Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A NOTE FROM MY BROTHER ROSS

ROSCOE, FRONT ROW, LEFT

You've met my brothers Joe and Allen. You've met my brother Geordie. And now let me introduce my brother Ross, who is a teacher back East, has several masters' degrees (one from Fuller Theological Seminary here in Pasadena), and is the father of the multi-talented, uber resourceful Allen, who we are all banking on to support us in our old age, i.e. as soon as he turns 16 in three years and can get a job.

He, Ross that is, is also thoughtful, insightful, generous, kind, a man of God, and an all-around good egg, as are all my brothers (there' one more--Tim lives in Bangkok!).

This is the beautiful response he wrote to my post of last week re our mother, aging, death, and existential loneliness. And hope. And joy. (Ross is also the one who unearthed that stellar photo of me at age 5 from the family archives). Am I not one lucky sister?

"Dear Heather,

I agree with what one reader wrote in response: "don't tinker with a thing." Each paragraph is a mini-essay in itself. Here is one. "We carry in our bodies a whole range of wounds, of hurt, of loneliness, of the continual daily onslaught of tiny slights and insults, of guilt for the slights and insults we impose on others. If you’re single, you carry the added weight, the secret shame, of knowing that that you are first in no-one’s heart. You walk the earth with billions of other people and you are first in no-one’s heart…As you age, I’m finding, what also comes up is a primal fear of appearing to be debilitated, weak, in need of help; a deep primordial limbic terror of being cast out of the herd and left to die, alone…"

Great food for thought! I love how you were able to tie up so many loose ends of your relationship with mom and vice versa, especially those bottled up feelings, some of which Mom struggled to release. I come away from your poignant and insightful blog entry convinced of the importance of openly sharing one's feelings--in all their dimensions--as we live life. To put it simply, it's okay to express anger, frustration, sadness, fear; it's okay to express joy, passion, happiness. It's okay to express our needs--for touch, for connection, for intimacy, for honesty. It's okay to admit to ourselves, as you do so eloquently, our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses, our mistakes, our doubts, our questions.

You mention paradox, and I believe, as you do , that this is an essential understanding if one is to grow spiritually. There is so much paradox in our walk with God. One of them is to realize, as your reflections help remind us, that no human love or touch can replace the infinitely more comprehensive and enduring love of God. The sorts of understanding you help us reflect on, as fellow sojourners with you, are focused on the importance of trying to understand ourselves...what is it that is behind our individual and collective pain, as human beings?

There is paradox in wanting to be first in someone's heart. Because while we all seem to want to feel that sensation, the greatest of all commandments, according to Jesus, are that we love God (the One who the psalmist intuited "knit us together in our mother's womb") with all our heart, mind, and strength; and that we love our neighbor as ourselves. Your writings help us remember to keep that in mind, and your writings also remind us of the many ways we deceive ourselves when we attempt to live life apart from God, when we don't keep trying to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps this need to be first in someone's heart can be more accurately understood as a need for connection. I keep coming back to that word "connection" lately. How about you? This life that we've been given is not some sort of cosmic coincidence. There must be some reason we are here. I believe that Jesus' life, ministry, and mission point us to what life is like and what our best response should be. Jesus showed in myriad ways that life is full of pain; it isn't fair. Jesus implies that there are many ways we deceive ourselves into thinking we truly love when we only concern ourselves with our "mate", (it's interesting that Jesus wasn't married). Jesus reminds us that we are to love as he loved, and that one's title, education, and socioeconomic status do not cut us any of us slack from the Jordan River call to repent.

While we want to be first in someone's heart, Jesus implied that we humans we miss the point when we do that. I believe that the higher connection, the stronger and more permanent--more authentic and sincere one-- is to seek to be connected to God. When we seek the God connection, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will discover that we are connected to others, far more than we could ever imagine. That's a sensation which fills our whole being (heart, soul, body) with the love we truly seek; that's perhaps the "truth" that Jesus implied would "set us free. One of Jesus' key teachings, (and we as humans do ourselves a huge disservice, when we fail to learn from it), was to teach us that being born (physically) is one thing; being born anew spiritually is another.After all, "No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." (John 3:3).

There is a paradox here we all must answer; one which you hint at is reflected in that human desire to be "first in someone's heart." Perhaps the mistake we make as humans comes from the effort to be "first in someone's heart" in the first place. Maybe Jesus mission involved trying to show us this erroneous thinking through his life and ministry- plunging the depths of human sinfulness by going to the cross on our behalf, calling out to and depending on God (Creator) in the process of dying and resurrection.

I believe we all need touch--there's nothing wrong with admitting it. You are wise to go the the masseuse. Even Jesus received touch. I am thinking of the woman who anointed his feet with her tears and with expensive perfume, drying his feet with her hair (in Luke, ch. 7) Since Jesus was from a culture where foot washing was common and he washed the disciples feet, touch was not something foreign to those who lived at the time and place. It's unfortunate we live in a culture where touch is such a "touchy subject" (no pun intended); it is seen as either taboo or on the opposite extreme as something which should have almost no limits and which can be exploited for profit. I believe that the affirmation that comes from giving and receiving hugs is closest to the kind of touch Jesus modeled in the washing of the disciples feet. It's a touch God knows we need, and it's interesting to note that Jesus calls on the disciples to wash one another's feet.

So, I applaud you, Heather, for your insights into life, your profound reflections on the trip to the massage shop, and for your honesty. Your insights about life are reflective of what Henri Nouwen wrote towards the end of his book The Inner Voice of Love: "What seemed such a curse has become a blessing. All the agony that threatened to destroy my life now seems like fertile ground for greater trust, stronger hope, and deeper love."

Peace and Power to you this day, and always,

Ross"
No, no, that's our beloved Ross on the LEFT...
OUR HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

Sunday, January 29, 2012

IKEA AND THE FOURTH DIMENSION


I am discovering a whole new world in 2012! It's almost like being born again. I feel a little like Lazarus, stiff from the grave, in the process of breaking through a brittle covering, like an egg shell, or a hardened mummy shroud...My friend Dave recently compared himself to a frog who lives in the Gobi and makes mud when it rains, and sits within the shell till it hardens, and then simply hunkers down there, hibernating.  Not drinking water, not eating much…

I related completely, though while I'm hunkered down, I'm not idle (nor is Dave, who is apparently a master carpenter and madly talented artist and whom I'm holding to his word to show me his work soon). In fact, one reason I'm brittle is my whole life I have pounded my body, pounded my body, sports in high school, years in the bars, walking, tennis, sitting in a chair for hours and hours every day, no stretching, very little rest, driving cross country 600, 700 miles a day, walks by the freeway, the railroad tracks, the warehouses, the gym, lifting weights, discipline, hard work, solitary prayer…I wouldn’t have done it any other way, probably, but the point is I’ve become strong in one way and, as is probably true of all of us (which is why I mention it), in another way I have a whole set of muscles I haven’t exercised at all, hardly ever. Namely, though it sounds so lame and New-Agey, the muscles of rest, of self-care, of tenderness, of movement, of relationship, of working with my hands, of maybe even dance...I will draw the line at saying of letting myself be loved--I mean let's not go overboard--but of course that's what I'm talking about, in one way or another…

Anyway, my whole body, as I mentioned the other day, I've suddenly realized is in pain! I can actually hear the bones in my neck, for example, clicking and creaking and screeching "Oil can!," like the Tin Man, when I turn my head.

