Friday, January 23, 2009

Column: From the rising of the sun

[Michelle is on retreat. This post appears courtesy of Blogger's scheduled posting feature.]

[This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times 22 January 2009]

From the rising of the sun to its setting, praised be the name of the Lord! Ps. 113:3

A newly ordained priest friend picked up my breviary and admired it, not for its elegance, but for its “well prayed in” look. The ribbons are tattered, the edges are worn through. Prayer cards, notes and a strand from a shawl knit for a dying friend are scattered through it all.

For a truly prayed in look, he should see my friend Kim’s — taped back together after her infant son, desirous of joining his mother and his Church in prayer, tore several pages out. All the better to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord?”

It’s no surprise my breviary is well worn. It’s nearly the first thing I pick up in the morning and the very last thing I set down at night, saying as I close it, “May the all powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death. Amen.” So ends night prayer; of all the hours in the Liturgy, my favorite. Not because it is so short, though it is the shortest of the hours, but because of how aware it makes me of the unceasing nature of the Church’s prayer.

I know that even as I set down my work of prayer for the day, I am handing it off to Kim in Chicago, certain that John and Vincent will take up where we both have left off.

I know someone in nearly every time zone around the earth who prays the Hours, our prayers circling the earth like a satellite in permanent orbit. Some of us are canonically bound to the Hours, most of us not.

The Church takes the commandment to pray unceasingly so seriously that she obliges those in Holy Orders to pray the Liturgy of the Hours so that her duty may be “carried out regularly and reliably.” But, as the general instructions for the Liturgy of the Hours point out, it is the duty of the whole Church — not just her deacons, priests and bishops — to pray without ceasing. In some way, we are all bound to the Hours, ordained and lay alike.

It is a sacred undertaking, obliged or not, to pray the Hours. When you pray the psalms in the Hours, you pray them not with your own voice but as the voice of the Church. Even more, praying the psalms in the Church’s name, the general instructions tell us you pray them in the person of Christ Himself.

Taking up the work of prayer in this way is to enter into the mystery of Christ who humbles Himself. To pray with your whole heart the psalms set out for you at each hour, each day, is to agree to rejoice when your own heart is not joyous, to grieve when your life is not full of sorrow. It is to pray whether you are ready to or not. We learn humility when we surrender our prayer so completely to this unceasing round.

No canon bids me to keep the Hours, but I’m bound to it nonetheless. I cannot bear to have any part in stilling the never ending praises, to let Christ’s voice go silent. I lay it down for the night only in the sure knowledge that on the other side of the world someone is picking it up. Kathryn?

The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethern ‘neath the western sky
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high

— From the hymn The day thou gavest us Lord by Clement Scholefield

Monday, January 19, 2009

Jete de Foie Gras

[Michelle is on retreat, but the blog appears courtesy of Blogger's scheduled posts feature!]

Math Man has a new vehicle. Requiescat in pacem to the old minivan, long life to the new station wagon. I sat in the back seat with Barnacle Boy on the shakedown cruise (a ski outing) and played Scrabble on his iPod. I played "nary" - he harrumphed. "It's a word. I've just got a good vocabulary." He played "blet". It's a word, but I didn't know what it meant. Harrumph!

The straw that broke the camel's back was "jete" - which I said was a ballet term, from the French. At which point the Boy made some snarky comment about people who used "jete de foie gras".

Jump over that liver!

Blet means the hidden decay of overripe fruit. Blech!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Column: The Best Wine

[Michelle is on retreat, but the blog appears courtesy of Blogger's scheduled posts feature!]

[This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times15 January 2009]

Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” Jn. 2:7-10

“Jo-Ann will play the violin for you now,” I can hear the gentle voice say through my cell phone. I hold the phone out to catch the music as it swirls up to the roof, following the ghosts of the incense that curled about the altar earlier. Piano and violin intertwine to make Handel’s music come to life. A thousand miles away, Jo-Ann’s father holds the phone to his wife’s ear, so she can hear her daughter play.

