Saturday, September 22, 2012

Poetry: Grandma's Burial

So a number of things have occurred that have caused me to think about my Grandmother's passing.  She died several years ago, but, as Autumn begins, this poem seems appropriate right now.  It feels odd to say, "I hope you enjoy it," so perhaps instead I'll just say, "Maybe something in it will resonate with you, and maybe that resonance is a good thing."

Grandma’s Burial

And on the night before we buried you
A winter storm came through, and it adorned
The trees with beads of scintillating glass.
Beneath those boughs we passed; such did we mourn
That sunlight glittered both in ice and tears,
As love built up for years streaked down our face
To mingle with a prayer card’s fading ink.
Not one of us could think, and at that place
Where in the earth there rest so many hearts,
Where the life-after starts, forgotten love
Becomes obscured by grass and graveside weed;
Caretakers intercede, and stand above
The ground in which you are now to be laid.
Will mem’ry of you fade?  Will it be rent?
The graven stone your lifespan here proclaims,
And with yours other names do ornament
The surface of that sheer and frozen rock.
Death seems to be a lock we cannot pick
Upon a door slammed shut before our eyes.
Thus should we all despise the world’s last trick,
Or shall we place our faith in heaven’s God?
It does seem somewhat odd.  He loves, they say,
Each one of us who dies and suffers so.
Why do we undergo this painful way
If love is what our God has made us for?
We suffer more and more when one we love
Departs this world for Your eternity.
And yet, oh, could it be that in Your Love
Those loves we thought we lost forevermore
Do somehow yet endure?  A hope so sweet
Cannot be known for sure while we draw breath;
Truth may be known when death we someday meet.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Poetry: Stone and Blood

So I've been watching Fr. Robert Barron's Catholicism series.  After the first five episodes I can offer this mini-review: it rocks!

And speaking of rocks, episode five is about St. Peter and St. Paul, and it inspired me to write a poem:

Stone and Blood

He builds His Church on stone and blood,
Upon these bloody stones
That scrape the flesh of that same Vine
Whose precious sap atones
For thrice denial of Himself
And Stephen’s death approved.
Denial turned to feeding lambs;
Baptism scales removed.

He raises up the stubborn rock
As He Himself was raised,
And through that citizen of Rome
His Name is ever praised
By those outside the covenant
He shares with Abraham.
That sword stayed on Damascus’ road;
The shepherd was a lamb.

He ceases not to build His Church
With red stones piled high.
Rocks sometimes poorly bear the weight,
And blood gets in the eye,
But Hell cannot contend with that
One Church He built for all,
And humbly we must take a cross
Like Peter did, and Paul.

I guess the point I took from the episode was that the 'blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.'  While there are many persecutions of Christians happening in the world at this moment, I am not in any real danger of death, not even remotely.  But I know that there are many ways to give one's life for Christ that involve a different kind of dying, the daily struggle of dying to self.  I wonder if I have had much success with that struggle.  I feel as if I really need to be successful, since that seems to be the type of 'martyrdom' to which I am being called in my life.  But am I really carrying my cross, even a little bit, or is Christ carrying the whole thing for me?

Legend says that St. Peter was escaping Rome when he saw Christ walking on the road into the city. He asked the Lord where he was going, and Christ said, "To Rome, to be crucified again."  St. Peter understood that he needed to literally take up his cross at that moment.  When I look at the world, I wonder if I and other Christians living in comfort and safety are fleeing from the little Romes in which we are supposed to be crucified every day, or if we really are taking up our crosses and following Christ.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Poetry: Blue Feather

Based on a true story:

Blue Feather

I found a blue feather today,
Caught beneath the blades of grass.
It was a shining powder blue
With slanted bands of navy.

I put it on the window sill,
And continued cutting the grass.
Then I watered my tomatoes
And my potatoes and my transplanted hot peppers
And my Evergreen sapling,
And then I turned off the hose and went inside.

I forgot about the blue feather.
When I went outside again it was to check the mail,
Not the feather.
The wind was quicker than my memory.

It was a beautiful feather.
Not too big,
But still big enough for a child to write with,
And it shimmered in the light.

I find seagull feathers at the beach,
And they are pretty in their own way,
But not like the blue feather
That I found in my own yard.
It was a sapphire tucked in a green bed
That I awakened.

I would like to see it used
To write something:
A grocery list, a number on a napkin,
Someone’s name.

But feathers are for the wind,
Not fingers,
And I am happy
When something fulfills its purpose.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

On the Radio: The Interviews

Hello everyone, and happy summer!

I've been off from teaching, but I've started grad school, so my writing has been of an academic nature lately.  I do intend to share some of the work I've done, but not until the course I'm in is finished.

