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

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
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.