Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rushing through miracles

John O'Donohue's Blessing for One who is Exhausted is particularly apt for me at this point.  I slumped in the chair of my spiritual director's office last week and admitted I was bone weary.  Work has sprouted one too many unanticipated projects this semester, and I feel like I rush through my days, head down, focussed on what is in front of me and nothing more, then fall into bed and do it again.  O'Donohue nudges me into the Examen I wonder if I'm too tired to make: “Take refuge in your senses, open up/To all the small miracles you rushed through.”

I sometimes wonder if I close off the possibility of tiny miracles, unable or unwilling to pick up on the clues that surround me daily (except perhaps when they are on the sidewalk in front of me).

I'm reflecting about rushing through miracles and what it might take to still myself long enough to recognize them at This Ignatian Life, and so today trying to practice being aware sometime before my midnight Examen.  Every time I looked up from my desk I peeked out the window and admired the snow, surprised and delighted again and again by the gorgeous flakes.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving: There will be bread

There will be bread is the name of my friend Fran's blog — where I am often fed in soul, if not in body.  It is also a pretty good description of a Miller-Francl-Donnay holiday.  I baked three types of bread yesterday.  Jesuit Brother's Bread (aptly enough, this was intended to surrender its all to the hungry hordes while the rest of the prep work went on), Red/White and Blueberry Bread (a rich, sweet loaf with dried fruits and honey to toast for breakfast) and my father's Malverne Rolls.

But the real bread broken and shared here is that of family.  What rises and burbles and surprises, what gathers and scatters, what is pulled and stretched into one body, only to be broken once again feeds us all.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Reflecting in the Light

Last Wednesday night I climbed off the hamster wheel I'd been on for the last few weeks (watch these hamsters to get a sense of what it's been like!), the result of a calendar clogged with evening and weekend meetings.  I went from class to office hours to class to a faculty meeting to....giving a reflection on the extravagance of being "unbusy" at a local retreat house.  Yes, I get the irony there.

One of my Jesuit friends says, "first we preach to ourselves" and as I wrote it, I heard in Martha's encounter with Jesus in Luke's gospel, not her whining, or Jesus' remonstrance, but her bone-deep longing for time with God, her almost overwhelming desire to be able to let go her grasp on all the stuff that bustles bossily through our days.  So I tried to preach to myself, and let God take care of the rest.

I felt as if I let go my grasp as I walked through door, from the brisk night air into the warmth and gentle light of the retreat house.  The sisters were warmly welcoming (tea!).  There was no bustling about, just enough direction to get us gathered and centering.

When I laid my notes atop the Gospel and spoke, I was suddenly and deeply aware of God undergirding my work.  God behind me, God before me, God underneath me. The stillness in the chapel was incredible, we sat there, women young and old, and listened to God, enfolded in the warmth and the light and the Word.  The service was short, less than an hour from start to finish, but just right for a midweek night.

I'm talking again on December 12th, but am looking forward to going to the one the week before where I'm not talking, but can just listen.
Upcoming programs at the IHM Conference Center are listed here.  Recording of my talk, coming soon!  If you are in the area, stop in, it's an oasis of stillness on the Main Line...

Photo is of my back step, a place of prayer, set with a cup of tea and my breviary.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Phaith: Exercising gratitude

In these darkling days, even when there isn't a hurricane, I'm grateful for light.  The photo show my desk mid-hurricane.  No electricity, but a great LED lantern designed by Chris illuminated my grading. (You take two stacking plastic cups, half fill the bottom one with water, put the second one on top and insert a brace of LEDs inside.  The water diffuses the LEDs light nicely.)

The November issue of Phaith magazine is up and online. My post-hurricane column is on gratitude. Not only for the lights and heat of the present moment, but for gifts given throughout the years. In return? I'm committing random acts of gratitude. In the moment deprivation is a potent tool for discerning the difference between needs and wants.
...As I dressed in the dark and cold each morning, I was grateful to have clean and warm clothes to wear, even if I went to had to teach class in an outfit that was a bit more casual than my wont. (Next time my hurricane preparations will include not only finding the hand pump for the basement, but ironing a couple of pairs of pants for work!)
But memory fades quickly, even when the circumstances have been far more difficult than our brief return to the pre-electric age. Stranded on drifting ice for months after his expedition’s boat had been crushed, Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton wrote in his journal that, if he were rescued, he would never again complain of being too hot. After a harrowing trip through a hurricane in an open boat, Shackleton found himself overheated — and complaining about it — as he hiked over an island mountain pass in search of help.
I thought of Shackleton this afternoon when I reached into the (newly cleaned out) fridge and was momentarily annoyed that we had no milk. Until it hit me that I now had light by which to see that!
St. Ignatius of Loyola felt that ingratitude was at the root of sin...
Read the rest here....

