waves beat into the ship,
so that the ship was filled.
And he was in the hinder part of the ship,
sleeping upon a pillow;
and they awake him,
and say to him: Master,
doth it not concern thee that we perish?

this is less a spiritual commentary than a bit of research: i have a great image in my head for the opening of the whole Linwood Brown story and it involves this painting (or at least a replica thereof). i sketched some thumbnails (in a storyboard-like fashion) but i haven't decided precisely how to execute it. so i'm saving this here in the hopes that inspiration will strike when i contemplate the raging sea of galilea.

haven't much else to report. weekend class had me sucked into the black hole of uselessness, so i haven't been around much. i meant to post since last week, but have just been ridiculously busy (and not in too much of a fun way). but i won't bore you with the details. i'm determined not to gripe and moan in this blog.

hmmm. perhaps the posting of this rembrandt is a spiritual commentary after all.

later i have a book review, thoughts on the creative process, and maybe some sketches to share!

: D
lookingland: (angel)
( Nov. 9th, 2006 10:22 am)
Happiness is our natural state. Happiness is the natural state of little children, to whom the kingdom belongs until they have been polluted and contaminated by the stupidity of society and culture.

To acquire happiness you don't have to do anything, because happiness cannot be acquired. Does anybody know why? Because we have it already. How can you acquire what you already have? Then why don't you experience it? Because you've got to drop something. You've got to drop illusions. You don't have to add anything in order to be happy; you've got to drop something.

Life is easy, life is delightful. It's only hard on your illusions, your ambitions, your greed, your cravings.
~ anthony de mello, SJ

making peace with random demons today.

not much to say about it except that i'm slowly pulling focus ~ slowly.

tomorrow i have to write my final exam paper. no more fiddle-farting around.

tonight, i'm going to bed to write.

random mass geekery: today, the aw gee keebler priest at the cathedral stood on the first step (about 5-6 inches) of the dais to dispense Holy Communion. the woman extraordinary minister (wearing flats) stood on the ground floor next to him. in this configuration they were almost the same height. man, he's ridiculously cute (and i mean that in a totally appreciative non-nasty sort of way). i've known some skeery priests. my former confessor could be very intimidating if you didn't know how gentle and bumbly he was (he just had a skeery demeanor socially, but was a total marshmallow peep in confession ~ okay, but not like treakle though.)

anyway, i swear, i invented father niccolo long before i ever knew the cathedral priest, but if ever a character of mine stepped out of the storybook, this would be the case.

: D
The Story of the Mountain: Mount Saint Mary's College and Seminary by Mary E. Meline & Edward F.X. McSween, published by the Emmitsburg Chronicle, 1911

what an excellent resource! came upon this purely by accident ~ it's a rare glimpse into the priesthood and priestly formation during the 19th century with great chapters on the Civil War and the transition into the Reconstruction era.
George H. Miles returned to the College this year, 1865, and as the war was now over Dr. McCaffrey took the oath of allegiance, and invited his neighbors to follow his example.

We have also a last glimpse of our third president [of Mount Saint Mary's College and Seminary] standing before the bar of the State this year having been indicted by the grand jury at Cape Girardeau, Mo., for not taking the oath of allegiance to the Federal Government. "The fine old man whose ancestors fought in the Revolution was arrested with four other priests on a December Saturday night at nine o'clock." (Catholic Mirror, Jan. 13, 1866.)

i've often wondered about reintegration from the Church's viewpoint and here's an interesting look at a handful of dissidents and other characters (all the usual suspects are mentioned briefly: hughes, whelan, etc.) ~ some great period details (with regards to the coursework and life at the seminary, students who went to war, etc.)

i hope to go back to this and read in depth when i get a chance.

~ * ~

another beautiful day. i'm getting so spoiled.

: D
dogs woke me at 6:30 this morning, so my day's off to an early start, but i've sat down at the computer and realized: i don't have anything pressing to do! yeah, there's homework and writing and other things like that, but nothing's pressing ~ it's monday and i have the day to do as i please. amazing! and yet ~

~ * ~

not-writing: i'm fighting a creative crisis. i told myself yesterday that i wasn't allowed to have a creative crisis on easter sunday, so i put it off. and i'm still trying to put it off.

last night was supposed to meet with a writers' group and drove out to the twin (got lost, meh!), and then the meeting was sorta cancelled because of a lost laptop that took us to the airport and then out for dumplings and martinis (two things i really needed ~ right!). ah well. i did the social thing. it was fun. and if anything, it helped offset the panic i've been having lately that i'm just a third-rate poseur who ought to quietly get my library degree and slink off into obscurity.

my former writing mentor (with whom i'm only on tentative speaking terms these days, but that's a whole 'nother story) once asked me if i'd be happier not writing. i think as long as i can say no to that question, i'm still in the game.

