What Would Buffy Do?- A Book Review

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To say that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a unique show that ended up changing my life forever would be an understatement. Much like how the Doctor from Doctor Who has two hearts, I have two great loves in my life: My Catholic faith and my obsession with fandoms, especially Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So imagine my surprise when I found out that a book like this one existed.

What Would Buffy Do: The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide is a collection of essays by Jana Reiss, a Mormon writer who specializes in writing things relating to religion and spirituality. It really boggles the mind that a show like Buffy, created by well-renowned atheist Joss Whedon, would have spiritual and religious themes that would lead to a Mormon writing essays on it, among other things.

The essays in Spiritual Guide are split into three sections: Personal Spirituality, “Companions on the Journey” (Interpersonal aspects of spirituality), and “Saving the World” (broad spiritual themes).  The essays in the first section are the most accessible to understand. “Be a Hero, Even When You’d Rather Go to the Mall” looks into the theme of self-sacrifice, using the characters of Buffy, Angel, and Xander as examples. This essay ties self-sacrifice with the Buddhist concept of the bodhisattva, “beings who are more concerned with the welfare of others.”  Although it includes the prayer of St. Francis as a quote (the same prayer also used in the end of the Buffy season 6 finale “Grave”), it neglects to mention the Christian aspect of agape and altruism, especially this verse from John 15:13 “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

“Change Makes us Human” looks into how vampires were originally conceived in the show: as metaphors for the selfish tendencies we have and the obstacles we have to deal with in the process of growing up. Spike is used as an example of this inability to change. In the episode “School Hard, Angel confronts Spike, saying “Things change.” Spike replies “Not us! Not demons!” The essay goes on to show how Spike becomes one of the most dynamic characters in the show, starting with the fact that Spike was the vampire with the most humanity. He cared for Drusilla for over a century and it’s through love (his love for Dawn and Buffy) that compels Spike to get his soul. Willow, Xander, and Giles’s character arcs are also examined.  What makes Buffy unique is that how slowly the show changes and evolves and the characters (and the audience) are forced to adapt and adjust to the change.

One aspect of change that this book looks into is death, examined in the essay “Death is Our Gift.” Death is shown as  something to be feared initially in Buffy and gave rise to the running joke of Joss Whedon killing off everyone the fans love. However, the darkness that death brings is one of the themes in season six. Sarah Michelle Gellar said that she felt uncomfortable with Buffy’s story arc in season six as it didn’t feel like the character she knew and loved. Marti Noxon, one of the writers and producers, called seas on six Buffy’s “Dark Night of the Soul.” Sadly, that’s the only mention of the Dark Night of the Soul in this entire book.

There is an essay on darkness in the third section of the book entitled “Taming the Darkness Within Ourselves,” but it looks into darkness from a more thematic and psychological perspective and not a spiritual one. Given that Spiritual Guide was published in 2004 and Mother Teresa’s struggles with her interior darkness wouldn’t be published until 2007, it’s somewhat understandable why the idea of spiritual darkness wasn’t fully examined in this book. The essay on humor “The ‘Monster Sarcasm Rally,'” also neglects to examine the ties between humor and faith. Then again, humor and religion have only recently shown to go hand in hand.

This book is a wonderful read as far as examining the various themes and the complexity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the spiritual roots are soaking in shallow water, probably so that the book would be accessible to a general audience. I would love to see a follow-up to this book, some kind of anthology with essays from people of all denominations. On the other hand, maybe it’s a good thing that this book has me asking more questions than answers, leaving me wanting to dig deeper and continue down the path towards integrating my favorite show with my belief system.

In the last episode of Buffy, “Chosen,” the power of the Slayer is given to every girl in the world and ends with Dawn asking Buffy “What do we do now?” When I finished watching the show for the first time, I was left wanting more and eventually found a community of fellow fans who love Buffy. To my surprise, these friends are also people whom I can discuss my Catholic faith with openly. I think the Vampire Slayer Spiritual Guide serves a similar purpose. It’s not meant to give straightforward answers, but to act as a conversation piece for people like me who have both faith and fandoms in their lives. It might be a good way to introduce the show to those who wouldn’t watch something with horror and modern themes.

Tl;dr: Read this book and have a good discussion with your fellow philosophy and theology majors. And then watch Buffy. It will make you laugh, cry, and change your life forever.

#TransformationTuesday: Walking Through The Rainstorms

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My current favorite song from Taylor Swift is not one of her big hit singles. It’s the 13th song of her album 1989 “Clean.”  When she went on the 1989 tour, she did a speech before performing this particular song. Here’s a variation of one of them:

I still remember how lost I felt a few years ago. I was so trapped by all the anxieties and lies that almost lost myself. And if it wasn’t for God holding me in his arms and leading me out of that dark place, I don’t know where I would be. The most astonishing thing, though, is that the pain I felt all those years ago is not there anymore. I don’t even imagine that memory in the same way anymore.

I still see the girl I used to be huddled in the backseat of the car, parked at a rest stop, hyperventilating while clutching my phone. I still remember the rain falling down. There weren’t any divine interventions. Just the smallest realization that I had to stop giving into the lies. I was a child of God. And nobody was going to decide what I would do or how I would feel except me. It was a quiet revelation. The way I choose to remember it now is that all the prayers from my family, the saints, and friends that I haven’t met yet came down on me just like the rain on the car. These prayers became my strength. I had a song in my heart that I didn’t know the words to, but it was there.

