Friday, December 24, 2010

I'll Be Home for Christmas

Snow is falling, soft and steady. I just came in from a walk, my coat and cap generously dusted with the lacy white flakes. There’s a golf course a block from our house. Covered in snow, that space of loping fields and scattered trees looks remarkably natural. Wild geese gracefully wander leaving webbed white markings, squirrels bounce quickly from one tree to the next. I stopped at the base of one tree and my heart melted with wonder as I watched intricate, individual snowflakes bind together and form a furry shawl on the bare, brown branches. A pack of kids were hurtling down the town’s only hill (aptly named “sledding hill”) with their parents at the bottom taking photos. I was tempted to ask someone if I could take a turn—I’ve only sledded once and long for an opportunity to surf the land like that again—but felt like today was one for observation. I took a picture in my mind (and on my phone) and walked on. When I got home I tried to build a snow-lady in the backyard to amuse the chickens but had little success. The true colors of our girls are beginning to show. They’ve always looked white as snow, but when compared to the real stuff their feathers are revealed to have a distinctly yellow tint.

All my life I have dreamed of a white Christmas. Holiday songs and almost every image of the season indicate that is what we are entitled to. Growing up in Florida, travelling primarily in the summer, snow at Christmas, or anytime, was relegated to the realm of fantasies and miracles. Many a prayer was offered up from children wearing tank-tops and shorts, “Dear Jesus, let this be the year!” This is my year, but it comes at a cost. For the first time I am not in Florida with my family during the Christmas holiday. Instead I have decided to stay at my home in Chicago. Our house, normally bursting at the seams, is nearly empty. The others that I live with are off visiting relatives. I am holding down the fort and Tonguy (our guest from Togo, S. Africa who is staying with us while searching for a long term living option) will be in and out over the weekend.

I appreciate the rare opportunity for solitude and am feeling peaceful and grateful. At the same time, I know that I am missing the cacophony of exuberant voices made up of a roomful of sisters; the excitement of welcoming my brother Adam’s partner, Allison, into the family home for the first time; the combination of my brothers and my dad that always results in subtly (sometimes not so subtly) coarse humor that we try not to laugh at but then laugh regardless because it’s funny; my two-year-old niece Indiana repeating back everything anyone says to her in her beautiful little bee-like voice; board/card game playing and movie watching; siblings piled up together on the same couch, the Christmas Eve candle ceremony (a.k.a. Nee family cry fest) when we all articulate are abundant love for each other.

This has been a year of great change for me. Great in both the large and the delightful sense. I have become so comfortable with my surroundings and so immersed in my activities that I temporarily lost sight of the heap of happenings that have occurred, many of which are quite momentous for me. I formed a number of intense crushes that have grown into something more. I don’t mean on individuals but on places and people and ways of being. I was wooed by the Divine Unknown (who I know as God) and came to reluctantly, irresistibly, re-engage in relationship with this God’s incarnation in the form of a man named Jesus. After much deliberation and vacillation I consummated this relation by being confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church. I continue to be delighted, bewildered, ashamed by, and affection toward this institution that has adopted me as part of the family.

Another family that has adopted me is the White Rose Catholic Worker community; a group of people I was drawn to from the moment we met and before that even. Last fall I took a class on Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. Learning about these individuals lit a fire in me. Their interior and exterior lives were integrated with a rare authenticity and their ways of thinking and being resonated deeply with a desire for life that I had not yet found a way to articulate. I was especially fascinated by Day and the Catholic Worker movement. Searching for people who were continuing to attempt this lifestyle I had the good fortune of stumbling upon John and Jake who, along with Jerica (and later, Regina and Marie) were in the process of establishing a new Catholic Worker in the neighborhood where I was already working as a live-in nanny. In the spring they announced me an “official” member of the community and I moved in at the beginning of August.

In between these major events I also did have crushes on a few fellas and a few had crushes on me but those interests never quite lined up. I continue to be pleasantly independent and am anything but lonely. I also did more travelling than I have ever done in my life. April, I received a surprise gift from my dear, as-yet-unmet, friend Laina who bought me a plane ticket to go visit my family in Florida. I traveled with my friend Cat and spent a week and a half in Arizona on the U.S./Mexico border. We worked with a group called No More Deaths that does humanitarian aid work and advocacy for migrants. It was a simultaneously beautiful and tragic experience, offering an intense education and stirring up a number of questions. It recalled to me a passage of scripture that I’ve often connected with:

“...I can guarantee this truth: Whoever gives any of my humble followers a cup of cold water because that person is my disciple will certainly never lose his reward.”
Matt 10:42 (GW)

I’ve often felt overwhelmed by the pain and needs of this world and the lives within it that I have felt immobilized. When I read this scripture though I am called to action, a cup of water I can give. One of the things I love about the community I now live in is the way we try to engage in small good things to meet practical needs while simultaneously wrestling with larger, systemic issues.

I returned briefly to Chicago before taking off again to spend three weeks in California. There I visited my older brothers, Adam and Aaron in Los Angeles; spent some wonderful time with my beloved sister-in-law, Ann Marie, and niece and nephew, Asher and Clover. That trip happily overlapped with a visit from my younger sisters, Ruth and Rachel. The three of us spent several days with our fabulous Aunts Nancy and Judy in Northern California. I also had the opportunity to stay for five days with the LA Catholic Worker where I connected with the wonderful community there and participated in their work of offering food, shelter, and solidarity to the homeless population of skid row.

In the fall the White Rose community packed up to travel to “Sugar Creek,” Iowa for a gathering of Midwest Catholic Workers that felt like a family reunion. November I traveled down to Georgia with several from our community, as well as our friend Aaron Z., to participate in the SOA vigil at Ft. Benning in Columbus. Another intense time of education. I went directly from there to Tallahassee where I was able to see the home and meet the friends of my darling sister Grace. She and I drove together to the Apopka house where I spent the next week and a half soaking up the presence of my family. During that time I had the great gift of collecting stories from my parents of their life together which I hope to share more about later.

Presently, I am taking a break from the frenetic composing of completely handmade planners. Our community decided, in mid-December, to being this “cottage industry.” The orders for planners (which, naturally, are expected at the beginning of the year) have poured in and at this point exceed fifty. The beautiful intention, thorough planning and ultimately haphazard execution of this endeavor acts as an apt representation of most of our undertakings here. Many thanks to dear friends Ben A. and Aaron Z. who have shared in the work and lightened it with their presence! We are now up to three “open meals” a week when we welcome friends and strangers to join us for dinner and fellowship as well as offering access to the showers and washing machine and whatever clothing items or odds and ends we can provide. We are in intense planning mode, discerning how to make the best use of 10 acres of land that has been provided for us to grow food on and continue our experiment with providing an alternative economy and way of being in relationship with the earth and each other. As our community grows (we have doubled, from three folks to six!) and our ministerial ambitions grow with it, we are searching for a larger home to live in and work from.

There is so much more that I could write. I’ve been thinking a great deal lately of my time in Kentucky, the way my spirit was shaken to a new life and liveliness by the remarkable geography there. The way my mind and heart were expanded by the remarkable people there. And somehow that is all connected to what I am doing now, who I am becoming now. I love this life. Though I struggle with the interior work of clarifying convictions, developing relationships, and growing in love and service and mindfulness; I am sustained by the belief that I and those struggling with me, are endeavoring to live faithfully. We are experimenting with truth, supporting and challenging each other along the way. Advent is a season of hope. We await a promised savior. We celebrate the birth of a poor child, hoping in his promised potential. I hope in the truth of his strange story and in the potential of us poor children of earth. May his Kingdom come. May we live as though it is already here.

Much love and peace and Merry Christmas to you.

Your always remaining and ever-changing,

amy elizabeth nee

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

SOA Protest: First Impressions


I write this while sitting in a courtroom waiting for the arraignment of those arrested yesterday for the civil resistance action and randomly during the mass arrest that followed. Regina and Annmarie are among them. Bail was set at over $5000 dollars. Our friends didn’t intend to pay, hopefully we won’t have to.

Chris “crossed the line” this afternoon, nimbly, over the fence. I cried. I don’t know why. Meg, Mary Ellen, Cat and a girl I’d just met gave me long hugs of consolation. He leapt into becoming a representative of those murdered by graduates from the School of the Americas. Now I have to care.

We were there to mourn those who have lost lives and loved ones as victims, those who’ve lost integrity and humanity as victimizers. We were there too to uncover the infiltration of militarization and corrupt powers that exist all around us. The SOA has itself become a symbol. This school that has become notorious for graduates who lead and participate in assassinations, coups, massacres, war crimes—trained on U.S. soil, in U.S. tactics, with U.S. dollars, implicating U.S. citizens.

During our informal “pre-crossing” mass I could hear the “presente!” chant of the procession continuing around us, the beating of the drum. Feebly, I drew toward a sense of empathy with those who attempt to worship while surrounded by death.

“What are your impressions from today?” I asked Aaron. He said the mass felt like it was the last supper. Jake was Peter, the right hand man, the organizer. Crowds of friends and followers gave mixed messages of praise, concern, encouragement and scorn to our lamb. I wondered if he thought of Christ’s crown of thorns as his fingers wrapped over the barbed wire strung across the top of the fence.

“We act in response to the holocausts continuing to occur around the world,” he had said, carrying with him the ID card of a seven-year-old Belgium boy who’d been gassed in nazi Germany. Many of those killed by SOA graduates were young children, infants, mothers. We wonder, in retrospect, how such things as the mass killings of Jews could be allowed to happen. Could it be that such cruelty continues” Could it be us allowing it now?

