Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sunday, February 25, 2007


I just got back from watching several of my students in spectacular performances as soloists in the musical Beehive, a 60s songfest featuring girl groups and the earliest pop divas and their immediate successors ~ Connie and Dusty and Gracie and Janis et al.

While the music was great, I have to admit that the styles of today's young women are an improvement! The Lovely Daughter and Friends at their formal dance Friday night ~

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Photographs and Healing and Lent

I got my first camera for my ninth birthday. A little Kodak Brownie. I still have some of the snapshots that I took with that camera. I should not have put it away. There was a long period in my life when I didn't take pictures, and I deeply regret that oversight.

Once I picked up a camera again, I couldn't stop. My cameras have been with me through the best and the worst and the mediocre.

One of my Lenten promises to myself was to work on the last four years of disorganized photos. The advent of digital media has resulted in a new formula for chaos in my life. When I used film, it was easy ~ I reached number 36, rewound, and took the cartridge to the photo store or the darkroom. I have files and files of negatives and duplicate prints, and bookshelves neatly lined with albums. A few things are a little bit mixed up, but not too badly. I could organize the entire collection in less than a day of I had to.

But digital! Now there are little cards of varying sizes lying around, and piles of developed pictures, and FILES of pictures. And there's Photoshop ~ the possibility of creating and recreating an unlimited variation of images which reproduce themselves into more piles and files.

So. . . I have made what some people might conclude is a well-meaning but more New Year's than Lenten resolution to take care of all that. It's not that sort of resolution, however.

It's ultimately a resolution about healing, well in keeping with the journey of Lent. We go into a dark place and we are made whole. We retreive the visual reminders of what was, and what we hoped would be, and what would not be, and we imagine the restoration that will come.

I started this afternoon with a half-finished album of the canoe trip that my father, stepmother, and sons made to Algonquin in the Fall of 2004. When they returned from that trip, we insisted that my stepmother get herself in to see a doctor. Her cheerful good humor was tinged with a disturbing undercurrent of exhaustion and an ominous hoarseness and, after she and my father drove away, the boys confirmed that she had given out easily every day of their trip.

I knew before she ever got to the doctor what the ultimate diagnosis would be, God help me, because of the internet. And eventually I made the first Algonquin album for her, hoping that she could enjoy it before the cancer closed in on her.

I'll never know what she saw when she looked at these images. But here's what I see:

How MUCH she and my father loved each other. What a gift they were to each other, those people with so much loss behind them, who reached out with such enthusiasm for what life still had to offer.

A grandson, completely but only temporarily derailed by the low water levels that forced more portaging than paddling. One of two boys whose willingness and good humor enabled their grandfather and his new wife to enjoy one last backcountry trip together.

A North Country sunset. You can hear the loons as you wait for the stars. The sunsets are still there, and the stars, and the loons will be back soon. There is healing to be found in all of that.

Photographs for Lent. For the Easter that awaits.

Friday, February 23, 2007


My daughter's voice is so often full of laughter when we talk. Last night, the airspace between the midwest and the northwest expanded with smiles. She has a lot going on: a rehearsal last night, a concert and a formal dance tonight, an all-day research project tomorrow, the impatient waiting on a possible summer job interview, decisions to make about study abroad next year with a deposit due Monday. Lots of juggling and weighing of options.

She and two of her friends have been dress shopping for the formal dance. "Do you have shoes?" I ask. She wears a size 5, so shoes are usually an issue. "Of course!" she says. "The pink shoes I wore to junior and senior prom are right here." Pink shoes for life, I guess. And then she tells me about the shopping.

"It was so funny!" she says. "The stores were full of high school girls looking for dresses. And you know, when you're fourteen or fifteen and you're out shopping, and you see all the older girls trying on dresses and they look so beautiful?"

"And now you're one of those older girls?" I ask. "You don't look so old." (This is the girl at whom airline counter staff look quizzically and say, "You don't have a license yet, do you?")

"Well," she says. "We weren't with our mothers."

Oregon Coast Light

A friend and I went to see the Monet in Normandy exhibit this afternoon.

If I were a good person, I would tell you all that I learned about Monet and I'd post one of his paintings.

But it just made me wanna play, too.

Grey's Part III

I was disappointed. Really disappointed.

