Gaudium et Tremendum*

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”—G. K. Chesterton

We ended yesterday with a boat and a bonfire. The last of the sun turned the clouds baby blue and perfect pink, touched with fire, a cosmic nursery for the birth of stars; the moon a nursemaid all in white, smiling down. The firepit crackled and popped in greeting on our return to the dock; the sky turned purple, then navy and black; breath of spent oak mingled with pipe smoke and marshmallow; laughter and explosions of sound and color in the skies: blues and greens and purples and whites, red rosettes high above the trees to mark love of freedom and the birth of a nation.

At last the mosquitoes drive us indoors, brave descendants of saints and patriots that we are, fleeing from pinpricks and the whine of tiny wings! Homespun strawberry ice cream, jokes and laughter until at last sleep calls too loudly to ignore despite the din. Continue reading

The Virgin and the Tempest

The Virgin and the Tempest

Blogger’s Note: A close friend’s home was struck hard by the storm last Sunday morning—in all the wreck and ruin, Mary stood untouched, unfazed. Regina pacis, ora pro nobis!

At dawn she stood upon the hill and pondered things unseen;

The lake agleam with silver sun, the grass a rippling green.

A girl, she seemed, of field and fen, of flock and fish and sheaves;

Her crown, the dappled sunlight filtered through the flutt’ring leaves.

Her simple shift immaculate as she, herself unstained,

Enjoyed Creation’s morning-song—but in the west it rained.

 

Such peaceful virgin beauty could the Tempest not abide:

He spied her from afar and surged, at a league to every stride.

He stormed and splashed and shivered homes; his thund’ring voice was heard—

With roar and flash and flood he sought to drown God’s holy Word.

In that unearthly twilight knelt the faithful ’round the stone,

And she, exposed and downcast, stood upon the hill alone.

 

He strode ashore in bloody rage, devouring as he came,

But naught would slake his appetite except the Virgin’s shame.

He cursed her with his forkéd tongue and lashed her with his tail;

He frothed and foamed and spewed his bile, he struck with tooth and nail.

The trees he snapped like kindling with the fury of his wings;

They came down crashing roundabout—but she began to sing.

 

Her hands were open to receive, her eyes closed in repose,

And all his filth and flotsam could not even foul her clothes.

She sang a canticle of joy, of gratitude and grace,

And deadfalls burst asunder at the radiance of her face.

A lullaby she sang to soothe the Child within her womb,

And at His Name, the Tempest turned and fled into the gloom.

 

The wood lays wasted at her feet; the grass, strewn with debris;

A splintered path of ruin marks the path on which he flees.

So stands she still upon the hill, our shelter from the storm—

Our Lady, Queen of Peace, protecting all she loves from harm.

Not David’s solitary stone nor Sparta’s gory stand

Struck such a blow as she, although she never raised a hand!

Nothing Safe

This past weekend was Albertville Friendly City Days, our little town’s version of an annual summer festival, featuring  a softball tournament, a pedal-power tractor pull, the Miss Albertville competition, live music, carnival rides and games, fireworks, clowns, and more. The highlight for our family each year is the parade — one of the biggest and best in Wright County, with more than 100 entries including several marching bands. The past few years we’ve enjoyed the spectacle from a beautiful old home on Main Street, right next to the announcer and judges booth, so everyone is looking and performing their best, and candy is tossed by the handful. This year we enjoyed the additional treat of Trevor’s debut as a percussionist in the STMA Middle School Marching Band, playing quads (technically quints, I suppose, since his drum harness has a tiny fifth tom, not just four).

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Trevor and bandmates marching

Earlier we had been discussing what we love and don’t love about Friendly City Days. Lily was strongly urging that we walk down to the carnival and at least check out the rides; Jodi and I weren’t anxious to do so. A friend agreed with us: Traveling carnival rides especially made her nervous, she said — so much so that she has been known to pay her children not to go, still spending less for peace of mind than she would have for ride tickets. She even shared a story about a girl who was scalped when her hair got caught during a ride on a classic old Tilt-a-Whirl.

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Jodi and Lily sliding

Although we rode the Ferris wheel, the carousel, and the giant Fun Slide last year, by and large, we agree. Anything that’s moves and spins and is not bolted down is just asking for someone to get hurt. Or throw up. Or both.

On the other hand…

What is it about a Tilt-a-Whirl, anyway? I used to love that ride: the unsteady motion of the platform, the off-kilter slide into your friends as your car tilted and spun sideways, first one way, then the other. Yeah, sometimes people puked (I never did), but that was part of the excitement — the sense that anything could happen, at any moment. You felt alive.

Dead people don’t barf.

I think I’ve discovered that ride was so appealing — and why I don’t care to do it anymore. Think about it: what else do we experience that is tilted, spinning, unstable, and potentially dangerous; that sends us careening into the people closest to us; that makes us laugh, cry,  and hurl?

We don’t need some old carnival clunker. We spend all day, every day, on a massive, unhinged Tilt-a-World. As a kid, the simulating is stimulating. As adults, it’s too real, like when you’re watching The Office and can’t laugh because you actually lived through that particular episode.

