Sunday, August 30, 2015

Ask me about my vow of silence

Actually don't, since I can't answer you. My voice vanished completely on Thursday morning, lost on I-95 somewhere between Washington, DC and Bryn Mawr.  It went from squeaks and squeals to nothingness; at the moment it's back, though a bit rough and limited to very short conversations, as the Theologically Inclined Philosopher can attest.

This is mostly a non-issue as there is no one at home to talk to, the boys are back at college and Math Man has been at a series of workshops. I don't have to teach, I'm not cantoring.  Fluffy is content with silence as long as there are crunchies in her bowl (and doesn't accept excuses if there are not).

I posted on Facebook a photo captioned "Morning prayer at the hermitage" — taken in the backyard, and meant to be somewhat tongue in cheek commentary on my lack of voice and the absence of other residents of the household, but which led some people to assume I'd gone away on retreat.

I am at home, but it feels as if the rest of the world has retreated.  The neighborhood is cloaked in its usual August silence, not even the howl of lawn mowers or the grumble of air conditioners disturbed the quiet. The cicadas tweet, the cardinals pipe, the leave rustle, but that's about it.

I wrote, I read, I prayed the office for the feasts of St. Monica and St. Augustine and the Passion of St. John. I cooked. I did the laundry. And for three days I didn't talk to anyone.

It's been a fascinating experience, different from a silent retreat: I'm working, I'm not having a daily meeting with a spiritual director, or chanting monastic offices.

Today I went to Mass - the inability to sing was painful.  Wednesday I'm off to see Patient Spiritual Director for the first time since Lent (he's been ill.)  But there will be more silence to explore.

Where past and future are gathered

The huge high school I attended. Enrollment was almost 
twice the number of people in the town I grew up in

"What might have been is an abstraction Remaining a perpetual possibility"

I have returned The Egg to his Small California College, and ferried Crash to Wonderful Jesuit University.  In the interstices of the California trip, I spent a day with a friend I've known for more than four decades, a "sister of another mother," as she would say.

We went to Mass at the parish where we spent high school singing in the folk group, where the "new church" has been redone twice since we first sang there.  We talked and we talked and we talked.  We shared a meal. I met her darling daughter, who is taller than I am (yes, I know, isn't everyone? or at least everyone over the age of 10?). It was a day full of  grace and joy.
California house.  Six kids and a dog.  #NotTheBradyBunch

The Sunday was also the 34th anniversary of my marriage to Tom, an event at which Other Sister stood by me. The 23rd anniversary of my marriage to Math Man is nearly upon us.

I drove up to my dad's the next day and spent many hours with him going through old photographs.  I found a lock cut from my infant mother's hair, still soft and so, so blond. There were pictures of from my dad's extended family going back to the late 19th century. Past and future gathered.

My maternal grandmother wrote many notes about my mother when she was little.  It's odd to read of her hopes and delights when both she and my mother have been gone for so many years.  I wonder (in the abstract) what my descendants will think if they should ever happen upon what I've written.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Choose. A homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time.

"Sugus" by aTarom
I wrote this homily for the collection Sick, and You Cared For Me (part of the Homilists for the Homeless series - all the profits go to aid the poor), which was published last fall.  We called the candies, "eggman candy" because we called the farmer who brought the egg the eggman.  He always kept a few of these Swiss sweets tucked into his basket.

It's not the big choices that confound me, but the little ones.  The choices I sometimes don't even realize are choices until I reach the examen at the end of the day.

This is a homily I wish I could preach aloud.

“Choose,” urges my mother, as I peer into the basket the farmer set down in our dim front hallway. The pale grey cartons of eggs are stacked on one side, a sharp contrast to the brightly colored candy on the other. I clutch a nickel in my small hand; do I want purple or red? Is there no green apple? Candy was an infrequent treat in my rural childhood, making it so hard for me to choose.

Forty-some years later I’m sitting in a sun-drenched office overlooking the Atlantic, clutching a cup of tea, listening to my director explain the next step in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the Meditation on Two Standards. “It will be here to see a great plain, comprising the whole region about Jerusalem, where the sovereign Commander-in-Chief of all the good is Christ our Lord,” says Ignatius, “and another plain about the region of Babylon, where the chief of the enemy is Lucifer.” Lucifer sits on a thrown of fire and smoke; Jesus stands in a lowly place. Their standards are flying; the battle lines are drawn. Choose.

