Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Memory charms

Photo of Thomas Great Hall
at Bryn Mawr College

c. Bart Everson.  Used under CC license.
Yes, I work at a place that bears a passing resemblance to Harry Potter's Hogwarts.  In my building, as at Hogwarts, not every stairway goes where you think it does.  I teach Potions to first year's at times and since I've an exam in progress this week, there may be some that wished for a memory charm.

The battery on my little pedometer ran out last week, which I discovered when the TSA people had me run it through the X-ray again.  I finally got around to doing something about the lack of electrons yesterday.  I thought I had another battery for it, but couldn't recall where I had put it in my study.  Ah, I did remember that the device had sent me an email when the battery was low last time, complete with information on the battery type.

I searched "fitbit battery" in my email and what came up but an message with the subject:  "fitbit battery is clipped to the wall folder hanger in my study."  It felt like magic. How did I know I'd need that information?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hermeneutic of exhaustion

It's been a crazy couple of weeks, where despite my best intentions, I ended up working 12 straight days without a break.  Mindful of nettles and myrtle, I am grateful for work that is sustaining, in literal and metaphorical ways, and that is extraordinarily stable.  But a number of conversations this week have left me thinking about how we read the rhythms of work and rest.  Are more hours construed as more devoted, more passionate, or just more?  Is rest something that we must collapse into, or is it built into the order of our day?  We speak of a well-earned rest, but what does it take to earn such grace?

Of course, the ability to ask these questions is itself a luxury. A few weeks ago, the New York Times had an article about shift work, and the ways in which the lack of a predictable and regular schedule, — a rhythm of work — can make it difficult or even impossible to meet the basic needs of life, from a place to live, to time for sleep and care for a family's children.  Over these days I've been aware of those I see working odd hours: the grocery store clerks re-stocking early in the morning, the baggage people there when my plane lands at 9 pm, the woman working the desk at the hotel overnight.  No matter how out of control my schedule feels, the bulk of it is not this much out of my control.

After this crazy busy rush, this weekend I made time to do my laundry, to sit and meditate in the warm rose and cobalt blue light of the parish's stained glass windows.  I walked with Math Man, wrote and read.

This afternoon I picked up Monastic Practices by Charles Cummings, a Trappist monk from Holy Trinity Abbey, written in the late 1980s after he'd been a Cistercian for almost a quarter of a century.  It's a practical book in some ways, grounding the customs of a monastery in Benedict's rule and lived experience in equal measures, which reminds me of First Initiation into Carthusian Life (it oh so practically covers laundry as well as prayer).

Cummings notes that while being and doing are two parts of who we are, and both need to be appreciate.  But being comes before doing, being trumps doing.  I risk doing so much that I fail to be, that I lose the ground I  stand on.  God, in whom I live and move and have my being.

Two other thoughts from the chapter that I'm thinking about.  "Monastic manual work brings me again and again up against the obduracy of things." and the notion that we might take on more work than we should to insulate ourselves from what might be found in prayer and contemplation.

And in all this I learned this is a journal called "Mystics Quarterly" (they reviewed Cumming's book when it first came out).  Do mystics need a journal?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Thorn bushes and nettles, cypress and myrtle

In place of the thorn bush, the cypress shall grow; instead of nettles, the myrtle. Isaiah 55:13a

I was the reader at Lauds this morning, the text from Isaiah's 55th chapter:  Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the water.

For some reason I looked at the rest of the chapter later today.  Thorn bushes and nettles, cypress and myrtle. I could make a list of today's nettles:

I spent over 90 minutes with UPS on the phone today, trying to figure out why their insurance people still haven't managed to pick up The Egg's broken computer, despite repeated assurances over the last three weeks that "it will be picked up tomorrow."   
A piece of research equipment that was ordered last week was "stuck" in the system. 
Unbloggable work issues. 
But images of the cypress trees in the cemetery at Wernersville are dancing at the edges of my vision, reminding me of a late evening walk there last week, and the deep welling water that was God in the silence.

Cypress and myrtle.  Their growth means there is water stirring somewhere.  Cool.  Quenching. Life-giving water.

The company that made the sink offered to replace it. 
And public safety called, they found my breviary, dropped from bag as I got out of the car in the parking lot this morning.  And as it doesn't have my name in it, it took them a bit of detective work to figure out who it might belong to.   
My students.

Cracks are how the light gets in: Catastrophic fractures and community

"There is a crack, a crack, in everything.
That's how the light gets in." — Leonard Cohen

The picture at the left feels to me as if it were pulled straight from Leonard Cohen's lyrics from Anthem, the cracks are beautifully brilliant in the morning sun, alive with the light.

I have an entire box of these glittering stones.  It used to be my bathroom sink.  Yesterday, the sink underwent a catastrophic, spontaneous fracture.  More precisely, my sink blew up in my face.  Without warning.

I was watering the plants on the window sill and had set the succulent in the cache pot to soak for a minute while I wiped down the ledge.  I reached out to turn the water on and the sink exploded, blowing chunks of glass ten feet out the open door and down the stairs. And I screamed.

