Tuesday, January 29, 2008
I defended myself by claiming that keeping God at the center of any ascetical practice is the spinal column that holds up its integrity as a spiritual discipline. He lobbed an argument over my head--that God, like everything, is just a label we ascribe to a reality that cannot be captured (he used the label 'river' as an example: there is no permanent 'river' because their reality is one of constant flux. It is a more obvious example, but really this is the case with everything without exception. The Christian might argue that God is the one unchanging Reality but of course this is not a view shared by Buddhists as they do not exempt even God (or, more accurately, our construction of the label-falsely-perceived-as-reality "God") from the Law of Non-Permanence)). Since God is just another label, my claim that one must 'keep God at the center of Lenten practice' in order to maintain the ascetic integrity of such a practice was rendered to be one that was no more real or important than, say, using Lent as a reason to give up chocolates; one was just as valid as the next, since what the practice meant to each person varied from reality to subjective to reality. I watched the ball sail over my head to a back corner of the court and bounce a few times before rolling into the fence. Game. Set. We headed home.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Sunday, January 27, 2008
"I read in the newspaper these scientists did a study to prove that we have a natral dis-po-si-tion towards sweets. Shit, I could have told them that, saved them the time! You see boy
"The problem is, you not full-grown. If it was up to you you'd be belly-up in sugar e'rey morning. Now that your mother's gone, it's my job to raise you, cause you gad-dam-right as rain can't do it yourself. I'm your father, and you ain't old enough to know what's right and what's wrong yet, cause nobody done taughtcha. Now it's my job, and I sure as hell always do a job right.
"Who taught me what's right and wrong? Why, my pappy of course! And who taught him? His pappy. Boy, it goes all the way back to Adam and Eve to when God was saying 'Do this, don't do that.' And He was saying it so we'd grow up strong and happy. But just like you boy, them two wanted that sugar something bad and even God wasn't strong enough to keep them from plucking that fruit. But he gave them a mighty toothache after that, boy. Smarted something fierce!
"And now here we are in the kitchen--me with the switch, you with your hand stuck in that cookie jar like some kind of Pooh-Bear. And I'm afraid this is how it's done, boy. The Church may be like your di-et-i-tian at school you go to--"advising" you what to eat, what's good for you and what's not, what makes your teeth fall out, what makes you live to be a hundred gaddamm years old, those old men in those funny hats writing rules but not making you do nothin'. But I ain't your Church, boy, this ain't your mother's house, and here you do what you're told because I know what's best for you. Don't they show Pa-Peye no more on the t-v? Now there's a gaddamm example for to follow, if you won't follow mine."
Jeannie and I went on a date last night ice skating in Chestnut Hill. It was fun! It was packed full of little kids and teenagers. Jeannie called a girl 'hon' when she bumped into her and got embarrassed when she realized she sounded like a mom, while I played 'chase the little rascals' who flew around the rink like the hooligans they were until Jeannie said that I looked like a child predator. For not having skated in over twenty years, I was pretty comfortable on the ice. We skated till our shins got sore, then went home. We talked about looking forward to summer, but that we should try to live in the 'now,' that is, in the winter; spring will be here before we know it. Marriage, parenthood, retirement...it's all a season. Like that Radiohead song, God orders everything 'in it's right place.'
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Ever since I was young I wondered where my numbers one & two went when I flushed the toilet. It went down dirty...and came back clean! I was even more intrigued when I heard about the microbes, the UV light, and the filtration systems they used in the process. At St. Vincent's monastery in Latrobe, the monks had a problem with polluted water from the years of mining in the area. They worked with a local environmental group and devised a four-step natural filtration system using cattails. The water came out 98% pure. At Penn State, the Office of the Physical Plant's "waste dispersal" method, which sprayed filtered (but not potable) wastewater on local farmland as a fertilizer. And in the Middle East, desalination plants created potable water where there was none before. Spectacular!
I've always wanted a composting toilet--they seemed like a practical solution to water waste. But I've found a better way to conserve water!
I've tried to do the old "If it's yellow let it mellow" technique and it works fine. But it tends to leave rings around the bowl requiring more frequent cleaning. Not so bad. A haiku I wrote once:
Hakuin told me:
Enlightenment comes to those
with a clean toilet.
But I wouldn't mind less time cleaning the bathroom either. So I turned the water valve off and flushed. The tank emptied, but didn't fill back up again, leaving only a small pool of water in the bottom (If you don't know how toilets work, check it out, it's all about equalizing and the vacuum effect). Now when I pee and leave it be, it is not as unsightly and does not make rings, making flushing only for number twos that much easier. Brilliant!
Friday, January 25, 2008
I will admit I am an Amy Winehouse fan. I think she's talented and unique and has a vuluptuous amount of soul for a white girl. I also admire her in a way because unlike a lot of celebrities, she knows her demons well, enough to name songs after them ('Rehab' and 'You Know I'm Know Good' come to mind). But like those in academia who study urban sociology and have never been to a city in their life, the knowledge that one is a drug addict (in NA tongue, 'powerless over drugs') only takes one to the foot of the monster; armed with wooden sword, one can only quake in its shadows.
Knowledge is not enough to save one from drowning. It does, however, make the pain and shame of addiction more acute. It will sound silly to anyone but myself, but I am presently in the clutches of a fierce addiction...to bikes.
For the past year or so I have been doing R&D on an electric bicycle design that will solve a lot of the problems that plague the LEV industry today and make bicycle commuting a more viable and attractive solution for the working world. Low cost, inconspicuousness, simplicity, efficiency, and adaptability drive this vision. The thing is, it has gotten away from me and has become an obsession. I could use that word instead of addiction and maybe it would be more fitting. But addiction qualifies too, and drives a shaper nail into the coffin:
"the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma."
