Tuesday, July 31, 2018

manual intimacy

The manicurist holds my hands very gently, and brushes the nails. I have not had my hand held like this, I realize, in quite some time. And the intimacy between us is startling.

I brush a woman’s hand while we are waiting for the light to change at the crosswalk. It is not an abrupt or rude gesture. It is simply a happy accident.

Then, at the concert, it seemed that I was constantly brushing hands with John Yost and Joey. My hands, flailing to express themselves, were touching others, a barrage of accidental brushes.

It is odd to feel an absence in your body. And slight touches of what is absolutely-not the end of what you seek bring to mind this gaping need.

Monday, July 30, 2018

small poems for small loves, begun

At endings:


But after the final no there comes a yes, 
and upon that yes the future world depends.
But if you think that saying these words,
Knowing there comes the yes,
Living in the light of only positive assent
Will erase the sting of no,
You have been fooled
By no one but yourself
Pain will not be outsmarted or out-wiled
Nor will love.

God surrenders himself to no
upon a cross—
even God feels negation’s sting.
We build up our defenses to be right,
So we will never feel the rejection
Dejection of no.
That’s the tragedy of grace—
we are hurt because of and inspite of us
And others too.

When I said goodbye to you in May,
one week later than ascension,
my heart stopped beating for an hour.
a newly born beauty reached a premature death.
The great hope of resurrection leading to evaporation—
Presence beyond life
falling into a  “no.”
I barely breathed
a contrarian assent,
Helped by your 
gesture towards a yes,
tentative and quiet,
not yet daring to believe such a yes could be—

Resurrection, which I stake my life on,
no realer than mythology,
I stare up at the sky after it.
The sky is bare and blank.

But—
if I believe that
After death comes life,
if I believe that love will triumph over loss,
And “no’s” and the sting of sin,

then maybe one day the clouds will part,

to welcome your return,
and the earth will be holy land again.

Each pound of each heart beat 
is the hope of eschaton: 
I will see you once again.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

root of resurrection

The Divine Persons’ joy penetrates deep into all the world’s suffering; they share the experience of its misery, but their joy proves deeper than all sense of abandonment.—von Balthasar, Engagement with God

Gratitude is a challenge, because I generally imagine that if I say “thank you” for anything, God will notice that I’ve gotten off with more luck and less suffering than I have any right to. The challenge of gratitude is that I must begin to slowly pry my hands off of whatever it is I treasure, noting that it’s presence in my life is not due to my own earning of it, snagging it from the divine lottery through chance, luck, or a lapse in divine oversight, or being born into it. All that I have is simply given. To be grateful (at least today, at 2:35pm) means to acknowledge the contingency of all we have and are. 

What we are (smart, cheerful) can be shattered just as easily as our possessions (job, house). But it seems that if I never allow myself to acknowledge, if I am never brave enough to realize how close my treasure is to slipping out of my grasp, if I never embrace just how fragile the good is, if I give my heart or place my joy in that which I can hold onto, then I am never going to be able to enjoy or love whatever good is available to me in the first place.

I flip open Deuteronomy and am reminded that the God I try to thank for the good things given is a jealous God. It is odd to profess on one hand that God is a creator, who provides everything good and made all things good, and on the other that this same God reveled the divine self as one of extreme jealousy, like a “consuming fire,” in fact. Will not this consuming fire burn up all that I have that is not God’s own self? Jealous persons do not brook competition, there must be no other good thing than they themselves. To a jealous person there is not enough talent, or intelligence, or humor, or love to go around. They must have it all for themselves.

How does one offer gratitude to a God who is jealous? To say: thank you for this thing which I love a great deal and brings me so much joy, that is not you? Isn’t it only rational to fear it’s imminent departure?

