Wednesday, October 30, 2013

canon of shrews; apocrypha of ingénues

I was sitting crying to you over the phone 
While passing the border from one state to another 
Filled with people whom I couldn't help to relate to 
--King of the World, First Aid Kit

I was instantly smitten with Fr. Dunne's essay on Bernard Lonergan. Because, Fr. Dunne and Bernard Lonergan together seamlessly connected my dreamy Idea Crush of the semester with the Current Preoccupation of Life. 
My Idea Crush is this: 
Singleness of Purpose. 
I am haunted by Singleness of Purpose.
Singleness of Purpose, I think, means that each action of each day is entered into carried out and completed for one and only one reason.
This is almost the antithesis of undergraduate life, because there are five hundred different classes, meetings, and committees that pull you in every different direction.
We talk about juggling activities, not about integrating our activities.
I would liken my daily life to a butterfly darting about from flower to flower, sucking nectar haphazardly where she lands, and not to a beaver, steadily building her dam, each measured action focused towards her creation.
I want singleness of purpose.
I desire it, crave it.
In the midst of swirling attractions and undulating feelings, that idea of singleness of purpose shines as faithfully as Daisy's little green light.
(Gatsby. There's a man with singleness of purpose. I think I'm talking about a different singleness of purpose.)
Like many things, this is all the fault of the Missionaries of Charity. 
They brought this phrase into my vocabulary, as each day, as we prayed before apostolate: "give me singleness of purpose."
Well. Give it to me.
Where is it?
The priest who offers Mass has it; the young wife caring for her baby has it; my father has it.
Where's mine?
So that's the Idea Crush.

And the Current Preoccupation of Life is this, according to Fr. Dunne:

The experience of waiting on God, is I believe, the heart of prayer. It is a waiting on a God who is hidden in the darkness, not only the darkness that comes before and after life but also the darkness that is found again and again during life whenever one is searching for one's way in life. 

I read those words aloud as I sat outside in the grey October afternoon. An October that slipped through my fingers surprisingly swiftly. 
As I walked under the blood red canopy of a row of maples I felt my breath catch in my throat, and I realized that this October swirled by me like an eddy of fall leaves, bringing me right up to the edge of November.
I read those words aloud to my friend who sat next to me, whose sparkle of confidence was hiding under a layer of tears; her usual cut-throat competence had deflated into a puddle of dejection.
If you sit next to a human being, you can usually sense when they feel more like a crumbling chocolate chip cookie than an incarnation of Nike. 
There is a hard layer missing from their outside, and you can see inside of them.
My friend described to me what it was like to see an open heart surgery.
And my mind was boggled, not just because I cannot comprehend what it must be like to slice open someone's body and use a camera to repair their heart.
But mostly because he has seen inside a human being.
You're not supposed to see inside a human being; you're just supposed to see their skin, and hair, and every piece that we've designated as acceptable for public vision.
How thrilling and indescribably awe-ful that you can see inside a human's heart.
You can see into all that darkness and silence that's inside of us.
And like that little camera that projects a picture of the heart onto a screen for the surgeons to examine, if you can see inside the human, you have the opportunity to shed a little light into the interior darkness.

And so I hugged one friend close to me; and I stroked another's hair, assuring them that they are perhaps the most glorious and radiant human beings who have ever graced the earth's crust with the touch of their feet.
A hug is sort of a miracle, because it's a simple touch that somehow manages to communicate to another human that you love them.
So. That's sort of a bit of light in the middle of darkness.
And then Fr. Dunne says:

The waiting is the praying, and the coming of God is the answer to the prayer.

As we wait for God, we find that we cannot just sit stagnant, we must move forward.
But each forward movement is motivated by this waiting.
This waiting is God's singleness of purpose.
We find that in the waiting, through the waiting, we can and, in the words of the Beatitudes will "see God." 
Like the pure of heart, we will one day see God in the darkness.

