Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I can't stomach the violence in any kind of Mafia movie or war movie or fight movie but for some reason 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 at all, 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.

Another super weird 1961 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
This is just the kind of thing we do for fun in a hurricane around where I grew up.

After I (admiringly) posted a video on FB re the "hardy, nutcase" Plum Islanders, out with their cameras in what looked like the eye of the storm, reader Lee Atker opined: "I think a distinction should be made about New Englanders vs. New Englanders who live by the sea. The latter seem a hardier-more-daring breed. I am more of an inlander, and not daring. I am right now thanking God that our lights are still on, and staying clear of large windows in my house, *just in case*"...

She could be right. Truth be told, I'm more of the staying-clear-of-large-window-in-a-storm type myself, and I have always loved looking at boats more than actually going out on them. Still, growing up by the sea does instill a certain wildness of heart. So from my safe (for now) perch on the West Coast, and with all sympathy to all who died and all who have been affected/are being affected by Sandy--

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. I thanked him--I'm always extra glad to hear from a fellow native New Englander--and I kept thinking Oh how nice there's a monastery near Portland. I also meant to more fully check out Little Portion Hermitage, but with one thing and another, I hadn't gotten around to it till yesterday. That was when I discovered 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.

So if you have any booze/drug addicts in your life, as who doesn't, feel free to offer up their intentions. And I'm hoping Br. Rex is praying for the whole eastern seaboard--I hope we all are--as this giant storm approaches.

photo: my dear friend 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


Dana Point and the folks at St. Edward the Confessor were...I refuse to use the word awesome so I'll say delightful instead.

I felt quite proud to be bridging the gap not 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 in the first place.

Here are just some of the items 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. All overlain with several boughs of wild oak from the tree in Pat's backyard. I mean how thoughtful is that?

I immediately grabbed a coffee and set out for a walk, taking note of the vegetation, light, seagulls, surfers, and spinnakers (is that the right word?). Very different scene from the NH coast of my youth but the ocean, or an ocean, just the same.

Now I'm home and last night I got a chance to read a bit of my wabi-sabi book. "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."

Well, I am totally on board with that and as I read on, I find I have way been practicing wabi-sabi forever. E.g., "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"...

I not only like to narrow my gaze, I like to then take a blurry photo of the thing and post it on my blog. That's humble, right? (or lazy, but let's not quibble). Heck, I drive a Toyota, I was even eating rice rolls from Trader Joe's the other night, plus I have a sister-in-law, my brother Joe's wife Mimi, who actually comes from Japan.

Maybe they have some Catholics over there who would like me to come speak. But for now, I'm going to lie down amidst my worn wood floorboards, frayed tapestries, and warped home-made scarves, and eat that Caramello bar.

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

Monday, October 22, 2012


Oh wow, seems like moments ago I was sitting by the Atlantic Ocean in Newcastle, NH with my sister "Little Meddy" aka Meredith (now 47, forever in my mind 8) looking at the moon and doing the post-mortem no pun intended on Mom's memorial, and now I'm in Dana Point, CA looking out as the sun sets over the Pacific. I really do think air travel...I'm not sure human beings were meant to travel that fast and that far in a single day.

Anyway, immediately on checking into my hotel I set out for a lengthy walk, coffee in hand, and took some halfway decent photos but it transpires I neglected to pack my USB cable or whatever it's called so I just had a Brown Rice Surimi Combo from Trader Joe's, cutting open the pickled ginger, soy sauce and wasabi packets with a pair of nail clippers, and now I'm eating a whole bunch of candy preparatory to figuring out what I'm going to talk about tomorrow to the good folks at St. Edward the Confessor who have hired me on to speak at their 9 to noon "Serenity Day." I mean I know the names of the talks, as I came up with them myself, but I'm kind of extemporaneous when it comes to speaking and so usually wait until the eve or day of and ponder and some kind of through line presents itself.

I have been overcome with waves of extreme sadness ever since leaving my beloved New England and have been traveling a lot and basically my mind is mush. Here's a delightful photo album or possibly slide show, I think you can watch either way, that my brother Roscoe compiled of my mother and our family. I mean I am really reaching here, obviously. The memorial was at the church across the street from the house where we grew up: a gorgeous fall day, with the maple trees on the town common, visible from the upstairs sanctuary, ablaze with color.

