Thursday, January 31, 2013

cœur du monde

“You must conceive yourself looking up at a world lighted, warmed, and resonant with music"
--C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image

Your home is at the core of your universe, and everything is centered around that. Our scientific minds laugh at the ancients and medievals and their heavenly spheres. We scoff at their simplistic geo-centric cosmology.
In C.S Lewis' The Discarded Image, he illuminates the warm symmetry and harmonious beauty of such a musical medieval world view. As the celestial spheres made their music of rotation, they created heavenly harmonies that only celestial beings could hear.
The sun, the moon, the wandering planets all journey inside the fixed firmament of stars, in a dance started by the Prime Mover, impelled by His creation's love for Him, and continued in praise of him.
And of course, is such an arrangement is factually incorrect.
But it's a beautiful work of organization and art.
And it illuminates a beautiful truth about human beings:
Your map of the world is usually arranged around your home.

When I picture London in my head, I picture Trafalgar Square right smack at the center.


Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled, // And each man fixed his eyes before his feet
.-- T.S. Eliot
This is the center of my London universe. It's home. I know its character, I know how to orient myself in relation to the rest of the world when I stand here.
Your home is the center of your world.

When I picture the home of Notre Dame, at the center of my imagination is the Grotto.

At the beginning of my freshman year, I cursed the luck that put me in the dorm that was literally the farthest away from the performing arts center. Dumbest Location on Campus, I silently deemed it in my head silently. Well, not silently. When I related my lack of approval to my sister, she was sympathetic, but pointed out I was near the Basilica and the Grotto (and, when the construction next door eventually ended, I was next to the office building with free muffins every Monday and endless supplies of coffee and candy. Color me content.)
I learned very quickly that being close to the Basilica was a boon for those early Lit Choir Sunday mornings.
I learned almost as quickly to pop into the Basilica on the way back home from a busy day, and just breathe for a second, or write a bit, or just look up at the watery circles of light playing above the baptismal fountain, and find some silence and solace in the midst of chaos.
Somewhere in there, among the angels dancing on the ceiling, and the lights streaming through the stained glass windows, I found a home.

And then, not quite as quickly, I learned how to love the Grotto.
I learned to stop by each morning after a run, to light a candle, hold some leaves in cupped hands, how to seek solace there in a flood of tears, how to burst out singing there in a tidal wave of joy.
Home is where we learn our greatest lessons.
I learned how to humbly say I was sorry, and I learned what it means to forgive.
How to be honest, with myself, with others, with God, with a brutal honesty that is never very flattering, but always very beautiful.
(I also learned how to put out fire when flames from a rogue candle start licking at one's scarf.)

In rain, in misty morning sunshine, in snow, in the glow of a cold November night, I have grown to recognize the warm glow of Grotto candles as a beacon of home.
And even as I find new homes in new places, it remains the heart of my world, and the rest of the globe ripples out from there.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

fragrance & fertility of euphoristia

Today, I woke up in Euphoria.
The world was excited to see me this morning; and the feeling was mutual.
As I ran in the bright morning air, the wind and sunshine carried a potpourri of scents and spices towards my nose.
The pungent scent of rich Indian food.
The spice of street vendors.
The sweet smell of waffles and powdered sugar.
The water.
The perfume of the woman walking upwind of me.

As we passed over the bridge, which spanned the sparkling water with an elegant grace, we walked in silence, just soaking in the wind, which whipped the sunshine through the atmosphere.
The sky felt lighter and brighter.

~

My feet decided to walk into a church and I was forced to follow.
I walked into a cloud of music.
Whatever it was the violins were making, I wanted to be that, that beauty, that reverberation of airwaves that makes the atmosphere surge with melancholy and desire, I wanted to be a part of that.
That magic movement of sound that made me yearn to turn into a beam of light. 
The cello played upon horsehairs and my heartstring. 
I wanted to close my eyes, to cut off al senses but my hearing; to let nothing but that music fill me up. But even when I closed my eyes, I felt the music begging me to open them. 
Prodding me to open my eyes as wide as I could, to soak in the entire world.
When you're filled to the brim with beauty, it usually spills out in two ways:
through your mouth, in the form of a smile, 
through your eyes, in the form of tears.

I saw an elderly man remove him glasses and wipe his eyes.
He sighed
And I sighed.
Both of us sat, awash and afloat in a sea of sound.
I think my heart was broken, but it has never sounded so sweet.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

no undertaking ever surpassed my courage

“Grown ups are complicated creatures, full of quirks and secrets.” 
 ― Roald Dahl




As we've all slowly turned 21, one-by-one I have noted that I and my compatriots are increasingly inching out of the world of childhood, and into the world of adulthood. But it doesn't feel any different. You are not invested with all the superhuman powers of invincibility and infallibility that your mom and dad had. (They definitely had them when you were seven. I would have sworn my parents, vested with all the power, wisdom and knowledge that comes with being Grown Up, were invincible and infallible. Suddenly, one day I was fifteen, and I had forgotten my parents were supposed to be infallible.)
As we thought of our current diet of egg-and-toast and tea, we laughed wistfully at the idea that grown ups get to eat sweets each day. 
The sight of chocolate alone has become enough to feed me for a month.

And it's strange, that even when you're grown up, you're not tall enough to reach the highest branches.
Some questions are still unanswerable. In fact, questions you thought you could find the answers to you realize that you didn't really know them at all.
And there are some burdens that are just too heavy to haul all on your own.
And the creatures underneath the bed haven't disappeared, and sometimes I don't feel quite brave enough to fight them.

But I think that's the beautiful thing about childhood.
You never really leave it.
When you're young, you imagine that one day you will pass through a strange and solemn rite that turns you into a Grown Up.
Not really.
You realize that growing isn't the same as Growing Up. In fact, Growing Up can often stunt the actual growing.
Childhood is a time of constant growing.
And I've found that being Grown Up isn't really any different.

"When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” 
-- C.S. Lewis


Monday, January 28, 2013

no one greater by whom to swear


"To study is to put at risk everything we think we already know. [...] When we allow our minds to be shaped and expanded by new or deeper questions and perspectives, we may temporarily lose what we though was the foundation on which our lives were built. We can come to see how weak the foundation actually was. [...] But just as conversion is a lifelong process, so is the cycle of death and resurrection that goes with study. We keep losing it all, only to gain it back even more."
--John P. Reardon

Our PLS seminar [yes, I'm back with PLS. But just for the semester. It's my London fling. Some people run into British models on the tube for their London fling, but I lock myself in a study room with 17th century philosophers. What can I say? The spirit is willing but the siren song of Great Books is too tempting for my weak, weak flesh.] has spent a the past two weeks reading Sir Francis Bacon and René Descartes.

