A Close Encounter of the Whimsical Kind

“Laugh and grow strong,” St. Ignatius said; and to one of his novices, “I see you are always laughing, and I am glad of it.” Humor is a quality I don’t usually attribute to saints, let alone to God. Of all of my defects, perhaps my greatest involves being too serious. Sometimes, I let the stress of daily work and family life hinder my ability to laugh and enjoy life to the fullest. I have often written about how Wednesdays seem to be the highlight of my week. Please see my past articles for a brief history of encountering silliness in the middle of the week: https://thesimplecatholic.blog/2017/06/09/a-whimsical-wednesday-encounter-with-wonder/   and https://thesimplecatholic.blog/2017/08/25/another-whimsical-wednesday-encounter-with-wonder-at-the-pizzeria/   laughter_health_benefits_smiley_face.jpg

This Wednesday I experienced a whimsical and encounter with wonder yet again— this time through the simple joy of reading the Wizard of Oz to my daughter. Our journey to the magical land of Oz Began several weeks ago as I started to read a chapter from L. Frank Baum’s Book each night to my daughter. To quote Andrew Bernard from The Office, “I wish you had a way of knowing you were in the old of days before you left them.” I certainly had that sentiment as I cuddled with my 4 year old on the couch and told her the fantastical journey of Dorothy’s motley crew toward the Emerald City of Oz.

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Divine encounters always seem to occur in the most unlikely of places and manners. In the Old Testament, Moses encountered God in the guise of a burning bush. During the book of Acts, the Gentiles learned about God through the witness of Peter and the rest of the Apostles. My children as fruits of the sacrament of Matrimony—the tangible experience of God’s love and laughter in my life. Reading about Dorothy’s quest to see the Wonderful Wizard, I witnessed the delight of whimsy and wonder in my child’s eyes. Telling her about the cyclone, Kalidahs—hybrid bear-tiger creatures, yes these are actually a thing that the movie left– (maybe there is where the ♫ Lions, and Tigers, and Bears…oh my! ♫ came from Person Shrugging on Apple iOS 11.2),  and the encounter with the Witched Witch renewed my own spirit of wonder and awe.

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Saint Mother Therese spoke of laughter by saying, “Joy is the net of love by which we catch souls.” My whimsical encounter with wonder pulled me out of despair. Sometimes it takes the simple joys in life–in this case, reading to my child a classic book– to remind me that it is okay to laugh and possess hope during my pilgrim journey towards holiness. I need not always be austere in order to follow God’s plan of salvation. God wants us to enjoy the simple joys and wonders this world has to offer!

Thank you for sharing!

My 2018 Resolutions

Normally I do not formally publish my New Year’s Resolution as I try to incorporate my goals throughout the calendar year anyways. This year is a little bit different as I currently am in a slump of desolation.

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Writing down a list of goals would be able to jump start my personal development. While smaller miniature goals will come and go throughout 2018 as the seasons change I want to spell out my top five 2018 resolutions I want to strive constantly:

  1. Attend Eucharistic Adoration Once a Month: Jesus tells us that he is the bread of life. It only makes sense that in order to grow closer in my relationship Him I go more frequently to Eucharistic Adoration. I really have no good excuses to fail this goal.

 

  1. Attend Confession Once a Month: Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21-23) God gifted humanity with the opportunity to receive forgiveness of our sins against Him, our neighbor, and ourselves. This grace is free and I need to make better and more frequent use of this opportunity to experience God’s Mercy in 2018.

3. Exercise Patience: As a husband and a father of three young children, I am given many opportunities to share God’s love. Unfortunately, in 2017 I failed a lot. I pledge to use family life as a way to grow more in holiness in 2018.

4. Exercise My Muscles: Along with growing in holiness, I resolve to exercise at least three times a week to acquire a healthier lifestyle. I always felt more energized after working out and hopefully this momentum will propel me towards a better spiritual life as well!

5. Read at least 10 Minutes a Day: I am already doing this goal for the most part. From the time of elementary school to the present I have always been an avid reader. I want to continue this part of my life in 2018.

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St. Josemaria Escriva wrote in his spiritual work The Way, “Make few resolutions. Make specific resolutions. And fulfill them with the help of God” (no. 249). We need the Holy Spirit to aid us in our life’s journey and maintaining our New Year’s resolutions in 2018 [and beyond]. I ask that you pray for me to help me in my spiritual journey on this earth and please know you all are in my prayers as well. God Bless you and your family during 2018!

Thank you for sharing!