I guess it was the interactions among the dead, the nearly dead, and the living. None of it rang true to me. More like wishful thinking.

This is a conversation I remember, from a sunny afternoon in July of 1971. We are standing and sitting around the back door, my stepsister and stepbrothers, whose mother has just died suddenly and unexpectedly, and my brother and I, whose mother has been dead for ten years. My stepsister, who at 22 is the oldest, says, "It's so . . . strange. One minute someone is completely here and the next minute she's completely gone. She is not anywhere in this world and she never will be again." And then she looks at my brother and me and continues. "And you guys have known that all these years."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

In Extra-Ordinary Time

I wanted to go to an Ash Wednesday service today. My own church's service is at night (which I don't much like ~ it seems that we're saying, "OK, we'll do this, but late enough that no one will see us") and I have a class on Wednesday nights.

Then I discovered that my old Methodist church has a service at noon, so I thought I'd go over there.

And then I spent some time agonizing over whether I wanted to spend the afternoon teaching my Jewish students with ashes smudged on my forehead. Most of them would be merely curious, and supportive rather than offended. Many of the teachers, perhaps the opposite. I finally decided against it. If I worked in a secular environment, my solution would be different. During Advent, I wrote about going to a church meeting one night where one of the gentlemen had come directly from work wearing a Christmas tie. That would not have happened in my workplace. My workplace is a community and a home for people whose beliefs, and contextualization of their their beliefs, differ from mine.

I don't know whether or not I was right. One of my colleagues, headed for her UCC service tonight, agreed with me. Another, a rabbi, said he was genuinely sorry that we felt our observance might be offensive to others.

Result: No ashes on my forehead. Ashes in my heart.

(Image: Armenian Temptation of Jesus).

Monday, February 19, 2007

Time and Lent

I am finding that, as Lent approaches, my outlook and approach to life are becoming increasingly fragmented. Usually I can laugh off the general chaos of my existence and attribute it to Adult ADD, or to my proclivity for procrastination. But this year I am not feeling so good-natured about the circumstances in which I find myself.

In part because, although the house is in relative order on the surface, there are still endless piles of papers and books to be dealt with.

In part because I had a disorienting conversation last week, the effects of which are proving to be rather lasting.

In part because the icicles are going to pull down some of the gutter and soffit and I am going to cry.

In part because I keep getting older and more dissatisfied with my appearance (read: weight).

In part because it has come to my attention that whatever choices I may or may not have for whatever is or is not next in my life will have disclosed themselves by Easter.

So. I have a plan. I figure Lent is only 46 days if you count Sundays, 48 if you start today, before Mardi Gras. Even I can keep my act together for that period of time. Maybe. Possibly.

I plan to work on my photo albums, which are four years behind, because that is a positive and concrete thing that I can do.

I plan to remain calm and composed in the face of difficult conversations and falling-down houses. Last night I listened in for a few minutes to a parenting class at church. The speaker was unexpectedly oustanding, and emphasized that one of the main attributes of an effective parent is composure. (This caused me to lean over to our minister and remark that the problem is that our parenting starts with labor, an event at which composure is not featured. Still, composure is good.)

I plan to eat carefully, because those Weight Watcher ladies intimidated the hell out of me the one time I went, and I want so much to get rid of much of my wardrobe and make purchases designed for delight rather than disguise, and I want my blood pressure to go down.

I plan to address the uncertainty in my life by focusing on the uncertainties of Lent itself. I am going to read and pray with Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, recommended here. And I am going to reread and reread Beginning to Pray, which I think I found here, and which is one of the best books I have ever encountered.

And I am going to ponder how I manage my time. Not in the usual time-management sense of all those Seven Habits kinds of books found all over the place. But in a sense of time as a holy space and a way forward. Time as where I am. There is no doubt an element of self-preservation in such an attempt, as I am hoping to avoid total disorientation and despair in April. But I think that, overall, a look at time in midlife is a good thing. And, as a consequence, the Prague clock, as photographed by my sons, will make periodic appearances. You can learn more about the clock here.

And I am going to stick with one of my favorite Jesuits and what I have come to call the Grand Canyon Prayer.

So. I have a plan. I am composed and I have a plan.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sunday Night Stuff

I'm sitting here because I've been writing a paper. The paper is 1000 words over the limit and I still have a brilliant conclusion to concoct. So I guess I'll just transfer my neverending writing over here.

