Sunday, December 23, 2012

Metro encounter

I spot the man
across the jostling metro.

We eye eachother,
not suspiciously.

older- graying hair, wrinkling face
eclectic- Native American jewelry, colorful clothing
white- light skin

observations. judgments. assumptions.

The train slows, I stand.

"Is this Glenmont?"

He tosses the question
over the divide.

I toss back.

"Takoma Park, you have several more."

I lose my focus.

It peers at me brightly,
the tie-dye emblem 
sewn onto his shirt.

A cross.

Eyes widen, a smile.
The game of catch continues.

"I like your cross."
"Thank you," he softens. "God bless."
"God bless you," I respond.

we are even players
on the field.
We are people of blessing.
We are brother and sister.

Why did it take 
a symbol
for me to yield?

To recognize that
we all belong
to one another?

Monday, December 17, 2012

dirty dishes

“Where’s Matt when we need him?” I thought. Our roommate had been gone less than 48 hours and already the kitchen of our intentional community was suffering neglect. The counters were speckled. The dishes were grimy; the dishwasher full. I assumed this would happen when our neatest roommate moved out (his weekly chore was, after all, kitchen duty). I didn’t think about beginning to fill some of the void. Yet there I was, stacking plates, running the dishwasher, scrubbing the pans, cleaning the counter.

I did the dishes today. That wouldn’t exactly make me a hero. But here’s the thing: I didn’t want to do the dishes today.

Every once in a while, I get in these pious moods where I take joy in doing small things for others. I blush to admit it, but this was not one of them. 

All I wanted to do when I got home after work was get cozy and watch my favorite Jane Austen novel turned movie. But there they were, two skillets, one pan, a crockpot, plates and utensils, mocking my weariness in all their oily glory. It’s a good thing I didn’t see them all at once, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to take the sponge in my hand and turn the hot water on.

The dishes and pans came at me from all sides: next to the stove, in the kitchen corner, by a towel—littering our kitchen counter, collecting grime from the meat grease, dotted with crumbs.

They smelled too. This was no prim affair. Soapy, clear water instantly turned black and brown. The blue sponge was quickly camouflaged. Unidentifiable particles swam sloppily, drowning one moment and resurrecting the next.

Sometimes I hummed a holiday tune. Sometimes I sighed exasperatedly. The internal struggle continued. Did these dishes know what kind of day I had? No, they didn’t. All they cared about was getting clean, being put away, getting reused.

And thank God for that.

The dishes made me step outside of myself and serve others. I wasn’t in a soup kitchen. I wasn’t in a nursing facility or hospital. I was in my own home, serving the people I see almost every day—the people who often get forgotten in my quest to serve, the people who may not even remember to thank me.

Brother Lawrence, however, reminds us in The Practice of the Presence of God, "We ought not to grow tired of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed."

So maybe my act of service wasn’t particularly glorified or heroic on a worldly scale. But doing it with love was. Because love involves serving others, even if it's not exactly first on our to-do list. By doing the dishes, I was serving a hodge-podge group of people that I’ve come to love, even though I’d had a long day. And that’s all that matters sometimes.

I got every single plate—even the ones I hadn’t accounted for. And before I knew it, I was pulling out the counter cleaner and scrubbing the stove. I don’t know where God gives us this energy or drive…or even why. I don’t know what made me go above and beyond, nor do I know how I got there, in the kitchen of my intentional community in Washington D.C., scrubbin’ away.

What I do know is God has a funny way of answering prayers for growth and holiness. And it’s swimming somewhere amidst the dirty pots and pans.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Old friends

An old friend called the other day. It’s funny how they tend to do that, especially after you’ve finished cooking and are wondering how to best spend the next several hours. Sometimes they call at just the right time, like moments after you've been thinking about them. And you love them for it. Then you seriously consider whether or not they can read your mind telepathically. You think about odd things like chocolate covered baguette slices while on the phone. They say nothing about this in your conversation. All clear. 

Old friends are often overlooked. They’re the comfortable pair of socks in the drawer that don’t always get pulled out, but are the ones you cherish. They may have gotten worn and scraggly from washing. Heck, they may even have a hole or two. But you swear by them regardless—like a lucky charmand loyally keep them around.

Old friends are the ones you don’t have to keep tabs on all the time. The ones you know you can count on or just call out of the blue without getting an awkward response or having to feel guilty. They don't ask for a log of the hours you've spent without them. They don't sneak in snarky remarks about you not knowing that it was their grandmother's birthday or forgetting to send that card. They're happy just to talk. You're happy they called.

Old friends are the ones you can ask the big questions; the ones who ask you the big questions back; the ones you can answer honestly when asked how you’ve been; the ones you don’t mind being vulnerable around.

Old friends know what you mean when you say things—the true meaning. You wonder if they majored in Reading Between the Lines. They hear your sigh or pause and know what it signifies. And they care to find out.

Old friends don’t need constant patching up, just a good shaking out every now and then. They are not threatened by new friends, experiences, significant others or the presence of moths and dust. But they appreciate you taking them out of the drawer or closet, wearing them once in a while, even showing them off in public.

Old friends are content knowing you are.

