Something Loose Knit and Yet Not Slovenly . . .


Miscellaneous Musings on Wednesday

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Reading diary excerpts again and stumbled across this from Miss Virginia Wolfe:

“I got out this diary and read, as one always does read one’s own writing, with a kind of guilty intensity. I confess that the rough and random style of it, often so ungrammatical, and crying for a word altered, afflicted me somewhat. I am trying to tell whichever self it is that reads this hereafter that I can write very much better; and take no time over this; and forbid her to let the eye of man behold it. And now I may add my little compliment to the effect that it has a slapdash and vigour and sometimes hits an unexpected bull’s eye. But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink. I believe that during the past year I can trace some increase of ease in my professional writing which I attribute to my casual half hours after tea. Moreover there looms ahead of me the shadow of some kind of form which a diary might attain to. I might in the course of time learn what it is that one can make of this loose, drifting material of life; finding another use for it than the use I put it to, so much more consciously and scrupulously, in fiction. What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced, as such deposits so mysteriously do, into a mould, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life, and yet steady, tranquil compounds with the aloofness of a work of art. The main requisite, I think on re-reading my old volumes, is not to play the part of censor, but to write as the mood comes or of anything whatever; since I was curious to find how I went for things put in haphazard, and found the significance to lie where I never saw it at the time. But looseness quickly becomes slovenly. A little effort is needed to face a character or an incident which needs to be recorded. Nor can one let the pen write without guidance; for fear of becoming slack and untidy.” Diary of Virginia Wolfe

I don’t usually like to post long quotes, but this particular excerpt, in spite of its length, rather concisely conveys some of the best advice on writing I’ve found. It should be framed and hung on my wall somewhere I can spy it every day.

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imageSpeaking of diaries, I can’t help but wonder if anyone reads them anymore, especially the famous ones, like that of Samuel Pepys. Ever heard of him? He started writing on 1 January 1660 and wrote daily for the next 3,468 days, missing only 11 days in the interim. He was, I think, anything but loose knit or slovenly; from all those pages one gets a pretty complete picture of the hedonistic, self-serving, vain, Mr. Pepys. For all his personal failings on display, and despite it’s antiquity, it’s still great reading to this day. In the process of all this work, done in addition to his work in the British Admiralty, he pretty much invented the diaristic art form. I wonder if he shouldn’t be considered the first distant ancestor of the blogging world of today? The patron saint of bloggers?  Then again, what does that say about bloggers.

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I’m tempted at times to ask myself what is the greatest problem facing the Church today and I’m tempted to answer: the Church. It reminds me of the old Cold War joke about some old Communist, a delegate from the Soviet Union, came to visit the Vatican and boldly told one of the Cardinals that the Soviets intended to destroy the Church completely from the face of the earth. “Good luck,” the old Cardinal replied, “We’ve been trying to do it for 2,000 years.” I wonder if we’ll ever stop trying?

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The clarinet lessons continue on. It was a terrible week for practice; seemed more like I was at war with the thing than playing it. There was a time or two I thought it would be best to take the thing back to the music store and start rubbing the cat’s ears instead. The question comes to mind, though, if that isn’t the kind of experience that leads to true improvement. I guess I’ll find out.

Exploring Brighton Beach


From time to time, I try to use the Word Press Daily Prompt to spur my writing imagination. I hardly ever do one on a Friday, but today’s spurred my interest so I’m going to do a short response to it. The prompt reads: “Is there a word or a phrase you use (or overuse) all the time, and are seemingly unable to get rid of? If not, what’s the one that drives you crazy when others use it?”

image7.jpgIt dawned on me a couple of months ago that there are many words and phrases I use constantly, sometimes in nearly every other sentence. I asked myself, if this continuous repetition was beginning to drive me crazy, what must it be doing to my readers? In my own defense, I believe the source of this bad habit is found in doing a great deal of writing in my capacity working for a government contractor. That industry has it’s own vocabulary and that vocabulary has changed very little in the past four decades; everyone expects those familiar with the industry to use the same sort of verbiage. I’ve found it extremely difficult to shake the habit, but knew I need to try.