Purity of heart, in the words of Kirkegaard, is to "will one thing."
Purity of heart is Singleness of Purpose.
A single desire of the heart.
A single yearning for a being to manifest Himself in the darkness.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

a widdershins welcome

It is always sad when someone leaves home, unless they are simply going around the corner and will return in a few minutes with ice-cream sandwiches.
― Lemony Snicket, Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid

If I ever have a daughter, I am sure that one night, as we sit in front of our homey little hearth together, I will impart to her various bits of wisdom that I have collected over the years.
I have not yet collected any of this wisdom, but I plan to do so in the near future.
Hopefully, by this particular evening, I will have amassed a great stockpile of wisdom I can share with my daughter.
She will sit in the rocking chair across from me [in order to implement a spirit of a hospitality so welcoming it borders on aggressive, we will have a whole army of rocking chairs stationed in front of our home's hearth] , as she crochets delicate little scarves or napkins or afghans. 
I am quite sure her father or uncle or grandmother will teach her how to crochet, since I do not possess that skill myself.
Or perhaps she will be a brilliant autodidact who will teach herself to not only the lauded --and to me, utterly mysterious-- craft of crochet, but also learn the finer subtleties of string theory, and develop a frenzied passion for phrenology, all through what I imagine will be her voracious reading tendencies and insatiable desire to learn about the vast and incomprehensible universe.
Hopefully, her father or aunt or grandfather will also teach her how to darn socks. My only regret in life is that I have never learned how to darn socks, a practice which I think is not only economical and sustainable, but it is the only activity of strictly bare-bones practicality and sensibleness of which I heartily approve.

And as we sit together in front of our hearth, my daughter crocheting, and I reading Alec Guinness: the Authorised Biography, (which I still will not have finished, even then. I will have been "working away at it" for three decades or so).  I will heave a sigh. 
For I will feel very palpably at that moment how time is flying by (as time is always wont to do), and already my daughter is fourteen. I will shake my head. Fourteen. It seems as if only yesterday I was cradling her in my arms instead of an unwieldy tome detailing Sir Alec's attempts at theatrical success in post-war England. 
And I will sigh, and probably clear my throat, and say: Belinda, my dear. (or perhaps her name will be Lucinda or Esmeralda or Guinevere. A good, robust 19th century name that packs a hefty Romantic punch. None of my children will be saddled with twenty-first century names, names that are airy and postmodern and have no weight attached.)
Anastasia, I will say, meditatively, in a maternal, vanilla voice that sounds like lavender smoke and lilac soap, The most valuable use of one's free time is by learning to penetrate the idiosyncratic foibles of whatever bus system (or systems) are indigenous to the environs of the metropolis wherein you will found your future home.
Anastasia or Eleanor--whatever name she is eventually christened--will listen and take to heart whatever pearls of wisdom I will drop into her lap, but all the while continuing her crochet, her deft and nimble fingers moving the needles at a mind-boggling rapid pace.
I have a distinct feeling she will be an incurable multi-tasker, a trait which I believe is inherited genetically through one's mother.
I will caution her that a bus system is like a romantic escapade in many ways. And by learning to navigate a bus system, she should be able to navigate the mine-field of young romance armed with the incomparable weapon of: Experience.
Like romantic escapades, a bus system is filled with excitement and daring and takes you to stops you had never hopped off at before.
It also brings with it a great deal of potential loneliness, and devastation and sometimes humiliation very comparable to running after a bus that you just missed by a few seconds.
They say (and I will make sure to pass this on to Marietta or Olivia,) that your first love is the deepest.
I will tell her not to believe them. 
But I will warn her that an envisioned ideal public transportation system is usually the modeled after the first one you fell for.
The London bus system.
I will sigh, and then tell her of the London system, my memory and my heart's holy affections still stained with the happy recollections of a system so efficient and timely, so straightforward and yet intricate, that my heart could never quite be free of it. 
My heart is haunted by those tantalizing memories of rain streaming down the upper windows of a double-decker. 
The deepest pockets of my memory will hold onto the visual map of route number 74 for a long while.
I had never known a bus system before.
I remember the fateful January day when my friend said: "The bus system is intimidating at first. You just have to break through the fear, hop on, and you'll figure it out."
I did not think such seemingly practical advice would forever change the course of my life.
I will tell Belinda of the sorrow that comes from leaving that first, tender love behind.
And I will warn her of that fatal attraction that afflicts all young bus system explorers.
Sometimes, young starry-eyed woman are fatally attracted to a man, for no other reason than he reminds her of her first love. 
This is the most dangerous of attractions, because it is attraction mixed with the heady and potent force of nostalgia.
I will warn her against bus systems that seem, on the surface, to be laid out neatly, stirring that inner fire of hers that remembers the clear-headed order of the London bus system with delight.
These bus systems appear to run on time, and to have straight-forward routes.
But they will inevitably let you down.
And you should not keep returning to the same stop over and over again, simply because it's listed as a boarding point for the bus.
You must shake the dust of that bus system from your heels, move on, and remember that the bus rider who is brave enough to move on will be rewarded with a new route.

