Thursday, November 16, 2017

tears in our voices

Without a tremble,
Conchita stands up before the judges,
absolutely silent.

Waiting—
for what?
For another seven years of education?
For a better grasp of English?
For the confidence that comes with privilege?

She's waiting
until they look at her.
until they see her.
Until they stop their busy scribbling,
until the the cowboy judge—
"the SOB," who tells the
counties that are straight out of
Hell or High Water:
"why don't you raise the money yourselves?"—

She waits until he stops writing.
Until he looks up embarrassed,
school-boy-sheepish-shame-faced,
Until the entire auditorium is silent,
listening—
to her.

Conchita is calm.
She says:
I have a speech.
She folds it up and slides it underneath the podium.
They know who she is.
Who her community is.
Who they've been ignoring.

They don't need a speech to explain.

Conchita: Our water is dirty,
because our tax money has been sucked dry,
and it's funding projects in other places,
but we need it back.
We need it bad.
We need it just as much as other counties.
Because democracy means that we pay our taxes,
so we have a voice.
Democracy means that happens here,
not just in Houston.
Democracy is important for
Fort Bend County, too.
A pause.
I'm not going home to my
children yet again
and telling them that Democracy and the
United States of America
are God's greatest inventions—
but not for the people of Fort Bend County.
God's greatest inventions can't get us water
that won't make our children sick.
We're not asking for a handout.
We're asking for our tax dollars to be used
in our neighborhood.
Because we're citizens, too.

There are no questions.
How can one question a display of this conviction?

The auditorium parts like the red sea,
the team triumphantly calls home, on a payphone.
Conchita did great. We got the money.

Now, they feast. On rich 'n' hot Tex-Mex,
flavors so thick they fill your mouth for hours.

They drive back home.
It's a long drive back to Fort Bend County.
When they arrive,
their neighborhood is pretty dark.
Cuz there aren't many street lights.

Conchita's street is unpaved and unlit.

As the car turns the corner,
it can't move down the street.
Cuz the street is full of people.
Full of neighbors
Full of mothers who need clean water
Full of citizens of Democracy and United States of America.
The entire neighborhood is out
to greet them when they came home.
And hear Conchita give another speech.
This time, en Español.

She doesn't have to wait this time.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

our joyful duty

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
--G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

All throughout Dante's Commedia, even in the Inferno, the fire which fuels this poet is praise. Dante writes to praise the love which harrowed even the deepest depths of hell, to praise the virtuous woman who led Virgil to guide Dante, and to praise for the love which burns with purifying fire in on the mountain of Purgatory. Finally, in the glorious flames of light that is the Paradiso, praise becomes the impetus, material, and form of the poem.

I think, perhaps this is one of the reason Dante's words have such staying power. And, along with Dante, I believe there can be no worthier task for words than to offer them in praise of what we see in creation and the God who is creator. No higher achievement than to offer them in praise to the God whose beauty lies above all our language to express it, and the people who we meet who exemplify that beauty.

Crawford and I are currently on a tear about commitment, and all the dour depictions of marriage perpetrated by ~~the patriarchy~~ and by lots of faulty, fearful theologies. Theologies which seem to think that we are meant to be miserable, and virtue means accepting our miserly misery.
Essentially, we have cocooned ourselves in a happy echo chamber of two Romantics railing against these sort of grin-and-bear-it, "virtue means proving you can endure anything and like it" ideas of matrimony. As though marriage is some sort of military boot camp, where you prove your strength by proving how much hardship you can endure, like a man. Love is for wimps, marriage is for men. For folks whose mental willpower can overcome anything, even mind-numbing boredom and existential despair.

Neither of us have ever been married, so forgive us this day our daily snap judgments and what I am loathe to write off as our youthful idealism. But commitment, I believe, at its root, is simply a commitment to delight. It is a commitment to see the face of God in the other, and to fall deeply in love with the divine beauty that radiates through them.

For if we do not love the brother we can see, how can we love the face of God we do not see? If we do not learn to turn our entire selves into a hymn of love for our human lover, how will we ever learn to become nothing but wonder, love, and praise, for the Divine Lover, our eternity and the fount of all our existence?

Balthasar describes the Father and the Son as eternally surprised at the other. And the best of human loves I have experienced feature this constant surprise. Even as our expectations of the other goes out from our heart in hopes of meeting them, we are consistently surprised by how they are full of a beauty that surprises us. They are what we expect and somehow infinitely beyond it.

It may be that this God who makes each daisy separately each day hopes that we can learn his appetite for wonder. If the world, with its marvelous and endless miracles, its lavish and plentiful species, its ridiculous abundance of roses, strange insects, bizarre rainforest creatures, and waterfalls carved into mountains, reflects in but a small way the creativity and beauty of God, it would seem that it is our vocation as creatures to learn to appreciate each part of it. And by learning to love it, we can learn to love its maker.

Perhaps this is best exemplified in sunsets, which is why they are not a cheap nor meaningless expression of the glory of God or God's beauty. We are meant to have our breath snatched away by their beauty each day; and it is our only duty to never grow tired of doing so. It takes effort, a sublimation of ego, an askesis of attention, to notice the beauty around us and praise it. It is easier to take it for granted and to ignore it. But we are presented each day with an event that demands awe of us.

I would imagine this is also why affirmation ought to flow from us so easily, for that does not cheapen it. It is a terrible side-effect of economic humanity that restricted supply increases demand, driving up price, therefore driving up value (we think). But value is not commodified, and is in no way related to price.

That which is abundant is that which is truly valuable. Affirmation of the beautiful creatures and creation that surround us ought to flow from us like water, we ought to effuse it like light, for is that not our ultimate vocation, is it not? To turn our entire being into praise. Into praise of the creator, yes, and now, in this vale of tears, we cannot see the creator, except via creation.

Next to the Eucharist, Lewis would remind us, the holiest creation which mediates the creator to us is our neighbor. So I would imagine that the best way to practice love of God and the praise of God which will subsume our entire existence after death, is to praise that neighbor. To learn to love our neighbor well, to see beauty even in their difficulty, is this not a school of love which prepares us for the final life of love? Catherine of Siena says that all the way to heaven is heaven. If we learn to give out love and praise to our neighbor so freely, is this not already beginning to sing the final song of praise?

Thus, I would imagine that marriage would be the difficult, challenging, and glorious task of learning to praise the supreme and glorious beauty of another creature each day. A creature to whom you are close enough to see all of their bullshit, their ridiculous posturing, their insecure scheming, and their vulnerabilities.

I imagine marriage is learning to praise them even in their careless cruelty, praise them even in their thoughtless chore-shirking, praise them even in the midst of their selfishness and stubbornness. Praise the goodness present in their small sacrifices, praise the beauty which shines from their eyes each morning, praise the love which flows from them to you, and out into the world. Praise them for the sweet memories, the sad memories, the silly conversations, and the sharing of thoughts, the fights and the kisses. Praise them for the rich tapestry you weave together, building something strong, shining, and eternal, which will itself endure into eternity, and offer itself in love to that love that moves each star and us.

For if we can learn to see the face of God, love it, take deep delight in it and offer it a constant stream of praise, in the hazy thick of daily life, I imagine the result is neither boredom nor monotony, but rather, joy.

Monday, November 13, 2017

what's lacking in Manhattan

the giant cross that hangs over one hunched crying man
and one snotty, sobbing woman.

the clearing of ancient trees,
enchanted in a grey-and-scarlet autumn silence,

the hawk whose tailfeathers match the leaves,
reiging over this quiet kingdom.

the intake of breath that startles the hawk
from his perch,
he glances over his cloaked shoulder, annoyed.



the rain-slicked asphalt of a deserted path
between two lakes, two walls of
shadows of nearly de-leafed November trees.

a cemetery with soft grass, mossy, mildew-ed crosses
washed in cold rain.

standing at the feet (or really six feet above them)
of a mentor or a godfather
or a kindred spirit.

holding you tightly—
for warmth—
is a prayer.


the knock on your door that is
a young woman with the chocolate cake
your grandfather loved.
And you missed him today.

the bite into German-chocolate cake,
laced in buttercream,
washed down with milk almost as thick as cream—

tastes like Gail mixing cake before the funeral,
like birthdays at the kitchen table,
like stealing bites from the refrigerator at the Rancho.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

four cardinal virtues

Lord make me skinny,
but not yet:
common grace before bingeing
(found in The Blue Pieta Prayer Book that Parish Abuelas carry,
page 10,
between the prayer card of Guadalupe and the Pope,)
—pray alone—
before cramming
just one more doughnut
down your throat—
as a yoga housewife
popping valium,
so my heart longs for you,
oh carbs.

Give us this day—the only day there is—
our daily dosage
of the drugs I need to stave off
reality,
intimacy,
vulnerability,
and impending fear of death.
Give me the needed hits;
distract me from incurring debts.

