Friday, July 23, 2010

On Sacrifice

My long awaited chicken post will be up tomorrow, as will the acclaimed video cooking series "Cooking With Turtle." However, until them, I offer another hiking thought.

Everyone knows that you have to sacrifice something sometimes. Whether it be free time so you can make the athletic team and win the girl, or your humanity, which happens when you commit crimes against the human person, pretty much anything you do will require you to accept the fact that you will not be able to do something else. Bilocating persons aside, you can’t do two things at once.

Hikers in general make several sacrifices. We sacrifice personal hygiene to gain solitude. We sacrifice fresh food to gain the ability to walk to said solitude. We sacrifice time in town to stop to smell the roses.

Distance hikers in particular make several sacrifices. The primary end of these sacrifices is toward the ability to hike ridiculous mileages with ease. They sacrifice eating as much as they would like to carry less weight and so to hike faster (this was one sacrifice I was unwilling to make). They sacrifice eating foods that taste good to hike faster. They sacrifice stopping to smell the roses to hike faster. They sacrifice down time (let’s call it solitude) to hike farther. This sacrificing is part of the game. Take it or leave it. Note that eventually one gets to the point that many of these sacrifices cease to be sacrifices. One adjusts rather quickly to not having fresh food. On the other hand, I didn’t particularly enjoy the feeling that stopping to take a picture required too much time. While others may not have felt so, I thought that that sacrifice wasn’t worth the end. And in life in general, isn’t it the case that we won’t sacrifice for something if the proverbial sacrifice recipient isn’t worth the sacrifice?

Friday, July 9, 2010

AT Retirement Essay

Well, I’m back. Every so often the creative bug bites me, and I guess this is one of those “oftens”. Here follows the (heavily edited) Cliff notes version of the past few months of my life:

March 1 I began hiking the Appalachian Trail. I had assumed that this would present me with a great deal of quiet, meditative time during which I could discern what I should do in the future. While I can’t say how the hiking experience works for other people, I can say that this was not my experience. The outer silence of the world sans cell phone signal, running water, and radio was unable to penetrate my inner sanctum, which was overrun by “are we there yet,”, “stupid snow/lack of water/trail/rocks/anything,” and the worst of classic and contemporary rock music. Over time I imagine I’ll have some more posts on the subject of the trail, my experiences, what I learned, and the like, but I think it makes sense in this case to start with the end. I finished my hike in New York, 1380 miles from the start at Springer Mountain, but still 800 from Mt. Katahdin, the end of the AT. Given the fact that I have enough time between now and the end of the summer to finish hiking the trail, many people have asked me why I will not return to finish the trail. I’m afraid my explanation may not make perfect sense to you, dear reader, but I’ll give it a shot, just so I can explain what’s going on in my (circuitous, odd, deranged, insane, insert-your-adjective-of-choice) mind. Ultimately I think that what I’m trying to explain I wrote best in what is effectively the closing note in my trail logbook, but more on that later.

Many of the people I met on the trail have the wanderlust; they would, if financial circumstances allowed, make backpacking their jobs. In the words of one of my favorite Saturday Night Live digital shorts, that ain’t me. While my friends on the trail dreamed and spoke of summiting Katahdin and planning future hikes, I thought primarily of home. This difference in fundamental orientation had, to me at least, counterintuitive results. I was much less industrious, er, much less goal driven, than the vast majority of the other hikers – I probably hiked about as far per day as most of them on a full day, but I took my time and I liked my short days when the opportunities presented themselves. Everyone hiking a long distance on the AT, or any trail, must of necessity believe that, as the saying goes, the journey is the destination; if this weren’t the case they would drive to Maine instead of walking there. However, it doesn’t make sense to me that most other hikers took the idea of making backpacking their vocation to the point that they seemed to smell the metaphorical roses less frequently than I did. The predominant distance backpacking strategy of push, push, push seemed to misfit the philosophy that the act of hiking is the primary reason one hikes the AT, and that the ultimate “destination” isn’t the be all and end all of the trail. This observation ultimately has little to do with my decision that my hike has reached its end. However, I do find it interesting that my desire to be homeward bound didn’t match my lollygagging hiking style, and that most other distance hikers want to live in the woods, yet hike much more quickly. Please understand that I’m not in any way criticizing other hikers; one must hike his own hike, to use another backpacking saying. I know that all of the through hikers I encountered were greatly enjoying their trip, and I would be the last to argue that my way is the “right” way. It just seemed odd to me, just as the other hikers doubtless thought my goofing off when I wanted to get done as quickly as possible seemed odd.

