Monday, December 29, 2008

"From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us!"

St Theresa of Avila

Christmas is such an overwhelmingly joyful time of year! And it ends today as we begin carnival, another time of celebration and excess. The tree is down and the needles it scattered are swept up but the celebration goes on until lent - though with a different tone. With Christmas, it is a celebration of the coming of Christ, looking back on Advent and the time we spent waiting for His arrival. In carnival we are celebrating in anticipation of the deprivation that lent will bring, it has almost a sense of urgency about it.

We are off to Epiphany mass this evening to celebrate the revelation of Christ's divinity and the end of a long awaited season.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art."

Konstantin Stanislavsky

Hot tea is a great blessing. I've been drinking it by the pot this week - inspired by Tolstoy and snowy days. The solstice is coming soon and I am overjoyed. These days are too dark for me and the dawn comes late. Solstice is such a magical time - it belongs so naturally to Christ; I love to see the darkness shrink back and the light grow stronger. I am amazed that even in our pagan dreams God weaves His own mythology.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

“In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.”
Leo Tolstoy

Yesterday, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, I could see my breath in the back hallway. I dread now the walk through the wasted, frozen backyard to the compost pile, or any need to wander out into the snowy cold outdoors. Though if I had a shovel, or an open yard, I would revel in the tiny flakes and the bracing cold that makes the indoors so seductive. I have apple-pumpkin butter on the stove and coffee at my elbow, if only my husband were home in the warm sanctuary we have created I could watch the snowfall with careless enjoyment, wrapped in the nest of colours and scents we have created for ourselves.

I would love to welcome guests into my home today and watch the day together with tea and conversation to warm our souls. I would like to have a tableful of bright-eyed passionate people, playing cards and loving life. If Matka were here I would like very much to play gin rummy with her and Ojciec as I remember them playing on Sunday evenings – cards will forever feel like laughter, and smell like beef soup. If not my parents, than friends would be ideal, so long as they bring guitars and are eager to talk Tolstoy and theology.

At mass last night I fell again in love with the traditional mass. Our priest is truly a Byzantine, now trained in the Latin Rite, who prays the mass with an earnest, eastern energy that joyfully eclipses the many somber families in attendance. I feel almost as though I’m back at my Ukrainian parish among the enthusiastically independent prayers that the faithful send up silently throughout the liturgy. It often seems that the beauty of the liturgy is really only being actively nourished and encouraged in the Traditional Latin mass and in the Byzantine liturgy, though I know and have seen many novus ordo parishes rediscovering their sense of ritual.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

"The artist has a special relationship to beauty. In a very true sense it can be said that beauty is the vocation bestowed on him by the Creator "
Pope John Paul II

I am in town today, shopping for Christmas and for the feast of St. Nikolas. Advent is such a lovely time - it is so easy to discover beauty in the bits and pieces of everyday life. Last night I made curried turkey salad for dinner, with chai tea and the last of the ciabatta. It is dark so early now, so I filled the blue room with candles and we ate on our Spanish plate that look Greek because of their blue and sipped Krupnik from silver vodka cups. It was a wintery meal because of the light and the hot tea and the warming vodka and our own careless knowledge that just outside it was cold and clear and dark.

We have managed so far to avoid turning on our heat. The apartment has been warm enough without it thanks to heat-loving upstairs neighbors and exposed heat pipes that snake up the walls of each of our rooms. The blue room is warmest in the evenings and we curl up on the blue seat and read or write and talk amid our candles and icons.

Now that the cold has come and we are indoors more, we hope to create more artistically. Winter is such a lovely time for the making of beautiful things - there is so much inspiration in the snow and in the expectation of Advent.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards."
Soren Kirkegaard

It is so difficult some days to know God's will. I sometimes think He's hidden it under so many layers of possibility, so that we have to dig and discard the many options He offers to find what it is He truely wills for us.

Advent is such an ideal time for not knowing; for living the questions without concerning ourselves with answers we haven't been given. It is a time of expectation, of uncertainty, of waiting for what is to come. Perhaps God has hidden His will so that we may fall more completely into the nature of the season and give ourselves over to the story He has written for us.

Monday, December 1, 2008

"Love God, serve God: everything is in that." -- St. Clare of Assisi

Welcome Advent!