2 Ways I Relate to Max Lucado’s You are Special

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John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae reminds us, “when the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life; in turn, the systematic violation of the moral law, especially in the serious matter of respect for human life and its dignity, produces a kind of progressive darkening of the capacity to discern God’s living and saving presence” (no. 21). Admittedly, I have seen the danger of the reduction of humanity which results in a loss of dignity of the individual person. Days when I struggle with patience, I sometimes reduce my children as tasks to be managed and the ultimate goal is getting them to bedtime by the arbitrary deadline I impose on the family.

As a person with OCD, it is a daily battle to combat my compulsive urges for order and stability. Unfortunately, my control-everything mindset does not simply reside in my home-life—it seeps into the workplace as well. I get to be so goal-driven and task-oriented that sometimes I miss the entire purpose of my job [and well, any job for that matter]—to help others! Over the past couple weeks, I sought out acknowledgement from the superiors in my department and I got a little frustrated when I did not constantly receive “corporate praise”.

St. Teresa of Avila once said, “There is more value in a little study of humility and in a single act of it than in all the knowledge in the world.” I would do well to heed this advice. I am grateful I came across the saint’s words as I began a fresh week. Focusing on the virtue of humility got my mind thinking. Eventually, my thoughts landed on a book from our living room bookshelf—Max Lucado’s You are Special. A staple in any children’s library, this is a story that I relate to more and more with each passing year. As amazing and wise as John Paul II and Teresa of Avila, are God mysteriously stirred the story of the Wemmicks in my long-term memory bank to remind myself the true meaning of life! Let me explain:

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  1. God is a Merciful Judge: The tale begins with the average day for wooden creatures known as Wemmicks. Tirelessly, grey dots and golden stars are being placed on each individual. Dots represent a defect in a Wemmick whereas stars signify a positive attribute. All the Wemmicks were created by the same woodcarver—Eli. Punchinello is a Wemmick who receives only grey dots—and a lot of them! Over the course of the book, he gets to encounter an unblemished Wemmick without the stain of either dots or stars. Punchinello learns that visiting Eli on his hilltop residence grants Wemmicks the knowledge that they do not have to be defined by the type of markings they gave each other, and we even find out that the love of Eli prohibits dots or stars from sticking to the wooden creatures!

An obvious allegory for the Christian life, I am reminded that any good reward [or lack thereof] I receive at work does not increase or decrease my dignity as a human person or as an adopted son of God. God is a merciful judge in that He allows every day to be a new opportunity to love Him and to love my neighbor. The reception of confession is a powerful tool I have utilized in the past couple months to help combat my scrupulosity.

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  1. Doors of Hell are Locked from the Inside: A second lesson gained from You Are Special is that it is my own pride and limited world outlook that prohibits me from experiencing a foretaste of Heaven in this life. I am reminded of the famous quip of C.S. Lewis about the Afterlife, “The doors of hell are locked from the inside!” What this means is that the misery and despair of hell—that is existing apart from God—is self-imposed. I certainly experienced a hellish existence over the past three weeks. I sought to gain control over both work and home. I veered off the road of holiness . Max Lucado’s book reminded me that despair may be cured with a visit to my Heavenly Father. I need only to give permission to the Holy Spirit to enter into me.

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You are special. I am special. Because of the sin of pride, constant temptations of material goods, and the busyness of daily life we forget the merciful love of God. I will conclude with the Act of Contrition to remind us of God’s mercy and forgiving nature:

O my God, I am sorry for my sins because I have offended you. I know I should love you above all things. Help me to do penance, to do better, and to avoid anything that might lead me to sin. Amen.

Thank you for sharing!

The Magic of Living

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What am I doing here? Is this all to life? Sitting in my work cubicle these thoughts occasionally cross my mind. Struggling with the daily routine of work and family life, my mind tends to wander off toward fantasy. I think part it is it due to a desire to escape my mundane situation. Reading fantasy allows me to attain that escapism while remaining in the comfort of my living room. After putting my children to bed and waiting for my wife to return from errand-running, I had some free time to read. Picking up Chesterton’s Orthodoxy I spent about twenty minutes navigating his semi-autobiographical work. Suddenly, I stopped at a passage from his fourth chapter entitled The Ethics of Elfland. The great English wordsmith writes, “I have said that stories of magic alone can express my sense that life is not only a pleasure but a kind of eccentric privilege” (Orthodoxy p. 54).

