Thursday, November 6, 2008

On Liturgical Latin (and Becoming a Trad by Accident)

I'm sure you've all heard many of the arguments before for Latin over the vernacular language in the Roman Catholic Liturgy: continuity with centuries of tradition, universal liturgical connection with the rest of the world, etc. You've probably also heard at least one "practically, it just works out better!" argument: The one with the foreign priest whose accent is so thick you can barely understand him if you're straining all your energy to hear (which most people aren't)...

What about our listening skills? Compare three alternatives an intelligent person has to choose from: 1) listening to a Liturgy (even one well-celebrated) in English (which will here stand for "the vernacular", as English is our vernacular); 2) listening in English and reading along in English; or 3) listening in Latin and reading along in English (though there are many differences, for my purposes I include the silent canon with this Latin to differentiate it from heard English).

1) When's the last time you truly listened and prayed along with the Eucharistic prayers? I'll be honest - the Liturgy is the backbone of my spiritual life, and this morning I was thinking about this blog post as much as the sacrifice that was happening at the altar! And I try to pray along! (And this is presupposing a priest who says the prayers lovingly, as opposed to one who rushes through or shouts through the whole thing). No, the modern human mind is much too good at not listening. Next!

2) Perhaps reading along with important things like the Eucharistic Prayers might help in paying attention (setting aside the sheer inconvenience of four plus prayers to choose from) - but after about a week of so doing, most people feel (or at least, I feel) this is a poor use of one's energy, because the same words are being spoken as are being read, thus this reading actually makes one feel bored. Thumbs down.

3) Latin &/or silence. The idea here is, you're reading along (or praying along however you like), and you're not bothered by the priest praying his prayers. Yes, your participation is an important part of the liturgical action, but here your participation is your own! You're not bullied into doing things one way or another. You read along and pray at your own pace. Because you're fully in charge of your prayer here, it can be much easier to pray deeply, especially if you're inclined to do so.

So there's my argument (for listening) against always using the vernacular.

But wait - there's more! Next comes my argument for vocal prayer against always using the vernacular! I have two examples to prove this point (and, predictably, I save my favorite for last).

On Sundays, when we say the creed... Who else finds their brain checking out somewhere between "I believe in God, the Father almighty" and "I believe in the Holy Spirit", even though the mouth continues to recite by rote the same powerful, easily ignored words? And this profession which should be a mental revisiting of the basic tenets of our faith?

Even better - think of the last time you prayed the rosary in a group setting. Imagine a theoretical passer-by who is unfamiliar with Christianity but fluent in English, who tried to figure out what was meant by this prayer, repeated over and over again. Don't you think he would be most puzzled by wondering what a "wombjesus" is?

Think about it, and think about how we pray, especially as a group. Prayers are poetry in a certain sense, sure, but do we ever consider their actual meaning, or whether we should perhaps say them in a way that reflects that?

Another classic example is the grace before meals. Punctuated as it is usually spoken, it runs like this:
Bless us O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive.
From thy bounty, through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Little wonder people have been known to change the words! Do we really consider when we say that prayer that our meal is a gift that we receive out of the Lord's great bounty? Of course not! But we rarely question it, because we understand what each individual word means.

I'm ranting. The point is: Latin makes sense, precisely because it doesn't.

On Passive-Agression and Other Things

Yesterday morning, I put up a facebook status that was vaguely politicalish. Yesterday evening, upon returning from work, I discovered 11 comments on it (they read like arguments between blunt, conservative Catholics and our liberal secular peers). I addressed comments individually that bore answer (by wall post), but when I was indirectly accused of being a one-issue voter, I couldn't handle it and gave a simple but clear explanation of the points in question, swearing to leave it at that.

Why do I bring this up? Because I was being passive-agressive in my take on politics and facebook. I used to hate passive agression (back in high school). I saw it as unnecessarily cowardly, and the inevitable explosion of that pent-up emotion seemed hardly worth it. But rooming with Liz last year showed me that one could be passive-agressive and still be a good, likable person who's in control of herself as much as is anyone else. And so I think I became a little more passive, a little more laid-back.

And these sorts of things cause me to realize: So much about the person I've become has subtly changed from the person I was in high school. So many of the things I prided myself on are no longer really even a part of me. I'm still stubbornly solid in my opinions, but I'm no longer confrontational. I'm still well aware of my unique gifts and strengths, but I no longer have the "I am woman; I am awesome!" attitude I once enjoyed. I'm still certain the rest of the world would be better off if they subscribed to my ideas, but now I'm just not interested in explaining why (it would take far too much work to bring a stranger around to the hermeneutic through which I look at life/the world).

