Monday, December 31, 2012

a vista full of tomorrows

Love is the only thing that can fill hearts and bring people together.

If someone had spelled out for me the adventures of 2012, I would have laughed at them.
And not with them.
At them.


Let me share with you my New Year's Resolution for 2012. I dubbed it affectionately Project 2012, and its super-secret subtitle was Operation Awkward Tension. I had lofty goals and high hopes for Operation Awkward Tension: by the end of 2012, I was going to eliminate all the awkward tension that existed in my relationships and friendships, awkward tension leftover from hurts, grievances, misunderstandings, etc. 
Peace on earth and goodwill between all men was what I was aiming for.

My philosophy behind all public social interactions is that they should be pleasant and painless for everyone involved. (I feel like this is a reasonable desire. But, my friends, you would be surprised how many people seem to disabide [a new word! for a new year!] by these simple guidelines for public social interactions.) 
For someone who enjoys banter and small talk, and people-watching, seeing-and-being-seen, and the lighter side of human interaction, awkwardness is horribly painful. Awkwardness is a sign of a disconnect between the exterior and interior interactions. It means that the banter is coming out of the mouth, but not from the heart. Awkward means strained laughter; it means jokes that land with a thud, and it means uncomfortable eye contact, and half-hearted smiles. 
Awkward, my friends, is one of the most universal common human denominators. 
And I was going to have no more of it. 


2013 is just over the horizon, and I'm still rocking the awk like a champ all day, every day.
Big surprise, right?
(The answer to that rhetorical question is "no.")

But I have felt a sea change come over me.
--Mary, On the Verge

If someone asked me if Project 2012 was a complete failure, I would pause. I would hesitate to answer yes.
Indeed, awkwardness, like snakes, peas, and rabies, is one of Those Things that will constantly plague the human experience.
But, one day, at the beginning of this last month of 2012, I found myself in the adoration chapel.
And I wrote at the top of a journal entry:
Project 2012.
And, with only a month left of 2012, I began my project.
I realized that to heal old hurts, and to mend old tears, I would have to look inside myself.
That truly, the tension I was felt was self-inflicted.
That the mountain I was trying to raze couldn't be brought down by my will-power, negotiated with by my diplomatic skills, or glazed over with my social graces.
That perhaps what it needed was a little bit more.
My small heart grew three sizes that day.
So yes. In the end, I'd say Project 2012 was a success.

Because just like a butterfly popping out from a chrysalis, I emerged from that chapel a woman made new.

New woman.
New heart.
New year.

Here's to a year that's more full with more adventures; surprising with more joy; and bursting with more love than the last.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

who will be strong and stand with me?

Last night at the very end of the prelude before Mass, I heard the familiar French horn fanfare that denotes the arrival of the greatest of all hymns "O God Beyond All Praising."
I smirk at God. 
Well-played, sir.
I don't have time to launch anymore snark, because my tear ducts are doing their best Niagra Falls impression, and I'm caught up in the music. And each line of music is the sweetest and gentlest of salves that could soothe the savagest of beasts.

The beautiful thing about my church's choir is that they always sing the middle verse, which never gets sung at Notre Dame, and I'm not sure why. But the hymn never seems quite complete without it. It's an essential part of the story, that gets skipped over. From the joyful verse: "we can only wonder at every gift you send, at blessings without number and mercies without end." Blessings without wonder and mercies without end? As if, the cynic responds. 
But then, comes the middle section, which gives a reason for our hope. The transition from the first verse to the second needs it so desperately.

The flow'r of earthly splendor in time must surely die. 
It's fragile bloom surrender to you the Lord most high. 
But hidden from all nature, the eternal seed is sown, 
Though small in mortal stature, to heaven's garden grown. 
For Christ, the man from Heaven, from death has set us free, 
And we through Him are given the final victory.

We are given the final victory. 
And with that hope in our hearts, we can sing triumphantly during the last verse:
And whether our tomorrows be filled with good or ill, 
We'll triumph through our sorrows and rise to bless you still. 

That is the music of a people who are climbing to the light.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

is there a world you long to see?

"'I am half-sick of shadows!' cried the Lady of Shallot."

He has forgotten how to dream in patterns and repetitions. All his dreams consist of fits and starts of worlds half-imagined and are mixed with wakefulness and shades of night-images.

He awoke one night in a cold sweat, and started sobbing. It is at night we are our weakest. Our mothers always told us nothing good happens after midnight, and so often they are right. It's best to fight the demons of the night by the sweetest shield given to us: sleep.

He had dreamed of snakes surrounding his bed. Evil, slithering creatures besieging him in his rest. Invading his dreams. 
And while the images had faded with his sleep, the terror of the beasts was as palpable as the dryness of his tongue. The sides of his mouth had turned to ash and were crumbling beneath his teeth. He screamed silently into his pillow and felt the tears fall down his cheeks. Hot little streams of water that burned like the air of the late July night.
He dared not close his eyes. And he dared not keep them open, unless the terrors of the night invaded them as well.
He longed to be back asleep. It seemed the horrible terror would not end unless he lost consciousness, slipped away from the world of night shadows and back into silence.

If only, he prayed feverishly, I could find a new way to dream.

He had forgotten what water tasted like, but he remembered how it felt. It washed over him, and he buried himself under the covers and waited for sunrise.

"I have begun to dream in a new language. My imagination seems to sculpt the landscape. Images flow between the inner and outer worlds, and I can no longer determine their point of origin."
--Mary, On The Verge

Friday, December 28, 2012

before the blush sets in

"When we can play with the unself-conscious concentration of a child, this is; art: prayer: love." 
--Madeleine L'Engle

Each conversation I've had with a small young child this week has impressed upon me just what a gift it is to be young, and to exist in a bubble of safety, guarded and protected from the big scary world. I can see why if a parent could give such a gift to their child why they would. And why anything that threatens to burst the bubble of safety would immediately be deemed public enemy number one.

Although the lack of perspective that a young child has is sometimes frustrating, it's a blessed thing. One small girl, who was all smiles and song one moment, burst into tears spontaneously, because the strain of being separated from her mother was all of a sudden too much for her, and she just broke down. No one or nothing else in the world was present for her except the fact that her mother was not there, and she needed her to be.

This three-year-old has clearly figured it all out. Just look at that outfit.
I imagined, when I was ten, that by the time I was fourteen, I would know everything I needed to know.
I assumed that sixteen-year-olds had figured out the world.
And there was absolutely nothing my mom did not know. I just knew that one of the requirements to be a mom meant knowing everything. No one had to tell me this, this was just one of the facts of my world.

There's a strange series of imperceptible events that happens when you grow up, in which you realize that your parents are not invincible and do not know everything. The world of grown-ups is not glamorous and carefree; right and wrong aren't as clearly delineated as heros and dragons; and life is a lot more perilous and treacherous than you imagined. Also, the world does not seem to understand this concept of Fairness that you have nursed in your heart since preschool, where everyone Took Turns.
It seems like all the grown-ups have forgotten what they learned in preschool.
And when you protest to your mom that something is not fair, her enigmatic and unsatisfying response is:
"Life's not fair."

