Friday, October 31, 2014

stop sign flares

Only a sort of drunken flush pierced by voices, unimportant voices, that did not know how much he was loved.
--Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald

This spring, there was one night that the core of South Bend was thrust into a deep blackness. All the power had gone out in the downtown area. And although South Bend, IN does not have the same sort of wattage as Midtown on a Monday, there are perpetual sources of light that we take for granted: street lights, the glow from the neon signs, the glow of strings of twinkle lights from the bars.

As I drove through dark streets lit up only by the daring, bold, flickering flares--raw flame in the middle of the dark street, on either sides of stop signs. It was dazzling, and it was one of those moments where a pit of some unnamed fear or anxiety or worry that usually sits heavy in your stomach comes unraveled and is released into the atmosphere around you. The scene becomes dizzying, like a dream. Not a nightmare, per se, but something otherworldly. And you feel as though you're walking in alternate reality, or you're seeing everything through gauze, or you're enchanted.
Enchanted-- not as in captivated by the beauty of the moment, but enchanted by a charm or incantation or spell--in the way that removes you from the waking world and makes your stomach feel a little ill from too much magic or sugar.
I felt this sense of uncanny dis-ease as I wandered through the back chapels of St. John the Divine. Currently, the Cathedral has this hideous art installation of mummy-like statues that represent different countries, and they are standing in traditional forms of prayer, sprinkled throughout the alcoves like frozen guardians of the dead.
It's less like walking meditatively through a church and more like wandering through a labyrinth of garishly-painted ghosts.
 As I walked past them, the organist began to play some discordant rift that cut through the air like a dull serrated knife and squeezed the atmosphere together like an accordion's bellows.
I took a step into the old baptistery, and my whole body lurched as my foot miscalculated how deep the drop was onto the stone floor. The room seemed to tilt dangerously, as the harsh, mystic tones of the organ played something that sounded like a dirge at a carnival. That feeling of stop sign flares washed over me once more, and I felt that I had certainly stumbled through the shredded fabric of waking reality into something more primal and unholy.
Finally, the music stopped. And the sweet silver and blue light from the nave washed over me, as the silence of the phoenix's wings broke the spell the church had wrapped around me.

This feeling was recreated physiologically just a few weeks later, when I was reading a memoir of a plucky young British midwife in the 1950s. 
Obviously, there is nothing more delightful to me than a book filled with nuns, babies, the working class, and London in the 50's, but the chapter I had begun was very honest and thorough in its descriptions of a midwife's duties during delivery. Accordingly, as I read descriptions of things young virgins and gentlemen of all ages' ears ought never to be privy to, I began to feel woozy. I have never fainted before in my life, but I felt that I was about to, which was a VERY interesting physiological state to experience. 
It was like experiencing F. Scott Fitzgerald's prose inside your body. The liquid warmth, the wooziness, the supple nature of reality and love were all happening inside my knees and stomach. The world felt warm and hazy; and nothing mattered all that much. I felt as though I was about to collapse from hysteria, obsession with a eccentric millionaire in a sharp double-breasted suit, or drinking too much absinthe before brunch. 
Since I was currently the only adult proctoring a study hall of twenty-or-so high school sophomores, I felt that fainting was a poor choice, so I distracted myself by writing down the experience. 
 In a particularly heated moment, just douse the flames of reality with the cold waters of self-reflection.
No other antidote can quite so potently break an enchantment.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

love's austere and lonely offices

In a world of flying loves and fading lusts,
it is something to be sure of a desire
--G.K. Chesterton

"We are the stuff that movies are made of," my friend said to me, a sentiment reminiscent of Prospero and The Bard. She had just moved to Chicago, and as I was on the verge of moving to New York City, we were both nervous, anxious, and scared of our big new homes.
Really, I've become quite in love with the country, even the suburbs with their manufactured ease are a little more human than the rather inhuman crush of City all around you. But that's a story for another day.
And so Elizabeth psyched me up with the above sentence:
We are the stuff that movies are made of.
Damn straight we are, I thought. We are the heroine of the movie: that loveable, stylish vixen at the beginning of every chick flick, who is working a nondescript and subtly not important job in a Big City. (But don't worry she's very successful, and rich enough to own a Hollywood-standard NYC apartment. HOW, Hollywood Chick Flick? HOW.)
Obviously, our abodes are not nearly up to snuff, when compared with those of our sisters on the silver screen, but I have attacked this city with all the determination and spunk of twenty chick-flick heroines.
I have hit the ground running.
I have made a splash.
I have arrived.
I have run out of cliches.

Then, all of a sudden, in the middle of my happy, liberated woman, Big City Adventure waddles a chubby little toddler in adorable fall gear.

Like this:
 or this:


or this.

 I am happy to be a young, single woman, being all adventures and liberated and shit in the Big City. Don't get me wrong, I am. As much as I look with awe upon my peers who are having babies and tending to husbands, I know that there are certain seasons of our lives whose advent is out of our control. And whatever season one finds oneself in right now, it is imperative to seek happiness there, not in a far-off imagined and utterly hypothetical future.

But here's the unvarnished simple truth, revealed to me with dire honestly by every fluffy-down-parka-wearing baby in the Park:
Gosh, I want to get married.
It is so freeing to admit that. Because for some reason it's taboo to say how much one can desire marriage. It makes you either desperate, unenlightened, old-fashioned, demented, boy-crazy, or a host of other epithets.
Call me a poor excuse for a feminist, a girl with her head in the clouds, a stereotypical and lusty female, but it doesn't change the fact that I really want to get married.
Perhaps I've read too many NFP blogs featuring wives raving about the sex they experience with their husbands, perhaps I've swallowed the Happily-Ever-After fairytale that Disney promotes, or perhaps marriage is such a naturally appealing vocation because it is the one we were surrounded with from infancy, throughout the most formative of our childhood years.And perhaps I'm a twenty-two year old woman with a healthy libido and a body full of eggs going to waste each day. Not to sound like a ticking time-bomb, but it is almost physiologically impossible for me not to want a child.

Vocation, is of course, naturally, our here and now. This is rather obvious, once we cover some key points. Our vocation is self-giving love: the free donation of our very wills and selves and hearts back to the Creator who knit them into being.
Obviously, that call knows the constraints of neither time nor place, but is ready to be enacted in the present. Our vocation is to follow in the footsteps of Christ: to die to ourselves, emboldened by the Spirit, and throw ourselves recklessly into intimate communion with the Father.
Our vocation is to participate in the life of the Trinity.

