Thursday, November 17, 2011

MUNDELEIN, MUNDELEIN: MY VISIT WITH WORD ON FIRE

CHICAGO RIVER, PRE-PIZZA
HI, I'M A TOURIST!
THE WRIGLEY BUILDING
Welp, I am back safely from my trip to Illinois, and though Mundelein, Mundelein, may not have quite the ring of Chicago, Chicago, that is where I stayed, thirty miles north of the city at the seminary. I must say given half a chance I would change my gender, go back a few decades, and apply to study there to become a priest...For starters, there's a lake with a three-mile perimeter lined with graceful bridges and long views...there are Georgian brick buildings and meandering paths through the trees ("Margaret, are you grieving/Over Goldengrove unleaving"...). There was my room at the Conference Hall residency (built circa 1921(?)) in which I could easily make a life. Wide windowsill ledges on which to place your snacks and books, a delightfully clanky radiator you can crank up to high, a view of the quadrangle, a bathroom with spacious old sink, wooden medicine cabinet, and patinaed copper fixtures, a simple crucifix on the wall, and a gigantic "living room" (well-worn Schirmer's Mozart sonatas open on the grand piano) into which I padded in the morning to fetch my coffee...

I must give a special shout-out to Rozann Carter, administrative assistant and I don't know what all else (no title could describe the jack-of-all-trades duties that she, and it seems everyone else at Word on Fire Ministries, though they all have their specialties, performs). She stood by during a four-hour delay to pick me up at O'Hare, drove me downtown, showed me the Michigan Avenue environs highlights, feted me with a house salad (Chicagoans apparently put bacon bits in everything! I love that!) and a thin-crust mushroom and sausage at Lou Malnati's, and then ferried me at some ungodly hour to the seminary.

"Now where are the Great Lakes from here?" I asked at one point and was astounded to learn that Chicago is ON a Great Lake, thereby corroborating that I really need to get out more.

Rozann also deposited me at my door with this insane package of caramel popcorn, white chocolate covered pretzels, gummi bears, granola bars, Orbit gum, Starbucks Via (thank God), a darling package of hand-stamped flower-inked notebooks, and a print of Francisco de Zurburán's "The Bound Lamb" from the Prado. My ascetic bare-bones soul (I had subsisted the whole day on a $1.99 pack of dry whole wheat pita crisps and a bag of almonds) could hardly compute this largesse and it was all I could do to focus on my notes the next day before giving my two talks for the Word on Fire staff's "Day of Recollection." No flies on these folks. This is a crackerjack group who you can tell are working on all cylinders, all the time, and in fact were off the next day to Alabama so Fr. Barron could appear on EWTN.

THE DOORKNOB IN MY ROOM
But first, we enjoyed a lovely day together. I spoke (roughly) on the holy longing; on grace, desire, and mission; on the demand/invitation to love...I got to meet, at last, the delightful Fr. Steve Grunow, Fr. Barron's right-hand man. We'd been FB friends for months so it was a treat to meet him in the flesh and later that afternoon we managed a nice chat. In fact, I got a chance to chat with most of the dozen or so folks there who, to a person, were kind, insightful, and welcoming.

As for the good Father Robert Barron. he was energetic, interested, kind, smart, and funny: no small feat, especially as his popularity is skyrocketing as of late. His new Catholicism is selling like hotcakes, along with the DVD (which, btw, they gave me copy of! I left laden with gifts). He is booked to speak in all kinds of places--Cleveland, NYC, New Zealand--and more offers are pouring in. It's an exciting time for Word on Fire Ministries. I was humbled and honored and touched to be asked to speak and to feel a part, however tangentially, of his evangelization efforts.

More and more, I also see my greatest gift is to have been brought to my knees by alcoholism. Because before you are brought to your knees, you tend to think you are going to be able to manage and control by virtue of intellect backed by will power. You see other people fall and you think, That won't happen to me because I know how to manage and control. But we are not in control. And when I am really lucky, I remember that, and then I can take a walk around the lake at dusk: staggered by beauty, incoherent with thanks, mesmerized by the little crosses on top of the lamps that line the bridges, the squirrels, the crowns of the trees against the sky...






Friends of Word on Fire Liz and Chris Yore hosted us for dinner: fireplace, rare roast beef, tarte tatin and great conversation. "They knew him in the breaking of bread." Thus it has always been; thus it shall always be.

Diane Archibald came to fetch me for the ride to the airport at 7:30 the next morning, but first I had a chance to walk out and look across the lake one more time. The water looked like molten gold and just as I turned to leave, five wild geese rose in unison and, mournfully honking, flew away. I swear they were saying: Come back again some day, come back...

For as St. Ignatius of Loyola said, Love is an exchange of gifts...

15 comments:

  1. Oh, how awesome, Heather! I'm glad things went so well in Chicago, and that you got to meet such great people!

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  2. Wonderful! I had lunch with the crew here in Birmingham and (not suprisingly) they spoke with great warmth and high praise of what you had to share.

