Sunday, 25 September 2016

Thoughts on Re-reading Jane Eyre


--1--

With what high sounding words did the characters express love! It almost makes one choose to do likewise after several hours of reading this piece of literature from yesteryear.

Behold, for example, these impassioned words spoken by Mr. Rochester to our little Jane, the first words that revealed his tenderer feelings for her, the night she saved him from being burnt in his bed by his SPOILER ALERT mad wife.

"I knew," he continued, "you would do me good in some way, at some time;-- I saw it in your eyes when I first beheld you: their expression and smile did not"- (again he stopped)- "did not" (he proceeded hastily "strike delight to my very inmost heart so for nothing. People talk of natural sympathies; I have heard of good genii: there are grains of truth in the wildest fable. My cherished preserver, goodnight!"

Let's put that in simpler modern-day English.

"I thought love was only true in fairytales, meant for someone else but not for me. Then I saw your face, now I'm a believer! Not a trace of doubt in my mind. I'm in love, I'm a believer!'

Guys, looking for words to express your love? Give it a try- "Your expression and smile struck delight to my very inmost heart!"


--2--

Well before the day of hookups and make out sessions, Mr. Rochester and Jane showed us that hand-holding can be very romantic, and an even thrilling encounter. No casual hand-holding for them! (Or me.) No stray kisses before love was committed. Physical contact meant a lot.

He held out his hand; I gave him mine: he took it first in one, then in both his own.


---3---

Morality and an awareness of God, a desire to do what is right in the eyes of God was a major turning point in the novel, not something you would expect from most literature today, except third rate horribly written Christian romance novels. I can't imagine most people agreeing that Jane made the right decision, SPOILER ALERT denying herself the joy of loving and being loved and fleeing Mr. Rochester when she found he had a mad wife.

Her inner struggle was fascinating to me, because she was tempted for sure, but I love the point where she says, "I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, not mad- as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation; they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual conscience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth- so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane- quite insane; with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot."

Wow. In the age of 'if it feels good, do it', who has that kind of inner strength? And yet her struggle has been experienced by us all at some point. If my God allows me to do what I want when I want and how I want it, and never demands of me anything hard, then my god is ME and my selfish whims.

---4---

But of course, as I often do when I get engrossed in fictional stories of unhappy marriages, I ask myself like any good Catholic INTJ would- 'Would he have grounds for an annulment?' And I breathe a sigh of relief when I realize that in this case, there are the clearest grounds for annulment I've ever read. He was pressured into this marriage, information about the mental health (not to mention age) of his prospective wife was hidden from him, he was told that his mentally ill mother in law was dead.. I'm no canon lawyer, but that does NOT sound like a valid marriage. Phew!

(Just FYI, as a Catholic I believe that if a couple freely make a lifetime commitment to each other, they are in fact bound for a lifetime to each other. An annulment is not a 'Catholic divorce', but a marriage being declared invalid (that it was never a real marriage) because there was some element missing when the vows were made- like one or both were forced into the marriage, some important information was hidden, one or both did not really plan to be open to children, etc.)

---5---

As I read Jane Eyre, I was reminded that the details of attraction and falling in love don't really change from culture to culture, and age to age. There is the acute awareness of where the other person is placed in a room at any given moment, there is observation of the other person's every passing mood, and inferences made in one's mind about the why and wherefore of every fleeting expression, there is a strong resolution not to make it obvious that one is observing, especially if one is not assured of the other person's affections, there is much pondering and reflecting on the character of the other person, there is pleasure taken in the smallest sign of affection, as there is in knowing that one has the power to make this beloved happy. Amirite? (Or is this just INTJ romance?)

---6---

And although there is much that is easy to identify with, the dramatic elements of Jane Eyre are hysterical. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS, A mad wife! Who laughs maniacally, and attacks, and bites, and drinks the blood of the one she bites. The madwoman ripping the veil in half the night before her husband is supposed to be married to another. A wedding stopped at exactly the point where the priest says "If any of you has reasons why these two should not be married, speak now or forever hold your peace" (well, the fancier version of those words). The mansion being burned down. Supernatural communications between lovers. So dramatic, and yet so enjoyable.

Okay, I'm done.

Monday, 12 September 2016

The Time I Went on a Five Day Silent Retreat

You'd assume for a self-identifying introvert, a five day silent retreat would have been super easy but those who know me, know that I am an externally processing introvert who talks nineteen to the dozen. And yet... five days of silence was very beautiful.