Interestingly (or not), what brought this to the fore was a seemingly tangential, completely unrelated event, which was that on the way back to L.A. from Palm Springs a few weeks ago I stopped in at the West Covina Ikea and bought myself a $39.99 Helmer drawer unit on casters. This might not seem like an event to you but about...oh, twelve years ago, I ventured into the Ikea in Burbank and was so brutally, cruelly traumatized by the experience that even now I quail at the memory. Ever since I have told myself I am just not the kind of person who can hack going to Ikea, I am not the kind of person who can deal with crowds, I am not the kind of person who likes airplane-hangar sized stores, I am not the kind of person who is able to stand in line, and though I probably could be the kind of person who put together a drawer unit, just in case I'm not, I really don't want to find out.

Nonetheless, lulledinto a relatively stress-free state by ten days in compared-to-L.A. soporific Palm Springs , I geared myself up, girded my loins, wheeled into the W. Covina Ikea, strode in, and bought myself this darling bright red metal unit (the same one my friend Christine, whose house I'd been staying at in P.S., had in her office) that was packaged in an extremely heavy cardboard box that seemed way too small and flat to hold it.

The next weekend, I got out my Phillips screwdriver and spread the parts out on the floor and actually had a blast for the next two or three hours putting the thing together. How thrilling to slip in a trial drawer and find that it fit! I did run into a small snafu when I found that five drawers fit and what was left were two huge gaps on the bottom and top, one the height of a third of a drawer and the other the height of two-thirds of a drawer. But I did not qualify for the Winnacunnet High School Mathletes for nothing (qualified, but did not join, choosing instead to focus my olympian athletic abilities toward playing halfback for the world-famous WHS girls' field hockey team) and quickly saw I had installed the runners upside down, righted the situation, and now I have all the stuff that was in bowls and baskets and bins cluttering my desk in my little red cabinet!

Funny how a little thing like re-arranging your desk can open up whole new vistas, but more to the point here, three hours crouching over a bunch of metal parts with a screwdriver left me practically crippled. Now if I am not the kind of person who goes to Ikea, I am really, really not the kind of person who does, say, yoga. Oh my God, no. If you live in L.A. there are simply legions of these humorless folk, men and women alike, marching as to war toward the nearest Bikram storefront with a brightly-colored rolled-up mat under their arms and a coconut water. (Typically, of course, I have no idea what yoga actually consists of, or is, and have never tried it myself, and if I did, would no doubt become instantly obsessed and want to over-bond with the instructor, etc. etc.) Still, limping around the house and the streets (as I insisted on taking my daily walk that afternoon anyway),  the thought briefly did cross my mind--Oh! I wonder if those people do yoga (I always want to call it yoger, as a certain strain  of New Englander would pronounce it) to address some kind of pain!

I didn't hit a yoga place but it did occur to me that there was an exercise mat under my bed (both the bed and the mat being my housemate's) and when I got home, I pulled it out. Imagine my surprise to find imprinted right on the mat, both sides, a series of stretching exercises! So I hauled it right out and have been stretching every day. Already it has made a huge difference, and has also invited my hardened imagination to stretch in all kinds of other directions.

The second Tuesday of January (free day), for instance, I drove myself over to the Autry Museum here in town and was mesmerized the Native American blankets and basketry.



sorry, I forgot my camera and had to use my phone...
MISSION INDIAN BASKET,
LATE 19TH TO EARLY 20TH CENTURY,
AUTRY MUSEUM
LIDDED BASKET
ELIZABETH HICKOX (Karuk/Wiyot), c. 1913
AUTRY MUSEUM
this is a hat!
Here's a bio of Wuzzie George (which I would so name my child if I had one!), a Northern Paiute basketweaver who lived near the Carson Desert outside Reno, Nevada.

DAT SO LA LEE (LOUISA KEYSER) (1829-1925)
WITH TWO OF HER WASHOE BASKETS
I could hardly believe the fineness of the craftsmanship and the beauty of the baskets (let's not even go to the  difference between these and an Ikea filing cabinet), from various parts of the country, and the Autry had also put together several videos, showing some contemporary basketmakers, a dying breed who are determined to pass on their art to the next generation. Basketmaking is/was a whole way of life, taking into account native plants, geography, geology and weather, the changing of the seasons, the surrounding wildlife. The preparation alone--gathering, splitting, drying, bundling--could take weeks. Controlled burns were sometimes used to encourage the growth of a particular crop of grasses or reeds. The designs were incredibly sophisticated (and somehow contemporary), and it is hard to imagine the focus required to bring one of these works of art (many of which they used in their daily routine) to life. One of the women in the videos reported that they ask the plants--the reeds, and sumacs, and juncus and redbuds--permission to pick them, and say thank you afterwards...

Other exciting changes. I have bought and worn a skirt. I am--keep your shirt on--learning to knit. So I feel like right now my life literally depends upon taking these tiny "contrary actions"...To go to a museum. To buy a skirt instead of always wearing pants. To take a day off.

In fact, I'm going out to Palm Springs for the whole month of March. Who knows WHAT will come of that!




L.A.'s LONG, HARSH, WINTER APPEARS TO BE NEARING AN END...

BEST "POEM" EVER BY PERSON WHOSE FIRST LANGUAGE IS NOT ENGLISH

Ireland(Green domination)...contemplative 
Thank you so much, for taking time to reply to so many, and to me also...hahaha...you get full-time job...free, voluntarily or not that might be also a matter of destiny...just joking now. It is crazy situation all over world regarding employments, jobs, getting payed for work or not. Anyway  it is easier to think globally when it comes to that type of reality . I didn't meant to speak about that at all.

Just wanted to thank you and to tell you that people can see, read, recognize your goodness, it is so tangible. You got such a good bunch of readers there, they making jokes even of themselves, and similar. I've noticed that many highlighted your 'Confession' regarding couple of 'soul-mate's attacks' on you. And then yours readers commented so funny even when it comes to so touchy topic that we all should review amongst. Please, feel totally, but totally free with replying(not) on my emails, posts, anything...

Regarding Church....Oh I love Her...LOVE Church...that is us in the Most High order, under that High order...Church is blessed straight from the Cross: "Mother (women) here is your son. Son here is your mother." (John 19, 27). Despite and with the Cross and when on the cross I love Church. I just want to be (trust)worthy of my life. To attract other to the real life. To the Truth. Not many are lovers of the truth. 

You really have fine readers and they just enjoy your different way of expression, your sense of humor, picturesqueness...simplicity...quickness...

