Saturday, March 23, 2019

coffee rituals I

Carefully scrape four teaspoons,
Measured more by instinct than by volume.

The rose in the wine glass is still living,
The blue sky from the window well boils and roils
White clouds racing across.

The boiling water,
poured over waiting grounds,
bubbles up its glass case into churning chocolate foam.

Several Hail Mary’s
Or deep breaths later,

The heel of your palm on the pressurized seize
compresses the swirling grounds,
Grounds and liquid,
wheat and chaff,
inedible solid from what can be imbibed.

Friday, March 22, 2019

evening sacrifice

You were more marvelous in that simple wish to find a way than the gilded roofs of any destination you could reach. — David Whyte

It's Thursday night, and the roof is actually gilded.

Three bodies walk into a darkened chapel, and sigh ourselves into pew pockets. We have just missed benediction, but its lingering incense still saturates the air. I stupidly realize that (of course) incense makes the air thicker. It's vapor and smoke, it crowds the atmosphere with excess atoms. It's not made up of imaginary molecules. All that scent costs something, has weight and heft.

But incense makes its presence felt not just in the air, but in your lungs. It's a heavy filter on your nose, it clings to your clothes and hair. Incense doesn't just rise up to heaven, it clings to earth, hungry to instigate some olfactory sea change, draping the entire community in a sticky cloud of sweetness. Perhaps this is the sort of the prayers the psalmist is invoking.

I sink into this pew like it's a miniature Sabbath.

Earlier, on the subway bench, chugging up the one train to this darkened chapel, I had finally realized that I didn't have to do anything. There was no book I had to read, there were no emails to check, I didn't have to be thinking or producing or writing anything. I was not on anyone's clock. And I felt whatever inside of me was wound up during the work day uncoil. I was, you could say, resting.

I am not used to resting, I am used to producing. Because most of my "hobbies" also demand production: writing, creating, thinking, applying, planning. Any time that is not spent producing is catastrophically categorized as "wasting" (most of this "wasting" time let's be honest is Twitter). Even time spent with friends becomes producing: cultivating communal relationships: check.

But what do I do for "rest"? Running is not quite rest. I certainly do it because of the weird kink in your brain that begins to crave it like no food. But I also know that it's productive, because it's getting exercise: check. Just another notch on my to-do list. Reading is not quite rest, knowing that whatever I'm reading is another "unit of literature" consumed, to borrow a friend's phrase. It could potentially become a piece of writing, I should analyze and process it, form an opinion about it that's more nuanced than a knee-jerk reaction (like to The Goldfinch, which I just finished and deeply loathe, but am open to being convinced of its goodness). Thinking isn't quite rest. And writing certainly isn't rest. Cleaning my room or apartment or organizing the sundry bric-a-brac that demand organization, hanging my icons, printing out photographs for the frames—this is certainly not rest.

Cooking: no. Baking: maybe? Watching VEEP? Wasting time, for sure. Sleeping—productive, always!

One Sunday, I realized I needed to rest. And so I set aside the day to doing so. The day did not look much different: I went on a run, I went to a coffee shop. But the running, the reading, the journaling, were done for the sheer enjoyment of it, for rest, in the name of resting, rather than being done in order to hopefully achieve rest.

All the activities were done with the intention of breaking a routine of productivity. This is a luxury in New York City, where one quickly feels the pressure of everyone working and hustling 24/7. You can never catch up with anyone, but feel yourself constantly, perpetually behind. This leaves no time for rest. Every precious second must be used.

New York City is very bad at Sabbaths.

So you must find small ones: a moment in a subway car and in a darkened chapel where your body unwinds, and you sink into the present with nothing else to do and nowhere else to go. I wouldn't trade these moments for anywhere or anything else in the world.

To sit in a darkened chapel, and feel yourself existing; to study a subway ad, while sorting through the tangled ball of thoughts that accumulate throughout the day—these are moments of being. All need to produce is relieved, the call to till the earth and subdue it is suspended for a moment, and I just breathe.

The incense pours into each breath, reminding me that moments of silence and rest are the moments we are most, perhaps, able to love those who people our atmosphere densely with their smoke.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

March in Sugar Hill

Between St. Patrick's and Joseph's Days, 2019

It is a perfect March evening in Sugar Hill. I walk out of the Foodtown, turn to look south down St. Nicholas Avenue, and there’s a little pink patch of rosy cloud setting over the turrets of City College.

My bags packed with discount dyed-green bagels and Irish soda bread (no longer desired by the denizens of New York after sunsets of the 17th, although, the pastor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral has assured us, today is liturgically St. Patrick’s Day), I miss the traffic light that rules the squished-together intersection of St. Nicholas Avenue and Place.  So, I turn north and walk down the small flagstoned park that decorates the median between the avenues.

I walk up towards the BP Gas Station and the Bailey Mansion—my singular favorite place in New York City, which reminds me of roaming through Manhattan on a Saturday night with nothing else to do, the romance of adventure, and being young. To think I live here: to think I have pitched my tent on my favorite unknown corner of romance that is now my daily stop on the way back from the subway and the grocery store.

James Bailey (of the Barnum and Bailey circus fame) built his mansion, thinking that this sweet peak overlooking the Harlem River would become another Upper West Side mansioned-neighborhood. He was subsequently grossly disappointed when apartment construction began on St. Nicholas Avenue. So he left. It became a funeral home. It stopped being a funeral home. No one lives there now.

What good is a place to live if you cannot enjoy it?

At the intersection of 150 and St. Nicholas Place and Avenue, the city widens out into the atmosphere of the Bronx. I do not feel en-gridded like further downtown. Sugar Hill is quiet and open, a little bit freer and more spacious tonight, away from the humming buzz of Broadway and the 1 train.

I can tell that by the river—the Hudson, on the other side—the sun is going to set clear and grapefruit tonight. I could rush down to the river to see it, or not. Knowing that I can go down tomorrow, or the next clear March night is a tent peg hammering me into the ground.

My God, this city—who I often accuse of abuse (and she is guilty of it)—is beautiful.

When you desperately need to write something for someone, it is that moment of need you feel yourself curiously drying up. You begin to parch as you reach deep into your heart to find the words that will adequately express the love that wells up and solidifies into the concrete form of the beloved. How do I have enough inside of me to tell them that I love them?

This seems to be one origin of the poetic instinct: this is why the poet reaches out into the world: there is enough in this creation, saturated and dripping with love to excess, that can express what I cannot summon up in my heart. I contain multitudes, writes Whitman.

