Saturday, April 22, 2017

Marching -- and Speaking -- for Science

Speaking at the March for Science in Philly
Science.  It's what I have done most days for the last 40 years. To paraphrase Pedro Arupe SJ (or not - see this article on pseudo-Ignatian quotes) it is what seizes my imagination, it get me out of bed in the morning, determines what I read, and who I know and what amazes me with joy and gratitude.

What amazed me today were the thousands of scientists who brave a raw and rainy April day in Philadelphia to march for science.  I met some of my students early this morning and we took a train already packed into the city and found our way to the start of the march at City Hall.  We marched the not quite 2 miles to Penn's landing, waving signs and occasionally even chanting. Scientists are quiet sorts, it turns out.

I enjoyed listening to snatches of conversation about people's work as they walked and talked. Science was happening even on the march!  The signs were great - lots of old science jokes, some politics, some just...odd.  "If you aren't part of the solution -- you are part of the precipitate." "What do Trump and atoms have in common?  They make up everything."

At CityHall, waiting to march.
One sign reading "It was the year they finally immanentized the eschaton." puzzled my students — which led to a conversation about eschatology and "end times" theories as we walked. I teach at a liberal arts college - can you tell?  [I didn't realize until writing this tonight that it is a line from a 1970s novel, we could have had a while other conversation!]

with some of my students
I gave a speech, a nanosecond of which was featured on the evening news, I did an interview for CBS news in Philly, also on the news. The camera guy had a hard time getting the camera low enough to film me.  My youngest brother will be amused.

If you want to know what I had to say, I did an interview with Sabrina Vourvoulias of NBC 10 in Philly —A Chemist, A Feminist and a Theologian Go to the March for Science.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Ashes and incense

Fragment of press for making bread for Eucharist. Byzantine.
There are little flecks of ash on my alb, from where I brushed up too close to the censer.  Ashes to ashes. I walk the church through a cloud of incense.  A shroud, a veil, for the Sacrament behind me.  A pillar of cloud in the night.

I fall on my knees in the chapel.  The smoke that curls around me smells of incense and oh, so faintly of ashes.  Of prayer and of destruction. The chant pours over the two of us kneeling before the altar, piles up and spills out the door like a wave, there is a moment where all is still, and song washes back in.  We remain until the music is spent and I step into the clear cool air on the other side of the wall to let the embers die.

For whom shall we pray? For Mother Church.  For public officials. For those who believe and those who don't.  For pilgrims, return, and salvation for the dying.  I kneel and I stand until I wonder if I can stand again with this weight on my shoulders, or whether like Jesus I will stumble and fall.

I watch the choir recoil at the stark news.  Ecce lignum Crucis.  A member has been suddenly widowed, can we lean on you? Now? Today? Behold the wood of the cross. It's 9:00 pm and part of me is in an office outside a hospital waiting room 30 years and 3000 feet away, as a nurse offers to call someone for me.  All I can see are her hands, poised over the dial.

A psalm in the darkness, I can see nothing beyond the pool of light on the text. Have mercy on me, O God.

Black silk pants, black silk shirt. A white pall flows over the coffin. The alb slides over my head. "See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity." Water from the aspersorium splashes against my hand, and arcs overhead.  Renew me.

The sacrament of salvation lies broken in my hand, and I breathe in Easter.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

A widow's mite

Graduation, UCI.  June 1980.
It was half a lifetime ago.  Literally.  I was not quite 30.  I will be not-quite-60 this week.

Really, it was such a short time.  We didn't even know each other for 10 years all together. Married, another not quite.  Five not quite six.  This was not half a lifetime even then.  Nor even a third or a quarter. A fraction that grows smaller with each passing moment, sliding through my hands as I try to pin it down.

When can we neglect a term, my students wonder, desiring simple solutions?  When it's one part in five, or one part in ten? One part in a hundred - not something I'll have to face then.  Or the mathematical limit, where the one part in forever becomes nothing.  Somehow there, but not.  Evanescent increments, to use Bishop Berkeley's term.

