Monday, December 31, 2012

Stars in the Jaws of the Clouds

I got stuck in the sewer.  I finally gave up trying to plow through the muck and so I  set my book aside.  For months.  Which meant I was stuck in the sewer for months.

If you've read the unabridged version of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, you'll remember the frequent tangential historical backgrounds.  Although the story line gets put on hold while Hugo expounds upon Waterloo, convents, revolutionaries and the like, you appreciate a better understanding of the role they played in the history of France in general and the book's characters in specific. But the value of the sewers eluded me. 

So I avoided facing the ugly reality.

Jean Valjean and Marius, frozen in time, patiently awaited my return.  It's not like their situation became more dire, but I definitely lost all my momentum and so we all were stuck . . . until I finally resolved to get through it. 

It is ironic but all the threads of the story of Les Mis came together in the sewer.  And the sewer was the source from whence sprang the beautiful seeds of resolution, which made for such a sweet ending to the novel.  Maybe it's not so ironic when you think about the source of  fertilizer.

I love the story of Les Mis and recently barely succeeded in holding back sobs at the theater.  My streaming tears were healing when I saw myself in Jean Valjean.  It was so easy to see in him the tragedy of failing to forgive yourself.  The law, personified by Javert, had no power over Valjean because no one held him to a more stringent judgment than he himself.  In his judgment, despite the Bishop's healing gift, he believed he had never earned his way back from his role of convict. But in the end, when none were left to accuse him but himself, Jean Valjean's relationships healed him.  The angels in his life were sent to him by the only One who could rightly judge him, and He found him worthy of the tenderest loving care.

We can be okay with making mistakes by knowing we're here to learn from our experience--even if our experiences take us through the sewer.


Victor Hugo's Les Miserables

 Portrait of "Cosette" by Emile Bayard, 1862 

History is written by the victors, but Victor Hugo offers a view of life as experienced by "les miserables."  He puts before us the cause of the sufferers.  Through the words of the good Bishop of Digne, Hugo counsels, "My brethren, be compassionate; see how much suffering there is around you."   In Les Mis, we see the humanity of society's outcasts.  We find nobility of character, often where it is least expected.

Jean Valjean epitomizes all that is hardest and best in humanity.  The sewer scene exemplifies both of these aspects of his nature in their extreme. He descended below all to save another.  At the risk of losing his own life, he trudged through the mire of human waste, weighed down by the burden of the man he knew would give him his greatest grief.

Marius would take his Cosette away.  With his duty to her completed, Jean Valjean would slip back into his private horror, refusing to be the cause of his loved one needlessly associating with a convict who broke his parole. 

There was Another who descended below all to save not one soul, but all souls who would believe on Him. That One answered Jean Valjean's plea, and sent Cosette to his deathbed.  In that moment, his life was reconciled.  He recognized God's hand and understood that it meant he was forgiven. He groaned,

              "God said . . . Come, here is a poor man who has need of an angel.  And the angel comes; and I   see my Cosette again! . . .  Oh! It is good to die like this! . . .  Such are the distributions of God . . .  He knows what He does in the midst of His great stars."

From the lower realms of earth, we can gaze heavenward.  Above are the stars which appear to  be swallowed by the storm clouds rolling in. Is there no escape from life's storms? Hugo puts it into perspective:

               "Should we continue to look upwards? Is the light we can see in the sky one of those which will presently be extinguished? . . . brilliant but threatened on all sides by the dark forces that surround it; nevertheless, no more in danger than a star in the jaws of the clouds."

While keeping our eyes towards heaven under God's watchful care, our souls are as distant from the realm of our troubles as "a star in the jaws of the clouds."

Monday, May 28, 2012

Divine Musings

I was a quarter-mile behind everybody else on the mountain trail, laboring under the burden of over 20 pounds of water.  Then I saw a teenage boy come running back down the hillside towards me.  He took the 3 gallon thermos and carried it up the rest of the way.  I was so grateful to him and his parents for raising a young man who could be so thoughtful. 

That's when I picked up an even heavier burden. 

Where was my son on the trail? I had asked him to carry the water, which he did for a while, but then he set it down because it was too heavy and the mountain was too steep. So I sighed and picked it up.  I wasn't doing such a stellar job as a parent.

All my life I've been thinking we need to prove our worth by being contributing members of society.  Like Martha, I thought I needed to make myself valuable by working hard to serve.  I understood only the surface meaning of Jesus' council that Mary had chosen the better part.  Sure, stop and talk to the Lord when He is present.  But what I didn't get until recently is that we don't need to do one thing to prove our value to the Lord. 

As children of God, we have a divine nature which means our value is infinite.  Any good (or bad) we do is like adding (or subtracting) one and infinity.  Though we can develop greater virtue as we live and learn, our value is forever infinite.