I love to read, enjoy, cry, find my self in poetry...but I can not write poems. I'd like to be able to express myself, my feelings and to burst, sometimes in verses. But they are too high for me to reach them...need to wait eternity, I suppose... to express them...
Please do not mind me...    
i hope your mum is going to be alright. I'll remember her in my prayers.
Thank you
and  ignore me, not a bother at all,
Stana

me in betvven... 
Medjugorje-youth festival, July 2011...amazing event... 
Stana divides her time between Ireland and Medjugorje, in the southern part of Bosnia Herzegovina.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

THE ETERNAL CHILD

LITTLE HEATHER, AGE 5,
IN FRONT OF THE HOUSE WHERE MY MOTHER WAS RAISED
Monday afternoon I drove to downtown L.A., just north of Cesar Chavez Avenue in Chinatown and got myself a $20 foot massage. I can’t adequately describe how foreign the notion a massage of any kind is to my Yankee, thrifty upbringing. My Calvinist impulse when in pain is to push harder, work more, soldier through. That’s what my father, a bricklayer did; that’s what my mother (to eight kids) did. Only lately have I allowed myself to realize my entire body is killing me; even then, I'd had to gradually, slowly work up to the idea of "treating" myself to a (low-end) foot massage.

To compensate for this unseemly pampering I’d parked a half mile away, even though it was raining: partly so as to avoid paying for parking, partly because I've come to like building a little penance into my pleasure. The fact is I enjoyed walking in the drizzle through the deserted streets of Chinatown: the pastry shops, the dim sum palaces, the noodles joints, the parking lot attendants sitting on soda shop stools surveying their realms, the workman squatting against a storefront on the sidewalk with a delicious-looking Styrofoam container of grease-slicked roast duck and rice, the skyscrapers of downtown looming in the mist...

Foot massage in L.A. is a term of art, an hour-long affair that includes a neck, back, shoulder and leg rub. The place was about what you’d expect for 20 bucks, no more, no less; dim lights, clean enough, tiny rooms, muslin, bamboo, sitar Musack. First I got to soak my feet in a tub of nice warm water while “Lisa” did my neck and back, and then I got to recline in a big old comfy towel-covered chair while she knelt and did my legs and then my feet. Almost as soon as she started on my calves, I began crying. When you are never touched, to have someone touch you, someone who doesn’t want anything and is coming from a basic place of warmth unleashes, for me anyway, a cascade of emotions. That you can walk through the anonymous streets of a city and through a particular door and someone will invite you to take off your shoes and socks and will then touch you, will not shame you, will not ask you to give an account of yourself, will not be--or at least not act--repulsed, is really, I have to say, kind of poignant.

We carry in our bodies a whole range of wounds, of hurt, of loneliness, of the continual daily onslaught of tiny slights and insults, of guilt for the slights and insults we impose on others. If you’re single, you carry the added weight, the secret shame, of knowing that that you are first in no-one’s heart. You walk the earth with billions of other people and you are first in no-one’s heart…As you age, I’m finding, what also comes up is a primal fear of appearing to be debilitated, weak, in need of help; a deep primordial limbic terror of being cast out of the herd and left to die, alone…

I've somewhat come to terms with all that, though, and what I was really thinking of as Lisa worked over my deteriorating-in-various ways-at-the-moment feet was my mother. Mom’s in a home in Dover, New Hampshire with Alzheimer’s. She’s been in the same second-floor corner room for four years, quite proud that she can still navigate the stairs; insistently, even defiantly (that's my Mom!),  refusing to use a walker. But she’s been failing, as we do. Mom, the most fastidious person I know, has been having trouble cleaning herself. Mom, who put her whole life on hold to sit by the metaphorical telephone, to be on call in case someone needed her, can no longer hear the phone ringing, even though it's two feet away. “Well hello there,” she’ll say to my brother Geordie, who lives closest by and bears the brunt of visiting, accompanying to doctor’s visits, decision-making. “She knows I’m friend, not foe,” he’ll report, “but that’s about it. She greets me about the way she would the plumber”…

Mom took a little fall on the stairs recently, plus she’s started getting belligerent (also wildly out of character: Mom’s stubborn but she’s also extremely meek), and the short of it is that last week the people at the home made her move in downstairs, next to the nurse’s station, WITH A ROOMMATE (94-year-old Hannah, bless her heart). I can’t really describe how very much my mother 1) resists change and 2) is not a roommate person. We all thought she’d freak; instead, and this may be a measure of her diminishment: she didn’t blink an eye. Expressed initial surprise—“Why didn’t you tell me yesterday?”—and then went meekly, happily along. So far, so good, for which we are grateful.

MOM AND ME, A FEW YEARS AGO,
DOVER, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Still—it’s my mother. I'm her firstborn and it's my mother. All week I’d been thinking of the passage, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands and another will gird you and carry you where you did not wish to go” [John 21:18].

And here in this dim massage room, with not a soul in the world except Lisa knowing where I was, I thought of a story someone had recently told me about when she’d been in rehab. She said her roommate had been a burn victim, a fellow alcoholic who’d tried to fry a hamburger one night when she was drunk and her dress had caught fire and she'd been too wasted to extinguish the flames or call 9-1-1 and had sustained third-degree burns over half her body. And this woman would lie there with a pillow over her mouth in rehab and scream and scream and scream. The pillow muffled it more or less but it was a terrible haunting wrenching sound. And finally this woman who was telling the story had said, “Is there something I can do? Are you all right?” And the burn victim woman said, “Yeah, I’m okay. I’m screaming now because I was afraid if I screamed in the hospital, they wouldn’t take care of me.”

I was afraid if I screamed, they wouldn’t take care of me. Isn’t that on some level the wound we all carry? I thought of my mother, raised on a Rhode Island chicken farm during the Depression with a mother who literally went days without saying a word, and a father who up and left one day when my mother was 13, never to return, only to surface years later with a new, second family. I felt how she was maybe afraid to scream all her life because, even remaining silent, they hadn’t taken care of her. I thought how when your whole psyche has been formed by neglect and abandonment, you are maybe subconsciously afraid that your own child will reject you--and how, in many ways, I had. I thought about all the people I have been hurt by in my life who couldn’t or wouldn’t get closer and how maybe they were exercising a superhuman amount of courage and heart to let themselves get as close as they did.

I thought of how like my mother, I am so not a roommate person and yet, a year and a half ago, and due to our current Depression, I’d gotten a roommate, too...

“She still reads a little,” Geordie had said. “I don’t know how much she absorbs, but she had The Wind in the Willows out the other day.” I thought of how, last year, I too, had re-read The Wind in the Willows (“Ratty, please, I want to row!), even going so far as to read a biography of author Kenneth Grahame—whose mother died when he was five, whose father was an alcoholic, who made an unhappy marriage, and whose only child, a son nicknamed Mouse, had been emotionally troubled all his life and committed suicide at the age of twenty by throwing himself under a train.

