Sunday, March 30, 2014

existential angst of sublunary beings

 I adjure you, Daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles and the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.
--Song of Songs

Sometimes, during college, I have found myself in compromising situations and inexplicable positions.

Such as Saturday, when I was dancing in the holding cell of the campus police building, or that one time I once carried a table with several piles of props on it from the theatre building to a far distant quad, where we performed Oscar Wilde under the afternoon sun, with the hazy August warmth still hanging in the air and the insouciance of sophomore year running through our blood.

And then there was that time I was army crawling through the atrium of the chemistry building, clad in a hospital gown, desperately attempting to reach the door in my daring "escape" (anything for art/student films, you know).
As I looked up there, on the other side of the door, was a demure looking professor, who held in her hands a large box of files and a birthday balloon, who watched my desperate clawing at the carpet with a mixture of mild curiosity and dismay, and kindly waited until we finished the shot to enter the building.
I smiled pleasantly up at her from my cozy position on the carpet, as she walked past us and said: "Hello! So sorry to be in the way!"
My hospital gown was a bit mussed, but I tried to maintain the poise and social graces that Emily Post and my mother instilled in me.

This afternoon, I found myself again desperately crawling around in a hospital gown.
This time, however, I was in a large field far by an abandoned factory building, far from campus, located in a neighborhood that was far from savory.
The houses that we drove past to reach our field could not be seen without stirring a seed of pathos inside of your heart.
Decay is rarely a welcome sight.

The wall of one of the abandoned factory buildings was missing, one of the intact buildings behind me reeked of cannabis (we assumed a lush garden of Mary Jane was thriving behind those corrugated metal walls), and the area I was traversing was a minefield of prickers, discarded shoes, and suspect bottles.
Thinking: I wonder what my mother would say about this: I spent my afternoon learning all the many different ways to army crawl through the long grass.
(Spoiler alert: my mother would advise me to check my hair for ticks.)

As I reached my goal: a rusty chain-length fence (with surprise barbed wire at the top), I saw the well-kept grassy fields of the neighborhood park on the other side, and kitty-corner from that field, across the street, there was a beautiful brick church, rising over the squalor of its surroundings.
Its bell-tower looked like the Spanish mission churches whose pictures always accompanied the story of Junipero Serra in California, its warm brick was clean, cared-for, and its stained-glass windows refracted the golden sunlight hanging in the pre-sunset sky.
I clung to the chain-link fence, my hair being blown about by the cold breeze that had picked up, shivering in the shadows of the trees that lines the fence, my nose tickled by the strange vines that clung to the rusty links, and I stared at that church.

I felt, as I have never felt before, like that lamb that wanders off from the other ninety-nine.
And I looked towards that church, hoping that the Shepherd would leave the other ninety-nine who were safely and smartly inside the cozy brick.
Why would He, though?
If I had just been a good sheep and stayed with the rest of the flock, I would have never gotten stuck behind the vine-entrenched fence in the first place.
Curiosity and the stubborn need to strike out on my own had put me behind the fence in the first place.
So, technically, this was my own fault.
So, technically, it really was all on me to get myself out of that predicament.
My tears were nothing more than a bootless pity party.
But no matter how hard I could try to scale that fence, I would always land on the same side.
This is annoying, because as human beings, we do so love agency, and we love to watch the power that we possess within us work a tangible change upon the world, ourselves, and others.
That is why humans carve out space in mountains to make highways, it is why architects build skyscrapers, it is how the factory got there in the first place: the ingenuity of man.
The brilliance of man, the intelligence of man, the creative power of man.
And yet none of those things can get the man from one side of the chain-link fence to the other.

If the shepherd never came, I would have remained forever clinging to that rusty metal, sniffling in the cold shadow of the alien vines, staring at the warm church.
Instead, inside of me rose up a prayer, but not a dry prayer, like so many that had rolled off my tongue of late, but an actual, living, breathing prayer.
Something like fire and something like water, something that can cauterized a soul's uncleanness, and wash away with divine waters the wretchedness of our hearts.
An agency far beyond my own weak ability, with a power far deeper than any human's.
There, in the fire and the water, a path is forged.
One that could not be found without the help of the shepherd, one that never would have occurred to us on our own, a path from one side of the fence to the other.
Although mysterious and beyond our reach, it is simple. It is clear.
It parts the entangling vines as easily as the Red Sea, and we pass through, unscathed, but newly cleansed by our journey through the water, and a strength renewed by our encounter with the flame.

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved--tell him I am sick with love.
--Song of Songs

Thursday, March 27, 2014

swath of chiaroscuro

Letting go of things such as success, status and material goods was necessary on the journey to becoming an honest self. I still need to understand the deeper sense of letting go, of handing over to God the direction of my life.
We come to know that all of our dyings and risings occur in Easter's first light.
--Anthony Grasso, CSC

Our Upper Room

The strange thing about the Liturgical year is that it doesn't quite match up with the solar year.
Chronos and kairos are slightly off-kilter.

