speechless

Sometimes there is nothing to say. There can be no explanation in mind or sound for how important our lives are, or how they are important. Sometimes there can be no speaking but only doing. And sometimes we drop our words and marry and are given and marriage and kneel and dance: we dance. And the white dog bounds in perfect, fluffy, ridiculous abandon along the edge of the pond, and the trees explode with the life inside of them (grace inside of them–Lord be the grace inside of me, fill me and burst into leaf from me), and the little brown bird twitters on the branch, and time can’t get its claws into a single one of those things. Time has nothing to do with their urgency, and beauty, and worth.

They will die, but that is much less important than the fact that right now–they are eternal.

Time itself has value because these things have been.

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prodigal

I
was born
in the pig-sty, nosing already
the husks of noisy swine

(in sin
my mother
conceived)

I squandered everything

bless me not
for I have sinned

not worthy
to be called son

not worthy
to be watched for

not worthy
to return

depart from me I
never knew

You

~

I have been thinking about the difference between Judas and Peter–for both betrayed Him. Both were prodigal of graces; only one returned. There is a hellish kind of humility in using one’s own unworthiness as a reason not to come home. Judas looked in a mirror and despaired; Peter ran back down the road to God.  Time and time again, what we see in Peter is the impetuous gravitation toward the beloved; ‘it is the LORD’ they said, and he didn’t think about the rooster crowing, or his own conscience, or about himself at all, but threw himself into the sea. 

And he was saved.

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miserere nobis

Incipient thoughts in the Year of Mercy.

Praying before the Sacrament, praying Lord have mercy, the thought that came was, I always have, and I realized–that it is not our prayer which causes His mercy. Rather our prayer aligns us with it; it cleans the glass, pivots the mirror so as to catch the light that was always there. Our prayer is not the source or sluicegate but the hollowing of the rock, the turning of the cup from upside-down to right-side-up, so that it fills with what has always been falling upon it.

And what can His Heart desire but that we pray this, without ceasing, with ever-increasing joy, for ourselves and the world?

~

Mater misericordiae; speculum iustitiae. The Mother of Mercy is also the Mirror of Justice. I suppose mercy and justice only intersect in the heart of Love: it is only Love which can make sense of them, or of the fact that our redemption is prefigured by the Exodus. How longingly these Mass readings look to the freeing of captives–get thee up on a hill, O Jerusalem, and behold thy children coming from the East. The plea for justice time after time in the Old Testament is the plea for the restoration of Zion.

It is as though sin was an offense against our nature as well as God’s.

Justice is the restoration of our fallenness, from within, to the perfection that He originally called us to: His uttered grace. And so mercy is not about sanctioning our brokenness, but healing it; it does not reassure us that we never fell, but looks to what we should have been, mending the fault which justice condemns.

So mercy and justice meet in the restoration, the perfection of human nature, the love of God; the hearts of Mary and of Christ.

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beati pauperes

St. Francis I have been considering poverty, what it means (what it seems that it has to mean) not only for those who take a vow of it, but for any one of us who would claim that poverty of spirit is rewarded by the kingdom of heaven. What is this, this first of the beatitudes, this Lady of St. Francis’ desire?

It seems to me that poverty is that which claims for itself nothing but God: the detachment which knows that our being is grounded in Him, and rejoices in all things as brothers of His love. And it is surprising, how difficult it can be not to saddle this world with our worship.

So often, instead, we turn to those things–the good and healthy things which can never satisfy our ache for the living God. Surely this is one of the most pervasive forms of despair: when we try to assuage our frenetic hunger with a friend or sibling or parent or child or spouse–or our own things, or deeds, or thoughts. All those excellent components of a human and Christian life which can never satisfy the singularity that is God’s call in the soul.

So we consume each other, ravening for God. We lean on a reed not meant for the whole weight of our souls, and are surprised when we are sad.

Isn’t that the difficulty of poverty of spirit: to refuse to seek consolation in anything less than Christ?

It is as though we must take our things and thoughts, our friends and our words, as a child might take the stars: lovely, unpossessable, His. If we are not at last to come to hate them for how they have failed us, we must rejoice in them with open hearts and open hands. We must love them, not for our life in them–but for their life in Him.

It is as though we really must give up all the world in order to receive it again: to see it as it is, and how it shows forth His praise.  And how He comes to us in it.

Perhaps poverty of spirit is to look on the world–as a sacrament.

