Thursday, November 30, 2017

wounds are singing

One long dreg from the cup of cool wine
bursts over my hot anger.

Stomach distended, appendix about to burst;
Heart clogged from too many
Tuesday french fries.

One quick car trip—
to cool down.
Notice—
the bagged fruit
still on the trees.
In a word,
premature.
Over-eager for the under-ripe.

Words are ringing, wounds singing.
Wafting off my skin like steam,
rage ripples into cold night air.

You have stolen my solitude from me,
Pillaged my quiet, turned it to loneliness.

I never close my windows,
(unless it's well below freezing)
too afraid of suffocation,
of roasting alive in manufactured heat.
Keep one ajar to cool my room,
my fuming,
my overworked computer.

It's a mild night—
it used to snow in November.
Now students wear shorts—
my window is open,

as is Walton Rehearsal Hall's.
I hear the strains of the choir,
preparing for lessons and carols.
My favorite, I remembered
as their song filters through the window,
visible as sunbeams

For Christ is coooooomiing 
golden bars on dust
is coming soooooon
resolving in
For Christ is 
cooooommiingggg
sooooon.

Reminds me of the rehearsal room's warm glow
on winter nights.
Reminds me of the dark blue shirt I used to wear
(lord, such terrible style I had)
of sitting next to my best friend—
in anger and in fun,
depression and joy—

Sounds like community and love.
Sounds of community and love
restoring sweetness to the solitude.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

offer it up

That point came for me one Saturday afternoon when I overheard my daughter (you know, because I was three feet away) telling Tom that "dads do the fun stuff, and moms do the boring stuff." Because for all of my soaring speeches about how girls can do anything and the future is female, what she saw was her mother constantly putting herself last. Doing the boring stuff. As James Baldwin wrote, "Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them." —Jancee Dunn

In her Christ the Key, Kathryn Tanner articulates an incarnational positing of the atonement, which she demonstrates, is sympathetic to feminist theological concerns. In order to weave through the tangled nexus circling the central image of redemption, Tanner examines our contemporary conception of sacrifice over and against an ancient, cultic image.

In thinking of sacrifice, we tend to imagine a moral sacrifice: "a sorrowful act in which what is sacrificed is not offered to anyone but is considered simply a necessary cost to oneself of doing what is right." Thus, self-sacrifice takes on a moral weight, a mark of intense dedication, a sign that one is disinterestedly invested in sincere efforts towards another's good.

Conversely, ancient cultic sacrifices from Israel and Greek cultures, which provide the typological images for Christ's passion (e.g., the passover lamb, the lamb of God), are not about self-abnegation for the sake of the other, a moral isolation caused by extreme self-denial, but rather "celebrate joyful communion." The animal is offered up is a sign, not of any loss or lack on the part of the worshipper, but rather "a return to God of what is already God's." Thus, this act of gratitude, by which the believer acknowledges that the first fruit of his harvest are not "lost" to him by being immolated, because they were never his in the first place, is not beneficial because it deprives the worshipper. It is beneficial because it restores right relationship. The cultic sacrifices related in the Hebrew scriptures (Ex 24, Lev 23:19) instantiate relationship, they are a joyful restoring of communion and community between ruptured parties (God and the human, the human and her neighbor).


Rowan Williams warns against any utopian ideas of an ideal self that eliminates difficulty. We somehow are aware that our ideal image of ourself that never encounters any stressors is in fact utopian—there is no place for it in reality.

But there is a difference between growth in virtue and moral character, and this idea of enduring lack of flourishing as somehow a conducive path to holiness.

Life certainly brings suffering, there's no way around it. But there's a difference between an embrace of the pain of life as part of life's beauty, an inescapable drama of the narrative, and a suffering that is proscribed as one's lot and portion by a power structure that is not of God, which abuses the image of sacrifice as it commands you: offer it up.


I found Dunn's essay compelling, especially as I thought of everyone's favorite active-contemplative pair of sisters: Mary and Martha (the subject of so many pointed homilies and the apotheosizing of the Introvert). The point which I think Dunn is trying to make is that being busy, Martha-like, with the many concerns of caring for others, running a household, filling in the gritty details of Christian hospitality, is not a sustainable way of life for a soul.

