Saturday, March 30, 2013



Later, in the chapter house, Abbess Catherine, girded with a towel, would kneel before twelve of her daughters, drawn by lot—”I must cut my toe-nails,” Dame Nichola had said in panic—and reverently wash their fret, just as Christ did to his apostles. “I have set you an example,” He told them, “to teach you what to do.” That night the Mass re-enacted the Last Supper, when Jesus took bread and broke it, took wine, and spoke the words that consecrated then and gave them to his disciples, the gift to the world for all time, of the Eucharist. Then, just as Christ had gone from the upper room to the garden of Gethsemane and was seized in the midst of his disciples, so the Host was taken from the altar’s tabernacle and borne in procession to a small side altar made welcoming with flowers and candles; the church was left stark, the high altar stripped of its linen, the doors of the empty tabernacle flung open. Bells were replaced by the dry sound of clappers.

For the long hours of the Good Friday vigil, a heavy wooden crucifix lay before the empty tabernacle as the nuns chanted and prayed the terrible saga through. The names mingled: Judas, Malchus, Annas, Caiaphas, Herod, Pontius Pilate, Barabbas, Simon of Cyrene: the women of Jerusalem, the two thieves, and the centurion: the two Marys who stood with our Lady at the foot of the cross. “The women didn’t run away,” said the Abbess.

Christ died and, as if the Abbey had died too, came the long pause of Holy Saturday— “Surely the longest day in the year,” said Dame Beatrice—until at night, hope came hack to the Church as, long ago, hope had come to the apostles. The new fire was kindled in the church porch, the huge Paschal candle, inscribed with the date of the civil year and painted with symbols of the Resurrection, was lit from that new fire and the priest took the first step inside the darkened empty church; he raised the candle and cried “Lumen Christi”—the light of Christ. Three times the cry echoed as the new light was passed from candle to candle, the boy servers who came from the town lighting their candles from the great one and bringing them to the wicket, where the Abbess met them with hers; she passed the fire to the rows of nuns, each holding her candle until the whole church was illuminated.

As the candles caught their light one from another. Cecily had a vision of the flame hunting in the same way from one church to another throughout Christendom, far around the world: new light, new joy, fresh hope. Thousands of candles, pure wax, wax of bees, made through the year by the wings and work of infinitesimal creatures like us, thought Cecily, made for this night. “This is the night,” intoned the priest, “the night on which heaven was wedded to earth. On this night Christ broke the bonds of death,” and, “The night shall be as light as day, the night shall light up my joy.”

The priest blessed the new water and led the renewal of baptismal vows until, just before midnight, Mass began, the first Mass of Easter, when linen, flowers, and candlesticks were brought back to the altar as the celebrant began the opening of the Gloria, ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo…’ Every bell, every stop on the organ, every voice joined in the triumphant response, ‘Glory to God on high,’ and it was Easter Sunday.

Rumer Godden, In This House of Brede


Thursday, March 28, 2013


Holy Week is upon us.

Good Friday at 3 I'll be downtown, joining the L.A. Catholic Worker for the anti-war Stations of the Cross. They carry a giant wooden cross through the business district, stopping in front of banks, office buildings and courthouses  to pray.

Before that I will have attended the noon Good Friday service at the Cathedral with, among others, the people who WORK in the banks, corporate offices and courthouses....

Thus in some small way I will cover all bases and be with all people, as Christ was.

I'm sure the day of the actual Crucifixion was very much like today will be.

People thinking, God, I hate when they do executions on Friday: all the money-lenders close down and I can't get cash for the weekend.

People grousing, "Man, when is this gonna be over already, I'm starving!"

People jeering, "Here come the do-gooders; look at that Veronica with her corny veil"...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013



Horace is a friend who has tapped into a mother lode of tales about his youth in working-class England.

"The Art of Stealing Bikes," which I ran last December, was a Christmas story. As soon as I read this one, I told Horace, "This is an Easter story!"