I will wistfully tell young Christina that, just like buses who are always late, past flames will pop up unexpectedly, and usually inconveniently, and they will muddle the clarity and efficiency of the whole system. You will think: wait. maybe THIS is the 310 that will take me up to Islington. And you will waste valuable time considering the importance and significance of a stray bus.
This will happen because you have forgotten the number one rule of bus systems: late buses, stray buses, buses whose time has passed have no importance. 
And you only think they are significant because you have not yet found the correct bus.
Approach them or ignore them at your own peril.

Finally, I will warn young Rosalind that buses are veritable incubators of potential vulnerability and humiliation.
You will wait for a bus, wait for a bus, wait for a bus, then throw your hands up in the air and tell the bus to have marital relations with itself, and decide to walk. About five minutes later the bus will jauntily roll down the road next to your sidewalk.
A girl must draw on every ounce of character and poise to continue walking, head held high, ignoring the looks of passengers, and the rude glare of the buses headlights.
Those yawning vacuums of windows will stare at you, and you will keep walking with singleness of purpose, ignoring those pointed, glassy stares.
Courage, at least as bus system lovers experience it, is to not let one's step falter in the face of humiliation. 

Young Belinda or Juliet or Cordelia will have probably heard enough by now, and signal that the conversation is over by returning her crochet project to her work basket.
As she goes up to her room to retire, I will bite my lip to keep from shouting out a nagging reminder to floss before she brushes. And I will watch the remnants of the fire die away, as I remember my bus-riding days.
I will hope she experiences the thrills of running to catch buses, and feel the frustrated tears that flood one's eyes after missing buses. I pray she rides buses alone at night in the rain, rides them after dates at the opera, rides them when she's crying, rides them when she's giddy with laughter.
And I hope that she will run off to board many buses that will take her to adventures in all the exotic destinations that can be found inside the boundaries of her city limits.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

miss ripped-up jeans got to rule the world

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:--
And, as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That, if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy
--A Midsummer Night's Dream

Some bringer of that joy.
A someone who supplies the imagination with the power to form what once was nothing a chronological and physical moment in the world.
Where do these excursions into the unfettered imagination originate?
From where do they come; and who sends them?

The most frustrating aspect of dreams is their elusiveness, their ephemeral nature.
Dreams flicker onto the backs of your eyelids.
They come alive in the darkness, and then, this is the very frustrating thing about them: they disappear at dawn.
No matter how tightly you try to grasp at dreams, they fade. They fade so quickly.
And I find that mesmerizing and annoying.
Annoying, because as soon as I wake up, I can see the last scraps of story vividly stamped in my brain. Simultaneously, even as I watch and remember it, I can feel the evening dream slipping out of my grasp, it grows fuzzier and more faded, more unclear, less delineated, more of a sigh and less of a word, the longer I hold it in my memory.

Mesmerizing, because the one or two images that float through the back of my consciousness tantalizingly hint at the nocturnal stories behind them.
They hint of night-time adventures that only my unconscious could conjure into being.

