Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The ENTP’s Prayer

For the LORD is one who always repays,
and he will give back to you sevenfold.
But offer no bribes, these he does not accept!
Trust not in sacrifice of the fruits of extortion.
For he is a God of justice,
who knows no favorites.
—Sirach 35: 1-12

An ENTP knows how to play the system, as someone who knows how to play people like harps, pluck their strings to get what they want. An ENTP uses their intuition to feel out the cosmic design woven around them. In an ENTP’s eyes, the entire world is a Rube Goldberg machine for those who can feel out the strings, maneuver them gently, and watch the entire mechanism waterfall into motion.

An ENTP categorizes people, labels them in order to understand them. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple is the perfect literary example of an ENTP. She cracks whodunits by cracking the mysterious code of personalities. She solves mysteries by solving people. She’ll notice: Oh that sweet old lady next door is exactly like my maiden aunt’s murderous maid. Or that kind grocer exhibits the same personality quirks as my erstwhile criminal gardener. She intuits patterns and similarities between persons, and treats them accordingly.

Much like Dante, an ENTP is simply just trying to order the chaotic world into a system that appeals to their natural logic. We put the nymphomaniacs in the 2nd ring of hell and the simonizes in the 8th ring, and thus we have turned this surprising universe into something our small minds can wrap around.

Much like Dante, an ENTP’s spiritual journey is moving from our attempts to grasp the universe into simply an embrace of the mystery. We have this instinct that the universe is logical and ordered, we catch glimpses of the mechanics, we gain flashes of insight into her workings, but, ultimately, the cosmic order is a far more surprisingly complexity than we can understand.

The eschatological bent of Sirach and the Gospel from Mark today impress upon us that God is not to be approached as someone we can box in our own order of the universe. God’s ordering of the universe breaks open our systems, our maneuverings, our manipulations, and welcomes us into a reality of gift and generosity that we cannot control or even fully understand.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

spring cleaning

This morning, as I was preparing my room to be cleaned by the Walsh Hall cleaning staff, I thought of our cleaning service last year, which made us, I'm sure, the only communal volunteer program in the history of ever who employed help. It was embarrassing. I felt like a fraud each time an FJV would reminisce about the challenges of "Simple Living," but we suffered through it, while murmuring vague sympathetic noises. ("mmm yess hmmm oh yes yes oh yes such a good challenge. yeah oh uh yeah...we use a grocery delivery service?") We self-deprecatingly called it "Princess Service," shrugged helplessly, and poured ourselves another glass of bodega wine to drown our gnawing guilt over being privileged and guilt about our guilt about our ingratitude for our privilege.

The maid marines left our wood floors and our irreparably grody carpet spotless. They tucked in our beds and cleaned our showers (kind of). But they never cleaned (as I'm sure it wasn't their job) the terrifying cabinet underneath the sink, or the mice droppings that littered the floor of our pantry. They never vacuumed the horror movie wasteland underneath the couch cushions, nor did they touch the mind-numbingly dusty basement. Like I said, not their problem.

I remember one day, in a therapeutic cleaning frenzy, Joe had cleaned out all the kitchen cabinets, scrubbed them down, and organized them. They were spotless. This, I thought, is exactly the sort of cleaning this place does need. We're all adults capable of making up our beds and scrubbing our own toilets, it's this deep clean that this house needs. And once it's done, it's so much easier to maintain. Why is it so terrifying to do?

--

It's so easy to get caught up in my own system of how grace and sin work. In part, this is due to the fact that a great deal of (necessary) time is taken to learn how to see our own sins. Which is silly, isn't it? It seems that sin dogs my footsteps; I can hardly escape my incessant proclivity towards bad behavior. But the flagrantly terrible sins are not the really vicious ones. It's the deep, hidden, underlying systems of sin in my heart that manifest themselves in slight quivers of selfishness that take attentiveness to identify.

But once identified, what then? Once we have discovered our sin, now what? If we live in a constant state of scrubbing, it seems to me that something is lacking. Awareness of sin, without grace, becomes simply a psychotic paranoia.

We pray: Lord, help me to know my sins.

And we pry underneath the surface to clean underneath the cabinets, scrub below the sink. It is this cleaning that will finally vacuum up all the hidden crumbs. We will make the kitchen finally clean.

Once clean, each spot and speck becomes more obvious, each displaced and blemishing molecule will irk us. And we must, of course, scrub, sweep, and mop them up before the dirt accumulates again.

But the cleanliness that washes us, that cleans us is not a once-for-all, but a once-and-always. It was there before the dirt came, it was there, even in the midst of the mess, and it awaits us, unfailingly. Grace is not the climax, denouement, or reward. Grace is not the achievement of the hero of the story. Grace infiltrates the dirt. She preceded it, no dirt ever came to be before grace was. And she is staunchly unfailingly present, even there.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

who knows her subtleties

And with him it remains forever, and is before all time
The sand of the seashore, the drops of rain,
the days of eternity: who can number these?
--Book of Sirach

We went on a detour in class to try to understand what time the day started: sunrise? sunset? midnight? For Greco-Romans and we pagans, the day begins at midnight, but, really, our day doesn't begin until sunrise. In Judaic thought, the sunset is the start of the new day. The more you discuss time the more like a Lewis Carroll novel it means. The more you try to identify what "time of day" "3AM" counts for, the more you realize how arbitrary and capricious such a time as "3AM" is.

