Thursday, May 30, 2013

run like sparks through stubble

Some nights I rule the world 
With bar lights and pretty girls 
But most nights I stay straight and think about my mom 
ah, I miss her so much

For the first 48 hours, Kolkata was the most hateful city on earth.
Because, for the first 48 hours, I spent most of my time on the phone with various airplane companies, trying to discover how on earth to obtain our luggage, which was sitting cozily in the Mumbai airport.
Plus also, Kolkata does not make herself easy to love.
And when your first experience of Kolkata is sitting in internet cafes trying to reach 24 hour airline help numbers, and calculate the time differences between here and the United States (fun fact about Kolkata: it's in a half-hour time zone. I know. I don't even ask; I just accept.), and convincing armed airport security guards (they were pretty friendly, as far as armed guards go) to let you and your friend enter the arrivals gate of the airport (after agreeing to leave your third companion, the elderly British lady, behind at the entrance) so that you can plead with the airline's representative to give you a form that they absolutely will not give you (for admittedly somewhat valid, albeit infuriatingly bureaucratic-red-tape-y reasons), then that doesn't really help Kolkata's cause, I'm afraid.
This city, I decided, literally stinks.
I didn't come here, I thought grumpily, to deal with stupid lost baggage and other first world problems.
I came there to Work at Mother Teresa's Home.

Rewind to May the 6th.
During a fifteen-minute-long advice-giving session upon my impending departure for India (which, surprise, I actually listened to without protestation or interruption. Miracle of miracles. If this other miracle doesn't work out, we could offer this up to Vatican Theologians as JPII's second miracle.), my friend told me:
"Let Kolkata be Kolkata."

Let Kolkata be Kolkata.

So, for the first 48 hours, I had a terrifying experience: I couldn't love a city I'd so deeply desired.
I was living my dream, but I wanted to be anywhere but there.
That, my friends, is terrifying.

So, I let Kolkata be Kolkata, in all its crazy, messy, smelly glory.
Because, if you love someone, then you trust them.
You trust that no matter what, they will carry you, and they have your ultimate good in store.
So, once you love, you can begin to trust.
And once you can begin to trust, you can surrender.
And once you surrender, you enter into what some would call "detachment" but Mother Teresa chose to call "cheerfulness."
You find that the world, instead of sapping your wells of good-humor and gratitude dry, continually replenishes them.
The buses. The crazy buses.
Instead of seeing them as Traps of Certain Death, they become something of an amusement park ride.
Whoever invented roller coasters was probably emulating a trip on a Kolkata bus.
Although he tamed the experience a bit.
But if you're not worrying about dying (as I am 97.6% of the time), then the whole experience of Kolkata traffic in general becomes a joyful shade of absurd, that can only be responded to with immense peals of laughter.
It's a joyful disaster.
And amongst the strange street smells of Lord-only-knows-what, you begin to learn to sniff out the smells of egg rolls frying or a cake stand nearby, or the tangy smell of a sweet curd shop, or incense arising out of a street shrine
Like the sound of sparrows singing through a cacophony of crows, or the gentle harmonies of sisters singing cutting through the din of trams and taxis speeding by, those little moments of sweetness are Kolkata's surprises.
Which you can only find if you surrender what you think Kolkata is supposed to be, and open your hands to receive what it is.

P.S. And yes, we got the luggage. Sister Valadkhani, the airport expert, shook her head and said this was an impossible case, and one of us had to go back to Mumbai to retrieve the luggage. So we sent our site partner, a theologian-ninja of sorts, off to Mumbai.
He arrived back late Monday night, with the troublesome little lost sheep in tow.
Nothing, as Sister Beatina reminded us, is impossible for God.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

i’m coming back home

 I know just why you could not
Come along with me
This was not your dream,
But you always believed in me
--Michael Bublé, Home

The first thing that felt like home at Notre Dame was not the Golden Dome
And it wasn't the Grotto.
It wasn't all my favorite spots around the lakes.
It was a patch of violets.

I stopped to examine the patch of purple flowers that offered a promise--the promise that there were pieces of our old selves waiting to be refashioned and grafted into our new selves.

I smiled as I passed the window of my favorite little icebox of a room.
I smiled as I stopped to befriend a curious little squirrel, who wondered if my ID card was food.
I smiled as I inhaled the beautiful scent of candles burning at the Grotto.
It smelled like burnt dresses and wax burning on a rainy November night.
That was a homecoming kind of smell.

"If you really wanna discover the secret of Notre Dame, visit that Grotto. There's something there; no, there's someone there. We call her Notre Dame."
--Timothy Cardinal Dolan

And the lighted candles and the violets became somehow caught up in the whole semester of walking along the sparkling Thames, and wandering through Hyde Park in the spring, and watching the lights of St. Peter's in Rome at night.
The different-colored adventures begin to bleed together in a violescent kaleidoscope of good-byes and hellos and see you laters and discoveries and delights and sorrows and joys and new places, and sights you never imagined and everything in between.
But right now, I'm raring to get on a plane that will take me to a new story.

People say you can't script friendships or romances or your life in general.
Of course you can't.
But once you discover the script, you just follow it.
Sometimes, where it leads you is a surprise.
But sometimes, it's not.
And sometimes, it's a sweet and strange mixture of both.
So off we go, my friends.
Next stop: Kolkata.
I'm going home.

Monday, May 20, 2013


Love that cannot suffer is not worthy of that name. 
--Clare of Assisi

Scampering through a dark night on a strip of warm sidewalk,
A tiny chipmunk freezes as he senses a presence of magnitude.
He sniffs the air that begins to glow with hazy warmth;
The pulsing atmosphere wraps liltingly around
His small young body like ethereal arms of love.

There is no silence, only the sandpaper sound of the wind
as it scrapes sand and dust over the concrete,
a gentle erosion.
The same fierce breath that carves cliffs
rustles the fur on the chipmunk's back.

There are no stars, only dull moonlight, shrouded by clouds--
the night's velvet pall.
Their lights cutting through the thick darkness,
Small fireflies flit beneath the trees,
Tiny mobile beacons of hope.

