A Potpourri of Links

1. Were the Hanging Gardens of Babylon actually in Ninevah?

2. Bearing writes the post I was going to write, thereby saving me the trouble: The problem’s not that we sexualize breasts, but that we’ve lost the sense that sexuality is ordered towards self-gift.

3. Never say never, and other thoughts on having more kids by Jennifer Fulwiler

For a variety of reasons, we’re always tempted to freak out and get all fearful when it comes to new life, much more so than in other areas of life. A mother setting out to climb a famous mountain as a personal self-fulfillment project would be congratulated and encouraged, whereas another mother being open to pregnancy despite concerning health conditions would be chided and discouraged, even if the risk to both women’s health from their respective activities were the same.

So, especially when it comes to the question of more children, we need to look very carefully at the question, “How big is the risk?” There are times when we’ll take a closer look and find that the risk is real and huge and deeply concerning; but other times we might just find that the risk isn’t all that much greater than it would be with plenty of other “normal” activities, and that the doom and gloom predictions about future pregnancy were fueled as much by our culture’s fear of life than as by a reasonable analysis of risk.

We have this problem in our society of seeing new human lives as burdens. Instead of celebrating new people, too often we chalk them up to carbon footprints and mouths to feed. We deem others (always others, not people we know) to be “overpopulation.” And I’m not using “we” rhetorically: Seriously, I’m not immune to the mentality either.

The soundtrack to all of my pregnancies is the noise of my whining voice. I always forget about the life of the new son or daughter that I’m carrying, and talk about the huge burden that “the pregnancy” is placing on me. Maybe it’s all those years I spent immersed in secular culture, but I am naturally sympathetic to the frame of mind that wants to immediately shut down the pregnancy train as soon as the doctor says the word “risk.” Especially in the case of those of us who already have a lot of children, why not? After all, how many kids does one person need?

But children are more than a number in the family birth order, and each human life is infinitely valuable. Think of someone you love: When you consider the worth of his or her life, it makes you view the pregnancy that brought him or her into existence differently. It makes you willing to accept higher levels of risk to add a person like that to the world.

 

4. Raising concerns about the Common Core. I’m very skeptical about the whole Common Core phenomenon, but it’s hard to find articles that critique it that don’t sound paranoid or hysterical and all conspiracy theorist. This one, about the Common Core and the GED is about the most levelheaded I’ve found so far and even it has some rather breathless passages.

 

5. An oldie but goodie, this article by Father Fessio on The Mass of Vatican II.

I especially love this section on uncovering the history of Gregorian Chant:

Now, just a little footnote on the Gregorian Chant. In reflecting on these things about Church music, I began to think about the Psalms a few years back. And a very obvious idea suddenly struck me. Why it didn’t come earlier I don’t know, but the fact is that the Psalms are songs. Every one of the 150 Psalms is meant to be sung; and was sung by the Jews. When this thought came to me, I immediately called a friend, a rabbi in San Francisco who runs the Hebrew School, and I asked, “Do you sing the Psalms at your synagogue?” “Well, no, we recite them,” he said. “Do you know what they sounded like when they were sung in the Old Testament times and the time of Jesus and the Apostles?” I asked. He said, “No, but why don’t you call this company in Upstate New York. They publish Hebrew music, and they may know.”

So, I called the company and they said, “We don’t know; call 1-800-JUDAISM.” So I did. And I got an information center for Jewish traditions, and they didn’t know either. But they said, “You call this music teacher in Manhattan. He will know.” So, I called this wonderful rabbi in Manhattan and we had a long conversation. At the end, I said, “I want to bring some focus to this, can you give me any idea what it sounded like when Jesus and his Apostles sang the Psalms?” He said, “Of course, Father. It sounded like Gregorian Chant. You got it from us.”

I was amazed. I called Professor William Mart, a Professor of Music at Stanford University and a friend. I said, “Bill, is this true?” He said, “Yes. The Psalm tones have their roots in ancient Jewish hymnody and psalmody.” So, you know something? If you sing the Psalms at Mass with the Gregorian tones, you are as close as you can get to praying with Jesus and Mary. They sang the Psalms in tones that have come down to us today in Gregorian Chant.

