Thursday, July 31, 2014

Luminesce: For the feast of Ignatius of Loyola

Ite, omnia incendite, et inflammate! 
Go, and set the world on fire!  
— St. Ignatius of Loyola to St. Francis Xavier, upon missioning him to India

A few weeks ago, at the end of an evening gathering of writers I was at, a priest/writer closed the night with a poetic blessing.  One word in particular wove its way through her benediction, "luminous..." which my brain insisted on rewriting as the imperative "luminesce!"

Luminescence is light that comes from within a material, photons shed as atoms and molecules change state.  It's not reflected, it does not consume like a flame. It's kenotic, releasing what has been hidden within.  

The usual translation of Ignatius' words to Francis Xavier is, "Go, set the world on fire!" (Or the looser translation I found here:  "Go kick some butt!") But like the archetype eats/shoots/leaves meme - without certain knowledge of the punctuation, it's ambiguous. Does inflammate go with omnia or with ite?

I might be willing to translate it as "Go, set everything alight, and be aflame!" Pour forth the light that has been poured forth into you.  Luminesce.

Happy feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola!

Warning on the video. I found the music to be grating, mute it and play something lilting and classical.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The effects of plastic spectacles on the condition and behaviour of pheasants

"Blinders (poultry)".  Via Wikipedia 
Since I've come back from my stint in Collegeville, I've been trying to start each day with a short warm-up writing exercise.  I've been avoiding fussing over prompts (or at least avoiding link diving through the interwebs in search of a "good" prompt) and using ones I've used while teaching or that we used at the workshop.  I pick, set the timer for 10 minutes and write.

I remain mystified that I can write 300 words (that with some editing could be just fine) in 10 minutes, but can struggle to produce that many in a morning "on topic"?  I may try some quick writing with the essay I'm working on now.

Today's prompt was to write the beginning of the essay with the title The effects of plastic spectacles on the condition and behaviour of pheasants.  A paper with that title appeared in a literature search I ran yesterday (which I assure you had nothing to do with spectacles, pheasants or plastic -- so I'm at a loss to tell what keyword made it pop up, and I was too disciplined to actually look at the paper).  As I know nothing of avian eyeglasses, I was free to make it up, and did...
We offer a choice of frames, lively and colorful for the male of the species, that won’t fall off during particularly high-spirited mating displays.  For the ladies, something genteel, as befitting the decision maker.  Both anti-glare, and polarized lenses are available upon request.  As many find lenses fog up when they are flushed by the dogs, ask about our anti-fog lens cloths.  Young pheasants can be fitted for their first set of spectacles when they fledge...
I spent some time working through how you might keep spectacles on a pheasant.  Do they wear monocles, the lenses held in by pure muscle power?  Do they go over the head with a strap, like WW I aviator googles? Over lunch I looked up pheasant spectacles.  They are a thing, it turns out, used to prevent caged birds from pecking out their own feathers or cannibalizing their eggs.  They are also considered cruel, as the bridge is inserted through the bird's nose to keep them from sliding off. While I am frequently annoyed by glasses that slip down on my nose, this is not a solution I would be pleased with, either!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Time present and time past

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
The Boy wrote a couple of weeks ago about what happens behind the scenes when seven shows share one stage over eight weeks.  Some weeks they have have one show or two shows running and one or two more in final rehearsals, and need to be able to change up the sets in under 12 hours.  Whew.

The time-lapse is of an entire season (in fact the first one The Boy spent at Summer Stage). I've tried over and over to catch the few frames in which that show is rehearsing or running, but can never quite manage to stop it at the right spot.  I catch one glimpse of lights in the upper left, where the show's narrator stood, but the images and the time slip through my fingers like silk.

The Boy leaves for his California College in less than three weeks.  Today he asked me to look for a photo from a show he did in 7th grade.  I swept through photos on my computer, watching him race his hamster in a ball to putting on a tux to sing in his first high school concert to grinning as he sits with his brother on the 4th of July in DC.  I try to freeze the frames, remembering when he had to stretch to reach the mixer and how he calmly climbed up the Beehive trail in Acadia National Park.  I see all 70-plus inches of him stride down the aisle of the local Presbyterian Church to sing his solo in Carmina Burana.  The frames move so fast, my eyes blur.  And I can hold on to none of it.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Dust of Kyoto

Kyoto's dust is still on my bag.

I was at a lecture last week about the porous boundaries between prose and poetry.  Poet and prose writer Susan Sink spoke about the practice of haikai no renga, the communal writing of linked short verses (haiku).  The honored guest poet began with a single prompt verse (the hokku), and each poet in turn added a verse in response.

