Monthly Archives: January 2004

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Obviously, I must start reading Flannery O’Connor

Via Mark Shea, Paul Greenberg wrote a column about a letter from Flannery O’Connor. It’s a decent column. But the interesting bit for me was that I’d never before seen the context for O’Connor’s famous comment on the Eucharist, “If it’s just a symbol, to hell with it.”

She was writing a friend of hers about a soiree she’d attended as a student at the University of Iowa’s writers’ workshop:

“I was once, five or six years ago, taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy and her husband, Mr. Broadwater. (She just wrote that book, “A Charmed Life.”) She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual. We went at eight and at one, I hadn’t opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say. . . . Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them.

“Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the most portable person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.

“That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”


I can’t tell you how much I identify with the situation. (Including the mindboggling feat, from an otherwise well-educated person, of identifying the Body and Blood of the 2nd Person of the Trinity with the 3rd. Though happily I didn’t run into that one in person.) There are times when people say things to you that just boggle the mind with how totally they contradict your deepest beliefs and knowledge of the truth. In some ways, the depth of your own knowledge and belief can become a handicap at such moments, because it all rushes up and blocks you from thinking clearly. I don’t know whether O’Connor’s Irish temper rose, too, (though the language she used seems indicative!) but I know mine would’ve. It makes me feel better to know that I’m not the first person to have this problem. And it moves me to see how God has used this sort of horrible muddy moment that O’Connor was just trying to get off her chest, to become a really important statement about the Real Presence.

I feel the need for a “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.” T-shirt.

It runs two ways, though. If I’m going to complain about other folks talking trash or silliness about my religion, I’ve got to be respectful of other people when I talk about their religions. I ought to think before I speak, and not talk out of my unknowledgeable butt. I’m allowed to be certain, but not smug. I do have a bad tendency toward smug.

Speaking of smug, Mark Shea also linked to this interesting comment comparing the kindliness of priests to the scrupulosity and holy-go-piousness of amateur online theologians. Sometimes I may resemble that remark….

(Is it me, or is it becoming increasingly obvious that I’m sorry to have missed Confession on Saturday? Boy, I hope I won’t keep subconsciously examining my conscience all frackin’ week. Not a pretty process, especially for an easily depressed person like myself.)

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Ooh, ooh! Early Christian Practices!

This paper, The Structure and Worship of the Early Church is from the Greek Orthodox viewpoint, but I think people of all Christian denominations will find it interesting. Via Matt and Jeff Diverge, which I found via Mark Shea.

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Following Yonder Star

Happy Epiphany, everybody! (Well, okay, everybody but the Orthodox folks, who have a couple more weeks to go on that….)

I went to church last night. There’d been a little mixup on who should cantor when, so I ended up singing with the kids. It was fun, but pretty cramped; the nativity scene is over to the side of the altar…on the same side where the piano is. Nine people jammed into the space between a piano and the Christmas trees around the stable. Plus music stands. Plus microphones. I was craning my neck and straining my eyes to read off the hymnals in front of me, because there literally wasn’t enough room to hold up my own book. If I add that I didn’t get to go to Confession because of being slowed by the rain, and that my (fortunately black) pants were still not completely dry from being drenched with rain on the way to church (despite my trenchcoat)…I bet you’ll think I was miserable.

Actually, though, it was the best thing to happen all day. I’ve been oscillating between depression and just plain unhappiness for most of the last few weeks. I keep having trouble sleeping, and the furnace in my building had my apartment at 80 degrees. (Which still beats having the radiator out!) The singing was great. The Mass was great. I figured a few things out while sloshing my way through the cold rain, and Confession will still be there next week. If I have to feel like a drowned rat while leaning against pine needles, this is still better than being depressed. And I didn’t have to get up and go to Mass this morning. This is a plus, as it’s much colder today.

Anyway, Father Martin had another short but pithy homily. He talked about seeing a star and following it. This was especially poignant since everybody knows he joined the priesthood after having a pretty full secular life and a darned good job. But he talked about how all the stars are equally difficult to follow, but that the first steps are the hardest. After that, you know that it is your star, and you love whatever you have to do to follow it.