The earth is snow-dusted, the sky is steel grey, and the altar is violet and lovely in it's penitence. I spent the first Sunday of Advent sweeping the dust of Thanksgiving festivities away and adjusting to daily life again. Our guests flew out in the morning and we missed their pleasent, easy company throughout the afternoon. But the joy of the new year crept in as we changed the sheets and altar-cloth to rich purple and shared a dinner of left-over champagne, curried turkey, and butternut-soup.

I am always surprised to discover how little we need to live grandly; and how much is provided by God through our good friends and neighbours. I have a box of lovely dishes and a treadle-sewing machine waiting back home - curtesy of my ciotka, who though I'd appreciated them. Our beeswax-Advent candles are a gift of a shop-owning friend who shared part of Thanksgiving dinner with us. The leftover champagne was brought and left by ojciec i matka who are generous practically to a fault. We are amazingly blessed.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"Do what you can for God, and God will do what you cannot do. And remember, the only thing is to give yourself completely, your weakness also."

Soren Kierkegaard

Today the sun is bright and cold, there is a trail of snow down the shingles of the house across the street and I am rejoicing because the rain is gone. In the cafe the windows are dripping condensation and everyone is drinking hot tea or coffee. I am trying to put my mind in order; I've let it fall into lazy disarray and it is never a happy or productive state for me to be in. I began by scrubbing the bathroom this morning, and continued by writing up a new budget sheet, complete with all new earnings, now I am writing with hot tea at my elbow and my mind is neater, if not yet completely together.

It's disturbing how quickly December is creeping up on us. I have trouble convincing myself that winter is almost upon us. This is a failing on my part, because it is difficult to convince myself to act on my 'to do' list when I don't believe, deep down that time is passing. Like Kierkegaard's speculative thinker I finish "a paper and mistake this for existence." It is a blessing then that God takes our weaknesses and uses them as well. He doesn't say 'Well, give me what good you've got and I'll leave the rest." rather He asks for everything, and when He has our weaknesses He transforms them. In Him they are strengths. So I am trying to do what I can for God, and He is slowly turning my weaknesses to His own purpose, reminding me to "live the questions now," to be truely alive in this age of eternal distraction.

Friday, November 14, 2008

"Of what use would it be for me to be able to develope a theory of the state, getting details from various sources and combining them into a whole, and constructing a world I did not live in but merely held up for others to see;"

Soren Kierkegaard

On Fridays I am visited by two Jehovah's witnesses. We discuss a little book they put out call "What the Bible Really Teaches," and in an informal way, the Bible itself as well. We began today discussing the election, and politics in general; they do not vote, in any situation, they are waiting for God to come and govern them. Until He does they will notice all the flaws of government, avoid it, and watch it fail. I am frustrated by this position; I am always frustrated when people allow evil to occur because they are waiting for something better to come along.

It is a grey day today; the rain began last night as a steady dripping and continued, neither speeding nor slacking all day. I have poked my nose outside only twice and it is cold as well - November rain is dreary. But inside, in our little apartment, the day is cheerful; not bright but warm and cozy with shadows that pile in corners like down, keeping out the chill.

I discovered yesterday talking to Matka, that my aunts have decided to give me all the beautiful things in our family; they of course don't put it quite that way, but in going through some of our heirlooms, it seems all the beautiful dishes, the old treadle sewing machine, scarves and wood-bead rosaries are put aside for me. It is a blessing to know that my family thinks to pass such beautiful things on to me, I am very grateful.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"When it comes to doing what we know to be God' will, we do not dare say: I will not! So we say: I cannot. Is this any less rebellious? If it is God's will that you do it, how is it possible that you cannot?"

Soren Kierkegaard

I made bagels this morning. The dough I made last night in a four hour burst of activity that produced bagel dough, a poolish sponge for bread I've yet to make, apple crisp, and chicken dumpling soup. We are praying very hard this week for some things we desperately want, and it is easier to pray and work, than to sit and pray and let the mind wander into its uncertainties. Making bagels, and baking in general, are excellent distractions; it requires so much attention, and, even when the recipe is followed exactly, there is a certain amount of magic involved in a successful outcome. My bagels are now piled: hot, chewy, and beautiful on a plate in the kitchen, and I feel as thought I've called down the moon.

It is sometimes difficult to know God's will in a situation, particuarly when we overthink. I find that when I am working and praying, God's will is able to sneak into my mind and make itself at home before I have the chance to second-guess. I end up not so much deciding that this is God's will, but settling into it naturally.