This retreat was an answer to prayer- for about six months I had felt God was telling me : 
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Isaiah 43: 19a
"Great! I'm all for it," I told Him. "But I have no idea what that new thing is."

Of course a part of me was like, "Vocational fulfilment! Yay!" But that's just every Catholic single who think they are called to marriage.

He was like, "You'll see."

And I did.

The past week I felt like He was opening a door in my journey with Him, and saying, "We're not there yet. Let's go." What He said was so full of light and truth that it overshadowed every other desire and goal and dream for my life.


What am I talking about? There is no way I can share with you everything that I learned, and most likely even if I did, coming from a blog post it probably won't mean much to you. What I really want is for you to go on this silent retreat and find out for yourself, as you sit before the Blessed Sacrament chapel, the glass walls giving you a glimpse of hovering eagles at eye level, the river far below meeting the sea in the distance, as you listen to a Carmelite priest speak words of SOLID truth, practical wisdom, and poetic sweetness, revealing the heart of the God who desires to be known by you- as taught by Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross.

The second part of that bible verse was:
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
...I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people,
 the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.
Isaiah 43: 19b-21
And the retreat was all about the river, the streams of living water which is the Presence of God coming to meet us in contemplation.

These are three insights that impacted me big time:

1. Any sensory pleasure I take that uses up hours and days of my life dulls my senses to God in prayer. I’m an obsessive TV serial watcher. I think I have an addictive personality. Luckily I don’t have TV in my volunteer post, but every time I go home, I binge watch hours and hours of some show or the other. Years ago it was LOST. It has been Downton Abbey, Gray’s Anatomy, The Mentalist, Castle, 24, House. Most of my life (until the Internet) I was a voracious reader, I could read for hours every day, and late into most nights. My latest obsessive behaviour has been reading Facebook comment threads from Simcha Fisher, one of my favourite Catholic bloggers. Her posts, and the comments that follow are witty, insightful, and thought-provoking- a feast for a Catholic INTJ’s mind. It all seems harmless, especially if the content of my latest obsession is clean, and it doesn’t interfere with my daily duties.

But this was the point- if my prayer is lifeless and dull, if I’ve lost my taste for prayer, it’s because my intellect and memory are constantly caught up in those pleasures. I am caught up in self-gratification, rather than being able to open myself to loving God and my neighbour in the present moment. The Lord is like, “If you allow those things to satisfy you, then where is there room for ME to satisfy you?” It’s like eating popcorn throughout the day, and when the feast arrives, you don’t have an appetite for it. So painful as it may seem, God is asking me to cut out some of my ‘harmless’ sensory pleasures… so I can relearn to take pleasure in His presence.

The cool thing was that actually happened at the retreat- I had never felt more joyful, peaceful and excited to just sit with Him in the chapel at random moments.


2. The way to go deeper in prayer isn’t some new meditation technique or effort at focus, but the way of charity, humility, detachment and ‘stealing moments’ of silence. Fr. A, who led the retreat was very clear- charity, the attitude that allows me to accept my brother or sister as he or she is, without judgment or analysis, is ESSENTIAL to experience God. Love cuts through my ego, my self-centredness, my judgment and makes a way for God to break through, and touch my deepest, innermost self. Saint Teresa of Avila said that the only sign that shows progress in prayer is that you accept your brother or sister in community. And love of course isn’t a sweet feeling, but a decision, and even a struggle- but a struggle that purifies. Only love can liberate me from ego. And a handy tip that helps me love people in spite of the way they treat me is: ‘There is no event that takes place without the knowledge of God.’ And therefore he has allowed this person, this event, this circumstance for some greater good- usually my own growth.

3. If my soul wants to be like a watered garden, I need to use the drip irrigation method, plus a morning and night watering: If I really want to grow in prayer, I MUST make time to meet Him not just once in the day, but for a chunk of time at the beginning and at the end, and frequently throughout the day, even for a few minutes at a time- singing hymns, practising the presence of God, doing an examen, just saying a few words of love. As most people who know me probably know, I’m one of the laziest people alive. Sloth in particular is my besetting sin- laziness in spiritual matters. I do the bare minimum. If I’m praying once a day, I think I’m doing GREAT. And yet, something has changed with this retreat. As Fr. A said, “You don’t have to do it. I can’t tell you you have to. But if you have a desire for God, you can do it!” And I can. If I can make time to check Facebook through the day, surely I can make time to turn my gaze to the Beloved.

There was SO much more. But I’m going to stop. You should go for this retreat. Seriously. If you live in India, take a week off and go. Leave me your email in the comments or contact me if you want details. Really. Do it.