I thought of how Geordie had told me, “She has two books by her bed, the Bible and Parched”--my first memoir. Could any daughter, any writer, hope for a greater tribute? I thought “In the beginning was the Word” and of how, before I'd been able to find my way to an actual church, books were the closest thing to a church I had. I thought of how my mother had wanted to be a writer and how in a way I became one for her. I thought of all the time in my life I had spent thinking, If only my mother had hugged me, if only my mother had told me I was pretty, if only my mother had …and how, on the cusp of turning sixty, I had  finally come to realize that of all the mothers in the world, I got the perfect one, the only one, the best one. The one who had taught me to love books and silence and trees, whose secret sorrows and wounds I had absorbed through my DNA, who I been afraid to scream in front of all my life because I was afraid she wouldn’t take care of me but who had taken care of me, I saw now, had taken care of me and loved me and seen what was good in me and guided me toward what was important as no-one else could have.

I made no sound, though my face was wet with tears. I felt her--forever first in my heart, as our mothers somehow always are--in my bones and blood and aching muscles, I felt her across the miles and the years, I felt her--the person who had known me longer than anyone on earth, though she no longer recognized me--before I’d ever been born and after we both died.  I thought of how maybe the deepest cry of our hearts, no matter how old we are, if we are stripped right down to the bone, is “Mummy! Mummy!”…

“Do you want some hot tea?” Lisa asked afterward but that would have been too much intimacy, too much indulgence maybe, so I said no, but thank you so much, and got dressed, and left.

It was raining harder now and I pulled my coat around me a little tighter and put on my scarf. Homeless people were sleeping on the side of Cesar Chavez, huddled in damp sleeping bags, their belongings getting soaked. I walked in the rain over to Grand Street and up to the Colburn School of Music, where I’d attended a student recital the night before, to retrieve the copy of Charles Péguy's The Portal of the Mystery of Hope I'd inadvertently left behind. In the preface, French theologian Jean Bastaire notes: “[A]s it is expressed by the ‘puer eternus’ [eternal child] of the collective unconscious, there exists a connection between childhood and resurrection, and Hope brings the grace that we anticipate from Easter.”

THE SUN'S OUT TODAY

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

THIS, YOUR SERVANT


Late last week I found myself engaging in a bit of a rant on the phone with my friend, Rita. “For heaven’s sake, do they not realize I do this for free! For fun, yes, but also for free! Do they not realize I have a life? I have errands, I have to try to make some kind of rudimentary living, I have a family and friends, I have no companion, no helpmeet, no time to myself…I cherish my readers but I am not in their employ for heaven’s sake!”

“Actually,” Rita interjected as I stopped to catch my breath, "you are in their employ.Your life is not your life; it’s God’s. You never get to not be 'on duty'”…

I had to put down my coffee cup I burst into such peals of laughter. For the second she said it, I knew she was absolutely right, and that a vicious strain of Phariseeism (a subject on which I posted, no less, Monday) had crept into and taken hold of my thinking.

What prompted my outburst was that Last week Word on Fire re-posted a piece called “A Bomb Exploding Our Hypocrisy” (which, if you want to follow the somewhat scattered meanderings below, you might want to read if you haven't already). The good Fr. Barron and his crew often ask permission to re-post a piece of mine, and though I always joyfully grant it, I seldom even look at the piece to see how it’s been presented or received. Responding (or not) to comments is a whole other, extra bloc of energy/discernment/work that I’ve already gone through on my own blog at that point, in addition to the eight or ten hours it's taken to reflect upon and write a piece like that in the first place. (I don't get paid by Word on Fire, in case you're wondering).

Now to be a servant, let's establish, does not mean to be an amoeba, or an automaton, or a puppet. I really can’t engage in every discussion, and because I do take this so seriously, every single comment, e-mail, remark etc. means a process of discernment, however short. Do I engage, or do I let it go? And if I do engage, at what length and what depth and what’s my motive? (Side issue: I’ve also had a few experiences where people, married men in particular, want to make me their soul-mate. We’re dealing with the internet where we don’t know and can’t see the person with whom we’re interacting. So I also have to be somewhat mindful of my status as a single (however ancient) woman with no advocate, no protector).


It also takes a huge amount of psychic energy to absorb attack without attacking back. I feel it in my body, which aches; I feel it in my spirit, which grows weary. I have found that there are many, many people (I always picture them, perhaps unfairly, at their desk at work where they are earning a nice salary and benefits) who want to argue for the sake of arguing. I’ll write, “Oh the trees were so beautiful this morning with the sun glinting through gold and russet!” and a certain kind of person will say “Unh, excuse me, sun doesn’t ‘glint,’ it shines,” or “The proper term, according to the encyclical Color in Terrorem by Pope Sylvester XXVIII is maroon, not russet.” I’ve learned that if I can’t respond without anger to such people, which I often can’t, it’s better not to respond at all, or to wait.

Anyway, re the WOF re-posting, a couple of people wrote to say, “Oh have you seen what they’re saying about you over at Word on Fire? A puritanical streak seems to have crept into the discussion”…Now last week my mother, who has Alzheimer’s and is an a home back in New Hampshire had taken a fall and a turn for the worse and was in the process of being moved downstairs to another room so I was concerned, and upset, and on the phone quite a bit with my brother Geordie. I’ve had some physical problems (albeit minor) myself. I was still absorbing the negative energy of having even attended the Mass in question and having been exposed to the what to me was as dark a kind of energy as if a priest had from the pulpit started advocating birth control and promiscuity, and all the dark energy that grows up around that. Someone had written me privately on FB, for example, saying, "I know you think the parishioners are hypocritical but what will people think about the people who advocate the Theology of the Body and educate their children at home?" And I was like "Hunh? I wasn’t saying the parishioners were hypocritical, I was saying they were already the most well-behaved, most modestly-dressed people ever, which made it extra sadder that the priest was haranguing them."

Part of the beauty of being a convert, or the kind of convert I am, the point being, is that I literally have no idea who or what the Theology of the Body people (for example) even are or are about. I had no idea, though have gathered since, that people who attend Latin Mass (it was a Latin Mass, btw) attend for the very reason that they more or less subscribe to the approach of this priest. I just thought Latin Mass was for people who had a warm affection and reverence for the old liturgy. I went to that Mass the same way I go to every Mass, which is basically, Oh how lovely, I will get to be close to Christ.

And that is also how and why I write this blog. As I’ve said many times, I am not a theologian. I’m not affiliated with any movement, faction, ideology, group within the Church and I’m not against any movement, faction, ideology, group within the Church (though there are some things I respond to with way more ardor than others). I love the Church and I love Christ and I am trying to grope my way through to me the deepest questions of existence and to share the joy, struggles, suffering, discoveries, adventures, experience, strength, beauty, and hope I find along the way. If others are also trying to grope their way, that’s the conversation I’m most interested and equipped to engage in. 

