Archive for August, 2013

Movie Star Memories: Mickey Rooney

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

In this blog series, I’ll describe my impressions of various movie stars I’ve met over the years. Hope you enjoy reading about your favorites, and that you’ll be inspired to check out my Hollywood novel Dream Factory, which is available in both paperback and electronic formats through Amazon.com.

During a national tour of the stage musical Sugar Babies, I met Mickey Rooney briefly after he and his costar Ann Miller had finished performing. What impressed me most about Mickey was his joyful energy. Even though he was in his 60s then (and at the time of this blog, he’s 93 years old and still active in show business!), Mickey’s energy was infectious. I couldn’t help but feel energized myself simply by being in his presence.

The show had demanded lots of energy to perform its dances, songs, and comedic scenes — but Mickey seemed to have an inexhaustible store of energy as he bounded around greeting some of us audience members. His smile was so bright that it actually seemed to light up his eyes, as if he had some sort of fire within.

So it’s no surprise to me that Mickey, who began his career in the 1920s, is still working — bringing joy to audiences around the world.

Movie Star Memories: Elizabeth Taylor

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

In this blog series, I’ll describe my impressions of various movie stars I’ve met over the years. Hope you enjoy reading about your favorites, and that you’ll be inspired to check out my Hollywood novel Dream Factory, which is available in both paperback and electronic formats through Amazon.com.

It was surprising for me to discover that Elizabeth Taylor was quite demure and soft-spoken when I met her briefly in New York City after the taping of a television special about Hollywood: Night of 100 Stars 2.

Prior to meeting her, I’d imagined her to be kind of a brash woman, because of her over-the-top style of acting and dramatic personal life. I remember arguing with my mom over her choice of Elizabeth as her favorite movie star; Elizabeth just plain irritated me, and I didn’t understand her popularity.

But in person, Elizabeth was kind and graceful. I got the feeling that her public image didn’t actually match who she was on the inside. My brief encounter with her left me wanting to know more about who she really was.

By the time Elizabeth died years later, I’d learned a lot more about this fascinating woman whose glamorous life was marked by so much drama both onscreen and off. One of her famous quotes seems to sum up all the drama: “I have the emotions of a child in the body of a woman.” She was a complex and fascinating person.

Explorers in Venice

Monday, August 19th, 2013

One last blog about my recent trip to Italy:

Standing at the top of the famous bell tower for St. Mark’s Basilica, I looked out over Venice and noticed an interesting scene — a massive cruise ship sharing a canal with tiny gondolas. The ship moved carefully past, looking like it could swallow up the gondolas at any moment. Water taxis, speedboats, and even kayaks navigated through the crowded canal, as well.

Venice has long been a place for explorers, and one of the world’s most famous explorers — Marco Polo — lived there. That spirit of exploration is still a major part of Venice, from its historic center to some of its more modern islands, like Lido.

Wherever I went in Venice, I experienced the thrill that comes from exploring. Now the memories of Venice inspire me to approach each new day with that same spirit of exploration, looking forward to whatever new adventures God may have in store.

Sacred Bodies: The Anatomical Theater in Bologna

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

More thoughts about God from my recent trip to Italy:

Visiting the famous anatomical theater at the University of Bologna, I was impressed by how the entire room was made of spruce wood. This place — one of the first places in the world where medical school students could officially dissect human bodies — looks so distinguished that I wondered whether the choice of wood was just for the sake of elegant design.

Not so, my tour guide told me. The reason was for the wood was quite inelegant: wood was the best material for absorbing the stench of decaying bodies in an age before refrigeration was invented.

Well, that bit of information was less than inspiring, but what was tremendously exciting to me was learning about how carefully the medical school staff and students sought God’s wisdom when they were trying to figure out how best to handle the bodies they studied. Prayer was a vital part of their process. They recognized that the bodies weren’t just objects to be treated thoughtlessly; instead, they were sacred objects that should be treated with the utmost respect.

