Thursday, October 29, 2009

Baby Night

During the year there are assorted topics (e.g., Christmas, Immaculate Conception, Mother of God, Visitation, Adam & Eve, marriage, Original Sin) that involve having children. On these occasions, I use my 3" plastic fetus to emphasize the baby in the womb is a baby, a person, and to get the kids accustomed to the idea that a weird-looking fetus is no less a person..."hey, were y'all persons when y'all looked like this plastic fetus? Oh yes indeed we were!"

Each year I try to line up a pregnant couple for class. Before the baby is born, I bring in an ultrasound and introduce the baby (by name when possible). We briefly discuss the person-ness of the baby and compare the ultrasound to the plastic baby. I tell the kids they'll have the chance to hold this baby in a couple of months (many 6th graders have never held a baby) and ask the parents (mostly the mother) questions (typical: did it hurt?). The kids should develop an intuitive understanding of the personhood of the baby from conception through birth.

Yesterday was Baby Night, and as is usual for Baby Night, it was a great class. To start things off, everyone cleaned hands with sanitizer. All but one student who was under the weather held baby Avery, the second daughter of my brother Knight (of Columbus) Michael. Avery is about 2 months old, so she was able to make eye-contact with each child who held her; we've always had a baby who can do this, it matters. Baby-holding takes place in the back of the classroom so everyone else can pay attention to the evening's subject matter, which in this case was the 4th Commandment. Because it was also Baby Night, the parent-honoring was was briefly preluded with this:

God is Love. In the beginning God was alone, so what did he do? He made everything. Yes, he created everything. Love always wants to create, because love comes from God, who is Love, and thus Love.... creates? Yes. My daughter Alexandra has a boyfriend who loves her. Her birthday was on Saturday, what did he do? Well, what does love do? Umm....create? Yeah, so?...he made something? Yes, what do we make on someone's birthday? A birthday cake? Yes, he made her a cake. Loves wants to create, to make. A drawing, a poem, music, a cake. That's why a gift we make is usually more meaningful than something we buy. So if love creates, and husbands & wives love each other, what does their love create? Babies? Yes, so remember: baby Avery, who you'll get to hold tonight, is a creation of her parents' love for each other.

(This all is elaborated on in our Adam & Eve class, Dirt & Ribs, and elsewhere, but it's good to get a bit of it in front of them now, while the baby reinforces it physically.)

After everyone had held (and even re-held) the baby, Michael said his family was going be celebrating Avery's spiritual birthday soon, and invited the class to her Baptism. We'll spend next week's class on Baptism, using this as a guide: Blood & Water. Having an upcoming baptism gives some urgency & seriousness to the information.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sabbath Mode

One class each year is devoted to the Third Commandment, keeping the Sabbath holy. For a given Catechism subject, we review any Old Testament sources, how it was understood in the OT, how it was treated by Jesus in the NT, and how it's understood today. The Sabbath class is a nice example of letting the Bible tell most of the story (with comments and discussion, of course). It's good for the kids to hear a sweep of Scripture from the earliest treatment of a subject to the last; gets them used to thinking comprehensively about the Bible, as opposed to fragmented thinking about just this or that verse; and it shows a consistency of thought between the Bible and the Church.

This post overlaps thematically with this one, Sabado, which emphasizes Q&A, while this one treats the Bible sources.

The Bible passages are taken from my text file for the class. If I have numerous passages in a class period such as this one, I collate them ahead of time in a file; it saves a lot of deadtime I otherwise spend flipping to the right pages. I should also mention that I do not like to refer to verses: time permitting, I quote passages. Context matters.

Genesis 1-2:
31 God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed--the sixth day. (Evening starts the day, and still does for observant Jews)
1 Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed.
2 Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested (shabbated) on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken.
3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested (שבת) from all the work he had done in creation. (notice Genesis twice says God shabbated for emphasis)
Exodus 20:
8 "Remember to keep holy the sabbath day. 9 Six days you may labor and do all your work,
10 but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God.
11 In six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
(The Bible often repeats concepts for emphasis)

At this point we discuss how seriously Jews took this commandment, and that by Jesus' day, there were 39 rules about what could not be done on the Sabbath. I mention Joe Lieberman and contemporary Jewish Sabbath observances such as not driving, flipping light switches, or changing TV channels.

