Thursday, March 5, 2015

Croquet at Four in the Morning

Three weeks ago, I played croquet in a blizzard, thanks to an indoor court set up by a pro in a converted ballroom in a Cape Cod beach resort. This morning just after four o’clock I am playing croquet in a stranger place still: my mind.

At 8:40 a.m. my first tournament of the winter starts at Boca Grande, Florida, and I—am—not—ready. Last winter I had already played two or three tournaments by this time. I had won the Audubon tournament at Naples the week before, and although I did not win at Boca, I played well enough to come in second to a very fine British player, Alan Cottle, whose handicap was about six notches below mine. (As in golf, below means better.)

This winter I stayed home. That was a bad decision (see blizzard above). Croquet isn’t like football (no weight-room work needed) and it isn’t like golf (you don’t have to practice five thousand hours to lower your handicap by one point). But you have to practice. As The Boys in the Boat did, you have to get that swing. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Formation of Christendom: Deeper into History

History was one of my Catholic convincers. In becoming a Catholic convert seven years ago, I knew that I was diving into two thousand years of tradition and wisdom, and I loved the feeling.

I was like a person who delves into his family’s genealogy, seeking a deeper connection with the ancestors. I was like a Little Leaguer who memorizes statistics about those enshrined in the Hall of Fame, hoping some day to write records of my own. I was like a scientist, too, who time-travels in company with a brotherhood of fellow searchers, hoping to further their journey.

I never had such a clear sense of connection with the past as a Congregationalist or Episcopalian in my well-churched youth. The Catholic Church gave me this connection.

So when a highly respected Catholic friend suggested that I read Catholic historian Christopher Dawson, I started right in. I began with Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, which I gave five stars at Goodreads. Now I’ve moved on to two books tracing the history of the Church since the first century. The first of these is The Formation of Christendom, about which I’ve already written briefly already

The purpose of this post is to summarize a few other key ideas I underlined in The Formation of Christendom.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Our Camino, Chapter 8: Cruz de Ferro to O Cebreiro

From the Cruz de Ferro, we headed downhill as the late-morning weather thickened. Then suddenly we took a wrong turn and found ourselves in Ireland. Driving rain and heathered hills had me walking the Dingle Way again.

As the storm intensified, we jumped inside the remarkable pilgrim refuge in Manjarín. A striking shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary greeted us as was entered. Founded twenty years before by a pilgrim from Madrid and still operating on voluntary donations, the refuge had no running water or electricity. The hospitalier lived there with friends year-round.

It was mostly downhill from here, though that's not always a good thing on the Camino, where downslopes can be hardest on knees and hips, especially when you’re skipping over wet and slippery stone paths as we did through much of the rest of the day.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Reading History, Muttering Wow

I have finished reading Christopher Dawson’s book The Formation of Christendom and am reviewing my notes on it for a longer post.

The first thing that strikes me is that I wrote the word WOW in the margin of my book four times. History that makes you say WOW is history worth reading.

Here are my four WOW moments reading Dawson:

The Spring Croquet Tour

Ok, so I’m in Florida and you’re not. What’s the difference? Fifty degrees? Nah, only forty-three degrees, the last time I checked. You’ve got snow. We don’t. Lucky you.

I am in Florida to take part in two croquet tournaments of the American six-wicket variety. Croquet is for me what fishing was for Peter after he met Christ, a little something to do on the side. If you don’t know the Christian ramifications of croquet, you need to read my classic article on the subject.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

“The Boys in the Boat”: Some Unanswered Questions

Leni Riefenstahl’s films “Triumph of the Will” and “Olympia,” documenting the rise of Hitler, are still shown in film courses as early models of the craft. “Olympia” was a centerpiece of the Nazi PR effort known as the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The film, like the 11th Olympiad, was meant to show the world the greatness of Germany, its leaders, and its athletes.

