Monday, November 14, 2011

I love a good mystery.

Thanks, Christine, for sending this to me! I've been trying to remember it for a good two weeks. 

"I remember a retreat in which the distinction was made between a problem and a mystery. 
A problem must be solved. A mystery must be lived. 
A problem can engender frustration. A mystery can engender fascination.
I am convinced that the spiritual life in general is best envisaged from the vantage point of mystery rather than problem. The two dynamics are very different. Confronted with a reality that we deem to be 'problem,' we risk becoming anxious, impatient, aggressive, proud and controlling in our response to it. Faced with what we come to recognize as a 'mystery,' we have more latitude to let go and be patient, humble, trusting and open to awe. 
A problem demands analysis, action, and resolution: a dynamic I call 'swimming.'
A mystery invites meditation, contemplation, and readiness for revelation: a dynamic I call 'immersion.'
Modern secular mentality is more prone to approach things, situations, peaople and even God with a 'problematic' bias. As we have just seen, problems have to be solved regardless of their nature (material, psychological, social, institutional, spiritual or otherwise). And yet the more one learns, through experience, that truth - or let us call it wisdom - is acquired at the price of humility, the more capable one will be of contemplating rather than analyzing the deep mystery underpinnning all levels of existence...
Mysteries, by their very nature, are beyond our willful grasp. In a way, they impoverish us, eluding, as they do, our desire to control and possess. The realization that our very vocation issuses from the ultimate Mystery - unfolding within it, evolving toward it - should give us pause."

- Sister Jean-Marie Howe

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Right Brain/Left Brain

I love ads when they're beautiful. Mercedez-Benz is probably selling me something with these images that I don't even realize. I hope that's ok.

Left brain: I am the left brain. I am a scientist. A mathematician. I love the familiar. I categorize. I am accurate. Linear. Analytical. Strategic. I am practical. Always in control. A master of words and language. Realistic. I calculate equations and play with numbers. I am order. I am logic. I know exactly who I am.
Right brain: I am the right brain. I am creativity. A free spirit. I am passion. Yearning. Sensuality. I am the sound of roaring laughter. I am taste. The feeling of sand beneath bare feat. I am movement. Vivid colors. I am the urge to paint on an empty canvas. I am boundless imagination. Art. Poetry. I sense. I feel. I am everything I wanted to be.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


To be a witness does not consist necessarily in engaging in propaganda nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist. 
— Emmanuel Cardinal Suhard

Thursday, August 18, 2011

In the world, but not of it

"It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; 
it is easy in solitude to live after your own; 
but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd 
keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude." 
-Ralph Waldo Emerson


I will always feel the tension between the world's opinion, my own, and the perfect will of God. To have peace in who I am when I step out into the street, I must leave myself time to ask and reflect and listen. I must invite Him to permeate the silence with His sweet Self. Then, I can go forward, living in the world with no fear, only love.

Monday, August 15, 2011

August Challenge! Hahaha!

In the midst of a delightful weekend in Alabama, I realized two things:

1. There is half of August left. Half the month is gone.

2. I have not held myself to particularly high standards of conduct or discipline lately. Honestly.

In regards to #2:  Choosing little sacrifices reminds me that this isn't heaven and that I'm far from perfect. Stretching myself to grow in discipline will only help to make "a heart as big as the universe."

I know that I need little sacrifices to prepare me for any bigger sacrifices that God asks of me. I know that I pad my little world, stuffing pillowy comforts all around me until my limbs are trapped in all of the cushy softness and I can hardly move freely.
I know these things, and I usually want to want them...but I need regular practice. So, the Monthly Challenge. Now that it's August 15th, do I pretend that I was planning ahead for September all along? It's tempting to stuff another pillow under my elbow, type out my noble goals, and put them off. But...I's still worth starting today. Chesterton did say that "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly," right? And belatedly?

For the rest of August, I will work to speak of what is good, and beautiful and true. No complaining. No swearing.

