Monday, January 29, 2018

Graduate Student's Prayer

May I go to bed having learned at least one thing I didn’t know in the morning.
May my attempts to speak clearly be corrected by others, and
May my class contributions be met with challenge and clarification and never blind approbation.
May I simply wake up today a little less stupid than I was yesterday.


Friday, January 26, 2018

why are you terrified?

Do you not yet have faith?

For those who love God more than their sin,
said someone wise,
the day of judgement is not to be feared,
but hoped for.
On that day, we will finally (with great relief)
see ourselves as we are.
Grander and brighter,
glorious and shining,
smudgier than we can picture,
and brighter than we even dare dream.

Eating ice cream on the harbor walk at Tiberias,
the lake slash sea of Galilee is remarkably calm.
Remembering its warmth
highlights "in high relief"
the chilliness of my bones.

This morning,
as I was building castles-in-the-air
(it's such cheap real estate!)
counting chickens before
I'd even found some eggs
a couraging thread of continuity
appeared, a knowledge:
this will always be my life:

trying to
live a life that's less shameful than the day before
says Mary Karr, as I knead bread,
sweet dough pliable underneath the heel of my hand
which moves with surety approaching instinct.
As I move the dough in time
to these silky womens' voices,
I shift through the fruits of each day,
examining each stalk and fruit and chaff,
examen-ing my actions and questioning:
was that kind?
Am I living truth in love?
Where was God in that?
Learning to love God more than my sin.

The place may be Tiberias, hot afternoon sun baking the basalt,
it may be New York, running through the smudgy crowds of people
it may be South Bend, finding adventure in the heartland
the healing heat of kneading bread under the heel of my hand,
It may be the middle of a fierce storm in that windy lake,
in the midst of which I cry:
oh ye of little faith

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

a meeting point

Lightning flashes
before the sun is even awake.
It's a premature flash of dawn
early in the day.

A fly lands on my hair—
aren't insects supposed to be dead in January?—
cold weather's for freezing out the pests.
I smash him in between the sheets of black and white,
and discover him later,
blood gluing his corpse to my book.

Extend grace to each other.
I did,
I respond.
But grace doesn't have an expiration date.

We're in the belly of a giant,
his central heating rumbling,
resolving in a fart
of steam,
Causing more than one student in this seminar
to suppress a smile.

I am sitting next to a princess,
disguised as a peasant,
her large hands, unkempt nails,
used to doing hard work
or scrubbing. Just lots of scrubbing
for the fools who mistake her for ordinary.
But her face is untouched by labor.

Rain has washed the snow away,
I can see a chilly cocktail of
snowflakes and raindrops
shifting in the tacking wind.

It's a simple definition:
grace is mercy, and mercy, grace.
Both: unmerited, unearned,
but responsible for bringing us back
to ourselves,
by drawing us out of ourselves.

Monday, January 22, 2018

new wineskins

As I was wandering through Tel Aviv, with Carol, my friend's mother, and a revolutionary feminist, I was in search of a new ring. Knowing I needed some emblem of the fresh chapter I was opening.

We wandered up and down the shuk in the old city of Yaffo, examining different displays of jewelry, shop owners bantering with both of us. Carol dished ripostes right back at them, I smirked quietly and knowingly, Carol covering for my vulnerable status as a gullible foreigner by doing all the speaking, and translating her wit into English in response to my whispered What did he say?s as we walked away from the booth.

As you comb through markets, you begin to recognize consistently mass-produced pieces. There are always the same five mezuzahs, or the same three amulets against the evil eye, the same rings also filled the jewelry counters.


I am in the Duncan Student Center and I am shocked by how different it feels. But it is a blessing to be in a space that is fresh and new, that contains no memories, except ones of now. On a campus which can feel somewhat haunted and burdened by so many memories from many old chapters of life, it's delightful and refreshing to find somewhere actually New.

I do not make the official ribbon-cutting ceremony, but I bless it with benedictions of my own. A friend buys me coffee, and we find, Goldilocks-like, the exact right chairs to sit and study in in the graduate student lounge, basking in the abundant sunlight from the ample windows. These ordinary blessings are just as much ritual as when five of us stand in candlelight, and sprinkle salt with simple prayers in my apartment in the post-party calm lit by the Netflix fire-log, a belated house-blessing that consecrates an apartment already bursting with memories.

I begrudgingly admit this new student union is actually a crossroads, as it brings me conveniently in contact with friends whose own spheres are far from the theology building, yet surprisingly close to here. We comment on the architecture, we let the feeling of a new space and a new semester seep into our posture and our conversation. With the suddenness of stop signs in the fog, something new's begun.


At the very end of the market day, after a disappointing but not pathetic lose in a game of chess, Carol and I stumble upon the very street she had been intending to show me all along: the street of artisans. In contrast to the mass-produced bric-a-brac of the shuk, here is a street full of intricate, sturdily-made hand crafts. The sun is beginning to wane, the fresh blue of the Mediterranean sky fading into crepuscular periwinkle. As the artisans roll up their wares, and take down their stands, we find a stand full of elegantly designed glass jewelry.