Here it is.


by Horace Martin

If you look on a map of Ireland just north of Dublin, you will see a small village called Finglas. If you look just north of Finglas you will see Cappagh Hospital, where my grandparents Hilda and John Martin lived. My grandfather was the caretaker there for many years. As a lad I would love to visit their house, which was set in the grounds of the hospital. What a wonderful sight those grounds were.

As you entered through the large gates with stone walls, each side on top of one wall in wrought iron was the name Cappagh Hospital. The first thing you saw on the right was my grandfather’s house, the lodge and in front of you the drive up to the hospital on your left, an open field with cows and donkeys and then just past the lodge on your right were trees; great big trees and grass all around them. They lined the drive all the way to the hospital and you could, as a five year old boy, wander around in those trees for hours.

Sometimes I would find myself at the tennis courts that were hidden away in there. Other times I would come out near the farm were sister Rosey would be killing chickens. In fact, it was watching sister Rosey one day as she went about the job of killing chickens, that I asked my first question about life. Sister Rosey was knocking off chickens left and right dropping their heads under a broom head, standing on the broom head, giving the chicken’s body a good pull and twist, then letting go so the chicken would run around, not quite with its head off, as I watched the joy in sister Rosey’s face amongst the dust and flying feathers, I thought: Is this good? It doesn’t seem good.

That was it. My question. I was always afraid of asking questions because the grown up, or the priest or whoever you were asking at the time, would give a little shake of their head and a little smile, then proceed to tell you how absolutely wrong you were and how absolutely right they were, and follow it all up with, "But not to worry, you are young and will learn soon enough." It seemed I was getting an awful lot of telling and very little explaining.

My granddad was a big tall man and loved his horses. He was from a place called the Curragh and everyone from there loved horses. My grandmother was a nice lady except when I would ask for more custard on my dessert after dinner, then she would look at me like I had two heads and granddad would make a joke and say, “No more custard,” very slowly, like it was the saddest thing in the world and we would all laugh. If they knew everyone loved custard why didn’t they just make a whole lot more? But I knew better than to ask because I would just hear a whole lot of telling.

Once I heard my mum telling an aunt about grandma. Apparently grandma was a protestant and was going to hell and because granddad married her, he was going to hell as well. Also, Uncle Joe lived up the lane. He was granddad’s brother and he had vowed never to talk to him again because he married grandma. Grandma’s family (who were all going to hell as well), well they wouldn’t talk to her either. When I asked mom, she got so mad at me she gave me a crack around the head and told me never to talk about it again. I was only thinking that if granddad and grandma were going to hell shouldn’t someone tell them so they could put things right?

In the summer and when the days were nice, warm and sunny, there would be an outside mass at the hospital. It was then that the priest would serve mass from a raised platform. It was round and way up in the air and on top there were glass panels so you could see him saying mass. He even had a microphone so you could hear him all over the place. It looked like a rocket ready to fly off into the sky and there was steps that went up the side and you could walk up them very easily. The steps wrapped around the side of the platform to the glass-enclosed top. The way they did it was quiet clever, that’s what my dad said. And all the patients would be brought outside and gathered all around the dome in a big circle. It was at one of these masses I slipped away from my parents and went discovering. I was fascinated by the dome and made my way towards it, drawn in like it was a great big magnet. I looked around for my Mum and Dad, but they were nowhere to be seen. Good.

I saw this as a sign to carry on with my adventure. When I was at the bottom of the steps to the dome, things seemed to be going fine so far. No shouts of, “Hey get away from there, “or “Horace what the hell do you think you’re doing,” so why not have a little walk up the steps? I didn’t think the priest would mind and Mum was nowhere to be seen, so up the steps I went, not rushing or running, just a lad out for a stroll. When I got to the top of the steps there was the priest right enough and his altar boys, looking very smart in their robes. Of course, I knew not to go running around up there, after all, mass was being said. So I kept to the side and made my way round so I could get a good look at the priest and the crowd.

