Tuesday, April 29, 2014

hampered by physique

This is what the Thomas story is a sign of: if you see the wounds, you will see Jesus. Thomas is a sign for those who have doubts, for those who get drawn down into the woundedness of things. 
There is no need to fear doubts or wounds. However far you go, Jesus is already there.
--Rev. Victor L. Austin, St. Thomas Church, NYC

If you're really, really angry at someone, the last thing you want to do is pray with them.
Naturally.
Because you just simply can't raise your pious heart up to God together while you harbor feelings of deep ill-will towards your neighbor.
You cannot seek to unite yourself to Love Himself while harboring feelings of hate.
That is such a glaring hypocrisy, that no matter how much we humans love to ignore the beam in our own eye, even we cannot overlook that one.

As the human who was currently ranking numero uno on my Frustrating Human List gathered the room of actors together and suggested demanded we pray, I could feel the pit of bitterness inside my soul revolt against the demand, even as I knew I should be responding with delight.
Prayer and theatre have always been linked together in my heart.
Half the task of an actor is to prepare for the performance. As you enter into the theatre, you begin to run through your lines, warm up your voice, walk through the show, almost unconsciously, in your mind.
There is so much ritual to complete before the show begins.
But the penultimate act you perform before heading onstage is signing yourself with the cross, taking a deep breath, and making sure your first words are on the tip of your tongue, ready to roll off into the sawdust-y atmosphere.
Before a performance, one rarely has the luxury of praying all together.
It is usually something one does alone, sitting on a flight of rickety stairs, waiting behind flimsy scrims, resting your check on the rough backside of the velvet curtain; your ears straining for the sound of your cue, your heart silently invoking heaven.
It is a rare joy to join hands with your fellow actors and offer up a prayer together. A joy that is all the more precious because of its rarity, and always welcome when it is received.

But not that day.
I did not want to pray with that man.
 I'd spent the last hour begrudgingly following the instructions he barked out and letting my self-righteous frustration build up inside of me as I counted each of his errors, and tallied up all of the grievances I'd endured. We would sometimes much rather nurse our wounds than heal them.
And I knew that if I joined hands with this human being and offered up a prayer with him, I would have to forgive him the numerous grudges I was holding against him.
I could feel my heart cling desperately to every last one of them, as we all made a circle together and join hands.
I could feel my body stiffening all over, as even my leg muscles attempted to resist the stream of grace.
I clasped the hand of my friend next to me, and closed up my eyes and my mouth in a tight seam.
The man began to pray, and I was struck by the knowledge that this man was call upon the same God I do, and that, here in that room which was festering with bitterness, the same Spirit and same grace that I called upon in Mass that morning were present there in that room.
And this man was heard by the god he called upon every bit as much as I was.
I felt about as small as an acorn at that moment.

The man said very simple words, that many generations of Christians have said for many years, and they weren't anything special, but when he said: Come, Holy Spirit, I felt something stony inside of me splinter.
I felt something crack inside me;  I think it was my pride.
Grace was about as gentle as a jackhammer that day.
I had to let go of all the bitter baggage I so desperately desired to hold onto, but those words and that prayer pried it out of my hands as firmly and as sternly as a mother pulling her toddler's fingers off of some piece of candy or a small toy they have grasped.
But it loosened up a space inside the wall of rock that lined my heart, and I found that there was a space where I could lift up my voice with his.
My anger had evaporated with the prayer.
The healing I had so staunchly resisted had bandaged up my wounds.

And see how the flesh grows back across a wound, 
with a great vehemence, 
more strong 
than the simple, untested surface before.
--Jane Hirshfield, For What Binds Us


Monday, April 28, 2014

you'll be the book/I'll be the binding




I was feeling such a mess I thought you'd leave me behind.

One of my greatest talents is self-pitying. A close second is (un)righteous anger. Closing up the triumvirate is definitely ill-temper.
Consistently, I have mourned the fact that most employers do not consider these marketable skills, and so they do not grace the bottom margin of my resumé.
If only. A girl can dream, tho.
Perhaps my ill-temper yesterday derived from my boots, which, though fetching, were beginning to pinch as Apollo drove his fiery steeds towards the West.
Perhaps it derived from my utter inability to deliver unto my white blank page highly original thoughts about Cassian and his theory of prayer. ["Therefore, it would appear an historical schism arose in the academy's efforts of synthesizing a cohesive argument toward defining a politic of The Other in Cassian's theory of prayer."]
Perhaps it was the weather.
It's always the weather.
The world is on the verge of the storm, which is exciting, but it creates a sense of anxiety which juxtaposes uncomfortably with the sweet, innocent little hyacinths blooming.
Also, I think the university has been relocated from the world of living men to the inside of a wind tunnel.
As I was walking across a desolate parking lot, the gentle spring gusts, which had mutated into giant blasts of chilly air, kicked up gravel and gravel dust into my face, and I was impressed by the similarity that this landscape bore to Mordor.
(whine whine whine. That's my other talent.)
Perhaps it derived from my frustration with human beings' (myself included, for lo, I am merely human) inability to love other people well, even mediocrely well.
Perhaps it is simply because I am grouchy character by nature.

Whatever the reason, I decided that before braving another test of patience, the world would benefit from encountering not the grouch-with-the-pinching-boots but rather the grouch-with-the-pinching-boots-with-Jesus. Not much of an improvement, I'm afraid, but sometimes, on windy, Mordor-like days, that is the best that we are capable of.