Monday, 8 August 2016

The Tale of the Free Wedding Dress


Full disclosure: This is NOT the wedding dress or the bride the story is about, but I'm not allowed to post pictures of her until the actual wedding. Fair enough.

“Let’s go wedding dress shopping!” A normal statement for a maid of honour to make to a bride-to-be. But this wasn’t a normal situation. Kristi* and Annie* were Americans, working as full-time Catholic volunteers in Taiwan and India, respectively, and the conversation was happening in the Philippines. And the bride wanted a free wedding dress.

Let’s back up. Two years into her non-traditional life as an itinerant Catholic volunteer serving the poor in India, Annie met Ajay*, a young Catholic man from a traditional Maharashtrian family. Deeply impressed with each other’s faith, they soon started discerning marriage. Many were skeptical of their choice to trust God and put Him first in their decisions. “Can serving God fill your bellies?” they were asked. They prayed and steadfastly continued to prepare for a simple wedding.

Most brides expect to pay huge amounts for a wedding dress, but Annie wanted to spend as little as possible. She planned to borrow a friend’s dress because it would be free. But her maid of honour, Kristi, had other ideas. When they met in the Philippines for a visa run and retreat, she convinced Annie to look at wedding dresses. She skeptically agreed. Kristi made HER preparations for the shopping trip- by praying that God would guide them. They believed in a God who was involved with the little details of their lives.

The two girls walked through the shopping area of Cagayan de Oro, a busy city in Mindanao, in the south of the Philippines. There was a plethora of wedding dress shops, a big business in the Philippines. Some of the shops were a little seedy, with dressing rooms made up of a curtain drawn across a wire. There were so many ugly wedding dresses! And still so expensive! Annie was soon tired, and ready to give up.

Then Kristi saw one little boutique with just one wedding dress in the window. The store window next to it was bursting with wedding dresses, but Kristi ignored it, and purposefully walked into the little one. Something told her this was the one. As they entered, Annie was overawed by how posh it seemed- a big mirror, fluffy white couches.

“We should leave,” she thought uncomfortably. “This is going to be way too expensive.”

They sat down and talked to the proprietor, a little Filipino lady in a expensive-looking cocktail dress.
“I don’t make dresses, I design them,” the lady told them.

 “Oh, great!” said Kristi, brightly. She knew Annie's modesty standards were becoming difficult to find. But Annie just wondered how soon they could leave without being rude.

 “We’re Catholic volunteers,” they told her, and she seemed happy to hear that.

“I’m Catholic too! And I give discounts to Catholic volunteers. I’m grateful to God for the blessing of this store, so it’s my little way of giving back.”

Annie and Kristi shot looks at each other. This was beginning to sound more promising. But then she pulled out a piece of paper with the price ranges, and their hearts sank. The range was from 45,000 pesos to 300,000 pesos (about $950 to $6300).

“Can you manage 45,000 pesos?”she asked them kindly.

After looking at each other, they both answered, “No,” dismally.

“Never mind. Can you stand up?” Annie stood up, confused, and turned around, and the lady looked her up and down, as if she was calculating how much fabric she would need to dress her.

“What kind of dress do you want? Tell me.” She pulled out a paper and pen, and sketched as Annie described a modest, old fashioned, lacy wedding dress of her dreams. She commented several times, "You are really conservative." It's true, thought Annie. That was why none of the other dresses were what she wanted.

“Do you like this?” she showed her the finished sketch.

“Ye-ess… It’s really pretty.. But I can’t afford it. We’re volunteers.”

“Okay. What can you afford?”

“Less than 10000 pesos ($220).”

“That’s nothing! That wouldn’t even cover the cost of the material,” she responded.

“But.. I’ll do it for that.”

That was unexpectedly generous, but Annie, cautious as ever, was still worried. That was still $220 more than free. They looked at fabric, and then told the lady they needed to think about it. They left the shop, and sat together at an empty bar, eating french fries.

“I don’t think I should do it. I could still borrow a dress for free.” They stopped and prayed, and asked the Lord what she should do.

“I think the Lord wants you to have it,” said Kristi. “From 45,000 pesos to 10,000 pesos! I’ve been praying all day, and this is a gift from the Lord.”

So they went back in and said, “We want it!”

They left for the retreat, but Annie was still whispering to the Lord, “Please, Lord! Can I get it for free?” She told the other girls at the retreat the story, and they were amazed at the miracle of a wedding dress for $220, and yet she told them that she was begging the Lord to give it to her for free.