When you find the Right Thing, it tends to leap out at you all at once. Sometimes, it takes you a while to catch up to it, you have to weigh it in your hand, grow used to it's appearance on your finger, adjust your eyes to its unique look. But when you find the Right Thing (or at least the Right Ring), I think you perceive it before you know it. This is an argument from aesthetics, based solely on an unarticulated idea of "fittingness," but most of the most convincing arguments I have found rest at least part of their weight on the phrase: "isn't it fitting?"

Upon consulting her chart, she informs me: This color represents new beginnings, sealing my instinctual attachment to the piece. Thus, once its maker twists it slightly so that it slips snugly onto my finger, the ring both is fitting and fits.
I stare at the ring on my finger all evening, like a newly engaged woman, entranced by the ring, but more so what the ring represents: something new beginning, a promise of a change still in the future, but drawing closer, and a determined step forward towards someone and something concrete, a permanent form of the future that molds us to itself and bursts open our previous images of our self.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

all the way to heaven

"'Mama,' he answered her, 'do not weep, life is paradise and we are all in paradise, but we do not want to know it, and if we did want to know it, tomorrow there would be paradise the world over.'"
The Brothers Karamazov, Book VI, Chapter 2.

As I sat among strips of paper containing wisdom, laughter, and love: I thought: this is heaven. It is heaven to be surrounded by tangible reminders of relationship and belonging. One small strip offered a quote—which I now cannot remember verbatim—but said something along the lines of how having a complete life means to allowing ourselves to acknowledge our own incompleteness.

As I ran through the snow, pondering the people on my heart today, it struck me, as it has many times before, but this time with emphasized force, that Christ did not come to offer life in abundance in some post-mortem future, but to offer us abundant life here and now. What is abundant life? I wondered what it means to live life "abundantly," and it occurs to me, as I run through a quiet, frozen morning, that it means to live heaven on earth. On this snowy run, it seems possible that heaven is right now.

Certainly, yes, we will still suffer affliction. We will wrestle with broken relationships we cannot reconcile, we will make many mistakes, those we love will still hurt us, we will find ourselves incapable of finding the right words, we will close ourselves off to peace many times over, or choose our own selfish will over grace, we will not let perfect love cast out our fear of stepping outside ourselves. We will continue for years to try to learn how to love a friend, each season bringing new challenges, the elusive goal of stasis slipping out of our hands like a live salmon. We will make the same stupid mistakes repeatedly, stumbling towards living as the person we were called to be. We will discover fresh insecurities, tightly embedded vices, sordid, suffocating habits to wrestle with, the deeper we dig in our hearts. We (I) will constantly repent of rash, impulsive decisions, and continue to make them. I will trust someone with myself and be met with misunderstanding or contempt. I will struggle to understand boundaries, privacy, or how to handle myself with composure in public.

In short, life is still that teeming, chaotic dance named life. It's still messy, full of sin, bumps-n-bruises, and the (painfully) slow, spiraling growth of learning. I imagine that part of this business of heaven-on-earth, of the-End-of-All-Things-here-in-our-midst-on-earth is acknowledging that something is present here which we are already a part of, yet not fully enveloped in.

But the kingdom of heaven is close at hand, not far off. The rumblings of heaven are already rustling beneath the shifting sands of our daily life. The seedlings of heaven are already sprouting underneath the snow. The more I run through the perfect sunshine glistening off the smooth, fresh snow, each time I contemplate kind words exchanged between true friends, trying to love each other more than self, I am convinced that the radiant material which makes up the burning core of our lives is the same exact substance which makes up eternal joy. 

God offers God's own self to us, we enter into relationship (imperfectly, oh so imperfectly) with the saints who surround us, and we can, for a moment choose to live with that complete, sacred obeisance towards the other, in such a way that we catch a glimpse of the one eternal moment in which God is all-in-all.

Friday, January 19, 2018

disclaimer: this is not eucharistic theology

“Doesn’t that hurt?” asked the child. He was referring to God's trick of disguising himself in the outward appearance of bread, which his mother had explained to him. Doesn't it hurt Jesus to constrict himself to a small circle of bread?
His question witnesses to an effortless, oceanic faith in a mustard-seed-sized human. The real honesty of his question is bound up in its pathos. His question is not the question of Mary: how can this be? Nor is it the question of Zechariah: How will I know that this is so? How is this possible? Nor does his belong to medieval philosophers: Are both the species and the substances transformed?
The child's first question is not epistemological but empathetic. His first concern is not technical, but personal. Such is the power of a child’s imagination, which accepts trustingly, and conducts its inquiries with such honesty. Such is the power of an imagination and a faith which can so sanguinely accept the “if” and confidently step into the “then.”