Maybe, I think, reading Song of Myself by the river in another sunset. Perhaps only when the self is expanded to include nights like this, cracked open to make space for a cosmos. Whitman's, it seems to me, was.

I take a bite of the soda bread. Sweet pastries are meant to be eaten with coffee—the bitterness keeps the sugar from being saccharine. I have no coffee, but the lumpy, soft bread spiked with raisins pairs perfectly with the crisp autumn-spring atmosphere of March and the cold that hems in with the deeper blue that creeps over the quickly darkening sky. Between bites of bread, I drink it in deeply.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019


What’s funny about grace is that it’s here, no matter what. It’s here in our missteps and our ill-informed decisions. It’s underneath the bickering in the car. It’s standing at the dinner table, waiting to be invited to a chair. It still manages to work through our sharp, pointed words that utterly fail to convey their point. It seeps through the worry and the fears for our loved ones that we can barely moderate. Our immoderate need to care for others is still grace, even if imperfect.

In the middle of a pompous, self-important Mass, featuring one of the most ear-numblingly tired homilies I have ever heard in my entire life, at the moment of consecration lost in the muddle of the moment, I laugh.

My God.

You are here, in this prideful and unrepentant soul, who sits in judgement of the smells and bells around her. You are here in the sniffly ceremonious reaching for the sublime.

Oh God—and I do not say it vainly—you are here in the mess and hell of it.

Taking what is ordinary: stiff necks, stony hearts, stale bread, and making it yourself.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

the usual exceptional

All I ask is one
Important and elegant proof
That what my Love had done
Was really at your will
And that your will is Love.

No, you must believe. 
Be silent and sit still.

W.H. Auden, For the Time Being

If we could, with a single interior glance, see all the goodness and mercy that exists in God's designs for each one of us, even in what we call disgraces, pains, and afflictions, our happiness would consist in throwing ourselves into the arms of the Divine Will.

Marie of the Incarnation

How did I get here?

One fragile Friday, I begin to cry during Mass that I arrived to late. Tardiness is often the straw that snaps the last threads of resolve that have been pulling me through a long week. I pour out my tears, born mostly of frustration, at the feet of the Immaculate Conception statue above the altar of this grotto chapel.  I have tried so hard, I silently fret—with more childish bewilderment than bitterness— so. hard. to do "God's will." I have tried so hard to find the "right path." I don't really even know what it means to do "God's will." This is most likely contributing to my frustration. I'm like an ox that's sent out to till the earth, but I'm harnessed to a sickle, not a plow.

(Pardon the metaphor; I haven't spent much time on farms.)

The point is, I've got the wrong image of sowing all together. I'm doing my darndest at the task but I've got a faulty start from square one.

In the midst of the Niagara of hot, frustrated tears, an (even later) Mass-goer slings their backpack over the seat next to me—the appointed latecomer seat closest to the door that I left open for whatever tardy Elijah would appear after me. Oh Great, I think, in large sarcastic font, as snot drips down the gutter between my nose and lip. I need someone sitting next to me like I need a hole in the head (a colorful expression passed down by the West Texas women flowing through my maternal bloodline). As I try to erase the salty Euphrates streaming down my cheeks, the vision of Elijah melts into the familiar visage of my friend Peter's face. And a chipper midcentury voice, faintly dented by the baritone pockets of cigarettes, greets me in a whispered salutation:
Oh hey!

I have known very few people named Peter in my life. But most of them have (perhaps the original Simon Peter's) knack for crashing into scenes and executing a bullish grace, even as they smash all the china. There's something truly holy in the utter lack of craft.

There's nothing like someone sitting next to you to remind you that you are not a brain bubbling in a stewing vat of your own emotions—you are a person, who exists in a world of other people; look, here is one next to you, who knows you and will ask you what's wrong if you're crying. So either be prepared to explain your tears (and it better be a good story) or lay aside your woes for now, and enter into what's here—a reality we're sharing.

As it strikes me how much effort I have put this year into exegeting and executing the will of the Divine Mystery, part of me softens (maybe I have decided to finally abandon the sickle for the task of plowing) and the thought occurs to me that maybe this effort is really all that can be asked. I almost laugh at myself for the sheer amounts of mental strain with which I tugged the sickle. What do I believe in truly? Was it God's providence, or was it the second half of the equation, who helps herself? Good Pelagian that I am, I place most of my trust in my own strength, and when success eludes me, it is only because I haven't exerted enough strength yet. Not that one not ought to give of oneself, pouring oneself, through effort, into the world. But, like men's seed, morality in effort seems to consist in where it's headed and how. Of course it has only one option: go forth, but to what end and by what means—there's the rub.

Perhaps this effort is the task.

This is not an original observation, but when you really love someone, it seems to be impossible that you can make something beautiful enough to adequately express your love for them. Whatever you make for them has to contain the entirety of your love for them. There's an urge for totalizing self-gift that manifests itself in the creative act. John Steinbeck expresses this in his dedication of East of Eden: Well, here’s your box. Nearly everything I have is in it, and it is not full. Pat didn't ask John for everything, he just asked John to make a box.

That is how I feel trying to write something on the solemnity of St. Joseph. St. Joseph is not Pat, he is not even Peter, he is not a presence of my waking world, who calls me out of myself, who asks me for something: a box, a phone call, a MetroCard swipe. This is maybe absurd, writing something for someone who never even asked for it. Is this melodramatic, self-aggrandizing?

Perhaps. I know I have a tendency towards both. But I also know that today, March 19, is a day imprinted with the sort of meaning you ascribe to birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays—it is dedicated to the celebration of one person or event and all occurrences of the day refer back to him or her or it. It's perhaps the most primal form of love—worship—turning whatever beloved into the ordering principle, the logos of that day or time or season. How quickly, of course, love can turn to idolatry.

I love Joseph, because he offers such great hope. Hope that, actually, the will of God is present even in the most insoluble disasters of insolvency. That, actually, the angels who pop up next to you in chairs and dreams can shepherd you towards salvation. That, indeed, what is asked of us often seems surprising, contradictory, or unexpected. How does one go forward? Love. Just love the Virgin, love the Child, love your carpentry in your quiet, lovely Nazareth.

That is his story, and I love him for it. I love him because if his story of God's love in his life is one of saying yes without knowing what comes next, of trust and silent faith, then it must be, in part, mine, as well.

We are not asked to know the ending of the story, we are not asked to have a strategy, we are not even given one elegant and important proof that the path we are on is the wise, smart, or correct path. We ask for directions but are given no roadmap, other than to burst like Peters into creation, with nothing more than our sincere efforts and good intentions to offer all we have to what we love.

