Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Column: Lovely in eyes not his

The faces, everyone's faces. That's what I will remember from the Papal Mass on the Parkway this weekend.  Christ, lovely in eyes not his.  The sister caught singing on the Jumbotron, her eyes closed, her face alight. The smile of the man sitting on cardboard on Market Street, watching the pilgrims head out toward the parkway, as memorable as Pope Francis' smile.  And a brief glimpse of my own first born son on the big screen, with a seat all the way up front, singing the psalm.

Hopkins' poem, When Kingfishers Catch Fire, and Jeremiah's prophetic words kept running through my mind all day.  I had to pay careful attention to sign posts and road markers — at one point I lost Crash in the crowd, even having marked our place (between Latvia and Lebanon on the inner drive).  As I stood there scanning the crowd, someone asked me if I needed help finding someone.  Soon I had a team peering at Crash's photo on my phone and looking for him. And they found him.  Not 10 feet away.

While there are more traditional reading of Hopkins out there (male, British accents), this chanted polyphonic version by female vocalists  felt truest to his style.

This column appeared at CatholicPhilly.com on 29 September 2015.

Hear the word of the Lord, you nations,
proclaim it on distant coasts, and say:
The One who scattered Israel, now gathers them;
he guards them as a shepherd his flock.

Shouting, they shall mount the heights of Zion,
they shall come streaming to the Lord’s blessings…
— Jeremiah 31: 10,12a

A thousand priests and deacons began to wend their way from the altar on Eakins Oval out into the parkway. As I watched the steady line of men in white, their companions holding bright white and yellow umbrellas over their heads, carry the Eucharist to the waiting crowd, this line from the 31st chapter of Jeremiah ran through my head: “They shall come streaming to the Lord’s blessings.”

“Faith opens a ‘window’ to the presence and working the Spirit,” said Pope Francis in his Sunday homily. “It shows us that … holiness is always tied to little gestures.” This morning, I went back and read all of the 31st chapter of the prophet Jeremiah, letting its images wash over my memories of all the little gestures that pointed to God’s presence during this extraordinary weekend.

In it, God speaks of the families of Israel, loved and showered with his mercy. We are an enduring structure, God tells Jeremiah. Living stones, literally holding each other up as we waited hours along the barricade around Independence Mall for the pope to drive by, that lifted children high to see Francis’ motorcade. We shared chairs when we were too tired to stand, and water when we were thirsty.

“Carrying your festive tambourines, you shall go forth dancing,” proclaims the Lord. Representatives of the Neocatechumenal Way from the U.S. and Tanzania led dancing across the mall in the morning, and the festive tambourines of a delegation from Puerto Rico kept time as we sang in the afternoon, welcome counterpoints to being packed into long lines, and a soundscape of sirens.

“Set up road markers, put up signposts; Turn your attention to the highway, the road you walked,” cries the Lord. As I made my way back to the El, I thought about Pope Francis’ question, “What about you?” What should I turn my attention to as I go forth from this celebration? What about me? What will I take from these days?

Two things to start. A deep sense of the unity of believers, and of our shared responsibility for each other in the small things. And the eyes to see the people that that came streaming to receive the blessings of these days, Christ playing in ten thousand places, lovely in all those eyes not his.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

What about you?

We left home before 7 this morning, arriving at an empty parting lot on Villanova's campus headed to hear the Pope speak on Independence Mall.  Travel was smooth, though the train we were directed to board at 69th street made a loop and deposited us at — 69th Street.  We switched again and were soon at 2nd & Market in Philly.  No waiting at security, and we set our blanket out on the grass.

At 8 am in the morning, view of stage utterly blocked by
press bleachers.  Not Philadelphia's finest moment.
Next to us were visitors from Maryland and Seattle.  They had brought the liturgy of the hours along to pray, so we ended up praying it together there on the lawn. It was a lovely way to start this event.

What was not so lovely was the view. The press area had been set up between the standing crowd and the reserved seating directly in front of the Pope. This meant that at an event where we were about 300 or so feet away from the Pope you couldn't see him, even as a dot.  People who had driven from as far away as Montreal were very disappointed. The Jumbotrons were set low, so even though I was about 20 feet away from one, it was hard to see in the press of people when the Pope was speaking.