So I waddled into the Basilica, and I heard the sweet tones of the Regina Caeli wafting out of the sanctuary. So I took up residence in one of my favorite pews (It features a direct view to the Magdalene clutching the feet of Christ. It's a good one).
Then, two things happened all at once:
the choir started singing Sicut Cervus, which is perhaps the most beautiful piece of music a human voice ever wrote, and we have Palestrina to thank for it.
The sweet, longing tones of the polyphony strung together, and cast a spell over that quiet church.
The walls glistened with the sweetness of the notes, as the words called every living thing to the crucifix hanging above the altar.
The air held the sound so gently, tenderly, as the music cast its enchantment.
Then, just as gently, a bevy of Franciscan brothers wandered into my field of vision.
As docilely as cervi themselves, they wandered around the altar, examining the beauty that adorns every surface of the palatial basilica.
Slowly, quietly, they all settled themselves down into the pews around me, put to rest by the gentle song.
The tug of desire that surged through the music ran through our blood.
And together, we watched and listened.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

scitó te

you and the seasons spoke the same language 
and all these years I have looked through your limbs 
to the river below and the roofs and the night 
and you were the way I saw the world 
--W. S. Merwin, Elegy for a Walnut Tree

One night, many years from now, I will sit down on my very worn and very loved sofa.
Sitting next to me will be a young boy--my young boy.
The scary thing about children is that there are so many Great Big Lessons to impart to them.
It is absolutely mind-boggling to recall all the lessons that got crammed into the first ten years of your life. 
How did you manage to learn all the things that you had to learn? 
It is highly mysterious. How did your parents not panic, as they thought of all the vast expanse of knowledge that had to be imparted to the young baby in their arms.
I know for a fact that responsibility will tug at my heart always.
As I watch my young son take his first steps, I will want him to know about all the muscles inside of him that are moving his legs, and how they work in tandem with his nervous system and his skeleton, and how delicately they are designed, and how magnificently he is loved.
But children learn to walk by taking just one step.
So, I hope I remember to tell my son, in the midst of all the Great Big Lessons, the small little stories.
Because it really is the small stories of life that are the most interesting.
The Great Big Lessons take up most of our conversations, but the small little stories take up most of our brains.
Each day, all the small little stories fill our mind and leave just a quickly, and we usually forget to tell each other about them.
And maybe we're not supposed to.
Maybe the stories of each day are part of the story being written for only ourselves to see for now.
But I do hope I remember to tell my son about the small lessons in the small stories.
The stories of the sunny spring mornings when the entire atmosphere smells of manure and grass growing. 
Stories of starting compost heaps by picket fences.
Stories of what the stars looked like in the evening of Holy Saturday.
Of the hyacinths that bloomed under the shade of your favorite climbing tree.
Of the days you forget your running shoes in your locker, and you bike to school in your pink socks.
If you bike to school in your pink socks, you will definitely pass someone that you know and want to impress.
Because you never look pressed and put-together when you pass the person you want to impress. You pass them when you look disheveled and like you haven't showered in a year, and when you're sweaty from running across campus.
That is simply just how the world works, and you will just have to accept it with dignity and grace. 
But then, sometimes, on the days that God knows you need a giant pick-me-up, you will run into a former flame on a day when your hair magically decided to fall into soft and docile waves, and when you're wearing that Coat that Always Gets Compliments. 
Maybe you even wore make-up.
But, let's be realistic, you probably didn't, knowing you. 
Of course, you ruin the sweet victory by stuffing a brownie into your mouth moments before passing them. 
Classic.
But that's fine. We can work with that.
Just refrain from words, and simply smile sweetly in their direction. 
You may feel tempted to flip your hair gently, to advertise how excellent it's looking.
Don't, please.
Refrain.
Overkill is never an attractive quality; and restraint always is.
Continue to smile pleasantly, (even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues) and thank all that is holy that you grabbed that coat that morning.
You offer up a silent prayer and a promise to light a candle at the Grotto later in thanksgiving for the unmerited and serendipitous hair day.

Remember that if your dignity is feeling a little bruised, a whiskey sour and conversation with a friend will always serve as an accelerando to bring you back up to tempo.
Humility and vulnerability are essential qualities if you're going to become a fully developed human being.
Cultivate them.
But never at the expense of keeping your chin up, and walking with purpose and direction.
Moping should be relegated to the morning hours, and ought to be medicated heavily with peach tea, Nutella toast, and roommates who can coax your dour visage into laughter.

Furthermore, be bold. Take risks. As Ferdinand Foch once quoth: the will to conquer is the first condition of victory.
Remember, though, a lesson Ferdinand never had to learn: if you push your luck trying to wear a dress from junior year of high school, the zipper may get stuck, and you will have to live with the consequences.
Those consequences include but are not limited to being stuck in said dress for forty-five minutes until your roommate arrives home, as sweet a sight as Moses to the Israelites, to save you from your bondage.
Instead of singing a song to the Lord with Miriam, you will just laugh together.
Although I haven't learned much my four years of college, I have learned that it is the small stupid adventures of life each day--the ones that make you laugh together-- that are the most worth sharing.
They are sunshine on the greyest days.
These are the stories we never remember to tell our children.
But I think maybe they are exactly the ones they ought to hear.

Monday, April 21, 2014

martyrdom of canker sores

"Sometimes," said Julia, "I feel the past and the future pressing so hard on either side, there's no room for the present at all."
-Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, Book 2 Chapter 3

I saw the word of life lit up against the dark midnight sky.
I ran past it, feeling the fresh night wind fill up my lungs.
In summer, I thought, I can do this all the time.

I laid down in the dewey morning grass,
feeling the damp green leaves tickle my back
I looked up at the sunrise,
and felt the sweet warmth of morning sun kiss my face.
In summer, I thought, I can do this all the time.

