Sep 30 2011

Friday Florilegium


This past week, dealing with job searching and rejection letters, a Patty Griffin song has been my companion. The song speaks about Mary, a woman who lived with uncertainty and loss, yet even now, her presence of faith and strength shines. I’m reminded that there are greater forces at work, that we are all surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

Mary’s role in my life was solidified long before I knew about doctrines. She led me to Jesus through the cross on a sky blue rosary when I was 4 years old and, without a doubt, praying the rosary helped me through my high school years. When I happen upon little wooded prayer spaces, like the one above at Seattle University, I feel her presence encouraging me to take a deep breath and remember what is important.

Protestant or Catholic perspectives aside, she birthed and raised the Savior for the life of the world, and lived through all the joy and sorrow that calling entailed. I believe she is somehow still involved in mothering the world and pointing the way to Jesus.

And even more, Jesus would have first learned to pray by her example, so I figure that if I can ask my friends for prayer, then I can ask for hers.

(If you would like to listen, turn off the Music for Dreaming to the right, and then click here.)

Mary by Patty Griffin

Mary you’re covered in roses, you’re covered in ashes
You’re covered in rain
You’re covered in babies, you’re covered in slashes
You’re covered in wilderness, you’re covered in stain
You cast aside the sheet, you cast aside the shroud
Of another man, who served the world proud
You greet another son, you lose another one
On some sunny day and always stay, Mary
Jesus says Mother I couldn’t stay another day longer
Flys right by and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singin’ his praises in a blaze of glory
Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place

Mary, she moves behind me
She leaves her fingerprints everywhere
Every time the snow drifts, every time the sand shifts
Even when the night lifts, she’s always there

Jesus said Mother I couldn’t stay another day longer
Flys right by and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singin’ his praises in a blaze of glory
Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place

Mary you’re covered in roses, you’re covered in ruins
you’re covered in secrets
You’re covered in treetops, you’re covered in birds
who can sing a million songs without any words
You cast aside the sheets, you cast aside the shroud
of another man, who served the world proud
You greet another son, you lose another one
on some sunny day and always stay


Friday Florilegium 1

Sep 8 2011

Jane Eyre


I am something of a Jane Eyre aficionado, which is ironic, since I have a love-hate relationship with the story and its many movie adaptations. This 1847 gothic romance, full of shadowy, candle-lit halls, eerie noises, wind-swept moors, and haunted love both thrills and chills.

As I child, I remember seeing the 1944 Orson Welles-Joan Fontaine version, and its sepia spookiness fed my developing passion for period pieces, long skirts, and castles. When I moved to Germany as a sixth grader, I lived in the little village of Landstuhl, shadowed by the stony ruin of a medieval burg, complete with dungeons, worn stairs, and ivy covered battlements. My joy at walking on stone steps carved by history knew no bounds. Moving back to the States as a teen was a painful culture shock–Tacoma was simply 500 years too young.

A lover of fantasy, Jane Eyre was the first book I remember reading outside of the fantasy genre. The language stunned me with its beauty and when I found a free on-line audio version last year, read in a lovely Oxbridge accent, I cooked, cleaned, sewed, and drank tea for weeks getting lost in the rhythms of Charlotte Brontë’s English. I don’t listen to audiobooks. Ever. But considering the eerie pull of the story on my imagination, it’s not surprising that this new way of encountering the text drew me in.

Today I finally watched the newest interpretation of the story, the 2011 movie with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. While my favorite movie remains the 1996 version with William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg, the new movie sumptuously paints gothic landscapes and alcoves in nearly every scene, and captures the starkness of Jane’s life more believably. Dario Marianelli’s music (composer of the elegantly sweeping 2005 Pride and Prejudice soundtrack, now playing as you read this) fits the mood perfectly and if I take one thing away, it will be his haunting melodies for stormy, candle-lit evenings curled up in front of my fireplace. Marianelli’s Pride and Prejudice marries self-reflective insight, conflict, and hope together in heart-swelling pieces. Listening to his music, I can believe that Lizzie Bennett lived and fought happily ever after with Mr Darcy. In contrast, Marianelli’s music for Jane Eyre communicates sorrow, strength of will, and the bitter-sweetness of love gained in the shadow of death, both literal and figurative. There is a hopeful note, returned to repeatedly, but Marianelli doesn’t shy away from the undertones of torment and grief. It’s lovely, but in small doses only.

