Odyssey

It Makes Us The Right Size

One of the best arguments I’ve ever read for kneeling in prayer is from Mary Karr's latest memoir Lit. Here’s a paraphrase of the passage:

Why kneel? The author asks while attempting to work out her recovery from alcohol.

Because it makes us the right size, replies her sponsor.

On the list of reasons I have removed myself from the parish in which I spent years being very active is the fact that they removed the kneelers and preached that if we kneel during the consecration then we are removing ourselves from the community!! They justified our lack of kneeling at the consecration and after communion by teaching that kneeling puts us in a penitential and “lesser” position.  Well, duh!!

If we don’t have enough sense to be penitential and acknowledge the glaringly obvious that we are “lesser” than the Almighty, then we have a really skewed and screwed up philosophy of theology.

A classmate of mine from college once wrote that we are a ‘Resurrection People’.  Well, yes we are, but, in order to get to the Resurrection we must go through Good Friday and the long loneliness of Holy Saturday. If anyone doubts this, just live a little. Is there anyone who doesn’t go through Good Fridays and Holy Saturdays in their life?

We need to go through the many trials and difficulties of life in order to be a person of depth, of heft, of intelligence and, perhaps most importantly, compassion.

Another myth perpetrated among us baby boomers is that we are entitled to not only childhoods free of conflict and difficulties, but adulthoods of one victory after another, because we deserve it.  I admit, I never understood what ‘deserve’ means.  But I do believe in the abundant and overflowing gifts of grace and joy and love and beauty that surround us, fill us, carry us through. If we have any sense at all, we will be grateful and humble enough to be thankful, and yes, get on our knees once in a while and acknowledge that we are not the source of all this wonder, we are the recipients of gifts we could never earn.

We need to get to the right size and recognize and rejoice in the many resurrections that are graced to us, not because we deserve them, but because we have a gracious and generous God.

PS:  What does this have to do with writing?  Well, just try writing anything: an essay, a short story, a novel, with characters who live one happy moment to the next and never come to terms with their Good Fridays.  Who would read it.  Who would care?

Where The Heart Is

I spent last weekend at a writer’s conference.  The leaders call us a "tribe." Interesting appellation. This morning in an editorial by Roger Cohen of the NY Times called Modern Odysseys, he writes of his impending return to London after living thirty years in New York. This leads to reflecting on his mother’s terrible homesickness that drew her into such a deep depression she almost took her own life.  She was born in South Africa—in a sunny warm, dry climate, but after her marriage she moved to London—damp, dreary, cold London. She ached so much for her "home" that despite her love for her family, that ache almost overcame her love.

I am part of my own Diaspora. On both ends. I moved across the country nearly twenty years ago with my husband and four children. We left family, friends, culture and climate. Three of my four children live far enough away from home, in Boston, Nashville and Austin, to require planning and traveling for a visit. Our youngest child promises that as soon as he can he’s moving as far away from the Texas heat as his career will take him.

For the first several years I longed, ached, even, to go "home." To family, yes, but also to climate. I missed dearly the four seasons that circle around New York. The beautiful autumn leaves, the snow, the gradual dawning of spring and the relatively short summer. I have had to adjust to mostly summer with a sprinkling of winter, and to some that might sound like a great idea, but I have learned how tied to the four seasons my body, mind and spirit had become.

A new environment was really good for all of us. It opened us to seeing and living life in new ways. But the heart is not as easily convinced as the head, and longings don’t need to be reasonable. Some things are part of our DNA, or so it seems. Cooler weather, sacraments, a fascination with the mystical, are all part of my package of both Irish and Catholic heritage. We don’t leave our genetic stamp at any border; we carry it with us wherever we are. So many generations of northern European genes show up in my fair skin and blue eyes that yes, I do think my roots go back the hundreds of generations of ancient, mystical, imaginative and dream sensitive religion and culture of Celts and Gaels and Scandinavians and Normans who invaded and mixed with folks on those damp, lush, green islands in the north Atlantic.

We don’t stay still.  We humans have a great need, hunger, curiosity and instinct to mix, move, and shake things up with other cultures and places.  And so we have the capacity to make home wherever we choose to plant ourselves.

After twenty years here, this is home. I love the great big sky of Texas.  I love the sunrises and the sunsets and the cloud formations that look like giant mountains in this plain. This is the home where our children were raised, where we have friends, community, work. This is where our children gather with their spouses and children for holidays and celebrations—where our "tribe" meets.

We like to bemoan the loss of community in our peripatetic age as a sign of what’s wrong with our world.  But really, it’s always been this way.  People move.  They make new homes. They adjust. They grow. They are still part of the "tribe" that connects us, but that tribe grows with each generation.  We get "bigger"; our hearts get "bigger", so, our concept of home gets bigger.  It’s where the heart is.