In the NT, we see Jesus changing the emphasis of the Sabbath:

John 5:
2 Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep (Gate) a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes. 3 In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled. 5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be well?" 7 The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me." 8 Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your mat, and walk." 9 Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked. Now that day was a Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who was cured, "It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat."

(Probably the 'Jews' in this case are Pharisees, the rule experts. Can you imagine getting on a lame man's case for carrying his mat?)

15 The man went and told the Jews that Jesus was the one who had made him well. 16 Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus because he did this on a Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, "My Father is at work until now, so I am at work."

(Even after God finished the work of creation, he still had to work to maintain it in existence)

18 For this reason the Jews tried all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God.

Luke 14:
1 On a Sabbath he went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. (They're waiting for Jesus to break a Sabbath rule)
2 In front of him there was a man suffering from dropsy. 3 Jesus spoke to the scholars of the law and Pharisees, asking, "Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath or not?" 4 But they kept silent; (they've learned not to argue with Jesus) so he took the man and, after he had healed him, dismissed him.
5 Then he said to them, "Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?" (Even the Pharisees will break the rules if they think something good needs to be done immediately)
6 But they were unable to answer his question.

Luke 6:
1 While he was going through a field of grain on a Sabbath, his disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them. (I act out rubbing the chaff off of the kernels)
2 Some Pharisees said, "Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?"
3 Jesus said to them in reply, "Have you not read what David did when he and those with him were hungry? 4 (How) he went into the house of God, took the bread of offering, which only the priests could lawfully eat, ate of it, and shared it with his companions." (I briefly tell the story of David and the showbread, 1Samuel 21)
5 Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath; the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." (Jesus has authority to say what's ok on the Sabbath: the wellbeing of people is more important than the rules, which have become an end rather than a means)

6 On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. 7 The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely to see if he would cure on the sabbath so that they might discover a reason to accuse him. (Their hearts are hardened against Jesus and his message)
8 But he realized their intentions and said to the man with the withered hand, "Come up and stand before us." And he rose and stood there. 9 Then Jesus said to them, "I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?" (They don't want to lose an argument with Jesus)
10 Looking around at them all, he then said to him, "Stretch out your hand." He did so and his hand was restored.
11 But they became enraged and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.

Why do we observe the New Testament Sabbath on the first day of the week, Sunday, instead of the last day, Saturday?

Mark 16:
1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. 2 Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb. (We see that Jesus rose on the first day, Sunday. So every Sunday is a little celebration of Easter)

Acts 20:
7 On the first day of the week when we gathered to break bread, Paul spoke to them because he was going to leave on the next day, and he kept on speaking until midnight. (Years after Jesus ascended into heaven, we see the first Christians participate in the Last Supper on the first day, Sunday. So we too participate in the Last Supper at Mass on Sunday)

Oh, Sabbath Mode....I almost forgot. That's an optional Kosher feature of many modern appliances, such as refrigerators. Since opening a fridge can turn on the interior light, or make the compressor start up, it's understood to be work. But a Sabbath-mode fridge can be set so that during the Sabbath the inside light won't come on, nor will the compressor start when the door is opened....thus no work is done per the modern understanding of the 39 rules. I bring an ad like this Sabbath mode oven or this Sabbath Mode Kit for Refrigerators to show the kids I am not making things up.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sticks & Saints

Sons & Daughters, last week when we discussed prayer, we learned that not all prayer is worship: some of it's just....what? Talking to someone. Yes...who do you talk to? Jesus. Who else? Saints? Yes, who else? My grandma? Yes, I talk to my Grandma, too. When I talk to her in heaven, am I worshiping her? No! No, of course not. I worship only God. Is my Grandmother in Heaven a saint? Yes? Yes, everyone in heaven is a saint. Am I sure Grandma is in Heaven? Well, you hope she is. Yes, I hope so...I believe so. Is St. Peter in Heaven? Yes. St. Paul? Yes. Joan of Arc? Yes. St Francis? Yes. Yes, I bet he's kissing birds and patting squirrels on the head right now (you girls just love Francis, don'tcha...uh-huh). How do we know Francis is in heaven when I'm not sure about my grandma? The Bible says so? Good guess, but no. God says so? Mmm, sort of, yes.

