Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What would we do in the zombie apocalypse?

Scene 1:  Small suburban brick home on a cool summer evening. Windows are open.  Sound of cat meowing.

Mother (on sofa with ice pack on her foot) :  Can you let the cat in?
(sound of light flicking on and screen door opening)
Son 2:  Fluffy...Fluffy...Oh, sorry, you're eating.  (sound of screen door abruptly closing)

Son 2:  (turns to mother)  Nope.

Scene 2:  Clock shows an hour later.  Sound of car pulling up, car door closes, house door opens.

Mother:  Can you let the cat in?
(sound of light flicking on and screen door opening)
Son 1:  Whoops.  (sound of screen door abruptly closing)  Sorry, Mom.  I don't do dead things after midnight.

What, I wonder, will we do come the zombie apocalypse?

Illustration is from XKCD.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ignatius of Loyola 24: Where's Iggy?

Last year, Ignatian Spirituality had a delightful app for mashing up your own image of St. Ignatius (I've been sporting mine on my tea mug).  Find Your Inner Iggy is back again this year. Check out Ignatian Spirituality’s Facebook page to read contributions from Fr. James Martin, SJ, Margaret Silf, and Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, on how they’ve found God: in an unlikely place, in decision making, in prayer, in imagination, in service to others, and in all things.

Share how you’ve found God in these places by posting on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Vine with the hashtag #FindIggy.  Loyola Press is giving away cool prizes for the best images.  Iggy tattoos?  Who knows!   Join in here:  Find Your Inner Iggy

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

How to tell The Boy is a Scientist

In the car on the way home today he wails, "They put a camera up my nose and down my throat and I didn't get to look!"

But the guy who knew what to look for did, and said the throat is looking much better.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Ignatius of Loyola 22: Ignatian Spirituality and me

From Science is Awesome
When I went on retreat this summer, my director for the eight days began by giving me a four sentence summary of what made a retreat "Ignatian" -- today I'm guesting at DotMagis, reflecting on what make me Ignatian.  Why is St. Ignatius of Loyola's approach to prayer (to life) so attractive to me?  Short answer:  mystics, pilgrims and explorers.   Long answer:  here.

(You have to read the piece to get the joke in the picture!)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Toads and transformations

I have a big spool of string in my kitchen, (mostly used for trussing chickens for the wondrous Chicken Bonne Femme from Julia Child's Art of French Cooking) but it never occurred to me that I could make string.

Last week I learned to make string from a stick of dried dogs bane.  First we learned to scrape off the outer coating using an obsidian point, then pulled the fibers free from the stalk.  Twist and wrap, twist and wrap and pretty soon I had a serviceable (and strong) piece of twine.  Made from a stick.  Now when I walk I look at the plants and see them as potential strings and fishing nets.  This experience definitely gave me new eyes for my every day landscape!  ("The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." - Marcel Proust)

What do toads have to do with this transformation?  We were warned about being careful with the green dogs bane, since ingesting the sap can disrupt your heart rhythm.  Not surprisingly (at least to a chemist) the sap contains a chemical relative of digoxin (derived from foxgloves or digitalis). A number of plants, including the oleander my mother planted all over her garden, have similar toxins in them.  (If you want to see if you can see the similarities yourself, you can read what I'm writing about this on my other blog.)

Toads. Right. Toads secrete a similar compound (which I found interesting because it's typically made by plants). Don't kiss a toad.  It won't turn into a prince, though it still might make your heart pound...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ignatius of Loyola 16: Iñigo to Ignatius

Somewhere in the back of my mind I had always assumed that Iñigo was a form of Ignatius...like Peggy for Margaret or Sean for John. It's apparently not. Ignatius was baptized Iñigo, the Spanish form of Enecko, after an 11th century Basque saint.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Bordering on interrogation

One of my colleagues at the workshop noted that there are often many layers to a question. Why am I here? How did I get here? Do you start with the big bang, your grandparents, the bike you rode to work? We joke in my family that if you ask my brother Geek Guru what time it is, he'll tell you how the watch works. Part of figuring out the answer is figuring out where the questioner intends you start.

On my way back from Canada this morning I was briefly detained at the border so they could search my car. There was a piece of paper in the trunk that seemed to puzzle the agent at the crossing, I could see him pull it out and page through it, page through it again, go back inside and check something on the computer. Since I don't recall ever opening the trunk of my rental car, just tossing my bag into the capacious back seat, I have no idea what it was (and forgot to look when I got to the airport this morning!). [Memo to self, be sure to check the trunk of a rental car before you take it across a border - there could have been a body in there and would have had no clue.] I was directed to pull over, hand over my documents and wait inside while another agent searched the car.

