Sunday, November 28, 2021

A seething season

Come down, begged Isaiah, that the mountains might quake and the nations tremble. As fire makes water swell and seethe, so will your wondrous deeds be known across the earth, promises the prophet. I am struck by this imagery as I stand in my dark kitchen, watching the water in the glass kettle swell and seethe as it comes to the boil, and contemplate Isaiah’s images. Bubbles tumble about, irrepressible, ever changing, refracting the blue light of the flame until the water seems to glow of its own accord. 

For all that I yearn for a season filled with quiet and prayerful moments to spend preparing for God’s coming, it is not to be. Like the water in the kettle, my Advents seethe, boiling over with things-to-be-done and people-to-be-seen. Yet despite the end of year chaos — or perhaps because of it — the rich images in the Advent Scriptures dance irrepressibly through my days. They spill forth light, shining beacons in the drearing days. They draw me deeply into that super-luminous darkness, the depths where God dwells.

I find in Advent not so much a refuge from the demands of my life and of the world as a series of mysterious contradictions that leave me slightly off balance, stumbling forward. The Scriptures of this season promise us light in the midst of the darkness, but they also make clear the demands the kindling of such a light place upon us. They disrupt my preconceptions about what it means that God has come to dwell among us, forcing me to come face to face with what it means for me, here and now, to encounter God in human form. 

In an Advent General Audience, Pope Francis spoke of the manger as an invitation to contemplation, a reminder of the importance of stopping. Contemplation is sometimes called the art of stealing time. I am committing to stealing a few moments each day this Advent to listen to God’s irrepressible, radiant Word, to wrestle with what it means to incarnate the Risen Lord.

For all that Advent propels us toward Christmas, the stable in Bethlehem is not a destination. It is a way station, a momentary gathering of those who will be dispatched to all corners of the earth. Strangers and shepherds and angels stop and then depart as quickly as they came. Not to follow the same paths they came by but sent on to new roads and new lives. May our lives, too, be open to being transformed by what God has done and is doing in the world. 

— Adapted from M. Francl-Donnay, Waiting in Joyful Hope, Liturgical Press, 2020.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world

 It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is a 1963 movie which I'm pretty sure I remember my parents going to see in the theater (I would have been in kindergarten). I've never seen the movie, but it's an apt title for tomorrow. I have class to teach, two meetings, and appointments with 5 students. My calendar is bleeding green (the color I use to denote work commitments.) If it were Vulcan, it would need Dr. M'Benga.

I front loaded stuff into Wednesday and today, and worked after dinner. I will need the Sabbath this weekend. Maybe I'll watch the movie. Or maybe I'll watch Dune?

Sunday, October 10, 2021

New Book: Prayer

It’s a book! I’m proud to announce that my latest has just launched from Liturgical Press

The book is designed to be used as a point of departure for reflection, either individually or in a group. I wrote it as a retreat, the questions for reflection in the margin mirroring my own reflections as I wrestled with the material.

In addition to the biblical wisdom, there is wisdom from the desert mothers and fathers (Amma Syncletica and Abba Poemen both have their moments and saints and blessed from Augustine to Ignatius of Loyola to Dorothy Day. I sought to pull in a diverse set of voices, women and men from many eras.

I have to thank my delightful editor, Amy Ekeh, whose deft surgery on my too-long manuscript managed to keep the structure intact and who was behind me all the way as we sought illustrations that would be in the budget, but still reflect the diversity of the People of God. Also, no blonde, blue-eyed Jesuses. My favorite image has to be the great doors to Sagrada Familia in Barcelona with the Our Father on them in 50 languages. 

I am grateful, too, to the spiritual directors and soul friends who have walked with me, literally and metaphorically, through the years. 

Autocorrect tried to replace Poemen with  Pokémon. The desert mystics, catch them all?

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Stripping the altar


That sunlit corner is my prayer space, now with a window onto the to heavens. As part of the Great House Renovation Project of 2021(TM), we got  a new roof. And if we were getting a new roof, this was the moment to put a new window in it. Now it needs painting (as do various other spots in the house). So yesterday I stripped the altar. The vase of blessed palms, the bowl of prayer cards, the candles — all were moved to the far corner of the room. And the relic of St. Therese of Lisieux and the roses I leave for her have translated to a small table in the window dormer.

Now that the altar is bare, I can see that it is dusty, the glass votives need cleaning and perhaps the overflowing bowl could use some pruning. I suspect the same could be said of my prayer life, which might benefit from a close look,  a brisk cleaning and a bit of pruning.

It's almost fall break on the college calendar, and my hope is this weekend to be able to put back the altar and perhaps bless the space anew. And then to spend a bit of time laying my prayer life bare.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Pedal pushers


I have a snazzy new bike, which runs on photons (it's electric "pedal assist" and we are solar powered at home, and I'm ultimately solar powered, too, all those plants soaking up photons to power their metabolism). I've commuted by bike when I can since my grad school days. On a mango ten-speed, uphill to the science building at UCI, eventually on a blue internal hub bike, uphill both ways (I have to cross a saddle point) to Bryn Mawr. Now with a supercharged ebike. Those uphills are a bit easier!

I'm a bike commuter going short distances and so I'm not interested in have to change in and out of bike gear for each trip. So a chain guard is key to my use of the bike. But "real" bikes aren't supposed to have them and unlike the last one, my new ride does not. 

Yesterday my (argh, new) pants got caught in the drive belt (no chain on this bike, actually), then wrapped themselves so tightly around the pedal mechanism I couldn't free myself or get my foot on the pedal or down to the ground. There I was, balanced like a stork on the side of the road, my foot slowly turning blue.  A passing dog walker and his energetic Doberman puppy stopped to help. We couldn't get me untangled. I called Math Man to bring me a pair of scissors to cut me free. In the meantime a woman from across the street came out to see if she could help. She brought scissors. Not sharp enough to cut the durable black linen, she went back for another pair.  This pair did the trick. "Now these are pedal pushers," she said, and we laughed. The dog walker was perplexed, we explained that in the 60s, pedal pushers were a style of pants. Ones that wouldn't get caught in your pedals.

I am so grateful for the calm help of these strangers. The world can be a good place.

Math Man appeared a couple of minutes later, bringing scissors and the ever helpful bike garters. And off I pedaled to work, no time yesterday to go home and change. I taught and met with colleagues and students in my torn pants. 

I've ordered gaiters to gather up my pants and queried the bike company about a guard, and ordered new pants, grateful that I'm uninjured (aside from my pride) and that none of this is a financial strain. When I was finishing my PhD I rode my bike down the ramp at the back  of the building after a rain storm. As I turned out into the parking lot, my bike slipped in an oil slick. I went down, slid across the pavement and ruined a brand new pair of soft pale yellow corduroy pants. And scraped up arm and knee pretty majorly. There was nothing in the budget to replace them with.