Jeannette: A Review

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Jeannette (2018) is a musical from the French director and screenwriter Bruno Dumont. I previously posted about the release of the film, and the prose poem it is based on.  It had a short run in theaters, and is now available on Amazon Prime for free. It is an adaptation of Charles Peguy’s  prose poem The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc and a much earlier play Peguy wrote about Joan before his conversion. It is in French with English subtitles.

I am not familiar with Dumont’s work, but I gather he is well-known for creating experimental or avant-garde cinema. His films apparently provoke strong reaction, both negative and positive, but he seems to be generally acknowledged for having technical skill and ingenuity.

He continues his approach in this film. He relies on relatively unknown or untrained actors, including several children, to deliver Peguy’s poetry. The most significant choice was to adapt Peguy’s work into a musical format. The characters sing many of the lines, and engage in free-form dance. The singing is accompanied by contemporary music, often electronica or metal.

Mr. Dumont appears to take the material seriously, not ironically, and Peguy’s poetry is spoken  with conviction.  This is not Mr. Dumont’s first film about religious themes, as he has previously adapted the life of a medieval Christian mystic into the film Hadewijch.

The film is organized into two acts. In the first, we are introduced to a very young Jeannette, about age 10. She is experiencing a spiritual crisis as a result of the 100 Years War, offers her life and suffering to God in atonement for the souls of the damned, and receives a mystical vision.  In the second act, we see Jeanette at about age 16. She has delayed carrying out her mission out of uncertainty, and fear of leaving her family, and must make a decision about obeying the will of God in her life.

The shots of the French countryside and the characters are very pleasing to the eye. But I have to admit, reluctantly, that I was sometimes bored and relatively unmoved by the singing and dancing. It just did not work for me. Mysticism and contemplation, as best I have read and experienced, is usually an event of quiet, calm and stillness. I found the combination of Peguy’s poetry with song and dance too distracting. This may simply reflect my personal limitations in processing too many different forms of stimulation. By way of contrast, Roger Ebert gave the film high marks.  I might have more enjoyed a Terrence Malick style adaptation of the material, with voiceover narration by Joan, long shots of nature, etc.

Mr. Dumont and his studio were happy enough with Jeannette that a sequel has been approved, and begun filming.  It will focus on her period as a soldier and perhaps include her martyrdom. It looks like he will use the child actress from the first act to play Joan again. I will be interested to learn what he bases it on. Peguy did write a sequel play/poem to The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc, but it was unpublished at the time of his death, and has never been translated into English.

If you have Amazon Prime, and are a believer, it’s probably worth watching the opening few minutes to see if the film captures your imagination. Peguy’s work is important theologically, as he was a big influence on Von Balthasar, Adrienne von Speyr and other Catholics I write about at this blog. Pope Francis apparently reads him as well.

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Adrienne Von Speyr: Servant of God

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This post is primarily for other lay people who read the religious writings of the Catholic Adrienne von Speyr (1902-1967). Adrienne was a Swiss citizen, a medical doctor by profession, and an adult convert to the Roman Catholic Church. I have read just about everything she wrote that is available in English.

I recently learned that the Church had opened an investigation into Adrienne’s cause for canonization in March of this year.  Specifically, it was opened at the local level in Switzerland, on account of a life of heroic virtue.

There was almost nothing in the media about this, which is why I stumbled across it only by noticing the update to her Wikipedia page. And there was no commentary from religious scholars or theologians in the English-speaking world that I could find.

The title “Servant of God” is applied to someone at the earliest stage of the canonization process. My understanding is that the matter now goes to Rome for a review by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.  If the Church makes a finding of “nihil obstat“, which is Latin for meaning that there is nothing objectionable about the candidate, the process will proceed through formal review by the whole Church.   If the Church finds that the candidate is worthy of recognition for their virtue and worthy of further review, they will be declared “Venerable.”  After that they need to have at least two miracles attributed to their intercession for the cause to advance:the first results in a declaration of “Blessed,” and the second, “Saint.”

