Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Nothing Rhetorical About It

I came across one of my favorite questions in the Gospels the other day—Who do you say that I am? Within those seven words is an endless fountain of contemplation that can be considered from a multiplicity of angles. Who at times might become what; say turns to draw, write, sculpt, see; am might slowly change to was or will be.

The first time I thought about actually answering the question was about nine years ago. Inquisitive by nature in school and at home as a child, I had known already that asking and answering questions could humble one’s self, open the heart and mind to a certain vulnerability. Either could expose a gap in knowledge and understanding as well as a curiosity and desire to expand. I remember thinking “How bold can you be?” Which was soon followed by “Then again, how many rhetorical questions does he ask? If the question is there, it is there to be answered.” There was also within me the joy of the back and forth exchanges that can lead to greater understanding, even in the midst of confusion. I realized that I wanted to know what my answer was. So pen in hand, I replied.

You are the raucous laughter and the wailing anguish of God; you are prophet, teacher, and friend. You are wisdom born of prayer, experience, and intimacy with God; you are sunrise and thunderstorm. You are gathering arms and quiet lullabies; you are word brought forth in the fullness of its light, its poetry, its beauty. You are courage and you are conviction; you are the sea wind that fills sails and sets birds to flight. You are eyes that see with a singular vision, ears that hear me before I have spoken, lips that speak to be understood; you are heart with an infinite capacity for truth. You are the perfect balance of haiku; you are body and you are blood; you are bread and wine and feast. You are justice, you are trust; you are compassion, pardon, and peace. You are human, you are spirit; you remain forever, in us, approachable glory.

What I wasn’t expecting was the reciprocal invitation to ask Jesus the question myself. There was nothing rhetorical about the reply.

Look at the stars! You are their brilliance in my eyes. Look at the water! You are my reflection. You are multicolored depths, like the wilds of the ocean. You are revealer and you are revelation. You are creator and you are creation. You are fine morning mist and tumbling, tossing, waves. You are the ever changing beauty of the moon; forever wondrous, forever inspiring, forever within my sight and within the reach of my arms.

Nelson Mandela once quoted Marianne Williamson in speech, saying that our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate—but rather that we are powerful beyond measure.

Faith teaches us that the power is the love of God working through us.

Go ahead. It's okay to ask.

The answer might just knock your socks off. That's okay too. Revelation can be like that.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Basic language

I’ve been stuck on the soundtrack for Godspell for a little over a week now so it makes sense that a song from it is what came to mind during the 10:30 homily this past Sunday. The Gospel had the sea-tossed disciples asking a sleepy Jesus “Do you not care that we are perishing?” Peter was presiding and invited people to imagine ourselves back into the midst of a storm we had experienced at some point in our life. “Taste the fear,” he prompted.

I had no problem with that. During my tenure in southern Louisiana, a low level hurricane by the name of Lily swept through Grand Coteau and put a tree through our roof. I remember watching branches on the trees by the chapel bow down to the ground on one side and seconds later, with incomprehensibly yogic flexibility, flip up and over to touch the roots on the other side as well. I was watching this from the threshold of the kitchen door until I heard the snap of the pecan tree just beyond the steps and then the cracking and creaking of its trajectory before ultimately crunching onto and through the tin roof of the Cottage.

While sitting there in the gym reflecting on this experience and the aftermath of it when nature went berserk with new life of all types—think Genesis—I heard strains of “Save the People” from Godspell wafting through the memory.

“O, God save the people,
Save the people,
God save the people,
From despair.
God save the people!”

A request of a similar sort to the question posed by those gathered in the boat. A much more raw plea was my mantra at the time. Things do get basic in situations like that. And assurances we once counted on all go overboard.

It seems to me that the answer we seek is fairly basic too… A question I found myself considering was whether as easily as the plea came to my mind in the midst of the hurricane, was I as ready to accept the answer I faith-fully believed would come? Regardless of what that looked like? ”Do you not care??” “I do care.” “Save the people!” “I will.”

There’s no predicting the sea. No predicting the wind. No predicting God either.

Except, the water’s wet and salty; the wind blows things; and God is love.

Basic is good sometimes.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bearing the Ordinary

Every once and a while I dump whatever bag I am carrying at the time and imagine what story the contents might tell someone about who I am...