~ * ~

bret harte, again: can't find any good info about him on the web, no synopses of his works, etc. for an author as prolific as he was (enough to fill 19 volumes over 30 years) much of his stuff seems to have really fallen into total obscurity. a good pile of his works can be found at Project Gutenburg. i guess the other good news is that you can find really cheap copies of his stuff for sale ($2 to $3 for 1800's editions ~ gee). at any rate, the library has all of his books. i just wanted to have some sense of how to pick and choose. i'll prolly read more today. feeling tentative as i don't want to push myself over a precipice.

apparently ambrose bierce liked him well enough, though we all know bierce was a bit of a loon.

bierce: another of my favorite writers, whose
mysterious disappearance is the inspiration for
the epilogue of my opus in which james and morse
take a dureya to mexico in search of
the infamous rabbit-headed child.

~ * ~

people at mass: there's a boy i see at the cathedral: he's going to be a priest when he grows up.

ever have that feeling about someone? you just look at them and you know?

he sits in the front row, sometimes with a little blonde girl who is maybe his sister (hard to say since he's dark-haired). he seems to be about 12 and has really long hair well past his collar. he always wears an untucked dress shirt. he follows the mass faithfully, sings all the songs, responds appropriately, knows when to stand, kneel, etc. he's not grossly pious (like some weird stepford kid), he's just really interested and really focused. his little sister (who's maybe 6) isn't as focused, but she she's well-behaved and doesn't bother. now and then he'll say something to her when she talks to him, but mostly he's intent on the mass.

yesterday, i was determined to find out who these kids belonged to, so when mass was over, i sat down and watched them. the boy took the girl by the hand and the two of them went out of the north entrance. the boy glanced back once, but it seemed to me they were totally unaccompanied by an adult. it was a bit weird.

i don't know why all of this is so fascinating to me, but i find in my own distraction at mass, my eyes invariably settle on people who have the discipline i lack ~ like the woman who's an extraordinary minister (gorgeous black woman ~ ridiculously model-beautiful and so poised. she was wearing this really cool grecian-style dress for the easter service). man, to be that graceful. or to be that intent (like the boy).

God musta given me some graces. i just gotta find them.

~ * ~

all that and i'm convinced my iTunes keeps playing the same two dozen songs over and over (and i am getting sick of them!)
the Christ is risen ~ alleluia!

this morning, with the windows still flung wide, i could hear the bells ringing, carried over the mississip, i presume, on the early breeze. it's threatening to rain today, but somehow all the more clean and beautiful for it ~ and the tree outside my window is exploding with buds (literally overnight!).

in my spiritual sloth, i've not mentioned much about my feelings this past season, or maybe i've just been struggling silently to work my way out of old skin. can't say definitively that i've turned a corner, but i've had a lot to think about since my last chat with sweet wally the elfin priest who hears my confession these days ("oh gee, all right," he says). in short, i'm trying to cooperate with God's grace a little more and be mindful of the ways in which i slide into easy choices and habits. small steps.

may God bless all the fine peeps on my flist. happy happy day.

I don't know why, but it struck me funny to be hearing the story of the Annunciation so late in the Advent season. Still, the message it imparts: for all of us to take up the challenge as Mary did to "bring Christ into the world" is really an important one on the eve of the big day. Okay, we weren't immaculately conceived and God isn't asking us to bear a child or anything nearly so immense as that, but what God does ask of us is just as important. Christ is present with us through one another and this Christmas so many people who don't have Christ in their lives in any shape or form need to see the manifest love of God in the world today. And we can be that for them.

I was going to go to Saint Agnes today, but missed the 8:30 mass in the morning (scraping out the car is always more work than I lease room for ~ gotta get on top of that). The next mass was at 10 and in Latin and for some reason I just didn't feel like going to the Latin mass this morning (who knows). So instead, I went to Our Lady of Guadalupe down the street ~ a very modern, very community-oriented church. The service was nice enough and the music was beautiful and the priest was a good speaker (though started off on what I thought was a pretty bad joke and then rambled off topic into some political I-don't-know-what). But it's definitely not the place for me. I try not to be a snob about these things and I'm willing to bet most of the people there are far better Christians and far more devoted than I, but I really have a hard time attending a church where the minimum amount of reverence for the Eucharist in the tabernacle is not displayed.