The silence is probably quite deliberate. Because I am a layperson with no position in the Church or academia, I am free to write about this (which may be foolish).  Adrienne wrote and had published a large volume of scriptural commentaries and spiritual reflections. Perhaps more than any other non-academic Catholic layperson in the 20th century (I don’t include self-help or advice books in this, no slight intended).  So the Church will have quite a lot to review and consider before providing a Nihil Obstat.  Much of her work remains unpublished, and much remains unavailable in English. I think the delay in publication is because those who could publish have been waiting for this process to commence.

It is no coincidence that an initial review was also opened in March into the Cause of Canonization of her spiritual director and friend, Catholic theologian and Cardinal-Elect Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Von Balthasar personally edited and arranged for the publishing of many of her books, and said on multiple occasions that he drew heavily on her in developing his theological insights, and that his work should not be separated from hers.

There have been some events that, in retrospect, may have pointed to the opening of her cause. There were several conferences about Adrienne’s life and work in the last few years, and Ignatius Press published second editions of a number of her better known works.

This blog would not exist without Adrienne, as I like to think she personally interceded for me three years ago so I could go back to confession after a long hiatus. I have attended mass and receive the sacraments quite regularly since then, and am active in parish ministry.  My poor efforts to take advantage of the gift I have given may not reflect well on my belief of her help, but I usually ask her to help me make a good confession when I go. I am still going regularly, even though I continue to fail quite frequently.

There are certain things in her and Von Balthasar’s writings that some scholars and theologians find to be seriously objectionable, so this may be a very long review process. I will write more about that in a future post.  If she is canonized, I think it will be very consequential for the Church.

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The Temptation to Despair

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The shadows beckon,

Pledging no expectation

And oblivion.

 

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The Furrow

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He drags the wood along the ground,

Carving a furrow in the soil,

A valley. Dark at the bottom.

We must follow the path

He has made for us.

 

If you do not follow the path,

You will not see the furrow.

Unless a grain falls in, nothing will grow.

We lose bit by bit if we follow ….

If we choose to follow.

The earth is wet with his blood and water.

Ready for us, waiting to give birth.

 

We do not climb a mountain in life.

We descend into a valley,

Which is really nothing,

(Not the chasm he leapt into)

To join the dust.

Give away every crumb

to this hungry earth.

For the bread is a gift.

We did not make it.

Take it in,

and let it go.

 

The furrow climbs up at the end, to him.

He will reach down and raise us up,

Grasping our empty hands.

 

 

 

 

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Seeds of Renewal: The Fairfield Carmelites

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From the Fairfield Carmelite website

In follow up to last week’s post, this post highlights the other new Carmelite community in the Diocese of Harrisburg.

In 2007, a group of Discalced Carmelites moved into a vacated monastery in Elysburg, Pennsylvania. Its formal name is the Carmel Of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Due to a significant increase in vocations, the Carmel requested permission to branch out, which was granted by Bishop Gainer. Land was purchased in Fairfield, Pennsylvania, which is located in Adams County near Gettysburg.

The community is constructing a new monastery using traditional methods that relies on heavy stones and wood timbers.  It is intended to be self-sustaining community  that will last many years.

They broke ground earlier this summer, and Bishop Gainer presided over a special mass and ceremony of enclosure in July.  Nine nuns are on site now, living in trailers. It has been a very hot and rainy summer in these parts, so I am sure it has not been very comfortable.  The Hermits referenced in my prior post are located nearby and offer Mass for the nuns and hear their confessions, I believe.

Like the Hermits in the prior post, this community embraces the traditional rule and charism of the Carmelites. The nuns are enclosed, wear the habit, pray and fast regularly, and perform manual labor. They do not run any profit-making business, and are dependent on donations.

They have a very nice website here, and there are opportunities to donate time, money or skilled or (unskilled) labor.

Here is a link to another website where you can donate your time or supplies to help the nuns or the hermits.

 

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First walls going up. From the Fairfield Carmelite website.

 

 

 

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Seeds of Renewal: The Hermits of Our Lady Of Mt Carmel

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From the gofundme site of The Hermits

Pennsylvania is now at the center of the scandal of clerical child abuse in the Catholic Church. A grand jury recently released a report on credible abuse allegations going back as far as 1947.  More information has also come to light about abuse in other regions, including the sexual abuse of seminarians, and the unchaste behavior of bishops and cardinals.