And it’s not safe. This world is broken, grimy and off-balance, hurtling through the cosmos, and run by grubbing scoundrels, leering ne’er-do-wells and lazing doofuses. We’ll never make it out alive — and yet, here we are: leaning, laughing, spinning…

So let go. Whatever you’re clinging to can’t keep you safe anyway. Let’s throw our hands up and enjoy this ride — together!

Featured photo at the top of the post: Abandoned Tilt-A-Whirl By Derrick Mealiffe from Toronto, Canada (Wet n Wild) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Lenten Hits: Firelight Fridays

One of the most fruitful family sacrifices we undertook this Lent was to fast from electric lights after sunset on Fridays. We had already decided to abstain from television, movies, and video games for all of Lent, when I ran across an article by well-known atheist-to-Catholic convert Jennifer Fulwiler on the National Catholic Register website: “8 Reasons to Turn Out the Lights During Lent.” I proposed to the family that we undertake this fast at least once a week, and we decided on “firelight Fridays”once the sun went down on Friday evening, we would use nothing but candles in our house.

My hope was that, as Fulwiler suggests, this would spark a massive downshift in activity and draw us closer together as a family, around the flickering flames. It did exactly that.

The fact that we had already committed to shutting off the televisions for forty days laid a good foundation for Firelight Fridays, since that caused our older kids to break out board and card games and begin playing together and with Lily in ways we hadn’t seen in years. Soon they were inviting Jodi and me to play. Parcheesi, Sorry, Cribbage, Garbage, and head-to-head Solitaire were the favorites, and as darkness gathered late Friday, we would clear the coffee table in the living room, light several candles on a tray, and sit in a tight circle to talk, laugh, and play together. I discovered that Jazz 88 plays the blues all night on Fridays, which offered a suitable soundtrack to our “penitential” family time.

Usually we played together until some of us grew sleepy, then we talked, sprawled across the furniture and floors, until we could no longer keep our eyes open. Often we went to bed earlier that usual for a Friday, and still felt as though we’d had a very full evening, because our time together had started at sundown and was concentrated on the here and now, with the people we love. In retrospect, it strikes as similar to a silent retreat: when we reduce the distractions that keep our eyes and brains flitting about from one thing to the next, time stretches out and we expand to fill it.

By the end of Lent, I was ready to go full Amish and invest in candles for every day of the week. Lily—who each week would begin a countdown to candles on Tuesday or Wednesday—was close behind in her enthusiasm for continuing the practice.

Jodi and the older kids missed family movies and other typical Friday practices, so we compromised: We agreed that, beginning this spring we will commit to at least one Firelight Friday a month: indoors with candles in bad weather; outdoors at the fire pit in good.

Each Lent I worry that we’ll fall back into old patterns as Easter rolls ’round, and we will lose what we’ve gained from fasting. Yesterday afternoon, I picked up Lily from daycare. We hadn’t left Jennie’s driveway when she asked if she could have a snack and watch a show when she got home.

“You can have a snack,” I said, “but we’ll have to wait and see about a show.”

When we got home, she got herself a snack while I put aside my work and started thinking about supper. Next thing I knew, Lily was setting up Clue Jr. to practice playing it by herself. She made no mention of watching a show for the rest of the evening.

If unplugging and lighting candles can work such a change in our biggest little screen junkie, that, to me, is a sacrifice worth sustaining.

LIFT Links for Late Summer

We’re headed into August, and summer is, for better or worse, winding down. If you’re like us, in the flurry of summer and back-to-school activities, it can be hard to find quality time to spend with God, or even with the entire family. To that end, here are a few ideas for a late summer day or weekend:

  • Lakeside Fellowship. Camp Lebanon is coming quickly, but if your summer isn’t plum full already, consider joining other St. Michael and St. Albert families the weekend of Aug. 14-16 for great food, fellowship, and lakeside fun. Details can be found here, and the registration form is here — we still need families in order to hold the entire camp for our two parishes!
  • Family Movie Night. A few years back I watched and recommend the beautiful animated movie, The Secret of Kells. Both Kells and a newer movie in the same style (which I haven’t seen), Song of the Sea, are available for unlimited streaming on Amazon Prime. Ignatius Press recently published this review of Song of the Sea — should be well worth watching. We will definitely be checking it out! (The Secret of Kells is also available on Netflix.)
    • Silent Retreat. Christ the King Retreat Center in Buffalo is hosting a men’s and women’s silent retreat in late August entitled “Sowing Seeds of Mercy.” The retreat is Aug. 21-23 at King’s House, with a suggested donation of $160. More details and registration information can be found here.
    • Spaghetti Dinner. Sometimes just having a family meal together that you don’t have to cook is the ticket to reconnecting with family. If so, you can eat for a great cause at the upcoming Kunzman Spaghetti Dinner fundraiser hosted by Knights of Columbus Council 4174 at the St. Albert Parish Center. The dinner is Sunday, Aug. 23, from 4:30 to 8 p.m., with free-will offerings to support Brother Knight Erich Kunzman and family. Erich has suffered some complications due to a significant surgery and copuld use our prayers and support!
    Have a great rest of your summer!