Minnesota in the Springtime

“…I love Paris in the springtime.
I love Paris in the fall….”

It’s been years since I heard “I Love Paris.” Nice song, but a bit schmaltzy for today’s tastes.

And nobody’s written a follow-up, expressing affection for Minnesota in the springtime.

Maybe it’s our weather. There’s a winter storm in progress: rain and freezing rain a little earlier, then snow, with heavy snow and thunderstorms on the way.

That picture is what the webcam saw around 7:00 this evening. I won’t mind staying inside tomorrow. Maybe I’ll get some writing done:

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Spirit Photographs

My wife asked me if I knew some of my ancestors were spiritualists. She’d seen an odd picture of my Campbell forebears while putting together a family photo album. This was in September, 2011.

I had, and even knew a little about the photo. It’s studio portrait, with something extra.

A child’s ghostly image is near my great-to-some-power grandmother. The couple’s daughter had died when she was three years old.

My father told me about the trick, probably more common in the ‘good old days’ than now. Another family member had been given a similarly-doctored photo. In that case, she insisted that the studio fix it. Without the extra image. Which they did.

Maybe the bereaved couple thought they had a ‘spirit photograph’ of their daughter. Or maybe they had no other picture of their child, knew the photo was fake, and didn’t mind.

Spirit Photographs

The photo my wife showed me looks a bit like this one, taken in 1868 or thereabouts. It shows someone called “Mrs. French.” I don’t know who the ghost is supposed to be.

The “Mrs. French” photo is by William H. Mumler, who’s given credit for starting spirit photography in the early 1860s.1

I’ve read that Mumler, an amateur photographer, accidentally took a double exposure. The resulting photo included a ghostly image of what looked like Mumler’s dead cousin.

Mumler quite his job, set up shop as a spirit photographer and married a “healing medium.” The two weren’t business partners, though.

Mumler’s troubles started in 1869, when he was accused of fraud. He won the trial, but lost his credibility. Spirit photography’s reputation didn’t seem affected, though.

Quite a few folks had lost relatives in America’s Civil War. Their grief and spiritualism’s popularity arguably helped Mumler attract customers.

So did assorted diseases like cholera, yellow fever, smallpox, and tuberculosis. Many parents saw their children survive measles and scarlet fever. Many didn’t.2

Christian parents might see “crossing the Jordan” or “taking the last train to glory” as a potentially good thing. But grief happens anyway. (October 9, 2016)

So does death, for everyone. Sooner or later.

Make that almost everyone. I figure Elijah’s spectacular departure in 2 Kings 2:814 was a one-time event. Mostly for Elisha’s benefit. And that’s another topic.

I don’t look forward to death, not like I look forward to reading a good book. But I’ve thought about it. So have a great many other folks. That’s led to advice like memento mori and carpe diem, remember your death and seize the day, more or less.

I think both make sense, within reason. (January 21, 2018; November 11, 2016)

Death Happens

Death seems to have been as popular in Victorian literature as unlikely roommates were in sitcoms.

Tennyson’s “Lady of Shallot” may be one of the better-known examples.

In Tennyson’s tale, the Lady of Shallot weaves night and day to keep some kind of curse from happening.

Then she sees Lancelot going by. He’s on his way to Camelot.

She stops weaving, writes her name on a boat and gets in. By the time the boat drifts downstream to Camelot, she’s dead.

Lancelot, seeing a woman’s corpse in the boat, says “she has a lovely face.”

That might seem weird today. Let’s remember that English Victorian society wasn’t like postmodern America. Folks apparently thought, talked, and read about death a lot more than we do. Differently, at any rate.

Americans don’t think about death much. Or don’t seem to. Certainly not the way Victorians did. But death happens. And I’m pretty sure not all Americans shun thoughts of death, any more than all Victorians were repressed Babbitts.

America’s apparent attitude may come from how we live. And die.

Many Americans die in hospitals these days, often after enjoying retirement someplace other than where they grew up and lived.

Some folks pick a ‘retirement state’ based on climate. Others look for favorable investment opportunities, insurance, whatever.

I’m not overly fond of winter’s cold and the spring thaw. But Minnesota’s weather is not boring. I like that. A lot. Isolation from friends and family ‘back home’ would make moving a poor choice for me. Even if it was an option. And that’s yet another topic.