I saw so many old neighbors, old friends, friends of our family: dear, loyal, salt-of-the-earth people, many of whom had come long distances to pay their respects. Everyone, it seemed, had something: a sister who had just fallen down the stairs (again), drunk; a cancer diagnosis, a troubled kid, their own sick mother or father, a shattered heart. And then I came back, feeling like my own heart had been ripped from my chest and shredded. This is the way of the world and it's no use pretending otherwise.

The Cross is an ancient symbol. Expressed lyrically, there is cruciform structure to every pain, difficulty, and sadness. In this sense, the Cross is not an external object that belongs far away on a hill in Jerusalem. Rather, the shape of the Cross is internal to the human heart. Every heart has a cruciform shape.

When you look at the different conflicts in your life, you find that they are placed where the contradictions cross each other. At the nerve of contradiction, you have the centre of the Cross, the nail of pain where two intimate but conflicting realities criss-cross. To view the standing Cross is to see how it embraces all directions. The vertical beam reaches from the lowest depth of clay to the highest zenith of divinity, the horizontal beam stretches the breadth of the world.

The promise to each of us is that we will never be called to walk the lonely path of suffering without seeing the footprints ahead of us which lead eventually over the brow of the hill where Resurrection awaits us. Behind the darkness of suffering, a subtle brightening often manifests itself. Two lines in a poem by Philippe Jaccottet echo this: “Love, like fire, can only reveal its brightness / on the failure and the beauty of burnt wood.” There is consolation and transfiguration here. The fires of suffering are disclosures of love. It is the nature of the lover to suffer. The marks and wounds that suffering leave on us are eventually places of beauty. This is the deep beauty of soul where limitation and damage, rather than remaining forces that cripple, are revealed as transfiguration.

--John O'Donohue

Here's one of the songs we sang for Mom.

Thursday, October 18, 2012



Hi people. I'm in Portsmouth, NH for my mother's memorial Saturday.

So hello! And welcome!

Arrived at 8:30 p.m. so did not get to see the foliage yet.

Just fyi, I had to change the settings to no more anonymous comments as the spam had gotten completely out of hand. I mean 50, 60 a day: quick cash advance, payday loans, tiara yacht (?!)...

"Hello! I know this is kind of off topic but I
was wondering which blog platform are you using for this website?
I'm getting fed up of Wordpress because I've had problems with hackers and I'm looking at options for another platform. I would be great if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.
Feel free to surf my web page ... free sexy porn"

"Excellent site. Lots of useful information here.
I'm sending it to several friends ans additionally sharing in delicious. And of course, thank you in your sweat!
Look at my website : Detecting bowel Cancer"

"I am genuinely grateful to the owner of this web
site who has shared this enormous post at at this time.
Feel free to visit my homepage :: i am a mental case"...

Anyway, I hope the changeover isn't some horrible inconvenience. As always, thanks to all who read and comment and especially to the many of you FAITHFUL folk who comment regularly, thoughtfully, and smartfully. Sweatfully?...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


I don't know about you but I always feel if I can just get about ten more things done, then I can rest. I have all sizes and colors of Post-Its covered with lists--Staples, Trader Joe's, emails to answer, letters to write, phone calls to respond to, accounts to balance, bills to pay, prayers to pray, stats to check, admin, admin, admin....

Anyway, so one recent Monday morning I was breathing a sigh of relief. I thought, I have cleared off my desk, everything is pretty much in order, and now for the love of heaven, could I have one single day when I am simply free to do as I please, what I am made for, which is write?

That was when I opened my email [why I would be opening my email when purporting to try to work is a separate issue] to this:

re.shirt of flame.....please explain what you mean by real rather than actual or virtual Presence.  now that i've read thru the book, will now go back and READ it as it is addressing  what the Lord is teaching me.....that focusing on God alone and dying to self(ishness) to focus on the other guy are not diametrically opposed at all........rather one is the result of the other...... thanks for taking the time to read this.....shirlee

Is that not priceless? I'm trying to work, I'm trying to be effective, I'm trying to bear fruit here and you're going to ask me to explain the REAL PRESENCE?