Class, what's this? A stick. Yes...about how long is it? A yard. See how I've put a couple of marks on it, that makes it a....yardstick. Yes. How about this little stick, how long is it? A foot. Yes. It's a footstick, right? No, it's called a ruler! Oh yeah, a ruler....what was the topic? Saints! Oh yeah.

Since we're talking about saints, here's a word for y'all: canonize. When someone becomes an official saint, they are 'canonized.' Let me draw this for ya..... here's Jesus in the clouds in heaven....couple of angels. Let's see, where are saints' bodies usually? In the ground!'s a buried saint's skeleton. Here's the cannon. So when the person becomes a saint we load the skeleton into the cannon and BOOM, shoot the bones into heaven. That's how they are canonized.....yes, what? That's not true, is it? Umm, no. Thank you for thinking. But they do get canonized. (canon & cannon go on the board.)

Canonize comes from a Greek word, kanna, it means 'stick'. We get our word 'cane' from kanna. A straight stick, which like my yard-stick & foot-stick is good for....measuring stuff! Let's see, pretend we're in the Middle Ages, I'm a ropeseller, and you want to buy some rope.

Daughter, how much rope do you want to buy? Well, c'mon, speak up, how much? Uhh...10 feet? OK, 10 feet. But look, I've decided to use my real foot to measure, which is shorter than the foot-stick. Is that OK with you? No! Why not? Cause it's too short! Too short? It's 10 feet! No it isn't, your feet don't count. Well, I think they do. Who are you to say I can't use my own foot? Oh, alright then, let's be fair: I'll use your foot. No, that's worse!

So what's so special about the footstick? It's a ruler, not a footstick. Oh yeah...what's special about the ruler's foot? It has to do with a king's foot. Yes, that may be about the inches? It's how long a king's nose was. Maybe so...anyone else? An inch is as long as part of the King's thumb. Yes, another definition of an inch was 3 kernels of wheat lined up. So, in medieval England could anyone decide for himself how long a foot was? No! Who decided? No guesses? What's this footstick called? A ruler. So...who made the rules in England? The ruler, the King! Yes, so how come the King gets to decide? He's the King! (That's about as far as 6th graders can take this.)

Yes, the King makes the rules because he has authority. But if I wanted to use shorter feet in my rope business, would the King come straighten me out? Daughter, would you just phone up the King and have him come over? Cuz he's busy in London chopping off his wife's head, he can't get here for at least a week. No....I'd tell the police! Yes, or maybe you'd tell the Sheriff, like the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood. The Sheriff has authority to make me use the right measure. Where's his authority come from? The King? Yes. He runs things for the King using the King's rules. The Sheriff can't say I can use a shorter foot. He mostly enforces what the King already decided. And over the centuries, can the different Kings change the foot to whatever they like? No, it has to stay the same all the time. Right. Even Kings don't have authority to do stupid stuff, they have to maintain what's right and true.

So for the measuring stick to work, it needs an Authority to back it up. And the Authority, the Ruler, needs a Representative to enforce his rules. If we make up our own minds about the rules, the rules are useless. Your foot, my foot, the King's foot; if they all count then I can just throw out my stick.

