Book Review: Marcelo in the Real World

I am totally smitten with this book.

First, I have to tell the story of how I came to read it. The book and its author, Francisco X. Stork, were in no way on my radar, until someone suggested I read Cheryl Klein’s The Magic Words, which is a how-to on writing middle grade and young adult novels. (It is infuriatingly detailed – if there is a problem in your text, there is probably a solution in The Magic Words. It’s very helpful, and completely exhausting.)

Anyway, Cheryl edited Marcelo, and uses it repeatedly in the examples in her book. I enjoyed the excerpts, learned from her description of its revision process, and was generally interested in reading the book.

Two years later, I finally did. And I am so glad I did.

First, the disclaimer: this is a YA novel. As in many YA novels these days (though this one is already 10 years old), there is foul language, and some pretty crude descriptions of various male-female interactions. Consider yourself warned.

Marcelo in the Real World is about a young man entering his last summer of high school. He is on the Autism Spectrum, though he doesn’t fit into any of the more specific diagnoses, and he hears “internal music” in his mind. He has always gone to a special school, and plans to spend his summer helping train some of the horses that the school uses for therapy. His father, however, has other plans.

Marcelo’s father is a powerful lawyer, and wants his son to be able to function in the “real world,” not just the protected world his school creates for its students. He offers Marcelo a deal: if Marcelo can work in the “real world” – at his father’s law firm – for the summer, he can go back to his beloved school. If not, he will transfer to the local public high school for his senior year. Marcelo gives up his summer plans and takes the deal.

At the law firm, Marcelo encounters a whole new realm of challenges. He works in the mail room, and his supervisor, Jasmine, has to find ways to help him do his job as well as he is able. Marcelo is faced with questions he has never faced before – how does he know who is his friend? How can he choose one friend over another? One good over another? How can he know what is the right thing to do?

Marcelo finds a picture of a girl whose face has been scarred by a shattering windshield – a windshield made by a company represented by his father – and this raises the most desperate questions of all.

As Marcelo puts it, “How do we go about living when there is so much suffering?”

Will Marcelo try to find a way to help the girl in the picture, even if it means hurting his own family?

No spoilers here. You’ll have to read it and find out.

Now, as to why I loved this book. It’s the first one in a very long time that I’ve stayed up at night to finish. There really is a lot to love.

First, Marcelo is wonderful. His voice is totally unique. It’s a little jarring at first, because his speech, and even his thoughts, are so formal. But I found I got over the awkwardness very quickly, and was delighted to hear his frank descriptions of life. For example,

“You said that if I follow the rules of the real world this summer, I will get to decide where I go next year. Who will decide whether I followed the rules? I am not aware of all the rules of the real world. They are innumerable, as far as I have been able to determine.”

I feel that way all the time. Marcelo offers a different perspective on the “real world,” and I am grateful for it.

Second, there are some wonderful supporting characters. The scene where Marcelo meets Jasmine’s dad in his barn would be laugh-out-loud funny, if not for the fact that it is Alzheimer’s which makes her dad so ornery and foul-mouthed. With that knowledge, it comes off as bittersweet. Marcelo’s friend and confidant Rabbi Heschel is also larger-than-life. I’d want to sit and discuss the great questions of the universe with her, too.

Finally, the thing I liked best about this book was that it attacks heavy questions head-on. Marcelo’s “special interest” is in religion. His family background is Catholic, and he talks about praying the Rosary with his grandmother and the picture of the Sacred Heart that hung in her room. He is interested in other religions as well. His dog is named Namu, after the beginning of a Buddhist prayer. He often visits Rabbi Heschel for long talks about God and about life.

These talks are some of the gems of the text. In one, Marcelo tries to understand a co-worker’s desire to go to bed with Jasmine. The rabbi’s explanation, going back to the Garden of Eden, encompassing how everything, including sex, was created good, and how the Fall disrupted the goodness, is thoughtful, insightful, and beautiful.

