Tag Archives: Christianity

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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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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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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Jeannette: Péguy goes to the movies

 

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Well, I never expected this.

Apparently the French director Bruno Dumont has adapted Charles Péguy’s The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc into a feature film. It was released in France last fall, and has popped up at a few American film festivals.  Unless you live in a big city, you will probably have to get the DVD or stream it to see it.

 

… And he turned it into a musical with a rock score. Wow.  From viewing the trailer, I can tell that he is using the names of the characters and I do recognize a few lines of dialog from Péguy’s prose poem/play.

The Village Voice describes the film as “pious,” so it sounds like the director intends a faithful adaptation.  They do criticize the method, though acknowledging that Dumont has a “streak of madman genius about him.” So you may very well hate or love the film.

The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc was the first piece in Péguy’s great trilogy of book length poems (followed by The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, and The Mystery of the Holy Innocents), published shortly before World War One.

If you are not familiar with the book, this will not be like other filmed versions of Joan’s life. It will not focus on the later military campaigns or her martyrdom. It is about the origin of Joan’s mission.

Péguy is a very important artist for some Catholic theologians, and Pope Francis has quoted from his works a few times.  If you were surprised by the Pope’s alleged comments about Hell a few weeks ago, Péguy may be relevant.  The concept of solidarity was very important to Péguy, and he wondered aloud whether solidarity extended to those in Hell. The ultimate fate of those souls who go to Hell was an element in some of Adrienne Von Speyr’s spiritual commentaries, which were edited and published by the Catholic theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar.

I think that Hell exists, and that a soul can go to Hell by refusing God’s mercy at the end of their life and the particular judgment. One of many questions raised by Péguy in The Mystery,  and by Adrienne in some of her writings, involves the scope of Christ’s “descent into hell” after his crucifixion. Does Christ’s solidarity extend to those in Hell in any way, and if it does, what are the implications of that? Can the damned change their mind through some extraordinary grace? I suspect that the Italian atheist the Pope spoke to may have been attempting, in a very poor way, to recapture Francis’ speculation on similar questions. I acknowledge such speculation is very controversial, and would appear to conflict with Church tradition as expressed in the Catechism that Christ did not descend to save those who had already damned themselves by refusing God’s mercy. The issue is discussed with much greater detail in Balthasar’s book Dare we hope that all may be saved? and the many responses to it.

I blogged about Péguy’s book last year. I will probably do a movie review after I have seen it.

 

 

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Song of Sorrow: A new hymn for Holy Week

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Ecce Homo by Mateo Cerezo

 

This post is especially for those who may be involved with music or divine worship at their church.

A few weeks ago, I heard a new hymn sung during the offertory at the Palm Sunday mass I attended. I am not sure I got chills, but it was close.  As I was listening to the organ I could tell that the arrangement was based on the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.  I tracked down the director of our music program and he told me the hymn was called “Song of Sorrow.”

I learned that it was composed by the American Patrick Liebergen, and apparently published in 2011. The sheet music can be obtained at:

https://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/song-of-sorrow-sheet-music/19701678

It can be described as a dirge, and our director said its only appropriate for use during Holy Week, which I would agree with.  I found a few videos on Youtube I thought I would share.

I am not a musician or artist but, in all vanity, I think I have very good aesthetic judgment.  I think this is a great hymn to be added for Holy Week services, probably either for a Palm Sunday or Good Friday service.

The first clip is from a church that has a fairly large choir. I completely agree with all the comments of the music director, particularly when he described it as “unique” in some ways.

 

The second clip is from a church with a smaller choir. I am including it to show that I think the hymn can be effective whether you have a big or large church.

 

I do think it works better with male and female voices singing different parts, as suggested by the gentleman in the first clip.

I have never posted before on music, but I did for this one. Why? I believe that Beauty is an important element of our worship and adoration. Beauty is one of the three Transcendentals, and points to the other two: Truth and Goodness. I tried to express this in a poem I wrote a while back.

There is evidence, and even data, that beauty, particularly beautiful churches, attract people to explore the faith. If you are in a diocese or other region where your church is considering consolidating churches, maybe you need to think hard about keeping the more beautiful ones.

“Song of Sorrow” is unusual in that I think the lyrics and the power of Beethoven brings home the pathos of the Passion, which is sometimes overlooked in our Joy about the Resurrection.

In the above clips the choir is accompanied by piano. I think it works better with an organ (which is how I heard it at mass).

 

The lyrics, as best I can tell, are as follows:

 

Oh Lord of Sorrow, Jesus Have Mercy,

Holy and Mighty, I pray to thee.

 

(Refrain)

Lord of Creation, Bring Your Salvation,

Oh Lord of Sorrow, You died for Me.

Lord of Creation, Bring Your Salvation,

Oh Lord of Sorrow, You died for Me.

 

Oh Lord at Calvary,

Have mercy hear my plea,

My Savior set me free,

Hear my humble plea.

 

They crowned your head with thorns,

And mocked your name with scorn

(Nailed on the cross …)?

Hear my plea and set me free.

 

Refrain, etc.

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His Forbearance

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His Forbearance

Not to pluck this flower,
Which bides inside this bower,
And lies within his power:
His strangest trial,
Perhaps to smile,
And forbear a little while.

And oh to hear his laughter,
At us who would be master.
Impatiens so sought after
And asters would fly faster.
But too soon a prune, before the bloom,
Not June, but a disaster.

A Shasta seeks a ladder
To scale some frail hereafter.
Yet better stay a daisy,
And linger long and lazy.
For too soon a bloom, before the groom,
Not June, but a disaster.

And Susans may be hasty
To grasp for shady rapture.
Rather black eyes capture,
The patience of Our Lady.
For too soon the groom, before there’s room,
Not June, but a disaster.

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