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Apophatia V

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The Church of the Poor and Changing Discipline

I did not see anyone mention that Pope Francis’ apparent openness to a change of discipline regarding communion for the divorced and civilly remarried might just have something to do with his repeated call for the Church to be a Church of and for the poor.

Capitalism is hostile to family and community life, and poverty makes marital stability highly problematic. The poor tend to have messy personal lives. And of course they cannot afford the annulment process, which almost everywhere costs money. Their lives would not be easy to untangle at any rate.

If we really are to be a Church of the poor it seems evident that traditional discipline works against that. Seeing the good in other kinds of human unions and trying to integrate people into sacramental life seems a step in the right direction.

Polemics

Doctrinal disputations are really about who misunderstands ‘God’ the most.

The Apophats

The better sort of atheist is really an apophatic mystic, one who refuses to name or explain the Great Mystery.

One of these is my friend Mary, who was a sixteen year old stoned runaway when I met her and is now a professor of economics. She would say she is an atheist, as she finds any explanation of the Absolute too puny. She is a mountain climber and is so in awe of even the beauty and majesty of what she can sense that she cannot understand trying to label mysteries beyond perception. She said that the reason for my baby’s burn was ‘gravity’, and I have been meditating on the wisdom of this observation ever since.

The Other Kind…

… of atheist, though, is more like a fourteen year old, full of their foolish wisdom, popping the easy balloons of primitive faith and superstition. At their best, even they serve a purpose in taking down the tiny idols and human constructs that too many believers present as ‘God’.

Such As…

… the sadistic monster that Jean Calvin called ‘God’.

Besides that evil, Calvin also perpetuated the notion that human nature is ‘totally depraved’, incapable of any good or any love until touched by ‘God’s’ (irresistible) grace. Apparently he never held a baby, or if he did he viewed the child with corrupt eyes. A baby is human nature in its pure state, before it has been tainted with all the trauma and imperfection of the world into which it is born.

And babies are sweet, every one of them. Utterly needy, to be sure, but sweet.

And that is what human nature is: sweet but needy.

 

Painting by Andy Hahn

After the Fire

leaves

October

I love spring and fall, the times when the world is being transfigured, when every day brings something new. Of course there is change in the summer. New flowers bloom, the green leaves gradually loose their bright freshness. But most of the late summer flowers, aside from the sunflowers and the hibiscus, seem unenthused compared to the riotous and urgent burst of life that is spring.

But the fall is its own beauty, this transformation in jeweled leaf and golden field.

I only wish it lasted longer. Even now, barely approaching peak color, I mourn the undressing of trees, the coming winter.

Soon it will be after the fire, when the colors change from the reds and golds and oranges to blue and grey and black.

And white.

Though I am ready. I am ready.

Who is Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig?

She came out of nowhere and suddenly is everywhere: print magazines, websites, Facebook, and though I do not twit or whatever, Twitter.

I mean there is a Bruderhof family on my mail route and they gave me a copy of that Anabaptist community’s recently revived journal Plough. Pretty obscure, right? But I open it up to a book review by Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig.

Who is Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig?

elizabethShe is all of 23, diminutive in height but not in spirit. Master’s Degree in Christian Theology from Cambridge, studying for a doctorate at Brown. Texan, descended from Confederates and Kluxers. She is really really smart and a damn good writer.

And an unapologetic Catholic leftist.

But this is not your mother’s Catholic Leftism. I doubt one would find Ms Stoker Bruenig banging the tambourine at a hootenanny Mass or agitating for women priests. She is comfortable in her faith, which includes the radical implications of Catholic social doctrine.

And she hates Capitalism.

In every photo of her she is wearing a mischievous smile. She really does enjoy tormenting libertarians and Actonites. And she is so good at it.

I have long been heartened by the realization that younger Catholics – and I am old enough that ‘younger’ means fortyish and younger- seem more open to a radical reading of Church social teaching, and are way more critical of the Acton/Novak narrative.

There are a lot of new voices, but Ms Liz is one to watch. I expect great things from this young woman.

Though how she finds time for all she does is a mystery.