A second border agent appears, bullet proof vest on, bristling with weaponry, brandishing an unwelcoming expression, "Is everything in the car yours?" I hesitated. Yes, to the best of my knowledge, but no way did I search the rental car as thoroughly as he was about to, and I had driven others around, so I really don't know what might be tucked under the seats, and was utterly clueless about what was in the trunk. I really didn't want to say an unequivocal "yes" but knew equivocating wasn't a good idea: "Yes."

"How did you get to Selkirk College?" "I took a plane from Philadelphia to Spokane, rented a car and drove up here," I responded. He looked at me like I was giving him attitude, sighed and said, "No, why did you come there from so far away?" Oh. I told him I knew a colleague there, another chemist, and that she had invited me. There were a few more questions about that, and he went out to search the car. They found nothing and returned all my documents and my vehicle and off I went.

The border agent and I are both nominally native speakers of the same language, and yet I did not understand his question, and so he did not understand my answer to be a serious one. How much more difficult would this be if we did not share a language? How quickly would he lose patience, and what would the consequences of that be?  Particularly interesting questions on a weekend where the assigned readings speak of responsibility to our neighbors.

Photo is from Wikimedia.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Making virtual music

The Boy is one of these voices and one of these faces, though I've yet to catch sight of him.  It is a thing of beauty to watch and hear.  Almost six thousand singers (you can read all their names here) from all over the world, under the direction of Eric Whitacre.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Contemplating Science

I'm at Selkirk College in Castelgar, British Columbia this week, presenting at a conference on contemplative approaches to teaching. The twenty participants cover a broad swath of disciplines from nursing to social work to English to economics — to chemistry. Led by an anthropologist and a writer, we walked this morning to view the river, in full flood surging just below the Mir Center where we are meeting, and in a sun-warmed and still oxbow. It was an eminently practical and graced lead-in to a discussion on ways to help students pay attention to what they are seeing when they do field work (where that is construed very broadly). I did a short demonstration in the lab, looking at specimens of various sorts with the single instruction, spend 5 minutes writing down what you notice.

If you define contemplation as a long loving look at the real, it's hard not to see science as a contemplative endeavor, particularly this sort of data gathering. If you want to hear a bit more about how I see the connections between contemplation, Ignatian spirituality, and science you can listen to me be interviewed by John O'Keefe and Wendy Wright of Creighton University's Center for Catholic Thought on their Catholic Comments podcast here. (The Catholic Comments podcast has some terrific episodes, like this one on Thomas Aquinas in Context by Frederick Bauerschmidt or this one on Denise Levertov's poetry.)

Friday, July 05, 2013

Summer reading

I am a "summer reading list" rebel.  Back in the day, when summer reading lists came home I would sigh (whine?) loudly, tell my boys that they did not need to pick off the list and that I would write a note to their teachers saying that I had philosophical issues with such reading lists (and you can imagine their reactions to that).  I understand the upside to summer reading lists, to keep reading skills up over the summer, to give parents and students a sense of scope and appropriate reading level.

But I think there is a downside that goes unacknowledged.  There are things to be learned by picking out your own books that contribute to the development of life long readers.  Among them how to find books you might like, how to figure out what makes for a "good" book, besides the fact that your teacher thinks it's a good book.1  

I'm lucky, my sons are voracious and happy readers, but I wonder if even less happy readers might benefit from a bit less structure in the summer reading.  (Though like most things, this, too, has a flip side.  Ask a son to stop reading and do a chore can elicit a sigh, and chiding "Most parents encourage their children to read."

Photo is my stack of entirely self-selected summer reading!

1.  Case in point, last year, The Boy was assigned to read The Great Gatsby for English, and then to say why it was a classic piece of literature.  The catch?  He didn't think it rose to that level.  (He's not alone, we looked in the literature to find several English professors who had written scholarly articles agreeing with The Boy.)

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Ignatius of Loyola 4: Hearing voices

On the 4th of July some years ago I was on retreat at Eastern Point, which is near Gloucester's harbor.  Sitting out on the rocks to pray, I kept hearing voices, names and tantalizing bits of sentences floating on the breeze.  To say I was distracted was an understatement.