I still have a few more parishes I can visit. I am thinking of making an effort to go to weekday mass at Saint Agnes perhaps. Although it's pink, I think I can deal with that far better than I can deal with people chatting it up around the altar like they're at Wyatts with their cafeteria trays trying to pick between the carrot slaw and the green jello.

There's also a Saint Mary's here fairly close by. I might try that one as well ~ it's an older church off to the side. Maybe after being at the cathedral for all these years, a less-well-known church would be the ticket (Saint Agnes is pretty famous, I guess, for Father Altier being there).

Anyway, I'm rambling on here about nothing in particular. I didn't think parish-shopping was going to be this difficult. But hopefully I'll find a home soon.

: D
lookingland: (Default)
( Oct. 11th, 2005 07:03 pm)
i was going to write a big long post about life, death, and the meaning of it all, but i've decided instead to go have a cheeseburger before adoration.

now i know what some of you are thinking: mein Gott! how can you eat a cheeseburger before going to chapel.

well, here's how:

1.) they're half price on tuesday and that's what my pocketbook can afford.

2.) my food intake today has been a grilled cheese sandwich, a taste of goat cheese and blackberry jam, and some pecans, so really, i've had nothing of substance. not that cheeseburgers are the answer to this, but i'm hungry and i don't feel like frying fish number two (he's for tomorrow!)

3.) it's on the way.

truth is, i just can't afford to feel miserable all the time for all my petty failures. if God is testing me just now to learn patient acceptance of His will, then i have to keep my good humor about me and right now i just really need a cheeseburger, however spoiled rotten that sounds. in a way, i say it's penitential ~ because if i went to the grocery and bought real food, it would wind up being more extravagant and fast food is so bad for you.


besides, i can't sit up with Jesus with a growly stomach ~ that would be obnoxious.

~ * ~

i promise i'll write something of more substance soon. i'm just trying to get over the shock of actually working today ~ hahahaha ~

: D
lookingland: (Default)
( Oct. 3rd, 2005 09:06 am)
started reading Stendhal's The Red and the Black last night (why i torture myself with anti-clerical 19th century french literature is anybody's guess).

i only got about 40 pages in before sleep bludgeoned me, but what struck me most peculiarly is that thus far it's Gormenghast, which makes me look a wee cockeyed at at mr. mervyn peake.

but there it is: instead of Steerpike, we have Julien ~ harshly abused by his manly sawmill-operating father, sensitive intellectual Julien is thrashed for reading on the job and then thrown out like so much garbage to become a Latin tutor to the three children of the mayor. Julien, who loves all things military and yearned for a career in the army, having found himself unsuitable for such, decides instead that the real profit lays in the Church. Once he is in the embrace of the mayor's house and patronage he begins his rise to power. the mayor, of course, is a dupe, a conservative religious man who will naturally fall for Julien's fake piety and then the games will begin.

while the circumstances are very different than from Steerpike being evicted from the kitchens, just to read the books suggests so many similarities ~ right down to the familial narrative voice (chatty and intentionally intrusive).

Stendhal evidently embraced Jansenism (a rather Calvanistic heresy worming around in the Church in that era ~ very inclined toward predestination and the "elect") and, predictably, seethed with animosity toward "Jesuitism" which, then, was considered a rigid ultramontane hypocrisy so embedded into the Church heirarchy as to corrupt it entirely (yet another case of Jesuit education gone bad and its recipient spending a whole lot of energy trying to "get even"). i find this stance so interesting, really, because Jansenism is positively anti-Liberal when you get down to it, and the harsher of the two ideologies in terms of Christian theology. so i'm not really sure why Stendhal defends it ~ perhaps only because it's a form of protestantism and anything against the Church is good for him?

at any rate, i am sure this book will be an adventure. i am not in love with Stendhal's style. mirabeau and hugo are so much cleaner. he reminds me more of flaubert or de balzac: dense and warbling. i like a good dense warble now and then, but it's not exactly something you can rip through, so it'll take me a while before i get to the end of this book's tirade against the Church.