If you do not, for some odd reason, know her, begin at her blog:

http://elizabethstokerbruenig.com/

Speaking of Plough

logoenglish

When I edited the print journal Caelum et Terra, the remote ancestor of this blog, I had subscription swaps with various other journals. These were mostly Catholic, but also included the late tradtionalist Quaker journal Plain, as well as Plough, the journal of the Bruderhof Community.

The Bruderhof are descended from a remarkable group of German anabaptists, a sort of outgrowth of the German youth movement of the post-World War I age. Persecuted by the Nazis, they fled to Paraguay, then North America, for a while joining the Hutterians, another German anabaptist communal group.

That did not go so well. Think the dynamics of the influx of zealous evangelicals into Orthodoxy.

Or if a bunch of hippies joined the Amish.

What drew me to them is their intense belief that Jesus gave us clear instructions for living in Heaven, right now, in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere. Their founder Eberhardt Arnold’s remarkable reflections and actions built a community that has survived many disasters and continues to prosper and thrive.

Exceptional, especially when you realize that the Apostolic experiment in communism did not last all that long. And while I am not an Anabaptist and am a firm believer in baptizing, chrismating, and communing babies, in these days any witness for living a life that takes Jesus at his word is part of the broad ecumenism of Love that is emerging beyond confessional boundaries.

Plough was not in print for many years, but the community is again publishing a print journal. It is lovely to look at and full of substantive reflections on life in Christ. And it is affordable at $14 a year.

Check it out here:http://www.plough.com/en/quarterly

The Ironic Synod

Wedding-at-Cana-of-Galilee

I call it The Ironic Synod.

The main question before the Synod of Bishops is whether to admit the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion, when in fact this is already allowed, so long as the fees are paid and the right hoops all jumped through. It is called ‘annulment’.

Right now in this country anyone can get an annulment.  Everyone knows this. The ‘new’ psychological criteria for judging one’s ability to contract marriage are so flexible as to be meaningless. It appears that if one is not completely psychologically integrated, at least in the illuminative way spiritually, and a love god or goddess in bed, his or her marriage is disposable.

Which is not to say that annulments are not sometimes entirely valid. I know of a marriage where the groom slept with a bridesmaid the night before the wedding. Clearly his vows were meaningless. And I know many other instances of invalid ‘marriages’.

But I also know too many cases of scandalous, if canonically correct, annulments.

To the point that no marriage feels safe. My own marriage, like many, had very rough spots early on. It would be an open and shut case, an easy annulment. I would not, could not do it, could not live with myself if I did, but if I chose to abandon the whole nearly two decades of growing and struggling and loving and enduring with my bride, of lovemaking and fighting and childbirth and pain and joy, to embark on some new romantic adventure the Catholic Church would give me no grief.

Oh yeah, they have the convoluted theology, but in the end would give me no grief.

So a Church which has so undermined, maybe not Marriage as an abstract thing, but actual marriages, which will allow a church wedding for a couple even though they were adulterous lovers, which will celebrate a third church wedding so long as all the documents have been approved, which will wed two people who had previously been married to two other people in their small parish, is going to save marriage and the family?

It is a whole new world, and the Church needs to find a way of approaching it. The Christian sexual ethos has been widely rejected, and it is not hard to understand why. It has not done what it said it was going to do. Serious Christians are at least as confused about sexuality as anyone else, arguably more so, or at least confused in really strange ways. Their marriages are at least as prone to divorce. Which is not to say that they do not intuit some very central truths which evade the merely sensual.

In this changed world there are many people who are innocent victims of divorce. Sometimes they are denied communion because they, in keeping with the first thing revealed about human nature, that it ‘is not good for Man to be alone’,  have sought the singular solace of human love. Meanwhile, a scheming moral weasel can get hitched to his new sweetie in a big Catholic wedding while abandoning his family with full Church approval.

If you are a famous millionaire politician, a bishop will say the Mass.

And annulments, which cost money, are by definition out of reach for the poor, whose numbers are growing.

But I have an idea.

Pope Francis is about nothing if not recalling us all to the encounter with Jesus, with embracing the simple gospel of Love. Francis is someone who believes that the Sermon on the Mount is not just beautiful poetry but marching orders, instructions for bringing Heaven into our hearts and our world.