How do I account for, then, for this desire? The desire for babies, and joint bank accounts, and joint tax returns, and all the joyful and mundane unions that accompany marriage.

How do I account for the longing, as my head hits my pillow late at night, for a man who can be my partner, who can co-found with me this little religious community that will be our family? I desire this so deeply--to find a match.
Not to find a soul-mate, for my soul is already mated.
Not to find my other half, for I am a very broken person whom only Love Himself can complete.
Not to find someone who understands every single part of me, for I was comprehended before I could even understand myself.
I long to find another whole, broken, complete person: who doesn't need me, but has found themselves mysteriously called to be one with me, to requite Love's love, together, with a love that is Love's own.

Perhaps this is all another part of the illusion of the happily-ever-after narrative: that something permanent and stable occurs at marriage. That somehow those who have entered into marriage have attained a higher status of security and permanency, solidity and completeness.
And yes, there is nothing "complete" about marriage, rather it creates new relationships and new lonelinesses for God to fill.
But yet there is a stability: a new, unshakeable foundation is laid.
A new unity of life is formed--and I want that.
I desire so deeply to build that community: that small little religious community that shall be composed of myself; my spouse; several children with runny noses; and maybe a dog or two to guard the chickens, and the babies that try to crawl down staircases.
Our habits would be Osh Kosh B'Gosh, Baby Gap, and Gymboree; our rule of life would be simple, based on Benedict's and Basile Moreau's, adapted for life in the secular iPhone world; and our daily bread would be the Eucharist--if not that presented in the Liturgy, then in the offering of our lives to one another.

I want that. I want that a lot.
And I'm not going to be ashamed to say it.
I feel as though we are often too afraid to name our desires, because we are too attached to them. We identify them too closely with our core.
What if we change our minds? We will look like fools.
Even still, what if we never get what we have professed to want? We will look like even greater fools. And, even worse, failures.
I change my mind 500 times a day about the things that are not needful, which are more plentiful in number than the stars in the sky. Perhaps that makes me changeable, but it is much more freeing to have found one thing needful and stand by that, and let the various storms of desires and longings, wants and needs, wash back and forth and back and forth like the surf on the shore, not displacing a single grain, for all their vaunted movement.
And I have wanted many things that I have never received. I would give you specific examples, but I can't seem to remember any of them, because they are not important, and have long since vanished into the dust of the past that is too inconsequential to be stored in memory. 

(Except the "Magical Mermaids" Barbie set. I really wanted that.)
No, like: I really wanted it.
Furthermore, it seems as though single, yet-unmarried women are sometimes embarrassed to admit that they desire a husband, because it would belittle the life that they are currently leading, because it would make them feel less worthy than their married peers, or because it would make them seem unhappy or discontent, or even worse: frigid and inexperienced. (Experience is the cardinal virtue of 21st Century America.)
But I do want a husband, I want to get married and form that particular community known as Family, and I will not be embarrassed to say so.

But more than that, I will not be content to satisfy the desire with poor substitutes: I will not fill up that deep well of desire with the sludge of cheap thrills or the panacea of instant gratification.
If, perhaps, this is the cross of the particular vocation of being a single-twenty-something, then I will embrace it gladly.
If part of the duty of the present is bearing a desire for the future, the duty of discovering the ways in which this desire, this longing, will push me to grow into a deeper, sweeter, kinder, harder, softer, smarter, truer person, then I will happily suffer it.
Present beatitude, to paraphrase a wise friend, is necessary for future beatitude.
So there is no need to lose our joy over our unfulfilled desires. 
Rather, our unfulfilled desires can become our joy.
Along with the rest of our daily lives-- and perhaps in an even sweeter and deeper way--our desires, fulfilled and unfulfilled, can become our imperfect offering of love.

You are too real, too actual, Therese, 
To live in metaphor. 
The girl behind 
The legend, could the legend fade, would be 
The girl you were, sobbing upon your knees 
In lowliness and love and anguish, blind 
With the beauty of a stark Gethsemane.
--Alfred Barrett, S.J., "Saint Therese of Lisieux"

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


 Last year, on my birthday, I was at Auschwitz.
(Which is always a good opening line at a cocktail party. Pretty fancy small talk right there)
Surrounded by death, witnessing the ruins of one of the great tragedies of the human race, I was, understandably very moved.
It was an introspective experience, which resulted in a renewed gratitude for my own life and the countless beauties and blessings given to me each day.
This year, I walked through the bustling streets of Spanish Harlem, smiling at the grandpas who were sitting together, chatting, smiling, waving at the passers-by. The mothers with the babies in their strollers gabbed at street corners and parents ran a school fair, as the children laughed and screeched together while playing carnival games. 
I was surrounded, from the tops of the colorful buildings down to the small cherry tomatoes on their green leafy stems, by life in abundance. Its vibrance and activity reverberated through the bright blue October sky. The wind rippled across the river, the city quaked with noise and golden laughter.
In contrast to the death of the year before, my day was full of life.
My birth was simply part of the joyful dance of the day.

While experiencing how radically different birthdays can be, I also experienced how traditions, rituals, and customs can stay so comfortingly the same throughout the years.
For example, being photographed sleeping on couches:
Birthday 2011-ain't no party like a slumber party.
 I have nice friends, who like to post embarrassing pictures of sleeping innocents on social media.

Birthday 2014-cozy Disney princess blankets make every nap a party.

Some traditions never change.
Like cake and presents, blowing out candles and making wishes.
Birthdays are days full of gratitude and rituals: two of my very favoritest things.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

tall, restless virgins

May came too soon, and, suddenly unable to bear walls, he wandered the campus at all hours through starlight and rain.
--This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald 
Recently, I have grown fascinated with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Partially because his prose is mellifluous, fresh, lucid, limpid, light, liquid, fluid, malleable, translucent, and lush. It is rich and delicate, airy and cerebral, charged with vague threads of passion and decadent overtures of sweetness, and spicy aromas of nostalgia, flavored with sharp twinges of regret, whose loud bursts are softly hidden behind the muffling veil of hedonism. This is the first and certainly the foremost reason. 

