Tuesday, July 31, 2012

FEED MY LAMBS


The liturgy lately has focused on one of my favorite themes: the shepherd and his sheep.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep."
[John 21:15-17]

Fr. Kaspal at Holy Trinity gave a homily a couple of weeks ago on Christ’s  three” Do you love me’s?” and Peter’s three yeses. He said The first “Feed my sheep” refers to the people in the Church. The second refers to the folks who have left the Church or left the side of Christ. The third “Feed my sheep” refers to the people who have never known Christ at all.

I am just a sucker for all shepherd/sheep mentions. My heart opens. The tears flow. And the above is one passage that truly “speaks” to me because feeding Christ's lambs is one thing, probably the only thing, I feel may be somewhat within my power and capacity, and definitely within my desire, to do on this earth.

And it is something I struggle with. How not to get too over-agonized—don’t worry, Christ will see to it that the Gospel is spread with or without me for heaven’s sake—but  at the same time, we are given our little mission and we are called to fulfill it as best we can to the point of death. So here I am, an ardent (if ever-stumbling) Catholic surrounded by friends who are (mostly) not Catholic, in a culture that is virulently anti-Catholic, and in a Church by whose more vitriolic, nitpicking members I am mortified. They were like sheep without a shepherd. That is all of us, but I have talked to so many people lately, whether it’s porn addiction or a wayward child or ongoing mental torment, who are like sheep without a shepherd and how do you lead them to the Shepherd? You have to be really really lost, and to have really really run out of ideas, to hear the voice of the Shepherd and maybe the most I am ever going to be able to do is to keep people company while they’re stumbling around in the pasture.

I've heard folks say that if you have to mention Christ, you’ve missed the point (i.e. that we should be able to speak of reality, existence, eternity, time, space, our bodies, souls, spirits, and the mystical truth without mentioning Christ himself), and that in the current religious/political/social climate to even mention the word God, and especially to mention the name Christ, means to lose half your audience. Maybe the question here is: Who is “our audience?” There is more rejoicing in heaven over the one lost sheep than in all those who were never lost, and maybe part of that is to remind us that we may work our whole lives for one lost sheep or for none. Our goal is not numbers, our goal is to tell the whole truth, to live as authentically in love as we can.

So my audience is the lost sheep, but my goal isn’t to proselytize. My goal is to say that in some small way I have found my way home. To say these are my friends who I love, these are my struggles, my flaming conflicts, my stabbing moments of joy. And to me, that is Christ! I don’t have to mention him but how could I not? Why would I not want to?

The mark of the follower of Christ is not cogent arguments or airtight apologetics--I'm thinking of St. Thomas Aquinas's "All straw"--but a heart that bleeds.

I am not talking about sentimentality. I am talking about what Flannery O’Connor meant when she observed:“The Catholic writer, in so far as he has the mind of the Church, will feel life from the standpoint of the central Christian mystery: that it has for all its horror, been found by God to be worth dying for.”

Sunday, July 29, 2012

AURORA

detail from THE LIBERATION OF BERGEN-BELSEN CONCENTRATION CAMP, APRIL 1945
photograph by Sgt. H. Oakes, No. 5 Army Film and Photographic Unit
Imperial War Museum
"Evil is everywhere. Most of all in those who feel horror when they see it, as if they themselves were not capable of it. The lesson of Belsen is simply sin. My own sin."
--William Congdon

The Sabbath of History, with Meditations on Holy Week by Joseph Ratzinger, is a catalog of the work and reflections of painter William Congdon (1912-1998).  Congdon, an Abstract Expressionist and a convert, came to see the crucifix as his one, as the, subject.

In 1961, he observed:

"Our every experience finds it apex, its substance and ultimate meaning in the death and Resurrection of Christ, whose image is the Cross (instinct crossed by the spirit). For this reason, every subject that takes me to paint sooner or later reveals, better still becomes the Cross of Christ....Now, without looking for inspiration elsewhere, I always paint the Crucifix, because in it lies everything I have seen and lived so far until I have painted, and everything I shall ever see in the future; sum of yesterday and prophet of tomorrow: death and Resurrection."

I reflected on this as I contemplated the recent midnight shooting rampage, by a lone gunman, at a cinema in Aurora, Colorado. I thought about the incredibly useful and necessary function of Mass, of Confession, of the Penitential Rite. I confess to Almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned...

