From the Notebooks
A truism worth remembering the next time the Washington Party beats the war drum. Oh wait, nevermind. It's been beating the war drum for a hundred years now, which speaks volume about our level of contentedness: "The silence of historians is the surest record of the happiness of a people. The Swiss have been four hundred years the envy of mankind, and there is yet scarcely an history of their nation. What is history, but a disgusting and painful detail of the butcheries of conquerors, and the woeful calamities of the conquered?" The Anti-Federalist Papers.
It reminds me of this short essay that I wrote about ten years ago:
Last Friday evening, I was supposed to meet my father and a friend at the Hillcrest Lounge shortly after 5:00.
I got there at 5:10 and ordered a drink. The others were delayed, so I sat there for over twenty minutes, looking out the window. Other than Ted Nugent on the jukebox, I didn't know anyone there. It was just me and my glass.
I normally get antsy in such a situation, but not this time. I was content, which I found peculiar. After a few minutes, I understood the source of my contentment: I was sitting with nothingness.
Nothingness has a revered history. The morning Hilaire Belloc decided to walk the Roman road (the pilgrimage that led to his classic, The Path to Rome) he says he passed his beloved horse "Monster," who was just standing there "regarding nothingness." Belloc also wrote a collection of essays called On Nothing. His friend G.K. Chesterton referred to “the most precious, the most-consoling, the most pure and holy, the noble habit of doing nothing at all.” In his modern classic, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs, James Schall devotes an entire chapter to the virtues of wasting time, saying at one point, "We need time-out-of-time, the time that passes without our noticing."
What's so special about nothingness? Why do these writers praise it?
I think there are two related reasons.
First, the primary thing missing in nothingness is yourself.
Think about me at the Hillcrest Lounge. Why do I normally get antsy in such situations? It's hard to say, but all the possible reasons are filled with self-regard: I am annoyed that the others are late, I feel funny sitting there by myself, I want someone to talk to. But when you're sitting with nothingness, everything, including yourself, is set aside.
Nothingness is also different. Most days are filled with "stuff": chores, goals, worries, rushing, whatever. Its moments are molested, by us and others, pushed and pulled and yanked. Not left alone. When moments are abandoned, like me sitting by myself, the resulting nothingness contrasts sharply with the rest of life.
The thing about nothingness, though, is that in nothingness, there is something.
When we're doing nothing, grace feels invited. It's almost as if grace is weak and tired: it doesn't want to go where there's hustle and bustle. It doesn't want to exert much energy by pushing through obstacles. It prefers to rest in quiet fields where nothing is happening.
And while there, grace imparts its benefits to the person who created the field of nothingness.
St. Thomas Aquinas, citing Wisdom 8:30, once wrote that the leisure of contemplation allows Divine Wisdom to play throughout the world. Eight hundred years later, one of St. Thomas' greatest modern followers, Joseph Pieper, wrote that leisure is a "non-activity—an inner absence of preoccupation, a calm, an ability to let things go, to be quiet" and that such leisure is "the necessary preparation for accepting reality; only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still, cannot hear."
Allowing Divine Wisdom to play, accepting reality, being able to hear. All these things are different ways of describing grace working in us.
And all of them come to the person who is still, quiet, not pre-occupied. Who, in other words, welcomes nothingness.
God bless the nothingness.
Scratch that: God blesses the nothingness.
Bieber had the word "Purpose" tattooed over his bellybutton, which of all the parts of the human body has the least purpose of all.
"Purpose" is reportedly the title of his next album. He has "Believe" on his forearm, an earlier album. Good news, looks like he's only got enough skin space or three or four more albums.
The Art of Goodbye
Like every summer, I had a lot of company in August and early September. And like every summer, I was struck by different visitors' approaches to leaving. While chewing on this phenomenon during random gardening time, I decided that this is probably one of those "little arts" that no one much considers. So as a public service, I offer these three simple tips:
1. For starters, establish a departure day and time. This is huge and, I think, Fundamental Courtesy 101 for any house guest. This site lists it as the number one rule:
Be Clear About How Long You Will Stay
Make sure you lock down your visiting dates far in advance with your hosts…at their invitation. Don’t ever be vague or hope to stretch out your visit after you arrive. If your BFF says she’ll be busy after Labor Day, book your return ticket to leave a full day before so she has some time to herself.
When I say "establish," I mean, "communicate it to your host." If you have a good host, you might be lulled into thinking your host has nothing to do besides spend time with you, but that's not normally the case. Tell your host when you're leaving and then leave at that time, or thereabouts (no one will have the clock on you, but if you indicate 1:00, you should be gone by 1:30). Your host often won't care when you leave and would probably be happy to entertain you for however long (within reason), but that doesn't mean the host wants it to be an open-ended affair. Plus, if you establish a departure time, it helps your host be a better host. If you're staying until 7:00 that evening, the host knows she needs to plan for dinner and might want to schedule an exercise walk with you before you leave, but if you're leaving at 11:00 in the morning, she has to gear her efforts more toward breakfast and helping you pack your stuff.
