Showing posts from May, 2009

As the Spirit Moves*

I've been having hard time this past week or so thinking of things to write about. Doubtless this is partly an effect of finishing the draft of the second chapter of my book; partly also an effect of having my first blogging anniversary . It's all too easy to end up looking at my feet (metaphorically, as well as in yoga class) and starting to think too much about how to walk. I kept wanting to write something really profound for my year-and-a-day, but everything kept fizzling, feeling too stilted. And besides, I was tired. Where does inspiration come from? It's a good day to ask, eh? There they were, huddled together in the upper room, "together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus [very significant], and with his brothers [ditto]," devoting themselves to prayer. "And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed

Dear You

Celebrating her first full year of blogging: (click to enlarge)

Story Time

I've been thinking for days about tomorrow: that it will be a year and a day since I started my blog . It really does feel like there should be something important to say, some big announcement to mark this event. Or non-event. It's just an anniversary, not really a thing that is going to happen. But if this were a fairy-tale, what might I expect? I know, I know, I can hear Granny Weatherwax now . We don't live in stories; we live our lives, and that is much better than living a tale. The princess doesn't have to marry the frog; the eldest sister (that's me) doesn't have to be the one whom the shoe won't fit. We create our own stories (hurray for free will!) and thus our own meaning. But it's very hard to escape from the expectation that maybe life really is a story that should go a certain way. For example, if I were a journalist , perhaps I would have spent the past year traveling, having all sorts of adventures and moments of self-realization


I don't know which I find more troubling: that death is inevitable or that it can happen at any time. I find it curious that colleagues and students often imagine that I know or am interested in things that I am most definitely not, while apologizing for asking about things on which I am actually not only an expert, but quite possibly the expert. It's a great day when mainstream fashions start to look like those in the catalogs for witches . I think I may have figured out something really important in my fencing, but I'm too scared to write about it in case it doesn't work. Sometimes our reality is actually better than our dreams, but we are too busy dreaming to notice. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary became "excessive" only after the Protestants rejected it. I am surrounded by books and yet still feel the need to write another book because none of the books that I know says what I want to say.

Chapter 2 (in 500 Words)

(click to enlarge) Word cloud by Wordle .

Childish Things

There's something that really puzzles me about our culture. On the one hand, creativity is something that we encourage--ad nauseum--in our children: "Use your imagination! Express your creativity!" And yet, on the other, to be creative--an "artist"--is somehow the last thing that we want them to become: it's so impractical; you might never get a break; artists are more likely to go crazy and commit suicide than, say, doctors or lawyers or businessmen.* We are willing to allow a few people to be extravagantly creative (musicians, film makers, authors of best-selling novels) while labeling all others who engage in creative (a.k.a. artistic) work as childlike nerds who live in a world of their own fantasy.** We are constantly incited to develop our own creativity: "Express yourself! Try something new!" And yet, to enjoy the products of others' creativity is considered "escapist" or, at best, a waste of time; there's nothing pr

More about God

So, I'm having one of those arguments--ahem! conversations--that you get into on Facebook sometimes. You know the ones, where one of your friends posts something that he or she thinks everyone will agree with and then you weigh in out of the blue with your take on how the whole question has been posed the wrong way and make everybody uncomfortable because you simply won't let go. That's the great thing about having a blog; you can make the whole thing public! Today's topic: "I'm spiritual, but I'm not really religious." Okay, disclaimer: I am an historian of Christianity, so this kind of thing is almost certainly going to rub me the wrong way, but arguably not for the reasons that you (at least, those of you who don't know me very well) might expect. Not because I believe that there are not great truths to be learned from other traditions (I do; Jaya Ganesha!); not because I am convinced that the Church in its hierarchy has always made the righ

Ave Virgo Mater Christi

"Hail, virgin, mother of Christ, you who by your purity merited to be called phoenix of virgins; hail, virgin, whose fruit gave to us the end of sorrow and the limit of lamentation. Hail, beautiful virgin, for whose praise neither rhythm nor meter suffices; hail, virgin, turning-post of evil, vein of life, through whom the theta of foul death is accomplished. Hail, glorious virgin, you who are the comment and gloss of prophetic scripture, whose gloss makes bare that which is veiled by the hard shell of the letter. Hail, virgin, key of heaven, hail, new ship weighed down with novel wares, through whom on full sails is brought the full light from heaven to the blind and wandering. Hail, maidenly gem, hail, bright star of the sea, hail, satchel of the divine will, hail, torch and lantern whom the supernal light sets light, firebrand of eternal light. Hail, virgin, whose womb diligently sealed swelled with a new growth; without pain and torment the splendor and figure of the Father wi

