Monday, February 27, 2012

teach us to sit still

I am not a still person. I think anyone who even casually observes me can see this: my leg jiggles, or my fingers tap, or my whole body rocks (sometimes to a tune that's only inside of my head). When I'm sitting in a group, I feel sorry for the people sitting next to me, because if my leg wiggles, the entire bench or row does as well.

My mind is much the same as my body: constantly in motion. It jumps from one point to the next, one moment to the next, without much regard for what I want it to do (ADD runs in my family; I was once told that I "lean" toward ADD without actually being it). My thoughts are sort of like a roller coaster, or perhaps a leaping animal is a better analogy. It's why, I think, that writing is good for me, because it forces me to stay on track.

And it's also the reason that Lent is a hard liturgical season for me. By its nature, Lent wants us to "sit still," as Eliot puts it, to contemplate. And as much as I want to be contemplative, I'm much more inclined to want to act. I'd never be a good Benedictine.

On Ash Wednesday, when the priest puts the ashes on your forehead, he says one of two things: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return," or "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel." And those both interest me, because one could argue that the first is contemplative (remember) and the other is active (turn, be faithful). And perhaps it points to the fact that both contemplation and action are necessary for faith. And while I think Lent is more contemplative, more about remembering and thinking and, well, repenting, than anything else, I also think that contemplation and action aren't really that dichotomous. We can't have Mary without Martha, after all; otherwise, we'd starve.

On a practical level, contemplation is hard. On a daily basis, I'm distracted by a number of things: work, food, friends, family, exercise, books, whether I need to do the dishes, whether I'm going to get over this damn writer's block. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. They're all important things, obviously. But sometimes, sometimes, I need to sit still. And that is hard.

I have taken, in the past years, not to praying in my own words, mainly because my thoughts are disjointed and kind of broken up. As Anne Lamott says, there are only two types of prayers: help me, help me, help me and thank you, thank you, thank you. I often pray this well-known one:

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.

At Sacred Heart in Camden, during Lent, we'd sing Julian of Norwich in response to the prayers and intercessions: all shall be well, and all shall be well; all manner of thing shall be well. I repeat that often to myself, sometimes in prayer, sometimes just to remind myself that this is not the end of the world.

all shall be well.

For a more theological, and a much less disjointed, look at Lent, ya'll should head over to my friend Rebecca's blog and check out her post on Ash Wednesday.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

and let my cry come unto Thee.

Because I am predictable:

Ash Wednesday
T.S. Eliot

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is
nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to sateity
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.


At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitful face of hope and of despair.

At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jaggèd, like an old man's mouth drivelling, beyond
Or the toothed gullet of an agèd shark.

At the first turning of the third stair
Was a slotted window bellied like the figs's fruit
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
Lilac and brown hair;
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind
over the third stair,
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
Climbing the third stair.

Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy

but speak the word only.

Who walked between the violet and the violet
Whe walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary's colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the

Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary's colour,
Sovegna vos

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking,

White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.

The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but
spoke no word

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny
the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season,
time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.

O my people.

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

For a man-machine toil-tired may crave beauty too

Joy in the Woods

There is joy in the woods just now,
       The leaves are whispers of song,
And the birds make mirth on the bough
       And music the whole day long,
And God! to dwell in the town
       In these springlike summer days,
On my brow an unfading frown
       And hate in my heart always—

A machine out of gear, aye, tired,
Yet forced to go on—for I’m hired.

Just forced to go on through fear,
       For every day I must eat
And find ugly clothes to wear,
       And bad shoes to hurt my feet
And a shelter for work-drugged sleep!
       A mere drudge! but what can one do?
A man that’s a man cannot weep!
       Suicide? A quitter? Oh, no!

But a slave should never grow tired,
Whom the masters have kindly hired.

But oh! for the woods, the flowers
       Of natural, sweet perfume,
The heartening, summer showers
       And the smiling shrubs in bloom,
Dust-free, dew-tinted at morn,
       The fresh and life-giving air,
The billowing waves of corn
       And the birds’ notes rich and clear:—

For a man-machine toil-tired
May crave beauty too—though he’s hired.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

It is that truth of you which must be loved.

Valentine's Day and Poetry Tuesday collide! Watch the universe EXPLODE FROM COINCIDENCE!

I'm a cynic about romance, but I believe in love. My parents, for example, have stuck together for (almost) 31 years, surviving three kids, a move to New England, my turbulent teenage years, my turbulent college years, two foster kids, and lot more. And you know what? They still love each other. Crazy but true.