Doesn’t that hurt?—to contain oneself in the small molecules of wheat and wine?
He sees through to the strange truth of the familiar ritual so clearly, and asks the question no adults have the answer to. He is willing to accept the truth so completely, that he allows the mystery a deep reality beyond playing pretend.
Who can say whether the Eucharistic Lord is in pain? And what adult could comfort this child, by daring to claim he is not? If there’s anything we know about Incarnation, it is certainly that it brought its subject pain. The title we give him: “the man born to die” points directly to that suffering which is at the heart of his identity. Isn't the cross is at the center of Incarnation? And cruciform paschal offering is surely at the heart of the Eucharistic feast.

But so is resurrection.
The pain of self-gift of the cross is not complete without the glory of resurrection.
But doesn't resurrection hurt as well?
Christ's wounds still puncture his hands, feet, and side, even on the brighter side of the grave.
Doesn't that hurt? I wonder.

The answer, of course, is that love always hurts, which is why fear is always the easier option. But the growing plant has no option but either to weather the elements or die. Nature demonstrates so clearly to us, her wayward and stubborn constituents, that our only other alternative to growth is rot.
It might seem that the greatest pain is the nails in your palm and the most suffocating casket is the small round wafer. Perhaps, without love, they would be. Perhaps, without love, the marks in his side would be eternal torture, and his residence in unleavened bread would be punishingly painful. Why then, would some one submit themselves to wounds which will not heal and crush themselves into bread to feed unworthy hearts and stomachs? Doesn't that hurt?

No answer, of course, but the cross, which speaks its eloquence in silence.
No answer but the bread that fills my hands and tongue.
To be loved in such a way shakes my soul (my hands shake too). Derrida would say that there is no genuine gift possible in relationship. But perhaps there does exist a gratitude beyond obligation to the Other—which one could call love.
The sort of love I catch in glimpses, and myself incarnate half-heartedly, caught in the crosshairs flowering and rot.
A gratuitous, wholly gracious love, which can turn a prison of bread into gift.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

power play

The skeptic has a sexy role—
"the sexiness comes with the power"—

but where's the fun in that?

In the game of "what can we know?"
they're the player who has the Ore Port,
who drops the Queen of Spades,
who breaks hearts,
calls your bluff.

"how can we know for certain"
is the trump card,
punctuating a too-positive statement
with:
we cannot know "for sure."

They curtail the uncouth cataphatic
with educated guesses,
and measured conjectures,
forcing history into hypothesis,
undercutting the real with putative.

Skepticism is sustainable,
marketable, a symptom which can lead to tenure.
She who stakes a claim will
most likely be forced to lift those pickets
in a few years,
and chart new limits of her homestead boundaries
which are always shifting,
in this community of exploration.
Knowledge is not a stable entity,
but always growing and destabilizing.

She sees the structure is made of Jenga blocks—being poked out from the structure one-by-one—and comprehends this building knowledge is a business designed for scapegoats. There will always be an unfortunate academic who chooses the wrong block, and causes the structure to collapse. The skeptic steps outside the game—above it—looking down on it, having decided she will not be bamboozled by these other fools. She sees the shifting sands of consensus, and she will not be caught up in their sandstorm.

But where's the fun in that?

Bolder, rather, are the pioneers that put down sod, that till one particular soil, that build something concrete, strong and lovely. That build their house on rock, trusting the foundation's strong, even if the edifice needs constant upkeep. Neighborhoods are not built by nomads. Community can begin once one brave Benedict says: I think we will live here. Learning does not happen with skeptics too smart to be bamboozled. Learning begins with a small simple square of blocks, inaugurating the game of Jenga, where each small block is pulled out from underneath us, and built up into a new creation. It's a risky undertaking, which may result in total collapse of the tower.

But stepping into the game sure beats the sidelines.

Monday, January 15, 2018

well, said Sam

Something in my room smells like the Tantur hallway by the kitchen, which smells a little bit like zataar, slightly like olives, and a little bit like nursing home. Maybe it's something baked into the '60s architecture. It's the scent which I imagine most of the that decade smelling like. It's not exactly an entirely pleasant aroma, especially when you have a cold or a queasy stomach. It is, however, inarguably homey.

Perhaps it has permeated into my clothing, or it's airing out of my suitcases. Perhaps it's lingering in my bag, or books, or in my olfactory cavity, but every time I open my door, I walk into a wave of Tantur-kitchen-smell. In the thick of new beginnings, this loitering scent is a lingering comfort, a reminder of a places that calls me home.

As I write this, snow is falling in lush, lacy clumps onto Bond Quad. One of the gifts of this room is discovering I can still see new things on an old, familiar campus. In December, the first time I saw Bond Quad in the snowfall, I stared out my window for a whole five minutes, transfixed by a familiar place blanketed in an entirely new perspective. It's equally as mesmerizing now, as the wind rushes snowflakes past my window in swoops and flurries. Watching snowfall cover the symmetrical, neat sidewalks of Bond Quad is a sight which calls me home.