2. When you start to leave, leave. Although your host would undoubtedly be happy to have you stay another hour (assuming you're not violating the first tip above), that doesn't mean your host wants to be caught in the Goodbye No Man's Land: the driveway, standing by your car, waiting for you to pull out.
3. Use acceptable departure conversation. As you're walking out the front door, that's a good time to figure out when you'll see each other again, to establish potential construction zones on the way home, inquire about the looming weather that could affect the drive, and such. It's not a good time to turn to the host and say, "So how do you think the Lions will do this year?" or "How'd your garden do this year?" or "What's the meaning of life?" Those are sit-down conversations, not departure exchanges.
And just in case any friends or family are reading this piece, allow me to go out of my way and state that the foregoing rules were not much triggered because I've had problems with house guests. Most of my house guests tend to follow these rules naturally, but I've talked with friends whose guests don't and it drives them crazy.
A controversial 1,200-year-old document has been found that shows evidence that Jesus was married. I don't believe it. What married guy gets to spend all his free time with his 12 buddies?
Bud Light has created a new device that alerts you when the beer supply in your fridge is running low. The device is known as your roommate Chad.
Fr. Stinessen explains the psychological underpinning of every American Idol contestant . . . and why they're so grossly misdirected:
"Every person comes into the world with a dream of doing something great with his life, something that will make an imprint and bear fruit. God himself inspires this dream. . . If only we could understand that we can only realize our dream by being totally present to the little and insignificant things we have to do at each moment."
Fr. James Schall offers his insights into the Pope's visit last week. Schall is clearly leary of Pope Francis, including his naivety in economic matters. "Aid to the poor and weak is almost always the justification for modern absolutist states." * * * * * * * A couple of great quotes recently from Catholic Thinker: "There is nothing better or more necessary than love." St. John of the Cross. "Anxiety is the mark of spiritual insecurity." Thomas Merton. * * * * * * * "Great," obviously, because they indict. * * * * * * * I also saw this great quote at the Mencken Twitter feed: "The idea that school-children are happy is of a piece with the idea that the lobster in the pot is happy." * * * * * * * The quote reminds me of people who claim this country was built on public education. Although I don't consider myself knowledgeable about the history of public education, I think it's fairly uncontested that "the school system remained largely private and unorganized until the 1840s." Link. So the development of European-American society for the first 250 years required virtually no public education. By the late nineteenth century, public education had gained sway, at least in the urban areas, but at that point, America was nearly 300 years old and was rapidly developing due to the efforts of individuals who were not, for the most part, products of public education. And if they were products of public education, it was the education of the one-room schoolhouse, which is hardly the same thing as the monstrosity today known as "middle schools" that were put into place in lieu of K-8 in the 1950s experimentation and the "age grading" pushed by Horace Mann one hundred years earlier. The one-room school house resembles public education today as much as today's federal government resembles the federal government of John Adams.
There's certainly angst over the upcoming Synod on the Family. I've been catching snippets from Rorate Caeli and John Zmirak's Twitter feed. Rorate Caeli seems to think the pro-gay position is already baked into the outcome. Zmirak has all-but stated he's prepared to leave the Church for the Antiochian Orthodox Church (although Zmirak is so sarcastic, it's impossible to know whether he's joking or not).
I write my Monday "Miscellaneous Rambling" weekly column on Sundays, then program it to post shortly after midnight. I'm typing this one on Sunday morning but posting it immediately, since it pertains to the Synod. There will be no Monday Miscellaneous Rambling column, but one will appear on Tuesday.
Pope Francis' opening remarks at the Synod would appear to favor an orthodox outcome (see Reuters story). But I don't trust Reuters, and I sure as heck don't trust the gay mafia that is so active inside the Vatican these days. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the MSM slants coverage in a way that makes a pro-gay outcome more defensible.
So I decided to read Pope Francis' opening comments from a few hours ago.
It is possible to look at a few passages and conclude that Pope Francis is setting the stage for a pro-gay outcome, but overall, the address simply doesn't seem to do this. In fact, the statement appears to be exactly what the Synod is purportedly supposed to be about: marriage and offering pastoral support for those who are divorced. Here are a few passages, with my highlighting, that, I think, support my perspective:
This is the introduction to his address: This Sunday’s Scripture readings seem to have been chosen precisely for this moment of grace which the Church is experiencing: the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the family, which begins with this Eucharistic celebration. The readings centre on three themes: solitude, love between man and woman, and the family.He made men and women for happiness, to share their journey with someone who complements them, to live the wondrous experience of love: to love and to be loved, and to see their love bear fruit in childrenThis is God’s dream for his beloved creation: to see it fulfilled in the loving union between a man and a woman, rejoicing in their shared journey, fruitful in their mutual gift of self. It is the same plan which Jesus presents in today’s Gospel: “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh.”[T]he Church is called to . . . carry out her mission in truth, which is not changed by passing fads or popular opinions.