New friends with whom to pray Morning Prayer.
Since I really wanted to see the Pope in person, not on a screen, I decided to camp out on Market street along the barricades, as the word was the Pope would come down Market on his way to the event. So there I stayed, from 8ish until indeed the Pope drove by at 4:20.  He was 10 feet away, it was amazing.  But equally amazing was the wonderful group of people from Puerto Rico I stood with.  There was such tender care taking going on, including for me.  Water bottles appeared and snacks were shared.  Math Man had thought to bring one of those tripod camp seats, which I had brought up to the barricade to sit on, but which ended up providing relief for the older members of the group. Places were carefully saved for those who had to use the bathroom.

I did two media interviews: one at the start of the day and one at the end. I met Giovanni, whose mother stood next to me on Market, who was singing for the Papal Mass the next day.   I played peek-a-boo with two delightful kids across the street from me.  I prayed.  I read a book about hermits and recluses.  I watched the clouds.

I loved watching the Mass, and hearing the voices of those around singing the responses, the Sanctus in Latin, the Amen.  I read the text of his homily on line!  What about you, he asked. How will you respond?

What was the Philly Pops playing as the Pope emerged from Independence Hall, wondered the college aged people standing next to me.  "Fanfare for the Common Man" by Aaron Copland.  Not some Star Trek theme.  No, I assured them.

I strained to listen to every word of the Pope's talk, on religious freedom and immigrants.  We are the voices of the those at the margins.  We are voice for the transcendent.

I loved listening to all the voice praying the Our Father, Pope Francis' voice gradually fading out, and ours carrying it.  What about us?  Can we carry the work forward as well as the prayer?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Column: What All the Dark Cannot Extinguish

Maybe the lines from Frank Sherlock's poem stuck because I've been writing about light in other contexts.  (It's the International Year of Light, marking 1,000 years since Persian natural philosopher Ibn al-Haytham published his work on optics and I wrote an essay about chemistry and light for Nature Chemistry.) Or maybe it was the plea to "give me what it takes to dejewel" and thinking again of the jewel-like interior of the Fish Church?

I had already written the section about Merton's epiphany in Louisville before I listened to the Pope's address to Congress, where he highlighted the Cistercian monk's dedication to peace through dialog. Maybe all those papal documents I read had an effect too.

You can read Frank Sherlock's What All the Dark Cannot Extinguish here, scroll down to the end.

This column appeared at CatholicPhilly.com on 24 September 2015.

“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” — St. Francis of Assisi

I spent yesterday at the World Meeting of Families, walking through the convention center. There are talks to go to, and hundreds of exhibits to browse and so many wonderful books on display. But it’s the people that keep drawing my attention.

The group wearing matching orange sunhats, maps in hand, standing at a crossroads, trying to find their session. A family with four overtired little ones fleeing for a quiet corner. Lidia, in front of me in the long line to pick up tickets for the Papal Mass, waving her Colombian flag so her parents could find her. The homeless men hidden away on the thin stretch of grass between JFK and the train tracks. The sisters waiting for the traffic light to change at Broad and Arch, veils fluttering in the wind, faces raised to the warming sun.

Standing there watching them, I couldn’t help but think of Cistercian monk Thomas Merton’s epiphany at a street corner in Louisville, his sudden realization that we were not strangers to each other, but one family, one people, all walking around “shining like the sun.”

If only we could see each other as God sees us, he prays — as I do, now, here in Philadelphia. Each person a light, each a light capable of sweeping away darkness by its mere presence, each a light to be tenderly shielded from the winds that buffet each of our lives.

I heard, too, fragments of Philadelphia poet laureate Frank Sherlock’s poem “What All the Dark Cannot Extinguish,” written for this historic visit. “Allow me to be passage for the newest arrivers; eyes to see sisters/brother in the convent the rowhouse the tent…”

I prayed as I walked: Give me eyes to see my sisters and brothers, the ones newly arrived, the visitors, those who live in convents and those whose only shelter is a blanket or bundle of newspapers.

This morning Pope Francis went St. Patrick’s Church in Washington where he was to have lunch with the homeless. In his remarks there he reminded us that beginning with the Our Father, prayer teaches us to “see one another as brothers and sisters.” Jesus, he said, keeps knocking on our doors, not with fireworks, but in the faces of the people next to us. We are called to answer, in love and compassion and service to each other.