I have sinned. Not you have sinned, not they have sinned, not I wouldn't sin so much if everyone else acted better. This is no arcane, outdated ritual. It is a firm grounding in reality. It leads to the proper response to evil, which is not shock--the shock, given our own black, wake-me-up-when-it's-over hearts, is that such tragedies don't occur more--but sorrow, contrition, bewilderment, and penance. To recognize my own sin paradoxically gives me hope because if I recognize it I can maybe do something about it. I am doing something by participating in Mass, by examining my conscience, and thus am saved, by my own actions combined with grace, from despair.

To be steeped in the Gospels is to give the Prince of Darkness an identity and a name, to seek protection from him, and to know that we already have The Great Avenger. He is the greatest warrior who will ever live and he comes in the form of a lamb. Without  Christ, we have only the battleground of good and evil and the human inclination to blame and scapegoat. Without Christ, we  fail to examine our own shadow and  instead project it upon The Other. Without Christ, we are eternally locked in the fruitless, ever-escalating cycle that returns violence for violence. Without Christ, we would never have been given the one paradigm that allows us to break out of the cycle of violence, hatred, darkness and sin: to wit; we are all fallen and we are all redeemable.

Without Christ, the tension of the human condition is too much to bear. Without Christ, tripwires, live grenades, and flak gear seem like logical solutions. "The joy and the peace gained through daily Mass and Communion with Christ released me from tension," Congdon noted. "His love, which transcended my own limited and carnal sentiments, led me to a freedom in which I was constantly renewed in body and in spirit."

On the night of July 20, 2012, twenty-four year old James Eagan Holmes reportedly opened fire, killing twelve people and injuring fifty-eight more. He was dressed in black and wore a gas mask, a load-bearing vest, a ballistic helmet,bullet resistant leggings, a throat protector, a groin protector and tactical gloves. He wore military equipment, in other words. He was dressed for modern war.

Crocefisso No. 90
(Crucifix), 1974
Oil on panel
WILLIAM CONGDON
Of the above painting, Congdon wrote:

"It is all flat squashed by lava flow, but trampled as if the traffic of 'sin' had crossed over it for or since all eternity, until the body, what was body, became a stain. It is the road of Bombay, it is the world that continually tramples Christ under. The tar of the road became Christ who became tar in order to let himself be flattened until he flowed in the fire of love, beyond any boundary. He flows everywhere, and even more in the splinters of the ashes like a bombardment of hate. It is everything: sin without limits. And yet, under and through the 'flow,' his shape remains, the image that redeems."

That movie theater must have been like a stain of tar that night: mayhem, trampled bodies, blood flowing like a river. Survivors say that also in that darkened theater, in a realm beyond space, time, and the reach of any camera, several people threw themselves on top of their companions, sparing the lives of their loved ones and laying down their own. They weren't "following orders" as we all like to purport to when absolving ourselves of responsibility. They weren't dressed in flak gear or camo.

"I paint on black because painting is not representing a light that is and that's all, but rather participating in the light that is becoming out of the darkness."
.
The Dark Knight Rises. How ironic that Aurora means dawn.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

SURRENDER AND DESIRE

IL SOPOLCRO (THE SEPULCHER)
WILLIAM CONGDON, 1974
On the night before He died Christ took bread into His hands, blessed and broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying: "This is my Body."

The Blessed Sacrament is Christ, the whole Christ. He was giving us Himself.

In so many other things He liad the stress on the invisible, the immaterial; His kingdom, He said, is not of this earth: His peace is not of this world.

Yet, in giving Himself to the world, He deliberately chose to emphasise the body.

Why?

The body is, for us, the means by which we can give ourselves wholly.

We say: "Go, my thoughts are with you," or "My soul goes with you." And we know that, though something of ourself is with the traveller, essentially we remain separate from him.

We can give someone devoted care, unfailing kindness, and all our worldly possessions, but still we have kept ourselves.

But when we give our body willingly to another as the means of deliberate self-donation, then our union with the other is complete.

We surrender our intimacy, the secret of ourselves, with the giving of our body; and we cannot give it without;our will, our thoughts, our minds, and our souls.

Christ surrendered the secret of Himself to each one of us when He gave us His Body. In Holy Communion this surrender of the secret of Himself goes on.

"With desire" He said, "have I desired this hour."