The paper is about the debates among scholars and philosophers and mystics in the first centuries of Islam. I've written it as a script. They sound EXACTLY like Presbyterians of 2007.

The Lovely Daughter just sent me some photos of the results of a shopping trip for a dress for a dance. It's pink. All of her formal dresses have been pink. She and the dress: both gorgeous. Mom: thankful for the internet, which allows me to share in shopping 2500 miles away.

I only went to one formal dance at which I felt any degree of comfort. It was my senior prom, and my dress, like all of my friends' dresses, came straight from an India Imports-type store in Northampton.

I went to one other formal dance. That one was at home over a winter break; I have no recollection whatsoever of my date. But I do remember that my older stepsister was at home. She had gone to a fashion college in Atlanta, which was only one of the many striking differences between us. She put together an outfit for me that could not have been Less Me. I'm betting that she even did eye makeup. Even More Less Me. (Got that?)

Remember, I went to boarding school. The one where girls would not have been caught dead in possession of eye makeup. The very best part of prom occurred between 4:00 and 6:00 am, when the boys were mercifully gone and we girls, painfully aware that we were soon to lose our 24/7 friendships of three and four years, switched to jeans and t-shirts and wandered the campus, hair almost to our waists, arms around each other, singing at the top of our lungs.

So that's my night. Al-Ghazali and pink dresses and memories of the long-ago friendships of young women.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

OK, So...Grey's

I am adjusting to reality here. (Yes, I, understand that that is a ridiculous statement in the context of a tv show. Whatever.) Meredith may well die.

People keep saying that she can't die, because the show is named for her. But the show is named for a book. I don't know when the book was first published (sometime in the 1850s-60s?), but Meredith Grey is a newcomer to the Grey name. So yes, she could die.

What I love about this show is that the characters are so -- well, they are so understandable. We can see something of ourselves in each one. And they keep on growing and changing, just as we do.

Christina: So driven, so callous, so my-father-died-and-therefore-I-have-to-achieve-something. Got that one down.

Meredith: Yes, I know. Dark and twisty. Accomplished but tortured. What a stroke of genius last night, to repeat the Code Black two-parter. A reminder, hours after her mother has srceamed at her that she is nothing but mediocre, that she was the one who saved the bazooka guy, and everyone else. Except for Dylan, who was doomed as soon as he got up that day. Do you remember what it was like to embark upon your adult life, scared of everything but determined to do it anyway?

Bailey: Who doesn't want to be Bailey? Bailey isn't scared of everything, or anything, really. Bailey is my hero on the days Christina isn't.

Alex: Alex is so selfish. And so vulnerable. Remember how he looked at Izzie when she passed him on the stairs on prom night? His story will be worth waiting for.

Izzie: OK, she looks like a rock star and now she IS a rock star. And she bakes. Where did our tough trailer park girl learn to bake like that? Admittedly, Izzie is the one with whom I have the least in common. The blonde hair and the baking and all. But that grief, that on-the-cold-floor-all-night grief? That I get.

Addison: Addison's middle name is turning out to be Compassion. When it isn't Loneliness. Who knew?

The McGuys. McChief. McDreamy. McPreston. McSteamy. McGeorge. They all want someone to love them. Interesting gender flip.

If Meredith does die, who will Rise To The Occasion? I'm thinking no one, and then it will be just like real life.

Late Afternoon in the Cemetery

I've photographed this particular mausoleum many times, but I had to stop again yesterday afternoon; the light was spectacular. Or maybe just the fact that there was light?

On Fridays we get out of school (Jewish school, and Shabbos starts early in winter) in the middle of the afternoon. I had plans to get some work done, but I decided to go and look for the foxes first, and that took the rest of the day! No foxes, and not many other photographs either, despite the ever-lenghtening shadows ~ every time I tried to step off the roads, I sank into snow above my knees.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Quick Trip

From today's Friday Five over at RevGalBlogPals:

1. What is one place you make sure to take out-of-town guests when they visit?

Little Italy ~ great food, intriguing art, funky clothes, all within a short walk from home.

2. When visiting another city or town, do you try to cram as much in as possible, or take it slow and easy?

A combination: I usually choose a focus destination or two for each day, but spend a lot of time wandering around to get a real feel for the place and experience it as if I lived there.