So if we judge no one, love everyone, forgive everyone, have mercy on everyone, assume in charity the best of everyone, if we live as if Jesus meant what he said, how do we approach the new state of things?

I think there is a model for a response.

Since 1968 every poll has shown that most Catholics ignore the Church’s teaching on birth control. Very few observe it, and those few who do have formed a subculture that is not any less screwed up about sex and has no better record on divorce than the general population. As a hick philosopher, a non-academic, I don’t have to supply documentation for this claim. Actually, I do not think the studies have been done. What I do know is what I have seen and experienced with 35 years of pretty intensive living in the heart and at the margins of that subculture.

But faced with evidence of widespread disregard for its teaching, how has the Church responded?

With non-judgmental silence.

I am not saying that clerics did this to imitate Christ. Often it was just embarrassment at the situation, or the heartbreaking stories they hear in the confessional, or maybe concern about the collection plate. But I have never ever heard from the pulpit that married people who were not acting in accord with Church precepts about sex should refrain from receiving communion.

Shit, most bishops will not refuse the Eucharist to a politician who promotes abortion, or torture, or a belligerent foreign policy, or what amounts to war on the poor.

No one stops the couple who has been married fifteen years with two kids in the communion line to interrogate them. It is, in practice, left to the individual conscience and the confessional.

Why not adopt the same attitude toward couples whose first marriage failed? The Church need not revise its doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage to extend mercy to those in irregular situations. God has always condescended to human weakness. Look at the Old Testament, which allowed easy divorce, polygamy, and concubines. Yes, as Christ said, it was because of their hardness of heart. But those whose marriages have failed do not always, in fact rarely,  have hard hearts. They have broken hearts. Unless they are provoking scandal there is no need to intervene.

In fact marriage is so intimate, so incomprehensible to anyone outside the circle of two, that it is hard to see how anyone can ‘objectively’ discern much about the reality of that mystery or unravel why it fails when it does. Any conclusions must be tentative.

This same nonjudgmental silence should apply to same sex companions. Just as one may not assume that any given wedded couple is contracepting, regardless of the polls, no one should assume that companions of the same gender are doing anything immoral unless they are calling attention to it. Recognizing that isolation causes great pain and temptation, persons with same sex attraction ought to be encouraged to be in affective and committed companionship. And treated with mercy if that companionship and affection leads to physically intimacy, surely the least of sins.

Let the annulment process remain for those clear instances of bad intent, impotence, rejection of children and the like. You know, the more ancient criteria for annulment. Ditch the psychological criteria. Adherence to the psychology establishment has a lot to do with the abuse scandal: men were returned to ministry time and again, with the assurance of the psychologist that they were healed. Not that it explains it all; there is plenty of just plain old clericalism to blame as well. But many well-meaning bishops put aside their reservations in light of ‘expert’ opinion. And many of us have seen bizarre instances of zealous Catholic couples, near thirty when married, begetting umpteem kids, involved in various apostolates and intentional communities, suddenly declared incompetent at the time of their wedding, free to start over.

Perhaps the Church should examine whether, as in Orthodox praxis, second, non-sacramental unions could be approved for those shipwrecked by failed unions. After all, the Church has never said that non-sacramental unions are evil. They are good things, even if lacking a certain higher dimension.

And in the infinite Mercy of God, who knows where nature ends and grace begins?

 

 

jaison cianelli

 

After

 

after the baby was burned

 

hot tea

scalding fresh flesh

the call from the hospital

the panic

the deep breathing

trying to calm the fears

the breaking voice

 

twelve days

in the burn unit

 

my happy baby

who has suffered so much

in his one year

 

the big baby turning purple

unable to pass my bride’s

small hips

 

the nurses panicking

 

the baby two weeks old

burning up

the poke and prod

the iv

the spinal tap

 

and now

still smiling weakly

 

when he comes home

there is the sudden leak

in the bathroom pipes

which is going to cost

more than we have

or can cough up

our cards maxed

plus it’s the weekend

so even if we can find a plumber

who has a plan

or a high interest loan

from the bankers

we have two more days

with no running water

and people who need to drink

and poop

and shower

 