In these times of trial it is worth remembering that there are healthy, growing branches of the Church. And they need our help. In the Diocese of Harrisburg, we are blessed to have two relatively new Carmelite communities near Gettysburg, Pa. Carmelites, in brief, are members of a religious order who live apart from the world and devote their lives to prayer.  It is a very simple life.  No luxuries, no idleness. They wear the habit, fast regularly, and take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

This post spotlights The Hermits of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, which was recognized by the local Bishop earlier this year. This is a community of men who apparently observe the original Carmelite tradition, which is usually referred to as The Ancient Order of Mt. Carmel. They follow the Rule of St. Albert, which means a heavily structured day of prayer, worship, fasting and manual labor. Unlike some monasteries, they do not run any businesses, and are dependent on alms or donations. They will be praying and fasting in reparation for the many sins of the clergy.

Their website is here. You can donate there.

The order is young and growing, and has also started a gofund me campaign for the seminary studies of its new members at this link.

Thanks for any help you can give them.

 

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Cluny Media: Recovering the Catholic Tradition

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If you have read or follow this blog, you have noted that I tend to post a lot about Catholic poets, novelists or theologians, many of whose work has been out of print of late. And I have complained about this more than once.

Well, thankfully, I learned in the last year of a publisher that is bringing many of these titles back into the light.

Cluny Media is a publishing house that, in their words, is “dedicated to promoting the Catholic intellectual and cultural tradition and enhancing Catholic education by publishing quality editions of scholarly and popular works of theology, philosophy, literature, history, and science.”

They have reissued many (formerly?) well-known works from the 19th and through mid-20th century in the areas of fiction, poetry, philosophy, and theology.  I have saved myself a fair amount of money already by buying their very affordable and solidly printed editions, as opposed to paying $100 for a used and battered copy.

You will find names such as Bernanos, Bloy, Mauriac, Benson, Maritain, Peguy, etc. among their catalog. I am looking forward to reading several Sigrid Undset novels that are long out of print in America, but apparently will be reissued soon.

You will also find other, respected non-Catholic authors like P.G. Wodehouse or George MacDonald in their catalog.  Apparently the adoption of “print on demand” technology now allows small publishing houses to make long out of print books available for a reasonable price. They are adding new titles at a fairly rapid rate and I am not aware of any similar effort right now in the publishing community.

Their books are available at Amazon too, but it probably helps them if you order directly from their website. I will try to remember to do that too.

http://www.clunymedia.com

 

 

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Heureux Ceux …

This post is in response to a comment and question left by the translator Steve Rawcliffe at my prior post on Eve, a poem written by Charles Peguy.  Mr. Rawcliffe was looking for feedback on and examples of a translation of one of the most quoted quatrains from the poem.

In the French, the section reads:

Heureux ceux qui sont morts pour la terre charnelle,
Mais pourvu que ce fût dans une juste guerre.
Heureux ceux qui sont morts pour quatre coins de terre.
Heureux ceux qui sont morts d’une mort solennelle.

Heureux ceux qui sont morts dans les grandes batailles,
Couchés dessus le sol à la face de Dieu.
Heureux ceux qui sont morts sur un dernier haut lieu,
Parmi tout l’appareil des grandes funérailles.

Heureux ceux qui sont morts pour des cités charnelles.
Car elles sont le corps de la cité de Dieu.
Heureux ceux qui sont morts pour leur âtre et leur feu,
Et les pauvres honneurs des maisons paternelles.

 

I am only aware of two previous attempts to translate this section, and Peguy generally, into English. Both occurred in the mid-20th century. I’m not sure whether this is a reflection more on Peguy’s obscurity in the English speaking world or the state of modern poetry.

The excerpt below is free verse translation of this section by Julien and Anne Greene, from their book Basic Verities, which includes samples from many of Peguy’s works. This book is out of print, but Cluny Media (the subject of my next post), will be reissuing it soon.

 

Blessed are those who died for carnal earth

Provided it was in a just war.

Blessed are those who died for a plot of ground.

Blessed are those who died a solemn death.

 

Blessed are those who died in great battles.