This is not something you can dash off in an unthought-out sentence or two so I thanked Shirlee for writing and told her I'd get back to her within a few weeks.

Right away, though, I started to try to come up with something that would sound smart. And then I thought of my friend Horace who has (by his own admission) "anger issues" and a deep, real, authentic spirituality and no use at all for the Catholicism with which he was raised, but I know (maybe you do, too) many such types. They can't abide (rightfully) religious cant and in some ways they are closer to the bleeding heart of Christ than many of us church-goers.

Anyway, I remembered two stories about Horace. One was about when he was in prison as a youth, one of many such visits, and he said on Friday nights the inmates got fish and chips. The one time of the week they got a decent meal and they all looked forward to it mightily. Well he had a cellmate, Peter Ord, and the prison was a harsh, dangerous place and Peter had been a good friend. And finally Horace was poised to get out of prison the next morning, a Saturday morning (Peter had a six-month sentence and Horace had a three-month sentence),  and Friday night rolled around, and the fish and chips came, and he wanted that meal badly. He'd been eating slop all week, like always. But Horace looked at Peter, who was not going to be getting out in the morning  and he said, "Oh it was hard! My mouth was watering!" But at last he held out his plate and said, "Wouldja like my fish n chips?"

So Peter had two dinners that night and Horace went without dinner, and got out of prison, and had many more adventures, and has been on the high road or a higher road for many years, and awhile ago he went back to his hometown in England and lo and behold he ran into the old cellmate, the chap he hadn't seen in 40 years. And the very first thing Peter said was, "Remember when you gave me your fish and chips?"

Now that, to me, is the Eucharist. It is saying that giving that fish and chips to your cellmate, that act, that heart, that sacrifice that does not get you anywhere in the eyes of the world, that does not get you money, sex, fame or recognition and that hurts is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING, THE ONLY IMPORTANT THING, and in that sense the "realest" thing IN THE WORLD. It is worth dying for.

Because that kind of self-giving comes from the deepest part of us, the part that is most precious, most innocent, most childlike; that was there before the sexual predators, or our parents, or siblings, or teachers, or neighbors, or the people we loved so much who didn't love us back, got to us; before that heart was betrayed, stomped on, pierced, shattered, pierced, spat on, ridiculed, scorned, wounded.

So the Eucharist is not the literal flesh and blood of Christ. It's consecrated bread; it's consecrated wine. But starting from the Last Supper, when Christ knelt to wash the feet of his disciples saying, The greatest among you will be the one who serves, and broke the bread and said, Do this in memory of me, and when he raised the chalice and said Do this in memory of me, ever since, we have. Through the prayers of the faithful, the words of consecration, our hearts that consent to believe that, all evidence often seemingly to the contrary, love will reign; that yearn to be part of him, and of each other, to give our own bodies and blood, in an unbroken (though very imperfect) line for over two thousand years, we have kept the flame going. Through the priest, who has devoted years of his life to being educated in the teachings of Christ and the rituals of the Church, through the re-enactment of the sacrifice that we believe saved the universe, through the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist that comprise Mass, we bring in the whole world, we pray for the whole world, we incorporate the whole world, through us, through the Church that Christ built on Peter and said, "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it"; through our participation and, in a sense, our consent to the Mass; through every sacrificed plate of fish n chips, every hidden act of kindness, charity, generosity, nobility, forgiveness, the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the Real Body and Blood of Christ. Love, which is inherently invisible, becomes visible. And then we eat it and drink it. 

We believe that Christ is God incarnate. We believe he was crucified, as we are crucified, in our bodies, in our spirits, hearts and souls, for in a sense that is what it is to be human: to be crucified. We believe he rose again on the third day. We believe life comes out of death. We believe that the kingdom of God is like yeast, all through the loaf, and that every tiny act of self-giving, of self-forgetfulness, helps everyone, past, present, and future, everywhere. So the Eucharist is not a symbol. It is Living. It is the repository of all that is holy, all that is pure, that sob in our throats and hearts that makes us human. Our hearts that ache for the other, because to know Christ is to know that the other--our spouse, our child, the enemy soldier--is us.

