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Monday, December 23, 2013

The Legend of the Glastonbury Thorn......

is a story that hearkens back to the early days of Christianity in Britain, serving a foundation for various other myths and legends, including the Arthurian Cycles. Since it a very Christmassy tale, I think now is an appropriate time to tell it!

     Although the exact date is unknown, tradition holds that Christianity was introduced to Britain some time during the first century. This definitive event in British history is often associated with St. Joseph of Arimathea. Pious legend tells us that he was the younger brother of St. Joachim, thus making him the uncle of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the great-uncle of Jesus Christ.
    He is said to have worked as a merchant under the employ of the Roman government, carrying lead and tin from Cornwall, England, to Phoenicia. He also owned a fleet of ships with which he made trading ventures throughout the Roman Empire. Living in Marmorica, Egypt, for a time, Joseph moved back to Judea and settled in the town of Arimathea, eight miles north of Jerusalem. He was a voting member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, and moving so close to the holy city would have been convenient for someone of his position.
    The next phase of the legend deals with Joseph’s journeys abroad with the Blessed Mother and the Christ Child. These tales maintain that St. Joseph the Carpenter died when Jesus was still a boy. As a result, Joseph of Arimathea took his niece and grand-nephew under his wing and brought them along on his tin-trading missions to Cornwall, England, and beyond. This is vaguely alluded to in the medieval English carol, “I Saw Three Ships”, which depicts Christ and the blessed Virgin traveling by ship:

I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day,
I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas Day in the morning

And what was in those ships all three
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day?
And what was in those ships all three
On Christmas Day in the morning?

Our Saviour Christ and His Lady
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day,
Our Saviour Christ and His Lady
On Christmas Day in the morning

    Also, William Blake, the 18th century poet and mystic, speculated about Christ’s supposed visit to England and vowed to improve his country for the sake of it in his famous hymn, “Jerusalem”:

And did those feet in ancient times
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark, satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold;
Bring me my arrows of desire;
Bring me my spear; oh, clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I shall not cease from mental fight
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hands
Till we have builded Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land

  Whether or not Jesus and Mary ever resided in pre-Roman Britain, Joseph of Arimathea’s appearance on the British scene is not at all impossible. The Romans did carry on a lively trade with the Britons long before the actual Roman conquest and colonization of Britannia, and a prominent man such as Joseph may well have been involved in it. 

    Years later on that fateful Holy Week, Joseph is said to have been the owner of the Upper Room in which Jesus and the Apostles celebrated the Last Supper. After the Crucifixion, it was he who obtained permission from the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, to take Christ’s body from the cross and give him a decent burial in a new tomb hewn out of rock. As a result of his sympathetic gesture, he suffered persecuted at the hands of the Sanhedrin who he once served.

    Legend holds that he was imprisoned by them and miraculously released by Christ on the eve of his Resurrection. But this was far from the end of his troubles. Pontius Pilate launched a persecution of Christians in the wake of these tumultuous events, and Joseph was forced to flee Jerusalem.

    He joined the Apostle Philip, Lazarus, and Mary Magdalene in Gaul, and together they began to preach the glad tidings to the people there. But then one night as he lay sleeping in his hut, a brilliant flash of light awakened him, and he saw an angel shrouded in a cloud of incense standing before him.   

    “Joseph of Arimathea,” the heavenly visitor addressed him, “cross thou over to Britain and preach the glad tidings to Arvigarus. And there, where a Christmas miracle shall come to pass, do thou build the first Christian church in that land.”

    Joseph did as he was told and set out in a small ship will eleven other Christian missionaries. He intended sail around Land’s End in Cornwall and return to his old stomping grounds in Cornwall in order to make contact with some of his old business associates there. However, this was not to be. His ship ran aground in the marshland around Glastonbury, and he and his companions were seized by the natives and taken before their king, Arvigarus.

   Although he was impressed by their courage, the king was still unwilling to convert to Christianity. However, he did give Joseph and his companions’ permission to preach. Furthermore, he let them make their base on the island of Avalon (“the island of apples”), which was also know as Ynis-witren (“the island of glassy waters), and divided the land into Twelve Hides, one for each of the missionaries. Today, this place is identified as modern-day Glastonbury, presumably surrounded by marshland way back when and mistakenly thought to be an island.

    The Christians were escorted to Avalon and enthusiastically decided to climb a steep hill, presumably to get a good view of their new home. When they reached the summit, the exhausted Joseph of Arimathea rested his weight on his hawthorn staff, which was said to be made with pieces of Christ’s Crown of Thorns. Immediately, the staff took root and blossomed with a cluster of beautiful white flowers. Since it was Christmas Eve of 63 A.D., Joseph took the sign to be a fulfillment of the angel’s prophecy and built a mud-and-wattle church dedicated to Our Lady on that spot, which came to be known as “Weary-all Hill”. The staff of Joseph continued to flourish and blossom every year on Christmas and Easter.

    Further legends involve the Holy Grail, which Joseph of Arimathea supposedly used to catch the blood flowing from Christ’s side after he was pierced with a lance. He is said to have taken in with him to Britain wrapped in a cloth of white samite and placed it under the first altar to be raised in the land. He later hid it at the bottom of well which afterwards gushed out red-tinted water, now known as “Chalice Well” or “Blood Well.”

    Some claim that the Glastonbury Thorn was really brought back to Glastonbury Abbey by a zealous crusader who picked it up somewhere in Palestine during the Middle Ages. Also, tests on the water from Chalice Well have shown that it has a very high iron-content, which explains its unusual red tint.

    However, these legends are not without significance, nor have they been proven to be altogether false. If other early Christians such as St. Paul traveled across the Roman Empire to spread their religion, why would it be unreasonable to believe that St. Joseph of Arimathea would return to the land where he spent so much time in order to proclaim the glad tidings? Furthermore, to presume that are no such things as miracles is a truly far-fetched notion. Whether it was Joseph or someone else who first planted the cross in British soil, the fact remains that it did take root, blossomed, and bore much fruit.

Glastonbury Thorn
The Glastonbury Thorn, before being vandalized in 2010

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"Campion's Brag".........

is the ultimate battle-cry for the beleaguered Catholics of England, ringing from the days of the Elizabethan persecution. Edmund Campion, "The Diamond of England", was the one to write it, and so he did, even though the fulfillment of the brag is left to all those who keep the faith and battle for the Kingdom of Heaven. And here, in his own words on his feast day, is "Campion's Brag":

    To the Right Honourable, the Lords of Her Majesty's Privy Council:

     Whereas I have come out of Germany and Bohemia, being sent by my superiors, and adventured myself into this noble realm, my dear country, for the glory of God and benefit of souls, I thought it like enough that, in this busy, watchful, and suspicious world, I should either sooner or later be intercepted and stopped of my course.