A gift is visibly a gift, because its giver is transparent in its giving. God, the hidden giver, runs the risk of being lost in the joy of the gift. Perhaps gratitude allows us to understand the essence—the soul—of what it is that we have received in the first place. And only by truly understanding what it truly is—a gift, a sacrament of love from one who cannot help but lavish us with beauty—can we begin to love it.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Philip’s Fishes

Too late, Philip catches a glimpse of the glimmer in the Master’s eye. His response to the question escapes his mouth before he realized the question being asked was deeper than the words that carried it. It was a question that arose not from a question, but from the answer.

“Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.”

It’s true. It’s not wrong. But Philip wonders if this little line has reduced him a stock character in a proof-text. His small verbal contribution will only serve as a convenient piece of eye-witness evidence to illustrate the greatness of the Master’s deed. Philip’s calculations have succinctly tallied for posterity the size of crowd the Answer can now feed with just two fresh fish and five small loaves.

Philip’s heart is somewhat heavy within him. He is not overly attached to pragmatism, and did not intend to come off as an unimaginative skeptic:

Don’t do, this, please. You always do. You pose the question, and I always get it wrong. I realize that the answer you were looking for wasn’t calculation, but I realize that too late. And before you know it, someone else is marching up with their right answer in the form of loaves and fishes. I get the point is not to find solutions, but who you find them with. With whom, I mean. With whom you find them. Where it is you seek them. The origin of the solution, and its final end are not immaterial.

Perhaps I am too clever. I am surprised, over and over again that the answer to your questions never change. Love is too consistent and dependable a reality for man to expect. Your question must be a trick this time, finally. This is the gotcha moment I knew would come. You must understand: we are only human, and shocked by the lack of surprises. Is this what faith is? To be surprised by your consistency? To offer two small fish and five loaves barely worthy of the name—my own small attempt at solutions—to you?

I wished I had responded, in answer to your question, with a word that had expressed no other Word but you.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

trinity beta version

Trinity appears in glimpses,
(written on March twenty-eighth)
In catches of light and color—
God is on the shores
Of this starred lake,
In the single mallard swimming
Through silent spring dark,
Broken by lights from the retreat center
on the distant shore.
Memories shared
Are memories of God,
A topography of memory
Shaping a shared geography
Into something elastic,
Allowing us to expand into each other
And contract away.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Job to his coy lover

I have strained my back by loving you,
discovered sores
on once fresh skin,
scar tissues tender routes,
mapping out the dermal road
to nowhere.

Bent over backwards,
over the oak leaves wind-rustling on the window,
I strain to hear your voice,
Listening for it on lonely mornings,
between the radio frequencies
in dense air
when the rain clouds fill the bay.


In the recesses of a stormy heart,
dark coves of rock under tempest waves,
I dive to find a pearl
(I am told)
of great price—
the lake floor is
fistfuls of silent sand.


Each muscle's energy expended—
depleted—
straining towards you.
an irrefutable and unplumbable foundation.

No, I do not know
where celestial water
splashes on atmospheric floodgates.


I get it—
the mysteries of mountain goats
and habits of wild horses
are utterly unknown to me.

But if you wanted,
you could tell me
where the eagle builds her nest,
and how many stars are in the sky.

If you felt
so inclined,
my ears would be, too.

Speak.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

vagabond summer

Where are you right now? Where were you? Where are you going next?

The answer, right, now, is the Monet room (243) of the Art Institute of Chicago. I have just come from the preceding room of 240, which contains the celebrated Seurat. After I leave this room, I am going to walk into the adjoining room of 244 where an image of Van Gogh's haphazard bedroom hangs, calling to mind the Heidegger essay I am reading about art.

I did not plan to visit this room, but sometimes we are called to places by surprise. My eyes relax as they soak in images of haystacks, the familiar views of Waterloo Bridge, and (of course) ubiquitous water lilies. Monet is a man who makes me feel at home. There is something kindred and admirable, a quality worthy of emulation, in a person who spends an unexpected two months on the coast of Brittany, enraptured by the rock formations of the north Atlantic coast. Someone who can be lost in what he sees, and follows the call of beauty to meditate and to be still. Monet's eyes are fresh enough to see the world as something miraculous and new each day, to see that Waterloo Bridge is a different place each hour, in a million flavors of light.