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In other words, life is not something to be merely enjoyed via self-gratification, but rather my existence on this earth should be viewed through the lens of privilege—life is a free gift. My children point to this reality, often lost as we reach adulthood, that life should be joyful. The strangeness and idiosyncrasies of the universe should be something to revel in, not quake at the seeming despair when we encounter things and events that do not fit our controlled world. On the other end of the adult’s worldview is perceiving re-occurrence as a bad thing or something to be avoided. Chesterton put it this way,

All towering materialism which dominates the modern world rest ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation known to fact…A man varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue…For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony, It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon (Orthodoxy pp. 50-51).

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Wonder and awe stems from the ability be amazed at creation even if it is the hundredth or thousandth time viewing a starry night or noticing a bird gathering straw for her nest. Children possess the magic of living—the ability to love life despite doing the same activity over and over again. Monotony, dullness, and lethargy did not enter the vocabulary of the youth. Chesterton reminded me that I need to return to my youth. I need to jettison the false assumption that repetition is inherently bad and variety alone leads to life!

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I need not enter the Pevensie’s wardrobe, or a supernatural rabbit hole, or even run headfirst toward a brick-wall on an English train station between platforms 9 and 10 [although I did visit this fictional landmark during my trip to Europe!! 🙂 ]. Instead, I am able to encounter magic in this life by visiting my children’s closet as I gaze at the array of Lego men and women scattered in an apparent random order on top of, within, and under the closet shelves. What adventures are they going on today? I can also lower myself to the level of my youngest son as his eyes open with joy at the sound of the door opening. He enjoys leaving in the morning as he gets to meander outside and gaze at the wheels of my car. How incredibly simple, yet fulfilling would life be if I approached every day as a magical experience? The life of children is akin to that of our Divine Creator—they do not get bogged down by the monotony [apparent monotony that is] in this world. I ask for the Holy Spirit to enliven my soul to view any dullness and routine in my life as a gift!

***Perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony, It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon”***

Thank you for sharing!

Planetary Peregrination III—Reviewing C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength

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The solar eclipse provided a unifying effect on the world, albeit momentarily, when people stood outside to witness the splendor of the moon covering the sun. 2017 seems to be the year of space: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 premiered in May, Star Trek: Discovery will launch in September on CBS, and finally Star Wars: Episode VII The Last Jedi comes to theaters in December. Science fiction fans and astronomers get to experience a solar-system’s worth of story-lines to satisfy their cosmic cranial cravings!

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Traveling the across the imaginative galaxies, I have been currently reading Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy comics. The subject of space travel ignites a creative fire in my mind. Peculiar surroundings and new literary beings I encounter through the medium of science fiction point toward a higher reality than the drudgery I face on a daily basis. Today, I am going to provide an analysis and my opinion on the final novel of C.S. Lewis’ epic Space Trilogy—That Hideous Strength. Having read the first two books multiple times and the setting occurring on other planets, I found it fairly easy to compose reviews.  Please bear with me as I gather “strength” to complete my thoughts on this final installment of Lewis’ SF series.

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Back on Earth

While the events Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra occur largely on the Mars and Venus respectively, That Hideous Strength’s setting is grounded to Earth. Along with the change in scenery, the primary character of the Space Trilogy—Dr. Elwin Ransom—was absent for a sizeable chunk of this third novel.

Lewis starts the book focusing on a cast of individuals, an academic Mark Studdock, his wife Jane, and Lord Feverstone, director of National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments [N.I.C.E]. N.I.C.E. is an institution that seeks to implement social control for individuals. Unaware of the events of the previous two books, Jane begins to receive visions in her sleep. Initially, she is transported to St. Anne’s hospital because the dreams are believed to be psychologically, not divinely inspired.

Reality is More than You See

Persistence of Jane’s visions causes her and Mark’s marriage to strain. Dr. Elwin Ransom finally makes his appearance in chapter seven. The prophetic revelations Jane experienced Ransom tells the reader were actually a warning about an upcoming war.

Ransom details the events of Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra to Jane. He explains that reality is not limited to the physical realm. Ransom serves as the king [Pendragon] of the legendary kingdom of King Arthur.

In keeping with the mythology of the first two books, Lewis reveals that Lord Feverstone is actually Richard Devine- foe to Ransom in Out of the Silent Planet. Feverstone is determined to really be working on behalf of the fallen Oyarsa [demons/fallen angels] who seek to exploit human greed and selfishness with and end game of total annihilation of humanity.

When Nice Isn’t Nice

Lewis incorporates Christian elements into That Hideous Strength maintaining the theological tracks he built earlier in the Space Trilogy. He juxtaposes the scientific materialistic philosophy of N.I.C.E. against the traditional Christian worldview that is embodied by the Random-led camp at St. Anne’s.