During my time on the trail I learned a great deal, and I intend to expound upon these lessons in future times. I was educated in the lightweight and ultralightweight schools of backpacking, which enabled me to hike faster more easily and more enjoyably. I learned that one’s will is quite possibly the most precious thing one has, for a great variety of reasons, and that it must be conserved on a long distance hike if one is to get to his destination. Lastly, and most importantly, I think I saw a glimmer of the permanent human nature, that which we have all shared from Adam on. We are not so different from our ancestors, both recent and ancient. Believe it or not, you can live without electricity and running water. In fact, you won’t notice their absences after a while. You can get used to pooping in holes (which, in a random aside, is why I get infuriated when people say that our ancestors were stupid and we can ignore whatever they said because they didn’t know what we know. I had to poop in holes too, and I like to think that I’m still capable of intelligent thought; my fellow hole-poopers, Aristotle and Aquinas, agree with me on this.) One can be happy with very few things – food, water, and a place to sleep. Clearly human nature hasn’t changed. This observation is further bolstered by my real reason for finishing my hike early. I’m convinced that we each of us long for community with others, with God, and with the land. Man is not meant to be alone, and he also is not meant to be uprooted every day; I felt these truths acutely during my hike. When contemplating my return to the AT, I looked at finishing the last 800 miles as something that had to be done instead of something that I was blessed to get the chance to do, and I looked at it as all just leading up to Mt. Katahdin.

Here follows my final log entry (written on a piece of paper towel in my friends' new condo following some, uh, “home improvements” undertaken by myself and some other kindhearted people whose names I will not divulge at the moment.)

The AT convinced me I can be happy w/o the new, changing things-electricity, running water. It equally, or perhaps moreso, convinced me that I cannot be happy without those things that the human condition requires – for me at least – that seem to be universal: some form of rootedness, the sacraments – really some conduit for God’s grace – and some sort of community. (entry finished).

In short, when I considered returning to the trail I found myself wishing that the trail were already done, and that seems to me to be a poor attitude for any hiker, regardless of his philosophy. As I wouldn’t have been truly happy on the hike (which is a powerful argument against going in its own right), and thus would not be putting myself in the position to learn more about myself and everything else, I decided that my hike was finished and that it was time for the next part of my life to begin.

Despite its short length, I think that that entry was one of the best ones I wrote. It showed me that I got a lot out of this hike. It shows that the trail was, despite the difficulties I’ve already noted, a time of great grace and growth for me. It shows that I did in fact have fun over a lot of the trip, which may surprise some of you with the misfortune to hear my frequent complaints about the trail. With memories of good trail friends, good views, and good (ok, awful, but it kept me alive) food, I have finished my hike.

Godspeed to the 2010 northbounders!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tim Tebow

This post on Vox Nova stirs up the pot by suggesting that our hero Mr. Tim Tebow is anti Catholic. If you would tend to disagree with this analysis, it wouldn't be a bad idea to post a comment. You could tell the writer about how happy Mr. Tebow made you when UF won the national championship. You could say that he bought you an ice cream cone once. You could say that he walked your grandma across the street while she was clutching her rosary after daily Mass. You could say that, even though you've never met, you're sure that you are soul mates and that some happy day you will be married to him, when he will promptly convert to Catholicism. Come on people, I can't come up with all of these hypothetical and probably ficticious events. This combox is now devoted to fake things that Mr. Tebow has done for you. Real events will be (reluctantly) accepted as well.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A double shot of reviews

The encyclical will have to wait yet again. Instead, I offer two reviews, one of a book I have just begun, and one of a movie that I am watching even as I type right now.

