Wednesday, February 25, 2015

DUSK AND DATELINE BOSTON

ST. MARGARET MARY

Here's a poem, recently sent by a reader, apropos of answering our call before IT IS TOO LATE.


DUSK

Evening, and all the birds
In a chorus of shimmering sound
Are easing their hearts of joy
For miles around.

The air is blue and sweet,
The few first stars are white,--
Oh let me like the birds
Sing before the night.

-Sara Teasdale


Just in case anyone's reading from the Boston area, I'll be giving a series of three talks on Lent at St. Margaret Mary in Westwood, Massaschusetts, starting Sunday night March 1 through Tuesday night, March 3. The parishioners of nearby St. Denis are also in on the fun, and so can you be!

St. Margaret Mary Alocoque was apparently a cutter who, not to put too fine a point on it, carved the name of Jesus Christ on her chest. My kind of gal. I look forward to learning more about her.

And of course I'm excited to be going back to my old hometown--under very different circumstances than those that held for most of the time I lived there.

THE DOORWAY OF THE "LOFT" WHERE I LIVED
FOR SEVERAL YEARS DURING "LOS ANOS OBSCUROS"

Saturday, February 21, 2015

MARTIN SHEEN AND SISTER ROSE PACATTE: ACTIVIST CATHOLICS


HE PRAYS THE ROSARY!

For this week's arts and culture piece, I interviewed LA's own Sister Rose Pacatte about her new book on LA's own actor and activist Martin Sheen.

The piece begins:

Sister Rose Pacatte, a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, is the director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles.

In her recently-released book, “Martin Sheen: Pilgrim on the Way” (Liturgical Press), she details well-known actor Sheen’s early life: one of 10 kids, a mother who died at 48 while saying the rosary, a hard-working father who was loving but stinted on the compliments. Many of the children, including Martin, suffered from alcoholism.

We learn of Sheen’s combination heart attack-nervous breakdown on the set of “Apocalypse Now” (he was only 36 at the time), his recovery (“The only two things of value that the United States has exported to the world for free are jazz and AA”), his return to the Church and, most of all, his decades of activism on a wide range of social justice issues.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.


Friday, February 20, 2015

JUST FOR TODAY I'M GOING NOT TO COMPLAIN


WOMAN IN BREUER CHAIR WEARING OSKAR SCHLEMMER MASK
CIRCA 1926

Since getting unexpectedly ejected from my living situation of the last four years (adventure! fun!), I have been just a teeny bit "time-challenged" as in from the moment I wake till the moment I go to sleep I am "busy."

Lots of travel, prep for travel, recovery from travel, deadlines, admin.

I went to the tax guy yesterday (self-employment tax: adventure! fun!)

But that the Lenten season is upon us has not been lost on me. And this morning I thought: I am going to try to "fast" this Lent not from sugar, not from meat, not from swearing, but from COMPLAINING.

Every morning for years, as part of my morning prayer, I have read a little bookmark called "Just For Today."

It begins, "Just for today, I will try to live through this day only. and not tackle all my problems at once. I can do something for 12 hours that would appall me if I felt that I had to keep it up for a lifetime."

Which, every day, strikes me anew as genius.

Anyway, it goes on from there and some of the things are easier than others but this is the one where I always always think: Whoops, didn't do too well on that one yesterday. Again:...

"Just for today I will be agreeable. I will look as well as I can, dress becomingly, keep my voice low, be courteous, criticize not one bit. I won't find fault with anything, nor try to improve or regulate anyone but myself." [emphasis mine].

I mean enough said, right?

I often think of St. Therese of Lisieux, who apparently made it a spiritual practice to complain about nothing. She suffered terribly from the cold in the unheated convent, but apparently refrained from even putting her hands inside her sleeves to warm them so as not to make a show of the fact that she was suffering.

She was no humorless faux martyr, though, which is what makes her especially attractive to me. Certain people drove her crazy: she writes about them with affection and humor in her autobiography. She didn't try to force herself to not be driven crazy by them. She just tried to love them anyway, through Christ; to be kind to them even though she felt not an iota of spontaneous feeling.

That is the kind of "spiritual warfare" I thoroughly endorse. Real warfare is always done in silence, in secret, away from the eyes of the world. It doesn't announce itself or make a show of itself or claim special powers such as would garner notice or praise.

And it's hard--so hard you think you'll die. In fact, you do die. Very slowly. Very painfully. It's hard to suffer and now show it, whether our suffering is "small" or "large." Probably everybody's worst suffering consists simply in the zillion petty meannesses, setbacks, annoyances, frustrations, discomforts and fears that come our way in the course of any given day.

