Sunday, November 18, 2007

Good Questions

Mother Laura offered me the following questions...and timely ones they are at that!

1. We can tell from your posts as well as the front page "about you" that your commitment to Catholicism is a very important part of your life. What you do you love most about your church? (On rereading I realized this could mean the larger faith tradition or your parish. I was thinking the former when I wrote it, but either or both would be great to learn).

I'll try both readings of this...I love the catholic part of being Catholic (and here I mean it in the sense of the faith tradition and not necessarily its instatiation in the Roman Catholic Rite)- it's vision of universality and it's rich pot of traditions to draw from even if we cannot always (even often?) make it manifest. The sacramentality of the Catholic tradition also calls deeply to me, that God is in all things, as St. Ignatius would have it. God touches us and we can touch God, not in some insubstantial and metaphorical way, but directly and even messily - in water, in bread, in wine, in the candles we light, the incense we burn, in each other. My breviary is full of sacramental bits, notes from my kids and spouse, from friends, photos, a strand from a prayer shawl knit for a dying friend, prayer cards...

I love my parish for many things, but perhaps most for the way in which they have embraced my non-Catholic spouse. He's invited to all sorts of things social, welcomed at liturgy, but not harassed about converting. He is enfolded, but not suffocated.

2. What are the joys and challenges of combining your vocations as chemistry professor, wife, and mother?

I wrote a whole essay about this a few years back (Elemental MoThEr) for a collection called Parenting and Professing! I used the optical illusion illustrating this post as a metaphor for how I hope I've combined things - it's one image, which you can view in different ways; I'm one person that the world experiences in different ways. I argued that parenting fed my scholarly work in the same ways that other colleagues used "ancilliary" projects (the philosopher of aesthetics who conducts, for example), and for me it does. Being married to a math geek probably makes it easy to fold our life into my life as a scientist. [Crash, if you're reading this, stop now, or you'll be embarassed by your parent again]. One memorable morning our pillow talk consisted of a conversation about what, fundamentally, was energy.

The joys for me are my kids and my students, so are the challenges. Trying to keep it all to scale is the most difficult for me. I like what I do, which encourages me to do more, and eventually the cycle results in things getting overwhelming.

2b. sm would like me to add "to ministry" to this list.

One of my favorite passages in Isaiah ends "so great his strength, that not one fails to answer" (Is 40:26). I think that I try to answer my call in all the things I do, it's all ministry, by virtue of that resounding call of my name. How can I fail to answer? That said, I'm thinking a lot these days about exactly how my vocation might play out in the next decade (see 3.)

3. Geeky spiritual director question: you seem to have at least some affinity for Ignatian spirituality. Have you made the Spiritual Exercises via the 19th annotation or the Long Retreat, or is it something you might consider doing in the future?

I like geeky spiritual directors -- and their questions! Yes, I'm definitely of an Ignatian bent (my mother thought I would make a good Jesuit except for the obvious impediment) though the Augustinians have probably really had the forming of me. The psalms are in my very bones, not just because I've prayed the Office all these years, but because I've experienced it within that community and growing out of their millenium long history.

Funny that you should ask this, since right now, almost as I type, I'm planning my sabbatical (coming next year - proposal due to the college in 10 days). One of the things I wish to do on this leave - as I turn 50 - is make the Exercises, and since I have the luxury of doing it in the 30-days, that's part of my plan. I'm hoping to go a year from January, perhaps to Eastern Point. My kids and spouse have signed off on it. My director and I have started talking about it...

One thing I will take along on that journey will be "vocation"...

4. On a lighter note, how do you like to relax, alone and/or with your family?

Alone, what a wonderful thought!! That in itself would be relaxing for this introvert. I like to sing, walk, read, paint, sail, cook, bake, knit, make books (bind and illuminate), have dinner with friends, drink a wonderful cup of tea (for the experience and NOT the caffeine).

5. Did you have animal companions as a child? Any in your home now?

I grew up with dogs - my first was Peppy Princess. When I was widowed and moved into a new house, closer to work, I adopted cats so I wouldn't have to come home to an empty house. McCoy and Spock were delightful companions, but seemed a bit miffed about the later additions to the household (Victor, who eventually won their hearts by feeding them, then the boys, who they never really took to). Fluffy is the current feline denizen of our household, and seems pleased to have a large staff to tend to her needs!

If anyone wants to be interviewed let me know in a comment. The rules are as follows:

1. If you are interested in being interviewed, leave a comment here saying, 'interview me.'
2. I will respond by posting five questions for you. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with a post with your answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.


  1. Very interesting questions and answers. I am trying to understand the sabbatical - are you leaving for a year from work AND from home?

    I am giving thought to the 5 questions --- however, my dog Tillie has not answered Beatrice questions, so I am going to have to answer those first.

  2. good to know more about you. on my first 8 day retreat I was told by my director that if I was not a happily married Protestant, he would be talking to me about becoming a Jesuit.

  3. Wonderful answers, Michelle. Thank you.

    I especially like the optical illusion and the way you express its connection to your being one person with facets experienced differently by various people/contexts. Very much like my own mothering/ministry/theology combo (which AAR was one more step in integrating. Hallelujah, and thanks so much for the support and prayers).

    I am really glad you will get to do the Exercises in the 30 Day format. It's intense but amazing with a good director. I felt incredibly lucky to do it that way when Nicholas was 3--we were living in Detroit right by grandparents, aunt, uncle, cousins, so they were fine without Mom.

  4. A 30-day retreat at Easern Point ~ I am solid green with envy. Maybe someday......

  5. Anonymous9:20 PM

    I enjoyed reading your post. For me, Catholicism took me on a very different path, but there are still things about it that I enjoy and respect. Feel free to interview me and I'll play :)

  6. How very cool. And thanks, Mother Laura, for including my question. Michelle, you're pretty awesome. I'm so glad I know you. - Stasa