Saturday, July 30, 2016



This week's arts and culture piece is on a getaway everyone in the greater LA area should know about.

Here's how it begins:

The Mary & Joseph Retreat Center’s mission is “to provide an environment of serenity, prayer and natural beauty.”

That won’t happen on your way there, which is going to be down the 110, the 405 or the 605. The center is in Rancho Palos Verdes, on the farthest tip of the South Bay.

The eight-acre grounds feature flowering shade trees and beautifully-tended native plants. There are also hummingbirds, six or so wandering-pilgrim peacocks and the occasional hawk.

The grounds are open during daylight hours so people are welcome to come to enjoy the gardens, walk the labyrinth, or pray in the chapel, which is accessible most days from 6 a.m to 10 p.m. That has to make Mary & Joseph one of L.A.’s best-kept secrets.

The center also has two suites, allowing for overnight accommodations for 69 plus a few rollaway beds, two large conference rooms that can hold around 100 and two smaller ones in the annex room, each holding up to 50 people.

Visitors can attend guided day, weekend and long (five- to eight-day) retreats. They are also welcome, space permitting, to make a private retreat that can range from a single night to up to two weeks.



Wednesday, July 27, 2016


"American Legion Convention, Dallas, Texas" 

"[I]t's important to distinguish between Christian-community nonviolence and nonviolence qua nonviolence. The problem with the word nonviolence is that people think they know what nonviolence is apart from Christ. Then nonviolence becomes a marker more determinative than Jesus--it conceives peace apart from the crucifixion. But in reality, discipleship  is the defining characteristic of what it means for Christians to be nonviolent. It means always being open to having the violence of our lives exposed."

--Stanley Hauerwas, from an interview in Plough Quarterly, Summer, 2016 entitled "Why Community is Dangerous"

Monday, July 25, 2016


This week's arts and culture piece is on that beloved "children's" classic: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince.

Here's how it begins:

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900 - 1944) was an aviator and writer whose fable “Le Petit Prince” (“The Little Prince”) is the fourth most-translated and one of the highest-selling books in the history of publishing. 

Saint-Exupéry was born in Lyon, France, to an aristocratic, if impoverished, Catholic family.

His first airplane ride was reputedly during the summer of 1912, when he was 12.

A poor student, he briefly studied architecture, was conscripted into the French air force in 1921 and qualified as a military pilot in 1922.

His aviation career was marked by daredevil exploits, great personal and spiritual courage and many accidents. His first fiancé broke off the engagement after a crash in which Saint-Exupéry fractured his skull. He flew airmail routes over Africa, South America and Europe, worked as a test pilot, and reported for Paris-Soir.

In 1931, he married Consuelo Gomez Carillo, a Guatemalan divorcée. The union was stormy. In December, 1935, he crashed in the Sahara and wandered for several days before being rescued by Bedouins.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016


     I wept when I prayed – because of something inside me that felt the need for tears.
        Why did I pray? A strange question. Why did I live? Why did I breathe?
           I believed I would be drawn into eternity, into that time where
               question and answer would become one.    Elie Wiesel as a young man, before the Night


Awake late at night
finally reading his story
an innocent boy’s beautiful faith
betrayed, put into a ghetto, then deported
it feels like my, like our story.

Praying the psalms next morning
the same ones he recited…
my tears have become my bread, by night, by day
as I hear it said all the day long: ‘ Where is your God?’   Psalm 42
At the end of the sky is the rising sun; to the furthest end of the sky is its course.
There is nothing concealed from its burning heat.  Psalm 18
What could extinguish this holy fire in his soul
what violence and death what hatred and prejudice kill your faith?

A farmer’s morning mowing the summer hay
the mature stems falling in windrows
I think, my God, those who were forced to dig the trenches
and then mowed down in a deadly harvest of bullets
the cattle cars of children disappearing off into the camps.

My lunch plate at noon, full to overflowing
food lovingly cooked and served, and to think
you had so little, scraps of moldy bread, thin soup
and in the end, a living corpse mirrored back to your own haunted eyes.

What they took from you
your mother and sisters, your father, your friends, your village
your faith and your freedom and the joy of your youth
they stole every love surrounding you, Elie
but they could not destroy the endpoint
your deepest question and answer – love, the Eternal.

               Scott Eagan
                        June 6, 2016

     Man questions God and God answers. But we don’t understand His answers.
        We can’t understand them. Because they come from the depths. of the soul, 
             and they stay there until death.   Elie Wiesel

Scott Eagan is a poet, a friend, and a member of the Madonna House apostolate in Combermere, Ontario.
He generously agreed to share "What Is Love." Thank you, Scott.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


My new Jesus statue (his nose is broken), courtesy of Boston's one and only Mary the Hairdresser, a living saint.
She gave me a bag of pistachios, too.
Cards on either side also from living saints--I know many.

