Friday, May 1, 2015

OUTSIDE LIES MAGIC: TAX TIME


This was last week's column from The Tidings:

I'm a huge fan of walking. By “walk,” I don’t mean the fetishistic activity that involves leg weights, an odometer, and a satellite system.

I’m talking about throwing on your sneakers, walking out the door of wherever you happen to be, and taking an hour, two-hour stroll for the sheer, exuberant wonder of the enterprise.

Deserts, seashores, and prairies are good, but so are back alleys, warehouse districts, and urban blight. The edges, as Pope Francis points out, are where things get interesting. The edges are where you have space to dream, where people will say hi. Or not.

I once wheeled into a Motel 6 in Flagstaff, Arizona, for example, took off on foot, and passed through a half-mile of gas stations, clover-leafs, and underpasses. But then I came upon a dirt forest road, completely deserted, where I picked a bouquet of wildflowers, communed with several trees, and watched the sunset before tramping back--enjoying the underpasses, clover-leafs, and gas stations as well--to my humble room.

Suffice it to say that Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places (1998) is my kind of book. Imagine my surprise, though, to discover that while I thought I’d just been engaging in an under-the-radar, poor-person's activity, the author, John R. Stilgoe , teaches classes at Harvard!

He’s definitely on to something, though. Here's an excerpt:

“Get out now. Not just outside, but beyond the trap of the programmed electronic age so gently closing around so many people at the end of our century. Go outside, move deliberately, then relax, slow down, look around. Do not jog. Do not run...

Abandon, even momentarily, the sleek modern technology that consumes so much time and money now, and seek out the resting place of a technology almost forgotten. Go outside and walk a bit, long enough to forget programming, long enough to take in and record new surroundings…

Outside lies programmed awareness that at times becomes directed serendipity. Outside lies magic.” 

As tax deadline looms—and we self-employed folk in particular blanch—Stilgoe’s   message is especially timely. Because getting outside, among its many other attributes, is free!

One place I’ve always loved to walk is downtown L.A. As a lawyer in the early ‘90’s, I frequently washed up at the Superior Courthouse on Hill and 1st   and the nearby law library.

I spent many hours of mingled existential anguish and interior joy in what is now  Grand Park, sitting on a deserted bench and gazing at the fountain down the hill from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

I wept, prayed, buried my head in my hands, talked to homeless people, and drank endless venti Starbucks by that fountain. The seed of the decision to quit my job as a lawyer in order to write was planted by that fountain.

That fountain is now tricked out like a Ferris Wheel at night—spectacular enough, though I’m not sure I didn’t like it better before. The point is that I have a history with the fountain.

The point is that we don’t get a history with people or things unless we get up close to them. Christ  always got close to people. He noticed the trees, the flowers, the mountains, the wind. He traveled on foot.

So if you have the tax time blues, why not spend a day exploring our beautiful downtown? You can park for two free hours on the Hill Street extension (take a gradual right off Cesar Chavez just past Grand), or all day in the streets above Chinatown.

Walk to the Central Library on Olive and 5th. Peruse the stacks of books and racks of CDs. Check out the always interesting photography or art exhibit. Sit in the courtyard.

Walk up the hill to the Colburn School, a gold mine of free events: student recitals, faculty chamber music ensembles, dance lectures.

Sit by the reflecting pool in back of MOCA and give thanks.

Wander down to Little Tokyo and splurge on a bowl of ramen.


Find your way (you may want to drive the two miles) to the Bread Lounge at 700 South Santa Fe. Buy a $2.10 hunk of Ciabatta with Kalamata Olives (so Eucharistic!) and walk over the LA River on the 7th Street Bridge.

Say howdy to the lone folks you’ll come upon who have set up camp for the day in the occasional alcoves.

Stop in the middle.

Look out over the railyards and the river and the whole crazy sprawl of our unlikely, glorious city. Survey what God hath made. Tell yourself, heart bursting: I live here. I am part of this.

You’ll be footsore, and a little hungry still, and not a penny richer.

