Saturday, March 30, 2013

How desolate lies the city

 Here begins the lamentation of the prophet Jeremiah.
 How desolate lies the city that was once full of people:
the queen of nations has become as a widow;
the ruler of provinces is now subject to others.
By night she weeps in sorrow and tears run down her cheeks. —First Lamentation for Holy Thursday

From a reflection given at Morning Prayer on Holy Saturday three years ago:

I will admit to a guilty sense of relief when the Liturgy ends and we all go home - where I am confronted with the laundry and a messy kitchen and not with Christ on the cross. Poet T.S. Eliot recognized what underlies my ambivalence, “human kind cannot bear very much reality.”...

It’s a harrowing grace I seek on this day, to sit with the knowledge that Jesus has died, but not yet risen...
Psalm 69 offers a us a poignant yet powerful image of such an experience:
 I have entered the watery depths,
and the current has swept me away.
I am exhausted with my calling out.
My throat is hoarse.
My eyes fail from hoping for my God. 
 Holy Saturday is an invitation for us enter those depths, to let the current sweep us away, until we know what it is like to call for God until we are exhausted, to seek him until our eyes fail. Until we grasp what we proclaim at each celebration of the Eucharistic, until we comprehend what the first disciples did: Christ has died. For this one day, let us bear what reality we can.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

I have longed to eat this meal with you…

I went to Morning Prayer this morning, the first breath of the Triduum.  The breezeway smelled of lilies and earth, we gathered in gentle silence in the small chapel, the tabernacle empty and open. The plea of the psalmist shivered in the air, "God of hosts, turn again, we implore you..."

I gave this  reflection last year at Morning Prayer on Holy Thurday morning, this year we had no homily, it was still and silent, and I liked the chance to listen to God present in the Body gathered to open these holiest of days.  I reflected again on how passionately we are loved, how much God desires us.  It takes my breath away.
The last hours of Lent are upon us. Those of us who gave up things we enjoyed for the season may be longing to have them back. Personally I’m almost desperate for a turkey sandwich in my lunch.

For all that Lent is penitential, the sacrament that gives shape to the season is not confession, but baptism - the point of the penitential practices is to remember/renew what we became in our baptism.

Many years ago, in a course on the sacrament of initiation, the professor imagined for us what baptism at the Easter Vigil might have been like in the early days of the Church. Candidates were asked, “Do you believe in God the Father?” Assenting, their heads would be suddenly pushed under the water and held there until they were allowed up, undoubtedly gasping for breath. “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” Once more they were plunged under the water. And again, “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?” A third time submersion followed.

His evocative description reminds me of the story of a young man who wants to know how to find God. He goes to see a wise and holy hermit who promptly pushes the young man into the river and holds him under water. When the young man comes up gasping for breath, the hermit asks him what he most desired. “Air!” he responds. “Go home,” says the hermit, “and come back to me when you want God as much as you just wanted air.”

The second psalm (80) we prayed is the cry of a people who want God as much as air. Over and over again we pray: “God of hosts, bring us back…God of hosts, turn again, we implore you.” And in the very next canticle, God responds to his starving people through the prophet Isaiah, “With joy you will draw water” And in the Psalm (81) that follows, both in the Psalter and here again God promises to fill the emptiness of soul and body, “Open wide your mouths and I will fill them…Israel I will feed with finest wheat and fill them with honey from the rock.” We are cared for, protected.

But it’s what comes next in this liturgy that takes my breath away. The antiphon set for the Benedictus, the Gospel Canticle we are about to pray together, begins “I have longed to eat this meal with you…" We may indeed be longing for God, hoping that God will feed us, but we hear now that God is longing for us, desires to be with us. How willing? How deeply does God desire us? Jesus — God made man — has plunged into the depths, in the last moments gasping out His need for God, like air, “I thirst.” Eating of dirt and death, for us.

In the next days we will be plunged, ready or not, three times into the torrents of Christ’s passion, death and glorious resurrection: at the Mass of the Last Supper, in the Celebration of the Passion and at the Easter Vigil. May we come up from the waters of this birth the third time, knowing how desperately we want God, and even more, knowing how passionately God wants us.