But secondly, because I am fascinated by an author whose work so obviously, unabashedly, and beautifully borrows from the narrative of his own life. This is a magical aspect of Fitzgerald that is missing in the only exposure a large swath of the popular reading culture has with my fellow Minnesotan, by which I mean, of course, The Great Gatsby. It is strange and thrilling to read Tender is the Night and find in Nicole a facsimile of the pitiable and awe-ful Zelda. It is fascinating to think of how much of Dick Diver is Fitzgerald himself, and how much is wish-fulfillment writing. It is tragic to see in the Divers storylines that wove through the Fitzgeralds' lives: tragedies they lived through, themes their instruments sang, and also happinesses that were never theirs.
How clever of Francis Scott to discover that in writing a story we can recast our lives into a sweeter and more shapely mold.

And perhaps I read The Great Gatsby when I was in a bad temper, or a daze, or preoccupied with other thoughts besides the ones presented to me on the page, but I have not found in that book the richness of language and the turns of phrases that populate of the rest of his canon.  But I currently do not like The Great Gatsby, less because of its artistic merits or demerits, and more out of spite. Because I resent the fact that it is the only Fitzgerald that most of our young minds are exposed to, and I neglected to educate myself more thoroughly about this author, because of my ambivalence towards his "seminal work." So it is out of my good graces at the moment. But perhaps (and by "perhaps" I mean "certainly"), I am due for a re-read and a new visit with Nick and Nora and the rest.

And then there's This Side of Paradise: whose storyline is unabashedly affected by his romance with Zelda, and yet is still so hopeful, still so young. It is a Fitzgerald (for although his protagonist's name is Amory Blaine, I can only read the book as if it were Francis Fitzgerald) before Gatsby, before Tender is the Night, on the cusp of the Jazz Age. He is still innocent, still graced with a touch of idealistic sobriety. It is so touching and effective because Fitzgerald's life is so woven into his stories. Because his voice is so prominent in Gatsby, in Tender in the Night, because his own cynicism and his pain are blended into his romantic poetry and his stories, it is a treat to see the romantic poetry before the cynicism. It is one of those rare gifts that writing gives us: the ability to see into someone's past, to witness a form of them that no longer exists.
The style of the book is playful, carefree, uncommitted to one particular structure or form, and is poignant, because it is the work of a young man desperate to express--in exactly the right word, exactly the right turn-of-phrase-- the poetry that he is certain inhabits every fiber of his world. He crystallizes in amber the world of undergraduate university study: full of green quads, and poems in magazines, and nights writing letters in a small dorm room. And he captures this world so eloquently and to such great effect because it is his world.

Friday, October 24, 2014

covert and sudden laughter

One piece of advice I received during this past summer, (among the many, many pieces of advice given. Advice is the primary gift given to a recent college graduate.) was given to me by a friend who said: girl. all you need to rock the Big City is a good bag. A big, structured bag.
Bag as in purse, of course.
So I did.
I went into mission-mode, and found the exactly right bag. I dragged my mother through shop after shop, and rejected one bag after another:
too small
too big
too baggy
too tall
too square
too light
(how fast would a beautiful cream-colored bag get smudged with dirt as it's brushing against NYC subway walls? 
Way too fast.)
too much.
too bland.

Finally, I found it. I found the right bag.
This may sound silly and inane, shallow and trite to put so much effort into finding a thing. But I don't really like things until they become old things (the Bible I got for my confirmation was probably valued less than the volume of Lord of the Rings on the shelf, but now, with its highlighter marks, underlinings, and pencil annotations, with the love letters and notes and poems stuck in the pages, with the worn cover and faded gilded pages has become something more precious than the gold etching that has been worn and sweated off the cover). So, I look for new things that will stand the test of time to one day become well-loved old things. And when you find things like that you just know it: you know it in your heart. (It's like falling in love with someone. Except it lasts longer.) 
And when I saw this caramel-coffee bag, sitting on the shelf, with sleek synthetic material just dying to be mistaken for leather, I just knew in my heart that this was The Bag that would see me through the big, bad city.
I found it. This was it. I came. I saw. And I bought.
And let me tell you why this bag is something worth blogging about:
It has structure. That is the secret of this handbag: it has more structure than the Eiffel Tower.
This is a great thing: I stuff it full of tupperware for lunch and books to read, and letters to respond to, and all of the things I think I'll need or get done over the course of the day, and still the bag never looks overstuffed or lumpy or out of shape. It is perpetually slender, delicate, and sleek.
Structure. That's the key.
Because of its strong structure, I can forge my way through rush hour on the subway with relative ease: one slight rotation on my part, and the bag, its edges stiff, it's corners sharp and square, it's faux-leather taught and pristine, swings through the crowd, mowing them down like a field of ripe wheat.
This is an unexpected benefit of this bag, but it's definitely a new metric by which I will measure the desirability of handbags from now on.

On the surface, my friend's advice may seem trite, simple, not really the most important concern among the many concerns that moving from the happy bubble of my college campus to a chaotic new city.
I have slowly learned, very slowly, since self-knowledge is so puzzlingly elusive, that I am naturally a very structured person: I love to-do lists, I love rules, I love routine, I love knowing what to expect, experiencing the expected, and then finishing it as expected (and then checking it off my to-do list).
This is surprising to me, because I would have described myself, without a doubt, as free-spirited, serendipitous, and spontaneous. Which, of course, I am.
I am the jumble of joyful nonsense and chaos that's inside my bag: Bath and Body Works lotion, small mountains of bobby pins, snippets of half-finished correspondence and letters to be mailed, a Karl Rahner treatise, my library cards, an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, and my handy-dandy-can't-go-anywhere-without-pepper spray and CSC Prayer Book (paranoia and prayer make strange bed fellows).
But I am also the rule of life that allows that joyful jumble to rumble around in the leopard print lining of the faux-leather bag, but to never puncture or tear the fragile structure.
Although it would be nice if our lives were full of heroic moments, or transcendent moments, or a series of dazzlingly artistic and aesthetic moments all the time, if we didn't have any sort of structure to support those moments, then it would all fall apart at the seams.

But soft--an example comes to mind:
 recently, my roommate (in a beautiful foray into unknown territory, exploring for participatura terra) asked me a question about method acting, and what I thought of it.
And, using rusty language that I haven't used in about a year, I described my Philosophy of Acting.
Which is, of course: how nice those moments are when you feel the story. When you feel the character's feelings and think the character's thoughts. When your imagination, digestion, and body's temperature conspire to make let your imagination take over your entire body, and you feel as though you are in the story, living what the character lived through. How very nice those moments are.
But your work is not the work of those moments of deep union with the character--the make-believe person in your head and in the words the playwright put on the page.
Your work is to tell a story.
Not by feeling feelings, or conjuring up colorful moods like a synesthetic playing a piece of Debussy, but with your words, with your body, with your voice, with your words and with what you don't say.
And telling a story is usually filled with feeling, but more importantly it has a structure: it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It moves, in logical fashion from point a, and point b, to point c, with of course, much drama and emotion along the way, but without the structure, the lovely emotions and grand expressions have no meaning.