But remind yourself as you begin the trudge back that the mark of a follower of Christ is never whether we own houses, or lands, or fat IRAs.  

The mark of a follower of Christ is the breadth of our imagination.

It’s our capacity for beauty.

It’s our willingness to suffer, for love.


SCENES FROM THE HILL STREET BRIDGE
ABOVE THE 101, BY THE DOWNTOWN L.A. CATHEDRAL
101Add caption

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

WALTER BENFAMIN ON THE FLÂNEUR

WILLIAM EGGLESTON, MEMPHIS, 1969-1970

Just as waiting seems to be the true state of the motionless contemplative, so doubt seems to be that of the flâneur...Like an ascetic animal he roams through unknown neighbourhoods until he collapses, totally exhuasted, in the foreign, cold room that awaits him.
--Walter Benjamin


WILLIAM EGGLESTON, JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI, 1969-1970



Monday, April 27, 2015

THE FEMALE PRIESTHOOD

SR. DOROTHY MAE STANG, S.N.D.
1931-2005
WORKED WITH RURAL POOR IN BRAZIL
MURDERED BY STATE-BACKED AUTHORITIES

Every so often I hear from a woman who says How can you belong to a Church that doesn’t allow women to be priests?

My answer is Man, if you want to be priest, go for it! No-one’s stopping you. To be a priest is to be constantly scourged, constantly to stagger under a heavy cross, constantly to comfort others with no-one but the Good Shepherd to comfort you, to undergo a constant and ongoing death.

It is to know your time is not your own, your body is not your own, your life is not your own. In fact, this is precisely the invitation Christ extends to all of us.

Being a priest—a bridge, a conduit—for Christ has nothing to do with getting even, being vindicated, having as much worldly power as some other person. In authentic priesthood, there cannot be an iota of anger; of wanting to “set people straight,” of crowing, lording it over, taking first place, winning, triumphing; of sharing or grabbing power.

Being a priest is about utter and complete surrender.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux realized early that, as she diplomatically put it, priests need a lot of help. She vowed to pray for them. She longed to be a priest herself and in her way, achieved her goal. Check out her life, and her death. Check out the lives of Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa and Caryll Houselander and Dorothy Stang and the many other women who, in their way, have been priests for all of us. .

You want to be a priest? Don’t wait for approval or validation or permission. Christ has already given the command to go out and spread the Gospel to the whole world. Go for it. The world is teeming with those in need of pastoral care. You probably live with some of them.

Consent to a self-emptying you would never have chosen on your own and that you could not endure for five minutes on your own. Consent to be available to all, to be misunderstood by many, to live a life that is entirely hidden from the world.

Read The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos. Contemplate you willingness to live with results so meager you wonder whether they are results at all. That’s of course while being in dire pain of various kinds yourself.

In your poverty, be willing to let your witness be an afternoon’s entertainment for rich people. Be open to people’s anger, especially their anger at the Church, their religious hysteria, guilt, shame, despair; their sexual, emotional, vocational, and relational wounds. Let them cast their burden upon you. Carry it in silence, with humility and love. Cast your own burden upon Christ alone.

The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few, as Christ observed.

And as St. Thérèse learned all too well in her short 24 years: “There are no raptures, no ecstasies—only service.”

Sunday, April 26, 2015

AMAZEMENT


PROTEA


“The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world - impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito. The lover of life makes the whole world his family, just like the lover of the fair sex who builds up his family from all the beautiful women that he has ever found, or that are or are not - to be found; or the lover of pictures who lives in a magical society of dreams painted on canvas. Thus the lover of universal life enters into the crowd as though it were an immense reservoir of electrical energy. Or we might liken him to a mirror as vast as the crowd itself; or to a kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness, responding to each one of its movements and reproducing the multiplicity of life and the flickering grace of all the elements of life.”