And at first, that seems like an egregious injustice. How can all these strange grown-ups shrug off this immense problem with a glib phrase?? Has the world gone mad??


I was sitting in the lobby of a theatre, nestled in a corner, reading by the big Christmas tree.
A little girl ran up to the tree and just looked at it.
Then she started singing "Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree--" she stopped as soon as she saw me.
She paused, blushed, then ran back to her mother.

I wish I hadn't been there, so she could have sung to the little tree uninterrupted. 
But I was so enchanted by her utter lack of awareness of the outside world: that moment was hers and hers alone--to sing her little song to the beautiful Christmas tree.


I can only receive the lack of fairness in the world as one of the greatest gifts. It does not seem fair that beauty should continue when there is so much sorrow. Nor does it seem fair that human beings commit such unspeakable atrocities against one another, but a the world is full of things which make us smile and laugh. I can't believe in fairness when we find peace in forgiving unforgivable acts. 
It seems completely unfair that love can outlast death; that, in the end, love and life have the last word. Pain seems to be the one thing in this world that is forever, but they say nothing is forever.
Except love.
It's a mystery I will never understand, but I can't help thirsting to anyways.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

emmanuel in aberrations

I will learn to love the skies I'm under

Nomads strike a pity deep within us. To be forever adrift, wandering the wide world without a fireplace and warm bed to return to is a very sad and dreary fate.  And while we pity the nomads who lack a home of their own; we admire their courage for owning up to the fact that no home we create for ourselves will ever satisfy us. 
Nomads are brave enough to face the stark reality of exile. 

We yearn for roots and hobbit holes. Places of comfort that serve as islands in the perilous wasteland of the world. Little aberrations of familiarity in a world of eternal mystery.

aberration |ˌabəˈrāSHən|
• Astronomy: the apparent displacement of a celestial object from its true position, caused by the relative motion of the observer and the object.

In astronomical definition of aberration, motion and stillness are one.
Christmas is the celebration of that strange and certain unity between what seem like opposites.
The present moment: the only bit of time we can ever actually experience is the eternal moment. Eternity and time collide.
Humanity's fallenness and divinity meet: the sin of Adam and the grace of Mary contribute to this event. 
A baby is also a god. That child who seems like the weakest of creatures is the prince who will save the world.

The event being: a child born in a cave. It's very ordinary. Children are born everyday: it is the ordinary beginning to many ordinary lives.
But Christmas weds the ordinary and extraordinary. They become so melded together, even what seems mundane has been touched with Love's sacramental magic.


The world has become one big love letter; the trees form letters and the stars are punctuation.
I stood in the snow where the birches grow, and I knew that I was loved.
I knew it with the certainty that only beauty mixed with heartbreak can be sure of.
There is no reason on earth that violins should sound like the music our hearts make, and yet they do.

Monday, December 24, 2012

impressive and seducive

“I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone.” 
 ― Rainer Maria Rilke 

There's something manically attractive about a secret. What is more exciting words are there in the world besides: "Can you keep a secret?" Because it means you're about to hear something that the rest of the world doesn't know. And, in the words of Maya Angelou, "there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." There is such a relief in sharing a secret, sharing your story.

I think, in this instance, the world that we know more about than ourselves is a guide to us. Especially trees. Trees are very secretive things indeed. But also the most public. Trees live their lives in plain view. And yet, they are so private.

 If there is magic in the world, surely this is it: the descendants of tiny creatures in leaves, capable of ingesting the sun. If you gather a bouquet of leaves to consider their magic, it is hard to overlook their diversity and, if you are the curious sort, to wonder why there exists such a preponderance of forms. 

Some leaves don’t seem to be leaves at all, having become flower petals, thorns, or the spines on a cactus. But even an ordinary oak leaf, dandelion leaf, and grass blade differ in size, thickness, shape, hue, texture, taste, and nearly every other feature. 

 Not that leaves care whether you notice; the blessing they convey comes each day with the rise of the edible sun. Since they are everywhere, it’s easy to take them for granted. But even when we do, they continue in their one occupation: turning light into life.

--The Glory of Leaves, Rob Dunn

Leaves don't care if you ever take the time to figure out their secret. They share their secret each day with you as they turn light into life. As they bask and dance and glisten in the rays of the sun, they invite us to dive into the mystery of the world without worrying our minds to understand.

Something within me moves// 
 vernal veils like fire

If you climb a tree and lightly touch a living leaf, it feels somehow different than a leaf that falls to the ground in October.
And a brilliant red leaf, glorious in its beauty, is different than one of the poor brown remnants that lingers through November. Mendicant leaves that finally are covered in a gelid frost.

Oh the marvelous overflows of our existence, 
in spite of all fate, in parks, effervescence - 
 But it bore too, it bore, your tree of ecstasis. 
Aren't these your peaceful fruits: the vases striped with ripening, and the riper urn? 

One of the most interesting truths about the world is that we know so very little about it.
The second most interesting truth (or maybe it's the first) is that we know more about the world than we know about ourselves.

But the secret that nature reveals to us without giving anything away is the rhythm it dances to, an impressive, seductive harmony of beauty.
To fall and to rise again.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

set the world on fire

Obviously there are some exceptional individuals who are able to reach for the sublime by making music, painting pictures-or playing baseball. But for ordinary mortals like myself, it's often a child who helps us "touch the face of God." -
-Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Creating a Life

Recently, I had an unprecedented and unexpected fit of nostalgia for fall break in DC. I solved this by going through my photos from the trip.
And I also revisited this blog post I always intended to write during the trip, but it never happened.

The first day of meetings of fall break, we drove to Alexandria to meet with Feminists for Life. We met with their president, Serrin Foster. She was on fire. And I soaked up every second of it. That was the beginning of the adventure of fall break: of remembering and reawakening the old passionate Renée who, on first dates, spouts off about the exploitation of women through the repressive force of abortion and the societal pressures on families and the cruel imbalance between riches and success in the business world and a rich and full family life.
It's an acceptable cliché to say that you dislike politics or dislike discussing politics.
Certainly, what rational person likes the stupidity and ego that inevitably wind their way into political debates?

But how can I not talk about the cruel injustice that a woman is daily presented with: there are two essential callings within a woman: the call to use her gifts to create beauty in the world, to set the world on fire, to become a Joan of Arc, a Catherine of Siena, a Teresa of Avila, a Queen Victoria, or an Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and transform the world she inhabits. A call to extend her eternal influence, to create work of eternal significance, that reverberates throughout history. This is the unique call of brilliant, beautiful, great human beings: men and women.
But, each woman experiences a mysterious and magnificent call to create a new life. It's nature  You can't run from it. Woven into each girl's heart is the aching desire to create something of even more eternal significance than anything of her own she could create. 
To create a new life.

