It’s a what?

Lucy (about the glass coaster on the coffee table): “It’s made out of whack!”

Apparently in reference to my just calling something “wacky”.

How peculiar…

“The Lord, your God, has chosen you from all the nations on the face of the earth to be a people peculiarly his own.”

-Deuteronomy 7:6

This was part of the reading of the Morning Office today, and it really struck me.  Forgive me if I stretch the translation a little!  You might think, hearing that God’s people are “peculiar” I would be a little concerned.  But no, this is actually comforting to me, because I’ve been feeling a little peculiar lately.  Mostly when I’m out in public.  For example, when at a Catholic schools week dinner, the Ave Maria melts seamlessly, without even a breath of pause, into the Pledge of Allegiance, complete with gigantic waving flag on the projector screen.  I know that I blanched at the juxtaposition of the two; it was like being punched in the gut.  And once the whiteness passed, I wondered how I could sit in a room and continue to smile and make small talk.

Or watching the nightly news, when my stomach turns at not just the story they tell, but the images they show.  When did they start showing people dieing on TV?  Real people, not cartoons, not even movie special effects.  I don’t watch the news often, usually only when it’s on at someone else’s house, but I had noticed they showed an awful lot of very gory footage the last few times I did watch.  The movies are bad enough, but no matter what point the story is making (the one I saw was doing its best to vilianize Iran – justifiably or otherwise) I can’t see how showing someone dieing like that is not taboo.

And this keeps happening.  I’ve never fit comfortably into most social situations, but it’s getting worse and worse, not because I feel personally awkward, although there’s enough of that, but because I find myself asking, “Why are we doing this?”  “Why are all the waiters black?”  “Can Catholics live like this with a clean conscience?”  “What about the people who can’t afford to eat tonight?”  And on, and on.  So to know that God’s people are “peculiar” gives me a little hope that I’m not crazy, and maybe I’m even on the right track.


“My great-great-grandmother, great-grandmother, grandmother, mother are all alive for me because they are part of my story.  My children and grandchildren and I tell stories about Hugh, my husband.  We laugh and we remember–re-member.  I tell stories about my friend, the theologian Canon Tallis, who was far more than my spiritual director, with whom I had one of those wonders, a spiritual friendship.  I do not believe that these stories are their immortality–that is something quite different.  But remembering their stories is the best way I know to have them remain part of my mortal life.  And I need them to be part of me, while at the same time I am quite willing for them all to be doing whatever it is that God has in mind for them to do.  Can those who are part of that great cloud of witnesses which has gone before us be in two places at once?  I believe that they can, just as Jesus could, after the Resurrection.”

-Madeleine L’Engle, Glimpses of Grace

Happy birthday, Dad.  We planted some blackberry bushes in the backyard for you today.  We miss you and we love you.  Pray for us!

It wasn’t a VW bus, was it?

“There was a time when good academic qualifications guaranteed a job, but not any more.  One reason is academic inflation.  In the next 30 years, more people worldwide will be gaining academic qualifications than since the beginning of history.  But as more people get them, their currency value is falling sharply.  A university degree used to be an open sesame to a professional position.  The minimum requirement for some jobs is now a Master’s degree, even a PhD.  What next?  But there is a second problem.  Many companies are facing a crisis in graduate recruitment.  It’s not that there aren’t enough graduates to go around; there are more and more.  But too many don’t have what business urgently needs:  they can’t communicate well, they can’t work in teams and they can’t think creatively.  But why should they?  University degrees aren’t designed to make people creative.  They are designed to do other things and often do them well.  But complaining that graduates aren’t creative is like saying, “I bought a bus and it sank”.

-Ken Robinson, Out of our Minds: Learning to be Creative

Captain’s Prayer

When we were at Tulane, and I went to daily Mass at the Tulane Catholic Center, there was an elderly gentlemen who came sometimes whom I only knew as “Captain”.  I don’t know his name, or any part of his story.  His face looked like he had been injured during his service, or it could have been scars from surgery, or cancer, I don’t know because I never asked.  He walked with a cane, and when he finally stopped coming to Mass I think I remember hearing that it was because the steps to the upper room chapel had finally become too much for him.