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Feast of All Saints of the Order

The order in question would be the Order of St. Augustine, and today, the birthday of Augustine of Hippo, the Augustinians celebrate all the saints and blesseds of the Augustinian family.   In recent years, this day has also been one to pray for vocations to the Augustinian orders.

At Morning Prayer, we pray daily for vocations:
All glory and praise are yours
God of truth, light of our hearts,
for you guide your people
in the ways of holiness.
Help those who follow
in the footsteps of Augustine
to seek you through mutual love and worship
and to be servants of your Church
as examples that others may follow.
Enlighten men and women
to see the beauty of common life
in the spirit of Saint Augustine,
and strengthen them in your service
so that the work you have begun in them
may be brought to fulfillment.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.
I'm not an Augustinian, but after praying the Office with them for more than a quarter century, I'm Augustinian.  I am grateful to all the friars over the years who have shown me, in the beauty of their common life, and in their worship, the ways of holiness.  I have been supported and strengthened in my own work by their steadfast prayer.

For my take on what it means to be follow in the footsteps of Augustine, you could read what I wrote about Augustinians when Robin and I began our discussion of Marty Laird OSA's beautiful book, Into the Silent Land.

Photo is of Augustine giving the rule, the stained glass window on the north wall of the main sanctuary of my parish church.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Widow's flour

(A revised version of this post is up at RevGalBlogPals for the Sunday Afternoon Music Video).  As I turned bread out from a bowl to knead yesterday, dipping my hand into a full bin of fine white flour to dust the table top, flour flying with abandon, I thought of the widow in Sunday's reading. I imagine her scraping her flour bin, with its bits of grindstone that had settled to the bottom, reserving virtually nothing to keep the dough from sticking.

 There is an expression of persistent hope there that I suspect you don't grasp until you've struggled with dough that sticks to everything in sight, including your hands.  You have to keep going, sure in the knowledge that the dough will come together, that somehow this messy, sticky, mass will find its integrity.  Not in gentle handling, but in the pulling and stretching, in the persistent rhythm of turning and folding.  The widow's flour is hope....

I'm contemplating what stretches me, what provides a rhythm...

Friday, November 09, 2012

We also walk dogs

I read Robert Heinlein's short story "—We Also Walk Dogs" when I was in high school.   While the idea of General Services, where they could do arrange to do anything from walk the dog to convince a reclusive misanthropic physicist to develop an antigravity chamber, was fascinating, what really captivated me at that point were the characters. The high maintenance socialite, Mrs. Peter Van Hogbein Johnson, and Grace — the smoothly competent operator (I remain in awe of her ability to delegate), economically, yet richly sketched out.  I haven't read the piece in years, but I can still remember some of their lines ("I wasn't the blond he was weak for.."  "I was thinking of making you my social secretary...") and imagine Mrs. Hogbein's alternating whiny and haughty tones.

So when I got an email offering a trial for a company very like General Services, my curiosity was piqued.  I wondered if I could delegate a few of the tasks on my to-do list.  They won't walk the dogs themselves, but they can arrange it — and more to the point, they will schedule appointments to get my hair cut (and put them on my calendar) or other short well-defined tasks that can be done by someone with a phone and Internet connects — and time.  I signed up.  It seems more reasonable than to hope for a timeturner in my Christmas stocking.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

How to spoil a snow storm

The snow began while I was teaching this morning, a delicate lace sheet rippling over the back parking lot.  After I finished the lecture, as I was packing up my tech gear, a student from warmer climes excitedly told me on the way out the door that this was the first time she had seen snow.  Voices of a couple more bubbled in from the hallway, wondering if there would be enough to play in.

"Think about the phase diagram of water," I called out encouragingly.  I turned back to see two of my East coast students looking at me in dismay.  "How to spoil a perfectly good snow storm..."   

Saturday, November 03, 2012

From Phaith: Pearls of Great Price

Philadelphia's Archdiocesan magazine, Phaith, is now being published in an online version. This column appeared in the October issue.

Victor was a bit dubious about this column, worried that he didn't come off very well, sitting in that conference room.  He did his fair share on this project, even relinquishing his favorite part (the tiling) to me.  I love the phrasing, partners in the whole of life. Marriage in my book isn't about going halvies, but about going all in.  Whether it's patios built amid the heat, or children or illness or no lights in a storm...

“Dad says this is your anniversary present,” said Chris as he tipped a wheelbarrow of sand into the form for the new patio. He sounded dubious. Covered in sweat and dust on a sultry afternoon in August, I was piling up 20 pound slabs of stone, while my husband of 20 years sat in a cool conference room at the college, sliding papers around a table. This do-it-yourself project did not look much like the anniversary gifts touted on TV. No pearls?