Below you'll find the two interviews I did on Thoughts for the Week, in case you weren't up early enough on the Sundays they were broadcast to hear them.

This one is mostly about my work as a religion teacher and campus minister at school:

video

The second interview focuses much more on my novel, The Champion, and what motivated me to write it:

video

The interviews are pretty long, at about a half hour each, but they are both interesting and entertaining, and they provide even more reasons to buy my book!  Not that you needed more reasons. :)

A confession: these are the first movies I've ever made with Windows Movie Maker.  It was so easy I'm tempted to do some more... maybe some readings from the novel, or some poems, or perhaps a bedtime story or two... looks like I'll have to work on a youtube account!

Friday, June 8, 2012

On the Radio

Back in March I taped two interviews for the radio program, Thoughts for the Week.  Part one will air this Sunday, June 10th, while part two will air on Sunday, June 24th.  Times and stations are listed below.

The first interview touches on a variety of topics relating to teaching religion at a Catholic school in the modern day.  The second interview focuses more on my novel, The Champion.  I've decided to extend the fundraiser for my school to August 15th, so go ahead and buy a copy (click on the picture to the left of this post for the info) to support Notre Dame (and me, too!).

The interviews will also be available at this website during the month of June.

Radio info:

WLAD 800AM at 7:30am
WVOX 1460AM at 6:00am
WJMJ 88.9FM (Hartford) at 6:30am
-93.1FM (Hamden) at 6:30am
-107.1FM (New Haven) at 6:30am

ABC Radio (check local listings)

I hope you tune in and enjoy!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Reflection: The Trinity Mystery

So I just got home from cantoring Mass.  We celebrated the Most Holy Trinity today.  It seems funny to write that we celebrated the Trinity today when in fact we should be celebrating the Trinity ever day, but practicing the presence of God is not the point of this post, so onward to my theme.

Mystery.  The word brings up images of Dick Tracy and Columbo, the movie Clue, and any butler who ever looked just a tad nefarious.  It also makes me think of incense and icons, Meister Eckhart and the Cloud of Unknowing, and the Trinity.  “Three in One and One in Three, therein lies the mystery.”  It is tough to wrap your head around it.

And yet, in my arrogance as a ‘professional Christian’ who teaches religion class every day, I often forget my own utter inability to really understand Who God Is.  When my students ask me to explain the Trinity, I usually spout off something about shamrocks, the rays of the sun, or, if I’m feeling particularly proficient, the nature of perfect love and how God is Lover, Beloved, and the Love that passes between them.  One time I even talked about an eternally cooking pizza, where the Father was the crust, the Son the sauce, and the Spirit the cheese.  Extending the metaphor to heaven and hell, I suggested that we could think of ourselves as toppings; heaven was being nestled safely in the Divine Mozzarella, while hell was burning up on the surface of the oven.

I hope I shall be forgiven if my pizza metaphor was heretical, but at the time it worked in my mind.  And that is the problem.  How can my tiny little mortal mind possibly contain complete knowledge of the Almighty?  How can I presume to teach my students about the Trinity when I really don’t understand it myself?

I realize now that I need to start with Mystery.  Today at Mass, Father’s homily reminded me of the importance of humbly accepting my own ignorance, and treating God not as a theological problem to be solved, but as my Creator and Lord.

Father began the homily by relating the story of St. Augustine of Canterbury ("AW-gus-teen," not, "uh-GUS-tin").  St. Augustine was sent to England to convert the people to Christianity, and he found himself having to explain the nature of the Trinity.  He began laying things out in what seemed to be an orderly and sensible fashion.  But one night he had a dream.

Perhaps you are familiar with the dream already.  Augustine was walking along the shore and he saw a child who had dug a hole in the ground.  The child ran to the ocean, picked up a shovel-full of water, and dumped it into his hole.  When the saint asked the child what he was doing, the boy answered, “I’m trying to empty the ocean into this hole.”

“That’s impossible, and a very foolish thing to do,” Augustine said.

“No more foolish than your attempt to explain the Trinity,” the boy replied.

Father then explained that the point of Christ’s mandate to go out and preach the Gospel to all nations was not simply to explain the reasonableness of doctrines to people.  It was to bring His Love to them, for Love is the essence of the Mystery of the Trinity.

That is what I so often forget in class.  I’m not just called to give information to my students; I am called to love them.  My prayer for this day is that I will not so often forget that love is the point of everything.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Poetry: The Cunning Stone

I was looking through the files on my computer and I found this poem I wrote two and a half years ago.  King David wrote a lot of poetry, so I figure he won't mind if I share this poem about him.  I hope you enjoy it!