and i

the father

 

the father

 

once again

torn between

despair and rage

and love

 

i leave

 

to drop my maria

who is eleventeen

at the tribal rites

because she

is part of a mob flash

or something

at halftime

 

she talks

all the way to the game

 

but so preoccupied with grief

over the baby

and the plumbing apocalypse

and the fight with the eldest son

i do not make plans

for picking her up

 

she is so happy

and alive

and beautiful

 

i just forgot

 

i watch her walk off

into the crowd

of strangers

me basking in her fire

 

not thinking

 

driving away i realize

i am

the stupidest father ever

 

i figure she is with her friends

she will use their phones

to call

or she will see her brother

and he will take her home

 

at ten thirty

when the phone does not ring and does not ring

fighting the angst

the stupidest father ever

drives to the stadium

big enough to hold the whole town

in this football crazy place

there are thousands of people

heading out

 

hundreds remain

 

he parks his car

despairs

feels her presence

by the main gate

ignores it

and begins

a more systematic search

past the marching band

and milling sports writers

and old guys in high school colors

orange and black

into the stadium

all but deserted

then out and back

to the main gate

 

and there she is

vibrant

talking to kids

laughing

her face smudged

with tiger stripes

this girl with eyes

of nameless colors

 

this girl who finishes my sentences

and knows my thoughts

and says the same word

at the same time i do

the girl with seven brothers

 

the stupidest father ever

hugs his girl

teary eyed

though she

does not see

in the half light

 

we turn to

head home

 

where

my bride

 

whose eyes say we must talk

 

tells me we need to fill the five gallon jug

because we don’t want to turn the water on

and make the leak worse

the wood already wet

and ready to rot

 

near midnight

 

to the 24 hour laundromat

to get change for the water machine

 

there is one soul

in the florescent light

and the hum

 

a company  truck

outside

 

he is playing pinball

in the corner

absorbed

in the steel ball

and the motion

nudging the machine

 

he never sees me

even when the coins

come clinking down

 

home again

after the shuffle

of reentry

 

always jarring

 

i

finally

get

still

 

when everyone is sleeping

 

welcome

to the capitalist paradise

 

i mean the paradise for capitalists

 

thirty years working

nothing to show

financial plan

eventual bankruptcy

punch in the nose

after punch in the soul

while maintaining

balance

 

still

 

earlier today

driving home from work

heavy sky

grey

but low sun shining

horizontal rays

drenching ohio

with golden light

a transfiguration

in soy

and corn

and leaf

beneath the brooding sky

 

breathing deep

sighing

taking it in

with russian hymnody

floating

in the air

calm

and

clear

 

not ready for the chaos

but prepared

 

for the utter incomprehensibility of god

 

and all things

 

 

Painting by Jaison Cianelli

 

Burnt Straw III

falltree

October

Every time I hike in the local wood everything is more golden. I wonder if there is anything more beautiful than watching a leaf dancing its one dance earthward, or even sweeter, into a still pond. I have always loved Fall, second only to Spring, with the beauty of transfiguration shining through, even in death and decay.

Fr Benedict

Fr Benedict Groeschel died on the eve of the feast of St Francis, October 3. To some he is best remembered for some clumsy statements he made about abusive priests well into his dotage. While some cynics suggest that he was allowed to speak publicly when he was clearly, and painfully, in decline because his order saw him as a cash cow, anyone who knew Father understands that no friar wanted to approach him with such a suggestion. And anyone who knows the friars knows how foolish such an explanation is. Like you choose to sleep on the floor with a thin mat and live on alms and you are a religious materialist?

Benedict was ornery, and a lot more interesting than most of the hagiographical eulogies floating around suggest. He was a great man and a holy man.

But not a holy card man. He could be an asshole.

While I have long thought that I should write about Fr Benedict when he died, now that he has I cannot.

In time I will tell my tales.

We’re Number One

There is a woman on my route, a retired professor at the local college. She is a Republican of an almost vanished kind: prochoice (she gives money to Planned Parenthood), an environmentalist and birdwatcher, anti-union, concerned about illegal immigrants, scared of ISIS and Ebola, and a Unitarian.