Marcelo cares deeply about good and evil. His time in the “real world” forces him to decide how much he is willing to sacrifice for what is right. In a bookscape (is that a word?) where 90% of protagonists show no sign of faith or religion whatsoever,* a book that discusses faith, goodness, and conscience so eloquently is a treat indeed.

My inclination is to add this book to my list of “Great Catholic Novels.” Despite the fact that the author may or may not be Catholic (he doesn’t mention his own religion anywhere that I could find), and despite the fact that Marcelo himself has a crisis of faith by the end of the novel, and seems to subscribe to bits of various religions all along…the spirit of the story fits what I would want to see in a “Catholic” novel. (And we can discuss if Catholic Novels must be written by Catholics, or about Catholics, or doctrinally sound, and all the rest of it, another time.)

However you might decide to label it, to my ears, Marcelo in the Real World sounds all the right notes.

*A necessary footnote: Angie Thomas’ best-selling The Hate You Give falls in the other 10%. Starr’s family is Christian, and they pray together at the beginning of the day. It’s simple and real, and was one of my favorite parts of that wonderful book.
In Middle Grade, The Inquisitor’s Tale also takes kids and their faith seriously, and is highly recommended.

Experiencing the Mass, Old and New

We were in Houston this weekend for the memorial honoring Craig’s Uncle Wade (which was lovely), and lo and behold, there was a Syro-Malabar rite Catholic Church about three miles from our hotel.  We had visited the Hindu temple and gone out for Indian food the day before, so we decided to make it a trifecta: the First Official Baker Family Cultural Awareness Weekend…or something like that.

Background:  the Syro-Malabar church traces its founding to the missions of St. Thomas the Apostle.  The story is that St. Thomas evangelized India, and that these communities have been Christian as long as anyone, anywhere.  Their church has a complicated history, but now is in full communion with Rome.

So we were prepared for a different sort of liturgy during the Mass (which they call a Qurbana, from the Aramaic word for sacrifice), and for being the only white people in the room, and for heavy accents that made understanding the homily difficult (Clare was convinced the priest was speaking another language until we told her afterward that no, it was just rapid, heavily accented English.)  We were prepared (and excited) to see the gloriously beautiful saris.  We were not disappointed in any of these things.

We were surprised to find ourselves in the midst of a youth Mass.

Surprised, but not disappointed.

I admit Craig and I exchanged glances when the liturgy began with “Bless the Lord Oh My Soul” – Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons.  And from where we were sitting, near the back on the left side, it looked like the whole building was filled almost exclusively with teenagers.  What on earth had we gotten ourselves into?

This is what we eventually figured out: there is a 9AM Mass, which is in Malayalam and (most of) the adults attend.  (Malayalam is the vernacular – the Mass was said in Syriac until the 1960s  when it was translated.  The English translation we experienced is from the 1990s, and was made for the diaspora church which less often spoke Malayalam in daily life.)  This service ends around 10:30, and at 10:45 another Mass begins for the young people.  When we arrived at 10:30, there were no parking spaces available.  At 10:40, when we made it inside, there were hardly any seats left.  All but the last few rows were filled with children and teenagers, seated by age, and essentially without adult chaperones.

Before the Mass (or possibly after, it wasn’t clear to me), was the Catechism class, which all these hundreds of children attended.  Our parish in Baton Rouge was at least the size of this one, and Lucy’s CCD classes averaged 15 students.  (Many others went to Catholic schools and got their religion classes there, but still.)  What was abundantly clear was that this community is focused on a goal: to pass on the faith to the next generation.

It’s not a perfect community, I’m sure.  Craig tried to ask the teenagers seated in front of us how to follow the service in the missal, and they said they didn’t know how either.  (Thankfully the young woman next to him took pity on us and helped us out!)  There were some of the same slouchy postures and wandering stares that I see often enough in “white church.”  And the priest did stop at the end of Mass to warn the First Communion class that if they didn’t think the Mass was important enough for them to be still and attentive during it, then maybe they should wait until they felt the proper reverence before approaching the sacrament.  He suggested he would be happy to give them their First Communion whenever they were ready, but that they would be better off to wait until that time.