I began casting about for ways to spice up my vocabulary, and my pursuit of wisdom took me to many foreign climes. The truth is, however, my search ended up closely resembling Chesterton’s English explorer who set sail around the world hoping to discover new and exotic lands, only to find himself washed up on the shore at Brighton. Just like that admiral of the ocean blue, I ended up exactly where I began so many years ago in freshman English, with an old, dusty, copy of Roget’s Thesaurus, pulled from a much neglected area of my bookshelf. Opening it’s slightly discolored pages (it, sadly, hadn’t seen sunlight in many years), I saw laying before me a place where an old logophilic explorer like myself could spend countless hours just drinking in the mystery and inter-connectedness of words. The solution to a long developing problem had been found in an instant. I keep the book close at hand now whenever I write and try to refer to it often; it’s the perfect antidote to trite, dull, worn out language. In truth, it’s become something of a game; if I write a word that triggers just the slightest discomfort, deep down in my writer’s psyche, I take a break, pick up my thesaurus and see if there’s a better word to use in it’s place. It’s actually fun, and I’m learning something, new words, at the same time.

If there’s one recommendation I’d make to any writer, it’s the use of a thesaurus to spice things up. I don’t know how hard it is to find a hard copy of Roget’s indispensable resource, but a handy alternative is the web site, Thesaurus.com. Many, these days will prefer the tech based solution, and it is a well designed web site, but if you can find the book, perhaps at a good used bookstore, grab it up. You don’t have to have a computer to use it and it’s hidden delights are many; just open it randomly at look at the first word that you see, you may find your own Brighton shore.

We Have the Same Boss


A 7 Quick Takes post, hosted by Jennifer Fulwiler
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“When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.” Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

imageI remember when Archbishop Sheen was on TV and hugely popular. At the time Milton Berle was king of Tuesday nights, but Sheen beat him out in terms of ratings; up to 10 million viewers a night tuned in to see him. Can you imagine anything like that happening today, especially considering the show was just him on a TV studio set with a chalk board; no fancy graphics, video, sound, nothing. Quite an accomplishment.

In case you’re interested, Berle was good natured about their rivalry, reportedly once joking that, “We both work for the same boss, Sky Chief Supreme,” referring to Texaco gasoline, the company that sponsored both their shows.

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“Truth has nothing to do with the number of people it convinces.” Paul Claudel

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The clarinet playing continues apace. After the second lesson, it looks like the pattern will be for me to practice a lot allowing the lessons to be opportunities to correct errors in technique and to build good habits, one small step at a time. I like that approach because I always felt, while playing in school, that there was never enough time to build a solid foundation in technique and just plain understanding of the instrument. As they say, onward and upward!

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I saw in the news yesterday that an FSSP priest, 28 year old Fr. Kenneth Walker, was shot and killed in Phoenix. I haven’t heard any further news of what provoked the attack, if anything, but please take some extra time over this next week to pray for him and for the full recovery of the two priests who were also attacked and survived.

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In fits and starts, we’ve begun to study Latin. I’ve had it in mind to start attending the Latin Mass again. Lately, as you might judge from the post of earlier this week, I go through spells when I think what’s been done to the Mass in the last half-century, is nearly criminal. All the mystery has been removed from it. The only solution appears to be returning to the pre-Vatican II Liturgy. To do that, though, I have a strong sense that I’d like to have, at a minimum, a rudimentary understanding of Latin. I don’t know if that’s really necessary or not, but the feeling is there.

The study itself is turning out to be a little easier than anticipated, there are only a few letters pronounced differently than in English, and the general principles of grammar seems easy enough to pick up. In any case, it’s keeping me busy in retirement.

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I may have posted this quote from St. Ignatius recently, but I keep coming back to it, churning it over and over in my mind:

“Be slow to speak, and only after having first listened quietly, so that you may understand the meaning, leanings, and wishes of those who do speak. Thus you will better know when to speak and when to be silent.” Saint Ignatius

The thing I would desperately love to be better at is listening, and listening quietly, letting the other person make their point and respecting that. The first thing that came to mind after I read this quote is that what Ignatius is asking for is showing of the love of neighbor. He wants us to make the effort to get into the other person’s place and heart, to understand their leanings and meanings and wishes of someone who is speaking. That is actually quite difficult, for me anyway. It would be quite good to know when to speak, but most of all, when to keep silent.