If this is how you treat your friends,
no wonder I don't keep in touch so great,
offering the flaccid niceties
proper to appropriately
insincere adult relationships:
Gotta run, let's get lunch sometime!
is the perfect morning offering.
My evening prayer:
we really should catch up soon!!!

Litany of Satiation:
From the desire of being loved/
From the desire of being extolled/
deliver me/
that I may never experience
disappointment or rejection,
but rather always obtain
what I desire,
in exact proportion to my ego.
Curb my appetites,
that they may never carve
ut ipsi non sculperent
craters in my heart
which you may come to fill.

Friday, November 10, 2017

gesamtkunstwerk

You can't say "Lazarus" without
a little lisp.

Is this why Jesus weeps?

The inescapable "facs"
bring a blush to my cheeks,
and cause color to rise,
creeping like the red creeps through
the veins of a leaf.

There really should be a disclaimer
or a trigger warning: liturgical latin
used throughout.
Repeated facs. You will be fac-ed over.
and over.

The stuffy room feels/is/like one big
corporate, communal, carpeted coffin.

Running into old faces who have gotten older.

These are not called sunflowers because they’re heliotropes
Splitting horticultural hairs,
if you ask me.
But no one does.

But they ask a lot about God.
How can the angels hold their breath,
while awaiting Mary's yes?
How can God not know
the his proposal will be met
with Fiat?

How does the nervous boy,
sweating through his shirt,
wiping his greasy hands,
know with certainty
his lady will nod her head
yes?


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

bleeding atlases

As I scroll across the grey and green map of Upper East side street grids, pins of old places pop onto the map, unbidden, summoned up by the inescapable memory of Google. Our Lady Queen of Angels, The Penrose, St. Vincent Ferrer, Whole Foods on 87th, Cristo Rey New York High School. The memory of staring at this map so many times, as I find directions between my neighborhood and another fills not just my mind, but my arms and legs and eyes and hands. For a moment, I feel that I am back in the grid.

But there's no grid here.

Feeling out of place makes me feel rather snarly, so after unleashing a bit of snarl (which is always, always aggravated and never ameliorated by mid-afternoon-blood-sugar-plummet [why did the desert fathers never write about this?]), I plop my double-bag-load of books and my snarling self on a bench in the midst of God quad in the height of her autumn glory. The air is cold, with a substantial bite even in the warm sunshine (just the way I like it), and the leaves are turning the entire air, trees, and ground golden.

I miss my neighborhood cobbler, across Lexington from El Aguila, Cesar and his cat that sat on the shoes, and picking up another set of fresh heels. I like the cobbler because it's a sign that you have been places. Your shoes are your vehicle to all those places, so you invest in good ones, like a car. And get their soles changed, like tires.

I miss my bedtime routine of last semester, reading through Deutero-Isaiah on the busted futon in my quiet room, lit only by the ridiculous ancient lamp from the nineteen seventies and the lights of Fisher Hall across the tree-filled alley-yard between us. As the sycamore trees sway outside in the spring breeze or violent thunderstorm winds, we are inside, being rebuilt—quietly and slowly.

I miss eating a caramel Magnum bar in Magdala. As I remembered how sweet and good that ice cream was this morning, I realized I never think about Galilee. I think because it was one of the most profoundly uncomfortable experiences I have ever had. I remember being mostly dazed, as I tried to survive on one piece of fish the whole week and a makeshift trail mix on hikes. I remember the terrible, death-like silence and deserted heat of Tzippori, which causes my skin to crawl, even just thinking about it, remembering the feeling of my skin tangibly burning in the sun—no matter how much chalky white sunscreen applied—and a sense of dread creeping behind my ears.
I remember lost of exhaustion in the middle of the day and blistered feet. I remember being lost in Caesarea, among the basalt buildings, looking for a hommus stand. I remember watching the rock hyrax and the lizards scurry around Chorazim. Galilee was a lot of ruins which felt empty, not even haunted by ghosts. Just mostly blank and barren nothing-ness.



But at the same time, it was teeming with life:

The parakeets (or macaws? I never got a good enough look or an accurate enough ornithology guide to tell) which fluttered and squawked in the palm trees along the Jesus trail. Whose beautiful, shining green feathers glistened in the sunbeams streaking through the shade of the trees.

The donkeys that stared me down on my way to Tabgha. I was convinced they were going to murder me. If I'd gotten closer, perhaps they would have. But they were so ridiculous looking, in their skittish little mob, it was hard not to laugh, even if scared for my life.

The overgrown fig tree that covered a solid several yards of the path around Banias. In the vein of Pocahontas' Grandmother Willow, this fig tree exuded maternal spirit. Her supersized fig leaves created a scalloped speckle of light on the dirt path, and covered a hot day with cool shade, and a thick, palpable darkness. Which, unlike a cave or cavern felt unintimidating. Usually low-hanging trees cause me to check superstitiously and anxiously for snakes. But, despite all the other anxieties entertained that week, I never once worried about serpents hanging out in trees. Perhaps that's why Eve was off her guard as well.
Eden's down the road from here

And the sea. The turquoise, marbled, sea, with his churning white surf that bit at the ancient harbor of Caesarea. It was the perfect temperature, the perfect depth, the perfect color. After a long, water-less hike, nothing could feel as paradisiacal.

Minus the ruins, teeming with life



I miss when Blank Space's music video hit the scene like an atom bomb in fall of 2014, and we were Young and Dumb in New York City (the most obnoxious—but irresistibly magical—cultural narrative to live into), the eerie, jam-able heartbeat of Taylor Swift's witchy little ballad pumping through the speaker systems of Macy's bathrooms, our earbuds at work, or our computer speakers at home while cooking.

I missed these fall colors, which are now falling on sidewalks, like someone spilled the red and orange sections of a Crayola 120 box onto the grass. There's a tree that's entirely scarlet in someone's front yard. As I ran by this morning, the leaves were spilling off in a constant staccato stream, like a crimson sprinkler, watering their grass and the concrete where I was running. They took their time appearing this year, but now there is a golden canopy covering the sidewalk by Malloy.

Now there are leaves falling by my bench which are gold, flushed with scarlet. As I breathe in the smell of autumn and cold air deeply, I settle into place, finally feeling at home.

And I know, because this is so beautiful, in a few short months I will miss this bizarre and intemperate autumn in Indiana.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

A Guide to Physical Intimacy with the Theótokos II

There's grey at his temples,
but he smiled warmly at me today.
As I effused light,
he reflected my glow back to me.

When I speak to him,
share with him small
flashes of grace seen in tombs
or in busy streets,
his eyes ignite with a quiet flame
of understanding.

It's a humid night in Galilee,
dense clouds cover up the stars,
like the quilt that lies at the bottom
of my flour-sack-firm bed.

The moon hangs low over the olive
trees on the edge of the village,
and I pray under it as I walk back
to the small studio house on the edge of town.
Tucked behind lilac branches,
guarded by wild cats.

A small lamp lights the room,
on the bedside table
next to Joseph,
lying in the bed,
staring at the ceiling.

Without moving his eyes,
he watches as
I approach, gingerly,
unsure if his bed is mine, too.
He makes space for me,
without smiling,
his face molded by some deep emotion,
his eyes about to cry.

is it inappropriate for you to sleep here?
he balks at my question,
and bargains with a God whose
presence saturates the room
and the space between us.

The lamp runs out.
In the darkness,
he reaches his arm across
my body until it meets my hand,
which he holds, tightly.

And so we sleep.
The close, humid night
breaks into a storm.
Thunder claps,
I find shelter underneath his arm.

He squeezes my hand,
gently peels it away,
leaves the bed.
To get some water?
pray? or stretch?
I lie stiff, my arm splayed across the mattress,
thinking he is gone.
I lie cold in the sweaty night.
I cannot brook the thought of sleeping the rest of the night alone,
without his arms around me.
But he returns,
oh ye of little faith,
and takes my hand again.

When we awake,
traces of shyness and
rain-light fill the grey sky
which leaks into the room.
But his eyes meet mine—
shining without trepidation.
My hair matted from pillow sweat,
my breath dank with whatever bacteria cause morning
breath—
He kisses me—
as rain falls in a soft staccato
on the eaves beneath which
cats begin to mew in the slow sunrise.

Friday, November 3, 2017

the Malick Mysteries

our father who art in heaven swirls into the quiet sky and the grey and nearly leaf-less tree that slices across my line of sight.

Alex's voice floats gently upward into the blue atmosphere like a swirl of smoke. The sky swallows up his prayer and works his voice into the symphonic rustle of the autumn evening.

It's an evening that's teeming with life and still activity. A family of squirrels races across the dome of rocks that roofs the Grotto. A chipmunk sticks her nose into the drain cover. She peers in, leaning in with her whole body, and then, one last little hind paw clinging to the metal grille, she dives down to explore. Then she resurfaces and scampers underneath the long red kneeler, scattering leaves underfoot. A squirrel couple is chasing each other over to the right. A bird squawks at the incoming intruder that flies into her nest. The sky is silent, but the world beneath it a symphony of scampering, tuneful critters squabbling, a dance whose movements praise the mover.