    Wherefore, providing for all events, and uncertain what may become of me, when God shall haply deliver my body into durance, I supposed it needful to put this in writing in a readiness, desiring your good lordships to give it your reading, for to know my cause. This doing, I trust I shall ease you of some labour. For that which otherwise you must have sought for by practice of wit, I do now lay into your hands by plain confession. And to the intent that the whole matter may be conceived in order, and so the better both understood and remembered, I make thereof these nine points or articles, directly, truly and resolutely opening my full enterprise and purpose.
i. I confess that I am (albeit unworthy) a priest of the Catholic Church, and through the great mercy of God vowed now these eight years into the religion [religious order] of the Society of Jesus. Hereby I have taken upon me a special kind of warfare under the banner of obedience, and also resigned all my interest or possibility of wealth, honour, pleasure, and other worldly felicity.
ii. At the voice of our General, which is to me a warrant from heaven and oracle of Christ, I took my voyage from Prague to Rome (where our General Father is always resident) and from Rome to England, as I might and would have done joyously into any part of Christendom or Heatheness, had I been thereto assigned.

    iii. My charge is, of free cost to preach the Gospel, to minister the Sacraments, to instruct the simple, to reform sinners, to confute errors—in brief, to cry alarm spiritual against foul vice and proud ignorance, wherewith many of my dear countrymen are abused.
iv. I never had mind, and am strictly forbidden by our Father that sent me, to deal in any respect with matter of state or policy of this realm, as things which appertain not to my vocation, and from which I gladly restrain and sequester my thoughts.
v. I do ask, to the glory of God, with all humility, and under your correction, three sorts of indifferent and quiet audiences: the first, before your Honours, wherein I will discourse of religion, so far as it toucheth the common weal and your nobilities: the second, whereof I make more account, before the Doctors and Masters and chosen men of both universities, wherein I undertake to avow the faith of our Catholic Church by proofs innumerable—Scriptures, councils, Fathers, history, natural and moral reasons: the third, before the lawyers, spiritual and temporal, wherein I will justify the said faith by the common wisdom of the laws standing yet in force and practice.

     vi. I would be loath to speak anything that might sound of any insolent brag or challenge, especially being now as a dead man to this world and willing to put my head under every man's foot, and to kiss the ground they tread upon. Yet I have such courage in avouching the majesty of Jesus my King, and such affiance in his gracious favour, and such assurance in my quarrel, and my evidence so impregnable, and because I know perfectly that no one Protestant, nor all the Protestants living, nor any sect of our adversaries (howsoever they face men down in pulpits, and overrule us in their kingdom of grammarians and unlearned ears) can maintain their doctrine in disputation. I am to sue most humbly and instantly for combat with all and every of them, and the most principal that may be found: protesting that in this trial the better furnished they come, the better welcome they shall be.

     vii. And because it hath pleased God to enrich the Queen my Sovereign Lady with notable gifts of nature, learning, and princely education, I do verily trust that if her Highness would vouchsafe her royal person and good attention to such a conference as, in the second part of my fifth article I have motioned, or to a few sermons, which in her or your hearing I am to utter such manifest and fair light by good method and plain dealing may be cast upon these controversies, that possibly her zeal of truth and love of her people shall incline her noble Grace to disfavour some proceedings hurtful to the realm, and procure towards us oppressed more equity.

     viii. Moreover I doubt not but you, her Highness' Council, being of such wisdom and discreet in cases most important, when you shall have heard these questions of religion opened faithfully, which many times by our adversaries are huddled up and confounded, will see upon what substantial grounds our Catholic Faith is builded, how feeble that side is which by sway of the time prevaileth against us, and so at last for your own souls, and for many thousand souls that depend upon your government, will discountenance error when it is bewrayed [revealed], and hearken to those who would spend the best blood in their bodies for your salvation. Many innocent hands are lifted up to heaven for you daily by those English students, whose posterity shall never die, which beyond seas, gathering virtue and sufficient knowledge for the purpose, are determined never to give you over, but either to win you heaven, or to die upon your pikes. And touching our Society, be it known to you that we have made a league—all the Jesuits in the world, whose succession and multitude must overreach all the practice of England—cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments, or consumed with your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God; it cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted: So it must be restored.

     ix. If these my offers be refused, and my endeavours can take no place, and I, having run thousands of miles to do you good, shall be rewarded with rigour. I have no more to say but to recommend your case and mine to Almighty God, the Searcher of Hearts, who send us his grace, and see us at accord before the day of payment, to the end we may at last be friends in heaven, when all injuries shall be forgotten.

St Edmund Campion.jpg
"My charge cry alarm spiritual....."

Saturday, November 30, 2013

"Beannachtai ne Feile Aindreas".......

is a dual-saints post for St. Andrew's Day, featuring the stories of both St. Andrew and St. Margaret of Scotland, as well as a few Scottish tales from days of yore. Check it out:

St. Andrew's Cross

Thursday, November 28, 2013


for most people here in the USA, is something of a precursor of Christmas, a day when family and friends often get together across a table laden with various delicacies once claimed to be eaten by Pilgrims and Indians, yell at a TV screen showing colossal characters ramming into each other over an oval shaped ball, and, hopefully, take time to be thankful for their blessings and help those in need of assistance, as we all do from time to time in life. For me personally, it is usually a quiet day spent cooking with my parents, and we’ve cooked up a storm in the past – turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, salt n’ pepper mashed potatoes, candied yams, cooked carrots, corn, string beans, pumpkin pie with cool whip, eggnog. You get the picture. Lots of leftovers. After finishing cooking, we usually watch classic films and spend time in prayer, thanking God for the bounty.

    The concept of having an official holiday set aside to giving thanks to God for things may sound quaint at best and superstitious at worst to some readers leaning more towards atheism or agnosticism. Obviously, we don’t all see the overt actions of a Supreme Being moving things around in our lives, nor can we even detect an overt action directing the gradual ebb and flow of nature. But therein lies the paradox of it all. It is not in the loud crash of thunder, per se, but in the whispering wind that God’s voice is heard. In other words, as Christians, we accept that the workings of God can be either subtle or astounding, but that all things are under His control and the end results are part of His plan. God is the “Prime Mover”, setting the chain reaction of natural and human history into motion, giving each of us the ability to choose right and wrong, and, in the end, working all things to good for those who love and serve Him.

    The adjoining concepts of hope and providence are brought to the fore in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epics. He himself called them “fundamentally religious works”, and beneath to surface, it is not difficult to see why. In these stories of Middle Earth, a force is constantly playing a part in the lives of the characters, working through their virtues and vices to bring about the unexpected conclusion of each plot. Darkness seems impenetrable at times, but the characters cling to hope – not futility, but the theological virtue of hope – with a keen awareness that this world is only a testing ground to prepare for a higher plain. Tolkien rebuked hopeless cynicism in a world of haughty cynics, and that is what has made his writings so timeless. He believed that human beings were more than electric meat or a conglomeration of scientific microcosms.

    Enter the Pilgrims, the ultimate religious and cultural “bridge” between Old England and Young America. Many times, historians have brought up the query just why the arrival of the Scrooby Separatists at the cranberry bogs of Massachusetts should elicit such a general hub-bub. After all, the Jamestown colonists were the first ones to plant the Union Jack on American soil, the Spanish and the French certainly beat them to the punch by many centuries, and the Pilgrims were only one among many groups seeking religious toleration for themselves in America. Admittedly, I am rather put out that the Catholic English refugees who fled to Lord Baltimore’s fair and pleasant colony don’t get better promo!

    But the reason the Jamestown adventurers failed to capture our imagination was because their primary goal for being there was to “get rich quick”, plain and simple. The French and Spanish were just a little too different from our own Anglicized culture to feel completely “part of us.” And the fact still remains that the Pilgrims we all know and love were the first major group of ordinary Englishmen and Englishwomen to make the miserable Atlantic crossing to the New World for religious reasons. And in the end, in spite of all the technicalities and nay-saying, they really deserve to be remembered, both in their native land and their adopted home. I have vowed to myself that should the winding road of life ever lead me to settle in Britain, marry a Brit, and have a bunch of little British children, I will insist upon them all celebrating Thanksgiving. Or no cooking from me. Ever.

     The Pilgrims were a fascinating bunch. While they certainly were very prayerful and not much into having shin-digs on holy days, when they set their mind to partying, records reveal they really “set the house on fire” – sometimes literally! Also, they didn’t perpetually tromp around clad in black funeral garb. More interesting records reveal that some of them were quite “decked out” in seriously crazy colors and fashions that conjure up images of the ‘60’s as opposed to the 1600s! Unlike the Quakers, they weren’t shy about fighting and sometimes teamed up with one Indian tribe against another for their own benefit. There actions were not always as clean as the driven snow, but their obvious dedication to their beliefs in spite of persecution and courage in the face of the unknown cannot help but be a testimony to the endurance of the human spirit.