This is a statue of Sir Francis Bacon. Upon seeing him, we shrieked gleefully, somewhat like tweenage girls at a One Direction concert, except much louder.
Bacon and Descartes are both Enlightenment intellectuals. If there's one thing I'm not, it's an Enlightenment intellectual. They are obsessed, but obsessed with the idea of human knowledge, true and certain knowledge. Descartes, poor fellow, has doubted himself into a corner. The poor man actually wrote the words: "I will suppose not a supremely good God, the source of truth, but rather an evil genius, supremely powerful and clever, who has directed his entire effort at deceiving me."
(Oh my. Oh hon. Oh hon. Descartes, darling: check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Too late.
He goes on:)
"I will regard the heavens, the air, the earth, colors, shapes, sounds, and all external things as nothing but the bedeviling hoaxes of my dreams, with which he lays snares for my credulity."
Oof.
Eepsters.
Acute paranoia, anyone?

But, in all seriousness, I do sympathize with Descartes.
(There are very few of us René(e)s in the world, and we have to stick together, you know.)
The human mind is a powerful thing: once it sets its mind to something it has an astounding and miraculous aptitude to excel at that thing.
When a human's mind shifts into the gear of invention, the results are the cotton gin, the steam engine, glass skyscrapers, and space shuttles. When it wanders down the path of imagination you are left with the miracles of the Divine Comedy, MacbethThe Lord of the Rings, Pride & PrejudiceThe Lion King, and Casablanca.
When the mind sets itself to doubt, you find that, like Descartes it can doubt so well. Nothing is beyond the reach of doubt. Everything is called into question.
Descartes has found doubt to be a much more wild and unwieldy object than he imagined it to be.
He tries to pull himself out of the hole that he dug, and it fails.
So, following him down into that pit, how do we then get out?

~

One time I was talking to my father, who has never written meditations on a first philosophy or a new method for the scientific method.
His mind is not so much preoccupied with itself, but with the world around him. If there's one word I would describe my father with, it is certain. Whatever an equivocator looks like, he is the opposite of that.
But one day, he told me, as we sat on a piano bench together:
"Renée, the older you get, the more you understand how little you actually can ever know"
In this immensely improbable and seemingly infinite universe, we experience such a small slice of it.
Our small perspectives on the world lacks so much breadth and depth and wideness.
There is an endless amount of knowledge outside our grasp. And however much we grasp, it will always slip through our hands.

~

What leads us out of the cave of constant doubt is beauty.
I don't know if I exist, or if you exist, or if any ideas are clear, distinct and certain.
How can I know? Knowledge and doubt work on equal playing fields. You can know something, I can doubt it; we find ourselves at an impasse.
To survive, you simply have to make like Puddleglum and set your foot down somewhere.
You have to make a leap of faith.

I regard the heavens, the air, the earth, colors, shapes, sounds, and all external things not as "bedeviling hoaxes of my dreams," but as wonders.
Miracles that take my breath away with their awe and wonder.
I can doubt that a sunset exists, of course.
But I can't doubt it's beauty.
Even if the sunset is just a vision of a dream being fed to me by an evil genius, it's still an undeniably beautiful vision.
I may think that all human bodies I see each day are just figments of my imagination, and all my senses deceive me, but I will never pass a human on the street who does not strike me with their beauty, nor a Nutella cannoli (real or imaginary) that does not paralyze my taste buds in an ecstasy of culinary delight.
I will never look at love and scoff. I may doubt it's existence, I may question the purity of the motives, but love itself can only be beautiful.

Knowledge is so overrated and so fleeting; but a thing of beauty is a joy forever. It's loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.
(that's my boy Keats, y'all. He didn't worry about whether or not the nightingale existed. He just wrote a poem about it.)



"Ideas create idols; only wonder leads to knowing."
--Gregory of Nyssa

Sunday, January 27, 2013

i saw the stars dancing

so long as breath controls my body

The wood was curved in the smooth spiral of a nautilus shell.
I stared in wonder at the intricate beauty of something so small and simple.
Then I looked around at the statues and flying buttresses all around me. What astonishes me is that there is so much beauty, even in the mundane border of an ordinary church pew.
I look at the side of a building and think: if the only thing I ever made was that one rose carved out of marble, I would have made something incredible.
Looking at the side of Big Ben is an overwhelming experience.
The intricate elegance of human artistry is mind-boggling.

~

There was light in the midst of the darkness.
And that eerie noise of far-off music, and strange voices.
Chills ran up and down my spine, as I wandered through dark streets with lights and silhouettes in the windows.
Being utterly lost is one of the most enchanting experiences you can imagine.
Deprived of your sense of direction, all you can rely on are your senses.
Your internal compass gives way to your eyes, your ears, your nose, all seeking to understand the world around you.
Swirls of colorful light. 
Flying down dark corridors to find glimpses of light at the end, feeling soft breezes on your face, as you walk through the sky.
In the midst of the tunnel, hearing sound of cellos and violins and strange bells all mixing and intertwining with the smells of caramel, and Indian street food and paella in large vats, and the sights of lights flickering off the tunnel, and reflecting off the puddles on the ground.

~

A small group of birches were growing in the snow.
Birches are the epitome of the Russian trees. 
They are delicate, elegant, mournful and wintry, all wrapped up in one slender silver trunk.
Although they look fragile, they are stubborn, strong trees, shrouded in a perpetual state of twilight. 
As I walked through the snowy night, wrapped in the quiet of a trillion tiny snowflakes, I stopped in the birches, and breathed in the smells of the velvet night sky, the fresh, damp snow, and the sweet green birches.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

no one does that anymore


I do love my dear Flannery O'Connor, but I'm going to have to go on record disagreeing with her right here, right now: a good man/woman is not hard to find.

 I have seen one too many articles and far too many lengths of newsprint on how The Date has gone the way of the dinosaur.
These articles, I find, are always so discouraging.

Finding a man who will take you on a date, or a woman who will accompany you to dinner is portrayed as some gargantuan, Hurculean accomplishment.
Going on a date?! How quaint! How enviable! No one does that anymore.

Of course they do.
It's just that no one writes news articles about them.

The world is populated with thousands of millions of nice boys and nice girls who go on dates with each other.
Very few of them are mentioned in the New York Times.
Not all of the boys are chauvinistic, who are only asking a girl on a date to reinforce traditional gender roles and perpetuate the patriarchy.
Not all of the girls are headstrong, willful powerhouses of women who demand that a man treats them the way they deserve, otherwise they'll refuse to give him the time of day.

They're just ordinary boys and ordinary girls who happen to catch each others' eyes and want to share a meal and some conversation. (And maybe a few shy-yet-daring smiles, and maybe a few awkward moments of catching-the-other-person's-eye-for-longer-than-normal-and-forgetting-what-you-were-going-to-say-next)

~

I am not a very romantic-y, ooey-gooey, cheesy person. I love baby squirrels and ducklings, I love Disney princesses, and I love old people holding hands. And as much as I love LOVE, I find romantic relationships difficult, frustrating, difficult, terrifying, and well, difficult. (Have I mentioned relationships are difficult?) 
I think we can all agree: they're difficult.

To wit:
My little sister joined me on the couch one night as Tangled ended (I was still in Post-Tangled Euphoria. I See the Light +"You were my new dream"=death by beauty. They get me. Every. Single. Time.), and she vented her frustration about crushes, past and present, unsuccessful or unrequited. "I'll never like anyone again if it hurts this much," she proclaimed.
I just hugged her and smiled.
And assured her that it was worth it to keep on liking people, even when it hurt.