Sometimes, in the middle of the day, a vision flashes into my head.
I see myself running out of an Irish pub, running back to Trastevere. But, as I run, the sweet and cold Roman rain falls in buckets from the iridescent sky, pelting the church spires, bouncing off the cobblestones, and splashing off of the fountains by Santa Maria in Vallicella.
I remember running down the bright main road, then into a dark side street, which I determined was the correct street by a hunch and a gut feeling. (Two of humanity's best navigational tools, naturally.)
My skin tingles.
The air pulses around me, shimmering with the cold of the rainwater, and the heat of my body.
The atmosphere is vibrating with an impending sense of adventure.
My heart beats faster and faster as I careen down the labyrinth of streets that follow the voluptuous bends of the River Tiber.
At the end of an alley, there is a rickety set of stairs that leads up to the road above the riverbank.
With a breathless prayer, and a shout of relief, I clamber up the stairs, out of the black maze of streets, glistening from their slick coat of rain.
The lights of the street lamps by the river sparkle in imitation of the headlights of the reckless Roman taxis and the insect-like European cars roaring along the road.
I find a crosswalk, just as the "walk" sign ends, and dash through a blinking signal to the other side of the lungotevere, to the bridge.
In the middle of Ponte Mazzini, I look down at the mucky Tiber being washed clean in the rain.
I run down the slanted street until I reach the little vicolo that signals "you're home", and find shelter from the unending torrent of water from the sky.

Out of breath, and soaked to the skin, elated from the run, I feel in my bones nothing but Joy.

Monday, October 14, 2013

we will find dying and rising equally assured

Despite outward appearances, I am an artist, not an intrepid polytopian.
(photo copyright Peter Ringenberg)

At 11:23am on Sunday, October the Thirteenth, I stamped my foot stubbornly on the resistant cement sidewalks of that encircle the "Venite Ad Me Omnes" statue, and I looked up to the sky and said defiantly to no one in particular, except for perhaps the voices of interior critics in my head:
d-mmit. I am an artist.

And, feeling an immense weight fall off my shoulders into the red geraniums at the base of the statue, I clip-clopped off down the sidewalk to light a candle.
Under the window of my favorite little icebox room, I saw the most brilliant of all fall leaves.
I have been busy.
Too busy, I realize, as I walk briskly by the dazzling display of beauty that blankets the sidewalks and the grass, to pick up a leaf and marvel at it. 
My teal planner is sadly empty of its former scarlet, crimson, and gold inhabitants.
But this leaf.
This leaf was blood red, shot through with veins of a deeper vermillion. Flecks of sunset orange covered the front and streaks of a deep forest green striped its back.
I almost walked by it.
Then I paused.
Picked it up, and smiled.

I heard a voice say to no one in particular: "I do that all the time."
I turned around, and saw an elderly lady smiling at me.
I smiled back.
"I just can't resist them," I agreed.

I walked to my candle.
And I stuck the leaf under the flame, for old time's sake.
But also, because now I felt I had something to actually sacrifice.
My child's play at daily offerings had become something real.
The more precious the leaf, the more dear the sacrifice.

But no matter how dear the offering, I have found there is no perfect sacrifice.
I think that realization came in the moment between lifting my boot off the ground and emphatically stomping it down on the hard ground.
In that moment I realized that nothing I brought into this world, anything I assisted in creating, was ever going to be what I wanted it to be.
Whether created beauty was the tale of three women trekking through their new world, or five other stories I feel starting to manifest themselves in my imagination, or the baby girl that I will one day hold in my arms, nothing I bring into this world will match the ideals I have in my head of what I know it should be and can be.
Even as we catch breath-taking glimpses of that perfection in our creations, I realize that no art will ever live up to ideal of perfect beauty.
Even Venus de Milo loses her arms; a child will make a mistake that makes a mother blush with shame; and our rapacious desires can turn a love that is pure and good into something ugly and bent.

But, not despite of, but because of that, making art, creating beauty, choosing to love, are the greatest goods I can imagine.
In the face of imperfections, to embrace those imperfections, and keep striving for the ideal is the very struggle that is found in the restless heart of life.
Venus de Milo is worth sculpting, even if some fool will break off her arms, and time will erode the crisp lines of her face; a story is worth telling, even if the words are mangled; and love is worth forging, even if it walks the delicate tightrope of virtue that spans the cavernous chasm of our concupiscence.