As he pointed out, yes, Jesus is your friend, but He is also God.  And He ought to be treated with the respect due to God.  Which the liturgy itself, I have to say, makes abundantly clear.  Over and over the congregation is encouraged to “Listen attentively,” and there is an emphasis on the greatness, power, and mercy of God which shines through simple, straightforward language.

So there is all of that.  But what it really brought home to me was, as I said, the focus this community puts on its youth.  There have their traditions, ancient and beautiful traditions, but they are not so strict about them that they can’t accommodate the tastes of the youth and make them feel welcome.  The youth Mass is celebrated in English.  (Which is why we were at it instead of at the earlier one!)  They organize a massive CCD effort.  And, even though a good part of the Mass is chanted, the incense is there, the priest faces East with the people…the readers were youth.  The ushers were youth.  The praise and worship band was made entirely of youth.  Here was a place that both encouraged the parish’s young people to participate, and held their participation to a high standard.

The combination of old and new, Indian and American, was totally unexpected for us, which just goes to show how narrow our experience and imagination are.  On the other hand, it was a blessing that we (and our kids) were able to participate in the music confidently, even without hymnals or song sheets.

The whole experience reminded us how wide and welcoming the Church can be, if we let go of our preconceptions and personal preferences long enough to let her.

Holy Water

Lucy has a theory.  She thinks that all we need to do to make the world a better place starts with a little Holy Water.  You take some of this “magical” stuff in a cup, and go find a bad person.  You have two weeks to do this, as she assured us this evening that the water stays good for two weeks.  When you find the bad person, you have them drink the Holy Water.  Then they won’t want to be bad any more.

I want to live in her world.

A month in the life of the Bakers

Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?  Nearly a month, actually.  If you’re still checking, I’m impressed.  There has been a lot going on, including my going offline for weeks at a time and some serious writer’s block.  But here’s the update.

School ended, thank God.  Everyone survived.  Summer is hot, hot, hot.  There will be not trips to the zoo any time soon, membership or no.  The goal is for everyone to survive the summer.

We’ve been keeping busy.  I can’t actually remember what happened right after school got out, but we spent some time at Craig’s parents’ house (mostly in the pool) and then came back to spend a day canoeing with Theresa and her friend Paul, and then a day of rapid laundry and packing, and off to Bunkie.  For nine days.  If you don’t know where Bunkie is, it’s in central Louisiana, near Alexandria.  It does not have its own Wal-Mart.  That tells you how small it is.

So we were on the outskirts of Bunkie, LA, helping to facilitate a leadership retreat for some of the finest Catholic youth of the Baton Rouge and Lafayette Dioceses.  It was really good (I think there are some pictures attached in some way I don’t understand to Craig’s Facebook page…or maybe he can see them but not share them…I don’t know) and we had a lot of fun and great prayer experiences and spent time with wonderful people.  The down side was the ridiculous number of chiggers and mosquitoes (which I am still scratching) and the two poor baby sitters who were left with my attached baby most of the day.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  There’s only one danger with attachment parenting – they might actually become attached.  And Samantha definitely is.  So that was hard on Samantha, me, and the two patient young ladies who volunteered to spend their week watching the facilitators’ kids.

Also, the camp is run by the Department of Education, so we had school lunches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a week.  On the last night, vegetables were brought out as snacks.  I have never seen teenagers attack bell peppers and carrots, watermelon and cucumbers like that before.  The cookies were abandoned.  The granola bars, abandoned.  The Big Cheez-its were not abandoned, as they apparently complimented the vegetables.  This should tell you something about the nutritional content of school lunches.

[I have been told that the nutrition in school lunches “balances out” over the course of a week – sure, sometimes it’s pizza, but sometimes it’s meatloaf.  That only worked for our week if all the students were pregnant and needed 80 or so grams of protein a day, but only needed one serving of vegetables per day.  Over the course of the week we had corn twice and carrots (overcooked and drowned in sugar) once, plus the lettuce for hamburgers and tacos, which I don’t count.  I do not call eating French fries at least one meal a day balanced.  But I digress.]