--Charles Baudelaire, from The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays

"I might have been myself minus amazement, / that is, / someone completely different.”
--Wyslawa Szymborska

AFTER A RAIN YESTERDAY AFTERNOON,
AND A BLESSED DAY ON THE SOFA WITH MY BOOKS

Friday, April 24, 2015

HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY AND TERRENCE DES PRES' THE SURVIVOR

Warsaw’s Ghetto Heroes Monument commemorates
 those who fought against the Nazis during the uprising in 1943.

Here's last week's arts and culture piecefrom The Tidings:

Yom Ha’Shoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, ran this year from the evening of April 15 to the evening of April 16. It marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and is celebrated a week after the end of the Passover holiday.

A book that deserves to be better known is “The Survivor: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps” (1976). The author, Terrence Des Pres (1939-1987), was an American writer, Holocaust scholar and professor at Colgate University.

In chapters with such titles as “Nightmare and Waking,” “Radical Nakedness” and “Excremental Assault,” Des Pres describes the psychological and spiritual torment endured by the inmates of the Nazi death camps.

Upon arrival, every inmate underwent an almost complete disintegration of personality. Those who survived came to accept that they were in fact awake and not dreaming, and adopted as their mission to figure out how to continue living for the next minute, hour, day.

“With the return to consciousness came a feeling of intense decision.”

Lone wolves, as in “real life,” didn’t make it. The inmates instinctively formed alliances, communities, friendships. They exchanged gifts — a piece of string, a bite of potato. A Treblinka survivor observed: “In our group we shared everything; and the moment one of the group ate something without sharing it, we knew it was the beginning of the end for them.”

Krystyna Zywulska, a survivor of Maidanek, was charged with “card-filing” the incoming prisoners.

In “I Came Back,” she wrote:

“I thought of my arrival and my first impressions of the camp. I knew that a person coming to a camp was afraid of everything and everybody, that she was distracted and terrified. The first word was so important. I decided to be patient, to answer all questions, to calm them and give them courage. My life began to hold meaning.”

In “Twenty Months at Auschwitz,” Pelagia Lewinska wrote:

“From the instant when I grasped the motivating principle … it was as if I had been awakened from a dream. … I felt under orders to live. … And if I did die in Auschwitz, it would be as a human being. I would hold on to my dignity. I was not going to become the contemptible, disgusting brute my enemy wished me to be. … And a terrible struggle began which went on day and night.”

Personal hygiene was out of the question, for example, but many inmates grasped that their very lives depended upon at least making the gesture. They tore a tiny swatch from their coarse striped uniform, dipped it in the filthy water, and went through the motions of grooming themselves — after which the “washcloth” was rinsed out and secreted away for the next day.

Des Pres never stoops to sentimentality. Many vicious, cold-hearted inmates survived as well. Self-pity had no place in the camps. Once people died, they were not spoken of again. Moral dilemmas that in the outside world would be unthinkable were the inmates’ daily lot. Almost every survivor did things in the camps that he or she was ashamed to speak of later.

Still, a Treblinka survivor, quoted by journalist Gitta Sereny in “Into that Darkness,” observed:

“It wasn’t ruthlessness that enabled an individual to survive — it was an intangible quality, not particular to educated or sophisticated individuals. Anyone might have it. It is perhaps best described as an overriding thirst — perhaps, too, a talent for life, and a faith in life.”

In “Smoke Over Birkenau,” Seweryna Szmaglewska asked: “When there is no help, no care, no medicine — whence comes this magic will to live?”

In perhaps the most beautiful passage in the book, Des Pres responds:

“There is a power at the center of our being, at the heart of all things living ... already we can grasp some part, at least, of what the survivor’s experience reveals: that whether felt as a power, or observed as a system of activities, life is existence laboring to sustain itself, repairing, defending, healing.”

“The Survivor” could only have been written by a man of profound intelligence, conscience and heart. That Des Pres committed suicide several years after the book was published makes for a profoundly tragic coda.

He concluded:

“And as for an ethic based on selfless love, that dream cost two thousand years of misery, and like ‘faith in humanity,’ came to its end in Auschwitz, in Hiroshima, in the forest of Vorkuta …”

The notion that the death camps marked the death of Christianity is the one place that Des Pres and I part ways. It seems to me that Christianity, far from dying, was lived out in the camps to its farthest reaches.