It is not difficult to bring Good into the world. But it is costly.
The greatest goods we can achieve are those that usually are found on the other side of that cavern, if we are going to find that great beauty, it requires us to keep our eyes fixed on the light that will lead us through the darkness all around us.
They have a saying in the theatre that a final dress rehearsal that is a train wreck portends a good opening night.
Really, they say this because rehearsal is the time that actors set aside to make all their mistakes.
In rehearsal, it is the duty of each artist to make as many mistakes as possible. Through this process of refinement, they come upon that golden moment, that moment of beauty that is at the heart of their art.

But, also, they say this, because it is the nature of the world to fall.
It is the nature of human beings to discover the sort of awfulness we are capable of, we realize that if we are not paying attention, we can flub each line, find ourselves in the wrong spot, forget what we were supposed to say or who we were supposed to be.
We can forget to focus on the story we are telling, we can get so caught up in ourselves and our performance, we forget to assist our fellow actors.
After discovering the sort of terrible mediocrity we are capable of reducing ourselves to, an actor has two options: despair or courage.
Despair says we were never that wonderful in the first place; and isn't it true that human beings should never seek greatness, because we are doomed to failure.
We should be content with an average life of averageness, seeking nothing beautiful beyond the boundaries of the spheres within which our role as placed us.
But courage is when you lose your way, but you keep moving forward and you find that beyond that fall was a resurrection all the more beautiful for having been brought so low.
You find that the day after that dress rehearsal is an opening night, redounding with all the beauty you were seeking.
A beauty which is wise, more intentional, more focused, as we say, as it actively avoids the mistakes and pitfalls it fell into the night before.

The story of Good Friday and Easter Morning is a story that the actor lives out each opening of each show; the story they tell does not return to pre-Good Friday conditions, it becomes something wholly different, something more beautiful, something more wonderful.
The stories we live, create, and share are stories that remake us.
This is the magic of story-telling, the magic of theatre: magic that weaves a story which takes us on a journey into a new world, and into a new self.
It is for that magic that I stomped my foot on the ground at 11:23am, and declared to the silent stone statue that I may be an imperfect human being with a lot to learn, but I was going to transform the world with stories until the day I die.

But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not;
Since it has so ordered been
By a time to rise and a time to fall;
I'll gently rise and I'll softly call
Good night and joy be with you all
--The Parting Glass

Sunday, October 13, 2013

throbbing scarlet heart

come to the aid of your children in the daily trials which life brings to each one; 
and grant that, thanks to the efforts of all, the darkness will not prevail over the light.

There are days I wake up and wonder why I didn't get to bed earlier.
Usually because I never got enough sleep to actually dream.
And on the rare nights I do dream, they are strange, restless visions of tech rehearsals gone amok or my theology professor leading a small--but valiant--coterie to against a herd of zombies.
We are fashioned out of the same stuff as dreams are made of, as Prospero claims; if you are what you dream, then I probably need some serious help.

And there are days you wake up late for Mass, and you realize there are five hundred pressing items on your to-do list, that stand between you and a flight to Poland, and you wonder how one hundred sixty-eight hours will be enough to get them all done.

And, caught between five different possible directions your life could take, and hundreds possibilities that bombard you each day, you begin to grumble that "life at the crossroads" is less of an endlessly thrilling adventure than advertised.
There are some days I feel like a gerbil being tossed around the empty cavernous interior of a dirigible.
It's like I signed up to do a juggling act for the seventh grade talent show, but I keep flubbing the act; dropping balls under pressure.

Depressing realization number two: no matter how hard one tries, one will probably never be perfect, barring divine intervention or the Immaculate Conception.
Thankfully, I realized today at 10:39 am, there is a intervention of the divine that happens daily. We call it grace. Still, without it, I've found that my life is riddled with imperfections more than perfections. 
And if you look at the world around you, filled with corrupt justice systems, dysfunctional governments, and people who steal bikes and kidnap toddlers, then you realize that your imperfections are simply manifestations of a pattern that holds true throughout all of creation.

