Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I can't stomach the violence in Mafia, sci-fi, or drug war movies but I am crazy for women-gone-loony black-and-white sixties flicks: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, The Nanny. ..

If you have any bent in this direction yourself, you have got to check out this insanely over-the-top William Castle double feature (available on netflix).

Here's Joan Crawford in STRAIT-JACKET (1964), fresh out of the asylum for the axe murders she committed twenty years before.

Another1961 creepfest starring Joan Marshall/Jean Arless: HOMICIDAL.

At the climactic moment, Castle breaks the fourth wall and introduces a "Fright Break!"


Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Jim Cole/AP
Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea,
Past the houses -- past the headlands -- 
Into deep Eternity -- 

Bred as we, among the mountains, 
Can the sailor understand 
The divine intoxication
Of the first league out from land?

--Emily Dickinson

Sunday, October 28, 2012


A couple of months ago I received a lovely note from:

Br. Rex Anthony Norris
Little Portion Hermitage
Diocese of Portland, ME

Br. Rex had read, and liked, Redeemed.

Br. Rex maintains a hermitage of one:

Little Portion Hermitage is a place of Christ-centered solitude, sacred silence, and intercessory prayer. Founded for the glory of God and inspired by the example of St Francis of Assisi, the hermitage is faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ found in their fullness among Churches in full communion with the See of Peter. The hermit residing at Little Portion is a person in Consecrated Life in accord with Canon 603, under the jurisdiction of the bishop of the Diocese of Portland, ME...

I am a hermit under the canonical jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Portland, Maine, in accordance with Canon #603 of the Code of Canon Law. The moments of my day are consecrated to God’s Glory and the salvation of the world. My prayers and penance are offered in a particular way for the many women and men in recovery from or still struggling to overcome addiction to alcohol, other drugs or other destructive behaviors. As I practice opening myself to love God with all my heart, I pray that you may receive the grace to do the same. Each of us is called to love God above all, and to love each other as we love ourselves. Please send your prayer requests and allow me the privilege of joining you in prayer before the Lord. By allowing me the opportunity to pray for you and with you, you stir into flame the call God has placed in my heart; a call given to me for His glory and the good of all the world. Holding you in my heart, I pray you peace and all good.

photo: Ellen Mugar of Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Friday, October 26, 2012


I thought I had hit upon a point of view that probably nobody else in the world had ever held before. It was a purifying, beautiful, joyous sensation of anger that I felt, and I knew for the first time that I could feel passionately about an idea. Something had blazed in me, and from the blaze I discovered a new element in myself, a combustible something that would always blaze again in defense of the mystery and sacredness in things, and against the queer, blind, blaspheming streak in human nature which instead of adoring, must vulgarize and exploit and insult life.

--Katharine Butler Hathaway, The Little Locksmith

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


I recently gave a talk at a parish in Dana Point, CA: St. Edward the Confessor.

I felt quite proud to be bridging the gap not merely between believers and non-believers, or Democrats and Republicans, or the East Coast and the West Coast or any other such negligible distinction, but between a far more significant divide: L.A. and Orange County.

When I checked into my hotel, the desk clerk handed me about a 20-pound gift basket. It turned out to be from sprightly parishioner and faithful supporter Pat Arndt, who is in her 80's, does yoga, and was the catalyst for getting me down there.

The basket contained a bottle of water, a tall can of coconut water, two candy bars (Caramello and Heath), a giant fresh pomegranate, a red candle, an amber glass candlestick holder fashioned from part of an old lamp, a St. Raphael pamphlet, a peacock card with twine cord (in homage to Flannery O'Connor), and a book called The Wabi-Sabi House: The Japanese Art of Imperfect Beauty, by Robyn Griggs Lawrence.

"Simply put, wabi-sabi is the marriage of the Japanese wabi, meaning humble, and sabi, which connotes beauty in the natural progression of time. Together, the phrase invites us to set aside our pursuit of perfection and learn to appreciate the simply, unaffected beauty of things as they are."

