Blessing of the Animals

Today is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, and in many places this is commemorated with an annual Blessing of the Animals in local churches. But Fluffy, Fido, and Goldie will have to wait until the weekend. Washington National Cathedral holds its ceremony on Sunday, October 7th, at 2:30 pm, on the west steps. In Woodley Park (our neighborhood) there is a choice between the front lawn of All Souls Episcopal Church on Saturday, October 6th at 3 pm, and St. Thomas Apostle at 10:30 am (where there will also be coffee and donuts for the people and treats for the animals). A Google search will undoubtedly reveal a blessing near you.


Today is also the birthday of writer and humorist Roy Blount, Jr., author of several books suitable for this day (as well as many other books on a wide variety of subjects): I Am Puppy, Hear Me Yap: The Ages of Dog; I Am the Cat, Don’t Forget That: Feline Expressions; Am I Pig Enough for You Yet?: Voices of the Barnyard; and If Only You Knew How Much I Smell You: True Portraits of Dogs. He is also a contributor to Unleashed: Poems by Writers’ Dogs, a gift for anyone who loves both dogs and poetry.

For a sketch, a riddle, and a mini-bio of Blount, please see Language Lover.

Renewal of Spirit

It’s the weekend of our church community’s annual retreat in Orkney Springs, Virginia, and, 2012 being the 50th anniversary of Vatican II, which helped drag the Catholic Church from the Middle Ages into modern times (well, at least into the 20th century), this was a natural subject for discussion. There were reminiscences by grandparents of growing up in the “Catholic ghetto”: gloomy churches, scary sermons about sinfulness and hell, and nary a non-Catholic to be seen… gradually replaced by Mass in the vernacular, greatly expanded participation by lay people, and reaching across the aisles, so to speak, to people of other faiths. What might be accomplished in the next fifty years? I’m sure MY to-do list doesn’t match that of the current Pope.

Accommodations at the retreat vary, and families with children are generally housed together, but rarely in Maryland House, pictured below. I learned this weekend that it’s an Adults-Only House, to which parents graduate when their children go off to college. Aha! That explains the singing, the clinking of glasses, and the boisterous laughter drifting across the lawn after the rest of us have put the kids to bed and crashed ourselves. And I thought it was coming from the Teen Camp.




St. Anthony’s Day


Recently I misplaced, or lost, or had stolen when I was looking the other way, a small purse containing the usual basics: driver’s license, credit card, bank card, etc. Most of the items can be replaced without a lot of trouble, except for the irreplaceable sweet message from my daughter age four, and a co-op card that was a gift from my mom (I just like seeing it and thinking of her).

Well, I completely forgot about St. Anthony, and instead put my faith in the DC Department of Motor Vehicles. No wonder the purse hasn’t turned up. If you don’t know about St. Anthony, please see Something’s Lost That Can’t Be Found.

Father of Liturgy, Spirituality and the Arts


One year ago today, Father Larry Madden, probably one of the most beloved priests at our parish church, departed to meet his Maker, taking everyone by surprise. When he didn’t show up to serve at Mass, a search revealed him sitting peacefully in a chair in his room, with a book in his lap. It’s probably one of the top three best ways to depart this earth, but it was a shock for everyone else. At age 78, he was still energetic, youthful, and sharp as a tack.

Father Madden taught theology at Georgetown University and was priest and pastor at nearby Holy Trinity Church during an especially boisterous period of disagreement over [as yet unresolved] issues about the Catholic church’s teachings on women, homosexuality, and liturgical language. With the help of his sense of humor, sensitivity, and wisdom—and perhaps his Jesuit training—he managed to keep conversations going and minds open and moving along the road toward that hoped-for mutual understanding. His homilies (sometimes with the participation of hand-puppet Mr. Blue) were remarkable in conveying messages of multi-level significance that reached listeners of all ages. At Holy Trinity he married hundreds of couples, baptized countless babies, and in times of trouble and joy was both an attentive listener and a thoughtful counselor. He presided at my mother-in-law’s funeral (and, my husband said, “I was hoping he’d be around long enough to do mine.”).

In 1981, Father Madden was chosen to lead the new Georgetown Center for Liturgy, Spirituality and the Arts, established to explore the intersections of these realms. It was an ideal setting for his intense interest in the arts as both a path to and instrument of spirituality. A primary concern of his supervision of renovations of the parish’s aging facilities was in creating the environment to facilitate such connections. As a parishioner I can testify that his after-Mass Adult Ed lectures on symbol and ritual were passionate and profound (at Woodstock College he was co-creator of the documentary film “Ritual Makers”), yet his fascinating observations were inevitably interspersed with funny good old Irish storytelling.

And besides all this, he sailed (including a race from California to Hawaii), sang with enthusiasm, and played piano (once, so the story goes, with Tony Bennett). I can’t sing “Lights of the City” without hearing Larry Madden’s Irish tenor leading the congregation.

Now he’s playing piano for the angels. How we miss him.

Yahrzeit3Father Larry Madden


Double Anniversary

On this day in 1870, caricaturist Thomas Nast first used the donkey as a symbol for the Democratic party. For a Democratic donkey comic, please see March On.

And today is the actual birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), whose accomplishments and contributions we celebrate tomorrow. More on Dr. King in the Thomas Nast post, as well as tomorrow, on his national holiday.


Take Joy

For the First Day of Christmas, a detail of a larger painting (part of a long-ongoing series, on which more later), and an excerpt from a letter written by a 16th century monk to a friend.

I wish you all a heavenly, peaceful, and joyful Christmas season.


I salute you.

There is nothing I can give you which you have not,
but there is much that while I cannot give, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today.
Take heaven.

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant.
Take peace.

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.
Take joy.

And so at this Christmastime, I greet you, with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks, and the shadows flee away.

—Fra Giovanni, 1513




Camp Trinity


Each year at this time, we head for the wilds of Far Western Virginia and our annual church retreat, some of the housing for which is depicted herein (which used to be pretty chilly digs but which now offers baseboard heaters for the 21st century camper).

It’s a weekend that is difficult to describe: certainly there is plenty of serious discussion, reflection, prayer, and singing; but interwoven are hiking, yoga, dancing, hay rides, sessions of watercolor painting and dream work, and time for the more lengthy, intimate conversations for which the Sunday coffee hour is too brief.

The children play community-building games and create spirited art objects that enliven the setting of our closing liturgy. For our daughter’s Middle School group, this meant building and joyously spray-painting enormous colorful internally-illuminated free-standing totems that would be perfectly comfortable on the floor of the Whitney.

Every single year, departure for home is poignant. I post this sketch-memory as a token of gratitude.

For Camp Trinity sketches from past years, please see Holy Water and  Stairway to Heaven.


CakeWeddingMary & Chris