Within all these meditations are woven the memories of kisses on my neck, of poring over the same stretches of skin and patches of body, of hearing the same rhythm of language, the quiet dance of mundane questions and answers which build daily courtesies, of tracing the contours of a heart over and over again each day. With each day, I find something new in a vision that can only be fresh when familiar. That is the vision that my pupils reflect back to the waterlily paintings they soak in.

The world is a flower, your attention is the sunshine, thus the world can only blossom with that sweet catalyst. To see the world anew demands dedication to watch it swim in its reflection on the water lily-soaked water. To allow yourself to be drawn into the watery vision of the upside down world floating among the water lilies is to allow yourself to be drawn out of your own trajectory, and follow something new.

I wonder what sort of monastic attention Monet possessed, what ascetic skill of sight he cultivated, that he could return again and again, with unwavering faithfulness, to the Rouen Cathedral, and paint the façade once more each morning.

I wonder what sort of dispossessed ego beat within his heart that he could chuck his plans and stay in Normandy. Wander in the rocks of fishing village for as long as the visions were biting. The calm wisdom of listening to not abandon the vision that was beautiful, but stay with it as long as it pleased, to wait upon the will of light beams and nature's color palatte.

This is a peripatetic stability I admire, a wandering intimacy with the world.

Stranding in the middle of Midway airport, buying a one-way ticket, riding a bus from Milwaukee to Minnesota, figuring a way from Lincoln Park to Milwaukee, I appreciate this man even more, who spends two months examining rock formations on the coast, who can change his plans for the sake of nothing more than beauty.

Perhaps Monet is nothing unique. Perhaps there are many artists who can do this and have done this.

As I sit here, in room 243 of the Art Institute of Chicago, I am surrounded not just by the lovely fruits of his patient vision, but by road signs pointing the way forward. They offer little direction other than to wait: find what is good and beautiful, and hand yourself over to that.

After watching a father with dreadlocks and a hibiscus-printed shirt point out to his daughter the finer details of one of Monet's street scene, I stand up from my bench and walk into room 244.

Monday, July 16, 2018

patellar tendon tear

trees—oaks and pines.
The oak leaves glimmer with the moisture of the already densely humid morning, and the pine trees are most visible by the rusty pine needles which carpet the floor of the woods all around us.

— My patellar tendon aches—
love song for the man
who, as luck would have it,
loves me in a liminal stillness,
the stagnation of a summer in which
I haven’t hungered.

patellar tendon tear:
love song for a body
that I hate.
there is nothing like immobility
to foment interior rebellion.

This is next level trust:
God has hope in us.

a people of memory

I suppose the challenge is to encounter each day not as a grab-bag of events, or as a series of calculated steps, but as something effortless: a melody of actions and responses that all have a coherent inner union. In order to find something like meaning in a day, the day must revolve around one thing.

The bluebird father perches on the post of the garden, his chest puffed up with pride at the nest upon which his wife sits, tending to their freshly-laid eggs.

The chorus of sparrows, cardinals, and finches circle around the feeders, and the Rancho continues its daily business. As I stand on the prayer deck in the grey warmth of early morning, I am suddenly standing in the thick of memory. My mind picks up a memory of the night before, and I follow its thread back to other memories, other currents whose movements have all colluded to wash me up on the shore of this present moment. The past is seamlessly woven into the present here. As my mind follows the winding threads of stories, they all congeal for one solid and inexplicable moment in the sunlight on the oak leaves.

The moment is permanent and insoluble, but, like all moments, rigidly ephemeral.

