Wednesday, May 27, 2015

and going forth with Joy

The following passages are those of Karl Rahner, from his slight but mighty book, On the Theology of Death:

If the reality of Christ, as consummated through his death, in his death is built into this unity of the cosmos, thus becoming a feature and intrinsic principle of it, that means that the world as a whole and as the scene of personal human actions has become different from what it would have been had Christ not died.

Christ's death, and his subsequent descent into hell, are fundamentally linked to the Ascension. The Ascension is a necessary departure of Christ's physical body from the physical world, in order that He might make Himself available to us mystically, universally, through the Eucharistic species.

But, the death and the descent of Christ into hell: into that core, primal, fundamental unity of the world, has radically and unalterably transformed our world. Our world is crucially different than a pre-Resurrected world. 

And not only is our physical world different, but heaven--that is, union with the Godhead--has been transformed as well. For Christ is there, in union with the Father, retaining still His mortal body. Humanity has a representative there at the throne of God. Humanity is now united to the Godhead in a deeper way than before.

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, or 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.

If only we were able to think of the world as less like traffic lights and alarm clocks, and more like the deep, fundamental principles that guide it. It is a shame that most of our waking days are so divorced from reality. Twenty-first century America is a culture that has cultivated itself to be divorced from reality: the messy, ugly business of blood, sweat, and dying. It doesn't quite succeed, of course.
Perhaps it would, were we not to be in daily contact with the holiest thing next to the Eucharist itself: our neighbor. For each person we encounter is a reality of Resurrection. Each person we see is a new image of God, brought into the world to undergo the Paschal Mystery; and to share in the new life of Resurrection.

This Easter Season, I think that this is the reality that hit me with unexpected force: we are living in the Resurrection. Easter Sunday morning, the bright sunlight streaming through St. Vincent Ferrer's luminous rose window, and the strange way in which the world seemed to brighten and lighten from the inside out seemed different this year. The world seemed different. And I suddenly didn't know why. What exactly am I celebrating, I wondered, as I sat in Church and stared at the triumphant Christ above the tabernacle.

The mechanics of the Crucifixion I understand. They break your heart too easily, because they are so easily understood. How does someone die? We know the answer all too well. The scientific process of dying is not foreign to us, we know all too well the myriad possible causes of death a human can encounter. That Christ was a victim of one of these causes is not, on the surface, an impenetrable mystery, but, rather, a piteous tragedy. And the tragedy is more piteous each year. As the earth slowly rotates into chaos, as the sorrow of Golgotha is manifest in new murders, earthquakes, disasters, wars, bitter words, sibling bickering, petty selfishness-es, and new cruelties, the sorrow of Calvary on Good Friday grows. The world is so broken, and grows more so yearly, and such a tender being broke Himself for it; how can we not weep?

But the Resurrection. The more you look at the thing, the more mysterious it grows. For, the mechanics of Resurrection are hidden from me. I do not understand them in the least. And nothing seems less likely than Resurrection, and nothing seems more likely. Since Easter Sunday, I have wanted to shout this to all the people around me. Do you not know!? Have you not heard!? Have you not understood? How can I explain this mystery to you; and how can I ever hope to understand it myself?
But we are living in a world that is not as it was; it is different.
I wish I could have seen and felt those days, when the old world was torn in two from top to bottom, crumbling, cracking open to reveal this new world, gilt with Resurrection, shining with the glorious revelation of Life Beyond Death.

I think of Paul's words, they are full of mystery and grace, because this is crazed man. A man who is crazed with Joy, shouting to the entire ancient world: Wake up. The world has changed. Something new is here; and it is here for you.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Mackenzie on the 1 Train

I swing around on the subway pole, around and around and around and around. My dress spun out about me: a cool blue skirt that swishes around me and turns into a whirling disk of sky when I twirl very fast. And when I spin very fast, then sit down, it billows all around me, and I float on it, like a piece of sky that’s swallowing me up. I love that skirt and how it swishes and spins all around me. My mother and my brother are talking on the subway seat.
I do not listen: I am spinning.

My mother talks to my brother, my brother leans upon her shoulder. He splays himself upon her as if she were a kind of talking chaise lounge. He recites the states he learned in school today—half of them, at least. He stops at South Carolina, stymied. My mother listens to his every word.
I do not listen; I am spinning.

Earlier that day, I tried to tell my mother about the blue bird’s nest outside the balcony window. She was exercising upstairs, and not listening. But there—I saw the mother blue bird feed her little baby chicks, just hatched from the nest. Although the spring sunshine was warm, they looked so thin and cold in the wind that swirls around our porch. Their mother, having fed them some small worm she discovered among the sparse cracks of soil amid the endless sea of dirty cement, now settles down on top of them, to shelter them and comfort them. She looks so peaceful, fluffing her feathers to provide a living blanket for her young. I told all this to my mother, but she couldn’t hear over the whir-whir of her stationary bike.
I can’t hear you, love; I’m spinning.