I have really tried to turn my inventor's brain off and focus on the things I have neglected: school, work, prayer, diet, sleep, leisure, friends. But I can't...not without serious trauma at least. This brings in the 'submission to a Higher Power' step. This actually spurred my conversion to theism generally and Christianity specifically--the idea that we need a Savior to save us from those things we are powerless to save ourselves from.
My friend Tim and I have had discussions about this over many a 24oz lager. Tim, a Dharma practitioner and non-theist, does not agree with Christianity's fundamental assumption that there is something (sin) that we need to be saved from. As a result, 'practice' becomes just that--a honing of skill in order to escape the mess we're in (samsara). If you don't do it, no one will.
Christians, by comparison, look like people desperately praying for a kind of 'Divine Helicopter' in the midst of a crumbling Saigon. Though there is room for everyone, the mentality is the same: the way out comes from outside the self. Salvation is not here yet; we need to wait for it to come. We are dependent. We are 'creatures.' For Buddhism, I believe, reality is left a little more room to be flexed, and allows for a little more experiential ingenuity.
Such a criticism of Christianity is warranted when coming from this vantage point, and is hard to refute. In fact, it can't, since it is the theological cornerstone of Christian faith: Jesus Christ is the Messiah, 'Emmanuel,' "since he will save his people from their sins." It is historical fulfillment. Though the presentation of history is always biased, it is not exactly subjective. But it does require a faith in its objective reality (another point of contention for Buddhists).
I wrote a paper last year attempting to prove that even the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth--a seemingly 'objective' reality according to historical and archaeological indicators--is a matter of faith and belief, not fact. I used my grandfather and Martin Luther King Jr. as comparative examples that differed slightly: I cannot confirm, from my own experience, that Dr. King actually existed: all I have is stories, pictures, news footage--second hand sources. I never knew my grandfather (though I have seen pictures and my dad tells me stories about him), but I can use the foundation of my own reality (I used Cartesian etiology--possibly a bad choice--to argue this point) to confirm his existence more solidly: 1) My father exists (1st hand experience); 2) I am a confirmed, biologically unique product of my father and mother (i.e., if my father did not exist, I would not exist); 3) Because my father exists, he must be the product of a father and mother (i.e., my grandfather and grandmother). Therefore, even though I cannot confirm what he may look like or the stories told about him with certainty, I do know for certain that he existed based on the fact that I exist (another possible point of contention among Buddhists).
What were we talking about? Oh yes, rehab. Actually, I took a turn off when I started writing about salvation, and how Christians rely on a savior. Ironically, this is a marked characteristic of a Type 4 also. Many 4's will look for this salvific figure in personal relationships. Because this feeling of needing to be 'saved' was so strong in me, I identified with Christianity. Maybe other people are not drawn to it in the same way, people who do not have this same panting for a savior? I don't know.
Gerald May's book Addiction and Grace is about this idea of being powerless over our addictions and being in need of Divine Assistance in overcoming them. AA asserts the same (I read a great article that Jeannie gave me about AA being the model of what a true Christian church should look like, written by Sam Shoemaker, one of the founders of AA). I feel like my stupid bikes and my stupid projects have taken over my life and my mind and I don't know how to keep out of the basement on my own. Like the Reese's Peanut Butter cups in my basement, it is a source of constant temptation. I want to get all my projects wrapped up before Lent because I am closing up shop until Easter. It is my way of saying 'yes' to rehab (which I understand Amy Winehouse is resistant to--good for her) and doing my part in recovering from an otherwise good (or neutral) thing that seems to have taken over my life. To add my own trite quip to the heap of 'Christian Inspiration': "God supplies the boat and oars; we must supply the muscle."
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
The beginning of Lent is my season, even more so than Christmas. I imagine there are a number of reasons for this. It's ironic that Lent is celebrated in anticipation of the death of Jesus rather than his birth, and this is what draws me to it (I can just see my girlfriend shaking her head now). Of course it is also an anticipation of rebirth at Easter, but those three days prior to the Resurrection were dark days for all who had put their chips on Jesus as the Messiah. We know how the story plays out; Jesus' friends during his life did not. I can't imagine the disappointment. Or maybe I can.
In any case, now that I'm back in school it is time to start procrastinating again and what better way than to clean house, stripping down the nonessentials. Lent is not a 'giving up' (chocolates and shit)--it is a refocusing, bringing things that have gotten off kilter back to the spiritual center. Ascetic practice is meant to be the outward expression of this inner spirit, but too often it can become the focus itself. To keep from misguided religiosity, it is important to remember that man's laws are not God's laws, and to keep things in perspective.
I have been cleaning my closet and giving things away on craigslist, selling other things i don't need, streamlining my clothes. This is not sacrifice. People often think donating their old sweaters to the Salvation Army to help some poor person who cannot afford to shop at Banana Republic (me) is some kind of redeeming act of charity. It isn't. It's a way to get rid of your crap and can sometimes even be used to assuage a sense of guilt for having too much. As long as one avoids the temptation to claim any merit, giving away things that we don't need can help in the refocusing effort, even if it seems to be a feeble attempt at shrugging off the marks of our regretful materialistic tendencies.
Lent is an important time for me because for forty days, I am given a sense of purpose and responsibility, and a chance to get back to my roots. It is like being an Italian-American and going back to the small village you grew up in for the summer. It reminds you where you are from and keeps your Italian honed; the less you visit, the more it fades. You can't really live there without making a full-on move, giving up everything you have and the life you know back in the States. Until then, forty day visits are the next best thing.
Monday, January 21, 2008
pressed between here and there.
A thousand bodies pass overhead,
shuffling to and fro.
But like a widow who does not forget,
I am visited by my debtor each day.
