Tuesday, August 13, 2013

So now I'm going to go pick out carpet. I guess this is the fun part.


Sunday, August 11, 2013


We see them everywhere: standing at the expressway exit with a cardboard sign that they seem to pass to one another in shifts, leaning on the wall outside the drugstore, sitting around in dejected groups in a park. We're afraid of them, or at least I was always afraid of them. Sometimes I would give them a couple of dollars, but I would never look them in the eye or speak, and I was never sure if I should give them anything. I could make a pretty good argument one way or the other.

Once I ate dinner with a former homeless person who had made it “all the way back.” I thought, “Great. Now I can ask somebody who really knows whether or not I should give those people money.” So, I asked, and he thought a minute and said, “I don't know.” Phooey. But I did have one friend whom I really admired and who said she just didn't worry about what they did with the money, it was just her business to give it. And one day, I was out with another friend and her daughter when a well-known homeless man came up and asked for some money, and they gave him some. The really remarkable thing to me was the way they gave it. They were happy to be able to give it. They were almost excited. That really made me think, and from then on, I would usually hand over a couple of dollars, but I can't say that I was at all excited.

The next challenge turned up at the seminary where I worked. Several years ago, a group of people began to meet there every Tuesday to make Burritos to distribute to homeless people downtown. Since my office was only two doors down from the small kitchen where they worked, I could always hear what was going on down there, and they always seemed to be having a great time. I always thought that I should go with them some time, but the time never seemed right.

This is an older picture, taken when they used to distribute burritos at a downtown park. Now, after some discussion with the police, they go to the parking lot of Catholic church.
Finally last November, I decided that as an Advent penance, I would go with them. I was really nervous though. I'm not really sure now what it was that I was afraid of, but there was something. I went to my boss's office and told him I was going to go, but I had to ride with him and that he better stand next to me every second of the time we were there. He laughed at me and said that was okay.

Well, I can't explain what happened when I got there, but all I know is that the second I stepped out of the car, my life changed. I lost every trace of fear and nervousness to the point that I can't begin to remember what I felt before. And the people were so different than I expected them to be. They line up quietly and stand waiting patiently even when the food is late getting there and it's 95º or 28º F. They seldom complain. I've hardly ever heard anyone complain even on the night when we ran out of food before everyone had eaten. They are very polite. They are very grateful. They say, “Thank you,” they say, “God bless you.”

I love handing burritos to these people. It's a sacramental action. I love looking straight into their eyes and touching their hands. I would love to get down on my knees and kiss their feet if it wouldn't embarrass the heck out of them. It's because I know they are Jesus.

I'm not saying that there is never a problem. Sometimes somebody is way too drunk, or once a couple of guys were fighting when they got there. I also know that if I met them in another situation, they might not be so nice. One of the women who used to come to eat was murdered in the church parking lot by another homeless person in the middle of the night. So, there's always an awareness that something could happen, but I never worry because I know I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

Then, there is that scripture. I think I've mentioned that before. You know, the one where the Lord says to those on His left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, Naked and you did not visit me.” I used to worry about that quite a bit, but I don't anymore.

Since I changed jobs, I haven't been able to help with the burritos on Tuesdays, but I plan to start making cookies or something and going down to meet them at the parking lot. My pecan tree has put a dent in these plans, but as soon as I get home, I want to start. Also, at my new job, I am constantly challenged by those who don't have enough. They don't have food. Their utilities have been turned off. They need gas. They want money. So often I'm frustrated because there is nothing I can do. There is a group at the parish that has a clothes closet and that hands out food, but we recently sold our high school and the group's building sat on the property that was sold, so now all their stuff is sitting in a POD waiting for another space to be renovated, and the funds to renovate it are slow in coming. The pastor bought some food that we can at least hand out for people to eat then and there, but it's a far cry from all that's needed. Very few of our parishioners have much more than they need, but hopefully we'll be able to pull together a little something more to help. Pray for us.

So you see, in my current situation I haven't been able to use the word “homeless” to describe myself even in jest. I'm not homeless. I have generous friends, and a supportive family, and even if I had to leave this lovely place where I'm staying, I know I could find someplace else to go. I have so much more than I need. And every day on my way to work, I pass under an expressway where I can look up to the place that looks like this:

This isn't the expressway I am talking about. I thought it would be rude to take a picture of that one, like I was taking a picture through the window of someone's house.
There I see the “homes” of many homeless people. They have already left for the day, but all their boxes and bags and things are still there. It humbles me a bit. It makes me sad, and it makes me a bit fearful to think of all the things that I have that they don't. Fearful because I've been given so much, and so much will be expected. It's not just the possessions. It's the healthy mind and body, and the abilities and the family—and of course, the Faith, although I must say that that is the one thing that some of them have, and that's another humbling thing because how many of us could hold on to our faith in that situation?