    Not only did they establish a successful colony on the edge of nowhere, but they also brought “The Mayflower Compact” into being, serving as a landmark of democratic development, which acknowledged the power of God, the power of the king, and the power of the people. Their emphasis on the written word, entrenched in them not least because of their devotion to the Bible, made this possible. The Pilgrims journey to the New World truly lent life to the allegory Pilgrim’s Progress by the Puritan author, John Bunyan, who was imprisoned in England for his nonconformity. I think the following hymn by Bunyan sums up his spirit, along with that of Tolkien, the Pilgrims, and Thanksgiving itself, best:

Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’ll with a giant fight,
He will have a right
To be a pilgrim.

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit,
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He’ll fear not what men say,
He’ll labor night and day
To be a pilgrim.

print of Mike Haywood's painting of the Pilgrim Fathers' first landing 13 Nov 1620
"To be a Pilgrim......"

Friday, November 22, 2013

The 50th Anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis......

author of countless works including The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, and Mere Christianity, was remembered yesterday, November 22. This struck a special chord with me now, since I have been developing a deeper connection with and appreciation for his works, as well as the works of his fellow British authors, J.R.R. Tolkien and Brian Jacques. As I’ve mentioned in the past, when I was in grade school, I was forced to read two of the Narnia books in order to participate in a book review class, and I balked all the way. I never have been much of a fantasy person, and I found the story just plain silly. Hence, after I was finished with the cursory reading (and enduring the sock-puppet-special BBC production of the Chronicles!), I promptly dumped and refused to watched the newly released film epic The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

    At the time, many of my friends and acquaintances were aghast that I refused to watch the new phenomenon, much less their old favorite The Lord of the Rings, and some even threatened, with all the best intentions, to tie me to a chair if I wouldn’t comply! But I held my in my refusal to submit to their promptings. It was not until two years ago that I finally decided to watch the first Narnia film, for my own sense of well-roundedness. And believe it or not, it was that film, and its terrific music score, that helped me come to realize the heart and soul of Lewis, the man who found Christ and sought to lead others to him through the means of good old-fashioned story telling.

    It seems that many Ringers tend to enjoy extolling Middle Earth at Narnia’s expense. “Well, it’s not Lord of the Rings”, is a common enough refrain whenever someone brings up something about Lewis’s brain-child. Not just Lewis, mind you, but also Jacques and his colorful and courageous world of Redwall and Mossflower Wood. But after a while, this sort of attitude comes off as nothing less than snobbish and annoying. The simple fact is that Narnia and Redwall were never meant to be adult fantasies, and cannot be expected to display the same characteristics. Thank heavens they don’t! Personally, I feel that one high-flying, big-budget adult fantasy is enough for a lifetime. I want to relax and have some fun occasionally.

    Let’s face it, Tolkien was a one-of-a-kind character who virtually dedicated his entire life to creating another world, with all the complexity of our own. But few can be honestly expected to try and repeat that. He turned out a masterpiece, certainly, but there are many masterpieces with different styles, dimensions, and intents. They compliment one other, and form the tapestry that makes up a worthwhile anthology of stories that matter. Some would say that LotR has more “depth” than Narnia. I’m not so sure about that. After all, since Narnia is a direct allegory for the Story of Salvation, it is armed to the teeth with powerful meaning. Of course, like Redwall, it is meant for a younger audience. But the truths taught are ageless. Furthermore, sometimes being more direct “hits home” with keener precision than trying to bury the meaning so deeply it takes an archaeologist to unearth it!

    What I have come to appreciate in all three authors, Lewis, Tolkien, and Jacques, is their penetrating understanding of the eternal battle of good and evil. The three of them had experiences in the World Wars of the 20th century, and the scars they had received never to have been far from mind. Their stories are hinged on the dual elements of paradox and grace. Refugee children, country hobbits, and peaceful monks, must rise above their simple backgrounds and battle against the powers of hell. They, it is emphasized, are the only ones who are capable of doing so. Providence is with them to raise them up; it has been foretold that special grace will be given to them. It all comes back to the baby laid in a manger, and the carpenter nailed to a cross. Even in the blackest moments, there is the hope and belief that all things will yet be worked to good.

    As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is the music paired with film adaptations that has especially brought figures like Lewis and Tolkien to life for me. In the track “Evacuating London” from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I feel so strongly the workings of Lewis’s mind. There is pathos as the war separates a British family, just the sort of thing he probably encountered many times in the war years. Yet the music holds an undercurrent of a deeper meaning to suffering, the battle, the adventure that we must all embark on. There is Aslan just behind the door of an old wardrobe, if only we seek Him out. Also, in the score The Battle, when Peter Pevensie prepares to lead the armies of the Lion against the White Witch, the curtain of allegory seems to tear away, and the story of Easter comes blasting to the fore. There are times when the choral voices, although mostly inarticulate, seem to say “Jesu Christos”, and my mind’s eye sees Lewis gazing at me from across the years, saying “And that, my dear, is what it’s all about.” I don’t know anything with more depth than that.

 God Speed, Mr. Lewis

Monday, November 18, 2013

What is Unionism?

    When I first became interested in the topic of Unionism back in 2011, I found it hard to pin down the exact dimensions of the movement. Were they all Protestants in bowler hats based in the troubled north of Ireland? Was there some central headquarters for them, or did they muster in underground tunnels? Did they have direct contact information, or did they and communicated with each other using invisible ink? It took a while to answer these questions, but when I finally did get in touch with Unionist blogger, Paul Watterson, the picture became just a little clearer and my journey of exploration into this fundamentally British movement took off, full speed ahead.          
    Broadly speaking, Unionism is a belief in the unification of any variety of individuals, entities, or ideas. With regards to British politics, it is a belief that the nations of the British Isles would be better off unified under a single government and embracing a common national identity. Unionists believe that the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) should remain interdependent as a single working unit. Currently, the greatest threat to this unity is the Scottish Independence Movement, which will culminate in a deciding referendum in the autumn of 2014. Naturally, that is the main battlefront and key focus of those on both the pro- and anti-union sides of the debate.

    Even my relatively short time working with the adherents of Unionism has proven to me that they make up a colorful bag, full of diversity and sometimes pure and simple disagreement. Some are committed liberals, while others are strong conservatives. Some believe strongly in the benefits devolution, while others think it is unnecessary at best and harmful at worst. Some, like the members of the Orange Order, are stridently Protestant, while others are devoutly Catholic. Some are outspoken activists for the Union, while others remain unassuming observers who utilize their clout at the ballot box. They come from every section of the UK and from every background.

    The thing that makes Unionism difficult to grasp easily is the fact that it is something of a volunteer movement which, like the British monarchy, stands apart from party politics. Unlike the monarchy, it is still highly involved in the often grubby political ground game, facing obstacles from the rantings of fanatical nationalist opponents to the reluctance of sideline sympathizers to join forces and enter the arena. While national unity is espoused as a matter of course by the monarchy and the mainstream political parties, the fight to uphold it is, in the end, a very organic operation. It is also loosely organized, bringing into play both pros and cons for the Unionist cause, especially for online activists.

    The purpose of the site "Union Jack Chat" is to serve as biographical guide to Unionism, using interviews to create a full-blooded portrayal of the movement for the benefit of the public at large. My hope is that, through this condensed survey, more people will become interested in an extremely fascinating and admirable facet of British political and cultural history and perhaps even get involved with it themselves. Whatever the outcome of the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum or any political battle to come, the British people who are willing to devote so much  time and effort to preserve the unity of their country deserve to be remembered, and with honour. As an American supporter, I will always be proud to have had the opportunity to take part in their cause.