3. When traveling, where are we most likely to find you: visiting a cathedral, walking on the beach, wandering through a historical site, people-watching from a cafe, visiting an art museum, just walking around.

4. Do you like organized tours and/or carefully planned itineraries, or would you rather strike out and just see what happens?

Semi-planned: see number 2. No organized tours, thank you.

5. After an extended trip, what do you find yourself craving most about home?

The ability to do all my laundry when and as I please!

(The image was taken while I was wandering around Chartres last summer.)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Grey's Tonight

I am not going to think about this episode.

People die all the time in real life. Unexpectedly, and young, and they leave devastation in their wake and people who never recover, not really.

That happens on Grey's, too. Dylan. Denny.

Not Meredith, right?

I'm sticking with Izzie and the survival thing.

Not Meredith.

Because I cannot watch Derek and Christina if it's Meredith.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

European Adventures

The Lovely Daughter's voice bubbled happily across the country via cell phone last night: she's been accepted to both of her study abroad programs for next year, one in Kiel, England for Fall and one in Prague for Spring. It looks like Prague is a for-sure, as her best friend is also planning to go. Kiel is somewhat up in the air, due to course requirements, the added complications of spending a full year away but in two places, and the miserable showing of the dollar as against the pound these days.

I am coming to terms with these new developments (and ignoring the snow outside) by looking at pictures of The Brothers Abroad from a couple of summers ago. Be sure to click on the clock to enlarge; it's extremely cool. And, of course, if you want to know how beer is made... .

Firstborn Son on a visit to the coast while spending time with his French family.


Secondborn Son pretending to be a Gehry building in Prague. (My boys like to take pictures of each other pretending to be the things they see.)

Amsterdam: Self-explanatory.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Snow Day

I tried to get the dog out for a photo, but the snow is deeper than she is tall and she would have none of it. So I settled for a self-portrait.

It's getting darker now and the snow is blowing in swirls and the city is closed.

Rennes y Taillis

"Have we lost them?" I wondered as I lay in bed, wide awake as usual at 4:00 am the other morning. "How will we ever find them?"

For whatever reason, I had awakened thinking of the family with whom my Windy City University Son had spent his 11th grade year when he was a student in Rennes, France. Our families had spent Christmas together and I had immediately come to love his French mother, who took such good care of the 17-year-old we had sent across the ocean in the immediate wake of 9/11, and the rest of her family. However, our relationship had quickly simmered down to the annual Christmas card, and none had been exchanged this past year. I knew they had already moved once, and I wondered, in the midst of our own holiday business, whether they were still in Vitre.

And then yesterday, a Christmas card in Marithe's familiar handwriting arrived for my son, this time from Taillis. I opened it shamelessly, unable to wait the few days it would take me to forward it to Chicago, and read it aloud to my son, who was able to translate the sections that were a mystery to me. "Our" French family came alive to me again: the cozy apartment and the Christmas Eve feast, the meanderings through Rennes with the French brothers, the kids off to see Lord of the Rings en francais one evening.

I am trying to go to seminary. I have not yet paid for the class I am taking this semester, let alone my library fine. I am trying not to spend money. And so where was I this morning? Online, looking for tickets to Paris. My son will have a short break between his graduation in March and beginning his first real job, the demands of which will preclude travel for him as surely as funding does for me. Hmmm. The prices for spring travel are too high.

I haven't given up, though.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A New Gray Day

I have been OUTSIDE. For a long walk, a three-mile walk through the cemetery. It's cold, but it's not unbearable. And I looked at little things. I paid a lot of attention. I have been starving for that outdoor pay-attention time.

I didn't take the dog, who is also desperate to get outdoors, because I hoped to see the foxes. I didn't. But I found their prints stamped into the snow all around the hollow tree where I photographed the five kits last spring. So I am hopeful that the female lies nestled in her underground den and that the next months will bring new life there again.

