Thursday, July 31, 2014

crystal is muddy

Sweet Lord have mercy, I thought, Have I forgotten how to add fractions?
I sat in the back of a high school classroom, shadowing the class.
As the teacher put up problems on the board, I found myself following the class' movements through the equations.
I surreptitiously scratched out the equation on a piece of scrap paper. I feel certain that the students knew that these terrifying mathematical symbols were my Waterloo. I was glad I was at the back of the room. I could spare them the sight of a college graduate being beaten by basic elementary math.
I looked at these strange beasts known as fractions.
And my conscious mind had no clue what to do with them.
It bucked, like a nervy stallion, at these unfamiliar and foreign objects.
What am I supposed to do with them again?
Rhyme them. Maybe I'm supposed to rhyme them?
How do these work?
Does this symbolize something...or...?
Does dividing 4/5 by 3/4 evoke a particular feeling? 
How am I supposed to deeply enter into the mystery of 4/5?
It is sad how one cannot pursue all the academic disciplines all at once.
And as my mind learns how to think like a theologian and a thespian, it has set aside, at least for a year or two, a mathematical mode of thinking.
But, almost in spite of myself, when presented with a problem, my quieter unconscious mind knew what to do.
Its reaction to these fractional horrors was essentially a reflex.
Before I knew what was happening, the dormant mathematician in my head had already elegantly untangled the web of numbers in front of me.
I stared at the page in front of me in wonder, in awe.
Here, on this white sheet of paper was a stream of numbers that had flown together, through the application of reason.
Before, they had been a puzzle, a jumble of numbers that desperately needed detangling.
Then, once one put one's mind to it, the numbers arranged themselves elegantly, dancing over the page into an ordered, sound, and valid equation.
The sensation of working that equation was intoxicating.
Mathematics, I discovered in that moment, presents horizons of unparalleled exhilaration.

Sunday, July 27, 2014


If we peeled open the trap-door of the cosmos,
we'd find hiding in the cellar underneath
our worst nightmares.
Not the cobwebs or the dust
or the eerie single lightbulb glowing in the dark
but a vast vault of emptiness.
A cavern of absolutely nothing,
a negative, would confront us.
And this would be too much for our minds to grasp.
If we peek beyond the iron curtain we have hung--
a safety net to carve out a sweet
recess of comprehension,
where the world spins in one direction only,
where we can calculate the heartbeat of a star--
if we peer beyond this into the
mangled chaos of the
uncharted reaches of the cosmos,
past matter,
past time,
past understanding
we find nothing.
This nothing that clouds the edges of our vision,
that lingers hazily in the corners of our thought
is too terrifying to see clearly.
We confine it the peripheries of our consciousness,
and when it sneaks its way to center stage,
its sheer dreadfulness freezes our hearts.
We are paralyzed by the lack of image
that confronts our waking minds.
There is nothing for us to hold on too--
Nothing stops our heartbeat,
it stymies the air flowing
through our lungs,
when these lungs fall silence--
what then?
What next?
In the deep black silence of this death,
beyond the safety of our human confines,
there is nothing.
but you.
Even in the yawning gap of the world
beyond what we can endure,
you are there.
You have waded into the dark silence
of the nothing,
you have made us light.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

more radiant than the next

For God's sake, let's take the word 'possess' and put a brick round its neck and drown it ... We can't possess one another. We can only give and hazard all we have.
 ― Dorothy Sayers, Busman's Honeymoon

Transitions are very discomforting things.
I always wonder how master of ceremonies, teachers, homilists, and news writers manage to write transitions from one seemingly disparate subject to the next. The art of connections is a precise and terrifying science.
Because transitions do not come naturally to human beings. Transitions are usually sort of clumsy, awkward, and uncomfortable. Like a car shifting from park to reverse, there is usually a clunk of some sorts and a bit of grinding gears.
Human beings, I think, are the funniest creatures ever, because we are so adaptable. 
I can be at home in my house as if I never left it.
I can also sit in my little dorm room in Howard Hall, and not feel at all nonplussed by the knowledge that I awoke that morning in my happy little house, with the smell of my dad's pancakes on the stove.
I can sit here, in the warm family room, listening to my siblings talk over one another in their fierce debate over whether or not human brains can train themselves to be more perceptive, and feel perfectly at peace. Never mind that this morning I was running through Central Park and climbing the steps of my house up to the third floor room, overlooking Upper East Side Manhattan.
How do our brains do this?
 I have no clue.
We have the uncanny ability to make ourselves at home, to assimilate to our surroundings at a horrendously speedy pace.
This fact, however, is lost on a human being in transition.
For example, this past week, I moved out of Notre Dame for the last time (in the foreseeable future. Let us not be overdramatic about this. Only a Sith deals in absolutes); I began to get settled into my new home in NYC; and then I arrived home.
I don't think my mind has processed everything that has happened in the past week. It certainly cannot grasp that it was only one week ago I was speeding across campus to obtain raw bacon, cajoling the Legends of Notre Dame catering staff into frying said bacon (assuming a conspiratorial and familiar air and pleading smile will take you far), assisting in repairing a wardrobe emergency that occurred during Ms. Azalea's "Fancy" (overly enthusiastic dancing certainly comes with occupational hazards), laughing with dear friends, saying goodbyes, being sent forth, last visits to the Grotto--all these moments from last Saturday feel like ages and ages ago.
Then, just twenty-four hours later, I was in my friend's Chicago apartment, having a midnight chat.
Then, just twenty-four hours after that, I was in the basement of a New York theatre, watching a very New York-ish musical theatre cabaret happening before my eyes, and drinking a rather overpriced gin and tonic. 
Just to add to the Wonderland-like nature of this past week, Vision sort of takes over your memories of Notre Dame. While immersed in Vision, it is hard to remember all the other things that happen at Notre Dame besides the glorious and exhausting routine of the Vision week. Thus, part of transitioning out of Vision and out of Notre Dame meant consciously bringing to mind each of the moments that is not Vision. Remembering all the other 99% of Notre Dame memories and saying good bye to those, I found myself clinging very tightly to the familiar. I watched everyone else leave, returning to familiar homes and faces. And I was jumping into the unknown. But all I wanted to do was dig in my heels and plant roots.
Once I looked back over the summer, I realized that I was being prepared from the very beginning to leave. From the moment I unpacked too many wall decorations in my dorm room, I was starting the beautiful process of departure.
I was glad, even though it was impractical and highly inconvenient, that I had moved into that little room so completely, made it so utterly homey.
Because the very point of being human is to make yourself at home, even though you're going to go.
Wherever we touch down, it is our duty to put down roots. We know--ah, we know all too well--that we are going to be picked up and moved, but I think that's the very point. One of the saddest jokes every played on us but sweetest gifts ever given to us is the feeling of not-being-at-home while at home. The fact that we have to keep moving, even if we don't want to, and then, eventually, we move on.
The point is to grow attached, to let the various homes we find throughout our life mold us and shape us, form who we are, and then let them go, cast them aside, and begin anew.
But the letting go ought to be painful. 
One should probably weep when we bid goodbye to people we love or places that have settled themselves so permanently in the geography of our hearts. There is nothing shameful about loving something so dearly it hurts to cast it off. The sadness is part of the sweetness. Anything that is worth doing in our lives is going to come with a goodbye, because we are temporal. The greater and more beautiful the experience: attending an excellent college, finding a best friend, falling in love, the costlier and more painful the goodbye--but infinitely worth having. If we are ever going to go about loving--rather than possessing--then we must hazard ourselves. We cannot keep each person or experience at arm's length, moving through the world like a tumbleweed, without developing roots. 
We must put down roots, take them up again, feel displaced, be filled with nostalgia, and be utterly restless, because none of us have yet achieved the beatific vision.