After the Chris’ crossing I sat in the shad of the stage and listened to songs of freedom being belted out by the powerful voices of the musicians collective. Brother Josh, who had painted his face white, worn a black robe and carried a coffin in the procession sate beside me. “How did it feel?” I asked. He said it felt like being family, as pallbearers often are. He thought about how when one dies, all the family dies too. He thought, if we were able to truly understand each other as brother and sister, wars would cease. We would know we were killing ourselves.

Waiting silently in the courtroom to hear our friends’ fate, I think of those arrested yesterday who were not prepared, who did not enter purposefully. I think about those without support. I acknowledge that this happens every day; often without justice, often without love. Now I have to care. This is the heavy gift that our brothers and sisters who risk arrest offer. Even when I don’t fully understand thief action, I see the value of this gift.

Gratefully, I accept. May I be found worthy of the gifts that I’ve received! May we all remember the cost, and the debt that remains.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Confrontations in the Desert: Part 2

This synthesis of recent studies and the current reading spurred me to be more attentive to Jesus’ other responses, recognizing there was more to his meaning than I’d previously taken note of. The devil next presents to Jesus a vision of “all the kingdoms of the world in a moment’s time” (Luke 4:5) claims dominion and offers them with only one caveat, that Jesus worships him. Jesus answers, “You shall worship the Lord your God and God only shall you serve.” The reference here is to Deuteronomy 6:13. The words Jesus actually speak follow closely on the footsteps of what is often referred to as “the greatest commandment,” “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” possibly because it was presented as such in the gospels during an exchange between Jesus and an inquisitive lawyer. It is worth noting that in this exchange there is an added phrase, “and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The words just preceding these are, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” which has become the Shema, the centerpiece of morning and evening prayer in the Jewish tradition. What really caught my attention here is the word “one.” During a recent morning of community prayer, one of my housemates prefaced his sharing point with an explanation of ones and zeros, “zero is a place holder, one is infinity.” One is infinity. This gave a sinking and soaring new depth to the phrase, “the Lord is one.” Satan offered Jesus a glimpse of all of the kingdoms of the world “in a moment’s time.” What is that in the eye of infinity?

Next comes Satan’s wildly decontextualized reference to the promise God makes via the writer of the 91st Psalm, “On their hands they [the angels] will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” If you believe this, the devil says; why not jump from this precipice? It seems an odd taunt. The Psalmist promise was made in the context of God offering loving protection and being a fortress at a time of attack, not being a safety net for daredevils. Jesus’ retort is less direct but abundantly deeper. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,” he answers. But this is only the beginning of the sentence that, in Deuteronomy, is finished with, “as you tested the Lord at Massah.” What happened at Massah? This is a reference once again to the Israelites’ time in the desert, to the time when their gratitude for the gift of manna waned and they “quarreled with Moses,” because they were thirsty. Why, they asked, did you bring us out from Egypt? How quickly they forgot their chains and remembered only the convenience of a society with easy access to resources. The people are given water, but begrudgingly, and Moses names the place Massah [testing] and Meribah [quarrelling] “because of the quarrelling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, ‘is the Lord among us or not?’” It is also the core line in a Psalm that consistently makes my heart quiver, “Today if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did on the day at Massah, in the wilderness” (Psalm 95). The implications of Jesus’ response are far greater than a critique of Satan’s misinterpretation of scripture. It implies Jesus’ determination to trust that God is indeed among us, a fact that Jesus own presence affirms. And he would not prove it by dramatic self-aggrandizing acts but by a steady commitment to implementing the instructions inherent in the story of the manna—the theology of enough—even when it was inconvenient, unappreciated, unpopular; even when it got him in trouble with authorities and threw him out of favor with his own family and followers.

Following this, Jesus makes his first public address:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19, Isaiah 61:1,2).

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Confrontations in the Desert: Part 1

A Reading from Luke 4:1-14

I am always impressed by how a thoughtful reading of an old text develops new contours, shaped by daily learnings. I have long been fascinated by Jesus’ encounter with the devil in the desert. It is on of the few scenes where Satan takes the stage as a present character (the only others I can think of off-hand are in Eden—confronting Eve—and in heaven—reporting to and challenging God about Job). It is quite theatrical.

Originally I read this passage as little more than a character sketch. Satan is shown to be a manipulative antagonist, Jesus a pure-hearted overcomer. Over time the readings took on different shapes depending on teachers and circumstances in which I met them. The desert is a purifying space for Jesus. Now I read it as not only a time of refinement for him as an individual (and object lesson on using scripture as combat weapons), but a purifying of the law, a refinement of the historical understanding of God and God’s commandments.

Every word Jesus speaks in this scene is quoted directly from both the 6th and 8th chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, the book of the law. This is where God is reminding the Israelites of the lessons they received during their forty year desert wandering and outlining behavioral expectations preceding their entrance into the Promised Land. Jesus symbolically relives the Israelite experience, entering the desert for forty days, subjecting himself to hardship and temptation. He not only receives the lessons into his present context, but himself voices the words of God (in his Deuteronomical quotations) as he prepares to enter/usher in the Kingdom.

I was first struck by Jesus’ response to Satan’s suggestion that he turn stones to bread. “Man shall not live by bread alone,” Jesus says, directly quoting from the moment when God was reminding the Israelites of the lesson of the manna:

You shall remember the whole way that that Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, the Lord might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep God’s commandments or not. And the Lord humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna…that the Lord might make you know that people do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:2-3).

This reference to the Israelite experience with manna sprung to life for me since I had just been reading about it in Ched Myer’s book, The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics. The first chapter of this book introduces the manna story from Exodus as a story about “following instructions,” and a presentation of “Yahweh’s alternative to the oppressive Egyptian economy” (11). As Myers sees it, there are three defining characteristics to the instructions God lays before these desert wanderers. He works from the understanding that these are not arbitrary instructions that expire at the conclusion of the Exodus, but rather a training ground and introduction to a new economy for these people to practice as they enter their new life.

First, the “theology of enough.” The Exodus account states that “every family gathered just enough.” I have lately been contemplated the nuances of this word, “enough.” It can indicate both that there is plenty—“enough for all!”—and also that the verge of excess is being pushed—“whoa! That’s enough!” This first characteristic refers to the former. The “enough” that the people are being provided with contrasts with the destitution of their life in Egypt. The second characteristic draws on the latter notion of “enough.” Once again contrasting with the economic system of Egypt (and, to broaden the view, our current economic system), the people of Israel are firmly instructed not to store up. Wealth and resources are not to be accumulated. Finally, the characteristic of Sabbath discipline is introduced. Gather for six days, rest on the seventh. Myers points out that this is not only “good agricultural sense,” it also “functions to disrupt human attempts to ‘control’ nature and ‘maximize’ the forces of production.” It is a reminder that the earth and the resources we glean from it are belong to God and are a gift. Authentic practice of the Sabbath requires faith and, to borrow a phrase from Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “abundance mentality.” It requires faith in what Myers calls, “an economy of grace.” Jesus’ reference to this lesson in response to Satan’s taunt about turning stones to bread indicates his radical understanding of and faith in God’s instructions and simultaneously foreshadows the many times he will practice and proclaim this “economy of grace” amongst his contemporaries.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Giving and Receiving

I parked my bike off the lake trail so that I could walk about the segment set aside for “nature preservation.” The city is trying to revive the flora of the prairie. The long brown and bowed stems I gingerly stepped over revived a memory. It was of a trail I frequented almost daily in Berea, KY—specifically of the small patch of lowland prairie carved from forested hills. Tall flowering grasses turned to straw-like sticks in the fall and were intersected by a narrow trampled path. A Midwestern sky with clouds like shoreline sand soared overhead. On one side was a wall of evergreens, ever waving, darkly mysterious and sweetly inviting. On the other side was an assortment of maples and oaks, one monumentally thick and knotted with reaching arms as strong as a mother’s.

Now, I am sitting on a stone wall, beneath the shade of a voluminous “Wooshing Tree” (a.k.a. Weeping Willow), facing the lake; a different kind of beauty. I felt turned inward. This morning I was squeezing a quick online conversation in with my sister, Hannah (in South Korea, too many time changes away for me to keep track of), before heading off to mass. Interrupted by a persistent knock at the door I resignedly went downstairs. It was Dennis.* He wanted money for a 7-Day bus pass to get to his new job. Despite some reservations I gave him what he asked for, admittedly as much out of curiosity—will he really come back to share meals with us and volunteer around the house as promised?—as out of compassion. Questions about what it means to serve the poor, and more to the point, what it means to know and love a person, to identify and meet their needs, surfaced and churned.

The day before I had met Rose at Pax Christi’s Mass for Peace and potluck. She is, I would guess, in her forties, but with a thick, weary body and soft, deep-lined stranger’s face that makes her appear older. Her hair is thin and brown, her eyes, pale blue. The top row of her teeth grow in an ascending slant ending in unfettered pink gums. She is friendly and open though difficult to understand, speaking in garbled tangential phrases. I saw her again at mass and she came up to me, I asked her if she’d be going to the brunch our friend’s community hosts next door. She said yes but didn’t know where it was, so we went together. Lately, I’ve lamented that I don’t have enough personal contact with the poor to legitimize my words and work. God’s gifted me with a glimpse of what a that life looks like, one man, one woman, at a time.