All the things most worth achieving in our lives require a bit of routine in their pursuit.
The loftiest career, the purest form of service, and the most edifying work will include routine, and perhaps, even, a little bit of drudgery.
After all, I'm sure even the Pope has to use Excel sometimes.

We shall not be asked to do more than the Mother of God; we shall not be asked to become extraordinary or set apart or to make a hard and fast rule of life or to compile a manual of mortification or heroic resolutions; we shall not, most of us, even be allowed to do that. 

 What we shall be asked to give is our flesh and blood--our daily life--our thoughts, our service to one another, our affections and loves, our words, our intellect, our waking, working, and sleeping, our ordinary human joys and sorrows--to God. 
To surrender all that we are, as we are, to the Spirit of Love in order that our lives may bear Christ into the world--that is what we shall be asked. 
--Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God

Sunday, October 19, 2014

physics of wisdom & chemistry of understanding

Amazing to see people are lauded and noticed for their joy, enthusiasm and dedication to their work.
--A Notre Dame staff member

There is a Dove chocolate wrapper that I keep coming back to, because it is really the wisest Dove chocolate wrapper that ever did exist (never did I think I would be saying that wisdom is to be found on the tinfoil covering of a little square of chocolate, but it's true. Wisdom is found in the unlikeliest places).
It says: Love what you do.
Which I love, because it is the inverse statement of the world's wisdom which is: do what you love.
In this industrial age, it is so difficult to work the way that our ancestors worked.
To work with our hands and our heads and our hearts all together: to toil lovingly over a carpentry project, because not only will it yield someone a dining room table, but it will also express our unique vision of the world, and will also put food on the table for our children.
For some reason, that very simple and beautiful sacrament of work is noticeably absent in our office jobs.
Which is, of course, frustrating. But, the essence of being human is to be frustrated in some way, and then, somehow, to deal with it. To learn to grow in spite of the many factors that retard our growth. If we were all able to live as we wished, with no obstacle in the way, think of how little we would grow and stretch and die to ourselves and be reborn with a little bit larger hearts and a little bit stronger minds. (How much more pleasant life would be, if we were never frustrated, but never mind that. We'd be too small-minded to enjoy it.)

“How fine it would be, Agathon,” he said, “if wisdom were a sort of thing that could flow out of the one of us who is fuller into him who is emptier, by our mere contact with each other, as water will flow through wool"
--Plato's Symposium

As I said, it seems to me that there are too many professions, careers, or positions that are divorced from this ideal of work that so many early twentieth century writers espoused: John Paul II, Dorothy Sayers, Caryll Houselander,  Leo XIII. All these wise and witty souls describe human work as a marvelous and glorious undertaking that unites the human to the particular aspect of her soul which is most divine: her creativity. The ability to create, to make, to form, to shape is the facet of our being that we share with our Creator. And they bemoan the current economic systems that create so many jobs that are not really work in its fullest and most dignified sense. This dignified and meaningful work is one of the losses sustained during the industrial revolution.
But, still, there is something to be gained in even the smallest and meanest of tasks.
Our spiritual lives are not something divorced from the run-of-the-mill work we do each workday. Our spiritual lives are our work day.
If we believe that small things can be done with great love, then each day presents and opportunity to expand our love as we do each small thing with a little bit more love than before.
We can love our work, because, no matter what it is, it is Christ's work.
In her beautiful meditation on Mary, The Reed of God, Caryll Houselander articulates why Mary is the model of all Christian vocation. Because Mary's task was purely this: to bear Christ into the world.
And her task is, fundamentally, all our tasks. Whatever shape our daily vocation takes, at its heart is this motivating fire: to bear Christ into the world by our walking, our reading, our mundane work, our conversation, our Microsoft Xcel spreadsheets, our brushing our teeth, and our commute on the subway.
It is foolishness, according to the world, to believe that all these daily actions can truly "matter", yet we would be fools to live as if they don't.
When we love what we do, we bring Christ into the little corners of the world where otherwise He would not be.

   "Sometimes it may seem to us that there is no purpose to our lives, that going day after day for years to this office or that school or factory is nothing else but waste and weariness. But it may be that God has sent us there because but for us, Christ would not be there. If our being there means that Christ is there, that alone makes it worthwhile." --Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

moving at the speed of joy

Absolute rest and composure is eternity. Time is unrest and dispersion; eternity is rest and unity, not inactivity or boredom. [...] Eternity is the brimming fullness of life in the form of repose. Something of eternity is deep within us.
--Romano Guardini, Meditations Before Mass

 On Monday night, I went on a run after dark.
That might sound like a dangerous and foolhardy plan in Central Park, in the middle of New York City.
But it was after dark because it was a rainy Monday 7pm in October, which, unfortunately for me, means that the sun has already set.

Thankfully, like me, my fellow acathisiacs who dwell in the city that never sleeps are not going to let a little dusk-light get in the way of their daily run-- an addiction, really.
So I was on my run, minding my own business, as I do whenever I run.
Running is a time to sink into myself, and I could never stomach the thought of running with someone else.
I always shake my head in disbelief when I pass a couple, holding a nylon string between them. I don't understand this. Running is supposed to be when you break free of all nylon strings holding yo back. You just go. At no one's pace but your own, to the beat of no one's heart but yours.
But then, this fellow runner runs right by me.
Something about the pound of his sneakers on the street, something about the rustle of his jacket, something in the imperturbable posture in his spine, something in him provoked something inside of me.
Now, people pass me as I run all the time--they have since I ran around my block in the dead of winter, they have during all my runs around the lakes at Notre Dame, and they do with unceasing frequency as I run through Central Park--and I don't mind them run bit. I never feel competitive about running, and being lapped by other runners increases my desire to run faster not one jot.
I run at my own pace, on my own time.
But all of a sudden, as I watched his black crinkly jacket swish off into the night, I suddenly felt spurred on to run faster.
I wanted to see if I could run at the same pace as this other human, to keep time with him, to push myself to run just a little bit faster.
And so I did. I lifted my legs just a bit higher, and pushed off the ground with a bit more force, and I bounded past him, happy that my ponytail was bouncing with insouciance to spare and a dare: catch me if you can. 

