Sunday, September 30, 2018

antes de que la espera

I am rushing, speeding to mass, a pit in my stomach as I think of how late I will be. As I arrive at Blessed Sacrament for mass, I am surprised to see the parking lot still busy with families parking and making their way into the liturgy. I am given some encouragement by these people who do not seem rushed, but rather have accepted they are late—the important thing is to get there.

I have spent most of September rushing—if not physically, then mentally and spiritually—I rush to catch the train or plane, I rush to plan out how to move into my apartment, how to make it to a wedding through a hurricane, how to be present to my friend in the basement, how to find someone to write for Monday, how to finish morning prayer before going to work—and I caught myself doing it again as I rushed down the highway to Seabrook. This was a beautiful coastal drive through lush Carolina forest and there I was again rushing—why?



I step off the plane and into the thick Southern humidity. It's one of those days where the window panes are dripping with the misty fog of heat. That's the sort of humidity we're talking—even the weather is slow.

I begin to drive into this humidity that hangs in front of everything like a veil. It is hard, as I drive down the highway that is not an interstate, with a 55 mph speed limit, not to wish away this drive, and skip to the part where I am already in Seabrook, on the beach.



I was so eager to arrive at an arbitrary destination—to turn anything short of the eschaton into a destination is the first step towards unhappiness. To live life in expectation of destinations arriving is always to live in something of a disappointment, for really you could make life into an endless series of destinations, one always popping up just as you are reaching it—I want to skip through the weekend, to get to an end that I have constructed. I am missing the beautiful Carolina coastal oaks dripping with Spanish moss, ignoring the lush, heavy air of a Southern Saturday pregnant with thunderstorm.



Last night, as we danced, I was eager to get to—what? Something that wasn’t here. An end to this moment to get to something beyond it. But why? I couldn't answer the question, and something in the simple loss of self in movement pulled me back into the present. For a moment, you don't have to think, you can simply listen to the rhythm being poured into the world through the DJ's speakers, and move in time to that. And in the movement, you can be still.



I stayed too long on the screened porch of Denise’s Seabrook home, and that's how I ended up running late for mass. As I quickly showered the salt out of my hair, cleaned the house, emptied the fridge and gathered my sparse belongings, I almost did not return to do the required second-glance at all the rooms, the necessary double check and once-over required before leaving hotel rooms and coffee shop booths.

I had my wallet, my charger, and my phone. Was anything else necessary? What else of value had I brought that could not be replaced easily?

As I popped my head into a bedroom I hadn't used, I saw on the dresser arguably the only possession I had brought that could not have been replaced—the ring bought in the Tel Aviv market, whose stone the artist informed me was a sign of new beginnings. Sometimes you have to bring omens with you when you start something new. An instant pit formed in my stomach of the thought of carelessly leaving it behind.

My heart fluttering with that terrible panic of the close call, I picked up the ring, walked around the house once more, and closed the door behind me. Calming my rushing heart and mind, I start the car, urging them to patience, to prevent them from, in their frantic chugging forward, missing new beginnings.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

the time of scattering stones

It is always difficult in the midst of seasons of the heart and not the sun, to remember that they are only temporary. We never seem to forget that autumn is a ephemeral arrangement of nature. But we expect our hearts to remain constant, and a sudden dip in pressure or rise in temperature causes great panic: what if this is the way we live now? What if it is always spring and summer never comes? What if we will be perpetually living in the grey of November—never quite winter and well past autumn.

This past season—summer—contained many seasons in it and was both an overwhelming season unto itself. It has been a time of being scattered—of being rooted nowhere—not in South Bend, or Minneapolis, or New York. It is a time of shipping boxes to multiple addresses regularly. It is a time of great movement, indecision, and searching for Lime Bikes on the regular. It has been a season of making plans on the fly and of changing them just as quickly. Prayer has been plastic, decisions have been decided in split-seconds, whatever stones I have held have certainly quickly been scattered.

There are times the scrappiness, the pieced-together sensation of this summer has been demoralizing and dismaying. But there are times—small moments of delusion or clarity—when the scattered nature of this season has brought great joy.

I guess it must have been in August—the real thick of summer—when I gave up trying to have the answers. I set aside my hubris-driven quest to ensure that every action taken was in accord with the divine command theory I have always secretly believed (it is hard for that Presbyterian blood to dilute itself). And simply sought after not what is correct, but simply what is good. Because I suppose what you learn when you are living life out of a suitcase and on the go is that you can always change directions. This is not to relativize the importance of decisions—each one is an indelible mark that cannot be erased, but rather must be folded into the new thing being made.

