Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Stations of the Cross

With The Passion of the Christ out, a lot of people are probably feeling more interested in the Stations of the Cross. I'm interested to find how different some of the prayers for doing the Stations are. Some folks can't picture doing them without singing the "Stabat Mater", others never heard of such a thing. (Around here, we seem to be in the latter group while Ebert's review indicates he's in the former.) Some are indoors, some outside in gardens or on trails. There are many different sets of meditations and prayers used for the Stations, each with its own advantages. Also, the Episcopal/Anglican church seems to do Stations.

The best explanation of the different versions of the Stations is at the website of Sacred Heart Parish, Morton, WA. You can pick out your own favorite version of the Stations while looking at the same set of pictures over in the frames. (A good use of frames, btw.) Another excellent site is from the Congregation of the Passion. The origins of the Stations in pilgrimages to Jerusalem are explained at Olga's Gallery and the Via Dolorosa.

Other sites which include both pictures and prayers for the Stations are: St. Charles Borromeo in Picayune, Mississippi; Two Hearts Design; St. Alexander's, Villa Park, IL;; over at Gerard's site, Catholic Doors; and Ligurina-Maria.

If you just want a new set of pictures to look at while doing the Stations, check out a nice set of paintings of the Stations from Lodwar, Kenya. Here are some sculptures from St. Augustine's in Deerfield Twp., Michigan; and from

Of course, the real test is to walk and pray Jesus' road every day as we carry our own crosses. But the more we try in all ways to die with Christ, the more we will live with Him.

"Fair Science Frown'd Not on His Humble Birth": Astronomer in a Country Churchyard

St. Laurence's Church, Slough, Buckinghamshire was local to Thomas Gray (1716-1771, and may have inspired his famous "Elegy in a Country Churchyard". (Though, to be fair, St. Giles' Church in Stoke Poges claims that, too, and probably many others.) It was also where the astronomer William Herschel (1738-1822) was buried. In 2001, apparently someone donated a nice stained glass window dedicated to the memory of the discoverer of Uranus. Note the telescope in the bottom right hand corner of the window.

Friday, February 27, 2004


It's only been a day since Ash Wednesday, but already I've made a few more steps in the wrong direction. The ancient Romans used to draw the soul as a tiny figure with wings. My anima may be vagula, but not blandula. Her tiny wings are the color of charcoal and ash, and maybe they are broken.

The lucky thing is that Jesus forgives sins. "Cleanse me from my iniquities, and I shall be as white as snow." Different denominations handle this different ways; some give great credence to mental prayer, others to standing up in front of the congregation to confess. Catholics do something that stands exactly in the middle; we tell our sins to a member of the congregation (namely, a priest), who stands in as a visible sign both of the Church and our incarnate God.

It is hard to tell even a single person what I've done wrong. A single person with a long shrewd knowledge of what sorts of things people get up to -- oh, it's hard. But it is fatally easy to tell your sins to God and not feel forgiven enough, or to weasel out of your sins as really not so bad. When you can hear what you're saying to someone else, and hear their own comments to you, it is a great deal harder to go to one extreme or the other.

I am praying today for several people, including myself, but especially for this young woman. (Link is not work-safe.) May God console her and help her deal with her pain in a better way. Cutting is not the answer; art is a better one; but I think she needs help and love most of all.

Ash Wednesday

When I was a child, I don't think they used a lot of ashes in my parish. I was always disappointed to find, when I got home, that there was nothing left on my forehead but a vague dark gray smudge. I could get dirtier than that by reading the newspaper.

This Wednesday night, I could see the black circles on my fellow parishioners from up in the choir loft. Indian ladies honoring their religion could hardly have been marked on the forehead more conspicuously than we. The very last person to get ashes was a baby in her mother's arms; her small black dot contrasted with her pale forehead like ink on paper.

I looked at us, covered in ashes if not sackcloth, and reflected that this was how sin must look like on our souls. Not to mention regret.

We were doing what the Bible recommended, as the readings made clear; gathering all the people together, young and old, to repent in an acceptable time. It was the beginning of Lent, that sorrowful six weeks whose English name means "springtime". For six weeks every year, we try to pray, fast, abstain, give alms, and make a little progress on the spiritual journey that God wants us to take. We stop, ask directions, turn around, and try to come back to the right road instead of continuing blindly on our own "shortcuts".

We start by publicly admitting, as a group, that we're lost. With ashes.