I hasten to say that it was tempered glass, and other than a few scratches on my arms, I was undamaged.  I was however, most certainly unnerved.  I stood there, amid the sparkling glass, in my sock feet, looking at the completely destroyed sink and said, "What the f--k just happened?"1

There was this odd crinkling sound, as the glass chunks continued to fracture.

I cleared a path out of the bathroom, found a pair of shoes, corralled the cat (who wanted to investigate), then dashed to answer the phone.  It was Math Man, just calling to say hello in between golf game and afternoon meeting.  It was good to hear his voice. "Should I come home?"  No, I assure him, it's just a mess to clean up and I'm unhurt.

But what happened?  The sink and water and room were all at the same temperature, I'd just had the water on a minute before.  Nothing hit the sink, the pot had just been sitting there. Had I gone momentarily mad and smashed the sink with...with what?  No hammers up here. I did what any reasonable human being with an internet connection would do.  I did a search.  I typed in "glass sink e" at which point Google suggested "glass sink explodes."  I breathed a sigh of relief.  I was not alone.2

1.  The first time I ever heard Crash use the word, he hadn't realized I was in the room.  I can't quite recall what had happened, but it was definitely worthy of an imprecation.  He blanched.  I looked at him and said there were times and places to use that sort of language, and that this was certainly one of them.  Which made him blink.
2.  Community is a wonderful thing.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Corpus Christi

Me, no glasses.
On this day, forty nine years ago, I received the Eucharist for the first time.

I still have the dress, but not the veil, which was my mother's communion veil, too.  We sat in the front pew, which meant I could see what was going on.  I was so nearsighted in those days that I had no idea you could actually see each individual leaf on a tree.  But since I'd always seen the world in a blur, I never noticed, and it wasn't until third grade when I was moved to a seat several rows back in the classroom that I realized I couldn't read anything on the flip charts.

My mother, wearing the same veil.
Father John Sullivan heard my first confession the day before, and Father John Coholan, a Maryknoll missioner and English professor, who learned his role only a few minutes before Mass began, was that Sunday's celebrant.  I was the only first communicant, having been accidentally catechized the spring before, and both my parents and the pastor (who had quizzed me over the summer) were convinced I was prepared for what I desired and not inclined to make me wait a full year more.  So on a warm September Sunday, I knelt at the altar rail, and to the words "Corpus Christ," I responded, "Amen."

I can still remember the aching desire to receive, and my relief that my parents and pastor took my request seriously.

Someone asked me this morning why I am marking 49, not 50?  It's a perfect square of a sacred number:  7 x 7? Once a geek, always a geek.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Dropping the other shoe

Crash heads to Ireland.
I drove up to the old Jesuit novitiate on Monday night to see my spiritual director, and to take a brief, but much needed plunge into the silence.  I was looking forward to two long walks, after dinner and early in the morning.  Somehow between taking my sneakers from the house to the car (along with my overnight bag, my lunch and my school bag), I dropped one.  Or perhaps I knocked it out of the back of the car when I was unloading the teaching supplies I picked up midmorning?  All I know is that after dinner, when I walked back to the car to get my shoes, there was only one. The left.

The shoes I had worn to work were not precisely walking shoes, but would certainly do as long as  I stuck to the paved paths.  I let go of the plan to walk the hedgerows toward the frascati and just headed down the hill toward the Jesuit cemetery.  I sat on the benches and prayed for the men buried there, and my own beloved dead.  I watched the full moon climb higher in the sky, astonished at how clearly I could see the craters on its surface.  And I contemplated my missing shoe, and what it might have to say about the other things I am missing (and not) in my life.

The Egg begins his college orientation.
A post I wrote a couple of weeks ago, about surrendering what I have been given, and what I hold onto appeared today at DotMagis, and as is often the way of it, others are writing funny, beautiful and poignant reflections about letting go and holding on. To memories, to visions of church and to kitchens.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Depths of Plum

"Slivka" by Maciarka - Own work. Licensed under 
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 
The plum tree out front has been ransacked by the local squirrel population.  As soon as the green fruit appeared, I started seeing them sampling the fruit.  The last few weeks, as soon as I spotted a deep violet globe in the depths, a squirrel would be on it in a flash, chirruping gleefully.

Reading an essay last weekend I ran across Natasha Trethewey’s elegant poem Tableau with it's warm images of plums, so plump I wanted to pluck them off the page and eat them.  Which reminded me of William Carlos Williams' short poem This is Just to Say...which I imagined could inspire the squirrels to ask me for forgiveness.

I have eaten
the plums
that were on
your tree 
and which
you were probably
of turning into jam 
forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so warm.

As I hung laundry out to dry in today's warm breezes, perhaps prompted by the images of the man's hands on the plum in Trethewey's poem, my hands moving on the line reminded me of my great-grandmother's hands hanging out laundry behind her warm sandy brick house in Illinois. The rhythm of it as she hung the sheets. Clip, slide, smooth, clip.  The snap of sheets in the wind.