Meet the Nun Who Wants You to Remember You Will Die

Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble. Credit…Tony Luong for The New York Times

By Ruth Graham,  New York Times  

BOSTON — Before she entered the Daughters of St. Paul convent in 2010, Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble read a biography of the order’s founder, an Italian priest who was born in the 1880s. He kept a ceramic skull on his desk, as a reminder of the inevitability of death. Sister Aletheia, a punk fan as a teenager, thought the morbid curio was “super punk rock,” she recalled recently. She thought vaguely about acquiring a skull for herself someday.

These days, Sister Aletheia has no shortage of skulls. People send her skull mugs and skull rosaries in the mail, and share photos of their skull tattoos. A ceramic skull from a Halloween store sits on her desk. Her Twitter name includes a skull and crossbones emoji.

That is because since 2017, she has made it her mission to revive the practice of memento mori, a Latin phrase meaning “Remember your death.” The concept is to intentionally think about your own death every day, as a means of appreciating the present and focusing on the future. It can seem radical in an era in which death — until very recently — has become easy to ignore.

“My life is going to end, and I have a limited amount of time,” Sister Aletheia said. “We naturally tend to think of our lives as kind of continuing and continuing.” Continue reading

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Nick Cave on Suffering

Nick Cave (2012) by Bleddyn Butcher

In The Red Hand File, punk rock legend Nick Cave, answers questions from fans. What follows is an inquiry from Peter from Hanover, Canada. What follows is Cave’s response.

My question is about how you perceive the utility of suffering. What is the value of suffering to us as individuals, and to us as a species as we go through our life carrying suffering around, like some mind-numbing, soul crushing weight?

Dear Peter: What do we do with suffering? As far as I can see, we have two choices – we either transform our suffering into something else, or we hold on to it, and eventually pass it on.

In order to transform our pain, we must acknowledge that all people suffer. By understanding that suffering is the universal unifying force, we can see people more compassionately, and this goes some way toward helping us forgive the world and ourselves. By acting compassionately we reduce the world’s net suffering, and defiantly rehabilitate the world. It is an alchemical act that transforms pain into beauty. This is good. This is beautiful.

To not transform our suffering and instead transmit our pain to others, in the form of abuse, torture, hatred, misanthropy, cynicism, blaming and victimhood, compounds the world’s suffering. Most sin is simply one person’s suffering passed on to another. This is not good. This is not beautiful.

The utility of suffering, then, is the opportunity it affords us to become better human beings. It is the engine of our redemption.

Love, Nick

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Coptic Christian Tattoos: Signs of Devotion

“In the first century, when the world was burgeoning with the flourishing of the Greek and Roman cultures, Christianity was flowing into certain sites around the developing world,” reports Justine Morrow for Tattoodo. “Egypt was one of these sites, and the country continues to hold the largest Christian population in the Middle East and North Africa: the Copts. The Copts are an ethnoreligious group that can trace its history and foundations back to when Christianity was first introduced into Egypt, 42 AD.”

Morrow’s article explores the lengthy history of tattooing amongst the Coptic Christians.

“For many of us, tattoos mean a great deal: they transform us into the people we want to be or know we are,” writes Morrow. “They can be ritualistic, and even metaphoric for memories or philosophies we’d like to carry with us always. For the Coptic Christians, this is certainly true. Wearing their sincere piety on their bodies for all to see, they’re courageously owning their beliefs and continuing a part of tattoo history that should never be forgotten.”

In an interview with Chandler Lasch for the Federalist, Anton Razzouk shared the story of how his family has been tied to tattooing for generations.

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The real St. Patrick

By Steve Beard

While sifting through obscure Spanish colonial records, it was discovered a few years ago that the very first St. Patrick’s Day parade was not conducted in Boston, Chicago, nor New York City.

Instead, the Irish feast day was celebrated in modern day St. Augustine, Florida, in 1601.

“They processed through the streets of St. Augustine, and the cannon fired from the fort,” said Prof. J. Michael Francis of the University of South Florida at St. Petersburg, who discovered the document. The ancient records named “San Patricio” as “the protector” of the area’s maize fields. “So here you have this Irish saint who becomes the patron protector of a New World crop, corn, in a Spanish garrison settlement,” he said.

This strange twist in the story and celebration of St. Patrick, a fifth century holy man, is really not that surprising. Historians are constantly attempting to set the record straight. After all, Patrick was not Irish (born in Britain of a Romanized family). He was never canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church. Interestingly, there are two St. Patrick’s Cathedrals in Armagh, Ireland – one Catholic and one Protestant. Remarkably, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin is both Catholic and Protestant.

The legacy of Ireland’s patron saint blurs a lot of lines – but, he is notably worth celebrating. Continue reading

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The self-silencing majority

By Bari Weiss, Deseret News

I know a lot of people who live in fear of saying what they really think. In red America and in blue America — and, perhaps more so, on the red internet and the blue internet — we are in the grip of an epidemic of self-silencing. What you censor, of course, depends on where you sit.