But I know for myself if I can refrain from complaining, the result is that I'm more open to recognize the also inevitable small kindness, the word of support, the moment when miracle of miracles I am able to be kind to someone else, especially someone who--perhaps unbeknownst to them--has hurt me.

The "Just for Today" bookmark ends with the St. Francis prayer--which always calms me down and always brings me back.

"Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace."

Wishing you all a rich and fruitful Lent.

And seriously, I am ENJOYING the leaf blowers!

EDWARD HOPPER
WOMAN IN THE SUN, 1961



Thursday, February 19, 2015

ART AND WORSHIP

THE SOWER
V. VAN GOGH

"Art lost its basic creative drive the moment it was separated from worship. It severed an umbilical cord and now lives its own sterile life, generating and degenerating itself. In former days the artist remained unknown and his work was to the glory of God."
--Ingmar Bergman


THE SHIP THAT FLEWWILLIAM TRAYLOR

Two paintings to the glory of God.
Wishing you all a rich and fruitful Lent.

If you're in L.A. come on down to the Catholic Literary Imagination Conference at USC Friday and Saturday. Panels, workshops, etc. I'm on a panel called The Writer in Los Angeles Saturday from 11-12:15.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

DEATH AND RESURRECTION IN OCOTEPEQUE







Recently I spent a week with the Catholic organization Unbound on a media awareness trip in the Honduran town of Ocotepeque.

So many reflections and sensations crowded in that unpacking them will take months. But perhaps the main thing takeaway was this: There is death and there is resurrection; and then another death, and always, another resurrection.

We drive the urban streets and mountain roads. There are half-finished buildings, potholed streets, piles of trash. There is also always an hibiscus bush, a bouquet of purple bougainvillea, a chipped aquamarine wall with a jaunty parrot painted on it.

Beautiful young girls lounge suggestively in doorways and the cycle of continuing poverty unfolds almost before your eyes: another handsome young man whispering promises he won’t keep; another child born to a 15-year-old mother.

One afternoon we visit the community of San Marcos and meet a 35-year-old woman named Reyna Isabel de Jesus.

Reyna has two children—Yuri, 14, and Lilian, 10--at Casa Hogar, the home Unbound runs for kids age 5 to 18 who have been neglected, abused, or abandoned. She also has two at home, Javier, 5, and Nazareth Milagros, 2. Another child lives with the mother of its father. A sixth lives with a relative.

Reyna cleans house from 7 to 5 six days a week, with a half-day on Sunday. She walks an hour and a half each way. During the November through February coffee season, she picks, as she has since the age of 5. She brings the children with her. Javier picks now, too.

She makes about fifty dollars a month.

The room she rents—in a building at which 56 people share one bathroom—costs fifty dollars a month.

That means she has to move frequently.

“Do you have any dreams for yourself?” another journalist asks.

I train my eyes on the windowsill: a stick of deodorant, a plastic bottle of shampoo, an eighth of a bottle of dime-store perfume.

Reyna sits silent.

“It would be nice to have a dream,” she says finally.

But later in the conversation she also says “The children keep me going.” She also says, “The children give me faith.”

The children bring suffering and they bring joy. The children weigh down and the children keep the mothers, the world, all of us, going. To unravel the threads of poverty is impossible. Culture winds itself around politics, biology tangles with economics, and in the middle, as always, is the yearning human heart.

Christ summed it up best: “The poor you will always have with you.”

One thing is for certain: the incredible work of Unbound. The sponsored children with—at last--school supplies and shoes and a dollar for the cybercafé where they may walk 45 minutes each way to do their homework. The elderly with—at last—basic medicines, a cane, a wheelchair. The seeds for a garden, the patched-up wall, the running water, the mothers’ groups that shore each other up and teach each other to make pottery from local clay and take up collections when one of the kids is sick.

Everywhere we go people smile, wave, yell, affectionately rap on the window of the Unbound pickup truck: “Hola!” “Que tal!” “A Dios”…

Later that week I see Yuri, Reyna’s 14-year-old son, at Casa Hogar. He has soulful eyes and a beautifully expressive face. “Tell him we saw his mother!” I tug at the interpreter’s sleeve, thinking to make Yuri happy; that he’ll be hungry for news.

Instead, Yuri shows no affect whatever. Instead, he turns and walks away.

I feel terrible. I should have kept my mouth shut. I should have asked how Yuri feels about his mother before blurting out that we’d seen her. .

But later we see Yuri at the gate of his school, waiting for the armed guards to let him in, a slight young man with a ramrod-straight back in his neat blue shirt, pants and tie.