For anyone drawn to spend four weeks walking with Christ through the Spiritual Exercises, the bare choice itself isn’t hard. It’s already been made. As Joshua proclaims in the first reading, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Or is it? Many of the disciples walking with Jesus in John’s Gospel complained that the choice was tough, sklērós it says in the Greek, as something dried up and hard to chew on. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you,” Jesus has said to them just before this Gospel opens. Words that scandalized them, words that shook their faith, words that were hard to swallow.

To choose to stand with Christ is a choice that leads to things we are not sure we want to eat, cups we are not sure we can drink. “If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them,” says C.S. Lewis. “Eat my flesh,” says Jesus, “that I might abide in you, and you in me.” Choose.

Ignatius invites us to look closely at the camps, to see what we are getting into when we eat of the flesh and drink of the blood of God’s Holy One. To choose to carry Christ’s standard, says Ignatius, is to welcome poverty — spiritual poverty and perhaps even material poverty. To choose Christ is to prefer rejection over worldly honors. To choose Christ is to elect to stand with the foolish and the useless, to joyfully embrace humility for the sake of the Gospel. Choose. It could be tough.

The difficulty in choosing, for me, lies not in my intention, but in noticing the choices before me in the midst of my daily life. Choices rarely present themselves cleanly, with bright flags flying to identify the camps, and the lines of battle so clearly drawn. Instead it is a man facing me on the sidewalk, asking for something to eat. Choose. It is the mentally ill woman who wants a ride home from church. Choose.

Ignatius hoped this meditation would give those who made it a concrete understanding of what is fundamentally driving their choices, in our hearts as well as our heads. Can I recognize what is stirring me up in each situation? Is it greed? Is it fear? Or is it Love?

Pedro Arrupe, S.J., the former Superior General of the Society of Jesus said, “Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning…what you read…whom you know…Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” Where else would we go, Lord?

The Twelve remained with Jesus, not for power, nor out of fear, not because it was a rational decision, but because Who they fell in with was Love. And what we love, decides everything.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Like, we're on an airplane

The Egg and I are indeed on an airplane, he’s headed back to Small California College, I’m off to see family and a friend I’ve known for almost forever.  In the row behind us are three college aged persons, two women, one man.  They are total strangers, they first met today when they sat down. OMG. 

The Egg and I are working a crossword together (if you can help with 26 down, shot that misses badly, six letters, starts with M, we would be forever in your debt), but the rapid fire conversation between the two young women behind us is, like, soooo distracting.  They’ve covered roommates, RAs, drinking, final exams, how to dress for lecture, moms, and the super smart, hot guys on the hockey team. Oh, and which girls looked like they’ve had plastic surgery.

58 down:  Vodka in a blue bottle.  I suggest we ask the trio behind us, I’m pretty sure they know.  The Egg snorts (and he knows the answer anyway).

As far as I can tell, they aren’t breathing between sentences.  I start writing notes in the margins of the crossword. The Egg is amused, there are moments when the tears are just streaming down my face.

“I am awful at physics, why do we do this physics stuff?”  They do like genes, but not jeans (or shorts).

“The RA like knows we are drinking.”  “And that third warning they call your parents, and like what are they going to say?  You got caught drinking?”

“I just study so hard I give myself a migraine.”  I wonder if it’s not a hangover.

Now the Egg isn’t sure if they are talking about fake IDs or fake people.  “Good thing I worked retail, because I understand accents.”  Diversity?

“….chill….literally…Oh my God…I don’t even.”  Me either.

The Egg’s eyebrows go up. Someone used a word with five syllables.

Dear Lord, we are on to discussing our preferred undergarments.  OMG, TMI. 

The Egg thinks we could do a great performance art piece based on this.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Go and tell my brothers and sisters

Noli Me Tangere by Fra Bartolomeo via Wikimedia 
From the 20th chapter of the Gospel of John:  Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, “Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and what he told her.

One of the dynamics of a retreat we discussed at length during the practicum at ISI two weeks ago was how to send retreatants back into the world.  Underlying this was a conversation about the purpose of the retreat — to vacation with God, to 'unplug', a yearly spiritual 'cleanse', a moment to pick up tools to help one "make progress in the life," a step along the way toward magis  — keeping in mind that the dynamics of the retreat planned may not be consonant with the desires that retreatants bring with them, and that the magis Ignatius speaks of might not be for everyone. 