I heard the birds sing to one another,
listening to their melodies,
sung from one friend to the other.
Their tunes were gentler than they'd been before
there was a new strain of mildness woven into their harmonies
I let their voices sing to me as I ran past.
In summer, I thought, I can do this all the time.

I bounded off the sidewalk,
it had become too hard and cold for me,
my feet felt beneath them the springy lawn,
to run is not to feel the weight of weariness
to run is to feel like you are flying,
to move across the world a pace more godlike and more joyful than we tend to do.
If we were immune to the human curses of shin splits and side cramps
I think we all would run and never stop.
As I slowed myself back down into a walk,
I could still feel the speed of running bounding through my veins.
The air which now surrounded me serenely still had in it,
hidden and quiet, the ferocity of wind that whipped through the runner's hair.
In summer, I thought, I can do this all the time.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

a rim of scarlet turned to gold

'Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things--trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.'
--The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis

There is no stranger feeling than after saying goodbye to someone.
You're sort of lonely, but sort of glad, too.
Visitors have to go home at some point, and it's not that you're glad to see them go, it's just that those we love can't always stay with us.

It is one of those few times we are allowed to feel how incomplete we are on our own. If you've spent your weekend surrounded by a soft cushion of your loved ones, it is rather harsh to have that pulled away and you realize that you can often live through a day not-missing the people you love, simply because you don't think about them.
But right after they leave you, you go back to 'normal,' but 'normal' feels a bit empty and sad without them.
You feel sort of desolate and aimless--you can't sit still, but you have no where to go really.
This is sort of a blessing.
Because we live most of our lives in a state of not-remembering.
We are able to not have panic attacks on airplanes because we can not-remember  that we are flying at some sort of ghastly mortally high altitude at an unbelievable rate over lands and oceans.
Over oceans, friends.
The only thing between you and the cold air that lives in that cold atmosphere over the ocean is this relatively thin floor beneath your feet. If you realize that there's nothing underneath the floor, your feet begin to sweat, and if you don't have a movie or a book or some other form of curiositas to distract you, then it's hard to tell your mind to stop panicking about the fact that nothing's holding up the floor, because your mind is like: Hey, BRO. I know you're all enlightened and intellectual or whatever, and you're all about this whole 'trusting the floor to stay put beneath your feet or something' dealio, but I'm a little bit nervous about this whole situation because laws of nature and oh wait yes gravity.
And if you don't find a way to stop listening to your mind, you will have to concede he's got a pretty convincing argument.

Easter-- Holy Week--the Triduum is a rite of memory a moment in time when we can combat our constant non-remembering.

It is hard to really truly grasp what it means for God-to-become-Man, so Christmas is certainly an unfathomable mystery. But the narrative of Christ's Passion is even more implausible, improbable, and altogether absurd. It is so unlikely. And yet, I think we believe it because we've never heard anything more likely.
What we celebrate over these three days is something we live out the rest of the year. And that's what makes today itself all the more mysterious. Of all the days of the year, it is the most wonderful and yet incomprehensible. It is also very simple.
There is not much to it, besides the sunshine and the birds singing above the green grass.
But you know that the sleepy exterior belies some deeper magic inside.
How has the torment of the past few days resolved itself so seamlessly and mellifluously into one golden burst of sunshine?
I think today mystifies me, because it is not complex.
I mean, put into basic English, it looks very easily digestible:
Death has been overcome by life.
But any sensible person should puzzle over that sentence and find themselves asking the very sensible question:
how?
The only answer to that question is an empty tomb.

Usually, we have a healthy sense of self-awareness and have honed the fine art of ironic distance, so when someone murmurs a shy mutter about life after death or (even more superstitious and unenlightened sounding still) the afterlife, or a better place, we all nod our heads and say of course, of course, and our hearts think: well, yes maybe. Probably. I do hope so. Because, at the end of the day--and the beginning of the day, too--one has to be pragmatic, and whether or not there is life after death, we are going to live with all the virtue we can muster, because well, it's what one ought to do. We are rational enough to see that when we act with virtue, we act as a human really ought to act. We feel that bent part inside of us stand a little more upright as we grow in virtue. So, we stand beside staunch Puddleglum and repeat his promise to live like a Narnian, whether or not our homeland is just a figment of our imaginations.
Which is commendable behavior, without a doubt, and often more than I can muster.
But that is not what today is about, and maybe that is why today is such a mystery.

Love, I think, is the answer to the question. Of "How?"
We don't even understand what we mean when we say the word love.
For how many of us can understand a force beyond, above, beneath, around all of nature that is stronger even than death, than time.
But that single word is what today is about.
It is a force I cannot understand.

We are so disenchanted.
But today beckons us become disenchanted of our disenchantment.
It woos us, entices us to fall out of love with our own ability at living without remembering.
Today reverses the wager of Puddleglum; it says, there is a Narnia, even if you do not live like a Narnian.

And so the last few golden hours of today ought to, surely, be about trying to remember this feeling: what it feels like when one has ceased to not-remember.
To remember what the world feels like when one is not always forgetting the mystery at its center.
It's not very comfortable.
But if you think the ultimate sign of love is a scourged and broken man whose hands are stuck to a splinter-y piece of wood with jumbo-size nails, then I hardly think comfort can really be high on the list of your expectations from reality.
Which is why we generally seek to not-remember. It's more comfortable that way.
But a bit more sad. And definitely more of that aimless feeling you feel when your family has left.
I guess the promise of the man whose hands are stuck to a splinter-y piece of wood with jumbo-size nails is that if you don't run away, if you reach out to embrace the very uncomfortable and messy and altogether painful reality, then you'll find something altogether more ancient and beautiful on the other side.
A life full of beauty, a new life full of light.
Even though the holes from the nails will still be there, their sting would be consumed by a balm much sweeter.