It's about to be sunset at the Grotto, and the vibrant fall colors of the trees sink into the cool grey of the dusky lake, which reflects the dull grey of the permacloud sky. But still, in spite of the grey, a sparkling blue patch of sky rips through the clouds and shines brightly over the Basilica. The sun gilds the grass. I don't know how. The grass is still vibrant and green, but it shines golden.

My gloved hand and Alex's chapped one link as we pray in front of two candles, lit side-by-side, prayers offered one next to the other. Behind us the sunset starts to stain the sky pink, and the bells of Saint Mary's are playing a harp-like carillon that stretches out behind us, winding over the sunset trees and lakes, and reverberates in the cave of candles, frosted by our breaths and the flickering candles.

His fingers move over the wooden beads, my hands rest on the smooth scripture page in my lap. He wraps his arm around my parka, and I cover his bare hand with glove. We pray while keeping each other warm.

The clock strikes 6:15pm, and the street lamps turn on with a click and a fluorescent jolt. The moment is over, but the rosary, like the sunset, can extend itself indefinitely and linger before it ends. One can tack on prayers to archangels, memorares, and endless oremus-es. But eventually you must unwrap yourselves and wrap up prayer as the sun sinks behind the lake and dusky evening turns to night.



Reformation Day, 2017




Wednesday, November 1, 2017

no but actually all of them

In today’s feast, we have a foretaste of the beauty of this life fully open to the gaze of love of God and neighbor, in which we are sure to reach God in each other and each other in God.
Benedict XVI, Angelus, All Saints Day 2012

when we encounter the Truth together in the person of a Christ who shatters our projects and enables us to look at each other and see the I AM glancing back at us .... that is paradise.
—James Crawford Wiley

In her meditation on time, pain, and the spiritual material of human lives, Annie Dillard describes the sole church on her home island in Washington state, where she worships each Sunday. She admires the simple awe, the unrehearsed piety of the Congregationalist service, in contrast to high church liturgical traditions, which approach God with “an unwarranted air of professionalism, with authority and pomp, as though they knew what they were doing, as though people in themselves were an appropriate set of creatures to have dealings with God.” The Congregationalist service embodies, for Dillard, humanity’s utter boldness in addressing the divine. She writes: "I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed. In the high churches, […] if God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it any minute. This is the beginning of wisdom."

Dillard beautifully encapsulates the central wonder of Christian liturgy in her piquant and mighty definition of liturgy: “words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed.” Liturgy seems to both deeply arise from human instinct, and is yet, a stunning act of pluck
person, yet it is a stunning act of pluck—impertinence, almost. Liturgy is humanity’s stuttering attempt to speak to the heart of the mysteries of faith, of life, of religion. These mysteries, however, are always beyond our ken, and the practice of them is always a foolhardy act of faith.

I think of Dillard's awe and humility often when studying theology: why aren't we afraid that the Divine will zap us right in the middle of our loquacious, verbose hubris disguised in abstruse philosophical vocabulary?



As today dawned, I thought: wait I love this feast. It is one of My Things.™ But I couldn't remember why, exactly. I just vague sensed that All Saints Day was an important part of the Idea Crushes of the Moment circa this spring and summer. Something about ecclesial images? Eschatological Unity? Mary as Church? I couldn't really remember. I remembered I wrote about All Saints Day for a research paper this spring.  So I looked back at it to see if it could remind me of the reasons that this feast was particularly important.

And, as I opened up the old word document, I found the above quote of Annie Dillard's. I wondered why I started a research paper on the saints with Annie Dillard. I wondered if my professor thought the same thing when he had read it.

Lawrence Cunningham, “Hagiography is Christianity from below rather than from above." And I wonder if it is hagiography—the saints, really—who keep us from feeling like God is going to blast us to smithereens in the midst of our worship.


There is so much beauty in the world, it seems to both haunt us and alienate us. It demands that we worship it, and the inescapable overwhelmingness of its demand terrifies us. Rudolf Otto writes about the holy as the Mysterium Tremendum, which is sort of a magnified sense of the uncanny. The uncanny, the supernatural, elicits a physical reaction from humans, "making the human's hair bristle and [her] limbs quake." It is a feeling not of our creatureness, but of our creaturehood, "the consciousness of the littleness of every creature in the face of that which is above all creatures."

I wonder if consciousness of our createdness, which is a consciousness of our belovedness, somehow diminishes our consciousness of creaturehood. I wonder if the goal of worship is to remind us of our creaturehood, and the goal of liturgy is to remind us of our createdness.


In the darkness of the year, in the cold that comes between autumn and winter, and the grey that descends on still colorful trees, we celebrate this one great camaraderie of All Saints. It's a feast that demands, as I've thought about on this 500th year of the Reformation, a reconciliation between ourselves and our neighbor. For we are reminded that our ultimate calling, the reality we are welcomed into, and that we begin to mirror slowly on earth, is a reality where Christ is all-in-all. Where divisions between us are simply not possible, because Christ is all. As Christ always is. We just, too often cannot see him, because, while we are meant to take his form, we are often bent out of that shape.

I wonder if the saints remind us of our createdness, and if it's hard to preserve a sense of creaturehood in such people'd vision of eternity. I

All Saints is perhaps a feast of a clear vision. A restored sight, that enables us to see Christ not just in St. Francis or Clare, in Teresa or John, but in the man with the swollen mouth who stands in the back of church, in the crying child, in the annoying classmate, in our friend and in our neighbor. Because, it reminds us of those who already are enjoying the sight of one another, not in a mirror dimly, but face to face, reflected in the one true face—Christ's.



Tuesday, October 31, 2017

patience, mutual forbearance, and above all, hope

There cannot be any union of the church tonight in the Supper of the Lord—not yet. God willing, the union that perhaps we sense moving among us tonight is the union of the church in the Word. “You are made clean by the word I have spoken to you.” For tonight, that is enough. 

The Lord has spoken the word, and he is The Word. “The Word was in the beginning with God, and the Word was God.” He is the vine, we are the branches. In spite of our sad divisions, here we are for this one moment in time and eternity, here together in this space, “made clean by the word he has spoken and by the Word (the Logos) that he is.”
Fleming Rutledge, October 22, 2017

Gathered together, in the Malloy chapel, which always feels like an ark, but especially today, the theology department at Notre Dame offered up a simple prayer service commemorating the five hundredth centenary of the Reformation. The thought had not occurred to me, until Prof. Arner mentioned it in class, that this was the first centenary of the Reformation that has occurred since the ecumenical movements of the twentieth century. 1917 was before Congar, before the World Council of Churches, before Vatican II—Lumen Gentium, Unitatis Redintegratiobefore John Paul II and Ut Unum Sint, before the spiritual ecumenism, before bi-lateral dialogues, and jointly signed documents. How shocking to see that the Holy Spirit is tangibly at work in the world. It is one thing to write a paper on spiritual ecumenism, and it's another—better, brighter, richer—thing to do it.

It was unexpectedly moving to witness professors gathered together in prayer—certainly a rare sight for me—in front of the Malloy Chapel cross, praying to the God hanging there, acknowledging that we have wounded his broken body even more.

My cheeks flush as we sing the Old 100th. I am baffled as they tingle and (I can feel them) turn bright red, without a readily apparent reason until I realize—this is fun. I scan the room and take in the nerdy students with quizzical faces, the Malloy chapel regulars, and the three be-spectacled professors all dressed in identical silhouettes of suit-coats in the front row. Here are Jesuits and sisters, Lutherans and Catholics, and small pockets of different communities all gathered together, to here, together, acknowledge our common differences, but a deeper faith.

It is obvious, isn't it, that we should all be ultimately unified around this table? Varying, of course, in our manner of worship and our commitments, but ultimately and fundamentally, we find our meaning here. We are all dedicating our lives—or at least a few of their best years—to learning to follow the first greatest commandment, and love the Lord with all our minds. It seems obvious, then, that we are unified more deeply than our differences. But obvious things are usually the most worth stating. Like: this is true, Credo in Unum Deum, and I love you, because they are the things most easily forgotten. And, when stated, they have singular power.

That is the grace of that prayer service: the statement of the obvious. But the obvious which is actually obscured too often by our egos and our differences. By all of the stuff that is us and is not Christ. If thou couldst empty all thyself of self...I think. That's one of the projects of ecumenism for sure: to empty one's confession of all that is not Christ, so that he might fill thee with himself instead.

