Friday, November 30, 2018

when I'm naked I miss you

when I'm naked I miss you
a love poem that's not elegant—
but true.

before I even breathe,
each day,
my morning offering remains
your face on the pillow next to mine.

each night,
I tuck myself in with
memories of your skin.

at matins, lauds, and nones
my psalms are old jokes
and lullabies of your eyes.

Teach my neck how to forget.
Memory may be next to godliness,
but I do not want God's sort of pain.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

ceaseless peregrinations

Lately, I've been waking up in the middle of the night and turning myself over like a pancake in the hands of an indecisive line cook on a lukewarm stove.

Nothing seems to assuage the restlessness: not even, apparently, rest.

It is rather horrifying to discover how deep an emptiness you are at 3am. When there is nothing but the night pressing in around you, you discover yourself to be just one endless cavern of aching desire. I find myself torn open, aching for being met in a way I do not currently even have the language to describe.

I am just one yawning pit of only desire. I am all torn into pieces, wishing and hoping for something that doesn't even exist—whose memories are experienced in fractals and in fits and starts.

guess I’m just going to resign myself to being restless, I say—the first time that a trace of bitterness has ever crept into my conversations with the quiet Jesuit spiritual director.

Usually, when I say something immature, ridiculous, or overly dramatic, the Jesuit tries to hide his smile behind his scarf or jacket. He doesn’t smile at this.

I think, he says, you could ask: “Where can I be of service?” And this will help direct the restlessness.

I nod, slowly.

That's wise, I say, out loud. Because I can think of nothing else to say and I am not wise enough to just keep silent. Instead of meeting a question with an answer, to give my rather desperate questioning a guiding question to ask is wise. It is helpful, not because I will find the answer, but because instead of exhausting myself in a life as a flailing interrogative, I have become a single question, who can receive a single answer.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018


It is funny, the companions who arrive when we least expect it.

There is a small statue of Mary that I pack with me constantly. I do not know why Mary comes with me to the Carolinas, to weddings, on work meetings back to South Bend, accompanying me day after day—but I do know that she represents something.

And I love her, this small Mary who has shepherded me. She juggles the lamb of God in the crook of one of her arms and a small little lamb in the other. She carries them all and she carries me as well.

Mary represents a vision and a vocation—a vocation not only to bring Christ into the world as all people bring Christ into the world: a universal human vocation. She represents, in particular my vocation, to make Christ present through words, to bring the Word of life to life in my own life. In moments when I cannot pray (there are many) I think, as I hold onto this small statue that I am at least reminded of the life I should be living, and the heart I should be loving with, and to be reminded of it is to not lose sight of it entirely.

Both times, as I've flown back to New York from South Bend, I have sat next to precocious children unafraid to speak.

Do you live here? asked the small girl as we were landing.
Yes, I said. And I showed them pictures of my neighborhood, and the quiet Sugar Hill brownstones in the fall.
I've never been here before! she shivered with nervous excitement.
I think you'll like it, I said, but sometimes it takes some getting used to.

Next to me on the plane this time, there is a mother with two young children. She has a unique accent: I later learn that she is Romanian. The elder of her sons dutifully watches Inside Out, mesmerized by the screen the entire time. The other, a small tot of 11 months, clambers over her lap, shrieks with excitement and coos at any passenger who will look his way, grinning with glee. He chuckles and smiles, and chews on his small plastic walkie-talkie to soothe his aching gums which are just beginning (I'm sure) to sprout teeth.

I lift up the armrest, and he sits in the space between his mother and me. I help him look out the window at the clouds and city lights. I teach him to say: "wow" at the bright city below him. I show him Thomas Merton’s picture on the cover of my book.

I am enchanted, by the baby’s smile, by his mimicking of my “wows” until his entire face becomes just one single expression of wonder.

Being around a child is so important, I remember, because it reminds you of how gently we ought to hold others—even hard-boiled adults. People walk up to us with stories they are right in the middle of, and we do not know where they have come from. They, perhaps, don't even know what they are coming out of, what they bring with them. You have to hold not just them, but their story, gently.

It is so easy to forget this.

How you interact with anyone is high stakes, because even the smallest gesture has the ability to wound, but interacting with a child reminds you of this, because all of your interactions are first impressions as they teach a child what to expect from the world: teach him or her to expect that the world that greets him or her each morning will be polite, will take him or her seriously, will treat him or her with kindness.

These children, like the miniature Marian figurine, are small companions who contain within themselves a call back to oneself and one's vocation to pick up the world as if it were Christ or a little lamb and cradle it in your arms with kindness.