SparkCharts Advanced Spanish vocabulary/Idioms; orange Rhodia notebook/journal; My Life with the Saints by James Martin; second notebook full of notes and copied out Spanish vocabulary; new pair of shoes, purchased today; rain coat; Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone...in Spanish; Mary Oliver's House of Light; three pens--shades of blue, all fine point; my father's hanky folded into a neat square; spearmint gum; three bandaids; small pouch of change; wallet; keys; brochure from yesterday's trip to the WTC museum; chapstick; a small piece of hematite; a postcard from a friend; eyedrops; ibuprofen; a twisty; a straw; a napkin; a ziploc with some pretzels; the draft of a friend's children's book.

Nothing out of the ordinary, but all uniquely significant to me. That's the way it is, isn't it? Seemingly common place elements that combine to represent ME. I look at it all making a picture together and can say yep, that's me-stuff. That combination is a bit of revelation about who I am in the universe...and therefore too, a window into a unique aspect of God. I would know if something is out of place...heels, for example, or a pack of cigarettes. Those who know me would recognize that too. I find that rather comforting.

It reminds me of a story from earlier this year. Once, two kids who were working on the Middle School newspaper came up to me asking for a unique skill or ability or experience I had that would surprise other students. They were asking a group of us and setting up a guess who matching game in part of the paper. As I stood there and thought, one of them said "You know, you're going to be easy...anything you'd say would fit you and it would be easy to see because you...well, you're so YOU." "I'm predictable, then?" "No...," she said, "We'd know what you didn't do but nothing you did do would surprise us!"

My fervent wish is that they come to hear and experience more stories of the beautiful ordinary of people's lives and begin to say the same about God. "We'd know what you didn't do..."--discernment--- "But nothing you did do would surprise us"--with God, all things are possible.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Friday Five...One Day Late! Based on the book Life is a Verb...

1. What awakens you to the present moment?

Feeling grounded myself--inside if not out; paying attention; listening to instinct; writing about it.

2. What are 5 things you see out your window right now?

Hmm...pigeons, a delivery truck, someone going through our garbage, a baby in a swimsuit and goggles riding by in a stroller, and rain-scattered tree pollen.

3. Which verbs describe your experience of God?

Accept; Give; Listen; Consider; Share; Expand; Saturate

4. From the book on p. 197:
Who were you when you were 13? Where did that kid go?

Oh Lord. I was a seventh grader who already knew her take on the universe was different than that of the majority of her peers but had no outlet for expressing it. That kid went on a long journey, met really good people along the way who gave her tools, friends who taught her about her own goodness, who loved her for precisely who she was, people who listened to her and said Wow!, and she ended up in New York trying to do those very things for others because she knows to her very bones that it makes a difference.

5. From the book on p. 88:
If your work were the answer to a question, what would the question be?

Is truth really stranger than fiction?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday in the Gym with God

I admit it. My mind wandered during liturgy this morning—the first 10:30 AM Mass in the Xavier High School gymnasium.

Being asked to stand in as a lector necessitated a seat change that meant I was facing the congregation. The congregation…and the scoreboard. Not in the least athletically inclined in a sport that ever uses one, I still understand its purpose in helping people make sense of what is happening in front of them.

It got me thinking. Was I “Home” or “Away?” An interesting question. I was away from an accustomed setting but home within the people and the ritual practiced. And, after all, we were only next-door. I decided I was part of the home team and began considering what that meant.

Usually, if there is a home team, there is also an away team. Who is on that team? Going back in memory to my own time spent in gymnasiums, I could imagine that the person who feels like she or he is on the away team is one who might be afraid he or she will not be chosen or will be selected last or asked to sit on the sidelines. And, sadly, experience might bear that out. The one on the away team might be someone I see every day who has never heard that there is such a place as Xavier where they can come as they are and worship God, whose measure for our lives is not tallied in fouls, per se, but rather what we did with our time on the court, what lessons we learned and how we used that knowledge for benefit.

But it isn’t a game at all, life. It is a serious undertaking with unpredictable outcomes and we need all the help we can get.

It then occurred to me that the scoreboard was wrong. For at least an hour on a Sunday morning, the board was wrong. Our faith teaches us that with God, there is no “Away.” There is only “Home.”