It is hard though to pray for God's will on something we are passionate about, because their is the chance that God's will is not at all what our will is at the time, and then we do feel like saying: I cannot to God. I cannot accpet Your will, give me mine. How rebellious, how very like the devil we sound, and yet it's so easy to fall into, and to justify; I am a good Catholic, but I cannot accept the Churches teaching on....I've tried, but I cannot.

All the same, I am hopeful that my will is in line with God's will this week, our I will be baking often next week, to bake my way into understanding.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Now everything is lost, God demands Issac, I sacrifice him, and with him all my joy - yet God is love and for me continues to be so."
- Soren Kierkegaard

I awoke today and avoided the radio. I didn't answer the phone when it rang and I left quickly for the cafe; I didn't want to be alone when I heard the news of the election - already knowing what that news would be. Now I'm in a cafe full of people who voted for the man who won and I am still alone, but God is love and for me continues to be so.

I'm not at all surprised by the results. How long did we expect God to protect us from ourselves; we who butcher our own children each day and spend our lives chasing distractions. We who wanted desperately to elect the man without knowing him and ignored every warning sign as it appeared. We got exactly the leader we deserved and we will come to know him all too well I'm sure; yet God is love and for me continues to be so.

I am comforted by Saint Vladamir of Russia whose late conversion came after years of bloodshed and led his nation to Christ, to him I pray for the man we elected. I am comforted by Saint Augustine, who watched the greatest empire fall to pieces around him, to him I pray for our nation. I am comforted by the Mother of God, our dear Mateczka whose eyes do not close, to her I pray that we may be like Abraham, who was so able to follow God even in quickly changing directions and who never lost faith in the love of God.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."
Ernest Hemingway

Late afternoon is lovely at home. The walls of the yellow room catch what little is left of the autumn light and play it across the floor in soft golden tones. I love to watch the light that moves as the leaves dance and shiver against the glass; the naked trees looks so exposed against the grey sky and remind me to be grateful that I am warm. The colours alone in our home could warm me, I love the vibrant yellow, deep blue, and new living green in the kitchen! In my autumn afternoons I wander room to room and am wrapped in beauty.

Our Lady glows above my desk – gold, red, and green against the deep blue; we have given Her red berries and the branch and potted marigolds for the fall and She, our Lady of the Watchful Eyes looks out on us with love and gives us Her prayers in return.

I love writing in the afternoon, when the house is clean and warmed by the hidden sun. I love listening to Rachmaninoff’s Vespers chanted throughout the apartment from the record player as I write, though it makes me restless so that I have to leave off my writing often and pace through the rooms, loving the beauty and the sounds and the musky smell of incense burning. Today I interrupted my writing to read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. It makes me hungry for good bread and shellfish, wine and rum, and strong coffee. I first discovered the book in Pennsylvania, living with my actress-friend in our up-stairs apartment, as I wrote and developed my passion for pottery and she wrote and acted; and we both fell in love with the artistic life. When I read Hemingway, he struck a chord that had recently been tuned by our Polish Pope’s letter to artists. It was then I began to dwell on Ritual: the rhythmic living of the True and Beautiful in daily life.

It surprises me when I meet people, to discover that they don't like Hemingway: the man who writes the soul so well, who writes ritual so well, and beauty and good food. He is one writer who realizes so well the importance of detail in revealing the state of the soul. I remember first reading Hills like White Elephants and feeling the tension between the couple as they both flitted around the discussion of aborting their child. The pain in that story was palpable in the almost mundane descriptions of the little table, the drinks, clothing, sky, scenery, and the hills far off that look like white elephants.

Friday, October 24, 2008

"This life I lead, setting pictures straight, squaring rugs up with the room - it suggests an ultimate symmetry towards which I strive and strain. Yet I doubt that I am any nearer my goal...even granted that this untidy world is ready for any such orderliness."

E.B. White

The paintings on the walls of this café depress me; I’m not exactly sure why. They are ugly for sure – the figures are badly drawn and out of proportion; the colours are banal, like cheap hotels: washed out blues and greens, and that particular shade of mauve that is supposed to inspire a restful, open attitude, but in reality inspires only discontent. Apart from the paintings, the café is ideal: white painted brick, perfectly weathered, black trim, heating pipes exposed along the walls, wood floors, wood tables; it has atmosphere, if only the painting would disappear!
We leave this evening for New York City to visit our dear friend Bill, who is studying there, and who is happy to play tour-guide for the weekend. We’re leaving our apartment in a state of disorder, which weighs on my mind more than it really should. The kitchen is half painted, two walls completely done and two only just begun. The kitchen things are everywhere: in the pottery room, on the floor, on the washer. The dishes are washed and stacked to dry beside paint cans and old brushes, and the laundry is piled desperately high, as the washer is taken over by kitchen things. When it is done, the kitchen will be beautiful. We are painting over the blah, barely blue walls with two different greens – both so refreshingly earthy I want to eat them, and running horizontal between the two a clean white stripe. I was unconvinced by the white stripe when my husband first proposed it, but yesterday, when we peeled off the tape on the first wall and saw the first finished wall, I fell in love. The stripe is perfect: so white, so clean, and so joyful! The whole kitchen, when it is done, will be refreshing as a spring rain.