My older sister called me one night, venting her frustration about the complicated emotions that accompany making new friends, going out with friends, going to get drinks with friends, going to get lunch as "friends" (maybe? question mark? help?), the ambiguousness of liking people and then not-liking people, of texting and calling, and sending emailed invitations and awkwardly delivered pick-up lines.
And I nodded and sighed and hemmed and hawed and offered the most comforting words I could muster.

So yes. Difficult, to say the least.

~
So why even entertain the idea of starting out on such a difficult road if the journey is so frustrating and possibly painful?
I have no idea.
I don't pretend to know why.
But I do know that there's nothing like a first date to lift you right up on your tip toes.
I don't know why the prospect of sharing food and conversation with another human being can turn your world all sorts of shades of shimmery golden.
I only know that it does.
Because a date is a golden opportunity.
It's the opportunity for two human beings to reveal just how uniquely beautiful they are to one another.

Because isn't that why we're there on the date? To hang on every word he says, to remember every particular of the story she's telling, our ears are wide open, soaking in every piece of information we can gather about who this human is, about what makes them so beautiful.
We're there to grow in appreciation for a human being whose unique beauty has already captured our attention.
The roadmap to discovering the beauty of another human is written in our stories, it's written in our songs, it's written in our hearts.

You never see beauty coming; it kinda creeps up and takes you by surprise.
And sometimes, just sometimes, it arrives in the form of a young man asking: can I take you to dinner?
And when it does, well, that's rather nice.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

our only sauce is gratitude


The best feeling in the world is returning home and finding that the tea pot is not in fact empty, but full of water, waiting to be boiled.
It's a very cozy and home-y feeling. 
Because it's a reminder that there are others living with you, others sharing that teapot.

Way back in the dark ages of the fall semester, weighed down by work, reading, and homework that we weren't doing, my friend and I decided to be roommates.
LET'S PRAY TO ST. FRED, she typed in all caps, because Google anointed him the patron saint of roommates.
We found out that Google has no imprimatur, and that St. Fred was not, in fact, a real saint.
WAIT DON'T PRAY TO HIM,  she typed in a panic, HE'S A FAKE SAINT.
ST. FRED IS A PHONY.

After dissolving into giggles, we let the matter rest.
Fake or not, St. Fred has apparently worked some magic.
In this cozy little basement flat, we've welcomed each other into the adventures of our own lives.
What makes a house a home, I think, is hospitality.
It lights up a house better than our bright overhead incandescents or the large windows.
It warms up a room more toastily and cozily than our thermostat (which is saying something, since our thermostat was set to 30 degrees celsius the other night [that's 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Ouch.])

I began to notice this hospitality around me when I realized that our door lock is often jammed open, so that visitors wander in and out as they please. A knock on the door is answered with several cheerful: Come in!s

The warmth we cultivate amongst ourselves spills over to all those who enter our homes.


I am so thankful to come home every day to three wonderful children who greet me with simultaneous hugs that keep me from closing the door, and a wonderful wife who can lean over them to give me a kiss.  
--Mark Kocovski, ND

I am so thankful to arrive back home to a flat every evening filled with nine other beautiful young women (and usually a stray visitor or two), who greet me with laughter, smiles, and plenty of sass as soon as I walk in the door, and a kitchen table where we can gather around and share our days, our adventures, the stress of buying groceries, and trying to survive in a strange city.
And somehow, all together, we've made a home.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

conduits of peace

My little sister once took my arms in both her hands; she wrapped my arms around her body, and squeezed.
It's easy to be strong when you're surrounded by support and enveloped by love.

As I walked into Brompton Oratory, I felt a wave of Something wash over me.
As I walked to the middle of the church, slowly, taking in each sight, gingerly picking up each foot and putting it down, preventing any sound from my boots striking the tile floor, I took a deep breath.

I found myself right in the middle, under the cavernous dome.
It was like someone had copied the sky in stone, and set it on top of the church.
A tingle ran through my entire being, and I felt an old electric spark reignite:

~

the whole church felt just like that hug. 
A huge hug--an inundation of love-- that just sweeps you up and makes you feel so small. 
Small in a good way.
 Like when you're wrapped up in a giant bear hug. 
 The light was streaming in through the windows, brilliantly illuminating all the gold in St. Peters. 
The gilded dust specks dancing in the light were flying up towards the sky that peeped through the windows, just like thousands of souls flying towards their maker.

~

I have been spoiled at Notre Dame with beautiful chapels that have become refuges.
The wave of Something that washed over me as I walked out of the cold, strange city into the warm, dusky church is called security. 
I felt absolutely secure. 
If the entire church had crumbled to bits around me, I still would have felt as serene as a baby possum.
I am spoiled to have three places all within a three minutes' walk of my dorm that I can go to cry, to explode and burst with uncontainable joy, to feel secure.
Three places where I can be at home.
And I have found a home in London, too.
An island of security in the sea of unfamiliar.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

seize the hope that lies before us


If we give him our lives, our little handfuls of self: he will give us everlasting life.
--Angela Franks

Your hands hold a world within them.

Many hands all passed the plates to each other, one after another.
Many hands passed sandwiches one to the other.
Many hands, covered in suds, washed dishes.
There was laughter.
There was the smell of gravy and soup and hot mashed potatoes.
Pots and pans clicked, feet moved.
There were smiles, and words I didn't understand, and many I'm sorry, could you repeat thats.
But I understood the smiles.

In the hands of the children in the park, there were slushy snowballs. 
The snow covered the park in a blanket of quiet.
I just wanted to breathe in that park forever.
Just sit in the snow, with my hands open and breathe.

I have two little angels in my hands.
Dressed in blue, holding flowers.
They are holding each other. 
Supporting each other, nestled in each other, safe and sound.

cedars and citrus

so long as breath controls my body



I think I'm learning how to use my senses properly for the first time. 
My tongue has discovered a whole new way to taste.

I walked into a little tea emporium, and I was handed a cup of high mountain oolong, with the words: good choice. This is a very fine tea: very smooth. Exquisite flavors.
That was a lot of pressure for a little Minnesota girl who's more used to Caribou Coffee than fine oriental teas.
For a tongue that's used to the overwhelming, nutty richness of a cup of java, or spicy Thai soup, or tangy Indian curry, the subtleties of tea are intimidating.
Tea is something that cannot be drunken in a rush.
You have to sip.
And breathe.
And sip some more.
You have to let the smoothness of the liquid float over your tongue and fill your mouth with its smooth fragrance.

You begin to notice all the slight variations in flavor and spice that would have been lost before. 
Each breath becomes a part of the tasting experience.
Each time I walk down a busy street, filled with the aromas of fresh food seeping out of shop doors or food market stalls, I breath all the smells in so deeply. I savor the scents, let them fill my nose and mouth. 
I could live off the smells of this city.