i will say this for the anti-clerical literature i have read thus far out of france: its villains readily admit that they are hypocrites. none of them believe they are doing as the Church bids (which is what makes mirabeau's Abbé Jules so intriguing, i think: Jules knows he's an evil man and struggles with it to his horrible death). so it seems to me that the real gripe against the priesthood in that era was not the Church so much as the sort of people who took advantage of the Church for their own gain (specifically men who became priests for the job and not the vocation). while i know most anti-Catholics don't bother to separate the Church from her imperfect clergy, i do find it rather interesting that the attacks at this time are almost purely political and have nothing to do, really, with the actual theology.

whereas today, you could say that attacks are purely emotional based on a misunderstanding of the theology. once the political threat of the Church was minimized (with the downfall of the papal states in the 1870s), the protestors needed a new reason to attack the Church. criticizing the newly promulgated Immaculate Conception and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin were easy targets in this climate and that's what you see mostly today: a lot of anti-Marian sentiment borne out of pure ignorance.

but i don't want to go off on a bender just now about all that. maybe later.

from a cool link provided by [livejournal.com profile] codepoet:

Saint Maria Goretti Coloring Book <~

what better subject matter for a children's coloring book than the story of an 11 year-old girl sexually assaulted and then stabbed to death? while i'm sure the book is tastefully done and provides a positive message about purity, forgiveness, and redemption (it's one of my personally beloved saint stories to be sure ~ and i don't mean that facetiously at all), i still have rather mixed feelings about what a story like this can do to your psyche if you are a victim of sexual abuse.

there is an explicit message here that death is preferable to sin and that saint maria made the right choice by refusing alessandro and letting him kill her rather than submit to his advances.

all true and well, but what of the child who comes late to this story, who's already lost their purity, who realizes too late that they should have fought to the death rather than submit?

while i try to take away mostly positive thoughts from the example of saint maria goretti (and i do, or i wouldn't have a devotion to her), i am often frustrated that the story is presented as an easy choice to make when faced with the pressure (or threat) of sexual sin. i also find that the story doesn't teach how to recover from the "too late" scenario: how does one recover their purity (at least in heart) once they have been abused? someone needs to write a smart book that shows her shining saintly example and helps the rest of us non-saints to pick up where she left off, no matter the circumstances of our lives. i want to see a frank text that says: let's face it ~ holding onto one's purity in a world full of promiscuity and predators is nearly impossible without absolute faith, and for those of you who have already screwed up (or been screwed up through no fault of your own ~ and that's really the key because i think the story can tend to stigmatize those who have been abused and did not fight back), here are constructive ways to understand and apply saint maria goretti's lessons in your own life.

okay, this is not exactly what i had in mind when i woke up this morning and thought to myself: i really need to get a lot done today ~ hahahaha ~

off to work now. i finished the evil page. i'm committed to finishing the third page and at least drawing the fourth. we'll see how far i get. i really need to clean house and take a shower and this t-shirt i am wearing is officially a rag.

: o p

p.s. cool telling of the redemption of alessandro who lived out his life in a monastery after his prison sentence at a nice web site about saint maria ~> Alessandro Serenelli

a large bone fragment of saint maria's arm
(with which she warded off alessandro's attack),
is kept in a reliquery in Corinaldo.
interesting altar statuary, this.
lookingland: (Default)
( Sep. 10th, 2005 10:41 pm)
Okay, my cousin sent me a ticket (via Fandango) to go watch The Exorcism of Emily Rose and I saw it tonight.

I'm still forming an opinion, but my initial reaction is: really good story, sadly lousy script.

It wasn't cheap, I'll give it that. It was making an earnest attempt to do something, but I can't decide whether it went over lamely into the prosletysing column or if it was actually too chicken-hearted to say what it really wanted to say. Hard call on that.

I do know that the character development was poor, very poor. And that depictions of the faith (as it were) were negligible. You hardly notice that anyone is even Catholic except the guy wearing the collar (an even he doesn't tend to talk like a priest might under the circumstances). The exorcism itself, as expected, is sheer Hollywood, but it's not gratuitous, which surprised me. They really restrained themselves ~ and I think it's because they want the audience to take it more seriously on a lot of other levels.

The conclusion was also, I gotta admit, a little surprising. Just a wee little. For me, that's a huge plus. Mighty huge. So I give it points for that.

Is it a "horror" film? No. The PG-13 rating should alert people to that fact, but evidently people don't pay attention to such things. It's a drama with some skeery elements and clearly engineered to appeal to a broad audience (there's no cussing, no blaspheming, no girls in skimpy underwear, no gratuitous gore). For a movie about demonic possession, this is pretty amazing (and goes to show how much you can suggest without showing in a film).

