Posts Tagged ‘writing’

My father lives in a different world than me.

He lives in Mallorca, Spain and the traditions are different in many ways. I always like to hear of the festivities for different occasions, so I sent an email asking him about Christmastide, and whether they decorate Christmas trees.  I received this long message which I want to pass on to my readers, complete with links and photos.  I am especially amazed by the snowflake lights.  At the bottom of the post you can listen to the song my father refers to in this message, sung by a child.

I hope you all have a meaningful Christmas celebration in honor of the Son of God who came to Earth to save us all.

Shalom,

Sister Olive

~♥~

Dear Dottir,

In the last decade or so, yes, Christmas trees, Santa Claus, elves and any commercialization possible has taken over.  Even here in this small village, in the little plaza up in town there is a Christmas tree with decorations.

Before this northern invasion, Christmas Eve was celebrated in the church, or quietly in the home, no tree, no gifts just a celebration of the birth and the mother.  Here on Mallorca and in Catalunya, they had another very strange custom. A young child sings the Sybila, a song of the Judgment Day. You can read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Song_of_the_Sibyl 

I have heard it sung many times over the years, because when I directed the church choir we were up in the organ loft, waiting for our turn to sing various Christmas songs from the region.  It is a haunting melody, very difficult for a child to sing, so they practice it for weeks before, no accompaniment of any kind, just that pure “white voice” as they call unchanged voices here. Here it is sung in a little church by a woman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfirOs1RGIc

In the Cathedral of Palma they make a real production of it, with full choir, organ and a young woman singing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aYV_Kqv44g– these may be beautiful, but I prefer the single child in the Deya church, innocently singing about the end of the world.  Every year a different child is chosen.

Before also, the decorations were basically “nerulas” or white paper cutouts like snowflakes, hung across the nave of the church and in houses.  The streets still are blazoned with lights, as traditionally – I first saw them in Barcelona in 1969 and was amazed. Take a look https://www.google.es/search?q=christmas+lights+in+Barcelona&hl=en&tbo=u&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ei=nZfRULDuGOyY0QWeuICoBA&ved=0CEMQsAQ&biw=1024&bih=614

As for myself, you know me – Stephanie and I would sometimes walk and look at the world, especially the stars which are exceptionally bright in winter, just appreciating Creation, perhaps lamenting its ultimate passing…

I will be doing that alone this year for sure, and will send my love to you all.  What I see from my balcony is this:

 Poppy's Window View

Where Chopin stayed in 1838 for the winter, so I have good company.

At night it is lit up, blocking the stars until late, when they are turned off.

 Poppy's View at Night

What will you be doing?  Have you found a compatible church where you can enjoy the songs of Christmas?

Lots of love,

Poppy

~♥~

Here is the link for the solo sung by a child, my favorite of the versions so far:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nANDw8XOHhU

 ~♥~

The Song of the Sibyl

On the Day of Judgment
The good go to heaven for their services.

An eternal King cometh
Dressed in our mortal flesh
He certainly will come from heaven
To judge the century.

Before the judgment is passed
A great sign will show itself
The sun will lose its shine
The earth will tremble with fear.

Then comes a mighty thunder
The sign of a great anger
In a hellish confusion
Rays and cries resound.

A great fire will fall from the sky
In a stench of sulfur
And the earth will burn furiously
And a great terror afflict people.

Then comes the terrible signal
A major earthquake
The rocks will break
And the mountains will collapse.

Then nobody will have gold pieces
Silver or wealth
And all await sentencing.

Death will leave you penniless
And all collide
Only men remain crying
And sadness will cover the world.

The plains and peaks are all the same
Good and bad will be achieved
Kings, dukes, earls and barons
They will have to account for their actions.

And then comes, unexpected
The son of God Almighty
He will judge the living and the dead
The good go to heaven.

The Unborn
Cry from the wombs of their mothers
And with her cries say
“Help us God Almighty”

Mother of God, pray for us
You, the Mother of All Sins
You have the judgment merciful
You have that paradise is open to us.

You who have heard it all
Pray to God with devotion
With all your heart and fervor
That should save us.

 ~♥~

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Title page of the First Folio, 1623. Copper en...

“Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes

Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,

The bird of dawning singeth all night long.

And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad.

The nights are wholesome. Then no planets strike,

No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,

So hallowed and so gracious is that time.”

 

Hamlet, Act I, Scene I

~♥~

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“I wished to show, in little Oliver, the principle of Good surviving through every adverse circumstance, and triumphing at last.”
~ preface to Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
I came across this amazing research essay called “Oliver Twist: Divine Child” and it fascinated me because I have always identified with Oliver, and this only reminded me of the many spooky correlations with my own life. Many of the characters even bear resemblance to people from my own story. Check it out if you are interested here: http://www.academia.edu/2631456/Oliver_Twist_Divine_Child_A_Jungian_interpretation 
I hope that the author will let me know if if there are any issues with me copying the link here…
 
Peace be with you,
Olive ~♥~

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English: hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com Good_ki...