~

I stopped by a food market near my home.
A kind Italian couple was selling homemade pesto.
Per direction, I tried various different kinds.
As I spread the small amounts of pesto on small bits of fresh bread, I rolled the spicy spreads around in my mouth.
I felt the difference not only in taste, but in texture.
I felt the roughness of the spice and the smoothness of the sweet.
Fragrant and pungent, each bit was a little burst of joy in a hungry mouth.

Another kind Italian gentleman explained to us last night a recipe for zucchini pasta. Although the recipe was very simple, all the women in the group almost literally swooned.
We described the recipe to a friend as we were walking home.
He was unimpressed by the simplicity of the recipe.
So...you swooned over slowly sautéing zucchini?
After protestations of No, NO, you don't understand,
we all nodded in assent.
Sometimes, the simplest pleasures are the ones that smite your heart so sweetly.


Monday, January 21, 2013

little faerïe strings

I love grumpy people.

My favorite Sesame Street character has always been Oscar the Grouch.
Always.

Look at how adorable he is
My favorite of the Seven Dwarves has always been Grumpy.
I just love him. He's the best of them all.

He's so precious. (I'm being serious)
And my favorite Austen hero is Mr. Darcy
The most brooding, ill-tempered of the lot.

How can you not smile in the presence of so. much. angst.?
I like grumpy people. Not characters who complain, but characters who are grouchy. There are Whiners, Complainers, and then True Grouches. True Grouches utter nary a peep of complaint, they just grouch and grump and humph.

~

Last Friday, I was cold, hungry, wet, and tired.
Which meant I was extremely cross and grouchy.
I smile and laugh quite a lot, so most people, when I tell a story about being extremely cross and grouchy say: HAHAHA I just can't picture that!
If my mom were to hear that, she would start laughing oh-so-very knowingly.
Usually, when I'm grumpy, I can't shake it unless I go off on my own. Which at home, means me announcing mid-grouch: I'm going on walk. (Or sometimes, when I'm really caught up in the grouches, my mom suggesting: why don't you go on a walk, dear?)

So, I announced in the middle of Harrod's (that department store is probably the size of the Coliseum. #overwhelming.) to my companions: "I'm leaving."
I hadn't decided quite where I was going to go, but as I sat in the tube, feeling cold and hungry, I felt marginally less wet.

I wandered along the Themes, and I stumbled upon a little food market, filled with large frying pans of paella, samosas smoking, and sausages roasting. I stopped at the stand of Italian vendors and tried four different kinds of pesto.
I smiled and chatted with them a bit.
And I fel a little less hungry.

Then, as I walked along my favorite stretch of the river, I came to my favorite bridge tunnel. This bridge tunnel has white tile on the wall, decorated with scenes of London.
As I approached the tunnel, I heard music float towards me.
I stopped, and started walking more slowly.
A man sat in the middle of the tunnel, playing music that was not of this world.
I stopped and listened for a bit.
After a while I had to move on, otherwise my heart would have broken completely.
It was the strangest, most sorrowful song.

Followed by the magic music of the cello, I walked out the other side of the tunnel. And I didn't feel cold or tired or grouchy at all.
I felt so very alive.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

death, where's your sting at?

There's an oft-told tale of Jesus and Peter encountering one another on the road to Rome.
Peter is fleeing persecution, and he encounters Christ.
He asks: "Where are you going, Lord?"
Christ responds:
"I am going to Rome to be crucified again"
And then Peter turns tail and returns to Rome to face martyrdom.

I think I often make the mistake of imagining Christ saying, in solemn, sorrowful tones: I am going to Rome to be crucified again.
Which is always my default setting for how I assume Christ talks: boldly, directly, with solemnity and majesty. But I can't help but feel like that's sort of a guilt trip.
Subtext: You blew it again, Peter, and so now I have to go back and DIE again. Great job, bro. Great job.

But then I looked at why Peter was running.
Out of fear of death. Fear of the cross that awaited Him. Christ could definitely sympathize, since He underwent untold agony before undergoing His own death.
But the whole point of Christ's death was to take away the sting of death. The first act of the Resurrection was to crush under its heel the crippling terror of the grave.
There is no need to fear the end of our earthly lives.

And as Peter encounters his Lord, I cannot help but think of Him encountering a Christ full of Joy. Full of laughter and mirth.
Because what has become of Death now?
Death has lost all his power; it's become a laughable tyrant, grasping at all the living; but in the end, all the Living will slip through Death's fingers into Eternal Life.
It's a grand cosmic joke.
It's a delicious, delightful secret that belongs to the whole world.
What is there to fear?

There's that eye-rolling-worthy old cliché of telling actors or public speakers who have stage fright to imagine the audience in their underwear.
The truth that they're trying to get at with that strange little piece of wisdom is that the best way to conquer fear is to find a way to laugh at what you fear.
The best antidote to fear is laughter.

So I can't help but think that the Christ Peter encountered was hustling towards Rome with Joy in every step and radiating from His face. And when He said the line "I am going to Rome to be crucified again," he said that with a laugh and with unquenchable Joy.
What else would he rather be doing than giving Himself again for His flock

As Christ embraces his cross own cross with Joy and love, he is demonstrating how Peter can encounter his own death. As a cross whose burden is light and whose pain is sweet.

What is so beautiful and mysterious about this tale is that we are never told how Peter reacts to the encounter.
I imagine a great hush. That moment when the world pauses as a decision is being made. I imagine that, with a face ashen with fear, Peter grasps the hand of Christ.
As He takes the hand of His Lord, a small, weak smile begins to form, reflecting the Joy of the face before him.
He says: Well then.
And with that, off they go, back to Rome.
Together they walk back, as two friends often do, full of joy that the world cannot dim.
There's no need to fear death when you know you are not alone.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

learning how to hear

so long as breath controls my body


Right off of Fleet Street--one of the busiest avenues in London, there is a little courtyard called Gough Square. If you're not looking, you'll zoom right on by the little sign that announces unobtrusively that Samuel Jonson's house is right this ways, and points down a little alley. 
You follow the alley as it snakes around several newer-shinier office buildings.

You almost think you're being led on a wild-goose chase. 
And then you turn the corner and see it:
a tiny little courtyard, where quiet reigns.
A man is sitting on a bench in the little circle of benches.
A woman walks by, eating a sandwich.

No one moves very fast. Everything is hushed.

You walk over to a red brick house.
A man is on a ladder in the small, gated yard next to the house. He's painting a windowsill.

And you snap a picture of the plaque that reads: "Dr. Samuel Jonson ~author~ lived here."

All quiet activities. No one disrupts the sacred silence of a place that's simply silent for being silent's sake.

Then, if you remain very still indeed, you can hear the sounds of the city creep over the rooftops and down into the yard.
The sounds of cars, buses, people leak into the courtyard.
I have never listened so acutely to the noises around me.
When the hubbub has been removed a bit,  and isn't surrounding you, and smothering you, then you have a chance to breathe a bit. 
Step back. Listen.
Freed from the dull roar of the city outside, hiddin in the quiet inside the little square, 
I heard a bird sing.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

eternal dropping in on the finite

The present is our entry into the eternal.
If we're to enter into the eternal moment of grace, well, then we ought to enter deeply into the very present moment that we're given.