He services me in my hospital bed, and leaves with a grin;
wiping his mouth, he promises to see me tomorrow.
My tears dry on my cheek;
if I could move my hands, I might wipe them away.
But my nurse has gone home for the night,
pulling tight the door of my sepulcher.
The darkness heavier than a thousand feet on my chest;
my breath is exhumed, groans forcing their way through the earth.
My chest heaves in the absence of her protection;
I expel bits of myself into my bedpan.
Dread clocks in for the second shift;
I hear her cold steps making the rounds down the corridor.
I lie exhausted and silent in my grave,
staring at the ceiling I wait for morning.
Were there a lock on my door,
I might bolt it, and find peace, and sleep.
But I would miss my bookie and the deals we make,
the little treats that keep me from feeling dead.
How strange to think that it is because of him
that I am here in the first place.
And that it is my debt
that keeps me chained to this bed.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
We don't have to share every interest. Just keep me interested. That's happiness to me.
It's a nice tagline for Yahoo! Personals, compliments of "Erin from Laguna Beach, CA." I saw it as I was checking my email this morning and eating a waffle; it made me uneasy. I tried to reason it out to see what was the matter: If I am interested, I am happy; if I am not interested, I am not happy.
So what happens when you lose interest in someone you are with? According to "Erin," you become unhappy. As relationships today are defined more in terms of what it means "to me," rather than conforming to a pre-existing social norm, conditions can be set that vary from relationship to relationship. Some people have so-called "open" relationships, while others might exist in non-legally binding but committed domestic partnerships, while others still hold to a more traditional idea of commitment through marriage which is legally recognized, sanctified, and binding.
Culture can be like a leaky septic tank. The infiltration of culture into politics, religion, ethics, morality, global perception, etc., is inevitable, since culture is the proverbial soup that is the flavorful medley of all these ingredients. There is a reason America is different from France. Or Afghanistan. Or the Democratic Republic of Congo.
As Americans, we love us some choice, and marriage and relationships are no exception. Traditional limitations placed on our chosen method for the pursuit of happiness are sidestepped in favor of customized contemporary contracts drawn up and mutually agreed upon (or not) that allow for the loosing of the "binding" aspect of a relationship that might prevent that happiness from being realized. After all, it is our constitutional right.
I was talking with someone the other day who, after learning I was in school studying Theology, asked if I planned to become a priest. I told him no, that I did not think it was God's plan for me, nor do I want to be; that is, it was not my plan to become a priest--I hoped to marry and have a family someday--but if it was what God was calling me to then the choice would be clear: I would have no choice. Oh, I would have my free-will choice to accept or decline this invitation. But knowing that authentic, non-illusory happiness comes only from serving God on his terms, and knowing that this is the only happiness worth desiring, "choice" and "happiness" become rather impotent words. God chooses us; ironically, we have no choice in the matter. Happiness does not come from having our interest perpetually coddled; it comes from handing it over to God to do with it as he sees fit. "One day in your courts is better than a thousand spent elsewhere."
It does not surprise me that I should be so wary of putting heavy stock in the shifting sands of happiness; for they have shifted beneath my feet so frequently that I have eventually come to see them as being like a plot of quicksand unsuitable for anything but observation. It is certainly not something I would want to build a house on. I guess it should not be surprising, then, that I consider happiness a product of, rather than a reason for, a relationship. It is not a guarantee, and it is not owed.
Manic-depressives live their lives like cancer patients, knowing full well they are capable of leading healthy, fulfilling lives and having normal relationships while their dis-ease is in remission, but that they are never completely in the clear, like a man on the lam who marries and has a family and falls asleep every night praying that he is not found out and that his life, his new life, is not pulled out from under him. He has taken the bait--the hope for normalcy, for a second chance; his greatest nightmare is that it was a trap.
Unlike a man on the lam who is reeled in by the authorities after years of living under the constructed dream of being a 'free man,' though, no one takes the MD out of the picture kicking and screaming (unless they are being 302'd). Rather, the underlying fear that is that when the cancer comes back, it is the other person who will look at the situation and say, 'where is the happiness? Where is the interest? This is not in the contract.' That they will start weighing their options, like a son might be tempted to do in the face of hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical bills for a terminally ill father existing only by the mercy of a relentlessly beeping life-support machine. It would be easier to pull the plug. Hell, I can't say what I would do--I fear my pragmatism sometimes for its cold, calculated ability to live by facts and numbers, unadulterated by affect and ethics. Thankfully, the Apostle stepped up to counter the cultural affection of Love by piercing through the flowery crust and bulleting it as if it were
Love tests by fire. But I still live with a loitering fear that it will be hijacked by Happiness during those times when I have no Interest to offer, and leave me cold, sitting in the dark shadow of God, and wondering where to go next after I have given up everything I had.
Listening to: Belle & Sebastian The Boy With the Arab Strap
Last movie watched: 300
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Heading home from Olney this afternoon, I caught the C bus just before it got messy out but at 3 o'clock, it was also the absolute worst time to ride, since all the school kids are just getting out. It can feel like the Fall of Saigon, with bodies trying to squeeze into every possible pocket of space in the aisle, a dense urban nucleus on wheels. It is city living at its finest.
I got to hear a choice exchange between two girls as we rolled down Broad Street towards Center City (I had abandoned any notion of trying to wedge to the front of the bus to get off at Hunting Park for the R; it would be easier just to catch the 27 at City Hall). It was an Insult Slinging match, like the ones we used to have in middle school ("you're mamma's so poor, when I saw her rolling a trashcan down the street and asked her what she was doing she said 'movin' "). These girls were hitting on dads, though, starting with the 'I regret' game:
"I regret pokin' holes in your dad's condoms."