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“I tell you the solemn truth, that the doctrine of the Trinity is not so difficult to accept for a working proposition as any one of the axioms of physics.” Henry Adams

Sunday is the Most Holy Trinity. Henry Adams makes a great point, if you can believe what physicists seem to be saying about reality these days, you’d probably end up going insane, it’s so far beyond anything we seem to be able to comprehend. Yet, you’d believe it. Why not put some faith in the Holy Trinity.

Brevity


A 7 Quick Takes Post

A Quick note, please check out Jennifer Fulwiler’s new book: Something Other than God; it promises to be a good read.

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This week I’ve set one goal for doing this “Quick Takes” post – each quick take shall be no more than 50 words. The idea is to be brief; I’ve always admired brevity. They say that brevity is the soul of wit.  I agree.

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I’m giving serious consideration to, once again, taking up the clarinet. I used to be pretty good in school but haven’t played since. I am beginning to think, though, that I need a hobby and would love to pick up the ol’ licorice stick once more. Besides, it’d drive the cats crazy.

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“The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.” – A Defense of Humilities, The Defendant, 1901. It’s odd, I’m thinking Chesterton wrote this tongue in cheek. I wonder if he ever imagined how true this prophecy would turn out to be.

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I find it’s not easy to be brief; I’ve gotten very wordy lately. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if more people decided to take the brevity challenge? I used to think Twitter, the worst thing that could ever have happened to the English language. I was wrong.

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cropped-chesterton-2.jpgI’ve been reading Fr Schall’s, The Mind that is Catholic and am finding it challenging. I surmise that’s a good thing, to be challenged. However, after I finish, I’m tempted to stick with Chesterton, Belloc and Newman for the rest of the year. I’ll let you know how that goes.

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I see a German priest wants Pope Francis to release him from his vows of celibacy. Seems he has an illegitimate 22 year old daughter he’s kept secret from his superiors. He posted his request on Facebook. In a way, I admire his desire to be honest, but, REALLY?

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Re: #6: Sometimes one wonders if, in certain countries, all the bishops should be removed and a new crop installed. I am beginning to wonder if that shouldn’t be something done on a regular basis around the world, say every 10 or 15 years for each country. Stir the pot.

A Pint of Guinness


As I may have written here before, I try to write something everyday in a sort of electronic journal I keep.  There are times, though, when I simply run out of things to write about and go looking for a prompt or two, usually from the Word Press Daily Prompt feature.  Today was such a day and this is nothing more than my impromptu response to today’s prompt:  Tell us about five places you’ve always wanted to visit.

I’ve been lucky in that, between the Air Force and work and just plain wanderlust, I’ve been able to see many parts of the world. I’ve visited nearly every state in the Union, being, at the moment, six states short of the goal.  I can say I’ve set foot in Japan, the Philippines, Viet Nam, and various points around there. In my working career I managed to get to Alaska, including the island of Adak, on the Aleutian chain, to Puerto Rico, and to Germany. I’ve been to Mile One of the Alcan Highway in Canada. In fact, I’ve visited all of Canada’s provinces except the Maritimes, one place I’d like to visit before I shuffle off this mortal coil. I’ve been to Scotland, twice, to Britain, to France, where I had the great privilege to look out over the invasion beaches of Normandy and contemplate the bravery that was displayed on that June day in 1944.

But despite having been to so many places, there are still a few I’d like to visit, some just because I’m flat curious about what they’re like, and others for perhaps deeper reasons.

imageFirst on the list, Ireland, both for it’s beauty and to have a glass of freshly drawn Guinness, to be downed while listening to some Irish band in a local pub. I think there’s nothing more civilized and, well, comfy, not to mention fun, than sitting in a pub in the British Isles, a real pub, not the modern contrivances they’re beginning to foist off on an unsuspecting public.

