Monday, April 30, 2012

Carthusian laundry

I have a good sized collection of books devoted to elected silence and the contemplative life, ranging from Sara Maitland's A Book of Silence to Thomas Merton to St. John of the Cross to the desert fathers, and I'm always on the look out for new additions. I recently stumbled across First Initiation into Carthusian Life — an introduction to life in a Charterhouse written for Carthusian postulants and novices.

My first thought was it might be useful background reading for my students for the next time I teach the course on contemplative traditions in the West. Two pages in, I am ready to tuck the book into my bag for my upcoming retreat (a week in solitude in a hermitage here).

The anonymous Carthusian author invites the postulant to read the book slowly, as lectio divina, to reflect deeply on the scripture passages that treat of a contemplative life. It's a rich banquet set out, one I want to do more than taste, one I want to linger over — or to use the novice master's metaphor — to get past the rind and into the interior.

The section on community life is a helpful meditation for anyone living in community - and we all do. (This Carthusian community is male, hence the non-inclusive language.) "We listen carefully to each other and try to understand each others' point of view. We never condemn, or judge a person. We never repeat any evil we have heard. We do not look at the speck in our brother's eye. We avoid all criticism. We try always to adopt a positive attitude, to see the good in our brother's actions and to discover the face of Christ which is gradually being formed in him. At times, one has to accept the fact that one is not understood nor can one understand the other — but all all times we can love." The italics are mine, as that's the piece I need to think about before I start typing into com boxes, or rehearsing arguments in my head, but it all bears contemplating.

What might we have the time and breath to say if we were not criticizing others? If we gave over trying to convince each other to change entrenched positions, particularly on matters principally of style (Communion in the hand, Latin in the liturgy, partisan politics)? How might we "offer each other discrete but very precious mutual help along the steep paths" we follow?

But as my friend Lisa is fond of saying, it all comes down to the laundry. The last two pages of the book deal with the practicalities of getting your laundry done when you are living in solitude and silence within a community of other silent solitaries. There is almost as much as instruction given about laundry as there is about meditation. Which as postulants and novices, might be more what they need. There is almost a scriptural character to the advice given about bloodstains: "If anything is stained with blood, it should be put at once into COLD water and it will be found that after a couple of hours, the stain has been entirely removed." My experience with newborn sheep suggests not, or maybe my faith isn't strong enough?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Crash Kid crashes

My oldest, known on the blog as Crash Kid, or more recently as just Crash, earned his blog name in an incident seven years ago where he collided (on his bike) with my Mini Cooper and broke the tail light, but somehow not his collarbone.  (All that milk he drank.)

Last night, as I sprawled on a bed in my hotel in Roanoke, trying to get the notes for my slides to show up on the screen of my iPad in a type size I could read (I was ultimately unsuccessful, but that is an entirely other story), my phone buzzed with a text message.  It was Crash, who had crashed in the Cooper.

Once my first worries had been assuaged, i.e. everyone was fine, I wanted to know the damages.  A dent in the back bumper and...a cracked tail light.  The other one this time.

The real irony in this story is that the collision occurred at 1 minute past 11, the driving curfew for those with junior licenses in Pennsylvania.  Since Crash turned 18 yesterday, and now has a senior license, this was the very first moment he was legal to drive past curfew.

I was starting to wonder if Crash needed a new blog name, now that he's about to go off to college (Georgetown!).  Somehow, I think Crash still suits.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Undercranked and blown away

Back in the day when the frame rate of a film was controlled by a crank, undercranking resulted in a fast forward effect.  Patient Spiritual Director sent me a link to this undercranked film of flowers blooming, with the notation "You'll want to replay it."  Decidedly.  These flowers aren't coaxed into blooming, but blown into being.  It brought to mind the Canticle of Judith (Wednesday I, MP, if you follow the Hours): You sent forth your spirit, and they were created; no one can resist your word.  Resistance is futile.

Phaith: The Ladies of the Book

The April issue of Phaith has been out for a while, and with it my column; this month on evangelization in the digital age, featuring my virtual book club.