Monday, November 26, 2018

jane & annie & me & georgia

"Don't solve all of your problems," laughs Jen.

We haven't solved anyyyyyyyy, we moan over our whiskeys.

I walked into the bar that evening and Jen looked up from her old-fashioned with her friends and her jaw dropped as she saw me and we hugged. In that hug, I was so grateful for the women who had seen me through this week.

I woke up from a jealous dream on Wednesday morning before my alarm, because I hadn't set one. As I lay in the warm quiet of the Rancho morning, pulling myself into the world of blankets and tree branches out the window, I felt myself breathing.

This is living.

This is living, in the space between mattress and bedspread, feeling the air enter my nostrils and fill my lungs.

Living gets messy as the day goes by, and I endure some bumps and bruises and dole out others. My grandmother claims she doesn't give advice, but she does.

She says wise things like that sticking with someone for your whole life is either an act of laziness or great courage. She says: do you want a beer? And when I say I'm going for a walk, she says that's a great idea and comes with me to show me where the deer skulls are in the woods. Maybe I will paint them like Georgia O'Keeffe.

(I do.)

Walking through the Rancho reminds me that I am supposed to read Annie Dillard at the Rancho. I am reminded of reading Annie Dillard in the sunroom several Thanksgivings ago.

Painting reminds me even more of that Thanksgiving: I was writing a statement of intent and painting and reading about Tinker Creek and discovering pictures from an old love affair of my mother's, which reminded me I had something in common with this woman I came from but was different from, and I was in an M.C. Escher phase. And there was a boy, of course, who went with the M.C. Escher and the Annie Dillard. Dating is terrible, because once they depart, your shared universe rolls back up like a scroll, and they take with them all the pieces of your world you made together, leaving vacuous space in its place. Not just neutrality, but a positive void.

But as you learn to forget the other person, you have to forget these things, too. You halt these corollary loves which are so good—yes M.C. Escher, or the Sagrada Familia—these are not just 90's bands that have been ruined!

I suppose, however, eventually, you can relearn to love something outside of the memories it holds, as long as it is big and important enough to have space for you without the love that stamped it with its seal—I mean large and lovely things that are full of their own life: like M.C. Escher, the person you in fact once dated, God, or yourself.

I read Annie Dillard out by the pond in between psalms. Annie is also one of those wise women guides, in book form. Unhuggable, but breathable.

My other grandmother (my namesake) laughs at me as I lie wrapped up in a blanket on her sleeper sofa and chat with her in the early morning.

Renée, your romances are always so entertaining.

I laugh, too. But less at my romances and mostly with her laughing at me. They are less entertaining from the inside, I protest. But she shakes her head and tells me how young I am.

Life's full of just odd things, says Darline. There's a lot of just really weird experiences you will have, strange things happen to you. And in between there's a lot of ordinary things.

There are a lot of ordinary things, in between the messes and heartbreaks and ovens locked with pies still inside them and carrying pallets of onions across 52nd street in traffic and funny Thanksgivings flying across the country.

The ordinary things are good: how good it is, says Darline, to just sit together in the morning and laugh about the funny things kids say.

Don't solve all of your problems; leave some for us—problems are more fun when they are shared together, anyway.

You are young enough you think you can solve them on your own, but old enough to know that you will never find your way through them without the authors and the artists who give you a vision you can live by, and the women whose living provides them with clear vision.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

memoria dei, augustine dicit

Don’t feel bad, Augustine, that you can’t explain the Resurrection. We can’t even explain energy in the lab.

There’s a reason our professor keeps relating us to undergrads during this discussion of the Resurrection of the Body. We sound like a bunch of children trying to figure out the universe’s backbone, which is entirely impossible: most of the universe is dark matter and most of our lives is what is forgotten.

In that vein, memory is a sacrament of reassurance to us. A promise encoded into our bodies and our minds, in a being we have received, that what our lives are made of, that which we have forgotten, is not gone, but is deep inside of us and always capable of being recalled. Nothing, really is lost. A stray scent on a street will bring back our grandmother's house. A hand upon our hair reminds us of being in our mother's lap.

Memory is a slight taste, perhaps, of resurrection—our self, our experiences, which have been lost to us are brought back to our consciousness. We are constantly dying in our forgetfulness, losing ourselves as time's conveyor belt carries bits of ourselves away from us. What else is death than this falling prey to forgetfulness, than this conquering, the eventual scattering of who and what we are into the void of what is-not-present.

But, memory whispers, maybe even the dark matter of the universe will eventually be brought to light. Maybe in resurrection, even those patches of what have become non-existent will become illuminated. Maybe they will be tangible to us once more.