--Caryll Houselander, from The Reed of God

Thursday, July 26, 2012

DON'T CALL ME BIKER CHICK: MY FRIEND BERNADETTE MURPHY

BERNADETTE
I'm the type that thinks we should all transport ourselves (that's assuming we leave our rooms at all) on foot: in silence and solitude, our eyes cast down, our heads cowled. I abhor--I am pained--by leaf blowers, car alarms, sirens, and the ear-splitting motorcycles that roar down residential streets, shatter the calm of a Sunday morning, and snake between lanes on the freeways, scaring the bejesus out of a person. "My God," I am always exclaiming to myself, "who are the morons, the infidels, the rapists who allow our city to be continually, perpetually, satanically, RAVAGED BY NOISE??!!" What of the insects and birds! What about the little animals?..

Thus I am thrilled to feature an insightful, thoughtful, stimulating, and as always beautifully-written piece by my friend Bernadette Murphy. Bernadette is a writer, wife, mother, teacher, marathon runner, and now ecstatic motorcycle owner and rider. In this week's issue of The Rumpus, she writes of the long, slow, decline (and eventual death) of her father, and of her simultaneous urge to embrace life more fully by taking a class, learning to ride, and buying her own bad-ass bike.

For those of us whose urge is more toward emotional and spiritual risks, the piece delivers a vicarious thrill. And for those of us who wrestle with aging, elderly parents, and an eternally restless heart--i.e. at some point, pretty much all of us...let's just say you'll relate.

A few excerpts:

Life went on – I finished the class and received my motorcycle endorsement on my driver’s license — and death arrived. The morning after I bathed my father’s lifeless body with the help of the hospice nurse and sent him on his metaphysical way, I walked into the Harley dealership and bought a motorcycle. My Izzy. An example of grief made manifest? Absolutely. It was also a full-hearted embrace of life...

And so I ride. To confront the fear. To feel all-too-alive. To encounter the divine. To feel fast and vulnerable, powerful and exposed all at once.

I ride in order to truly live while I still have breath within me...

I think about the fact that so many of the difficult things we face in life occur without our approval or consent – illness, the death of spouse, problems with children, divorce, job loss, bankruptcy, foreclosure. We have little choice but to endure these hardships – sometimes gracefully, though more often in a stumbling, numb, wanting-to-hide fashion. There’s little sense of satisfaction in making in through these times because we know we would never have opted for this course had we been given a choice. Certainly there’s relief at the end of the ordeal and lessons learned, though often little else.

But what about when we voluntarily choose to do things that scare us? Even little things? That’s different. When we voluntarily wrestle with the boogieman of fear, we gain skills and self-knowledge that steel us for the rest of life – those soul-numbing, bone-crushing times when we have no say in how much hardship we can take, how long we can last, how strong at our core we might be. Nothing so strengthens our resolve as having a regular, intimate encounter with the fear that tries to stifle us, that tells us we’re not smart enough, or young enough, or pretty enough, or strong enough.



Read the whole piece here.
Check out Bernadette's Zen and the Art of Knitting and The Tao Gal's Guide to Real Estate.
And don't forget to wear your helmet.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

THE LITANY OF HUMILITY


Here's what I'm discovering in my old age: There is a whole huge ton of stuff you simply get to let go of in this world. Things you find annoying, things that are disappointing, things that are not the way you wish they were. You get to let go of all hope of being perceived a certain way, all hope of being “understood,” all hope of your work being recognized in the way you pictured it being recognized, all hope that your own personal plan for happiness is going to work.

I'm never much fired up by these people who have undergone a miracle conversion, who’ve had a vision, who’ve seen Mary or Jesus or God. Okay, I want to say, but THEN WHAT? How did your day-to-day experience of life change? How did your view of the world transform? How do you interact with your fellow humans? After twenty-plus years of prayer, action, and inner work, this is how my own world has transformed: I have a lot of opinions but I don’t ALWAYS have to air them. I’m still insanely triggered by petty slights, but I don’t ALWAYS have to let my hurt show. My likes often differ from yours, but I don’t ALWAYS have to point that out, thereby ruining or tainting your likes. I don’t ALWAYS have to be right, I don’t always have to have the last word, I don’t always need to over-apologize, over-thank, or over-explain. You can either find fault with every tiny thing--and trust me, I am a champion fault-finder, I am an expert fly-in-the-ointment seer--or you can say 'God bless us all' and move on.