So we were happy, after another two days at Craig’s parents’ house (for meetings and a youth group softball game – which we won!), to return to our garden and our kitchen.  We had pizza with chocolate bell peppers, a tomato, and basil and parsley all from the garden for dinner tonight.  We’ve also had two yellow squash now, a couple of other tomatoes (including a beautiful Cherokee), and delicious purple beans which have all been eaten raw.  There weren’t really enough of them to cook, anyway.  I have battled slugs in the squash/melon patch, and finally have plants large enough to survive their onslaught.  There are now beautiful yellow, black, and white caterpillars eating my dill plant, but the thing was taking over the garden, so I’m letting them go to it.  They don’t seem to be bothering anything else, and Stephen Locke says they make pretty butterflies, although he couldn’t remember which kind in particular.

Meanwhile, Lucy has taken to singing made-up songs with repetitive words, which is pretty funny, and she is writing beautiful letter “L”s and upside-down letter “U”s.  Samantha continues to learn new words to say, and to mimic whatever Lucy may be doing.  They both swim fearlessly with floaties now, which is great except we have to make sure Samantha doesn’t get near the pool without them, because she will jump in and expect to float.

In case you were wondering, the pooping on the potty seems to have been a fluke on all accounts.  There have been no repeat attempts.  Two steps forward, one step back.  Or something.

I have tried to update my reading list, but the plug-in is on the fritz, so that will have to wait.  I’m busy with several sewing, framing, and card-making projects, which will hopefully be posted when they are done and/or delivered.  There are pictures, I just have to sit down and put them up.  I should really get Craig to work on that part I guess…

So for the rest of the summer we have a week planned with my mom’s family in Florida, and a week in North Dakota (actually, a weekend in North Dakota and the rest of the week driving there and back), and another weekend in Bunkie for Taylor’s wedding.  After last week’s experiences, I, for one, will be wearing eau de bugspray with my bridesmaid dress.  I’m still scratching.  And then the rat race starts again.  If, of course, you consider it ever to have stopped.

Triduum

I love the Latin with the double u’s.  And we had occasion over the past weekend to find out the real reason that we get Easter Monday off of school.  It’s to allow people with small children to recover from the Triduum.

Or not, since I think that’s probably just us.  But we survived it – two hours on Holy Thursday with an un-napped three-year-old, two hours Good Friday, and over three hours on Holy Saturday.  Here’s the blow-by-blow.

We arrived late for Holy Thursday, because we came straight from New Orleans at rush hour, straight from Craig’s FoodFast retreat at school (that means 50 or so high school students fasting and learning about poverty for 24 hours).  I cooked the closing meal, Hatian red beans for 50.  That is getting to be my specialty, if anyone needs catering in the near future.  (We made it for about 200 the Friday before – that’s another story!)

But anyway, we got there, parked in the boonies, and planted ourselves and our tired babies in a pew.  I’d been prepping Lucy for a couple of weeks about the people getting their feet washed and such, but we couldn’t see very well, and she was really too tired to care.  Samantha alternately climbed, fussed, and nursed the two hours away.  Then it was home to Nana and Papa’s to collapse, except collapsing doesn’t happen at grandparent’s houses, at least not right after you arrive, so we were up for  a little longer.

Friday brought sleeping relatively late and the (traditional?  I’m not sure) Good Friday fish fry at the Bakers’.  More fish, hush-puppies, fries, and the like that we could eat.  Then on to the Veneration of the Cross.  Samantha was very, very fussy, and I finally ended up nursing her in a side chapel.  Unfortunately, it was the crucifix chapel, and rather than bringing up a cross to the altar like I expected, the liturgical plan was to circle everyone through this very chapel to reverence the cross.  When I saw the altar servers and deacon headed my way, I had to very quickly detach sleeping Samantha and run for the pew.  As much as a person can run with a surprised, yet thankfully still sleeping, toddler in her arms, anyway.