I keep being revisited by a phrase my housemate John brought into prayer once about “building a movement.” I frequently forget it or maybe I just don’t fully believe it. That we could be agents in the creation of another way of living that reaches beyond our little home, beyond our network of friends. After Saturday’s peace mass a sharing circle was initiated and two questions were posed, “what are you working toward” and “what gives you hope?” It was beautiful to hear the variety of projects that the men and women there had undertaken. Probably 98% of those present were over sixty and I was encouraged by their persistent dedication to working for peace, justice and being a voice for the voiceless. George, an older man and friend of our community said that he finds hope in Catholic Worker houses, and others like them, “because they give to the poor, but not from a position of power.” I was deeply touched by his words, and challenged to honor them.

Telling Hannah about Dennis I had the sense that she was wary of his authenticity. I couldn’t blame her, I was as well. I had to by intentional about reminding myself that there are many who don’t have their needs so easily met as I do. They have to either ask, or go without. If I was in a tough spot, there are people who would see and offer assistance. What happens with those whose needs stand before blind eyes and cry before deaf ears? (Later it occurred to me that part of not giving from power is not needing to know or control what happens with what I give, but to give of my excess regardless. Whatever Dennis’ intentions, I have more than I need and he has less.) Hannah posed the critical question, why don’t they have support? The answer remains concealed. The question though reveals a path to response: that we not only give alms, but ultimately offer relationship, become the church.

The time, insight, and commitment required for this can feel like an overwhelming cost. At times it seems unattainable, especially when thinking of the multitude in need not just the one at the door. Thinking about this while hurriedly biking to mass I felt a renewed recognition that this is what the Catholic Worker is for. We are here to fill in the gaps, to be family to those without, whatever the reason for that may be. We are and we are becoming the church. This requires resources that we, because of investing our time and talents in being present to the “least, lost, and lonely,” are often lacking as individuals. Hence, community, and not only that of this house. We, by some twist of fate, do have friends and family and a voice that is more likely to be heard in society. So, we ask for help on behalf of those who lack these gifts: Asking partly because we know we have not because we are more deserving but by some strange grace. We are obliged and grateful and overflowing.

I thought about the parable of the man who had a visitor. He had no bread to offer this visitor, so he went to his friend’s house, woke him from sleeping, and asked persistently until this friend, reluctantly and irritably, complied (Luke 11:5-8). During mass the gospel reading was of a widow who unflaggingly plied an unjust judge for justice against her adversary (Luke 18:4-5). I couldn’t help smiling, filled with both consternation and delight at the reading and at the way the judge says, “Though I neither fear God nor respect people…I will give this widow justice so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.” How often Jesus upholds persistent petitioning! How often he upholds, even, begging, which we as individuals and as a society are so resistant to. We modern Christians often allocate this advocacy of begging to a symbol of spiritual supplication, to prayer. But why not acknowledge it as it is presented; a commendation of begging for help in addressing tangible needs?

At the post-mass brunch I sat at table, across from Rose, and watched as my friend Liz cheerfully, patiently, deciphered her confusing conversation. I though of the parable of the banquet where all are invited and the one of the lowest social position is given a seat of honor. I though of our little open meals at the White Rose where often the guests are strangers, some not even English-speaking, and how strange and how wonderful that no one present acts like anything unusual is happening. We are serenaded by guitar strumming and Spanish songs as we share a meal with brothers and sisters whose stories are a mystery to us.

Before mass had ended, kneeling before the Eucharist, I felt challenged by Christ’s presence. Each week I consume him, but am I in turn offering myself to be consumed as he would? I continue to wade through questions and confusion about appropriate giving, healthy relationships, appropriate work, effective ministry, and movement building. For today though, I choose to be grateful that when Dennis knocked—though I was reluctant to be interrupted, reluctant to part with cash, reluctant to be manipulated—the door was opened.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Love Letter

Dear One,

This was a beautiful day; warm, sunny, blue. Yesterday was like it, unusual weather when October already is casting its first week aside. This sort of anomaly is welcomed here as we anticipate dark, cold days. I remember this weekend as at home, outdoors. I remember the main thought as, “thank you;” the main feeling, “Love.” Most of the rest, I imagine, will be forgotten, but these I will carry.

Do you know this wild love for living? It is oddly unaccompanied by fear of death. Though, it does know sorrow. Here is a thought I recall—it came alongside me where our garden grows in the alley between our backyard and the tall fenced soccer field of Loyola University. I was crouched filling a watering can from the barrel (filled by hauling water from the rain-catching-barrel attached to the house), feeling proudly like a farmer. The sun’s warm hand touched my shoulders, pretending to be summer. I was filled with love for that touch, for the solid ground supporting my feet, the little leaves of lettuce reaching from raised beds. I felt love for the shockingly white chickens chirping gratefully at having been release into a heap of bug-ridden compost, for Matt who was fixing Regina’s bike brakes, for John and Regina who were building a new worm bin to supplement our abundant need for a place to direct food scraps. I felt love for God, for letting me know all this, for myself for saying “yes” and living. Quietly entered the thought, “is it wrong to have all this joy when so many suffer?” Even while asking I knew the answer was no. Joy and grief are not exclusive emotions. They live side by side, and know each other well. Tenderly, even, they know each other deeper than I understand and one will seldom lose sight of the other. It is, in fact, joy that gives me grief (consider, maybe it really is a gift, in this context at least). Accident or oppression or ignorance, create walls detaching joy from grief. This is what turns loneliness to alienation, sorrow to despair. Joy compels me to break the barriers and love the grieving back to life. If I abandon joy for grief, I diminish the hope of their reunion.

What am I talking about? By four o’clock I was tired. Now, I am downright weary, but with a spirit well-rested, satisfied, and wanting to tell stories. Last night we (the White Rose) hosted a roundtable discussion on climate change. The large group broke into smaller ones. I inserted myself into a circle of folks talking about the spirituality of consumption and conservation, or something of that nature. I talked about mindfulness and interconnectedness. Others talked about small steps, about wants vs. needs and self-care and sanity. Someone said, “Fear.” The word punctured me and poured out further reflection. My heart pounds and hands reach not from fear—unless it be of the awful (awe-filled) variety typically attributed to awareness of the Holy—fear paralyzes. Admiration and affection move me. I am driven to address environmental justice because of a reverence, a tenderness toward the earth and other people, toward the wind—when I imagine it to be God’s continually whispering creation into being, or its just being a movement that coolly kisses sweat from my skin and dances with leaves—water, and waste that when managed well returns to life and sustains me and you and everyone.

I am moved toward a good life. Not the proverbial “good life” of ease and abundance. That is to say, ease in its time and abundance toward all; a life that gives as often as it takes, that says, “I love you” with its actions. Then too, a life that at times fills in the gaps left by the times when my actions inevitably spoke, “I don’t care,” “I forgot,” or (God forgive me) “I hate you.” A life like this means being compelled, when the occasion calls for it, to stand in the way of those who don’t endeavor for the good but do quite the opposite, intentionally or otherwise.

If I have an agenda in developing this life, it was woven into me, by my upbringing and by a spirit I consider to be God who I believe is Love. I can’t see the threads beginning any better than the end. It’s been molded over time by experiences and influential friends and an enduring (imaginary? maybe, but I don’t think so) relationship with the so-called-son-of-God who tried to teach a timeless truth. “Ask and it will be given,” he said, “Knock and the door will be opened…” He spoke these like a promise, but I hear them as a call too. Because he said also, “give to all who ask of you,” and “as you did to the least…you did to me.” I have been told too that we who believe become part of his body, in and out from God as he is. Do his promises too become mine? (I suddenly remember being barely twenty, on the phone with an ephemeral man, asking, “What does it mean to be a disciple? Does anyone live that way?” Afraid, because I’d realized I wasn’t and didn’t know how to be.) After all, if everyone gave when asked then those who asked would receive. If all answered to a knock, then the door, indeed, would open.

Of course, all don’t. It’s possible, probable, that all never will. Does that mean the much proclaimed Kingdom is not already here? Or does it come when we live (as we often advocated for in recovery) “as if”? The Kingdom is at hand when I practice personal responsibility and love my neighbor as myself. The Kingdom comes when I resist the evil in me and that in my government and culture (even when that resistance is rude, awkward, risky). Sometimes it means little more than the elusive quality of mindfulness, cultivating attentiveness and intentionality into our thoughts, words, and deeds. Before you buy that—where did it come from? Who worked for it and how were they treated? What waste has and will be created by it? Before you judge her—would you welcome the same judgment for yourself? Sometimes it means intentional planning and action. Many need to be wakened from slumber. Many need dull perceptions sharpened. Even those who see sometimes forget to look.

Dorothy Day writes, “We need always to be thinking and writing about poverty, for if we are not among its victims its reality fades from us. We must talk about poverty, because people insulated by their own comfort lose sight of it…” Contemplating this, I realize that the word “poverty” could easily be exchanged with a multitude of others. We need always to be thinking about the: workers who fill the jobs we ignore; children, mothers, fathers, who are killed by bombs our money bought; land abused for the sake of indulgence; people dying of thirst for water we flush down the toilet; people with confused minds and wounded hearts that need healing though there is no one to blame for their brokenness.