The image is of Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret's Last Supper from the late 19th century, which reminds me a bit of Tanner's Annunciation.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

On the Ignatian Adventure: Passion, pain and presence

From my most recent post at DotMagis on the Ignatian Adventure:

"As I walked into town for my meeting later, I thought about how difficult it was to move from threading my way through a mass of effervescent middle schoolers into the Passover crowds in Jerusalem, and to walk away from Jesus’ body in his mother’s lap out onto to the sidewalks of Bryn Mawr. Maybe it would have been better to keep these contemplations for the seclusion and quiet my study offers late at night?"

For me, at least, one grace of the Third Week of St. Ignatius' Exercises is that of presence in the midst of chaos, a way of being willing to face the difficult, the painful, the painfully confusing.  You can read the rest of this reflection here...

For the record,  the sign inside my door, a gift from Crash, actually reads: The very contradictions in my life are in some ways signs of God's mercy to me. — Thomas Merton

Monday, March 25, 2013

Practicing hope

 April is the cruellest month, breeding
 Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
 Memory and desire, stirring
 Dull roots with spring rain.
 Winter kept us warm, covering
 Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
 A little life with dried tubers.
— T.S. Eliot from The Waste Land

 It's not yet April, but it is Holy Week.  It's snowing. I'm snowed under.  (Metaphorically, not literally, more's the pity!) Still, memories are stirring, their muddy feet traipsing through winter's fire-warmed reading-room.  They throw open windows to let in breezes a trifle too cool and damp to be entirely welcome.  The dull aches of loss swirl in my tea cup.  The sweet spiciness of cinnamon slips up the stairs, the enticing scent of resurrection.

I remember sunlit March days in the Illinois, swathed in my turquoise snowsuit, determined not to let the cold wind drive me back inside.  I huddled on the side of the house, in the lee of the prevailing winds, hunting for any signs of crocus pushing up through the frozen flower beds.  Practicing hope for springs I could not begin to imagine.

Thanks to the miracles of Google street view, this is the house I grew up in.  The right side as you face the house is where I used to shelter from the winds that swept up the hill.  The birch tree whose shadows danced on my wall on moonlit nights is gone.  I wonder if the crabapple in back has grown sturdy enough to climb?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

On the Ignatian Adventure: Suspense in Prayer

I remember when the choice of what to watch on TV was limited.  Three or four channels, and you certainly couldn't pause.  Now if I have an evening free to watch a movie, I could spend the entire evening browsing Netflix, flicking through the possibilities, imagining how delightful this one, or perhaps that one?

I had rather the same sense as I confronted the set of contemplations for the Second Week in the Ignatian Prayer Adventure.  You can read my reflection on the experience at DotMagis.

And please, don't tell me what happens next in Downtown...we're still weeks behind!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Crash, crash again

We have a running family joke which requires someone to say, "We have no time for a visit to the emergency room!" at any family gathering.  It became firmly traditional after a memorable Thanksgiving where several such visits were made.  There were no visits to the emergency room this afternoon, but I'm thinking we need something a bit broader than this intercessory prayer.

The Boy went off to get his hair cut this afternoon, while he was out the weather turned rather nasty, sleet covering the untreated roads.  Not far from home, he had a fender bump (as far as we can tell, no fenders were actually bent in this accident).  He called me, upset, and frightened.  The other driver, an adult, was angry enough to make him feel unsafe.  I made sure he'd called 911, grabbed my purse and headed out.

I passed the accident, I put my emergency flashers on, and slowed down to make the turn into an access road just past where Chris was pulled over to the side.  As I turned, the jeep behind me tried to pass me, on the left.  In a no passing zone.  As I (quite legally) turned left.  There was a collision which ripped the front of Victor's car off, and left debris all over the roadway.  Now someone is yelling at me, and I'm calling 911, just as the police car pulls up.

I explain that this is not the accident he is looking for, and that I am concerned about Chris and the angry adult.  He looks at me, at the other driver, tells us both to get into our cars and stay there and heads right up to help.  I was grateful, but it was hard to be so close to Chris and not be with him.  I called him on the cell phone so at least he could hear my voice.

No one was hurt, for which I am grateful.  The very calm police officer kept everything from escalating.  Victor's car was towed.  The Jeep was towed.  Someone will come sweep up the debris.  I drove the Mini home and Chris made us tea.  Now I need to finish the laundry.  Whatever else happens, there is always the laundry.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Well then, here I am

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum...I announce to you a great joy. We have a pope.