I have been thinking recently about how difficult it would be to live a fully Catholic life without a good community. We are particularly blessed here to be surrounded by young families, people we love for themselves, who are passionately Catholic. It would be so difficult if our friends did not share our faith, or if they shared only our faith and none of our other passions. Cafés often make me thank God for the blessing of our community. In the cafés of Portland, there is such a mix of people: business men in suits and ties, sipping coffee and talking salaries; the young Urban Liberal in his cords and careless, windblown hair; the vocal woman behind the counter, lecturing her customer on the absurdity of having six children, rights of homosexuals, and the plight of American Indians. I sometimes feel as though I’m traveling incognito – they assume I agree and I am silent; I long for the company of my potter-friend, my old roommate, or my husband, all of whom have the sort of aesthetic that belongs in little cafes and the passionate Catholicism that completes that aesthetic and takes it from empty and haunted to whole.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

“ We should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry.” E.B. White

My life is not hectic. It flows. Friday afternoon I prayed a rosary while walking the warm wood floor in my bare-feet. I love the feel of my skirt swishing and the smooth feel of the beads in my hands; I love the light on the floor and the smell of incense in the walls now; I love the Icons that watch and pray with me as I walk, the Virgin who follows me with her dark eyes, stern St. Nicholas, and the laughing little Christ in the cup. I felt as I prayed that I must be in a novel, everything is so beautiful: the bright walls, the long windows, the sunlight that moves as I walk and the sound of the wind in the trees. Friday evening I walked through downtown Brunswick in the dark autumn-evening air with my husband, smelling the nearby ocean air and peaking into warm, well-lighted little shops.

I am so blessed in my life! I can look into the dining-room and see my own mugs, full of good black tea, and a fresh-baked apple pie. I can spend my days creating beautiful pots and writing poems in my own well-loved little home.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

"Faith is the highest passion in a human being. Many in every generation may not come that far, but none comes further. " -Soren Kierkegaard

I am spending this morning in a small cafe on commercial street. It's grey and rainy outside with that damp, leafy smell that belongs only to rainy autumn days. A man with two lovely labs is lecturing a small collection of like-minded people on the virtues of Barak Obama. They are not passionate, but they are very certain. I can hear them repeating the party line with a sort of half-hearted enthusiam but with the conviction born of many hours spent listening to NPR news reports and CNN "in depth" reports.

The man with the labradors has announced that we the layman cannot possibly understand the differences between the policies of the two, it is too far above us and his friends agree - they are not Harvard-educated after all, how could they understand; but Obama is so engaging.

There is a definate loss in man when he fails even to attempt faith, and this crisis: economical, political, and social is the result of man's pursuit of some other, lesser passion that has been raised in his mind above faith. But how do we take a mind so tightly wrapped around the little things of this world and remind it that there are made for greater things? What works on a mind to work faith out of it?

Even we who believe, our faith is not the passionate Faith that it ought to be: the faith that shone through the saints, that poured from the words of Augustine, the poverty of Francis, and the blood of countless martyrs throughout history. We do not want is as we should, so many times we forget to love God for Himself alone; because He gives us so much we begin to think of Him more as a giver and less as a lover, who Loves whether He gives or takes away.

Monday, October 6, 2008

"I conclude it from your Word,
from your gestures of the past,
when you, hands cupped, limits set, gave rise
to all that is and was, so warm and wise.
You said "living" loud and "dying" low
and ever repeated: "Be." "
- Rilke

There is something about the autumn that feels so alive - the crisp air and teh smell of dried, dead leaves falling brightly all around. It is a season for walking briskly in textured jackets and clicking boots; a season for soup-making and hot tea; a season for letter writing and for love.

Matka visited this past week and we watched the rain together, pinched pierogis next to the warm stove, and planned much more than we accomplished. It was a good visit. When she left on Friday I set my sights on the Feast of St. Francis and cleaned house. Now the feast is over, I am cleaning again, remembering the joy and and goodness of the day.