This meant a lot to me. I mean, here I am, 33 years old and not settled on a career yet…. The problem is that none of those stars look especially bright to me. I can get enthusiastic about something for a while, but beyond that…well, I guess I’ve never taken that first step toward any career or dream, really. I’m not a naturally hopeful person, and I find it hard to believe that I’m much of an asset anywhere. I have a lot of talents and knowledge, but none of them seem to be much stronger than the others. But I suppose the actual problem is that I’m afraid to feel an inclination toward anything, because then I’d have to do something about it. But thinking about myself, or my own future, is so depressing. (Literally. Notice how I’ve gone from peppy to dirgelike within paragraphs?)

The whole situation is summed up, perhaps, in the fact that I haven’t done anything yet about applying to grad school again this year; and I have to start working on my album again on the weekend of Martin Luther King Day, and after that it’s convention time. I hate this. I always procrastinate, and if I don’t, I get socked with something that makes me put things off. If I don’t do either, I just plain forget. Time passes, and suddenly I’m 33. I am such a loser.

But unfortunately, I’m what God has to work with. So I can’t give up.

At any rate, my album is one thing I know is a good thing. I don’t know if it’ll quite qualify as light in darkness, but I hope to make it at least a pinch of salt. This is an exciting time for filk, and for music, period.

I feel a little better about the situation after running into these links via the Corner. John Piper talks about Christians acting inside mainstream culture with “Brokenhearted Joy”. Winning (openly, here and now) is not the point; doing God’s will and loving our fellow humans is. There’s also some interesting stuff in this David B. Hart book review for First Things. (If you can wade through the horrible mishmosh coding of the punctuation, that is. Hopefully this won’t show on most people’s browsers, but it sure did on mine.)

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Adventures in Songwriting

I’m dedicating this one to Jeff Miller, who cheers me up. Of course, if he’d written this, it would be a bit better….

With a Little Bitty Kid
Lyrics: Maureen S. O’Brien, 1/3/04
Music: “With a Little Bit of Luck”, My Fair Lady

The nicest people wouldn’t kill a crim’nal.
They wouldn’t give a terrorist the chair.
The nicest people wouldn’t kill a crim’nal, BUT
But with a little bitty kid,
With a little bitty kid,
For death sentences they just don’t care!

CH 1:
With a little bit,
With a little bit,
With a little bitty kid, they just don’t care!
With a little bit,
With a little bit,
With a little bitty unborn kid!

A mom can get a lot of help and choices.
So why’s she think there’s nothing else to do?
A mom can get a lot of help and choices, BUT
But with a little bitty kid,
With a little bitty kid,
Folks she loves say, “Kill it or you’re through!”

CH2: (as above, except)
With a little bitty kid, they say she’s through!

A woman has a right to her own body,
And what goes in her body she can choose.
A woman has a right to her own body, BUT
But with a little bitty kid,
With a little bitty kid,
She is just a thing for labs to use!

CH3: (as above, but)
With a little bitty kid, a thing to use!

BRIDGE:
Go protest war and meat and furcoats –
But if she ain’t born yet, don’t be upset!

There’s bad genetics and then there’s miscarriage;
Disease and injury are always near.
There’s bad genetics and then there’s miscarriage, BUT
But with a little bitty kid,
With a little bitty kid,
Mom and Dad must be a kid’s worst fear!

(optional sf verse)
Some people wonder how to breed a teela*,
So lucky there’s no danger she can’t scorn.
Some people wonder how to breed a teela, BUT
But with a little bitty kid,
With a little bitty kid,
She’ll need plenty luck to just get born!

*teelas: Larry Niven’s novel Ringworld included a character named Teela Brown who was extremely lucky; Niven justified her existence by theorizing that the human race could be seen as inadvertently breeding for luck. These genetically lucky people he called teelas. Later, he wrote a short story set in a future so full of high-tech safety devices and lucky teelas that nothing story-worthy ever happened again.

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