In preparation for paying for the dress, Annie emptied her bank account. She had only $6 left in her account. She had no money left for her remaining three days in the Philippines. A friend gave her money for her taxi to the airport, so she hid that away. But she had nothing else. She and Kristi lived off dry oats and chocolate bars, because that was the only thing they had with them. Annie’s stomach felt strange, and she was hungry all the time, and couldn’t stop thinking of food. Someone had even offered her food once, and she politely refused, because in India she had been trained to say no the first time, and yes when the offer was renewed, but to her disappointment, her refusal was accepted.

During the week, they returned for a few dress fittings. Each time they would talk with the owner, getting to know her better. They asked about her family members, and they found out she was a famous designer all over Mindanao. On their last visit, Annie asked her if she knew where they could get a taxi that would take them to the airport in the middle of the night.

“Oh, my personal driver can take you!” she said, nonchalantly.

“How much will that cost?” ventured Annie.

“Nothing!” she replied, laughing.

Annie was in awe at God’s providence. “This is the nicest person in the world.” As they chatted, Annie asked if they could write down the names of her family members so they could continue to pray for them. She wrote down the names, and then they prayed with her for her work, and her family. After they prayed, she asked for the paper with the names back, and made two copies of it. She began to roll the paper up, and they saw a glimpse of money being rolled in with the papers.

“That’s so generous, after everything else she has done for us” thought Annie. She thought she had seen a hundred pesos.

“This is for your volunteer work in India and Taiwan,” she told them, and they thanked her. Then she presented them with the bill for 10,000 pesos, and Annie in that moment turned to the Lord and said, “Okay, Lord. It’s fine. I prayed that you would give it for free, and even though I am paying now, I will trust you. I don’t have any money left. But it’s fine.” She pulled out the money, and handed it over.

The owner laughed as she received the money and said, “You’re giving me money and it’s like I’m giving it right back to you.” That’s true, thought Annie, since she’s given us a small donation.

They thanked her for doing it so fast- she made a wedding dress in a week! Then she handed them two boxes of Dunkin' Donuts which she had lying by her. Kristi and Annie walked out with the wedding dress, handing out doughnuts to the street children, and beggars that they saw, feeling like Santa Claus. They headed to Jollibee, the most popular fast food chain in the Philippines, and ordered fried chicken and french fries and ice cream with the taxi money.

As Annie returned to their table with the food, she saw Kristi’s face in shock.

“I think you just got a free wedding dress.”

“What?”

“There’s 5000 pesos in my envelope. Look in yours.”

Annie opened her folded piece of paper, and there was 5000 pesos. She started crying, and they both started shouting ‘Praise you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!’ aloud, oblivious of the other Jollibee customers.

Because through this miracle of the free wedding dress, God had confirmed in her heart that this man and this wedding WAS God’s plan for her, that He COULD fill the bellies of those who served him and trusted Him, and that He loved not just her, Annie, but Kristi, and the boutique owner enough to get them all involved in and blessed by His surprises and extravagant love.

*Names have been changed.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The Best and the Worst of Goa Monsoons

Coming from Pune, I thought I knew all about the monsoons “You’ll see,” Goans prophesied darkly when I gaily remarked how much I was looking forward to the monsoons. The summer in Goa was so suffocatingly humid, that only the thought of the monsoon kept me going while the sweat rolled down my body at 7 am in May. And then the monsoons came! Now I know.

One of the few pictures I didn't steal from the Internet

The Best 

The weather is cool, even cold sometimes, and I remember thinking I had almost forgotten what cold felt like during the summer. I get to wear sweaters, huddle in my Mexican blanket, and drink endless cups of chai. Perfect for introverts who prefer to never leave the house, and now have an excuse not to.

Me to a T.. until i have to leave the house

Also I don’t have to change my clothes multiple times in the day because they’re soaked in sweat. The world is lush with greenery, bursting with fresh, rain drenched life! It’s hard to imagine anything more beautiful. We found a new church to go to Mass too, and riding down the little roads framed by green was like bursting into a storybook, or one of those gorgeous, larger than life, aesthetically fascinating movies like Avatar or Life of Pi or The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Strange movie.. and yet feels like a vivid, vivid dream

The Worst 

Mold! Mold, I tell you, everywhere! On my shoes, on my clothes, on my bags, on some books, on the walls. I feel like I smell mold when I put on my helmet. Ugh. Clothes take forever to dry, but if anything stays wet, welcome to the world of mold! (Oh shoot, I just remembered that I had some wet money in my rain jacket pocket this morning. So I guess I have mold-covered money too.)