Decisions can be paralyzing, and when the series of them you made goes wrong, you can sometimes be tempted to find the hero's flaw within yourselves that caused them to go wrong. Tragic nature is a comforting trope, because it offers the fantasy that if there were some crack within ourselves we'd mended already, we'd never have gotten into this mess.

But tragedy is not responsibility. Responsibility says: well I suppose this is what I've made. And then asks the vital second question: now what should I do with it?

Scattering stones is not irresponsibility. It is not indecision and it is not flirtation over commitment. Scattering stones is not lack of vision. It is not grasping at straws (there is a season for that, although may it be blessedly short). Rather, scattering stones, seems to me, to be boldly and tentatively trying out new futures, testing plans, abandoning them, stretching the muscle of imagination until it is as supple as it is strong, testing its limits and pushing it past them.

I have scattered many stones, not quite sure what the stones being scattered were becoming. They have not yet risen into an edifice, certainly not yet a study structure, but maybe they are the beginnings of foundations.

Maybe, just maybe, in another season—perhaps in the one just beyond the next equinox or solstice—these stones, scattered without calculation, but with great hope, will form themselves into a pattern. Perhaps their scattered nature will resolve itself into coherence, becoming the basis for something beautiful. Perhaps. But that is a hope and task for a new season. Perhaps all this scattering will not reap cold and barren rock—but a home.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

finding the definite in what is not at all

Things I did today that other woman did many years ago:

I wash my face inside a basin sink and splash water on the floor.
I wonder if the man I love loves me.
I drink coffee in the mornings.
I wake up in the dark.
I smile at people I would rather not.
I call my mother and ask her: how do you forgive people?
And my mother tells me what many women have told their daughters:
it's not easy, but you must do it to be, in turn, forgiven.
And:
don't forgive until forgiveness has been asked for.

Monday, September 24, 2018

competency

I wait outside Crooked Ewe for Marie-Claire to get her bicycle. The Lime Bike is exactly where I left it, in a small patch of gravel next to the overflow parking, which dangerously abuts the concrete bridge with flimsy barrier above the little drainage creek that flows into the St. Joe river.

A Lime Bike waiting faithfully for you two hours after you have locked it is quite a testament of loyalty. I am beginning to feel fond of these tech age monsters. Even aesthetic nightmares can become Sirach’s faithful friend and sturdy shelter. (They are not very sturdy, to be frank.)

We bike to our homes which are across the street from one another. We go a different way than I came, and I don’t protest, but simply follow where she bikes, because sometimes the conversation is more important than figuring out where you are going. You’ll get there eventually, regardless. The path, while being quite material, is relatively irrelevant.

“Have a good night” I call as I continue on past her house across the street back to my house. As the words leave my mouth, I get the cozy sense of summer nights.

Summer nights offer a simplicity of childhood where you can stay out late with the other neighborhood children until what seemed like ungodly hours at the age of ten, before you are called back home. The essence of summer nights is freedom from a deadline. There are no trains to catch, there is no assignment due, there is no machination that requires anxiety or the constant humming of mental exertion to try to stay one step ahead of whatever task is looming.

Biking across the usually busy street in the quiet of street lamp twilight, I feel a delight which I think is best described as the delight of being competent.

That delight is the feeling of having everything you needed for the journey: (Item one: iPhone to unlock Lime Bike, Item two: Lime Bike), for those tools to not be very much, and for the journey—one you never did before—to have been completed successfully.

I have felt that delight before: pulling the car into the parking spot at Tantur after a long day in the desert, walking home after evening prayer in the field outside Ilaniya, arriving back in my room at Kylemore after hiking a mountain.

Perhaps this is the joy of those creatures like snails and turtles, that carry their world with them.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

notations for checkmate scribbled on a colectivo pastry bag

Love is sort of like a landslide
and kind of like a chess game,
a beloved being one-half ocean,
the other half jigsaw puzzle.

To fall in love requires
nothing.
(Except a few good lines and beers
on summer nights.)

To stay in love requires
cunning of a general
in the thick of battle—
or at least the strategy
required to trounce your brother
at a game of checkers—

and the humility of
the sand
who endures the surf each day,
endlessly delighted by the monotony—
the glory—
of waves dying constantly
in her arms.

You will be out-played.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

now you see me

I ended last night offering D the string of heartfelt apologies that come from knowing you have messed up and unintentionally and undeniably wounded someone you did not want to wound. It is agonizing to send blue messages into a silent void.

But I am usually the silent void.