I am in Hudson Memorial Church, the simple goodness of the white-washed meeting hall, celebrating that which is not pagan, a hall that offers the clarity and neatness requisite to see God. I suddenly, in the middle of the services miss messy churches. I miss the Melkite church just inside Jaffa Gate, coated in the technicolor of its milky-rich icons. Its colors are so vibrant you can taste them on your tongue, even in memory. I miss the painted walls and ceilings of Notre Dame's basilica, the overabundance of image which crushes you with salvation history, embeds you in a narrative arc in spite of yourself. I miss the outlandish stained glass of St. Vincent, its darkly carved interior, full of quiet corridors of shadow. I allow myself to think for one moment of St. John the Divine, my favorite haunted church. I miss the distracting visuals you can sink your teeth into, which are, in fact the main meal.

Back at the Rancho, I am spellbound by the still and silent hummingbird, hungrily sipping nectar through her beautiful, delicate straw, more like a proboscis than a beak. Her wings which beat more times per minute than my heart are at rest. There is something preternatural in her quiet. I sip coffee and read Nouwen on memory. It's all here, for just a moment, time stops and all the things that are present are here.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

A Pagan Intrusion into Hudson Memorial

I spend the whole service thinking of how to find Christ in the stale odor of unwashed body which is carried with each fresh breeze of air-conditioning into my nostrils. I fail. To my left is my feisty rein grandmother, who is unbothered by any and all ungenteel behavior, and sails through it like a swan. It is very easy to see Christ in her.

After the service, I left Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, at the small square in the brick wall, holding my grandfather's ashes which I call his grave. I walked out of my apartment in May, and into a twisting Victorian bedroom, which was the first of the strange nests I made home this summer. I walked out of a sure chapter, and into a mess.

There, on the rocking chair, a card of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots was left for me, the patron saint of transitions and liminality. Whenever the world feels uncertain, I find myself not calling to her, but she, rather, calling to me. In this slight card left. In the story of a friend.

This card seemed a fitting token and patron to leave at the grave of a forefather--someone who birthed my mother into this whole nonsense mess of a world, into the maze of relationships that is a family. To be born into this chaos of a cosmos is to enter a situation that is already complicated and your arrival only makes it more so. You arrive, a complication born unto complications.

Am I leaving this card, I wondered, as a sign of the virgin's intercession? Am I leaving it that she might untangle the knots of this man, whatever knots are in the afterlife? I think that might be more theologically mainline. But, if I'm being honest, my motivations were far more visceral. I left it not so much for the virgin's intercession for him, but because I wanted the man who brought me into this knotty life to help me untie the knots I'm currently wrestling with. I want the man who built the playhouse in our backyard, and taught me to throw tops and yo-yos properly, who helped me fish and shoot pool to help me sort through all the threads of possibility to find the next course to chart. I want what any of us want—the people we love and look up to, those who truly are our parents, to carry us through the stormy waters.

And perhaps I wanted something else as well. I wanted to tie my own knots to those that are my grandfather's. I want the knots which demand unraveling in prayer to be not just simply mine, but also his. I wanted to be tied to someone with whom death has severed ties.

On the sliding scale of paganism between the Temple of Apollo, Chartres, and Hudson Memorial Presbyterian Church, Our Lady, Undoer of Knots certainly falls somewhere between Apollo and Chartres, and she brings a whiff of Romanism to this tidy memorial courtyard. I do feel slightly sheepish leaving her among the unbloodied crosses and the white roses which mark the other graves. But these people that I come from were never conventional, anyhow. Their strong Presbyterian roots may make them on the outside seem the opposite of pagan, but their love of land, large skies, and blue bonnets maybe led their wayward, least-Romantic daughter one day to a Roman Church.

The slender leaves of the Japanese maple tree brush my shoulder as I walk out to the parlor door. I realize that I have never noticed this tree before, and I have never felt its leaves before. I have only been in the courtyard in winter. But it's summer now.

Friday, July 13, 2018

a surplus of understanding

All day, there has been a squirrel at the birdfeeder with a cage around it, designed specifically to keep the squirrel away. The squirrel has been holding onto the green wires with its feet, and, twisting its body so that its cotton-white belly shows, it reaches for the green tray at the bottom, which holds sunflower seeds, and scrapes them into its upside down mouth, hungrily.

