Monday, May 30, 2016

vain persuasions

She has blended into the oddities of the city--
one curio among myriad curiosities.
We have found our Midwestern
Composure, charm, and sensibility
warped into the city's
sharp façades and irascibility.

The woman yells into her phone:
are you even listening to me?!
We sent the fucking email
to Brooklyn, not to you.
It will come to you through Brooklyn.

I escape into the cheese shop,
and find I have become another
one of the many Midtown dwellers
looking for an outlet--
not for their creativity,
but for their laptop--
so that I can perch it on a barstool,
and sip sauvignon blanc despairingly
while nibbling away at cheese sandwiches
to deny the pain of disappointment.

The pasta is spiced with sharp words
and seasoned with unhappiness

Sunday, May 29, 2016

in the month of May

then I understand// I love you with what in me is unfinished. --Robert Bly


Found somewhere between West 4th Street and Bleeker
One of my absolutely favorite things about New York is how obvious it is. It can be very subtle and very nuanced, full of different shades and hues. But sometimes, it is just stark, and unapologetically clear that it is itself.

Moments when New York feels like itself:

The glare of a subway station late at night.

The buzz behind your eyes as you walk through a quiet, warm midtown to the 6 train from Hell's Kitchen.

Central Park at 3pm on a rainy Wednesday afternoon. There is no one there. It is eerily empty and quiet. And I love it. It is fresh, wet, and beautiful. And blissfully empty.

The sound of a saxophone player coming up from underneath an underpass on your run, as tourists flow around him like an ebb and flow of fro-yo-carrying honey bees.

Two young college students singing Seasons of Love underneath the 77th Street Stone Bridge over on the west side, they are harmonizing with each other, the rain, and their umbrellas.

And these are when New York feels like itself,
but they are really moments when I feel like myself.

When I am walking up Park Avenue, when I am walking through the Village, when I am running through the dark and wooded west side of the Park,
when I am walking up the East River, when I am walking through crowded SoHo streets, when I am sitting up late laughing with friends on a rooftop,  I have discovered myself here in these moments.

I have discovered myself here in this city.

A self I had before, but she looked different.
At least exteriorly.

I wonder if she felt different.
Now, she knows the importance of asking kind questions, and smiling--because now she knows how easy it is to forget these common courtesies. And how much better life is when it is kind and beautiful!

Now, she knows that it is important to be firm and generous at the same time. It is vital to be honest, and also unapologetic. It is important to listen to others, and it is important to state your opinion clearly.

It is required to say please and thank you.

And it is best to ask your waiter their name, if they forget to give it to you.

It is important, as Mother Teresa says, to greet everyone with a smile, for a smile is the beginning of peace, or love (or both). But it is also important to protect yourself from cat callers.

We hold these two things in tension, and never let ourselves become complacent.

There is no such person as the "deserving poor" or the undeserving poor, or the deserving rich. There are just people, and we are called to respond to each of them--Donald Trump to the Amputee who begs on your street corner--with the same charity and love.

That sort of love is a powerful equalizer. It is a love that restores dignity, transcends pity, and opens the way to relationship.

I think Pre-New York Self knew a lot of the things that I do now.
And the City gave her ample opportunity to put them into practice.
That's a challenge that is uncomfortable, and most people would rather not rise to it.
And she didn't, for a while, want to accept it.

But it got to her, eventually, the challenge of the City.
And now, she loves it. Which means it's time for the next challenge: leaving it.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

rats in the garden

I am never lectured enough by anyone anymore, because there is no one smart enough who knows me well enough to lecture me in New York City, and so I am left to make all sorts of atrocious errors in miserable autonomy.

We often have this nostalgic sense that the people of the past were better than we are.
Perhaps this is true: perhaps the awful entropy of the world has us spinning towards more and more evil: the compounding nature of sins creating a growing cacophony of evil.

But, really, there have always been sin, deep and abundant sin in the world.
Truth is always an unwelcome host; and we, his ungrateful guests, shun her to the best of our ability.
Truth is always swimming upstream. Just in different currents.
There has never been a fully virtuous society, where Truth was fully at home. We long for it so badly, though. We really, truly, deeply long for a society that is just and without ills.
Not a city of men, but a City of God.
Our longing for the world to become right is an indication of our desire for the city of God.

And it's so funny, for most of my life, I was surrounded in places, I think, that had enough of this that I thought this was possible.
The just and warm love of my family sheltered me from the cruel outside world.

--

"I miss the girl who used to write 'Love'" on her arms.
It is very strange how we can, so quickly, become someone very different than who we thought we would be.

There are sometimes over the past year I have looked back on the self that I once was and have pitied this current iteration of that girl, for not knowing how to be what she once was.
The business of the city wracks my soul.

On my run in the park, the sweet breeze rustles through my hair: thank you, Lord, I whisper. I need this breeze.

What is New York but a strange place to wander piss-soaked, weed-drenched subways and walk by blind Frenchmen in the park, I said once. My feelings towards her have obviously changed. But perhaps I am the piss-soaked, week-drenched blind Frenchman.

I hate the feeling of not recognizing oneself anymore. And, in so many ways, when I examine all the exteriors of who I am currently, this person seems very detached from the twenty-year-old who wrote the word love on her arms. And she seems like a different species than the sixteen-year-old who did theatre, and lived mostly inside her head.