As I felt the pulse of the music in a crowded room full of dancing bodies, I looked around and realized that so many of the people I saw were not living in the present.
As a boy and a girl rubbed their bodies against each other, not sure what to do with their eyes, they each let their eyes wander off into the vacant distance.
They were not in the present.

I looked at the boy whose his eyes were glazed over, as he floppily batted at the fog coming from the smoke machine.
He was definitely not in the present.

But then I looked at my flatmate, dancing beside me with her wild curls whipping around her head, in perfect time with the music. I saw her cheeks flushed from a pint of cider, and her eyes sparkling with fun.

She was in the present. She was soaking in every single second. Fully living each moment, just as you fully taste each spoonful of rich chocolate mousse.

And as I closed my eyes and felt the heavy bass line pound through the floor, as sharp and intoxicating as the images that a strobe light creates. The beat seeped up into my body.

I closed my eyes and felt the heat of the lights on my face.
The warmth encased every part of me.

I opened my eyes again, basking in the warmth, and watched the surge of people around me.

I, too, was in the present.
The present was alive, throbbing with light.
I stopped missing the past, I forgot to worry about the future.
I opened myself to the life I found right there.

And I danced like I knew my life would never be the same as it was right there.
Right there, in that infinite moment of grace we call the present.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

deserts watered by prayers and tears

"Monks and hermits went out to actual deserts. They were not running away; they were running toward something...someone. They discerned the desert is as much a living place as a dying place."
--Jeffrey Cooper, C.S.C.

If you find yourself in a desert, as it often happens, the most essential rule to survival is understanding most absolutely that you are not deserted.
That in a place that seems so barren and full of death is actually a place full of life.
If someone asked you how this is so, you probably wouldn't have an answer.
I don't know if there is an answer.
Sometimes things are true, and you can't prove them.
You can only say they are so, and when asked why, the answer is: I just know.

A lot of things in this life can't be understood fully without experiencing them.
And that's very frustrating. It's very frustrating for our curious, ever wandering minds that hunger for new knowledge with the unquenchable thirst of a being lost in a desert.

Nature is always expanding, and we feel ourselves caught up in the expanse, and forever falling short of the infinite that nature presents to us.

In a desert, when death is all around, you realize that death is always all around.
The fact that you make it through each day alive is a grand miracle.
The floor underneath you has not yet collapsed, your ceiling hasn't fallen on your head, you haven't been run over by a bicycle, nor have you fallen from a cliff or been attacked by a shark. These are all things that happen to people, and the fact that they have not yet happened to you is something to rejoice in and count your blessings for.
As passive as merely "staying alive" may seem, it most certainly is not.
The effort it takes to get out of bed each day while weighed down by hopelessness and grimness is definitely not passive.

A desert strips away all pretenses we build up that death is somehow Far Off and Far Away.
Death is close at hand.
And since death is so close, the rugged persistence of life is only brought out in more exuberant hues.
The fact that even in lands choked by death, life can thrive, is miraculous to the first degree.
The fact that even in a city like London, filled with poverty, with cold, frozen figures huddled in corners, that there are still mothers walking hand-in-hand with their children, smiling at them with untainted love and joy, that there are couples walking along the Themes and falling in love, that there are fathers giving their daughters piggy-backs is dumb-foundingly unlikely.
But yet, despite the deserts of poverty and pain, the world is populated with people who love one another.
How glorious.
How strange.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

my charms are all o'erthrown


Early morning dark is different than twilight dark.
Twilight dark is violescent: everything moves towards the deep violet of night.
Early morning darkness is slowly turning into light.
In the darkness of early morning, a city reveals its secrets.

As I ran, my feet pounding on the flagstones,
I heard the heartbeat of the city, like a drum, rise up to meet my feet.
The perpetual thud, thud, thud of feet upon the ground matched the hushed but hurried buzz of a city waking up.
A heartbeat is something so intimate.
Feel someone's heartbeat, and you begin to see their heart.
See their heart, and you begin to fall in love.

~

Thou bearest me along / Through sights I scarce can bear--John Keats 
~

I walked through the park, and ducked as a pigeon flew right at my nose.
That pigeon was probably a fighter pilot in a former life.

But I stopped to take pictures of swans, because they were gliding docilely on the smooth winter water.  As they floated back and forth, soaking up the attention, I admired their gentle, arrogant beauty. 
Then I looked up.

And I saw, far over the glassy water of St. James' pond, the City.
Misty, shrouded in beauty, ethereal, London was transformed into a fairytale city high up in the clouds.
And that was the moment I gave up the fight.
London won my heart.

Whenever you grow into loving someone, there comes that moment of grace, of a bridge-burning grace, where you admit defeat.
You have to surrender to the beauty of the other.
You realize that, without your knowledge even, they have found their way into your heart.
You realize this, because when you look at your own heart, you found that it has changed a bit. It has the mark of the beloved on it.
So you sigh.
Maybe cry a bit.
And then smile a lot.
Because there's something so gently and comfortingly terrifying about being shaped in unexpected ways by unexpected beauties.

Monday, January 14, 2013

tis new to thee


We are such stuff 
As dreams are made on, 
and our little life 
Is rounded with a sleep.
--Prospero, The Tempest


As we dive deeper and deeper into the reality that lies underneath the world, we come to cherish more the external trappings of the world.
Sam and Frodo adventure into the depths of Mordor in order to save the Shire. After experiencing the hell of the lands of shadow and the radiant bliss of Rivendell, and the solemn grandeur of Lorien, they return to the simple Shire.
They have discovered the world beyond, behind, above, and below the Shire. But they go on this journey to return: they travel away from home in order to return and understand how beautiful their home truly is.

How many goodly creatures are there here! 
How beauteous mankind is! 
O brave new world, 
That has such people in't. 
--Miranda

Tis new to Thee
--Prospero

But Frodo and Sam do not save the Shire for themselves. They save it for their nieces and nephews and friends and cousins--they save the Shire for those they love most. They themselves must pass away. They, like Prospero, are parted from their loved ones, and they bequeath to their beloveds a brave new world. But it is not new to them.
They, like Prospero have gained the wisdom that comes from a long sojourn, from growing old in the world; the wisdom that realizes the cost of a freely given gift, and does not hesitate to pay the price.

The gift of grace is free--completely free--and yet costly beyond measure.
It costs so much for Prospero to give his beloved daughter Miranda her brave new world.
But he happily and contentedly pays the price.
The price is that he chooses peace instead of pain, that he chooses forgiveness instead of revenge, and that he chooses unity over division. 
He chooses to live resurrection over living death. He chooses to spread light instead of darkness.
And only these beacons of light can light the way to the brave new world that has such people in't.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

when words are not enough

In my pocket, I found a tiny Babushka doll the size of my thumb. That little doll cradles inside her an even more miniature little figure. 
A set of Babushka dolls is a little community: each person nestled into, sheltered by, supported by another one. 
Each woman her sister's keeper.