The first goodbyes were so surreal, it was hard to feel anything other than the utter joy in feeling that we had been sent forth properly. My classmates and colleagues had shared beautiful words of wisdom, preparing us for the next chapter, which would indubitably be better than the last. We had danced. We had thanked one another and sung with one another. I had joyfully led a group of mentors in sending off a friend with the cheer: "Be God's love." 
I ran to the Basilica. I left my intentions at the Grotto.
As I was racing to catch the train, my dear friend ran up to say our quick goodbye.
We hugged one another and burst into tears.
It is almost overwhelming to try to grasp the amount of change and transition that has enveloped the past four weeks, the past four months, and certainly the past four years. And yet, I so impatiently await the adventures and joys of the next four, heightened by the sharp, tart notes of nostalgia.
I should hope I would feel a tug of nostalgia occasionally--and perhaps in certain seasons, rather frequently--reminding me that there are people and places in my life to whom it has been an honor and a bittersweet joy to say goodbye to.

The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.
 ― C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Redemption of Maggie Maria

But if we look at the sower in the parable, he sows with extravagance, he is not phased by the fleeting concerns that worry us. 
--The Pastor at the Church I Found Outside Central Park On My Run Through Central Park. The Catholic Nerd in Me Lasted 48 Hours in NYC Before Rearing Its Stubborn Head and Demanding to Go Church-Exploring ASAP.

Every once in a while, love demands extravagance: extravagance from the giver and extravagance from the recipient. Extravagance in giving oneself away, extravagance in spreading what one can to the other humans in your life.
I started last week annoyed, irritable, hungry, and more than a little exhausted. When I get a little exhausted either two things happen: I withdraw from human beings and read a book or journal my eyebrows off or chatter a rant-y monologue at the geese that line the lakes.
Or, more disastrously, if I stay in the presence of other humans I'll do rash things like giving them my honest opinions about their behavior.
Either way, it is not a pretty picture, and it is better for all of humanity if my bout of the grumpies passes as quickly as possible.
So, I took a lot of time that Monday--that not-too hot July Monday--and I first of all: read.
I had missed breakfast, and I immediately flared up in red-hot anger with myself. Renée, you beastliest of all humans, how can you look at yourself?? nay, how can you live with yourself!? You overslept breakfast at the dining hall. The routine is destroyed; the day is ruined. Let dark, dark anger descend upon thy soul and furrow the gentle meadow of thy brow.
Being not yet infinitely wise, but still moderately intelligent, I correctly identified my bout of soul-sucking sorrow for what it was: getting up on the wrong side of the bed, exhaustion, and transition. An overdose of transition. I woke up that Monday knowing that the end of that week meant saying good-bye to Notre Dame.
Although I tried to soothe the beast inside of me (by treating myself to Starbucks. duh) and a peaceful bench on which to read Dorothy Sayers, I felt that I could muster up all the enthusiasm and energy of a sea cucumber.
I took a nap, hoping to restore my resources of good cheer.
I wandered into the office to help with registration, and complained to various friends that today was the most Monday-ish of Mondays. One of them pointed me in the direction of muffins in charming cupcake wrappers and the other offered me a Krispy Kreme doughnut.
I have very good friends.
Lethargy dogged my steps, however, until I finally came face-to-face with the high school students--seven lovely young women--whom I would be leading this week.
As we talked and laughed over dinner, I felt my energy renewed.
But it wasn't until we sat in a circle and I listened to them when I finally understood the alarmingly high stakes of that moment, of that week, of that summer.
I found a lull in the small group--a microscopic lull. In that lull, I could choose to insert myself, or to let the conversation continue without me.
The grumpy, crabby creature that had awoken that morning would certainly have chose to let the moment slide. In her apathy, the moment would have past, and the conversation would have flowed pleasantly without her.
But in that moment, I realized that the truth could either be spoken or not spoken.
That I could say what was on the tip of my tongue, or I could let it grow stale and fade into the white noise of campus all around me.
But if I never spoke up to say it, when would someone?
If these girls never heard the truth fall from my lips, when would they hear it?
Probably often, because the sower sows with a lavish prodigality, and never ceases to cast seed with joyful abandon all over the soil of our hearts.
Which was exactly why I had to say something.
What if it was this seed that fell on rich ground and took root?
What if my lips were to become the hand of the sower.
So I said something. Because when it comes to people's souls, one ought not to screw around, you know?
There are times when you realize you have the marvelous and terrifying power of actually making a difference in the order of events in the world. If you reach out and ask that sad looking boy if he needs help, or if if you tell that woman who looks frazzled to have a good day, or if you smile at the man who is frowning, then you may actually spread light where no light would have gone.
When you actually begin to understand the awful power of influence that our wills have over the course of events and the lives of our neighbors, something inside of you starts to burn. You realize how little control you have over anything, and how much you must do something.
In that moment, I realized the grave and beautiful responsibility of knowing the truth inside of you:
You must speak it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

