Monday, September 28, 2020

Writing prayer

One of the pieces of writing on my desk at the moment is a book on prayer. The book is essentially a plan for a day of retreat on learning to pray. Writing it has been an experience. I feel like the builder of this instrument, there is so much to say I keep adding 'functions' to my text. If I'm talking about postures of prayer, I should talk about St. Domenic, right? But then should I mention Tertullian or Ignatius or...

Pretty soon, I have marbles flowing everywhere. And look as wild-eyed as the designer of this instrument. 

I'm on the downside of the writing at the moment, mostly taking text out rather than adding it in. But I can't help myself entirely, I just tucked in a bit from Bonhoeffer.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Modern Burma Shave

It was, back in the day, prosaic poetry: Shave the modern way / No brush / No lather / No rub-in / Big tube 35 cents – Drug stores / Burma-Shave

I'm too young (really, by this measure I'm young!) to recall the Burma Shave signs along the highways, teasing out a line at a time. The signs came down in 1963, around the time I learned to read. When on a sabbatical leave in 1998 (in which we drove and camped our way across the country with a two year old and four year old in tow, in the days before video displays in cars or handheld tablets, but thankfully after recorded books) we encountered a similar set of signs for Wall Drugs on I-90 as we headed to the Badlands.  

But Burma Shave has been reimagined on the Pennsy Trail in Haverford, where pages from Sheep Take a Hike by Nancy Shaw tease you down the path and back. And if you tire midway through, there's bench and some books to take a break with.

The camping in the Badlands was memorable. There were a whole series of thunderstorms the night we camped there. Crash woke me to tell me his sleeping bag was wet, and it was because there was a stream running through the tent. We hung stuff up to dry in the morning, drove to get breakfast at the diner near the entrance, but didn't get back until the next storm struck. We decamped in a deluging rain storm, the kids tucked up and dry in the minivan while a sopping wet Math Man and I loaded up our gear.

We stopped in the first small town we came to, and found a laundromat. Then we went to Wall Drugs. My memories of Wall Drug are misty, but I can still see the lemon yellow walls of that wonderful laundromat. Dry sleeping bags are a wonderful thing, right up there with dry socks.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Favorite star


My favorite star.

Alina Sabyr, an astrophysics grad student at Columbia and Watson Fellow, produced this great video asking people around the world what was their favorite astronomical feature — what takes their breath away when they look up. I’m not alone in thinking Saturn is incredible (see Stammering About God). I loved the choices of the familiar  — the moon or Orion  — and the unfamiliar — my colleague Guy Consolmagno SJ’s choice of Eta Carinae, which we can’t see from the Northern Hemisphere.

Why, I wondered, did the sun not come to anyone’s mind? Mine included, at least at first. Maybe because we can look deeper and deeper into the night sky, but even a glance at the sun is too much for us to bear? 

Monday, September 14, 2020

A restless universe

Tigerzeng / CC BY-SA 
When the kids were younger we went through a phase of lighting candles for dinner. There were (unsurprisingly to anyone who has kids or was a kid) tussles over who would light the candles and who would get to use the snuffer to douse them. Fire is fascinating. 

My hang up was with the smoke from the candles. I wanted to watch it twirl and twist, folding like ribbons on itself. And so was regularly annoyed when the douser waved a hand through the smoke, instantly dispersing it into a muddy cloud hovering over the dining room table.

I find the ephemeral silken ribbons both mesmerizing and beautiful. But what really catches my attention is what the smoke reveals about the air molecules as they bump and jiggle the smoke,  knocking the particles about until they no longer waft upward, carried by the heat of the burning wax and wick, but randomly move, gradually drifting outward until they are but a thin haze. Even in still air, the molecules are moving restlessly about. The nitrogen molecules in the air surrounding you right now are moving at 500 meters per second, more than a thousand miles per hour. Billions of them are colliding with your skin every second.

The unseen universe is a restless place. Something St. Augustine might not argue with.

Friday, September 04, 2020

Books: Alchemy and poetry

Crash has returned to his own apartment, leaving us with a call board to plan the meals and organize the day and an (almost) up to date inventory of the chest freezer.  Much as I appreciate the latter ledger, I'm wishing I'd kept a ledger of the meals we made over the course of these months.

I have been dipping in and out of Jane Hirshfield's new book of poetry, Ledger, which opens with "Let Them Not Say":

Let them not say: we did not see it. 
We saw.

Let them not say: we did not hear it.
We heard.

When I read "Advice to Myself" about a file with that title (and presumably advice) created a decade ago, I felt very seen.

I pulled philosopher Harry Frankfurt's little book On Bullshit off the shelf and am glad to have done so. He references Augustine! The essay attempts to carefully delineate lies and liars from bullshit and bullshit artists. 

"For the bullshitter, however all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose."

In this particular political moment, I highly commend On Bullshit to you. 

I've been captivated by Ainissa Ramirez's The Alchemy of Us. The opening vignette about traveling timekeepers was fascinating.

Anne Perry's Death in Focus is set in Europe during the rise of Hitler. It's a mystery, it's dark, and it's reminding me that we shouldn't close our eyes or ears. I have seen. I have heard. It's incumbent on my to speak. And to vote!