Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The practice of waiting

My contemplative class (whose traveling adventures were previously chronicled here) is reading and talking about Quakerism. We began class today by waiting until someone was moved to speak (we've spend enough time together in silence to be able to do this). We noted that it can be awkward to wait in this way. Will anyone talk? I found I had to remind myself to not talk merely to "coach" them along. Wait. Until. Someone is moved.

We spent some time talking about waiting, and its role in the contemplative life. Our last meeting had focussed on what constitutes obedience in the lay contemplative life — reading Madeleine Delbrel where she recommends using the vagaries of life to form oneself in obedience. At the end of class today I noted that one practice I use to foster patience is to let the person behind me in line at the supermarket go ahead of me. Particularly when it's really crowded. One of my students noted that just the thought made her anxious. "Me, too. That's why I keep practicing."

I'm writing about waiting for do you practice waiting? or do you?

Jim McDermott, S.J. has some interesting thoughts about waiting on God, the Spiritual Exercises and Advent here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lex agendi

A while back, the wondrously webbed-in Fran of There Will Be Bread posted this photo on her Facebook page; all unaware, their souls seem on display. I've been wondering off and on since what you could tell about me by watching. Could you tell, for example, that I was a mother? a teacher? once a dancer? a Christian? a Roman Catholic?

It's those last two that have me thinking, to paraphrase the words of Peter Scholte's 60's hymn, "Will they know we are Christians?"

If you happened to notice the Orthodox prayer rope I wear on my wrist — fifty knots of black wool tied in the tradition of St. Anthony, ending in a simple cross — you might guess that I'm a Christian of some sort. If you were in the parking lot last week when I dropped my purse (upside down - ack!) you might hazard from the holy cards I was scooping up and tucking back into a prayer book (my beloved breviary, now a bit the worse for wear) that I'm of the Roman persuasion.

But this is not the real question that photograph is asking me, the big question is could you tell I am a Christian should I be stripped of the externals? By what I say and do, not when I'm writing, not when I'm praying in Church, not when I know anyone is watching, but when I'm walking down the street, as unaware of being observed as these two people are.

Today Mike Hayes at Googling God is wondering if we Catholics are spending too much time caught up in our own internal concerns (liturgical or otherwise), and not heeding Christ's clarion call to help those in need. There is a robust exchange going on at The Deacon's Bench about Hayes' post. My contribution to it, echoing C.S. Lewis' comment in Weight of Glory, "Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses." is here. (Warning, I don't acquit myself as well as I might.)

It's not that I think that our concern with liturgy is entirely misguided, or in any way deny the reality of Christ's presence in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. But I will not delude myself, these things are not the principle things that I think Christ will be weighing in the balance when the time comes. He will ask when I fed the hungry, drew water for the thirsty, was mindful of those who were poor, or suffering. Nor will I delude myself into thinking that I measure up all that well in this regard.

The liturgy and the Eucharist are source and summit of our lives. Where we go to drink of the living water so that we can go forth and see and serve Christ in each other, where we go in gratitude to celebrate the presence of Christ among us. We become as a result dwelling places for God, Christ in our very being.
"Faith finds its strength and dynamism in the Sacrament of the Real Presence, because truly the lex orandi remains linked to the lex credendi which, in turn, is translated into the lex agendi of the Church’s life and mission. The Eucharist, then, has also a personal dynamism: it is the gift to celebrate, bringing a deeper knowledge of the mystery of salvation, accomplishing communion, leading to adoration, and finally affecting the Church’s life through mission and pastoral ministry, all the while fostering charity inside and outside the Church." (The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and the Mission of the Church, full text here.)
It's not difficult for me to sit an hour in front of the Eucharist; I willingly and joyfully participate in the Eucharistic liturgy. It's far harder to put on Christ and wear Him as I walk out the church doors, and I fear I've not the courage to live that radical of a life.

“And what about His hunger, cold, chains, nakedness and sickness? What about His homelessness? Are these sufferings not sufficient to overcome your alienation?” — St. John Chrysostom

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Lent in the mail

From the back cover:
What does the Church teach us about the penance we are assigned during the sacrament of reconciliation? In Living Your Penance, Michelle Francl-Donnay leads us to a deeper understanding of reconciliation, highlighting the importance of our penance to our spiritual growth. She encourages us to live our penances out each and every day and challenges us to pay attention to what it teaches us about ourselves and God's love for us.
I'm not sure I manage all that in this little book about penances, the small acts of satisfaction penitents are asked to make in as part of sacramental reconciliation in the Catholic tradition! But I do hope it is a warmly encouraging reflection on the ongoing graces of this sacrament.

