Ha Jolly Ha

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Some thoughts from TMF, a former classmate and friend and, God-willing, a future Dominican sister who will bless the world through her prayers and through her example:

Person-to-Person Communication vs. Technology
Recently I attended a talk given by a priest on the role of technology in our lives. Rather than focusing on technology itself in his talk, he spoke about the importance of personal relationships in man's fulfillment. On earth Jesus ministered to the whole person, body and soul; we receive the life of the Church through the sacraments, ministered by other people. The communication involved is not mere transfer of information, but a meeting of persons that is much deeper than that.

Technology separates us from that personal contact, even if it connects us in some way with more people faster than ever before. But human fulfillment lies not in IMing five people at once, as they do the same, while checking your e-mail, stock quotes, watching TV and listing to the radio, but in having real human relationships with others. I thought he spoke directly to my experience of life online, but also just how busy busy busy and distracted my life usually is, always typing, listening, reading blogs and boards, being distracted. Letting all that go is almost like entering another dimension, but you have to in order to fully communicate as a person.

Father spoke about how the religious life, especially of those in formation, is so counter-cultural--they keep a "technology fast" Monday-Saturday ("And on Sunday, you'd better get out of the way! Stampede for the computers!"), eat three meals a day together in community ("nobody in America does that anymore"), etc. It takes such a change of gears in order to interact with others in that way. But Father said, "Of course, the whole point of this is prayer. If you can't give your complete attention, and be present as a person in your totality to another human, how can you expect to be present to God."

Friday, September 22, 2006

Aristotle and Natural Medicine

The insidious errors of Cartesian philosophy underly most conventional medicine. Although New Age hippies and pagans now claim natural medicine for their own, the basic principles of alternative methods are actually in greater conformity with the Aristotilian(and thus Thomistic) understanding of human nature.

According to Descartes, the human body is a complex machine, inhabited and used by the soul, but not informed by it. In other words, he denies that the human soul is the act of the body, which gives it life and makes it be a human person, and not merely a human body. Instead, he posits a mechanistic explaination for the life, or operations, of the body. Such an account rejects the Aristotilian understanding of nature and of the essential unity between the body and soul.

According to Aristotle, everything that exists possesses a nature, a principle of motion or rest within itself, which determines its existence as this or that kind of thing. In living things, we call this principle the soul. The soul organizes the matter of the thing toward the specific operations of a specific kind of thing. In other words, it directs the body toward an end. Now, for living things, part of that end is health. Thus, living things have a natural inclination toward health.

The principles of conventional, modern medicine reflect the Cartesian model. Unlike traditional medicine, which recognizes the intrinsic power of the body to heal itself, modern medicine treats the body like a machine. When it malfunctions, the problem must be artificially corrected by external intervention which generally precipitates new problems of its own. In contrast, natural medicine seeks to preserve health by preventitive measures - avoiding the causes of disease - and by stimulating the body's natural healing forces. Furthermore, conventional treatments usually address the symptoms of the illness, rather than its root cause. Traditional medicines, on the other hand, approach illness holistically, concerned with the long-term health of the entire person (mind, body, spirit) and generally have no negative side effects. One simple example - painkillers. This is not a grave issue, but it is a common one. In the face of a headache, most people immediately reach for Advil, IBProfen, etc. These are anti-inflammatory drugs which relieve symptoms without addressing their cause. Many are unaware that they are also terribly bad for the kidneys. If you suffer from frequent headaches, natural medicine might recommend one or several of the following:

Less caffeine,
Food allergy testing
Exercises relieving eye strain
More water

While some of the suggestions above require a sacrifice (e.g., giving up coffee) and none of them promise immediate relief, they are certainly more conducive to overall health and to the virtue of temperance than popping 2 or 3 Advil and continuing in habits harmful to the body.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Pattern Dancing

Modern dancing reflects modern culture. It is sensual, chaotic, individualistic and undignified. Put on a throbbing Techno tune and everyone gyrates madly; put on a crooning Pop ballad and couples pair off to cling and sway; put on a jarring Rock song and they'll jump up and down, yelling incoherently.

Let me present the civilized alternative. Pattern dancing. Couples form two lines and dance a specific pattern with the couple next to them. Often, in each group of four, the couple nearer the head of the set performs a different dance pattern from that of the couple nearer the foot. After completing the pattern, the bottom couple in each group of four has progressed up the line, and the top couple has progressed down the line, to dance in a new set of four. Once they reach the end of the line, each couple enters again and progresses back the other way, performing the other dance pattern.

A few benefits of pattern dancing:

1. It is an agreeable way to acquire a sense of rhythm, proportion, and good posture.

2. Catchy fiddle tunes and lively dances preserve fitting decorum and order without oppressing an energetic crowd.

3. The complex progression of the dance provides a pleasing and elegant scene for those merely watching on account of indisposition, derth of partners, old age, etc.

4. Young men and women can become better acquainted in a communal and formal setting, discouraging improper intimacy and providing set forms of behavior which distinguish the proper roles of men and women.

5. Some of the loveliest folk music falls into this genre.

5. The dances are such jolly fun!

I most enjoy the English Country Dances. They are danced to a particular song, often to a waltz tempo, and the evening always closes with a series of "regular" waltzes. For those who prefer a more "aerobic" dance, Contra dancing and Irish set dancing offer a rollicking alternative.