pilfering through plunder

So, the thing about Vision is that it takes up all your memory space, so you can only think of Vision.
And you forget that there ever was a part of your Notre Dame experience besides the summer.
But as I ran through the last time at Notre Dame, (not recreationally. but because I had a train to catch [which I missed. oops.]) all the memories of each place flooded back over me.
I ran through the Grotto, and I thought--but thought isn't strong enough of a word to describe it--I imagined it, I saw each image come to my head so clearly, as if for an instant, I was back in that moment. I was back in that moment of joy, pain, sorrow, forgiveness, love.
Of walking to the Grotto on a snowy night, of waiting there to meet your brother, of watching the moon hang over the trees.
Then, I went to the Basilica, and as I sat in the pew, I remembered sitting there, with my heart pounding through the exciting advent of freshman year. I sat there, often exhausted and in desperate need of nourishment during sophomore year, I sat there, learning to drink in the silence during my junior year. I sat there in joy, I sat there in pain, I sat there, learning how to listen to a voice outside of my own heart and mind.
In the midst of all these memories, I thought of the quote that had fallen into my lap as I began my freshman year, and dogged my heels since then:
Take delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart
When I first heard those words, I could have never predicted how they would have borne true.
As an uncertain and timid freshman, I could never have predicted how these words would be so true. How I could have grown in the depth, height, and breadth that I did at Notre Dame. 
That there, on that small little campus on the border of Indiana, I would be formed into the person that I would be today.
Mostly, I could never have imagined how that quote would be woven through those four years so intricately. 
Around about halfway through my college career, I began to suspect that once the Lord became my delight, all the desires of my heart would be for Him. That this promise for happiness was in a way a promise for a happiness I couldn't truly understand. 
That, really, what it was promising was a transformation of desires.
That if you seek True Joy--really seek Joy--not just seek happiness, or pay lip service to seeking joy, but really, truly give yourself over to finding it, then it will become something for which you never calculated having space in your life, you never planned on achieving, you never envisioned in your future.
Joy swallows up your life. Even in the moments you want to throw yourself a giant pity-party, or you wallow, or you find yourself sobbing on the South Shore Line (we've all been there. Don't even pretend you haven't.) you cannot escape this insistent tug of Joy that is like this undercurrent in every moment of your life. It pulls beneath the surface everyday, and even when the clouds cover the sun, and a frown covers your face, Joy persists in keeping up its eternal rhythm so that when you stop and are silent, it is all you can possibly hear. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

entrusts the Word as guest

But her works could only have existed, sprung out of, stemmed deeply out of a Faith so alive, so on fire, so full of love. 
--Malcolm Muggeridge, on Mama T 

 If you want the world to change, be God's love. //Use your gifts to bless this day, be God's love.
Be God's. This past Friday, the mentors of Notre Dame Vision 2014 sang those words for the last time to some 300 plus high schoolers who have hopefully learned that at the heart of the Christian vocation is the Eucharist--is the self-giving sacrificial love that continues to nourish the world--and through our own imitation of the love of Christ, sets the world on fire.
We sing to them: Be God's. Be God's love, be God's mercy, be God's light.
We sing to remind them the constant task of sainthood.
Because to be a saint is not a feat.
It is not a testament to our own holiness, our own fullness of light or mercy or love.

A saint is a person who has managed to be fully alive in their beloved.
A saint is not someone who only "does holy things"
A saint is a person who has learned to love well; a hero is not a saint--unless he has love.
A hero that has not love is nothing; he is a noisy, clanging cymbal.
No greater love than this: to let our lives be a channel of love, to be God's love.
A saint does not always have to be a hero, rather, a saint is a person who has found how to love heroically.
It is possible to walk this path to holiness for any person, because that person simply must learn to love.
Which means that to be a saint does not mean to be filled with one's self, but to be self-emptying. To be  filled with not yourself but with God, to be no longer belonging to your Self, but to God.

As I spent last summer with nine girls who all had some form of physical or mental disability. But one ability they had in spades was the ability to love. To love freely, to love without thought of what I could give them. And I realized one day, when I lost my patience with one of them, that the love I have to offer them is fairly small. It is easily exhaustible. It is calculating. It is fairly meager.

So, each Friday of Vision, we sing: be God's love. Not our love, because our love is very small and exhaustible. And if we try to offer people only our love, that venture will fail very quickly. We do not have enough to give.
So, instead, we ought to offer them God's love.
Because His love is that fire that will set them ablaze. But, unlike ours, there is no limit to the power of that love. There is no limit to how recklessly and lavishly this love will be poured out.
So we set forward to be God's love.
Not our own version of love, but God's version.

So now we go. Go to attempt to begin to try to fulfill that task.
Because we did not come to Vision to stay, we came to leave.
Just as we did not come to Notre Dame to stay, we came to leave.
Just as we are not born to stay, we are born to one day leave this earth.
It's probably one of the most difficult truths of being human. But learning how to embrace being sent forth, to treasure needing to leave chapters of our stories behind is one of the sweetest gifts of our mortality.

What we call the beginning is often the end 
And to make an end is to make a beginning. 
The end is where we start from.
--T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets

Saturday, July 19, 2014

september humilitas

You don't make gnocchi out of this dough
Albino Luciani, aka Pope John Paul I aka the September Pope

You're afraid to stick out your chin and say, "Okay, life's a fact, people do fall in love, people do belong to each other, because that's the only chance anybody's got for real happiness." You call yourself a free spirit, a "wild thing," and you're terrified somebody's gonna stick you in a cage. Well baby, you're already in that cage. You built it yourself. And it's not bounded in the west by Tulip, Texas, or in the east by Somali-land. It's wherever you go. Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself. 
 --Breakfast at Tiffany's 

 Love that lacks grace so easily becomes a monster. 
 In Til We Have Faces, the heroine Orual's love for her sister Psyche is a beautiful, cherishing love, a love that adds beauty and meaning to Orual's depressing drab world. 
But, eventually, it becomes the sole thing that Orual lives for, the only good she can pursue. Her love, far from self-giving, ends up being a hoarding love. 
This craving sort of love eats away not only at her soul, but instead of seeking the good of the subject of the love, seeks to make the subject of the love and object to devour, to become just a part of herself. Her dependency on Psyche becomes a need, a consuming need for her sister, so that when her sister leaves to get married, Orual literally just can't even deal and basically destorys the lives of multiple people throughout the rest of the book. 
 So. A very cheerful story, as you can see. 
But despite it's rather grim atmosphere, Til We Have Faces is one of the most beautiful pieces of literature ever penned. Just as Pride and Prejudice is the best story that details the peculiarities and idiosyncracies of human beings in relationships both romantic and platonic, Til We Have Faces is the best story of sisters and sisterly love. 
Furthermore, it is a study of the relationship between beauty and love. 
 But whenever anyone thinks of a possessive love, I immediately think of Orual and Psyche. 
Because if a definition of lust is reducing a person down to an object, then if would follow that that sort of needy, possessive love that sees a person only as something belonging to them could be called lust? Okay, but that's the thing about the word belonging. 
Which I refer back to that line in Breakfast at Tiffany's: "people to belong to each other." 
That's why we choose favorites of things. When I say Til We Have Faces is my favorite C.S. Lewis book, or purple is my favorite color, I don't mean that I like them better than all the others. I mean that I have a unique bond with them. And that understanding those favorite things is a way to gain insight into me. Choosing. You have to choose people. 
Because if you don't, I think you end up only choosing yourself. And that's the cage that Breakfast at Tiffany's is talking about.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

mellifluous amnesia

But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.
 ― Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