A soul needs, like Mary at the foot of Christ, time to refresh herself. Time to focus on the one thing that is needful. And this is not the privilege of contemplatives, priests, or Carmelites. This is the fundamental vocation and necessary posture of each Christian: to sit at the feet of Christ, to receive the gaze of the Other who gives himself to us in love, and gives our own self back to us as well.

I write these reflections from the privileged and naive place of pre-childbirth, so I imagine that my understandings of this would be transformed in a new way by such an event.

But, I hope and believe I would never relinquish the idea that one of the greatest gifts I could give my future children is modeling for them what it means to live life fully and deeply, drinking it all to the dregs; finding lots of joy; pursuing wisdom, beauty, and God first and foremost, and inviting them into that quest for joy. Our vocation to be human, an imitation of Christ, is the ultimate vocation of our lives, and any vocation to be a mother, I assume, springs out of and is subservient to that, rather than the other way around. This does not, I think, diminish the utter gift of self of motherhood, but rather elevates it. A mother is not sacrificing her own well-being for her child, but rather welcoming that new person into this life of grace she pursues.

And that any and all sacrifices I make, however uncomfortable or difficult I find them will, ultimately, lead me not into isolation, but into community, into right relationship with God and with neighbor, and to the abundant joy that comes from sharing in abundant life.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

dumpster fire love

Your love, Oh Lord,
is like fire subsuming all the trash
charred in the dumpster out back—
discarded love notes and Natty Lite cans.

I do not anticipate it,
so I do not notice it.
And I do my utmost to avoid it.

Oh Lord, to whom shall we go?
How can we appreciate what we do not understand?

A semester's worth of taking the other sidewalk,
pausing at the front door on a Tuesday,
timing texting so our gazes do not meet,
dodging stilted encounters
(before breakfast is too early in the day for awkward).

Today the sun shines brightly,
I squint into it.

The thing that usually squirms inside me
rests today—
An embarrassment evaporates.

I smile, secure in a safety
I hadn't felt before.
Thinking, that this, yea, e'en this,
is purgation, is it not—

Is this what love feels like?
November grass suffused in sunlight,
stray ruby leaves clinging to the trees,
deep waters quelling deep within,
turbulence calming into stillness—

acceptance

which leads to:
Joy.
Nothing has changed,
except my hands—
clinging less to self and
more to you.

And my eyes,
which look ahead
and smile.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

optimism of the present

"Let us press onward whenever the path, however uncertain, seems to lead upward."
—Ted Hesburgh

As I drove through Hudson, Wisconsin, I passed a sign on the freeway.
America! (it said with an exuberantly sincere exclamation mark painted in blue paint) Let's gather together! Our best days are still ahead.
Immediately, I was struck by the blatant optimism of that sign, and how radical such an assertion is. Who talks that way? Who believes that the American project is not fundamentally flawed, corrupted, and careening towards disaster? Who believes that we are not on the brink of multiple crises that will destroy us from the inside if not from without? Who believes that Apple or Amazon will not take over our lives, turning us from happy, radiant individuals into mindless consumers of goods we do not really want, living in a technologically dictated society that we can only respond to, but never escape.

The underlying assumption of all of our radical partisan not-communication seems to be: well, we're pretty much all screwed, isn't that so? All narratives are a narrative of decline. Pessimism is the currently trending zeitgeist. Ironic pessimism, tragic pessimism, nihilistic pessimism, all are permissible, provide you are on board with the idea that everything good is mostly dead, and we are simply trying to scratch by in the shadows of a formerly civil society.

I thought of how nostalgia was inherently anti-Christian. Pessimism even more so. For, to the Christian, now is the acceptable time. Today is the day of salvation. God's love is here, in the present. Not yesterday, before we sinned, or two years ago, when we were more charitable, or before our hearts were broken and we were more trusting. God's love is here. And as long as the present continues, then will not that moment be the best of all possible moments, for it is a moment in which we can taste heaven?

Optimism, I suppose, is not a Pollyanna-ish belief in the sunshine of the future, but a sincere gratitude for the present, and a belief in the love that comes to greet us in each moment.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

raining days they aren't so bad

Homegrown rock to the rhythm and bop to the beat of the radio
You ain't got the slang but you got the face to play the role and
You can play with me

Monday Bud Lights and wine and cheese with dinner,
(to lighten a cold day).
Cotton candy, My-Little-Pony-colored sky,
flossing through the clouds at sunset.
I think my lover is angry.
He doesn't look at me,
but our lips meet all the same.
I am the only woman in a mass of all undergraduate men,
the priest is laughing at me.