"I regret not makin' yo dad pull out!"
Things quickly degenerated into all kinds of silly and vulgar things, most of which I can't remember. It didn't bother me much (though I wondered if we talked like this when we were 13), but it's always a little uncomfortable when there are older ladies in earshot.
One reason I like riding the bus is that it keeps me connected to my community. I see the interesting social dynamics at work--passing the train station in the morning, the platform is crowded with young white professionals. The buses seem to be passed up as 2nd class and many times I am the only white person aboard. This has become comfortable and even though you don't really talk to the person sitting next to you, you do realize that they are essentially your neighbor, at least as a Philadelphian. One of the most sickening aspects of suburban living is the isolated sequestering and the insulated cyclical movement from vinyl-sided-two-car-garage home to car to work to car to home again in the evening--remote controls keep you from even having to get out to open the garage door.
SEPTA came out with this stupid ad campaign during their proposed fare increase that got ridiculed in op-eds for being another example of the misuse of funds that has plagued them for years. It had something to do with routes and neighborhoods--like the 61 and Manayunk, and then it would be list a bunch of defining things about Manayunk. While it was kind of silly, I do tend to know neighborhoods by number: the locals like the 9 and 27 (rox, andorra, plymouth meeting, s. philly), R and 1 (nicetown, hunting park, NE), 65 (Germantown); 23 (chestnut hill, logan); 42 and 21 (w. philly)...it goes on and on.
There's always some characters too. Like the guy who came on the R one day wrapped in hundreds of rubber bands with a penthouse in his back pocket; the old wooly charley with his cane picking up the 65 gumming his teeth and smelling like moldy sweatsocks; the big hard mad woman who kept slapping her baby for crying and who bit a woman's head off for saying something about it.
The rotten smell of half smoked cigarettes tucked behind ears.
The exhale of hydraulics and the annoyed mutterings of folks having to move for people in wheelchairs.
Young mothers and their familiar tired technique of hoisting babies and folding strollers.
Old ladies in big hats and Sunday best off to Baptist churches in Germantown to sing and groan to the Lord.
The relief of a cool space in the summer for those without air conditioning and a warm one in the winter for those who pay too much for heat.
The standing for an hour waiting for buses that never show and not being able to do anything about it.
The old Metros.
The not having to drive.
The puttering Boulevard.
The bloody Schuylkill.
Late nights at 69th Street.
The backways through Stawberry Mansion when it rains.
The million and one things to write about from the big plexi-glass window.
Monday, January 14, 2008
I just got out of one of the most exhausting meetings and it was exhausting (of course) because there were people involved. Very different people with different ways of approaching the same situation. There were the male/female perspectives to attend to. And the American/foreigner differences. And those who were mentally retarded and those who weren't. And family members vs. non-family. There were the disagreements over the active vs. passive approaches, and between those who come at situations from behind a desk and those who have to fight on the front lines. Mind you, there were only five people involved, including me.
In contemporary theology, a point of contention is the role that experience plays in moral and ethical formation and decision making. If I am a woman, can I view God through a man's eyes? If I come from a broken home, how does that experience affect my trust in a benevolent God?
I am sure the contentions among the apostles were more than just polite disagreements, the way we imagine it in our heads. After all, they were men of different personalities and temperaments, different backgrounds...different experiences. They all had their own unique idea of who the Christ was...or who he should be. They had expectations, natural, human expectations. And they got dashed against a rock. And you have to wonder: do our broken expectations confirm our beliefs that what we had believed in no longer exists? Or is it simply a matter of expectations being broken. No right. No wrong. No birth. No death. Just expectations.
When I realized this, I sat back in my chair, ate another donut, and watched the drama play out.
I watch for you like a dark cloud on the horizon;
like a gathering storm, you are coming to shroud me in darkness.
When I think of you, my belly kicks.
I throw off my clothes, and wait to be consumed.
Like counting the seconds between lightening and thunder,
I count down the days until you come
only to leave, only to come again;
only to leave again,
only to come, again.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
This is one of my favorite lines in Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums. It is what follows Ray's unintentioned but solid engagement of Zen satori in the material world, his sudden enlightenment to the lightness of life, the experiential affirmation of a world bound by chi, the static cling binding the universe together.
Ray experiences his enlightenment like a fisherman suddenly realizing he has a catch. It is the moment of the realization that there is suddenly a fish on the other end of a line, a line that had until that point (having been undisturbed for hours)been believed to have assumed that reality: a lifeless line. It is a moment in which one is forcefully ripped out of their existence and put into a new one, like a man retiring an old suit for a new one. It takes some getting used to,of course. But in the end it's better to move onto a new suit. If you continue to wear the only one you have, it's just a matter of time before it starts to look pretty shabby by comparison.
You cannot fall off a mountain. You can fall down a mountain. This happens when we're not paying attention and our foot missteps, and we bite it, sometimes bad (blood, broken bones, etc.). Moments escaping unrealized are like blood spurting from a neck wound; without attracting the same sense of urgency. When you see the power of what being in the moment (or no being in the moment) can do, and you realize the number of experiences that you can honestly say you have had in your life in which you have fully tuned into a frequency in which you are not projecting out into the past or future, but are subsisting jut one breath away from annihilation (or at least a full body cast) and have stayed in that state for more than a few minutes. Then you think about those rare people who seem to have tuned into this frequency and been able to live in it for more or less uninterrupted periods of time. Jesus said all that one had to do was have faith the size of a mustard seed in order to throw mountains into the sea. A mustard seed is very small. He used this particular seed to hammer home a point--if faith this small can send mountains hurling into the sea, think about the power of, say, a field of mustard seeds, or, even more, the ground which the mustard plant grows from. Then think about the fact that while we may put up fences and divide up land like we were carving up a sheet cake, the land, the earth, the Force is one, and undivided. And then think about the words coming from the mouth of the one man in history who could claim wholly uninterrupted oneness with that Force, and his benevolence to all people, when he said: "As the Father has loved me, so I love you" and those who knew him and could attest to his word claimed, "though all may forsake you, there is One who will never leave or forsake you; he loves you to the utmost."