Those eyes that are not quite yet dead — that refuse to die — are not proof that God is dead: they are the light that shines in the darkness.

Those festering feet, still torturously, slowly, plodding are the feet Christ washed the night before he died.

That emaciated human being in rags and dirt with the heart to share her last morsel of potato is the person the disciples met on the road to Emmaus.

“They knew him in the breaking of bread.”

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

SPRING--AND THE GREAT BLUE HERON RETURNS



Oh there is much to do each day! The admin, the errands, the personal grooming, the moving of the car for street sweeping, the deadlines, the apartment search, the emails.

It was only yesterday afternoon, on my walk, that I put it all together; the overflowing, insane grace of the last couple of days.

From Combermere, Ontario:

"The Great Blue Heron came back  yesterday."

"It is a good rainy spring day with Buffle Heads  ( a little mostly white diving duck) swimming in the marsh."

From the Seattle area:

"I wish you could see how Spring exploded this week.  New flowers and greenery everywhere!  Lots of beautiful Eastertide sunshine.  You would love it, I think."

From Schwenksville, PA:


"Every day there is something new to look at here. Not like winter, when every day there is something new but worse. Today, the most magical was thousands of mining bees emerging from the ground. They looked like they were just hatching, flying all crooked and wobbly. A few were peeking their heads out of the holes, not quite sure if they were ready for the outside world. I know how they feel!!"

From Groton VT: 

"A lone beauty blooming: Iris reticulata "Katharine Hodgkin".
She's a mere 3 inches tall."

and

"There's a red haze in the landscape as the tree buds swell."

Then---news from a friend that his wife had just given birth to a baby girl.

"Heather why do good things keep happening to me?" he asked.






SCENES FROM HORN CANYON, OJAI, CA WHERE I HIKED LAST WEEK.
NO SOY DIGNO ...
LORD, I AM NOT WORTHY THAT YOU SHOULD ENTER UNDER MY ROOF,
BUT ONLY SAY THE WORD AND I SHALL BE HEALED...


Sunday, April 19, 2015

HAWAIIAN SURFER-FOLK HERO EDDIE "EDDIE WOULD GO" AIKAU


Here's last week's arts and culture piece from The Tidings:

I grew up on the coast of New Hampshire. My first love was a surfer. When I moved to Southern California, I got to see the beaches I’d only seen before on TV: Malibu, Newport.

But until last year, I’d never heard of Eddie Aikau. That was when a reader from Hawaii wrote me, saying:

“Eddie Aikau was a surfer lifeguard and native Hawaiian who gave his life in loving service. They have signs all about Hawaii saying ‘Eddie Would Go’ to commemorate his willingness to go where needed. The family was Catholic. … They had monthly family meetings where all undercurrents of discord were uncovered, discussed, mended. They were a large family.

“Eddie gave his life because he did go — to seek help for those on a capsizing ship while at sea. He gave up his life vest for others and climbed aboard his surf board seeking rescue. He was never seen again.”

I had to know more. Here’s his bio, from the Eddie Aikau Foundation website:

“Edward Ryon Makuahanai ‘Eddie’ Aikau (May 4, 1946 – March 17, 1978) is one of the most respected names in surfing. He was the first lifeguard at Waimea Bay on the island of Oahu. He saved many lives and became well known as a big wave surfer. ‘Eddie’ was a true symbol of Aloha …

“Eddie braved surf that often reached 20 feet high or more to make a rescue … He won several surfing awards, including first place at the prestigious 1977 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Surfing Championship. The local saying, ‘Eddie Would Go,’ refers to his stoke to take on big waves that other surfers would shy away from and his courage to make a rescue in impossible situations.”

On YouTube, you can watch clips of Eddie surfing and a documentary called “Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau.”

You can find “Eddie Would Go: The Story of Eddie Aikau, Hawaiian Hero and Pioneer of Big Wave Surfing,” by Stuart Holmes Colman, at the Los Angeles Public Library.