Oh and what a good view it was. I could see as far as my granddad’s lodge and all the people saying their prayers. Some were on beds, some in wheel chairs, others with crutches and walking sticks, nurses and nuns, and people just like my Mum and Dad, who didn’t have a thing wrong with them. It was then that the priest saw me. He looked, then looked away, and then looked back really quickly. I could tell he was quite surprised to see me. He just stood there for a moment a bit puzzled, looking in my eyes and me looking back at him. Well, I thought I had better do something so I did what I had seen my Dad do when he met people. I smiled, gave a little nod of my head and put my thumb up in the air. Whenever my dad did those three things it always got a good response from the other fella. And true to course, it worked on the priest too. He smiled back and made a “ha-ha” sound quite loud, so as not to be any trouble I sat down well out of the way and the priest carried on as if nothing happened.

I was just thinking this was a great day and things were going just grand, when the edge of a very dark cloud began to appear at the back of my mind. If I could see all the people at the mass then all the people could see me. My Mum and Dad were standing with all the people so there was a very good chance that my Mum and Dad had been watching this whole thing with me and the priest and if that’s so I am in big trouble.

Now I had to check to see if they did really see me, but I didn’t want to scare the priest again so I crawled across the floor to the windows, on my belly, but the priest did see me and was looking at me again, so I did the same thing as last time; a quick nod of the head, a smile and the thumbs up, except this time I was laying flat rather than standing and right enough, he smiled again. When I got to the window, got on my knees and peeked up over the ledge, the dark cloud was well and truly here, and it was about to rain, for there was my Mother looking very red in the face and making very sharp hand signals. I didn’t need a Red Indian to tell me what she meant by her hand signals. Big squaw was heap mad at small brave and small brave was going to get a good larruping. Well, there was no way was I doing any more crawling or nodding and thumbs up and smiling. I was staying put till mass was over then I would go down and meet Mum and Dad and take the larruping that was coming,

So the mass finished and the priest turned to me and said, “Hello young fellow, you gave me quite a start there during mass.” “Sorry Father,” I said, “I was just wanting to see.” “And tell me what is your name?” “Horace, Father.” All this was said as we descended the steps, “that’s me Dad’s name as well,” I said, “and a grand name it is,” said the priest. “I think this is your Mother and Father, Horace,” and he was right. There stood Mum and Dad, Dad with a little smile on his face and Mum with her head ready to fly off her shoulders, it was so red. My Mother then said, “Father, I’m Mrs. Martin and I am so sorry, very embarrassed, he just slipped away. He’s just a terror like that and it won’t happen again Father.”

The priest then put up his hand to stop my Mum talking, “It’s all right Mrs. Martin,” said the priest. "It was quite a surprise to be sure but we can’t blame the lad for wanting to get closer to God, can we?" And with that he went off wishing us all a great day. I could have kissed him. Those golden words from that priest saved me from a good hiding, that was for sure. How could I now get punished for wanting to get closer to God? This, I said to myself, is a grand old day. I nearly told me Dad about the trick with the smile and the nod and all, but Mum was not looking too happy so I kept me mouth shut.

The thing I really loved to do was, if you faced my granddad’s house, or the lodge as it was called, there, just to the left of the lodge was what looked like a driveway. You could tell it was concrete only just, there was an awful lot of moss growing on it and if you then followed the drive with your eye you would see it just stopped as it ran into bushes. But if you persevered and you were like me, you would walk right up to those bushes and look into them. Then you would just be able to see two wrought iron gates and of course the gates were chained and locked. But as the adventurist that I was, this would not stop me so I crawled into the bushes and climbed the gate and there was a marvelous place altogether, the driveway, which was actually a pathway continued, each side of the path were huge big trees.

I’m not sure of the names of the trees. I was never any good at naming trees but I’m sure there were a few oaks in there. As you walked up the path every fifty feet or so there was little huts that had a bench in them that you could sit on. I figured out after a while that they were the Stations of the Cross and in each hut there would be a picture of Jesus at different stages of his crucifixion. Well I didn’t know anything about all that stuff so it was all very confusing to me. When I asked my Dad he said it was all pretty confusing to him as well.