Just about my political and religious opposite, aside from the Green stuff.

I like her very much. She is vibrant, and of an indeterminate age. She works hard, gardening, mowing her lawn in the summer, shoveling her long driveway in the winter. She is a lively conversationalist and great fun to talk to, though we agree about hardly anything.

She has a sister and brother in law who have lived in Switzerland for many years. She was telling me about their son, a musician who became addicted to opiates. He was sent to a rehabilitation center for three months, where he kicked his habit. The cost was the equivalent of $50,000, which was covered by the State.

We talked about the contrast with the American approach, which would have been to spend far more money incarcerating the young man, which would have done him, and his community, little good. Or more accurately, would have brutalized him.

That is how insane America is: we imprison people who are in pain and seeking relief. We have the largest incarceration rate in the world, mostly because of the ‘War on Drugs’.

As many wags has said, drugs won.

Although the lady does not believe in State sponsored health care, we at least agreed that if money is to be spent it is wiser to spend it on healing than punishment.

I love it when affectionate opponents agree.

 

 

Owen White, who sometimes comments here, is asking a number of people 10 questions, including me. The questioned comprise a pretty wide swathe of  humanity: from a monarchist monk to a socialist, with lots of contemporary Orthodox and Catholic writers and thinkers, including a representative or two of  the emerging New Catholic Left, which is nothing like your mother’s Catholic Left. What all these folks do have in common is an abhorrence of capitalism, the economic system from Hell. Here are my answers, along with Owen’s introduction, which I have filed away for days when I feel alone and misunderstood. Though the Trollope comment is not accurate at all. Clerks spend their days indoors with forms and numbers and bureaucratic nonsense. Carriers are outdoors most of the day and the work is physical and often grueling, just about the coolest working class job around, quiet,solitary, clean, plus you work even in inclement weather. Owen has promised to answer the ten questions himself, which I will publish here. You can see his other interviewees here, on the sidebar:http://theochlophobist.blogspot.com/

moi

Daniel Nichols. Writer. Painter. Iconographer. Postman. Daniel blogs at Caelum Et Terra (he will hit his 10 year mark in January!). Prior to that he edited and wrote for the physical Caelum et Terra journal, which is where I first encountered his work. I was working at Loome Theological Booksellers in the 90s, and my good friend Chris Lentz, a manager there, had every copy of Caelum, all of which I devoured, cover to cover, over the course of a few months.

Trying to make the Leftist sentiments I was raised with fit into a “faithful to the magisterium” American Catholic ideological framework, I looked to Catholic agrarianism as a potential way out of the godawfulness I saw in those camps influenced by the likes of Neuhaus, Fr. Fessio, and Tom Monaghan. I had gone to the occasional Chesterton Society meetings, and had met a lot of self-proclaimed distributists via my position at Loome’s, but it was very obvious that none of those folks had a damn clue what farming life or even working American life was like. Most of them were very poorly read as well. Hell, the head of the Chesterton Society in the U.S. was there in MN, a frequent visitor of ours at the store, and I still chuckle when thinking about this guy who lived smack dab in the middle of the suburb that is home to the Mall of America, and made his very much not untypical middle class life work by being a lawyer for some super rich rancher who was suing the U.S. govt because the Air Force flew over his ranch, this Chestertonian guru having on the side (and later as his bread and butter, thanks EWTN) a hobby preaching to American Catholics about the wonders of guilds and the agrarian life. But that sort of thing was not at all anomalous — I heard so many times in those circles men who had zero working class life experience wax on regarding how guilds needed to replace unions and how Social Security and all the apparatus of the nanny state was actually hurting the working classes, and so forth.

But with Daniel I found a voice that wasn’t like these. Someone who actually knew something about actual work, and actual farming. He wanted that agrarian dream to work too, and the history of the in print Caelum could be said, among other things, to be a maturing realization that agrarianisms and the like were simply not going to provide a way out of our late modern, late capitalist existential and religious and social predicaments. Daniel laid it all on the table. He still does.