The other day, I felt the strangest sensation: I could actually feel my mind repress a memory.
About thirteen years ago, on the fourth of July, my little sister choked on a piece of paper in our basement (I was remembering the other day what it's like to have little babies around the house, and how I miss it so much. I miss having baby toys strewn all over the floor of the family room, I miss making space for the highchair at the dinner table, I miss fighting over who gets to hold the baby in Christmas photos, I miss having baby gates at the top of the staircases, I miss stopping by the baby food aisle in the grocery store, and I miss getting to walk to the back of church to comfort a fussy baby. I don't miss, however, worrying about all the small things that fall to the floor ending up in a curious infant's mouth.) 
But as I remembered that awful day, and scared little nine-year-old Renée praying very hard and peeking down at the team of paramedics from my safe retreat in the top floor, I felt my mind cover up these images. As pictures of that day popped up in my head, almost as quickly, my mind muddied them, and sent them back into the darkness of forgetfulness. Because, as each image of that horrible hour (it was probably an hour tops, but it seemed like forever) came to the foreground of my mind, a surge of awful panic and terror accompanied the pictures of my younger brother's scared face, my mother's strained voice, my sister and I talking. This brush with death was too much for my mind to truly comprehend, so it covered it up.
Part of me wanted to remember that day, to see if I could piece together a narrative. 
But the images stung my brain like thistle prickles, and so my mind let them go as quickly as they picked them up. And then I became fascinated by what was happening. Because even as the conscious, willing part of my mind summoned up each memory, this powerful, instinctive part of my brain dismissed each memory just as quickly. 
Because, wrapped up in these memories were emotions that were almost too large to process. I wouldn't be able to fit them into my brain. And as these emotions welled up, my brain shut them down quickly by erasing the memories that were causing them. It was fascinating to observe.
In order to function, my brain had to forget about these emotional memories. The facts are not forgotten, but the actually sense memories of that day have to be stifled, or otherwise, my brain would go slightly berserk (not that it's not already slightly berserk already). 
How interesting, that we can assent to this partial amnesia, for the sake of being able to live each day without pain forcing us to a stop.
I wonder if our brains did not control our memories of pain, if there was not a part of us that automatically dulled our memories, how we might live differently, in a world where our experiences of pain were always constantly before us.

Your memory is a monster; you forget—it doesn't. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you—and summons them to your recall with will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you
 ― John Irving

Monday, July 14, 2014

smiling means you're happy

When I look into your eyes, it's like watching the night sky; 
there's so much they hold 
I sang softly, looking into Lima's deep, brown eyes,
little pools of mystery.
She smiled back, her eyes filled
with stories they've seen,
with faces she's watched,
with voices she remember,
silently holding them in her heart.
She is a creature all eternal.
I haven't yet learned how to
make one of those,
which is good.
Because motherhood is still
far away, past the horizon,
on the other side of the globe.
But I have made a piece
of art--a play, an image, an
ephemeral piece of beauty--
that passes away in time,
and yet doesn't.
It's like a child:
The week before opening,
your child is a monstrous toddler,
it consumes your life,
your energy reserves are depleted
by their temper tantrums at the grocery store.
You struggle to keep the small whirling dervish
from running away from you in the department store,
and you think how nice it would be
if this child were already ten or eight or seven, even,
and just a bit more reasonable and less of a wild thing.
Eagerly, you await the day the child is fifteen
when she can diagram sentences
and solve algebraic equations all on her own.
And you think of when she'll be eighteen and can have conversations of interest.
One day, you think with eagerness,
there won't be baby toys booby-trapping the stairs,
and diaper disposals will be a thing of the past.
Because sometimes, having a small child is strenuous, smelly, and inconvenient.
Much like tech week.

But here's the rub:
[There's always a rub. I don't know why.]

just when the child becomes a teenager,
a young adult, a person of interest,
you have to share him with the world.

You don't have to share three year olds with the world.
Three year olds get to stay safely in the incubator of your home.
They are yours.
But they were made to be shared.
They weren't really yours to begin with.
Theatre is A telling B to C,
theatre can't be theatre without an audience.
A and B can't make it on their own,
they need C.
So you let them go.
You let them become radiant pieces of beauty
that the world can store in their hearts
and memories, and in eternity.
I haven't had a child yet,
only several plays.
So I don't really know how it feels,
But I think, after opening night,
watching my baby
become the audiences, not mine,
I have an inkling.

Who will remember me? a father asks,
wondering if death will erase the
part of us that we know grants mortal men
an eternal status in our temporal cosmos:
the future generations' memory of us.
His son, still a toddler,
still too young to be shared with the world,
gurgles in his wordless toddler language,
understanding, perhaps, his father's question,
and knowing that he is the answer to it.
No man is poor who has friends, George. 
No man who is loved will be forgotten.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

splashing in nostalgia

“...when pain is over, the remembrance of it often becomes a pleasure.” 
 ― Jane Austen, Persuasion

I don't usually dedicate much time to dwelling on the past, because duh, it's obviously an unhealthy activity. Our call is not to be past-dwellers, but now-dwellers. The work of life is found in the present, the past is old news and, like month-old celebrity gossip updates or your Facebook newsfeed, ought not to be given undue attention.
But, the other day, I wandered back to a distance place, far back at the bottom drawer of my heart and the back shelf of my memory to the time when I experienced my first true heartbreak.
Perhaps one needs to break someone's heart once, and experience real heartbreak once in order to fully understand romance. 
Neither are experiences I would wish on anyone, but they perhaps essential building blocks to understanding the romance organ inside of humans. One cannot understand heartbreak--not really-- until you've been on either side of it. 
Because, if you've been through real heartbreak, then you know how breaking someone's heart is literally the worst thing you could do to them. So why do you persist in doing it? Because, if you've been through heartbreak, you know that it's survivable. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, etc., etc. And I don't think heartbreak ever killed anybody except the loyal dogs in books, Victorian heroines, and very holy and good people. I'm none of those things, and I assume if you're reading this you're none of those things either (because if you were a very good and holy person, you would be reading something much more edifying than my blog). So.