Campo di Fiori in all its glory

This year, the ground is still frozen and snow frosts the ground.
Underneath my feet, a thin sheet of persistent ice crusts the sidewalk.
Memories of last year: of light reflecting off Roman terra cotta roofs, of Good Friday fasts broken by gelato and fragolino behind the Pantheon.

sassy fruit vendor is sassy

Phone calls broken up by weak European cellular connections,
busy marketplaces and quiet chapels, hidden beauties tucked inside Churches on each street corner.

Holy Thursday in Bologna. Figo.

A rain-kissed Good Friday and brilliantly sunny Easter.
Pesto and pasta and limitless carafes of wine and Nutella cornetti.

Passings away and startings anew.

But I'll still believe though there's cracks you'll see,
When I'm on my knees I'll still believe,
And when I've hit the ground, neither lost nor found,
If you'll believe in me I'll still believe
--Mumford and Sons, Holland Road

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

fiat in fides

It is not physical beauty nor temporal glory nor the brightness of light dear to earthly eyes, nor the sweet melodies of all kinds of songs, nor the gentle odor of flowers, and ointments and perfumes, nor manna or honey, nor limbs welcoming the embraces of the flesh; it is not these I love when I love my God. 

The wonderful thing about being six years old is that all information enters the brain equally.
There is no sifting between the wheat and the chaff, there is no judicious sizing up of one piece of information over the other.
All the knowledge that is dropped down into your head.
This is the great power and danger of speaking in the presence of six year olds. The words you say may be remembered long after you have forgotten them.
I will never forget my father's strict admonitions never to stand on rolling chairs. Every time my lazy self is too slothful to find another step ladder besides the convenient rolling chair in my close vicinity, his warning echo through my brain, and I reluctantly search for other means of elevation. A routine which has probably saved my life several times.
I cannot forget Gayloria's picture book that introduced me to Johnny Appleseed, or my babysitter's ominous warning that if I lied I would be sent to hell, or the neighbor girl who introduced me to the strange and fascinating beings known as: the Spice Girls.
I remember when I heard the Eucharist bells, I could never see the altar boys who were ringing them, and I was convinced that those bells I heard were being rung my angels straight from heaven.
I will always remember my mother telling me that it always snowed on the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
I thought of her words again, as I opened up the door to go on my morning run, and I was greeted, not by the frozen ground and dead grass of a rainy and cold March, but with the gentle snowfall and a blanket of soft, sweet white covering the ground.
Very Marian weather.

All these were pieces of information that made up the mosaic of my six year old world.
The thing about being really any age over six, but particularly any age over sixteen, is that you look for words that are sent specifically to you.
You look for signs.
You realize there is an order and a pattern to the world, and you begin to look for where you fit into that pattern, where that order weaves into your life.
As we hiked through the hilly streets of Darjeeling, I found words that were meant for me.
Painted onto the side of a wall, etched in gold inside of a chapel.
Not the words I was expecting to hear, but the words that were put there for me to find.
The signs you are expecting are never the ones that you find.
They are always a surprise, and usually quite troubling.
But to meet them with fear, with looks of askance and with doubt is not only a cowardly position, but a prideful one as well.
To be a coward is understandably human; to be a prideful coward is vaguely insufferable.
To meet the unexpected with peace, to greet the surprises of life with a firm and patient Yes, leads to something like joy.
Our fiats lead to our magnificats.

Yet there is a light I love, and a food, and a kind of embrace when I love my God — a light, voice, odor, food, embrace of my innerness, where my soul is floodlit by light which space cannot contain, where there is sound that time cannot seize, where there is a perfume which no breeze disperses, where there is a taste for food no amount of eating can lessen, and where there is a bond of union that no satiety can part. 
That is what I love when I love my God.

Monday, March 24, 2014

we are shamefaced even to this day

"I do think, said Shasta, "that I must be the unfortunate boy that ever lived in the whole world. Everything goes right for everyone except me." And being very tired and having nothing inside of him, he felt so sorry for himself that the tears rolled down his cheeks.
--The Horse and His Boy

Peter Weeping in Front of the Virgin
by Il Guernico

And I do feel that there must have been some of Shasta's tears mixed in with Peter's here.
Although self-pity is usually bogged down with all sorts of negatives contexts, sometimes we are selves that are very much in need and worthy of pity.
Not, of course, when we want to pity ourselves.
When we have stomach cramps that drive us to lie supine on the sofa while a marathon of Pixar movies distracts us from the basilisk in our gut, when we have a broken heart or a disappointed desire that leads us to eat a bucket-ful of macarons, when we, like Shasta, feel that everyone else's lives have gone quite right, and ours is being perpetually frustrated and thrown off-course, it is then when we look at ourselves and we pity ourselves very greatly.

But it is not usually then when our selves deserve our pity.
We deserve our pity when we, beings who possess a glory exalted above all creatures of the earth, deny the man who we love the most.
When we find ourselves trapped in a smallness not natural to our being, when we find ourselves bent, warped, then we certainly ought to pity ourselves.
Just as Peter, at that moment, as he weeps in front of the mother of the man on whom he just turned his back, surely deserves his pity.
And Mary's, as she watches him with a mixture of tender love, horror, and forgiveness.
There it is.
The most inexplicable word in the word is: forgiveness.
As in, I forgive you.
Or you are forgiven.