About a year ago Pope Benedict issued Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age (on the feast of St. Francis de Sales in 2011). He recognized the possibility of building networks of relationships that strengthen our faith in the digital domain and encouraged integrity in our interactions there.  That what existed in the virtual world was "an integral part of human life." Pope Benedict goes on to say, "The web is contributing to the development of new and more complex intellectual and spiritual horizons, new forms of shared awareness." That well characterizes The Ladies of the Book, in my opinion!

I had a small box on the page where I could suggest more resources - and I had to admit it was difficult to select just a half dozen places to showcase for an audience that includes all of Philadelphia's Catholics: young, old, veteran Tweeters and those still struggling with email.  Father Z's WDTPRS and The Deacon's Bench are popular Catholic stops on the interwebs, but were not even on my short list.  At their best both sites can be catechetical and informative on hot topics, but rarely does conversation at either spot rise toward something that sustains my faith, and at their worst, they can be an occasion of sin for me.  The community at People for Others does a far better job of building up the Body of Christ, in my opinion.  The people who come to comment do not always agree, but the topics posted there encourage a focus on our own practices — not on a critique of others' practices and faith —  and help me dig deeply into how I find God, and how God find me.  PFOers pray for each other, seek to build up each other's faith, and share their helpful perspectives.

Herewith, my suggestions of places to visit where the Catholic faith is joyfully proclaimed and the faith of the Church is built up, not torn down.  Where else would you send people to have their faith fed — Catholic or otherwise?
  • Busted Halo, online magazine for young Catholics
  • The Jesuit Post, compelling and edgy writing on faith by a group of young Jesuits
  • People for Others, blogger Fr. Paul Campbell, S.J. hosts an ongoing conversation about finding God in all things 
  • @Virtual_Abbey, praying the Liturgy of the Hours on Twitter daily 

"The Ladies of the Book meet virtually, hanging out online for an hour once a month talking about what we’ve read, our lives and God. 
The dozen of us have never all met in person, and perhaps never will. Some of us know each other IRL (in real life), others met through our online blogs or on were introduced by mutual friends on Facebook. We are Catholics by birth and by conversion, evangelical Protestants and staid Presbyterians. We are grandmothers, mothers and daughters; students and teachers; lay women and ministers. And we live in five states scattered across three time zones. Despite our differences we share an abiding joy in our faith in God, a deep yearning to grow closer to God in prayer and a call to proclaim the Gospel abroad, whether that means teaching a religious education class, proclaiming the Scriptures in the liturgy — or writing a terrific post on Facebook. 
'No speech, no word, no voice is heard, yet their span extends through all the earth, their words to the utmost bounds of the world.' proclaims Psalm 19. The ancient psalmist surely did not have the internet in mind, but every time I hear this psalm I think of the blogs I read that span the earth, the people whose voices I’ve never heard, but whose words of wisdom and hope have reached out across vast distances to speak of God’s glory."

Read the rest here...

Note:  Robin (the unnamed Presbyterian) objected to being characterized as "staid", though I meant it in its older sense of steadfast — "know where you stand and stand there" — rather than sedate or unadventurous.  I wish to state unconditionally (having met Robin incarnate as well as virtually), she is not sedate or unadventurous.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Grief reimagined

Midsummer of the year Tom died I broke my foot dashing into a dark room to answer the phone, smashing my foot into the base of my desk chair. It was my mother-in-law on the other end, and by the time we were done talking it was pretty obvious that it needed more than an ice pack and elevation. In the ER I filled out the usual demographic form. Next thing I knew a social worker pulled up a chair to talk. The combination of my date of birth and the box I had checked with my marital status — widowed — had triggered a consult. If a 29 year old woman is widowed, something awful has almost certainly happened. I wasn't much interested in the conversation, though at some level I appreciated the care of the whole person it represented. I just wanted to someone to fix what could be fixed. My foot. The rest of me, I well recognized, could not be repaired in the conventional sense.

In the space of a week I had gone from being a wife, with a new house, trying to start a family, to a widow. It was a shift in perspective that was impossible to accommodate, for me, or I imagine, for many of the people around me. Academic that I am, one way I tried to stretch my perspective was to read. I still have a shelf stuffed with books about being widowed and about grieving. One image of healing, I'm not sure which book it came from, has remained stuck with me for all these years. The author(s?) suggested thinking of God healing these deep hurts in the same way that a team of sculptors had repaired the hand of Michelangelo's Pieta — damaged in an attack by a hammer-wielding and sadly delusional man. The team, the authors noted, studied the statue from all angles, and then refashioned the hand to match the original. The point was that God, who knows us so well, can effect a similarly perfect repair in those in His care. Except that, barring a miracle on the order of Lazarus, fixing the damage done to me in this way was simply not possible.