As I sat listening to Ms. Foster, I remembered so vividly the day I sat next to a mother with two rambunctious children one day in church. A twinge of sadness pulled at my heart. After this Mass, I was going to burst forth and continue with my work of the day, which was producing the play that I had written. My little writing baby that I was birthing into the world.
But this mother had participated in an act of creation much deeper than writing a play. There was something about what she had done that struck a chord of awe deeper in me than any work of art ever could.
I was excited to keep writing new plays and keep birthing little artistic babies. And I anxiously awaited the day that I could birth little human babies. Little human babies that would grow into human children, and then human adults, and then one day participate in theosis, and be drawn up into the divine life of God. And I would play some sort of part in that journey. That is monumentally beyond my comprehension.

My mom turned to me the other day after listening to me spout of for several minutes and asked me: What sort of reforms, Renée, do you imagine our society would have to make to eliminate a woman's choice between work and family?

I responded: A lot.
But my wide-eyed idealism hasn't been stomped out of me yet. There's time for that. It's the sacred duty of young twenty-somethings to be wide-eyed idealists.
Otherwise the world would stagnate.
 In the words of Mama T: 
Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

tidings of domestic comfort & joy

Home for the Holidays:
Drama. Trauma. Hormones.

Teenage Sister Numero Uno runs upstairs like the hounds of hell are at her heels, heralding the advent of a mouse in the basement. Her heart is gripped with a glamorous terror, as she insists most emphatically that she heard a shrill, rodent-like squeak.
And not just one, but two.

Later that night, while doing laundry, I discovered what exactly this squeak was.
Fear not, sweet princes, it was not, in fact, a mouse, but rather the rotating fan.
Call off the hounds.
We are saved.


Too soon, too soon I declared: "We've all recovered our emotional equanimity."
Famous last words.
 One moment, the house is peaceful. 
There's a dull hum of peaceful activity in the background, but besides that, all is calm and all is bright.
And then, I turn my back for a second.
Then the next thing I know:
My youngest brother is writhing on the kitchen floor, howling in pain.
The poor child had run into an open kitchen cabinet door while vigorously and athletically bouncing up and down, practicing his Irish dance steps.
It's a common problem: reckless Irish dancing. 
Don't try it at home with open cabinets around, kids.
It usually ends in pain.
(But, when he wasn't looking, I chuckled in spite of myself.
You can't make up this kind of stuff.)

There are two teenage girls in this house.
Let me repeat that for you:
Which means one thing: hormones.
Hormones on hormones on hormones.
It's terrifying. Mood swings are fast and furious; we move from tragedy to ecstasy in a matter of milliseconds.
My mom keeps sending me looks loaded with subtext. It's like she's implying that I was once an emotionally volatile, super-sensitively fragile teenage girl myself.
Preposterous, right?

But seriously, folks. Having teenage sisters around is an excellent reminder of just how painful growing up is. It's not easy. Hormone-driven waterfalls of tears are not easy to deal with. Usually because you have no idea why exactly you're crying so much. Puberty gets caricatured a lot (because, yes, the overreactions and drama so easily lend themselves to exaggeration), but I think that's because we're often afraid to remember that very awkward, fragile, painful part of our pasts.
Butterflies probably like to forget that they ever were in the chrysalis. 


I went on a walk a couple evenings ago, and I felt the delicious coldness of a chill December night creep through my wool coat. I love evening walks with the snow and the stars.
Out of the darkness, I spotted a familiar shape.
Immediately, I reverted into Cute-Baby-Or-Small-Animal-in-Close-Proximity mode.
(This means: raise voice up several octaves, and make self look as non-threatening as possible. [I usually look very threatening.])
The deer twitched its nose at me. Then he twitched his ear.
He darted out of the front yard to the side yard.
But then, he didn't move.
That stubborn little deer wasn't going to move in either direction until I did.
Animals are smarter than we give them credit for.
 We had a long staring contest, which I inevitably lost.

I returned to a warm hearth and home.
The Christmas lights lit up little corners of rooms that usually remain dark.
Couches were decorated with extra pillows.
The smell of Christmas and dinner and birthday candles was in the air.

My litte sister was icing the fresh chocolate cake and there was a fire in the fireplace.


Friday, December 21, 2012

silent testament of love

"There is beauty in everything, even in silence and darkness.” 
 ― Helen Keller

Stir not up nor awaken love until it please

There's a little tale of a student once asking Helen Keller if she minded being deprived of vision. "I would mind," she responded, "if I had no vision. But we see with our hearts."
We see with our hearts.

I never hide the fact that I love fairytales--Brothers Grimm, the Blue Book, Disney--most any fairytales. Fairytales are life, cut down to the bare essentials. They are simple: good and evil. Dragons and princesses. Queens and kings. In fairytales, you always know where you stand.

One of my favorite fairytales is Sleeping Beauty. Maybe because I aspire to that much sleep. (Sleeping Beauty: Patron Princess of the Sleep-Deprived.) But mostly because she, like Rapunzel and Fiona, as mentioned before, is another Advent Princess. And most deeply because she represents the condition of all human souls.

At one level, darkness frightens us; it seems cold, despairing, and hopeless. Yet at the same time, something about darkness attracts us like an old friend, consoling us, and allowing us to turn inward and away from the challenges of the world.
-David Sherrer, C.S.C.

The darkness that we find each night in sleep in necessary for us to enter into. And each morning, the light of the sun calls us out of our slumber. Light and love can only find us when we admit that, on our own, we are in darkness. 
Without love, our souls are dormant, they exist in a semi-consciousness, semi-reality. Our spirits need love to truly awake, to spring into life. Separated from love, we fall into a lifeless coma.
On our own, we will persist in this sleep of death.
But, like the kiss of a brave prince, Love can break the dark enchantment of our selves. 
Love is what awakens us.
Love is on its way.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

mentiras piadosas

If there's one thing that sets apart grace and the world, it's words.
All too often, we say words that we don't really mean, or that don't really mean anything at all:

"Oh I'm fine"
"It's all about finding balance."
"Things aren't always black and white."
"That dress looks great on you."
"Don't worry about it."

The problem with such vague, spineless language is that it teaches us not to really be convicted of the truth of what we're saying.
The language we're taught to say, as part of our vernacular cannot bear the weight of reality.
It communicates half-truths and casts more shadows than it spreads light.
Which is a problem.
Because when we say something like:
I love you
God is love.
I promise.
I forgive you.
We don't believe what we say.

We say the words, and then think: oh yes, it's a beautiful symbolic sentiment: We're all just sort of interconnected, and God cares about us all. I promise something or other something. I have some sort of feelings of affection toward you.

We say words, because they're the words readily available, not because we have found that they're the words that harmonize most closely with the deeper truth we need them to convey.

We are often too lazy with words. We don't seek to find the word that's precisely the one we want. The most sadly underused book is the thesaurus.
We ought to think more highly of our thoughts, and not incarnate them in mediocre bodies. The power of the human word cannot be underestimated.