And I found something shift inside my heart that allowed me both to offer my apologies and alleviate the anxiety that sources insomnia. What I found comforting was how mollified I am, when I am hurt or in pain, by reading them, knowing that the person on the other end is also in pain. And somehow their pain is medicine, for it proves that they do, in fact, love me. And even if they do not love me well enough to prevent all possible hurt, they at least love me enough to wish that they had not done whatever stupid thing they did to hurt me.

I have never been in the driver's seat before of that particular exchange, and it was, in a word, illuminating.

So I offered up the requisite apologies, because I wanted to, but also because I knew he wanted me to. How to humble oneself before another without self-excoration is an art I am still learning, but this was a good first practice.

And it is agony to wait until they are ready to talk, but you have to. Because you cannot force them into reconciliation on your time line, although you are desperate to do so.

Relationships are mind-numbingly difficult and they reveal all sorts of unpleasant pockets in your heart. And I have always known that there is a lot to delve into in the recesses of my heart, and I know that I do not want to go there alone, or with someone ill-equipped to handle it.

After talking on the phone outside in the glorious, fresh autumn morning with my cup of coffee, I go inside to finish the task of making pancakes. Charis, my nine-year-old housemate, who just last night I had been laughing with her father about how perceptive she is, about how boys say they like her but are scared of her, walks downstairs.

You seem really happy this morning, she says to someone in the kitchen.

I ask: Hella does?

Hella is the dog. Hella is always happy. Of course she is not speaking to Hella. She is speaking to me. But to be approached by a nine-year-old prophet at 10am while making pancakes generally catches you off-guard.

And so I made pancakes, and drank coffee, and read Balthasar, and did not worry about going anywhere or doing anything.

Just previously, D had said: I had no idea you were so unhappy in South Bend. Am I?
I wondered. I do not know.

Of course I am not: I am simply frustrated because the happiness that Charis sees this morning has been so fleeting and so hard to come by in September.

Friday, September 21, 2018

ceci n'est pas une histoire

“So what do you write plays about?” 
The question grates on my ears like my interlocutor's accent. I grit my teeth at that constantly recurring question. Interiorly, and later out loud in a car with my best friend on the way to margaritas, I answer: I write stories about people and they’re all about different things because human beings are all different and thus their stories are all fucking different.

But then I realize, halfway through a margarita, actually, I write stories about one thing. All my “unique” dramatic narratives are  all about the same damn thing. They’re about how human beings do the stupidest, meanest, most terrible things to protect ourselves from getting hurt. We pull the pettiest, dirtiest stunts to keep people from us. Or, rather, to keep ourselves from others. We do everything in our powers to avoid actually being vulnerable to one another, meaning being at their mercy. We go to crazy lengths to preserve the comforting false illusion that we are little unassailable islands that don’t need other people to become fully human.

We build these walls of selfhood and individuality, and we lob ridiculous missiles across our walls to preserve our fragile defenses and to keep the dangerous species known as “other people” at bay. That is what my plays are about.

But my plays are also about the beautiful, silly, tender, brave, tentative bridges we extend to others to try to reach them. I write stories about how we shove others outside our walls, but how, at the same time, in spite of or because of our selves we also never stop trying to reach them.

On Wednesday, a questioner asked Marilynne Robinson where her characters come from. They are not me, says Robinson.

Mine are not either. They do things I am not always sure how to do—like love, remain, and forgive. I think I have written them half as puppets to teach my imagination how to live with a heart wider than it currently is. They also are prophets to me. They come from somewhere that is not simply my own factory of ideas and break out of their pages to remind me that in some corner of my heart I have already lived this moment. I have already played with the decisions for light and dark, the inescapable choice to be either angel or demon, to be hurricane or Mary, I have already weighed the image of what each choice will make me.

The characters achieve what we achieve in our best moments—we lay down our arms, in spite of our because of ourselves. We do not just simply successively try and try to reach others. We complete the miracle of successfully reaching them.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

sunny meade and side

Tonight, I went cycling out to the end of the river path where, in my glory days (10 months ago) I used to run all the way down to the end and back. I can barely believe I used to run that far. I think of Good Friday, the last time I ran it—with Domenic—and I am in shock to think I ran that far with minimal exhaustion. This bike ride seems never-ending, an endless gauntlet through the crazy batshit phenomena of small-town Indiana. As I bike down yet another street whose street lamps are out, and some strange city sanitation truck is flashing its lights across from an RV parked outside a house and buzzing with nighttime activity and generators, I remember there is a reason that Stranger Things is set in this state.