Time, you realize, is a particularly human construct. We set up time to perhaps fill our lives with an order that has no claim on us, but it is reflective of a time that already exists in the pattern of the day. No matter how we count time, the sun always rises and sets in an order. Time is our attempt to order and understand the inbred patterns of nature. We put the rising and setting of the sun into measured rhythms we understand. They allow us to dwell in the utter mystery of creation on autopilot. Someone has calculated the times and seasons for us, thus, we can wander through the world without wondering at it.

Our week is divided into days, our days are divided into hours, our hours into minutes, and our minutes into breathable seconds. We can grasp a second each moment and understand time only in the passing of these seconds streaming through and past us.

Our weeks build up into months, we repeat the same months each year, but we number the years differently. The years build up on each other. Our months repeat each other each year: March, May, June, they all march along, unvarying and constant (February the odd outlier who form fluctuates every four years). But we have this sense that time builds up. That we are two thousand and seventeen years older than Mariam of Nazareth was when she knelt to read her book one sunny day in a warm Galilean March. Our time cycles repeat themselves, as we see natures time continue without fail. Yet, time seems to be building up, and we call this accrued temporal weight "age."

But there isn't a goalpost or ending point. Age builds up, but to what end? We feel our lives lead towards a climax, but whatever dramatic tension builds to a breaking point is generally followed by extensive and dull anti-climax. The climax of time has its footprints in the past, but we celebrate it each Sunday, as the climax of time has washed over the endless accretion of years. Time itself has been altered by the event of Christ. Although we no longer call the years "Anno Domini" the Common Era's years still tick of the years since Incarnation. Time has been transformed.

Accordingly, we must transform time. And the liturgy of the church--the Liturgy of the Hours: matins, nones, vespers, all of them, make an instinctual, visceral sense. Each hour of the day becomes an hour to sanctify. We are living in time transformed by Resurrection, the dreary succession of moments that the world marks away in calendars and schedules and strictly ticking atomic clocks are not the time in which we are forced to live. Time, touched by the Christ event, has become a new mode of union with God. We live to turn time into a ceaseless liturgy of praise.

Monday, February 20, 2017

the saltiness of bread

Pain sits heavy in the room,
quietly, unspoken sorrow seeps into the
cushions of the chairs,
vague potential tragedy
filling out the spaces between our words.
Sadness spills through the window with
the dying sunlight, still leaking
in slatted shine through the blinds.
Just then's when I notice it's 5:58
and the sun hasn't set yet.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

in its reflected view content

Heaven is found not only in my eyes
the wonder of the universe
is stopped in the tree
in the flying plastic bag
watching in the dark library
basement American Beauty
images unclear
desires all confounded
a presence so sweet it causes no pain or confusion,
but a new vision
a totally remade view of some
cosmos, gasping, our eyes grasp
for, squinting, making out in the distance
a form of elegance and order
our bodies do not keep apace
the snow falls, but I
crumble, voice faltering
unable to live into
this vision of swirling leaves
my eye is scratched by some small smell
of sandwich, meat, or other
nauseated by elation
sick on saccharine-sweet springtime sun-soaked atmosphere.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

sweet hail for you

Keep singing, sister said,
like an abbas giving little brother monk
his cherished word.
Keep singing, she winked,
her eyes twinkled
underneath the strip of sky
that lined her sari
and lifted our eyes
far beyond the sea
green walls of the courtyard--
above Tangra,
above Kolkata,
above the JetAir-ruled
skies
to loud empyrean,
stung with star-songs
of Shanti Dan voices

Keep singing, sister said.
So I did
--wondering why--
wondering what
grand imperial,
majestic magic place
the song would lead.

It lead nowhere.

But the words kept pounding,
so I kept singing.

It lead, Virgil-like,
through dark nights,
inescapable rings
of lonely desert self
It lead to Beatrice-pink skies
enclosed in one pure chapel
of delight,
shimmering with all the radiance
of dawn, alien to Indiana February
yet knit into its shining flesh.

It lead to joy. It lead to self-doffed
harmonies, shy symphonies of gift
--loud but trembling.
It lead to prayer when other words ran dry.
It lead to healing, peace, and Ireland.
It lead to home-heart hearth burning in my breast once more
It lead me back to unadulterated child,
too full of life for inhibition,
too full of wet world wonder to be scared

Keep singing, sister said.

Sometimes you must live stories before you can write them,
so we sing,
song writing story as its sung.

Friday, February 10, 2017

8am Mass at Stinson-Remick

Baby face in front of me
mirrors our hosannas
singing on the lips of
mothers, cradling her child,
suspended by nothing more
than love from her thin
post-partum frame.
The face of the father,
so young in class,
is gaunt and old with that foggy
tired of the mornings,
exhaustion rendering
him a new majesty.

Fr. Heppen tells stories about his sister,
who became a mother,
not bearing babies
like she who smiles back at me,
but carrying souls like himself,
holy sister for priest souls,
like himself,
who walks with a cane,
his voice a rasp-worn
wraith of smoke and lung,
choking slightly,
on the memory of a holy sister,
rendered in incense and homily.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

morning storms

Thunder quickly follows pink snake-snap of lightning
sharp electric swords cut from rose dawn
shirring clouds of grey morning gloom
rain drops pound into showers, beating down each
cutout bank of smog pea soup fog.
Lightning rills again, thunder booms--
closer this time,
nearly on the lightning's heels.
the lines fork just above my head
I run, past trees, through lush succession of shower drops
I hunch, crouched, crunched by the electric force
huddled by the fence, rabbit-like,
cowering in the vast maw of field and sky
by pine tree, electric line, improv lightning rods,
counting Aves between lighting lash and thunder crash
as rain soaks through my shirt, hair, and eyes.