Oh, and that phrase I used earlier—making it all the way back—I heard that from one of the men, Logan. He has a big addiction problem and he asked me one night to pray for him to make it all the way back. So, I do. Pray for him, too.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013


These are the divine wonders we celebrate today; this is the saving revelation given us upon the mountain; this is the festival of Christ that has drawn us here. Let us listen, then, to the sacred voice of God so compellingly calling us from on high, from the summit of the mountain, so that with the Lord’s chosen disciples we may penetrate the deep meaning of these holy mysteries, so far beyond our capacity to express. Jesus goes before us to show us the way, both up the mountain and into heaven, and–I speak boldly–it is for us now to follow him with all speed, yearning for the heavenly vision that will give us a share in his radiance, renew our spiritual nature and transform us into his own likeness, making us for ever sharers in his Godhead and raising us to heights as yet undreamed of.

Let us run with confidence and joy to enter into the cloud like Moses and Elijah, or like James and John. Let us be caught up like Peter to behold the divine vision and to be transfigured by that glorious transfiguration. Let us retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from creatures and turn to the creator, to whom Peter in ecstasy exclaimed: Lord, it is good for us to be here.
Anastasius of Sinai, from today's Office of Readings

I see that I didn't mention the Transfiguration last year and that surprises me a bit. I never quite know what to do with this mystery when I pray the Mysteries of Light. I pray for my own transfiguration, but I like even better this idea of escaping the world for a moment and "running with confidence" to the Lord so that we are filled with a vision of glory that sustains us in the darkness.

You can see the whole reading here.


Monday, August 5, 2013

August 5

Well, we have now officially been out of our home for a month. The only time in my life that I have ever been away from home this long was when I was about 8 and I went to camp for 5 weeks. I was completely miserable the entire last three weeks. I'm not entirely miserable now--probably because I'm not in a cabin with a stinky little girl name Jeannie who calls me names--but I would like to go home.

Saturday night, I sat down to say evening prayer. I got through the psaltery okay, but then when I tried to find the antiphon for the Magnificat, it wasn't there. I'd run out of brieviary. Ordinary time is divided into two books: weeks 1-17, and weeks 18-34. When I realized I'd brought them both--must have been around the 14th week--I thought how silly that was because surely I wouldn't be here until the 18th week. Oh well.

This morning, I read a letter by Carryl Houselander and she told someone that she was feeling very zeroish. That, I thought, is a great description of how I feel. But sometime around mid-morning, I got to feeling much better and I'm fairly cheerful now. I do wish I had a camera at the house so I could know if they are doing any work, but I guess I'll find out in a few days. I wish I had a camera here in Miss Cordelia's so I could show you what a $51.00 cake looks like, but since Bill and I both left our phones at work -argh!-I can't. I'll just have to let you imagine.

Time to go tell Bill that our neighbors invited us for margueritas. I'm afraid I'll have to pass and head for bed, but I'm sure he would enjoy one.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Logan's Heart

Night before last, we had offered to take our granddaughter to a movie theatre across town to meet a friend, and then pick her up when the movie was over. It seemed to make more sense to just go see a movie ourselves than to make the trip twice, so I looked to see what was playing. The only thing that was even remotely interesting to me was Wolverine but I had seen some discouraging reviews somewhere or other, so I wasn't too enthusiastic. I decided to check around anyway and the first review I found was this positive one by Steve Greydanus in National Catholic Register. He mentioned Goodness, Truth, and Beauty (three of my favorite things), and said it wasn't a great movie, but that it was a good one, so off to Wolverine we went, and I was pleasantly surprised.

I hesitate a bit to try to write about the movie for two reasons. One is that I'm pretty sure that most of my readers don't know much about the X-Men or the back-story that's more or less necessary to understand what's going on. The other is that what I'm writing about is serious, but the movie is, after all, a movie based on a comic book about superhuman mutants, and you will quickly see that some of the things that I have to include are going to make it hard to take me seriously. Still, I'm going to try. I'm going to say as little as possible about the plot of the movie (although there will be some slight, necessary spoilers) and only discuss the aspects of the film that I found remarkable—remarkable in the sense that it was unusual enough to be worthy of note.

Before I start, I guess I ought to say that Wolverine's particular mutation is that although he can be wounded and feel the pain, his body immediately heals itself, so he is, as far as we can tell, immortal. He also has long “adamantium” claws which project and retract like a cats—thus Wolverine.