But my close-escape was not the end of our trials.  As Craig came up to the chapel in the line (behind me unfortunately, so I didn’t get to see the festivities) Lucy, whom he was carrying, latched onto the wall with both hands and refused to let him enter the chapel.  (I don’t think “chapel” is really the best word for this space, now that I think of it, it’s really more of a nook, but that sounds funny to me.)  Lucy was apparently afraid of the crucifix, which was strange because the night before she had wanted to stay later so Craig could “show her Jesus”, but that was not about to happen during the silent watching after the Holy Thursday liturgy.  Anyway, Craig returned to the pew thwarted.  But yet, we survived and went home (well, to Craig’s parents’ home at least), again, to bed.

Holy Saturday dawned.  We made one excursion, then made sure there were naps all around.  (Lucy has been successfully avoiding them lately, but that was just not an option.)  We got all dressed up after a later-than-planned dinner and headed out.  Mass started at 8 PM.  We were as prepared as parents can be for such a thing – books, a lacing card for Lucy…but no snacks.  Well, we were almost as prepared as we could be.  The bonfire went well enough.  Lucy was interested, but Samantha was fussy.  But it wasn’t a big deal since we were outside.  The procession inside calmed her down for some reason, and God be praised, she nursed to sleep as soon as we got to the pew.  And slept through all the readings, the lights coming on, the Alleluia-ing, the Baptisms, and even the applause that went with them.  I didn’t get to see much since I spent the whole time sitting down, but I was so glad she slept.

Of course, she did wake up, as usual it seems, in time for the Eucharistic prayer, and so we spent the rest of the evening back and forth, in and out of the building.  There isn’t anywhere to hide a screaming infant in that church.  The final outburst, in the liturgical silence just before the closing prayer, was the loudest.  Father (apparently, I couldn’t hear it with the screaming in my ear as I rushed -again- for the door) mentioned that it sounded like a broken record, at which Samantha promptly changed her tone.  So she showed him.  Or something.

But we celebrated with cake and cheese cubes and broccoli and punch afterwards, and slept late on Easter morning.  We were tired.  It was so worth it.  I love the Easter Vigil.  I started going in middle school (or earlier?) when my mom was doing RCIA for children.  I got to hand the brand-new neophytes (is that redundant?) the towels after they were Baptized one year.  I have always loved the liturgy for this night, the fire and water, the litany of the saints, the lights coming on in the middle of the service.  The oil and the smiles on 10-year-old faces afterwards.  (And Fr. Tom does not spare the oil.  He slathers.  Even after they changed, the poor boys all had holy-oil cow-licks.)  St. Jean does beautiful liturgy, and it was a blessing to me, screaming baby and all, to experience it this year.  It was that little taste of the Holy that I miss sometimes now that I don’t get to daily Mass, or adoration, or those other quite times that I used to so often.  It was totally, entirely worth it.

Easter included an egg hunt at one neighbor’s house, and then Mrs. Mary Lou’s feast at the other neighbor’s house.  Many, many desserts were sampled.  A bunny had his tail straight-pinned on.  There was a pinata, but I missed that part.  Monday Craig and I had a movie date (finally cashing in one of our Christmas presents) and we drove home.  And today I finally finished unpacking.  We are nearly recovered.

Happy Easter!

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.

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.

Spiritual Birthing

There is an amazing article in this week’s America magazine.  (The Oct. 5, 2009 issue.)  It’s called “A Fiery Gift: A spiritual case for natural childbirth.”  Susan Windley-Daoust has a deeper perspective on the issue, one I hadn’t considered, and I think everyone (female, or otherwise, and likely to give birth sometime soon or otherwise!) ought to read this.  I think she is absolutely right-on.

The gist, if you don’t care to read it for yourself, is that the process of birth, if left relatively un-tampered with, is a powerful parallel experience to some parts of the journey through prayer to God.  In fact, she worries about the effect missing out on a “natural” birth may be having on the spiritual lives of the women of this country: “But when an overwhelming majority of women in the United States have unnecessarily scheduled or medically augumented births, we must ask: Do we lose a window to God?  A window to the interior life?  When the Holy Spirit initiates a spiritual birth to something greater within us, will any of us be able to say, ‘I’ve been here before?'”