Stretched out on the ground in the face of God.

Blessed are those who died on a final high place,

Amid all the pomp of grandiose funerals.

 

Blessed are those who died for carnal cites.

For they are the body of the city of God.

Blessed are those who died for their hearth and fire,

And the lowly honors of their father’s house.

 

The other version is a formal verse translation by Lady Lamb, which was included in The Mysteries of the Holy Innocents and Other Poems (this was reissued just this year by Wipf). Lady Lamb translated several excerpts of Eve, in addition to a translation of the poem named in the title.  She largely preserves Peguy’s paired rhyme scheme and the 12 syllable Alexandrine structure.

Happy are they who die for a temporal land,

When a just war calls, and they obey and go forth,

Happy are they who die for a handful of earth,

Happy are they who die in so noble a band.

 

Happy are they who die in their country’s defence,

Lying outstretched before God with upturned faces.

Happy are they who die in those last high places,

Such funeral rites have a great magnificence.

 

Happy are they who die for their cities of earth,

They are the outward forms of the City above.

Happy are they who die for their fire and their hearth,

Their father’s house and its humble honour and love.

 

Mr. Rawcliffe shared his version of the first quatrain:

Happy are those who die for this our carnal earth,
But let their death have been in a war that was just.
Happy are those who die for four corners of dust.
Happy are those who die removed from wit or mirth.

Mr. Rawcliffe, your  version seems to be a very faithful translation (except for the last line, as you note), arguably more faithful than Lady Lamb’s.  I have observed that in some of her other translations of Eve that she seems to sacrifice accuracy in order to preserve the rhyme scheme and meter. This is not a criticism, as I was forced to do the same in my version in a fair number of places. Your effort sounds fine to my untrained ear. I doubt that the rhythm could be duplicated in English for any length without a superhuman effort.

I find it difficult to advise you much beyond this, as I am not a professional translator (Eve was my first attempt) or fluent in French.  The only alternative that came to me, and this may sound very odd, is to change the last line to:

“Happy are those who die through a solemn rebirth.”

In the Christian faith, death is sometimes compared to a second birth, or being born into the next life, Heaven. And maybe “rebirth” connects in a way with the word “carnal” from the first line of the quatrain, with its association with flesh and sexuality? This keeps the rhyme scheme and the 12 syllable meter. But I think your version is perfectly acceptable, and its often best to go with our original instinct in these matters.

Personally, I am partial to formal verse, yet Eve is just so long that I think it would take a large team of dedicated translators to put together a complete, respectable version that mimics Peguy’s form. It may be easier (and saner) for someone to attempt a free verse version that both accurately conveys the meaning and has a pleasing rhythm.

Thank you very much for sharing your translation and comments. Good luck with your project.

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The Mystery of the Holy Innocents: Reissued

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Its been a good year if you enjoy the poetry of Charles Péguy. In a recent post, I noted how The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc had been adapted into a feature film.  I also just learned that an abridged English translation of the third book in Péguy’s great trilogy, The Mystery of the Holy Innocents, has been reissued for the first time since 1956, by the Wipf and Stock Company. I purchased my copy through Amazon.

The poem was translated by Lady Pansy Lamb, an English noblewoman who released it under her maiden name of Pansy Pakenham.  For whatever reason, she chose not to translate about a third of the poem, so we have yet to see a complete translation in English. Alexander Dru, who translated some of Péguy’s other works, provides a lengthy Introduction.  Lady Lamb also includes translation of four of Péguy’s shorter poems, as well as three excerpts from Péguy’s Eve, which may be the longest poem in the French language.

The Mystery of the Holy Innocents is very similar to The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, the second book in the trilogy. It is a long, free verse poem in which Madame Gervaise, who we meet in the first book, delivers a monologue to Joan of Arc in the voice of the Father.  A wide range of subjects are covered: the virtues, the Cross, prayer, justice, mercy,  the French people, etc. It concludes with a lengthy meditation on the Massacre of the Holy Innocents.

It begins:

I am, God says, Master of the Three Virtues.

 

Faith is a loyal wife.

Charity is a fervent mother.

But hope is a very little girl.

 

I am, God says, the Master of the Virtues.