The nurses in the ICU told Jo-Ann that they couldn’t keep their eyes off of her parents. Everyone who passed by, they said, was struck by the tender love expressed between them, by her father’s gentle and unwavering care for his wife.

Listening to Jo-Ann talk about her parents, I heard the echoes of the headwaiter’s words in this passage from John: “You have saved the best wine for last.”

I’d sometimes wondered why this Gospel is proclaimed at weddings, other than the obvious aspect of its setting. For the most part, the wedding couple and their guests are off-stage in John’s recounting of Christ’s first public miracle, and the marriage ceremony isn’t even mentioned — just the party. It is a Gospel about beginnings, the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and, too, the beginning of a marriage.

Married twice, for six years and now 16 years, I feel like I’ve been a beginner at marriage for almost a quarter of a century, and so tend to hear in this passage of the graces God grants to such beginnings, filled to the brim, like the water jars. The overflowing joys of finding a companion of soul and heart, creating a home and family and welcoming children are like the wine at Cana, gifts not only to the couple but to us all.

These graced beginnings reflect for us God’s joy in our community of faith, deeply grounded in His covenantal love for us.

In focusing on the brimming water, I’d overlooked the wine. Good wine is often old wine; wine aged in knotty wooden barrels, under conditions that aren’t always perfect, over many years. When the time comes to pour out this wine, it is fragrant and complex. Here, at the end of a long marriage, in very difficult times, extraordinary wine was poured out, shared not only by husband and wife, but by everyone who saw them — all the guests at the feast.

In reflecting on this passage, St. John Chrysostom suggested, “Our Lord wanted the power of his miracles to be seen gradually, little by little.” The grace of a sacramental marriage is not static but continues to reveal God’s glory to us, little by little. The wine of a long marriage is a sign not only of God’s enduring love for us but also of God’s ceaseless revelation of Himself to us, in endings as well as in beginnings.

God saves the best wine for last.

God of wonders, at Cana in Galilee you revealed your glory in Jesus Christ and summoned all humanity to life in him. Show to your people your transforming power and give us a foretaste of the wine you keep for the age to come. We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen. — From the opening prayer for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.

Monday, January 12, 2009

iPod Speakers

[Michelle is on retreat, but this post appears courtesy of Blogger's scheduled posts feature!]

Barnacle Boy and I were driving up to my brother's for Epiphany (or the vigil thereof). The iPod/car connector wouldn't quite fit into his iPod (the case blocks it), so he plugged the earphones in, then put one in his right ear, and sang along to music only he could hear. I told him he was an all new kind of solar powered speaker system!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Splendid Isolation

I used this video of Splendid Isolation II (Alvin Ailey II dance company) for a reflection for the RevGalBlogPals which will appear in mid-January - but it's worth sharing twice. The music is from Trio Mediaeval - a Norwegian group. (Listen to their Song of Mary here...). The silence began for me on Monday.

[Michelle is on retreat, but this post appears courtesy of Blogger's scheduled posts feature!]

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Column: The Gift of Myrrh

[This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times8 January 2009]

Opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. Mt 2: 11b

“I never travel without my box,” sings King Kaspar in my favorite aria from Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors. With “one lapis lazuli against quartern fever, one
small jasper to help you find water, one small topaz to soothe your eyes…” the King seems prepared for every eventuality, likely or not.

Menotti’s Magi, laden with tempting gifts, are nearing the end of their trek. The Feast of the Epiphany found me, instead, just beginning a journey. I left behind family and work for five weeks in a retreat house on the coast of Massachusetts, to make St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. Thirty days of silence and prayer.

Packing turned out to be a spiritual exercise in itself. What do I need for 30 days in silence in the middle of winter on the Atlantic coast, living in a room just big enough for a single bed and with only a single drawer for storage? Besides my snow boots and a flashlight for ice storms, that is.

I’ve lived with less, in fact. I’ve lived in one room, with a mattress on the floor, two bricks and a board for a shelf, my clothes folded into a milk crate. I’ve spent a summer in the mountains of Mexico where water was pumped by hand, and the plumbing was outside. Still, I’m finding it hard to be a minimalist again in a culture where value-packs, selection, specialized tools and “on demand” rule the day.