People can sometimes mistake this for a kind of looseness, can sometimes take me for an anything-goes type, as happened earlier in the week. “You know what you’d be great at?” a new acquaintance gushed. “You’d be great at giving a Tantric sex workshop. You should take a workshop in Tantric sex—I know you’ve mentioned you’d like to be more vulnerable—and then you could give your own workshop!” I am possibly the last person on earth who would be interested in taking a Tantric sex, or any kind of sex, workshop but more to the point—unh-unh. “My sexuality is not up for discussion,” I told him. “That is not a discussion to which I am open, nor a discussion I invite.” Later I thought, If you want to work on being vulnerable, throw a birthday party for yourself. Throw your fear of rejection, of abandonment, of looking like an ass, of not being lovable, of wanting everything to be perfect, of wanting more than anything in the world to stay in your room and read out the window.

Interestingly, what allows us to make better boundaries, to be imperfect, to be vulnerable, is not “strength,” but humility. For years, I’ve read a dog-eared Xerox of the following every morning:

LITANY OF HUMILITY

O Jesus! Meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected,
Deliver me, Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I,
That others may be esteemed more than I,
That in the opinion of the world, others may increase, and I may decrease,
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should.
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
Imprimatur: James A. McNulty, Bishop of Paterson, N.J.

Another twenty yearsand the darn thing might actually start to take hold!


CANNA LILIES,
ATWATER VILLAGE

Sunday, July 22, 2012

BIRTHDAY MANIA

what, aren't you SUPPOSED to put the gift wrap on your head after?

Welp, I have turned 60, a three-day gala.

Thursday, the actual day, I met my girlfriends Christine and Hilary down in Little Tokyo. Here, we took in the origami exhibit at the Japanese American Museum, had dinner at The Spice Table, and generally cackled away the eve.

orgami shoes, anyone?
60 is the new 10!
Christine, c., Hilary, r.
No flies on these gals.
Friday...early onset dementia...I already forget what I did Friday. Oh I know, Friday Christine--guardian  angel, benefactor, and all-around helpmeet--came over to where I was house-sitting and was kind enough to accompany me on a food-shopping run to Jons and a paper-product-shopping run to Smart and Final. This went well save for a difficult moment in the aisle of Jons when I made the hideous faux pas of proposing that we buy a case of Gerolsteiner, prompting an anti-imported water tirade from the usually mild-mannered Christine that reminded me, once again, of the myriad ways in which I am obliviously and hopelessly politically incorrect. I refrained from interjecting that if left to my own devices I would serve dry rusks and tap water and instead let my hands fall ashamed to my side and meekly answered, "Okay, we'll get Crystal Geyser."

Christine and I came home, nibbled on Sicilian olives, French feta and Armenian flatbread crackers, and discussed interior design, books, Palm Springs (where Christine lives: I've house-sat for her, too), men, and each and every one of our friends for the remainder of the evening.

Saturday morning Christine and I felt quite smug. The party, a potluck, was scheduled to start at 3. We'd prepped, cleaned, set out flowers, planned outside seating arrangements, made our respective salads. Our four big racks of spareribs, our chicken thighs, our chicken breasts, our exotic juices, and our sparkling water chilled smugly in the fridge.  I prayed, did my nails, sipped coffee and looked forward to Robert arriving at 1. Robert is my friend who'd been slotted to preside over the grill. "It'll be great to have a guy here to help move tables and haul ice," Christine and I assured each other a number of times. "There's just something about a guy by the grill that makes everyone breathe easier."

Around 9 I got a call from Robert saying he had a cold and couldn't come.

Here I must pay homage to the very brave and resourceful Christine who, in a black-and-white mini dress and   kitten heels, proceeded to single-handedly grill all the ribs before our friend Joe arrived with a large container of his famous barbecued salmon. I thrust the tongs and a pan of poultry at the poor man, and he proceeded to produce several plates full of perfectly-cooked chicken.


People drifted in bearing insanely great dishes, the food and conversation flowed, the house was beyond beautiful, the spirit was of love, and what can I say? I have the best friends in the world.

Erin K. Smith (soon to be the proprietor of a pop-up Tarot-reading truck)
and the ever-stylish Hilary
Patrick and Joan
Lisa G. 
Maudie
I got tons of presents.
roses from my friend Phillip, and
from Father Terry
gift kit from my friend Glenn: cause you want to be AWAKE
while you go through the dark night...
unbelievably great catalogue of the painter William Congdon
from my friend Rita
I put this bracelet, made by jewelry designer Hilary Beane, on my wish list a few months ago.
Hilary and Christine gave it to me AS A GIFT
luxe bath products from Maud
the one and only Maudie also made the chocolate birthday cake
she turned 60 on June 28 and we have celebrated together now for many years
party photos courtesty, btw, of another great friend, Terry K. Carr
So now I'm back home with my leftovers, my lavish gifts, my gratitude, my memories, and real life resumes.