(An variation of this introduction to "Union Jack  Chat" appeared as an advertisement on "Open Unionism":

London Union Jack

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Saints and Sinners......

are far from occupying opposite ends of the moral spectrum. As a matter of fact, the greatest saints saw themselves as the greatest sinners, and that paradoxically made them the greatest saints. It seems as if the closer they got to God, the more they could see their own multitudinous imperfections, just as we are able to see floating particles of dust within the light of a sunbeam.

    And the saints did have had many flaws, sometimes based on the time periods in which they lived, and sometimes more specifically on personality traits. St. Francis could be unrealistic in his idealism of running an order without the proper funds. St. Thomas More sometimes used his biting wit to wound and could be harsh towards those with whom he disagreed. St. Kateri inflicted extreme penances on herself, to the point of destroying her health. St. John Vianney came out against almost any form of dancing and denounced the apparitions of Our Lady of La Salette which were later approved by the Church. St. Padre Pio and St. Maximilian were known for being cranky and generally difficult to deal with.

    Some of these failings they resolved in their lifetimes, while some others they probably took with them to their graves. But their belief in God’s mercy and grace enabled them to pick themselves up after falling and continue to trek the Pilgrim’s Path, doing great good for those they crossed paths with along the way. St. Francis founded one of the most beloved religious orders in Christendom, grounded in simplicity and doing good deeds that continues strong to this day.

     St. Thomas More had the strength to stand up against tyranny at the cost of his life. St. Kateri braved innumerable hardships in her Mohawk village because of her conversion to Christianity and stands as the patroness of Native America. St. John Vianney was tireless in his pastoral duties, and touched all those he met with his spiritual insight and humility. St. Padre Pio had a deep mystical relationship with God, suffering the wounds of Christ in His body, and becoming the spiritual father of thousands. St. Maximilian Kolbe founded the Immaculata and gave his life in exchange for another prisoner at the Nazi Concentration Camp at Auschwitz. 

    In essence, they were both human and extraordinary, making them perfect heavenly friends to refer back to and draw inspiration from in our daily lives. They realized that even if they conquered all their vices and became flawless before God and man, they would still be subject to falling prey to the greatest sin of all: Pride. St. Thomas More said that the one sin worse than lust is pride, because the former is obvious and animalistic, while the other is subtle and all too human.

    Eve, brought into being free from the stain of Original Sin, took the apple after being assured by the snake that she would be like a goddess. The Blessed Virgin Mary, also conceived free from the stain of original, undid this fateful pattern by submitting herself with total humility as “the handmaid of the Lord”. That is why we see her as “Queen of Saints”; she was conceived free from sin, honored with bearing Christ in her womb, and yet did not succumb to thinking of herself as anything more than a servant of God.

    Speaking of pride and humility, there is one other saint that comes to mind in particular. St. Edmund Campion was a brilliant man, seasoned in rhetoric and eager for debate. After living a life daring for danger for his conversion to Catholicism and missionary ventures into England as a Catholic priest, he wanted nothing more than to meet his opponents on their own terms and hash out the truth once and for all. He challenged the Queen’s Councilors to this mental duel in his pamphlet now famously known as “Campion’s Brag”, insisting that a well-informed Catholic would be able to counter any and all heresies if given the fair opportunity to do so. If anyone was fit to do so, it was Campion, whose wit was legendary in secular as well as religious circles. He had even won the favor of Queen Elizabeth I and her favorite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in his college days.

    But Campion never got his fair chance. Instead of being allowed an honest debate with the Protestant hierarchy of the land, he received a mock trial before a kangaroo court after he had been tortured mercilessly in the Tower of London. Half-paralyzed and blurry-eyed for him imprisoned, he was offered his “chance” to lay out his case for Catholicism. For sympathetic people, the scene would have been painful to watch. But he listeners merely jeered when Campion made a slip of the tongue in Greek and struggled to remember rhetoric when given no time for preparation. Considering the circumstances, he did a fair job holding his own, but his efforts cost him his life. There would be no justice; he was framed for treason and hanged, drawn, and quartered.

    I wonder if perhaps it was meant to be that he should never get his chance to prove his brag. He had a scintillating brain, and it is always hard for highly intelligent people to keep their pride in check. Perhaps the fair debate he craved would have pushed him over the edge. Instead, he received a heavy dose of humiliation and perhaps that, more than almost anything, is the thing that secured him his sainthood. Being in the position of Christ before the Sanhedrin must have been like an interior martyrdom for him before he ever mounted the scaffold.

    Saints are those who have gone before us. They are the veterans who have charged the field, taking the enemy batteries, and cheer us on to follow. We can aspire to live out their virtues and avoid their vices, and work hard to live up to our Christian identity. It is a hard, uphill battle. As St. Therese of Liseux said, “I want to be a saint, but I feel so helpless.” It is a matter of giving all we have to purge of our inner selves, working out our salvation day by day with fear and trembling, and trusting in God’s mercy to get us through to the end.

    This is the true meaning of the great liturgical feast of All Saints’ Day, celebrated on November 1, and also the reason why some of us will enjoy the fun of dressing up as saints the night before on October 31, All Hallow’s Eve. The day after celebrating those who made it to heaven, we remember to pray for the souls being cleansed of their imperfections in Purgatory on All Souls’ Day, November 2. And so this month, let us remember the interlocking aspects of the Church Militant (here on earth), the Church Suffering (in Purgatory), and the Church Triumphant (in Heaven).

All Ye Holy Angels and Saints, Pray for Us!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"The Scarborough Man"......

is my take on the two folk songs, "Scarborough Fair" and "I'm 18 Years Old Today". The first is the well-known list of impossible tasks a man lays out for his lover to complete. The second is about a young woman whining about her single state, even though her reasons for wanting to get married are pretty base, focused primarily on the physical! I've decided to the give the whole concept of love and marriage a boost into the higher sphere, with my efforts at a poem below.

The Scarborough Man

Find me a man, oh mother, my dear,
To be my heart’s delight
Find him today at Scarborough Fair
And I’d marry him tonight

He must have warmth enough to smile
Yet bear himself with grace
He must be kind without false guile
And wear an honest face

He must take pains to tend the rose
Though never pluck it out,
Find beauty in the words of prose
But hesitate to shout

Find me a man who can compliment
But never stoop low and lie
Find me a man who can implement
The gifts in his supply

He must have red blood in his veins
To answer the call to arms
He must have strength to hold the reins
And rally the troops in alarm

From prince to pauper, he must speak
Without affected airs,
And yet with words so swift and sleek,
Their might is brought to bear

He must not sink in haughtiness,
Nor feigned humility,
But view himself with keen balance
And strictest honesty

For gentlemen are gentlemen
With known or unknown names;
Their actions earn them men’s esteem
And put the world to shame

Whether lying in a feather bed
Or sleeping on the floor,
A gentleman holds high his head
And none can change the score

If he cannot be all these things,
Let effort be his aim
To coast the storm on tattered wings
To fail, but try again

Then let our hands be intertwined
To grow as vines together
Blind leading lame, lame leading blind
Held fast through any weather

Find me a man, oh mother, my dear,
To be my heart’s delight
Find him today at Scarborough Fair
And I’d marry him tonight

Scarborough Castle 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Reformation Day……...

 happens to be memorialized on the same day that  plastic pumpkins, bed-sheet ghosts, glittery witches, and even the terrifying electric bats are unleashed the world over in honor of All Hallows Eve. Meanwhile, perhaps the occasional Renaissance reenactor gone a-monk will nail a provocative piece of parchment to a perfectly good door to stand out among the crowd. But is there a deeper meaning to all this? Hopefully we’ll be able to fish a couple things for tonight, while the pumpkin-bearers and protesters alike are hitting the winding highways and byways, adorned in feathered hats and knickers, searching the universe for milky ways and snickers!

