Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Verbing weirds language

One consquence of my wide ranging interests is an ever expanding vocubulary (something which at least one of my editors regularly twits me about), and an interest in how words are created and repurposed for new endeavors. Canonical in one part of my life has to do with canon law and in another place has to do with a particular set of functions in statistical mechanics. Last week I added two nouns turned verb to my lexicon. Verbing, the linguistic transformation of a noun into a verb, (you can google that if you don't believe me) is a productive process in English (think googling and accessing). That said, to quote the venerable Calvin (not that Calvin, the friend of Hobbes Calvin), verbing weirds language.

The Catholic Standard & Times will have a two page spread on the Stations of the Cross in its Lent issue, which comes out tomorrow. It's a collaborative effort. Sarah Webb visited more than a dozen churches in the archdiocese to photograph the stations. The team selected one station from each parish to feature, along with a short point of meditation. When I visited last week (to bid farewell to the marvelous Sabrina) I got to see the piece in progress. The photographs were in place, and the graphics, but the text was mocked up using lorem ipsum.

Lorem ipsum is standard dummy text, in use by printers and graphic designers since the 16th century. It looks like Latin, but isn't. Your eye registers it as "readable text" but your brain doesn't get distracted by actual content. Using this sort of text in layout is called "greeking" — as in "it's all Greek to me."

Encountering another verbed coinage, frogging, is what finally drove me to do some reading about this form of linguistic production. (I've got a couple of books on this in my sabbatical stack, as the period I'm reading in was very productive in terms of new chemistry terms, including names for elements.) Frogging is a knitting term, mean to rip out completed work. Why frogging? "Rip it, rip it...." Definitely. Verbing weirds language.

Read the sign carefully to see what happens when placeholder text doesn't get replaced! "Approval for this trial has been given by [Insert ethics/committee and/or regulation authority]." (lower right hand corner, there are two other insert prompts in the text!). I saw this billboard ad on the platform at 69th Street yesterday morning.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Via Crucis II: What else is there to cling to?

Jesus takes up his cross. What else is there to cling to now, but the cross?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sarcasm, just another service we offer

An article in last weekend's New York Times Magazine suggested that marketers target pregnant women. Get them in the door then, when they're buying all sorts of gear, and you could have a customer for life. I remember wending my way through those gear buying years. Did we need a pram, a convertible stroller, an umbrella stroller or a jogging stroller? Or all four? High chairs. Boosters. Bouncy chairs or swing? Child proofing gear for cabinets and stairs and outlets. Slings, front packs, back packs, stroller packs. Thermometers — forehead or ear? Medicine droppers and spoons. The amount of gear aimed at making life easier (?) for parents of infants and preschoolers is astounding.

Parents of teens are out of luck. No helpful parenting gear for us. They don't make the sort of thermometer that would be most helpful, one that measures a teen's emotional temperature. And they don't make a sarcasm detector. As The Boy and I made dinner the other night, and I tried to figure out just how much sarcasm a particular comment was meant to convey, I lamented aloud the lack of appropriate instrumentation. I wanted some sort of gauge that could give me a percent sarcasm reading: "82% probability this comment is intended to be sarcastic, respond seriously at own risk." Head's up display, preferably!

For another look at sarcasm, read Joe Simmons SJ in the Jesuit Post: Sarcasm Part 2: Simpsons, Seinfeld and St. Ignatius' Response to Cynicism. Note the sarcasm detector I covet in the illustration!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Via Crucis I: What is truth?

Jesus is condemned to death.

"What is truth?" Pilate asks. The Word that thundered through the void and brought the universe into being stands silent, yet we can still hear the reply: I am the Way. I am the Truth.

Illustration is of a
fragment of a 2nd century papyrus with the text of John 18:38.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Via Crucis: The Stations of the Cross

The stations of the cross are an ancient devotion, reaching back to the earliest days of the Church when pilgrims would go to Jerusalem to visit the holy places. Small local versions were eventually constructed so that anyone contemplate the mysteries, even if you couldn't get to Jerusalem. There is a physicality to this devotion, the current edition of the Book of Indulgences (yes, such a thing still exists) notes that you don't get an indulgence for praying the stations unless you move from one to the next (exceptions made for infirmity or crowds!). God embodied suffered, so we similarly meditate on the mystery of the Passion with our bodies.

