Monday, October 16, 2017

Pathetic prayers and holy defiance

The end of the letter from Dom Christian.  The entire letter is reproduced here:
  http://www.moines-tibhirine.org/images/stories/Testament/manuscrit.pdf
Elizabeth Scalia, who blogs as The Anchoress, has a post up entitled "A prayer for Somalia, and for the pathetic killers who face eternal darkness."  I was taken aback by both the title and the prayer.

I was reminded, too, of the very different stance evident in the letter left behind by Cistercian monk Dom Christian de Chergé, who was abducted and subsequently killed by terrorists in Algeria.  In it, he prayed:
I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil which seems to prevail so terribly in the world, even in the evil which might blindly strike me down. 
I should like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.
(I learned of the story of the monks of Tibhirine from a poem by the luminous Marilyn Nelson, which I enjoin you to read, the full text is here.)

Scalia begins by asking us to place ourselves with the hundred of peoples who died and were injured in the bombings, to see beyond the numbers to the human stories. As we did for those struck down in Las Vegas.  But then she shifts to praying for the "pathetic killers," a prayer she characterizes as "holy defiance." She prays (or quotes someone else's prayer, it's unclear): "for the murderers who will spend eternity apart from the Source of All Love, that they may yet turn away from what is dark, and into God’s marvelous light."

She prays for their redemption, not their condemnation, but I wish there were more mercy, more a sense of that those who killed are as much children of God as those they killed. Dom Christian ends his letter with
Yes, I want this thank you and this goodbye to be a "God bless" for you, too, because in God's face I see yours. 
May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.
I am praying for those killed, and those who killed. But I'm praying, like Dom Christian, that I will be graced with a moment of clarity that lets me forgive, in the hopes of being one day a happy thief in Paradise.  That I will grasp that what it means to put on Christ: to forgive, to redeem, to die, to rise. That prayer, I think, might truly be "holy defiance."

________
Read the entire letter from Dom Christian here in French, here in English.





Memory management

One of the platters from the 80 Mbyte drive I used in grad 
school.  Note the magnetic materials has been scraped down
to the bare metal. Always back up.  I lost six weeks of work
that had to be retyped in.
It's the start of fall break here and fall weather seems to have arrived with it. (Though not quite to stay, the temperatures for next weekend exceed the 90th percentile for high's at this point in October.)  I've been looking forward to some time to write and some time to do some of the low priority things I'd pushing to the back.  Even as I write this, I keep remembering things I wanted to accomplish!

A couple of weeks ago I spoke at St. Edward's University in Austin for their annual Lucian symposium.  Four speakers, a dinner, a student poster session. My talk was organized around the tools that chemists have for exploring structure, including some we might not think of as "modern" such as paper models, making the case for broadening the base of tools chemists have access to along with modernizing them.

Along the way I showed some of the computational tools I had used, including our "big" drive.  80 Mbytes and the size of a washing machine.  I can now keep 128 Gbytes on my key chain and forget I have it.  One feature of the coding I did in those days was the need to intentionally allocate memory for lists and arrays, including deciding could be moved into memory as a piece. For these computationally demanding tasks, having a carefully designed overlap was key.

My to-do list feels like that old-fashioned overlay.  I have the teaching list, the administrative list, the writing list, the personal lists. Load them in, wiping what is currently in memory.  Repeat.  Can I keep things from accidentally writing over what I need to keep in working memory (the load of wash in while I write?).



Saturday, October 07, 2017

I go before you always

We buried a parishioner today, a woman of 103. The funeral was small, a handful of friends and relatives.  I stood beside the font near the entrance of the church, vested in baptismal white, as we clothed her body one last time in white, outward sign of the inner reality of her immersion in Christ, then took the processional cross and stood in front of the coffin.

"Let's go, Michelle," came the sure low voice of the pastor behind me.  As the cantor sang the refrain, "I go before you always," I smoothly lifted the cross high, and my eyes on Christ in the crucifixion scene which hangs in the lunette of the dome, led the small procession to the altar.  Me, the pastor, the pallbearers and her body. I go before you always.  I could almost sense the corresponding heavenly procession.  The cross before all. A great cloud of witnesses.

At the end of Mass we sent her soul onward, incense under and over her casket, around and around, a great cloud of prayers gathering her up.

Afterwards, I went out back to get my bike, to find the censer cooling on the ramp behind the church.  The holy wreathing the quotidian. Remember that you are dust, it said, and unto dust, you will return.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Talking football and quantum mechanics

My mom and dad with my sibs.
The ur-football fan in my life was a woman, my mother, who took immense joy in the nuances of the game whether it was the local Bearcat high school team or her beloved Raiders.  My father wasn't a fan, but Math Man is, so on Sundays in football season, she'd call him from California and they'd watch the game "together," chewing over the plays and their execution.

So I found it, well, funny, to hear Florida Panther's quarterback Cam Newton smirk and say in response to a female reporter' question, "It's funny to hear a female talk about routes like...it's funny."  (After careful thought and 24 hours, he's decided this wasn't an acceptable response to the reporter's question.)

I'm trying to imagine this in my context, asking a question at a seminar or talk only to have the speaker smirk and come back with, "It's funny to hear a female talk about quantum mechanics like...it's funny."

I actually don't have to think all that hard. Two years ago at a dinner before a talk, the female speaker asked me a technical question (what basis sets I preferred to use with a particular density functional, if you must know), and as I started to respond to her, I was interrupted by a young (undergraduate) male researcher at the table.  "Why are you asking her that question?" he demanded of the speaker, clearly irked.  Perhaps because I am one of the people who did the work, and the first author on the original paper?

The whole incident reminds me of Rudyard Kipling comments on visiting Chautauqua (a resort in New York State where women denied educational opportunities in more formal venues gathered each summer to study): “I’m awfully sorry for the girls who take it seriously. I suppose the bulk of them don’t... One never gets to believe in the proper destiny of women until one sees a thousand of ‘em doing something different.  There is something wrong with it.”

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

A few thoughts and prayers

Near is the LORD to the broken-hearted
and the crushed in spirit He rescues. Ps 34:19

Listening to Donald Trump quote the psalms in his remarks to the nation after the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday made me gasp aloud, it was such a switch from his usual nondescript religious language: "God bless America!" and "thoughts and prayers."  And though he attributed it only to "scripture," after decades praying the psalter I had no trouble recognizing the source:  Psalm 34.

It drove me to pick up Walter Brueggemann's short and pointed book, Praying the Psalms, last night. In it, Brueggemann points out that the psalms as prayers are direct, perhaps uncomfortably so.  The images are concrete and familiar.   Mud and bees.  Waters frozen, hoarfrost scattered like ashes. Tears. Vengeance.  There is an unfiltered immediacy to them.  A trust so deep we feel we can say anything?  Or a world so shaken, there is nothing left to lose?

We pray, and in doing so presume to entangle ourselves with the transcendent, all-powerful, ever-living God.  How can we imagine such an encounter will not leave us untouched, unshaken, unmoved?  What are we thinking?  "I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God- it changes me." (C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands) Are we willing to pray to be changed?


Beg so that your continuing prayer of petition appears to be a pledge of your faith in the light of God in the darkness of the world, for your hope for life in this constant dying, for your loyalty of love that loves without reward. — Karl Rahner, S.J., “The Prayer of Need” in The Need and the Blessing of Prayer