Germany did win the medal count with 33 gold and 89 total in 1936, but some athletes from other countries notably disappointed Hitler and his Reich Minister of Propaganda, Josef Goebbels, who was also Riefenstahl’s boss. Most famous of these was the black American track star Jesse Owens, whose four gold medals may have suggested to some that Aryans were not necessarily the dominant race. In “Boys in the Boat” Daniel James Brown chronicles another American gold winner, the nine-man boat from the University of Washington.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Our Camino, Chapter 7: León to the Cruz de Ferro

(This is the seventh installment in my newly edited story of walking the Camino de Santiago with my daughter in 2012. The sixth chapter is here.)

While “The Way” paints a fair picture of the Camino de Santiago, the Emilio Estevez–Martin Sheen film fails to make a significant point. This 500-mile (800 km) pilgrimage from the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela is damn hard, not for the faint of heart, much more difficult than it looks on film.

Marian and I heard of three people dying on the Camino while we were on it. And every day we passed monuments erected to the memory of Camino martyrs past. People show up for a hike and find themselves on a death march.

Our first day’s climb over the Pyrenees alone was a baptism by fire. Estevez’s film character dying between St. Jean Pied de Port and Roncesvalles is not a screenwriting twist. It happens. Not infrequently.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

One of Those Moments

This morning after the 10:45, just down from the choir loft with the Attende Domine still echoing in my head and my wife near the front of the nave catching up with friends, I stood waiting for her alone at the rail at the rear of the sanctuary.

What I beheld was like what you see in the picture above—that’s my parish church—except that the scene was peopled with small groups of parishioners greeting one another, taking their sweet time at the end of mass.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Our Camino, Chapter 6: Terradillos de los Templarios to León

(This is the sixth installment in my newly edited story of walking the Camino de Santiago with my daughter in 2012. The fifth chapter is here.)

With Marian moving on alone Thursday evening, I decided to begin walking before dawn on Friday. I told Carrie, a young Canadian woman with a past, that I would be leaving at 4 am if she wanted to tag along, but she didn’t show. So after starting a rosary while an angry dog took up a cry against me from behind a fence, I set off alone under the stars.

I wore a trekker's headlamp to shine a light on the yellow arrows marking the Camino. It was spooky walking alone on a path I didn't know. I shook off the ancestral fear of wolves and bandits, and eventually I began to think about faith. Walking the Camino in the dark is exactly as reasonable as Christian faith. One does it with confidence, knowing that generations of Catholics have walked it before.

As I moved west through darkened farmlands, I walked parallel with a highway to my right. I became aware of a stroboscopic effect, as what seemed to be lights on the edge of the highway flashed off and on in no particular order but without let-up, like flashbulbs going off in a small theatre when a celebrity steps on stage. Only later did I learn from a fellow walker that the lights were on the rotors of wind turbines on the distant hills, warding off unwary pilots.

After 3 kilometers, I came into the first small village just as a cock crowed. I checked my watch: still before five with no hint of dawn. How did the cock know it was time?

Our Camino, Chapter 5: Burgos to Terradillos de los Templarios

(This is the fifth installment in my newly edited story of walking the Camino de Santiago with my daughter in 2012. The fourth chapter is here.)

Like a sacrament, the Camino de Santiago does things to you. At Kaserna in St. Jean Pied de Port, Monique had told me “the Camino makes you a pilgrim,” transforming your way of walking in the world.

Another thing the Camino does is to turn pilgrims into friends. The sincerity that can arise between two strangers is astonishing. From the first day, I did my level best to open myself for the sake of a broader community, to be more available to whatever graces this ancient pilgrimage might confer.

When we kept running into Simon and Sam from the north of England, against all seeming odds, and when we found that Alann from Canada had attached herself to the two of them, it seemed that the Camino was asking us to join forces, much as the four main characters do in the film “The Way.” Simon began calling us The Famous Five.

The picture below captured our group (sans me, the photographer) at its most relaxed and congenial (l-r, Alann, Simon, Sam, Marian).