Personally, I thought they had the right sculptor, just the wrong statue. I was more like the damaged block from which Michelangelo had carved his David. Gouged so deeply that many thought the block unusable, it lay weathering in Florence for years, until Michelangelo saw the possibilities. He carved the David at an unusual angle within the block, able to imagine what the statue would look like when it was finally upright. It was tough going, and at times, uncertain whether the bold move would be successful, but in the end, the possibilities he saw in the wounded block were revealed in all their wondrous beauty. This is the healing I longed for, not an impossible repair to the fabric of time and space, a return of what was rent from my hands, but a God who could see what whole-thing could be carved from such a wrecked chunk, making use of the gouge, not filling it in. A God willing to work with the base material off-kilter, who understood the counterintuitive fragility of the stone, the need for tenderness even with hammer and chisel, the tenuous nature of the proceedings.

And this is the healing that has happened. The gouge is not filled in, not pasted over, but a part of the new whole, carved with wild and wondrous tenderness by a God who could see possibilities I could not.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A camel awakened at dawn

My associations with camels are admittedly eclectic. They range from the obvious (deserts) to links most people would consider dubious (Ignatian retreats and the Liturgy of the Hours). So I was delighted to find this sentence in a book on language that a friend gave me for my birthday:

"Have you ever heard a camel being awakened at dawn, cinched up, and introduced, as if for the first time, to the notion that camels are beasts of burden? The camel's response begins way up high like a teakettle at just-boil and works its way down through the expostulation of an archbishop being contradicted, the gurgle of ancient plumbing, the cry of an emeritus member of the Explorers Club being violated in his leather chair, and on down down down into some deep body cavity unknown to man." — Alphabetter Juice by Roy Blount, Jr.

It's a heady and laugh inducing melange that evokes Gerard Manley Hopkins ("just-boil"), Ralph Steadman's caricature of a cardinal (which does not reflect my opinion of my archbishop, I hasten to say!), and Elizabeth Peter's dryly periphrastic Amelia Peabody ("the cry of an emeritus member of the Explorers Club...").

Blount's entry on Hopkins, filed under "foil," describes his use of sprung rhythms to "generate more torque" than one might imagine possible — poetically or otherwise. I have a sudden image of Hopkins under a poem with a wrench, tightening the language until the chassis groaned.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Stand and deliver

Last weekend I managed to aggravate an old injury to my hand by spending far too much time on the keyboard. Come Monday morning, I couldn't pick up my tea cup. Worse yet, the thought of trying to drive up to Wernersville to meet Robin and Wayne for dinner before Robin began her silence seemed painfully imprudent. Argh. Ice, ibuprofen, a splint were prescribed. I know the drill. And time off the keyboard. What?!?

As Patient Spiritual Director put it when he called to see how I was doing, "That's like asking you to take time off from breathing."

So I updated the dictation software we'd gotten for The Boy when he'd broken a hand a couple of years ago. I'd switched my writing desk to a standing position a couple of weeks ago (and yes, I like it), so I could mic up and pace. Then I tried to answer my email, post on Facebook, and....(drum roll)...write.

Stand and deliver. I think on my feet all the time, I lecture about quantum mechanics, I talk about spirituality. However, I don't write linearly. I knew this, I just didn't realize how hard it would be to switch to a more linear style. Bits and pieces find their way onto pages, virtual and otherwise, to be rearranged, tucked off to the side, polished, hold space and ideas until, like a complex origami figure, I crease one last fold, blow a breath into the interior and it pops open to hold its own. In principle this could be done by directing the mouse by voice, but my need was not enough to sustain my patience and in the end, I stuck to email and the occasional FB update. I walked, read, prayed, visited a friend recovering from surgery, sat silently and above all -- kept my hands off the keyboard. It was a different kind of breathing, the inhale to the exhale.

Photo is from a walk at Wernersville, where I did eventually get by Thursday for my appointment with my director and got a chance to see Robin - but neither of us broke silence!

