Tuesday, February 25, 2014

(Mis)communication skills: feline edition

Academic cat companion in a more helpful mode.
What the cat said: Mwrrr.
What I understood:  Please let me in, it's cold outside.
What the cat actually meant:  I have a bird to play with, may I bring it in?
What I said:  Fluffy, no, no!  (inarticulate shrieking)

This is not what the doctor ordered when it came to vocal rest.

The bird is gone, the cat is annoyed with me, I may now return to my regularly scheduled lunch.

Monday, February 24, 2014

How do you pray with the Psalms?

Rita Ferrone has a post up at PrayTell asking how people pray with the Psalms (prompted by her two pieces here and here).

In the second of her two essays she explores Jewish theologian Andre Chouraqui's beautiful essay on the psalms which introduced his translation of them into the French.  Chouraqui called the psalms "150 mirrors of our agonies and our resurrections," an image that continues to call me to hear them as giving voice not just to my own prayers, but as a way for the whole Church, indeed all of creation, to be heard groaning.

When I first read Rita's questions, particularly this one: "What are the challenges, struggles, blessings and rewards of praying with the Psalter, as you’ve experienced it?"I struggled to think how I might respond.  I've prayed the Liturgy of the Hours for 30 years, and think I am of the same mind as Chouraqui — “We were born with this book in our very bones." I've recited the psalms in private, chanted them with monastic communities, sung them at liturgy, and drawn them from the depths of my soul while my husband lay dying. I've heard them on Christ's lips as he hung upon the cross during the Exercises, shivered to hear Allegri's Miserere searing soprano line, swayed as my sons' chorale beat out a percussive Psalm 150.  The psalms are in my bones, the psalms are my bones.

I suspect it might be easier for me to talk now about the moments when the psalms are not hovering at the edge of my mind, not gently insinuating themselves into my day, than to talk about how I pray them.

Ferrone quotes Chouraqui:  "This book was something written down; but they lived it even as they read it, and it was no less necessary to live this book than to read it." which made me think of this snippet of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:  "The only way to understand the Psalms is on your knees, the whole congregation praying the words of the Psalms with all its strength."

Perhaps the only way to talk about praying the Psalms, is to pray them with all your strength, allowing your voice to be pulled into the chorus that has sung these prayers for thousands of years.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Rumpled grace

St. Blaise in Dubrovnik
c. Lawrence Lew OP. Used under CC license.
"Through the intercession of Saint Blase, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit."

On February 3rd, as I stood at the cantor's stand, our deacon came over and held a pair of crossed (unlit, I hasted to add, unlike those in the example on Wikipedia) candles against my throat and asked that I be protected against diseases of the throat.  So when my voice began to fail while I was on a visit to St. Catherine's in Minnesota, I wanted to say to God, did you forget?  But as I (silently - there being no other choice) reflected on my predicament on Saturday, it occurred to me that perhaps the blessing had "taken" after all.  My voice held out all the way through my big public lecture on Friday, and even to the end of dinner.  Which was all that was necessary.

I wonder if I sometimes want grace to be graceful, like a ballet dancer effortlessly thwarting gravity and other laws of physics or poured out like oil, smoothly flowing.  Instead, grace sometimes rushes in at the last minute, arriving slightly out of breath and a bit rumpled.

Now I'm wondering about my general chemistry lecture tomorrow, and what the graces of that sacramental moment a few weeks past will look — and sound — like in the morning.  Hopefully better than I do at the moment!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The color of the day

Last Friday was Valentine's Day, and at the very end of the day one of my emeritus colleagues appeared in my office to show off his festively red jacket and matching socks.  Work has been fraught between snow days (will we finally have a "normal" week next week, will we have one before spring break?) and various issues and I had utterly forgotten down to the candy I had bought for my students two weeks before about the holiday.  I was charmed and cheered by the visit, but it was also bittersweet.

I suddenly missed my mother and the ways in which she celebrated even the little holidays.  Not with parties or big events, but with the little things.  Mashed potatoes tinted green for St. Patrick's day, a heart shaped cake for dessert (on a weekday!).   A special goodnight wish on the eve of birthdays - she once called me from London (in the days when that was not so easy) to say goodnight to me before I turned 36.

I have ached for my mother's loss these few days, though she died some years ago — the non-linearity of grief continues to surprise me.  My mother trained my eyes to see the little sparks of joy, she first taught me to seek God in all things.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Juggling Snow Balls

Tuesday's rumors were Thursday's reality.
The piles of snow next to my driveway are almost as tall as I am, and the end of the driveway is just barely wider than my MINI at this point.  I'm exhausted, not from shoveling snow, but from juggling snow related changes in schedule.  I feel like I've been holding up a physical tree, not just psychologically managing a decision tree:  if school is delayed by 2 hours, then the PMEA concert be shifted to 6 pm, else it's on at 4 pm,  unless of course, school is cancelled, at which point the concert is off.  If the concert is on, the trip to DC to see Crash's play is off, but if the concert is off, then Proof is on again.  Unless of course it snows.

And that's just one branch....

Why is uncertainty so tiring?  I'm tired of juggling the balls the snow is throwing at my calendar!

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Traveling lighter

A Peter Max stamp
After last fall’s peripatetic teaching adventure, I was happy to be planted firmly in one place for the last two months.  Now I’m back on an airplane again, somewhere between Philadelphia and Atlanta.  I parked in the garage at the airport, grabbed my bag and kept thinking, “what am I forgetting?” Finally, settled back in the same gate area where I’d waited to board with my students for the long trip to Japan last fall I figured it out. I was missing 15 students and 2 colleagues.  Ah.

I pulled my little writing journal out of my bag to jot a note on the train from the airport to the city and enjoyed browsing the pages from the fall.  Why didn't I ever write about the little ones going to school in Osaka, each with a numbered pinney and jaunty cap, many balanced precariously on their parent's bike?  Or my realization that the Google doodles were a bit like an ordo, marking off the feasts of the saints and blesseds of the secular world?

I enjoyed the graffitti on the freight train going past (what I pulled the journal out to jot down).  Some of it reminded me of Peter Max's art, and I would have been happy to have it cheering up a wall at my house. 

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Menu options

Too cold to drink!
Appearances to the contrary, I'm not totally indifferent to the temperature of my soda.  Living in Mexico, outside of Oaxaca, one summer, I learned to drink soda warm (no refrigeration in the village, don't ask what this means about buying a chicken for dinner at the market).  So I'll cheerfully drink a warm Diet Coke if that's what there is.  But I have to admit that even in the winter, after a brisk walk, I really enjoy a chilled beverage.  Water.  Soda.  Iced tea.  We don't have a large enough fridge to keep a huge stock cold, so I will tuck one or two things in to chill.

All too often I come back to find the can/bottle/pitcher on the counter.  Empty.  "Did you drink the iced tea?" I'll ask The Boy.  "Did it have your name on it?" he'll inquire.  Which means:  yes, and as we all know, anything unlabeled in the refrigerator is fair game for consumption.  And yes, you absolutely can come home to find only the dregs of the (unlabeled) pasta sauce you have defrosted for dinner.

Last night, I had put a couple of sodas in to chill for dinner.  Math Man found one and was delighted, but wondered if it might be mine (no, I put in one for each of us).  I teased him that I only drink about 1 in 5 of the drinks I chill.  I never remember to put a label on them.  

"We should change the default setting. If you didn't put it in there, it's not yours."  

"Is there a pull down menu for that on the refrigerator?"

I broke the news to The Boy this morning.  He says it's not an improvement from his perspective.