The children keep me going.

Yuri wants to be a priest.


"THEY KNEW HIM IN THE BREAKING OF BREAD"...
DELICIOUS SOUP, CHICKEN AND RICE PREPARED BY LOS MADRES....


Sunday, February 15, 2015

THE YEAR OF CONSECRATED LIFE: MY FRIEND JEANNE McNULTY





Welp, I am back from my Honduran adventure--more on that later (travel tip: do not ever, under any circumstances, enter the U.S. through customs at the Miami International Airport--why with a 2 1/2 hour layover I barely had time to grab a venti Starbucks and reach my seat before takeoff and at that I ceded my Group 2 boarding!)

And today I'm off to Santa Maria on the Central Coast,  to participate in the blessing of the new house of hospitality/free clinic of the Guadalupe Catholic Worker.

Meanwhile, this week's arts and culture piece is on a dear friend of mine from Spencer, West Virginia: Jeanne McNulty, Order of the Consecrated Virgins.

Here's how the piece begins:

The Holy Father has decreed 2015 the Year of Consecrated Life. That gives me a chance to write about a woman who has helped to shape and sustain my own prayer life.

For 39 years, Jeanne McNulty has lived in a “holler” (hollow) in Spencer, West Virginia: praying, embracing a simple lifestyle, gardening, gathering firewood and reaching out to folks in her rural county by nursing the sick in their homes.

There are small hermitages in the woods there where, for a small donation, folks, including me, have come to spend time in deep solitude, take long walks, or sit quietly in the straw bale chapel which houses the Blessed Sacrament.

Jeanne is a member of the Order of Consecrated Virgins (Canon 604) and a secular Franciscan.

Born in Pittsburgh, she was raised a cradle Catholic. She underwent a faith crisis in her last years of high school. “I wasn’t at peace within myself. The only thing I knew was to sit still for long hours before the Blessed Sacrament. There a great calm spread over me. I really felt the presence of Christ, who seemed to say in my inmost depths, ‘I want you.’”


In my case, thank God SOMEONE does.

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.



I ALSO CONTINUE TO BE DAZZLED BY THE AFTERNOON LIGHT
IN THE HILLS OF ECHO PARK.
THIS IS AN "ORDINARY" TREE WITH GREEN LEAVES
THAT APPEARS TO BE GILDED!


Thursday, February 12, 2015

HONDURAS UPDATE




I'm in Ocotepeque, Honduras for the week with the Catholic organization Unbound and before I forget--I say become a sponsor of a child or old person pronto!

I'm going to, the minute I return home.

It's unbelievable how much thirty bucks a month means to the folks here who use the money for, among other things, school supplies, food, medicine, clothing, and/or a roof.

I'm going to work up a piece for The Tidings when I return home with more info on the incredible work and spirit of this great organization. Processing the five days I've spent here will take weeks.

On a more personal note, I was holding up quite well till Day Three of non-stop travel, people, and visits. The printed schedule said we were to return to the hotel by 5 at which time I had planned to enjoy a precious hour "to myself" when I could take a much-needed walk. When I realized that wasn't going to happen, and that I was going to have no free time that day whatsoever, and that we were also going to miss Mass, I could feel myself caving. Then I snapped.

"So what time are we going to get back to the hotel?" I keened. "I cannot do this again tomorrow." .

And it was true. I really couldn't have.

What I've learned is that when you say to normal people, "I can't function if I don't have time to myself," what they hear is "I'm a selfish whiner making an unreasonable demand" and what they figure is "Just push the laggard: she'll fall in with the rest of us if she has to."

But I am not kidding. After a certain amount of time with other people I go into mental, emotional, spiritual and nervous-system overload to the point where my system simply crashes. I can't hide my discomfort. I'll become visibly agitated. Then, depending on the situation, I'll get belligerent. And finally, I'll become catatonic. I'll just close my eyes wherever I am and, like one those bugs who rolls themselves into a ball, refuse to participate: in line at the bank, in the middle of a conversation, at your wedding. Heck, at my wedding.

Most people, i.e. extroverts may find it a little extra trouble to be with people for 12, 14, 16 hours a day, but what the hey. In fact, they ENJOY being with people for 12 hours straight. They don't even think about it.

For an introvert like me, 12 hours of people is like running a marathon. You have to practice. You have to prepare and pace yourself. You feel like throwing up halfway through. You stagger through the finish line, if at all, sweating and shaking. Then you collapse and have to recuperate for a few days.