So I sit on my own little tree-lined corner of the sun-soaked quad listening to strains of music whose drumbeat shakes me out of my non-remembering, reminding me that death is not the end.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

pabasa


No matter how heavily his sins weigh on his conscience, no matter how seriously they have diminished his dignity, the very act of turning again to God is a manifestation of the special dignity of man, his spiritual grandeur...the grandeur of the personal meeting between man and God in the inner truth of conscience.
--John Paul II

If you will not hear the truth, nobody can tell you

A question that we all ask, "Quid est Veritas?" when we're often staring it right in the face.

A portrait of an Intellectually Curious One:
A small little boy, with a timelessly unfortunate bowl cut and his prim little glasses, raises his hand.
First, casually, with the air of one who has nothing better to do,
then urgently,
as if the entire fire and focus of his being is forced into the energy of his raised arm.
He waves his hand in the air.
His hyperactive, floppy little body is being held alert and aloft by his desperate need to speak.
This is the paragon student:
the student who is so excited by what is happening in his mind that he has to put it into words and share it with the class.

This small child is much more of an intellectual than the bored collegiate who sits in the back of the lecture hall and scoffs under his breath at the comments the professor makes about heteronormative masculinity or Freud's theories of gender identity.
The professor wishes with all her being that this boy would maybe, if not raising his hand, or contributing to class, at least refraining from muttering sotto voce critiques of her lecturing style.
As I sit next to this man, I wonder what the class would be like if it was filled with fired-up, hyper young boys with their energy rising into their hands, which are all raised high into the air, desperate for a platform to speak.

I wondered, and I wonder still, how all the desire for truth gets squelched out of someone's heart, so they sit back complacent, not caring or wondering about the truth that is knocking at their door. It seems inhuman, for it seems that the fundamental driving force behind so much of human nature is the question: what is this? and why is it? This curiosity is so fundamental to each of us, it is a sad defeat when it is lost. Don't we all wonder what waits for us in tomorrow? Don't we look at the sky and wonder what's on the other side of the blue?
There seems something so fundamentally necessary about our restlessness.
Without it, where would we be?
'Our desires are not too strong,' quoth C.S Lewis, 'but rather too weak.' Limits, for human beings, are safety nets. With them, we can curb our interests to theories that will not change our minds, we can distract our desires with substitutes that silence their constant clamor, and we can let Truth pass by us.

But the thing about grace, I think I've maybe begun to learn, is that it shatters those limitations. It destroys the script.
We often find ourself caught in a story that we know all too well.
Sin is a story that is rather hackneyed by now, we're all rather familiar with the way it goes.
But grace, I think, is that moment when we realize it's never too late to change the story.
The ability to change directions is a deeper grace than we will ever understand.
Up until it arrives, the denouement is not a foregone conclusion.
That is one of our sweetest graces: the grace to make all things new.

How is it to be explained? The very heart and mystery of the human person?
-The Jeweler's Shop

Friday, April 18, 2014

kiss of the cross


It remains for us only to find how even the cross can be borne as a gift.
--Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross


 Manju sucked on her fingers innocently.
But my guard went up--I knew the game that was afoot.
Girl, I said, looking her square in the eye, don't even think about it.
Too late.
Before I could even blink, the saliva-drenched fingers flicked out of the mouth, and her hand shot forward, dousing my face in an impromptu baptismal blessing-by-spittle.
She grinned joyfully, as I beat a hasty retreat to the sink to wash off my face.
You win some; you lose some.

As any Psalmist, any parent who has changed diapers, or any Disney Princess knows quite well, the best weapon in the face of fears, worries, or a never-ending stream of dirty diapers is a song.

One fear I faced over the past summer was poop.
Someone's gotta deal with poop.
It happens. Shit happens.
And then someone has to deal with it.
That's just the way life works.
Someone's gotta do it, and, you learn, it might as well be you.
After I endured the episode known as The Explosive Poop Episode without breaking a sweat [or at least, more of a sweat than is already coating your skin in the Indian humidity], I felt somewhat heroic. I felt titanic. I was Hercules.
That's when the thought would pop into my head: my sainted mother did this for multiple years, for six different sets of children's diapers.
And that's about the time when I would stop composing my Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in my head, and start planning a response to my mother's most recent email.
And I would wake up the next morning, knowing that the only weapons I had against the spittle and the shit were a smile and a song (and sometimes not even the smile).
Just the song. And the will to always come back and clean up the mess, even if it was going to kill me.
And maybe that's all we need from people to show that they love us. The assurance that they will be at your side to clean up your mess, and if they can't, they will sing to you, or sing with you until someone comes who can.