If a hill can be thrown into the sea with faith which draws from one Source, and is a fraction of it, think of how powerful that One Source might be;
Now think of the man whose being came from the wholeness of this Source, and was this Source, and could not be separated from it, (and thus having the utmost credibility), and his affirming that it was a good Source, which never breaks promises and loves without condition;
And imagine him telling you that this Source, the Originator and the Destroyer of all that is, is so completely enamored with you, so completely in love with you, that he will never stop chasing you, even should he spend his last breath, with the hopes that you might spend even a moment with him...
Well, it gives a new appreciation and respect to those who do devote their lives to learning to always be in the moment (the only true non-illusory plane of existence), to learning how to love, to living constantly in the uncertainty of faith. They are not easy lives, the lifetimes spent trying to wake up to the fact that you can't fall off a mountain.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
There are so many biblical injunctions that accompany and reaffirm this physical reaction, as in Luke 9:
And to another he said, "Follow me."
But he replied, "(Lord,) let me go first and bury my father."
But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
And another said, "I will follow you, Lord, but first let me
say farewell to my family at home."
(To him) Jesus said, "No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God."
I am more like Augustine:
I still have three semesters of school left;
Starting a new job now would be too stressful;
I'm comfortable and have a lot of freedom in my present job;
I'm almost fully vested in my pension;
I don't know if I could deal with the stresses of teaching again;
It's too far away;
There's no money in Catholic schools;
I'm scared of change;
I don't think such a position at this point in time would work out. And maybe God isn't calling me to teach. But it was a wake up call anyway from the complacency and love of easy living that I'm bathing in now. I feel like I am in a fallow period in my life. I use being in school and making it to the five year mark with my company as my defense against a new assignment. And for the most part God has respected that--or at least it has coincided with His plan for me. I feel like I have been waiting for instructions for what my next step is and have gotten only silence. Rather than being distressed about it, I exhale a little and wipe my brow and get back to doing whatever it is I want to do, which is basically what I have made my spiritual life into.
This little kick in my gut has become one of those unsettling signs that maybe a change is in the air, like one of these nice 65 degree days we've been having lately in the middle of winter; it won't be long til sleepy crocuses start poking their heads through the ground and cherry blossoms begin to appear like popcorn popping all along Kelly Drive. This is the beauty beneath the surface of doing the Lord's work. But to me it just looks like work, and work that I am scared to do; if you love winter (I don't, just fyi), signs of spring are a bit unnerving.
But the Lord, the Benevolent Quadriplegic, counts on us to be His hands and feet on earth, like a big fat Lady in a moo-moo who points to what she wants with a cane because she can't get off the couch to get it herself. Sigh; love is service. Jesus said the harvest is great but the workers are few, and I think the reason for that is that everybody in town saw just how much there was to be done and realized they would be better off just keeping the jobs they had. No benefits, no guaranteed wages...just a promise that it would be worth it in the end.
So last night I was praying, sitting on my bed in my underwear talking to God. I prayed for Britney Spears, as usual, and for Rachel's baby, for Ryan, for my brothers, for the poor; in thanksgiving for Jeannie. Then I reached the end of my list and my dark room was quiet. A slice of moon squeezed some pale light through the narrow window, dully illuminating the white walls of my cell. We got real. And I said: I don't know what I want or what to do; I don't know what's good for me. I don't know what you want but I know I want to do it. So I ask of you only one thing: help me to know Your will, and do it.
And then I said goodnight and laid back on my pillow. I stared at the ceiling for a while. And then, as if I had just been kicked in the head, the Lord said to me: Go to your bookshelf; Saint Alphonsus will help you.
Like a remote controlled robot, I rose out of bed and went to the bookshelf and sandwiched so thin between two books that it was almost invisible, was a creased yellowed copy of St. Alphonsus': Uniformity with God's Will. Along with Jean Pierre de Caussade's Abandonment to Divine Providence, this is one of favorite spiritual texts due to its simplicity and lack of pretension. It is what I call a 'reminder piece': when we forget the most fundamental and important things in life, these little books, like children, remind us that what is best is also sometimes what is the most simple.
I read by candlelight; it was like getting reacquainted with an old friend. There was the quote by Blessed Henry Suso that I still remember by heart:
than be a seraph by my own."
And David, the greatest man in history (and after whom I would like to name my firstborn son), who confessed: "My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready. Teach me to do thy will." As St. Alphonsus says, David was great because he asked God for one thing alone--to teach him to do his will.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
followed by a url: doyouknowyet.net.
Very clever. I went to the site when I got home (I can just see the advertising execs high-fiving in the boardroom). It's no riddle...it's a site for bargain vacation resorts. Hey, here's a sign for you:
Then shall they wander from sea to sea and rove from the north to the east In search of the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it.
On that day, fair virgins and young men shall faint from thirst; Those who swear by the shameful idol of Samaria, "By the life of your god, O Dan!" "By the life of your love, O Beersheba!" those shall fall, never to rise again.
Kind of like the story of the ant and the grasshopper: if you spend your summer singing and sleeping rather than storing up food for the winter, your hunger during that time is proportional to your lack of preparation. That's why those who are always eating the Word of God are big and spiritually fat, despite their scrawny bodily frames and worldly diet of locusts and wild honey, and are able to endure even the harshest winter when the fields are seized with frost and trapped under heavy blankets of snow.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
"After, Clinton and her aides seemed resigned to a second straight setback. But polling place interviews showed that female voters — who deserted her last week — were solidly in her column.