Francis is the sixth pope elected in my lifetime, but the first papal transition I remember is that of Paul VI. Admittedly the Masses for the dead Pope John XXIII at the small parish where I grew up are far more vivid in my mind's eye than the news reports of Giovanni Montini's election.

This is the first announcement I have heard live. I was walking out of the old Jesuit novitiate in Wernersville and stopped to let Math Man know I was on my way home. My phone was open to Facebook, where the "top story" was Crash's post: We have a pope! (translation from LOLspeak is mine).1  I flipped to the New York Times site. No word yet on who, just that white smoke had billowed up and an annoucement was expected soon.

With a long drive ahead of me, I wouldn't be browsing the interwebs, and radio reception out here can be tough. I so wanted to know, but really had to be on the road this minute.  In the car  I tuned in a Philly AM station, nearly drowned out by static, and while stuck in traffic on 422, heard the scratchy announcement.  Francis.

I was struck by the new pope's request that we be silent for a moment pray for him before he in turns prays that we be blessed.  And I while I get that Francis of Assisi is what rises first to many minds (and I'm certainly not pretending to know the mind of Pope Francis in this update, we now know it was Francis of Assisi...), my first thought was Francis of Xavier.  A Jesuit missioned on a moment's notice to a place half a world away, Francis Xavier was reported to have responded when asked to leave for India in place of another Jesuit who was too ill to travel, "Well then, here I am."

The new pope and I have at least three things in common aside from being Roman Catholic.  Care to guess what they are?

[UPDATE:  I was thinking of chemistry, the Spiritual Exercises and we both speak Spanish, but there is also the Liturgy of the Hours, and German to add to the list.]

1. Listen to the Jesuit Post speculate about cat memes and the new pope here.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

On the Ignatian Adventure: The Two Standards sans orcs

The center panel of this as yet unrealized stained glass window depicts Ignatius of Loyola's meditation on the Two Standards.  The Ignatian Prayer Adventure takes up this meditation this week, prompting me to reflect about who I follow and how.  You can read the reflection and join in the conversation about orcs, scary movies and Jesus in my office at DotMagis.

Bunnicula lives

This photo has been popping up in various places and I don't know who to attribute it to.  It reminds me of Bunnicula, the bunny who snuck into the refrigerator at night to suck the vegetables dry.

I saw the original bunny bun recipe and thought about trying it as a spring break treat.  Kneading is always therapeutic in my book and I could use some calm meditation time.  But I know going into it that the reality is more likely to look like Bunnicula than something out of the pages of Martha Stewart.

Reality is not a deterrent here.  My family abounds with crazy and creative bakers (yes, Dad, I mean you and those cakes for Cub Scouts) and some of the best family stories are not about recipes that succeeded beyond our wildest dreams (the hard rolls my dad developed are featured in the Spring Baking Sheet from King Arthur Flour!).  Like the potato rolls that you could have used as ammunition in a mortar.  Or the infamous monkey balls....

Thursday, March 07, 2013

On the Ignatian Adventure: Prayerfully People Watching

Two reflections from my Lenten Ignatian Adventure are up at DotMagis this week.

Mirrors of Dangerous Grace looks at the end of the First Week — where I found the repetitions in particular to be challenging.  I kept wanting to skitter away from looking again, into a love so deep it will change me, if I would risk it.  Walter Wangerin's essay In Mirrors is well worth a read as we get closer to Holy Week.

Holding God Close at Hand considers the contemplations of the Incarnation and the desire to know God with all our being.  Dan Ruff, SJ was my spiritual director around the time I made the Exercises, and so to find his piece on how to pray with those Gospel stories was an unexpected link back to my experiences of prayerfully people watching on those urban forays.  There is a comment left by Lynda on the post about signing for the deaf that beautifully reminded me of when Ignatius asks us to imagine singing with the angels: "I felt like I was praising God with my entire being rather than just my voice."

You can follow the path of the Ignatian Prayer Adventure here.  It is worth just browsing the rich offerings for prayer and reflection, even if you are just looking for ideas for prayer for a single day.

Image is from flickr, © oriol espinal, used under a Creative Commons license.

Monday, March 04, 2013

What if?

I am reflecting on the story of Naaman today in Give Us This Day (posted at PrayTell):

What if I elected to pay extraordinary attention to God’s presence in my everyday life?

Read the reflection here.