The third week of Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises are a meditation on Christ's passion and death, where the movements are spiritual, and the path is one that moves not only from scene to scene, but ever more deeply into the mystery. I found the third week to be physically exhausting, perhaps because in the end, I sat vigil in the chapel in between meditations. I can remember sitting in my director's office at the very end, clutching my cup of tea and quoting Robert Alter's translation of Psalm 69, "I have entered the watery depths and the current has swept me away. I am exhausted from my calling out. My throat is hoarse. My eyes fail from hoping for my God."

This year the Catholic Standard & Times is doing a meditation on the Stations for the Lent issue. Fourteen stations, from fourteen different churches in the archdiocese, arranged as a pilgrimage across two full pages, with a short reflection/point of contemplation for each station. Writing them led me right back into the currents of the Third Week.

Starting tomorrow and running through Lent, I'll periodically post these very spare meditations, for myself as a repetition of the contemplations that gave rise to them over the last few weeks. Walk with me....

Photo is from Wikimedia commons.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Shifting Psalms

Crash appeared in my study last night, clutching his breviary. "OK, tell me what week we're in tomorrow...I can't figure it out from here." He's flying without an Ordo these days, not so hard in Ordinary times, a bit more complex at the moments we move in and out of seasons. Weeks and days suddenly shift under your feet.

The psalms set out for Morning Prayer this morning are from Friday of Week III, the first of which is the classic penitential psalm. Before 9 am this morning I'd already sung Psalm 51 four times, twice to rehearse, once at Mass, once at Morning Prayer. Have mercy on me, God. A friend from the Long Retreat (who writes for the marvelous Jesuit Post, the young Jesuits' answer to Slate) posted a link this morning to this, the most hauntingly beautiful version of the Miserere Mei — Psalm 51 — I know. A few years ago I wrote this about Allegri's setting: "When I hear the almost inhuman treble obbligato reach its top note, I am for a moment, suspended above purgatory, held up only by God’s grace." You can read the rest here: Dangerous Mirrors of Grace.

Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of our salvation.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Control issues

I drink tea, not coffee. Despite having grown up with a mother who did not start her day without a cup of coffee, I never have drunk coffee. This morning as I made a cup in the small kitchen down the hall, and chatted with a colleague who was making the coffee, he joked that he doesn't mind making a new pot of coffee, because then he can make it the way he likes it.

Tea. One cup at a time. Just the way I like it.

I thought it was the taste, or maybe the slow ritual of its brewing. Now I think it's all about control.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Entering the depths

My friend Fran wondered on Facebook what people were giving up for Lent. There were some great suggestions in the list when I checked in:

Re-reading the Gospels through the lens of food mentioned in them ...
I would like to give up certainty.
Putting God in my contacts list on my phone to remind me to pray as much as I talk
Living in this economy is Lent enough, especially when you're losing your job

I'm still trying to figure out where I'm going in Lent. Give up? Take on? Both? Neither? Play Scrabble (again)?

Will I take Lent as a season of penitence, with its disciplines to be taken on for the prescribed time and joyfully put aside at Easter, or a time of conversion, where I experiment with new disciplines, work that will begin in the dark and somber days of Lent, but move out into Eastertide? Where should the balance lie for me, this year?

I'm wary of taking on too much, not because it will be burdensome or too hard, but because I fear it will be too easy — wading safely through shallow waters rather than risking all in entering the watery depths. I wrote a couple of years ago of Lent's spiritual bustle: "While Advent’s stillness carries with it a sense of expectation and encourages a silence that lets the quiet voice of a newborn be heard, Lent often seems to bustle noisily, generating its own spiritual to-do list. We give up, take on, confess, convert. But do we sit still?" The psalm certainly says "Be still," but it goes on to say "know that I am God." The question this year might be am I willing not only to be still, but to want to know God in the depths of my heart, to be open to an encounter with God that might shake me to my core, that might wash over me like a torrent?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The touch of Christ

(Cross posted from RevGalBlogPals)

Our homilist talked about incarnation, God walking among us, as us, touching us as we ourselves touch each other, touching us as we cannot or will not. Jesus touched a leper, an unthinkable act.