I was certainly in no shape at that point to get involved in a discussion about "puritanism," however, so my response to the news of a discussion at WOF was basically, “Well, that is sad, I’m not even going to go there. I can’t even read that stuff.”  And of course some anonymous commenter immediately asked, "If you can't be bothered to read the comments on WOF, why are you bothering to post on the site in the first place? I think the 'puritanical' element you're dismissing would welcome a dialogue with you."

Feeling quite proud that I managed to refrain from saying "That may well be but I would not remotely welcome a dialogue with them," I instead replied, “Actually I don’t post on Word on Fire: they ask permission from time to time and I happily, gratefully grant it,” and left it at that.

Which was an entirely legitimate response EXCEPT—don’t worry, I haven’t completely lost the thread or my mind—as Rita reminded me, it has to come from the place of total humility. It has to come from a place not of “I’m not your employee,” but from the place of “I appreciate and am in sympathy with your concern, but I simply do not have the wherewithal, time, energy or capacity to engage in any further discussion on the subject at the moment.”


I do have the wherewithal now, and I can say that I pondered long and deeply before writing anything that is remotely critical of a priest. But just as we would be called to take note of a priest who, as I hypothesized, were advocating promiscuity, I think we are also allowed, if not bound, to call attention to a priest who is advocating a hatred of and fear of the body. As Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography, “[P]erhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly [defining it]. But I know it when I see it.” And there was something so wrong, so far in error, so not Catholic (which I can’t define, but know when I see) about this homily that the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.

That is why I mentioned it. And the only reason, as I made abundantly clear, that I also mentioned the priest’s weight (for which I was also criticized, even though I also said I said "Let’s pray for him"; even though I also  said, "That priest is all of us"—including, obviously, me; even though I also said "that priest is everyone," meaning we all tend to stuff our longing for sex and love somehow) was because he did another thing that is not Catholic. He preached what he clearly did not practice. We don’t lay heavy burdens upon people without lifting a finger to lighten them. We don’t purport to take the mote out of our neighbor’s eye before we take the mote out of our own eye. That we so seldom hear priests doing any such thing, just as we seldom hear priest advocating a hatred of the body--in fact, in my fifteen years as a Catholic, I had never heard a homily with the thrust and tone of this one--makes the exception stand out all the more.

Still and all, when I was examining my conscience last Saturday before going to Confession, I went through a checklist and one of the things was speaking irreverently of a priest. So just in case I could have made my point without mentioning his weight, and just in case my whole orientation of heart toward this precious child of God/man of the cloth was any less respectful, compassionate, loving and desirous of his spiritual well-being than it should have been, I confessed speaking irreverently of a priest.

All of which might seem much ado about nothing, and the Lord knows I'm sure you're not interested in my Confession, but I bring it up at all to underscore that to me this is all a matter of life and death. As G.K. Chesterton noted in The Everlasting Man"[W]hile [Catholicism] is local enough for poetry and larger than any other philosophy, it is also a challenge and a fight. While it is deliberately broadened to embrace every aspect of truth, it is still stiffly embattled against every mode of error. It gets every kind of man to fight for it, it gets every kind of weapon to fight with, it widens its knowledge of the things that are fought for and against with every art of curiosity or sympathy; but it never forgets that it is fighting. It proclaims peace on earth and never forgets why there was war in heaven."

Walking home, I thought about a line from Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis: “Agapē is the love that, in Mother Teresa’s words, enable a person to let herself be 'eaten up by others' as a living Eucharistic sacrifice—Christ’s in me and mine in his.”  I realized part of what I wanted to do when I started this blog was to show people that you can be a vital, questing, interested, funny person of the world and still be a devout Catholic; that that is what it means to be a devout Catholic. I wanted to share my joy of Christ. I also wanted, I see now, something for myself: a foothold, a like-minded circle of "friends." To a certain extent, that has happened, but what has also happened is that I get to be attacked. I get to have a lot of readers who don’t get my taste in books, music, or art, who don’t laugh at my jokes, and who no matter how much I give, are poised like jackals to nitpick and attack for not giving them more. I get to put myself on the line and have anonymous snipers take potshots. And what I see more and more is that is always what we get. It is what Christ got. I don’t get to have a soulmate. Mother Teresa did not get to have a soulmate. She got  Christopher Hitchens.

What I can never forget is that no-one ends up on a more or less Catholic blog by accident. The people who truly aren’t interested wouldn’t bother even to leave a hate comment. The people whose hearts aren’t hemorrhaging--with loneliness, with fear, with the desire to do better, with a sense of mission--wouldn't bother to argue any point, no matter how tangential.

"They were like sheep without a shepherd"…Do you love me? Feed my lambs. Do you love me? Feed my lambs…Do you love me?....Feed my sheep…

Sunday I went to 8 o’clock Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown L.A. Presiding was Fr. Angel Castro. And Fr. Castro gave the most beautiful homily: about growing up, about fear. He told about when he was a young priest he’d been sent to a convalescent home of some sort and the blood, the sickness didn’t bother him; but the smell did, terribly. “I don’t really belong here,” he went and told his superiors. “I could be of a lot more service somewhere else” (sound familiar?) But of course they had him stay, and of course the experience helped him to mature, and of course, as he said, he would be the first to acknowledge that more maturing lies ahead.

“Much needs to grow,” he wound up, pointing to his own heart, “starting with this, your servant.” It was exactly what I needed to hear, and how I needed to hear it, and I would have walked to the ends of the earth for him, for Christ. Now that’s Catholic.

So let’s continue our journey, realizing we see as yet, through a glass, darkly. And remembering that much needs to grow—starting with this, your servant.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

THE PHARISEE AND THE TAX COLLECTOR

Der Pharisäer und der Zöllner,
PETER GALLEN
oil on cardboard
He spoke also this parable to certain people who were convinced of their own righteousness, and who despised all others. "Two men went up into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed to himself like this: 'God, I thank you, that I am not like the rest of men, extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far away, wouldn't even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted" [Luke 18:9-14].

I have always loved the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, mainly because I like to think I'm the humble tax collector but really most of the time I'm a terrible, terrible Pharisee. So we get to constantly examine ourselves and at the same time, we do get to evaluate--not judge, but evaluate--others. Christ himself, after all, said, "Beware of false prophets" [Matthew 7:15]. To that end, and in light of my own continuing and egregious self-righteousness, here are just a few instances where we might find our way toward distinguishing between the two stances. I'm sure you can come up with more! 

PHARISEE: Uses conversion, stance on a particular issue, or religious affiliation as a marketing tool.
TAX COLLECTOR:  Brushes hands free of contact with a bribe. Believes work should rise, fall, find its way to the world, and/or glorify God based on its excellence and on its truth. 

PHARISEE: Why can’t everyone act like me?
TAX COLLECTOR: Why can’t even one person--namely, me--act like Christ?

PHARISEE: Crusades.
TAX COLLECTOR: Surrenders.

PHARISEE: Believes in winning.
TAX COLLECTOR: Believes in miracles.

PHARISEE: Trumpets a cause.
TAX COLLECTOR: Lives mystery.