And in so much darkness, the little efforts we make towards erasing imperfections and bringing forth perfection seem absolutely laughable.

But the one duty I feel a candle has is to ensure that darkness does not prevail over light.
And no one asked the little candle if it was made of unblemished, all-natural beeswax made by certified organic, fair-trade, farming practices of harmonious communities of bees.
No one told the candle that its particular shade of light was incorrect, because it burned more blue than the amber glow of the candles who surrounded it.
No one really cares, because a candle's duty is to burn.
And it may not be perfect light, but it will be light.
And the very fact that it is not darkness is a victory worth celebrating.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

lavish doses of certainty

The saints are the true bearers of light within history, for they are men and women of faith, hope and love.
--Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est

Saints are altogether mysterious beings.
For it is not only the actions of the person on earth during their life that qualifies someone to be a saint; but also what they do in the next world, after their death.
That would seem a bizarre statement, but it reminds me of Madeleine L'Engle's favorite theme: kairos.
If we believe that there is a time outside of time, then it only makes sense that the actions you take when you have shuffled off this temporal coil are just as every bit important as the ones you've accomplished during your quick stay in the realms of created, clock-ticking-on-the-wall time.  
There is a time more real, more full of our realized selves, yet less full of our selves.
The saint in contemplation, lost to self in the mind of God is in kairos. 
The artist at work is in kairos. The child at play, totally thrown outside herself in the game, be it building a sand castle or making a daisy chain, is in kairos. 
In kairos we become what we are called to be as human beings, co-creators with God, touching on the wonder of creation.
-Madeleine L'Engle

 Artists and saints are both the men and women who draw out for the rest of us the mystery and illuminate the magic of kairos.
They are men and women who have shown us what it means to exit the “self” and enter kairos, to enter a beauty and a reality outside one's self.
When Boticelli painted his Birth of Venus, or Monet captured the fuzzy lighting of water lilies in a garden, they illustrated for humans the beauty that is open to us when we live a life of acute attention to the movements of grace in the physical world.
 Mary, perhaps is the most stunning example of both artistry and sainthood.
A woman, first and foremost, of complete faith and hope.
Hope, Benedict says, is practiced by using patience and humility.
Humility to trust that God is God and you are the created, and that in the end, there will be light after darkness. And that each drop of light you create is just a tiny ray. But it is your solemn and holy obligation to light that light. Because the only other option is darkness. There is no middle ground between light and darkness. Some people would call it shades of grey. But shades of grey simply means light.
Light that is either dying or coming to life.
And Patience is allowing yourself to live in kairos rather than chronos; to live in the the fullness of time.  

It is her thoughts that are revealed, beyond her actions or words; we see her interior disposition.
--Kevin Grove, CSC

Mary's artistry is revealed in her Magnificat.
Her longest speech on record is hardly made up of her own words.
It is a psalm of praise, woven together of all the words of the psalms before her, the songs of men who knew who God was.
It is the song of a lightbearer. The song of a woman who knows that light shines through her into the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
Mary is, perhaps, the perfect artist.
An artist is called to create, in an imitation of the primordial act of the Creator.
But human artists, we have found, cannot create something out of nothing.
Artist cannot create some completely new beauty, divorced of all inspiration from the images in this world which influence their imaginations.
An artist absorbs and soaks in the world around them, whether it be the Greek mythology spinning around in their heads, or a flock of water lilies on a quiet garden pond.
The infinities of splendors that surround them provide the vocabulary of beauty for their imaginations.
And they say to each vision of wonder they encounter: Yes. That flame we call inspiration catches fire from the vision, and adds its bit to the beauty. The artist's response is then: YES, and... 
In theatre, the game of "Yes, AND..." is essential to creating.
The game of yes, and is at the heart of every play, it is the impetus of every plot, it is that spark of joy at the center of a game of pretend.
Creation happens in a community, in a great game of Yes, And.
We are not given many words of Mary, nor are we given many mighty deeds she accomplished.
But while not everyone cannot imitate Joan of Arc and save France, nor mimic Catherine of Sienna and upbraid a pope or two, it is within the capabilities of every human to mold our own dispositions after the shape of the inner disposition of one first century Jewish lady.
This woman's response to the infinities of splendor that were thrust into her life was a meditative pondering; holding each wonder in the creative silence of a heart.
And a relentless, unwavering: Yes, And...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