My mother looks at my brother as if he’s her baby bird. She runs her hair through his soft curls, she asks him about his day at school, and wonders how he survived without her in the jungle of children. He is comfortable here, with my mother. He will never leave, I think. Because my mother has done nothing, ever, but cultivate her body and the attention of men, including my slip of a brother. She lives, I realize, for the feel of men lounging on her body; even the fruit of her loins. She is praising him for remembering all the states that come before South Carolina, as he drapes his arm around her.
I do not listen; I am spinning.

My mother has build a world where my brother is at home; he is the first-born, favored, and I am the younger, an after-thought. My mother has created a nest for one: my brother. And he will never leave. He will be nourished on the worms she feeds him, until he finds another woman to feed his endless appetite for worms. But he will never leave The Nest.

But I, I am spinning off into the world.

I am already looking outwards: outwards from this domestic web, into the world of strangers on the subway car. There is a woman with honey curls, pounding KFC with all the delicacy of a bulldozer. There are two Italian men with excellent suits, discussing art and leisure with one another. There is a woman wearing sunglasses, even in this dark underground tunnel. I wonder if she is hiding from someone, or if she wants to hide herself from all of us. She gazes around the car with impunity; and no one knows where her eyes are looking.

I decide I do not want to be like her: I want everyone to see where I am looking, to feel my gaze, and know that I see them. I want the world to feel that I see each single part of it. It ought to know; it ought to know that I can see it. And I will careen and crash into each part of it; and the world will ache in its bones from our collision. My impact will be a crater: a permanent scar upon the earth’s pockmarked face.
My mother and my brother’s conversation pauses, she turns her head slightly to me and my blue skirt, whirling all around me like an inverted lotus, and says without really seeing me: Mackenzie, stop that and stand up straight.

I do not listen. I am spinning.

Monday, May 25, 2015

reality underneath the dust

But Julie's body was an instrument, even now, with her fingers folded together and the scar across the cheek showing much more strongly in death than in life; even now Julie's body was an instrument; not a prison that remains the same even when the prisoner is gone, but an instrument, a piano with the sounding board broken and the strings all snapped; nothing, when its music is taken away. Katherine rubbed her fingers against the heavy gold locket, turned away from her mother, and went out to Manya and Tom.
--The Small Rain, Madeleine L'Engle, Chapter 4

There's something about death that is strange and magnificent all at once.

Earlier this week, I was on a run, and, all of a sudden, my ankle rolled underneath me. I gasped, but righted myself and kept running (maybe I should have slowed down to a walk. But I kept running).

And I started crying. Not because it hurt. It didn't, past the sudden shock and spray of nerves on fire that comes from rolling your ankle. But because it hit me in that moment how utterly impossible it is to be safe, and how completely dangerous a thing it is to be alive. How is it that, in one moment ,you could be running down the road, and, in the next,  your ankle could snap underneath you. It is not natural to think too much about the precarious dance that living is. If you thought too much about it, your breath would catch on the thick lump of fear in your throat.

So, we don't. But, sometimes, in a moment of pain or lucidity, the peril of living comes into focus, and it makes you just want to stay rolled up in your mother's lap for the rest of eternity.

It seems impossible that we can stay alive, as there are so many bones that could break, organs that could fail, buildings that could fall on us, cars that could crash into us, and planes that could fall out of the sky.

And yet here we are.

Still cheating death, still running, even though our ankles roll.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

cairns on the corner of 121st and Riverside

So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 
And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. 
--Acts 1: 23-26

The Acts of the Apostles was never a particularly compelling book for me. It all seemed sort of vague, and very Roman in flavor. And Christ, with His witty, sardonic snippets of Divine Wisdom and surprising antics wasn't a starring player, and I hadn't learned to love Saul/Paul (who seemed to turn very dull the moment after he got knocked off that horse). So I found the whole book to be a bit dreary, honestly. It was something necessary you had to read if you wanted to get to the really juicy bits in Revelation.

I was not converted into a lover of Acts until recently, as we've been fed a steady diet of Acts of the Apostles during the Liturgy. In particular, my attention was caught by the above Gospel passage. It's a very strange story, in fact. There is no reason why the Apostles should have appointed a successor to Judas, or at least no obvious, apparent reason. It is not a natural order of things: it does not follow, as spring follows winter or night follows sunset or water flows downhill. When we read this passage of Acts in the liturgy over the past weeks, it struck me that the Apostles were just like me and my friends: they had no idea what they were doing.