It is a perfect visual joke, which resists verbal translation. And I can't help but think that there is a moral lesson in the squirrel who insists on eating from the bird feeder, when there are plenty of other piles of mash and seeds provided by my grandmother around the yard, but the squirrel resists moralizing.

I think of this squirrel as I am driving through the various subdivisions of Cary, in search of small hole-in-the-wall restaurants which will be our wardrobe-doors, leading us not to Narnia, but to the far-off reaches of Baghdad and Kolkata. We will talk to the white man whose blue eyes mirror ours about the history of his mithai and his Bengali wife. At the cash register, the bakery proprietor schools me on proper Arabic pronunciation, and quizzes my grasp of the gendered second person suffix.

A Gormenghast-black crow swoops over the sunlit grass. It has been temperate all morning, as I did the exercises which are half yoga and half talisman against the pain which creeps over the back of my knee while reading Le Petit Prince. It has begun to grow humid.

As my grandmother tells stories of neighbors and the neighbors' scions writing them to buy parcels of acreage off of them, I am struck by the vital importance of land. To own land is to be rich—to be established and stable in a way that I, whose dream of stability is a year-long lease in an apartment, cannot even fathom. It is perhaps, to use a new distinction recently discovered, not a luxury but a blessing.

I wonder how you can love people through the wounds that they bear. Not fresh wounds, the scars that have compiled over years, twisting the flesh into ugly rivers of scars. How do you begin to untangle the muscles in your leg so you can actually walk? One knee injury causes an injury in the opposing hip, and before you know it, you are wearing a brace on your right knee, while beginning stories: well, when my left knee got injured. Wounds are not stagnant, they are a domino effect inside our body.

How do we love people who suffer not simple, not compound, but complex fractures? We are not living a world of unscathed people. But people wound in labyrinths of histories of injuries, of wounds suffered, and the inadequate homemade remedies we have self-administered to hide them. These labyrinth obscure the true cause of our pain, it makes it almost impossible, it seems, to diagnose the ills that plague them. And us. For woundedness is a contagion—it reaches from one art out to another.

There is no shortcut, I cry. You have to unwind the labyrinth, to retrace your steps back to the first hurt, the first lie you told yourself to hide it—ineffectual as a plastic bandage on wet skin—and the histories you've spun around it.

Perhaps there is a shortcut, one which isn't easy, but cuts through all the winding cloth, frees us from the tombs of our own bondage.

I think of how much energy I expend trying to tame the lions, heal the wounds, snuffle through the data of old stories to find The Truth, promised to set them, us, me free.

The truth is not the solution to the mystery, it is the mystery. In answer to the problem of how to love another, the truth that sets us free seems to be:

I will not demand
where you've been or where you've come
from—I will simply love you.



Thursday, July 12, 2018

red herring walks

Henri Nouwen asks, in his small tome on discernment, if one can hear the trees clapping their hands, as described in Isaiah 55:12: "The mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands."

Trees don't have any hands, I think, perversely, as I read Nouwen's call to heed the music of nature on one of the many small wooden decks which jut off the back of my grandmother's home. I am surrounded by trees—oaks and pines, mostly. The oak leaves glimmer with the moisture of the already densely humid morning, and the pine trees are most visible by the rusty pine needles which carpet the floor of the woods all around us.

I look into the thick of green in front of me, to see if, by burning my gaze into their trunks, I can hear their music. Tuning my ears, I mostly hear the caw of mockingbirds, the rattle of the nuthatch, and the shrill cries of bluejays. The quieter notes of the sweeter songbirds are drowned out by the dull ocean waves of cicadas crashing on the coast line of the treen line, and the racket of the more bullish, bawdy bird orders who crowd around the plentiful feeders scattered throughout the clearing of the backyard.

I hear the hose watering the fig tree, bearing green fruits and greener leaves. I do not hear the trees.

But I would not go so far as to say that the trees are silent.

As I pace up and down the front driveway, exercising my complaining hip and itching knees, I notice a slight line of silk running across the path in front of me. I follow it to my right and see it end in a dizzyingly intricate net, a bright red spider waiting in the middle of it. I back away, imagining that creature running through my curls.