The wind teaches the young tree how to form words.
The small green sapling reaches deep within the ground to find
Ancient sentences, caked with moss and mold.
Sparked by the warm air, its sap runs wild,
intoxicated with the wild joy of the thesaurus.

A mother holds her child in her arms,
Singing her to sleep with a thousand heady melodies,
Promising a world that waits for a young child's wise eyes
Beyond the amber sky of the sunrise.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

high hopes, like the old popes

I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink.
--John the Evangelist, who used a lot of paper and ink, and to great effect.

Last Sunday, I spoke with a professor after Mass, and I'm pretty sure my first words after brief preliminary greetings were: "Can I hold him?" referring, naturally, to the four-month-old little miniature human he was holding in his arms.
I had spent the entire mass watching the rambunctious children on a family in front of me, and smiling at their absurdist antics, and here was a baby basically being handed to me.
I was the luckiest girl in the world.
That particular Sunday was, coincidentally, Mother's day.

Many people, much more hip and blasé than I (believe it, there are a few more hip than I), love to moan about how Valentine's day is a bunch of hogwash, because it's created by The Industry to get people to Spend Money on a Special Someone.
For some reason, it's cool to dislike Valentine's Day, because: "You shouldn't do something special for someone you love just ONE arbitrary day. That's dumb."
If anyone said: "You shouldn't do something special for your mom on just ONE arbitrary day. That's dumb." they would not be labeled a hip, blasé person.
They would be told in no uncertain terms to go call their mother, because honest to oatmeal, it's Mother's Day.
Or at least send her a card, for Pete's sake.


My mother and I are so fundamentally similar in ways that when you're four, you don't and couldn't possibly notice.
When I was four, I believed we were polar opposites, because I would definitely have let me have two desserts after dinner and stay up to watch late to movies with my parents; and my mom definitely wasn't going to let those things happen.

I therefore concluded my mother and I were operating on completely different value systems, and must have very little in common as people in general.
Also, she was Mom and I was Daughter, and right then that meant that when I was feeling small and sad and alone in the world, I cuddled up in her arms.

And then, one evening, we shared a glass of wine and some cheesecakes, and I realized that I had more in common with this woman than I could have ever guessed.
And both of our eyes were filling up with tears, because I was Going Away, and that somehow never got less sad the many times it happened over the years. In fact, it seemed to be getting sadder the more it happened.
Being Mother and Daughter still meant that sometimes when I was feeling small and sad and alone in the world, I cuddled up in her arms.
But being Mother and Daughter meant something else as well, which I don't know if I have found a word for yet.


In theatre classes, a common exercise is to not allow anyone to speak, and then set them a task of telling a story.
You do this, not because mime is the highest of all arts, but because when words are not allowed, you begin to realize truly that words are not enough.
Communication is more than words, but you aren't allowed to see what that might mean, until your words are all stripped away.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

those who love are not lunatics

Pride and Prejudice is not one of Ann Radcliffe’s melodramatic gothic novellas or (anachronistically speaking) a Brontëan escapade through the dark, twisted secrets of the eccentric country gentry. 
This is not a story filled with larger-than-life Romance, and Heathcliffs skulking across the moors, and most importantly—love conflicting with rationality.
In Pride and Prejudice, love is not the result of chance or overweening passion; happy love is the result of a harmonious action of virtue, sensibility and rationality.
Laughter, like love, can be foolish and vain, or it can be happy and virtuous. Laughter, Lizzie finds, can cut down a person's self-regard, or it can elevate one to tip-toe type euphoria.
Wise laughter can give perspective, can win suitors, can make the best of a tragic situation.
Laughter, like love, can be salvific.


Recently, one of my favoritest writers in the whole wide world posted something beautiful on her blog. It is the story of her tedious, year-ish long journey through depression. It is a beautiful and raw post, irreverently funny, and one hundred percent delightful. You should probably read it. Here ya go.

Usually, this author writes things about her childhood escapades. Like this one, about her need to eat all of her grandfather's birthday cake, despite her poor mother's attempts to keep the cake out of her reach.
The six-year-old in me identifies deeply with her unflagging and unquenchable desire to climb things [see yesterday's post]. 
I resonate with her determination to kick through window screens in order to achieve her goal: eat mind-numbingly large amounts of sugar.

These posts of hers have me rolling on the floor in fits of laugher.
And that is not a hyperbole at all.
I sometimes actually frighten myself at how heartily her words make me laugh.

I am blessed with some emotional friends.
Friends who have a lot of feelings.
Because I am insufferable, I will often tease them (mockery is the sincerest form of affection, I've been told) regarding the amount of tears shed, which sometimes seem like they would be enough to fill the entire Indian Ocean and then some.
I always joke that I'll be able to out-cry the weepiest of them once pregnancy rolls around, because I assume the hormones that will kick in will be something like performance enhancing drugs for my lacrimal glands.

All this jesting has a kernel of truth in it (I promise we'll get to it eventually).
Emotions are such an integral part of our interaction with our world, and our ability to make sense of it.
Yet for some frustrating and enigmatic reason, emotions are entirely outside of our control (which gets right to the point of the Hyperbole and a Half post).
If we were fully human, not bent, not broken by a fall, then our emotions and our will would be in perfect harmony.
That which is good would fill us up with the sweetest joy; and any ugliness or illness would be met with our supreme disgust.
But for some reason, our emotions have been crippled, and there is something in us that is out of joint.
Emotions dry up without any warning, or burst forth without or prompting.
Feelings--of happiness, sadness, pain, etc., cannot be our deepest interactions with the world.
That would be like trying to build a skyscraper on a sand dune (spoiler alert: that would be a major oops).
And they cannot be our guideposts: that would be like following a trail of breadcrumbs (cf my good friends Hansel and Gretel).
But what lifts this woman--if only for a moment--out of the blahness and bleakness of her senseless crying, is laughter.
Seemingly just as causeless as the crying, her laughter replaces a little bit of the grey with light.
I don't know how emotions work, but I don't think laughter is an emotion.
Laughter is an action, a response to something, but I've never quite figured out what.
As we sat for a solid four hours in the Heathrow Airport, on our way out of London, we spent at least a good solid hour sitting in a heap of airport chairs and excess luggage, laughing like a bunch of loonies.

