Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Thank You On My Palm


Welcome Morning

There is joy
in all:
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
each morning,
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
each morning,
in the spoon and the chair
that cry "hello there, Anne"
each morning,
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
each morning.

All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
each morning
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.

So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.

The Joy that isn't shared, I've heard,
dies young.

~ Anne Sexton ~
 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ode to Anne


I don't know how often I've mentioned Anne Lamott on this blog -- not too often, I think. Which is a horrible embarrassment, as Traveling Mercies is absolutely one of the best spiritual books I've ever read -- as well as one of the only ones I've ever reread and reread!  Traveling Mercies is a book of short stories from Lamott about her life, and they are filled with soul and humor and a wry wisdom.

Sometimes when I'm on Twitter (I tweet as "popculturpriest"), I just search under "Anne Lamott".  She doesn't have an account of her own, and frankly she doesn't need one, because she is so wonderfully quotable.

So today I offer you a little bouquet from Anne Lamott. Don't hurry through them. They're best savored one at a time.

Have a great weekend.

"Joy is the best makeup."

"Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past." 

"Certainty is missing the point entirely."

"Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life."

"You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people that you do." 

And my favorite of the bunch I found:

"If you are no longer in bondage to a person or a way of life, tell your story. Risk freeing someone else." 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Oprahcolaypse is Nigh!


Today, Oprah Winfrey signs off after 25 years on daytime television. It has been, by any estimation, an astonishing career.  In episodes (4561), Emmys (48), guests (30,000), gifts given, books promoted, money made -- even in that most unusual of daytime television categories, spinoff programs, Oprah has soared, not just head and shoulders but whole continents above the competition.  (For more amazing Oprah statistics, click here.)

As the press proceeds to dissect Oprah's success, may I offer one thought. Part of what made us love Oprah, even those of us like myself who only watched the occasional clip of her show, is that she seemed to see herself as trying to share the things that she loved. It's really no coincidence that she became known for giving things away; on so many levels, that was her M.O.  She was the one that discovered fun or important things, uncovered amazing stories and people, and she wanted to share them with her 40 million plus closest friends.

You and I, we don't have talk shows -- at least I don't. And our spheres of friendship and influence are far smaller.  But still, the example of Oprah reminds me that whatever the size of the worlds we inhabit, the gifts that we have and the blessings that God gives us really can touch other people's lives, and make our world a better place.

Oprah, when I think of you, that is my favorite thing.



Monday, May 23, 2011

Joy

I continue to chip away at my final writing projects.  Can't seem to manage any original thinking beyond 140 word tweets. (I'm at popculturpriest.twitter.com.)  
It's probably going to be a couple more weeks like this. But in the meantime, I'm going to try and post some little poems and pictures I find online.  Enjoy this wonderful prose piece by Mary Oliver. 
Don't Hesitate
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don't hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happens better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that's not often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don't be afraid of its plenty.  Joy is not made to be a crumb. 
Mary Oliver 
Preach it, Mary!


Monday, May 16, 2011

Waiting for The End...


Writing for school the next few days. Hope to be back later in the week!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Sex Ed, Part 2


Sorry this is coming so late in the day. Blogger's been offline since last night, and it's only now (noontime Friday) that I'm able to get access back and post. 


On Wednesday I posed this question: if you were talking sex ed for 5th graders at a Catholic school, what would you do? What would you want emphasized, and what would you want less of?

When I read my friend’s wall post, what really struck me was that his son wanted to giggle about the whole thing.   Probably because he’s a little uncomfortable with the topic of his body. Which heck, is not that different from a lot of adults, really.  

But if we don’t want to turn that discomfort into shame, I wonder if a good starting point is to trust the children’s instincts and encourage a sense of humor. Our bodies, how crazy is that! Get them to laugh, as they clearly want to, about the weird eccentricities of their own bodies, the lumps, the extrusions or intrusions that are unique to them.  And then it’s in the context of that amusement and wonder we can begin to talk about what the body does – the way that men and women’s sexual organs work, and under what circumstances they should be used. 

I think if you proceed out of that sense of humor, then you approach the topic of sexuality like you would some cool science experiment or adventure in the jungle, something wild and unusual and isn’t this cool and crazy.  You have a different sensibility, a lighter touch. And you implicitly tell the children, any fears or apprehensions they have are okay. They are okay!

The temptation for us as adults who have a little more knowledge of the hazards of our world is to proceed from a point of view of apprehension – basically, we have to give them the do’s and don’ts so they don’t get hurt and/or pregnant.  And such anxiety is a reasonable concern; moreover, we absolutely must offer an understanding of sexuality in the broader context of love and relationship and responsibility. But if we lead with apprehension, they will sense it, and we will risk making sexuality seem to them something they should be afraid of, or something first and foremost about burden and obligation. 

So, I say, lead with humor.  Lead with wonder.  Lead with joy.  It’s where they are – wide-eyed, everything new, eager to explore.  And in that context the things we’re worried about as adults become richer, too – not a finger wagging or hand wringing list of do’s and don’t’s, but an exploration and appreciation of our loving human relationships.  

What do you think?
   

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Let's Talk About Sex : The Problem

So today I was scanning Facebook entries and noted my friend Ken talking about his fifth grade son getting a talk about the "naughty bits" in science class.

To which I replied, I had no idea they were presenting Chris Rock sketches to grade schoolers.  (A line I repeat here because I was so very pleased with it. Somebody give me a rimshot, please!)

At least Chris thought it was funny...