Monday, March 18, 2019

take this softened cup

And does your love prefer the others?/ And does your love just make you feel again? / Does my love prefer the others? / Does my love just make me feel good?—Mumford & Sons

When one feels like one's self-worth is pitted against someone else, the hurt, the rejection is being non-preferred. Why does he like her and not me? Why does he prefer him to me? Why does she prefer her over me?

Thus, we often try to find a rationale for why the other person chose the preferable party over us. This, of course, is a terrible idea.

We build a case for why they chose this person over us, we turn into psychological detectives, retracing their synaptic steps deep back into their past to discover what pathological flaw has caused them to choose another person over us.

The patterns we find may or may not be factual or true. But they are most likely untrue, in the sense that they are not a reflection of reality, but they arise from our own hurt and wounded psyche. Instead of transforming our mind to reflect reality, we twist reality into the image of our own pain.

We warp reality through the lens of the original sin: distrust. Thus, whatever material reality we are seeing is not true, because it is an unredeemed world. The world is postlapsarian, thus it is riddled with pain, but it is not a reality that has not known the saving solidarity of a crucified god.

Reality means accepting pain: we will be hurt, we will be rejected. Why, of course, is a mystery deeper than scripture and older than Job. But there is no sense not risking our own hearts, because they are precisely what the world will not spare. We do not want this to be what reality is, we do not want to accept the factthe historically obvious—that we can and will be hurt. There's no real reason for it other than that is the world we have been born into, and the best explanation for it is a myth born from Jewish foremothers in the deep dawns of time.

But it is better to see reality than to see the world as a pathological distortion of our own fear of rejection.

For the world and the ironic, corrupted, glorious and awe-inspiring people in it, whatever else it and they may be, is not entirely unsaved. It has been redeemed.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

anthropoid weather vanes

Being home for the weekend for a baby shower was basically my mom's "gathering of the girls," like she basically birthed her own girl squad. So I thought, as I was contemplating flights home: well, we owe it to her. What's the point of making your own squad if they don't come when called?

So, in the car on Friday night coming home from the fish fry—you gotta be the one wearing red lipstick to the suburban parish Lenten fish fry u GOTTA—I was like: gosh I miss weather, we don't have natural weather in the City: weather in New York is marked only by the appropriate miseries of each season. How is that different from anywhere else? asks my dad. Double points to Greg for challenging the grating New Yorker mantra of: gosh it's so ~~different~~ here in either the positive or the negatives dimensions.

But, New York weather is actually strange, because it is weather experienced without any sort of natural milieu. Humans are the only element of nature in the city, and thus the only yardstick of the seasons. And seasons and weather are experienced through us: good weather, in New York, is less evident by leaves on trees and flowers in bloom and warm earth and more by our good humor. Sure, there is sun in the sky and blue carpet rolling out overhead dotted with clouds but we are the primary symbol of the new seasons the beautiful weather—our good mood with the sun, our misery in the wind or snow, our discomfort in the summer heat.

We are the chief tokens of nature. Perhaps, if you are able to visit Central or Prospect Park each day, you have a better grasp on being a person in a natural environment and trees and dirt can be your weathervanes. Otherwise, all trees are overrun by people, all sky glimpsed is overshadowed by skyscrapers.

Spring is evident in the joy of the humans on the subway, summer heat is miserable in terms of the sweat that drowns the backs of our shirts. Winter is the season in which the wind flays the skin off our faces. There are very literal natural signs that the seasons are moving, outside our own experience.

And this is an unnatural misery. The joy of the seasons is that the earth is moving and we move with it. The delight of autumn is that the leaves turn colors, and fall into the humus of our own hearts, cultivating it for a hibernation that churns up crocus bulbs of new life.

It is not good for man to be alone. And man is marooned on Manhattan in an island of concrete and scaffolding, left referent-less in an unnatural world of concrete and scaffolding. She is sundered from the natural world in which she can find herself again in snowfall and spring mud in the park.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

the future is female, John Keats

The other day, I was reading Annie Dillard's The Maytrees. Dillard’s protagonist, Toby Maytree, who is probably the most likable detestable straight white male I have ever met in fiction, contemplates a letter John Keats wrote to his friend John Hamilton Reynolds. In this letter, John Keats discusses the tragic propensity of intellectuals to constantly make connections and think about things, instead of being able to keep their minds focused, meditating upon one beautiful thing per day.

Keats bemoans this deplorable disposition for activity: why can we not just sit and ponder a single unplumbable beauty presented to us? There is more than enough—a saturated reality of enough—in a single beauty to keep us occupied for nearly an eternity. Keats then considers bees (do poets ever consider anything else?). And he meditates on how it is equally blessed to give as to receive, but no doubt “the flower receives a fair guerdon from the Bee […] and who shall say between Man and Woman which is the most delighted?”

Darling John Keats, I thought to myself in the shower later that morning (I was not delighting myself, I was simply contemplating John Keats). And it seemed impossible to me that John Keats would have been straight. And it his very comments about bees and the delight of the Woman that prompts this thought. This is narrow-minded of me, perhaps. Or perhaps means I have been overly influenced by the gay-interest-icon Ben Wishaw playing Keats in Bright Star (incidentally, probably the single most influential movie of my high school years).

But why do I think this? Keats, like most poets and intellectually-minded persons, presents like a very non-traditionally masculine man, because traditional masculinity, for all intents and purposes, in twenty-first century America seems to be an ideal that is predicated on power. Thus, it follows that men who are not much interested in securing their identity or asserting their self-worth through power over others have not been much interested in traditional masculinity. I think, as I pondered John Keats, this means less that they are interested in other men and more that they are interested in what is equal to them, what is on a similar footing, what is able to enter with them into their rapturous interest of contemplating the world, the bees, the blushing flowers of the spring—to be, like a best friend, the single strand of beauty they are able to exhaust, to gnaw to the marrow.

And, perhaps, historically, your chances of finding this among men was much greater than finding this among women. Fanny Brawnes are rare.

But also so are John Keats.

Anyhow, I am not ascribing the existence of homosexuality to the historical subjugation of women. The point is:

This afternoon, I was immersed in the ur-female ritual of a baby shower. While I have often showered (see above), I have never attended a shower for anything before. I didn't realize no men were invited. But there was not a single male in sight (barring the infant in utereo) and the man of the house quickly departed after being glimpsed in the shadows with a dog. I suppose the balloons and pastel paper is not the most female part of the ritual, although it may be feminine. No, there's something utterly primordal about a group of women offering up to one of their members blankets for a child not-yet-born, swapping advice about how to swaddle, coax an infant to sleep, or burp a baby correctly. It is viscerally female; the sort of rich, earthy female-ness of blood and flesh that the world is born from.

