Sunday, June 30, 2013

31 Days of St. Ignatius

31 Days with Saint Ignatius

July 31st is the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and Loyola Press is hosting a month long fest for the saint!  There is a calendar with interesting Ignatian links for each day (full disclosure, one of my reflections is featured on  July 9), watch their Facebook stream for other features during the month.

Who is St. Ignatius of Loyola?  Project Gutenberg has his autobiography in a number of electronic formats, there is a short biography here and here, or you can read Margaret Silf's imaginative conversations with Ignatius, Call Me Lopez. Or watch for a daily interesting (to me at least) Ignatian fact posted here...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fly the friendly skies - or not

I got up before dawn this morning to fly to Chicago. There is not much traffic at 5 am, and though the lot was pretty full, I found a spot to tuck the MINI without undue difficulty. I got to the terminal to find a line for security that was more than an hour long. Wound around and then backed up into the next terminal.

Worried that I would miss my flight, I asked the TSA person who was directing people to the end of the line if the lines were shorter at other terminals. "You can't get through unless you go thru security here," she assured me. "The other security lines are closed, then," thinking this would explain the unusually long line. "You have to go through here" she asserted, "you can go look if you don't believe me." I took a deep breath and headed to the back of the line. Then I realized that as I walked across the bridge from parking, I had seen the security lines in the next terminal over, they were open then, and they hadn't been long. So I asked the TSA police stationed there if all the rest of the security lines were closed. "No, of course not." Ah. On my way past I let my previous informant know that all the lines were open.

In under 15 minutes I had walked to the next terminal, gone through security (no line here) and found my gate. We boarded, there are a boatload of kids on board (5 in the row I'm in alone, including a munchkin from a huge family that got here so late from security there were no seats together left who is sitting in the center seat. The little ones are so excited. I can hear one little boy say, "Are we are in the air yet?" The one next to me pulls her seatbelt tight, "I'm ready for blast off." If only. Thunderstorms in Chicago are delaying us.

We taxied back to the gate, and many of the young ones are confused. "Aren't we there yet?" I'm busy praying for the parents. It's all friendly, but I do wish we were flying!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Reapply after swimming, vigorous activity or capsizing

Yesterday Crash and Math Man dusted off the boats and dug all the rigging out of winter storage (and put air in the very, very, very flat tires of the double-decker trailer). Today, my merry men and I headed off to sail at a nearby state park.

Math Man was coming from his morning golf game, so the boys and I got the boats up there, off the trailer, rigged and in the water.  After all that effort the teen-aged team was hungry, so they went off to get a snack and I slathered on sunscreen and took out the Fiat Lux.

The wind was tricksy, puffing here and pooping out entirely there.  But there was a whole fleet of other Lasers out there racing, gorgeous to behold.  Nigh on inspiring.  So inspiring, I thought I'd give a series of racing tacks a fly.  So my first tack of the season, I pushed the tiller over, pulled in the main sheet and tried to come about without losing my wind.  It was a bit rough around the edges, but hey, it was the first tack of the season.

Next tack, the wind puffs as I bring the boat across the wind.  Uh-oh.  The full sail and I are now on the same side and boat begins to roll.  I scramble for the other side, but too late.  The laws of physics have no sympathy, and certainly don't wait on my necessities.  The boat was going over, and I was going in.  Splash, bang.  I'm in the water.

I haven't had to right a capsized boat in deep water in forty years, and never without backup or another person to assist.  I wonder at my age if I can do it.  I make sure I'm not fouled in any of the lines, swim to the back and hang my full weight onto the end of the center board.  Slowly, but surely, the sail comes out of the water and the boat rights itself. Whew.  OK, now to get back in without letting the boat sail away without me.

I am short.  I am so short that the extra three inches of the personal flotation device kept me from being able to reach the inside of the gunnel.  Argh. I strip off the jacket and heave it into the boat.  Bearing more than a passing resemblance to a beached whale I'm certain, I follow the jacket into the cockpit.  I gather the lines and my dignity and am once again sailing.

It's good to know I didn't have to tread water waiting to be rescued by the lake patrol.  I lost neither glasses nor hat in the mishap.  I had brought dry clothes for the end of the day.  I could put more sunscreen on (having both swum and engaged in vigorous activity). It was, as Chesterton would have it, an inconvenience rightly considered — that is to say, an adventure.  If only the bruises didn't look like they are going to be quite so spectacular...

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sounds of summer writing

There are no bells or buzzers at college to tell you when classes are changing.  Inside the classroom I can tell when it's nearly time to go by the way students begin to wink out — first one or two, then entire rows vanish — as they transport themselves mentally, if not physically to their next destination.  In my office, which sits at a crossroads along a linking corridor between wings, I can hear the rustle of backpacks and bodies as students flow like sand through the neck of an hourglass from one wing to the other.

Writing in the study under the eaves at home, such hour markers are entirely absent.  I can look up from desk, shocked to find two hours or more have slid undetected through my fingers.  There is a silkiness to time in the summer.  The birds sing endlessly outside, the leaves of the enormous oak outside my window stir sleepily in the breeze, the sounds of the train that run nearby brush by my consciousness.  There is the continuous throaty hum of lawn mowers and leaf blowers, fighting their endless and losing fight against entropy, trying to contain the abundant growth of summer.  And then...

