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?

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.

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.