So what was the topic again.....? Saints. Oh yeah. Canonizing saints. Tell me, what's kanna mean in Greek? A cane, a stick. What kind of stick? A measuring stick. Yes. In English a rule, or a person in charge of rules, or something that never changes, can be called a canon....not a cannon. So when we say a saint is canonized, like the tough-guy St. Joan of Arc, we mean he or she measured up...yes, what? Joan of Arc was a girl, not a guy. Yeah? Well, I still think she's a tough-guy Saint. Anyway, once the Church says a saint measured up, that will never change, just like the length of a foot is unchanging. The books in the Bible are like that, too. They're called the Canon of Scripture, because nobody can ever take any books out or put any in.

In the case of measuring up, canonizing saints, who's the King? The Pope! Good guess, but no. Does a King have a boss? No! And does the Pope have a boss? Ummm....God? Be more specific, please. Is Jesus his boss? Yes. So if the Pope's not the King....? Jesus is the King! Yes, good. King of...? Heaven! Yes, how about something on Earth that Jesus founded? "Thou art Peter and upon this Rock I build my....? Church, church! Yes, before Jesus ascended to heaven he set up His Church. Since he wasn't going to be around in a physical, human way after ascending, he needed a Sheriff to mind things...who would that be? The Pope? Yes, and maybe some deputies since the pope can't be everywhere at once. They'd be the.... bishops? Yes. They have authority too.

So when the pope or the bishops use the kanna, the measuring stick, the rule, to keep the Church in order, can they just do whatever they like? Can they say, "This week we're taking 3 books out of the Bible, and adding 2 new ones?" Ha, no! Right, no more than the President can say a foot will only have 10 inches.

When you have the King's authority, or the President's, or Jesus's, you can only use it to do....what?

What's right.

Yes. And in the Church's case, mostly to enforce what's already been permanently decided....(I wave the kanna), what's been..? Canonized!


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Babies in Eden

Earlier this year one of my students observed that if Adam & Eve hadn't sinned, and been thrown out of Eden, none of us would exist. I responded that yes, to the extent that Adam & Eve's (or any human's) exercise of free will affects (and even effects) the future, if A&E were today still sinless in Eden, I, for example, wouldn't exist. My parents had to exist, meet, marry, etc. which wouldn't've happened in an Edenic world. But there would still have been other people, just not you or I.

But weren't A&E alone in Eden, she asked? Uh-oh. Sometimes I think on my feet, and sometimes I decide the best answer is: I DON'T KNOW! That's what I said this time, and added it was a great question, and I'd have an answer next week.

Next week:

Sons & Daughters, y'all remember last week a question about whether or not there were other people in Eden with Adam & Eve? Yes. Oh, you do...I'm impressed. Well then, tell me who were Adam and Eve? They were the first man & woman. Yes, and who'd God make first? Adam. Yes, and God made him from....dirt! Good, and Eve was made second, from....Adam's rib! Yeah, and what's usually better, to be first or second? First! And what's better, to be made from dirt, or a person's rib? Umm...a rib! So who had the advantage between A & E? They're about the same, I guess. Yes, pretty equal. So, were they cousins? No, there weren't any cousins yet. Oh, yeah, I forgot. Were they brother & sister? No, they were married! They were husband & wife! That's right!

Here's a question: what's the First Commandment for us? Love the LORD thy God & have no other Gods before him. Yep. And what was the first commandment for A&E? Well, we said it already: LovetheLORDthyGod&havenootherGodsbeforehim! Ha! Wrong! Trick question! Who did God give the Commandments to...Adam? No, Moses! Who came later, Moses or Adam? Uhh, Moses! So did Adam know anything about however-many Commandment thingies?, they didn't exist yet! Right! So back to the trick question....what was the first commandment for Adam & Eve? IknowIknow! Don't eat the fruit! Ha-Ha, I am the King of Trick Questions! No! That came later! But that's a good answer.

OK, lets read a bit from Genesis. When you hear the first commandment God gives A&E, say it out loud.

"Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over....IknowIknowbefruitful&multiply! Yes, be fruitful & multiply....weird commandment. How would A&E grow fruit off themselves or need to know how to multiply? Stratopops, it means to have babies! Oh yeah, that's right...why didn't God just say so?

