Perhaps the World Ends Here

Perhaps the World Ends Here

I found this poem through a podcast that has a “poem of the day” that they read and analyze a bit. While I often forget, reading and learning more poetry follows a desire I have to immerse my life in more beauty.

The poem is called “Perhaps the World Ends Here” by Joy Harjo.

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

Continue reading “Perhaps the World Ends Here”

Poured Out

Poured Out

I often find myself living life the same way I ran seventh-grade cross country.

Simply put: not well.

I remember watching the older runners prior to a race. They were stretching and jogging around, warming up for the few miles they would be running around random golf courses. I understood the stretching part, but I never quite got the jogging part. For me, finishing the race meant I should store up as much energy as possible. Sometimes, I was dragging myself across the finish line or walking small sections where there were no cheering fans. Why would I foolishly waste energy just moments before the race?

A few years ago, I was running pretty consistently and I completed a five-mile race. It was as I was finishing the race that I finally understood what those high school students had been doing years ago. Crossing the finish line, I felt really good. In fact, my third and fourth miles felt way better than the first two. My time wasn’t incredible, but I was satisfied with it for myself. I had logged enough miles that I was at the point where I grasped the concept of running so as to warm up. I wasn’t wasting energy–it was instead needed so I could run better. In my conservative, store-up-everything mindset, it was revolutionary to understand that giving some allowed me to give more.

Weekends during the school year and portions of the summer find me falling into that same trap of storing up instead of spending. I’m an introvert and I have yet to find the perfect life balance when my job is one that requires so much extrovertedness. In the evenings, I don’t want to be surrounded by people. On the weekends, I’d rather curl up in my home. During the summer months, I convince myself that relaxing, watching movies, and being a recluse are exactly what I need in order to survive the school year.

But I don’t think that is actually true.

I mean, I want it to be true because that would be an extremely convenient excuse. But it isn’t reality. When I turn in on myself and don’t enter into community, it doesn’t really make me want to be communal later. Instead, I find a dozen more reasons to not go out, to not share myself. Reasons that essentially boil down to being lazy and selfish.

Continue reading “Poured Out”

I Climbed Mountains

I Climbed Mountains

I love when I am able to find secular examples that point to spiritual realities.  When shown explicitly religious media, my students often give what they think are the correct answers based on their years of Catholic education.  Yet when it is something that seems a bit unrelated to the class, they tend to have a greater openness and willingness to interact with the material.

On the second class day of the new spring semester, I showed them a TEDx talk called “500 Miles, Two Best Friends, and One Wheelchair.”  (Feel free to take a minute…or 19…to go and watch this video.)  The image of strangers taking the time and effort to carry a man in a wheelchair up a mountain seemed to obviously gesture toward the Church on earth and the Church in Heaven.

“Through the power of community, I climbed mountains.”

At one point near the end, Justin says. “Through the power of community, I climbed mountains” and it resonated so much that I had to write it down.  So many conversations lately have pivoted around the need and desire for community and authentic friendship.  While some say community cannot be built, I disagree.  I believe community must be built.  While we cannot choose to magically connect with people, we must be intentional in how we use our time in order for community to be successful.

This community that Justin and Patrick found was possible because others were willing to be intentional with their time and energy.  The pilgrim duo they met in the cathedral in Burgos were willing to wait for them before climbing the mountain leading into O’Cebreiro.  Then other people heard the story and decided to wait, too, without ever meeting Justin or Patrick.  Community requires intentionality and it reminds us that in this pilgrimage of life we cannot walk alone.

A priest friend of mine often said, “You can be damned alone or saved with others.”  I think he was quoting someone but I was never certain of the source.  The idea is that Hell is isolation, but Heaven is necessarily communion.  Communion with God and with others.  The reality of this can be revealed in the many “saint pairs” that have arisen over history.  St. Francis and St. Clare.  St. Benedict and St. Scholastica.  St. Louis and St. Zelie.  St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius of Loyola.  The list could go on and on.  St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. John Paul II?  Saints live a foretaste of the heavenly communion through their authentic friendships with one another.  They “carry” each other up the mountain, using friendship to encourage the other to enter into deeper relationship with the Lord. Continue reading “I Climbed Mountains”

If We Understood the Mass

If We Understood the Mass

“I don’t think God would send someone who loves Him and follows Him to Hell.”

A conversation about exorcisms somehow veered into a free-for-all rapid fire of questions.  As I’ve said before, though, if my students ask questions about the faith and they are interested, I have a difficult time telling them no.

“I don’t believe the Church teaches that,” I told the student.

“But if I don’t go to church on Sunday, the Church says that is a mortal sin.  I don’t believe that if I love God and He loves me that He would send me to Hell for missing one Mass on Sunday.”