In fairytales, the words of a spell are always very particular. A heroine or hero must say the exact right words. They are often told by the kindly hag/crone/fairy-in-disguise to repeat the words several times in  her presence in order to make sure they have memorized the words in precisely the right order.
I think the fairytales are trying to tell us something.
We never know when our words will enchant, inspire, captivate, hurt, heal, crush, or capture another human.
But if all our words have the power to cast an enchantment, if said correctly, we should use great care in using them.
And we should never settle for a word less than our idea deserves. We all have infinite Beauty to explore, and Infinite Truth to express.
Don't sell yourself short, and settle for a word less than you deserve.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

cynics were outraged

Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is the love of Jesus.
--Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

So. Peeps. 
Zachariah is receiving a lot of press today.
I love this dude, because he's got the right reaction to God's surprises. Which is surprise.
We often forget how shocking the story of Salvation is. This story of Zachariah just seems like yet another time that an angel appears to yet another barren couple to announce yet another miraculous birth of An Important Son. blah blah blah been there, done that, pickin' up the pattern God's laying down.

But Zachariah's got (at least in part) the right reaction: which is utter bewilderment.
Because, imagine that an angel appears to you right now and tells you that you (or your wife) is going to bear An Important Son. 
Please don't even try to tell me you wouldn't lose your cool a little bit. You might, like Zachariah, be disturbed by this sight and be a little bit overcome with fear.


My sisters once decided amongst themselves: Renée's a not-make-sense kind of a person. 
If our particular quirks and unique personalities are supposed to reveal a certain part of the infinite mystery of God, then I wonder what being a not-make-sense kind of a person realizes.
Zachariah encounters the seemingly nonsensical nature of God.
"How can I be sure of this?" he asks.
Good gracious.
What a question.
It's a question I find myself asking often, as I tentatively step forward one step at a time on the adventure that is set for me.
Is this right?
Can I be sure of this?
Even if I'm sure of this, can I prove to others that this is the right path?  
That last question warranted a laugh.
I was reminded that answering those questions is out of my control.

It's not your job, Renée; it's My job to prove Myself. That's my job. I kinda got this one under control. 
Content yourself with your vocation. 

It's not up to us to account for the surprises of God.
But, like Zachariah, we are called to enter into the mystery in silence and awe.
We are called to receive; not to attempt to offer limping explanations for mysteries.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

only skin-deep

A cross is a cross, but even Christ shared his for a little while. Call me Simon.

Memory, I've been told, is essential to understanding the present. 
I find it essential to revisit my old journals, to rediscover bits of myself on dusty old pages. Even if that's just a doodle I sketched in my first diary as a six-year-old. Even that is a part of who I am now.
Today, I went through several pages of old blog posts. 
That is an even more humbling exercise, and I've never done it before. 
But it's enlightening to discover how much the thoughts I thought and the reflections I reflected back at the world have grown from year to year.

A year and several months ago, my mother just sent me a beautiful article by Laurel Rae Mathewson, on body image and eating. Here's the beginning of the article: 

"The year before I was a senior in high school, I went on an exchange to France. I got skinny. When I returned to America, I felt great, looked great, and received high praise. That post-France pinnacle of svelteness is where my troubles with food began in earnest. Any more pounds represented failure, a deviation from "my best self." I began eating emotionally. I gained 10 pounds. 

 At New Year's I decided to get serious about getting back to the "right" size. In good-student fashion, I read reputable books and magazines and followed all the rules. I was the ideal dieter. I ran and lifted weights. 
Mathematical tricks of weight-loss became second nature: The calories in an apple (small, medium, or large); which foods satisfy most for the fewest calories (pancakes are great for this). I steadily lost 1.5 pounds a week for eight weeks and was in better shape than ever. 
My dieting was officially healthy, nutritionally balanced, and utterly obsessive. 

 During winter quarter I reached the nadir of my journey with food and with God. I felt inadequate and disgusting. I desperately wanted God's help in ending this vicious cycle, but God never seemed to fully deliver. When I was stuffed, bloated, and incapacitated from a binge, I would pray, weeping: Take this from me. Help me. I don't want to be like this. 

I believed salvation would come from obeying the legalistic idol of strict self-control and self-improvement that I thought God endorsed. As I wrote in my journal: God did not create me to consume my time worrying about calories. I know how sick it is ... so why don't I stop? Why do I create my own problems? ... Am I afraid of perfect happiness? … Why else would I sabotage all the gifts that I've been given, keep myself from thriving? … My thoughts disturb and distract me in lecture, in church, in conversation. … I count every calorie that goes into my mouth; yet it doesn't stop me from eating an entire package of cookie dough
Perfect happiness. 
I thought it was mine for the making—and that God expected nothing less. 

 Food is a gift from God to be enjoyed, especially with others, creating communion and fellowship. It's not meant to be an idol. Like sex, like work, like material comfort, if we seek to satisfy the hunger of our souls with food alone, we will remain empty. I used food to cope with the spiritual void of an "estrangement" from God, created by my own conviction that I could perfect myself, given enough determination and discipline. Disordered eating was my symptom of accepting neither grace nor my need for it." 

 Read the rest of the article here

I remember how much this struck me a year ago, but now it resonates even more deeply.
One of my favorite lines from her article (then and now) is: "I was created for a higher purpose than a size 6." If there's one thing I've learned over the last year, it's how easy it is to settle for a love less than we deserve. It's easy (in a way) to settle for a purpose less than we deserve. Easier to become a size 6 than to become a person filled with grace. 
In a culture that's obsessed with externals, it's so easy to loose sight of the fact that beauty is not only skin-deep. 
Beauty is radiated through a smile, through loving eyes, through a kind voice and a listening ear. Not that the happiest girls are the most beautiful girls, but that the most beautiful girls are the happiest girls.
My mother's email that accompanied this article is full of words and phrases that I have encountered again and again throughout the past year. And I find it easy to believe that I first heard them from my mother (how much I paid attention is up for debate).
Mothers, as she likes to remind me, with a playful twinkle in her eye, are always right.

"For beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; for beautiful eyes, look for the good in others. And for poise, walk in the knowledge that you are never alone." --Audrey Hepburn

Monday, December 17, 2012

unclench my fists

 "All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you."
--Fellowship of the Ring

I don't want to own an ipod.
I love ipods.
In fact, I often browse my siblings ipods, and I love DJ-ing cars with others' ipods. I love what different sorts of music collections each person holds on their ipods. You are delighted to find embarrassing songs by the Duff Sisters that you both have secretly loved since middle school, you are amazed when you find your five favorite songs on the ipod of someone you couldn't be more opposite of, you are intrigued when you find a rap song on the demure peasant-skirted girl's ipod, or a Disney ballad on the bro's ipod. People are full of surprises, and the music they love can be an exciting gateway into that surprise.

But I would never own an ipod. It has just never occurred to me that owning an ipod would be something that I would like to do. 
I like ipods. I like sunsets. I also like trees and swans. And I love the sight of the Grotto at night.
Some of the things I love best are the things it's impossible to own. Impossible to grasp. You just have to open your hands to receive them.