I am, of course, eager to hear Pope Francis speak in person this weekend, but as the time draws near, I find myself even more joyfully looking forward to hearing Jesus knock on the door of my heart in the faces of everyone I encounter. I pray that I might be a channel of peace, an image of love, a witness to the light that all the darkness cannot dim. Not just this weekend, but all the days of my life.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A visitor from the Vatican: having a conversation with Pope Francis

So someone from the Holy See reads my blog — do you suppose it's the Pope?  I'm sure it's not (because even though the Pope is in Cuba, there are still visitors from the Vatican in my summary of blog stats this morning), but it is fun to find all these visits from the Vatican in the midst of Philly Pope fever.  For weeks now, our local news radio station has been prefacing news about the upcoming visit with the tag "A Visitor From the Vatican" (you can practically hear the uppercase!).

Earlier this summer, AL DÍA's managing editor asked me if I would write an imagined conversation between two scientists:  myself and Pope Francis.  In Spanish and in English.  Fiction. Dialog.  A language I haven't written more than a paragraph in since 1980. (Which in my mind isn't all that long ago, but math.  That's 35 years.)  Really?  What was I thinking?
Any panic over language or narrative form was quickly eclipsed by the realization that I was going to put words in the mouth of a living Pope. I read and listened to everything Pope Francis had said or written about science that I could find in English and in Spanish (and even a bit of Italian). (Thank you, Holy See web masters!) I re-read his interview with Antonio Spadaro, S.J.  I prayed.  I did.

Where would I run into the Pope where we would have time to talk?  Certainly not on the streets of Philly during this visit!  After watching his address to young astronomers at the Vatican Observatory's Summer School, it occurred to me that of all places, the Observatory would be the most likely for this unlikeliest of encounters.  Next year the theme is water — I could almost imagine going.

So I wrote of encountering Pope Francis in the gardens, out for a walk. We talked about that infamous line suggesting "the Pope should leave science to the scientists," and whether scientists are mystics and about Catholic women who were also professors of physics and chemistry (do you know about Laura Bassi?)  I wrote it in English, I worked on the Spanish version, then rewrote the English, trying to capture the rhythm and power of the Pope's Spanish in my first language.

A gentle friend waded through my rusty and tense-impaired Spanish (which an editor at AL DÍA nicely cleaned up) and off it went, to come out in the beautiful special issue put out for the Pope's visit.

Funnily, I almost feel as if I really have had a conversation with Pope Francis about science and faith.

You can read the interview here in English or here in Spanish.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Column: Inconvenient Truths

Refugee tents at Budapest Station
Victor was in Hungary a couple of weeks ago, while the refugee crisis at the train station in Budapest was at its peak.  He felt he needed to respond in some way to those bereft of home.  I'm proud of how he stretched to do so.

In writing this, I read many of the recent Catholic Church documents on migrants and refugees. They speak powerfully of how we ought to respond.  The line that I'm still thinking about comes from Pope John Paul II at 3rd World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees:   "It will be necessary to abandon a mentality in which the poor – as individuals and as peoples – are considered a burden, as irksome intruders..."

Given the news from our own country and from abroad, this is a line worth contemplating.

A version of this column appeared at CatholicPhilly on 18 September 2015.

When they were few in number, a handful, and strangers there,
Wandering from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another people,
He let no one oppress them; for their sake he rebuked kings:
“Do not touch my anointed ones, to my prophets do no harm.” — Psalm 105:12-15

“Be prepared to walk three to four miles to your event,” advises one brochure on the papal visit. There are lists of things not to bring: no coolers, no shelters, no large signs. “Grounds open at 6 am.” For an event that will not begin until after noon.

Refugee children at coloring station in
Budapest station
I am immeasurably grateful; I have a ticket to hear Pope Francis talk about immigration on Saturday, and one that lets me stand on the parkway for Mass on Sunday. Yet the more I read about the events, the more challenging the weekend sounds. How long can I stand? How far can I walk? Will I be able to bring an umbrella in case of rain?

While I began to make plans for the World Meeting of Families and the Pope’s visit last week, my husband, Victor, was in Budapest to give a series of talks on mathematics. His pictures of the small dome tents housing Syrian refugees in the train station square made me pause. So, too, did Facebook posts from friends in California, watching worriedly as fires envelope nearby communities. I’m planning for a weekend of wandering about Philadelphia with my oldest son, I’m not fleeing a war or wildfires, young children, pets and my elderly father in tow.

