When it’s dangerous to listen

I try to be generous. I try to side with the powerless. I try not to clutch the things I possess. I try to possess few things.

But I have a car, and an apartment (though I want a condo), and a soda maker, and even though I go to City Hospital out of solidarity I have the option of going to a fancier hospital if I want to.

I worry about money sometimes, which is normal. I feel like I don’t have enough, and there’s no way of knowing because enough is a meaningless word. Enough for what?

When the readings tell me, as they did this past Sunday, that God hears the poor and is close the brokenhearted, that the wrong kind of self-satisfaction is displeasing to God, I worry.

Most of our Scripture was written from a position of powerlessness, by an impoverished, oppressed people. They also happened to by God’s chosen people. When I sang “the Lord hears the cry of the poor” this weekend I almost wept for shame in front of everyone.

I have been agonizing over how to scrape together enough money to buy one of the overpriced condos in my neighborhood. I have focused a lot of my energy on feeling aggrieved because I can’t afford what I want and feeling panicked that my ample income won’t support even more comfort. I do not want to give up what I have. Realistically, I won’t.

The Pharisee and the Publican1Neither, though, do I want to to feel any better about my affluence. I can’t practice discipleship only when it leads to glory – then I’m as bad as the Pharisee. The glory comes on the other side of the cross, the other side of powerlessness. When I choose to sidestep powerlessness I should be honest with myself that I am making that choice.

There is no expectation of resolution. I don’t want to find the right exegete who will tell me “what Jesus actually meant was…” and thereby exonerate me from my affluence. Even when I was shaken at mass, wondering if my position of power distanced me from God, but doubting I could ever relinquish that power, I felt better for having acknowledged the question. I felt better for having sat in the tension.

I felt better because I know that listening is dangerous, that often times God’s voice through Scripture and prayer will make me feel uncomfortable. The Good News often “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” If these questions make me uneasy, it is a sign I’m asking the right ones.

What messages from God make you uneasy?

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Posted in lectionary, Scripture | 4 Comments

What doesn’t kill you…

Unidentified orange red treeSometimes, what doesn’t kill you just makes you really, really tired.

I had a tough September. I was feeling more Crohn’s symptoms than I had in a while.

On Labor Day I was invited to a party, but was fatigued and in terrible pain. Since I didn’t want to miss my friends I drove 25 minutes north of the city, sat on the floor and caught up with a few people, skipped the hors d’oeuvres, and got back in the car after about a half an hour. I was glad I’d done it, but I was ready to go home.

I spent the rest of the day on the couch.

The pain and exhaustion were never going to kill me. Can I say instead they made me stronger? I’m not sure. They made me rest.

There are convoluted ways to turn that into the definition of strength. For someone like me, whose drive to accomplishment often crosses the line into compulsion, perhaps the challenge of resting is in fact strength. Perhaps.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? I don’t know if that’s true. What I do know is that I do not need it to be true. We are called to more than strength.

There are times when strength is called for, and I am proud to say that I am strong at those moments. But when my weakness is revealed it does not diminish my personhood.

I am loved, and it is that love which defines my existence. My strength does not earn the caring gaze of God, and my weakness will not shame me into hiding from that gaze.

What is your take on these unavoidable moments of weakness?

Posted in faith, friends, Health | 8 Comments

Seven Quick Links after a busy week

This post was originally going to be “7 things we should have shut down instead of the government”, but all I could come up with was Hooters.


— 1 —

I love a good pen. These are what I’m writing with these days, in all their fabulous colors.

— 2 —

Why am I so busy right now that I only have time to post about pens, you ask? Because I am in rehearsals for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee which runs outside Boston the first two weekends of November.

— 3 —

In my spare moments I’ve been reading Living By Faith, Dwelling in Doubt by Kyle R. Cupp. Disclaimer: I’m only 15 pages into it. That gives you an idea of how many spare moments I’ve had lately. I’ll be sure to post a more thorough review at the end of the month, when I usually write about what I’ve read. Hopefully at that point I will have made it a little farther past the table of contents.

— 4 —

I have already started getting offers for Christmas caroling gigs, and I’ve got my Holiday Pops schedule set. Tickets are on sale for the Pops!

— 5 —

The Red Sox are in the playoffs (for now). A few nights ago there was a 3:00 pm game which was great. I made it to the end! Lately it’s 8:00 pm starts, and I just can’t last that long.

