My desk on the second Friday of Lent, or Mind your own business

My desk, this mimsy metaphor, is messier. You would think that when you clean, spaces would actually get cleaner, but the process sometimes makes them messier first. And sometimes the will to clean itself leads to doing less than you normally would do. So the spaces in your life become messier because you’ve been afraid to begin. Life is hard. Life is messy.

Oh, brothers and sisters, do your best and give thanks.

On a darker note, let me just say that having black coffee as a Lenten sacrifice is stupid. Sucks balls. Though it’s a bitter drink as well, I may switch to green tea for my caffeine fix during the duration. Because black coffee—especially my wife’s non-measuring method of making coffee—is . . . *Shiver* The morning coffee routine seems pretty ritualistically ingrained. We’ll see.

This first week of Lent we seem to be, each of us, struggling with the deep spiritual issue of learning to mind our own business. Often we get frustrated with one another because, “Didn’t they give such-and-such up for Lent?” or “So-and-so hasn’t even made a Lenten sacrifice.” Much of the time we have these concerns because we’re so frustrated that we can’t have/do x, because of what we have chosen. We’re frustrated because of the burden we’ve laid on ourselves, of having to tell ourselves No. “Mind your own business” is a good lesson for all of us. We have our own souls to mind, and need to leave others to theirs as we learn to love them and pray for them (but never proud prayers). And so we learn to live with the decisions we have made, without becoming angry with those who have not made similar decisions.

It has also been difficult for me to write this week. The first reason is that I have had a particularly nasty migraine for a few days. The pain has been frustratingly resistant to my normal meds, but I did find a fix in these headache patches available. They’re gel compresses with menthol and camphor (I think my wife said? I’m probably wrong) that stick to your forehead. It cools and . . . well, works. For me. It does take a while, unfortunately. But with some rest and a few hours, it seems to do the job. And sometimes it seems to do some of the work quickly enough to take the edge off so that I can exist without being completely miserable. I would recommend these as a staple in your medicine cabinet. Beats a wet rag. And stays in place. Just go to your pharmacy and tell them what you camphor. *Rimshot*

The second reason it’s been difficult to write is because we picked up a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for our old Wii U (wanted a Switch too, but my wife reminded me that we need the van and our house and, you know, food). Forgive the punctuation mess and cliche, but: What. A. Game. We have barely enough time to squeeze in an hour-long turn for everyone during the week. And then an hour seems to go by so quickly as you are fighting mobs, training horses, foraging for recipes, or simply distracted with exploration. A gorgeous, big, open, beautiful game. I’ve always been a fan of Zelda games, but this one is something special. That being said, I need to write more and help my children play the game less. Oh, and sleep. I need sleep. I’m not a young man anymore. Say mirrors. Says body. Say children.

It is Lent. Pray for me. And I will pray for you. Let’s draw nearer to Christ this season together.

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My desk on the first Friday of Lent

A handful of clay fired in the middle-school kiln has become a broken bird. Beakless, like some barking alien, it sits on the table and stares at me. A penitential cup of coffee sits next to it. This morning my coffee has evolved into a Lenten sacrifice, like bitter Seder herbs. No half and half. No sugar. No Red Bird puffed mint. A necessary sacrifice, I suppose, because I am so forgetful.

The left-hand side of the table is a mess of books, notebooks, and other miscellany. Like so many spaces in my life, it needs ordering. But it is Lent. It is the liturgical season for cleaning, mending, ordering, and planting.

My work space, my desk, is the kitchen table. I appropriate it each morning for writing, the best I can with the inevitable interruptions from my children. At the moment I am relatively free to write. The toddler stands in the chair on the other side of the table in her crying-uncle diaper watching videos on my phone and eating Cheerios out of a red Solo cup. The smiling boy is watching Super Mario walkthroughs. And the baby has a pizza crust in her hands and Cheerios spread out in front of her. She is happy. Her screams and vocalizations are boldly impenitent. They fill up the house with joy.

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Place

I grew up in Michigan, and my heart aches for it somedays. But I need these blue skies with which North Carolina is so profligate. The soil of my soul is too poor, like red clay. I quickly wither without this bright, happy sun. My brain is malformed. Its chemistry catawampus. I haven’t the mettle for Michigan.

Here, already, there are daffodils wherever I turn—dopey, pretty flowers like awkward teens. And blessed early blooms, such as forsythia and camellias, help chase away my noonday demon. Every flowering plant begins to wake under these warm, late-winter skies and whisper, Again.

This place, this necessary place, is also home. My children grew up out of this hard clay, spread themselves under these clear skies. Irrepressible wisteria, cover these hills in purple.

When I am not weeping, I am thankful.

 

He delights in you

I must be depressed, sick, exhausted, or all of the above. I seem unable to restrain my emotions. I’ve been particularly emotional during Mass recently. It seems like at some point during the liturgy, even at its outset apparently, I begin crying. Maybe it is for beauty or love. Maybe for loss or pain. This past Sunday the readings presented us with the incomprehensibility of God’s delight in us. He delights in me. Not because I’m particularly lovable, but just because I am. And, more importantly, because of who he is. His love is incomprehensible because of the magnitude of it, the utter uncontainability of it. His love is immeasurable. And then, necessarily, the unfolding realization of his same delight in you. He delights in us. He delights in your neighbor, the stranger and alien, and the marginalized. The homeless. The poor. He delights in those who are confused and lost. He delights in people similar to you and dissimilar. He delights in your enemy. He delights in each person. “Can a mother forget her baby? . . . Even should she forget, I will not forget you.”