There were arcane rules to some games (if there was a verse on love, a second in the same theme must follow and perhaps a third, but never a fourth), and runs of 36 and 100, versions played by mail, and collections that were edited after the fact (my favorite collection title:  Scrap Paper Coverlet, edited by Yosa Buson, an 18th century Japanese poet).  The original game favored humor, often ribald humor (think sake-fueled poetry slam), and was wildly popular but grew more staid with time.

Matsuo Bashō (furu ike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto // The ancient pond / a frog jumps in / the sound of water) was not only the acknowledged master of the art of haiku, but a master teacher, as well. Susan shared some of Bashō's haiku including this one:
Even in Kyoto
hearing the cuckoo's cry
I long for Kyoto.
I was in Kyoto last fall, and would return in a heartbeat.  The verse made me realize that I still have Kyoto to hand, for my trusty waxed canvas bag surely has the dust of Kyoto on it, as well as a hearty dose of incense from Koya, a dash of Minnesota moss, and a flick of Philadelphia's grime.

Thirty different translations of Bashō's famous frog haiku into English, in case you don't like the one I selected from Donald Keene.

You can read more about haiku no renga here or in Earl Miner's book Japanese Linked Poetry (the fifth chapter - I found it in Bryn Mawr's library).

Sunday, July 20, 2014


I learned to wash myself with incense in Japan. 

How to douse the tiny fires with a firm blast of air from my hand, freeing the smoke to rise and dance.  How to pour it over my head, letting humility settle gently on my shoulders.  How to slowly breathe it in, purifying me from the inside out.  How to twirl it around my hand like a wisp of hair, that what ails it, too, might be made whole.

I went to Mass at the Abbey today.  Incense poured down the aisle like a carpet rolled out before the Gospel,  breaking over the monks processing in statio, urging them onward, onward, pushing them two by two over the edge into the depths.

We sang, we prayed, we proclaimed, we preached, we sacre-ed the gifts. I slid down the pew to join the procession to receive, stepping off the edge to find myself bathed in incense that had hovered patiently all this time in the aisle.  Pouring over my head, like baptism.  ...and my soul shall be healed.

This is grace that clings. Not like the water splashed on forehead, dashed onto to my shoulders, awkwardly left dripping from my hands, its molecules making a mad dash into the atmosphere. I am enveloped, infiltrated. I imagine it resting in pools in my lungs, swirling out each time I speak, seeping onto my pillow with each breath, surrounding me as I sleep. I am an indwelling of the Spirit.

Hours later I  can still smell it on my hands, reminded again and again that I am forgiven, I am healed, I am sacre-ed. Each time I raise my cup of tea, or set my glasses more firmly on my nose, its scent gathers my frayed prayers together, and sends them aloft.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Shreds of dreams

I'm staying at the apartments at the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Culture Research on the grounds of St. John's Abbey this week.  The view from my back patio is gorgeous, gnarled branches, ripples fanning out over the surface of the lake.  The sound scape is equally enrapturing. Ravens caw — appropriately enough for a Benedictine abbey — leaves shiver in the wind, trees shift and groan, fat horseflies thwok against my hat.  And the abbey bells call out the hours and the Hours.

We are workshopping each other's writing each afternoon, and my piece is early in the rotation. I've never done this before, and while I didn't think I was anxious, my unconscious clearly did. The first night here I had dreams of people coming in to my apartment, which was filled with shredded white tissues.  I have no trouble reading that one, thank you.

For forty years, the apartments at the Institute have sheltered scholars and their writing.  The walls of the abbey have clearly absorbed a half-century of prayer, which begs the question, how much writing anxiety have the walls of these rooms seen?

The monks leave out a brochure to help you navigate the liturgies with "a minimum amount of anxiety."  Should there be something similar in each apartment to help with writer's block and scholarly anxieties?  Perhaps the bowl of chocolate and fruit that the incredible staff keeps stocked for us, is balm enough.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Defining pilgrimages

"Once theophanies are localized, pilgrimages necessarily follow." — from Pilgrimages in the Catholic Encylopedia

The Stella Maris chapel is across the lake from the Abbey of St. John, where I've was on retreat before heading to a writing workshop at the Collegeville Institute, which is also on St. John's campus.  The trail to the chapel from the abbey guesthouse runs for about 2 miles alongside the lake and along the way there is a sign inviting walkers to "make a pilgrimage" to the chapel

The materials on the chapel on the Saint John's website note that since its most recent renovation it has become less a place of pilgrimage than a destination for a walk.

I set out one afternoon of the retreat, with the chapel as a destination for a walk.  About three-quarters of a mile into the walk, a sign planted firmly in the middle of the trail warned of a closed trail ahead, and pointed toward a detour through the trees that ring the ridge around the lake.  I looked twice, three times at the path that led through a picture perfect marsh, with dragon flies dancing around the cat tails, clear water flowing through and around it, water lilies floating like buoys just offshore.  I imagined the fish and the pollywogs swimming under the surface.  Just how closed was closed, exactly?