Hand-wringing over society’s decline and all that is something I’ll skip. The point is that having most of the family around when we die isn’t typical today. Not in America.

Options for housing and medical treatment were different in the ‘good old days.’

Victorian Sentimentality and Nietzsche

I don’t see Victorian families as ideal role models. But dying at home happened a lot. Being around a dying family member was nearly unavoidable.

That up-close-and-personal encounter with death and dying may help explain the Victorian era’s over-the-top sentimentality.

So, I think, did seeing results from the Age of Enlightenment’s love affair with reason. Quite a few folks felt reason hadn’t worked, so they tried relying on emotion.

Romanticism isn’t that simple, of course. I’m pretty folks throughout history weren’t all on the same page, even in the most conformist eras.

I think reason and emotion are both part of being human. They’re basically good, when used properly. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1730, 17621770, 1778)

Romanticism peaked in the early 19th century, followed by Realism, Gothic novels and Edgar Allan Poe. But not in that order. I see the 1960s as Romanticism’s reboot, sort of.3

But not exactly. The Swinging Sixties didn’t last nearly as long, for starters. I see the Romantic era’s fascination with exotic lands replayed in early 1960s psychedelic art.4 Not that Caspar David Friedrich and Thomas Cole were painting hallucinatory terrain.

I think some of us overdid valuing emotion and bucking authority. But I also remember the preceding era’s lockstep conformity and attitudes. America, at least, was due for a change. Overdue, in some ways.


Back in the Sixties, “conservative” politics ranged from intense nationalism to unthinking jingoism. That’s how it looked to me at the time, as a teen.

“Liberal” politics weren’t always reasonable either. But I thought the goals made more sense: freedom, peace and cooperation.

Conservatives defended freedom, too. For those who agreed with them. I see McCarthyism and political correctness as the same attitude, held by folks with different views.

I’ve learned a lot since the sixties, including an appreciation for nuance. But my basic attitudes haven’t changed. And living as if I believe them still isn’t easy.

Folks with what we still call “conservative” attitudes were the establishment in my ‘good old days.’

I’m pretty sure conservatives thought they were right. And that liberals did, too.

Thinking I’m right shouldn’t mean feeling that anyone who disagrees must be a fool, hypocrite, or worse.

I was more or less at odds with ‘the establishment’ and many conventionally-unconventional ‘outsiders’ in my teens. It helped me keep re-thinking my opinions and attitudes.

Having like-minded folks on top in media, politics, and academia probably feels good. So would being part of a ‘movement.’ I’ve never quite experienced the feeling, which isn’t a bad thing. I suspect noticing wacky behavior is harder when the nut case is ‘one of us.’

I was going somewhere with this. Let’s see. Family photos, spiritualists, cholera, Victorian attitudes. Right.

Today’s conservative positions aren’t quite what they were in my youth, and quite different from the Concert of Europe’s peacekeeping efforts. The further we get from ‘now,’ the less useful today’s labels are.

That’s partly because we don’t know much about folks like Ajita Kesakambali and Diagoras of Melos. Stories and lore retold generations later suggest that they didn’t think gods existed. We call that sort of thing atheism today.

Thomas Huxley was more of an agnostic than an atheist, but shared Friedrich Nietzsche’s lack of conventional Christian beliefs. Considering what was conventional then, I can see how their views might make sense.

Which doesn’t mean I share them. (February 9, 2018; January 21, 2018; May 12, 2017)

Nifty Photos

(From MrX, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Diagram: Kirlian photography cross-section.)

Kirlian photography was getting attention from the late 1960s to 1970s. It’s a contact print photo technique using high voltage.

Some folks thought it was an interesting natural phenomenon. Others thought they were recording life force auras.

I’ll talk about life force and vitalism in another post. Alchemy too, probably.

The aura folks had evidence on their side, along with replicable experiments.

Folks at UCLA made several Kirlian photos of a pickled leaf, at set intervals. Sure enough, the leaf’s ‘energy field,’ recorded in the Kirlian photograph, faded as the leaf withered. They figured they’d recorded the leaf’s dwindling life force.

