3 Big Thank-You’s

Allow me to take a moment, gentle reader, to scribble down three notes of thanks:

1. CatholicMom.com

My “New Media Sister” Sarah Reinhard (and “Domer Tailgater Mom” Lisa Hendey), very kindly added me to their roster of bloggers to know about over on CatholicMom.com this week.  Mrs. Reinhard interviewed me for this piece some time ago, and kindly allowed me to both speak to my own experience in media, as well as get in a bit of humor at the end, while saying some very kind things about me, herself.  I’m really honored to have been included. Thanks and God bless, CatholicMom.com!

2. WordPress.Com

The editors at WordPress have once again selected one of my posts for spotlighting in their “Freshly Pressed” section.  The piece in question was this one, which rose out of news that London’s National Gallery was going to reverse a long-standing policy, and allow museum visitors to take photos.  The editors complimented my taking a general overview of the subject of photography inside museums, and encouraging readers to share their own thoughts and opinions about the question.  This is now the 5th time that I’ve been selected for “Freshly Pressed”, and I’m just as grateful today for their most recent nod of approval: thank you very much indeed, WordPress.

3. YOU.

Finally, my thanks to you, dear reader, for subscribing to this blog, or bookmarking and dropping by when you’re in the mood for something to read. It’s always wonderful to be recognized by your peers, particularly when you don’t work in media for a living, but no recommendation or accolade means as much as knowing that your readers enjoy what you write enough to want to stick around.  I offer you my sincere gratitude for your continued patronage of these virtual pages.

"Chez Tortoni" by Edouard Manet (c. 1878-1880) Stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston in 1990

“Chez Tortoni” by Edouard Manet (c. 1878-1880)
Stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston in 1990

 

Taking the Right Book: Walking with Mary

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ve been trying to make more time for reading actual books lately, as opposed to having nearly all of my reading material come from an electronic screen.  When I started reading “Walking with Mary” by Edward Sri the other day however, I got a few pages in and immediately stopped, because I realized I wanted to read it somewhere other than on the couch.  I saved it to read on a mini-retreat I had last Saturday at the Priory of the Dominican House of Studies here in D.C.; as you will see at the end of this post, it was providential that I did.

In his book, Dr. Sri examines the life of the Virgin Mary from a Biblical perspective, focusing on the Gospels of St. Luke and St. John, and thereby taking us on a spiritual journey along with her, in order to try to understand both her Son and the working of God’s Will in her and indeed in our own lives a bit better.   From the Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel to the young girl in Nazareth, to the sorrowful mother at the foot of the Cross on Calvary, we are reminded that what we know now, Mary did not know then.  Dr. Sri shows us what a truly great woman of faith Mary was, because she did not know how everything was going to play out, only that God had made a promise: her faith that He would keep His promises kept her going, and can help us to keep going as well.

Dr. Sri takes the time to pause and examine words which, when translated into English, we may not stop to think much about, but which in the original text have a more profound significance.  For example, he explains how at the Annunciation, when Mary gives her “Yes” that God’s Will be done and that she bear the Messiah, the word she uses is not one implying meek resignation, but rather a joyful embrace of what is being asked.  In accepting what God wants her to do, Mary does not simply shrug her shoulders and say, “Sure, okay,” but more like, “Yes! Let’s do this!”

In looking at the life of Christ, Dr. Sri also takes the time to point out some of the thought-provoking parallels that we can pick up by more closely reading and paying attention to the Gospel accounts.  Thus, when Jesus enters the world at the Nativity, he does so in humility, poverty, and suffering, brought about at the hands of the Romans who have not only occupied Israel, but are forcing the heavily pregnant Virgin Mary to travel with St. Joseph to Bethlehem for a census.  Similarly, as Jesus heads to Golgotha, he does so in humility, poverty, and suffering, having been tortured and condemned to death by that same Roman Empire.

Dr. Sri finds many such Biblical bookends for us to consider throughout this very thoroughly-researched, yet highly readable book.  In St. Luke’s Gospel, just as the Infant Jesus is wrapped in linen and laid in a borrowed manger, so Jesus the Man is wrapped in linen and laid in a borrowed tomb.  In St. John’s Gospel, we see that the Virgin Mary is there at the very beginning of Christ’s public ministry, when he performs His first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, and addresses her for the first time as “Woman”.  She is also there at the very end of that ministry on Calvary, when He addresses her as “Woman” for the last time as He sheds his blood.  The way in which the wheels which she set in motion at Cana by asking Him to step into the public eye for the first time, and at last come to their fulfillment on Calvary, is something I had not deeply considered before.  And Dr. Sri’s thoughts on Mary as the new Eve, alongside the significance of wine in the Bible, which he covers toward the end of the book, were extremely impressive.

