Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Tales from the hermitage: Sleeping beauty

Every morning when I walk through the door to the back patio to go out to pray, I have to brush the spider webs off my face.  I wonder if I've slept, not for a night, but for years.  I've been trying not to disturb my guardians - and you can see that their web has attracted quite a bit of detritus.

The week of near total silence in my ad hoc suburban hermitage has passed quickly, and productively.  I've sent two pieces of writing of to their respective editors, and am nearly ready to dispatch a third.  Tonight I will break the silence by driving up to Wernersville to see Patient Spiritual Director.

This is a luxury, this time of silence and solitude, but it's not a fairy tale isolation either — the spider webs notwithstanding.  But like fasting, which sharpens my eyes for hunger around me, this solitude has also helped me see the isolated and lonely who live around me.  The new mother across the street, juggling a little one who'd just thrown up while her toddler tugs at her hand.  The woman hustling to walk the mile to the church on Sunday in the heat of an August noon.  Reminders that this time is oriented outward, it's not a "staycation" or a retreat from the craziness of the world (though I admit to some pleasure in not having to make the transition into the beginning-of-the-semester chaos), it's a teachable moment.

"Sit in your cell," says St. Romuald, "and your cell will teach you everything."

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Ask me about my vow of silence

Actually don't, since I can't answer you. My voice vanished completely on Thursday morning, lost on I-95 somewhere between Washington, DC and Bryn Mawr.  It went from squeaks and squeals to nothingness; at the moment it's back, though a bit rough and limited to very short conversations, as the Theologically Inclined Philosopher can attest.

This is mostly a non-issue as there is no one at home to talk to, the boys are back at college and Math Man has been at a series of workshops. I don't have to teach, I'm not cantoring.  Fluffy is content with silence as long as there are crunchies in her bowl (and doesn't accept excuses if there are not).

I posted on Facebook a photo captioned "Morning prayer at the hermitage" — taken in the backyard, and meant to be somewhat tongue in cheek commentary on my lack of voice and the absence of other residents of the household, but which led some people to assume I'd gone away on retreat.

I am at home, but it feels as if the rest of the world has retreated.  The neighborhood is cloaked in its usual August silence, not even the howl of lawn mowers or the grumble of air conditioners disturbed the quiet. The cicadas tweet, the cardinals pipe, the leave rustle, but that's about it.

I wrote, I read, I prayed the office for the feasts of St. Monica and St. Augustine and the Passion of St. John. I cooked. I did the laundry. And for three days I didn't talk to anyone.

It's been a fascinating experience, different from a silent retreat: I'm working, I'm not having a daily meeting with a spiritual director, or chanting monastic offices.

Today I went to Mass - the inability to sing was painful.  Wednesday I'm off to see Patient Spiritual Director for the first time since Lent (he's been ill.)  But there will be more silence to explore.

Where past and future are gathered

The huge high school I attended. Enrollment was almost 
twice the number of people in the town I grew up in

"What might have been is an abstraction Remaining a perpetual possibility"

I have returned The Egg to his Small California College, and ferried Crash to Wonderful Jesuit University.  In the interstices of the California trip, I spent a day with a friend I've known for more than four decades, a "sister of another mother," as she would say.

We went to Mass at the parish where we spent high school singing in the folk group, where the "new church" has been redone twice since we first sang there.  We talked and we talked and we talked.  We shared a meal. I met her darling daughter, who is taller than I am (yes, I know, isn't everyone? or at least everyone over the age of 10?). It was a day full of  grace and joy.
California house.  Six kids and a dog.  #NotTheBradyBunch

The Sunday was also the 34th anniversary of my marriage to Tom, an event at which Other Sister stood by me. The 23rd anniversary of my marriage to Math Man is nearly upon us.

I drove up to my dad's the next day and spent many hours with him going through old photographs.  I found a lock cut from my infant mother's hair, still soft and so, so blond. There were pictures of from my dad's extended family going back to the late 19th century. Past and future gathered.

My maternal grandmother wrote many notes about my mother when she was little.  It's odd to read of her hopes and delights when both she and my mother have been gone for so many years.  I wonder (in the abstract) what my descendants will think if they should ever happen upon what I've written.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Choose. A homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time.

"Sugus" by aTarom
I wrote this homily for the collection Sick, and You Cared For Me (part of the Homilists for the Homeless series - all the profits go to aid the poor), which was published last fall.  We called the candies, "eggman candy" because we called the farmer who brought the egg the eggman.  He always kept a few of these Swiss sweets tucked into his basket.

It's not the big choices that confound me, but the little ones.  The choices I sometimes don't even realize are choices until I reach the examen at the end of the day.