PHARISEE: Instead of conceding that people are capable of having different experiences, is “disappointed,” “puzzled,” and “hurt” because your experience is different than theirs.
TAX COLLECTOR: Doesn’t waste time trying to talk people out of their experiences; is too busy, absorbed, and joyful contemplating own experience.

PHARISEE: Proclaims.
TAX COLLECTOR: Wonders.  

PHARISEE: Insists on having last word.
TAX COLLECTOR: Believes Christ is the Word.

PHARISEE: Mistakes pushiness, blowhardism, and the imposition of unworked-through emotional and sexual wounds on others for courage.
TAX COLLECTOR: Believes courage consists in doing the footwork and leaving the results/fruit (if any) to God.  

PHARISEE: Has an attitude of, It’s hard hard work, spreading the Gospel, but someone has to do it.
TAX COLLECTOR: Has an attitude of, What a gift I’m allowed to do whatever little I do! 

PHARISEE: Mistakes others’ entirely reasonable dislike of aggression for intolerance.
TAX COLLECTOR: Recognizes hideous tendency toward aggression in self and constantly tries to do better.

PHARISEE: Speaks frequently, and insufferably, of willingness to suffer persecution.
TAX COLLECTOR: Quietly suffers actual persecution, poverty, loneliness. Would die rather than draw attention to it.

PHARISEE: Grim.
TAX COLLECTOR: Playful, joyful, has sense of humor, especially about self.

PHARISEE: Nosy.
TAX COLLECTOR: Minds own bidnis.

PHARISEE: Threatens.
TAX COLLECTOR: Invites.

PHARISEE: Leaves anonymous critical/hate comments on other people’s blogs.
TAX COLLECTOR: Prays for people who leave anonymous critical/hate comments on other people’s blogs.

PHARISEE: Accuses people with a difference of opinion (especially if the differing opinion is toward merciful, expansive, paradoxical, explosively astonishing God) of heresy.
TAX COLLECTOR: Accuses self of hard-heartedness, pride, and, when appropriate, error.

PHARISEE: Continually attacks Catholic "credentials" by dissecting, questioning and twisting the stance of another on a particular point of Church doctrine or dogma.
TAX COLLECTOR: While quietly strictly adhering to Church teachings in own life, and utterly orthodox in belief and practice, sees "credentials" of  a follower of Christ as being purity of heart, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, turning the other cheek, doing to the least of these, humility, and love. Stops just short of despairing of ever acquiring any of them.

TAX COLLECTOR: PHARISEE: Gives thanks not to be like "other" [i.e., substandard] people.
TAX COLLECTOR: Gives thanks.

ST. FRANCIS IN PRAYER BEFORE THE CRUCIFIX
EL GRECO, circa 1595

Saturday, January 21, 2012

RAINY DAY READING



From “Goodbye, Shirley Temple” by Joseph Mitchell (a short story from Up in the Old Hotel):

The child looked at us and smiled. Peggy said, "Hello there." "Hello," said the child. She started to leave, and then Peggy asked, "What's your name?" The child said, “My name is Margaret” and Peggy said, “Why that’s my name, too.” Estelle lifted the child into the booth and put an arm around her. The child stared across the table at Peggy and said, “What’s that on your face?”

Peggy hesitated a moment. Then she said, “It’s something God put there, Margaret.”

“Won’t it come off?” the child asked.

Estelle interrupted. “Do you go to school?” she asked.

“No,” said the child. She looked at Peggy again and said, “Why did God put it there?”

“Because I was a bad girl,” Peggy said.

“What did you do?”

Peggy asked Estelle for a cigarette. While Peggy was lighting it, the child gazed at her.

“What did you do?” she asked again.

“I shot off my father’s head and cut out his heart and ate it,” Peggy said.


From The Seventh Seal, written and directed by Ingmar Bergman:

The Knight (Max von Sydow):

"What will become of us who want to believe but cannot?
And what of those we neither will nor can believe?
Why can I not kill off this God within me?
Why must he live on inside me in this painful, humiliating way? When I want to tear him out of my heart?...
Why does he remain a mocking reality that I cannot shake off?"...



From “A Good Appetite,” by A.J. Liebling, one of his best. I found it this time in Just Enough Liebling: Classic Work by the Legendary New Yorker Writer:


The wine was a thin rosé in an Art Nouveau bottle with a label that was a triumph of lithography; it had spires and monks and troubadours and blondes with wimples on it, and the name of the cru was spelled out in letters with Gothic curlicues and pennons. The name was something like Château Guillame d’Aquitaine, grand vin.

“What a madly gay little wine, my dear!” M. Cliquot said, repressing, but not soon enough, a grimace of pain..

“One would say a Tavel of a good year,” I cried, “if one were a complete bloody fool.” I did not say the second clause aloud.

My old friend looked at me with new respect. He was discovering in me a capacity for hypocrisy that he had never credited me with before.

The main course was a shoulder of mutton with white beans—the poor relation of a gigot, and an excellent dish in its way, when not too dry. This was.

For the second wine, the man from the Midi proudly produced a red, in a bottle without a label, which he offered to M. Cliquot with the air of a tomcat bringing a field mouse to its master’s feet. “Tell me what you think of this,” he said as he filled the champagne man’s glass.

M. Cliquot—a veteran of such challenges, I could well imagine—held the glass against the light, dramatically inhaled the bouquet, and then drank, after a slight stiffening of the features that indicated to me that he knew what he was in for. Having emptied the glass, he deliberated.

“It has a lovely color,” he said.

“But what is it? What is it?” the man from the Midi insisted.

“There are things about it that remind me of a Beaujolais,” M. Cliquot said (he must have meant that it was wet), “but on the whole I should compare it to a Bordeaux (without doubt unfavorably)...


Friday, January 20, 2012

OUT OF LINE: THE WORK OF CANADIAN PAINTER CATHERINE Y. BATES

STILL LIFE WITH KUBA CLOTH
24" x 36", oil on canvas, 2008
"AIMING FOR BEAUTY IS A SURVIVAL BELIEF"....
FROM THE HOMEPAGE OF THE CATHERINE Y. BATES WEBSITE
One of the joys of the writing life is that every so often, I've been lucky enough to spend a month or two or three at an artist's residency. These are fellowships that have been set up by some wealthy, generous arts patron, the one in question being the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation (of the Wurlitzer piano and organ empire) in Taos, New Mexico.

Twice, I've been blessed to spend a three-month stretch in my own casita, in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountains. Twice, I've been blessed to meet the composers, artists, poets, and playwrights who were also in residence. The first time I was at the Wurlitzer, in 2005, I met the wildly gifted and indefatigable Canadian painter Catherine Y. Bates. By chance Catherine was also in Taos (again, having driven down from the Montreal region) in early 2010, during my second stint at the Wurlitzer. She was kind enough to give me a tour of her studio at the time and I was bowled over anew...