I think our laughter made just as much sense as laughing at a piece of shriveled corn on a kitchen floor.
But there was something divine about it--our souls felt lighter after laughing.

"You will grieve, but your grief will become joy."
--Christ, to his Apostles, whose apocryphal laughing fits were never recorded in the Gospels.

Friday, May 17, 2013

I'm freedom's happy bond-slave

Wild heart, child heart, all of the world your home. 
Glad heart, mad heart, what can you do but roam?
--Robert W. Service

I think cats can serve as role models for us all.
Cats are the most curious animals, while the same time, they are cool as cucumbers.
They are at home and at peace in their curiosity.
Cats seem to be always on the move, and yet always at rest.

I walked out of the house full of hospitable Mormons into complete darkness.
In the country, there are no road lights.
I looked up into the heavens and my sense of awe lept out of my chest and into the sky.
Have you ever hungered for something so desperately, the desire pulls you out of your seat and into the clouds?
Sometimes, you can feel the dryness of your soul, as it waits to be watered by a sign that's gonna come to you.
And then you look up.
And you find that there's an entire world above you.
The sky is a gift to those who look up.
Rays of light cut through multi-colored, dazzling clouds, painting an outline of angel's wings; or you hear words you know were meant for you; or you look up at an eternity of stars.
Bright, limpid stars, fresh and new, dewey with the tears of angels.
Old stars, tough as diamonds, that shine with the wisdom of thousands of billions of ages.

Have you ever made eye contact with someone on the street, and their eyes have shifted from your face up to a little bit left of head?
That's the moment they discover your invisible traveling companion.

There are two ways to deal with roadblocks.
One is to make a u-turn and find another way.
Or you can leap over whatever it is that blocks your way.
My mother once made me a long pink skirt, swirled like strawberry ice cream, with crisp eyelet trim on the bottom.
I loved that skirt and wore it faithfully.
I remember I was climbing a picket fence, as a part of the shortcut to reach the creek, and that poor skirt became a casualty of Operation Picket Fence.
I arrived back home victoriously, but instead of laurels on my head, my only trophy was a giant slash through the middle of the strawberry-ice-cream skirt.
I received a reprimand, accompanied by a sigh.
But I had reached the creek, and that was the main point of the excursion.
No adventure can be accomplished without some sacrifices along the way.
If all we were interested in was preserving our favorite pink skirts, we would stay at home.

"We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind."
--Septimus Hodge, Tom Stoppard's Arcadia

Incidentally, my mother modified the strawberry-ice-cream skirt; amputated the shredded section; and reworked the design to make the old skirt new.
I wore the skirt just as faithfully.
And, together, we climbed a few more picket fences.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

take courage, I have conquered the world

I walked by familiar buildings, trying to love them, but failing to like them.
You've changed, they cried out, indignant and reserved.
The old you, they said, would have been ecstatic to be here.
The old me, I said, is as dead as the Minnesota trees.
The trees here have leaves alight with the green glow of photosynthesis.
I don't believe in stagnation.
I stared back at the limestone which I knew had changed, too.
You house stories that I am not a part of.


A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered.
C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet

Melodies carry memories with them.
As I pushed play, I was instantly back in my happy little single in Badin Hall, remembering the sweet feeling of box fans blowing tepid air through the warm little room, and the way ND smells during the summertime.
I thought of walking everyday the same path across South Quad.
I remembered how the sun felt on my wet, newly-showered hair.
I relived, for three minutes and forty-eight seconds, the sweetness of the summer.

For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.
--Isaiah 41
Words carry stories with them.
Stories that begin on quiet August mornings, in the middle of the Minnesota prairies, at the height of summer, as it is about to tip over and fall into autumn.

I sat in a grove of trees, green sunlight filtering through the leaves.
Somewhere in the midst of my over-active mind there was a still small space of silence.
 Enough for a heart to rest.

The Christian sings with joy, and walks, and carries this joy.
-Pope Francis

Prufrock measures his life in coffee spoons. 
I've measured my adolescence in brightly colored notebooks and cloth-bound commonplace books.
Memory is one of those tricky things that can often get warped as we grow older; it evolves and shifts over time
Writing is a fact check for memory.
We can't always interpret events the way we would choose, from a later, wiser perspective.
Sometimes, we have to revisit what we were six years ago, or six months ago, or six weeks ago.
Sometimes, that person is embarrassingly naive, or laughably clueless.
But they probably didn't have the advantage of knowing as much as we know now.

You are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice and no one will take your joy away from you
--Christ, to his disciples, because they had to learn to walk by Faith on their own two legs.
He went onward, and left them to follow him.

Last Sunday, at the end of mass, I don't think I sang the closing hymn because I was watching an intrepid little explorer boldly wandering farther and farther away from his family in the pew, into the unknown regions of the church aisle.
His little face lit up with a mischievous, joyful smile as he waddled out of reach of his little brother's hands, snatching at his shirt in a futile attempt to get the wayward young tot to return home.
As his rolly-polly little legs brought him to the edge of my pew I looked down at him and smiled.
He grinned back a gummy little smile of pure joy. 
The joy of one who had discovered that his two small feet could take him anywhere.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


"With 99% of the books we can type in the title and search for the right edition, but that doesn't work for the Bible, because when you type in "Bible" every edition of a Bible pops up. 
And you can't refine your search by searching for author, obviously."
--Bookstore Customer Service Man, 
gleaning with hopeful eyes the prodigiously expansive shelves of Bibles in the religious section of the bookstore, on phone with a customer who, I can only assume, was looking for a specific type of Bible.

This post is about two things, and two things only:
my mother.
And how I believe books are greater than electronics.

Item the first:
Essentially, I am basically in huge, irreparable debt to my mother.

A good example of the kind of how indebted I am to her is when we went to buy Caribou Coffee (God bless the USA), and I knew how to answer the trivia question that gave you ten cents off the Caribou Coffee product of your choice. The longest river in Europe is, in fact, Russia's Volga river.
How did I know this?
I knew this from when my mother taught me Russian history in eighth grade.