Perhaps resurrection is like coming together of memory of the world: we will make the world a memory, but that memory will be alive, tangibly, in our bodies that will live in the memory of God.

When you love someone, you turn your entire world, all your body, into a memory of them. Each of your waking moments is spent re-learning how to pray them. Your body becomes a site where once they were—a geography their hands have traveled. Your lips are marked by theirs, your entire body is now a map where they have met you and become not just a visitor but part of who you are.

Resurrection must be like that: in the Resurrection, which has begun, I believe, even now, God is making us a memory of God's own self. Our bodies have become a map where God has visited us. God has not simply spoken to our hearts or taken up residence in our souls. God has not contented himself to remain in our imaginations or in the headier realms of the spiritual: for where are those?

No, God, too, has touched us. God has met us in the intersection of the corporeal and the spiritual. God became, from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have looked at and touched. God became a place: a place where we can meet him, where we can learn the topography of his wounds, where he can meet us in our bodies, in our memories.

Perhaps that is what it means to be images of God: we are places where God has been.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

how does the war start

- Henry, we've mangled everything we've touched.
- Deny us what we will, we have done that.

The Lion in Winter (1968)

In an award-winning tension-filled family Christmas reunion that no snarky thinkpiece could prepare one for, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II spend most scenes lighting fireworks under each other's skirts and tallying points scored. Their three sons and Henry's former ward now mistress Alice are no better. Everyone's got an angle, to borrow a line from another famous Christmas classic, and these angles are rather sharp and are designed to impale someone eventually.

When someone's conniving crosses the lines of affection and becomes treason against both Henry's heart and crown, Henry reaches a breaking point. After boring through each other's armor for three-quarters of the film, we have finally reached Henry's and Eleanor's hearts.

Henry accuses Eleanor of coming between him and his eldest son, Richard, he roars that he was ousted from her bed and her heart by her doting on their son. Eleanor responds: "only after you replaced me with Rosamund," Henry's first mistress.

It's not that simple; I won't let it be that simple, spits back Henry.

It's a glorious roller-coaster of a movie. Every player in this royal family is armed to the hilt: with words, with political savvy in spades, with claws so sharpened they seem nearly literal. It's a wild west in twelfth-century England. It's thrilling to watch, but distressing, as both Eleanor and Henry recognize that whatever it is they're doing, it's not what they set out to do. Henry mourns his life, when written down, will be better read than lived. Eleanor is taunted constantly for being heartless and deceptive to the core, but, despite Henry's protestations, it appears that it really is that simple.

That at the center of all her political machinations is her broken heart from losing Henry—ostensibly.

James Goldman's script weaves together relational conflict with political comment so deftly and dizzyingly, we are unsure of what the movie sees as the stony heart of this intractable family drama that trades around in its squabbling some of the richest provinces of Europe. What is at utter bottom of these characters' desires: is it power or is it love? Can they even tell the difference?

I was thinking of this when reading JD Flynn's Twitter thread, covering many statements of the recent USCCB conference, including this one, featuring a quote from Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando:

"Life in the Church is moving on. If you're not reading the blogs and you're not watching tv, this is not front and center for most of our ppl." Says he does not mean by that to dismiss the real pain of victims. Says bps have to continue to be good bps to regain trust.

It reminds me of Eleanor's attitude, borne out, perhaps from many Christmases of a similar ilk, that this will go on perpetually, that there is no danger of what they have built breaking. That they are allowed to roar and snarl, entangled in each other's lives forever.
"What family doesn't have its ups and downs?" she quips.

Her final departure from Henry: "you'll let me out for Easter?" as she heads back again to her palace prison, unable to win her freedom this year, is supposed to, I think, be a sort of "happy ending."

This seems to be a declaration, in some way, of trust, of love. Of recognizing that the project that we are embarked upon is one that holds us to it, above and beyond our own inability to transcend our limited human abilities.

Oh isn't that nice, we seem to be prompted to think. Henry's still sleeping with this other woman and Eleanor still hasn't won her freedom, and no one has died or gotten anything that they actually want. Always good to see a status quo of misery really dig its heels in.

But really, this is remarkably troubling. It seems less like stability and more like delusion. True stability is difficult to come by, so most humans opt for delusion. It's cheaper and more readily available.

Yes, of course, there is some human failing that we will always have with us and the projects we undertake and structures that we build must suffer them, account for them, even embrace them, but there has to be a place where one draws the line. It is not acceptable that the potential collateral damage of being in the presence of a priest is that you will be severely physically, emotionally, or psychologically damaged. It is not acceptable that the potential outcome of a visit to the bishop is disregard for a priest's crime or that any person in a position of power has the ability to abuse the men in his care. It is not acceptable, because these are not simply ornamental damages. These are flaws that are fundamentally in opposition to what the institution is trying to be, what the project is trying to achieve that their presence undercuts the project in the first place.