O God.

I am a pearl diver. I am New Horizons hurtling past Pluto and Charon. I am Hubble or the LHC. I am St Isaac, the Syrian.

God is love. Herein is the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. Here is where all theology begins and ends. He loves you. Not because of your goodness or some prayer you whispered silently when you were eight. Not because of your baptism. Not because you give money at church or are faithful to your spouse. His love for you is not conditioned on anything you do or fail to do. He loves you. Even if you reject him and walk boldly into hell, he will still love you. And because of this great river of fire and grace, he has become man, that man might become god. He calls you to communion, to love.

He delights in you.

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The creative mystery of pain

It’s overcast where I live today. I don’t think of that weather as typical this time of year unless it’s raining. Today it’s just cloudy because of weather conditions that I can’t explain too good cuz I no smart that way. But my head gets it. Like an old bone fracture, my brain stem reacts, sometimes violently, against these weather changes. The more constant the weather, the fewer problems I have. My brain no like changey, is what I’m saying. It’s apparently damaged that way. It’s probably damaged in other ways as well, but that’s the area that drives the stake into my brain.

The good news is that according to my headache journal, today is the first day for 11 days that I’ve needed medicine for headaches. That’s a particularly good run for me. Last month it was nearly every other day, which isn’t good or healthy for a myriad of reasons. Most of which I’m happier not to know. Headaches are interruptive. They screw with my ability to be productive, creative, and present. I was going to add happy, but I didn’t. Though I will add that headaches, clinically speaking, can fuck things up. Most of the time my headaches are manageable, and occasionally they are not. Those occasions in which they are not are the ten-day stretches of constant pain. Not the curse-God-and-die kind of pain, necessarily, but no party either.

So what good is suffering? Although pain interrupts my ability to create, it also generates creativity. I am more creative and artistically productive because of my pain. I tell myself. Perhaps pain allows us to foster an inner life necessary to forge something great—pain as place, as a workshop for creativity and creation. Pain opens up spaces in my brain that are necessary for me (and for my salvation) to be opened, that would not be opened without the suffering. Furthermore, pain does not allow us to take wellness for granted; it allows to be thankful for something that we are not guaranteed in this life, that many do not have. So pain can teach us to be grateful. And compassionate. If we know what it is to suffer, we are more likely to live in solidarity with others who suffer. So that is also part of its purpose. Finally, pain makes space for us to participate in God’s plan of the redemption of all things. Not because Christ’s Paschal Mystery didn’t do what it was supposed to do, but because he allows us to be united with him in his redemptive suffering (St Paul, Colossians).

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The realization of these truths about pain does not, somehow, magically take away its sting. The pain doesn’t disappear. The brain-blinding cussedness of a migraine doesn’t melt away. So I don’t do a little Irish jig when I feel a headache settling in. Pain and suffering in this world is something we rightly resist and do our best to alleviate. This is no sado-masochistic party. There is a great amount of suffering that is due to the brokenness of humanity, due to my evil and yours. So we want suffering to disappear, rightly. But we also live with open eyes, understanding that suffering comes and will come. And when its inevitable march runs roughshod over you, let it be by grace your teacher, a craftsman to create something good and beautiful in your life and for the life of the world. As best you can.

The book fairy

My mysterious Catholic-book man came by Saturday with more books. But this time I saw the book fairy with my own two eyes. (Thanks for the books, Mike.) This batch of books is definitely more Catholic, some old missals and hymnals, some old New Testaments with Psalms. Some prayer books, Thomas à Kempis, and even a little summa of St Thomas’s Summa. Almost exclusively very-old books, except for a children’s Bible-story book and a paperback NLT Bible. One of the hymnals is from 1901. Pretty crazy. It’s standard fare for old books—mostly tiny, brown and blue books, some leatherbound, some black. I don’t know how people read this small of print, by the way. By candlelight. Not to mention the dinosaurs. It boggles the mind.

Some of the books have dedications in the front. The personal touch is perhaps the most interesting characteristic about them all—bits of history, touched by the hands of real people. One of the books is actually a leather-bound journal with a metal binder. There is no writing in it, just hundreds of clips of newspapers and typed-out songs, poems, and prayers glued onto the pages. And the pocket-edition Summa contains this dedicatory gem, “Dear Pat, I hope this wonderful little book will help to clear some of your muddled thinking. With prayers. From Louise.” Amen and amen.

One of the hymnals is a throwback to my college days in Winona Lake, Indiana, though it predates them plenty. It’s an old hymnal (Songs for Service: Special Tabernacle Edition) published by the Rodeheaver Co. It has the autographed pictures (just part of the printing apparently) of a bunch of olden people in the front, including Homer Rodeheaver and Billy Sunday. It’s fascinating how items like that, in the middle of a stack of old Catholic books, can find their way to Podunk, North Carolina, and eventually to me. It makes the box of books have a strangely personal feel to them.

Whoever owned these books, or contributed to them (Pat and Louise especially), pray for me.

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