Abe said it best, folks: all that I am or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.

She agrees.
She once sent me this song to emphasize a point:

 She's a riot, no?

All this makes me nervous, because she keeps suggesting that I maybe should take an electronic-book-reader-doohiggy with me when I travel, so I don't lug along five hundred books with me.
Historically, her track record of being always right indicates I should listen to her.
But then my heart leaps to my tongue, and I cry out:
Is nothing still sacred?


The Scene: a bookstore.

The Object: to find the (apparently) incredibly illusive comprehensive biography of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope, by George Weigel. 
The Problem: Instead of being sold a flesh-and-blood copy of the book, printed on bona fide paper with actual physically printed ink, I am now the importuned object of an "electronic reader/book/table-doohiggy" sales pitch:

"You can even connect it to Google maps and check email on it..."
The poor bookstore Sales Lady's pleas fell on not only deaf, but positively irate ears. 
Madame, I said, in very pronounced tones (in my head, obvi.), the more you attempt to sell me a product that sounds more like my laptop, and less like a book, the less willing I will be to buy it.
And with a cheerful, "Thank you!" I shook the electronic dust of the bookstore off my feet.

Maybe my point is somewhat crippled by the fact that I'm making it on the Internet, where reading basically goes, not to die, per se, but to fall into a comatose-like stupor.
Computer and TV screens, I have been taught (by my angel mother, I might add,) to believe, essentially turn our brains into giant vats of melted Peeps.

But my main concern is that I fundamentally distrust computer screens to be able to lift anyone out of themselves.
And maybe I'm just a prejudiced little luddite.
But the singular pleasure of reading a book with a good solid cover and easily dog-eared pages while hiding under one's bed, or in a cozy couch (not too cozy, or you fall asleep!), or in a sunlit little nook eating a sandwich, is simply too overwhelmingly wonderful for me to ever abandon.

“I cannot live without books.” 
― Thomas Jefferson, who believed 
in inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness aka books

And so I have a suitcase half-filled with socks and other essentials, but mostly filled with books.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

take all my preconceptions

The forecast for the future is sunny.
There will be a time when the Sun fully appears.
Transfixed, but constantly in motion,
We move towards the horizon.

"As for the term philia, the love of friendship, it is used with added depth of meaning in Saint John's Gospel in order to express the relationship between Jesus and his disciples."
--Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est

Here is the funny thing about Christ's Transfiguration: there were only three Apostles there.
And I don't understand that.
Because it would seem to me that there were three Apostles that Christ was closer to than the other nine.
I wonder what the other nine thought of it?

But then, I suppose they had their own best friends.
If I've learned one thing after living in a colony of ten little women over the semester, close friendships naturally spring up and deepen between little pockets of individuals, due to the fact that human beings are not cookie-cutters, but rather breath-taking masterpieces, their very existence a testament to the love that breathed life into them.
And rather than harming a community, close bonds of friendship bring with them harmony.

And so perhaps apostles were glad that every time James-the-brother-of-John told stories, they usually began with:
"Okay, so this one time when I was up on the mountain with Peter, John, and Jesus..." 
I mean, maybe they weren't glad, because maybe the stories were always appallingly long or dull, or maybe James was a bad story-teller.
But I would think they would not resent his close friendship with Christ, but rather, maybe, be glad of it.
Point being, Christ was fully human.
And being human meanings inheriting and acquiring a lot of idiosyncrasies, not only from your parents, but from your particular environment.
Maybe Jude thought that Christ pronounced the word "Abba" funny ("Galilean accents, I'm telling you"); or maybe Simeon cringed interiorly every time Jesus said "Amen, Amen I say to you"; or maybe Phillip just had down-right different opinions on the proper way to build a table.
And maybe John preferred to sit quietly next to James and just listen to Jesus, and not really talk all that much.

They loved Him, no one doubts that, not even Thomas.
And so I doubt they begrudged Him his bosom friends.

"It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you"

We can't love humanity in the abstract.
A mother can't love her children.
But she can wake up and love her daugher Mary Jane or her little son Michael--she can love each person in the particular.

Sometimes these melancholy Christians' faces have more in common with pickled peppers than the joy of having a beautiful life.  
Joy cannot be held at heel: it must be let go. 
Joy is a pilgrim virtue.
--Papa Francis 

And in loving a someone in the particular, that love bears fruit and love's cup runneth over.
Love begets love.
And that's how love can spread from one minuscule, seemingly insignificant tribe in a pocket of the Fertile Crescent, to all the nations of the world.

Monday, May 13, 2013

I said, remember this feeling

"The greatest gift we can give God is to live joyfully because of his love"
--Julian of Norwich

My mother has a gift for prophecy.
And so I've learned (the hard way. Two titanium wills co-habitating under one roof for eighteen years is an adventure, as you may imagine.) to listen to the woman who indubitably ends up always being right.
Another person who will sometimes grab my attention is the old me.
Younger me, I mean.
Not that we are all prophets or seers.
In fact, I don't even know if I could even say my mother is, in the strict sense of the word.
But, if, like my mother, we simply pay attention to the world, and listen to what we're trying to be told, sometimes we find that we're more right than we'd ever dare to believe.
We just have to listen.

 The world's most beautiful trick is that it is always telling the same story, eternally made new.
And so, I think that it's only fitting to give voice to the sonnet that little Miss Sophomore Renée spilled tears, blood, and ink over the course of a year to create.
"We have a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend it, than any other person can be," says Jane Austen.
We are all fools, but wise fools nonetheless.