Over the mode of fiction, Lewis shows that while humanity naturally have a selfish tendency, our sinfulness cannot be overcome except through the aid of God. The agenda of the fallen angels [Lewis calls them eldila] under the guise of nicety and scientific advancement believed that true progress could only occur if the flesh of humanity was destroyed.

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I discovered that the meaning of the title—That Hideous Strength—is a reference to the Tower of Babel. A new Tower of Babel, the building that housed N.I.C.E represented humanity’s attempt to control nature and unify through man-made efforts alone. Genesis 11:4 tells us of the pride of a united humanity,

“Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky,* and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.”

Unity for the Greater Good or Control?

Unification under a common purpose breeds the potential for good, but also may lead to potential for evil. In the ninth chapter Elwin Ransom reflects on the possibility of his enemies [the fallen angels] on the verge of achieving artificial resurrection of the body [i.e. artificial immortality], “Despair of objective truth had been increasingly insinuated into the scientists; indifference to it, and a concentration upon mere power, had been the result” (p. 200)  We only need to look back last century on what concentration of power in the “greater good” looks like under a Hitler or a Stalin.

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The Verdict

Honestly, I would give That Hideous Strength 3.5 out of 5 stars. Initially, I found the shift in plot and scenery to be laborious to follow. This book seemed disconnected from Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. Along with the new set of characters, the late arrival of Dr. Ransom left me confused.

After reading the book a second time, I gained a new found respect for Lewis’ contribution to science fiction and the completion of his Space Trilogy. The Christians become more evident the second time around- especially the theme of the New Tower of Babel. Hidden in the final pages of That Hideous Strength is a subtle, yet curious allusion to Middle Earth.

According to Bradley Birzer in The Challenge: How C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy Came into Being“Lewis had borrowed significantly from Tolkien’s Atlantean world of Númenor. Númenor, corrupted as “Numinor,” appears nine times in That Hideous Strength as well as in one of Lewis’s poems, “The End of the Wine”.

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Impact of Lewis’ Friendship with Tolkien on Writing The Space Trilogy

C.S. Lewis was also a contemporary and close friend to the Lord of the Rings’ creator J.R.R. Tolkien. May it be possible that The Hobbit, Silmarillion, and Lord of the Rings represented ancient history while the events of Out of the Silent PlanetPerelandra, and That Hideous Strength reflect the fictional universe’s modern timeline?

Despite the awkward handoff between Perelendra and That Hideous Strength, I still recommend reading the final installment of the Space Trilogy. Lewis, a largely non-fiction writer, went on a limb to delve into the realm of science fiction. This work is a necessity for any collector of science fiction or fan to C.S. Lewis!

Related Links

Planetary Peregrination—Reviewing C.S. Lewis’ Science Fiction

Planetary Peregrination II—Reviewing C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra

C. S. Lewis’ “That Hideous Strength”― Catholic Education

 

Thank you for sharing!

A Whimsical Wednesday Encounter with Wonder

There is something special about Wednesday. Maybe it is because it is the halfway point of the week and the journey toward the weekend is on the downhill slope. When I used to teach I always loved Wednesdays since that was the day we had our all-school weekly Mass. I mentored this past school year on Wednesday to a 2nd grade student and I will continue this going into the next school year. Wednesday is simply wonderful. The same is true during the lull of a humid summer day.

I want to share the whimsical Wednesday encounter with wonder I experience on the waning part of yesterday [Wednesday]. My wife took our three children [we have an almost six year old, three year old, and a 1 year old] to the library to get both her library card and their first ever library cards. Coming home from work I sensed a wonder about in our house. Gone was the normal tumult of chaos and sibling fighting. My daughter ran up to me as I entered our house with a beaming smile and holding tightly onto her new book about pigs! In the living room, oldest son was reading his book aloud.

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I am a bibliophile! During the summers of my youth, I checked out a minimum of 20 books a week from my local library. I immersed myself with fiction and non-fiction books alike. I was an equal content opportunity reader—I read about every subject and still do! To find my children experience the wonder and joy of the library at such an early age, even earlier than I remember myself going, is a delight.
Little did I know that I would experience such wonder and joy on this Wednesday evening. A few weeks ago I would not have noticed this joy within my children because I was struggling with my OCD tendencies and my own personal struggles. I have since made efforts to slow down my pace and find the hidden joy and wonder in life. I thank my wife for taking time to bring our children to our city’s library and foster a love of reading! Whether you are a parent or not I strongly encourage you to visit your local library this week and encounter a wonder hidden in a story!

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Thank you for sharing!