I consider all this and decide that it is too much. It is impossible to be mindful of so many things. It is absurd to hold all this in one’s hands and say, “I will carry you.” Yes, yes, as absurd and impossible as a camel passing through the eye of a needle! I will remember though that my hands are not mine only but part of a body made up of millions. I will remember that it’s been said that though with humans such things are not possible, “with God all things are possible.” Such a wild promise. When I consider the wildness of this life, it just might make sense. I will believe (Lord, help my unbelief!) I will let love give me the strength to embrace sorrow, and the arms of grief press me to create spaces where I can plant seeds of joy. Then I can listen to the promise, “the kingdom is coming, the kingdom is coming” in the context of the quiet, audacious assurance, “the kingdom is already here!”

But who am I to say these things—a sleepy sun-burned girl, lying on the carpet on her bedroom floor, surrounded by the clutter of shared space, listening to music mixes, pouring the fullness of her heart through pen to paper—I am yours.

Monday, September 27, 2010

What I have done and what I have failed to do...

The homily at mass yesterday addressed the “sin of omission,” those things that we fail to do, using Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the rich man as a starting point (Luke 16:19-25). He noted something I had failed to see in all the times I’ve read it: The rich man never directly addresses Lazarus, and even after death the rich man, in torment, still tries to dictate Lazarus’ actions.

The priest talked about continually failing to see the poor and marginalized as brother and sister, failing to treat them as part of ourselves and bearers of Christ’s image. I was not particularly impressed by his oratory skills but, thanks be to God, my heart heard past that and was convicted by his message. I may be able to wax eloquent about solidarity with the poor, but do I live it?

After mass two women approached me. One took my hand, her skin was soft and creased, her hair dimly blond and curled, “we were at the conference,” she said, “and wanted to thank you for what you offer.” I noted they did not use the past tense “offered,” as in what I said at the conference specifically, but the present “offer,” as in my life. It felt like both a compliment and a mystical command.

A friend standing beside me was abundantly amused, “a celebrity in our midst! We’ll have to work to keep your head from expanding,” he said. The conference being referenced was an event with Catholics on Call, a young adult ministry rooted in the Catholic Theological Seminary on the Southside of Chicago. I was invited to be one of three panelists responding to two different speakers about “emerging adulthood” and the relationship between this new young adult demographic and the church. I said what I think may have been some challenging things, more on that later perhaps.

This put me in mind of a dream I had in which I woke one day to find, to my great surprise and dismay, that I looked exactly like Jesus. People kept thinking I was him and I felt a tremendous and frightening responsibility to say and do what I believed he would say and do. People were looking to me to be like Christ and in the dream I thought, “Is this what it’s like to be a Christian?”

Here are just a few of the hard sayings that Jesus reportedly delivered to a crowd that had gathered about him:

“Give to all who ask of you and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

“If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

“Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” (From “the Sermon on the Mount,” Matthew 5-7)

“Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me…as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me…” (From “The Last Judgment” Matthew 25)

Is this what it means to be a Christian? Is it possible to embody such teaching? One more reference from the words of this odd, amazing man, “With man, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” What a terrifying adventure this life can be if we let it.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Disconcerting Dream

"My belly doesn't seem big enough to be having a baby. It just looks like I've put on weight." I looked at my thick waist, only slightly extended in the center.
"But if you press it, you can feel the baby," my friend Anne said.
I pressed and the at first subtle impression of an infants shape became increasingly, weirdly evident.
"Oh my gosh, I can see it." The shape of a baby projected out from inside my belly. It was high, where one would expect my ribs to be.

Next thing I remember I was lying in bed, the room was dim and felt gray. Though I hadn't felt anything--no contractions, no labor, no birth--a baby was lying in my arms. My impression was that she had come through my stomach.
"Now that's a home delivery! No doctors, not even a midwife." I was mystified and pleased.

The charm soon degenerated. We were in the car. Mom was driving, not Anne, and I think some of my sisters were with us. I was in the back-seat and we stopped at a convenience store to pick something up. There was something strange about my baby that I couldn't identify. I lifted I tucked her under my shirt and pressed her to my breast to feed. Her mouth could not attach, because she did not have a mouth. She did not have a face. I realized what was wrong with my baby is that there were uncomfortably extended periods of time when she was a baby-sized, shapeless, relatively firm, brown mush, not unlike partially baked bread.

I don't remember much else. There was some moment of realization that indeed my stomach had not been big enough. This baby was not fully-formed. I don't remember if the final diagnosis was that it had died, or never really been born. I only know that by the end of the dream my baby was no mine. My baby was not. And I felt hollow.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Love mercy, do justly, walk humbly...

God of the garden,
God of the park,
God of growing things
and of wild spaces,
God who whispers in the leaves,
weeps through the clouds,
shouts with the sun;
you have my heart.
I am yours.

While waiting, I watched the dragonflies. I stood close to the green heart of a yellow fringed flower, watching a fuzzy-bodied bee sip its nectar. Birds watched me and danced among the tall stalks, and with each other. I laid on my back beside an artificial stream, coins shone on the tiled bottom. Clouds sketched whitely on the buoyantly blue sky glided slowly and showed their reflection in the skyscrapers that towered, lean and gleaming. M. Ward sang, “With my eyes on the prize, and my mind on you, I put my pride on the line, and my whole life too…” And I laid there, my phone on my belly, waiting for the call from friends who would be meeting me there at Millennium Park to hear Ray LaMontagne and David Gray roughly croon our hearts away.

That morning I had went to the park. I walked, mostly, did some yoga and climbed “sledding hill.” I listened to a podcast about Mohammed and Islam. The speaker helped me grow in understanding and respect for Muslim teaching, providing a more in depth perspective from that proliferated through daily news sound-bites and general assumptions. Its flaws, usually the result of misapplication are quite similar to ours [Christianity]—violence, prejudice—as are the qualities at its heart—liberation, compassion. Hearing though that Mohammed, the exemplar of Islamic teaching, was a military leader, I felt suddenly grateful for Jesus’ rejection of that role. I remembered a recent reading of Gandhi attempting to creatively interpret around a call to arms in the Gita. I thought about the fearful question that sometimes surfaces when I read the Law of the Prophets or even the poetry of canonized Hebrew scripture; “What if God was, what if God is really a tyrant?” Amid this pondering stood Jesus, the Christ; enduringly non-coercive, non-violent, consistently compassionate and critical of injustice. He did not force or connive but offered an invitation, “come and see,” and a Way.

The merciful, radical, insightful Jesus’ reverence for the God of history, the “God of Abraham,” encourages me to look beyond the apparently cruel exterior I am often presented with and to perceive the God, creative and compassionate, that holds my heart as I work in the garden or walk in the park. If they are indeed One, I will be one with them.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

West Coast Formation

A week has passed since I returned to Chicago after a three week sojourn in California. The trip impressed me deeply, causing events from earlier this summer to be all but lost in its shadow. I have to be intentional about recalling the first weeks of summer, the activities that felt so momentous at the time.

June began with the Catholics on Call conference, appropriately laying the groundwork for a formative summer with talks on discernment, vocation, prayer and community. A few days after I headed to Arizona where the boundary between the US and Mexico is lost in the Sonoran Desert. I went to participate in a humanitarian aid project, to educate myself about immigration and to be present with some of those who are in the thick of it. The two weeks I was back in Chicago are a blurred flurry of processing the previously mentioned experiences; entertaining out of town visitors; planning for a move away from my apartment and job as a nanny and into the White Rose Catholic Worker in West Rogers Park.

I hadn’t been to LA since I helped my brother Adam move there four years ago. Since then my oldest brother, Aaron, headed west as well with his wife and two children. I’ve been promising a visit for at least two years and this summer I finally made good. My original plan was to stay for ten days; that later extended to three weeks as I decided to take this opportunity to spend some time learning from and working with the Los Angeles Catholic Worker. The LACW has been living out the gospel with intensity and integrity for forty years (they celebrated their anniversary the week before I showed up). Those who comprise the community structure their days around performing works of mercy. These include feeding the poor, clothing the naked and giving shelter to the homeless.

Roughly twenty-five men and women reside at the LACW. Only eight of these are seasoned workers. The rest of the house is comprised of a handful of summer-interns--discerning whether this is a way of life that they can get behind—and “guests.” Some guests have lived in house for as long as or longer than some of the workers. All of them are men and women the workers met through the “Hippie Kitchen.” The heart of the LACW is this soup kitchen that beats out its life giving rhythm in downtown LA’s “skid row.” If you have never been to skid row it is a difficult place to imagine. I’ve lived in and visited major cities across the country—Orlando, Manhattan, Louisville, Nashville, San Francisco—never have I encountered homelessness and hunger like there is in downtown Los Angeles. Driving at night I saw blocks of sidewalks lined with tents, make-shift shanties of boxes and debris, church parking lots with bodies parked in every available space.

One of my favorite things from the five days I spent there was the picnic. Three weeks out of the summer, the LACW rents a bus, fills it with their friends who regularly eat at the Kitchen, and drives to a lovely lakeside park. The community prepares food early and is there to meet the bus load of skid row residents with chips and salsa and fruit. Grills are ignited and before long servers and those served share a meal, play Frisbee, take a stroll or simple rest in the grass beneath a shade tree. Here I had the opportunity to say more than “good morning” while quickly scooping salad onto a plate or sticking a spoon into a bowl of oatmeal. More importantly, I had the opportunity to listen, to hear the stories of my brothers and sisters who so readily welcomed me though I was a stranger.