It is interesting to discover, after graduate school, that the very way one enters into conversations with women can be compromised. I stand outside of myself, shaking my head at my over-eager body getting trapped in my head and using too many hand motions at the blue-colored tablecloth, over word searches with words such as "pacifier" and "bassinet." My language does not belong here. But I also realize that I do. And I can bring this language—of lecture halls and seminars, and ridiculous talking-shop sessions in the lounge—to this space. None of these women here are not interested in ideas. Our lives are made up of ideas. One cannot help having an idea or operating on one. Ideas are part of who and what we are—to be able to express the ideas that lie at the center of our being is a great gift and is, according to Lewis' narrator in Til We Have Faces, a salvific necessity. We must be able to articulate the ideas at the center of our experiences in order not only to encounter our own identity, but the gods' as well.

Then, my sister-in-law's grandmother said something very much like Marilynne Robinson in her essay "Imagination and Community" in When I was a Child I read Books. I am listening to it in an audio version and it truly is like having the wisdom of your grandmother siphoned into your ear. It's glorious. Robinson's wisdom is the wisdom of grandmothers—the wisdom that defies rational argument. Marilynne, honestly, you're really not taking into account x, y, z when you discuss the market economy. She would most likely listen, as grandmothers do to the younger generation, realize there's no arguing with bull-headed youth who are intent on scientific correctness, and then continue with her point. When they were younger, these women inform us, they had only two options in their education: to be a teacher or to be a nurse. Perhaps a secretary, as a job, but the professions for women were education and nursing. Now, remarks Robinson, and the wise Carol Berg, women have so many more opportunities: all professions are open to women. She is delighted that we are taking our own selves with us into the foreign, alien worlds that have opened up to us.

How delightful that the experience of being in a sunny Minnesota suburban living room with other down-to-earth, earnest, hospitable, hard-working women who have the wisdom that comes from many children and building up their communities with their own two hands is no longer relegated simply to the sphere of home-building and person-raising. Perhaps I am a gender essentialist, I do not know, but it does seem that there is more to being a woman than my own individual experience. That to be "female" or "feminine" is not to be simply me, Renée, a woman, in the world, but participating in an experience of like-ness with other people who identify as women, to be "like" others who are feminine, whether male or female. We call a man "feminine" because he participates in these qualities that largely women share, and we call a woman "masculine" because she has some quality we see as originating in men. I do not know if this way of articulating this fact stems from the deep divisions in the past that are unhelpful and mostly should be done away with, but it does seem to be a deeper truth than any of the societal constructs which we have ornamented and confined each quality into.

Probably the wisest things to say about "feminine" or "masculine" begin with I don't know.

But it seems to me important and perhaps true that whatever quality it is that I share with the women around me, although I am different than them, is now part of the wider culture. This quality we share, where two and three of us are gathered, can create a different way of communicating, different management structures, perhaps different classroom cultures, different experiences and modes of experiencing the world coming into conversation with prevailing narratives. This wisdom and experience is vitally, viscerally important. I do not know that "feminine" is the life-blood from which the earth springs. But there's good reason that terra firma is called "mother earth." Life springs from the female, bloody and slicked in mucus.

I do not know, John Keats, if she delights more than the male. (I mean, as we all know, it is utterly contingent on him who seeketh to delight. Not all bees are equal, if you catch my drift.) But only when her delight, the force of her life, her desire, and her joy is truly and honestly considered is the world's severed halves made whole.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

miscarried heart

To be heartbroken, truly heartbroken, is to carry a dead child within you. You can no more tell the heartbroken man or woman to “get over it” than you can command the no-longer nurturing uterus: “empty thyself.”

The heart cannot expectorate its inhabitant and neither can the uterus surrender her contents. They cannot. The un-quickened child lingers, the life-that-might-have-been has not yet been expelled.

I am not making light of miscarriage.

And I would expect all women who have lost a child in utero or stillborn to rightfully take me to task, and excoriate me with righteous anger. And tell me, to wit, that I have no idea what I am talking about. It’s true. I do not. Pain is sacred; life even more so. Loss and pains that we experience ought to be guarded. There can be no comparisons.

Just like the woman who mourns what is inside of her, which once was living and is dead, so I mourn the ending of a relationship—a life forged of two people. A life that had a life outside of just-me and just-him. An entity that contained in it all the possibilities of a future—new potentials, roadmaps of contingencies that, with our rupture, with his passing from my life—are null and void. That die, like the infant, before seeing them come to fruition.

Children are the fruit of what they are like. And they are our future—they are our relating, our loving, taking shape into something new, full of difference. Vive le difference, a bas le mort. And yet le mort wins today.

Just like the woman who cannot yet let go of the death of the future, whose child, no longer a living child, but the corpse of one, lingers in her womb, so you linger on my body. I mourn you, who infects my flesh with your dead, absent presence. Who lingers within me, whose memories press around and in and on and above me. You fill the space left for a stranger. You are still floating there, lifeless, impotent. A dead end womb. I can no more invite someone in than I can impregnate a miscarried womb. The space is, its true, empty of all living souls. But the dead still linger there. And life cannot win again until I labor you away.

Friday, March 8, 2019

This is Your Brain on Graduate School: Part II, the Bad News

But, also, for whatever reason, graduate school was the first time in my life I began to value myself based on someone else's standards for me. I think most of my peers at Notre Dame experienced this in high school and in undergrad, and, for this reason and pretty much this reason alone, I am endlessly grateful I was homeschooled. To have a space where something as intimate as learning is free from competition or anxiety to compare myself to others was a blessing. For learning is an intimate activity, it is soaking in the world around you and letting it form you into a full-fledged human. It's a breath-takingly dangerous venture: this dialogue between your soul and the world. And, just as it is difficult to have an authentic conversation in a café where the elderly couple the table over, slurping their soup in silence, elbows gliding by a thin margin past yours, can overhear whatever you tell each other, it's difficult to have that authentic conversation with the world through learning when you are mostly worried about the performance. Anxiety about what others are saying (maybe they're having a better conversation???) or how they are judging your conversation is a distraction from the business at hand: thinking and conversing with other thinkers.