So, the Council isn’t calling us back to some medieval practice, those “horrible” medieval times, the “terrible” Middle Ages, when they knew so little about liturgy that all they could do was build a Chartres Cathedral. (When I see cathedrals and churches built that have a tenth of the beauty of Notre Dame de Paris, then I will say that the liturgists have the right to speak. Until then, they have no right to speak about beauty in the liturgy.) But my point is that at the time of Notre Dame de Paris in the 13th century, the Psalms tones were already over a thousand years old. They are called Gregorian after Pope Gregory I, who reigned from 590 to 604. But they were already a thousand years old when he reigned. He didn’t invent Gregorian chant; he reorganized and codified it and helped to establish musical schools to sing it and teach it. It was a reform; it wasn’t an invention. Thus, the Council really calls us back to an unbroken tradition of truly sacred music and gives such music pride of place.

 

6. And an interesting follow-up to that conversation: Is Chant Like Folk Music?

Maybe people forget that Gregorian chant is premodern in its origin. It was not somehow invented in the age of winged collars, top hats, and mutton chops. It arose from the world of the first millennium—before there were universities, conservatories, cathedrals, or individually owned books. Chant arose among people poorer than is even imaginable to us today. The singers were from the lowest class. The composers too were monks drawn from every strata of society. They did not write their music down because no one had figured out how to write music. That only began to happen in a coherent way about the 11th century. The work of the chant composers continued for many centuries and the results have been handed on to us today.

This is why chant is what it is today. And if you look closely, you can discover that first-millennium sense about it. The more you sing it, the more you discover its humane qualities—written and sung by people just like us.

At the same time, it is a window into a world we do not know. The sensibility of chant is spontaneous. It tells stories in the folk vein. It emerged out of a culture of sharing. It wasn’t about musical theory and technique. In those days, people couldn’t write music. Mostly, the people who heard it couldn’t read either. There was no point because books were exceptionally rare and only available to a tiny group. Chant came about within this world to be the most compelling way to express the faith in a worship context.

 

7. Jen at As Cozy as Spring has a nice post with a lot of links related to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter.

Because it’s Friday and I have seven things I’m going to go ahead and link up to Conversion Diary’s Seven Quick Takes go visit Jen to read about frightening bugs (what else?) and momtinis and to find links to more, more, more quick takes posts.

4 Responses to A Potpourri of Links

  1. Enbrethiliel May 27, 2013 at 3:01 am #

    +JMJ+

    This may sound weird, but burying the dead is my favourite Corporal Act of Mercy.

    Thanks for the great reflection, Melanie! I particularly love the story of Bella and Sophie meditating upon Jesus in the tomb through play. It reminds me that so many ancient Catholic traditions are also forms of play—a way to meditate on the mysteries of our Faith with our imagination and our whole bodies.

  2. Melanie Bettinelli May 27, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    “It reminds me that so many ancient Catholic traditions are also forms of play—a way to meditate on the mysteries of our Faith with our imagination and our whole bodies.”

    So true.

    And very interesting about the burial of the dead being your favorite corporal work or mercy.

  3. Katherine May 29, 2013 at 9:07 am #

    I’m having a hard time putting into words why, but I loved this post.

    I have a very limited experience on dealing with death, but it might help explain why, when I had to put down my dog and my cat, I wanted to be there. It seems like burying the dead would be a natural role for a mother but at the same time, given the horrible grief involved, it seems kindest God usually has children outlive their parents.

    On a strange tangent… why is there no term for a parent who has lost a child? I mean, there is the word orphan for a child who has lost parents and widow for a spouse who has lost a spouse… maybe no word would be sufficient honor or recognition for the grief of a parent who has lost a child?

    I hope that made sense. I need new thyroid meds asap.

  4. Melanie Bettinelli May 29, 2013 at 7:36 am #

    Thank you, Katherine.

    I wonder if the categories of widow and orphan exist because when a husband or parent dies the widow or orphan needs to be cared for by extended family or society at large. Provision has to be made for them because generally speaking the caretaker/breadwinner has left them without means of support.

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