In another experiment, they made Kirlian photos of leaves, tore part of each leaf off, and then took another photo. Sometimes a faint ‘memory’ of the missing part was in the second image. It looked as if the leaf ‘remembered’ its natural form.

Scientists thought the experiments and conclusions were worth testing.

Maybe some didn’t ‘believe in’ energy fields. I’ll give them credit for being scientists, and doing their job.

Scientists are as human as anyone else. Belief or lack of it may be personally important. Facts and testable predictions are what make research ‘scientific.’

They paid closer attention to laboratory technique, removing all traces of moisture from the glass plate after taking Kirlian photographs of the whole leaf. ‘Ghost’ images didn’t materialize with clean plates.

What the first researchers had done was document otherwise-imperceptible traces of water left by the whole leaf. The glass plates were ‘remembering’ where the leaf had been, in a metaphoric sense. Not the leaf.

I don’t think that proves that the original researchers were charlatans.

America’s zeitgeist, ambience, or whatever, being what it was — I figure they thought they’d found something real, and weren’t consummate experiment designers.

I’ve got more to say about the UCLA experiments, science and assumptions. But not today.

I see Kirlian photography as laboratory curiosity. Scientists haven’t found practical applications. Not yet, anyway. The photos are nifty, though.5

I’m almost certain that Kirlian photos don’t record auras: not in the ‘life energy’ sense.

That’s partly because Kirlian phtos of non-living things show ‘auras.’

I’m not sure what the non-dime in that photo is. It looks like a Jefferson nickel.

Whatever it is, I don’t think it is or ever was alive. Neither was the dime.

I’m quite sure that we’re looking at electrical effects at the edges and angles of the coins. Possibly enhanced by residual moisture and oils from folks who handed them.

I’ve got a pretty good imagination, so I could say that we’re looking at life force auras left by folks who handled them. Or of the artists who designed them. Or of Jefferson, an oak and an olive tree.

That could be a ‘good enough for a story’ explanation. Maybe something along the lines of Lovecraft and Poe, with a dash of Charles Addams and Gahan Wilson. There’s an idea.

But ‘good enough for a story’ doesn’t mean ‘real.’ Or ‘replicable.’

Telling or reading an imaginary tale can be fun, and harmless. If folks can see differences between make-believe and reality.

That’s my opinion, but it’s one I’m pretty sure of. (“Address of John Paul II to the International Cinema Conference” (December 2, 1999))

Tricking folks into believing something I know isn’t true is another story. And trouble that I don’t need. (Catechism, 150, 2125, 2464, 24752487)

How I see life, death, and making sense:

1 Darkroom ghosts:

2 Death and disease:

3 Eras and attitudes:

4 Making sense, and learning:

5 Energy, life and weather:

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Trust and Mercy

Divine Mercy Sunday:

(April 8, 2018; this homily is from April 7, 2002)

Divine Mercy Sunday, 2018

By Deacon Lawrence N. Kaas April 8, 2018 (originally April 7, 2002)

20 years ago we wanted to dedicate our community to the Mercy of God. The story of which is far too long to share with you this morning. But you need to know that we asked our Bishop Speltz to conduct the dedication but were told, ‘no he can’t come because of confirmations.. Just days before the dedication, he personally called and said that it was too important for him not to be here and so changed appointments to be with us. At one point he said, he saw this as a way to get the Sacred Heart enthroned in every home and saw this was a means to fulfill that because The Divine Mercy image fits perfectly with the Sacred Heart – as well it should. Now what does he do? Not only does he dedicate our community, but dedicates the whole Diocese to The Mercy of God: to the great joy of all who were aware of what was really going on. So we have, for the Diocese, the [devotion to The Divine Mercy] right here in Sauk Centre. Again there is a whole realm of stories around this that time won’t permit retelling.

This whole revelation, and I use the word revelation deliberately, of the Divine Mercy is not new but old teaching of the Church that had either been lost or ignored. So this little Polish Nun with hardly a third grade education, but obedient to God, became the Secretary of Jesus and writes what He tells her. And for only one purpose: and that to build Trust in the Infinite Mercy of God. Here again more stories could be told.

For 18 some years we have been praying and waiting for the time when, foretold by Sister Faustina, she would be declared Saint and that Mercy Sunday would be declared for the Universal Church: and that happened fully a year ago. Now the Catholic calendar lists this day as Divine Mercy Sunday. What a Glorious Blessing for our Church.