On the ceiling of St. Paul's Cathedral, there are the four evangelists chillin' up there (typical), and I noticed St. John.
The angel that was handing him the scroll looked intimidating. He was aggressive and majestic. This was an angel to be reckoned with.
St. John's reaction was telling: he had his hand over his forehead, in a gesture of fright. The story he was being confronted with was one that terrified him.

I saw a series of paintings by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot is a French painter. 
I have never so desired to hug a French painter as I desire to hug Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. 
In four delicate paintings, he captured woodland scenes at different times of day.
In one small panel, he painted a scene of morning that puts all my adjectives to shame. I could try to describe morning as: misty, emerging, silvery, whispery, shadows-delicately-rolled-back-by-gentle-streams-of-sun, but none of those words would evoke the magic of feeling a cool morning mist on your skin, or that blinding moment as the sun rises above the water and sends out shafts of pure morning light, but I would only have to bring you to that picture, and you would feel all that in an instant, just looking at the paint on the canvas.

Artists can so precisely and delicately artists capture the story of a human, outside of time.
In one frozen moment, the artist can describe the holy horror of the story St. John is compelled to tell.
He can capture the beauty of a wood in the weak morning light or waning evening light.
Or, like Adolph Menzel,capture the myriad stories of crowds people in a bustling city garden. From the children playing between the legs of their fathers, to the man who looks concernedly over the heads of the crowd, to the woman who sit on the chairs and gossip together, each of these characters has a story.
The artist records the bit of the story that matters. The bit of the story that they couldn't possibly allow to be forgotten, the word that is in the center of the soul. 

And, two hundred years later, a small British girl walks by and can examine the portraits.
"I see them, but I don't know who they are," she protests to her mother.
Maybe not. But after staring into the brilliant black eyes of Good Queen Bess, maybe she knows a bit more about Elizabeth the First's indomitable will, sparkle, spunk, and spirit than she did before.

A wise person once said that the best portraits are all nude paintings.
Although the subjects may be still be fully clothed, their spirits are laid bare.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

mists of metanoia

"You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of Him who is the light of heaven. You are to enjoy more and more the pure and dazzling light of the Trinity.'
-St. Gregory of Nazianzus

The Scene:
Westminster Cathedral.
The time:
Five minutes late to Mass.
(Happens. Small, adorable, bundled-up British children taking pictures with their parents by Big Ben are unforeseeable obstructions in your path that will cramp the flow of the best power-walking. #LondonProblemz)

The First Reading:
Isaiah 40:4.
Surprise!
Not expected.
"Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain."

Oh hey there. I remember those words.
Those were my words all through Advent.
I was awaiting the homily, awaiting to see how the words I connected to Advent would be connected to the Baptism.

For starters, the priest was rocking what I like to call "Pastor humor." I'm sure you've experienced pastor humor: think of the jokes that your parish priest makes during school day homilies: think dad humor, but even more pun-tastic.
And then, he spoke of mountains needing to be brought down, for our sake. In order for us to be able to see the glory of the Lord, which the passage later refers to, we have to knock down the mountains that block our sight.
The clouds have to part and the heaven opens before the Holy Spirit descends.

Although love is all around us, we are too adept at blinding ourself to its movements. We too easily decide to put up mountains to block our view. We too often shrink from the mystery that awaits to embrace us.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
--Marianne Williamson

Friday, January 11, 2013

dearly bought I love yous

After a long, cold run along the Themes this morning, I returned to a long, hot shower, and I blessed the gracious provider of this shower. Once you are saddled with the cost of providing your own meals, you realize just how blessed you are not to have to foot the cost of your hot shower.
God save the British taxpayer, is my current rallying anthem, (and the generous donors gave Notre Dame this building of flats.) I am very happy to have a hot shower, and once I realized that hot showers are not free, they became even happier occasions.
The daily miracle of transforming a messy, frozen little girl-on-a-run into a refreshed, toasty little woman ready to embrace the day is something for which to be grateful.

Once you start buying your own food, you realize how much everything costs.
And then gratitude skyrockets.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are luxuries that are received with awe and trembling. Each bite of a meal is savored more, it becomes more dear, because of the cost of each delicious bite.

~

People often say that the word "love" gets used too often, too freely, too loosely.
People often also say that the word love is not used freely enough. That we are too afraid to use a word that's at the core of our existence.

Each "I love you," once you realize how much it has cost, becomes something precious. I love yous are dearly bought. Those three words come with a sacrifice. The price tag is yourself. And then each one becomes something cherished, something so irreplaceably, perfectly precious. Something with an overwhelming magnitude, and a mysterious wonder.

In a cathedral named after St. Paul, a martyr who knew first-hand what the cost of an "I love you" is, I looked up at the cross, and I saw the face of a man who knew more deeply than all of us how much an "I love you" costs.
Besieged by gratitude, I could only marvel at every gift of an I love you I have ever received.
And the next time I said those three words, although they were said with laughter while traipsing down the rain-kissed London sidewalks, was streaked with all the understanding and promise of sacrifice.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

and after the storm


Among my frivolous thoughts,
I believe there are beautiful things seen by the astronauts.
--Owl City


Rain falling on wet leaves
is the sound of immeasurable sorrow
striking each fragile leaf
that clings to its branch,
unwilling to leave.
The living water cascades over dying branches,
The temporal and eternal collide,
over and over again--
like the sound of rain on wet leaves.
Overwhelmed by rain,
a little leaf surrenders,
and with a gentle sigh, falls.
Her fall is broken by her sisters
already carpeting the barren autumn earth.
They receive the leaf in silence.
Buffeted by winds, inundated with rain,
the broken leaf escapes the fury of the strom,
she finds rest.
Quiet reigns--
sweetly broken
solely by
the sound of rain on wet leaves.



"The companions who met me on my return were well content to see me alive. I was sad, but I told them: 'I am tired'"
--The Litte Prince

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

violescence

"London isn't a city to get to know with a check list of "must-see's." It is meant to be wandered and explored. Take the serendipitous route. You never know what you might discover."
--M. Povlock


"Big Ben must be like the Dome: it looks beautiful all the time, and you never stop taking pictures of it"

Big Cities terrify me.
And I am easily terrified.
If there's one thing I've learned about myself over the past week, it's that I am as pigeon-livered as Hamlet. 
Not a day has gone by that I have not thrown myself in agony on my rose-print coverlet of my comfy bed, now far away back in homey Minnesnowta, and let my bootless cries rise to the deaf heavens: why oh why oh why oh whyyy did I ever decide to willingly exile myself to a foreign land where I will probably Die of Something Awful. (I am majoring in Cowardice, with a double concentration in Paranoia and Hyperbole)

As a journey begins, no matter what lies at the end, what lies at the beginning is death. Embarking on a journey means the self that you were comes to an end. It will no longer be. And it means opening yourself up to the self that you are becoming and will become.
And that is rather terrifying.
Like Big Cities.
Big Cities are overwhelming. Anything that's overwhelming means that it is, by definition  larger than you, because it completely astounds and envelops you in its all-ness. You can immediately grasp what it is exactly that this city is all about. It's a mystery for a while--it doesn't reveal itself to you right away; it draws you in, and overwhelms you with the million beautiful sights lying around every street corner. There's far more to see than can ever be seen; and more to do than could ever possibly be done. 
(I suppose Big Cities just illuminate that particular facet of the circle of life brilliantly.)