Anyway, A&E are in Eden, they just got created.....have they disobeyed God yet? No! So if they're obeying God they must be.....having babies? Sure, unless you can imagine A&E saying, "God we'd like to be obedient'n'all, but we wanna lay around on the beach, check out the pizza buffet, relax some...since we can't die we'll be fruiful later on, in 50 years or so...what's the rush? Don't worry, we're gonna obey ya!" Ha, that's silly.

Yes, so my guess is Adam and Eve had kids in the Garden before they sinned and were thrown out. They were just being obedient....up until they weren't being obedient. And after they sinned and were being thrown out, God said to Eve,"I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing," which sounds to me like she had already birthed some kids without lots of pain.

I don't think the Church has firmly decided about A&E having kids in Eden. It's an interesting question, but it doesn't affect whether we go to heaven or not. The Church has decided about whether husbands & wives, like A&E, should be fruitful & multiply, though. What's that decision? That husbands & wives should have babies?


Friday, October 9, 2009

Einstein & Mozart & Wagner & Me

No, not that Wagner. But yes, that Mozart.

I was reading this article earlier today Music and the Rise and Decline of Western Civilization and got a kick out of this (edited) excerpt:

"Einstein was not as fond of Beethoven as he was of Bach, Mozart and Schubert. According to Walter Isaacson, “What Einstein appreciated in Mozart and Bach was the clear architectural structure that made their music seem ‘deterministic’ and, like his own favorite scientific theories, plucked from the universe rather than composed. ‘Beethoven created his music,’ Einstein once said, but ‘Mozart’s music is so pure it seems to have been ever-present in the universe... I feel uncomfortable listening to Beethoven. I think he is too personal, almost naked. ...[Einstein] was critical about other composers in ways that reflect some of his scientific sentiments: ......Wagner had a ‘lack of architectural structure I see as decadence’; and Strauss was ‘gifted but without inner truth."

I've only posted twice about music: here Liebestod about Wagner; and here Beim Schlafengehen about Strauss. So I perked up at Einstein fussing about both of them in particular. The article's pretty clear about why Einstein favors Mozart over Wagner; and it made me think about why I'm the opposite of Einstein.

I agree with Einstein that Bach, Mozart, et al do a great job of using music to discover and express the beauty and rationality of the universe. I appreciate that sound frequencies which are proportional to one another in a geometric/mathematical sense are also beautiful to the ear when played together, or in sequence. Why should that be true, except that God deliberately created the universe to be rational, systematized, intelligible, and also beautiful? That man can find reason in beauty is ever fascinating. (Google "Pythagoras chord" for more on this.)

But I don't ever get the feeling that Bach & Mozart are going beyond the system (not to imply that they could). Yes, the universe is a window on the Mind of God; to perceive the Divine Clockwork through the creation of beautiful music is a wonder indeed. But we humans are more than just part of the universe, we're part of God as well, who 'naturally' transcends, and is in no way limited by, his creation. In other words, in a small way now, and in a big way later, we'll share with God the transcending of the universe. That's the point of our current existence: to transcend it (with a lot of help).

That's what I sense in Wagner & Strauss. Through their predecessors they know the beauty inherent in the system, the rationale, the rules of the universe, the Music of the Spheres. Then they wonder: what is the nature of beauty that is not bound by these rules, these rhythms, this system? What is the music that transcends all that? What music is God composing that isn't limited by the conditions of human existence? Can we, as bits of the transcendent God, compose some as well? Create beyond Creation? We exceed our own understanding....can you hear that?

The universe and its rules are finite....human imagination & creativity are not.

And I suppose that Einstein, focused on understanding the Universe, wasn't too keen on music that tries to go beyond it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Apheresis fin

Heard from my 'handler' today, total count was 5.5 million 'babycells', more than the 5 they asked for, so I am feeling great! When there's news of the recipient's condition, I'll pass it on.