Some of my happiest Christmas memories are of times spent Christmas caroling with the Quakers.  I remember one chilly December night when a group of Friends gathered at the meetinghouse in San Jose, California before getting bundled up  in coats and scarves and mittens, then we all stepped out  to sing carols to people in several neighborhoods.

We walked merrily down the sidewalk house-to-house and stopped in front of each doorstep to sing, and many people opened their doors gratefully to listen and smile. I remember the blinking Christmas lights in the windows and the cold breeze on my cheeks and the glowing lamp posts along our path. It was invigorating and peaceful as we went a-wassailing.  In our group of carolers, we took turns letting people pick out their favorite songs.  I always loved “Good King Wenceslas” and “Here We Come A-Wassailing” and “I Saw Three Ships.”

After we had caroled outside for some time, we drove to a nearby care home for the elderly and walked through the hallways. We joined up in a social hall full of residents and continued to sing happily.

One elderly gentleman wearing his pajamas and sitting in a wheelchair seemed especially moved by the music and soon wheeled over to a kind Quaker man named Larry Wolfe, who without hesitation invited the man to join us for a Christmas party at the home of another Quaker fellow.  The resident asked Larry to approach a nurse, who helped sign him out for the evening, and Larry brought him to our post-caroling celebration.  The old man was teary-eyed with joy for the entire evening eating holiday food and sipping spiced cider while someone played the piano and friends laughed and talked.  Because I was familiar with the compassion of Larry, I’m sure it was not the last time he and the old man spent together.

I wonder if caroling is illegal by now, like so many of our former religious freedoms. I have tried for several years now to find a church that still practices the tradition of Christmas caroling in public, and have even tried unsuccessfully to coordinate a group of carolers. People make all kinds of excuses such as they can’t sing in tune or they’re too busy with their family or whatever. But the truth is that we are so self-absorbed these days, trapped in our computers and technology and our own individual versions of the American dream, that we have no time for such things anymore.

Whenever I cut on the TV and see carolers on a Christmas special, I long for those days when real people did things together face-to-face and not through digital devices such as the one I am communicating through right now.

I wish we could all coordinate non-digital days to encourage more real human socialization, so that everything meaningful in our culture is not sacrificed upon the altar of technology.

Peace and Grace,

Sister Olive

~♥~

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My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken Me?” Matthew 27: 46

Diary of a Country Priest

Diary of a Country Priest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night I watched the French film, Diary of a Country Priest, and though it was pretty dreary and dark for the most part, there were moments that held great meaning for me. To provide you with a brief summary, the story is of a young priest who moves into a village where he is not well-received and he experiences poor health and many spiritual battles. From the beginning, he is told by an older priest that a true  priest does not expect to be loved, and also understands that all of his agonizing labors during the day are undone during the night. The young priest experiences alienation from the people he wants to bless and minister to.

As a believer, I was able to immediately identify with this young priest and his inner battles. The most powerful moment for me is after the priest concludes that God has left him and that he can no longer pray because everything in his being is fighting it, and he is thoroughly disillusioned and weary. The older priest comes to him and says that if the soul could possibly drag the body back two thousand years to be with Christ for a moment, it would carry him to one place- the olive grove. At that moment, the younger priest began to weep as he felt God’s grace fall upon him. He realized that Christ was sharing His Gethsemane experience with him- he called it “holy agony.”

That resonated with me very deeply because it is our human nature to want all of the good things but no unpleasantries- no sweat, tears, or anguish. As a believer, I would like to always be ministering and blessing people and experiencing God’s presence near me. But even Christ had to experience isolation, abandonment, and dreadful loneliness.

It made me wonder if I have been merely a “fair weather friend” to Christ or a sincere disciple. With an acquaintance, I can only share the surface of my life. But with my closest friends, I can reveal the deepest joys and agonies of my soul. So shouldn’t I feel privileged that Christ should share His deepest torments with me?

He wants us to heal and minister and share the gospel and be bold in our spiritual walk. But He also calls us to hunger and the temptation in the desert, rejection by people we love, and even the cross. The early disciples understood this and rejoiced when they were able to partake in Christ’s mental and physical suffering.

I am thankful that I have a whole new perspective today!

Peace be with you,

Sister Olive

~♥~

 

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The subject of mental dysfunction and depression is addressed by Joan Didion in “The White Album” and F. Scott Fitzgerald in “The Crack-Up”. Their treatment of this subject is similar and distinctive in several ways. Fitzgerald and Didion both reflect back to the time when they first realized that something was going awry in their minds, but Fitzgerald writes in a more straightforward and analytical manner about himself. He uses metaphor and humor more often, and Didion uses more physical description of objects and people to depict what is going on inside her mind.