Though before leaving July 19 for another year, I must say that, just as left to my own devices, I'd eat dry rusks and tap water; left to my own devices, I'd also stay in my room, tell no-one of my birthday, and "celebrate," if at all, alone.

All social outreach is always a stretch, for me, and I know for my friends. But one more time I'm reminded, look what happens when we step out!

Magic.

blowing out the candles in clown pants
thank you, seriously, for the best birthday ever xxx

Thursday, July 19, 2012

RANDOM LEAVES ON SIDEWALK


Isn't it interesting the way any random collection of leaves, seed pods, twigs and/or blossoms that fall on the sidewalk form a kind of evocative, beautifully proportioned, "painting"?












Tuesday, July 17, 2012

VESPERS

IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY
SANTA MONICA BLVD., EAST HOLLYWOOD
"We know what you hate--but what do you love?" I recently asked a writer whose manuscript I was editing.

One thing I personally love is going to 5:30 Mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary on a gritty strip of Santa Monica Boulevard in East Hollywood. IHM is hard by a Rite-Aid, a Staples, a Metro station, a number of Armenian groceries, and LA City College.  Inside the door is a side chapel before which can usually be found a weeping supplicant, on his or her knees, praying. The sanctuary has been undergoing renovations for months--Mass was held for a time last winter in the auditorium of the IHM school next door--and the whole back half, at the moment, is cordoned off with yellow crime tape.

I'm not part of the parish life here but to my delight I have made the acquaintance of regular Mass-goers Larry Bugbee and Eva Link. Larry and Eva run an operation called "THE MINISTRY FOR LOVE, HOLINESS AND EVANGELIZATION" according to their business card. Larry's keen on visions, Medjugorje, and Padre Pio. He's been in a state of high dudgeon for years over the fact that the Church of the Blessed Sacrament up on Sunset, another of his haunts, celebrates but a single Mass on weekdays. And last time I saw him he waylaid me and tried to walk me to my car reporting on Therese Neumann, the Catholic Stigmatist of Bavaria, who experienced visions, suffered torrents of blood pouring from her (sightless) eyes and, from 1922 to her death in 1962, claimed to have subsisted entirely on the Holy Eucharist.

THERESE NEUMANN
Larry and Eva stand outside IHM after Mass--Eva's station is out front; Larry mans the side door--hawking holy cards, rosaries, melamine plates imprinted with religious scenes (Our Lady of Guadalupe, The Last Supper), and copies of Magnificat. When I left my July issue on the plane coming back from Boston, I knew just where to go. Sure enough, Eva sold me a copy ($4.95) after Mass last Thursday. She also reported that Larry is entering the seminary in northern California, so that will be a loss, all around, but of course I wish him the very best.

Anyway, so there are Larry and Eva, there are the women who come every day and who often say Evening Prayer from the Office before Mass, there's the Wednesday novena and the Tuesday Adoration, there are Frs. Rodel and Miloy,  both of whom say a lovely, simple Mass and give a simple, useful homily, often with a bit of sly humor thrown in.

There are the dark scarred pews and the creaky kneelers with their threadbare upholstery and the spirit of love that permeates any place where people have come for decades, after a long, hard day, to bow their heads and give thanks. People who whisper too loudly, forget to turn off their cell phones, get pissed if you inadvertently take "their" seats, and loudly rustle their prayer books, missalettes and paper fans. People who also hunger for ritual, who have the humility to honor the rising of the sun and the setting of the sun, who know to honor the passing, with the Sacrament of Sacraments, of another day.

The world laughs at such people but as a friend who is undergoing a genuine conversion observed the other day, "Christ's love is...extravagant, isn't it?"  That Christ's love is extravagant means that it is always better to err on the side of hungering too much, rather than too little; better to wear our hearts on our sleeves rather than let them harden from cynicism and despair; better to be willing to let our hunger make us look like fools  than to pretend we have life under control and that our hunger doesn't matter. To love Christ is to suffer the full unanesthetized pain of not being in control, not being able to "make" things go our way, not being able to make the edges of life match up. To attend Mass is to bow to mystery, not certainty. 