At the corner of Sunnymeade and side, I am hit by a wave of restlessness—Where should I be going? What should I be doing?

The post-thunderstorm air hangs heavy over the evening. My feet are itching for movement, and something dangerous and fey lingers in the thick humidity. The pressure crushes down on earth, and in its grip, I feel an erotic restlessness. It’s the sort of night meant to be spent in flirtation. I think of all the doctoral students in theology who are notorious for their lack of romantic integrity, and I wonder if there is something preternaturally unhealthy about being an overly intellectual person cooped up in a small, limiting town. No one at the age of twenty-six intends to be a serial dater with a bad reputation at thirty-two, but perhaps boredom makes mincemeat of all those good relational intentions.

So I grab my psalter and download all the music that’s hanging out in the cloud of my iTunes onto my phone. I stopped using iTunes in 2011, and you can tell. As I pass two men getting high on their front porch, Taylor Swift’s “Fearless” spills out into the quiet street, causing me to look almost as sophisticated as I did earlier when my arm was covered in melted ice cream dripping from my cone.

On my ride, there are a lot of men getting high on their front porches, and a lot of embarrassing music coming from the basket of my bicycle.

The sunset is beautiful in the sky behind the high school. And the moon is luminous and grows even more so as the sky darkens and the stars emerge. I do not know what I want, exactly, as I cycle down the familiar path. I am sick of inhabiting a world where every bend of concrete, every bench, and even bicycle racks are saturated in memory. I am tired of still gathering the pieces of the puzzle, waiting to collect all the missing pieces, and painstakingly trying to find a place for each. I'm eager to be done with plans for next week or next month, and ready to be living in today. There is something missing, and I do not know what it is.

It has probably been too long since I’ve made art.

I am eager to find a solution to the malaise that’s washing over the evening, and that's a convenient (and most likely true) one.

But I probably won’t find the answer. This is the sort of malheureuse that’s got no rationale for being here, so probably can’t be dismissed rationally, either.

Maybe it will be there even in the monastery. Maybe it will be here even in New York. I certainly felt that restlessness, I remember, when I wasn’t in school. I wonder why I am cycling down this poorly lit and poorly maintained concrete sidewalk when I should be reading the Balthasar volumes on my bedside table or practicing my Arabic.

But I am restless, because I am not staying here and I do not want to stay here. I am like a tree who sucks her roots back up into her trunk instead of letting them sink into the earth.

I wonder if my quiet ride into the night was a running-away, or a running towards. Am I running towards the silent space of river and lighter air that could offer clarity and fresher memories? What am I running from? A small town where there are too many relationships hanging in the air like thunderstorms, perhaps. Or perhaps from my own dissatisfaction. Perhaps an overabundance of mental restlessness set a fire underneath my feet today.



Finally, my heart hurting with the church spires of the downtown, the roar of the river, and the lights sparkling on it, I stop and pray the hours. We are often hounded into prayer. Every word of psalm is dripping with a peace that seems to untie at least a part of the knots that are tangled up inside of me. I can think a bit more clearly, and love a bit more quietly. The gnawing desire that has been dogging me all night to be opposite someone is, if not quenched, then stilled. Perhaps, even—almost—satisfied.

The church bells ring out God's gladdest hymn, and in that quiet tête à tête of prayer, I find the stability I have been seeking in the restlessness.

Monday, September 17, 2018

the closest exit may be behind you

The voice of God comes to us in strange faces.

I saw a woman with her thumb stuck out on the highway in North Carolina, and I didn’t stop, because it’s easier to pray that someone else will. But I realized that the commitment to hospitality is not simply opening one’s house for dinner parties or brunches, but to stop and help the pregnant woman in socks call her brother. And when I think about what it means to be a monastic living in heart of the world, it is certainly to feel that you are the person responsible for hitchhikers.
Because you are.

I have never been one for stability, in that I feel most at home in airports, and I think I am happiest feeling wind roar through an open car window I could live my entire life on subways—there is a thrill in simply going, feeling yourself on a journey, knowing that you are alive because you are moving from point A to point B. You are drinking in the entire world, you think, because you are at least dipping your toes into a new pond. Take your hand off the exit door, asks the monastery. Could you maybe commit to staying?

This is unwise. Your monastery may burn down. They have been known to do so. There could be a better monastery, on the other mountain. Maybe that monastery writes poetry and offers a better view of the sunrise on winter mornings. Maybe at another monastery, there will not be that annoying monk who grinds his teeth at dinner. Maybe at the other monastery, you will always be the best version of yourself—praying the hours thoroughly and meditatively, holding your feelings in balance with reason, and living in perfect conformity to Christ.