I found I went through three phrases: the third, reaching far beyond compassion, something I had never experienced before--an awareness that these dying and derelict men and women, the lepers with stumps instead of hands, these unwanted children, were not pitiable, repulsive, or forlorn, but rather dear and delightful; as it might be, friends of long-standing, brothers and sisters.
--Malcolm Muggeridge, on working with Mother Teresa's people in Kolkata

We like to think that religion, that faith is purely spiritual, but it affects us--
our bodies, our hearts, the air around us.
What we do with our bodies informs what happens inside our hearts,
and what happens inside our hearts manifests itself in our bodies.
Music is probably the best way of getting our bodies to listen to what is in our hearts.
Every Kyrie truly sounds like the Vierne Kyrie--when someone cries out Lord, have mercy, the plea behind those words must truly sound like the tempest of organ music Vierne composed.
Perhaps music reminds us of the inescapable reality that's happening inside of us, around us, outside of us. Perhaps it is a call to wake up and embrace that reality.
That's the funny thing about belief--it shapes you, but it doesn't shape reality.
Reality Is. And the frightening thing is that it is in your power to accept it or deny it. 
How gloriously terrifying.
All too often, we would much rather be asleep than awake.
It is easier to separate our bodies and our hearts than to try to tame the body to the dictates of the heart.
We are so afraid--so afraid of reality, so afraid of ourselves, so afraid of the love that hangs on the cross.
The kiss of the cross is sharp and painful; we would rather let that love go unrequited.
But that love still burns for us.
In the midst of unbelief, of doubt, of fear, of bitterness, or desperation, that love still pours from our lover's side.
He still desires our reunion

The burn victim can look at the cause of his pain and seek the help of the professional healer. The sinner looks everywhere for consolation of the inner loss but cannot find, because what was lost is within. The sinner, by sharing in Christ’s gift of his body in suffering and death, enters into communion with the heavenly Father. In this communion, the good lost not only in suffering, but through Adam’s sin itself, is restored.
--Professor Adrian Reimers

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Iphigenia's bloodline

"Oh, my darling, why is it that love makes me hate the world? It's suppose to have quite the opposite effect. I feel as though all mankind, and God, too, were in a conspiracy against us."
--Brideshead Revisited, Book 2, Chapter 1.

I watched the man bend down--
the man in the fire,
the man in the flood,
he bent, he stooped, he seemed, for a moment to stumble.

I lost sight of him in the crowd of humans running to find shelter from the rain,
He slipped out of my sight in all the tabs up on my Safari--
I usually use Chrome, though, not Safari.
Among the small little rectangles lined up at the edge of my screen--
little rectangles attached to webpages,
entrances with whole other worlds behind their doors--
are usually some articles I'm told to read for class,
a google map of some place I'm supposed to find,
and an Encyclical or two from vatican.va's treasure trove of digital documents with soothing faux-parchment backgrounds.

Somewhere between Lethe and my front porch,
I found a little Garden of Reflection,
Her hedgerows were untamable, like Sleeping Beauty's briar's but on steroids,
the greenery guarded the shiest daffodils you've ever seen,
they trembled close to the earth, too beaten down by cold to raise their heads
their golden bugle blossoms kissed the cold loam beneath them.
Their neighbors were the tulips, blanketed by a rude coverlet of snow.
The shameless exuberance of the pink buds seemed at odds with the stiff purity of their wintry blanket. The crocuses circled around the garden's centerpiece--
a pond, a perfect circle, smooth as glass,
it's surface a mirror held up to paint a portrait of the mottled, changing sky.
Charity, the pool was called.
The diminutive blooms that rimmed its edges appeared to shrink back in the ground,
Too eager to sleep in the midst of sudden and unwelcome winter.
The smooth pond had shed its icy mask,
our promised spring conceived in the depths of its cold but shining waters.
The serene and kindly pool seemed to coax the crocuses out of hiding.

The Garden was a welcome place to rest,
a moment of relief--
a burst of sunlight in the middle of a windy day
its hedgerows buffered flying icicles that cut through the sweet spring air.
I saw myself in the mirror of the pool's surface.
And was minorly appalled--to see myself outside of me.
But that is why I went there in the first place.
Not to be distracted by portraits of angels
Or the painted constellations overhead.

I went to find the pool whose waters were never rippled with discontent.
But what a shock to find a familiar face in a strange locale.
Defs not what an adventurer looks to find.
But there, beating on the crocus stem, trembling in the cold dusk air,
I saw a small bud of desire.
Too cold, too scared to do more than peep out of the earth.
Too wise to risk unfolding in this intemperate atmosphere.
It waited. It took root, and buried its tendrils deep down into the ground.
And waited.

I left the Garden.
I looked for the Gardener.
I had forgotten (a pox upon you Lethe) where he could be found.
He left no forwarding address,
He had no P.O. box,
He was, to use our modern words, "off the grid."
All he'd left were the words follow me.
To where to where to where--
my heartbeat drummed, as I ran down the darkening streets toward home.
No answer but the road ahead--
as long as the sidewalk wouldn't end, I'd follow it.

I arrived back on my doorstep, the kitchen window shining in the blue twilight.
I opened up the door, was greeted by a smile
and the smell of baking bread and pasta sauce.
The kitchen sink was clean, but the dish-drainer overflowing--
I love to wash the dishes, but I do so loathe drying them--
a vanilla scented candle was burning on the table,
and a peach one in the half-bath down the hall.
Flowers in wine bottles were scattered across the landscape of the room.
The television played Branagh's Much Ado, 
so I sighed along with Emma Thompson:
And, Benedick, love on; I will requite thee.

The man reached down to wake the sleeping figure in the pew.
The Body of Christ, he whispered quietly.
Startled from his slumber, the small, frail figure had no words, but reached out for the small white host.
The man stood up, straightened his frame and smiled his blessing on his sleepy elder.
When we awaken from our slumber, we too will grasp for our daily bread,
and pray that we will have the courage,
courage to receive what our wages can never purchase
with the humility of the crocus.