This girl feels more vibrant and more alive. She feels sterner and perhaps stupider. She is messier than the previous versions, and makes more mistakes. But she is aware of how investment banking works, and intuits how to navigate the subway. She can listen to arguments with a more critical ear, and enjoy the world around her with a clearer eye. She wants more--and also much less. She is just as afraid, but she's learned to work through the fears, grit her teeth, and keep moving.

As I sat in the Brooks Atkinson theatre, listening to Jessie Mueller sing the haunting notes of Sara Bareilles' "She Used to Be Mine" I thought of these previous versions of myself. And I sobbed. Mostly because Jessie Mueller's singing is divine. But mostly because life changes us in all sorts of ways. And it's sometimes difficult to see the changes for the worst happening to you until you're right in the middle of them.

---

And I realize that the world itself is broken, has always been broken, and always will be. We will always have the poor with us. But we will also always have Christ. And to have Christ in our midst is a sign that this world has been overcome, and it can be conquered. Not by us, perhaps.
But it can be done, because it has.

Friday, May 27, 2016

rhythm of the heart

The universe is not the product of darkness and unreason. It comes from intelligence, freedom, and from the beauty that is identical with love. Seeing this gives us the courage to keep on living, and it empowers us, comforted thereby, to take upon ourselves the adventure of life.

--Benedict XVI, In the Beginning: a Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall

Pope Benedict's lucid homilies on the creation narratives of Genesis, and what deeper realities they teach us about the human race are a breath of fresh air. They are, as I told my friends, like sipping fresh rainwater from a teacup made of Himalayan snow. They are lucid sips of sunshine and light, that refresh the imagination and strengthen the heart. They gently correct my pitiful, self-centered myopia with a sweeter vision of cosmic generosity and self-gift.

Benedict writes of how the creation narrative of Genesis tells us, joyfully, that we are of a piece with this earth, we were made to live in rhythm with this beautiful world. It tells us that there is a rhythm and an order to the natural world, and that is no accident, but a beautiful symphony of love.

In his homilies, Benedict redirects our attention from asking the Genesis narrative to tell us the mechanics of the world's creation, and instead asks us to focus on what the narrative tells us about why the world was created.

He compares the story of Genesis, which is a story of rational, thoughtful design to other creation myths. In the opening passages of Genesis, each day grows out of each day, each era builds, evolves, upon what was built in the epoch before. It is an exquisitely constructed piece, like a symphony or a cathedral, ordered by the elegant numbers seven and ten. We see that the world comes from a Being who breathes order on the dark and mindless chaos of the primordial waters. Our earth was made by a Being who makes what is beautiful and repeats, ceaseless, His celebration of its goodness.

The universe is not the product of darkness and unreason. It comes from intelligence, freedom, and from the beauty that is identical with love.

This is a truth that has never been taken for granted, and it continues to be the great joyful duty of those who believe that the universe comes from beauty and love to live their lives as signs of that love.

Benedict compares this Genesis account with the ancient Babylonian creation myth of Marduk. In the beginning, there was a battle of the gods, and out of this conflict came the earth. The chief Babylonian god Marduk killed and split a fierce dragon goddess in two to create the heavens and the earth.

Such views were not simply fairy tales, writes Benedict, They expressed the discomfiting realities that human beings experienced in the world and among themselves. For often enough it looks as if the world is a dragon’s lair.

An account of the earth's origins directly impacts how the earth functions in our imaginations. If we look around us, it might seem to us that the world is a place of constant, eternal conflict. It might not seem improbable to believe that this violent, terrible world's origin was a bloody, violent act.

But if we believe that, what is the good of our pitiful attempts to bring goodness to a place that is, by its nature, violent and dark? What is the point of our silly art, that captures this illusion of beauty we see here in this ruthless and pitiless world? A narrative of creation that highlights the violence and disorder of the world emphasizes that violence and disorder in our imaginations.

But if the world was a result of love, if it was designed and ordered to be beautiful and good, then this violence and disorder that inundates us is not woven into its nature. It is not inescapable. It is a blight on creation that can be washed away, not the inevitable result of a world whose very essence is chaos. Our attempts to bring light to the darkness, to bring goodness, joy, and the beauty that is identical with love to this world are not pathetic attempts of delusional creatures. They are our inclusion in the creating act of God.

Human beings, built from the dust of the earth, and given the spirit of God inside of them, are invited into the process of creation. We are held responsible for creation--the natural world, our fellow humans, our selves--to cherish her, not harm her. For harm, which seems like a staple of the world, is not inherent to this universe of beauty. As we live, each day, we are invited to make some corner of our world beautiful as well, an act of love instead of an act of violence. Because our acts of love and our worship resonates with the fundamental core of the cosmos, harmonizes with the rhythm of the natural world, we call it very good.

Seeing this gives us the courage to keep on living, and it empowers us, comforted thereby, to take upon ourselves the adventure of life.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

much too much

"But Louis channeled his fiery passion, not to threats and violence, but for the greater Glory of God."
--Fr. Michael E. Gaitley

Renée, can you imagine all of your energy being directed solely at one person? No one would be able to take it.