The silence at Eastern Point is pretty profound and the waves pounding against the rocks tended to muffle any noise from the surrounding neighborhood, so voices caught my attention.  But I couldn't figure out where they were coming from, though they sounded nearby and vaguely mechanical.

I shared the mystery with my director, she hadn't heard them, but she hadn't been out of the house yet that day.  (To be clear, I was never in doubt that there was a ordinary explanation for the voices!) Out for my walk, the voices were louder, but not quite clear enough to catch more than a word or two.  As my walk took me across the small land bridge toward the harbor, I finally achieved clarity.  There was a Navy ship in the harbor, as part of the celebration of the 4th...and what I was hearing was its PA system.

At La Storta, as he headed to Rome with his companions in 1537, Ignatius heard voices, but unlike me, he heard God sending him to Rome, to be part of Jesus' company. I would guess that mystic is not the first association many people have with St. Ignatius, but Ignatius' early mystical experiences (and experiences that posed as such) are part of the ground from which Ignatius' rules for discernment of spirits grew.  (Read about the rules here and a longer but fascinating piece about Ignatius the mystic here.)

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

RevGalBlogPals: The Graces of Galship

The Wednesday festival (I note there are few more minutes left in Wednesday here) at the RevGalBlogPals features posts on galship, however that has played out for each of us.

I joined the RevGalBlogPal (RGBP) blog ring in May of 2007, though I'm not (and cannot be) a reverend.  (I'm Roman Catholic, that should tell you all you need to know on that score.)  I had been blogging steadily for a couple of years, on this blog and my chemistry blog, and somehow happened on the RGBP.  I enjoyed reading the various voices, each wrestling with the way God was present in their lives and in the lives of those they ministered to (some of the stories have stuck with me for years (one in particular involving a wind, a flaming tablecloth and a baptismal font that still makes me laugh in wonder).

I started writing occasional posts for the RGBP blog, the first of which might be this review of Into Great Silence (the film) and An Infinity of Little Hours (a book about the Carthusians) and still write for the Sunday Afternoon Music Video feature (except when I forget to check my calendar!).

I love that the ring can wrap itself around many denominations, and around those ordained, seeking ordination, or those for whom this was not an option.  I have never been to a BigEvent, but have had many friendships grow from the RevGals nonetheless.  Friends to write with, to play Scrabble with (as a Lenten discipline, no less), to share meals with, to share faith with virtually and in real life.  Paul's letters bound a community of faith together through time and space, so I'm not surprised that our writings draw us together, and ever grateful for the support I find here for the writing that I now do.

Ignatius of Loyola 3: Letters

I associate Ignatius with letters, not so much because of his prodigious output of letters, more than 7000, but because while I was away making his Spiritual Exercises, handwritten letters were how I stayed in touch with my kids.  The Boy was a wondrously faithful correspondent, writing me every third day; near the end, counting the breaths until I came home.

Read Ignatius' letter of advice on writing letters here, a small selection of other letters from Ignatius here.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Ignatius of Loyola 2: In 1493

In 1493, Christopher Columbus left Spain with 17 ships, bound again for the Caribbean to establish settlements there.  Ignatius of Loyola was not quite two years old, but one of his older brothers was on the voyage.

When I was in college I read some of the contemporary accounts of the colonization attempts.  It was not gentle reading.

"Inspiration of Christopher Columbus" by Jose Maria Obregon, 1856. From Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Ignatius of Loyola 1: Looking up to Ignatius

The image of St. Ignatius to the left hung in the stairwell at Eastern Point retreat house when I made the Spiritual Exercises there.  If you look closely, you can see my reflection at the lower right (the sleeve of my grey sweatshirt and the camera in front of my face).  Through his Exercises, Ignatius has had a substantial influence on my life, though our lives are separated by centuries, and an ocean.

In the Exercises, there is a contemplation which asks you to imagine standing before God and the communion of saints.  My image of Ignatius in that gathering was of a tall, thin man standing off to the side smiling — perhaps drawing on this image I looked up at each day on my way to meet with my director.  I was shocked to discover that Ignatius was only 4'11" tall.  I am a solid two inches taller than the good saint!

Andy Otto's wonderful post about five ways to find God in all things is reprised on Loyola Press' 31-days of St. Ignatius calendar.  I love his suggestion to do something by hand that you might not have to.  Yesterday my kids and I baked bread, kneading and shaping the loaves.  This morning I was reminded of the sacredness of the everyday when I sliced a piece for toast and noticed that my oldest had slashed the sign of the cross in the top of the loaves, as his Irish great-great-great grandmother did.