one bicycle more, one water bottle less

"They encourage the use of the bicycle, which for a woman, can never be proper."
--Fanny, On the Verge

I sat outside of Debartolo, mourning the loss of my stolen bicycle.
And I discovered something.
I may not have many talents.
( Sidebar: I do, however, think that I'm fairly decent at bossing people around. So come see the show I directed! They managed to make beautiful art, despite my best performance of Overbearing Dictator.)

But let me tell you one thing I have found out I am really good at:
keeping score
Not at football games, though, unfortunately. 
The only numbers I chose to keep track of at football games are how many minutes are still left on that god-forsaken clock. When we're down to single digits, my heart starts racing, my blood pounds through my veins excitedly, and I finally understand why people find these games so exhilarating. My entire being cheers vigorously but silently: Come on...come on! we're almost there! You can do it! Just a few more minutes to go! Almost there...almost there... ahhhhh a time out. Blast.

But, in life, I'm really, really good at keeping score.
If I ever do something nice for someone, I can see the scoreboard flash in my head:

Me: 1.
Other Person: 0.

Go me.

Sainthood, then, is when you have more Holiness Points than the  AHP (Average Holiness Points) count of the plebeians who make up most of the world's population. 
So, some sample statistics:

Approx. Number of Holiness Points at Time of Death:
St. Francis of Assisi: 2.5 million.
Plebeian Populace Member: 60.

And if you hit an acceptable number of Holiness Points (60 doesn't sound bad. Maybe 70 is the minimum?) then you'll get into a place called Purgatory. Where you'll magically be able to earn more Holiness Points.
And then if you earn a good number, you'll finally get into Heaven, where we'll be able to cash in all our Holiness Points for an endless party, where we get to sit around and talk to every other cool person who made it there for eternity.

That's a great system, right?
Candidly, that's a stupid system.

Because it sounds suspiciously a lot like a competition, or a sports game, or like small boys competing in a school yard.
It sounds a lot like what life would look like if life were about accruing points.
If that is what life was all about then we would all know what we would have to do in order to be fulfilled, successful, and happy people. We would just accrue points.
Points, in post-modern, 21st century America, usually translate to: money, money, multiple houses, money, cars, prime real-estate, and oh wait: money.
Money buys you things.
Things are worth money.
Money buys you more things worth more money.
I think money + things= something called your "net worth" but don't quote me on that.
I think "net worth" can also be used to measure how much success you've gained.
If only things were that simple.

Because, (at least in my experience), accruing points (whether they be dollars, touchdowns, compliments, or Holiness Points) is never as delightfully fulfilling as it so nearly promises to be.
It seems to me that life is more about falling in love.
I've never been In Love, but I've read a lot of fairy tales, and I've seen my dad spend hours at my mother's sickbed, and from these, I've deduced that when people are in love--head over heels in love--they do crazy things.
Things that, in a points-accruing world, really make no sense.
Things like: letting someone go ahead of you in line, and smiling at people when you feel like frowning, and forgiving someone when they cause you immeasurable pain.
If you're still operating in the world of points and earning points and trying to gain all these points, then you seem to miss the point entirely.
The point seems to me to be about falling in love.
About giving until you can count every gift you have given as a gift you have received.
An offering that, to you, was counted as a privilege to be able to make.