When Christ rose from the dead, He did not bring with Him blueprints or roadmaps for the Apostles. (Imagine: a Rand McNally atlas for Salvation.) They had a command to Go Forth. And it was very much up to them to figure out the details.

The first chapter of Acts details the discernment process that led up to the choosing of a successor for Judas. It is actually quite fascinating, because I forget that the Apostles, like all of us, had to discern God's will. It is beautifully painful and strangely comforting, to watch them wrestle with discernment. These men who were, for so long, accustomed to having direct access to the word of God; who were able to converse with the Eternal Logos now are, in a way, deprived of that direct access. I can only imagine the pain and frustration.

Imagine those first few days of reading the Scriptures in prayer, hoping to find some sort of guidance there. Imagine wishing, bootlessly, that He would appear at your shoulder and point to the text that you needed to see; open up your eyes to viewing it in a new way. Imagine crying out in frustration: why aren't you here when I need you? Tell me what to do! For three years, there had always been a human voice, responding, comforting, answering your voice. Now: nothing. Just the vast sky, and the vast universe surrounding you.

It is obvious that the Apostles do not know which way to go. In my youth, I had assumed that the Apostles had immediately known which way to go. They were adults, so naturally they would know what to do, right?
As they stared at Christ ascending (whatever that must have looked like. How could human eyes bear such a sight?), I had always assumed the Apostles then turned, with great joy, and began their work.
Oh, great. Now I guess we will go found that Church, of course that's what we'll do. We'll make this Church and do this thing and go tell everybody all about it. Oh of course. Let's go do it. 
Peter. Peter. Hey, Peter, you know how to do those Church things, right? You know: the founding and the making and the being
a Church. Right? 
Oh wait.
And we obviously need a twelfth of us. 
We need a twelfth.
Because Apostles. There must be twelve of Apostles.
Not eleven.

Not so much.
Although they had received a command to go "be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth," they didn't go do that. At least not right away.
They "went back to the room in which they were staying." And they stayed there for a while. For a good, long while.
A long enough time that one hundred and twenty people flocked to them.
And Peter, after long thought and prayer, found the next step. It is written down so simply, so effortlessly, as though the answer just popped into Peter's head, and out his mouth.
But, it seems that Peter's course was not so easy.
Imagine the long nights of doubt. Lord, can I do this?
Imagine the searching for the answer. Lord, where shall we go?
Imagine the fear, the image of the Cross scorched into your mind. Lord, where are you going?
As they took this first step into this ministry, they knew that they were taking their first step to their own Golgothas.
And yet, if they did not begin this ministry, if they did not carry His words to Jersulaem, Judea, and to the ends of the earth, then His death and rising would have been in vain.
It was crucial that they begin.
And yet what a cost: the cost of bringing the Good News to the world was death.

So why would they? Why would they enter into this mission that would end in the cross?

As Benedict XVI writes: "Indeed apostolic preaching with all its boldness, and passion would be unthinkable unless the witnesses had experienced a real encounter, coming to them from outside, with something entirely new and unforeseen." (Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, pg. 275)

Because they had witnessed Resurrection. Because they now had a hope of something that would endure beyond the grave.
Because, although Christ was not with them in flesh and blood; they knew He was there in the breaking of the bread. They knew that He was present to them in a new way, a way He had never been before.

They did not know which way to go. They, like we, had no idea what the next hour would bring, much less the next day.
And thus Pentecost becomes a day remarkable for its boldness, that celebrates great bravery and love.  They, as we do, struggled to see the path laid out before them. They did not know what adventures, pains, and sorrows the road would bring. All they could do was take one step. Then another. Then another. In blind Faith. These men, who were so used to seeing, were now walking, as we do, as blind men, depending on wisdom, discernment, and courage to forge our way ahead. Pentecost is a day that celebrates when these simple men and women--not so different from ourselves, and impelled by a love deeper than the heavens and larger than the vast universe--took their first step forward, and began a great mission which continues to this day.

 But they went forth and preached everywhere, 
while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word 
through accompanying signs. 
--Mark 16:20

Saturday, May 23, 2015

addicted to movement

Tonight, I am in love with New York City.
Tonight, I am hungry to wander around the city blocks.
Tonight, I'm sitting on the East River, in a very particular spot:
a spot where the water laps so comfortingly, and the lights of Queens shine bright behind
the dark shape of the Roosevelt Island lighthouse, and I feel like I fit into that spot perfectly.
It is a spot where I feel understood.
And I'm standing on my spot on the East River, looking out at the lights of Queens and the lights of the city behind me, and thinking how all I really want to do for the rest of my life is to write plays, and make theatre with high school students in some small town utterly surrounded by nature. I will make lots and lots of theatre, and my husband will make the car payments.
I will be far away from the insanity of New York City, where people lived crammed next to and on top of each other, and in each other's faces. I will have a small plot of land with trees to call our own and a little house on that land which will light up with many lights when dusk falls.
I will have a family to whom I can read bedtime stories. And I will be happy.