All in all, a great experience; I'm staying on the donor list.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Apheresis 6

A mixed bag. Arrived on time, went straight to the hookup, full of optimism. Started the left arm needle, couldn't get a connection. Started to do the clammy-palms-raining-sweat pre-faint shtick and got tense which adds to the problem...apparently tension makes the veins smaller. And the nurses are stressing: they murmur (they're all dear women) "is it this way?...I think it splits, I'm in it, but we're not gettin'...if we go deeper...yeah but I don't want to go through the bottom.....this one's gonna blowout, too.....Do you want a wet rag, darlin'?" Yeah, thanks. After a couple minutes of futility, out came the needle. Took a dopey pill. After fifteen more minutes, try again, breathe through your nose....slowly.....this time ok. What a baby. It never changes. My wife stroked my forehead...she is so beautiful. What a consolation at a time like this. The right elbow needle just slides in, never a problem.

Latest news is there were only 3.5 (million) babycells taken on Monday. The nurses had estimated a count based on yesterday's blood volume in the apheresis room, predicting a full haul of 5.0. But no biggie, we'll make it up on day 2, today. But today we got a late start due to the trouble with the left arm and then 15 minutes for the sillypill to work. So by the time the courier showed up a couple of hours later to escort yesterday's 3.5, plus today's makeup, we hadn't processed enough blood to be sure on the basis of bulk, and of course no time for an accurate count either. Yeah, but I feel fine, why not run some more? Dogs bark, but the caravan travels on: the courier took what had been 'fuged out thus far.

So we're back home...not sure how this will work out for the recipient. Maybe enough to do the job, maybe not. However I'd expected to feel right now, this isn't it.

Regardless, my part's done. I guess I got my drama.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Apheresis 5

I had imagined I'd blog during the Apheresis process, what a naif. They started with the needles so fast I didn't have a chance. First were the usual two shouts of Filgrastim. Next a stick for another round of bloodtests.

The the main event: laid on an upgraded blood-donor bed...nice pillow. Got a needle in the right elbow to send blood to the apheresis centrifuge; then another in the same arm to return blood sans stemcells back to the body. Both hurt about like a blood biggie. But then the second point started to hurt real bad andgotwayworseinahurry;eye-bugging, off-the-map pain; I was about to grit my teeth through the top of my skull. Apparently that vein had "burst", and wouldn't work. Someone asked if I was feeling pain: Hell yeah, I'm 'feeling' pain, but so what? The process has to continue regardless. But they shut that vein down and found a vein in my left forearm...after a couple minutes it started blowing out & hurting like hell. So then they used a vein in my left elbow. Thank ya, Jesus. For the next 4 hours it was essentially just like giving blood from two arms, very manageable. I was getting a relaxant in the return line so was pleasantly dopey. It's after 9pm now & I'm still on the 'relaxed' side. I'm correcting this post at a 1 typo per word rate.

As it turns out I have to donate for another couple of hours tomorrow before going home. Since we were going to be here another day, I asked our shuttlebus driver about places to see within walking distance of the hotel. Based on his input, we spent about 90 minutes strolling through Old Salem (settled by Moravians), with houses dating back to before the revolution, and the adjacent Salem College. All beautiful, and recommended.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ikon Writer

Recently I saw the above ikon ('scuze me, I like the k, it looks more Greek) at the local Catholic high school ( I'm not used to seeing ikons with English on them; plus, it's a Western (Roman) Catholic school, and who are those guys impersonating the Trinity? Who painted (wrote) it? The school Chaplain ( told me it was someone I already knew, a member of our parish, married to one of my brother Knights (of Columbus). Wow, who knew we had an ikon painter (writer!) in our parish? How cool is that?

So last month on her Facebook a reference to an ikon seminar led to a series of posts, not about ikons per se, but ikon-writing, i.e., from the writer's standpoint, not the viewer's. I liked the content, and what follows is an edited version of Q&A that ran over a week or so:

Why are those three people in the ikon the Trinity?