Sam and I laughed together over sweet German bread and starchy beer. Specifically, he laughed at the impassioned choler that generally spews out of me every which way: in words, in actions, in prayer, in life. There are very few people in the world who know how to tease you and at the same time make you feel more loved than any string of blandishments would. Because it is very sweet to be known. And a gentle laughing that signals deep knowledge of the other person is one of the sweetest ways indeed of being known.

Well, [Insert Friend Name] would probably be able to take it, Sam said.

As soon as he said it, I doubted his statement's truth. I'm not sure that human beings are made to receive the entire cosmos of energy that exists inside other human beings. Specifically, I wasn't sure that I could ever survive giving all my energy to just one person.

Although I have never quite landed on a spirit animal, my spirit machine is certainly a bulldozer. Like that graceless vehicle, I tend to just plow ahead determinedly, picking up whatever is in my way, carrying it along in whatever spurt of passion is currently powering my engine. I have not yet figured out how to stop that constant, driving forward motion.

But if you can't beat 'em, King Solomon once said, join 'em. Instead of attempting to halt the careening construction vehicle, I decided to simply guide her along more prudent paths.

As I picked up my Marian consecration book yet again, I am confronted with the dazzling example of bulldozer of Louis de Montfort. de Montfort was a man who knew what things were worth bulldozing for, or rather, should I say, the One Thing that is truly worth all our bulldozing efforts. His natural bulldozer personality became a force of goodness in a desert that so desperately needed the construction. deMontfort's personality was not changed, but his efforts and his energies were transformed, directed not towards selfish building projects, but construction a greater kingdom. His story is a gentle reminder to me that is not our personalities that must change, but our selves that must be transformed. We shall not cease from bulldozing, if that is in our nature. But at the end of all our bulldozing we will arrive where we started, and know that place--ourselves--for the first time.

My prayer today is that I may become a Louis de Montfort-like little engine that could: Take all my naive and indiscriminate bulldozing, Lord, and may the reckless bulldozing projects turn into something beautiful. May I bulldoze solely for the glory of God; may my bulldozing be fueled only by sustainable fossil fuel alternatives and the fire of your love; and may the destination of all my bulldozing be always You.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

sound is the only color I can see

What they don't tell you about summer in New York is that the summer heat kicks up dust that buzzes around your face like the flies that breed in the lazy summer air.

My eyes are Venus fly-traps, attracting all the flying insects and the flying dirt.

A piece of shrapnel or of sidewalk that the dusty hair has coughed into my face sticks inside my eye, and infects my vision with the smell of weed and Kentucky Friend Chicken.

The brightness of the women's white clothing shining in the sun stuns me and their loud shouts into their phones or into the headphones of their boyfriends blind me.

What they don't tell you about summer in New York is that it's 6am, and the sun has been going long before you do. At 5pm, it's still shining, and your day is only just begun. In the summer, the sun is the New Yorker that we all wish we were.

And in the evenings--oh the evenings--the sunset hits the West Side skyline crimson and askew.

In the afternoons, the mellow afternoons, buzzing with limpid air and heat, the stained glass air of churches is filled with the sweet smells of talcum and incense.

What they don't tell you about summer in New York is that it awakes all the melancholia inside of you. Your sanguine blood runs slower, and the sehnsucht and the appetites you had bottled up and stored away with sandals comes rolling out of your winter coat closets, willy-nilly.

New York in the summer does something to your brain: the joyful putrescence of the littered sidewalks, and the comfort of the close city air warming your bare shoulders.

The park is filled with people running, families playing, and tourists chattering and getting in the way with all their pictures.

The streets are filled with people who you are tempted to brush by, but you stop, mutter: really? okay, fine, turn around, reach out to touch them: can I get you anything? you ask. They shake their heads and smile. If 8 million people did that, regularly, imagine how much sweeter the sour city would be.

And yet how often I walk by another person without another word, because I am not my sister's keeper. He is no concern of mine.

What they don't tell you about summer in the city is that the same humidity that makes your clothes stick to your sweaty skin sticks the inhabitants of the city closer together, too. Our lives clumsily collide with one another, in a graceless, sloppy fashion, which can, on occasion, radiate grace.

The languid days are filled with the colors of children playing in the parks and the alarm clock of the songbird on the tree outside my air conditioner unit. The humming nights are filled with whispers of leaves and the quiet of the wind whistling past night taxis and the resilient, persistent life that still crawls along the pavements.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

the temptation of Anna Maria

My Christian conversion has granted me no simplicity. It has complicated all of my relationships, changed how I feel about money, messed up my public persona, and made me wonder if I should be on Twitter at all. 
Obviously, it’s been very beautiful.
--the delightful Nicole Cliffe, of The [most exquisite] Toast

Yesterday's Gospel reading was the sad little rich man. This man walks up to Christ and is all like: look, friend. I'm doing it all! I'm following the commandments, I am Getting It Right, where is the eternal life, where is that beauty and that hunger that I am missing?

Bursting with love, Christ says: Ah. The problem is, you must possess nothing, only me. The Rich Man is dismayed, because that's really hard. A lot harder than just following a set of rules. It involves a transformation of our total self. That is daunting for all of us, rich and poor alike.