Sometimes as I would wander up the rosary as it was called, I would see a Nun, or just some man or woman walking along with their rosary beads. Let me tell you, they were praying very hard, they usually had their eyes squeezed shut like they were thinking really hard about their prayers, so I never said a word to them. I did a fair bit of hard praying myself and I know I would not want some fella coming up to me saying, “How are you today Horace,” and me talking to God asking for a new football or something. No, that wouldn’t do at all, so I said nothing to them.

Some days I would sit in one of those little huts and wonder, that’s all, just sit there. One day a squirrel hopped into the middle of the path and saw me, and then he kind of sat back a bit and looked at me. He stayed there for the longest time, me looking at him and him looking at me. I don’t think I had ever felt so happy just sitting looking at a squirrel. Huh.

At the top of the rosary walk there were some cottages. Uncle Joe, my granddad's brother, lived in one of the cottages. I once asked him why he wouldn’t talk to granddad. He said I was young and wouldn’t understand. I said, “Uncle Joe, you would be surprised how often I hear that,” and he roared with laughter. Past the cottages there was a delivery entrance for the hospital then just around the corner from that there was a small little church.

I liked to go into that church because no one ever went in there. It was always very quiet. I would sit in one of the pews and swing my legs back and forth taking a good look around. I was on my way up there on this day and I had been thinking about one of the stained glass windows. There was a fella holding a lamb, well he was supposed to holding the lamb, but if you looked he wasn’t holding the lamb at all. The lamb was just floating near his chest because the fella had his arms stretched in front of him. I was thinking I would mention it to the priest, I mean, did he know about this big mistake? As I walked into the church I stopped in my tracks. Somebody was lying on the marble alter down the front and the person was covered in a sheet. Well this will take some inspecting I said to myself so I stood there just inside the church doorway for the longest time. I saw the stained glass window with the eerie floating lamb, outside it was warm and sunny and inside the church it was very cool, very quiet and I could smell incense like they used in the mass sometimes.

It was so quiet it felt like the very air was being quiet. Slowly I made my way down to the person on the marble alter, looking around every now and again to see if anyone was watching me, but no it was just me and whoever it was lying up there. By the time I was half way down the aisle I could see it was a child on the altar and the sheet was not a sheet. It was like gauze and you could nearly see through it and the child was a little girl, and she was dead.

At first I thought about running away but then I said to myself, “Am I frightened?” And I said well no I’m not frightened at all, I just want to see. So very quietly and slowly, I went over to where the little girl was lying. I stood there looking at her for the longest time, I could tell she had her hands resting on top of each other on her body just below her chest.

I got very close to her face and looked really hard at her. Then I stood back. I knew I had to lift the sheet thing covering her face and I did, and oh how she was so beautiful, so perfect, like she was just full of happiness and was sleeping. I wanted to touch her face, just to see, but I knew that I mustn’t.

I just knelt down and said a prayer. I didn’t know why I did. I didn’t even know what I was praying for, I just did. And I didn’t have to ask is this good. I knew.


Sunday, March 24, 2013


Don't get me wrong: I love priests. I have no desire to be a priest. Priests are doing just fine. But here's the homily I’d give if I were PRIEST FOR A DAY:

"Sometimes we wonder whether our lives in Christ are bearing fruit. Here, my brothers and sisters, are some pretty good signs. .

In spite of our own suffering, loneliness, and pain, we're welcoming. We're warm. We're kind.

A good barometer is to observe how we approach, think about, and respond to our fellow parishioners during the Sign of Peace at Mass

Confession, anyone?

We’re in immediate, intimate contact with a few active drunks, someone who’s headed into or has just emerged from a psych ward, an incarcerated felon or two, several porn addicts, a young girl who’s pregnant out of wedlock, several women who have had abortions and are in silent, excruciating mourning, at least one stripper, several people in desperately unhappy marriages, about to be evicted from their apartments, or dying, a minimum-wage worker or two, at least three people who are certifiably insane, at least one U.S. Army chaplain and one peace activist (even better if they’re both priests and the latter is in solitary confinement in a federal prison), several homeless people (the more the better) and a scad of gay people, transgender folks, and sex and love addicts of all stripes.