Daniel, on his blog and others, and on social media, serves as a prick to the consciences of middle class (and wealthier) American Catholics who want to rest in their petty and determinedly ignorant addictions to movement conservative Paul Ryan / Raymond Arroyo and/or libertarian Acton Instituteish patronizing tropes regarding what working people in America need to do and have done for them in order to thrive. He is that rarest of birds – an actual working class person who has lived the life he was supposed to (big batch of kids, etc.) by conservative and trad Cath standards, someone who understands First Things / EWTN neo-Catholicism, and can speak that language, but yet has the real working class knowledge and life experience to speak to the bullshit that is that aggregate of “believing” American Catholic answers to social ills and political and economic policy postures. And the integrity of his life and his writing is not as easily dismissed as it is ignored.

One of the most compelling, interesting, and exemplary posts that brings out the milieu Daniel is great at cultivating is his now famous (and in some circles infamous)  NFP post and thread. It might take you some days to read all (as of this writing) 770 comments, but it is worth the read if you are at all interested in American Catholic ideology and experience regarding birth control.

(http://caelumetterra.wordpress.com/2011/07/17/is-natural-family-planning-really-natural/)

Both sides and all sorts of experiences present their cases and their stories and their arguments, and the result is such that anyone who comes away from it feeling triumphant and confident about their beliefs about ABC and NFP and the like must be either a blazing idiot or demon possessed.

Daniel has been a thorn in my side on occasion, and I in his on perhaps more occasions. I tend to be sympathetic, in principle if not in immediate advocacy (for tactical reasons) to old Leftist “solutions” to certain problems. Daniel tends to stress mercy and non-violence and all that jazz. I suppose we are good for each other in any number of ways. Daniel has become a friend, one I trust, and one whose life narrative and writing I hold in very high regard.

And that he is a postman gives him all the more charm, especially as he so often writes of his working life, particularly the walks and conversations he has. I like to think of Daniel as a radical, working class Trollope (who worked for the Royal Mail as a bureaucrat and inspector) for our generation.

Here are Daniel’s answers to my 10 questions:

1. A friend offers to make all social/vocational/financial arrangements in order that you may spend 3 months in the location of your choosing. Anywhere in the world. Where would you go, and during what season?

DN: Family legend says that before my father’s family were in Ireland, where the name was ‘Nicol’, they had come from the Isle of Skye, in the Scottish Hebrides. Irish genealogy generally hits a dead end in the 18th century, but there is a Nicolson clan on Skye and I generally trust oral tradition. The place has always seemed magical to me, so Skye beginning in very early Spring.

2. A friend who has suffered considerably in recent years asks you to recommend a novel that you found moving, and/or which helped frame how you view human life. Which novel would you recommend?

DN: I am not aware of a novel that formed me in any great way. I would suggest instead to read the gospel of John.

3. You may have any (living) musician or group of musicians in the world come perform a concert at the location of your choosing for you and your friends and whomever else you would invite. What musician(s)at what venue would you choose?

DN: Are Fleet Foxes still together? If so, that would be great, and the venue would be my friend Will Hoyt’s farm in the eastern Ohio hills. Before they are all fracked up.

4. If you had to work with your hands in order to make a living(trade, craft, manual work of some sort) what tactile vocation would you like to do?

DN: I would paint, as I do now, except make a living at it. And I once sculpted in stone, and loved it, though I would want to use sharper chisels than I did.

5. Describe a garden, or a field, or a forest that was or is important or notable in your life.

DN: Five minutes from my house there is a state nature preserve, the Jackson Bog, around 90 acres of fine low wooded hills and ponds and fen, which has been a source of sanity for me through the years.

6. You may have a meal and drinks with any living person on earth with whom you have never had a conversation. Name the meal, the drinks, and the person.

DN: I would do what I do now, stop at the Wooster Brewery for an IPA after work and strike up a conversation with whoever is sitting next to me. The clientele is so diverse there that it is nearly always fascinating.

7. Name a painting that has moved you (and perhaps tell us why).

annun_angelico_grt

DN: The Annunciation by Fra Angelico, at San Marco’s in Florence. This mural is at the top of the stairs, and the serenity and the purity of color is breathtaking, not captured at all in reproductions.