Incredible origami art by a father-son artist-mathematician team.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Grief Observed

Twenty-five years ago tonight, I collapsed into bed, wrung out, exhausted and utterly unable to sleep. My memories of the day remain fragmentary. Standing in the back of the parish church, reaching out to help Fr. John pull the white pall over Tom's casket; standing at the ambo to read; my father holding me up as the hearse pulled away from the church. Strangely, my memories of the church are as entirely empty, no one in the pews, stark white walls, like the flashback in some B movie.

Back at the house, my former post-doctoral advisor awkwardly trying to comfort me, not knowing what to say, but willing to try nonetheless. My mother, worried about her elderly father holding up. The shattered look on my father-in-law's face, fallen in on himself. Of my finally sitting down in the living room, incapable of mustering another word to anyone, unable to stand. I had not the strength left to weep.

I've been married to Victor almost 20 years, have two incredible sons who would never have been born if Tom's heart had not held that fatal flaw. Still, the joy does not obliterate the pain, does not blunt the memories. But nor can the pain mar the joy of loves present — and past. Both mingle, like the water and the wine, one cup of grace to be drunk. With courage. For courage. In love.

Tonight I have the strength to weep. For what I have lost. For what I have been given. A full measure of grace, packed down and overflowing.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Existential cat (not to be confused with Schrodinger's cat)

I have teenagers. Therefore, I have angst. My own. Theirs. Sometimes their friends'. Ahh....but does my angst compare to poor Henri's? I think not. First off, angst always sounds more profound in French. And, in my house, the tasty snacks are within reach, at least as long as I use the kitchen stepstool. Chocolate assuages many an anxious teen's worries (and his mother's).

Laughter is even better than chocolate — so pull up a chair, an angsty teen should you have one, and prepare to laugh.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Girl in a bubble

I've been struggling with a piece of writing this week, having a tough time wrangling a larger topic into the space allotted to it. I keep reminding myself that I don't have to cover it all, it's about starting a good conversation. This morning I got up and dressed, sat to pray, then headed downstairs to make tea and grab a yogurt before I dove in to the writing. I stood at the top of the stairs, only to discover that I was enclosed. The 6 month long house renovation project is nearing an end, and the painters are painting downstairs (the new wall, the old wall with a new section, the old walls...and while we're at it, the living room). They had neatly taped up plastic to seal off the living room from the stairs and from the dining room. I had visions of the boy in the bubble.

My first thought? This is one way to deal with writer's block. Seal the writer in until she produces her word count for the day!

(The lovely painter guys held up the plastic, like a queen's train, and let me out long enough to get my tea. At which point I finally managed to put my seat in the chair and get myself written from the frame into the meat of the thing. So I guess it worked?)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Column: Before dawn - Mary of Magdala

I generally prefer the night hours for prayer, perhaps as a hold over from the days when I wrote papers on the dining room table after the rest of the family had retired for the night, perhaps because even now it's a time when I'm unlikely to be interrupted by anyone but the Holy Spirit and the cat. When I made the Spiritual Exercises, I was such a night owl that I was sometimes turning in just as my spiritual director was headed to the dining room to make the first pot of coffee for the morning.

The description is of the Easter vigil at which my first husband, Tom, converted to Roman Catholicism. It was a holy and graced time.

Photo is of an early dawn on Eastern Point, taken on retreat in 2010.

This column appeared in the April edition of the Catholic Standard & Times

It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark, when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb. — Jn. 20:1

Twenty-nine years ago, near midnight, I walked out the door of my campus apartment. One by one, we gathered on a windswept hillside. The moon had not yet risen, far below us wisps of light wound through the parking lots and puddled around the campus buildings.

Under a vast shower of stars, rank upon rank of darkling hills arrayed before us, we tramped in a thin, almost invisible line, up to the top of the ridge. There, shivering in the cold breeze, we kindled a fire and we prayed, “The light of Christ. Thanks be to God.” The great vigil of Easter had begun, as that first Easter, in the still, dark hours before the dawn.

Easter is a feast of light. A festival of dancing fire, sparkling water and dazzling white garments. Yet it begins not under the blazing midday sun, or even amid the crimson and gold fury of a sunset, but in the stumbling murkiness of a night not quite spent, in a dim, cold cavern hewn of rock.