So, as it is appropriate, a love poem:

Antoine de Saint-Expury

Love does not consist in gazing at one another
But in looking outward together in the same direction.
Do not seek perfection in each other.
Do not seek to make the other into your own image,
or to remake yourself into another's image.
What each most truly is will be known by the other.
It is that truth of you which must be loved.
Many things will change, but change is not the enemy of love.
Change is the enemy only of any attempt to possess.
May all that is good and true and beautiful
abide with you now and always.

And have some Over the Rhine, too, because listening to OtR makes me want to fall in love.


Monday, February 13, 2012

I'm lonesome as a lonesome whippoorwill

Curing the Monday blues with some Be Good Tanyas:

That's it.

Also, this is my 100th post. *claps*

Thursday, February 9, 2012

a child said, what is the grass?

Quick thoughts on books:

The Magicians, Lev Grossman
From the reviews that I've read, people seem to either love or hate this book. Most of this has to do with the main character, Quentin Coldwater, who is "brilliant but miserable." Billed as "Harry Potter for adults"--which makes me wonder if the marketing people read the last couple in the series--The Magicians follows Quentin as he discovers that the world is indeed magical.

To me, the most interesting thing about this book is that it's so obviously self-aware. Fillory, the fictional world (that turns out to be not-so-fictional), is based on Narnia. And Grossman knows his Narnia. As someone who's well-versed in Narnia, it was at once fun and frustrating to see this--fun because, well, picking out allusions, yay! and frustrating because it kept yanking me out of the story. There are actually so many allusions, to all sorts of things, that Grossman actually lists them here.

I remember being Quentin's age--the book spans his 18-21 years--and I think Grossman captures  "brilliant but miserable" well (not that I'm brilliant, but I was miserable for a while). The problem with this was that Quentin and his peers are often insufferable, unlikable characters. Alice was my favorite, and even though she proves to be absolutely bad-ass in the end, there were times I wanted to shake her.

I may pick up the sequel, The Magician King.

ETA: Also, from Better Book Titles (don't click if you mind swearing).

Stone's Fall, Iain Pears

A man falls out of a window in 1909, and a mystery ensues.

This is a book about espionage and the British financial world in the mid-1800s to early 1900s (and a lot of other things as well). When I asked for book recommendations on Facebook, someone suggested this one, which I probably wouldn't have picked up on my own.

It's an interesting read. There are three parts, which go backward in time from 1909 to 1890 to 1867. The heart of the first section is John Stone's fall from a window and the mystery around it. In his will, Stone leaves money to his child--except that Stone and his widow, Elizabeth, never had children. Matthew Braddock, a journalist for a London newspaper, is hired by Elizabeth to find the child.

Seems simple, hmm? Not so much. The book then opens up into the sometimes-seedy side of Stone's life and his work as a financier and arms dealer. One review of Stone's Fall compares it to the Russian dolls. It's got a twist ending, which some may find shocking and others may find too gimmicky.

Right now, I'm in the middle of Zadie Smith's White Teeth and Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore. So more later.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

we are out of tune

Things of interest:

1. Look, ma, I wrote something!

2. It's Charles Dickens' 200th birthday! Everyone CELEBRATE! And have a dramatic reading of A Tale of Two Cities or something.

3. Have a classic:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God!  I'd rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

4. Things I've been reading:

At the slacktivist: Poor Women's Health as a Political Bargaining Chip
I was desperately uncomfortable at Mass on Sunday when they read the bishops' lettter, and the article that Fred Clark posted an excerpt of touches on (part of) what I felt:
I see being pro-life across the board and consistently as the defining characteristic of a pro-life Catholic.  And so as a pro-life Catholic, I find it incomprehensible--I find it outrageous and shameful--that my church's leaders are willing to ally themselves with political leaders whose goals are in no sense at all pro-life, except that these political leaders continue to promise to outlaw abortion if they're elected.  (But they haven't done so when elected and given a chance to move in that direction.)
I don't know what I'd call myself in terms of the pro-life/pro-choice debate. Probably somewhere in the middle--a hard place to be when the rhetoric on both sides seems so...vitriolic. But if you're going to talk to me about being "pro-life," I'm going to say this: okay, so are you willing to support programs for single parents and families who are struggling? Are you going to stand up and "this is wrong" when they cut funding for social services programs? And, hey, by the way, are you anti-death penalty?

(Sometimes, in my very bad moods, I'm tempted to move to a cabin in the woods. I hate politics.)