The whirling circle of the sacred year,
Returns me to the place where we began;
Our dim and faded laughs ring in my ear,
Road markers on a path I did not plan.
Sweet shades and shadows linger in each nook,
And corner crannies house once luminous laughs
That pierced through gloom, that forged with just one look
Indelible joy. A record of us:
Two day-journers, for but a moment met,
Whose lights entwined, and brightened dim twilight—
But split and faded with sunset’s onset,
Their separate paths snaked silver into night.
      Our lights within expunged, effaced—but then
     In darkness we have found our home again.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

we will be remembered

Tonight we stand, get off our knees 
Fight for what we’ve worked for all these years 
And the battle was long, it’s the fight of our lives 
But we’ll stand up champions tonight
-- Miss Taylor Swift

One of my favorite fairy tales is called the Six Swans.
I remember sitting on my grandmother's front porch in the lush heat of a Carolinian summer morning, and my aunt reading to us the story of a young princess who went a whole six years in silence, facing false accusations from her witch-like mother-in-law, in order to free her six brothers from an enchantment that has turned them into wild swans.

I love this fairy tale, because:
Reason One: Our heroine--the princess-- has a task to make enchanted shirts out of stinging nettles.
[Literally where on earth did that come from?]
So that sounds outré and outlandishly fairytalish enough that I can laugh it off as one of those crazy inventions from the over-active imaginations of the Brothers Grimm/the German housewives.
But here's the rub:
She has to spend six years in silence while making them.
I can barely go six minutes without piping up with a half-baked thought (albeit passionately expressed), or a cock-eyed opinion, all the more forcefully expressed to make up for its embryonic nature.
This woman is a heroine, in my book.
Six years of not-talking?
There are very few people I would do that for.
Which, leads me to:

Reason the Second:
This lady loves her family.
We have this idea that reading romance novels somehow prepares us to enter into romance.
I think that's a far from airtight assumption.
The novel that, I would argue (at the risk of being predictable), is the best guide for entering romantic relations would be Pride & Prejudice. 
Which is, I would also argue, a story in which families and familial love and how to love siblings who are driving you properly insane with either their naïveté or their improper, boy-crazy antics.
The family is the ultimate school of love.
In order for the family to survive, each sibling has to be willing to sometimes give up something for the other.
Whether that's remaining silent for a year [or six], or giving your sibling a hug and a listening ear, or letting your brother have the car, or staying at home to play Scrabble with the wee ones.

In Hebrew, the Song of Songs features two different words for love.
One, called dodim, is something like a nascent eros.
It is a restless love, a love that is still indeterminate.
The other is much like the Greek agape.
It is ahabà, a love that involves the real discovery of the other.

Families teach ahabà-like love,  which is necessary to find joy in the erotic love of romance.
Eros cannot be fully itself--glorious, beautiful, ecstatic, romantic eros, longing, running and thirsting for eternity, leaping over itself in its all-consuming need for the lover to give himself away--without agape.
Eros will end up being an impoverished, grasping sort of desire without the life that agape brings.
Agape is like the water that pours into open hands.
It constantly spills out, emptying itself.
And yet, magically--like the fairytale wells that never run dry--the hands that constantly spill out water are always full.
When the lover gives themselves away, they find they have eternally more of themselves to give, over and over again.

Jesus was always able to cast a net deep into Peter's heart and draw out the love and goodness that was in there. 
As we know, there is always more to the story when dealing with Jesus.
On the beach after his resurrection, Jesus asked Peter the only question that mattered, "Do you love me?" In their exchange, echoed three times, all was forgiven and set right, all was healed and made new. 
Jesus gave Peter back to himself.
--Fr. Peter Jarret, C.S.C

Saturday, May 11, 2013

overuse I love you

Disclaimer/Warning: this post is a bohemian paean to Idea Crushes, Bacon's Idols of the Marketplace, and Benedict XVI's Deus Caritas Est.
Make of that what you will.

The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder."
--G. K. Chesterton

My current Idea Crush:
Idols of the Marketplace.

[Idea Crush, definition: an idea that you are enamored with, because you find that it is applicable in every. single. situation. 
In every conversation, you find that you simply have to talk about it, because it's just so delightfully applicable, and everything anyone says can be tied into this idea, because this idea is so Universal and True, Enlightening and Fundamental to Human Nature, that it serves as the perfect lens through which to view the world.
Until the next Idea Crush comes along.
This phenomenon is endemic in a liberal arts education, where students are exposed to Great Thinkers. Because Great Thinkers spent their entire lives promoting the beauty, goodness and truth (and sometimes the utility and/or applicability) of their pet Idea Crushes.]

(Idea Crushes may become my newest Idea Crush. 

I remember (fondly and vividly) my first meeting with the Idea of Idols of the Marketplace.
It was in our second PLS seminar meeting of this past semester, reading Bacon's New Organon.
There are two reasons to love Francis Bacon: one, the most obvious, his name alludes to one of the most perfect breakfast foods known to man; secondly, he came up with the idea of Idols of the Marketplace.

To quote, in his own words:
"But the Idols of the Marketplace are the most troublesome of all--idols which have crept int othe understanding through the alliances of words and names. For men believe that their reason governs words, but it is also true that words react on the understanding."

This was a moment I knew I had no chance of escape; this enchanting idea had already entrapped me.
Words are far more powerful than we may even dream, for words are the very coinage through which we enter the economy of the world.
We cannot do trade with reason without words.
Words are not only impacted by our reason, but they are the very stuff out of which our reason grasps reality.

"What do you read? Polonius asks Hamlet.
"Words, Words, Words," replies the mad prince.

But Bacon continues: "When it comes to pass that in the high and formal discussions of learned men end oftentimes in disputes about words and names, with which (according to the use and wisdom of the mathematicians) it would be more prudent to begin, and so by means of definitions reduce them to order. Yet even definitions cannot cure this evil in dealing with natural and material things since the definitions themselves consist of words." 

How tragic that the very method of communication is often the road-block in the attempt at actual communication of thought.

It is a magnificent idea that Francis Bacon has articulated--the Idols of the Marketplace, how words are tangly, complicated phenomena that make up our everyday lives and conversations, but over which we have such slight control.
We are at the mercy of words, it seems.

Benedict XVI begins Deus Caritas Est addressing that very problem:
"We immediately find ourselves hampered by a problem of language. Today the term "love" has become one of the most frequently used and misused words, a word to which we attach quite different meanings."

And so I picked up my pencil, and underlined Benedict's phrase "problem of language" and serenely wrote my first note in the white, blank margins of the slim volume:
'Idols of the Marketplace.'