We don't help ourselves by calling very atrocious things "unforgivable,"
because then we've cut out from underneath us the very idea that makes up forgiveness.
Which is, that no matter what we do, the most horrible actions of ours are somehow not a part of our core self.
They are somehow able to be separated from us--we can cast them adrift from our true self, we can free ourselves of those actions.
The idea that our core self, even if hidden underneath years and years of malice and abuse of virtue and hatred, and all those warped, twisted things that humans do to one another, our self within ourself remains something beautiful and lovable.
And somehow, the beauty and splendor and the worthiness of that inner self outweighs the horrors that we can commit.
And, if we cannot chisel through the stone we've wrapped around our vulnerable hearts, but if we have the strength only to lift that hammer, just wishing we could chip away at the rock, then the stone can be cut through by a sharper force than any we could ever produce.
The slow, steady power of water as it erodes away the sharpness of the stony armor is very much like the force behind forgiveness.
Over years and years of steady work, the water erodes, smooths the rock face, conforms it to its gentle, sturdy will.
Shapes it into a new form, a more essential form, breaking away from the sharp promontories and unnecessary peaks on its jagged face.

And this is truly a mystery.
It is a mystery to us that the water will continue to bathe the face of the rock, as it mingles with the rock's own salty tears.
It is a mystery that there is no rocky cliff on the shoreline that the ocean will not seek to caress.

Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

Sunday, March 23, 2014

she dreamed of a way to ignite

So she sighs and she burns with desperation/ Learns to cry over love of constellations
--Sara Bareilles

I lit my candle, and then watched as the flame, still dancing on the elegant wooden matchstick, shrunk as the matchstick continued to burn.
After the flame had dissolved back into the wood, there remained a liquid light charging through the veins of the wood grain.
A fire remained within the wood, burning, smoldering, lighting the small stick with an interior fire.
No flame or smoke provided evidence of the fire's presence.
But it was there, burning.
Just a small steady glow pulsed in the misty morning air, as the chemical reactions that make fire carried on with their business inside of this small, slender piece of wood.
The glow of the fire is easily extinguished, whether by ash, two fingers, or a swift breath of wind.
But, if untouched, the fire will continue to burn slowly, steadily inside the little matchstick.
Sometimes, you just have to let it burn, and not try to extinguish it, or try to fan it up into a burst of flame.
But if you let the fire glow away, it will run out its natural course.
Sometimes, the glow will dance inside of the matchstick longer than you thought was possible.
The resiliency of fire is not its most well-known characteristic.
Fire is that element more associated with reckless burning and dramatic explosions.
It is the element of danger, of excitement, of rapidity and unpredictability.
The less-celebrated facet of fire is its longevity; its dependability; its steadfastness.
Its embers continue to glow long after the ashes have doused its bright and bold flames.

More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?
--The Prophet Jeremiah

Thursday, March 20, 2014

twilight zones in our hearts

A friend is that other person with whom we can look at a tree and say, "Isn't that beautiful," or sit on the beach and silently watch the sun disappear under the horizon. 
― Henri Nouwen

The most beautiful spot on campus is the beams of light that dance on the ceiling above the baptismal font.
The ballet of ripples leaps across the smooth surface of the ceiling, a corps de ballet made of liquid light.
If you never looked up above you, you would never be able to see the most beautiful sight on campus.


I stood on the terrace, and looked at the city of lights stretched out beneath my feet.
Unlike the two nights before, there was no foggy blanket of smog and smoke that descended upon the city of love.
There was just a wide expanse of life, of lights.
Unlike London, Paris doesn't crowd the skyline.
The sky is open, unblocked by any skyscraper or tower, except by la grande tour Eiffel.
There is simply a blanket of lights, mirroring the inky stars above.
As you walk through the winding streets, you are swaddled by buildings with rounded corners and charming archipelagos of chimney pots.
There are romantic wrought-iron balconies, elegantly carved plaster, brightly colored awnings, and warm heat lamps basking their electronic warmth on the wicker seats of sidewalk cafés.
The world around you is something like a dream.
A smoggy, messy, cigarette-smoke-drenched little pipe dream.

A lonely little clump of friends sat in their own little pipe dream.
They clustered around a statue of someone or other, enjoying the view of la Eiffel, and several bottles of wine, as well.
There was laughter, there were strawberries, there were flashes of starbursts on the tower, that burst into the night sky like a smile that flickers around a circle.
The stone steps were cold underneath our feet, and the chatter and laughter sent a flood of warmth inside of us.

I wonder if the man who inspired that statue ever predicted that one day his image would become a scenic backdrop for wine-soaked camaraderie.
There are, indeed, worse fates.