Back on the hillside, we didn't end up needing the water after all.  My son's contribution was to question, "Why bother with this water?" Had I listened to him, it would have saved us, and the young man who ran to the rescue, a lot of trouble. It turns out that our value doesn't always look like what society thinks value should look like. 

Dante's Divine Comedy--An Allegory of Salvation
(This is the closer study I promised on 8/28/11)

As I sit writing this, I am a man in exile wandering through a foreign land.  Though I can see my home just across the way, when I try to travel there I am threatened by sins of the flesh and sins of wrath.  I conquer these by using my intellect to balance desire and discipline.  But then I am defeated by the sins swarming around me and my generation.  My will power alone is not enough; I can't make it back home on my own.

Then the Father of Reason, Virgil, joins me.  He points back to a trail of sorrow that traverses through Hell and tells me the only way I can get back home is to journey thence.  I take up the bitter cup and follow him. We spiral downward into the abyss of the devil's domain.  At each step we see poetic justice.  People who sought to fulfill their own will become what they sought, yet are denied the satisfaction of taking any pleasure in it.  This is not a punishment from God, but rather a consequence of making gods of their desires.

The capitol of Hell is the City of Dis, which is surrounded by the gate of heresy.  All those who dwell within are there because they chose to deny God and the hope of eternal life.  Though it is a despairing place, our path lies through the heart of Hell so we must pass through the gate.  Neither Virgil nor I can open it.  We pray for Divine Aid and wait. 

At first it seems our prayers our answered by an even greater torment as the Furies descend upon us, mocking.   They threaten to call Medusa to come and turn us to stone.  The moment Virgil hears her name, he commands me to look away.  Reason alone cannot answer doubts about God's existence.  Virgil covers my eyes, saying in effect, "Just look away from the question and trust in God."

After my faith denied heresy its victory over me, our prayers for Divine help are answered.  A Heavenly Messenger opens the gate and we are allowed to pass.  If I may offer a bit of counsel, await God's grace to manifest itself in your life.  It will come no matter how threatening the Furies surrounding you.  

An oppressive weight pulls us downward in Dis until we meet the author of evil, the founder of heaviness, the devil himself.  We grapple with him and, at long last, pass from the Inferno into Purgatory.  I will pause here to observe that I've noted a certain glamorization of evil in recent decades.  Make no mistake, there is NO glamour in Hell.  Satan attracts by covering sin with a glossy sheen, like the Siren's song. But rip away the exterior and what lies beneath is hideousness and entrapment of addictions. 

Upon entering Purgatory, Virgil and I are bathed in a baptism of water that washes away the stains of Hell.  Though things are much better here than in the Inferno, I admit to being plagued by lethargy and learned that laziness leads to depression.  I was visited by the Angel of Zeal and was energized by a creative spark which propelled me forward.

At last we come within sight of Paradise, the place I had set my sights upon when Virgil first joined me.  But I am horrified to see I cannot enter Paradise unless I pass through a baptism of fire.  Virgil, my Father Reason, persuades me to trust I will find my heart's desire on the other side of the wall of fire.  I submit to the scorching pain, then emerge outside of Reason's realm.  Virgil cannot follow me here because I am now no longer limited by reason.  I am taken under the wing of Personal Revelation, who is embodied by Beatrice. 

Though I grieve over my separation from Virgil, Beatrice scolds me for looking back.  She points out that since I have been purged from the will to sin, I'm in the presence of Divine Revelation and I no longer need Virgil's Reason.  She is right to scold because looking back prevents me from making use of the great gifts I have been given.   Understanding this, I repent.  This now allows me to drink from the river Lethe, which washes away all memory of sin from my soul.  Losing this last remnant of sin, I am now purified and free to pass into Paradise.

Upon entering Paradise, I am greeted by a tremendous pageant.  The Church, the Prophets, the Bible, the Sacrament, the Gifts of the Spirit are all personified in a joyous parade.  A Griffin (half-lion, half-Eagle) symbolizes the Savior (half-human, half-Divine) and is pulling the very chariot where Beatrice is seated.   Christ is the Author of Personal Revelation.

In Paradise I visit the realms of the planets, each representing a Cardinal Virtue (Wisdom, Love, Prudence, Courage, Justice, Temperance).  I learn that Temperance is nearest God's abode because it is the contemplative life which Jesus recommended to Martha in following Mary's example.

Looking back, I see how my progress through the Inferno taught me pity, or Charity; Purgatory taught me Hope, and Paradise sealed my Faith.  Through these Three Theological Virtues, I gain unspeakable joy.  I saw in my journey that the universe is enwrapped by the Divine Will of God.  The Heavens and all nature are an expression of the Mind of God.  In order to experience pure joy, we must be capable of comprehending its existence all around us.