Man touches everything brought within easy reach of his mind by the constantly increasing means of transportation, information, education, and amusement; but he doesn't really absorb anything. He contents himself with having heard about it; he labels it with some current catchword, and shoves it aside for the next. He is a hollow man and tries to fill his emptiness with constant, restless activity.
--Romano Guardini

And as I ran, I felt light as a feather, feet hitting the ground lightly, springing off the pavement with energy, and then he caught up with me.
And for just a few yards, for just a few bends in the road, we ran together.
I had never run alongside of anyone before.
But this was something altogether different from those exhausting partnerships where people spend just so much breath by constantly talking to each other as they run.
It was something so much freer than being tied together with a nylon string.
It was a partnership of heartbeats keeping the same pace and feet pounding to the same rhythm.
 We flew down the asphalt, focused both on our own pace, our bodies flying through the air at the exact same angle, and landing with the same precision and grace.
It was exhilarating: around me was the dark shimmering Central Park night, with the smell and shine of rain lingering in the atmosphere, and next to me was another beating heart: I could feel it hit the pavement at the exact same time as mine.Then, I fell back, and turned to go down another path, between tall dark trees, still speckled with rain.

 Mere observation and consideration can prepare me to discuss trees or the phenomena of society with a certain competence; but my words grow thin and empty the moment I attempt similar observations on matters of the heart. If I really want to know what fidelity is, I must practice it. I can speak with authority about love only if in some form or other I have accepted its challenge. 
It is mine only when I do. --Romano Guardini

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

pumpkin spice kremówka

I saw a small little book in the pew: The Shorter Book of Christian Prayer.
Instantly, I remembered my own little Shorter Book of Christian Prayer that I had left on the bottom rack of the coat rack of the cardinal's palace in Kraków.
How strange, that our memories can leap like that so easily: from one thing to another.

I ran outside my front door at 5:30am, hoping against hope to see the blood moon.
My quiet city street was lit up with that eerie autumn light that hangs in the sky in the dusk before dawn.
The wind whipped through the trees, creating a mournful rustling sound.
I forgot how much I loved that time of day: that time when even the most crowded cities are deliciously lonely, when even the mundane townhouses are a bit uncanny.
I don't know what it is about autumn, but it full of so many distinct sensory moments and impressions.
There's something about the world around us dismantling and falling asleep that heightens all our senses. You can try to capture the essence of fall in many ways (here's looking at you, pumpkin spice latte), but I feel that there is no substitute to the experience of autumn in the morning, in that dark time just before dawn. It's in that dark space just before dawn when you discover or what you are really missing.
One place I have been missing like crazy is Kraków. This is taking me by surprise, because Kraków is not a place I had ever long desired to visit, or desired to see. But it is a place I visited last fall, during the part of the season that can only be described as "high autumn."
 It was that lovely October weather that everyone is trying to imprison in a pumpkin spice latté, but you cannot capture it without diluting it.
But Kraków in the fall is like a wonderland of golden light, like a loaf of bread baked just past perfection. I remember walking through the old city, experiencing something completely new: not just new surroundings, but a new part of my heart inside of me.
Being in this ancient, melancholic land shook up something inside of me.
As the autumn leaves of Eastern Europe swirled under my feet, I felt a new loneliness and a new freedom well up inside of me, all at once. I was someone new, someone unknown. As dear and tender as this land about me, and yet, strangely, just as foreign. 
 Somewhere among the winding streets and savory tea shops of Kazimierz, the woody heights of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, and the rough and shining stones and bright stalls of Stare Miasto, I became someone entirely new. 
And now, I miss it. I miss the taste of fresh air from Jasna Gora in my lungs and the powder-y sugar taste of kremówka on my tongue. I miss waking up in a room filled with other pilgrims. I miss the strange adventure of bus rides through the countryside. I miss the churches, and the constant surprises within them.
Now, a year later, I wonder that I thought so little of my new self at the time. Isn't it funny, says Prince Caspian, how day-by-day, nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different.

Monday, October 13, 2014

city of serendipity

Columbus day has been full of fun little moments:
like running into a friend from high school on the 66th street subway platform. In a city of eight million people, how does that happen?

Fun Moment Example B could be when I almost saved the recipe my sister sent me for "Simple Scones" in the "Sexual Health" bookmark folder (that's not an exciting folder. It only features articles like this.) instead of the Recipes folder.
Lord, what fools we mortals be.
[My bookmark folders are a disaster, with little-to-know organization, featuring folders with titles like: JOBS!!, Tangled/Augie [??], Choir_Grant, Truth & Reconciliation Committee, DRAMA GAMES, Europe, Pope, NYC_Church, BookstoRead.]

Fun Moment Number 3: these happen a lot. It's when you suddenly remember a definitive statement you made in the past that has been proved entirely wrong, or entirely true. I'm not sure which is more fun. But it's always amusing. For example: I remember one of the many reasons my sister paraded out to try to convince me to apply to Notre Dame was that Notre Dame's student body is 55% male, 45% female (or 53% male, 47% female, whatever it's shifted to now). Not only did she do that, she would point out that a school I was considering had an "unfavorable" female to male student ratio. 60% female, 40% male? She would say. Subtext: How will you ever find a boyfriend in that Sea of Harpies?

I exaggerate slightly, of course, as always, but my wily older sister indeed knew how to speak to high school Renée's heart. And High School Renée's heart would pitter-patter at the thought of a campus full of fresh-faced young collegiate men, ready to sweep her off her feet. I thought of this one Sunday morning after Mass, as I walked down Broadway double-fisting Dunkin Donuts, enjoying the sweet, lazy bustle of the city on a Sunday morning.
And I laughed out loud.
One: because high school Renée's priorities were slightly different than current Renée's priorities.
Second: because it is so incredible and marvelous how differently we can think with four or five years of formation, education, and the most excellent teacher of experience molding our plastic opinions into something completely different than they were before. 
Lord, what fools we mortals be.

Another fun moment: I have developed this extremely bad habit: I sketch people. But with words, not with charcoal and sketch pad. So, if I'm in the subway, and there's a sad woman chugging red bull in sexy stilettos sitting forlornly in the seat right across from me, I'm not gonna not copy down everything I notice about her, and make up a story to go with it. It has become almost a reflex to take a cursory inventory of the subway car as I step in it, wondering what stories I am stepping into, and will never know. The City is such an enabler of people-watching and people-sketching. It's far too easy here--interesting people pop out of every sidewalk crack and bodega awning, just begging to be noticed. 