It is no good saying we want to be a Church that saves souls and brings God's grace to the work and this is a task that stands above and beyond its fragile human members when those fragile human members who are responsible for this project abuse souls and obstruct grace. How seriously do you take this project, if your behavior is so diametrically opposed to its goals and there is such flagrant apathy towards preventing that behavior in the future? These are not small foibles, these are serious flaws that cry out for new structures to prevent them from occurring regularly. Since they apparently are able to flourish like weeds in sidewalk cracks, it's time to build a new sidewalk, maybe not with cement which is, as is common knowledge, prone to cracking. This is the sort of rebuilding that is called for. As Bishop Wenski adds, outrage is a popular stance, an industry feeds it and exploits the just anger that ought to lead to some new outcome.

Moving on from anger, relaxing one's grip on whatever stick is available to shake is, sure, good. And it is a blessed natural occurrence. Being a limited human creature means, mercifully, that moods subside, thank God.

But it is no virtue that life in the Church is "moving on," as Bishop Wenski says. There does not seem to be contained in this "moving on" any sort of positive moral attribute. For "moving on" is not a healthy reaction to a problem unless the problem has been solved. Even our sacramental reconciliation commands us to add the coda of a firm purpose to sin no more. We are forgiven, but what good is that if we go right back to our vomit? Our moods subside, thank God, but then our reason has to pick up where our emotions left us and carry the baton, even though our moods and emotions are distracted by a thousand other shiny objects:

Christmas is coming to an end, we are fed up of being stuck in the castle. We really do love each other, so let's just put up and shut up—and, look there's another crusade that we could fight or some other shiny bauble to be chasing—and pretend this never happened. You go back to your place, I go back to mine. In three hundred sixty days, our unrepented prides will land us right back in the ring together, and we'll continue this like Sisyphus for as long as we are standing. It's exhausting, but that's life!

But we are not animals, and habit is as strong a force of nature as any, but we have minds and also hearts that allow us to break toxic status quos.

There is a world, there must be, in which grace can occur—and grace always leads to transformation, teaching even the oldest dogs new tricks. There is a world in which growth, not moving on, can actually occur. There is a world in which Eleanor can get her freedom, in which even churches can convert themselves, and in which even the most weaponized of wills can disarm themselves. In a world where carpenters get resurrected, as says Eleanor, anything is possible.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Eve's New Eden

Eve has been having nightmares of serpents—disgusting, radiant pythons slipping above her head through treetops, vipers slithering through the grass beneath her toes, and beady-eyed copperheads flicking their forked tongues at her as she walks to her waterfall. She steps into the pool and she feels a scaly body wind around her leg—Eve screams and—

she wakes up in a cold sweat.

Adam—she hits her sleeping groom to rouse him and he is instantly awake.

What’s wrong? He asks, groggy but alert.

Eve is sitting up underneath their shared sycamore tree, where they sleep each night. The humidity that hangs about the foothills of Mount Hermon is weighing heavily on her lungs—her heart beats as though it were about to explode. She is too hot to sleep. And when she closes her eyes, she sees serpents that wind around her heart and neck, choking the rhythm of her pulse.

Even though her lungs are like lead—she can barely speak—Eve cries: I feel like I’m in hell.

No human has ever heard this word before—no one has ever said it. But Adam recognizes it instantly. Words arise from shared realities, and he knows the reality that Eve is feeling. It’s something—some dread possibility—they have discovered together in this world beyond paradise. And he hates it, just as she does.

Eve notices that Adam does not seem annoyed at her neologism. She has learned that Adam has an insecurity about new language—he seems himself as an inventor rather than a pupil—and she feels small tendrils of resentment running underneath the crust between them when she improvises something new. It is hard, she grants, to feel the world you've been made a master of slip out from underneath you and rise to greet you as something you must submit to, too.

Adam turns towards her—his eyes closed, but his voice open:

You are not in hell, he says.

It is not much—just a simple statement of fact. But it opens up the cloudy night air for a little space for stars. There is no breeze just yet. But Eve lays back down in the deep shade of the sycamore.

Adam and Eve have learned a lot this night: there is a condition of the heart a doctor cannot heal—when it closes up inside itself and nothing else can enter it. What is usually a space where you can meets the world becomes a prison that keeps you from it. They call this hell.