My liturgy professor from the spring gave the homily the way he gives class lectures: quintessentially homespun Minnesota hotdish sermon, laced with equal parts simple sincerity and sarcasm. Prof. Arner's face responds with excitement as the professor continually lists events we have discussed in class, and quotes documents we've read. There is a real sense of that academic work in the cramped O'Shaughnessy classroom bearing fruit here. Arner's delight in this practical exercise in unity radiates throughout the room. His relishing in this rare moment of unity is a semester's worth of teaching moments right there.

"I go to church for an hour on Sunday, then go back to being a member of the world? That's a joke"—Betz, in class.
This is a gathering of people to whom Christianity is not a joke.
They are serious enough about it and human enough that they will fight over it. If only we were Christ, then we would never make victims of one another. But we do, because we are human and we haven't yet learned how to love something without also hurting it.
"Only love finds drama in everything," says Dan Roth.

That's grace.

As we pray, my face flushes with fun again. Part of spiritual ecumenism is acknowledging that unity can only come from within. As the Spirit of Christ draws the Body of Christ together, the brokenness of each her members must be healed as well. We pray to "bend what is inflexible." I stand in front and to the left of the most inflexible person I have ever met (except for myself). And I pray for what unity is broken between us—between me and all the other people in my life I tend to break things with—to be restored to wholeness as well. I pray that I can let go of attachments that thwart love, and offer myself up to a continual reformation into the image of the God who hangs above me on the cross.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

simple grace, II


October 29th, 2017

We thank you, Father, for these gifts of bog cross,
harvest candle,
book and boy
for sunset filling the hot room
for dragons rumbling in the radiators.

For liquid words and solid hopes.
For time that slips through fingertips.


October 30th, 2017

We thank you, Father, for hot soup
on chill days in cold libraries.
For the humility to bite our tongues
and partners who abide our cruelties.

For learning to love,
even when we're idiots.
Which we are.

For laughing with friends,
learning to love,
even when we feel un-loved.
For pushing into the uncertainty,
taking a leap into the darkness
and finding—huh—
a way.


October 31st, 2017

We thank you, Father, yet again,
for sunshine in these autumn days,
For dancing to mediocre jazz,
speaker phone calls while mixing drinks,
kissing in dark chapel seats.

You didn't have to be this good,
and yet, each day,
still, you are.
In consolation, desolation,
sunshine and self-centeredness,
in broken heaters,
and tattoo ink,
you find a way to speak to us.

We ask you but for ears to hear
and eyes to see
You in the feasts and fasts—
quotidian celebrations—
in this extra-ordinary time
of every day.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Examination for Self-Righteous Consciences

He whispered solemnly "The Blood of Christ"
I said: "Amen,"
not from my lips,
but from everything in
my sordid soul,
down to the angry quick—
small, stony pit—
that shivers and shudders
as grace like blood
rivers over it,
pushing, prodding,
trying slowly,
rushing relentlessly
to dislodge it,
bear it away downstream.

He murmured firmly: "I'm sorry"
I nodded (without motion): "I am, too"
then, as if stuck in a 35 millimeter reel,
I reach for the chalice in his hands,
blood quivering in the golden cup,
to drink a deeper draught than usual
to drown the forest fire inside me,
to erode the boulder burdening my heart.
Asperges me,
I pray, blood flowing down my throat,
Have mercy not on him,
but on she who never asks for mercy,
who cries not for her own sins,
but for others'.

He whispered gently: "Here's what you need."
Without a sigh, I lay my fury down and pray
Amen.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

It's a messy gift

Last night, I dreamed that I was being (potentially) killed. The entire population of the planet was being raptured (or kind of vacuumed) up into the sky, and these three guys were going to bring us into another dimension. I figured they were lying, but I played off my fear in pretending that I was excited. Oh great yeah sounds like fun--you'll just stick this syringe with strange fluid into our veins? awesome. So I knew I was going to die--or I hedged my bets and figured there was a greater chance of that than being sent to another dimension.

Dreams that I am going to die, I realized, used to stress me out (understandably). But, as I readied myself to die last night, I started to pray words that I wasn't consciously calling to mind, but felt appear on my dreaming lips like muscle memory.

How nice, I thought when I woke up, that I have dreamed how to die enough that perhaps I have begun to train my body and spirit to die well.

I tried to remember what Rahner says about dying well:

“When a [hu]man dies patiently and humbly, when death itself is seen and accepted, when it not merely “happens” in the course of striving for something else, […] when death is loved for its own sake, and explicitly, it cannot but be a good death. Whenever it is faced in a spirit of pure and free submission to the absolute decree, it is a good death.”

It occurred to me that it's not just dreams, but actually the activity of daily life which is a practicum of dying well. I thought of all the many ways in which living means dying to your own vision for how the course of a day, a conversation, a meeting, or a relationship will go.

Perhaps those small moments of letting go, those small moments of surrendering to the freedom not of ourselves, but of God, are practice for that final surrender, the “infinite fall into the liberty of God.”

I thought of this throughout the course of a hectic and stressful day. It was a day that was framed by beauty: by fog and grey sunshine in the cool autumn morning, and angry sunset in the evening, the whole day covered up in cold, bright sun. I took a breath for a moment in my dark, quiet room, lit only by the fire of the sun falling beneath the lakes. 

In a moment where I mostly just wanted to curl up on my couch and hide from all the responsibilities that I had been reminded of that day, I was called to die to myself in celebrating with friends, in accepting their overwhelmingly generous love and care. That evening, on the way back from the restaurant, I was called to die to myself when M. Flambeau (that's a car) ran out of gas. I had to die to myself in getting over my frustration, in letting my hot anger evaporate, in accepting the day as it had been given, knowing that it was a more precious gift than I could possibly deserve, understanding that my desire to control it would only ruin my enjoyment of it. That all of this was sheer gift, and the only appropriate action: gratitude.

Which is why I want to learn to die well. Because by learning how to die each day, I might just learn how to see each one for what it is: an infinite, precious gift, that I am eternally grateful to simply open my hands to receive.

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Guide to Physical Intimacy with the Theótokos

Stroke my hair,
but gently, Joseph.
I'll kiss your fingertips,
callused from carpentry,
fingernails worn down
by sandpaper and lathe.

Rest your head on the concave
center of my breast,
a divot formed by your skull's constant weight,
the home you have carved
for yourself on my flesh.

I will sing
Temuná belibí 
softly in your hair,
breathing in
your sweaty scalp's scent.
Your grip tightens around my waist,
fine dust from oak and saws
covering your arms like chalk.

Gently, you cover the bare skin
of tabernacle slipping out from
underneath the temple veil
your fingers tremble with
Joy—desire that is met and yet unmet—
as you rearrange the robe
your sawdust arms have disturbed.

We will laugh
tonight at dinner as we share stories from
the market and the shop,
and your eyes will catch mine then,
and again, as we sing sh'ma
under the sun setting and gilding the
humid Galilee air—
they sparkle—your eyes—
like the air—
with Joy.

One quiet kiss, and then—
to sleep,
God in our flesh
cradled between us

Sunday, October 22, 2017

unraveled into deicide

October 22, 2014.

Weeks roll by,
each one with
stars shifting, tilting, whirling
through a molting firmament,
cutting through time's sands,
trailing a grainy comet's train:
sand and dust of moments too quickly
sweeping
through an hourglass,
too fast,
too fast.

Freeze the starry hourglass.
Stop the sands slipping through
its slender waist.
Arrest the minute hand gliding,
cycling both inevitably and with grace,
around the clock's placid face.

Cherish each small grain,
Swirl the fleeting moments
in the bowl of your glass hand,
legs slipping slowly down the glass,
dragging them slowly down your palm,
feel how sweetly the sand and wine are mixed,
sand melted,
blown into a fragile, starry glass,
refracting, like a lover's limpid iris,
a bit of bright eternity.

To the tune of this new requiem,
savor each momentary
grain of sand,
in which lux perpetua 
still shines.

Monday, October 16, 2017

God there's so much grace here

I have been sleeping for the past two nights on the chastity couch, which is what we call the chaise lounge in my room. I think it's because it's fall break, so it feels enough like vacation that you're allowed to break from normal person routines like going to sleep in your own bed.

It's also because I'm staying up too late doing all the things I usually don't allow myself to have time for: like journaling and blogging, collecting disparate thoughts from different corners of my mind, so I'm not getting enough sleep, because I refuse to sleep in. There are too many good hours from 6am to 10am to miss out on all of them. So I sleep by my window, in order that the grey morning sun will wake me up.

Saturday night, I wanted to sleep by my half-open window because the thunder crashed through the sky outside, and a couple cracks of lightning snapped through the dark. The wind rattled at the ajar panes and blew in just the tiniest little bit of rain, so that the driftwood with the excerpt from the Neruda sonnet etched into it was stained with water. It was a mighty storm and I wanted to sleep in its arms.

I woke up gently, in the limp grey light of the morning, soft as a fawn's back.

An aluminum street light is smashed in the middle, and its head lies, severed from its pillar, on the other side of the path. A tree lies perpendicular near its base.