I’d like to visit Australia, having tried to get there since my Viet Nam days. I served with some Aussies at different times during my tour and, while they were a bit wild at times, I enjoyed working with them and wanted to see their homeland. I tried to take R&R there one time but it was a spur of the moment thing, I couldn’t get stand by seating on a plane and ended up just going back to my unit until my tour was up. I’ve tried once or twice more in my life but much the same thing happened, work and life interfered with travel, and the trip was never made. Now, at my age, when I have the time, the trip seems just too long and daunting and I probably will never be able to visit.

I mentioned France above, and another place I’d have to say, I’d like to go back there. The French have developed a reputation as being very hostile to Americans and universally impolite. Don’t believe a word of it; if you are courteous to them, they will return the favor. While in Normandy, I was amazed that every shop and hotel had at least one sign in the window thanking Americans for rescuing them during the war (couldn’t possibly be for crass, commercial reasons). It must have been a great thing to have remembered it after all those years. Besides, the food was unbelievable; we never had a bad meal anywhere in France, and seeing Notre Dame, and getting to go inside, was an experience not to be forgotten. I’d go back there in a heartbeat.

In the spirit of pilgrimage, I’d like to visit Rome, the heart of the Church. I’ve been cautioned that, as far as liturgy and worship goes, I might be in for a disappointment, but still, being Catholic, I can’t not have the ambition to literally cross the Tiber and see that most beautiful of cities.

Finally, saving the best for last, I’d like to go to Colorado. I mean that, despite having lived here for 15 years or more, there’s much of my newly adopted home state I have yet to see and I mean to see it before too much more time passes. I want to see the Colorado National Monument in the north west part of the state, I want see Sand Creek, in the south east, and Great Sand Dunes National Park in the south. I want to see it all because, as they say, there’s no place like home.

On Spending Too Much Time on the Internet


This NeXT Computer was used by Sir Tim Berners...
This NeXT Computer was used by Sir Tim Berners-Lee at CERN and became the world’s first Web server. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since I retired I’ve spent more time on the Internet, mostly I’ve explored new blogs, that is, blogs I had never had time to read and enjoy while working.  It’s been most enjoyable — there are some really good writers out there whom I always find interesting.  But I think I’m spending too much time surfing the web.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I’ve been spending too much time on electronic media, not only the internet.  In the popular jargon of the day, I want to stand down.

First, obviously, I’m going to limit, and carefully schedule, the time I spend surfing the web to twice, maybe three times a day.  Another thing I need to do, and this wasn’t so obvious to me at first, is put the Kindle away.  Over the last year I’ve read books almost exclusively on my trusty Kindle.  There are many reasons: it’s compact, I can carry a whole library around with me, it’s very light and easy to hold, and I don’t need to worry too much about lighting conditions to read something.  However, it’s electronic, and I sense that this innocuous little device may be contributing to my electronic media addiction, so into the drawer it goes.  For the next month or so, I’ll read only print media.

Finally, if I find articles or documents on the web that I want to read, I’ll print them out.  As a side note, the first articles I printed under the new regime was a series being done by Professor Anthony Esolen on the Crisis Magazine web site.  The series is on Catholic social teaching as defined by Pope Leo XIII and it’s excellent and I highly recommend it.  Find the latest effort here.  It’s led me to actually want to read Pope Leo’s encyclicals and apostolic letters to go into more detail.  I might add that I’ve seen a great many things of interest on the new, revitalized Crisis Magazine website and I highly recommend it also, not just Professor Esolen’s articles.

One more thing, I need to offer a MOOC update.  I think the class itself was very interesting, absorbing as a matter of fact.  The problem I ran into with this was trying to navigate through the software itself.  I completed answers to the first quiz and tried to post them, to no avail, they would not save.  I tried posting a note in the discussion section asking for help, it wouldn’t save.  Also, there was no help documentation anywhere that I could find that explained how to do these simple things; none was to be found.