St. Francis amazes me. His simple, crazy zeal, his intensity; how could he sustain it? I love him because he loves and because he wanted God with such a desperation that his longing can still be felt accutely, even now when he has become the secular saint of hippies and vegetarians who ignore his orthodoxy as determindly as they ignore Christ's divinity; and Francis shakes his head, loves them and prays that they may be made whole.

The clouds are gathering, I wonder if an autumn storm is coming.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

“I recollect that wondrous meeting,
that instant I encountered you,
when like an apparition fleeting,
like beauty’s spirit, past you flew.”

I met my dearest friend when we were both in love with the same man. She was overwhelmingly beautiful and I felt instantly that all was lost. He must love her, and I must love her – the whole world must love her, how could they not? It was a devastating realization and a thrilling one – I had never met anyone like her. I didn’t realize until later that she had felt the same on meeting me.

She is out west now and I am here, on the grey eastern ocean, married and trying to remember that I am a writer. I wish I could write her a life full of answered prayers and living dreams; I wish I could write lovely lives for all those I love: My dear brothers – one running recklessly from God and his whispering call to holiness; the other putting every gift of God away to molder while he waits for God to give him joy; my sister whom I love, and who I wish would listen just once to her heart. My lonely, lovelorn friends in the Midwest and the far West; my lost, soul-starved friends in the East and South – I long to write joy into the lives of everyone I know. How is it that I can be so joyful, despite my as yet unreceived blessings? I wish I could give them that joy.

In adoration today I thought about them and I realized that God, too, longs to write lives replete with blessings. He is held back only because He chose first of all to give them free will and in that freedom lies the opportunity to reject Him, His love, His gifts, the goodness of living for Him. Not all gifts are given when we want them, as I am learning – as we all learn at some time in life. Sometimes the gift given is the gift of learning to love God for Himself alone, not for His gifts and blessings; it is the gift of learning to wait, to hope, and to believe.

Friday, September 12, 2008

“Where the mind is perhaps rather unwilling to be convinced, it will always find something to support its doubts.”
Jane Austen

The other day I read about the group “Call to Action,” which exists to bemoan the lack of priestesses in the Catholic Church. They have gone so far as to perform their own “ordinations.” I read their literature and even watched some priestess-performed “masses” online. They are so old, and so sad! They have the pinched, haunted look of those who are always searching for something to support their mistakes, to make them true. They are a dying breed and they must see it, when they look around and see only old faces, the same faces they’ve been looking at for years, while the old, sunken-eyed academic who is Pope has the love and joyful obedience of millions.

The churches too, that continue to abuse the liturgy with liturgical dance, costumes, skits, and other tackiness are dying. Their congregations are old, the children leave as soon as they’re grown; there is nothing to hold them to the Church, having never really experienced Catholicism they don’t know what they’re leaving behind. It is sad, but its hopeful as well, because the people coming into the Church are coming for Catholicism.

There was a wave of extreme liturgical abuses after Vatican II that - despite all the issues still worrying our Church – seems at last to be on its death-bed. I am not saying that the Church is free of liturgical abuses, we need only assist at mass to hear the inappropriate add-ons: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord and each other;” to see the lack of reverence when priests forget to bow during the creed when we proclaim our belief in the Incarnation. But these are remnants the overall trend is towards the holy, the good, and the reverently celebrated mass.

This optimistic view is somewhat new to me. I look at the attendees at parish, which generally keeps within the churches norms; we are a parish of young families - families that chose the parish for its beauty, its reverence, its orthodox-leanings. They are also families who would welcome a more traditional mass and who are working slowing and respectfully to bring this about. I look at the young priests I know, intelligent, artistic, passionately faithful young men devoted to Christ, to the Blessed Virgin, and the Pope. They are men who were born and raised under John Paul II, the poet-pope who reminded them simply by existing that the priesthood is a passionate pursuit of beauty, a love-affair of eternal proportions.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

“ be an artist meant: not to reckon and count, to ripen like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storm of spring without fear lest no summer might come after.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

It is a beautiful, stormy, dreary morning and I for one hope that it will continue throughout the day. Rainy days are so deliciously indulgent! I may spend the afternoon with Tolstoy and a bowl of popcorn or Dostoyevsky and a pot of tea. I have just the teapot for the occasion too, a small Polish, painted teapot, just large enough to refill my cup and not so large that I will feel the need to keep drinking and drinking.