I know I'm better off for most of these changes that God has made as He's led me to Himself. But I miss some of the old ways - especially that fun, obnoxiously endearing attitude, and (in a different sense) the ability to wear my opinions on my sleeve and not worry about who cares about what.

I think that's what's been the strangest for me. Because I'm so conscious of scandal and detraction, I am nearly always guarded (save with my closest friends, of course). And that's weird. I loved just being free and unconcerned with the expression of my feelings, but now I have always to be concerned about spreading negativity or being uncharitable or giving a bad impression... I just feel like I'm fake much of the time, like I've finally understand the phenomenon I've been reading about for years about putting up walls or putting on a mask. Not that I'm keeping myself and everyone out of the inner regions of my heart, just that I'm keeping the outside world at bay.

But how am I to show others the attractiveness of Christ if I keep Him hidden behind a wall?

I haven't figured that out yet. Any thoughts?

As more and more of me has become interiorized, I have to consider whether to share or hide my fasts even from my believing friends.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

On Weight Loss

Disclaimer: Gentlemen, if you're uninterested in discussion of female body size/shape, you may want to simply skip on down to the next post. I don't get graphic here, but I do speak comfortably, as if to just my lady friends.

I've been going to the gym for a few months now, doing some combination of pilates, cardio, and weights between once and thrice per week. It began just for fun and to get into shape a bit, but the more I've gotten into it, the more it becomes, well, more than that!

Because you can see muscle when I now flex my arm, and that's exhilarating, I've had to fight against the desire to increase the amount of weight I lift in an unhealthy manner. My general goals are less easily observable, and seem even like they're hardly happening: getting into shape (I can still hardly make it 20 mins on the running machine without dying) and reducing the size of the fat deposits on my stomach (looks about the same to me).

My body has become sleeker and more toned, yet my overall shape has been retained (supporting my feelings all along that it's the fault of the manufacturers, not my own, that I sometimes have to shop in plus sizes). However, this brings me to my reason for writing this post:

My hips have shrunk.

Only by an inch or two, I'm sure, and it's quite clear that all that's happened is fat has disappeared. Still, I find myself wondering if my treasured hourglass figure is now going to be lopsided - for which to happen it would take a lot more than a couple inches of shrinkage (I think it'd take some reshaping of bone, actually).

Yes, I know this is pretty much the opposite problem of most American women, but just bear with me. Even in middle school, as puberty loomed large on the horizon, I looked at women and decided that I had no interest in being stick-thin. I want to be curvy, like Topanga, I remember deciding to myself after one of many Boy Meets World-a-thons.

And that's what happened. Before the Rolfes wedding two summers ago, my whole household measured ourselves together (since five out of seven were in the wedding party), and my hips came in at a whopping 43". Forty-three inches! Let me put this in context for you: As far as waist size, our stick-thin sister measured barely a few inches below our most pleasantly plump (similarly, our F-cup girl had at best three inches on our A-cup girl). But everyone else's hips fell in the mid-30's range, to my 43. So really, I have nothing to worry about.

But I still want to measure my hips again. Just to see.

And then maybe sign up for that abs class. To keep myself well-proportioned, of course.

I asked one of trainers at my gym to measure my hips tonight - 43 1/2". I've got nothing to worry about.

Just for kicks, I checked my score on the "Body Mass Index." I am a 30, which is the low cutoff score for obesity. Seriously!?

On Politics

Well, I suppose Emperor-Elect Obama will make as good a leader as any of the Socialist States of America, where the right to abortion is more fundamental than the right to free speech.

I believe that sentence about sums up my dissatisfaction with the results of this year's election. So on to other political topics...

I find that I am afraid that my co-workers will make election-related comments to me. I am certainly not happy with the outcome of most anything I voted for or hoped in, but I am loath to express it to any but my closest friends. I don't even want to put something partisan on my facebook, for goodness' sake!

So why have I such fear of being perceived as partisan? Is it because I feel guilty that I, a twentysomething American, am not a raging liberal on all the controversial social issues of our time? Or is it perhaps because I'm not sure I'm really a conservative on any but the moral issues?