In 2013, under Pope Benedict XVI, the Church offered a reflection on our pastoral and spiritual response to refugees, those driven from their homes by forces beyond their control.

We are reminded that migrants and refugees are first and foremost not inconvenient company, but are a way God points to both our own status as pilgrims in this world and to Christ: “The ‘foreigner’ is God’s messenger who surprises us and interrupts the regularity and logic of daily life, bringing near those who are far away. In ‘foreigners’ the Church sees Christ who ‘pitches His tent among us’.”

The document goes on to remind us that everyone is called to respond personally to the needs of those who have been displaced by disasters. Victor visited with the refugees at the station, joining a group of students helping parents entertain their children, sitting on the ground as they colored, blowing huge bubbles for them to chase. He bought small toys for these children — carefully chosen to be easy to carry and not noisy so as not to add to their parents’ burdens!

It’s harder to see what I am called to do from this side of the ocean, but I can pray. I can allow my own wanderings to sharpen my eyes for the displaced. I can offer up long lines and long walks for those who stand at the borders, hoping for a place of safety.

The pope’s visit will interrupt the regularity of our daily lives in so many ways, even if we are not able to go to any of the events. For a brief moment our lives will manifest aspects of the uncertainty and anxiety of those fleeing catastrophes.Can this temporary disruption remind us of the Gospel’s demand to be ever attentive to the needs of those driven from their homes? Welcome, the Church tells us, is not just a task, but a way of living.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

DotMagis: Praying one word at a time

Last May I went to hear The Egg sing at the magnificent Fish Church in Stamford, Connecticut.  On the way, I spent an incredible afternoon walking New York City with my friend Cindy.  We met through blogging, and the timing of her trip and this concert let us meet in person.  I enjoyed getting a chance to be a choral roadie mom, riding the bus with the group and handing our programs and information at the church.  It was a flying trip, I left Philly around 8 am and returned 16 hours later.

The space and the concert were both incredible.  In order to catch the last train back home, I had to dash the second the concert ended, blowing a kiss to The Egg as I went.  The church's organist and music director dropped me at the station, and I sank into the quiet car on Amtrak to process the day.  As I did, the music kept playing in my head, Robert Parson's Ave Maria (which you can hear at 2:06), along with the realization that my prayer life swims in a similar sea, from which words and notes arise with incredible clarity, only to be caught up again into the wider service of the piece.

From those reflections came this reflection, posted yesterday at Ignatian Spirituality's DotMagis.
This morning, listening again to Robert Parson’s Ave Maria, I realized that this is the rhythm not only of my prayer, but of my life. There are moments when I am blessed with an utter certainty of God’s presence, followed by moments when I am so distracted by the complex cacophony that pervades my daily life I lose track of the underlying melody entirely. I can be befuddled by, entranced with, or simply carried away by the complexity of the sacred tune swirling through the universe. And there are so many times when I strain to hang onto the barest whisper of God’s voice, unsure if it is still there. - Read the rest at DotMagis.

The Egg is standing in the back row, in front of the tabernacle.  Sometimes you see him, sometimes you don't!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Column: Martha, Mary and the one thing

Pieter de Bloot (circa 1601/1602–1658) via Wikimedia Commons
What I like about this version of the scene is the chaos in the kitchen, the gritty reality of the cracks in the walls, and perhaps, the cat which in all the commotion has managed to snag one of the fish.

This column appeared at CatholicPhilly.com on 11 September 2015.

As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.

Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”

The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” — Luke 10:38-42

Help! Pope Francis is coming to Philadelphia and like Martha in Luke’s Gospel, we are all anxious and worried about many things. Traffic boxes and train passes. Will we be able to get to work or to the events? Tickets. Will we be able to see the Pope?

Work. How many people will be sleeping on cots in cafeterias and offices so that the sick will be cared for and people kept fed and safe?

Extra work, extra people, extra hassle. We are all Martha at the moment — wishing it was our turn to be Mary. To have the choice to sit, and enjoy whatever those days might bring.

I always struggle with this Gospel, with a literal reading that suggests the women working in Martha’s kitchen in Bethany should have known better, abandoned dinner and come to sit with Jesus — and that when faced with the necessary tasks of life, or preparing for a papal visit, we should all go on strike, find a church and sit with God. As if we could.