This morning, I woke up and saw sunrise shining gently outside my window, even though it faces West. That's magnificent, I thought, and smiled as I sunk back into the grey comfort of the chaise. The ceaseless storm-front of the weekend has resolved itself into a cool, calm morning, fresh and washed clean. A few jewel-toned leaves start to appear among the green and browning trees.

As I took off running down the path into the cold morning, I saw the three swans fly [from where?] onto the glistening water. I've seen those swans swim and glide, but never fly. Their wings were arched and strong, and they landed in the water without displacing a single drop, it seemed. They glide right into the sparkle of the sunlight dancing on the water.

The aluminum street light still lies across the path, so I run back the other way, through the woods, down the calvary path.

And I think as I run in the fresh, crisp, finally autumn air, teeming with sunshine and living, dying leaves damp from the rain, and wind blowing in sweater season from the North: God, there's so much grace here.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

stories we swim in

As the unwitting baby is held over the baptismal font, and the parents hold him, the godparents stand by him, and the priest signs him with a cross, the monumental nature of this moment grabs me.


Above us, the rain beats down on the church roof; it will be twenty-four hours of barely interrupted storm, and we are only three hours in thus far. Standing by my partner Alexander's side, unintentionally matching in gingham shirts, I feel very much like we are a pair [of some kind of creature. Horses? Gazelles? Gingham zebras?] in an ark. The congregation has circled around the baptismal font like a herd around a watering hole—the spring from which we draw our life. The children gaggle around the lower pool of the font, unabashedly curious, enthralled, with the blank stare of children's curiosity, by the mysterious ritual actions of the priest.


This is, indubitably, the most important moment of this child's life. As the water pours over his head, an ontological leap occurs. He no longer is a slave to sin, but participates, in a concrete-if-hidden way in this mysterious new space called Resurrection which Christ opened up for human beings like him and me. The Trinity has brought humanity into a new mode of relationship with itself, the created stuff of the human flesh now has a space inside the Godhead. And we, the baptized who surround him, have all been welcomed into that new space, ensconced in the eschatological age of union with God which can be called both heaven and resurrection. As the priest signs him with the liquid cross and Trinitarian formula, his soul is changed.


I gaze at his beautiful wide eyes and my heart stings for this child—this little tiny bread loaf of human being. He has so little past right now, and so much future. I think of what a human's future is full of: all the many nights of fear, of loneliness, of pain, of hurt—hurt heads, bruised bodies, fractured bones, broken hearts—of those who will label him cruel names, of a world which will try to box him into all sorts of narratives—of what it means to be successful, valuable, cool, fun, beautiful, a man. This small being of infinite freedom and dignity will, with each increasing day, be stained with all the smut the world smears on us, the sludge it drags us through, forced into all sorts of narratives. The injustice of that burns inside of me, making me wish I could flood this terrible world with the rain that beats down on the church for forty days and forty nights, and give everything and everyone on it a fresh start, wiped free from all the distorted lies and tangled knots into which we've mangled it.


But this moment—not those moments—will be the defining moment of his life. Because, in this moment, this child's narrative is set in Christ. The course of his story has changed, for he is baptized into the story which will define him for the rest of his life. His narrative is now that of death and resurrection. As he has been baptized into Christ's death, so, too, will he be baptized into his resurrection, according to Paul. Christ has claimed him for his own. And that is monumental, dazzling. Whatever story the world tries to foist on this small child, Christ has claimed him in a deeper way. And, although this seedling of a boy is not aware of this now, the radiant, inescapable truth of this baptismal claim will continue to radiate into his life until his final breath. Whenever the world will try to bend him, twist him into what he is not, the stern sacrament of cross and resurrection into which this baptism has transformed him will push against all the lies the world warps us with. This baptism will have the final say. This baptism has claimed him, has reached to the singularity of his being and planted Christ there.


And the child lies in his father's arms, totally unaware of the great sacramental moment of decision which is happening inside him. He doesn't even know what's happening, I whisper to Alex. But his parents do, responds Alexander, who sees different things than I sometimes, a boon and blessing to my limited vision.


For it's not the lack of faith of the child that counts in this moment (aren't we all just little children, bumbling through the world, unwitting beneficiaries of the gratuitous grace that showers us in storms), but the weight of our faith which surrounds him. The community gathers around this child, most of us having been his size when this great moment of decision and grace happened in our own lives. We watch an event which once occurred in our story and experience, through him, what we cannot remember experiencing ourselves. He is a witness for us of our own baptism, our own defining moment of grace. And our awareness of the solemn sacredness of the moment, our participation as witnesses of the event, fills in for his unconscious reception of the grace.

As we repeat our own baptismal vows, rain pounds down all around the warm church, and I cannot help but feel that we, too, are being re-baptized in this moment. Here, as I watch with gratitude and joy the welcoming of a new member into the body of Christ, I am given another moment to decide, to proclaim the baptismal creed for myself which my godparents uttered on my behalf so long ago. To be reminded that this, too, is my story; this is who we each truly are. This is a moment for all the twisted knots we've tangled ourselves in, for all the sorry broken lies, the empty show, and hurtful narratives the world has placed on us to be washed away by the rain above us and by the water that flows through the priest's hand and runs over the baby's smooth, unwrinkled forehead. This story of this baby’s life is grounded now in Christ the cornerstone, and his baptismal transformation reminds us Christ is our narrative, too.

Friday, October 13, 2017

written on a houseboat

Gravity, n.: (1) two masses coming together
two bodies with mass and speed
such as we
move towards each other,
pulled together,
by the force that makes the universe go 'round.

Gravity controls everything: from the giant planets
all the way down to the smallest dust grains.
Gravity, n.: (2) the mutual attraction that any two objects in the universe exert on each other

Its success depends on the amount of stuff on those objects
the closer they are, the stronger the gravitational force
the larger they are, the stronger the gravitational force.
Those are the two primary factors: the relative size of the bodies, the magnetic force they exert on time-space around them, an their proximity.

Gravity's that force that holds us—the solar system—together.
Our speed, our already continuing motion, the way in which we move keeps us moving apart from each other, away from each other,
the further away you get, the slower the objects move—that's gravity.

Gravity exerts force on the motions and emotions of humans.


A strange sort of gravity (3) pulls us together,
a mystery of mutual closeness: our bodies placed in orbit for a year,
our masses—both exerting their own electric forces—brought together:
to Ireland,
to New York,
to Indiana,
[to this bench underneath a dark lane of trees]
this is meant—if not perma-ment—
we must keep moving, and moving together, to maintain our orbits.

Only body stagnant here is us corpses.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

one hungry week in Galilee

Did you know parking is free on Sundays in Nazareth?

When you arrive Monday mid-afternoon, you have to pay 50 shekels for a parking spot, which you desperately skid into while dodging buses roaring down Paulus ha-Shishi Street. But if you tool down the hill to Nazareth one sunny Christian sabbath day, in time for early morning Arabic mass at the  the Basilica if the Annunciation (grotto level), then you can park in the cherished parking slots along the main drag. The street is still quiet at 6:30am, the corrugated gates which cover the entry-ways to the hummus joints and souvenir shops rattle in the breeze. When you arrive, the streets are sparsely populated in the soft light of morning.

When you leave mass, some of the shops have lifted up their gates. There are kebabs and sweets beginning to be cooked. Aromas wind their way through the morning air, accompanying the low roar of activity.

The journey from Mary's Well at the top of Pope Paul VI street down to the Church of the Incarnation in Nazareth is an easy journey, once you know the way. But I walked in the opposite direction, towards the nearest bank which took international cards in its ATM. I was low on cash. In Galilee, low on cash, and running out of gas on the Jewish sabbath day, I was hungry. I didn't have the conveniences of a city: shops open late, restaurants on every street corner, ATMs that took my well-worn credit card (only two years old now, really. His birthday was the day Videology charged me twice and fried my old credit card). So I was hungry--really hungry--by the time it was that Sunday morning in Nazareth, and I wolfed down that plate of warm hommus after mass. That was beautiful. I sat in the shop, and wrote while I watched a pistol-packing pater familias and his children enjoy their breakfast a few tables away.

I don't know if anything has ever tasted as good as that hommus, drizzled in olive oil and chickpeas. Dipping fresh pita into the tangy paste, and feeling an empty stomach fill with good, rich fresh tomatoes, tart olives, and spicy pickles.

I walked back towards Mary's Well, and ran into a man on a bike who needed to find the youth hostel.  He had been biking through the Swiss alps. I wondered if he had biked all the way down to Nazareth from Switzerland. I told him I was going to Caesarea Philippi that afternoon. He said he wanted to go. The fishing line of his unasked request hung in the air. I circled it like a wary sun bass examining my dad's fishing lure. I contemplated biting, extending the invitation to join me, as solo travelers are supposed to do. But I didn't.