I'm not even joking

Riding a bike in the rain- well I thought I used to do that in Pune. I’d wear a rain poncho (kinda like wearing a plastic bag), and even if I forgot it and it started raining, I had at least five minutes before the rain got heavier.

This might work in Pune

It was more of a steady drizzle that would let up in 15 minutes. In Goa, now. How do I describe this? You feel a drop of water. Within the next five seconds, it is as if it is Holi and your upstairs neighbour is gleefully emptying buckets and buckets of water directly on to your defenceless head. Which leads to my next point…

Exactly like that

Exremely attractive rain gear. I used to avoid even the thought of rain pants in Pune because although I wouldn’t call myself particularly concerned with fashion (I’m sure my sisters would call that the understatement of the year), even I had some standards. Well, standards just got thrown out the window for the monsoons, as every time I leave the house, I don the ugliest baggiest most shapeless pair of rain pants I have ever seen (apart from all the other ones), and then my rain jacket, hood, helmet, backpack with personal rain cover, and rain poncho over everything. Quite the sight.

Riding in the rain: While a gorgeous adventure in theory, it’s more like a fraught-with-danger, almost foolhardy death wish in reality. Between the puddle covered potholes, the rain so heavy I can hardly see the road ahead of me, the likelihood of skidding on the steep gravel-covered wet roads while hitting the brakes, the other big vehicles that splash water over me, and the water seeping into my clothes in spite of my ugly rain gear, you might hear a lot of ‘Praise you, Jesus’s (our volunteers trained response to scary/difficult/challenging moments) and my team mate singing loudly ‘ LET IT RAIIIN DOWN, OPEN THE FLOODGATES OF HEEAVEN.. oh wait, just kidding, Lord, what I meant was ‘LET IT STOOP NOW, CLOSE THE FLOODGATES OF HEAVEN!’.


Who knows what might happen?

In conclusion, Goa monsoons are STILL better than the oppressive summer. Anyway, it’s going to be September soon, and the beginning of the coolest, driest, most beautiful time of the year in Goa. Woohoo!

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Why 'Finding Dory' Made Me Cry


Spoiler alert: If you haven't watched Finding Dory, and plan to, don't read this!!

Dory has been my favourite animated movie character ever since Finding Nemo in 2003. Something about Dory's absent minded, talking to whales, sunny, random hilarity reminded me of me and my friends.


So of course when Finding Dory came out, I went to see it.  It was not very original, but pretty entertaining. when a movie actually gets me to laugh aloud, I count it a good movie.

But the best movies are the ones that give me a glimpse of something deeper, a truth that resonates with my soul. And that's what happened as I watched Finding Dory.

The movie is all about how Dory, a fish with short term memory loss loses her parents as a child, and as an adult remembers that she lost them, and crosses the ocean trying to find them again. (I'd think this was a slightly scary premise for a kid's movie- thinking you could just LOSE your parents was a real possibility must be a kid's worst fear). She keeps having flashbacks to her childhood, and remembers how her parents lovingly helped Baby Dory deal with her memory problem in different ways, including training her to follow a trail of shells to find her way back home. (Can I just say how adorable Baby Dory is?)



But after the expected set of obstacles and detours and appearance of new friends who help poor forgetful ENFP Dory, she finally finds her childhood home- and it's abandoned.

The moment when you see the abandoned home feels like what I imagine it would feel like to find there really was no God, no purpose, that life was devoid of meaning, and hopelessness was the only appropriate response. I've had nightmares like that.

It is a dark and lonely feeling. Again, I'm kinda surprised that a kid's movie would touch on such dark themes so realistically. When all is lost, Dory loses even the friends she does have, and finds herself wandering around alone in the ocean. Her mind seems to be disintegrating from the trauma.

And then, and then... she sees the beginning of a trail of shells. Is it possible? Could she have stumbled upon a trail of shells her parents had laid for her? Was it possible?


She follows the trail, and sees a home in the ocean.... AND THEN you see a hundred trails of shells leading in all directions from the home... and her parents old, and still laying shells hoping that one day, one day, their daughter would come looking for them, and would find one of the trails of shells that would lead her back to home.. and I'm weeping because THAT, THAT EXACTLY IS HOW GOD LOVES US! The faithful Father, waiting, watching for the prodigal to return. The God who never gets tired of calling us back, of laying shell-trails- signs along our path, pointing us back to our true home with Him.