Catherine sends out an annual year-end letter and I am always so encouraged and inspired--by her message and by her paintings--that I asked if I could offer her most recent one to you all. She graciously agreed (further point of interest/cause for rejoicing: Catherine underwent a successful cochlear implant last year and is now participating in a study re the connection between hearing and "seeing"). So I urge you to check out her amazing work. (Here's a link, for instance, to her Hors Limites/Out of Line ("expressionistic renderings of iconic geographical locations"spanning a forty-year career). And please meet Catherine Y. Bates.


Dear Friends, December 2011

This ninth end-of-year letter comes late, after a wonderful holiday trip to Pittsburgh, to visit daughter Jenny Bates, her husband Jay Lampert, and talented seven-year-old Hector. Their academic and artistic household brims with stimulating discussions and activities. It was a special joy for me to be there. I will visit son Greg and Flic and the family in Maine in the early spring. Their daughter Hila has returned from her semester in Ecuador and is now an intern with sled dog trips and other nature adventures, while Cori continues her home schooling at a terrific pace, writes so well, and is fast becoming a computer expert!

The past year had many trips between Georgeville and Montreal for rehab after the very successful cochlear implant. I am now much more actively involved with friends and Montreal cultural activities. From my Feb. 19 journal entry: “I believe that beauty has an unexplainable power: to overcome baseness, to connect to people positively, to make life worth living. It requires health, steadfastness, silence, community.” I have changed my major painting studio back to Montreal, reserving a room in my Georgeville home for works on paper; the home also will be a base for any “en plein air” work I might do. I have the best of both worlds.

I updated my website with Mac Store lessons, including older work as well as new paintings. In 2012 there are two exhibits planned and a third in the offing. A graduate student from Laval visited to document paintings I had done before the operation, and will come again to document another twenty post-op paintings, to see about any change in my use of colour, a research into sight and hearing (synethesia).

CATHERINE Y. BATES
SOARING I
 40" x 48", oil on linen, 2003
In the summer I swam and began longer walks, and my enthusiasm for painting grew stronger. I have begun with still life works combining the Kuba cloth I bought a few years ago with other increasingly larger abstracted areas of sky and water. I love the large Kuba cloth from Zambia and its seemingly random abstract patterns, which, on closer viewing, are extremely well organized. It is this combination of the abstract and the representational that has dogged me for years, dating back to my early quilt paintings, painted so realistically but made up of abstract sections. Later I used actual physical sections, starting in 1991, but will leave big ones for David Hockney! Martin Gayford’s A Bigger Message, interviews with Hockney, provided enjoyable reading. I also did research into the patterns of African Bwa masks and appliquéd Kuba cloths. Other books I enjoyed – Color Into Light, about Hans Hofmann’s teaching practices, and Philip Guston, collected writings.

I have hopes that the increasing individual actions of people in all walks of life who make positive creative artistic endeavours will contribute some strong antidotes to the negatives of war, environmental destruction, over-population, and other follies. Art is a survival challenge! Best wishes for 2012. Peace for the world.

Catherine
Catherine Y. Bates
email: cybates@aei.ca
www.cybates.com

CATHERINE Y. BATES
WITNESS, LANDSCAPE EVENT, 
30" x 40", oil on canvas, 2008

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

THE ROAD TO EMMAUS

ANDRE DÉRAIN
WESTMINSTER BRIDGE, 1906, oil on canvas
Several weeks ago a sober friend, Alan, and I went to visit another (elderly, sober) friend in the convalescent home. I drove. I  didn't know Alan well. I knew he worked as a janitor: the night shift at Pepperdine, a 45-minute commute. I asked if he had to work that night: Yes. I asked whether, when I dropped him off at his car, he’d go home and try to sleep for a bit.

“I actually don’t sleep that well,” he replied. “Ever since my son was a kid…they used to talk about crib death all the time. And I was so afraid the kid would stop breathing in the middle of the night that I’d wake up every fifteen minutes. I kept thinking, What if he dies and everyone knows I’m a horrible father and will never talk to me again and then I’d have to live with that for the rest of my life, that my kid died on my watch, that I didn't take good care of my kid. And ever since then I’ve never been able to sleep very soundly.

“How old’s the kid now?” I asked.

“Twenty-two,” Alan  replied.

I thought about that for a minute.

And then I said “You know how in a parade on earth there are…oh I don’t know, five-star generals, and beauty queens and grand marshals? Well I’m thinking after we die there’ll be a different kind of parade, when all the people who were good, who were kind, who God sees as important get to ride on their floats. So there’ll be Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. and...I don't know, the people who drowned trying to rescue someone else, and bringing up the rear, limping, staggering, inching along in broken wheelchairs with a dingy banner, there’ll be the alcoholics! Not just the ones who got sober, either, but all of us. Because we suffer so much and people think it’s our fault and we try, most of us, to be kind anyway…

I looked over. Alan was staring straight ahead, a set look on his face.

“A..alan?” 

“I can’t get as far as anything like that at all,” he said. “I’m just trying to train myself not to swear so my son will let me hang out with my grandkids.”  

Plus it turns out he doesn’t even have any grandkids yet. He's preparing for them. 

So there you have it. The heroism of ordinary people who walk the streets, our secret sorrows, the invisible burdens the better among us bear without complaining, never even knowing what they do is a huge, noble deal.

There you have Ordinary Time--and the extraordinary people who inhabit it...

KARL SCHMIDT-ROTTLUFF,
WAY TO EMMAUS, 1918, woodcut

Saturday, January 14, 2012

DAYS

KARL HOFER
GIRL WITH AMARYLLIS, 1936
What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

--Philip Larkin

WOMAN WITH A BAG
KARL SCHMIDT-ROTTLUFF, 1915

Thursday, January 12, 2012

WAITING WITHOUT ANXIETY

CRUCIFIXION
EMIL NOLDE, OIL ON CANVAS, 1912
Not to beat a dead horse but the recent discussion over whether God suffers, it occurs to me, is a question about what religion really is. To me, religion—to bind back together—is the question of what it means to be human. We're not asking, or answering, the questions in a vacuum. All theological questions have at their core: does the answer to them, or even the asking of them, make us more fully human: more compassionate, more open to both suffering and joy, more lost in wonder, more disposed to see Christ in the faces of those with whom we rub up against, interact, and in my case, clash, during the course of my day? The purpose of theology, for the follower of Christ, in other words, is not to come up with a formula. The purpose of theology is to break open our hearts in love.

A reader recently opined “I think God suffers without anxiety. As beings with imperfect vision, knowledge, and love, we suffer with it.” Which certainly raises more interesting questions, and also brings me back to the  musing that kicked off the discussion in the first place; to wit, without questioning that God knows in the end, that good will triumph, that love will reign, that Christ will take his place upon the throne—we “know” that, too—I wondered whether, like us, God doesn’t know exactly how that will happen. To give people free will, it seems to me, is to consent to not know, to wait knowing that but without knowing how.