Instead, after resting on the stoop outside the orthodox church that houses the mysterious flowing spring of the annunciation well, and write to the tune of Orthodox chant, I pack up a slice of knafeh as big as my head to eat on the steps of the hippodrome in Caesarea Philippi, overlooking the pounding blue waves of the mediterranean, as a summer camp of Israeli school girls race around the red sand of the track of the ancient race track. This is living, I think, as I sit alone on stadium seating hewn of giant stones, eating hommus, pita, and sweet, creamy knafeh among the ghosts of former spectators. After waiting the appropriate hour (or two?) after eating, I dip into the aquamarine waves, ignoring the trash, and dodge the sharp rocks of the ancient harbor, as the tide pulls the sun gently into the watery horizon.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Yellowstones

His careful footsteps
mark the ring of solid ground
circling the soft, thin crust.
His words are boardwalks,
on which I traverse
the delicate lacework of
terra firma's soft spot.

Even the earth has weak spots
in her crust,
Yellowstone, a playground of vulnerability,
attenuated lithosphere, barely capping a
swell of angry magma fuming below the
crust, which draws four million visitors
a year and then some, flocking to
her almost-wound like flies,
as it dazzles with its stinging,
hot, prismatic beauty.

Like the Yellowstone park rangers,
he marks the territory that is
solid, sure, weight-bearing
which the public is allowed to see.

But we are drawn to the
thin spots in the crust
and the cracks in the armor.

We learn them by heart,
slowly,
until each sore point becomes our Ol' Faithful,
comforting in his predictable eruptions
by which we keep the hour.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

half my class notes are bad poetry

There are birds singing
outside Francesca's winow.
We're learning that love
holds together faith and reason,
love writes together myth and philosophy
love melds together the sign and the signified
into symbol.
love brings the object of our quest—
the wonder of Being—
has set ablaze the shrubbery, and burns so brightly
we must doff our shoes,
and let the sacred sear the soles of our feet
because the Being we wonder at,
the Ground of our existence,
has come to meet us
on this small patch of earth—
Infinite belongs in finitude—
and that's a stunning revelation,
and this is Holy Ground.

Monday, September 4, 2017

what I should have said when you asked me

why is the moon orange?

Because she's jealous of the sun?
Maybe she's tired of only shining dull and lifeless silver,
reflecting the scrappy rays of sunshine
she gleans miserly from twilight.
What if she's tired of playing
second fiddle,
always a supporting
player to Helios?

Perhaps she's sad we're in the dark,
sorry for us as we stumble
in The Devastation's shadows,
so she's trying to make up for that.

What if the moon is actually orange?
Maybe these are her true colors,
on display only on occasion.

Perhaps (historically my favorite fascination)
she ate too many carrots,
so beta-carotene has saturated
her rocky surface with a vivid
orange sheen.

The lumens (splendor, kabod, doxa)
shines through her form (species),
says von Balthasar,
not at all explaining the phenomenon,
or addressing the deeper question
which no philosopher or astronomer can answer:

why is the moon orange?

Sunday, September 3, 2017

biddy crossing monday morning

I have a dream where I am in a long blue dress
and, in one broad act of petulant, childish destruction,
you swipe all the wine glasses off the table,
their stems breaking in half on the floor,
and the shards of their bowls sticking in my
dark dress and tablecloth, down which
a trail of cabernet spills,
like a trail of blood
from the white arm of a donor
at the Red Cross Blood Drive.

I stare at you, paralyzed by anger
you stare at me, trembling with self-hatred, a cold self-loathing.
Between us
pain creeps up thick and thorny
I can't see yours on the other side of mine,
and since you can barely understand
the world outside the snail-shell of your
own feelings,
the knowledge that you have wounded
me with more than wine glass shards
would pierce through you
if only you would let it.
If you did, it would break you.
So you let it rest out there,
in the dangerous inchoate world outside your own ego
and curl up inside your shell,
sticking your head in the sand
to keep the clarity
of an unhandsome reality at a fuzzy distance,

and wish that you could knock the wine glasses off the table.

I, stifled by pain you pretend doesn't exist, wish you would as well.

We're both trapped,
separated by a sea of broken glass.
I have the upper hand,
I know I do,
as I stand proud, beautifully made-up
—unmoving—
in this shattered sea of glass,
until you trap me into this again.
This hatred, this paralyzing anger.
Which is sooooo yesterday (Hilary Duff, 2003)
This dream of staring at you,
eyes boring holes into you,
sharp as broken wine glass stems
has become pretty dated.
But still I dream it,
Damn it.

So into this,
disaster,
I pray the cross.

I imagine, blooming from the soil of glass shards
a crucifix, like the egregious one that's sprouting on the
corner of South Bend Avenue/Highway 23.
It blooms there among the corner flowers.

I tell him:
I'm so tired, Jesus.
I'm so angry—
angry at//
pray for us
angry at//
pray for us
angry at—
an exhausting litany of anger
I've been stretched into a thin,
taught laundry line
from which I hang sordid grudges.
He hangs there
tired of it, too.

But still he hangs, bringing some sort of meaning
some logos
a thread of plot (and there's hope in that)
to all this wild, senseless anger.
He will always bloom there,
breaking through my dreams of
angry, shattered wine glasses.

And I
am offered freedom
from all this broken glass
if I will fix my stare upon the cross
and not the shattered remnants of a world fashioned together
and fractured by sheer anger.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

an uncomely god

we are sweaty holocausts,
steam pouring off our bent backs,
ancient temple smoke rising
before the madonna in the rock

queen of mist in mornings//
hear our prayer

my toe cracks open,
thick blood pools,
like overripe paint,
in my sandal-bed,
clotting as the lamb's blood
must have in the gutters
of the tabernacle in springtime.

queen of hot afternoon Starbucks line//
hear our

there is not much to offer today
besides tears as payment for some beauty,
a racing heart when I think of you,
and steam that sublimes us into
pure burnt offering.

queen of moonrise over glassy lakes//
hear,
here.

Monday, August 28, 2017

oh but please not yet

Augustine, too, was good in bed,
lips and fingers seasoned travelers
in the landscape of a lady's legs.

His groin ached concave
as the sun began to set each Friday.
His skin was tinder
and her hands—ten matchsticks striking
him alight.

Each morning, squinting in the sober sunlight,
shaking off the ashes of
last night's spent flames,
Augustine overslept his fifth alarm.
King Intellect would chastise Queen Libido, and he'd pray:
I'll take one chastity please but not yet thank you

But—

eventually

—her legs, which used to
fill in all the spaces
between his,
became a tripping hazard.
He leaned his head against her breast,
hoping for a pillow
and found instead a stone,
weighing down his walk
like double gravity.

The freedom of the finish
became a shackle that contained
like my teenage retainer I haven't worn
since my last visit to the orthodontist.

Instead of being a skeleton,
a supporting structure,
which provided
a frame upon which
he could hang his growth and
sculpt into an actual shape,
that unconquerable
demand of desire
became a warden
dogging him,
confining,
cornering.

Augustine was too good in bed
to stay in bed.

He left behind his walks of shame,
sheets twisted off the mattress,
hot breath on cold mornings,
for more adventure than his mis-ses.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

love letter from the chaise lounge

My lover has given me flowers
that live forever
figs which grow sweeter
with time.

On a dark cold afternoon
I wrap soft sheets around
my naked body,
cold for the warmth
of his paper skin.

The day lilies
and my body
open up,
nerves trilling in
a fire of photosynthesis—
green life glowing in
a throbbing maidenhead,
crafting perpetual life
from his sunshine.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Northernness

The voyageurs thought the call of the loon sounded like a crying woman, which describes less the shrill honk of Minnesota’s state water fowl and more the image of utter loneliness these bachelors must have felt, starved of civilization and the sight and sound of female humans for many long Northern months. The loon conjures up loneliness in his very cry: a fitting anthem for these men who forged a slow and lonely aquatic path in these Northern water ways and woods.

On the other side of the island which Bernadette and I do not manage to hike all the way around, there is a very bare spine of volcanic rock peaking out of the clear water of rainy lake. But the stone is covered in some sparse wildflowers, and, most staunch and foolish of them all: a scrubby evergreen, lacking needles, which bares its naked comb of toothed branches against the cold Canadian wind, shoots down shallow roots into the non-existent soil it ekes out of the old lava in the rock, and grows. It just persists at growing and living, because that is what nature knows how to do.
If a seed falls on rocky ground, it does not give up the cause as lost. Instinct doesn’t even brook a doubt.
It goes on, because that is what it must. And it will often fail, the odds are not always in its favor, but it doesn’t much care for thinking in hard analytics before it sows itself.
And it manages to grow.
Nature has an insistence on survival that is miraculous in its persistent intensity.
Much like families, who seem to weather storms like we do today: hunkered down in our screened-in porch, and persisting until sunny skies appear again, which we can laugh under and splash at one another, floating like fruit loops in a bowl of milk carved out by old glaciers.

