Friday, June 27, 2014

After Midnight

c. mike_tn via Flickr.  Used under Creative Commons license.
After midnight we're going to let it all hang out...J.J. Cale

Crash had some minor surgery this morning.  He's doing well, recuperating on the sofa and binge watching Game of Thrones (currently winding up Season 2).  He's working various odd jobs at Wonderful Jesuit University in DC this summer, with a stint coming up at the Navy archives, but came home for a long weekend.

He took the Megabus up, a form of transportation which is cheap and convenient, running as it does, all the day and half the night.  And it has Wi-Fi. Crash, alas, has bad Megabus karma.  Coming or going, one way or the other, he always seems to end up on a bus that is stuck in traffic in the wee hours of the morning.

Last night's construction on I-95 meant it took four hours for him to make the less than two and a half hour trip from DC to Philly and he arrived at 2:15 in the morning, well past the last train from the city to the 'burbs.  So I drove the half hour into Philly to get him, Route 30 to Route 1 to I-76 and back. I turned on news radio for company, only to hear that I-76 was shut down at the station for construction and Route 1 was closed except for one lane due to — yep, road construction,  repaving, actually.  Now I know when they do road construction -- after midnight.  Argh - was I ever going to get there?  Will I ever get Eric Clapton's cover of After Midnight out of my head?  We got home just before 3 am.  Totally toast.

On the other hand, his time karma improved this morning.  The surgeon's office called to see if they could move him earlier.  Sooner in, sooner done.  For which we were all grateful.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Summer reading

The local elementary school, where my children went, finished for the year last week.  I happened to be heading out to pick up Chris as they let out, and I watched the children flood from the school, clutching papers, book bags on their backs.  I remember clearing out those brightly colored back packs, fishing out the summer reading lists and math packets.

My kids would always cringe when I got my hands on the summer reading lists.  On one level I appreciate the curated list of suggestions, on the other, I felt strongly that learning to find books you would enjoy is a skill that supports reading independency and fluency, too.  So I was opposed to the "you must read three" from this list and only this list directions.  Read, yes.  Tied to this (generally pretty short) list?  No.

This week, after finally clearing out the backlog of work from the academic year, and two smaller scale writing projects, I started clearing up my office.  I have stacks of books on the floor, each for one project or another. The desert fathers and mothers.  Baking books (for a chemistry writing project).  The art of seeing.  Women deacons.  Hermits and anchoresses.  Never mind being walled up inside a church, I'm about to be walled up inside my study.
"For Elizabeth, with undying affection and admiration. 
Frederick & Claske Franck. 1965"

I've been cataloging my books as I return them to the shelves, using a (free!) program that lets me type in the ISBN number and then creates a full bibliographic record for the book.  I can tag entries up, and create lists that show which books are where.  And my quantitative self knows how many books were on the floor!

One stack remains tucked in the corner, saved for last.  Summer reading.  I've been tucking books away there since the fall, waiting for a time to enjoy what my kids called SSR (sustained silent reading).  Long stretches to read books and articles that aren't attached to any project, to travel to other times and places, to listen deeply to other viewpoints.

First on the stack is Outsider in the Vatican, Frederick Franck's illustrated account of Vatican II.  I bought the book second hand for a dollar, so imagine my surprise when I opened to find I had an inscribed copy. Who, I wonder, is Elizabeth?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Writing expectantly

I am working on a homily for the 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B in the Roman Catholic Lectionary).  Even though next year we are using the Cycle B readings, there will be no 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time, nor an 7th, 8th or 10th -- because of an early Easter.  So I'm writing well into the future (if I've figured it out correctly the next time there will be a 9th Sunday Ordinary time B I will be, God willing, in my 80s).  What I wonder, will people hope to hear in so many years?