Then I imagined walking in wet shoes for the next week and headed up the hill.

Away from the lake's cool breezes, the bugs grew fierce, and the walk more penance than recreation.  How far did you have to walk for something to be a pilgrimage? Was it the walk that made the pilgrim, or the destination?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


I am on retreat at St. John's Abbey, before heading tomorrow to a writing workshop at the Collegeville Institute, which is just across the street from the abbey.

Listen is the first word of the rule of St. Benedict:

Obsculta, o fili, præcepta magistri, et inclina aurem cordis tui ...

Listen, my son, to your master's precepts, and incline the ear of your heart.

I'm listening, deeply. Chanting the Liturgy of the Hours is like drinking water, drawn up from a deep well.  The silences between the phrases are like Abba Moses' cell.  I sit in them, and they teach me everything.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Trampled by Disney princesses

I went to The Boy's show tonight.  It's a Disney revue (check out the Lilo and Stich bow tie and Lion King face paint), and the audience was packed with miniature Disney princesses.  Elsa to the left of me, Elsa to my right, Elsa behind me.

When the real Elsa came on stage, the little Aurora next to me gasped, "Elsa!" Snow came dancing down from the ceiling, thunder cannons went off.  The Electric Light Parade redux was astounding (I will date myself by saying that I saw the parade when it first played at Disneyland).  It was a great show and I loved the energy of cast and audience.

The last piece had the cast in the aisles, singing The Circle of Life. As it ended, the mother next to me almost climbed over me to get out.  Politely, I must say.  When I suggested she might want to wait until the cast cleared the aisles, she thought that was a good idea.  But once the cast was out, it was every princess for herself.

The rush to get your photo with Elsa or Merida or Jasmine was intense. The lines were long, with the staff from the show keeping the line moving.  "Just one picture, please!"  I waited in Merida's line -- not because I was a hot shot archer in college -- but because her assigned handler was so handsome I had to take his picture. #ProudMother

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

A Crash Course: Gratitude and Delight

The Boy with periodic table bow tie 
and cast members from The Circle of LIfe
The Boy is working for a local musical theater company (its alums include Tina Fey and one of the priests at my parish) which opened its 39th season today.  His paid work is for the marketing and publicity group, but he is also an unpaid assistant stage manager and has a role in the main stage production of Shrek.  Part of his job is to write about the program, and I have really enjoyed watching him chronicle his adventures.  Crash has blogged almost as long as I have (seven years), writing his way into and out of high school and college, but this is a new zone for The Boy.

The first three weeks have meant 14 hours days, but he leaves bouncing and comes home exhausted, but still grinning.  The hard work of getting a show cast and rehearsed and ready to perform in three weeks is done, but he writes that he has learned a lot.  I am touched by his sense of delight not only in performing but in running the small, but necessary errands.  If you ask him what he does, he says he solves "singular problems."  But I'm truly moved by the gratitude he expresses.  I'm incredibly proud of him.

Summer has many small delights for which I am grateful, too.  Stratoz is writing here about a long day after which he walks to hear God speaking in the flowers, while Robin is writing about rediscovering wonder, and MaryBeth is praying to be still, praying to be.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Ignatian Spirituality: Give whirled peas a chance

Mateusz Tokaski Still Life with Pea
It's July, which means that Ignatian Spirituality is celebrating St. Ignatius' upcoming feast with 31 days of posts old and new.  The theme this year is finding God in unexpected places, and my reflection on encountering God's gentle sense of humor appeared last week.   I loved the layers of puns in the title the editor gave it:  God surprises in peas and teas

“You know I don’t eat anything green,” insisted my youngest son, pushing his plate of mashed potatoes, meat loaf, and green peas away from him with a single finger. Arms crossed, six-year-old Chris glared at me across the dining room table. His older brother stuck a fork in the meat loaf, and startled, peered more closely at his plate and grinned. He, at least, was on to me."
You can read the rest at DotMagis.

Tenth anniversary of the blog

Wordle made from text of this year's posts.

Ten years ago today, I wrote my first post for this blog.  In those ten years I have written 1150 posts, to which visitors have contributed 3200 comments.

There have been more than 200,000 visits to the blog over that time. The most visited day was 10 March this year, the most visited month was March of 2012 (when I was blogging through the Stations of the Cross).

Half my visitors arrive from ISPs in the US or Canada, but regular visitors arrive from France, the Phillipines, Zimbabwe and The Holy See.  The RevGalBlogPals, Ignatian Spirituality's Dot Magis,  and Robin's Beautiful and Terrible send me many visitors.