We've all (most of us) experienced heartache. This is different than heartbreak. Heartache is the milieu of every teenage crush ever. Heartache is when that cute boy in the play with you loves someone else, and doesn't pay you any attention except to give you the time of day in a frustratingly platonic matter. Heartache is when you bite your tongue and bury your feelings because your friend wants to date the boy you have a crush on (perspective check: you are all seventeen, and four or five years later, no one will care anymore).
Heartache is high school romances, through and through. Miles and miles of heartache, because our hearts haven't found exactly how to operate without it.
But heartbreak, heartbreak: real, deep, wait-the-world-has-stopped-spinning-I-don't-get-how-the-sun-is-still-shining heartbreak changes you. It transforms you. And you realize that in order to find happiness, maybe the best course of action is not trying to find happiness in another person.
Heartache is easy to talk about, and a brief glance at tumblr will prove that heartache is still alive in spades. Heartache is medicated through Talking About It (and chocolate. and a lot of self-pity). But heartbreak is less frequently mentioned.
For good reason.
With a healthy dose of perspective and a dash of time and space (and perhaps even an added ounce of maturity), heartache becomes something one can reminisce over with a woefully humorous air. It becomes a rather melancholy but hilarious cocktail party story. Love is a sweet thing, and heartache is just a little bittersweet. With a few skillful frills added to your story, a few wry shakes of your head, and several regretful eye-rolls, your heartache can become an entertaining little tale about your past.
But heartbreak is something that can't really be laughed at, nor really spoken of. 
For heartbreak is a violation of your vulnerability. After handing your heart to someone with no gift receipt, to have them return it to you is a grievous malfunction of intimacy.
But, just as completely knocking down a building provides you with new ground to rebuild, so heartbreak, destroying all the vestiges of your old heart, gives you grounds for a fresh start. (that sounds like a coffee commercial: "your grounds for a fresh start each morning.")
I remember looking up at the crucifix, after experiencing my first heartbreak, and realizing that here was someone who understood brokenness. Someone who would never tire (as most sane humans who surround us do), of hearing about the same hurt over and over again each day.

I looked at all those old journal entries, which really weren't morose or angsty or overdramatic, just very dry, as if I didn't even want to let my heart pour itself out a little bit, I didn't even want to trust it to the silent and patient page.
And I remembered the boy who loved me when I still didn't want to give my heart away, even to silent pages, and I wondered at how the confluence of events in all of our lives is so providentially strange and mind-boggling. Our stories are so masterfully written, that, if a human tried to author them, no one could ever believe that they are true.
What a providential mystery that the people who come into our lives and break our hearts change us in ways we could have never expected. In the end, we are grateful for them, but with a gratitude we could never have predicted.
It is mind-boggling how the intersection of human beings in our lives spins our projected trajectory all out of whack, but in a masterfully ordered way.
Being human means not being a comet, which runs its predicted course like clockwork, every sixty years or so, but rather being an asteroid, whose orbit is always being interrupted by fellow asteroids. These asteroids bump into you every which way and chip away at your jumbled asteroid exterior.
But these unfortunate collisions (which are often painful upon impact) prove serendipitous, as they form us into the lumpy little space rocks that we were always meant to be.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

you and me, we both got sins

Listen and attend with the ear of your heart.
 ― Saint Benedict, The Rule of Saint Benedict

Human beings, I think, are dying to be proved wrong.
C.S. Lewis says that the Universe rings true whenever you fairly test it.
I think we are always testing the universe, because really what we want proved to us is that we are not the only thing in the Universe. We want to know (somewhere deep in our hearts, past the part that gets annoyed with people who disagree with us and who tail us on interstates) that we are not the end-all-be-all of the Universe, that the Universe is much deeper and wider than we are.
We don't want to be proved wrong because the presence of wrong delights us.
We yearn to be proved wrong, because we long for a glimmer of the Right, a small sight of a picture of the world, being done the way the world should be.

There are moments when things align too perfectly to be mere coincidence: white roses appear when requested, your thoughts merge with a friend's, and you find they are identical, words are sent to comfort you when least expected and most needed.
One of these moments came last year when I wandered into a Himalayan mountain chapel, and found written on the wall: Fiat in Fides.
Say yes in faith.
Perhaps this fiat, this yes, is the key to so many questions we have about our lives.
But this "yes" we give is not the beginning, but a response to the beginning.
The beginning is the YES. of a creator.
The beginning is a Spirit who breathed upon the formless, probably dreadfully ugly, messy chaos of the pre-creation nothingness and called forth from it beauty. A spirit who called out of the darkness of the vacuum light.
So it is with each new creation--with us.
 God looks at the mess of each of us--new creations, already fallen before we are even out of our mother's wombs--He sees who we are, and what we are, and His only response is a YES.
A giant affirmation that encompasses all the messiness of who we are--a YES. with a creative power we can only catch a whiff of as we discover what cities can be built with the human Fiat.
He has said YES. to us from the moment that we were conceived within His heart, and His Yes will never cease.
Our yes is the response to this munificence of love, this overabundance of prodigal, creative generosity.
We love because we were first loved. We fiat because we were first fiat-ed. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

wrestling with angels' bread

This past Christmas Eve, I sobbed inconsolably from the moment the choir started singing O Magnum Mysterium until 10am Christmas morning. I, like Rachel weeping for her children, was not to be comforted.
The reason: I was not able to receive that particular nativity known as Communion, and my heart ached as I tried to celebrate the Incarnation, while denying myself a taste of it.
The choir sang the jubilantly melancholic chords of Lauridsen's choral anthem, images of Godhead being ushered into the world by coarse shepherds, itchy straw and the smell of sheep dung floated in the dark, mysterious music, woven through with strands of light that sounded like Mary's heartbeat, the tenderness of Joseph's gaze, and the chorus of angel's singing the first eternal Gloria.