I don't know what I mean by that, other than these sights—snowfall—or these scents—a familiar kitchen—speak directly to me from the very moment I encounter them. They speak to a genuine pit of identity deep in my heart. There's an effortless recognition of what they are and what I am, together.

Which, I think, home is. An effortless recognition—certainly not an uncomplicated encounter. Recognition is generally a fraught endeavor. But the meant-ness of home is something that can't be manufactured. To find an inexplicable comfort in seemingly meaningless moments such as snowfall or the smell of overcooked potatoes is the quality of home.

When we find this quality in another human, we call them friend.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

peregrinations

As I sped down Eastbound I-80, into the all-too-typical pockets of semi-whiteout due to lake-effect snow, I thought of all the movement and location that had filled the time since I had sped the other direction on the Westbound lanes.

Ten (10) airplane flights [three of them unplanned], two tow trucks, one rental car, only four taxis (moral victory!), too many subways, light-rails, and buses to count. (My favorite bus adventure being when I got on the wrong bus on Hebron, encouraged by the woman who assured me it was going to Yerushalem [which it did, but it took its sweet time getting there] with a dying phone, at dusk. And you're on a bus that may or may not be going to Jerusalem on a highway which your tour guide had helpfully informed you a man had been shot on the shoulder of last week, you are maybe more than a little anxious about the route of said bus, and the setting sun and dead phone do not help to relieve that anxiety.])

There were several moments (specifically between tow trucks one and two) when it seemed as though I would never make it back to those Eastbound lanes of I-80.

But, here I am, winding my way back. The familiar fields lining the freeway shifting into focus, as my new eyes learn to see them again.

No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. If he does, its fullness pulls away, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. (Mk 2:21)

As I get settled into my sweet little apartment, I feel a bit like that new, unshrunken cloth. What I love about these series of images in Mark's Gospel is that they contain both our human instinct to fall back into the old molds, and also the undeniable reality of grace which severs us from the past. As an unshrunken cloth, I have often found myself tempted to cling to an old, comfortable cloak. Old clothes are broken in, they're familiar, they're easy to slip on without thinking twice about it. New clothes hang strangely on our frame, they itch slightly, reminding us of their presence.
I also have a terrible habit of putting back on the same clothes after a shower, which somewhat defeats the purpose of a shower. But if you've gone through all the trouble of finding an outfit, it's too much effort to find another one.

A psychological view of a human being can be depressing, because it mostly images a person in a series of patterns. Our identities are composed of various factors, our habits are simply our outputs of he various inputs of our environments, our parents, our pasts. Sometimes, it seems like we're stuck sewing ourselves back into the same old cloaks, slipping back into the same outfit. Change, which used to be the order of our childhood lives, is startlingly difficult to choose over complacency.

Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins. (Mk 2:22)

As I read this, sitting on my chaise in the blissful silence of a peaceful, snowy January dawn, I remember that this gospel passage is in the lectionary, serendipitously, as each new calendar year arrives. A year ago, I remember reading this on the big, billowing bed of my grandmother's guest bedroom last year, and how very new I felt then. Today, sipping chocolate mint tea on the chaise, I barely recognize the young woman just one year my junior, as she has been ground underfoot into a fresh new vintage.

I do not want to pour this sweet new wine, fermented by all the travel, the love, the heartbreak, pain and beauty of a year of living to be poured back into old skins. I do not want her contained by the suffocating limits of tired habits. As I read the passage, I see not just a warning, but a promise. The glorious inevitability of grace permeates these images Christ offers: even though we are so foolish as to try to push ourselves back into old boxes, fall back into old habits, the transformation of grace makes this impossible. The wine will burst the skins; the brittle old cloth will rip.

In that case, there is balm in Gilead. Rippling off the pages of my fat little lectionary, in waves of consolation, comes the promise that grace can remold us, transform us, offer our plagued and patterned psyches new habits of being.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

polyplaneted monoglots

I'm a simple girl,
one wandering star suffices me.

Commit to living on this blue-green planet,
and you have strapped yourself on
a train bound for ultimate disaster,
speeding towards destruction at the pace of
five hundred eighty-four million miles per year.

Response to unavoidable impending doom
is twofold:
first: anxiously seek an escape hatch,
reach for the emergency break—
know where your nearest exit is before the film begins
before the airplane takes off into flight
before you fall in love—
keeping in mind
the nearest exit may be behind you,
behind a wall of flaming film,
an asteriod collision,
a broken heart.

Second: find somewhere like a stylite—
and stay.
Find the world open up at my fingertips,
bending to embrace one singular plot of land,
putting roots down,
Benedict-like, in its sweet soil.