St. Augustine once said that miracles “have a tongue of their own … let us not only be delighted with (their) surface, but let us also seek to know (their) depth.” Augustine, preaching on the story of Martha and Mary, reminds us that Jesus was not only God, but man, and so needed to eat and drink. Martha “with deep concern” prepared the food that strengthened Jesus’ body to do the work he was sent to do.

It was not work that could be ignored, said Augustine. Nor can we all ignore the work that must be done to feed and care for not only the pope, but the many visitors to the city.

As I read through the story of Martha and Mary again this morning, trying to hear what simmers under the surface of the story, I found myself hearing Jesus saying to Martha, “there is need of only one thing.” What, I wonder, is the “one thing” we ought not to lose sight of right now, in the midst of the many things we are anxious about?

In his book Reimagining the Ignatian Examen, Mark Thibodeaux, S.J., suggests a way of looking at your day that I am finding helpful as I seek that “one thing” in the midst of all the chaos and uncertainty of the preparations for Pope Francis’ visit.

At the end of each day, ask God three things: “Who wore your face for me today?” “In what person did I fail to find your presence?” and “Was there some person I encountered today who needed me to be your presence?” These questions remind me that always and everywhere the one thing I should be looking for is Jesus, in the people I encounter — troublesome and otherwise — in the people who are helped by the work I do, visible or not.

The pope’s visit has a tongue of its own, reminding us that we are all the Body of Christ, and it is here, in the kitchens and in our office and in the work we do, that we get next to Jesus, to hear what he has to teach us. Over these next three weeks, and beyond, that is the better part — the one thing — we are called to do.  May we do it with Martha's "deep concern" for the Lord, in all his countless incarnations.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Column: Pleasant Coolness in the Heat

This column appeared at CatholicPhilly on 3 September 2015, check there for more resources related to this column.

Come, thou Light of all that live!
Thou, the soul’s delightful guest,
Dost refreshing peace bestow.
Thou in toil art comfort sweet;
Pleasant coolness in the heat.

“We sunk the well another 400 feet,” sighs my father on the phone, lamenting California’s drought. There have been moments this summer that my prayer life has felt as dry as the hills that surround my dad’s farm, where the grass crunches underfoot and dust clouds seem to chase the llamas around the back pasture.

Today I walked out of the morning session of a conference into a muggy still heat, 100 F in the shade. Not even a hint of a breeze stirred the leaves of the trees. I found a chair near the lake and sat down, shutting my eyes to take a few minutes for prayer. Suddenly a hint of a breeze wafted past, momentarily cool, gone almost as quickly as I noticed it. Mired though we are in the doldrums of Ordinary Time, the words of the Pentecost sequence popped into my head, “pleasant coolness in the heat.”

It made me wonder if I’d been ignoring the gentle breezes of the Spirit in my prayer of late. Had I been waiting for rushing winds and fiery responses, all the while overlooking almost imperceptible signs of the Spirit dwelling within me? Many people in my life are struggling with illness, not least among them my father. I pray fiercely for them, yet they still suffer.

Father Karl Rahner, S.J., a 20th century theologian, reflecting on Pentecost in his book “The Eternal Year,” wonders much the same thing. Does the fiery, stirring rhetoric of our celebration of Pentecost blind us to the workings of the Spirit in our lives? Wait, confess your weakness, your inability to pray, suggests Father Rahner, until you can simply let the Spirit dwelling within you call out to himself. Gently, the Spirit makes its presence known.

The feast of Pentecost is long past, the red garments tucked away, the memories of the spring breezes gone, but Christ sank the wells of the Spirit deep within our hearts. The momentary breeze at the lake reminded me to let go of my expectations in prayer, to sit, confessing my inability to even pray, and wait on the gentling of the Spirit. Come, thou Light of all that live!

Monday, September 07, 2015

A breath of mercy

I came back from California with a cold, that soon blossomed into an asthma exacerbation, and a vanished voice.  The wheezing would creep up slowly, until suddenly I would realize that I was just a bit anxious as I pushed the air out of my lungs, subconsciously wondering (worrying?) if could I make enough room for the air I really needed.  I woke every few hours at night to breathe in the drugs that opened my airways.  Each time it felt like a small miracle, and I would pray in gratitude for this new found freedom, for this ease of breathing, of being.  For this mercy.