I was inspired not only by the mellow temperature (15!) but by the following poem, which appeared Friday in the exquisite blog Abbey of the Arts:

I am Going to Start Living Like a Mystic
~ Edward Hirsch

Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater
and walking across the park in a dusky snowfall.
The trees stand like twenty-seven prophets in a field,
each a station in a pilgrimage–silent, pondering.
Blue flakes of light falling across their bodies
are the ciphers of a secret, an occultation.
I will examine their leaves as pages in a text
and consider the bookish pigeons, students of winter.
I will kneel on the track of a vanquished squirrel
and stare into a blank pond for the figure of Sophia.
I shall begin scouring the sky for signs
as if my whole future were constellated upon it.
I will walk home alone with the deep alone,
a disciple of shadows, in praise of the mysteries.

PS: For whatever reason, the image of the door won't enlarge. But, with a click, the other four will. The tendrils of ivy are actually over the rusted door of the mausoleum, and the bark belongs to an Austrian pine.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Quiet Day

. . . and so here's what I'm up to:

I'm doing my homework, reading and organizing midterm materials, for the class I'm taking on Islam. The dog is helping me by lying on the bed and snoring.

I painted my fingernails. They have been breaking off all fall and winter, a sure sign of stress and poor nutrition. The color, I have concluded, is ugly, but I don't have any nailpolish remover.

I'm basking in my success over having persuaded Gigantic University Son to get his graduation application materials in order. "The fact that you have no idea what to do next does not preclude your graduation from college!" I told him Wednesday night. He managed to file the paperwork yesterday with literally hours to spare.

I'm playing around online. Some Presbyterians are having a big pow-wow in Orlando, and I have broken my personal vow to restrain my incredibly limited personal engagement therewith. However, I am reinspired by their references to the church on which many of the rest of us expend love and devotion as "little more than a carcass consisting of real estate, endowments, sticks and stones," holding them in "theological and cultural captivity." Oh, and, apparently, close to possible "extinction." I am feeling a bit brontosaurian today, in a phoenix-ian sense of the word.

I was planning to clean my room. However, another of my new books just arrived, so the room may have to wait. The bathroom, alas, cannot. That frozen drain finally warmed up a couple of days ago, but no one has had the time or inclination to clean out the bottom of the tub since.

I'm also basking in the joy of having read much of the B.A. thesis just completed by Windy City University Son. I loved gazing at those glorious words, "Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for The Degree of Bachelor of Arts, The College of The University of Windy City."

I have to write a test on the Renaissance and Reformation. I love teaching the Renaissance. The Reformation is a bit more problematic, as the ethics of full disclosure mandate that I acknowledge the anti-Semitic vitriol of a certain leader. I try to soften the blow by pointing out his equally repugnant anti-Catholic rants, but those doesn't make me feel any better.

I will cheer myself up later by calling the Lovely Daughter, who has advised me that she is learning to hula. There are certain advantages to attending college on the west coast, not the least of which is the number of students from Hawaii, whose presence necessitates a Hawaiian club.

There are, as far as I know, no Hawaiian clubs clubs in the bleak bleak bleak midwest. One of my friends belongs to a Swedish heritage club, but that does not strike me as progress in terms of the weather aspects of life.

I can hear the sparrows in the fireplace chimney. I know why they are there.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Winter, So Hard On Us All

Some days past, as I was out walking the Little Lakes, I saw a great blue heron, hunched miserably over a small open pool of water. That was at least two weeks ago, before the snow covered everything and the mercury sank and the wind blew.

This is one of my favorite poems. And the photo enlarges nicely.

Herons in Winter in the Frozen Marsh
~ Mary Oliver

All winter
two blue herons
hunkered in the frozen marsh,
like two columns of blue smoke.

What they ate
I can't imagine,
unless it was the small laces
of snow that settled

in the ruckuss of the cattails,
or the glazed windows of ice
under the tired
pitchforks of their feet --

so the answer is
they ate nothing,
and nothing good could come of that.
They were mired in nature, and starving.

Still, every morning
they shrugged the rime from their shoulders,
and all day they
stood to attention

in the stubbled desolation.
I was filled with admiration,
and, of course, empathy.

It called for a miracle.
Finally the marsh softened,
and their wings cranked open
revealing the old blue light,

so that I thought: how could this possibly be
the blunt, dark finish?
First one, then the other, vanished
into the ditches and upheavals.

All spring, I watched the rising blue-green grass,
above its gleaming and substantial shadows,
toss in the breeze,
like wings.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Sunset January 2005

I'm just so sick of not being able to get outside and walk that I can hardly stand it. So I thought I'd post myself a reminder of the great world out there.