If that’s not part of our circle, we're not getting out enough. If we aren’t sharing our struggles and hearts with that circle, at the very least in prayer, something is wrong. Because those are the people Christ hung out with. Because “those people” are us: suffering, struggling humans. Because if we’re going to be inviting people to a life of poverty, chastity and obedience, we surely need to be inviting each other into our homes, our tables, our hemorrhaging, conflicted hearts.

If we're afraid all that is going to "lower our standards," we're very much mistaken. For the follower of Christ, no standard is lower than self-righteous fear.

Share the joy, man. Tell a joke. Lighten up. Eat a meal with some friends. Exchange stories of how you’re walking toward the light.  

One morning we’ll wake up and realize we are 'following the rules" and then some.

We’ll realize we haven't added it up but we're probably giving away at least ten percent of our money. We’ll realize, with total wonder that we haven’t watched porn, committed “solitary impure acts,” had sex outside marriage, or flirted with someone inappropriate for weeks, months, years.

We’ll realize that we actually let that guy who cut us off in traffic yesterday off the hook. We actually felt a stab of what felt suspiciously like affection toward our mother-in-law,  junkie son, sex-worker neighbor;  toward the Marine Corps soldier and the Plowshares activist (depending on our stance, one of these is sure to be difficult); toward our boss (bonus points if you’re self-employed)’ toward the young girl who, from a one-night-stand, is having an abortion,  toward the young girl who, from a one-night-stand, is having a baby; toward the father who, in both instances, bailed.

We’ll realize: Oh. THIS is what Christ meant! I don’t have to be boiled in oil or have my eyes gouged out. This is laying down my life: this sharing, this exchange, this richness, this mercy, this mystery.

We’ll realize that love is a way more tender, and way more exacting,  Master than fear.


Thursday, March 21, 2013



I'm one of those people for whom every week of experience takes two to process. I'm still not quite "done," for example, with Pittsburgh (from which I returned on March 3). After that, I spent a week in L.A., then a week in Palm Springs, the latter of which is to be distinguished from the week I spent in Palm Springs in February. That earlier week generated this post about the affection/incipient identification I've come to feel for P.S.'s large population of the decrepit and dying.

Which in turn, to my honor and delight, generated the following poem from James Clarke. A retired judge, a resident of Guelph, Ontario (where I'm visiting soon),  and a memoirist whose book A Mourner's Kaddish: Suicide and the Recovery of Hope I featured a couple of years back, Jim is also a wonderful poet.

Anyhoo, we're heading into the home stretch and I do mean stretch of Lent. Holy Week is always very deep, very emotional, and very tiring for me, and I'm sure for many of you as well.

Here's some food for the journey:

James Clarke

The sun still glitters in the aging palm trees of this desert oasis.

An effigy downtown  of a young Marilyn Monroe  pays homage to the dreams of its tanned denizens.

Odometers strapped to their arms, octogenarians shuffleon varicose-veined legs toward the health spas;

in the casinos the pfft, pfft, of breathing machines whisper:“keep playing, you never know, this could be your big day;”

round the private golf Club a doughty scraggle of retirees wends its way, gazes into the dim distance for the next green, praying for one last lucky shot,

the Resurrection, at the end of the course, a wavering hope.

                                                                   After Heather King

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


The other day I had a talk with a good, kind, sensible friend who approvingly referenced an op-ed in Sunday's NYT to the effect: Why can't you Catholics focus on what you do best--serve the poor--and just shut up about sex, about which you know nothing, about which you insist on clinging to your ridiculously medieval notions that any self-respecting modern person would be mortified to voice? Having been raised in the Church and long since fallen away, my friend can't possibly see, for example, why anyone of nominal intelligence, and the Church, would not counsel every woman in the world to get birth control. If women where in charge of the Church, she is sure THEY would change the "law"...