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  3. Liked your account, Heather, and as usual, loved the pics. Do you use the camera on your phone or something more specialized?
    Erin

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  4. Thanks, Dylan--I really did have a blast...every trip (probably because I don't make that many of them, thank the Lord), has its own gestalt...

    Amy, Fr. Barron said they were gonna meet with you the next night--so exciting! And small world...and another beautiful exchange of gifts, I'm sure.

    And Erin, I use a little Canon point and shoot that I bought off amazon refurbished for a little over a hundred bucks...it's the first camera I have ever owned and the pix for my blog the first pix I've ever taken. I find the world continuously, spontaneously shows up and if I'm lucky, I'm there to "see" it...to steal away for an hour and watch the sun setting over the water at Vespers was the loveliest coda to the day I could have imagined...

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  5. More and more, I also see my greatest gift is to have been brought to my knees by alcoholism. Because before you are brought to your knees, you tend to think you are going to be able to manage and control by virtue of intellect backed by will power. You see other people fall and you think, That won't happen to me because I know how to manage and control. But we are not in control. And when I am really lucky, I remember that, and then I can take a walk around the lake at dusk: staggered by beauty, incoherent with thanks, mesmerized by the little crosses on top of the lamps that line the bridges, the squirrels, the crowns of the trees against the sky...

    This brought tears to my eyes... so true.

    Glad you had a great visit!

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  6. So glad you had a great visit Heather.
    The Seminary is a wonderful, sacred place, isn't it? It's all the details, from the grotto with all the little notes and prayers tucked into the nooks and crannies of the rock; to those beautiful wooden doors and sparse furnishings in the residence halls; to the fading, rusting emblems on the lamposts; and the beautiful silence of the woods.
    Now you know why the place makes me happy and my soul sing.
    Keep up the good work. Love your writing!
    Gail

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  7. "Now where are the Great Lakes from here?"

    I couldn't laugh too hard at this, since I'm obviously no better: At Griffith Park last weekend, a lost jogger asked me for directions to the observatory. "What observatory?" I asked. Pfft.

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  8. Heather--next time you're in the Mundelein area, stop by at the Cardinal Stritch Retreat House--on the eastern edge of the Mundelein campus. As a big fan of yours (and another "ex-lawyer"--and now director of the retreat house), I'd love to tell you how much I have enjoyed your writing. And, yes, the Word on Fire people are the best.

    Richard

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  9. I hope you can return...and not just because the seminary is also stunning in winter..and spring..and summer.
    (Did you get to Marytown? If not, I hope can the next time you visit!)

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  10. Sounds like you had a terrific trip. I have not read anything by Fr. Barron, but I picked up (at the library-Thank GOD for libraries)
    Between Heaven and Mirth by Fr.James Martin, S.J. Oh,those Jesuits:)

    I need humor.

    That was a lovely bag of gifts and you shouldn't be too ascetic. Life is difficult enough.

    Regarding the Great Lakes- my own little story is this: a number of years ago on a trip to visit a cousin in my favorite city- San Francisco-I was standing at a bus stop and someone asked me where a certain record store was. I said- " I think it's that way." Only because I had passed it on my long walks.

    Glad your home safe. Nice pictures as well.

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  11. Sounds like you had a terrific trip. I have not read anything by Fr. Barron, but I picked up (at the library-Thank GOD for libraries)
    Between Heaven and Mirth by Fr.James Martin, S.J. Oh,those Jesuits:)

    I need humor.

    That was a lovely bag of gifts and you shouldn't be too ascetic. Life is difficult enough.

    Regarding the Great Lakes- my own little story is this: a number of years ago on a trip to visit a cousin in my favorite city- San Francisco-I was standing at a bus stop and someone asked me where a certain record store was. I said- " I think it's that way." Only because I had passed it on my long walks.

    Glad your home safe. Nice pictures as well.

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  12. I loved this post, a wonderful account of a fruitful journey. And I'm just a little obsessed (if that's possible) by that doorknob.

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  13. I am SO with you on that doorknob, Nancy--inside and out, they were, and I, too, was mesmerized. I even went on ebay briefly, but saw no such beautiful thing...thank you...

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  14. I agree about the doorknob and the photos you always take. Gee, the fingers that must have touched such a doorknob all this time -- what was the day's destination? Oh, history in taste, scent, and touch -- very Catholic, eh?

    A friend (who works and lives at our Mt. Wilson Observatory as an astronomer)recorded "Catholicism" for me -- the first 4 episodes. I am having difficulty watching it without weeping. The sights and sounds and words just blow me away everytime. I'm on my four watch of the first four episodes.

    My 19-year old daughter comes into the living room, glances at the t.v. screen, hears Father Barron's voice and grins, "Listening to your friend, again, Mom?"

    Went to Father Barron's talk at R.E. Congress in Anaheim this Spring -- he really inspired us about how to talk to agnostics and atheist i.e. "That mean God you are angry with -- well, that's not the God I worship. Can I tell you about Him -- the one I worship?" He's inspired yet practical.

    He's doing it, you know? Doing what he must. As we all (hopefully) are.

    You, Heather, are doing what you must -- write.

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    Just what Out Lord had in mind, huh?

    ReplyDelete

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