But if someone else is there with you, even in the miserable death of a humid night, then your hell has been harrowed and you are no longer in it.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Prayer for Claire and Jon and Emily

This is not Chinatown—
and I am not drinking whiskey—
this is a leftover white wine in Harlem
sort of night.

I call my mother,
crying, outside St. Patrick's:
please don't try to fix this can you just listen, I plead
with the woman who taught me problem-solving,
as Italian tourists stare at me

Inside St. Patrick's,
the church is its regular maze of dazzling,
serene brightness.

It, like the small pleasures of finding your own supermarket,
are a call to Eucharist.

I wasn't supposed to spend much money,
but the Mexican sweet bread looks too tantalizing in the Rubbermaid bin,
and it tastes like home
and thanksgiving
so I tear off thick pieces with crumbled icing
while learning my new neighborhood.

Once you re-arrange things,
it’s a wonder that you allowed yourself to exist in the squalor of before.

I hang up the Cranach painting of Adam and Eve,
as a gesture of
delusion or denial,
despair or,
like Eve's gesture,
a return:
placing the apple back on the branch,
placing the picture finally on the wall.

This is a thank you for Emily
and to Jon for reminding me that art can be
(and is often)
made in the midst of loneliness.
This is a thank you to my mother for teaching me to fix things:
that even what is messy can be tidied,
that it is never too late to send Christmas cards, hang photographs,
that even what is broken can be mended.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Letter from Philemon to Paul

No, friend—
I have experienced so much joy
and such great encouragement from
The love that pours out of you
onto the page and into the world,
into the hearts of all the holy ones.

You refresh us, like a small stream of water on a long and dusty hike.

How can I receive Onesimus as anything other than
our mutual friend—
a mutual child, almost, of our love?

I am a harsh master and have sent many slaves away.
I do not know how to receive Onesimus as a changed man,
but, for your sake, I will try.

It is difficult, I know, to let go of people you have learned to love, so your kindness in sending Onesimus home is not lost on me.

If youth is the side of our hearts that grasps at what the world offers us, fearing to be alone, and age is the wisdom that rests in reality, then you are not so old as you have learned perfectly how to let go of what you love.

What virtue would it be for me to demand him from you? Or what virtue would it be for you to demand him from me? That would be an insult to our friendship, to this long love that we have shared, to the work that we have partnered in together, Paul. And yet, even though you would like to keep him, you sent him to me—your very self, your heart, as you say.

You say Onesimus will stay with me forever—but I will die, and one day he will be alone. All that will remain of us will be the memories we have left him. For his sake, yours, and my own, I will try to learn gentleness, so that the remainder of our days will be filled with the sweetness of love shared between equals. So that the memories he will live of us when we are dead are good.

In a poor effort of repayment for the great gift of your heart, I have no other way to share with you my love than to love Onesimus—your son—now mine.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

hard turning

Ellie’s eyes laughed and she looked up to the ceiling of the E train and chuckled—the way people who have lived a lot remember the time before they had lived as much—as she said: “You have so much going on. And it’s all good stuff.”

Good stuff?

I mentally stomped my foot the way I used to physically when I was three. It’s hard to be laughed at when you are seven and it's—I suppose it’s actually easier when you’re twenty-seven. It just doesn’t happen as much and it’s usually not as obvious.

"What do you mean?"

She laughed again out loud and listed back to me all the decisions and angsts I had listed to her, none of which included feeding children, spouse or aging parent.

"It’s all good stuff. And you’re figuring it out."

Giant sigh.

"I don’t know what I’m doing with my life."

"Well, let me tell you, you never stop figuring that out."


How annoying, I thought, not to be given answers to all the questions I am trying to resolve. How frustrating to explain the problems and find no solution.

Even as a gripe for answers, I try to imagine what living a solution is like. Are there times in my life that I have lived this way that I imagine what “True Living” (once I have worked through all this becoming and growing nonsense) looks like in my head: perfectly at peace, sticking with my prayer routines, effortlessly giving myself over to work or school or whoever appears in my life that day, knowing without a doubt that this is where I am meant to be and who I am meant to love, right now, in this moment?

It is not an accident that the myth of a golden age is so universally appealing: as I look back on seasons in my life that are not now, it is not only easy but fundamentally natural to forget the small daily battles of ego versus other which actually make up the bread and butter of each day. I forget the internal struggle to take time to talk to a student when I am rushing to class. It is easy to erase from memory the nights I went to bed lonely, even after praying. I quickly elide over the anxiety of planning out a life and mapping everything into one day. Of not having time to breathe or write a letter to a grandmother. Even in the times I look back on most fondly, that radiate beauty into sad mornings and ward off despondency like sunshine—if I recall them honestly—even then I was caught in guilt or angst or heartbreak. I wrestled with doubts and insecurities and fears even in Kolkata and East Harlem and South Bend.