How can you tell people you have been saved from the abyss and thus live in state of insane bizarre grace and that you offer up your sexuality out of love? That to manage and control human creation, to the lover of Christ, seems monstrous? That when we say "I believe in God" we are really saying, "I view life as a gift, not as a possession"...

It's the secular world that's obsessed with sex. It's the secular world that has divorced sex from life. In my sixteen years in the Church I have never heard a single homily in which the priest exhorted the congregation that birth control is wrong, extramarital sex is wrong, being gay is wrong, gay sex is wrong. I've hardly heard those things mentioned. I have heard countless homilies about mercy, sacrifice, our longing hearts, our brokenness, our stumbling search to learn how to love.

Dorothy Day could be a champion of the poor partly because she left the love of her life and offered her whole self to God. St. Maximilian Kolbe offering himself up to starve in the place of another at Auschwitz was on a continuum with his celibacy. St. Francis of Assisi could speak to the birds because his entire procreative urge was ordered to Christ.

So it's not a matter of being right on social justice and wrong on sex (nor a matter of celibacy being a higher calling than marriage). It's a matter of worshiping an entirely different Master than the world, whose gods are security, comfort, efficiency, power, property, prestige and control. I wanted to say to my friend, Haven't you ever wanted to bow your head in wonder? Haven't you ever looked around for Someone to thank? In so many words I did say those things, and then I wrenched my hands, for I could feel her embarrassment for me and my "archaic" views.

"I actually believe it," I stammered. "I believe Christ is the Savior of the world"....

For a second, I wished I'd come up with something snappier, more clever, more brilliant.

Then I remembered: broken, stumbling, poor--that's what we do best.

Monday, March 18, 2013


The L.A. Marathon, which goes straight through my neighborhood and makes driving impossible, took place yesterday. I'd been out of town, saw the signs Saturday and, as usual, thought bitterly, Thanks for trapping me in my home all day. Then I walked to 8:00 Mass down Sunset. Boulevard and within minutes was  weeping at the sheer beautiful humanity of it all: a guy in a kilt playing bagpipes, punksters, infants, old people such as myself....Mother-and-daughter teams set up shop on the sidewalk with sunscreen, Snapple and snacks. Platoons of volunteers manned huge tables stacked with paper cups of water. DJs blasted, depending on the block, 70s rock, house music, and Bonnie Raitt. People looked each other full in the face and smiled. The drunks who'd been up all night emerged from the clubs bleary-eyed: crashing into each other, sucking on cigarettes, their fists raised aloft in shaky cheers.

Everyone wants to be part of something greater than themselves. Everyone appreciates nerve. Everyone recognizes heart.

It's a long, hard lesson to learn that you just can't go around screaming in people's faces that abortion, or euthanasia, or war is wrong. You have to show them a human face. Again and again, we need to be brought back to the glory of a single human being.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


WEEGEE, c. 1937
"I sometimes worry that I'm not doing something truly important with my life. Caught up in day-to-day trivialities, it doesn't seem that I accomplish that much...

To be loving is to be fully alive. To be fully alive is to use all the splendid faculties of my personality in every area of my life.

As I grow in love, I worry less about doing something important. Instead, I stretch my abilities as far as they can take me. My action is now the spontaneous expression of a loving heart. I have done more in the past year as a result of working my program than in the previous ten without it. To me there is nothing more important I can do with my life than becoming more loving and spiritual.

Thought for the Day
When I start feeling unaccomplished, I will remember that loving myself is the greatest accomplishment of all.

"I used to believe thinking was the highest function of human beings....I now realize loving is our supreme function. The heart precedes the mind."

--The March 5 entry for Hope for Today, a publication of Al-Anon Family Groups

WEEGEE, c, 1940

Thursday, March 14, 2013


I'm thrilled to be headed up to Guelph, Ontario on April 22 to give a talk to the Wellington School Board.

