In T. H. White’s book, The Once and Future King, Merlin the magician offers this advice to a despondent King Arthur: “The best thing for being sad is to learn something.” It’s good advice whether you’re sad or not. In fact, I think it is good advice for maintaining a healthy spirituality too. As we begin this new year together, let me share a few new things I’ve learned recently. Here goes—in no particular order.
The Blue Whale: (Warning: I’m going to use a lot of exclamation points in this paragraph! See?! I warned you!) Blue whales are the largest living animal on our planet. They are larger even than most dinosaurs! They average 80-100 feet in length (that’s the height of a ten story building!) and can weigh over 200 tons (that’s 30 elephants!) Their heart alone weighs 400 pounds! and is the size of a golf cart! On the surface of the water, the blue whale’s heart beats 25-37 times a minute. But when they dive, they can slow down their heart rate to 2 beats a minute! Blue whales have the largest babies in the world. They weigh about 8,800 pounds at birth and are 28 feet long! They gain 200 pounds a day just feeding on their mother’s milk! Adult whales live on krill—about 9,000 pounds of it per day! These beautiful creatures are loud too. Their call reaches 188 decibels, louder than the loudest jet engine! Their life span is between 80-90 years. Once hunted almost to extinction in the 19th Century, they are still listed as endangered with an estimated 10,000 to 25,000 left in the wild.
The Mona Lisa: It took Leonardo da Vinci a long time to paint the Mona Lisa. The painting started out as a simple portrait of a wealthy Italian’s wife (her name was Lisa; the “mona” is a title of respect comparable to “madam.”) But the man who commissioned the portrait never got the painting. Da Vinci kept it and continued working on it—for 16 years! (In between he was creating prototypes for the helicopter, the Sherman tank, and a self-propelled car!) His aim was to create the “perfect painting.” Over the years he kept adding layers and layers of paint until he felt he “got it right.” Most art critics and art historians agree that the Mona Lisa is as close to perfection as a painting can be. In Da Vinci’s later years he moved from Italy to France, crossing the alps on a horse or donkey and taking three paintings with him—one of which was the Mona Lisa. I cringe at the thought of his carrying this priceless painting over rugged mountains while astride a donkey! For more fascinating information on da Vinci, check out the PBS documentary on “NOVA”: “Decoding da Vinci.” That’s where I got this information.
A Title of a Book: Here is one of the longest titles of a book, written by George Hadley in 1794: Argal; or, The Silver Devil, Being the Adventures of an Evil Spirit, Comprising a Series of Interesting Anecdotes in Public and Private Life, and Which the Demon Became Acquainted in Various Parts of the World, During His Confinement in the Metalline Substance to Which He was Condemned. Related by Himself. In Two Volumes. Are you tempted to read it? (Thank you to my friend R. for sharing this information with me!)
Weather Facts: At any given time there are 1800 thunderstorms in progress over the earth’s atmosphere… An inch of snow falling on 1 acre of ground is equivalent to 2,715 gallons of water… A cubic mile of fog is made up of less than a gallon of water… Meteorologists claim they are right 85% of the time. (Once again, I thank my friend K. for teaching me these things through a book she gave me.)
Surprising facts about the Church. Father David Meconi, SJ has written a book entitled 101 Surprising Facts about Church History. I have not read the book, but I checked it out on Amazon because Fr. Dave was a Jesuit novice when I ministered in the Jesuit novitiate in Detroit in the ’90s. In the blurb for the book, I learned these surprising facts: 1) The first prototype of today’s robots was found in a medieval monastery. 2) Many kinds of food and drink have connections to the Church—including cappuccino and pretzels. 3) The Church has patron saints for just about anything—including headaches, hangovers, ugliness, and television.
Psalm 41. Sometimes we find something new in the old and familiar. I was praying Psalm 41 the other day and came across these two lines: “(You) the Lord will help them on their bed of pain; / in their sickness, you tend even to their bedding.” Imagine! When we are sick in bed, God fluffs our pillows and straightens our bed sheets! What a beautiful image of God as caregiver! (I thank my friend D. for drawing my attention to these verses.)
Original Hunger. I just started reading In the Sanctuary of Women by Jan. L. Richardson. Early in the book she challenged me to read chapter 3 of Genesis not simply as the story of original sin. But to re-envision it as the story of original hunger. Richardson concludes this section with this lovely short poem. Her words are my wish for all of you for this new year:
“May your longings lead you far
and farther still
toward the place where what you desire
can be met only by God.”
A Blessed New Year to All!
PS: Our U.S. Province of the Sisters of Notre Dame will be convening our provincial chapter December 28-30 in Covington, KY. About 75 delegates will meet to appraise our current living of our charism, to give direction for our future, and to elect delegates to our General Chapter in Rome in 2022. I ask your prayers for this meeting. Thank you very much!
I looked for a song that was appropriate for celebrating the New Year. This one by Steven Curtis Chapman seemed like a good choice. It’s called “Be Still and Know” and is based on Ps. 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.” If we have suffered a significant loss during this past year, or have any regrets for the year, or if we have any fears for this coming year, then the words of this psalm can help quiet our minds and hearts by encouraging us to trust in God’s unending love for all of us.
Please feel free to respond to this reflection in any way! Your comments are always welcome!