Sunday, November 28, 2021

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Fr. John Welch, on the Catholic Imagination and the ‘Stuff’ of Life)

“To speak of the Catholic imagination is to talk about an ability to use the ‘stuff’ of life to express matters of the spirit. For example, the praise of God becomes palpable when incense rises in liturgy. Belief that Mary, Mother of God, accompanies us on our pilgrimages is anchored by a scapular around the neck. We ask angels to watch over us because they speak of God’s presence and power. Calling on particular saints for help in personal matters says God cares about the details of our lives.”—Fr. John Welch, O.Carm, “Catholic Imagination,” Carmelite Review, Fall 2013-Winter 2014 issue

The image accompanying this post is an example of the “Catholic imagination”—Madonna of the Book, painted in 1480 by the Italian Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli (ca. 1445-1510).

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Quote of the Day (Joan Baez, on Noise, ‘An Imposition on Sanity’)

“If we don't sit down and shut up once in a while we'll lose our minds even earlier than we had expected. Noise is an imposition on sanity, and we live in very noisy times.”—American folk-music icon Joan Baez, Daybreak: An Autobiography (1968)

God, how much noisier has it gotten in the half-century since Ms. Baez wrote this?

The photo of Ms. Baez accompanying this post, was taken at a press conference on Apr. 26, 1966, by Ron Kroon / Anefo. The source is Nationaal Archief, the national archives of The Netherlands.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Quote of the Day (Kenneth Branagh, on Moving Out of Ulster During ‘The Troubles’)

“That rupture was the most significant event in my personal life. There was a sense that before that mob came up the street [i.e., a riot he witnessed as a child in Belfast in August 1969], I knew who I was and that I was at peace. From that point onward, a whole series of identities and masks was constructed. What I wanted to do [in his new film Belfast] was peel some of those away. To do some self-remembering without indulgence, simply trying to open what had been covered up. Because there’s so much of who I am that was formed in that period up to 8 years old and before that riot occurred. But from that moment there was a guardedness, there was an inability to roll with things in the way that one had done before.”—Actor-director Sir Kenneth Branagh quoted in David Marchese, “Talk: Kenneth Branagh Is Finally Processing His Childhood Trauma,” The New York Times Magazine, Nov. 7, 2021

Nearly 30 years ago, while still married to Kenneth Branagh, actress Emma Thompson told an interviewer that, because of the sectarian unrest he had witnessed during his Ulster boyhood, the sight of a church left her husband almost physically ill as an adult.

Now, in Belfast, Branagh immerses moviegoers in a semi-autobiographical recreation of that traumatic childhood. 

I have been following the actor’s career off and on since he first attracted wide notice here in the U.S. with his Oscar-nominated performance in Henry V. But, as an Irish-American, I am especially interested in how he treats this particularly intense chapter in the tangled British-Irish relationship in his critically acclaimed new movie.

A move away from all the friends, places and other certainties one has known to date can be difficult for any child. The decision by Branagh’s parents to relocate to England as a result of the wrenching violence that erupted in Northern Ireland in 1969 must have been far worse.

Fans of film and theater should be glad that he and his family survived. It should never be forgotten that far too many others died—physically, emotionally or spiritually—during the three-decade period that ended with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

One can only hope that the Protestants and Roman Catholics of Ulster’s six counties will be able to work out on their own a future of justice, peace, opportunity and equal rights for all, without the specter of the gun ever darkening their lives or the history of that region again.

(The accompanying photo of Kenneth Branagh was taken on July 10, 2009, at the Roma Fiction Fest that year, by Giorgia Meschini. For a fine short piece from six years ago, hailing Branagh’s “diversity of work” while centering on his abundant productions of The Bard, I urge you to check out this this post from “The Shakespeare Blog” by Sylvia Morris.)

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Quote of the Day (G.K. Chesterton, on Thanks as ‘The Highest Form of Thought’)

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”—English man of letters G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), A Short History of England (1917)

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Quote of the Day (Melissa Dahl, on Why the Teenage Years Stay So Long in Your Memory)

“There’s a reason why your teenage years stay with you. Perhaps you've heard of the reminiscence bump, a term psychologists use to describe the way the episodes of our lives that occur between the ages of ten and thirty tend to be recalled more vividly than those that occur earlier or later in life. Researchers have a few theories to explain the phenomenon; maybe, for instance, these memories stand out because of their novelty. It makes sense that you would remember your very first kiss more than your very eleventh kiss. But beyond that, throughout our life span, the moments that take prominence in our memories are those that are linked to our self-concept. During your awkward teenage years, you are laying the foundation for the path you'll follow as an adult—you join the school newspaper and see your name in print for the first time, or you take a volunteer tutoring job after school and realize you want to be an elementary school teacher. You carry your teen self around with you for life in part because these are the years you become yourself in the first place.”— Health and psychology journalist Melissa Dahl, Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness (2018)

I have noticed the “reminiscence bump” occurring among myself and others in my age group especially lately as so many of our contemporaries pass away. In the aftermath of their demise, we summon up memories not just to give shape to their lives, but also to better understand our own.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Photo of the Day: Fall View of Park and River, Nyack NY

This past Saturday, with daylight contracting and fall descending more heavily, I drove up to Nyack, NY. Though longtime readers of this blog know that I have strolled through this Rockland County village filled with lovely Victorian homes a fair amount in recent years, I visited more often in the 1980s, when a good friend of mine lived here.

My friend, who moved down to Florida in the early 1990s, passed away in late May. Though the warm temperatures down south were better for her health during the winter, she had thought of moving back up here several years ago, only to defer the decision because of the pandemic and insufficient income in the changing real estate market.

On one of our many long-distance phone calls, she grew weepily nostalgic about the changing seasons she missed from the Northeast. Unable to pay my final respects after her death in Florida, I thought of revisiting the town that had once meant so much to her.

Veterans Memorial Park, which I managed to photograph just before sunset, seemed a pretty good spot to bring my friend viscerally to mind again. It was just down the street from her home, and from the shoreline she would often push off into the Hudson River with her kayak.

Nyack is a unique community, with a long history and bohemian vibe to go with its picturesque riverine setting. But a place is more than a point on a map or a real estate agent’s listing, but a collection of souls.

In the restless journey of her life, one such soul settled here for a while. Last Saturday afternoon, the sunlight along the Hudson may have faded, but I knew that my friend’s impact on my life would not.

Quote of the Day (Thorstein Veblen, on ‘Individuals With an Aberrant Temperament’)


“Only individuals with an aberrant temperament can in the long run retain their self-esteem in the face of the disesteem of their fellows.”— Norwegian-American economist Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929), The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899)