"As is so often the case with wabi-sabi, the first step in appreciation building is to simply take a walk. Walk slowly, and allow yourself to take in the gifts that are available to you. Look at the the broad horizons, then narrow your gaze to a pebble"...

the folks at St. Edwards gave me
fruit salad and flowers to take home with me!
Live oak from Pat's back yard,
imperfectly twined about a window latch

Sunday, October 14, 2012


fall in  L.A.

Recently I read this story about 26-year-old Nick Kleckner who, having discovered that material goods didn't nourish his soul, decided to walk 2600 miles across America, starting in Jacksonville, Florida, with little more than an ipod and a cell phone, fasting until given food to eat, receiving and giving, communing with the homeless. A kind of modern-day Peace Pilgrim, he ended up in Southern California's Huntington Beach.

From the story, by Laylan Connelly, in The Orange County Register.

He had rules when he set out. He'd only accept help from complete strangers, and he never took help from the thousands of followers who would eventually end up tracking his journey on Twitter. The only solicit he had was a cardboard sign that read "food," which he would use if he was really hungry. But he never verbally asked anybody for anything.

In Mississippi – the poorest state in America – he was overwhelmed with kindness.

"I had so much food, I couldn't carry it. I had so much money, I was worried carrying that much money around. They're just nice people," he said.

"It just hit me that I needed to give back."

So he'd give away what he didn't use or need to other people on the streets. He started handing out granola bars tied with rubber bands to a $5 McDonald's gift card and a $5 bill.

Soon, he started hearing from people wanting to send him stuff. He'd tell them to give to homeless in their area instead...

I don't know Nick Kleckner's religious affiliation, if any, but he made me think of a woman, a staunch Catholic, who approached me after one of my talks recently and demanded, "Would you vote for Obama?"

I replied, "Let's not talk politics; it's divisive."

"Would you vote for Obama?" she pressed. "Yes or no?"

I thought, Well let's see, if there were a runoff between Hitler and Goebbels and Hitler were promoting some rudimentary kind of national health care, I suppose, if I had to vote, I could consider voting for Hitler. So I said, "I might."

She jabbed her finger in my face and hissed, "You have had abortions and you would vote for Obama? You call yourself a woman of faith? You call yourself a Catholic..."

Oh folks, I was pissed. I had come halfway across the country; I had given this woman, and everyone else there, everything I had. My voice was shaking. I said, in no particular order, "Please do not jab your finger in my face, please do not tell me how I live out my faith, that is not the way to convert hearts, that is not how Christ converted hearts, and I'm against the violence of war, too, so that doesn't leave me anyone to vote for, does it?"

"The poor you will always have with you," she crowed [in a rather startling scriptural non sequitur]. "If you vote for Obama, you have no right to call yourself a Catholic..."

Christ, too, lived under a corrupt government. He seems to have paid approximately zero attention to it. Christ didn't call the power-mongers and the pollsters; he healed sick people and sinners.

Which brings me back to the walker. If anyone is going to be authentically evangelized, it will be by people like this: a stray voice crying in the wilderness.

A pilgrim.

Tourists demand; pilgrims thank.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


I have never claimed to be a scientist. But walking in the desert last week, gazing out over the horizon, I suddenly thought, Isn’t true north a couple of degrees off ‘actual’ north?

Christ is counter, but he’s never counter 180 degrees. He’s counter two degrees. He takes our desire for happiness; our notions of justice, mercy, finance, romance, politics, and he tweaks them two degrees and the result is infinitely more radical than if the turn were 180. He doesn’t take our desire for happiness and say, You need to make that into a desire for misery. He doesn’t take our desire for security and say, You need to be something other than human and no longer care in any way about security.
I thought of my friend Fr. Terry’s observation about the ever-receding promise, for the alcoholic, of booze: “Drinking never made me happy, but it made me feel like I was going to be happy in fifteen minutes.” Nothing wrong with shooting for happiness; it’s just that happiness is going to be found a hair right, or left, of center. Your gaze is going to be trained just slightly to the side, and upward.