    So we might as well begin at the beginning: what are my personal views about Reformation Day? As a Catholic, I naturally won’t be baking a cake to celebrate the division of Christendom, but I will grant that some good things came about a result of the turmoil. Martin Luther, initially, had some valid points with regards to corruption in the Church and the sale of indulgences. He might even have become a great reforming saint had he remained an obedient son of the Church instead of taking off to start his own. But, as I see it, the gentleman was a little manic about seeing himself as “unworthy” and therefore felt it necessary to rewrite doctrines as he saw fitting and proper. Two prime examples are Sola Fides and Sola Scriptura.

    As it is, regarding “Faith Alone”, Catholicism teaches, and has always taught, that we could never “earn” our salvation without the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, whom we must accept as our Lord and Savior. However, we must continue to work out our salvation day by day, through our actions as well as our words. The greatest of the theological virtues is love, and we must show that through our deeds, or otherwise our faith is really dead. Luther could not bring himself to believe that anything he did could be worth anything at all, and therefore he believed that the human race was totally depraved. Our only hope for salvation was to have our sins covered over, like a dung heap covered with snow. This is in conflict with the Catholic belief that human beings can be transformed through the grace of Christ and our works do have value. The result was that he had a hard time getting his Lutheran followers to continue with their good works at various intervals.

    As for “Scripture Alone”, Luther was, ironically, advocating an idea that is nowhere stated in the scriptures. Again, Catholicism has always placed great importance on the Scriptures. Catholics were the ones who comprised the canon of Scripture, and the Liturgy of the Word takes us through the Biblical journey every Sunday at mass. However, the Church also emphasizes the belief in Sacred Tradition, the truths that have been passed down to us outside the written word, and the format in which the Scriptures were preserved before they were written down. In my opinion, there are any number of things Luther could have done to be helpful without ever having to break away from the Church, including advocating higher literacy levels in Europe, emphasizing the need to make full use of the printing industry, and encouraging accurate translations of the Bible by going through the right channels.

    None of these efforts at improvement would have required dismembering Christendom and starting a chain reaction of bloodshed and persecutions of which both sides were guilty. Even Martin Luther seemed to be a bit disillusioned with some of his own “extra curricula activity” towards the end of his life. Nevertheless, there were several positive notes of which Reformation (even though I hesitate to call it a “Reformation” since it actually shattered the structure instead of reformed it!) set into play:

1. The Catholic Church was forced to face up to its own faults and corruption, as well as going the extra mile to better explain doctrines formerly taken for granted, culminating in the Council of Trent.

2. Catholics and Protestants alike gained many martyrs who showed an example of Christian fearlessness in the face of death for their beliefs, from the Catholic 40 Martyrs of England and Wales to the Presbyterian Wigtown Martyrs of Scotland.

3. The different Protestant denominations developed their own distinct traditions, customs, and contributions, ranging from hymnody to garmentry to literature, a special dedication to the written word and a lively expression of religion.

4. Without the Reformation, the misplaced Protestants dissenters of England would never have felt the need to make the long ocean voyage to establish many of the 13 American Colonies in hopes of attaining religious freedom for themselves, serving as a type of genesis for the USA.

5. Religious diversity meant that religious toleration was bound to come about sooner or later and that people had to learn how to walk the thin line of respecting another person’s beliefs without abandoning their own.

    So, for better or for worse, Reformation Day is a day that has unquestionably affected the world. Of course, I personally hope that, generations down the line, Christians will have cause to celebrate “Reunification Day”, when we all are able to iron out our differences and unite as a formidable force in an increasingly irreligious world.  And yes, I do hope it will be with the Pope as shepherd of the flock and keeper of the keys, just as I believe that this way Christ intended it when made Peter head of the apostles. Until then, let’s hope we can unify through out commonalities and respect our differences on Reformation Day and all others.

A perfectly good door! 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

British Music......

is something that I have long been a lover of. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the British Invasion, believe it or not. Personally, I think the guy who pulled the plug on the ancient Sir Paul McCartney cavorting with the decrepit Bruce Springsteen should be knighted as a servant of the public good! But aside from all that (especially since I think popular opinion would be against me on that one…), below are some of my favorite pieces of music that remind me strongly of the British character and spirit.

“The Three Ravens”
    Few songs convey so much evocative power for me as the rendition of this piece at the end of Simon Schama’s History of Britain. The lyrics, dating back to the Middle Ages, tell the story of three ravens observing the corpse of a slain knight with the intent of devouring it. However, they are prevented from doing so by his hawks, his hound, and the knight’s former lover, who comes to bury him before dying herself. Paired with a hauntingly intense tune, the very fact that it does not mention Britain directly serves to transform it into an anthem of the cultural bloodstream of the British. It is an organic ballad grown out of a rich folk tradition, welded by various peoples, and stamped with the mark of a tempestuous past. Made even more engrossing by the video clips of knights riding to slay Thomas Becket, a statue of Robert de Bruce mounted proudly on his steed, a great cathedral with light filtering through the stained-glass windows, wild ocean waves crashing on a dark-sanded coast, and Winston Churchill giving his immortal “V for Victory” sign, Simon Schama’s choice of a theme rings with a quiet patriotism grounded in historical turbulence.

“A Man’s a Man for All That”
    As an American, this song can’t help but strike a chord. Ian Bruce’s rough and rousing Scottish lilt makes it all the more poignant. Too often, with memories of our revolution dancing in our heads, we will identify Britain as the great enemy of liberty, inextricably immersed in the class system and in bondage to her own straight-laced complacency. But this piece reveals the moving and the shaking that rocked the social order of Britain during the Enlightenment and afterwards, challenging shallow logic that caused men to shun other men based on rank and inspiring our Founding Fathers to take their own stand. The ripple effect, started by liberty-loving Brits, altered the course of world history towards one of greater equality, brotherhood, and plain good sense. Whether rich or poor, noble or commoner, a man is only what he makes of himself and how well he does the work at hand, and he has the right to be judged accordingly.

“The Gael”
    I may not be a major fan of Dougie MacLean, but this composition is a noteworthy exception. Used as the theme for the film The Last of the Mohicans, I am always drawn by the haunting depth of the melody that has all the simplicity of a traditional bagpipe tune and all the complexity of a choral piece as different instruments are added and the score builds. It seems to contain both an ominous lament and a rousing call to battle, telling the story of the Scottish influence that permeated every aspect of British military life with Gaelic culture. With the Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards taking command on this one, it’s sheer majesty. While Dougie MacLean may serve as an occasional poster-child for the “Yes” Campaign and The Last of the Mohicans seemed bent of painting most of the British characters as monsters, I can’t help but think that beneath the surface, “The Gael” is a very British piece indeed. If you’re catching the trend, the paradox just assures that this is so.

“The Shepherd’s Carol”
    The Brits are generally at their best during a crisis or at Christmastide. It’s an undisputed fact of life. This carol demonstrates the latter with its simplicity that touches the heart and beauty that astonishes. Performed enchantingly by King’s College Choir, It is an Anglican hymn and yet strikingly Catholic in its manner of devotion towards the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since England was long ago designated “Our Lady’s Dowry”, this is no great surprise. As I have long suspected, in spite of themselves, the British will always have an element of Catholicism running below the cultural surface. In this piece, it is the shepherds who tell the Lady their story of keeping watch on a wintry evening, being blinded by a miraculous star, and being called out by a heavenly voice. Then they obediently go to offer their lives, hopes, and selves to the son of the virgin. As the masterful choral arrangement concludes, one gets an infused sense of the British religious heritage that has defined her and influenced the world.