I'll probably have more thoughts as I process. Right now I'm still digesting.

cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] catholic_media

lookingland: (Default)
( Sep. 5th, 2005 11:11 am)
I was intrigued by Eleanor Updale's Montmorency a while back, but daunted at the price tag for an unknown author. Then I found a copy at Half Price Books for a dollar and snatched it up. I fell immediately in love with it. It's a wonderfully silly romp through the London's Victorian underworld in which a paroled thief who was pieced together by a upstart surgeon begins to lead a dual life: robbing the rich to make himself presentable to London society (and developing a conscience along the way).

I received for my birthday the sequel, Montmorency on the Rocks. Montmorency has established his new life, is no longer stealing, works for government as a spy, but has developed a new problem: a wee drug addiction that's threatening to ruin him. His best friend takes him and his surgeon to Scotland to get clean and they stumble upon a mystery: babies are dying on a remote isle; a whole generation has been wiped out.

On the island (and here's the point of writing this here) is a Catholic priest named Father Michael. Father Michael is a bit eccentric: full of hellfire and damnation, sermonizing about Divine retribution as being the cause of the infant deaths, etc. He strikes a terrifying image and immediately no one trusts him. Curiously, however, you get him away from the pulpit and he's friendly, genial, and loving (though then is even more suspect because he loves the babies so much!) His behavior is so bizarre that is accused of being the baby-killer by the surgeon, and dragged off the island by the police while the islanders throw rocks, hurl insults, and burn his house.

I won't tell you how this book ends, but I couldn't put it down. I so love the characters (Montmorency and Doctor Farcett are just adorable) and Updale's vivid landscapes and just the wacky fun of such a silly bunch of Londoners trying to solve crimes (there's a second mystery about a train station bomber that is equally compelling and surprising running alongside the baby-killer story). I find the books so endearing that I was wracked with fear that Updale would make a Catholic priest a baby-killer. As I turned each page, I kept thinking: "no! it can't be! there's always a twist! there has to be a twist!" but I was really afraid she'd turn out to be hateful.

In the end Updale vindicated herself in an wonderfully unexpected way ~ there was, indeed a twist (and one which I didn't see coming!) That's the way to write a mystery!

If I had twelve thumbs, they would all be up. This sequel was every bit as good as the original and in some ways even better (so many wonderful reversals!). I can't wait for the next one due out this spring.

: D

cross-posted to [livejournal.com profile] catholic_media
i finished reading Guterson's Our Lady of the Forest and am still forumlating an opinion about it, but for now all positive thoughts.

basic premise: runaway teenager Ann Holmes encounters the Virgin Mary in the forest of a mouldering logging community. the vision sparks the predictable sort of chain reaction of faith and exploitation leading to the big philosophical question of the meaning and nature of miracles.

it's an interesting book, well-written, with a bit of a disappointing ending ~ disappointing in that it's somewhat anti-climactic as far as action is concerned, but satisfying in other ways (i.e. there's nothing lacking insofar as closure ~ all the ends get tied up very well, i think).

i think there are things about this book that might offend Catholics (but needlessly in my opinion). the character of Father Collins is rather intensely human, which i find endearing ~ those places where he is weak in some ways. i find more fault with his lack of protocol with regard to wearing his clerical collar than i do with his occasional lapse into matters of the flesh, frankly. it's interesting, really. i think he's well-drawn: he's a good person and trying to be a good priest, but all-too aware of his shortcomings (which aren't horrendous, mind you ~ refreshingly, he doesn't grapple horribly with his faith in that tired old cliché of "lost priest"). i like that he knows he's a coward and yet struggles tangibly with his cowardice in a way that makes him heroic, i think.

and the faith is presented fairly, i think ~ this embodied in the character of Tom Cross: that people can be believers and even devout and yet completely screw up all the time dawn to dusk, all the while struggling in their own way. and that people can be exploitive and greedy and stupid about their faith as well ~ Guterson does this without ever once bashing the faith itself (a difficult and admirable task!). he honestly examines the problems of an institutionalized Church without malice or even harsh cynicism. even Father Butler, the tiring old bore who comes to investigate the veracity of the Marian sightings isn't a monster: just a man with a job trying to do what he knows how to do (the description of him as a sort of endlessly paternal soccer coach with a whistle around his neck is apropos: you hate him, but you don't because you can't, it's just who he is).