On my next lap, I almost walk into a caterpillar, dancing midair, suspended, like the circus aerialist from a thread of silk, tossing and twisting her body artfully. I back away again, shuddering. Imagining that creature, again, in my hair.

I should take to wearing a shower cap outdoors.

As I walk up and down the gravel driveway, I notice that the old paths my grandfather carved through the woods are mostly hidden by underbrush and pine needles. A few small plastic flags remain as markers. But I am loathe to follow them, thinking of the creatures who must by now have built many silk paths across them.

The only sound I hear is the traffic speeding by the mailbox at the head of the driveway—I think.

There is a noise in forests that is not cicadas, or animals in the underbrush, or the sounds of songbirds. It's a quiet sound, nearly inaudible, that emanates from the leaves' photosynthesis, and the wind rustling through the branches. It's an almost-silent drone which thrums underneath nature's choir. It's a sound whose vibrations are heard more as they echo against one's heart than one's eardrum. Like faith, the trees' music is present with a certainty that evaporates when you try to hold it, which eludes your grasp when you attempt to lay your finger on it.

But it's there—filling out the simple scene of a summer morning with something a little more full and more real. An invisible basso profondo more abiding than the contingent collection of accidentals thrown together by variable migration patterns. It's the subject of the sentence—the deeper meaning which the words reach towards, but never quite exhaust.

That's the sound of trees clapping—heard only in silence and in faith.

Monday, July 9, 2018

dropped summer days

How gauche is it to drop novenas in the middle?
So they sag like a scarf in which you missed a stitch?
To mean to make it but to miss a day?
Asking for a friend (whom I said I'd pray for).

To err is human,
so which is more divine:

To keep on starting over,
like a shy singer at audition?

Or to forge right through—
the show must continue—
trusting dropped notes
can turn to graced ones, too.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

problematic paginations

I want to be good.

But that's not the project of Christianity. We're not called to be good, what we’re called to be is better. Call no man good, except your Father who is in heaven. The project of being good—that tempting, tantalizing project—whose goal, once reached, means that I can shed all my dependency on exterior indications of my own goodness. No, once I am good, I will know—with finality and certainty— that I am right. That what I do and say is correct, that I am, and forevermore will be, right. That glorious golden future redeems me from the anxiety of submitting myself to what is other, on placing my entire being on the will of a God who stands above me. Once I, myself, am good, I no longer have to wait on the will of another, I do not have to enter in to the messy vulnerability of morality, which may (quelle horreur!) prove some of my actions to be wrong.

I leave confession, and the corresponding wash of relief over me takes the shape of a sigh whose verbal content is: Oh God, I hope I never have to go back there. It is nearly unconscious, this desire. But it is there. It is just a slight shade away from being correct. It is an indication that the project I am undertaking is slightly off-target from the project of the reconciliation I was seeking.

Realistically, I know the odds are that I end up back in that confession line, sandwiched again between a mother and her child and an elderly gentleman. So why do I pretend, in the great relief of cleanliness, that this is a state which will never fluctuate? Health does not seem to mean one is ever fully healed, but, at least for the duration of human life, continuously healing. Our love is never pure, but only becomes gradually less impure.

I want to be good, but even that desire seems to need to subject itself to the project of becoming better. Better implies a goal, and that goal, in the case of this particular project, is intimately mine and not me.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

courting the cat

Moving towards one another,
gingerly,
crawling across buckling crust
and ice bound for cracking,
hands and knees almost levitating,
barely making contact
with an earth too delicate for touching.

Senses primed for a ill-timed
movement or a gesture
that belies the underlying
violent intention.

One misstep—
causing a feline scamper,
claws skid over the
polished wooden floor,
down the hallway,
to find a retreat of
self-collection and
venture forth again.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

unreported crime at colectivo coffee

A woman stole the 'f' key off my keyboard.