This one brings back sad memories; I took it as I drove back across the state one Sunday evening after spending the week-end with my stepmother, who was dying of cancer. I have found that the sky tends to light up when things are at their most grim. I don't know why that happens, but it does.

Dirty Little Secret

Yes, I have one.

Last night, coming off two "Cold" days, i.e., No School, and feeling increasingly decadent despite having graded a stack of history papers and having read half a novel, I watched
this show.

When a friend told me about it several weeks ago, I checked it out online and figured it was a fake reality show. There could not be real people in the world like these women, right? But no, my friend assured me, she used to live in Orange County, and they are real and so are their families.

I can't decide what's going on. Pure satire? Hokey ridicule? Some serious sympathy for the rich and un-famous? Reality in some bizarre form destined to assure the rest of us that we have lost our grip? Maybe a combination of all?

It's easy to feel a tad self-righteous when you watch this show. I am, for instance, seriously grateful to have a daughter who would not waste a second of her life even considering the surgical alteration of her body parts. It's hard to imagine the family bonding, as one of them did last night, in an outpatient surgery center over a young lady's nose job, as they must have also done when she got implants for her eighteenth birthday. Eeeeeuuuwwww. But these kinds of scenes are so over the top (no pun intended) that I am still wondering, seriously, whether they are all staged.

And the body parts? The women look OLD. With the eye makeup slathered on and the breasts manufactured to outlandish proportions ~ they look old and brittle. One of them said last night that she is, I think, 43, and I was astonished. I would have guessed a decade older, and I'm sure that's not the look she's after.

The odd thing is, and this is the pull of the show, I think: these women have a way of generating some empathy. They have the same problems that other people do: divorces, house disasters, children in trouble, work-related tensions, troubled relationships with their own parents.

But they handle them all SO badly. These are not women of insight.

Last night saddest scenes? In one, one of the moms, newly engaged, is planning a "blended family" trip to Hawaii so both sets of kids and the parents can bond over wedding plans. However, her oldest son, who is in some kind of boarding school situation while he waits out his juvenile court probation, probably won't be able to get away for the weeklong trip. His wistfulness is heartbreaking and his mother's lack of creativity in developing some kind of solution is mind-boggling.

In another, a different mom is helping her 19-year-old daughter move to an apartment. The daughter leans against a doorway, explaining that she had thought that they were going to have an all-day mom-and-daughter move-in time together. But the mom spends all the time in the car working, on her cell phone and computer, and brings (what she calls) work clothes, rather than moving clothes, because she's scheduled an early afternoon appointment. Again, a wistful kid and a clueless adult. Later, the mom talks into the camera about how much she will miss her daughter, her "best friend."

This viewer's reaction? With "best friends" like that. . . .

Sigh. I wondered if I have found my way to a new and pointless addiction.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Enough Already

I seem to have reached a new point in the aging process. A point that has to do with the cold.

I can't stand it.

Until this very year, I would have said that I didn't care how cold it got. Just give me sunshine. In fact, I was still saying that in January of this year, as gray day after gray day rolled through. I wasn't feeling the desperate effects of SAD as I customarily do, but I was certainly aware of the endless, creaseless, seamless gray.

And here we are, with the sun brightly shining on the third day in a row that the mercury in the thermometer is reluctant to rise past 0, and I am beside myself with the misery of cold feet, cold rooms, cold cold cold. The icicles are reminiscent of the days of the wooly mammoth, and the bathtub drain is frozen. (Now that's a pleasant situation.) The dog still dawdles as long as she always has over her outdoor activities, but when she is finally finished she races at breakneck speed for the door.

My own school is off for its second Cold Day, so I am mostly sitting in bed, grading papers and reading. But I did have to go to run errands yesterday, and back out again to my own university class last night, so I know that when the temperature reaches 15, as is promised in the next day or two, it will feel positively balmy.

It is on days like this that a girl's thoughts turn south and think of permanent relocation. To St. Augustine, for example, where one could wake up to this:

PS: Cold is such a bad thing. I seem to have accidentally ordered eleven books from Amazon and Friends. As long as I was sitting here in the cold. And I purchased two at a real bookstore last night. As long as I was out in the cold. Why can't I just do something productive, like laundry?