Catholicism invites the grand gesture, but never the grand gesture that calls attention to itself; rather, the grand gesture that calls attention to the Father;  the grand gesture that is hidden, as the grandest gesture of all, the Crucifixion, is both hidden and made visible at Mass. It's the gesture we make when at the end of Mass, the cantor, a tiny Filipino woman with a helmet of gray hair, leads us in the Angelus.

We're tired but we stay anyway: a lullaby, by us and to us. The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary...And she conceived of the Holy Spirit. Here, across town; all over the world in city and country; for centuries past and for centuries ahead, Christ's ragtag flock lays him to rest for another night.

A hush falls.
The sparrow sings.
Vespers.

JEAN-FRANÇOIS MILLET
THE ANGELUS, 1857-1859

Sunday, July 15, 2012

GET UP AND EAT


The last couple of weeks I've gone to 7:30 a.m. Sunday Mass at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Hollywood. I was confirmed and made my first Communion there back in 1986 and the whole complex will always retain a special place in my heart. Afterwards I've walked over to the Hollywood Farmer's Market, a block-square cornucopia of produce, flowers, music, and food booths.

Mass, followed by food, is a natural and beautiful sequence. Christ is always about the food, the broken bread. A couple of weeks ago, we read the story of Jairus's daughter and the healing of the hemorrhaging woman. [Mark 5:21-43]

21 And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. 22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23 and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24 And he went with him.

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

35 While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler's house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing[a] what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38 They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus[b] saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 41 Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. 43 And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.


Like all of the Gospel parables, this one contains enough meat to gnaw on for weeks. Mulling the story over in the following days, I was struck that, after bringing the 12-year-old girl back to life, Christ, the Great Physician, basically says to her: Get up and eat. Not get up and pray. Not get up and thank me. Not get up and take a bunch of meds. Not lie down for a week. Arise and eat. The people who love you will make you something to eat.

Christ is always about the shared meal, the flow of giving and receiving, the movement from the isolation of sickness to the community of "health," which is not necessarily to say physical health, but the health of faith, of love.

What’s best physically is what gives us most joy spiritually and emotionally.At the end of our lives, are we going to say, I wish I'd worked more, I wish I'd been more successful, more disciplined, holier; I wish I'd amassed more stuff?  No. We're gonna say--or I am--I wish I'd sat down more often with my friends and had something to eat.




Saturday, July 14, 2012

BEACHWOOD CANYON

St. Catherine's Lace
this isn't Judy's--
hers was even prettier, but I didn't have my camera

I'm house-sitting in the Hollywood area, as I may have mentioned.

Yesterday I set out for a walk toward Bronson Canyon and decided to see whether there was a back way to Beachwood, the next canyon west. Amazingly, after many twists and turns, I landed on upper Cherimoya (I could have just walked down to Franklin, a main commercial drag, and gone north on Beachwood Drive, but that would have been too easy) and ended up paying a semi-surprise visit to my landscape designer friend Judy. Judy fed me a brownie from Joan's on Third, and a green tea, and showed me her ever-spectacular hydrangeas, bromeliads, and a stunning stand of St. Catherine's lace.

I got lost coming back.




Give me the right of way
over the cornsteps into your sleep,
the right of way over the sleep path,
the right to cut peat
on the heart slope,
tomorrow.

From “Irish,” by Paul Celan (tr. Michael Hamburger)


back of HOLLYWOOD sign
photo: Geoff Cordner
Geoff's  "Paradise Hotel" graces the homepage of my website
he's a crazy good photographer and a runner
check out his Slow Twitch Journal

Friday, July 13, 2012

THE POETICS OF SPACE


Oh boy, folks, I am moving very, very slowly...

I'm house-sitting for my dear friend Julia and as I told her, have been spending lots of time supine on the blue-green velvet couch leafing through photo books of Maasai warriors, Garry Winogrand, and Gardens of the Berkshires.

It's always interesting inhabiting someone else's "space."


Wardrobes with their shelves, desks with their drawers, and chests with their false bottoms are veritable organs of the secret psychological life. Indeed, without these “objects” and a few others in equally high favor, our intimate life would lack a model of intimacy. They are hybrid objects, subject objects. Like us, through us and for us, they have a quality of intimacy.

Does their not exist a single dreamer of words who does not respond to the word wardrobe?

And to fine words correspond fine things, to grave-sounding words, an entity of depth. Every poet of furniture--even if he be a poet in a garret, and therefore has not furniture--knows that the inner space of an old wardrobe is deep. A wardrobe's inner space is also intimate space, space that is not open to just anybody.