Friday, January 12, 2018

journey to the thin places

Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.
—Deuteronomy 30:11-14

As I walk up the familiar hill of East 90th Street, I pass a stream of mourners slowly processing into a funeral at Our Lady of Good Counsel. Men in black coats unpack wreaths of flowers from the hearse, a man in Notre Dame apparel stands at attention, his arm around a shorter woman. A bagpiper plays a dirge that causes me to wonder what life would be like three hundred years ago in the Scottish Highlands, like I used to read about in Little House in the Highlands, Melissa Wiley’s book series about Laura Ingnalls Wilder's great-grandmother. I bet it was simpler, I thought, forgetting that human beings have a habit of complicating any era they inhabit.

I figured the three-hundred-years-ago-Scottish-highland version of myself would already be married to a melatonin-deficient Scottish man and probably have a sizeable gaggle of blue-eyed, skin-cancer-prone children. And I wonder if that would be stifling or stabilizing? The bagpiper doesn't answer such specious questions, but continues to offer a properly melancholy salute to the sacred event of death irrupting the blissful veneer of immortality laminating my callow twenty-something life.

[I figured that, given we would never venture below 54 degrees North, my hypothetical children would have never be exposed to the UVA rays that would give them cancer. Indeed, whatever complications our Scottish ancestors were encountering or creating for themselves, it appears that skin cancer was not a primary one.]

The construction men fixing something in the sewer, the curb, or the pavement look up at the procession, and watch the coffin pass into the church. A woman in yoga pants and her husband/boyfriend/partner, dutifully holding the umbrella above them, stops in front of me. I brush past both them and the man walking towards me, wearing a bucket hat and tattered olive green jacket, with the cart full of plastic bags comes to a standstill, frozen by the bagpipe music. All are united by a liturgical sidewalk moment, encountering the thinness of life that death demonstrates.

For one moment, a split second that sounds like a chord from Patrick Doyle’s soundtrack to Henry V, that sounds like the crunch of dissonance in Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium, that sounds like the Resurrection music at the end of Jesus of Montreal, each of them was Christ. For one moment, this small side street in Manhattan became Jerusalem, and the feet of God incarnate walked the cement dirtied from the winter rain. This insignificant street on the Upper East Side is as holy as Galilee. Each face a sacrament of Christ as much, if not more than, the grand darkness in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the warm glow of the Grotto of the Nativity.

Travel to the Holy Land, I imagine, is only worthwhile if one brings the Holy Land back with you. One recognizes the fish in the Sea of Galilee are ordinary fish, and if they are holy, so are the least of these. The command enjoined on us really is not beyond the sea, or in some distant place. Rather, the God we cannot see is right here, in the face of our neighbor. The command to love that God is right here in front of us, in the command to love the brother and sister we can see, right here on the sidewalk. What a curious collection of Christs are here on the pavement. The swelling-string sensation of the moment passes, but the face of Christ does not. Christ remains, unfading. Continuing to challenge me to the command I daily fall short of: to love the God I cannot see in each unexpected face of Christ I can.

We're a fumbling, clumsy, bumbling crew of worshipers at mass in the glamorous Cathedral. A man bumps into a small girl behind him in communion line, I collide with a woman merging lanes, the priest fumbles through a whispered, misunderstood request from a confused communicant. I wonder if this is more nearly what heaven is like: a bit more homespun and honest an affair than gilded angels with trumpets and spotless clouds of white. If Jesus keeps his scars, perhaps we keep our clumsiness, even in our endless alleluias of Dantean praise. Or are our klutzy attempts at worship smoothed into something more graceful and elegant? Do we keep our sincere and silly humanness, even in eternity? I wonder this, as I repeat again, echoing the congregation's chant: I am not worthy. Will there ever be a time I cease to invoke that prayer? When the Word does heal us of unworthiness, once-and-for-all, finally—eternally? Or is eternity a joyful offering of acknowledging my own unworthiness? Is heaven the process of being made worthy, eternally, by the blood of the lamb I drink? Perhaps "heaven" is a word that indicates something more mysterious, beyond the painful becoming of made worthy, a glorious, ultimate sharing in the final being of worthiness.

As I gaze around at the procession of people in  communion line, I wonder what power it is which makes us strange and sinful people "church." The answer appears in the food we eat, bread which has transfigured each of us into the carrier of God become man become bread. By the transitive property, theosis.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

les liaisons autobuses

What on earth is a crosstown bus doing in Midtown? Jack asks, and he certainly has a point. But East-Siders don't have the luxury of turning up our noses at a bus that lacks the decency to cross town through Central Park. The bus speeds by the still-Christmas-decorated Rockefeller Center, and I shift uncomfortably, well-aware of the garish indelicacy of such a route.

I've already maxed-out my one-cab quota for the trip, so I really have no other option, which the crosstown bus knows as it approaches, smugly chugging across the intersection.