(For instance: even when I'm stuck in the middle of a lake with skis on, struggling to balance with two buoyant planks flopping me over like a turtle with a brick on his shell. I will refrain from using language any coarser than describing said turtle, to provide an appropriate analogy for a PG audience. Ok, maybe PG-13. So they can relate, of course.)

(I tried to embed the photo of me in the above situation. Try as I may, it wouldn't load! God is merciful. You can use your imagination. No, don't.)

Communication is important to me, and the words I use show who I am, and shape how I think. I will work to speak well.

"Death and life are in the power of the tongue: they that love it, shall eat the fruits thereof." -Proverbs 18:21

Monday, August 8, 2011

Burned Man

Burned Man
by David Huddle

When I was twelve, a man was burned
not quite to death at my father's
factory. Recovered enough
to walk the town, he didn't know
what to do with himself—a ghost
whose scarred, fire bubbled face made you
look away, though not my father
who felt responsible and so wouldn't
refuse the man's eyes when they fell
upon him. The burned man held no
grudge, thought the accident his
own fault, and sought my father out
as the one whose eyes told him yes,
he was still alive.
                           So they held long
conversations on the post office
stoop, which I observed from the car
where I waited, where I could read
my father's stiff shoulders, the way
he clutched the mail, how he tilted
his head, even his smile that was
in truth a grimace. I knew just
what my mother knew—my father
had to let himself be tortured
once or twice a week, whenever
Bernard Sawyers saw him in town,
lifted his claw of a hand, rasped
out his greeting that sounded like
a raven that'd been taught to say
Hello, Mr. Huddle, how are you?
They'd stand there talking in the town's
blazing sunlight, the one whom fire
had taken to the edge of death
and the other invisibly
burning while they passed the time of day.

Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac featured this poem last February, and I've re-read it many times since then. I'm not sure if I love it, or if it's just true.

I picture it - every line of it - in downtown Humboldt, on the north side of the cobblestone square, where Dad's office lines up along the road with the bowling alley, one dilapidated apartment, the attorney's office, a "stand-up" bank (where your mother stands facing the teller at the grates, as compared to the "sit down" bank across the way), an empty coffee shop/Amish bakery, and the post office. This street is where the marching band halts to play a tune during the parade at the Richardson County Fair. It is also where this poem would be lived in my town.

I have seen my father shake hands simply because the other needs to know that he is worth the pause. I know that face that "seeks out the one whose eyes tell him yes, he is alive." The "burned man" is sometimes physically disfigured. Other times, he is horribly ill at ease - socially repulsive - or blistered inside some other way, and people leave an empty ring around him, trying hard not to look and even harder not to engage, "poor thing, bless his heart."

I have wondered if I have the patience and the strength of this father and mine, to "invisibly burn" my selfishly-lined insides away in relationships. I am also the burned man. I have sought that gaze myself, hoping that someone will look hard enough into my eyes to declare me alive, taken from the edge of death, worth the time.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The prairie

I love it as much as the sea and more than the mountains. I wish I could run every hill and shout all the way to the clouds.
(somewhere between Kansas and Nebraska, 2010)

Things to do tomorrow...

Here's a basic itinerary of my summer:

Ok, honestly, that's not my handwriting. Or my to-do list. But ice pops are non-negotiables.

I've plunked right into a 9-year old's vacation as a 27-year old. 

Then, in Humboldt, NE, in the '90s, I would take my 10-speed to and from swimming lessons, and fall asleep on the couch to SportsCenter or The Facts of Life or Major Dad or Charles in Charge or Wings until Dad came home to lunch on Our Family bean with bacon soup and braunschweiger/MiracleWip/lettuce sandwiches. We would return to the pool and hit the library before dinner, and check out the scene on the playground by our house after that. Finally, bedtime when it was still light out. Horribly unfair, but probably why I did well on standardized tests.