No athleticism required. Score-keeping unnecessary. Cheerleading helpful.

Welcome to the team.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Things Seen

...on my way to work today...

pigeons eating petunias; a woman playing a harp in Central Park (I took a short detour of my usual path to include a look at the reservoir); a baby gumming a bagel; my reflection in a puddle from sidewalk washing; an old man humming while he walked with his cane; a rumple-haired dog who looked as tired as its owner; And I can't say for sure...but I think I caught a glimpse of poetry.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Getting a Move On!

Brought to you by the pals at Revgals…it’s Friday Five! Time to get a move on… This one is timely for me as I will be spending my summer getting life and belongings in order so that I might go to Chile in the fall, return for two months, and then head to Rome for five months…and then return to…I know not what or where.

Changing location also means packing, so next month will be a month of clearing and sorting, deciding what comes and what gets left behind...

So with change in mind I offer you this Friday five; ( if you've never moved here's a chance to use your imagination)

1. A big move is looming, name one thing that you could not possibly part with, it must be packed ?

Easy…the picture I have had hanging in every bedroom I have ever had—and there have been plenty of different ones. My mother had it in her room when she was in college, hung it in my room as an infant, and it has been there ever since. It is this Ted DeGrazia print… but in a rectangle.

2. Name one thing that you would gladly leave behind...

PAPER! Other than old journals.

3. How do you prepare for a move

a. practically?

Pack everything that is in a drawer or cupboard first. That way, I can see all that I have left and every time something gets packed, instant visual progress. Nothing is hidden. I also save my books to pack in the middle when I need instant satisfaction... Books pack so easily!

b. spiritually/ emotionally?

I say goodbye. I thank. Sometimes I write a poem for certain friends. I spend time in my favorite spots. I also tend to frame moves as an adventure…new place, new people, more learning about and discovering aspects of God.

4. What is the first thing you look for in a new place?

Well, close to the first thing…the nearest public library and a coffee shop that feels right to me. Then begins the hunt for a parish.

5. Do you settle in easily, or does it take time for you to find your feet in a new location?

I tend to settle in fairly quickly. Home is where I am…haven’t really had the luxury of it being otherwise in my life. Or, actually, let me say this—I HAVE had the luxury of it being that way. It allows me to BE where I am more easily…and if I am not there, it feels like I am not quite touching the ground—neither where I am or where I’d perhaps rather be.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sunscreen and Barbecue

Today was field day. The whole middle school took buses to a school in CT and essentially ran silly all day long. The smell of sunscreen and barbecue was in the air, the sounds of screaming, laughing students as well as birds never noticed in the City, the taste of the deliciously varied potluck pieced together by the faculty while the kids had burgers and dogs, the vision of kids actually having room for their bodies and being free, the feel of sunshine and long stretches of grass...

When I got back home it was time for liturgy with the community and friends...as songs were played, I closed my eyes and bits of the day replayed, much like an old home movie--more staccato than digital. The joyous face of a teacher friend whom I taught to juggle this morning, the sounds of the kids practicing their Prize Day song on the bus, one kid reading to me a poem she had just written about her dreams, the laughter of another teacher friend while she told a story, a kid showing me a new opening for juggling while she tossed in the third ball and her being so proud of teaching me something, trading puns with another teacher while seated at table for lunch...

I am reminded of a Madeleine L'Engle poem about Mrs. Noah...the bulk of the poem is her lament at thinking she finally had a moment to herself now that her sons are raised and off but noooooo..."Here we are jammed in this Ark...the animals take up almost all the room and Noah and I are crowded together with Shem, Ham, and Japeheth, their slovenly wives and noisy children, and nowhere to go for a moment's peace..." and finally, after arguing with her lazy daughters-in-law who do nothing and only cause dirty laundry and want to have it washed every time Mother Noah turns around, "that silly dove Noah is so fond of came back with an olive twig on his beak...We've landed! At last! Now we can get back to normal and if I put something where it belongs it will stay there and I can clean up this mess and get some sleep at night and--Noah! Noah! I miss the children."

I will miss them too...as well as many of the faculty and staff...crazy and chaotic as it is and trying as it can be on occasion. Yes, I will miss it.