Monday, December 28, 2009


Benedict called and asked me to pray for him today. I realize that I have not written about him in quite a while, and thus newer readers of my blog may not have a sense of who he is, how he breaks my heart, why he has brought me so much joy and tears in our small sporadic interactions over the years. This formerly homeless Vietnam veteran whom I met when he was homeless in my undergrad years has taught me quite a bit in the five years since I met him. Here are the few lessons I’ve mentioned on this blog:
  • He taught me to hope for redemption in the present tense, not only the future (1/9/08)
  • He taught me that love is always the right battle, even if I don’t know how it is best fought (10/29/08)
  • He redeemed a stressful election season with his humility (11/3/08)
  • He taught me about human dignity and what it does to a man to be robbed of it (1/26/09)
Benedict called me this afternoon asking for prayers (it is the first time he’s specifically asked for prayers in a year). With a felony on his record that keeps him unemployed these days, the process of staying off the streets has not been easy during this economic crisis. But he has just connected with some V.A. services that provide veterans with schooling and housing. He entreated me for prayers in the next two weeks as is application is processed.

Perhaps the biggest lesson Benedict has taught me is the value of continued prayers in a situation when God seems so slow to act, so small in his actions. Five years after I met Benedict on a cold night on the streets by campus and he scolded me for wearing sandals in the winter, offering me his spare pair of socks, I am still praying for him. Redemption is so slow, and Benedict’s ambitious hopes of reconciling with his ex-wife this year did not go well, and his faithfulness to make up for lost time with his five daughters and his growing collection of grandchildren often costs him the little resources he his able to build.

But redemption comes. I’ve watched it come to him against all hope, watched it come by means of an unjust felony conviction that got him off the streets four years ago. May it come again now. And since I grow weary of my seemingly ineffectual prayers, I want to ask any pray-ers among my readers to include Benedict in the next two weeks as he waits to see where this small glimmer of hope leads.

Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Blood and Feathers

"Hope" is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

Emily Dickenson
Hope is not a thing with feathers, for
It does not sing or fly. Whoever told
You otherwise has never felt the cold
Despair that spreads it dragon wings to soar
Away. Hope does not fly away, O glory;
It is made of flesh and blood that fold
Around us like a Virgin's womb who's bold
To sing the Word without the tune, the story
That begins and ends in water and
The bloodbath. Any less is sentiment,
Mere air that cannot perch a soul or stand
Against the slings and arrows it is sent.
There may be Hope that flesh and blood can wear,
But disembodied hope is but Despair.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Waiting for what is here

An warning to all genuine luddites out there: this post begins with a Facebook reference. I am sorry. I couldn’t think of a better way to frame this. But genuine luddites shouldn’t be reading blogs anyway.

Last year in January when I was celebrating my first month with my third nephew, friends of mine in Cork were expecting their first son. I remember watching their Facebook statuses as the little fellow lingered in her womb:
Joe can’t wait to be a father!

Maria can’t wait to see her son!
I was struck by the difference. The father-to-be knew that his whole life was about to change at any moment. The mother-who-was knew that hers already had nine months earlier.

And today in our last full day of Advent, I am struck by the hope that lies in the union of those two facts. Yes indeed, we are waiting for something that has not happened yet (and there is hope in that: to think this were the fullness would be despair!). And yes indeed, we are waiting for something that is already here (and there is hope in that: to think the fullness were inaccessibly distant would be despair!).

Our redemption is here, the pregnant Mary knows. And O for our redemption to come, the faithful Joseph beside her awaits. And I who long for his kingdom to arrive and put the world to rights as I am connected to the Church where it has already begun, I who long for his healing to arrive in my soul where he is already present, may rejoice and long beside them.

Come Lord Jesus, you who are already here!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Pixie Dust

There is a mendacious rumor abroad that Southerners should be fixed. How can we help the backward agrarians get on the great progressive bandwagon, well-meaning philanthropic carpetbaggers might have asked. I remember reading a history textbook in my undergrad years that puzzled over the reasons why industrialization took so long to set in and improve the quality of life for the rural poor in the South. The answer to me is quite obvious: the rural poor didn’t want improvement.

Today I sat at my corner of my favorite coffee shop, and something magical happened: large chunks of white powder fell from the sky outside the window, initially mistaken for debris from the perpetual construction that plagues every university I have ever attended (that is only two, of course, but doesn’t the superlative make it sound dramatic?), but soon realized to be the 4-letter-word that has been on everyone’s lips like a whirlwind that cleared the grocery store shelves of milk, eggs, and bread ever since the meteorologists had hinted the possibility days earlier: SNOW.