Those four years of high school prepared me and insulated me enough that, at Notre Dame, instead of freaking out about grades (as I wish, as an adult, sometimes I would have), I continued my business of bumbling through the conversation. Sometimes my attitude towards the discipline of learning was more like overhearing a conversation happening at the table next to me, but, regardless, it was all my own. And for the most part, it worked well enough. I left college much as I had entered: still lacking discipline, with more than enough energy and passion to tackle any project, the propensity to take on too many of them, and bursting with love for conversation—in the classroom and beyond.

The second round was a somewhat different story.

I distinctly remember the semester that anxiety entered the conversation. My first semester, I pranced through in much the same fashion I did undergraduate. Only I was blessed with a more adult work ethic from working with high school students, and I was equipped with a keen desire to be in class and a renewed focus on doing the work.

It was the second semester in which I discovered myself doubting if I could do this project, why I was doing this project, and, for the first time, comparing myself to people who were people I didn't want to be. I didn't want to be Joe or Conor, and I don't want to be Tim and I certainly didn't want to be the blessed Carl! But I wanted to be saying what they were saying in class, because what they were saying was intelligent, and intelligent in a way that the academic community valued.

Perhaps that was when I realized there was a conversation happening I was not a part of, but here I was in the middle of it.

In some sense, this is also the business of learning: entering midstream into the conversation and learning through immersion. Picking your way through this new language you are born into.

Learning new languages is one of the chief joys of the human living. Thus, to continually learn new academic languages is a deep delight. But learning new languages in the classroom recreates the anxiety of the traveler in the foreign country: an anxious turn to exteriority. My environment is so other, so completely unassimilated into myself that my own internal measures of success, of thriving are thrown into confusion. I can only determine my well-being, my survival chances, by comparing myself to the community around me.

How do I order food? I listen and mimic their words.
How do I find the right bus stop? I absorb myself in following someone else's lead.
How do I formulate my sentences correctly? I ape the construction of those around me.

It is a skill of adaptability, our greatest evolutionary strength, to turn our gaze outward, and focus on the habits and values of this new community. And yet, in this learning a new language, we can forget our own. Our native tongue can become rusty, our own voice sound strange.

In this way, I find that I have lost my own knowledge of my own heart. As I alit from the subway at the 116th Street Station, I feel a grip of pain. That old pang of imposter syndrome. I am not a Columbia Student. No one has ever invited me into their Ivy League Club. Rejection stings my heart. Then I laugh.

Renée, have you ever wanted to be an Ivy Leaguer. Of course not. My undergrad application to Yale didn't even have the dignity of Rory-Gilmore-shaped aspirations. It was solely driven by a love of theatre, a love I am so estranged from. What does it mean to me now? As I think of scootering around my cul-de-sac, reading voraciously as a child, playing pretend in the backyard, writing short stories on papers that still live in folders, I think that this is how I have always defined myself: as someone who seeks beauty, who tells stories, who loves the world around her with generosity, and pours herself over it like too much syrup. I have measured my value by how much fun I'm having: the good and deep kind of fun of clear thinking and noticing the world around you and living authentically into the surprises of God. hat sort of fun. That kind of adventure.

I am most happy when I understand myself as living a story, not of my own devising, but one that has been given to me. This doesn't make me in the least passive, it just means that I am not seeking external validation for the choices I make. I am not seeking for anyone else to tell me that the story I am living is good. I know the story is good, because it comes from a God who is good. And then, I can get busy doing what I have always done: loving what is around me with generous energy.

You are good at enjoying things, says Sam. Well, that is what things are for, I respond. There is nothing better than celebrating: the world around you, the people who populate it, and the drama that sparks between the two and you.

So, this is what I am giving up for Lent: the unhappiness of this graduate-school, success-oriented, status-conscious mode of thinking. It will have to be unbuilt brick-by-brick, but, so help me God, Jericho will fall.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

This is Your Brain on Graduate School: Part I, the Good News

A friend texted recently: I’m the only Notre Dame student capable of defecting from God’s grace, not finding a mate, misremembering God’s transcendence, and freezing.

That, I responded, is the internal monologue of every graduate student in February.

Graduate school taught me a great deal and I'm monumentally grateful for it. Recently, I got stuck in the spin cycle of bemoaning my master's degree, wondering why I have just made myself inexplicable and entirely unknowable to a large swath of the male population, one of whom I would hope to mate with.

And it's true, being, for most of my life, unconcerned with prioritizing weight over mental health, organization over creativity, and expressing myself with prudent concern for public image, I have fairly tanked my prospects at being highly mate-able material. The master's degree is like an iceberg upon which I ran my Titanic, except the Titanic, in this version, was already riddled by tears in its keel by misguidedly scraping itself over a coral reef. In other words, the master's degree was only a matter of time.

In this particular spin cycle, running through Riverside Park, I suddenly stopped myself and laughed. My gosh, of course the theology degree was an excellent idea: it didn't make me ineligible, it rather gave me words to express that which was already within me. It gave me language to articulate to other people who may also think and care about the same things, in slightly different ways, what I care about deep within my heart. No, the master's degree was good, because it has made me more comprehensible to myself, and in that case, and only when we are clear to ourselves, can we make ourselves known more fully to others.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

fire and water don't mix

Subtle jostling,
The room’s female half,
Rolls up on itself,
Ferns slowly twirling back upon themselves,
legs twisting into
Compact pirouettes,
Shoulders slimming
So as not to skim
The suit-hems of their stronger neighbors,
Spreading their legs wider than the seat chair,
Arms bumping,

There’s no space for you here.
Curl up on yourself

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

it's no secret

The lines on the pages
are those of the fisher,
who reels in his catch diligently,

Each word I write,
I fish for you,
casting my net as wide as the web,
hoping to snag you
in my currents.

I write to bring you back across the ocean
into an impossible embrace in my arms.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

eye contact on the subway

New Yorker anthropology is a very funny thing.
My favorite thing about New Yorkers is the embarrassment of kindness:
I’ll do something nice for you, but please don’t act like it’s a big deal.
I don’t want to be surprised if you rip me off or kill me or steal from me.
I think you’re probably a scam, but I know you’re not, so I’m helping you but please don’t take it personally or make me feel like a good person or act like I’m doing you a favor.
Don’t. Act. Like. I’m. Doing. You. A. Favor.

A woman approaches me in the library and asks to borrow my phone charger, and I don't mind at all letting her use it, but I cringe when she acts like I am giving her my first born.

Please just take the charger and go sit down, lady, I think and realize to my horror that my embarrassment of appearing nice and kind is a new assimilation to New Yorker-ness.

New Yorkers get a bad rap. It's not that New Yorker's are unkind or individualist. They are quite considerate and very kind. It's simply that they are efficient about it: and since the number one rule of this city is not to get suckered, we are very careful to never be surprised if kindness erupts in our faces.