You probably won’t. But if you bounce from monastery to monastery you’ll never have to confront that—you can always be the image of the monk you wish you were and who you truly are, when you are not tested. But the voice of God comes to us over bad connections, on long Indiana highways, and asks us to step away from the exit. You may protest, and rightfully so, that you are used to living in doorways. That many people are trapped in rooms too small for you, and you have no interest in being so, no sir, not you. You may have been trapped before and saved only because your hand was on the door. Or maybe it wasn't back then. And you don't make the same mistake twice.

You may want to step away from the exit, in fact, now this is the first time you are maybe convinced you would like to, and not know how. And your stomach lurches when you realize that simply knowing and wanting are not enough in this case, but must be followed by some activity. And you don't know the activity of staying, because you have always exited. Self-awareness is the font of grace, but not grace itself. How torturous a first step, when you cannot make the rest of the journey. The voice of God comes in the quiet request for something you don’t know how to do—a journey of remaining you are not sure how to begin.

We could stay in our peripatetic shell, the easy way we’ve always known, although we know it limits us. But love requires that we do hard things we don’t know how to do. Not by any sort of calculating rule, but because desire necessarily demands transformation. Stability is impossible without, I think, Benedict's third vow—conversion of life. This vow that keeps stability always fresh, that frees us to grow older and deeper, because we are rooted in something deeper than just the version of ourselves given to us by ourselves. We are rooted not in our vain image of perfection or the dark image of our sinful worthless, we are rooted in someone who is not ourselves.

This other person, like the new light of afternoon sun upon the monastery stones, will show us parts of ourselves that had been hidden in shadow. They will remove the scales of justice and sword from our hands. Why don't you, I say, live up to my standards, so that you can earn my love, conveniently excusing my own lapses in ideals.

As I walk through the cellar art gallery cum nuclear fallout vault, the monk says, so nonchalantly one could mistake it for a throwaway line: it's good to have ideals, but not to be idealistic.

The voice of God comes to us in strange places—in between illuminated scriptures in glass cases in the middle of a cold Minnesotan rain.

It's impossible to commit to this grey midcentury monastery—there may be better places. Indeed, there most likely are. But the point is that you are not there. You are here. There is one common factor in all these monasteries—you. You want places that will allow you to be the monk you want to with no effort or intention. The good you seek will slide into place like magic and wishful thinking, with no exertion of your will.

These places are utopia, not paradise. To persist in seeking them is to never enter anywhere at all, but rather to be always exiting.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

forms of prayer not found in the summa

This post is not for Thomists but for all young women driving alone on a southern summer day.

Sometimes prayer is a desire you can hardly summon up, you don't have any words to put to thoughts, you don't have any thoughts to turn to words.

But sometimes, instead of words, prayer is when you grab the small statuette of Mary holding a child off the crocheted lace of your bedside-table-cover and stick it in your suitcase. And your "Amen" is when you place it carefully above your trundle bed in an empty house that night. Offer it no lamentations and do not supplicate yourself before it. Recite no rosary, just look at it and remember spring in the midst of autumn.

Sometimes, also, prayer is the pause in the middle of your wallowing, when you are digging yourself into the mud, slinging it around the walls of your interior pit, pretending this dark hole is the only thing you see and the only place you’ve ever been.

After you've depleted all your mental and verbal energy slinging around bitter pity, prayer is that breath after exhaustion that suggests: shouldn't you be praying instead of waging war on the world in your head? Perhaps prayer is not even what happens afterwards, but simply just the reminder that there is a different way you could be operating.

Prayer is sometimes nothing more then the knowledge, the slight twinge of memory, that you should be praying, that there is a different way of life to live, a different logic of the world you can be operating in than the sorry one that you’ve constructed. It is the memory that there is more for you to do here, there is a task in front of you about someone and something more than simply you.

I do not know how to pray in moments when I am angry, sad, or scared. In moments of pain, prayer seems to be the luxury of the happy. But perhaps we learn to pray when we are happy so that in pain we can remember the way our heart beats in prayer, and even if we cannot summon up the words, we can put ourselves in the physical space of prayer. We can bow our heads, open up the ears of our hearts (a silly cliché, but a truly accurate metaphor for the physical change that seems to take place inside our bodies when we begin to listen. There's a somatic shift that does indeed feel like ears opening up). And we can walk into the church and sit and slam our books, stomp our feet, and simmer, with an angry heart despairing, in the back of church—but perhaps it is something just to be there.