The Cunning Stone

Shatt'ring skulls 'neath bronze-shod boots,
The giant takes the day.
Chosen shafts fly errant; none
Can give him pause, can stay
Wrath so potent, fury born
From far across the sea.
He comes to usurp the land
Of Abram's destiny.

Samson's might; Deborah's wit;
Joshua's blood-bright blade;
No judge comes to brandish strength,
To keep the Cov'nant made.
Samuel, O man of God,
From whence comes your hope now?
Israel's children soon before
Philistine king shall bow.

Titan's blade quails Jacob's heart;
No mighty man will stand.
Yet the prophet promises
The Lord will save His land.
The sacred oil has been poured
And words of blessing spoke
O'er Jesse's son, the shepherd,
Who bears the kingly yoke.

Ruddy youth, unarmed save for
a simple peasant sling
Stands before Goliath now.
Hark!  Listen to him sing!
Undaunted by the giant,
Whose rage his song has bought,
He places in his weapon
The stone that he had sought.

Goliath charges forward;
The sling proclaims his fate:
Rock arcs through the air and strikes
Goliath's naked pate.
Philistine bulk now crumbles
To earth he will not own.
Goliath's reign is ended
By David's cunning stone!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What is King Oliver's Grace?

Grace is a supremely important part of Christianity.  It is the very thing that enables the redemption of the soul and entry into heaven.  But what is it, exactly?

My understanding of Catholic teaching leads me to put it like this: grace is a gift.  It is the best gift, in fact.  Grace is the expression of God's love, and God loves us in a way that is similar to how we love each other.  When you love someone, you give them gifts, right?  And what is the greatest gift one person can give to another?  Oneself.  That's what grace is: God's gift of God's Self to us.  It is His very Life, Love, and Power with which He wishes to infuse us.

King Oliver Lihn is not God.  Indeed, he was not considered a god by his people.  Sakrit theology does allow for the ascension of humans to the ranks of the divine, but only after death (or several deaths, depending on which school of thought one follows).  King Oliver bestowed his grace on his people while still alive.  So in what sense did he possess grace, and in what sense did he give it?

According to Sakrit, there are several divine families.  Human families model divine families, and, very rarely, certain families are given divine favor.  The Augur, who acts as the supreme celebrant of rituals and interpreter of mysteries, is always a member of the Gant family.  The Gants have lived in the land of Lihn since before it was known by that name, and they are the descendants of the leader of the sages who first formalized the Sakrit faith.

Likewise, the Lihn family was also believed to have been granted divine favor.  After conquering their enemies' territories, they declared themselves to be touched by the goddess Lihal, and that claim helped to unite the newly subjugated people into a governable kingdom.  Lihal was recognized as the matriarch of the preeminent family of gods, and is currently the most beloved deity of Sakrit.  It is thought that the Lihn family's insistence on the prohibition of human sacrifice was based on the belief that Lihal created human life, and that this prohibition earned them the admiration their people already held for the goddess.

Regardless of how the Lihn family came to power, the people of the Kingdom of Lihn believed that they had been given special protection by Lihal, and that belief kept Lihn's government stable for nearly two hundred years.  Lihn grew more powerful each year, and the nation's borders continually expanded.  It was this expansion that led to the end of the royal family.

Oliver Lihn was born only days before the end of a terrible war being waged against Daelihm.  The Daelihmmers had set up trading posts along the Southwestern coast of the world's central continent (around the area where Southport now stands) and were raiding the settlements of the farmers who lived along the river.  The farmers were part of a loose confederation of families that were ruled only by a set of common laws.  When they appealed to the Kingdom of Lihn for help, Oliver's father saw an opportunity to gain new lands, perhaps peacefully, through an alliance with the confederation.  Together, the kingdom and the confederation were victorious.

But the trade agreements that were made after the end of the war did not have their intended effect.  Rather than convincing the citizens of the confederation that the goddess would extend her divine protection to all who were ruled by the Lihn family, the farmers' republican ideas were embraced and refined by the people of Lihn.  Over the course of one generation, Lihnittes were agitating for a legislative body of elected representatives.

Oliver had grown up hearing the arguments for and against the formation of a Republic, and he was sympathetic to the agitators' desire for representation.  It is believed that his father finally allowed for the formation of a house of commons with limited legislative power at his son's urging.

Unfortunately, some of Oliver's uncles viewed the king's act as a sign of weakness.  At the age of twenty-three, Oliver assumed the throne.  The first thing he did was uncover the plot of his uncles against his father and execute them.  He then demanded oaths of loyalty from his remaining relations and exacted heavy taxes on them as punishment.  When he discovered a plot for his own assassination due to an investigation made by members of the house of commons, he consolidated his power within his family further, and expanded the legislative responsibilities of the house of commons.