My contact, Bill Flaherty, has asked me to post a few words--so hello there, Wellington School Board! 

Bill  tells me your overriding theme is redemption.

That’s a big theme, but I can say up front that I had a lot to be redeemed from. Redeemed means to buy back and I was certainly out of bargaining chips myself.

He goes on to say “The idea of the reluctant prophet and Jonah running away are also going to figure into the morning activities.”

I’m actually not a reluctant prophet.  I spend about 85% of my life alone in my room, so I’m dying for someone to read my books, ask me to speak, pose a question!

As you may know, I wrote a whole book about redemption. It’s called Redeemed, though I perhaps could have more properly named it Redeemable--I Hope.

So I look forward to meeting you all! And here’s an excerpt:

One thing I can’t figure out is how some people have no belief in or concern about God at all and appear to get along just fine; to make their way through life way more easily and suavely than, for instance, me. I’m always asking, How crazy would I be if I wasn’t constantly consulting my spiritual director, and praying, and examining my conscience, and begging for God’s mercy? You might be thinking—I’ve thought it myself—that all that stuff is making me crazy. But you’d be wrong. I’m not nearly as crazy as I used to be, when I had to drink basically every waking moment in order to function. I’m not nearly as crazy as I was when I had tens of thousands of dollars in the bank and was picking plastic bottles off the street to refill rather than spring 79 cents for a fresh Crystal Geyser. I could just be trying to make myself feel better, but it seems to me that the very purpose of my “spiritual path,” for lack of a better term, is to bring me face-to-face with how wacked-out and unhinged I am, how desperately in need of help, how consistently I will pursue the wrong plan, person, way of thinking.

I’m beginning to see that the whole of Christ’s teachings can be read, or are perhaps most properly read psychically: as a call to come awake. More and more, for example, I see I’ve walked around all these years almost completely unconscious of what drives me: of my deep agitation and unrest, of the perverse ways I sabotage myself. Driving around town like a maniac, never allowing myself enough time, knowing when I should leave but subconsciously finding something to do so I short myself ten minutes, so that for the whole trip I’m in a coma of adrenaline-charged anxiety and rage. Putting off my “happiness” until such and such happens: when I have a certain amount of money I’ll be happy, when I sell a book I’ll be happy, when I lose that last 2.38 pounds I’ll be happy. The whole panoply of unexamined assumptions that are hard-wired so deeply into my nervous system and psyche I don’t even know they’re there: I’m bad, I’m guilty, I’m unworthy of love.

Being awake, in other words, really means being awake to my motives, actions, thoughts: how they lead me astray, how they keep me stuck, how I often like them to keep me stuck. As a friend of mine recently said: “All my life I thought I was open-minded. ‘I’m open-minded,’ I’d tell myself. ‘I live in a hip part of town, I have liberal politics, I’m a starving artist.’ I had no idea how closed down I was, of the sense of grievance I walked around with, of how quick I was to think I knew who you were, to judge”…







Can anyone identity this Southern California plant?


Tuesday, March 12, 2013



I’ve been reading a book called The Lucifer Effect, about how “systems” come into being. Naziism is a system. Capitalism is a system. In our culture we have the legal system, the prison system, the economic system, the military system. Author Philip Zombardo orchestrated the notorious Stanford Prison Study, which separated folks into prisoners and guards and had to be called off after a week because the guards had become so brutally sadistic. Everyone was traumatized and after that, they were more careful about what kind of psychological experiments were run.

 In a system, everybody foists responsibility upon everyone else. We follow along and next thing we know, it's kill or be killed, torture or be tortured. Not everyone will participate in cruelty but apparently a whole lot of people will. Personally I'm so afraid of ridicule, so prone to bow to peer pressure, so desirous of being wanted, needed, and loved that I fear for myself in systems. I like to think I wouldn't have been a sadistic guard, but who knows?