In his magnificent series of homilies on the theology of creation, Benedict XVI writes of Christ--the perfect man--the man who shows us what the project of our creation is ultimately about: the perfect love and worship of God. Christ is the answer to the question of: who am I?

"And even in our own greatest humiliation we are still called by God to be the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ and so to share in God's eternal love. The question about what the human being is finds its response in the following of Jesus Christ. Following in his steps from day to day in patient love and suffering we can learn with him what it means to be a human being and to become a human being."

The priest gently said to me: None of us stands before God having gotten in all right. Christ is the human, Christ is the perfect human, who stands before God, in beauty and in grace, and fully good. Christ is the one who has got things right.  The point is not to have reached the throne of God, saying: I figured it out. It got it right. Our task simply becomes to take up the cross of Christ, and enter into the battle. To live means to engage in the constant struggle between ego and self-gift; the constant dialogue of counter-loves; the constant war of narcissism and generosity.

Through some perverse egotistical or juvenile contortion in my imagination, I habitually envision the sacraments functioning as either a badge of pride--a mark that I have Gotten It Right. I am like the Rich Young Man: I think that I have gotten my checklist all in order. I have kept the commandments, I have observed all of these from my youth, thus I have earned these sacraments of eternal life.

Or, I imagine the sacraments as something neat and tidy, that should only be approached when I have gotten my interior life all organized and polished on my own. I may approach communion when my love is beyond reproach. When my contrition is finally pure and total, then I ought to go to confession, when I am totally committed to never sinning again.

But the sacraments are not these.

The sacraments are Christ entering into the struggle. They are an opening up, an inviting God into the messy, disorganized, chaotic interior life. When I feel myself shrinking away from God, holding onto my possessions--my desires, my ego, my accomplishments--as tightly as the rich man does, that is when I ought to run to the sacraments. As soon as I feel my hands start to grasp tightly around it all, I ought to instead cling to the sacraments, which pry open my greedy hands to grace.

The sacraments are Christ entering into the mess, during the mess. In the confessional, I wrestle with my desire to desire not to sin again. I do not possess that resolve perfectly. But here, I bring God into my attempt at goodness. For no man is good, and while we struggle towards Goodness, as we learn to fall in love most deeply with only Truth Himself, there is much self in the way. The more we live, the more we develop into fully human beings, the more self there is to wrestle with. As I attempt to bring my stubborn self into line, I am baffled by the seeming impossibility of the project.

And of course.

Jesus looked at them and said,
“For men it is impossible, but not for God.
All things are possible for God.”
I imagine Him looking at them with the gentle eye-raise of "duh", as if to say: of course. You cannot save yourselves on your own. Silly children.

The lessons of self-gift and generosity are not learned overnight, although I wish they were. Make me generous and self-giving, Lord, right now. But let me have also what I want. I know how generous and self-giving I ought to be, and sometimes I achieve that goal--for a moment, for a day, for a breath. And it is searingly painful when I discover inside of me pockets of great selfishness. I am not perfectly loving or good yet. I am still so weak, and too caught up in the heady delights of right now. As I pray before communion, I wrestle with my weakness, which refuses to be whipped or wheedled into willing what God wills.

As I remember the rebuke of the priest, I realize--with joy--that I am still marvelously incomplete. There are still large chapters of story to be waded through. I am tempted to skip all the journey and just shortcut to the outcomes, but I am halted by the sacraments. The sacraments check us as we march down our predestined paths, willy-nilly. The sacraments stop the story for a moment, allowing grace to break in. I do not know what effect grace will work in my story. I do know I want them, even if my wilder self resists them. As I walk to the sacraments, that is what my heart is claiming: I do not know how to desire what you desire, Lord. But I want to learn how. I know I do not know how right now. But, Good Teacher, teach me. What must I do to obtain Eternal Life?

We, each of us, have a story of God's love in our lives. It drags at us, tugs at us, pulls on us so that we are never at rest. Caught up in embraces, caught up in fury, caught up in self-pity, we find inside each of them this constant tug of some great Thou that never allows us to forget Him.

Sometimes, being Christian is such great torture. It is giving up the simple, soporific, suffocating world of self, for the wild adventure of love. This love tears you in two. I suppose it doesn't have to. The great saints, I imagine, fell so utterly and perfectly in love that they still felt like one--and their oneness was not the stagnant self, but the oneness of God.

But this saint, perhaps, will always feel a great giant tear in the middle of her consciousness. Perpetually, the thundering, transcendent Thou will be pulling at her I, trying to get her through the eye of the needle. How she desires to make it through. But her camel is weighed down by so many conflicting desires. Perhaps she will never get through in this life. Perhaps it will always be a struggle, attempting to shed extra burdens in order to accept the yoke that is easy, attempting to lighten her load, so she might finally navigate through the narrow mountain path.

But it is that struggle which obviously, makes living very beautiful.