So fitting is this Feast that none of the Reading or Prayers of the Sacramentary had to be changed. In other words, the Mercy Feast was there all the time but not recognized as such. All that was needed is that the Church would once again declare it. I think I could even say with little fear of over statement that this day is the Climax of Easter, not a falling off or low point, as the name for this Sunday, it used to be called Low Sunday, seemed to say. But now this Sunday is built up to the Most wonderful Truths of Divine Mercy.

I wasn’t going to tell you this story because of time but, not only is it a little cute, but also so “church.” Sister had written in her diary that the greatest attribute of God is His Mercy. Some learned men got a hold of it and said no, no: All God’s attributes are Infinite, so her diary can’t be accepted, and for almost 20 years was not allowed to be spread. Our present Pope, then a Cardinal, caused her diary to be once again looked at and finally someone remembers what the early Church Fathers taught was that the greatest attribute of God is His Mercy. Plus it said in the Old Testament the chief attribute of God is His Hesed, His loving Kindness or Mercy. 6 months after her diary was approved, this same Cardinal became Pope.

Now finally we get to the reading for today. The key word is ALIVE. In the first reading we hear people being healed by the shadow of Peter. In other words, brought back to a fullness of LIVING. In the second reading we hear Jesus say, “Once I was dead but now I LIVE.” In the Gospel we hear two times that Jesus appears through the door and proclaims, “Peace be with you!” Even as Thomas comes onto the scene, we are amazed at the reality of the presence of Jesus, not a ghost, ‘feel me, touch me.. Can’t you almost hear Jesus wanting to say, ‘I’M ALIVE, I’M ALIVE, It’s really Me.. The background to this is to me one of the most amazing of going stories in all scripture.

It is not possible to fully appreciate this Gospel reading until you get a feel for the Old Testament counterpart, and that is the Feast of the Atonement as is found in Leviticus 16. Here it tells how once a year the high priest would offer sacrifice for the sake of all the people: and how he did that was a very drawn-out and exacting ceremony from the offering of two male goats and one ram for a holocaust. From the sprinkling of blood to the sending out of the Scapegoat upon whom the sins of the people was placed and sent into the wilderness. How Aaron was to wash was also a part of this protracted day of Atonement. What became key to the Israelites and also for us is the fact Aaron the high priest most go into the Holy of Holies to make an offering to God by a very precise formula. So tough was this to fulfill that two sons of Aaron died in the Holy of Holies because they had offered unholy fire. From that day, any time the high priest had to enter the Holy of Holies they would tie a rope around one leg so that if he died in there they could draw him out without any risk to themselves. But it had to be done to fulfill the ordinances of the Lord and so that the sins of the people could be expiated.

Now! Here is the result of all this. If the high priest died in the Holy of Holies the sins of the people remain. If the high priest comes through the veil from the Holy of Holies ALIVE, can you hear the shout of the people, he’s alive, he’s alive. God has accepted the atonement made and the sins of the people are forgiven.

Somehow this feast of the Atonement was imperfect, otherwise there would have been no need to reenact it time after time, year after year. What was missing? The feast of Atonement of Leviticus 16 couldn’t open heaven, the blood of sheep and goats could not do what the blood of the Eternal Lamb, Jesus Christ could do. The blood of goats lacks the perfection of the Son of God, who, because He is equal to the Father, could once for all open the gates of heaven, closed because of the sin of our first parents. So even though the people were cleansed from sin, they had to wait until that time in human history when Jesus came on the scene to make a perfect Sacrificial Atonement that they, and us, could in the Infinite Mercy of God attain Eternal Life. How do we know this? Twice in our Gospel reading for today Jesus appears through the door of the upper room and, yes, he greets them saying, “Peace be with you.” But there is a resounding reality proclaimed by Jesus and confirmed by the Apostles, ‘I’m ALIVE,. He’s ALIVE, He’s ALIVE.