Here lie the sighs, the vowels torn from their roots,
Why the cry, the cry "us" the cry us, human?
--Caridad Svich, Blood Work

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

anthropomorphic clouds of glory

Drawing by Ray, 3rd Grade
We were assigned to teach the Triduum to our Third Grade class.
Best Friend decided our activity would be to assign them small sections of the Exultet and then have them draw a picture to go along with it, an illustration to go with the story.
Ray is a kid who has endless energy (It's not uncommon for him to execute one hundred squats before class. And then, panting, joins the prayer circle, crying out: "Why is it so hot in here?!" OhI don't know, Ray, maybe it's because you just did more aerobic exercise in five minutes than I will do in a month? Just a theory.), and is constantly willing to weigh in with his encyclopedic knowledge of Catholicism. Although his grasp on the Trinity is still a little shaky: 
"We have TWO GODS in ONE!" 
No, Ray. Not quite. Also, don't forget the Holy Spirit. 
"Which one's that?"
Sigh.

So Ray was assigned that beautiful gem of the Exultet where it sings of the things of heaven being wed to those of earth.
He stared at the words. 
"I don't get it."
Do you need help reading the words, Ray?
"I don't get it!"
Okay, Ray, they're saying tonight is the night that heaven and earth are like they're married, they're united, the two are now one, they're together.
Ray shakes his head and laments: "I still don't get it."
Okay, imagine there's a big, big canyon between heaven and earth, and there's no bridge across it, so no one can get across, and then when Jesus died, he formed the bridge. So now, there's no gap between heaven and earth. They're connected now.

Divisions. Chasms. Gorges.
These are images that I suppose I never really understood in my third grade mind.
At that time, I had never hurt someone, and felt an expanse of hurt and distance grow between us. When I was nine, I had not yet burned any bridges or severed any connections. I may have cut the umbilical cord, but I was still caught up in apron strings.
The idea of a vast, untraversable expanse between myself and someone I loved was pretty incomprehensible.
Pops lived pretty far from us, but I had vague memories of airplane rides through the clouds drinking orange juice to visit the magical world of Texas. Which, I recalled, was warm and had a rather nice petting zoo.
The idea of a distance that could not be crossed by a orange-juice dispensing aeroplane was out of the question.
The idea of a hurt that wedged itself between two entities, causing festering, and pain and sorrow on either side was not a concept I could easily grasp.
Sure, my older sister and I had gotten in a fight over who got to have the piano first to practice, but that could be fixed by a late-night giggle session and a game of Don't Touch the Floor.
The commandment to forgive our brother seventy-times seven times comes naturally to the world of a third-grader. It is the rhythm of life by which a child lives each day.

And then Ray drew the picture above.
A third grader's view of the cosmos, one which, I think, rivals Dante's.
You have, in his first little scenario, the dainty stick-figure Earth and Heaven, both so forlorn at being separated, have a divide between them whose bridge is broken.
The devils in hell rejoice at the fact, as the poor humans fall from the broken bridge into the fiery pit.
Then, as the bridge is repaired (thanks, Christ), the devils, now trapped in hell, fume, and Heaven and Earth exult.

And I don't think I could say anything more profound about that than this Crayola colored pencil drawing already has.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

music from pump number ten


We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. 
― C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

There are some days you need to cry.
Even then, there are those some days we feel when we need to cry, but we just can't make the tears come out.
And then, sometimes, that little grace moment arrives that nudges open the saline floodgates and those strange heaving breath-y noises we call sobs can just flow out of you.
That moment for me arrived when my best friend put her arms around me, and told me everything was okay.
But it's not, I protested wobbily, and then cast myself against her and let all the sobs come out as I buried my face into her shoulder.
I was wearing an ambitiously tall pair of heels, and she stands a full five foot two when wearing flats (which she was), so I don't know what sort of magic it was that made her grow at that moment. At that moment I seemed to shrink, and she grew larger. 
Her small little frame became an enveloping presence of comfort, that held me close and assured me all would be well.

I had spent all of mass staring at Mary Magdalene (again. oops.) and listening to the story of Peter betraying Christ and Judas hanging himself.
And I thought: shoot. We're all just a bunch of f**k-ups, aren't we? I should have probably had more polite words in my head when I was in Holy Mass, but I couldn't help it.
What else are you supposed to think when you hear about how all these holy figures-- who we mostly imagine as animated Caravaggio paintings walking the earth and not real flesh and blood like your annoying next-door neighbors-- acting like every other human being, aka poorly.
'Tis rather discouraging. You realize that perhaps our faith is a bit more squalid and messy than previously thought. And full of more effort.
Being good seems like a raw deal. Because it's not like somehow you screw up less than everybody else on this planet. You screw up just as much, you just have the distinct displeasure of being aware of how much you do not want to be acting in the way you do. You have had your comfortable life shattered by the knowledge of goodness. And you yearn for it.
And the pain comes when you fall short of it.
You know the art of goodness, you think. I know what the art of holiness looks like. So why can I not perform it?
Why do I go and do the exact opposite of what I wish to do?
I'm sure Peter felt exactly the same.
To know that your spirit is willing and your flesh is weak is unpleasant knowledge.


After I ditched the three-inch heels, Best Friend and I walked to the car and drove to the gas station to fill up the thirsty tank. As we pulled up to pump #10, I heard music coming from the pumping station.
It was Andy Grammar's Gotta Keep Your Head Up.
I chirped with delight. As I fumbled with the credit card and the yes receipt/no receipt, swipe your rewards card now, unleaded or premium?, car wash for you? buttons, together we sang Mr. Grammar's comforting reminder that:
This is just a journey 
Drop your worries 
You are gonna turn out fine.