Now med school students have been dissecting bodies for centuries, but we’ve entered a new frontier in medical research: genetics. The knowledge and technology we have now empowers us to delve deeply into human DNA — for better or for worse. I hope that prayer remains a high priority for today’s medical researchers, and that they always keep in mind that what they’re dealing with is sacred stuff.

Gelato and Gratitude

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

More thoughts about God from my recent trip to Italy:

I learned more about gratitude from an unexpected teacher: gelato (Italian ice cream).

The purity of gelato’s ingredients and the intensity of its flavors inspired me to make time to savor it. That was a different approach than I usually take to ice cream; I have to confess that I tend to just gulp my American ice cream down here at home, looking for a sugar high more than anything else. (Yes, I’m trying to break that unhealthy habit.)

Enjoying gelato in Italy woke me up to the fact that every bit of food I enjoy is a gift from God — something to savor, not just rush through. That made me wonder how often I take God’s gifts of every kind for granted, instead of fully appreciating them. Do I fully enjoy, and thank God for, the myriad of simple yet profound gifts that He constantly pours into my life?

From now on, I’m planning to buy Italian gelato to eat at home, and every time I dip in a spoon to enjoy it I hope I remember to be grateful.

Can We Ever be too Curious?

Monday, August 12th, 2013

More thoughts about God from my recent trip to Italy:

The recent news about an American surgeon who mistakenly broke a finger off a valuable statue in Florence, Italy made me even more grateful to have visited another Florence museum — the Leonardo da Vinci Museum — where touching the objects is actually encouraged.

When surgeon Patrick Broderick stood by a statue of the Virgin Mary that was hundreds of years old, he compared the size of his hand to the statue’s hand. But expressing his curiosity had a mortifying result: he accidentally broke off one of the statue’s fingers. Fortunately for Broderick, who apologized for the incident, the museum decided not to press criminal charges against him or bill him for the damage. I feel for the guy, since I’ve let my own curiosity go too far in a museum, as well.  Years ago, during an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, I reached out to touch an Andrew Wyeth painting without even realizing what I was doing until a security guard ran up and pulled my hand away.  Fortunately I didn’t cause any damage to the painting!

Sometimes our curiosity can lead us to trouble if we express it without thinking about the consequences. But I believe that we should always find ways to appropriately express our curiosity, since exploring is vital to learning. What’s more, I believe that curiosity itself is always good — and we can never have too much of it.

At the Leonardo da Vinci museum, I relished the opportunity to explore and even play with copies of the many different types of machines that Leonardo invented. Leonardo is one of my heroes because of the wonderful ways he expressed his curiosity to be creative, out of his love for the Creator: God. Leonardo seemed to know that there shouldn’t be a limit to curiosity, just as there is no limit to what we can discover with God’s help when we use the creativity He has given us.

Prayer in the Portiuncula

Friday, August 9th, 2013

More thoughts about God from my recent trip to Italy:

So often, we communicate with God without receiving any physical sign of His presence with us — though, in faith, we believe His promise that He is always close to us. But sometimes, spiritual energy manifests in a physical way, so that we can tangibly sense God’s presence around us.

That happened to me while I was praying in the Portiuncula (also called the Porziuncola), an ancient church outside Assisi, Italy.

The Portiuncula is a small chapel that Saint Francis of Assisi restored in the 1200s and used often for prayer and worship with others. After Francis’ death there in 1226, many people continued to pray and worship God inside the Portiuncula, and eventually a large and ornate basilica — Saint Mary of the Angels — was built around the humble chapel to preserve it in its original condition.

People from around the world visit the Portiuncula on pilgrimages. When I arrived, the little church was full of people praying, and I joined them as soon as a spot opened up for me to kneel in prayer. I set my purse and sunhat down beside me as I knelt down and closed my eyes.

Then it happened.

As I thanked God for the privilege of visiting that place and asked Him for guidance about decisions I was facing, I felt a powerful sensation that was like someone pouring warm honey all over me, until I was completely encased in it. That physical feeling was accompanied by a mental feeling of pure bliss, which came from a thought that filled my mind: God loved me completely and unconditionally, and there was nothing I could do to either earn or lose His love.