And, once I drop my paranoia, and warm my cold feet with a healthy dose of wandering, I find that the overwhelming mystery of a Big City is an invitation. It's an invitation to let this city make its mark on who I am; to embrace the adventure of being molded by London. I ache to become acquainted with every inch of ground of every little street or alley of this city.
Because, really, that was my desire all along. 
That stubborn little fire of desire persisted through all fears and worries, and lead me here--
to a bridge over the Thames, watching Big Ben light up the violescent night sky, interrupted by the skyline of London. 
Whatever deaths have brought me here--this is definitely a beginning.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

choose to chance the rapids

"What is that to you? You, follow me."
--John 21:22

My room is bare.
My bags are packed.
I am going on an adventure.

Last night, I was a veritable rainbow of emotions, sliding between terror and exhilaration, between excitement and dread.
But the winds of emotion have calmed a tad, I have taken courage, and keep telling myself over and over: I will not be afraid.

And a smile pulls at the corners of my mouth as I think of all that lies in store.
Now, all I can be is so immensely grateful for the adventure that lies at my feet.
As my friend reminded me, adventures arrive in just a series of tomorrows: just one day, one little baby step at a time. 
I am on the verge.

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

Haunting, taunting, that is the spell of it; 
Mocking, baulking, that is the hell of it; 
But I'll shoulder my pack in the morning, boys, 
And I'm going because I must; 
For it's so-long to all 
When you answer the call 
Of the Wan-der-lust.
--Robert William Service

As I stressed myself out trying to fit four months into two suitcases, I was interrupted from my storm of stress by so many little goodbyes and signs of love from so many beloved friends and family. 
And one-by-one, each little act of love cast out all fear.
And replaced it with the knowledge that I am not alone.
As I set out to follow my wild heart where it beckons, it's comforting to rest in the knowledge I am not alone.
To rest in the knowledge that I am--beyond all doubt--loved.
That's the real adventure.

Monday, January 7, 2013

kick-offs, and first downs, and heismans, oh my

If there's one thing I've learned about this semester, it's sports.

(Maybe other little lessons like Divine Providence and trust and the importance of Silence, and Interdependence in relationships, and receiving vs. grasping. But mostly sports.)

One Thursday, I was at a dinner banquet, and I learned about basketball formations and point guards (I KNOW NOW WHAT A POINT GUARD IS!!!! I could almost weep for joy).
Interesting stuff, in fact, I would even go so far as to call it fascinating.

And then one GameDaySaturday (you have to say it as one word, in one breath), I was at a brunch event and we were treated, at the tail end of the morning, to at least at least 30 minutes of "chalk talk." Which involves little-to-no chalk, but lots of overhead projections. (And lots of statistics that will neither solve global hunger, create a masterpiece of sculpture to rival Michalangelo's, nor pay the national debt, so I find them irrelevant) It went on a wee bit long, so I was struggling to stay focused as they walked us through different plays, strategies, and statistics.
Thankfully, the University's all-male a cappella group walked in about halfway through, in preparation for the serenade with which they closed the brunch.
Although I'm pretty sure I pretended to be even more engrossed in the overhead projector with a tangly hodge-podge of red circles and arrows on it.
Color me fascinated.

~

A while back, I walked by a dorm and say this banner hanging out of a window:

You'll never beat the IRISH.

Friend, I thought, as I walked by the dorm, I hate to break it to you, someone probably will.

But for an entire season, his banner was right: no one, so far had beaten the Irish.
And while that's admirable, and delightful, and an exciting football season to have been a part of, that's not actually the chant. Our chant is:

HERE COME THE IRISH

Because the point is not whether the Irish are victorious or get trounced, the point is that whether the odds be great or small, the Irish never give up. It's the Notre Dame spirit of fighting that will never be beaten. "Fighting" denotes a battle of some kind.
There are no battles without a few losses. As Tina Arena sings, "in a heartbeat, a wise man can be a fool." Victors go to vanquished in just a few seconds, and that's just the Way Life Is.

And that's the rhythm of the world, right?: to fall then rise again.

"We did not build this university for personal glory or for our pride. We did it because we were working for Mary and her glory."
--Fr. Hesburgh

Sunday, January 6, 2013

dare to dance the tide

"I’ve been looking out of the window for eighteen years, dreaming about what I might feel like when those lights rise in the sky. What if it’s not everything I dreamed it would be?"
--Tangled

Some things, my sister told me, are terrifying in a good way. Things that we care about so deeply scare us. Because they take a bit of ourselves with them, they get all wrapped up in the hodge-podge portrait of who we are and who we're becoming. Our dreams, our hopes are such tender, vulnerable parts of ourselves, because they are more indicative of who we are at that deep, secret core of ourselves, than our exterior self. They are where our inner core meets the outer world.

Embarking on an adventure is a daunting prospect.
As I sat on the sofa filled with pillows and blankets and just two girls drinking tea, I couldn't forget how terrifying transitions are. Key changes are all well and good, but once the key has been changed, the music will never sound quite the same again. And that's quite an awful, daunting prospect to be on the verge of arriving at: permanent chance is, well, permanent. And that's a strange sort of beauty. And by strange I mean terrifying. (Have I mentioned that change is terrifying?)

“People forgot; it was in the nature of people to forget, to blur boundaries, 
to retell stories to come out the way they wanted them to come out, to remember things as how they ought to be instead of how they were.” 
 ― Robin McKinley, Spindle's End

That's the tricky thing about stories: they're very easy to forget or get wrong.
But they ground us.
Who we were grounds us in the present, and gives us the strength to propel us into the future.
We can only remember who we were by telling our stories.
As we sat, sharing hopes, fears, small joys, little, aching sadnesses, loves sought, and dreams achieved and still un-won, I forgot about the leap into the future that's on the horizon.

As I listened to the words of my story form on, then roll off my tongue, I forgot that I was afraid of transition.
I only could remember the delicate rush of excitement at finding yourself on the shores of a new world, which continually calls for you to follow.

A new world which awaits my reply.
No words can serve that purpose.
Just a hand, confidently placed in another hand, treading forth into the unknown.

That shall be to you better than a light//and safer than the known way
--M.L. Haskins

Saturday, January 5, 2013

song that sorrow taught me


And with love everlasting you besiege me

At one of the first masses the liturgical choir sang this year (they're on tour without me right now, and OhHowIWishIWasThere), our prelude was a song that, for whatever serendipitous reason, smote my heart in an instant.