And....I have a dozen copies to give away. If you'd like one to stash away for Lent, let me know in the comments.

Out of order

I'm reading Connie Willis' Blackout about time traveling graduate students working out of Oxford in 2060. (It's a terrific read, and the sequel just came out, so you don't have suffer through the wait to resolve the coming cliffhanger.) Her historians suffer from time-lag, the symptoms not so different from the jet-lag I've suffered with this semester, their bodies refusing to aquiesce to the "when" all the evidence points to that they are in.

All signs point to the start of Advent today. I pulled Volume 1 of the breviary off my shelf, I rehearsed an Advent psalm, and Advent invocations for the penitential rite. I have the new text of the Mass marked up. I have written an Advent reflection (or two). It was pitch dark not long after 5 pm. But interiorly, I still feel utterly rooted in Ordinary Time. I want to reach for the green volume of the Office, and have no desire to crank up the Advent playlist. Advent is my favorite liturgical season — I look forward every year to looking forward — so I wonder why this uncharacteristic foot-dragging.

Is anyone else feeling unready to let go of autumn and/or Ordinary Time, or is it just me?

And now a package from Lent has appeared in a box in the further add to my sense of chronological dislocation!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

To be grateful

“Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.” Rabbi Abraham Heschel

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Advice from the fathers

‎"To be in love with the roughness of this world in hopes of the eternal..." from an ancient commentary on Job.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Litanies of Complaints

In the last month I've only posted 10 times, and nothing in more than a week. Work has been pretty intense this semester, and time for writing for pleasure impossible to eke out before I slither exhausted (and crabby) into bed. My writing catch basin is overflowing with scrawled notes of things about which I might have written (and might still write): "the antiphonal radiators in the morning," "the sound of the sugar jar tinkling against the teapot as the kettle comes to the boil on the table in my office," AMDG Exterior Contracting"...and just what is a STAMPP point?

A few days ago, when a meeting was cancelled (and no one told me), I started a blog post about being overstretched and underslept, then realized with a start that I'd written some version or another of that post before. And recently. Of my last ten posts, almost half are basically extended whines about my overly busy life and how exhausting I am finding it. Enough, already!

I found this video posted by Paul Campbell S.J. at People for Others to be a delightful mirror to my own grousing. It's nine minutes long and I listened to the entire thing (the shots of the baby in the orange hat at 1:00, blissfully asleep while the chorus moans and grumbles around her, is a meditation in itself, I'm sure). I love the litany of complaints, "my boss prints his spam and hands it to me." It makes me wonder what my internal dialog sounds like to God!

If I were to add one complaint to the list in the song? "My students forget to put their names on their files." When I had four open notebooks on my computer the other night, none with names, all looking for some help untangling their quantum mechanics, trying to figure out who to send what back to in which email was a challenge! (And rest assured, I did gently share my difficulties with them and pleaded for their help in the matter.)

STAMPP is Systematic Technique to Analyze and Manage Pennsylvania Pavement. I'm still unsure why there would be a sign saying "STAMPP point" with a triangle on it on the highway, but at least part of the mystery is solved.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Faster than light

The faster you travel, the slower the clock ticks. Perhaps that's why I'm having a hard time believing it's not only November, but deeply November. Surely it's just the beginning of October?

I've been running at the edge of the speed of light since before this semester began, packing into three and a half months what would have taken me three and a half years to travel in centuries past. I feel a bit like a particle in a synchrotron, rushed around in circles until I reach a critical velocity and come shooting out a beam port.

I may finally have been spit out of the subatomic particle's equivalent of a hamster wheel. There is at least an even chance that tomorrow I will get my laundry entirely folded and put away for the first time in six weeks. Or I could sleep....

Photo is from the DOE.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Column: Cold and Chill, Bless the Lord

Dean Brackley, S.J. died recently, my director shared with me a short excerpt from "Call to Discernment in Troubled Times" when I made the Exercises. It struck such a chord that when I returned home, it was one of the first books I read. I heard Jane Hirshfield read "A Cedary Fragrance" a couple of weeks ago at a conference where we were both speaking.

As warm as the light looks in the photo, you could see your breath!

This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times on 27 October 2011.