The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is the first of his major works I have ever read (not counting his Harvard speech.) I've only just begun it, but I was immediately caught by the opening pages. I was interested in his description of the arrests of people sent to the gulags. The Soviets elevated abduction and arrest into an art form. As he says,
Sometimes arrests even seem to be a game-there is so much superfluous imagination, so much well-fed energy, invested in them. After all, the victim would not resist anyway. Is it that the Security agents want to justify their employment and their numbers? After all, it would seem enough to send notices to all the rabbits [his term for the innocent abductees, most of whom accept their fate without resistance] marked for arrest, and they would show up obediently at the designated hour and minute at the iron gates of State Security with a bundle in their hands-ready to occupy a piece of floor in the cell for which they were intended.

I contrast this great work of literature with a made for television movie that I saw on the syfy channel. I suppose the first indication that this movie would be terrible would be the changing of the abbreviation from "sci-fi" or "sci fi" or "scifi" or however else you want to spell it to "syfy." But that aside, the film is called Ice Spiders. Essentially, giant genetically engineered spiders escape from a laboratory somewhere in the Rockies during ski season. They escape to wreak havoc and consume unfortunate skiers until the doughty ski resort guide and the beautiful scientist manage to keep them at bay. The film contains the epic lines, "They accelerated the growth rate! Ends justify the means." Ultimately, it ends when the arrogant lead scientist who was responsible for the outbreak is consumed alive by the last unvanquished spider before a hail of lead ends its life. The acting, special effects, and dialogue were bad. I highly recommend this movie to anyone above the age of 16.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Not your regularly scheduled programming

I haven't gotten around to finishing haurietis aquam, so as of yet there is no sequel. I'm just passing on something that came to my mind yesterday.

When Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding at Cana (see a musical representation here) he took something free and made it something precious. We are the water He is turning. We might not want to be turned-I imagine the water didn't want to become wine. I imagine the water thought it was perfectly good water. I imagine having your molecular structure completely changed isn't always comfortable. But ultimately it worked out for the best for the water. We can learn something from the water in this narrative. It is an insight into God's mind-it shows that He wants us first and foremost, and that holding something back from Him won't work. In my life, I have the tendency to say, "Ok, Lord, I'm muddy water, make me clean. I am ridden with pests, make me pure. But please don't ask me to become wine." We can accept Mary's exhortation to "do whatever He tells you," trusting in His love. And ultimately we can accept this precursor to something much greater than turning water into wine. We can accept his promise of eternal union with Him, as He made clear in the Last Supper.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

We're important!

Good news friends. The White House is asking for comments upon the health care bill that is making its way through Congress (hat tip to Michael D. for the message). Now might be a good time to point out some minor (and by minor I mean major) flaws in the bill. You can see my comment below.
While I appreciate the President's work to promote an equitable health care system, I'm afraid that I fail to see the need for certain amendments to the bill. For instance, I'm disappointed that the Democratic Party went to the trouble to include federal funding for abortion in the health care bill that would otherwise had more bipartisan support. I was under the impression from the President's words at Notre Dame and the Vatican that he intends to lower the abortion rate. I was also under the impression, from his recent comments, that all people need to work together on this issue, to build common ground. So far, though, the President has worked to remove any and all common ground, moderate positions that have sprung up. This is the counter to his rhetoric of recent months.
As someone who intends to be less than wealthy for a long time due to an impecunious career, I don't imagine that I'll end up owing , and then paying, much money in taxes for a while. Knowing where some of my money could end up going, I'm okay with that.
In other, better news, Congressman Joseph Cao (a moderate Republican in a very liberal New Orleans district) has stated that he will vote against the health care bill (in its current form) for the aforementioned reasons, despite knowing that it will "probably be the death of my career."
(Hat tip to Creative Minority Report)

We'll get back to our regularly scheduled program tomorrow.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Haurietis Aquas part I.

This will be the first part from my reading of Pope Pius XII's encyclical on devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As I haven't finished it yet, I'm taking my favorite parts from the first half of the encyclical, hoping that you can read it sequentially. The entire encyclical is well written; it feels like a devotional writing.