Yet, I want to stay on this spot on the East River forever.
I don't know what I want; and I don't know what I love.
But I know I love everything, and I want everything all at once.

Tonight, I am in love with New York City.
Tonight, I am content to explore winding Village streets.
Tonight, I am sitting in this cupcake shop, swinging on the swings by the bar, writing poetry and nonsense, and swinging to the beat of the music.

I feel invincible: like right here is the place I will belong forever; and words will always flow from the poetry that pulses through the city atmosphere through my fingertips.
The city is a small town tonight: I know each bartender and barista, I chat with all the men waiting in line for ice cream, and I flirt with each sailor on the street corner, like we were high school classmates.
Friends are close by, no longer separated by trains and cold weather and the mental distance of school.
The wifi is free and the cupcakes are sweet; and I feel prodigal and generous, wishing I had a Cliff bar to hand to every human being begging for money so painfully on the subway.

Tonight, I am swamped in sadness.
The sadness of realizing that there are so many stories in the world:
some of them marked with deep pain and evil. Some of them marked with riches, some of them with poverty.
Some of them end tragically, I think.
Tonight, I wish that none of this were so.
How can it be that not all humans experience the same meaning; the same paths and the same stories.
There is so much unfairness, and so many sadnesses that not all of us have to experience.
New York City reminds me of all these sadnesses all the time.

Friday, May 22, 2015

burnt into a velvet curtain

Katherine pulled up a deck chair and lay there, under the stars, under the wind, under the vastness of the universe, while land became lost in the September night, and water reached out, illimitable, mysterious, on all sides.
--The Small Rain, Madeleine L'Engle

I just finished the most astounding book: The Small Rain, by Madeleine L'Engle. In fact, it was her first novel. Which makes its delicate beauty even more astounding. This book, has made me so enchanted with L'Engle all over again. This is not the science-fiction, family novel L'Engle. This is the coming-of-age L'Engle, just L'Engle the women, writing down her world of New York, and art, and the country, and the strange relationships and stories a person finds herself in the thick of when she is nineteen.
It is the story of a woman I feel I know from the inside out. I know Katherine's loves and romances and attractions intimately. I know who Sarah is, Aunt Manya, Charlot, and certainly Justin.
I want to underline every word she writes; like a poetry circle snapping in agreement during a reading.

Someone had lent it to me last spring, with the injunction: here is my favorite book. Among bibliophiles, this is a liberally applied recommendation to many a dog-eared volume. To be a favorite book is not a singular position, open to only one tome, but a level of dearness that a book can hope to achieve.
So, I was glad to read it, because I assumed that it had great artistry and beauty that had won it that dear title.
But then I did that thing where I didn't read it because I was finishing up a bachelor's degree.
And then I did not read it, because it was summer, and I could only read Dorothy Sayers mysteries and think about the past that had gone by and the future which was rapidly approaching.

And then I did that thing--that awful thing you do--where you start a book in the wrong frame of mind, or in the wrong phase of the Zodiac, or under the wrong mood, or on a wet September day when the entire world is foggy and muddled, or while digesting something bilious-- and I read the first few pages, and although I am an adult who can absorb analyze texts, somehow I read clear through the first ten pages without any of it sticking on me. And, of course, since I wasn't really reading it, a great wave of boredom and jaundice struck me, and I stuck a bookmark past the slim margin of cream-colored pages I had worked through, and it become the Sodom and Gomorrah to my Lot. That jaunty bookmark I had tucked in a few sheets from the front cover might as well have been a gravestone for this poor book. I had not read it, but attempted, and left off, leaving the poor book eternally begun, never actually read.

Thus, a year passed.

This spring, in a foul mood one day at work, and having been forced to return all my library books to the library, and having let all my holds expire, because I could actually find no time before 7pm in which I could pick them up (damn the theatre and libraries that aren't open until the decent hour of midnight. Even suburban libraries are open until 9pm, NYC Public Library!), I was left with nothing to read on my subway commute, except this squat little volume that had been sitting on my desk all year, with the demure patience of books that are not library books.

Books that are not stamped with bar-codes can linger; they can collect dust: where else do they have to go? Library books are rushed, hurried travelers, always running from one new shelf to the next. You have to carpe diem those little bastards. They run away from you before you know it. But I kind of like that better. I love the urgency that library books possess; their wild nomad air. Books you own are too domesticated. Give me the wild, stampeding, bar-coded book any day.