Understandably, this is a question I hear quite often.  My students find it difficult to accept that missing Mass is a grave sin.  They aren’t skipping it maliciously, I believe, and so I get where they are coming from with their confusion.  Usually, it is out of laziness or boredom or busyness.

So I did what I generally do–I tried my best to explain why the Church teaches what she does.

“I think if we understood what the Mass was, then we wouldn’t ask this question.  God is asking us to go to Mass to encounter Him and receive Him.  He is offering His very self to us out of love.  And if we love Him, I don’t think we would say that we aren’t able to come for one hour once a week.  The bare minimum in having a relationship with the Lord is this one hour.  We couldn’t say no to encountering the Lord and letting Him live in us if we truly loved Him.”

The answer seemed to touch a chord and we moved on to other questions.

Students are prone to question why we have to go to Mass and adults are more prone to critique the Mass itself.   Continue reading “If We Understood the Mass”

Heroic Action or Infringement of Rights?

Heroic Action or Infringement of Rights?

As much as our world changes and the values and morals alter concurrently, sometimes it is good to see that embedded deep within us is a natural understanding of how we should respond.  Many health situations that create controversy and endless disagreements often start from a good intention that is found within us as human beings.  The push for assisted suicide generally comes from seeing someone suffering and acknowledging that things shouldn’t be that way.  Our desire to eliminate suffering in others is good, but we don’t always pursue the correct course of action.

What this tends to create in society is the belief that each individual should be able to do what they think is best.  As an individualistic society, we are quick to argue that nobody can force their beliefs and opinions on me.  I am free to do whatever I want, whenever I want.  Sometimes we will add the caveat “as long as I am not hurting anyone,” but often, culturally, we see our freedom as the one objective truth.  

Do you remember hearing roughly a month ago about a MLB umpire who saved a woman from jumping off the Roberto Clemente bridge in Pittsburgh?  I found the story a beautiful testament of someone caring about a stranger and doing something when others just walked by.  What I find particularly interesting about the story is how it was reported.  People came together to help a woman who was trying to jump off the bridge and commit suicide.  John Tumpane, the man who first started helping the woman, is spoken of as a hero and as someone who saved another person’s life.  These weren’t Christian news agencies, but this event was reported very similarly in several mainstream secular articles.

I agree that he was able to help save someone’s life, but I find the cultural inconsistency obvious.

This woman didn’t want to live.  She made a plan, she started to carry out that plan, and then she was stopped by someone walking by.  Most people will look at this as a positive ending to a story that could have been tragic.  We see someone wanting to end it all and we rejoice that someone noticed and she was able to hopefully receive the help she needed.

In a purely individualistic sense, what I see is a woman who was not allowed to make a choice she wanted to make.  She wanted to end her life, but other people decided that her life was worth living, worth saving.  To us, it is easy to see this as heroism in action.

Why do we as a culture not view this as an infringement on her rights?   Continue reading “Heroic Action or Infringement of Rights?”

Home: From Rabanal del Camino to South Dakota

Home: From Rabanal del Camino to South Dakota

Walking into my hometown parish church for Memorial Day Mass, my family settled into a pew and prayed for a few minutes before Mass started.  It wasn’t particularly early, but the quiet and stillness made it feel earlier.  The priest was praying from his breviary and other parishioners were in silent preparation for the greatest memorial feast.

I was a bit surprised to find a Camino memory surface after a few seconds in the church.  The beauty of a still morning and entering a place I regard as a home, took me back to Rabanal del Camino, arguably my favorite spot along the Way.  Enticed by a sign outside the church saying there was a Benedictine Pilgrim Guest House, we stayed in Rabanal for a couple of days.  While brief, this was far longer than any other town we saw in Spain.

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After our first night at the guest house, we walked the short distance to the church for morning prayer.  The parish church was still and cool.  Choir stalls occupied the front of the church and those of us who stayed at the guest house quietly settled into them for our community prayer.  Simply having slept in the same town for two nights made me feel like a resident.  I watched pilgrims continue their walk and was filled with a strange joy that I was able to leave my backpack next to my bed.

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Early afternoon, we gathered for lunch in the monastery, prepared and served by the lovely Benedictine priest.  Even with a meal shared in silence, it was a tangible sensation of the familial in a country where I often felt as though I simply passed through.  In the evening, we gathered for Mass and then later for evening prayer.  Mass wasn’t an unusual occurrence along the Camino, but participating in Mass in the same church with a priest who recognized me was a novelty.

It wasn’t until we stopped walking that I was able to notice how much my heart longed for the familiar.  While I enjoy adventures, I also really love home.  Being a wandering stranger for weeks at a time was difficult for my homely heart.  When we spent a couple of days in one place, I was able to experience the joy of resting and the gift of the familiar.