There is a discipline to doing with much less that I must re-learn. You use what is to hand, regardless of whether it precisely what you want. Perhaps harder for me, you use what is handed to you. I find it a challenge to be dependent when you are the one so often depended on by your family and your students to meet the needs of the moment.

I am tempted by my own version of King Kaspar’s “just in case” box. I don’t find the jewels as alluring as I do the protection against the potential trials and difficulties they represent. Should I tuck in a few bags of chamomile tea just in case I might want a soothing cup one afternoon? If I’m bringing my drawing pens, should I throw in a couple of extra, just in case I run out of ink?

Each of these what ifs is small, but taken together, I would need at least one extra camel to cart it all eastward. The real burden I’m concerned with is not physical, but spiritual. I don’t want to cushion myself so well that God can’t get in. I don’t want to be so prepared that my fundamental dependence on God for my every breath is obscured by extra pens and tea bags.

St. Matthew does not even give names to the magi, let alone report on the contents of their saddlebags, except to say that they bore gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the infant King. Half a millennium later, St. Gregory the Great saw these traditional treasures as surrogates for the gifts all of us should carry on our pilgrimage: the gold of wisdom, the incense of prayer and the myrrh of self-denial. To offer myrrh, he says, is to “employ the spice of self-restraint to keep this earthly bodily of ours from decomposition through decadence”.

So I am taking Gregory’s advice to heart. I am prayerfully and (I hope) wisely sprinkling my suitcase not with comforts and precautions, but with empty spaces. I trust that what I need, will be provided. I’m going to seek God, as the Beloved sings in the Song of Songs, with myrrh dripping from my hands - my empty hands.

The wise men followed the star, and found Christ who is light from light. May you too find the Lord when your pilgrimage is ended. Amen.
From the solemn blessing over the people for Epiphany.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Educate, Rinse, Repeat

I'm spending 30 days discerning my next steps in life - this site offered to tell me in under 30 seconds. Did I miss something!?

You Should Get a PhD in Liberal Arts (like political science, literature, or philosophy)

You're a great thinker and a true philosopher.

You'd make a talented professor or writer.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

On retreat

I'm in Gloucester, at a little coffee shop in the small downtown. I have a cup of tea and am sharing a table with a couple waiting for their yoga class. The place is packed, it looks like a stop for lots of people on their way to or from yoga class. And the free wireless seems an attraction as well...

I still feel like I've brought too much along. The ultimate packing list:

  • clothes etc.
  • two pillows (despite having thrown the Ignatian principle of not "re-discerning" something to the winds on this one, I don't think I'm going to regret it!)
  • tea and electric tea kettle (and a travel mug, so I didn't have to pack two, I left my usual mug home and the kettle because the water for tea here in the summer was tepid at best and while I'm all for being ascetic, that penitential I'm unwilling to commit to just yet)
  • my knitting
  • The Lord of the Rings (on my iPod to listen to....the BBC version...and the books)
  • my camera (I did promise pictures)
  • Breviary, journal, bible and my favorite translation of the psalms
Thanks to one and all for their advice...

I've left various and sundry posts to appear on the blog, and written ahead for the Standard and Times, so in some way, I'll still be inhabiting this space. See you all in a few weeks...

Saturday, January 03, 2009

All out of...


Crash and the Boy bought a pad for the 'fridge labeled "All Out Of" and with a list of things you might need. They are taking no chances while I'm gone that they won't be able to find the scrap of paper I usually tack to the cabinet for the shopping list.

I'm typing this at the island in my brother's kitchen, eating a marvelous blueberry scone and drinking my tea. Barnacle Boy is wrapped around my waist. "How are you managing your separation anxiety?" inquires Crash. "You don't love her as much as I do!" slings the Boy back. "I'm just enjoying her presence from afar. Where I'm not restricting her airway..."

Five minutes later they are both wrapped around me. I leave in an hour.