I love the lines in this song, which we used to as our opening hymn, about Christ's hands and presence:

Lord of all eagerness, Lord of all faith,
Whose strong hands were skilled at the plane and the lathe...

Lord of all kindliness, Lord of all grace,
Your hands swift to welcome, Your arms to embrace...

Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm,
Whose voice is contentment, whose presence is balm...

Where are we balm, when do we reach out to touch what the world considers untouchable?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Elected silence sing to me

Elected Silence, sing to me
And beat upon my whorlèd ear,
Pipe me to pastures still and be
The music that I care to hear. — from The Habit of Perfection by Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ

Elected silence, in generously deep and stilling pools, is a part of the fabric of my life. I spend about three weeks being silent a year, in chunks that range from a day to a decade of days, and have done so for many years. It's not quite a tithe of my days, but close enough.

My parish talks about giving of time, talent and treasure, the returning of the gifts we are given. I often think of the "time" part of the triad to be the hours I volunteer for the parish, whether as cantor, or spending the night sleeping in the school hall, serving as 'portress' when we host struggling families, or going to a committee meeting.

But I'm starting to wonder if the gift of time we are called to share and return is not just busy time. My book group talked a bit last month about silence in liturgy. How much is there, and how do we respond? Are we reluctant to leave it because we are afraid someone will think we don't know what we are doing? How do we use it when it comes? Are we itchy to get on with things, or thinking about the shopping list, or listening to God? Can we give of our time in this setting, not in busy-ness, but in stillness?

As I prepare to cantor the vigil Mass tonight, I thought again about time and silence. My parish sits well with silence, we can do 5 minutes at a stretch in a liturgy filled with kids, and we routinely leave space after readings and psalmody and homily for silence. (Reverent, contemplative silence is not the sole purview of celebrations of the Eucharist in the Extraordinary Form, no matter how many people want to make that case. I'm convinced it is about forming the community, not about the form of the liturgy used.)

As cantor, I'm one of the people (along with lectors and presider) responsible for reading the silence at Mass, and bringing it to a close. When do I stand after the reading to lead the psalm? The norms for the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours call for silence, but not in quantities that might be a burden for the community celebrating, and surely the same applies in this context. I feel responsible to both offer this gift of time and to be sure that it does not weary us. I don't want to count to a certain number, or watch the clock, or even get lost in my own meditations on the first reading (that would be unbearably selfish), but want to listen carefully and deeply to the assembly. I don't want people to be thinking, did the cantor forget? I'm not quite sure I can describe what I'm listening and waiting for, but I can often sense a deep stillness that follows the reading, and somewhere before that starts to fray, I stand and move to the ambo.

This listening is prayer. We believe that Christ is present in four ways in the liturgy, including in the assembly itself. I listen and sit before the assembly holding that contemplation front and center. This is the Body of Christ, can I listen and respond to what Christ is saying in this moment? Can I let the silence sing to us all before I raise my voice?

Photo is of copper basin of rainwater in ruins of old farmhouse in rural Japan.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Jesuit Bell in the Zen Temple: Interfaith grounds

Monday was the feast of Paul Miki and companions, martyrs for the faith in 16th century Japan. The Jesuit homilist gave a brief description of the group, who were marched hundreds of miles from Kyoto to Nagasaki in the winter. In addition to Paul Miki and two other Jesuits, six Franciscan priests and a number of lay people, including some children (altar servers according to one account I read) were crucified on February 6th in Nagasaki, preaching and praying up to the last. Catholicism went underground in Japan for the next two centuries, there were several hundred thousand Catholics still practicing their faith when the Church officially returned in 1867.

I knew the story, but for the first time had a visceral connection. When I was in Kyoto last fall, we visited Shunko-in, a Zen Buddhist temple founded in 1590. The temple has the bell that hung in the first Catholic Church in Japan, Nanban-ji founded in 1576 by the Jesuits. The temple kept the bell safe not only through this first persecution, but the abbot (the grandfather of the current vice-abbot) hid it again when the authorities would have confiscated it to melt down for weapons in WW II.