Cold and chill, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. Daniel 3:67

As the gong in the courtyard rang to summon stragglers to morning services, the thermometer in the first floor corridor read 10 C, which made it feel chillier than the 50 F it was. I wrapped my shawl more securely around my shoulders and hoped the dining room tucked deep inside the walls would be a shade warmer.

A dozen of my students and I were staying in a Buddhist monastery tucked into a half-mile high mountain valley south of Osaka. Shojoshin-in was founded almost 1200 years ago, so the lack of central heating is hardly surprising, but after Kyoto’s heat, my students shivered despite their layers, and the monks kindly conjured space heaters to take the chill off the long dormer in which they slept.

Trying not to be envious of the monk’s robes, I dug my faithful “Chemistry Chick” sweatshirt — which has kept me warm through many chilly nights of prayer — out of my bag and elected to go without heat. Cold and chill, could I bless the Lord?

Poet Jane Hirshfield spent many years in a similar unheated monastery, washing her face each morning in the stingingly cold water that was all the taps provided. In her poem, “A Cedary Fragrance”, she writes that she keeps to the practice still: “Not for discipline…but to practice choosing to make the unwanted wanted.”

In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola pushes us to think about our desires for comfort and wealth. Do our preferences for warmth, for security, come between us and God? Can we greet with equanimity what comes, wanted or not, comfortable or not? Would we “want and choose poverty with Christ poor rather than riches”?

Most of the time, I have the luxury to not think about heat. Programmable thermostats and automatic hot water heaters keep me from shivering in the mornings. In Call to Discernment in Troubled Times, Dean Brackley, S.J. notes that this sort of insulated life, while it can free us to pursue great goods, has its risks. When we don’t have to struggle with hunger, disease, violence — or the cold — it can “induce in us a chronic low-grade confusion about what is really important in life.” Life and love.

Church father, Origen suggested in his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew that our small daily practices of asceticism and denial accumulate, that with them we weave a cloak for a cold and shivering Christ. They teach us where to look for Christ. In those who hunger, who thirst, who are cold, who are poor. They sharpen our awareness of need around us, opening us in Christ to a generosity of heart.

I struggled off and on with the cold during our stay, aware that while this small frisson of discomfort was a choice for me, for most of the world, it is not. Last Sunday, as Morning Prayer’s lines of praise tumbled off the page — Cold and chill, bless the Lord — I wondered again if I could bless the Lord if cold and chill were imposed, not elected. I’m still practicing making the unwanted, wanted.

Touch my heart with this grace, O Lord. When I reach out in joy or in sorrow for the things of this world, grant that through them I may know and love You, their Maker and final home. — Karl Rahner, S.J. In “God of My Daily Routine”

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

What happened to sugar cube replicas of the Forum?

UPDATE: Today this page has gotten hundreds of hits...and I can't figure out why! Would any of the visitors like to let me know? The Boy and I are terribly curious!

The Boy has been working on a project for Latin class for the last couple of weeks. It's due tomorrow, and he just finished putting the finishing touches on it. Remember making those sugar cube models of pyramids and other classical buildings when you were in school? The Boy was having none of that. Instead he found The Classical Cookbook on my shelves and picked out the most complicated (non-lead based) recipe he could find. [Warning: violation of the seven motifs of disgust ban forthcoming.] This involved finding such things as fish sauce and animal intestines (cleaned and preserved in salt, these are otherwise known as natural sausage casings).

He managed all of this on his own, including the calling around to find the sausage casings. Tonight he needed to grind the meat and put it all together. Did I mention that our kitchen was demolished about 2 weeks ago? I suspect the Romans had better plumbing than I currently have in my kitchen (not hard, as I have none at the moment). And all the useful equipment is packed away, requiring serious improvisation (just what did the Romans use to fill their sausage casings I wonder?).

The Boy requested my help. Why, I wondered aloud. He never needs my help on school stuff. "Because you're adventurous." "So are you!" I shot back. The "I've never made sausage" plea did not play with me, I've never made it either. Why could he not need me to help him artfully arrange photos on a poster or glue little trees to a sugar cube creation? Why, oh why, was I dealing with raw pork and a tangle of scraggly casings — without benefit of running water, counters or a pastry bag?

I have to admit he was right, there was no way to do this solo with the equipment we had on hand. It needed two sets of hands.

We did it. We are adventuresome. We are able to improvise. We laughed a lot. They look great. I hope his Latin class enjoys the fruits of our labors.