The barista screamed and ran outside to perform her snow-dance. Every eye in the coffee shop was glued to the window. Adults on the street lifted their faces to the sky with open mouths like five-year-olds. Children, many of whom had been let out of school for the mere possibility of snow, gave the adults a run for their money on glee. Even the construction workers paused and extended their gloved hands. There was nary a smileless face anywhere in the city as the chunks of white powder functioned as pixie dust in an otherwise gloomy day.

And then it was gone.

Later I read a (northern) friend’s blog and heard his (delightfully true) take on the experience of trying to find milk and eggs at the grocery store. Despite the utter appropriateness of his caricature of Southern snow-panic, I felt like something magic had happened, and he had missed it. Yes, as my nephew had once reminded me, God did indeed make magic in the world. I saw some this morning.

And now, as the possibility of bonus winter medleys is on the forecast for tonight and my graduation tomorrow afternoon hangs in the precarious balance of Mother Nature’s finicky Southern temperament, I remember that even now in our high-paced, 21st-century culture, there still remains a Sabbath rest for God’s people. It comes rarely and unpredictability, an unplanned holiday that forces begrudging businessmen and ecstatic schoolchildren alike to rest at home despite the ever-driving forces of the stockmarket and academia, but it comes.

At least it comes to backward Southerners when there is a hint of any form of frozen precipitation. That is, it comes to them after they get back from their panicked trips to the grocery store for milk, eggs, and bread.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What then shall we do?

[John] said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “...Bear fruits in keeping with repentance...”

And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?”

And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”
The lovely green cottage where I live is actually in the middle of the city on a historical property full of trees and gardens, nestled between campus and a yuppie shopping center, and surrounded by some of the shadiest corners in the city. I’ve lived in a drug-ridden neighborhood in a poorer city before, yet for some reason the riffraff around my current home has set off more inner alarms in the past two years than I’ve had in the rest of my life put together. It brings out the suspicious cynic in me (yea, even in me!).

Yesterday as I returned home from church (significantly, from a local outreach team meeting held after the service), I got out of my car to open the gate that guards my green oasis in the city and was hailed by two men on the sidewalk. As I stood there cornered between them and my gate, they asked me for money.

A number of things went through my mind:
  1. They smell pretty strongly of alcohol. I can’t pretend I think they’re looking for food.
  2. They may not know this, but I am in front of my house. If they remember me when they’re sober, they could figure out where I live.
  3. I just had to take my car in for a thousand dollars of repairs this weekend, and I haven’t bought Christmas presents yet.
  4. This whole interaction feels degrading.
  5. Damn, what did John say in today’s gospel reading that I happened to hear three times over the weekend?
Frustrated, I gave the men a dollar each. One fellow shook my hand and held it too long. I pulled it away. He said, “I love you.” I said, “Merry Christmas,” and got back into the car feeling dirty.

Sometimes I wish I could either return to the joyful selfless giver I fancy I once had been in college or get hardened enough that all the very good reasons not to give money to riffraff would seem satisfactory to me. In the mean time, from this place in-between where hardness is creeping in but doesn’t have enough Scriptural basis for my comfort, I do the best I can.

After all, it seems that generous compassion is part of preparing places for Christ, perhaps less because it redeems the world than because it prepares places in our hearts. In the end, giving to the needy is part of the sanctification of our own souls, counteracting the cynicism of experience with compassion in hopes that compassion prepares the way for love. I pray my heart may not grow too hard yet.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Feast of the Sts. Emers

Today is the feast day of the two Sts. Emers, and, with the name “Emmers” not altogether unfamiliar to me, I can’t help but take note. Not only do these fourth-century saints nearly foreshadow one of my affectionate nicknames(!), they are Irish(!!), the foster-sisters of St. Patrick himself(!!!).

As the story goes, unreliable and erratic as all the best Irish tales are, after Patrick was kidnapped from his home in Great Britain and sold to Maelchu (or Miluic, if you prefer) in northern Ireland where he spent years in slavery tending sheep, he grew up beside Maelchu’s children, St. Guasacht (feast day January 24) and the two Emers. Why history remembers only one name for the two women I do not know, but since it barely remembers anything more I suppose we should be grateful. Beggars can’t be choosy, after all.