For example: these women next to me in Starbucks are discussing the unfortunate Taylor, their poor roommate, who "has a good heart", but, unfortunately for her: "she's short, ugly and fat." 
[Shoat. These young women are not pulling any punches here. I hope my food baby from the cookie cake I stuffed my face with last night has flattened out a bit. Or at least I hope they don't notice it. I shudder to think about what they would say. Look at that short, mousy girl with that ridiculous, janky little macbook from 2010! It looks like she ate an elephant for lunch!! titter titter titter.
"And, you know what else I don't like about Taylor? She's from Tennessee. Even though I'm from Tennessee, but I don't really like anyone else from Tennessee." [SO many questions about this statement. I am dying to see how sharing that sentiment with Taylor herself might play out: Taylor, there's only room enough for one girl from Tennessee in this here city, and it's me. Where, oh logic, is now thy sting?]
"Also, you know why Renée doesn't like Taylor very much? [wait. what? A character named Renée is in this soap opera story? Oh I am tuning in now, lady with the floral waffle-print long underwear pants] 
blah blah blah stories of weekend adventures with Taylor and Renée. Including this great little sound bite: 
"When I first met Renée, I thought: Oh I'm going to hate this b****, but actually, she's really nice." 
[oh, that's so charming. Although I'm not the Renée in question, I accept the backhanded compliment on behalf of my name-sister. ]
Their tales include lots of making out, lots of gentlemen getting tangled up in multiple young ladies' love lives, lots of debauchery, lots of girls gone wild moments. These girls are 500% too racy to be sitting in a Starbucks on Madison Avenue at six pm on Monday. And not just any Monday but Columbus Day. What do the racy young youth do on Columbus Day? On July 4th, they shoot off fireworks and wear stars-and-stripes printed beachwear and drink lots of Miller Lite. On Halloween, they wear as few clothes as possible, and lots of make-up, and drink all sorts of strange potions. On Christmas, they sit in their parents' living rooms and nurse their pumpkin spice hangovers. But Columbus Day lacks any sort of imagination or possibilities of holiday-themed antics: it is a fruitless holiday, left-over from an older, steadier generation.
But it's chock full of fun moments.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

a steady plea for grace

On the other side of pain, there is still love
--Madeline L'Engle

The beginning of this song is like springtime--it's like new life seeping out of the corners of sound.
It makes a tingle run up and down my spine, as the melody sliding up and down the scale creates a sound that sounds like it rips open the fabric of everyday life. 
It is noise like that that reminds us that there are stars being born in the world outside our windows. That there is transcendence floating through the air like nitrogen.
At least, that's how I felt when I first heard the notes float through the dank basement rehearsal room (not so very dank--they have a Psalm verse wall-stencil on the cream-colored cinderblock walls!) in St. Patrick's Cathedral.
This is music. This reminds you of what it is to be human.
And, thank you, Youtube video, for revealing that the composer is a Pulitzer-prize nominated composer. Well lah-dee-dah.
Also, I personally think that the most compelling part of the piece is the first minute. If I were you, I would just replay that part over and over again on a loop, until you are a complete puddle of tears, or you drive your roommates crazy and they murder you.
But, in all seriousness, I think that a part of why this is my new Favorite Piece of Music (it's a much-coveted and elusive title. I mean, I've had Nicki Minaj/Ariana Grande/Jessie J's "Bang Bang" stuck in my head all day, so Mandatum Novum's had stiff competition for the title. Just kidding. It absolutely didn't. Ariana's got me chair-dancing at my desk to all her funky beats, but this beautiful, lyrical anthem could certainly could show her how to graduate.) is this:
I'm newly falling in love with the Washing of the Feet.
Holy Thursday has never been my favorite holy day. I knew it was a day of unparalleled excellence, but it just sort of seemed to be like a large drumroll leading up to the real business of Holy Week--aka Good Friday and Holy Saturday--and the real drama of the week. Holy Thursday was meditative and slow, and the mass was interrupted not by dramatic communal readings of the Gospel or the veneration of the cross--events filled with movements of the heart and pathos, but by the ceremony of the washing of the feet.
And I knew that washing of the feet represented service to others, making ourselves servants for others, blah, blah, blah.
But, then, I read Benedict XVI, and my world theologically exploded. (Everyone should say this sentence at least once a day.)
For, the Washing of the Feet, in Benedict's reading of the passage, is not just Christ's example of serving others, of being a servant of the servants of God, as all the priests, bishops, and cardinals are called to be, rather, it is something more.
As Christ washes His disciples feet, He is the one cleaning them.
None of their ritual purifications or ceremonies are enough to make them truly clean, truly holy.
God's holiness will be sufficient for us.
We are only as clean as we will let Him make us.
The sacrifice that Christ is about to make on Calvary the next day will make us clean. 
Christ offers us His purity to clean us, and His love to wash us.
It is free--it is an absolute gift--our feet are washed by Christ, who loves us with a humility and a simplicity that turns the old and fragile world into something green and hardy and full of springtime.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

constellations and chaos

The new age will declare that the secularized facets of Christianity are sentimentalities. The world will be filled with animosity and danger but it will be open and clean. The new Christian attitude must possess courage and trust. 
--Romano Guardini, The End of the Modern World

Nothing makes me feel lonelier than a history lesson. In a history lesson, all of a sudden, I am confronted with the stark truth of how utterly divorced my world is from the the world of my ancestors. The iPhone-earbud-UberApp-MacbookAir-Gmail-Apple world we inhabit is so cold and cut off from the warm and rich worlds of our forefathers on earth (this is getting sentimental and overly Rousseauian).
We are living in an utterly different cosmos than our forefathers. Sphere of the primum mobile? Try 60 billion galaxies in viewable space and dark matter in between them all? Although those two concepts don't have much to do with my daily life, and I don't really think about either when I'm trying to navigate a crowded subway with patience, just the simple way we view outer space says so much about how we view ourselves.

This says:
World is ordered.
Place for everything.
World is finite, and beyond it: the infinite.

Although the world seems to be more ordered, the spiritual is just beyond it--infinities into which we cannot see.
And now, space, instead of being a manageable, comprehensible orbit, is this:
 Underneath the nebulae are string theories, quantum physics, and black holes. Our world is now an infinite labyrinth, whose edge is hidden in the darkness beyond the starlight. 