I’m just groping here to articulate a question, without in any way presuming to know an answer. But to say God knows no anxiety, it seems to me, is to say it would have been all the same to God--to the Father of Christ, to the First Person of the Trinity--whether He created man or not, whether He gave us free will or not. It's to say that the same God who created mortal, fragile, glorious man could just as well have not created him, or could have created him to be a programmed robot. It's to believe we play no part whatsoever in ongoing creation. It’s to believe in a God who is inert, preternaturally calm, distant, removed, uninvolved, and utterly uninterested in and detached from what crazy, wild-card thing happens next in this ongoing drama called Planet Earth.

Instead, we have a very particular kind of God, a stupendous, utterly counterintuitive God, a God who pitched his tent among us, took on human form so he could know, among other things, the excruciating existential anxiety of knowing we are going to die, who nonetheless laughed, ate, drank, danced, gazed  upon the trees and flowers and mountains and sky, who went to weddings and parties, who got pissed off and had a sense of humor, who loved, who sweat tears of blood in the Garden at Gethsemane the night before He died, who gave us His very Body so that we could break Him—knowing that we would break Him—and eat. Who said, "I'll be with you till the end of time" but did not add "pushing you around like puppets" nor "sleeping."

I think God contains his anxiety, consents to be stretched as far as He can possibly go, and to hold, as Christ did on the Cross, the stretched-to-the-breaking point tension, without lashing out, without transmitting the suffering, but rather in love, as a mother holds that kind of tension in labor--and is then split apart in birth.

A quote from G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy comes to mind:

“No two ideals could be more opposite than a Christian saint in a Gothic cathedral and a Buddhist saint in a Chinese temple. The opposition exists at every point; but perhaps the shortest statement of it is that the Buddhist saint always has his eyes shut, while the Christian saint always has them very wide open. The Buddhist saint has a sleek and harmonious body, but his eyes are heavy and sealed with sleep. The mediaeval saint's body is wasted to its crazy bones, but his eyes are frightfully alive…Granted that both images are extravagances, are perversions of the pure creed, it must be a real divergence which could produce such opposite extravagances. The Buddhist is looking with a peculiar intentness inwards. The Christian is staring with a frantic intentness outwards.”

If nothing else, in other words, to ask the question is legitimate. And then, just yesterday morning, my friend Rita Simmonds (Rita quietly reads my blog and keeps me in line by sending me the perfect correction or corroboration or companion piece) sent me this article with the subject line in the e-mail—“God is Restless!”

It's a beautiful essay, by Marco Bersanelli, at English Spoken Here: Ilsussidiaro.net, and well worth reading in full.

"But not only are we restless for God: God’s heart is restless for us. God is waiting for us. He is looking for us. He knows no rest either, until he finds us. God’s heart is restless, and that is why he set out on the path towards us...God is restless for us, he looks out for people willing to 'catch' his unrest, his passion for us, people who carry within them the searching of their own hearts and at the same time open themselves to be touched by God’s search for us". We too, children of modernity, may not remain completely insensitive to a God who is restless for us.”
Check it out, folks. Cause that quote ain’t from some ex-drunk untutored layperson such as myself. It’s from Pope Benedict XVI.

PROPHET,
EMIL NOLDE,WOODCUT, 1912
EMIL NOLDE (1867-1956) WAS A GERMAN EXPRESSIONIST,
LONELY, BROODING, MORBIDLY RELIGIOUS,
AND WITH AN INTENSE PREOCCUPATION WITH FLOWERS

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

CABBAGES SUFFER, TOO: OUR CONNECTION TO THE PLANT WORLD

EDWARD WESTON,
CABBAGE LEAF, 1931
From The Smart Set from Drexel University
Check them out for more great articles.

Stefany Anne Golberg graciously responded to my fan letter (from Sri Lanka!) re this compelling piece
--which seems especially appropriate in light of our recent discussion...I added the photos and include the opening paragraphs with a link to the remainder...

If You Pick Us, Do We Not Bleed?
Understanding the plant experience helps us understand the human one, too.


In a room near Maida Vale, a journalist for The Nation wrote around 1914, an unfortunate creature is strapped to the table of an unlicensed vivisector. When the subject is pinched with a pair of forceps, it winces. It is so strapped that its electric shudder of pain pulls the long arm of a very delicate lever that actuates a tiny mirror. This casts a beam of light on the frieze at the other end of the room, and thus enormously exaggerates the tremor of the creature. A pinch near the right-hand tube sends the beam 7 or 8 feet to the right, and a stab near the other wire sends it as far to the left.

“Thus,” the journalist concluded, “can science reveal the feelings of even so stolid a vegetable as the carrot.”

Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, the aforementioned carrot vivisector, was a serious man of science. Born in what is today Bangladesh in 1858, Bose was a quintessential polymath: physicist, biologist, botanist, archaeologist. He was the first person from the Indian subcontinent to receive a U.S. patent, and is considered one of the fathers of radio science, alongside such notables as Tesla, Marconi, and Popov. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1920, becoming the first Indian to be honored by the Royal Society in the field of science. It’s clear that Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose was a scientist of some weight. And, like many scientists of weight, he has become popularly known for his more controversial pursuits — in Bose’s case, his experiments in plant physiology.

Perhaps it was his work in radio waves and electricity that inspired Bose’s investigations into what we might call the invisible world. Bose strongly felt that physics could go far beyond what was apparent to the naked eye. Around 1900, Bose began his investigations into the secret world of plants. He found that all plants, and all parts of plants, have a sensitive nervous system not unlike that of animals, and that their responses to external stimuli could be measured and recorded. Some plant reactions can be seen easily in sensitive plants like the Mimosa, which, when irritated, will react with the sudden shedding or shrinking of its leaves. But when Bose attached his magnifying device to plants from which it was more difficult to witness a response, such as vegetables, he was astounded to discover that they, too, became excited when vexed. All around us, Bose realized, the plants are communicating. We just don't notice it.

The more responses Bose got from his plants, the more encouraged he became, and the more detailed his efforts became. Bose discovered that an electric death spasm occurs in plants when they die, and that the actual moment of death in a plant could be accurately recorded. As Sir Patrick Geddes described in his 1920 biography of Bose, the electromotive force generated during the death spasm is sometimes considerable. Bose calculated that a half-pea, for instance, could discharge up to half a volt. Thus, if 500 pairs of boiling half-peas were arranged in series, the electric pressure would be 500 volts, enough to electrocute unsuspecting victims. The average cook does not know the danger she runs in preparing peas, Bose wrote. “It is fortunate for her that the peas are not arranged in series!”


PEA DUKE OF ALBANY
CHARLES JONES,
circa 2005, vintage gold-tone gelatin silver  print
Read the rest here. 
And if you think that's weird--TIN HAS FEELINGS AS WELL! 


Stefany Anne Golberg is an artist, writer, musician, and professional dilettante. She's a founding member of the arts collective Flux Factory and lives in New York City. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com


STILL LIFE (TIN CAN AND SHELL)
FLORENCE HENRI
about 1932, gelatin silver print