They say relationships, God, and prayer are mostly just showing up—and that sounds easy. Perhaps the physically showing up in body teaches us how to pare our hearts open, and show up as in showing ourselves up, as in laying ourselves bare before another. Perhaps, then, prayer is the quiet moment after we are crying, it is the pause in the midst of our wallowing, it is the reminder that I am an example for my sister, it is the silent offering happening before the fight we are about to have because we are broken, limited, sad and selfish creatures—that says: this is what I am. That says to some silent power watching, or perhaps no one at all—this is me, before you, laying myself bare. It is not a pretty sight, but it is all I have to offer. And there’s really no point in trying to show up as anything else less or more.

I wonder if prayer teaches us relationship or relationships teach us prayer. Are we taught to grow with God so that we can learn to love our neighbor, or do we love our neighbor so that we might learn how to bare ourselves before the quiet God we cannot see? Perhaps the answer is that it is all one and the same paradise.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

how to heal a hurricane

"First and foremost, it must be frankly admitted straight away that it was not [the first monks'] intention to create a culture nor even to preserve a culture from the past. Their motivation was much more basic. Their goal was: quaerere Deum. Amid the confusion of the times, in which nothing seemed permanent, they wanted to do the essential – to make an effort to find what was perennially valid and lasting, life itself. They were searching for God. They wanted to go from the inessential to the essential, to the only truly important and reliable thing there is. It is sometimes said that they were “eschatologically” oriented. But this is not to be understood in a temporal sense, as if they were looking ahead to the end of the world or to their own death, but in an existential sense: they were seeking the definitive behind the provisional."
—Benedict XVI, Address at Collège des Bernardins, Paris, Friday, 12 September 2008

Today is the feast of the holy name of Mary, whose name refers to the sea (mare, maris, as you will remember from your childhood latin flashcards). Today I am thinking of the sea. Of the hurricane that is barreling towards this weekend and Denise’s wedding.

Today I am meant to be pondering the woman named for the sea that is currently swirling itself into a giant storm, preparing to unleash it on all sorts of people and their lives, one of them a bride.

Hurricanes are funny critters. Their wide swaths of raging wind, torrents of water, flooding are all the chaos of the surf hitting the sand, writ large over an area less hardy than the long-suffering beaches. The sea is never kind to land, but generally it stays in its limits and the vanguards of the shore—cliffs, sharp rocks, and tidal pools—are made of sterner stuff than the delicate flora deeper inland. A hurricane just plows through all the careful borders terra firma has erected to protect her holdings.

But at the center of this storm is—what? An eye of stillness. An impenetrable fortress surrounded by a thick, foreboding ring of thunderstorms. At the epicenter of this whirl of destruction is something dead and lifeless.

The heart of a hurricane is not something vibrant and life-giving—a hurricane is not a surplus of energy—it is fueled by something dead. It is the revolt of nature against stagnation.

But not matter how much the hurricane roars outside, it can never bring to life the air inside its eye. Destruction, tearing down whatever is around it, cannot bring what’s dead back to life.

I wonder: how can you heal a hurricane?

Can you talk it down, reason with it, help it see whatever lie—sung to it from the depths of the cumulus banks hanging above the far reaches of the Atlantic—it’s running from is false?

Can you weather it? Can you bear the brunt of its lashes season after season, and hope that one day its energy will cease. But the hurricane is powered by all sorts of currents, winds, and jet streams invisible to casual coastal observation. How do you reach to the heart of the hurricane, unwind its windy origins, and follow the tides back to their source?

Does it respond to love?

Can you love a creature into wholeness, slowly bringing back to life what’s dead inside them, assuaging fears, healing hurts, and knitting together the breaks life has cracked in them?

What if the storm does not want to be a spring zephyr, but would rather be a hurricane?

It seems to love something like this, that insists on being dead and making death, is impossible. It will end with injury on one end an a deeper entrenchment into the eye of its own misery on the other.

Indeed, one ought to respond to the hurricane’s intrusion with stronger seawalls, with clear guidelines, and with forthright instructions to darken our skies no more.

But, there is another way, and I am fascinated by it, because I do not understand it:

When one person submits themselves to the creatures who reject him, seeks them even when they hide their faces, and searches for them in the backwater corners of the earth where they thought no trace of divinity could ever penetrate, it seems that the same God who breathed over the waters is present there. To love the sand with the unabashed persistence of the surf and to love the surf with the kind patience of the sand is to love as this creator does, who made gale force winds and quiet rains.

