Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Dot Magis: Sacred cacophony

St. Benedict Fra Angelico via Wikimedia Commons
“From holy Easter until Pentecost without interruption let ‘Alleluia’ be said both in the Psalms and in the responsories.” —from The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 15.

"...my breath caught in my mouth. Alleluia? I had barely thought the word in weeks, and now we were singing it in four parts, in Lent. St. Benedict’s Rule flashed through my mind. Wait, I wanted to say, until 'holy Easter'! 
Holy Easter duly arrived, and with it, a delightful explosion of Alleluias. But I still wondered at my discomfort with those out-of-season Alleluias. I was reminded of St. Ignatius’s caution to retreatants in the Spiritual Exercises (#127) to 'not read any mystery that is not to be used on that day or at that hour, lest the consideration of one mystery interfere with the contemplation of the other.' It can be hard to hear God’s voice in a cacophony, even a cacophony of sacred mysteries." — read the rest at DotMagis
I have a short piece up at DotMagis reflecting on how the out-of-season singing of alleluia made me more aware of the need to be present to each of the tasks and people that appear in my inbox and at my door even in this particularly chaotic time of year.  Just as with the sacred mysteries of the Exercises, I mused, take things one a a time.  What I hadn't quite realized when I wrote it is that these swirling demands are not like sacred mysteries, they are sacred mysteries.  Enveloped as they may be in difficult personalities, or troubles that I can't unravel in a few lines, even popping into my inbox, these are collisions with the sacred.  And surely a mystery.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Party lines

Writing for publication I sometimes feel as if I'm a character in an epistolary novel.  My manuscript goes out, crisp and clean on my screen, and returns speckled with conversational balloons.  "Is this what you meant?"  "Could you shorten/expand/clarify this?" "Rephrase, please." I respond, "No, no, not at all." "Yes." "Of course."  When we run out of conversation, it goes to print.

Crossing conversations are challenging. Facing the piece that came back in the fall with multiple editors in conversation with each other and with me in the margins was like doing battle with an octopus, it tentacles wrapped around my prose, prising one free only to find two more clinging to a paragraph.  This week the cross talk consisted of not one, not two, not three...ok, lots of...pieces that had been consigned to editorial hands returning.  Science. Not science. Short.  Long. And the book, the book came back, too.

It's a cocktail party in my computer.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Soundings

It's the first day of final exams.  I always think it will be a quiet day, no classes, no grading yet.  But as always, it was a day packed with meetings: office hours, writing conferences with the research methodology students, award ceremony (two ! chemistry majors being honored), reception for a retiring colleague (with a surprise appearance from an alum, now herself a faculty member).  A steady stream of people through my office and in the hallways.

I came home and scrounged up a meal, savoring the silence along with the local bread and cheese. A neighbor was practicing the trumpet, beautiful jazz borne on the wind, dancing down the street and drifting in the window to languidly wrap itself around my ankles.  Now the wind is stirring the new leaves.  The insects are pinging against the screen door, and the neighbor's air conditioning whines like a giant gnat, which I only noticed when it ceases.

This silence sluices over me, cool and dark.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Marching -- and Speaking -- for Science



Speaking at the March for Science in Philly
Science.  It's what I have done most days for the last 40 years. To paraphrase Pedro Arupe SJ (or not - see this article on pseudo-Ignatian quotes) it is what seizes my imagination, it get me out of bed in the morning, determines what I read, and who I know and what amazes me with joy and gratitude.

What amazed me today were the thousands of scientists who brave a raw and rainy April day in Philadelphia to march for science.  I met some of my students early this morning and we took a train already packed into the city and found our way to the start of the march at City Hall.  We marched the not quite 2 miles to Penn's landing, waving signs and occasionally even chanting. Scientists are quiet sorts, it turns out.

I enjoyed listening to snatches of conversation about people's work as they walked and talked. Science was happening even on the march!  The signs were great - lots of old science jokes, some politics, some just...odd.  "If you aren't part of the solution -- you are part of the precipitate." "What do Trump and atoms have in common?  They make up everything."

At CityHall, waiting to march.
One sign reading "It was the year they finally immanentized the eschaton." puzzled my students — which led to a conversation about eschatology and "end times" theories as we walked. I teach at a liberal arts college - can you tell?  [I didn't realize until writing this tonight that it is a line from a 1970s novel, we could have had a while other conversation!]

with some of my students
I gave a speech, a nanosecond of which was featured on the evening news, I did an interview for CBS news in Philly, also on the news. The camera guy had a hard time getting the camera low enough to film me.  My youngest brother will be amused.

If you want to know what I had to say, I did an interview with Sabrina Vourvoulias of NBC 10 in Philly —A Chemist, A Feminist and a Theologian Go to the March for Science.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Ashes and incense

Fragment of press for making bread for Eucharist. Byzantine.
There are little flecks of ash on my alb, from where I brushed up too close to the censer.  Ashes to ashes. I walk the church through a cloud of incense.  A shroud, a veil, for the Sacrament behind me.  A pillar of cloud in the night.

I fall on my knees in the chapel.  The smoke that curls around me smells of incense and oh, so faintly of ashes.  Of prayer and of destruction. The chant pours over the two of us kneeling before the altar, piles up and spills out the door like a wave, there is a moment where all is still, and song washes back in.  We remain until the music is spent and I step into the clear cool air on the other side of the wall to let the embers die.



For whom shall we pray? For Mother Church.  For public officials. For those who believe and those who don't.  For pilgrims, return, and salvation for the dying.  I kneel and I stand until I wonder if I can stand again with this weight on my shoulders, or whether like Jesus I will stumble and fall.



I watch the choir recoil at the stark news.  Ecce lignum Crucis.  A member has been suddenly widowed, can we lean on you? Now? Today? Behold the wood of the cross. It's 9:00 pm and part of me is in an office outside a hospital waiting room 30 years and 3000 feet away, as a nurse offers to call someone for me.  All I can see are her hands, poised over the dial.

A psalm in the darkness, I can see nothing beyond the pool of light on the text. Have mercy on me, O God.



Black silk pants, black silk shirt. A white pall flows over the coffin. The alb slides over my head. "See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity." Water from the aspersorium splashes against my hand, and arcs overhead.  Renew me.

The sacrament of salvation lies broken in my hand, and I breathe in Easter.