there's a few things to object to if you want to nitpick the theology: some strange transgressions into the nature of evil as a tangible force might perk some eyebrows. Father Collins tells Ann that there's no such thing as the devil and i thought that was odd, though he later capitulated in a weird way that doesn't seem reconciled by the end (have to think more on this). but this is so minor, really. for the most part this book avoids the trap of what i often see in religious stories: the gross sort of relativism that negates the place of the Church. Father Collins, sinner though he may be, is no relativist. he stands firm for the Church. period. when Ann asks to be baptized, he doesn't just cave to her request, he tells her the steps she must take to receive it. in the hands of a more careless (less reverent perhaps) writer, he would have done it against all Church protocol because rules are just stupid and get in the way of faith (right).

the more i think about the ending, the more satisfying it is, everyone gets pretty much what they deserve and the last malicious stab of the Carolyn character (who is the most obnoxious and exploitive of all) is blithely set aside with a knowing smile because that's really how it is: it doesn't matter if a bone relic is really a saint or just a leftover piece of a chicken from ages past. and even though the miracles you anticipate happening from the beginning of the book don't happen, others do: more subtle miracles and even more grandiose miracles and then it doesn't matter whether Ann Holmes saw the Virgin Mary in the Forest or not ~ because regardless of what she did see, Mother Mary was there.

: D

i give it two thumbs up.

for those of you with sensitive sensibilities, the book is very honest in its depiction of human foibles, so does contain a lot of cussing, blaspheming, and some fairly frank sexual depictions (but nothing gratuitous, i don't think ~ could cut some of it, but by and large it seems necessary to the plot).

the Christian Science Monitor review says:
Agnostics will resonate to Guterson's ambivalence, and atheists may feel pricked by his insight into humanity's thirst for transcendence, but the Christian reading groups that embraced the spirituality of, say, Leif Enger's Peace Like a River (2001) will be reluctant to take on a story that contains such disturbing scenes of violence and sexual abuse.
i disagree that the book is ambivalent at all, though i suppose you can read into it all sorts of cynicism if you choose to. i think it is actually very clear and i think the final chapters make it clear where Guterson stands on the matter. i also think the violence and sexual abuse portrayed in the book is what makes such a compelling and powerful story ~ the more savage human nature, the greater need for redemption.
lookingland: (Default)
( Aug. 30th, 2005 10:56 am)
i bought Ann Rinaldi's The Staircase because it had a charming theme: New Mexico, 1878 and the building of the miraculous staircase at Loretto. the premise on the back described it as an adventure of a young methodist girl in a convent school of the foreign world of Catholicism and the miracle, etc. blah blah blah. i thought: nice! a young girl outside the faith is exposed to a miracle and maybe reevaluates her prejudices against the Church.

think again! this tired piece of stereotyping drivel was a sore disappointment to be sure.

a catalog of its offenses:

1. even in 1878 girls will be girls apparently. the academy girls in this case have no actual faith whatsoever and seem to spend all their time and energy sneaking out at night to smoke cigarettes and meet boys (um ~ no). i'm not exaggerating either: not a single girl in this school is serious.

2. the most offensive character in the story is one of these girls who is not only a hateful little witch, but goes so far to manipulate her uncle the bishop, claim to have a vocation to be a nun so she can carry on with a boy, and she stabs the eyes out of a kitten with an embroidery needle (i'm not making this up).

3. the only admirable, not hateful characters are the non-Catholics and nuns who break all the rules and the carpenter of the staircase, of course, who spouts such relativist gems as : God doesn't care what faith you are as long as you're a good person. the bishop is shown to be nice, but also removed from the faith.

4. as to the Faith: oy vey! just a pack of superstitious idol-worshipping idiocy. the novena to Saint Joseph in particular is so abused by the plot to make you think Catholics are morons ~ it's really pathetic.

5. the story itself is just idiotic: characters are so broad-brushed they're like cartoons and most of them do completely illogical things just for the sake of moving the plot forward. when the usefulness of a character has run out, the author just kills them off conveniently. at the end we're supposed to believe that the horrid girl who blinded the cat is somehow redeemed because the carpenter heals the cat, but where the author pulls this from is beyond me ~ the girl never shows the slightest remorse or change.

who'd've thunk in this glorious "enlightened" day and age such a nasty, hateful book would get published? and for a young audience as well! here kiddies, something to galvanize your hatred of the Church. if this had been written about a black school or buddhist retreat or pretty much anything else, it would have never gotten by the editor. blargh!

i'm now reading David Guterson's Our Lady of the Forest ~ let's see if it's any better in its treatment of the Faith.

: o p