I never expected that the scars would fade. I never thought I would ever get out of the dark. But I did. And this was not a journey I took by myself. God led me out. So many saints intervened. My parents pushed me to volunteer and get myself out there. The healing was a long and slow process, but I feel so much stronger now. The broken pieces of my heart have been put back together, held by the grace of God. I’m no longer lost in the dark. It’s very much like what Jenny Williams said on her “Modern Day Ruth” blog: God’s love encountered me every day that I felt lost and now he’s given me wings to fly.

Since today is International Women’s Day, here’s my message to all women who are in a dark place right now, who find themselves walking through torrential rain or a firestorm of pain: You are not alone. You will get out. There is a light that is shining through this darkness. Choose to be strong in Christ and walk through all the storms with Him. Eventually you’ll find yourself again. And you’ll find that you are so much stronger than you ever thought you’d be.

Photo attributed to Jenny Williams from “A Modern Day Ruth” and “Ruby Wives.”

20 Obscure Female Saints

  1. St. Elizabeth of Portugal also known as Elizabeth of Aragon. Patron saint of people in difficult marriages and of peacemakers. She was married to Denis who was unfaithful to her and acted as a peacemaker between Ferdinand and his cousin, James. She retired as a lay Franciscan to the monastery of the Poor Clares after the death of her husband.
  2. St. Catherine del Ricci: patroness of the sick. Devoted to the Passion of the Christ and entered a cloistered community of lay Dominican Sisters. It was said that she was able to bilocate.
  3. St. Teresa Margaret Redi: Italian Carmelite nun who was devoted to the Sacred Heart. Her body is incorrupt and lies in the church of the Discalced Carmelite monastery in Florence.
  4. St. Joan of Valois, wife of King Louis XII. After she had her marriage annuled, she founded the Sisters of the Annunciation of Mary.
  5. St. Catherine of Genoa wrote “Dialogues of the Soul” and the “Treatise of Purgatory.” Patron saint of brides and people ridiculed for their piety. Entered into an arranged marriage that didn’t turn out so well, but she eventually converted her husband.
  6. Saint Dwynwen: Welsh saint, patron saint of lovers. She has a legend of her and a young man named Maelon but the romance turns into a tragedy.
  7. St. Gertrude of Nivelles: Patron saint of cats. Refused to marry nobility and became an abbess. Known to have visions and was attributed to a miracle of sailors being attacked by a sea monster.
  8. Saint Mary of Egypt. Patron against skin diseases and spiritual warfare against chastity. Used to be a nymphomaniac until she went to Jersualem in the hopes of seducing pilgrims and made a conversion there.
  9. Saints Agape, Chionia, and Irene: Sisters who were for refusing to eat food sacrificed to the gods in Thessalonica. Agape and Chione were burned alive. Irene was placed into a brothel but nobody touched her, so she was eventually sentenced to death as well.
  10. St. Margaret of Clitherow: One of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales. Wife and mother. Her brother-in-law was a priest although her husband was Protestant. Her son went to seminary and created priest holes in her house.
  11. St. Rafqa. Saint from Lebanon. Became a sister with the Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception. Her order merged with another one and eventually became the Lebanese Marionite Order of St. Anthony. Her final vows, however, were with the Baladita Order. Said to have interceded for curing someone of uterine cancer.
  12. St Frances of Rome, patroness of car drivers. Entered into an arrange marriage in spite of wanting to be a nun, but had a happy marriage with her husband, who was often away at war. Eventually founded a monastery and nursed her husband during the last years of his life.
  13. St Hermione of Ephesus For you Harry Potter fans who plan on naming their kids after the characters, yes there is a Saint Hermione. She was a martyr, a deacon’s daughter. She’s even mentioned in Acts as a prophetess.
  14. St Hedwig of Silesia. Another saint for the Potterheads. St. Hedwig was a count’s daughter. Patron saint of orphans. Married Henry I the Bearded and became a duchess consort, but lost her husband. However, she had seven kids before her husband’s passing. She lived in a monastery, but never took vows.
  15. St Lucy Yi Zhenmei. Chinese saint and martyr. She had a love for reading and study and even pursued higher education up until she became ill. Stayed in a convent of lay virgins up until there was a rising against Christians in China.
  16. St. Margaret of Cortona: Italian penitent of the Third Order of St. Francis. Patron saint of the homeless and mentally ill among other things.  Started out as a reckless teenager who ran away at the age of 17 and lived with her lover for ten years until her lover was murdered. Her illegitimate son became a friar while she joined the Third Order of St. Francis.
  17. St. Louise de Marillac: Foundress of the Daughters of Charity with St. Vincent de Paul. Born out of wedlock. Known as a mystic. Patron of people rejected by religious orders and social workers.
  18. St. Emily de Vialar. French nun who founded the missionary congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition. Patron saint of single women.
  19. St. Barbara Martyr, associated with early Church saints. Patron of architects and mathematicians. Attributed with a three-windowed tower.
  20. St. Maria Bertilla Boscardin. An Italian nun and nurse who helped heal sick children and victims of air raids in World War I.

I’ll be posting more about some awesome female saints and women from the Bible this week. Happy International Women’s Day!