— 6 —

At the end of my half-marathon last weekend (on which I had a PR!) I stopped at the bubbler, slurped some water, rinsed my face and used some tissue to wipe my face and then to blow my nose. Once I got to the end of the chute I went off in search of a trash can. When I got to one a woman was standing there and reached out to take my rubbish.

“Uh, it’s used tissues. You don’t want to touch that.”
“Oh, OK!” she perkily replied. She gestured to one of three barrels and told me “You can compost those tissues!”

This exchange was brought to you by the greenest race in the world! One of my favorite things about that race is that it is environmentally friendly: Local foods, reusable bags, composting assistants. Read more about their Greening here.

— 7 —

Over the summer, while away from Boston, I became hooked on Celestial Tea Antioxidant Max Green Tea – Blackberry Pomegranate. I’ve been having a hard time finding it in stores near my apartment. I haven’t yet resorted to buying tea on the internet, but I might have to.

Have a great weekend, everyone! And be sure to share with me your favorite pens, teas, books, teams, concerts, or whatever else you have going on!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Purchases made through these links send some change back into my piggy bank.
Posted in Boston, reading, running | 3 Comments

The land of the free

The anthem was too slow for my taste, but I’m particular about my Star-Spangled-Banner tempi.

We were gathered at the start line, bouncing up and down to stave off the early morning chill. The national anthem, sung by a talented local law enforcement officer, signaled to us that it was almost time to get running.

In a moment there would be a prayer led by a pastor from Newtown, and a tribute to the Boston Marathon, but we didn’t know that yet.

Connecticut State Capitol, HartfordThe anthem went on, and most of us were still and listening. I didn’t see a flag, but everyone seemed to be looking to the right, toward the capitol building, so I turned that way, assuming that a flag was in that direction.

At the end of the song it became clear what the singer’s game was: he liked to hold the note of “free” and give a huge crescendo. It was a nice effect.

He was singing “free”, and I was looking toward the historic gold dome, past the soldiers with guns hovering on a platform a few feet from me.

Has the world always been changing this fast? It had only been a year since the last time that I had gathered with tens of thousands on the streets of the city where I was born, and it seemed as if life had been turned on its head. There had been an unthinkable massacre in that state, there had been a jarring attack in my adopted home.

(I remember my mother talking about the first time she saw officers with rifles in an airport, and how she burst into tears. That was over ten years ago. So maybe things have been changing slowly after all.)

half marathon bagWe got clear bags this year. Instead of the usual cloth bags that participants have been given for years, everyone was given a plastic bag with the marathon logo on it. That was the only bag that would be accepted at bag check, and the staff had to be able to see everything in it.

That’s what I was thinking about as the baritone sang about the land of the free: plastic bags.

Has the world always been changing this fast?

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7 not-so-quick Hartford Half-Marathons

This weekend I will run my eighth Hartford Half-Marathon, my tenth halffy over-all. After a dismal start to my half-marathoning career at the New Bedford Half-Marathon on a brutal wintry day in 2006, I have learned a lot about myself (and taken two full minutes off my race pace). Here’s a recap of the previous 7 Hartford Halfs. 20120810-112226.jpg

— 1 —

2006 – 2:55:28

Although my nearly three-hour time had me coming in tenth to last among female finishers, this still felt pretty good to me. When I did New Bedford six months prior I had walked a lot of the race, and finished well over three hours. I’d decided to do that race because I was sick of sitting on the sidelines while my friends participated in events, so I put on some tough running shoes and started training.

This time I ran the whole time without having to stop to walk. Go me.

— 2 —

2007 – 2:57:00

Mom

I don’t remember much about this race, though I think it is the one at which I wore my “I Heart Jesuits” t-shirt. I don’t remember why I was slower than the year before. But I finished, and my mom drove me in just as she has every year, and met me at the finish line and poached some of the delicious food that they offer in Bushnell Park after the race. 

If not for her company, I probably wouldn’t keep doing this race. But it’s a nice opportunity to go home for a few days, fuel up on dinner with the family, and spend a day with her.

— 3 —

2008 – 2:40:00

Now we’re cooking. I was preparing for my first full opera role while I was training. I lost about ten pounds, which I have learned is the only thing that affects my pace (after losing that weight the director still put me in ghastly pleated pants that made me look like a mountain, but that’s another story).

