Assist those in Haiti

The best place for a complete update on the issue is the Anchoress.

I donated to Catholic Relief Services.  Will you?

Ven. Pierre Toussaint, pray for us!


Wood-Chopping Therapy

I recently read an article on the National Catholic Register website about what Fr. Dwight Longnecker calls “wood-chopping therapy.” After visiting a parishioner who he felt was over-worried and anxious about life, his brother suggested that the parishioner needed a good dose of wood-chopping therapy. He, the brother, had recently come home feeling angry and frustrated about something, but after chopping wood for awhile in the back yard, he felt restored of mind and spirit.

Fr. Longnecker interprets his brother’s suggestion as a case study in St. Benedict’s rule to combine prayer and work, ora et labora, to lead a contented, balanced life. St. Benedict mandated that his religious brothers engage in chores throughout the day and that these chores be, whenever possible, physical chores. He too knew of the restorative power of physical labor.

After reading that article, I was craving some wood-chopping therapy. My school day ended somewhat lousily today, and nothing I told myself in my head made any difference. Nothing stuck. I knew that the problem wasn’t in my mind, but rather in my body.

Seeing as how I live in an apartment in a large metropolitan area, however, chopping wood is easier said than done. I went for a walk, hoping to take care of some of the edginess. I was unrelieved. I prayed, simply, for some wood-chopping before the day was through.

Earlier this week, I had arranged to pick up a used sofa from a friend and co-worker. It was a large, heavy sofa with a mattress inside. “Will we be able to carry this?” I asked, referring more to myself than my friend.

After some vein-popping fun, the couch finally made it into the apartment. But before it even got out of the door of his, I knew this was God’s answer to my prayers for a chance to chop wood this evening. The job done, I felt restored to a degree of mental clarity. My lousy day wasn’t so confusing anymore, and I could see things a bit more clearly.

If you need any wood chopped, let me know.

Summer Reads I

The Song at the Scaffold, by Gertrude von le Fort

This is my second time reading Song. It is a riveting account of the lives of thirteen Carmelite sisters during the time of the French Revolution. Based in historical fact, von le Fort tells a compelling narrative as the nuns ready themselves for the ultimate sacrifice of martyrdom.

The fictionalized part, which comes in the form of the character Blanche de la Force, is also a careful study of the way in which the Lord can use our weaknesses as strength. Blanche suffers from an inborn tendency toward extreme fear in all things. Despite this characteristic, which the Carmelites see as a grave weakness, Blanche is welcomed into the convent. As much as she might try, little Blanche cannot overcome her fear – of the coming revolution, of an untimely death, of even the most trivial things – and eventually flees from the convent right before the rest of the sisters are taken into custody. At the end of the story, in a moment of paradox, it is Blanche’s lone, courageous voice that carries the tune of the Veni Creator as the rest of her sisters are led to the guillotine.

I am inspired by von le Fort’s reflection on our weaknesses. Does the Lord ask us, as the mother superior tells Blanche, to “be loyal to” our weaknesses? Of course, this cannot mean being loyal to sin, but can it mean accepting what the Lord might do through us despite our human failings?  I think it does.  If we were not loyal to our weakness, we might forget that we have them and imagine we do not need the Lord’s saving grace.

Do What You Are, by Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger

This is a very interesting book that relates your Myers-Briggs personality type to the career that would best fit you.  Of course, there are some discrepancies about whether the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is really a good way to understand a person, but if you take it from the perspective that it is one piece of the puzzle, I think this book could serve you quite well.

The book begins by asking you to evaluate yourself and place yourself in each of the four type categories. This section tends to drag on a bit, and the examples that are used often seem trite and unrealistic. After you evaluate your Type, the authors provide a detailed analysis of your working style and list preferred careers.

This book emphasizes people can be happy in a wide range of professional fields. It is the tasks we engage in in these fields that determine our satisfaction with our jobs. For example, someone who is introverted may not shine as a classroom teacher where lecture is required in every class period but may still happily be a guidance counselor.

If you’re looking for a view of personality more closely connected with the Catholic spiritual tradition, I would recommend The Temperament God Gave You, by Art and Laraine Bennett. I have to admit to only having thumbed through the book, but it gives a much more wholistic perspective and connects your temperament with the way you experience God. In addition, it provides some helpful reflection on how our temperaments – with both its strengths and weaknesses – come from God very specifically as the means by which we do his will. This can give one great consolation in times of personal struggle, because we can be reminded that God created us and loves us, just the way we are.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, by J. K. Rowling Continue Reading »

May Feelings

Need a little inspiration this month?  Check this video out.  I found it on Amy Welborn’s Via Media.:

This one is almost even cooler.

Update:  I decided to make the second one a link so as not to overwhelm this post visually.  Both of them are worth checking out.

This weekend I was reading a reflection from Praying with St. Paul at breakfast.  The author, Fr. James Martin, S.J., remarked that “God takes delight in you!” and that in little ways, God shows us that he likes us, that he takes delight in us.

When I showed up to run the 5K at St. Richard’s this weekend, I stopped in quickly to get my registration materials, number, and t-shirt.  This is what I found inside:

scan0002Yes, that’s right, I had been given the number one as my race number.  I felt pretty special.

Then, later that day, I received this card from my eight-year-old brother in the mail.  It was perfect.

scan0003Well, that pretty much sums it up.  Thanks, God.

On Spring Fever

Students are very restless.
Teachers are even more restless, but try to hide it.

Students are lazy with their work.
Teachers are also lazy with their work, but maintain a facade.

Students would rather go  outside.
Teachers would rather go outside, too.

And yet, somehow, we are still engage in that supremely human endeavor: learning.  Somehow, we are managing, like pulling great big teeth from shiny, grabby gums, to work ourselves out of the darkness of our ignorance into the light of truth and grace.



Update:  If you are a student or teacher, consider this article and the tips at the bottom for combatting spring fever.  Although these tips are somewhat silly, I think they acknowledge the reality of any teacher’s situation.  Also, don’t forget to get out and smell the roses!

El cumpleaños de Arturo

I was just reflecting on the lessons I have learned on foreign language pedagogy as I headed back from Des Moines today.

One of the things I was thinking about is how stories stick. I read that in Tools for Teaching, by Fred Jones – he suggested that when you are lecturing, make sure to tell stories with detail and imagery because those two things help us create more dynamic memories. I’m sure you’ve also heard of those memory tricks where you create an image – let’s say, a house – and create other things in that house to help remind you of certain things you want to remember. I’ve heard that certain cultures really rely on this type of memory device.

So, I was bemoaning the fact that I didn’t have a resource to introduce Spanish vocabulary in the context of a story. Wouldn’t it be great if there were some lively stories with Spanish vocabulary that were easily understandable? My sister uses a vocabulary series called VocabuLit – vocabulary, in this way, is learned in context with passages and short stories.

Our next chapter in Spanish II is celebrations – birthdays, weddings, parties, etc. As I was unpacking today, I glanced in my black plastic file holder and the yellow book caught my eye – El cumpleaños de Arturo – Arthur’s Birthday. It’s a book a purchased two years ago but never found a good chance to use. When I picked it up and glanced through, I realized it happened to use some of the vocabulary from our new unit, matched the theme perfectly, and used the past tense which my students wouldn’t have been able to understand until this year.

Now the challenge is to use this book in a way that’s actually helpful. We’ll see what happens!