The person who remains most present in my memory is a man who called himself “Black Jesus.” He took the name as a testament to his faith and a challenge to live an exemplary life. Black Jesus was sinewy and tall. He stood stopped and laughed soft and high like a little child. Thinking of him invariably brings to mind Jesus’ words recorded in the book of Matthew:

Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (KJV)

Before the day was over Black Jesus had a “spiritual name” to offer me and a poem to accompany it:

Unto your eyes;
Your spiritual name, is Heaven Hi.
You are a blessing unto this world,
you are a spiritual woman, within a spiritual girl.
May this poem bless you always with Jesus Holy Love,
Heaven Hi, got Jesus Blood.
Heaven Hi, is Jesus, satan is hel-lo;
Jesus is your foundation, unto your mind, body, and soul.
We are children of the living Jesus Christ,
look within, you will see Jesus mercy, grace and glory unto your life.

Black Jesus is one example of the many men and women who fellowship with the LACW on a regular basis and they are only a fraction of the millions of men and women throughout our country who experience homelessness and hardship and who are rejected by the mainstream. These are the least Jesus referred to when he said, “as much as you did to the least of these, you did it to me…and as much as you did not do it to the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Mat. 25:40). These are the face of Christ; thirsty, hungry, naked, homeless, [often] imprisoned. When we avert our eyes, or cross the street, it is Christ we turn from. When we wait for someone else to meet the need we find overwhelming or outside of our responsibility, it is Christ’s need we neglect. As a Catholic woman I am confronted with the responsibility to respond. What is required? Interacting with these men and women, I did not get the sense that their need would be satisfied by having the gospel preached to them. What was required for them, what is required from me, is that the gospel be practiced for them.

I met with many people and situations during my time in Los Angeles and Northern California that challenged my ideas of who I am and who I want to be. I think the greatest challenge though is engaging in the process of continually becoming a woman worthy of the friendships so readily offered to me, to be a woman with the humble audacity to take on the name “Jesus” with the understanding that doing so does not mean I will merely speak of him, but that I will be him; no matter where I am; no matter who I’m with.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Eyes to See

The other day I was sitting at the computer, inanely shuffling from one e-mail address to another, to an article absently read. In the midst of this I was gladly distracted by the presence of Isaac, the one-year-old I take care of, beside my chair. He was absorbed; picking up his toys, one at a time, from a basket in the corner next to me and carrying them across the room where he placed them in a new nest beneath a chair. Intrigued by his attentiveness to this task, I decided he was more worth watching than whatever was hovering behind the electronic screen I’d been dazed by.

I started thinking about watching and being watched. I had the sense that Isaac was aware of this new dynamic and found some satisfaction in it. This is something I have thought about before. This feeling that an act attains wholeness through observation. It is validated by being viewed. I began to recall times that I’ve felt this craving to be noted acutely.

When I was in college it felt like my mind was incessantly whirring with ideas. I was forever forming little theories, enacting conversations, examining feelings and ideas, histories and futures and sometimes simply wondering and being suffused almost to suffocation with the ineffability of being. I remember a particular moment of a particular day, sitting in the hall of a classroom building, waiting between classes, wondering with an anxiety that gnawed into me, if the unrecorded thoughts roaming my mind mattered at all. If these wonderings were never written, were they of any significance at all? Was this all a waste? I often felt wasted in those days.

When I lived in Kentucky, I wandered often and alone. There were many wild hills with looming trees that tangled their long arms together or reached right into the sky and large rocks that rose up from beds of fallen leaves that had been layering for years and years. In the early days even a trip over the small paved hill that separated our volunteer house from the mailbox at the entrance of the valley had an aspect of grandiosity to it. I remember one day moving my bare feet contentedly from the warm pavement to the cool grass, admiring the loveliness that enveloped me, I began to wonder if I was lovely and wished for a witness. At the time my heart was hungry for love and inclined toward Spirit, so I prayed; “do you see me? do you love me? do you think I’m beautiful?” What I saw in nature, what I felt in my body, what I heard in the whispering breeze, was a yes and a yes and a yes. That was enough for me then.

Why does being seen matter? A couple of months ago Chris Hedges spoke at the Catholic Worker Resistance Retreat. He referred to our culture of celebrity saying, “We try to see ourselves as a camera would see us…” This is in part because we have so internalized the message from film, and television and advertising that those most worthy of our attention and admiration are those whose beautiful image has been captured. We continue more and more to experience by viewing rather than by being and feel like what we do doesn’t matter if it is not being watched or recorded. Hedges follow this line to illustrate how human beings become commodities, how we move from production to consumption. This, he says, is “the ethic of unfettered capitalism.” This is the ghostly apparition of the innate need for acknowledgement.

The need (or desire? I lack the proper research to assert that it is an actual need, though I suspect that it may be an integral part of being human) to be known has existed long before twitter and YouTube and public access television let us all make celebrities of ourselves. It’s entwined in child development, spirituality and interpersonal relationships of any age. I wonder where this comes from and what it means. Where do the boundaries between truth and falsity, healthy and unhealthy fall?

I like to think that who I am is who I am, regardless of who happens to know or notice. At the same time, I know the truth is that I want to be known and noticed, even when I’m withdrawing, even when I’m resistant. I know that, as far as I am concerned, something gains significance only when it enters my realm of observation. When I can see, touch, taste, smell or hear a thing; then it matters to me. I do not and really cannot (can I?) care about an issue unless I’ve seen it, or heard or read about, or in some way experienced it. So, can I be of significance if I am not experienced by another? Does what I do or what I think matter if it is not made manifest in a realm of observation outside my own? And beyond me, what about you? What about a child in danger of being bombed by a drone missile in Afghanistan, an unpublished author in Alabama, a migrant in the desert, a contemplative in a monastery, a tree in a forest. Oh dear, I just made myself think of one of the old, universal questions, “If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one to hear it, does it make a sound?” I finally understand the weight of that common inquiry. My goodness, there really is nothing new under the sun. Yet, somehow every living thing is ever being made new. Paradox abounds. Can you see it?

Monday, July 5, 2010

America, Be Beautiful

“Perhaps we chose to come to this country, or it was our parents or grandparents, or even further back that family came here with hopes and dreams and determination. For others among us, being here is directly related to forbearers being brought here as slaves. For many of us there are a variety of situations and circumstances that have led us to where we are today. The best way we can acknowledge the freedoms that we enjoy is to work to assure that they will not be eroded for the generations that follow us. We also must be vigilant that these freedoms do not encroach upon the freedom of others. Without justice there is no freedom. Even as we give thanks for what we have, we realize we are part of a larger world where in many places there are people longing for the same freedoms that are ours. May we pray and work for the freedoms that recognize the dignity of all our sisters and brothers.” -Father Grassi, St. Gertrude’s Church (emphasis added)

I felt so grateful for Father Grassi’s words this Sunday, the 4th of July. It has been interesting experiencing the approach of this holiday surrounded by this beloved assortment of activists and anarchists who view it with such antipathy. Interesting, and at times frustrating. Ambivalence, I can understand. How can one take an honest look at all the blood that has been shed, and all the injustices committed in the name of the Nation, for the sake of “Freedom” and not feel the need for repentance and critique as well as thanksgiving and celebration? Yet, we are a people of great privilege. That word too though is one that, amongst those of us who desire to remove from ourselves the mantel of power, can be seen only in a negative light. We are people of privileges that ought to be acknowledged and celebrated because they are privileges that we would desire for all people. If we ignore these unmerited gifts, there is the risk that we may begin to think that we’ve earned them, that we deserve them and that those who don’t have them must not have earned them, must not deserve them. There is the risk that if we ignore them, we will obliviously swallow them in excess. Neither enjoying them nor sharing them, all while others are deprived, waiting, working, struggling.

Mass ended with “America the Beautiful” as our closing hymn. I felt the influence of the afore mentioned ambivalence creeping in as it was announced. “Really?” I thought, “this is what we want to end with?” While singing, I realized I’d never learned any lyrics beyond the first verse. Here is the second, for those who might be in the same boat as I:

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

Singing the first few lines I thought about how little most of with the legal label of “citizen” can relate to the struggle indicated here. How many of us bear the blisters and burns and calluses of “pilgrim feet?” How many are familiar with the wilderness? My mind immediately recalled images of the desert, that sun-scorched scape that blurs the boundaries between the United States and Mexico. I thought about the pilgrims I met there. I thought about the “stern impassioned stress” that drove them from their homes and families; that burdened them along their treacherous trek; and that enveloped them as they were branded “illegal,” put in cages, processed through courtrooms, shipped away to unfamiliar cities full of unfamiliar people and promptly forgotten by those who can cross borders with barely the flick of a passport because of where they were born.

I feel fortunate to amongst those born here. But that fortune weighs heavy. My mom has often said, “From those to whom much has been given, much is expected.” I’ve long felt the truth of this as an individual. I feel it now also as a resident of the United States.
“America! America (incidentally, when we use this word, do we forget that we are only North America? There are South and Central nations that share our name!)! God mend thine every flaw; confirm the soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Dorothy: A very short reflection

On facebook an option came up on the sidebar to "like" Dorothy Day, so I did. So silly, really, but I am glad for every reminder of her. Not because she was perfect, or because I want to be her (though, sometimes I think I do), but because I love the way that she loved. Her life reminds me of what is possible. I consider her witness and am uplifted and challenged to live beyond the enclosure of my Self, to open my arms to Christ, creation, community. Amen. Let it be so!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

First Impressions

I have been trying to make myself document an account of my time in Arizona with No More Deaths but continue to encounter the obstacle of my own resistance. I don’t know where this resistance is coming from and thus am unsure of how to overcome it. I am going to attempt circumnavigating it, following the first impressions that rise wherever they may lead.