My liberal friends who live in red America confess to avoiding discussions of masks, Dominion, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, the 2020 election and Donald Trump, to name just a few. When those who disagree with the surrounding majority speak their mind, they suffer the consequences. …

But there are two illiberal cultures swallowing up the country. I know because I live in blue America, in a world awash in NPR tote bags and front lawn signs proclaiming the social justice bonafides of the family inside. In my America, the people who keep quiet don’t fear the wrath of Trump supporters. They fear the illiberal left. Continue reading

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The Golden Girls who beat Covid-19

Gin-soaked raisins, champagne, chocolate, prayer, and two elderly survivors of Covid-19 provide a spot of positive news. While the infection has been a devastating health scourge around the planet, two women – one at 117 years old and the other at 105 years old – have beaten the dreaded infirmity. Sister Andre is a blind nun in southern France and the oldest person in Europe. She enjoys eating chocolate every morning and celebrated her 117th birthday with a glass of champagne. When asked if she was afraid, she said, “No, I wasn’t scared because I wasn’t scared to die.” More HERE.
In New Jersey, Lucia DeClerck celebrated her 105th birthday with news that she contracted the virus. She weathered the storm and beat the infection. How has she lived so long? “Prayer. Prayer. Prayer,” she said. “One step at a time. No junk food.” Interestingly enough, she does not consider the nine gin-soaked golden raisins she eats every morning to be junk food. She stores them in a Mason jar and has eaten them throughout her long life. More HERE. Congratulations to both Sister Andre and Ms. DeClerck.
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Remembering Cicely Tyson

Cicely Tyson and Cuba Gooding Jr. performing on Broadway in “A Trip to Bountiful.”









By Steve Beard

Internationally-known for her six decades on stage and screen, award-winning actress Cicely Tyson died on Thursday at the age of 96.

“I come from lowly status. I grew up in an area that was called the slums at the time,” Tyson said while receiving an honorary Oscar award at age 94. “I still cannot imagine that I have met with presidents, kings, queens. How did I get here? I marvel at it.”

The revered actress knows that her fame is due to her superb dramatic roles over the years. “Yet I am also the church girl who once rarely spoke a word,” Tyson writes in her autobiography, Just As I Am, published shortly before her death. “I am the teenager who sought solace in the verses of the old hymn for which this book is named. I am a daughter and mother, a sister and a friend. I am an observer of human nature and the dreamer of audacious dreams. I am a woman who has hurt as immeasurably as I have loved, a child of God divinely guided by His hand.” Continue reading

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National Treasure

By Steve Beard

I spent the holidays with Dolly Parton.

Well, not literally. Like everything else in 2020, it was all virtual – and it was a whirlwind.

Throughout her rhinestone-studded career, Dolly has sold over 100 million albums, starred in countless movies and TV specials, launched an extraordinary book-gifting program, opened a theme park that attracts more than 3 million visitors per year, and has written over 3,000 songs. More than 200 of her songs have been covered by other artists.

One of twelve children, Parton was born in a log cabin in East Tennessee without electricity. At 74 years old, her literal rags-to-riches story continues to inspire fans across the spectrum around the world. Despite finding tremendous popularity under the bright lights of country music, Dolly’s magnetic folksy appeal has always extended far beyond Nashville. Continue reading

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Snake in the Manger

From “Love Actually.”

By Steve Beard

One of my dear friends bought a tree ornament featuring the Grinch in a Covid-19 mask muttering, “Christmas 2020: Stink, Stank, Stunk!” That exasperation and frustration is shared by so many.

Thankfully, some of our holiday traditions were able to be modified and reconfigured: Santa sat behind a plexiglass barrier at the mall to keep the kids safe. Handsantizer bottles and air-kisses replaced smooching under the mistletoe. Outdoor carolers wore those plastic face shields in order to keep audiences out of harm’s way as they sang “Joy to the World.”

Obviously, other Christmas traditions are not able to be modified. There are precious absent loved ones who would normally be sharing in the festivities. This year, instead, we will be cherishing our past memories with them.

Amongst my own family, the tradition of over-exaggerated yelling and cheering as gifts were opened ended up being toned down. We even connected via FaceTime with family members who were homebound.

Continue reading

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Brokenness, Burgers, and Redemption

By Steve Beard

At the height of the government mandated lockdown earlier this year, Kraft Heinz factories were operating around the clock in order to meet the demand for macaroni and cheese. According to the New York Times, retailers at the same time saw a 50 percent increase in demand for Slim Jim beef jerky and Chef Boyardee pastas.

Apparently, even some of those who had been eating organic kale and quinoa salads were turning to foods they had banished from their cupboards. “Consumers are reaching for foods that trigger a comforting childhood memory or simply their go-to snack when they need to relieve stress,” the Times reported. In an era of instability, we all look to the safe haven of comfort food – savoring the tastes, smells, and good memories.

My comfort food is a Double-Double Animal Style, a signature menu item at In-N-Out Burgers, a Southern California-based phenomenon. “No Microwaves, No Freezers, No Heat Lamps” is one of the company’s time-tested commitments. The simplicity, freshness, and mystique has garnered a passionate fanbase from Hollywood hot shots to celebrity chefs who crave an In-N-Out fix.

McDonald’s vs. Burger King, Shake Shack vs. Five Guys, Wendy’s vs. Jack In the Box. I leave the debate to others. I’m a lover, not a fighter. When I fly home to the West Coast to see my family, the first stop from the airport is In-N-Out. Go ahead, ask my mom and dad. In-N-Out reminds me I’m home.

Founded in 1948 by the innovative Harry and Esther Snyder, In-N-Out has had the same minimalist menu for the last 72 years. It is a privately-held, debt-free family company committed to strategic growth, high quality ingredients, and paying its employees better than any other fast food chain. As of mid-December, there are 361 bright red-and-white retro-style restaurants in seven Western states with a gigantic yellow arrow pointing the way to a premium burger. Continue reading

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