"Icon of the Holy Trinity, Andrei Rublev, prototype. (Sometimes called Old Testament Trinity) This is based on the Biblical account of the hospitality of Abraham from Gen. 18. Since the beginning of the Church, this passage has been interpreted as a theophany of the Holy Trinity. In the passage the three "men" (three separate and unique persons) act as one, in perfect relationship with each other and united in one perfect will and
voice. Rublev greatly simplified the prototypes before him, focusing on the persons of the Trinity rather that the action of the event itself. Those icons that focus on the event itself are usually titled, "The Hospitality of Abraham," and often contain both Abraham and Sarah, sometimes a servant, and other details of the event itself like serving bowls."

Can you comment on icon-writing, not in general terms, but personally?

"Icon writing is a contemplative process in and of itself, but I also join it to Carmelite spirituality: Praying the Offices, Lectio, Sacraments, trying to be aware of God in all I do. Specific to iconography, I pray the "iconographer's prayer" before I start; bless my work and myself with the sign of the cross; during the process of writing the icon I try to stay focused on those who need my prayers, esp. the individual for whom the icon is intended; pray to God to guide me in the decisions related to the icon, re: colors, design, etc.; and last but not least, I try to connect with the subject itself."

How do you make this connection?

"I learn as much as possible about the saint or subject if I am not familiar with them, meditate upon the subject and his/her life and how it applies to my life. I pray through the icon while writing it. All this is done during the day, in silence or with appropriate sacred music or religious programming, in solitude (very Carmelite). In addition, because I deal with so much physical pain, I try to join that to my work and offer all to God. Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity once described herself as a "Praise of Glory." I hope God sees what I do and who I am as a "Praise of Beauty," referring to God as the One who is Perfect Beauty and Truth."

Speaking of Beauty, how do icons differ from stained glass images and statues?

"There is more of a theological difference in Orthodox thought than in Catholic, in my opinion. In Catholicism, the distinctions are a little more blurred due to the influence of various art movements to express faith and belief. So let me address this from a somewhat more Orthodox viewpoint.

"Icons are not decorative art or representational art, although they do utilize symbols and symbolic meaning. An iconographer's task is not to create something new, but to carry on the tradition that has come before, using prototypes that have been passed down from generation to generation. When one looks at an icon, one sees the icon that has come before it, and the one before that, and the one that has come before that and so on, until one sees *through* the icon to the the original individual, or saint, or scene. So as one "looks through" an icon, one is connected to the subject in a real and powerful way as a living entity. It is comparable to the Word of God in Orthodox thought. That is why iconographers are said to *write* icons. They are proclaiming Salvation History, but instead of using words, they use color and line and visual composition.

"In Western art, one doesn't have this kind of developed theology or the canons which guide iconography. That is why, if one looks at a traditional icon in Orthodoxy--no matter the media--it will generally look the same, whether it is written 1000 yrs ago or today.
One is not to impose one's personal interpretation upon the work. In stained glass and sculpture, the individual artist does original, interpretive work. These disciplines certainly may draw from iconography, but are never considered icons themselves."

BTW, Madame Ikonographer and her husband share their conversion story here:

Converts have all the fun.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Apheresis 3 & 4

Two uneventful days: the shots in the morning, a bit more intense lower back pain easily managed with Ibuprofin. Where's the drama, the sensation of bones churning out what the nurses called "babycells"?

Oh well....tomorrow is the big day.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Apheresis 2

Got a couple of shots of Filgastrim. No blood taken. Small of the back aches. Bones in my head hurt. Interesting...not a headache in the typical sense. The nurse came to the house, turns out she was from Houma, La. where I lived as a child. It's my family's hometown on my father's side. The nurse & I attended the same Catholic church and school, St. Francis de Sales, now a co-cathedral, although I think I'm a good 15 years older.