Anyhow, I picked up The Small Rain, and--in a rare moment of wisdom--realized I hadn't really read it at all, plucked out my bookmark, and started over again at the beginning. I was transfixed; captivated. I was tempted to shake my fist at the unlucky stars I first read it under: why oh why had I not read this book sooner?! And yet, I didn't. Because it was one of those books that when you read, you know you had to read it now. It is one of those books that ushers in a new period of your life. Somewhere between the preface and fin you cross a threshold, you are dragged through a portal of your life. It is a moment suffused with grace and kairos. And so, I am glad that I read this book now, now that I have lived several months in New York City. Enough months to long for the New York City of the past, and wonder what Park Avenue looked like eighty years ago, and how different the Village must have been when Katherine Forrester lived on Tenth Street with her mother.

I am so glad I read this book now; when I realize that awful people who insist on being awful for you cannot be persuaded by reason or justice or fairness. When I realize that aspiring to be like one's mother is actually the sweetest of realities, instead of remaining eternally locked in a teenage rebellion. When I realize how you cannot be in love with Charlot, but you sleep with him anyway: and not entirely because you were drunk. When I realize why you couldn't possibly tell Pete that you were looking for him all over town on a rainy evening, and because of that, that love affair is doomed to a tragic end from the very beginning.

Katherine is one of those heroines I read so often when I was young, and I don't think I realized how important they are: those sensitive, mature, naive-yet-wise, artistic outsiders whose stories I devoured with unwitting enjoyment. And now, as I read Katherine's story, all I can do is marvel at the craft of her creator; who has captured the story of growing from a girl into a woman so marvelously, delicately, and with such an array of colors. Each chapter of Katherine's life is so elegant and simple, imbued with all the tumult of emotion that life's awful happenings usher into your heart.

It is one of those novels that is so full of grace; it is a story that reveals a bit of you to yourself.

In fact, it may be one of my new favorite books.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

rules of beauty

Apologies for Being Beautiful:

If you have committed the sin of being not only not blonde
But also having frizzy, wavy hair;

Not smooth or slick,
or flowing like a L'Oreal hair commercial,
and if your skin is not tanned and golden,
smooth and flawless,
if it is very lumpy and bumpy, and full of moles and so pasty you seem like unbaked bread dough,
if you haven't even a round and interesting face,
shaped like a perfect oval,
with high, arching cheekbones providing a canvas for your perfect complexion,
if you don't have thick, dark eyebrows, and long, curling eyelashes, and bright eyes set perfectly in a symmetrical face,
if your face is all angles and lumps and a blocked pore or two,
if it grows red when you are embarrassed, and blue when you are cold.
then you must be utterly skinny;
so thin that your clothes fit like Twiggy;
so slender that even a delicate sundress hangs off of you like a man's sweater.
You must be very thin, almost invisible
then you can be beautiful.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

not your average electra complex

"He led her out on the deck and stood beside her looking down at the sea. He reached out and caught hold of her hand. It seemed as though he were trying to get strength from it. Then he turned as though to take her in his arms, but instead walked abruptly back to the music and light of the salon. 'This is quite absurd of me,' he murmured."
--The Small Rain, page 84, Chapter Six

There are certain, strange experiences that are taboo to discuss. One of them is daily ebb and flow of attraction between two people that is not quite sexual, but certainly more than kindly courtesy. Sometimes, two people, who ought not be attracted to each other at all, are. But not in a mature, intentional, romantic attraction. But, rather, this subliminal, barely articulated way, like the attraction of two magnets. This magnetic field appears, unlooked for and unsought after; just a side-effect of nature. It is taboo in all sorts of ways.

Perhaps it is not a universal phenomenon, but it seems that a great moment in a young girl's life when she experiences the attraction of an older man, who is not her father, whose affection for her is not fatherly (although perhaps can be disgused as such, when convenient).

When you are young: fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen, as Katherine is in The Small Rain, your male peers are, at the time, generally lacking in the competent maturity that you know, in your wise little womanly heart, that you will one day need.

There is this strange tug towards older men, for they hold this sort of vision of the future. And you know that you are not really able to talk with them, or be a companion for them, for you feel young; young enough to be their daughter, but you also know that you are not their daughter. And there is a certain excitement in that. It is rather Freudian. And I wonder that Freud never discussed it.

Jung brought up the idea of the Electra complex, which, to me, seems to be a ridiculously phallo-centric view of the world. Of course, women go crazy over any phallus within view, and have to compete over it. There's a reason no woman has ever requested a dick pic, Jung.