Monday, May 23, 2016

even people can be places

And yet all this comes down when the job's done

Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.
--Seamus Heaney, Scaffolding (as reported in the MTA's Poetry in Motion series)

Thoughts from one morning, walking back from Hell's Kitchen to my own little corner of the world, passing St. Patricks Cathedral, and deciding to stop inside, because I am bleary from sleeping on a couch, and the tiredness of sadness and having slept in not-my-own bed, and just one glass of wine putting me to sleep:

The neon sign is very neon this morning.
It's the sign that says "Sin Will Find You Out" written on a neon cross, hanging from a church (?) on John's street. I never find it disturbing. I never thought to find it disturbing until now as I write down how it has never caused me pause. Why have I never blinked twice at that neon sign, hanging in John's street, just a few doors down from the site of Pork Bun Heaven?
I am very disturbed by sin. I am very disturbed by sin when it is inside my heart, or it rears up in ugly permanence in a selfish action I do. But I do not think I am disturbed by sin written in neon letters.

Perhaps I ought to be. Perhaps I ought to attend to prophets, even ones in neon.

But I do not look twice at it. I feel like I have waken up from a deep sleep. I feel like I have been half-awake for a very long time. I am still tired with that drowsiness.

The rug has been pulled out from under me, and now I have to re-assemble the pieces. How do I begin to remember who I was before?

I am walking to the 6 train, so St. Patrick's Cathedral rises in front of me. I stare up at her beautiful, white-washed stone steeples. I remember for how much of her existence, and my existence in her, she was covered in scaffolding.

But now, here she is. Bright as a snowy mountain, with her Gothic peaks. I decide to go inside.
I walk inside as Mass is ending, I think. I wander to the back, up the familiar marble steps--familiar from a lifetime ago--and to the lady chapel. The chapel is still thick with the texture of incense in the air.

I kneel, and I discover a self of mine I left there, kneeling. I meet her again, her in St. Patrick's lady chapel. Or am I meeting the Cathedral herself?

Whoever it is I am meeting, she is well met. There is a word for this: anastomosis, a coming-together of two separate strands that were originally part of a singular path.

Even places can be people. They can be figures that factor into our story and loom large in our lives. Places can be people that we know and love, that remind us of what it is to be our full selves.

And people can be places. People can be safe havens we retreat to in the storm, return to, root ourselves in, make our homes within.

It is important to return to what makes us feel most ourselves, to seek out those people that are truly life-giving and truly full of God, that reflect God to us.

And it is important to return to the places who are people to us. Who hold ourselves inside of them.

It is really awe-striking to imagine the number of stories that are in the world. It's almost impossible to imagine, really. How do we begin to account for all of them, and imagine them, when all we have to go off of is our own?

Perhaps our own is enough. Perhaps our own story is a complicated enough narrative, we can begin to imagine all the complex journeys of our fellow pilgrims.

At the appointed moment, I take a breath, and pray. And the multiplicity of possibilities contained in that prayer are dazzling.

There are so many ways this story can go.

Nestled inside this safe haven, this Cathedral that is also a friend, I feel as bright and as fresh as she. I have shed my scaffolding, too. We stand, naked and dazzling, together in the city.

Even places can be people.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

God help me feel it

A smoke machine or a swinging thurible/it was hard to see but I lifted up my voice/We've come together over we know not what/A call to prayer, or the last for alcohol/we didn't care;/ We knelt and bowed our heads
--Punch Brothers, Familiarity

I reach for a love
I cannot achieve
I
I
I
I am drawn--
upward--
drawn raw,
my feet still drag me to the ground,
like two heavy magnets,
drawn like adamant
to what is beneath me,
to what be-earths my skyward-soaring soul.

In this raw bread,
bleeding and bland,
I taste the love I cannot give.
The love I seek is bitter wine,
sweetened by the dry and pecked host.

But I am sinking into
some earthy drink,
a quicksilver potion,
whose fire ripples through my flesh.
I resist halfheartedly,
My thirst is piqued by its spice,
tingling on my lips.

I want
his hot hands roving on my cold skin,
discovering, like Columbus, new worlds:
lands new to the conquistadores,
but natives have always known.
I want the roar of caresses on my face and neck,
the sharp sting of desire cresting from a frothing pleasure.

I want the ocean waves
of tongues and teeth and lips
and noses touching,
washing me over and over and over
and over
 in the
wild surf of colliding ocean shelves.
Selves, tumbling,
over one another,
turning each world upside down,
trapped in endless, dizzy whirling
until we rise,
gasping from our salty bed--
to catch a mutual breath-- and find
eyes smiling into one another,
so closely,
the colors of our eyes begin to blend into the other.

My stomach aches for the
the heated dance of hip on hip,
of groin on groin,
the creaks and groans of intimate, eternal warmth.

I want the simpatico pattering
of our synonymous heartbeats,
our thoughts so tuned to th'other,
our bodies make a harmony to the
endless torrent of sea creature words
swimming between us,
schools of self shared at lightning speed.

The laughter and the kisses bleed together--

the priest kisses the chalice.
His kiss so pure and tender,
my hot cheeks burn with shame,
and a desire stirs within me
that my groins cannot claim--

a single pure and holy word.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

unmuted

for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;   
though sometimes it is necessary 
to reteach a thing its loveliness, 
to put a hand on its brow 
of the flower 
and retell it in words and in touch 
it is lovely 
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing

--Galway Kinnell, Saint Francis and the Sow

I am perpetually distressed by the inexplicability of human beings.