This was also the year that I was accidentally given a marathon chip, so my time was initially recorded as being in the top ten for the full marathon (NB: even only having run the half, I still was not first in the full marathon listings. Ergo, there were 7 women who literally ran twice as fast as I did). I was listed in the newspaper which seriously confused my family, who know well my athletic limitations.

Notably, this was also the first race I blogged about.

— 4 —

2009 – 2:29:59

Nearly 45 seconds came off my mile pace between these two races. This one felt good.

I did a lot of soul-searching while training that year. The practice of writing that I had developed had me looking for lessons even more than I had previously. Here’s a section of what I wrote at the time.

So what have I learned from running? That when you’re exhausted and you think you can’t push any farther, you can always push a little harder – but if you collapse and cry (or vomit) there will still be people who will be nice to you and help you out. That it’s better to push to the top of the hill and then take it easy on the way down. That when it hurts in one place a tiny adjustment can take the edge off – although you’ll just end up hurting in another. That there’s benefit in doing the things which embarrass you the most.

— 5 —

2010 – 2:25:53

Just over an 11-minute pace! That was a huge accomplishment for me. During the race I was distracted and cranky, but it still yielded a great time. Just goes to show you can’t always trust your moods.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be my last half-marathon without Crohn’s disease. I wrote again about things I learned in that race. Here’s a summary:

1. Spectators never expect you to cheer for them first.

2. “The new course moved all the hills to the front of the race” is code for “the first nine miles are hilly as hell!”

3. Sometimes the most trying experiences result in success, not failure.

— 6 —

finish line

I always wear a bright headband so people can spot me.

2011 –2:32:44

Three things were notable about this race:

1.I had trained for a triathlon while training for the race, which got me in great shape.

2.I had an as-yet-undiagnosed chronic illness.

3. I had a sweetheart waiting for me at the finish line.

(Both the sweetheart and the illness had affected my training that fall. I can only blame the glow of new love for the “happy pounds” that may have contributed to my pace being a teeny bit slower than the previous year.)

— 7 —

2012 – 2:27:33

Last year the training was grueling, and included a mighty spill the likes of which I hadn’t had in years. The day before the race I was feeling symptoms and could barely eat dinner (I had two yogurts instead of the pasta my mother had planned). Still, I finished with one of my better times.

I’ve written many times about why I run: It gives me something to be bad at. It challenges me. It keeps me healthy. I can be totally uninvested in my success. It is a practice in humility.

I hope I have a good race tomorrow. I hope my health holds up so I can keep doing this. I hope my fast training runs are a harbinger of a PR. But none of those things needs  to happen. I’ll do what I can control: get up, tie my shoes, and put one foot in front of the other.

Do you have something you stick with even though it challenges you? 

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Posted in running, training | 11 Comments

The God who holds

I had become so accustomed to not wanting.

My life was easy. Great family, job I could be proud of, self sufficiency, supportive friends: I had a satisfying life.

Then in the course of just a few months I had a long-distance relationship and a chronic illness. I try not to overthink their relatedness.

Suddenly I was filled with an emotion that I had never felt with such intensity: frustrated longing. At first I kept it out of my prayer. Perhaps it’s more appropriate to say I kept half of it out. I unloaded the frustration on God. I made no bones about being peeved.

Still, I couldn’t quite articulate the desire. I wanted my sickness to go away, and I wanted an easy solution to being a two-career couple living a few hours apart. I wanted those things badly. I still want them.

Petitionary prayers were always something other people did. One simply does not ask for miracles. It seems somehow déclassé. But I’ve never been one who was good at keeping a secret, so one day at mass my heart unloaded the weight of my prayers and hurled them toward the altar. I felt like I crashed through a plate glass window. In a good way.

At the same time, I was afraid. What if God was mad at me, because even though I still had all my wonderful blessings, and even though I had a new love that was astonishing, I was still finding something to whine about?

What if I didn’t have faith enough to survive not getting what I wanted? What if I couldn’t get past the childishness that made me wail and throw tantrums because I wasn’t getting my way? (At this point, I was crying a lot.)

One day I went to mass during a drought and we prayed for rain and afterward we got soaked. Literally. I thought maybe sometimes prayers are answered simply, just like that. But mine weren’t. And I’m trained in God-talk, so I know all about the standard “sometimes God says ‘not yet'” and “all prayers are answered, just not in the way we expect” lines. They were not helping.