There is the high pitched squealing from the neighbor children's motorized trikes on the driveway across from me.  I find myself scrunching up my shoulder blades in the aural equivalent of a squint, and have to take a deep breath and let their sounds go.  And the car alarm on the next block that goes off for 10 minutes at a stretch that has me routinely fantasizing about printing out the research that shows they are not deterrents to theft and taking a walk until I find the offending car.

As much as I'm momentarily annoyed by the snags in my summer silks, they are good reminders to stand up and stretch. To let the sounds of summer not just dance around the edges, but to soak into my being.  To take my book, my yellow pad or even my laptop out onto the back patio and breathe.  To stop trying to rein in and control the abundance of summer's growth.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The hardest part of teaching

Crash is home from WJU, thoroughly soaked in Greek.  He's adding to his cooking repertoire in return for tutoring me in Greek, this week learning to stretch the dough for my thin crust pizza.  (My crust is surely not as thin as Stratoz' or my great-grandmother's strudel, you can't quite read the paper through it!)

As we put together the pizzas, I kept wanting to show (do!) rather than coach.  I would hand the spoon back, or give him back the grated parmesan cheese or...until finally Crash popped out with, "The hardest part of teaching is letting someone else do the fun part."

Yep.  My respect for my parents grows ever deeper.

My general chemistry students aren't likely to believe that I actually enjoy working out a hard problem, and it's hard to coach them through it instead of just indulging in the doing myself.  But it's true.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Improving my car-ma: blessings

I have a new car (Holy Spirit red, though I opted out of flames down the side), and after the last six months (in which I have had 4 car accidents), my community was taking no chances.

This morning after Lauds, one of the Augustinians whipped up a new batch of holy water, we gathered up the Book of Blessings and the aspersorium (the bucket in which you put holy water to be used in an asperges — sprinkling — rite, the sprinkler itself is called an aspergillum) and processed (perhaps meandered would be a better word?) out to the parking lot to bless my car (and a couple of others as well):
"All-powerful God, Creator of heaven and earth, in the rich depths of your wisdom you have empowered us to produce great and beautiful works. Grant, we pray, that those who use this vehicle may travel safely, with care of the safety of others. Whether they travel for business or pleasure, let them always find Christ to be the companion of their journey." — from The Book of Blessings
I feel better, not necessarily because I think the car has been crash proofed (though please God, we're done with this game of bumped cars), but because I'm reminded that the boundaries between sacred and quotidian are permeable. God is present, in my car, as I drive, as inside the church walls.  And I love the reminder to have a care for others as I drive...

PrayTell today has a post about a story in the NY Times regarding spiritual cleansing of houses.  I was struck by two lines in the Times article:
"Running off the fumes of the big four religions, with a lacing of indigenous ritual and a dash of early 20th-century palaver — Madame Blavatsky by way of L. Ron Hubbard — the shamans and healers, mystics and mediums of the last century’s not-so-New Age have become indispensable exterminators for certain homeowners in New York and other big cities..." 
"Anyplace that sees a lot of traffic, she said, 'you really have to do it, just like you’re going to clean your carpets. You have a party, and you feel drained. Now we can explain it; we understand quantum physics.'"
I am a quantum physicist, and (a) I don't think we completely understand quantum physics (for example, there are these fascinating experiments that show that quantum mechanics applies to systems far larger than we thought) and (2) I don't think quantum physics explains the blessing of my car or the spiritual cleansing business.  But I still bless things.  For years (until Crash went to college) I blessed my children's heads with the sign of the cross before they went to bed.  Loaves of bread before I put them into the oven.  And remembering a priest friend who without fuss blessed my car before a late night trip back from a retreat, I blessed the car before the Boy departed for his first long solo trip (2 hours down to the beach).

Does anyone else bless the every day stuff of life? (The Book of Blessings has almost a thousand blessings in it...bridges, power stations, boats and fishing nets...)

What Crash was shocked to discover long ago about where holy water comes from....

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Cars in weal and woe

It's been a tough six months for my Mini Cooper.  A van hit it on Lancaster Ave in October, doing minimal damage to everything but my psyche; in December an SUV ran a stop sign in Philadelphia and then into my Mini; and in March the Boy had a fender bump with another car on an icy road (which led indirectly to my crashing Math Man's car in a second accident -- by now you surely don't want to get in a car with me).  After the last we had all the bumps and bruises repaired, only to have someone back into it, breaking my rear light and denting the bumper.  Really?  You couldn't have left a note?

It's all fixed, but now the air conditioner has died and the repair beyond the budget.  I know, I should be able to live without an air conditioner in the car, but...

So, I'm ready to bequeath this Cooper to the boys and get a new one for me.  I'm looking at low mileage used ones and new ones (they are all about the same price), all manual transmission (which some places do not even carry!).  When I told Crash I was looking at a chili pepper red one, he said, "That's not you."  White?  "Sure, let's go with that."  Math Man, bless his heart, said, "Of course, red!"