I had a dream last night I was moving. Moving boxes, emptying the apartment, wandering through empty rooms. Why do our dreams turn whatever is in our day into an extended visual metaphor for us to play in in our sleep? There's no reason for it. It could easily be not that way. But our brains at night keep dancing, even at rest, they engage in a contorted dialogue with the world around them.

The man on the subway, with the tattoos laced all over his neck and arms, stood by me, crying. And the man on the street corner last night, who looked like he was caught in the ugly throes of substance withdrawal, was crying, too. And my student, yesterday, was crying, too. Why do human beings cry so much?

We walked along the Highline last night, staring into windows, into lives that must be so markedly different than ours, for they are living in glass boxes high above the Chelsea night life. Their lives must be so different, because our simple lives would never leave us there. When you stare into the walls of windows, you see dining room tables that are more polished and chic than yours, but the inhabitants are living lives just as unpolished and pedestrian as yours.

The couple is caught in an embrace, the children are watching stupid TV with the highly saturated colors of children's entertainment, the family is eating, the mother is shopping online, the man is flirting, the boys are playing beer pong. They are all very normal. Why are human beings so predictable? How can it be that each human being is so startlingly different, when there is so much in common we share? How can it possibly be that we are the same species when we are so alarmingly unlike?

How can we spend months caught in patterns we don't bother to examine, that quietly sap us of our interior joy? How can we let this tiny leak go unnoticed, siphoning away our peace, until suddenly we find our cup is dry? Suddenly, we find ourselves unhappy, barren, all our words dried up.

I imagine that I am a very self-aware person, that I am very familiar with the interior movements of my heart. But I am constantly discovering what a large idiot I am, just lost in all the rolling weather fronts that crash inside of me. One of my finest talents I possess is ignoring small tugs of conscience (or even the large ones). I'm very good that that. That talent allows me to carry on with what I want to carry on with, without bothering to examine any other, perhaps better, course.

Eventually, I am led to a moment where I discover, to my dismay, that the night around me is mortally, endlessly dark. All the words that echo the light have vanished. Without any sort of gentle mercy to soften the blow, I find my own loneliness confronting me with violent, inescapable force. The shattering silence of God in my life rings through my bones, and I am forced to reconsider what I had mindlessly accepted, and inserted as an invariable condition in the formula of my life. I must rebalance the equation now.

Once acknowledged, unhappiness seems to lose its suffocating power over you. Once spoken and named, the stifling blanket of discontent loses some of its weight. The words come rushing back, like shower water on a hot summer's day. You gasp for breath as you drink them in, like water running over your face and down your throat.

It seems like a severe mercy; that we can never escape Reality. That, if there is something off-kilter in our heart, it will brew like a storm cloud and suddenly burst upon us. The Truth will always hound us down, and never allow us to ignore Him for long.

But it is a sweet mercy. It is a gentle and kind judgement. We are being wooed away from ourselves, and that invitation never disappears, even in moments we push Him away. He is closer to us than we our to ourselves. For I can forget myself; I can neglect to tend for that quiet garden deep in my heart. But He is always waiting for me there, beckoning me to Him, reminding me of the deepest part of myself where the binding and loosing take place. In the deep that calls to deep, I find the Words I had been seeking there.

Friday, May 20, 2016

time to handle this without kid gloves

Yesterday, I accidentally threw my phone in the trash can at the edge of our block.

As I was walking home from work, in my usual social-justice-I'm-running-late-fury that is stoked by all the cat callers on our block, and my constant lateness, I noticed that there were flyers hung on our front gate. This is not unusual. One simply removes the flyers, and moves on with your life, gliding past the cheap coupon paper intrusion. But next to the flyers was a moldy-looking Under-Armor-esque shirt or leggings, I couldn't really tell. There was a spider living in it. So I picked them up, and removed them to the metal wicker trash basket at the corner of the block.

Shortly after, I discovered that my phone, which had been in my hand, was missing.
In the cleaning scuffle, the phone had ended up buried under the flyers in the litter bin. It remained there during Times Square checkout, during Mass, in fact it remained there until 7:45pm.

About three hours after the loss was noticed, I had retraced my steps everywhere, and I finally swallowed every bit of pride I had, and gingerly rummaged through the garbage, until I saw the little black brick perched on someone's old coffee cup, underneath the arachnid-infested garment.

I will most likely get some terrible facial STD the next time I hold the phone up to my face to make a phone call, but the prodigal little phone has returned to me, and I slaughtered the city's version of a fatted calf (a bodega baconeggandcheese) in its honor.

As I walked past the empty trash can on the corner of our block this morning, I was simultaneously filled with the retroactive fear and relief of a near miss.

First, I thought of how the phone would have been gone forever into the Manhattan garbage disposal system, emptied out of that corner trash can overnight, if I had been complacent about looking for it. If I had left looking for the phone to the next day, there would have been no more phone. And if I had not summoned up the humility to join the ranks of many city dwellers in digging through the trash for treasure, I would have never have recovered it.