It was still dark. I hear in St. John’s account of Mary Magdalene’s discovery of the empty tomb echoes of Jesus’ own prayer. St. Mark’s Gospel tells of Jesus going off to pray, alone, “in the morning, long before dawn.” I think, too, of my own preference for prayer in these still and mysterious hours before the sun bursts over the horizon.

Why these night hours? Anthony Horneck, a chaplain at Oxford College in the 17th century, thought “midnight prayers strangely incline God’s favor.” For then, he said, was the soul “nimbler, subtler, quicker, fitter to behold things sublime and great.” In his Spiritual Exercise, St. Ignatius, too, advised prayer after midnight, when body and soul were rested and receptive.

In was in this liminal time, when the regular demands of the day had not yet crept from their beds, that Jesus met Mary in the quiet of the garden, and opened her eyes to see Him as He is, risen and glorified. He came, not striding down the streets of Jerusalem accompanied by a chorus of seraphim, but in the midnight hours when Mary Magdalene’s soul was better able to grasp the mystery of our salvation.

Seeds are planted and nourished in the darkness, reaching toward the light as they grow. Though St. John reports that Mary thought Jesus at first to be the gardener, St. Gregory the Great suggested in a homily on this Gospel, that she was not perhaps as confused as we might think: “Was He not a spiritual gardener for her?” The seeds planted in this long-ago encounter in the darkness of the garden have grown over the centuries to encompass the whole world.

We sing in the Exsultet, the great Proclamation of Easter, “This is the night of which it is written: The night shall be as bright as day, dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness.” We learn that night is not a time to fear, or one that obscures the truth, but the place from which joy and salvation erupt.

As I watch the Easter fire kindled again this year, not in the bleak darkness of a California hillside, but as night edges into being a block from Lancaster Avenue, I will wonder what seeds the Gardener will plant within my soul, within the souls of His faithful, that will be nourished in the Eucharist, and bear fruit in our churches and communities. What favors will God shower upon us in these midnight prayers? What will erupt with joy from this holiest of nights?

Redeeming God, source of life and light, bless this new fire, and grant that we who are warmed by the celebration of this Easter feast, may share in the everlasting festival of your radiance, through Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Amen.

— A blessing for the Easter fire (1985 edition of the US Sacramentary)

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Cantate Domino: Let us sing for joy to the Lord!

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.
For the LORD is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.

Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.

The celebration of the Triduum began on Thursday morning with this Psalm (95). After all the intensity of the liturgies of the last few days, culminating in the thundering joy of this morning's celebrations, I find in Avro Pärt's a gentler sense of the Resurrection. It evokes for me my favorite narrative of the resurrection, Mary of Magdala meeting Jesus in the garden. In a long ago homily on St. John's version of this encounter, St. John Chrysostom reflects on its gentleness, of Jesus' desire to let this joy unfold bit by bit for us, lest we be overwhelmed by it all.

He is risen indeed, alleluia, alleluia.

Happy Easter!

Cross posted from RevGalBlogPals.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Ignatian Life: Easter's shattering realities

Christ is risen, alleluia, alleluia!

"I find myself flinching at the mere thought of wrapping them in paper and cloth and hitting them with a hammer. No matter how gently done, this is not a benign procedure. It is meant to shatter, to destroy. There is no going back, once begun. The plants are still beautiful in their containers, not yet feeling the effects of the confinement. But unless I can steel myself to breaking open the glass, the plants will be forever stunted. Not today, I think, not this week. Perhaps the next?"

Read the rest at This Ignatian Life

Friday, April 06, 2012

Via Crucis XIV: How can we enclose what cannot be contained?

Jesus is laid in the tomb. We struggle to hold on to what cannot be grasped, to enclose what cannot be contained. God with us. God within us. God gone forth to save us.

"But this moment we are now suspended in, the empty time between Holy Friday and the Great Easter Vigil, demands more of us than a passing acknowledgement of the grievous sufferings Christ endured on our behalf. St. Augustine’s advice on contemplating the Passion is difficult to hear:
“You suppose that having said ‘I cried out to you,’ you are somehow done with crying out. But even though you have cried out, you must not expect relief to come quickly. The agony of the Church and of the Body of Christ will last until the end of time.”