That would be today!

Here's an insert I received in a card from a dear friend--oh hell, ALL my friends are living saints:


Desire, longing, and yearning;
Hunger hankering and ache:
May you know the presence
Of the God
Who makes a home
In each of these. 

I hope all your friends are, too.

Thanks to each and every one of my readers for lighting the way and making life worth living.

Sunday, July 17, 2016


This week's arts and cultures column is about a current exhibit at LACMA.

Here's how the piece begins:

Skip the Robert Mapplethorpe.

Instead, go to LACMA before Aug. 7 and check out a truly transcendent exhibit called “Royal Hawaiian Featherwork: Na Hulu Ali‘i.”

“For centuries on the Hawaiian Islands,” you may not have known, “vividly colored feathers gathered from native birds were valuable cultural resources, ornamenting spectacular garments painstakingly constructed by hand. … [The garments] bore rainbows of feathers to signify the divinity and power of chiefs (ali‘i), who wore them for spiritual protection and to proclaim their identity and status. These unique valuables also found use as objects of diplomacy, helping to secure political alliances and agreements.”

The first documented visit of Westerners to the Hawaiian Islands occurred in December 1778, when Captain James Cook and his crew arrived. When they left, they took with them more than 40 featherwork garments that had been bestowed as diplomatic gifts. Featherwork evolved over the course of the ensuing monarchies and the next 100 years.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016


I find as I age I become more and more impatient of time spent grooming. Not that I'm a complete slob, and of course I'm terribly vain, but for instance, I've taken to cutting my own hair, with a pair of kitchen shears.

It looks fine, or just as fine as it ever did.

That my eyesight isn't what it once was probably exacerbates things. Anyway, last week I bought a travel size what I thought was skin cream at a CVS in Manhattan and slathered it all over my face for a few days and nights, thinking, Man does this stuff smell gnarly!

Sunday as I was leaving Manhattan for Lake George I realized that all around my right eye felt as if it had been burnt. That's weird, I thought. Then yesterday I woke and my whole face felt tight, like I'd applied an egg white mask. My hand crept up, and--People! My skin felt like sandpaper, as if I'd sustained second degree burns all around my eyes and mouth. Wow, had I been  out in the sun too long? Then I though to read the label of my "lotion" more closely and saw I'd been applying Olay Ultra Moisture BODY WASH.

I practically needed a can of shortening to remedy the situation.

After layering on about an inch of generic Pond's, the chemical peel seems complete, and thrillingly large chunks of facial skin are drying up and flaking off.

I really should look in the mirror and at the fine print more often. But hey, I'm busy working!


Saturday, July 9, 2016


Dr. Timothy Flanigan and two of his colleagues while working as a volunteer in Liberia.
(Photo courtesy of Dr. Flanigan)

This week's arts and culture column is on a man who, full disclosure, has become a dear friend.

Here's how it begins:

Dr. Tim Flanigan of the Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, is a husband, a father of five, an infectious disease doctor and a professor at Brown University.

In September 2014, at the height of the Ebola epidemic, he traveled to Liberia as a volunteer for two months to help organize the response.

“Listen, I’m no good in a tsunami or an earthquake. I’m not an orthopedic guy; I’m an infectious disease doc. If I didn’t go during the Ebola epidemic, when would I go?”

Everything you need to protect against Ebola, it turns out, can be bought at Home Depot. He packed seven hockey bags with supplies: suits, gloves, goggles. He and Sister Barbara Brilliant, FMM, made the last flight from Boston on August 31, before Delta stopped flying to Monrovia.

Father Miguel Pajares, 75, the chaplain at St. Joseph Hospital there, had contracted Ebola and died five days later. The director of the hospital, Brother Patrick Nshamdze, also became infected and died, as did nine of the remaining 15 workers. The hospital was closed. Dr. Flanigan and Sister Barbara — who has worked in Liberia for 35 years — and her team worked to train and work side by side with the hospital staff to reopen.