 

It is Faith who holds fast through century upon century.

 

It is Charity who gives herself through centuries of centuries,

But it is my little hope

Who gets up every morning.

Lady Lamb states in a translator’s note that she cannot understand why Faith and Charity are capitalized, but hope is in lower case … My dear Lady, its because she is a little girl.  For Peguy, people could not help having Faith given the magnificence of creation, and Charity given our natural affections for one another. Having hope was the real surprise, and the greatest sign of something supernatural, given all the failure and misery in the world.  Why do the poor and oppressed have hope, given what they experience day in and day out? It is a sign of grace.

Now we just need for The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc to be reissued, and all three books will be available to the general public. I would watch the Cluny Media website. They seem to be publishing a lot of out of print works of fiction and non-fiction by Catholic authors.

 

 

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Win Bigly: A Spiritual Autobiography

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This post is about Scott Adams’ recent book on the art of persuasion, titled Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter. Warning: longish.

I.

This was an impulse borrow from my local library, and I checked it out without any preconceived notions or a plan to review it. I was intrigued by Adams because he was one of the few public figures who made a very early prediction that Donald Trump would become president, and maintained this posture through the end of the election (at great risk to his career and public image). However, this post is not about the President or the election, or much about  the art of persuasion, but rather the spiritual or metaphysical issues Adams touches on, intentional or not.

I will preface this by saying that I am a sinner and mediocre Christian, and it is very difficult to truly know what is going on inside another person, particularly in their spiritual life. However, I found Adams to be admirably open and transparent in writing this book. Without his confessions this type of review would not be possible.  For purposes of this review, I am going to assume everything he says is true, and see where that leads us.

Adams lets us know that the book is about more than the art of persuasion on the very first page:

I’m a trained hypnotist.  And I’m going to tell you about the spookiest year of my life. It happened between June 2015 and November 2016. Okay, that’s a little more than a year.

Everything you are about to read in this book is true, as far as I know. I don’t expect you to believe all of it. (Who could?). But I promise it is true, to the best of my knowledge.

(emphasis added)

Adams starts with the topic of “filters”, or the way a person interacts with the world. He  repeatedly states that “A good filter is one that makes you happy and helps predict the future.”  He identifies the filters he has tried so far in his life. He describes how he used the “Church filter” from the age of six to eleven. He was a practicing Methodist and attended Sunday school every week. However, he found that stories such as Jonah and the Whale strained his credulity to such an extent that he stopped believing and going to church.

He then transparently discusses the other filters he tried and discarded, including the “Alien Experiment” filter (e.g. that humanity is an experiment or computer simulation run by aliens), the “Atheist filter” and the “drug filter.” I find it interesting that there are a number of  very intelligent, successful people who subscribe to the computer simulation theory. Each of these proved unsatisfactory.  He finally arrived at the “moist robot” filter.

In the moist robot filter, human beings do not truly have free will or a soul. The brain is a machine that can be trained to develop useful habits, improve happiness, and predict the future (e.g. If I do A then B will result). The “persuasion filter”, the intended subject of the book, is a subset of the moist robot method. Adams argues that most of our decisions or opinions are not based on reason, but on emotional reaction to a stimulus. Persuasion is a tool to get others to do what you want that does not rely on evidence or reason. If you can identify a “Master Persuader” like Trump, you can get an edge on others in predicting what may happen next.

II.

The second part of the book goes on to discuss errors in reasoning, such as confirmation bias, and cognitive dissonance, which is a symptom of holding contradictory beliefs. He provides multiple examples of these from the election and other historic events.

In the third part, he breaks down what persuasion actually is, its elements, and how Trump and Clinton used it, to greater and lesser effectiveness, respectively. In the fourth part, he provides advice on how to use persuasion in business and politics.

Much of this is of little value to a Christian in carrying out the work of evangelization or simply providing a good witness through acts of faith, hope or love. I think Adams does make a good point about the futility of directly attacking others’ belief systems. I am very doubtful of the ability to argue someone out of their beliefs, particularly if it is atheism or agnosticism. Apologetics has a valued place, and we should tell the Truth if asked, but the Lord and the Holy Spirit are what changes minds. Like the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, God always makes the larger move.