There are myriad moments where words fail, where silence becomes stale. 
In those moments, there is always music.
That one piece of music, that little prelude, consistently reminded me there is nowhere on earth I can escape a love so relentless, so annoyingly insistent. 
That song so often reminds me that I am known more completely than I could ever comprehend. It consistently crashed through all the walls I built up, and convinced me there was magic to be made. 

even the darkness is radiant in your sight

The three words I have found so often on the tip of my tongue recently are: 
I am amazed

It takes my breath away how love can wrap you in his arms.
How thorns can blossom into flowers.
It amazes me.
It amazes me so completely that there can be such great peace in sorrow.
I am in awe that that silent song of love can drown out the noisy clamor of pain.
Love is a word used so over-often, it becomes domesticated. 

"No one, nor anything, can harm us, child, save what we fear or love.” 
--The Bridal Wreath: Kristin Lavransdatter, Vol. 1


In this life, love and pain are so closely wedded together. But it amazes me how sweet a thing love can be. 
How love is so sweet, so tender, so gentle in its persistence. 
So completely overwhelming in its goodness, how such a love can caress and comfort is too much for my heart. 
I find myself standing in the full sun, and its light is almost too much to bear.

It amazes me that sorrow can become joy; that suffering can be peace. 
That, at the end of the journey, the constant companions who seemed to be bearers of great sadness can only be numbered among our blessings. 
Men signed with the cross of Christ, wrote Chesterton, go gaily into the dark. 
With heads spinning from the great, marvelous mystery of love, how can one not leap gaily into the dark? 
The darkness is so fleeting and so temporal. It pales in comparison to the lights that shine and glimmer on the horizon.

At the end of the journey, my friend, those kingdom lights will shine just for me and you.

Friday, January 4, 2013

leave it in love's hands

Well it amazes me // Oh how my world turned around
--Tina Arena, Love's Funny that Way


Last night, I sat laughing at a table with two dear friends, with pizza in between us.
And I was in awe at how much all three of us had grown and adventured forth into the wide, wide world in four short years.

This morning, I sat laughing and sighing and talking too fast with another dear friend--a little sister of the heart, who is just beginning a thousand and one other great adventures.
I remembered exactly how that felt.
Because I'm still feeling that--still on so many adventures, still sorting out who I am becoming, still trying to sort out the differences between liking and loving; between hoping and grasping; between receiving and giving.

In Spindle's End, one of my favorite little tales, a young fairy woman is frustrated that she doesn't seem to have her life or her self under control like her serene, imperturbable  and ever-gracious Aunt. Saddled with a gift almost too great for her young mind to bear, this young woman yearns for the day that everything will be sorted out. That her life will fall piece-by-glorious-piece into place and she will be settled. She will know which way is up and which way is down, and life will flow steadily down its course.
Aunt gently tells her:
 "I'm sorry to tell you this, but where your magic lives will always be a great dark space with scraps you fumble for. You must learn to sniff them out in the dark."

You must learn to sniff them out in the dark.
This is one of the Myths of Growing Up: that one day the adventure sort of settles down, fades into the coda of happily ever after. That at one point, you know exactly which way is up, and which way is down. You know indubitably who you are. You know exactly where you're supposed to be going and precisely what you're supposed to be doing.
But if we would only give the mystery of ourselves some credit, we realize that the adventure never ends. That we're always diving into the dark mystery of unkowning that surrounds our lives, and our selves. Thankfully, we have a bit of light. In the darkness, we find the flame of love burning bright.

That flame that gently guides us home.
We're not alone in the dark. Just like the magi, we're guided by stars, signs, and signals.
Like they were for the magi, the signals are signposts that beckon us down the road to further adventures on the road.
Where we will one day find rest from our adventures in the greatest adventure yet--the adventure of Homecoming.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

a new skin

[My ever-patient, gentle-as-a-dove, wise-as-a-serpent mother has blackmailed me into starting packing for London now and not on Tuesday at midnight. I've packed three things! Time to take a "well-earned" blogging break.]

Making new friends on a hot July day

A long time ago [aka just short of three years ago], at the end of my illustrious high school career, I wrote a speech.

Naturally, the speech included a C.S. Lewis quote, a Mama T quote, and a central story into which the two quotes were woven.

The central story, in keeping with many of my stories, was a story about children.
These particular children had started following me when I was on a run in our neighborhood.
I had so rudely interrupted the game they were playing on the sidewalk, and as I ran through their midst, they said hi.
I said hi.
They introduced themselves.
So good to meet you! I called out as I kept running.
Then they asked me my name.
Caught off guard, I responded, Renée, and continued running.
I heard a bunch of giggles behind me, and realized the two youngest were running with me.
I was struck with fear.
What on earth would their parents think if they came out and saw their children following a teenaged-girl version of the Pied Piper?
One of the older kids called them back to finish the game, and so the little parade was cut short.
But as I continued my run, I kept dwelling on that encounter.

I am continually amazed at the openness of children. Their ability to treat every single person they meet as a new friend; their willingness to share their lives so easy; their eagerness and excitement to welcome others into their lives.

When we read in the Gospel: "The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these," I have always thought of those children. The call to enter the Kingdom of Heaven is the call to love every single person who runs across our path, it's the call to love boldly, it's the call to trust deeply.
Christ didn't approach His apostles and introduce Himself, produce a list of credentials, rattle off reams of references, and await their response. As a total stranger, He walked up to them and said: Drop what you're doing. Come, follow me. You don't know me, but trust me--Follow me--and it will change your life.

And that's how the best adventures start.

When they finished laughing they were on their way to being not just friends, but the dearest of friends, the sort of friends whose lives are shaped by the friendship.
― Robin McKinley, Spindle's End

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

burn brighter than the sun

“To the uneducated an 'A' is just three sticks.” 
 ― A.A. Milne 





I was reminded by my parents, on a day during which I was feeling stressed and harried, rather than particularly grateful, "Take time to thank God for all the opportunities you have at Notre Dame." 
In moments of clarity, I'm ashamed of how I take education for granted.
 Someone once told me: If you’re smart, you’ve got power, and so you will never be poor.

I was talking with my friend about words and the powers of words. He brought up the excellent point that the world and its school of hard knocks could warp and bend the meaning of words, so that love means something more like lust and friend means something more like enemy. Formation is essential for human beings, who are so easily able to be bent and malformed.

Education is formation, but more than that, in the words of Yeats: "Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire." Education achieves its formation by setting the soul on fire. By exposing the tender mind and developing heart to the best and brightest ideas thought by the greatest thinkers, the young soul learns what goodness, truth, and beauty actually mean.
And those three intangibles should smite the heart of the young student, and make him yearn for something he can't find in his schoolbooks. They should create in her a longing for "the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited." (C.S. Lewis. Naturally.)

Education does not so much strip the world of its mystery. Our minds too often make the mistake of reducing the world to something simpler than it is.
Education restores to the world the rightful wonder that it is due.
So that 2+2 is not simply a sum we can master; but rather a strange brand of magic symmetry, that reveals the inner workings of nature, while shrouding them in impenetrable beauty.

 "There is a reality outside the world, outside space and time, outside man's mental universe, outside any sphere whatsoever that is accessible to human faculties. Corresponding to this reality, at the center of the human heart, is the longing for an absolute good, a longing which is always there and is never appeased by any object in this world.”
--Simone Weil