“Scots Wha Hae”
    No, I’m not kidding. Let the Nats bellow it as they will; let the masses call this the greatest paradox of them all; but I’m calling this song British, through and through. It can’t be anything less because it symbolizes the British fighting spirit and refusal to submit to tyranny. Robert Burns was a product of that spirit, in all its forms. Just as he could revel in past Scottish victories against English aggression and rail about the injustices of the British establishment, so he could rally the British people in time of war and potential invasion, stating that “never but by British hands maun British wrangs be righted”. It was said that “Scots Wha Hae” was written during a night ride through a thunderstorm. This would make sense, as the beat is rollicking and words are pithy and powerful like a lightening bolt. They tell of Robert de Bruce’s speech to his men before the Battle of Bannockburn, exhorting them to fight while at the same time giving them the option to leave if they dare to fill “a coward’s grave.” The final lines demonstrate the lengths to which men have been willing to go for freedom. These sentiments fit well with both Scottish and British identities. 

 (A version of this article was posted on "Open Unionism":

King's College Choir

Monday, October 28, 2013

Parson Weems......

was the author of the famous, near-hagiographical account of The Life of Washington that was so beloved by Abraham Lincoln in his youth. I was given a copy, dating back to 1859, by a family friend who used to be a Lincoln reenactor in Gettysburg. It a treasured addition to my bookshelf for its age alone, but I also am coming to appreciate some of the poetic lines within. Although I was originally turned off to it by its blatantly partisan view of the American Revolution, it seems that Weems had a keen grasp of the civil-war-like elements of the conflict that are rarely touched upon. For the month of October, I wanted to post his romanticized yet moving description of the aftermath of the Battle of Saratoga, the second part of which was fought on October 7, 1777:

   “High in air, the encountering banners blazed! There bold waving the lion-painted standard of Britain, and here the streaming pride of Columbia’s lovely stripes – while thick below, ten thousand eager warriors close the darkening files, all bristled with vengeful steel. No firing is heard; but shrill and terrible, from rank to rank, resounds the clash of bayonets – frequent and sad the groans of the dying. Pairs on pairs, Britons and Americans, with each his bayonet in his brother’s breast, fall forward together faint-shrieking in death, and mingle their smoking blood.
    Many were the widows, many orphans that were made that day. Long did the daughters of Columbia mourn their fallen brothers, and often did the lovely maids of Caledonia roll their soft blue eyes of sorrow along the sky-bound sea, to meet the sails of their returning lovers. But alas! Their lovers shall return no more. Far distant, on the banks of the roaring Hudson they lie, pale and helpless on the fields of death. Glass now and dim are those eyes which once beamed with friendship or which flamed with war. Their last thoughts are towards the maids of their love; and the big tear glistens in their eye, as they heave the parting groan.
    Then was seen the faded form of Ocean’s Queen far-famed Britannia, sitting alone and tearful on her western cliffs. With downcast look her faithful lion lay roaring at her feet; while torn and scattered on the rock were seen her many trophies of ancient fame. Silent, in disheveled locks, the goddess sat, absorbed in grief, when the gale of the west came blackening along the wave, laden with the roar of murderous battle. At once she rose – a livid horror spread her cheeks – distraction glared on her eye. The groans of her children fast sinking in a distant land! Thrice she essayed to curse the destroyers of her race; but thrice she remembered that they too were her sons.”

And here is an imagined lament, also penned by Weems, describing the departure of the British from their final stronghold in New York at the end of the Revolution. Since there are so few laments of this type for their lost cause, I found it to be quite fascinating, and a few of my favorite redcoats even get a mention in a positive light:

    “The battle raged along a thousand fields – a thousand streams ran purple with British gore. And now of all our blooming warriors, alas! How few remain! Pierced by the fatal rifle, far the greater part now press their bloody beds. There, each on his couch of honour lie those who were once the flower of our host. There lies gallant Frazer, the dauntless Ferguson, the accomplished Donop, and that pride of youth, the generous Andre, with thousands equally brave and good. But, O! Ye dear partners of this cruel strife, though fallen you are not forgotten! Often, with tears do we see you still, as when you rejoiced with us at feast, or fought by our sides in battle.”

The Surrender at Saratoga, October 17, 1777

Monday, October 21, 2013

Lord Nelson......

is a figure in British history that supersedes the normal boundaries of historical memory. His scarred body, lager-than-life persona, and bloody death at the height of victory have served to make him into something of a mythic figure. Just like King Arthur, he has become the invisible rescuer of bygone days who will come again in the spirit to save Britain in her darkest hour. During the two world wars, this sense of presence was fully realized. Nelson drove back the enemy by sea; the world wars saw the enemy come by air. Even though sea and the air have an aura of otherworldliness about them, they both cast the stark realities of invasion on the island nation.
    Nelson was neither saint nor supernatural being. But he was extraordinary, in every sense of the word. His paradoxical character only heightens this fact. He loved with passion and hated with ferocity. He was the epitome of egotism, and yet he was not haughty or unreachable. He was very religious, and yet his actions were often in contrast with his deeply held beliefs. He ran off with another man’s wife and left his own. He could be callous and mean-spirited. His vainglorious pride sometimes jeopardized the success of his mission and the lives of others. But he also had a personal touch, a genuine belief in and love for his cause and the men who fought under him.
    Nelson’s courage was of a raw nature, nurtured by an independent spirit and a glory-seeking instinct. He saw himself as God’s officer, fighting for the cause he had been entrusted with by the Almighty. As a young officer, bedridden with a fever, Nelson claimed to have experienced a vision of a glowing orb which inspired him with a sense of purpose and a love for king and country. Later, during his time in Italy as a seasoned naval professional, a Catholic priest approached him, prophesying that he would be instrumental in saving Rome, not just as a city, but as the capital of the Catholic World. This was highly ironic since Nelson was a hard-core Anglican, the son of a vicar. But that didn’t stop him from writing a letter to the pope afterwards, informing him when British naval victories did indeed affect the liberation of Rome, proving the accuracy of the priest’s declaration.
    This type of spiritual magnetism electrified the mood of Nelson’s career. But of course, he wasn’t all focused on the abstract world. His genius was quite concrete. He was an innovator and an instructor, never afraid to break tradition and color outside the lines. He wanted his subordinates to learn from him, and yet he also wanted them to experiment for themselves. His aggressive, sometimes impulsive, tactics reveal an appealing rebel streak beneath the conservative veneer, so much like the spirit of Britain in the fullness of her heritage. Also, as the incarnation of the British spirit, he was flawed yet always fighting, never willing to say die or give in to personal apprehensions. Survival with honor was what he gained for his country.                                                                    
    On October 21, 1805, just before the epic naval Battle of Trafalgar which saved Britain and Europe from Napoleonic domination, the Admiral of the British Fleet, wrote the following prayer in his diary. Since his youth he had been of a religious inclination, and despite his less than sterling personal episodes, he did not hesitate to turn to God in his hour of greatest need:

     “May the Great God, whom I worship, grant to my country and for the benefit of Europe in general, a great and glorious Victory; and may no misconduct in any one tarnish it; and may humanity after Victory be the predominant feature in the British Fleet. For myself, individually, I commit my life to Him who made me, and may his blessing light upon my endeavours for serving my country faithfully. To Him I resign myself and the just cause which is entrusted to me to defend. Amen. Amen. Amen.”