Now, I have a 10-speed waiting under a tarp for me to air up the tires, burn some cals, and save the Toyota Matrix some miles. Not much for TV, but I will easily nestle into the couch for loan applications, Pinterest, Dostoyevsky, or rumpled-but-clean laundry, and nod off like the olden days. I have not purchased braunschweiger as an independent woman, but would eat it if it were free, sure as shootin'. Social life is more scheduled. Bedtime is later. Brain cells probably suffering.

What a trip. Pink icy pop?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Be you.

"God used His creative energy to make you uniquely you, 
don't spend all yours today trying to be like someone else." 
-Louie Giglio

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bayfield, Wisconsin, c. 2008

A Sound Mind in a Sound Body

"In 1949, Mr. Kihachiro Onitsuka began his athletic footwear company (Onitsuka Co., Ltd.) by manufacturing basketball shoes out of his living room in Kobe, Japan. He chose the name ASICS for his company in 1977, based on a famous Latin phrase "Anima Sana In Corpore Sano", which when translated expresses the ancient ideal of "A Sound Mind in a Sound Body." Taking the acronym of this phrase, ASICS was founded on the belief that the best way to create a healthy and happy lifestyle is to promote total health and fitness."  - About Asics

Tala's July Challenge: Run every day of the month of July, for at least 15 minutes and no more than 4 hours (haha) to build discipline and to remind myself how much I like to run.

So far, I have laced up my Asics more times in the last two weeks than in previous months combined. I have also choked on my challenge - on the days that seemed so long and hot, it was easy to "wait 'til the sun set" to run...and by the time the sun set, I was ready for bed and not for beating the pavement with my tennie runners.

Such is life. We all really know that I'm telling you, "the they," that nameless audience spread out across the blogdom, of this goal because I need the internet's version of positive peer pressure to not quit the July challenge before the month runs out.

Two more weeks 'til the August Challenge!

Monday, March 28, 2011

How it begins...

"A poem begins with a lump in the throat; 
a homesickness or a love-sickness. 
It is a reaching out toward expression, 
an effort to find fulfillment. 
A complete poem is one where 
an emotion has found its thought 
and the thought has found the word." 
- Robert Frost

Monday, March 21, 2011

God bless Archbishop Dolan

Give him a primetime slot like Archbishop Fulton Sheen...
here he is on CBS, explaining some of the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

On Emptiness, c. Summer 2010

My little townhouse-that-could was almost empty, after days of packing and loading and driving and unpacking and square dancing around the boxes in my new house. Even with all of that, I didn't realize what was happening until the sound of my own voice startled me – I was skimming up the stairs to grab one last thing before break time, singing “Girl, put your records on…” when I heard myself reverberating off the stairwell.

I stopped, first to make sure it wasn't an intruder, singing a pretty song to lure me in…and then I sang a little more, just to test. The echo sounded nice, in the way that a wind instrument makes music when air is blown through the hollow body. The clean floors and bare walls were part of the production; the sounds that they shaped were haunting and pretty. Reminded me of the barbershop quartet in the Metro near Pentagon Square, or the daily Mass choir practicing in the Memorial Hall stairwell at Benedictine.
Plain, quiet, bare space is really very pretty, very peaceful. But to create that in my interior life, that's not an easy thing. I have to work to create space for myself to develop and process and reverberate. I just attempted to "blank slate" myself at the beginning of this summer, staying home with for two weeks to “get some rest” - sleeping in, waking with no expectations, making my "schedule" up as I went along. I could do whatever I wanted, and I did what I thought I wanted. But somehow, the empty boxes on my cleared agenda weren't freeing. The days ended up being dry and uninspiring, and my head rattled around in a daze. My life was relatively void of responsibility, and I had expected rest. Instead, I stripped away any rhythm, times, conversations and commitments that brought life, and my recreation re-created nothing. Real serenity wasn't afforded to me when I sought indulgent self-preservation, gutting my mind of thought.

Now, to speak of other emptinesses - ones cleared patiently, and filled with purpose:

Right now, in India, my friend is staring at her hotel ceiling, dealing with typhoid and other such movie star diseases. Far from glamorous, Tina writes this of her experience...