The other night on the subway, a man motioned to me to wake up a woman who, he was concerned, has slept pass her stop. She hadn't. But I brusquely tapped her on the shoulder and asked: what's your stop? Dykeman, she said. We were at 148th on the 1 train. She had a whole 'nother chapter of her My Brilliant Friend audiobook until then.

The man explained that he thought she'd said 96th.

It's rough to sleep through your stop, I agree.

One time I woke up in Coney Island, he volunteers. We all agree that that's dreadful.

There's a sense of caring that makes living on this granite rock of eight million rather bearable.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Unanswered Advertisement for Monastery

Seeking a man whose amber eyes shine when quoting Dante or I enter the same room.
Seeking a man who can speak Italian, French, German, and the language of my heart.
Seeking male human who can go toe-to-toe with me in conversation, who can keep step as we dance our way through dinners and brunches,
Who shares Italian poetry he translates on the fly. Who will finish the bottle of wine at the end of dinner by drinking out of it.

Seeking a man who can grow a good beard, but whose jawline stands independent without it.
A soul who can laugh like the Minnehaha running over stones in the springtime snowmelt.

Who can write poetry and letters,
Who will pray with his arms around me in bedrooms, on terraces, by rivers, smoking cigarettes, in sun-streaked basilicas.

I am looking for my monastery.
If you are out there, please send a small sign
To let me know that you are waiting
And that the kettle’s on.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

a rational thought

I realize, halfway up the West Side on the 1 Train:
I have forgotten entirely the feeling of putting my lips on yours.
Do you remember when you couldn't keep yourself off of me?
Our legs once entwined underneath the bedsheets—
was that this lifetime?
my memory's hazy.

Your eyes hurt,
not because they are cold,
but because they have forgotten.

What an idiot
I was to let you go:

it would have been wiser to suffocate in sadness
than to have let you slip out of my arms.

The price of being with you would have been my sense of self?
You are worth more than intact mental health.

I chide myself for being so rash and foolish in October
to value my own happiness
above the sacred softness of your lips.

Saturday, January 19, 2019


The playlist in this coffee shop was clearly curated by someone whose heart was broken January last and they are not yet over it.

It's a pretty standard mix of Adele, Lana del Rey, and other melancholic crooners who fall on various slots of the brunette scale. One fairly notable piece is the Kina Grannis cover of "You are My Sunshine." Which I did not know existed, and I don't have much insight to offer into it, other than it was clearly designed for listeners whose seasonal affective disorder is accentuating the grace notes of a nuclear-devastation-level heartbreak.

(Currently playing: a terrifying cover of "Crazy in Love" that sounds like an Evanescence recording.)

Often, when we are sad or in pain, our first instinct is to remove the offending pathogen. (Especially if you are a smart person—all our liberal arts schooling was supposed to help us be happy! What on earth is the point of Aristotle if he can't even protect us from this non-sense of pain.) If your hand hurts, remove the thorn, if your body aches, seek medical aid. We are trained to seek physic for what ails us.

I sit in the quiet church (it feels like I have been here for ages, but it's really only been an hour), and I can't take my eyes off the gold of the cross. I want to find a narrative that can uncouple me from the thorn in my heart, that can redeem me from the squirming of my own unfulfilled desire.

I have to accept that, right now, I am aching for a man I have lost—through his fault or my own—or both, and that I will not always feel this way, probably. [Even though the thought of being so divorced from mutual consequence in each other's lives stings.]

But that, if all living is encounter, then this encounter right here is with the cross: an encounter with the weight of sin, of failure, of selfishness, of our own ideals and plans, and the God who uses each terrible mishap, each fight, each cruel text and anxiety and stress and each scar to work the world into some beauty.

This does not, in any way, diminish the puckers in the fabric of the world caused by our own sin. But, rather, it promises a way forward. A life on the other side that is not always pain. It promises a triumph of grace, in a victory that is often hard and gruesome and not always obvious.

Friday, January 18, 2019

monastery #3: 155th Street

At 155th Street, there's a small cloister walk (call me Kathleen Norris) which I discover on a bland winter afternoon, stripped of personality and personality, in early January.

Walking through the streets in the hug of my parka's faux-fur-lined hood, I am walking in a mobile cloister, cocooned in the silence of medieval stone arches. The fringes of the fur are the grille separating me from the pedestrians passing by me: we see each other, but there are porous barriers between us.

At 155th Street, the warden opens up the doors to the church. And I step inside to this must-colored church which smells like the pages of a children's book.

Outside this church is a cemetery, beyond the cemetery is a river. Between the river and the church is Broadway. But you cannot hear Broadway or the river. The cavernous quiet of the undisturbed grass outside tucks the church under its coverlet.

I walk across the uneven, bumpy stones. The sort of pavement stones that are in Rome that vociferously chew up the soles of your shoes, devouring them and spitting them out like a frantic Cookie Monster on the air.

The stone structure, like St. John the Divine, is devoid of any sort of tangible divinity. But it makes up for it many times over in atmosphere seeped in the amorphous magic which eventually is organized into religion.

If religion is a systematization of the thin places of the earth, then this is a spot of unadorned spirituality—sure, it's decked out in the trappings of Christianity. But its sacredness, whatever is living inside of this Church has little to do with the categorizations of councils and creeds. The world has thinned out into a translucence here, and you can smell and hear what is beyond the veil.

I do not know what makes this magic. If it is that the world is attenuated, or if the world becomes pellucid and transparent when it is thickest, when the stories and centuries of human beings living wears away at the atmosphere we inhale, so we breathe something else entirely than oxygen.

I slip the scent of old stones, the underwater murkiness of the light from the shabbily stained glass windows, the muted colors of a day scrubbed by clouds through my fingers like rosary beads.

Pausing my paces in the center of the church, at the foot of the choir stalls, at the front of the nave, I notice the missing transepts. This church is a bird with clipped wings: a canary that has no need to be caged—she can't soar anyway.

Where the transepts ought to be, I stand. I breathe not deeply, but slowly, loosening the air at the bottom of my lungs. All that stashed-away carbon dioxide carries to the surface those small pockets of worries I stuff in pulmonary Pandora's boxes: the anxieties I let simmer below the surface, those thoughts we look at out of the corner of our eyes, afraid to make direct eye contact lest we find them gorgons.

That air escapes into the incubated stillness of the stone and streaked glass and mixes with the breaths of others who have knelt on the blurred marble, who have sung loud hymns to Guadalupe hanging in the shadows of the side-aisles, who have gathered in a shuffling congregation to worship, next to those who miffed them, those they were in love with, those they cherished and those they snubbed.