Anyway, at the risk of appearing selfish, weak, and standoffish, I opted out of Afternoon 3 of visits with the people of Honduras. People who suffer extreme poverty, a government that does nothing for them, and hardships unimaginable to a person from the First World.

I got dropped at my hotel and I got to simply lie on my bed and be for an hour. I fell asleep. I woke and had a cup of coffee and then I set out on a walk: to the commercial strip, to the hilly streets above the city, and then down and around again to an area near the church where I wandered about, delighting in the random sights: an old green wooden door, a high adobe wall behind which grew a tree with vibrant orange flowers, a red-tiled roof sprouting air plants.

By this time the sun was setting and I found a low wall and just sat: drinking in the light and the mountains. Smoke drifted. A jacaranda tree bloomed. A man walked by with his young son: Buenas. Buenas. On a telephone wire right above me perched a magnificent bright yellow bird. Black markings. A notched tail. Suddenly it flew spreading its wings to reveal a thrilling expanse of golden chest.

That was when I truly "felt" Honduras: its land, the people I'd met, its beauty, its suffering.








So all was well. That little bit of solitude and inner silence set me right.

The next morning we got to celebrate Mass with the children at Casa Hogar. I sat in the back with three small boys beside me, sharing their hymn sheet. Arlin, the special needs kid, played tambourine.

At the petitionary prayers, one girl prayed for the people who didn't have a roof over their heads like she did, who didn't have food to eat like she did, who didn't have access to an education as she did.

Above the alter hung a crucifix with the lacerated Christ who these children knew well.

At the Sign of Peace, they circulated: smiling, touching, embracing us,

The whole trip would have been worth that one half-hour.



ARLIN (SEE PREVIOUS POST) WITH HIS TAMBOURINE
WAITING FOR MASS TO BEGIN.
HIS TIMING AND RHYTHM WERE GENIUS.
A THOUSAND THANKS TO THE UNBOUND STAFF IN OCOTOPEQUE: HENRY, MIRIAM, LUIS,
NOE, NARESLI, CLAUDIA, AND THE GREAT MAYRON;
TO ELIZABETH AND BECKY, HIGHER-UPS FROM UNBOUND HQ IN KANSAS CITY;
TO MY CO-JOURNALISTS JD, LIZ, AND SARAH, AND
TO THE CHILDREN OF CASA HOGAR



Wednesday, February 11, 2015

CASA HOGAR



Unbound is the Catholic relief organization that brought me here to beautiful Honduras. They hook up sponsors with children, young adults and the elderly all over the world. For as little as thirty bucks a month, you can make a huge difference in the life of one of these kids.

The suffering and poverty here are almost beyond belief. So are the hospitality, generosity of spirit, and courtesy. The photo above is a carpet of pine needles strewn with bougainvillea that I'll wait to explain later. For now suffice it to say that I even got to walk on it is beyond humbling.

These are photos of Casa Hogar, a home and school for kids who've been abused, neglected or abandoned. For instance, one boy here had a mother who used to burn his fingers on a hot stove when he made the tortillas wrong. We met the staff and the children put on a beautiful dance program for us and invited us to tour the room where some of the girls are learning to sew and showed us around and we all had lunch together.















THIS IS ARLIN, WHO HAS SPECIAL NEEDS.
HE IS WELL-LOVED BY THE CHILDREN, WHO ARE CONSTANTLY
STOPPING BY HIS CHAIR TO PAT HIS HEAD OR HOLD HIS HAND OR GIVE HIM A KISS.
ARLIN IS LEARNING TO PLAY THE GUITAR AND PLUCKED OUT
A HAUNTING VERSION OF "GUANTANAMERO" FOR US. 









Then we visited with Sandra, one of the mothers who has a daughter and a son who live at Casa Hogar. She's a 32-year-old alcoholic from a family in which only two of the fourteen kids aren't alcoholic. Six of her brothers have been murdered. She was squatting in an abandoned adobe hut that contained one chest with shelves in it, one giant battered plastic container of water (the tap water is completely undrinkable), 4 battered plastic cups, a few chairs (or maybe we sat on cinder blocks) and a mattress. Period.

On the line hung two pairs of pants and a shirt which, along with the clothes she was wearing, I took to comprise her entire wardrobe. No kitchen. No electricity. Outhouse. She works occasionally hauling concrete,clearing land, or fixing shoes.

Her daughter, Norma, is 16; Jairo, the little boy, is 8. "Out of this ugly person came two beautiful children," Sandra laughed, except she wasn't really laughing.

Sandra lives in the same 'hood as Casa Hogar but rarely visits. The children come, when they can, to her.

They asked, and were granted, permission to stay with her for a while after we left.