Go to your library, or do what you have to, but read this article.  It makes me want to stop the pregnant women I see every time we go to the zoo (there are always a ton of pregnant women at the zoo!)  and ask if they have considered (really, carefully considered, with the benefit of good information) how they are going to bring their babies into the world.  I am convinced that childbirth is transformative.  I am convinced that God designed it to be that way.  Not easy.  Most things worth doing are at least a little hard.  But transformative, in part in preparation for the challenges the next many years of child rearing bring.  Perhaps, if Susan Windley-Daoust is right (and I think she is), in preparation especially for the spiritual challenges these little ones bring us.  I think she asks a very important question:  What are we, as a community of women, as a church of women, missing?

Summer Breeze

[A note:  I started this post on June 14, 2009, and finally was able to finish it today.  That explains the time differences, if anyone would have noticed them!]

I hope I never forget those afternoons last May when we were going without air conditioner.  (We mostly made it until June, by the way, but I’m not strong enough to do without when it’s getting up over 90 degrees every day!)  I’d be trying to get the girls down for a nap, and it seemed so hot, and just a little breeze would come in through the open window, and it felt so cool and refreshing…how I praised God for those little breezes!

I had occasion to remember those afternoons yesterday while I was helping my father-in-law shovel dirt/tree shavings from a pile the size of our living room into wheelbarrows to deliver to various gardens around the house.  It was too hot, and just the time of day when we probably should have been inside, or at least in the shade, but my father-in-law doesn’t believe in leaving for later work that can be finished now, so I was out helping.  And here and there we would get a cool breath of wind, and well, I would almost fall down in rapturous praise.

Silently, of course.

Because my father-in-law, though respectful, is not a religious man.  (Unless you count the cult of LSU in some way, which I do not.)  He does, however, have a great appreciation for nature.  He and I share a yearning for mountains and forests, wild things as yet untamed.  He brings what he can of this nature into his gardens, where he spends hours digging, potting, transplanting, mulching, and doing all those little things which I hope I’ll learn as I try to grow my own little patches of paradise.  It is not worship, I don’t think, but there is certainly sacrifice involved!  For me, as I think I’ve said before, gardening can be a very spiritual experience, a chance to slow down and appreciate the wonderous creation God has put on this earth for us.  I had to wonder, as I tried not to swoon from joy during one of those welcome breezes, what does my father-in-law feel out here?

Because it seems to me that if there is anywhere that it should be easy to meet God, it must be in nature.  Of course you can meet Him in the Eucharist, in other people, in great art; but I think that in these sort of places, you more often have to be looking.  God can give you the flash of knowing, like Merton on the street corner in Louisville, but I have to think that experience would be hard to take when you are not disposed to try and see other people as your brothers and sister.  Out in His creation (as opposed to our concrete creations – there’s another post!), where He made the rules, there are fewer hangups – no race, to gender, no strange clothing or hair colors.  No maniacal drivers to dodge.  No repetitive, square, bland, (and did I mention repetitive?) buildings.  Everything sings the praise and glory of our God, every creature joins in extolling how wondrously it is made, how carefully its designs fit together with its surroundings so that all survive and thrive.  It is a simple kind beauty, in the way, I think, that we speak of God as “simple”.

So standing there, wondering these things, shovel in hand, mother-in-law’s straw hat on my head, those little breaths of wind brought me more refreshment than relief for my steaming body.  They carried to me, for those whom I love who doubt, a little breath of hope.

Feast of St. Dominic

Happy feast of St. Dominic, especially to those of you affiliated with the Order of Preachers!  (And those of you with O.P. leanings!)  Here is the little prayer from our Picture Book of Saints:

O God, let St. Dominic help Your church by his merits and teaching.  May he who was an outstanding preacher of truth become a most generous intercessor for us.  Amen!