We bless something to show that it belongs to someone other than ourself.
We bless something or someone to show that that other is an offering to the one with whom we are in love.
Which is why Abraham put Isaac on that altar.
Because Isaac was a gift that belonged to someone who was not Abraham.
And so Abraham blessed Isaac.
Sometimes, when we bless something--offer up something to our someone with our lips, He will demand it with our actions as well.
It's at times like those when we're asked to give up something we'd rather not, and weren't expecting to have to, when we are tempted to try to bring our little points system into the picture.
Look, I've given you this and this and, see, even this! Do you really have to take that

We are very picky about which points we want to earn.
Falling in love means you don't get to chose.
It means you offer what you have, and you receive what you're given.
Which may sound like resigning yourself or settling, but it's really just reality.
A reality which insists that you are not the center of your story. That your story really belongs to a greater narrative, of which you can find only hints.
Sometimes, in our amateurish efforts at plot development, we try to make life a little more difficult for ourselves than it ought to be, but we've been given examples of what it looks like to be in love.
We know how the story should go.
We know fundamentally our role in the story is.
It means waking up each day, and saying: Yes, letting our Fiats be our morning offerings.

For the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.
(Prophet, and Winner, "Most Outlandish Biblical Name" Championship, circa 300 B.C. )

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

as He unfolds the rose

Whether you speak to one person or to many—you are speaking to the world.
--Anton Juan

I hoisted up my five bags that I had been dragging along with me, and I plopped them down in a chair in the black box theatre where I have spent 95% of senior year.
Home, my heart sighed, before I had time to correct it.
Right on its heels, someone laughed: "Do you live in this theatre, Renée? You're always here."

And so I sit here, learning to let go a little bit.
Trying to catch my breath before the great plunge.
I am directing a show. (Come see it.)
Which means that there are week-long gaps between little half-entries in my journal,
which means that my diet has consisted mostly of chocolate for the past six weeks,
which means that my world has been completely soaked, submerged, saturated in this kaleidoscope world that we have gotten to call home for the past month or two.

So, for a certain stretch of time right before the show opens, it is incumbent upon a director to be extremely picky.
Everything that is not 100% correct is question, critiqued, fiddled with, and examined (and double-examined).
But then, there comes this magical moment, which I just experienced this morning at 10:13am.
Where I found myself detaching myself a bit from this little piece of my soul. (As I type this, I feel like I'm making this show sound like a Harry-Potterian horcrux. Maybe it is, in a way.)
I start to imagine what life will be without breathing, thinking, constantly dwelling in this world inhabited by three ridiculous and intelligent women and one very versatile gentleman.
My mind has been filled with Fanny, Mary, and Alexandra, and their magical little Terra Incognitas filled with Grovers, Alphonses, and Mr. Coffees.
I must confess, I find myself a little trepidatious about what life looks beyond them, without them.

But in those moments, the fact that they are living, breathing human beings completely outside of me, bringing to life what I have only seen in my head in a way that only they could helps me to take a step back. I look at what is in front of me, not as my creation, but as something that belongs to them, to all those who made it; to those who took it upon themselves that story in some way.

I find myself being delighted when I find parts of my ephemeral vision have become so precisely incarnated on the stage, and being surprised by joy through moments I could never have conceived.
The director, right before opening transforms from a critic to a lover.
I remember the moment I first read the story and was utterly enchanted.
I remove the critical, precise scales from my eyes, and remember that first enchantment.
An enchantment that I set in motion, but whose magic is worked by others.
And I find myself falling in love with these people, with this story all over again.
It has become something I could have never have found on my own.
And that's the very part of theatre I live for--when an actor says: what if we do it this way; why did you tell us to do it that way?; what if we did this instead? And then you get to say the happiest three words in the universe:
I was wrong.
You are right.
Art is much more fun when you get to be wrong once in a while.
And then a moment is created that is something you never could have made happen on your own.
And that is the moment I live for.
When I can let go and watch beautiful people tell a story that they have taken into themselves--the story has become a part of them, or they are a part of the story. 
I'm never sure which way it goes.
And that's the phrase that I too glibly toss around: theatre magic.
So I just sit back and watch them shine, and I delight in it.

What comes next? I have no idea! Many mysteries to come.
I am on the verge.
--On the Verge, Eric Overmyer