I slink back onto the M50 crosstown bus with the reluctant moral rectitude of a woman who has tasted the electricity of another man's lips but slips under the covers next to her more consistent lover, thinking to herself: well this is right and just, but remembering her more inspiring venture with the wistfulness which intensifies desire.

Look, says the M50, how reliable I am, showing up exactly as the timetable dictates. What better partner could you ask for? I remember the erratic arrival of Arab buses, showing up in the cold, late; or in the rain, earlier than expected; or in the sunshine, exactly as predicted. Such whimsical, insouciant arrival which should signal radical disregard for my convenience, should, indeed, breed resentment, in retrospect simply seems honest. What sort of boor argues his desirability based solely on his dependability? I grumble silently to the antiseptic blue seats which surround me, remembering the thrill of early arrival, the leaden thud of betrayal as the full bus speeds by without a flicker of interest in your outstretched hand, beseeching it to stop.

I don't know what you want! cries the M50, stopping (of all places) by the Lotte New York Palace. I don't respond, looking out the window at Saks 5th Avenue, my lips curled into the mournful smile that is a woman's universal signal for: you just wouldn't understand. I may be riding the MTA, but my imagination fixes its wandering eye upon Egged buses, completely despicable aesthetic mixtures of Italian buses and the Boston T, and filled with more machine-gun-toting soldiers in a day than either of the aforementioned has seen in their lifetime. What I wouldn't give to be holding onto one of the hand straps in an overly-crowded Egged at rush hour rather than drowning in this cornucopia of empty seats and ample elbow room.

It's hard to explain to someone we once loved why we no longer love them. Or that we still love them, in a certain way, but that we've found someone else a bit more dashing, more charming, who understands the thrill of the chase, the electric back-and-forth of the will-she-won't-he, and whose timetable is never dictated by some central authority, but authentically derives from their own internal timepiece. I would rather, I try to explain to the M50, as he huffs towards the 6 train, ride a bus who is consistently late, but tries to be on time, than a bus who demands passengers, because he feels it owed to him, as a reward for his punctuality. It's not that I don't appreciate his efforts, it's just that I've found something different, and I think that works better for me and what I need.

Something more real, something more wild, something that speaks to the very heart of me. As the white bus roars up to the ersatz stop, unmarked by any signage, my heart races a little faster, as the thrill runs through me, too tentative to be formulated in any statement stronger than interrogative:
you stopped for me?

Instead of a Metrocard inserted into a soulless slot, I drop living coins into the pulsing hand of a bus driver, and he either soundlessly grunts in appreciation at the correct change, or slides a few shekels out of his coin machine to hand me with my receipt for 4.70 exactly. And I take an empty seat next to a female rider, feeling like I've actually been greeted, welcomed, that my presence is exciting, not exacted.

Sometimes, I have to hound the Egged driver for a receipt, and he points me to the collection of extra slips in the tray below the fare machine, reminding me of my status as a rider with out a RavKav card. I know these are silly power games, and I roll my eyes each time. But how charming, I think, as the old routine is never tired, but has the fresh immaturity of snowball-throwing flirtation.

How can I be something I'm not! cries the poor M50. There's a strained silence, as I arise to depart through the back doors, which aren't opening.
I don't really have a response, because the issue he's raising is not really The Point.
"Give them a push," commands the driver.
So I do. I exit, without another word, thinking that I really don't owe an explanation to a bus who hasn't even merited a crosstown route above 59th street. (Which isn't his fault necessarily. It's a fact he can't help. But. Still.)

Public transportation is best enjoyed, I figure, reflecting on the experience, on its own terms, and loses some of its luster when comparing one infrastructure to another.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

second law of anthrodynamics

Stranger: shorthand for simplicity,
relationship with an Other untouched by entropy,
Crisp, clean boundary lines demarcate your life from mine,
ne'er the twain meeting,
except in cursory morning greetings
at checkout counters,
pedestrian courtesies on public transportation,
shared smiles at bad behaviors
of Russian mothers in airports.

Glib flirting or facile rapport:
dangerous slopes slipping into more.
Once the yolk is broken, the porous
wall between my life and yours,
breached,
suddenly [adv., "without much warning"]
without signal from the penguins,
simple polar ice of strangers thawing
into messy oceans of
familiarity.
Small archipelagos of affinity
building [something like] a bridge
between our coasts,
tangling two threads further.

Elbows glance against each other,
flint and tinder sparking,
our similar poles repelling
my body apart from yours.
Our slight adjustments laden with too much story,
un-static electricity
running through simple actions,
transforms each brush into a signifier,
story-maker,
actions' simplicity robbed by sacrament.