Dory innocently lost her way (this movie must be so meaningful to parents with special needs kids), and her parents didn't just give up and start a new life without her. But we CHOSE to turn away, and STILL God didn't give up on  loving us, and devising ways to bring us back.

A few days ago an acquaintance was telling us how his brother had strayed far from God, for years had made power and money and success his gods. Until one day when he went for a nominal Confession. He made a perfunctory Confession, but suddenly the priest started telling him all the sins he had not said- thing that the priest couldn't have known. (Padre Pio was known to have done the same.) This man suddenly heard God speaking loudly into his life... and then the priest told him, "God says to tell you- I am the eighth person He's sent." God had been sending people to call His son back. And even when he ignored them, he sent another one, and another one.


Finding Dory reminded me of the truth that no nightmare can take away from me- I am NOT alone. I am loved, forgiven and awaited. How sweet it is to be loved by You, Lord. 

Monday, 11 July 2016

A Glimpse into the World of Siblings


Thinking about siblings- the good, the bad, and the ugly, after revealing how annoying an older sister I was in my last post.

-----1-----

How to Take the Art of 'Annoying Siblinghood' to a Whole New Level

Mornings were the worst in my home. My dad was the parent who would try to make sure we were all awake at the time we were supposed to be awake. Unfortunately, that was easier said than done. Some of my siblings were heavy sleepers, and had mastered the art of JUST. NOT. WAKING. UP.

Dada: Are you awake! It's past 7! Get moving!
Sibling (in deep sleep): I'm awake!

Half an hour later:
Dada: WHY AREN'T YOU UP YET??
Sibling: You woke me up? I didn't hear you!

Me: Aaargghh!

I hated that everyone was in a bad mood in the morning, and I decided that I would do my bit to solve the problem. You know what I did? I can't believe I'm admitting this in public... I got permission from my parents to throw water on my siblings if they didn't wake up when they were supposed to.

Yes.

I really did.

I would get a mug of water, and drip drip drip a few drops on the face of the offending sibling. That would certainly wake them up, but I can't say it helped with the average level of bad moods in the home.

-----2-----

What Siblings REALLY Fight Over

People who don't have siblings might assume that siblings fight over toys or possessions. But the reality is much stranger.

These are some of the things my siblings and I fought over:

  • Who got the chipped plate- the Chipped Plate was the Plate of Shame. No one wanted to land up with the Chipped Plate. So the sibling whose job it was to lay the table, would carefully place it at the seat of the sibling they were most mad at. But then! If there was enough time between the laying of the table and the eating of the meal, the Table-Layer would often be OUTRAGED to find that the chipped plate had made its way back to his or her place. Unfortunately this was not something he or she could officially complain about, because that would mean admitting the deliberate placing of the Chipped Plate in the first place. 
  • Who got the Roundy Poon. Now this spoon was the most desirable item on the dining table, and would also involve a lot of machinations to make sure one got it. Often the youngest sibling would be the lucky one.
  • Who got to sit next to Mama at movie nights. Once again, a privilege usually reserved for the youngest, but then again Mama has two sides, so that's up for grabs. Woe to you though if you get up while the movie is playing, because your privileged spot will most likely be usurped.
  • Whether or not or how fast to put the fan on in the night- there's always the permanently hot sibling who needs the fan on the frigidest of nights, and the permanently cold sibling who is huddled up under blankets on a suffocating summer night. Related: whether or not the bedroom windows and doors are left open.
  • Lights off at night: I remember a furiously angry night with a sibling and I switching on and off the light on opposite ends of the room because we were so privileged to have two switches to the same tube light.
  • Bath time: I once got into a strange fight in which my sister and I were lodged in the bathroom door, neither of us allowing the other to enter, because one of us had missed our bath time, and whoever got in first was not going to get in trouble with my parents, who were about to get home. 
  • Clothes: I would regularly borrow my sisters' cute clothes without asking, a source of much anger. I still sometimes have to fight the urge to be possessive about my clothes, feeling like someone is 'stealing my cuteness' if they wear my clothes.


----3----

Siblings Involvement in Each Other's Love Lives

From passing on fake or real love notes, telling each other who to have crushes on (why yes I do win the award for bossiest 12 year old big sister ever), peeking from the window as sisters get picked up for dates by guys with silver shirts, ear rings, and flowers, comforting sisters who get stood up, or disappointed in love, giving first date advice, giving advice on girls to extremely ungrateful brothers, eating chocolates given by siblings' admirers, making (not as subtle as they think) comments to or about love interests within their hearing, giving advice about not flirting, and dealing with unwanted suitors, or pushy girls, to letting cats out of bags at inopportune moments, siblings are very involved with each other's love lives... for better or for worse.