 
In Fitzgerald’s essay, he writes about a nervous breakdown with an expository style, comparing his mental state to a broken plate. He tells the reader with startling honesty: “-And then, ten years this side of forty-nine, I suddenly realized that I had prematurely cracked” (140). Then he gradually reveals the details of his mental state:

I saw that for a long time I had not liked people and things, but only followed the rickety old pretense of liking. I saw that even my love for those closest to me was only an attempt to love….in the same month, I became bitter about such things as the sound of the radio, the advertisements in magazines, the screech of tracks, the dead silence of the country…hating the night when I couldn’t sleep and hating the day because it went toward night. (142)

He looks back at the warning signs that he did not recognize at the time, very clearly portraying the torments that he was experiencing, with such clarity that it almost makes the reader want to draw back, and examine whether they are familiar with such feelings. Then he describes how he began to feel a sense of worthlessness, and again uses the plate metaphor in a poignant fashion:

Sometimes, though, the cracked plate has to be retained in the pantry, has to be kept in service as a household necessity. It can never again be warmed on the stove nor shuffled with the other plates in the dishpan; it will not be brought out for company, but it will do to hold crackers late at night or to go into the ice box under leftovers. (144)

He is amazingly artful in his use of a common household object to depict himself as feeling inadequate for everyday purposes and ambitions, and it makes the reader feel sadness for the broken plate. The plate becomes almost a Disney animated character with feelings similar to “The Brave Little Toaster.”

 
Fitzgerald describes the middle of the night anxieties that are common to most humans when he writes “But at three o’clock in the morning, a forgotten package has the same tragic importance of the death sentence, and the cure doesn’t work- and in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day” (144). This passage actually has shock effect, because the reader is brought to the horrible realization that some people experience the three o’clock a.m. agonies throughout every day. In the same expository style, he informs the reader that “Trouble has no necessary connection with discouragement- discouragement has a germ of its own, as different from trouble as arthritis is different from a stiff joint” (146). He clarifies his own condition so well, making it evident that this species of discouragement is totally irrational and based on anxieties that have no rational basis. Then he says in a humorous tone, “I have the sense of lecturing now, looking at a watch on the desk before me and seeing how many more minutes-” (147). This humor is much needed at this point in his essay, because by now the reader is feeling very labored and distressed, and needs a bit of lightness. The watch also seems to connote an attempt to regain some control of his environment by measuring the time.

 
Joan Didion also writes as one looking back upon the years when her mental struggles began to manifest themselves. She said that it all started with her beginning to question all of the things that she had held true:

I am talking here about a time when I began to doubt the premises of all the stories I had ever told myself, a common condition but one I found troubling. I suppose this period began around 1966 and continued until 1971. During those five years, I appeared, on the face of it, a competent enough member of some community or another… (421)

The vagueness of her sentences creates a feeling that truth was becoming blurry to her, that nothing is really clear any more. She visits a psychiatrist and supplies the reader with his findings:

Patient’s thematic productions on the Thematic Apperception Test emphasize her fundamentally pessimistic, fatalistic, and depressive view of the world around her. It is as though she feels deeply that all human effort is foredoomed to failure, a conviction which seems to push her further into a dependent, passive withdrawal. (423)

She is expository in a way that is similar to Fitzgerald, but she describes her depression and anxiety without the metaphor or humor. However, she later uses language to present her confusion and growing paranoia in a fashion that engages the reader with dislocated scenes and events. In this segment, she describes a night when The Doors came to her house to practice before cutting an album:

There were three of the Four Doors. There was the bass player borrowed from the Clear Light. There were the producer and engineer and the road manager and a couple of girls and a Siberian husky named Nikki with one gray eye and one gold. There were paper bags half filled with hard-boiled eggs and chicken livers and cheeseburgers and empty bottles of apple juice and California rosé. There was everything and everybody The Doors needed to cut the rest of this third album except one thing, the fourth Door…(428)

The reader is entangled in this twisted collage of mismatched people and foods and the sense of disorder. The two colors of the eyes of the husky, the empty bottles, and the half-filled bags all seem to connote the growing vacuum of confusion and tension in the mind of the author. It also creates a strong sense of the time period and a subliminal feeling of being on mind-altering drugs.

 
As a reporter, Didion often had to prepare for travel on the spur of the moment. She describes a travel list that she kept on hand during this time, a list of things to collect before she departed on her frequent trips:

It should be clear that this was a list made by someone who prized control, yearned after momentum, someone determined to play her role as if she had the script, heard her cues, knew the narrative. There is on this list one significant omission, one article I needed and never had: a watch….I didn’t know what time it was. This may be a parable, either of my life as a reporter during this period or of the period itself. (438)

Here again is the watch, the symbol of control over one’s environment. This passage bears a resemblance to Fitzgerald, in that it depicts that the author is slipping into instability and a terrifying loss of control. The missing watch is an effective metaphor to recount a restless and chaotic time, and the author’s feeling that she was a victim of this time period in many ways.