Two decades of peace and prosperity followed.  Then came the second war with Daelihm, sparked by the beer poisonings that occurred during celebrations of the victory won in the first war (it was at this time that beer was banned from Lihn and hard cider made in Debenlander fashion became the dominant alcoholic beverage).

Oliver prosecuted the war well, and, despite setbacks and betrayals, victory was achieved.  But the people of Lihn lost much, and radicals who dreamed of the dissolution of the monarchy twisted the sadness of the people into anger towards their king.  Though he had many loyal supporters, Oliver knew that a civil war would leave his Kingdom ravaged, and vulnerable to reprisal from Daelihm.  He saw that the only way to preserve his people, and likely his own life, was to become the last king of Lihn.

Many of the anti-monarchy radicals were also anti-theists, and their calls of, "freedom from gods and kings," disturbed Oliver.  Sakrit was the force that unified a diverse people, and its moral code was the basis for Lihnish law.  If Sakrit fell along with the royal family, Oliver believed that Lihn would dissolve into a collection of warring city-states, as it was before his family's rise to power.  He needed to give up his crown without disowning the gods of Sakrit.

It is his answer to this problem that revealed Oliver to be as clever a theologian as he was a politician and military strategist.  The Lihn family and the Gant family developed a ritual that would be performed to mark the dissolution of the monarchy.  The point of this ritual was to confer upon all the people of Lihn the grace that had been granted to Oliver's family.  The citizens of the new Republic would swear to uphold the practice of their religion, and a grand temple would be built in honor of Lihal near the site of the soon-to-be-constructed Senate building.  The Lihn family would pay the majority of the construction costs of both buildings, and all members of the family would give up the name, "Lihn."  The name would belong to all the citizens of the republic, just as Lihal's grace would.  Indeed, it is by virtue of that grace that Lihnish law would recognize the right of each citizen to vote.

Thus, Oliver relinquished his throne without dethroning his gods, and the anti-theists were stymied in their efforts.  The foundation of the Republic of Lihn would be based on Sakrit's theology of grace.  That foundation survived one hundred a twenty years before the events of The Champion, and it continues to be the cornerstone of Lihnish law and national identity.

It is also the reason that Kirrani believers were persecuted so vehemently in the capital city, as also is evidenced in The Champion.  If the people of Lihn reject the gods of Sakrit and embrace a different faith, the Republic will fall, or so the thinking goes.  If one rejects Lihal, one rejects her grace, and her special protection.

The fate of the Republic is a major concern of Cloudspike, the sequel to The Champion, which I have started to write.  King Oliver's grace, and the grace of the God of the Kirrani faith, will play major roles in the narrative.

Ultimately, I guess a good question to end with is this one: by whose grace do you believe you live?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

King Oliver's Grace

Music is not central to The Champion, but it does play an important role.  In chapter two, Seta Gorrhima sings to release Idoun from his prison.  Gorrhima also uses music later in the novel to accomplish something significant to the plot.  But occasions of bardic spell-shaping are not my favorite instances of music in my novel.

There are two songs that are mentioned because of their significance in to the Republic of Lihn: The Crystals' Light and King Oliver's Grace.  The first is the national anthem of Lihn.  I have not written out the lyrics, but I know they will borrow heavily from the imagery of The Star-Spangled Banner.  The second song, King Oliver's Grace, is to Lihn what America the Beautiful is to the U.S.  This song is my favorite.  I've been tinkering with the lyrics and trying to write some music for them.  I'm still working on the music, which I hope will be reminiscent of the great English hymns, but the lyrics are set:

King Oliver’s Grace

Forget ye not King Oliver’s grace,
The gift that set a people free;
Remember always and embrace
That heart that let our freedom be.

Forget ye not the quieted throne,
The crown he cast onto the earth;
Recall forever, gladly own
The hand that wrought our freedom’s birth.

For wheresoever kings now rule in castles bright and strong,
Where men-at-arms and mages proud the festal tables throng,
The liberty of simple folk has not its proper place,
But Oliver, last king of Lihn, gave unto us his grace.

Forget ye not, of Lariel’s lands,
There is but one that’s truly free.
Behold our Senate!  Now it stands,
A beacon for the world to see.

Forget ye not, O Citizen, no!
The memory do not deface!
In joy and sorrow, weal and woe,
Hold fast unto that royal grace!

King Oliver Lihn was indeed the last king of his namesake country.  He signed the law that dissolved the monarchy and established the Republic, and he saw the Senate Hall completed before his death.  There are many reasons why he abolished his family's reign, some altruistic, some self-serving; I intend to explore his character at some point in the future.  For now it is enough for me to understand how the people of Lihn feel toward their last sovereign.

But what is King Oliver's Grace, exactly, and how do the citizen's of Lihn now possess it?  That will be the subject of another post!