Love is sweet.
It is as surprising and refreshing as music coming from the gas pump.
It is as comforting and healing as a warm embrace.
It is as revitalizing and nourishing as good conversation and brunches with eggs and mimosas.
It is as surprising and delightful as mojitos and chocolate-covered oreos.
It is as heart-breaking as Gregorian chant.
It is as earth-shattering as watching the Magdalene cling to the Lord.
It is as mysterious as an empty stage, waiting for a play to be performed upon it.
But for all its complexities, it is truly quite simple:
love is as sweet as sunshine and the crocuses that reach upwards to kiss the sunlight's rays.

Surely those men were sinful and broken, but in their own ways they were good, holy, and inspiring as they strove to remain faithful to their part of the covenant. 
--John Herman, C.S.C.

Monday, April 14, 2014

maybe there's a fairytale for you



Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.
— C.S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds


I went to see the movie Noah, which is also an exercise in imagination upon an epic, magnificent story. A story whose scope is staggeringly large. But. I found, from the very first moment of the film, something was missing.
The film began, appropriately enough with the words: "In the Beginning..."
Familiar enough symbols for anyone who has ever read at least a small snippet of Biblical text.
But then, the words that followed were jarring: "...there was nothing."
Nothing?
Nothing. I couldn't even conceive what nothing would look like.
Things that are real are stable, permanent.
We say that a love that evaporates after several months “was not real.”
We think that the love’s ending has proved that it’s not authentic, not actually real.
We crave permanency so deeply, a reflection of our craving for reality.
If there is any sort of ultimate reality, then I think a necessary attribute of it must be its perpetual existence.
If being “there all the time” is the litmus test for reality, as Peter asserts at the beginning of the Narnia chronicles, then perhaps the only thing that has ever aced that test is Love itself.

~
 Best Friend and I teach CCD to third graders at a local parish.
I have learned a lot about how not to teach third graders this year.
I also have been reminded of what the world is like when you are nine.
It is rather frustrating, because the world of adults that you are supposed to live inside of is not made for you. Your daily life is ordered by rules that no one takes the time to explain to you and that you do not understand. And often they make about zero sense to you.

Also, I've learned that sometimes you can't teach third graders everything in one day, but you can repeat over and over again that all of us our sinners, and everyone has human dignity even murderers and Hitler, and that God is always with us, and knows all our most secret thoughts and desires, and slowly-but-surely the ideas may take root inside of them.
So that maybe they will begin to imagine the hour of death less as court summons and more as a final invitation from the Bridegroom.
Our imaginations power our desires.
If you can mold someone's imagination, you have sculpted the topography of their world.

As I plan the lesson for today, Fig Monday of Holy Week, I am distracted from my planning by all the many treasure trove of videos on the Youtube, detailing the accounts of the Passion.
The drama of the story that is embedded into this week is inescapable.
There is nothing ordinary about today, there is nothing regular about tomorrow, and there is nothing usual about the Friday that looms on the horizon
How can one focus on writing papers when Maundy Thursday is so close?
~
Right now, there is a storm hanging in the air.
For the past several days, the atmosphere has felt close and humid.
You can feel the weight of the air as the impending tempest is concocted in the clouds above our heads.
It's a suspended breath, it's a fermata of silence, the resolving chord is still hanging in the air, before it will land with a glorious crash.
My bones tingle as I walk outside, awakened by the knowledge that the storm is on its way. Each day smells like anticipation. The entire world is waiting for the storm to break.
Last night, a short burst of relief came in the form of sporadic rain, several ginormous clamorous claps of thunder and tantalizing flashes of lightning.
But it was too brief.
It was as though the sky, so pent up in preparation for its tantrum, could only release a small shudder.
It was a drum-roll with no flare; foreplay with no climax.
After that short respite, after that brief encounter with the prelude to the story, after the sweet sounds of the overture before the opera, the storm ended, and the heavy anticipation set in again.
The air closed around us once more, as the hushed thrill of the turning seasons sunk into our bones.
We are in suspense.

This is the irrational season 
When love blooms bright and wild. 
-Madeleine L'Engle

Thursday, April 10, 2014

he cannot ravish, only woo


The butterfly emerges from the cocoon, its wings, wet with rebirth, slowly opening, and then this creature of fragile loveliness flies across the blue vault of the sky.
--Madeleine L'Engle

I thought of L'Engle's butterfly as I stared--I wasn't gazing, gazing sounds too distant, removed, and piously polite. There was nothing polite about my look. I was definitely staring--at the Magdalene, clinging to the feet of the Crucified.

The beam of the choir loft, cutting across my view at a particular angle erased the figures of the Virgin and the Evangelist, and left just the Magdalene, just the Incarnate Word and the Prostitute. And I had one of those moments that occur every three to four months, once every changing of the seasons or so, where it really sinks in how absurd Christianity is.

God, the creator of the universe, who deserved to have kings and emperors kissing his feet, spent his last moments on earth with a woman that even humble, faithful peasants would look down upon.
We're all used to seeing the rich and wealthy get special access to events, sneak peeks, first glimpses, VIP passes. We know that the VIP package costs more than the nosebleed seats. If you want to get into Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, the easiest way to do so is have your daddy buy all the candy bars until you find your golden ticket.
We all understand how the Veruca Salt's of the world operate.
I don't think we're surprised enough by the fact--well, I know I rarely am--that the Lord almighty, who gave the world all its riches to begin with, was surrounded by smelly cows and rather simple shepherds when He entered the world, and by criminals and a prostitute when He left it.
VIP tickets to see the birth of God were not available to the rich, to the powerful.
The creatures that got the First Sneak Peek of Salvation were lambs and their country-bumpkin caretakers.
Now that's pretty absurd.