Saturday I had enough of a voice to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation.  My sins creep up slowly, too, until I realize that my heart is narrowed and cramped with all that I cannot exorcise.  The celebration of the sacrament, my breath pushing hard, to get out what I've done or failed to do.  Absolution falls around my shoulders, I breathe in mercy.  It's a small miracle.

For years, I've thought about this wisdom story and wondered if I want God as much as I want air.  For the moment I can say this, I grasp a bit more deeply what mercy feels like, the easing of a soul constricted and miserly, sipping when it could drink deeply.  And I know that I long for mercy, as surely as I do for air.


Saturday, September 05, 2015

Happy anniversary

Upstairs on the shelf in my prayer corner is a book in a bright binding.  In it, I wrote the order for my and Math Man's wedding. It was the first for Math Man, the second for me.  Celebrated in the parish church on this day 23 years ago.

I wrote the order by hand. The readings, the prayers.  All of it.  It was a meditation at the time, and remains so when I pick it up.

The parish liturgist and I drafted the liturgy, winnowing down the choices for Math Man, who wasn't Catholic.  Not Mass.  Bride and groom down the aisle together.  No video recording (though Math Man's aunt made a surreptitious recording of it, I noticed looking at the photos tonight the camera in her husband's hands as they came out of the church. ) No photos taken during the ceremony. Just around the edges.

At the end of it all, before we recessed down the aisle, Math Man (whose maternal family was Jewish) broke a glass.  I like the rabbinical readings of that tradition that emphasize the intermingling of joy and sorrow, apt for this wedding of a widow, and can still hear the voice of my elderly Jewish colleague call "Mazel tov!"

Many of our choices in and out of the liturgy were about keeping the focus on the sacrament, being present to what was happening and being attentive to the people coming to celebrate with us.  No bridesmaid's uniform, or tuxes for the groomsmen.  Wear something garden-party-ish.  No micromanaging.  Unfancy food and games for the kids a hedge over from the reception, so kids and parents could be where they needed to be.

Flowers?  Ordered the week ahead of time from a florist who didn't faint when I said I needed wedding flowers in ten days time, and didn't care much about color or composition. I still look at the bouquet and think how lovely it was. And Math Man's boutonniere is dried and carefully stored in a jar on my dresser.  We had a wonderful time celebrating with our families and friends, all the more since we let go of many of the details.

As I knelt in the back of the church today for a brief moment, I rejoiced again in the gift of Math Man's love, and the ongoing support of the community of faith we live in and of our families and friends.

Math Man is away today, the first time we've been separated on our anniversary, many time zones to the east.  He called via FaceTime as I was talking to my dad.  "Sorry, Dad, it's Math Man -- have to go!"  Math Man wondered if my dad minded knowing he was second on my list.  Nope!

The women gather

I was the lone acolyte at the funeral of a parishioner this morning, her daughters and sisters and nieces all gathered for their mother, aunt, sister, and I thought of the women. Gathering, gathering.  The sacristan, the musicians, me, the readers. It's not that there weren't men, but that somehow, for this single mother of a single daughter, the women were the frame this gathering clung to.

And Sweet Honey in The Rock's The Women Gather flowed through my mind.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Tales from the hermitage: Sleeping beauty

Every morning when I walk through the door to the back patio to go out to pray, I have to brush the spider webs off my face.  I wonder if I've slept, not for a night, but for years.  I've been trying not to disturb my guardians - and you can see that their web has attracted quite a bit of detritus.

The week of near total silence in my ad hoc suburban hermitage has passed quickly, and productively.  I've sent two pieces of writing of to their respective editors, and am nearly ready to dispatch a third.  Tonight I will break the silence by driving up to Wernersville to see Patient Spiritual Director.

This is a luxury, this time of silence and solitude, but it's not a fairy tale isolation either — the spider webs notwithstanding.  But like fasting, which sharpens my eyes for hunger around me, this solitude has also helped me see the isolated and lonely who live around me.  The new mother across the street, juggling a little one who'd just thrown up while her toddler tugs at her hand.  The woman hustling to walk the mile to the church on Sunday in the heat of an August noon.  Reminders that this time is oriented outward, it's not a "staycation" or a retreat from the craziness of the world (though I admit to some pleasure in not having to make the transition into the beginning-of-the-semester chaos), it's a teachable moment.

"Sit in your cell," says St. Romuald, "and your cell will teach you everything."