 Other people, especially those who love us, can often see our twilight zones better than we ourselves can. The way we are seen and understood by others is different from the way we see and understand ourselves. We will never fully know the significance of our presence in the lives of our friends. That is a grace, a grace that calls us not only to humility, but to a deep trust in those who love us. 
― Henri Nouwen

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

high time for moonset

 Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past.
--Book of Common Prayer, Evensong

I walked across a bridge, a large stone bridge, when suddenly the plane trees, which grew silently in their melancholy line along the river banks loomed large in front of me, rimmed with silver in the moonlight.
As I walked, each step took me deeper into the vision of déjà vu that confronted me--I felt that I was back on the familiar bridge, with Westminster looming in front of me, and the trees seemed to be direct relations of the trees that grew on Southbank right in front of the National.
This city seemed to be carved out in the shape of my heart, and I knew the contours of every stone on that bridge. My nostrils picked up on that same warm, sweet scent filling the air--the cozy perfume of waffles and Nutella, and Nutella slathered on crepes--filling the windy air by la tour Eiffel.

In the midst of the cynical, hope.
In the midst of imperfection, love.

Love is not a feeling.
No, indeed it is not.
Love is biting your tongue instead of letting it lash out in a stream of comments more clever than charitable.
Love is explaining yourself when you would rather just tell a white lie, wave your hand, and stay cozily inside your happy cocoon of lonely self-knowledge.
Love is washing the dishes when you would rather be lounging on the couch, reading your book.
These things, of course, are the stuff of love.
That daily saying: "Not my will, but yours be done."
No, indeed, love is not a feeling.
But love begets a feeling.
Not every day--just like not every day do you see a rainbow painted on the floor by the stained glass, nor every day do you see two swans float side by side in harmony, nor is it every day that the sun shines through the rain-clouds in the morning, and the sunrise appears, virile, brilliant, and rejoicing.
But there are seasons for all things: crocuses, snow forts, Christmas trees, waterlilies, summer tempests, and Nutella crepes.
And there are seasons of sweetness, where love begets a feeling unlike any other.
We call this falling "in love," as if "love" was a tiger trap that you tumbled into, which is not a highly inaccurate metaphor, since sometimes love does feel like so many punji sticks.
Or it makes it sound like "love" is some altered state of consciousness, a state of being you find yourself caught in, as if love was simply a more potent form of LSD.
But perhaps we might think of love less like LSD or tiger traps, and more like a force of supernatural reality.
Perhaps, when you orient yourself towards that reality, when you turn your heart into a space where love can flourish, where grace can carve out a home in that stony cavern for the Other Person, then it only seems to make sense that grace's dramatic and drastic undertaking of opening up your Self to make room for another Self would make you feel something.
Unless, of course, our bodies and souls are not at all related, and what happens in our minds, brains, hearts, and souls are not connected at all.
But that is an idea so boring and dull--soporific, even-- that my eyelids begin to droop with drowsy boredom as my mind seeks to contemplate it.
To be a human means to be an intricate mess of stony caverns where grace is laying down soil, and emotions that are related to bodily functions and movements of the heart, and ideas that make us feel sick to our stomach, and imaginary fears that cause our palms to sweat, and thoughts that make our diaphragm contract into strange movements we call laughter.
To be a human means to be a space where that supernatural reality kisses the crude matter of earth.
It is an electric, exciting, and utterly baffling thing to be.

So when we, an electric, monumental creature, truly begin to know, and see, and love another magnificent and incandescent person, the rumblings of change in our soul, the new shape our will begins to take creates rumblings of new things within our heart, and all throughout our bodies.

The birdsong that sharply cuts through the spring fog sounds different, changed, transposed into a key more sweet.
The air tastes different on our tongue. It tastes like the first whispers of summer.
The wind that blows persistently through the trees feels softer, like gentle caresses from the zephyr.
The world feels mysteriously different, it has been transfigured, and in all the cracks that grace has eroded on its rocky surface have let some of its shrouded glory shine through.
The full moon enchants us as it sets over the lights of the small, quiet city.
The stars pierce through the night sky, and they seem to sing.

The world has changed, it has shifted every so slightly on its axis.
Because you have shifted on yours.
The change is not one from without, but within.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

slouching towards Bethlehem

An angry patch of red appeared on the skin of my forearm,
I watched as great lumps of white appeared in the red,
a burning, itching archipelago of hives broke out,
allergic reaction, my roommate said.
Allergic to what? I wracked my brain--
to high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oil?
to hazelnuts or traces of an undiscovered tree nut?
to love and to gentleman suitors? 
My only fear was--
Oh Lord, I prayed, may it not be red wine.

I sat in the night, with my two letters of comfort
and my constant Mother in her little blue and white sari,
and I watched the warm candles burn
I turned over my shoulder and saw the little white lamplight
and the moon cast a silver glow on the frosted trees.
And I grew so content knowing that it is impossible for 
the Lover to stop loving the Beloved.
And that is a truth we so often forget.
We hate the possibility of lethe, of forgetting,
we find it, in fact, lethal.
So we grasp and we grasp to what we know for certain,
to what we can remember
to the past, 
hoping to read the events of our history forward into the future.
An impossible task--one that God does not even do for us.
So burn what is leftover.
And hold onto what is in the present.
Not seeking to find out the future or correct the past.
But recognizing that fire can erase all the hurts and the pains.
And we move forward, 
our boats perpetually propelled by the currents from the utter east.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

sillagistic kairos

I say nothing to Him; I love Him.