It’s a harrowing grace I seek on this day, to sit with the knowledge that Jesus has died, but not yet risen. All too often in my journey through the Triduum I have contemplated the Crucifixion while watching the Resurrection out of the corner of my eye - singing O Sacred Head Surrounded one moment, rehearsing Easter alleluias the next.

This year, I’ve thrown my lot in with Augustine, momentarily open to an experience of a world truly empty of Jesus’ physical presence. Hoping to sharpen my awareness of the depths to which I am loved, the lengths to which God has gone to redeem me. Hoping to know more fully the joy of the dawning light of Christ." — From a reflection given at Our Mother of Good Counsel on Holy Saturday, 2010.

Meditation is from the feature published in the March issue of the Catholic Standard & Times. Follow the meditations under the tab above: Via Crucis: Meditation on the Passion.

Via Crucis XIII: A Raw, Gaping Hope

Jesus is taken from the cross. He lies over his mother's lap, a weight pulling her off balance as in the last days before his birth. She who held God within her is left holding only hope in her raw, gaping heart.

The Passion never fails to pull me off balance. Eighteen Easter's ago I was enormously pregnant, unbalanced, unwieldy, unsure. We eagerly hold up hope in the Incarnation, gazing on the child lifted from his mother's womb, but to see hope in this weight Mary balances for us is a pure, unadulterated grace, one we can hardly bear to pray for, for it is a sight we can hardly bear to behold.

Meditation is from the feature published in the March issue of the Catholic Standard & Times. Follow the meditations under the tab above: Via Crucis: Meditation on the Passion.

Image is from Wikimedia. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Reflection for Holy Thursday Morning

The following is a reflection, given at Morning Prayer today at my parish. Only on these three days — Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday — do we have a homily at Morning Prayer. I've been privileged to give one of these reflections several times in the last few years (last time on Holy Saturday two years ago). It gives me an appreciation for the difference between writing to be read and writing to preach.

This reflection has its roots in a homily given by the pastor a few weeks back (on the baptismal character of Lent), one of Fr. Paul Campbell's wisdom stories, and Robin's firm and very Ignatian suggestion to start with "Imagine..."

The last hours of Lent are upon us. Those of us who gave up things we enjoyed for the season may be longing to have them back. Personally I’m almost desperate for a turkey sandwich in my lunch.

For all that Lent is penitential, the sacrament that gives shape to the season is not confession, but baptism - the point of the penitential practices is to remember/renew what we became in our baptism.

Many years ago, in a course on the sacrament of initiation, the professor imagined for us what baptism at the Easter Vigil might have been like in the early days of the Church. Candidates were asked, “Do you believe in God the Father?” Assenting, their heads would be suddenly pushed under the water and held there until they were allowed up, undoubtedly gasping for breath. “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” Once more they were plunged under the water. And again, “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?” A third time submersion followed.

His evocative description reminds me of the story of a young man who wants to know how to find God. He goes to see a wise and holy hermit who promptly pushes the young man into the river and holds him under water. When the young man comes up gasping for breath, the hermit asks him what he most desired. “Air!” he responds. “Go home,” says the hermit, “and come back to me when you want God as much as you just wanted air.”

The second psalm (80) we prayed is the cry of a people who want God as much as air. Over and over again we pray: “God of hosts, bring us back…God of hosts, turn again, we implore you.” And in the very next canticle, God responds to his starving people through the prophet Isaiah, “With joy you will draw water” And in the Psalm (81) that follows, both in the Psalter and here again God promises to fill the emptiness of soul and body, “Open wide your mouths and I will fill them…Israel I will feed with finest wheat and fill them with honey from the rock.” We are cared for, protected.

But it’s what comes next in this liturgy that takes my breath away. The antiphon set for the Benedictus, the Gospel Canticle we are about to pray together, begins “I have longed to eat this meal with you…" We may indeed be longing for God, hoping that God will feed us, but we hear now that God is longing for us, desires to be with us. How willing? How deeply does God desire us? Jesus — God made man — has plunged into the depths, in the last moments gasping out His need for God, like air, “I thirst.” Eating of dirt and death, for us.