Yes, I'm a registered Republican (something I've repeatedly considered changing), but nor for more than the fact that at least I can make a splash in the primaries that way (as opposed to as an independent). And yes, I have tended to consistently dislike the Republican candidates less than the Democratic candidates. Still, I fear being labeled a Republican - or even a conservative! Perhaps this is largely because I don't know the length and breadth of what those classifications mean; perhaps I fall into the category of postmodern post-label people. Perhaps I just don't want to put my name to something I'm not in full agreement with. I don't look at politics like those good Yankee fans who love the team but disagree bitterly with the administration; I'm just not interested in that depth of knowledge and self-investment.

Perhaps my real problem is that I, like many, have little to no faith in the system that's now running our country.

Switching gears a bit: I commented to my dad last night (thinking of the many apt comparisons between America and Rome) that perhaps, if Obama won, it might speed the downfall of America as a world power, which would probably not be a bad thing. He disagreed, and it was with his answer that I realized the fatal flaw in those comparison-arguments: When Rome fell, there was no scarier budding world power to take its place. When America falls, who will take our place? Russia? China? Venezuela? As my dad pointed out, at least we're trying to do the right thing. Scary.

This may be a multiple-post day. I'll try not to binge so much in the future.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

On Eowyn, and the role of women

Wow - it has been a long time. I do not intend to let this blog lapse for more than a couple of weeks at best. As much as this is fun and a release, it is also a discipline and a training I desire to enforce upon myself.

So I've been rereading the Lord of the Rings, and this week I've been very struck by the battle-part of Eowyn. I looked for some essays that address the role of women in Tolkien's epic work, but none of them address quite the nuances I'm looking for, so here I am, though I haven't yet finished the book (the siege of Gondor is nearing its end, I believe, but it is still going at the point where I last stopped reading).

Eowyn is a strong, powerful woman who has grown up in a society where strength and valor in battle are most valued. She has learned these things and learned them well, though warfare is a man's place, and swordplay a man's art. When the time comes and every man is needed at arms, she waits at home, dissatisfied with the governing noncombative role assigned to her. Still, she fills the role without complaint once. A second time she begs to leave, but remains behind to her duty. When all those she loves are about to leave her behind for a third time, where she knows a lesser man could do her work, she decides to throw convention to the wind and masquerade as a man, and she rides into battle with the all King's forces.

I see how this decision can be seen as selfish. She doesn't want to wait; she wants to be in on the action, but she also wants to give of herself in the valuable, valiant way she knows she can do.

But in the throes of battle is when it gets difficult - for as she remains near to her beloved uncle-king, it is not only her bravery but her unique position of femininity upon the fields of battle that allows her (with the help of Merry, who also was supposed to be far from this battle) to slay the King of the Nazgul, and to protect her Uncle Theoden King from a most ignominious moment of death. (Ignominious may not be the best adjective to use there, but it's what I've got.) Even Merry's part in the small yet great triumph of this moment is inspired by Eowyn - Merry's spirit is roused to valor by the great deeds of the beautiful woman before him, and he rushes to aid her in whatever small way he can (and it turns out that his blade, because of its history, does more damage to the fiend than could have any other on the field of battle).

Her brother Eomer and his knights rue the sight of fair Eowyn lying as slain upon the field of battle - but how much of their pain and outrage is because they think she is dead? How much will their minds and hearts change when they learn of her great works upon the battlefield?

I shall have to revisit this subject once I've read farther. I see now that my reading is incomplete to make a true judgment. Still, I do hope for intelligent responses from you folks in the comments. I am sure that, despite my attempt at being objective, I have projected quite a lot of myself into Eowyn. And I do wonder about her embracement of the masculine battle role with the glad proclamation of her womanhood that enables her victory once there.

Why does she fight? I'm sure there are a thousand reasons (Tolkien's characters are nothing if not well-fleshed out). To impress Aragorn? As an extra guard upon her uncle the king? To prove to herself that she is worthwhile, after all? To put to good use these skills she's been taught since her youth? To fit in with the men she loves by partaking of the same activity? To give what truly is her all in this desperate war that requires everything of everyone?

I don't know. Please, talk to me - about the morality of Eowyn's actions as regards her role as woman of Rohan.

UPDATE: 11/5, 10:14am
Now I've read a bit further, and can reflect upon Gandalf's comments as Aragorn comes to heal Eowyn in the Houses of Healing. He seems to suggest that the heavy weight of darkness brought to the royal house by Wormtongue has helped to poison for her the role of staying behind and holding down the proverbial fort. Still, he greatly honors her valor, and says that it owes her a place of honor among the great queens. Hmm.
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