Back from my walk, just before Mass Sr. Mary Fidelis stopped by my pew and whispered, “Holy Hour today is from 10 to 11.”

All during Mass, I thought about Happy Hour, and Holy Hour, and true north. I thought about how I once described a morning at the dive bar in Boston’s North Station where I used to drink, my companions washed-up cab drivers and broken-down racetrack touts:

It was like coming together each morning for the administration of a communal anaesthetic. Our fingers shook with the effort of lighting cigarettes. Our hands shook as we raised the glasses to our lips. Our heads shook when we lowered them to sip. We drank silently, methodically, the pace as steady as an IV drip. I was almost always the only woman at the bar, not that it mattered: we Sullivan’s regulars were way past sex. We were like monks or eunuchs, our lives stripped down to a single all-consuming, self-annihilating passion, our focus on the bartender mixing our morning drinks as pure as the gaze of the faithful as the priest raises the consecrated Host.
Gazing at the monstrance later—at the actual consecrated Host—I thought about how to miss by a hair is still to miss completely. I thought of how, for all my wounds, they have shaped me for Christ. Does that make me “happy?” I don’t know. Can you be happy as you weep? I don’t know. I only know that my focus was slightly off center and upward. I only know that my eyes were trained on True North. 

DONATELLO, c. 1453-55

Sunday, October 7, 2012


I have been in kind of a larval state, going about slowly, not making any sudden moves, simply quietly but firmly shutting my eyes when things trigger, annoy, or upset me (which is not a good idea, if you're driving). I talked to my spiritual director this morning and reported that my major emotion upon my mother's death has been extreme irritability. As she said, "Well, death is a major reminder of our powerlessness"...

Last week, then, was a good week to be out in the desert with the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration at Our Lady of Solitude Monastery. The nuns live six-plus miles down a dirt road, up against the mountains in a hardscrabble town called Tonopah, and here they have somehow managed to build a sort of gigantic church. It's quite stunning, and a bit like a mirage, beautifully appointed with stained glass, splendidly snowy altar cloths, and a remarkable collection of vestments that one of the sisters hand-sews...

The nuns number only four, and they are youngish, and at least some of them started out with Sr. Angelica in Alabama and they somehow all made their way here. They wear the full-on habit, with wimple, veil, and many layers that must be a trial in the 110-plus-degree summer heat.

Liturgically, the first week of October is stellar: Therese of Lisieux, the Guardian Angels, and St. Francis of Assisi.

The Poor Clares have a special devotion to St. Francis and one of the highlights of my time there was the service they held the night of the 3rd, called the Transitus, to "ritually remember the passing of Francis from this life to God."

A priest comes in from "town" every day to celebrate Mass, and one came out  this evening as well for the Transitus. There were candles, there were the four high sweet voices of the nuns raised in song, there was a relic of St. Francis, borne aloft, incensed, kissed.

Before I left, Sister Fidelis thoughtfully copied out an excerpt from an essay by Edith Stein entitled "Principles of Women's Education":

"Woman succeeds if the other requirements are filled: if the soul is empty of self and is self-contained. Indeed, when the inherent agitated self is completely gone, then there is room and quiet to make oneself perceptible to others. But no one can render himself so by nature alone, neither man nor woman. "O Lord God, take me away from myself and give me completely to you alone," the ancient German prayer says. We can do nothing ourselves; God must do it. To speak to Him thus is easier by nature for woman than for man because a natural desire lives in her to give herself completely to someone. When she has once realized that no one other than God is capable of receiving her completely for Himself and that it is sinful theft toward God to give oneself completely to one other than Him, then the surrender is no longer difficult and she becomes free of herself. Then it is also self- evident to her to enclose herself in her castle, whereas, before, she was given to the storms which penetrated her from without again and again; and previously she had also gone into the world in order to seek something abroad which might be able to still her hunger. Now she has all that she needs; she reaches out when she is sent, and opens up only to that which may find admission to her. She is mistress of this castle as the handmaid of her Lord, and she is ready as handmaid for all whom the Lord desires her to serve."