----4----

Siblings are the Worst... and the Best

Siblings can be the most frustrating people to exist, because they know exactly how to push your buttons. Old childhood hurts take a long time to heal, and sometimes can cloud our perspective of each other. But siblings are also the people who've seen the worst of you- the sarcastic you, the undisciplined you, the furiously angry you, so they know how hard won the new you, the gentle you, the kind you is. I think GRACE and MERCY are the most desperately needed among siblings and families, because it is only in those very close, nitty gritty relationships that we are really real, and see both the reality of REAL ugly sinfulness and REAL beautiful mercy.

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Simcha Fisher wrote a cool article called: How to Help Young Siblings Grow Up to Become Lifelong Friends 

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

I Used to Be Anti-Harry Potter


When Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone first came out, someone lent it to my family, and my mother read the first chapter aloud to us. That was all it took- my four siblings and I were hooked. There was something very charming and witty about her writing style, especially to a 12 or 13 year old. We were super excited about each new book coming out.

Somewhere around the fifth book, I became an avid Catholic forum reader, and came across a a lot of Christians who were vehemently against the Harry Potter series. I was fairly impressionable, and was convinced that because the books were about witchcraft and some kids who read them started experimenting with black magic, they were dangerous and should be shunned. At that time in my life, I was one of those bossy, judgy, lay down the law and make other people follow it kinda people (my siblings are nodding vigorously as they read this), so I managed to convince my parents that as good Christians they shouldn't be allowing Harry Potter into our house.


Can you even imagine how furious my siblings were with me? I'm still not sure if they've forgiven me for that. Of course, such a law (like most book-banning), invites law-breaking, and all of them managed to smuggle in and read the succeeding books without my parents finding out (including one who read the fifth one while sitting inside a cupboard), so really I was the only one who lost out.

Over the years, I began to read more balanced Catholic blogs, with more thoughtful and nuanced perspectives. As Catholics, we DO believe in black and white, but also that there are also a great deal of matters which are not so clear, which the Church has NOT clearly condemned or approved, and which need prudence, and wisdom, and healthy discussions in order to choose how to approach.

The tendency is either to be overly fearful (everything that is not explicitly Christian is evil!) or to be overly lax (no censorship at any cost, children have to learn to deal with anything that is out there), or even naive (how much will it really influence them?)

Anyway, after reflection and growth, and the passage of years, here are some thoughts on Harry Potter now:

As a Christian, I DO believe in the existence of evil spiritual powers, and that all forms of the occult are dangerous and to be taken seriously. That's why non-Christians are laughing in disbelief at anyone having a problem with Harry Potter. If witchcraft is merely a fun imaginative fictional invention, then there really is no problem. But I have heard and seen enough to know that the Church isn't kidding about this stuff.


Here is just one of many many stories: Resident Evil: How I Made Friends With the Devil. Part 1 of a 3 Part Series

This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future.Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone. 
2117 All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity.
But there is a difference between the magic of fairytales, or pure fiction, and the magic that the Church condemns. 'Sorcery in these books is not the sort of witchcraft forbidden in Holy Scripture. The wizards in Harry Potter do not invoke evil spirits or dark forces in order to change the physical world. Rather, they possess a genetic capability, like a superpower.'* Likewise, fictional magic is used in The Chronicles of Narnia (deep magic) and The Lord of the Rings, and many other childhood favourites that have nothing to do with the kind of magic the Church condemns. In HP in particular, it is more like a superpower, or like the X-men's genetic mutation- an inborn gift or ability given rather than a power or knowledge achieved by connecting with spiritual forces.

Still, a lot of the words used in real life Satanism and witchcraft (two different things) are used in Harry Potter: Like divination, spells, curses, etc. I think it is a legitimate concern that unsupervised and unguided reading of Harry Potter can lead to an unhealthy interest in dabbling with occult powers, especially because witchcraft and Satanism are becoming more and more popular and normalized in today's world. Think about the TV show Charmed for instance- three fashionable and attractive sisters are witches... who actually do practice real life witchcraft. Yeah, I used to watch it.. until the Lord gave me a kick and told me to stop.