I think that the primary human sin is grasping what we would receive anyway.
The tragedy of the Original Fall of our First Parents is that they grasped at the fruit, the gifts, they would have received as a gift anyways.

I think it's C.S. Lewis who says something to the effect of (a pox upon me for not being able to find the direct quote, but to paraphrase): things that are truly beautiful are those things that men do not desire to own. It is not our ownership of it that gives it value--its beauty allows us to see that there is value in the thing itself.

I botched that quote, but to get to the point: it is the Beautiful that saves us from our Original Sin. 
If we can learn to appreciate something, to love it, apart from our ownership, our own grasping of it, then we have, in a small way, been saved.

I think of the love of my friends that I constantly grasp as though it is mine to hold onto. I think of the memories, conversations, and moments that I've shared with those I love, that I grasp and try to own as if they are somehow something I have earned, and not beautiful gifts I have been given.

In a heart-to-heart yesterday with my best friend, she shared a quote from one of her dear friends on poverty in friendship:
"I have held my many past friendships within a trophy case in my heart. They have become prideful accomplishments, rather than avenues of grace. [...] And so I've stopped trying to hold everyone's hand at once, and have started simply trying to hold His." 

Poverty is a scary word: it brings to mind destitution, starvation, discomfort, all the things our soft human selves despise. But spiritual poverty means precisely this: non-grasping. Letting go and simply receiving.

We realized with delight it all comes back to this picture:

If we are too busy trying to hold onto friendships, loves, gifts, memories, conversations, moments, the various beauties and gifts of life, grasping them with both hands, how are we going to receive all the graces and beauties and joys of which they are avenues?

Though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant.
(Words: Paul, Emphasis: Mine.)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Advent Princesses

Unlike 50% of the population of the United States, I despise the movie Shrek. No reason (besides the poor little bird that explodes. And we're supposed to laugh? Why?), just not my cup of fairytale tea.

But, based on the soundtrack, I actually do love the musical (unabashed theatre kid bias. Everything's better live on stage). Maybe because it's impossible to love Sutton Foster, maybe because this song won my heart, maybe because I love stories of princesses waiting in towers.

(The "Are you there, God? It's me, Fiona." Is so great. A little a nod to Guenevere's cry to St. Genevieve in "Simple Joys of Maidenhood")

Waiting for your true love to come is rough work, my friends. And as maybe non-feminist as women being cooped up in towers seems to be, they actually have it a lot easier. I don't envy Rapunzel and Fiona that stifling ennui that must come being cooped up in a tower. But I don't think they would envy us the exhaustion the rest of us feel--the weariness of continually choosing the wrong prince. When you're trying to find Darcy, it's discouraging and disheartening to keep running into Wickhams and Collinses. To start down the path of a romance and continually run into dead ends can be frustrating.

Being cooped up in a tower, those princesses have more time to compose songs filled with hopeful restlessness. Full of advent-like inquietud, which I find myself indulging in now and again. Advent seems as good a time as any to indulge in a bit of restlessness and the hope-filled angst of waiting. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

And i have been blessed, over and over again.

Dreams that come true are jarring. 
When you realize that what you wished for may be in fact what you will receive, a bizarre and giddy solemnity sets in.

A gift that was so deeply desired is often a lot easier to receive, although it weighs a great deal more in your hands. But the sense of total gift is relieving and palpable. You have done nothing to merit it, so there's a sense of detachment, an ability to keep your hands open, and let it go or come as it chose. At the same time, there's a a keen desire to protect the gift entrusted to you. To live up to what that gift demands of you.

They say that God laughs when you tell Him your plans.
He must laugh for two reasons, either because: 
A) You're way off. And He just lets out a laugh and an "Oh HON." Oh hon. Nice try. Just wait 'til you see what's in store.
B) You're dead on. There must be so much joy in His laugh then. Delight in the fact that your desire is so in line with His plan for you: like when someone gives you a gift that you were going to give them. It's startling that two wills and two hearts can be so in tune. When we harmonize so closely with Him, I'm sure the Eternal Word slips into a hearty, wordless guffaw of sheer delight.

But, even when our desire and our will are so in tune, its is so magical, beautiful, and laugh-able that the road that leads us to our dream is an unexpected and completely unpredictable journey.
We could never foresee all the bends and twists and ups and downs in the road.

When we say, after a period of intense development and growth that we "feel like a completely different person than I was then" or "I've changed so much" what we should say instead is: I feel different, because I feel new. I have discovered depths of my soul and corners of my heart I had no idea were there. I have transformed into a person I could never have predicted, because I had not yet found that person hiding in the deepest recesses of my being.

I arrived at college as a wide-eyed eighteen-year-old ("Shots" were the noises guns made, "fifths" were intervals in music, and a "handle" was a part of a pan.), whose world went through a gigantic paradigm shift freshman year. I had spent my high school career working hard at my reputation as a hard-working and talented young actress: professional to a fault and with an attitude to rival Pollyanna's. I didn't know what to do when that was stripped away and I was just Renée again. The nickname I'd attained was Homeschool Girl (Homeschool Homegirl in the house wut wut).  But I was no longer homeschooled.
Being stripped of the exterior trappings that made up my identity, entering into an environment that seemed at times even contrary to my gifts and my strengths, and in which at times felt difficult to be myself was frustrating and sometimes confusing. But I was being stretched. Stripped of the comfort of being able to fall back on my usual modus operandi, I slowly began to encounter the person that resided at the very core of myself. Being stripped of my exterior identity allowed me to find the core of Renée that had been there all along.

At the beginning of this semester, I left home as a callow young twenty-year-old, and I'm returning as an equally as young, equally as foolish twenty-one-year-old. 
Although each person who looks me in the eyes sees the same blue eyes, the eyes that look back at them see them differently.
Although the eighteen-year-old heart and the twenty-year-old heart both yearned for Kolkata, neither of them could have predicted that the twenty-one-year old heart that finally received that gift would look this way. And that is the mind-bogglingly beautiful thing about this adventure. The Joy of reaching a signpost you spotted from afar, and longed for from a distance, is that the road that led you there was not what you expected.
But it has only deepened the joy of arriving.

Friday, December 14, 2012

when I see stars, that's all they are

Last night, I walked out to the middle of the lake.
The inky blue sky was so clear, the stars seemed like they were just inches away.


Saying goodbye to friends is a strange experience. It's not wracked with irrepressible sorrow or terrible pain, it's not the sort of inconsolable grief that leaves you sobbing, saying farewells.
It's a strange aura of weirdness. Saying goodbye is a bizarre acknowledgement that change is occurring--that the pattern of our daily lives is changing and that our friends won't have the same role in it anymore. 
And that can leave me feeling numb, unsure, suspended in a moment of transition.


But then there are moments like last night. I sat on a thin strip of concrete, water lapping on both sides, looking at the bright lights of the buildings around me twinkling in the December air. I watched the reflections of the lights shimmer in the mirror of the lake. My heart burst with euphoria.