Anticlimatic day.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Apheresis 1

Yesterday my 17-year-old daughter Alexandra gave blood for the first time. I am so proud of her. She got in the car after school, had the bandage on her arm. Made no big deal out of it, just helping out, didn't faint or get nauseated (not nauseous....nauseous means something else), had a great first experience. Good girl. Never toots her own horn. Did I mention Alexandra is my daughter?

Her experience prompts me to comment on something I'm doing along the same lines that's way less common, but useful and interesting: I'm in the last stage of donating blood stem cells to someone who has non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

I don't personally know anyone who has done this (thousands have donated, it's common enough, and isn't heroic like donating a kidney) and don't know much about the how the whole process will turn out; I'm curious and apprehensive.

If you want to know more about non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, check online. For the donating part, this is a good article:

I'm going to blog over the next 5-6 days about the donation process. I figure, if like Alexandra the Daughter, this first experience is a good one, I'll be inclined to do it again; and maybe you, Dear Reader, will consider signing up to be a Potential Stem-Cell Donor as well.

I think it was in 2007 I was at the blood center, and was asked if I'd sign up to be a Potential Bone Marrow Donor. Yeah sure, why not...."potential," right? Nurse swabs my gums for DNA, no needles (always good), and hey, I'll never get called anyway! That's easy.

Then in 2008 I was a potential match. "Mr. Kollwitz, do you remember signing up in 2007?" Ummm, yeah....? "You may be a match for someone, still up to donating?" Ehhh....OK. (S***! What were the chances?!) "Thanks, can you drop by LabCorp for some bloodwork? We'll let you know in a month or so if you're a match." These people on the phone are so cheery! Needle fun!

Off to LabCorp to get stuck. I'm a fainter, but the nurses distracted me, "My sister's having a wedding in Charleston next month, there's a lot of family stuff going on down there I could do without....d'ya think it's ok if I don't go?" "Well, I know what you mean, my sister had to hire a cop to make sure our mom stayed away from her wedding.... I'd advise you to not go, say it's too far." "Yes, but....." "Uh-huh, then maybe..." All done! You can go!

A couple of weeks later: no match! Thank ya, Jesus!

Then a few months ago: new potential match! Back to LabCorp for a needle summit! "Hello,, somebody else this time..."

A week later: I'm a match! Yes but...what about "potential"?

Then I spend a day up in Winston-Salem in August (2.5 hour drive, not bad): paperwork, urine, more needles, physical, chest x-ray, chat with doctors: "Now if the bone pain gets too bad during the 5 days you're getting the Filgrastim injections, call this number and we'll get you some narcotics." What!? Narcotics!? "Relax, most donors don't need 'em; we just want you be comfortable." Oh, thanks...I guess.

The schedule calls for injections of this Filgrastim synthetic protein starting on October 1. Filgrastim stimulates bone marrow into producing loads of blood stem cells which are to be centrifuged out of the blood on October 5 (and the 6th if necessary), then delivered to the anonymous recipient (I don't want to know who or where). Sounds cool doesn't it? Oct 1-4 shots are local. Sunday evening Janet & I (yes, I have to bring someone) go to Winston-Salem, spend the night there, go to the hospital for the last shots Monday a.m., followed later that morning by about 4 hours of apheresis. Apheresis (ἀφαίρεσις) is Greek for 'many needles.' Just kidding, it means 'taking away' (more or less). That's the centrifuge business. See Wiki for apheresis: I'll be doing the Continuous Flow Centrifugation (CFC) version. I understand apheresis has pretty much replaced the old-fashioned routine of slurping a bunch of marrow out of a donor's hip.

So, today is October 1. FedEx delivered a box of chilled Filgrastim yesterday. Took the box today to the local Cancer Center. I got another round of blood tests, and two shots of Filgrastim in the arms... tiny needles, practically painless...great nurses, Carolyn and Christy. No bone ache or incapacitation. I feel a bit thickheaded, jetlaggy, but changed the oil in the car this afternoon with no problem.

That's it for today. I hope to post something each day, especially something during the apheresis Monday. The hospital's wireless, and Janet teaches Art History online, so we need the laptop to be with us regardless.