Thursday, June 30, 2011

War and Politics

There is a story in my early youth that made a deep impression in me. I was in first grade and that day our teacher was absent, so we had a substitute. She had to go out of the room for some minutes and left us, some 25 children, alone with some work to do. At that point I remember getting up from my seat, many of us were out of the seat anyway, and started telling every girl about how unjust were the boys treating us, and that we ought to take some action, some revenge. Thus in a couple of minutes a war ensued, and we had half the class throwing tinfoil made balls and pieces of chalk to the other half of the class. There was indeed just on girl that was not convinced by my arguments, and did not participate, but all the rest joined in the uproar.

Th substituter teacher came in in the midts of it, and took as responsible ones the usual boys that always got into mischief ...I did not come forward to assume my fault or to speak about the truth.

This incident haunted me for all my life, not just for my feeling of cowardice, but also for the working of politics. I knew politics at that time, at least these kind of politics. It was clear to me that my motives for bringing this war were very selfish, I had accumulated a resentment towards my three years younger brother, and that spilled over to all the boys of the class.

It is no different many times, in our lifes, when the motives for even some acts that we may consider just and wholesome are based on lower human nature. I am just starting to read a book discussing the underlying truths about the  First World War, and it does relate very much to a question of power.

Many times, the quest for power is reigning around us, hidden under our best motives. I have seen the movement of terrorist groups in my country, where they have started with high ideals and a well-intentioned agenda of taking care of the defenseless against the big powers, and yet, little by little, the leadership of these groups turn to the same quest of power they are trying to obliterate, and violent leaders take the reins, thus transforming good into evil.

Just last Tuesday we were discussing the calling of the Spirit to take action. Sometimes we are lead by the Spirit, and we have resistance to it, just like Moses did not want to take part of the plan God had laid for him, or Jonah had fled away from the commands of the Lord. But these times are in my eyes a good sign, because if we do not want so readily to obey there are good chances that there is nothing for us to gain in it, in terms of our low human nature, no praises, no self-satisfaction, no power gained, and thus our heart would be more pure in this action that we resist to do than in others that we may feel called and are very willingly entering to. Meanwhile we can work in purifying our hearts, so our own intentions gain clarity with truth and can be cleaned of selfishness.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ironing and the Will

My great aunt Carme was like a mother to me, we grew up with her, she was our caregiver during the week and so we loved her very much. She used to work when she was very young at the ironing house, near the Plaza del Pi, and she told us stories about how hot it was in the summer, to iron, and how many shirts, towels, linen, would be awaiting in the pile each day.

Our closets were very well organized, every dress, sock and underwear neatly ironed and properly folded away, and I remember admiring the beauty of that sight.

Now that I carry my own household, I long for those closets. My house is more or less well organized, but ah! if you look inside the closets you would see the mess there is...and I think this is because of the will.

Now, do not get me wrong, I do not think that extreme neatness is beneficial, on the contrary, there is a balance to the health in the soul, mind and spirit, but in my case I see perfectly well that an exercise of ironing would strenghten my will. It is the penetration of the will in matter that is to be accomplished and through ironing even the most menial clothing, I am hoping to exert my will through material resistance.

Here are some quotes about the will in the book that I mentioned last week that illustrate this weakness of will prevalent in our times:

"We do not know how to use the will, or rather we will into a vague and fugitive manner..............Now this is our great fault with resolutions: they are not specific enough.......your resolutions must take to be practical, and on this condition only will they be efficacious"

"Will with perseverance! Never abandon your resolutions because you were unsuccesful.......A person who is truly humble, instead of feeding on grief, rises at once and relying more on the mercy and goodness of God than on her own strength, takes up the march again. To learn to profit by our falls is one of the secrets of perfection, and an essential requisite of spiritual progress."

Now there are also different intensities of the longing: starting with a desire, then a wish, then a mission or goal, an aspiration, and when finally its gets to be a resolution, our strenght is totally engaged in the object, and help comes along.

In the ironing chapter I wanted to commit myself to iron one day a week this summer, on Tuesdays. When the success comes with this simple task, I know other areas will improve as well.

Saint John is a very special celebration in my country, we used to make bonfire on the eve of Saint John, eat the Coca de San Joan, and bring old furniture to burn, representing the burning of the old, and making space for the new, allowing all our mistakes and wrong deeds of the year to be in front of us and make resolutions of improvement.

I will copy the recipe below if you want to try it, wishing resolutions and blessings to come your way.

Prep Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
Yield: 1 coca serves 4-6
  • 4 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 envelopes (1/4 oz each) dry yeast
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • rind or zest of 1 lemon
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 egg white
  • several types of candied fruit – oranges, cherries, etc.( we found papaya and pineapple)
  • 3 Tbsp pine nuts, optional
Grease a cookie sheet and set aside.
Dissolve the yeast in lukewarm milk in a glass measuring cup. Melt butter.
Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Make a hole in the center of the flour. Add eggs, sugar, yeast-milk mixture, lemon zest, salt and cinnamon to the center of the flour. Stir slightly.
Add canola oil and melted butter to the bowl. Mix thoroughly, while adding water a bit at a time until a soft dough is formed. (The amount of water needed will depend on temperature and weather conditions.) Form a ball in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a towel and leave it in a warm place, out of drafts. Allow to rise until dough has doubled in size.
Heat oven to 350F degrees.
Turn the dough onto the greased cookie sheet. Sprinkle flour on the dough. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin to the form of a long oval, about 1/2-inch thick.
Lightly beat the egg white. Brush top of coca. Decorate with the candied fruit and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Place the baking sheet in the oven for approximately 20 minutes or until coca turns a golden brown.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Knowledge precedes Love

We are really liking the reading of Counsel of Perfection for Christian Mothers. It has many things to ponder about.