Autumn has finally come! The air is full of the cold, leafy smell of fall; the rain is cold and when I go out in it I feel the need to hang my head over a mug of hot chai to drive away the chills. But it is only early September, I doubt the weather will last. I fully expect to experience a burst of Indian Summer before the end of the season.

There is Adoration today at St. Joseph’s; I love peaking in for a brief visit. He sits in gold and shines out at me while I can only be silently overwhelmed by His magnificence. I always leave Him wondering why is it I do so little for Him, why does life have me so distracted?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Bad so-called art (like polluted air) constitutes a really grave spiritual problem;" it "affects us only slightly at first, but in the long run, the effect is grave."
Thomas Merton

I was so glad to read, in Homiletic and Pastoral review, an article on the importance of beauty in life and in faith. Bad art, bad architecture, bad aesthetics are killing the faith of Catholics. The churches that once taught, by their very beauty, the truths of the faith and the love of God for mankind are replaced by churches that teach us that beauty, like everything else, is relative.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Just as one does not begin a feast at sunrise but at sundown, just so in the spiritual world one must first work forward for some time before the sun really shines for us and rises in all its glory." Soren Kierkegaard

I have pick up my Kierkegaard again, and again I wonder how I could have abandoned him for so long. The beauty of his writing, and the quiet inspiration I feel as I fall into his words is unique and refreshing. From my first reading of Kierkegaard I felt that he was not so much a philosopher as a poet, an artist who could "carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look."

It surprised me recently to realize that Kierkegaard is considered difficult and often left unread. I suppose though, that if one is not in love with him, his style, and the exciting contradicitons of his writing; Kierkegaard seems too dense, too different, too penetrating to be read comfortably. For me though, even as I adjusted to the intensity of his writing, the imagery and the passion kept the writing alive. It is as though he is writing a prayer, perhaps sitting in adoration and simply letting his soul pour out to God all of his doubts, questions, and challenges.

"What he yearned for was to accompany them on the three-day journey, when Abraham rode with grief before him and Issac by his side...For what occupied him was not the finely wrought fabric of imagination, but the shudder of thought."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"That man who does not believe that each day contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he has yet profaned, has despaired of life and is pursuing a descending and darkening way."
Henry David Thoreau

This morning, after seeing my husband off to work I went out into my garden and flung myself into it's improvement. Weeds poked up between the slumping tomatoes, slugs oozed towards the summer squash, compost spilled from the overwhelmed bin. Armed with rubber boots, gardening gloves, and salt, I attacked the mess and conquered with an hour left to the morning.

It was beautiful. Greeting the cold early morning air before the basketball boys next-door began their day, before the smoking college students sat on thier porch for the first cigarette of the day. I loved working as the day woke and warmed around me; I loved my sore feet, and dirty hands; I loved looking over the fruit of my labors and rejoicing in my soul that I had made this messy garden in a lovelier spot.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

“If God has made a law then it is this: Be solitary from time to time, for He can come only to a single one – or to a pair between whom He can no longer distinguish.”
-Ranier Maria Rilke

Our life here has been full of visitors recently: my sister-in-law (and dear friend), her husband and children, my sister, and brother-in-law, other in-laws and friends. The house has been loud, laughing, and busy for weeks; so much so, that when the last of our guests had been deposited at the airport, we breathed a sigh of relief and ran home to hide away for days together and alone.

We spent our solitary weekend sweeping up the dust our guests left behind, restocking the pantry, and relishing the loveliness of our home. Our back porch particularly, is a haven – surrounded by overgrown grass and tangling vines of beans and roses it seems so secluded – the ideal spot for a late-night cordial or clove, an evening picnic on a rainy day, or simply to sit and listen to the sounds of the neighborhood and my husband’s guitar.

One of the blessings of solitude is the opportunity to run back to God. It is so easy to drift from Him in the busy, bustling times when guests and their entertainment keep me distracted. In solitude, I can slow down and see more of the beauty of life, sip my coffee slowly and wash my floors well. There are few things more satisfying than a well-washed floor and the smell of Murphy’s oil soap and incense.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Today is the Feast of the Dormition of Our Lady, also known as the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, also known as the Feast of Our Lady of Herbs.

Traditionally, we bring herbs to the church today to be blessed. Throughout the year we keep the blessed herbs, dried and hanging behind icons or tucked around statues in the house, to be burnt to ward off evil, or sickness, to add to special meals, to grace the home.