I ran past a clump of trees, and heard a rustling in the branches.
I turned and looked and there was a hawk, swooping down on a tiny little squirrel.
That poor squirrel tried to cling to the branch of the tree, and made the most pitiful chirrup of panic as the hawk flew away, clutching the little furry creature that would become its meal.
Intellectually, I understand the premise of the food chain, and I truly do grasp with how it is necessary for life, since all creatures, even the hawk, has to eat.

But it was shocking to see an animal I nearly consider a pet being lifted off into the air to be torn and devoured by this bird.
It would have been an easier sight to see if the hawk had been eating a snake or a mole.
A squirrel was just too much for me to handle.

And, it did make me think of how the world is sort of senselessly awful.
The world could be best described, I think, as dancing the line between immeasurable beauty, and inescapably appalling bullshit.
Our senses of humor were created to help us dance that fine, fine line with the world.
They say that religion was created to help human beings cope with the reality of death, but I'd say our senses of humor help us do that on the daily.

Yesterday, I sat in a sunny café with my dearest friend, and we ate breakfast together.
I nibbled gingerly on toast and tea, for woe, I am pigeon-livered, and the title of Beer Pong Champions is dearly bought.
We spoke a lot about the imperfections of the world, our own imperfections, and the glaring imperfections of basically everything.
Which, I suppose, is to be expected when two cynics gather to break bread together.
But, even when lamenting the fundamental wretchedness of the world, we found that the appropriate reaction was not to love the world less, but to love it more.
More real than pessimism, deeper than optimism, we were finding that underneath our layers of warranted cynicism was a firm foundation of hope.

We don't escape the misery of the world by retreating to fairytales, or by ignoring the intolerable evil, only seeking to see what we deem is beautiful.
Beauty is not safety.
That which makes us comfortable should make us wary.
There is nothing: not what we see in the beauty of Michelangelo's paintings, in the power of Niagara Falls, in the Nicean Creed, in Grimm's fairytales that should make us comfortable.
There is nothing in the beauties we surround ourselves by that should make us look at ourselves and say: well, this is very affirming. Guess there's no need to strive for more virtue or correctness for me. I've pretty much made it!
If there's one thing that the beauty of the world does to us is it issue to us a bold and demanding challenge:
why are you, it demands, settling for dabbling around in mud pies when you were made to join in the beauty of the ultimate reality? Of a love that breathed into being the stars and the sun?
Are you going to dabble in your petty, childish desires, content yourself with your tame version of life, or will you seek maybe to be stretched beyond the limits of your own heart?

And then, the misery of the world, its wounds, its hurts make it more beloved to us.
When we ditch the rosy-colored spectacles, we find that the world painted in its natural colors is a sight far greater than we could conceive.
We find that the narrative that is constructed answers our longings, our needs, is a response to our brokenness more fully than any other version we attempt to create.
It is dark in some patches, much darker than we would like.
But our task lies in that darkness: to slowly turn that darkness into light.
That is the task of hope.

Friday, March 7, 2014

twattle groak brabble

a sight more beautiful than sunlight
Sometimes, you know with blinding clarity what exactly it is that you want.
This morning, at 9:52 am, as I hastily strode through the student center on the way to the mammoth building we call The Library, I felt with piercing certainty exactly what I wanted:

Item the First.
Instead of walking through the familiar and much-beloved student center out onto the bright, crisp light of the snowy field-house mall, I wanted to be walking through the familiar chaotic of Charing Cross Station, out into the serene marble light of Trafalgar square, where the small amounts of sunlight that peep through the fog sparkle off the fountains that serve as Lord Nelson's moat.
I pored over the above over-simplified map of the world's most complicated and snake-like city, and I yearned to be back there, in the hustle and bustle of Hungerford Bridge, or smelling Wahaca on South Bank, or wandering through East London's narrow lanes.

I also wanted to be traversing, for probably the forth or fifth time that day, the eternal stretch of Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II. I wanted to smell the scents of Rome and feel the rise and fall of the Roman cobblestone beneath my feet.
That desire rose up inside my heart so piercingly clearly.

To declare oneself an island, to insist on the boundaries of the individual is perhaps the greatest temptation. 
There is a different sort of pride that leads to a humble wonder at oneself. 
Almost a shock that one is walking around, shining like the sun. 
How can this be?

Item the Second.

I walked into the library and thought of all the books in here that I'd like to read, and then I thought of all the books sitting in piles in my room that I was planning to read, and I wanted, wanted so desperately for just one Saturday to sit around as I did each day Christmas Break, in the same clothes I wore the day before, just soaking in the words and worlds inside the books.