Zombardo features several whistle-blowers. He points out the extent to which Joe Darby, the guy who blew the whistle on Abu Ghraib was vilified, nowhere more than inside the military. So that's scary, but have you ever tried to blow the whistle in your own family?  To say, for instance, "I love you but you're not welcome here when you've been drinking" Or "If you hit me again, I'm going to call the police" or "That's not okay to speak to me in that tone of voice"?

My own family blew the whistle on me back in '86. We notice your drinking, they said in so many words. It's affecting us. I didn't like it any more than people like whistle-blowing in the corporate boardroom or the military. And it saved my life.

Still, is there any system harder, or maybe initially harder, to stand up to than our families? Is there anywhere harder to break the often generations-old cycle of psychological violence, ridicule, intimidation, passive-aggression, getting even, having to be right, showing people who's boss, bullying, than with the people closest to us?

To in one way or another say I'm not going to be the Rescuer, the Fixer, the Caretaker, the Victim, the Scapegoat, the Clown, shifts the whole system in which we were raised. Jesus was detaching with love from the "family system" even as a kid. Even as a kid, he was saying I love you, I honor you, but "Did you not know I must be about my Father's business?"...

It takes tremendous, tremendous courage to speak truth to power. Christ spoke truth to political power, ecclesiastical power, economic power, social power, the power of the family, which may be the strongest power of all. And of course ‘they’—meaning we—killed him.

Love thine enemies.
Love one another as I have loved you.
How many times must we forgive? As many as seven times? "No, seventy times seven"...

This sense of the hostile is something animals have, and it reaches as far as their vulnerability. Creatures are so ordered that the preservation of the one depends on the destruction of the other.

This is also true of fallen man, deeply enmeshed in the struggle for existence. he who injures me or takes something valuable from me is my enemy, and all my reactions of distrust, fear, and repulsion rise up against him. I try to protect myself from him, and am able to do this best by constantly reminding myself of his dangerousness, instinctively mistrusting him, and being prepared at all times to strike back....

Here forgiveness would mean first that I relinquish the clear and apparently only sure defense of natural animosity; second, that I overcome fear and risk defenselessness, convinced that the enemy can do nothing against my intrinsic self....

But the crux of the matter is forgiveness, a profound and weighty thing. Its prerequisite is the courage that springs from a deep sense of intimate security, and which, as experience has proved, is usually justified, for the genuine pardoner actually is stronger than the fear-ridden hater.

--Romano Guardini


Sunday, March 10, 2013


"They call it the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it."
--George Carlin

To that end, here's some material I've been pondering:

1) A documentary called White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

2) A piece by Jill Lepore in the January 28, 2013 issue of The New Yorker:"The Force: How Much Military is Enough?" A single sentence should give us pause: "The United States spends more on defense than all the other nations of the world combined." [italics mine]

3) A new book: Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, by Nick Turse. Here's an NPR synopsis and a review by Jonathan Schell.

4) An interview in The Sun with Vietnam veteran turned war resistor S. Brian Willson, who lost both legs when a train ran over him as he was protesting munitions shipments. The piece (you have to actually buy the magazine to read it) is called Praying the Price for Peace: The Story of S. Brian Willson.

Here's an excerpt from the interview, by Greg King:

King: In Vietnam you accompanied a South Vietnamese lieutenant into a village that had been napalmed just an hour before. Burned and blown-up bodies of women and chidren lay scattered about. But when you broke down, the lieutenant couldn't figure out what your problem was. How was his reaction humanly possible?

Willson: I think we're all capable of being in denial of our humanity. And we're all capable of participating in evil.

When I looked into the eyes of a dead woman I saw there, what I experienced wasn't a thought, it was an overwhelming sensation that hit my body. The lieutenant asked me what was wrong, and my brain and nervous system struggled to come up with words. "She's my sister," I finally said. It was just an interpretation of what I felt. It's like when a father goes home and sees his child and just wants to hug her. It's a response that comes out of your whole being. It's love. It has nothing to do with thought.

Saturday, March 9, 2013


"Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on? Or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?
--Isak Dinesen