Sunday, February 04, 2007


that I'm glad I've come across on this cold and snowy week-end:

. . . I grew up in a Montessori environment and I believe that it had an impact on the person I have become. The Montessori Method is about learning by living. Learning in that way, from preschool through eighth grade, I was always allowed to set my own pace, my own goals, and, for the most part, study what I wanted. In unexpected ways, my elementary school experience prepared me well for my college experience. . . . my early education, as well as my parents, fostered an independence that I carried through high school and into college.

~ from an internship essay the Lovely Daughter has written. (Every once in awhile, you sense that maybe you did something right somewhere along the way.)


Outward indications of authentic prayer, however described, are recognizable over time: interor freedom and trust of God, self, and others; greater flexibility and less judgmentalism; lessening of various kinds of fear; a mellowing-out or gentleness; absence of defensiveness; and, of course, peace and joy.

~ from The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women, by Katherine Dyckman, Mary Garvin & Elizabeth Liebert. (At other times, you sense that you might have a few things to work on.)


[P]oetry: the power of language to restore


How do we know there's a God? Because he keeps disappearing.


The catastrophe of grace.

~ all from Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels. (A guide through the Ignatian Spiriutal Exercises who loves literature is a good person to have in your life.)

Saturday, February 03, 2007

But I Can Do Other Things

I have an online group of friends. We have been in conversation for several years.

The topic du jour is the cooking of chicken breasts. Apparently some of our number are rolling on the floor with laughter, hysterical laughter being their response to that innocent question, "Why would you pound a chicken breast? And with what?"

Let me hasten to add that I was not the one who asked. However, I would have, had I grasped the import of the subject at hand.

This is the reason that I can never, ever move to the country: I need to be within blocks of several restaurants and full-service grocery stores.

The other night at the prepared foods counter, I told the cook how glad I am that he is there. "I love cooking for you!" he said happily. I'm so grateful that he does. He probably knows all about the pounding stuff.

No, I did not know about these.

Is It Cultural?

A good part of the answer to the question about why I believe what I do has to do has to do with the simple, or maybe not-so-simple, reality of culture.

I live in the United States of America, I was born to a family whose members were Methodist in a vague sort of way, and I have lived most of my life in the Midwest, with a few years early on devoted to schooling in New England. Ergo, I am a product of Christian culture, middle-American style.

When I was a little girl, we sang Christmas songs and had Christmas pageants in my public school. Not a 1950s debate. I went to Sunday School sometimes, but not often. My stepmother made me go to the church youth group on occasion ~ truly a sanctimoniously oppressive experience in every way, shape, and form. When I was in junior high, I spent three years in a Catholic boarding school. A different flavor of religion than that to which I was accustomed, but still a Christian one. When I was in high school, I spent three years in a Protestant boarding school where excellence of academics, including the religious dimension, was a key componet of our lives. (First year Old Testament class: "Here you go, ladies; your homework tonight is the first chapter on the source material for Genesis. The term you want is 'documentary hypothesis.' ")

My high school experiences had to do with my father's academic objectives, not with religious goals on the part of anyone. I had nothing to do with church or religion for about twelve years post high school. As far as I was concerned, all ideas connected thereto were nothing short of fundamentally and thoroughly ridiculous. But I lived, as most of us hereabouts do, in a Christian culture. To the folks who have some kind of idea that Christians are persecuted in this country, that the debate over a cashier's "Happy Holidays" greeting is a sign of the imminent demise of all things sacred, all I have to say is: You are so a fish in water that you don't recognize the ocean.

So did the culture make me a Christian? No, but sort of. When I reached a point in my life where the religious journey began to take precedence, I was in this culture, and this was where I started. I investigated other religions as opportunities presented themselves, but I didn't feel any compulsion to abandon my own heritage.

A few years ago, another of my world history students asked me whether I think that Jews are "wrong." "No," I said, somewhat puzzled. "I think that God calls out to each of us," I told him, "but where God calls has to do with where we are. And where we are is in the midst of our families, our friends, our schools and jobs, our communities. There are, in the vastness of all human history, a very, very few people who convert out of their culture; most of us stay where we are and God reaches us there. You are unlikely to find a Christian way to God and I am unlikely to find a Jewish way. And the Psalms we share argue pretty clearly that God made us this way."