I stayed in the embrace of God’s love for a while (several minutes, according to my watch, which I checked after the experience was over and I’d regained full awareness of time). While I enjoyed God’s presence, I also realized that it wasn’t just for me alone. I sensed that all of the people in prayer around me were connected to God — and all of us to each other — by the power of love.

Finally, the warm honey feeling (which I believe was the Holy Spirit’s physical presence around me) melted away, and I emerged from it awed and humbled by having literally felt the spiritual energy of God’s love at work.

It wasn’t until I’d boarded my tour bus outside that I realized I’d left my sunhat beside the place where I’d knelt in prayer inside the Portiuncula (I’d instinctively grabbed my purse before leaving). By then, it was too late to return to retrieve my hat. But I didn’t care. What a wonderful way to lose something — while encountering something I could never lose, something that had more value than anything else: God’s love!

At the Intersection of Old and New

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

More thoughts about God from my recent trip to Italy:

Rome, Italy is a hodgepodge of old and new, with evidence of its ancient history often visible surrounding the newer parts of the city that have been built on top of the old.

I was particularly struck by that mix of old and new when I traveled to the outskirts of Rome and saw part of the old Appian Way (the famous road that connected parts of the ancient Roman empire in Italy, which is known in Italian as Via Appia Antica). An intersection I crossed featured the old (the Appian Way’s cobblestones and old Roman catacombs nearby) meeting the new (a high-speed train crossing a bridge while an airplane flew across the sky) in such a picturesque way that it inspired me to broaden my perspective on time at that moment.

While we experience life as it comes to us, moment by moment, God sees all of all time from beginning to end. We see just a tiny bit of what’s happening, while God sees everything that has ever happened in the past, is happening now in the present, and will happen in the future.

Every day, we face decisions that bring us to intersections between our old lives (how we’ve lived until now) and the potential of our new lives (how we can choose to live differently from now on). We can’t imagine the full impact of each of our decisions — but God can — so that’s why I try to seek His guidance whenever I come to an intersection. Only God has the perspective needed to bring the old and new together in patterns that work well.

Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Italy, where I scouted out glimpses of God in the places I visited there to blog about with you. All of life is a journey that should take us closer to God, but when we travel, we’re often more aware of the fact that we’re on spiritual pilgrimages every day of our lives. Travel wakes us up to the fact that God is constantly bringing adventures into our lives that can teach us valuable lessons. Hope these posts about my recent trip inspire you to plan one of your own to a place you sense God leading you to visit!

Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome is a circular castle with a storied history that now serves as a national Italian museum. A secret passageway connects Castel Sant’Angelo to the Vatican, since a succession of popes used the castle as a fortress during battles. Prior to that, the building (which dates from 135 AD) was  a mausoleum for the emperor Hadrian.

The castle is dedicated to angels thanks to Pope Gregory the Great’s vision of the archangel Michael during a prayer procession in 590 AD, in which Gregory and others were praying for an end to a deadly plague in Rome and Michael reportedly appeared in the sky plunging a sword into a sheath to signify the end of the plague. Afterward, the disease stopped spreading in the area, and people recovered. Castel Sant’Angelo features many dramatic statues of angels, including one of Michael on top of the building.

This inspiring story of the power of prayer and the victory of healing stands in stark contrast to the darker aspects of the building’s history. While God had mercy on suffering people and sent one of His top messengers — Michael — to deliver the healing they’d prayed for, people didn’t have mercy on each other during many of their encounters in the castle. Our tour guide pointed out some of the building’s grisly features, such as prison cells where people were left to die, trap doors that people pushed others through to kill them, and holes in walls where people poured boiling oil down on people trying to climb up.

Thank God that He is always willing to answer our prayers with mercy — even when we don’t deserve that mercy. Thank God that He sends His messengers the angels into our lives to help us heal not just from diseases that afflict our bodies, but also from hatred that afflicts our minds and souls.