It remains only for us to find how even the cross can be borne as a gift.

--Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross

So I stared at the Magdalene.
And I wondered at her boldness as she clung to the dirty, bloody feet of the Divine.
Sr. Dennis-the-Menace's words floated through my mind: She had many boys. Many, many boys. Just like you. But she loved Jesus more.
I thought of all the times I have felt so dirty and unclean, when those moments of selfishness and darkness have weighed down on me, and I, like the Apostles, run away.
Like Peter and James, who got the first sneak peek of the Resurrection on Mount Tabor, who had already seen a revelation of Christ in His glory, they'd already gotten a glimpse of the end of the story, a taste of the hope that was hidden in the darkness.
Like them, I turn my back and run.
We are so in love with ourselves.
When we fail ourselves, when we--dismayed--confront the fact that we are not worthy, we are so prone to run away, to give up, to retreat and self-pityingly nurse our wounds.
But I looked at Mary Magdalene, and thought perhaps her behavior was a better model.
Perhaps, when confronted with our own unworthiness, we ought to simply cling more to those sweet feet, which we have dirtied and bloodied.

Search out the prophets who love us with the truth that makes demands on us.
--Douglas Bushman

I wonder how the Magdalene could find the strength to cling so completely to Him who she had pierced.
And I thought perhaps the sweetness of God is a greater incentive to love Him than His goodness to us. Although His goodness to us in necessary, ineffable, and immeasurable, that is not why we love Him. We do not love Him for His kindness.
Love is something more stern and splendid than just kindness.
Even when hidden in bitterness, the sweetness sharply pierces through.
The Magdalene clung to his feet not because she owed it to him, but because her heart had been pierced by that sweetness.
Here, bloodied, dying, breathing His last, was the only word that would bring her comfort and life.
There was no where else she could turn.
It was very clear, from that intimate moment at the foot of the cross, that the Magdalene was holding onto those feet as one caresses a loved one, or holds the hand of a friend, but as one clings to the anchor that keeps the boat steady in a storm, or the rock that provides the only shelter from the tempest.
One clings to that anchor because without it, one will sink. Without it, there is no hope of freedom. Freedom is not found, I thought, in following Peter and James, by running away from the cross, but rather, it is found in the desperate embrace of the Magdalene.
I stared at her, and wondered if in that moment she was whispering the words of the bride from Solomon's song: for I am sick with love...so I held Him and I would not let Him go.

The heart of the servant of God is like an anvil, made to be struck, and to live on blows and outrages.
--Basile Moreau

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

tastes like mold, smells like resurrection


"The English and their gardens are meant to literally domesticate you. In them, there is an order and a shape, there is a right size for this and for that, there is a right size for you and your life (and they're lovely gardens, I'll give them that). But nature, the experience of nature expands the human being beyond itself, beyond the right size.

Who wants to be right-sized?"
--Cyril O'Regan, speaking for the Romantics

The world has sort of dissolved sort of into a sort of slush of sunlight and half-sprung buds on trees.
You know, it's a sort of, with respect to the springtime and lambs prancing on hillsides and green grass reflecting the sunlight, you know, it's a spring sort of feel in the air, you know.

As I sit in class, and mimic the oratorial style of one of my most beloved professors, I wonder if he can spot the difference between the autumnal student and the springtime student.
In the academically-oriented fall-time, the jewel-tone leaves falling off of trees, and the whisper of impending snowflakes in the air, makes a student yearn for school.
As the world decays into winter, a human finds comfort in fireplaces and the colorful worlds found inside the books on the fireplace mantle.
As nature all around us reminds us of death, we seek solace in the great thoughts of the thinkers we encounter in the musty books on the library stacks.

Autumn is a scholastic season.
Man is forced inside by the elements, and so he explores instead the rich world inside himself.
The universe that man has crafted through art and craft and the wealthy storehouse of knowledge that great humans like Edith Stein and Aristotle and Augustine and Catherine of Sienna and Kant and Jane Austen have accumulated all together.

Springtime, though, springtime.
There is nothing scholastic about the explosive, bombastic, untamable and unpredictable outburst of sheer unabashed growth that has inundated the world.
The sunshine is not like the stale warmth of the August sun, it is not yet a dreaded summer sunshine that causes one to beg for a cloud or a breeze to break the steady heat.
This sunshine tantalizingly warms the fresh, cool air.
This sunshine dances lightly on the cloud tops of sunrise.
This sunshine is mixed with the clear, shrill notes of birdsong.
This sunshine is an enchantment that draws us onward, which draws us upward and outward into the fresh wind blowing off the lakes, draws us out into the trees, with their buds that promise new leaves.
There is no way to stay inside when the world outside is soaked in spring time.

People like to chalk up the listlessness of second semester senior year to this thing called Senioritis, but I think the exhaustion is due to one too many pieces of theatre, the impossibility of staying still in my classroom chair is due mostly to the brightness of the world outside, and the futility of fretting about school work is definitely due to lunches in delicate white lunchrooms with Flannery O'Connor scholars who have peacock tattoos on their hands, the allure of benches and the conversations that take place upon them, feeling the sweet spring air flow through your lungs as you run through the open field coffee dates during which you drink tea, laughter-soaked walks, cozy breakfasts with toast and avocados, baking apple bread late at night with no company other than the Breakfast at Tiffany's record on the stereo, surprise birthday celebrations with clandestine pink champagne, walks around the lakes with old friends and new, being shaken out of your complacency, by realizing that there are niches and pockets of beauty out there: beautiful places, books, classes, human beings, professors, friends, who are still waiting to be discovered.