Since writing my Divine Comedy, some have speculated that I may have had in mind the fulfillment of Joachim Fioretti's prediction that there would be Three Ages.  The Age of the Father was the Law of the Old Testament.  The Age of the Son was established by Christ's organization of His Church in the New Testament.  The Age of the Holy Spirit is to be fulfilled when the Spirit works directly through all people by means of the Everlasting Gospel.  Finding my Beatrice seemed to me a manifestation of the Third Age.  I challenge you to find YOUR Beatrice and promise you she is there.


The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighiere

Dante and His Divine Comedy by Timothy Shutt

The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, Volume 1, by Maynard Mack, & etc.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Life is Beautiful

I apologize to everyone who comes to my house after dark, but we are without a porch light. 

Early this spring, I noticed bits of glass accumulating on my porch.  The glass fixture covering our porch light had a panel broken out of it months previously.  I'd cleaned it up when it first broke so found it odd to suddenly see more glass. 

A few days later I understood where the glass was coming from.  Apparently some of the glass had landed inside the light fixture when the panel broke, and a swallow couple had cleared the objectionably sharp debris from the location they had chosen to build their nest.  Sweet as it was to see a nest in my porch light fixture, I didn't think it belonged there so I pulled the nest out. 

My heart melted to see and feel the tender nest.  It was built out of the softest twigs money can't buy and padded with downy dryer lint.  I set the nest in my flower bed and watched.  Within a short time, the nest was rebuilt in my porch light.  I removed the bulb to make more room for its occupants.  Today I noticed four tiny eggs in the center of the nest. 

I love life.

Happy Easter.

The re-birth of spring is a beautiful time to celebrate the rebirth of Christ's resurrection.  Every day is a brand new start; every bad moment can be made right thanks to God's healing power.  Life is beautiful.


The darling kits came and went while No-name grew to his full size.  People stopped and watched No-name and his buddies pile in a heap to sleep, or bound about the cage in a frolic.  Once in a while, someone would ask to hold the critters who populated his cage.  No-name watched with his probing, red eyes as his companions were lovingly toted away.  He could barely remember his life outside this tiny compartment, but he'd come across the country from the Marshall Ferret Farm.

Months passed and a mother and son came to pick out a ferret.  They held him a moment and then they chose his sable-colored cousin with the irresistible bandit-masked face, even though he heard the clerk offer to sell him at a discount.  He heard himself described as a hard-to-sell albino.  As the mother and son turned their back on him, he flopped himself on the floor of his cage, peering out of dejected eyes, his body and spirit sinking low. 

The next day, the mother and son returned; something about him called to them.  No-name was lifted out of the cage and put into a cardboard box.  He scratched like crazy to get out and after a nauseating ride he was released into a strange new world.  There was his masked cousin, now named Snickers.  He heard himself being called Sputnik, which means "Companion." 

Sputnik was determined to solve the puzzle of how to free himself from his new cage.  He clamped down on the bars and used his strong jaws to rattle them lose.  The cage could no longer retain his free spirit. 

Sputnik's exuberance quickly overpowered Snickers, so he looked to the people who shared his abode.  Whenever someone entered the room, he'd enthusiastically take up a fighting stance, challenging the person towering above him:  his playful gaze effectively saying, "Put up your dukes!"  The mother could never resist this challenge.  She'd drop down on all fours and laugh delightedly, ruffling up his white fur.  Sputnik would back away just out of reach, then lunge forward getting a belly rub, and then dive into a hiding place. 

He had so much life packed in his perky little body.  Playful as an otter, handsome as a miniature polar bear, he charmed the household.  But sometimes the people were too busy to play and he would sink onto the floor, looking up at them with a mysterious combination of bright, disappointed eyes.  

He LOVED the outdoors.  He could slide right out of the harness which seemed to be his essential outdoor gear.  His favorite time was when there was a foot of snow to play in.  He bounded over it, then he burrowed under it.  He explored the white-blanketed yard but didn't lose his harness until he hid under the shed.  At length he came out and was promptly taken back inside.  That was the last time he ever wandered freely out-of-doors.

The people seemed to be bothered by the fact he had stopped eating.  Sputnik was taken in and out of clinics; vets prodded and probed and eventually determined he had cancer.  In only a few days his body became too frail to sustain his spirit. He bounded joyfully into ferret heaven.  He watched the mother and son cry their eyes out for him.  He watched as they picked out another ferret to try to fill the huge hole in their hearts he'd left behind.  He heard the mother saying a prayer of gratitude, thanking God for letting him share his short life with them.  Funny how you can grow to love someone so much in such a short time.

"Don't cry, Mother;  don't feel sad, Son.  I just found another way to free my spirit.  Life is beautiful in every sphere. With all my love, Sputnik."