Conclusion?  First, I probably joined the class too late; I’m guessing that the input areas for the first 4 or 5 quizzes are closed.  Second, for Edx at least, there is a great need for better and more obvious documentation and instruction on how to actually operate the course software, which seems to be totally lacking or very well hidden.  There is a course that looks interesting on the Coursera site that starts in October, so I may try that one, getting in on it from the beginning, and see how that works.

One question that you’re probably asking is how am I posting here?  I use an iPad to draft my posts and copy the drafts into Microsoft Word, but I’ll do that off line and only use scheduled internet times to actually enter the posts here; I hope that’ll be the one exception to my general fast from things electronic.

If anyone who stumbles on this post has suffered this same problem and has some good ideas for combating it, I’d love to hear from you.

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On the Santa Fe Trail


Well, not exactly.  The Santa Fe Trail is part of a network of trails here in Colorado.  It runs from Palmer Lake, Colorado south through Colorado Springs and continues at least a few miles south.  It is supposed to, at some point, go all the way to Santa Fe and north into Wyoming.  At least that’s what I understand.

Anyway, last Friday, I was able to get out for a short walk on the trail.  It was a chilly, cloudy day, but what sun there was was directly exclusively at Pikes Peak.   Included here are a couple of the shots I was able to get of this spectacular view.  Sadly, I had to use my iPhone camera to get them ( I must learn to carry a real camera with me at all times!!).  I hope you get the idea of how extraordinary this view was.

2013-04-19 11.52.25 2013-04-19 11.58.47

On Cleaning Out a Desk Drawer


c. 1400

Thomas Aquinas, recalling Aristotle, said in a famous passage that “it is the nature of a wise man to order things” (Sapientis est ordinate). Fr James V. Schall, The Order of Things

On Friday morning, I came down to my desk to finish up a blog post I intended to publish today.  It was on a topic that I was certain would be of great interest and importance to my reader.  I knew it would just make his/her whole day.  Then I notice some unfiled papers sitting on my desk and I decided they should be put away.  I opened the bottom left drawer of my desk, a file drawer, and it was just jammed packed; I wasn’t sure I could get any more paper into it.  I also realized that, after several months inattention, the order I had originally set it up with had vanished.   So, I thought, before I finish the blog post, I’ll just take half an hour and set things right and get rid of a lot of useless junk I was sure  had accumulated in all those green hanging files, no big deal.  I thought it would be easy. I’m nothing if not fearless.

I began pulling hanging files out by the fistful.  I thought I could just dump out this junk, en masse, but found out, much to my surprise, there was mostly just hanging files containing empty file folders.  I put all these together in the back of the drawer.  But then I ran into a problem I face every time I attempt a project like this; I would have to make life or death decisions.  For example, there was quite a bit of material, for retreats and weekly classes, prayer services, etc., that I’d used when assisting in the RCIA program in El Paso. Should I keep these? Would I ever use them again? I decided better safe than sorry, they stayed. I found copies of articles off the web that I thought might serve as fuel for blog posts at one time or another.  I spent a good 15 minutes reviewing them trying to decide whether I should keep them or not.  Nearly a half-hour later I decided they warranted further investigation, they went back into the drawer for later date when I would have time to this.  I put them back, this time in a different place and clearly labeled; I had to show some progress.

Then I found some materials from my last high school reunion; those had to stay, but I did manage to label them.  I found old records of stock research I’d done many years ago, all neatly catalogued and filed.  I was able to junk these, but it took 20 minutes to go through them to make sure that was the right decision.  Still, I had freed up some room.

Suddenly, a pack of post it notes popped out of the drawer above the desk drawer and I had to investigate the cause, resulting in a good 40 minutes spent emptying out and reorganizing this drawer.  I had to find a place to put the stuff that came out of that drawer, leading me to reorganize yet another drawer, which had some papers in it that should have been filed in a second file drawer; I had to check it out to see if it required attention.  I made a start and took some files from there and decided they really belonged in the first file drawer, which was now as jam packed as when I’d started.  On this went for a goodly amount of time.  Finally, exhausted, I realized that I was more or less back where I’d started. Frustrated, I gave up.