She also was winning handily among registered Democrats. Obama led her by an even larger margin among independents, but he suffered from a falloff in turnout among young voters compared with Iowa."I know I'm the last person who should be bitching about this. But I do vote, and I want B.O. to win this thing and while he's there, take a little bit of 'white' out of the White House.
The one thing that I notice when I see movies or advertisements from the fifties is the strong, underlying message that ethical codes were well defined and unambiguous. WWII helped foster this desire for a solid foundation. But the post-structural, anti-foundational 21st century is one in which we cannot claim the assurance of such an unchanging ethical paradigm,
But as a character study, Seven Year Itch is all about the process of temptation, specifically, against adultery. Marilyn Monroe plays "The Girl" (honest, that's her real casting tag) upstairs who Richard Shermann (Tom Ewell), invites to "come over for a drink" while his wife and son are out of town. From being forced to hide the key to the chest that holds the cigarettes (wife doesn't want him to smoke) to going to a vegetarian diner (wife says watch the diet), to rationalizing his neighborly 'drink invitation', Shermann seems to be spending his whole "family-free" swatting at these temptations, accompanied by the mosquito-like buzz of his perturbed post-war formed moral conscience.
In inviting the smoking hot 22 year old 'girl upstairs' over to his apartment for a drink while his wife is away, it appears that Shermann has put himself in a compromising situation, and in a way he has, at least in terms of the appropriateness of such an action as judged by the society in which it is undertaken. This quote, for example:
"Suppose someone sees you sneaking out of here at six in the morning. That's even worse!"
"But we're not doing anything wrong."
"Certainly not. But there's such a thing as society, you know. Laws, rules...I'm not saying I necessarily believe in them but after all, no man's an island."
I think he realizes this as well. But if there's anyone who is off on a whole other plane altogether, it's beautiful blonde Marilyn. I think this qualifies as my favorite quote so far, and it makes her especially endearing in how well she plays the role of the 1950's barbie doll:
"I think it's wonderful that you're married! I think it's just delicate!" "You do?" "Of course! I mean I wouldn't be lying on the floor in the middle of the night in some man's apartment drinking champagne if he wasn't married." "That's a very interesting line of reasoning." "Sure! With a married man, it's all so simple. I mean it can't ever possibly get drastic."
Oh Marilyn, were it so simple ye simple child of God. Guy sees: "I'm doing something wrong--after all, I'm married." Girl sees: "I'm doing nothing wrong--after all, he's married!). Same situation. Funny! Also interesting snipet about how trust and jealously:
"If Helen came in here and found you in the shower, you know what she would think? She would think you were the plumber."
"A blonde plumber?"
"Absolutely. She trusts me implicitly."
"What's the matter with her? Doesn't she love you?" And then after listing all his wonderful qualities: "If I was your wife I'd be jealous of you. Very, very jealous"
I will say that if I ever have a daughter, I will watch this movie with her because men are dogs and they deserve to be regarded with suspicion. Since the post-structural ground of ethics is shifting beneath my feet as I type, it seems that the age of the 'do's and don'ts'--at least in terms of moral education--has come and past. Maybe it's time for a new ethical paradigm...
Sunday, January 6, 2008
Looking back a few days later, as if I were a private eye being asked to investigate when a sin is committed to try to find what the true sin is...kind of like a one-man jury. You have to weigh the facts; you can not judge the situation at face value. Mitigating circumstances must be taken into affect. This is ethics, or more appropriately, the court where ethics and moral theology convene. And so in the Case of the Chocolate Glutton, I have reached the conclusion that it was a lack of prudence, rather than an intention towards gluttony, which was responsible for this particular moral breach. Unless my moral compass is way out of whack, here's why:
Gluttony is an over-indulgence in or over-consumption of food or some substance. Thomas Aquinas expanded the definition to include:
- Praepropere - eating too soon;
- Laute - eating too expensively;
- Nimis - eating too much;
- Ardenter - eating too eagerly;
- Studiose - eating too daintily.
But Jeannie and I agreed that this sinful titillation came not from such anticipation but from the satisfaction of being good cheapskates! It is true that we had gone a little overboard, and probably spent more money then we would have by buying less and paying full price, but such a sale was almost too good to be true.
The problem, however, was not the stocking up on sale items (I stock up on tuna when it's on sale at the Acme all the time), but on the latent potential for gluttony stored within those cursed bags of butter cups. Like J.R.R. Tolkien's "Ring," the stockpile of candy in my cabinets holds power over me; as long as it is here, I am inclined to eat it, and with abandon. Truthfully, I tend to think that the only things I really am able to stockpile are tuna and alcohol--I can have a bottle of vodka sitting on my kitchen table for a year and not once be tempted to drink from it. Why this is the case I don't know; it has no power over me. But attempting to keep certain things--chocolate, cigarettes, cannabis--in the house...I can't do it. I told myself when I left the monastery in Thailand that I would keep a single cigarette and match in my pocket as a constant source of temptation, which I could meditate on in tantric fashion. But I bought a pack and just never ended up throwing the rest of them away. I think I made a serious mistake in buying all this chocolate; something has to be done to rectify this moral blunder. So if you would like a bag, stop on by...no costume required.
Friday, January 4, 2008
He's right, in a sense. But there's a part of me that also feels he's misappropriating the word, at least in this context. He is still in honeymood mode and knowing this particular friend, I'm sure driving 3,000 miles would not be a distance too far. He wants to see her, and when a man really wants to see a woman he will do just about anything to make that happen.