Secondly (and this was actual what I thought as soon as I woke up this morning and hit the faithful old snooze button on the dear phone), it occurred to my mind, which is overly primed to see significance, that this might be a cautionary cell phone tale of how overly aggressive bouts of vigorous and undiscerning cleaning can be dangerous, causing us to accidentally throw out what is precious and beloved.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

the return of the wink

Some thrill reverberates through my resting mind:

God
Adonai
Eloheinu
Oh barakah
shekinah
Abba
Papi

A shudder.

Oh my God
where have all the words gone?
They have fluttered away like the stained glass lights into stone.
They dance on the dark gothic wall,
fractured rays of sunlight transfigured into colored pictures of the saints.

The Upper East Side housewife socialites congregate in the congregation at Mass, congratulating each other during the sign of peace on their blowouts, Met Opera board positions, and name brand hand bags. Their legs are slender to the point of desiccation.

I feel my hips tickle the edges of my dress, and I have the satisfaction of knowing that I am much larger and more vivid than they are. My body is substantial, full, and full of life. I watch them, cognizant of everything I'm wearing is either gift or Target brand. I am not an UES socialite, but I feel every inch alive and beautiful, and that counts for something, I imagine. I can feel my flesh rippling and growing. I have not shrunk or withered. Not one bit. I am still bulging, fertile, expanding, finding the right balance between tight muscle and brown cellulose.

It is good to be young and overgrown.
We can all be pruned in middle age.
There is more than enough time for all of that.

God, forgive me, I think, as I walk behind their pinstripe legs.
God, forgive my doughnuts.
Forgive my distractions and my bawdy humor.
Forgive my pride and arrogance.
Forgive my plump calves.
Forgive my salty tongue.

I reach for the cup and cry: Oh Lord, save me.
Save me from myself
from the desert silence inside of me
from the pit of loneliness that washes over me
and bruises me
like high tide hitting coastal shelf.
And only this blood can.
Only this blood can imbibe me with new life.
I drink it, deeply--
like a lover sipping her beloved's kisses on her tongue--
it tastes like humility
and salvation.

The sky looks like grace tonight.

Hey mami, how you doin' cries the street man cat caller
I laugh, because he does not know that
his heart and mine temple holy spirits,
and beat quickly with Christ's blood.

The man in the car,
the women in the pew,
the tired human with the bag collection in the back of church--
we hunger for Him together.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

deep calls to deep

Perched on the edge of a subway bench, I rolled the taste of spicy jerky around on my tongue, restless and listless. I stared blankly at the precipice of yellow plastic border on the ledge of the subway platform.

Eyes glazing over, I gazed into the void of dinge and dusty track. My empty stare fixed on the accumulation of dirty condom gatorade bottle garbage piling in the crevices of the track, without entirely focusing on any single object. Digesting the jerky and the sight, my eyes went limp, like the beady shark eyes of boys right before they kiss you.

Out of the corner of my eyes, a white shape danced toward the edge of the void, blown along by an inexplicable subterranean zephyr. The white blob gently billowed and blew all the way to the edge of the platform, and teetered lightly on the edge. Suddenly, my gaze rotated into focus, and fixed itself on the rustling white object. It was on the verge of plummeting into the filth below it, on the subway track, from which no one again emerges.

I once dreamed I dropped my phone multiple times onto the subway track. The general idea is that once you drop something down onto the tracks, it's gone. You've lost whatever that precious thing is forever. You don't want to drop something you love on the subway tracks.

I considered the dirty paper towel wavering on the edge of the subway platform for several moments. First, I faced it with city callousness--its fate was absolutely nothing to me. I could sit apathetically on my bench and do nothing about it.

But my heart--so cased in stoic stone of late--beat quickly for my inanimate paper friend. I can do nothing, I thought. I can keep myself locked in this vegetable inertia, or I can actually do something. I can take action, and watch the natural course of events bend to my movement.

So I walked forward, with a slight pulse of trepidation in my step. And I picked up the napkin, gingerly, as if it were an injured dove, or as though the slightest motion of my giant self might bring the napkin to the cusp of doom. I can't believe I picked up that napkin, which may have touched the Lord only knows what before it reached my hand. But pick it up I did, and removed it from the garbage pit of train track to the garbage receptacle provided for our convenience by the MTA.

There is no virtue in loving a paper napkin, sadly. It's pretty much the one thing in the world that there is no merit in doing right by.
But be that as it may, as I deposited the napkin into the trash can, I felt the peace within that comes from doing the right thing, of bringing harmony into the world. Perhaps there is a slight bit of merit in removing litter from the train tracks to to the safety of the trash bin; of putting something back in its proper place.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

this moon is great

And there are other places which,
although we did not stay for long,
stick in the mind and call us back—
--Dana Gioia, "Places to Return


Once I walked through Harlem on a summer day in the sort-of rain. It was not quite raining, and not quite dry. The sunlight was damp, and there was a gentle mauve moisture greying the atmosphere. I walked from Washington Heights, near City College, down through many of the upper Manhattan parks, the staircases cutting through these colonized, but untamed cliffs. I wandered past charming, mysterious mansions and elegant, antique brownstones, until I finally came to a subway station that led me home. Or I may have just walked, finally, all the way down Lenox, through the Park, to home.