How remarkable, that it was St. Francis who praised the most. That it was after he received the Stigmata, after the mystery of the agony of God had entered into his flesh–at the very moment when he must have known more deeply than any since Our Lord, how light is all this mortal world in comparison with the weight of the glory of God–that he gave the greatest thanks for the simplest of this creation. Light, water, wind, fire. The sacraments of His presence. And the man who found his hands nailed to the hands of Christ, found them free to rejoice in all they had renounced. Surely if anyone has possessed the world, if anyone has ever had all the creatures and the moon and the stars dancing at his disposal–it was the poorest of the saints, the Poverello. 

 St. Francis, pray for us.

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crepuscular

4:30 a.m.: I sleepily scuffle, coffee in hand, to the patio. Darkness and a quiet breeze and a few stars of Orion in the cloud-obscured sky: nothing can convey the silence of it, the sense of being the only watcher in this sleeping world. I am caught off-guard, therefore, to find another, down on the sidewalk: a cat, unimpressed by my rising, wakeful as though this were his noon–he whose hours are not measured by the sun. Long has he watched, perhaps, and been friends with the breeze, which has traveled the world outside my dreams and comes to me on my morning balcony fresh-faced but already old. Here is one for whom, though waking, the midnight passes without remark; for whom the morning is merely a change of scene, another stage in the pageant of night which lives, now, only in his memory and the mind of God.

 For a moment, our watchfulnesses, so different in their essence, mingle: and then I trickle back through the blinds, to Matins, leaving him to lap up the dawn.

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cor ad cor loquitur

Scattered thoughts in the month of the Sacred Heart.

O, to have a clean heart: a heart healed of its impurities, so that each limb sways to the good and error is turned to dancing. Because from a pure heart all things would be pure: every movement would be filled with grace, every thought would meet its mark, and words would spring to exact and accurate praise. And there would be nothing in us that did not dwell in the sight of God.

*

The heart is what draws us, leaping, to our end.

Gravity is the heart of water:

so that it rises, and laughs

in its return.

And yet there is of all things another heart, greater than gravity and lighter than levity, more profound than the deep which calls to deep at the sound of His name. There is another source and end of their desire, and there–at the juncture of their hunger and His–we find our vocation, Man sent out to tend the exuberant garden. For all things rise, the trees and the sun and that humongous blackbird and the grackle with eyes of the evening: they leap from Him like a fountain, and are held there in their longing–unable to return, to sing their own name back to Him. Oh, they beg for it, they beg to run to Him like water down the riverbed of our praise.

Saint Francis, pray for us.

*

His hunger: the hunger which called us out of nothing that we might come to Him. The Agency that draws our voices forth into the air; the summons deeper than our own creation; as though our words were water running down to God.

The love which finds darkness a reason for light; betrayal, for mercy; which returns for a spear-thrust the river of life.

Which rages to satisfy the hungry, to console the afflicted, to slake its thirst for us in ours.

*

Adam came from the earth, and Christ–at last–returned to it; He entered through the door of the tomb and rested in the dust from whence we come. And there was a change. That dust was the first to see the miracle, the mystery: the grave for three days astonished by the incorruptibility of His flesh. For God did not allow His Holy One to see decay. There in the earth, Christ took back the earth, and held it in hope until it would be redeemed. Till the door burst open:

and Adam came forth from the ground again.

*

Finally, here, at the hands of the priest, the fruit of the earth–bread, and wine, and we–return to the Heart which calls us.

*

It is as though a spring should chide us for forgetting our own thirst.

For His heart is like a river always giving more and more (His mercies are new)–so that we are not to hoard up our consolations like manna till morning, but to come again and again to receive Him as He comes again and again inexhaustibly to give.

All this river running down upon us begs is that we stand before it always like the jars at the wedding of Cana, that we may be filled; and that our hearts, like His, may overflow.

Amen.

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detained

A reflection.

I hate it when the little boy who has tried and failed sometimes and is still vain and self-serving like the rest of us tells me with tears in his eyes that he is tired of being thought of as the kid who will mess up. And whether or not his teacher actually thinks that, the child feels it, and the burden that rests upon that little boy every day in class is the burden of being expected to fail.

What this kid wants is someone to expect great things of him. And to notice when he succeeds.

All this kid needs, all any of these kids need, is someone to look in their eyes and listen to their words and try for a single second to feel what it feels like to be growing up again. They need an adult to see them, to love them, to hold them responsible for what they have done, and to call them to something better.