He talks about Jesus
and hash, as though salvation came
through a weed: put to his lips,
breathed out among many.

He runs at night
through the red-light center in his head,
hearing the heavy footfalls of One
who is never far behind;
hiding the incense he burnt to himself;
until it sinks into the asphalt
at his feet, soggy and sickly sweet.

He keeps his dreams bound
carefully beside the bed;
watching them from outside.
He tucks the nightmares away,
letting them curl back, waiting;
gathering strength as they twitch and whisper
in the darkness, pulling him back within
to feel around the hole inside.
To put his hand on the red, raw edges,
to touch the tender areas and wonder:
what has he torn out?

Friday, August 8, 2008

"The Christian should be an Alleluia from head to foot."

St. Augustine

On some Sundays, my husband and I wake up early to attend the Old Latin Mass. I love the beauty of it. The incense, chant, and intensity remind me that I am truely engaged in the ultimate act of worship. The richness of the liturgy reminds me of the Byzantine rite I love so much and the joyous beauty of being Catholic.

Unfortunately, it is particuarily at this mass that I begin to wonder if my husband and I are the only ones who see the joy in our faith. The pews are filled with Somber Families sitting silent and still. Their children never cry, their attention never wavers, they never smile. They are dressed, almost without exception in home-made "Christian Modest Clothing," styled very much along Prairie or Mormon Fundamentalist lines. I have met these families outside of Mass, and they are lovely people, but the clothing and the somber stillness disturb me. Whatever happened to Catholic Passion?

We Catholics have a tradition of beauty, passion, and ostentatious joy that it seems we are abandoning in favour of the puritanical notion that modesty must mean shapeless jumpers, bulky dresses, and the abandonment of beauty for sensible similarity. But we are Catholic! Look at any church that holds true to Catholic building ideals, look are our art, our Icons; listen to our chants, our prayers. Look back at the history of the Church and see her passion for beauty. The sacramental nature of our Church demands that we strive for beauty in modesty, not modesty alone.

But look up modest Catholic clothing on the internet: in general, the clothing you find will not encourage women to believe that Catholic modesty is beautiful. Look up Jewish or Muslim clothing though and the options for modest, beautiful, funky fashions open up. Two I particularily like are and It seems that Catholics have some catching up to do when it comes to clothing. We need to remind ourselves that we are called to be an "Alleluia from head to foot," to reflect the beauty of God to the best of our ability, and to remind the world that "Truth is beautiful in itself."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Scattering a thousand graces,
He passed through these groves in haste,
and looking upon them as He went,
left them, by His grace alone,
clothed in beauty
St. John of the Cross

Catholic culture is sacramental culture, a culture of beauty; a culture in which the sacred infuses the mundane and is revealed in it. Catholic culture creates a world in which anything is possible: God descends daily to be eaten in the Holiest of Sacraments, proving by His Presence that nothing can be called impossible. Catholic culture is a necessary outgrowth of Catholic faith; the faith which demands to be incorporated into daily life. Catholics who seek to stifle the daily expressions of their faith, the devotions which divide the day, the month, the year, stifle their own faith until it dies out within them and leaves only dry dusty remains.

How has Catholic culture been lost? Our culture in general, and individual Catholics in particular, have lost the true Catholic culture, or more honestly, have abandoned it for the churned up sentimentality originally marketed as “spirituality” and now distributed with reckless abandon as “modern Catholic spirituality”. It is a culture in which emotions carry the day, a culture to glorify the self, a culture in which the promises of Christ to those who would walk in His way fall on deaf ears, “for what can promises mean in an age in which every wish fulfills itself each day?” In this age man has been trained to wish for very many little things, but not for greatness. To console himself, modern man has re-invented his faith. God remains Father, but He is no longer Judge; He is Love without also being Wisdom; He is merciful, but not just. The modern man, knowing Christ only as his Brother, and not his King, feels no need to submit to Him. The fasts and rituals that once sustained him are abandoned, and having done so, he wonders why he is so empty. Catholic culture is not lost, it has been abandoned for something much easier to reach, and much less satisfying. Through disuse the leaves have grown up around it, modern man must work a bit to part the leaves, but when he does, he will discover that what he has abandoned has not grown moldy nor rotten since he left it, but is in fact, as beautiful, as satisfying as ever it was, and just within reach.