I loved that walk so deeply, I felt a hunger in my bones for it the other week. And so Friend Joey and I walked that walk in reverse. We explored the cliffs underneath the sidewalks, we saw the Bronx from Edgecombe Avenue, the moon shone on us as we examined the strange front stoop art of neighbors. We laughed with fellow roamers of the night, and made fun of waitstaff at a local restaurant. And we trie to take two buses and one subway, but ended up just walking home.

Because Harlem is a little hamlet that is difficult to get to. It is not easy to breeze through, like midtown or the Village. It is a destination for pilgrims, and the best way to navigate it is through, certainly, peripatetic pilgrimage.

I think I hungered to relive that walk, because it came at a consequential moment; it came as the school year was officially ending, classes were over, and the smell of tree blossoms in summer was suffusing the air. Last summer was a time that will always be gilded in the rearview mirror. I can already feel my memories of how deep my angst and anxiety was being crystallized into mythology.

One of the rituals of life that I am most curious to experience is passing on our story to our offspring. To tell them of their origins: how they are born from tech weeks, sunsets on the West Side, quick judgements of sidewalk parties, conversations with subway seat sharers, airplane journeys, train rides through Umbria, and all the pieces of stories that have made up my life, and will one day make me into their mother.

And I have realized that the story of our vocations is much more tortuous than a storybook. A human's life is filled with so many more twists and turns than I expect it to have. I want to have it all figured out at twenty-four. But it's so humbling and freeing to realize that the entire world, the vast array of human existence, is stretching out in front of you. And you can have as much of it as you open yourself to.

It is, again, humbling to recognize that the story of God's love in our lives is ten times more beautiful and unexpected and deeply surprising than I could ever imagine. Each chapter blossoms into something new and glorious. And if we constantly strive to love better and better, than we cannot cease to find the universe opening up to us, our own particular narrative weaving itself into something complex and clear. Complex, because it seems to the world to be foolishness, following none of its chosen narratives. Clear, because it is pointed towards one very definite being; self-correcting when wavering, returning when it departs, and always pushing forward, forward, forward to find the source of light by which it navigates.

Monday, May 2, 2016

feeling rather knotty

Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
  What most I may eye after, be in at the end  
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind.

Christ minds: Christ’s interest, what to avow or amend
  There, éyes them, heart wánts, care haúnts, foot fóllows kínd,
Their ránsom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friénd.

--The Lantern Out Doors, Gerard Manley Hopkins

In the middle of the night I woke up from one too many bad dreams, and felt a kink in my neck. Oh fudge, I thought, desperately trying all sorts of different neck supports and sleeping positions, in a desperate attempt to appease whatever neck muscles had already begun to spasm and pull and wind themselves into a knot.

But I woke up to find that the knot had traveled from my neck down into my shoulder blades.
Aggravated by stupid teenage boy misogyny, immaturity, whining teenagers, stressful emails, mixed-up schedules, and too many gchats bearing bad news, the knot took over my entire back.

Throughout the course of the afternoon, I felt the knot travel down my spine, curling and twisting down my vertebrae. I have never felt my muscles tie themselves into knots like that. It was if all the pain and uncertainty, all the doubts and fears that generally confine themselves to my heart and mind took up residence in my back.

As I rode the train down to rehearsal, we were stopped at the 96th street station for an unspecified delay, due to an "incident," and I could feel my back arch and stiffen at the unwelcome news. I felt myself grow hot and frustrated. And I prayed a silent, desperate prayer, as the knot in my neck tightened so I could barely turn my head.

As I crammed my way onto the downtown 5 train, I felt my spine tingle and the muscles roil, protesting the swarms of commuter crowds surrounding me.

There is the kind of prayer you offer up in the middle of commuting crowds, as you begin to feel yourself grow impatient. You mutter: Lord, Lord, and hope that is enough to get your voice into the Kingdom of Heaven. Your heart is so desperately trying to lift itself up to the Lord. But you are so weighed down by your own heaviness, it is hard to focus on anything other than the knots you have tied yourself into. Your prayer reaches up, and it seems like the rest of your body refuses to follow. Your prayer tries to reach beyond the darkness, into light, but it seems like the rest of your heart just wants to stew in the darkness.

As I waited for the elevator of the office building in Flatiron, I examined my face in the mirror. It looked like it was tied up in knots as well. My forehead looked like a string of knots tied in a rope.

And then, as I began to read the words of the script for rehearsal, I felt all the knots inside of me come undone, unraveling, and twisting into something coherent, a narrative I could understand. It is not, really, my own narrative. It is the story of the play I was acting out. It is another woman's story, written by a playwright, not my own story.

But that drama I participate in helps me sort out my own drama. It helps me understand the fears and sorrows, loneliness and pride, unhappiness and pain inside my own heart. It makes clear to me what I cannot understand on my own.

The knot is still in my neck. I can feel it pulsing in my right trapezius muscle. Despite repeated back massages from kind friends and roommates, my back is still rigid and tense.
Knots, once created, are difficult to unravel.

But there is a certain Joyful and stern grace in our prayer that is dry, our prayer that struggles upward, our prayer that reaches for God when we cannot desire to reach outside of ourselves.

I cannot raise my eyes heavenward, because of this knot, but I desire to lift them so.

And I pray that--for now--that is enough.