The vice-abbot showed us the bell and rang it for us after we told him that our first trip had been to a Jesuit retreat house. He also showed us some of the hidden Christian symbols in the gardens and on some of the screens. We often tend to think of interfaith relations as trying to find common ground or trying to convince the ground on one side or the other to shift. Here one faith enfolded and protected the other, giving ground for a seed to remain rooted.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

On the Cause of the Odour Emitted by the Soil of a Garden after a Summer Shower

This should be the title of a poem. It's not, it's the title of a paper in one of the 19th century journals I'm perusing these days.

Just the title transported me to the time when the 18th century garden that I walk through at lunch to go to Mass was first planted, to some July afternoon -- or to last summer on retreat, when I got caught out a mile from the house in a rainstorm.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Cracking the silence of the 30 days

John Predmore, SJ posted this morning about the end of the Long Retreat at Gloucester. He talks about the mix of emotions the retreatants have about the ending of the silence, and about the way in which the silence in the house subtly shifts.

I can remember sitting by the fire the final night of the silence, juggling journal and computer awkwardly in my lap as I undertook the last of the reflections my director had suggested. The pattern of movement about the house was noticeably different, there seemed to be more comings and goings, and a palpable sense of expectancy. As I finished my reflection, another retreatant came to sit by the fire. We sat in silence, until he rose and turned to say he was going for a cup of tea, might he bring me one? The silence broke, not with trumpets blaring, not with some profound insight, but with an offer of tea. He returned with a well sweetened cup of tea and we continued to sit, a word or two drifting in this liminal time between endings and beginnings.

The silence seemed to be cracking like an eggshell, not with a quick flick of the wrist that shatters a shell sending a burst of a raw egg into a bowl, but like an egg that has been well-tended in the nest, with the first fine cracks that appear as the chick inside begins its exit in earnest. We emerged from the silence still off balance, still damp and slightly bedraggled from the exertions of the weeks, our wings gingerly stretching, suprised to encounter so little resistance, moving with a newfound freedom.

Photo is of robin's egg (unhatched and sadly abandoned) on my breviary in my summer's hermitage.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

A proper break

Food and drink are off limits in the reading room where my carrel is situated. (Years ago this would have been a given, but you can bring a cup of coffee or tea to your carrel in the college library at Bryn Mawr, as long as it's in a travel mug — or you are not working in the Rare Book Room.) I'm finding it hard to adjust, a cup of tea has been at hand when I wrote as long as I can remember, from the handwritten reports laborious copied with a ball point pen onto loose leaf of my elementary school days to the typed versions put together at the dining room table after my brothers and sisters had gone to bed — cup after cup of tea poured into a stream of sentences.

When I admitted to my difficulties to an Irish colleague, he responded, "Now you have to take a proper break." Indeed. I'm finding it both difficult and delightful to stop for 20 minutes midmorning to make a cup of Assam and sit on the sofa in the alcove — which is perhaps why I so enjoyed this song in last night's choral concert!
The trouble with the helter-skelter life we lead
is coffee in a cardboard cup.
The trouble,
the psychologists have all agreed,
is coffee in a cardboard cup.


The trouble with the world is plain to see
is ev'rything is hurry up.
There's ready whip,
instant tea,
minute rice....
Listen to the whole thing here.

Tea. In a mug. Sitting down. Without multi-tasking. #lessonsfromsabbatical

Photo is from Wikimedia used under Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

I feel like sushi

I've been reading about multiple ways of "reading" a text in a couple of places, particularly in Thomas Moore's Care of the Soul and in some of the stuff I'm browsing for my sabbatical project. Today I began to suspect that all this reading about multiple readings is warping my ability to read things.

On the back of the Wired sitting on the table in the little alcove where I eat lunch is an ad (for Siri) with the text "I feel like sushi." My first thought? I do feel a bit like sushi these days, all wrapped up in my red down coat and shawl. From there my mind swept on to thinking about how my (very raw) hands feel like sushi. Do I feel like eating sushi? Not particularly...thanks for asking.

And yes, those are what you think they are. Peep sushi.