God has accepted the Sacrifice of His Only Son, heaven is opened. Part of this image shows that Jesus in coming from someplace. He’s come from the Father after releasing the Old Testament people from the place of the dead: and now to make ready that we too may follow. We are now ready to take part fully in the Inheritance that belongs to the Son by hereditary right. What belongs to the Father belongs to the Son. That is why the Hebrew people made such a big issue of the hereditary right of the first born son to inherit everything that belongs to his father. This once again sets the stage to confirm that same hereditary right that Jesus has to inherit everything that belongs to His Father. I asked that question of my 7th grade last week and they answered, everything, everything. Then one student said, heaven (right on!). Eternal life is everything the Father has, which now belongs to the Son. Jesus. own words confirm that when he said the Father and I are ONE.

Are you beginning to get an image of what OUR GOD has done for us? In all of human history has any god done more for the people then our God has done for us? An Infinitely Merciful God sends His only Son as Mercy to save a sinful world. In sister’s diary she says that in all of eternity we will not be able to fathom the Infinite Mercy of God. When you were Baptized, symbolized by the white rays, you were Baptized into Christ Jesus and therefore now have everything that belongs to Jesus, making us not slaves but friends. In His Mercy and knowing human nature as it is, knew sin would still be a part of out lives and so He set up, in the Church He founded, a means by which we can confess our sins in sorrow and receive absolution and do a penance to make things right with God, but there seems to be a temporal effect still lingering that must be satisfied. That brings us back to this day as stated in Sister’s diary, to Confess our sins and to go to Communion on THIS DAY, all punishment due to sin is not only mitigated but wiped clean as if you are newly Baptized. It is not totally clear how close to this day you must go to confession but it seems to be that as close as possible is all that is asked. In other words, sincerely do the best you can and God will take care of the rest.

This brings us to the point of the red rays on the image, which stand for the Eucharist. Many homilies could be preached and not be able to exhaust the subject. The point I want to make for today’s feast is that the Eucharist is alive. When the priest hold the Host high, can’t you hear Jesus saying, Peace, be with you. I’m alive, it is really me. Likewise the Chalice held high, ‘Peace, be with you,. almost a silent scream, ‘I’m alive, it is really me.. We respond as did Thomas, “My Lord and My God.”

What a joy it is for me to share this message with you, in this parish, where by the way, the carved image of Divine Mercy was first displayed. What a Glorious account of the Mercy of God. What return can we make to a God so Merciful to us? One priest I know answered that question by saying we are to be Merciful to Mercy. Meaning to live out the fullness of Mercy granted us in a way that is pleasing to God and inspiring to all those we meet. After all, it is in God’s Mercy that we are what we are and in His Providence who we are, that His kingdom may be made present on earth as we pray in the Our father, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

(‘Thank you’ to Deacon Kaas, for letting me post his reflection here — Brian H. Gill.)

Reason for hope:

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Writing, a Raven and Pallas

Once upon an evening dreary, while I pondered, fogged and bleary,
Over many a disconnected fragment of erratic text,
While I dithered, nearly dozing, suddenly I started thinking:
I should be sleeping!

Sleeping more and brooding less might have done the narrator in Poe’s “The Raven” some good. More, I suspect, than pondering “forgotten lore.”

Although if the lore’s forgotten, how’d it come to be in “many a quaint and curious volume?” On the other hand, it is “a midnight dreary.”

Maybe he’s to befuddled to think clearly. Opening a window to see who, or what, is tapping doesn’t strike me as a smart move.

Grief and fatigue don’t always result in ravens perching on a “pallid bust of Pallas.” Many folks don’t have a bust of Pallas, pallid or otherwise.

It’s anyone’s guess why Poe’s narrator had one. Or why he thought putting it over his chamber door was a good idea.

Pallas was Triton’s daughter. Athena inadvertently killed her, with a misguided assist from Zeus. Maybe that’s why Poe made pallid Pallas the raven’s preferred perch. Greek mythology wasn’t all that edifying, but boring it wasn’t.

It’s a Start

I might have had something about Marlowe’s “…Doctor Faustus” done by now.

It turned into a discussion of spirit photographs, spiritualism and Poe’s “The Raven.” My guess is that I’ll have two posts by the time I’m through.

Meanwhile, I’m about a thousand words closer to having a first-draft text for that book ready. That wasn’t as hard as I’d feared, or easy as I’d hoped: which is about what I expected.

Fretting about not having more done won’t do much good. If any. So I’ll consider this a pretty good start, and keep writing.

Writing-related posts:

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