In this church, God is not in the altar, but in the stones and air and in the witness of these fragments of creation who have come here each day to kneel and pray.

I wonder what this church looked like when the front doors were always unlocked, and men and women stopped in to pray briefly before going to the short old-Manhattan houses like Hamilton's over in St. Nicholas Park.

I return to the warden, who locks up the church again. It is empty, but, as I cross the sidewalk to return to the 1 train, I can still hear its heartbeat in mine and taste its air hanging in deeply buried alveoli of my lungs.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

quick riposte to kenotic theology

Divinity does not contain a lack—it cannot.
"lack" is not a viable form of communication.

It is tempting to see it thus.

Because to reserve a space for someone who is not there is a de facto kind of intimacy. It's holding onto their absence, which we are, in many ways, commanded to do for those who have passed before us, who have gone from our lives.

Absence is a viable measure of presence. But it is not a measure of communion.

To hold someone's absence in your heart is to keep them alive, in some way. But it can quickly turn into a sort of mummification, they are embalmed, yet not living, there is no way to talk to them.

Except through prayer. This is the sort of prayer for the dead that keeps us in contact with them: we find ourselves with them and living in God with them.

But we cannot confuse these mausoleums, these effigies, with the living hearts we seek to know and love.

We hold an empty space for a visitor we await:
it is a chair for Elijah,
who is emphatically not here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

speak, lord

Shivering in the small, blank chapel niched in the wall of the vast cavern of the monastery church, I have no words.

There’s no creative angst or anxious knot—there’s just silence: I’m showing up completely blank—not empty—I just don’t have any pressing prayer to pray.

I stand with dread at the edge of this awkward pause, standing at the chasm of this dreaded moment in relationships:

when we breach the endless desert of drought of conversation and there’s nothing more to say to one another.

We accept that you are your unassailable island, and I am my own self-contained, sealed away mine.

We were supposed to be unplumbable mysteries, but we seem to have been plumbed.

How awful that conversation falters even with the divine.

You could listen.

In order for the Lord to speak, his servant must be listening.

Realizing, twenty-seven years too late, that yes, for God, too, this relationship is a two-way street. That I have to listen even as I God ask for God to hear.

Speak, Lord, for your servant is—
Oh, but do I really want to listen to what will come next?

No. How about we play fill-in-the-blank? It’s like a game of godly Mad Libs. Speak, Lord, and please say these lines, here. I’ve written them all for you noworrieskthanksyou’rewelcome. Just say them. Don’t say anything else. Stick to this nice script I’ve provided for us all. Let’s do this instead.

Instead of a true dialogue, prayer, then, becomes one of those terrible, unproductive conversations between not collaborators but one person bullishly insistent on their vision and the protestation of someone who would like to put in their two cents, to make this a collaboration in spirit and truth and not content themselves with a sham.

The prayer that takes the most courage, then must truly be that finished sentence:

Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. 

Who knows what's on the other side?

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Armenia! Alone!

In the antepenultimate room at the Armenia! exhibit at the Met, I seek solace in the giant tapestry of repeating crucifixions, which has transfixed my attention. There are certain musical tunes that trap me, pulling me into their cadence. Repeated ad nauseam, they never grow nauseating. There's enough contained in them that to enter into a practice of perpetual repetition only highlights what is enchanting in them even more. I wonder if this image of the crucifixion that grasped this mad Armenian several hundred years ago was the same for her or him.

Detaching myself from the side of the tall, sandy-haired artist-poet, I return to this wall of Golgotha, to lose myself in its patterns. This tapestry is a heart split open, revealing in all its chambers the same scene. The scenes of Calvary drip across the expanse of the wall like blood. Fresh with images of Julian's cross, bleeding and loquacious, my imagination demands this cross to speak to me, like hers.

I stare at the red-inked face of Christ like it's my salvation and sink into the silence of the threaded image. In the solitude, I feel the waves subside into something tangible: I am sad. My heart sinks like an anchor, and I am steadied by its weight.

Something calls to me. I cannot tell if it is Domenic's absence, my sadness, or maybe even Christ à la a Julian-esque showing.

Maybe they're all one and the same, a repeated pattern across the tapestry.

In front of this tapestry, I am not at peace, as my heart will, for at least the next two weeks, tear itself in two with longing and distress.

But I am finally alone.

I cry on the floor in the bathroom of the fancy Lower East Side restaurant. A woman opens the door that I thought I'd locked but hadn't.

I wonder if she thinks I'm some strung out banker, snorting coke off the bathroom countertop or taking pills, as I finger the rosary beads.

Or maybe she, too, has been on a date that makes you want to scream, and she has also hidden in a bathroom and cried.

Probably not.

Being on dates with people when you are in love with someone else is good character formation. I notice that I am an asshole, and the only thing preventing me from being one usually is that I care what other people think of me. With that prophylactic removed, all my absurd pride and inane self-interest bubble to the surface.

I have never felt anything like this abandon, this absolute lack-of-caring before, and with a masochistic sense of vivisection, I lean into it, examine it, picking it up and poking its functioning organs. I feel how hard my heart is in the middle of dinner, and, instead of truly softening it, I act as though I do: I ask a question, feign interest, not out of cruelty, but out of a forced desire to be virtuous. In the meantime, I am sounding the stony depths of a heart entirely disinterested in what is happening at table.

Every comment is simply another reason for resentment: as it is a reminder that the person speaking is not you and if you were here, you would say something different, I would feel different, respond with something different than my bullish pigheadedness (maybe). I would try to charm you, in the exact way I am not-charming him. With you, I would pour out the charm, opening up both the hot and cold taps full-throttle. There isn't even a drop of charm dripping from my faucet now: it's dry.

I am again at the Met, but this time it is not summer, and I refuse to fall in love.
We pass my favorite painting, and I think of pointing it out—but don’t.
No need to share that, or the quote of Dante in the journal, or the Final Redactor.

I tell the tow-haired man all the things I don’t want to tell you and, begrudgingly, some of the things I do.
I think he can sense that I am sharing each scene with you, not him.

I notice different things than I would with you—we walk around the rooms with a different rhythm and pattern.
And I like his questions—I practice with him all my good observational habits from art history class. Objectively, this conversation is elevated, curious and edifying.

And as arousing as cardboard.