Friday, July 8, 2016


FRA ANGELICO, c. 1438-45

“I think the country is longing for people to stop blaming one another and just grab each other’s arm and say we’re in this together,” he said. “That’s what we thirst for and we feel like we’re in a desert.”
--Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings


                             "Each time Zechariah entered her prayer chamber, he found her
                         supplied with sustenance. He said, "O Mary, whence cometh this?'
                                                                                                She said, 'From God."
                                                                           --Quran: The Family of Imran 3:37

After hours in my seventh-floor municipal office,
I am working on revisions to the drainage code
alone, like Mary high in her temple
staring at the blank screen that is my life

Mary tapping at the holy keyboard,
God sent her fully microwavable meals
with Alfredo sauce manifest
I bang on the candy machine down the hall: Nothing.
It has eaten my pieces of silver

Mary had a mentor in Zechariah,
who dropped in and taught her divine wisdom
whenever he wasn't on a vow of silence
but only burned-out Bill from computer services,
styrofoam cup loosely in hand with a little cold coffee left in it,
comes by my door to mutter about the weather

Mary got a visitation from Gabriel
which helped clarify things, like her task in the world
I get the cross-town courier in bicycle shorts, panting,
not so much to announce a virgin birth unto me,
as carrying a roll of blueprints under his arm

which I study religiously while eating
naught but stale chips
and a linty Lifesaver
The hour is late; my hunger groweth
Mary, Mary, whence cometh my succor?

--Mohja Kahf

reprinted with permission from the author

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


The Sunday NYT ran an op-ed piece by Roy Scranton that made my 4th of July weekend. It's called "Star Wars and the Fantasy of American Violence." Scranton is a former soldier who fought in Iraq and thus knows first-hand the devastating physical and spiritual corruption wreaked by violence on both soldiers and civilians. He's also a widely-published journalist and author who teaches in the Department of English at Notre Dame.

An excerpt:

"[I]n the frightened months after Sept. 11, the myth of violence was more powerful than the truth of war. As an American soldier in Iraq, I was both caught up in that myth and released from it: I could see what “the work of peace” really looked like, what American violence did to Iraqi homes and bodies, yet it remained my job to be an agent of that violence — a violence that neither redeemed nor enlightened.

On this Fourth of July, while American violence continues to rain down on Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, as we continue to support violent regimes in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and elsewhere by buying oil that we then burn and dump into the atmosphere, precipitously heating the planet, and amid a crucial presidential election, we should ask ourselves what we’re really celebrating with our bottle rockets and sparklers.

There is another version of America beyond the noise our fireworks make: not military strength, but the deliberate commitment to collective self-determination. Perhaps this Fourth of July we could commemorate that. Instead of celebrating American violence, we might celebrate our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the ideals those documents invoke of an educated citizenry deciding its fate not through war but through civil disagreement. Instead of honoring our troops, whose chief virtues are obedience and aggressiveness, we could honor our great dissenters and conscientious objectors. And instead of blowing things up, maybe we could try building something."


The late, great comic Bill Hicks says it his own way in Revelations.

Here's my friend Dennis Apel's most recent newsletter from federal prison, where he's serving 120 days for vigiling against war and nuclear weapons.

With my own desire to build something, I've made a couple of pilgrimages to one of my favorite places in NYC: The Conservatory Garden in Central Park.  All through the north end of the Park are glorious stands of pale-pink tinged hydrangeas.


Sunday, July 3, 2016


 Hello to the I'm sure two people who are still reading my lately scattershot blog!

I've been away from home for three-plus weeks now with two to go. Non-stop people mostly the whole time and now I'm holed up on the Upper East Side in NYC till next Sunday and not a moment too soon.

While gone, I have to keep up with my weekly arts and culture column, plus it transpires I'm working on a book about prayer for Loyola Press that is due in October (?) (!) So I will be hunkering down and in for a bit.

Here are some scenes of the incredible places, inhabited by the incredible people, I've been graced to see.

Scenes from a friend's cottage in a small coastal Maine town a bit north of Belfast. Water from pump! Outhouse only! Crazy stands of wild lupine!

A pic that doesn't nearly do justice to an American masterpiece: the elaborate seven-panel piece called "The Seven Sacraments" by George Tooker in St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Windsor, Vermont. His painted "Stations of the Cross"--all of Christ's hands--were also breathtaking.

In Newburyport, Mass. I stayed for a night in a wonderful, eccentric-eclectic carriage house studio on the banks of the Merrimack River. Having caught caught Lyme Disease at a stay down the coast in Gloucester a couple of years back, I slathered on Deet and set out for a walk into the nearby 450-acre Maudslay State Park. While I was there, the heavens parted (coincidence?: I DON'T THINK SO) and I became drenched to the bone, semi-lost, and completely enchanted. That was one of the best interludes of my trip.

Back home in California, Gov. Jerry Brown, to his everlasting credit, just signed bills to enact six new gun control laws.

I pray with all my heart the sanity continues.