I learned that this old-school, world-class “waterman” was indeed raised Catholic. He came from a close-knit family of six kids, presided over by the charismatic “Pops,” who moved his family to the Chinese graveyard on Oahu where he was caretaker, worked hard, and threw parties featuring roast pig, slack-key guitar, and a potent homebrew of pineapple, brown sugar and strawberry syrup called “swipe.”

Eddie quit school in the 11th grade to surf. He worked the night shift at the Dole cannery, hit the North Shore in the morning, and rode waves all day. His genius was noticed early.

After coming of age, he drank a bit too much at times and, even after marrying, had a bit of an eye for the girls.

But his real love was the sea, and Coleman does a beautiful job of weaving Hawaiian history, culture, language, food, music and the age-old, mystical connection with the water into the story of this almost otherworldly surfer-lifeguard folk hero.

Drownings and injuries were frequent at Waimea Bay. As a lifeguard there, Eddie routinely and matter-of-factly risked his life — often to save drunken, ungrateful tourists.

“He was a protector. It was a role he picked for himself and he was good at it,” notes ex-wife Linda Crosswhite.

He attempted over 500 rescues. Not one person was ever lost on his watch.

As a surfer, he rode waves nobody else would. He didn’t want to attack, carve up, use the wave as an object to showcase himself. He wanted to be one with the wave.

In a culture whose land had been stolen by a few white businessmen, whose language, culture, customs and even ocean had been commandeered by outsiders, Eddie didn’t want to fight. He was a peacemaker, which is the one thing, perhaps, that takes more courage than fighting.

He had the duende — roughly, style crossed with soul crossed with class — of bullfighters and certain ballerinas.

In 1976, the Polynesian Voyaging Society decided to sail the Hokule’a, a double-hulled voyaging canoe, on a 30-day, 2,500-mile journey that was to follow the ancient route of the Polynesian migration between the Hawa;iian and Tahitian islands. Eddie, deeply proud of his Hawaiian heritage, was chosen as a team member.

The Hokule’a set sail on March 16, 1978, in stormy weather and quickly sprung a leak. The boat capsized. One last time, Eddie went.

He paddled off on his surfboard into one of the most dangerous channels in the world, with 20 miles of roiling sea between him and nearest land: the island of Lanai. He seemed to know he was destined to die doing what he was born to do: look out for others; being one with the water.

“Eddie didn’t take off where everyone else took off,” observes his brother Clyde. “He took off deeper.”

The rest of the crew was rescued the next day by the U.S. Coast Guard. Eddie’s body was never found.

His memorial plaque overlooks Waimea Bay. It reads: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Thursday, April 16, 2015

WABI-SABI CABIN



I first learned of "wabi-sabi" from a dear woman named Pat Arndt who, several years ago, gave me a book on the subject.

From wikipedia: "Wabi-sabi (侘寂?) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is 'imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.' "

Aside from the fact is there any other kind, I am staying for two nights in what's billed as a wabi-sabi cabin in the lovely Southern California foothill town of Ojai.

The clawfoot tub, shower and toilet are in a separate small building! It was fun going out there about ten times last night: looking at the stars, smelling the cedar, tripping over the lintel.

After I finish this post, edit a set of galleys, finish my weekly arts and culture column (which involved transcribing a tape), respond to my emails and answer my phone calls, I hope to 'relax' this afternoon with a brisk hike into the mountains!

Friday I drive a couple of hours further up the coast to "my people" at the Guadalupe Catholic Worker.

But today, I'm communing with the birds.

"[W]e are not judged by what we are basically. We are judged by how hard we use what we have been given. Success means nothing to the Lord, nor gracefulness."

--Flannery O'Connor, from a letter to “A,” November 22, 1958






THE OUTHOUSE
WITH A COFFEEMAKER AND WIFI SIGNAL, I COULD LIVE IN THERE

MORNING LIGHT O'ER THE GLADE

Monday, April 13, 2015

BALANCE VERSUS SURRENDER: DAVID BROOKS' NYT PIECE ON CHARACTER




A couple of folks sent me the link to this piece by David Brooks, author of The Road to Character, that appeared April 11 in the New York Times.