My heart is feeling around for you, pulsing underneath not silences but conversation: an all-too-visible standard he is invisibly being measured to and comes up wanting, simply because he cannot provide the one thing I want:

With your rippling laughter and your strange shynesses, your anecdotes of Nashville childhood, your bursts of lightness that flash across your face, and your crushing analytic nature.

Right now, as I stare at the vast riches of Armenia pinned like butterflies to shadowboxes, I am in love with not the present but the subjunctive. I love the conversations we would have here, where you aren't: an omission that feels like an intemperate waste. I miss your laughter and your wit. Perhaps we are too effervescent. Perhaps we talk like two young people who have no responsibilities, who still wear life lightly, despite our scars. We do not talk with the maturity and the gravitas with which I speak to him.

Oh. God.
I know you don’t think I love you, but I do.

Impatient Delacroix tries to get the pieta right and fails.

Saturday, January 12, 2019


I have had to let go of my body's memories of you,
I have made a practice of washing you away each morning under the shower-head.
I do not want to, but you do not want to be here, with me.
So I must let you go.

I leave you behind in old apartments, where you beg to remain.
I wash you down the drain like yesterday's dust.

In the quiet ache of morning,
in the impossibly soft Fort George night,
on a subway, laughing a memory of holding you,
of your legs wrapped in mine comes to me,
and takes my breath away.

I laugh for joy
at the unspeakable delight
that once you were mine.

Friday, January 11, 2019


At least we know for certain that we are three old sinners, 
That this journey is much too long, that we want our dinners, 
And miss our wives, our books, our dogs, 
But have only the vaguest idea why we are what we are. 
To discover how to be human now Is the reason we follow this Star."
—W. H. Auden, "For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio”

From the office, as I end my day, or rather, hunker down for one more pass, I catch a glimpse of the mid-winter sunset—an orange and yellow tinge steadily hemming the fringes of an aquamarine sky stubbornly eking just past five pm now that it's post-Christmas.

The rippling (freezing) waters of the Hudson ripple a magnetic blue. The lights of Jersey City and Hoboken shine cheerfully, without the tint of claustrophobia from the Manhattan skyscrapers. Here, at the edge of the island, the night seems a little more voluminous, and the air is less crowded. The twilight blue trailing in after sunset is a blue that you can breathe in.

Small tugboats and ferries chug from the busy piers across the Hudson. Planes streak through the yellow underbelly of the horizon, vanishing up into the darkness of soon-to-be night.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

monastery #2:188th Street

Whenever I say a Hail Mary now I think of the Visitation stained into the glass of St. Elizabeth’s windows.

Like a spell, they summon me back to the peace of Tuesday afternoon and walking up and down the aisles while abuelas pray in the pews and workmen on ladders clamber up above our heads.

I am salty this Tuesday, and I walk inside to air sweetened with St. Elizabeth's saturated light. The windows are so brilliantly colored they sparkle in the sun that escapes the January clouds and the Church shines like a jewel-box.

Now, when I pray Hail Marys, I pray them to remember discovering the Annunciation window, hiding on the sidewall of the altar.

I stare for a long time at the window of the Annunciation that’s hiding by the altar.
The Annunciation:
God’s reinvention of the universe, a second stab at Eden.

This window spells out the mystery of salvation, of divine love—God does not scrap his ruined universe, but instead: God loves it into re-creation.

The mercy of God in this action of recreation taking place inside a woman's womb is mesmerizing.

Monday, January 7, 2019

monastery #1: 153rd Street

I was tired and I was cold. I was exhausted, rushed, and homesick, feeling rootless and discombobulated.

The priest lifts up the host, it’s a broken white within the white-washed walls of the miniature church.

And the world goes silent.

For a magic moment, the entire world is hushed.

There are no sirens.
There are no horns.
There is not a hint of the constant whirr of motion that buzzes in your ears when on Manhattan.
No one moves. Not a single coat rustles. No one coughs or sneezes—we barely even breathe. The world watches, breaths bated, as God comes to this quiet haven on 153rd Street.

This God of contradictions brags at being both prince of peace and a sword of division.

But here we get a rare moment of respite from paradox, and God is simply peace.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

eating bolognese

Feeling somewhat crushed by the weight of the world's problems, I mourn that making art won't help the woman who is battered in domestic abuse or save the boys who hang out by the 191st Street station, selling drugs.

Well do you want to solve those problems, asks John.

I stare at him blankly, because of course I do. What am I supposed to say? No I'm just fine with all those things occurring around me, thank you very much.

But, perhaps, says Maritain, the distinterested pursuit of beauty can be a healer in and of itself.

Perhaps the path that you have chosen has some merit in and of itself. Perhaps you can be of service in small ways. Perhaps this road will lead to good things, if you just keep committed to it.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

emotional first aid

loneliness is, in fact, as deadly
as a pack of cigarettes
spake Zarathustra in his TED talk,
through the guise of an unassuming
Swedish psychologist.

I think of you and Evan,
smoking like chimneys
ingesting cancer sticks
and wallowing in
isolated despair

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

infinitely suspended patients

The main task of the religious life with its discipline of prayer, scripture reading, and reflection is to peel away the many desires and wants that cover over the desire for unconditional love that is primitive, that is our last and first love. — Cyril O’Regan

I think I too often try to make God in my own image and likeness, not when I'm trying to be bad, but when I'm trying to be good.

In my attempts to be good and loving, I usually try to appease a scrupulous deity—a God who is overly concerned with the right and the wrong and not being mired in the wrong one.

I am challenged by a God of the psalms who desires mercy not sacrifice. For, I suppose, that means God desires to be merciful at every possible moment. There is not a single moment God desires to offer retribution rather than mercy.

That is not my deepest desire. My deepest desire is to remain unhurt for my entire life. I know that it is good to be forgiving, but I do not think my deepest desire is to forgive. It's a medium-depth desire, for sure. But, when offended, I often fixate on the fact that I have been offended. It is hard to see anyone else when you are only examining your own heart and taking stock of only your wounds.

But God, I am told by God's own self or by divinely-endorsed prophets in the words of scripture, desires in that exact situation not, like me, for the offending party to do something for one's self so that I may be unhurt or may find my way back towards being unhurt. Rather, God desires, even in terrible moments like the cross or a betrayal by an intimate friend, to grant mercy.

If my deepest desire is not to have mercy, then it seems that I am still denying myself the most fundamental desire—love. Unconditional love is not an imprudent love, a love that denies or ignores reality. It is not unconditional in that it does not have a form or it erases the demands of our own personalities. But it is, perhaps, unconditional, because it desires mercy, not sacrifice. It desires, at every possible moment, to offer mercy. Even if mercy, like some severe medicine, stings.