Friday, December 08, 2017

Love. Period.

I flew to Boston earlier this week, an early evening flight so I could hit the ground running for a talk on Wednesday.  We were held on the ground at Philly, after a long taxi out to the edges of the airport.  It felt like the pilot had decided to drive to Boston.  And truth be told, with the delay, elapsed time door to door was the same for the trip by plane or by car.

When we were finally at the gate in Boston, it took them some time to get the jetway open. (#waiting #Advent #amIright?)  The guy behind me was dictating a text to (I presume) his wife. "I am on my way to the hotel...period...I will get dinner and then call...period...love you...period."  The guy who had been in the middle seat next to me was rolling his eyes at this.  "Gotta have that punctuation," he muttered.

I, too, was musing about the punctuation.  He had the pacing down, so this was clearly his habit.  But love period.  What about "love you exclamation point"?

Would I be that stingy with punctuation to my spouse?  I hope not!

_______
How many exclamation points should you use? A delightful essay in The Atlantic.

Monday, November 27, 2017

What's appealing about normalizing Nazis? Nothing.

On Facebook, Mr. Hovater posted a picture purporting to show what life would have looked like if Germany had won World War II: a streetscape full of happy white people, a bustling American-style diner and swastikas everywhere. 
“What part is supposed to look unappealing?” he wrote. 
— From "A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland" New York Times 25 Nov 2017
Coincidentally this article appeared the same day my mother-in-law's immigration documents arrived on a CD in the mail. (Crash, the historian, had made a request for the records.)  As I browsed the nearly 40 pages of scanned documents, this one line stood out for me: I am citizen or subject of none. The Third Reich had stripped her of her citizenship because she was Jewish.  She was stateless.  Fleeing from a government that would strip her of her life if it could.

What looks unappealing to me?  Unappealing?  As if racism and anti-Semitism were some sort of choice on a menu.  Pizza tonight?  No, that's unappealing. 

Unappealing?  No.  It's terrifying.  Horrifying.  Intolerable.  Monstrous.

Hitler was not just "a guy who really believed in his cause...fighting for his people and doing what he thought was right.”  Hovater is not just the guy next door with some weird views.  He's actively advocating for a white nationalist state.  He bakes muffins and has cats.  Great.  He thinks the guy who wanted my mother-in-law dead was doing what was right. Monstrous.

I'm troubled that the Times dilutes the horror of this man's beliefs with descriptions of shopping at Target and making dinner.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Worry(ing) Beads

Former Vice President Biden has been seen wearing a rosary wrapped around his wrist.  The rosary belonged to his late son Beau.  You might think it touching that he wears this keepsake.  You might think it inspiring that he holds this iconic Catholic sacramental so close.  Those of us whose clothes often lack pockets might even think it practical.  Or you might think that no one is really in a position to criticize someone else's prayer life.  Ah...but not everyone would agree.

It's sinful.  It's sacrilegious.  How dare he, he's not a real Catholic/a good Catholic.  It's wrong, wrong, wrong.  And the very best?  Try to see in those who wear a rosary an opportunity for evangelization. Should you see someone with a rosary around their necks or on their wrists, take a moment to teach them how to really pray with it.  Or if you can't manage that, pray for their conversion. (*face palm*)

Oh, dear.  I wear a chotki, a knotted prayer rope which looks much like a rosary, around my wrist. It's a pray help far older than the rosary.  The tradition stretches back to the 4th century desert solitaries, The method for tying the knots is attributed to St. Anthony the Great.  Please, do not try to tell me how to 'really' pray with it.  (Yes, people have tried.) And while I think we should all pray for each other, you don't need to pray for my conversion on this account.

I'm trying to imagine under what circumstances I would possibly consider approaching someone and "correcting" their prayer.  Frankly, I can't think of any.

Yes, yes, I realize that at times people have worn rosaries and chotkis as jewelry, with no intention of using them for prayer.  I still think you have to assume that they are worn in good faith.  No scolding.  No sanctimonious prayers for their conversion.  Instead, try this one:  Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me — a sinner.


The chotki is worn to remind one to "pray without ceasing" as St. Paul recommended to the Thessalonians. Prayers ropes are worn on the left hand (or kept in the left pocket). To pray with them, take them off and hold them in your right hand, and say the Jesus prayer on each knot.  My preferred variant:  "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner." They come in many lengths from the 33 knot version I wear to longer versions of 100 or 300 knots such as the one that has been seen on Pope Francis' wrist.  Traditionally they are made of black wool and have a tassel on the end of the cross to soak up your tears of contrition for your sins.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Writing Exercises

It's a book.  In February of 2016 I created a document on my computer labeled "Not By Bread Alone."  Forty-seven reflections and 12 months later I attached a document with the completed manuscript to an email to my editor.  It felt oddly unceremonious. Somehow a book manuscript ought to have real heft, to weigh something more than a few electrons.  But off it went, weightlessly and nearly instantly, to Liturgical Press to return with edits and queries, and as proofs and as final proofs.  No version weighing my computer down anymore than that first blank file had.

In many ways it was like making the Ignatian Exercises again, this time in the form of the 19th annotation — a retreat in daily life.  There was assigned scripture. There were familiar themes: contrition, the Gospel stories, gratitude and humility.  The Third Week came again, and the Fourth dawned with joy.

There was repetition, as each reflection was visited multiple times growing from a sketched sentence or two to full length.  (Not to mention the repetition that accompanied the proofs.) Colloquies were made as I crafted questions for readers to grapple with.  And there was a prayer to end each day's contemplations.

It was a privilege to walk those roads again, almost a decade after making the 30-days.  It was a privilege to write a path to walk with others. Ad majorem Dei gloriam.



You can buy the book at Liturgical Press, $5 for the large print version, less for the easier to carry around version or for larger quantities, or for the weightless ebook!


Thursday, November 09, 2017

Writes first time, every time

I've been going "back to school" in the fall for 53 years.  At some level the questions haven't changed since kindergarten:  What to wear? Will the kids in my class like me?  Will I be able to do the work? What supplies do I need?  I loved the sensation of writing on a stack of fresh paper, the scent of the ballpoint ink tickling my back brain.  The snick of the three ring binder as I snapped a completed assignment in.

As I tried to crack a case of writer's block a few weeks ago, I decided to get off the keyboard and onto a pad of paper.   I tend to start writing on paper, move to the keyboard, then back to paper at the end.  But was midway through a complete re-write of an essay I was writing in circles, unable to find a line through it that would make sense to a reader.  It was a bit like decided to take the next offramp from the highways when traffic has come to a crawl and try the side roads.  They might not be as fast, but there's hope that you'll get there eventually, and you're moving and filling the page.

Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones has a writing exercise that I sometimes use with my students:  "Pen or pencil.  Five minutes.  Go." What tools do I pick up to write with? Does it matter to me? Sometimes.  Why and when?
This task:  Yellow college-lined pad of paper. With a pen. Not a pencil.

I had to rummage in the drawer of office supplies to find a pen. The drawer contains principally leftovers from school supply lists gone by (why, oh, why do we have so many unused protractors in there?)  I pulled out a classic Bic pen, the one that I remember from my own school days. Clear plastic, medium point, viscous tacky blue ink.

I remember the ads on TV where they would strap the pen to the skate of an Olympic figure skater who would do some fancy turn, ice chips flying.  They'd take the pen off and write with a flourish.  "Writes first time, every time."  I thought that might be a good omen for the writing.  It was.