It happened while I was waiting for the bathroom,
three people ahead of me in line.
One woman wore a striped blue sundress,
shifting from sandal to sandal,
her lips folded into a disapproving seam.

Ahead of me, two statues stood, suspended,
as t-shirt clad servers from the kitchen
rushed vegetarian sandwiches
to customers at hewn-wood tables.
Their constipation or their serenity
rendered them
silent and unmoving,
surrounded by the flying sandwiches.

Two men comment on how long
the person in front of them is taking.
Five minutes
doesn't inspire confidence
hold your breath.
A toilet flush,
the rush of water
in an overworked sink
a woman, flipping her hair,
walks out the door and flashes
a bright smile and a Kate Spade
handbag at them.
oh hello there,
the elderly one says.

I notice the 'f' key is purloined—
clean gone—
and think of saying something
to the girl at the counter yelling
Iced mocha for Sadie
but I let it go.

I don't miss it anyway.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

spacious skies and train cars

Speeding across the country on an Amtrak is like, I said, examining a lover's back. You never see this side of them before.
Au contraire, said Crawford. It's rather more like seeing them face-to-face at last, rather than staring at the feature-less spine which is the interstate.



It’s true of the scenery—flooded forests and log-clogged lakes appear right outside the train window. Small farmhouses and wide, unbroken pastures ripple right up to the embankment of the train tracks. A train moves slowly enough to still be part of the landscape, meaning you can get a good look in its eyes.

Trains cut through more varied lands. A train track does not dictate a rote terrain at each exit—fast food restaurant, convenience store, gas station—inflected only lightly by culture and geography, as an interstate requires.

Thus, by train you can really see what the interstate obscures: the country beyond the concrete barriers, and the fellow travelers themselves. Those who otherwise might be obscured behind the corporate logos of a car make appear in all their particular, peripatetic glory.

As I walked to the lower car of the Amtrak, I passed two men on the platform sharing a blunt, kids playing soccer (the ball went into the tracks on the other side), an Amish man with a mystery novel and a man with tan, muscular arms, tattoos, and a blonde beard chatting.

The car I sat in featured a woman my age who acted as though each minute shaved from a station stop were a criminal offense, a smiling couple from Montana, who were veterans of the rails, you could tell, as they had a small army of snack bags compiled at their feet, as though they had packed for a 10-hour picnic.

A group of young women, bound for Chicago's Chinatown, anticipated their impending dim sum loudly and shared stories with each other and with us through their echoes, of the discrimination they had faced as Latinx in America. The woman across from them recommended that they talk to the Amish who were upstairs: "Most of them are very nice," the woman said. She approved of their luddite lifestyle, but not of their gender roles.

My only seat companion arrived when the the train stopped in Columbus, Wisconsin. He brought on two trim and clearly well-worn bag—of a quality that stood the test of time—and a walkman. He kept the walkman playing loud rock 'n' roll for the duration of his trip.

Monday, July 2, 2018

les chiffres

“Les grandes personnes aiment les chiffres” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince

“The notes of our existence are deciphered for us so that we can read them and translate them into life. God’s will flows from God’s being and therefore guides us into the truth of our being, liberating us from self-destruction through falsehood. Because our being comes from God, we are able, despite all of the defilement, to set out on the way to God’s will […] to live from the word of God, and so, from his will, and to find the path that leads into harmony with this will.”
 — Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth

Finding one’s way in the world is never really a calculation which one puts in all the right facts and figures. To be calculating, here, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, identifies with being an adult. And rightfully so. The price of calculation is curiosity. Calculation leaves no space for mystery, for that which can inspire awe. Calculation demands an elimination of the variables, essentially, control.

Control, sadly, is a quality humans have in low stock. The world bucks wild out from under us, resisting our attempts to tame it with its wildness. To find one's way through it, then, is never guided by a formula or bullet-proof mechanism. Rather, it will be a regular askesis of trial-and-error, of scraping about, of disposing oneself to the truths which emerge from surprising places and persons, and letting one's hands open to receive what unfolds.