But words carry with them obligations. Only an indigent soul would put just anything in a wardrobe. To put just anything, just any way, in just any piece of furniture, is the mark of unusual weakness in the function of inhabiting. In the wardrobe there exists a center of order that protects the entire house against uncurbed disorder. Here order reigns, or rather, this is the reign of order. Order is not merely geometrical; it can also remember the family history. A poet* knew this:

Ordonnance. Harmonie.
Piles de draps de l'armoire
Lavande dans le linge.

(Orderliness. Harmony.
Piles of sheets in the wardrobe
Lavender in the linen.)


--Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

*Colette Wartz, Paroles pour l'autre, p. 26


WHY TOTALLY UNPACK WHEN YOU'RE JUST GOING
TO LEAVE AGAIN?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

badgirls



A couple of months ago, a friend gave me a 40-page book of "prose poems" by a friend of a friend. The book is called badgirls.From the intro:

"I started teaching Language Arts at a school within a Level V lockdown treatment center for teenage girls eight years ago...

I took the job and haven't left. Friends ask why I want to publish these poems, to share something so ugly?  I say they're documentary, memoir, love notes and celebrations. They're for you to hear. They're for you to see."

Here's one of them:

SASHA

I walked into dorm on Sunday. Saw Sasha on the floor. She was poured on the floor in the hallway entangled in yarn. The rug on the floor was so dirty, it smothered the concept of color. Sasha's face was so broken, it shattered the concept of face. Disheveled and stringy on the floor, she was entangled in yarn. She was holding a snarl of yarn like a baby. The snarl, the yarn, and Sasha were beige. All beige. Bad beige. The beige of old-fashioned metal files. Band-Aids. Lethargy. The yarn was donation yarn. Yarn stacked in the back of the craft store year-end. Yarn nobody wanted to buy. The neutrals, neons, and rusts. The Easter pastels. These hairy, butt-ugly salamis.

I was wondering whether Sasha was trying to unsnarl the yarn or just enjoying the wonder of the snarl. Sasha ferociously picked at her face. Her temples were bleeding. Sasha asked me for the leftover snack. Everyday she asked me. I told her she could have it if she turned in her homework for the rest of her life. Then I gave her the leftover fruit leather, giggling. The next day she turned in her paragraphs. I gave her the leftover Grade B bananas and apples so tiny, they looked like lime golf balls. The next day Sasha's friend left. They'd been best friends for a year. They'd been only friends. Maybe only friends ever.

Sasha came to school crying. Hard. Her pale face was puddled with murky devastation. She walked right into the time-out room. And cried. She cried all morning. Harder and harder. She curled into a fetal ball. After lunch Sasha punched a hole in the hall wall. Then she jumped up and ripped off the light fixture with a horrible crackle. She grabbed the water jug and dropped it on the floor. It weighed as much as God. The jolt of that thud changed our worlds. Girls ran out of the classroom trying loudly to remember how to breathe.

Sasha lost all her privileges after that. She walked back into the timeout room the next morning. She put a blanket over her head. She stayed that way for a week. Like a pale blue dune. When Sasha finally came up for air, her face was clear and glowing.


And here's a note from Leanne:

My first job working with underserved, at-risk populations was way back in the late 70s. It was a government-funded magazine project and it was my job to train street kids in the skills of magazine production. This was after my first real job after college as copy editor for Billie Jean King's magazine WOMENSPORTS. Frankly, I found the kids to be more inspiring and true to themselves.

After that job, I remained involved with that population--as an itinerant writer/teacher, I worked all over the state of Oregon teaching mostly poetry and spokenword. I always preferred the underserved/at-risk students as they were more willing to take risks and seemed to be more in touch with their feelings. In the 90s, I went into the juvenile prison system for the first time, working with teenage boys incarcerated for violent crimes. I expected monsters and they were darlings. Yes, their lives had been hideous and their hearts had been scraped, but their resiliency was awe-inspiring. They still had hope, big-time!

My husband I ran a poetry cafe (Cafe Lena) throughout the 90s, but I decided to rejuvenate my dead teaching credential in the mid-90s because I couldn't stand the restaurant business. I went in as a substitute teacher at the lockup facility that was the setting for BADGIRLS back in 2004. I fell in love on the spot and asked what I needed to do to stay there as a regular language arts teacher (it was a public school, although a lockdown treatment center). I had to get a special education endorsement and a Master's in Education...so I did that and completed it all 5 years ago.