This is a homily I wish I could preach aloud.

“Choose,” urges my mother, as I peer into the basket the farmer set down in our dim front hallway. The pale grey cartons of eggs are stacked on one side, a sharp contrast to the brightly colored candy on the other. I clutch a nickel in my small hand; do I want purple or red? Is there no green apple? Candy was an infrequent treat in my rural childhood, making it so hard for me to choose.

Forty-some years later I’m sitting in a sun-drenched office overlooking the Atlantic, clutching a cup of tea, listening to my director explain the next step in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the Meditation on Two Standards. “It will be here to see a great plain, comprising the whole region about Jerusalem, where the sovereign Commander-in-Chief of all the good is Christ our Lord,” says Ignatius, “and another plain about the region of Babylon, where the chief of the enemy is Lucifer.” Lucifer sits on a thrown of fire and smoke; Jesus stands in a lowly place. Their standards are flying; the battle lines are drawn. Choose.

For anyone drawn to spend four weeks walking with Christ through the Spiritual Exercises, the bare choice itself isn’t hard. It’s already been made. As Joshua proclaims in the first reading, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Or is it? Many of the disciples walking with Jesus in John’s Gospel complained that the choice was tough, sklērós it says in the Greek, as something dried up and hard to chew on. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you,” Jesus has said to them just before this Gospel opens. Words that scandalized them, words that shook their faith, words that were hard to swallow.

To choose to stand with Christ is a choice that leads to things we are not sure we want to eat, cups we are not sure we can drink. “If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them,” says C.S. Lewis. “Eat my flesh,” says Jesus, “that I might abide in you, and you in me.” Choose.

Ignatius invites us to look closely at the camps, to see what we are getting into when we eat of the flesh and drink of the blood of God’s Holy One. To choose to carry Christ’s standard, says Ignatius, is to welcome poverty — spiritual poverty and perhaps even material poverty. To choose Christ is to prefer rejection over worldly honors. To choose Christ is to elect to stand with the foolish and the useless, to joyfully embrace humility for the sake of the Gospel. Choose. It could be tough.

The difficulty in choosing, for me, lies not in my intention, but in noticing the choices before me in the midst of my daily life. Choices rarely present themselves cleanly, with bright flags flying to identify the camps, and the lines of battle so clearly drawn. Instead it is a man facing me on the sidewalk, asking for something to eat. Choose. It is the mentally ill woman who wants a ride home from church. Choose.

Ignatius hoped this meditation would give those who made it a concrete understanding of what is fundamentally driving their choices, in our hearts as well as our heads. Can I recognize what is stirring me up in each situation? Is it greed? Is it fear? Or is it Love?

Pedro Arrupe, S.J., the former Superior General of the Society of Jesus said, “Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning…what you read…whom you know…Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” Where else would we go, Lord?

The Twelve remained with Jesus, not for power, nor out of fear, not because it was a rational decision, but because Who they fell in with was Love. And what we love, decides everything.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Like, we're on an airplane

The Egg and I are indeed on an airplane, he’s headed back to Small California College, I’m off to see family and a friend I’ve known for almost forever.  In the row behind us are three college aged persons, two women, one man.  They are total strangers, they first met today when they sat down. OMG. 

The Egg and I are working a crossword together (if you can help with 26 down, shot that misses badly, six letters, starts with M, we would be forever in your debt), but the rapid fire conversation between the two young women behind us is, like, soooo distracting.  They’ve covered roommates, RAs, drinking, final exams, how to dress for lecture, moms, and the super smart, hot guys on the hockey team. Oh, and which girls looked like they’ve had plastic surgery.

58 down:  Vodka in a blue bottle.  I suggest we ask the trio behind us, I’m pretty sure they know.  The Egg snorts (and he knows the answer anyway).

As far as I can tell, they aren’t breathing between sentences.  I start writing notes in the margins of the crossword. The Egg is amused, there are moments when the tears are just streaming down my face.

“I am awful at physics, why do we do this physics stuff?”  They do like genes, but not jeans (or shorts).

“The RA like knows we are drinking.”  “And that third warning they call your parents, and like what are they going to say?  You got caught drinking?”

“I just study so hard I give myself a migraine.”  I wonder if it’s not a hangover.

Now the Egg isn’t sure if they are talking about fake IDs or fake people.  “Good thing I worked retail, because I understand accents.”  Diversity?

“….chill….literally…Oh my God…I don’t even.”  Me either.

The Egg’s eyebrows go up. Someone used a word with five syllables.

Dear Lord, we are on to discussing our preferred undergarments.  OMG, TMI. 

The Egg thinks we could do a great performance art piece based on this.