One important part of the encyclical that I've had some trouble understanding is the repeated reference to "threefold love". They are (and I relied on to figure this out), "His divine love, His burning love that fed his human will, and His sensible love that affects His interior life." My impression (from reading the old Catholic Encyclopedia entry on love) is that sensible love is love that is felt. It sounds like it's love that is emotionally, fervently held. If I'm wrong, please correct me. And now, on to the encyclical

6. Holy Writ declares that between divine charity, which must burn in the souls of Christians, and the Holy Spirit, Who is certainly Love Itself, there exists the closest bond, which clearly shows all of us, venerable brethren, the intimate nature of that worship which must be paid to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ. If we consider its special nature it is beyond question that this devotion is an act of religion of high order; it demands of us a complete and unreserved determination to devote and consecrate ourselves to the love of the divine Redeemer, Whose wounded Heart is its living token and symbol. It is equally clear, but at a higher level, that this same devotion provides us with a most powerful means of repaying the divine Lord by our own.
7. Indeed it follows that it is only under the impulse of love that the minds of men obey fully and perfectly the rule of the Supreme Being, since the influence of our love draws us close to the divine Will that it becomes as it were completely one with it, according to the saying, "He who is joined to the Lord, is one spirit."(6)

21. That all may understand more exactly the teachings which the selected texts of the Old and New Testament furnish concerning this devotion, they must clearly understand the reasons why the Church gives the highest form of worship to the Heart of the divine Redeemer. As you well know, venerable brethren, the reasons are two in number. The first, which applies also to the other sacred members of the Body of Jesus Christ, rests on that principle whereby we recognize that His Heart, the noblest part of human nature, is hypostatically united to the Person of the divine Word. Consequently, there must be paid to it that worship of adoration with which the Church honors the Person of the Incarnate Son of God Himself. We are dealing here with an article of faith, for it has been solemnly defined in the general Council of Ephesus and the second Council of Constantinople.(15)

22. The other reason which refers in a particular manner to the Heart of the divine Redeemer, and likewise demands in a special way that the highest form of worship be paid to it, arises from the fact that His Heart, more than all the other members of His body, is the natural sign and symbol of His boundless love for the human race. "There is in the Sacred Heart," as Our predecessor of immortal memory, Leo XIII, pointed out, "the symbol and express image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ which moves us to love in return."(16)

25. We do not wonder then, that Moses and the prophets, whom the Angelic Doctor rightly names the "elders" of the chosen people,(19) perceived clearly that the foundation of the whole Law lay on this commandment of love, and described all the circumstances and relationships which should exist between God and His people by metaphors drawn from the natural love of a father and his children, or a man and his wife, rather than from the harsh imagery derived from the supreme dominion of God or the obligation of subjecting ourselves in fear.

38. But in order that we really may be able, so far as it is permitted to mortal men, "to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth"(33) of the hidden love of the Incarnate Word for His heavenly Father and for men infected by the taint of sins, we must note well that His love was not entirely the spiritual love proper to God inasmuch as "God is a spirit."(34) Undoubtedly the love with which God loved our forefathers and the Hebrew people was of this nature. For this reason the expressions of human, intimate, and paternal love which we find in the Psalms, the writings of the prophets, and in the Canticle of Canticles are tokens and symbols of the true but entirely spiritual love with which God continued to sustain the human race. On the other hand, the love which breathes from the Gospel, from the letters of the Apostles and the pages of the Apocalypse, all of which portray the love of the Heart of Jesus Christ, expresses not only divine love but also human sentiments of love. All who profess themselves Catholics accept this without question.

40. Nothing, then, was wanting to the human nature which the Word of God united to Himself. Consequently He assumed it in no diminished way, in no different sense in what concerns the spiritual and the corporeal: that is, it was endowed with intellect and will and the other internal and external faculties of perception, and likewise with the desires and all the natural impulses of the senses. All this the Catholic Church teaches as solemnly defined and ratified by the Roman Pontiffs and the general councils. "Whole and entire in what is His own, whole and entire in what is ours."(37) "Perfect in His Godhead and likewise perfect in His humanity."(38) "Complete God is man, complete man is God."(39)