One of the sentences that I am thinking is the one that says that Knowledge precedes Love, and it then follows some time later describing the two kinds of knowledge:

"There are two kinds of knowledge. The one resides in the worth little or nothing. If it does not stimulate the heart and direct the conduct, it will be a source of condemnation.

The second kind of knowledge is that which is acquired by meditation, that is to say by fixing the mind on the things of God and contemplating them seriously and profoundly; but above all, it consists in loving them."

I have been long striving for the knowledge to stir my heart, I can see in my practical life how I can be lead astray by the first kind of knowledge, to the point that it serves not my first-hand intentions, rather hinders and blocks them.

With the children for example, how can we love them better? If we take the route of knowledge, besides some general ideas on child development and so on, we should strive to know in a deeper level our child. Once an art teacher told me this great idea: "Take some newsprint paper at night, when the child is sleeping, and with a white chalk, go into the child's room, sit down and draw the face of your sleeping child, slowly, following the contours of the face, etc..."

This gives you a very delicate moment of holding your child in your thoughts, and perhaps in the following days some insight or revelation about the child's needs, or character will come into your mind.

Very recently I read an article by someone actually denying the benefits of observation of children, and I have to say that they are right in the way they understand observation to be done, which is in a cold manner, without the heart, and ending with a set of labels for the child. We should aim to be away from this kind of observation, which is the first kind of knowledge described above and renders the subject of observation with lack of freedom and the observant with negative debris.

On the other hand, I think observation that is done through the heart renders many benefits and it is of utmost importance for the children and all things of life. It is indeed very remarked in one book of education that it is by observing itself, that already the healthy effects of observation are accomplished, it is in the act itself of observation that love is increased through knowledge.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Dressing and veils

There is a meeting today to talk about the book Dressing with Dignity from Colleen Hammond.

In the book the authour speaks lenghtily about the effect our vestments have on the minds of others and also our own; she discusses mainly the impact of the dress in our eye sight, and how the unconscious receives the images and moves on to thoughts that can be then more pious or sinful depending on the image beholded. Advertisement experts know about these effects for long ago, and have implemented its laws in comercials and media, leaving and ever increasing powerful set of images that help in the tendency of leading a sinful life, at least in the unconscious life of the mind if God's graces can stop it at that.

Nevertheless, besides the media then, many of the population follows the trends in fashion and design, and mostly by peer pressure we end up having an amount of habitants that are led by the spirit of the world. Every aspect of the dress is relevant, the size, the form, the texture, the colors ( we all know how the priests vestments change according to the liturgical year, and these are not casual colors, but chosen especifically)...if we wear something with a pattern is very different than something plain, which is more soothing to the eye, if we wear an apron we put ourselves in the mindset of work, and if we dress ourselves in our best clothes, we frame our mind in reverence and magnificence. That is why is so important with little children to take care of our attire, we are sending them powerful messages about our function and role, how we conscioulsy decide to be at work or in prayer with all our soul, body and  mind.

What I wanted to add today is the sense of smell. It is clear that the sense of sight is our predominant sense, in that we can relate all the senses to it like Saint Augustine points out, nevertheless, the sense of smell is also very important, and one that has primordial effects in our unconscious mind, even more stronger than the sight sense. We all remember things in our childhood that are impressed by scents, those muffins baked in the oven, the lilac perfume of grandmother, the smell of the hay in the barn,etc.. even our preferences in food taste can be related to our sense of smell in our youngest years. So it would be obvious that dignity and modesty should adress too the protection of our sense of smell.

In the old times, just like many Amish today, they did not use for everyday many baths, soaps or perfumes for bodily care, yet they covered their skin and especially their heads. The hair can be compared to the flower, when bringing the scent to the air, and so, by covering the hair you are sending the message of sacredness, of rendering the delicate chemistry balance of our bodies only to our spouse. Hence the idea of familiarity when a woman is uncovered and has her hair down, without any arrangement.

In society nowadays, where perfumes, colognes and scented cosmetic products inundate the market, the natural language of the smells is superseded by this artificial language, and you can cross a street and be invaded by many different messages coming from each one of the persons you encounter. All this happens unconsciously, of course, but nonetheless, by paying attention we can train our minds to recognize them and to stop the indesirable effects of these communications at once. Moreover, we can help others by trying not to send these messages, by being humbly dressed and "veiled".

We had a test for confirmands today, and the last question of the test referred to the balm that the Bishop uses for the Sacrament, it is said to be of a sweet smell, and simbolizes the pleasant aroma to God of a soul that is not corrupted by sin. May God have mercy on me, let Him be my guide and my veiling.