I don't think that Freud or Jung would ever touch upon this, because it is a rite of passage of girlhood (and, like most rite-of-passages, not everyone experiences them universally): the experience of perhaps falling slightly in love with an older man. And, perhaps experiencing his affection in return.
He is protected by the age difference and his ability to pass off anything that approaches the limits of propriety by putting on a brotherly or avuncular demeanor. And yet, their mutual affection can thrive, in that secret place of fantasy.

A young girl, under the age of seventeen, is surrounded by boys who are not acting rationally; whose brains have not fully developed, and are acting in ways that seem unmotivated by any logic, because they aren't. They are not motivated by logic. The way they approach relationships is a mystery to the girls. He likes her, but he only talks to me about it. He says that he has a huge crush on her, but he's never spoken to her! He was flirting with her by showing off his pitching arm.

To young women, whose brains are just developing relational wisdom, this is all very mystifying. And so, these older men, who seem to understand the logic of human interaction better, become substitute Romeos.

These older men speak to that spark of womanhood that is beginning to burn inside of this young girl. She is dazzled by him. Dazzled by his conversation, dazzled by the way he treats her "like and adult" and "not like the others." Dazzled by the way he ushers her from the world of childhood into the world of grown-up feelings. She senses something mature and ripe inside of herself she never knew was there before. And it is that new ripeness inside of herself that she is more in love with than the man. The man's a catalyst in her own discovery of herself.

Monday, May 18, 2015


It’s not about you.

It is not about you. Or, rather, I should say: it's not about me.

It's incredible how, from the moment we enter the world, we instinctively expect adults to be here for us, which is a crazy thing. When you consider how self-interested humans are, it is amazing that our first encounter is (usually, and should be for all humans) with two parents who have brought you into the world not just to have a little walking amalgamation of mother and father to parade around at pre-school luncheons, but because you are a good in and of yourself. And all of sudden, the force of a child alters the course and meaning of two peoples' lives. Their roles in life are irreversibly altered; the course of their life has new meaning.

And not only for just her immediate parents, the presence of a child brings out the altruism in humans all around her. People on the street instinctively know that it is their role to protect and shield whatever child crosses their path. We see the helpless of our race, and we know that it is our duty, as the healthy, hearty adults to care for them.

As I have worked with the high school students over the year, I have pondered this relationship of adult-to-child and teacher-to-student quite a bit. Having myself been on the scarring end of a relationship that moved beyond the mentor-mentee realm into something more selfish and dangerous, I was, particularly at the beginning of the school year, nervous about maintaining appropriate boundaries with the students. I was vigilant for any sign of over emotional attachment or investment to any student, or any nick in any sort of professional veneer. Naturally, this was an unsustainable way of ministry, as I did not even begin to share a little bit of myself with my students at all.

Which makes, at least at the high school level and above, for ineffective and dull teaching, at the very least. For teaching means to share yourself with your students, to be genuinely who you are. Teachers can really only achieve their mission by sharing themselves: sharing their perspective on the world; their particular manner of teaching; their unique stories they have to share. Otherwise, we would just read the books and have done with it.

But their is something invaluable about learning from another human, and this is why we keep teachers around. We learn from watching them, from absorbing their passions, by becoming enchanted with their idiosyncrasies. We learn from them that their are multiple ways of seeing the world, and many different stories to weave from it, and ours is but one. In order to teach, in order to mentor young minds and souls deeper into the truth of the world, to help draw them more deeply into fullness of life; it is necessary that we be fully alive, fully present, and fully ourselves.

Furthermore, a large portion of the task of teaching/ministry to high school students in general is affirming them: saying: I believe in you. I believe in that deep, truest part of you: the part of you that is kinder than your stressed-out snapping at me, the part of you that is more mature than you making fun of your classmate; the part of you that seeks truth, and has the power to change your communities: I believe in that part of you. I believe in that part of you that shares a thought in class, that stops to have a conversation afterwards, that asks a good question, that tells a good story, that sings so beautifully, that lights up onstage, that is full of warmth and goodness. But in order to affirm the deep beauty of each person, we must at first acquaint ourselves with it.

And, in both these tasks: in seeking to reveal our true identities, and in seeking to form relationships, it is vital to remember: this is not about you. It would be a shame if, after two years of working in a high school, I walked away having impacted no one, except with an Instagram full of moments, and a cornucopia of fuzzy moments to remember on rainy days.

This is when we remember: this is not about me.

I have come to offer myself: my talents, my laughter, my love.
And it is not for my sake, but for the sake of those I have come to serve.
That, even in our laughter, our enjoyment of the students' company, it is all for them.
The action of a teacher is nothing of taking and all of giving.
Even in receiving a gift from the student: a small kindness, a heartfelt note of gratitude, that receiving is always a gift.
A gift that is offering my love for another, putting myself at the service of another.