From the vantage of the “twin peaks,” in the early evening, the Sonoran desert looks lovely; peaks and valleys clothed in soft brown fur; subtle shifting hues. I’d climbed the peaks with a small group of fellow campers—Becky, Larkin, Cat, Sarah, Christina—with the hope of catching an elevated view of the setting sun. It was with some reluctance that I made the hike having just bathed for the first time in several days. At camp we bath via the “sun shower,” a plastic bag with a hose attached that is hung from a mesquite tree. Privacy is provided by a blue tarp stretched taut, attached to two poles. The bather stands, or squats rather, on a bed of carefully placed large red rocks collected from the crumbly hillsides. To the left is a “toilet” (a plastic bucket with a toilet seat set over top) that is to be used for #2 only (you’re on your own for the rest). Straight ahead is a patch of brambles, the drop of a valley, the quick ascension of a hill that breaks into incessantly, brilliantly blue sky. Birds sing and flutter near. I am the Eve of Arizona, naked and unashamed.

I was glad to share this hilltop sunset with others content to be quiet, to be in their own moment, while still it is a moment shared. My heart felt close to the skin of my chest, beating quickly. Emotions fluttered and throbbed but I couldn't identify what they were, what they were telling me. The landscape seemed imperturbably perfect. I could walk around the small circumference of our perch and piece together a 360 degree view of the desert that I’d spent half a week driving and hiking and sleeping in. It occurred to me that somewhere between the mountain ranges that laced the horizon was the Chavez trail that I’d patrolled the day before.

Generally a patrol begins with a drive, twenty to thirty minutes on roughly carved dirt roads that connect ranches and barren land and lead us to water drops. After checking the drop and leaving more water if necessary, we continue on foot, carrying backpacks with food, medical supplies and more water. NMD volunteers have created regular areas where we leave large deposits of water, far enough from the road that it is not readily visible to ranchers and border patrol, close enough that we don’t have to walk far lugging gallon jugs of water. A water drop could have anywhere from fifteen to fifty gallons of water depending on how “active” a trail is. Active trails are those frequently traversed by migrants. Activity is gauged by how quickly our dropped water is consumed, how much evidence there is of people passing and whether or not any migrants have been encountered by volunteers as they patrolled the surrounding area. At times a drop can become dry within a matter of days. Other times not a gallon has moved. Sometimes the water jugs are slashed or crushed. This is something that I didn’t want to believe happened until I came across it myself. It’s hard to imagine what would motivate one person to destroy another person’s chance of survival, but it happens, often.

Summer days in the desert are always brutally hot, but on the Chavez trail I felt the oppression of the heat and the relentlessly present sun magnified. Here the mesquite trees grew low to the ground. The only plant life with any height were the leafless Ocotillos, spindly and prickly and providing no shade. The ground was treacherously rocky and seemed eager to role an ankle and bring a weary body to the red dust. Navigating this path I noticed an empty bottle of Electrolit. This is a Gatorade like drink. The bottles decompose quickly in the sun and are easily crushed under foot after a few hours of exposure. This bottle was fresh, resilient, evidence that not long before me, another was present. This was the closest to a migrant that I had felt all week. I did not encounter sojourners in the desert during my week but evidence of their presence was abundant. The land was littered with discarded sweatshirts, pants, underwear, hairspray, bags. I found a Spiderman backpack. A volunteer who was with me picked up a child’s shoe. The sole was worn off completely, in its place; the insole of an adult shoe had been sown. Someone else picked up a handmade book, colorful pages were blurred by the rain and the sun but there were remnants of drawings and soccer stats written on the pages. There are people out here. I knew this before but did not feel the truth of it then as I do now. There are grown men and women, little children, individuals together and alone. People on a journey with entire lives encased within their flesh, stories that intertwine with others—husbands, wives, sisters, brothers—stories that intertwine with me.

The setting sun slunk from subtlety to brilliance, bright orange embracing the elegant edges of lavender mountain ranges. During the day, I can hardly bear the desert or Arizona in general. The thought that people choose to live here bewilders me. But in the early morning and in the evening I am converted. “This is the most beautiful place,” I say to anyone who will listen. And it is, in that moment. Yet, it is composed of harsh cruel things: thorns, scorpions, rattlesnakes, dehydration, burns, inhumanity, injustice. Amongst those harsh cruel things though are delicate, enduring beauties: brightly colored flowers, breath-taking views, self-sacrifice, forgiveness, perseverance. The contradictions of the desert and the complications of immigration are like microcosms that illustrate the confounding juxtapositions of creation and destruction, helplessness and empowerment, of mercy and cruelty that comprise life on this earth. A sense of awareness settled over me. My feelings were ambivalent. I sat feeling quiet, whole, grieved, appreciative and hopeful.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

quick Doula update

Dear readers, I got an e-mail this morning from Sarah, the Doula I was going to be training with next month. She will not be able to to do the training at the time planned and rescheduling is not clear. I am still registered with a Doula network but am considering taking a some time to consider the track I want to follow before committing to another training (including considering a different trainer). That said, I am going to remove the donation gadget on this page and withdraw my request for support. This stage of the process (reading, talking to people, etc) requires very little financial investment and I don't want to collect funds for an unknown future workshop. Thanks so much to those who have already contributed, I will be refunding you, either through paypal or by sending a check.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Amy the Doula?

Hello dear readers, you may or may not have noticed the presence of a new gadget on the upper right hand side of my blog. I'm referring to that gold button inscribed with the dubious word, "donate." I feel a little foolish having it there and would like to explain the reasoning for it. The following is an excerpt from a letter I've composed for friends and family. If you have already received my "Where I am, Where I am going" letter, save yourself the trouble of reading any further!

June 21-28, Doula Training Workshop

Dona International describes a Doula as “a knowledgeable, experienced companion – who stays with them [mothers] through labor, birth and beyond” ( I’ve recently taken an interest in learning more about and possibly becoming a midwife. The first step for me is becoming a certified, practicing Doula. When I consider where this interest rose from and why, the rationale seems simultaneously obvious and vague. There are several reasons that this trade appeals to me and I will attempt to enumerate on a few here:

When I contemplate what I am most passionate about, what I value and would risk my safety and lay aside my comfort for, I think of Life. Granted, this is a rather broad. I have a friend who is a great admirer of Albert Schweitzer and through him I picked up Schweitzer’s oft used phrase, “reverence for life,” adopting it as a guiding principle for how I engage in encounters with people, animals and the earth. What a beautiful thing it would be to be trained in a practice that would allow me to be involved in what may be the most essential process of human life, for both a mother and child, to participate in birth!

I am motivated too by a frustration with the way that this natural, beautiful, process is often relegated to the realm of being a medical condition. Women are filtered through hospitals, treated as if they have an illness. I become frustrated too that despite pregnancy being so often relegated to the medical realm, there is still such a high rate of infant and maternal mortality. This is especially true of women who, whether because of income, culture or color, find themselves in marginalized social groups. My imagination wanders to a place where I have the training and the connections that allow me to be present for women who too often go without the assistance and empathy of someone trained to companion them through what would ideally be a joyful albeit challenging experience.

I am attracted to this field, also, because it is complementary to the lifestyle I find myself drawn to. Doula training, volunteering on the border, Catholicism; these are all facets that stem from and strengthen what is an ever deepening desire to live responsibly, with reverence for life, with great intentionality and care. Thanks to remarkable parents, and wonderful siblings, friends and relatives, I have always been well-loved and encouraged toward being loving. I am keenly aware that my experience of life has been an exceptionally blessed. For the past several years I have been trying to learn how best to act out of my gratitude. My time living and working in Kentucky did much to challenge and refine my thinking, particularly with regard to how I understand and respond to others, and to being mindful of the consequences of my choices which effect far more than just me. Living in Chicago has led to deeper paradigm shifts. It has also been a catalyst for my becoming more practical and intentional about implementing my convictions into the way I live life on a day to day basis. I have often described integrity as “honesty with legs.” I want to walk in alignment with what I say I believe is right and good. Namely, to practice what Jesus preached about giving food to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, visiting the sick and the prisoners—essentially, loving God and my neighbor--living in unity with those around me and sharing the burden of living in a broken world.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Clarification of Thought

May 14, 2010

This week I was stuck on the thought, “I can never be of service if I am not rooted.” Not a new thought for me, but an uncomfortably persistent one of late. It comes in company with the thought that if I pursue all my plans for the summer, I will have very little time here with my community. I may be off learning, collecting experiences, “doing good,” but what will I be building?

There is the thought of being in formation, and I believe that is a healthy and necessary thing. But what is the goal? Am I aiming towards it? Right now I am thinking it would have made a lot more sense to stick with interning at the LA CW than going to Africa. Dear God, lead me in my discernment. Please help me to not squander resources in seeking fulfillment. Please help me to not neglect the best in dividing my attention between various goods.

* * * * *
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends”
(Jn. 15:13).

For the first time, this saying of Jesus has struck me with a new depth, one that hits close to home. To lay down one’s life for one’s friends does no always mean to “take a bullet” on their behalf. To lay down one’s life can be a daily, lived sacrifice. To lay down the life you had planned, to lay down ambition, to lay down travel, to be present. Community is what is essential to demonstrate love.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.”

That someone puts all else aside and says, “I am going to be here for you.” The gospel reading from the Daily Office is John 15:12-17 and I just keep reading it over and over and though I don’t fully understand, my heart is pounding:

“You are my friends if you do what I command you…you did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide…these things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

You cannot bear fruit unless you are planted, least of all food that abides. How can you feed the hungry unless you bear fruit?

