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This is a shameless plug for my own book! I’m so excited that Angelico Press has published Souls at Work, and I have high hopes that it will be a blessing to readers. Someone has asked “What kind of book is this?” and it’s hard to put it into a typical category.
It is ‘self-help,’ because I enjoy talking to people who enjoy self-improvement. It is ‘educational,’ because I look at the world through the lens of the classical Trivium and suggest this as a model for self-educators and for teachers. It is ‘Catholic spiritual direction,’ because I strongly believe that your interior life will be much improved by taking on reality in all its forms – art, persons, subjects, buildings and more.
It is ‘poetic,’ because it is meant to give you entrance into my own lived experience, and so is written with a richness of vocabulary and diction that is sadly missing from many 10-bullet-point books. It is ‘hard,’ because it invites you into the adventure of working out your salvation in the rough and tumble tensions of things that are difficult for you. It is a ‘workbook,’ because I ask you to do the work of writing it for yourself (!), or, at least, responding to its questions to make it truly your own.
It is ‘dangerous,’ because there is no true growth or education possible apart from venturing into the unknown territory of the Real World with only our imperfect realization of Christ to guide us. It is ‘Catholic,’ because it is deeply indebted to and respectful of the Faith, and is predicated on my own love for Christ and His teaching magisterium…without being at all a work of theology.
What else? A fountain of youth? Yes. A great conversation starter? Yes. A fun romp through science, art, literature, architecture, and more with, not an expert, but an interested fellow student? Yes. A help in understanding relationship dynamics? Yes. A new perspective on the new evangelization? Yes!
So, as one who is obviously totally unbiased about this book, I highly recommend you get a copy and share the news that it is available. THANKS to all who take the plunge and wade into this ‘invitation to freedom’. Together, Catholic writers and readers must discover what it means for an artist to be, not a law unto herself, but a member of the Body of Christ. I so look forward to your response to this book. Please tell me what kind of book it is when you know!
Hilary Hart’s Body of Wisdom was given to me as I’d been speaking about How Women Disintegrate and How Women Heal. I did resonate with about 70% of what she said, felt wary, but interpreted positively, about 20% more, and must reject the last 10% unequivocally. That leaves me in a quandary.
I can’t recommend the book itself, on the chance that a poorly-grounded Catholic might not discern the problems in it, but I feel the kinship of lived experience, and am grateful for the author’s poetic depth and insight. Read as a theological argument, Body of Wisdom is easily dismissed. But it would be unreasonable to read in that way what is meant as an evocation of conversation among wise, mature women. I must enter into such a book as I would enter an encounter with a person – in awe of the mystery before me, with respect for our differences, and appreciation for every good, true, beautiful, praiseworthy aspect of her being. With that in mind, and with no love for any ‘feminine spirituality’ that leads outside the bounds of my Catholic faith, I call attention to what edifies me in Hart’s offering.
First, I’m thrilled at her acceptance of gender as an essential aspect of being – a signifier rich with metaphor, that points toward the realization of a distinctively feminine approach to life, relationship, spiritual growth and service. Contra the androgynous, mentalized, self-defining ‘spirituality’ of modern Gnosticism, Hart’s approach is earthy, grounded, embodied in and affirming of physical reality. Contra the anti-human, mechanistic efficiency of modern scientific materialism, Hart presents woman as deeply spiritual and irreducible to objective functions or roles.
I’m also delighted to see, on every page, the affirmation of life’s sacredness, of child-bearing as a sacred trust, of new life as a wonderful treasure. It strikes me that we would do well to make such a beautiful, feminine appeal to women’s life-giving nature a greater part of our own fight against abortion.
Hart counsels, as I do, that women must be deeply true to themselves in order to give fully and effectively to their families and others. She thinks – and I heartily agree – that friendships among women (when ordered toward high good and away from rage, despair, pettiness and superficiality) are essential for the development and realization of what St. John Paul II called ‘feminine genius.’ We also agree that the world (even the Church, I’d say) desperately needs the gifts, giftedness, and self-giving of women to rebuild social capital, lines of communication, and networks of support for a culture of life.
A woman’s capacity for creativity, social influence, and healing can be ignored (or dismissed as ‘New Age-y’, which is ridiculous, but I’ve seen it happen), or deeply engaged to restore balance and bring healing to the disordered, broken world around us.
I suggest we focus on what Hart – passionate, poetic, person-oriented – has to teach about waking up the genius of women, and leave a modest veil over her understandable excesses. They are understandable, because she, as yet, stands outside the protective covering of a Church structure that she interprets, wrongly, as all-masculine. Where the Church has gone far beyond her thinking – female saints and doctors, Marian devotion, theology of the body, for instance – we can amplify her sense of the positive power of womanhood. Where she excels – attention to the lived experience of women, rich and emotionally engaging prose, respectful interfaith dialogue, for instance – she should lead us.
This book has a place in the conversation of discerning, well-formed Catholic women – especially those who nurture friendships with non- or newly-Christian women.
What’s your favorite movie? When I’m asked, the kids answer for me: Babette’s Feast! Well, that’s one of my all time favorites, and I do think everyone should see it. [Read more…]
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to the, “Children, have you any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish. John 21: 4-7
The fishermen had been going through all the motions, and were drained of strength and disappointed and hungry. In obedience to Him, they rehearsed those motions one last time: gather the heavy, sodden net just so; heave together to lift and throw it; pull against the enormous drag of deep water and haul it back in to the boat with calloused hands and aching muscles.
What they had been doing all night in their own strength finally brought an abundant reward when the motions became acts of obedience. If you have been going through the motions at Mass, and bringing up an ’empty net’ over and over, you can revitalize your experience and start to take home a full catch!
In this talk I gave practical helps for the common experience of dryness, dullness, emptiness in the lives of Mass-goers. I created it for an evening of reflection led by the Apostles of the Interior Life, when they invited members of their Collaborator Family to contribute to their parish mission work. The Apostles, my Family, are something of a ‘sending community’ for me – rooting my speaking and writing in the practice of their charism and the sharing of their goal to lead people deeper into the interior life of union with Christ.
If, as artists, we hope to recall man to himself, to set him free, to draw him toward God, then we must understand the human person as an icon and icon-writer. The more we understand about icons, the more fully we can enter into the treasury of prayer they open to us.
There are four main types of icon (per St. John Damascene) that unfold from the very Essence of God, right on through – without discontinuity – to the painted icons we can touch and hold. If we take the idea of ‘icon’ further, to see man as ‘image of God,’ or ‘icon of the essence of God,’ we see the human person in a new light – as a work of art that is meant to be a place of encounter with ‘that which it depicts’.
The icon that is painted within us as we encounter reality – the image of what we see, what we know, what we love – is, likewise a form through which that reality is re-presented, made present, in a human person. It’s not too much to say that man, as steward of Creation, was meant to have Creation made present within his own being to such a degree that he would know it intimately and so steward it well. If we can look at what it means to take in something so much greater than oneself and then to be responsible for communicating that something to others, we learn a lot about how to be Christ-bearers in the world.
A look at icons helps us do that, whether we formally study iconography, or not.