 
The styles of both Didion and Fitzgerald allow the reader to go inside their minds and feel their pain and hopelessness. While Didion writes with an unpredictable style that creates a colorful collage of experiences, Fitzgerald is more analytical and stays on a set course in his writing.

Works Cited

The Best American Essays of the Century. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates. New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 2000. Print.

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I thought my readers might enjoy a series of short critical essays I wrote during graduate school about a variety of writers and subjects.  The first one is about the article called “He Knew He was Right” by Ian Parker in which he portrays Christopher Hitchens, the infamous spokesman for atheists who has since passed away.

Be aware that my formatting seems to be lost when I post here, even though I try in various ways to keep everything in order.

I hope that you gain something from the essays, and that all is well with you as you continue your own journeys.

Shalom,

Sister Olive

Ian Parker Portrays a Man of Polarizations

In the New Yorker article He Knew He Was Right, Ian Parker brilliantly portrays the political analyst and writer Christopher Hitchens. The author raises many questions about this man of contradictions who seems to delight in controversy and keeping an air of mystery around himself.

While raising questions about “the Hitchens apostasy, which runs from revolutionary socialism to a kind of neo-conservatism (141)”, Parker artistically and visually brings Hitchens into focus for the reader:

He still writes a great deal, at a speed at which most people read. And, at fifty-seven, he still has an arrest-photograph air about him- looking like someone who, with as much dignity as possible, has smoothed his hair and straightened his collar after knocking the helmet off a policeman (137).

By contrasting the image of a mug shot photo with the man smoothing his hair and straightening his collar, the writer uses physical description to show the reader how confusing this man’s personality can be.

He then shows Hitchens transforming from one character to another, when he describes a disagreement between Hitchens and some women over former presidential candidate Howard Dean:

….His tone tightened, and his mouth shrunk like a sea anemone poked with a stick; the Hitchens face can, at moments of dialectical urgency, or when seen in an unkindly lit Fox News studio, transform from roguish to sour (139).

Parker masterfully shows how Hitchens’s facial expressions can dramatically change in a moment if something brushes up against his current opinion.

He again addresses the matter of opposing attitudes and shifting views when he writes:

…those familiar with Hitchens’s work know that he has always thrived on sectarian battles, and always looked for ‘encouraging signs of polarization,’ a phrase he borrowed from his late friend Israel Shahak, the Israeli activist (141).

He seems to be suggesting here that Hitchens merely enjoys the drama of the battle, and that he is simply a performer, who can switch roles with ease.

At other times, Parker seems to admire Hitchens as a man who simply exercises his right to change his mind or make alterations to his views as he gains more knowledge about a subject. Sometimes, he seems to present Hitchens as someone who knows too much about the inner workings and corruption in government, and is tormented by that knowledge, which causes him to drink constantly and behave in other strange ways. He shows the darker side of his subject when he says:

…I arrived just before midday, and Hitchens said that it was “time for a cocktail”; he poured a large drink. His hair flopped over his forehead, and he pushed it back using the tips of his fingers, his hand as unbending as a mannequin’s (144).

The simile of the mannequin’s hand seems to represent how cold and unyielding Hitchens can be towards people of opposing views on issues.

Parker also shows more of the complexity of Hitchens’s character when he says: “At times, Hitchens can look like a brain trying to pass as a muscle. He reads the world intellectually, but emphasizes his physical responses to it” (155). He points out that often Hitchens tries to demonstrate his masculinity in the way that he reports in physical terms, as if he is a soldier in a real war, and not just a spectator writing about a subject.

Then Parker artistically uses Hitchens’s style of writing to show how he never backs up to make concessions or compromises about his opinions even when his views have radically fluctuated over time:

…He almost never uses the backspace, delete, or cut-and-paste keys. He writes a single draft, at a speed that caused his New Statesman colleagues to place bets on how long it would take him to finish an editorial. What emerges is ready for publication, except for one weakness: he’s not an expert punctuator, which reinforces the notion that he is in the business of transcribing a lecture he can hear himself giving (164).

It is very masterful how the writer uses visual scenes and incidents to show the nuances of Hitchens and his character. By juxtaposing Hitchens’s physical demeanor with his ideological inconsistencies, the author reveals how Hitchens can be such an anomaly to everyone around him. Parker cleverly leaves the reader with no answers but only more questions- the profile ends as an unsolved mystery about a man that knows he is always right.

Works Cited

Parker, Ian. “He Knew He was Right.” Best Magazine Writing 2007. (2007): 137-167.

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