A Little Learning*

When I was younger, say, in graduate school, there was a vision of what I wanted to accomplish clear on the horizon, like a mountain rising in the distance. It was, to be sure, far away, and the path long, but the goal seemed something definite and achievable, if only I had the endurance to stay on the path. One day, I imagined, I would reach that mountain having acquired certain skills, knowing particular things that I needed to know in order to do the work that I wanted to in my field. And all the hard work would have been worth it. Now, some twenty years later, I think that I've made it to the mountain, perhaps even been here for some time, but I'm not sure. I can't see it anymore. If I turn back, I think I can see the path that brought me here, but there is nothing ahead of me, which must mean I've arrived. Or gotten lost. Worst of all, I have no real sense of actually having climbed the mountain, although occasionally I do turn around and gasp at how high I

My Fencing Genius*

Elizabeth Gilbert gave a very interesting talk a few months ago about changing the way in which we think about creativity and genius. Rather than, as we have since the Renaissance, insisting that creativity is something that comes from within, as the personal responsibility of its human author, it would be much healthier, she suggests, to think of it in the way in which the ancient Greeks and Romans did, as something that comes from outside, inspired, as it were, by the gods. Or, rather, not exactly the gods (or God), but instead something at once more personal and yet still not ourselves: our "genius." And what is a genius? Gilbert suggests something "rather like Dobby, the House-Elf." Okay, maybe not the image I would have chosen, but it makes the point: not everybody's genius is, well, a genius. As authors and artists, we are dependent upon the inspiration we are given and sometimes, our genius isn't really up to it. So, Gilbert argues, it's r

The Good Stuff

One day, I am going to be able to write a post about what it feels like to win at a fencing tournament. That day is not today. Perhaps, indeed, that day will never come. I will keep going to tournaments until I am too ridiculously old to compete, and I still will never had have the sensation of having won every D-E that I fenced.* So why do I even try? Because quitting would be even more painful? Because I really still do have hope that one day it will be different? What on earth gives me the confidence to believe that it ever could? Look at me: 44 years old, only been fencing for six years as of this coming summer. Even against the women my age, it is actually probably hopeless. Sure, they are not necessarily that much stronger or fitter than I am, but many of them have been fencing since they were in high school or college. There is no way that I will ever beat them on experience, and I don't seem to be able to tap into the luck. My husband is sick beyond words of my c

My Inner Blog

Word clouds generated by Wordle . Click images to enlarge.

The Meaning of Life

Some years ago, I was playing with one of my decks of Tarot cards and asked the question, "What is the meaning of life?" The deck that I was using was Alexandra Genetti's beautiful " Wheel of Change ," and the card that I picked was the Eight of Disks: "Spiders Weave Their Webs in the Branches of a Weathered Tree." Spiders, webs, trees: how, I wondered, was this the answer to my question? Something about Fate and threads? Something about creation and death? I don't get it. Ah, here it is: "The web represents strong connections. It symbolizes any network of people and things working together to build something. Each person pulls the thread along and, in his or her interactions, knots it together with the threads of others, building the interpersonal web that makes up a life. The web of your life is made up of all the people, places and things you interact with."* At which point, if I remember correctly, I started to sob. Not out

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis

I'm tired. Writing a book is hard work. Here I've been doing it for not quite a year (counting the preliminary research I did last summer before going to England and Belgium for August), and I'm exhausted. And yet, it is only a quarter done, if that. That is, I have my original New Year's goal of 30,000 words out of a projected (for the moment) 120,000, not including the footnotes that I still need to formally write and all of the revisions that will inevitably have to occur. I wish I could say that I was feeling a greater sense of accomplishment, but, sad to say, today, at least, I'm not. 30,000 words is a lot of writing. My first year in graduate school, it would have been a whole diploma (aka Master's) thesis. At Cambridge, where I started my doctoral work, it would have been nearly half of the 80,000 word limit for a dissertation (and if I include just the draft footnotes I have now, it's easily half*). Now, it's just a quarter of a book tha