Retirement is supposed to be about free time, resting up a bit from a life time of hard work and tight time schedules and impossibly unreasonable projects which lead nowhere to accomplish. Suddenly I felt like I was back at work. I decided, then and there, it was time for a nap.

Oh, I never did get that blog post written so there’s nothing for today.

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What do You Mean?


One must constantly be asking himself – ‘What do I mean by this?  Am I saying what I mean? Have I understood what this implies?  Have I some notion of the consequences of what I am saying?’  I am particularly bad on the last question because usually I think on paper, that is, I often do not really know what I think until it is set out before me in black and white: then I can agree or disagree.”  Thomas Merton

I’ve set out a project for the next year that boils down to answering the questions Merton asks in the above quote.  It’s the kind of thing a novice seeking to enter a Benedictine monastery is asked, “What do you seek?”  I think it’s an extremely important question and should always be on one’s mind.  To help me remember the answers, I hope to read just a few books over the next year, between now and next Easter, April 20, 2014 say. There are two lists representing different categories of source material; the first covers the basics of the Christian faith and the teachings of the Catholic Church.  The first list covers some very basic background material:

1)      Jesus of Nazareth trilogy, Benedict XVI

2)      The Spirit of Catholicism, Karl Adam

3)      The Assurance of Things Hoped For, Avery Cardinal Dulles

I also hope to read some of the great spiritual texts in the Tradition,

1)      True Devotion to Mary, Louis de Montfort

2)      Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales

3)      Confessions, St Augustine

I’m also going to study, and possibly comment on, the Camaldolese Oblate Rule and write some about Benedictine topics, most likely, these will appear on a new blog I’ll call An Oblate Journal, but some things may fit here as well. 

Also, for the next two or three months, lectio will be on the Gospel of John, for the simple reason that it demands we answer these same questions; after all, “The Jews” oft repeated question to Jesus was, who are you, where did you come from?

Spring Cleaning


Spring Break Cookies from above.

It seems like Christmas was just a month or so ago and my retirement just a week or so back, yet, spring is starting to become more evident here in Colorado, despite a blizzard warning earlier this week, and here we are on the other side of Easter.  Lent got away from me this year, probably because I did so little planning for it, what with it coming right on the heels of Christmas; I guess I kept thinking there was time to get ready, even after Ash Wednesday had come and gone; I felt I was powerless to get things back on track.

I thought about it over Easter weekend and realized that lately, that kind of thing’s been happening a lot.  I realized I’ve been taking my faith for granted, more or less just going through the motions with things that I should be more attentive to and aware of, and prepared for.  I haven’t thought deeply lately about why I profess to be a Christian, a Catholic, and yes, even an aspiring Benedictine/Camaldolese oblate and what those things mean, I’ve accepted them without appreciating them or being grateful for them.  It has been busy in a way, I admit, lot of changes in my life, but not that busy.  I felt like I should know better, even more make an effort to turn things around.

So, it’s time to take a fresh look, and that’s what I’m going to try to do over the next year or so (it may take that long).  I plan to choose a few important books on the subject of what it means to be a Catholic Christian and go deep with them; I plan to spend even more time in prayer and solitude meditating on the truth of things.  My goal for a novel is going on the back burner.

Why am I writing about this?  One reason is, I don’t know how, or if, any of this study will affect what I write about here.  I’m hesitant to post on it very much because, when I write about being Christian or being Catholic, or even about being Benedictine, I tend to get pedantic, preachy even.  I sincerely don’t want to do that; so this is a reminder that if you see that happening, feel free to send a comment verbally slapping me up side the head.   But also, I’d like this post to be a little tickler for anyone who might read it that’s going through the same thing; maybe it’s time to consider if you, too, need to reinvestigate things you’ve been taking too much for granted.  Maybe it’s time for a little spiritual spring cleaning in your life.  If so, I hope this is the encouragement you need to get at it; after all, it’s really never a bad time for some spring cleaning, no matter what season it is.  And it’s never too late to be grateful for the many gifts received in life, no matter how obscure they may seem at the moment.

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