No, as I think about it, there doesn’t seem to be a single time in my life I have lived in a solution. I have always been living in a problem, living in tensions—creative or no—living in the question of what will I become? What will I do with my life—the only comprehensible unit of which is a today?

I was not “happier” before today, in another place, in another time. Nostalgia is so tantalizing, but it is such a siren’s call: memories are woven into our present, but try to make them the locus of our living, and they vanish. There isn't any other time than now, and there isn't any other place but here, and there are no other people than the ones that appear in your today. True living isn't lived in the external accidentals, but in the quiet place of your heart where the binding and the loosing take place. That place has never changed, not since you were very little. You are still in it. And the question is: are you happy there or not?

Ellie gets off the train and I am still on it.

As the wheels of the train pound, their rhythm churns out refrains of Annie Dillard: There are no events but thoughts and the heart's hard turning, the heart's slow learning where to love and whom.

The rest is merely gossip and tales for other times.

Monday, November 12, 2018

allow me

Allow me, please,
One miserable pseudo-sonnet,
Because I am not sure if I am
Disillusioned or merely broken-hearted.

Symphony sings through the coffee shop speakers—
This shop feels like Tmol Shilshom
—the perfect place to ponder heartache
mull as long as you please
dissect your feelings
while the bearded theology student pays.

Symphony comes on—
this time,
I did not turn it on or request it—
It was not that.

It was you
Pouring in in ways I hadn’t
anticipated or suspected
You were a surprise—
Ill-timed, really,
Interrupting work.

Out-of-place because what about this was surprise?
This was just another plan of mine,
a play I schemed and you slipped into place,
acquiescing passively, allowing the world
to happen to you,
until you resist a porous world—
until I realize a character has gone rouge
until you were doing something else.

But no.
That’s not quite true:
you were unexpected,
uninvited to the party,
unplanned homecoming on a Thursday morning,
unanticipated chianti.

Here you are again,
Doing your own thing
In this truly terrible
imitation of Tmol Shilshom.

And I want you to arrive
On your own
Like Symphony.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

nothing's broken

Do not be so gauche as to actually
break a bond you've forged
do not be so heartless as to actually snap
shared life back into two.

Rather, let the velocity of selfishness
pull her to her feet, speed her from you.
Let the inertia of misery keep you in your place.
It's less a break than a falling apart
some rot at the center eats away at it,
some atmospheric static keeps the glue from holding,
a common rationale went missing,
the logos of an earthly paradise got lost.

It's less a severing than a slow bath in lethe,
fingers turning into prunes underneath the water,
but no one exits,
we are dehydrated, but no one drinks.

It's less a breaking than
an intentional mis-remembering
of your face, your hands, your heart.

It's a purposeful forgetting of how to hold you gently,
a slow-withdrawal from your
newly shark-eyed arms.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

eternity springs from hope

"People can feel when you give up on them," I said to Sam on the phone in the doctor's office—feeling, for one moment, like my mother, juggling the phone on her face, pulling cards out of her wallet, while checking in with the nurse. It is easier to give up on someone than hoping in them.

I think of all the ways we try to ward off heartbreak—making vows, building systems, creating a world we can be sure of, certain of, without the pain of faith, without that terrible, awful feeling that we will be hurt and wounded. We insist on our rights, because we know that it is fundamentally right for us to be met in love, and it is absolutely guaranteed that we will be unmet in love. The potential for total devastation runs under every single day of our lives.

There are two sorts of people in this world: the people who respond to this perpetual potential with denial: this will not happen to me. I am a Smart, Competent, Truly Highly-Able Person. All about me, I see the common fool continually crushed under the weight of disappointment and heartbreak. This will not happen to me. This person seeks with whatever very capable talents that they have, to control their lives. They set their mind to achieve the goals they have laid out for them, they make plans and stick to them, they devise systems of understanding, categorizing, and responding to the world. They do not brook surprise, they have already ordered their world. There is no space for an ounce of uncertainty, there is no room for anything they have not already previously accounted for—particularly not the radical variable of another person.

If they will only accept that which they control, their world will slowly shrink until it is no wider than the boundaries of our own self. For humans really cannot bring anything under their domain that is not them. To rule by control, then, means to make everything Self. This is not Adam's paradise, but Hell.