To reclaim Catholic culture, it is necessary to learn to truly live. Every Catholic knows that “not dying is not the same as being alive, and that not sleeping is still a long way from being awake. To be awake and to be alive are deeds not states;” it is necessary to do them. This is largely accomplished by choosing to live purposefully, outwardly, and passionately. Purposeful living demands that man know his purpose – Why am I here? He finds his answer in the Church. Each individual is created to know God, serve God, and to spend eternity in happy union with God; a simple answer which has a myriad of meanings, each one unique to each individual life. God is most fully known in His Church, but each man serves God in a unique way. In living purposefully, man strives throughout each day to live out his salvation in the way God has intended for him. He does this by living outwardly, “it is not good for man to be alone,” each individual is in communion with his fellow men by virtue of their shared humanity. He cannot live as an island, and by living outwardly, he does not attempt to. Every Catholic must recognize that his life is a witness for or against his faith. So many cultures have tales of toothless beggars, leapers, and weary travelers taken in, or turned away, who later were discovered to have been Christ in disguise, to remind each Catholic of his duty to see Christ in everyone. The modern as much as any other man, must be reminded that to a person, “the only proper and adequate way to relate is love,” and that this applies whether the person is in the womb, in the government, or elsewhere. In living outwardly, and living purposefully, man must also allow himself to live passionately. To live passionately means an outright rejection of the modern malaise of indifference and relativism. When one lives passionately he lives for something greater than himself.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

“Beauty is to enthuse us for work, and work is to raise us up.”
Cyprian Norwid

It is a great joy to me that my apartment is beautiful! I try my best to keep it that way: a haven of bright colours, sunlit rooms, good food, great books, and joy. It helps that I have a deep and abiding love of Murphy’s oil-soap, dusting, and curries. If I had an unlimited supply of Murphy’s oil-soap, I think I would wash the floors daily, just to keep the scent in the house.

Today is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, I washed all the floors in celebration and baked strawberry-rhubarb crisp for dessert. I think we will have salmon this evening, with chives, garlic, pepper, paprika, lemon balm, walnuts, and lime juice; maybe wheat-berries and kale to accompany it. Salmon is an intense fish, with its beautiful pink flesh and full flavor; it seems appropriate that Magdalene’s meal have some intensity. She is a passionate Saint, though really, when I think on it, is there a saint that isn’t?

The sun is making patterns on the floor. I am sipping iced coffee and loving life. Deo gratias.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

“Our age is without passion. Everyone knows a great deal, we all know which way we ought to go and all the different ways we can go, but nobody is really willing to move.”
Soren Kierkegaard

There is a sad lack of the willingness to move all around us. I certainly have the urge to hold off committing to change as long as possible; it is so much easier to go through the planning stage again and again, to live in the future until even the future passes by and there is nothing left but wasted possibilities. It sounds so unattractive written down, but in my mind it is so soothing and pleasant: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.”

If we have passion though, and if we live our lives passionately, then there is not only a willingness to move, there is a need to move. If we have passion, our lives become defined by that “tension toward something else” which drives us. That is the life that I am striving to live, the sort of life that is active and alive, not so passive that it can be blown about by each and every change that comes along.

Last night I finally saw the movie “Bella.” It was especially beautiful to me in that the movie emphasized the necessity of passion for life. Jose and his family were so passionately committed to each other, to their culture, to their faith, and to their friends. They were a family that did not hold back love. It was such a sacramental movie, such a beautiful movie. “Truth is beautiful in itself.” the Catechism reminds us, but how often is that portrayed in contemporary art? “Bella” was a testimony to the triumph of beauty and passion.

Friday, July 18, 2008

“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.”
Henry David Thoreau

Raspberry season is in full swing here in New England! Last night I made raspberry walnut muffins with a recipe that was acceptable, but not outstanding, and began cooking down raspberries for preserves. They are still cooking down as I write. This evening I will go picking again. There are few summer activities more satisfying then berry-picking on breezy July evenings.

I haven’t quit settled into the fact that it is July, and the middle of July at that. Where do the days go? I am always surprised, looking back to discover that a week, a month, even a year has slid away into the past; somehow, I forget that time does not stand still until I notice how much has changed around me. “But eternity remains.” Thank goodness eternity remains.
Joy is Creative.” Ranier Maria Rilke

July is the month of the Precious Blood. In our home, the icon of Christ in the Chalice is prominent. In the icon, He sits inside a chalice, arms out – and enthusiastic welcome; “here I am!” He says. His enthusiasm is catching. I love this icon, Christ looks to me like a man playing peek-a-boo with a child, serious and joyful: Where is Jesus, here He is!