    The first Brit to hear the news of the victory at Trafalgar and Lord Nelson’s death by a musket ball was a fisherman from Penzance who had heard the tidings from a passing vessel headed for Falmouth. The excited fisherman made landfall and burst into the Union Hotel where, from the gallery above the dining room, the news of the victory was first proclaimed to one and all. The result was a mixture of celebration and sorrow throughout the land. Though the bells were rung for the victory, the clappers were muffled in mourning for the naval hero who had battled to the death so that Britain might have a new lease on life.                                                             
    Meanwhile, Nelson’s body was pickled in a barrel of brandy on board his flagship HMS Victory. On the voyage home, however, there was a bit of a mix-up, and no one was absolutely certain which barrel contained their beloved admiral. Hence, by the end of the trip, the thirsty sailors had dispatched with protocol and sanitary concerns and consumed every drop of brandy on board. This is the origin of the phrase “tapping the admiral”, meaning getting an alcoholic beverage!   

    Nelson’s body was finally relocated and hurriedly made a part of an elaborate funeral procession en route to St. Paul’s Cathedral. His coffin was made of wood from the mainmast of the L’Orient, a French ship that he had burned off Abu Qir, Egypt, in 1798, and his marble sarcophagus had originally been intended for Cardinal Wolsey before he fell into disfavor with King Henry VIII. His tomb, needless to say, became a major sight-seers destination. But today, even beyond the significance of his actual resting place, is the aura that hangs over his flagship Victory, where the Trafalgar Prayer was written, the battle was directed, and the commander died. Perhaps it can be summed as one of the great memorials to answered prayer and resilience of the human spirit.       
    Lord Nelson sacrificed his life so that Britain might grow strong and Western Europe might regain its freedom by breaking the back of Napoleon’s Navy in successive victories, culminating in Trafalgar. For better or for worse, his legacy should be appreciated and remembered, especially in his native land. The lack of interest in him nowadays reveals a dismal reality that modern assessments of the past are clogged with political correctness and shame for past jingoism. The history of a country is the ingredients of identity, and rejecting any part of it is to invite cultural degeneration. The bad should be lamented and the good should be celebrated, but all should be taken into consideration, equipping future generations to imitate the good and avoid the bad. That’s what patriotism, and humanity, is all about.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
And let your perpetual light shine upon them,
May the souls of Lord Nelson and all those who died at Trafalgar
Through the mercy of God rest in peace.

(A version of this article first appeared on Rae-Rae Franchi, my British friend and teen Nelson-enthusiast’s blog, “HMS Hinchinbrook”: 

Another variation of it later was posted on “Open Unionism”:

The Young Horatio Nelson

Monday, October 14, 2013

Looking at wedding magazines......

has a way of making me feel rather sick. You might be surprised at that statement, but somehow the methodology of modern marital preparations strikes me as being so over-the-top, extravagant, complicated, catty, worldly, and, to put it bluntly, sexually oriented. All these adjectives I have a deep loathing for, so I am naturally repulsed by the array of flashy catch items meant to make a solemn covenant of life-long fidelity into some sort of wild orgy.

    For example, the styles of the day seem to dictate that wearing the most revealing thing possible on your wedding day is a way of showing the world what you used to hook your man! It's stupid and disturbing. Who would ever want to indicate that to begin with? And why would the guy ever let his bride be seen like that in public on their first day of wedded bliss? You wouldn't catch me that scantily dressed ever -- and I mean ever -- for anyone, and that includes my husband! It's lowering one's dignity to flaunt one's body that way. As a Child of God and a human being, I'm confident I'm worth more.

    Then there's the issue of atmosphere. Yes, let's get married in the Galapagos Islands by a ukulele player surrounded by native island dancers and have a pig roast! No, let's get married in the arctic by an Eskimo encircled by penguins doing the hoky-poky! No, let's hang ourselves upside down at Blarney Castle so we can recite our vows to a wandering Leprechaun......!!! Give me a break! Has everyone forgotten the charm of normality found in a church building with a man of the cloth pronouncing the couple man and wife? And the honeymoon advertisements are just as bad. It seems as if everyone wants to go on the most expensive, opulent, stuffy escape ever taken by man (and wife, for that matter). And much of the appeal said to be found on the cruises and tours is that they are somehow "sexy." It's beyond me.

    Furthermore, I hate to say it, but there are some traditional marriage customs that I find distasteful. For example, the bride having to walk up the aisle like a lamb being led to the slaughter with everyone gawking at her. Her father having to "giver her away" to an awkward groom, making it look almost as if the daughter is being disowned. The dizzying panoply of maids and grooms. Too many guests from one's past life that could count for as many past lives as belong to a cat. The dramatic entrance of the bride and groom at the reception. The big-deal-super-pressure dance they have to do. The generally over-elaborate food that looks "elegant" but sometimes tastes lousy. The frilly-and-fluffy outfits that are suffocating and easy to trip over. You get my point.

    So here's how I'd like to be married. (No rumors; this is all hypothetical!):

    Naturally, I'll be getting married in a Catholic church somewhere on the planet, although I can't foresee where, with a priest scheduled to perform the ceremony. I'd like to wear a fancy blouse with ruffles at the sleeves, a dress-belt, a long, swooshy skirt, and boots. Yes, you heard me right, boots. Simple lace veil. Simple bouquet, of which I'd like daisies and Black-eyed Susans to be a part. I'd like to take a seat in the front pew with my husband-to-be early, before everyone else arrives so there is no "big entry" involved. Our families can sit in the front pew across from us. When the time comes for the official ceremony, we just step up to the altar with no fuss involved and do what we’re there to do. Then we return to our pew like normal human beings afterwards. One Maid of Honor is all I'll need, which will naturally be Emerald (yes, she does prove difficult at times, but I couldn't really do without her on my wedding day, now could I? ;-)

    For the guests, at least on my end, it would just be my parents and personal friends who could make it out to wherever I was getting hitched. Sadly, that probably will make it difficult for most of them, since my contacts are so wide-spread, from my home in the Penn-Mar Borderlands to Alabama to Missouri to Texas to Canada to Britain and beyond! However, if I marry a prince or an oil tycoon, I'll be sure to send all of my intimates plane tickets! Even if they all did make it, that still would only be around 15 or 20 -- far less than even the bare minimum of Uncle Harrys and Aunt Ednas most people are obliged to invite to their wedding!

    As for a party, a friendly reception in which everyone (including bride and groom) arrives at the same time would be delightful. As for dancing, keep it limited. If anything, maybe a bit of folk-style dancing just for fun. In the area of food, I'd actually like to make it. My idea of a good meal is an assortment of pasta dishes and salads, as well as some chicken and potatoes to supplement. Buttered breads, crackers, and cheese balls can cover the rest. As for cake, please no five tear monstrosity decorated to look like a dress or something!

   I would suggest one normal size cake (Angel Food, carrot, German Chocolate, cheese....?) and some smaller desserts to supplement (pastries, like éclairs, or maybe some type of pie......coconut custard, pumpkin, blueberry, cherry.....?).  And please no drinking -- I've witnessed weddings that go terribly awry due to that! Fruit punch or lemon water should be sufficient. If anyone feels the need to get themselves worked up into a state of sloppiness, let them do so after they leave the wedding.One traditional marriage custom I do appreciate is the exchanging of Welsh Love Spoons. I find them beautifully crafted and a simple yet unique manner of plighting one’s troth.

    As far as any trip, just as a wish list thing, whether I'm married or not, Britain will always hold pride of place, but that's just a wish. Failing that, I'll settle for the Historic Triangle down in Virginia as a nice Honeymooning vacation. Or maybe somewhere in Canada. I've always wanted to see St. John's. It all really depends on how things unfold. The one thing I know I won't be going for is some sort of atmospheric sense of "sexiness."

    So, those are my thoughts on weddings and my own hypothetical one somewhere in the misty future --- I hope! How about the rest of you? If you're single, what kind of wedding would you like to have? If you're married, how were you married?

