Sunday, January 27, 2008


I enjoy watching things get ready at Mass. In fact, I am usually there a good hour ahead of time so that I can sit in big quiet, pray, and be in the space as it breathes between liturgies. I have a regular spot I prefer in one of the apses that affords a view of the altar, an enormous stained glass window, and most of the rest of the congregation. This hour is a gift to myself that costs nothing and yields great richness. Most of the time, that richness is measured in a peaceful, mellow feeling inside me. A feeling of stillness in a city that fairly twitches with noise, tension, and speed. A feeling of connection with God and with those for/with whom I pray. It is a thin place for me, that spot... where I can easily tuck into the corner, cross my legs, close my eyes, and go elsewhere deep within, and elsewhere in our world.

I was gently brought out of that place today by a friend coming up and kissing my cheek while saying good morning. Someone else greeted me with a hug and a friendly ruffle of my newly cut hair. There were more hugs, others passed by, and we exchanged well wishes and smiles. Handshakes all around, warmth, and kindness.

When that gets added to an overall mellowness after an hour of contemplation, I find myself sitting there with a gently leaping fullness in my heart. As often as I tell God how thankful I am for our friendship and the adventure of life, I need to tell my friends there how thankful I am for them, too. It is good for my soul to know them and good for my heart to call them friends.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Penn Station

Penn station at 5:20 AM is an interesting experience. I was one of a minority to be there using it as a starting point. For the vast majority of the others there at that time, it was less a point of origin than a point of passing through on a transient journey from locations unknown to futures uncertain. As I made my way from street level to the New Jersey Transit section, I passed more than eighty people sleeping, resting, or simply crouching against the bitter cold outside.

In telling someone about seeing all of the people, how calculated their positioning—so as to protect what company they kept, be it meager belongings or another person— she said, “Oh, it breaks your heart, doesn’t it?” I had to say to myself that no, that was not my reaction.

It is not heartbreaking for me to see what I saw. This leads to the logical introspective question, What IS it to me to see the dozens upon dozens of people who had no other place to go but a stretch of floor, a corner for the lucky ones? If not heart breaking, then what? Stirring. Stirring many things, not breaking. Somehow, I don’t think my heart will break—or at least not with any regularity or ease. It’s meant to be stronger than that. Which is not to say that I am not called to recognize the brokenness in myself. That I certainly believe to be a call— a call to greater humanity, greater wholeness. But my heart? It swells, it clutches and contracts, it beats and even skips a beat now and then… but it remains.

The thing to me is that the pierced heart of Christ keeps beating. The pierced heart, the one open to woundedness, not closed off, the heart breached, not broken by the pain of the world, keeps beating yet today. But, I ask myself, what of the crucifixion? “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” What of “Today you will be with me in paradise?” How does it all go together?

To me, the cry of being forgotten is a bigger, more potable rent, than the piercing with the lance. Being forgotten was (is) felt via humanity. The lance was after death, when evil has no place, no hold, no claim. In either/both cases, though, the story continues—the heart remains, beating, alive in one way or vision or another. If it didn’t, if I didn’t feel it within me, sense it with my very being, then what would be the point? I think one of the gifts of the Christian story is that you can be wounded but not broken. In fact, to be the most whole and complete part of the story, you come to see that you ARE wounded but not broken.

This wound somehow lets the light through. Without it, how does life move through me? There is no release that relaxes the structure. Without the ingress of life, the world, it is the self sustaining the self… a high demand to make. Sooner or later, something gives. I actually think the natural tendency is toward the heart being breached, but a lot of energy and cultural norms are expended trying to have people go the other direction… to be individualistic rather than relational, independent rather than interdependent…

But, really, who wants to be forgotten, left behind? Who wants, ultimately, to be alone in this world? Who doesn’t want to be reminded in one way or another of where they will be at the end of days? Relationships and knowledge beget wounds, true, but light also comes through…and it’s the light that will triumph, no matter how dark the darkness. The heart will not be broken, though pierced, breached, opened.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sunday in the City, with Me

Rather than ride down to church this morning on the train, I opted for the 5th avenue bus. When I have the time, this is an observational treat. Another change in routine was that I was listening to music while riding. My view had a soundtrack. How interesting to see what songs come up while looking at which corners, blocks, buildings. My favorite juxtaposition of the morning was a “Gloria” from Hildegaard of Bingen that came right as we were sailing through the mid-forties. Ordinarily, this is a stretch that saddens me somewhat… I find it a bit shallow, bleak, almost lurking, somehow-- as though people can “get lost” there and not find their way back again.