“These things I command you…”
“Greater love has no one that this, that someone lay down her life for her friends.”

As I consider these things, my thoughts keep turning toward Mary and Martha, toward the one thing…

“Martha was distracted with much serving…”
“’Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things but only one thing is necessary…” (Lk. 10:40-42)

I felt like crying when I read this.

I think the time is right for me to intentionally and intensively learn to live by my convictions; here and now. I am fresh in commitment to God and to the Church and to community. How do I live that with integrity? How do I enter into the depth of that? Not by lingering online, skimming the surface of relationships. Not by stuffing myself with news until I am too full to process any of it. Not by committing myself to such a variety of events that I am distracted from the one thing that is necessary.

* * * * *

I read an article that I friend has written in another Catholic Worker’s newsletter. It was one more thing today that stirred my heart. He wrote about the things he was renouncing and I was moved and convicted. So much of what he wrote resonated strongly, I have spoken these same renunciations and yet I look at my life and see little movement beyond the small ripple of words. Where is the lack? It is all in such remarkable harmony with a conversation I shared in a late night chat with two dear friends at Gino’s the other night. What are the things—material items, habits, relationship patterns--in life we desire to renounce and yet continue to hold on to?

Here are a few for me:

 overuse of the internet
 unhealthy food and over-eating
 working toward being pleasing more than toward being honest and understanding
 seeking entertainment more than relationship
 doing something halfway and then moving on to something else
 criticizing others (non-constructively)
 speaking before considering the meaning of my words
 listening politely instead of lovingly
 waiting to be told what to do
 avoiding intimacy where it is relevant and seeking it where it is not
 wanting new things

May 15, 2010

I just got back from “Haunted by God,” a one woman play about the life of Dorothy Day. Initially, I had some reservations about the way the actress was portraying Dorothy and a few of her life’s events. But I had to admire the courage and energy of her performance. It was good also to remember that my perception of Dorothy is not the only one. It was good too, over the course of two hours, to be afforded the opportunity to revisit my initial reading of the Long Loneliness and Krupa’s class. Funny too, I saw K. last night at the White Rose roundtable where we were discussing the Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker.

The actions and discussions of this week have been so remarkably complimentary. Even tonight’s dinner with L. seemed perfectly placed. We talked about our plans for the summer and for the third time today I spoke about Africa. I feel that each time I talk about it, I am coming closer to an understanding of what I want, closer to a sense of what seems right.

It would be inaccurate to say that I don’t want to go. I do want to go. What is more appropriate is to say, I don’t want to be gone. The four weeks I have planned for Arizona and Los Angeles are already so much time to be away.

I don’t know what my job will be or where I will be living, but I am feeling like I want to be here because this is where my home is. This is where I am learning to be grounded and “rooted in love.” Before I go off to serve, I want to know where I am coming from and what I am bringing to offer. What is significant about being here is not that I have found a place to live, but a Way. A way of Being: being awake, being compassionate, being in community, being of service, being genuine, being bold, being humble, being the Body of Christ.

Here I am, Lord.

* * * * *

It is a lovely thought to me that amidst all this existential sowing and reaping, I have been planting physical seeds in the physical earth. Larry used to say, talking the trees in his yard of which he was so proud, “to plant a tree is a declaration of hope.” I think the same can be said of planting a garden. I think along with that hope there is an indication too of faith, and of commitment, and—if the fruit the garden bears is to be nourishing—it is an act of love.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I was born. I was made alive.

April 21, 2010

Here I am, the utterly undeserving recipient of abundant love. I don’t say this as a sort of self-deprecation but as someone beloved to a degree that boggles the mind. I am on the receiving end of love that cannot be earned; it’s beyond measure. My cup overflows. Already. I felt it. The love of this Chicago community would be enough to be amazed by. But there is also the love of my family and of the friends who have stood with me for many years. Then there are those that I have never, or at best barely met, my long distance friends who continue to astound me with their affection and fidelity. Today, Laina absolutely astonished me. She has bought me a ticket to Orlando, Fl, roundtrip, April 29-May 4th. She coordinated it all on the sly, working things out with Anne and the fam. Sometimes it feels like too much. I was already feeling that way with all the affirmation, parties, presents and the presence I have been given for confirmation. When discussion arose as to what to do for my birthday I felt overwhelmed. Such an outpouring of love, I don’t know if I am a container adequate to hold it. I will let it spill over and continue flowing.

* * * * * * * *

Anne took me out for a delicious and embarrassingly expensive dinner and dessert at a sweet little French restaurant in Lincoln Square…One the way out to dinner Anne and I drove past a coffee shop called Julius Meinl. I had gone there once for a sort of interfaith discussion group that I’d found through an online network called “Meet-ups.” That was shortly after I moved here, during the time when I was persistently thrusting myself into situations where I might meet interesting people. I couldn’t figure out how to identify who I was trying to meet that day and wound up leaving without having made any connections, feeling frustrated and dejected, wondering if I would ever figure out how to make friends—how much has changed! Truly, God has been so gracious; granting me the courage to press through awkward situations and the disjointed early stages of relationship, guiding me into this incredible community.

Lying here in bed I was thinking how grateful I am for this day, for this condensed account of the wonderful people I’ve encountered and continued to be in relationship with through various places I’ve lived and stages of my life—Apopka, Winter Park, Mt. Vernon, Berea, Chicago (not to mention Keene and Graz, where I’ve never been!)—and I realized that beyond this day I am grateful for this life and overwhelmed by all the good that it has been filled with, all of the wonderful people and places and experiences. I am glad to be alive. I am glad for today and yesterday. I am glad for tomorrow. It feels good to say that. The feeling of love for life is not one that I’ve always had. One of my few regrets is that I’ve dwelled in so many days that I wished to be removed from, thinking that not being would be preferable to being who I was. I know that I am privileged, embarrassingly privileged. I will not respond to that knowledge with guilt but will give thanks and give back and, God willing, give forward.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Returning to the present--two recent entries, very closely related

April 12

Our community is fond of posing the question, “If I were not afraid I would…” I generally respond with well meaning ambiguity, something like, “If I were not afraid I would…love.” Yes, yes, very nice Amy. You’re sweet. Currently, I find myself in one of those rare moments when—though specifics still elude me—I have a clearer idea not only of what I would do, but also of what I am afraid of. So, without further ado:

If I were not afraid—

of the criticism of others
of being dependent
of being a disappointment
of making a mistake
of being rejected (or worse, tolerated)
of hurting or offending
of failing
of loving and living deeply—

I would—

become fully engaged in community
be less wasteful
embrace conviction
go to Arizona and spend at least a week with No More Deaths
write diligently and, Lord willing, truthfully
be willing to risk arrest and to risk more in general
talk more openly to friends and family about my feelings, questions and beliefs
joyfully pursue peace and service

April 16

I can’t stop thinking about the reflection exercise Annemarie facilitated at Kairos last night. She asked four questions, waiting after each one until we had an opportunity to respond before moving on to the next. It was a warm, soft-aired night. We were gathered on the porch of the ministry center, many of is in shorts or skirts. I was feeling sleepy from a day full of walks and sunshine, sharing space on a deep-cushioned couch with Claire and John. We split into groups of five or six.

The first question was something to the effect of, “What would you be willing to work your whole life for, to die for?” I was discomfited by my inability to think of an answer. “Life” was the vague response that surfaced. No wonder I am aimless, I thought, I have no great passion. Instead I tread amidst many small passions, each distracting me from the other and from s specific focus through which to channel my energy.

I listened to others in the group: Katie on education, bridging the gaps of unknowing between cultures; John on service and placing the same value on all people; Rachel on non-violence and on end to war; Claire on purity, against violation and all the contributing factors. I caught fragments from the other group as well, Luke finding Jesus in the face of prisoners, and Meg empathic concern for those who suffer from poverty. The most tangible thing I was able to latch onto was waste; particularly food waste.

I had watched Dive earlier this week and it brought back to me much of what I had been studying last year about food and the far reaching effects of our choices about what and how we eat. It is something that consistently stirs me up, grieves me, moves me to want to act. There is where I stop, not knowing what to do, afraid to try. There is so much injustice, ignorance, irresponsibility dishonor, cruel carelessness and even hate (albeit often inadvertent) in waste. I see this as very much tied in with sexuality—its abuse and misuse—service with and for others, violence, lack of education, poverty, spirituality and many other things. It’s a web from which no one strand can be extricated. I see waste, and all these things, essentially as both symptoms of a reverence for life, or the lack thereof. Though I frequently fail to live it with integrity, such reverence is a driving force in formulating how I want to behave and who I want to become. Life, of the capital L variety, is what I live and die for. However, it is difficult to hit the mark when you don’t know where you are aiming.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

remembering Lent, part 1

This is going to get a bit long. I have been wanting to update this blog for quite sometime, preferably taking the time to elaborate on the many under-developed thoughts meandering about within. For tonight though I have decided to revisit selections from my journal entries from the season of Lent. Partly as a reminder to myself, and partly as an opportunity to share with anyone who might be reading.

February 16

What mysterious beauty shimmers within undisturbed snow set aglow by street lamps. Remarkable beauty. Patches of hallowed ground finged by fences or rumpled clumps of snow that have been shoveled from the sidewalk and trodden on by children, by dogs (who leave their yellow mark) and, when no one is looking, by me.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and I am glad for it. Lent is such a gift…

February 18

Why the Catholic Church and not just “Christianity”? Because the Catholic Church is where, in my lonely wandering, I found myself confronted by the presence of Christ.