The love that moves the stars and stops the clouds is not a love that’s quid pro quo nor even, truly, rational. It is a love greater than I can fathom, that springs from a source deeper than the seabed.

It takes a great act of faith to believe that our daily life has sprung from this sort of love, that this gratuitous giving is the logic of the world. It doesn’t seem correct, it doesn’t seem right, according to my calculations, it won’t work to love that way.

What will work (and I've crunched the numbers, so I know), is to surround your inner self with an impenetrable fortress, so that, your sense of self and worth intact, you can move through the world as you please. You will not be beholden, you will not be breached or mistreated or misunderstood.

In my head, that looks so graceful, fruitful and idyllic. It is a clean picture, a portrait with one subject. But nature demonstrates to what horrors that portrait eventually devolves.

In love, there is no middle ground. There is no safe plateau in which you can stall, planning one day to love, but, for now, hoping to get away with staying in the bay and never setting out for open water.

There is only one choice: self or other, soul or world, life or death. And it is made each day, day after day, in the midst of hurricanes and heat waves, in the thick of destruction and in times of plenty. We are always making it, even if we do not know it, even if we would rather not know it.

I think today of this hurricane and Mary. One a cautionary tale of the havoc unleashed into the world when a creature encases its cold self in the thick defense of stormy self-protection. The other a shining image of the abundant life that is be poured out into the world by choosing this love which knows itself so well it thinks not of itself. This love that is grounded in the definite, that is rooted in a world beyond the weather patterns of the provisional.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

fingerprints of god

Their goal was: quaerere Deum.  Amid the confusion of the times, in which nothing seemed permanent, they wanted to do the essential – to make an effort to find what was perennially valid and lasting, life itself. —Benedict XVI, address at the Collège des Bernardins, Paris, 12 September 2008

The tea kettle boils, and I cut two slices of lemon to slip into the hot water. I grin as I see Charis’ sign on the attic trapdoor: "Workshop Open." The attic is no longer just a room with rafters, but it is her own private factory. She has stamped upon it an identity that it gave to her, amidst its boxes and Thomas Edison lightbulb on a string, and she gave to it a new identity, dignifying it beyond its station. Certainly not breaking the limits of what it could be defined as, but opening up its identity to something new.

Imagination is a childlike activity, in the sense that children do it naturally. For imagination is the necessary catalyst of growth. Imagination asks us to play with possibilities: what's this, we've never seen this before? Ah, but it reminds us of the thing we noticed yesterday—of an image in a book our father read to us, in a word our mother used and we did not understand—it is like the small thing in our private world, but there it is out in the real world, larger and more intimidating—expansive. If we never were able to expand into the world, we would perpetually be an hour old, and limited to sphere of understanding of that hour. But that hour contained all the raw material we needed to begin.

Adults are generally tired of imagination, for expanding expends a lot of energy. But the task of the adult is similar if not identical to the child: to pick up the pieces of what we are given—to receive what is in our environments, to pick whatever fruit is on the tree, and build it into something all our own.

I biked to work to the tune of Lotti’s Crucifixus in the crisp autumn morning and came home to the tune of stars in the cold night air over dark fir trees and the lights from patios still warm from being occupied all summer. 
On the bike, whose tires are so stingy I swear they are just painted on the metal wheels, my mind is clear and sharp, as I speed through the sweet September air. Something about the motion of the bike ride generates a perception and a perspective I have been lacking, I feel.

But here it is again: we are picking up what we are given—a home, an office, two miles that must be traveled to get to one or the other—and making something beautiful out of it. The commute is the task, but what I can make of it is the life. What I make of all these data points is life itself. In the task, I can either settle for the provisional, or seek that which is perennially valid.

This is not to say that biking is more valid than the bus. In the bus, I can notice the face of the woman reading the religious magazine, who looks like a standard New York City character—the elderly liberal, hippie woman who wears linen granola clothing, and is perpetually judging everyone else in the car for never behaving with the right etiquette. I can see the woman stumbling between seats until she finally decides to crash next to an unamused student in professional clothing, scrolling through her phone.

The bus is not provisional either, or at least the people who ride it are not.

That is to say, it is, just like the bike and the stars that hang in the pitch-black sky above the spiky treetops, it is contingent. But what we make of them is what is valid, permanent. To handle each small contingent factor is to treat them with responsibility—for each factor and facet of our day is encountered not for our or quite their sakes, but for something above and beyond the both of us.