Statistical Artifact

I've discovered a new diet. There is no need to exercise, no need to change what or how or when you eat, no need to count calories or worry about grams of carbohydrates or fat. All you need to do is wait--and grow older. I was hugely fat in high school. Okay, maybe not hugely fat, but that's the way I remember it. Lots of embarrassed trips to the cafeteria to buy those huge, glazed cinnamon rolls; lots of late night trips to the refrigerator for ice cream; lots of secret (or not so secret) forays to the convenience store for pies, cakes and cookies. I wanted to stop, but I couldn't help it, and worse, since I was on the swim team, my failing was there for everybody to see. It was awful. I would promise myself with every binge that it was to be the last and that tomorrow I would start a proper diet, but, almost inevitably, there I would be the next night, sneaking into the kitchen for yet another gorge. Thinking back on it, it's hard to believe I survived, but, t

Straw Woman

I'm feeling a bit better now, but I'm still having trouble focusing on the primary sources I was supposed to be reading this week, so this morning I spent some time reading a few articles on titles of the Virgin Mary and their interpretation. Little did I know what I was in for! According to Helen Phillips (Cardiff University*), the titles that I am so fascinated by--and on which the next section of the chapter that I am writing is going to focus--are not (as I had led myself to believe) celebrations of the Virgin's role in the Incarnation stimulated by awe at the paradox that (as Jeremiah 31:22 famously put it) "a woman encompasses a man" (i.e. the God-man Christ) but, rather, purposeful efforts on the part of a misogynistic clergy to deny Mary not only agency, but integrity, fragmenting her as they do into so many inanimate things: mirror of justice, seat of wisdom, spiritual vessel, mystical rose, tower of David, house of gold, ark of the covenant, gate of

Question 111: Did Mary Know Everything?

"The most blessed Virgin had many privileges in her knowledge of things. The first was perfect knowledge of the Trinity without mediation, which she had in life through a most special grace. The second was perfect knowledge of the mystery of the Incarnation: and this she had through grace and her singular experience. The third was knowledge of her predestination, which she had through revelation and cause. The fourth was knowledge of her soul and of spirits in their proper species, which she had dispositively through nature and completely through grace, and through which she saw angels and spirits and demons. The fifth was perfect knowledge of everything pertaining to the status of life, which she had through the infusion and inspiration of grace: and this included perfect knowledge of the Scriptures, of works and of contemplation. The sixth was knowledge of everything about herself in the future, which she had through revelation and in the mirror of readings. The seventh was know

What Friends Are For

(click to enlarge)

Invocation of the Muse

Once I wrote a song of Mary Six in feet, its truth contrary. Now verse I draw from quiver rude; O grace, let me a poet prove. In praise I sharpen blunted pen To cry the Virgin's praise again. But, oh, that words would harmonize In style with that which I do prize. Vile, brief and rude though writing be, In praise of you, it's oratory. And all the writer bums become Like tongues of angels, cherubim. If all the world turned into quills And atoms scribes, for all their skills This host could not her praise reveal Nor even match the Virgin's heel. As many scribes as there are leaves, Rocks, pebbles, groves or dripping seas Could not the Virgin worthily Describe in all eternity. If scribes were numbered with the stars That twinkle in the face of Mars Or drops of rain that on earth fall, The matter's weight would crush them all. To praise, therefore, love urges me The Virgin in her majesty; And mildly she calls me to stand, The offered reed to take in hand. But I that pen acc

Piercing No. 7

The euphoria's wearing off a bit and my ear has started to throb, ever so slightly, but I'm still really glad I did it yesterday. "Why?", you may ask, as, in fact, one of my friends at fencing did the other night at practice when, showing off my new navel ring, I mentioned that I was thinking of getting another piercing at the top of my ear: "Is it that you want to feel young again?" You'd think so, yes? Piercing is one of those things that the young are really into; mature adults like my 44-year-old self should not be adding holes to their bodies. We should--if this is true--be content with the ones we already have, right? Well, I don't know. Certainly the majority of my piercings (two each in my earlobes) I got when I was young, the first set in middle school when I was old enough that my mom could be persuaded to drive me to the mall, the second set in high school when I could drive myself there. I once had a third hole in one of my lobes, b