We speed across the lake, and I am inundated by sun and pale blue sky, lousy with clouds (and mosquitos), and the fresh spray of water, the horizon is hemmed in by pine trees, and it is utterly beautiful.

I think that this is sort of what life’s adventure means: it means attentiveness to beauty in the small and large moments, it means embracing an adventure from hiking Mt. Tabor to clambering over mossy rocks in one's back yard, it means diving into the Mediterranean alone, and off the back of the boat, even though the water’s deep. It means loving those immediate kindred spirits, and those perhaps hidden from your instant recognition, and it means embracing all these movements of grace as gift. Sacred, divine gift, which you will not clasp onto in fear, try to control in your paranoia, not clamp down on, trying to cling to them as buoys, nor shove them into the mold you had intended for your life. It means embracing this wild adventure—its sad loon calls, its dangerous portages, and its surprise turns—knowing that life is only a preparation for that which comes next. And this life doesn’t have to turn out exactly as you imagined it would.
But it must be beautiful.
And it must reach towards that heavenly vision of communion you can taste in the faces of the congregation at the our Father, in praying together before an empty golden tabernacle, in holding court with friends at sunset on all that’s right and wrong in this world. Our lives must point towards that, if nothing else.
And if we have that firm direction of growing, let the winds land us where they may: be it on the lush fields of the Galilee, or a scrubby Northern rock, not even deigned to be called an island.

I wonder what sort of adventure the voyageurs had wanted, how much of it they had chosen, and what they thought about what they had received in return. Did they ever get to sit in their chairs, surrounded by grandchildren and hear the cry of the loon which reminded them, not of a woman crying into their empty lonely frontier lives, but of the vast Northern skies they forged a path through, and the horizon that constantly spread from underneath their fingertips whenever they called it theirs.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

10 items from a run after the rain

1. I watch my dog cant across the green grass, muscles rippling under his brown silk coat. I've let him off the leash, and he chases geese into the cold water of the lake, until I call him back.
Pippin. Come back.
He only listens if I drop my voice into a lower chest register. But he returns. Unquenchably excited about his foray into the reeds and scummy water, and how tantalizingly close he got to those sneaky water fowl.

2. The man reaches out a fist and I go for the fist bump, because I assume he's not trying to punch me. He seems surprised, and awkwardly splays his fingers so my loosely clenched fist does not produce the satisfying thunk of knuckle-meeting-knuckle, but goes through the gaps in his fingers. The clammy physical revulsion that accompanies a greeting gone wrong shivers through me. As I bound after Pippin, straining on the leash, I consider his midstream change of course may have resulted from the plastic bag I hold in the same fist. It is not yet filled with dogshit, but it looks as though it might be. Certainly an object to shy away from.

3. There is a baby sock, still a fresh white, lying in the middle of the slick asphalt sidewalk. Pippin sniffs it and his roving nose brushes past it.

4. I realize that I am overwhelmingly angry about the fact that women, for millennia, were not treated as men's equals, because they weren't men's equals. Like, metaphysically, perhaps they were. Ontologically, I suppose. But practically and culturally, they simply weren't, because they were denied the power and the education necessary to become so. It must have felt like talking to a child; talking to a woman who depended on you for her social and physical mobility, just as it feels talking to a teenager today. And I am angry that it is only within the last century [not even, if we're taking Mad Men as a guide!] that social pressure has shifted (shifted infintesimally, almost imperceptibly) towards treating women not as chattel or as property, but as other humans. And I am angry that men (and, even more mystifyingly women) have the gall to suggest imagining that that means all work is done, and that there's nothing to talk about, work on, or [heaven forbid] complain about, you whining bitch. Look at how great you have it. How does one imagine that centuries of being treated as second-class citizens can just be easily reversed, sans the slow, systemic conversion that we each have to apply to our own most deeply-rooted sins? How would a society experience conversion any differently? What if we treated micro-aggressions as we treat venial sins: small symptoms of deeper spiritual ills, which must be attended to and confessed. And only can regain their proper perspective within that sacramental act of self-aware acknowledgement.

5. I remember that when I ran down these paths in high school I was not angry. And I wonder how it is that we learn we have need to be angry. I remember how I listened to Colbie Caillat and really didn't concern myself with a larger world outside my own head. There was enough going on inside of it to occupy me, and I splashed in its depths, conveniently and blessedly ignorant of the entire universe. If anger is a price I pay for being saved from living my life in the box of my own context, I will gladly pay it.

6. A man raises his eyebrows, about to address me, as me and the newly-leashed Pippin approach him. I am wary: is he going to rebuke me for some rule of etiquette I am unintentionally trespassing upon? Does he have unsolicited advice about how to control my dog better? If you're continuing down the trail, he says, in the hushed tones of enthusiasm used by acolytes of Marian apparitions, there's a doe and her fawn at the end of it. Thank you! I whisper in equally hushed tones, his excitement catching, as I motion Pippin into a quieter gallop.
This would never happen in the city, I think. It is good to share excitement over nature with another human.

7. How spicy is the slaw?
Uhhh I don't know, the cashier counters, embarrassed flush coloring her cheeks like sunset. She's embarrassed for me, as if I just asked the most foolish question in the world, like there's a joke I'm not in on yet, which everyone else in the softly lit café has understood already.
She shrugs.
like medium I guess?

8. A silver-haired grandmother, holding her grandchild in a baby carrier on her breast, a seat from which her big baby eyes can take in the entire world. They are staring off into the Bambi-underbrush of the woods, into which I imagine their cervine counterparts have disappeared. They watch the woods with an unvarnished intensity, and the grandmother smiles.

9. I realize once you lose faith in someone's good will, everything they do becomes suspect. The latin chant becomes pretentious, their recalcitrance is selfish, their enthusiasm is possessive. Trust is so easily lost. They tell me that once your tank actually runs out of gas, your empty meter will register empty later so that you have less time once your meter hits empty to refill your tank again. I find this mesmerizing. It is as if my car has sprouted feelings and sentience, and her small revenge on my inability to hold up my contract to feed her regularly is to play fickle with the gas meter. My car, it seems, will no longer completely trust me. I have reneged on my commitment, I have wounded her with my casual disregard for her needs in my selfish haste to get from A to B and she responds as I respond to everyone else: small acts of distrust. Burned once, she will not be so injured again.
Perhaps that is where anger arrives: I trust that I can sink into the world and it will receive me as hospitably as Colbie Caillat music and the rich imaginations that swirl inside my head. The world proves me wrong. This place does not promote my flourishing, in fact, it wants to make me fodder for the furnace which keeps it running. No way in hell. Enter mistrust and anger, pursued by bears.

10.
if you have ever felt a small, cool breeze in midst of the most shadeless, scorching summer day
if you have ever felt the first drops of rain break through constipated barometric pressures
if you have ever felt the delicious surprise of a stranger or a friend speaking out loud words you have only heard in your heart
if you have ever seen whatever home you have rear up out of the horizon, or pop around the corner, or emerge from the tangle of city streets, to swallow you up in its familiarity and safety,

then you probably understand how grace feels as she roots new space in the rotten soil of cynic thoughts, as she ripples through the stagnant swamp of self-righteous nursing of old wounds, tired spin cycles of the same grievances. She is so gentle to welcome, and her gracious self floods over these festering internal hills. After building up inside of me fast strongholds, stubborn stone towers, there is nothing more fun than finding that chink, that hole in the dam, and let grace flood through, rivering refreshment as she goes.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

playwright at work

Playwright at work:
talk at your own risk,
date her at your peril
otherwise
you'll one day
walk into a theatre
and as the lights dim and couples
on dates begin to hush
and clear their throats in
the dusk of curtain-rise
you'll find your quirks and cadences
your slight verbal tics
and idiosyncratic talking patterns
your preoccupation
with super marathons
your 30-year-old
celibate naivete
your clumsy charm
and tired pick-up lines
your blue eyes sparkling as they catch mine
will play out in front of you
on stage,
art reflecting,
refracting,
revealing
you back to yourself
in one warped funhouse mirror.

Friday, July 28, 2017

this is galilee

As the golden hour-almost-sun-set light hits 35W, Ed Sheeran's Castle on a Hill is playing—fittingly—and I speed down it faster than I ever did coming back from play practice late at night. Israel has really done a number on my defensive driving skills—now I am the driver my mother warned me about. Coming home feels like a long time coming: perhaps it's been longer than since January.

My jaw drops as I drive into the sun, the trees on either side of the highway over sloping hills tricking me—for a second—of thinking I am driving the little white Toyota Corolla (like the one I just passed) I drove from 77 down to the end of 90. Who knew that the Northern woods of Wisconsin and Minnesota look so much like the Holy Land?

I blink. Trying to erase the feeling of déjà vu from my eyes and clear my imagination of such foolish, fanciful impressions.