I spent Saturday afternoon reading this book in the chapel of the Priory, and after finishing it I made my way to the front door to leave.  As I did so I happened to stop to glance at a table across from the porter’s desk, where there are always brochures and handouts for the taking.  There, I just so happened to find a stack of postcards, announcing that Dr. Sri is going to be leading a Washington Archdiocesan mens’ retreat this coming Sunday, March 22nd.  Clearly in taking this particular book along to Dominican House, if I might paraphrase the old knight in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, I had chosen wisely.  While I myself am not going to be able to attend this conference with Dr. Sri, those gentlemen reading this post here in the D.C. area certainly can.

Yet regardless of whether you can go along to meet the man or not, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Dr. Sri’s “Walking with Mary”.  If you are seeking some good spiritual reading this Lent, you will not be disappointed. And throughout the year, in the journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem, Dr. Sri’s book would be a wonderful companion as we go through the liturgical seasons, as indeed is the woman who is its subject.

Detail of "The Visitation" by the Master of the Aachen Altarpiece (c. 1480) Aachen Cathedral, Germany

Detail of “The Visitation” by the Master of the Aachen Altarpiece (c. 1480)
Aachen Cathedral, Germany

Read This Blog – Then Go Read a Book

If you’re reading this blog post, chances are that, like me, you’re reading “stuff” all day long. You glance at the news headlines online and scroll through the blogs you subscribe to; you sift through emails and text messages; you open the mail, read office memos, and so on.  Thanks to these multiple demands on our attention, I suspect many of us who enjoy reading find it difficult to put aside some time to sit down and read a book.

For a bookworm like myself, this is also a practical problem.  When people know that you love books, you tend to receive books as gifts, such as at Christmas or on your birthday.  Similarly, should you find yourself at an event where books are being given away, or where there is a book-signing, you can’t help but pick up a few volumes for yourself.  Within the past six months alone, while I choose not to actually count and tell myself the real number, I would say that I have thus accumulated about two dozen books.

As time passes that stack of unread books, which you have done little more than crack open to have a thumb through, grows ever taller.  Perhaps you hide them away somewhere so you don’t have to look at them, but in the back of your mind you know they are still there, verbally haunting you with a plaintive cry of, “Read me!”  You may even feel guilty about the fact that for months now, these things have been waiting for you to give them a try, while you have wasted countless hours online watching cat videos, arguing about sci-fi movies, or taking quizzes to find out which 90’s pop idol you are (Justin Timberlake, apparently.)

Far be it from me, someone who loves and appreciates what good the internet can do, to tell you to stop using it altogether.  Plenty of good reading material can be found online, and we can use the internet wisely as a tool to expand our knowledge of a subject.  There is also the social aspect of reading something on the internet, which can quickly and easily be shared with our online communities – something that a solitary reader of a book would find it difficult or impossible to do.

Yet that being said, there is nothing quite like settling down on the couch or under the covers with a new book, and savoring the words within it, all by yourself.  Within the pages of a book there is no “share” button to click on, no comments section to scroll through, no ads for unwanted or unpleasant products on the side.  There are only words, which have to stand or fall on their own, depending on how adept the writer is at stringing them together.

The problem remains, however: where do we find the time to have these experiences?

As my readers know, I decided to give up Facebook for Lent, apart from a cursory visit on Sunday mornings just to clear out my inbox and notifications.  Over the past couple of weeks, with that activity out of my life, I have been reading like mad: six books so far.  True, that’s not much of a dent in the stack of unread volumes I need to get through, but it’s a decent start.

The pleasure of quietly reading, with only the scraping sound of a turning page to break the silence, is something too easily drowned out in the noisy assault of media on our senses.  When we are constantly bombarded with visual and audible stimuli, the subtleties of language and the joy of a well-chosen turn of phrase or insightful observation can be utterly lost.  On top of which, I had forgotten that when I pick up a book, I’m reminded that in reading other people’s work, I’m often inspired to pursue my own writing interests.

So now that you’ve read this post, gentle reader, my challenge to you is to go read something else, preferably bound between two covers and printed on paper. Turn off the computer and the television, silence the phone, and spend some time enjoying an activity which today, we too often take for granted among all the bells and whistles of 21st century technology.  For wonderful as that technology is, there really is no substitute anywhere in new media for the experience of quietly paging through a good book.

Detail of "Crackers in Bed" by Norman Rockwell (1921) Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Mass.

Detail of “Crackers in Bed” by Norman Rockwell (1921)
Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Mass.