Saturday, October 5, 2019

Is the Dear Diary Tradition Dead?

Is the Dear Diary tradition dead?

What I mean to say is, how many women today keep a diary or a journal of some sort? And when I say diary, I mean a bound book with blank pages where you write down in pen and ink or pencil your reflections from your day, your week, your life, that sort of thing.

I was recently listening to a podcast (I can't remember which) where a gentleman was reflecting on how many women used to keep a diary or a journal, and so there was this written tradition of self-reflection that he thought was very beautiful. But now that folks have Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, how many women actually keep a diary or a journal? Do women still take the time to reflect on their daily routine, their romantic excursions, their friendships, and their interior lives the way they used to?

This commentator was disinclined to think that women still kept journals due to the rise in social media, and he thought that this was a great loss to human contemporary culture.

Now, I think some women can and do use social media posts to share reflections on their interior lives with the world (and this is not a bad thing at all!), but how curated are these posts? How honest are these posts? Not everything should be brought out into the open and shared with the public in a post on Instagram or Facebook or an episode on a podcast. I think, because a journal or a diary has the potential to be more raw and honest, there is something special, beautiful, and private about it that can't be replaced by a post on social media.

A diary is almost certainly not as curated as a social media post, but it doesn't have to be, and that's okay. It is not meant primarily for posterity's sake (though it certainly can be), but rather as a place where a woman can sort out her thoughts and feelings on life, truth, her joys and sorrows, her triumphs and frustrations, and the world at large. It's a way of processing the world that can help a woman move forward, and invites her soul to be refreshed.

Social media has its place and its uses, and it can be a beautiful way to build a community, but it cannot replace the flesh and blood of a local community. Similarly, Instagram, Twitter, and blogs are a wonderful way for folks to share their thoughts, opinions, and reflections with the world. But if it is at the expense of the feminine tradition of keeping a journal or diary, then I think that is very sad and a great loss to the uniquely feminine tradition of hand-written self-reflection. 

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Celebrating Our Lady of Sorrows

The week leading up to the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is a special one, as it means I get to celebrate both of my moms. My biological mother's birthday is on September 12th, and my spiritual mother's feast day of Our Lady of Sorrows is celebrated on September 15th.

I suppose "Celebrate" is a rather odd word to combine with the image of Our Lady of Sorrows; that is, Our Lady at the foot of the Cross, or with seven swords piercing her exposed heart, or the Pietá, Mary holding the corpus of her dead Son.

But the beauty of the Christian faith comprises the paradoxical juxtaposition of joy and sorrow.

This is seen especially at Christmas time in the juxtaposition of the celebration of the birth of Our Lord alongside the feast days of martyrs such as St. Stephen, the Holy Innocents, and St. Thomas Becket. (T.S. Eliot eloquently remarks on this holy juxtaposition in a sermon given during his play, Murder in the Cathedral, which depicts the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket).

These moments in the liturgical year serve as a reminder that while tragedy and suffering are a part of this earthly life, we do not walk this difficult road alone. To quote the recent interview with Late Show host, Stephen Colbert, "God does it, too." And so did the Blessed Mother. May we take comfort and even find joy in that knowledge.

"Her eyes were sad withouten art,
And seven swords were in her heart—
But one was in her hand. ...

... The men of the East may spell the stars
And times and triumphs mark,
But the men signed with the Cross of Christ
Go gaily in the dark."

-- G.K. Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Sin in Storytelling

Last year I joined a local chapter of the national book club titled Well-Read Moms. (Disclaimer: I am not a literal mom, but I like to believe I live out the charism of spiritual motherhood through my students and my choir.)

 The club has been a really positive experience, and the books we read last year were enjoyable and edifying -- even Charles Dickens' Hard Times and George Eliot's Middlemarch... which I am still slogging through... but I digress. 

We are currently gearing up for the first book of the new year, a one-act play by Margaret Edson titled Wit (or W;t, depending on what edition you are reading). However, as we begin to delve into the work, one of the mothers in the group posited the following question: 

"In the play 'Wit', a character uses the phrase G--D--- several times. The character is not a Christian. One mother feels that Wit should not have been chosen since it takes the name of the Lord in vain. Her thought was that as a group for busy moms, the organizers of the club should have had a higher standard and found a different work on the same topic. What do you think?"

I was immediately reminded of the criticism that Flannery O'Connor received for her short stories. Although most of these stories are violent as well as dark, she always includes a moment of grace to which the main character must respond in some way, shape, or form. The main character may choose to reject this moment of grace, but it is there for the taking. 

Flannery O'Connor, 1925-1964.

Flannery O'Connor's stories portray the true order of the universe, for where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. God is ever reaching out to the human person in love, offering them moments to repent and to believe in the Gospel. At the Incarnation, God Himself entered into the sinful messiness of the human world, taking on flesh so that we might have life and have it more abundantly. But ultimately, it is the choice of the individual to accept His offer. 

When it comes to whether or not a book should be read and recommended by Catholics, the most important thing is whether or not the book proclaims the truth about the human condition and the spiritual order, for while there is sin, there is also grace. Both forces are at play, but the grace of God always prevails. 

There are plenty of books in great literature that contain sin, whether or not it's taking the Lord's name in vain or committing murder or adultery. Crime and Punishment is about a homicide. Does that mean we shouldn't read it? Solzhenitsyn's famous short story, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich also contains profanity and blasphemy, but it honestly and brutally portrays life in a gulag, as the book gives a concise but brilliant testament to the evils of the Communist Regime in the Soviet Union. 

In sum, while it is possible for the portrayal of sin in storytelling to become gratuitous or over-the-top, it's important to portray the world honestly, and honesty requires the acknowledgement that we live in a fallen world, where sin and evil manifest themselves in various forms. However, evil must be counter-balanced by a poignant moment of grace. 

I am eager to see how the two forces are at play in Edson's Wit