They do not need vocabulary as much as they need compassion. They do not need addition as much as they need someone to care. They do not need a well-ordered classroom as much as they need to be seen.

They do not need to be taught as much as they need a teacher.

And I think that if we do not see them as first and foremost people–immortal, set apart as no one else in this universe for the mercy of God, Named in the very inscape of their souls as no other is or shall be and aching beyond understanding to be loved, –then we have failed.

Sometimes it is fourth quarter and I am tired and stressed and I go to detention to talk to tired, stressed little children, and I remember how often it is I who have failed to look at them, and have laid the burden of stress and sadness upon them by my willingness to forget who they are.

Sometimes I go to detention, and repent.

(And sometimes it is fourth quarter and I take a deep breath and am suddenly excited by the prospect of having five more weeks–to try again.)

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a little creed

With thanks to the anonymous student of a fellow Hillsdale graduate who mis-translated a bit of Spanish into the first, resounding, line.

I believe in heaven and winter
Though both confound my eyes.

That leaves lie hid
in sleeping trees
icicled with light

(as if God’s smile
could make their
weeping
bright)

and that the grave
should hide us
ripening
to rise:

I believe in heaven and winter
Though both confound my eyes.

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a sketch

Quackers, come. Come, Quackers! quack quack quack. quack quack quack. Quackers, Come! Quackers! quack quack quack. quack quack quack.

The old lady next door with a perplexing number of ancient froofy dogs (one of them blind) greets this Sunday morning by calling without cease for the three ducks across the park. After about two minutes of her litany, they hearken and advance in a linear waddle.

Her husband died last year, and couldn’t make anything but spaghetti and that he made from his mother’s recipe and as he left all the grease and things in (which displeased his wife) he was presently ousted from this singular culinary achievement. Now she sits out back, smoking, divided from my patio by a dead bush and the loneliness which she banishes with froofy dogs and her best friend and her Sunday morning ducks.

Goodbye, quackers, she says as they lumber murmuring off, dismissed by a wayward Frisbee. Quack quack quack quack, goodbye.

Every life is so different: like another world, with its own lakes and trees and caves, and drops of dew trembling on the grass.

(And yet–the same sun rises on each.)

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memento mori

It was a long day Monday, and afterwards I went for a dutiful, dispassionate jog. It was one of those days (those Monday-after-a-long-break days) when everything is off-kilter, when the kids are sleepy and sullen and I’m convinced that I am the boringest teacher in all the world, and I wonder what other people are doing right that I’m not, and whether feeling this spent at the end of a day is really quite the thing.

And then the black reflection of a bare-branched tree spoke to me almost as clearly as words.

What are you here for, but to die for them?

 Dying. I wonder about death. Here I am, every day, dying, and every breath is one less that I will ever get to take. Here we all are, dying: having only to decide, second by second, what for.

There is one sense in which death is the separation of body from soul, as when the first man died: not in his grave, but in his disobedience, when flesh rebelled against spirit and the soul for the first time recoiled from the nakedness of the body. At last the ghost spills from the corpse in a blasphemy which breaks our hearts beyond all reason, all our attempts to console: for no one can look into the eyes of a dying thing and say this should be so. Death in itself is not a blessing. It is an evil and a horror and the enemy of God. It is the serpent that he cursed in Eden and crushed on Calvary.

But there is another sense of death, the finality which God gave us like a gift when he set the cherubim before the tree of life. Man, immortally fallen, would be an outrage, forever self-enclosed: Narcissus sentenced to gaze but never to die. Perhaps, somehow, our mortal flesh and our numbered days allow us to remember what should have been.

We were meant to give up our hold on everything, at every moment, for God and for our neighbor: to offer ourselves back up to Him in hands of praise. How strange that the self-giving of God lingers like a shadow even in the curse. Our own death feeding upon us forces us to live in a way that gives. We have no power over a daily loss of time and strength, but we can choose to offer it: to make a real and deliberate sacrifice of what we have and are to something worth dying for.

Maybe one of the best hopes and graces given us, here, comes from two hands broken on the hill of the skull: the hope that, in the willing sacrifice, even death shall be redeemed.

Maybe it’s okay that mornings come early, sometimes, and teaching comes hard, and it can seem like a week of blunders for every moment that I dance.

Maybe teaching is a good way to die.

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