This was a practicum, so we had a chance to do a little preaching and were encouraged to sketch out retreat talks we might give.  I'm still grappling with how a weekend retreat framed around Ignatius 18th Annotation might move retreatants, how resurrection and mission might be presented in this context. 

The scene with Mary of Magdalene in the garden is what came to mind, perhaps because I was sitting outside in the heat, in a small rock garden, perhaps because her feast had been a few days earlier. 

St. Augustine called Mary Magdalene "the apostle to the apostles," because she was went from the garden to tell the apostles the good news. Magdala means tower in Aramaic and I frankly enjoy the image of Mary the Tower as a complement to Peter the Rock. The Church may be built on that rock of Peter, but Mary of Magdala ignited it with these words, "I have seen the Lord.” 

I found myself wondering what happened to Mary Magdalene next, after she returned and the disciples dismissed her as crazy (or so Luke's Gospel tell us).  The medieval legends says she went to France and lived in a cave, repenting of her sins and fed by angels.  I find myself more taken with the Orthodox tradition, which puts her with Mary, the Theotokos, the Mother of God, in Ephesus.

“Go” Jesus told Mary Magdalene in the garden.  Jesus didn’t mean for her to take a walk and deliver a message, the end.  The Greek word translated here as go (poreuouin John’s Gospel carries the sense of heading out on a journey, to re-order your life’s direction, to carry forward a message. Go out, cries Jesus, I want you to proclaim again and again, “I have seen the risen Lord.” The ultimate root of poreuou is aptly enough "pierced through" (as a needle carries a thread through...) 

Did Mary tell the apostles, give up when they laughed at the women's "nonsense" (leros) and then quietly retire to Ephesus (or a cave for that matter)?  Or did what she saw and believed pour out of her?  Does she pray, as C.S. Lewis would say centuries later, because "I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time — waking and sleeping. " Does she proclaim the resurrection as she was sent to do?  Does she meet Paul?  Are the two Mary's at the core of the church in Ephesus?

It's given me much to think about, not only in the context of retreat preaching, but in terms of my own vocation.

What is most often translated "brothers," adelphous, is literally "from the same womb" as are, of course, brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Sketching a retreat

Window, St. Ignatius Chapel,
Montserrat Retreat House
I was at Montserrat Retreat House outside of Dallas last week for a workshop on preaching the Spiritual Exercises, more specifically, thinking about the 18th Annotation in Ignatius' Exercises.  The 18th Annotation describes the sorts of exercises that might be given to those who could not or should not make the full exercises, either in their 30-day form (the 20th Annotation) or in daily life (the 19th Annotation).

"...each one should be given those exercises that would be more helpful and profitable..." — from Louis Puhl's translation of the Exercises, 18th Annotation

The practicum was designed to help us consider prayerfully and practically the movements of this sort of retreat, where the expecation is that people will leave with some tools to "make progress in the life of Christ." Including some thoughts about how the director might come to such a retreat.

The notion was that you could leave with a sketch, an outline, of a weekend retreat, with 10 or 11 short talks given over 3 days.  We were invited to preach an excerpt of such a talk along the way, and listening to others preach was not just an opportunity to see different approaches to crafting and presenting such reflections — watching a clip of a Disney cartoon, artwork, poetry, evangelical style preaching, quiet reflection, music —  but to hear the witness of people willing to return the gift they'd been given in the Exercises was a grace.

I sketched out a couple of talks for days of reflection, helpful in the sense that they helped me think through a couple of upcoming writing assignments.  (If anyone out there wants a talk on mission and Mary Magdalene in the garden or one on the sacredness of measured time within the context of the Examen -- I'm now set!)  I also sketched as the various presenters spoke, creating maps of the material and what arose in me as I listened.  I'm really not an artist, but as one of the Jesuits tagged me, "a good doodler."  Going back through them I can see what struck me.   Herewith some random bits of wisdom.

  • "We are looking for a busy God."
  • ...that I be not deaf to his call.
  • We are icons, doorkeepers, witnesses.
  • Never reveal your politics. 
  • Sin is a mystery and if it is too clear, we are in error.
  • Love costs.
  • We are not on a mission, we are mission.
  • Imagine your own resurrection.

The full text of Puhl's translation of the Spiritual Exercises can be found at IgnatianSpirituality

My friend Wayne is an inspired doodler - and his are art!