Then, we walked into my second home: where I spent 14 hours in its windowless dungeon of a basement this week, working on a model set and slowly losing my mind.
But last night, I didn't venture into the basement. we soaked in the palatial lobby, radiant in all its Christmas-y glory. And we admired the tree, bright as a star in the dim lobby lighting.
And I felt that Christmas really wasn't so far away after all.

I bounced out of lunch today, and espied my friend approaching the dining hall. I screeched with joy, and ran down the steps, and we met in a great big spinny-hug, per tradition. Only this time, due to errors of balance, geography, and timing, he ended up on the sidewalk, and I stumbled out of his arms and onto the grass. We dissolved into laughter. Because sometimes your love for one another gets a little out of control and just completely bowls you over.

My friend and I were in his mini-van that has carried me through so many adventures. So many. On the journey of life, Supreme (the mini-van's name. Duh.) has been our companion through so many: driving to Massachusetts this summer, driving to my storage unit at 4 am when I left Vision this summer, driving around to get mirrors for SHE, driving to parties, driving to the Ocean, driving to in the middle of Times Square at midnight. But, wherever we're going, always driving with friends. And always singing.
It was in Supreme that I first heard Some Nights. And I remember the music infecting all of us with it's magic, although we barely knew the lyrics (and got most of the words we thought we knew wrong).
As we drove down the sunny December road, I had completed some sort of circle. We were laughing and singing, and dancing like fools in a supremely gold mini-van, having Fun. and singing Fun, as only we could do. 
I felt there could be no more fitting way to end the semester. 
There was no other appropriate action.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

keep on living anyway

"Peter did not feel very brave; indeed, he felt he was going to be sick. But that made no difference to what he had to do."
--The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

I looked up in the Basilica, and I saw the Advent wreath suspended from the ceiling  But what surprised me was that the Advent wreath was turning around and around, revolving slowly in a perpetual circle. It struck me that this is rather common. Even when things appear to be unchanging, are actually slowly moving in one direction or the other.

 Courage is, like many of the virtues, simply a grace-filled acceptance of Reality. Courage manifests itself best in the tired college student, worn down with grief, who wakes up for his 8am Greek class. Courage is most apparent in the mother with five children who takes her sickly mother-in-law into her home. Courage shines through the best in the young woman whose heart keeps being broken and whose trust is constantly misplaced, but who decides to keep on loving, despite the pain. Courage is embracing the reality of the world--that there is constant motion, constant change--but that despite the passing of all things, there is solid ground on which to stand. Courage is taking a stand in that reality of self-giving love, and weathering whatever hurricanes rage around and inside oneself.

Take all my vicious words//And turn them into something good.

Courage is trusting that if we keep on moving, keep on living and keep on giving, then, despite the imperfection of our sacrifice, despite our failure to always move or live or give as we fully should, something good will come from what we offer.

Courage is, as C.S. Lewis says, "Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point." Courage is that leap of love that takes us through the sticking point, that propels us through the crossroads, and gives us the momentum to continue our journey. Courage is the virtue for those with a journey to make. Courage takes us through the key changes and transitions and cross roads of life. Courage is the strength and the love to do what we have to do, even when we feel like we might going to be sick.

And in that spirit: time for my last final.

  “At times the world may seem an unfriendly and sinister place, but believe that there is much more good in it than bad. All you have to do is look hard enough. and what might seem to be a series of unfortunate events may in fact be the first steps of a journey.” 
 ― Lemony Snicket

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

stillest corners of the universe

Snow is crystalized magic, falling from the sky.

On Sunday, I went to the theatre.

There are few things more imbued with Christmas-yness than going to the theatre around Christmas time. It reminds me of all those years seeing and/or performing in A Christmas Carol, or another Christmas play. One of the most important ingredients in any crowd-pleasing Christmas play (I don't care if your audience is composed of hyper two-year-olds or blasé twenty-somethings), is snow. It's one of the simplest effects to create onstage, but when you do, you've transported the audience into something captivating and awe-filled. No matter how many times I've gotten a plastic snowflake in my eye, or spent a half-hour combing them out of my hair, I myself always awaited the snow with delight and joy. Snow onstage is sheer theatre magic.

After we walked out of theatre, so full of Christmas joy and fervor, we walked right out into a cold December rain. A stark reminder that Christmas snow was still a while away. We were still in Advent.

I didn't mind--I loved the fog that rolled in late that night and covered the skyline, and brushed around the tops of the trees.


But, I woke up on Monday, longing for snow. 

At 12 noon, it began to snow, and several other girls and myself burst out of our own theatre and into the wild dance of the snowflakes that were falling from the sky.
It was magnificent. With shrieks of delight and twirls of joy, we greeted the gelid white flakes. They were sparse and small at first, but they slowly grew, becoming fluffy white clumps.

At 3:00 in the morning, the world is always cold and quiet.

But as I walked back to my dorm room last night, it wasn't nearly as cold.

But it was twice as quiet.

Snow always wraps the world in a shroud of comforting, cozy silence.

I watched the big, fluffy flakes fall to the ground, and I felt them fall on my face, and I watched the grass disappear under a downy white coverlet.

I felt a bittersweet taste of nostalgia for a split second: how am I going to leave this place? I thought.

But that disappeared in my overwhelming gratitude to be walking in the snow.

Monday, December 10, 2012

the kind of heartbreak stars produce

If there's one thing we can all agree on about the Gospels, it's that they're positively crowded with paralytics. And lepers. In approximately every other passage, Christ encounters some man incapable of walking since birth or a man born blind, or a paralyzed man appears through the roof (c.f., today's Gospel). But what it seems like Christ is most concerned about in all these passages is the faith present in these encounters. The Gospel today says: "When Jesus saw their faith." Which, if a paralytic was lowered through my roof, is probably not the number one thing I would be noticing. My interior monologue would be more along the lines of: *expletive* There's a paralytic coming through my roof

"It is important to acquire a fresh awareness of the fact that faith is the center of all things--the Lord said over and over again to those he healed. It was not the physical touch, it was no the external gesture that was operative, but the fact that those sick people believed."
--Pope Benedict XVI

"Prayer does nothing to alleviate suffering."
I read this line in Shusaku Endo's Silence, and its simplicity belies the perniciousness of this lie. It's the doubt that eats away at weakens our protagonist Fr. Rodrigues. But then I asked myself: do I actually believe in the power of my own prayers? Or do I still doubt? Have I bought into that crippling, paralyzing lie, or do I have the faith of the friends of the paralytic?

Throughout the Silence, the most prominent experience is the overwhelming, oppressing silence from the heavens. It wears and tears at your heart. The torturousness of that silence is palpable. Which makes it a brilliant novel, but difficult to read.