Preparing to write this, I read Patrick Willson's homiletical perspective on Psalm 81 in the incredible rich series Feasting on the Word.  At the very end, he quotes John Webster (not that Webster, this Webster):

"The church exists in the space which is made by the Word...The church exists and continues because God is communicatively present; it is brought into being and carried by the Word."

Willson goes on to reflect about homilies in general. Do we "hope for a word from the One who pleads, 'if you would but listen to me!' or are [our] hopes confined to more ordinary hopes, that the sermon will be interesting and not too long?"  And this question, which reached me where I am right now, writing for times and places I may not see.  Am I writing with  "the expectation that God set apart and sanctify [my] carefully prepared words as a means of speaking God's own Word?"

Do I go to Mass in hope? Do I write in hope?

This sharply earthy reflection on Psalm 139 by Patrick Willson reminded me of Mike Leach's recent beautifully wrenching piece in NCR.

Related posts
Fierce Prayers (27 July 2012)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Perichoresis: Dancing Light

Photo is of light pouring down a glass staircase 
at Go'o Shrine on Naoshima Island, Japan.
A friend shared his delightful homily for Trinity Sunday, thinking I would enjoy the use of chemical bonding as a metaphor for the Trinity (which I did!).  In it the good deacon suggested meditating on Trinity, not as a noun — an object to be contemplated and theologized about — but as a verb — not the dancer, but the dancing.  Light rippling through the universe, as Robin preached so powerfully at Christmas.

I was the cantor at the vigil last night where we sang "How Wonderful the Three in One", which opens with "How wonderful the three in one, whose energies of dancing light are undivided..." and joked with the organist that it was an apt image for someone who does quantum mechanics for her day job!

About the installation at Go'o Shrine, by the artist Hiroshi Sugimoto, including a beautiful photo of the staircase from the bottom, light connecting heaven and earth.

Two more wonderful reflections for the Trinity:

Fran is reflecting about movement and the Trinity at There Will be Bread in Wheeeee! Some thoughts on the Trinity.  I love her Annie Lamott quote: "I didn’t need to understand the hypostatic unity of the Trinity; I just needed to turn my life over to whoever came up with redwood trees." and her image of the bottom dropping out of a carnival ride!

And Ennis Blue shared a poem with a title that I can relate to:  When the Holy Spirit danced with me in my kitchen
"the first thing I noticed was his arms,
thick and hairy like a bricklayer’s
with a tattoo of an anchor
as Churchill had.

‘Coming for a spin?’ he grinned,
in an accent more Geordie than Galilee,
and he whirled me
through tango, foxtrot and waltz
without missing a beat.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Summer school: Women Deacons

I'm taking a class this summer on women deacons in the Catholic tradition.  I read the book "Woman Deacons: Past, Present and Future" when it came out, and am looking forward to reading the newly translated essays by Cipriano Vagaggini on the ordination of women to the diaconate in the Eastern churches.  The materials include lectures by Sara Butler, Bill Dietwig and Gary Macy, in addition to Phyllis Zagano, who has organized the course out of Hofstra.

After years of producing screen casts and other virtual materials for my students, I'm enjoying being on the other end.  There are about 200 people enrolled from all over the world, which should lead to a rich discussion.

The course is free and you can sign up here if you are interested.

Friday, June 06, 2014

What to wear to Mass: Pajamas

Even now,
decades after,
I wash my face with cold water –

Not for discipline,
nor memory,
nor the icy, awakening slap,

but to practice
to make the unwanted wanted.

— Jane Hirshfield "A Cedary Fragrance" from Given Sugar, Given Salt

I spent last night as portress at the local shelter. Three little babies in residence, all of whom woke up simultaneoulsy at 10 pm, sending their mothers — gathered wearily at the table for a late dinner — scrambling back to their rooms, and thankfully not waking the overdone two year old who had finally surrendered to sleep.

The weather was unexpectedly cool and as midnight crept around, I wished for the sleeping bag I bring in the winter to spread on the cot by the door.  I pulled an extra blanket from the cupboard, and pulled the hood of my sweatshirt up.