III.

Part five is the most interesting, and probably the most unbelievable for many readers. However, as I said, I am going to accept everything he says as true to arrive at the question I asked myself after I finished the book.

He begins by condemning tribalism, which results in people making decisions based on group loyalty as opposed to the truth, or evidence.   Tribalism can be political party membership, but it can be excessive attachment to ethnicity, gender, cultural traditions, etc.. I think the best identity is to see yourself and everyone else as part of the Body of Christ (whether they have been baptized or not).

The last pages are the most interesting: Adams gets to the “spooky parts” and meets a ghost in the machine of his moist robot mind.

Adams talks about his dreams or how he imagined the events of the election taking shape.  Regardless of the scenarios, he had an unshakeable hunch that Trump would win. He shares his past experiences of having “visions” that came true. He claims to have had one at age 6 that he would grow up to become a famous cartoonist. He had others that he would later move to San Francisco, and also that he would become a well paid public speaker. All happened. He describes the visions as being different than a memory or an exercise in imagination. He claims to have had about a dozen of these spontaneous visions that came true.

He goes on to wonder whether his prediction even contributed to the Trump victory. The idea of our world being a simulation comes up again, and he includes an entire appendix on the topic.

This little bit that follows is for anyone reading this who is an agnostic or atheist, but is intrigued by the idea that our world is simulation. In a way, the idea that your life is a simulation is not contrary to the Gospel. What follows is an extended excerpt from a book about St. Therese by Von Balthasar:

The Christian needs to be “crucified to the world” (Gal 6:14) with the Lord, to undergo death and be buried with him (Col 3:3; 2:12), and then be sent back to the world as the leaven in the mass.

If he is to fulfill these demands and realize the mystery of his station, he needs also a veil of protection. United with Christ’s death and burial, the Christian now shares in his Resurrection, is even enthroned with him above the heavens (Eph 2:6; Col 2:12, 3:1);

In truth he lives in heaven and is a stranger here below. But so as to be able to bear this heavenly life without dying, without losing his earthly mission in the abyss of God’s mystery, his own life has, so to speak, to be withdrawn from him until his earthly mission is complete: “You have undergone death, and your life is hidden away now with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). *

Through baptism we receive a share in Christ’s death. Your real life, life to the fullest, awaits you in Heaven (John 10:10). The existence below is the “shadowlands”, which was the title of the last chapter in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle. Thinking this way also helps makes sense of Christ’s proclamations such as “Not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:18), or “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you” (Luke 10:18-20). Terrible things happen to people every day, but your true life is preserved in Heaven.  Your life in Heaven must be hidden for now, for a single full glance would kill you. Maybe you get to take a peek in your dreams, and your true self gives you glimpses of the future.

IV.

I am not providing a recommendation on whether to read or buy the book, and I do not have an opinion to share on his analysis of the election or the art of persuasion.

My main interest, as should be clear by now, is the mystical element. Are the spooky parts (e.g. the visions) true? I do not know. We have a baptized Christian that is not only not practicing their faith, but has apparently rejected it. Can the gifts of the Holy Spirit (of which prophecy is one) be operative in such an individual? We might think no, that faith and the gifts are a package deal. But this would negate the divine freedom of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to bestow their favors where they like. For example, we have the figure of Balaam from the Book of Numbers, a non-Jew who God used to prophesy to the Israelites.

So how shall we categorize Scott Adams then: Cartoonist, businessman … and prophet? He stuck to his guns on his Trump prediction despite all evidence that it would not come true. He acknowledges that there were some others who made similar ones, but in my view they were very late to the game, or lesser known figures with nothing to lose. Maybe his dreams are God’s way of trying to shake his self-reliance and open him to other possibilities?  A man with his talents could do a lot in service to the Lord.

I will continue to watch what Mr. Adams says (and pray for him), for as we often say, the Lord works in mysterious ways.   Discernment is important. Balaam, despite his initial obedience to God,  later preached wickedness and met a bad end.

*Two Sisters in the Spirit, Therese of Lisieux and Elizabeth of the Trinity, Hans Urs Von Balthasar (Ignatius Press, 1992)

 

 

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