A Welsh Love Spoon -- Now there's a custom I like!


Check out my family's band, BlessTree, on BandCamp for music clips and price listings:

Monday, October 7, 2013

Putting BlessTree on BandCamp......

and setting up a cozy little domain space complete with music tracks and album covers for your perusal and perhaps even purchase (please do visit us for samples and price listings here: is what's been keeping me extraordinarily busy as of late, preventing me from posting on the blog as often as would have liked. I have so many subjects I'd like to write about, including books, movies, TV shows, music, politics, spring/summer experiences, and my musings on the pros and cons of Ringer-ism. But for now, the focus is computer technology, online businesses, and cooking at a lake house. Allow me to explain.

     As most of you know, my father, along with family and friends, has recorded various musical tracks in recording studios under the band name "BlessTree." Until now, however, we only had two completed CDs fit for the public ear and a handful of half-finished conglomerations from earlier years when I was still a tiny tot. We managed to get some of the finished CDs sold in Catholic gift shops, but it was a mere handful, simply because there wasn't a large enough traffic of people coming in and out. Then my friend “Sasch” helped me considerably by directing me to a site called BandCamp where musical artists can upload recording tracks and sell them online. The concept of uploading the tracks onto the internet really enthused me. So much hard work had gone into our music, and I wanted it to at least get off the ground in the World Wide Web.

    I started off by discovering how to rip music tracks onto my computer. I copied the two completed CDs and then started the work of separating the wheat from the chaff with our unfinished symphonies. I came to appreciate how crisp my dad's voice was back in the day, and did my best to pick the cream of the crop from the songs recorded from 1994 to 2002. The background music was a mixture karaoke recordings and Charlie the elderly organist's well-intentioned but none-too-pleasant pounding. He had served in the navy during WWII, and his hearing was almost nonexistent, causing his playing ability at that late date to follow suite. Hence, I had to make the call that all songs involving Charlie had to go bye-bye, along with any songs involving the off-key yelpings of my 5-year-old former self and those lacking musical accompaniment. Weeding through the remaining karaoke tracks, several over-enunciated or slow-as-molasses vocal tracks from my dad had to be scrapped before I reorganized the remnant and saved it as an album.

    Next came the unfinished or overlooked tracks from later years, involving hymns of Marian devotion. Several songs lagged in pace and lacked proper music, so they were left out of the final draft. But we did manage to come up with enough songs from our two unfinished sets to organize a single album fit to be listened to. With all this done, I headed off to BandCamp and signed up for a domain for BlessTree and then typed out all the names of our tracks. I naively assumed that I would be able to upload the songs easily, but this was not to be the case. Evidently, I needed an adobe file update, and I was able to obtain the program through the skilled hands of my Richard, the brother of my librarian friend, Kat. He successfully downloaded it, along with several anti-virus program and Skype, onto a disc and had it passed onto me through his sister. 

    Unfortunately, I found that each time I tried to run the Adobe download, the connection died. I was beginning to think I might need to bring my comp into a tech shop and plug it into Wi-Fi lest dial-up rob me of my big chance to launch onto BandCamp. Happily, after quite a few failed attempts (Robert de Bruce with his double-bladed-axe and his spider friend hanging on a thread swing again!), I succeeded in my oh-so-tedious mission and found that Adobe could be downloading from home......after some 4 hours of waiting! I charged back to BandCamp, all prepared to download, when a flashing red pop-up sign informed me I was unable to do so because my tracks were in the wrong format. I whined and stomped around in technical despair for a little while, took a few deep breaths, and returned to my station to try and download iTunes, the online musical wonder which claimed to be able to fix the format of my tracks. But lo and behold, iTunes simply refused to even open up for me, no explanation given.

    Needless to say, I slept fitfully that night, bounced up in the morning, and called my other librarian friend, Lisa. She helped me find another program called WavePad Sound Editor that said it could end my format troubles if I could download it. For once, my fortunes improved. The download worked out, I clicked the icon on my desktop, and I was able to walk through the steps on the road to reformatting all the tracks. It was a glorious experience to watch it all going so smoothly. Once again, I returned to BandCamp to upload our products. It was then I realized just how hard that process would be, even if it had moved into the realm of feasibility. Dial-up is simply not the right tool for such a process, and it took some five hours to complete a relatively small upload, leaving my computer overheated and unhappy. We were going to have to do it all at the library. Until then, I finished writing up bios and descriptions and roped some of my friends, from Rachel in Texas to Richard Canada, into running tests with me to see if it was all visible to the public. 

    When we finally got to the library, I was truly in awe over the ease of high-speed! The green loading line on the screen skipped along so merrily, I was actually lulled into a false sense of security and neglected to save after each upload. The result was one of those shocking computer crashes that leaves nothing but a darkened screen and shattered dreams of early completion. I lost six songs, and that time took away from my loading the rest. The library closed early that day, so my dad and I knew we would have to return to complete the project. Still in something of a state of disillusionment with modern technology, high-speed or otherwise, we settled down to split a sub sandwich at a local Italian restaurant and mutter about the plans of mice and men, etc. 

    Putting our collective nose to the grindstone two days later, we returned to the scene of the crash and started to load once again. This time, I refused to me negligent, and made sure to save after every successful upload. Before long, the precaution proved to be a necessary one because the computer crashed again! Fortunately, nothing seemed to have been lost, and we finished all the uploads just in time to shoot out for a long-awaited meeting with Pat the choir director who recently moved out of town to spend his days at a new house in a lake community. We rendezvoused at the backroom of his old studio where are latter albums were made. I must say I felt a wave of déjà vous being back there after having such an intimate connection with our musical past through all the downloading and uploading. 

    We all piled into Mr. Maestro's van and drove off into the sunset towards lake-land. Although we initially didn’t realize just how far-out his new abode was, it proved to be about a 40 minute drive through some very scenic but altogether unfamiliar terrain. Along the way, he offered to pick up a pizza, and we mutually agreed to order one with mushrooms and onions, avoiding meat since it was First Friday. While we waited for the pizza order to be prepared, Pat and I went into a supermarket and purchased a few accessories for the meal. I must say I think I made a rather good "nagging wife" for a day, planning a balanced meal for my dad and uncle-figure including salad, bread, and carrot-cake to go with the pizza! 

     Going back to the pizza place, it was discovered there was a mix-up and our pizza had been given away to another! They offered to replace it with pepperoni, but we specified that we were Catholics and preferred to simply dine on meatless cheese pizza. And so it was we made landing at the lake house with pizza pie and groceries in hand, meandered on the dock overlooking the spacious lake and headed in the house to start to prepare all our goodies into something coherent. Once again in my futuristic "house-wife" mode, I gave the instructions and participated in cutting up the lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, carrots, and mushrooms, sprinkling the conglomeration with cheese and croutons and dousing it with ranch dressing. Then we started getting brilliant and decided to fry some of the leftover mushrooms and onions in butter, put them on our plain pizza with an extra sprinkle of cheese, and stick it back in the oven. When it was brought forth, we were happy to see that the different components were welded to near-perfection. 

    As we said grace and settled down to our feast by candlelight, I suggested that that Pat should pull out his iPad and locate our BandCamp site so we could listen to our music while we ate. He did so and set it at the center of the table, where we had the privilege to hear the music tracks the three of us had worked so hard on. In truth, we were just a little bit proud of ourselves, in a good way. We had put out our all to give glory to God through story and song, and now it was on the internet for the public to access. To make my day complete, we got back home we discovered that my dear friend Kat had successfully uploaded all our album covers for us after having generously offered to do so on her own time. The wheels were finally beginning to turn for BlessTree, and God willing they will continue to turn in a forward direction. 

BlessTree Striking Out........