It will be 30 years on Easter that I became a widow.  And yet I could still have written this essay from a woman widowed a scant three years — young, she suggests, at 36 with a loss that she had 42 days to see coming, where my 29 year old self had less than 42 hours.  I know those odd moments, curiously devoid of grief, where "call Tom to tell him you got tenure" shows up on my mental to-do list.  Or the dreams where you are trying to explain to people that you must rush, because even though Tom is next to you, you know he is dead and will vanish at sunset.  Or sunrise. Or.

I have, too, the memory of my mother confessing she had no idea what to tell me about mourning a spouse. Her friends had not yet reached that age.  There was no pool of experience she could draw on, except one unspoken moment.  Though I remembered then, and now, my mother's voice, whispered words of explanation in a back pew at St. Luke's as a neighbor's coffin drifted down the aisle, followed by a weeping woman in a black coat, "no mother should have to endure the death of a child."  Was it the year she lost the baby, or years later? I can't quite place it in time. Was the neighbor's name Angela? Her daughter baby sat for us, a teen-ager to my seven whose name I can't recall, just how sophisticated I thought she was.

The young widow wonders about remarriage, which overrides the widow effect, the damage being widowed does to your body.  You can't replace a person, she exclaims. True, and yet your heart might open to accommodate another.  Victor has not taken over some spot reserved for Tom, but has his own space in my heart.

It changes you, she says "I think it’s about withstanding a blow that fundamentally changes your architecture."  I would not disagree.  Our check-box demographics can't capture the complex plane of my life, or hers.

"And what are these same evanescent increments? They are neither finite quantities, nor quantities infinitely small, nor yet nothing. May we not call them the ghosts of departed quantities?" Bishop George Berkeley mocks the calculus, and the infidel mathematicians who entertained such thoughts.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Playing poetry ping-pong

Renga is a 15th century Japanese collaborative poetry form. The kick-off poet writes a hokku (three lines, 5-7-5 syllables each, what we now call a haiku), the next poet adds two 7 syllable lines.  The third poet takes the 2 lines and adds a 5/7/5 set of verses.  And so on...see this example taken from Miner's book Japanese Linked Poetry.  

Renga can be serious or funny (haikai no renga), but the game is not so much as to follow a single through line in the imagery, but to link and shift.  I enjoy the ways in which the shifts can make me blink, and tsukeai, unusual and evocative juxtapositions of words.

One way to play this sort of linked verse game is to write a series of 5/7/5 verses, each one starting with the last line of the previous.  A friend shared the hokku for a recent renga he had started:
without my glasses
i’m groping trying to find
where my glasses are
If I'd been in the game, I might have responded with
where my glasses are
smudged by thoughts I cannot catch
I see drops of grace 
Anyone is welcome to play!

Saturday, April 01, 2017

April: poetry and passion

April...the cruelest month said T.S. Eliot.

April is the cruellest month, breeding  
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing  
Memory and desire, stirring  
Dull roots with spring rain.

It's a cruel start to April here.  The weather has been cold and damp, the late March snow on top of a warm February killed the blossoms on my cherry and pear trees.  There are a few dozen blooms on the forsythia.  Branches scratch at the sky. There is still almost a quarter of Lent to go.

I'm seeking solace in poetry of all sorts, giving a series on the psalms for my parish, nibbling at Marie Howe's The Kingdom of Ordinary Time.

PrayTell has an April litany of intercessions for fools, apt for both the day and season.  My favorite
For acrobats and poets and kite fliers, and all who do things that are not merely useful, that they may know the pleasure they give to others.
And a litany of prayers for the 5th Sunday in Lent, from the depths:
For the People of God, as we watch for Easter's dawn in our lives…we pray…

For refugees and immigrants, for all those in need of new homes in which to settle…we pray
For those trapped in the depths of war and of poverty…we pray
For hope, when all possibilities seem exhausted…we pray

For the sick and for the dying, and for those who accompany them…we pray
For our beloved dead, brought to life everlasting through God's Spirit dwelling within them …we pray.