In such a world, the phrase "God's will," as Benedict writes above, takes on electrifying poetic potential. If God's will is something we cannot control nor access from a safe, exterior, vantage point —how does one find it? And what exactly is it? What is the content of the willing? What does God will?

It seems when I will something, say, I will myself to wake up. I am saying: this thing is good (being awake), and I will both give myself over to it (lift my body out of bed) and assimilate its reality (wakefulness) into myself. I am recognizing both the resistant reality of that thing desired (wakefulness, which is different from my current state of sleeping), and the separate reality of my own self (who is, again, trying to sleep). There is a space between the vision willed and my own self, and the will appears to be the mechanism by which I bridge that gap.

But does a perfect being, who contains no inch of becoming, who does not lack an ounce of any positive reality, will in this same way? Or is God's will radically different than my own?

Indeed it must, for what better good, what greater beauty or more radical loveliness could God will than God's own self? When God wills what God wills, God must will God. What greater good could be posited for our consideration. God's will then becomes synonymous with God's self.

When we seek "God's will," then what exactly do we seek? For it seems that we mean that it is not found in reading books (generally). Very few people think, I should imagine: "I wonder what God's will is for me? I know, I'll read Thomas' Summa." Perhaps some do, and perhaps I have not met them, because they live far better and too peaceful of lives to intersect with mine. Or rather, it seems that God's will is not contained in the Summa, although much about God is. God's will seems to be an intersection of my self (who is not God) and the God whose only will is God. The question of God's will is perhaps the following: what does it mean to seek the self-positing God in a daily life?

I think, perhaps we seek a trace of that divinity in the narratives we weave with our lives. We seek, as Benedict writes, that mountain top that liberates us from the hazy, confused "burden of everyday life, a breathing in of the pure air of creation; it offers a view of the broad expanse of creation and its beauty; it gives one an inner peak to stand on and an intuitive sense of the creator." We seek those moments of beauty, of transcendence, when creation arranges her shapes into an icon of some higher super-nature. We seek that quiet peace irrupting in our hearts when we have asked forgiveness for our lapses in love, when we say what was lying restless at the unexamined corner of our hearts, when we write what is not only necessary but true. We seek the joy that lights up another's eyes, the same which darkly suffuses a starlit night over Kansas prairie. There is no way forward, but to open ourselves to the God who comes to us in quiet prayer, in the honest questions of strangers. The God who demands of us our anxieties and prides, who dismantles our pet self-portraits and peeves. Who seeks to enter not only the quiet peace of air-conditioned car rides, but the loud music and exuberant dancing which accompany the ones in convertibles with tops rolled down. The God who will not rest until all that is not-God is assimilated into God's will, which is, of course, God.

This is a God who is not ashamed of the divine abundance of desire.

We seek the God who will not be out-risked. Each time we shy away from love that may lead us to disaster, each time we hedge our bets against a dream that might evaporate, each time we shirk from the boldness we know we must muster up to live well, the God who is not a tame lion after all, asks us: what can you lose? If all you seek is me, what risk is this or that?

This is what it means to love a jealous God, who hounds us with the same continuous query the Christ once posed to Simon son of John: do you love me? do you love me? do you love me?

Our search for "God's will," perhaps, is our fumbling quest to formulate an answer to that question, not with pen and ink, clearly articulated argument, or calculated formula, but in our hearts and wills, flesh and wine, blood and bread.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

memories of remembering

"Sometimes it is necessary/
to reteach a thing its loveliness"—
retrain my feet to walk, my legs to run,
reform the cage of lung to reshape the air
which expands within —
reframe the lens through which I see:
slim muscular adjustments
of an iris
transform worldviews.

Grey sky washed clean blue by rain.
We are still pilgrims,
seeking sunlights in the clouds
rolling in off mountains.

Tune my heartbeat to a newer thrum
whose gentle rhythms discover,
like the sow with patient Francis,
a nature is that loveliness,
meant to bless creation with its holiness.