Wasikowska’s Jane is understated, steely, and intense. For the first time in a movie version, I caught some of the anguished, fiery strength which makes Jane a more fitting partner for Mr Rochester’s near madness, rather than simply a young school-girl deceived by a worldly older man. Watching this movie, you can’t help but know they’re both tormented by their pasts. Fassbender’s Mr Rochester is a man whose indulgences have slowly entangled him in a life-sucking acedia–restless, bored, numb, irritable, world-weary–who roughly grasps at Jane (or at least his idea of her) as his last chance at life and joy.

Still, as much as I applaud Jane’s  strong stand for self-respect and not wanting to destroy their love by letting desire trump covenant, she still returns. One could argue that she returns on a more equal footing than before: with money, new-found family, and the power born of a new sense of self-determination.  But even though the story allows them to be together, Mr Rochester’s years of acedic flight from life, his bitterness brought on by his responsibilities (to both wife and daughter), and his willingness to deceive, will not simply disappear with Jane’s return and their freedom to marry. Jane cannot be his salvation–and every movie, including this one, depicts her as exactly this, more or less. Only in the Hurt-Gainsbourg adaptation does some of Brontë‘s own portrayal of Mr Rochester’s gradual transformation make it on to the silver screen.

What is missing from this movie is a reason why I would want Jane and Mr Rochester to be together.  He is not a likable character, even in the book. This is haunted love at its best. Without a nod to Brontë‘s epilogue, where Jane reflects on their loving marriage, I have to ask: Does this movie depict love or just thwarted passion?  At the end, I simply wanted better for Jane–a life free from haunting and anguish,  free from being Mr Rochester’s salvation, and free from him being hers.

Sep 2 2011

Friday Florilegium

This week I reread David Hansen’s book, Long Wandering Prayer. Eight years ago, when I first read it, it drastically changed how I approached my “quiet time.”  The common understanding of prayer as only a silent, mental exercise disconnected from the body bored me terribly and seemed so artificial. My best times of prayer have always been while wandering city, hills, forests, and meadows. Hansen’s book gave me the freedom to embrace this way of praying, a way I had been praying since childhood, but never felt fit in the quiet time box.

If you find that prayer seems dull or disconnected from your life, I invite you to walk your prayer–wander your house, your neighborhood, your church building, and pray with your eyes open. Pay attention to what you see and let it lead you into prayer. Pay attention to the sounds, the noisyness of life, and let the Spirit speak to you through the noise. Kids are best at having noisy times with God. Pray with a young person in your life. Dance. Talk out loud to God. Talk back to God. If you need some inspiration, try reading a couple psalms–the psalmists loved to pray with their eyes open and use the created world for prayer images, and they also were not shy in talking to God!


From Long Wandering Prayer by David Hansen:

“The body matters in prayer, as does the physical world around us. We know this yet many of us understand prayer as an exercise in which we should ideally subdue, quiet or otherwise discipline the body so that it reamins dormant while we engage in the spirtual exercise of prayer. There is no question about the fact that prayer is a spiritual exercise. Prayer is in its very essence our soul in communion with the Spirit of God.

The fallacy lies in the idea that the body must be subdued in order for the soul to commune with the Spirit of God.  The very term quiet time (the fullest term being quiet time with God) implies this very thing–that we go to a quiet place and quiet the body so that we can be with God in quiet. Why can’t we call it noisy time? Why can’t we call in moving time? Why can’t we say, ‘I had a great noisy time with God this morning.’ I know of no biblical mandate for quiet time. For me, quiet time always turns into sleepy time. I think what we have be calling quiet time should really, be termed alone time.

Doesn’t Jesus tell us to pray in our prayer closet alone? Indeed. He tells us, “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’ (Mt 6:6) Jesus tells us to pray in secret, not in quiet. How quiet would that room be? He was probably referring to the pantry or storage room of a small house. The house filled with children, animals, neighbors, and street noise would have provided precious little quiet time. However, alone in the pantry, hearing the glorious cry of a child at play, the parent might well have prayed more fervently for that child than if they had been praying in an insulated room.

Did not Jesus go to the mountain to pray? Absolutely. When did you last pray on a mountain? I prayed on a mountain yesterday, alone. Birds whistled, the river roared, the wind howled, and my heart thumped as I climbed the mountain. Alone with God, I felt quite free to speak out loud. It was not quiet–and my body was not subdued…

Doesn’t it say ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Ps 46:10)? Yes, it does.  But in the context of Psalm 46 the injunction means ‘be still’ in the presence of war’s violent destruction and mountains that are shaking and falling into the heart of the sea. It means to be still in the midst of chaos.”

Friday Florilegium 1

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