And old friends are the ones that hang up saying “love ya.” Those two words make you smile. Because even though it’s been days, weeks or months since you've last chatted, the mutual respect and affection remains—unchanged, unabashed, unafraid.

Love ya too, old friend, your heart screams.

Love ya too.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Cloister Walk

What is your grip over me, oh holy cloister?
Why do you pull at my heart?
With your long, stone corridors, 
weathered books 
and wooden chapel.
With your falling leaves,
ethereal silence,
and reigning peace.

You whisper to me,
"Come. Stay. Be."
And I, hyponotized, return once more.
A pilgrim.
A laborer.
A child of God.
Seeking solace,
seeking rest,
seeking the peace you help give.

For everything about your existence is geared towards the transcendent.
Your commitment: the search for the divine.
You profess a life where the groanings of the world come second 
to the singing of angelic choirs
and the whispers of God.
You were built for the encounter with the everlasting Thou.
And you were made to welcome the stranger,
becoming a channel,
a medium through which to find God.
To remove oneself from the world 
and to simultaneously know oneself apart from it.

And I come seeking.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Books and Movies

The beauty is in the transport, the journey. But close the binding, shut the laptop, turn the bedside lamp off and it’s gone. The magic is gone. It evaporates, lifting the haze of enchantment. For you were just standing in the stone cloister, walking behind Hildegard and Richardis, peeking through your own veil, smelling the healing herbs in the garden or hearing the songs in candlelight…were you not?

What about the Desert Fathers last night? Were you not with them too, in the solitude and the silence, feet dusty from the powdered sand, sitting in a cave or lying under the stars, wearing simple robes and praying? How did you get to this drafty old house wearing sweatpants on a cold night?

Maybe that’s the wonderful problem. The heart is timeless, eternal. It can make the transport, the journey. Simultaneous liberation and confinement.

If only the body could keep up.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

great timing

"When it comes to daily life, God's will is not some abstract idea to be figured out, or puzzled over or even discerned. Rather, God's will is what is presented before us every day. God's will for us was the 24 hours of each day: the people, the places, the circumstances he set before us in that time. Those were the things God knew were important to him and to us at that moment, and those were the things upon which he wanted us to act, not out of any abstract principle or out of any subjective desire to "do the will of God." No, these things, the 24 hours of this day, were his will; we had to learn to recognize his will in the reality of the situation.

The plain and simple truth is that his will is what he actually wills to send us each day, in the way of circumstances, places, people and problems. The trick is to learn to see that -- not just in theory, or not just occasionally in a flash of insight granted by God's grace, but every day. "

-James Martin, S.J. reflecting on Walter Ciszek, S.J.'s revelation in a labor camp in the Soviet Union
The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Showing Off

God is a show-off. This statement may baffle many, leading to petitions for excommunication or public shunning. But I say this loud and clear, with love and respect and awe: God is a show-off.

The fiery red and pink stare at me, unflinching against the weathered and faded ground. I look at the leaves and think plainly— God is a show-off.

The quiet neighborhood streets by Dupont Circle, with the golden sunlight illuminating the quaint brownstones and the leaves casually whispering secrets ahead— God is a show-off.

The sun’s footprints marking the edge of the earth, leaving trails of hot pink, plum and orange— God is a show-off.

The black squirrel, the song sparrow, the searing blue sky— God is a show-off.

You and I— God is a show-off

Job 37

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A sense of humor

This morning as I prayed, I asked God to make me useful. God has a sense of humor.

I have my own vision of being useful. A homeless person asks for food, I look deep into their eyes, and triumphantly hand them my carefully wrapped piece of bread from my bag. We smile. I say “God bless” and go on my way, basked in light as a halo begins to emerge around my head. 

Here is what really happened. 

I see the man from afar as I step out of the metro station. I recognize his bulky walk, loud ramblings, hanging belly and unkempt demeanor. His words at passerby are almost undecipherable, but if one notices the snack cart selling warm chili dogs, fruit and candy behind him, one can make an educated conclusion. We make eye contact. Within his jumbled sentences I hear “money,” “food,” and “money” once more.

“Would you like something to eat?” I ask him.

I can’t fully make out the response.

“I have some bread, would you like some bread?”

“Ya, ya” is the response. 

I take out my carefully wrapped bread and hand it over to him. He’s now smiling. “Can I get a hug?” He asks. “Let’s break bread together, girl.”

I desperately want to hug this man. To tell him that I will bring bread every morning. That we can do the simplest and most beautiful thing together: we can break bread. And though bread isn’t magic, breaking it together, sharing it, can be magical.

But I can’t. I’ve been taught and conditioned not to. Not to let a stranger too close. To be just friendly enough. To be constantly on guard.

Imagined scenarios come to mind. Real scenarios I’ve actually experienced come to mind. And though it kills me, I tell the man I am running late to work and bid him a good day. He calls out to me as I walk off. Things like “You a little woman” and “look at her go.”

God does make us useful. It’s just often not in the perfect and heroic way we imagine.

And in case you’re wondering, God also shows off.

“Time for our staff meeting,” Jim, our Executive Director, calls out later that morning. We file out of our offices, coffee in hand, and walk into a decorated conference room with two boxes of pastries from the bakery around the corner.

Like I said, God has a sense of humor.