The answer to that silence from the heavens is not to fill the silence with our own talking. It is to make like the friends of the paralytic, to clamber onto the roof, make a ruckus to attract the attention of Christ. It is to bring our friend who is hurting to Christ. Each human being deserve a love that is better than the love we can offer them. We deserve a love that is limitless and eternal. Our own love that we have to offer will always fall short. It is temporal. Limited by our limited knowledge, understanding, and by our selfishness.
But when we bring that love to the eternal Love of Christ, then the silence is shattered. Shattered by the Lamb who submitted himself to slaughter and opened not his mouth.

Because that's the hope that Advent brings us: Christ has already come into our midst.

The hope of Advent is the Christ child Himself--the child whose very name assures us that God is with us. Even in moments He seems silent, He is with us. The most powerful exchange in Silence is when Fr. Rodrigues cries out in the depths of his heart:
"Lord, I resented your silence."
The response?
"I was not silent. I suffered beside you."
That His the Joy Christmas: that Christ has entered into the world. He shares in our sorrows, our Joys, our deepest depths and the seemingly inconsequential ordinary things of daily life. There is not one part of our human experience that He is not a part of with us. That total love, that complete self-gift, that complete sharing is crazy.
That's the insane love in which we dare to hope.

"But Our Lord was not silent. Even if he had been silent, my life until this day would have spoken of Him."

Saturday, December 8, 2012

it all comes back to Jane

"When I reflected upon my own condition, a strange desire to laugh rose up within my heart."
--Shusaku Endo, Silence

Ever since I was an infant, my father has always sung a very limited repertoire of songs to us children. But they become irrevocably and eternally his songs. A great percentage of them were from his favorite Disney movie: Mary Poppins. One song he always sang while changing diapers, tucking us into bed, making Sunday morning brunch, having wrestling matches, or playing house/football tag/tea party was the Mary Poppins song: "I Love to Laugh." Whether it's a genetic trait of the family temperament, or if it was magically somehow impressed upon me through constant repetition of that little ditty, I, like Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, love to laugh (although I've yet to be lifted up to the ceiling by my laughter. One day).

My beloved Lizzie Bennet shares this trait with me. As she tells Mr. Darcy, "I dearly love a laugh." PREACH, my dear Lizzie. Preach.
Besides Lizzie Bennet and Jane Austen, my world revolves around laughter. If you dig around in the archives, they reveal that I've written about laughter a lot on this blog. No one has ever explained to me exactly why we laugh. And so it continues to fascinate me and attracts me by its mysteriousness and its supernatural nature. 

Laughter reveals something incredible and beautiful about a human being. Laughter speaks to our ability to find Joy in the midst of sorrow; it illustrates how we are able to retain perspective in the midst of misfortune; and are able to persevere and adapt, even in the worst situations.
Laughter is the best medicine, they say. 
It's a medicine that saves, that heals, like no other ointment.

It's astounding how, even in the darkest of times, a friend can crack a joke, and a thin little peal of laughter can break through a painful silence like church bells shattering the stillness of the morning air.

There are times when the darkness, even when not unfathomably deep, seems as though it will continue in a grey mehhhness (a freshly minted word. You heard it here first, folks) as far as your life extends. The pervasive mehhhness seems to render the prospect of laughter completely out of reach and out of sight. 
And then, comes that moment--shocking and startling in its pure, simple happiness and complete joy-- when you sit at a sunny table with a dear friend, and share chocolate spooncake, and find yourself laughing. The moment becomes all the more magical when you remember all the other moments that lead to the present: the moments when laughter was so far from your lips, and so foreign to your heart. It makes the laughter taste all the sweeter, as sweet as the chocolate cake on your tongue.

I wanted to take myself out of the moment and marvel at the wonderful, incredible grace of laughter. But instead, I just laughed more.

“I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with such justice. 
I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh.”
 ― Elizabeth Bennet

Friday, December 7, 2012

most wonderful time of the year

waiting in hope for healing, goodness, and love incarnate

I stood outside by the bright lights of the stadium, as the cold December air bit at my nose and made my cheeks pink. I was warmed by the hazelnut vanilla Christmas coffee that had been given to me as a gift and by the conversations that made my soul take flight in little soars and dives of sheer, glad Joy. I spread my arms out to embrace the beautiful, mysterious world that will always be beyond my grasp.
And I thought I could never be happier.

I listened to words harmonizing with the Word like the voices harmonized with the music, and looked up at the ceiling of the Basilica, and the paintings of angels singing. 
And I thought I could never be happier.

I walked down the long sidewalk, arm-in-arm with girls I love, towards my second home, which looks like a castle and was lit up like Sleeping Beauty's palace at Disneyland, and there was Christmas music pouring out of it. And we sang and skipped, and spun in circles, because why not.
And I thought I could never be happier.

I walked into my dorm and I drank hot chocolate and fell into the arms of my big sister and started chirruping like a little chickadee and singing and eating M'n'Ms and I couldn't tell if the Christmas lights were making the world sparkle, or if I was drunk on happiness.

And what boggles my mind, makes my little heart reverberate with a terrible Joy, blended with immeasurable sorrow, is that I will continually be able to be happier. I am made for a love that never ends and a happiness that never dies.

I feel as aflame with love and a serious sort of giddy-ness, like I imagine the one little Advent candle feels--breaking through the darkness--shining and delighting in the light.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

an eternity of traveling light

What I really love about words are their ability to tell a story. The fact that words are not purely instructive, but transformative.

Words can capture what pictures paint perfectly in an instant. 
A story. 
Like this picture:

Found in this article. Which I'm currently transfixed by and obsessed with.
Stories. They're everywhere.


Like I mentioned a few posts ago, I can play one piece on the piano from memory. 
It's Debussy's Doctor Gradus Ad Parnassum from the Children's Corner collection.
It's a beautiful bit of joyful, childlike melancholy: it sounds like streetlights shimmering on a rainy day.

It's the only piano piece that I've kept in my memory. I hope Miss Lungwitz would be proud.
One of Miss Lungwitz's many gifts was being a music matchmaker. She could match a student's temperament and talent to a piece of music that matched them perfectly. She knew exactly what sort of Romantic pieces I adored, and she excelled at choosing pieces each student would adore. She found pieces that were full of fiery passion, delicate whimsy, and sometimes wry playfulness. Miss Lungwitz was, in my fourth grade mind, the epitome of all glamour, Romanticism, and elegance.
Besides her name, she had beautiful curly black hair, dressed like I imagined a queen would, and my mother once hinted about a tragic love story in her past--something about an ex-fiancé or suitor. I was captivated by the idea. But instead of a man in the house, she had two fluffy white cats--elusive little enigmas that loved her and only her, and would scamper away like twin streaks of white lightening from any other visitors.

But if you were lucky enough, during your lesson, one or two little fluffy white things would tentatively peek around the corner. And you would put Bach and Beethoven and arpeggios on hold for a moment to pay homage to the real queens of the household. I loved Miss Lungwitz and I loved her cats. And I loved piano music, but I've come to realize music means more with the stories behind it.