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.  I’d been contemplating this line from Genesis since I’d heard it read at Mass the week before while Victor and I stood on either side of our oldest son, Mike, at the opening Mass for his freshman year at college — almost 19 years to the day since we discovered we were to become parents. Bound by our vows, we found ourselves bound up anew in this child. A gift on our first anniversary from God to us.

Through the years we joked with each other that we each did 75 percent of the work of being parents, as Victor paced the floors with a disconsolate Chris at 2 a.m. or I tutored Mike in algebra after dinner. Laundry, dirty dishes, play dates and college visits. Fall hikes, family dinners, water fights and choral concerts. A full measure of challenges and joys nurtured equally by each.

 St. Augustine once said that miracles “have a tongue of their own … let us not only be delighted with (their) surface, but let us also seek to know (their) depth.” So, too, do these sacraments that hallow our lives have “tongues of their own” that speak to us not only when we first celebrate them, but again and again, drawing us into the depths of the mystery that is our relationship with God.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church begins its discussion of the sacrament of marriage by reminding us that it is a “matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life.” After 20 years of marriage — after 20 years as partners in the whole of life — my labors on the patio truly felt as much a gift from Victor to me, as it was my own gift to him. Caught up in this sacramental marriage, we are mysteriously one body. 

Chris’ comment made me think not only about the bond that Victor and I share, but nudged me to seek something of its depths. God dwells in me, and I in God. I have nothing to offer, but what I myself have been given. What work I do is not my work, but God’s gifts, at work in me. God offers to do not just 75 percent, but 100 percent, and calls forth the same in me, in each of us.

Where are the pearls? I have been given them. A string of days, dark and light, each built over time of many layers, knotted together. To have and to hold – and to share –from this day forward.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Column: Feasts of Quiet Remembering

This column appeared at CatholicPhilly.com on 29 October 2012.

Lift your eyes and look. Who made these stars if not he who drills them like an army, calling each one by name? So mighty is his power, so great his strength, that no one fails to answer. Isaiah 40:26

 “…and we remember James Collins, who died on this day in 1893.” Every day at Morning Prayer, we remember members of the local Augustinian province who died on that date. Here we are gathered, briefly holding in prayer a young Augustinian priest, who died a more than a century ago, just a year after his ordination by Archbishop Patrick Ryan of Philadelphia. There is no one left alive who knew him. But we pray, regardless.

Every time I hear those prayers, I am struck by our community’s fidelity to prayer for the dead. For those we knew and those we did not. Not only this tiny community that prays the Liturgy of the Hours, or even the parish, but the entire Church who each time she gathers to celebrate the Eucharist remembers all those who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith, even when no one living remembers them — or their names.

 Still, our names are important to us. Our names are the words that can cut through almost any din and grab our attention. When I hear someone call, “Michelle,” even if it is a voice I do not recognize, I turn to look. “Who here knows me?” I wonder. It is hard not to respond, not to search for the friend I imagine and hope is present. Our names are wound into who we are in Christ. They are bestowed on us when we are baptized, elected when we are confirmed, taken up when we profess vows. They are who our community says we are, who we say we are, and above all who God calls us to be.

The fourth century bishop of Cyr, Theodoret, reflecting on this passage from Isaiah, uses this image of God’s calling the stars by name, to remind us that God see us with extraordinary clarity, he knows our strengths and weaknesses, our loves, our hopes, our desires. We cannot help but respond to the call of someone who knows us — all the generations upon generations of His children — so well that He recalls each of our names.

But God calls us in ways that go deeper than even our names. In a homily for All Saints, Karl Rahner, S.J. calls the twin celebrations of All Saints and All Souls feasts of “quiet remembering.” God dwells in the silence and stillness of our hearts, and in that silence dwells, too, those who loved us whose life is now entirely enfolded in our living God. Rahner suggests that here, God calls out to us, not with shouted orders, like a drill master, but “through his silence, and [our dead], by their silence, summon us into God’s life.” We listen hard for the voices of those we love, and in that emptied silence deep in our hearts, they call our names, to invite us into the union they share with God, here and now.

In these days going forward from the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls, I pray for all those have gone before me, known and unknown, who dwell in my heart, inviting me to live and move and have my being in God. I walk through the Jesuit cemetery at Wernersville, looking for the grave of the young novice who died in his first year, where I stop and pray for him and for his mother. I pray for my great-grandmother whose wedding ring I wear, for the ten children she lost in a diphtheria epidemic, great uncles and great aunts who I never met and whose names I never knew. And I listen in the stillness for the voices of those I know and love, drawing me into the length and depth and breadth of God’s love.

May the Creator’s power protect you, The Savior’s care enfold you The Spirit’s life renew you. May you walk in the fragrant clasp of the Three of limitless love now and forever. — From a Celtic blessing for the dying (in Celtic Blessings by Ray Simpson)

Photo is of the Jesuit cemetery at Wernersville, showing the grave of the young novice.