Adam in paradise ruled not by naming all things "Adam," but by naming them their own unique names. Adam ruled by seeing the world as what it truly is—something mysterious and other. Something beyond the boundaries of himself. And then he fell, because he saw that he could take the world and subsume it into his control, into his own self.

There is another response to the human condition of constantly standing on the precipice of heartbreak. There is another way.

You must respond to the chasm that opens at your feet by constantly extending yourself over it—because that is love. Love says: do not give up, do not shrivel up into the snail shell of your meager heart. Love is both endless surrender and constant boundary-keeping between self and other —it is tempting maybe even to the Father to turn the others divine love seeks so ardently into puppets, to collapse the distance between self and other, to control. Control is the opposite, I think, of love.

But, no, of course God has not been tempted to control, because control arises, first and foremost, from fear—love's nemesis. God, perfect love—perfect love who daily dazzles with the risks he dares to take—pours God's lovely self out so that divinity could very well run dry. God gives so utterly that very quickly God would become empty—that is the risk of God: to love with a love that is not guaranteed a response.

Beyond a guarantee, beyond a promise or a vow, the Son responds in love each day, unfettered by a previous commitment from time past, but moved simply by his eternal present to enter into the fullness of his being: love. The Son, each day a surprise, rises up like dawn, like the world's first sunrise, before all mornings without beginning and end.

This miracle of perfect love, who move toward one another in concert and out in to the world, is the miracle that is reality. It is the world's fundamental truth—the world's foundation is impossible, but the only possible foundation of a world at all. It is painful, terrible to love creatures, because they will not respond—we all do it to one another—the un-responded text dangles frozen like a blue banner advertising our un-metness. We continually reinforce the fear that we will extend ourselves across the precipice and fall, because it happens far too frequently.

But love demands we do not hoard the world into our self and give it our own name. Love demands we see the beauty that surrounds us and surrender to it—giving it its own name, letting it be what it is. And hoping, as a gardener watches the silent earth, that it will yield itself to us as we have yielded to it.

These are the only two responses—there is no middle way. Either we live in fear and control or we live with hearts in great danger of shattering. But a heart that keeps itself safe is hardly a heart at all.

And where is God? God is found not on the other side of danger, or in the answers our love seeks—God is with us, in the uncertainty of our side of the precipice. And God says: leap.

Friday, November 9, 2018

dehydrated eucharists

My head feeling as dark with last night's wine as Homer's sea, and as desiccated as his bones, I slap my feet repeatedly against the harsh concrete sidewalk. I am in the haze that comes from dehydration [Purple Alert: Missing. Water. Bottle. Feared missing on the 1 train.] and travel with an overloaded suitcase in the rain.

I scroll through Instagram on my flight because it is very easy to let yourself slide into bad habits. I discover an acquaintance runs a Christian motivational Instagram account: my eyes flatten into skeptical lines instantly, and my internal cynic mocks the curly calligraphy photoshopped over images of beaches and trees.

Over a somewhat choppy-looking sea is a quote of Mother Teresa's or some simple statement of a saint that says:

What do you want me to do for you?

And I stop myself mid-sneer, because this small little image of water is doing more to make Christ present than anything I have done today.

And I wonder why I think that I am being more theologically sophisticated or intellectually palatable by talking more about myself than about Christ, when really this small piece of pop theology contains the entire life of sainthood in 2 square inches of digital water.

Why do I turn my nose up at Pinterest Evangelism? There's something very simple and good in it. Perhaps because it is trying to make the Gospel beautiful in a way that is conventional (there is nothing wrong with this I don't think). The Gospel is beautiful—so you must change your life. There's maybe something more radical and less tame and precise in the God who flips tables. Who decided to be born not in a quiet suburb but in a geopolitical war zone.

I was thinking of this again when reading a professor's piece on why discipleship isn't as exciting as youth ministry makes it seem; as in, the Christian life offers a system of meaning, not a series of exuberant emotional experiences. No, of course not, I thought, discipleship is more exciting.

Good gracious, the Christian life—the meaning Christianity offers—is not in any way about disabusing us of our Romantic daydreams or flattening our desires. Christianity does not demand our desires to live on the mountains is curtailed, rather it says the God we used to seek in high places has pitched his tent among us, here, in the valley, in whatever mundane life we're living. Christianity is about teaching us that whatever ecstatic experiences, overweening desires, and high mountain peaks we seek are present to us in the simplest things, above and beyond our wildest expectations. All our wildest dreams are present, here—if only we have the eyes to see, then yes, each day is constant epiphany.