Historical epochs are lonely because they are so permanently past.
There is no going back: human history means that once the sun has set on a certain historical moment, that period is no longer re-visitable.
We do not have the solace of regressing, really. There is only going forward into the next epoch, and the next, and the next.
Our ancestors' world can never be our world.
And yet, of course, it is.
The dirt that we tread upon in Hyde Park has been there for centuries, and many esteemed members of the London bourgeois have walked the same paths as we.
And yet, this is almost more lonely: we inhabit the same physical space as these people did, and yet we are so completely sundered from them. While we are physically in close proximity to the world of the past--as we literally live in the ruins of past civilizations--we are separated from the populations of those world by lightyears.
I find this so lonely, and strange. A hundred years ago is nothing in the life-time of the world, and yet it is already far beyond our reach.
And no matter how much I read about how the medievals thought about the world, and how they approached the world without the sometimes overwrought ideas of personality and psychology that we apply to our world today, I will never be able to think like a medieval.
I will never be able to step into their shoes and see the world from their point of view: as much as I love Romantic poetry, I will never view the natural world with the mysticism of a Romantic. I will never approach an ethical framework with the tolerant rationalism of Ancient Greece. As much as a  I can immerse myself in their period of time through reading their literature, I will always remain absolutely confined to my own time.
We are prisoners of chronos, our only escape are those things that are timeless: that exist in kairos, not chronos: for example, the Truth.

A faith will therefore open itself to what is genuinely real; its center of gravity will descend more deeply into the personal; it will affect all things with decision, loyalty, and self-conquest.
--Romano Guardini, The End of the Modern World

Sunday, October 5, 2014

my only desire

There is great joy in a Sunday afternoon in Central Park, reading in the fading golden sunlight of the autumn afternoon. Resentfully, I had thought that autumn in the City would not hold a candle to autumn at Notre Dame or fall in Minnesota. But, as I walked through the park, I noticed golden leaves, tipped with scarlet underneath my feet. Okay maybe, I thought, this place is beautiful.

There is great joy in watching the pigeons hopping down the steps of the Met Museum. They were so joyful as gravity pulled them from one granite step to the next. Their plump little bodies were shaking from the force of their fall. Fluttering in the breeze, their feathers rustled in a tuneful accompaniment to their jiggling bodies. They seemed to be engaged in a great game: falling from step to step, enjoying themselves immensely.

There is great joy in listening to the Dominicans at St. Vincent Ferrer chant their vespers. Just the other day, there were only two of them: one man on either side of the choir, tucked so cozily in their choir stalls. Together, they sang, in a rusty, hearty rasp: Hooooly Goood, we praaaaaaiiisee thy naaaame. And they were, most effectively. As they chanted their psalms, their voices rose to the dark rafters of the chapel, and faded into the dark mystic silence. From across the nave, their words faded into a gentle hum, like the bleating of a herd of sheep. In their clean white wool habits, the two old men, faces chiseled with years of thought, smiles, and tears, looked like very gentle, wise lambs. Beloved sheep of the good shepherd, certainly.

There is great joy in people-watching in the small lady chapel of the large, ornate church. This lady chapel is very unimpressive. It is simple, wooden, and one of the carved mahogany figurines in the altar panel is a St. Rene. Renée/Rene reppin'. Dig it. There is this woman who always sits next to me in the left-hand front row, or in the row directly across from me. I call her The Rich Young Woman. She is not young, she is middle-aged. The only word to describe her lululemon-clad figure is svelte. Her expression is indecipherable. She is aloof, decidedly. But also there's a certain aura of wistfulness about her, as I feel the Rich Young Man must have had as well. A very keen sense of things eternal, beyond all the things temporal she has truck with each day. She seems to approach the altar with a sadness, a sense of something lacking. Yet with a confidence that daily entrances me.

There is joy in Sunday nights of cookies and milk in cozy living rooms on cuddly couches with the roommates, watching Call the Midwife. Between the sensational episodes of childbirth happening in living rooms, sheds, and public toilets, there are moments of simple and sweet beauty. Particularly, the scene where two of the nurses bathe an elderly woman, whose body and mind are still so scarred from her time in the workhouse. As they bathe this woman, slowly transforming her exterior to match her interior dignity, the simple advent hymn: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel plays contemplatively in the background.

There is joy here. There is joy now. Joy is not in the future--anticipation, or in the past--nostalgia.
It is now.

Friday, October 3, 2014

just a few thoughts

"Only a sort of drunken flush pierced by voices, unimportant voices that did not know how much he was love."
--Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  1. I went into this adorable little bakery in Tribeca. The moment you stepped through the old white wood doors, the entire air was permeated with the aroma of icing on a cupcake. It was utterly magical. The entire building felt like a cupcake. I fell in love at first smell. 
  2. We make too big a deal about falling in love. Being in love happens almost as frequently as springtime and sap rising and daisies blooming. It will happen when the tides and cycles of the moon converge, it's rather unpredictable and arbitrary and we're all so ridiculous about it. As much as Jazz Age novels are depressing, on account of the fact that they make me feel about as glamorous as a bowl full of sticks, and the characters are basically self-centered, shallow buckets of sentiment, instinct, and selfish impulse, at least they have the proper attitude towards "falling in love": Oh, you, too, have been "in love" once in your life? Glad to know you have an active endocrine system.
  3. Love, however, is much more commonplace and ordinary, and yet more mystical and transcendent than this rush of hormonal bliss. And yet, for some reason, we place much more significance on an experience where another human and ourself have had an experience of mutual hormonal attraction than the day-to-day sort of love which permeates our waking existence. For some reason, we overlook the daily experience of agape, denying ourselves the experience of an intimacy and a grandeur which we cannot even comprehend.
  4. I get that being in love is magical. It's the greatest, I know, I know. But it's also not the end-all-and-be-all of our existence. As much as it is a beautiful, and often enduring, season of life, it is not the telos of our being. Love is. And as much as being in love helps us to truly love someone, love is the real answer to the question that our being poses to us. 
  5. I am reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night. Here's a new Healthy Living Tip for myself: don't read F. Scott Fitzgerald ever. It's beautiful and lush, but it's also so decadent, I feel almost hungover after reading it.
  6. Speaking of hungover, I can't drink alcohol anymore. I bought two bottles of wine last weekend thinking: "oh, what will go great with my slice of chocolate cake and my two seasons of Call the Midwife (DVDs courtesy of the New York Public Library)? Definitely some red wine." And then, my stomach flip-flopped at the thought of the dry taste of wine. And so I selected instead a glass of milk. Milk. I think I maybe drank milk a total of four times in undergrad, and averaged maybe a glass of wine a day last year. What has become of me? Whatever it is, I like it.
  7. I just saw a very Pinter-esque play this evening. Bizarre, abstract, heavy on the symbolism and highly dramatic sexual tension, light on the whole "narrative structure" or "coherent plot" stuff. One or two moments of absolutely shocking and unprecedented violence. Harold Pinter did many great things for the theatre, but he also wrote a ton of brilliant plays that make you feel like absolute shit while watching them. Seriously. I think the worst mood I was ever in during my time in London was probably the night I went to see a Harold Pinter play by myself. Can you ever know the truth about anyone? Does anything really exist? What do we know of other people except the lies they tell us? How can we ever achieve anything? Can we ever perceive the world beyond our own perceptions of ourselves? Two hours of those thoughts swimming around in your head makes for a pretty miserable evening. Whenever I see or read a Pinter play, it feels like there's a ton of last night's whiskey floating around in my stomach that I need to purge out of my body. I have this uncontrollable urge to vomit. Which I think is how Pinter wanted you to feel after seeing one of his plays. Rather cruel of him. But if that's what he's going for, it's highly successful art.
  8. Nothing helps re-align the soul like some chocolate cake, milk, and a couple DVDs of Call the Midwife. I feel positively spiritually refreshed.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