One evening, after we had supper at the guest house, everyone staying there took a stroll through the streets of Rabanal.  Though I knew those outside my party for only two days, it seemed we were a little family, following after the Benedictine priest who had an endearing sense of humor and depth.  A French lady happened to see our group and simply joined us as we walked leisurely to the outskirts of town.  I didn’t blame her; it is something I would have wanted to do had I not already been in the group. Continue reading “Home: From Rabanal del Camino to South Dakota”

Communal

Communal

Every Thursday morning I spend about 45-50 minutes with a handful of high school girls.  And it impacts my heart.  This isn’t because profound things are said (although sometimes they are) or because I’m such a great discussion facilitator (that is a skill I do not have), but simply because we are in community.

Our human need for community is evident.  I am an introvert and I find myself baffled at times that I need other people.  Often, I want to be away from people or at home with a few select individuals.  Crowds and chaos aren’t my thing.  Yet my soul needs community.

I discover it when I am with my housemates.  When I first moved in, we bonded over “Parks and Rec” episodes.  I had never seen the show but their conversations were peppered with jokes lifted from the comedy.  So I started to watch the show and loved it.  Yet I don’t think I would have enjoyed it quite so much if I was just sitting in the basement binge-watching the series by myself.  Instead, it was a couple episodes watched over supper with one of the housemates or a weekend evening relaxing together.  Eventually, we would stop the show and naturally enter into conversation.  Recently, we had that experience again.  This time it was with “Stranger Things” (a bit different from “Parks and Rec”) and I loved how we would analyze, discuss, and predict where the show might lead or what different aspects  meant. Continue reading “Communal”

Encounter

Encounter

“You’ll enjoy it.  You’ve been excited for this talk since you heard about it.  You don’t go out much…you really should go out tonight.”

This wasn’t me trying to convince a friend to go out.  This was me trying to convince myself to go out last night for a theology talk at a bar.  Shouldn’t be that hard of a sell except I have one little quirk: sometimes my introvert takes over.  Going to bed early or spending the night at home reading or doing some needed homework sounded like lovely alternatives to going out to talk to people.

Introverts like social interactions (humans are social beings…and introverts are humans), but it doesn’t take much for me to prefer a quiet evening.  Or at least just a few friends and not a potentially crowded room where I would engage in the ever-hated small talk.  But I did it.  I went.  Initially, I was annoyed that I was an introvert and it took so much convince myself to go out.  But, gradually, I forgot about it and enjoyed the evening.

When I got home, I listened to a voicemail from a friend and I had to laugh.  She was telling me about how that evening she went out to a party with co-workers.  For a couple days she had not been herself, but after an hour of talking to co-workers at a crowded bar, she left happier.  We’re both introverts and so we get the lack of desire to do social things sometimes.  But a question she posed in the voicemail resonated with me.  She said, “Why, Trish, why would going and talking to my co-workers at a crowded bar change things/make me happier?”  (I paraphrased it a bit, but that is the gist.)

My first thought was because we need community.  On our own, we can become isolated and it can be a bit miserable to be lost inside your own head.  But community brings us outside of ourselves.  I was grinning as I listened to my friend ask this question because I had just experienced the fruit of being with people.  It wasn’t that I was with my best friends or that it was the most fun I ever had.  Rather, it was the experience of the encounter.

What is amusing to me is that the talk I attended focused around the fact that Christianity is not a set of rules but is an event, an encounter with a person.  We are Christians not because we follow the Christian code of conduct (although Christ definitely asked us to live in a certain way and how we live does matter) but because we have encountered the person of Jesus Christ and have been changed because of it.  This encounter with Jesus can happen through our encounter with other people.  We experience the presence of God in a situation and it can seem magnificent, but it is acknowledging a truth that is constant: God is here with us.  He is dwelling among us.  We can find Him in one another, experiencing the same person of Jesus Christ even though He has the face of a stranger.

One of my Lenten goals/penances is to personally encounter my students more.  It is so easy to have them come in, sit down, ask the class a general question about their weekend, and then launch into the subject at hand.  And it is important to actually teach them something substantial.  However, I have a desire to know my students.  Small talk doesn’t come naturally to me, so I am making an effort to have a little conversation with different students.  Today, I talked to one of my quieter students who seems to just be slipping by in the class.  It isn’t that the grade is low, but the student seems to not have close friends or reach out to many people.  So we talked briefly.  She was one of the first ones in my classroom and we talked about her job that she was working at this weekend.  In the midst of this conversation (neither very monumental nor very deep), I was struck by the encounter.  It was something small, but it was something.  She didn’t bare her soul to me, but she shared something about herself that I didn’t know before.  We found something we had in common and we shared it with each other.

We are communal beings and in encountering each other, we can encounter Christ.  That is why a trip to a noisy bar with co-workers can transform us from glum to joyful.  It wasn’t where we went or even what we talked about or what we imbibed.

It was the encounter.