If anyone ever asked me the question: What's your favorite cliché? (and it's not as improbable a scenario as that sounds, all things are possible in the terrifying world of group icebreakers) I would have to respond: Absence makes the heart grow fonder
Like the general collection of clichés, this one is only true a very little bit of the time. Often, absence does not make the heart grow fonder; often, absence means that someone is out of sight and out of mind and your heart forgets them. Additionally, absence can mean a rift between the both of you has developed and is continuing to expand. Absence can simply mean that: absence, devoid of feelings commenting on the absence. Just an emptiness.
But, sometimes, absence is revelatory.
If there is a someone in your life you take for granted--your mother, your husband, your sister, your niece--someone whose presence in your life is a constant, not a variable, their absence can be revealing. Because, as you notice their absence, the absence reveals to you how significant their presence was to you. You understand how deeply you depended upon them to keep your world intact, to keep it spinning round its axis. Now, their absence sounds like a wailing baby beluga calling out for its mother, echoing through the vast watery expanses of the hole it has left in your life. You miss them. And by missing them, you learned how much you truly love them.
The Eucharist is one of those beautiful mysteries whose presence that I too often take for granted.
Until that Christmas Eve, when I realized, with the dramatic swiftness of the climaxing chord in O Magnum Mysterium, the pain that accompanies the absence of a gift that I had previously taken for granted. But, quoth the Raven, nevermore.  
Furthermore, the Eucharist is a mystery far beyond our merit to receive, which is a strange bind for human beings to find themselves in. We are used to gauging whether or not to participate in an activity, based on our merit, we are very talented at summing up our own self-worth and then judging whether or not we are worthy enough for a community, friendships, relationships presented to us.
But the Eucharist sort of destroys all that, it blows to smithereens our ideas of worthiness.
It says to us: Come to me, not so that you may feel holy or good about yourself, or so that all the mothers in Church won't go murmuring to themselves about why so-and-so's daughter didn't receive communion today, but come to be healed, come to me and fall in love with me.
But, also, I was never taught this directly, but you sort of slowly realize over time that communion isn't one of those things we ought to take lightly (and that's why there's that really random part of mass--right at the beginning, before your feet are tired of standing, where we either strike our breast three times and talk about our grievous faults or we sing a bunch of words in Greek, the lone survivors in a rite of pure Latin. We do either one or the other, and the choice seemingly hinging solely on what the priest feels like in the heat of the moment. The rite of reconciliation, they call it). So the rite is there, because we ought to wrestle with ourselves before we approach the altar of the Lord. (I mean, I don't always do this. Sometimes, I manage to be a halfway decent human being for two weeks, and in that glorious two weeks, I approach the altar of the Lord with much Joy over the unworthiness, but wearing the unworthiness like a light autumn peacoat, not a deep-dead-of-winter-down-parka.) 
Goodness, our shame over our unworthiness to be present at the altar of the Lord should be deeper than the Mariana trench. And yet, as Mary Magdalene could tell us, the answer to that shame, that unworthiness, that ugliness of sin clinging to our souls is not to flee from Golgotha, to slink away cowardly, ashamed and discouraged, but to fling ourselves at the prodigal mercy of the Cross. As Odysseus lashed himself to the mast, we ought to bind ourselves to a God who loves us with a foolishness beyond wisdom. As the siren song of sins echo in an overwhelming din in our ears, we ought to cling tighter and tighter to the bread of angels. 
And yet, each time I have approached the altar of the Lord, wondering if I ought to do so, I find that in the wrestling for the blessing, I have already received a blessing.
For in that struggle, I have pitted two forces against each other: one is that quiet voice inside of us that thrives on our ignorance to its presence and on keeping under the radar. This is the voice that says: my dear, what will people say?! The voice that craves the need for a perfect image, that craves the veneer of goodness, that needs to be seen as a Good Man in the sight of others. That wants people to look at us and say: She is a Good Person. You can tell. Look at her face shine as she receives Holy Communion. But there is another voice, a deeper, stronger voice inside of us. 
This voice barely murmurs a word. It sounds more like a hunger than like language. This voice begs for communion, union. It begs for an answer to the gap inside of us. It is the tiny spark of love inside of us that struggles to stay lit and begs us to add fuel to our fire.
It is this voice that must drown out the voice of our self. 
Too often, we substitute our goodness for His, but as we approach the altar of the Lord, we prepare for our own holiness to be swallowed up by Holiness Himself, the goodness that we wish to claim for ourselves, we lay down at the altar, in exchange for Goodness Himself.
Our selves are preoccupied far too much with our own holiness; but the hunger inside us clamors for His. 
No other substitute will do.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

hankering for sweet air

Give me a nap, because the gods of sleep have left,
deserted this place where no angels dare to tread: insomnia,
a cruel kingdom with a crueler king.
Who have left me with no other recourse
than to chant, quietly, in my restless repose
the words of that song, born so long ago,
that traveled across oceans and rivers.
The song found rest--
a better rest than I have now--
in a muddy pond. Insignificant,
filthy, depressing.
A pond of little note.
There, in that pond, the song lay hidden.
I reached down into the sudsy laundry water.
I looked up at the masi in front of me,
she twisted her bed sheet until there was not
a drop of water left to fall from its tight folds.
 I followed her motion to the letter,
but she snatched the cotton sheet from my grasp,
and wrung out a cascade of water droplets
that had escaped my notice.
Nonplused, and slightly torqued, I plunged my arm
back into the water, dingy with soap.
And I found another sheet.
I wrung it.
I put every ounce of elbow grease into
forcing all the water from its creases.
The masi watched, ready to correct.
She took the wrinkled folds from me.
She twisted--
and found the sheet had run dry.
With a slight sideways nod,
to indicate an affirmation of my success,
she tossed the sheet into the bucket with the others.
I dragged the bucket up the stairs,
pulling them with me towards the bright light of the roof
I began to fold them on the taught lines,
criss-crossing the rooftop.
There, the song came to me,
up from the stagnant pond.
The breeze carried it over the bedsheets,
over the courtyards filled with guava,
jackfruit, and papaya,
down into a small green room.
The fans turned off,
for just a few minutes,
to preserve the flames of the incense and the candles,
the small green room was already a sauna.
The flames burned peacefully
in front of the cohort of portraits.
Five different Jesus' smiled at us:
the Sacred Heart, Divine Mercy,
the Infant clothed in emperor's robes.
Rina clicked happily and smiled at them all,
bestowing on them innocent, enthusiastic kisses.
The song's words filled the room.
All noise: the fans, the girls, the music,
all of it had ceased.
The music was the only thing.
It swelled with the sadness of an injured father,
and wept with the grief of a broken son.
But in that melody, that pain--
so evident, so inescapable--
was transformed, transfigured into
an altogether sweeter key.
I still can't sleep,
because that melody haunts even insomnia.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

malaria-ridden dreams

It's hard not to relive the past over and over again in one's head.
I thought the other day of the girls in India who taught me how to love. There are really no good ways to describe last summer, only horribly grand and vague statements like: learning how to love and solidarity and being with; not working for.

“What’s it like to have India inside your head?” 
At my friend's simple question, my face lit up like the warm wood of the large maple table that was reflecting the soft light of the Starbucks where we were sitting. Michael Bublé’s Christmas album was gently floating through the PA system, and beautiful December afternoon light, softened by snowfall, streamed through the large windows. My face flushed with excitement as I began to attempt to answer his question, memories flooding back into my head before I could form the words to share them with my tongue.

His simple question unlocked a whole realm of memories that I was being given permission to share. It isn't often that someone says: describe the interior world that's roiling inside your memory and imagination. I remember just letting all the things I missed pour out of me, the smells of frying kati rolls, the sound of the sisters singing after morning mass, 
the walk from Motherhouse to the bus stop that would take us to Shanti Dan, the taste of mangos, the sharp bite of good, strong, chai, looking into the eyes of people bathing in the gutter, avoiding the mangy dogs, haggling with the fruit vendor, the smell of Shishu Bhavan, the MC’s orphanage, 
the pig family that lived in the garbage dump near Shanti Dan, the Tangra neighborhood, the dreaded crush of people near New Market, 
the taste of a fresh coconut, the unrelenting heat of the sun that mixed with the heat of boiling oil at the samosa stand, the posh greenery by Park Street, the arctic air conditioning of Gangur or Blue Sky Café, the endless game of trying to keep Sheela from swatting you in the face, the sound of the Bengali Bible song CD floating through the PA system in Shanti Dan, 
helping Asha climb the steps to the roof to do laundry, the sweet breeze on the roof that would shake the wet bed sheets and wipe the sweat off your face, the noise of the bus conductors yelling out the names of the bus stops, the sounds of Josephine and Anita singing, the memories of haggling with taxi drivers over fares.