The whole word is not the printed, but the spoken, in which alone truth stands free. Only words formed by the human voice have the delicacy and power which is necessary to stir the depths of emotion, the seat of the spirit, the full sensitiveness of the conscience.
--Romano Guardini, Meditation Before Mass

Here's to making words on a page come alive onstage.
I miss these actors who brought us into Terra Incognita and back again.
They are truly theatrical polytopians of a rare degree.

I have seen wonders in the Himalayas. Magic. Mystery.

I feel a sea change coming over me.

I don't know about all of you, but I do have a sudden craving. A burning desire. Intense, painful longing.

 I have such a yearning for the is boundless!

Quotes Copyright Eric Overmyer
Photos Copyright Peter Ringenberg

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

rebellious to my roots

We behave as though God were expecting us to succeed and making His love conditional upon our achievements.
--Maria Boulding, Gateway to Hope, an Exploration of Failure

St. Thérèse once told a story (and I'd swear in court that it was St. Thérèse, but ever since I asserted that to a friend, I seem to have completely lost where I found said story) about one of her fellow Carmelite sisters singing off-key next to her in choir. Naturally enough, Thérèse would grow irritated when the sister would sing off-key, and she found that the annoying noise was distracting her from prayer. Until, of course, being the Doctor of the Church and one of the many resident spiritual bad-asses of the 19th century, Thérèse realized that the sister's off-key crooning was actually a gift for God, for it was a small little suffering that she could offer up.
Usually, in choirs not populated with saints like Thérèse, if someone sings off-key, the sopranos flutter a bit in annoyance, squirm, and look half over their shoulder so everyone behind them feels self-conscious about the notes they produce and grow quieter and quieter, until they are just a notch above the weakest pianissimo. Finally, one brave tenor pipes up and says: I think the altos are off. The altos roll their eyes, thinking that singers who live in glass houses ought not to throw stones. Nevertheless, the altos are forced to sing a single bar of music over and over again. And, knowing alto lines, the bar they are singing is either a jumble of intervals that have no rhyme or reason outside the context of the other notes in the chord, or an obnoxious repetition of the same tone over and over ad nasueum, or, until a blessed and welcome key change.
Eventually, it will become inescapably clear and painfully obvious that one among their members is tone-deaf and will never realize her error. Finally, the director decides to move on, abandoning the altos to their fate as a hopeless section of musical dunces, and dooming the sopranos to develop nervous tics from their incessant, anxious fluttering.
Thus, a choir devoid of the grace of the Little Flower usually proceeds.
Oh how gloriously different the saints, eh?

It is so easy to let the little things annoy you, rather than be an occasion of grace. Unsurprisingly, I have found that is all too easy to forget that our vocation is love when my neighbor is being a dickhead or when my siblings are being whiny little cretins.

I am very good at loving the student who raises her hand nicely, and asks good questions, and does her homework. I am very good at being patient with these students. I find that when they do things like ask the same question five times in the row, or call out: Ms.! Ms.! Ms.! Ms., please, can you come help me? No help me first, Ms.! like some sort of grating refrain over and over in class, I am less patient. My smile begins to grow strained, and I grow weary of being pulled in five different directions, with five hundred different demands.

And then I realize that parents who have children must feel this way pretty much everyday. And I remember that patience is only really patience when it's tested. To be pleasant when others are pleasant isn't a virtue, it's just common sense. Psychologists (who love to find fancy, scientific words for common sense) call it mirroring or emotional contagion, which basically means we mimic the behavior of the people with whom we surround ourselves. Of course it is easy to be virtuous and kind when everybody else is being virtuous or kind. It's right there in our psychology. But it is hard to be virtuous and kind when others are being little scabs. It is hard to be patient when people are trying your patience. But patience that is not tried barely deserves the name of patience.

Rather, I learned to be patient because I watched someone: a parent, a teacher, a friend remain cool, calm and collected when her charges were attempting to run her ragged. I learned what love was when someone was fair and kind to someone who did not deserve it.

I learn every day the painful lesson that my love is very short of God's love. If God loves me, even though I am a failure, do I love my neighbors who are failures? Not as well as I ought. Not with such patience and kindness and overabundant generosity as God does for me. God has high standards for me, higher than mine for any other human being, and I fail to live up to them. Yet, unlike me, He does not allow that failure to make Him desire my love any the less. Patiently, oh how patiently, He attends to my incessant demands. He listens even when I do not raise my hand, and He still smiles on me, even though I will not find a seat after being asked five times in a row.

This is not natural love; this is supernatural. It is above and beyond anything I can achieve on my own. But, having tasted it, I cannot help but aspire to love with a love like that in return.

The thought that Christ, in his life and death, belongs to the innermost reality of the world, would be less alien to us if we were not so prone to identify the world with the handful of crude and superficial data gathered from everyday sense-experience, of if we were better able to realize how profound, mysterious and filled with spiritual realities this world is, and how everyone draws life from the whole of the universe, which extends to such measureless depths.
--Karl Rahner, On the Theology of Death