Book Break: Three Quick Reviews

I am doing something I’ve never done before: I’m sharing three spiritual-book mini-reviews at once, and two are for books I haven’t finished (and may never finish). The books are:

All three are recommended reading, so why not finish them? Read on!

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Too Blessed

Blogger’s Note: Most of this post was meant to be the beginning of the annual Thorp family Christmas letter. At this point, we plan to send you all Valentines…

The morning is cold, black, and bitter, like the dregs of yesterday’s coffee left in the car overnight. The thin crescent moon seems a galaxy away; the stars, more ice than fire; the jagged air catches in your throat, and the wind seems to strip life, layer by layer, from your shrunken, shivered form.

It is easy, on mornings like this, to justify staying abed, comfortable and warm beside your lover; to shut off the alarm, burrow into blankets and dreams, and await the sun. On mornings like this it’s hard—and perhaps undesirable—to imagine those who live outdoors in this weather, for whom the blue ache of cold is chiefly a sign they have not died in the night. That which you can feel is not yet frozen.

These are not pleasant thoughts on an early winter morning, when you’d rather be asleep, but they are also nothing a hot shower and coffee won’t cure.

Absolute comfort corrupts absolutely.

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Lucifer Lamentatione (Lightbringer’s Lament): A Christmas Poem

He whispered fiat lux, and I appeared

To split the darkness with my brilliant light.

He sat upon the clouds and stroked his beard,

As lesser angels praised him day and night.

 

His vision too naive to comprehend—

Non serviam! I swore with righteous pride.

For how can one so perfect condescend

To serve a muddy meatling and his bride?

 

And now a virgin ripens with his seed,

And should the elders fail to have her stoned,

The girl will whelp a son of earthly breed

Who nonetheless will mount a heavenly throne.

 

And all the fires I’ve kindled for man’s doom

Are shadows to that spark within her womb.

* * * * *

Blogger’s Note: The featured illustration is Gustave Dore’s famous depiction of Dante’s Satan, frozen in ice for eternity in the deepest circle of Hell.

Chains of Memory

The past couple of days I’ve been plagued by memories: guilty recollections of past sins, glimpses of images I never should have seen, bits of off-color or debauched “humor,” lyrics to songs that should not be sung.

Beginning in college, this was my rebellion. I looked at, listened to, and watched whatever I wanted. And in short order, I proved the adage, “Garbage in, garbage out.” During much of my college years, I swore like a sailor; I told dirty jokes to old friends and new acquaintances, and I made excuses for my behavior—to others and to myself.

“It could be worse,” I said, and I knew I was right. I had a vivid imagination, and worse played out in my mind if I lingered too long on any impure thing.

Thanks be to God, over the first ten year of my marriage to Jodi, I weeded these things out of my life. Little by little I dropped the jokes, kicked my swearing habit, left porn behind, stopped watching racy movies, and cleaned up my taste in music. And beginning with one no-nonsense confession with Fr. Siebenaler, in which he politely but firmly questioned my resolve to actually amend my life and advised me to open myself to Jodi and ask for her help, I left off making excuses, and began instead to apologize.

So here we are, more than a decade later, and the Enemy is at work again: I find myself mindlessly mouthing the music in my head, only to realize it’s some obscene gangster rap fantasy or metal mayhem I laughed at as a younger man. In my mind’s eye I see images I haven’t looked upon in years, like a sin scrapbook I can’t help but leaf through, gazing at memories best forgotten.

That’s the first point of this ramble: you can’t forget. What your brain takes in is filed away for later reference. Every image, every word, is there, tying you to past experience. And those things you subject yourself to again and again, out of desire or habit? Your mind naturally assumes they are important, forging shorter, stronger connections so they can be easily accessed.

I can’t recall yesterday’s discussion with my bride, but I remember every detail of my past sins, with a clarity that repels the spirit and tempts the flesh anew. The Accuser seeks to set me against myself—but I know now I must seek every day, every moment, to purify both body and soul.

That’s the second point: The struggle against sin is noble and never-ending, to be sure, but all struggles are not created equal. The struggle of the rabbit in the snare speeds its demise; it kicks and thrashes against the noose, which only tightens against its efforts.

That was me, in the confessional all those years ago—declaring sorrow for my sins but unwilling to even attempt to remove my head from the strangling wire. The death brought about by sin cannot be escaped by panic, emotionalism, or bodily struggle. It is a spiritual struggle, requiring prayer, persistence, and genuine love of neighbor and of self. At some point, all the plans, safeguards, and accountability measures boil down to a decision: Am I going to stop doing these things or not?

How does one become a saint? Will it.

Finally, the third point: We don’t have to remain bound in these chains of memory, because God’s love is mercy.

This is not the first time I’ve struggled with recalling past sins and feeling old remorse and new temptation. The last time I remember it as strongly as this, our pastor, Fr. Richards, advised that I repeat the prayer, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

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At the time he told me this, it didn’t click with me that these are the words of the inscription at the bottom of St. Faustina’s image of Divine Mercy. (“Jezu ufam tobie” in the original Polish, above.)

Jesus, I trust in you. I trust in your mercy. I trust that you have forgiven these past, confessed sins. I trust that you continue to forgive me. I trust that you love me.

We are washed clean in the blood and water that flow from His Sacred Heart. We need not linger in darkness or doubt. He loves us. He forgives us. He saves.

In the Belly of the Beast

I started a new routine this week, of rising at 4 a.m. to stretch and make coffee, then sitting down to write before the family rises to start the day. Getting up each day has gone well, stretching has been adequate, and coffee is always good. But the last thing I wrote for public consumption was Monday’s post, which in truth I wrote over the weekend.

Three days with no posts. Yesterday I found myself melancholy in mood and frustrated in prayer. I am doing exactly what I set out to do: putting my experience and gifts to work for the church. I have freedom, flexibility, and just enough money. So why, when I am free to write, do I have so little to share?

This morning, I sat down to pray before writing. Once again, my initial thought was that I have nothing to say. But as I prayed, I noticed something that put the fear of God in me—and, providentially, provided me a topic.

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