Help us to accept with kindness, charity, even peacefulness what you ask of us in our occasional trials. Grant us your help as we try to become who you created us to be.
--William Simmons, C.S.C.

Item the Third.

I wanted eyes to see very clearly not only the road ahead, but the road behind.
Obviously, the temptation to seek an oracle is a universal one. How convenient it would be to ride to Delphi, and have someone give you all the answers, and chart out exactly what is going to happen in your life.
But life, sadly doesn't work like that, and we can only identify prophesies in retrospection.
But that desire to be be able to sort through the mess of the past, and say: well, this was a good thing, and this was a bad thing, and I should definitely feel this one singular emotion about this thing.
is only a reasonable desire, I suppose, because a human being who can't make sense of their own story is a rather lost little human being. 

Christ told us to take up our cross; not to take up our cross, and our pen and notepad and jot down how we felt about it.
--J. Crawford Wiley

We had dinner tonight with a young gentleman who radiated certainty. 
He was a man who knew his story and his family's story, and the story of the land where he grew up.
I grew envious for a few short moments of this man who was so grounded in one corner of the world.
He spoke so eloquently of his little stretch of land, his small portion of the world.
But he knew his culture intimately, it was a part of who he was, he was part of it.
His part of the world did not include the bustle of Kolkata traffic, and it didn't take into account the rumblings in St. Peter's square, and it in no way identified with the pains inside the hearts of thousands of tortured human souls.
But perhaps it is not the tasks of all of us to be citizens of the globe.
And my nomad heart was sad for just a split second as she met a soul who had such solid, unshakeable roots into the soil of a particular topography, and realized that I would never have those roots into the earth.
The roots I have, I suppose connect me more to Augustine, and Bérulle, and my parents, and the worlds of Thommasina and Fanny and Beatrice and Saint Joan.
They are less rooted in the rich loam of the hills of home, and more in the stories that have become a part of me.

Creative art, which it is the soul's good fortune to entertain, is not to be identified with that essential art which is God himself, it is a communication of it and a share in it.
--John Paul II's Letter to Artists.

I also suppose (there's a lot of uncertainty and supposes on a Friday night), that maybe the answers to one's past are a bit more mysterious and a bit less black and white.
Especially where grace is concerned, grace that can bring immense beauty out of such terrible lies and hurt, grace leads less to certainty, and more, I think, to wonder in the mystery.
I don't think that, actually--
I know that.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

mossy elbows and tumbleweed feet

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca, 
pray that the road is long 
--Ithacas, Constantine P. Cavafy

Travel for the sake of traveling is no use whatsoever
Your feet grow more and more dissatisfied with stillness the longer you keep them in motion.
You grow addicted, overly dependent on the feeling of earth moving beneath your feet.
Staying still becomes a task that takes monumental effort.
When your entire body, your entire being is steadily focused on finding where to go next, taking a deep breath and focusing on the present becomes a monumental, Sisyphean chore.

I looked up at the mottled, stuccoed ceiling above my head.
Sometimes, the feeling of lying still is too much.
My blood churns with uncompleted tasks, unfulfilled desires, stacks of books that have yet to be read.
I am surrounded by a sea of sticky-notes with half-checked to-do lists.
Half of my heart is leaping outside the window into the night sky, dying to feel the rough burn of the night wind on my face.
Between the biting bursts of wind, you gasp in, gulp in the cold air and feel the sting of winter hit your lungs.
I am water-logged by memories of plane rides, smelly airports, the blast of the cold ac on your sweat-coated skin.

I think of the smell of Kraków in October, the bright yellow leaves that paved the deadly paths of Auschwitz, and the brilliant Church-lights shining against the night sky.

I remember the treasured few sunrises in Kolkata, the radiant colors of the sun peaking through the glum clouds, and the Himalayan peaks, that dazzled in the morning light, even the intimidating banks of clouds gilded by the fresh light of that pure sun.

I wish I could return to the small little country path stuck somewhere between Fakenham and Walsingham.
The sad thing about discovering a beautiful bridge in Norwich or a small little marigold-lined path in the middle of the English country-side, is that you know you'll never find it again.
Leaving Rome is sad to the extreme degree. But you have the assurance, the promise that just permeates the air that one day you will inevitably return. All roads lead to Rome, after all.
But the small little tea shop tucked under an inconspicuous awning in Stratford-upon-Avon, and the little hilly Cumbrian ridge where you sit down to eat some flapjacks, the random playground on the outskirts of Bologna proper, these are the places that you bid a permanent farewell to, as soon as you turn your back on them, and keep marching down the road.

In those peaceful little moments of stillness, of serenity, I think of that cavernous chapel. Which was really only the length and depth of my little townhouse's first floor.
But it seemed much larger than that.
It seemed as cavernous as St. Peter's, as dizzyingly tall as Kangchenjunga, as intimate and familiar as my mother's kitchen.