Do you think I can sustain a red car?  I will point out that I already have a red piece of transportation -- the Fiat Lux!  (That's The Boy at the helm...)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A word peculiarly my own

A number of things have me thinking about productive language — how the words we understand peel themselves out of our brains and onto our tongues.

While on retreat I was twice the psalmist .  The music director had asked me a couple of weeks before I came if I would sing Paul Inwood's lovely, but not trivial, through-composed psalm for the day.  I had a @#$% of a time with one word in the third verse: glorious.  "Enunciate", I heard a voice teacher's clipped voice reminding me.  "Glo-ri-us."  I could. not. get the word out without needing an extra note.  Until I realized that syllabification was not my friend. It's "glor-yus."  Two syllables, accent on the first.

And then there are these very cool maps of US speech patterns. A while back I blogged about my (New York born and raised) mother's desire to wipe the Midwest out of her children's vowels.  I can still remember her trying to tune our ears to differences in the initial vowel sound in Mary, merry and marry and her explanation that most people said them differently.  The maps show that my mother's lack of a pre-rhotic merger is actually limited to a very small geographical area (see question number 15), which suggests this was my mother's view from the city.

Paul Campbell, SJ at People for Others is wondering about language production as well, in particular the words we can't quite roll off our tongues no matter how hard we try. Mine is peculiarly.  (The OED shows the "r" sound elided between the schwa and the /l/ (you say /pɪˈkju:lɪəli/ not /pɪˈkju:lɪərli/).  Phonics was in when I was learning to read - I have a very hard time ignoring that /r/!)

Finally, I'm trying to systematically learn koine Greek this summer (as opposed to the random approach I used several years back).  The first chapter insists that you learn to write (no problem for a scientist) the alphabet and pronounce the sounds.  It's the latter task I'm finding peculiarly difficult...

If you have the time, try the questions on language and see how you match up with the US map.  The questions are fascinating and go well beyond the sounds, to the choice of terms and even some behaviors. So what do you call the a sweetened carbonated beverage?

Monday, June 10, 2013

On the green: US Open and Ignatian Retreats

Last week at this time I was still on retreat, sitting in an Adirondack chair in the eastern cloister at the Jesuit retreat house, looking out over the expanse of lawn that tumbles down to a stand of trees that was (at least this week) the favored hunting ground of the hawk that spent the week riding the thermals up to the top of the hill.1  Tonight, Math Man is eagerly anticipating some time contemplating expanses of green.  No, he's not going on retreat, but to the US Open which is being held about a half-mile from our house (as the hawk flies).

He's wandering only 120 acres, compared to the 240 I had access to, but otherwise, it's not such a different experience:
  • No cell phones or other electronic devices.
  • Silence prevails; necessary speech needs to be taken to the fringes (and done in hushed tones) lest you disturb those praying, uh, playing.
  • Lots of walking.
  • Weather.  There will be interesting weather.
  • Companions along the way (25,000 folks for Math Man, 40 for me).

1.  Don't ask how I know this. All I will say is that Fluffy had prepared me well, and that while the practice of looking up has much to commend it, it pays to watch where you are walking on occasion.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Grain once scattered on the hillside

... was in this broken bread made one.

On the last day of my retreat, my director handed me the notes he'd jotted during our conversations, and suggested as a last contemplation a gathering up of the graces that had been scattered throughout the retreat and pack them up to take home, using the notes if they were helpful.  I sat outside in the cool of the morning garden and gathered up some of the grain scattered:  silence, heat, fog-shrouded, crisp, grace-soaked, anxious, Rilke, renewing, darkness, stillness...silence.  

In much the same spirit, here are some of the bits I jotted down on post-it notes and bits of scrap paper along the way, scattered across my desk like seeds for future writing.
  • This retreat tasted of salt.
  • It was, as predicted, hot, and kept getting hotter and more humid.  The promised thunderstorms (and consequent release from the heat) never materialized, though by the last day the heat did dissipate.
  • Laundry will drive the breaking of the silence more readily than even the arrival of an ambulance (which I hasten to say did not happen on this retreat, but has on two hot and humid retreats in days past).
  • I learned two new ways to fold a furoshiki.
  • Even if there is an air conditioner in your room and the weather is hot (and did I mention humid?), you don't have to turn it on.
  • One late night's phone calls (all sanctioned by my director as we tried to balance my retreat with a small crisis at home), sent me flying down the four floors and out of the retreat house not once, not twice, but three times.  The fourth time a text came winging in, I wearily grabbed the phone, thinking I just could not do the stairs yet again (and thankfully did not need to).  In the morning as I whinged to my director about this he gently pointed out, "We do have an elevator."  Sometimes you need to discern things in the moment, and not take as written in stone the election of the morning.
  • Special K Pastry Crisps are just PopTarts for adult palates (just as sweet, with a higher filling to pastry ratio and smaller servings).  Like muggy nights without air conditioning, this dragged me right back to my childhood.
  • The refulgence of the fireflies.  A silent monastic choir, complete with antiphonarian, replete with melismata.

Photo is of the tabernacle in the main chapel of the old Jesuit Novitiate at Wernersville, taken from the oratory just off the main altar.