February 22

Since I’ve all but decided to not be confirmed, I feel the homeless loneliness creeping back up. I also have a renewed interest in an international adventure—why not? What else have I got to do? Money is a continual obstacle and also the inclination I have to be called to a place and not just to choose it randomly. I did recently begin to re-acknowledge my long harbored desire to work with orphans…I also do want to learn more about food, health and agriculture and as long as I’m listing things I’d like to learn sign language too.

“Only goodness and steadfast love shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall return to dwell in the house of the Lord
forever” (Ps. 23:6, ESV alt. trans.)

“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9)

(Where did we get all of these other trappings from?)

February 25

The morning sun is shining powerfully through my window, magnified by a fresh layer of snow. I can breath through my nose and swallow without wincing. This day is off to a good start. When I wok up—after many false starts—I felt such a sweet wave of gratitude. I was almost washed away by it when I drew back the curtain.

Last night, I feel asleep with my head full of thoughts of India. My dreams though were of the Music Man. First watching it with the family, then, somehow living. And just before I woke, I was traveling. Where I was travelling I am not sure…

February 26

Oh Chicago, how I love you! More specifically, White Rose Catholic Worker and the extended community that you draw, how I love you! I was trying to think of what the feeling is that I have when coming back to the apartment after these gatherings. the best I could think to say to myself is, “I feel like a person.” I know of course that is what I always am. Here though, I am Amy. When in Florida, I am a Nee. When in Kentucky, a part of CAP. I am Amy here; this woman, equally aimless, bent, confused, delighted, alive, but more than ever me. Part of me wants so much to just pick up and leave while I still have a good reason to. Another part of me thinks that could be the worst mistake of my life.

February 28

Anne and I watched Meet Me in St. Louis last night. The movie is good, in part because it is wonderfully simple, yet you get the sense that the characters are experiencing this simplicity with full feeling and drama, just as we do when we are awake to our lives…I watched the sweet and clumsy relationship between Judy Garland’s character, Esther, and the boy next door with delighted amusement and also with some sadness. they were so young and fresh and they believed so strongly in the significance of their emotion…

I propped myself in bed with every intention of meditation or praying, of listening to God’s take. Instead, I remembered. I became submerged in Kentucky, revisiting scenes I didn’t know I had stored—my CAP car breaking down after a home visit in Crab Orchard, those visits—the mischievous smiling face of the little boy and the tired, negative apathy of his mom—the Vineyard, making shish-ka-bobs at Z & T’s, night at the playground with T when we found a wallet and I learned he knew AW, living in Janet’s spare room, moving into the “hotty house,” walking over Cardiac Hill for the first time as a volunteer and then daily as a Healing Rain employee; the faces and voices of people I worked with from every program and the scenes we shared; Disaster Relief in New York and calling T, writing him letters I never sent; so many memories and so emotively and visually vivid. I can’t describe how I felt at receiving this flow of recollection. The sad and the happy alike were so sweet to me. I felt wonderfully grateful. Returning, slowly and gently to the present, the thought occurred to me: I have been praying. These memories are my prayer. God’s presence and mine…

Dear, Adoring Mystery, where are you leading me?

March 2

Notes from today’s reading (Is. 1:10, 16-20):

 “Cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widows cause”

It is right to focus on these things—God has been commanding it as long as there have been people to hear; perhaps even longer.

 “If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be eaten by the sword…”

And so it is with us. We are being devoured and devouring.

 I am feeling this morning that the one constant thing is Christ’s presence.
 Sometimes I feel as though all of life is just a lesson in love
 What a strange mix of being comfortable and at home whil simultaneously longing for the hills I feel.

March 5

Why are you so gracious to me, my Lord? Goodness and mercy have indeed followed me, all the days of my life.

Kentucky is where I began to wake up to the world beyond me. Chicago is where I have begun to wake up to my place in that world.

Last night I prayed for God to guide me, with no ambiguous messages, to where he would have me go. In the mean time, I commit to be faithful to those things I have already invested in for the sake of growing closer to God.

March 7

The following is something I wrote on the back of an envelope (as I continued to procrastinate from writing the LACW application letter):

“It’s time. It’s time to take my place…

I want to become a midwife and I want to walk through the birthing process alongside those fourteen year old girls who are still children themselves, children whose role as mother was not chosen by, but for them.

I have spent so many years being fed and taught and cared for—it is time for me to give food and to teach; it is time for me to actively care.”

I don’t know anything about being a midwife or becoming involved in a program that would give me this opportunity—I don’t know if it is what is best or if it is just another fixation. I know that it’s high time I get my hands dirty and put legs on all these words about love.

Lord, let you will be done, and please, God, make it obvious!

…I am feeling a bit emotional now. this is in part because I am weary from the weekend. I think it is also because I feel certain a change is close at hand. Change means loss, but opportunity too. And so, I am full of sadness, gratitude, and hopeful anticipation….

An Eaters Prayer:

Creator of Life,
we know that this food came to be through great labor,
of earth and of men and of women.
We know that it is a privilege for us to receive it.
Thank you.

As I am typing these things out I realize that my journal is almost half full and that we've only been out of Lent for a couple of weeks. I may have to be more selective in what I choose to include!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

an end and a beginning

The completion of a journal always seems as momentous thing to me, as does the act of first marking the blank pages of a fresh one. Both of these events occurred this weekend.

Feb. 12, 2010
I read Simone Weil on the train during the long ride to the Loop. The other books that I’m in the midst of meandering through are either too big or require too much concentration. Weil’s, Waiting for God, a light paperback broken conveniently into letters and essays, is a book that often rises to mind but since I left Florida has been out of reach, boxed amongst a motley assortment of other texts in my parent’s attic. When I was home for Christmas I was determined to remember to bring it back with me, and I did. She has been sitting on my shelf ever since. That is, until I read C.S. Lewis’, That Hideous Strengt,h and the prevailing theme of obedience put me in mind of something that Weil had said on the subject, something about the preeminence of obedience. Happily, I hit upon it (and something very similar in sentiment from Bonheoffer in his Letters from Prison), dog-eared and underlined. Weil, in fact, had many things to say on the subject. It was the driving force of her life. In a letter to Fr. Perrin, her great friend and Catholic advocate, she writes; “If it were conceivable that in obeying God one should bring about one’s own damnation while in disobeying him one might be saved, I should still choose the way of obedience.”

Her firm adherence to duty did not attach her to the Church, however, quite the contrary. I had remembered her writing something of this and found where she detailed her reasoning in letters to Fr. Perrin. This is what I was reading on the train. I did not find answers to my questions about religion and vocation amongst Weil’s letters. She did not have answers even for herself. What I did find is that I have been asking the wrong question. I have been asking, “Should I become Catholic?” A more helpful question is, “Where does love for God lead me?”

“We have to abandon ourselves to the pressure, to run to the exact spot whither it impels us and not go one step farther…whatever stage we may have reached, we must do nothing more than we are irresistibly impelled to do, not even in the way of goodness…”

“I think that with very important things we do not overcome our obstacles. We look at them fixedly for as long as is necessary until, if they are dues to the power of illusion, they disappear…”

-Simone Weil

Incidentally…this journal has come to an end. All things must. In closing, some words from Merton that I read today:

“Be anything you like, be madmen, drunks, and bastards of ever shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success…What I am saying is this: the score is not what matters. Life does not have to be regarded as a game in which scores are kept and somebody wins. If you are too intent on winning, you will never enjoy playing. If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live. If you have learned only how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted…”

-Thomas Merton, from “Learning to Live”

Feb. 14, 2010
A new journal feels like a fresh start. That first page is like the first day you wake up and feel with all your senses in a way you cannot explain to anyone, even yourself, that a new season has begun (I find that I experience this most with the dawn of Autumn).

I am sitting at Ennui, my new favorite coffee house. I have finished a long letter and in the process of writing it unmasked a set of feelings that have for the past month been parading through my mind wearing an assortment of costumes that ranged from the clever to the absurd. Their unveiling occurred in the midst of a rather intense and seemingly unrelated RCIA session. Sweet epiphany.

After finishing the letter, which also contained some vague references to my “values” and “aspirations,” I breathed a deep sigh of release and rose for a refill. I returned with fresh coffee and a question: “What are my values and aspirations?” My response was not a detailed, specific list but a root source from which a number of varied articulations might rise with equal relevance. I found a blank space amidst my notes and handouts and scribbled out the following:

How I begin to define my primary values in life—my view of what it means to be alive:

To receive/pursue/develop relationship with God, believing God is Love and that through this relationship I become a conduit of love, delivering it to the world; directing that love toward all living things; making every choice out of the context of an abiding sense of personal responsibility and reverence for life; sustained by a sense of hope that this God is indeed Love/Truth and at work; enlivened by a sense of wonder and delight at the gift of being able to perceive Beauty and Mystery and to share in them.

The original ended, actually, with the phrase “reverence for life,” but the remainder requested that it might be included as I wrote. I failed to include that the hope is so vital in light of the formidable weight that can accompany an acceptance of responsibility and the ability to perceive not only what is Beauty and Mystery but also what is Broken and Ugly. These last at times appearing to be the most prevalent and powerful. So hope; yes and also trust.

“Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose hope is in the Lord.
He is like a tree planted beside the waters
that stretches out its roots to the stream:
it fears not the heat when it comes;
its leaves stay green;
in the year of drought it shows no distress,
but still bears fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:6-8