Stephen D. Greydanus cautions: 'Is there equally no danger of any young Harry Potter fans-particularly children whose spiritual development is not being properly cultivated-developing an unhealthy infatuation with the idea of magic? Might they tend to indulge in fantasies about the idea of hidden or esoteric knowledge, about belonging to an elite, covert world of power beyond one's peers? Might these stories even be one factor, at some later date, influencing a child to respond more positively or with greater tolerance toward everyday occult phenomena? Might they be one factor influencing a child to respond one day with greater interest or tolerance to Wicca or the Kabbalah?' [Read the rest here: The Morals of Magic]

That doesn't make the books themselves dangerous: Instead, like a lot of literature and movies these days, I think the solution is not to ban them, but to read with your kids, encourage healthy discussions about what is real and what is not, what is dangerous and to be avoided, etc. Even some of the tricky moral questions could be easily talked about while reading the books- do the ends justify the means? Is turning the other cheek for wimps? Are people born good or evil, or do they choose?

Some people feel like just  reading the book or watching the movies puts one in spiritual danger: However, unlike other practices the Catholic Church has explicitly condemned, there has never been an official consensus or statement on HP. Why not, you may ask. As Michelle Arnold, a Catholic Answers apologist writes: 'Sometimes Catholics think that there can be only one permitted opinion on all issues of doctrine and morals. This is a misconception. In many areas of Christian life, the Church is silent and trusts Catholics to use their own prudential judgment. The Harry Potter novels is one such issue in which Catholics are free to sort through the various opinions on the matter, read the books for themselves, and come to their own carefully-considered decision.'  You would think if the books really did open a doorway to evil (like wearing charms or consulting horoscopes), the Church would officially warn us of it. But she does not, which makes me think that can't be true. If my heart and my mind belong to Christ, reading a fantasy book or watching a fantasy movie (in which characters neither invoke evil powers, nor glamorize evil) will not so easily pull me away from God. (Also, guess what? Most of the 'spells' are basically Latin words.)

Harry Potter has a lot of very Christian themes, which is not surprising when you find out that J.K. Rowling is a Christian. The whole life after death thing? The 'Chosen One' who had to sacrifice his own life in order to destroy the Enemy, and even the power of death? "The last enemy to be conquered is death." Why yes indeed, that IS from the bible, 1 Corinthians 15:26 in particular. Death not as an end, but as a doorway to a journey, taking a train to go further on- remind you of C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle? Remember when Harry's family walks with him at the end- such a powerful image of the angels and saints- 'Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us'. We believe it! And of course, the shocking and protective power of LOVE?


J.K. Rowling said, “To me [the religious parallels have] always been obvious. But I never wanted to talk too openly about it because I thought it might show people who just wanted the story where we were going.”

When I started writing this blog post, I thought I would just write for an hour and be done. But then I started doing some research (partly spurred on by a friend who has strong concerns about the danger of Harry Potter), and boy, there are a LOT of Catholic opinions and articles about Harry Potter. Phew.
I think Regina Doman's article is my favourite though:

'I think that it’s natural for serious Catholics in these dark times to be suspicious of the books, and that people should be forgiven for assuming that wildly popular books like the Potter series must be successful only because they are about the occult. I never dreamed that the books might be so incredibly popular because they are so incredibly good. 

 But once I read them, I started to realize that this might indeed be the case. Perhaps the jaded and beauty-starved and morally-adrift children of the world are devouring Harry Potter because the books are full of truth, goodness, and beauty – although disguised with unfortunate terms like ‘wizard’, ‘witch,’ and ‘magic.’ If so, then Rowling has pulled the biggest literary coup in modern history, similar only to Tolkien’s success in becoming the greatest author of the twentieth century. 

 The main problem with the books could simply be that they are new. When I was growing up, I was encouraged by serious Christians to avoid The Lord of the Rings because the book was thought to encourage interest in the occult. After all, it had spawned the occultic Dungeons and Dragons games. But now Tolkien’s book is hailed as a Christian classic, simply because it has passed the test of time.' [read the rest]

I realize this blog post has practically become a novel itself, and has not really added anything to the (extensive) online discussion of the Catholic perspective of Harry Potter. Not to mention consuming hours of my life researching it.

So really my conclusion is- read the books. But educate yourself and your kids about the very real spiritual harm of real life witchcraft and the occult. Or don't read the books or watch the movies. But don't judge the people who do. Many orthodox and wise Catholics have, and don't seem to have suffered any harm. The end. Good night. Good grief. It's 2 am.


*These two articles made me start thinking about Harry Potter again: Why Your Kids Need to Read Harry Potter and The Mystery of Harry Potter.