But, as I drive down 169, I suddenly feel like I am driving down 65, and as I drive over the flat reeds and past the trees shaking gently in the humid winds, I remember that last small stretch of road I would always hit at this time of day, returning to Ilaniya, after a day of hiking, swimming, or wearing out my sandals. Their appearance is undeniably alike. I have always held home as holy, so no surprise there that it bears such resemblance to the sacred. But it is silly to travel to the heart of the world, and realize upon your return to your own little native corner that what you went to see was always with you: that the woods where you went on your first runs in high school are just like those that surround the village, simply surrounded by fewer IDF bases. It makes one feel like a fool to travel so far into the foreign and find that it really is just familiar.

How did I never notice then, how much like home it was?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

my new neighborhood

Cold, quick sprays of dew
splash off the tree branch
car exhaust which smells like weed
pine tree out my window
Sunnymedes expansive green

The sunrise over the Mishawaka trees
Gerald Manley Hopkins' skies
the river licks my bicycle tires
and sandal soles.

Joey and I split Ben & Jerry's at the fish ladder
and the neighborhood kids beg him to
Hit the Quan
He didn't live in Harlem,
he doesn't know.

I walk back alone,
in the dark of the trees
and St. Joe
and the mulberries splattered on the white
sidewalk.

I cut across the parking lot
accompanied by two loping raccoons.
The world compresses into a quilt,
tucking me in with humidity and quiet.

I wake up to the tune of Eddy Street traffic,
some hard-ass gunning his bike,
and a garbage truck driving by at sunrise.
Rush hour.
But the sun hits my bed in the morning
white and Avonlea-pure,
and it cuts through the blinds in the evening,
golden and warm.

Just three weeks of summer,
in a little house on Wayne Street,
a small oasis of rainstorms catching you on the way to the car,
Oaken Bucket a river run a way,
and ferreting out new corners
of an old world.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

settlers of cat[a]

"I do not care" you protest, until you realize that you do. And that must be an odd sensation: to be met with truth in your denial. But you have never been a woman in possession of the infinitely large fortune of twenty-five years and not in particular want of a husband. Women with this kind of wealth—youth—are the Americas, constantly eyed by lascivious colonists, looking for fresh land.

Women who possess the freedom of life lived and more of it ahead to live into, are viewed as prime colonial costal properties. They are an expanse of virgin soil—unsullied by a homesteads or shanty boomtown blights—which cowboys wistfully pretend—play-acting—is their frontier to claim. They lick their lips from behind the borer fence—the land's boundaries are porous, but their visas have tight visiting restrictions. They tentatively try to stake a claim remotely. Like Russians with American elections, they itch to influence what they cannot conquer. They lob advice like rockets from Gaza, foisting their unwelcome flags onto the soil, which, despite themselves, they cannot claim. Their non-possession of the land feeding into the twisted manifest destiny they try to bleed from their own fates. Their fates, which have left them outside the land, which have given them their own lands, conquered, they have irrigated dry. The barren plots of soil they grudgingly farm, while lusting after the much greener grass next door. What harm is there in simply tending the land, caring for it until the foreclosure goes through? Surely, you do no wrong—in fact, it is your duty and your right—to care for this wild, untoward, untouched land. If it is not careful, it will end up in the hands of an exploitive and greedy, terrible farmer. You will care for it carefully, weed its hills, and tend her orchards, until slowly the land is yours, you think. When it slips from your grasp, when some new mystery of its terrain appears, a topographical surprise you did not expect, you grasp it tightly. You bind it like the land you've already tied down.

To be a twenty-five year old woman is to understand conquering and colonialism—one is colonized all the time. There is not accident, Manifest Destiny is an understandable desire: to see a woman and know she stretches from sea to sea, with room enough inside of her, which cannot be corralled. The thrill of that challenge is intelligibly intoxicating.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

the speed of Psalm 90:3

The grass grows and fades with sure same swiftness
of Ansel Elgort in baby driver,
flipping through his sunglasses
or what I call
an Israeli driver on his Monday commute

I am dancing bouncing in my seat to the tune of Taylor Swift
and my fake Ray Bans, feeling
fly af as
Ansel driving to the tune of
Queen on his morning heist

The air of South Bend sings
I bask in its benediction upon my
Yo Pro Commute to campus

Prosper this, I think

Prosper this commute: which is not a walk
which is not morning subway bus ride —
the missing of the bustle of midtown in the morning
strikes me:
to be again
grinding pavement beneath my boot heels
would be nice —
but I ride this car into the sunrise
pulling on the brakes
dipping around the slower eddies of cars
hitting the green lights as bars on the xylophone
of high spirits that chime on 92.9

Prosper here, I pray

each awkward meeting moment
this translation
from one congruent sphere onto the other
prosper the new languages
and spaces that have opened up
I think that I can live in this
Perhaps I can live here in this
prospering.

Monday, July 3, 2017

descending theology, cf Mary Karr

But Thomas said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

Thomas' ultimatum is a familiar one to me.
Stand down, o Mystery, I yell at the force that pulls me forward. Show yourself.
Not to others, not to a Church whose word must take, a body I must believe is yours by force of sacrament and sign, but to me. Talk to me in ways I understand, diminish yourself entirely for me. Speak my baby talk; I'm too lazy, young, tired, selfish, weak, stupid, indolent, self-absorbed to learn the higher language that you speak.
I don't want subtleties, I don't want your great music. Put away your symphony and play the pan-pipe I have made of macaroni.
They tell me God is imminent; well I want accessible. A mystery that it takes no ounce of askesis to uncover. If God is here, why can't I see his face? Show yourself, I pout, demanding favors of the almighty like the spoiled brat I am.

And God does.
God comes to Thomas, in radical humility. The Word goes in for a blunt and obvious kill: he appears in all his radiant wounds, exactly as desired.
God is pleased to acquiesce to his request.

And that's sort of spectacular. That's a sort of spectacular God, I imagine. The one who will cripple his own person in ways I never will. A sort of God who will diminish God's own self to fit into a personal pronoun or a body or a wound.

And yet, one gets the sense that even though Thomas' desires are answered, his expectations are shattered.

It's the Word, with a unique new accent and enunciation.

It's as if you have returned home from confession; you get to have all the same things you had before, they are all intact. But your approach to them is entirely new. They are imminent, but the access is completely different.

Love has been burned way by love. Ego is emptied into a more gracious feeling of tenderness and care. Concern more for the other, unimpeded with obsession of self. It's the same feeling, he's the same person. But it's different now.

The confines which hemmed us in have broken down. Our blue funk turned to sparks.

This is what the Word is. Here. Yet always pulling us away.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

simultaneous compositions

My breath is uncontrollable, tearing through my lungs (which I think have a tumor in them) and searing through my muscles. I ask a lot of questions, and try to give my heart time to catch up to yours. But perhaps it speeds ahead.


— 

Nuclear: how odd that that's the adjective for "family." I mean, not odd, since it pays homage to the building blocks of our molecular structure. We honor kin by calling them nucleus of our atomic orbit existence. Now, "nuclear" cannot escape the connotation of "bomb" — of an atom we have split, a stability we have ruptured, a stasis we have disturbed. We have torn into the fabric of our nature and rent it down the middle. Our nuclei are no longer stable, we have split them into many different centers. What sort of instability do we inherit? What fatal central flaw is passed down through these nuclear bloodline unites? Instability is at our very core: molecular and familiar.



My breath comes in ragged tears, despite all my attempts to take deep yoga breaths in through my nose and out of my mouth. It's a breathing that leaves no extra energy leftover with which to speak and I finally feel a shard of sympathy for all those couples that I judge so mercilessly as they eat together at restaurant tables in silence. I think that is my nightmare: sitting in a restaurant in silence.
But.
If you are just trying to keep pace with each other, sometimes there is no leftover energy for speech. Perhaps it takes all the effort of the partners to even gather together. Perhaps all their energy is shoved into the superhuman attempt to holding the nucleus together, when clearly it cannot hold. Gyres are widening, and falcons are spinning out of earshot of skilled falconers. In this environment, it appears, that all our fates end in the anarchy loosed upon us, some still breathe together. And that takes an endurance and a strength greater than what I can summon for this six mile run.

I have renewed empathy for the couples that silently share restaurant tables together. I admire their strength in simply showing up to share that space together. Because that is more than I can muster desire at this moment.

Friday, June 30, 2017

47 minutes

She wants to be an album in his vinyl collection
which he will play on a rainy Friday night
and remember her,
present in the velvet rain outside,
at the bottom of the tumbler,
in the last drop of bourbon—
a consumable experience of a person—
which will eat away at him,
contained in 47 minutes on a rainy Friday,
grating like a needle in the grooves.
He'll fall into bourbon sleep.
She'll be gone (again) before breakfast
leaving a slight hangover of memory
leaking off the________,
as the needle slips off polyvinyl chloride
and raindrops slowly leak off the leaves of trees,
shaking off that last bit of storm.