Anyway, that got me thinking about sex ed and Catholic sex ed.  Honestly, and with enormous respect for all those who work in Catholic education, it sort of terrifies me to think what kids might be getting in Catholic schools.  We're 50 years post Vatican II, but honestly, when it comes to sex, I'm just not that sure how far the Church has come. Catholics, many of them, very far; but the Church as an institution, not so much.

Ask yourself, when was the last time you heard anyone even remotely connected to the institution of the Church talk about what a great thing sex is.  Let alone talk in any depth about the dynamics of a sexual relationship in a way that seems a) actually aware of how such a relationship works; and b) not driven by other, unrelated ideas.


Consider even this: is it appropriate to show a picture like this? There's absolutely nothing lascivious in the models or the presentation. But still, do you feel along with me that twinge of discomfort? Like, this isn't something we should see?

The Catholic presentation on sexuality is not a problem unique to married life -- the priests of the archdiocese of New York were subjected 4 or 5 years ago to a disastrous session with a lay Catholic "expert" on intimacy whose sense of human sexuality was grounded in all sorts of rights and wrongs with almost no connection to human physical realities. (Also, his talk was littered with homoerotic images of men riding horses and rocket ships that made you wonder, does this guy have any concept of what he's saying?)

Still, I actually think the challenge is greater  for lay Catholics.  As much as society tends to brand clergy as sexually disconnected, in point of fact many of us have access to tremendous resources to help us appreciate human sexuality in a human, healthy, spiritual way.  In fact, to my mind sometimes it feels like clergy have a sort of inside track in which they privately acknowledge the failings of Church practices, without ever actually sharing that knowledge with the people of God themselves! Which is just plain nutty.

So, bringing this back to the original question, when we are being healthy, what are we as Church saying to fifth graders about their human sexuality? And how do we go about saying it? (As the great church historian John O'Malley, SJ writes, what made Vatican II important is not just what it said, but how it said it, the tone and style it took.  The way we educate our children about sexuality is no different.)

For today, I'm just going to leave the question hanging for now, because I think it's a great question for all of us. What do we want our children told (and how)? What would we like to see less of?

On Friday, I'll come back with a couple thoughts of my own.  (And eventually, we'll get back to Matthew! I promise!)

See you Friday for Sex Ed...





Monday, May 9, 2011

Ways of Saying Yes at First Communion

A companion piece to last Friday: My niece's first communion went very well. The parish had I don't know, 3 dozen kids receiving their first communion. And it was their third first communion of the season -- I know, wow, right? Talk about thriving.

The liturgy had some wonderful touches. During the eucharistic prayer, they had all the children gather around the altar with the celebrant. I don't know if it was the number of people staring at them or the fact that they were all dressed so nicely, but the children were remarkably collected. And their presence up there struck me as a wonderful image for the congregation of what's happening, the children's further entrance into the community and Jesus at the center.  Really neat.

And then after everyone had received communion, the children came up to the front, stood before the congregation, and sang a song about marching with God (complete with gestures!). In some quarters that might sound sappy, but it functioned as a children's acclamation -- a response of joy to the gift that had been offered to them this day. Having gone through the whole process toward first communion, and then finally receiving it, to give them a moment to publicly celebrate that -- it's a very fine idea, and a great model for the congregation, too!

I'll be back to Matthew later this week.  But it's always nice to share the creative practices of good parishes.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

First Communion


This weekend my niece Erin will receive her first communion, and I'll have the privilege of giving it her.  I am very much looking forward to the occasion, both for her and for me.  It's one of the things I've learned again and again from special occasions in the Church -- even when you think you know them, they have the potential to reveal something new and unexpected.  At the Easter Vigil I heard the story of Genesis read by a child, and it was like a whole new story.  Saturday I'll see communion received by children, and I bet that will make it new, too.  I'll let you know what I see.

About five months ago I got set up on vyou.com, which is an online video Q&A service.  People write you questions, you offer short answers.  And a couple times now people have made comments about transubstantiation -- do you really believe the elements are turned into the body and blood of Jesus, what does that mean, etc.  And it's funny, after years of theology I certainly can offer a theological take on the eucharist, but that doesn't really get to the heart of the question of why or how anyone would believe this to be the case.

In general I pride myself on embracing these sorts of questions, but when it comes to the Eucharist I must admit I never really wonder or doubt too much.  It's not that I have visions of Jesus at the consecration, God knows.  It's just, somehow the receiving of communion breaks me free of my self-absorption, shakes me loose of whatever worries are distracting me and helps me be more present to the God who waits quietly and loves me.

Who knows what an 8 year old will make of the experience. Probably something far more wonderful and profound.  But at the very least  I hope the experience of receiving communion can always help her be more free and more present.








Tuesday, May 3, 2011

An Easter Season Poem...


Welcome Morning

There is joy
in all:
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
each morning,
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
each morning,
in the spoon and the chair
that cry "hello there, Anne"
each morning,
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
each morning.

All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
each morning
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.

So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.

The Joy that isn't shared, I've heard,
dies young.

~ Anne Sexton ~



Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Historic Day

Yesterday we all learned that Osama bin Laden had been found and killed by American soldiers acting in Pakistan.

We've all been through so much as a result of this man and the 9/11 attacks.  May we and all in our world know solace in our sorrow, comfort in our exhaustion, and a blessed sense of relief.  

For all who have lost loved ones due to terrorist attacks, God grant them peace.
For all who have put their lives at risk to protect innocents since 9/11, God grant them peace.
For all who suffer or have died in the Middle East, God grant them peace.
Throughout our world, Lord, God grant us peace.