8. A student tells you that she plans on memorizing one poem, and intends to recite that poem at least once a week for the rest of her life. She asks you for your recommendation for said poem. What poem do you recommend?

DN: ‘The Waking’ by Theodore Roethke, my favorite poet; the second poem with this title that he wrote, the one that begins ‘I wake to sleeping and take my waking slow’.

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

9. Describe your ideal quotidian evening? [Nothing special, but as you like things to go.]

DN: A quiet evening, uninterrupted, with my bride. With eight kids this pretty much never happens.

10. You are on a nose-diving plane that is obviously going to crash,bringing about your certain death. You intuit that you have between 30 and 60 seconds before you lose consciousness. What words come to mind during this last bit of time you are alive?

DN: Dear God.

Burnt Straw II

ritva

Sam

So Sam had a check up yesterday.

Sam, who is an almost preternaturally happy baby, started crying hard as soon as he saw the doctor in her white coat approach him. He associates such things with suffering.

The doctor said Sam is all but healed, though his skin is still red. He will have no scars, the doctor said. She wants to see him in a month.

And we walked out of the hospital with our child.

I thought of my recent wrestling with ‘God’, my asking why.

And I felt bad. I became acutely aware that we were walking out of the hospital with a living baby, one who can walk and is starting to talk. I thought of the many parents who have walked out of Akron Children’s Hospital, their children’s bodies left behind.

When I got home I happened upon a story about the pope. Francis was commenting on the reading from the Book of Job in the Roman liturgy for the day. He noted how Job’s prayer in the first reading sounded like  a curse.

“He had lost all patience and he says these things. They are ugly! But he was always accustomed to speak the truth and this is the truth that he feels at that moment,” said Francis, and he noted how the prophet Jeremiah  had cursed the day of his birth.

“But is this man blaspheming? This is my question: Is this man who is so very alone, blaspheming? Is it blasphemy when Jesus complains – ‘Father, why have You forsaken me?’ This is the mystery.”

The pope also made some remarks about not overdramatizing your situation, about remembering those with much greater sufferings.

So maybe the guy bitching about his broken smart phone needs to remember my scalded baby. Just as I, walking to the car from the hospital with my baby sleeping on my shoulder, needed to remember  the parents who have made that same walk with no child in their arms.

But it is not blasphemy to chafe under the load of circumstance. Nor to speak the truth as you know it, even to the Absolute.

So long as you remember the conclusion of the Book of Job.

Which, okay, is maybe a little too much, but the part before Job gets it all back and then some is profound.

Trees

Remember last fall, when I wrote of the destruction of two huge trees, an oak and a maple, on my route? The man who owns the house had previously cut down a row of evergreens that ran along the border of his property.

He was not done. This past summer he cut down two of the three remaining smaller trees in his yard. He also removed all the large shrubs around his house and replaced them with small boxwoods, surrounded by gravel. I had to touch them to make sure they weren’t plastic.

His lawn had been pretty weedy, and so he cleared it of old grass and reseeded it. Apparently he chose one of the cheaper landscape companies, because when the grass sprouted it was obvious that there were a lot of weeds in the seed. No doubt when he called to complain he got a recording saying that the number had been disconnected.

So now his house sits surrounded not by the lush lawn he had intended but by a weedy mess. It sits as if in a wasteland.

I wish I could say that I feel bad for him.

Though actually I do feel bad for him. His wife died a couple of years ago, age 60 or so. If I have a package for him he always answers the door in his bathrobe. He rarely leaves the house. I just wish his grieving had not resulted in the death of so much beauty.

I also, later in the fall, reported that the largest tree in my 25 mile commute, an ancient white oak, had been cut down. For a long time there was just a big area of sawdust to mark its place. Then one day with a shock I saw that the place where the big oak had been had been paved over.

If it had been me I would have left the stump as a sort of monument.

To pave it with blacktop seems a sort of blasphemy. But then I have always revered trees. After women and babies and small children they are probably my favorite creatures.

If there is anything good that came from the deaths of these old trees it is that my mourning over a beech tree, one of my favorites on my route,  that had been trimmed of all its lower branches is mitigated. Sure, its glory is diminished. But at least it lives and is still beautiful…

Photo by Ritva Kovalainen

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