And all the bros
Try for the courage and try for charity tight clothes
She's got a hat and all the hat says is asshole
She'll be bobbing to me

laughter in our prayers
laughing in our inability to sing, our off-key psalming
laughing at this man-boy flopped on the floor,
cruciform.
laughing as he sings Neanderthal love songs.
laughing.

Pretty hairdos and those lipstick kisses blown yeah that's the right move
Make me feel like I'm the one who moves you
The only one you see

Golden hour,
golden fields,
90 on I-90
[Wisconsin, in other words]
Blessed Be Your Name apparates on
my ancient iTunes.
Simple song of praise streams
over golden hour ground,
and hallows the sunset shine.
though there's pain in the offering.
Another bite of almost-mealy apple
and put my knee up on the door.

Take it down and don't you let those tears quench the thirsty ground
And don't you be so scared that you can't make a sound
Make a sound for me

Can Christians be in love?
is the post-lunch question posed
while we're digesting.
Crawford leaps for the answer—
which is the Charles Williams book on the shelf—
flipping to the final page, where it is clear
Dante's love for Beatrice,
a 14th century courtly love song to a T,
is also a type of Christ.
If Dante can love Beatrice,
surely we can love sundry beloveds,
because we have first been loved.
Digest that.
Surely we can love them,
surely as we drain these china coffee cups.

All of London sing
Because England swings and they sure love the tales I bring

Love's not our own invention,
just a response—
which is our creation.

Homegrown rock to the rhythm and bop to the beat of the radio
You ain't got the slang but you got the face to play the role and
You can play with me

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,
reigning 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.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

mentiras centelleante

The first time you are lied to-
the world doesn't buckle underneath you, it doesn't sink beneath the weight, 
it doesn't snap in a catastrophic crack—
it begins to shimmer slightly,
you'll recognize its light the rest of your life.

You can always catch a lie by that 
primordial glimmer glimpsed in your neighbor's eye.

Today, I saw someone lie.
First there was a question.
Then there was a pause, so minuscule you'd never notice, just the slight click of a story realigning, and then the lie.
After the lie, their face flushed slightly (I don't think anyone else noticed) and they leaned back slightly in their chair. I could feel their heartbeat quicken slightly, simply by feeling the change in their breath which moved the air currents around my body.
I reeled slightly, simply because it took me a few moments for my mind to catch up with the events as they unfolded. In an almost out-of-body sort of way, I saw my mind collect the data, and then pause to process it coherently. All the sensory information entered my brain, but then it took me several moments to process. I was a third party, so I simply bit my tongue and watched the conversation unfold, observed my mind synthesize the scene. This was not my truth to correct, so I remained, like the fool who wishes to be wise, silent. As I did so, I felt something buckle around me. It was jarring to feel the fabric of reality pucker for a second, and then continue, like a sewing machine needle catching on the fabric. The tenuous connections we build together, between us, with words, the stated reality we agree upon, seemed to tear.

I thought of a scene from one of my favorite stories as a child, Spindle's End, which is simply a re-telling of Sleeping Beauty, when the baby princess arrives in the rural village where two kindly fairies will rear her in secret (pace Disney, for that is no Brothers Grimm invention). In order to obscure her bizarre arrival (which would bound to prompt village gossip. And who has an ear for village gossip? Evil. Fricking. Fairies. Especially ones with major FOMO and can't stand not being invited to christening parties.) the elderly fairy casts a "glamour."

I think this book was written before Harry Potter, so Robin McKinley didn't realize that you're supposed to use fancy faux-Latin (authentic Latin!?) words in spells. She just calls this spell a "glamour."

Essentially, a "glamour" is a lie which descends upon the world. And an observant person (fairies bank on most human's inattentiveness) can see it. The glamour is sort of shimmery and shiny: like reality, but more, well—glamorous. As I watched the lie uncurl into the room, I felt that was what I was seeing: reality, askew. Reality altered just ever so slightly.

As I walked away, I wondered how many people lie each day without detection, and if you can really believe the tenuous concept of reality that you think you have.

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.