It's called "The Moral Bucket List" and begins like this:

ABOUT once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.

When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day. But I confess I often have a sadder thought: It occurs to me that I’ve achieved a decent level of career success, but I have not achieved that. I have not achieved that generosity of spirit, or that depth of character.

A few years ago I realized that I wanted to be a bit more like those people. I realized that if I wanted to do that I was going to have to work harder to save my own soul. I was going to have to have the sort of moral adventures that produce that kind of goodness. I was going to have to be better at balancing my life.


I like a lot of what Brooks goes on to say. But balancing one's life, in the way Brooks means, is the last thing the follower of Christ is geared toward.

He continues:

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?

The follower of Christ doesn't strive for balance between his or her résumé virtues and eulogy virtues. The follower of Christ surrenders 100% in favor of the eulogy virtues. There's no more division. You bring the eulogy virtues to your work, your relationships, your money, your physical, emotional and spiritual "health," such as they are.

If you happen to be intelligent, you bring your intelligence 100% to bear in favor of the eulogy virtues. If you're organized, driven, disciplined, a good fundraiser, a compelling speaker, you bring all that 100% to bear as you devote your entire being to the pursuit of the eulogy virtues.

Here's a small example. Recently I heard of a Catholic priest who follows a "paleo" diet. He eats no sugar, no grains, no dairy, no oils, no salt. He wears a crossbit or whatever that thing is called that tells you how far you walked each day. He's obsessively fit. And he's outlawed donuts at his church after Mass. Everyone has to eat raw vegetables and hard-boiled eggs. Apparently some nice older lady made him a loaf of banana bread. He threw it in the garbage.

This is the kind of thing we get when we strive for "balance" between résumé virtues and eulogy virtues. As long as we're striving, as opposed to surrendering, we inevitably slant, consciously or subconsciously, toward self. We impose our idea of virtue on others. We have a plan for ourselves and we have a plan for others.

The "deep love" Brooks speaks of is something entirely different. Okay, follow your paleo diet if that makes you grateful, and other-directed, and free, and gives you a better sense of humor. But don't impose your way on others. Love your parishioners. Be their shepherd! Give them their donuts! Get down on your knees and give thanks to the kind lady who made the banana bread.

We consent to associate with people who have bad taste--which is to say taste other than ours--in music, art, architecture, books, food. I can't tell you the number of Sizzlers, and Olive Gardens and white-people corporate restaurants I've found myself in when I would way rather be at some hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese joint slurping pho and swilling coffee with shaved ice and condensed milk. We don't insist upon going where we want to go. We go where "they" want to go. And we give thanks, and we're gracious and present and we give 100% of ourselves, 100% of the time. We're not nutritionists. We're not fitness gurus. We care for people's souls, we listen to their stories, we share ours, and then we leave them to figure out what they want to eat.

Food is the least of it. We consent not to have things look our way, go our way, turn out our way. As my friend Father Terry says, "If we're lucky, we'll give up all hope of ever being happy in the way we thought we'd be happy."

Archbishop Oscar Romero was celebrating Mass when the assassin came.

From a piece by Paul Grondahl in Crux entitled, "A Maryknoll Priest Recounts Oscar Romero's Path to Sainthood":

[Romero] criticized US military support for the government of El Salvador and pleaded with soldiers to defy orders to fire on innocent civilians. His impassioned defense of the poor and oppressed made him wildly popular among ordinary citizens and champions of social justice, but a controversial figure within the Catholic Church and a target for violent right-wing operatives who sought to silence his crusade.

On March 24, 1980, as he celebrated Mass in a small church, the Chapel of Divine Providence Hospital, an assassin shot and killed Romero. He had agreed to say an anniversary Mass for the widow of a publisher of an independent newspaper that had been firebombed for publishing investigative stories critical of the government.