Now I am moving on to a new situation and will be placed in another school that works with messed up children, probably younger ones. I am awaiting my assignment. I went through 2 months of investigation because of the BADGIRLS book and the play based on the book that incorporated my writing and reflections with student work I had collected. I had two actors playing two students and we basically recreated my classroom. I even taught the proper use of the apostrophe during the performances.

We will be traveling the show to Nebraska next winter as a friend of mine from childhood teaches at a college there and has received a grant to bring us. I'm hesitant to promote the show too much around here as I'm still being investigated by the state board, although they are so backed up, I hear, that it may be a year or two before they even get to me. I took notes throughout the 8 years I taught at the school. The stories of my students shocked me. These kids had lived through the absolutely worst. THE ABSOLUTE WORST...and I'd been working with this population for years and years. BUT THEY WERE STILL HOPEFUL AND TRYING AND VERY WILLING TO REACH DOWN INTO THEIR STILL VIBRANT HEARTS AND TRY TO EXPRESS THOSE BEATS. Yes, they were emotionally disturbed, but they were all still trying to rise up.

What did it teach me about the human heart? It's damn powerful and resilient and it floats, always bobbing up in the murky water of life.


LEANNE GRABEL
photo: leannegrabel.com

To buy the book, email directly at leannegrabel.com. She has copies and is glad to sell for $10 & $2 shipping.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

DETOURS AND RIDDLES


My mother is slowly shutting down. The people at the nursing home said this is normal and natural. Days, weeks: we don't know. I'm back in L.A. and I probably won't return. And it's been hard to think or write of anything else.

Last Friday, my little sister Meredith, my brother Ross, my nephew Allen and I took Mom to the Fuller Rose Gardens in Rye, where we've all been going since we were kids. It was all just as I remembered it: the beds of roses, the statue of the naked lady, the wishing well, the Japanese garden with its little wooden bridge. Mom hasn't eaten, to speak of, for two weeks and though she wanted to go, the trip constituted a heroic effort on her part.

She doesn't know my name, nor much that I'm her daughter, but when I said, "Mom, I'm going to leave now," she seemed to understand. "It's been a wonderful visit," she quavered. "It's been a wonderful 60 years," I told her.

That night I took one last walk around Portsmouth, the old streets around the harbor, the old clapboard houses with their stone slab steps, their windowboxes, their lintels. I ended up where I always seem to end up: on the rise near Livermore Street, a cul-de-sac across the estuary from the old Portsmouth Hospital where I was born.


"It was a hot and sultry night," my father always said, and I'm thinking 1952 was probably pre-A/C, so my very first whiff of the world was probably the high sweet smell of the marshes, and my very first experience of air the hot heavy feel of a coastal New Hampshire mid-summer night, which I have always loved and, if anything, love even more now.

On the way back to my hotel,  I walked up Summer Street and was surprised--it was almost dark--to see the doors of Immaculate Conception wide open. First Friday, maybe. I walked in and the sanctuary was completely empty. Wax, furniture polish, incense, shadows, a few candles flickering to the side behind blue glass.

A quarter mile away a rock band was blaring, folks were eating, shouting, drinking beer. Here, it was very quiet. "Stay and keep watch with me," Christ said to his disciples in the Garden at Gethsemane, and of course they couldn't. No-one wanted to sit with him then and no-one much wants to sit with him now. An hour must be a long time when you're dying. It's a long time when you're alive.

"This is my Body, which will be given up for you." Kneeling in the dark, I thought about how, every time someone dies, Christ gives up his body anew, through and with that person.

photo: flickr
On the plane back to L.A. I read this:

I ought to have a parallel life, a sea of time in which I would be able to remake those earlier journeys in the course of my present journey, to Silos to León, to Oveido. As it is, I must distill that reservoir of time from my own memory, but even if the appropriate images are evoked they can never be enough—it is all about proximity, tangibility, running your fingers over a stone, and about the impossible, because what you really want by now is not another life but a longer life, one in which you go round and round in the same circles of leave-taking and revisiting until such time as you feel so sated and tired that you lie down in a nook of one of those chapels, and slip into a dream of stone.

--Cees Nooteboom, Roads to Santiago: Detours and Riddles in the Lands and History of Spain


A thousand thanks for your thoughts, reflections, love, support, comments, and prayers.