Based on these passages, I'm not presently harboring great concerns about the Synod.
A few caveats:
First, I have not followed the whole Synod pre-game discussions as closely as I would have liked. I don't consider myself an observer knowledgeable in current ecclesiastical affairs. If my perspective is naive, I'll readily admit it.
Second, Pope Francis dedicates the first thrust of his address to the problem of "solitude." If this is going to be the theme of the Synod, I could see where a pro-gay argument could erupt: "Solitude is one of the modern world's greatest problems. These people, born with a sexual proclivity they didn't choose, have a right to companionship."
Third, there is a legitimate fear that the Vatican bureaucracy, which, depending on your viewpoint, is either hopelessly in thrall to the gay mafia or, alternatively, too influenced by it, is going to push through its agenda, whether or not the Pope is on board.
Regardless, the faithful need to be steeped in history. The Church has undergone more severe inside trials than this. The novelty theologians have been plaguing Rome since the beginning. Orthodoxy has always prevailed. Keep the faith.
Three Posts in One
I have three posts for this morning, but time for only one. So you, TDE reader, are hereby the beneficiary of three posts combined into one efficient, pithy, post:
1. Jobs report yesterday was abysmal, but the stock market rallied. If that doesn't scream "absurd world," I don't know what does. The market is no longer driven by financial concerns, but rather by what speculators think the Fed will do next. Horrible jobs report = weak economy = more Fed money = speculation that there will be a bounce in the market.
2. Must-read by Pat Buchanan. I'm in an impossible position with Putin: I don't trust him, but I think he's pretty much the only guy in the world who is speaking the truth.
3. If you have a shred of respect for the MSM, just read the absurdity that is Ronda Rousey. She says she could beat Floyd Mayweather in a no-holds barred fight. Everyone knows it's absurd, but story after story bends over backwards to explain why she might be right. Then last weekend, a former MMA fighter, Tank Abbott, says he'll fight Ronda and pay her $100,000 if she wins. If he wins, she just has to make him a sandwich. The MSM then jumps to her defense. The Washington Post even dug out two male MMA fighters to side with Rousey. One of them said, "I think Tank is wrong. He’s a great fighter, but I think Ronda could beat him. Speed always beats size." Link. Speed always beats size? Really? Then why have weight classes? A bantamweight can unleash three times more punches than a heavyweight, but a heavyweight will crush him every time. Just ask the greatest fighter of all time, welterweight Sugar Ray Robinson, who out-boxed and pummeled light heavyweight champion Joey Maxim but lost in the thirteenth round because Robinson's punches simply didn't do much damage to such a larger man. Again, the press is absurd. If you read it, you're wasting your time. Aye, if you read it, you're becoming dumber because you're getting misinformation, which decreases your total knowledge.
A statement from Dr. Obvious: The Internet really pumps out novelties in the area of drinking.
If you subscribe to the (in)correct Twitter feeds, you'll see an unusual drink every day, often more than one. Come Christmas, hundreds (billions?) of holiday drinks will be splashed across blogs and online MSM outlets. Extreme beers seem to get as much cyber-ink as Taylor Swift (then again, I intuitively filter anything that says "Taylor Swift" from my surfing habits, though I far prefer her to the execrable Miley Cyrus, who, by herself, gives me ample reason to ban People magazine from my house).
After awhile, your attention deadens toward the glitz of novelty drinks, especially after you try (too) many of them and pretty much always comes away with the conclusion that the packaging and promise was far better than the experience.
You're better off getting your novelty drinks the traditional way: word of mouth, so to speak. That's how I came across one of the all-time best novelty drinks: Red Bull and vodka. When I first heard about that concoction, I was like, "Man, you're one decadent individual if you're mixing alcohol with extreme amounts of caffeine and taurine" (though not as decadent as this lawyer: "He’d make this cocktail, Viagra, Cialis, Levitra, and wash it down with Red Bull"). A few years later, I was hosting party and was really dragging. I had to "answer the bell," so I tried it. I was amazed. The vodka and Red Bull blends really, really well. I rarely drink it (I can't remember the last time), but if they ever come out with a caffeine-free Red Bull, I'd consider it much more often.
But if you're into high energy alcohol drinks and early heart attacks, you might want to try this novelty drink that came across my Twitter feed last week: the espresso martini cocktail. I'm not a big fan of coffee, so I doubt I'd like it, but it sounds like it might be worth keeping up your drinking sleeve if a guest ever needs a pick-me-up.
.75 oz Patrón Silver Tequila
.75 oz Patrón XO Café Liqueur
.75 oz Brewed espresso
Catholic Men's Quarterly, a one-of-a-kind general interest men's magazine written by Catholic men for Catholic men. Makes a great Father's Day gift.
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