I spoke this week with another dear friend who had given birth to a baby boy. For the good portion of a year, this lady gave all that she had for a silent, little person - unseen, save the bloppy black-and-white sonogram that confirmed Liam was indeed in utero. I quietly cried happy tears into the phone to hear of her joy after waiting for nine months, arranging blankets in an empty crib.
In emptiness, beauty has space to echo. I’ve heard it before – “in the silence of the heart, God speaks.” In  the quiet, babies develop and minds process and sounds echo into something more than they once were.

Now read this.

The rhythm of spring is easier to dance to.

I believe in the enchanting mystery of winter, but I sure enjoy the whole day more easily in the spring.

The battle between the snooze button and subjecting your finally-warmed toes to frigid tile is lessened. Coffee is more of a delicacy and less of a lubricant. My drive to campus is pleasanter, as Nashvillians don't just abhor bad weather, they stand stock-still until it's gone...often in the middle of West End Avenue.

Sunshine gives stained glass the freedom to be all it can be. In every building, the Jr. High Biology Classroom on Video Day-feeling of dimmed lights, cold desktops, and heavy eyelids is banished.

This is when the whole campus is buzzing, and you can safely assume that everyone...even musicians...have experienced some of the day. Welcome, all.

If you can practice carelessness, I do it in the spring. After dinner, I skip outside with no jacket, under no threat of frostbite or walking pneumonia. My idealized hope is that it's not so warm that people take too many clothes go off, but just that you can identify friends from a quarter of a mile away. Or something.

The weather tells me that another day like this is coming, and that it's worth sleeping now to wake up for. Spring is the seasonal version of "the first day of the rest of your life," a phrase which I would have wagered a college textbook that my friend and I coined in our freshman year at Benedictine. It's fine, you can all use it.

Take yesterday, for instance:

I woke early, dropped my dear friend off at work, convinced myself on the way home that the weather warranted a celebration, bought myself a coffee, drank half, and called mission partners to thank them for being as in love with this mission as I am. Consolation Nation.

Walked into the Cathedral to participate in one of the sweetest, most beautiful Masses in my life. It was the Feast of St. Joseph, foster father of Jesus, and Angelle was receiving her First Holy Communion. Picture an angelic little girl, bedecked in white, looking as close to Original Innocence as she ever has, stretching her elbows all akimbo so they reach the top of the ornate kneeler, beaming at her mom when Father mentions her name in the homily. I would like to believe that God sees me looking like Angelle. And it is good.

A friend and I take the Eucharist to Catholic patients in the hospital, and the Divine Physician comes to his sick with unparalleled medicine. We prolong the celebration at Fido, toasting with scrambled eggs and salsa.

I head uptown to run errands, and find a moving sale. It's warm enough for people to sell me their picture frames and dishes! A Civil War battlefield monument sign stops me, so I park to take a seven minute look around. Pulling into my driveway, I see a neighbor on her porch. We've never met, so I tiptoe onto her lawn and call out "We've never met, but I live next door and I like your wicker chairs!" She tells me her name, the name of her husband, and that her contractions are ten minutes apart. Their baby girl is coming! I start a short run, and wave as I go, shouting that I hope they are off to the hospital before I'm back to stretch. (Next day update: still no word. They probably are house-hunting for neighborhoods with no shouting.) I catch up on the phone with a good friend, and she is well.

Catholics know how to celebrate. A group of 20 women gather in the Frassati House and load the table with a baked goods extravaganza. We hear about the life of St. Joseph, and share our experiences from praying a thirty day prayer to ask for his intercession in our vocations. Game over. Day's a success. We bring a latte to the hospital for our sweet, on-call roomie, and fall into a deeeep sleep.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

We love Vanderbilt+Catholic.

But I have promises to keep

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening


Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Overwhelmed by resolutions. Marveling at "It Bloggers"

Tala: "How do some people have time to raise kids, make real food and little crafts and BLOG about it? I'll never be that organized..."

Amanda: "And they don't just make any food in the shapes of things that make people love God more!"