The chapel, for those of you who haven’t been there, is very long and narrow, and the lecturn is set up at one end and the altar, tabranacle, and crucifix (if you could call it that!) were at the other end.  Chairs lined the walls, all facing center.  Captain always sat at the chair nearest the altar, on the window side.  This was carefully planned, so that when we all gathered around the altar for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, he was included in the circle.  We would all bend down, on our way around the circle, to share a sign of peace with him.  And at the Concecration, when the Host or the Cup was elevated, he would say, in a gruff but somehow gentle voice, loud enough for all to hear, “My Lord and my God.”

Why am I telling you all this?  Because you never know whose life you touch, and here is a proof for that statement.  Captain did not know my name, I don’t think.  Nor Craig’s.  But at every Mass we have attended for years now, his prayer has become our own.  There, in the priest’s hands, is My Lord and My God.  And “Captain’s prayer” is the clearest expression of faith in the Eucharist that I think I have ever heard.

And if two isn’t enough, I know of at least one more person who has taken up this prayer.  How many are there that I have no idea of?  And Captain didn’t set out to enrich our spiritual lives, he merely (although merely is unfair, because it was a struggle for him) showed up to daily Mass and spoke his faith.  And did so simply.

It left me wondering, am I doing things that have a positive impact like this?  Even little things.  And what little things I do could be having a negative impact, particularly on my girls?  I have to steal a line from Father R.B. here, I hope he doesn’t mind!  But “It’s something to think about!”

16-year-olds are people too?

“There is a natural and accepted view that one of the main purposes of education is to prepare young people directly for a place in the labour market.  Obviously, general education should do this.  But there are two complications.  First, thinking of education as a preparation for something that happens later can overlook the fact that the first 16 or 18 years of a person’s life are not a rehearsal.  Young people are living their lives now.  What they become and what they do later depends on the attitudes and abilities they develop as they are growing up.  Linear assumptions about supply and demand can and do cut off many potentially valuable and formative experiences on the grounds of utility.”

-Ken Robinson, Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative.  (emphasis mine)

Merton and Day

So I finally did it.  I went out and got myself a spiritual director.  And as I was explaining to her what I’ve been doing recently in my prayer life (this was difficult and guilt inducing!) I mentioned that I had been reading a lot of Merton, and before that some Dorthy Day.  Which Sister thought was an odd combination.  And for half a second or so, I nearly began to correct her, and say that it wasn’t odd at all, actually, but I thought better of that and moved on.  But I have kept thinking about it, and I think I was right (though the ideas are rough and not backed by specific texts at the moment – my Tulane degree is cringing as I write this!), they are really not far removed when you get down to what they each preached.  Simply, love your neighbor.  And that means everyone.  Both felt senses of guilt for the state the world was in, based mostly on their pre-conversion lifestyles.  Both argued that love of God comes to fruition in caring for other people as well and as sacrificially as we can.  Merton did this with prayer behind closed doors, but there seem to be times in his writing where the thinks that if her were worth his salt, he would be out doing exactly what Dorthy Day was doing.  On the other hand, Day emphasizes the need for spiritual grounding to survive the sort of work she engaged in.  The two complement each other clearly.  The fact that both felt they had been forgiven so much stirred both of them to charity and forgiveness, though neither ever shied to name and denounce sin wherever they found it.  The honesty, often the bluntness of both of their writings shines of the desire to know and be known, to open themselves and to thereby lead their readers further down whatever their personal paths might be.  Merton felt he needed the cloister to keep him from the temptations of the world, and that that sort of solitude was necessary for his salvation.  But he repeats that it does not free him from the necessity of loving his neighbor, within the monastery walls or without them.  The two have different methods, because of their different gifts and struggles, but one message.  Love greatly, for you are greatly loved.

A Prayer to Etienne Gilson

“Please pray for me to Our Lord that, instead of merely writing something, I may be something, and indeed that I may so fully be what I ought to be that there may be no further necessity for me to write, since the mere fact of being what I ought to be would be more eloquent than many books.”

-Thomas Merton, Dialogues with Silence

I feel this way fairly often.  Do you?