I am still learning this mystery of learning to love deeply while loving freely; learning to give of oneself for the sake of another, not oneself.

Real service is not photographable. It takes place in the heart and the mind. It is in learning to humble ourselves to be totally, completely at the service of others; to love them for their sake, to love them without interest for ourselves.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

directable intractables

You may find yourself squished between two people that you'd rather were on the opposite ends of the world from you.
In that case, just strike up conversation with the nice old lady in front of you.
Don't look to either side. Keep your eyes fixed ahead.


Directing a show, for example, is like an exercise in motherhood.
The show is your child.
The week before opening, your child is in that sort of monstrous toddler stage where you have to drop everything and devote your entire attention to them, and any reserve energy you have on the back burner is spent distracting them so they won't throw a temper tantrum at the grocery store.

As you struggle to keep the small whirling dervish from running away from you in the department store, you think how nice it would be if this child were already ten or eight or seven, even, and a bit more reasonable and less of a wild thing.
And you eagerly wait for the day the child is fifteen and can diagram sentences and solve algebraic equations all on her own.
And you think of when she'll be eighteen and can have conversations of real interest and will start to analytically discuss Things That Matter. One day, you think with eagerness, there won't be baby toys booby-trapping the stairs, and you won't have to put baby-blocking-gates in front of the family room's entrance, and diaper disposals will be a thing of the past.
Because sometimes, having a small child is strenuous, smelly, and inconvenient.
But here's the rub: [There's always a rub. I don't know why. Why does there always have to be a rub?]
You know as soon as the child gets to be a teenager, you're going to miss the terrible threes.
They are not going to have tiny little miniature shoes to put on tiny miniature feet.
They will not play with their toy horses with unselfconscious abandon.
They will not look at your with their big, sincere child eyes.
Because each stage of childhood is different, that makes each one unique and utterly irreplaceable.
You have to share teenagers with the world.
You don't have to share three-year-olds with the world.
Three-year-olds get to stay safely in the incubator of your home.
They are yours--all yours.
And that is a laughable thought.
But not an endearing laughable like the small children.
Laughable like the naked emperor, prancing around in invisible clothes.

The saddest of all graces is to read a story that is not yours that gets your heart a-beating and a-fire.
But it is not your story.

Having a puppy has taught me to look at the world afresh.
Not only is each little leaf ripe for investigation Human beings are at their most beautiful when they think no one's watching. The cool boy who thinks that no one's watching him as he laugh to himself over a stupid joke.
The woman who has it all, who stops to look in the mirror and examine her chin hairs.
The boy creating a story with stuffed animals on your bed.
The children who create stories with their Playmobile figures, who act out stories of drama and intrigue and princesses and farmers. 
Who, in their games of pretend, like to imagine catastrophes and tragedies, to act out some of the greatest struggles of our lives
When the small little human walking in front of you turns to look at you and smiles.
They see the world afresh.


Andy said to Choir One, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because Choir two was oversleeping, but has come to choir right before mass; his binders were all lost and have been found.’”

Last Saturday or the Saturday before, I watched a husband and a wife get married.
The bride wore no veil, just a stunning silver headband, like a flapper from the Roaring '20s. It sparkled delicately against the silky chestnut brown of her swooping bobbed hair.
She wore a simple dress. Almost child-like in its simplicity. Like Belle, her dress sat delicately on the outer curve of her shoulders, and covered them in ruffles and ruffles of creamy white. Flowers decorated the bodice of the dress liberally. The skirt was simple. So simple. A flowing a-line skirt, that just barely grazed the floor. Sometimes her bare feet would peep out from under the skirt.
Her sash and hem were trimmed with pink ribbon. This little touch of color was a bold dash of girliness. But it wasn't cheap or childish. It was child-like.
She bounced down the aisle with assurance and confidence.
She was full of joy.
And she held her head like a queen.
The bride floated down the aisle.
With assurance
with confidence
with poise and aplomb.

She wore such a simple dress, and she looked so like a child.
We will never be able to fully ever satisfy any desire on this earth.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

good for nothings

"Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life so. 
Aim above morality. 
Be not simply good, be good for something"
--Henry David Thoreau, Letter to Harrison Gray Otis Blake

I have not yet read Walden, so it is probably very bad form of me to criticize a man whose main work I do not know.
But, that quote above of Thoreau's, from the very moment I heard it, rankles the core of my heart like none other. It smacks of an American pragmatism, that actively denies any sort of transcendental need in the human person, and simply tells the human being that they ought to aspire not to be good, but to be an agent of "good".
This is slightly problematic, because, firstly: the world breaks down when goodness for its own sake is not worth achieving.
Secondly, goodness is inherently a mission-oriented virtue. Goodness, by its very definition is not just a stuffy, self-seeking quality. Goodness is the original dynamism of the world. Goodness is the only thing woth pursuing, for goodness is not just a state of ourselves, but it is a state of harmony in the world. 