My friend's question was a rare and oh-so-welcome invitation to remember, and to share the memory.
I wanted to remember over and over Shakina’s joyful grin as she would hug me around my waist with her vise-like grip; I never want to forget watching Sister Yesu Dasi kneel on the hard floor in front of the Blessed Sacrament, listening to the sisters sing: “Evermore, I will quench Thy thirst, Lord.” 
These are memories of not a summer spent "helping others" but very intensely being helped.
All I did that summer was literally sing along to Danielle Rose songs and dance party to the same Disney CD over and over.
But that small green room schooled me. I got schooled. 
It was a school of charity, where I learned to love. 
My teachers were nine small saints, who welcomed me into their community with open arms, and shocked me with the ease of their love. 
Those small nine women were my teachers, the lesson they taught me was simple, but profound: If you simply show up each day, ready to dance party and embrace the chaos that comes with loving other people, you find that your world has been changed. Not by working for other people, but simply by being with them.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

quietly aligning forces

When I was going on a big fat rant about all the problems with family life, my friend responded with a rant about why discussions of the Christian life fixate heavily on family life, almost to the detriment of other vocations.
When really, what we ought to be doing is focusing all our attention on following Christ.
This is a refreshing perspective, because it is a lonely voice of unity in a world full of divisive diatribes.
At the same time, the family ought to have a place of privilege in our conversations and dialogues, because family is a school of charity unlike any other.
Because in a family, nature and grace are intimately, indivisibly intertwined.
We understand why a father would drop everything to take care of his small sick daughter; we need no other explanation than: He is a father. She is his daughter
There is no other explanation necessary for why a mother would go to the mat for her children other than: She is a mother. They are her children.
Although we understand why a father or mother would not act in either of these manners--not all mothers and fathers are 100% unselfish 100% of the time. Obvi.
But, here, in the family, we see how the roles that nature has allotted to these humans--a mother and a father, their children--teach us the ways of grace.
Radical self-gift, the self-immolation of offering yourself--your passions, your gifts, your attention, your  mind, your life--for your children is not really natural. It is not something we learn from nature.
There is no evolutionary advantage in self-gift. 
Self gift is not nature, it is grace. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

if i stay in one place i lose my mind

As I walked across the shadowy grass, feeling the violescent breeze on my face, I closed my eyes.
The familiar and comforting scene: South Dining Hall, the dark woods of God Quad to my right, the cheerful and neat criss-cross of sidewalks through the sharp green grass, the clock of O'Shaughnessy shining against the darkening sky.
This scene disappeared. But I still felt the wind on my face.
And I painted on the insides of my eyelids a picture of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh. 
I could see the city on one side of me, far beneath my feet, and on the other side, a grassy hill, which I ran through as the wind bred tangles in my hair.
I felt the exhilaration of leaping from the summit down the grassy slope.
Inside the dark of my eyelids, I saw the Cumbrian countryside--the hills and dales, the sheep lining our path. I smelt the rain, and I felt the shade of the trees and the hard clay underneath our feet.
I felt on my face the Himalayan breeze of Tiger Hill, as I walked through the mountain bamboo and trees of the foothills. I saw in front of me gompas and mountain villages straddling ravines and hugging the sides of cliffs.
I was all these places in one moment, as I walked along the tightrope of the sidewalk, my eyes closed, but my face open to the breeze. 
I lost my breath as I walked through a field of fireflies. 
They leaped through the grass, through the treetops, flickering like a hundred tiny candlelights in the tall grass. I forgot to breathe, as I walked in and out of these wandering minstrels of light. 
It was as though a cloud of stars had grown wings and flown down to dance in this quiet field.
Again, my breath left my body without warning as the half-moon, looking like a delectable wedge of gouda, burst from behind the dusky cloud bank. Shimmering, the moon dazzled the world from her lofty perch in the sky. She shone with all the brilliance of one who knows her special status and delights in it. The clouds were curtains that rolled back to reveal the prima donna of the twilight sky. 
I laid in the grass and looked up at the evening sky. The moon still shone through the wisps of cloud, insistent on shining, despite the chilly shrouds of water droplets that wrapped around it.
This is a beautiful night, I thought to myself.
As if on cue, the bells of the Basilica, that bastion of warm light in the dark of night, played the carillon for Mary, signaling the dusk to retire, and ushering in the velvet night.
As the bright moon shooed the twilight out of the night sky, the clouds flew across the face of the moon, casting shadows, and creating a halo around the queen of the night. 
The twilight tasted like vanilla on my tongue as it faded into nighttime.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

careening towards the open road

 As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and jealous love, the desire of the hearts of the dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.
--The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkein

We walked along the Minnehaha Creek, below the falls. The constant Minnesota rain this spring had caused the waters to swell exponentially, and instead of idyllic falls running into a peaceful stream, the careening water crashed over the edge of the rocky wall, and fell with a tumult into the pounding surf of the swollen creek.

As we walked alongside the creek, I was mesmerized by the rushing water.
The water was so fresh and clear, I wanted to reach out and touch, I wanted to run into the smooth undulating surface, and feel all the secret joy that I felt was woven through that rough surface. I was surprised by myself. Particularly in this situation, when I was host, not guest, older sister, not young daughter, I was overly cautious, ensuring no one fell off of the creaky boardwalks into certain death in the creek.

Then, as we crossed a bridge, hypnotized by the water rushing under our feet, I spied a calm little inlet upstream a bit.
One dare led to another, and before I knew it, three of us were headed into the calm water that swirled with deceptive sweetness and tranquility into the raging, overflowing creek.
We forded upstream, the squishy, slimy sand squelching beneath our toes. We climbed a tree that had created a bridge over our little stream, and sat there, pleased with ourselves as we surveyed the watery path we had just forged through. As we walked back to dry land, the rushing current just to my right caught my attention. I could hardly look away, I was enchanted by the beautiful violence of those unthinkably many gallons of water.

There is something about danger in nature that, instead of repelling us, as it ought, has a bizarre and contrary magnetism. We are drawn to the awe and power of nature. Its beauty lies in its intractability. Our inability to control nature is one of its most fascinating and appealing aspects.
Perhaps this is why we are drawn to people who have a hint about them. 
No person is completely tractable and docile. 
Each person we encounter is a momentous fragment of eternity. But, just like the usually placid stream, their power is hidden under layers upon layers of ordinariness.
Rainstorms usually reveal the roaring current that hides in each calm creek; and often life's thunderstorms uncover the stern stuff that surges under the disinterested surface of the pleasantly ordinary humans with whom we spend our days.