Then, I ran into Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper on the way home today. Both adult men, one over six feet tall, one less than four, both in full costume on the #6 train. They spoke to no one. Not even the grandfather aged man across from me who was devouring a magazine about Playstation, the videogame set. At another stop, two very drunk twenty-something guys got on with a case of beer. Judging by their yells and hooting about, they were either enroute to or just coming from a Giants game. Earlier in the mid-morning, I met a homeless man who was claiming to be a Franciscan who needed to get back to his brothers in New Jersey. He was making the rounds of people who had come early to sit in the big quiet of a church between liturgies. It was a challenge to me whether I left myself open to his approaching me as well or whether I close my eyes in prayer for him…the latter choice being both more beneficial than a lack of financial aid and an indicator that I was not at that time open to hearing his pitch. I opted for that one, though it did cause some serious thinking on my part about the stories I am willing to hear and those I am not…and where and when and why. That is for another day. Then, there was the woman who came looking for the group who was folding clothing. She asked one person where they were and he simply pointed. She looked at me and sighed. Clearly, she’d never been to this parish and did not know the twisting layout of stairs, halls, and rooms. I walked her to the room where she thought it was…which turned out not be the case at all…or perhaps it was, an hour ago… The woman was late.

I think now it is time for some tea in the kitchen of my familiar. I regularly reflect on the goodness and blessing of have a home to return to… In a way, it is like having friends hug you… by the utter feeling of the experience, there is the assurance that no matter where you go or what you encounter, no part of you has been lost and you are still there.

Saturday, January 5, 2008


The Feast of Epiphany is is one of my favorites in the Church year. It is for me one of the most easily imagined stories... I can imagine the travellers, the camels ("galled and sore-footed" according to Eliot), the curiousity that must have been present among them, the doubts and certainties, the question of what will happen once they see... what will change? That is the question, isn't it? For who could remain the same?

Though I do know the story as it is recorded, I also can't help but believe that there were more than three who set off on the journey...

Epiphany 2008

An easy journey it was not.
But worth it? Oh that night—
in the lullaby of light
draped on their wraps
and star dappled faces,

I heard Mystery laugh and understood
with the clarity of a cold bell chiming
that in spite of what was before me,
I had not truly arrived
that night.

Nor would I until
I was willing to walk
with nothing but love
as the glory fire lighting
my heart and the unknown path.


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

I'm Hungry-- Must be Time to Read

Lately my reading tastes have expanded a bit. I have been reading more and more about food. Not necessarily cookbooks, but “food writing” as the section is labeled in the bookstores. I forget what the initial draw was to bring me to these shelves in the first place, but I have been the veritable kid in a kitchen store with the volumes I discover there. Food related essays, biographies, cultural anthropologies…numbers of which are in the public library! These have engaged my senses in ways that little other literature recently has (poetry excepted). It has been a delight to introduce my palate to differently spiced paragraphs and see sentences laid out on the table, glistening, crunching, tempting, inviting.

With that as context…

I had time to think on the train today and was biding time by imagining what authors of any genre would go with the different parts of a meal. I’d begin the meal with a half glass of Hafiz to perk the palate with his unique, champagne-lively, unashamedly passionate poetry. Salad—this would be a reading from a Doris Kearns Goodwin history tome—Either Team of Rivals or No Ordinary Time. Crunchy, textured, thoughtful, tangy… Soup? Something from Butler’s Lives of the Saints. Moving from here into the main course—Wallace Stegner, I think. Definitely the texture of a finely marbled steak—something to slice into and chew. Or, perhaps, Jane Smiley—more like a well turned out chicken dish that treats you to beauty, subtle flavor, and thankfulness for the utter chicken-y-ness of what you are eating. Dorothy L. Sayers would be good here too. A loaf of Thurber or Twain on the table for a break…crusty, filling, fragrant, utterly enjoyable and wide in scope/topic—goes with almost anything. Post dinner liquer—a little sip of Dorothy Parker or Edna St. Vincent Millay. Dessert- a reading from Song of Songs. Followed by a demitasse of Pablo Neruda—lovely, deep, and satisfying…that brings everything together.

And later on, I’d probably sneak a spoonful of Ogden Nash out of the carton in the freezer.

Happy New Year, folks. May the year be filled with grace upon grace…