Sunday, November 20, 2016

Putting air in the tires

Spider plants and Klein bottle. 
I put air in the Mini's tires today.  The low pressure light has been on for...well, longer than a week, and longer than I would like to admit.  Surprise, the car drives better when the tires are properly inflated.  But I just haven't had the time to do it.

I needed air, too.  Work has been chaotic, so much to do, and no breathing room at all.  This week I had more than 30 scheduled work hours on the books -- meetings, classes, talks, office hours.  Everything else — two manuscripts to edit and return, class prep, grading, letters of recommendation to write and submit, administrative planning, and dear God, the email, the email — had to be shoehorned into the remaining waking hours. And still they knocked on my door. Every 10 minutes one afternoon.

By Thursday, the email was flowing into my box at a rate that exceeded my rate of response.  I would answer an email, click back to the main screen to find three or four new ones.   No, I had to tell students, I can't meet with you this week, and perhaps not next either, as the molten lava of commitment creeps across my calendar, leaving ashes in its wake.  The good news was that saying "no" at this point was easy. There was no more time to give away.  The bad news, I was desperate for air.  For space to breathe.

On Friday, I had a lunch time appointment with my spiritual director. And this weekend, I had no work committments that required my presence elsewhere (for the first time since the middle of August).  And I declared a day of rest.  A sabbath of sorts.

I wrote yesterday.  I transplanted the spider plants and their offspring.  I got my hair cut.  I went to the farmer's market. I did my laundry and folded the towels.  I got my flu shot. I prayed.  I put air in my tires — and in my soul.

Lessons for young faculty (and others with high demand, high autonomy jobs) in learning to say no.  Or in my case, re-learning.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016


I am with her: the sobbing child, whose mother cannot afford medical care for her ear infection.

I am with her: the mother in the shelter, who does not know where she will live next week, next month, or perhaps tomorrow night.

I am with her: the mother whose child died of their mental illness.

I am with her: the mother in Aleppo, the mother in Mosul, their bodies wrapped around their children, sheltering them from the unthinkable.

I am with her: the mother in Virginia, sleeping in her car in the heat of July to get glasses for her children, and dentures so she can eat.

I am with her: the mother whose children were bullied and beaten and killed because of their race, their ethnicity, their religion, their gender or their sexual orientation.

I am with her: my student, whose faith in God has been impugned, dismissed as evil.

I am with her: my student, who cannot afford to complete her degree.

I am with them:  those who live in fear, those whose lives are in peril, those who are hungry and naked and sick and trapped by forces they do not control.

Here is where I stand.  I stand with Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.  I know where I stand.  At the foot of the cross. Unwilling to look away from the suffering. Willing to witness. Willing to pick up the bodies and care for them.

Here is where I stand. 
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, 
and not minister to your needs?’ 
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’


Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Boycotts, dovecots and apricots

In my course on contemplative practices yesterday we spent time looking at plans of monasteries (thank you, Bryn Mawr Art & Archeology library), ranging from an Egyptian monastery built in the 4th century and continuously occupied (and updated) until the 19th century, to a much later Carthusian charterhouse.

The questions to wrestle with included how the rule of life was supported by the architecture, but students also noted the practical sides of life which needed to be provided for.  Kitchens and infirmaries. And dovecots, to provide a ready supply of domestic pigeons.

One student joked if a dovecot was a place to keep doves, what did that make a boycott? ...and what about apricots?

So now I know that boycott is an eponym, for Charles Boycott, an Irish land agent who was shunned for his demands during the Irish Land Wars.  The tactic of refusing to use a service or good now bears his name.

And apricots get their cot from precocious, through the Latin praecocia - they ripen early.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

In the thicket of this world: doing science as a person of faith

Let us go forth to see ourselves in Your beauty,
To the mountain and the hill,
Where the pure water flows:
Let us enter into the heart of the thicket.

St. John of the Cross
Spiritual Canticle

I'm off to Mt. St. Mary's in Maryland tomorrow, to give the 2016 Ducharme Lecture:  In the thicket of this world:  doing science as a person of faith.  The title is taken from a commentary on the Spiritual Canticle:  “God passes through the thicket of the world, and wherever His glance falls He turns all things to beauty.”

What does it mean to do science as a person of faith?  I'm going to argue that at least for me it means approaching science as I approach prayer. Contemplatively.  Open to mystery and beauty and awe.  Drenched in the details. Caught in the burning layers of grace and creation.  With humility and a dash of humor.

And I'm grateful that for this trip, there's no change in time zones!

There's a livestream at the link.