So in my mind yes, my friend driving five hours to see his girlfriend is a sacrifice on his part. But it doesn't really cost him anything besides gas, tolls, and a weekend with his friends--a small price to pay. Sacrifice more accurately described entails a giving up of something not easily parted with. I was going to write "easily or willingly," but that last part is not accurate, since true sacrifice must entail a free surrender of that which one could just as easily choose to retain. Soldiers leaving families to fight overseas sacrifice for their country. Wives whose husbands have been offered a job in a different part of the country sacrifice their plans to relocate the family. When a spouse is sick, the other makes sacrifices at their own expense to ensure the comfort of the other.
Jesus was always telling people to watch their motivations. He condemned self-serving actions that marauded as 'sacrifices' to Yahweh when he saw that they did not truly cost the person anything. A billionaire that donates $10,000 to a charity is not 'sacrificing;' he is giving of his abundance. And yet Jesus pointed to the widow and her musty mite as an example of what 'digging deep' looked like. Sometimes, though, money is the easiest thing to sacrifice; it is our malignant will that refuses to die. Jesus set the precedent for self-sacrifice--he was not skipping towards Golgotha, but was sweating blood the night before his death. He did not want to die but in obedience to God and for the salvation of humankind strung up his own will up on a cross beside him, splashing blood and writhing like a rabbit in a trap. He did what he did not want to do. That is sacrifice.
Reason is the antithesis to emotion; a gradient scale exists between the two, with each on its respective pole. Their relationship is inverse: the more emotional one is, the less rational they may be considered. Hm, maybe rational isn't the best word. How about 'analytical?'
During this month-long sojourn through Bizzarro World, I was operating in full-blown rational mode; emotion became like an evicted tenant. I still experienced feelings of elation and joy, as well as others. But I was not using these emotions in my decision making processes, at all. It was making life so pleasant. Chaotic, but pleasant. Because emotions are very exhausting. Maybe this new toned-down life isn't so bad afterall. It was like going to get that surgery where they take your fat from your ass and 'even it out' across various parts of your body: my emotions were being slapped indiscriminately in various areas of the body. As long as they stayed away from the head, Reason had no reason to bother with them.
Quote for the Day:
"Writing is everything, unconditional. There is no separation between writing, life, and the mind. If you think big enough to let people eat cars, you will be able to see that ants are elephants and men are women. You will be able to see the transparency of all forms so that all separations disappear."
Thursday, January 3, 2008
Belated, but still relevant--the NYE reflection I had been searching the archives for. Enjoy, and be sure to check back to see what else from the MS Word vault has been posted.
New Years Eve, 2001
I sat in the sun this morning and made a breakfast of toast with honey and green tea. Filo got in at 9 this morning from work and it looks like shes not planning to sleep, again. She has a big party planned for New Years tonight, but I think I'm going to try to get to midnight Mass at St. Marys.
I take a walk down to the city, cutting through the fields and forest on the way down. It is a gorgeous day. I sit and talk with a Maori woman about what Boxing Day is as we wait for the bus. I look out at the bay and feel relieved, to be alone. I go to the bank to change some money and walk up to Catholic chaplaincy to have lunch and send some emails.
* * *
Walking up the hill after going into town for cigarettes with Filomena, I see a girl about my age with jet black hair and beautiful dark eyes swinging on a treeswing by herself. I'm struck for a minute it is so storybook-sad and touching that the whole scene seems to have a glow about it. Walking by with F., I feel like I'm wearing a cashmere coat arm in arm with a wife, walking by a homeless person...subtly ashamed. but i wave to her once, twice...wanting her to know that i've been there before and i'm here now swinging by myself TOO and that she's beautiful, but she doesn't see me. We round the bend and its over. it was the most private special thing i've seen all day.
F. and I clear the air in the afternoon, if you can call it that. It felt like it went nowhere. she asked me to read the letters i wrote her and if i would help her burn them. 'What the fuck!? Who are you?' 'No, its not spiteful or anything, its just moving on.' Yeah. Look, i tell her, if you want to burn those letters that's something for you to do personally that i don't want any part of. Fuck, this is weird. She's been drinking for a couple hours now. Its four o'clock.
michelle's friend dwayne is over. 'whatcha drinkin' mate?' he asks as I'm eating dinner on the back stoop. 'aw, just some milk bro.' 'yeha, good one' 'nah mate, for real, its right here. see.' 'what the?...'
more people start rolling in at nine oclock. as if i'm not having enough trouble trying to belong as it is, i've gotten it in my head that i'm not going to drink tonight. on new years eve. in a country where babies nurse on beer instead of milk. i haven't been looking foward to this party and have decided to go to midnight mass at st. mary's. 'that's a good one mate,' dwayne says, and i smile. 'you're serious? come on then, have a drink.' nah, i'm good thanks...'got my milk,' i laugh.
'yea, i'd be in church too, but the way i figure, God wants me to be having a good time. so if i'm happy, that's just like going to church, doing what God wants me to do.' i nod, trying to reason out his logic on this particular self-made form of religion. i am really looking forward to mass--i'm getting real tired of all this.
i'm sitting out front talking with some of Fil's friends Ace, Benna, and Charlet. i'm more comfortable in the company of islanders and maori than pakeha (euro nz'ers). F. is with us and she's pretty drunk. the (white) guys next door are having a party as well, i don't think she gets on with them to well. we're laughing and having a good time when we hear someone there say 'damn, that girl is BLACK!' all conversation among us stops while it continues up there. i wonder if i hear right. i immediately shoot a glance to F.. This has happened before. and i know how she is when she's drunk. one time a guy unknowingly said something about how she looked and i had to pin her arms together and take her around back; she was going to break his nose. now, she's out of her chair and storming upstairs. ace and benna laugh about it but I hear her giving her neighbors hell and i'm worried. when she comes down all the joy has gone out of her and she looks stepped-on and shook up. she doesn't want to let on to anyone, so i take her inside. she is cursing and crying and FUMING, like a searing wound had been opened up. and it has. i am seeing before my eyes the devastating effect one thoughtless racist remark can have on someone. she is so upset it scares me, and i'm powerless to do anything for her. it hurts to watch. i don't even have any words, i'm just...there. she's shaking with rage and hatred, and while i will never 100% experience that kind of pain because of racism, i can see how painful it is. that hatred is so ugly i almost can't look at her it scares me too much. she knows i was planning to go to mass and looks at me with contempt. 'go to church,' she spits. 'no, i'm going to stay with you.' 'no, you do what you want; if you want to go, then go.' i don't know what to say.