The gloriousness of stories is that they're full of surprises.
Nothing goes ever quite the way you expect it to, but everything rings true.
No matter the outlandish grandeur of the tale being told, each piece fits together perfectly, so that when you step back to consider it, you find that all you can say is: Why yes. How could it go any other way? Those moments of such perfect harmony are the stuff of dreams. Once you find one, you immediately recognize it and open your arms wide to receive it. And then leave it behind. Those moments give you the strength to slog through all the messy-mess of being human until the next time you are graced with that moment. That moment where the earth and sky seem to hum with beauty. Grace is so palpable, you can almost taste it on your tongue.
It tastes like fresh cold night air and sunlight mixed into one.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

a sacrament whose sign is words

  Can we believe that God’s love for us has nothing to do with worthiness? It is pure gift. The answer to the question “Why do you love me?” is never a list of “reasons”. The answer is: “because I love you”. 
 In looking at vocation we realize the same. “Why did you call me? Not surely because of my worthiness or virtue or strength.” The answer is always simply, “I called you because I called you”.
--Fr. Frank Quinlivan

I love words.
And I love conversations.
Each conversation we encounter has the ability to be a life-changing conversation, if we let it.
If we allow ourselves to be touched by the little bit of eternity we encounter in the other person. 

I am constantly amazed by the power that words have to touch my heart, to change my mind, to enlighten little dark space and blind spots in my soul.

Entering a confessional is entering into a conversation. One of those "we need to talk" conversations that everyone dreads. Because, in those conversations, you know that you will not be allowed to be anything but inescapably, painfully, embarrassingly honest. You will have to encounter the little bit of eternity that is yourself, and the blemishes that blight your own beauty. 

But unlike many of those "we need to talk" conversations, the point of the sacrament of confession is that it ends with a reconciliation. I'm sorry's and I forgive you's are a daily part of human interactions.
And that's the unique beauty of the sacraments: they take such human actions, saying words, eating bread, washing, and transform and transfigure those actions with some mysterious infusion of grace.

They allow us to offer an I'm sorry from the deepest part of our soul.
Allow us to make a promise that comes from the very core of our being.
They allow us to eat and to partake of the greatest sustenance and strength.
They make us more human. 
Sacraments take us to the deepest, most true depths of what it means to be a human being. And once we've dived into those depths, we are freed to live the rest of our lives at that level. When we offer an I'm sorry, we can offer it with the completeness we understand by experiencing a complete I forgive you. Once we experience a life-changing conversation, where words touch us on such a deep level, our hearts are opened to let the words of others continually touch us.

This is the rhythm of the world: to fall and to rise again.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

the call of hope is love

Perhaps the purpose 
of leaves is to conceal 
the verticality 
of trees 
which we notice 
in December 
as if for the first time: 
row after row 
of dark forms 
yearning upwards.
--Vertical, Linda Pastan

Right now, I think this is the most Advent-y weather I've seen in a long time. I'm a Minnesota gal, so a cold blanket of snow warm my heart and soul like nothing else.
And usually, I'm a cranky, angsty soul if there's no snow here by December the First. Snow in abundance is usually how I like it, with a generous side of icicles, thankyouverymuch.

But this waiting for the snow to come?
That eerie morning mist shrouding the world in a quiet veil of mystery?
The bare trees, poor things, devoid of the covering of leaves and the covering of horfrost and snow, left naked in the cold, like a Christ stripped of his garments?

The MOST Advent. The most Advent. And I am loving it.
Advent is a time of looking for room. Finding room within ourselves for a poor little baby who needs us. Carving out room in the muchness of our lives for the tiny, vulnerable Child. It's a season to remember we are called to carve out space for others in our hearts, and give them that space, to navigate in as they need. To give and not grasp. Holding someone in your heart means they can come and go as they please, but there's always a room in the inn for them.

So we wait in hope, as my best friend reminded me yesterday. Wait for Goodness Incarnate to arrive.

Hope has a way of turning its face to you//Just when you least expect it

Monday, December 3, 2012

the unwarranted graces of snort laughs

I'm a shamefully shameless snort laugh-er.
It gets out of control sometimes.  
It's been toned down a lot this semester because I've gotten much more sleep.
 And because I've-grown-up-and-become-more-lady-like, and left behind my childish ways.
Just kidding. I've just gotten more sleep.
But a sleep-deprived Renée will snort laugh at the least little thing that tickles her fancy.
But that's the magical thing about snort laughs.
Snort laughs are a sign of utter lack of control.
You let go of any worries about how you look or sound. You forget yourself: you are just utterly enjoying the moment, you think of yourself not at all.
You just are. Let the others think what they will.
I love snort laughs.

One thing that it's taken me a while to love, just like snort laughs is the Litany of Humility. I've always thought was utter hogwash (snorts, hogs, see what I did there? I decided to keep with the theme). Not really, but like, yes really.

  That others may be loved more than I,
That others may be esteemed more than I,
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should

What? What is all that? I thought. This whole language of comparison was getting me in circles. If others become holier than I, then aren't I praying for the last to be first, and once they become first, then aren't I the last, which makes me the first and AHHHHHHHH 
 I couldn't make heads or tails of it. I would throw down the prayer book in frustration and go play Debussy on the piano. Because if you're frustrated and can't make sense of the world, the only thing to do is go play Debussy. Because his music is essentially a lyrical melancholy fairytale incarnate in sound. (Plus also, it's the only piano piece I remember from when I stopped taking piano lessons eight years ago. I hope Miss Lungwitz is proud.)

But then I realized that what I thought was the gloomiest of prayers is actually the giddiest.
The entire prayer should be said laughing.
Because in a world of self-giving love, the language of comparison is just rendered ridiculous and laughable. The prayer, as I see it, illustrates and illuminates that so beautifully by turning the language of comparison upside down.

There is no comparison or competition in self-giving love.
As we attempt to shine our brightest, we should never fear that our own light could ever possibly drown out the light of our neighbor. If you think about it logically, the only rational reaction to the brilliance of another human being is delight.
How funny and peculiar that we too often let the brilliance of another dim our spirits. That's the gloom that the litany pokes fun at.

If all apples were the same, then it might be tolerable to compare apples to apples.
Each apple is a unique creation. It's not even apples to oranges it's like, as a friend of mine is fond of saying, oranges and bananas.
And how silly to think that an oranges' orange-iness detracts from the banana-ness of the banana.

It's called the Communion of Saints, not the Barfight of Saints, for a reason.

As we grow towards sainthood together, all we have to offer is ourselves. Not another person, they will offer that. Our contribution is ourselves. Our journey of becoming, as Danielle Rose sings, the-saint-that-is-just-me, is a unique journey, particular to our unique self.

Love means saying:
“Whatever you want to take from my hands, you may take. Whatever you want to place in my hands, you may place”. --Fr. Frank Quinlivan, C.S.C.
 We proffer our hands to receive what they are given, and to give what is needed to be given.

Our offering, as my friend reminded me this morning, is simply offering who you are and who you have always been. 

Offering who you are and who you have always been. There is neither a simpler nor more painful offering that could be asked of us. Nor could there be a more joyful one.