In the midst of constantly chasing the sun, sometimes a little bird's whistle, or the sight of warm golden sunlight on a snowbank, or the feeling of alighting from the bus into the misty, snowy evening, these moments of stillness are the reminders to listen to the symphony of music inside one's own heartbeat.
It's that heartbeat which compels us to stop, and pushes us forward, all at the same breath.

I wrapped myself in a cocoon of fuzzy blankets, and I listened to nothing else but the rumbling of the frat boys next door,  the rustle of snow and night creatures outside, and the thump-thump of my heart, marching to its own beat.

 Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage. 
Without her you would have never set out on the road. 
She has nothing more to give you. 
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you. 
Wise as you have become, with so much experience, 
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean
--Ithacas, Constantine P. Cavafy

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

greater than you imagine

 Is it real? The fire? 
Yes it is. 
Where is it? I don't know where it is. 
Yes you do. It's inside you. It was always there. I can see it.
--The Road, Cormac McCarthy

I looked out of the window of class today, and saw the snow softly falling on the roof next door.
How pleasantly Christmas-like, I thought.
Then I realized how utterly depressing that was, because this wasn't November 31st, or December 11th, it was March 6th, and Christmas is definitely not the frame of mind that is generally cultivated on March 6th.
I mean, it's lovely.
But it's jarringly Christmas-like.

Because, several days before, we had seen the first spring green buds.
And before that, I had splashed in the puddles.
And before that, even, there were days of springish-ly warm rain and iridescent blue skies.
And the birdsong.
The thing about birdsong is that it far too easily slips into the background, into the white noise of the wind blowing and the plants growing.
But sometimes, when it's been months of no birdsong, the song sticks out to you in the middle of the dreary, long, and woefully dull grayish afternoon.
An afternoon like a November transported into March.
An afternoon where you feel your throat begin to scratch, and your eyelids begin to droop.
An afternoon on which being human feels more like a chore than a joy.

Sometimes, I watch the squirrels and think of how easy they must have it, hopping around, finding food from the hands of kindly, foolish college students.
What a great life you have squirrels, I silently shout at them, as they hop through giant snowdrifts, struggling to scamper from tree to tree. You don't even know how easy you have it.
Obviously, any mildly observant person could deduce that the squirrel lifestyle brings with it its own unique challenges and burdens.
But the grass is always greener on the other side. Meaning that no matter how big a puddle your neighbor is fording through, it looks smaller than the Caspian Sea sized monstrosity you are wading through, thus, you nearly tear your raincoat in two, remorsefully wishing you had chosen a different path, any path than the one you had taken.

Which, simply put, is an absolutely irrational way of thinking.
Because, it goes without saying, there are puddles on every path that you're going to take.
Some of them are Caspian Sea sized monstrosities, others have sheets of ice lurking at the bottom, others are filled with that lovely, tropical-bred typhoid water.

But the point of life is not to find the path with the least puddles.
It's about how to navigate your way through those puddles once you find them.
There are some of us who skirt around them, who walk on the soggy grass, or a marginally firm patch of mud rather than wade through the Mariana Trench in our path.
I always admire the resourcefulness and composure of those people, who manage to escape from a rainy day with nary a puddle-stain on their shoes.
But often, I find myself in mid-puddle thinking: I should have gone around.
But I didn't go around.
So there's no point going back to dry land and starting over again.
It's much safer (and, in the long run, dry-er) to just keep plugging onward.
Because, after being drenched to the skin in some kind of cruel bipedal baptism, you will finally reach the other side.
Because unlike squirrels, the snow only comes up to our shins, and hasn't swallowed us yet.

A Russian priest told me, "To say to anyone 'I love you' is tantamount to saying 'You shall live forever." 
I am slowly beginning to learn something about immortality.
--Madeleine L'Engle

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

inundation of witness

To love as another subject who has freedom.
We must give and receive of ourselves.

We can never perceive the inside of a human being.
Which I think is sort of a humbling realization.
No matter how far our empathy extends, we will never be able to truly get inside of someone else and experience all the swirling, whirling emotions, decisions, and life inside of them.

Perhaps this leads to the messiness of life.
The messiness of people misunderstanding, misinterpreting, and misreading one another.
If we could read each others' minds then we would never have what they call "drama."
Which is just 21st century lingo for Living with Other Humans.
If you're going to go off into the wilderness and be an anchorite, alone except for the ravens that bring you food, then you probably won't have to deal with any "drama."
The 99% of the rest of humanity, however, will deal with "drama" on a daily basis.
Because living with other human beings means that the strangest, silliest, saddest interactions take place between us on a daily basis.
Some of us use humor to navigate our way through these situations, some of us just write all the crazy drama we witness into plays (thus the art of theatre was born), and the real saintly few among us are really good at communicating with other people and listening to them, and those are the ones that keep the world turning each day.