The van came and picked up the guests at 6:25 and I did a last sweep of the common room to tidy up the coffee making gear before dashing across the parking lot to make the 6:30 am Mass, wearing what I'd slept in the night before.  My companion on the night shift, who spent the night on a bed set up in one of the offices down the hall, was standing by her car running a brush through her hair.  Having forgotten mine, I joked that at least one of us would be presentable.

The whole scene reminded me of the morning services in some of the Buddhist temples we stayed at in Japan, people coming from every direction at the sound of the bell.  My colleague, who spent time in a Buddhist monastery, recalled that one day the abbot sighed to him in a conference, "at least you could wash your face before you come!"

I had at least washed my face, even if I was wearing what I had slept in. And much of the night was spent practicing making the unwanted, wanted.

And yes, I went to Mass in sneakers wearing slept-in clothes with bed tousled hair, smelling faintly of l'eau de baby drool and I still believe in the Real Presence.  I washed my face, O Lord!

Listen to Jane Hirshfield read "A Cedary Fragrance"

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Writing en plein air

My sister-in-law painting en plein air
I've been working outside today, doing the hard work of structuring a sustained piece of writing. I suspect I have made progress.  I may even be able half done.  And it's been delightful to work in this enclosed space.  There are risks as well as delight in writing "en plein air"

Chipmunks. Their delight in the cherries falling onto the patio is not dimmed by my presence or the cats.  I looked up at one point to find myself eye to eye with one.

Teenagers.  Not mine, the LAX playing young man behind me having a loud inappropriate phone conversation with his friend via speakerphone.  What happened to texting?

Bugs. There are tiny mites everywhere, including, I suspect, inside my computer.  St. Isidore, pray for me. 

More Bugs.  Asian tiger mosquitoes.  Active during the day.  

Yet more bugs.  In my thermos of iced tea.  Caffeine, now with added protein.  

A rule for anchoresses: cats allowed

I'm trying to put together a piece on the eremetic life - a long essay in which I see the seeds of a book.  This morning, I'm trying to dig into the introduction of the piece, I feel as if I have a thousand threads I could grab to follow into the writing, but no good way to figure out which one to choose.

John Howard Griffin, Thomas Merton's long-time friend and biographer, spent six months living in Merton's hermitage after his death, reading his diaries and notes, soaking in solitude both internally and externally, using the solitude as a lens to see more deeply into Merton's life.

I'm outside today in the hermitage that is my back yard, alone until tonight, trying to use the solitude and stillness of the day as a lens to pick through the many threads and find one compelling enough to bring someone else into the "immense silence."

"You shall not possess any beast, my dear sisters, except only a cat." — from the Ancrene Wisse, Part 8: Of Domestic Matters [228]

I've been re-reading the Ancrene Wisse - a handbook for novice anchoresses written in the late 14th century, which talks about the inner rule which must be always kept, and the outer rule, which helped foster the inner rule, but ultimately falls away.  The advice about cats (and cows) is part of the outer rule!

I have Fluffy. Who proudly brought me a garden pest, then caterwauled when I declined to write with it at my feet.  No cows.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

A wink

I moved my office outside yesterday.  What do I need to work?  A stack of books (A Pernicious Sort of Woman, on late medieval canon law and religious women living without an approved rule - the title is alas a quote from the 2nd Lateran Council), pen, note pads, laptop, reading glasses, and a chilled thermos of aqueous caffeine. My breviary, for yes, I'm a religious woman living without an approved rule.  And of course, the office cat.