For it is truly goodness that we seek: I understand that goodness is certainly mission-centric. That the point of being good is to then share goodness with others. But to seek the doing good before the being good is missing the most important step, which is a fundamental transformation of our natures at their very core.

For, in fact, we are not utiliatarian particles. I think, in our eager drive to go forth, do good, and change the world, it is easy to forget that.
To be a graduate of a top twenty university is to have the duty to transform the world. But, even if we were to become a person in charge of many millions of people, capable of swaying policy, we would matter nothing more, really, than if we had just spent all of our lives in a cabin in the middle of the Massachusetts woods.

We do not need to be good for anything.
We need only be good.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

love and other poppycock

Under the soft glow of affection,
The hard edges of the map soften,
Until it is rounded out into a gentle globe,
Which—turning, turning—slips
from my sticky, rational grasp,
eluding me utterly,
slides into the inky endless universe,
peppered by the sunset skies of nebulae,
birthing new stars
out of the dark, ambivalent clouds.

My heart leaps and yearns,
in that too-familiar, lovesick way.
Here we go again:
It skips a beat when you walk through the door,
It holds its breath when it hears your footstep in the hall,
It is crushed when the door swings open and it is a different face.
It melts when you smile,
It laughs when you laugh,
It logs each word you address to me
Into an intricate filing system,
Dedicated just to you,
with labels and sub-labels,
an endless archive of analytical material
you have generated, that I can
decipher on some later date.

It longs to reach out and touch you,
It thirsts to break into all the
mysterious fortresses where
 you withhold yourself.
It hopes for knowledge
you have forgotten;
It peers into your past and
yearns for details it can never earn:

What your voice was like when you were four
What made your eyes sparkle when you were twenty
What inside jokes you had with your brother when you were seven
What you thought of the world before you had seen any of it.
If you have longed to travel since you were ten
If you have ever walked to the beach at night
and felt lovingly alone,
happily desolate,
with all the stars
If you have ever seen the sun rise over Rome and cried
If you have ever broken your arm playing tag with the neighbor kids
If you have spent a summer afternoon climbing a tree, because rough earth is too unkind.
Why you love the way the music breaks your heart
Why you wander without questioning each step you take
Why your mother holds you so closely in her arms
Why your friends are all afraid of you
Why your face is etched with lines that hint at stories winding all over your soul.

I am drunk and you are sober;
I am young and you are older;
But, just as the winter and the
Summer mingle in an eternal season
Known as spring,
Our springtime, like this city’s, might be now;
Your snow with my sweet sunshine would endow
The world with an amorous glaze:
A frosty and eternal noon,
If we find our way to there,
intoxicated by the mountains
And the valleys of these dreams,
can pretend
Our youthful snows
And over-ripened tulips have no end.
Our histories will mingle,
in their hazy, happy joint existence
For a dreamed eternity.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

buscaré otro mar

Most mornings, I go to Mass where the abuelitas sing loudly (so, so, impossibly loudly. It is an impressive decibel) in their nasal voices. They sing familiar hymns, and some not so familiar. They are a fascinating crowd. The population of daily Masses is always fascinating, and, no matter where you are in the world, generally similar.

There are always the one or two ringleaders. These are the women who actually run the Church. They are the regular daily Mass-goers who lead the rosary before Mass, who glower at those poor fellow abuelitas whose cellphones ring indiscriminately during the Consecration, who take care of the statue of the Virgin Mary, who choose which hymns to sing, and make sure their voices lead those of the congregation.

I have never yet been to a daily Mass that is not attended by an elderly woman who is clearly the master of ceremonies, and I'm not sure I want to.

Because, as I walk among the abuelitas, being shepherded to wherever they tell me the communion line begins, I feel certain that these women are very important. Faith is not a passive affair; it requires constant action on the part of the believer. These women are full of action. While the rest of us slumber each morning in our beds, they are up and about, full of the restless energy of the elderly, born of insomnia and shortening days.

They are ahead of us, dusting the churches, preparing the altar cloths. They attend to the sacred spaces we take for granted. They pour their entire heart and soul into each liturgy, without concern for decorum or proper restraint. The Church is not for them, as it is for so many of my peers, a place of awkward stiffness and embarrassment. There is nothing alien to them about the sacred. It is familiar as the upholstery in their living room.

And as I walk with them down to communion, I learn from them how to bring all the parts of myself--even the silly, bossy, nasal-singing parts--to the sanctuary. I learn to walk towards the altar with humility and honesty, and not pious pretension. I learn how to be at home in the sacred.