And that's how the human family works.
And like it or not, we're all a part of that.
Because none of us, really, is a Single person.
I don't know how or when we decided that an unmarried person was Single.
Perhaps we decided that the words Bachelor and Spinster were too loaded with negative stereotypes and unflattering social connotations.
But I don't think we did ourselves any favors by scrapping those words for the wholly lonesome and inaccurate label of "Single."
For, good gracious, unless you've been keeping company with the anchorites in the Egyptian desert, you have never met a person who exists all on their own, free from attachments to all other humans.
Goodness, even the anchorites had mothers and fathers.
There is no such thing as a Single person.
A person adrift, an island floating through the vast sea of life, without another person to latch onto.
Because to be a human being necessarily means that you are made up of two people, and really, all the millions of people that went into making those two people.
Being a human being means that immediately upon your entrance into the world you inherit a whole host of tangled human relations and connections for which you did not even ask.
Human connection is not something we get to pick and choose, or something that we have to earn.
It is thrust upon us the very moment we enter the world.
And so I don't know who decided we should call people Single, or when this unfortunate moniker gained widespread use.
A more laughable misnomer I've never heard of since.

Our lives are unique stones in the mosaic of human existence -- priceless and irreplaceable.
 ― Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved

Monday, March 3, 2014

spring-time perestroika

you said/ remember that life is/ not meant to be wasted

Today is one of those days that is very bright and very cold.
One of those days that captures moments so easily, freezes them in a crystal clear radiance.

I ran into a friend whom I had set up on a blind date, and I asked her how it had gone.
It was fun, quoth she. I feel empowered.
And there we were, in the sun and snow of North quad, and I grinned ear to ear, because my meddling in other people's affairs had had a happy sort of outcome.
The happy outcome being female empowerment and knowing that one can make it through an hour and a half at dinner without spilling wine on your pants or sounding like a beached orca flailing in a kiddie pool.

I sat with my friend on a squishy couch, and listened to her talk, at home in the beautiful words of the story she was telling, her face was shining more brilliantly than the sun outside.
It was as if the permacloud that shrouds the South Bend sky had also been hiding that light inside of her. 
And my eyes started to well up with water like the puddles outside our front step, because I had nearly forgotten that this radiant person was constantly there, hiding underneath the clouds.
And I do love her so, clouds or no clouds.

Today, my friend spotted the first buds of spring.
Encouragingly, he dumped the remnants of his coffee upon them, in burst of enthusiasm, hoping to spur on their growth.
Perhaps, although there is still a hundred feet of snow on the ground, perhaps winter will end somewhere in the future.
It's quite a nice promise.
We are so foolish, human beings, you know.
We constantly accept to be true only the things we can see, touch, grasp with our senses, and maybe our reason.
There is nothing reasonable about hoping for spring to come.
And yet, there is something so completely reasonable.
Because it is extremely foolish to reduce the world to simply the sphere of experience you exist in 24 hours a day.
There is nothing more utterly foolish than to think that the physical universe is somehow "it."

Saying yes and saying no are both daunting prospects.
To say no to someone who has already said yes to you is either incredibly selfish or incredibly daring.
To say no without an assured yes waiting for you on the other end is borderline insane.
I always say that I hate "settling" that I am terrified of "settling."
Which, I suppose means saying 'yes' to something just because it's there, not because you want to say yes to it, simply because it presents itself as an opportunity to say yes to.
But I think I realized, in one clear moment on the very bright and clear not-quite-spring day, that saying no to something just because it's safer to say no than to say yes is settling as well.
And that is the task of life in a nutshell, I'd say: to say Yes, over and over again, muddling your ways through the smaller yeses and nos, correcting your course wherever you've taken a wrong turn, and learning how to have the humility to say yes when you previously said no.
Because for two of the smallest words in the English language, your yes and your no both wield a terrifying amount of power.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

namesake weather

I alighted from the bus--
stepped off into a snowbank. 
The snow came up to my knees-
making me feel like a child,
lost in the world so much larger than I.

I walked under the stars.
They were shrouded by a warm insulation of snow-cloud.
Soft, quiet lumps of snow fell on my eyelashes.
And clung to my eyebrows
and coated the curl dancing down from under my headband.

I sat in the chair
it was a large chair--
too large. Too lumpy. Too official.
It felt like it belonged to an older generation, a more leather-y generation.
I looked out into the warm sunlight of the Friday afternoon.
I kept looking at the sunlight,
thinking the sunlight might dry up the tears that were welling up in my eyes.

I gingerly tread down the stairs,
taking in the landscape of the living room
and there, in the corner, by the mantel was that one little piece
that one little cranny of my heart that was ajar.
I tiptoed back up the stairs,
and fell into bed, with all around me, warmth--
warmth like a willow tree embracing you.
To wake up under the canopy of a weeping willow is enchanting.

Lost in the enchantment, I wandered down into the cellar.
There, I found two sapphires, and held them in my hand.
I could not bear to part with them, and so I took them with me,
although their brilliance lessened when brought into the light of day.

Mesmerized, I watched the little dancing bear dance on the dashboard.
The scenery passed in a blur all around him,
but he stoically and solemnly danced on,
his face frozen into a cheerful smile.
His effortless dance of joy was a rebuke to the sour thoughts of my heart.
He danced because he was designed to dance.
And it seemed that the more he danced, the more he delighted in doing so.