The Took side had won. 
He suddenly felt he would go without bed and breakfast to be thought fierce.
--The Hobbit

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

edible grace for the maudlin

Or: How Bulimia Taught Me to Love the Sacraments

 Confession is where you leave your brokenness, and receive grace instead.
I walked into the sunlit October room, my heart beating as fast as a washing machine's spinning drum.
As if to stop the pulse beating underneath the skin, I encircled my hand around my wrist, forming a tight manacle out of my own fingers.
Spilling out of my mouth, the words mimicked the all-too familiar vomit that had left a bitter taste in my mouth far too often.
I could feel my words pile up in a morose heap on the floor in front of me, just as the vomit had swirled around the shower drain.
In vomiting, the bulimic is attempting to purge something out of her body, to say to the food she has just swallowed: this will not become me. She interrupts the process of digestion before it can transform the way she looks, before it can transform her identity. In a desperate attempt to purge her body, she horribly wounds her identity. The lie she has swallowed, and has not yet managed to purge herself of, is that her weight, her body, the walls of cellulite on her thighs have a say in who she is. How can she love others when she struggles to love herself? 
When her attention on herself is focused on the exteriors: on her stomach (how flat is it today?), on her arms (how much are they jiggling now?), or her wrists (can my fingers encircle my wrists? How swollen are they today?), she gives these nonessentials too much weight. She mistakes the accidents for the substance.
This lie eats away at her more than any bag of chocolate devoured late at night. It distorts her vision and her stomach. Food is her nemesis--the enemy she cannot live without, the opponent that she needs to stay alive. It is a toxic symbiosis.

But there, on that floor, the words of the lie stared up at me. Once purged through that vomit of words, the lie slowly began to unwind from the identity. The priest raised his hands, and spoke the words of absolution, and I felt my hands began to let go of the threads of that lie. For, in that moment, I had shifted my gaze from the exterior to the interior. I began to see the substance and not the accidents. My identity had broken loose from the scales that blinded it and weighed it down. With the help of that sunlit room of reconciliation, the substance of my soul began the slow process of healing that commences in each confessional.
Confession is where we leave lies, and receive grace in return. It's a trade that is so obviously unfair, we doubt its reality. When we give the mechanic our car, he fixes our broken parts, but charges us a price. But the price to fix our brokenness has already been paid, and we are charged with nothing but the invitation to come receive.
When someone lifts a load off your shoulders, you are in a bit of a stupor. You wait for the load to come crashing down again, its full weight pulling you down with it.
But grace works differently. It strips you of your rough burdens and baggage, and laughs gently as you stand upright, a free person, basking in your freedom. Grace feels like the first sweet breeze on a humid day, it feels like a warm shaft of sunlight cutting through a cold, snowy day, it feels like lifting your arms up into the rain, it feels like forgiveness.
You'd never expect grace, you know? 
It's just like people. 
You can never expect what people will do; it is impossible to anticipate what a human will do next.
But the more you know and love a human, the more their surprises become a hallmark of who they are; the particular ways in which they daily deviate from your anticipations and expectations become signed and sealed with their own peculiar mark.
The surprises of grace become a familiar wonder to those who acquaint themselves with her mystery.
You could never take the workings of grace for granted. If she got up and left, the world would continue, we fool ourselves into thinking. 
Because our human imaginations are so limited, we can envision a world that does not spin on the axis of grace. 
We think that nature can somehow survive without her other half: grace. And we see the ways of nature without grace. They are the bent parts all around us and inside us. The way of nature is not to exchange a lie for a truth, but rather a lie for a lie and a truth for a truth.
Grace breaks through the cycle of nature. 
In fact, grace breaks through all cycles: the cycle of sin, of seasons, of addiction, of boredom, of violence. 
Grace shatters these scripts we have written for ourselves, with something new, truly new.
If we open up just a tiny space, grace leaps in to crack open the dull, rote molds we have formed for our stories.
We insist on writing our story with our own pens, scratchy and blotchy even though they may be.
But if we would only put down our small and insignificant pens, Grace will crush them and continue our story with something greater and grander than we would let ourself believe.
The story is not erased, the sad and lonely parts will end and culminate in a harmony of words whose beauty is all the keener for the sadness it has transfigured.
These are not words that can placate sorrow while we are trapped in it, but perhaps, once we have reached the other side of the pain, we realize that the winter we have come through has led us to a new and ancient spring.
Confession is like the first crocus that blooms in the snow--a sign that perhaps the winter is not eternal, and it is certainly not omnipotent.
It is where we finally say: I'd rather have grace than this lie, than this broken and twisted piece of myself
And, to our surprise, we are given it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

encyclopedic walls surround us

We all gathered in this subterranean cave,  where three men stood guard over the collective wisdom of the ages.
In the midst of them sat a lone man, a very young man in their eyes, but not so to us.
And the man added to their riches a bit of his own knowledge.
Knowledge he had woven from the words of those who had gone before him.
This was a man who carried his mentors, who honored them in his words, in his writings.
And now, these three wise old men listened to him speak, nodding along quietly, knowingly, as my mother used to do as I gingerly worked my way through a geometry proof, step-by-step, wary of going awry.
One of them watched with more careful attention: the young man's dissertation director. As Gandalf guided Aragorn, this sage had directed his pupil to this moment. Here, in the intellectual arena, the champion had to prove his worth, to show that he was a true ranger of the north, worthy of inclusion in the halls of kings.
There are moments in life where you feel the dusty ordinary daily world being pulled back, and the Real World shining through.
This was one of those moments, where a shiver of reality ran up and down my spine.
This was a moment that seemed to matter.
Not because the goal of all our lives is to receive a doctorate degree, to ascend to the summit of the mountain of education, and declare oneself king of the hill, but because there are very few moments in our modern world where we feel the weight of the ancients.
There are so very few moments we can feel connected to the traditions of our hazy human past.
But one of the rare and beautiful monuments that preserves the history of humanity is certainly academia.
As we gathered in that basement, I felt comforted.
Here were gathered men who were truly sane, whose minds were full of truth, to whom the cares of the changing world did not strike so deeply.
For they understood the eternal Thing underneath all the rushing, ephemeral things of our today. 
Inside their heads were works of poets and prophets, seers and sages, and, God willing, they would never let them be forgotten.
In that cave, the great gravity and grandeur of education, the solemnity of knowledge, was driven home to me.
Perhaps to these men, perhaps they could look on wisdom and call her a sister and understanding their dear friend. And even if that is too bold a claim for even those few to make, their lives were clearly striving towards that goal.
In that cave we were all encouraged, encouraged to find understanding and call her friend. 
Bolstered by a vision of the world that resonated in our deepest hearts, we could walk into the light of the sunlit world believing that there were still men who walked the earth who sought truth above all things.
Men who believed that the human mind is capable of great things, and strove to achieve them.
Men who know our most precious treasures are the stories of our elders, and who seek to retell them, to keep their memories alive.
Some of us discover find knowledge of the Thing underneath all things through the music of the spheres manifest within our ears, or the colors of the sunset, but there are some who find them in the words that spin around in our brains.
And wisdom is born in that moment when we listen to the young explain to the old something new, woven out of something ancient which has never been seen before.