The community the monks made was the community made up of one another, but above and beyond them all. Their task was nothing more than the ultimate, child-like act of simply making life. Not making a profit, or making a journey, or making something of themselves, but making whatever finite they found that day ring with something deeper and more essential, something definite and divine.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

prevenient courage

I hold you in the palm of my hand,
cradling you so gently,
and imagine holding
My hand behind your head—


and I

Could spend all my life learning to
reverence you,
To hold your head and body gently
And your heart, too.

Monday, September 3, 2018

the extraordinary

Is this it? I wondered (out loud). Is this what life would be with its ins and outs and ups and downs?
The sunlit bedroom on the edge of the park was filled with very ordinary light. Moments arise out of music in the city, much wine in the piazza, and growlers on cold beaches that undeniably beckon us with the call to fall in love. They are moments dripping in excess with beauty. They are not hum-drum, they are wrapped in the magic that is not quotidian. I knew this was one of those moments that was love. But love looked very ordinary that morning.

This is sad, and a little disappointing, because the event itself is and was extraordinary. In fact, upon reflection, it is what I had sought my entire life. This was a moment that I'd always looked for, and I didn't recognize it when it came. Extraordinary is all wrapped up in ordinary—Incarnation means glory is always hidden in plain sight, and the sight truly appears plain.

What it signals, I imagine, is a failure of my own vision. I practice attentiveness, so that the world will always yield its beauty. I pray, so that I can recognize God in the world around me. I fall in love, because the person is so lovable. But it is so easy to see nothing but yourself. Is it possible that a human can love the other so generously and honestly to constantly recognize the divine miracle in the ordinary other?

I wonder how Mary remembered, each day, that the small, ordinary boy she picked up from the dirt under the olive trees was truly the Son of God. Her task is honestly the greatest of all tasks—to be able to welcome the miraculous into your life, to let it take up residence in your heart, to entrust yourself to it, allow yourself to be vulnerable to its love, which means being available to its harms—and to never forget that this vision is divine. It would have been so easy—in fact, quite human—for Mary to forget (for just the smallest moment) that her son was God. He was just a son: messy, alert when she was tired, sad when she was happy, and loud when she wanted quiet. He was just another person, just another ego drifting outside her own.

But perhaps what we mean by Mary's model of discipleship is that she never once forgot. Perhaps we seek so thoroughly to understand the origin of her grace is because her vision never faltered and was never clouded. Perhaps Incarnation is the one pure moment in the symphony where one human being did the will of God so thoroughly and completely that it, in fact, constituted his own will—the word God spoke was his mission and his person. And that Word entered the world because one young woman saw in this treasure the face of God, and set her heart—its own unique instrument and song—to play in time with his.

How can this be—that human love can achieve the attentiveness of the divine? And that, through this unwavering attentiveness, this constantly recollection in her heart, her love revealed the face of God to the world.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

to the father's breast

Overcoming evil with good does not often yield results in the short term, and it lacks all the special satisfactions of revenge.—Marilynne Robinson, “Memory”

The river reflects the city lights, and, for a flash, the white crack of lightning above the South Bend skyline. The eternal ducks perpetually paddle by the bank, and I take my seat above them, just a few yards from the boathouse—site of a late-night homicide, my friends inform me. The romance that inflects this river haven scarred by a macabre crime.

Throughout the rule of Benedict, the liturgy of the hours is called "The Work of God." It seems to be the response of the monks to God, to make what is unholy—simply another day of the week—a holy day.

It is a tragedy, I say over beers, that we fall in love with people are are miraculous. Who are dazzling, objectively, magnificently lovable, even in their flaws. And we spend our lives treating them just like they are other Others and we are the one massive Ego pitted against them. It's like taking Eucharist bread and turning it into breakfast toast. How absolutely not how human beings are supposed to operate. And what a lonely position: one lone self opposite a world.

Is perhaps Incarnation the work of a God whose world springs forth intimately from the heart of the divine? Creation is not a world vis-à-vis the God who made it, is it? Isn't nature somehow kin to grace? Is Incarnation the natural process of bringing what is other to be one's own self? Is this not the project of a creating God—to make what is good and beautiful, with the sole goal of collapsing the barriers that isolate beauty from Glory?

Is perhaps Incarnation the work of a God who is playing the long game and drawing us into the game as well?

As Benedict says, the work of God is not complete in six or seven days. It is not finished, really, with one cross and resurrection. The work of God, begun from before time, and crescendoing to one man's lifetime two thousand years ago, is our lives. It is taking our prayer out to the riverbank and to the swirling eddies of our own hearts and bringing all the false unholy corners of them into the light of God. So that Incarnation can reach to the very depths of hell within us, and conquer that ugliness in us with beauty.