First post:  Podkayne's downfall

Most popular posts:
Verbing weirds language (why, I haven't the foggiest notion)
What happened to sugar cube replicas of the Forum?  (The tale of The Boy's Latin project, referenced on a list read by many Latin teachers)
Is it OK to plagiarize a homily? Discuss.  (No, of course it isn't...but people google it all the time)
Can you microwave duct tape?  (Lots of people want to know, but the post doesn't answer the question -- which must frustrate visitors)
Matins (about praying late at night and Hurricane Sandy's aftermath)
Column: Before all else give thanks  (with a bit of wisdom from my friend Wayne in the comments)
Tantum Quantum (Ignatian indifference meets reality on a snow day)

Thank you to all who visit, read, link, and share their own wisdom in the comments.  Thank you for helping me find my voice as a writer.  Thank you for walking the roads with me, through laundry and sleepless nights.  Through the Spiritual Exercises and back out again.  And I'm grateful for all those I have met, virtually and in real life, through the blog.  You have enriched my life in so many ways. 

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Distraction-proof liturgy

There are many who live in the mountains and behave as if they were in the town; they are wasting their time. It is possible to be a solitary in one's mind while living in a crowd; and it is possible for those who are solitaries to live in the crowd of their own thoughts. — Amma Syncletica

The photo is of three rocks, set outside a tea house at a temple in Kyoto. The rocks would be set on the path when a tea ceremony was in progress, to keep passers-by from accidentally interrupting the proceedings.  

PrayTell posted my question about materials for engaging young children in the liturgy in their Non Solum feature.  It's a holiday weekend, so there hasn't been much discussion, but the little there has been is fascinating.  I asked about ways to engage children with the liturgy itself, not for strategies for keeping them amused while the rest of us participate.  But of the three comments there, two are about how to prevent children from being distractions (avoid liturgies at which they are present, don't bring loud toys for them).  

Can we distraction-proof a liturgy? Should we?  Push the children aside until they are "fully conscious" of what they are about (are any of us fully conscious of what we are about in this space?)?  What about the cell phones going off?  The man with dementia who mutters loudly during the homily?  Could we silence the hiss of the oxygen tank used by the man in the front row?  And even if we could get the distracting people out of the church, would we stop the train that rumbles by, a mere forty feet away from the ambo? I think not.

Perhaps the deeper question is how do we have Amma Syncletica's undistracted minds living in a crowded church?

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Beyond the cry room: Missals and children at Mass

There is a photo of a pew card reassuring parents that their children are welcome at Mass making the rounds on social media.  The card suggests to parents that it is OK to sit in the front, and reminds others that our future is our children.  It made me think how we welcome families with young children.  Having once been ousted from a church before Mass even began, this is an issue that matters to me.

Many years ago, about five minutes before Mass was to start, my 2 year old's movements in the pew that we alone occupied were deemed too loud by the couple a few pews ahead. I note he was not talking, he was not putting the kneelers up and down, but he was putting his books down with a loud clunk.  In a liturgical space designed to amplify noise without a microphone, any noise is noisy. They complained to an usher and we were ushered out.  As I stopped to button his coat in the entrance to the church, tears were running down my face.  I was mortified. I was distraught at being denied communion.  The sacristan stopped me, wondering what was wrong.  I explained, remarkably calmly, scooped up Crash and left. Welcome, it seemed, we were not.

(The irony of this is that Crash now has a reputation of being a stealth altar server.  He moves through the space of the liturgy, doing what needs doing, without fuss.  He almost slips between the molecules of air.)

In my parish, we baptize at Mass, and the assembly is asked to support the parents in raising their children in the faith.  We can certainly make families feel welcome by tolerating the noise they make, and the inevitable wriggling that comes with children. (I can remember telling Math Man that prayer was a full body workout when the boys were very young.) But how else do we help families bring children into the fullness of their faith?

Missals?  We have hymnals and missalettes available (on the back table, not in the pews) for adults but nothing for children of any age.  There is a basket of random books in the back of the vestibule, many of them religious, but with a definite admixture of Disney.  Why don't we have a children's missal tucked in every pew?  Or in a basket on the back table next to the missalettes?  Why isn't there a list of books on the Mass that parents could purchase in a flyer in the back, with reviews by our catechetical staff?

And why aren't there good missals for children, particularly young ones.  This is my missal from when I was very young (and yes, I could still lay hands on it fifty years later, on the shelf with the rest of my missal collection).  The Mass was still in Latin.  It's illustrated by a well known sacred artist, there are sketches to let me follow the action, the facing pages connected the Mass to scriptural sources, with a rich illustration.  It is a beautiful and dignified prayer book, something I'm hard pressed to say about this or this. Why should not children have access to missals that are, like the books used to to celebrate the liturgy, " truly worthy, dignified, and beautiful" [GIRM 349]?  And sturdy -- our faith isn't flimsy!