There is a very popular professor at my alma mater who talks about finding “least wrong” ways to talk about God. Right now my least wrong way is this:

God is the one who can hold all of the prayers that feel to me as if they have been thrown into a void. God is the one who knows what to do with the fountain of nervous agony that I have been spewing for the last two years. The more I throw out there, the more God can hold, and I don’t have to understand it. Every novena, every special intention, every gasped, sobbed, whimpered plea has a place in that Glorious Love, and I know that I am drawn into that love by my pleading even when I feel rejected and angry.

When I was in Assisi I saw a statue of Jesus carrying a sheep. It was a modern statue, with thin, abstract figures fashioned on metal. I saw it on a day in the middle of a novena for health, and when I saw it I burst into tears.

I needed to see that statue, not because the Christ figure showed any particular brawn but because of the way the sheep was draped over his shoulders. The resting lamb was just as active in surrender as the shepherd was in support.

I didn’t take a photo of the statue because I knew I needed to hold it in my heart. I cried because I have not yet learned how to rest like that. I cried because I need to learn.

Posted in faith, prayer | 8 Comments

7 things I’ve learned from St Francis

Today is the Feast of St Francis of Assisi, which has always been a notable feast for me but which has taken on greater significance after I spent three recent weeks in Assisi. That town is rich in Franciscan history, not so much in Franciscan spirituality (don’t go there looking for austerity or simplicity!), but I still managed to learn much about myself as well as about Francis while I was there. It was a place of prayer.

Not everything I’ve learned from Francis was learned this past summer. Similarly, some of these lessons came from multiple sources.  Here, on Francis’ Feast day, I offer you seven things he’s taught me from across the centuries.

— 1 —

Friendship

St Clare

Francis and Clare were besties. At least that’s how I usually describe it in class.

They were friends who planned together, who prayed together, who talked of spiritual matters and the everyday. This fellowship, rooted in love, is not easy to come by, and it is even more remarkable for companions of different genders in this era.

As someone who has always had close friendships with men and women, I appreciate this model of a life-giving friendship.

— 2 —

Community

Of course, Francis is noted for assembling a community of brothers as well. Then, as now, I am sure that not all of the brothers would consider themselves friends, but the nature of an intentional, healthy community is one that values togetherness and collaboration regardless of the biases of personal preference.

— 3 —

Hermitage

L'Eremo delle CarcieriI am an extrovert, someone who gets energy from being around people. That is why it is essential that I get away from people from time to time.

Visiting L’Eremo delle Carcieri, a hermitage to which Francis escaped up the hill from the town of Assisi, offered an astonishing vision of the level of isolation that Francis’ sought. I don’t think I need to go quite so far as to find a tiny cave as Francis did.

As I seek a balance of hermitage and community, I try not to become compulsed by either. It can be just as tempting to escape into a large crowd as it is to escape into a cave.

— 4 —

Dramatic gesture

When I imagine St Francis’ renunciation of his father’s wealth and name in the piazza outside Santa Maria Maggiore, I don’t see Francis removing his fancy clothes, or the bishop tenderly covering Francis with his cloak. I see his father, who had known him his whole life and who had to have been rolling his eyes at him and thinking “Why are you always so dramatic??”

Though I can be melodramatic in my personal life, I don’t find myself often in a position to make grand actions like Francis did. Instead, I save all of the drama for ritual: the things we “act out” that show what we’re about. It’ s no secret that I love liturgy, and I’m learning that it is my way of acting out the drama that swirls around in my soul all the time.

— 5 —

Acceptance of the miraculous

I could be way off base, but I don’t suppose that Francis was particularly disbelieving when stigmata appeared. “Oh look, the wounds of Christ…that’s neat.”

At a certain point, spirituality has to let go and accept the irrationality that occasionally governs our lives. Sometimes, we just get a miracle. Best not to ask too many questions.

— 6 —

Work first, ask questions later

San DamianoIt’s conventional wisdom that when Jesus appeared to Francis in a vision and said “Repair my church”, he meant the universal church, but Francis “didn’t get it” and set about rebuilding San Damiano.

Maybe Francis got it more than we give him credit for. Instead of over-analyzing the message, coming up with a strategic plan, dreaming big, etc, he just got down to work and the rest of it all fell into place.

— 7 —

The created world is stuffed with grace

That’s all. It’s all grace.

Do you have any association with or affection for St Francis? What have you learned from his life?

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Posted in prayer, saints | 3 Comments