Cinnamon swirled into oatmeal,
sugar dissolved into tea,
poem you began, ended by—

confused, changeable, indivisible—
Chalcedon does not apply.
Overwhelmed by signal, I
am inundated by sign,
the effortless innocence of "stranger"
painted in rose-tones by me,
[by me]
unencumbered by entropy.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

psalm 27, bus edition

One thing I asked of the Lord,
This only will I seek after:
One thing I asked of my God,
Oh this my only desire:
That I might stay on this bus
Souped up with Real Madrid banners
Stuffed figurines of Smurfs and Popeye, Spongebob and Mickey
all the days of my life.
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
In the warbling Arabic voices on the radio,
singing the mid-morning sun into shining,
as he picks up steam
actually beginning to get serious about this business of warming up the world.


[The first aid kit has a red Star of David on it
Ohhhh like a Red Cross
Sometimes I’m a little slow to the game.]

May I remain on this bus all the days of my life,
On this dreadfully patterned blue seat,
I will pitch my tent, here, where I know I belong:
near whatever woman with a vacant seat beside her,
Modestly crossing my legs
underneath the frayed upholstery of the seat,
Sporting red lipstick,
an understated stab at
face paint half as glamorous as my seatmate’s under her hijab.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

And yet you are

"You didn't have to be this good to us," prayed Nicholas Ayo, CSC once, while looking at a tree. His words have become a favorite prayer of mine, repeated often.

It pounded through my head as I ran up the steps—there are so many steps—leading up to the Church of the Visitation. Google Maps and my own optimism have led me to dramatically under-estimate the amount of time it will take me to reach this lovely little Crusader Church on the outskirts of Jerusalem, so I am woefully late-to-mass, a habit which is true-to-form, but one I'd like to break. It's 3:15pm, and the sun is hitting the hill country of Judea, gilding the trees with golden hour light. I run past the streams of pilgrims descending from the church, and am greeted by the lovely pavement, with colored stones that spell "MAGNIFICAT."

I run through the courtyard, through another set of stairs, winding through a lovely garden, into the upper church. I hear the seminarians singing mass before I see them. I have arrived post-homily, but just in time. I slip into a pew next to my friend Sam. We grin, as I imagine Mary and Elizabeth must have, too, upon their meeting. I wonder if Mary ran, breathless, the last final yards to Elizabeth. Maybe she did, but maybe she didn't, as a newly expectant mother, overly solicitous for the health of fragile new life inside her.

Two days before, I met Sam at the Jaffa Gate leading into the Old City in a terrible rainstorm, fresh off the Mediterranean that battered Jerusalem. The wind whistled through buildings with an eerie melody, rattled windows, and battered at shutters. It was as though the wind which whips through the Judean desert had escaped and let loose into the city. Rain fell nearly horizontal, soaking my pants before I'd even gotten to my bus stop. They were the first casualty, followed by the umbrella, which was ripped inside out by a giant gust, moments before the bus arrived to rescue me.

Sam, however, was not interested in seeking shelter from the rain at once, but suggested we explore the Old City in search of a gift for a friend. I tried prevent the horror that filled my heart from showing on my face, but I feel I was not successful. As we set off down King David Street, the rain subsided, which again, caused my heart to say: You didn't have to be this good to us.

The storm picked up steam again as we approached Tantur, and as we alighted from the bus, we entered a torrential downpour. We ran up the winding driveway, laughing. Then warmed ourselves in front of Tantur's precious space heaters, which are few and far between.

As I sat in the Bethlehem room with Sam later, sipping tea and eating the juicy, sweet dates which I can never get enough of, the sheer contingent unnecessary dispensability of the moment hit me. I would never have asked for this specific vision, but of course it is everything I wish for in life: sitting with a true friend of the heart in a place I love dearly eating simple, beautiful food. To find my general vision incarnated in such an exquisite, particular moment is enchanting, en-rapturing. Augustine says: "How could any description to justice to all these blessings? Think of the abundant supply of food everywhere to satisfy our hunger, the variety of flavors to suit our pampered taste, lavishly distributed by the riches of nature, not produced by the skill and labour of cooks! Think, too, of all the resources for the preservation of health, or for its restoration, the welcome alternation of day and night, the soothing coolness of the breeze." (City of God, XXII, 24)
It's the details that break your heart with their gratuitousness. How great thou truly art, oh God, to think of the precise and glorious relief of a slight breeze, which simply never would have occurred to me. The intricacies of creation witness to the superabundant love of a God who slumbers not, but who has fashioned for us the comfort of a full night's sleep.

You didn't have to be this good to us, I pray, basking the blessed warmth of the Tantur space heater, admiring the snaps of lightning cracking through the shuttering trees outside the window, and yet each day, sweet God, you are.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

troubling the waters

No one here but us magpies—one flies overhead—
looking for some shiny thing.
Yellow gorse scrubby flowers bloom next to me: I stand among the sweet straw, which has been filling the air with its warm, amber-hued perfume ever since I arrived.
I want to see the stars out here.
An angel has troubled these waters.