Ignatian Spiritualiy is celebrating its fifth anniversarty this month, and have put out a beautifully designed flipboard magazine with fifty two of their favorite posts. I had missed this one, God Winks, by Andy Otto when it first appeared.  Working out here is like being at a cocktail party, with someone I share inside jokes with, winking from across the room.  Wink. I look up to see three baby squirrels emerge from the nest in my neighbors tree, out to practice their walking on wire technique, chittering loudly and harrassing each other to no end.  The race out to the end of the wires, screech to a halt and use the pear tree to turn around.  (Mostly successfully, though there have been some near misses.) Wink.  A chipmunk pops up from the fern, delighted to have found a ripe wild cherry in the garden.

I am reading Follow the Ecstasy, a biography of Thomas Merton's last years - as he moved gradually to a hermitage on the monastery grounds, exploring the boundaries between the monastic life and the eremetic life, testing his limits and his community's limits.  As I sit in this green enclosure, alone, alternating between tending to the laundry, the last bits of paperwork from the academic year, my writing and my prayer, I'm wondering if I've not undertaken a similar experiment.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

The Clothes of Glory

As I waited in the back of church with the pastor and deacon for the Vigil Mass to begin yesterday, the commentator announced that we were celebrating the Fifth Sunday of Easter.  The pastor leaned over and murmured, "that can't be right, is it the 6th?"  "It's the 7th," I assured him.  It's easy to lose count as our memories of the celebration of Easter shift into the "more than a month ago" bin of our memories.  I was sure, because I am 'preaching' this weekend - having written a homily for the 7th Sunday of Easter in Naked and You Clothed Me.

As I rode my bike to run errands yesterday, I was aware of all the people out and about on a gloriously exquisite summer day.  Children, babies in strollers, my almost 80 year-old neighbor walking the dog. It's easier to notice them when I'm moving slower.  And I'm more alert to my surroundings overall when I ride.  Bikes are a vulnerable method of transportation, as I share the road with cars operated by drivers who are not all as attuned as I am to the surroundings.  I cried, "no..." as two cars (neither of whom stopped at the stop sign) came within a foot of colliding.  Tight inside their bubbles, no one heard me yell — or my sigh of relief.

I saw too, the people who the people in their automotive bubbles are well buffered against.  The elderly African-American man struggling with his scooter in the parking lot of the dialysis center, trying to maneuver around potholes and curbs to get to the bus stop on Lancaster Ave.  The exhausted nursing aids walking an extra half mile along a road with no sidewalks, because the trolley fare drops at the station one before the hospital. The clerk from the 24 hour convenience store at the gas station, his bright orange smock rumpled, sagging against the rough hewn electric pole, waiting for the bus.  Bike riding is kenotic.

The rides and this Sunday's reading have me pondering C.S. Lewis' essay The Weight of Glory again. We are to be clothed in glory, we are cherished children of God.  Each of us. Yet somehow we chose to clothe ourselves in hard shells, insulating us from the noise and sounds and smells of our brothers and sisters. We think, as do the people in this video, that the clothes that matter, the clothes that draw us to be attentive, are the clothes of respectability.  Not the cloak we all wear, the glory we are clothed in by Christ's death and resurrection.
"We hear over and over again in the scriptures the promise that we shall be clothed in glory. In his essay The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis tries to help us imagine what glory might look like on us, as if it were a cloak we are trying on now to see how it might fit on us in eternity. What might it be like, Lewis asks, to stand before God and have God appreciate us for who we are, what we have accomplished—to see in God’s face how we are cherished, to know in our depths that God rejoices in what He has made? 
It’s an overwhelming thought. Even so, Lewis proposes flipping the contemplation around to ponder what is, at least to me, an even more oversetting reality: none of us are ordinary, that “[n]ext to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” Imagine the driver that just cut you off, the neighbor whose political stance you find untenable, or the homeless woman foraging just after dawn in the dumpster behind the grocery store standing before God wrapped—as are you—in a garment of glory and light. Would you still blast your horn, tell them off, or walk past? Or would you be drawn to see them as they are, images of the glorified Christ, cherished creations of the God of glory?" — from a homily for the 7th Sunday of Easter, cycle A