In the next days we will be plunged, ready or not, three times into the torrents of Christ’s passion, death and glorious resurrection: at the Mass of the Last Supper, in the Celebration of the Passion and at the Easter Vigil. May we come up from the waters of this birth the third time, knowing how desperately we want God, and even more, knowing how passionately God wants us.

Via Crucis XII: The Word is silent

Jesus dies. The same breath that rippled over the waters at Creation ceases. The earth heaves, the heavens turn away their face, all creation groans.

In a comment here, Robin writes of the dissonance many who mourn feel around Easter. Twenty-five years ago, my Lenten fast slid directly into Easter. In a dining room abuzz with laughter and packed with pastel clad Easter outfits, I struggled to swallow the bowl of strawberries my sister had brought back from the buffet for me. I couldn't hold both realities in my mind — death and resurrection — and so my response to the spiritual discord was physical. If it was still Lent, if I were still fasting, maybe none of this had happened.

In this moment of extraordinary dissonance: the Word that brought the world into being, that sustained it with the breath of the Spirit, has died, is silent for this unendurable moment. Jesus is dead. Yet God stands firm from eternity. Rock and fortress, immutable. I cannot help but think the response was physical. The very earth heaved, the universe convulsed, unable to bear the distance between the two realities.

Meditation is from the feature published in the March issue of the Catholic Standard & Times. Follow the meditations under the tab above: Via Crucis: Meditation on the Passion.

Photo is from carulmare at Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Via Crucis XI: Terrible Grace

Jesus is crucified. Can I beg for the terrible grace to see the hammer I hold ready in my hands? Can I bear the awful knowledge that what is poured out here, washes me clean?

Clarity can be a terrible grace. To see ourselves as we are, to appreciate the wonder of our being, and the ravages wreaked by sin, both can be difficult graces to seek. Walter Wangerin writes evocatively of the dangerous and difficult mirror the Passion holds up for us. There is the obvious sense in which we see in the Passion how the damage sin has wrought spreads out to encompass even the most innocent. Sin and death intertwined, cruelly and bluntly staked out for all to see on a hill in Jerusalem.

If we can scrape off the grime that clouds our eyes when we look at Jesus' death, we might comprehend that the best of ourselves also hangs before us. Frightened, seemingly abandoned by the Father, taunted, Jesus — fully God — could have at any point declared an end to the proceedings. Walked off the cross in a blaze of glory, in a miracle that might have brought all of Jerusalem to its knees. Instead, fully human, he showed us what we could be, what we could endure, and why. That in powerlessness lies our ultimate strength.

Can I endure the knowledge, not only that I have sinned, but that I am so cherished, so wondrously made, that God-made-man would walk into the torrents of the passion as a man, endure such a death as one of us, so that I might be fully alive? So that each of us might live?

Meditation is from the feature published in the March issue of the Catholic Standard & Times. Follow the meditations under the tab above: Via Crucis: Meditation on the Passion.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Felix Culpa: Accidental Chicken

We had friends to dinner last night, my dad is visiting from California and the boys are on spring break. Fresh bread was on the menu. The Boy and my dad have been experimenting with sourdough bread (my dad brought some starter with a 250 year old pedigree along with him). The Boy suggested Accidental Chicken (recipe here) for the main course, easy to prep ahead of time and great over rice or with some of the terrific sourdough that was coming out of the oven.

With eight people for dinner, including two growing teens, I quintupled the recipe, then doubled it again, as my guys really like the sauce. The sauce has a tendency to foam, so even in my 6 quart Dutch oven, the sauce rapidly boiled over. I turned it down to low simmer just as the guests knocked at the door. Distracted, I failed to set the timer for 15 minutes. We chatted in the kitchen, then retreated to the sun room.

All the while the accidental chicken was accidentally simmering away. Forty minutes later.....I returned to the kitchen, realized I'd left the heat under the pot and held my breath as I lifted the lid, visions of ordering in Chinese food dancing before my eyes. It was amazing, fork tender in a rich sauce. We enjoyed it over rice, sopping up the extra sauce with the bread. Next time I'll let it simmer on purpose and serve it as hot sandwiches on home baked rolls. With coleslaw?

UPDATE: H/T to Cindy for Felix culpa - O happy fault