I have moved to a slightly different position on the spectrum since making that statement, in large part because I do teach in a Jewish school and am constantly experiencing faith in the context of that of my colleagues, and in part because I made the year-long Ignatian Spiritual Exercises last year and have had what I can only describe as a profound experience of the presence of God. In church right now we are doing an adult education series on different faith traditions, and have welcomed a series of articulate and charming scholars to present Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and (this week) Islam. One of my good friends has acknowledged to me that she realizes that much of her faith is culture-based, and really isn't sure whether, given a clean slate, she might make another choice. I'm not in that place. I have had so many opportunites to re-think where I am and to assess the ways in which God has reached out to me and to others that I know I am making a conscious choice for Christian faith.

I can't deny the cultural dimension of that choice, however. I find the Bible a lot easier to read than the Qu'ran; I find the Christian traditions of contemplative prayer and lectio divina much more accessible than Zen meditation. This past week, I had an interesting discussion with a colleague, a young rabbi, about the role of Jewish law and its demands in his daily life ~ they look oppressive to me, but they are an undeniable source of joy to him. (The conversation had, by the way, begin with this issue of culture. Apparently a Jewish scholar has argued that today, for the first time in America, a person can make a conscious choice to be Jewish or not. My rabbi friend disagrees, saying that culture is at the root of so much of who the Jewish people are. "Same for all religions," I piped up.)

It would be just silly to argue that my "faith comfort zone" doesn't have a lot to do with who and where I live and am in the nonreligious aspects of my life. If there are any.

365/020307: I'm Not Going Out There

It's sunny, so I have no business complaining. But it's also -7 with the windchill. I have food and movies and papers to grade and lessons to plan and books to read. I will miss the friends with whom I usually spend Saturday morning, but it's -7.

I took this photo at The Little Lakes a few days ago. Today I could take one that would make me happier, because there is sun. The light in the sky early this morning looked almost like December light in Paris. That light is not reproducible at this latitude or in this hemisphere, but almost. Still (did I mention this?), it's -7.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


The first part* of my answer to the question, "Why do you believe what you do?" has to do with the nature and experience of belief, and why I believe anything at all. It is not an answer limited to Christian belief.

This first reason was stated eloquently and succinctly by St. Augustine in his Confessions:

"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."

I believe that because in my observation and experience, it is true.

We are all seeking relationship with and connection to whatever is beyond ourselves. I don't discriminate among religious traditions in making that argument, and I don't overlook those who are hostile to religious faith or indifferent to it. It is empirically obvious to me that we are all looking to ground ourselves in a sense of being or entity beyond us.

I am deeply engaged with the life of my religious community, a mainline Protestant church, but most of my family and friends are not so inclined, so I have some sense whereof I speak.

When people express tremendous resentment and anger with respect to the concept of God, when people tell me that God has been absent to them for longer than they can remember, when people recall childhood Sunday School teachers and nuns and First Communions with sarcasm or hostility, when people argue that religion stands firmly behind most of the destruction and horror that human beings have wreaked upon one another in this world, when people say that they might be religious but for the fact that "Christians" (feel free to insert the name of another tradition) refuse to honor them as gay or lesbian individuals ~ what I hear are people longing to rest in the presence of God, and angry and hurt and resentful that they cannot find a way to do so.

When people tell me, "I just don't know," or "I just don't have a religious bone in my body" or "The whole religious enterprise is ludricous and of human origin," what I hear is a longing to be wrong, a longing to be in touch with that dimension of human existence that does not depend upon entirely upon the rational or scientific.

I hope I don't sound condescending. I certainly don't mean to. I don't for one minute doubt that wise and thoughtful people can find grounds for disagreement with me. I don't intend to reinterpret for capable people what they are able to analyze and understand for and about themselves. But the question asked of me was why I believe what I do, and part of the answer is the spiritual reality I see in human nature as clearly as I see that we are designed to love and desire one another, to procreate, and to care for one another. I see it as clearly as I see that there are jellyfish in the sea and foxes in the cemetery where I walk. I see it because it is right in front of me.

I do not say any of this in a strident or defensive tone of voice. I say it confidently, but mildly. I am not perturbed by disagreement on this matter. I simply see that we are made with an interior space for relationship to something beyond ourselves.

*(I think there are five parts. I guess we'll find out.)