I realized, in talking to my little sister, we often confuse sentiments with love.
Sugar-rushes, my brother calls them.
That moment where you find your world gets all sparkly and bubbly like champagne in the rush of discovering something new.
Exploration has always incited intoxication in the human race. 
We enjoy finding new worlds; whether that new world is an idea, a place, or a person.
And while those may be crushes, they're not really related at all to love.
They're related quite a lot to "like" which means the ability to find people pleasing and not irrevocably irritating, and it's one of God's greatest gifts, which makes people much easier to love.
I thank him for "like" everyday. 
Without it, I'm afraid, there would be appallingly few people I would have grown to love.

Love is something altogether different.
Love is a movement of intellect, will, soul, and heart to give yourself away; it's that thing they always say about losing your life to save it.
It's what causes Juliet and Romeo to follow each other into death; and what causes God, not to be outdone by two starry-eyed Shakespearean heroes, follow his beloved human race into death.
Love follows the beloved into death.
Love arrives in the midst of death so that the beloved might find life, in all its glorious abundance.

Friday, May 10, 2013

even St. Peter's bones decay

“If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you."
--Christ, to His Apostles. None of them ended up uprooting mulberry trees, so far as we know.

If I had one piece of unsolicited advice for you, I would say this:
If you are ever called upon to sacrifice, don't do it.
Run far away.
If God ever says to you, "More will be asked of you than you are willing to give."
Don't give it.
Find the deepest, darkest corner of the world and hide there until the all-knowing one has forgotten about you.
Then, maybe, you can return to your small little hobbit hole, and live out the rest of your life in a cozy, middle-class, midwest, suburban, go-to-church-on-Sundays-maybe existence.
Or if that sounds far too middle-American, maybe you can go to a city and hide in the vast expanse of people there.
There is enough motion and traffic and hustle and bustle, and an overabundance of sensory stimulation. You'll probably never ever have to be alone with your thoughts.
Or, more terrifying a thought still, with yourself.

The great enemy of faith is fear. Peter can testify to this as he tried to walk on water or in the High Priest’s courtyard after Jesus’ arrest. All the Apostles can attest to this in the Garden of Gethsemane. We see how often Jesus and angels are telling people—Mary, Joseph, the Apostles and disciples, those being healed – “Don’t be afraid.” 
There is no reason to fear. Just Believe.
--Fr. Frank Quinlivan, C.S.C.

Sacrifice is all well and good as long as it doesn't hurt.
Tithing is alright, as long as it doesn't eat into your bank account.
Stopping and giving some spare change to someone is usually good.
Just don't open up space in your mind or your heart for someone else.
That's where the real trouble begins.

"Do not be afraid.
Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you."
--God to Paul, who took that command to heart. Paul talked a lot.

Keep quiet, don't do anything to draw unwanted attention to yourself, and maybe you'll get away with living a mind-numbingly ordinary life.
If you're lucky, you'll never be asked to give away your heart, and maybe you can hold onto it, until it turns as rotten as an overripe banana.
The only advice I don't know how to give you is what to do then with your heart, because the only possible use I know of for a heart is to give it away.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I passed the pictures around

Though he was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but rather emptied Himself.
--Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles. And professional letter-writer.

On Tuesday February 12, around 9:00am, I walked into our program director's office, and asked if I could kindly go to Rome for the resignation, and he kindly said yes.
It was all rather matter-of-fact.
Fast forward to two Tuesdays later, and I was boarding a flight to Rome.
At the time, it seemed like eons passed between that initial meeting and finally finding my feet on the road to Rome.
But looking back, I am shocked at how surprisingly quick that time was.

On February 27th, around 10:33 am Rome time, I fell into St. Peter's Square.
Okay, fact check time: I didn't actually fall into the square. 
Nor, even more surprisingly, did I trip on any of those vicious cobblestones on my way there, despite my general inability/ineptitude/unwillingness to negotiate cobblestones. 
Cobblestones are the enemy, friends. 
You don't negotiate or bargain with the enemy, friends. 
You fight the enemy.
(And, at least in the War of Cobblestones vs. The Poor Soles of My Shoes, you hold fast to your honor in the face of utterly shameful defeat. 
Three weeks of Roman cobblestones will take its toll on even the sturdiest of footwear, with horrifying results.)

Point being, in the picture of my memory, the moment of actually arriving in St. Peter's square is always somewhat surreal, as if I was dropped there. (Probably a hazy feeling resulting from lack of sleep in the Zurich airport, but a satisfyingly Romantic image, nonetheless.)

Being in the middle of a miracle is slightly disorienting.

As I arrived there, late, naturally, (but prompt in my lateness), I watched the familiar looking man in white, enter the square from the opposite side as me, and ride among the crowds, waving and smiling.
Observation number one: he looked so fragile.
As he sat in a small chair in front of the largest Basilica in the world, you couldn't help but notice the strange juxtaposition of the solid, unassailable, massive stone structure behind a tiny, bent old man.

"You are all fair, my love; there is no spot in you"

The Catholic Church, made up of rich old cardinals, and Italian nuns who cross streets without a twitch, and young altar servers who drop candles, is necessarily far from perfect. 
Human beings are just like that, I'm afraid. 
We just don't always get it right.
There are many spots and stains on the spotless bride.
The man who sat there on that chair knew that, perhaps, better than any of us.

"What is that to you? You follow Me!"
--John 21:22

As the audience ended, and the crowds slowly trickled out of the square like molasses, I sat by the fountain, and watched them all pour out of the arms of the Church.
And I was right there, sitting in the fountain, with the warm Italian sun on my face, in a daze.
I wasn't quite sure how I'd gotten from Heathrow to a strange night in the Zurich airport, to right there, in the middle of a crowd of Mormon missionaries, rowdy selfie-taking Spanish teenagers, and old Russian men, jostling to get as close as they could to the man in white.

I looked up at St. Peter's. 
The man in white had disappeared, decreased.
St. Peter's stood there still, vast, expansive, strong.