Inside me I reach for something deep as this pool—
A cistern full, creative, bursting,
Gushing with life—feels like it is bursting open.
Standing in the corner of stones twice the weight of me,
tucked in the shade of when the land was lower feels like diving down—memory is a geological descent, a literal excavation—and then to return, to bring the depths to the surface.
An angel once troubled these waters.

Outside me, in the sun, in the wind:
I find it.
It is wild.
I find it, and it doesn’t answer any questions.
It is wild.
“It” is an endless ring of questions:
How do we preserve things?
Stories are made in the present, by moving forward, not looking back.
But if we do not look back, to see where we came from, how will we ever know where to go?
Living in the present means both thinking in a line, which extends both to the past and the future.
What is time here, in this land which time has not spared?
2000 years of garbage have covered up the ground where Jesus walked, a sacrament of 2000 years of human living.

Questions spiral into an endless horizon, until the horizon contracts at the center.
The core of the earth is the cosmos distilled into a single punto,
an an angel troubling the waters.

All the answers dissolve into questions.
The answer is in its presence. It is there.
The cats wander around my legs, around the ruins
Two nuns with bright white and red habits join me in the subterranean maze of crumbling stones
Lavender of an unknown provenance fills the air with bright and warm scents.
Olive trees smell like crushed spices, and ancient waters, troubled by angels.
In the midst of refuse,
of questions, of crowds and chaos,
we seek that one authentic, shiny thing.
The rest is but straw,
which fills the ruins behind Saint Anne’s with amber-colored sweetness,
infused with the incense of sunshine on the chilly Mediterranean May morning.

Monday, January 1, 2018

unexpected new year

I am sitting in my favorite room in Tantur, the second floor reading room, which, unlike the rest of the building, bears no sign of Christmastime, the rest of the complex being liberally decked out in Christmas lights.

Outside the large sliding glass doors, I can see Bethlehem and Beit Jala rolling over the hills of Judea. Calling them the hills of Judea sounds grandiose, like they belong on a frontispiece of a King James Bible. But they are the hills of Judea. Slowly, a diaphanous shroud of raincloud descends upon them.
The glass sliding doors shudder in the wind. The trees outside shake in the oncoming storm, and the whole building moans and howls slightly as the wind whips across this little hill.

I haven’t seen it rain in Jerusalem yet, and the sight is slightly melancholy, yet emphasizes the coziness of the room, where I sip Echinacea tea (trying to recover from the cold contracted through five days of traveling in below-freezing temperatures without the proper shoes), listen to Iron and Wine, and read Joseph Pieper on the Four Cardinal Virtues.

As the landscape outside fades into one misty, rainy cloud of fog, Joseph Pieper is beginning to sell me on the concept of prudence. Prudence is a virtue which lacks sex appeal. Certainly, the commonly accepted portrait (or caricature) of this virtue as measuredly approaching each situation with a cool head lacks pizzazz and zest. As someone who generally approaches situations with a hot heart, that picture of prudence is not naturally appealing. Yet, Pieper writes, that prudence means that “the objective cognition of reality shall determine action; that the truth of real things shall become determinative.”

That the truth of real things shall become determinative.

Now that sounds like a virtue I can get behind. Truth of real things sounds like the dearest freshness of deep down things which sings the grandeur of God. Why would I ever want to resist the truth of real things determining the course of my actions, of my narrative or my reality?

I wonder if the reason we resist this virtue is because we believe that the real things are not beautiful enough, that the truth is sordid, that somehow we have to construct a reality ourselves for ourselves that covers up our honest selves. Perhaps we think that reality will disappoint, that the truth we receive will not be good enough, thus we make our own desires determinative of reality.

But it seems to me, right now, sitting on this very cozy couch, in a very cold room (Tantur is cold in the winter. Jerusalem is cold in the winter. I was not prepared for this. The theme of this trip is encountering cold weather I am fundamentally unprepared for), that perhaps this is the gift of prudence: just being able to see things as they are, to experience the world as it is. That desire for the authentic seems to lie restless in the heart of each human being, and prudence is the virtue that enables us to enact that authenticity in our lives. Prudence, Pieper says, is the virtue that allows us to perceive universal good, and not only comprehend what is objectively good, but apply it to our particular situation. Prudence enables us to do the good that we know we ought. That sounds like freedom.

The sun has begun to shine through the mist of the morning rain storm now, clearing up the clouds, and bringing a hint of warmth to a cold day. Its light cuts through the trees and gleams on the windows and the warm stone of the buildings.

My dad told me wisdom a pastor passed on in a homily: that we have to experience both the crests and troughs of life, the good and the bad, fully, in order to live our lives the way God intends for us to. We can’t avoid the hard parts, otherwise we’re only living a narrative we create for ourselves, instead of having the courage to let the truth of real things determine our lives. Apparently, my dad’s got a grasp on this prudence thing.

I notice that there’s a small olive wood nativity in the corner of the room. I guess there is a sign of Christmas here in this room after all.