The Eucharist is not less exciting than an apparition of Jesus, breaking through the clouds with blue and red rays of light streaming from his breast. The Eucharist upends our idea of what thrilling is, because the source of all our life comes to us each day in the very ordinary and mundane bread. The bread does not stop being ordinary bread—to our eyes, ears, tongues, to every sense we possess that is capable of ingesting the world, it is bread. The fact that the bread is God does not make it less ordinary. The Eucharist invites us into the extraordinary by entering more deeply into the ordinary.

The extraordinary does not become anything less than what every single fiber of our being longs for because it comes to us in ordinary, humble forms we do not invent. God is not a gotcha game, who lures us in only to disappoint. God offers saints and sinners the same world—but the saint has learned to see this world from its heart. The saint sees everything the sinner does, but the saint does not just see what she sees—she loves it.

And the world is different when you feel inside yourself the undeniable call to pick up every single part of it, hold it in your arms, close to your breast, and love it into wholeness. It is ordinary. But it is beautiful—dazzling, even.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

#TFW your life is post-lapsarian

His fire is to burn on in others. Now and then he actually succeeds, like dynamite, in blasting a soul into the air, and far and wide the windows rattle and the foundations of houses quake. - Hans Urs von Balthasar, Heart of the World

Adam's rib is gone and Eve's heart was broken in the fall.

Adam's wounds, his physical sense of lack has, slowly, made him stronger. He is older now—truly a fully-formed man. Pain bakes the half-baked human, and makes him wiser than he was. Gingerly, each morning, Adam stretches each numb toe and cracks his wayward vertebrae back into their places in the fresh Syrian sun. He has learned to listen to the small ticks inside his ribcage and the moanings of his intercostal muscles. He trains his mind's eye on the tiniest muscles of his shoulders and exercises them with tiny movements. Adam has had to rebuild from necessity. He adjust his lungs; they have a new pattern of inspiration. The air tastes newer now.

Having stitched his body back together, slowly, over many months, Adam is expert in the field of physical healing. His body is wise: he has broken man's fundamental impulse of isolation, seeking help from others, knowing corporeal healing is a communal project.

Eve's heart was shattered the moment they departed Eden. The angel's flaming sword seared her to the core, and the cardiac fragments scattered all throughout their exile. She has spent the nights of their diaspora wandering the world and gathering all the broken remnants of her soul back together.

She cries sometimes at night, for no reason other than that the night is very black and she cannot see the stars. Adam holds her to his chest then, tightly, but gasps in pain as Eve's head hits the hole in his side. He loosens his grasp on her.

Eve is still young in many ways, but she has learned that healing is something slow and steady, that you sometimes have to search for what seems obvious. Eve's body has never been broken, and she does not understand why Adam quietly obsesses, like a watchman guarding a castle, about every single twinge of muscle. Eve's heart has been wrenched apart and put back together.

Adam watches Even when she walks, willing her gait to steady and to straighten, afraid for all the accidents that can accompany one misplaced muscle or unaligned bone. Eve does not understand why he worries.

Adam lost his trust that the body he is not imprisoned with, but entrusted to, will hold up underneath him, will not ultimately rebel against him—he sees the great enemy of death making advances all throughout his body. Eve has lost her trust in a world that withholds her heart from her—that has stolen from her what gives her greatest joy.

It's a lonely exile most evenings—the world does not seem to sing, like it did in Eden, and the water is not as lively. The animals shun their campfire, instead of frolicking around it.

Adam and Eve have an entire world to make—even though their heart and lungs feel old and wizened, history is quite, quite young. Today, they exist in two separate wounds—they cannot even reach each other in the other's pain. But they were made to build something beautiful.

Perhaps, thinks Adam, we can try tomorrow.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

turned tables

God, I don’t know where you are today in the grey clouds
of fifty-third and sixth,
but I ask you to be right here, with me:
A young woman sitting on these benches,
offering as sacrifice this needy loser pigeon with a bad hairdo,
and the incense of Halal Guys' gyro meat:
A young woman who can’t quite piece together words,
Or fit together discordant puzzle pieces.

Sometimes we build up castles in the clouds—
illusions we lullaby ourselves to sleep with,
to ward against the stings of disappointment.

Nothing shatters those shallow mirages like the memory—
clear and sharp, like you are right here in front of me,
on fire—
Of your deep and gentle face,
behind which flowers all of earthly paradise.
Of your heart, coming out to meet me in a thousand quiet ways,
Of laughing by the lake at night,
Of your eyes that shine like sparks in stubble,
Of your tender gravel voice, whispering Ave Marias in my ear,
Of sitting together in the bejeweled quiet of a Basilica afternoon.

I think we imagine that God is in the finished picture.
But God is right here—in the shattered pieces we'll one day puzzle back together.