“He had spoken about the importance of journalists and a free press and the need to alleviate the suffering of the poor,” [Rev. John] Spain [a Maryknoll priest in El Salvador] said. Romero was killed by a single shot from a rifle fired through the open chapel doors by a sniper in the back seat of a Volkswagen parked out front.

“I’ve listened to the audiotape of the Mass and you can hear Archbishop Romero say, ‘Let us pray for…’ and then you hear the crack of the sniper’s shot, followed by screams,” Spain said.


Archbishop Romero had a gun pointed at him, and he calmly continued what he was doing: his work, his life. That is not balance. That is the perfect example of the résumé virtues subsumed by the eulogy virtues.

That Archbishop Romero died celebrating Mass--serving his flock, worshiping, loving--IS his résumé.



GRAND PARK, DOWNTOWN L.A.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

STUMBLING, TRIPPING, FALLING, COLLAPSING

JESUS FALLS THE FIRST TIME
ERIC GILL, 1917
WOOD ENGRAVING ON PAPER

The other day a print interviewer asked over the phone, "Now what's the name of your new book?"

"Stumble."

 "Scumball?" she replied.

The title wasn't my idea. If I were going to that route, I actually would have chosen COLLAPSE.

Anyway, that was my laugh for the day. And I was reminded how several months ago I was in Omaha over the weekend giving a Day of Recollection for some truly fine women of the Heartland. My hotel was downtown and after cruising around Old Market on foot, I decided to go to a Saturday vigil Mass at St. Mary Magdalene Church. Having miscalculated the time, was running a teeny bit late. In fact, a few blocks before the church, I started sprinting.  

So there I was, all 62 years of age of me with a purse and a tote bag, trilling along at top speed and just as I approached the door, my foot hit a loose piece of sidewalk and I went sprawling and I mean sprawling. My first thought was My phone! Not I hope I didn't break my leg, or arm, or jaw, any of which I could easily have done. Stuff did fly out of my purse and though the phone was fine, the breath was knocked out of me and out of shock and fear I emitted a kind of strangled scream. A guy who was hanging around the side of the church regarded me kindly lying there in a heap and said, "Are you okay?" 

Of course I felt like a complete ass. "Yeah, I'm okay," I chuckled, or tried to chuckle as I righted myself. In fact, I'd badly bruised one knee and scraped the palms badly enough that they were bleeding. Stigmata! I thought as I limped up the stairs to Mass. 

But seriously, inside from the back right-hand corner of the sanctuary (which was packed to SRO), I thought about the Stations of the Cross and how Christ fell three times and how when you fall, it's not some delicate, elegant thing. Our human instinct is to stay standing as long as we possibly can. A true fall is never orchestrated.  It's a sudden, complete loss of control that is anything but graceful and that we can't help but experience as a humiliation. 

JESUS FALLS THE SECOND TIME
ERIC GILL, 1917

When we trip in public, we always immediately look around to ascertain whether anyone saw us. Then we glance behind us to see what "the culprit" was and shake our heads in disgust to telegraph to the people who did see us stumble: I'm not a klutz, some jerk left a pile of dog poo on the sidewalk or The city should really spend some dough on making this place safe for pedestrians or Did we just have an earthquake?  

On the way to Calvary, Christ didn't have that option. No human would think to make up a God who died the way Christ did, and who underwent what he did on the Via Dolorosa. No human, geared toward worldly power and success, would be given to see that our falls, our wounds, our collapses don't exclude us from fellowship at the human table: they're our ticket in. 

This morning's Magnificat reflection, by Adrienne von Speyr,  begins with a reference to Mary Magdalene:

"The Lord appears first to the former sinner. She is the first to experience his being alive. And from this, she comprehends the cross. All the sins of the work, also her own, which were so visible, struck the Lord on the cross. But because she is no longer a sinner but, rather, was converted by the Lord already before the cross, he appears to her. She is surely to embody in her person the absolution that is granted to all sinners on the cross." 

JESUS FALLS THE THIRD TIME
ERIC GILL, 1917