The word 'church' has a plethora of definitions.
Language is like that; words are eternal verbal incarnations of mysteries, and their definitions are the limits always approaching infinity. The increasingly grow closer and closer, but tantalizingly never quite reach it. 
But I think somewhere far down that limit, you find that the definition of church is most accurately described as that bizarre juxtaposition I witnessed in the square.
The imperfect, fragile, fallible human being.
And the stone fortress behind him.
It is the recipe made of five parts Italian nuns jostling you on your way to Holy Communion, several parts bishops who say the wrong line and stumble over their words in their homilies, and a multitude of bright-eyed children, who find that they had encountered hints of this Real Life before in their bedtime stories.
Somewhere between the covers of Mr. Lang's Blue Fairy Book, the seeds of instruction were laid, so that this young woman knows what it means to fight temptation, because she has learned how one goes about fighting dragons.
And this young priest realizes that, despite being in persona Christi, he still needs a savior, just as Rapunzel, maddeningly trapped in a tower, needed a prince to rescue her.

The Church must be all this, wrapped up in the Breath of God.
And then set in the imperturbable arms of St. Peter's.

"I wish my first Encyclical to speak of the love which God lavishes upon us and which we in turn must share with others."
--Benedict XVI

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

one who has hope writes differently

”This is man! He is not transparent, not monumental, not simple. In fact he is poor.”
—Karol Wojtyla, The Jeweler’s Shop

 All of us are constantly seeking signs.
We are always searching for clues that tell us what path in life we should take; that tell us what God’s will is for us.
We look for signs: signs that tell us which job is the one for us; if that house is the right one for us; which classes we’re supposed to be in; how our test will go; whether that certain someone likes us back; what road we should take.
It is the nature of poor, impoverished man to embark on searches for meaning in the most mundane things.

Signs literally infest the world around us, if only we have eyes willing to see them.
We have a word, however, for miracles we'd like to write off as meaningless. 
We decide to call them "coincidence." 
Gratitude, however, dispenses with coincidence in one fell, Beowulf-slaying-Grendel-type swoop

How funny, then, that the greatest sign ever given to man by the Father now goes by the name "Thanksgiving."
Emmanuel, I think we could argue, would be the greatest entrance of God into the world.
Emmanuel, now under the alias Eucharist, serves as a sign that we might never want for a sign of love.
How could we ever need another sign of love when we are daily presented with the incarnation of the greatest sacrifice Love ever underwent?
Well, (breaking news) we are sort of human.
(Alert the BBC: Female Blogger Says Humans Have A Human Nature)
We, as strange little temporal beings, get caught up too easily in the many little worries and stresses of each day, and we forget. 

let loose your suckers and relent
--a zoologist, teaching Octopi the Gospel of receiving vs. grasping.

We forget that something greater than Solomon is here in our midst. 
We are not living in the same world that the Ninevites or the queen of the south were living in; we are living in a world that Love itself has entered into, redeemed, and in which he has taken up his residence. 
We are living in a world filled with signs of love. 
We miss them all too often.
For we are too focused on living in chronos, and watching our lives pass by in succeeding moments. We forget the other sort of time, the species of time that Madeleine L'Engle calls kairos.
Kairos, she says is Real time. Eternal time. Time not experienced as one moment following another, but just experienced.
Kairos is when we are lifted out of ourselves, by love, by praise, by thanksgiving.
Perhaps kairos is the Real and Wild and Dangerous that throbs just below the mundane surface of our lives.
And perhaps those signs we find are the eruptions of kairos, bursting through that shell of ordinary.

"'Course he's not safe, but he's good. He's not a tame lion."
--C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

tidings of comfort and joy

For I am very near to falling,
    and my grief is with me always.
-Psalm 38

I think if you attempt to make a list of Things That Are Comforting, you will surprise yourself.
Maybe you will find yourself surprised by just how many things there are in this beautiful world that will bring you such immense comfort.
Someone gives you smile.
Or maybe someone laughs with you as you trip on the stairs (not an autobiographical example at all, of course).
Or maybe your younger brother gives you a giant bear hug, and all is well with the world.
Or you could be surprised by just how very few things bring true comfort. 
True comfort isn't always comfortable in the colloquial sense, in which we usually mean a sort of soporific pleasure that easily envelops us and dulls our senses like too many chocolate-covered sea salt caramels.
Comfort that truly consoles us and knits together our little scrapes and cuts is usually wrapped up in some kind of sacrifice.

I think the core of the song is the part about his sister : she fell for something that was false, a love that was a lie. But we assume her actions were motivated by goodness and love, and thus in the midst of 
  a mess comes something beautiful: a new life. 
The most amazing things can come from some terrible lies. 

One of the most beautiful moments of waking up in the morning is seeing the sunrise.
It is fitting that a ritual so mysterious so magnificent and mysterious as darkness turning to light should be accompanied by an overture so sweet and beautiful as a sunrise.
Light, like a mother's love, or the ability to laugh, is one of those things that is so essential to life that it is best enjoyed when it is taken for granted.
Not taken for granted, as in, forgotten.
But taken for granted as in, it's great joy and beauty comes from trusting that it will always be there. 
The surprising thing about the sun rising each day is that it is not a surprise.
It is what they call a "fact."
A "fact" is what we say when we refer to surprises which we expect to happen.
Blessed Bail Moreau once wrote: "I am convinced that Providence, which has in the past done everything necessary for the development and perfection of its work, will continue to bestow on it most abundant blessings."

Providence, like light, is perhaps the most consoling and the most joyful when it is taken for granted as the most trustworthy.
Providence is the distinct and unique joy that bubbles out of us when we trust that despite the shocking gory-ness of the crucifixion, that that singular act is truly the tidings of comfort and joy that the angels sang about thirty-three years before, one starry night in Bethlehem.

That may not be very comfortable, but it's the most consoling.

So give me hope in the darkness that I will see the light. 
Cause oh, it gave me such a fright.
-Mumford and Sons         

Sunday, May 5, 2013

my words were cold and flat

Another winter day has come 
And gone away 
In Paris or Rome 
And I wanna go home 
Let me go home 
 And I’m surrounded by 
A million people 
I still feel alone, 
Let me go home 
--Michael Bublé's Home

Riding in a car that was driving on the right side of the road [paradigm shift], I sun-napped while Michael Bublé's silky voice came floating over the speakers:

Another aeroplane 
Another sunny place 
I’m lucky, I know
but I wanna go home.