You will find a way more intelligent, fuller, more theologically grounded and correct exegesis in the Catechism and in any number of encyclicals, books, treatises. But from a mystical, which is also to say everyday, even practical viewpoint, that's one way of putting how I understand the Eucharist.

I remember another thing about Horace. He said when he was a small boy there was a garden, a rosary actually, outside the hospital where his grandfather worked and he didn't know why but he loved to be in this one shady, very quiet spot and he would go around the Stations of the Cross. He just liked going around to the Stations of the Cross. And he would wonder....

So I figure keep the Church going. Do my little part. So some kid in a country across the ocean or halfway around the world or next door--today, ten years from now, ten centuries from now--can have a moment of feeling, of knowing in his or her heart, a sense of the holy.

So I can continue to die to my selfishness and, as Shirlee says, focus on the other guy.

There is a hush around the Eucharist, a stillness. If you ever start despairing of the world, go to Mass and study the faces of the people as they process back to their pews after Communion. They are dreamy, at once somber and joyful, turned in on themselves, like the faces of people on their honeymoon night.

Like my face probably is now. As I do what I was made to do, which is to love Him and to be received by Him. And of course, to write.

early morning October light
Silver Lake, California....

Sunday, October 14, 2012


fall in  L.A.
Recently my priest friend Tom Hall (who, as you may remember, just walked part of the Camino) sent me this link. It's a story about a 26-year-old guy named 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 (of course) 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, "Well, I guess 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..."

Somehow this points up what makes me uneasy about a certain sector of the "new evangelization": namely, the effort to  evangelize people not to Christ, but to a bipartisan political party. To me, the elephant, or one huge elephant, in the room of U.S. Catholics is that our power-hungry leaders, our greed-based economy, and our entire violence-based culture are so utterly, egregiously devoid of Christ that to even speak of them in the same breath is ludicrous.  We torture, we assassinate, we execute, by the most conservative estimates we spend a third of our national budget on defense, which is to say on figuring out how to murder people and destroy property. And we're worried about which party we vote for? We are looking to our executive, legislative, or judicial system in any way to help us live out our lives in Christ?

If people aren't flocking to the doors of the Church, maybe we should consider that to conduct business as usual and tack the word "God" onto it is not terribly inspiring, nor terribly honest, nor remotely true to Jesus--who, as The Misfit in Flannery O'Connor's “A Good Man is Hard to Find” observed, "thrown everything off balance." That would be a good way to start the "new evangelization." I mean let's have THAT conversation.

Christ, too, lived under a corrupt government. He seems to have paid approximately zero attention to it. The point is not to be anti-government, the point is to be for Christ and to realize that those are often, if not always, very different things. "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's," the implication being there's generally not a whole lot of overlap.

Christ didn't call the power-mongers and the pollsters; he called sick people and sinners. The follower of Christ doesn't "win"; the follower of Christ suffers, for love. The mark of a follower of Christ is not that he's willing to kill for "freedom"; it's that he already lives in total freedom because he's given everything away.

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 who, like Christ, serves a very different Master than the world.

I second-guessed myself to kingdom come, as I always do with conflict, after my exchange with the Obama woman. I hoped I wasn't harsh. I hoped I wasn't proud. And I kept thinking of a book I read recently by another priest who walked the Camino. He said the difference between a spiritual tourist and a spiritual pilgrim is this: Tourists demand; pilgrims thank.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Check out my piece, "I Had Hoped For More" in the Autumn 2012 issue of Notre Dame Magazine.

And this is a Hazelnut-Brown Butter Cake with Caramelized Pears I whipped up last night.

notice that big bowl of whipped cream in the back

That's all I have right now!

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Kandinsky described his paints as:

“jubilant, sumptuous, reflective, dreamy, absorbed in themselves, with deep seriousness or a mischievous sparkle…those strange beings we call colors came out one after another, living in and for themselves, autonomous, endowed with all the qualities need for their future autonomous life….At times it seemed to me that whenever the paintbrush…tore away part of that living being which is a color, it gave birth to a musical sound.”