Patrick, as we all know, receives a vision while tending sheep on Mt. Slemish, miraculously escapes Ireland, reunites with his homeland, hears the Irish people calling him in his dreams, and returns to the land of his captivity where he proceeds (from what I can tell) to found churches in virtually every town and to convert personally nearly every fourth- and fifth-century Irish saint (and believe you me, there are many!).

But the first priority is the very family who had enslaved him, and, while Maelchu burns himself alive in his home rather than see Patrick again (evidently those are his only two options?), his three children receive the faith, dedicate themselves to mission of bringing the gospel to the druidic people, and became some of the first bishop/nuns. As Patrick puts the veil on his two foster sisters, their feet sink into the stone beneath them, and the marks are visible to this day.

So today from a less fantastical land of parking lots and laborious rearranging of 1s and 0s where nevertheless the scars of bitterness run just as deep and the power of grace trumps them just as conclusively, I thought I would venerate Patrick’s slave-owners-turned-sisters. Pray for us slave-owners, Sts. Emers; pray for us slaves.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Intercity-high-school-senior blues

Tonight I have a case of the intercity-high-school-senior blues, which may (oddly enough) be appropriate for the Advent season. The students were assigned to write a letter-to-the-editor that addresses any controversial topic. Of course, after (barely) surviving these essays, I’m wondering if perhaps this assignment should have come after many many many many other lessons that they missed.
  • If students could choice the class that they took, I think that the drop out rate would go down quickly. I doubt many of them would choice to took grammar.
  • I believe that other teens should not be exposed to teen pregnancy. This to solve the problem of teen pregnancy: If teens didn’t see other teens pregnant, then they wouldn’t get pregnant themselves.
  • Gang’s in our community was created to improve the community with love and respect so you feel safe in some community’s. I don’t want to touch this one.
  • Catholic people are against abortion, because they believe that pregnancies are woman’s punish. That’s right; Catholics are always quoting that one verse that says “Children are a punishment from the Lord…”
Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Now to find an activity a little better for my soul…

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Week 2 of Advent

Enter Love, the burglar in the night
Who looks a lot like Death and fills the room
Before we know he’s there—indeed, to whom
Decay has grown accustomed in the light
Of long exposure. Death prepares her tight
Destruction, carving out a hollow tomb
Where Love can nestle in the livened womb
And burrow to the egg without a fight.
For Love alone is strong as Death, they say,
And has the power to destroy her by
The means of imitation, in the way
That passive glass can kill Medusa. Why,
If Life is formed by an invasion of
A seed, should we expect the less of Love?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

If I only had a Plutonian...

“Whatcha doing, Auntie Em?” my five-year-old nephew asked me as he joined me on the couch and began reading the computer screen on my lap. The kid is already an avid reader.

“Oh, I’m working on some applications,” I answered, pausing my painful, dehumanizing, Thanksgiving-break project to explain. “I’m writing letters to convince ten different schools that they want to pay me money to go there.”

“Well,” he changed the subject, “I need to send a message to NASA. It’s quite urgent. Give me the computer.”

Slightly amused at his lack of decorum, I nevertheless turned down his pressing request. “No, I have to work on this letter for now. Look, I’ve already written this much, and I still need to write more.” I pointed to the screen in an attempt to impress the munchkin.

“Wow, that is a lot of words,” he allowed. “But Plutonians can write ten times that much in five minutes.”

Now, I’m by nature a bit competitive anyway, so if there’s anything worse that being one-upped by fictitious residents of the dwarf planet Pluto (not even a real planet, no less!), it is having a five-year-old point it out to me.

“Well, good for them,” I grumbled. “Maybe they would actually get into some of these schools."

But he was not done. “And they can read books this big,” he demonstrated with the entirety of his (albeit small) arm-span. “They read that much every day.”

“Alright,” I said, looking back at my computer to demonstrate disengagement, “then they can read my applications when I’m done.”

“And Plutonians can speak every language ever,” he continued, “including Chinese, which is much harder than Latin and Greek.”

Come on, kid... academia is already making me feel like enough of an idiot!

Finally, his mother came to my rescue by commanding the munchkin to leave Auntie Em alone, and I returned to the cumbersome task of keeping the requirements of the ten admissions committees to which I was prostituting myself straight. “We place great weight on your personal statement,” I read on one school’s website. “This statement is your opportunity to get the committee interested in you, in your potential as a professional and as a human being...”

This is a what-I-have-been-trying-not-to-listen-to post. God, may this be over soon!