'tell me,' she asks with that fire in her eyes, 'how can you go to Church when the world is so fucked?'
i pause for a minute and then look up at her.
'i think it's BECAUSE the world is so fucked that i go to church.'
'just go then...'
i feel like a pious asshole but know there is nothing i can do for her. God, all i want is to be with Jesus--i don't even care about the hymns or the service. it's 11:30 and the city is absolutely mad. I feel like i've been thrown in the lion's den; this is what the cities that the Desert Fathers fled from must have been like.
Couple after couple weaves by arm in arm. a bottle breaks against a wall. people are yelling conversations on their cell phones in the midst of this cacophony. a girl is passed out on the sidewalk as her two friends just stand there. People dancing in the streets. A fight breaks out. I feel like I'm on a moving walkway and people are just moving on by. I'm totally sober. I finally get to Mass and am so tired from the walk and everything going on that I fall asleep during the Gregorian chant and when I wake up I don't know if Mass has ended or if its just starting. People are leaving. But it ends up being the start and the service is, of course, awful uninspiring, but I wait for Communion feeling like I've gone through so much to be here, it's all I want. After Communion I feel nothing, but as usual, am content knowing that I don't have to feel anything. After the service I am the only one left in the church--it is the most depressing lonely scene. I want to cry but feel no sadness to justify it. It is 1am.
New Year's has come and gone, literally. Like sex. A year's worth of anticipation and then 5-4-3-2-1...a ball-dropping 12 o'clock climax and its over. The whole world has felt the satisfaction and sadness of an arm-in-arm drunk-prom-night New Year's orgasm. Kneeling on a wooden pew, I realize I faked it.
I make my way back home down
I think about Zeb and a conversation we had about 'missing out' on things because of trying to live our faith to its fullest. You do. But you gain so much more. I think about Zeb, and life.
I sit on some steps before climbing the hill to write some. Then I hear this, 'Rob!' and it's Fil and Mitch running down the stairs. she's fully drunk now and wants to go dancing, though she can't even stand up straight. she wants to have a good time, all the time, and doesn't let anything stand in her way. she asks if i want to take a walk and all i want to do is go to bed, but I say yeah. We talk the long way back and I have to steady her the whole time. Then she wants to pass out on a bench in the middle of the woods. I hate her when she's like this--probably why I didn't drink tonight. I think about all those wives with alcoholic husbands and the shit they go through.
We get home and she wants to lay in the backyard, so I decide she's fine and say a quick hello to everyone still going strong, and retire to the refuge of my room. It's 4am. What a fucking night. I rang in the New Year sober, alone, and in church--It is the most blessed one I can remember.
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
I don't make resolutions, and I rarely make promises, but I decided to start things off I would at least get around to getting my archived blogs up and posted. Somebody I was speaking with made a point the other day in this age millions of people are 'putting themselves out there'--through blogging, webpages, facebook, etc.--leaving a part of themselves behind to be discovered by a future age. I remember when I was in junior high a friend and I discovered a stack of trainlogs from the early 1900's underneath the abandoned Doylestown station (we had a habit of ripping out the boards and crawling around underneath the platform, just to see what was down there). It wasn't the books themselves or what they were about (we had no intention of reading a bunch of trainlogs)--it was the discovery of something from another era. At no other time in history have we been able to read about so many ordinary people's everyday lives, and so easily, as we can in this blogger age.
Of course I hope to be discovered someday...why else would I write (blog)? You want to leave a mark worth making. My Ego attempts to ensure that this happens by pushing my writing along, recalling old adages like: "Always wear clean underwear...you never know when you might get in a car accident," or "remember when Clinton had to admit he smoked the jawn (but never inhaled)?" I guess his point is that you don't want to leave behind shit (no pun intended). "El Grande" (his nickname) always dresses sharp and cares what people think. He can be voraciously noncompliant but is incredibly fragile--his sense of self is dependent on affirmation. But if I must respect him for one thing, it is that he is fully convinced that he matters. Unlike the glib pretentious nihilist ("Nada," who drinks umbrella drinks on the black sand beaches of Coasta Rica, waiting for his clock to run out and planning only to leave the smugness of his smile as an artifact for the fucked generations to come), El Grande wants to leave a more profound mark on the world. His motives are mixed: He wants to free his grandiose fantasies from the confines of my mind. But he also knows that it is the actions of noble men that are remembered most.
And so, for his final mark, he desires to be noble. He pours everything he has, everything he is, into this final deposit. The irony cuts like a crisp crease: in being most true to himself--that is, pursing his most egotistical self-interest--he transcends it and leaves the world with a story for all the world to read, like an oyster churning its excrement in its fermenting shell and spitting out a pearl. It could be strung up for a rich divorce in the Hamptons, or it could be discovered by a poor fisherman's son in Havana and used to pay off their boat. You never know what good your shit is going to be to the world. Enjoy the posts.
Music Suggestion for the Day: Madeleine Peyroux, "Dreamland"