As the movie begins, Logan (the X-Man known as Wolverine) is a man with a wounded heart. He is overcome by guilt arising from the fact that he had to kill the woman he loved to keep her from destroying the world. This broken heart has broken him, and robbed him of the strength he needs to be the soldier he once was, and of his will to live—which you can see is an especially difficult problem in his case.

Soon, a rather unusual messenger, Yukio, arrives with a summons from a man whose life Logan saved during World War II, and he reluctantly agrees to go. The man, Yashida, who is dying from cancer, offers Logan a gift—death. He says that his doctor has discovered a way to transfer Logan's immortality to another person. Logan doesn't answer at that time, and later wakes from a strange dream to find that the old man has died.

At the funeral, a sort of gang breaks in and tries to kidnap Yasida's granddaughter, Mariko, who is also his heir. Logan naturally gets involved in the brawl that ensues, and manages to save Mariko, but in the process receives several wounds that do not heal. He knows that the old man's doctor has done something to weaken him, but he doesn't know what.

Eventually, we find that a small robotic device is attached to his heart, inhibiting his healing power. And this is what I thought was so great about the movie, that the writer or the director or whoever made this connection between the wound in Logan's body and the wound in his soul. Logan removes the invading device by a means which I won't reveal (but Mr. Greydanus does) and for a moment dies. And it's at this moment that he makes a decision for life and both his physical and spiritual wounds are healed. This just wasn't something I expected in an X-Men movie.

The scene reminded me in a way of the undragoning of Eustace, or even more of the man in The Great Divorce who has the nasty reptile on his shoulder whispering foul things into his ear. The difference, though, is that while both Eustace and the man in The Great Divorce are helpless to heal themselves, Logan is able to do it under his own power. Wolverine isn't a Christian movie, but it is a moral movie, even if it's the morality of a virtuous pagan.

At one point in the movie, Logan confronts Mariko's fiance, who is cavorting with a couple of scantily-clad women. He says something like, “I thought you were engaged. Isn't it time to be giving up this sort of thing?” Again, for an X-Men movie, it's a seriously moral comment. The movie isn't completely virtuous in this area. Logan and Muriko do make love, but it is that and not the hideous hooking-up that we are becoming used to, and we aren't made to watch.

Another strength of this movie, and I think that this is generally true about super-hero movies, is that there is no blurring of good and evil. The doctor who implants the robotic device is a female mutant. She's slinky, she's sinuous, and eventually, she's scaly. Viper is a cross between the femme fatale in a 40s detective movie and the Prince of Darkness. There's no question which side she is on. On the other hand, Logan has a sort of guardian angel cum ninja on his side. Yukio, the young woman who originally summons him to meet Yashida, appoints herself his bodyguard. She knows when he's in danger and she's pretty good at fighting the foe.

I've seen Hugh Jackman play Wolverine in at least two other movies, and I haven't been too impressed one way or the other. He was competent as Wolverine, but he didn't strike me as a great actor. He was very good in this movie, though, and I almost wonder if the role wasn't somehow informed by his very excellent performance as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. It might be that, or it might be that this movie was as much drama as it was a showcase for martial arts, CGI and special effects. In fact, although there was a certain amount of all three of those, there was notably less than usual.

I wrote this review because I really liked the movie. I especially like movies (and books and music) that might be secular, but which have a subtle dose of eternal verities. I never know for sure whether the artists responsible for the film have the vaguest notion what they are revealing, or whether the Truth is so powerful that it just reveals itself without their knowledge. But the fact that I like it so much doesn't necessarily mean that I would recommend it. If you are familiar with the X-Men saga, you would almost certainly like it. If you aren't, it pretty much depends on what you expect from a film or for how long you can suspend your perception of reality.

But I really like it.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

August So Far

Well, we have a roof with shingles and electricity and water..

We also have a really clean refrigerator with no corn growing in it, which is nice.

I must say that probably the lowest moment for me in this whole experience was when I came back to the house the first time and opened the freezer and saw the above. I felt like my home had been overwhelmed with terminal squalor and grossness and probably alien life forms. My husband was good enough to remove the nasty things immediately, but since we had no water, we couldn't really do much else.

 When I get up from this chair, I'm going to wash all the refrigerator shelves and drawers and things while Bill goes to get some sushi. I would like to write something about the movie we saw last night which completely exceded my expectations, but I don't have time at the moment. I hope to do it soon.

I am also hoping, as I hope every week, that next week we will be back in the house, but I have to admit that life is pretty pleasant where we are. I'm just really getting homesick.