I remembered the first time I found a home in London--when I walked into Brompton Oratory, a cold, small little child. I felt warm in the vast church.
As I walked through Brompton one last time before Mass began, I smiled at each little side chapel, and at the sunlight streaming into the dark church.
Tucked in the corner by the large tableau of the crucifixion, John Cardinal Henry Newman's altar shimmered of white marble and gilded letters that read:
Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem
It is incredible how you can be so cold, and then spring comes, and you seek refuge in the church, not from the cold, but from the heat.

Peter said to Paul: "You know all those words we wrote 
 Are just the rules of the game and the rules are the first to go."
--Josh Ritter, Girl in the War

My heart ached a little bit each time I unzipped my purse pocket, expecting to fine my Conway Card or Oyster Card there, and finding it wasn't.
I resented the large green highway signs, longing to see the somewhat confusing white motorway signs that would say comforting things like:
Walsingham 3
Ambleside 10,
signaling that places you loved were just around the corner, or just another hike over the mountain.
I missed looking out of my front door, and seeing the sparkling Thames outside.
It is incredible how you can be such a stranger in a foreign land, and then you find that you've made it into a home somehow.
And when you return home, everything is new again.
The air smells like fresh oxygen, and not like eight million people blowing cigarette smoke into your lungs.
Each little restaurant selling burgers and fries is a tiny pocket of food heaven.
You notice the different kinds of dogs walking on the street, and the different kinds of clothes people are wearing.
And as you stand in the bathroom (which you don't have to pay 50 pence for [that's called freedom, folks. We won a war to attain that kind of privilege]), retching up the wretched microwave meal, courtesy of American Airlines,
you hear someone say: "It was so cold, it wasn't even funny."
And you grin, because those are the colloquialisms your ears missed hearing.

The world is a lot more magical and strange than I ever gave it credit for, and it continues to grow only more mystifying.
Which makes your mother's arms even more consoling.
There are few comforts as rich as finding yourself in a place where you irreplaceably belong.

Paul said to Peter: "you got to rock yourself a little harder
 Pretend the dove from above is a dragon and your feet are on fire."
 "But I got a girl in the war, Paul, the only thing I know to do 
 Is turn up the music and pray that she makes it through."
--Girl in the War

Friday, May 3, 2013

bloody oblation wholly for him alone

With no other light or guide than the one that burned in my heart.
This guided me more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
--him I knew so well--
there in a place where no one appeared.

O guiding night! 
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united the Lover with his beloved, 
transforming the beloved in her Lover.
Upon my flowering breast 
-John of the Cross

Hey, Samson! Hey Samson!, cried all the annoying big kids next door, Where's your hair, Samson? Where's your hair gone?
Samson curled himself up into the fetal position on his bed and cried himself to sleep.

He was awakened by an all-too familiar set of velvety fingertips touching the cold skin of his bare feet.
"This little piggy went to market; this little piggy stayed home,"
hissed a voice that punctured his happy slumber.
Delilah's heavy whisper woke Samson from his respite from the world.
It took all of the little strength he had left in his muscles not to cringe at the stifling sound.
Her voice hit him like a heavy wave of too-pungent incense spread vigorously by an over-zealous altar-boy.
He felt like he was suffocating in silk.
He could picture her lips forming the words of his least-favorite nursery rhyme.
But he didn't move his eyes from the desert landscape of the white plaster ceiling.
"This little piggy had roast beef; this little piggy had none"
Her soft fingers wiggled each of his toes, her sharply manicured nails scraping his skin.
She must have filed her nails, he thought.
He didn't bite his lip, and he barely blinked.
He exerted every ounce of strength he no longer had towards keeping his body as still as a corpse.
As he listened to Delilah's viperous breath spit out the words of the nursery rhyme, Samson shut up his ears.
"And this little piggy cried: 'wee wee weeee'"
He stopped the hot angry tears that threatened to pour out of his eyes.
He stopped off the hot angry words that threatened to spill out of his throat.
He stopped the blood, bating in his cheeks, as he ignored the feelings of humiliation that came from being treated like a child.
"All the way home"
To be fair, though, a child of five would have had more strength in his body than Samson.
He had been reduced to a bald, helpless baby.
He thought he felt a sharp nail scrape the top of his toe.
He felt a small warm drop of blood spill out of the small scrape.
With a rustle of silk and chiffon, Delilah disappeared.
Samson rolled over and buried his face in his itchy cotton pillow.
The room was quiet except for the buzz of the hot air outside, and the sound of Samson's ribcage shaking with silent sobs.
He didn't roll over again until the pillow was soaked through with hot salty water.
Delilah said to him: look at what you have become, Samson: a worm and no man at all.
Samson looked Delilah straight in the eye and said: I'm not interested in what man can become. I'm not interested in what sort of great things man can achieve, nor how perfect he can be. 
I'm interested in how much a man can love.
Delilah raised her eyebrows and smirked a smile of smut.
Samson bit his lip to hold back the venom he wanted to launch at her.
Not lust, Delilah. 
I don't know with what else I should concern myself.

With a gasp, Samson awoke from his feverish dream.
He found that the sun had finally set and the stars were now shining in the velvet night sky.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

on a sunny wednesday in SOHG café

Joseph, without complaint, took the bumps in the road, the changes to the plan. 
He didn't need to understand everything nor bargain to do things his way.
--Brent Krueger, C.S.C.

"In every truth there is something more than we would have expected, in the love that we receive there is always an element that surprises us.” 
― Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate

"Just because everything's changing, doesn't mean it's never been this way before."
--Regina Spektor's The Call

I walked into a small little church near High Holborn.
Imagine my shock when I found the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar.
Even as I clutched the phone, waiting for a buzz that never came, I couldn't help laughing at the light of the world that was leading a blind man stumbling around the city.
And, like most laughter, that laughter made me fall in love even more.
Those who know us very well indeed know just how to make us laugh.